Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Standing on Holy Ground: a sermon (Exodus 3: 1: 15)

The burning bush is a familiar image from scripture, a bush burning but not being consumed by the fire. For people of Scottish background, the burning bush has long been a sacred image, and it is still the main image in the coat of arms of the Church of Scotland. At one level, this is because of the biblical imagery of the burning bush. At another level, this is also because of the self-image of the Scots (and indeed the self-image of all Celts) of being a people whose history can be seen as the experience of being burned, but never being consumed, an experience which has echoed the historical experience of the Jews themselves.
In our lesson from scripture, Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. He took the flock up onto a mountain. He saw the bush, burning . . . burning but not being consumed. He heard a voice: “Moses, Moses!”
“Here I am.”
“Come no closer. Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
“Remove the sandals from your feet...”. For many people, in different ways, worship involves a physical act to remind the worshipper of the significance of what is happening:
In this story, Moses was told to remove his shoes.
  • Removing one’s shoes before worship still occurs today among Muslims and among worshippers in some of the Asian religions.
  • Jewish men put on a yarmulke and a prayer shawl in preparation for worship.
  • There are the various gestures associated with worship in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholic worship; the sign of the cross, genuflecting, and the like.
  • There is the hand-raising that occurs during Pentecostal and Charismatic worship today.
  • There is also the radical physicality of Muslim prayer.
All of these are physical signs of worship, of being in God’s presence, of “standing on holy ground”.
What about the whole idea of “standing on holy ground”? For the most part, each of the three Abrahamic faiths is reluctant to attach a special sacredness to places. Each faith has its holy places, its sites of pilgrimage and popular devotion (Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Canterbury, Iona, Assisi, Salt Lake City …). (And, unfortunately, the close geographical proximity of the holy places of many faiths to the holy places of the others is a continuing problem for the peace of the world.) 
But the holy places of each faith are considered holy largely through their association with important sacred events. We are reluctant to speak of the “ground” itself as being holy. Perhaps here we may need to learn more from the spirituality of indigenous communities. We need to find the link between the Aboriginal experience of the “sacred site” and the strand of the biblical faith that is expressed in Moses” experience of “standing on holy ground”.
In the sacredness of that moment, God revealed Godself to Moses: “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In the worship, came a greater knowledge of God’s identity.
But the worship and the deep fellowship with God was not all that would happen there on the mountain. God gave Moses a task. Moses was to be the Liberator of his people: “I have observed the misery of my people . . . I have heard their cry . . . I know their sufferings . . . So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people . . . out of Egypt.”
Moses given his task as Liberator in the midst of a deeply mystical experience of divine communion.  This does not always happen this way today. The experience of awe and wonder and the ministry of liberation have become different agenda items for the church.
  • Denominations have Liturgy Commissions. 
  • Denominations have Social Justice Commissions.
  • Very few denominations appoint the same people to serve on both (and more’s the pity).
At its worst, the separation of these agenda items can lead to an artificial dichotomy in the church’s life:
  • an artificial dichotomy between worship and service,
  • an artificial dichotomy between the ministry of the liturgist and the ministry of the activist,
  • an artificial dichotomy between the ministry of the mystic and the ministry of the prophet.
This artificial dichotomy is highly destructive for the church’s life. For the health of the people of God, the Christian church needs to bring together the two sides of this artificial dichotomy into a creative paradox.
The sacrament we celebrate regularly (if not regularly enough) holds together the poles of this creative paradox. In Holy Communion, we share bread and wine:
  • the bread that we call “the staff of life” and the wine of “In vino veritas”,
  • the bread that sustains our life and the wine that symbolises our celebrations,
  • food which grows from the earth, but which symbolises the presence of God in the eternal realms.
Holy Communion demonstrates to us that we are called into our worship to experience God’s presence. It also demonstrates that we are called from our worship into the struggles of the day-to-day world to be part of God’s creative presence in its midst.
And whenever we celebrate a baptism, as we have today, we also “stand on holy ground”. We celebrate Christ’s radical grace that declares decisively for us all, and (in the case of a baby) does so well before we are aware of anything much, that he will be with us in everything, at all stages of our life.
We are “standing on holy ground” when we worship.
We are also “standing on holy ground” when we seek to practice God’s reign in the midst of the struggles of the day-to-day world.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A conspiracy of mercy: a sermon (Exodus 1:8 - 2:10)

Our lesson from the book of Exodus tells of a number of women in ancient Egypt who chose to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • their community,
  • their nation, and
  • their world. 
In so doing, they became co-conspirators in a conspiracy of mercy.

As I worked on this sermon, blue-tacked on the top section of my computer desk was a postcard with a famous quotation from a German Lutheran pastor named Martin Niemoeller.  Niemoeller spent the eight years from 1937 to 1945 as a prisoner of the Nazis, including four years in the concentration camp at Dachau.  After his release at the end of the war, Niemoeller said, in words that have become a well-known (if frequently revised) quotation:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me -
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Niemoeller’s words are a challenge to all people
  • to people around the world
  • to people in this community,
  • to each one of us
to take personal responsibility for events in
  • our community,
  • our nation, and
  • our world.
We find such an acceptance of personal responsibility for events in today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Hebrews had become slaves in Egypt, because a new Pharaoh was on the throne:
  • a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph”;
  • a Pharaoh who conveniently forgot the role of Joseph in saving Egypt from mass starvation, just a few generations before:
  • that very dangerous sort of political leader who had no knowledge of - or interest in - history.

This Pharaoh wanted to enslave the Israelites, so he began to build up a level of fear among his people toward the Hebrews:  “There’s an awful lot of them, isn’t there?  It feels as if there’s more of them than there are of us.  What if they side with our enemies?”  You know the drill.  Many politicians in the past hundred or so years in many different countries made their careers by spinning such a story about some group or another , including (sadly enough) a number of recent – and current - politicians in this country. 

And after enslaving the Hebrew people, the Pharaoh saw that the Hebrews were still numerous and vigorous.  So the slavemasters became that much more ruthless in imposing the tasks on the slaves.  And yet, the Hebrews kept thriving.

So Pharaoh’s plans turned from slavery to genocide.  He ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boys at birth.  The girls could grow up and be married off to Egyptians.  Their children would become Egyptianised, but the boys were to be killed.  The midwives, Shiprah and Puah, disobeyed the order.  They spun a creative line of absolute codswallop to cover up for their disobedience.  And, thanks be to God, they got away with it. 

Shiprah and Puah chose to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • their community,
  • their nation, and
  • their world. 
In so doing, they began a “conspiracy of mercy”.

The Pharaoh eventually commanded all the people to take the law into their own hands.  “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews, you shall throw into the Nile.”  It was getting worse.  Mob violence was a worse prospect.  You could always reason with individuals.  Dealing with mob action, you always ran the chance of finding someone in the mob who actually believed in Pharaoh’s policy toward the Hebrews. 

One young woman, whose mother had a baby ... a baby boy ... a baby boy named Moses ... she tried to hide the baby.  She made a basket of papyrus.  She hid the basket with the baby in the reeds along the river ... the reeds were called “bulrushes” in some older English versions of the story.  She watched ... in a combination of hope and fear ...  to see who would find the basket ... and the baby … her brother.  The young woman chose to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • her community,
  • her nation, and
  • her world. 
She joined the “conspiracy of mercy”.

She soon saw another young woman coming to the river to take a bath.  This woman was a princess, the daughter of the Pharaoh.  The princess recognised that the baby was a boy, and probably one of these Hebrews that her father was trying to kill off.  But she would have no bar of her father’s murderous plans.  She took the child home, and raised him as her own.  Pharaoh’s daughter also chose to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • her community,
  • her nation, and
  • her world. 
Moses’s sister revealed herself to Pharaoh’s daughter.  “Do you want me to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?” she asked.  I have no doubt that Pharaoh’s daughter knew that this girl was related ... related closely ... related very closely ... to the baby.
  • Pharaoh’s daughter knew.
  • And Moses’s sister knew that Pharaoh’s daughter knew.
  • And Pharaoh’s daughter knew that Moses’s sister knew that she knew.
  • And so on ... and so on.
Moses’s sister got her mother - Moses’s mother, too - to be the nurse.  It’s a nice bit of irony here, isn’t it?  I’ll bet Pharaoh’s daughter realised the connection as well.  She was obviously nobody’s fool. 

So Pharoah’s daughter became a co-conspirator with Moses’s sister and Moses’s mother.  She also became a co-conspirator with God in God’s conspiracy of mercy.

Now we really don’t know the name of Pharaoh’s daughter here. 

For that matter, we’re not 100% sure of the name of Moses’s big sister in this story.  Later on in the story, we hear of a sister of Moses named Miriam.  But we don’t really know if Miriam and the sister in this story were the same sister.

The two midwives, Shiprah and Puah, we know their names.

But all five of them:   Shiprah, Puah, Moses’s sister, Moses’s mother, and the Egyptian princess, each of those five feisty women chose to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • their community,
  • their nation, and
  • their world. 

We know the living God is still challenging each of us:
  • like Shiprah and Puah,
  • like Moses’s big sister,
  • like Moses’s mother,
  • like the unnamed Egyptian princess;
to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • our community,
  • our nation, and
  • our world;
to become co-conspirators in God’s conspiracy of mercy.

It won’t be easy to get involved in God’s conspiracy of mercy.  You’ll be called names:  names like “do-gooder”, names like “bleeding heart”, names like “politically correct”.  But never fear, God will have some other names for you as well:  names like “righteous”, names like “blessed”, names like “saint”.

Niemoeller’s lament of inaction sounds throughout our world:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me -
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Instead may we choose, as God’s people, to take personal responsibility for events in:
  • our community,
  • our nation, and
  • our world,
to the glory of God and in the service of our neighbour, as co-conspirators in God’s conspiracy of mercy.

Monday, 11 August 2014

“D’oh!”: a sermon (Genesis 45:1-15, Matthew 15:21-28)

My sermon has the title “D’oh!”, which (as anyone who has ever watched “The Simpsons” knows) is spelled D – apostrophe – O – H – exclamation mark – usually accompanied by a slap to one’s own forehead. “D’oh!”
We all learn things by experience. It’s part of our universal human experience. Often we learn more from our mistakes than from anything else.
And, as it turns out, we often learn the most useful lessons from our most obvious, most public, and – yes – most painful mistakes.
Those who watch the television cartoon series “The Simpsons” (which I only watch rarely) know that the character Homer Simpson frequently learns useful lessons from his most obvious, most public, and most painful mistakes. And, whenever Homer learns such a lesson, his response is always the same: He slaps his forehead and exclaims “D’oh!”
This sort of “D’oh!” moment is part of our universal human experience.
Of course, the fact that the lessons we learn from our mistakes are so useful do not, however, make the realisation of our mistakes any less painful. And there are those, both in private life and in public life, who try to deny the fact that they’ve learned a useful lesson from a painful mistake. Instead, they try to spin an involved and usually increasingly contrived justification for their actions, like Basil Fawlty digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole.  Listen to a politician of any persuasion (or the politician’s “spin doctor”) being interviewed on TV or radio and you’ll usually hear a lot of this. And, you know, we’d all respect the pollie a lot more if he (or she) would just slap his head like Homer and say “D’oh!”.
In our lessons from scripture today, we hear of people having these “D’oh!” moments.
In our lesson from the Book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers have one of these “D’oh!” moments when they realise that the high Egyptian official with whom they were dealing was their brother Joseph, the same brother whom they had sold as a slave years before.
When Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive,” we are told that “his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”
We hear of a similar “D’oh!” moment in our lesson from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus was travelling in the area of Tyre and Sidon. He was out of his own region. He wasn’t among his own people.  
A local woman, a Canaanite woman, a foreign woman, a gentile woman, a woman who wasn’t Jewish came onto the scene. She approached Jesus and shouted to him, asking him to heal her daughter who, as she said, was “tormented by a demon”. (This was the language that people in those days used to speak about various forms of psychiatric illness.)
Jesus ignored her.
She kept on shouting.
The disciples were getting annoyed and said to Jesus that he should send her away.
Jesus said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
She knelt down in front of him and said, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus responded by saying something that to us doesn’t sound very Jesus-like: “It is not fait to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And there’s no getting away from the fact that this was a pretty offensive comment. In fact, it was downright racist. Let’s not kid ourselves by pretending otherwise.
The woman said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
Now, there are two ways to look at this conversation.
One way is to say that Jesus was trying to test the woman, by pretending to be a real "hard man", to see just how persistent the woman was, before Jesus healed her daughter. Many commentators and preachers back in the bad old days would have said that this is what Jesus was doing, either to teach the woman something or to teach the disciples something.
My response to this idea is “I hope not.” This would have made Jesus far too manipulative and far too dishonest to be the Jesus who was the person who revealed the fullness of God in his own life.
Instead, I believe there is a better way to look at the passage. I believe that Jesus was being bluntly and candidly honest about his own feelings about this woman and her people. He learned the prejudices of his community and his nation, the same way all people learn the prejudices of their communities and their nations, the same way that you and I have learned the prejudices with which we struggle.
When the Canaanite woman was direct and “in-your-face” in her response to Jesus’ words, Jesus was challenged to re-think the prejudices he learned in his upbringing.
  • He realised that the prejudices of his community were stupid and wrong.
  • He realised that the prejudices of every community were stupid and wrong, including your prejudices and mine. 
  • Jesus had one of these “D’oh!” moments.
Of course, Jesus didn’t slap his head like Homer Simpson and say “D’oh!” (Or, if he did, Matthew didn’t record it.) What Jesus did say was “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew also tells us that her daughter was healed instantly.)
For us, there are three important pieces of good news in this lesson:
  • The first piece of good news is that all the prejudices that any community of people has about any other community of people are stupid and wrong. Full stop.
  • The second piece of good news is that it’s possible to get rid of these prejudices. It’s not easy. It’s sometimes painful. But it’s possible.
  • The third piece of good news is that, for fallible human beings who sometimes do stupid things and have our “D’oh!” moments, for people like you and I, we know that Jesus was there too. He knows what it’s like.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Great Ecumenical Slow-Cooker

This is a talk which I gave (on Friday evening, 8th August 2014) to the young adults' group at All Saints' Anglican Church in South Hobart, Tasmania.  This talk was the first session in a series in which representatives of other faith communities will speak to the group about their faith community and its life.  Some of the faith communities whose representatives will speak are other Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Friends, Latter-Day Saints ...).  Others are representing faiths other than Christianity.  The purpose of this talk was to assist the group to have some idea of the purpose of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. 

I wish to thank the young adults' group at All Saints' and the parish youth worker (Gemma LeMesurier) for making this evening possible.

First of all, many thanks for inviting me, not only to be part of this series of sessions about the great variety and diversity of the world of faith, but also to be involved in introducing this series.

Over the next few weeks and months, you’ll hear people from a variety of faith perspectives, some of whom are broadly part of the Christian faith and some of whom are not.  And I hope to get to many of these sessions myself.

There will be a great diversity among the people you’ll hear from.

Among the Christians you’ll hear from will be people from the Roman Catholic Church, from the Greek Orthodox Church, from the Society of Friends (also known as Quakers), and from the Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons).

Among those outside the Christian faith, you may hear from members of the Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i communities.  (And, possibly, some of these sessions may need to be at times other than your normal Friday evening meeting time, because Friday evenings will be difficult times to find a speaker from either the Jewish or Muslim communities to come and visit this group.)

First of all, there’s a question of the language we use.  We’ll use words such as “ecumenical”, “interfaith”, and “multifaith”.  These terms aren’t really identical.
  • Ecumenical” comes from the Greek word for house “oikos”.  Other high-powered English words that come from “oikos” include “economics” and “ecology”.  The term “ecumenical” is usually used to refer to relations between groups of Christians.  So, for example, the global dialogue between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches is an ecumenical dialogue.
  • "Interfaith” and “multifaith” activities involve people from distinctly different faiths:  Christians and Jews, Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Hindus.  If it involves people from two faith groups, it’s an “interfaith” activity.  If it involves more than two faiths, it’s “multifaith”.  For a number of years, I was a member of the national dialogue of the Uniting Church and the Jewish community.  This was an interfaith activity.  Some people use the term ecumenical when speaking of an interfaith or multifaith activity.  I try not to.
After this, I’d like to make a few other points.

1.  First of all, and this point is a bit longer than the others, there’s the reason for doing this (in addition to the fact that you told Gemma you’re interested in doing this).

This is not to try to convert anyone else. 
  • No one who will be speaking to your group will be trying to make you anything other than Christians. 
  • No one who will be speaking to your group will try to make you anything other than Anglicans.
  • Similarly, your intent will not be (or at least, should not be) to turn Quakers into Anglicans or Baha’is into Christians.
Neither is our goal to create some sort of religious porridge, blancmange, stew, or curry, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, all thrown into the Great Ecumenical Slow-Cooker.
  • The point of the whole ecumenical enterprise is simple, it is to be part of God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “... that they all may be one ....”  Particularly, and I feel very strongly about this, it’s about enabling any Christian to receive the eucharist in any Christian church in the world.  (Progress has been made in this area in many churches, but there is still a long way to go.)
  • The point of the whole interfaith exercise is, in our world of conflict, people of faith are called to be peacemakers.  People of faith are far more effective peacemakers if we understand each other’s beliefs and practices.
To do this well we need to encounter each other on each other’s own terms.  In these conversations, you’ll be hearing contributions from:
  • Roman Catholics being Catholic, without apologising for being who they are;
  • Mormons being Mormon, without apologising for being who they are;
  • Baha’is being Baha’i, without apologising for being who they are.
  • And you’ll be participating in these conversations as Christians being Christian, and as Anglicans being Anglican, without apologising for being who you are.
And, in my observation, people who know a reasonable amount about faith traditions other than their own become better-informed and more committed members of their own faith communities.
  • By learning some accurate information about Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Quakers, and Mormons from members of their own communities, this will enable you to be better-informed and more committed Anglicans.
  • By learning some accurate information about Jews, Muslims, and Baha’is from members of their own communities, this will enable you to be better-informed and more committed Christians.
  • And by encountering you and your faith position, this process is helping the others become better Catholics, better Quakers, better Jews, and so on.
2.   Secondly, we all need to spend some time thinking about our beliefs about people of other faith perspectives.  I’ve got an article here from my blog, which introduces some of these concerns.  To be able to engage in these conversations, we need somehow to reach the point in our own minds where we can say, here are people of faith – whose faith stance is clearly different from ours – but whom we can see that God recognises as being part of the people of God. 

3.   Thirdly and finally, there’s an idea I’d like to share with you about an important thing that happens when people of faith share with each other across the normal borders of our faith traditions.

This idea is called “Holy Envy”.  It comes from a man named Krister Stendhal, who was a Swedish Lutheran who served both as the Bishop of Stockholm and as the Professor of New Testament at Harvard Divinity School.  He was active in both ecumenical and interfaith relations.

Stendhal coined the phrase “Holy Envy” to speak of the experience when – either in ecumenical relations or in interfaith relations – a participant in the dialogue sees something in another faith tradition that leads him or her to say, “I wish my faith tradition had a bit of that.”

It doesn’t mean that the person wants to become part of that other community.  It doesn’t mean that the person wants to throw a few bits of both communities into the Great Ecumenical Slow-Cooker.  It simply means that here is an aspect of another faith community that provokes the person to say, “I wish we had a bit of that”:   “Holy Envy”.

To give some examples, speaking as a member (and as a minister) of the Uniting Church speaking to a group of Anglicans, there are two things about your church (at least two) that provoke this sense of “Holy Envy” in me.
  • The first is in the area of worship.  I honestly wish that worship in the faith tradition of which I’m part would be characterised by a similar sense of beauty and elegance as I see in Anglican worship, not just at its best (as you find it here at All Saints’) but even at its “average”.
  • The second is in ministry to people who are “occasional” worshippers.  I wish that the denomination of which I’m part would be as comfortable as the Anglican churches I know as we minister to people who merely turn up to church at Christmas, ... or at Easter, ... or for Baptisms, ... weddings, ... or funerals. 
In any event, if you experience this “Holy Envy” some time during this series of gatherings, this will make the whole exercise worthwhile.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Into the Boat: a sermon (Matthew 14:22-33)

There are a number of old jokes about our gospel lesson today.  The basic one sounds a bit like this:

There was a group of clergy in one suburb that went fishing together once a month.  There was a Catholic priest, an Anglican vicar, a Uniting Church minister, a rabbi, and an imam that went every month.  This time, another minister went as well, a pastor from one of the newer "evangelical" churches.

Anyway, they were out in this boat and, periodically, the pastor noticed that whenever one of his colleagues needed anything on shore:  they’d just walk over the water to get it:  coffee, lunch, a bit more bait; they’d just walk over to the shore to get it.

Towards the end of the day, the pastor was thinking to himself, “If these guys can walk across the water like this, so should I.”  So he quickly asked his colleagues, “Who wants some ice cream?” 

Before anyone could answer, he jumped out of the boat and went “splash” into the water!

As the pastor was swimming back to the boat, the vicar turned to the rabbi and said, “I think we forgot to tell him where the rocks were.”   

I told you it was an old one.

Anyway, our gospel lesson includes the story of Jesus walking on the water.  It’s found in three of the gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and John.  We don’t know why Luke doesn’t include this story.

All three versions of the story have the disciples in a boat as they see Jesus walking.  All three versions have the story take place during rough weather on the lake.

Both Matthew’s and Mark’s versions of the story have the rough weather cease once Jesus entered the boat.  John’s version of the story doesn’t have Jesus enter the boat, although the disciples wanted him to get into the boat.  Instead, John’s version of the story has the boat immediately reaching land once Jesus gets close enough to speak to the disciples.

Only Matthew’s version of the story, the one we’ve heard today, has Peter leaving the boat to join Jesus on the water.

After the disciples saw Jesus walking on the lake, they speculated as to whether or not they were seeing a ghost.  They cried out in fear.

Jesus said, “Take heart.  It is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter then called out, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus said, “Come.”

Matthew tells us that Peter walked a bit, lost his confidence, and began to sink.  Peter called out for help.  Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  They both got into the boat, and the wind ceased.

The key to this story is not in the physics of what happened or didn’t happen.  The really important thing is in a very different aspect of the story.

I see the boat as being very important here.  When Peter called out for help, Jesus didn’t perform an individual rescue effort, without reference to the others in the boat.  Instead, Jesus brought Peter to the boat, where the other disciples were. 

The boat – the place where the community was gathered – was the place of security, not some personalised individual refuge.  And it’s no accident that one of the early symbols for the Christian church over the centuries was a boat (and that the boat has remained the symbol of the ecumenical movement since then).

Jesus brought Peter to the boat, where the other disciples were. 

And Jesus does this today as well.  Jesus calls people to faith and calls people into community.  And he does both at the one time.  Jesus does not call individuals to faith without calling the same people into community.  It’s a package deal.  

This runs counter to much of what we see in our culture, where issues of spirituality are treated as highly individualistic questions.   Our culture does not usually associate the call to faith with the call to community.  Spirituality and community are treated by our culture as two separate – and often quite contradictory - concerns. 

For example, when I was serving a previous congregation, I was once contacted by a Year 12 student from a local secondary college. She was doing photography as one of her subjects and the main assignment for the year was for each student to do a series of photos based on a single word.  Each student was to randomly draw a piece of paper with a single word out of a box.  The word this student picked out was “religion”.

She arranged to do a photo shoot at the church, along with another girl who served as her model.  She took a number of photos of this other girl by herself in the church
·        kneeling in prayer … by herself,
·        reading a Bible … by herself,
·        sitting and pondering the meaning of existence … by herself:
all very respectful, sensitive - but radically solitary - photographs. 

I suggested to her that she may want to come and get a few photos on a Sunday, when there was a congregation present.  She said she didn’t need to, as she wanted to convey the idea of religion as a very individual thing.

But this was not the case with Jesus.  His call to faith also involved a call to community.  It was a package deal.  Jesus did not offer his followers the luxury of an individualised spirituality.  Jesus never called his followers to a spirituality marked
·        by the anonymity of the suburban “New Age” shop,
·        by the consumer mentality of the “post-denominational” church-hopper, or
·        by the spectator mentality of the showbiz-style mega-church.

Instead of this, Jesus brought Peter to the boat, to the boat where the others were.  At the point of Peter’s spiritual need, Jesus brought Peter to the community, for it is in community where this need will be most authentically addressed.  

And for us, as a congregation, we need to be aware that we encounter the living Christ as effectively in our weekday lunch gatherings as we do in our gatherings for worship, study, and prayer.  Jesus, who led Peter to the boat, calls us into community as an essential part of his call to faith.

The meal which we will soon share is a sign of this.  When we as Christians are doing the most important thing the church ever does, and the most distinctively Christian thing the church ever does – celebrating Holy Communion – we are engaged in sharing food.  At the single holiest moment of our worship, we are doing something that is not an individual act, but an act of community.

In the midst of the storms and high winds of our world and our culture, we still see Jesus travelling ahead of us.  This same Jesus, who brought Peter back to the boat, calls us into community as an essential part of his call to faith.  Jesus never offers his call to faith without a call to community.  He keeps leading us all, like Peter, out of the sea of individualism into the boat of community.