This morning, I want to draw our attention to a group of people who've been constantly subjected to judgment, harassment and hatred by a powerful select few, simply because of who they are and what they do. It may be their disability, their mental illness, their addiction, where they sleep, sit or stand or simply because they beg for a little loose change.
This morning, I also want to draw our attention to another group of people who are also subjected to similar judgment, harassment and hatred. These are people who lovingly show compassion to the first group.
This was the very environment Jesus was in, He had went into Jerusalem to attend the Festival of Booths and was teaching in the Temple. He was having quite an impact, causing people to either love or hate him, He was causing people to question who He was! There were no lukewarm responses! People either wanted to follow Him or kill Him! The Chief Priests and Pharisees were there also, they were big bullies who strutted around, watching and judging His every more. They even resorted to telling Officers that they wanted to have him arrested.
So what was the main reason this extreme act?
And why did they want to arrest and even kill Jesus?
Jesus had shown compassion. Jesus had done a good deed. He had completely healed a man who'd been paralyzed for 38 years, and what's more, he told him to pick up his mat and walk. Yet, the thing enraged them the most was, he did this amazing act of compassion on the Sabbath!
We have to remember this immense pressure Jesus was under, as we now turn our attention to this morning's passage. We're going to be reading from John 7:37-39:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Jesus uses water as his illustration. "Rivers of living water". Those who are part of his Kingdom, those who follow Jesus, those who have received the Spirit, those who are thirsty, will drink this living water from Jesus and living water will flow in abundance from their innermost being.
I don't know about you; but when I think of water, there's many words and concepts that come to mind. When I look at the Pacific Ocean, powerful rivers, gentle streams, Lake Michigan, and even the rain, I think of freedom, I think of hope, I think of Life....
Water has the ability to make the dirty, clean!
Water gives life to the dead and dying!
Water sustains health and helps things grow!
And when we feel weak and parched, it is water that refreshes and revitalizes us!
When Jesus makes this statement, he's telling the crowd, if you follow me, if you receive the Spirit; hope, life and freedom will flow out of you! Powerfully! Abundantly! It will not be hidden. People will notice. People will be drawn to you.
This "living water" Jesus spoke about, and which flowed from him, stands in complete contrast to those Stagnant Pharisees who stood there judging Him! They were caught up in all their own rules, tradition, laws and power. These Pharisees and chief priests did not symbolize flowing, life giving, water, but rather, they symbolized a stagnant pond that they had created and owned. They were unable and unwilling to allow their water to flow. To make matters even worse, they often used their power and prestige to try and get everyone else to sip and wade in their stinky water also!
In this chapter, these leaders were so busy trying to analyze Jesus, trap him and put him under their microscope, they missed seeing and accepting the living water that was flowing out of him! During that festival, these Pharisees made a choice, it was to keep wading in their own stagnant pool, rather than take a leap of faith and jump into the river of living water.
How did rivers of living water flow out of the innermost being of Jesus and how will it also flow out of us?
Jesus was never governed by stagnant laws, but by the freedom to live his life full of courage, compassion, love and mercy. Flowing water does not care what the rules are, it will fill up every dried crack, allowing a parched and beaten land to become filled with life again.
This is who Jesus was! He was free and courageous enough to break the rules, he was free and courageous enough to let compassion and love rule his decisions. Despite all the opposition, Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, He cleansed the temple, He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, He spent time talking to the disgraced Samaritan woman at the well and He continually told parables which spoke about how God's Kingdom accepted and loved those who are outsiders, those who are humble, weak and poor.
We must follow suit! We have the Spirit, and He desires to flow through us the same way. Despite any opposition we face, we can't allow their power, rules, judgments and laws to stop rivers of living water flowing through us and into our homes, neighborhood and the world. When we have the courage to let love, compassion and peace-making shine through us and out of us, we won't be stopped by any of the rules modern day Pharisees and leaders will try to place on us.
I think we can testify; because people have defied the "powers-that-be" and have chosen this Living Water, many good things have happened and continue to happen in our neighborhood. Doing these things doesn't always make people happy, in fact it'll make some people enraged, but in the name of Jesus, in the name of Love and in the power of the Gospel, those who are thirsty and have rivers of living water flowing out of their innermost being, are going to have the freedom to DO it anyway.
Many years ago, well before I came here, Jesus People took the risk and despite all opposition, saw the drastic need and started helping out people who were experiencing homelessness. With compassionate hearts and the freedom to act, these poverty-stricken men and women were given a place to sleep, clothes to wear, meals to eat and lasting friendships.
Frenchie sitting on the corner day after day, getting weaker and weaker, fading into the concrete. As a result of all the compassion and concern, we went out to him and gave him a place to sleep at CCO. He regained his strength, his health was restored and he ended up finding a peaceful home, right here in Friendly Towers. Frenchie passed away in 2013 and was always thankful for the love and compassion he received at Cornerstone and JPUSA. Read his story here.
During this frigid snowy winter, an active choice of compassion and mercy made! Our freedom and courage chose love over what any laws and finances would govern. By witnessing chronically homeless folk sleeping under viaducts and on loading docks, we went out into this year's dangerous Chicago weather and brought them inside! They were given warmth and a place to lay their weary heads! If we had been controlled by stagnant law, we would have cried "no", but the law of love and compassion means giving these poor vulnerable people a place to sleep out of the cold, so they won't get frostbite, hypothermia or even freeze to death.
I finally want to mention my buddy "Chief". After an incredible 40 years of homelessness, he finally moved into his own apartment last month. His long journey endured much judgment, harassment and hatred, but more importantly, it has also featured decades of people who have showered him with the Living Waters of the Gospel. He testifies how he's received so much love and mercy from people who took great risks, having surrendered themselves to Jesus. He recalls and is thankful for people like Father Powell, the late Frank Simmons and many others who showered him with compassion. Chief was never able to give much in return, but he received the love and compassion of Jesus, simply because he's a human being in need of grace!
When these Living Waters flow through us, we're allowing ourselves to take major risks for the Kingdom of God! When we are filled with these Living Waters, we will love, truly love, those who are disinherited, those who are outsiders, those who are poor, those who are weak and those who are fragile. When we are filled with these Living Waters, it'll become impossible to simply blend into the background.
Living Waters will draw people to us, while causing others to seethe with anger. This happens because we'll attract and assist the "wrong" people; the very people Jesus calls the "least of these" in Matthew 25. We won't be ashamed of talking to, feeding, clothing, offering a bed and visiting those in our neighborhood who are mentally ill, gang-banging, homeless, sick and elderly. This Living Water, this Kingdom Love, is going to take us into nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and out into the streets. It's going to take us out of our comfort zones and into the very hearts of people who are sick and in need of grace, who need the love of Jesus!
Living this life, by having the freedom to love, to truly love, and to be filled with the compassion Jesus calls us to, results in responding to whatever need stands in front of us! Many may frown, many may complain, but when we are thirsty and drink the water Jesus offers, this means we will follow His radical example and not that of the Pharisees and leaders who'll try and stop our activities of Love.
When we drink his Living Water, we will flood our homes, this neighborhood and the world with the radical and revolutionary love and compassion only Jesus can give!