Alive to the presence of God

Posted in Faith

Rev Sunil “Sunny” Kapandarabil (pictured) was inducted into the Parkin-Sturt Patrol on Friday 9 March at Quorn Uniting Church. Rev Phil Gardner shared the following message as part of the induction service.

Sunil, we are not only inducting you into a placement tonight, but into a significant history and tradition.

The pre-cursor to this patrol was the Smith of Dunesk mission, begun in 1894 out of Beltana, out of the generosity of Miss Henrietta Smith of Edinburgh.

Probably the best known of the Presbyterian ministers to serve there was Rev John Flynn. His vision for ministry and mission to the outback of Australia was further developed serving at Beltana.

Then you have the years of patrol ministry and the many ministers who have served.

More than just a placement.

Of course every placement is more than just a placement.

We are not just following in the steps of predecessors.

We are ministering in, and with, and through the name of Jesus.

Of course that can all sound rather abstract. What does it mean to minister in this way?

We have regular gatherings of chaplains from hospitals, aged care and other sectors. One of these meetings about five years ago was in response to a paper on chaplaincy from the Assembly.

To help begin the conversation, I asked chaplains to share what was an image or passage of Scripture that informed their chaplaincy.

We had a rich conversation.

As you might expect, shepherd stories of various kinds were popular, as was the story of the road to Emmaus, where the risen Jesus walks alongside some disillusioned and distraught
disciples as they make their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

Peter Morel, the chaplain at St Andrew’s Hospital, suggested the gospel story about the healing of the lame man by the pool at Bethsaida. You might recall that a central image in that story
is that when the water appears disturbed, people were helped into the water and apparently some were healed.

Peter suggested that chaplains are those that keep an eye out for when the “water is disturbed”, when the wind of the Spirit is blowing.

These chaplains are also those who help people into the water.

Some of you might rightly point out that Jesus by-passes all this and just heals the man!

But I still felt that it was a helpful image – and it probably works either way!

These images – of God as a shepherd, Jesus walking alongside disconsolate disciples, the wind disturbing the waters, Jesus healing a man – all suggest an important undergirding for all pastoral ministry.

That God cares.

And not just at a distance, but is closely concerned with the details of our lives.

That God is turned toward us, not away from us, and that God longs to bring healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

I guess you might expect a minister to say that.

But at times we do lose sight of this – at least, I do. I can get so overwhelmed with sadness, the tragedy, the unfairness of someone’s story, that I can forget that God has not abandoned them,
and that even now is present in their lives, if we just pay attention.

So I want to affirm afresh that God cares and that God is active, not always in ways we expect, but alive and moving nonetheless.

Sunil you will be watching for the movement of the Spirit, for Jesus walking alongside people, in a particularly complex setting.

When we think of the people you will be in ministry with: the indigenous communities, farmers and pastoralists, mining companies and tourists. That is a wide range of people and needs.

We affirm God’s love and presence in these lives. We affirm God’s desire to heal and bring hope.

But it is not simply enough to affirm this, we also need to be awake. Alive, aware of the presence of God in people’s lives.

Practices of ministry, like engaging with Scripture and tradition, silence and solitude, listening and reflecting, all prepare our hearts, minds and spirits, to be present to the move of God in people’s lives.

They are not just ends in themselves. But preparation to attend to the move of God’s Spirit in our life and the lives of others.

The practices we mentioned all put us in touch with many of the resources for our ministries,
the whole range of prayers of lament, thanksgiving, confession, adoration, intercession and blessing.

The stories of our ancestors in the faith remind us of the great variety of God’s actions
in the lives of others in the past. Reminders of the goodness and faithfulness of God in the past.

So as we begin this particular ministry, we trust that you will know God’s presence, stirring the waters of healing, walking alongside people, guiding, feeding, sustaining like a shepherd, so that you might be blessed and be a blessing to the diverse communities that you will serve.

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