Harvesting in the Spring

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Harvesting in the Spring

John 4:27–42 (NRSV)

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

The past few months I have come across several amazing passages of scripture that defy logic and common sense. I’m not talking about miraculous healing or stories of Jesus bending the laws of nature. What I found were stories of people going from sinner to saint in a moment. Well, that might be a little bit of an overstatement, but I do see them going from sinner to evangelist in a moment. Instantaneous transformation without years of schooling, mentoring, book reading, or church attendance. Even in the most contemporary religious settings, this goes against much of what we believe and how we function.

Last year, I was presented with a challenge. To us, baptism is a sign of invitation into God’s kingdom and His Church via our own local congregation. We don’t believe that water saves you from anything, spiritually speaking. Instead of an end, we view it as a beginning of a lifelong journey following Jesus with the hope the person will eventually mature into their calling – whatever that might be. When we baptize children, we usually hope to have 10 to 20 years to help them mature into that role. The challenge I faced last year was baptizing a young lady who would be moving out of the country in 2 weeks, to a place where churches were not prevalent or even legal in some cases. She was going from new believer to missionary and I only had a couple of weeks to prepare her. Where do I even start?

That is the dilemma that Jesus was talking to His disciples about here. They wanted to wait until they had graduated disciple-making school to go out and start the work of disciple makers… but Jesus explained that there was no time for that. Even while they were planting seeds here and there, diligently and strategically trying to bring about fruit for God, Jesus pointed out that there was already fruit in the field that someone else had planted. Who could have planted it? Who else could have come before Jesus and put people on the road to salvation?

God.

God is always working ahead of us, often doing the very work that He is calling us to do. Sometimes we get too caught up in wanting God to use us that we forget that He doesn’t need us for anything. He loves us, yes, but not for what we do. He can save this world without us. The whole motivation for calling us to follow Him is because He wants us to be with Him.

This Samaritan woman, along with the demon possessed man of the Gerasenes, and Zaccheus the tax collector were making disciples of Jesus before Peter and the twelve really got to work. They didn’t have the benefit of spending all the time listening to and learning from Jesus like the twelve disciples. They just took what little they knew and shared it obediently. They didn’t concern themselves with the season and the strategy of what everyone else around them was doing. Their focus was fixed on Jesus. Because of their faith, Jesus worked with them and changed the world around them.

What has God done that has changed your life?

How can you respond to that intervention with gratitude and obedience?

Born again?

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John 3:1–15 (NRSV)

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

 

In Between

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In Between

John 3:22–36 (NRSV)

Jesus and John the Baptist

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The One Who Comes from Heaven

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

Some of us have difficulty navigating the times in between great moments of our lives. Today, we have an entire age group named for this particular stage of life called “Tweens”. These are young people who are no longer children, but who are not quite teenagers yet. It is a crazy age where hormones are beginning to fire up at random intervals and growth spurts are occurring, yet the maturity and responsibility we ask of many teenagers may not have come yet. In many ways, it is just some of the most awkward moments of a young person’s life. They know where they are heading – some of it good, some of it maybe not so good – and all they can do is wait.

But wait, is that true? The only thing we are able to do in-between these moments in life is wait? I’m not so sure.

Look at John the Baptist. He had a brief time in between the climax of his ministry: Baptizing Jesus, up to his death in prison for preaching God’s Word. People were coming to him and asking how he felt about all those who had been following him who were now going to Jesus, getting baptized by his disciples, and following Jesus instead of John. John may not have understood everything that was going to happen. Like you and I, he was not God and did not know everything. Yet he knew his own particular role, so he felt he knew enough. John explained that he was like the best man at a wedding, who was there simply to celebrate the wedding of his dear friend, the groom.

So, one thing John could do in between was celebrate.

The other thing he mentioned was a knowledge that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. John was exercising his humility in between his own highlighted moments. In fact, I think this exercise in humility probably helped prepare him for his witness in prison. We do not often talk about humility as a preparation for great things, but I believe it is one of the best preparations. No matter what you are going through and going to, learning and practicing humility will make you more prepared when you get there.

What do you find yourself “in between” today?

How can you practice humility, and how might that help prepare you for your next transition?

You Are What You Eat

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You Are What You Eat

As we enter Thanksgiving week and many of our minds turn to our stomachs, let us take a moment to consider the relationship between what we consume and who we are becoming.

Traditional Thanksgiving meals typically involve Turkey, potatoes, corn, bread, gravy, stuffing, and it is perhaps the one time of year that cranberries become the fruit of choice. However, in our allergy-aware and health-conscious cultures today, I imagine that there are many substitutes made. The globalization of our nation and growing interconnectivity of the world today likely will have an influence on the types of food served this Thursday. We may decry a loss of tradition and culture in this, but I cannot remember eating any Native American style cooked food in my previous 33 years of Thanksgiving experiences. Microwaves were used every year. One of my favorite dishes was a mix of tofu and baked beans that my aunt used to make. I didn’t care whether the pilgrims made it or not… it was good.

The food around the table is not the main purpose, because it is not really Thanksgiving without the people there to enjoy it. I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving away from family, one in particular at Cracker Barrel with my wife when we were unable to travel the 300 and 500 miles back to our families. It was nice, but it wasn’t really the same. So Thanksgiving really begins with the people and without them, you are just eating turkey.

Jesus may have created one of the first Thanksgiving meals (if we can set aside our predispositions about the types of food required).

The Feeding of Five Thousand

“After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee (that is, Tiberias). And a large crowd was following him because they were observing the signs that he was doing on those who were sick. So Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. (Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.) Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people can eat?” (Now he said this to test him, because he knew what he was going to do.) Philip replied to him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for them, in order that each one could receive a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people recline.” (Now there was a lot of grass in the place.) So the men reclined, approximately five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the bread, and after he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were reclining—likewise also of the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, “Gather the remaining fragments so that nothing is lost.” So they gathered them, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. ” (John 6:1-13)

The people are gathered. Food is shared. Thanks is given to God. Everyone walks away full and some even take home leftovers. I wonder if the descendents of that small boy would become pilgrims someday as the Jewish people scattered across Europe and eventually North America… It was a miracle for sure, but for most of the 5,000 people, it was a miracle that only lasted a day.

Discourse About the Bread of Life

“On the next day, the crowd that was on the other side of the sea saw that other boats were not there (except one), and that Jesus had not entered with his disciples into the boat, but his disciples had departed alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.

And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied to them and said, “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were satisfied! Do not work for the food that perishes, but the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has set his seal on this one.”

So they said to him, “What shall we do that we can accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign will you perform, so that we can see it and believe you? What will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven! For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, always give us this bread!”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again. But I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that everyone whom he has given me, I would not lose any of them, but raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him would have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they were saying, “Is this one not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves! No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me. (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—this one has seen the Father.) Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that someone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

So the Jews began to quarrel among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves! The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so also the one who eats me—that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” ” (John 6:22-58)

The phrase “You are what you eat,” was originally penned by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are. That is a wakeup call for us spiritually as well as physically. What Jesus desired for His disciples and what He desires for us is a miracle that lasts more than a day. He wants to rebuild us from the inside out. That won’t happen with fish and bread or turkey and mashed potatoes. We only get that from taking in Jesus and letting him reshape us.

I’m going to bypass the long arguments about transubstantiation and sacramental theology at this point, making only two short points:

  1. There is an obvious connection here between this command to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus and the institution of the Lord’s Supper – Holy Communion. I will not deny that.
  2. Holy Communion is not the only way that we can invite Jesus into our lives. There are other “means of grace” such as reading scripture, prayer, fellowship with other believers (spiritual accountability), worship, etc.)

The bottom line is, we need to find ways to invite Jesus into our lives if we truly want to become more like Him. What is the alternative? If we are not spending our days getting more Jesus into us, what are we putting into ourselves in His place?

Jesus consistently lived the example that it is better to give than to receive. This week, the world teaches the tradition that you are to eat til you drop and then wake up the next day and shop til you drop – all the while running over anyone in your way. Will you win back Thanksgiving for Jesus and find a way to bless someone else? Will you find a stranger to bless?