Toorak Uniting Church

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Beyond Technology

1 Samuel 17: 38 – 49     2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 6: 2     Mark 4: 35 – 41
Rev. Dr Robin Boyd
24 June 2000

2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2
"As we work together, we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain . . . . See, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!"

  1. I feel greatly privileged to be invited to share in this series in which some of your past ministers have come back to help you celebrate 125 years of the Church in this place. And I recall some of the special memories. The personal ones, of course, when I arrived here in 1974 to join Frances, Elizabeth and Clare, who had preceded me to Australia, and began a new life in this place. Coming straight from India, it was perhaps the most severe culture shock I have ever had! Then six very happy years of family life under one roof in what is now the John Macrae Centre. Later on there were two weddings. And after seven years in Ireland and seven at Wesley Church in the city, we returned here, and were here when Frances died. We celebrated her life in this place.

    And it gives me great pleasure that recently when I brought my wife Anne here she came not as a stranger but as part of the family because of her sister-in-law Margaret Forrester's memorable ministry among us here.

    And I think of other things. Of scraping chocolate Lamingtons off the then uncarpeted floor of the Faichney Room at about one o'clock in the morning after a Youth Group Lamington Drive. Of building sand castles to resist the tide at a Family Camp at Inverloch. Of driving with Frances and Andre Top to Sydney for the inauguration of the Uniting Church in 1977. Of Toorak Encounter in 1976, when, with friends from the other Toorak Churches, we rang every doorbell in the 3142 postal district. I think of the support we received from this congregation when for seven years we lived in Ireland, and worked for reconciliation at the Irish School of Ecumenics. I think of the excitement of watching the new organ take shape; and of how it has been played to the glory of God ever since. I think of the volume of praise and prayer which goes up from this place. For all that I thank God.

  2. This has been a bad week for the Church. I personally have been deeply grieved and hurt by the reports about Wesley Central Mission, where I worked - very happily - for the last seven years of my active ministry. The Anglican Church is sorely divided between its liberal and evangelical wings. The image of the Roman Catholic Church has been badly tarnished by stories of sexual abuse, and by a culture of secrecy. Is Christianity discredited? Or are we still guardians of a faith that can change the world? Our lectionary passages from the Old Testament and the Gospel - David and Goliath, and the stilling of the storm - may help us to answer that question.

  3. In my study, stuck with bluetack to the side of a filing cabinet, I have a cartoon of David and Goliath. Goliath is very large - ten feet tall - and very menacing- And David is very small - a boy in a short tunic, a headband and sandals, with a sling in his hand. And Goliath is saying kindly, "Shouldn’t you be at home writing psalms?" What a big error of judgment!

    This is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. There are certainly some difficulties about the story as we have it. In chapter 16 David is already on the staff of King Saul, and is his battle-hardened armour-bearer. But in chapter 17 he is back to being a boy, and has to explain to Saul how, as a shepherd, he has been able to fight successfully with lions and bears. However, the main thrust of the story is clear - and it isn’t just a glorification of David as a great hero. It’s really about the power of God - power which has been challenged by this giant Philistine. Goliath has invited the Israelites to choose a champion to meet him in single combat, with the fate of the whole people depending on the outcome of that one to one fight.

    Goliath’s equipment is described in some detail - bronze helmet, chain mail, and a massive spear. And King Saul does his best to equip David for the task, with his own "state of the art" helmet, coat of mail and sword. But it’s far too clumsy and heavy for David. All he wants is his sling: he knows he’s a good shot. But David’s real armament isn’t his sling. He goes in the strength of God. "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel". And what David says and does is an act of witness, "that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel; and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s". David is not saying, "This will be a victory for appropriate technology". He is saying, "The just and holy God is with us, and we are with God. So why should we be afraid?" David’s resources go beyond technology.

  4. The story of the storm on the lake of Galilee in Mark 4 is another very familiar one, which must early have become a favourite one in a Church surrounded by waves of persecution and suffering. (And let us remember today the fierce persecution being suffered as we sit here by the Christian Church in the Maluku islands in Indonesia, and especially in Halmahera, where our President elect, Dr James Haire, worked for many years)

    Jesus had been teaching the crowd - teaching them from a boat moored just off the shore. Now it’s evening, and he makes a decision: "Let’s go across to the other side". And what was on the other side? It was Gentile territory, the land of the Gerasenes. He wasn’t saying, "Let's go over and have a rest" – No: he was proposing a missionary venture, in hostile, non-Jewish territory. And what preparation does he make for it? None at all! Even though it’s the evening, even though he has nothing with him except the clothes he stands up in - Mark says deliberately "just as he was" - without picking up food or equipment or warm clothes, or even going ashore. Jesus is on a missionary expedition, on a cross-cultural venture- But he sets off without fear, fully convinced that he is on God’s mission, and so he can lie down in the stern of the boat and go off sleep. It’s God’s mission and he and his companions are in God’s hands. No technology apart from a wooden boat! Jesus is the mission. Wherever he is, mission takes place.

    And then the storm. The boat begins to fill, and the disciples are scared stiff, afraid they will be drowned. They’re angry too - angry with this leader who seems to have forgotten all about them. So they waken him. We don’t know how he did it, but the disciples - and the Church - were convinced that Jesus quelled the storm. His words in the Greek are very blunt, "Shut up! Get muzzled!" And suddenly there was a great calm And to his friends he said, "Why were you afraid? Haven’t you learnt to trust me yet?" And now they really were scared: "What kind of person is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him". The big question is no longer "Is the boat going to sink?", but, "How can we make sure that we stay close to this person Jesus?" They are caught up, with Jesus, in God’s mission to the world

  5. In both these stories - David and Goliath, and the Stilling of the Storm - there is a remarkable disregard of technology. David doesn’t need Saul’s heavy armour, because God is with him – "the battle is the Lord’s" - and so the sling and stones will be sufficient. Jesus doesn’t worry about preparation, even though he is going into alien territory. He is on God’s mission, crossing to the other side, and so he can sleep soundly. If the disciples had really trusted him and his mission, then they too would have been unafraid.

    The point that emerges so strongly from both the stories is this: however important the medium may be, the message is far more important. And the message is a personal one it’s about a person: for David it was about the God of Israel; for the disciples it’s about Jesus. The most important thing for a Christian - and for the Christian Church - is not the technology: it’s Christ: it’s about being "in Christ". In those words we read from 2 Corinthians 5, "If anyone is in Christ then a new creation happens, and the world becomes new".

  6. Technology! I remember the days at TUC when everything had to be duplicated, and woe betide you if something went wrong with the ink tube. I rejoice in computers and email and the internet. I am grateful to David Hodges for drilling me on the importance of the Church Calendar, and of having the principal dates well and truly fixed a year or more in advance. I am no Luddite, no opponent of technology. Indeed I rather enjoy it. Let's use it, by all means. And it is good that TUC is keeping abreast of technology, and especially good that we now have our own website, and that it is attracting many visitors. That is as it should be. But what worries me is that you can't watch commercial television for fifteen minutes without realising that marvellous technology can be used to get across totally trivial and worthless messages: sometimes indeed dangerous and corrupting messages. So what is our message as Christians in the 21st century?

  7. If I had my six years here again, what would I concentrate on? When I was here I certainly did try to deal with the major Christian concerns - justice, peace, the mission of the Church, the unity of Christians, practical service of those in need, the importance of right relationships between people. I would still want to speak of all those things. But above all I would want to speak of Jesus, that young man from Nazareth without whom the whole Christian enterprise collapses, however sophisticated its technology. Jesus in his birth, his life, his teaching, his love, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his continuous presence with us in the power of the Spirit.

    And I wouldn’t so much want to speak of following Jesus as of living in Jesus. We are the people of Christ. For 125 years the Gospel has been preached in this building, Sunday by Sunday. Are we really living in Christ? In the words of our text in 2 Corinthians 6 Paul says to the Corinthians, "I want to make sure that the grace you received has not gone missing, has not been in vain. Because that grace means ‘salvation’, wholeness of life. And it needs to be experienced now: Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." . . . . . . But "grace" isn’t something material, separate, like life-giving water, or health-giving medicine, or even shock-giving electric power. No. "Grace" is our relationship with Christ, our gracious, loving, forgiving Friend. Grace is Christ himself At the end of the service when the minister pronounces the Benediction, and prays for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with the people, he means, "May you know Jesus and live in him, and be enveloped in his love."

  8. I count it a great privilege to be an ordained minister - a minister of Word and sacrament. My basic job is to help people to encounter Christ. In the Uniting Church - as in all Churches - that happens through the reading and preaching of the Word and through the sacraments. In the words of our Basis of Union, "Christ is present when he is preached among us". That means that Christ is present with us now, at this moment. And when, in faith, we receive communion, we receive Christ himself, the Christ who died to set us free from sin and evil.

    When we come to Church, we do not come just to meet each other, pleasant as that is. We do not come simply to pray for all those who need God's help - important as that is. We do not come simply to increase our commitment to justice, peace, unity and mission vital as those all are. We come to meet with Christ, to hear him speaking to us, to feel his power - the power of his Spirit: to rejoice in his love; to know his forgiveness; and to respond to his love in our praise, to the glory of God. Why do we come to Church? We come to meet with Christ; and through him to give our lives to God in praise and service. Everything else is secondary to that. And while technology may provide us with the context for this encounter, it can never provide us with the content. The content is Christ.

And to Christ’s name be glory.

© Rev. Dr Robin Boyd, 2000

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