Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-24;  Mark 13:1-6 ‘where does our faith lie…’

Reflection by Anne Stewart

The lectionary is taking us into some interesting places at present.  I noticed Dan’s relief at side-stepping today’s offering.  What I did discover there, though, was a common thread in each reading, which is the reminder that it matters what or who we place our faith in.

This week I had the honour and the pleasure of leading the leavers communion service at Rangi Ruru.  The magnitude of what this final day means to those students really hit me.  In front of me were over one hundred young women, who by virtue of the passing of time, had no choice other than to leave behind the old and known paths of school to tread new and unknown ones.  Some of them have known the school as ‘home’ for a very large chunk of their lives.  But what is different about their leaving school, unlike their familial homes, is that they can’t go back.  The cut is final and all that has protected, guided, and kept those students safe is gone now.  They are on their own.  We all hope of course that their characters have been shaped and developed sufficiently for them to make their way out into the unknown as safely as possible.  Of course, it won’t all be plain sailing and we hope they have learned enough resilience along the way to weather the tough storms of life.  On Wednesday the poor things were slightly bombarded with advice from the Year 13 Dean, the Principal and then me, fortunately we were by some strange chance all much on the same wave-length, but I did feel for them.  It matters, I told them, who you listen to, who you look up to, who you trust and follow.  In that case the text was from John’s gospel about the Good Shepherd who knows the sheep and looks out for them.  I was trying to encourage them to follow those who genuinely want to know them and who have their best interests at heart, and who would build and support them, not use and abuse them, for their own purposes.

In the case of the school, the student’s faith and trust has been held by an institution for many years.  But no institution is ever where our faith should fully lie.  The institution is just the mechanism for, in their case providing them with some of the tools they will need to go forward in life.  In the case of the church the institution is merely one of the vehicles through which we express and live out our faith lives.  As followers of Christ, we are given a story or a message to hold with care and to pass on.  While there will be a huge range of ways, we do that, it is important to remember that the story doesn’t belong to us.  We are simply the vehicles through which the story travels.

Remembering that we hold the story but only so as to pass it on matters for us in how we do church too.  We can’t be church without relating to the community around us.  Otherwise, we are holding the story as if we own it and it’s ours and not to be shared.  God has a story with them too.  We need to be open to their story and to how it can inform and grow ours.  We need to be listening to those who are different from us.  We need the log removed from our eyes so we can see where God is at work. 

We have a saying, don’t we, about nothing being as permanent as change.  Whether we like it or not we are always moving forward; things are always changing.  How we react to that change will be determined by where we place our faith.  Will we adapt and move forward in trust because we know our faith is in a God of resurrection and new life?  We have situations all around us at present where I would say there are layers of complex change beetling toward us.  Climate change, for instance.  On a global scale we are in trouble.  And it’s some of our nearest neighbours who are going to feel the effects the most, and the soonest, now even!  Most of us believe this and can see there is a problem.  But not so many of us are up for what we might have to let go of, in order to address the situation.  I hear people say the government needs to do more, and I hear others say the government are doing too much and are trying to change lifestyles many have become used to and see as normal now.  But of course, this is never any governments job alone; we all have to play our part in doing what we can to live more sustainably.  It’s going to hurt; we may lose some freedoms and expectations about how we should be able to live.  There may have been a time when changes could have been introduced more slowly, in a manner more acceptable to us, but that chance wasn’t taken and now we will have to be forced into change and we see on our televisions how much some people appreciate that!!

The Covid virus is doing something similar to us too.  Thrusting change on us, making us adapt and taking away things we knew and trusted.  Some are kicking and fighting over the loss of what they consider to be ‘their rights’.  It hurts being made to do things without a choice.  But do I take someone else’s choice away, if I choose to ignore the rights of others, especially those who can’t protect themselves?  There is no crystal ball with this one and this virus has us right up on our toes, it’s making the play, and watching us dance to keep up with it.

And I would say that there is another virus at work too.  Here, and I suspect in almost every other country too.  This virus has maybe been present in our systems for many years, lurking quietly, waiting to be set free.  It’s a nasty, infectious, invasive virus that creeps in and makes people angry, defiant, forgetting their neighbour, losing all sense of common decency.  It hunts out the lonely and the dispossessed and gives them power.  It turns them in on themselves and on their friends and families because it sets itself as higher than these relationships.  It didn’t begin in any laboratory, it began when we loosened ourselves from the rock of community, of the common good, of the One who draws us into community and who created us as one people and saw that we were good.  It split us off from our neighbour and tells us that we only have to be concerned for ourselves, that we are the beginning and the end; just us, all by ourselves.  It tells us that truth is just whatever you can make sense of, that we are all there is, and self is always greater than the collective.  Then it gave us a language, my rights, my identity, my power, my, my, my!   So now you should just do what’s right for you, forget the little, the least, the lost, and the last.  It taught us about scarcity and said, get the toilet paper quick before it runs out, take what you can from the environment while you can, and above all look out for yourself.

This virus has already mutated with Covid and in some corners it’s making headway into climate change too.  From my experience I believe that ‘most’ farmers care deeply about the environment.  They have an intimate relationship with it, it’s their workplace, and their home after all.  But this virus doesn’t want to let those two things sit together, you can’t be in the farming business and care for the environment, it says. Choose your side, it demands.  And it niggles away, working on old prejudices until it has set one against the other, creating gulfs where the two had been working together quite nicely, for the betterment of us all.  Now we cannot tolerate any change, any leadership, any dent in our individual armour.  We can say what we like, our truth is the truth, we can threaten and call people names, we can refuse to be part of the team – who needs a team anyway, there is only me!

This is not who we are!  This is not how those made in the image of God should be.  We know where our faith lies.  In a God who is always up for new things because new things can always come from old things; good things can always come from bad things.  Our faith starts from a resurrection framework.  We are (or should be) wired to look for new things as old things fade away.  We know that new comes out of old, that sunshine comes after rain, that Spring follows Winter etc.  We know that God is with us always, even when so much is changing, and we just want someone to stop the bus so we can get off.  But of course, the bus can’t be stopped, so what do we do?  We look for and seize opportunities for new life and we treasure these and we do what we can to help them flourish.  That’s what we do with a problem, we seek out the opportunity that lies within and we blow on it till the flame bursts into life.

We face change better if we have our faith in a steady rock.  And when we remember who we are; much-loved children of God, who only wants the best for us.  The pandemic is not a punishment because humanity has got some things wrong.  It’s a problem with an opportunity lurking in there somewhere.  Maybe it’s to spread God’s love and for humanity to re-find itself in its commonality.  In its belief in common good, in what’s good for the whole.   

Which brings me back to the service at Rangi Ruru.  In the Principal’s speech she referred to a saying that really struck me and may be helpful here too for you.  She said that when we find ourselves on a cliff edge (perhaps as we are now), and have to let go, two things can happen.  We can either land on safe ground, or we will be given wings to fly.   That’s stepping out in faith. 

Dan talked last week about the fatigue most of us are feeling because we are currently struggling so hard to find solid ground.  Stuff is coming at us from all directions and it’s exhausting.  Big decisions have to be made about our life together and it’s straining us all.