Her sermon is below:
READINGS: MICAH 6:6-8 and John 4:3-30 (NRSV)
What does the Lord require of us?
This is a question the prophet Micah addressed to 8th century BCE Judean society. Jin Yang Kim an Old Testament scholar, suggests we could translate the question: What does God expect of you/us?
This is a question we may hear addressed to us today in the Uniting Church and to our agency, Uniting World. What does God expect of us?
We are living out our response to this question personally and communally in worship, relationships, work places, social and political engagement: What does God expect of us? To do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
Sef, in your ministry through Uniting World, you have embodied this call of the prophet Micah. And the justice in which you are engaged is justice that advocates for the ministry and leadership of women, the flourishing of women and men in our communities and societies, and justice which responds to the cries of the creation for healing and renewal.
We are here to give thanks for your ministry, to affirm our ongoing commitment to God’s call to justice, loving kindness and a humble walking with God, and to send you with our blessing on this next part of your Christian pilgrimage in the wider communion of churches that is the World Council of Churches.
Jin Yang Kim, in Bible studies he developed for the WCC, focused on Micah and the WCC theme of Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. Kim notes that God’s call through the prophet Micah, “is an invitation to become agents of transformation in the world.” (Jin Yang Kim, WCC Website)
And there is a challenge in this for the people of God in Micah’s time, and for us, as “Micah paints a picture of political oppression and economic exploitation by the powerful against the weak and oppressed (6:12). Micah challenges the people of Israel (and us) to restore and reconcile the broken relationship with God and with their neighbour.”
Kim reminds us that walking humbly with God, includes acknowledging others who share the journey with us – who are “our companions along the way.”
The work of Uniting World in which Sef and many of you here, are engaged, is indeed a humble sharing of disciples, seeking fatihfully to serve Christ together. Uniting World notes: “We are Christians collaborating for a world free of poverty and injustice.”
And now Sef, in this next chapter, you are entering into a collaborative participation with the World Council of Churches, a global communion of churches, of which the Uniting Church is a part.
In all of your ministry and into the future we pray you will be blessed with hope and joy through being part of this collaborative community of Christ, woven
together by the love and grace of the Holy Spirit.
And as you have reminded us in your teaching and actions - doing justice and walking humbly with God, draws us into communion with the whole Creation.
Carol Dempsey, a theologian from Portland in the US, in her reflection on Micah’s call reminds us that “all of creation is part of one unified web of life, (and) the practice of justice and love … needs to embrace both human and non-human life, … the humble walk with God is a walk of holy reverence and awe across the planet, with people being attuned to and learning from the divine Spirit that
pulsates at the heart of all.” (Carol Dempsey, Professor of theology University of Portland.” (p. 294 Feasting on the Word)
Sef, in your work with the WCC, your path continues on this “pilgrimage of Reconciliation with God and with our Neighbour” (Jin Yang Kim.)” (and our neighbour includes the whole Creation)
The story of the woman at the well and her engagement with Jesus relates directly to the ministry of gender justice, in which Sef and Uniting World are engaged with our partner churches. In working for gender justice, we are following in the way of Jesus, by calling women into life-giving encounter with the one who is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
The Samaritan woman is one of the models of discipleship in John’s Gospel. She is a woman who is willing to engage with Jesus, to dive deeply into this conversation with him. She is not afraid to question, and her questions and openness draw her into a theological conversation, which echoes over the centuries to be life-giving for us. For her community and for us she is a witness, an evangelist, witnessing to hope – that the Messiah has come among us, the Christ who is Saviour of the world.
Women in Pacific churches, in partnership with men, and their communities, along with the Uniting Church through Uniting World are also models ofdiscipleship, like this woman. We are sharing in ministry with Mereani Banivanua and Rev. Tomasi Tarabi of the Methodist Church in Fiji. They spoke with us in our recent President’s Conference in Fiji.
Mereani, is a leader in the work of Gender Justice in the Methodist Church. She described the impact of their work on the church and community, and how they put out a banner advertising their gender justice workshop in the Centenary church in Lautoka and people from the community came off the streets drawn to enquire what the church was doing in this area.
And she is working with Rev. Tomasi Taraube who is an advocate for gender justice in his community, with his wife, Akanisi.
Their hope is grounded in the liberating power of Jesus in their lives and the life
of their community.
Like the woman at the well, they are engaging in theological conversations – they are not afraid to ask questions – of God, of each other, of their church, and of themselves, diving deeply into encounters with Jesus that are life-giving and liberating for them and their communities.
We may see ourselves in the life of this woman, and we are also called to act as Jesus did in this story and throughout the Gospels: If we are to do justice, to invite people into their fullest humanity and flourishing, we may find as Jesus did that we are challenging religious and social prejudice, we may even find the light that Jesus brings to our social, religious and political contexts, throws light on our own prejudices.
The woman is a Samaritan – Jews and Samaritans had been divided for a long time – they had long-standing differences that led to hostility between them.
In this encounter Jesus breaks down the barriers that separate us socially, religiously, politically – to move beyond prejudices to find that in our meeting we discover, life-giving water.
Through this story, we are reminded again of who we are called to be – the people of God - a God whose living water, cannot be contained within the bounds we may seek to define, but whose abundance and extravagant grace washes over us and through us to offer life and hope to our world.
And this encounter with the woman is no accident on Jesus’ part. Jesus intentionally enters Samaritan territory and engages in a theological conversation with this Samaritan and this woman. Not exactly a safe, status quo kind of space.
Where do we locate ourselves? Are we intentional about placing ourselves in situations which are place of solidarity with those who are exploited, diminished, or silenced? Places where Jesus leads us.
Sef, you are making the choice to locate yourself in a particular space – in the World Council of Churches – as the Programme Executive, Mission and Evangelism/Mission from the Margins.
We pray that this will be a space, where you are able to use your gifts, to encourage the church to hear the good news of Christ that comes to us from the margins, that comes to us from those who are empowered by the Spirit, to speak their prophetic word, that the Christ has come to us and is the Saviour of the world.
Where will we locate ourselves, as the Uniting Church?
Gustavo Gutierrez in his commentary on this story from John’s Gospel proclaims: “the attitude of the Lord goes beyond political and religious boundaries… In a religious milieu, there is a frequent tendency to withdraw among believers, into an intraecclesial world. But the love of Jesus knows no limits, and the God he proclaims does not fit into the spaces we build for him or into the concepts
through which we attempt to understand him… The water which comes out of the rock from Jacob’s well, from the heart of Jesus has to flood everything" (pp. 53-55 Gutierrez, Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year)
Sef at the President’s Conference in Fiji, spoke about this boundless love and justice of God, about the “Intersectionality of our mission” – that our liberation is interconnected – “we are speaking about relational and inclusive justice, which doesn’t leave anyone or any creature behind.”
In the statement that emerged from the President’s Conference, we affirmed: that we were gathered in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji bearing witness to God’s renewing and reconciling work and drawing courage from each other.
Sef, we pray that as you step into this new ministry context, that you will remember the solidarity in which we share, and that you will draw courage from us as your sisters and brothers in Australia and across the Pacific, and that you will continue to draw courage from the Holy Spirit who calls and equips you for this ministry.
We pray that the mission and ministry of Christ in which we participate through the life of the Uniting Church, contribute to the shaping of a society in which all people and creation can flourish in the abundant life that God intends for us all.
May Christ, our Liberator, empower us with courage to embody in our relationships and community the boundless grace, justice and hope of God.
WORD OF MISSION AND BENEDICTION:
Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Go in peace
May God our Creator renew in us the creative Spirit that brings healing and life to all creation.
May Jesus the Christ, sustain us in boundless grace and love
May the Holy Spirit fill us with courage to be bearers of God’s hope in the world,