Friday, January 18, 2013

All that we need is a bit of a mess!??!!

Reading and reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 this past week has been particularly personal as it speaks with a greater clarity into my current pastoral work here in the Illawarra and Southcoast region of New South Wales. In a parish that has seen significant decline over the years in terms of people and finances, there has grown almost an acceptance that we are on the way out. You could almost say there is a sense of resignation. Accepting the inevitable.  The reasoning behind this...the majority of the active membership are old. (and by old I mean that at 60 years of age I am one of the younger members here) Since the society at large considers them of little value, they have begun to see themselves in the same light. The words of Paul speak directly to this.  At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians he reminds us that we are not lacking any spiritual blessing (that is needed) (1 Corinthians 1:7). Here in chapter 12 he reminds us that the gifts are apportioned in such way that the community is built up.  Another way of reminding us that we still have all that we need. My reading lead me to the writing of Mary Hinkle Shore on the Working Preacher website. She posed a couple of questions and another thought that is stirring me.  Here they are:

How do people know we are "Church"? 

A big question to ask, especially if you are a church like we are here in the Illawarra. Our foundational work of welcoming the early European migrants of Lutheran background to this area is long since finished. Which leads to the next question:

What is God doing in this place?  (and I would add "now"!)

Another big question and a struggle to identify what God is doing when it seems no matter which direction you look the view is one of decline and growing irrelevancy.  Still God is doing something here. Why else would he have given spiritual gifts to the people who are part of this faith community?  So it is one that needs to be wrestled with.

One final help keep the focus:

Whatever God's Spirit is doing, it will probably not be characterized by tidiness. When you are looking for the Spirit's gifts, look for a bit of a mess.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Enemies, foreigners and border crossings...

Acts 8:14-17 is an interesting and unusual passage. Unusual because it seems to be such a short reading that has been lifted completely out of its context. On the other hand, it's brevity forces the reader to focus on what the text is saying or not saying which makes it interesting...or at least I found it interesting.

For me, the obvious question is why didn't the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit with baptism. We are told that they received the word of God and been baptized in the name of Jesus. Why was it that the Spirit was withheld?  This is made the more intriguing when you remember that when Peter went to Cornelius' house, there God poured out the Spirit before anyone was baptized.  So what gives?

Well, I agree with Gerhard Krodel who wrote:
"The anomaly of a separation of Baptism from the gift of the Holy Spirit occurred (verse 16) so that the representatives of the apostles would experience the breakdown of the barrier between believing Jews and believing Samaritans."

Put simply, the reason God made it necessary for the apostle's to go to Samaria and check out the stories of the Samaritan baptisms and be personally involved in the Samaritans reception of the Holy Spirit was so that they (the apostles) would get the message that God could and would work outside the boundaries and limits that we human beings would like to impose on one another and on God. Those who had been enemies were now not just friends, but family, brothers and sisters in Christ. That would have shaken things up a bit.

I also like the idea that the apostles had to cross the border, leaving behind the comforts of Judea and Jerusalem, to enter Samaria and face all their preconceived ideas regarding God, cleanliness, religion and society.  Not a comfortable journey, I am sure.

Both of these points raise some legitimate questions for us today. What limits do we place on God? On his good news?  What boundaries do we need to cross to reach others with the grace and love of God? Is God once again demonstrating that he will work as he wills and not according to our expectations of him?