40th Anniversary UCA (25 June 2017)

Bible reading: Ezekiel 37

I have mixed feelings, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia.

It is true, ours is an uniquely Australian church, and that might be something good.  It is the result of church denominations coming together, rather than splitting, and that is certainly a good thing.

However we are so divided on most major issues that reach our national Assembly, that we get little resolution on those big issues.  We have seen our share of controversy, and lost considerable numbers of our people to such issues.

The Uniting Church is a major player in the area of Community Services.  Especially with our history of Blue Care and Lifeline Community Care, but also with aged care facilities and hospitals, most of us are rightly proud to contribute in these ways.

We have also become a vibrantly multicultural church, which I consider is a wonderful thing.  However the rise in multicultural involvement is matched by a sharp decline in those traditionally our members.

We have not emerged clean from the Royal Commission into sexual abuse against children, to our shame.  Given our intentionally high involvement with children and community care, that could have been much worse, but it is still to our shame, as a church.

So it is that I have mixed feelings about celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia.

My most serious reservation is that, as a nationwide church, we have about 1/3 of the membership we had in 1977, and it is still declining overall, and in most places.

In addition, our national assembly and our Queensland Synod are in severe financial difficulty.

We are in a rocky place, as the Uniting Church in Australia.

However the thing we have best of all is that our foundation is securely built on Jesus.  From the Basis of Union, paragraph 3:

The Basis of UnionThe Uniting Church acknowledges that the faith and unity of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are built upon the one Lord Jesus Christ. The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father. In Jesus Christ “God was reconciling the world to himself”. In love for the world, God gave the Son to take away the world’s sin.

Jesus of Nazareth announced the sovereign grace of God whereby the poor in spirit could receive God’s love. Jesus himself, in his life and death, made the response of humility, obedience and trust which God had long sought in vain. In raising him to live and reign, God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God on earth, reasserted claim over the whole of creation, pardoned sinners, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love. To God in Christ all people are called to respond in faith. To this end God has sent forth the Spirit that people may trust God as their Father, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The whole work of salvation is effected by the sovereign grace of God alone.

The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.

And there should be no doubt: God has not given up on us; Jesus has not abandoned us.  We see the signs giving evidence to this all around us, if our eyes are open to see them.  Holy Spirit, open our eyes, we pray!

I have no doubt that God wants to shine more light on us, and shine more light from us.  I am sure God wants to give his life to many others in this church, and that the story here is far from over – as long as we read the signs of the time.

Our national Assembly is cut staff and several of its activities because of finances.  I’m told our Queensland Synod is reducing staff again, because of finances.  The Uniting Church is not alone in this, but no one is coming to our aid.  These are our times and our challenges.

Our best response is right here in this place. Do you still believe God is with us?  Do you still believe God wants to work through us?  Do we still have God’s mission of leading people to life, as we discussed last week?

I certainly do believe these things.

There is an old saying – what did you bring into the world?  Nothing!  What will you take from it?  Nothing!  But it’s not true.  We will take our inheritance, our place in God’s Kingdom, and it will never be taken from us.

So grasp it with both hands, your whole heart.  Build your life around it as the treasure beyond price.

I am sure that as we do, we will see God working among us, and we will marvel once again at what God can do.

I hope our 50th is better than our 40th.  I hope I can stand and cheer a bit more than I can at present.