Tuesday, April 14, 2015

witnesses of a wounded church: sermon on Luke 24 (Easter 3)

A sermon I preached among our candidates and Faculty. The Biblical text was Luke 24:36b-48 (Easter 3) and I have been reflecting on being Christian in a country with such a tragic historical relationship with indigenous peoples.

On Saturday, I was offered front row seats at the episcopal ordination of Chris McLeod as Assistant Bishop with special responsibility for ministry alongside Aboriginal people in South Australia. It was amazing to drive down King William Road at 9 am on Saturday morning and to see Bishops from all over Australia and New Zealand all dressed up.

ordination outside st peters

And behind them to see clouds of smoke from an indigenous Kaurna smoking ceremony, billowing above their heads. I wondering if St Peters Cathedral was on fire for a minute.

Chris is the first ever Aboriginal Bishop in South Australia; and the 3rd ever in Australia. Chris is one of my PhD students, hence my ability to secure a front row seating. Closer to the action even that all the Clergy, including Peter, Vicky’s husband.

ordination Chris McLeod

The ordination made major news, with footage on Channel 7 on Saturday night and in the Sunday Times yesterday. When interviewed by channel 7, the sound bite they grabbed was of Chris saying he hoped to a Bishop of healing. It struck me as a rich way to understand our Bible text, the Gospel reading for Easter 3; Sunday April 19. In particular the last words from the reading, from verse 48 – you are witnesses of these things.

I’m a missiologist, so when the word witness pops up in the Bible text, I pay particular attention. When I’m working with church groups I often suggest that “witness” is a better word for us to use than “evangelism.” Witnesses simply pass on what they experience. In court the task of an eyewitness is to report what you see. No hearsay, no interpretation, no guesses at motives or the big picture. Simply be a witness.

For most church groups, this is encouragement. And challenge. Encouragement, because there’s a simplicity when evangelism becomes report what you see. You don’t need to know everything. You don’t need to be skilled at apologetics. You don’t need to know all the story. You don’t even need to have done Heritage and Polity or Church, Ministry Sacraments. So that’s an encouragement. We’re to be witnesses. It’s as simple and as honest as report what you see.

But alongside the encouragement, there’s also challenge. Do you have a faith story that’s active enough to witness to? Can you share of healing. Or are you stuck nursing your resentment and pain, polishing it for revenge? For a mainline church like the Uniting, when at times being a church member has been linked to social status, the invitation to be a witness becomes a particular challenge.

I love the way that “witness” in this Bible text is so framed by experience. The disciples are startled and terrified in v. 37. Those are pretty honest words to keep in your story of witness. Jesus responses with “Touch me and see” (v. 39). That’s a pretty experiential approach to being a witness. And by eating fish in v. 43. That’s a very practical response to being risen.

I love that these honest and experiential and practical details are included, presumably as an example of what being a witness will actually look like. It will involve telling the honest and experiential and practical details. Which helps me make sense of the ordination of Chris. He hopes to be a Bishop of healing. For Chris to do that there’ll need to be remembering. And a grieving. You see, Chris’s mother and grandmother are stolen generation.

And so Chris can’t tell his story without telling their story. And in so doing, telling the story of a church, who contributed to their pain. That’s what will need to happen as Chris sets out to be a witness to healing.

I’ve been reading Australian Catholic theologian, Nieil Ormerod’s lastest book, Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology. Neil looks at the church through history. He divides history up into eras and every Era he gives a name. And the name he gives to this era, the era we’re all in together, is the Era of the Wounded Church.

And it’s in this Era of the Wounded Church that you and I are called to be a witness. It’s in the era of woundednes that you are seeking to exercise ordained ministry in the Uniting Church.

Which means, taking into account the Ordination on Saturday, our witness must to include our woundedness, the woundedness of the church. That’s the only way for our story to have the human and experiential and practical details which are so clearly part of being a witness here in the Luke 24. Being startled and terrified. Touch my wound, and see.

Neil Ormerod (Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology) talks about the defensiveness that has emerged within the Catholic church as it is wounded. But also about the creativity that’s also been part of the church’s story, how the church has transformed itself through history. And by how the strongest transformation’s have occurred when mission has been the integrating principle.

So the church in the Era of woundedness can chose to be a defensive witness. Or an honest, truthtelling, finding creative transformation in mission witness. You are witnesses of these things.

The Uniting Church recently agreed to a new Preamble to its Constitution. Which begins, As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands.

Continually seek a renewal.

After the ordination on Saturday, I got talking to a Uniting Church colleague. And he said that he and his mob really hoped this is ordination was not just symbolic. That it would actually lead to real change.

And we could ask the same about the Preamble. How is it practically, continually renewing our witness. As a College. As individuals. Because every one of us who lives in Australia, we are witnesses of these things.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jesus and the religions

I’m teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, both weekly in Adelaide and by intensive at New Life Uniting Church, on the Gold Coast, in November. Plus I am teaching on Mission as an intensive in Sydney in July.

So today I was doing some preparation, which included reading Bob Robinson, Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World.  It is a brilliant conceived book. It asks how Christians should approach other faiths by exploring how Jesus engaged other faiths.

It begins with three Gospel stories – Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Doing theology, bringing together themes from the three encounters it argues that their are implications for how contemporary people engage plurality.

  • Be open to surprise, in the same way Jesus was surprised by the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • Affirm what surprises you, again in the same way Jesus affirmed the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • In particular, look for faith and humility. This includes the role not only of faith, but of the content of that faith. In all three examples, their “faith appears to include more than heart-felt hope or desperate concern.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 116).  And so by implication, “Might examples of faith, humility, and insight, wherever they are found in the contemporary world, be affirmed by disciples today – even when they contrast less than favorable with their own.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 117-8).
  • The exclusion of vengeance. For example, Jesus response to the Roman Centurion is a moment of love of enemy. Moving to other Gospel stories, one might note the rain falls on the just and the unjust, or the banquet parables which include, rather than exclude.

What is even more intriguing is an initial chapter in which Christ becomes an exegete.  The focus is Luke 4:16-30, and how Jesus engages Scripture. Robinson concludes that there are fresh readings, new performances of Scripture as Biblical texts are encountered in the power of the Spirit.  This opens up an exemplary Christology, in which the church reads for direction in how to live its life of witness in the world.

All of which makes for a rich teaching resource.

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Sunday, January 27, 2013

mission as a “converting” ordinance

This is some of what I wrote today.

Wesley described Holy Communion as a ‘converting ordinance,’ an event in which through participation in the event of Communion, people encounter Christ. In a sermon on the verse “Do this in remembrance of me,” he wrote:

But experience shows … Ye are the witnesses. For many now present know, the very beginning of your conversion to God (perhaps, in some, the first deep conviction) was wrought at the Lord’s Supper. John Wesley, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, Vol 3, p. 188-9

It is worth noting first, the language of “experience” and “witnesses,” and thus the priority of experience in Wesley’s theology. Second, the language of “beginning” and “first,” suggesting that conversion is a process. Third, that participation in the ordinance changes the participants.

This provides a theological lens by which to explore innovation as a “converting ordinance,” to consider that while “Fresh Expression Case Study” might have set out to “convert,” the journey of innovation resulted in their experiencing a number of conversions: five in total,

  • Conversion of senses
  • Conversion to hope
  • Conversion by community
  • Conversion through journey
  • Conversion in humanity

Innovation thus becomes a “converting” ordinance. It changes sender, sent and sendee (the intended recipient of the message).

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Thursday, February 25, 2010

images of church in society: Why we need salt not exodus

Exodus is a powerful and repeated Biblical motif. For Israel, and for many oppressed people’s through time, it has defined a profound liberation from bondage and a life of service in response to a God who led through perils to a new land.

But spatially, Exodus relies on a “going out.” The people are to leave behind what is bad.

Contrast the metaphor of exodus with the metaphor of salt and leaven, which work only by staying within. Salt needs meat, leaven needs dough and so the metaphor acts spatially, in a startlingly different way than Exodus. Rather than leave in order to become God’s community, we become God’s community from within, by digging in and staying put, by infiltration, rather than by separation and removal.

Marianne Sawicki suggests that this metaphor, of salt and leaven, was actually the dominant metaphor for the very early church.

“Jesus’ first followers knew that there was no escape, no place to get away from the civil war and personal evils confronting them. They had to figure out how to live in a landscape compromised by colonial oppressions. They would seek and find God’s kingdom precisely in the midst of that.” (Marianne Sawicki, Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus, 155)

She describes this as a “stealth operation” that looks for the Kingdom of God in the midst of (Roman) oppression. “It presumes that imperial structures will remain intact so that they can be infiltrated. This is a resistance that exploits the empire; it does not defeat, neutralize, kill, or escape from its host.” (162) She draws both on the parables and on the missionary text that is Luke 10, in which the disciples “indigenize themselves by attaching to the family that employs them.” (163)

This is a pattern of cultural immersion. It’s deliberate.

It’s also a pattern of cultural resistance. Salt not only preserves, it also corrodes. In other words using the metaphor of salt and leaven to understand ourselves as the church, allows “the gospel to be both corrosive and preservative like salt … to be infectious, expansive and profane like leaven.” (155) As a metaphor it still encourages the church as a contrast community, refusing to bless the culture.

Sawicki suggests that perhaps the church today – globalized, enmeshed in consumerism – might find the salt and leaven metaphor a most useful stance in relation to our world:

The kingdom of God is not free-standing. It has to be sought in the middle of something else … [it] can take the form of small-scale refusals to comply with the alleged inevitability of the pomps and glamours of middle-class life … the commuting lifestyle; so-called “life insurance” and retirement funds; careerism; the “soccer mom” syndrome and the overscheduling of adolescent activities; fast food; fashionable clothing … (174, 175)

It strikes me as a fantastically practical, deeply Biblical way for Christians to see ourselves in the world today.

Posted by steve at 02:27 PM

Friday, November 27, 2009

sustaining mission life

It’s been a really exciting week here at the church. There has been an outstandingly generous response to our foodbank crisis. Advent preparations are in full swing – with Advent blessing postcards arriving and looking fabulous and a new set of advent banners about to be launched in the auditorium. New carpet has been laid in the new building and internal access doors installed. From Sunday, our kids will be using the new area, while preparations are in full swing, for a move into the new offices on Wednesday. (That signals the completion of part a, still leaving parts b, c, d – the cafe kitchen, foyer extensions and disabiity toilets.)

Amid all this, we try to sustain our mission life. For us at Opawa, this has to be more than frenetic doing. It has to be more than individual. It also needs to be relating, praying, resourcing, sharing. So four times a year we gather for input, resourcing, sharing. So mission collectives, happening over this weekend.

LIVING collective – for those passionate about lifestyle mission in workplace and across our backyard fences, Friday, 27 November, 7:30 pm, Bad Back Shop, 303 Colombo Street

CREATING collective – to pray, and be updated, on plans for Christmas journey and Santa parade float. Gather at Latimer Square lampost at 7:45 pm, or Bicycle Thief, 21 Latimer Square at 8:30 pm, Saturday 28 November.

LOVING collective – for those interested in mission in Waltham community, 345 Eastern Terrace for a BarBQ, Sunday 29 November, 12:30-2:30 pm. Salads supplied, if people could bring their own meat, that would be great.

That’s one way we sustain our mission life across the church. How do you sustain yours?

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM

Friday, November 20, 2009

kingdom living as grassroots business realities

active intent….
I believe that we are created to live the Kingdom of God in our world, not apart from but within society. I am a representative of God’s Kingdom here on earth. I live and speak for God’s rule as an attractive member of the Kingdom, not against the world but for God’s Kingdom, His Good news in Jesus transforming the world.

From the blog of Phil, one of God’s gifts at Opawa. Last year, I invited Phil, and a number of others, to keep a blog as a spiritual practice, a way of being intentional about attending to God’s Kingdom flutters (and further here). It meant that as I preached on the Kingdom during the month, ordinary folk in our church were modelling what this might look like. So it looks like Phil has continued to blog. What’s more, it’s become a fantastic set of grassroots, mission reflections. Not from a pastor, but a businessperson.

There is more to this story. Earlier this year I asked Phil and his wife, Bronwyn, to lead one (of three) mission collectives, living. Four times a year, collectives are meant to gather us around God’s mission – to discuss, resource , pray. For us at Opawa, mission has taken concrete shape in

  • living, faith in our workplaces and among our neighbours
  • loving, the local streets around us
  • creating, the citywide creative capacity of the Christmas Journey and Pentecost.

It’s been an experiment, simply trying to build community and capacity around the green shoots that seem to be Opawa’s season at the moment.

So the blog now contains some of Phil’s reflections on this challenge – what living faith sharing looks like. Again, it is fantastic – grassroots, everyday, outside church walls. Go Phil. Go mission reality beyond Sunday, outside sacred/scared walls.

(By the way, Opawa’s mission collectives are meeting again next weekend, as follows:
Friday, 7:30 pm, November 27, 303 Colombo St
Saturday, 7:45 pm, November 28, Latimer Square
Sunday, November 29, 12:30 pm.)

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sharing faith across cultures

A reality of our times is that we live in a pluralistic world. This has been incredibly important in sharpening how we think about other faiths. We live between two (unhelpful IMHO) poles: silence, in which a person is too scared to share the sacred story of God’s work in their lives and hostility, in which the way a person shares is rude, intolerant and antagonistic.

These poles apply to all faiths. I sat in a taxi a few weeks ago in Australia. When I mentioned I was a church minister, for the next 40 minutes the taxi driver lectured me on his faith. He was struggling with the two poles, not wanting to be silent, but in his monologue, ending up rude and intolerant.

Richard Sudworth is a CMS missionary, working in a Muslim majority part of the (English) city of Birmingham. He is part of a Christian-Muslim Forum launched their “10 Commandments of Mission”, offered as a conversation starter in an attempt to establishing honest and workable relations between faiths that allows for freedom of conscience.

Here are their 10 commandments of Mission.

1. We bear witness to, and proclaim our faith not only through words but through our attitudes, actions and lifestyles.
2. We cannot convert people, only God can do that. In our language and methods we should recognise that people’s choice of faith is primarily a matter between themselves and God.
3. Sharing our faith should never be coercive; this is especially important when working with children, young people and vulnerable adults. Everyone should have the choice to accept or reject the message we proclaim and we will accept people’s choices without resentment.
4. Whilst we might care for people in need or who are facing personal crises, we should never manipulate these situations in order to gain a convert.
5. An invitation to convert should never be linked with financial, material or other inducements. It should be a decision of the heart and mind alone.
6. We will speak of our faith without demeaning or ridiculing the faiths of others.
7. We will speak clearly and honestly about our faith, even when that is uncomfortable or controversial.
8. We will be honest about our motivations for activities and we will inform people when events will include the sharing of faith.
9. Whilst recognising that either community will naturally rejoice with and support those who have chosen to join them, we will be sensitive to the loss that others may feel.
10. Whilst we may feel hurt when someone we know and love chooses to leave our faith, we will respect their decision and will not force them to stay or harass them afterwards

Now, I want to place this alongside Luke 10:1-12. Jesus sends disciples out in mission. They are not to be quiet. Rather they enter the culture with the instruction to speak “peace.” This fits with (1) and (7). It also is an endorsement of (8), in that it names faith clearly.

If peace is returned, then the disciples are to dwell at table, eating and drinking what is placed before them. This seems to me to fit with (4) and (5). The disciple is placed as a receiver of hospitality, depend on the culture. As such, they must be willing to do (6), to find ways to name the Kingdom in ways congruent with table fellowship. It also allows due care (9), to occur in a natural and relational way.

If our message is rejected, the disciples are to leave. Mission is not coercive and does not overstay it’s welcome. It retreats when it is not wanted. Reading Luke 10:12 can sound judgemental, but when placed alongside Luke 9:51-56, it suggests a willingness to let go in gracious humility. This fits with (3). It is also essential to (10).

Essential to Luke 10:1-12 is the fact that the disciples are sent ahead of Jesus, yet reliant on the work of the Spirit in order for hospitality to be enacted. This fits with (2).

Or, in the words of An Introduction to the Study of Luke-Acts

“From this description of mission ‘strategy’ we could not possibly draw the notion of domination in any way.” (89) and “It is a mystery how this sense of the text could have escaped colonialist-minded missionaries. The idea of imposing a Christian culture on a receiving culture is foreign to this text.” (90)

People used to being in control, at the centre of a culture and a conversation (whether Christian or Muslim) will not find this easy. However, our Biblical story, the narrative of Luke 10:1-12, offers us resources. So “Lukan/Biblical” applause to Richard Sudworth and the Christian-Muslim forum for finding a creative way beyond those two poles of silence and hostility.

Posted by steve at 07:49 AM

Friday, September 11, 2009

a theology of hospitality or stuck in an attractional moment: back to church Sunday

We as a church are participating in Back to Church Sunday. We’ve simply marked a normal, everyday, run of the mill Sunday and encouraged our folk to consider inviting someone they know. Not someone who hates church or goes to another church, but someone who has dropped out of church. We’ve made it clear that the service will be ordinary, just like very other week, because we don’t want this to be switch and bait, false advertising.

For us it started about 3 months ago, with a brainstorming with our ministry leaders. We made a list of all the things we would could improve in relation to our welcome. We eventually came up with 10 “tips” and we’ve simply began presenting them a tip a week, over 10 weeks. For us at Opawa it was things like
– better street signage
– leaving the back rows free
– ensuring those up-front introduce themselves
– finding ways to communicate sustainably our mission to those new among us
– making sure our information was current and easily found
– improving our “oh, well, i’ve been here for years actually!” responses.
We’ve poked a bit of fun at ourselves and quietly chipped away at all those things that often get overlooked.

In surfing this week, I noticed this comment about Back to Church Sunday.

I still think it’s working on a silly model of mission. All that happens with these seeker friendly services (IME) is that all the congregation get annoyed at having to change what they would otherwise be doing, the sermon is either diluted or made overtly evangelistic, and the people who come smile sweetly as they leave and resolve never to come back again (usually because of some birthday song travesty!). We all know this by now surely. Mission is about what we do in the work place (or the post office in your case Dave) or down the pub or even in formal mission events. A weekly service in your local church should be primarily for those who go to it.

I’ve been turning the comment over in my mind, working with their model of mission.

Say you do mission in the workplace. Say over time, your salt and light is attractive and a workmate wants to join your God conversation. Being true to your ethos, you do that at your workplace. Which is fun and exciting. And then 6 months later, another person expresses interest.

Now at this point, the two of you have some decisions to make. Will you provide an extra seat in case this other person comes? Will you say hi and be courteous and introduce yourself when they arrive? Will the two of you continue telling each other in-house jokes that make no sense to the person new among you? Will you share stories from bygone days, conducting a conversation the new person can’t join?

Hopefully the answer is of course not. Because you want to be hospitable.

Which it seems to me is what Back to Church Sunday is all about. It’s about us looking in the mirror.

It’s also about the fact that for some people, it’s far less threatening to check out “gathered church” by slipping in the back of a crowd than by joining two others at a workplace. It’s about both/and, not either/or, in terms of mission.

I wouldn’t have done Back to Church Sunday when we arrived at Opawa, because the imagination was attractional. But six years down the track, with a multi-congregational approach and something like 15 different community ministries and the establishment of three Mission Collectives that intentionally resource people as salt and light in ministry, there’s now a place to ask each other “hey, how hospitable are we?”

Not because we want to attract you, but because we want to be hospitable when you arrive.

Updated: Prodigal Kiwi ponders this post and the motives for Back to Church Sunday here. I like the way he picks up on the essential need for a missional work out and I agree with his worry that BCS runs the risk of being “bolted onto a particular Sunday – a one-off – rather than being a deeply imbedded and explicit feature of the way a congregation is every Sunday of the year.” But that’s exactly why we got involved. As I commented in response to Andrew Hamilton: “I would hope/expect our community (and all churches) to be hospitable every (Sun)day. otherwise why do we do church? And how can we call ourselves Christians if we’re not ready to welcome the outsider/stranger?” The key for me is the pursuit of a theology of hospitality rather than of attraction.

And here is another Kiwi perspective on Back to Church Sunday. What are the theological narratives at work here?

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Friday, August 14, 2009

mission collective: living (night 2) reflections

Our second round of mission collectives has just kicked off. I’m just back from the living collective. (Creating meets tomorrow evening, then Loving gathers over Sunday lunch). The aim is to affirm the diversity of our life, gather in a conversational manner (4 times a year) around mission. Tonight I’ve been sitting in a shop, the workplace, of one of our congregation, collecting around the challenge of being salt and light with neighbours and in our workplaces.

In my bag is a blank card, with the words: Live your faith. Share your life, and a verse that encourages us to start by sharing life with people. It’s proved such an eye opener, a reminder of the need to be fully human, real, vulnerable with people.

During the evening P. shared how the off the map interviews we showed last time had inspired him to do an “off the map” interview with their neighbours, and the value and insight experienced in simply listening to the spiritual search of another. M. shared how God has changed her and her friends notice that, so she simply tells them it happened at Opawa and they come along. A. called me over to share that the “grandparenting” role I suggested he try two years ago is still going with one of our young adults. S. asked if I remembered the first time she came to church and how rude she felt she was and how my response lowered her defensives and now she’s an “apprentice” Christian.

I drove home, my heart singing. It’s been a tough week for me, people in my ear about this and that. But its nights like this that make it all worthwhile – honest people caring enough about mission to gather tired bodies and the stories of lives changed and changing.

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

cleansing rituals

A few details changed, to preserve anonymity

She phoned the church, a stranger, a local, asking for a house blessing. So I popped around, with my Bible and my usual house blessing service. “What’s been happening?” I ask.

“We’ve moved recently. The ashes (of my dead relatives) aren’t happy. My partner and I are fighting heaps and we’ve been burgaled. Twice. Still got the footprints. Come and see.”

We head into the house. Sprawled on the couch are two teenagers. Seeing us, they straighten and pull the hoodie down low.

Suddenly the words of my usual house blessing service seem inappropriate. Time to jettison the words and use the symbols.

I light a candle: “This is a source of light. In the Bible, God is the light of the world. Light drives out darkness. So we are going to ask God’s light to be present and drive out darkness.”

I ask for a bowl of water: “This is a symbol of cleansing. It’s where we wash and get clean. Lets start by getting clean. One, by one, lets wash our hands. Silently, lets say sorry for how we’ve acted in this place, the fights we’ve caused.”

And so, one by one, we stoop to the Bible, using the water as a vessel by which sins might be confess. In the flicker of candle and the splashing of water, it’s starting to feel like holy ground.

Which room shall we start with, I ask? And with bowl in hand, we move from room to room. “What needs to happen here,” we ask each other. At each room, hands are dipped in the bowl and water is sprinkled. And the words and the water, together become prayers for this house, of hope and of confession.

It’s starting to feel like our holy ground, not just my holy ground. The teenagers follow. Watching.

We head outside. The ashes are causing problems. “They’re not happy with how much we’re fighting.”

Fascinating. At this point, the ashes are actually pointing to what might be called “sin”. I have no way to process this theologically. Can ashes talk? How do they talk? But I don’t think that a theological discussion is what’s needed.

We talk to God about what the ashes are saying: “But we’re glad God, that these ashes are reminding us of how to behave. And we want to listen, to start doing right. That’s why we washed our hands.” Again, I’m not sure of the theology, but I’m trusting the Spirit for the words.

And finally the teenagers speak. The cars, they nod. Outside on the street.

There’s lots of talk in my city about boy racers and how bad they are. Its easy to create a category called “boy racers” and place all of fears about the future of our children. Yet here I am, being asked to “do” something to the car of a boy racer.

And so we walk into the street. We ask for safety and wise decisions. The teenagers grin. And nod. It’s still feeling like our holy ground. I’m not sure whether they’ll remember on Friday night. Does it matter? Surely prayer is to God, not to these racers?

The boys stay with their car and I return inside. I’m alone with the woman and together we look at the candle.

I tell her that I’m about to blow out the candle. When I do, the candle light will go out. But God’s light need not go out in this house. God’s light can live in our hearts. Yes sure, we can blow that light in our hearts out. But simply say sorry, and invite the light back, and it always will.

She nods. And grins. Now this really is holy ground. We’ve named God in this house. The gospel has been enacted – the water of confession as the grace of cleansing. We’ve confessed sin and together we’ve talked to God – with words and actions.

I’m looking forward to returning in a few weeks, grabbing a cup of tea, talking more with this family, about what it means to walk in the light and wash in forgiveness. Such is the power of symbols, that connect human participation with the Biblical story.

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

healing transitions through life

Life is full of transitions. Historic church sacraments have provided some sort of map for these, but our world is now much more variegated and we need ways to mark miscarriage, drivers license, movement to university, house moving, retirement etc. Which requires the church to be creative and flexible in their pastoral care and ritual making. It’s a whole area of ministry needing to be explored.

One of my best pastoral moments ever was working with a family over a 4 year period. First they requested a home blessing of their first born and together we worked out a unique service. Second was the home blessing of their second born and again we worked out a unique service for that.

Only to find out that between the two homegrown rituals, they had decided to take their words seriously. Since they had asked for God’s help, they had better explore God. So they asked for a third ritual, their baptism!

In my hunt for resources, Abigail Rial Evans, Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of life, has proven very helpful.

The book is collection of a wide range of rituals e.g. adolescence, work, retirement, disabilities, for mental illness, for hospitals, against racism for criminal justice. The rituals are drawn from a wide range of Christian traditions. I would never use them exactly word for word, but the do provide a pastoral and theological checklist, and a window into how other’s have processed life’s events. It’s a fantastic resource, which was most useful in the miscarriage service I did last week.

This book on rituals sits well alongside Olive Fleming Drane, Spirituality to Go, which has less specific words, but lots more general ideas.

For more in being creatively pastoral through life, you might also find this – on transition packs helpful.

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taking the con out of conversion 2

During our 2nd sermon on Biblical pictures of witness I showed a table (download), placing Acts 2, Acts 14 and Acts 17 side by side. It produced excellent discussion, as people noted
– how one size does not fit all;
– how in Acts 14 and Acts 17, not a single Bible verse is quoted, in contrast to Acts 2;
– how evangelistic success is far from universal;
– the ability to improvise.

I concluded with some stories about ways I’d seen announcing the good news publicly in New Zealand today. A number were taken from my blog post here from a few weeks ago and a big thanks to those in my blogging community who commented – you added a huge amount of richness and freshness to the sermon.

The open invite follow-up discussion group meets again this Wednesday in the church foyer to simply read the Bible texts, and apply them prayerfully to our life. There is already talk of keeping the group going after the series finishes, which was my big dream – the formation of an evangelism action team!

Posted by steve at 09:46 AM

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Taking the con out of conversion

Every Wednesday in April (9, 16, 23, 30), a conversation around the place of witness and evangelism in Christian faith is happening in the church foyer. The catalyst is a sermon series titled “Biblical pictures of witness” being preached on Sunday mornings. On the Wednesday those interested gather to read the Scriptures used on Sunday, to apply and to pray.

On the first Wednesday we talked about the Samaritan woman in contrast to the huge feelings of guilt Christians carry in relation to witness. We wondered about the following guilt free statements.
1. Only do your bit. No more and no less.
2. Only witness where God is working. Witnessing anywhere else is dumb, especially in response to evangelism seminars.
3. Only share what you know. Anything else is bearing false witness.
4. Only be real. Human struggles open doors.

I love this part of ministry: creating conversations around the Bible and in relation to mission, sitting with people, listening, being honest, learning, growing.

Posted by steve at 01:12 PM

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas pain

Station 5 of the Christmas Journey Peace Labyrinth in Latimer Square invited people to explore a moment of personal peace by posting a secret. They could do this publicly on a noticeboard, or privately into a confessional. Here are some of the public confessions.




For more go here. There’s a lot of pain in our world. I wonder where those first Christmas angels are, those who announced “peace on earth” to the shepherds? Are they weeping over these cards? Or are they still flying, still singing, still hoping, still praying?

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM