"Live into hope of captives freed, from chains of fear or want or greed.
God now proclaims our full release to faith and hope and joy and peace." So our last hymn goes.
But what cost this freedom? This freedom is not a hedonistic pleasure-world is it? I mean if youve been following some of the Old Testament readings over the last couple of months this sense of deliverance through anguish, as we saw recounted in Daniel today, has been a fairly consistent theme. These readings speak to us as: "Im staying with you God. Im conspiring with you to be a force for life in this World too .but they just keep wanting to cut me down to size. And I keep dangling out this "love carrot" into the world and all the vested interests who think they stand to lose something when we "share" in love they fight against me. And I keep going back in humility and vulnerability because I have faith."
In recent months, the disciples of the Markan Jesus have been arguing about who is going to climb over whom to get the best place in the hierarchy or, who is going to sit next to Jesus in glory or marvelling at the trappings of self-righteous piety. And Jesus keeps responding "Boys and girls, its not about removing yourself up the hierarchy or which big name you sit next to. Its about mission è going back into the muck and mire and danger of society and telling stories of love and forgiveness and sharing and compassion and giving. And taking the risk that you might just cop it in the neck in the process. Having faith!
But lets look at this mission question further. What is Mission in practice? Is it converting heathens in foreign lands? Is it prostrating ourselves with endless good works? Our administrative assistant at the Mission Planning and Resource Unit shared an amusing story with us some time back. Its about Jesus and some may think its a bit irreverent - its certainly not historically relevant - but its a good yarn and it certainly speaks to me of Jesus sense of mission. It goes like this .
There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
But then there were 3 equally good arguments the Jesus was Irish:
But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a WOMAN:
Now all jokes aside, Jesus divinity was evidenced in his "wholeness." Although it is done in a light-hearted or joking way, somehow this joke tells me something about his "wholeness" or holiness, his loving embrace of all humanity and ultimately his invitation to a better way. Now our Uniting Church vision for mission starts with the words "To risk living the way of Jesus" - to "risk" embracing others and to invite others to embrace others and so on and to build a realm of love in the World
. To build God's realm of love
.. To build the Kingdom. This is what I think mission is. In the Uniting Church our call to mission invites us to worship, witness and serve. What does this mean in respect of "risking living the way of Jesus." I believe it means four things: One - Jesus built relationships - he didn't compel, he invited - and if your invitation is going to be accepted you usually have to relate to the person you are inviting. We have to relate to people. Secondly Jesus translated great truths for his culture or into his culture
..and equally we have to translate scriptures for the cultures in which we find ourselves immersed. Thirdly Jesus searched for the spirit. Through prayer, through worship through quiet time he sought the spirit. We too have to realise that things aren't always worked out through the head - that the heart and soul need space and that churches are the main providers of that space in an increasing harried world. Fourthly Jesus took action
"Give them something to eat." he said.
"Get up let us go forth"
"Proclaim the good news"
"Go into the world"
"Put out, into the deep water and let down your nets"
"Stretch out your hand"
"Shake the dust from your shoes"
"Gather the little children"
"Preach, teach and reveal the glory."
We are quiet good at action too in the Uniting Church. But the key to what I am saying is that mission is not just "action".
It is wrapped up in a whole process of spiritual growth and development .. And in this rapidly changing world we need to have the space and the financial means to find new ways to build relationships, translate the gospel and seek the spirit as well as taking action.
Thats where the Mission Support Fund (MSF) comes in. Just a few snippets of what "the fund is up to":
New Congregation and Faith Development: (Picture) Members of the congregation at St Albans: While areas of the church seem to be in decline, in other areas there are great needs for spiritual succour and facilities are under great stress. Consider for example - St Albans where there is a growing and culturally diverse congregation in a Struggling' neighbourhood BUT it is positioned right beside a burgeoning neighbourhood of aspirational new home owners in places like Burnside and Caroline Springs. There is a need for Mission Planning and the MSF support this.
Tertiary Chaplaincy: - how do we fund the outreach workers who take preaching, pastoral care and a prophetic voice into the schools, agencies, hospitals, correctional centres and commercial enterprises of our society? This is the way we bring "the spiritual" to people in the midst of the everyday existence. The Wodonga Chaplaincy ministry provides a full-time chaplaincy spread across the four campuses of LaTrobe University and Charles Sturt University in Albury, Wodonga and Beechworth. The ministry, though sponsored by the Uniting Church, has been, since its inception, intentionally ecumenical. Currently it provides the only chaplaincy service at all these campuses, and seeks to minister to people of any or no religious background. In total the ministry seeks to serve a full-time student population of about 6000, and a further 1100 general and academic staff. In addition, Charles Sturt University is also Australias largest provider of distance education, and it is not unusual for phone calls and e-mails seeking pastoral support to come from remote regions of Australia, and even overseas.
Cross Cultural Ministry: One third of the Springvale Uniting Church congregation cannot speak English. When its minister Rev Lavingi Tupou visited one of the Cambodian ladies in her flock, the only English she could utter was, "Hello, thank you, and I love God." Ten different nationalities are represented in worship at the Springvale congregation; Cambodians, Taiwanese, Sudanese, Tongans, Sri Lankans, Chinese, South Africans, Anglo-Australians, Samoans, and forty people from the tiny Pacific island of Niue. For Lavingi, cross-cultural ministry is not about speaking the language, but sharing a common heart and a foundation for life. "The depth of faith of these people the Cambodian and Sudanese refugees in particular - has had a profound affect in deepening the faith of the rest of us!" said Lavingi.
Rural and Remote Ministry: How do we continue to provide ministry and mission - in many cases to be the only remaining supportive service - in areas where remoteness/low population density make traditional ministry unsustainable? In partnership with the Presbytery of Tasmania, Frontier Services now operates the Midlands Patrol, based out of Oatlands. It serves three existing congregations in four historic churches and focuses on the many small isolated communities in Tasmania's Midlands. "While many services are pulling out of rural communities it is important that the church cares for these people and offers the life and hope of the risen Christ," said Meg. Megs ministry is supported in part through the Mission Support Fund Grant to the Presbytery of Tasmania. The remainder of the funding for this Patrol is provided by Uniting Churchs Frontier Services.
Justice and Advocacy: The Mission Support Fund allows Justice and International Mission Unit to fund staff who research, comment upon, take action and encourage action from across the Church to address critical societal issues. It helps provide a Christian voice amongst the masses of viewpoints and ensure the views of the isolated, powerless and oppressed are heard. Issues include that opf problem gambling - The Justice and International Mission Unit has worked with the Uniting Church membership to campaign for measures to reduce the harm poker-machines have caused in the Victorian community since their introduction in 1992. The Justice and International Mission Unit also represents the Synod on the Inter-Church Gambling Taskforce. It is estimated that 75,000 Victorians have gambling problems, the majority of which are related to playing the poker machines. Negative impacts of problem gambling on families includes:
Education for Ministry: The Mission Support Fund funds ministry educators who open peoples eyes - both lay and ordained - to the practices, principles and disciplines of our faith - and to the way those things allow us to live fully. It is the way we help people - compelled by their faith - to share that faith with others and continue a cycle of inspiration.
Children and Young people: Western Heights Uniting Church, in Geelong, received a grant from the Mission Support Fund to build on tremendous opportunities for ministry to children and young people. They had the young people, they had programs, great ideas and they had enthusiasm. They just needed someone to pull it all together, build up some team work and co-ordinate their Ministry to Children and Young People. That's where the grant played its part. The result has been the ability to run new programs and strengthen existing ones. One of the greatest changes has been in the building up of enthusiasm and team work among the groups of volunteer leaders associated with the various areas of Children & Young People Ministry...... and enthusiastic leaders lead to great programs. (They are big on team work at Western Heights!!) Some of our areas of ministry and outreach which have developed and grown are :
Activities like these are made possible because of our sharing of our abundance in many ways
through congregational Mission and Service payments, through investment of our funds with UCA Funds Management, through bequests to the Uniting Church and sharing our excess property resources with the Church. I encourage you to explore your own abundance, your own capacity to contribute in these ways and thank you for the ways you have already contributed.