Oh whatevs!

This is the text of my ministry message for the monthly newsletter for Kaniva and Serviceton Shared Ministry.

You all know that I once worked as a school teacher, and I know that many of you have done so too. In fact several of you still do. One of the questions I was often asked by my pupils was whether they would use this skill or topic as adults; a sometimes tricky question to answer. I suppose it depends upon what sort of adult the child would become and what sort of job he or she would have. I have made use of most subjects I learned at school primarily because I then went on to teach them; that‘s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy I guess. But Algebra in umpiring football: 6g+b=t (when g is number of goals, b is number of behinds, and t is total score), Syntax and Grammar in writing, reading, and preaching, and History and Geography in background to preaching have all come in handy at various times. Right now I‘m learning to read the New Testament in Greek, which I hope will be useful in study and not just as a distraction during this incarceration.

So imagine this situation: You‘re at ministry college in 2009 where you are learning to be a pastor and in your Preaching unit an assignment question reads Your Congregation is unable to meet on Sundays due to a pandemic, how do you continue to provide worship and instruction to a dispersed and homebound congregation? My first response would probably have been the title of this. Oh whatevs! as if that‘s gonna happen in Australia! My written response, much more respectful (and Distinction grade worthy), would probably have been something about home visitation for communion with shut-ins, emails with Bible study links, lots of Facebook posts, and regular updates of the church blog. Or maybe that‘s hindsight: in 2009 there was no thought about churches having their own YouTube channel (unless they were Hillsong), and a pastor could not assume that everyone in his congregation had access to the Interwebs anyway, even email.

Primary School prepares us for the wider world, and the world of the future, by teaching us basic skills which can be implemented and connected in new ways. Some of these connections are made at Secondary School, others in University (or TAFE), and others by experience in the world. I was never specifically taught how to minister in a global pandemic, and my plan above is unworkable because I am expressly forbidden from visiting you in your home with communion. We do not have a church blog, but while we do have a church Facebook page not all of you are online to read it. But college did equip me with skills to manage (and thrive) in this situation and I am honestly excited at the opportunity to see Church done in this new way. You also have been equipped for this, if you‘re ready, by the discipleship that Christ himself has been guiding you through in the past days and decades. Like homeschooling where we do not expect kids to sit at the kitchen table for six hours a day as if they were at school (an hour each of literacy, numeracy, reading, and home-cooking is probably enough) there is no expectation that you take hours today to do church stuff. What matters most to Christ, and to me, is that you are learning to love him and to follow him. Spend time with your Bible, use the notes I have prepared if they help or don‘t; spend time in prayer, again follow the KSSM plan or not; walk in your garden, or around the block, or a lap of the wetlands and enjoy Creation; drink good coffee and eat your favourite biscuits at 10:35 each morning; be a child of God who is also a woman or man of faith.

It seems likely that we will not be gathering as congregations until September, that will be six months of household worship (Acts 16:31). I pray that you can use this time to explore your faith and your hope in God in quietness and solitude with Christ. Not everyone is an introvert like me, so quietness might be uncomfortable for you; but that‘s okay because Christianity is a social religion and we are supposed to do it in groups. So please do get on the phone, or the social media, and share what you‘ve found about God.

It‘s April, and that means it‘s Easter. Today (if you‘re reading this new) is Palm Sunday, next week is Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday. Then its seven weeks until Pentecost, (so you‘ll need to wear a purple top today, white thereafter, and red on 31st May, white on 7th June, then green), and who knows how long after that until we can gather. I encourage you to make use of the lectionary New Testament readings from Acts; they tell the exciting story of the Christians from the week after Jesus‘ ascension until the raising up of the second and third generations. Maybe we, like them, are pioneering a new way of being the Body of Christ in the dispersion. I look forward to the day when we can gather as one once more.

Damien.

Loving God, loving others, in a time of Covid.

In adherence to the federal (Australia) and state (Victoria) government requests for places of worship to close and religious gatherings to cease for a period of time while the nations seek to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 I sent this pastoral letter to my congregations.  It was to be read by them in their homes on Sunday 29th March alongside a brief liturgy as detailed within the letter.

Good morning Church,

Well, here we all are at home: we’re not quite in lock-down yet and you are free to leave at any time (just don’t go west because there’s a Border Patrol). The Church is still very much active in the World, Australia, Victoria, Kaniva and Serviceton, (Commercial Street East and Baker Street, Elizabeth Street and Kent Street). Whether it is active in any other street is up to you I guess.

I am writing to you today with excitement and with confidence. Our God is good, “large and in charge” one of my ministry friends recently reminded me, and speaking with an eye on pathology our shire is currently Coronavirus free. Praise be to God, and thanks be to everyone who has been diligent in hand washing and in practising social distancing.

I assure you as your pastor: this is not the apocalypse.

God has not sent Covid-19 on the world as a punishment for your sin, my sin, their sin, China’s sin, or America’s immorality. Our reading from John 9 last week makes it clear that whatever happens it happens for the glory of God. If anyone in Kaniva or Serviceton becomes ill with Covid-19 it will be because of a lack of personal hygiene and not because of a lack of personal (or national) righteousness. Australian Christians are not under attack by Australian non-Christians, nor by our governments (state and federal), nor by the dark forces of the hellish realms. We are holding off from gathering on Sunday for a month until such time as we know that people won’t catch each other’s bugs through proximity.

If you saw the Facebook edition of my sermon from last Sunday, delivered outside at Serviceton Recreation Reserve, carna Leeor Bombers, you will have read me writing that “as The Church it is vital that the local Christians get out of their buildings and be the people of God in their communities”. To some extent this directive needs to wait, we are supposed to be practising social distancing so please lay-off the door-to-door evangelism at least until the end of April. (Having said that, anyone who wishes to drop off biscuits at the manse may place them on the white table on the porch, ring the doorbell, and then leave.) But we do have an opportunity as local churches to reset our minds, rethink our ministries, and lead the world in showing practical kindness and social responsibility. In April 2020 that looks like listening to government directives and adjusting to life without the weekly gathering of the congregations; and also being people of integrity and honour in staying away from other social gathering places while the nation practices this short period of quarantine.

My prayer for all of us over April is that we may use this time as a season of refreshing. You will be receiving a weekly worship letter with suggestions of songs and prayers to use on Sunday morning in place of gathering, and a short homily from me. Please make use of it, as well as your own prayer and devotional materials. Put on your worship CDs (or Spotify), read your Bible, spend time praying and just listening to God, sit in your own garden and smell Creation, walk around the Wetlands (leaving at least two metres behind/before other pedestrians) and imagine Jesus walking with you. And by all means ring me for a chat if you’d like.

It was reported last weekend that with social distancing and home isolation taking place in Europe and China that pollution is receding: the smoggy skies above Beijing and Paris are clearing, and the waters of Venice lagoon are too. Stiller waters has equalled cleaner environments. Perhaps a month of solitude in (with) our saviour might do the same in our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and I daresay bodies too. Again, let’s make the most of our enforced quietness and worship The LORD who has saved all of Creation and is shaping a New Creation.

Above all Church, in a world where we can’t find toilet roll and hand sanitiser at Doyle’s, and no-one may go to Bordertown without a visa, don’t hoard peace. Don’t hoard hope, don’t hoard grace, don’t hoard joy. Ring your friends, meet for coffee in small groups in large spaces (support the take-away food shops and eat in the park). There is more than enough of God for you, be generous in sharing the good news.

And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds secure in the knowledge of his grace. So let the blessing of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon you now and abide with you always. Amen.

Love in a time of Coronavirus

This is the text of the message I preapred for Serviceton Shared Ministry for Sunday 22nd March 2020.  This was the week when COVID-19 restrictions really hit home in Australia.  Shops were denuded of many basic essentials, and indoor, public gatherings of people had to ensure at least four square metres of floor space per person.  For this reason many church services were cancelled, and ours moved outside to the local football oval.

Psalm 23

 Well, here we are at the footy ground.  I didn’t see this coming and I dare say none of you did either when we gathered to worship last week at the Church of Christ building.  Some of our cohort are in isolation, parents and grandparents to some of you, friends to everyone here.  Others are unable to be here because of the need for us to meet outside, or because of the need to care for family in other parts of South Australia and Victoria.

You may or may not be blessed by the news that the message I had prepared for you, for today, was seven pages long.  Truth!  I think it’s a good word, it’s certainly a solid word, and in view if the quote I have presented previously from Joyce Meyer it is certainly a “now” word even as it also seems to be a “new” word.  The new thing isn’t always relevant, the previous thing and the old paths aren’t always redundant.  Perhaps today those of you who were once Methodist might recall that John Wesley often spoke outdoors to crowds, either when the local parish chapel was too small, or too small-minded, to allow for the now word of God.

The message I have for you, which is the message I had and which you will get when the time is better suited, is that as The Church it is vital that the local Christians get out of their buildings and be the people of God in their communities.  In this past week the Bishops Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia has decreed that there is to be no indoor worship in any Catholic Church until this pestilence is passed.  The Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army (Australia Territory) has sad something similar about Salvo citadels and Sundays, indeed the Kaniva Corps met outside this morning.  Many Anglican diocese have made a similar call, not all of them, and not the one encompassing the West Wimmera; and the Uniting Church Synods of Queensland and NSW/ACT have done so too, but again not the Synods of SA or Vic-Tas.

I do not believe that God sent this Coronavirus on the world to get the Christians to worship at footy grounds: however, the virus does exist and so to do footy grounds, so let’s make the most of it and worship The LORD and proclaim Christ Crucified publicly and openly.  It is Lent after all; Resurrection Day is in 21 days’ time.

So what is to be said on such a day.  Sadly it is just family today, there’s no one to lead to The LORD in a lifegiving way, all of you are saved enough as you are.  Well we can all do with more of Jesus, no matter how much of him you have (or perhaps more importantly how much of you he has), but the point remains, no one here is looking for a saviour because everyone here has found him.  Everyone over there hasn’t, but then they’re over there today.  Our project is to get ourselves over there asap, and to get there with the message of Love in a Time of Coronavirus.  So, don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased to be here with my brothers and sisters in Christ today: but I’d dearly love it if we could have added new siblings this morning.

The news for us, and for the world, whether you have been hoarding toilet-paper, or Glen-20, or Dettol Handwash, or whether you have been generous in your caring and sharing for sibling and neighbour, is that God is with us.  I mean look at us, here, doing church.  Carlton and Richmond played to nobody at all at the MCG on Thursday night, Collingwood and Western Bulldogs had zero spectators at Docklands on Friday.  But come to Leeor Footy ground at twenty-five to midday on a Sunday and wa-hey!

Seriously, I love what today’s lectionary reading has for us in the Psalm.  My original sermon for today focussed on the other three readings so it’s a bit of a delight to be able to hold them over for later and to just sit with our Shepherding lord beside those cool waters and in the sweet grass.

As I was writing this message yesterday I had a new App playing on my phone.  I say “playing” because it’s called “Calming” and is has mindfulness and reflective tracks on it, as well as sleepy and soothing background noise, and other stuff.  So anyway I was a bit stressed, having to redo my sermon and think about how to preach at a footy ground, so the soothing sound of “Mountain Book in Flood” was a wonderful background.  Except that it took me four hours to write these three pages because I had to keep getting up for a wee!!  Twinkle, twinkle, trickle…  But even with that the calm waters did cause stillness in my soul, even as it played havoc with my bladder reflexes.  My shoulders relaxed, my jaw relaxed, my eyes opened a bit wider as the tension soothed away and the aahh! set in.  In Psalm 23:3 we are reminded that this is one of the works of the Shepherd, he restores my soul.  Again I don’t believe God sent Coronavirus to make us all lay down, but the fact that we have had to lay down has meant for example that the skies above Beijing and Paris are clearing, and the waters of Venice lagoon are too.  Stiller waters has equalled cleaner environments.  God did not send this virus to clean out the world, but there is a virus rampant so let’s make the most of our enforced quietness and worship The LORD and proclaim Christ the Redeemer who has saved all of Creation and is shaping a New Creation.  Praise the one who leads me in right paths for his name’s sake as Psalm 23:3 says, celebrate and acknowledge that God has brought good out of this, and that God always will.

In the next sentence, Psalm 23:4a we read the great encouragement for us today.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil says the NRSV, other translations offer the valley of the shadow of death.  Coronavirus is a dark valley, a valley of deathly shadows, there is no doubt.  Thousands have died, hundreds of thousands have been laid low with illness and pain and fever and coughing.  Sadly thousands and hundred of thousands more will go on to experience the same, including people of Australia.  But in all of that, all of that, COVID-19 as a disease is a shadow: God is the light.  We see the shadow because COVID-19 is real and it is blocking the light in some places, throwing its shade like we used to throw toilet-paper at the houses of people we didn’t like.  But it’s the light that matters, God is here, and the light is shining.  The shepherd is here and the grass and the stream and the breeze and the birdsong are inviting.

This is a season of rest for us, I have no doubt.  Our God and our government want us to look inward for a time of self-care, neighbourly care, generous calm, and quietness.  Psalm 23 suggests that none of this is to be seen as a punishment, nor is it a reward, it’s simply a season.  It’s nap time, it’s rest time.

I admit to being frustrated on Friday when I went to Foodland in Boredomtown and it was out of loo rolls.  I don’t need many, I will be okay for a few weeks yet.  But the panic buying, and the hoarding saddened me, saddened me that even the Tatiara ad the Wimmera have it?  The Mighty South Aussies, yeah?  Not this week Foodland.  But it’s got me thinking, what is the church hoarding in this crisis.  Okay so yes there is a secret stash of loo roll in our storage cupboard, our stewards shop ahead and yes we are sharing it (one at a time) with those who have none.  But what of the other stuff of which we have an abundance and others have none.  From a John 10:10 storehouse how are we going proclaiming Psalm 46:10.  The life in abundance for which Jesus came is our promise that it’s safe to be still and know.

Don’t hoard peace this week Church, don’t hoard hope.  There is more than enough for you, be generous in sharing it.

Amen.

Good Things Happen in The Good Country

This is the text of the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 8th March 2020.  It was a combined service for Kaniva and Serviceton congregations at Serviceton for the celebration of our Harvest Sunday.  Kaniva and Serviceton are farming communities and there are primary producers in our congregations.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Ruth 1:22

The harvest stories told in the Bible are stories of God’s salvation. There are multiple harvests named in the Bible, which is probably no surprise to the farmers amongst us. Wheat was harvested first and according to Exodus 34:22 this was to be celebrated in Spring, when it happened. Seven weeks later is the harvest of barley and we are told in Ruth 1:22 that it was during this harvest festival that Naomi arrived in Bethlehem from Moab. In late summer, (September) came the fruit harvest which is also a cause for celebration according to Exodus 34:22, and it is this event which we read about in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. The loud message is that God is going to provide such an abundance in the Promised Land, from the Land itself, that God’s people had better get ready to say thank you a lot. To be an Israelite in the future (the future from Moses) is to be a recipient of God’s promise of care and the complete benefit of that providence. Never forget whose you are: you are The LORD’s own family.

More than masses of crop the harvest story told by Moses in Deuteronomy 26:1-11 is a story of salvation. It is true that God promises provision through the sweat of the brow and the tilling of the land by Hebrew farmers, but in the history of the people from Jacob to Moses and into the future we learn that this bounty will be for all, including aliens (outsiders) and Levites (while collar workers). The history of the Hebrew people is dated from the “wandering Aramean”, literally the vulnerable climate-refugee who was made destitute by famine: so when Israel’s people return to the land of Jacob they must remember the destitute they find there or who later come there as refugees from other places. As a nation saved by grace, actually fed and watered by The LORD’s own provision in Egypt, it will never be appropriate for Israel to withhold the same from anyone who comes into their land looking for help. Never forget whose you are: you are The LORD’s own ministers.

The commentary I used this week suggests that this passage was edited together late in Israel’s history, possibly around the time of the exile to Babylon or at the very least a time when invasion and occupation by a militarily stronger foe seemed immanent. In this case the return to the covenant and its specific stipulation on charity and compassion would have reminded Israel that they were indeed The LORD’s own people: that The LORD Godself had their back if they remained in covenant with The LORD and the mission of being God’s light to the nations. “Are you being faithful to the covenant?” The LORD asks in the background, “so, if I were to come down and take a look around I would not find poverty and destitution in your streets, yeah?” The land was given by The LORD as a demonstration of grace, and as a visible example for all the nations of what God desires (mercy) and how God blesses (shalom) when God’s ways are honoured. If Israel fails in generosity then God will withhold the abundance, thereby making the same point in a negative way. This is what Israel and Judah were facing as this history was written, what would they do to keep on the side of God? Would they close ranks and resist the Babylonians, or would they open their arms and welcome the asylum seekers and war-torn refugees with grace and food? And what about internally: would they ensure that no Israelite ever went hungry or sick or naked or alone, would they ensure that the women and men set aside by God as priests and worship leaders were fed and housed as well as the farmers and labourers who grew the food and built the houses? The tithe was not just a token payment, without the tithe there was no welfare for the destitute and no support for the priests and worship leaders: without the tithe there was increased poverty and decreased praise for The LORD. What sort of Holy Nation lets its priests starve because they are focused on national worship and can’t farm for themselves? Why would The LORD continue to bless that nation, why wouldn’t The LORD leave them to fall over as an example of the consequences of breaking covenant, while choosing a new nation to serve God’s purposes of demonstrating compassion in the world?

This is why in Ruth’s story and in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 we read that reaping right to the edge was forbidden. The LORD’s provision is for all who need to eat, so even if you grew it that doesn’t mean it’s all yours to eat or to sell. At the same time, if you didn’t grow it you still need to go and gather it yourself if you want to eat it: welfare for the whole community must discourage laziness as much as it condemns selfishness. The priests are fed because they work elsewhere at priesting; the poor are fed so that they can return to health and to work. This is why harvest festivals were to be big and loud community events, because they were community celebrations where everyone gets to eat because every kinsperson played a role in bringing it in. In celebrating the covenant between God and people every time the food was brought in to the storehouse the nation was reminded that in this covenant there is sufficiency for all, even for those whose work never sees them get dirt under their fingernails.

The harvest story told about Ruth is another story of God’s salvation. It is a story of the resilience of women (of faith) working in solidarity, and how God blesses the faithful and upright. In Tanakh Ruth follows Proverbs, she is perhaps the living example of eshet chayil, the Proverbs 31 woman of noble character, virtuous and industrious. Once more God is shown as concerned about the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, even widows who are not Israelite. God is actively involved in directing the play and the accidents of right place at the right time. God drives the women’s movement from emptiness to fullness: God is both guide and provider.

In practical terms the stories of redemption in Ruth are stories of restoration. By keeping Naomi close to her Ruth is able to restore to her mother-in-law all that is legally hers which was lost in Moab with the death of her husband and sons, and the ensuing famine. Boaz is the man of the moment, the man who has the covenant responsibility through family to care for Naomi, and like God with Israel he is faithful and complete in his care for the destitute and depressed widow. What Boaz does is contractual and familial, it’s the moral and legal thing to do and there’s nothing specifically religious in it beyond the underlying culture of Israel. However in using this as an example of the right and holy way to live as Israelites the point is made that God also acts as family to us and as a covenant partner. What God does is moral and legal because God is Father, God has chosen to obligate Godself here: how we shall respond as the redeemed sons and daughters is one question posed by the story. At this harvest we are like Naomi, our redemption is brought about by someone else’s grace and not by our own deserving: again, how shall we respond?

In modern Jewish tradition, by modern I mean since about the year 150AD, Ruth is read at Shavuot which is the Festival of Weeks held at the traditional time of Israel’s barley harvest. (That’s Pentecost in the Christian calendar.) The book is interpreted with two key themes; loyalty, and the movement from emptiness to fullness. Ruth begins with a famine in Judah, then the desolation of Naomi’s family in Moab and her vulnerability as she returns to Bethlehem…which is now in full harvest mode and topped off by the provision of Boaz the magnificent young man. Naomi is loyal, Ruth is loyal, Boaz is loyal, The God of Israel is loyal; and the tale which begins in famine and widowing at Ruth 1:5 culminates in a post-wedding pregnancy in Ruth 4:17. A story which begins with death ends with birth, passing through the desperate times where Naomi says in Ruth 1:21 that she went away full, but The LORD has brought me back empty. God’s promise to us in this harvest season is that our story will never end at 1:21, because just like Naomi even when we return empty we return to a land bursting with grain. Indeed, the name Bethlehem means “House of Bread”.

In the Jesus traditions and Christian traditions harvest is used as a metaphor for divine action. Jesus speaks in Matthew 9:37-38 of a great harvest where the fields are ripe but the labourers are absent. In Revelation 14:15-16 weeding is going on, but there is reaping in James 3:18. God is still at work in the world, still honouring the covenant made to Abraham and repeated to Moses, still displaying all grace within God’s glory and the fullness of welcome to any who will answer the invitation to participate. I’m not going to touch on those metaphorical stories at all, partly because I’ve just hit the top of page five in this sermon, but also because I want to focus today on the reality of harvest and the actual events of bringing the crop into storage and then to distribution as food. The metaphors are good, packed with extra meaning in a place like the Tatiara, The Good Country, but they’re for another time.

The real story of the real harvest, more than the gleaning along the fence-line but the full heads from the middle of the fields, is that God provides because God has promised to provide. What we have is God’s own because whose we are is God’s own. Children are a harvest, and actual harvest, (just ask Job) and we are the reaping of what God planted in creation as well as metaphor. You are the abundance of God, and in delivering God’s promises to the Holy Nation you, God’s royal priesthood, are also the recipients of the bounty. This is fact, this is true, this is the theology of harvest. Now comes the application: the doing stuff, the questions for challenge.

1. How will you celebrate the harvest that is you and that has been delivered to you? What will your harvest festival look like, in your life, beyond today’s act of worship and the extortionate rates charged at auction in half an hour’s time?

2. How will you spend the harvest that is yours and that has been delivered to you? What effect will the abundance have in your life, beyond today’s act of worship and the extravagance of our festival today. You have an armful of blessing from God today, will you build a bigger barn, or will you set a longer table?

Amen.

Hit the road Abe! (WWHS)

Genesis 12:1-4

Today’s passage strikes me as quite a challenge. In the back half of Genesis 11 we are told some of the family tree of Abram, and how he is a descendant of Shem, the son of Noah. This why the people who are descended from Abram are called Semites or Semitic people, and to be anti-Jewish is to be Anti-Semitic. Anyway, Abram is Sumerian, from Sumer, and he was born and grew up in Ur. His father was 70 years old when Abram was born, and he lived to be 205. Now that’s a remarkable age, so maybe when we get to Abram later in the story only beginning his journey at 75 we mustn’t be overly surprised at such an “old” man, but even so I’m impressed by Abram.

I’m impressed by Abram because he finishes the job. We are told that Terah, Abram’s father and Lot’s grandfather, had set out from Ur to go to live in Canaan, but that he’d stopped short at the city of Haran. We don’t know why he stopped, maybe it’s because even for someone who will live to 205 he felt old. Abram was 75 when he set out from Haran, at which point Terah would have been 145, and we don’t know how long the family had stayed in Haran, but I think we can allow Terah some sit down time in this instance. Anyway, so Terah doesn’t make it to Canaan, and he dies in Haran,

And so in Genesis 12:1 we find God speaking to Abram, and God commands Abram to finish the trek. Abram doesn’t know at this point that he’s going on to Canaan, but he would have known that that is where Terah was going before the family stopped. Remember that Terah is still alive at this point, he’s 145 years old and has 60 more years in him. Abram also has a brother, Nahor, who he leaves behind in Haran, but he takes his nephew Lot, the son of his dead brother who, confusingly, is named Haran. Maybe Terah he’d stopped at Haran because it bore the name of his dead son? Maybe he saw that as a sign from the gods, or maybe he was just grief-stricken. Anyway where Terah had stopped Abram and Lot continued on…at some point.

So here’s the challenging bit. Having said that it wasn’t out of character for reasonably old me to be quite active in this family, Terah is 70 when he has Abram, and then sets out on his own journey at a point when Lot is old enough to be present (Terah’s grandson) it’s perhaps not as big a deal that Abram at 75 decides to listen to God and walk out of home and follow God to a new place. The challenging bit is the voice itself: who is The LORD who commands Abram to walk? Remember that Abram is not Jewish, he’s the ancestor of Isaac and Jacob, he’s about 600 years ahead of Moses, all of that Chosen People stuff is in the future. How does Abram know who he is talking with?

I think this is why Abram is such a hero of the faith, Jewish and Christian. He hears a voice pretty much out of nowhere, religiously speaking, and he takes those promises of patronage and benefit at face value. This is obviously some sort of god speaking with him, and so Abram goes. Did he talk it over with Terah? Maybe. The fact that Lot goes with him means that there was probably some family discussion, maybe there is some vicarious pleasure in Terah that Abram will fill his destiny in going to Canaan, if that is where this god will lead his son. And for Abram, who takes his nephew with him because he has no sons of his own to take, maybe the promise of descendants to occupy the land as a nation is not too far a stretch for him, even with Sarai childless to this point.

No wonder he is a model of our faith. Amen

Theology is Biography

This is the text of my message for the KSSM monthly pewsheet for March 2020. 

Huh, what sort of a statement is that? Theology is biography sounds very academic and complicated, in fact I‘m sure it‘s not even correct grammar. Actually what it does mean is that the way you speak about God and what you think God is like is revealed in your life‘s story.

About twenty years ago I attended a job interview at a Christian school, to be the Grade Seven teacher for fourth term while the tenured teacher took maternity leave. The Headmistress (and that she was, certainly not a Principal) asked me the question What does being a Christian mean to you Mr Tann? I‘m pretty sure that she was asking for a definition, but what I gave her was biography. She probably wanted me to say something like Christianity is belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins: what I actually said was something like Jesus Christ is my light and breath, so being a Christian is life itself in all of God‘s abundance. That‘s what it meant to me to be a Christian, it meant everything. (It still does, and yes I did get that job).

About thirty-five years ago one of my dad‘s ministry peers wrote a book entitled The Fifth Gospel, the point being that it‘s you. Many people won‘t read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but I wonder how many people in Kaniva have read Damien Tann in the last eighteen months. Maybe I‘m the only good news about Jesus Christ they know, or maybe you are. There are many books with that title: both that you can find several authors using it if you Google, and that each one of us is The Fifth Gospel to our world. This is especially important if the people you know have been misled about the other four gospels and have been told that the Bible and the Christian Religion say they aren‘t worthy of God‘s love (they are, God made them in God‘s image) or worthy of God‘s grace (they weren‘t, but Christ rose again). Perhaps only The Fifth Gospel can speak the bits in brackets, and if you can say those words as much as I can then it‘s only because of personal experience, and your own story of your own life. Theology is biography.

Innocent as Doves

This is the text of the ministry message I wrote for The Vision in March 2020, the quarterly newsletter of KSSM.

Recently I read a history of the persecution of The Church: mainly about how the outside world and especially governments have caused pain to Christians through policies and violence. Sadly some of that persecution came from the denomination in power and inflicted upon the other denominations present in society. Since the day of the execution of Jesus around 30 AD and right up until this week women and men who stand in loyalty to God and the Kingdom of Heaven above all other claims for loyalty have suffered at the hands of the greedy and powerful.

I remember from school chapel services (I went to an independent Christian school) that visiting drama and music groups would come to lead us from time to time. Oftentimes the message was a challenge whether we would be bold enough in our Christian witness to resist the KGB/Gestapo and choose to take a bullet for Jesus rather than spit/stomp on the ikons if our Undergroud Church was ever raided. Since we didn‘t worship in an Underground Church, and our Christian school was public and obvious, and as Charistmatics we didn‘t have ikons, it always seemed like a bit of a puzzle for me. And to be fair I always thought it would be much easier to take a bullet or a sword for Christ than to take daily beatings or years in a labor camp. The Gestapo never worried me, but the Gulags did. Less frightening than the Gulags (and Tyabb doesn‘t have any) were the bullies who would tease me for being a Christian, but then it was a Christian school and our ideology was in the nominal majority. I remember one boy asking if I really was a Christian, (he really put the derision in Chrish-chen); I simply answered that yes I was, as were all of the teachers and about a third of our classmates before walking off un-bothered.

Life in Kaniva and Serviceton is not hard for Christians as Christians: in towns of this size where everyone knows everyone else and a person‘s faith is public, whether or not they wear a cross or their car has a fish, noone is in danger of a bullet or a fist for Jesus‘ sake. The question is how we would handle a personal sneer or perhaps being excluded from a social event (in a town this size). How do you feel when Christianity itself is questioned because of seeming hypocrisies around present day GLBTIQA+ exclusion and historical institutional child sexual assault? How should we respond to accusations against our Prime Minister targeted specifically at his being Pentecostal, and his demonstrative eyes-shut-hands-raised worship? What do you say when asked about the Vatican‘s wealth, or even the land holdings of our own denominations, in the face of global poverty and the Biblical mandate to tithe?

I am not keen on a return to the earliest centuries of Christianity where we were bait for lions, or later centuries where we were galley-slaves chained forever to an oar. But as the history of The Church has shown, The Church has survived every threat of violence and despair thrown against it and it has come out stronger and deeper because of its dependence on Christ who is the Way, Truth, and Life. My prayer for us in the next three months is not that we will survive the bullying media (which is really a mild irritation and nothing more): my prayer is that we embrace the challenge to reflect Christ more and to show his glory in our discipleship. May we take on board the critiques of our witness so as to live with light and salt in a world craving these. May we model in a consumerist and increasingly self-preserving world that with Christ we have enough.

Persecution has never defeated the witness of Christ in the West, but increasing Nationalism and Capitalism might.

Damien.