Friday, 06 October 2017

My People, Hear My Teaching

Fakaalofa atu, Hello – It is my delight to be with you today for this 10th Anniversary National Conference.

I want to acknowledge the sovereign First Peoples of the lands and waters particularly the waters for just as you are known as Moana, the people of the sea so too are these Nations the people of the Bay, the Cardigal, Gweagal, and Bidjigal Nations who have cared for this place where we meet since creation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present and all descendants of these nations. Their lands and waters were violently and illegally ceased for which I apologise and I pledge to work for “just terms” treaties for all the First Peoples of Australia.

This fan presents an image for your conference theme: “Weaving the Gospel”, you know very well as moana the technique and skill involved in making a fan or any other item which is woven together. I am more familiar with weaving of this kind from the Yolŋu peoples of Arnhemland. Usually baskets and mats and generally its women’s business, but sitting around the campfire men observe the technique, skill and patience involved.

I remember when the women first took my wife out bush, to collect the pandanas, together with various flowers and rocks that provide the colours for dying. There were a few days preparation before the weaving began, sitting with the older experienced weaver as a mentor whilst my wife began to learn and to weave.

Correcting, adjusting to get the weave and the pattern just right. Sometimes singing, or telling stories of the Creator and creation or just in silence sharing each other’s spirit. This was and is a communal activity, involving teaching, learning, relationships and love, and it is so much more than just weaving.

This is the image that came to mind when I heard your conference theme. And then when I looked at the readings, particularly the gospel reading Matthew 28 – the Great Commission, the phrase which jumped out at me was: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.”

I don’t ever read the Great Commission passage without setting it in the context of the Great Commandment from Matthew 22:34-40. What is the greatest commandment? “To love the Lord…………………….. and the next is like it is: “Love your …………………..

To teach the commandments, the ways of Jesus, to weave the gospel in the world, involves living the way of love in community.

From Deuteronomy we are reminded that God keeps his “covenant of love for a thousand generations”, beyond our comprehension. If we are to be weavers of the gospel, teachers of the ways of Jesus, who are heard, than we must love and keep loving and forgiving.

My title for this message comes from the psalm: “My people hear my teaching”.

Just like weaving the teaching is not merely words, indeed in all mentoring there is the doing, the conversation and the correcting which imparts the technique. Some educators have called this the action reflection model of learning.

Scripture teaches us about the ways of Jesus and our passage today from Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus sets this out very clearly:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” 

Humility is such an important character quality exemplified by Jesus and so many wonderful saints throughout history. We are open to learn from the teacher of humble character. The Japanese say: “the bough which hangs lowest bears most fruit”. This speaks of humility and a life that calls forth fruit or the character of Christ in others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

Let me return to the image of weaving as a model of teaching. Collecting the raw materials together, sitting together, weaving together, side by side. Jack Goodluck, a wonderful elder from SA who used to teach Community Development at Nungalinya College in Darwin (our Indigenous Theological and Bible College). Jack would say: “It is no good just seeking to pour the good oil into someone, i.e. like as if you could open the skull and speak words that would, like oil, flow into the person’s brain. He would say, side by side, and not eye to eye. He would teach about dialogue and action reflection.

You will know better than me that you can’t just tell someone the theory of how to weave and then they will be able to. No, it is done together and the teacher who is patient, humble and loving will impart so much more than simply how to be a master weaver, they will impart something of their life; this is the way of Jesus who weaves the gospel by doing life with others in community.

In this we have a model for evangelism which is so much more than telling people what the Bible says, it is showing people Christ like character by living the way of Jesus. It is in community and in activity together we learn, we grow, we are discipled and as the writer to the Ephesians describes we grow: “into the fullness of Christ”.

Our passage from Ecclesiastes could speak of weaving in a practical way about the strength of a weave: “Two support each other” “Three stands are not easily broken”. More importantly I think it speaks a spiritual truth; of the strength and support we find in the community of Christ and with the Holy Spirit as the third strand.

In John’s gospel Jesus is recorded as saying: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”, (14:23). And then he promises that God will, for those who love him, send the Holy Spirit, who is the Advocate, the Helper, the one who comes alongside, who calls out to us as encourager and who will teach us all things.

So my friends, hear the words of Jesus afresh, to be prepared as weaver of the gospel first, love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.

Then you will walk in the ways of Jesus, in humility and love, and your neighbour will know they are loved. Then others will be open to your mentoring and learn from your teaching and living to weave the gospel well themselves.

Beloved the Holy Spirit is Teacher, Encourager, Helper and Advocate for you and the Holy Spirit provides strength for the community of weavers. Praise be to God. Amen.