(A sermon by Rev Dr Dean Eland, from Sunday 8th January 2017)
Our faith journey, and our life on the road as a Pilgrim community, are marked by beginnings and endings.
There are moments when we take a new path, times when we stop, pause and realise that we have arrived at an end point and that we are ready to begin a new phase in our ministry.
The UCA pattern of calling and placing ordained ministers* is one expression of this rhythm of community life.
Congregations as well as ministers also experience these moments when we take time out, step back from our routines and discover new directions: when we work with the changes needed to strengthen and equip us for the calling, the vocation of time and place where we find ourselves. A changing context, when we are impacted by the wider social changes and attitudes in the society or a new decade or a new year.
Today we are celebrating the normal human experience of beginnings and endings for us as individual members and as a congregation.
2017 will be for us a special anniversary year when we stop, reflect and be thankful for being part of the UCA over the past forty years.
It would be interesting to hear again some of the discussion that took place at that time when this congregation chose the name Pilgrim and how this has shaped our DNA as a people on the way to a promised end.
Or we could explore how this 150 year old building has been the home and sanctuary for many, a place of beginnings and endings, celebrated by families and the wider city.
Or we can again be thankful for those, who 180 years ago, covenanted together and formed the first Wesleyan and Congregational fellowships in the province of SA. Setting up their tents on the banks of the Torrens with a commitment to make this place free from class association or inherited privilege. Some days, when in discussion with leaders of the Chinese Church I sense that their experience is similar, establishing a new home and embracing the opportunities that comes with new beginnings in a new land.
Beginnings and endings are of course following the pattern of the discipleship which is the primary image of the people of God for over 2,000 years.
We indeed are not walking alone, we share with others who are on the same journey, others with different traditions living their life on the road; coming to turning points, facing new directions, mapping out the road ahead.
And what a moment at the beginning of this year to follow again the story that begins with Bethlehem and then on to Nazareth, to the sea of Galilee, and within just a few short weeks, an ending on a hill outside Jerusalem’s city wall but then again a new beginning for those on the road to Emmaus when they stopped, listened, shared a meal together and their eyes were opened.
In these few short weeks from Christmas to Easter our primary or foundational story is about a discipleship community being shaped, formed, chosen, called, invited to take to the road, a people part of a new movement in history.
Researchers who have set out to write a biography of Jesus of Nazareth have often expressed the limitations that come with this task, the story of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.
We know so little about his family, the carpenter of Nazareth, his faithful membership of the local synagogue. But there are enough hints at what is to come… one day for example in his home town, reading from Isaiah, he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:8).
The gospel stories touch on the parallels and similarities with the journey of his people out of Egypt through the waters of sea, a people forged in the wilderness to become a covenant people with a purpose and a calling.
And today, a baptism that identifies with our humanness. One who was called to be with others of his day who turned their lives around and took up a new purpose.
Here in this moment, there is a new beginning, a calling, a vocation, a new path to tread, a new witness to justice and truth.
A servant calling and an invitation for all to follow, to walk the servant way, a mission to change history that begins with the lowest in the most out of way places: ministry to embody the promise of Isaiah, “here is my servant and I have put my spirit on him and he will bring forth justice”. 42:1.
And this vocation is indeed like passing through the water, going under and coming out on the other side to freedom and deliverance. A counter-cultural movement founded on love of the neighbour, welcome to the stranger, standing with the broken and lost, those left on the side of the road.
In looking back over these past few years we can affirm again that we are indeed a Pilgrim people on the way. How we have experienced those moments – when we have discovered how to begin again, to reflect and learn from our experience, to celebrate what we have discovered by being together, to be thankful for our travelling companions as we have acknowledged, received and affirmed the gifts we each bring to our ministry in the city. Moments when we have discovered that our baptism was the beginning of a vocation of service, ministry in the name of the One who was called by God’s Spirit and blessed by the descending dove, a sign of peace given to be shared with all. Both then and now we hear the call to a mission of reconciliation and new beginnings. Thanks be to God!
* This was Rev Jana Norman’s last Sunday service at Pilgrim