The Church's Birthing Day
May 27, 2023 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler
John 7:37-39 ~ The Church’s Birthing Day
Pentecost (A), May 28, 2023 – Christ Lutheran Church, Cleveland, OH
In Nomine Iesu
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as[a] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. JOHN 7:37-39
In the name of the Father and of the (X) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear beloved of the Lord:
Pentecost is one of the highest and holiest days on our Church calendar. It’s a day we dare not forget, for if we do, we will forget the one who birthed us, washed us, nurtured and fed us. How dare we forget the womb that birthed us, the breasts that nursed us, the arms that comforted us. Of course, I’m talking about the Christian Church, the spiritual mother of our baptismal birth. Pentecost is, in a very real sense the day of the Church Catholic and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
St. Cyprian(200-258 AD, Bishop of Carthage) said: "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” There’s a great truth in that. You always know who the mother is, and the mother will tell you who the father is. The Spirit of God cries out “Abba, Father” (Gal. 2:6-7) and testifies to our spirits that we are the children of God. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Church by which we were born of water, Word, and Spirit in Holy Baptism.
It’s fitting and proper on this day to recognize that Pentecost is about holy Mother Church. We cringe at that phrase. I suspect it is because of our residual anti-Catholicism. It sounds a bit too “Catholic” for our protestantized ears to say, “Holy Mother Church.” We have no problems with calling God “Father” (unless, of course, the feminist theologians have invaded our thinking), but we are reticent to realize that we also have a mother in our baptismal birth from above. The apostle Paul calls the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church, “our mother” (Gal. 4:26 ff) by drawing on an analogy to Sarah, the wife of Abraham,
You sometimes hear Pentecost called the “birthday of the Christian church” but there already was a church before Pentecost. It numbered about 120 believing disciples including Jesus’ mother and brothers. Properly speaking, the Church was “born” on Good Friday, the day that Christ, the second Adam, died on the cross, and in the sleep of His death, a new Eve, the mother of all the living, was fashioned from His side by the water and the blood. As Eve was taken from the side of her sleeping Adam, so the Church was made from the baptismal water and the eucharistic blood that came from the side of Christ on the cross. As Eve was called the mother of all the living, so the Church is the mother that bears all believers in Holy Baptism to eternal life.
St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel what it means to be the children of God: “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will, but born of God.”(John 1:12,13) Not of natural descent—you aren’t naturally born a believer. Nor of human decision—you don’t decide to believe. Nor of a husband’s will—children of God are not conceived in the natural way.
Our Small Catechism puts it this way in the third article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or senses believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” We believe that we do not naturally believe. Our hearts are naturally dead toward God, dead in sin, hopelessly turned inward, without fear, love, and trust in God. We must be born anew, “virgin born” through water, Word, and Spirit.
Pentecost is not the Church’s birthday, but the Church’s “birthing day,” — her delivery day. The day that Mother Church bears her first children by the preaching of the Word and by Holy Baptism.
Three thousand were baptized that day. Three thousand heard the preached Word through Apostle Peter and came to the birthing waters of Baptism with the promise that they too would receive the gift of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. And not only them, but also their children. Pentecost is the Church’s delivery date, the day she gave birth to three thousand “born from above” children of the heavenly Father through water, Word, and Spirit.
The day is significant. Pentecost means “fifty.” Fifty days after the Passover came the winter wheat harvest festival called “Shavuot (Hebrew), Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of the Spring Harvest.” It was the celebration of the first fruits, the first harvest of the year. At the time of Jesus, it was also a day to celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. These two themes come together—the harvest and the giving of the Word. Fifty days after Jesus’ death, Resurrection, and Ascension comes the first fruits of the harvest, the first believers to believe through the apostolic Word and Baptism. It also comes with all the Sinai-signs—fire and wind. Three thousand people, from among the thousands that were in Jerusalem celebrating Pentecost, heard the Word of Christ preached by the Apostles, were baptized by them, and received the Holy Spirit.
In other words, those three thousand came to faith the way we came to faith. Not by walking around with Jesus, as the disciples did. But through the preached Word and through the water of Baptism. That’s why the day of Pentecost is so important in the life of the Church. These are the Church’s first children, among whom you and I are also numbered. And they were “born again” in the same we are “born again,” through water and the Word. Whoever has God as his Father has the Church as his Mother.
You don’t bring honor to Father while dishonoring Mother. Like all mothers, the church is not without sin. But that’s no excuse for despising her or neglecting her. Luther said that we ought to thank God daily for our mothers even if they did nothing else than bear with us for nine months. Without them, we wouldn’t be around. And without the church, flaws and all, we would not have the gifts of Baptism, the Word, the Eucharist. Through Mother Church, the Spirit, the Word, the water, and The Lord’s Supper come to us to birth us into new life.
That brings us to the Gospel text for today. I took the liberty of rearranging the sentences a bit from what you have in front of you. The Greek permits that. Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me…the one who believes…and let him drink.” (v. 37) To thirst is to be dried up and parched. Relief comes from the outside, not the inside. When you’re thirsty, you need to seek a source of water and it isn’t in you. To “drink” of Jesus is to trust Him, to take Him at His word, to hear Him, to drink in all of His gifts by faith.
As the Scripture says, “Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.” (v. 38) The “his” belongs to Jesus, not to you. In the OT, God is the source and fountain of living water. Jesus promised to give the Samaritan woman living water. It isn’t from our hearts that living water flows, but from the heart of Jesus. From our hearts flow murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness, gossip, slander, greed, idolatry — all that is wrong and broken and evil in our lives. The outflow of our hearts is an effluent of sin. Not fresh living water, but raw sewage.
But from the heart of Jesus, pierced for our iniquities by a Roman sword, there flows living water, water mixed with His life’s blood. (John is the one who captures this detail for us. John 19:34 ff.) Jesus is the source, the fountain of that living water that cleanses from sin, that births us with a new and heavenly birth from above, that marks us as a new creation—children of God redeemed by Christ the crucified. Baptismal water is that living water Jesus was speaking of—a water that flowed from His wounded heart to you in your Baptism.
John explains that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit that was to come. First Jesus had to die; it is out of His death that life flows. Then, risen and reigning, Jesus breathes out His Spirit, with the signs of fire and wind and languages. And three thousand thirsty sinful souls were quenched with water and the Word. They were baptized. And then there were more, as the three thousand went back to their homes, and the Church spread literally by word of mouth, words from mouths to ears carried along by the Spirit.
And as these last days draw to their close, that stream of living water flows to you—baptized, believing, forgiven, born anew of water and Spirit, born from above of Mother Church, heavenly Jerusalem, our free mother who bears her children in the freedom of Christ.
Therefore, we give thanks to God for the Church, our spiritual mother, who birthed us in Baptism, nurtured us with the pure spiritual milk of the Word, and fed us with the food of immortality.
Oh day full of grace! Blessed Birthing Day of Pentecost! AMEN.
In the name of the Father and of the (X) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
- D. G.