Readings for Proper 28 (33) Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 18th November 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +25 Textweek

 

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

A couple of weeks ago I told you about the Perth Synod and the General Synod. During the latter there was a great deal of emphasis on "the Mission-shaped Church" and "Fresh expressions of church". Some of it was interesting, some of it not. But one idea for a "fresh expression of church" which caught my eye came up during a study session. There on the screen was a 'coffee shop church', with people sitting around with guitars, bibles open, cups of coffee etc.

My initial reaction was "I'm sorry - what's fresh about something I was involved in 35 years ago?" Please don't tell me this is a new discovery - I have study books on the shelf devoted to working in such an environment. And, anyway, it came and went. Been there, done that!

And then a more reflective part of me took over and decided that it may well be that no idea is a good idea forever, but ideas do have their time, and frequently have more than one time. The coffee house church may be as relevant now as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So, dismissing an idea simply because it has had currency before is unwise and probably the prejudice of one generation looking at another.

No doubt there are many ideas coming through under the banner of "fresh expressions of church" which can be recognised as having had a previous life. That's no reason to not look at them afresh.

By the way, I am not advocating a coffee shop church here at St Paul's - in case you think that's where I am heading. That is not my point, although who knows - in the grand scheme of God's loving purpose, it might fit.

No, my point is that each new generation has to find its own way in these things. That does not only apply to deciding on what our church programs will look like - it is a fundamental of theology. It is, indeed, what Luke was doing when he put together the chapter of the Gospel from which we have read this morning. Let me explore that a bit further.

What Luke has done, is pull together some statements about the Temple from the ministry of Jesus. That is the unifying theme here - each little statement is about the temple. Indeed, if our reading had started at the beginning of the chapter, this would have been more noticeable. For, from verse 1 we get the story about the widow’s mite – actually the widow’s two mites which she put into the Temple treasury.

This material has all come from a range of sources Luke has available to him. But, he does not simply reproduce them, because he is writing for a new generation. Most of the material comes from Luke's copy of Mark, written probably about 15 years earlier.

Clearly during that 15 years, something significant has changed and Luke believes he has to assist his readers (or hearers more correctly) as they grapple with the faith in a new day. The biggest change is that the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. The Romans took care of that in 70AD - about the time Mark was written. And with it went a theology that said that when the Temple was destroyed, the end of the world would come. It didn't, so new thinking is needed.

I could give you a very long and technical explanation of how Luke went about setting a new direction, but it would only be boring for all of us. There are books on the shelves about that. Suffice to say that, for Luke, the birth of Jesus the Christ was the mid-point of time, not a precursor of the end.

So, our time is part of the story which Luke began with the birth narrative and continued through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. That is how Luke's readers were placed in the story, and how we are placed in the story. After all, if this is not our story, there is no point in our reading it.

So, how do we go about working out a theology of being God's community in 2007 in Beaconsfield? Funny that Jesus never talked about Beaconsfield. But then again, he always talked about Beaconsfield. He talked about being companions, about being on a journey together, about being born of God's love, about loving neighbours, strangers, enemies. All of that is about us, and about this community we are trying to be.

And we have to continually look afresh at our theology and how we go about being church, being community. Kay Goldsworthy put it in terms of "Love which gives all, and holds nothing back" - which is a very active and energetic view of what it means to be a child of God, a community of God. For me, Peter's best summation of it was the mantra he repeated over and over again in his first couple of years here: "Our only responsibility is to live the Gospel" - something which he (wisely) refused to unpack. Wisely, because it is something each of us has to do each and every day as we try to discover what it means.

I was thinking the other day it has been about 12 and a half years since I started worshipping here, and the community has changed enormously. People have come, and gone. The garden has gone through two quite distinct iterations - both beautiful, but utterly different. The memorial garden, which 12 years ago was only a dream, is now a reality. The hall has been transformed by the work of restoration which was done some years ago. Ideas and programs which were in place then have blossomed off in different directions. I think back to the Sparkle group - young children who met together on Friday nights with a couple of parents running a program for them while the other parents went to the pub.

In those days we didn't have grand dinners like we do now, nor did we have a fete each year - and we were part of the Fremantle Parish.

Go back 12 years ago and there was a very real possibility that St Paul's would be closed. Jerusalem was to be destroyed! The end of the world! But now our story looks very different and we have to articulate a different idea of who we are as a community. And don't be afraid of that - it's what we do everyday - theology is simply words about God, trying to understand what it means to be a child of God.

It also raises questions about who, and why, and how, we are the community God has put in this place at this point in time. Still in Luke's mid-point of time. Jesus is forever born in us and in every person. Still we move between the birth, the death and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We are a theological presence in the community, and we are a physical presence in the community. We interact with everything around us, making an impact, and finding that other people and the surroundings have an impact on us.

That confers privilege, and responsibility. The privilege of showing God's love and the responsibility to show God's love. And a responsibility to keep finding how God makes all things new - including the Divine love which we experience and in which we live for others.

Last Sunday, Kay referred to the Honour Roll board, and the effect that losing so many men from the congregation during World War I had on the process of building this church. I want to finish with a few comments about that.

Firstly, of course, the Gospel reading talked about the beautiful stones used in building the Temple, and Jesus' comment that it would all come tumbling down. We know something about walls coming down - we only have to look up there at the cracks and give some attention to the building project we have started on.

And second, that building project is becoming part of our attempt to articulate a new theology for St Paul's. We are choosing not to follow the plans which were drawn up by the community as it was early last century. Rather, we have spent time exploring what expresses the community's life now. Our aim is to meet needs as we see them today and into the future. But we also plan to hand on to the generations who will make up the community years from now an expression of our understanding of what it means to be the community of God at St Paul's in our time.

The community of St Paul's which is still trying to "Live the Gospel" and to "Love, giving all, and holding nothing back".

Amen

Theo Mackay