Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Who Preaches on John 7?

Shhhh! Don't tell anyone, but the bishop is coming to St. John's this Sunday. You've heard the joke about the rector and the bishop standing in the back of an empty church? Disappointed at the turnout, the bishop asks the rector, "Did you tell anyone that I was coming?" The rector replies, "I sure didn't, but it's clear that somebody did!"

Well, the bishop is coming to St. John's this Sunday. Actually, he's a great preacher, and it will be fun for us to have him here in person. (We don't welcome the bishop, of course, since he's the ordinary of every parish in the diocese. We simply acknowledge his physical presence in his own church.) It's also Pentecost, and there are lots of lectionary options for this week. So, a few weeks ago, when I contacted the bishop's office about what lessons he would prefer to have read this Sunday, I decided that I would let him choose not only the lessons for the 10:30 service, when he will be here, but also for the 8:00 service, when I will be the preacher. And what did he choose? John 7.

It's a short gospel lesson, so I'll paste the whole thing here:
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
I'm preaching this week, and I'll probably focus on the reading from Acts, which seems to be the "featured lesson" for Pentecost, but I don't want to let John 7 go by without mention. Mainly, I want to ask what in the world John meant by "as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified?"

Surely he doesn't mean that there was no Holy Spirit. But it seems that he does mean that the Spirit hadn't come because Jesus hadn't been glorified yet. (Forget what Luke writes about John the Baptist being full of the Spirit even before he was born.)

Maybe the exciting thing to pull from this passage is the belief that John sets out that we don't get the full benefits of Jesus until after he's gone. This is echoed elsewhere in John, when Jesus tells the disciples to be thankful that he's going because they can't get the Comforter until he leaves them. In my mind, that sets up a timeline that places a primacy on Pentecost that we don't often celebrate. Pentecost seems like the end of something. Indeed, it's the last day of Easter. But, of course, it's also the beginning of something--and not just the church. It's the beginning of our ability to have God's power instilled within us. Jesus shows us that power. He gives us access to that power. But the power itself only comes at Pentecost.

Maybe there's a good reason to preach on John 7 after all, but I'd be surprised if many of us will.

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