Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 21 May 2017
We’re good at celebrating in Melbourne. We take every opportunity to party. That’s why there are so many festivals in Melbourne: Comedy Festival, Jazz Festival, International Film Festival, Fringe Festival, Writers Festival, White Night, Next Wave Festival etc. If there’s a party we’ll be there.
When our kids were very young we were invited to a party and told bring the kids we’ve got a room set aside. So we rocked up, Lights, rock music, people, good food and wine. We received a warm welcome and shown the kids room where we set up the basinets and the babies just dropped off to sleep and slept through the noise. Meanwhile we joined the party and were having a great time. Then after an hour or two. Joni says to me where’s Jenny? Whose party it was. We asked a few of the people we were partying with, where she was, to no avail, as they’d never heard of her. It slowly dawned on us we were at the wrong party! Jenny’s party which we eventually found was two doors down and was incredibly boring by comparison!
What’s this partying got to do with St Michaels today? Well at the close of this service we’re going to have our AGM, doesn’t sound much like a party does it? But what it does do is celebrate the year past (2016) and given that here we are in a new era we are excited about the future. And this year we’re going to have one fabulous party because we’re celebrating the 150th birthday of this building, and we’ll do that during St Michaels Week (17 – 24 September). Put it in your diary and please please don’t go to the wrong party, because I guarantee that anywhere else will be incredibly boring compared to ours!
And we celebrate big time we celebrate something really special. Because yes we our thankful for the past but most all we are hopeful for the future. And as we look to the future we celebrate our freedom to explore new ways of looking at our faith, new ways of being the church in the City, new ways of using our building, new ways of worship, new conversations, new understandings of multi culturalism and multi faith, new ways of supporting social justice issues and claiming ground for righteousness issues such as sexual equality, and a whole lot of new ways that are going to be so new we don’t even know what they are yet.
That is really exciting and something to celebrate.
I met up with a couple of young blokes this week who were in church last week. They were exploring different churches around Melbourne. It reminded me a bit when I was their age and for some mad reason visited a brethren church. First of all they frowned on me for sitting with my girlfriend and then complained that I smiled too much. You can imagine I didn’t have too much of a future there!!
I continued to search around a bit and found a Methodist Church where the Minister was a good down to earth guy. It was here that I discovered the social justice history of Methodism and I stayed. I promise you that it was only a slight influence that the girls were prettier!
It was from here that I candidate for the Ministry and after all the convoluted process and study was accepted for training into the Methodist Ministry. Remember the day I got the letter. It was truly a high point in my life. It was and still is a fantastic moment to celebrate I was on my way to Theological College, which was going to open up new ways of thinking, and prepare me for a dynamic future in a new and exhilarating church of tomorrow.
BUT what a letdown. The moment I walked into the historic building I knew that the theology had been buried into its history not its future. No celebration here.
Religion was a cross to bear. NO fun. No joy. No challenge. No opening up our faith into the modern world. Line after line of creeds hundreds of years old, bemoaning our sins and calling us to repentance.
I saw no future in it, nor they in me. Then I read a book by a well-known Methodist Minister “The Christian Agnostic” by Leslie Weatherhead. In it Weatherhead pointed out that the Greek word for Repentance was Metanoia…meaning “a change of thinking”. And as I read that book it encouraged me to think outside of the ecclesiastical circle and be open to an ever changing world and theology. It was all too much for that College. I was effectively thrown out but there is a God!!! Another Methodist College with a radical and progressive Principal and staff welcomed me. The Senior Tutor there Dr Dick Jones had just written a book “Towards a Radical Church”…Notice the title of the book….here was movement, celebration, looking to the future. Embodying the great words of Jesus “I am the way the truth and the life”.
Jesus took three of the great basic concepts of Judaism and made the claim that in him all three are found to their full realization.
I had found a chink of light in the darkness. I opened the door in what had been a dark room and light burst in. At last I was on a new and exciting journey. Here was the WAY ahead.
And I’ve been on that road ever since. We all are. This is what I love about St Michael’s we all still share that road. This is what Jesus meant when he said I am the Way. Not the end…the Way an ongoing journey. Jesus used the term a lot. As does the whole of the Old Testament and particularly the Psalmist. The Christian Church was known as the way before it was ever called Christian. Acts 9:2 (Meanwhile Saul was breathing threats against the Disciples. He went to the High Priest asking if he had found any who belonged to the WAY), Acts 19:23. In Ephesus “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the people of the Way.
What did Jesus mean when he said I am the WAY.
Suppose you’re in a strange town and you ask someone the way. Take the first right, second left, straight on a bit then fourth right. The chances are you’ll be lost before you get half way. It’s the same when I ask my kids to tell me something on the computer…The only way to make any sense of these sort of directions is for the person to walk you through it. For example: either walk the streets with you or sit next to on the computer stage by stage.
This then is what Jesus is saying. He is not telling us about the way…he is the Way. This is the greatest teaching method of all…to see it personified.
So what is this way?
Firstly it’s about engaging with a spirit of wisdom. We do that as we adopt a multi-disciplinary strategy. This includes all the insights that have been provided by the bible, theology, science, technology, insights from other faiths and religions, cosmology and history. We embrace them all, for together they bring us to an informed spirit of wisdom.
This is what Professor Joseph Camilleri was referring to in his lecture on Tuesday night when he appealed to us to explore insights from other cultures and religions i.e. inter culturalism. I had a wonderful meeting this week with Imam Nur Warsame, a terrific Muslim cleric with whom I will sharing in some work with and introducing to you.
We have such a wonderful opportunity to do this in Australia with so many nations and cultures including our first people.
We can only find our way if we LISTEN to and follow the tour guide. We don’t just charge into the unknown…get lost and frustrated..we listen to all the voices and experiences around us.
Only then do we have any chance of finding the TRUTH.
Sadly we don’t often find it in the church. The church often pretends that it has the truth and even believes it itself.
There is a legendary Jewish story about the pipe that Moses played as a shepherd that was used to gather his father-in-law’s sheep on the hills of Midian. Over the years the pipe became a relic and revered ….people thought that its structure was too plain causing them to overlay it with gold. Once done the pipe was highly respected, but could no longer serve its purpose…for the gold had made it useless.
I reckon this continues to happen to the truth of the Nazarene peasant who brought a new truth, revolutionary and life changing. But sadly that truth has been distorted by the very people who claim to honour it. They’ve overlaid it with gold and it is now no longer true or fit for its purpose. It’s been overlaid with ritual, pomp, creeds, rules, tradition, and to the ordinary person has become useless and meaningless.
I knew a Bishop in the Anglican Church who told me that in the end he couldn’t stand it anymore. He said all the stuff he did for years which he described as nonsense, he just kept on doing it. Why?
He said: to keep his job, to maintain the heritage of the church and he didn’t know anything else. His greatest regret and I quote “is all the people I have fraudulently preached to, prayed with and encouraged to continue the lie”.
We must continually search for truth. That’s why we read the Scriptures and try to understand them not as some holy writ dropped down from heaven, but as important documents that we need to set in the context of who wrote them why and when.
The same applies to Theology. The understandings of centuries ago have changed and moved and so we need to be informed by modern scholarship and new meanings. The TRUTH not as then but NOW!
The Truth of the Kingdom of God is not that it’s out there in some heavenly paradise, but that it’s here and now with us. A great theologian C.H. Dodd wrote about this and called it Realised Eschatology. He interprets all the parables this way “The Parables of the Kingdom”.
So we continue to search and live the kingdom now. It’s a present reality. And most of all it’s about our present lives.
That is what we celebrate most of all the NOW. It’s our Life NOW.
Remember Jesus’ words “I came to bring life more abundantly” not some promise of a future apocalypse. But LIFE NOW.
It’s such a shame that so many people within the church focus on Jesus’ death and not on his life. This crazy idea that simply accepting an XY and Z formula about Jesus’ person, death and resurrection is what matters…so long as you connect into the correct computer password you get into technology heaven! And not focussing on his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, in his everyday life as he reached out and touched those who had been neglected, ostracised, even hated. Now that is LIFE changing.
In Hebrew the word for “salvation’ means “healing. Wholeness and wellbeing”.
If only the church would get rid of this angry, judgemental, wrathful, blood thirsty God. If only the church could move away from the medieval concept that humans are incapable of anything but sin and evil.
The Greek word used here for LIFE is not the normal word “Bios” meaning mere subsistence. It particularly uses another word “Zoe” meaning “an enhanced quality of life”.
This means that:
1) our life is transpersonal i.e. it not only embraces human person hood but everything else in creation, and that we have no right of mastery or domination that could cause suffering or destruction to the rest of creation
2) That we are committed to transformative living i.e. the choices we make are aimed at fairness and justice
3) The primary dynamic through which everything is developed and sustained is through personal relationships. This is what I call Relational Christianity. And it’s going out of our way as Jesus did to reach out to others many of whom are struggling and stressed and ignored. A smile to the young woman in the Burka, an obvious equal acceptance of the gay man, a touch on the shoulder of the aboriginal elder, a short conversation with the homeless person.
And these are not chores. They are the obvious outworking’s of the Spirit in our lives
Then and only then will the Kingdom of God come alive in us and around us. And the garden will bloom with panoply of colour and vitality.
NOW THAT REALLY IS SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE