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  • Hannah Williamson

How did Jesus build bridges and how can we as the church do likewise?

I am sure like me, you are watching your TV screens and scrolling through social media wondering what is going on in the world. Just a few weeks ago I was glued to my screen watching how coronavirus was unfolding around the world. Now, I am glued to my screen as I watch all that is happening in the USA and the effects of this around our world. I have struggled to write this blog post as I don’t wish to say the wrong thing, offend or even just say something for the sake of saying something. I do however want to share what I read in God’s Word in light of all we face today with a hope that it will encourage you too to turn to the Word of God and unpackage what He would say into the injustice we see today.

In my reading, I came to the passage in John 4 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman. I have always loved this passage as Jesus crosses all boundaries. There were major racial barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans. As I begun to look into this, I realised how deep seated it was and how long it had been a problem. There were hundreds of years of painful history between these two groups of people and horrific atrocities had been committed as a result. During this time many Jews avoided going through Samaritan towns as the hatred was so embedded in them. I wonder if many Jews were so used to the hatred that they didn’t even really consider it as something that might not be kind. I wonder if many Jews went out of their way to avoid these towns out of habit and so added to the problem of these prejudices.

This passage in John 4 is powerful as it shows us the ‘Jesus way’ as I like to call it. I think there is so much we can learn.

1. Jesus goes out of his way to meet people different to Him.

‘Now he had to go through Samaria.’ John 4:4

If a Jew had been reading this, they may have said in response to the facT it says He had to go through Samaria, ‘No, he doesn’t.’ I love how every word in the Word of God is intentional. It didn’t say Jesus went through Samaria, it said He had to go through Samaria. Jews avoided Samaria but Jesus had to go through. Why? Because, he had to meet this woman. As the church, I believe we have to meet need. We have to stand with those amongst us facing pain. We have to engage with those different to us. One day we will stand before the throne of God worshipping alongside people of every nation, tribe, people and language as Revelation tells us (Rev 7:9). So much about life, I believe is about being intentional.

Church thought: Are you intentionally reaching out to people different to the majority of people in your church? Those of different races, ages, beliefs etc?

2. Jesus found things that brought them together.

‘When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘will you give me a drink?’’ John 4:7

I notice in this that Jesus didn’t barge full on into the issues facing this woman. He didn’t start out by telling her what she had done wrong. He didn’t even at this stage acknowledge the differences between them. He just simply engaged in a conversation that was normal. In fact, in asking for water, he was asking for help. The God of the universe asked for this woman’s help. It blows my mind. Jesus took a common need of humanity and used it to connect. There are so many ways we can do this. For me personally, my grief journey has helped me to connect with so many people who are different to me because we all, at some point in life face this. We all know pain so as we watch people in pain, understand you are no different to them. That should allow you to feel greater levels of empathy and make you want to do something to bring change.

Church thought: What are you doing to meet the practical needs of all people that may bridge a gap?

3. Jesus isn’t afraid to talk about difficult issues.

He told her, ‘go call your husband and come back….’ John 4:16

As you read this part of the conversation you can be tempted to cringe and think ‘wow, Jesus, you went there!!!” Ouch! What I find when it comes to difficult topics is that we can sometimes avoid them as its easier. I wonder if this is because we are fearful of saying the wrong thing or not having an answer to a question. Maybe we are scared that we will come out of a conversation looking bad? Jesus is fearless and I find that truly inspiring. Before Jesus says this, He and the woman discuss the race issues of the time and then they go on to speak about the difficult topic of her lifestyle. Have you ever noticed that after this encounter with Jesus, her lifestyle is mentioned a further two times (verse 28&39)? I can only presume that she was amazed that Jesus would be brave enough to touch on that topic. Are we as churches brave enough to speak out on the ‘difficult topics’ of society? Jesus always did, so I think we should too.

Church thought: When was the last time you spoke about racism to your church?

4. Jesus used His words wisely.

‘And because of His words many more became believers.’ John 4:41

This phrase jumped out at me. MANY became believers because of Jesus’ words. We all know there is great power in our words and sometimes I think we should take more time to really think through the influence our words have. What we say at times of difficulty is so important. What we say about a world crisis is vital. Ultimately, we have to observe how Jesus spoke and follow that example. He spoke with love. He spoke to everyone. He spoke with grace. He spoke with forgiveness. He spoke with honour. So much of our world is full of people and even leaders saying things that are harmful. We as the church have to start using our words to speak into situations for good.

Church thought: Do you spend enough time thinking through what you will say through your social media platforms that will have influence on those following you?

5. Jesus included this woman ‘in the team.’

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…’ John 4:39

I LOVE THIS! This woman went on to be an evangelist - all because Jesus intentionally went out of His way to meet her in her town. Jesus recruited her as a ‘fisher of men’ just as he had with the disciples early on in the gospels. I am really quite passionate about building teams, but I believe there has to be an intentionality about this. I cannot understand what it is like to be black and be in the church because I am a white woman. What I do know, is what it is like to be a woman in a male dominated environment. On occasion I have wondered if I fit in or have a right to be there. I have had to work through not feeling on occasion like the ‘token woman.’ I have had to realise over and over again that Jesus chooses me to serve Him alongside men and alongside those of all different races. As a woman I was able to find myself in this position of leading firstly because Jesus chose me but secondly because someone was intentional about believing in me and pushing me forward. In the area of race, we have to be intentional about raising leaders of all nationalities to lead in our churches. If we are not intentional, it will not happen.

Church thought: how are you intentionally raising leaders who are different to you? Of a different sex, of a different ethnicity or even of a different mindset?

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