New Beginnings

 

 

It is Pentecost Sunday – the day when the Holy Spirit blew in on tongues of fire and transforCummins logo jpegmed the lives of some pretty ordinary people, in a room in Jerusalem.  These people went out telling Good News and the Christian Church was born.

Today at Cummins, we are on a New Beginning….we are starting a new congregation, by planting a new leadership team into a dwindling, aged congregation.

Not any new leadership though.  A vision was given by some elders, prayed through my myself as the minister and then preached to a larger church.  The vision touched a couple, with a young family.  God has already given them a heart for the dwindling aged congregation.  They offered to begin something new.  Four people have prayed together for  6 months most weeks and today, we offer all we believe we have received in prayer back to God for the work of the Holy Spirit among those God is calling to be part of the Uniting Church here in rural Cummins, South Australia.  Everything we can do is ready.

Easter Dawn

I love the fact that women are the discoverers of the Resurrected Jesus.  The women were doing something about their grief and loss: they were going to the place where Jesus lay to tidy him up; to anoint his body. They were doing their caring role and in the doing, they were processing their grief.  What about our grief?  What do we do about it?  People often look for closure, but I doubt that we ever achieve that elusive state over a death.  What we can do is find things to do that help us process our grief: tend a grave, shed a tear, sort through photos, write remembrances, plant a tree, bush, flower bed for our loved one….and in the doing, we often discover our loved one is still with us in spirit, in love. Maybe not in person as Jesus was, but in the promise that Jesus made….that where I am, you may be also.

Hospitality – the grace of God

How hospitable are we?

If someone came to your house, would you bother to make them feel welcome?  How would you do that?

In the country, I’ve noticed that when people gather you into the kitchen and invite you to have a ‘cup of tea’ and something to eat, this is an act of genuine hospitality.  Since being in the city, I’ve noticed, I’m more likely to be shown into the best lounge room.  If someone has known I was coming, there is often a prepared plate of afternoon tea and I’m given the best cup and saucer…this is also a sign of hospitality.

But what about you?  Coffee  & Tim-tam?  Coopers & chips?

When we offer hospitality, we also offer forgiveness and the grace of God.

Luke 7: 36-50

Anzac Day

Martin Andrews was an Anglican priest who decided in World War I that as a pacificist he would not fight, biut he could serve Kingand Country as a stretcher bearer. He was sent to Gallipoli with the bristish troops. On the eve of the invasion of Gallipoli, there was a great party on board ship. An officer told the troops they were in for one hell of a time the next morning and if anyone survived they coudl count themselves lucky.

Around midnight one of the officers sought out Martin Andrews and asked if it were true that he was a priest in civilian life. Martin said he was and the officer asked if he would be willing to conduct a communion service for the men as some were asking for a padre. Martin willingly agreed. The announcement went out that at midnight a Eucharist would be held on the deck.

Men I have never seen before come up and whisper, “I haven’t been confirmed; can I come?” Tell them all can come of they want to: everybody, Andrews replies.

A box is converted into an altar and the men crowd into one end of the ship. A silence descends. “We do not presume to come to this Thy table in our own Righteousness,” Martin begins and row upon row of men kneel upon the deck.  “I can hardly reach them,” writes Andrews, “soldiers and sailors from all parts of the Empire, suke’s sons, cook’s sons, sons of a hundred kings. It is too dark fo rmy tears to be seen as I whisper to each one, ‘Preserve they body and soul unto everlasting life.”
Martin Andrews later vecame a Canon in the Anglican Church and a South Australian airman from Moonta was billetted with him during World War 2 for some R&R. Canon Andrews told him he was rowed from ship to ship and gave Holy Communion to as many as he could before the attack on Gallipoli began.

Christians believe that the ordinary elements of bread and wine in the Holy Communion carry a special quality of Christ’s life once they are blessed by the Holy Spirit of God – irt is one of the sacramental rituals of the church that nurtures in christians th elife of Christ, empowering them to live that life and work for his peace and justice in the world.

 

On the night of the 24th April 1915, many soldiers received the sacrament of the life of Christ for the ordeal they were to face. An ordeal not of their making, nor of their wish, but one they were willing to face for the sake of the freedom and joy of the Christian world they knew and loved, because it was built on the values of human dignity and love. It was built on an ethos of doing good to all, because everyone is your neighbour and forgiving your enemies as a sign of seeking peace and reconciliation.

In th euglinessof war; in the inhumanity of humankind against each other and in our capacity to do eveil to each other, people often ask, and I count myself among them sometimes – Where is God in the midst of this? Why doesn’t God step in and stop it?

 I have come to the conclusion that God is always there in thre midst of war. God is always stepping in to stop it and to call people to peace. Who can hear his voice? Who will dare to look for another way?

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New revelations and anger

The Scriptures declar, “My Temple will be called a house fo prayer for the all the nations, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.  But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. Mark 11:17-18

When Jesus cleansed the Temple, he gave a fresh interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy; an interpretation that was at odds with what the Temple authorities were preaching and enacting.  God’s house is a house of prayer for all the nations, claimed Jesus.  But in practice only Jews were allowed into the Temple.  They needed to buy their sacrificial animals because their own lambs, doves and pigeons were not suitable. They had to exchange their Roman coinage from everyday life for the special coinage used in the Temple and in all this, the middle men at the Temple grew richer, while God’s people were made the poorer to be acceptable.  The peoples of other nations were not even allowed beyond the outer court, even if they wished to worship YHWH, the God of the Jews, who was the Creator of all.

When Jesus made his claim, it was a new teaching and it was liberating for those oppressed by the strict Temple code.  The Temple cult were angry, because Jesus upset the status quo and they plotted to destroy him.  But he was never going to go away.

We still see the same thing  happening today.  Whenever the institution of the church is challenged by a fresh perspective of the scriptures, such as with the role of women, creation and evolution, leadership and same gender relationships, those who love the institution often get angry and seek to destroy the new thing. But as Gamaliel said, “Wait and see. If it is of God, nothing will stop it and what will happen to us if we oppose the will of God?”

God grant us the wisdom and discernment to risk trusting fresh interpretations of your Word. Amen

Jesus the Mother Hen

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Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Luke 13: 34

As a single parent, these words of Jesus echo in my head. I wanted so much to protect my children from the stigma of poverty, of not having a father living at home. I wanted to protect them from feeling rejected or feeling less than anyone else – feelings I oftenn experienced as a child. So I felt I was like a mother hen, protecting my brood.

I can remember when daughter #3 had chickens for a time with her prize specimen being a rooster named Keiren ( yes, after the swimmer). Looking out of the kitchen window one day I saw Keiren’s progeny with their mother hen running around our backyard. When something startled the hen, she clucked and her babies came running and snuggled under her. She fluffed her feathers and tucked her beak down…a formidable barrier!

When I feel close to God, I feel like those little chicks. Warm, loved and protected. My God is like a formidable barrier and nothing can take me away from his love and protection. Sometimes I feel very small – like a chick, especially when I am feeling vunerable…I’m so pleased I said Yes to Jesus all those years ago and can run to him and feel safe and strong, to venture out and grow more.

Churches in need of the resurrection and the life – Jane McDonald’s recognition service

I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Those who believe in me will live even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die.

Do you believe this?

What does it mean to you to believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life?

We are living in difficult times as the church.

Our congregational numbers are declining, yet populations are increasing and changing – especially around these parts.

People don’t seem to find relevance in church life anymore. It’s not that people don’t believe in God or live wholesome, productive and worthwhile lives – they do. Somehow the church seems dated and out of touch, even though Jesus is still seen as a man of worth and interest for many.

Lazarus, bound up and lying dead in a tomb, is my greatest fear for the Church I know and love. I grew to faith in churches much like yours here at Yankallila. I often wonder what it was that brought me to faith. Certainly part of my journey was with a caring group of women my own age, who had started a Bible study, to learn more about the Bible and Jesus.

Many of those women are still dear friends 30 years down the track.

I revisited by home church a couple of months ago and found a congregation of 5 people. The wider community had changed considerably, but the congregation had not moved on, to ‘bridge the gap’ to their wider community with the good news about Jesus – the resurrection and the life.

Jesus can resurrect the dying and give new life to the living.

Do you believe that?

If you do, you believe in the impossible.

You believe in miracles.

You believe in new opportunities that are to be seized and wrestled with and entered into boldly.


Such an opportunity presents itself today.

Jane McDonald has come to minister her gifts and graces as one set apart by the Church to work with you to present Jesus, the resurrection and the life, to your community and to help you live that new life day by day, relying on the grace of God.

This is a great opportunity, because Jane has just completed her formation for ministry. She is most likely the best equipped person here to understand the reality of church life as we know it in 2007 and the direction church is taking as the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomer generation make way for the Generation Xers – those people born between 1970 and 1985.

This is an age group largely missing from the Uniting Church, unless you are in a regional sized congregation, which is interesting because according to Ralph Moore, author of “Friends – the key to reaching Generation X”, this generation are more likely to want neighbourhood churches that are authentic – places where friendships can flourish and a safe place can be found to explore faith and grow.

But it isn’t like the church of the Silent generation or the Baby Boomers.

Here is an opportunity for you to care for each other’s own faith with Jane, while at the same time exploring new ways of reaching your community and even allowing them space to discover and direct a church for this time.

Martha & Mary faced a similar struggle in understanding the new beliefs that Jesus invited from them.

When their brother Lazarus was dying, they sent for their new friend Jesus. Jesus was known for his saving miracles.

He could save their brother’s life.

He could lay hands on him and make him well.

He could pray to God for healing and it would happen because he was special to God.

But Jesus didn’t come as they had expected;

he didn’t make their problem go away as they expected;

he didn’t heal their brother as they expected.

In fact, their brother had to die before he could be resurrected.

When Jesus finally arrived, Martha rushes out to meet him. She’s not going to stay in the kitchen doing what she has always done.

Martha confesses her faith in the Jesus who would have been able to heal her brother.

If you had been here Lord, my brother would not have died! I know now that God will give you whatever you ask him for.”

Martha sees Jesus as a Rabbi or “Teacher”, because God does wonderful things through him – she sees him as Mary did when Mary sat at his feet.

Jesus corrects her misunderstanding and tells her that Lazarus will rise.

Martha responds with “I know that he will rise to life on the last day.”

Here is energetic Martha telling Jesus, the Teacher, what resurrection means.

Jesus interrupts her with his bold “I AM” statement…I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jane has not come to resurrect your churches. That is not her job – that is Jesus’ job. We only have our own understandings about what Jesus can do with our churches. We use words like revival and renewal…like Martha we define what Jesus can do.

The question Jesus asks Martha is the same question he asks of Peter in Mark’s gospel. It is – “Who do you say I am?”

Do you remember Peter’s answer?

“You are the Messiah.”

How does Martha answer Jesus’ question of her – “Yes Lord! I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God who was to come into the world.”

Martha makes a statement of Faith about Jesus, but she like Peter, can’t quite grasp the fullness of Jesus’ role as the Messiah.

She goes to her sister Mary and tells her the teacher is here. Now Mary, the one we uphold for sitting at Jesus’ feet has been sitting in the midst of familiar Jewish mourning rites. It seems, her faith in Jesus and all he had said was not her anchor at this time. But, like a sheep who hears the Good Shepherd’s voice, she immediately goes to Jesus, echoing her sister’s words. Jesus notes she is weeping along with the Jewish weepers and is moved.

I often thought he was moved in sympathy to the grief his friends were going through, but what if Jesus was a bit frustrated that Mary, whom he had affirmed at his feet, who had heard him speak of the new kingdom of God, who had seen miracles and Toronto blessings – that Mary had turned back to traditional Judaism, as if all he said had been wasted breath?

Jesus has already turned the grieving Martha’s thoughts away from her brother’s death to himself and who he is and what he can do – but she hasn’t fully understood. Now here is the beloved Mary, lacking in complete faith in him too.

Perhaps he weeps in frustration and disappointment that these close friends suffering such loss, still have no faith in all he has shared with them about God’s grace.

Perhaps he weeps because the gift of God to God’s people – the gift of himself – will never be understood or accepted.

So he turns to do what he has come for – he turns in obedience to give glory to God his Father by raising Lazarus. He lifts his eyes to heaven, reminding us, that all that he does he can only do through the power of God.

I thank you Father that you listen to me.

I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me.”

So they will believe.

So they will believe he is the resurrection and the life and that through him and him alone, hope for the living and the dead may be found.

Through him and him alone, there is resurrection for dead souls, dead churches, dead lives.

Through him and him alone there is new life for the living – the life of abundance, that he came to give.

It is hard being the Church in the 21st Century.

We are stuck out on the margins of society these days, but with a life changing message. We are in a similar situation to the early church who first heard this gospel of John.

We have faith and we believe in Jesus, but our beliefs are those that have come from hearing the gospel for our time.

For me, I call myself a John Wimber product – from the charismatic and Pentecostal era.

Sadly, that era isn’t relevant to my children and most of their friends.

But let us not forget the power of Jesus Christ, who is still the resurrection and life today as he has been for every age.

One of the finest women preachers to come to Australia was Serena Lake Thorpe – the grand-daughter of the founder of the Bible Christian Methodists. Serena spent some time in the Copper Triangle, where it was reported in the People’s Weekly, that 150 men’s souls were saved at one of her rallies at Kadina. There must have been a thunderstorm that night!

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Methodist Union was at hand – a new future was being shaped for the Methodist Church.

Serena Thorne Lake was against the union because women were not mentioned in the new basis of union and she could see the Wesleyans would dominate the new structure and women preachers would be excluded from pulpits. She wrote to the People’s Weekly on Sept 12 1896,

If this is a great drawing together of the churches by the working of the Spirit of their Head, surely one of their clear manifestations will be a willingness, -nay, eagerness- to renounce all the old conservative restrictions, which in the past have forced the most advanced and broad minds to go out from the parent church and form new and more liberal communities.

The new Methodist Church began with all men in their councils and in their pulpits. Her passionate words proved to be prophetic!

But her comments are as relevant for today’s new era of church as they were back then.

What conservative restrictions will the churches in this community seek to renounce for the new era of church growth here?

In his Bible Studies at the 11th Assembly on Jesus and our Culture – Mvume Dandala’s said…

We are called to be witnesses of a profound truth that transforms the human condition and gives new meaning to our being in the world. Even though human life is often filled with painful misgivings arising out of our defiance to the will of God, it nevertheless overflows with the surprising encounter of God’s grace.”

Martha, Mary & Lazarus each had surprising encounters of God’s grace…they all witnessed the profound truth of Jesus Christ, God’s gift of his Son to the world, yet they struggled to fully understand and accept who Jesus was and what he had come to do.

My prayer is that this new community of faith might believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and together with your new minister, you might work to bring that good news to bear on your changing wider communities. May you see miracles happen and may your churches be unwrapped like Lazarus, to receive the new life Jesus has for you.

To the glory of God our Father. Amen.