What sort of preacher am I?
I had an interesting day yesterday, or a day when I had to examine some things about myself, sometimes not a good thing!
As many would know, apart from all the other things I do I am a part time pastor at a local Uniting Church. Part time is a bit of a euphemism as church work never seems to end.
Anyway I was taking the service and I was planning to look at how we as people can transform our lives, to better be in touch with God’s spirit and the life of Jesus, using the path set out by Alexander Shaia’s work called Quadratus (more of that later). It is a path that acknowledges us as humans and that life will have its ups and downs.
Anyway I decided to hold that idea until the end of lent, when I am also taking the service.
Crap, I then had to organise a different service in about 3 days! So I looked at things I had done before, which can be a useful guide and direction to take. The reading was about taking up our cross and following Jesus into the world. A pretty substantial reading!
While I do think that the cross and Easter message is essentially about nonviolence, and love, a message that the world and ourselves need to hear, the sermon I was basing yesterdays on was quite old, and in some ways not how I would write now. It was too long for a start (I know you find that hard to believe, based on my blogs) and the message was delivered too harshly, without fanfare.
I was left feeling as though I had betrayed myself. I have changed from when I wrote it, to someone who wants to encourage people to see God working in their own lives, in the lives of those who wouldn’t step one foot in the church, in the world and even the universe, rather than badgering them. Therefore, my sermons are more about our life together, and about the world’s life together. Yes, I use the scripture passage, but I also use other writings, some from other traditions, poetry, music and silence. And my aim in a service now is to provide a space where we can sense this spiritual presence, and transform ourselves and our community for the better. More kindness, more compassion and more justice. That may mean people heading out from the church and participating with others from all walks of life, to speak up for refugees, the environment, the poor, and the marginalised, particularly indigenous Australia. To do something, no matter how small, to make change.
I totally get that the church and its voice has also to be a prophetic voice, calling the world to account for the things it is doing to its citizens in so many places. But I also realise that’s not me! It has been Nev Watson, who was a peace activist for many years, a huge supporter of aboriginal Australia, and a clear and inspiring preacher. And who has been a huge mentor for me in the role of the church and people of faith in social justice. We both preach at church and it is a good double act, with me as the junior partner I might add! Sadly, Nev does not preach as much now, but his words are readily available.
It makes me ponder the age old question, that particularly affects church goings, but everyone. What are our strengths, what are our skills, what gives us life and makes us happy and whole? What is our passion! Then when we have worked all that out, not easy, we are to take them and make a difference where we can.
We cannot be all things to all people, and generally we cannot be the sole driver of change. It takes a lot of people to make change, to encourage people to see the way differently, and to transform the norms of society into something new, something more inclusive.
There have been many leaders who have started movements that have led to great change for the better in our world. I mentioned them yesterday, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero. But also Gandhi. And there are many more, in places we would never know.
Amazing, incredible voices for change.
But when you look at what really invokes change it is the millions and millions of people who in their daily lives, choose love over hate, peace over violence, and community over individualism, sharing much both in terms of time and money.
Or those who in their workplaces and in their homes, in schools, and hospitals, and shops and offices, hold close the ideas of Jesus, and work every single day, bringing light where they are. Who through acts of compassion, and caring bring the kingdom of God a little closer.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it takes sacrifices of a far greater magnitude to make the changes that are seismic, the civil rights movement is a perfect example. Things have to be given up for others to have the freedom we do. I feel this is the case for refugees, and I will continue to protest and add my voice to the calls for a change of heart. And I will continue to work for the Boab Network, who walks with the Mowanjum aboriginal community and its kids to help give them a future in a country that for so long ignored them.
But on the whole we live and work and raise our children most of the time, and we who have gifts in so many fields and so many places, are to exercise our call there, in these places, every single day.
So for me, I have changed in the past years, growing in my faith in depth and understanding, but also seeing where best I can effect change and be faithful.
And I see now it is sharing my life with others, the often rocky but at other times amazing life, offer as much care and compassion, love and kindness as I can, encourage those around me to look deeper and see that there is something hidden underneath what we can measure and hold. That connects us to our fellow human beings and with all of creation, and with the universe. And I will continue to speak about it in ways people can draw strength from, that maybe inspires them to journey out into the world to make a difference wherever they are. And I will continue to write (sorry!).
So in all of that I would say find your gifts and your passion, and work from there. Be the change there, be God’s hands and feet there. This is not a cop out. For if we can’t make change there, we won’t make change anywhere.
Again I want to finish with a poem, no, not from Mary Oliver but from another beautiful poet. I was going to use this yesterday but ran out of time. Yet I think this would have the better than all the other stuff.
It’s called “Famous”.