Sunday, 31 January 2010

Parks paddocks fences and wells

Epiphany 4 year C Sermon Jeremiah 1:4-10

Once upon a time… there was a very wealthy English landowner… who travelled to Australia…to study their methods of farming cattle.

When he arrived… he was met by a crusty rancher named Bazza… who drove our Englishman thousand miles into the interior of the continent in his ute.

As they travelled together… they laughed and joked about the commonalities of raising cattle…They spoke of the latest breeding technology…world beef prices… they even debated the political storm in New Zealand.. over factory farming cattle in the McKenzie Country.

As they drove through the outback… the Englishman’s eyes got wider and wider…you see he lived on a large country estate…divided into lush green paddocks… surrounded by ancient stone walls.

And where the estate had recently expanded…

the paddocks were enclosed in the most
up to
date fencing materials… including gates…
which were
impossible to open…
unless you knew the security code.

So this journey across the Australian dessert our Englishman boggled. For hundreds of kilometers… he’d seen no buildings or fences. ‘When do we expect to arrive on your ranch’, he asked Bazza.

‘Crikey mate… Bazza replied…we’ve been driving on it for the last hundred K…But see those two stone pillars just off the road ahead…well they’re me front gate…

And leaving a cloud of dust behind…Bazza turned the truck through the stone pillars… and into his twenty K long driveway.

It’s not far now’ he reassured the Englishman…
the missus will have a
lovely spread waiting for us…and plenty of amber liquid. And mate I sure could use one.

So as they drove the long dusty road to the homestead… the Englishman continued to be astounded… at what looked like endless dessert… disappearing into the distance… without a fence in sight.

Every once in a while they’d pass one or two cattle beasts …occasionally a mob of ten or so…but the absence of fences had our Englishman baffled. 'Pardon me uh Basil…'

Call me Bazza mate….the Oka corrected…

Uh, pardon me… Bazza…said our Englishman, 'I can’t for the life of me…see any fences. How on earth do you keep your animals on the property?’

‘Ah well that’s an easy one mate…Bazza replied, ‘out eeya, it's a whole different reality than you’re used to. Our farming objectives are the same…but out eeya… we don’t need fences… we’ve got wells. And I guarantee ya, these animals are thirsty.’ [pause]

You see… before our English gentleman saw it for himself… he couldn’t have imagined the conditions that faced Australian ranchers. He’d entered… what for him was an un-imaginable world.

And this story strikes me…as an object lesson for our church… as we journey toward a future…we can’t fully imagine in our wildest dreams.

But one thing we do know… is that like the cattle in the outback…the people we seek to reach…with the living water we’ve found…well these people are very…very…thirsty indeed.

When the Kane McRae and Pringle families first farmed in this area… they certainly couldn’t have imagined… the cosmopolitan community… in which we now live… beside these lakes and beneath these mountains

where people are dedicated to alternative life styles and religions…where people are busy Sunday morning with their mountain sports and where people are communicating with one another by text and email and Facebook.

And they wouldn’t have dreamed of factory farming cattle… or automatic milking sheds…But in the past hundred years their descendants…have had to take on many new methods… [pause] and leave many familiar ways behind…

If our churches are like the English gentleman’s Estate. There’d be a lot of sleek well-fed cattle… grazing away in beautifully manicured country paddocks… surrounded by stone walls and high tech fences. If our churches are like the English gentleman’s Estate…it’d be virtually impossible for the animals to escape

But there’s a problem with fences… they make it well nigh impossible to get in as well. So the herd can be protected from wild animals...and lesser breeds.

But clearlywe’re not in the business…of fencing people in…or keeping people out …so it seems in facing an unimaginable future…where we want to show the love of God to as many people as possible we’re going to have to have… more wells than fences.

Look around the park here. Imagine if Reg and I’d come down this morning and erected a big wooden fence… right around the perimeter of our worship area …with a gate… where an Elder of the church would stand guard…watching warily for intruders. Only allowing people in… who they knew already belonged.

There’d be no way for strangers to knowthat behind those walls was food and drink for the spirit a multigenerational congregation with loving supportive relationships…and a new kind of family that restores and rebuilds lives. They wouldn’t see the wells of reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. [pause]

For the past eight years we’ve worked hard to create wells particularly for generations who’d been missing from the church. And we’re pleased to say… that today we have a firm foundation of young families, we have the wells of mainly music, and an excellent children’s programme on Sunday morning…but the future is unimaginable…in many ways

So God’s people in this place …we need to keep dreaming and imagining…we need to keep asking the hard questions

How are we to be the church in an unthinkable future? What should we take with us on this journey… and what must we leave behind? Where should we drill our wells. And what refreshment will people there?

How deep should we go?

Today we heard the familiar words of God’s call to the boy Jeremiah"Before I formed you in the womb… I knew you, and before you were born…

I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations...don’t say, 'I am only a child…for you shall go to everyone I send you, and you shall speak…
I command you…don’t be afraid…’

Then Jeremiah tells us…’the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you to pluck up and to pull down… to build and to plant." [pause]

Today we’re appointing someone…to take up a new prophetic ministry in our faith community.
I’m thrilled to announce Kathy’s willingness to be our full-time Family Communications Manager.

Kathy has the faith and the skills… to drill productive wells. And I know she’s committed to making it easier for people to find them as they seek to quench their thirst for the water of life…which is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kathy has the full support of her family and of myself and Session… and I pray she will have yours.

I ask her now to come forward so we can pray for her.