Category: Call

Let it Be

Sermon
Advent 4B,
Sunday December 18, 2011.
Ocean Forest

Luke 1:26-38
“Let it be with me according to your word”

On this last “normal” kind of Sunday together before we all rightly focus on Christmas I cannot help but imagine the young Mary and her words, “Let it be with me according to your word”. This is the way I am speaking to the Lord in these days of leaving and also pondering a new ministry and life challenge in God’s call.

As I said in the announcement of my decision to take the Call to Petri, it did and always does come down to the Lord’s call. Everything else is a distant second. I know from the Word, from my experience, from you and from the wider church that it is indeed the Lord’s will that I take this Call from him to serve in another place among another people.

I have been thinking this week that this Call from the Lord to me and you is a little less ground shaking than the Call he issued to a young teenager named Mary.

Yes, I have a Call from the Lord to continue serving him and his people in another place with its many unknowns and different size, shape, culture and its inevitable challenges.

Yes, you now have the Call from the Lord of the Church to re-examine your Call to be God’s people in mission here and then to Call another Pastor to work with you in your joint Calling to continue to be God’s people together in this place. But what about the Call Mary received to bear the Son of God in her own body and be remembered and honoured for that for all time by all who would follow him? Now that is a ground shaking Call from the Lord – literally – with angelic voices included!

As with all calls from the Lord, they create the uncomfortable sense of being. I still doubt my ability to live up the huge expectations of the Call to the new place. I know you are worried about your ability to continue as God’s mission people here and to receive another Pastor to come and serve here so that this community can thrive. No different with Mary (or any other person God called, by the way!).

Even though Mary was called by the Lord through this mysterious angelic visitation, Mary she was much perplexed by the calling words and pondered what sort of calling this might actually be. She was a little suspicious and not a little doubting of the Lord’s calling.

Yes, “perplexed”: troubled, unsure, confused, fearful for the future, fearful for the imposition of God’s Call on her life and what it would mean for her future…….

It is a good word to describe how we all feel when the Lord is knocking on our door to step up – step up to better marriages, better parenting, better conduct at work, at home, at church.

Mary asks the obvious question of God. “Is this Call you have issued me good news or bad news?” Will it be the Calling that makes me fulfilled, benefits people around me and brings glory to you or will it cause me to stumble and fall because I will fail at it?”

This is the question brought on by our natural human fear of so many things: ourselves, the unknown, others, God at times.

To us who are only human. To us who can only understand and see so little of God’s big picture and plan for our lives, those words of the Lord and his messenger that disarm our tendency to take flight and run away from the Lord’s call, like Jonah did, come as a gleaming ray of light in a dark place, or as a ray of light on the horizon as the clouds wind and sea calm and the storm is finally over.

“The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God”.

My Call to another community is surrounded by and motivated by God’s favour. Your Call to be his holy community of love and faith and hope in this place is a Call surrounded by the Lord’s love and blessing.

The Lord has found favour with this community enough to bring upon it this time of vacancy. Sounds strange doesn’t it?
  • We are all scared of vacancy times in the church. They are supposed to be avoided at all costs and as short as possible.
  • In vacancy we feel all at sea, leaderless, rudderless, unsure – a bit like the disciples on that little boat out on the Sea in that storm with a sleeping Saviour! Facing a vacancy time can feel like our Saviour is sleeping.
  • We wish he would wake up and calm the storm and restore normality – then we could all go about our lives as normal again – then we could all be comfortable again?
  • We could all slot back into how it was before when we were undisturbed by the Lord’s call?
Thank the Lord that Mary went with the uncomfortable Call from the Lord. She utters those immortal words of trust in the Lord and his Call… 

            “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Here I am: Here are you. Can you utter these word as Mary did and be at peace, without fear? That is the Call of the Spirit to you now for sure.

For the next little while you will be pondering Calls. You will be pondering that word. You will have “Call” meetings. You will “Call” a pastor or two or more. A Pastor will accept your “Call” as a Call from the Lord of the church.

I can tell you now that the “Call” meetings and the “Calling” of a pastor will not only be about one guy. It will also be a word about you – individually, in your family and as a body of Christ. When you hear that word, pray for that event, pray for that man and his family, you will also be pondering your own Call in this community – this church; this mission task.

A Call meeting is not about one man’s call. It is about a community’s calling too. Each of you will think about your place here and as you do, can I challenge to recall Mary and her Call.

She was troubled about the imposition of accepting the Lord’s Call on her life. So will you be if you’re honest because God’s Call is imposing and impossible – at least humanly impossible. However, it is a Call that is always backed by his promises and power to “be with you to the very end of the age” as Jesus says at the last (or was it the first?).

I am praying that you will come to where I have been brought to by the Lord and where Mary got to by the Lord. I am praying that you can speak her words for real and at peace and without fear;

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

I am praying that in this time of vacancy you will be uncomfortable in a way that provides the conditions in which the seeds of faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ can thrive in you personally and as a holy community of the Lord in this place.

I am praying that you and I can sing Mary’s song in our Callings… 

 “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
                                                                                                               Luke 1:46b-50

You can end up with Mary and me because the Lord of the Church is behind the Calls we have and they are Calls of favour and blessing.

In your Calling to be Ocean Forest, a community that is bent on “connecting people with Jesus so that all may know and share his love, the Lord blesses you…. 

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen!                                                                                                 Romans 16:25-27

Strange Place

Strange being in this “in-between” place where we have made another big decision to change the course of our lives by taking a Call to another community 3000km’s away from where we have been serving for 8 years.

This kind of decision is nothing new to us or many people from many different walks of life. Half the people I know have made these huge decisions – people like the many South Africans or Zimbabweans who have left their home country to make a new life in Australia; or the many teaching staff who have left their home to come and work in Dalyellup, or the many rural people who long ago, packed up the truck and drove the long Nullarbor road a generation ago to settle on virgin land in the WA wheat belt…… Sometimes life and living it with a responsiveness to people, church, country and God demands these big decisions that bring big change.

This is the second time that my wife and I have packed up our lives and moved away from our home country to South Australia. The first time was in 1989. Now 22 years later, we are doing the very same thing! Then we were a young married couple. I was ready for adventure and Leanne was rather more unconvinced about “adventure”. But, she came and we went and the rest is history.

Now we leave with three of our four children in tow a little more money and better furniture and a joint will to live the next chapter of our lives.

Similar doubt about our ability to cope and do well appear. I left WA in 1989 to take up a youth worker job in a large inner city Lutheran Church (Bethlehem, Flinders Street, Adelaide CBD). I had little idea of what I was walking in to! Such a different church culture and experience. So large compared to the smallness of WA (church wise). So many more people, some supportive, some not. So many more opportunities for friendship, seeing new places, learning more about my profession (Youth Work)….

After 12 years in two places “out on the rim” of the LCA (Auckland and Bunbury), it feels a little similar to what it felt like back in 1989. So many opportunities for new relationships, new challenges in terms of my Calling, more possibilities for learning from mentors and strangers…..

This Calling is a senior pastor role and that is daunting. It is a new dynamic I will have to learn – not just diving in and leading by doing all the time, as one needs to do in a  smaller setting, but leading in a different way – present but not always immediately hands on; leading by gathering and inspiring (hopefully!) and working with others who lead…… It will be a steep learning curve to not go with the instincts learnt over the last 12 years in the ordained ministry.

But life is really one big steep learning curve isn’t it? You actually learn the most about yourself, your close relationships, when you are under the pump the most. In the moment you don’t even know what you are learning, but later it becomes apparent, if you take the needed time to reflect on what has happened, that is.

So, I find myself doing plenty of this reflecting time. It just seems the right thing to do.



Crossroads

Sermon

Pentecost 21A
Sunday November 6, 2011.

Ocean Forest

Crossroads
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


 

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Friends, crossroads in life often create grief for us. When something highly valued is lost, a crossroad is created and we have to make choices about what was once a sure thing, because the straight road we were on has now become a fork in the road or a crossroad. We grieve what was and have to face a more uncertain future.This is what has happened to us now with me announcing that I will no longer be the pastor of this community. What was stable and trusted is now being removed and the future looks more like a crossroad than a straight road.

 I spoke to the secondary school Thursday about all of this and focussed on that thing that happens to us all the time; grief. I told the kids that grief is a normal part of life that can happen over many things – from a breakup with and girl or guy, to a the death of a loved pet, to even grieving over childhood simplicity lost in the teen years.

When you think about it, hardly a week or a month goes by when we don’t grieve the loss of something. We still grieve the loss of a loved one years after the actual event. Time heals the pain of it but we remember and even years later, feel some sense of the loss. We grieve the loss of our working life when we retire, the loss of our schooling life when we graduate, the loss of a our dreams in a divorce, the loss of constant contact with kids in the same, the loss of our pristine beauty as we age, the loss of our hair……..
Sometimes of course, there is shocking kind of grief – a loss we did not expect, or even if we did, never really thought it would happen – like a Pastor leaving a congregation. You know it would probably happen one day, but you are never really ready for it when it happens.

It is interesting that God’s word suggests there is a difference between how those who are in relationship with Jesus and his people grieve these things and those who are not in a faith relationship with him and his people. St Paul, in our text, speaks of those who “grieve without hope”, and those who “grief with hope”. So, we baptised people of faith in Jesus Christ can grieve like others, but somehow differently, with the gift of hope – even in our grieving.

This “hope” is the biblical kind of hope; not a wishful thinking for the future kind of hope, but a sure, solid, bankable hope; a hope not in our own ability or wisdom and skill, but a hope in God’s grace, power and future – a hope standing solid on God’s solid promises kind of hope.

So we grieve with solid hope in God’s future for us. Paul outlines the final end to life as we know it – both for those who won’t taste actual physical death, and those who will before Jesus delivers on his promise to bring all things to their rightful and timely end to begin the new age with him.

15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 …. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

In the hope that is Jesus.What does it mean for us to “grieve with hope”? One thing it doesn’t mean is that we will not grieve at all. Jesus’ followers will grieve as often as those who don’t know his grace and power. Grief will happen and grief is not to be denied or diminished as unimportant or treated as “bad”. Grief is grief and that is all there is to it. Grief can make us feel all at sea for a while. Grief can tempt us to give up on things and just go and hide somewhere to be safe. But grief approached like this will do damage and debilitate us further, rather than bring us to new insight, thankfulness and life.
Paul is actually encouraging his people to grieve – or at least not shun or try and hide grief. He is saying, “you will grief”. But what he is offering those who suffer loss is hope in their grieving and a future well-being founded on Jesus and his promises and grace.

Friends, you will grieve as things look and feel different for the next few months after Christmas when I am gone. This is not to be denied, minimised or shunned as unimportant or something to be hidden. In my experience and in this text, grief is best dealt with by talking about it, sharing it and “encouraging each other with these words” as Paul says.

Grief is normal and talking about it with each other is how it is processed well so that grief passes and changes into thankfulness and even a quiet joy about what has been and what is to come in the Lord’s plan for us.

I told the kids to think of grief this way
Grief = I should talk about it

Grief can and does naturally produce anger, confusion and doubt of God’s plan and promises.

Can I encourage you with my words on this? Share your sense of loss at losing your pastor. Talk with me about it if you need to. Share it, speak of it and help each other through it. In this way you will pass over the crossroad before you and with faith in Jesus and his future for you in his plan and promises, grief will turn to thankfulness and even a quiet joy again.

In time I reckon we will all look back on these years together and be able to say, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all we shared and did together”. And with that will come hope. You will enter a Call process with the District president. You will be directed to ponder where you are at a congregation in mission and what you might need in the pastor you will eventually call. Eventually, a Pastor you have called will arrive and another leg of the journey will be before you and this will be good. It is then that this grief will be no more and only thankfulness will remain, and that will be good.

On a final note: If you remain a person in the Lutheran family in your life’s journey of faith in Jesus, this very text will be the first word from the Bible that your children, grandchildren and friends will hear as they gather for your funeral.

This text is the Word of comfort proclaimed in the Lutheran funeral rite. Even in that big grief, there will the sure hope of the resurrection from your death proclaimed to all who will hear it.

Ultimately this is all of our ending. Whatever happens, this will happen. You will be gathered into this hopeful “sleep” as St Paul calls it. Rest is as constant a companion as grief for the Christian – we rest in God’s presence every time two or three gather in his name. We rest in his presence every day that we remember our baptism and daily die to sin and live with him. We rest at the last trumpet call as we are gathered together in him.

Grieve with hope, friends. Hope is ours. This too will pass and new things will come and from beginning to end, we will be hopeful and thankful for all that the Lord has given and then gives. Amen.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:
be there at our sleeping and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope…

Pastor A Leaving Ocean Forest

Well, it seems that our time at Ocean Forest has come to an end. There is sadness but no regret and a looking forward toi the next leg of the faith jounrye for us as a family.

In the Lutheran Church, there is a Call system where Pastors don;t apply for jobs but are Called to them by the local community or wider church. When a local community is vacant or is ready to call a second pastor, they issue a Call to a particular individual whom they think can come and work with them in their local ministry and mission. The Pastor being Called is notified of this and then has around 4-5 weeks to weigh up all the issues of his existing Call and the one being offered. He then accepots the Call or declines it.

After two months of very intense personal struggle for me, my family and for some of you about the two Calls that have come my way – first to Tuggeranong in Canberra and now to St Petri in the Barossa Valley, SA, – I am accepting the Call to the St Petri. I will be leaving Ocean Forest at the end of the year.



I know that some of you will find this unwelcome news. We will all now go through a tough time of loss and grieving. We have shared our lives together for these 8 years and our relationships will change.


I am accepting the Call to St Petri not beause I am unhappy or unwell or angry or worn out or any of those things. I am accepting the Call and leaving primarily because I believe it is a Call from God. That is always the main thing in all the complexity of these decisions. It is also because I sense that I have done what we were called here to do – to establish a church in cooperation with e new Lutheran college. It is time for me to go and let the local people and another Lutheran Pastor  and the School Principal take the baton and run on.


Just as I sensed that I was ready and “made for” this venture of church planting through a new Lutheran school when I received the Call to come here in 2003, so now I sense the same things about what the Lord is calling me to do at St Petri. I sense that he is has been preparing me for this next leg of the faith journey these eight years at Ocean Forest and now it is time to take what he has taught me through you and put it to use in his church in another place.


I will leave with great memories, great relationships with all kinds of people, some more skills and more experience and take on the next challenge with these as part of who I am and what I am called to do. I think you for your friendship, commitment, care, humour and encouragement over the journey. I am praying to the Lord that he helps Ocean Forest kick on in this challenging thing called Christian education, community and mission.


Please feel free to seek me out and talk about how things are for you and share these things with each other too. In the end any sadness will hopefully turn to thankfulness to God for the many things that have happened in this 8 year journey together.

Call

Hello everyone.

Just letting you know that I received a Call to serve with the people of the St Petri lutheran parish in Nuriootpa, Barossa Valley. Pray for me and the family and our community as we work our way through this one!

Peace

Pastor A

Padre Stays Put

I have decided to decline the Call to serve in the Tuggeranong Community. I believe that the Lord would have me continue to serve the community at Ocean Forest at this time.
I heard someone talking about decision making and God’s guidance. He said the best way to find God’s guidance is to make a decision – his plans cover our decisions. It sure can feel like walking a tightrope!