Well, Happy Birthday Uniting Church, congratulations on reaching 35 years. In 35 years we’ve seen our share of triumphs and tragedies. Perhaps we remember more of the tragedies than the triumphs, yet we are still here.
There is ample evidence that God is still with us, and since God is still with us our hope and purpose are intact, and we have yet more triumphs and tragedies to look forward to in the future.
With some pride we can say that Uniting Care (which includes Blue Care and Lifeline Community Care) is the largest non-government provider of community services in Australia. Sadly, fewer volunteers are involved locally across Australia because of centralisation to cope with massively increased government regulation, but those services are still there and they are still activities of the Uniting Church in Australia – and there are still many volunteers across the country.
With some sadness we can say that the Uniting Church is a divided church. It is less divided than it once was, but only because so many people left the church with the infamous “Resolution 84” of 2003. There is about to be another Assembly, this time discussing homosexual marriage, and one wonders what will happen this time around.
Yet I want to give you the best reasons I know to keep hope and take courage within this Uniting Church in Australia. My apologies to those who are here today and don’t identify with this – but I hope you find these reasons are just as applicable in any other church to which you belong.
I was given a chance this week to read the message given by the first president of the Uniting Church – the Rev David McCaughey – at the end of his term as president.
In his own words he had 4 eruptions to deliver, with no apologies to those it offended.
His first was to remind the councils of the church – Assembly, Synods and Presbyteries – that the local churches were what it was all about. Everything else is secondary at best, however important some of the secondary things are. The Uniting Church recognises this.
His second eruption was in relation to administrative structuring of the church, the endless tying up of many of our best people in endless meetings and pointless debates. He was concerned that the church was tying itself up in knots instead of listening to God and getting on with the core tasks assigned by God.
This third eruption was a deep concern that it was impossible for anyone to speak for the Uniting Church since there is such a range of opinion on everything. He was concerned that the age of personal opinion was driving us so far from our core beliefs that we were losing touch with who we were.
His fourth eruption was about our identity as people of the Uniting Church in Australia. We were meant to simply consider ourselves Christians, not some special brand of Christian.
All of his concerns are still valid, but McCaughey hid within his rants some gems of real hope.
The local congregation is the centre because that is where Jesus Christ is present with his people. The Uniting Church Basis of Union declares it, we believe it, and it is our experience.
Jesus said “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The simple meaning of these words is true – it matters not if the local gathering of Christ-followers is small or large, well educated or not, poor or rich; Jesus himself is with them. It has been so, and it will continue to be so.
Wrapping all of the other eruptions together, it has to be said that all of his concerns are matched by possibilities.
We don’t have to be bogged down in meetings and arguments. You need only turn your face to God, turn your inner ears and eyes to God – it is that simple.
You need only pursue Jesus with the faith and belief that you have, earnestly and honestly seek to know and Him better, and you have broken the power of disagreement. We will not ever all agree, but we needn’t be paralysed by it.
Don’t get hung up about belonging to the Uniting Church or not. We have membership, but we treat everyone in this place as contributing member, if that is how you want it to be. Identify yourself in Christ and no other, and let that be the full value of our belonging together.
God hasn’t given up on us, but rather still works among us by his Spirit. Jesus our Lord is still present among us, holding in his hands the keys of life and death.
You and I are still called into life and freedom in Christ, and called to be life-givers in his name.
Take courage, brothers in sisters in Jesus. Jesus is still Lord of all, though most do not know it. Redemption – the forgiveness of your sins; life in all its fullness and purpose; resurrection and eternal life – all are still a reality through Jesus Christ the Lord.
Into your hands is still placed the capacity to offer life, to invoke the authority of Jesus, to intercede for the lost and the hurting. Get on your knees and pray but get ready to be lifted to the heights; because God is not finished with us yet.