A couple of weeks ago, I stood here and invited you to try something with me this Lent: to look around you every day, intensely curious about where God is at work in the world, about what God is doing in other people’s lives, and to share what you discovered each day with someone else.
I have loved doing that so far. Loved hearing from some of you what you have seen, and I’ve found that – once started – it’s very easy for me to see God at work in the world. All kinds of things reek of blessings: little acts of generosity online and in the grocery store; I see God at work in children’s questions, people’s prayer requests, dark chocolate,…and sunrise, on these newly dark time-changed mornings, is like a longed-for miracle of rebirth every day.
It’s almost hard NOT to see God at work once you start looking.
But when I get specifically curious about what God is doing in other people’s lives, and strive to figure out what God might need me to do to help, the way the “church growth guy” suggested last month, I’m more likely to get stuck.
I talk to a lot of people who just aren’t in the midst of conversion or even crisis right now. So I can’t always tell what God is doing in their lives or see what I can do to help.
It's frustrating. And not just because I like to be good at what I do. It's familiar, too. It reminds me of those times when a family member is suddenly ill; a friend is in crisis - or just aching from the daily slog - and I want to help, but can't see how - sometimes can't even see what God could do.
Maybe you know the feeling.
And then once in a while – in a conversation over lunch, an email, a moment at the communion rail – I’m overwhelmed by what God has already done in someone’s life, without any help from me.
I know God is at work, and I want to help – but I feel like I can’t catch God when I’m looking, and I can’t catch up with what God has done.
Sometimes, it makes me feel useless.
And then I remember the disciples, coming back to pick up Jesus at a well outside a Samaritan town, where they find him chatting up a stranger, a woman, of the wrong religion, possibly an outcast, having a theological conversation that’s a little over their heads.
And then, when they try to do what they can to help – "Rabbi, eat something; we brought you lunch." – he brushes them off (they probably feel more useless than ever) and steamrolls their confusion with a sudden discourse about the harvest.
“…look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together….
Here the disciples are – about to be overwhelmed, though they haven’t seen it yet – by a town full of Samaritans ready to recognize the Messiah, ripe for harvest, without their having lifted a finger to make that happen.
The disciples were just in town, too, buying bread. If they’d asked themselves in the marketplace what God was doing in those people’s lives, they might have seen and heard absolutely nothing of note. It’s an ordinary day, with neither crisis nor conversion in process.
But out of sight of town, over at the well, where no one looks for anything in the middle of the day, there’s a wandering Jew, out of place, having a bizarre, wide-ranging, and profoundly theological conversation with a woman about what God is doing in her life. (Or what God would be doing, if she’d just pay more attention)
And that woman is about to return to town, to share her story, and surprise them all – townsfolk, disciples, herself – with the upwelling of faith in Jesus that transforms this town.
“‘One sows and another reaps.’” Jesus reminds the disciples, right before the flood of seekers arrives at their feet. “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered in to their labor.”
The harvest is happening all the time. When we work for God – with God – we reap what we did not sow, and sow what we will never reap.
I think that’s what’s happening when we look around for what God is doing in the world. When we see blessings of generosity and growth and grace we see the harvest, the fruit of what others have sown and God has nurtured.
And when we see that harvest for which we did not labor, there is still something for us to do. When we are called to reap, we are called to listen deeply to the story of what God has done, so that our friend, this stranger, whoever, is affirmed and confirmed in their experience of God.
And we are called to share what we hear and harvest with others.
But we are also called to sow what we will not reap: to pay attention, intensely, seriously, in those times and places and people where it is not at all obvious what God is doing, and respond to what we see and hear, whatever it is, even when it’s not obvious what we can do to help.
Sowing takes longer than harvesting, and you can’t tell – until the harvest – if you’ve done it right.
Every once in a while, we get to be like Jesus, the one who shows this Samaritan woman what God is doing in her life, and how to respond. Every once in a while, we get to be like that woman, sharing our own story of what God is doing in our lives, and explicitly calling other people to discover God, and seeing the results.
But most of the time, we’re the disciples.
We don’t get to see what God is doing when we’re in the daily conversation – we’re buying bread in the market place, while God is off pouring living water into someone else’s life.
And yet, we might still be planting the seeds, telling a little bit of our story of the journey with Jesus, on purpose or by accident, in a place where there’s not the slightest sign of God at work.
And then – when we have gone on our way – God pours living water on those seeds, and a dramatic harvest comes forth that it seems we had nothing to do with.
It turns out it’s okay not to know for sure what God is doing, as long as we are asking the question.
It turns out we are never useless, even if we don’t know exactly how we’ve been useful.
So whether we are the ones who sow, and never see how it all turns out, or whether we receive the harvest someone else has sown, we are called to give thanks to God for that harvest, to be fed by it, ourselves, and in turn, to feed others, because this is fruit for eternal life.
So keep on listening and looking, with intense curiosity, for God in your life, and even more, in the lives of people around you.
Respond to whatever you hear.
Sow what you know of God’s love, whether it seems likely to sprout or not.
And share what you receive,…so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together….