Toorak Uniting Church

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Called to trust

Genesis 12 : 1 – 9   Romans 4: 13 – 25   Matthew 9: 9 – 13
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8 June 2008

On Thursday night Professor Jim Bowler opened our latest exhibition in Kinross house called "Common Ground". Professor Bowler was the geologist who found, in 1969 Mungo lady and, 5 years later, Mungo man.

As professor Bowler explained to us on the night those were momentous discoveries for Australian geology, Australian history as well as for the rights of indigenous people and their identity all leading to Bruce Thomas going up to Lake Mungo and taking the breath taking photographs that are now in Kinross house.
He went on to say that in hindsight, after 40 years of publishing, lecturing and further researching the site he had more and more come under the spell of the spirituality of the place and of the discovery. A layeredness of meaning he did not and could not understand. Much more had happened than the discovery that the heart of Australia once was a lush green paradise, much more had happened than pushing back the beginning of Australian history 40.000 years by picking up what looked like a stone until the human jaw bone dropped off the bottom of it and it became clear that this were human remains, much more even than a new recognition of how ancient indigenous culture really was and the right of the people of the land to their culture and their history, somewhere in all of that something came together that was much deeper and went much further than science.
One of the aboriginal elders said it like this: "It wasn’t you Jim that found mungo man, he found you".
It is this mystery Jim Bowler is still chewing over 40 years later and writing a book about, as his daughter, in her own way (and she may come to talk to us about that some time in the near future).
How did Jim Bowler, geologist by profession, decide when he picked up a bone fragment on the shores of Lake Mungo one sunny afternoon that he would keep bothering Canberra archeologists until, months later, they decided to come and have a look?
He does not know.

How did Abraham decide he had to pull up stakes, leave Haran and go? How did Matthew decide to leave his tax booth and follow Jesus? Why?

Because something or somebody nudged them.

How do I know God is talking to me? asked someone earlier this week who is trying to decide where to go with her life. Jesus must have had so much natural authority to get Matthew to do that said a colleague I was on a course with later on in the week.

Why else would anybody in their right mind take the decisions they did? Why did Abraham make this leap in the dark? Why did Matthew leave a profitable job to follow a poor rabbi?
Why did Jason Kioa’s father plant a Mango tree he would never enjoy the fruits off? Why did I come to Toorak for a three months supply job where I could have taken the offer of a permanent job in one of the big hospitals in Melbourne, doing palliative care, something I had always loved doing so much?

It is far too simple to answer that question with "it was faith", or "God spoke", or even "it was God’s will" or "God’s call". Even though it was all of that and even though that is the answer Scripture gives us. God spoke to Abraham and he went. Jesus speaks to Matthew and he follows. The Word of God breaking into two situations where two people, each in their own way, are stuck in barrenness and imprisonment. In a situation where there is no life for them, no growth, no ongoing and developing relationship with God, where their situation is stagnant and devoid of fruitfulness.
But it is more. Because if it wasn’t it would be so easy to say: "I can’t hear anything, so God is apparently not speaking to me, and although I am really sorry about that, I have to assume I am alright where I am.
And that would, my brothers and sisters in Christ, be far too easy.

Because those stories in the Bible are never stories to be read, gawked at and discarded as irrelevant for our lives. They are there because they are every man and woman’s story. All the way from Mungo man 40.000 years ago walking the shores of the lake to us, here in the 21st Century trying to find our way and walk with God.

God calls Abraham. How exactly he went about that we will never know. I doubt it was a voice in the night, but even if it was, there Abraham being a human being like you and me, must have had his moments of doubt with that voice, his struggle, his questions.
God calls Matthew. Jesus drops by and says: "Follow me". There is no way Matthew would have followed though if he had not been ready for it, had there not been some disquiet about where he was and what he was and a desire for change.
God called Jason Kioa. Not to be our next moderator, but to pick up a Bible in a prison cel and make a silly promise. I didn’t ask him, but I am sure he will have wondered afterwards if this deal with God was really providence or just coincidence he interpreted as something different to make it something it never was.
God called me to Toorak. When I told the story to someone with a fairly secular mind and a lot of common sense they asked me why on earth I would call a chain of coincidences God. And of course, sometimes, and especially when you lot are giving me a hard time, I wonder if I got it all wrong. If it is make belief and puffing myself up to being something I am not. Maybe I am.

But Abraham was called and somehow his journey with God grew into another journey with God and one thing led to another and 6000 or more years later we are here, reading his story and wondering if and where God might be calling us. I don’t think Abraham imagined for one minute that would happen all those years ago.

And Matthew was called, and somehow he found his way into the movement that remained true to Jesus’ teaching and wrote them down afterwards. A gospel was named after him. And I am quite sure he never thought that would happen when he got up and followed Jesus to a party of other tax collectors and sinners.
And God knows what my journey will lead to in the long run. So far it has been pretty amazing, I can tell you that.

And God knows what your journey may lead to in the long run.

There is one catch though: Neither Abraham nor Matthew stayed where they were. And nobody in scripture who is anybody stay where they are. For God’s life giving promise to take shape, for God’s call to become reality in anybodies life, they have to move. They are asked to let go, to abandon, to take risks, to leave the comfortable and familiar behind for something completely new and different. The are asked, or even, perhaps compelled is a better word to use, to respond and begin to move.

The way I see it this congregation is at a cross roads. And that means we, as its members, are also at a cross roads. Either we move into unknown and unfamiliar territory and follow where God calls us to go, or we don’t. Either we pull up stakes like our father Abraham did, in faith, or we stay barren. Either we leave what gave us security and follow the one who abandoned all security for the love of God, or we stay stuck. The choice is ours. God is nudging, but it is up to us to respond, in faith, to that nudging.
How we do that? I am not sure. What shape it will take? I really don’t know.

What I know is that 30 years ago I started studying theology knowing full well I could never become a minister because I was born a woman but that somehow via three Universities I ended up in a place where they would have me. That in 1995 I left the ministry convinced that I would never return to it again because there was just too much I did not understand about my call. And that 8 years later someone convinced me I had to go back. That I was nearly appointed as a minister for palliative care in St. Vincents hospital but decided in a split second of irresponsible and unexplainable madness that I would go and work in Toorak Uniting Church as a supply instead.

I am sure it means something. I don’t know what. And perhaps it is just a flight of fancy and a chain of coincidences. What I do know that it has brought me closer to God, shown me what Jesus’ way is clearer and that it has brought life, to me and to others around me. Not always though and not always clearly. It is not as simple as that, and I am sure it wasn’t as simple as that for Abraham or Matthew either. Abraham had a long way to go marked by failure and fragility. Matthew’s first port of call is a party of sinners and the righteous raising their eyebrows over his new found master. "From the fire into the frying pan!" he must have thought. First I am looked down upon because I am a tax collector and now I am looked down upon because I follow this rabbi. Not much improvement really, and it would get worse.

What is clear though is that both Abraham and Matthew grow into the bigger movement of the journey of God with his people, that they become part of God’s plan, because they dare to do what Jason told us about his father last week: They dare to go and do, dare to go and imagine, dare to go and hear the voice of God coming through all the layers and layers of other stuff that is happening in their life and the world around them and trust what may not be that unambiguous to everybody else: The presence of God and his voice calling them to go places with him and leave behind what is barren, unfruitful and holding them captive.

I call you to do the same.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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