© Revd Rex A E Hunt
Induction of Revd Dr Elizabeth Nolan into the Parish of North Hobart, 1996
MAY GOD SURPRISE YOU ON THE WAY...
I think I have always had a simple theological view of mission and ministry.
The mission of the church is to keep
the memory of a compassionate God alive.
To gather the folks,
tell the stories,
and break the bread.
Simplistic... Inadequate... Well, maybe that’s debatable.
However, that’s it.
So having said that, perhaps I should just sit down.
But tonight I’d better ignore my own advice.
For the gospel storyteller has been eager this night
to tell us a story of ministry.
And we need to make connections with this story
and accept the invitation to respond with other stories.
So... as I continue, let me do so by inviting you
to use your creative imagination, and
by flirting with some images and stories
from our popular culture.
Fitting places to begin a sermon on ministry, I feel.
Especially as we gather this night in the shadow of both
the cross and the KFC ‘finger-lickin’ good, barrel.
Have you seen the movie The Gods must be crazy?
In this movie, there was a little community in the Kalahari Desert.
There was peace and tranquillity in the community,
and each person depended on the others.
Each respected the animals and the plants.
They had learned to live in harmony with nature and their gods.
And in the evenings they told stories around the campfire.
One day, a young man was out walking through the bush.
A bush pilot had finished his drink of coke
and dropped the bottle out of the plane into the soft dust of the Kalahari.
The young man picked it up and thought to himself:
“A gift from the gods.”
He brought the bottle back to the little community
and proudly displayed this gift from the gods.
It was a useful gift for carrying water and sprinkling.
It was used for pounding and rolling corn.
It was given a special place during religious ceremonies.
It was so popular everyone wanted it.
They started fighting over this precious gift.
Finally, two children started fighting over the bottle.
Each pulled in a different direction.
One of them won the pulling fight
and used the bottle as an instrument to hit the other over the head.
This distressed the community leaders,
and they decided to give this gift back to the gods,
because it was hurting their children.
They selected a strong young man to bring it back
and drop it off the end of the earth
so it could be returned to the gods.
As this young man travelled to the edge of the world,
he encountered many of our modern inconveniences,
including a revolution.
As I watched this simple story, the thought came to me,
“Our gods could be hurting our children.”
Elizabeth, when you gather the folks to break the bread,
also remember to tell the stories of the God...
who is our companion,
who walks with us,
and who never hurts us or our children.
A few years ago another film found its way into some of our video libraries.
It was called Places of the heart.
The closing scene in the movie is of a protestant communion service
in a small country church.
Throughout the movie, people attending the service
had been involved in each others’ lives
and deaths in various ways.
But as the camera pans over the people sitting in the pews,
the viewer becomes aware the entire cast is there at the service;
those who have left the community,
and those who have been forced to leave.
It is as if the film maker has taken the words
‘the communion of saints’
and represented it physically, in a real place...
It was for me a very moving moment in that film.
And so theologically correct:
reality speaking of more than physical;
physical first, then the spiritual.
Elizabeth, when you gather the folks and tell the stories
also remember to break the bread...
and see and hear and touch and smell
what God has given and human hands have made.
There was a man, not ill, but not well, who took pills of all kinds.
He enjoyed reciting his lists of symptoms and medications.
He enjoyed counting all the pills he took
with food, without;
with water, without water.
Once he was given a prescription, he never let it run out.
He had probably seen close to 20 doctors,
and if he didn’t get a new prescription -
he’d not got his money’s worth.
But he battled never feeling well and finally did become quite ill.
Naturally, he saw a doctor, a new one this time,
but was furious when she cut out all his medications
except for two.
And one of those was a vitamin pill!
This man who depended on 20 tablets and capsules a day,
reduced to only two?
He was furious!
He demanded to see the doctor again.
And was even more angry when she explained that
he wasn’t really sick at all, but his body had been fighting
all those conflicting chemicals.
Being challenged to live without the crutch of his medications was a new thing.
And I wish I could tell you he learned to live in a healthier way
without the pills, but he found himself different doctors -
one which would let him start all his old patterns again.
The weight of his past cancelled out the possibilities for living in a new way,
a life-enhancing way
a life-giving way
a loving way.
Elizabeth, when you break the bread and tell the stories
also remember to gather the folks...
that they may find freedom and possibilities in the new;
that they may more truly be the church.
People of North Hobart, I thank you for Calling Elizabeth.
You and we can only be blessed by her gifts,
and by her presence among us.
As together you begin to share a new relationship...
As you open your ears and your hearts and your minds,
remember your mission...
to keep the memory of Creativity God alive.
And in your journeys, and in the new possibilities for living
this new relationship will foster,
may that God surprise you on the way!
Elizabeth, welcome to Hobart.
I am very pleased you have decided to accept this Call and come.
I have several pleasant memories of strolls along the fore shore
at Rose Bay in Sydney as five or six of us
would meander down to the coffee shop
after a hard day’s night at the Assembly Standing Committee.
I also look forward to sharing with you as a colleague in ministry in this city.
I offer you my friendship and encouragement:
• when Spring is in the air,
and when things look like taking a different direction
than the one you had hoped for;
• when your creativity is bubbling
and when your scholarship is questioned;
• when your leadership gives a name to the unnamed,
and when meetings and restructuring
become a substitute for mission.
I offer you my friendship and encouragement
in the highs and the lows as you make
your transition into parish life.
Together with all your colleagues, I invite you to:
gather the folks,
tell the stories,
break the bread...
As did another sage and storyteller long ago.