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Advent 2, Year C
Closure of Ministry for Pastor Lorelle Chapman
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 9, 2018

Psalm 121; Luke 3:1-6

‘M is for wilderness mindset …’

Today we light a candle for peace. Perhaps this peace is a resolve, a self-awareness and attention to practice, that our lives might truly herald joy and love. God be with you

“We are all John the Baptists in our own way,” writes one contemplative. “Called to leave the comfort and security of our present lives and to go and immerse ourselves in the knowing of God. To participate [personally, politically …] in the renewal of life, where hope comes alive, goodness abounds and where glory to God is given” (David L. Walker).

We might reflect on the knowing of God or the renewal of life. And we might reflect on participation.

The glory revealed in peace – extending to all humankind, throughout the earth – can only be achieved through our participation: through our preparing the way, through our helping to make ready the way of our God who makes the twisted paths straight and the rough roads smooth.

We are all – chaplains, musicians, readers, candle-lighters, guests and hosts – partakers of grace, we are all part of the story. The glory of God may be manifested in us. Salvation is something we are called to practise – and something we are called to perform, in concert with and for the sake of others.

This week’s Christmas Bowl project centres on access to education for girls in Pakistan. Building a just, peaceful society starts with breaking down the barriers to education – challenging restrictive gender roles, religious, cultural and sexual identities, contributing to a more equal workforce and society, a more representative arts industry and government …

Our Wordplay poetry group is currently working on a book of poems written throughout the year. Some years back, in the very early days of Wordplay [2012], Catherine Skipper wrote a stunning visual poem (of course, there have been many stunning poems since) …

REAL [is in the space between
           t    h    i    n    g    s;
           in the relation between
           between oth<->ers,
           between all<->living;
           between the ago
           and the to/come …] M

The making new of the word “REALM” in this way – a product of communal faithfulness and personal flair – casts everything in a new light.

It makes me smile, and more than that, it calls me to repentance (the word, metanoia, means more than saying sorry, more than a change of heart or mind – it means something like having a new heart or new mind). I love the “M” at the very end of the poem. A mysterious initial? Or M for Me? The Real Me comprises all manner of relations and mysteries, past, present and future. For a Moment, I enter what one theologian calls “a wilderness mindset” …

“If we are opening ourselves to God, we are going into a place where things are beyond our control and beyond our comprehension. This is actually implicit in the word ‘repentance’; this thing that John calls us to … And this idea of ‘going beyond’ might be helpful, because it reminds us that we are not just looking for new ideas. We are looking for a different kind of mindset that is beyond our normal way of processing information and making decisions.

“We are looking for the wilderness mindset, the mindset that doesn’t expect to be able to explain and categorise and judge. We are looking for a mindset that does not seek control and categorisation. We are seeking the mind of Christ … risky, open …

“None of us manages to do that on a continuing basis, but each of us has known moments when we were rendered [vulnerable, receptive] before some awesome mystery, and in that moment, everything looked radically different ... Maybe it was at a childbirth. Maybe it was being present as a loved one died. Maybe it was sitting on a mountain top [or by the shore of Lake Taupo]. Maybe it happened in the silence … or as the bread was broken ... Maybe it was in prayer in your own room [discerning a new season for ministry, responding to a distant and/or insistent call].

“But whenever it happens, such moments are of the mindset that will open us to [joy and love] and enable us to prepare the way of Our God.

“How do we prepare the way of Our God? It begins with ‘repentance’, a mind changeover. It begins with opening ourselves to the wild possibilities that are beyond the reach of the powers that be, in their arrogant belief that they have the territory all carved up and labelled and under control ... It begins with opening ourselves to the absurd possibility that the breaking of bread … offers [real] hope for saving the world …” (Nathan Nettleton).

I picture Lorelle, the Lorelle I know best. Cannoli Club dinner party host. So positively kind, so passionate about ministry (which really means care for others, life with others). A generous and joyful person with a heart for prayer. A confident person – the confidence hard-won I imagine, in a poetic/sacred realm, a realm of peace – born of faith in a good God who “guards you when you leave and when you return”, as the psalmist sings.

Incidentally, this is the same verse my paternal grandmother Sarah inscribed in my first Good News Bible. So, thank you, Lorelle, for the honour of preaching today – and for this recollection, this peace amid coming and going, this good news.

There is repentance, and the invitation to return grace for grace. There is the peace of participation in the knowing of God or the renewal of life, and it has to do, always, with compassion, overflowing compassion … Amen.