Freed up to follow Christ

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At face value, “Be lighter and simpler” is one of the more attractive Statements of Intent* adopted by the Synod.

Who would not want to embrace the notion of being lighter and simpler?

It conjures up images of the simple life, of restful holidays, of no demands, of walks in the sun. It speaks of lives that are burden free and exhibit a lightness of spirit.

I recall many years ago the visiting Scotsman John Bell teaching the song We will lay our burden down … at the feet of the risen Lord. Of course, the song is a reference to Matthew (11:28-30) which says: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your

souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

My first Bible, a soft brown covered Good News Bible, had those sketch figure pictures of people putting down heavy sacks that had been hung over their burdened shoulders. What an attractive invitation. We all like the invitation to rest. But we also know how hard it is to let go. There is a feeling of security in the accumulation of stuff – physical, emotional, even spiritual stuff.

These images invite deeper consideration.

Here in Matthew, a heavy burden is something that holds us down, or holds us back. The imagery is the animal burdened with the yoke that places a heavy demand upon them. Additional energy and effort is required to make forward progress.

But the image is offered as a teaching by Jesus. The message of being burdened is linked to the possibility of being released from that burden, not simply to be ‘free’, but rather to be ‘freed’.

We are used to the idea of being ‘freed from’, but this teaching includes the flipside of being ‘freed to’. For Jesus’ invitation is also being freed to take up a lighter and easier yoke – Jesus’ yoke.

‘Rest for the soul’ is to be found in the yoke of following Christ.

In the message of the gospel, we are ‘freed to’ in a sense – freed to follow Christ, freed to learn from the Master Teacher, freed to travel the road as pilgrims on the way. We are freed to live the way of humility and grace that God has offered the world in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Be lighter and simpler, as one of the 10 Statements of Intent adopted by the Synod, arose in response to the experience of many across the Church that our processes and structures are burdensome; that they are cumbersome and even obstructive.

The summary sentence for this Statement of Intent reads: ‘We will be lighter and simpler in our practices and formal structures so we can be more flexible and proactive in responding to the movement of the Spirit’.

We seek ways of organising our life together as God’s church that we might be ‘freed from’ burdensome practices and structures in order to be ‘freed to’ be more able to respond to the movement of God’s Holy Spirit.

Not that our practice and structure are meant to be burdensome. Indeed, they were anticipated to be supporters of freedom, speaking of ‘the free obedience of the children of God’ (Basis of Union, para #17). As I reflected upon this Statement, and read various UCA writers, two quotes seemed particularly pertinent: one on Paragraph 17 of the Basis of Union from D’Arcy Wood’s 1986 Building on a Solid Basis, and the other from former UCA President Gregor Henderson’s 1997 essay Looking toward 2020.

From Wood:

“… law [in the Church] is a framework which supports freedom. The alternative to law in the church is either chaos or arbitrary power…

“Not only can mistakes be made [in our law], which need correcting, but the needs of the church and of her mission also change, and this necessitates an updating.

“One of the tasks of the future church will surely be to simplify and interpret these documents so that [church] law does not impede but rather smooths the path of a faithful pilgrimage’.

And from Henderson:

“One of the hopes that remains in my mind [from the early days of the Uniting Church] was that propounded by a number of our leaders that the Uniting Church would not just be another denomination: that our commitment to being an ‘Australian’ church and an ‘ecumenical’ church would mean that we would not be rigidified by rules and regulations nor hidebound by ritual and tradition.

The hope of the leaders of the early Uniting Church was that we would be a flexible church, open to change. In short, the new Church would be more of a movement than an institution.”

As we seek to embrace the Statements of Intent in our synod, may we be led by the Spirit to be lighter and simpler; that we may follow the path of faithful pilgrimage and be a part of the movement of the Spirit in our day.

A prayer:

Disturb us Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,

when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.  (Frances Drake)

Bless, O Lord, this Uniting Church,

that you may shape us in ways that smooth the path of faithful pilgrimage.

In Jesus Christ’s name we pray.

Amen.

David Withers

Strategic Framework Minister

*(see the recently released booklet Supporting Information on the Statement of Intent (downloadable from: ucavictas.org.au/visionandmission/resources/).

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