Did you ever play that board game risk as a child – you had to take over the world as you made successive moved. You would win more armies and try to beat your neighbors. If you tried to take over too much at first, like a large country such as Russia the risk was too high and you would always loose. The idea was to pile all your armies up on a small area like Australia and then move out from there in domination.
My parents took a risk when they opened a bed and breakfast on the South Coast of England. My Brother and Sister and I all decided to move out in the same year and my parents liked the house but did not know what to do with it with so much space, so they opened this bed and breakfast. The first client they had got up in the night, broke into the office, and left without paying. They closed down for a while to contemplate what to do next. Should they risk opening again? After some time to think and some new locks on doors they took the risk, and it has paid off. They love opening their home to people and years later it has been so rewarding.
I took a bit of a risk coming here, and you took a risk taking on a foreign rector – this is a community not unfamiliar with risk.
Do you get the theme yet? I am talking about Risk in case you hadn’t noticed.
Jesus took a risk in the Gospel today. He spoke to a woman, of questionable reputation, who was a foreigner, in a culture that saw this as taboo unless the woman was accompanied by a relative.
If he had written up his actions for a seminary ethics exam he would have failed it!
It was a risk – but a calculated one I think. It wasn’t reckless.
Imagine her in the heat of the day coming out of the heat haze. Perhaps he saw she was a woman as her image came into proper sight. Then as she approached he might have seen her wearing too much make up, or too many decorations on her clothes. Did he get the idea of what kind of woman she was?
But he still spoke to her! Can I have some water? She was shocked, why was this man speaking to her a Samaritan woman?! It was taboo and dangerous.
If you knew who it was you would ask me for water – what was going on – he was asking for water now offering water, and he had no bucket, he could be mad. But she took a risk herself and kept talking to him. She asked about this water and liked the idea of not coming to the well again.
At this point Jesus perhaps saw that he was taking a risk and said that he wanted to talk to her with her husband – as it was not appropriate to keep talking without him. I don’t have a husband she replied – and he opened up a further line of conversation. I know, he said, you have had five, and the man you currently have is not your husband. Perhaps it was five, perhaps it was four but you get the idea, and Jesus knew what kind of woman she was. But he did not judge her, and she did not feel his judgment – he treated her as a human being and talked to her about spirituality.
He talked about her Samaritan heritage and their desire for worship – and the Jewish idea of worship and went beyond both by saying that there was a truer form of worship beyond places and traditions – but one that was worship in spirit and truth. He was giving her the living water she needed – telling her that she could worship and that she would be heard by God.
But it was a risk. His reputation could be in tatters – the Disciples recognized it when they got back – he was risking everything talking to this woman.
I think it was a wise risk rather than a reckless one though.
Ministers have a code of ethics in terms of their pastoral relationships because we are not like Jesus and are flawed people, so wise guides have developed ethical models for us when we get into pastoral relationships. The problem in some pastoral relationships is that the pastor is confused about their own needs and fulfils them in mixed up relationship with those in pastoral care. They are feeding their own need, not helping the other person deal with theirs.
Jesus was not like this. We know that he was prepared. He had faced his own temptations in the wilderness and understood himself including his needs – so he was seeing this woman clearly and he could help her genuinely. If you wanted to use Jungian terms he was a fully ‘individuated’ person, fully aware of himself.
So he took a risk and saw a genuine humanity in this damaged person and was able to help her.
What about us? Should we take risks in serving the Gospel? Well I know that this community has taken risks. Nine years ago setting up a service for children might have felt like a risk – it was different and it was new, but you did it, and today I saw that it has paid off. Those children are able to encounter the gospel in a unique way just for them because of the risks you took as a community.
Then there is the building. When the flood came you could have put it back exactly as it was before, but you decided to take a risk on reforming the shape, and now we have a remarkable space in which people can encounter the divine and hear the gospel in a way that may transform their lives. It is a risk that has paid off.
What risk might we be called on to take in future in the service of the Gospel? Well, there are two things I think about that. Firstly, we need to know each other, me as a new Rector and you as a community, as Jesus knew himself and understood who he was, so then he could be at peace with himself. We need know each other well and be at peace with each other. But peace is not the end product – it is from this place of awareness and peace that we act – we take risks within the Gospel so that people in the community we serve might encounter it in new and fresh ways.
I pray that it might be so.
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