17 January 2021

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Sermon - 16 October 2005
Bible Verses: Exodus 33:12- 23 & Matthew 22:15- 22
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

Futurechurch conference and the Presence of God

The people were stuck in the desert. Life was throwing all sorts of dirt at them and Moses was stuck with the people. So he did what any good leader would do - he goes and complains to God. "Youíve said to get to this place and look whatís happened to us a result of doing what youíve asked us to do.

Now what are we to do now? You wonít let me know what is happening, who you are sending with us to show us the way?

Are you real God?
How do we know who you are and where you are and more importantly if you are anywhere.
The golden calf begins to look appealing - at least we can see it and touch it Ė and it seems to make give them what they want.
Are you real God when weíre stuck in the desert with a load of wingeing ex slaves who demand results?
Are you real God when the rest of the world spends their time without being faced by challenges to give up their daily slavery and we face the terror of the freedom of the wilderness? Alone. By ourselves.

Show me who you are, show me what we need to do to please you? What we need to do to know we have done what you want.
We are your people, arenít we?

This last few days I have been attending a conference at St Lukes called Futurechurch. I will confess to you, that I thought it was about what the future church might look like. Well yes there was a little bit of that, but it was really about people wandering in the wilderness. Some were stuck, they had escaped the slavery and the hurts that the church, had inflicted on them, some were wandering in far off territory looking for Godself in many places. They had left the church or been excluded from it years ago but still sought the presence of god and were not satisfied. A number were part of alternate communities. They had escaped the conventional church as represented by you and I and at the beginning of the conference had no intention and couldnít even imagine they would have anything ever to do again with what they still perceived as the church. It was their conference, they had been having it for years and they knew what the church was like and what the God of the church looked like and they had rejected that image.

I had no idea about this, nor I think did the majority of people present, who happened , in the surprising ways of God, to include a large number of Presbyterian ministers, and a few Anglican clergy and lay people from all parts of our church. They were invaded. Their wilderness, which they had thought they could wander in by themselves, suddenly was full of exactly what they thought they were escaping. And those of us who went were surprised to find these seeking fringes brought into contact with us as we too sought our future, who would go with us, and what do we say about this God?

Had a mistake been made? In this amazing mixture of people?
I donít think so. We all had to think carefully before we spoke, and not use conventional religious phrases. We also had to speak honestly and listen carefully and by the end something had happened.

For the questions were the same as those of Moses? Who are you God?
The Other?" said some, "a construct of our minds" said others, "the force behind the crystals" said one or two, and one said "we should be up there at the next vision conference with the tarot cards and the alternate religions we normally seek to avoid"..
The Pesbyterians , nearly all ministers, spoke softly of the need for scholarship and those coded ways of saying things about order and accountability, and needing some structure for humans to come together. And were surprised by the picture which others had rightly rejected of a forbidding, exclusive, perfect church. And a God they heard about who showered people with guilt and wanted them to change in ways alien to the core of their being. Church, they said, wanted to stop them asking questions and questing for God. To tell them what they should believe.
Since when? What sort of church would do that and not let God work in the mysterious way Godís spirit has of capturing our hearts and inviting us into loving.

We gathered in silent , individualised worship, before stacks of candles, [the St Lukes candle bill must be a significant item in their budget] broke the bread and drank the wine individually, and used metaphor and symbols to express this God of mysterious presence.
We listen to some brillant input from a psychologist about the latest discovereis about how we function emotionally and how a community can teach its children and those who come awareness of one another and their needs - skills of compassion that can be learned.

Is this what church of the future looks like in a society which wants no demands on people? Maybe for some, but the heart of the tradition, churches which look very like us here, recognisable and open to all who come, welcoming and hospitable and serving their communities have a vital and living future. For it is God who journeys with us.
We talked about how inclusiveness itself excludes and there are boundaries. Because there are things we stand for as distinct to things we are against.

The group during the week had a lot in common with Moses. He wants to know, that God is going to travel with him, he wants to know how he knows that God is still with him when he had gone a way off the margins, and struck out into unknown territory. When he risked losing all that seemed familiar and secure, but really bound people in slavery.
God answers him - God says yes, I am with you.

And Moses asks God one more thing, Would God be exclusively his and make Godís people distinct from all other people?
A question of our conference, a question of our Session here as we struggle with what we do in our community centre. What makes us different, distinct from others and not just another wandering band of dogooders?

Moses said. We canít travel unless you God travel with us, we wonít make it without you having you with us make us distinct from every other people on earth.
Isnít that often our supposition? Being followers of Jesus makes us distinct for others, is the differential the way in which we judge who is in and who is out? We assume we have the exclusive rights for God and Jesus, in fact most of our in church arguments are about who is in and whom is out and whom can declare which is which.

And what is Godís answer?
I will show you what I am like, because I know your name.
Moses says show me your glory. Dangerous question!
Yes says the Lord, I will.
What is this glory we wonder?
I will make all my goodness pass before you.
Not a word about wrath, judgement!
My goodness, My name is I am who I am, you canít capture me, says God
Mercy, being gracious, this is what God reveals about Godself.

BUT Moses, that request about being your God, something I want to make clear, that I and not you make the boundaries. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and show mercy to whom I will show mercy. Moses I AM decides this.

Maybe those boundaries get blurred by Godís own self, our task is to be those who travel in Godís presence and we may find others, strangers and friends alongside us in the desert and on the road.

And the goodness of God?
Moses hid, it was like sheltering from a nuclear blast, and that was only the little bit of Godís nether regions. The overwhelming goodness of God was too great for Moses to see - but he got a glimpse of the Mystery of Godís presence.
The One who promised to stay with them on the journey.

I almost didnít attend the last morning, but that is where I saw Godís presence among us as people said their thanks. The number that had hope because they realised the church was not as they had left it. Those of us who were despairing as our church reinvents itself had new hope as we looked around at old friends and saw the congregations we come from and knew that we have life.
But most of all it was seeing the presence of Jesus in the pain of the past being woven into a new thing for the future.

The gospel of John says the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fatherís only son, full of grace and truth.
The law was indeed given through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ. None has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fatherís heart, who has made him knownĒ

In our lives, when the dirt is flying and the wilderness seems to be dry and there is no end in sight, r,emember that we have as a presence with us the God of Moses, the one who is made known to us in Jesus.

I returned, and found that that quiet presence of God was with us here, in people who visited and cared, where I was not able to do so last week, people who prayed and were aware of others needs .
What a neat lot you are, and know that God works in and through our lives and work. You are a resurrection people, not perfect, thatís Godís job.
Be encouraged, where ever you are travelling in your faith for the presence of God does not leave us, nor abandon us and We are invited to continue the journey in hope. For there is a future full of the goodness of Godís love for every one here, and those whom we find traveling with us.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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