How right you are. The last few years in Toowoomba have certainly been ones of transition, haven’t they, both for our wider community as well as our churches? Do you have particular examples in mind?
There are definitely plenty from which to choose. Who’d have thought, for example, that Toowoomba would be developing as it is now: with so many new constructions, a growing arts and education scene, a reshaped shopping centre, an international airport, a by-pass under construction, and so much more – and, vitally, that Toowoomba would righly be both an official ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ and committed to being a ‘model city of peace and harmony’, full of increasing multicultural warmth and diversity.
Yes, I know what you mean. When I first came to Toowoomba, I confess I was reminded a little of the film ‘Pleasantville’, which begins in black and white, reflecting a society where all is expected to be fixed: whether the roles of men and women, cultural and religious values, and so on. Then as the film goes on, the community begins to come alive with amazing variety and colour, wherever love breaks down hard boundaries and people dare to ‘come out’, expressing the fullness and diversity of what God calls them to be. I think I was wrong about Toowoomba in that. It has always had plenty of colour and diversity, especially if we go beneath the surface. Yet I was struck last year by the lighting up of the bridge near the railway station in rainbow colours, firstly to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It was a sign, for me, that our community is coming of age, maturing further in its ability to respect and value all of its children, even if we do not quite agree with one another and there is still much ground to cover. In a way, like our growing multicultural and multifaith relationships, this is a sign of God’s kingdom among us, breaking new ground and creating mysterious new life, rainbows, in and through us.
That is certainly the message of our Gospel reading today, isn’t it? For, like a rainbow, it is a story of transition: of the transition, or passing of the baton, of ministry and mission from John the Baptist to Jesus; of the transitions of the first disciples from followers of John to new relationships in God; and of the continuing transitions of the disciples into new life, as they are called, by Jesus, to ‘come and see’ what God would have them experience and do afresh. What a very appropriate Gospel passage then for our transitions today.!
Indeed so! Though my sense is that, as a community of God’s love gathered here today, we already know something of that, don’t we?
Yes, I believe so. For, if we reflect on it, we have undergone considerable transitions in this parish recently, haven’t we? Though some beloved people and parts of our life have, sadly, passed on, we have so much for which to give thanks. We have seen significant changes in our worship patterns and our buildings. Not all is rosy, of course. Yet we have a thriving children’s ministry, a wonderful annual parish camp, many improved facilities and delightful new partnerships, and, above all, a lovely sense of togetherness, a sense of common purpose, and na outward looking vision which is treasured not only among us but by so many in our wider community. So, you might ask, why we are leaving?
You might do so. Some people have asked! However, as our Gospel reading shows us, there are seasons for particular people and ministries.Not that I am saying that we are like John the Baptist, and the next Rector will be more like Jesus! They might be! But you know what I mean: we each have our particular gifts in God’s ministry and mission. As I said at our commissioning more than six years ago, much though it is also a challenge, I also kind of like it that this building, St Luke’s Church, is unfinished. As such, it reminds us that the Church, as a community of love, is always a work in progress: never quite finished and always needing to look forward, taking with it those things that are good from the past but always open to God’s new gifts for us. In that sense, we are always midwives of God’s ever new creation, rather than guardians of the past.
Midwives eh? I haven’t heard that expression so much recently, but at our theological college I remember that was what we were taught that Christians, and especially clergy, are. We can help bring new life into being, but we may not be the actual mothers and fathers to nurture that new life in the future, still less the new life itself. We need to play our part and then leave it up to God, passing that new life into the care and shaping of others.
Indeed. I think that goes to the very heart of our Gospel reading this morning and to the fresh invitation of God to new life and ministry for us all today. Will we, like the first disciples, ‘come and see’ where God in Jesus will now lead us? And will we allow God in Jesus to reshape our lives afresh? For how striking it is, that Jesus renames Simon in our Gospel story today. In doing so, we are not to assume that Jesus thought that Simon was a useless fisherman, or that his original name, given perhaps by loving parents, was not a good one. That is not the point of Simon’s renaming. Rather, Simon is given the name Peter because there is something more to him that God, in Jesus, sees in him: something that he calls out of Simon, not just for his own health and salvation, but so that he may better love and serve others.
So that is at the heart of our transition today. We are each called to hear God in Jesus calling us afresh into new ministries: for some of us further afield, but, for most of us, right here. We are each being called deeper into God’s love and purpose for us. We are each being called to know our true selves more fully, to know ourselves as Peter: rocks of God’s love and faithfulness.
So, to conclude, this is the heart of our Gospel reading today: the truth that John the Baptist and the first disciples saw and to which they witnessed. In the words of a beautiful reflection:
‘It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.’
In the name of the one true master builder and messiah, Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for Epiphany 2 Year A, 15 January 2016