Toorak Uniting Church

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The message embodied

1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10.15 am, 24 June 2007

30 years Uniting Church, and I don’t know about you, but listening to Gregor Henderson and looking at the video I felt kind of proud to be a member of this Church as it was portrayed in that video. It paints the picture of a faith community that balances a genuine and sincerely profound spirituality with an exceptional track record of service to others, especially in the area of social justice and support of the most vulnerable.

As Toorak Uniting Church, we are part of that larger Australian Church community. One of the local communities Gregor Henderson says are the backbone of that wider Uniting Church. One of the places where the Church gets hands and feet, where the Church becomes the living, breathing body of Christ in the world, living the gospel and working towards the Kingdom in the local context of Melbourne, Australia.

That local Church takes shape through the commitment and effort of many, many individuals over the years, who have, and still are, contributing to it in many different ways. And where the local congregation is the backbone of the wider church, volunteers and all the heart and soul they put into the work of the Church, are in turn, the backbone of that local congregation. Without them the Church would be nothing. Not on the inside, nor towards the outside.

Something well worth celebrating on the day the Uniting Church turns 30!

Over the last few weeks, in preparation for this service, I have heard of many of the special people that have been part of this Church and the special efforts that have taken shape through this Church over the years.

And to name just a few current examples: John McCrae would not be able to run without volunteers, the Kindergarten would not be alive and well today if it wasn’t for countless parents and grandparents who came in for an hour or more to support the staff. The dancing class would not have a formal, the coffee after the Sunday morning service would not happen if it wasn’t for volunteers. Fundraising, support of asylum seekers, pastoral visiting, there are too many things going on to name them all and I think we all know that we can only do what we do because of volunteers.
But not only that, through and from this Church people have gone out into the world and lived the Christ life, giving hands and feet to their faith in many different and often hard situations. Some of them have become famous, others have gone about their business more quietly, to surprise people like me at their funerals with a long list of accomplishments they did not want to be publicly acknowledged in their life time.

When Paul writes about the Church in 1 Corinthians 12 he uses the image of a body. A body where the different parts, the different members, all have their role to play. A body that needs all its parts to function properly and where some of the most inconspicuous parts prove to be more important than those who are more obvious and visible.

It is a great image of how the Church works: People fit into it in many different ways. Some more visibly and audibly present than others, some making big waves and others quietly ticking away without much notice (until they stop ticking that is, because quite often then, suddenly, everything proves to be dependent on just that little thing that nobody had much noticed before).

In one of my previous congregations we had a man who opened the Church gates every Sunday morning. Nobody thought much about it, until he ended up in hospital one morning and nobody could find the key to the gate and we, for the next 6 weeks had to organize the opening of those gates and discovered how great it had been that someone else had got up early to open them for us.

There are countless things like that going on in a Church that make it work. Countless things that in themselves may not be extraordinary or special, but which together, make the functioning of a community that will witness to the gospel in word and deed possible.
Some look after the home base with all the detail that is involved there. Others will go out into the world, at work, to school, volunteering in other settings like hospitals or prisons where they will be able to minister to others because they have been ministered to themselves in this congregation.

And so it all comes together, and goes out again, out into the world, through people who have been nurtured and inspired in this community, who are supported and encouraged through this community, who have been equipped and looked after by this community and because of what others have given them through this community in small quiet ways as well as in bigger, more extraordinary ways are then able to inspire, support, encourage and equip others because of that.

We all play our part in that. Those of us who sometimes feel they virtually live in these buildings as well as those who only come here occasionally to recharge. Together we are the embodiment of Christ in this world, people through whom Christ seeks to take embodied shape, people through whom Christ incarnates, takes on our flesh, our world, to change it for the better, to grow love, peace and justice in it and to bring healing wherever it is needed, inside or outside the Church.

Over the years this Church has done some extraordinary things, in it and through it people have lived out the gospel, inspiring and helping others as they went along. Holding each other and God’s Church together in faith and action, embodying Christ in this world, something we may proudly celebrate today. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2007

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