Text: John 4:31-38
Theme Verse: “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me.” - Jesus (John 4:34)
Everyone is counting calories these days. And yes, there’ s an app for that. Metabolism shifts over time and our body’ s needs change as well. When you’ re experiencing a growth spurt as a youth, parents often say, “You’re a growing boy! You’re a growing girl! Eat up!”We learn quickly that food for the body is necessary to sustain its strength, its health, its growth. Jesus often turns physical realities into spiritual lessons. “I’ve got food you don’t even know about,” Jesus says to the disciples. They think he’ s been holding out on his stash of snacks. Jesus counters with something much deeper than that – sustenance for the soul.
reader : Bob Flint
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
A twenty-something journalist was writing an article about how to find yourself in the decade of your twenties and he offered this line: “Figuring out life in our twenties can feel like searching for a specific marble while floundering in a swimming pool filled with marbles — in the dark.” My guess is that a number of us could claim that truth for whatever decade of life we are currently living through. Can I get an, “Amen!” Are you trying to figure out your life? Sort it out? Wonder about the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of your 30’s or 40’s or 70’s or 80’s? It’s such a curious thing; life that is. That same journalist says, “Chances are nobody’s going to name a High School after you for quite a while.” He says there’s great discouragement for those coming out of college or maneuvering into adulthood thinking they’re about to flip the world’s script on what is and what can be. They enter that decade of life ready to change the world! We understand this. Add my name to the list of those who want to change the world. We’ve heard the challenge and we want to be Game Changers. History Makers. Change Agents. We learn early on that we can look the part on social media which has left another millennial professional asking of his own generation: Might we become the most overrated generation ever? He suggests that we’ve skewed the Golden Rule to read, “Look good unto others as you want them to look good unto you;” noting, as a physically short man, “I look so tall on Instagram!” What do we want? Success! When do we want it? Now!
Author Paul Angone admitted, “I thought the only problem after college would be picking which amazing job offer to take.” When the opportunities didn’t surface, Paul and his college roommate, Rob, went to the same temp agency to find work. “Rob was placed at a warehouse packaging nutcrackers. Big wooden Christmas nutcrackers. By himself, packing one nutcracker after another. Him and his degree in computer science keeping him company.” Paul was sent to interview for a position as a used-airplane-parts sales assistant. “Now this was my first real out-of-college interview so, understandably, I was nervous as I walked into the office. Not about messing up the interview, mind you, which is probably what a person should be worried about at their first interview. No, I was scared because I’d just realized I must have been flying around this whole time in airplanes with used parts.” He interviewed for the job nonetheless as he noted, “My one in the same checking/savings account totaled $67.”
Paul’s potential employer walked him around the office, introducing him to other people wandering around, each one offering some version of “It’s an absolute thrill to work here” and “This is a great opportunity with a lot of upward mobility.” He said, “Soon I was completely convinced – not about my future working there, but about the fact that all of them were either:
- terrorist alien drones sent to earth to sabotage our airline industry.
- prisoners who had disrespected the Used-Airplane-Parts Feudal Lord of Santa Barbara and were being held captive.
- regular people who desperately wanted to escape but were being sedated with gas through the overhead vents.
- regular people who had become comfortable living crappily ever after.
After this wake-up-moment for Paul, and maybe wake-up-moments you’ve experienced in your own life, the idea of ‘changing the world’ quickly jumps into the backseat, taking a nap while the ‘reality of continued living’ takes over. The summarized reflection for these two men became this: “Maybe our twenties isn’t about looking for ways to microwave success, but about gathering the ingredients, tools and instructions necessary to have success later. Instead of fretting about our lack of success or enviously looking over our fences at the success of others, we need to start working with what little we have now so that it can turn into something awesome later.” Oh, but such requires great patience, doesn’t it? And who has time for that?
It is our faith, however, that is always preparing us to embrace the now in hopes of reaping all the joy that is yet to come. The Apostle Paul says it well… his word to the church at Rome the actual inspiration for our Lenten series, “All Groan Up.” Do remember this word?
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. – Romans 8:22-25
We’re talking about groaning pains, my friends. Think of it this way. Everyone is counting calories these day. And yes, there’s an app for that: “My Fitness Pal” is the one I am attempting to use to hold myself accountable to my own fitness goals. Why is this important when it comes to our bodies? Metabolism shifts over time and our body’s needs change as well. When you’re experiencing a growth spurt as a youth, parents often say, “You’re a growing boy! You’re a growing girl! Eat up!” We learn quickly that food for the body is necessary to sustain its strength, its health, its growth. Jesus often turns physical realities into spiritual lessons and he does so in our scriptural passage of focus today: “I’ve got food you don’t even know about,” Jesus says to the disciples. They think he’s been holding out on his stash of snacks. But Jesus counters with something much deeper than that – sustenance for the soul.
The Johannine passage we consider today has some similarities to last week’s engagement with the story of Nicodemus and what it means to be “Born from Above.” Jesus offers up a difficult idea and then explains it from a spiritual perspective. In today’s pericope, or passage of scripture, we read the “Director’s Cut” of what has happened in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (which we’ll consider more deeply next week). He has this dramatic and taboo encounter with her and then the director yells, “Cut!” and the disciples are left with Jesus saying, “Break down that scene for us, Jesus, because that. was. nuts.” Now – food is used as a tool into this story but the point doesn’t have a whole lot to do with food at all. They all are hungry – Jesus stops at the well as the disciples go on into town to pick up some White Castle sliders. They come back with food, having left Jesus as hungry as the rest of them were, only to find him saying, “I’m not hungry.” They are a bit perturbed as they sprung for his lunch and now “He’s not hungry?!!?” I imagine Jesus, who was just deeply moved by this encounter with the Samaritan woman, is a little frustrated with the disciples – whether rightfully so or not is beside the point. Maybe he’s just projecting his frustration with the day onto those closest to him. We never do that do we? … In a sort of twitter-style ALL CAPS frustration Jesus says to them: “I HAVE FOOD TO EAT YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT!”
We were having a family supper earlier this week. At family dinners we share our “Peaks and Pits” stories of the day: we all share high lights (peaks) and low lights (pits). Our oldest, Morgan, was telling us about her science teacher’s son surprise visit to their school that day. He serves in the military, has been deployed overseas, and was coming home early. He set up a big surprise visit to his mom at school. It was awesome and Morgan loved sharing in the surprise. But as Morgan was struggling to tell us where he had been serving exactly saying, “I think he was in…” or “well maybe he was in…”, our youngest, Hayes, decided he needed to swing the convo so he tosses out this gem: “I know where Jesus is! He’s in your heart!” This was totally sweet of course but then, as only Hayes can, he adds this: “And sometimes he’s IN. YO. FACE!” [insert erupting five-year-old laughter].
If you asked the disciples where Jesus was they would probably tell you such was true… and maybe this was just such a moment. The disciples had their minds on their stomachs and Jesus had his mind on the soul. Now – I get the stomach part. You’ve got to eat and we know food was a central focus of Jesus’ own enjoyment and certainly his ministry. This isn’t a plot against food. It just was the opening of the moment to talk about the lasting effort of the spiritual realm. Food’s great and necessary, but you get hungry again in a few hours. Jesus says the sustenance you need is a satisfaction of the soul that will last for an eternity. This is always the harder focus for us. An eternity is not something we can easily grasp. A fish sandwich, however, brings immediate gratification. We get that. But Jesus presses, as he always does, to look deeper – to look through the murkiness of life and see what is most important.
One of my buddies is a brilliant guy, a great friend; one of those guys who could bury you quickly playing trivial pursuit but gives you enough space to get an answer or two so you feel like you are part of the effort. He shared a metaphor this week that connects here I believe. He said, “Imagine before you, sitting on a table, is a glass of muddy water. It’s thick and dark and impossible to see through. In our general attempts to clear the water, by stirring it or attempting to spoon out the mud, we generally just make it worse. But if you are patient and sit with it for a bit – the mud will settle to the bottom of the glass and you can see straight through it.” How is this like your life? Something is presented to you – a challenge, a concern, a problem. Do you immediately launch into it trying to fix it or justify it or lash back only to find you’re just making the situation more and more murky all the time? What if you sit with it first? Let the impurities and darkness and dirt all sift to the bottom first? Then, you can see the situation more clearly and with a calm spirit, determine what is needed; what next step is best.
Jesus tells the disciples that the life of faith will be like that sometimes. You’ll be ready for Easter but find its only week two of Lent. There’s spiritual work to be done now that will bring Easter most clearly but you can’t always get Easter ahead of time. It comes in its right time. Jesus points the disciples to the fields of Sychar behind them – famous for its corn crop. Agricultural land was very limited in stony, rocky Palestine – practically nowhere else in the country could a person look up and see waving fields of golden corn. The very people of that community were hitting the hills to bring in the harvest as Jesus is talking with them. Sometimes you get to see the harvest without having to have done any of the sowing. They may be thinking sweet corn on the cob but Jesus is thinking of this community of people who are now primed to receive the Good news of Christ… all because of his taboo encounter with the woman at the well. Her faith, now enlivened by the grace and love Jesus extended to her, would be sown into her community and her whole town was now engaging the faith. With International Women’s Day being celebrated this past week, it is fitting to celebrate this woman, so often overlooked because of her past, now the very hinge upon which her village comes to faith. You just never know… and for that very reason… you sow the faith. You take each moment of your day as a faith moment. You don’t have to be whacky about it – just faithful – just consistent – just mindful. Whatever you face, let the murkiness junk of this world sift to the bottom and then look through the issue with your faith to see what seed you can sow. You may never see the harvest of your sowing but that’s not ours to decide. We all have benefited from others who have sown before us.
Courtney reminded me of a story that comes from our time of service at Geist Christian Church in Indianapolis. The vision of the church grew to start a second campus in an area just north of the city – a town called Fishers. Fishers was in the top ten of the fastest growing cities in the United States at that time. It was booming in every way – but there was not a Disciples church in that area. The vision of our church became to create a Disciples presence in that community – to sow the love of Christ there in the unique way our voice was positioned to do so. The region was positioned to gift us much of the land (coming from the proceeds of sale from another beloved Disciples congregation who longed for a Disciples presence in that area.) We were beginning a campaign to build a campus there and launch a second site – we would be one church in two locations. The story Courtney reminded me of was in a vision meeting sharing about how this might come to pass and a man saying to the group gathered, “Why would I participate in this? Why would I pay to build a church up there that I will never attend or benefit from?” And a woman in the group casually, yet extremely effectively piped in saying, “It’s a good thing no one said that about the building you’re sitting in now.” We all can thank God for the saints who have gone before us, sowing the seeds of faith that are coming to harvest in our very lives. Jesus says, “Sometimes you’ll harvest a benefit of none of your own effort… and sometimes… you’ll be the ones sowing for another yet to come.”
It’s all perspective, isn’t it? And the sustenance we need is found in our contentment to humbly sow and sow and then be grateful along the way when we harvest the faith-sowing of others. It’s like the three brick layers who were each working on a separate wall of the same new church construction project. A person walking along the job site asked each one of them, “What are you building?” The first guy answers, “Nothing. I’m just laying bricks.” The second guy answers, “I’m building a wall.” The third answers, “I’m building a cathedral!” Which perspective best feeds the soul?
What are you building with your lives, my friends? Can you see whatever it is you’re doing as the work of God? Is Christ in your heart? Or maybe you need him to be in your face for a minute. See him in whatever you’re doing and know the gift of harvest and the blessing of the opportunity to sow is one we are to treasure with a sense of gratitude. I had people sitting in these very pews now send me word this week about some of the most difficult things they’ve ever experienced in their lives, happening right now. Is Christ at work in it? It’s hard to see, but I was inspired as each in their own way said, “I see Christ at work… even in this.” Another had surgery… another is rebuilding a marriage… another was headed off on a mission trip… another was overcoming loneliness… another was my friend and colleague from Memphis who after some of the most difficult losses of pregnancy anyone could experience, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who I know is going to rock this world as a product of her Creator and her parents who will so deeply sow faith in the very marrow of her bones.
This is Elle Maia , one-day history maker – born-on date: March 7. It is the faithful effort every day that makes us game changers, change agents and history makers. Sometimes we harvest. All the time we sow. Is God’s sustaining love at work in this world? I can only conclude by walking with you every day – without a doubt… without a doubt.
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 From Joel Delgado’s article: All Groan Up: 7 Truths For Every Twentysomething. His article was inspired by his friend, Paul Angone’s book entitled, “All Groan Up”.
 All Groan Up. Paul Angone. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. 2014. This sermon series’ title came from Angone’s book title though there is little reflected in the series besides the title.
 Exegetical support for this passage comes from William Barclay’s commentary on The Gospel of John. The Westminster Press. 1975.