In this series 'My Life - His Way' we intend to deal with contemporary issues, but doing it with our focus on Jesus. The trouble is that Jesus breaks all the social conventions, smashing down cultural barriers, and blowing your mind with respect to the company he keeps and the approaches he takes.
In John 4 Jesus is travelling through Samaria. On the journey the disciples split to get food leaving Jesus to sit by a well, where he gets talking to a Samaritan woman. Big no-no! She is a woman, she is a Samaritan, and we can work out that she has a shady back-story! A rabbi talking alone with a woman was just not done. The Jewish people had an enmity with Samaritans that dated back 700 years - they saw them as unclean and enemies. The woman came at the hottest part of the day, when no one else comes. Most likely because she didn't/couldn't associate with the rest of the women - probably because she carried an enduring shame. Against this backdrop Jesus asks the question "Will you give me a drink?".
Lets learn from this. Jesus is in her territory - that's incarnational mission. More than that he asks her for a drink - that's incarnational mission on steroids! Jesus allows himself to be hosted by the person he is reaching out to. As we ponder pioneering, do we intend to go out with our all our stuff, or can we pray and let the Spirit lead us to people who will host us?
In the conversation that follows the woman naturally talks about practicalities of drawing up the water, but Jesus is already pointing to spiritual matters. That is our task too - to lift people's eyes from the practicalities of the everyday to the spiritual. See how the woman changes: at first it is 'how can you give me ...' but soon it is 'please give me this living water'!
Next Jesus has a word of knowledge about her shame. This reminds us that in witnessing we are to have a double conversation: on one level talking with person while at the same time listening to the Spirit for revelation. Note how special Jesus' words are. He starts with a harmless question to introduce the subject, and then in the midst of the women's dodgy past he still finds a way to affirm her ('You are right ...'). It would be so easy for us to rub her face in her own shame, or point the finger - but Jesus has a way of exposing the reality whilst still affirming!
The woman can now see Jesus is a prophet - a word of knowledge rapidly propels someone forward in faith! Yet she still has a dilemma, and talks of how they worship differently. In other words she knows (expresses) that there is difference. Jesus doesn't dispute this (it is real enough), but he points beyond difference to true worship (which is via himself). Again the lesson for us is to let the person realise the difference themselves, while we point beyond difference by directing them up to God through Jesus.
Putting all this together, in our increasingly multi-cultural (and multi-faith) context let us ask and challenge ourselves:
Key Qn [OUT]: Where do you need to drop the 'them and us'?
Challenge: Don't just tolerate but love your neighbour
This is about going beyond 'religious tolerance'. Tolerance is good (and necessary), but let us not settle for just tolerating while keeping at a distance those who believe differently to us. Instead let us step up to the challenge of going across and loving our neighbours. When it comes to other faiths let us not think it is as simple as judging another belief as 'good, neutral or dodgy'. Rather let us remember that we are dealing first and foremost with real people. Remember the battle is spiritual (behind the scenes).
Yet as we do that, remember also that Jesus ultimately pointed to true worship which was via himself. Start where people are at ... encourage dialogue ... lift eyes towards Jesus!