Sunday 9 September 2018
We celebrate a lot of different new years. There’s the one that happens on January 1st. That’s the official New Year for the Gregorian Calendar. Why the first of January? It’s pretty arbitrary. It doesn’t align with anything in nature, like a solstice or equinox. It doesn’t have any religious significance. It’s simply the date when Roman consuls took office each year, as of 153 BCE. Though January 1st has only been the New Year in the English-speaking world since 1751. Before that, New Year was on March 25th.
We also celebrate a liturgical new year. It happens each year toward the end of November or the beginning of December. The liturgical year starts with the beginning of Advent, which always begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. We start our liturgical year waiting for Christmas, looking forward to the coming of Christ into the world.
We have fiscal years, as well. Some organizations start the year on July 1st, some on October 1st, some on January 1st.
In The United Methodist Church, we have an appointment year. Every pastor and deacon is assigned to their place of ministry starting on July 1st. Every year between the last Sunday in June and the first Sunday in July, the roads are crowded with United Methodist clergy families in U-Haul trucks, making their way from one appointment to another.
But one of the more significant ways we mark a new year in our culture is with the new school year. It’s not always the same day in every place, starting anywhere from late July to late September. But at least for the first 20 or so years of our lives, these are the kinds of years that have significance. We measure our years by which grade we were in. Parents who have children in school tend to divide their time into the school year and summer break.
And in the church, we too align our programs to the school year. In the summer, most activities take a hiatus, just as most students and teachers take a break from the regular order of school. More so than the calendar year or the liturgical year, it is the school year by which most of us tend to measure our lives.
Which makes today a sort of New Year, the beginning of the program year. Choir is back in session. Sunday school is starting.
And at the beginning of this program year, we’re doing something we haven’t done before. We are adopting a theme for this year. It’s something they did in the church where I had my internship years ago, Calvary Baptist, in Denver. But I’ve never done it since then.
This is the longest I’ve ever spent pastoring a church. I’ve always stayed in a church for four years. But I’m in the beginning of my fifth year here now. And as the beginning of that fifth year was approaching, and as I was thinking about how to be an effective pastor in a church beyond a fourth year, God put it on my heart adopt a theme, an image that could focus us for this year together.
So I brought it our Board. I told them, “At the next meeting, I want us to adopt a theme for the coming year.” To which they responded, “What do you mean, a theme? What is this for?” “I’m not sure,” I answered. “Something short, like a slogan, something that can give us focus in the coming year.” “How will we use it?” They asked. “I haven’t figured that out yet,” I said. And I have to admit, I still haven’t. But I trust that God has some plan for us, and I trust that this is a part of that plan, and that the rest will be revealed as we live into it.
So we spent the better part of our next meeting trying to discern the theme that God had for us this year. Where have we been as a church? Where is God calling us?
The breakthrough came from Bob White. A single verb. To effervesce. Dictionary definition no. 1, (of a liquid) to give off bubbles. Definition no. 2, to be vivacious and enthusiastic. From there it was short trip: Effervescent Faith.
But what does that mean? you might ask. What does an Alka-Seltzer tablet have to do with faith? Plop, Plop, fizz, fizz, is not exactly a profound theological statement. Isn’t it a bit flighty, ephemeral. Well, effervescence might be more relevant to faith than it seems at first glance.
Let’s turn first to the thesaurus. So effervescence can refer to bubbling and fizzing in a liquid, but it can also refer to a human state of being. Effervescent: vivacious, lively, vital. All three of these words mean full of life. Here are two more synonyms: animated, high-spirited. Both of these mean full of spirit. These are theological words. Full of life. Full of spirit. That is how we describe a life lived in God. Filled with life that comes from the Lord of Life. Full with spirit that comes from God’s Holy Spirit. When we are living the Christian life, we are full of life, we are full of Spirit, we are effervescent in faith.
What else can effervescent mean? Bubbly, ebullient. These give the sense of motion, of action, of activity. If something is bubbling or boiling, there is energy behind it. There is life. There is potential. There is power. An effervescent faith is active, it is in motion, it is powerful.
What else? Effervescent: shining, sparkling, scintillating. These words catch the attention. They draw the eye. They provide light and beauty. An effervescent faith finds the beauty in every situation, finds the spark and the sparkle even in the midst dreariness and darkness.
What else? Effervescent: happy, jaunty, jolly, cheery, cheerful, perky, sunny, zestful, upbeat, peppy, bouncy. Contrary to what some of us were taught as children, it is okay for a Christian to be happy. It is not necessary to be always dour, pious, controlled, reverent. There are times for those things. But many times we Christians get stuck in that mode, and we forget about one very important fruit of the spirit. We forget about joy. I count myself as the worst offender. I spend so much time trying to be proper, reserved, measured, thoughtful, contemplative. That often sours into being judgmental, resentful, critical, condescending, disapproving, depressed. Those things are far, far away from faith. They forget about joy. An effervescent faith is joyful. It does not just ignore the struggles of life, but it also isn’t consumed by those struggles. An effervescent faith is not afraid to be joyful, not afraid to celebrate, not afraid to praise. An effervescent faith looks for the joy in any situation.
Alright, I’ve got two more words from the thesaurus. Effervescent: enthusiastic. Enthusiastic means excited, eager, passionate, fervent. We get the word enthusiastic from Greek: ἐνθουσιαστικός, Guess what the Greek word actually means. It literally means possessed by a god. Inspired. An effervescent faith means letting God live in you. It means letting God bubble up inside you. It means being yeasty, being productive. It means giving yourself over to God’s inspiration. An effervescent faith is enthusiastic.
And finally, an effervescent faith is irrepressible. It cannot be easily contained. If it is put under pressure, if it is agitated, it is likely to break free, it is likely to burst forth. It can destroy barriers. It can send things flying. It does not give up. It pushes back. It resists. An effervescent faith is irrepressible.
But what does this have to do with the Bible? you may ask. It’s all there in the lessons we read this morning. There is the irrepressible joy of Psalm 100. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing. It does not say, Make a well-refined noise unto the Lord. It does not say, Make a beautiful noise, make a harmonious noise unto the Lord. No. It says make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Worship God with gladness! Sometimes we get stuck on trying to do it right, trying to do it well, and we forget to do it joyfully.
And from Isaiah, You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation. You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation. A spring that bubbles up, that provides life. A spring that brings forth bubbling water, even in the midst of a desert, even in the midst of drought, still it gurgles forth. You will draw water with rejoicing from the burbling springs of salvation.
But most important this Sunday is the word from the Gospel of John. Jesus is alone with a foreign woman at a well. His disciples are off running errands. And Jesus asks her to draw a drink of water for him from the well. But she is confused by his request. She is a Samaritan. He is a Jew. They don’t get along. They both think the others are bunch of heretics. But for some reason, Jesus violates social convention and asks her anyway. He asks for a gift from her.
But, as it turns out, he has a gift to offer in return. Ask, and I will give you living water. Living water, in the ancient world, generally meant water that is moving. Spring water the bubbles up from the ground is living water. A bubbling brook that gurgles over stones is living water.
But Jesus has a different kind of living water in mind. Everyone who drinks this well water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.
A spring of living water that bubbles up into never-ending life. That is what faith in Jesus does in us. It is a spring of living water that bubbles up into never-ending life.
It is there in the good times, when it is easy to be joyful. In the celebrations. In the births, and weddings, and anniversaries, and graduations, new jobs, successes, first loves, triumphs. It is there, bubbling up, exuding joy.
But it is also there in the hard times, when nothing seems easy. In the struggles. In the deaths and breakups and illnesses, layoffs, failures, broken hearts, defeats. Even then, the spring does not run dry. In fact, it is in those moments that Jesus’s living water is most important. Like an oasis, a spring bubbling up in the desert, offering refreshment, coolness, life. It is always there, a deep reserve of God’s love, hope, and joy. An effervescent faith that stirs up within us, gives us the grace to forgive, the strength to endure, the hope that sees beauty even in the midst of ugliness, joy even in the midst of sorrow, life even in the midst of death.
Effervescent faith. What are we doing with these words this year? I don’t know. But I’m excited to find out. Carry this image with you. In our worship, in our meetings, in your daily lives. An effervescent faith, a spring of living water that bubbles up eternally in the soul. Let us see what it does in us. Let us find out how it changes us. Let us discover what it brings forth in us, as we reach for that living water that quenches our thirst, that cleanses our sin, that washes away our fear. Living water. Eternal spring. Effervescent faith.