Wembley Downs Uniting Church
The possibility of something new - a tribute to Dr Don Oldmeadow (Karen Sloan) 15.9.2013
Reading: Luke 15:1-10 How do I start this sermon? With the death of Don just a few days ago I would like to focus on death, not as the end of things but the beginning of new things. Death in our culture is very much a time of sadness and grief. We have lost our loved one, often earlier than we would have hoped and many times it is a struggle to come to grips with it all. But it can also be a time to reflect and celebrate. We live in a world and a universe which would not exist without the presence of death. Nothing we value would be possible without it, including our own lives. Our planet would not exist with its mountains and lakes; plants and animals could not have adapted and evolved, and we as humans would not have appeared, in this place and in this time. Features of our past are found all around us, in the soil, water and in each of our bodies. We can see where we have come from. But each time an individual or a species dies, new possibilities arise for a future life. What has emerged and continues to emerge from all of this life and death is this incredible product called humanity, diverse in colour, language, culture and religion, but with a unity of history and biology that is astounding. So human beings are born and human beings die . . . Just as it should be. Along the way we may blossom with love, accrue wisdom as elders, and pass on that wisdom to those who come after us. Along the way we may experience the richness of existence, filled with laughter and tears, joys and sorrows. Along the way we may touch the divine found within us and all of creation, allowing this awareness to influence our lives and those around us. In all these things I see Don, firstly as a young man full of dreams and ideas, then as an older man, wiser and less certain, and finally a man ready to leave, to make way for those who are to follow. In all of this he was gracious and loving, faithful and generous. I remember Don at a dinner, when he was in his 90s, sitting next to me. In a quiet moment he lent across and asked, `So Karen, what do you think about the afterlife?` Wow, a question not for the faint hearted. While I don`t remember how I answered him then I do know what I would say now. We come from star dust and from star dust we will return. We belong to God now, the God of the universe and we will always belong to God. Any more than that is a mystery I cannot unravel. I hope that would be enough for him. In his life Don was a man who greeted those great and small, and who helped so many find themselves when they were lost and alone. It seems right that the reading from today is about the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep. For Don was a man of faith, seeing love as the imperative, not judgement. A true Jesus follower. While we are the product of billions of years of evolution, we are not perfect. Human frailty is still present in all its glory. And it scares us. We want it to go away, so we deny it in ourselves and treat it in others as irredeemable, cutting people off as lost forever because of something they have done or haven`t done. There is no tomorrow, no hope or chance for a new start. This is the horrible side of some Christian churches and people, but it is not Jesus. Evolution tells us that things must die before things can rise up. This can apply even to our feelings and actions. Sometimes we need to make mistakes to grow, for us to be awakened to something new or to someone new. It has also been the Christian way. Out of brokenness comes welcome and renewal. Out of the cross come new life, out of the bread and wine comes community. Jesus, part of our history, is somehow a beacon of light revealing this inclusive God to us. Jesus spoke the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep to the Pharisees who had heard that he was eating, drinking and even arranging meals with the tax collectors, outcasts in their society, and sinners. Jesus was accepting people as they were, with their failings, their fears, their mistakes and the Pharisees were horrified. Yet the parables tell us something very special about Jesus and about God. The parables, full of joy and surprise, tell us that the one lost coin and the one lost sheep are of value, they are of worth and they need to be found. They tell us that Jesus is not prepared to write off the marginalised, the people who make mistakes, the people who are yet to see the need to change. He values them as people and meets them on their terms. The parables would have made the righteous Pharisees squirm in their holy seats. What happened to our laws and rules about who is godly and who isn`t? As Bill Loader says, `The parable suddenly speaks to us in a different way. Forgiveness and loving is the key to God and God`s kingdom. Jesus enters into relationships with people thought of as outcasts and beyond redemption, and sees in them a future vision. Jesus was not doing this in order to make them valued and loved, but because they were valued and loved already.` But these parables can be seen as foolish in today`s society. They question our over-arching beliefs about how a society should run. Rev Dawn Hutchings suggests, `The parables challenge us to be reckless and relentless in our loving and in our witness. The wisdom of the world that lurks in us is challenged - down to every last maxim: `Charity begins at home. God helps those who help themselves. Count the cost or pay the price. They should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps. You reap what you sow`. The list goes on. In the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep Jesus presents a society where people can change, can start again. He leads from the front displaying the transforming power and love of God. People come first, not rules. This was the way of our dear friend Don, who never gave up on people, and saw in all people the possibility of something new. Don`s actions could be seen as very foolish in some people`s eyes or very wise in others. I will go for the wise. We salute you Don, who showed us that God is to be found in the hearts of those who love and forgive and those who need love and forgiveness. And who shared the joy of this foolishness with all those around him. For we are all just humans trying to do our best. Amen
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands