Christmas 1B, 2012
Luke 2:22-40

A Liturgy is also available


Let me tell you... no, not a story.  Let me share with you a poem.
It is called ‘Under reconstruction’ written by Thomas Troeger.

Some said
there had been too much rain
and the roof
long cracked after years of stress
gave way from water seeping in.

Others said
what fell from the heavens
had nothing to do with it,
that the church walls
had pushed out toward the street
so that the massive stained glass window of the Almighty Father
had fallen in and left a hole,
a silhouette of the icon
that used to command the whole church
from high above the nave.

Services now
were held under the God-shaped hole:
prayers said
hymns sung
infants baptised
sermons preached
offerings made
communion celebrated
couples wed
the dead remembered.

Meanwhile reconstruction began,
but it turned out harder than planned.
Some folks had taken home
bits of the original window
as a piece of devotional or historical curiosity,
and when it was discovered
there was not enough left to restore
the original ancient grandeur,
debates erupted if they should even try
to recreate what was lost.

Some said
they should begin and finish the project
as quickly as possible
because people were not coming as they used to
since the window had collapsed.
Others pointed out
new people were entering the church
curious about the place
in a way they never were before.
And these newcomers joined
with those who had always been scared
by the window’s fierce eyes
to suggest they replace the old image
with a new one.

The differences about what to do
broke into conflict
so that for now the construction
was nearly halted,
though some workers
tried to assemble the roof in bits and pieces.

But without an overall plan
nothing would stay put.
Even the stars from another section
that surrounded the hole
began to fall from the ceiling
so that another group of folk arose
suggesting they take down the entire
edifice and start all over anew -

except that the most devout
could not bear to lose 
this or that pulpit 
or rail where they had prayed so long
and the carpet worn so thin
by the knees of many generations.

So for the time being
all that was done
was to rope off the area beneath
the God-shaped hole
to make sure no one was hit by a piece of falling glass
that would fall from time to time
from a cracked angel or star,
and to pray
that people would keep coming
while the church continued to be,
as the sign alerting those who entered said:

Under Reconstruction.  (Edited.Tom Troeger)


Several years back now the Uniting Church National Assembly
invited congregations and ministers to become a people moving
        ‘Forward Together’ risking the way of Jesus.

And to be that kind of people would mean doing ministry and mission in the new millennium, differently.
No matter how much some may have wished it was otherwise.

(I am sure you have also heard some of these popular sayings...
         “Change is… Life refuses to be embalmed alive.” Alfred North Whitehead
        “The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human.” Pablo Casals
        “We have a technical name for people who do not change: dead.” Thomas Troeger

The Assembly concluded: it cannot be just more of the same.
And that can be painful and unsettling.

Thomas Hawkins reinforces this invitation in his book The Learning Congregation.
He compared the experience of life in both church and community
with that of rafting in a permanent white-water situation.
‘Unlike rivers we may have travelled in the past,’ says Hawkins, ‘where the occasional experience of white-water is followed by patches of relative calm water, we are now navigating through an almost perpetual stretch of turbulent white-water.’ 
(Hawkins 1997)

He goes on to enumerate the different skills needed for white-water rafting
when compared with rafting in calmer conditions.

These skills include the need to sometimes work ‘counter-intuitively’...
to lean in towards the rocks
rather than away from them in the swirling river.

In other words:
do not just duck the dangers and challenges and hard decisions,
but name and face and address them.
Change is.  Life refuses to be embalmed alive!


Some time back, I remember, a ministry colleague reminded me
that the biblical tradition is rich with stories of God
calling individuals and nations to change - to be in a new and different place.

People called to embrace change, not only in location,
but also in attitude and behaviour.
Let me recall some of what was offered to me...

• God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. “Leave your native land, your relatives
and your father’s home and go to the country that I am going to show you”...
• Moses and the Hebrew people called to leave Egypt and journey
to the promised land of Canaan...
• Jacob’s wrestling with God who gave him a new name and self-understanding.
Jacob the ’deceiver’ becomes ‘Israel’: ‘he who struggles with God’...
• Israel’s 50 year exile in Babylon before returning to Jerusalem...
• The call of the disciples Simon, Andrew, James and John who left their nets and followed Jesus...
• Saul’s Damascus road experience that gave him a new name and self-understanding...
• Peter’s vision at Joppa that changed his attitude to the Gentiles, and opened the way for their inclusion into early christianities...

I share these comments with you, not because I’m nostalgic
for the way things used to be.  Far from it.  But:
        - as a reminder of where we’ve come from these past (nn) years;
        - as an encouragement to maintain an openness to possibilities
                that have never occurred in the culture of this place; and
        - as a way of introduction to another time of change... of reconstruction.

The God whom we say 'calls people' - calls us - to change,
to be in new and different places, and
to live in perpetual, turbulent, white-water conditions...
also calls us to be alert and responsive,
as we seek to share in the reconstruction of the church
as an environment friendly to the imagination...

Especially in times like these, and at the beginning of another year.


Under reconstruction...
is a vision that energised people in previous times and places.

Under reconstruction...
is a new year imagination, revealing possibilities within us
far greater than our local, conventional experiences allow.

Under reconstruction...
is a vision that can energise this people - today.

But only if you continue to own these five very special words
sewn into a tapestry on a wall in a nursing home:
        “Don’t be scared of life”.

Hawkins, T. The Learning Congregation. A New Vision of Leadership Georgia. Westminster John Knox Press. 1997
Troeger, T. H.
Preaching While a Church is Under Reconstruction. Nashville. Abingdon, 1999.