Our Journey

Sermon Title:  Our Journey

Date: 23rd November 2014

Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers

Church Calendar Date:  Christ the King and Annual Meeting 2014

Lectionary Reading: Ezekiel 34.11-16, Ephesians 1.15-23, Matthew 25.31-46

As I begin my report for our Annual meeting of 2014, I acknowledge the first people of this land, the Wurundjeri people with whom we share this sacred earth for which we are thankful.

The other day, Ian Phillips left an envelope with material for our archives. Ian’s grandfather, George Robinson was a member of the planning committee 100years ago.  We have just celebrated 100years of the laying of the foundation stone of this brick church (remembering that there was a timber church 20years before).

In 1922, the mission statement on the ‘Parish Record’ (pew sheet) read “that in all things God may be glorified.” And I’m sure we would say the same today. Back in 1922 this parish had very similar issues to what we are facing today: finances were top of the list, then concern for children and youth and people taking up leadership positions.

Well, we are still here!

We have much to celebrate over this past year and as I’m sure you have all read the wonderful contributions many of you have made in the life and ministry of St Pauls.  You are wonderful! We will all have the opportunity to say more at the meeting. We also have much to reflect on about the shape of St Paul’s say in 5years time i.e. 2020.  Sounds a long way off but hearing recently of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, I realise just how fast time can go!

We can’t be complacent.  We like the Melbourne diocese and many parishes have deficit budgets.  It gives cause to pause and prayerfully consider what we need to do as a community of faith here in Canterbury. The church is living in a different moment and time today and for us to continue to live in the past, hoping for the parish to be full like it used to in the 60’s would be a problem. If we keep living in the past we will be keeping our head in the sand and not willing to look honestly at what the world is like now…what our local community is like now.

What can we do in our small corner here in Canterbury with this apparent threat?

  1. We can take hold of our vision and put more flesh on it! Do you know what our vision is? If you don’t we need to find ways to communicate it better so it becomes second nature.

Our vision states that we are “A caring community of Christ worshipping God, engaging the community and building connections between people of all ages and cultures.”  Living this vision isn’t something a few can do on their own.  It will take a group effort – a community of faith effort. We need to listen to our neighbours, our children and grandchildren on what is important to them.  Going to church is not on their radar, so what is?  What can we do to help them and what do we have to do to be able to fully listen to them?

  1. Part of our commitment to the life of St Paul’s is financial. Supporting the ministry here is all our responsibility.  Yours and my financial giving not only keeps the doors open for us, it also speaks to the local community that we are here to engage with them, to listen to where they are at and build connections between people of all ages and cultures.  That’s our vision. Is that your understanding of why you come to St Pauls?

So what is the church?

You may say it’s the building and yes it is and as we know with this church building and our other buildings that we have, we have to maintain them. So yes, church is a building with beautiful windows and comfy seats! I know some of you will say ‘the church is the people’ and yes you are right. But what does that mean?

In the gospel of Matthew (18:19) when Peter is told by Jesus ‘I will build my church’, the word ‘church’ didn’t mean building. Instead the word church means ecclesia –it’s a gathering, a movement, a dynamic gathering.  This is what the early church understood ‘church’ to be and they grew.  They were inspired by their love of God known through Jesus Christ, they met together and shared food and read the scriptures and prayed.  They were excited and wanted to share their faith with others!  An ecclesia is a ‘work in progress’ it’s not static, comfortable, but explores and is adventurous. It takes risks.

On the other hand, this doesn’t sound easy when we want everything to be predictable and we are part of the Anglican church in the Diocese of Melbourne and so have rules and regulations  like the  new ‘parish governance act’ to adhere to.  How do we hold these two together? Well, it’s not easy. If we stick to what we know and like, we will die.  Is this what God’s calling us to? I think not and so we have to wrestle.

Some things to help us will be the following:

1.  Pray.

We all say our prayers, but during Lent next year, I will be asking the whole people of God here at St Paul’s to pray for clear direction of our mission and purpose. As Alexander Shaia says about the second path in his book ‘The Hidden Power of the Gospels’, the gospel of Mark (which will be our gospel for this coming church year) is a time of struggle and asks how do we move through this time, he says:  “We pray and stay attentive for a hopeful sign or voice. We pray and listen more. Then we follow the instructions we receive, in whatever way we receive them, without question. We pray and listen still more. We surrender yet again to whatever greater knowledge is expressed to us. And we continue to pray”.[i]

During Lent, we will have special prayers in our pew sheet each week, prayers for you to pray at home and also special prayers in our intercessions.

  1. Being an ecclesia.

A growing movement of disciples- you and me.  I am looking at different courses at the moment. One in particular is EFM (Education for Ministry) which some of you may have participated in, in the past.  This has a new prospectus and updated information on the Bible and will help us look at issues facing us today as we theological reflect together.  A course like this, or some other, I hope will give us more confidence in how we share our faith and also deepen our relationship with God.  I am hoping that many of you will join a small group next year as we grow together and help in the discernment of our mission and purpose.

  1. Seasons of the church:

As we have seasons of our church year, we will also have clear seasons of prayerful consideration: for example, a season to appreciate our gifts and how we all contribute to the life of St Paul’s and another clear season of how we support financially the mission of St Paul’s as we serve the local community and support missions in Australia and other countries as we discern the need. So for example in March we may look at our gifts of serving and in August how we support financially.

Our mission statement says that we are ‘a caring community of Christ worshipping God, engaging the community and building connections between people of all ages and cultures.’

Notice we are not a caring community of Jesus but of Christ.

Jesus is the Jesus of Nazareth who became human over 2000years ago and who we fell in love with and still do love! Jesus became the Christ.  Jesus, the Christ is the one who was from the beginning of time and is in all of creation.  We just need to read Ephesians, Colossians, John 1 and the prologue to John’s gospel “in the beginning was the Word” to hear that Christ existed from all eternity.  We know this and yet we so easily forget the cosmic reality of the earthly Jesus.

Ilia Delio a Franciscan and academic says “The body of Jesus, like every human body, is made from cosmic dust birthed in the interior of ancient stars that long predated our planet and solar system…..Jesus participated in the unfolding of life and the emergence of consciousness, just like any other human being; his humanity is our humanity; and his cosmic earthly life is ours as well.

However, in Jesus something new emerges, a new consciousness, a new relatedness, a new immediacy of God’s presence – in short- a new Big Bang. [This is when God decided to show God self.]  Jesus Christ symbolises a new unity in creation: non-duality; reconciling love, healing mercy, and compassion…..  The awareness of God’s immediacy and a sense of ethical responsibility (for example, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, compassion for the poor) marked the new Christian consciousness.[ii]

So when we say we are a caring community of Christ, this take on a whole new, exciting expansive view of our faith!  Remember, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The Christ is the cosmic Christ.  The Reign of Christ of all Nations!

I don’t get to sit in the pews very often, but when I was recovering from my hip operation, I remember sitting in the pew one Sunday morning and I couldn’t take my eyes off the rose window.  What does this ‘Christ of all nations’ mean? And it seemed to ask me: ‘Who do you say this Christ is?’ What would you say?

“Our God through Jesus the Christ is liberating and loving through all creation. We are to see God in everything and everyone! God is a God of connections; of communion; building bonds and bridges instead of boundaries.  The cosmic Christ which is the light that fills all things from the beginning of time invites us into the bigger worlds through love and beauty and truth and goodness.   But it is our choice to embrace this bigger picture.  And as Richard Rohr has said: “some of us would rather die than change!”[iii]

As we reflect on our life together this past year, we give thanks for each other.  I give thanks for you, your love, your living more into the vision and mission of this community and we give God the glory, this holy mystery of which we are all a part.

And so I ask, are you willing to come on the journey?

Yes, we want stability and yes we want to take risks and we did take a risk when we renovated the hall and we have many more who now hire our hall as we serve our community, making connections and increasing the possibility for connections in the future.

Are you willing to look beyond the walls of this 100yr old brick building and see what possibilities God has in store for this ecclesia in Canterbury?

Let not fear have the last word!  If we forget who we are, why we meet, we will succumb to fear.

From the Centenary Pew sheet 1892-1992 (they were looking at a deficit budget then):  A parish prayer for private and public use.

Renew in us, O God,
the zeal of your love.
Let our parish come alive
with the power of your Spirit.
Where we have failed, forgive us.
Where we have persevered,
encourage us;
When we are in doubt, direct us.
Help us to see new opportunities
for witness and service.
For the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 [i] The Hidden Power of the Gospels by Alexander J Shaia page104

[ii] Repair my Church: by Michael H. Crosby page 142 Ilia Delio, OSF, Christ in Evolution (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis   Books, 2008),55-56.

[iii] Words closely quoted from a video of Richard Rohr.