Jan 6th 6/1/19 SERMON: "Making 2019 new?

1Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Colossians 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52

How are we to enter this New Year of 2019 in such a way that it does not just become a sad repeat of every other year?

For me, there were a lot of good things that happened last year, but no way do I simply want a re-run.

My thoughts today are about how we become intentional about the way we engage with the new year. I see this as a viable alternative to just treating 2019 as another turn on the merry-go round, or a superficial attempt at a few hastily devised short term resolutions with a low percentage chance of success, the most likely outcome being more guilt to add to last year?s failures.

These days Helen and I can now look out of our bedroom and lounge-room windows into the abundant foliage of our native garden, the lush result of a decision four years ago to transform the front lawn into something more suitable to the local flora and fauna. Some days we see lorikeets or rosellas feasting on the grevilleas or the flowering gum. Both native and honey bees visit regularly to claim the nectar because with native varieties there always seems to be something in bloom. A whole variety of small reptiles like skink and bluetongues make their home there, and last week, we were startled to welcome our first green tree snake. It was a short stay.

To get new outcomes, we have to be intentional about the changes we make.

Of course, being intentional does not guarantee successful outcomes; but it does ensure a focus of time and attention to whatever it is that we are hoping will make the emerging year truly new. ENERGY FOLLOWS ATTENTION, and when we concentrate, things happen.

There are though, I believe, factors that give us a good chance of meaningful change and growth in the new year. I hold a creative image from our time of learning Tai Chi. This discipline of bodily movement expounds the necessity of strong stance where the lower half of the body becomes the base upon which movement its built. From this strong base, the upper body can move and flow in energetic and creative ways. This is also obviously true of other more aggressive martial arts, where the power of the strike comes from the synchronicity of both lower and upper body.

A similar image is that of a tree- rooted to the ground to remain stable and nourished, and therefore free to flower and fruit, harbour creatures, and sway beautifully in the breeze.

Moving forward on a creative and dynamic spiritual path is for me all about being actively based in dynamic structure that enables us to hold the path that leads to life with meaning, and also enables our dynamic engagement with the world around us. It?s about strong foundations and fruitful endeavours.

Structures mean that we are not always having to work out what to do next. And so it is that Elkanah and Hannah devotedly attend the holy place of worship year after year. Then, when Hannah faces the tragedy of her childlessness, it is at the feet of the priest Eli that she finds her resolve to dedicate her hope-for first-born son to God. From this solid foundation of faith in the face of suffering, the career of Samuel is initiated.

When Jesus, as first-born male, is a few weeks old, his religious structures decree that he must be presented to the temple, along with some sacrifice. Mary and Joseph know what they have to do. This ritual of faith has the consequences of exposing the Holy family to the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, bitter sweet moments which both celebrate the Messiah?s birth and also presage the tragic events of about thirty years later.

Looking at life now from the vantage point of 68 years I am grateful, more than ever, for the spiritual and religious roots that have enabled an at least semi-coherent journey in the way of Jesus. My church roots are Methodist, which, at best, hold together and value a strong evangelical tradition, and as conviction that faith without social action for justice, is mere words. This tradition, along with the core values of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches, give us a Uniting Church, which, for all its faults, has a clarion prophetic voice in the tradition of Eli and Samuel, Simeon and Anna, and crucuially, Jesus himself. I am still here because these traditions have been the feet and legs and hips, the roots ground of my life journey. I am also here because others such as yourselves are also on this journey, bringing a variety of traditions as well as the ones I have mentioned. Taken together, they place us solidly on a common ground of wisdom and goodness.

Another image springs to mind here, that is of a caring and also brave parent who holds still and stable the new two wheeler bike while the youngster climbs aboard for that first shaky ride into an unknown destination.

To summarise, our faith traditions offer us a way of DISCIPLINE, DIRECTION AND DEVOTION, which immeasurably improve the chances that our new year intentions will succeed. St Paul?s summons to a quality life as we heard it today in Colossians is an example of where this solidly intentioned life can lead.

On the other hand, a vivid example of what happens without the structures in place is described in the tragic life of Bea Miles, a highly intelligent and gifted Sydney woman of the early 1900?s who chose homelessness, and delivered her expertise in quoting Shakespeare to unsuspecting drivers and passengers in Sydney cars. Such abundant talent. So little achieved or even appreciated in the absence of good, nurturing structure.

So much for the value and necsssity of being rooted and grounded in faith and community. Where can this take us?

Beyond structure, is flow. So Jesus, returning to Jerusalem some years later with his parents, becomes actively engaged in the temple in conversation with the teachers. He both listens to the wisdom of the elders, and questions them. This time it is the festival of Passover, putting us in mind of a tragic and amazing return journey some twenty tears later, when Jesus? questioning heart is given its sternest answers.

I would love to know what Jesus actually asked the teachers in the Temple. I suspect that it might have been about some of the anomalies he was already observing in the village world around him. "If God is good, why is there so much poverty in the midst of plenty?? "Why do the scribes and Pharisees strut around and lord it over people, when the prophetic scriptures call the powers to account for their unjust ways?? More to the point, what would be your question now, if you were there in his place?

We know from his ministry that Jesus deeply valued his Jewish heritage. Yet he did not allow structure to become oppressive stricture. He did things in a new way. He built with new architecture on the foundation of his religious tradition. He did not set out to be a revolutionary, but actually a true reformer. There was never supposed to be a christian church- just a renewed, reformed Judaism.

How much will we, in this new year, be willing and able to allow ourselves and others to move and flexibly flow within the current of our tradition, while also setting new directions as the spirit leads. Will we tell our schoolchildren, for example, to get off the prophetic and protesting street, and back into the classroom of the three r?s? Both are needed.

Given that we live and worship within a healthy, grounded structure, what will it take for 2019 to be a truly new year rather than last year?s rerun? Will we, with God, seek to make all things new, or are we satisfied with perpetual reruns of Grand Designs and Father Brown?

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