A UCC pastor named Lillian Daniel tells of a conversation she had with a young police officer after she and some other Christians had been arrested inside a government building while protesting unfair labor practices. They had been singing hymns together just before they were arrested, but now Daniel was locked up alone as she waited to be processed.
The policeman assigned to guard her spoke to her through a narrow window, apologizing for her undignified treatment and expressing sorrow that he had to be the one to enforce it. Daniel asked him, “Why are you in this field if you hate it so much?”
“Just fell into it, I guess. After the military. So I retire in two years, and I’m young,” he said.
But then the officer took a chance and revealed a deeper thirst within him: “But what I wanted to say to you was something else,” he added. “What I wanted to say to you was that back there, when you guys were singing in the capitol building. I liked that. I liked the way your voices sounded when you sang those songs. So I wanted to let you know.”
You and I both know many people, I suspect, who have been disillusioned by too many empty promises they have heard. The world of advertising, of course, is built on the premise of creating dissatisfaction while giving the illusion you can get exactly what you want.
And like the sound of a beautiful hymn in the babel of our noisy, chaotic experiences, Jesus’ call rises: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.”
But here’s the thing about this brief text that I just love. John’s gospel indicates that when we bring our thirst to this Spirit, we ourselves will become rivers of life.
Now I could try to explain that, but I suspect it would take a long time, and I wouldn’t be very successful anyway. It’s really something more caught than taught anyway. So instead I want to offer you two examples, two pieces of evidence.
Yesterday we remembered the life of Stan Hastings, who served this congregation for many years as a choir director, an elder, and a searcher. Today we celebrate 31 years of life-giving, well-watered service from Helene Krasko.
In other words, today we are marking something of an end of an era with these two generous and profoundly kind souls who have had so much to do with the music that this congregation has shared over the majority of its years. We are poorer without them, not necessarily in our music because we have some pretty amazing music and remarkable leadership. We are poorer, I think, because there is something about knowing these two, about knowing their stories and how they made their way through life that is a gift, a treasure, a river of life, if you will.
I think I got a glimpse of it when I sat with Stan in so many conversations that had little to do with music. We were unpacking the claims of Christianity held in tension with what we know from science and history. He had a hunger for these things, a thirst for a way that would satisfy. I know I got a glimpse of it some years ago sitting at that piano bench with Helene as she told me stories of her jazz band escapades, of her family, of her life, and taught me a little piano. There is a richness here, an understanding shared, even when our stories and assumptions are so different, even when we may not speak the same language.
I think that is the promise of Pentecost—that this way of being gathered around Jesus, this thing we call church has a life to it precisely because we gather with people who speak a whole bunch of different languages from a host of traditions and generational cohorts and perceptions. And yet, we gather together and we sing and we pray, and we celebrate, and we give thanks. We sing old songs and new ones. We sing what we love and maybe even what we hate because we sing for one another, and it becomes a thing of beauty. Understanding grows. Love is born within us, and we become a river of life.
Did you know that there are two groups listed in the Acts reading—I think it is the Parthians and the Medes, but I didn’t have a chance to double check—that were not in existence at the writing of this story in Acts. In fact they had disappeared five hundred years before.
I think that is a stunning thing, because it suggests that like them, Stan’s story and Helene’s story may be anything but over. They will be told again and again in our life together. And the same is true of yours as you bring your thirst to this one, as you allow God’s story to be spoken in you. And for that I give thanks to this Spirit of Pentecost, the Spirit in you and me.
St. Andrew Sermons