“Our Spiritual Food”

Lent 3

March 19, 2017


Text:  John 4:5-42 (especially 31-38)


    Today we read the lengthy story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  As I reflected on this passage this past week, my attention was caught by something I hadn't really reflected on before.

    As you recall, Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria, and at midday stopped at a well just outside the village of Sychar.  Jesus sat at the well to rest, while the disciples went on into town to buy food.  While they were in a town, a woman of the place came to the well to draw water.  Jesus asked her for a drink.  Since Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, and since Jewish men of the time weren’t supposed to speak to women in public, this was surprising to the woman, and a conversation ensued in which Jesus offered the woman “living water”, revealed that he knew about her checkered marital history, discussed with her the nature of true worship, and told her that he is the Messiah.  The disciples then returned, and the woman hurried back into town to invite everyone to come and see a man who told her everything she had ever done, and that she thought he might be the Messiah.

    What caught my attention this week is the account of the interaction between Jesus and his disciples while the woman was in town spreading the news.  Listen again to this portion of our Scripture:

    “In the meantime the disciples spoke to Jesus, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’

“Jesus said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you don’t know about.’

“The disciples asked each other, ‘Has someone brought him food?’

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work.’”

We are spiritually fed by doing God’s work.

There have been a few times over the years (thankfully, not many) where I have encountered someone whose complaint about me or about the church was, “I’m not getting fed.”  When someone says this, they are usually saying that they don’t feel like the sermons or the worship services or the other activities of the church are doing anything for them spiritually.  The statement also implies that they are expecting someone else to feed them.

Consider this:  the only people who have to be fed physical food by others are very young children and people whose physical or mental condition prevents them from being able to feed themselves.  The vast majority of people are able to take the food that is available and feed themselves.  So why should the spiritual life be different?  It seems to me most people should be able to take what is offered and feed themselves spiritually.  Most people should not have to be spoon fed by a pastor or by the church.  I suspect that the comment “I’m not getting fed” really means “I don’t like the food you’re offering me.”  Just because we may not like the food being offered does not mean it’s not good for us.  We all have foods we don’t like.  For instance, I don’t like Brussels sprouts.  I don’t like tuna.  I’m not fond of baked beans.  That does not mean they are not nourishing or good for me.  It just means I don’t find them tasty.

Furthermore, remember what Jesus said fed him.  He did not mention listening to sermons.  He did not say it was worship in the synagogue.  He did not even mention his personal prayer life.  Now all of these things probably nourished his life with God in some way--and we know Jesus participated in all of them as a devout, observant Jew.  But in the story of the woman at the well, Jesus said, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing that work.”  Jesus said he was fed by doing God’s will and completing God’s work.  It is no different for us.  We are spiritually fed by doing God’s work.

And what is this work?  Listen to what Jesus says next:  “Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it’s time for harvest’?  Look, I tell you:  open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest.  Those who harvest are receiving their pay and gathering fruit for eternal life so that those who sow and those who harvest can celebrate together.  This is a true saying, that one sows and another harvests.  I have sent you to harvest what you didn't work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work.”  When Jesus talks about harvest in this way, he is talking about bringing people into the Kingdom of God, of bringing people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  That is what he was doing in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.  It didn’t matter to Jesus that this woman was an outsider to the Jewish people or that she had skeletons in her closet.  Jesus invited her into relationship with God, and she was so moved by the invitation that she invited the rest of her village to join her.  

Jesus says that our work is to participate in his harvest, to plant the seeds of God’s love in people’s lives, to help others to come into relationship with God, regardless of who they are.  That is why our denomination’s mission statement says we are “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  It is not primarily to make our statistics look better or to have more money in the offering plate.  It is because God desires all people to be in right relationship with him.  When we participate in this work, God blesses us as well.  We are spiritually fed when we do God’s work.

The ministry of camping is an important part of that work.  Last year, only 44% of the campers who attended a United Methodist camp in Iowa were United Methodist.  Now some of the 56% who were not United Methodist came from other Christian traditions.  But as Wesley Woods site director Deke Rider has already mentioned this morning, 25% had no church or Christian background at all.  Camp provided a first opportunity for these young people to learn about and experience the love of God in Jesus Christ through the teaching, the worship experiences, and most importantly, through God’s love and acceptance shown to them by their fellow campers, counselors, and other camp staff.  Seeds were planted in these young lives that others have the opportunity to nurture toward further growth and an eventual harvest for God.  

Having served as spiritual director at Wesley Woods last summer (which I will be doing again this summer), I was able to observe some of this happening.  I was able to observe lives being changed.  I also heard a number of testimonies from summer staff in which they told how they were blessed in sharing God’s word and God’s love with the campers, and of how they grew in their faith.  They were spiritually fed by doing God’s work.  So are we.

So when we go forth from this place, let us go into the world to do God’s work, to share God’s love with all people, to seek God’s justice for all people, to invite others into right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  In so doing, our spirits will be fed.  Amen.

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