Synod 2016: Bible Study Two

Annual Meeting of the Synod of Western Australia 2016  Bible Studies

September 2016

Rev Dr Chris Walker

National Consultant, Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship

Theme: Towards healing and wholeness through faith, hope and love.

 

Helping someone to be healed: Mark 2: 1-12

Introduction

This story in Mark 2 is about a paralyzed man who is brought by friends to Jesus.  Immediately following this healing is the call of Levi, or Matthew, the tax collector to be one of Jesus’ disciples.  This healing story and the call of Levi following are in all three synoptic gospels. I could not see any particular link with the call of Levi.

It is important to note that Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are symbols of the profound authority Jesus conveyed.  He spoke and acted with authority, with the power of God working through him.  This included the authority to forgive sins which restores people to fellowship with God.

The story begins with Jesus and the disciples having returned to Capernaum.  News spread that Jesus was back and at his home. People gathered to hear Jesus speak and they crowded in and around the home.  Palestinian houses usually consisted of just a single room.  The roof, which had to be repaired before each autumn rainy season, was constructed of wooden beams overlaid with branches and covered with mud.  Very often an outer stairway of stone steps led to the roof.

The friends of the paralyzed man could not get to Jesus because of the crowd, so they took the extraordinary measure of removing the roof above Jesus and then lowered the paralyzed man down on his mat.  The boldness and determination of theses friends was recognised as faith by Jesus.  It was the faith of the carriers that was primary not that of the man.  What happened was entirely a work of God through Jesus when he had the paralyzed man before him.

As with our reading from Mark 8 this morning, it was because other people cared for the paralyzed man and believed Jesus could help that he was healed.  They heard and possibly saw previously what Jesus could do and wanted their friend to be healed.

Our experience of Jesus

Thomas Bandy spoke at a series of conferences held in different states in Australia in 2004.  He is a United Methodist minister in the USA who served as director of Congregational Mission and Evangelism for the United Church of Canada for seven years.  He has written a number of helpful books especially Kicking Habits which contrasts declining and thriving church systems.  He is senior editor of Net Results magazine, a church leadership periodical specialising in new ideas for church vitality.  MediaCom publishes many of these articles in its magazine Australian Leadership.

He gave us a key question: “What is it about my experience of Jesus that this community cannot live without?”

He said that ministers and core leaders need to be able to answer this question positively if they desire a thriving church.  Note that the question focuses on experience over knowledge.  People need to have an experience of Jesus in their lives.  The risen Jesus has to be real to them; not just a figure from the past.  While it is a personal question it has communal implications.  If Jesus has made a difference to my life then he can also make a difference to the lives of others in the community.  Recognising this can motivate and assist a church to reach out appropriately to people in the wider community.

I affirm what Bandy says.  The beginning point for thriving churches is people who have experienced Jesus and desire others to experience him also.  They want others to know the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to people’s lives.  The thriving church system Bandy presents is based on people who have experienced Jesus and had their lives changed as a result.  They go on to grow in Christ and listen to God.  The church helps them to grow and become equipped as disciples.  They then serve God and share Jesus with others as part of the mission of the church, the mission of God.

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Many congregations have also found the five practices of fruitful congregations’ approach of Robert Schnase, a bishop in the United Methodist Church in the USA, to be helpful.  The five practices are: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.  Note the adjectives: radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking and extravagant.  They are exceptional not just adequate.  He points out that these practices not only describe the congregational activities through which God draws people into relationship, they also map the path for growth in personal discipleship.  If people want to grow in grace and in the love and knowledge of God, they do so he says: “by deepening their personal practice of gracious hospitality, by placing themselves regularly under the influence of God’s Spirit in worship, by intentionally seeking to grow in Christ-likeness through learning in community, and by practicing compassion and generosity in concrete ways.  In these practices of Christian discipleship, the prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace of God, become visible, real and life changing.”

People who have experienced Jesus, who know the touch of his Spirit in their lives that has brought them healing and wholeness, are able to share with confidence the difference faith in Jesus makes. I am convinced churches need to turn from fear of decline, from self-preoccupation and worry, to facing the community with the liberating message of the gospel.  Jesus does not promise this will always be easy.  Some people may ridicule our faith and reject what we offer.  But we do have a message worth sharing.  Jesus is the one who can bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation to people.  So like Paul let us not be ashamed of the gospel.  Rather let us look for opportunities to share faith and invite people to where they can hear this good news.

Question:  Share your response to Bandy’s question, “What is it about my experience of Jesus that this community cannot live without?”

Sins forgiven, reconciliation with God

With the man lowered before him lying on his mat, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  It is not that the paralyzed man was unusually sinful.  The association between sin and sickness was the traditional understanding.  Elsewhere in the gospels, Luke reports the teaching of Jesus that denies a causal relationship between sin and calamity (Luke 13:1-5).

What Jesus was doing here is deeper than just a healing.  The paralyzed man would have probably accepted the traditional link between sin and sickness and thought that he was not accepted by God, that God was punishing him for his sin.  His relationship with God was broken as well as his body.

The teachers of the law took offence at Jesus forgiving sins.  They asked, “Why does this fellow speak in this way?”    They rightly said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  In their Jewish eyes Jesus blasphemed in claiming to be like God and to forgive sins.  Jesus perceived that they were grumbling and criticising.  He raised a question for them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?”

The clear implication is that it is easier to pronounce sins forgiven than to heal.  The first involves a declaration and the response is internal and out of sight.  The second involves a command and the response is public and very evident.  What Jesus did was both to say to him on behalf of God, “Your sins are forgiven” and heal him of his paralysis.  Before he healed the man he said, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”  The man did so and all were amazed.

Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man.  He was the long awaited Messiah.  However, the Messiah was not expected to forgive sins.  The Messiah would liberate God’s people Israel from Roman subjugation; he would not forgive sins.  Jesus was a different kind of Messiah.  Jesus acted as the representative of God, as the Son of God.  He did not deny that God is the one who forgives sin.  What Jesus did affirm was that God was acting with authority through him.  He in effect was the presence of God.  The healing was a sign. Jesus called people, including his opponents, to recognise God’s presence and authority in him.

Jesus’ authority and freedom is evident in various ways in the gospel accounts.  He not only forgave sins; he associated with those regarded as notorious sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes showing them God’s compassion.  He was willing to break the law, especially the Sabbath law, to release people and bring them healing and wholeness.  He demonstrated the ability to act on behalf of God to overcome sickness even to the point of death and to cast out demons that tormented people.

The deepest need of people is sin and separation from God.  Jesus brought people back into a right relationship with God.  Through him they could be reconciled with God.

The continuing ministry of Jesus

The church has the responsibility of continuing the ministry and mission of Jesus.  Just as he was involved in preaching, teaching, challenging those in power, healing, and enabling people to be reconciled with God, so the church is to be about these activities.  While we have come to appreciate that God’s mission is greater than the church, nevertheless the church has a crucial role to play in God’s purposes.

The Reformers of the 16 century spoke of the church always being in need of reform.  It needs to change in response to changing times.  It has to change to remain authentic in its witness and service.  What was helpful in one period has to be renewed or new approaches begun in another era.  The goal is the same: to be about the ongoing ministry and mission of Jesus, to make disciples and equip them to participate in God’s mission in the world.

The Basis of Union speaks of the mission of God in terms of “that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation” (BU par 3).  God’s mission is all embracing: it has to do with the reconciliation and transformation of people and creation.  The church is called to be involved in what God is doing in the world.  It does so as a community of those who have experienced God’s renewing and reconciling love and are aware of God’s purposes for the world.  Just as “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,” so, as Paul says to the Corinthians, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation and are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

Fresh Expressions of Church

One recent response to the need for the church to change and try new forms of ministry is the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement stemming from the UK, especially the Anglican and Methodist Churches.  While the inherited church continues to have a place, the fresh expressions movement seeks to reach people that are not responsive to the usual forms of church.  Having said that, there is also a growing number of people who are attracted by historic churches especially cathedrals and liturgy that is well crafted and carried out.  The influence of the Taizé and Iona communities is testimony to this.

A key trainer for the Fresh Expressions movement is Dave Male, an Anglican minister in England.  He started a new form of church called the Net in Huddersfield and built it up with others over the next seven years.  He was then appointed to train others to lead churches like the Net.  He has developed a training program and visited Australia.  A modified version of the course has been conducted in Australia and the ‘fresh expressions’ approach has been picked up in some places in Victoria and South Australia in particular in the Uniting Church.

The main difference between the Net church and parish churches is that it is based on the dominant social reality of network rather than territory.  Fresh expressions seek to develop a ministry around a particular interest or activity, such as a coffee shop.  The goal is not to regard this as an activity of the church but to build a church community around it. So it is not just a service activity but through it the intention is to draw people into some worship and service connected to the activity not a church building elsewhere.  It is a new form of Church that links people with a common interest and builds them up there.  The intention is to reach people that the usual churches do not.  The main challenge is to grow beyond the initial team that has the vision for the new ministry, form a Christian community, and lead people to become, grow and serve as disciples.

Ecumenism

One of the other areas of responsibility that I have is the Christian Unity Working Group.  I have come to appreciate the reality of different expressions of church represented by Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Quakers etc.  A recent development in ecumenical thinking is what is called ‘receptive ecumenism.’  Recognising that there are significant differences between the churches, it asks each church to bring its particular strengths and qualities to the ecumenical table as it were and share them.  We can not only have common statements, such as the important Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Church have agreed to; we can also benefit from appreciating our differences.  In my understanding while further unions between churches may well take place, co-operation and respect between churches is very important.  We can learn from one another.

Internationally a very significant development initiated by the World Council of Churches is the Global Christian Forum.  It brings together all the major forms of church: Catholic, Orthodox, historic Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal.  A conference was held in Albania in November 2015 on “Discrimination, Persecution and Martyrdom: Following Christ Together.”  140 leaders from 65 nations came together.  It was historic for two main reasons.  First, it brought together all the main traditions of global Christianity around the issue of the persecution of Christians.  Second, it acknowledged the Church’s complicity in being also a persecutor of people of other faiths and fellow Christians. It has called churches globally to pray, support and be in solidarity with those suffering persecution due to their faith.

Question:  How does your congregation learn about what other churches are trying in ministry?  Are you in touch with other church traditions and if so which ones?

Conclusion

At the end of the healing story the people who witnessed it glorified God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  They recognised it was not just that Jesus was a healer.  They glorified God, for it was God working through Jesus that led to the man being healed and having his sins forgiven.  They were amazed at what they had experienced and seen first-hand.

We are called to be witnesses to Jesus and instruments of God’s purposes in our lives and through our churches.  Fundamental is our experience of Jesus.  We are to grow as followers of Jesus through making use of Christian disciplines and practices.  As churches we are to focus on the primary practices that enable us to connect with people and assist them to experience the extravagant love of God.  The goal is not simply to help people but also to meet their deepest need which is to have their sin forgiven and become reconciled with God.  We want people to enter a right relationship with God and know they are loved sons and daughters of God.  Beyond that there is the need to help people to grow in faith and become equipped to live as disciples and join God’s mission through the church and in the world.  Our churches need to be open to change and be willing to try new forms of ministry.  We can also learn from other churches and co-operate with other churches as applicable.  For we are all part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” as the Nicene creed puts it.

We are participants in God’s large mission to bring healing and wholeness, reconciliation and renewal to the whole of creation. May we not be fearful and timid, but be confident and bold in our faith, hope and love.  For we have good news of a Saviour who lived, taught, healed, challenged, died and rose again that we might know the great love of God.  Enabled by God’s Spirit let us together participate in God’s mission in the world.

 

Let us finish with this prayer from St Benedict:  Seeking the Lord

O gracious and holy God,

give us diligence to seek you,

wisdom to perceive you,

and patience to wait for you.

Grant us, O God,

a mind to meditate on you;

eyes to behold you;

ears to listen for your word;

a heart to love you;

and a life to proclaim you;

through the power of the Spirit

of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St Benedict, 480-543

Synod 2016: Bible Study One

Annual Meeting of the Synod of Western Australia 2016  Bible Studies

September 2016

Rev Dr Chris Walker

National Consultant, Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship

Theme: Towards healing and wholeness through faith, hope and love.

 

Healing in stages: Mark 8: 22-26

Introduction

In these two Bible studies I will use two healing stories and relate what I say to the Synod theme, “Towards healing and wholeness through faith, hope and love.”  In interpreting and applying the stories I will draw especially on my experience and understanding of ministry in the Uniting Church and the people who have influenced our thinking about the church in recent decades.

The story in Mark 8 about a two-stage healing of a blind man is unique to Mark.  Mark places the story between Jesus’ warning the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, and Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi.

When Jesus spoke about the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, the disciples thought he was referring to bread.  Jesus had to say to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes, and fail to see?”

At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?  When they answered, John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”  However, when Jesus started teaching them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again, Peter took him aside and began to reproach him.  Jesus then rebuked Peter strongly, “Get behind me Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah but failed to see that the kind of Messiah Jesus represented was very different to the usual expectation.

The healing of the blind man is in this broader framework of seeing and not seeing, of partial seeing and needing further clarification and understanding.

Noticing people

The healing took place at Bethsaida, a sizable fishing village at the north end of the Sea of Galilee.  It came about because some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch the man.  The blind man was not alone.  Others cared for him.  They believed Jesus could heal him for they no doubt had heard of Jesus healing people elsewhere.

In our context, society has become very individualistic and loneliness is a major issue for many people. Many do not have close family and friends who care for them.  Single person households have increased from 8% in 1946 to 24% in 2011.  The percentage is similar in other English speaking countries.  Not surprisingly there are many more women over 50 living alone but more men under 50 live alone.

Suicide is a significant social concern in Australia.  There were 2,864 deaths by suicide in 2014 more than twice the number of road fatalities.  The rate actually peaked in 1963, the year Lifeline was established in Sydney.  Lifeline centres across Australia take some 1800 calls per day including 50 from people at high risk of suicide.  Males die from suicide at the rate of three to one for females.  Females are more likely to self-harm.

As Christians one of the things we can do is simply to notice people and ask how they are.  We can be people who care and our churches can be communities that show compassion for participants and for those in the wider community.

At the Assembly we have monthly staff meetings which include hearing about some area of work and usually something about workplace health and safety.  We did a session on RUOK?  The slogan came from a not-for-profit organisation whose vision is a world where everyone is connected and are protected from suicide.  Their mission is to encourage and equip people to regularly and meaningfully ask, “Are you ok?”  So rather than simply asking “How are you?” and expecting the answer to be “Fine” or “Busy,”  we do well to ask the follow up question “Are you ok really?” if we notice the person is perhaps not seeming to be fine.  Taking time for people is something we all can do.  Churches with effective pastoral care through personal contact, visiting, telephone calls and small groups that reach anyone connected to the church are doing a real service.

Mission outposts

Churches are called to be caring communities and find ways to connect with the wider community.  In the 1990s Kennon Callahan, a United Methodist minister from the USA, was already saying that the churched-culture local church was over and that local churches needed to become mission outposts.  By this he did not mean the end of local churches.  What he meant was that the worry about membership, maintenance and money needed to give way to the recognition that we are in a new mission context.  He was convinced that the church was at its best on a mission field.  The church is called to be a team of people at the front lines of human hurts and hopes.  Mission outposts focus on the relational characteristics of a church including specific mission objectives, pastoral care in the community, corporate, dynamic worship, small groups, strong leadership resources, and a streamlined organisational structure.

The National Church Life Survey books that have come out similarly emphasised the need for churches to have an outward focus, a high level of involvement of people in activities, a strong sense of community within the congregation, a clear sense of direction, and effective leadership. The NCLS provides helpful community profiles to assist congregations to understand their particular communities.  It is up to local churches to discern the particular ministries they believe God wants them to be involved in and not simply try to maintain past practices.  The local church I relate to has just been through a planning process and has identified four areas of focus:  Hospitality and welcoming, Connectivity with the wider community including media and communication, Refugee support/action, and Caring for the environment/reducing climate change.  Each congregation has the responsibility of seeking to be agents of God’s mission in its area.

Evangelism and faith sharing

I find that Uniting Church congregations are seeking to be at mission and connect with their communities.  What we are less good at generally as a Uniting Church is bringing people to Jesus.  Those who brought the blind man to Jesus begged him to touch the blind man.  They were convinced Jesus could help.

As a Uniting Church we have many community agencies connected to our church and they do a great deal of caring.  However, government funding often means limiting their Christian witness.  Many of those employed are not Christians, though my understanding is that they are willing to acknowledge our Christian ethos and values, if we take the time to explain it to them.  What it means to be working in a Uniting Church agency should be a part of the orientation process for every employee.  The Assembly through Craig Mitchell and the Formation, Education and Discipleship section is preparing resources for this purpose.

Congregations and individual Christians do not have constraints on their witness other than that expressed by Peter, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).  Be ready to share your faith sensitively and respectfully.  I find that many people are reluctant to name Jesus and point to him, not because they do not believe themselves, but because they do not want to impose on others.  The result is that our faith is not verbalised.  We do not confidently recommend Jesus.  Ian Robinson’s “Makes You Wonder” workshops are a valuable means of overcoming this reticence.  We need to find ways that are natural to us in recommending Jesus to others.  The early Christians certainly did so.  Christians in other parts of the world do so.  Many in our ethnic Christian communities readily do so.  We need to find our voice in relation to sharing faith.

Our churches can also provide opportunities for people to hear a basic Christian message and respond to it.  There are ways to do this appropriately for our context.  We need to experiment and find them.  Jesus can bring healing and wholeness.  We have a responsibility to provide contexts in which his Holy Spirit can work.  I think it helps to recognise that theologically we do not convert or heal anyone.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict and heal.  We can co-operate with what the Spirit is doing and point people to Jesus as one who can heal and save.  We can offer occasions when responses are invited and prayers for healing are given in more than a generalised way.  Telling stories of this happening and hearing people share something of their faith journey, especially recent experiences, can be beneficial.

Question:  What opportunities do you and your congregation have to connect with people and bring them to Jesus?  How might we do this better?  What training and planning might assist?

Seeing clearly

Back to the story of the blind man.  The healing took place in two stages.  Jesus led the man out of the village. In this instance Jesus did not want everyone around.  Saliva was held to have healing properties, and Jesus put it on the man’s eyes and laid hands on him.  The blind man was not healed fully at first.  He said, “I can see people but they look like trees walking.”  It took a second touch from Jesus for him to see everything clearly.

In the passages surrounding this story, the disciples and Peter did not see clearly the significance of Jesus and the nature of his Messiahship.  It was not until the resurrection that they fully appreciated who Jesus was and what he achieved.

We do well to ask ourselves, where are we still blind, where are we seeing things unclearly?  This applies to us as individuals and as churches.  One of my areas of responsibility is the Doctrine Working Group.  We have produced a number of resources.  Doc.bytes, for example, are brief clear statements on a number of subjects, such as Baptism, Conversion, the Lord’s Supper, Peacemaking, Evangelism, the Lord’s Prayer.  We have also put out some pamphlets such as “How to Read the Bible – 12 Simple Guidelines” and “Making up our Mind – Moral Discernment in the UCA.”  I have edited two books of papers, Building on the Basis and Being and Doing Church that represent Uniting Church thinking.   We are clear on many issues in the Uniting Church, such as the ordination of women and how we should treat refugees and asylum seekers.  At present the Doctrine Working Group is working on the marriage issue.  This is not so clear.  What marriage means for different people and cultural groups varies.  Whether we should change our definition of marriage to include same sex people is yet to be clarified.  We need discernment.  We require the help of the Holy Spirit.

Hopefully in the future it will become clearer but at present our sight as a church is not, despite some saying it is clear-cut to them, whether they are on the side of staying with the current definition of marriage or whether they speak about marriage equality. We may also need the grace to accept one another as Christians even if we differ in our convictions concerning marriage.

Question: What are some of the issues you think we are clear on as a Uniting Church?  What are some of the issues that we are not so certain about?  How might we best move forward?

Concern for people

Jesus sent the healed man home saying, “Do not even go into the village.”  Jesus did not want the person to be hounded by people in the village.  No doubt he expected the man to give thanks to God for his healing.  In other instances, such as healing from leprosy, he told people to go to a priest to confirm the healing so they could take their place fully in the community again.  It may also be that Jesus did not want people giving too much importance to the miracle itself.  The healings and exorcisms Jesus carried out were signs of the kingdom of God coming near.  He wanted people not just to be impressed with the healing and wholeness he brought but to respond to his message about the reign of God.

In our context you can understand why Jesus told the man not to go into the village.  The media and bystanders would flock around the man asking questions and taking photos.  Jesus wanted to spare the man this unwanted attention.  Our context is one in which social media can lead to instant fame.  There is also a danger that privacy is breached and people are treated in unsatisfactory ways.  Reporters often try to push people into saying things when they would rather not.

The church should be on the side of individuals and be concerned that they are treated fairly. People should not be imposed upon but be allowed to respond to situations according to their own assessment as to what is required.  When people are touched by Jesus’ Spirit, his desire is not just that they are helped in their lives but that they become his disciples.  They can join him in God’s mission of healing and wholeness and reconciliation in the world.  The church has a mediating role to play in assisting this. It is also to demonstrate in its own community life this acceptance of people and reconciliation, and enable them to grow and serve as God’s people.

Conclusion

From this story then we can take hold of the importance of noticing people.  Our churches are called to be mission outposts alert to the hurts and hopes of people seeking to bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can more readily share faith and point people to Jesus confident he does have the power to heal and save.  We do well to recognise that we are not always clear as to the way ahead.  We need discernment and the humility to admit our uncertainty.  We too need a second touch from Jesus.  We go forward with Jesus guiding our way and in the strength of his Spirit.

Let us finish with this prayer from St Augustine:  Abiding in God

O loving God,

to turn away from you is to fall,

to turn towards you is to rise,

and to stand before you is to abide for ever.

Grant us, dear God,

in all our duties your help;

in all our uncertainties your guidance;

in all our dangers your protection;

and in all our sorrows your peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St Augustine, 354-430

 

A Ship’s Tale

ship

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about facing the crisis, noting that crisis includes both danger and opportunity. Today I want to tell a story…

Imagine a ship of yesteryear which sets sail for a faraway place. It has a young crew of enthusiastic sailors with adventure in their heart. On board are all the provisions for the journey; the hold is stocked with bread and wine, with all the other essentials.

The journey is long and arduous, no-one really knows the destination but there is an old map and a tale which goes with it, describing a great journey and an amazing city. Hope lives on in the heart of the sailors. They persevere despite storms and rough seas. Occasionally one is washed overboard and a funeral service takes place. Sometimes one of the sailors, or a group of them, jump ship to join sleeker more modern craft hoping for a quicker arrival at the destination. The rest of the crew, mourn briefly but remain resolute.

The ship is becoming harder to handle with fewer sailors, and as they get older it is more difficult to climb the masts and set the sails. They are weary. And the ship is beginning to leak, there are sometimes more below decks pumping water than there are above to hoist the sails.

Then an awful reality dawns on them. The ship may not last to their destination, sinking is a very real possibility.

On a calm day, they gather in the galley to review their options. All the lifeboats are gone, the lifebuoys are perished and the holds are steadily filling with water. The captain suggests that they build another craft from the good material of the old ship. He paints a picture of opportunity to be redeemed from the failing old galleon but warns also of the dangers. There is danger in doing nothing but there is also danger in how they use the material of the old ship – if they take too much, they may simply hasten its demise, if they take too little, there may not be enough to build an adequate craft and if they build too slowly they may not be ready when the ship finally sinks.

There were some who loved that old ship and did not want to give it up. They wanted to struggle on; they were convinced that all would be well. There were some who were tired of the old ship and were excited about doing something other than bailing water. And there were many who simply didn’t care.

Stories can be told to elicit a particular answer, or sometimes to make you think about alternative answers. Jesus told stories and left them hanging in the air – very few of them were explained, and now two thousand years later, we still find preachers interpreting some of those stories. This story is about creating a future. We can create a future by hanging on to the past, or we can try to make things different, or we can simply do nothing. Each is a valid alternative but they will create different results.

If you read the General Secretary’s report to Synod for 2016, you will see that we are trying to create a different future for the Uniting Church in WA by making things different now. I encourage you to read it.

To close, let me quote from the Rev Peter Laurence OAM, CEO of the Anglican Schools Commission in WA writing in the Anglican Messenger dated August 2016, “The reality is that the average person is not engaging regularly with the conventional structures of the church. They are not in our pews on a Sunday, attending Bible Study on Wednesday night or Mother’s Union on a Friday morning. What they may not realise is that the church, in all her forms, will cross their path many times throughout their year. It may not be through Sunday worship. It may be through our caring agencies, whose arms stretch far and wide throughout all age groups and social classes. It may be through aged care provision for themselves, their parents or grandparents. It may be through our schools, who alone educate well over 150,000 Australians.”

We have a different future, it just depends on how you look at things now, and what you do about it.