Sitting by Another’s Well…

At this time of the year (or, perhaps at any time of the year here in Northern Ireland!), it is hard to imagine the heat of the noon day sun in Palestine and the sheer physical impact it has on those active outside in it and without shelter from it.

While the disciples went on looking for food, a weary Jesus stopped for rest from his journey by the local well; hoping for a drink of refreshing water. The difficulty was, however, he had nothing with which to draw it up from the well. It seems, at least in the films, that there is always something at wells to use for drawing up water, but here it appears there wasn’t (nicked or vandalised – I wonder?).

So, Jesus sat waiting in hope that someone else might arrive and offer him water; though, it is hard to imagine he would not have known the very limited possibility of someone drawing water at the time of the day when people tended to stay indoors while the sun was at its height and the heat was most intense. Whether it started out as a forlorn hope or an imagined, shimmering mirage someone did arrive, however, with their own gourd-skin ‘bucket’.

Two strangers found themselves unexpectedly meeting at an historic place of contested life; yet, while one was without the means, the other was without the understanding. It would have probably been more straightforward for Jesus to remain stiff, tight-lipped and full of ethno-religious self-righteousness, and thirsty, but he took the initiative.

The boundaries separating the woman and Jesus were immense and otherwise fixed in their own sectarianism. Life was going to be limited for each of them unless a way could be found that would allow things to be different.

Jesus could have begun by demanding water on the basis of his power and authority but to what would that have led? Would that have been the way to new possibilities of living; or, would that have been the way to reinforce the old ways? Would that have given him a drink or allowed the woman to find a new well for life?

Instead, Jesus chose to admit his need, place his vulnerability before her and ask her for help. Here then was the way that led to Life for the woman and, in turn, her community; and, maybe even led to a drink for Jesus!

Thus, may God grant us the grace and courage to sit for a while by the contested space of another’s well and, through this way of Jesus, may sectarian conflict be transformed and new Life flow.

Amen: Lord, have mercy.


From Desecration to Reconciliation

During an interview for a piece of research currently doing on behalf of the Irish Churches’ Peace Project (ICPP), an interviewee referred to the usefulness of a paper on desecration during the conflict in Northern Ireland. This was a piece of research I carried out several years ago via the Institute for Conflict Research and which saw light of day in the NI Community Relations Council periodical Shared Space.

He didn’t know I wrote it – so just had to tell him afterwards!

Glad paper thought to be useful; though sad that symbolic hate crime is still prevalent!

Credo: Glory and Kingdom

I’ve been reviewing some of my previous thoughts on vision and ministry today.

I believe we are called to glorify God and establish the Kingdom of God; this affirms our vision in Christian faith.

By way of living the vision, I can’t help but wonder if…

God is glorified; and,

the Kingdom of God is established

where all the people of God, being the ministering Church universal,

faithfully live out their Kingdom Vision,

singularly and corporately,

in the discipleship vocation, process and tasks of

enabling authentic, open, affirming and collaborative worship;

supporting people throughout their faith-journey as a united,

welcoming, inclusive, compassionate and caring community of faith; and,

facilitating transformative mission committed prophetically

to bringing Life  to the world through promoting

mercy, justice, forgiveness,

healing, reconciliation, peace and well-being.

Given this,

how does our vision of God’s glory and the Kingdom

invite us to live day by day in order that it might become a reality?

AMEN: Lord, have mercy…

Religion, Peace Building and the Past

Attended this helpful seminar on Religion, Peace Building and the Past – Tuesday 21 January.

Podcasts of excellent presentations and insights by Scott Appleby and John Paul Lederach with responses by Michael Wardlow (Chief Equality Commissioner, Northern Ireland) and Susan McEwen (Development Director, Corrymeela Community) made available by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ISCTSJ), Queen’s University, Belfast.



An Immediate Response?

On his return from the time of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus hears of John’s arrest (Matthew 4: 12 – 23). It was a critical moment. Jesus may not have been surprised at the action of the authorities as they seem to have acted as expected. Powers and authorities do not easily hear challenge and criticism without at some point trying to justify their position, hold on to their position and render the critic voiceless and fearful of their lives and livelihoods.

Perhaps it may have been expected that Jesus, as family if not friend, would go to his aid by lobbying and advocating on his behalf, while perhaps asking John to tone down the message. He does not go his aid. He does not ask John to tone down the message; far from it. Instead, Jesus moves out into Galilee and his first words of ministry echo exactly John’s, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Being a channel for the Word of the Lord is not for the fainthearted. John’s ‘reward’ may have been imprisonment but the Word cannot be locked up. I can’t help but wonder if John was unhappy at Jesus not coming to support him in jail? Or, might he have been more comforted that Jesus heard, and responded to, the call of the Kingdom and advocated the cause of repentance before the powers and authorities himself?

In the midst of an oppressive and unjust kairos event, Jesus stepped up and spoke up. He lived out his calling and invited others to join him through turning around and beginning the work of transformation that was, and remains, so needed.

John is still in prison today; as the stories told by Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and others testify. The Word may be held in places within bleak and dehumanising corridors. Nevertheless, its echo does not fade. It can yet be heard calling us to a repentant turning away from discrimination and a need for domination, and towards a Kingdom life, under his Lordship rather than our own; or, any other power and authority for that matter.

How will we respond? Is it possible that we could respond immediately like the first of Jesus’ disciples? I wonder…

Amen: Lord, have mercy.

Equal to the Angels…

Give them their due. It was a clever question in keeping with their commitment to the text of the Law (Luke 20: 27 – 38). While liberal in engaging with the world around them, they were fundamentalists when it came to handling the scriptures. They were also consistent in their approach. They did not believe in the resurrection because it was not mentioned in the teachings of Moses.

The question put to Jesus could have come straight out of Deuteronomy (25:5) and may well have been one of those eternal essays assigned to every class of trainee Sadducees in their respective training courses. So, of the seven brothers, whose wife will she be at the time of resurrection?

Whatever of the possible rationale supporting family, land, inheritance and the perceived blessing, in and of children, which underpinned the teaching of Moses promoted here by the Sadducees, Jesus appears to allow the questioners their fundamentalism. He does not challenge their use of the words of Moses. He does transcend, however, their interpretation of the scriptures using them to challenge the Sadducees’ position on the resurrection.

Yet more than this, Jesus also pushes the hearers to consider their value before God. A value which is not based on whether or not people have children but on the reality that each and every one of them is a child before God!

Thus, it seems Jesus is trying to encourage the questioners, and any others who are listening, to realise primary family connection is through each one being a child of God. When this is acknowledged and recognised all other family arrangements become secondary and therefore less relevant. So the key point at issue is not whose wife is the childless woman going to be in heaven, but to whose family does she belong as a child of God.

This may well be a challenge to many today who promote an understanding that when we reach heaven we will remain within our families and see those loved ones who have gone before. While not directly challenging this, Jesus’ words again reminds us that being with our loved ones is secondary to being primarily loved by God and belonging to his family when we reach heaven.

Here, not only will we be counted as children of God, but we will be equal to the angels in relationship with him!

So in this week to come,

  • may we acknowledge the integrity of people where they seek to live out lives of faith based on their understanding of scripture, even when it does not accord to our understanding nor practice
  • may we find ways to dialogue that share understanding and enable constructive insights to be gained
  • may we ever affirm people as children of the God and who are each counted as equal to the angels before him; and,
  • may we strive faithfully to bring the heavenly resurrection into earthly living that all may live in him today

Amen; Lord, have mercy…

Today Salvation Has Come…

It was probably incumbent upon him to know what was going on. His employment as Chief Tax collector demanded it, while his social standing as a wealthy man required it. So when word came to him about this man Jesus who was passing through (Luke 19: 1- 10), he just had to go and see who it was that created so much interest and fuss. For who knows, maybe there was something about this event that would give an edge to getting more taxes out of the people or maybe this could be an opportunity to further increase his wealth. Whatever the reason was, Z found it impossible to stay away. He had to see this man.

It seems that, even with his wealth and power, however, Z was not able to see Jesus due to the crowd and his physical stature. The crowd simply got in the way and if anyone had a reasonable place to see what was going on they certainly weren’t going to give it up to someone maligned and despised in the community. In addition, his physicality curtailed him from either seeing over the heads of those gathered on the road, or pushing his way to the front to ensure a viewing spot. That said, I cannot help but wonder if his physical limitations may have also been indicative of his spiritual, religious and moral shortcomings as he was lost within, and to, the community of his faith and culture due to his tax collecting.

It is sad and chastening to reflect on how the crowd got in the way of preventing someone from seeing Jesus. Does this happen still? Are there people who would like to see Jesus today, know something about him today or even begin to journey with him today but who can’t get near him because the church crowd has got in the way? Worse still is that it can seem as though the ‘in-crowd’ can erect barriers of expectation, tradition and judgment which help to keep them securely in and others, not of their group, out.

Despite this, the shock in the story for me is that Jesus saw Z even though he had been prevented from seeing Jesus. Not only was Z seen up the tree, but Jesus took that next step of initiating a transformative relationship towards salvation by offering to step over the threshold of Z’s malignment and exclusion into his home. The simple reason for this being that Z still belonged to the community of his fore-fathers and fore-mothers; he belonged, even if he was lost to his community. He was not, lost, however, to Jesus.

I wonder how many people who belong have also been lost to their community through malignment and perceived limitation. The challenge for all of us may be to realise that no matter how lost they, or we, may feel, no-one is lost to Jesus. Hear his offer; no, his desire, to come home with us and, when we allow him in, may we know again we belong at home with him, and within his community of welcome, even as we are all passing through.

Amen; Lord, have mercy…