From The Minister's Desk

Ephesians 4:14-25: We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of doctrine and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. I [the Apostle Paul] insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They've refused for so long to deal with God that they've lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. … no more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth [speak truthfully to your neighbour NIV]. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.


Having checked my reports to the past nine AGMs, I find that I have struggled with the same question with some variations:  What is the church?  The Body of Christ is a favourite biblical image to describe the church. Every part of the Body is valued under the Head of the Body - Christ; all parts of his body grow together, and all suffer if any part of it is in pain. Into this Body, Paul invited the Gentiles, dismantling the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. Thanks to his reconciling ministry, we ‘Aussie Gentiles’ have been embraced into the Body, and an Asian born preacher has been allowed to proclaim the Word of God in this faithful parish. After the Gentile’s membership issue that rocked the first century church, the Body of Christ has encountered many crises regarding its unity on various issues such as different ways of reading the Bible, ways of salvation, baptism, slavery issues, women’s role in ministry and ordination.  Each crisis about unity was an opportunity for us to sharpen our understanding of faith and deepen our commitment to the unity in Christ. In the community of sinners and saints, we experience the saving act of Christ, as well as the shortfalls of our human institution.


As a student of the Apostle Paul, I realise that the church is an agent of reconciling ministry of the Trinity. The church embodies God’s salvation to reconcile all human beings and the whole creation into the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This reconciling agent, the church, places its members in contrast with a world of divisions and hatred.  In a painfully fragmented world and shamefully divided church, Paul warns that we must ‘no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine’, and in the church there must be ‘no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd’.  We are to be anchored firmly in the tradition of reconciling ministry, which is unavoidably prophetical and counter-cultural.  Being reconciled with one another and swimming against the tides are important marks of being the church. We embark on this holy mission not because we have the required talents and strength but because we have been called to do so by our Lord, the Head of the Body.  Reconciling ministry is our vocation. 


I have read and reflected on the three-year cycle of lectionaries three times for the past nine years in this parish.  As a servant of the Word, my prime task is to help our parishioners prepare for Sunday worship services, and to invite them to be challenged by the Word.  Every worship service is an ‘event’, in which all members of the Body encounter the saving act of Christ. We have our weary minds refreshed and blurry eyes cleansed by being exposed to the Word in the power of the Spirit.  Thank God that our worship services are not of the preacher’s ‘one-man show’ but held as a communal prayerful offering. I thank God for our faithful and talented parishioners and their contributions to worship services.  Our different views of faith and competing opinions on world-views have contributed to enlarge our horizons of faith. 


Just after the Uniting Church’s National Assembly in July, our parish worship services focused on its historic decisions on ‘marriage’ in the light of that Sunday’s lectionary: Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church, a marriage type in the time of King David, and Jesus’ call to embrace a more mature attitude to faith.  Those readings and teachings were given to us just in time.  While honouring the traditional understanding of marriage of ‘a man and a woman’, the Assembly made a new statement on a marriage of ‘two people’.  Two statements and two options on marriage raised questions, and caused rejoicing as well as lamenting.  Can these two statements co-exist in our church?  Can we hold these competing understandings of marriage together?  Are they more than competing and perhaps conflicting with each other?  


Our parishioners’ participation in reflecting on the Assembly’s decisions during the services and the following discussions at morning tea time demonstrated that the worship service is centred on the life of our parish, and that the Apostle Paul’s embrace of the Jews and the Gentiles together is visible in our fellowship.  To those in the parish and beyond who asked about my opinions on the marriage issues, I would say that I exercise my pastoral sensitivity for and stand with the minority on the fringes of the church. 


Those two different understandings of marriage seem irreconcilable.  They are far different paradigms of marriage.  While holding these two different understandings of marriage, I cannot find any compromise possible with theological interpretations.  But such noticeable disagreements in our society are less damaging when they are out in the open and discussed.  It should be far less damaging if they are discussed in the life of the church.  I believe that our teacher Paul must be happy to see us respecting and loving one another even though we have different views on marriage and other life matters.  Any different opinions and beliefs are to be lived out in love before they can be discussed.  Seeking for an objective truth is important but ‘speaking truthfully to our neighbours’ is far more important.  The church, an assembly of sinners and saints, should be a right place where different values are both lived and examined.  If the church, the Body of Christ, fails to get together, where on earth can we find such a reconciling community? 


I thank God for the opportunity to serve this loving and reconciling parish with many talented and faithful lay leaders.  May His holy name be glorified through the reconciling ministry of the Body of Christ.

Yangrae (Ray) Son, Minister of the Word.
[from Minister's Report to AGM, 2018]