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.


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