‘Don’t Be Scared Of Life’

Posted: December 27, 2017 in Uncategorized


Christmas 1B, 2017
Luke 2:22-40

‘Don’t Be Scared Of Life’

I want to tell you a few stories and poems today. I hope they might be metaphors of our lives, past, present and future and seeds of hope into the future. There is a theme I hope that builds on the Christmas message that brings hope and richness to the human species followed by the recent past we people of St David’s have experienced and finally a call to love rather than fear the realities of life.

The first is a poem called “Each Birth a Revolution” By Sitar Situmorang.

Each birth is a revolution
whether it happened a thousand years ago
or takes place today,
with each birth the world becomes new.

Some are born in a cottage, some in a field,
but wherever a child is born,
in its eyes the world is reflected,
in its cries – Christ is present.

Christ the son of man
was born to renew the world
like every child in the mother’s womb
is granted by the Lord at its time.

The second is another poem, this time by Thomas Troeger called ‘Under reconstruction’.

Some said
there had been too much rain
and the roof
long cracked after years of stress
gave way from water seeping in.

Others said
what fell from the heavens
had nothing to do with it,
that the church walls
had pushed out toward the street
so that the massive stained glass window of the Almighty Father
had fallen in and left a hole,
a silhouette of the icon
that used to command the whole church
from high above the nave.

Services now
were held under the God-shaped hole:
prayers said
hymns sung
infants baptised
sermons preached
offerings made
communion celebrated
couples wed
the dead remembered.

Meanwhile reconstruction began,
but it turned out harder than planned.
Some folks had taken home
bits of the original window
as a piece of devotional or historical curiosity,
and when it was discovered
there was not enough left to restore
the original ancient grandeur,
debates erupted if they should even try
to recreate what was lost.

Some said
they should begin and finish the project
as quickly as possible
because people were not coming as they used to
since the window had collapsed.
Others pointed out
new people were entering the church
curious about the place
in a way they never were before.
And these newcomers joined
with those who had always been scared
by the window’s fierce eyes
to suggest they replace the old image
with a new one.

The differences about what to do
broke into conflict
so that for now the construction
was nearly halted,
though some workers
tried to assemble the roof in bits and pieces.

But without an overall plan
nothing would stay put.
Even the stars from another section
that surrounded the hole
began to fall from the ceiling
so that another group of folk arose
suggesting they take down the entire
edifice and start all over anew –

except that the most devout
could not bear to lose
this or that pulpit
or rail where they had prayed so long
and the carpet worn so thin
by the knees of many generations.

So for the time being
all that was done
was to rope off the area beneath
the God-shaped hole
to make sure no one was hit by a piece of falling glass
that would fall from time to time
from a cracked angel or star,
and to pray
that people would keep coming
while the church continued to be,
as the sign alerting those who entered said:

Several years back now we here at St David’s began to take the biggest risk in our congregational life. We began to respond to the call as a congregation to change, to allow ourselves the opportunity to bear pain and to see what might be possible for a church of tomorrow. We began to move forward together’ risking the way of Jesus. We began to ask how to be a people doing ministry and mission in the new millennium, and doing it differently. This was risky not because it was in any way a brave step but because we could not envisage any other option. Our risk taking was tinged with all those fears of survival, change, unknown future and uncomfortable risky stuff. We in our particular historical context were born when change was far from a good thing yet deep down we knew it was necessary and we justified our thinking by hearing in our minds all those sayings. “Change is when life refuses to be embalmed alive.” Alfred North Whitehead. “The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human.” Pablo Casals and “We have a technical name for people who do not change: ——— dead.” Thomas Troeger

We knew and we know that for church to be church, for faith to be faith; it cannot be just more of the same regardless of how painful and unsettling it will be. We also knew like Thomas Hawkins who in his book The Learning Congregation compared the experience of life in both church and community with that of rafting in a permanent white-water situation. ‘Unlike rivers” he said: “we may have travelled in the past, where the occasional experience of white-water is followed by patches of relative calm water, but we are now navigating through an almost perpetual stretch of turbulent white-water.’  (Hawkins 1997)

He goes on to enumerate the different skills needed for white-water rafting when compared with rafting in calmer conditions. These skills include the need to sometimes work ‘counter-intuitively’… to lean in towards the rocks rather than away from them in the swirling river. In other words: don’t just duck the dangers and challenges and hard decisions, but name and face and address them. Change is what it is.  Life refusing to be embalmed alive!

Like good Christians and especially good Presbyterians we look to the books of the bible for help in facing this journey. We are reminded that not all people do this. Not all people have this privilege and many don’t see it as a privilege. It’s no wonder really because the books are filled with people’s previous struggles and their mistakes as well. Many turn the books into rules and regulations to avoid the problems of literalism and miss the meaning also. But many of us value them because they are stories and metaphor of others who have walked the path we take and we know just how valuable it is to know what others before us have done with the questions of life.

Another important issue we have to note is that the biblical tradition is rich with stories of God calling individuals and nations to change – to be in a new and different place. People are called to embrace change, not only in location, but also in attitude and behaviour. Just some of those are God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. “Leave your native land, your relatives and your father’s home and go to the country that I am going to show you”. Moses and the Hebrew people called to leave Egypt and journey to the promised land of Canaan… Jacob’s wrestling with God who gave him a new name and self-understanding. Jacob the ’deceiver’ becomes ‘Israel’: ‘he who struggles with God’… Israel’s 50-year exile in Babylon before returning to Jerusalem… The call of the disciples Simon, Andrew, James and John who left their nets and followed Jesus… Saul’s Damascus road experience that gave him a new name and self-understanding… Peter’s vision at Joppa that changed his attitude to the Gentiles, and opened the way for their inclusion into early Christianities…

Here we need to be careful because learning from the past is not about accepting it as better than today. Its not about allowing nostalgia to take over. Learning from the past is about critiquing it in the light of what we now know. Its about being reminded of where we’ve come from these past (whatever number of) years. Its about maintaining an openness to possibilities that have never occurred in the culture of this place; and as a way of introduction to another time of change… a time of reconstruction. Looking back is not just about preserving the old but also about critiquing it in the light of the present, learning from it so that we can be in new and different places, and live in perpetual, turbulent, white-water conditions… Knowing how others have wrestled with the questions of life calls us to be alert and responsive, as we seek to share in the reconstruction of the present as an environment friendly to the imagination… Perhaps a very good new years resolution might be to be alert for the opportunity to be part of the reconstruction.

We look again at the stories in the bible and we see examples of being under reconstruction… And we see how the vision of reconstruction energized people. We see stories that reveal a new year imagination, an imagination revealing possibilities within us
far greater than our local, conventional experiences allow. We see that under reconstruction… is a vision that can energize people – today. But there is a catch to this. The vision is about seeing life as a journey of constant change, constant opportunity, constant reconstruction of the past into something new and all this is only of value when we continue to own the five very special words. “Don’t be scared of life”.

Hawkins, T. The Learning Congregation. A New Vision of Leadership Georgia. Westminster John Knox Press. 1997
Troeger, T. H. Preaching While a Church is Under Reconstruction. Nashville. Abingdon, 1999.


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