Being the Good News of Jesus Christ

President Stuart McMillan delivered this sermon at the closing service of the Middle East National Conference held at Bankstown District Uniting Church on 5 November.

Masā' al-khayr, Good afternoon. It is a delight to be with you in worship this morning on the second day of #MENC17.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

I want to acknowledge the sovereign First Peoples of these lands and waters the Gweagal and Bidjigal Clan Nation. These lands and waters were violently and illegally ceased for which I apologise and I pledge to work for “just terms” treaties for all First Nation Peoples of Australia.

In the letter to the Church in Philippi Paul reminds them of his prayer and love for them, together with the joy he has that they are partners in the Gospel with him.

My friends you and all those who are of Middle Eastern decent within the Uniting Church in Australia are in the prayers and thanksgiving I bring before our God. The UCA rejoices in our shared partnership in the Gospel, in the wisdom and deep understandings you bring to our Church as we together glimpse something more of the mystery of God.

Further, I was able to share our deeply held love and prayers for the wider Christian community in the Middle East when I visited Beirut, Lebanon in January this year.

We belong to one another”, I shared from Romans 12, and from Christ’s prayer in John 17; we are one in the love of Christ. Gathering together on the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders modelling this love and unity, as together we led worship – partners in the Gospel.

Your theme for the conference is drawn from verse 6 of Paul’s letter: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.” Partnership in the Gospel is both corporate and personal. So the UCA is in a corporate partnership in the gospel with all our international and ecumenical partners. This was our reason for the solidarity visit to Lebanon.

Therefore the “good work begun” is both corporate and personal. So the good work begun in the faith communities of our international and ecumenical partner Churches, God will bring it through to completion. Which is why commencing tomorrow in Bonn Germany our friends from the Methodist Church in Fiji with the Fiji government will preside at the COP 23 Global Climate meeting. And it is why last week I signed with other global faith leaders a letter to those delegates.

And so too the good work begun in the UCA God will see through to completion! This is why I continue to emphasise from the Basis of Union that it is Christ who constitutes, rules and renews his church. It’s Christ, through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who I am confident will bring to completion, to fullness, the good work begun in us.

Let’s talk for a minute about the personal aspect of God completing the good work begun in our individual lives. My example is my mentor and brother-in-law Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM. As a boy he was chosen with some others to go to Alcorn College in Brisbane Qld by MOM authorities. It was said of him, he was the least likely to succeed, with the lowest academic potential.

Well friends the good work begun in him, the rule of Christ in his life, the love of Christ in his heart and the work of the Spirit proved that human prediction so wrong.

He went on to be ordained by the Methodist Church of Australasia in Sydney before union, received an honorary doctorate for literature, was the first and thus far only Indigenous synod Moderator, Chaired the Reconciliation Council of Australia, is currently and has been for a long time the Chair of the largest and arguably the most successful ATSI business in Australia which employs more First Peoples than any other in Australia and which regularly wins government and business awards.

He is a highly regarded theologian whose contextual Indigenous theological and spiritual writings and lectures have made a most significant contribution. He had a period of losing his way as have many of us, he has battled and overcome serious cancer, the untimely death of his wife caused him deep grief, but God is bringing to completion the good work begun in Gamarraŋ – thanks be to God!

True partnerships are characterised by love and mutuality where the “other” is carried in one’s heart, no matter the circumstances. I carry Djiniyini in my heart. We are partners in the Gospel and brothers in Christ, brother-in-law in life.

Just as Paul prayed for his friends in Philippi, so we in the Assembly team pray for you and trust you pray for us, that respectively our “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that we will be able to discern what is best.”

Is there I wonder a greater insight about discernment in this prayer of Paul’s? That it is more than mere sentimentality? Jesus showed when he walked the earth that there was no greater love than he had for all humankind. He had clear vision and acute discernment. Might it be the attitude of love that enables or empowers the fullness of the Spirit to guide us?

The letter to the Church in Philippi continues: “That we might be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”  That is the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.

Partnership in the Gospel is about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and most importantly being the good news of Jesus Christ for others!

And so in the passage from Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus say to his disciples: “You give them something to eat”. There’s a great crowd of people, it’s the end of the day, they are tired and hungry. What’s to be done?

Love and compassion fills Jesus as he looks at the very real needs of this crowd. He challenges his disciples to enter more fully into the abundant life Jesus comes to bring.

Partners in the Gospel share with Jesus to lovingly and compassionately reach out to others. And abundance is what is seen as these disciples partner with Jesus, the whole crowd is fed and there is some over!

Friends, beloved in Christ, our partnership in the Gospel means Jesus calls us to lovingly and compassionately reach out to those in need in our communities. Partnership calls us to trust Jesus for abundant life he will bring through our faithful service.

I rejoice that Middle East National Conference with the whole Uniting Church are partners in the Gospel. We must together discern what is God’s good way, walk in it, reach out to others in love and share God’s good and abundant life promises and provisions for all human kind.

Knowing the good work begun by God in us, in our Church and in the world will be carried on to completion in Christ. Amen.

“God Waŋarr nhe dhu gurrapan bukmak yolŋu, nhorkala mägaymirri rom ga märrnhamathirri, Nhäŋapurruŋ wanyganyna. Marrakupmirri, Garray.”

May God pour out his peace and love upon us all and make us one, in Jesus name. Amen.