Saturday, September 27, 2008

... watch this space...

On Thursday I travelled to parts as yet unable to be disclosed, in the Victorian countryside, for a meeting yesterday morning with the Joint Nominating Committee to have a 'conversation' about the possibilities of me being the next minister in that patch.

Well, the meeting was very positive, (and yes, I'm even more excited now than I was before) and we have agreed that the process can move forward. So now I have to wait for an official call to be issued by the Placements Committee for me to minister in that place, and once I have received and accepted the call, I can disclose where it is.

After the meeting, members of the JNC showed me around the area, and we checked out the church buildings and manse, all of which are rather nice (and I will have plenty of spare room for visitors once I am settled there!), and my mobile phone even works in the area (I was a bit concerned about this, as the Optus GSM network is notorious for poor coverage in rural areas, but I have nothing to worry about there :-)

So watch this space, as I expect I will have official news Real Soon Now!

UPDATE- Mon 29 Sept
I have been informed by the Secretary of the Placements Committee that at the next Placements Committee meeting (on 10 Oct) he will be proposing that an official call be issued, so we will all have to be patient until after that date before I can do any shouting from rooftops. (Two whole weeks! However will I cope!? :-/ )

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You know it's nearly summer when...

Last night I spotted my first cockroach of the season... crawling up the drainpipe of the handbasin in the downstairs toilet. After a failed swat with a rolled up junkmail catalogue, I resorted to a quick spray of Baygon around the littlest room in the house.

Note to self: put cockroach baits on the list for the next shopping trip.

Damned mainland vermin!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Excitement knows no bounds

After some constipation in the Australia Post system, which caused me to wear a track to my mailbox every day since last Thursday, I finally received the profile for my prospective placement in the mail today, and let me tell you, if you thought I was excited before... I am virtually uncontainable now! :-)

Over a leisurely lunch, I spent an hour or so going over the profile with a fine tooth comb and noting all the questions I need to ask the Joint Nominating Committee when I meet with them on Friday. The list of ministry priorities in the placement profile are very close to the priorities I listed in my personal profile, so it is feeling like a pretty good match on that score. The profile also told me that the church members have a high level of involvement in the local community (and have stated a desire for more), very warm ecumenical relations, and a number of joint activities
with the other churches in the area that seem to happen through the year.

The Presbytery Minister for that presbytery said to me that she thinks I will have a very interesting ministry there, and I think she's right... there is a lot happening in the placement that excites me, and I feel that I could fit in very well with all of that. But the placement has been vacant for a while, so I imagine by now some of their key people will be pretty tired. They also have some hopes and dreams for building on what they have and adapting to change in the local area, which I think will stretch me a bit as I try to help and equip them to realise these goals. So, I think it will be a great opportunity to work alongside these faithful folk to help them grow, and be strengthened as the people of God in their part of the world. (And I reckon I'll probably learn just a few things from them, too! :-)

So now I just can't wait to get out there, see the place and meet the people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More steps...

On Sunday night, just after I got home from Queen's chapel, I had my first contact from the Joint Nominating Committee (JNC) of the placement I have been asked to have conversations with.

The woman who called me is the convenor of the JNC, and from one of the neighbouring congregations in the same presbytery, and she sounded just as excited as I to make contact. She told me the placement has been vacant for quite some time, so they are delighted to finally have someone to talk to as a potential minister.

The JNC met this morning, and the convenor rang me from the meeting to set up a time for me to come and meet with the JNC. So next week I will be heading to the country, to meet with the JNC and check out the relevant local sights (like the manse, the church, and the local area) whilst I'm there.

The profile document should arrive in the mail either tomorrow or Friday, as the JNC wanted to review the profile and add some information before sending it to me, as they said some things have changed since they originally wrote the profile. So more excitement in store! :-)


In preparation for the big trip to the country to visit my potential new placement next week, I figured that I should get my rear into gear and put my car in for a service (it's been over a year since the last one, I hope my former mechanic in Hobart isn't reading this!), and also to have a rear wheel bearing replaced (which I am assuming is on the opposite side to the one that was replaced when I was on placement in Launceston about 18mths ago).

I am lucky enough to have a Goodyear service centre just a few hundred metres up the road from me, so, after being a little underwhelmed after using a mobile mechanic for the last service, I thought I would use this place this time round and see how it goes. When I dropped the car in this morning, and reminded the guy about the wheel bearing, he asked me what made me think I needed a wheel bearing replaced?

My very technical response, "because it's making the noise cars make when a wheel bearing is on the way out." (sometimes it seems that mechanics really do think women are stupid when it comes to cars, but I'm sure my response impressed him :-)

Anyway, I left the car, with the expectation that the day's work would cost me in the ball-park of around $350. (you can guess what's coming, can't you?).

Later in the morning, I received a call from the mechanic, telling me that both my rear tyres are very worn, and really need to be replaced. I was a little surprised, as I tend to keep an eye on the tyre wear, and hadn't noticed they were particularly bad... but I have been a bit vague about such things lately, so, after asking how much extra this would cost, I asked him to go ahead.

About an hour before I was due to collect the car, I had another call. This time, bearing news that when he was replacing the wheel bearing, the mechanic had noticed that the rear axle was bent. "This would explain why your tyres are worn, as a bent axle really causes you to chew through tyres". When he said that, I remembered how frequently I've needed to replace tyres since I've had this car, and now suspect that the axle must have been bent all this time, and this was the first mechanic to notice it.

He told me that it would be a waste of money to put new tyres on the car if the axle wasn't replaced too. So, with fear and trepidation, I once again asked him the $ question. He replied that the cost of the part, and fitting, would be between $450-500. So all up, I'm going to have to fork out around $1000 this week on my car.

Interestingly, I had been thinking seriously about getting a new car when I move to the country- especially if I end up needing to do lots of driving- as something with a little more power might be more comfortable to drive than my current little baby, which is a whole 1.3 litres of pure "grunt" (because that's what it does when it has to go up steep hills- it grunts and groans a bit).

However, after spending this much on the car, I might just hold onto it for a bit longer (after all, it does have fantastic fuel economy), and so I struck a compromise and joined the RACV instead (it's only taken me nearly 3 years to get around to joining!). I guess next week's trip from Melbourne out to meet with the JNC will give me an indication of how well the car will cope with that particular trip, which may end up becoming a fairly regular route for me next year.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Today's sermon

Today, I preached my second-last sermon as a ministerial candidate (which will be revisited tonight at Queen's Chapel). My final sermon as a candidate will be preached to the unsuspecting folk in the Riddells Creek and Mt Macedon congregations in late November. After that, the next time I preach or lead worship, it will be as an intern in my new placement next year!

So, to celebrate this auspicious moment (and because I actually had to write out a full script for this sermon, which I don't usually do, as Brunswick UC like to circulate the sermons as part of the weekly email newsletter) I thought I would put it up here for posterity.

Focus on Matthew 18:21-35

On Thursday last week, the world marked the 7th anniversary of the terrorist events that have come to be known collectively as “9/11”. On September 11th, 2001, approximately 3000 people were killed as a result of coordinated terrorist activities in the United States on that day.

I’m sure that we can all remember where we were on that day, when the news of the attack first reached us. I was in Sydney, visiting my parents, and have vivid memories of sitting with my mother in the lounge room, glued to the TV as amateur video footage showed first one plane, and then a second, flying into the Twin Towers, and bringing the World Trade Centre crashing to the ground.

As the Australian TV channels took copious hours of live feed from American TV news services, I remember also being somewhat amused (in a black and macabre kind of way- or perhaps a very Australian and cynical way) as all of the American news readers and commentators expressed such astonishment and disbelief that anyone could possibly want to do this heinous thing to America- because, “doesn’t the whole world LOVE the United States?”

As more detail of the attacks gradually came to light, and it became evident that it was indeed a coordinated campaign of terrorism, the world waited with bated breath for an official response from the US President.

At that time, I remember thinking (in one of my more prophetic moments), wouldn’t it be a powerful statement if the President could come out and say something along the lines of:

This terrible act has caused significant pain and grief to our country, and the world is shocked and saddened by this senseless loss of life.

But I say to the perpetrators of this deed, we will not sink to your level, and will not retaliate in acts of violence, or by seeking retribution for this bloodshed. Instead I say to you that we forgive you, and may God have mercy on your souls.

Of course, this didn’t happen, and for the 7 years since then, we have been living with the consequences of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but can you imagine what world politics would look like today if it had? What a potent and remarkable gesture it would have been for the nation whose currency bears the words, “In God we trust” to publicly forgive its enemy.

Our Gospel reading today talks about forgiveness. It opens with a 2-verse vignette of a dialogue between Peter and Jesus, as Peter asks, “Lord, how often should I forgive? Seven times?” Jesus’ response (depending on which translation we read) is that Peter should forgive 77 times, or 70 x 7 times. Whichever way we look at it, this is quite extravagant, and could even be seen as somewhat hyperbolic.

It is no accident that this follows straight on from the passage listed in last week’s revised common lectionary, about pointing out the faults, and correcting those in the church who sin against us.

It seems to me, that this 2-verse vignette that begins today’s reading is deliberately placed after last week’s section, in order to remind the community that when they do point out the faults of brothers and sisters who have sinned against them, they should do so in a spirit of compassion and mercy, being gentle and ready to forgive.

As we move on to consider the parable in today’s Gospel, we can see that the analogy of the forgiveness of debt in the parable is a good one for considering forgiveness generally. When someone is owed a debt, that gives them power over the debtor. If someone is in debt to me, there is a sense that they owe me something, which sets up a power dynamic in that relationship, and so the act of forgiving a debt means relinquishing that power.

Bill Loader refers to forgiving as a form of giving, because in forgiving someone (whether of a monetary debt, or some other kind of debt) we are in fact giving something of ourselves, and not holding back in that relationship. There is no longer a power dynamic. We all know that it’s not healthy to hold onto things like grudges or bad feelings towards someone who has hurt us, either for us, or for the other person, so to forgive is ultimately good for all concerned. Of course, the ultimate role model of forgiveness is God’s self-giving through the gift of the Son.

In our parable the extravagance of God’s forgiveness is indicated by the ridiculously huge debt owed by the first slave to the king- 10,000 talents!

When we consider that a labourer in those days would have to work more than 15 years to earn talent, it is obvious that for a slave to rack up a debt of 10,000 talents would have been a sheer impossibility. The reason why the Gospel writer uses this over-the-top figure is to distract the reader from the content of the story, to consider the meaning behind the story: God’s generous and extravagant forgiveness, freely given, so no sin is too big, nor is there any upper limit on the number of times God will forgive- as shown by the equally extravagant “77 times” (or “70 x 7 times”) in verse 2; and also emphasising the spirit of generosity that should characterise our forgiveness to others.

This is certainly good news for us all… but the story does have a sting in the tail. Whilst it is certainly true that God’s forgiveness towards us is a pure act of God’s love and generosity - nothing we can do can earn that gift- it is also true that God expects us to ‘pay it forward’- in response to the good things that we have received from God, as an outflowing of our own joy and gratitude, we in turn initiate random acts of kindness to others, so they can also benefit. So, after experiencing the freedom and grace of God’s forgiveness to us, an appropriate response would be to also forgive others, out of a sense of joy and gratitude, not of compulsion.

There is something relational about forgiveness, because God’s forgiveness of sin is not just about saying “sorry” for our sins, as this misses the whole point of the Gospel. Just as the Hebrew concept of “shalom”, peace, is not just about the absence of conflict, but rather is about the positive and palpable presence of wholeness and wellbeing, in the same way, the concept of forgiveness is not just about the absence or removal of sin, but about a positive presence of restoration and wholeness. God forgives us so we can be restored into full relationship with him, and in that relational process, we become whole.

For this to happen, we need to be aware that forgiveness is also costly, both for the person who forgives (because they have to give something up) and also for the one who is forgiven (who has to first of all acknowledge that there is something that needs to be forgiven, and thus put aside the lies, delusions and masks to allow forgiveness to happen).

It is also tempting for us to focus only on God’s generosity, grace and the free gift of forgiveness, but in doing this we fail to recognise the value, and indeed, the costly nature of forgiveness and grace. This is why the apostle Paul made the comment in Romans 6:1, after a lengthy discussion about God’s grace being manifest in forgiveness, he asks, “so what shall we do then? Continue sinning so that grace may abound? BY NO MEANS!”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this attitude, where we fail to fully appreciate the cost of God’s grace as ‘cheap grace’, and points out that we need to recognise that even though we don’t need to do anything to deserve God’s grace, it is not cheap, but is, in fact, quite costly. Costly to God… costly to God’s Son.

As we learn to appreciate that cost of God’s generous grace and forgiveness, how could we NOT want to respond, and emulate the example set for us by our loving, self-giving God?

Weight update

I thought I should make a brief mention of my weight loss progress, as a few weeks have passed since my last mention of this topic.

I have now lost about 9kg (although official weigh-in day is tomorrow, and I have had a couple of little "stuff the diet" moments this week).

For the past fortnight or so, I have been able to comfortably wear one pair of jeans that I couldn't fit into before I started dieting, and two other pairs of jeans which were already a little loose, are now unwearable, as they just fall down. When I was in Hobart a couple of weeks ago, I bought a belt in a "Salamanca retail therapy moment" but it is still a little small, so it will take a few weeks before I shrink into it.

(but after that it will be very helpful in keeping my modesty intact, and my trousers up! :-)

Next Steps...

On Friday morning, along with 3 other exit students, I made a brief presentation to the Synod Placements committee in preparation for their prayerful deliberation on matching each of us with a potential intern placement to commence next year. Prior to making our presentations, the 4 of us were invited to join the committee for their opening worship, which included the Old Testament passage from this Sunday's lectionary (Exodus 14:19-31) which told the story of the Israelites' escape from Egypt across the Red Sea, and subsequent drowning of the Egyptian army that was pursuing them

This led the 4 us (who were feeling just a tad on edge at the time) to discuss amongst ourselves whether at that particular point we identified more with the Israelites or the Egyptians... either way, we decided that for this occasion, we should change our collective descriptor from "exit students" to "Exodus students", which felt quite fitting.

Anyway, our presentations all went well, and we then left the meeting to debrief over an early lunch together... counting down the hours/minutes until we would receive the phone call to inform us of what placement the committee thought would be a good match.

I have been bouncing off the walls with excitement (even more than usual!) since about 5:30 Friday night, after hearing about the place I have been asked to have a conversation with. Whilst I can't disclose specific details at this point in the process, I can say that it is a placement in country Victoria, which is what I was both expecting and hoping for.

After a bit of preliminary internet research about the local region on Friday night, I can't wait to get there for a visit. (And it also looks like a lovely place for entertaining visitors who want a relaxing retreat from the city! :-)

So, the next steps will be that I will receive a copy of the placement profile in the next few days, so I can check out the details of the placement, and their specific ministry priorities, as well as some of the logistics about the people and place. Soon after that I will be contacted by a rep from the placement's Joint Nominating Committee to arrange a time for me to meet with the JNC, have a look around the church, the manse and the local area, and commence our conversations.

So, depending on how soon the JNC and I can get together, and if the conversations go well, I may have some official news sometime in the next few weeks- at which point I will definitely be shouting it from the rooftops (and this blog, of course! :-)

(although a cheeky friend from Tasmania reckoned that Allan Thompson would be sure to beat me to the punch and spread the word across the Tas Presbytery before I had a chance to do any shouting from rooftops :-)... but either way, once it's all official, the word will get to you!

So now, I have to come down to earth and work on a couple of essays that are due. (sigh)