Vidi Aquam – Br. Mark Brown

John 7:37-39

One of my favorite places in Chicago is the beautiful Buckingham Fountain.  It sits on a large plaza between Lake Michigan and a spectacular wall of skyscrapers.  A big wedding cake of a fountain, it’s sometimes called Chicago’s front door.

I grew up not too far from the Windy City.  I remember Mayor Daly greeting Queen Elizabeth at the fountain in 1957.  She had come down the St. Lawrence Seaway on the royal yacht all the way to Chicago. Flags and bands and rifles and national anthems and so on, ladies curtsying. The queen and the mayor were a study in contrasts.  Fifty-four years ago Elizabeth looked and spoke very much the elegant young queen that she was.  Mayor Daly looked and spoke very much, well, Mayor Daly—the jowly, rotund boss of a huge political machine. You could imagine him smoking cheap cigars (of course, we’re talking about the first Mayor Daly, not the more recent one).

Well, the queen and the mayor are neither here nor there, but it was all pretty impressive to an 8 year old kid from Coal City, Illinois—even on black and white TV. So back to Buckingham Fountain.

Jets and sprays and a wedding cake of pools of water, sculptured fish spewing streams of water—allegorical figures in theatrical poses: it’s a delightful baroque style fountain. What is it about fountains that we find so exhilarating?  I’m not quite sure, but it’s the image I bring to these verses from John we’ve just heard.  Verses that I find delightfully refreshing, even exhilarating.  Especially this one: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire. Today Jesus offers us another image: the Holy Spirit, the Living Water, emerging from within us.  We are conduits of the Living Water.  It’s as if when we are baptized, we are incorporated into a great fountain.

Paul calls us the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus calls us a fountain of the Holy Spirit, because the Living Water flows out from our hearts.  The invitation to us is to open ourselves more fully to the Living Water of light and love that desires to emerge from deep within us, from some mysterious well—and then to flow out from us again.  “I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple…,” we sing in the Vidi aquam, a vision from Ezekiel. Christ is that temple and fountain; we are that temple and fountain.

How do we know when rivers of Living Water are flowing out from our hearts?  How do we know if the Holy Spirit is bubbling up from the depths within us and proceeding forth from us?  Paul gives us the signs.  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, humility, self-control.”  [Gal. 5:22-23]  These things are goodness and love expressed in word and deed, the living water of the Spirit of Love active within us, flowing forth from us.

Now if the Living Water flows like a river from our hearts, what is the cholesterol of the soul?  What is the artery-blocking cholesterol of the soul?  I’ll talk about two kinds.  One is fear. Fear of failure.  Fear of not being loved. Fear of want.  Fear of loss of dignity or status.  Fear of loss of control or power.  Fear of death.  Fear can clog the arteries of our souls. The more we fear, the less we love.

But the more we love, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we love. Sometimes we can address our fears head on and simply dismiss them—or at least manage them.  Sometimes love can overwhelm our fear. Sometimes doing some completely gratuitous act of loving-kindness will break through the sclerotic accretions of fear and the fountain begins to flow again. The more we love, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we can love. If we exercise our bodies, we can lower our cholesterol.  If we exercise loving-kindness, we can re-open the clogged arteries of the soul.  So that Living Water can flow through and out from us.

Another cholesterol of the soul is cynicism. Cynicism is highly sclerotic and leads to some serious blockage.  Perhaps it’s cynicism that Jesus is addressing when he refers to “the believer’s heart”.  A close translation of that sentence would be something like: “the one believing in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”.  “The one believing in me”—it’s hard to know exactly what is meant by that.  What does it mean, after all, to believe in Jesus? That sounds like a life’s work, actually: to find out what it means to believe in Jesus.

But I’ll make an attempt, a provisional attempt.  Among other things, believing in Jesus means believing in the possibility of love, incarnate love.  That is, to believe that love can be embodied in this world, that the grace and truth of Christ can be manifest in this world.  And, specifically, by us, by human beings.  To be cynical, in this context, would mean not believing in this possibility.  Cynicism would deny the possibility of incarnated love, embodied love; deny the possibility of love made manifest in word and deed.

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  But the cynical heart, the heart that does not believe in the possibility of love, is a sclerotic heart, a hardened heart. And no river of Living Water will flow forth from it.

But a Christian cannot be cynical: a Christian must believe in the possibility of love made manifest in this world. Love made flesh in countless ways, small and large.  A Christian simply must believe in the possibility of love—as elusive as love can sometimes be.

As we prepare to affirm our baptismal promises, we remember that we are baptized into Christ’s very being—into his death and resurrection, into his love. And, as it were, into a great fountain.  The invitation to us today and every day is to reclaim our place there among the jets and sprays and wedding cake of pools. To reclaim, to reaffirm our place in this fountain, knowing that rivers of Living Water are welling up even now from the depths of our being.  Welling up from the depths of our souls, desiring to flow forth from us, to make Love manifest in this world again and again.

Even you and even me. You can be from Coal City or Kansas City or the Windy City or New York City or the Emerald City or any city or no city.  You can be a queen or a mayor; you can even smoke cheap cigars. Everyone is invited: it takes all kinds to make a fountain.

“I saw water proceeding from the right side of the temple; and all to whom that water came shall be saved, and shall say, ‘Alleluia, alleluia”.

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  1. Annette Foisie OSL on January 18, 2017 at 11:06

    I am grateful for the fountain image. As an artist, I often find peace and serenity in places of great natural beauty, like forests and seacoasts, and I try to capture that on canvas. Folks tell me that they also see this in my work. For me, that is a successful painting, if others see what I saw there: the power, the grandeur, and the majesty of God’s creation. In this manner, I become a fountain, passing on the “water” to others, which is my love for God and His creation. Blessings.

  2. John Barrow on February 7, 2016 at 09:06

    From the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “cynical.”
    1. Believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity:
    “her cynical attitude”
    2. concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards in order to achieve them:
    “a cynical manipulation of public opinion”

    Help me understand why the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “cynical” is necessarily exclusive of believing that love also exists in the world. I serve persons and God and am a part of the body of Christ. I also act out of self-interest more than I want to. Help me understand why I need to pretend that people’s motives are less self-directed than we want them to be, even that group of the entire population of Earth who actually struggles to grow in other-directedness. The quote you shared seems a bit “black-and-white,” proposing a duality that doesn’t in fact exist.

    • CMAC on June 22, 2016 at 10:20

      First of all the Dictionary is the dictionary – that’s all.
      Secondly, I am somewhat mystified by your Reply. All I can tell you is that in my lifetime – which is long – I have experienced wonderful love from people who would never have seen their actions in terms of being loving. Many of them were not church-goers and probably didn’t give faith much thought. They were just good folks – open hearted, and loving. I have been blessed by the gifts they passed on to me without any ulterior motives.

  3. Maureen on June 21, 2015 at 10:27

    The events of Wednesday evening–the shooting of nine gathered in prayer–by a man turning his gun on them in fear they would “rape our women and take over our country” (or words to that effect), is an awful display of fear and cynicism.
    The declarations of forgiveness by relatives of the slain are such wonderful examples of love casting out fear.
    May I show a speck of such love in my life.

  4. Marta e. on June 21, 2015 at 04:42

    I am “touched” by the focus and concern folks with their loved ones. Mother passed on around Christmas 1973, and Daddy joined her at Easter time in 1978; then my only (estranged) brother in February 2011. I still am going through the papers and mementos of my parents, even now. I have recently found an old newspaper clipping that Mother (I think) had pinned to a cork board in her kitchen. As my son who celebrated his 40th birthday this week, and my daughter who has been 9 years older face the trials and tribulations of the middle age years (work, children and family life) and the fears, cynicism and doubts of “managing” “real life”, I look for opportunities to share with them some of the family history of mother’s spiritual tradition of concerns and faith.

    I found the words of this (old-1960’s, my high school years?!) newspaper clipping “from” Mother to be highly relevant:
    “At some time during every day, usually at bedtime, I recite the following prayer of St. Francis de Sales:
    ‘Have no fear for what tomorrow may bring. The same loving God who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. God will either shield you from suffering or give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.’ (substituting the pronoun ‘me’ for ‘you’).”
    I keep the old newspaper clipping in my glasses’ case so that it is always available to me, and so I can pass it on to my adult children from their grandmother. I wish that I had discovered this a long time ago!

  5. Michael on June 19, 2015 at 10:21

    Giving into fear makes us all human, but countering fear with love reminds us we are also divine. It is easy to lose our balance and give up hope, but God refuses to walk away from us even though we often abandon ourselves. Because we are always loved, we can always start again

  6. anders on June 19, 2015 at 10:16

    Thank you. Your analogy of water reminds me of the book “God is the color of water” which explores how God takes on the color of those and that around him. I am grateful for a slow letting go of the sclerotic cynicism of my past, an exclusive ethnic evangelism built more on fear of the “other” than love. It’s hard for me to separate the baby from the bath water at times. I’m learning to feel more comfortable with this idea: throw it all in the fountain and God will show me the truth standing soaked but in radiance.

  7. Roderic Brawn on June 19, 2015 at 07:38

    Tina, my wife lives in the way of love. I try to love to the extent and in the ways I think are best. The challenge is that we must live in this world. To know how to live in the best way and to love as much as we can is always a challenge.

  8. Pam on October 9, 2014 at 14:43

    This has reminded me of my trip to Australia….. I went to my friends church and afterwards we stayed behind for coffee. I was introduced to many people and later as I was standing there her very new minister came over to me and said with his hands on his head “God has told me that your name is Pam and you come from South Africa” and laughing, my reply was ” No He didn’t….. you just overheard me” and we both laughed. He then became very serious and he said “people in ministry can easily become cynical and discouraged”. I don’t know what prompted him to say this and yet unknowingly this strangers words lifted a heavy weight from over me as regards to the church and those who minister. I understood better and that knowledge gave my heart a sharp pang and perhaps too I see myself better, clearer. I can look at my own fears, my own pride in clearer , more gracious ways too. I shall remember these words and the words you speak – that believing Jesus is believing in the possibility of love, incarnate love, love in the world, in people and that believing it , helps us to actually see it ( I know this to be true) and for it to flow like living water from us. I remember Br Geoffrey said we should be intentional ( that word has gone over and over in my head this week) when we pray…… I am thinking it means to not only pray but to have intent when we encounter situations where we would like to be more open, more loving , have more humility and in that split second we get to chose, we chose to be open to the possibilities. There are many things to be grateful for , from all you brothers, but for this week I am so thankful for the opportunities you have given me to think in new ways.

  9. Ruth West on October 9, 2014 at 12:23

    Thank you, Br. Mark, for this very good homily.
    “Perfect love casteth out fear.” How impossible it seems to have perfect love! But that is the goal.
    During this time of a particular world-wide health scare and a realization that terrorism is present all around us, how important it is to love God and our neighbor, looking to Him for daily guidance and trusting that His living water can open us up to block the “Cholestrol of the soul.” You have given me good food for thought today. Thank you!

  10. Mino Sullivan on October 9, 2014 at 08:11

    What a blessing it is to receive Brother Give Us A Word on our screens each morning! Alleluia!

    Br. Mark,
    Your words today fill me with hope, “Maybe I can do it.” They inspire me, “Today I’ll be more aware.” “The more we love, the less we fear.” Such simple words with such profound meaning. Thank you for encouraging us to try again, and again, and again. I’ve come to believe that this is the Christian journey we are called to travel.

  11. Michele C. on February 3, 2014 at 02:02

    This sermon speaks to me in so many ways. It reminds me of the meaning of “fontbonne,” the good fountain, which was the name of my high school. It was a special place where I did feel a great deal of love, serenity and peace. Now, many years later, I am challenged by the slow death of my sister, Christine, who I referenced in a recent response to another sermon. Christine is facing her life’s end. She is fearful, and I too am afraid for her. The following section from this sermon hit home with me. It speaks to the fears that humans face when they are dying. It is one thing to learn the words and the concepts. But it is another to walk the talk. Please help me pray for my sister, as well as her family members during this difficult period in our lives.
    Thank you and God Bless
    “But the more we love, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we love.
    Sometimes we can address our fears head on and simply dismiss them—or at
    least manage them. Sometimes love can overwhelm our fear. Sometimes
    doing some completely gratuitous act of loving-kindness will break through the
    sclerotic accretions of fear and the fountain begins to flow again. The more we
    love, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we can love. If we exercise
    our bodies, we can lower our cholesterol. If we exercise loving-kindness, we
    can re-open the clogged arteries of the soul. So that Living Water can flow
    through and out from us.”

    • Christina on June 16, 2014 at 08:54

      Good morning Michele: It is four months on since your letter above. I send you a prayer: for your sister Christine and for you.
      I like to think that I am not afraid of dying – but I know that I am fearful about how that might happen. My husband died five years ago: he had been critically ill and, rightly or wrongly, I prayed for him to ‘shuffle off this mortal coil.’ How could I not want him to be released from pain and suffering?
      I have wonderful memories of the 50+; years we had together – he was and is part of my life. Blessings. Christina

      • Michele on June 16, 2014 at 16:51

        Thank you for your prayers. I too found myself praying for God to take her home as well. The end was difficult for all. I miss my sister, and I pray for her and my parents every day. I ask God to keep his loving arms around her and give her a “hug” for me. Its funny in a way, I called my sister Christina as well. Again, thank you,
        My God continue to bless your and yours as well,

        • Christina on June 19, 2015 at 08:59

          A year later: June 21st.2015. I wonder whether you will receive this morning’s Word?
          Again: my thoughts (or prayers) are with you.
          Blessings. Christina

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