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Christ in Us' Wellsprings of Lutheran Spirituality - Contemplative Eucharist

The following sermon was preached by Rev. Julie Ryan, Director of Lifelong Learning, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, February 20, 2006.


Ezekiel 47:1-12; Isaiah 12:2-6; 1 John 4:12-19; John 7:37-46

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In the Bible,
the first person
to see the face of God and live
is the Egyptian woman,
Hagar,
enslaved and coerced into childbearing
by Abraham and Sarah.

Once, twice, we meet Hagar
in the wilderness:
once, fleeing there for freedom;
and then,
pushed out by her captors
with her tiny son
to meet their dismal fate.

The first time, beside a spring of water
that will take its name
from her encounter with God:

"The Well of the Living One who Sees Me":
who sees and hears;
searches, and promises.

The next time Hagar weeps
amid the desert wastes—
less for herself than for her doomed child—
God opens her eyes,
and, behold!

A spring where there was none before.
Water to drink.
A source of life and hope.

Generations later,
a priest of the Israelites,
bereaved of a well-loved spouse
and forced into exile,
is graced with prophetic vision.

Ezekiel is hundreds of miles from home,
sadly aware
that he and his companion exiles
may never be able to go back;
and then he learns
of the destruction of God's holy temple,
the ruin of God's holy city.
All—all—is lost.
There is no home
to which he might eventually return,
no place of worship where he might serve.

In the depths of sorrow—
under the weight
of mind-numbing grief—
it simply is not possible
to imagine anything else.

And so the vision Ezekiel is granted
comes
not only as a gift
but as a gift nothing short of astonishing.

Bereft of the people
the places
the future we had cherished,
we don't want to risk loving,
hoping,
dreaming, again.

The pain is too great.

And so Ezekiel's visions
are all the more remarkable,
all the more evident
as the gifts they are from God.

A messenger from God
appears and walks beside the brokenhearted priest.
Together they take the measure
of every lovingly-crafted detail
of a fully-restored temple.

And from beneath this temple's threshold, look!
Springs of water flowing down to replenish the land.

We hear of water that is ankle deep,
then knee deep,
then a river too high to cross,
and we fear that this is no vision
but a nightmare.

We know of saltwater waves that travel hundreds of miles
and take only a few seconds to kill.

We know of fetid wastewater
smashing concrete levees,
spilling over and rising, rising, only to destroy.

We know of Greenland's icy mountains breaking off into the sea,
and fear the catastrophe they may portend.

But the river from the temple
flows ever deeper only to bring life.

Stagnant waters
are made fresh by it:
even the Dead Sea swirls with new currents.
Wherever this river goes,
it draws people
and fish
and trees—
trees that bear fruit for food
and leaves for healing.

Because this river flows from the sanctuary,
the midst of God's holy place.

Generations after Ezekiel,
another Israelite—a prophet from Galilee—
stands up in the midst of the restored holy place
and proclaims the vision
of a new spring of living water.

Its source is Jesus himself
("Let anyone who is thirsty come to me").
Its source is the believer's heart—
Greek lettering
the believer's heart
or belly/stomach/gut:

out from the very center (out from the depths)
the living waters flow.
Birthwaters of the New Creation.

From Christ?
From the believers?
Yes. A mystery.

New temples: of the Holy Spirit:
a Spirit,
according to the writer of John's gospel,
yet to be received.

On the last day of the festival,
the great day,

Jesus of Nazareth announces a source of holiness
springing up elsewhere
than from "the" temple:
a promise for when "the" temple is no more;
provocation for an arrest, to be sure!

But the arrest of Jesus doesn't happen.
"And why not?" ask the temple authorities.

"Well, heck," say the temple police,
shrugging their shoulders,
"couldn't help ourselves!"

"Never has anyone spoken like this."

Charmed, they are;
captivated, by the words
of the Word made flesh;
and so it is the police themselves
who are "arrested" in their tracks;
halted by the very winsomeness
of a grace and truth they had not known.

"Sorry! We really meant to bring him in!"
they tell the chief priests and Pharisees,
establishing themselves as the
spiritual descendants
of women long, long, ago in Egypt:
the midwives,
Shifra and Puah,
who had been commanded by Pharaoh
to kill all the newborn Hebrew boys.

"Well, gosh," say the midwives
when Pharaoh summons them back
to demand
why his orders haven't been followed.

"We just can't keep up
with those vigorous Hebrew women!"
They push so hard and so fast
that they have those babies
before we can even get there!"

(Not like Pharaoh would know the difference….)

What inspired the midwives in Egypt,
the police in the temple,
to fool with the minds
of people who could kill them?

To play a joke on tyrants
by playing dumb—
and allow life and love
room to slip out
and get free
and win the day?

What could have inspired them?
We've been told that it could not yet have been the Holy Spirit…..

What of Wisdom from on high,
who not only "ord'rest all things mightily"—
but, with God from the beginning of creation, is God's delight?
Who brings levity and joy? Divine merriment?
("Oh, happy fault!") (The San Andreas fault?)
Water bubbling up through cracks in the rock….
Cutting channels through the wilderness….
(death, where is your victory?)
Foolishness wiser than human wisdom
and more powerful than any earthly sovereign,
taking pleasure in cheating death.

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me."
"Never has anyone spoken like this!"

Water, and the Word.

And we ourselves,
charmed by the words of the Word made flesh,
draw near
to drink in
the gift he offers:
grace for the thirsty,
truth that names our thirst,
love that casts out all fear.

And we ourselves, Lutherans, drinking in Christ's water and word,
dwell in them
as mystics of the Word
(as Bengt Hoffman liked to say).

"You are made clean by the word I have spoken to you,"
says Jesus.

"If you continue in my word,
you are truly my disciples;
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will make you free."

"Continue in my word": the word outside us,
spoken to us,
wrapping itself around us
like a garment
like a river into which we step….

We dwell in the Word, in the words,
that then well up within us
and take on a life of their own,
welling up as a spring
from which we draw
with joy—
and so
we abide in God, and God in us;
and love and laughter, life and freedom
win the day.

Pure water
bubbling up,
even in the wilderness.

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me," he says.
No fear.
All we need to bring is our thirst.

So let us stop for a little while; and breathe, and listen, and drink.

Wisdom: attend!

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