allbelievers

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the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

‘Local ministry’

I was talking to a local churchwarden last Sunday, John we'll call him. Not an evidently pious person, John is a down-to-earth Norfolkman who's worked in the poultry industry all his life. A near-neighbour's wife has just died of a brain tumour, he said. The neighbours kept themselves to themselves, acknowledging John's occasional wave but seeking no further engagement.

Two weeks ago, John returned home from a shopping trip. The neighbour in his driveway, out of character, hailed him. He couldn't get his wife out of the car, could they help? Together they lifted the lady into her wheelchair and into the house. Then came the somewhat surprising invitation, “Will you stay and have a drink?” John and his wife accepted and ended up staying for four hours. Shortly after returning home, the phone rang: neighbour again - “she's collapsed and I can't get her into bed.” John, having barely spoken to the lady in 16 years, is now being trusted with lifting her bodily into bed.

A week later, the neighbour phoned to say that he'd just received the news that his wife had died in hospital. It's 4am. “You kindly said ‘call anytime’; I hope you don't mind. Would you be willing to come with me?” Once there, the man wanted John to come in to where his wife had been ‘laid out’. John chose to remain outside, but later, in his words, “something told me to go back in.” His friend had by now composed himself; “perhaps we should say a prayer,” offered John, just close your eyes. And they did, the words being ‘given’, like the original prompt. Finally, drawing on what resource they held in common, they said the Lord's Prayer together.

The point of this everyday story of tragedy at a local level is that it exemplifies the allbelievers vision of every Christian being a minister of God's grace, mercy, love and truth. How naturally the offer of relationship was extended in the only way that was possible - a cheery wave over the years of neighbour-hood - so that when the moment of need arose, the offer could be accepted. How naturally John and his wife responded to requests for help and the invitation to be companionable. How naturally John offered to pray, as the most natural thing to do when you need more than human help. How faithful the Holy Spirit is in prompting and providing words.

After telling the parable of the man attacked on his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10.25-37), Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Perhaps death was the robber in my story. Perhaps John found the way of showing mercy and so the way of being neighbour in that moment. He certainly found the secret of truly local ministry.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

 

The point of this everyday story of tragedy at a local level is that it exemplifies the allbelievers vision of every Christian being a minister of God's grace, mercy, love and truth.

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