Why Bother with the City?

Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 30 April 2017

I have always worked and often lived in cities. London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Nottingham and of course Melbourne. I am excited by cities: their vibrancy, vitality, sheer numbers of people,, buildings, places to enjoy, places to study, to reflect. Art, theatre, music, sport, history, graffiti, unpredictability, their mix of cultures, colours and religions. Varieties of age, sexualities, status, wealth and poverty. Places of hope and places of despair.

I just love cities and right now don’t want to be anywhere else. This city and this church is the place to be.

The text which we are considering today is this from Matthew 26 v. 30. We looked at it last week but considered then just the first half. It is Jesus with his disciples sharing their last meal together remember “When they had sung a hymn” signifying Jesus commitment to sharing a religious ceremony as very very important. That’s why last week, we thought about why we bother with the church. Well this week we pick up the second half of that verse” They went out into the Mount of Olives”. He didn’t stay in the comfort and pleasurable environment round the table. He didn’t say “let’s open another bottle of wine, this is growing into a pretty good night together”… NO … “He went out into the Mount of Olives”. A not very pleasant part of the city. It was the burial ground of Jerusalem, where there was always activity, It was literally a place of life and death, people coming and going, but set in what might be described as the rough end of town. Remember it’s only very recently when Jesus entered Jerusalem and when in the Mount 0f Olives we’re told “He wept over the city”. This echoes Ann Findlay’s thoughts in carrying the staff her “concern for the wider community”.

Cities have been central the history of faith. Remember where the church was born and grew: Jerusalem and then on to Corinth, Ephesus, Phillipi, Collosae, Thessalonica, and Rome. Cities were chosen by the disciples because they had large numbers of people, they were central to the trade routes; they were safer because it was easier to hide and the cosmopolitan nature of them enabled the message to reach a whole range of different cultures.

Let’s fast forward to 2017. Here we are in this perfect city location. This year we celebrate 150 years of this building and on this site since 1839. Those before us were very wise in choosing this site….for it gives us a fabulous position and resource from which to exercise our ministry. So as we have been here for a long time let’s commit our church to being here for another 178 years. That being the case, what’s our role or our function. WHY are we here?

As we consider that we will reflect that there may not be anything new in the headings, but surely there must be new in how we go about interpreting those central messages. We need to re-invent our church, indeed all churches, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Consider how cinemas have done that over the last 20 years or so. Cameo Belgrave.

We need to get into the mood or the mode of the city.

When I’m at the farm at weekends my whole life dramatically changes. Is it because I’m in old clothes? Is it because I’m fixing fences, or cleaning drains, or shovelling poo or any one of the many mundane tasks associated with pretending to be a farmer. No it’s because my whole daily clock changes. You see when the clocks go back or forward, Joni insists that whilst we humans can accommodate that, the horses clock stays the same. Their feeding time, exercise time etc. can’t be altered simply by a man made time adjustment. So we have “horse time” which is completely different to the time on my watch or phone. We get into the whole of life being dominated by horses. Horse mode.

Now think about this in terms of our church’s life in the city. We need to get into the mode of the city. Don’t think about the church. Think about the city. As I get dragged into “Horse time” so must we get into “city time”.

So with that in mind let’s consider what we’re HERE for. Let’s consider our role or functions:

  • Teaching Function

I believe that education is vital to individual and community understanding. I haven’t got to tell you that it can change lives.

I think this applies to our church’s role in the city. We need to break open the level of ignorance that exists outside the church as to what we believe. I’m fed up with the so called “Christian Lobby” purporting to represent Christianity and making stupid statements on my behalf on such issues as Marriage equality, divorce, abortion etc. The problem is that when the community (even the politicians of all persuasions) hear this they generally accept it as the view of the church. Well it’s not the view of this church and as long as I’m in this pulpit it never will be.

WE have a very important role to educate the city on a non-literal understanding of the Bible, on what Holy Communion is and what it is not, what our attitude towards other faiths is, what is prayer, what is heaven or hell and what we believe about who we or they call God. This is both big and basic stuff. But it needs to be done and we’ll have a crack at it.

  • Healing Function

This is very close to our St Michael’s hearts. In Mingary we do this everyday day. Healing has been central to the work of the church for centuries. Hospitals owe their beginning to the church.

We need to re look at this as far as St Michaels is concerned. How can we develop our counselling services? I addressed the new graduates at The Cairnmillar Institute in this church on Thursday and reminded them about all the stress that people in the city face every day. People in the big corporations at the top end of town and people at the bottom. And very importantly people working at the bottom end of town. People working with people who are homeless, people working in prisons, people every day facing the stress of working in residential care of those who seriously mentally or physically sick.

Let’s think about all these people and consider how we can bring healing peace.

  • Compassion Function

This about showing that we care.

There are people in need every day in this city. From hopeless homeless to suicidal executives. People in transit. People on holiday. People lost. People facing shock. People high on drugs and low on self-esteem. People bewildered. Bereaved. Victims of domestic violence and people of all ages being sexually abused or just being ignored.

Let’s just take some time to consider how we demonstrate that we really do care. Let’s use our premises effectively to show that. Let’s partner with not for profit organisations. Let’s really work side by side with other organisations and people of good will. This has never been easy for the church over the centuries, as it has always taken a rather superior position and demanded its own priorities first.

Well what we have to do is to learn to live in pluralistic society. This was spelled out by Dutch Theologian Visser t’Hooft. He says that to enable the church to work in this partnership or pluralistic mode:

1 There must be liberty for all parties to express their convictions

2) Dialogue is the way to truth and the method of proclamation

3) There must be a seeking for common agreed objectives with all parties, even those whose beliefs are farthest removed from our own.

The church must not demand a privileged position but acknowledge pluralism which means we do stuff side by side, together, not alone

  • Community Function

There is a vital and constant need for the church always to respond to its internal and external community.  Well we’re the internal community, the church and out there is the external community, the city…it’s all around us.

Visser dHooft claims that only then can we create ‘Shalom”, the peace of god.

Where do we start? We’’ let’s take a look at what’s already happening and piggy back on to that. Let St Michaels be an integral part of all the community and arts festivals. 

Let’s see if we can play a significant role in:

The Melbourne Festival, White Night, Victorian Opera, Melbourne Music Week, Melbourne Jazz festival, Melbourne Comedy Festival, National Science Week, NAIDOC Week, Melbourne Knowledge Week, Melbourne International Film Festival, Human Rights Festival, Melbourne Fringe, Victorian Seniors Festival, and National Volunteers Week.

Let’s connect with a whole lot of community themes:

The opening of Parliament, Remembrance Day, Horses Birthday, Pets celebration, Buddha’s birthday, Purple day, Opening of the Footy Season, Grand Final Parade etc etc.

Let’s celebrate. Let’s see some joy and light shining from St Michael’s into Melbourne blackness. Let’s have some fun.

There’s a shop in a Bourke street Mall called the Glow shop. I’m not exactly sure what it sells. It might be a tanning place. But I want this church to a Glow Church shining its happiness and joy across the city.

  • Righteousness Function

Historically the church has spoken out and fought for Human Rights and Social Justice Issues. It was the church that fought

And succeeded in abolishing slavery. It was the church with Rev. Martin Luther King who fought for racial equality in USA. It was the church and Bishop Desmond Tutu with Father Trevor Huddlestone who fought for the end of apartheid in South Africa. It is the church still battling and facing martyrdom in South America, parts of Asia, still in Africa, fighting for human rights and freedom.

St Michaels can lead the way in Melbourne on a whole range of issues, from Marriage equality to safe injecting rooms from climate change to aboriginal rights, from refugees to animal cruelty.

We can open and participate in conversations at the highest level to achieve change.

Let’s bring opposing views together in the safety of a church to ensure that people are heard and understanding is increased.

WE have a Teaching function, a Healing Function, a Compassion function, a Community function and a Righteousness function.

The prime concern of the church is to change society. The purpose of mission or you might say our function is to create a society where freedom and responsibility is possible for all men and women.

The Athenians had an oath for someone who was about to become a citizen. They had to swear the following: “I shall leave the city not less but more beautiful than I found it”

So should we in being the church in the city.

For us to be authentic we must be a pioneering pilgrim community reaching out into the Mount of Olives, our city. We have a message to proclaim and action to fulfil. We need to stand up for our faith and put it into action in some of the ways I’ve been talking about.

Let’s do it.

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