John 4:31-38 – Real Food

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 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. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel narrative reads something like the stereotypical mother concerned for her son saying, “Sit down and eat some of Mama’s pasta. You need some food!” As if preparing and serving a meal will make everything better.

Food has both the power to bring us together, as well as separate us. A meal can create the conditions for fellowship, acceptance, and enjoyment. Eating can bond people together through hospitable love. On the other hand, sitting down to eat can also be a way to avoid painful emotions. In this manner, eating becomes an obstacle to giving and receiving love.

It seems Christ’s disciples were doing the latter. They were uncomfortable and perhaps a bit stressed. Looking to fill up with food instead of with God, the disciples’ sense of unfulfillment was coming out sideways by opening the refrigerator, poking through the meager leftovers, and putting the emphasis on feeling better.

I know we can be hard on the disciples in the Gospels. Their ups and downs from faith to fear and back to faith again can be weird. Yet, through it all, I believe their hearts (excepting Judas Iscariot) were in the right place.

Jesus could see through the entire scenario and put the focus off eating. He addressed the disciples’ soul hunger through putting the spotlight on doing the will of God. Deep within they were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Paying attention to our vocation and discovering our humble work in the service of God, rather than a vacation to the pantry to cover our unwanted feelings, is the essence of Christ’s interaction with his disciples.

People are much more ready for the gospel of Jesus than we think. There are times we can become so insular, and lost within our own heads, that we are then unable to see the world as ripe for a harvest of people who are actually eager to be gathered into the community of the redeemed.

Jesus just had a significant interaction with the Samaritan woman. Back in that day, you just didn’t have dialogues with half-breed Samaritans – an unholy mix of Jewish and hated ancient Assyrian Gentile blood – let alone a man talking with a woman of disrepute who experienced several failed marriages.

Christ had a way of doing the will of God, despite conventional thinking of the time. And a lot of people got their undies in a bundle from it. The disciples, having a front seat to most of Christ’s shenanigans, did a few too many palms to the forehead, believing their Rabbi’s un-orthopraxis was going to make him unpopular. They feared no one would follow him.

Looks like the disciples didn’t quite get that one right.

The Samaritan woman received Jesus as Living Water, having her ultimate needs met by the penultimate Lord of all. The disciples hadn’t quite caught up to this, so fell back on their old ways of physical food and drink to assuage the weirdness happening inside them.

The woman was gushing over with Living Water, becoming a wellspring of good news to her community. Whereas the disciples (eventually becoming an incredible fountain of the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection) are here nothing but an annoying drip from the kitchen faucet.

A non-descript ethnically suspect woman of dubious character coming to faith was meant by Jesus to open the disciples’ eyes to a new reality: The good news of Christ is meant for the world, not just Jewish men.

The disciples were given the opportunity to participate in the world’s takeover – a mission of bringing the love of God where love wasn’t present, of helping all kinds of people awaken to the deep spirituality within them, of lifting their downcast faces of guilt and shame to see the Living God wanting to bless the world with the body and blood of Jesus.

For this is real food and real drink.

Many believers in Jesus today think they are working hard for the Lord by seeking people for their churches. Yet, the real work is being done by the triune God – the heavenly Father who scans the world and seeks spiritual misfits to bless; the gracious and truthful Son who put hands and feet to that blessing; and the wild Holy Spirit who moves in unpredictable ways – are working infinitely harder for our churches, our families, our neighborhoods, and our world.

All of our work, no matter how big or small, is made possible by the pre-work of the Holy Trinity. The great Three-in-One has done all the preparations of chopping the onions, mincing the garlic, slicing the carrots, and peeling the potatoes so that we, his followers, can make a savory stew of diverse people sharing a common pot of God’s love and hospitality.

This is the food we know nothing about, and that God knows intimately.

O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above painting: Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of the Last Supper

Acts 20:17-38 – A Ministry of Tears

Paul sent a message for the church leaders at Ephesus to come and meet with him. When they got there, he said:

You know everything I did during the time I was with you when I first came to Asia. Some of the Jews plotted against me and caused me a lot of sorrow and trouble. But I served the Lord and was humble. When I preached in public or taught in your homes, I didn’t hold back from telling anything that would help you. I told Jews and Gentiles to turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

I don’t know what will happen to me in Jerusalem, but I must obey God’s Spirit and go there.In every city I visit, I am told by the Holy Spirit that I will be put in jail and will be in trouble in Jerusalem. But I don’t care what happens to me, as long as I finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do. And that work is to tell the good news about God’s great kindness.

I have gone from place to place, preaching to you about God’s kingdom, but now I know that none of you will ever see me again. I tell you today that I am no longer responsible for any of you! I have told you everything God wants you to know. Look after yourselves and everyone the Holy Spirit has placed in your care. Be like shepherds to God’s church. It is the flock that he bought with the blood of his own Son.

I know that after I am gone, others will come like fierce wolves to attack you. Some of your own people will tell lies to win over the Lord’s followers. Be on your guard! Remember how day and night for three years I kept warning you with tears in my eyes.

I now place you in God’s care. Remember the message about his great kindness! This message can help you and give you what belongs to you as God’s people. I have never wanted anyone’s money or clothes. You know how I have worked with my own hands to make a living for myself and my friends. By everything I did, I showed how you should work to help everyone who is weak. Remember that our Lord Jesus said, “More blessings come from giving than from receiving.”

After Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. Everyone cried and hugged and kissed him. They were especially sad because Paul had told them, “You will never see me again.” (Contemporary English Version)

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

Washington Irving

Apparently, real men do cry. 

When the manly Apostle Paul was headed for Jerusalem, he stopped in Ephesus on his way. Paul preached for hours to the church he had established there, and everyone understood this just might the last time they all saw each other. Paul remembered he had served the Lord among them and admonished each person with tears in his eyes. 

And when Paul departed from Ephesus for the last time, there were a great many tears both with him and the congregation.

Paul was faithful to declare all the will of God to the church. Whatever the people needed, he worked diligently to spiritually support them. The Ephesian church needed a good cry, a sort of emotional baptism to help cleanse and prepare them for life apart from their beloved founder.

So, Paul, never one to be afraid of his emotions, allowed his own tears to flow freely. Those tears were not ancillary to his ministry; they were an integral part of it.

One of the unfortunate philosophical hangovers of the Enlightenment project, with its sheer intellectual rationalism, is that over the past several centuries, we in the West have tended to view ourselves as brains on a stick. 

The thinking goes that if we clearly and objectively educate people, provide them the correct information, teach them sound doctrine and right behavior, that they will have everything they need and do the right thing. 

When you get to heaven, try telling that to Paul, and see where it gets you.

Any Christian tradition which excludes the vital element of emotions is a truncated spirituality. Even more, I would argue it is downright heretical. If we are devoted to emulating and following our Lord, then just as he wept, we will weep, too.

People everywhere desperately need some tears in order to connect with Jesus Christ. 

Perhaps we all need a good old fashioned cry today.

Weep over lost persons locked in a prison of guilt and shame who need deliverance and new life.  

Shed some tears over believers floundering in their faith, mistakenly believing they must keep a stiff upper lip and eschew their grief and sadness.

Bawl and let your eyes be red in missing those friends and mentors who have died in faith, leaving a massive spiritual hole in our hearts.

And cry over a broken world that has not experienced the grace of God. Indeed, slow down enough to feel the pain, sit with your emotions, and find the mercy of God.

Gracious God, you have created us all in your image and likeness. Help us so to connect with your own emotional constellation that none of us will be stifled in faith but will go on to maturity in Christ with your whole church. Amen.

Blessed are the Merciful

Welcome, friends! The world cannot stand up under judgment, criticism, and unkindness. Instead, the earth spins on the axis of mercy. Everyone needs basic human kindness, compassion, and grace. Click the videos below, and let’s explore the blessing of mercy….

Matthew 5:7, Pastor Tim Ehrhardt

We do not presume to come to you, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to receive your dear Son Jesus Christ,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.  Amen.

Matthew 5:7 – Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.” (NIV)

“Mercy” is one of the most rich and important words in all of the Holy Bible. Randomly turn to any page of Scripture and you will most likely find the word “mercy.” Mercy is highly significant because God is merciful.

King David was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). This is first and foremost about mercy. In the ancient world, when a new king came to power who was from a different lineage than the previous ruler, it was a common practice to kill all the male heirs from the former king because they posed a grave threat to the throne. David, however, did not do that; he did just the opposite. David ascended the throne and said:

“Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness?” (2 Samuel 9:1, NIV)

Indeed, there was. His name was Mephibosheth. He happened to be lame in both feet. That meant, literally, he was not able to run away when David became king. I am sure Mephibosheth believed he was being summoned by King David to his death. But when he arrived, David said to him:

“Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness…. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” (2 Samuel 9:7, NIV)

That, my friend, is the very definition of mercy. And that is precisely the character quality Jesus was talking about in his Beatitudes.

Just as David used his power to extend mercy and kindness to potential rivals instead of exterminating them to consolidate his power, so the true follower of Jesus will identify with the powerless and give them a seat at the table.

If we are wondering, at all, whether this is really what Jesus is talking about with mercy, his words in the Gospel of Luke make it crystal clear:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36, NIV)

Merciful folks are gracious, kind, and accept others, especially an unworthy person, because they know that they themselves are unworthy of God’s great mercy and grace. The merciful person’s mantra is: “God has shown me mercy; therefore, I will show mercy to others.”

Those who are merciful will be shown mercy. If anyone treats another harshly and without mercy, they should not expect to receive blessing from God. This raises an important question which needs to be asked: Are we kind and merciful, or do we have a bent toward wanting to see others judged and punished? I share a hypothetical story….

My dear middle daughter was a remarkably busy girl. Whenever we were in public, it was my standing rule that she always holds my hand. The reason for this was that she always ran instead of walked. Holding her hand was the only way I could keep her safe and not literally run into harm’s way.

Here comes the hypothetical part: One day we are walking down the street holding hands. She gets away from my grip and runs… right into oncoming traffic… and is struck by a car. I run up to her, bend over her bleeding and broken body and say, “Well, that’s what you get for disobeying me. After all, you reap what you sow!”

Oh, my, no!… My daughter is now a Mom. And, lo and behold, she has a son just like her. I need to hold his hand, too! If an accident were ever to happen in reality, I can guarantee my response would be to run to him, bend over his bleeding and broken body, cry uncontrollably, and determine to do everything in my grandfatherly power to save his life and see him healed from his injuries.

So, then, my sisters and brothers, why in the world would we ever tell a broken hearted person – perhaps in the throes of depression or riddled with anxiety from hardship – emotionally and spiritually bleeding on the inside: “Get over it!” “Just stop worrying!” or “You need to be strong!”

God, forbid! No! Mercy! I insist, mercy! The world does not revolve on the axis of judgment, criticism, or giving someone what they deserve. God’s great big world spins because of mercy, grace, and basic human kindness that comes from the hand of a good benevolent Lord who cares about all humanity. Perhaps I must be even more specific…

  • The one filled with God’s righteousness will go out of their way to show kindness, love, and compassion to the LGBTQ+ community, becoming familiar with their needs, struggles, and heartaches as they listen without judgment and full of mercy.
  • The person touched by the mercy of God will intentionally seek to give people of color a seat at the table and the freedom to speak freely while listening with ears of mercy.
  • The human being who follows Jesus will see the image of God in our Native American sisters and brothers and will mercifully do everything within their power to advocate for them when it comes to things like inequities of poverty, disease, addiction, and death.
  • The person filled with the righteousness of God will respect all other religious people, regardless of their spirituality. They will be merciful to Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and even Wiccans, not because they see them as potential converts, but just because they need mercy, like the rest of us.

Consider what others have to say about mercy….

“God tolerates even our stammering and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us – as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.”

John Calvin

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It is mercy, not justice or courage or even heroism, that alone can defeat evil.”

Peter Kreeft

Consider what Holy Scripture has to say about mercy…

Some Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and other sinners?” Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13, CEV)

The Lord’s kindness never fails!
If he had not been merciful,
    we would have been destroyed.
The Lord can always be trusted
    to show mercy each morning.
Deep in my heart I say,
“The Lord is all I need;
    I can depend on him!” (Lamentations 3:22-24, CEV)

May we not succumb to thoughts of violence and revenge today, but rather to thoughts of mercy and compassion. We are to love our enemies and be merciful to all so that we might reverse the curse on humanity and restore them, by God’s grace, to their right mind, heart, and spirit.

*Above painting by Hyatt Moore