Live a Gospel Powerful Enough to be Believed

Post a Comment » Written on June 15th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (June 15, 2006) – Brenda Salter McNeil preached.

Several hundred people shouted amens. They also applauded – often. When Salter McNeil was done, she had inspired them with the call to live “a gospel that is powerful enough to be believed again.”

That kind of living will bring reconciliation not only between humanity and God, but also among people, many of whom have come to believe the church to be redundant. That kind of living will require people to depend on the power of the Holy Ghost and give up their own power and control over others. That kind of living, she said, will make a new people one.

Brenda Salter McNeil singingPreaching from the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, Salter McNeil declared that “more than one thing happened at that well.” Not only was the woman reconciled in her vertical relationship with God, but it was the beginning of a horizontal reconciliation with others. “She was reconciled to Jesus, a Jewish man to whom she said we don’t have anything in common.”

Reconciliation requires a divine mandate, she said. The text says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” Salter McNeil noted, but it wasn’t because there was no other way to reach his destination. Jews almost never traveled through Samaria, choosing to go around the region. “He could have taken the detour like anyone else,” she observed.

Drawing on the meeting’s theme, Salter McNeil stated that “Everyone to Everywhere is not a good idea – it’s a God idea.” Because most people are reticent to go anywhere, let alone to uncomfortable areas, “There has to be something bigger than us that makes us do what we don’t want to do.”

Reconciliation also requires a real need on the part of the church for others. Jesus’ request for a drink “was not a conversation starter,” McNeil Salter said. “This was not a way to start an evangelistic conversation!” Jesus was parched.

The American church will need to recognize that it needs the gifts of other people, including from Africa and Latin America. Churches and individuals will need to recognize their need of those around them.

By Jesus expressing his need of the woman, she could enter into a real relationship with him, McNeil Salter continued.

Reconciliation requires intentional interaction with diverse people. Jesus sat down when he had a pretty high expectation that he would have an interaction with the woman, Salter McNeil said.

Brenda Salter McNeil preachingShe added that most churches ask, “How do we get them to come to us?” The real question is, “How do we get us to go to them.”

Reconciliation will require risk-taking. Jesus talked to a woman who has been hurt by everything he represents, including being Jewish and a male. He was risking that she would spit at him. “She couldn’t believe it when Jesus asked to drink from her cup. They’ve spat on her and called her worthless.”

Reconciliation will require counter-cultural social action. Jesus knew he was breaking social, cultural and religious rules, Salter McNeil said. “Be counter-cultural. Do something different,” she implored.

Reconciliation requires relinquishing power. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” she says. In the text, Jesus has all the power over the woman, but “Jesus turns that on its head.” He gives the power to the woman by asking her for a drink, especially when he could have made his own water.

Too often churches operate with the attitude toward ethnic groups with different social customs that “you can come to our church, but you have to know who’s in charge here,” Salter McNeil lamented.

Reconciliation requires authentic spirituality. Too often the church focuses on debatable issues, but Jesus says, “Your majors are the minors,” Salter McNeil said. “Soul change leads to social change.” That is something God does through human beings and is not accomplished by people debating issues.

Reconciliation requires reciprocity. When Jesus told the woman about living water, he was saying he knew she had been mistreated by others seemingly like him, but if she would give him a chance to change her view of him, she would experience something new, Salter McNeil said. He was telling her, “I want to satisfy your deepest need; I know you are not a bad person.”

Reconciliation requires bridge people. Salter McNeil pointed out that when the disciples returned, their reaction told the woman she was not welcome, but still she went back to inform her people of the person who just might be the messiah.

“The Annual Meeting is begging us to do the same thing,” Salter McNeil exhorted. When she finished, the gathering gave her an extended standing ovation.

During other portions of the worship service, which focused on the necessity of the new birth, attendees heard from pastors of two church plants and a long-established church that has experienced recent revitalization.

The gathering also celebrated the Bringing My World to Christ initiative, where prayer lists created by individuals throughout the Covenant are brought forward to a central place for prayer. Flowers were distributed that represented groups of people being prayed for.

There was a lot more going on at the well. And there was a lot more going on when Salter McNeil preached.

(Editor’s note: Salter McNeil is the founder of Salter McNeil and Associates, a racial and ethnic reconciliation training, consulting, and leadership development company in Chicago. She is the co-author of the book The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change. She also is seeking ordination in the Covenant.)

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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