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.”’Jn 7:37-38
Today’s reading begins “On the last day of the festival…while Jesus was standing there.” Here again is a crucial reference and detail in our Bible readings that is lost on us modern readers. Jesus is referencing the festival of booths or tabernacles. It was the time of year when religious Jews, up until this day, put up makeshift tents and stay in them for a week to recall their time in the wilderness, after they were delivered from Egypt but had not yet reached the Promised Land. It is a wonderful experiential holiday for believers to remember their humble beginnings, their reliance on God’s deliverance and care, and how often we tend to stray away from that care before we come back home.
It is a holiday that we would do well to commemorate here at St. Hagop. Maybe we don’t have to go so far as literally bringing tents to camp out on the church lawn for a week. I am not sure how many of you are the rugged outdoor types, I certainly know your pastor is not. Plus, unlike the Israelites, we never did live and worship under tents. To be true to our story in the festival of the booths, we should have Badarak outside in the Pavilion, once a year in the dead of Summer, because this is exactly what you all did for many years. We could all set out the chairs together and put together the altar. The choir would rely on a $40 keyboard and the bulletins would be used as fans. Our nice clothes would attract grass clippings and pine needles, there would be background traffic noise and inevitably an airplane would fly over during my sermon. This is an important part of our past at St. Hagop Church, and it is very important to reflect on all of the hardships as well as the sweetness of worshipping God in such primitive conditions.
But today’s reading and the festival of booths reminds us that the greatest joy we get from reflecting back on humbler times is in recalling how blessed this community has been to arrive at this day today; blessed with beautiful land, a beautiful sanctuary and a beautiful hall. Remembering our humble beginnings helps us not take for granted what we have now and helps us realize that, whether looking backward or forward, with God all things are possible. There were so many people, at every step of the way, who famously said that it would be impossible to have a community here, a church here, a hall here. But there was also always a hard-working and faithful core, many here in worship today, who in their hearts believed that what for man is impossible is always possible with God. And it is always through humble conditions and humble hearts that God chooses to do his work.
That’s what Jesus is saying on the last day of this great festival of the ‘tents,’ when Jews are remembering their humble beginnings. The Pharisees think that the Jews have been blessed and become strong because of their righteousness. The scribes think that it is because of their law. But Jesus has a different view. He cries out to this crowd ‘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.” Jesus’ reference to water in the middle of this festival was another obvious reference to this Hebrew crowd, though perhaps not to us. Jesus here recalls when the Hebrew people were at their lowest point-ready to kill Moses and return back to slavery in Egypt-where at least they had shelter, food and water! Yet God responds to the hearts of the few faithful Jews who had not lost hope. Suddenly, water gushes forth from a desert rock; a sign to all believers that the Lord provides what leaders and planners alone cannot.
It is the same for us, and all who endeavor to follow the Lord. We must remember our humble beginnings in the wilderness and remember it correctly. Besides the uncomfortable worship conditions, there were real crises of leadership, finance and trust in those days. We have grown into better leaders and planners since then, which as helped. But the essential condition for St. Hagop’s many blessings, then and now, are the dedicated few who, nice buildings or not, nice thank yous or not, have thirsted for God and believe that God fills and fulfills all our worthy endeavors. In these our more blessed and comfortable surroundings, may we at St. Hagop always remain thirsty and drink from the words of scripture as Jesus urges today; “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink,” for, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water,” now and always and unto the ages of ages, amen.