Sunday, February 10, 2013

Christ at the Centre and Open to All - the really big question

After last Sunday’s service, over lunch and since people have come up with all sorts of helpful suggestions and comments.   It was very interesting to get that feedback at the Deacons meeting on Thursday – and to come up with a proposition that the Deacons will bring to our Annual Church Meeting – do make a note of Thursday, 7th March and join us as we make some important decisions that evening.

One question seems to have been asked more than any other.

And I over lunch and through the week I have given the same response to a number of people.

That’s the 64,000 dollar question!

And this is the question lots of people have been asking.

So who can we find to take up the role of ‘Ministry Leaders’.

The 64,000 dollar question indeed.

Then I had one very telling conversation.

And it prompted me to think actually that’s not the most important question to ask.  There’s another much more significant question to ask.

Let’s not focus on the ministry leaders.  Let’s not focus on the Deacons.

Instead let’s focus on what’s at the centre – Christ.  And then let’s notice something about the way we picture the church as a circle.  It’s not a continuous line.  It’s made up of shorter lines – one for each of us.  We see the church as a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

With dotted lines we have then at the moment identified different areas of our church life – Pastoral Care, Worship, Mission and Outreach, Children’s work,  Youth work,  Discipleship, faith and prayer and all the admin tasks that make all of those things happen.

So if that’s our church – the really important question to ask is where do I fit in?  Where am I going to focus my gifts and energy?

That, in fact is the 64,000 dollar question.  The starting point for picturing the church this way is not who can we find to be 5 deacons, who can we find to be the 5 or 6 ministry leaders … the real starting point and what this picture of being the church is really all about, is where do I see myself fitting in.  What can I commit myself to?

We’ll all be different – we will be really keen on different things, some will have a heart for children, some for youth work, some for developing worship and building up disciples, some for pastoral care, some will  be behind the scenes kind of people.  Each of us with differing gifts.

But if we are to be a place where we share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all then each of us makes a difference, and each of us has a part to play.

Let me take one of those areas as an example.  I’ll home in on one of the areas that we have identified as a priority for the work of the church.  Mission and Outreach.  If Christ’s at the centre and we are open to all, what does that mean for me?  How can I fit in?  I’m not one to talk very much about my faith.  I have too much baggage behind me, people won’t listen to me.  All sorts of things get in the way.

All sorts of things got in the way of one person doing anything as part of Christ’s mission.

When Jesus found himself on his own by Jacob’s well near the Samaritan city of Sychar and his disciples went off for some food, a Samaritan woman came to draw water.

What you might have expected of Jesus, given his Jewish background and the fact that Jewish people and Samaritan people didn’t share things together, and given the fact that he, a man was on his own, was that he would simply keep himself to himself and not engage himself with this Samaritan woman.

4:13-16, 23-24, 34-38, 42

But Jesus is not like that.

Jesus has time for everyone, he has time for the least expected of people.

And so he simply opens up the kind of conversation anyone would have at a well.  He simply asks her to draw some water.  She is taken aback that he a man, and a Jewish man should ask such a thing of her, a Samaritan woman.

Jesus is not phased at all.  Jesus doesn’t see the label, a Samaritan woman.  He simply sees a person to get into conversation with, a person to build bridges with.

She has raised the issue of Jews and Samaritans, he finds common ground speaks of God – and suggests that if she really knew who he was she would b e the one asking him not just for the kind of water that quenches thirst for a moment, but for living water, the kind of water that gives life to the spirit as much as to the body.

The woman is intrigued – it’s a deep well, he has nothing to draw any water with.  Is he a greater person than Jacob the common ancestor of both the  Samaritan people and the Jewish people, whose well this actually was?

Then comes a wonderful statement of Jesus.

3Jesus 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.’ 

It’s a wonderful image.  And something touches the woman at this point.  Maybe she recognises deep down she has a need for this kind of living water.  A spiritual thirst.

It’s something she wants, she feels in need of.

But Jesus recognises that she has a deep down need.  Maybe it’s a careworn face that she has.  Jesus asks her to go for her husband.  But I have no husband comes back the instant response.  But it’s not quite the case.  Jesus knows she has had five husbands and the one she had now was not her husband.  What’s going on here?  Is this a woman who has been used and abused by men?  Something is not right in her life.  And it’s a major thing that’s been going wrong.

It’s not something she wants to be open about.  She wants to keep quiet about it.  She wants to cover it up.  But Jesus knows her as she is.  And more than that he has things to share with her as she is.

She turns the conversation to the differences between Samaritans and Jews – one worships in one place in one way, the other in another place in another way.  Jesus holds the corner for Jewish people, she for Samaritan people.  It seems at one moment as if he is going to prize them apart.  But no, he goes in the opposite direction.

23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers 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.’ 

The woman has recognised in Jesus a prophet who is willing to speak God’s word to her.  But more than that she wonders out loud whether he is more than a prophet.  Could he possibly be the Messiah, the Christ, the one Samaritan and Jew had been looking for.

I am he, Jesus says, the one who is speaking to you.

One powerful thing that comes over to me in this story is that Jesus has time for the least expected of people.  At each point in this story as it unfolds he could have said he had no time for her.  She wasn’t up to the job.  But no matter the baggage she has, he is prepared to talk with her.

You get the feeling as the disciples return they would not have been willing to enlist this woman.

It’s because of the way Jesus has time for her, that the woman instinctively wants to share what she has seen.

8Then 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.

What does she say to the people of her home city “Come and see”  It’s the catch phrase so powerful in John’s gospel.

Come and see.

They come.

And as they come Jesus spots them approaching white robes of many people as they come towards him – it looks just like a field of white grain swaying in the wind – “look around you,” says Jesus, “the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

It is because Jesus reaches out to the woman with all her issues, it is because she is willing to say, Come and see, that something remarkable happens.

The Good News of Jesus crosses a boundary and takes root among Samaritan people.

 Many 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 for 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 Saviour of the world.’

That Jesus is the Saviour of the World comes into their hearts simply because of this very ordinary, damaged woman that Jesus is prepared to use.

Coming back to our structures.

The 64,000 dollar question is ‘so, where do I fit in?  What can I do?’

With Christ at the centre there is something for everyone to do.  No one need think they are not up to it, - there’s something we can do.  So the big question to be thinking over is, what part can I play?  Where should my passion be directed, what are the gifts I have to share, what kind of person am I?  What can I do?  Where do I fit in so that Highbury really can be a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

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