Sunday, October 30, 2016

connecting, looking for partners in mission

I spent today bringing greetings from KCML to three Auckland Presbyterian churches: Taiwanese, Cantonese, English-speaking of Chinese descent. Since I was up in Auckland for meetings on Friday and Saturday, it seemed a great opportunity to stay on for an extra night and connect with parts of the Presbyterian church that perhaps have never been visited by a KCML Principal.

It was also an opportunity to seek partnerships. My hunch is that we as Knox and we as a Presbyterian church might need the cultural agility, entrepreneurial knack and cross-cultural skills that migrant congregations are likely to offer.

unknown

Here is what I said, as I presented to each a gift – an artistic representation of the Knox Centre.

Nau mai, haure mai. Aku rangatira, tena kou

In Maori I greet you and honour your elders.

My name is Steve Taylor. I was born in Papua New Guinea. I’ve been a church planter and church minister here in New Zealand and Principal of a theological College in Australia. I am currently now the Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership is the theological college of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Presbyterian church in New Zealand recognises 4 strands of ordained ministry

  • national ordained ministry
  • local ordained ministry
  • local ministry teams
  • Amorangi Maori ministry

On behalf of the Presbyterian church, Knox Centre train for all these 4 types of ordained ministry. We don’t do this alone. We do this in partnership with Presbyteries and local churches. We also do this in partnership with Te Wananga-a-rangi, the theological college of the Maori Synod of the the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

As part of my greeting I bring a gift. It is a picture of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It has been painted by a local Dunedin artist, the husband of one of our lecturers.

gift

Knox has been training ministers for 139 years. We began in 1877. So next year we are 140 years old. We have much to thank God for, a rich and long heritage.

As a College, we look backward. We also look forward. We have a vision, a dream, a hope.

First, commitment to train diverse cultures. Knox has never, to my knowledge, trained a Chinese minister. We’ve trained Korean. We’ve trained Pacific Island. We’ve trained Tamil Indian. We’ve trained Maori. We’ve never trained a Chinese minister. So I ask you to pray with us. That God will use Knox to train leaders for all the cultures of New Zealand.

7seedlings

Second, we at Knox Centre have a commitment to plant new mission seedlings. According to the Presbyterian Church Book of Order; to be ordained is to be part of initiating creative trends in the witness of the Church. In order to train for that KCML is looking to plant new mission seedlings, places where creative Church Witness can be initiated.

I would suggest that here in Auckland is a great place to explore creative Church witness. Amid the super diversity of this city – so many opportunities. I offer this gift and I ask you to pray for us.

Pray that God will raise up Chinese to ordained leadership here in New Zealand. And pray that God will bless in the planting of New Mission Seedlings.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2016

U2 Praying after paris: a research query

In a couple of weeks I am co-presenting a plenary session at Practising hope: gathered and scattered, a day resourcing ministers prior to the Presbyterian General Assembly. The advertising blurb is as follows:

9:15 am Plenary: Hope gathered. How do churches respond to hard stuff? How did PCANZ churches worship and pray as they gathered on Sunday, November 15, 2015 in light of major international events? Steve and Lynne Taylor will present findings from their research into 160 churches, to explore how churches respond in gathered worship to hard stuff. What was practiced? How was hope understood? What theologies of God in suffering were at work? What does this say about being church in the world today?

It is one thing to agree to speak. It is quite another to find something coherent, interesting, deep and engaging. I’ve been quietly mulling away, working on the data, which is SO interesting. But it also slips and slides in SO many directions. Where in all this is the creative points of connection that might open up the conversation.

At the same time, I’ve also been working on a writing deadline – a chapter on live performances of U2′s “Mysterious Ways.”

Today it clicked. Two separate conversations suddenly began talking to each other. How did churches pray after Paris? Well, I wonder how U2 “prayed after Paris”? The band after all were due to play in Paris November 15, 2015. The concert was postponed. When they returned The New York Times wrote: “The Paris show that concluded U2′s Innocence and Experience tour was concert as personal memoir, archetypal story, prayer, exorcism and vow of unity.” Hmmm. Prayer!

How did they pray, live, publicly, in the midst of so much pain?

I wonder what happens when the prayer life of U2 after Paris is put alongside the prayer life of churches?

I have had, after all, work published on U2 and lament, looking at how they prayed publicly after the Pike River Mining Tragedy in New Zealand (Boase, E.C. and Taylor, S. (2013). Public Lament. In MJ Bier and T Bulkeley, ed. Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament. Eugene, USA: Pickwick Publishers, pp. 205-227).

I have also had work published on how U2 memorialise the dead (Taylor, S. (2015). Transmitting Memories: U2′s Rituals for Creating Communal History. In Scott Calhoun, ed. U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments, Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, pp. 105-121.) In other words, I’ve already done some reading and thinking.

And so, for the sake of research, in the name of resourcing ministers, another purchase is made: iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live In Paris

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Friday, October 21, 2016

Practising hope: gathered and scattered Ministers Resourcing day

As part of Presbyterian General Assembly, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership has been asked to provide a day resourcing ministers. We want to engage the theme of General Assembly – hope for the world. We want to offer thoughtful and theological reflection on ministry practice, empirical research into how churches respond to tragedy as they gather and how we discern how Christ takes form in the world. We want to allow the rich range of voices in the church to be heard. So far, the registration response has been excellent.

Theme – Practising hope: gathered and scattered

9:00 am Welcome, introduction KCML team

9:15 am Plenary: Hope gathered. How do churches respond to hard stuff? How did PCANZ churches worship and pray as they gathered on Sunday, November 15, 2015 in light of major international events? Steve and Lynne Taylor will present findings from their research into 160 churches, to explore how churches respond in gathered worship to hard stuff. What was practiced? How was hope understood? What theologies of God in suffering were at work? What does this say about being church in the world today?

10:00 am Morning Groups: “What’s in your kete?” By “what’s in your kete?” we are asking various ministry practitioners to facilitate discussion both among the group but also by example. We are asking them to bring resources that they use for offering hope in the hard places of human experience. We want the question to also be a group question, allowing the group to bounce off each other and sharing best practice. If you have resources you have found important in nurturing hope in hard places, please bring them to share. Group presenters will include KCML Faculty and local practitioners.

12:00 Lunch

1:00pm Plenary: Christ Plays in 10,000 Places: Introductory Address and Panel. Mission conversations in churches frequently occur as an inside-out job. We speak of ‘reaching out’, or ‘taking the Gospel to’, or even ‘welcoming them in’. It assumes we as the church are the centre and the fixed point from which the action emanates. But what if mission is just as much an outside-in job and God is already in our communities and marketplaces, inviting us to join the action there. What if Christ the living Word is speaking and acting amidst the world for the sake of the world. Can we become discerners of Christ amidst the marketplace and neighbourhood, and in discerning this, how might we hear Christ speaking a word of freshness to our churches?

2.00pm Workshops
1. Developing a culture of discernment in your eldership. Rev Ed Masters (Rotorua District Parish Church)
2. Loving your neighbours and discovering God’s Mission Rev Sun Mi Lee (St Austells Uniting, Auckland)
3. Building the conditions for mission listening and innovation in a Presbytery Rev Darryl Tempero, (Kiwi-Church and Alpine Presbytery Mission Facilitator, Christchurch)
4. Young People detaching from Church: What mission questions does the Pacific experience raise? Rev Fei Taulealeausuami (Former CWM Pacific Secretary & PhD Student) & Rev Dr Tokerau Joseph, (First Church Otago)
5. Listening to our changing rural communities Rev Erin Pendreigh (Otago-Southland Synod Mission Facilitator) & Rev Andrew Harrex (Lawrence, South Otago)
6. Leadership processes for mission listening & innovating Rev Dr Steve Taylor (Principal KCML)
7. The new net goes fishing. Ministry in the water amongst millennials. Rev Dr Carolyn Kelly (Senior Chaplain, Auckland University) & Rev Dr Hyeeun Kim (Counsellor, Auckland University)
8. Discerning and following Christ in Suburb and City. Rev Dr Mark Johnston (KCML Auckland Coordinator)

3.15pm Afternoon Tea and book launch. In this 2016 year KCML Faculty have published a range of resources that offer significant resourcing for ministers. This includes a songbook, multiple creative worship resources and three books. Commissioning prayers will be offered as part of our concluding worship.

Posted by steve at 06:27 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Abstract acceptance. Delighted to be presenting with my partner, Lynne Taylor, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand: Telling Our Stories conference, December 2-3. It will be a public outing from empirical research we did into how local churches respond in worship to global events.

tear on cheek

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Sunday, October 16, 2016

First communion: embodying a call?

Today was my first communion in a local Presbyterian church in New Zealand. I began at KCML a year ago this week. It involved a move from Australia to New Zealand and from the Uniting Church to the Presbyterian church.

I’ve shared communion in other settings within the Presbyterian church over this year, but not at a local church level. It is an interesting, albiet totally anecdotal reflection, on the place of this sacrament in Presbyterian life. I’ve also seen one baptism in a local Presbyterian church during this first year. Again, totally anecdotal, but it would suggest more of an emphasis on Word than Sacrament. And it does invite reflection on the impact on ecclesial formation – on the church and on myself as an individual. But that is for another post.

communion

What was wonderful was to share this first communion with Te Aka Puaho, the Maori Synod of the Presbyterian Church; to share it at Waimana, in the heart of Tuhoe nation; and to receive it from an Amorangi (Maori) minister in training.

It was a powerful reminder of the breadth of reach of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand; a reminder of the incredible gift that is Te Aka Puaho, reaching to stand in solidarity with communities and people that very few Pakeha will ever be able to engage; and their commitment as a Synod to raising of indigenous leadership.

The photo is worth reflecting on as a “visual” expression of belief, more specifically contextualised belief. The photos behind the pulpit are around the four walls of the church. They are there to express the church as living and breathing; not as a building. It allows reflection on people and events that shape the church. The colours (red, white and black) and patterns are Maori colours and patterns and express the connection with local communities and the people they serve.

door

We arrived early, but that was not a problem. A previous minister had set a policy in place: “The door will always be open.” The church should never be locked, should never be available on during worship.

My personality tends to find significance in events like this. My first local church communion is amongst tangata whenua, as a minority, being served as part of a process of indigenous leadership development. I would like to hope that says something about how God might be made present to me during this season of serving as Principal of KCML and how my time and energy, including my research (for example – Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology and Fiction as missiology: an indigenous Christology in Papua New Guinea), might need to be shaped.

Posted by steve at 05:01 PM

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Mission seedlings: How could a church tend a seedling?

Initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness is part of what it means to be a Presbyterian minister, according to the Book of Order.

The ordinand is admitted to a fellowship responsible for the guardianship of the Gospel – a guardianship which must express itself in freshness and adaptability as the Church is led by Christ to do new things. The minister has not only the task of protecting the Church and the Gospel from error, but also, and particularly, the task of initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness. (Book of Order, Appendix D-4: Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, (1966), (vii))

As a consequence, ministerial training needs to include opportunities, encouragement and training in innovation in mission. KMCL is working toward this aim in the birthing New Mission Seedlings. The aim is to establish in each Presbytery of the PCANZ a New Mission Seedling; seven throughout New Zealand over the next few years.

7seedlings

Each seedling  involves a long term commitment to mission in a local community. They are sites for learning

  • for interns learning to lead in mission
  • for KCML as a learning community being shaped by the challenges of initiating creative trends
  • for churches and Presbyteries in mission, invited to partner in establishing new communities of faith
  • for the national church, given that each seedling is established to address a mission question the church nationally does not yet have an answer too. This will be facilitated by annual National Incubators, that share wisdom and stimulate good practice.

nms-graphicver2

In sharing this vision with a local group from a Presbytery, a minister asked an excellent question: Could we participate? We have folk who have skills? Is there some way they can participate? Can partnerships between NMS and local churches be fostered?

My immediate response was to think about the Presbyterian distinctive of shared decision-making. We look to shared processes of leadership rather than to bishops or charismatic individuals. This instinct should shape our approach to initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness. Denominationally, the question of how could a church help a seedling is in fact a deeply Presbyterian question that attends to the richness of our tradition.

A practical response is to note the following:

1 – Presence to ensure solidarity and enhance partnership – from the extreme of move into the area, through choosing to work in the area, joining a club or activity in the area; participating in a local school with reading. There are a range of ways to enter Incarnation, from full relocation, to a range of ways to be alongside.

2 – Gifts – There are a range of ways to participate in initiating creative trends present themselves

  • Finance – people could contribute (food, coffee, events, etc)
  • Service – commit to a team that experiments in ways to serve. This could be on a fortnightly pattern, or in key community events or linked to Christian festivals.
  • Prayer – gathering in the community to listen to God (pray and read Scripture) amid the patterns of the community
  • Specialisation – specific skills might be offered, for example chairing a local board meeting, teach te reo. These involve taking an individual skill and offering it, ideally in ways the express both competency and solidarity.

3. Seasons – this speaks to both length and in timing. You don’t move plants in summer but in winter. So there are seasons in the sending church to discern, that involve the state of the community and vitality of practice. This also applies individually. A person in a demanding season of work has less to give than the season following children having left home.  A season by nature has an ending.  Always invite folk to participate for a season and then to review.

These thoughts could apply to a local church. They could also apply to a Presbytery, given that being presbyterian is about shared mission. Local churches and Presbyteries can be visited, the mission shared and folk invited to participate for a season, in a range of ways as listed above. Will you consider offering yourself for a year, to participate in six prayer walks; or one community festival or a year of listening to children read in a local school?

Each person that participates at the end of their season, faces a choice. To renew their commitment? Or to return to their sending church? Either way, the season of shared mission has exposed them to incarnational and contextual mission. They are richer. They church will be richer. In doing so, we are making another statement.

We are declaring that initiating creative trends is a body practice. It refuses to rely on amazingly gifted people. Instead, together, in partnerships, it finds multiple ways to participate in the mission of God. This is some of the thinking that lies behind New Mission Seedlings at KCML.

Posted by steve at 06:59 PM

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jesus and the ancestors

I spent a good part of yesterday in lecture preparation. I am teaching this weekend at Te Aka Puaho, working with Maori ministers in training. My topic is mission and I spent the bulk of my time in Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

ancestors

While I’ve never heard it used in mission, it is how Matthew begins the story of Jesus: with a genealogy. For indigenous cultures, with a strong sense of ancestors, genealogy is essential for identity.

I explored four headings

  • Deep mission – drawing on Mark Yettica-Paulson and his wonderful chapter “Mission in the Great South Land: An Indigenous Perspective” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions).
  • Matthew begins with go – and the role of journeying in Abraham
  • Mission includes – and the four Canaanite woman – Tamar (Canaanite), Rahab (Canaanite), Ruth (Moabite) and Bathsheba (Hittite) – woven into Jesus bloodlines. Jesus has indigenous blood, those of Canaanite people.
  • Mission surprises – and the importance of ordinary, everyday, quiet actions by people that no-one notices.

It was a rich exploration, noting the absences, even in books like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.

Here’s my conclusion

When it comes to mission we face two temptations. One is to romanticize, to name all the positive things. The other is to recount all the negative and harmful impacts. The genealogy of Jesus offers a third approach. It begins with deep memory and a story of voyaging. It weaves indigenous cultures into the story. It tells the truth, refusing to romanticize, helping us see the courage of those marginalized by society.

Posted by steve at 06:58 AM

Friday, October 07, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings: a personal and pastoral theological reflection on memory

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for October 2016.

kubo Kubo and the Two Strings

Recently I shared dinner with the man who gave me my first job out of school. Strong, disciplined and resourceful thirty years ago, today he has Alzheimers. Over macroni cheese and salad, the conversation kept repeating itself. Yes, I was Principal of Knox. Yes, I have two daughters. Such is the cruelty of an incurable disease that slowly strips memory.

Later, over dessert, this same man began to share memories of his school days, some sixty years ago. They included playing cricket with my father, who died recently, an Alzheimers sufferer also. Suddenly it was my memory that had holes. Such is the complexity of memories. They are always richer when held in community.

A few weeks ago a friend, Professor John Swinton, (and 2016 KCML Inaugural Lecturer) was awarded the 2016 Michael Ramsey Prize. The Award, for the best contemporary theological writing of the global Church, was for John’s book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God. Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in announcing the award, commended John for tackling one of the most important issues of our time – whether we can value people in other than economic terms. Swinton argues that our responses to memory loss say essential things about how we understand humans. Which in turn, say important things about how we understand God.

Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the finest movies I have seen. An animated story, it is enchanting, a technological triumph driven by the finest of storytelling. Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young Japanese man, is a storyteller who makes the imaginary real as he strums his magical guitar. Attacked by his aunts, Kubo learns he will only enjoy safety if he discovers his father’s sword, breastplate and helmet. He is joined on this quest by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai with no memory.

In a final climatic ending, Kubo battles not only the aunts, but his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Offered immortality, Kubo refuses. To live in the heavens will mean being deprived of the pain and suffering that for Kubo make him human. In the ensuing struggle, the Moon King loses his immortality, followed by his memory.

Lost, unsure of his identity, he finds himself surrounded by the villagers he has previously terrorised. In the absence of memory, the village community offer him another version of himself.

“You are the old man who feeds the hungry.”

“You are the one who taught my children.”

Are the villagers lying? Or are they offering another way of understanding memory?

In Kubo and the Two Strings, memories are not individual but communal. The counselling term is reframing. It is an approach that invites us to view life through a different lens. The theological term is recapitulation. It belongs to a second century Bishop named Irenaeus, who argued that in Christ are remembered all the stages of being human.

One response to those with Alzheimers is to regret their loss of memory. Another is for their community to hold more tightly their memories for them. Such is what God whispers in the making of humanity in Genesis 1. You are loved not because you remember, but because you are remembered.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 07:05 AM

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Hospitality as mission: Why does the church see itself as host not guest?

579b32ed09f103cbc96337321156219c I was asked to speak at a local Presbyterian church, to finish a month long series on hospitality. Being the last in the series, I offered to speak on hospitality as eschatology – looking at the book of Revelation, in particular Revelation 19:6-9. I also drew on Rublevs icon in what became an exploration of hospitality as mission.

I runga i te ingoa, O te Matua, O te Tama, Me te Wairua Tapu, Amine. May I speak in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Maker of all things new.

A story to start. St Paul’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan, New York. Built in 1766, it’s also the closest church to World Trade Centre twin towers. In the days following the destruction of 9/11, the church leaders met in emergency session. In the midst of such tragedy, they turned to Scripture.

Where would you turn? Ask the person beside you. If you were the church next door to 9/11, where in the Bible would you turn in the days following?

The church leaders turned to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Stories like Levis banquet in Luke 5
the disciples eating corn in Luke 6
the son of man eating and drinking like a glutton in Luke 7
the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9
the Parable of the Rich fool in Luke 12
the parable of the Great banquet in Luke 14
the feasting when the lost son returns in Luke 15
Jesus eating at Zaccheus house in Luke 19
the Last Supper in Luke 22
the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 (developed from The Out of Bounds Church?)

In light of these stories – of Jesus around food – the church decided the best thing they could offer, as a church, post 9/11, was a gospel of hospitality. They resolved to be God’s presence by providing food for firefighters, for Police and rescue workers. Their 1766 church building had still not been checked for structural safety, so they set up bbq’s outside, serving burgers and offering lemonade.

Once the church building was deemed safe, they opened up their sanctuary. “There were rescue workers sleeping and eating … there were chiropractors and massage therapists working on aching muscles in the side aisles .. there were people sitting on the floor and on the steps leading up to the choir loft .. (Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, 3) The church leaders continued to meet and pray. They turned again to the stories of Jesus around food and they made a second decision. That the food and drink, their gospel of hospitality, needed to be of the highest possible quality. To quote the minister “We wanted people to see and savour the extravagance of Christ’s love.” (Soul Banquets, 2)

They appointed a Food captain. The Food captain, himself a local restaurant owner, sourced food from restuarants including the Waldorf Astoria, who arrived with a large delivery of chicken dinners. The church leaders continued to meet and pray. Ten days after 9/11, they made a third decision. To begin serving Eucharist, every day, at noon. Amid the food stations, the chicken from the Waldorf Astoria and the bbqs cooking burgers, an invitation was made to any present, not compulsory, to share around the table of Christ.

A visitor wrote

“It was the most incredible hodgepodge of humanity I’ve ever seen gathered in a church … some of the rescue workers who’d not shown much interest in the eucharist when it began found themselves drawn into the ancient prayers that promise life forever with God and ended up taking communion with tears in their eyes. This was Christ’s church in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness, and holiness. And it was truly beautiful.” (Soul Banquets, 3)

The story is from Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. It’s written by a lecturer in New Testament, who suddenly began to wonder if all the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food might actually be saying something not just about then, but about now, not just about gospel then, but about church life today. The book did research on how churches are using food and the argument is made: that the church has underestimated the power of our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission.

I like to place what happened at St Pauls Chapel – “rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. with tears in their eyes. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” alongside the Bible reading:

“Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9.

Revelation is often the domain of crazies and cults. That’s not the intention of the original writer John. Writing, in exile in Patmos, as it says in Revelation 1:4. He’s not writing endtime prophecy for those obsessed with the Middle East. He’s writing to seven churches in Asia, to people living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness; to people persecuted by an Emperor, to a church under extreme stress.

He responds by blessing these people; blessing them as invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. It’s quite an unusual image for heaven. Quite different from streets paved with gold and fluffly clouds. “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Endtime prophecy? Domain of crazies and cults? Or an insight into how to live in times of mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

Eugene Peterson in his commentary on Revelation argues that when John uses the wedding feast, “he is maintaining the social shape of salvation.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 158)

That eating, what you do at a wedding, is social activity. It’s what we do with friends and family.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a relational activity. It’s where we share stories, remember our past, trace our whakapapa, and share our joy, name our sorrow.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a messy activity. It has food scraps for the compost and red wine spilt on table clothes and dishes to wash.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is an invitational activity. It’s the place where we build relationships. On the marae, the powhiri moves to the cupatea and the final meal moves into the poroporoaki.

The writer of John, in using the wedding feast, is inviting those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness, to maintain the social shape of salvation. Interestingly, for all those who consider Revelation is about endtimes, is how much the writer, John, is looking back not forward.

He’s looking back to the Bible’s first mention, ever, of eating, in Genesis 3; and offering new story, not to broken relationships in the Garden of Eden, but of relationships celebrated in wedding feast.

He’s looking back to Abraham offering hospitality, killing a calf for three strangers.

He’s looking back to the Mosaic Law in Leviticus. Where the mark of being the OT people of God was feasting. Five feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Trumpets, Tabernacles. And after the book of Esther, a sixth feast – Purim. Six cycles of celebration in which the alien and migrant is welcome.

He’s looking back to the vision of Isaiah 25: A feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats, the finest of wines .. The Lord will wipe away the tears, He will remove the disgrace (6-8)

He’s looking back to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food – the Last Supper in Luke 22.
In which Jesus said remember me. Remember what? Remember me with you at Levis banquet, remember me eating and drinking like a glutton, remember me feeding the 5,000; remember me telling you the Parable of the Rich fool and the Great banquet.

And so “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb,” is not an endtimes prophecy. It’s a looking back, a looking back which gives a social shape to those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

However, the church often makes a tragic mistake when it things about hospitality and mission. As I posted on social media yesterday: Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? Some 25 comments later, my friends and followers are still thinking:

  • Is it human nature, it’s easier to give than receive?
  • Is it that dominant cultures are used to be at the centre, not the edge?
  • Is it that we own buildings and somehow that turn us into hosts not guests?

Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? I’m intrigued by what happens in one interpretation of looking back, in Rublevs Icon, the story of Abraham and the oaks of Mamre.

icon-e2 Painted in the 15th century by Russian monk called Andrei Rublev. Written to a people, living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness. In the background is the trees of Mamre, linking with Genesis 18:1. Three persons: linking to the three strangers in Genesis 18:2. Three persons – similarities – same halo, same blue colour, the colour for divinity; same holding a staff in the same right hand; same head slightly bowed looking at the person beside them.

Three persons – different.

One is green is the colour of spring, the colour of things that grow.
One person has brown, the colour of dirt.
One person is gold, the beauty of God who created a beautiful earth.

So in Rublevs icon, the host is not Abraham. The host is God, three persons of the Trinity – te Matua, te Tama, te Wairua Tapu; The Father in gold who created this beautiful earth; Jesus in brown walked in dirt; Spirit in green to help us grow.

In the middle is the table. All tables have 4 sides. So there is plenty of room for the guest. So anyone can sit. Anyone who wants a relationship – conversation, participate in love, share in table fellowship with Jesus.

So this is hospitality as mission. It’s when God, not church, is the host at the wedding banquet of the lamb. It’s when the Gospel has a social shape – participating in relationship with God. It’s when meals are at the centre; the cup, remember me – looking back – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

I began with a story – St Paul’s Chapel in New York, in the 10 days after 9/11 – rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” I’ve placed that alongside the Bible reading: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” I’ve suggested that this is not endtimes prophecy, but a looking back – to Genesis and relationships broken and the hopes of the Old Testament that find their culmination in Jesus. And the challenge for us to see ourselves not as hosts, but as guests, in the God’s hospitality.

So a story to end. It comes from Rebecca Huntley, who in her book, Eating between the lines, did research on the eating habits of contemporary Australians. She visits food courts and supermarkets and family dinner tables. She also visits the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne, to attnd a lunch for migrant women.

The aim was to link recent migrants with historic migrants. Each meal features food from the country of origin of one of the migrants. So you turn up to eat the food of another culture. The aim is a social salvation. On each table is a set of questions (Why did you come to this country? Did you have a choice? What was the journey like? What is it like to raise children in a new country?) Rebecca writes:

“the lunch I attended was messy, complicated, disjointed and at times frustrating. It was hard work, much harder than ordering Vietnamese take-away … It was a tiring experience, but much more satisfying .. Food was a conduit, a means of establishing real and potentially transformative relationships.” (Eating between the lines, 132).

Hospitality as mission. The power of finding ourselves as guests at the table of another. Five practical suggestions:

  • Appoint a food captain
  • Set every church table in ways that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • When eating, find ways to encourage genuine conversation – questions on tables to encourage the sharing of lives.
  • Work always to make guests hosts and hosts guests
  • Never forget the church’s special meal – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Because: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM