On Friday we spent the day at the Newcastle Show just down the road from here, and after they had been on some of the rides, and eaten lots of the ice cream I was conscious that at least one of my boys was desperate to have a father who could ride a motorbike off a ramp, and spin it 360 degrees in the air, like the stuntman that he could see performing in front of him in the main arena. For just one moment he had a glimpse of what it might be like to a have a dad who could do something as impressive as that… and then his day dream passed.
There are some things that I can do reasonably well, and those things tend not to be as exciting for my children as the things that they would like me to be able to do. My only consolation is that one day they will grow up, and as their children look at them, they too will finally know what it feels like to be a father with limited skills and abilities! Because for good and for bad the Battrick boys, have inherited certain natural attributes from their parents that simply make up part of who they are.
Although we sometimes need a birth certificate to prove exactly who we are, no one needs a birth certificate to prove that they have been born. The very fact that we are here is fairly solid proof of that.
And having the genetic make-up of a Battrick, means that my boys share both the opportunities and limitations of the rest of our family. If someone else wanted to pretend that they had been born into the Battrick family (although I cannot imagine why they would) they could take our family name, and they could certainly be welcomed into our family’s life, but that would not mean that they shared fully in some of the physical attributes that make the Battricks who they are.
That, of course, is true of all of our families. If you are a Battrick there is a family likeness, a set of characteristics which we share, just as there is if you are an Armstrong, or a Turnbull, or a Parslow or a Jones.
In our Old Testament reading this morning we come face to face with the father of the People of Israel, God’s chosen people the Jews. Even though he is already 75 years of age, God calls Abram to leave all that he knows to go off to a far country to begin a new family that will be blessed by God.
Many hundreds of years later, Nicodemus (in our Gospel reading) is still holding on to that wonderful promise. As a Jewish teacher and leader Nicodemus knows that through his birth into the family of Abram, (or Abraham as he is later known after God makes a covenant with him), he has been born into God’s family. Which is why the teachings of Jesus, that he is now hearing, are so surprising and perplexing to him, because Jesus says, no matter how you were born physically, you need to be re-born by water and the spirit, into the new family of the Kingdom of God. I do not think we can under estimate how startling and confusing that message would have been to people like Nicodemus.
What wonderful news it is. It does not matter if you were born as a son or daughter of Abram, or a son of Battrick, or a child of Armstrong – no matter where you have come from, you can be re-born, made new, within the family of God. We who gather here Sunday by Sunday are one small part of that much bigger and interconnected family of God. Loving and caring for each other as families do, agreeing and disagreeing with each other as families do.
Now, whilst it is true that you cannot simply join someone else’s family by changing your name, there are lots of ways that people do join families that they were not born into. When Luisa and I married each other I became a part of her family, and she became a part of mine. And whether they liked it or not, both of our families changed when that happened. Every time someone new joins a family – whether by birth, or marriage, or adoption – that family can never be the same again.
As it is with our own families, so it is with the family of the Church. Every time a person joins this family here at Lambton, we are all changed because of the new possibilities and understandings that that person brings to us. None of us were born into this family of the Church. There isn’t a family birth right which guarantees us a special place here, we have all come to be a part of this family through baptism into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. For some of us our baptism took place when we were very young, and we have no memory of it. It is as if we have been part of this family for the whole of our lives. For others of us our baptism happened much later, and we can clearly recollect the decision that we made to be a part of this family here.
This morning, after this Eucharist, we have the very special opportunity to celebrate the life of our family together, and to sort out some of our house keeping for the coming year. We will want to celebrate together the achievements of our family over the last year, as we plan ahead for what we believe God is calling us to do next. Unlike our natural families, where the roles of being a parent or a child are clearly defined, in the family of the Church we have to work harder to ensure that the right members of the family are in the right roles to help us all to thrive.
In this Church family we have made a commitment together, through the Diocesan vision of ‘Becoming Ministering Communities in Mission’ to order our communal lives together in a particular way, and we are now living in to some of those changes that affect how we do things together. We have already discerned and appointed a team of leaders to take responsibility for the various ministries of this Church. They are responsible for overseeing our pastoral care, and learning and outreach. Because we know that each one of us is not a member of this family by birth, but by invitation, those leaders in our ministry team have made it a priority to continue to build on the strong foundations already in place here, for us to engage in new ways of inviting others to become a part of our life. These leaders are now responsible for overseeing all of the ministry that goes on in and from this family, under the supervision and co-ordination of our Parish Priest.
This morning, at our family gathering (our Annual General Meeting) we will be electing a second group of leaders to ensure that all of the practical things that need to be looked after for our family to thrive, are taken care of. This morning you will be electing leaders to be part of a new resourcing team to take responsibility for our buildings and finances and administration. Both of these teams will work together to help us to be a family. And when these two teams meet together, to give attention to the things that they need to do in common, they will do so as the Parish Council. So you will detect from what I am saying that the way that our family is being led, under Maree’s leadership, is going to be organised slightly differently from how it was organised in the past.
The ministry team, which has already been discerned and appointed will be responsible for leading our ministry, and encouraging every one of us to take our part in that work; and the resourcing team, which will be elected at our Annual General Meeting this morning, will be responsible for ensuring that everything is in place to resource that ministry. This is the first time that we have done things this way, and it may take us a while to get used to it.
Just as we sought to discern the people with the right gifts and skills to be leaders of ministry in our parish, so this morning, through our parish elections at the AGM we seek to discern those wise people who we can trust to have oversight of all that is necessary to resource the ministry of our family here. This is not a popularity contest or a political election.
In the life of the Church we are always involved in a task of discernment whether we realise it or not. Before Maree came to be our Parish Priest some members of the congregations, together with others from the wider Diocese along with our Bishop, sought to discern whether God was calling Maree to be here as our leader. Every time a new person is appointed as a server in the sanctuary, or a worker amongst our children and families, or as someone who visits the sick and lonely on behalf of us all – every time someone takes on a new role of ministry in this parish – a process of discernment has taken place.
We may not normally call that discernment, and we may not always realise that discernment is going on because actually it often comes so naturally to us, to make those kinds of decisions, but whether we name it as discernment or not, that is what is happening. We know for ourselves some of those people in our congregations who have the kinds of exceptional gifts which are needed in order to be leaders in our Church. The good news is that there is no upper age limit for leaders, given that Abram was 75 when he set out to begin his great journey for God. And we know too the very many gifts which we see embodied in all of the members of our Church.
There are some people who we care for and respect very much, but who we nevertheless know do not have the skills or the temperament or the insights which are required by leaders; and we know too, (whether they are leaders at the current time or not), those people who we could trust (because of their vision, and skills, and commitment to Christ) to lead us in the future.
When I am in situations where I am trying to discern leaders for ministry, I normally begin by asking, “have I seen this person do things in the past, which would indicate to me that they would be able to do the kinds of things that I need someone to do in the future?” But I also try to remind myself that not everyone who is able to do what is required, has had the opportunity to show me that they can do them. So there is often a need to step out in faith.
This morning we celebrate the life of this Church family. We give thanks that God has gifted everyone of us within these congregations, for all that God wants to do through us. As we take our part in the discernment of leaders for our resourcing team, we pray for wisdom, that we who have been born again by water and the spirit, and made members of God’s family together, may be led by those who have been called by God to resource our life together in the coming year, for his honour and glory.
I will never be able to do all of the things that my boys would like me to be able to do, but there are some things that I have been gifted by God to do for my family and for the Church. This morning we celebrate that God has gifted people in this Church for leadership, and we pray for his presence and wisdom as we seek to recognise those gifts together.