Friday, 31 October 2014

Jesus saw the crowds

“When Jesus saw the crowds”

Did you feel the significance of that simple statement?

“Jesus saw the crowds.”

The eternal Word of God, present at the time of creation, at that moment enfleshed in Jesus saw the crowds.

The crowd is such an anonymous entity, an enormous entity – a place in which people can get lost and be ignored.  Yet Jesus saw the crowds.

People like you and I: the crowd searching for healing and hope and news of a better reality.  What did Jesus see in crowd?   Later in Matthew 9 we are told that Jesus saw within the crowd people who were like sheep without a shepherd.

Who did he see? People bearing the burdens of their lives.  People with ailments and problems.  People looking for hope.  People like you and I.

Jesus saw the crowds and Jesus responded.  Jesus ascended to the mountaintop and as was the custom of the rabbis he sat down and he began to teach.   Jesus began to teach his disciples.

Now I have little doubt that just as the disciples approached him many of the crowd leaned in as well.  Leaning in over the shoulders of the disciples the crowd was listening.

What would Jesus say?  What is Jesus response to seeing the crowd human beings going about their business with all their troubles, woes and joys?

The words that Jesus shares are well know to us, they are called the beatitudes but we who are hearing them again for the umpteenth time should remember those gathered on the side of the hill were hearing them for the first time.

If we were travel back to the time and hear them afresh I suspect 2 things would stand out.  Firstly, Jesus teaching appears to be encouraging something of a reversal or revolution of understanding what it means to be blessed.  And secondly, in the context of the reversal Jesus declares a hope which transcends the current experience.

Each of the first statements of Jesus Sermon on the Mount comes as a couplet, recognition of a blessing and an alternate reality to which that blessing is connected.

It is a reversal that we too need to hear:

Blessed are the poor? Those who mourn? The meek? Those who hunger and thirst? Really?

There is an old country song Count Your Blessings – I don’t think this is what they were thinking about when they wrote the song.

So why does Jesus say it?  In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer suggests that Jesus was first and foremost speaking to his disciples who had left their homes, their families, their livelihoods to follow Jesus.  They were poor, they mourned the loss of their nationhood, they were meek and no doubt they experienced days of hunger and thirst.

Jesus reversal reminds them, not just the disciples but crowd listening on and so us as well, that blessedness is not necessarily represented in an easy life with no hardship.  Blessedness, the knowledge of God’s care and concern for any is not necessarily equated to the momentary experience in which we find ourselves.

Jesus teaches his disciples that the parallel to the blessedness of life, whether it feels like a blessing or not, is that there is a coming kingdom of heaven, that there is comfort in store, and that mercy and that seeing God are in store.

Two sides of a story: we live life as a blessing, even in the tough times, and we live with hope that from the blessing of life we will encounter the fullness of God’s life and kingdom.

Of course as people hearing this story from where we sit we are hearing this story from the fringe of the crowd, not only looking over the shoulders of the crowds and disciples but hearing beyond on the moments of its speaking on the other side of Jesus death and resurrection.

In hearing this story post resurrection and having a fuller sense of Jesus identity there is more to it for us than for the disciples and the crowd which Jesus saw.

When God looks upon the world and sees humanity and the creation and the difficult experiences of our blessed lives God shares in the fullness of our humanity by joining us in it and experiencing the depth of blessedness himself.

Jesus is the poor in spirit, Jesus is one who mourns, Jesus is the meek, Jesus hungers and thirsts, Jesus is pure in heart, Jesus is a peacemaker and yes Jesus is persecuted.

Jesus blessedness in sharing our existence culminates in his sharing in our death as he dies on the cross and so he blesses us.

We know that by the power of the resurrection the kingdom of heaven has come; we know that he is comforted; that he inherits the earth; that he has been filled; that he has received mercy; that he is a child of God and that he rejoices.

Jesus teaching comes to us not telling us that we need to seek poverty of spirit and mourning and meekness and hunger and thirst out but that in and through him when we experience those things he is drawing us into the other side of that promise.

It will be on earth as it is in heaven, even if the blessed life we lead now seems to miss the mark.

Blessedness here is not about an easy life and having everything we want but rather is about knowing that God does not desert us even the darkest of places, that our predicament is not a measure of our blessedness and yes there is a kingdom coming.

Each week each of face the struggles and trials of life: sometimes you and I have to admit that we have got it wrong; sometimes you and I encounter confusion and mourning; sometimes we hunger and thirst ; sometimes you and are called on to be peacemakers; and sometimes we find ourselves being persecuted for our faith.

Yet, as people listening to Jesus teaching on the other side of the resurrection we are able to hang on to that tangible hope which we have seen in the resurrection: renewal and recreation is coming, suffering and death have been defeated.

Yes we do not experience these things in their fullness yet, we are on a journey to a future which has not yet arrived – but, as Paul declares, we hope in things not seen.

Why, because Jesus saw the crowds, because God sees us, because Jesus teaching becomes embodied in his own life and because Jesus promise is that through whatever blessings life brings we can hope in that future.

I wonder can you see Jesus on the hill teaching his disciples, teaching the crowd, teaching us, promising us because whether or not you can see him he has seen us! 

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Psalm 90 and the 'Ascent into Insignificance'!

I wonder if you have ever had the chance to look through a decent telescope into the night sky:   looking up into the universe it seems to unfold forever.  Or maybe you have seen the amazing images of galaxies and solar systems and black holes and so on shared by NASA on its website.

There is a beauty and a mystery that can weigh in on us making us feel so small and insignificant as we stare into the unknown reaches of space. So where do we fit into such a big universe?  What place do you and I have? What purpose?  We who long for our fifteen minutes of fame?

These questions were explored on last week’s episode ofQ&A.  Early on in the program the physicist Brian Cox was asked by an audience member John McCallum, ‘So, how important do you think the human species is in the grand scheme of the universe?’

In his answer Cox spoke about our “ascent into insignificance” - an intellectual ascent into insignificance - which has occurred since what is commonly referred to as the Copernican Revolution.  Copernicus is credited with moving us to a heliocentric understanding of the cosmos.  The earth is not the centre of the solar system, as we now know the sun is – yet our sun is not the centre of the universe either. 

However, our ability as human beings to stare into the vast distances and wonders of the universe and the shift of the earth from centre of all things should not shake our faith and in many ways is nothing new.  These scientific discoveries are not to be feared by people of faith.  In many ways they affirm what we as people of faith already knew and have already questioned for millenum.

Psalm 90 brings to mind this strange paradox of human existence as it contrasts the enormity and mystery of God with our ever so small lives.

The Psalmists is in awe that God is so big, beyond comprehension: for God 1000 years are like a day. Our growing awareness of the universe and its infinite enormity and mystery can be paralleled with the awareness of God that people have always struggled with.

Not that God is the universe as the rapper 360 suggested on Q&A.  This ancient view of the universe as God is known as pantheism but God is not the universe, even though I would argue that God is present in the whole universe, even its far reaches.

So it is, our understanding of the universe reminds us of our insignificance in the same way that our glimpse of the divine humbles us: knowledge and revelation are truly an ascent into insignificance.

But here there is the paradox.  Despite the seeming insignificance of this small rock and our lives compared to the mystery of God and the immensity of the universe we still seem to matter.

Whenever we enter the text of the scriptures I believe that one of the things we are doing is setting out on a journey of discovery to explore this strange paradox of human existence: in the face of the mystery of life in this universe before its creator human beings matter.

In both Psalm 8 and Psalm 144 we find the same question asked, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”  Psalm 90 no less explore this theme contrasting the immensity and mystery of God with the assumption that this immense and mysterious God will respond to the prayers of the Psalmist to “prosper the work of our hands.” 

The significance of our human being is given to us in our self awareness and our ability to know and to relate to our creator.  The scene for this reality was set in the book of Genesis at the time of creation.  This awareness and relationship with God and each other are a reflection of our being made in the image of God, the maker of all things.

Somewhat ironically Brian Cox in his own way echoes the revelation of the scriptures.  On Q&A he spoke how rare civilization is and he said our value as human beings is found in the idea that a species has risen on this planet that has been able to measure its place in the universe.  It is our self awareness that makes us significant in the immensity of the universe: we seem to have a place.

Towards the end of the Q&A episode a question was asked about the purpose of human life.  Is there a point of life? Does human life have a purpose? 

This question moved the conversation from science and into the realms of philosophy and theology.  To ask about the end meaning of things is to enter into the classical discussion of what is known as teleology.

The initial reaction to this question by Brian Cox was no, there is no point to human existence.  To which followed a comment, ‘if life has no purpose we can do anything we want’.

For Cox and other panel member this was an illogical leap and Cox went on to strongly disagree suggesting that being human was about being good. Being good, he said, is something in itself: good has its own purpose.  After this a few of the other panel members had begun to speak about making people’s lives better or making the world a better place.

Unfortunately the episode finished at this point truncating this marvellous discussion but it would have been at this point that Jesus teaching in Matthew’s gospel that we read today may have had something to say.

A lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Purpose and place in life: love God in all of God’s mystery and transcendence and love others!  This is what it means to live with the paradox of our smallness before God: to love!

The experience of the Psalmist in Psalm 90 identified the failure of humanity to live this way and the consequences of this – suffering in the life of the community and I would say the world at large.  Yet the Psalmist continues to have hope and appeal to God in the face of human behaviour that fails to live loving God and others.

“Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.”   

“Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands!”

There is a deep longing for a better tomorrow! 

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Loving God and so loving all that God has made, especially one another, is the expression of our hopes and longing.

We human beings live on this small seemingly insignificant rock in an obscure corner of the universe.  7 billion human beings seems rather a small number compared to the scale of the universe not that many people but often for us it appears to be too many: too many to get on with loving one another and loving God and loving all that God has made.

Is there purpose in life? Does your life have meaning?  Whilst you may still feel small and insignificant in contrast to scale of all things and of God the answer is yes.  Our perceived anonymity and smallness does not preclude our significance. 

We who are aware of the immensity of the creation and the mystery of God are blessed and so we join in the prayer of the Psalmist and continue our paradoxical journey with a God so unknowable it is inconceivable but who in grace has shared in our very life by becoming one of us. So we too pray in faith and hope:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

King's Valedictory Sermon: Glimpses of hope.

Throughout our lives we all reach significant milestones, times of transition and of change.  These can be tumultuous and confronting times as much as the may be filled with excitement and hope.

Tonight, those of you who are coming to the end of your time at Kings are here to celebrate the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one.  You stand on the cusp, on the edge, on the fringe of something new:  you are about to break out of the walls of Kings and into another phase of your life.

You may have a mix of emotions: relief, excitement, fear, anxiety hope, anticipation – what comes next?

This evening I chose to have a story read from the Bible in which we find another man standing on the cusp of a new journey: Moses.

He was the leader of his people and he was at yet another turning point in his journey leading God’s people out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land.  In the midst of his journey and his consternation about this new transition Moses seeks reassurance – he wants to know that he is not about to go it alone.  He wants a sign to help him to continue to hope.

As the story unfolds we are told God allows Moses to get a glimpse of God’s glory – he will see God’s back.  For Moses this glimpse of God’s form is a reassurance that God’s presence will remain with him: in seeing God’s back Moses glimpses hope!

There are two aspects of this story which I feel are pertinent for those of you are celebrating tonight.

First: that whatever hopes you may have there are hopes that transcend our individual lives and call us to a bigger vision of what it means to human. And second: the reassurance that, as you step out from this place, you do not go alone. 

So, let us begin with hope.

As you stand on the cusp of this new journey you may have many individual hopes.  For those of you continuing your studies you may be hoping to find a good house or apartment to share with some friends in 2015; you may be hoping that your new house mates are good cooks; you may be hoping that you can get a place close enough to Uni for convenience and so on.  And for those of you who may be finishing Uni this year hoping for a job; hoping to find somewhere suitable to live; hoping that the right doors open up for you.

There is nothing wrong with any of these individual hopes per se but as we consider the story of Moses he had bigger and broader hopes shaped by the experience of his people: the world is bigger than any of you as individuals.

It is often easy when you live in an environment like Kings to become a bit detached from the world at large so I would want to encourage you to broaden your vision of hope, especially given that over time many of you will become leaders in your workplaces and communities.

As we celebrate here the world and its problems go on: thousands of people are dying of Ebola; war and conflict continues in the middle east; millions of refugees are living in camps on the borders of Syria and Iraq; whilst other asylum seekers sit in offshore processing centres run by Australia; millions of people are living as slaves around the globe; the indigenous people of Australia are seeking recognition in our constitution; the climate is continuing to change; and, the list goes on.

Moses hope was not simply about what he wanted for himself.  Moses concern was for his people, for their well being and for their fullness of life.  

We live in a time of unprecedented connection as humanity, more and more we hear about our common future and our common bond –the world has become incredible small, incredibly quickly. 

Hoping for the best in life for me alone is not enough because all of our lives are bound together.  As someone who holds a faith the hope that I have is for a better a world, a hope that seems somehow utopian and naive.  As a Christian I cling to a hope in something I cannot see becoming a reality – a hope grounded in God’s promises of a better future for all peoples: peace and justice for all peoples!

Whether you believe in God or not this night I would want you to expand the vision of hope that you have a vision grounded in the notion of the common good and in concern for others not just yourself.  This is a hope that may seem unattainable and too large for our individual minds or lives to contain but a hope which might shape your life in directions other than simply hoping for a bigger house and a better a car.

Secondly, as you go from Kings I would want to encourage you with the notion that you are not going it alone.  The conviction of the Christian faith is that through God becoming one of us in Jesus we can be reassured that there is nowhere that we can go that God has not been.  God’s presence fills the whole creation and binds us to one another and to God.

Whilst this is an expression of my faith that God will be with all of you, whether you believe in God or not, for those of you who may have a different view of life and God I would encourage you to think about the bonds of friendship that you have forged here at Kings.  For some you these will be life-long friendships and the broader community of Kings and of the Church which supports your life here will go with you.

The community of Old Collegians can and will be a support for you and in my opinion an expression of God’s presence with you on your journey.

You are at a transition point, a turning point: you stand at the edge: What comes next? Life goes on.  But life is not lived alone it is not a solo event.  God’s presence and the presence of this community goes with you and glimpsing a hope that transcends your personal desires you are invited to live not simply asking what’s in it for me but what can I do to be part of this global community to forged the common good for all humanity and the whole creation.

I pray that you will become more aware that you are not alone, God and this community goes with you.  More than that, I pray that you will capture something of that broader hope and vision of life so that as you offer your life into the world you may be agents of that broader hope in the world.  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Imitators of Christ

Why is it that any of us do what we do?  Why do we bother?  What is the point?

No doubt all of us have our own motivations but as I reflected on the passages this week I was reminded that the reason I continue to do what I do because of the way I have understood my experiences of God’s presence.

For me this could be described as barely the glimpse of movement in the corner of my eye let alone a view of God’s retreating form as Moses was privileged with from the cleft in the rock in which God had placed him.  Nevertheless, my encounter of God has led me to a faith which speaks of a God who has created all things and who having seen that we human beings have a predilection to stuff things up came among us in Jesus and said I forgive you, I love you and I want to encourage you to continue to seek life in all its fullness.

I do not do what I do naively assuming that we will get things right as human beings or that the church is a place that is devoid of difficulties.  Rather, it is in response to a God who says to us, ‘even though you fail I will be beside you and I will you lead you home’.   It is promise of a better world. This is the promise of Jesus prayer your kingdom your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Whilst we do not live the realities of the coming kingdom perfectly as followers of Jesus, as his disciples, we are invited by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in anticipation of what is promised and to make it as visible and as real as we can so that others might encounter the God that has come to us with such great love and grace.

As we consider Paul’s letter to the first followers of Jesus in Thessalonica it would be easy to be lured into considering this as a purely historical document but its words are a living word to us and his words written to them echo down through the changes of time and space to demand our attention as well: be imitators of Jesus and of his servants!

Paul had experienced Jesus presence in a real and tangible way on the Damascus road and he had given his life to sharing the news of God’s goodness and love found in Jesus with others.  In his letter Paul gives thanks for the people at Thessalonica and their work and then he seeks to encourage them by encouraging them to be imitators of him and ultimately of Jesus.

In encouraging them to do this Paul is encouraging them to do something which I believe comes naturally to all of us – to be mimics of other people.  This is something that we do all the time even as we seek to exert our individuality and distinct personalities: we are copy cats!

For many years I thought my brother and I were very different as people.  We have a different body shape; he had brown hair I was a blonde; he spent 4 years leaving away from home through high school.  Yet, I know that when we are together and we sit and we talk, people around us comment how similar we are.  Our mannerisms, our turn phrase, our sense of humour and many of our interests collide.  Why? 

Well, I suspect, even with all the genetic predispositions we both mimic our parents and have learnt how to live and express ourselves by copying them.

Being a chip off the old block is more common than not.  Even when we rebel against our family of origin we carry so much of what we have learnt in that context into the rest of our lives.

Being imitators of other people comes naturally to all of us whether we are conscious of it or not.  So it is that Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do what comes naturally be imitators of him and of Jesus: be aware of whose example they are following and be intentional about their mimicking.

The same encouragement is true for us.

You are here this morning because somewhere in your life you have experienced a glimpse of God, possibly no more than a sense that God has passed by just as God passed by Moses, but in that fleeting glimpse, or in those deeper encounters that some of you may have had, God’s love has become real for you.

This revelation of God’s love and goodness is a gift given to you for the sake of others.  It is a gift that has been given to you so that through your imitation of Jesus and of the followers of Jesus others might come to experience and encounter God too.

As imitators of Christ and of Paul and of all those who have gone before us we are invited to be the church, which is not simply a Sunday morning event nor an institution, but a living community of people encouraging one another in faith and reaching out with God’s love to the whole world.

Imitations of Christ for one another and for the sake of the world!

Living in anticipation of the coming fullness of God’s reign, as imperfectly as we do, we are charged with the wonderful possibilities and privilege that others might come to know God through us.

It reminds me of the old song “They will know we are Christian by our love”.

Being the church, not simply coming to church, is about following Jesus everywhere we go and every moment of our lives – seeking to be imitators of Jesus.

When I was called to this congregation one of the things that drew me here was a commitment that the people here wanted to continue to share God’s love with others and invite others to be part of the journey of faith that we are on.  You said you wanted the church to grow.

As the minister here I believe my role is to encourage all of us to participate in making this happen.  When a new person walks into this building on a Sunday morning it will more likely be your reception of them that will encourage them to come back than it will be our choice of music, the style of worship or the quality of the preaching.  Yes, all these other things contribute but time and again it has been shown that a person will join a place that is welcoming and helps them belong.

More than that, your behaviour during the week, your words and actions, are constantly an example for others to see something of God’s love which you have encountered.  This is not to say we should wander around Bible bashing yet all of us should be able to give some account of our decisions and our actions to others as being inspired by our faith.

Each one of us who claims to follow Jesus is an ambassador for Jesus and for the promises of God revealed in him.  Our ability to imitate or mimic Jesus and those Christians who have an inspirational faith means that all of us are teaching others about God. 

This is important both for those beyond our community and those growing within our community.  Consider for instance the children in our midst; your every word and action is teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  For better or worse what each one of you does here may be the witness that helps or hinders the faith of others. 

When we as adults and those who may be more mature in our faith share our faith stories with one another we help each other to better imitate the life God intends for us, the coming kingdom, and become a better example of God’s love and promises for all people.  It is our job to do this together and it is our responsibility to help one another do it to be imitators of Christ!

Why?  To return to the beginning of the sermon because you and I have encountered God’s love.  God’s love shapes your life just as is does mine.  God’s love gives you and me hope.  God’s love gives you and I meaning and purpose.  God’s love is a gift that we have been given to share.

As we receive the good news so let us live it as imitators of Jesus, of Paul and of one another and so celebrate God’s gift to the world – the promise and hope of a coming Kingdom.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Give to God what is God's!

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

What does it mean to give to Caesar and to God?  Does it mean separating religion from politics?  Does it mean we should pay our tax but not let our spirituality impact our political decisions?  Do religion and politics mix or not?  To glean a better understanding we need to travel back to the moment Jesus was telling the story. 

The first thing we have to understand about this story is that these two groups were not natural allies.  The Herodians supported the rule of Herod who cooperated with the Roman rulers and was given authority by them.  The Pharisees on the other hand were the legalists among the Jewish leaders who believed that their interpretation of the Law was the one to be obeyed.  When they spoke of the law they specifically meant Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

So effectively when these groups team up to confront Jesus they choose to set aside their own differences to attack a common enemy.  Jesus is the meat in their sandwich.

The aim of the question is not to get an answer but to trap Jesus.  Let’s think about the question about tax and the coin that Jesus asked to be produced – a Roman coin!
The Pharisees would have regarded these Roman coins as idolatrous.  The contained an image of Tiberius, Caesar, who would have been considered as divine by the Romans.  The point can be made by the group simply producing the coin in the temple they had shown themselves up as hypocrites.

On the other hand it is more than likely that the Herodians had no problem with the Roman coin, after all they had allied themselves with Rome.

So the question comes, should they pay tax?  I wonder if you can see the trap.  What will the Pharisees say if Jesus says ‘Yes’?  What will the Herodians say if Jesus says ‘No’? 

The question was intended to back Jesus into a corner so that whatever his answer Jesus would get in strife with the authorities.

Jesus answer cleverly avoids the trap yet at the same time confronts his adversaries with a conundrum in terms of their loyalties.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

I think that this is one of the better known quotes of Jesus and one of the worst understood.

In trying to see behind Jesus words what should be patently clear very quickly is that Jesus believed everything belong to God, all things were derived from God, even political power.

In the scriptures both the Old and New Testaments the intermingling of religion and politics is constant.  In the Old Testament again and again we read of how God ascribed political power to even the foreign rulers and enemies.  They ruled because God made it so. 

Jesus himself was incredibly immersed in challenging the political powers and the social structure of his day. In the book Intelligent Church Steve Chalke talks about how the New Testament scholar N.T.Wright says of Jesus whatever else he wasn’t, Jesus was a politician. 

I believe that this passage has been wrongly interpreted to mean that politics and religion don’t mix.  This assumption that is made by many in our post-enlightenment world has arisen out teachings and understandings that have emerged since the time of the Reformation. 

Around 500 years ago Martin Luther argued for a distinct line to be drawn between the spiritual and political realms.  In this I think has been wrongly understood as saying the two don’t mix.  Without going into too much of the history of the situation the issue for Luther was who and how that power was being exercised.

Despite this, I think Luther’s teaching, alongside the rejection of the spiritual in favour of a secular understanding through the enlightenment has served to deceive us into thinking that our faith somehow should not have a political edge.

If we consider that all things belong to God, including the way in which we structure our society then as Christian people the way we live, who we vote for, what issues we choose to fight for, are both the political and religious outworking of our faith.

Even what we choose to pray for, or even more importantly not pray for, in our prayers for the world indicates both a political and religious stance!  The words we use, the phrases indicate our alliances to God and to his coming kingdom.  After all when we pray ‘thy kingdom come thy will be done’ surely we are praying for political and social change as well as religious change.

Last time a preached on this topic in this congregation I pointed out that the implication of this is that whatever our political allegiance might be, and I know some of you are card carrying members of various parties, our first allegiance is to Jesus Christ and the coming kingdom.

Sometimes in parliament they have what is called a conscience vote.  This is a time when politicians are allowed by their parties to vote based on their personal moral, philosophical or religious stance on an issue because of its moral content.  In a sense this misses the point that every single decision made by any parliament is a decision that has moral content and has religious or faith implications. Dare I suggest that all decisions in parliament should be made in this way?

Sometimes the Uniting Church makes decisions and advocates in the community for particular issues.  Sometimes you may agree, sometimes not, sometimes you may get the impression that the Uniting Church is taking sides in politics.  Whilst this may appear to be the case I believe that in these situations men and women of faith like yourselves are seeking to discern what it might mean to proclaim ‘thy kingdom come’ in terms of specific issues confronting our Australian community.

As individuals and as a local community of faith I believe the challenge of being Jesus followers is to seek to discern how we might live out every aspect of our lives. 

To conclude I want to give two quick examples of the intersection of faith and politics from this week which I was confronted by.

The first has a personal element.  Some of you may remember that when I went to Jandowae I caught up with a friend who is a farmer at Durong.  She emailed me with information about the campaign called ‘You can’t eat coal for breakfast’.

Essentially the situation is this; the Queensland Government had granted Tarong Energy a mineral development licence over the Haystack Road coal deposit.  The implications could be that hundreds of square kilometres of prime farming land might be reclaimed for the purpose of coal mining.  According to the website once mined the land will never be able to produce crops again.  To give some idea of the scale of the impact this area produced enough wheat last year to make 68 million loaves of bread.  That’s not counting other crops and produce.

What is the Christian response to this issue?  What do we pray for?  Is it right to continue to mine non renewable energy resources, especially in such a way that destroys good farming land?  Is it appropriate to continue to burn fossil fuels when we know the impact they are having on our climate and the whole planet?  Or does our current need for the coal outstrip our need for food crops?  What part does the church play in this situation?  For what should we pray?

The second issue was from a story on ABC radio about the impending closure of the Ford factory in Melbourne.  This is occurring because of the lower demand for bigger cars.  The discussion on the radio centred on the tension between the ideas that for because of that we have our economy constant growth is necessary and the opposing tension of trying to reign in consumption because of the impact on the environment and the use of finite resources.  What do we pray for?  What kind of car should you and I buy? Do we pray for workers losing jobs?  For companies that need profits and not to be propped up by subsidies which come from our taxes?  Or for both?

Jesus comes heralding a new kingdom, when we pray 'thy kingdom come' we are making a political statement as much as a religious one.  As we follow Jesus and witness to God’s love let us not deceive ourselves: the political decisions that we make are faith decisions, our lifestyle choices are faith decisions; in fact all of our decisions are faith decisions.  Take a moment to consider the decisions you are making what does it mean for you ‘to give to God what belongs to God.”

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Exodus 32: More questions than answers

Since Jesus death, resurrection and ascension we have been on a pilgrimage as the church, a journey towards the coming return of Jesus.  The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church describes the Church as a Pilgrim People.  As people on such a journey we need to understand that on this journey the landscape changes and we change.  The Church as we know it now is radically different to 50 years, monumentally different to 500 years ago and almost unrecognisable from the church 1500 years ago.

As we meet as a congregation this morning I believe that we need to seek to listen to where God is leading us now and to make the necessary adjustments.

Reflecting on the Old Testament passage that we heard this morning we encountered the Israelites as God’s people on a journey.  As I reflected on their pilgrimage a few issues stood out for me to share with you this morning.  Issues that I want to simply raise and encourage you to think upon and pray about in the days ahead.

First, to say the Israelites were people who were encountering great change.  They had moved from slavery to freedom, they had effectively become refugees as they fled Egypt, and they were being transformed in their relationship with God.  Change was upon them spiritual; physical; personal.  And without Moses there to guide them they kind of went off the rails. 

So here is the first issue for you, ‘How do you adjust to times of change in your life, in the world and in the Church?’

Second, that in Aaron responding to what the people wanted the difficult nature of the relationship between leaders God sets apart and God’s people is played out.  It raises a couple of issues for us: 

‘Do we give our gold (metaphorically or literally) only we know we are going to see the results?’

And, ‘Do we simply want our leaders to tickle our spiritual and theological fancies or do we actually want them to be faithful to God?’ 

As an aside sometimes when we discuss change people uses the expression ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. 

I think this misses the point - the role of leaders in the church is not to please people but to listen for and be faithful to God even when it upsets the people! 

Third, that in God’s relationship with human beings God is also changed.  This is another of those uncomfortable passages where we see God change God’s mind.  For many of us the notion that God changes is disturbing but Moses pleads his case and God shifts his response away from wreaking havoc and disaster on God’s people. 

Once again, two issues: 

‘How do we live in a dynamic relationship with a living God?’

And, ‘What does it mean for your prayer life knowing that God changed his mind in this story?’

It would be nice to think that we could wrap ourselves in what we have always done and the way things have always been as a congregation.  Yet, I suspect if we really think about it and are honest with ourselves we have not always done things the way we do them now and things have not always been this way. 

To be a Pilgrim people means moving on and not stagnating.  In our journey with God now we ask together God to guide us and lead us so that we might be faithful.

Take a few moments of silence to listen for God speaking to you.