Presidential Address

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Meet Jesus, Share Jesus - Rev Laurence Graham

There are many good sermons on this passage which I’m not going to preach tonight but which cover things our church talks about and must continue to talk about:

  • Mission across borders and ethnicity. Jesus crosses barriers. He astonished this woman by deliberately starting a conversation with her. What a joy it is for me to be serving in a truly multi-ethnic church in Dublin Central Mission where people from many nations operate as one, “in Christ”.
  • Reaching out to the margins of society. May MCI always and ever be a voice for marginalised people, here at home and around the world.
  • Crossing sectarian barriers. May MCI never be guilty of sectarianism.
  • The oppression and victimisation of women. Her life was clearly one of being lifted and laid by a succession of men and she may well have faced domestic violence. Remember the report on this issue which came to Conference last year.
  • Worship in Spirit and truth – one thing I have learned over the years is that it’s not the type of music that makes worship, it’s the heart of the worshipper.

Those are the sermons which, regretfully, I won’t have time to preach tonight. But what is the sermon I will preach? It’s quite simple really!

The woman at the well met Jesus and then, as a direct result of meeting Him, 2 things happened in her:

  • she wanted to go and tell others
  • she wanted to go back to meet Jesus again herself.

 

“28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

She went back to the town. Why did she leave Jesus?

And certainly why did she go back into the town? She normally tried to avoid these people!

The reason is that, having met Jesus, she was desperate to tell others.

And we read that she said to the townsfolk, “Come, see…”. Not ‘go and see.’ She also wanted to be back with Jesus herself.

 

This lady met Jesus and then, as a direct result of meeting Him, two things happened in her:

  • she wanted to go and tell others
  • she wanted to go back to meet Jesus again herself.

 

Let’s unpack this.

It began when she met Jesus.  Clearly it was unexpected for her, she certainly wasn’t looking for Him. In fact scholars are agreed that she was at the well in the heat of the midday sun so as to avoid meeting other people.  But Jesus opens the contact.  He asks her for a drink.  It’s hard for us to imagine how shocked she would have been.  They were separated by history, religion, culture, gender to name but a few. 

But nevertheless an encounter took place because Jesus initiated that encounter and also because the woman responded.   She could have ignored Jesus and just quickly drawn her water and gone but, rather, she engaged with him.  

Then we watch the conversation develop, the woman’s interest increases, some trust seems to grow until we come to the climax of the conversation when (for the first time in John’s gospel) Jesus declares who He is – the Promised Messiah.  

And so this woman met Jesus.  We don’t know the details of what she thought at that moment but clearly something was changed within her.   And from that moment on she wanted to meet Jesus again and know more of Him and she wanted to tell others about Him.   It seems that her meeting with Jesus created both of those desires in her.   Let’s think about both in turn.

Firstly after meeting Jesus this woman hungered for more of Him.   Hunger for God is a bit different to ordinary hunger.  Imagine you’ve worked all day and you’re hungry but then you come home and there’s a beautiful meal ready for you which you thoroughly enjoy.   Now you are not hungry anymore. In fact if somebody arrived at the house with another meal half an hour later you wouldn’t really want to eat it.   With physical hunger when we eat then we are satisfied and in fact to eat more and more causes us to feel worse rather than better.   (Maybe I might discover some of this principle as I embark on a tray-bake tasting tour of Ireland this coming year!)  

But hunger for God is different.   It is a fact that the more you feed on the Bread of Life then the more you want of that same Bread of Life.    Meeting God leads us to want more meeting with God.   Meeting God is not a one-off thing - it’s a relationship.   Jesus did not say to the woman that she would never be thirsty again because she would be constantly full of water.   Rather He said that there would be a spring of living water within her that would quench her thirst. In other words on ongoing process, a relationship.

Have you ever said to a generous host who offers you more dessert, “I’d love to eat more but I just can’t – I’m stuffed.”   Well with God it’s different.   As we “taste and see that the Lord is good” we will want more of Him and we can always have more of Him. 

Then the second desire that was aroused in this woman when she met Jesus was that she wanted to tell others.   Encounter leads to evangelism - she wants people to know.  The living water is welling up and now it’s overflowing.

The text that our Lay Leader’s theme is based on is also motto of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas. It is taken from 2 Corinthians 5v14 “For Christ’s love compels us…”.   In the French version of that motto, which is used by the Methodist Church in Haiti, it says “L’amour du Christ nous possede” which translates as the love of Christ possesses us.    This woman was possessed with a desire to tell others about what she had experienced and who she had met.

And it’s not just this woman. Right though the Bible – all through church history we see the same thing at work. When people meet God they immediately and instinctively want to tell others.

I remember having that very conversation with a judge in Dublin during an Asylum Hearing. I was speaking on behalf of a young man who was in the church in Killarney at the time. He was from Iran and had recently converted to Christianity which of course put his life at danger in Iran. So the point at issue in the Hearing was whether or not his conversion was genuine. If it was he would get refugee status but it had to be proved that he was not just saying he was converted to Christianity so he could live in Ireland.

One of the arguments the Irish State was using to say that perhaps his conversion was not genuine, was the fact that he was active in witnessing to others. They said that surely such a new Christian would not be so confident to share their faith. I told the judge that in fact the exact opposite was usually true in my experience. When somebody meets Jesus personally it’s such a wonderful life-changing thing that they just want to tell others. In fact I went on to say that sometimes it’s people that have been Christians for longer that can forget the wonder of it all and be less inclined to share their faith. Thankfully the man got his refugee status in Ireland! But the point is, meeting with Jesus leads us to want to share Jesus.

A couple of years ago I completed a PhD thesis on the methods of mission of the early church, cataloguing how the church grew during its first few centuries when it was often a small, marginalised minority. 88,000 words and 1,200 footnotes but the basic summary is that people met Jesus and it changed them and so they told others and they showed Him to others by the way they lived.

You see the woman at the well didn’t really think about going to the village to tell others.   It wasn’t a carefully planned strategy.   It seems that it was simply an instinct.   Mission needs to be an instinct before it is a strategy.  The desire for mission needs to be there before there is any implementation of a mission plan. 

Some years ago we made a strategic plan to begin outreach meetings in a town in Co. Kerry.  For a variety of reasons it seemed to be the logical, most strategic place for us to try next in Kerry.  So we rented a suitable venue and put up posters and started a monthly outreach meeting of praise, prayer and Bible study.  It petered out after six months.  But towards the end of those meetings a local lady came and then she began traveling to the church in Killarney where, over a period, she met Jesus personally and, as she would describe it, grace replaced law in her life.  A few years later she asked me to come and visit her and she said “I see my friends where I was and I want them to have what I’ve got.  If I get them to my house here will you come?”   Of course that’s a dream invitation for a preacher and within a few weeks on a Monday evening her living room was packed, with people even sitting up the stairs.   That was because somebody met Jesus and wanted her friends to have what she had got.   

But don’t think this is only for new Christians.   After Christmas I got a letter from a friend who I met 25 years ago in Antigua called Gladys.   Gladys worked in the local Christian bookshop when I lived in Antigua and we’ve kept in touch ever since.   She is now an elderly lady but in her letter at Christmas she wrote “In spite of my aches and pain five of us go witnessing every Thursday and it is such a joy to see young and old giving their heart to Jesus.”   It’s many decades since Gladys first met Jesus but her desire to tell others has never lessened.   

One of the key decisions that we have to make at this Conference is with regard to the proposed new Connexional Structures.  The idea behind these proposals is that they would better facilitate and enable mission through our church.   However, in all of our talk at Conference about new structures and systems to manage for mission let’s never forget that the structures for managing mission don’t matter if there is no mission to manage.  

What I love about this story in John 4 is that we see a woman who was poor enough to have to draw her own water meeting with a penniless travelling preacher and mission happens so that a community of followers of Christ comes into being.  So we are reminded that we don’t necessarily need money and resources for mission.   Lots of churches around the world grow simply and without resources and yet grow quickly.

In 1999 sixty of us from Ireland went to be with the Methodist Church in Uganda.   At that time it had only recently begun and there were five congregations.   The Church in Uganda has lots of structural and organisational problems and very few resources but the fact is that five congregations in 1999 is 41 congregations in 2017.   

And it’s not just new young churches where we see the same thing.   A few months ago I had the pleasure of representing all of us at the bi-centenary of the Methodist Church of Haiti.  There is a church 200 years old that retains an absolute instinct for mission, whether or not resources are available.   

If you go to any Methodist Church in Haiti, no matter how poor the congregation may be, you will see that they have an automatic instinct to reach out to their community. In January I led a seminar of about 40 local preachers in Port-au-Prince. During a lively and wide-ranging discussion, in Haitian Creole, I asked them to tell me some of the ways that Haitian people hear about Jesus through the Church.  The list was long and  included door to door evangelism, peoples’ conversation in daily life with those that they meet, groups from the church visiting in hospitals and prisons to name but a few.   Let me describe one example. It relates to the Methodist Church in Carrefour which is a vast, mostly slum area of Port au Prince.   The church is divided up into small class meetings in local areas.   In one particular neighbourhood the church class meeting, who already pray for their neighbours, were exploring ways they could further reach out to them and serve them.   And so when I met them they were saving up to buy a grinding machine which they would run in the neighbourhood so that the people that they were praying for and witnessing to could also benefit from being able to grind their own maize, peanuts and coffee beans.

 Last summer a team from the Methodist Church in Ireland visited with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. You may have already heard some of their observations and lessons and very soon a booklet is to be published to be distributed around our churches here in Ireland which will enable us to learn lessons from our sisters and brothers in Southern Africa. But for now let me just highlight one of the key observations that the team saw, “when new mission initiatives happen these are often started by individuals and on a small scale and with prayer as the basis. There seems to be less delay over ‘what this will look like in the long term’. The people ‘just do it’.” 

A couple of years ago we adopted a Mission Statement for the Methodist Church in Ireland called God’s Mission Our Mission. The heart of God’s Mission Our Mission is illustrated in what the woman at the well did after she met Jesus. I quote from paragraph 1.4 “If  we have the joy of the Gospel filling our hearts and lives because we have encountered Jesus personally and have accepted his offer of salvation then we have been set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. This joy we have in Christ and the love of Christ compels us to share our new life in Christ with all people.”

The ‘woman at the well’ had a warm heart because it was set on fire by Jesus. She had tough hands in that she went straight to the very people who had rejected her and who looked down on her and she had wet feet because she just did it – having met with Jesus she immediately took the risk of running to the village.

And when she got to the village this woman did not preach a sermon, she had no degree in theology. I doubt she fully understood what was happening, but having met with Jesus, she knew two things – she wanted more of Him and she wanted others to know about Him.

Let us note the rhythm or cycle here - meeting Jesus, sharing Him in evangelism then meeting Him again and so on and so on. For this is not to be a one off thing. Every encounter or meeting with Jesus should lead to hunger for evangelism and hunger for more encounter. It’s an ongoing rhythm, it’s an upward spiral.

There is no such thing as a relationship with Jesus that is not missional. Spiritual disciplines are missional. Our devotional life is missional. Spiritual disciplines and the means of grace and the need for small group fellowship are essential to develop our relationship with God.

But spiritual disciplines are also about mission - they are about making you and me different so that people can see we are different and want to know why. They are about meeting with Jesus afresh with the result that we will instinctively want to share Him with others. As Phil Meadows the Director of the Inspire movement puts it, “drawing close to the heart of God will inevitably send us out in mission to meet the needs of others.”

Or as Rev Grace Imathiu from Kenya put it, “It’s our relationship with Jesus that will impact on people so if it’s not what it should be then there is a problem.”

A few weeks ago on a sunny day in Dublin, two young women met for their lunch break on St Stephens Green. They have been reading John’s gospel together over some time. That day, as they ate a sandwich, they read John 21 together, the same passage which Fergus read to us tonight. After the lunch break they went their separate ways and back at work a lady asked one of them what she was doing over lunch cause she was clearly different. Eventually she told her that she had been reading the Bible with a friend about Jesus breathing the Spirit over the disciples.

Clearly Jesus had breathed His Spirit over this young woman and now that same Spirit was flowing from her to the other lady at her work!

And so my theme for the year is “the rhythm of grace – meet Jesus, share Jesus”. It’s that two-sided rhythm of meeting Jesus and so wanting to tell others and wanting to meet Him more. That’s what I’ve attempted to symbolise with this picture on my stole which is of an empty cross where we meet with the risen Jesus and then go from that empty cross to share Him with others but also go back to meet Him again. The rhythm of grace.

The word rhythm reminds us of breathing. Breathing is quite important – life doesn’t go well without a rhythm of breathing! But which is more important breathing in or breathing out? I remember Eddie Fox a former head of Evangelism with the World Methodist Council asking that question. The answer, he reminded us, is that it depends on which one you did last. If you have just breathed out then you really need to breath in or if you have just breathed in then you really need to breathe out.

The church needs a rhythm of breathing in and breathing out of meeting Jesus of sharing Jesus.

Individual Christians need a rhythm of breathing in breathing out of meeting Jesus sharing Jesus.

Do you remember at our Conference last year we were blessed by Rev Steve Wilde the then President of the Methodist Church in Britain and we all admired and celebrated the wonderful gift that he has in faith-sharing and leading people to Jesus. But as he told us those stories of encounters that he had with people on the street and on trains and wherever did you notice what constantly punctuated his talk and his life? It was prayer. He usually only mentioned it in throw away asides as he spoke but the fact is he spends quality time every day praying, meeting with Jesus. That’s how the opportunities for evangelism come up. It’s that rhythm again - meeting Jesus, telling others of Him, hungering for more of Him.

Over this last twelve months lots of people have made kind comments of congratulations to me. Some of those comments have been along the line of that I have been appointed to the top job in the church. But the truth is I am looking at the most important people in the church and that is you. I am really glad that a Lay Ministry Strategy is coming to Conference this year and that its vision is to “promote and communicate effectively the Methodist Church’s vision of every member ministry.”

I plan to draw out some more of the theology of all this in the open session of Conference tomorrow morning at 11.15am if you’re free but for tonight as I draw toward a close, let me leave you with a few questions based on what I have said.

Do you know Jesus? If not then now is the time. His offer of grace is for you just as much as it was for that woman at the well who thought there were so many barriers between her and God.

Or if you have met Him then the questions become, are you telling others? and are you hungering for more of Him? If not then there’s a problem. If not then you need to meet Him again.

During this past winter a wonderful youth resource has been produced by our Irish Methodist Youth and Children’s Department in partnership with other mission Departments of the church. It’s called All In and it’s to help young people understand and engage with mission. In the first session it says “Mission is like the overflow from a grateful heart.” So the question becomes for you and for me  Is there an overflow from my life? If there is no overflow then is there living water in my life?

We love to share good news. If something good happens in your life it’ll not be long until you have it up on Facebook or it’ll make you rush home to share the news. I remember the morning after Samuel our first born arrived I was walking past the Longford shopping centre and I suddenly thought I’d like to climb up on the roof and announce the news!

We love to share good news. If you don't want to share then maybe it’s because there is no fresh good news and you need to meet Jesus again.

- In the story of ‘the woman at the well’ we see that she met Jesus and she went.

- In the Book of Acts and in the early church history we see that when the first Christians met Jesus they went to tell others. Nobody told them to they just went. As Peter and John declared in Acts 4:20 “…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

- When John Wesley met Jesus his heart was warmed so that he got on his horse and rode quarter of a million miles to tell others.

It was not because they felt guilty or because they felt an obligation. What happened was that they met Jesus and so they told others while they also hungered for more of Him themselves.

You might have heard sermons before about witnessing with the implication being that it is an obligation and that you should feel guilty if you are not doing it.

Or you may have heard sermons about spiritual disciplines and that it’s an obligation and that you should feel guilty if you don’t pray more or read your Bible more.

Well this is not that sermon. No this is a sermon to ask if you have met Jesus because when you do then you will want to tell others and you’ll want to meet Him more.

It is like catching a tune. Have you ever found yourself humming or whistling a tune and you realise after a while that you have been whistling the same tune all day. You wonder why. Then you stop and think back and realise that you heard somebody singing on the bus that morning and the tune has just got stuck in your head. You liked the tune and you just picked it up and now you have been humming it all day. Nobody told you to whistle that tune all day it’s just that you caught the tune and it flowed naturally.

That’s Mission!

The rhythm of grace – meet Jesus, share Jesus.