Guest blog by Rev David Baker
Induction of Rev. Dr. Robert Brennan, Graceville UCA Advent 2012
Reflections on Ephesians 2:1-21; Exodus 33:12-17; John 15: 9-17
Life in the west is becoming more and more disturbing to me; I could characterise it thus: an addiction to consumption and an obsession with individualism is leading us to a place where this passage from Ephesians could describe us; “following the desires of the flesh and the senses, we are by nature children of wrath – one only has to read the comments after articles posted on the ABC’s “The Drum”, or electronic commentary on The Australian’s website; to hear of the latest furore in the Twitter sphere; there’s no doubt we are children of wrath, and that our new media are providing venues for that wrath to be expressed. Note this is not the wrath the original writer was in all likelihood referring to; but is wrath just the same.
Surely the times call for the demonstration of a “new humanity;” a humanity of reconciliation: The vision of Ephesians is that this new humanity is the Christian community; the church; this new humanity, this venue of peace and reconciliation, is tangibly real within the structures of the wider community; the revelation of the NT is that God believes the church is God’s best strategy. And God’s not joking!
I’ve often asked myself, when I’ve had to go and find a mediator to help a Christian community work on its own reconciliation, “Why isn’t the world coming to the church, saying “We’re fighting; can you help?”” Why isn’t the church known as a fellowship of reconciliation? Rather than some of the things for which we are known.
(The UCA is working on this; we entered into covenant with the first peoples of this land many years ago; we covenanted to walk together to build peace and be reconciled, one to the other; we are agents of peace through the work of Uniting World – working in some very difficult places, like on the Island of Ambon in Indonesia; standing up for the first peoples of the land of Papua; we are deeply committed to the wellbeing of people in Queensland)
However, I still question, “Has the “course of this world” influenced the life of Christian communities so much that the nature of our life is virtually indistinct from any other human community?
How is this Christian community, here, or the ones we come from, structured so that it is a holy temple; how is it built together spiritually; so that it is known as a place where God dwells; a place where God feels at home; relaxed and comfortable? What does holy look like?
I ask you these questions because I believe they are the questions of the Christian community; not how do we attract young people? Not how do we pay for the upkeep of the temporal fabric of the community?
If we want to know what “Holy” is like, we go to gospels and see what Jesus is like, by the way; we don’t go to our imagination, or some expression of our ego or our guilt – depending on how we feel about ourselves.
Have a look at what the gospels say Jesus is like: Full of life and laughter and passion; filled with joy and compassion; cranky at things worth being cranky at; always hoping; always believing; always loving; never deceived.
How are you – individually and corporately - being built into this sort of temple? How are you reflecting this sort of holy? How are you helping one another be this kind of holy? How is your life as a community – your worship, your learning together, your working together – helping you be this kind of holy?
If it sounds intimidating and impossible; it should; Moses was confronted with the impossibility of the task that God gave him, so he asked God for what he needed; God is a giving God; ready to give more than we imagine; we have been made alive by God’s grace, according to Ephesians. Moses discovered God’s faithfulness; God’s readiness to give of Godself in the call he was given. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” This burden shall not be yours alone.
If our communities are to find their true vocation, it will only be in this radical dependence – this demand that in taking up the call, we should be shown the ways of God. It’s ok to push God to be faithful; it’s ok to say, without your leading we cannot go.
Jesus clearly lays the way of the new community before his disciples; he leaves no back up plan, not “alternative story.” The truth of his life shall be left with this motley crew, and the commands; “as the father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love” and “love one another as I have loved you” ; do it, don’t sing about it, don’t liturgize it; don’t write tomes about it; do it.
The Father loved Jesus by asking great things of him, not by making his life more comfortable.
To build Christian community requires tenacity; it will require forgiveness; it will require humility; it requires faith; a commitment to bear fruit.
You are now to embark on a new phase in the life of this community, as Robert comes amongst you; the presbytery’s prayer is that you hear the call to build the sort of community described in Ephesians; and that in hearing that call, you look to God for the means to do it. Amen.
(Photo Leonard John Matthews)