On leaving the familiar:
On the 23rd July the Circuit said farewell to Deacon Liesl Warren and Rev Helen White. The service was led by the staff team with the sermon by our District Chair Kerry Tankard, on trusting in God as we enter into the undiscovered country that is the future.
The transcript of Kerry's sermon is below, you can also watch the entire service on YouTube, HERE.
I am a bit of a Star Trek fan. I make no apologies for the fact that it's actually something I quite enjoy. However, let me just qualify this, I am a fan of the original series of Star Trek and that cast, not of the million and one spin offs. I love the original cast and I love the films that they made and I maintain a healthy snobbishness about all things Star Trek on that ground. One of the later films was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In it people were challenged with a new place and a new beginning. The Klingons had suffered a massive explosion on one of their moons and as a result are no longer able to maintain the level of conflict that they had with what is called the federation. So, the intention is that a peace treaty be drawn up and a new beginning be realised between these two warring groups. Captain Kirk comments – I've never trusted Klingons and I never will. The film then explores the whole notion of the undiscovered country and where it might lead the people involved in the film. Those who both long for it and those who fear it and what it will mean for them.
It is this that I wish to address from the context of today's readings. Here we have two representative communities who are faced with a challenge to move to a new and undiscovered country. First and foremost we address the communities of the people of Israel and secondly the disciples and in this instant Peter.
Israel – the land of Egypt as the safe place when they leave.
Imagine you're a small child growing in the land of Egypt. You are the eldest child in your family you have one younger brother and a sister. You would have had another brother but the policy of the Egyptians was to kill boys at the time your younger brother was born so he was taken away and you saw him for no more than a few minutes or maybe an hour. You have seen your parents work each day making bricks to build monuments to a Pharaoh you will never meet. You have food to eat, a place to sleep, but your parents seem unhappy and distressed. Sometimes there is joy in the home but most times there seems a solemn, struggling existence.
Then one day a man appears. There are tales told that he once lived with Pharaoh, yet this man is part of your people, a Jew, a man from Israel. He has come to set your people free.
You've witnessed the endless troubles that arrive upon Egypt after this man appeared and you have, with your family, now been granted freedom. You have taken all you have that is worth carrying and stolen a bit of stuff as well along the way from the Egyptians, well they owe you don't they, and now you are off, for a new life in a promised land. Where food is plenty, land is your own and life is free.
How do you feel? What now are your expectations?
But then the reality of it all begins to bite. Things are never that simple as some want to make it seem!
You arrive at the Red sea and you are faced with a problem, it's there!
Listen then, now, to how the people of Israel respond. read v.11 They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Suddenly the past seems so much better doesn't it. God has done so much for the people and all they do is moan. Now obviously as Methodists, we can't relate to this can we. We never harken for the past and pretend it was better than it really was. We never lament something from years before. No obviously not!
It gets even better though if you read on in the story of the Exodus:
Ch. 15.v22ff – they moan about the water being bitter – so God purifies it.
Ch16.v1ff – they moan about the lack of food and claim that they had all to eat in Egypt – so God gives them manna and quails
Ch 17.v1ff – they moan about the lack of water – so God makes it come out of a rock
The people often look back in belief of a better time, a better land, but we must sometimes question the honesty and realism that is in the eyes that look back – and sometimes we must reflect with an honest cynicism.
You have been travelling people. You will remember times of plenty and time so of little. Times of hope and times of despair. Times of stability and times of change. Maybe we can remember good as well as bad the bad.
Change is part of the history of any people, and however much we think there is little change in church, there invariably is.
Whatever root it was that brought you to be in this circuit, in this gathering today, you are here for a reason, and you are part of change. We must never forget that the simple existence of ourselves here today was a product of faith and change, a moving in to an undiscovered country, and we must hold that principle before ourselves lest we become slaves in a way that those who formed our churches and societies have a wasted legacy.
When I moved from my first to second appointment I did so from the edge of Manchester where I left a very young LEP, a mere 7 weeks old in fact. Part of our journey together there was about cherishing different heritages but at the same time being willing to relinquish what was not right for the journey ahead together.
We needed to leave things behind. Some were carrying things that should have been left behind and I hoped as they have continued to travel together that they would rightly put some things down. Some lamented the change, harking back to a past believed to be better and yet one that in honesty all knew for the individual churches involved meant, for two at least, closure in the next few years.
The choice was made in faith for them to enter an undiscovered country from there they are beginning to assess the land and learn how to begin to live together there.
Each of us here face a new set of uncertainties and of possibilities. For Helen it is a year of personal change, preparing the pathway for a new shape of live and then of ministry. For Leisl is about new staff, with new gifts and offerings; it is about a new home for the whole family and working out what that means for each of them; and for the churches, it is about new ways of sharing in the work of God, with new people in new ways.
All of you arrive at this moment – and all of you should remember, that God is with you!
We are all entering a country where what we have known may be of some use but will not be all we need. It means change about what we hope for, what we will do, and what we will consent to. There are aspects of our journeys that will cause us to question and much about our journeys that will cause us to change.
Hopefully none of you are uttering the slightly amended words of Captain Kirk – I've never trusted "Methodist standing orders" "circuit stewards" "the circuit or the leadership team" "ministers on the move" "new ministers and their funny ways" and I never will. There will rightly be concern over the changes that lay ahead. The country is without doubt strange and uncertain. Who is waiting there for us and how will they react?
Is it not better to stay with what we know – the thought never stops going through the minds of the people of Israel – they regularly stop to complain as I pointed out earlier. At that level it is natural – but at the same time what can we anticipate?
That is hard to say. For the future is not something predetermined, not in any narrow sense, it is what God is calling us to and enabling us to find a way to realise. As we go through the transition of now, there will be great and uncertain things before us.
So let me turn to the disciples who are being separated from the familiar again.
Jesus is dead, is raised and now is gone and they are called to wait in uncertainty. DO we simply gaze up in paralysis or dare to turn out to the world and walk into it in faith?
The point is if we follow, if we stand at the age of the sea and walk out, if we look over the new land and enter to see – there is one constant and one certainty that guides us – GOD IS ALREADY THERE! HIS PROMISES ARE ALREADY BEFORE US – AND HE IS A GOD OF PROMISES.
You will have descendants that number more than the grains of sand, You will be my people and I will be your God, Pick up your bed and walk, Whoever believes in me – will not die but will inherit eternal life – for there is nothing in life nor death . . . .
How the promises flow – how amazing and terrifying it can be to trust God and depend on his spirit as we enter the undiscovered country.