The hall mark of the first sign in John’s gospel – the wedding at Cana where the wine ran out and Jesus , seemingly reluctantly, changed copious amounts of water into the best wine ever – is a celebration of abundance. The fourth gospel sets the scene: the coming of the Divine and Human One is against the background of community celebration, even transforming a mundane panic event (“there’s no more wine”) into a surprising expression of the messianic banquet (“the best wine saved for last”). The point is not the mechanics of the transmogrification, but the launch of Jesus’ public ministry in the context of kin, friends and familiar community, announcing the flavour of the fulness of celebration he means to inject into the quality of ordinary living. The story is thick with layers of meaning., but this is the salutary starting point. How good it was this morning to have Kath & Ray, two of our exemplary diamonds, celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary against the background of this reading.
Some of the most evocative reading I’ve engaged over the Christmas/New Year break has been from Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: a memoir . The development of what he has famously described as “pastoral imagination” is to the fore throughout the telling of his autobiographical pilgrimage.
His opening section, Topos and Kairos, I found immediately compelling. The title invites consideration of place and time as markers of the pastoral journey, using biblical metaphors that are not so much the tools of trade of pastoral practice, but windows of awareness.
I found myself easily recognising such associations: Moses in the ordinary work of minding sheep encounters the burning bush at Midian. My “Midian” was the small electrical warranty and repair counter in Myers bargain basement in Adelaide. Who would have thought that the insistent call of the great “I AM” could occur in conversations with customers bringing in their broken toasters and burnt out irons?
Elijah’s Horeb cave and the discovery of the power of the “still small voice” was an Eremos retreat in a monastery on the outskirts of Canberra. The headiness of innovative outreach and dialogue amongst some of the movers and shakers of the land had ceased to satisfy. Elijah’s depression descended. The opening to a quieter more contemplative approach to ministry was literally a God-send.
The Patmos of John is a little harder for me to place – it seems most of my 40 years in ministry has been unravelling the essence of the “heavenly city” from its cultural accretions. The empire is all-pervasive. Sometimes I know John’s exile, but mostly I find myself complicit.
As the book unfolds, other places come to mind – David-king-in-waiting’s Ziklag, where resource-starved marginalisation constrains the vision splendid; the Sinai wilderness wastelands survived through the providential gifts of manna, quail and hidden springs; the place of congregational formation as tent, rather than cave or fortress.
With all these, I can make immediate association – and thus tap into the richness of the salvific direction of such events, times and places.
Peterson, retired now and spending much time in his beloved Montana cabin, swims against the tide of much Western ecclesiological management theory. I still find his voice a firm and clear (and, I might say, saving) call to the filling of pastoral vocation.