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Befriending the outcasts By Sue
Scripture Luke 7:37-50
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Let’s Focus: There are approximately 80,000 women involved in street prostitution within the UK. In the city where I am based in the North of the UK, it is estimated that around 300 women have been involved in street prostitution in the past 12 months. On any given 2 hour outreach session we could, as a team, chat to between 2 and 19 women. Almost all of the women we meet will have some dependency on heroin, crack cocaine or alcohol – for many their dependency will, at some level, be on all three. Whilst on the street, the women regularly encounter abuse in some form, whether verbally from passers-by or physically from the clients they go with. Women have shared stories with us of occasions when they have been held at knife point and raped. Our approach is simple - we take out hot drinks and cakes to the women on the streets and use these gifts as symbols of our love and care; this also provides us with the opportunity to ask the women how they are and ask if there is anything we can pray for. We are also a visible presence to others and the women regularly thank us for coming out because, they tell us, our presence on the streets helps them feel safe. Our vision for the outreach we do each week is simple • to show the women we meet that people do care • to share with them that they are loved by God and precious to Him • to offer to pray for the women when it feels appropriate, praying into their experiences and situations • to offer to meet the women away from the street to develop our relationship with them.
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Let’s Reflect: In all 4 Gospels there is the story of a woman who came to anoint Jesus with an alabaster jar of perfume. The woman who came to anoint Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is a different woman than the one we meet in Matthew, Mark and John. For in these Gospels the woman with the perfume comes much later in Jesus’ ministry. In fact she appears in the last week of Jesus’ life and therefore the anointing of the perfume was to prepare Jesus’ body for burial – an ancient ritual used at that time. The woman of Luke comes much earlier in Jesus’ ministry; she comes to anoint Him with the perfume not to prepare Him for burial, but as a sign of her heartfelt gratitude and thanksgiving. We have no background information about the woman of Luke, we don’t even know her name, there is no mention of her meeting Jesus before her visit to the Pharisee’s house, but something has happened to her, for after hearing that Jesus is in Simon’s house, she decides to visit him. Meals of this type hosted by the Pharisees for special guests were not private events but public – anyone could come in and watch what was going on. In fact it was custom that those who were poor and had no means of providing for themselves could come to such an event and eat what was left on the table after the guests had finished eating. It was a public event, open to all – except the town’s outcasts; this wasn’t the place for them to show their faces. Being an outcast meant that you were ostracised, banished from the public gaze. And there was no-one more ostracised than this woman – who is simply termed as ‘a
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woman who lived a sinful life in that town’. She was in fact the town’s prostitute – ‘the sinner’. Can you imagine the stares and the sneers that she got each time she left her home? Can you imagine that wherever she went the townsfolk would have been gossiping behind her back? If you can imagine the abuse she suffered, then you might be able to grasp how courageous she was in visiting Jesus at such a public event and especially in the home of a Pharisee. Remember that the Pharisees were those who followed the Jewish Law to the letter and particularly the codes of purity, yet such a woman dares to enter Simon’s home. She was a courageous woman or maybe we might argue she was hardfaced. And hard-faced is what she would have learnt to become to survive in that town. To cope with the accusing eyes, the judging comments and the hurls of abuse – being hard-faced was a survival strategy – a survival strategy for this woman and also for the women caught up in prostitution all over the UK today, some 80,000! The hard-faced-ness can give off an air of - “I don’t care” attitude and yet in reality it’s only a mask to hide what’s really happening underneath - the shame, degradation and the guilt that haunt those involved in such a lifestyle. We are not told when it happened but somewhere along the way this woman, known by everyone as ‘the one who led a sinful life’ experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus. An encounter that allowed her to summon up all her courage, which enabled her to get through the door of Simon’s home, ignoring the glares and the whispers so that she could fall at Jesus feet and pour out the perfume as a sign of her heartfelt gratitude and thanksgiving. An encounter that sets about a change in her that Jesus speaks about when He tells Simon about the story of the two money lenders and how their debts were cancelled and asks which one would love more – the one who owed 50 Denarii or the one who owed 500? Jesus uses that story to show that the woman anointed Him because she loved much, and she loved much, Jesus tells us, because she had been forgiven much. And before she leaves, Jesus says to her “Your faith has saved you: go in peace”. Peace now that she is released from the shame, the degradation and the guilt. Peace to know that she is forgiven and can now begin a new life, a new life given to her from her encounter with Jesus.
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Let’s Discuss: 1. Has there ever been a time in your life when you have felt an outcast or have felt that you’ve been ostracised?
2. Who are the outcasts in the community where you live? Who are those who are viewed as having ‘lived a sinful life’?
3. What is your attitude towards them? How do you feel about them?
4. Imagine such a person coming to a home in your community because they’ve heard that Jesus is eating there. What reaction would they get from those meeting in the house? What do you think Jesus would say to them?
5. What do you think the good news of the Gospel would mean for them? How might their life change?
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Action: Jackie, who has been involved in prostitution from fifteen years of age, she is now in her thirties. In the past Jackie has been dependent on heroin and has been an alcoholic for many years. Her story is one of pain and heartache from a young age. We have recently begun meeting up with her away from the streets. She has a need to be forgiven of her past; she also has a desperate need to receive from God a new life. When she was asked recently if she wanted to accept Jesus into her life her reply was, “Well I think I deserve Him after all I have been through in my life!” Jackie’s life experiences are so harrowing that on hearing them you almost think that they couldn’t possibly be true. One day we took Jackie out and when our time together was drawing to an end she said that we must pray for her before we left. Then she emphasised that she wanted us to pray with her and not for her. And sure enough as we started to pray she began to pray for herself and in tears she asked God to forgive her and asked Him to come to her and to help her sort her life out. As we left she told us, “God’s come, I know He’s come because I feel different, I feel a weight has been lifted”. Jackie is at the beginning of a new journey in her life, and she accepts that it is one step at a time. There has been a lot of darkness in her life and she has been ostracised by many people, including her own family. But we trust that peace will be hers, for just as Jesus said to the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume, He also says to Jackie, “Your faith has saved you: go in peace”. (names have been changed)
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Prayer: Almighty God, help me to have a heart for those who are outcasts. Let me see through the veneer of their life and be part of their potential for the future. Where there is hopelessness let me instil hope. Where there is silence, enable me to bring forth a voice of joy. Above all give me love in my heart for those you love. Amen.
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s e t o N g n i Support uals and d i v i d n I for s r e d a e Group L I remember the first time I prepared to lead a bible study; I was 22 years old and went bald! Well, I think that was down to nature rather than the preparation. However, it was scary as well as exciting. Ring a bell? Then read onâ€Ś. The scriptures are littered with stories of God's people being called to do something they feel they are not humanly capable of. Yet it is similarly littered with outcomes of God's people completing what He has called them to undertake and the blessing therein. So let's take those fears and chill a bit, in the knowledge that God will help you, as he has helped countless others. Part of my ministry as an evangelist over the past 10 years has been to encourage and enable, so be encouraged that the Lord is moulding you in leadership. In my experience it helps to know that you do not have to be an expert on the Bible or even a college professor! Essentially it is all about preparation and discussion. Allow God to enable you by His Holy Spirit to lead you with confidence and discernment. Therefore in order to offer some help to you, I have set out below some of the things that have aided me in leading studies in the past.
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Before you begin Studying the scriptures and exploring other peopleâ€™s experiences of evangelism can be for some, very exciting; for others it can be very daunting indeed. I have put together some suggestions that may help you as you prepare to get the most out of The Fullness of Life. We hope that each week you will be stimulated through the scriptures and through the content on the Web. To find out more about how all of our Evangelists and staff are working at transforming lives and communities visit http://www.churcharmy.org.uk/people to see videos of ministry in action. Each of our contributors to these studies has carefully thought through how you can apply this learning in your own life and context, in order to engage in evangelism. Their questions are designed to challenge and encourage action.
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Studying as an individual Pray: Before you begin each study, ask the Lord to guide you and open your mind. Give yourself time to allow God to stabilise your inner self so that you can apply what you are learning in your life. Time: Give yourself space to learn; the studies are designed that you can learn at a pace that suits you. It may help you to briefly read all seven studies before you begin; this may help you to think about where the studies will take you. Bible: Having your own Bible is important as it will be a book that you will be familiar with. The version that you find most helpful is the best one to use. All Bible verses quoted in these studies are from the New International Version. Notes: Make notes within each study. Remember there are no wrong answers; the beauty about our relationship with God is that He illuminates our life and inspires us by the Holy Spirit. So jot down your response to the question honestly.
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Studying as a group For the leader: These notes may be of some help as you prepare to lead the group either for the first time or as a seasoned veteran! Preparation: Groups are naturally formed of individuals, so be encouraged to follow the points suggested for individuals, as you prepare for your group study. In this way you will find your learning in group study deepens through your preparation. Participation: Discussion is by far the best form of learning. Remember that as the leader you will need to ensure that everyone has their say. No answer is wrong! Share how God is teaching you, how He is encouraging/challenging you, and how He is doing that with others. Be focussed: Stick to the study material being discussed for that week. It has been my intention that you only have to use the scriptures referred to. There is no need to look up commentaries or other views. The core essence of these studies is to reflect upon the evangelistic example given. Therefore the paramount questions of the study are: How can I do this? How do I apply this? Listen: Encouraging all that listening to other members of a group is as important as contributing. If you have an attentive ear, you may be surprised at how much you can learn from others. In parish ministry I was always amazed at how the quiet person sometimes came with a suggestion that was as a blast of fresh air. A balanced input: As group leader you should be able to ensure all have the chance to contribute. It is important that we ensure that individuals do not dominate the discussions. The eagerness one has to share can often be at the cost of others not having time to respond. Therefore encourage one another; after all, the Christian journey really should not be about outsmarting each other. Involve God: God wants to share with each of us; His desire to see us evangelise. Be open to the Holy Spirit talking to you and to your fellow group mates. Most of all have fun discovering new boundaries.
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