"Enter His Labor"#86-25
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 17, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Enter His Labor)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 4:1-42
There's a decent chance you've seen the video, it's got like 52 million views on YouTube. Here's the setup. People sitting in a crowded food court, they're eating their lunch, and some middle-aged guy wearing a gray hoodie stands up on his chair and starts belting out. "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!" And everybody's looking around like, what is this guy doing? And then somebody else starts singing, and all these professional-sounding singers join in, and they realize, "Ahhh, it's a setup!" It's a food court flash mob. And, my favorite part of the video is people who are obviously weren't on it from the beginning, they start singing along because they know the song, they know the words, and by the end of it, the whole food court is on their feet singing and praising. They know the song. The song is from Handel's "Messiah." A German-born composer, George Frederic Handel, he wrote this piece called the "Messiah," and that's the hallelujah chorus, just a small part of the larger piece.
Messiah is the Hebrew word for the Anointed One, the Anointed King, the One who would be the King of the Jews, King of Israel, and would save His people and restore and renew the whole creation, and the Greek word for Messiah is Christ. Handel wrote this amazing work. It's 259 pages long, the whole "Messiah." It's got about a quarter-million musical notes in it, and Handel wrote all the pieces—the melody lines, and the harmony lines, the instrumentalists, and the vocalist, and he did it all and only about 24 days. Stroke of genius! He didn't eat; he skipped meals; he worked round the clock. It was like he was dictating directly from God—so inspired was he. Have you ever been captivated by work like that—work that you would do for free, work that puts you in the zone that fuels you and consumes you at the same time?
In John 4, we see Jesus of Nazareth engaged in that kind of work—work that simultaneously fuels Him and consumes Him. What's His work? John has told us in so many words in the first three chapters that His work is to do the will of the One who sent Him, the will of His Father. The will of His father, as is said in John 1 is for Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus is to give the Holy Spirit through His death, through His exaltation, His resurrection—to give the Holy Spirit, to make children of God, to make people like Jesus who are captivated with the work of the Father, doing the will of the Father. That's what you see happening in John 4. There's other things going on in John 4 that could distract us from that work. Three things I'll point out specifically, and you can listen for them.
The first thing that could distract us from the work of Jesus in John 4 is division. So, the differences between people that we sometimes use to put people in classifications as being more worthy or less worthy of God's attention and affection—differences between ethnicities, differences between men and women, differences between callings and vocations. These are good. These are a good part of God's creation, but we can so easily twist them into a system of ranking people as more or less valuable, and Jesus cuts through these divisions. The second thing that could distract us from the work of Jesus is distance. The woman that we meet in John 4 is distant. She has wandered from one relationship to the next. She has her guard up; she's not ready for closeness or intimacy, and sometimes this can happen to us when we've experienced one broken relationship after another. We can falsely conclude that closeness with God, intimacy with God, is impossible because we've never seen it modeled in a healthy human relationship.
So, there's distance and there's division, and the last thing that could distract us is religion. Religion, what are you saying? That I thought religion, that is the work of God. Well, no, religion is kind of everything around the work of God, not the work of God proper. And the problem with religion is that it so easily devolves into discussions and debates about human rituals and facilities and traditions, and we miss the main thing about God's work. So, I want you to listen to how Jesus deals with these distractions, but then cuts through them with a conversation. So, this is John 4, beginning at verse 3:
"Jesus left Judea and went back again into Galilee, and it was necessary for Him to travel through Samaria." Footnote: most Jews would not want to travel through Samaria. You could go around; it might take a little bit longer, but most would go around. But the apostle John says that it was necessary for Jesus to go into Samaria, and he continues:
"He comes to a town in Samaria called Sychar near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there and Jesus tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour, around noon. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Jesus says to her, 'Would you give Me a drink?' His disciples had gone into town to buy food. She says to him, 'How is it that You, a Jew, would ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?' See, Jews do not have any dealings with Samaritans. Jesus says to her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that it's asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him for a drink, and He would have given you living water.' She says to him, 'Sir, you don't have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where are you going to get this living water? You're not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us this well and drank from it himself and his sons and his livestock.'
"Jesus answered, said to her, 'Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I give will not be thirsty even into the age to come. Rather the water that I give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' She says to him, 'Sir, give me this water, so I won't get thirsty anymore and have to keep coming here to draw water.' He says to her, 'Go, call your husband and come back here.' 'I don't have a husband,' she said. He says to her, 'You are right when you say that you do not have a husband. The fact is you've had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is quite true.' She says to him, 'Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but You Jews claim that Jerusalem is the place where we're supposed to worship.'
"He says to her, 'Woman trust Me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we know; salvation is from the Jews. But I tell you that an hour is coming and is already here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. These are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' She says to him, 'I know that the Messiah is coming, the One who is called the Christ. When He comes He will announce everything to us.' He says to her, 'I am the One speaking with you.' Just then His disciples return, and they see Him. They are amazed that He's talking with a woman, but no one says, 'What are You looking for?' or 'Why are You talking to her?'
"And the woman leaving her jar of water behind, goes into the town and starts saying to everyone, 'Come and see. Come and see a Man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ? Could this be the Messiah?' And the people came out of the town and started coming to Jesus. Meanwhile, His disciples were urging Him, 'Rabbi, eat something,' and He said to them, 'I have food that you know nothing about,' and they started saying to each other, 'No one gave Him, no one came and brought Him food, did they?' He says to them, 'My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me and to finish His work. You all have a saying, do you not, "There are yet four months and then comes the harvest." I tell you, look, open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for the harvest. Even now, the one who reaps collects a wage and gathers a crop to eternal life, and so the sower and the reaper will rejoice together. Thus, the same is true: "One sows and another reap." I have sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard labor, and you have entered into their labor.'
"Many Samaritans from that village came to trust in Him because the woman was going about witnessing. 'He told me everything I ever did. He told me everything I ever did,' and the Samaritans came to Jesus and urged Him to stay with them, to remain with them. And He stayed with them for two days, and many more came to trust because of His Word. And they were saying to the woman, 'We trust, not just because of what you said, but we have heard for ourselves, and we know at this Man truly is the Savior of the world.'
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, O, Christ, the Messiah!
There's another video that I've seen set to the music of "Hallelujah Chorus" from the "Messiah." This one features elementary-aged children, and they're in various parts of their school, and they each have a flashcard with a word from the song, or maybe just a syllable from the song. And they hold it up as the song plays. I like this presentation of the song because it brings to the forefront the words of the song. Sometimes the emotion and the energy of the music can drown out the words. So you're singing, and you don't even know what you're saying, "Oh, Sani, uber bombs eggshells, deo." That's not what it says. It's a quote from Revelation 19: "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth," and in the video it takes four kids to get that second-to-last word om-omni-potent. It's a word that means not just really powerful, but all power, omni, all power belongs to this One. And so anyone else who has power, it's just borrowed power. And Job can say, "If You withdrew Your Spirit, Your power, everything would return to dust."
So, when Jesus says to the woman at the, well, "I am." He's saying, I am the omnipotent Word of the living God. He's come to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world. So think about what Jesus could do as the omnipotent Word of God—all the things that He could do. What does He do? He starts a conversation—and not just with anybody, with someone of the lowest class, someone that His brothers from His tribe, from His clan, would never dream of talking to, would never want to talk to. And Jesus starts a conversation with her. And notice, and that it's a playful conversation; it starts that way. He doesn't show up and say, "I am the omnipotent Word of the living God. Bow before Me, cower before Me." No, He starts with a request. "Would you give Me a drink?" And then He follows with a subtle hint. "You know, you really should ask Me for a drink and see what happens."
And then a simple but profound observation. "You realize that everybody drinks from this water is going to get thirsty again?" This is what the omnipotent Word does: He starts a conversation with the lowest person. He cuts through all of the divisions that we create between people. He cuts through it. The second thing He does is He crosses the distance. This woman is distant; she's wandered from one relationship to the next. She comes to get water in the hottest part of the day all alone. She's not looking for a friend. She's not looking for a conversation, and Jesus cuts right through it. He crosses that distance. And wherever this message finds you, know that He is alive, the crucified and risen Jesus is crossing that distance even to you now. It doesn't matter how many failed relationships you've had or how uncomfortable you are with closeness, Jesus is crossing this distance right now and knocking on the door of your heart.
The third thing that Jesus does is that He deflects religion. So, religion—it's her last effort to keep Jesus at a safe distance. Jesus is so smooth He just blocks the jab because He doesn't want to talk about religion. He wants to talk about a living relationship with the Father. He wants to give this gift: this gift that's like a well rising up in you of joy and delight that flows from a relationship with this omnipotent, almighty, all-powerful God that Jesus is teaching us to call "Father." This is what Jesus is doing; this is His work. What's next? Well, He calls us to enter in to the labor, to do like He is—to enter in. That's what happens with the woman. She goes right into town and notice she doesn't have a lot of profound things to say. There's not much depth of her theology. "He told me everything I ever did." That's the extent of her witness.
But Jesus will use it.
She enters into His labor, and He harvests a crop from her witness, from her testimony. Not too long ago, I learned that that video that featured the children holding up the flashcards of the words to the "Hallelujah Chorus" of Handel's "Messiah"—I learned that they were fifth-graders from the town of Quinhagak, Alaska. Quinhagak is a native Alaskan fishing village in the southwest corner of the state, on the Bering Sea, and seeing that makes me realize that the Word of Jesus has gone out everywhere. From Judea to Samaria, to Quinhagak, Alaska, and many have done the hard labor, and now I get called to enter into this labor. Would you join me?
If so, let's pray. Lord Jesus Christ, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, and so we approach the Lord of the harvest whom You have taught us to call "Father." And we say, "Father, send out workers into Your harvest field. Send us out in the Name of Jesus, because He lives and He reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for February 17, 2019
Title: Enter His Labor
Mike Zeigler Thanks, Mark. In the studio I have a dear friend of mine joining us, the Rev. Dr. Stanish Stanley. He is the executive director of Christian Friends of New Americans. This is an outreach ministry, a social outreach ministry in the city of St. Louis, that seeks to build relationships with refugees and immigrants to the St. Louis area. I'm very pleased to have you in the studio with us, Dr. Stanish Stanley.
Stanish Stanley: Thank you for having me.
Mike Zeigler May I call you Stanish?
Stanish Stanley: Yes, that's perfect.
Mike Zeigler We listened to John 4, and social divisions figure prominently in this account, in this conversation that Jesus has. I'm curious: what has been your personal experience in dealing with the divisions that people create in societies—a little bit about your background?
Stanish Stanley: Well, I come from India, and so social divisions are pretty much understood and an accepted thing within Indian culture itself, because our culture pretty much is predominated by the Hindu worldview, the Hindu cultural upbringing, and everything that is there in society. And so, caste for instance is a big category. And that itself is in itself very divisive because you have high and low: different castes and different positions are assigned to those people belonging to those castes. You cannot change castes because you are basically born into it.
And so for me it was a reality growing up, especially after getting into a sense of maturity with my thinking and all that, I realized that I came from basically a low caste background because most of the Christians who came into the Lutheran mission, and into the LCMS Dalit church body, were basically from the lowest castes, from the lowest communities. They are called collectively Dalits today, which means the broken people. They were considered untouchables at one point of time. And so, there's a lot of associated imageries I could pull up from that history with the John 4 passage, where it is about the Jews and the Samaritans, and how the Samaritans were considered unclean, different from the Jews who were considered to be the people of God.
Mike Zeigler Yeah, your background seems to give some deeper or different kinds of insights than a North American might have.
Stanish Stanley: Especially when you look at the passage itself. It's not explicitly mentioned, but something that underlies in the background and which is there is the aspect of shame, I feel, especially being a Samaritan woman in conversation with a Jewish man. And that particular aspect also plays an important part in this story, but it's not explicitly mentioned. It's not really very obvious. But coming from a culture like India where shame predominates a lot of things in the public space, and also in the private arena for individuals, I know that that is also an important aspect that we could probably think about and discuss.
Mike Zeigler In my Western perspective, shame tends to be something I think of that I feel ashamed, or that I feel like I've done something wrong, maybe embarrassed. But I get the sense that for Eastern culture, or Indian culture, shame has more to do with boundaries that you don't cross, and people you don't associate with. So, if you could explain that a little bit more from your perspective: shame.
Stanish Stanley: For Western culture, guilt could be understood as something which is a transgression when committed. A person who is guilty of some transgression would probably respond to that by saying that here "I did something wrong. It's a bad thing that I did." Whereas, a person who is looking at or affected by shame, for that particular transgression itself, would answer that question by saying that "I am wrong" or "I am bad, and that is the reason why I did this wrong." This cannot be corrected by just any reparative action.
Mike Zeigler An apology.
Stanish Stanley: An apology, no.
Mike Zeigler Or even forgiveness.
Stanish Stanley: No. That's basically what drives shame. That's a very big part of our culture. As I said, for lower caste people in India, people who came to become Christians, or who were really touched by the Gospel message, it was a way of saying that God in Christ Jesus has touched you and has made you well.
Mike Zeigler Yeah.
Stanish Stanley: He accepts you in your shame, or whatever, but you are not shameful anymore because you worship the living God who is the greatest God ever.
Mike Zeigler Yeah. Well Stanish, I am blessed by my relationship with you and getting to know you and your perspective. I delight in our conversations. It helps me understand the work of Jesus in a much richer, multifaceted way. Thank you for joining me today.
Stanish Stanley: Thank you very much, sir. Thanks for having me.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Songs of Thankfulness and Praise" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)