Rivers from the Heart for a Parched People: Holy Pentecost

June 2, 2015 Length: 28:02

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: one God. [Amen.] Blessed Pentecost to all of you, brothers and sisters. Thank you.

Our Savior told his disciples not to give their pearls to swine. This is a reference in which our Savior is describing the apostolic teaching, the word of God, the Scriptures that he had imparted to his disciples and that he had commissioned them to impart to the world. He calls that teaching “pearls.” Is that how you think of it? Did you come this morning to get rich? I hope so, because you are rich. David hymned the word of God in the psalter and said it’s more precious than gold and fine jewels. This is our Savior’s affirmation, too, and that phrase, “Do not impart your pearls to swine,” is not just a commentary on the preciousness of the teaching of the Church, which you heard about in the gospel, didn’t you?

Those soldiers had been sent to arrest Jesus, but when they came into his presence and heard his words, they were completely taken out of themselves. Their whole mission, the evil mission, was dissolved, and they became disciples for a moment. They went back to the Pharisees, and the Pharisees said, “Where is he?” and they said, “Never has a man spoken like that!” What an answer, right? Some of you are cops. Can you imagine giving that answer to your superiors? [Laughter] “I went to arrest Fr. Josiah, but when I got there and took out my cuffs and he started talking…” [Laughter] I wish! That’s how powerful the Lord’s word is, and how precious, how otherworldly and transformative, even on the wicked.

But that phrase, “Don’t give your pearls to the swine,” it’s not just a commentary on how precious the word of God is. It’s a commentary about how preachers, teachers of the word of God, have to make an assessment of their audience. They have to decide if those who are listening to the word… The apostles heard that and they knew that they had to make a judgment, and that there were some times when they should just be silent, because the listeners were pigs, swine. And swine, you don’t give precious things to.

What is a swinish person? What kind of person was St. Peter supposed to see and then judge and say, “You know what? I’m not speaking in this person’s presence. I’m not going to give God’s pearls to this person, because this person’s a pig”? Well, what do pigs do? Think of the illustration. Pigs are always having their heads down. They’re always snorting around, in the filth. Got the picture? It’s a commentary about not imparting precious truths to those who aren’t interested in hearing, but only care about being fixed to their pleasures and to the filth of the earth. Those hearers can’t receive the word of God.

People who are thirsty for the earth and only for the things of the earth are swine in God’s sight, and act like they aren’t human. They’re thirsty for the wrong things. And we, brothers and sisters, if we’re going to be able to receive the word of God, then we have to be thirsty for heavenly things. You have to come to God’s house parched to hear his words, thirsting for that word of godliness, thirsting for holiness, not with your nose to the ground. And every teacher is also a learner. This applies to me, even more than it does to you. I can’t touch the Scriptures unless I have this disposition, or else it’s to my condemnation. Teachers, James says, have to be really careful, because they will incur a stricter judgment, he says. For this reason, not many should aspire to the priesthood, and those that do should do it with fear and with trembling.

So let me ask you this morning, by way of that long introduction: Are you thirsty this morning? Are you hungry, for things that are not of this earth? Because that’s the characteristic of us Christians. We hunger and thirst for things that cannot be measured by the earth. For righteousness. The culture in which we live is very thirsty, sadly, often for the wrong things. Our culture is not content with God-blessed natural pleasures. Our culture has become, in the last 30 years, parched for unnatural affections. Our culture has become thirsty for a life without accountability, which is what’s behind the whole move towards atheism and lack of religious commitment, a life of moral autonomy, and for ever more pleasant earthly experiences which we’re told by the so-called “Most Interesting Man of the World” that we should “stay thirsty” for. [Laughter] “Stay thirsty, my friend.” I like that phrase, as long as you define it the right way! [Laughter]

I read a report this week. I always give a small portion of my week, brothers and sisters, to studying something about us. You know, a priest has to study the word of God and the theology of the Fathers, but that’s not all. St. John Chrysostom says he has to study his time, he has to study his land, his people, or, like a physician, he will have no chance of actually taking the health and imparting it to the sick. And when I was reading this week in my time dedicated to that, I read two very fascinating articles, one from the Centers for Disease Control, and one that was gathered from a publication from the Drug Enforcement Agency. Both of these documented what’s taken place in our country in the last seven years, ironically, since last Sunday I mentioned to you a study, a religious study, that also was a seven-year study. I think providentially this kind of parallels that study.

These studies documented that in the last seven years heroin use in our nation has increased 100%, in seven years. Besides that, arrests for heroin use in the same period have doubled. 80% of new users—that’s four out of five new users of heroin—have confessed that they developed their addiction through prescription drug usage. The DEA, as a result of this incredible increase, says that now, due to these changes, “There is no longer a stereotypical heroin user in America.” It’s too broad now; it’s too popularly used. Deaths for heroin overdose are triple, in 2014, what they were in 2010. Triple, in four years. And deaths from prescription drug overdoses are triple the number of deaths for illegally obtained heroin. Did you hear that? Three times as many Americans are dying from overdose of drugs their doctors prescribe for them and they are misusing than those who are obtaining their heroin illegally from the start.

Legalized opioids, when combined with the degradation of our own culture, are turning many unsuspecting Americans into drug addicts, and we’ve had more drug-overdosed deaths year by year by year since 1999, to this day. 15 years in a row, it’s getting worse. And this, while we’re pouring millions and millions and millions of dollars into the so-called “War on Drugs” in our nation. It’s not a politics problem, brothers and sisters. It’s a matter of what you’re thirsting for, what you want. It’s very parallel to our discussion last week about religious affiliation. What are the users thirsty for? They want that high.

They want that experience, and I sympathize. Many want relief from pain, but not just from physical pain. They want relief from grief. They want relief from uncertainty—without religion. And they want relief from brokenness. And some of them want relief from their own conscience. They want to be able to be swimming in immorality, stepping on marriage, living in premarital relations, stealing the goods of holy matrimony, murdering the fruit of it in their wombs, and not feeling bad about it, but being able to sleep at night. How do you do that? There’s only two ways: repentance or drug use.

Our Lord desires to give them relief. He desires that. He wants to free us from the dark hole of despair for sure, but drugs are pseudo-saviors, and they end up deepening the hole of despair. That’s all they do, if they don’t kill you first. No, brothers and sisters, we Christians, we have something so much better. We have something to thirst for that really produces, that does bring relief, that sanctifies pain, and doesn’t just make it tolerable; it infuses it with meaning, salvific grace! It joins it to Christ and to a whole plan for the cosmos and for us.

We’re thirsty, we believers, and we’ve always been thirsty. Our forefathers were thirsty, in a way we aren’t. Believe me, the patriarch Abraham was thirsty. He longed, the Scripture says, longed to see the day of Christ. He wanted to see the day when God’s promise to him, that through his seed—singular—all the nations and the families of the earth would be blessed. He longed to see that day, and he did see it, Jesus says, and he was glad. Our forebears before the Incarnation were thirsting for the coming of Christ. It drove them, and we believers, we Christian believers, are thirsty as well.

You know, the proverbs say something beautiful. This beautiful verse in the proverbs says, “Like cold water to a thirsty man in the desert, so is good news to the parched soul.” That’s us at the time of our Savior’s coming. The world itself and its fallen condition only produces parched soil and parched men. And the Lord, from a distant land, has come to bring us good news and to cheer us up, and he’s poured that good news out upon us like waters—if you listen carefully to the Gospel—like rivers of living waters. This is what he’s come to quench our thirst with.

He came to become our champion, and he did that; to work his wonders, his marvels. He came to become incarnate, to join humanity to divinity, to bridge the chasm between heaven and earth, to effect a mediation between God and man. He came to perfect righteousness and to model human righteousness on the earth. He came to destroy death, to defeat Satan, to atone for sin, to annul the curse, to slay Hades, to resurrect our nature, to ascend to the heavens, to restore us to glory, rule, and immeasurable dignity at the right hand of God, to open paradise, to enthrone us with himself, to establish his everlasting kingdom, to trample evil underfoot and to tamp it down in eternal judgment into the bottomless pit of the lake of fire where we, together, will mock it for eternity, and to establish once again, by the Holy Spirit, what Adam had and had lost: an unceasing personal communion of love and a mutual interpenetration between God and us, the Holy Spirit not just with us, but the Holy Spirit in us.

This is what he came to do, and this, brothers and sisters, is what we celebrate today, on the feast of Pentecost. This final culmination of our Savior’s wonders, cap-stoning everything he did and applying it all to us by his Holy Spirit. After he was raised from the dead, he appeared to the Most-pure Virgin first. He showed himself to his mother, which is both tender and extremely important, since she would be the heart of the Church, the very guidance and support of the apostles in their work. He appeared then to St. Mary Magdalene, and then to his disciples Luke and Cleopas upon the road to Emmaus, and then to the disciples in Jerusalem, and he was giving them instruction from the Scriptures, and commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel.

In the closed room, he brought Thomas to faith; by the Sea of Tiberias, where he orchestrated a miraculous catch of fish, he appeared. On the beach he healed and restored Peter from his thrice-horrible denial with a three-fold call to love and pastoral labors. And just prior to his glorious ascension, our Lord gave what we have come to call the Great Commission to his apostles, to go into the whole world and to preach to all the nations, and to disciple, not just individuals, but nations, in the name of the Church, baptizing everyone in the name of the Holy Trinity. On the fortieth day, he climbed the Mount of Olives, and before his disciples, he gloriously ascended to heaven, and he sat down at the right hand of his Father, and over the course of the next ten days, the apostles, in obedience to Jesus’ commandment, waited patiently to be clothed with power from on high.

They cast lots to elect Matthias to replace Judas the Betrayer, and then, on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection, a great earthquake shook the room where the disciples were, a great noise, a great wind arose, and tongues of fire descended upon the heads of the disciples, and the Holy Spirit was poured out from heaven upon all of them. And everything changed. And the Church in her New Testament fullness was born, and this new life that had been procured by our Champion became ours in the Holy Spirit.

Then, as you read what follows, the Acts of the Apostles, as you read the letters of Paul and Peter and John and Jude and James, you see them describing a Christian life, brothers and sisters, that begins, continues, and will be fulfilled in the Holy Spirit. The language of the New Testament about the Christian life is language about the Holy Spirit constantly. Last night, in the baptism of little Isaac Thornburg—beautiful choice of patrons—I mentioned that his life had just started through the Holy Spirit coming into that water. The Holy Spirit brought him into new life, then he was chrismated and marked and made a participant in his own personal Pentecost, gifted, sealed, owned by God, and inspired. This is our reality that we’ve all experienced in our own baptisms and chrismations.

Then St. Paul says these things: We continue to live by the Spirit. We’re led by the Spirit. We walk by the Spirit. We bear the fruits of the Spirit. We have joy in the Spirit. We pray, sing, and worship in the Spirit. We reap eternal life by the Spirit. We have the fellowship of the Spirit. We have renewal and gifts of the Spirit. We’re taught by the Spirit, and we have love shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit. Getting the picture? This is what we mean when we say we’re living in the Lord a spiritual life. That doesn’t mean that you’re living a life outside of your body. It means that you’re living a life, body and soul, under the direction and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. This is a spiritual life. This is what Pentecost was for.

Today the Gospel reveals the distinctive mark of us Christians. Our Savior says this: “If anyone is thirsty”—if. He doesn’t presume, and he certainly doesn’t force.

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” But this he spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.

This is our mark. We’re thirsty people who have had our thirst quenched by the gift of the Holy Spirit into our life, and his presence in our life springs up… it causes things to flow. Think about the difference between the twelve apostles before Pentecost and afterwards. Think of Stephen and his wisdom. Think of Peter and his words. Think of Paul and his vehemence! All after receiving the Holy Spirit. They began to course through life like a rushing river. Actually, he uses the plural: not “a river springing up inside of our bellies”: rivers of life, springing up in our bellies. This is very similar to what the Lord said to St. Photini, the Samaritan woman, when he met her at Jacob’s well. He said, “If you drink this water, you’re going to thirst again, but if you’re thirsty, I will give to you water to drink that will spring up within you unto eternal life.”

Our Lord has come to satisfy us, to give us his Spirit, and to make our life flow from that Source. Why be interested in a counterfeit? What’s the purpose of heroin? And even alcohol and marijuana, so popular today. What’s the purpose of all those things, all those pseudo-comforts, when you have this? This is why St. Paul juxtaposes that and the Spirit. He says to the Ephesians: “Do not get drunk with wine.” We could fill that in with anything else: Do not get stoned on heroin. “But,” he says, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” It’s a matter of whom do you want inspiring you? The chemicals and the demon behind it, to give you a pseudo-relief from a pain that needs to be sanctified and joined to the wounds of Christ? Or he whose presence will cause rivers of water to spring up inside your belly, leading to everlasting life?

I want this for you, brothers and sisters. I want you to know that your Christian faith, your holy Orthodoxy, is about spiritual life. Number one thing: living with God and his Holy Spirit. And when you think about living well or living poorly, I want the main thing in your mind not to be “What will Father think of me?”—I want that to be second [Laughter] or third, but not number one. No, number one, I want you to think this. I want you to think: How can I please the Spirit of God inside of me? St. Paul puts it this way; he says, “Do not quench the Spirit of God.” He said that to the Thessalonians. Do not quench; don’t grieve him. Don’t make him sad. That’s what I want to be your first motivation, not to do something evil, it’s because you don’t want to grieve your Companion, the Lord God, who lives with you and in you, who was sent to you on this day!

This was in David’s mind, when David committed his grave sin and he forgot God. And he murdered and he committed adultery, and then he repented. What was his great sin? He wasn’t even thinking about men—yet, even though he had murdered one and stolen the wife of one. He said, “Against you only, God, have I sinned.” And then he said what was really concerning him: “Take not your Holy Spirit away from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” No, this is our great concern. It was David’s, when he came to his senses, and it’s ours, too.

Rejoice this day, brothers and sisters, on what you have, on what God has given you. He’s given you his very presence, to inspire and guide your Christian life, to overcome every sorrow of this earth, from the inside, even to make rivers of satisfying waters grow up from your heart, on the inside, and pour out, unto everlasting life. Glory to God and his Son and his most-pure Spirit whom he sent out on us on this day. Amen.