President's sermon at ASC

The Ministry of the Body of Christ

Readings: Ephesians 4:1-16 Unity in the Body of Christ

4 1 therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; 
 he gave gifts to his people” 9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

John 14:15-27 (NRSV) The Promise of the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep[a] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[b] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[c] you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[d]the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

REFLECTION: The promise and work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Body of Christ.

During the past six weeks, I have had many conversations about our Assembly meeting. I am imagining that as members elected to the Assembly Standing Committee, you may have had one or two conversations yourselves. (as have the Moderators and General Secretaries and Presbytery Ministers)..

We will have an opportunity during this weekend to talk about our experience of the Assembly meeting and how we have spoken about the meeting with others. There are various narratives about what took place at the Assembly and if we wove them all together, I am hoping that we would have a rich tapestry of the 15th Triennial Assembly.

Movement of the Holy Spirit

One of my most frequent descriptions of the Assembly meeting is the way I saw the Holy Spirit move among us, guide us and bring wisdom to our decision-making.

There have been mixed responses to some of the decisions of this Council of our Church. But the signs of the Holy Spirit’s action and being among us and through us at that meeting were palpable.

Our National Assembly, decision-making processes are designed to faithfully discern what the Spirit is calling us to be and do.

Our decision-making focuses on communal discernment – a whole community listening to the Spirit, listening to the Word of God expressed in each other – reflecting on the significant issues of our day in the light of the Christian Story and Vision.

Early in the Assembly meeting, we were invited to be attentive to the kind of community we are embodying and to ask - are we opening ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit? As we discern where the Holy Spirit is at work, prompting and challenging us, how are we prepared to act? What needs to be continued and sustained, what needs to be changed – what we will pour our energy into – and where we will utilise our resources? 

I hope that we will be asking those same questions and others, as we seek to faithfully serve Christ through being a member of this Assembly Standing Committee and participating in the work of this meeting.

In the Gospel reading from the Book of John – Jesus promises that he will not leave the disciples ‘orphaned’ but rather God will send the Spirit of Truth, their advocate, who will empower them to follow Christ’s commandments and to love as Christ has loved them.

In John’s Gospel, in Chapters 13-17, we have the account of Jesus’ final conversations with his friends. They have gathered for a meal.

In Chapter 13 verse 1-2: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart rom this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

In this farewell discourse, Jesus encourages, supports, and reassures his disciples, as he warns them about his own departure. They are sad and confused about his leaving them.

Jesus commissions them – to be sent as he was sent by God. He promises that the Spirit will be an Advocate – who brings truth and wisdom. And we know that the Spirit of Christ comes upon the disciples and the life of the early Church and – we see people’s lives transformed

The Uniting Church is a work of the Holy Spirit in our time.

The Holy Spirit is weaving together a diverse community of people, into a union that witnesses to the reconciling love of God for the world.

Paragraph 3 of the Basis of Union: “The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over al things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation..” (See all of paragraph 3 and 4 – the Basis of Union’s Christological heart)

In what ways do you see the Holy Spirit moving among us? Where do you see that sign/foretaste of reconciliation and renewal? (Take a few minutes to write it down)

One of the places where I have seen the Holy Spirit moving among us – signs of reconciliation and renewal, was in our meeting on August the 7th with the Chairs of the National Conferences.

Rob Floyd, Apwee Ting and I met with the Chairs to talk about the decisions of the Assembly – to hear some of their concerns and their hopes for the Church.

Our opening worship included a reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16 

In this reading is found the biblical foundations of one of the strengths of the Uniting Church - that speaks of every member ministry. This Ephesians reading, is a letter to the early Church in the late 1st century,

The Basis of Union echoes Ephesians and other biblical texts, including Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, when it notes

The Uniting Church affirms that every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified and to be his faithful servant. It acknowledges with thanksgiving that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ.

As the Uniting Church, we affirm that none of us are spectators, we are all called to be participants in God’s mission – giving who we are – our gifts and whole being to embody Christ’s reconciling love in the world.

The Ephesians reading speaks of “living a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” – a calling to follow in the way of Jesus. And Jesus embodies this way in his life, his ministry, his teachings, his death and his resurrection.

We hear this way expressed in his proclamation of the Reign of God, in his parables and his healing and transformation of people’s lives.

We are called to be the Body of Christ working in ways that are described in the letter to the Ephesians: Identifying people’s gifts, encouraging them to express them and to grow into maturity into Christ (which is a lifelong journey) 

As members of the ASC, as Synod General Secretaries and Assembly staff, the church has identified gifts in us and we are called to express these gifts through this committee of the Church. And to be part of the reconciling and renewing work of Christ, that inspired the founding of the UCA!

As we reflect on our present life and into the future and as we begin our work as this Assembly Standing Committe, we are invited to consider again with the Church in Ephesus.

• How will we encourage people to grow to maturity, to the full stature of Christ?
• How will the ministry in which we engage, equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ?
• How will what we do encourage the whole church’s participation in God’s mission in the world?

As the body of Christ, we are called to shape our life together with the characteristics described by the writer to the Ephesians “humility and gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I think G Porter Taylor’s commentary on this Ephesians text could be a hopeful word to us and this ASC:

“To bear with one another in love is to sacrifice for the other. It is to help carry the other’s burdens….. The church is called to be a new community based not on the divisions inherent in the existing social order but on the new humanity in Christ…”

We are disciples of the God who makes the impossible possible –a bond of peace, a bearing with one another in love in a world of increasing threatened and realized violence – on a frightening global scale and in a world where votes are won by building on people’s fear and suspicion of the other.

As we engage In the work of this ASC, we know that we are not orphaned – the Holy Spirit is our Advocate – the one who walks alongside us, guiding us into faithful, life-giving and abundant ways of following Christ.

The Spirit was there at the beginning of creation.

The Spirit was in Australia long before colonisation.

The Spirit was present at the beginning of the church,

The Holy Spirit gave the early followers of Jesus courage and power to take the risks in living out the call of God on their lives.

The same Holy Spirit who comes to us today.

The Spirit is with us now – signs of the Spirit are among us, within us, all around us.

God pours out God’s Spirit upon everyone of us gathered here…Taking away our fears and anxieties, healing our hurts, bringing joy and courage, so that we are empowered to be the people we are called to be:

The Body of Christ, a people of hope witnessing to God’s deep love for every person and for the whole creation.

May we continue together as this ASC, and as disciples of Christ, to experience the Holy Spirit in wondrous and transforming ways!

May it be so among us. Amen.