Easter 5C. 2016
A Liturgy is also available
‘UNEXPLORED TOMORROWS’ NEED NEW WINE SKINS
“When you find yourself in times of trouble, here’s an easy solution: move to Canberra.”
So wrote David Dale in one of his columns in the Sun-Herald.
He continued: “You’ll be fitter, you’ll attend more cultural events, you’ll be less likely to commit suicide, you'll use the internet more, you'll make more money and you'll live longer. Your sex drive will go down, of course. But that's actually a positive, because you’ll have more time to concentrate on the important things: your work” (Dale 2007. S-H. Pg 54).
Dale was commenting on figures from the Bureau of Statistics which, in his words,
suggested that “if Canberra is not paradise on earth, it is certainly paradise in Australia”.
And again: “If Canberra did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it” (Dale 2007. S-H. Page 54).
Well, from some of your smiles, I see Dale’s comments have tickled your fancy.
And who am I, a mere mortal and outsider, to challenge such a flattering comment.
I know how to talk the talk!!
Today is the beginning of our Stewardship Renewal Program here at (NN).
So I want to talk about being a progressive, healthy congregation,
and why I hope you will support generously
the mission of this congregation, in Canberra and beyond.
And I am framing my comments around a ‘saying’ said to have
most likely come from Jesus of Nazareth.
Let me explain a little.
The saying about ‘new wine’ and old wineskins’, appears
in every gospel - except John. This morning I have chosen to select
the edition composed in the Gospel of Thomas,
said to be by the biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar,
probably its most authentic version.
“Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil…”
Perhaps to the disappointment of some, neither that ‘saying’ nor this sermon
are a short course in winemaking or wine appreciation!
Instead, it is a brief exploration into a metaphorical image
about being a congregation.
And, I want to claim that saying raises a very important question:
can we leave our communal religious life in old vessels,
or do we need new theological understandings and
newer church practice, as we continue to evolve here at (NN)?
In light of the theme for our Stewardship Renewal program,
“Unexplored Tomorrows”, let me offer a couple of observations.
Membership, and the centrality of worship/celebration
Like every other congregation in (NN), we are
a smaller congregation, membership-wise, today than we were in the past.
I can’t get access to all the figures, but those I can I find, show
our Confirmed membership now is half what it used to be 30+ years ago.
And our Sunday School cum Sunday Club,
shows an even more drastic reduction.
Of course there are many reasons for this.
We don’t need a National Church Life Survey to tell us the answers.
But figures also show that since 2002 when this congregation
intentionally decided to become a niche congregation,
open to encouraging and promoting progressive religious thought,
and living out of its own space, we have been able to arrest the decline.
But our growth is still only small.
On the parallel matter of worship/celebrating…
Our Sunday morning experience called worship or Celebration of Life,
is the hub of our faith community’s life.
I probably spend a good 20+ hours each week
shaping liturgies and preparing my sermons.
Almost 100% of my Resources Allowance goes in paying for books
related to worship and preaching resources.
While around 220 people a week click onto my web site looking for,
and often borrowing from, my liturgical and sermon explorations.
And have done so for the past 12 years.
(During my international speaking tour in September 2015 I met some of those folk…)
I am confidence we can increase attendance at (NN)
by inviting others, and reminding each other, why we are part of (NN).
This is a progressive, inclusive, gathering of faithful people.
Sunday morning is our time to both explore
and celebrate together, in a safe space.
But we do need to explore newer ways of inviting people.
Our ‘progressive’ theological underpinnings.
(NN) has always ‘been a bit different’, as several of you
have told me over the past seven years.
That doesn’t mean we all think alike. We don’t.
But that ‘difference’ took more of an intentional path in 2002 when Church Council,
responding to a suggestion from me, but encouraged by several others,
became the ‘midwife' of The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, Canberra.
That single decision has had a huge effect around Australia.
Because it gave others ‘permission’ to follow suit.
So now there are growing ‘progressive’ movements in
Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney - to name a few centres.
The hub of this movement, nationwide, and of the progressive theology
here at (NN), is theological and biblical scholarship, honesty, and integrity.
Thinking theologically different now than in the past
does require us to imagine what this new understanding implies
for worship, for preaching, for prayer.
And I am personally commited to that with every fibre of my body.
But like Christianity’s earliest theologian, Paul,
we are standing at the intersection of two eras.
And like him we need to appreciate honestly, that
we have to let go of the past if we hope to have a future
of ‘unexplored tomorrows’.
Let me return to a comment made by David Dale:
“If Canberra did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it” (Dale 2007. S-H. Pg 54).
I want to change that just a little and claim:
If (NN) did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it!
The headline over Dale’s article reads:
“Canberra finds its role at last – to fill an imaginary hole”.
'Unexplored tomorrows’ invites a similar response from all of us.
Our rightful place in this community,
in this presbytery, in this Territory, in the Uniting Church,
is as a leader niche church.
As an inclusive community of people
“who seek together to discern the transforming presence of God in the world and in their own lives, and to respond to that discovery through worship, mission, hospitality, conversation and care” (St James Uniting, Vision Statement).
A community of people open to unexplored possibilities!
And we can’t continue to be that ‘community of people’
without a healthy and responsible level of financial giving.
So once again I ask everyone to make an investment in this congregation.
An investment of energy.
An investment of financial support.
An investment of personal spirit.
Come all the way into the life of this church, this congregation.
Help this congregation realise its full potential.
Walk the talk!
The future before us is filled with both challenge and possibilities.
We need to build upon the strengths of our 52 year history, valuing
“the richness of that mature wine. But we must create new wineskins to hold the new wine” (Stinson 2007, FCC, Long Beach web site).
And as an overseas colleague in a similar situation has also said:
“We move into that daunting but exhilarating challenge not because it is the expedient thing to do, but in response to a desire to follow the historical Jesus into [all] arenas of human need…” (Stinson 2007, FCC, Long Beach web site).