A sermon by John Wilton, preached on Sunday October 4, 2015
The small group of families were clustered around the campfire in the Judean countryside outside Jerusalem, talking about what had happened to them recently. They recalled that late in the previous season their grain was almost ready for harvest and the grapevines and olive trees were loaded with fruit. And then one day they looked to the south and saw a huge black cloud. But weather didn’t come from the south and it wasn’t the rainy season. They soon realized that the cloud was actually a huge swarm of locusts coming up from the desert. The locusts devoured all the grain in their fields, and stripped the leaves from the vines and trees, causing them to wither and die before the grapes and olives were fully ripe for picking. Then they recalled the next few months of disaster. The weakest among them, the very young and the very old, had died of starvation. Families were pitted against one another and there was tension within families because of the desperate situation. But with the coming of spring the rains had arrived as usual and they began to have hope. And then the later rains arrived and they noticed green shoots coming up out of the ground and leaves beginning to form anew on the grapevines and olive trees. More signs of hope. It was then that they recognized that God was still in the midst of them and they were open to the words of the prophet Joel who lived among them. When he spoke it was with the authority of God, the voice of God, even speaking to them as if he was God.
- To listen to the audio of this sermon, click the arrow:
Joel spoke of a time in the future when male and female, young and old, liberated and enslaved would be able to dream dreams and see visions of a better future. They had reached a turning point in the life of their community.
So it is with saint benedict’s table: not a calamitous one, but a turning point none the less. This is what fifty of us experienced yesterday in an exercise I called “What in God’s name is going on at saint benedict’s table”? We began by having people interview one another in pairs. We invited people to tell stories, prompted by questions like “Tell me what you love to do” and “Tell me a story when you have experienced saint benedict’s table at its best”. People were invited to say what they really value about saint benedict’s table, and what would be their three wishes for saint benedict’s table in the future.
People then gathered in groups of four and introduced their interviewee to the others in their group. As they listened, people were asked to look for common themes and values and wishes in what they heard. They also identified personal stories that brought a tear to their eyes, or made them say “wow” or made a real impression on them. Then they gathered into groups of eight and synthesized what they were hearing and drawing out themes, values and wishes that came up consistently, using the best of the past to identify present values. These common themes and values were put on paper on the walls and through a process people identified the things that most resonated with them, that excited them, that kept getting repeated in all six groups of eight. And then people were invited to think not just in words, but in terms of images as well, just as Jesus did in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. The gospel says Jesus read from the beloved prophet Isaiah about powerful images of hope: good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and summed it all up by proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favour”. Now those things (good news, release, sight and freedom) can be taken in a literal way for those literal groups of people (the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed). But they can also be taken as metaphors or images for all kinds of good news, release, sight and freedom, for all sorts of poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression.
So we then invited people, through a guided meditation, to dream about metaphors, symbols, images or archetypes that illustrated for them saint benedict’s table at its best, exhibiting all its values in a life-giving way. And these are the images, which are hard for you to see from there, that are posted up here in the church this evening.
There are layers of meaning in these images that every person may not understand when you first look at them. And there are some that even those who created them will scratch their heads at. And they will probably gain further meaning when you reflect on them some more. But they sum up the dreams and visions of those gathered at yesterdays’ event and represent a pretty exciting vision of sbt at its best in your preferred future.
So, what’s next? Earlier today I met with Jamie, Rachel, Beth, Adam and Jaylene and took time to further explore these images plus a number of other pages filled with words instead of images that were produced yesterday and began the process of identifying strong themes and images that you may want to carry into the future. The tasks of that team are threefold:
- to come up with a “provocative purpose statement” (or more than one) that can be used to guide your future. A purpose statement is something that says “saint benedict’s table is……” and tells what your purpose is as a community when you are at your best, living out your values to the best of your ability. It is ‘provocative’ because it provokes you into action. Hopefully it may be provocative in other ways too.
- to continue what I have begun today, i.e. draw in all of you who were not present yesterday into the spirit of what was accomplished.
- together with the Kitchen Table and your Wardens (and the other ways you make decisions here) to begin to design and deliver ways of making some of those dreams a reality. Let me give you an example. In another parish that did this process, one of their provocative purpose statements was “St. George’s is a community that sings God’s love song to the world”. Music was a very important value for them and something they wanted to be an important part of their future. Reaching out to the poor neighbourhood near their church was also a high value for them. They ended up talking about a project to offer free music lessons to children from this nearby poorer neighbourhood as a way of reaching out with God’s love.
Jesus told his hearers that the life-giving future presented in those images from Isaiah was being fulfilled and brought to fruition that very day in and through him. Nothing has changed. In the same way, the images that describe saint benedict’s table will also bear fruit in and through Christ. My prayer for you today is that you will find yourself continually blessed by the God the Creator, that Jesus the one who was divinely human and humanly divine will be in your midst and that the Spirit will inspire you to use the values which derive from the best of your past into your preferred future. Thanks be to God.