Living out of the stories on my calendar

This past week has been a significant one in our Australian national calendar: Reconciliation Week. This year there have been a number of important anniversaries as part of this, including 20 years since the “Bringing Them Home Report” on the Stolen Generation was tabled in federal parliament, 25 years since the High Court’s “Mabo” decision on native title, and 50 years since the referendum which gave indigenous Australians basic citizenship rights.

I’ve found it helpful to take various opportunities this week to listen to and learn from my Aboriginal brothers and sisters. And in particular, to listen to their voices on what Reconciliation Week means going forward. We don’t mark these dates simply to remember the past; we mark them to acknowledge that this is our story and to ask what it looks like to live out of that story on into the future. How does it shape us and how will it change us?

These cannot just remain dates on the calendar. They need to lead to action.

I think the church calendar works in a similar way. For two thousand years, Christians around the world have marked various dates throughout the year to remember and re-tell key events from the life of Jesus, not just to celebrate or remember what happened on those dates, but to say that this is the story out of which we live and to ask how these particular events shape and transform us. As a Baptist, I have usually only celebrated the main ones of these such as December 25, the Friday before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (otherwise known as Good Friday) and Easter. But there are other parts of the story that continue to shape how I live.

This year I have had the privilege of preaching on both Ascension (last week) and Pentecost (this Sunday). I have been challenged by the life-altering, world-changing consequences of what happened on these days. I have proclaimed the truths I believe that the man Jesus Christ has been crowned as the reigning King over all creation and that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on women and men, Gentiles and Jews, young and old, in order to invite us into the very life of God and to empower us to live out His character and commands here and now.

These truths cannot just remain dates on my calendar. They are the radical reframing of reality in which I choose to live. They change my perspective on who God is, on who I am, and on how the world works. The story they tell must shape the way I live and engage with others.

After Pentecost, the church calendar now enters a new season, its longest season, often called Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a reminder that the big moments and occasions we celebrate are lived out in the reality of our day to day lives. Whether it is our national story or our faith story, the challenge is to step into our everyday moments and encounters with transformed purpose and renewed commitment that comes from the fact that we live out of these stories, not just with gratefulness for the events they remember but with hope and anticipation for the renewed future they envisage.

Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.

 

 

 

 

Making compassion (and prayer) personal and the faithfulness of God

Three years ago yesterday I blogged about the 284 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. I was challenged by the way we often respond/react to things when they touch our own lives directly but find it harder to show compassion for situations that we can’t relate to.

And I was moved and inspired by another blogger’s idea to choose one of the kidnapped girls and pray for her by name. I chose Mairama Yahaya. I have tried to remember her and pray for her as often as I can, but it has been three long and busy years. I have not been as faithful in my prayers as I would have liked to be.

Yesterday, the Nigerian government released the names of 82 girls who have been freed. Mairama’s name is number 10 on the list. God has been faithful in remembering her. He has heard and answered the prayers of her family, friends, and strangers around the world. I am overwhelmed by his faithfulness.

But three years is a long time. My prayers for Mairama must continue as she walks the difficult road ahead of her, as she recovers and re-enters and is reunited with a life she likely thought gone forever.

Mairama doesn’t know me, although I trust we will meet one day when all things are made new, but she has taught me much about God’s compassion and faithfulness, and the challenge they are to my own apathy and faithlessness.

And as I look around at all that is happening in the world today, in Syria, in Yemen, in South Sudan, and in many other places, I am again challenged to consider how I can overcome the apathy and selfishness of my own culture, and find ways to connect to people who are not like me and yet are just like me.

My God is a big and faithful God. Three years from today, who knows what influence our prayers (and actions) might have had in the lives of people who desperately need our compassion if we will start today?