Monday, 20 February 2017

Rev. Dr Chris Budden Reflection - Closure of Ministry Rev. Elenie Poulos

Written by Rev. Dr Chris Budden

Let me begin then by acknowledging the First People of this place, those who under the grace of God cared for and nurtured and kept this place in life.

Let me thank Elenie for the privilege of being here, for inviting me to this place. We sit in a long line together Elenie and I, I was the second staff person in this role many centuries ago.

Lately I have been struck by two things. First, the older I get the more I am convinced that the whole of life can be simply summed up in Jesus’ words - that we are to love God with our whole life and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

If you think that sounds simple, you’re having yourself on.

The second thing is that having family home for Christmas and being able to enjoy days where I nurse babies and had long breakfasts, it kind of reminded me of the importance of the daily, and the relational, and the ordinary things of life.

I was reminded anew that most people don’t spend their lives thinking about the Church. No, they don’t. Surprising, isn’t it? Most people spend their lives actually thinking about their families, and their relationships and the things they need to love and to live. They think about the joys and the limits and the sorrows that are inevitably part of life, so that faith and worship and spiritual life are those things that suggest how people actually live in the world, as a people who love God.

Faith isn’t about the spiritual things, faith is about the way we inhabit the world.

Or to put it another way, faith is about the way we engage with the ordinary moments of life as a people who seek to follow the teachings and life of Jesus.

The last 300 years of course have been quite a critique of that understanding of faith - we are told that faith should really deal with the private things, personal things and the individual parts of life.

So economy, politics, the environment or work - they’re none of our business.

To pursue justice, well that’s not an ordinary thing to pursue in Christian life, that’s not the shape of every Christian should be in the world. We give that job to just a few people, it’s like the readings for today do not exist.

Which is a part of the reason why it’s important for us to be here today, to honour the work that Elenie has done among us. Elenie and the whole work of UnitingJustice have continually reminded us that faith is about the way we inhabit the world, and it’s a much bigger world than our own private morality, or our Church’s own seeming obsession with sex.

Justice, mercy, faithful walking with God and loving our neighbours as we wish to be loved ourselves, that’s the character, the life, the being of those of us that claim the name Christian.

The Basis of Union tells us (and you’ll never get a sermon out of me that doesn’t have some reference the Basis of Union) the Basis of Union tells us that the purpose of existence, that the very reason for the Church’s being is that we are to share with God in God’s promise of the coming reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation. The whole creation, not just me and a couple of my friends, but the whole creation. To enable everyone to love God with their whole life and to love our neighbours both people and planet as we want to be loved ourselves.

To break down barriers and divisions, to destroy labels that separate, to oppose those who deny that every single human being is made in the image of God and is icons of the divine life.

You and I have come to live in a world of very narrow nationalism, where people are inevitably categorised according to race, gender, sexual identity or religious affiliation. A world where a whole community of religious people are described as either terrorists, or maybe not terrorists. But not as complete, whole, real, complex, contributing members of our community.

A world that increasingly denies our communal, our relational, our common life. Where people’s only value is that they are producers and consumers and buyer of the things of the world.

Our public narrative, one that keeps coming at us all the time, is that we actually live in a world of potential satiation, there’s enough for everybody.

But millions die, hundreds of thousands are tortured, people work for virtually nothing, they have no rights, and they live without dignity so a very tiny percentage of people on the earth can live with an obscene level of wealth.

Where people are paid to be famous, for no other reason than being famous. Where one person who belongs to our community, one death gets them on the front page. But hundreds of people die in that other community, might make it to page 56.

Where our Prime Minister will speak, our media will cry when people who belong to Western nations die at the hands of terrorists, but when a Trump supporter kills Muslim people in Canada - there is no Prime Ministerial comment, there is no deep grieving, because that doesn’t tell the narrative that we wish to tell.

In this difficult and at times bizarre world, our Church is committed to sharing with God in the reconciliation and renewal of the whole Earth, and that is what you have reminded us of in the last 15 years. That is the privilege we share as a part of this Church, that UnitingJustice under the leadership of Elenie have placed before us an understanding of the reconciliation and renewal of the whole Earth and have laid before us the challenge to keep that task going.

The question is: what are we going to do to continue to honour the work that has been given to us?

I think when we read the responsibilities of the Assembly, there’s a sense in which the Assembly is a bit like a hub in life of the Uniting Church. It’s the body that sets the rules and establishes the boundaries, it establishes the culture and sits at the heart of our identity.

In this Reformed and Evangelical community to which we belong, we are told to be the church is to preach and listen to the word properly, celebrate the sacraments, and to have discipline in our life, and the Assembly’s task is to tell us what on earth that means. I think the Assembly is meant to tell us who we are as the Uniting Church and to remind us what it means to uphold God’s promise in reconciliation and renewal.

I believe that the work of UnitingJustice and the work that Elenie has embodied in that life, illustrates and names what reconciliation and renewal might actually look like.

Elenie has reminded us on behalf of the Assembly what it means for the word to be preached rightly, and heard well, and what it means for our apostolic faith to be heard rightly in embodied practice, and not simply in words.

Justice is central to who we are as church, it is not simply an occasional act that could be done by anybody or any council - it is an action in the life of the Assembly that holds identity and reminds us of who we are.

Justice is a vocation - it’s a way of being and a way of life and we are grateful that you have decided that it has been your vocation.

Jane Fry the Acting General Secretary of the NSW/ACT Synod reminded us in Insights this month that there should be a long obedience in the same direction in the Christian life.

You and UnitingJustice have embodied for us a long obedience, in the direction of justice, wholeness and wellbeing.

There are four things that UnitingJustice did, and I want to briefly remind you of them so each of you can hassle everybody in the Assembly to make sure they keep going.

The first is, that in witness for justice, human rights, economic equality, peacebuilding, care for the created world and a list that goes on. At the heart of that work was relationships and networks, and sharing with fellow travellers. It was a work that pushed us constantly beyond the temptation of navel gazing, to remind us of the rest of the world.

We live in a world that’s in constant danger of narcissistic individualism, it’s thanks to the work of people like you that we’re reminded that’s simply not good enough and that there’s another life.

The second part of course is policy development and education. The third as I’ve already reminded you is the Assembly helps us learn how to be a Church that inhabits the world. The fourth thing they do well is that they push back against the pervasive individualism, racism, fear mongering and distorted nationalism that marks our world. They remind us to very carefully locate ourselves in relation to government and civil society. It is very tempting in our church tradition, shaped as we have been largely by a two kingdom legacy of church and state, and our location along sites of power to get very cosy with governments. Being in the tent, let me tell you, is very risky business, and it’s very easy to be seduced. Elenie has reminded us of that quite often.

Justice work is also about the first of Jesus’ teachings, that we are to love God. Not because someone says by loving our neighbour we love God, no. The issue is loyalty. The issue is: what other Gods shape our life? The issue is: whose story do we trust, and who will tell us about the way in which we should follow Jesus?

Justice work is about naming idols, the idols in our day of borders, weapons, narrow definitions of humanity, everything being valued in monetary terms and the idea that our nation should become before any other thing on Earth.

The US Presidential Election should remind us that Christians quite easily place race, class and other interests before their following of Jesus and before we get too self righteous, remember 30% of Queenslanders and about 20% of people in this state want to vote for One Nation.

You know what the Lord requires of you. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

Elenie we are terribly grateful in the Uniting Church for the way you have shown us to do this, you have left an amazing legacy.

I pray that you and we, you and I separately and together have the courage, the wisdom, and the commitment to carry that legacy through the rest of our life. Amen.