Prepared for Chapel at UDTS August 12, 2010
Primary text- John 4:27-42 (but really most of the chapter)
Over the summer break, my son and I have been, well, pretty close to obsessed with the British tv show Dr. Who. We’ve actually made it through most of the episodes from the recent series on our Netflix streaming Wii technology. We’ve watched as the Doctor and his various companions travelled through time- battling aliens, protecting past and future humanity and meeting interesting historical figures along the way. Now, I can’t vouch for the science behind this, and I may not have it exactly right, but some of the interactions they have as they move back and forth in the space-time continuum lead to alternate realities. Somehow they tweak events in a way that allow lives to run parallel to one another, in the same location, but never intersecting.
Sometimes as I read the gospels, it feels like the disciples are living in an alternate reality, moving alongside Jesus in time and space, but not exactly with him. Like in this passage: they return from the village where they had gathered some food to find Jesus talking with a woman- a Samaritan woman. Unfazed, the disciples urge Jesus to eat… after all, he must be hungry.
Jesus invites them into a deeper spiritual conversation, but when Jesus says he offers food they know nothing about- they wonder who might have brought him lunch while they were gone. I wonder sometimes if an editor redacted John’s recounting of the sigh and head-shake that a fully human Jesus would surely have let go as he started a discourse on sowing and reaping.
But before we go further in this, I’d like to back up to that woman whose presence the disciples didn’t bother to question. You see, her conversation with Jesus provides us some interesting parallels.
Instead of food, Jesus speaks to the woman about water… living water that will assure that she never thirsts. Water that will become a wellspring of eternal life.
Like the disciples, the woman first takes Jesus quite literally, but when he talks with her about the details of her life, she sees that he must be a prophet… As he speaks of worshiping God in spirit and truth, she reveals that she knows about the promised messiah, who will come and make everything clear. Like generations of Jews and the gentiles who surrounded them, she had heard the stories and the promises of his coming.
Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.”
It is at this moment… heavy with revelation and expectation… that the disciples returned.
And as Jesus begins to talk with them about food, the woman returns to town, so discombobulated that she forgets her jug of water. This man was no mere prophet. And this woman would never see the world the same way again.
She runs home and tells the story to all who would listen. Like an excited child, she would have pointed back down the road toward the well. “He is there- and he told me everything about my life… yes, out by Jacob’s well… over there… Could he be the one? Could it be true? Come and see…”
And the people came, walking from the town to the well where they would meet the man who offered living water. They came, they saw, they listened, and they believed.
Many believed because of the woman’s testimony. Many more believed because of the testimony of Jesus himself. Because of his words.
Now, here’s the thing… why didn’t all those people come back with the disciples?
What were they doing in town all that time? Didn’t they think to tell the people stories about Jesus? Perhaps they were just being a little too literal, doing exactly what the rabbi said, gathering food. Or perhaps, like the Samaritan woman, the Samaritan townspeople were invisible. The reality is that the disciples were good Jews. And good Jews were not meant to associate with Samaritans.
I don’t know about you, but I generally find myself rooting for the disciples, hoping they’ll do the right thing. Partly because I am so prone to miss the mark myself. But also because you and I enter the story as time-travelers. We already know the sorrow of the cross, the joy of the empty grave and the hope of the ascension. We know the power of Pentecost.
So, I sort of want to load the disciples into the TARDIS and send them back to the town to try again. This time with part of Paul’s letter to the Romans…
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?
The God of the Universe controls time and space and so God doesn’t need a blue police box to sort this all out. But God didn’t bend the timeline to send the disciples back. No. Jesus- the Word made flesh- gave them a reality check. They have work to do.
And as you and I encounter Christ today in the reading of the Word, we get the same treatment. We are reminded that Jesus is our savior AND the savior of the world. We are reminded of the well of living water that flows from within each of us. And we are reminded of the food that is, as Jesus said, “to do the will of God and to finish God’s work.”
We are to be fed and sustained by doing the work of the sower and the work of the reaper.
Jesus opens our eyes to the harvest. He opens our hearts to care for those we never thought we’d love- the stinky middle school children in the church van, the pastors in need of counsel, the overwhelmed seminary student, the prisoner struggling with addiction, the homeless woman on the riverbank, the gay neighbor who lost his partner to cancer.
God breaks down the walls we’ve built in our hearts, removing the hypocrisy, obliviousness, and all the -isms that separate people into “us” and “them.”
The ministry of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit opens our mouths to tell our stories of redemption and reconciliation, the stories of our own life-altering encounters with the risen Christ.
And whether our words are the first time a friend hears the name of Jesus or the moment that the truth of God’s grace grips a neighbor’s heart, every conversation that points to Christ is the work of worship and proclamation.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”