Striving – & Limping

Holy God – in this precious hour, we pause
and gather to hear your word –
to do so, we break from our work responsibilities
and from our play fantasies
we move from our fears that overwhelm
and from our ambitions that are too strong.
Free us in these moments from every distraction,
that we may focus to listen,
that we may hear, that we may change. Amen.

– Walter Brueggemann

In these last few weeks, I have been inclined towards reflection. I have pondered change and its consequences; I have thought about what call means, in terms of our discipleship. I have considered some of its costs.

Slivers of beloved poetry and prose have found their way from my memory, about journey, new paths and change. I am hopeful that this new call in ministry will offer me opportunities to serve God in new ways and to bring my particular gifts to bear in the life of God’s church.

There is also cause for sadness, as with almost every ending.

I have loved serving in ministry at Southside.

I have loved sharing in worship and care and small groups and thinking things through and watching people grow and welcoming new folk and sharing meals and coffee and art and shovelling mulch and curly questions and decorating the sanctuary and planning for the future (even when it kept stalling and changing direction) and breaking bread and sharing wine and praying with and for people and working out our faith in Jesus Christ as a cluster of disciples.

Thank you for our time together.

Jacob’s story has held some fascination for me since college; it is the story about his wrestle in the dark (with God) which holds me most firmly. The agile trickster plays his last cards in this event and remains marked forever. The story ends with Jacob, freshly named and no longer agile, as he limps into his new future of reconciliation with his brother, Esau.

Discipleship marks us, sometimes even wounds us. This is not a palatable idea, as we live in a world where we have striven for comfort and security, where our lives are more comfortable than ever before.

In one breath we proclaim our ancestors in faith who served and died as witnesses to Jesus; in our next breath, we eschew any call to discipleship which may discomfort us.

We translate ‘cost’ into dollars and cents, while whittling our sense of call so it fits into the appropriately shaped hole. I’m confident it has ever been thus, which is why Jesus keeps talking about it.

I am confident that Jacob’s limp is inherent to his blessing by God, even though it is not the one which Jacob expected when he asked. Once Jacob was blessed in this way, his sidestep was not so prominent and he needed to face things properly.

He also needed to trust God more and his craftiness (dodgy dealing?) less.

Leaving Southside is costly for me, but the grief of leaving is a blessing for the ministry I have ahead of me – shared service, shared hope, shared lives.

I also believe it is an opportunity for Southside in new areas of ministry. This is a time of possibility for Southside, exploring new lay ministries, like Suzanne’s, as well as calling a new minister to placement. There is the creation of a new team, with Rev. Chris Wright at City, and – hopefully – a Young Families Worker alongside the placements at City & Southside and St. Andrew’s Village.

Grace and peace for the wrestling ahead, my sisters and brothers!

Simon

 

The Whole Story

I had a goodly number of reasons to be frustrated in the last week, and (almost) none of them was my fault. Some of them are insignificant and some less so. There were also several occasions of graciousness and blessing offered to me, and in this season of my life I am holding them close.

I have tried to not let those kinds of events – helpful and otherwise – define my sense of myself, or my understanding of the world. Hard moments are precisely that, and there are some which make us gasp, lost for words. But they are not the whole story.

There are moments, perhaps even tiny in the scale of human history, which give our hearts cause to beat joyfully. I saw a photograph of a friend holding a newborn baby which he had helped deliver in a Mosul refugee camp this week, life’s new wonder on his face. This is not the whole story.

We are caught in creation’s heartbeat, and have been since God first said yes to light and life. We are creatures of dust and breath and love, inherent to the world around us, in its wonder and its frailty. We are tempted to believe that we are entirely responsible, that our efforts alone address the brokenness and celebrate the wonders. This way leads to frustration and despair.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you.

We are not the whole story, and it is not in our hands. This is, and has forever been, in the hands of God.

How else do we face the trials, trivial and otherwise, which confront us? How else are we able to receive the blessings bestowed?

Listen for Paul’s Roman symphony; in the midst of the appalling exigencies confronting the Roman church, Paul tells us there is more – more glory, more justice, more hope. The struggles we face, with war and environmental disaster and diverse human cruelty, are not the whole story.

Paul is not naïve, writing in some sheltered theological workshop; he is writing to a church confronted by the empire’s fist. God has more for us, and the entire creation, in the hope of Jesus Christ.

As the world groans in what seems an interminable labour, the promise of new birth is grounded in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not up to us, we are only invited to live the story out in every way we can.

We forgive and serve and hope, because of Jesus. We act and proclaim because of Jesus. And we hope, entirely, because of Jesus Christ, who is the whole story, forever.

 

 

Regrets … I Have A Few …

I have a new regret. I wish I had started our Curly Questions small groups two years ago. We’ve had four groups so far and we have wrestled with a handful of relevant and perplexing issues.

When we worked through some of our thinking on same sex marriage and the church, our primary concern appeared to be how we bear witness, show compassion and hospitality, and work out what we think in a world which has (or appears to have) changed phenomenally in the few generations.

We acknowledged the vast gulf between how our parents and grandparents spoke (or didn’t speak!) about these issues and how our children and grandchildren understand them. As law and culture shift – as they always have – we need to be able to live out our faith with grace and justice.

Our varied backgrounds and our current context affect how we think, speak and act.

How do we articulate the gospel in such a multi-lingual space?

One of our conversations this week was how we address Old Testament stories which are confronting, or even which we find appalling. There are stories in scripture which encourage violence, or appear to be unjust; laws which seem to make no sense, or to have less relevance, are all part of the biblical witness.

What do we do with these texts? Is it reasonable, or theological, to lay these aside? Where do we place our emphasis, and how do we decide?

It’s the challenge of finding our way, as disciples. One of our conversations was about denominations and how, when the Uniting Church was formed only four decades ago, most of the boundaries were firmly aligned and people’s faith traditions were inherited from their parents and bequeathed to their children.

Now, thankfully, many of the walls have crumbled; some of the more traditional denominations are unnerved and are resisting the need to adapt to a community where the role – and identity – of the church is changing.

So many of our conversations so far have been about how we live out our faith in our community, which is precisely what Jesus taught his disciples, and Paul  emphasised to churches he pastored in vastly different communities.

Loving your neighbour makes sense everywhere, but loving your enemy when they are the occupying empire seems a little extreme. Forgiving once seems manageable, but 490 times might be regarded as excessive.

When Paul wrestled with issues like circumcision, or the role of women in the church, he tried to understand how to live the gospel in a foreign community coming to terms with a radical new faith discovered in Jesus Christ.

As we negotiate our way on the journey of faith, our first resource is always Jesus. We have the gift of the Spirit as we stumble and dance our way; what we once knew about denominations, or sexuality, or reading Scripture, or salvation, appears to be under question, or simply changing.

We will only find our way by trusting Jesus. Some things are certainly changing, some by culture, some by the impetus of God’s mercy. Sometimes we will need to stand firm and bear witness to a God who is with us, and who calls us to a rigorous discipleship in the face of challenge in the world around us.

We are in this path under the grace and mercy  of God, in the company of saints and sinners, past and present and to come. We are called to be faithful: to live and serve as Jesus lived and served. And we have the gift of the Spirit, so that we may not lose our way.

comic 6