by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are finishing up our sermon series, Neighbors. We have taking three weeks to consider at what loving our neighbor looks like in our daily lives. The first week we looked at the question of “What is love?” Last week we asked “Who do I love?” And this week, we are considering “When do I love?”
Our featured Scripture, occurs just after a story that may be very familiar to us, “The Woman at the Well,” but it’s a part of the story that we don’t necessarily focus on so much. The disciples left Jesus near the well to go into town to get some food, and a woman comes to draw water from the well at the hottest part of the day. Surprising no one more than the woman, Jesus talks with her, despite her difficult life, after making some choices or having choices forced upon her. He knows all about the rejection of her town, so much so that she has to come to draw water from the well when she thinks that no one else will be there … Jesus offers her the living water of new life, gives her the hope of a future, goes so far as to tell her that he’s the Messiah.
And this is where our Scripture picks up for today from the Gospel of John 4:27-35
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
Jesus says such a strange thing in response to the disciples’ urging that he eat. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about … My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields? They are ripe for harvest.”
When was the last time you were so excited about something, so consumed with what you were doing that you entirely forgot about eating, you didn’t need to eat? NT Wright relates a story of when George Frederic Handel was composing his masterpiece, Messiah. He was able to complete it in only a few weeks. He often went long times without food. He was so busy writing, transported by the music that he was getting it down as fast as he could. Can you imagine that? Hearing it in your head. Seeing how it goes together, and wanting to record it all before you lose it? Being fed by the music. Physical food could be a distraction. Can you imagine?
Just before today’s Scripture, Jesus had a discussion about water with the woman at the well, where no one gets a drink, and the woman leaves her water jar to go tell the people about what’s just happened to her. Now, he’s saying that he doesn’t need to eat. Is it because he is so excited about what has just happened, about what is going to happen with the people of this Samaritan town?
Our main question for today, is “When Do We Love?” Before Jesus ever encounters the woman Luke tells us that Jesus was tired. That was the reason that he didn’t go into town with the disciples to get lunch. And yet, when the woman arrives, none of that matters anymore. She becomes much more important.
When Do I Love? The easy answer is “all the time.” It is an easy answer, but it is not easy to do . We may have conflicting things drawing our attention, both of which, or all of which, have to do with love. How do you decide? How do you decide whether it is merely inconvenient, or you just can’t physically do it?
The reality in this broken world is that we can’t stop for everybody, every time, in every circumstance. Doing that could actually hurt others. It may be the one who is waiting for us. Maybe we are entirely tapped out and need to recharge. Jesus did both of these things during his ministry. He didn’t stop and help everyone. In fact he retreated on several occasions. In Mark chapter 1, after being inundated with people wanting help, Jesus had to go to a solitary place to pray. Peter went looking for him because more people came for help, and Jesus’ response? “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:32-38). Sometimes he went to completely different regions to escape (cf. Mark 3:1-12; 4:35-36; 5:21-34; 6:30-34).
Any yet, that was certainly not every time. Sometimes we are called to stop even when it is inconvenient. We might be tired. We might miss a meal. We might miss out on doing something we like, but the person before us is more important.
With the woman at the well, Jesus didn’t feel up to going into town with the disciples for lunch. He was too tired. Perhaps, he thought he was taking a break, but then this amazing opportunity was presented to speak with this woman. That encounter not only changed her life but the lives of many people of her town.
When do we love? When we see people that need love. Sometimes that love comes in the form of a friendly conversation with a person who needs to be heard. Sometimes it is making sure that they get the medical care they need. (Both of these things can provide healing in their own ways.) Sometimes it is helping them get the food or clothing. Jesus either did all of these things or encouraged others to do so. He had compassion for people.
I am reminded of the woman who was burying her son in Luke 19. He encountered the funeral procession outside of a town. He was drawn to the mother and her grief, and he had compassion for her. He went to her and provided comfort. It was as simple as that. Of course how he provided comfort was not so simple. I’ll let you read that for yourself, Luke 19.
However, the way that Jesus showed love was by preaching and teaching the Good News. Sometimes that had the effect of healing, but the primary thing he was offering was forgiveness, a path for people to fix their broken relationships with God. He did it, his disciples did it. There are examples of people doing it in the Old Testament. Encounters that changed people’s lives.
Of course, this is what Jesus was offering to the woman at the well, with his living water. When Jesus offers living water, when we share it, we are sharing what we need MOST to live, to live the way that God intended, in relationship with us. Just before this Jesus had an encounter with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who was changed so much that he spoke up for Jesus before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing council) and helped take care of his body after Jesus’ crucifixion. This was after just a few minutes with Jesus (cf. John 3:1-21; 7:50-53; 19:38-41).
Acts 8:26-40, relates the Apostle Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official when he explained the prophecies about Jesus in the Scriptures. One place in the Old Testament when an ordinary person brought a person from another culture into relationship with God was the story of Naomi and Ruth from the book of Ruth. Due to a famine, Naomi and her husband had moved from Israel to Moab. Their two sons married local girls. When all three men died, and Naomi decided to return home, her daughter in-law couldn’t bear to be parted from her.
Ruth says, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). Through the continual love that Naomi showed her daughter in-law, she brought her into relationship with God.
When do we love? Always. How do we do it? In many varied ways, but also by sharing the love Jesus, by the way we live our lives, but also by explaining it to others.
The woman at the well was so excited about what she learned from Jesus that she effectively ran into town shouting “eureka!” She has heard the Good News, and she has to share it, even with people who had been snubbing her. The news was too good to keep it to herself. She tells all her neighbors because what she suspects is so extraordinary. She can’t help it (cf. John 4:28-30).
From time to time we talk about sharing the Good News, the Gospel. There are really three things that often come up. 1) If the good news is so great, why aren’t we running down the street shouting, “Eureka!”? I’ve said this before. We hear about a new recipe for potato salad that we think is GREAT, and we want to share it with our friends. We go to a great new restaurant. “Have you heard about this joint? The food is great! It will change your life!”
Why don’t we do this with the Gospel. For one thing, it’s not new. We don’t tell people about the movie that we’ve seen 500 times and can recite the dialog word for word. We may even find it incredible that someone else hasn’t seen it. After all, if we’ve seen it 500 times, it must be pretty good.
“Have you seen this move? I don’t know if you’ve hear about it, Casablanca? I think it’s one of the best movies ever made. Drama, romance, comedy, flawed hero (and heroine)… I better be careful, or I’ll give too much away …”
We might think that way about the Gospel. Everybody knows about that. I could think that way about Casablanca. If anyone was interested in seeing it, wouldn’t they have done it already? I can’t presume that anyone born in the last 30 years has even heard of Casablanca, who am I kidding, born in the last 50 years has even heart about it. The only reason I was even aware of it was a reference in the tv show Laverne and Shirley from the 1970s, another thing that someone born in the last 30 years may never have heard of.
The bottom line is that we can’t be sure that any particular person we come across has any idea of what Jesus did for us through his death and resurrection … that he paid the price for our sins and gave us new life with God. They may not even be aware of why that’s important, what total forgiveness and freedom of a new life with God can be or mean. Maybe we’re still in the process of figuring that out and understanding it ourselves. There might have been a time when we could have presumed that people already had some familiarity with Jesus, but not anymore.
The second thing is that many of us don’t really know how to talk about it. We don’t know how to slip it into conversation, after all, isn’t religion one of the things you don’t talk about in polite conversation?
What about inviting them to church? With God’s help, we do try to talk about the Good News and what it means for our lives here. “But Cherie, that is almost as hard as talking about Jesus in the first place if not as hard!” I get that, and believe it or not, I’ve had problems with that, too.
What if you had some help? At this time of year, we have a huge worldly marketing machine already helping us. We may think of it as commercial, inauthentic, even cartoonish, but it certainly gets people thinking about … Christmas. It’s also a time when people think of going to or visiting a church, but it can be intimidating. You’re not sure if you’ll know anyone. Will there be anyone to sit with?
Did you know that 82% of people would come to church if a trusted friend invited them? But, an average of 2% of people in churches invite a friend each year. Why? Because it’s difficult. What if I gave you a question to ask? “Do you have a church home?” The beauty of that question is if they do you can talk about their church if you want, but if they don’t, you can hand them this personal invitation you’ll find in your bulletin.
“Well, our church is doing this series, The Songs of Christmas. The services starts at 10:00 am. You can sit with me, and I can even pick you up if you’d like.” They may say yes. They may say no, but you’ve given them the opportunity. I’m not talking about standing on the street corner doing this, but if God presents you an opportunity, you have a choice. You have a way to do it. “Do you have a church home?” And, you have this invitation.
Another concern may be, “but Cherie, what if they ask me ‘Why? Why should I go to church? What’s so great about the Good News, about Jesus?'” This requires a little homework. You can write out a very simple, bare bones, version of what being connected with Jesus has mean to your life. The idea is to get it to be 100 words or less … Here are some examples … Make it short enough to let them ask questions if they’re interested.
What if they ask a question that you can’t answer? It can be one of those that you really don’t want to answer like, “How can you believe in the virgin birth?” The first thing is no to get defensive. Back when I was a seeker, I may have asked someone I considered to be a Christian just that question, with just that tone of voice. “Do you really believe in the virgin birth? How can you believe that?”
You should have heard the reactions I received. “Oh, oh … you just have to believe .. How can you ask such a thing? You’re going to hell.”
Not encouraging to say the least. What I’ve learned since then is that none of the people who responded that way were bad. They just didn’t know what to say. Maybe they weren’t sure if they really believed that exact thing and felt bad about it, so they reacted in a defensive way.
You could answer that tricky, controversial question in several ways, but most of all in a kind an calm fashion, not seeing it as a threat or challenge. You could say, “I know it doesn’t make any sense from a scientific perspective, but I really think God performed a miracle. If you think about it, it’s a miracle that any of us has a consciousness and can think because of a chemical reaction between two people.” Or, “I’m not really sure what I think about that either, but following Jesus for me is about so much more than how he was conceived.” Or, “I’m a little fuzzy about that. Let me check on it and get back with you.” Then you could talk to me or a trusted friend. You could even bring them to me.
Sometimes, people come into my office, and ask me questions, and I have to tell them, “That’s an excellent question. I’m not sure about the answer. Let me check on that and let you know.” The important thing here is that you actually get back with them.
We can’t presume that people go to church anymore or have a relationship with Jesus. But, most of the time, asking a friend or neighbor “Do you have a church home?” And inviting them, offering to sit with them, will be all you’ve have to do. Maybe you would prefer to wait until Christmas Eve. That may be when people are the most receptive to the invitation. I’ll have some more for you then.
What is love? Love is demonstrating to someone who has felt that they weren’t good enough their whole life, that through Jesus Christ, they are. They are loved and accepted no matter what, no matter what they have done or thought, or haven’t done or thought, for that matter. Love is demonstrating that they matter, unconditionally, to God and to us.
Who do we love? We love everybody because they are made in the image of God, and God first loved us. We love God, by loving our neighbor.
When do we love? Always, though the physical and emotional needs that we can address ourselves, but also by inviting them into the greatest love of all, God’s love. God does it, but we are God’s representatives. We are the bearers of God’s good news. What a special blessing that is to us, and as we move into that special time of year, you can look around at the fields and see that they are ripe for harvest and desperate to know the love of God.