Sunday, November 30, 2014

an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission

I preached at the ordination of five Uniting Church ministers today. They are an intriguing bunch. One is a pioneer, two are from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), three are heading inter-state, which suggests an endorsement by the church nationally of our training practices at Uniting College. Anyhow, here’s the sermon.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God.

“The Uniting Church in Australia? It’s all about mission.” That’s according to Introducing the Uniting Church in Australia. Written by Andrew Dutney, currently President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

When you do an ordination, always name drop the President.

And so today’s Gospel reading invites us to look at ourselves, as ordinands, as gathered friends, as the Uniting church – and wonder how we shape up in light of being “all about mission” in Luke 10:1-9.

Some of you learn by doing. As you came in, you should have found 2 sheets of paper on your seat. One, instructions on how to build a boat. Second piece of paper, to make a boat. You’re invited, as I speak, to build a boat.

Some of you learn not only by doing but also by hearing, so come with me to our Bible passage, to verse 1.

Which offers a glimpse of God. Who is God? Well in verse 1, God is revealed as a sending God; appointing people, for the purpose of sending people. And the purpose of that sending is for wider society. That’s in verse 2 – the word “harvest” which is repeated three times in case you slow and you’re began to drift off at that point in the Bible reading.

You are sent, for a harvest. Any farmers in our midst, any wine growers, any orchardists – will be the first among us to realise the urgency of this sending God, the overwhelming focus that needs to be on wider society.
When the harvest is ready, you simply work. From dawn to dusk. Because every minute you delay increases the chance you’ll lose your harvest – to birds and blight, to rain and rot.

So this image of God as a sending God, is set in a context of urgency, an urgency shaped by a concern not for our internal needs, for our own survival, for your own agendas. But for those of wider society.

That’s the God we meet in Luke 10. This image of God is consistent with how Luke, with how the Gospels, with how the church through history has experienced God. The theological word – what you 5 being ordained, heard time and again at College – missio Dei.

It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church. It’s not that we’re bringing people to the altar but that we’re bringing the altar to people. That’s who God is.

How’s that boat going?

Because after experiencing this sending God in verse 1 and 2, we see outlined a set of behaviours of those sent by this sending God. And that’s in the next verses

Take nothing in verse 2; Speak peace – in verse 5; Accept hospitality –Not give hospitality, but eat what is set before you – in verse 8; look out for healing – verse 9

Let me unpack what this might mean with a story. A few weeks ago, I was doing some research on churches in Australia engaged in community ministry today. I interviewed a church that had planted a community garden.

Now more and more churches are doing this. What was unique about this church was that they planted their community garden on a rooftop, four stories high. In central-city Sydney.

In explaining to me how this 4 stories high, central city community garden began, I was told that the church decided to plant a garden, because it was something they knew nothing about.

They had no gardening experience. And so that’s why they decided to plant a garden. Which meant that they had to ask for help. From the local community. And so as a result of asking for help, local gardeners are now deeply integrated into this community ministry. And it feels a really genuine “harvest” to make a pun out of the story and the reading in Luke .

Later in the interview, I decided to check if I was really hearing this right. “It sounds to me, I said “like your lack of knowledge – about gardening – actually became like a gift. By starting with what you didn’t know, it gave the community a way in, a way to get involved.” “

“Absolutely” was the animated reply. “Absolutely. Start with something you don’t know how to do. Because it opens up a different way of being with your community.”

Which I think is what’s being suggested by this Gospel reading, the behaviour’s the sending God is inviting us to in Luke 10.

Take nothing. When you do that, you’ll need help.

Speak peace. Peace is a First Testament word. It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s about peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbor, migrants, strangers. Peace, down with the earth, in the gardens, on which God-in-Jesus walks.

Look for healing. For wellbeing in people’s lives – for wellbeing in our communities. Up with God. Across with neighbor, migrants, strangers. Down with earth.

It’s flipping upside down our traditional understandings of mission and of what it means us to be a good neighbour.
What if the task of the church in mission is actually not to be a good neighbour?
Rather what if the task of the church is to act in ways that enable our communities to be good neighbours?

How’s that boat going? Do you have a name for it yet?

So what does this mean for ordination? For you 5 – Sherrin, Esteban, Adam, Karen, Casey. For us gathered as church and friends to support you? One way to explore that question is for each of us to ask ourselves where we want to locate ourselves in this Bible reading.

Do we want to locate ourselves by siddling up and standing beside Jesus. To find ourselves at the centre of the action, who sends people out into God’s world?

Good news is that we’ve built an entire church culture around that mode of mission. We’ve developed enormous resources to sustain that type of leadership.

Bad news is that this way of being church requires a world which died about 30 years ago. I’m being dramatic. I’m a preacher. And there are, of course, exceptions. But the reality is, that the church with minister at the centre, sending people out, is now a very old-fashioned way of doing ministry. Is that where you want to locate yourself in this text?

Or do you feel most comfortable being sent. Taking no bag. Speaking peace. Accepting hospitality. Looking for signs of healing.

Bad news is that this is scary and vulnerable. It might not work. It might come across as manipulative. It might leave you, like a disciple in Luke 10, hungry with nowhwere to sleep. Or a church with a community garden that is indeed a fine example of how little you know about gardening. Polite way of saying dead.

If that’s the bad news, the good news is that this is the vision of ministry at the heart to being the Uniting Church.
To quote from paragraph 14 of the Basis of Union – (always name drop the Basis of Union in an ordination sermon)
The Uniting Church recognises … a period of reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the building up of the fellowship in mutual love, in commitment to Christ’s mission, and in service of the world for which he died.

Which is why I chose Luke 10 as our reading. And why I’ve invited all of us, you 5 being ordained, all of us church and friends, “the whole people of God” to try and locate ourselves in Luke 10.

But why the boat?

Perhaps it because Luke 10 has shaped the mission life of the church down through history. Like Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland, 5th century. Became a monk. Served the church faithfully. Then at the age of 80 sensed God calling him to a new adventure. I’ll repeat that. At the age of 80 – always good to have something to look forward to – sensed God calling him to a new adventure with God.

Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, felt that he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit. Like in Luke 10 – to be sent by a sending God.

The story goes (The Voyage of Saint Brendan: The Navigator) that Brendan set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. He and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Where-ever they went, they where shaped by Luke 10. They proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, up, across, down to all creation.

But we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person from Europe to land in America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.

Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition set out to disprove the myth. He built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. But with a radio to call for help. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route and with many of the same adventures, that Brendan the Voyager wrote of. Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, to build a boat, and go on an adventures with God.

So that’s one name for your boat. Brendan’s boat.

What Brendan did was how the Celtic church understood mission. Not once, not twice, but so popular they invented a new word to describe it – peregrine – traveller, pilgrim. Robert McFarlane in his book on the history of walking (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) wrote of “Ocean roads’ – thousands of them. – In a world before cars and planes, boats were the fastest means of long distance travel.”

On these roads that the Celtic church did mission. Take no bag – just a boat with no rudder. Speak Peace. Looked for healing.

So that’s another name for your boat. Peregrine – pilgrim.

And then there’s the Uniting Church. To be more precise the emblem of the Uniting Church. Reading from the book with which I started, President Andrew Dutney, Introducing the Uniting Church.

The black background represents the darkened world. Upon this background the cross of Christ, the risen, crucified One. The dove with wings of flame depicts the Spirit. Beneath it all, holding it up is a … what? ….(34)

“it reminds me of a boat, with the cross as its mast and the dove’s wings as the sail.”

And no rudder. That’s Steve Taylor not Andrew Dutney.

Because, says Andrew “We are uniting, not united. We are on a journey,” a pilgrim people, “looking to the future.” So that’s perhaps that another name for your boat. You as 5 ordinards. Us as the church – that in every Council and in every ordination and in every act of ministry and in every decision, about finance and property, a Uniting Church.

A Uniting Church in Australia. In which it’s all about mission.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of the Uniting Church, be acceptable in your sight O Sending God.

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM


  1. Thank you Steve. A very helpful Monday morning devotional for me.

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — December 1, 2014 @ 8:00 am

  2. I love the Brendan story! A boat with no rudder, a team who went with him, willing to risk it all. Take no bag, don’t force the direction, speak peace, look for healing. Help us Lord to keep on this path.

    Comment by Karen Paull — December 19, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

  3. Well summarised Karen. Thanks.

    Brendan should be made into a short movie.


    Comment by steve — December 20, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

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