Change your Diet

March 12, 2023

Series: March 2023

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


"Change your Diet"



John 4:5-42

            5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

            7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

            16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’ 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

            27Just 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?” 28Then 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?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

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

            39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.”

Change Your Diet

            A colleague shared a story that tickles my funny bone every time I think of it.  He’s serving communion and people are coming forward to receive the sacrament. It’s this holy moment.  It can be really moving to share communion with someone.  People come forward carrying all sorts of things with them, some spoken, many unspoken, but you catch glimpses and hints in their expression—a tear or pursed lips.  Well, the person comes forward and the pastor says the words, “The is the body of Christ given for you” and the person approaches closer.  They want to share something.  They lean in and say, “I have a love seat at home that would probably fit at the church.” 

            At any moment we can operate at different levels. What’s funny is not that someone offered a loveseat.  It was that it came at a moment that is about drawing the consciousness to another level. Jesus spends a lot of time trying to elevate the consciousness of his students.  John features a number of almost silly discordant interactions that illustrate this.  Take last week’s passage.  Jesus says you have to be born of Spirit, born again, from above.  The disciples wonder how you can reenter the womb.  Jesus is talking about a different kind of birth and therefore life.

            Today’s passage continues the theme.  Jesus is resting by the well, a Samaritan woman approaches, and he asks her to draw him some water.  This violates a major cultural norm.  Samaritans and Jews are mortal enemies.  Jesus invites her to enter a space beyond enemies, beyond the stories they have been told about one another.  It’s a big ask, but one for which he does not apologize.  Given the seriousness of the ask, it makes sense why so many opt not to follow Jesus.  It makes sense why throughout history so many have consciously or subconsciously changed what it means to follow him so they could hold onto the old constructs and stories but dress it up in religious language and ceremony.  If you’re using your religion to justify hurting another or another group, one thing you’re not doing is following Jesus.

             Jesus repeats the lesson with his own disciples.  They arrive at the well—by the way, what a wonderfully symbolic image—and want to give Jesus something to eat.  Again, this is a generous gesture, but Jesus shows that he is trying to address them at a different level.  My food, what sustains me is doing the will of the one who sent me.

            Jesus is not ignoring the physical realities of this life, and we must emphasize this because sometimes the church is guilty of spiritualizing everything conveniently giving us the excuse to ignore the very material needs of others. No, what Jesus is actually doing is trying to offer the kind of spiritual sustenance that will allow his followers to move through the world and sustainably respond to the material suffering and need they will inevitably encounter.  What’s misunderstood about spirituality and spiritual practice is that it’s all escape, and so it gets unfairly juxtaposed with living an engaged life.  True spirituality equips us for the opposite.  It may involve moments of withdrawal, but only to reorient that we might reenter anew.

            Joan Halifax puts it well.  Halifax is a well-known Zen Buddhist teacher, having studied under Thich Nhat Hanh among others. She has been a civil rights activist, environmental advocacy, and she has done a lot of work with the dying.  In an interview with Krista Tippet titled, “Finding Buoyancy Amidst Despair on the On Being podcast, Halifax responds to Tippet’s characterization of her work as that addressing “compassion fatigue,” the notion that we get overwhelmed by the amount of suffering to which we’re exposed.  Halifax labels the endeavor and diagnosis differently. She says,

I think what we’re seeing actually is not compassion fatigue, but empathic distress, where there’s a resonance, but we’re not able to stabilize ourselves when we’re exposed to this kind of suffering. When we are more stabilized, then we can face the world with more buoyancy. We have more resilience. We have got more capacity to actually address these very profound social and environmental issues. So that’s why I call these things edge states, because they really call us to our edge.[1] 

            They call us to our edge.  These conditions of suffering or threat, even existential threat, call us to the edges of what we can handle, which is why they call for us to find new spaces of consciousness.  Meditation, study, service, we would say prayer, give us the buoyancy to lift us to these higher states.  Our spiritual practices buoy us to new levels paradoxically that we might be more grounded or stabilized.  What a great term.  I was watching a guy fishing in Alaska on TV the other day and he threw these big looking anchor things into the water he called stabilizers.  I’d never seen them before, but apparently as the boat moves through the water with these big, outstretched arms that hold the fishing lines, the stabilizers help keep the boat steady in the water so it doesn’t capsize and ultimately sink.  This is what the spiritual life does.  This is the living water, the bread of heaven Jesus offers.  When you partake of it everything changes.  The old lines and stories fade away or take new shape.  This is what he means when he says to the Samaritan: Your people believe worship should be on the mountain, ours in the Temple, but I’m telling you it’s not about worshiping on the mountain or the Temple, it’s about worshiping in spirit and truth.  If we understood how place-specific worship was for those peoples we would understand what a radical, what an offensive, statement that was to make.  Jesus changes the conversation by changing the diet.

            Might we be in desperate need of changing our own diets too?  It’s become cliché to say we are the most connected people have ever been and yet the loneliest.  Everybody is producing content for public consumption, but where is the authentic connection?  So much of what we consume, and consume is the perfect verb, is designed to appeal to us, but not to serve our wellbeing or that of the community.  What we take in is mislabeled, misleading, or simply malnourishing.  It’s junk. It rots us from the inside, and leads us, if we’re not careful to start spewing it.  Depleted of substance, we are tossed about on the increasingly rough sea. Do you feel this?

            Jesus invites us to swap out the junk food for real substance and watch the transformation toward steadiness that follows. The good news is we can take back control of our intake.  When we were little we may have had no control over what we consumed, but as we grow up we get to take ownership of that.  As Paul put it, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).  The spiritual life is about growing up. 

            Adyashanti, an American spiritual teacher, who like Halifax studied Zen Buddhism but now sees himself confined by no formal spiritual system, tells of a growing up moment that embodies what we’re talking about.  He was on a several day Buddhist retreat, the kind he had done many times before, but this time he experienced this restlessness that was overwhelming, so much so that he left part-way through the retreat and drove home.  It left him a unmoored, so he went to his prayer room where he sat and started to meditate.  It was there he had an overwhelming experience of a different kind, an experience of all-encompassing, redemptive love, the kind that’s hard to put into words.  

            Not long after the experience, he received a call from one of the monks asking why he’d left.  “I don’t know” responded Adyshanti honestly.  The monk invited him back and just like that he returned.  When he arrived, another monk was there to greet him. “You shouldn’t have left, and you shouldn’t have come back.”  Now, this is the instructive part.  Adyshanti didn’t get defensive, but not only did he avoid getting defensive, he didn’t ignore or dismiss the monk’s critiquing questions.  He reflected that from the monk’s perspective, he was right.  It wasn’t right to leave without conversation, and that monk was right to question his return, not knowing he had been invited back.  Adyshanti was able to receive the monk’s perspective, integrate it, and respond to it without losing his sense of security in that all-encompassing redemptive love. That’s it.  That’s operating on a higher level.  That’s where the practice of sitting in meditation led him, a new way of moving through the world.  That’s the real love seat and it if we want to experience greater consciousness and help offer that the world, we better make sure we make room for it to fit.