|Wash day at the Nile|
We had a fantastic time of prayer and fellowship for the Women's World Day of Prayer last Friday. I am so pleased that Nicola Baskerville, who has joined the Mid-trent churches team recently accepted to share her talk on 'blog'.
Womens’ World Day of Prayer
· Our experience of Egypt today
· Contrast with the experience of women in Egypt today
· The orthodox Coptic church in Egypt
· Theme of water in dry places
· The gospel response
· Our response to the gospel
Hello ladies. How many of us have travelled to Egypt? Mostly, us British travellers hope to see the signs of ancient Egyptian civilisation, or perhaps to indulge in sunny relaxation on the Red Sea coast, diving and snorkelling. I have done, myself! And I loved the visit; and the mad chaos in the streets of Cairo, the immense pyramids and what seems an exotic culture.
But of course there is much more to modern Egypt than this, although they rely greatly on tourism as their biggest industry. Egypt in present times is still in a state of flux. There were, of course, high hopes for the outcomes of the Arab Spring. But the situation changes all the time, and I ask you all to pray for the future of this wonderful land.
I also ask you to continue to pray for the women here. Women’s rights are nothing like they are in our society, with literacy levels and education and employment opportunities still way behind those of men. Domestic life has seen some backward moves too, and women do not have the say in their lives that we enjoy. Let us, today, show some solidarity with these women - rejoicing in the faith they have and working towards better standards for them in the future. We can also learn a lot from them.
The Orthodox Coptic church is an interesting phenomenon. It is certainly one of the most ancient manifestations of the Christian Church, and continues many of its ancient traditions still. I have had more exposure to the very similar Ethiopian Orthodox church, during my involvement in that country, where I have had the privilege of taking part in worship a couple of times. The church, however, is still firmly lead by Patriarchs and male priests, and it’s structure is still heavily male dominated, despite the beauty of the worship.
So today, picture ourselves with the women of Egypt, immersed in these traditions, the Coptic Church being the largest worshipping body of Christians, making up nearly 12% of the population, the rest being Muslim.
Now… I’d like us to imagine what it must be like for those living in a climate which is hot and arid. And imaging how important water would be to you. I was born and grew up in Zimbabwe. Droughts were common – not our kind of drought that may only last a few weeks! The rains fell for maybe 3 months of the year, on and off. When the rains arrived, I remember running outside in the heat and stretching out my arms in welcome to the huge, vertical drops of water falling from the sky. And perhaps an hour later, the rain will have stopped and the sunshine would be out again, and you wouldn’t know when the next rain would fall. We were very careful about our use of water, and wouldn’t dream of wasting a drop indulgently!
Most of Egypt’s water supply comes from just one river – the mighty Nile. I have been to the very source of the Nile, where it flows into a small lake in the mountains of Ethiopia. It is astonishing that it becomes the life-blood for a whole nation of nearly 85 million people in an otherwise hot and arid land, where, for some, there is no escape from the heat. It is the source for all food and transportation too.
I hope that this helps you to appreciate how wonderful our theme of Streams in the Desert is. No one can live without water, and Egypt was dependent on what used to be an unreliable supply, with flooding and droughts, until the Aswan dam was built.
So picture too, the hot and dry climate in our Gospel story tonight. Samaritans were despised by the Jews. They were originally part of the Israelites, until the Assyrian king captured Samaria back in 720 BC, and they were deported to Assyria. They were seen as separate, although they wanted to worship with the Jews when they returned. They worshipped separately on top of Mount Gerizim, (the place it was believed that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac) ,because they were forbidden from worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem. (The Jews remained very stubborn!) There was continuing enmity between the two regions for centuries.
So here we are, at the scene of Jacob’s ancient well – yes, given to the people by Abraham’s grandson, still being used in Jesus’ day. Now here was a Jewish man, associating with a Samaritan! And a woman! Talking about sharing drinking vessels! Oh no! This scenario would have been avoided in those days. But Jesus, as we know, didn’t care much for prejudice.
This is one of my favourite passages in the entire Bible – a long and intimate conversation between Jesus and this foreigner. And it sums up so much of what Jesus was on earth to do: to meet people WHERE THEY ARE; to reveal who he is; and to offer his love and life for us, bringing us into the kingdom of God, not only to the Jews; and giving us eternal life.
This woman was at the well to draw water. We can make assumptions about her background, but we are not told, so we, like Jesus, should not hold prejudices. She is not ignorant of her history and boldly challenges Jesus. He offers her the spiritual living water, which she mistakes as physical water – but as he reveals to her his identity, which hitherto he’s not revealed to anyone, she “gets it”, and goes to share the news with her community. That means that she is the first non-Jew missionary! Remarkable! And many came to believe in Jesus because of what she said to others.
She experienced what Jesus longs for us all to experience – the flow of the loving, living spiritual waters, reaching all the parched and empty spaces of our lives. It is free, to drink in as much as we wish. And this water satisfies our spiritual thirst, like nothing else can do.
Now how can we internalise this in our lives? How can we respond to the Gospel? Let’s put it this way – we can encounter Jesus, spend time in his presence; believe in him and drink from the living, empowering, refreshing waters he offers us. And very importantly, like the Samaritan woman did - share these waters with others, that their thirst will be quenched too.
I was reminded of the words in one of the songs we sang this evening:
In the questions without answers,
In the truth we seek to find,
God is calling us to journey,
Leaving certainty behind.
And I was reminded that when we serve God, we must trust him for the path ahead, as is eloquently expressed in the traditional Sufi story in the Womens’ World Day of Prayer accompanying booklet:
Tale of the Journeying Stream
A stream, from its course in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way.
Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: "The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream."
The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.
"By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.
But how could this happen? "By dying to yourself and being absorbed in the wind."
This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could ever be regained?
"The wind," said the sand, "performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river."
"How can I know that this is true?"
"It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years. And it certainly is not the same as a stream."
"But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?"
"You cannot in either case remain so," the whisper said. "Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one."
When it heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly it remembered a state in which it -- or some part of it? -- had been held in the arms of a wind. It also remembered -- or did it? -- that this was the real thing, not necessarily the obvious thing to do.
And the stream raised its vapour into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because it had its doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in its mind the details of the experience. It reflected, "Yes, now I have learned my true identity."
When we lose our lives, Jesus gives us new life – a more purposeful life.
How can we put these words into action? We can play a significant part in sharing the living waters, by little acts of service to the Lord, in our own communities, and by supporting charities worldwide, that will help women and their communities learn about the truth that Jesus brought.
Some of you, will of course be called to specialist projects too. Putting faith into action. I am in the process of setting up, this very week, the Charity which will, God willing, open, in May a Christian drop-in centre and coffee shop for those in need in Derby. We intend to work with the homeless, prisoners and ex-offenders, prostitutes and those in trouble, the lonely and lost and any that thirst for the love of God. We have handed this entirely over to God, so that it’s success will be based on His will, and not on any ambition I might have of being a local Mother Theresa! And the moment We put our trust in Him, all things, as the scripture tells us, started to work together for good for those that love God. We think we have found the right premises, got trustees, have secured some funding, and are setting up the bank account, and all that is necessary for it to start up. If any of you would like to become involved, in any little way, please let me know, because the workers are few at the moment! But I know that God will provide – He always does…All I ask at the moment is for your prayer.
But before we do anything for the Lord, let me remind you to drink in his living waters – come close to him, so that he can make known his will for you and your involvement in any service of love for Him. His supply is abundant, in fact never ending. And he wants to share it with all.