From The Minister's Desk

Acts 16:6-10 (GNT) They [Paul and Timothy] traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they traveled right on through Mysia and went to Troas. That night Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" As soon as Paul had this vision, we got ready to leave for Macedonia, because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there.           [lectionary for 26 May 2019, Easter 6]

 

Exercising hermeneutical suspicion on the Acts’ account of Paul’s missional itineraries, I observe there could have been some internal conflicts and confusions within Paul’s group as to whether their missional direction should be toward East or West.  Paul and his group initially planned to reach to the East, Asia Minor.  But without any reasons provided in the Scripture, they headed West.  The only explanation to the change of missional direction was the vision given to Paul: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  It is not sure whether Paul really had such a vision or he tried to justify the change of direction with the vision, or the author Luke created it for some coded messages.  God knows. I imagine the change of mission direction was not made without much pains - for Paul himself and his team.  Following God’s vision, Paul and his team spread the seed of Gospel into the European soil.  Great harvest and promising outcomes of his missional efforts were produced including the purple cloth dealer, Lydia’s generous contributions to his ministry.  I feel that Paul realised again that the change of direction had been made by the Lord in His grace when He held His cross before Paul’s closing eyes at his dying moment. Praise to God as the Lord always abides with His servant, Paul.  

 

How does our church make decisions?  Not many church decisions are made on the basis of Godly visions like Paul’s.  Each denomination has its way of perceiving God’s will.  Its way of discerning God’s guiding hands in fact demonstrates the church’s theology and governance.  Process influences outcomes.  The how is a reflection of the why.  The Uniting Church has its ‘inter-conciliar’ procedure of reading God’s plans and making decisions; inter-related councils have their unique tasks and responsibilities, and councils of the Church work together in deciding whether to ‘head East or West’.  Having been exposed to various meetings in the life of the church, I feel often frustrated, and even feel angry, to see some ‘pseudo-bishops’ in influential committees steadily erode visions of the UCA’s founders.  In addition to ecclesiastically improper procedural issues, I am deeply concerned to see entrepreneurial and managerial approaches to church matters and in discerning missional visions. The language employed in some church reports is foreign to me, well outside the church vernacular; I feel a need to expand my lexicon and obtain a degree in business. 

 

Lack of theological reflections and prayerful considerations is often evident in most church decisions made in hasty and managerial modus operandi.  People in the Church time to time make some precipitous decisions with emphasis on efficiency and profitability.  But a closer look at such impulsive procedures demonstrates that they are driven by anxiety and fear of the future. Instead of sharing my own commentary on this issue, I wish to invite you to reflect on Walter Brueggemann’s words: 

“Jesus has an antidote to anxiety. The antidote is abundance, the outpouring of generosity of the creator God, the gift that keeps on giving. That is the antidote to anxiety! It is the acknowledgment of the creator God. The world is not left on its own. The world is not turned loose with its own limited resources. The market is not an autonomous agent in the world. There is the Father God who outruns all the power of anxiety and overwhelms with abundance.”

[A Gospel of Hope, 2018]   

The church is not a mere human institute but the Body of Christ, born out of and sustained by God’s abundant grace.  Do not fear.’  Please count how many times in the gospels Jesus urged us not to fear.  

 

Thank God that I was allowed to experience the abundance of God’s grace at the ‘inefficient and unprofitable’ Castlecrag Congregation, the smallest congregation in the Presbytery; less than 12 people gathered on Sunday to worship.  The Castlecrag Congregation and I took more than 10 years to execute the presbytery’s recommendation to close down the Congregation.  The Congregation ran its race in faith, being generous to one another in God’s abundant grace.  I wish to offer my heartfelt thanks to every member of that smallest congregation for their faithfulness to the Lord.  Thank God for Northbridge-Castlecrag parishioners for encouraging me to minister to God’s people with the Word. Our parishioners were cut to the heart when we reflected on the Scripture readings in the Lectionary, and re-affirmed that the living Word of God is in the Holy Bible, intervening in our daily life and making everyday decisions.  Praise to our loving Lord for His living Word!

 

My heart led me to head ‘East’.  But I was not allowed to go there, even though I was so excited with the possibility to journey with the faithful people of Northbridge-Castlecrag, and already pondered about some mission plans there.  Heading ‘West’ now [Killara ‘Five Ways’ UC], I wish to thank you all for your generosity and support for the last 10 and half years, and ask your forgiveness for my shortfalls in ministering to you.  I am not sure if my time at Northbridge-Castlecrag was ‘successful’.  I pray that the Lord may find a small amount of faith-fruit-fulness in my service.  Henri Nouwen’s words are of great comfort to me: 

“Fruitfulness is what Jesus call us to.  Not successfulness.  Successes come from strength and power.  Fruits are born in weakness.  Jesus was born in weakness and died in weakness.  His life was a failure but very fruitful.” 

[Letters on the Spiritual Life, 2016]

It is my prayer that the Northbridge-Castlecrag may show what it means to be the Body of Christ, to love one another, just as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to love.

 

Yangrae (Ray) Son, Minister of the Word.
[from Minister's Report to AGM, Aug 2019]