Musings of the Jazzgoat Blog

Snowballing and Serendipity: Being a reflexive researcher

As I spend time at the community supper on Thursday nights something is happening. It’s not something happening necessarily in the context (whilst that is undoubtably true) but something is happening in, and to, me as I become increasingly aware of the hazards and delights of gathering data. The old epistemic notion of data gathering that equates to simple, straightforward collecting and collating of information is dead. In the anthropology of the past there was limited self reflection and certainly little thought as to how the interpreter shaped the gathering process. In a way it was very un-self aware. The self reflexive work of the researcher in fact adds to the process of research. Rather than considering the research period as a static, predetermined event where interviews are held and events observed the data gathering timespan is in fact is a dynamic, continually changing fluid event where the researcher is on a voyage of discovery about the context and must respond intuitively and reflectively.

I’ve now interviewed 3 leaders and have two more lined up for the next few weeks. As I reflect I’m seeing that whilst before beginning the process I saw the pool of interviews in quite a one dimensional manner i.e. only two groups of people – leaders/volunteers and guests/recipients in fact the reality is much more fractured and complex. Whilst there are those who were initiators and original leaders there are those who function as volunteers who have no real working knowledge of the history or the story of the supper or even of its ecclesial intentions in some sense. There are others who are not initiator leaders but play crucial roles in practical leadership of the supper. These range from kitchen staff, volunteers from another church, people engaged primarily with children. I think they have another story to tell, another dimension to add to the weave of voices that make up the supper – its my intention therefore to interview a few (3-4) people in this category. They are diverse in age race and background. I will also interview those who come to the supper as guests as was my original intention.

I’m operating on a snowballing principle in terms of sampling. The advantages of snowball sampling in qualitative research settings allows one the ability to recruit hidden populations. It relies on the notion that research in any given setting is not static and preconceived by fluid, dynamic and open to significant change when one enters the context and begins to see new or deeper complexities that need to reshape the sampled population. This also probes the idea of research ethics from a official university view point. Research ethics clearance is given for a period (in my case) of three years and asks the researcher to report back to the board with any significant changes. What constitutes a significant change in ethical terms? I digress. In the case of the community supper snowball sampling allows me the opportunity to uncover the hidden voices that call out in the liminal space between initiator leaders and guests –

Venette (2012) suggests that, ‘snowball sampling, in general application, is a type of convenience sample. If you are trying to recruit people who are difficult to identify or have to meet certain criteria to participate, then snowball sampling can be used to ease data collection.’

However Morgan (2008:816) points out that, ‘snowball sampling poses a distinct risk of capturing a biased subset of the total population of potential participants because any eligible participants who are not linked to the original set of informants will not be accessible for inclusion in the study.’ In the case of the community supper I take the approach of the serendipitous. The serendipitous in qualitative research, ‘refer(s) to finding something of value while searching for something else or to finding something sought after in an unexpected place or manner.’ (Stebbins 2008:814) One of my underlying approaches to my work in practical theology is that genuine practical theology in the South African context must be postcolonial. As I have said elsewhere Lartey (2013:xviii) notes that, ‘other voices, especially submerged, ignored or rejected voices are invited to articulate their own authentic voice. Subjugated voices with despised knowledge are given room at the postcolonial table.’ Postcolonial strategies, then, resist the colonial narrative and seek an opening up of voices – to sing, wail, howl, scat and improvise their way out of colonial objectification. A postcolonial stance sees below the surface and looks for complex, messy responses to ‘otherness’ by the colonizer.

The serendipitous allows one to uncover, excavate and unearth those missing voices in places that can sometimes be overshadowed by prevailing hegemony. Whilst the community supper is very obviously a place where people are attempting to be human together, to eat together and be curious about one another the weight of history, of privilege, of dividedness is always lurking beneath the surface waiting to usurp and disrupt seeing one another and building genuine relationships.

Perhaps the most interesting understandings of the supper will come from the people in-between?



Afro-catholic – why Fresh Expressions of Church are failing to make an impact on Anglicans in South Africa

Over the last few weeks I’ve begun some of my empirical research at the Community Supper in Mowbray and also conducted a number of interviews with the leading protagonists. As I watch and reflect I’m becoming more convinced that the long term impact and sustainability of anything remotely FXoC related outside of the evangelical wing of the church is going to be very difficult unless we do things differently. Every few months we have a FEAST meeting with key leaders (practitioners) from across the city. I shared some of my research earlier in the year. I explained how some black Anglo catholic Anglicans see FXoC as neo-colonialism. Some of our Dutch Reformed colleagues expressed that was the kind of response from the local Anglicans when they shared the ideas behind FXoC in Beaufort West. In a recent conversation with Revd Dr Mbaya, who is a Anglican missiologist from Stellenbosch, he suggested was there were too many European assumptions and that FXoC didn’t take the complexity of African Anglican identity seriously enough.

I’ve been reading Rowland Jones’ (2008) book on Archbishop Njongo, the previous Archbishop of Cape Town, in it she speaks about how Njongo liked to use the term Afro-catholic. (2008:38) I like that term. I guess that alludes to the blending of Anglo catholicism with a vibrancy of movement and spontaneous singing that marks the reality of worship for much of the province.

For all the protestations that FXoC is contextual, formational, missional and ecclesial I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does not take black experience seriously enough. I made a journal entry in my reflexive diary this past week. I quote it below.

“I had a good meeting with Revd Dr Henry Mbaya today. Although we didn’t speak at any length on FXoC in the SA context I’m becoming more convinced that FXoC does not speak into black experience in any real way. Hence the general lack of interest in what FXoC and the movement offer. I’m reading Bounty in Bondage (1989) a set of essays in honour of Ted King the former Dean of Cape Town. Although FXoC movement claims to be contextual at a theoretical level it feels very dislocated from the pain and degradation of black experience in the past and the continuation in the present. Professor Daniel Louw presented a paper in January at the Practical Theology society entitled “Black pain; white commodity”. We have to be careful that isn’t what happens in trying to advocate for FXoC in South Africa. At times it feels like that – that FXoC needs black and coloured people in the room to legitimize the cause. Then it becomes a kind of invisible violence – its tokenistic and at worst just reenforces the old divides. I sense we must be very careful in the way we both engage black and colored, largely sacramental and Anglo catholic clergy if we are not going to further alienate the movement. There really has not been any radical contextualisation. This is in part because all the momentum in the movement has come from white (and therefore by virtue privileged) evangelical clergy from historically white evangelical parishes. Our economic power and prestige is actually our greatest weakness in dialogue. For all our talk of context and incarnation (two key concepts in the Church House report from 2004) they are couched in a middle class, western European narrative that looks for all intents and purposes convenient and consumer orientated.

I started this research being a strong advocate of the Fresh Expressions movement having taught the MSM course, lead diocesan seminars on the topic and blogged extensively about my interest but that I fear is, as I read, and observe, crumbling away.”

So below I’m reflecting on some of my observations.

1. Pride in being an Anglican. I was struck in my conversation with Dr Mbaya that there is a deep pride in being Anglican. His own experience of being the son of the local Anglican priest in a village in Malawi was one of having some degree of elevated status in the community. Evangelicals (I include myself) have sometimes found that kind of pride difficult, perhaps even embarrassing? Being proud of your church is undoubtably a good thing. I’ve been interested to hear that kind of pride being articulated by young people in the province at gatherings like the Anglicans Ablaze conference. Anglican identity through guilds and other organizations linked to the church are enormously important. For all our talk of Christendom being dead (which in Europe and North America it certainly is) in our setting there is a complex melding together of those who operate as if Christendom is dead (they tend to be urbanized, educated and younger of all races) and those who are very happily ensconced in the curious blend that is Christendom mixed with local culture. The FXoC can appear to take little pride in being Anglican. It can at times seem anti Anglican (even if that is not the case) since it takes discerning the Spirit and context as primarily and the form of church that eventually grows from that commitment could look unlike anything traditionally Anglican. Examples of FXoC that focus on the Eucharist might be important in order not to lose connections with a Afro catholics. Two examples

2. Historically white evangelical parishes are at a distinct disadvantage to bring the story of FXoC to Southern Africa. The Parishes of St Johns Wynberg, St Peters (Diocese of Cape Town), St Agnes and St Martins (Diocese of Natal) and St Luke’s Orchards (Diocese of Johannesburg) have been bastions of white economic power (doubtless there are others but this is off the top of my head. Whilst there is always inequality in any diocese they continue to wield that same economic power 24 years after democratic elections. In many cases they are the richest churches in the diocese. In nearly all cases they have not had black clergy leading their congregations. Stories of FXoC that involve middle class white people sitting round tables drinking filter coffee as a mode of church simply reaffirms the idea that these new forms of gathering are for middle class people who are bored of church. That same economic power whilst slowly diminishing (until it at some point it caves in) allows white evangelical churches the opportunity to employ lay workers to do new things often seen as being outside the structures of power and therefore trying to dodge or evade episcopal oversight and administration.

3. “Coming to a community without a prearranged plan”, Angela Shier Jones (2009:123) notes is vital if an authentically contextual FXoC is going to be birthed. She says, “pioneer ministry cannot be done to a community by someone who knows what they need, it can only be done with a community by someone who shares their need.” In this Shier Jones opens up an important point about incarnational mission. In Anglo (Afro) catholic theology there is a dual focus. England (1989:19) states that the, “social action which resulted from the Oxford Movement had a two fold foundation: first, the doctrine of incarnation and secondly (and it could be said, in consequence to it), a mystical identification with the poor. It was the realization and assimilation of this life, this identity, which led to an increasing commitment by priests to the life of the poor.”

As I understand it the Oxford Movement takes seriously 4 key things. 1. The doctrine of incarnation 2. Radical identification with the poor 3. The Eucharist in which Tutu (1989:v) says, ‘Authentic Anglican spirituality is Catholic and so it is eucharistic. 4. Since it is birthed as a protest against state machinations and inference in church affairs it a commitment to being politically prophetic.

Back to Shier Jones. Can white evangelical pioneers and communities really workout the second part of her comment?, “it can only be done with a community by someone who shares their need.” Sharing that need in the South African context is very difficult given the economic disparity. There is little mystical identification with the poor. Nor is there, by and large, a commitment to move from traditionally white neighbourhoods and areas into places of deprivation although it has happened. White privilege almost always stops a person sharing the need of a community or from truly identifying with it.

4. Being sacramental and putting the Eucharistic at the heart of ministry – as I read FXoC literature from the UK there are examples of eucharistically centered church in new contextual church communities. Whether it be celebrating communion in ASDA (think shoprite or pick’n’pay) or a Goth church ( what matters is that they are both Eucharist centered and contextual. When the only examples of FXoC are white dudes strumming a guitar and people eating donuts in a leisure centre we again loose the possibility of helping Afro catholic shaped clergy and lay people being able to see the possibility of FXoC ministry in their township or neighbourhood.

Examples like moot from Ian Mobsby and Karen Ward’s story of Anglimergence (2009:156-161) are far more likely to engage a eucharistically centered province like ours.

Next month I bring some of my initial reflections on what’s happening at the Community Supper

‘Up close and personal’ – Participant Observation, distance and ethics
August 12, 2017, 11:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

On the 24th August I’m poised to start my ‘real’ research. I’m hoping to be at the Community Supper in Mowbray every Thursday, bar emergencies of a pastoral nature, and to make detailed field notes about what I see, experience, hear and sense (it’s intuitive to a certain degree). In the light of that I’ve been reading and thinking more in-depth about participant observation. Some thoughts below.

Participant observation is a vital part of of data collection in empirical research, moreover in ethnography. On one level observing seems a fairly ordinary, innocuous every day activity that does not call for much thought or reflection. We may well be fooled into believing that a glance around will suffice. However participant observation is a nuanced, complex activity that calls on the researcher to be both self aware and critically reflective. Being able to “see”, listen to and record the subtleties, intricacies, improvisations and messiness of a community interacting with one another, to unearth what Bourdieu calls the habitus is vital in participant observation. But right from the outset I’m fearful. Not fearful that I don’t have the skills (I am an ennegram 7 and an ENSP so I’m quite comfortable blagging my way through most things – yes church too!). I am fearful that in the colonialism must fall hashtag world that I’m only adding to more white middle class men writing about, depicting and curating the experiences of men, women and children who have found a home (both ecclesially – although that might less important) at the supper. Using their experiences as in the worst vein some kind of academic pornography. But having said that it feels there is a way beyond that.

That idea of somehow seeking out the habitus is an important concept. Bourdieu (1977:73) says ‘The habitus is the source of these series of moves which are objectively organized as strategies without being the product of a genuine strategic intention.’ The idea of participant observation being one way of opening up a community – discovering the ‘series of moves’ which are objectively organised without being a product of strategic intention lies at the heart of a collision of objective and subjective clashes which inform much of Bourdieu’s narrative. But how does participant observation function in the real world of research. I sketch out below some thoughts.

Origins and orientations
PO as a method has it’s roots in anthropology but there have been examples of people observing other cultures throughout history. Both Ward (2012:8) and McKechnie (2012:598) remind us that the roots of observation as a method in the social sciences are found in the work of Malinowski and the Chicago School in the 1920’s. ‘The methodology of participant observation focuses on the meanings of human existence from the standpoint of the insiders.’ (Jorgensen 1989:14) Jorgensen (1989:7) suggests that, ‘qualitative descriptions generated by participant observation are used to formulate concepts of measurement, as well as generalisations and hypotheses that with further testing may be used to construct explanatory theories.’ Participant observation is contested to an extent in terms of what it truly involves. As Jorgensen (:8) states, ‘there has been resistance to formulating definitive procedures and techniques.’ Therefore it is an art not necessarily a science relying on instinct, hunches, listening and interpreting sometimes the ephemeral and unseen. The methodology of participant observation aims to generate practical and theoretical truths about human life grounded in the realities of everyday existence. (:14)

The colonial period saw PO determinedly in the observer posture. PO shaped by a colonialist perspective was not phenomenological but decidedly skewed in its reporting. This led to distorted caricatures of contexts and peoples. Although there were undoubtedly some sensitive descriptions and analysis in the the 19th and early 20th centuries by and large PO in anthropology might be seen as damaging, paternalistic, patronising, unsubtle and often demeaning. So right from the outset there are ethical considerations around PO that need to be born in mind. However Kawulich (2005) following DeWALT and DeWALT (2002) relates an early story,

‘one of the first instances of its use involved the work of Frank Hamilton CUSHING, who spent four and a half years as a participant observer with the Zuni Pueblo people around 1879 in a study for the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology. During this time, CUSHING learned the language, participated in the customs, was adopted by a pueblo, and was initiated into the priesthood. Because he did not publish extensively about this culture, he was criticized as having gone native, meaning that he had lost his objectivity and, therefore, his ability to write analytically about the culture.’

The idea of going native does not necessarily mean that writing is devoid of objectivity. Going native was considered disdainful, at best, even until fairly recently but Kawulich opens up an important idea about the relationship between immediacy or intimacy and distance in PO.

Kawulich (2005:2) sees, ‘participant observation as the process of establishing rapport within a community and learning to act in such a way as to blend into the community so that its members will act naturally, then removing oneself from the setting or community to immerse oneself in the data to understand what is going on and be able to write about it.’ It necessarily involves a significant time period in order to experience the habitus of a community. Many ethnographers suggest roughly 1 year to be in situ but others only a few weeks. What seems to be important with regards to time frames is that the researcher after a unspecified period of time becomes aware of a saturation point in terms of data. Nothing particularly new is coming to light in the the observational process but this certainly cannot happen in a mere number of weeks. The unearthing (as Moschella calls it) and excavation process inevitably takes time.

BERNARD (1994) in Kawulich (2005) lists five reasons for including participant observation in cultural studies, all of which increase the study’s validity:
1. It makes it possible to collect different types of data. Being on site over a period of time familiarizes the researcher to the community, thereby facilitating involvement in sensitive activities to which he/she generally would not be invited. 
2. It reduces the incidence of “reactivity” or people acting in a certain way when they are aware of being observed. 
3. It helps the researcher to develop questions that make sense in the native language or are culturally relevant. 
4. It gives the researcher a better understanding of what is happening in the culture and lends credence to one’s interpretations of the observation. Participant observation also enables the researcher to collect both quantitative and qualitative data through surveys and interviews. 
5. It is sometimes the only way to collect the right data for one’s study (:142-3)

Therefore participant observation is a phenomenological approach to research since it ultimately attempts to uncover, reveal and expose the thing-in-itself-as-itself. This means participant observation relies on narrative, story-telling and thick or rich description as a way of generating data in any given context or locale. Participant observation is effective when used in a naturalistic way and in a bounded context and becomes the bedrock of any ethnographic study. Moschella (2012:225) writing from a practical theological perspective suggests that the metaphor of excavation is frequently applied to ethnography in the realm of participant observation. The digging up, unearthing of ‘deep symbolic meanings of group practice and parlance.’ We need to be careful using a metaphor like excavation that might be too superficial when thinking about unearthing something that is distinctly ephemeral and more complex than simply ‘digging up’. The metaphor of excavation can give the over optimistic impression that observation leads in quite a straight forward way to hermeneutical activity whine fact actually interpreting what is happening in a context or locale nuanced, complex and at times obscured by other phenomena.

Moschella (:225) notes, importantly, that the generation and curation of data in participant observation must be made using all the ethnographers, ‘senses to take in the fullness of what transpires, and record their perceptions through the use of various media.’

Participant observation is not a straightforward method to undertake and it needs to be borne in mind that there is a spectrum (continuum) that involves a tension between ‘observation’ on the one hand and how ‘participatory’ it becomes on the other. As McKechnie (2012:598) outlines, ‘researchers adopt roles that have been described by Raymond Gold as varying along a continuum of participation ranging from complete observer (no participation), through participant-as-observer (more observer than participant) and observer-as-participant (more participant than observer) to complete participant.’

At this stage in the research process it’s my sense that I will operate in second mode of participant-as-observer. Ward (2012:7) reminds us that full immersion in a context is not always possible (work in a prison for example) but that the posture and attitude of the researcher is vital. ‘The core value of immersion in ethnographic research is seen as the willingness of the researcher to enter deeply into the social and cultural worlds through fieldwork.’ (:7) But Gans (1999) highlights a problem in recent ethnographic development. Gans (1999:540) as an early ethnographer who was trained in the 1940’s to do field work (which was essentially PO) laments what he sees as the eroding of genuine participant observation. The shift away from distanciation to autoenthographic tendencies leads to a more narcissistic research which Gans (1999:542) says, ‘represents not only the climax of the preoccupation of self…but also the product of postmodern but asocial theory of knowledge that argues the impossibility of knowing anything beyond the self.’ For Gans (:542) this kind of ethnography collapses distanciation in on itself and, ‘has nothing to do with analysing what people do with and to each other in groups and networks, or how institutions and communities function and malfunction.’ Gans believes that the prevalence of autoethnography in PO creates enormous problems for genuine thoroughly committed research of the ‘other.’ The work of Dreyer around the ‘establishing of truth from participation and distanciation is important here. Dreyer says, ‘the dialectical tension between participation and distanication should be maintained in all empirical research.’ (:1)

In fieldwork the participant observer generates field notes. These field notes become one of the sources of data used to make meaning statements connected to the thesis. Brodsky (2008:341) reveals that, ‘in fieldnotes, qualitative researchers record in-depth descriptive details of people (including themselves), places, things, and events, as well as reflections on data, patterns, and the process of research. These details form the context and quality control that shape multiple qualitative data points into articulated, meaningful, and integrated research findings.’ Cameron and Duce (2013:57) helpful remind us that, ‘the way we observe is selective and interpretive.’

So into the wilds to observe.

A Sermon on Genesis 18:1-15
July 24, 2017, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Anglican, church, future, radicals, St Johns | Tags: , , ,

Generous hospitality?
Absurd promises and Possible impossibilities

A Story
In 1999 I spent 3 months in Uzbekistan teaching English with a group of YWAMers to University students in the city of Bukhara. Because there we very few western foreigners in the city (you could count them on one hand) a contingent of Americans and me soon became an item of interest. Rather than having to go out and make connections with people we were invited to eat in people’s homes. It was in the middle of winter so a hearty meal was a welcome distraction from the cold. We ate meals in some of the most basic of homes but an extravagant meal remains in my memory. A young man whose father was a television producer for national Uzbek TV (as weird and propagandaish as it sounds) invited the entire team for a meal. The house by Uzbek standards was plush. And the food amazing. Each of us was presented with a whole tiny lamb which had been roasted on a spit. There were pistachios, almonds, sweet meats, mounds of plov and shashlik…we ate until we were bursting.

Hospitality in Uzbek culture like many non western cultures is very important and as we see in today’s reading was vital to near eastern nomadic culture of Abrahams time too.

This morning we get to Genesis 18 but let’s do a recap. One of the problems of tackling a book of 50 chapters in 12 weeks is we invariably have I leave bits out. Like next week we aren’t going to tackle Sodom and Gomorrah (I can see the disappointment on some faces). As I prepared for today I realized that we have has to miss out 5 fascinating chapters.

It’s worth saying this morning that the first 11 chapters of genesis are prehistory. We do them a disservice we read them literally. They deal with grand themes of creation, sin, family conflict, obedience, a growing sense of hearing and obeying God in Noah, the problem of humanity’s arrogance and desire for power in Babel. Something shifts in chapter 12 when we encounter Abram who becomes Abraham. It symbolizes a dimension in relationships between God and people a new kind of intimacy, a new quality of calling. Last week we were introduced to the character of Abram and his incredible call of leave, go and show.

Context of Chapter 18. In chapter 15 the Lord makes covenant with Abram, ‘I will protect you and your reward will be great.” (:1) But Abram can’t see the value in such a promise because the only way for that promise of being a great nation can only be fulfilled in his having a son. Chapter 16 Abram tries to make God’s promises come to pass via Hagar his wife’s Egyptian maid servant. But that leads to some pretty difficult domestic arrangements and complexities. In that we see again the grace and mercy of God who does not simply banish Hagar and Ismael. They are not dismissed, and left for dead, “You are the God who sees me” “I have truly seen the One who sees me” Chapter 17 again covenant is deepened again with the continued promise of God making him into a great nation…but this time with a physical marker of circumcision.

It begs an important question When have we tried to help God with fulfilling his promises by taking things into your own hands?

I think I have. Perhaps we have tried to take things into our own hands because God was going to slow. I asked the students at the leadership Academy a few weeks ago if God is in a rush. Is he urgent to do things.The room was split. Some felt he was others not. Japanese theologian Koyama wrote a book of his experiences working in the rice fields of Thailand in the 1970’s and entitled the book. The 3 mile an hour God. God surely could have seen the promise of making Abraham into a great nation in at least 9 months a year? In Chapter 12 Abram (last weeks reading) is already 75. If I was God I’d be sorting out the “making you into a great nation” right from the get go. I mean that to me would be an absolute priority. But I’m not God. In chapter 16 Sari clearly wants to take things into her own hands in Chapter because God is being slow! So Abram sleeps with the maid and that just causes all sorts of jealous and friction until the maid is booted out. That’s 10/11 years after the initial promise. By the beginning of Chapter 17 Abraham is 99. Nothing very tangible has happened over the ensuing 24 years just quite alot of mess. So come on let’s be a bit more understanding. It takes 25 years for the promise to come to pass.

I wonder if you are waiting for a promise that you believe God has spoken to you come to fruition? Or a desire that he has set in your heart that still seems some way off from being made true? I have a friend (he has visited St Johns in the past) who had an encounter with God in 1984. God made a very specific promise to him…it still hasn’t come to pass 33 years ago. What do we do with promises that are seemingly delayed?

So that is the backdrop or context of chapter 18. It’s tempting for us to read all sorts of things into the text this morning. We can be tempted to translate the appearance of three men or Angelic like figures as a hint at Trinitarian Godhead. We can be tempted to think that we would have responded in a more dignified and faithful or sober way than Sarah or Abraham.

Generous hospitality
Middle Eastern hospitality was extremely important. It was much more than holding a supper party, or doing a family dinner or offering a friend the spare room bed for the night. It was literally taking strangers into ones house and was a highly esteemed virtue particularly in the nomadic society to which Abraham belonged. It was a sacred duty and almost certainly more stringently kept than any written law. We need to remember there were no travel lodges. You couldn’t log on to and find a comfortable bed and breakfast within walking distance to the latest restaurant. The procedure was simple. Some who seeking shelter for the night would go to the town or city square or perhaps sit down next to the well and wait to be invited in.

There was a generosity but it is likely that this hospitality was sometimes given out of fear. The host never knew who he might be dependent upon in the future. This code of hospitality also stretched to ones enemies. He enjoyed protection even if he were an enemy three days and then for 36 hours after eating with a host.

It wasn’t about the status of the guests. Abraham was running over (not an easy feat at close to 100 years old and having recently been circumcised) to attend to their needs, making a fairly extravagant meal and standing in their presence whilst they ate.

Leads to some pertinent questions about how we practice hospitality. That OT depiction of hospitality gets carried over into the New Testament. It was enormously important in the early church. We have a clear show down between Paul and Peter in Acts about how sharing a meal together was vitality important in breaking down the old divides between Jews and Gentiles. Table fellowship grows relationships – says something about who belongs and who doesn’t. Who have you invited to eat around your table sign the last 12 months? Who has invited you?

Are we hospitable or hostile…?

I heard a story from this past week. In 2015 trouble came to Burundi. The capital streets were filled with protesters and police, tear gas and tensions. For months the situation across the country was dangerous — over 300,000 people took refuge in Rwanda, Tanzania, and even as far as Uganda. Those who could not leave stayed behind, dodging bullets and roadblocks to survive. Markets closed and food was often hard to come by.

So one woman’s husband decided to throw a party.

One Saturday he gave all the money he could spare to his cook and asked him to get as much rice as he could, beef where he could find it, and make mounds of pilau. Then he invited all the people he knew who were hungry. They made their way to our compound, a safe distance from the hot zones, and ate until every grain of rice was gone.

The next Saturday Claude did the same thing. He got all the money he could spare, all the food they could find, all the pilau the cook could make to feed all the hungry people. As the troubles continued, food became harder to find or afford for these people. Pilau Saturdays became routine. He would feed up to 60 people each weekend in our modest compound, more if you counted all the children. Claude said he didn’t even know everyone by name, but the people kept coming and they’d eat until the rice was finished. This went on for months.

That’s not the core point of the text but it’s an important aside.

Absurd promises
Who are these three men who appear? Something unusual is going on. Abraham addresses them as my Lords (using the word Adoni) in verse 3. Almost no where in the Old Testament do we have God as it were mixing with human company as if he were one of them, having his feet washed and a meal prepared for him. This is more than anthropomorphizing God. Verse 1 says, “The Lord appeared” and then we have an account of 3 men. It seems dangerously close to contravening the second of the 10 commandments “Don’t make a graven image for yourselves”. It would have certainly raised the eyebrows of the first Hebrew readers but it’s not blasphemy! We have God speaking to Abraham often from Genesis 12 onwards but appearing, no!

Perhaps the way to understand this unusual turn of events is to see quite how much God wants to speak to Abraham and quite how significant this moment is not only for Abraham but for us. Again seeing the thread of the gospel here in chapter 18 – that the living God is prepared to to get up close and personal. To make his home however briefly in this scene amongst us…it foreshadows the commitment God is will to make a few millennia later as Jesus Christ comes to make his home amongst us, to pitch his tent, move into the neighbourhood. Get his hands dirty, get up close and personal.

Verse 10 God drops a bombshell.

Dear menopausal Sarah, rightly so, chuckles to herself with a hint of sadness at something so foolish. To paraphrase her words: “I’m old. Abe’s old. The dream of such a happy thing has long since faded.”8 With left eyebrow still raised, the reader now hears explicitly: “The Lord said to Abraham … ” The identity of this particular visitor is revealed. Yhwh. To be sure, this raises far more questions than it answers, but it calls out from the page for us to explore.

How could a worn out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master Abraham is so old? As I said last week if My mum who is a tender 61 Skype called me to tell me she was having a baby laughter might not be far from my lips.

Have you ever burst out laughing at something that seemed ludicrous? Or highly unlikely. It reflects our inability to trust perhaps. Promise a child something and their ability to trust is inordinately higher. Make an adult an unlikely promise and depending on how many times promises have been broken in they’re life they are likely to respond with a good deal of cynicism. Matthew Henry says, ‘Human improbability often sets up a contradiction to the divine promise.’ But surely what sets us apart is that we are called to be people of promise. We are supposed to be people shaped by unlikely unusual occurrences. Isn’t the resurrection unlikely, unusual, absurd on one level. We are called out to be people of the promise that God can do the unlikely, the unusual, the unheard of. There are somethings I just can’t see working out right now. I can’t see how God can carve away through what looks messy, incomplete, antagonistic.

In this week have to see again the hand of grace dancing it’s way through the wistful and sometimes broken lives of people. John Gibson former professor of Hebrew and the OT at Edinburgh University says, “Like her husband before her she had to be dragged into the realm of grace resisting all the way.” Grace comes first that’s why people can respond with their best.

Its a case of absurd promises and possible impossibilities
Is anything to difficult for the Lord? Is anything too hard for the Lord? We can sit and nod our heads. Nothing is too difficult but if we are really honest most if us live between two extremes. We are more like Abraham and Sarah than we care to admit. Whilst some days we are full of faith that God can do the impossible in us and in our circumstances others lives there are days we feel jaded, cynical, hopeless, confused, bemused, overwhelmed. Wanting to take things into our own hands. Prevailing culture tells us we can take things into our own hands. We are the shapers of our destiny. We can make things happen.

A few weeks ago at the Missional church conference Michael Moynagh said something that continues to sit with me. It was with reference to pioneering mission and church planting but I think it expands to church and life. What we really need is discernment. A gift of the Spirit. One we can ask for. Discernment to know when to step forward and when to wait. When our trust and faith will actually mean stopping and not doing anything. And when we need to actively walk into God’s promises. Each point is a time of discernment.

A sermon on Genesis 12:1-9
July 16, 2017, 10:14 am
Filed under: St Johns | Tags: , , ,

Over the past 5 weeks all the material we have covered falls in a certain category – that of prehistory. It’s worth saying this morning that the first 11 chapters of genesis are a different type of literature. We do them a disservice if we read them literally. They deal with grand themes of creation, sin, family conflict, obedience, a growing sense of hearing and obeying God in Noah, the problem of humanity’s arrogance and desire for power in Babel. But also the way God has structured diversity into the world.

Something shifts in chapter 12 when we encounter Abram who becomes Abraham. It symbolizes a dimension in relationships between God and people a new kind of intimacy, a new quality of calling. Whilst there is a new quality in the relationship between God and people from Abraham onwards in chapters 1-11 we see pictures of God’s gracious hand weaving it’s way thought the next and that’s all the more true as we encounter the character of Abraham. Constantly foreshadowing the grace that becomes more obvious in the New Testament.

The call to Abraham (at this point called Abram) to leave Mesopotamia and go to Palestine was in effect the first act of the Gospel. When we look at the raw data of a nomad leaving one place and going to another on the face of it it seems a rather mundane, ordinary kind of thing. Yet for Christians and Jews it expresses a moment of destiny for the entire human race. The beginning of another type of history. So this morning 2 phrases to help us navigate our way through the first part of Genesis 12.

Go and show
Promise and Bless

Leave (go) and show
Have you ever watched the American TV series “The Amazing Race”? Now in its 29th series the basic premise is for teams of two racing round the world. It’s a test of relationships which in the beginning look rock solid but crumble after a few legs of the journey or others that seems shaky but actually find one another in the process. The point is at the beginning of the journey they have no idea where they will land up or how things will quite work out. They are racing blind with no idea about what is in store for them and often it is difficult and challenging…Abraham is told to go but it isn’t until he starts off on his journey that he discovers what God has in store.

It’s worth pointing out something which David reminded us of two weeks ago when we looked at Noah. David reminded us that it’s was God’s Ark (coffin) not Noah’s in the same way right at the beginning of this chapter it all starts with God. “The Lord said” like Genesis 1:3. God tells a man to leave. On the face of it seems a bit silly. Abram was a nomad after all. He was used to some extent to leaving but there is something more than just leaving. There are three challenges. 1 to leave native country (no countries in the way we understand them) 2. To leave relatives and 3. finally to leave close family. These words are so familiar to us that again like Noah’s story or the creation account we fail to see what a great risk God is taking in pining his plans to bless the whole world thought Abram. Apart from slaves Abram represents a group of people who were among the weakest in society at the time. Unlike those who were used to the security of cities they had the freedom to move but very little else. On top of this Abraham was old. I’m not there yet but usually when I talk to people in their mid seventies they’re not talking of talking off. They usually have the idea of settling down. My parents are doing some renovations on their house at the moment which is proving to be stressful but it’s with the express intent of not having to move in the future. It’s about getting ready for the final part of life. God it appears was not much interested in that.

Moreover God works in such a way that he calls Abram out of the cradle of one of the most advanced cultures that the ancient world had know. Mesopotamia an area that today occupies Iraq and parts of Syria and Iran was the birth place of civilization. The area between the Euphrates and the Tigres rivers. It gave rise to the idea of the city as we recognise it today. It was the place where writing began (although in Egypt and China too) it was the place where the first philosophers began working. – the fertile crescent was fertile in more than just land. But God for some reason wants to take Abram out of this – perhaps condemning the security of civilized life? Perhaps by taking Abram out of the pomp and achievement of the city it’s a move into increasing obscurity. From Ur to Haran to Shechem now Nablus a place full of Canaanites at the time. Away from what is powerful, sophisticated and influential to that which is decidedly not.

It’s the opposite of our success driven world. How can you get to a place of influence? Where we look at the rungs on the ladder we need to climb to be in our bosses shoes or where we should be in order to network best. Or so we can make enough money ti get what we think we deserve…Abram is called into obscurity.

When I got this job to lead St Johns I had several emails from colleagues and friends in Natal congratulating me on a move to such a high profile important church for Anglican evangelicals in South Africa. I had climbed the ecclesiastical ladder by passing some required rungs it seemed from the tone of a few comments. The point of ministry is not to secure yourself in cushy post and hold on until you retire (that does seem the point in some circles). The point is not to let comfort and status make you deaf to the whisper of Abba Father…

Lastly in this call to go, to leave God is choosing a man. As we see in the subsequent chapters Abram is by no means perfect. Right from the verse 10 of this chapter Abram is afraid, he tries to take fulfilling Gods promise to him into his own hands in chapter 16. Is this story not more of God’s providence and grace than of Abram’s righteousness? Abram is not perfect, he is flawed, like me, like I’d imagine, you too.

This call to go is right at the heart of the gospel, at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. Mark 1:17, Jesus call to go and make disciples in Matthew 28. But that call has a cost. We don’t know what the reaction of Abram leaving he got from his relatives and close family? Nor do we know the response from his wife Sari and his nephew Lot. But it was certainly costly for Abram. It struck right at the heart of his identity which was bound up in his familial relationships.

Scottish Old Testament scholar John Gibson says, “faith has always had a disconcerting habit of causing separations, of cutting across family and community ties. The things of home are considered sacrosanct by the majority of mankind. In the call of God there is no certainty that the two will not clash.”

The examples of this are manifold. A few weeks ago whilst in Durban I met with a friend who was sharing the story of how God was calling him to build a school. As part of that call he and his wife felt that God was asking them to sell their house. They phone their parents to share what they sensed God calling them to do. The parents were outraged at what they saw as such a stupid decision. “Why would God tell you to do that?” They said. The fall out is considerable. It begs a question. If many of us are so caught up in the things and people around us that we may not be able to make the leap of faith to give them up should God call us to. They might well be good things but is there potential that they are making us blind or deaf to God? In 2004 a few months before Sharon and I left Cape Town for Cambodia we went to visit a prayer group somewhere on the Cape Flats. We shared how we believed God was calling us to Cambodia. At the end of the evening as we were leaving a young man probably in his mid 20’s called out and said, “I could never leave my Mummy.” I’ve heard variations on that theme over the past 20 years. I’ve heard over the years how people have been called to Brazil or to leave a job or start a new venture but have not been able to for a whole host of reasons. When we hear God calling us out of and into how do we respond.

There are a few challenges. Some of us don’t even know how to listen. We’ve never tuned our ear to God’s voice only our own so we have never made a decision based in what God might be saying. You’re not alone. It seems Abram hasn’t until he was 75. In that vein it is not too late. Others have listened but perhaps felt what God was asking was just too much, or it was too difficult or too painful, or too impossible. Again you are in good company. Abram as we will see in the next week or so took things into is own hands.

Re-reading the call of Abram is a reminder to me again that to grow in maturity will often mean leaving what is comfortable, what is known, what we can do confidently at times in our own strength. To leave and go is to move out of what we know. When denial of our comfort, or fear of failure stop us from going we are in trouble.

But there are two other things in this passage to Promise and bless.

Only by being obedient to leaving can God fulfill his promises to Abram. Abram’s obedience is caught up, is part and parcel of the promise. There a great cartoon that I saw posted on someone’s Facebook page this past week. Two characters are sitting facing each other over a table. One is called Growth the other is called Comfort. The growth character says to the comfort character “This is just not going to work out.” and that’s important if we are really going to be used to do the things of God then almost always there will be a degree of discomfort – sometimes that discomfort can be considerable.
God promises something. Or somethings. Knowing the discomfort he had likely caused Abram he doesn’t leave him empty handed but makes some incredible promises. Firstly a land God would show him. Secondly descendants that would grow into a nation and thirdly a special blessing that would afford him protection but would eventually bring the whole of the earth into its scope.

Perhaps as Christians we are most likely to connect with the third promise in that we see in how God has honored that promise through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are now grafted into that nation which starts in the seeds of Abrams family. We have history on our side. Abram had none of that. It is most likely that Abram was focused on the part of the promise that seemed most unlikely to him and which we will deal with in more detail next week as we focus on chapter 18. The promise that God had just spoken to him was looking unlikely because it was based on the idea that he would be a father and at 75 with a wife 65 (Genesis 17:7 tells of the 10 year age gap) producing the next generation seemed pretty unlikely…if not impossible.

Perhaps we feel a little uncomfortable by this promise of God to choose Abram and make him a great nation. It can feel a little like God have a favourite child. Which is at best unhelpful and at worst destructive. But God’s choice of Abram is more about being able to evidence a covenant. The promise that God gives to Abram is not for predominantly for his OWN benefit but for others. Abram’s promise is to be a blessing to others. Again that lies at the heart of the gospel. We are blessed to be a blessing. When we don’t give away want we have – the joy of being in relationship with God then we are not being faithful.

We are blessed to be a blessing. We are part of this story so the story can invade the lives and homes of others. But part of that sharing the blessing will be obedience to leave what we know and gives us security for the sake of those who do not yet know. I’m musing on what that means for me. I wonder what that will mean for you.


Being Modal or Sodal: Fresh Expressions, pioneers and the future

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to wrestle with chapter 1,2 and 3 of my PhD work. Like any journey in this world of academics some days I write a sentence, others a paragraph or some times I just delete what I wrote a day before. One of the challenges is time. When I have other things that crop up and steal time away from reading, thinking and writing. Sometimes I just need to stare out the window for an hour whilst I try to work out how to integrate something I have come across. Being an ENFP I see the world as a big complex puzzle where everything is interconnected (but I’m not analytical so I couldn’t give a stuff about how its interconnected). Today I’m hot desking at Inyathelo in Woodstock so get out of the office and be somewhere different. So as an ENFP I’m going to try and integrate a load of different things I’ve been reading about over the past few weeks. George Lings and bits of Newbigin all in the context of the St John’s Leadership academy which I’ve written about before.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some interactive teaching with the 13 students of the Leadership Academy on Monday afternoon. I set out a little course with readings over 4 weeks on the Missio dei. One of the aims of the Academy is to identify, train and release a new generation of pioneers for the Anglican church. As I look around the room of some exceptional young leaders, as I hear their stories, as I get to know them better I wonder a number of things. Tragically outside of our Parish there are no opportunities for pioneer ministry in the traditional context.More worryingly within our Parish we have a very limited understand of mission shaped ministry and pioneers are going to struggle mostly because some of us are worried about filling our churches and having a new generation of Clergy who will carry on doing more of the same. We use the term pioneer but what does that actually mean? Irediscovered a George Lings article recently on Modality and Sodality which I found very useful.

Picking up some of the work of Ralph Winter George writes a helpful paper (here) on why the ideas of Modality and Sodality are valuable for the future church. Ling (:1) says “understood aright its a wonderful tool which works elegantly with the twinning dynamics of continuity and change that are rooted in Incarnation and Christology.” Modality comes from the word mode which speaks ofthe ways things are, the default position, the prevailing fashion. Sodality comes from the Latin Sodalis which can get translated as comrade, or others words (Comrade is a bit too ANC cadre talk for me) like companion or associate. Sodality can refer to guilds or fraternities…both task orientated by relationally shaped too.

Lings, following Winter, paints a picture of these Modal and Sodal ways of being church throughout Christian history asking pertinently, ‘Anglican’s may care to reflect on the existence of parishes and missionary societies.’ CMS, USPG are Sodal expressions that find their roots in the 18/19th century protestant missionary movement. Interestingly though they tended to plant churches that are predominantly modal.

It’s probably better however not to see Modal or Sodal as diametrically opposed or to see them in binary/dualistic terms pitted against each other but rather on a spectrum or continuum. Essentially Sodality pioneers and Modalist sustains. And this is really what I like about the Lings article. Towards the end of thepaper he speaks of Sodal pioneers being released to do things differently and asks again if we have deployed pioneers properly or simply forced them into the system and expect them to operate in Modal sustainer capacity which eventually will kill them. In conversation with my writing colleague today here at Inyathelo we reflected on how many Sodal/pioneer types leave the church either to plant something new but totally disconnected from church or pioneer something in the NGO sector because the church is ill equipped to contain them. History is replete with examples.

Lings identifies 4 categories (and of course there will be permutations of these) on the continuum. Firstly pioneer starters who are brilliant at initiating things (Revd Annie Kirk is a prime example) – they are phenomenal networkers, have singular gifts at evangelism. They can get bored quickly and need to know when to move on. Secondly are what Lings calls pioneer sustainers (me probably) who have a wide range of gifts and ability to select what is needed. They tend to be genuinely interested in seeing things mature and can enable indigenous leadership to flourish. Thirdly sustainer innovators who may have been trained traditionally in the system but are gifted at bringing new ventures to birth within the church context. Fourthly the sustainer developer those whogifts are primary in inherited modal forms of church but are committed to slow forms of growth over the long haul. Fifthly and finally I include another of my own which I call sustainer resister because its important to acknowledge whilst perhaps few in number there are those for whom any type of genesis or change is to be resisted or proactively challenged.

What is important is to remember that these sit on a continuum. They need each other. But what tends to happen in some Anglican contexts is that they fight each other, dismiss each other and ridicule one another. That is tragic and will result in not only inertia but in calcification and eroding of ecclesial life in the long run.

Below I have drawn a continuum to show nodes of Sodal or Modal engagement or calling but overlaid onto the continuum is a lemniscate (sometimes called an infinity symbol). The lemniscate overlaid on the continuum reveals the way in which there two, perhaps seemingly diametrically opposed positions in fact are interconnected. These two foci of Sodal and Modal in fact have a reciprocity about them. In the best possible scenario the Modal church gives stability, historicity, depth and a picture of the marks of maturity to the Sodal manifestation. Likewise the Sodal church reminds the Modal and inherited form that the call to join God in his mission to the world is not a second step (Moynagh 2012;2017) but a first step. That at DNA of the church is to reach out in and to make its life orientated towards the ‘other’, the outsider those not yet found or embraced.

FullSizeRenderIt would be interesting to me to see where the students in the Leadership academy identity themselves on the spectrum and in conjunction with their own sense of calling, their own self awareness and their own theological and missiological training, how we deploy them in the future. The horizon is endless…

Finding, nurturing and releasing calling
April 23, 2017, 12:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Mark 1:14-20

Encounters with certain people can change our lives. When I was 19 I went to work as an assistant youth worker for a little Anglican church. My boss for those few months was a man named Kyle. Kyle was passionate about God, about mission. He’d spent a few years in Ethiopia and eventually spent time in Tanzania.
One day in a conversation as we were preparing for an Alpha weekend Kyle said, “You know Ben – the holy spirit is a missionary spirit. What is he calling you into?” No one had ever said that to me before. It came as a complete revelation. And so I began to pray. Lord where are you calling me. What are you calling me to be and do to. As I began to pray some strange things happened.

One day I was in a dentists waiting room it was Jan 1995 I picked up a national geographic that happened to lying on the table and opened it up. There was an article on the 2nd Indochina war. As I read it I felt God saying I want you to help the church there. It was the beginning of a journey or praying, learning, thinking, reflecting, researching, reading and discerning.

Perhaps we need to break down some myths about being called. Perhaps you are sitting there and your now going to shut down or switch off ease your brain for the next 20 mins because this clearly doesn’t relate to you. You are in the building business and nobody talks that way…

Understanding and sensing calling is important because it forces us out of church as an attending member to church as a place of gathered disciples eager to know to follow Jesus wherever he may lead. If we have a sense of being called by God we are more likely to understand we are disciples not members of some Sunday morning club. I feel like I’m repeat button over this but we have to shift from the going to church attitude to the we are the church attitude. That second posture is the only hope for the future church.

So 5 thoughts on being called this morning.

Nobody is not called. Or to express it another way. Everyone who follows Jesus is called
First things first. Everyone is called. The future of the church is the actualization of the priesthood of all believers. If you are called you are a priest. You can bless people. You can do anything I can do. In our reading from Mark 1:17. It says Jesus called Simon and Andrew. The only place he calls them to come is after him. The literal Greek way of rendering that sentence is actually “I will make you to become”. Calling starts with God. It’s an invitation to allow God to lead you. To live through you. And I think the original rendering in the Greek helps remind us it’s his work. If you have made a conscious decision to respond to the love of God you are responding to an invitation to follow and in order to follow you need to be called. Imagine there is someone literally knocking at your front door. If you open it up and the person says. the trouble is to many of us have opened the door but actually we haven’t walked out of it and begun to follow. He have assented to the idea of following but actually we aren’t doing anything about it. We are carrying on as normal.

There is no sacred/secular divide in our calling
Perhaps one of the greatest myths we need to shatter or breakdown this morning is that somehow there are sacred callings and there are secular callings. The argument goes something like this. “Bishops, priests, deacons, ministers, youth workers, children’s workers all those who spend their time working for the church are those who have a special and higher calling.” That’s sacred special higher calling. I get why people think that. But it’s deeply unhelpful. The elevation of Priests in some churches. Father this, your grace…does not release and empower people to discover their gifts or to take risks. It keeps people as babies in need of the Priest. He will tell me the answer…

Part of that is because of the professionalisation of ministry. Professionals will do ministry for us. It’s a big challenge. It undermines the truth that we are all called. I think actually we are moving into a new era which will in fact see the deprofessionalisation of ministry (if such a word exists). Because as ordinary men and women rise up and start leading…We all have something that God is inviting us into. We may be called as doctors, or nurses, or teachers, or car mechanics, or welders, or IT consultants, or engineers, or Lawyers, or postmen, or administrators, or accountants. Those callings…those roles, that work is a calling. A few weeks ago Ron spoke brilliantly on work as worship. Actually our work as our calling or in the best possible world it should be. Now that might be incredibly difficult sometimes.

Sometimes the work that we are doing is not the thing we are primarily called to.

We may feel that to live out our calling in that context is seemingly impossible but that does stop it being the primary place God has set us to be his hands and feet. Through out the biblical narrative the prophets who God called very clearly and at times in vivid and spectacular ways felt overwhelmed by their calling, or the gravity or their calling. In our passage from Jeremiah 1 it’s pretty clear he felt too young, afraid and unable to speak. If you read through Jeremiah he was consistently rejected. Hardly anyone listened to him. But he was profoundly called. Each of you if you know Jesus as Lord and saviour have something that he has called you to and is inviting you into. If you have never thought of it that way…today is the day to start.

Our primary calling to be something rather than to go somewhere, but in order to fulfill God’s call we will often have to leave our comfort zones – its costly
Christopher Wright in his writings reminds his readers that the children of Israel were not primarily called to go somewhere but to be something. God’s covenant with them set them apart as called out, to embody a different way of living than the surrounding nations and peoples. Although they embark on a confusing journey, the journey is not the point. It’s the growing into a community that had a new identity not as slaves but as chosen, loved, known people with an ethic of love.

As we develop our sense of calling and what God is leading us into there is a cost. A few months ago a good friend from one of the churches in Wynberg sent me some words of encouragement. They were actually prophetic words. We don’t talk much about the prophetic at St John’s but it’s important. Being open to words of knowledge and prophecy can be live giving if we weigh them correctly.

Clarity, call and cost. The clearer your vision or call means that often there is a greater cost. As God called the prophets to particular actions and embodiments of His voice it came at great personal cost. So down right strange and perturbing acts. As we grow in being able to hear his voice the clarification of his call may lead into costly pursuits. Giving up security. Maybe giving up a salary. Maybe giving up a home. If that sounds extreme perhaps it’s giving up certain rights and opportunities because we know what God is actually inviting us into. That will mean saying “no” to some things and “yes” to other things.

Identifying and developing calling is not an instantaneous thing: there is often a time delay that can be significant I’m struck by how often there was in the Old Testament a delay between God initially speaking to someone or calling them out and then the time it takes for that call or that promise to come to fruition. Our instantaneous culture really doesn’t help us with such waiting for God to carry out his purposes. In our world of email, whatsapp, Facebook, credit cards, we expect instant results. We are a culture of impatience. Does anyone know how to wait? It’s seems often that is just what God is into…forcing us to pause, rest, wait. Abram is called and it’s a long and painful journey whereby he tries to force God’s hand and make things happen outside God’s intended plan. Joseph has a dream or vision when he is 17. It takes a great deal of time, including a prison sentence on trump up charges of rape before he finally sees that call or vision come to being. It was 9 years between feeling first called to Cambodia in that dentist waiting room and eventually flying into Phnom Penh to begin language training. A few years ago I was preaching in a church in the UK on mission and a young man came up to me after the service during coffee time. “I was really touched by what you said I feel God might be calling me to help the church in Morocco.” That’s great I said, “I’m going to book a ticket for 3 weeks time!” Well hang on a minute. In order to identify and nurture what God has for us it often takes time. We live in world that is success and consumer orientated. Such a fake sense of what success is and what is valuable. It’s damaging the lives of young people in our churches and in our communities. God often allows fallow times. Times of waiting and growing in the patience. In just doing to day to day of being a faithful person in small and simple things. Sometimes He leads us on seemingly circuitous routes. We might think. Why am I here? How did I get into what looks like a cul de sac when it’s all part of the process of shaping us for the something else. I have often reflected and thought was my 5 years in Cambodia a waste of time. I learnt an obscure language, I saw little fruit, sometimes it felt there was no transformation in people…but the things God has called me to here and opened up here would have been impossible without following Jesus by his Spirit into Cambodia and out again. Perhaps you feel this morning that God has called you to something but all the doors keep shutting or you are in a cul de sac and you are disheartened. That’s understandable but hold on.

Neither can we look across the way and compare what God has called me into to what he has called Peter to, or Jean, or Brad, or Keegan. What God has called me to is unique. It’s not supposed to replicate what someone else has done or is doing.

Path of Life Sculpture GardenThe church will truly function as the body of Christ when we grow into what we have each been called to do and attend to
I wanted to speak abut calling this morning because I think it’s really important for us a the church to recognise that we are all called. First and foremost into a living relationship with Jesus. We are called to do an apprenticeship. A followership. In the post resurrection stories we have in the gospels there is one that has struck me as I read it a few times this week. In John 21 the last story in the gospel Jesus appears to seven of his disciples and asks Peter 3 times if he really loves him and Peter responds 3 times that he does. In each of Jesus’ responses he commissions Peter to take care of his sheep. It’s a passage that Pastors know well. It’s where the idea of Peter as the apostolic head of the church comes from. But I was struck by the end of verse 19. In all that Jesus said, that great commission to care for the church he simple says follow me. In the same simple way he did in Mark 1.

The church is not a purveyor of spiritual commodities. We are not a spiritual supermarket, where you come to get your religious fix. Too many of us are holding on to that idea of the church…in the back of our minds. The Anglican church has not for the most part in Southern Africa been good are making disciples. It has focused too much on attendance and not enough on the idea that we are disciples called to follow the crucified and resurrected one wherever he may lead. I long some days for someone to say to me at the door, “You know what Ben I think God might be calling me to leave what I’m doing and what I know and serve the poor in Bangladesh.” or “Can you help me think through where I might be going in life?”

If you know what God has called you to how are you nurturing that call? How are you developing it? How are you working out what it might look like? Where is might be best acted out? Just a reminder Moses was 80 when led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Josiah was 8 when he became King, 16 when he discovered the book of the law. Age doesn’t matter. Discerned what God has called you to and doing it does.