The True Headwaters of the River of Life

Pentecost 2017 John 7:37-39


It may have been in 1975, that our young family emerged from a stand of Red Pine at Itasca State Park in Minnesota to splash across the Mississippi River at its headwaters.  However, discovering the headwaters was not so easy.   After several people followed the wrong streams, finally in 1832, Henry Schoolcraft discovered the true headwaters of the Mississippi River.  He named the lake, Itasca, meaning “True Head.”  In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus invites people to come to him as the true headwaters of the River of Life.  The scene for our text is the temple in Jerusalem, during Jesus’ ministry.  For the crowds gathered in the temple at Jerusalem, many missed the True Headwaters of the River of Life, but some found it in Jesus.

It was early October, the Feast of Booths.  The festival, remembered Israel’s journey in the wilderness and specifically the time Moses struck a rock and waters flowed quenching the parched throats of the Israelites.  Centuries later Solomon dedicated the newly build temple during the feast.   Part of the festival included prayers offered to God to send the winter rains, that the grain would sprout, grow and ripen in time for Pentecost.  And…there was an expectation that the Messiah would come.

For seven days, priests carried a golden pitcher of water up to the temple and poured it over the altar.  On the seventh day, they circled the altar seven times while the crowds waved bundles of myrtle and willow twigs.  The choir sang, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”    And when the Messiah arrived, “water would gush from below the threshold of the temple.”

However, there was a distraction. A man from the north, named Jesus, was teaching in the temple. He was the center of controversy.  The rumor mill was working overtime.  Some had heard that the Samaritans, of all people, believed in him.  However, some of his own disciples had recently left him.  Others’ like Peter thought that Jesus had the words of eternal life.  Some among the religious leaders were seeking to kill him.   Even his own brothers did not believe in him.  Opinions ranged from Jesus being a good man to one possessed by demons.  Other people wondered whether he might be a prophet or even the Christ.

Amid all the hubbub Jesus stood up and shouted, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  He was the true headwaters of the Rivers of Life who would quench the thirst of parched spirits.  No longer would they need to carry water up the hill to the temple.   For he, Jesus, was the temple, the center of worship and the source of the River of Life that would rehydrate parched lives filling them with eternal life. Filling lives with the same living water he offered the Samaritan woman at the well.

Sometimes I find myself tired and weak and in need of a nap.  But then I finally figure out I need to drink some water.  At times we become spiritually dehydrated, past sins pop into our minds, we become irritated and snap at someone, we worry about our life and our work.

One of the songs associated with the late country western singer Eddie Arnold was “Cool Water.” That song describes parched spiritual condition.

All day we faced the barren waste

Without the taste of water, cool clear water.

Old Dan and I with throats burnt dry

And souls that cry for water,

Cool clear water.


Therefore, the thirsty come to the true headwaters to drink of the rRver of Life, that is, believe in Jesus, for from him flows the words of eternal life.  When Jesus stood and proclaimed shouting, “If anyone thirsts let him come to me,” it was the seventh and great day of the festival.  A great day, indeed. I can imagine that for some, the festival had become another tradition, “yeah, we do this every year.  We’ve been doing this for a thousand years.  And still the Messiah hasn’t shown up.”  Jesus proclamation reenergized the greatness of the day.  “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Jesus awakens us to our need for spiritual satisfaction.  HeeHe also provides the Holy Spirit to lead us to himself, the true headwaters.  To paraphrase Luther, “The Holy Spirit has (quenched my thirst) by the gospel.”

On this Day of Pentecost, this day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit leads us to the cross where, as Jesus was about to give up his spirit, cried, “I thirst.” He cried on behalf of all people.  Earlier Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”   All people thirst for something and they may not even understand that they are thirsting for what God has to offer. There is a scene in a movie about Jesus crucifixion that I find particularly moving.  Jesus is hanging on the cross.  A stream of blood and water flows from his side. Of course, it’s raining and his blood commingles with the water forming a stream which goes out to cover the whole earth.  In Missouri at St. James and at Montauk park. At the base of a rock wall a pool of water forms.  The pool is fed by springs running from deep in the earth and issuing out as a fully formed river. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I have drunk from that river of life flowing from the deep love of God.  In baptism, the flow of the river of living water is now flowing in us and through us.  Notice I said, “through us.”

Think of your heart being in the shape of a Pool of living water.  It’s filled to the brim with pure water, alive with the love of God’s Holy Spirit, compassion, gentleness, mercy and forgiveness.  The pool is constantly overflowing because the source of the living love of God flows from deep within God himself and never runs dry.   From the pool of your heart, out flows the living water into the lives of others.

Now we are the source of living water for a world that is parched and dying.  We are a “Channel,” “conduit,” or “vessel” is more like it.  We become a channel for God’s blessings, a conduit for the water of life to flow through.  That’s Jesus goal, you will be a vessel for bringing the life and love of Jesus into the lives of others.  Now streams of living water flowing out from us bless those around us.  In the coming week, don’t damn up the flow but it run freely into the lives of those you contact.  Because in the book of Isaiah we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” And we are filled with that thirst quenching water of life.









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