In a way, our current mission planning exercise challenges us all to write our own versions of the stories mentioned by Hebrews chapter 11. For where, we are being asked, do we see God at work today? Where is faith being made manifest? And how and where might we write new stories? What a lovely gift to us today then to have family and friends of the late Valwyn Wishart with us. For Valwyn would, I think, be one Pitt Streeter we might well include in our stories from the past. In a moment, I will therefore ask one of her sons, Llewellyn, and one of her friends, Dawn, to share something of how ‘by faith’ Valwyn also continued the story of God in her own times. I will ask two questions: two questions which we might also ask of others who have gone before us in this community. Firstly, what was it that drew Valwyn to this place and what did she share in celebrating God’s life here ‘by faith’? And, secondly, what might she say to us today as we look to journey on ‘by faith’?
Before I ask Llewellyn and Dawn those questions, I want however to point out two other central aspects of our scripture readings today. For, firstly, in hearing the Beatitudes again this morning, we do well to note that there is not a single word within them about what is often understood by ‘church’ and what is often called ‘mission’ and ‘growth’ today. In those powerful verses of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus does not prescribe a form of organisation, nor does Jesus seem at all concerned, as such, with numbers or money or buildings, careful planning or specific formulations. None of those things are called ‘blessed’. Actually, Jesus does not prescribe anything, for the Beatitudes are not a prescription of the kind of people or actions God might require. Instead, the Beatitudes are a description of the kind of people who simply find themselves caught up in God’s mission of love. For Jesus is saying that living ‘by faith’ is not a matter of working out how to share God with others. Rather, living ‘by faith’ is about opening our eyes to where God is in others, and in unlikely parts of ourselves, and thus catching up with God’s mission which is always at the edge of our grasp and imagination. If you want to see where God is, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, well look for the kinds of people God calls ‘blessed’. Celebrate them and join with them – that is what continuing God’s story is about.
So – how will we do that, together, in our own times? Where are we looking? Who and what can we see? Of what stories are we going to be a part?
focus on Jesus
The second central aspect of our scripture readings this morning sits with that understanding of the Beatitudes – namely the story of Jesus themselves. For, whilst we may draw on various stories, both those we find in the Letter to the Hebrews and elsewhere in the Bible, and also those in our experiences and traditions, ultimately our Christian focus is shaped by Jesus. As the opening of Hebrews chapter 12 puts it, look ‘to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’. It is so easy for us, like all people of faith, to become distracted into other pathways. Returning, prayerfully, to our focus in Jesus the Christ continues to be the centre we must seek – whether in our mission planning, or in anything else.
In the spirit of the Beatitudes, and in the love of Christ. Amen.
by Josephine Inkpin, for Pitt Street Uniting Church, 14 August 2022