Readings Job 23, Hebrews 4: 12-16
We pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
General Assembly 2012. I would like to begin with a quote from Charles Dickens.
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. This is a quote from Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities and was used by Jason Goroncy in his post Assembly Musings, following on with the suggestion that it was indeed something of a Dickens of a General Assembly.
This fairly much reflected my view – the best of times and the worst of times.
You can read a brief précis of decisions on the website or there is a page on the table in the Morrison Lounge at Church. I won’t hugely go into them but rather would wish to talk about the way in which we do or do not make Jesus Christ known on the floor of Assembly.
I admit at times to feeling a bit like Job –God where are you, why have you deserted us? Do you not hear my groans? I would learn what you would answer me and understand what you would say to me!
Because there were times when I despaired, times when I searched for the presence of God and was left wondering.
? Each time that people seemed to believe that 60% vote = the will of God and the imposition of that will on all the people.
? Each time that the Assembly rejected a genuine desire to discuss and discern what the Spirit was saying to the wider church.
? Each time the total lack of trust led to hurtful comments, ridiculous decisions and skewed interpretations.
? Each time that the wisdom and processes of the Presbyterian way were ignored in the haste to ensure the ‘right’ decision.
Whilst the debate over leadership continued, mostly in grace but occasionally in diatribe, the remits on marriage probably caused the most tears and heartache for many. A call to allow the wider church and in particular the Core Doctrine Committee to have a conversation on the theology of marriage was lost – to the concern of many from all sides of the theological spectrum – as was, thankfully, the motion that if Gay Marriage became legal, the Ministers of the PCANZ would be prevented from conducting such marriages ( remembering that 60% makes it so, this vote was lost as only 59.8% voted for it). This debate was a real low point for me – and yet a place of hope too as many of all persuasions spoke up saying this is not a process for discerning the way of Christ, that many are still praying about it and seeking what the Spirit is saying to each in their faith community. This challenge to the discernment of the Spirit to speak into each situation and through those ordained to leadership (teaching and ruling elders) and presbyteries, seemed, to many, a step too far.
But then, like Job, we were also able to say: our feet have not left your path, we have held fast to your steps. There were many of those moments – special uplifting moments of unity and joy and grace.
When the Pacific Island Synod was granted status as a Presbytery Wayne Te Kawa, Moderator of Te Ako Puaho gave the most inspiring response from the Tangata Whenua, the first people. He talked of those of the Pacific as their elders, whom they now were able to welcome home. And later it was passed unanimously that Church land no longer required by parishes be considered for gifting to Te Ako Puaho and that the role of their Moderator be given equal status to the Moderator of General Assembly as well be sent out for discussion in Presbyteries and Parishes. We have come a long way in our bicultural journey and there is a sense of maturity in our partnership with the tangata whenua.
The recommendations to support the Living Wage movement by our own practices at least and to speak out for Vulnerable Children were embraced – even if not given the time they perhaps deserved.
The other unified commitment was to having a stronger voice in the plight of those affected by climate change in the Pacific.
That was the business that gave a sense of hope – but so too did the worship led by the Rev Malcolm Gordon and the addresses/sermons from the current, past and incoming Moderators. In particular Rev Andrew Norton, who will be Moderator in 2014, spoke eloquently and with passion for a healing of division and confrontation. He said:
The language of life and faith cannot be contained in dogma, regulations or pronouncements. God cannot be reduced to the small mindedness of liberalism,conservatism, post modernism, fundamentalism or any
other “ism” that names you.
In an age of rapid change, uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity we need more than ever poets, song writers
and artists who have an ability to enter into that mystery, messiness, and experience of life, who will read between the lines and to give us language of faith and hope inuncertain times.
So we come back to the words of Job: “But God stands alone and who can dissuade him? What God desires, that God does.”
God, through and in the people of Christ Jesus, is working in our church, our denomination, our world, in all who live in the light of love and grace. May all people in the PCANZ hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church and live in that light. Amen.