Friday, October 25, 2013

Setting Out to Who Knows Where

Sundays after Pentecost, Proper 23 [28] Year C

Last Sunday some relatives came to visit after church and they told us they were going on a trip to Israel – leaving about now.

They had a lot of fun telling us the places they were going to.  One of them had looked up lots of the places in the Internet – so they he would be aware of what to expect.

The Travel Agent organising the tour had convened several social gatherings of the group who were all from Perth, giving them all a chance to meet each other before they embark on their great adventure.  In fact the Travel Agent and his wife were so impressed by the group that they have decided to become part of the tour group.

This morning I feel a little like that Travel Agent.

Here I am at the start of a journey for us all.  We spent a few weeks back getting to know each other and now we are ready to go.  But unlike the Travel Agent taking my relatives to Israel, I can’t tell you what the destination will be.  We might have a bit of an idea where we would like to end up, but there are so many variables that no-one can be sure at all about when we will arrive and what we will look like if and when we arrive.

I have been doing a bit of reading lately about the significance of journeys in the story of God’s people – of course Abraham set out for an unknown destination in response to the call of God, and I am sure you are aware of other journeys.  What has struck me most as I have read along – the book is called the “Faith of Leap”; a nice little twist on our usual turn of phrase, a Leap of Faith – is the value of courage for all who set out on a journey with the Faith of Leap.

I wonder how you all have been feeling since Rob first announced he was leaving, and then left, and then we started this period of interim, and the Bishop came and perhaps told a few home truths about the precarious situation the parish was in. 

That is something we will spend some time talking about over the next few weeks as we consider how we will approach our unexpected and perhaps new future.

There are two thoughts from the non-Gospel readings I would like to just draw our attention to today.

The reading we had from Jeremiah is about probably the worst moment in Israel’s history – their country had been defeated in battle and the victors, wanting to further humiliate them by removing them from HOME and from their GOD took them into EXILE in Babylon.  I don’t know whether you realise what this would have meant to them.

In those days, the general world view about gods was that each country had its own God and that their God looked after them in their own country – so Molek was the God of the Ammonites, and the Ashera and Baals were the Gods, male and female, of the Canaanites; and YHWH was the God of the Israelites.

It was almost standard operating procedure after a war for the winner to take the vanquished back to their own country – not just because they might have needed slaves or the like, but because so long as they were left in their own country they could maybe get their god to do something.

So being taking into exile was the bleakest thing that could ever happen – away from family, away from homeland and away from God.  No wonder the Israelites said “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Given all of this, I wonder how the people would have felt when Jeremiah said these words to them.  Let me remind you:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

I have a feeling that these words might not have been welcome in some quarters.  I am sure they would just have wanted to be back home – and this sounded like a complete capitulation.

But this least expected answer is what God said was part of the plan, the program for them as the People of God, and as people say these days they just had to get with the program.

Being a local suburban parish church in Australia in the 21st Century is a very tricky thing and I think that most of us have a kind of template in our head of what it looks like when things are good, and what it looks like when they are not.

In just my short association with you I have already got the sense that many of you think things should be different – more people, more secure financially, people enthusiastic about their faith, and so on – and we find ourselves now in a place where we will have time to consider these things and wonder and pray about what God wants for our future – what his program is for us.

As we embark on this journey, of course we will carry those templates around in our minds, while we are trying to plan our future, but I think the words of Jeremiah are a salutary reminder to us all to be ready to hear a plan that is completely at odds with what we would expect – if that is what God wants.

Secondly, you might have noticed the little graphic I used alongside the Timothy reading today with the words “Dying to Live”.  This is one of those fundamental gospel statements.  In fact without this there is no Gospel – but it can be really scary and in the right circumstances we will do everything we can think of to avoid it.  We can really only find life if we are prepared to give it up.

When Jesus says “I am the Way” this is what he means – the Way of death and resurrection – and we are all called into that same way if we really want to find life.  The way of finding that “abundant” life that Jesus talks about is through the death of ourselves – through putting aside the things we think life is about and discovering that God has a program that is far more exciting.

But as I said, very often we will do everything in our power to avoid doing this – it is real scary.

These are the two important things for us to remember as we begin together.  I will not be the fount of all wisdom, who has all the answers.  Like the travel agent in my story to begin with, I will just be a fellow traveller with you – and I don’t know what the destination is.  That will be something for us all to work out together over the weeks and months ahead of us.  Sometimes I might be like a coach encouraging you to do a scary thing, other times I will be like your mother feeding you with some warm nourishing food after a hard day’s work, and other times I might be like Jeremiah, telling you something you didn’t expect. 

This is the work that lies ahead of us.  I am up for the challenge.  I hope you are.

Let us pray.

Holy Friend, please release in us that spirit of adventure that your people have always needed as they followed in the way of your bidding. 

Help us to grow in our love and devotion to you so that as we seek out what your program is for us we will have the confidence to step out and follow.

Release the real joy of Christ in us, that with adoring gratitude we may link our small spirits with your majestic Spirit, and find that inflow of health which rejuvenates our whole being.

In Jesus we pray.  Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment