This message comes to you at the end of an extended weekend for me. Allen and I travelled to the Gold Coast for the baptism of two of our grandsons. They were baptised along with two other children in a wonderful ritual at Sacred Heart Church, Clear Island Waters. The visiting priest to the parish made all feel welcomed and explained the parts of the ritual simply, so that those who attended were engaged and involved. He was a gentle, faith-filled man, ready to impart God’s grace through the sacrament.
What a great weekend it was to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, as the reading for this Sunday in Lent (John 4:5-42) was about the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. Their dialogue is extensive as they discuss the properties of water, to quench physical thirst and to be a source of ‘living water’.
Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.
Like the woman speaking with Jesus at the well, what I want for my children and grandchildren is this life-giving water that opens them up to spirit and truth. I also desire for them to be true disciples of Jesus Christ who share the message of this good news with others, as she did. You may recall that she does this in a hurry:
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony.
I wonder how many people encounter us and seek this living water of which Jesus speaks. The First Reading for the weekend from the Book of Exodus (17:3-7), gives us an account of the Israelites who complain about being thirsty, putting the Lord to the test by saying:
Is the Lord with us, or not?
I think this is how we might be feeling at this time in our church and in our world. For some, it feels like we labour in vain. People complain, the numbers of people who worship are dwindling, those called to ordination have lessened; and we lay blame for this plight on lots of people and issues.
I am conscious of this, at the beginning of the week in which Bishop Michael Kennedy is to be installed as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. I have no doubt that currently, many of us are once again looking for an inspiring leader. Based on our own Synod and the Plenary Council, we know that we desire transformation and renewal. The importance of vision is covered in reading Chapter 7, Leader of the House: The Essential Role of Leadership in the book, Divine Renovation – From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish by Fr James Mallon.
Anyone who has ever scratched a mosquito bite knows the simultaneous experience of relief and frustration. The more you scratch, the more sweet relief you feel. But the more you scratch the itchier it becomes. Vision begins with a sense of discontent, of dissatisfaction with the way things are. This is not about laying blame or criticising; this is about theological hope. Things can be better because we worship the God of Jesus Christ, the One who raises from the dead and brings forth springs of water in the desert. The key to being passionate about our picture of the future is to find that dissatisfaction and scratch and scratch and scratch until it drives you crazy. Only when we have crazy passion about the future will we have a vision that inspires other.
….. The passion is kept alive by a deep conviction that it is possible, that it can happen. (p248)
Mallon then goes onto explore charisms and states that “Our personal vision will be shaped by our charisms. …..A leader’s charism will shape the very things that he or she is passionate about.”
The variety of charisms/gifts are required for a healthy church.
No doubt Bishop Michael Kennedy will come to us with his own personal charism, and over time, let us hope and pray that he takes the time to identify the charisms of others around him for the good of the Kingdom and for our diocese, and that we also take the time to honour his gifts.
Mallon provides the reader with the image of the need for the pastor to “put the sign on the bus” (page 254), because the first thing you notice when waiting for a bus is the sign about where it is going. He then goes onto say:
The Church of God is missional. It is a bus that is designed to go. For centuries, however, these local “buses” have sat in parking lots. They have been maintained and decorated. People gather to sit in them for one hour a week, and some even drop in during the week, but most of the buses have never gone out. When a pastor starts the engine and calls “all aboard,” those who receive the invitation must be told where the bus is going so they can decide whether to be on board. This telling is not just a public announcement, but a process of inspiring and winning people over to be a part of something wonderful.
I hope, at least for our children and grandchildren that a ‘bus’ will come along that has a clear sign on it, taking them on a trip that gives them living water and life to the full. Not only is this my hope for them, but the hope I hold for Bishop Michael Kennedy, that he will hold a strong vision for us and with us.
Let us hold Bishop Michael Kennedy and our diocese in prayer as we embark on a new journey of life and hope. May he feel welcomed by us.
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