Last Sunday I spoke about Paul’s belief, hope, and goal: that love should conquer violence and hatred. He tried actioning that belief by getting Jewish and Greek followers of Jesus to dine together. It sounds simple, easy even. But, as I said, such an act is influenced by history. Paul was trying to widen his religion – stretch it – to include those ‘others’ who were feared (Greeks); and in the process of doing so threatened his own people (Jews). You can imagine two Jewish Jesus followers saying to each other: “If we let these uncircumcised Greeks dine with us will our faith still be our faith, or will it change so much it will scarcely be Jewish?”
You can hear the same question, in various forms, reverberating anywhere one group, culture, or nation has opened its doors to be hospitable to outsiders. Imagine one kiwi saying to another: “Will our New Zealand way of life be changed irrevocably if we let all these immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers in?”
This is the same fear that Bishop Tamaki and his new political party Vision New Zealand is feeding with their anti-Islamic press release[i]. In Tamaki’s press release he talks about “a Muslim agenda”. A Jewish critic of this release points out the similarities with anti-Semitic rhetoric over the centuries. It is about fear of the ‘other’, the different ones, and how difference threatens us.
And, of course, the fear that the ‘other’ might in time, with numbers, bring changes to how we define ourselves, and thus what we base our security on, is real. We Kiwis might become, for example, more religiously and ethnically diverse than we currently are. Will our home – Aotearoa – still feel like our home? That is why our spiritual tradition places such a high value on hospitality – both the need of it (sharing what we have), the hard work of it (inviting the ‘other’ into the best of our ways, and learning from the best of their ways), and the cost of it (reassessing what security is, what we hold dear, and what we might need to let go of).
For Paul, he ultimately lost. His dream didn’t happen. His vision of Jews and Greeks together in the Jewish Jesus movement, dining together as brothers and sisters, happened in pockets for a while and then did not happen. Instead in time the Jewish Jesus movement became the Greek Jesus movement (with, by mid-second century, very few Jews), which then turned against the religion (Judaism) that was its mother. We catch glimpses of this ‘turning against’ in the Gospel of John where the opposition to Jesus are called ‘the Jews’; whereas of course all his supporters and Jesus himself were also Jewish. But the author of that Gospel is purposefully positioning the emerging church away from Judaism and the faith of Jesus.
So, and this is my point, Paul dreamt a big dream and it did not succeed in coming to pass. This is encouraging. It says dream big, and don’t let your dreams be held captive to those who ask (nay demand) how they are going to come to pass. There’s a subliminal message I often hear in New Zealand that says don’t dream big unless you have a strategy, a programme, an action plan of how it’s going to come to pass – in fact the message is just don’t dream because we might be hurt by false expectations or worse, failure.
So, let’s on this St Luke’s Day, think about dreaming.
Church buildings, liturgy, and music are essentially about dreaming – they are for daydreaming about God, for plunging into the imaginative mystery of what the word G-o-d points to. Dreaming happens, and has always happened here. This building is a repository of the dreams of those who have gone before us, and those sitting around us. It is my task, and the task of musicians and other worship leaders, to feed those dreams with the dream-work of our spiritual traditions.
This is what Luke was doing when he created the story about Jesus standing up in the synagogue quoting from Isaiah 61. He was saying ‘let’s take the dream – the impossible dream of justice and restoration and healing – that Isaiah had, and I (Luke) think Jesus had and say it again and again and again… so that maybe a spark will somewhere be struck, and a fire somehow be lit.
But dreaming needs more than a place, music, words, and space – it needs a community. The primary task of leadership here (and I’m talking about all who offer leadership at St Luke’s whether you are elders or not) is to nurture a culture of encouragement. We are to encourage one another in word and deed and dreams. Sometimes that encouragement might be to do something, and sometimes it might be to do less. Always it will seek to be both empathetic and empowering. Always it will try to listen to and hold the diversity of views even when one view in time is sanctioned and another is not. Always it will try to be kind.
Recently I wrote a poem with the line ‘the kiln of intoxicating kindness’. I like the metaphor of a community being like a kiln of kindness – firing, glazing, making strong the individual (think of a cup) placed for a time within it, and coming out both stronger, more useful, and more beautiful.
I mix this metaphor with ‘intoxicating’. Kindness can be very powerful. Kindness is wanting the best for a person, even when you might disagree with them. It is seeing the best in a person, even when their demeanor, beliefs or actions you might find difficult. It is working for the best for that person, even if all you can do is offer a prayer and a smile. Such kindness says to that person ‘you are intrinsically loved’ and that might make the world of difference and the world different. A culture of kindness says more about who we are than any set of creedal beliefs or activities run.
I have inserted in the Order of Service today a one-pager listing what we do here at St Luke’s. My apologies if I’ve left anything out. The seven categories are listed in alphabetical order, not in priority. Three of seven categories - music, social justice, and theology/interfaith - are what we call ‘pillars’ and guide our community programme.
By the way, the metaphor of a pillar (holding a structure up) could do with a refresh. I would prefer a more generative metaphor so that we might think of music, social justice, and theology/interfaith as spawning offspring, spawning creativity. Suggestions are welcome.
The list of ‘what we do’ is impressive. And there are always other projects and ideas incubating. So, if you have a passion, no matter how crazy, to somehow make a difference for the better, then start by sharing it with one or two or maybe more. Most things happen around here because somebody had an idea, and then was given or got the support, to see it come to pass.
This vision and reality of us being a place for dreams and dreamers, a culture of encouragement and kindness, and a place where projects and activities that make justice, love, and healing in the world, are also set within a theological framework, with its Pauline echo, namely we are here for the ‘other’ - the other being the outsider, the foreigner, the vulnerable, the frightened Greek or the fearful Jew, the frightened and fearful part of you and me.
So the purpose of us caring for this great building is ultimately not to preserve what is for the benefit of our fellow members, but to offer a space for anyone to come and open their soul to all that is sacred, including their own humanity. Similarly we exist not ultimately for the care of our fellow members, but for non-members. Of course this building and our caring is for members too, but our theology says the other, the outsider, has priority. So too our prayers, our sermons and teaching, our activities, are ultimately not for our benefit but to inspire make the world beyond us a more just, loving, and healing place. Our vision ultimately is to trust the outsider (and God who hangs around the outside) rather than fear the outside and outsiders. Our vision is the antithesis of the new ‘Vision New Zealand’ party.
As for big dreams here are six of mine:
That learning music is easier than buying a sugary drink
That the worth of a nation (or a church) is measured primarily by words and looks of kindness, spontaneous smiles and laughter, and other acts of healing.
That for every person born a tree is planted, for every town a forest, for every city a jungle.
That everyone knows the joy of being alive
That every child feels safe and love
That everyone has enough
[i] On 4th October, Brian Tamaki issued a Media Release entitled “Islam is a Creeping Danger on the Kiwi Way of Life.”