Risky paths, risky messages
As the remnants of Cyclone Irene spared New York and dumped torrential rain on Vermont, my stepdaughter and her husband spent the night of the flood peak in their daughter’s tree house. Later, presidential hopeful and Tea Party activist Michele Bachmann told supporters that by this deluge God was sending a message to Washington about over-spending.
With breathtaking confidence she quoted God as follows: “Are you going to start listening to me from here? Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now … ”
How convenient that God and this particular group speak with one voice! This raises the question that, if God wanted to send a message to the politicians, why did God not dump on the White House instead of the tree house?
Others perceive that where flood and drought occur with greater frequency and intensity, the Divine message is about our failure of stewardship of the natural world.
So how do we discern, amid the strident voices of our age, what God is saying through such major events?
Firstly, it needs to make sense. Good religion does not demand that people believe the irrational, swallow the unbelievable, and accept that which is contrary to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, it must allow for a variety of scriptural understandings. Some writers see the chastening hand of God in floods and drought, while Elijah hears that God does not speak through every earthquake, wind or fire.
Thirdly, the communal wisdom of the faithful can guide our understanding of Divine will.
This helps us resist the temptation to simply equate Divine will with our own pet projects and biases.
The question exercising my mind three weeks before the 2011 Synod meeting is: How God might speak to us through its deliberations? Will the Synod engage creatively with the critical issues of Synod strategy and affirm new missional opportunities in spite of limited resources? Will we engage courageously with questions about new ways to organise Presbyteries, and the future of the Korean Commission? How will we respond to new forms of the Synod program, and participate in the variety of opportunities provided by the regional context? Will we hear God speaking to us about new wine and new wineskins? Will we seize the day, or miss the moment? Will we choose to walk new and risky paths?
As you read this you can simply change “will” to “did”.
I recognise that the Moderator is called to lead the church into new and risky paths. I will seek to do this with a listening ear and a reflective heart. What speaks volumes to me is the way that local congregations throughout the state are finding creative ways to be engaged in mission in their communities. I look forward with great anticipation to being among such communities and also with those who are struggling to discern the road ahead.
Finally whatever else God might be saying, one message pervades the Scriptures and marks compassionate and courageous communities of faith. It is about being good news to the poor, hospitable to the stranger, faithful in Christian service and responsive to the prophetic call to justice and peace.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown
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