Monday, 23 March 2015

Encounters (Part 1)

When we were in Vellore, as group leader, I led prayers on several evenings.  As we were having all sorts of encounters, I used 'encounters' as the theme, each time reading the account of an encounter Jesus had, offering a minimal comment, then telling the story of an encounter I have had at some point in my ministry, but again really just letting the encounter speak for itself.

Here are the first three:

Read John 6:8-13 – Jesus encounters a small boy who was surprised at what happened to his picnic lunch!

My first encounter story – In early ministry in Scotland I used to go into the local primary school on a weekly basis.  On one particular occasion I went into an infant class to be greeted: “Mr. Whittle, we were so glad you were coming in today.  Can you tell us what an angel is?”  I really don’t remember how I answered, but I have never forgotten being asked the question!

Read Luke 8:26-33 – the story of a very unhappy pig farmer – but, of course, that is not the encounter which is of Jesus meeting a very disturbed young man at a place called Kursi.  Was this, by any chance, the real life prodigal son?

My second encounter story – When we lived in Panama, turning left out of our drive (rather than right and down to the main road) was something to do with care and never on foot.  On this particular occasion, my wife and I were in the car which was waved down by this rather unkempt individual.  Mary wondered what on earth was happening, but I recognised him as a “character” who occasionally came to our manse door looking for money.  (I usually gave him a quarter – about 15p.)  On this occasion he wasn’t even looking for money.  He just wanted to greet me as a friend he recognised.

Read John 5:2-9a – the story of Jesus’ healing the man at the pool of Bethzatha.  Before healing him, Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to get well?”  It seems a silly question – or was it?  Sometimes we are happy where we are, with all its difficulties.

My third encounter story – In the late 1980s, when I was ministering in Islington, we got involved, as did a number of churches in Hackney and Islington, in caring for Kurdish refugees from Turkey.  We had a changing group stay in our church for three months.  One particular Sunday one of the long-term residents, Halil, decided he would come into the service.  He came in, looked round our small congregation, and came to sit beside the one person he knew – me – even though I was the one facing everybody else! – and proceeded to spend much of the service asking me how to pronounce things in the hymn book.  That made for an interesting service for me.  It was all-age worship, and I was ‘making it up’ as I proceeded because I hadn’t prepared all-age.

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