12 December 2019
Off the Tracks
A lot of people are bemoaning the state of the Christian church in New Zealand. Why is it not like it used to be? How is the faith going to be passed on to the next generation?
Some parts of the church are taking refuge in a rearguard action applying rigid laws to prove their faithfulness and forgetting that to follow Jesus we are asked to do just that, to travel with faith and trust that the Spirit of God will guide us in the journey. We are not asked to travel on a railway track where we keep on the rails but we are invited to travel scary uncharted territory across sea and land, even to fly into the places which a railway cannot reach.
As we continue to celebrate our 150th year , we are looking at the stories of this community. We are finding out how different we are from those who first arrived to found this parish and how different the world we live in has become. This remembering also helps us to find out what is really important, and how other generations have come to faith to follow Jesus in their lives and the daily life of the church itself.
On June 5, we will celebrate the marriages held in our parish and it will be interesting to see how much the view of marriage has changed over the centuries and how issues of relationships have been part of the ongoing discussions in the church since its beginning. We will discover what we know, that loving, faithful relationship is at the core of all we do, and that that love comes form Godís own love.
Fascinatingly we find that some things which seemed to be very important at the time, we would not even consider as issues today. In 1901 for example, [before any of us were born], there was a huge argument between the northern and southern parts of the Presbyterian church [South of the Waitaki River] which almost prevented their uniting to form one Presbyterian Church of New Zealand . The issue? The South claimed that for a man to marry his dead wifeís sister was a fundamental sin against God and a Biblical faith.. The Northern church [which included this parish] said it could be a matter of opinion and scripture didnít say any such thing. . In a day when there were large families, childbirth was dangerous and a shortage of women who would be better than a loving auntie to take over her sisterís children and husband? The North and South agreed to allow freedom of conscience on the matter and I doubt that today anyone would even think of it as being an issue. Marriage, who can be married and when has often been a matter of argument in church law. The Presbyterian church was one of the first to allow divorced people to marry, seeing it as a new beginning and remembering that for the Protestant part of the church marriage is not a sacrament but a promise made by fragile humans.
History reminds us that when the church starts using matters of morality as fundamentals of faith rather than guidelines as to what the consequential actions of a faithful community might look like, it is losing the plot. The faith community's mission is not to be the judge of right or wrong, but to bear continuous witness to the love of God in Jesus. To be a blessing.
But somehow, including in the Presbyterian tradition, this can get confused with deciding who is in and who is out and with the church focusing on being a holy police force to keep the boundaries, rather than the living of God's loving which breaks down the boundaries between people. It is obviously a present problem in the Roman Catholic church who have opted for a Pope who is on the old tracks which are predictable to travel on but no longer lead to where the people are.gathering..
The church needs to remember it is not in the morals business.
Robert Capon says ďThe church is not in the business of telling the world what's right and wrong so that it can do good and avoid evil. She is in the business of offering, to a world which knows all about that, forgiveness for its chronic unwillingness to take its own advice.
But the minute she even hints that morals, and not forgiveness, is the name of her game, she instantly corrupts the Gospel and runs headlong into blatant nonsense."
As we look back in our own history, we can see over and over, where love broke through. Where faithful following of Jesus meant focusing on that dependable God who does not leave us, and often doing that difficult and costly loving of one another which sometimes breaks the rules others expect us to follow to keep their world tidy and controlled so Godís world can be claimed.
Our message is good news, love does transform the world, if only we let go and let it do so. At the core of Christianity is God's yes to hopeful life and this Easter season we find that Jesus just keeps appearing -- again and again -- to unlock the barriers between faith and doubt, between life and death, between past and future, between fear and joy.
May God bless you in this Easter season.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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