Wake, awake!

This is a sermon for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scripture it references is Isaiah 50:4-9a.

Imagine, if you will, a school playground.  It doesn’t really matter where or when, because some things seem to be universal; so go ahead and imagine it with details that are familiar to you.

And imagine that among the bustle of children eating and laughing and playing at lunchtime there is someone…. well, different.  Someone who comes from somewhere else; whose looks and accent and lunchbox set her apart as distinctive.

And as she moves through her peers, they push her away with their words; label her a freak; dirty; disgusting; insult her intelligence and make lewd comments about imagined sexual deviancies.

And – this is the crucial bit – as she eventually finds somewhere to sit alone, away from their sight, she blinks back tears, holds her head high and remembers that her foremothers were queens, and dreams of a day when her culture and religion might hold sway over a society where no little girl would ever need cry alone.

All of us can relate to that playground scene in some way.  And it is, I think, very similar to how we might think about the author of today’s passage from Isaiah.  His school playground was one of the large cities of the Babylonian empire, where his people, the Israelites, were living in exile.  As they held to their own language, customs and religion they were generally (a few notable exceptions notwithstanding) excluded from power, opportunity and social respect.  They were conquered, exiled, downtrodden; and while they weren’t quite slaves, they certainly weren’t free to shape their own destinies as they wished.

But like our girl in the schoolyard remembering that she comes from a line of queens, they remembered that their current circumstances didn’t define who they were.  And they dreamed of a day to come when things would be very different; when the ideals of their culture would build a very different sort of society.  One in which no one would experience the oppression of forced exile and all that went with it.

And someone in that exiled community, or perhaps a small group of visionaries together, wrote and edited together this part of the book of Isaiah, and particularly, the texts that have come to be called the “servant songs.”  The servant songs are a cycle of poems about an idealised version of God’s servant, which gathers up the memories, longings and hopes of that community and builds them into a portrait of a champion; someone who was everything good and right and holy; everything that community longed to experience and aspired to be.

It’s the daydream of the bullied kid in the schoolyard; given shape and content by hundreds of years of legend and history and prayer.

And that’s what we heard part of today, in our Isaiah reading.

So let’s take note of a few of the details of this poem.  Notice, to start with, the repeated reference to being woken and having an open ear.  While we could take that literally – as if the ideal servant of God wakes in the morning with inspiration bursting in his brain (why are ideal people always portrayed as morning people?!  But I digress) – we can take the imagery of being wakened in a more metaphorical way as well.

Someone who’s awake is aware of what’s going on; not lulled into complacency.  They see beyond the surface of an apparently thriving society and can recognise injustice, oppression, and corruption.  They see the alienation of the world from its Creator, and from the purposes for which it was created.

The ideal servant of God, as presented to us here, suffers in part because he knows the truth and feels compelled to try to reach others with what he knows.  He looks around him at a society which is not awake – does not recognise its own shadow side – and feels the burden of trying to make people aware.  Not just for the sake of awareness, but for the sake of restoring a right relationship between people and their Creator; and out of that right relationship, building a better, healthier, more just society.

Well, we know how well that usually goes.  Comfortable, complacent societies tend to punish people who disturb the status quo.

And this is why the poem goes on to describe the servant having his back struck and his beard pulled out; this standing in the gap between an unaware, but drowning, society; and a God who can put things right if only people will turn to him, is costly.  The servant bears the emotional outbursts and the immaturity of an unreconciled humanity.  But the servant also sees the potential for things to be different, and it’s that vision and hope which gives him the resilience to persevere.  Those who torment him still have the opportunity to turn from their self-centredness and enter a relationship with a holy God, and the community of other people in relationship with that holy God.

It is, as visions of hope go, remarkably sophisticated.  The servant isn’t a champion who tramples every enemy into oblivion, but one who holds out a hand in steadfast offer of reconciliation.

Later, of course, the earliest Christians read these passages and reflected that Christ had fulfilled them to a unique degree, more than any merely human person could.  In Christ, that hope and that reconciliation are always, steadfastly on offer.

More than that, though, in the Church – this community which is supposed to embody Christ to the world – that hope and that reconciliation are supposed to be always, steadfastly, on offer.  The servant songs hold up a picture, one vision of what the Church is supposed to be, and invite and challenge us to live up to it.

In some ways that makes more sense for us now, psychologically, than perhaps it has for centuries.  The Church is being marginalised in our society in a way that we haven’t been since before the fall of Rome.  For too long we’ve had more in common with the bullies in the school yard than the people they pick on, but now we are remembering what it’s like not to have the world revolve around us.  And other writings from other faith communities in our own history which have been in the same place, can offer us some clues to making sense of life on the margins, and some resources for thriving and living faithfully in that new situation.

We do need to allow ourselves to be woken, though.  Woken into relationship with God; woken into deep awareness of our own context, woken to hope and inspired by what could be.

Just a little bit further in Isaiah the prophet cries out:

“Wake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;…
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up!…
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”

It’s imagery of hope, and it calls out to us today as well: Wake up!  Put on your strength, claim your beauty, get out of the dust and hold your head high.  Tell the good news in ways that shakes others from their sleep, that builds peace and reconciles enemies, that submits every impulse to oppression to God’s justice.  It’s time for daydreams and ideals to be forged into action.

Our God reigns.  We know that; now how will we live it?

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Who is my enemy?

This reflection was given during the daily Eucharist in the chapel of an Anglican convent, and refers to Psalm 69.

Reading today’s psalm – like so many psalms – it struck me how much ancient Israel must have been a competitive and conflict-driven society.  So often the psalmists pray about, and from the context of, deep awareness of being surrounded by enemies who hate them and wish them physical violence or social ruin.

When we then make their prayers our own, we are at some level confronted with the question of what these verses mean in our own lives.

I suspect that most people do one of two things; either they turn this mentally into a Christians-vs.-everyone-else situation, and see as their enemies the militant atheists, indifferent governments, and socially destructive commercial forces which surround the church.

Or they spiritualise it, and see as their enemies the demonic forces of temptation and despair, just waiting for an opportunity to slip past our guard and bring about our downfall.

I’m not saying that either of these readings are wrong; but I’d suggest that both of them, if not reflected on critically, might lead us to unhealthy attitudes and behaviours, as we retreat into a siege mentality and start seeing everything beyond our own comfort zone as a threat.

I wonder if there is another way to read these ancient prayers; aware that we ourselves are not surrounded by personal enemies in the same way, but still drawing inspiration for our own courage and resilience, in the face of our own personal struggles, from the honesty, faithfulness, and integrity of the psalmists?  Seeking to reflect the attitudes, rather than the circumstances, of the psalmists, in our own contexts?

Growing edges of welcome

This is a sermon for the third Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scripture it references is 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:5.

Long distance relationships are difficult.  These days, with the internet and skype and all of that, it’s not quite so bad; but I can remember when I was little, and writing a letter to family members in another country meant it would take weeks to arrive; and that was if you had a “by air mail” sticker on it!  I know some of you have had similar experiences.

Ministry – like any other relationship – is difficult at long distance, too.  In the last parish where I worked, there was one vicar for two parishes; and this meant his effective absence from a lot that was important in the lives of each of those communities; and that was keenly felt as a problem.

How much harder then for St. Paul!  Absent for years on end from congregations he’d started, communicating by letter – in the days before any sort of postal service, when you had to try to convince someone going in the right direction to carry it for you, and then hope and pray that your letter would eventually get there – it’s not surprising that sometimes his relationships with these churches became a bit strained.

That seems to be one of the live issues in his second letter to the Corinthians, which we read part of today.  Paul’s been away for some time, other teachers have been involved with the Christian community in Corinth, and the relationship with Paul is being tested.  The bit of the letter that we’ve read this morning seems to be part of a lengthy defence of what he taught and the way he’s acted.

That’s helpful to bear in mind because otherwise it can be hard to understand why he makes the arguments he does.  And the bit that this morning’s reading hangs on is this sentence: “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

It’s not about me, Paul’s saying. I didn’t do and say what I did for my sake, because of ego or the desire for power or what have you.  But everything in my ministry has been for your sake.  And, through you, for the sake of all the people to whom you’re going to proclaim the gospel, and whom you are going to introduce into relationship with God.

That’s what matters.  That’s where Paul’s focus is; not on the leadership squabbles or whatever else was going on in Corinth, but on the big picture of the church’s mission.  Jesus Christ – or at least this is the way Paul presents it – has opened the doors of grace to everyone, so that grace should extend to more and more people.

And it does so as we interact with them in a way which makes God’s hospitality and welcome real and concrete in each person’s lived experience.  Rowan Williams put it this way: “The one thing you know for certain about your tiresome, annoying, disobedient, disedifying fellow Christians is that God has welcomed them; that becomes your challenge.”  Paul welcomed the Corinthians into a community of belonging to God, and their challenge now – and it remains our challenge as well – is to extend that grace-filled welcome to more and more people.

What has happened in the events of Jesus’ death and rising is that the social barriers between us have been destroyed; people who were far off have turned up next door (or sometimes even closer).  We need to make our peace with that, each of us within our own heart, and then between ourselves, and looking outward, down the street and around the suburb, at all the people who don’t know it yet.

Now here’s something uncomfortable that I’ve observed.  We as Christians like this as a big idea, but we are not always so comfortable with it in practice.  The idea of a big inclusive community is a great thing – because all of us want to belong – but when we need to extend that to people we find difficult, we struggle.  I notice this particularly with some kinds of mental illness, actually.  I’m not sure why; is it that we lack confidence in dealing with people we find volatile or whose sense of reality is at odds with ours?  But whatever it is, we need to identify it and get over it.  In a country where one in five people have experienced mental illness in the last year, we can’t afford to overlook their need to belong, and our responsibility to provide a community where they can truly belong.

Let me give you some examples.  It’s very common for people with mental illness to be told that their mental illness either means they’re not really a Christian, or that they’re not a good Christian.  That is false.  Our job as a church is to surround people with mental illness with love, warmth, understanding, acceptance and friendship; for who they are right now, without any expectation that this will somehow “fix” them.  We should neither criticise nor judge for the things they find difficult, even if they’re things that we ourselves take for granted.

More than that, I remember a friend of mine who goes through bouts of depression, saying to me once that when someone in the church is physically sick, people turn up with casseroles; but that when she’s bed-bound with depression, nobody brings her a casserole.  She was trying to point out to me that we tend not to do a good job of caring for people with these kinds of struggles.

Caring here starts with understanding.  How much do we have a good working understanding of anxiety disorders, of depression, of substance use disorders?  Do we know how to care for people coping with these things?  Do we have a plan for support that we can put into action as it’s needed?  Is our theology of illness and the way we relate our wellbeing and our faith one which supports or undermines people with mental illness?  Do we even know the difference?

I’ve made an extended example of mental illness because it seems to me to be one of the most consistent existing social barriers in our community.  I do want us, as a parish, to think about whether someone with anxiety or depression would find it easy to belong here.  But it’s an illustration of a bigger principle, the one Paul was on about in his letter to the Corinthians: grace is supposed to extend to more and more people.  And that commits us to relationship with more and more people.  We mush each look out for one another.  We can’t do effective Christian community at long-distance, or indeed at arm’s-length.

And when we really get that, when we really live it, then we’ll be the kind of church that Paul was trying to help the Corinthians be, where more and more people know grace and are able to give thanks to God.

What defines civilisation?

I often reflect on how Christian ideas and wisdom relate to the non-Christian ideas, ideologies and wisdom expressed in Australian society and culture.  This reflection is necessary if we’re to be capable of meaningful dialogue with those outside the church!

Today, as I was doing some reading on Indigenous philosophy, I came across the suggestion that civilisation should be measured by the degree of polishing of an individual’s mind, and the building of his or her character.  (As opposed to, say, technological advancement).

This reminded me of studying Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in high school, and how in that work, civilisation was as much about self-control as it was about external cultural markers.  It also reminded me that the ancient Greek philosophers had a fairly low view of technology, feeling that it undermined the dignity of a human person by taking away meaningful work.

My critique of this idea would, I think, be that it is a mistake to be individualist.  We ought to look at corporate character and corporate wisdom as much as, or more than, individual development.  I am not sure that our society has good models for considering corporate character.

What do you think?

Master or servant?

This is a sermon for the second Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scripture it references is Mark 2:23-3:6.

“How to destroy him.”  That is what Mark tells us the Pharisees wanted to do after their disagreement with Jesus about the Sabbath.  It’s a very strong response, isn’t it?  I might disagree with someone about all sorts of things, but it doesn’t usually leave me wanting to destroy them.  It’s a bit over the top, don’t you think?

It probably helps to realise that Sabbath, for the Pharisees, wasn’t just a point of legal detail, but was a fundamental question of their identity and place in the world.  The idea of a shared day of rest – a time for worship and recreation and freedom from the anxieties of work, for their whole community together – was part of what it meant to be Jewish, and part of what it meant to be in relationship with God. They felt threatened that if they lost the Sabbath, they would lose a key part of who they were, and a key part of their connection with God.  It was a very, very big deal.

But the problem was that in trying to preserve that, they were insisting on doing it in a way which became oppressive.  When you couldn’t pick food if you were hungry, or heal someone who could wait for medical treatment until tomorrow, because those things were too much like “work”…  well, Jesus thought they’d missed the point.

And the key to this really comes in him saying, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”  His point is that the rules about not working for one day a week are not meant to oppress us, they’re meant to do us good.

It’s a principle I think we need to hear so badly today.  So often Christians take some commandment, or idea from the Bible, and they think that because God said it, that that is – without question and without exception – God’s will for us today, and that we must follow it no matter what the consequences, because that’s what it means to be a good person and to have a relationship with God.

The classic example of this happens with the question of divorce.  We know that the ideal for human relationships is one of lifelong faithfulness in marriage.  But we also know that sometimes that’s not what happens, that there’s violence or abuse or some other violation of what marriage should be.  And yet the folks who think that what the Bible says can’t possibly ever be gone against are the people who’ll urge an abused person to stay because, after all, we know God hates divorce.

This illustrates so clearly one of the central questions we have to bring to reading the Bible; are these texts, and whatever commands we find in them, something which we are obliged to obey, no matter what?  Are they our masters?  Or is the situation a bit more complicated than that?

Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Galatians; he wrote that “the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” The word here that we’ve translated as disciplinarian is a tricky one; it’s referring to a social role in the ancient world that really has no equivalent today, but I think the closest idea might actually be something like a governess.  “The law was our governess until Christ came…”

There are three key things about a governess:

  • She is a servant
  • She is a teacher
  • She is concerned with the welfare of her charges.

All three of those things were also true of the role Paul described in his letter.  So we could draw from that the principle that the law is there to teach us, to foster our welfare, and – ultimately – exercises authority over us in only a provisional way.  The law serves us, not the other way around.

So if obedience to some principle we find in Scripture is actually resulting in human harm – like the person staying in a violent marriage, or the person not being healed on the Sabbath, and so on – then we can be reasonably confident that we’ve reached the limit of application of that rule.  Because none of the rules are meant to result in harm.  That’s a distortion – a bending out of shape – of what they’re meant to be about.

Now here’s the thing.  That doesn’t mean we can just do whatever we feel like or whatever we want.  It doesn’t mean that the commandments and principles in the Bible don’t matter at all any more.  That doesn’t leave us in a healthy place either, when we give ourselves permission to indulge every whim and impulse, or to ignore the rules we don’t like.

It means we need a bigger-picture principle to apply when deciding whether a rule applies just now.  We know that what God wants for us is our absolute good.  We know that we were created good; that our lives are – at their best – supposed to be filled with purposeful relationships and characterised by love, joy and peace; that God’s desire for the world is justice and reconciliation.  So when we’re not sure whether a rule ought to apply in any particular situation, we need to weigh up the outcome and ask ourselves, “Which course of action will lead to the best outcome for the people concerned?  Which will best respond to real human needs?  Which will most adequately further the mission God’s given us?”

Sometimes we won’t like the answers to those questions, personally.  They might ask a lot of us, emotionally or materially.  They don’t give us free rein for self-gratification.  But they do give us a better approach than rigidly holding to a rule or commandment even when it doesn’t serve us, because we have the idea that “God said” that’s what we must do.

So whenever we read the Bible, or interpret the Bible, in ways which damage people, in ways which limit human flourishing, which limit our trust in God or our ability to relate healthily with one another, we’re on very dangerous ground indeed.  Because that’s not the purpose of the Bible.  It’s not why those words were inspired, written, passed down, collected and recognised as sacred for thousands of years.

Instead the call to wholeness, personal, communal and cosmic – the wholeness and joy and peace which the Bible tells us is God’s good purpose for everything that exists – is the vision which should underpin how we read the Bible, and how we use what we read.  Because the Bible is there to serve us, and not the other way around.

The other great religion

I mean sport, of course.

I’ve been involved in children’s ministry of one kind or another for about twenty years now.  And what I observe is this; traditional forms of Sunday school, youth group and so on are dying in many churches.  And they are dying because families choose to prioritise children’s participation in various forms of sport.

I see various reactions to this from other people in church.  Dismay that respect for the sacred means that sports are now held at times traditionally reserved for worship.  Questioning of the commitment of these families to church as the primary expression of faith.  And so on.

But as a parent of a young child myself, I understand that spare time and energy are valuable commodities for most families.  Parents are only going to choose to spend that spare time and energy on activities which they see contributing significantly to their children’s development and future opportunities.

And this is where a comparison is telling.

Parents prioritise their children being involved in sport, because from it the children get:

  • skills development
  • growing confidence
  • experience in teamwork
  • character development and chances to build resilience
  • healthy habits around exercise and work/life balance
  • and community.

That’s off the top of my head.  There are probably other things as well.

Let’s contrast that with what children get from your average children’s ministry activity:

  • education in values*
  • a religious framework for life*
  • access to rites of passage
  • community.

I’ve marked a couple of those with an asterisk because frankly, most children’s ministries, while they aspire to give children this, only manage to accomplish doing so to a fairly shallow degree.  (Again, that’s off the top of my head, and I may have missed things; do feel free to chime in, in the comments).

From the point of view of a parent who can choose consistent commitment to church or sport, but not both, it’s a no-brainer which will give their child more value for the time invested; especially if that parent is reasonably confident that their children can be taught that God loves them without going to church (but might be at a good school, or learn it at home).

It strikes me that rather than getting angry at sport for being good for children, or being angry at parents for making sensible choices about stewardship of time, it’s time for churches to look seriously at our children’s ministries and their shortcomings.  As long as Sunday school means not much more than learning that God created the world, Jesus loves you, coming to church is good, and some sort of craft or activity (usually done less well than most children will experience in school or other settings), our value proposition is lousy.  And we need to own up to that.

What if, when children came to church, we nurtured them and gave them opportunities to develop and use new skills?  What if we connected them to our mission in ways which taught them teamwork and confidence?  What if we involved them in real service, in ways which build character and resilience ?  What if we provided access to spirituality which truly enriched their lives in a dimension not available elsewhere?  What if our communities were more robust and inclusive?

And what if we did all this, in a context where Jesus Christ is Lord, where our priorities are Spirit-breathed, and where our love for one another was lived out in transformative community?

I don’t necessarily know what that would look like.  I expect that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to cut it, because these things are personal, communal and contextual.

But I suspect that if we took seriously the challenge of making it possible for children to encounter church in that way, we might find there is more impetus to come.

What do you think?

On fishing

This is a sermon for the third Sunday after Epiphany.  The Scripture it references is Mark 1:14-20.

There’s a story in my family – and you might appreciate this, after the weather we’ve had this week – about the day we arrived in Australia.  Apparently, my parents stepped off the plane in Melbourne, juggling their luggage and me as a toddler, into a day of forty-something-degree summer heat.  And my mum looked up at my dad, and my dad just said, “We can’t go back!”

My parents came here from apartheid-era South Africa.  Mum was a nurse, and after working in emergency during the riots, and some of the injuries she saw, she and dad had decided they needed to raise their family somewhere that would give us – me and my not-yet-born brother – a chance at a better life than they saw as possible where they were.  It wasn’t easy to leave; they lost a lot, financially, and dad had to illegally avoid his annual bout of army service to get out.  By the time they’d made their decisions about where to go, done everything necessary to move, and come here, what dad said was very true; they couldn’t go back.  Come what may, they had to make the best of where they were.

It wasn’t always easy, and it took a very long time for us to feel as if this was where we belonged.  But having gone back for a visit recently, I think my parents felt vindicated that they’d made the right decision; the life my brother and I have as adults here is much better than the life we would likely have had there.

I was thinking about all of this, though, because of the part of the gospel we heard this morning.  Simon and Andrew and James and John are going about their normal lives, fishing and mending their nets, and Jesus comes along and presents them with a decision to make.  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  I imagine this moment of the men looking at one another.  What do we do now?  What does this offer really mean?  A decision had to be made, and once made, lived with.  Which way lies the best future?  With the fish or the wandering rabbi?

Well, we know what they did.  The apostles left their families’ fishing businesses, and became the foundation of a new community, a new group where people could belong, based on relationship with Jesus, that wandering rabbi who turned out to be so much more.

This part of their story, though, is important, because it’s part of the story of all Christians.  Those of you who came to the Bible studies we did on Jesus and the Pharisees last year will remember learning about how the earliest Christians were kind of spiritually homeless; if they were Jewish, they got kicked out of the synagogues, and if they were non-Jewish, they’d had to leave the temples of their former deities.  Like the disciples leaving their boats, they’d had to leave what was familiar and make decisions which disconnected them from their communities, and come together to build new communities and places of belonging, at first based in their own homes because they had nowhere else.

That’s the community who first received Mark’s gospel, by the way; who would have been encouraged to realise that when the disciples left their fishing boats, the story had a worthwhile ending.  And who could then imagine that their own struggles and disconnections and so forth might have a worthwhile ending; because the process of disconnecting from what we were, to build new communities of belonging, is part of what has been the Christian experience from earliest times.

The challenge looks and feels a little different for us, I suspect, but it’s still there.  Most of you have grown up as part of Christian communities, and have known belonging here for a long time.  You haven’t had to create Christ-centred community for yourselves, you’ve received it from those who were here before you.  But the challenge we have now is how to create Christ-centred communities of belonging for people who haven’t already found that with us.

I see that challenge in various ways.  I see it in all the research that tells us that millennials want to interact with us online before they’ll ever come through the church door.  I see it in the feedback I get from some of our younger people – the ones we seldom see on Sunday mornings, and increasingly seldom in the evenings as well – that the services we offer them just don’t meet their needs, and that we need to consider different options and perhaps a more modern approach, for them to feel they belong here.

(There’s a whole heap of work to be done on what “modern” actually means in that kind of conversation; but as I look around at this building and remember how shockingly modern it was when it was built, I think it’s a conversation that we can fruitfully have).

A bit like the disciples, it seems to me we are confronted with the need to make a decision; are we prepared to willingly leave behind what’s comfortable and familiar, in order to build a community where people who don’t currently belong here, can find belonging?  And can be nurtured in faith, and grow in Christ?

If we do make those decisions, it’s going to be difficult for us, in some ways.  There will be grief; it’s normal for us to grieve as things change.  We will go through all the grief stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression.  I’d add in anxiety, uncertainty and lack of confidence about who we are and what we do.  Actually, even though I’ve only been here six months, it’s been long enough for me to see something of all of those things in our life together already.  Things will change no matter what decisions we make, and all the emotions of grief will come with that.  Making decisions just gives us a choice about what the other side of that grief might look like.

What I’m saying is that the challenge for us is to feel the grief but do it anyway.  To support one another as we build a renewed, inclusive place of belonging for people who are not yet here; a spiritual home for them that might well, for a while, not feel at all like home for us, because it’s not what we had before.

If Simon and Andrew, James and John had refused to leave their boats, there would never have been a church.  If we refuse to leave our preferred habits, there may not be a parish church here when there’s nobody left who likes things the way we do them now.

But I look back on those fishermen who became apostles, and I see a story of hope.  I look back on my own parents, and what they were able to give their family by leaving everything they knew, and I see a story of hope.  I know from the very fabric of my own life, that this kind of sacrifice can pay off.  I look forward to the process of change for us in this parish, and even though it calls for courage and vision and sacrifice, I see a blank page in our story just waiting to have written on it our own story of hope.

We will need to work on building our courage, our resilience for that process.  We will need to be intentional about working through our griefs, and committed to equipping ourselves for what comes next.  The apostles had three years living and working with Jesus; we mustn’t imagine we’ll work through everything we need to in the next few weeks or even months.

But these stories show us that it is possible.  That in following Jesus, in leaving behind what we know to build new communities of faith and belonging, the results can be much greater than we can see now.  The invitation is always to “Follow me.”  The focus is always on people beyond our current group.  What are their needs, their culture, their styles of relationship?  How can we meet them where they are, engage them as they are?  That’s part of what following Jesus means.

We can’t go back.  We can’t even stay the same as we are.  We can only follow Jesus, one step at a time, as best we can manage, into a future only God can fully see.  But we can know the basic shape of that future because we know how God works; and we know that when we follow Jesus, things happen.  People change.  Community is created.  And hope grows.   And we get to be part of all of that.

So shall we go fishing for people?