This sermon is the final in the ON THE WAY series at Casino Anglican Church, July/October 2022
In the Old Testament, Moses led the tribes of Israel through a period of transition that lasted 40 years. During that time a community was fashioned and a covenant with God was formed.
In the Gospel of Luke, as we have seen, Jesus had an extended journey south from Galilee to Jerusalem. Another community was being fashioned: the community of disciples. They were many more people than the twelve we typically consider when we say those words.
As they crossed into the promised land, the people discovered that Moses had been used by God to prepare them for what lay ahead as they lived into the terms of their covenant—their relationship with God—in the place where their they were now going to live.
After Easter, as the growing company of disciples, the first Jesus people, reflected on their slow walk south with Jesus, they discovered that he had been shaping them as agents of the kingdom of God, so they could transform the world in which they lived.
On Thursday night we cross an invisible line between the past and the future.
You will continue to live into the terms of your covenant with God right here in Casino, and as Jesus people you will continue the task of transforming the households, the streets, and the town where you live.
It has been my privilege to share something of the work of both Moses and Jesus here in this church for the past thirteen weeks.
There were no walking sticks turned into snakes, and no wine turned into water. But there has been some good work done. By us all.
Three months (90 days) is a brief time and far too short for sustained change, but some changes have been made. I hope they can be sustained.
There is a different atmosphere around the parish and—perhaps even more importantly—in the wider community there is also a different narrative about the parish.
I would urge you to remain generous, hopeful, courageous and open-minded.
Our generosity derives from a confidence that there are good things to be done and that we are not just keeping the lights on until the last of our regular members dies. There are churches with that sense of their (non-existent) future, including some right here in Casino; but that is not our situation.
I hope that our 13 weeks of walking towards Jerusalem with Jesus has given us all some fresh insights into how we can be Jesus-people here in Casino.
We are never going to rebuild the Anglican Church of the 1950s, but then we do not live in the 1950s ourselves! We are called into the task of building God’s kingdom in the 2020s—and beyond. That is where we live and that is the future we need to shape with the faith that has shaped us.
There is good work to be done, and we have some sense of where to begin.
As we move further ahead under Sally’s leadership, we shall discern what comes next and God will supply the resources we need to do whatever it is that God wants to achieve.
For sure that involves and requires a church community that is generous, compassionate, future-oriented and gentle with one another.
The gossip has reduced, but now it needs to cease. Completely. For ever.
The goodwill has increased, and now it needs to be embedded in our collective DNA.
When there are differences over things that actually matter—as there must be from time to time if we are doing work that actually matters to us—then we can handle those disagreements with grace and mutual care.
Looking after each other in the process is more important than winning a vote or getting our way.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that people will know we are his followers by the love that we have for each other:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34–35
People in Casino have been watching with dismay as this parish has torn itself apart, and they have been watching with delight as we have begun to work more happily together these past three months.
They are continuing to watch.
The downtown Ministry Centre in Walker Street gives them some hope that we are changing. What they see, and whether we offer them a safe place to find spiritual wisdom for their everyday lives, depends very much on how we treat each other in the next 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and more.
They want us to succeed and I think they need us to do so.
This town—like every community in Australia—needs compassionate, courageous, engaged and safe Christian faith communities where the spirit of Jesus is expressed in the way that we do the “Jesus thing” amongst them.
They may never feel drawn to become a follower of Jesus themselves, but their lives will be better if we are authentic Jesus people.
We are not collecting souls, but transforming communities in the name of Jesus.
We have some wonderful allies in that task, with our friends at St Mary’s Church and in the local Uniting Church. Together, here in Casino where all three churches already work so well together, we can offer a place at the table of Jesus and transform our town.
I especially urge you to embrace to ecumenical challenge expressed so clearly by my colleague and friend, Michael Putney, the late Catholic Bishop of Townsville, who put these words into practice:
We shall only do separately what we cannot in conscience do together.Bishop Michael Putney
As a parish and as a community of churches here in Casino, imagine how this community could be transformed if we did the hard work to make those words come true!