High Fructose Corn Syrup (and living water)

Pentecost, Year A

**Note - this is a first for me: I had prepared a sermon for this day and was unable to deliver it.  After more than 3 years of successfully avoiding it, Michael and I both got COVID this week.  We quickly transitioned plans for the church, and a lay worship leader is leading Morning Prayer and sharing my sermon.  This is only the second time in nearly 16 years of full-time ministry that I've had to call out sick for a Sunday.  I hope it doesn't happen again!

Dear Friends,

I’m sorry I can’t be with you today, and I’m so sorry that we’ve had to shift our plans and move the Baptisms of Joe & Pat Murphy to next week!  I knew this was a possibility when Michael tested positive for COVID at the beginning of last week, but I spent the week moving ahead in the fervent hope that we could follow through on our plans.

So – I’d already prepared a sermon for today.  I offer my thanks to Joan for sharing an edited version of it with you today, and for leading our worship today.  I hope to be worshiping with you remotely!

Hopefully, by next week, I’ll have ended my time of isolation and we can celebrate the good work that the Holy Spirit is doing in Joe & Pat, and in our whole congregation then.

Thank you all for your faithfulness!



In the name of God: our source, our sustenance, and our strength.  Amen. 

High.  Fructose.  Corn Syrup.

It was first produced in 1957, but it was introduced into the US food supply in the 1970s.  Its use steadily increased year over year, until 1984, when both Coca-Cola and Pepsi replaced the cane sugar in the US versions of their soft drinks with High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Then its use mushroomed.  Now it’s hard to find products that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup.  Studies show that the average American consumes nearly 30 pounds of it every year.

In the 1990s, high fructose corn syrup began getting a bad reputation, so the corn industry lobbied to change its name to the more natural sounding, “corn sugar”.  But the Food and Drug Administration refused that effort.

The arguments in favor of high fructose corn syrup are that it is cheaper than cane sugar, easier to produce, and available in great abundance through America’s massive corn crops.  The arguments against it, however, are that it contributes to the obesity epidemic in America.  Some suggest that high fructose corn syrup actually changes human metabolism, allowing us to consume large quantities of it, while simultaneously suppressing the hormones we produce that tell us we’ve had enough to eat.  We can consume more and more and never really feel satisfied.

While high fructose corn syrup does seem like sort of an extreme physical example of this phenomenon – consuming more and more without being satisfied – it does seem like that’s the way is it with many of the promises of fulfillment that we get from the world.  Buy more perfume.  Buy more electronics.  Try this newest thing.  Acquire the latest fashions, the faster, more stylish car…  The list goes on and on.  The consumer-driven markets of the world promise fulfillment, but usually those promises are unmet. 

Jesus offers another way.  He says, “’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.’’”

Rather than a product that makes big promises and fails to deliver – a product that leaves the consumer unsatisfied, Jesus is offering a lasting answer to life’s hunger, true refreshment from the ways that we thirst.  And not just water, but living water.  Not water that merely rests where it falls.  Not water that lazily takes whatever shape it’s given.  But living water.  Living water that will truly satisfy.  Living water that will strengthen us for all that lies ahead.

Even though we can’t have the baptisms today that we’d planned to have, we still will recite our baptismal covenant – as we do every year on Pentecost.  Because, on this day, when we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the earliest iteration of the church after Jesus lived, died, and rose again, we also celebrate the ways that the Holy Spirit is still being given to us.  We remember our own baptisms today as a way of remembering that the Holy Spirit is still being given to us.  We remember our own baptisms, because we benefit from remembering the living water that once flowed over us, and more importantly, the living water that still flows through us as Christ’s church.

I saw it posted online earlier this week, that the Hawaiian archipelago would actually be the tallest mountain range in the world if measured from its base at the ocean floor, instead of from sea level.  I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it did make me think about the Holy Spirit.  While the part that we can see is impressive, and beautiful in ways that we could never really imagine on our own, it’s only a piece.  There is far more to the Holy Spirit than what we can comprehend.  And a little goes a very long way.

Unlike the promises of the products that are constantly being sold to us – where too much is never enough, the Holy Spirit can bring satisfaction and fulfillment almost without trying.

I have often said that the most powerful prayer we can muster is simply, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  It is a prayer that, when offered genuinely and with heartfelt sincerity, is always answered.  It is a prayer that can unleash wisdom, comfort, and guidance.  Because, when we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives we do experience that living water that Christ promised.  And we are empowered for living lives in Christ.

Today, as we remember our own baptisms, and as we look in hope to next week when we can celebrate the baptisms of Joe & Pat, remember that it’s not just about that moment.  It’s not just about the act of baptizing.  And it’s certainly not just about any individual who is baptized.  The real joy we share is about the grace that comes from living as baptized people – living as members of the Body of Christ.  One body with many members.  It’s about all of us.  It’s about the commitment that we share.  And it is in celebration of the life in Christ that is always being made new.  Amen.