Rebecca: A Prayer from the Well


Lord Jesus,
You choose a donkey rather than a proud camel.
You meet us at the well, rather than the synagogue.
We expect to find you in this place, on a Sunday morning,
But you are waiting for us in the supermarket, in the playground, in the taxi, every day of the week.

You invite us to go with you,
as the Samaritan woman invited her village,
as Abraham’s servant invited Rebecca.

Forgive us, Lord,
for we allow the call of the world to drown out your invitation,
the brightness of our toys to dull our sight,
and there is no room for you in the busyness of our lives.

The fear of missing out is so strong, we dare not stop and listen.
If we go with you, what will happen to our friends, our future our fortune.
If we don’t Like and Post and Update and Share, we’ll be left behind.
No-one will Like us.
We will be unfriended and alone in the cyber world we call our home –
where we count Friends and Likes and Shares to determine our worth.

Yet, Lord, you offer to fill the much deeper emptiness within:
our longing for value, for meaning, for purpose;
our cry for healing, forgiveness and love.

But the noise of the world drowns out our cries.
Our busyness fills the empty spaces for a while,
allowing us to make believe that all is well.
But ‘make believe’ doesn’t see us through the night.
Virtual friends don’t embrace us and walk the darkness with us.

Still, Lord, we are afraid to commit.
Our virtual world allows us to flit here and there,
to ignore the uncomfortable, scorn the ugly and laugh at the foolish.
We choose our own way, our own friends our own family.
It’s hard for us to go with you, to commit to your journey, to become your family.

Help us to hear your voice, Lord Jesus, and respond to your call.
Free us from the demands of the world and the demands of our dreams.
Open our hearts to your love,
Open our ears to the cry of our neighbours
And our arms to embrace them.

Drive us into the highways and byways,
The corridors and shopping aisles,
The boardrooms and playrooms.
Give us courage to declare our love for you
And to issue the invitation with boldness:
‘Come see a man ….’

Amen

[A prayer used in conjunction with the story-sermon Rebecca: The Other Woman at the Well]

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Rebecca: The Other Woman at the Well


This is a story based on John 4:1–30 (the woman at the well) and Genesis 24:34–58 (Rebecca, a wife for Isaac). 

These readings present us with two women (a few thousand years apart). They were very different from each other, but each of them went to fetch water from the well outside her village, and each met a stranger there who transformed her life.

And as I sat with the two of them and contemplated this intersection of their lives, the Samaritan woman, the one Jesus met by the well in Samaria, began to tell me her story, and I want to share it with you today. Listen to what she has to say.

My favourite character in the Bible has always been Rebecca. Probably because I was named after her, but I loved her story growing up. We lived in a small village in Samaria. We didn’t have much, and it was always my job to fetch water for the family. We girls from the village would gather round the well and chat for a bit while drawing up the water and filling our jars. It was hard work but we had such fun.

And, of course, I would dream about Rebecca, my namesake.

In my dream, I would come down to the well, and there would be a handsome stranger on a white camel. And he’d ask me for some water. And, of course, I’d say yes and offer to water his camels, too.

Then he’d put a gold ring in my nose and gold bracelets on my arms. He’d ask my father for my hand in marriage and Father would ask me, as Rebecca’s family did, ‘Will you go with this man.’

And I’d say, ‘Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!’

But, not so he could hear. I wouldn’t want him to think I was desperate. Then he’d whisk me away to his desert kingdom, and I’d become his princess.

But, of course, that never happened. It was just a dream. Instead of a stranger on a white camel, all I got at the well was Sam and his smelly goats and Thomas’s grumpy camels pushing in.

And then, I guess, I grew up. The dreams became a distant memory, and I married Andrew. He didn’t have a white camel or shower me with treasures, but he did have a heart of gold, and I suppose that’s as much as a girl could wish for. And he reminded me of Abraham’s son, Isaac, Rebecca’s husband. Isaac, the gentle.

Like my Andrew, Isaac was quieter and more gentle than the other patriarchs – Abraham, his father, and Jacob, his son. Isaac always seemed to let others do things for him. He never seemed to do anything for himself. Even the business of finding a wife was something his father didn’t trust Isaac to do; instead, Abraham sent his servant off to his family up north.

Of course, you can’t blame Isaac. He was bullied and laughed at as a child by his half-brother, Ishmael. And then that terrible, terrible day.

He went on an adventure with his father, Abraham. They were going to make a sacrifice to God together. What child wouldn’t have been excited about that? But, suddenly his father is tying him up and putting him on top of the altar. He is going to be the sacrifice. How do you cope with that? I’m not surprised that he was an emotional wreck and couldn’t make up his own mind about anything. No wonder his father had to send off in search of a wife for him.

And, yes, Rebecca also seems to have manipulated him a bit, and his kids did their own thing. Even his servants weren’t able to stand up for him. Every time they dug a well for him, the servants of the Philistine king, Abimelech, would chase them away. Instead of standing up for themselves, they’d just go and dig another well somewhere else.

That was my Andrew, too. Never standing up for himself; always giving others the right of way. Ah, well. He died far too young. I miss him still.

It was all downhill for me after that. Andrew’s family threw me out of the house, and I had nowhere to go. I drifted back to the village I’d grown up in. I had no family left, and not many options. When Samuel asked me to marry him, I thought of the question they asked Rebecca so long ago: Will you go with this man?

I guess I didn’t have much choice, so I agreed, but he wasn’t like my Andrew. He was coarse and brutal. There was no sorrow when he died a few years later.

And then there was … well, suffice to say, there were five husbands altogether, each about as bad as the other. When the fifth one wanted to move to Sidon, well, I told him I wasn’t going anywhere.

Then I hooked up with Thomas, who was pretty much as lost as I was. Neither of us wanted to get married. Didn’t seem much point.

Of course, that put the uptight noses out of joint. But where were they when I was being brutalised?

So, I didn’t make it to the society weddings and wasn’t welcome around the synagogue. Even the well was a lonely place. I started going in the middle of the day to avoid the constant jibes and sneers of the prim and proper types. It was a lonely few years. But it was all I had.

And then ….
Well, what can I say?
One day, it happened.
My dream came true.

No, it wasn’t a man on a white camel.
But it was a man, and it was at the well.

I’d come to collect water as usual, and there he was, sitting there with a lost look in his eye; sad, perhaps, burdened. He was some sort of Rabbi, but he seemed to be on his own.

He asked me for a drink of water.

Well I got such a shock. Not because of my dream (although I did have a little chuckle to myself). But he was a Jew, and me? Well, I’m a Samaritan and a woman.

Jewish men don’t talk to strange women, even for a drink of water. And for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan woman? Well, that never happens.

And, anyway, he would have known there was something odd about me, fetching water in the heat of the day.

But there he was, against all that was holy, asking me for a drink of water.

I mean, Jews won’t even use our utensils! So, what was he going to drink my water with?

So, I said to him, ‘You’re a Jew. What are you doing asking me for water?’

Then he said the strangest thing. He spoke about God’s gift, and he said if I only knew him, I could ask him for life-giving water.

Oh, oh, I thought. There goes my dream. I’ve got a crazy here.

I should have walked away then. But something kept me. So, I told him that without a bucket he’d have trouble getting any sort of water. Or did he think he was better than our ancestor Jacob who dug the well thousands of years ago?
Sheez, these Jews!

But he wasn’t put off at all. ‘Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again,’ he said. ‘But anyone who drinks my water will never be thirsty again. It will be a spring within you, welling up to eternal life.’

Well, I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said, ‘Please, give me that water. Then I’ll never be thirsty, and I’ll never have to come to this hateful well again!’

Then he told me to call my husband.

Ah, here comes the sales pitch, I thought. He’d be in trouble if he tried to negotiate with a woman, so now he needs my husband.

‘I haven’t got one,’ I told him.

What he said next, shook me rigid. ‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband.’

This was getting personal, so I tried to steer the conversation into a religious debate. These Jews are always so self-righteous about their religion, I knew I’d trip him up.

But, somehow, we weren’t taking about religion. We were talking about God and having a personal relationship with him – being in touch with God instead of doing religious things.

It was exhilarating, but also frightening, as all the old rooms and hidden places of my life seemed to be exposed. But it wasn’t like he was pointing fingers. More like just opening them up and healing them with a gentle touch.

Then we spoke about the Messiah, and I said I longed for him to come, because, surely, the Messiah was the one who would explain all this to us and make it real?

Then he looked at me. And in a calm and gentle voice, he said, ‘I am he.’

Just like that.
And, suddenly, I knew.

If anyone had said to me then, ‘Will you go with this man?’ I would have jumped up and cried, ‘Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!’ Camel or no camel.

Suddenly, his disciples were with him – they’d been buying bread or something. They didn’t say anything about him talking with a woman.

But I knew what I had to do. I left my jar and ran to the village. I called all the people, who’d ignored me (or worse) most of my life.

‘Come see a man,’ I said. ‘Out by the well. He seems to know everything about us. He told me all I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?’

I must have sounded crazy. I don’t know why they didn’t laugh at me. But they came anyway. And they warmed to him, as I had. They even asked him to stay, which he did for a couple of days – and healing happened.

The village folk began to see in him what I had seen, and they believed as I had done.

I realised, later, that my dream had, indeed, come true.
No, no white camels, and none to ask me, ‘Will you go with this man?’
But it was my own voice calling in the same way: ‘Come see a man ….’

And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Whenever I see someone in distress, someone in pain, someone lost or left out as I was, I tell them about Jesus. And I invite them to come to him.

So, I ask you, as they asked the other Rebecca, will you go with this man? Will you walk with Jesus?

Will you open your heart to him, as I did, and let him see the dark places, the scary places, the sad places of your life?

Will you let him bring healing and hope to your broken world? Because that’s what he did for me and my village, just as he did for my name’s sake so long ago, the other woman at the well.

Thank you for listening to my story.

[See also: Rebecca: A Prayer from the Well]

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State Capture: A Christian’s Response


This is an article I wrote just before Easter 2017. It remains relevant in the South African context.

The last week of March 2017 delivered a much scarier South Africa. President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle on 30 March 2017 threatened to take state capture to a whole new level.

However, he did not reckon with the timely and graceful death of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and the horror, determination and drive which that platform unleashed.

We should not be fooled, however. This is not the worst government or the worst crisis the country has experienced. It cannot be compared with the horrors of the apartheid government and the despair felt by the majority of South Africans in the 80s.

The Church, and Christians generally, should certainly be asking what we can do. However, we should never lose sight of the truth that our salvation does not lie in the downfall of a president. Our salvation does not depend on the overthrow of a government. We may pray for both of those, as Desmond Tutu has suggested, and join with civil society to rally towards those goals, but that is not where our salvation and the salvation of this great land lie.

As we near the end of Lent and move towards Holy Week, we are reminded that our salvation lies with One who chose to give his life a ransom for many.

Nothing will change that. Whatever the government, whatever our physical, social and economic prospects for the future, our salvation is secure. And it finds expression as we pray and reach out to each other in love and compassion, listening to each other’s stories and sharing each other’s pain.

Let’s not rally together because our taxes are being wasted and our comfort is at stake. Let us rally together because we have cared enough to listen, and we understand the pain and hurt of those who are most affected, those whose pensions and childcare grants are at stake.

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Easter Sunday Meditation 2017


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Reading: Luke 24:1-10 (GNB)

Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. (2) They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, (3) so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (4) They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. (5) Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? (6) He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: (7) ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

(8) Then the women remembered his words, (9) returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. (10) The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles.

Meditation

The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Death is destroyed.
Victory is complete!

Death and everything that destroys has been defeated. We stand before God stripped of our human frailty, our sinfulness, our physical weaknesses. We are, instead, bathed in his love, clothed in his righteousness, filled with his Spirit.

We are not yet complete. There is still work to be done. The last movement, the final steps will take place in an instant, in God’s time. But the Easter message is that the resurrection is now. The defeat of hurt and failure and death begins today. It takes place on every step of our journey. Every day as we open ourselves to the transforming work of the Spirit.

God invites us, today, to offer him our struggles and our joys, our failures and our successes. They are not what define our journey. Our journey is not defined by our strengths or weaknesses. It is defined by our companion on the road: the risen Saviour. Acknowledge his presence, and ask him to help you journey with him, starting today.

Prayer

Lord, we cannot comprehend the resurrection, it is beyond our human understanding. But we do know that we are in your glorious hands. We journey with you. We acknowledge your victory and we surrender today those things in our lives that hinder your work, that lead to death rather than to life. Thank you for walking with us, and thank you for our destination and the welcome you have prepared for us.

Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme.
See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions.

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Easter Saturday Meditation 2017


Darkness

Reading: Luke 23:50-56 (GNB)

(50-51) There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honorable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action. (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used. (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

(55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it. (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body.

On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded.

Meditation

Those who knew Jesus stood and watched.
They watched him die.
They watched him being buried.
Then they went home to prepare spices to embalm the dead body of their Saviour.
And they waited for the Sabbath to end.
Just one last duty to perform.
It would be the final act. It would mark the end of their journey with him.

They had no idea.

We, too, have no idea of what God has in store for us, what awaits around the corner.

We watch, we make plans, we prepare the next step. We think we have everything under control. But like those first followers of Jesus, we really have no idea. And when things don’t work out, when someone or something puts a spanner in the works, we react, we struggle, we lose our temper.

But God has plans for us that are not dependent on success or failure in our life’s journey. God’s work in our lives does not depend on our comfort, our health or our wealth. God’s plans depend on our openness to him and availability to the Spirit whatever else may be happening.

Prayer

Lord, forgive us for thinking we can control our future and our surroundings. Forgive us when we are so focused on our detailed planning, that we miss the spontaneity of the Spirit. Forgive us for thinking that the cross is the end, rather than a new beginning.

Help us amid our struggles and tragedies to discover you in new beginnings and new relationships and to find our strength in you.

Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme.
See HERE for Easter Sunday and past years’ contributions.


See also:
Easter Saturday Meditation 2016
Easter Sunday Meditation 2016

 

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Prayer of Welcoming


Prayer following the sermon, What’s Your Story: Forgiveness (2 April 2017)

Father God, Jesus told us about a Father who welcomed his prodigal son back home.
He wouldn’t listen to his son’s confession.
He didn’t lecture him on the need to turn his life around.
He wrapped him in his arms and received him with love and anticipation.

Thank you, Lord, for welcoming us like that.
Thank you for creating space for us to grow.
Thank you for welcoming us, unfinished and unpolished, into your family.
Thank you for the work still to be done in us.
Thank you for your kindness.

Thank you for those in our lives who have simply loved us,
For those who have allowed us the space to discover our own paths,
to walk at our own pace.

Forgive us, Lord.
We so seldom get it.
We prefer to explain what people have to do,
tell them how to change,
push them to do better.

Help us to listen to the stories of others,
to hear their pain,
to carry their burdens.
Help us to love more
and to leave transformation to you and your Holy Spirit.

Lord, teach us to be kind.

In Jesus name,

Amen

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