Walking the valley
Luke 2:41-52

Today is the last Sunday of our calendar year.  We so often hear the twenty third psalm at funerals, but today it is a reminder that the Lord has been our shepherd throughout the year and will remain so in the year that is about to commence.

It doesn’t matter whether we are walking through deep valleys or on mountaintops in our lives, he is with us, his rod and his staff are there to protect us.  Over the past year I know that many of you have had some dark and difficult times.  There have been deaths and illnesses for family members and friends.  Some have lost jobs due to what has become known as the Global Financial Crisis.  Others have been hit with increased mortgage repayments and the cost of living that has skyrocketed.

But were you ever alone, were you ever at a point where God was not with you.  Perhaps you felt that way at some points, but I would hazard a guess and say that those were the times when you were trying to do it all by yourself rather than allow God to care for you, comfort you and protect you.  It happens to everyone, we all have difficult times.

Even Mary and Joseph, who spent three days looking for their young son, were distraught when they couldn’t find him.  This must have been a harrowing experience for them, yet Jesus was fine with the whole thing, he was in his Father’s house, he was safe.  I take Mary’s treasuring these things in her heart to mean that she accepted the comfort of Jesus, that it was all ok, that he truly was in his Father’s house, and when we are there everything is somehow ok too.

Looking back on the last twelve months there have been some great times too, can you think of some, maybe you’d like to share yours…I had my parents 50th wedding anniversary in July, and Terri’s important birthday, a visit from my brother and father for the St Kilda grand final appearance, both boys won national ice and inline hockey championships.  But do we acknowledge the work of God in these things; do we give him thanks and praise?  We blame him when things go wrong, surely we should be thankful in the good times?  These are the times when ‘our cup overflows and surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives’.

These are times for rejoicing, but what about the things of the kingdom of God.  I look back at the last twelve months and see the Baptisms, weddings and even the funerals as times of blessing for you, God’s chosen people.  In these pastoral acts we have seen God’s grace in action.  I remember with joy Christie’s installation as our Lay Worker as the beginning of an important and fruitful ministry in this community, it has been a time of change for many of us, but truly a blessing and I’m sure that will continue.

On that note let’s look forward for a few moments.  What does the year ahead have in store for us as a community here in the Outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

I know some goals and visions that I’ve put down in black and white print.  Our head to the heart confirmation ministry is taking shape and looks like being a really positive opportunity to not only teach and grow the faith in our young people but to nurture faith in the home environment as well.  It’s an opportunity to give parents resources to fulfil their role as spiritual leaders in the home.  There’s also opportunity there for those of you who have older or younger children to be involved in that ministry and to make use of the devotional material that goes with it.  Home huddles aren’t restricted to those participating in head to the heart!

Then there’s the consolidating and growing of our Shedmen group, who knows where the Lord will lead us in this area of ministry in the coming year.  Playgroup and Sunday School are in need of leaders with passion and gifts in this area to lead them forward, but once again the Lord is in control, let’s not be afraid but prepared to meet new challenges with his strength and guidance.

We’re also relaunching our small groups, and care and contact network all under the same umbrella, I’m sure that the Lord is guiding us in this area of pastoral ministry and will use this ministry as a means for us to care for each other and build each other up as we take the journey through the coming year together.

We have two new pastors being installed here at the College, a new principal coming and lots of changes around the place, we have an opportunity to care for this community in a way we may not have done in the past, we have new staff at the primary school and many new families joining our community through both schools.  God has put us in this place for a reason, lets listen for his guidance on how we can care for those gathered here.  Many of them are only here for a season, this is our opportunity.

There are a lot of things to be excited about, the first Sunday after Christmas can be a bit of an emotional low after the joy and celebrations of Christmas, there is often less people in church because we’ve already worshipped this week, once or twice or even three times, but be reassured, the Lord is with us, he is at work in our heads and our hearts, guiding us leading us and nurturing us. 

Whether the year ahead takes us through dark valleys, beside quiet waters or wherever, lets take some time out to have Sabbath rest with him.  Let him restore our souls on a regular basis, lets sit at the feet of those who can teach us the faith and its practices, lets ask questions just like Jesus did when he was a boy.  Lets be involved in living a faith with Christ at the centre, loving others as he loves us, sharing our first fruits with him and his people, giving thanks to him for all his goodness to us and increase in wisdom and knowledge throughout the year according too God’s good and gracious will.

Amen.