Saturday, 19 January 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 20 January, 2019 Epiphany 2

Readings:  Isaiah 62:1-5    John 2:1-11
We pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.
 With thanks to the Rev Dr Sarah Mitchell from a sermon in 2013

Speak the word marriage into our conversation in the 21st century and the complexities of understanding would surprise Isaiah, and Mary.  Today a surprising number of reactions pop up, depending on your experiences and view points – which range from a waste of space to 60+ years of trust and love to ‘just a piece of paper’ to gay marriage to the reasons for and numbers of divorces.
So we don’t always immediately connect with some of the intended symbology of the bible as intuitively as the writers of scripture might have expected - and here especially the metaphor of marriage heard today in the reading from Isaiah is particularly contentious for its demeaning implications for women. 
For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.[1]
While of course we can see behind the metaphor to the point being made, it does still grate.

And the imagery of the wedding at Cana has the potential also to offend our sensibilities – to have the success of a wedding depend on how much wine is flowing in a day when we battle alcoholism and binge drinking doesn’t exactly resonate these days.

Yet from these two readings, if we can move through and behind the chosen imagery, we come to a really crucial, core message of God’s extravagant abundance to us and through us in our times of greatest need.
It continues the theme of last Sunday’s readings on the baptism of Jesus: that from baptism comes affirmation that will carry us wherever we go, an affirmation we can lose sight of in our despair.

Isaiah offers us language and symbology celebrating the extravagant abundant love of God found in restored relationship with the people of Israel. 

In the same way the wedding at Cana, found only in John’s gospel, gifts us with an act of extravagant abundance as all the water is turned into the best wine that can be offered.

In terms of literal accuracy, the miracle of the wedding at Cana is nothing short of spectacular!  For, if the numbers are correct, this report of Jesus action describes how more than 300 litres of water are turned into wine – and not just any old wine but the very best, top quality, ‘sending your palate to heaven’ variety.  So say a 100 guests – that is 3 litres per person – or 300 guests – 1 litre each - and it wasn’t the first drink of the night.  We could accuse Jesus of not taking seriously the concerns of over indulgence, of not being responsible in his generosity.  Or do you think that John is wanting to point us to something more, something that we, with our logical reasoning and cautious approach to responsibility, might just not pick up on our own.  For it is certainly an extravagant outcome, especially after a somewhat reluctant response to his mother’s observation that the wine was running out.

The Gospels are full of stories of God’s extravagant, generous, overflowing gifts, love and mercy: the open-armed welcome for the prodigal child, a catch of fish so great that it overwhelms the boats, the feeding of a multitude of people, with so much leftover; signs of abundance and celebration.    We can almost hear Jesus saying “what part of abundant life don’t you understand?”

Because we do seem to struggle with stories like this – extravagance is often associated with waste, with envy; the delight of extravagance at odds with our world view of despair and doubt, of careful management and future proofing.  And of course we are used to living in a world of shortages, of thinking that there is only so much to go around and if others get more then we must get less.
Signs of overflowing generosity just aren’t the way of the world, we say.  They make us uncomfortable. 

And, actually, that is so right; the way of the gospel is not the way of the world.  The signs to which John calls our attention point to the way of the Gospel, which is about over-the-top, extravagant love. In God, there are always surpluses.  Ernest Hess[2] puts it this way: the text suggests that our three- dimensional understanding of life in this world, with its painful limitations, has been unpredictably invaded by grace and that when this happens, we are left sideswiped, unsure how to respond.
So it may be worth asking ourselves: are we thinking too small?  Are we doling out the wine by the teaspoon, while Jesus is pouring it out by the 50 litre flagon?

And I wonder if we see that discrepancy the most in our joy for living – in our ability (or lack thereof) to celebrate the delight of being loved by God, in the often tepid way we express our hope in the vision God puts before us because we are exercising our right to caution?  Does our laughter ring loud and clear, our voices be raised in song – and just saying wasn’t the singing the last two Sundays where we shared our worship with our brothers and sisters of the PIC church, wasn’t it amazing!  I think we can learn something there about exuberance in the Lord?
And yet we have, especially in our European, and dare it say Scottish based religious life tried our very best to be sober, upright, in fact almost completely separating out Sunday personae from the ‘real’ life of the rest of the week. 

Is that what Jesus wants us to be and to do?  Does he want our faith to be morose, our response to the joy of living in Christ to be muted and rationed?  I don’t think so!
Throughout his life and his ministry Jesus celebrated people – people getting married, people being healed, people enjoying meals together, people indulging in uncontainable laughter – he carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy.

This joyous feast at Cana is still a sign to the church that we are to rejoice in the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace and love gifted to us in Jesus. [3]
David Steele refers to this spirit of celebration as ‘Cana-Grace’.  Our joy flows from knowing our God and we need to do better at allowing that joy to flow into our lives, the lives of each other and all whom we know. Does anyone ever come up to you and say – you have look on your face that suggests you know something special and it makes you really happy?  Now you can say – ah it is Cana-Grace!

And just as we finish – did any of you notice that it was Jesus mother that swung into action to keep the party going? And then trusted Jesus to do as his God required. Food for thought!
[4]But what a way for Jesus to begin his public ministry in John’s Gospel!  What a way for us to continue that ministry – brothers and sisters in Christ celebrating the extravagant abundance of the love of God for us in our everyday lives -including our Sundays.

I want to finish with the words of a hymn by Douglas Gay (CH4 242) – some of you may have remembered him as a visiting theologian from Glasgow who was here earlier last year.  He was an exuberant speaker who celebrated the joy of ministry and knew the delight that God had in him and through him.  These are his words from his heart to God and I think we should learn to sing it one day soon.

Is this the way you made the world from burned out stars and fields of light?
Is this the way you lit the fuse when death exploded into life?

Is this the way you spoke the word, that called the darkness to be light:
is this the way you wrote the code which shaped the fragile chain of life?

Are these the notes that you composed, are these the colours you designed,
are these the stars that sang for joy, are these the patterns of your mind?

Are these the lives that you inspired, are these the faces that you love;
is this the earth you will redeem, is this the world you came to save?

Then I will love the world you made and I will love the gift you gave, and I will drink its beauty in,
and I will make my home in it, and praise with joy the Maker.

Margaret Garland

[1] Isaiah 62: 5  NRSV
[2] Feasting on the Word:  Year C, Volume 1 by Ernest Hess   p.265
[3] Feasting on the Word:  Year C, Volume 1 by Robert Brearly p. 262

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Sermon Dunedin North PICC Church 13 January, 2019 Epiphany 1

Readings:  Isaiah 43:1-7   Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

We pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

Our Gospel reading for today tells us of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist – after all the people were baptised, Jesus came forward to also be baptised and to pray.  And then came the words, the voice saying: ‘You are my son, and with you I am well pleased’.  How must those words have filled the heart of Jesus at this, the moment when he publicly emerged into ministry, when he knelt before his God and promised to follow the path set for him, wherever it would take him.  He was praying, completely immersed in this moment of oneness with God – and the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him….It was indeed a ‘wow’ moment!

Imagine those words surrounding us as we too are baptised: ‘You are my son, you are my daughter, and with you I am well pleased’. A moment of belonging, of completeness, of welcome into the body of Christ we call the church.  A moment when the words from Isaiah become real : Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Our baptism, our committing our way and our life to Christ is a very special milestone in our faith journey, something that establishes a relationship that is never broken, much as we sometimes try.

Today, however, I would like to talk about what comes after.  About how our baptism invites us into a new way of living, offers us a pathway for living unlike anything we have walked before.  The difference is that this path is formed not by gravel and asphalt but by unconditional love, mercy and grace, and that it is a pathway on which Jesus walks beside us as do the saints that have gone before and the saints that surround us now.   It’s a truly wonderful journey we take when we become part of the church for we know that no matter what comes after, however many times our directions get muddled and our promises are set aside, for each time that we falter, stumble, rebel even, we are still God’s beloved children.  That delight we heard expressed by God at Jesus baptism is for us as well – and we would do well to remind ourselves of that.  Delight that we are covenanted with God, delight that we are part of the body of faith we call the church, delight that no matter the mistakes we make we are forgiven and restored by the grace of God.

We all know the story of the next three years of Jesus life – walking faithfully towards Jerusalem, showing us how to express God’s grace and mercy to others, inviting in the outsider, hearing the pain of the ostracised, being kind to one another and caring for the least. 

This is the story of the church family – us!  This is where our baptism leads us – into a life that expresses deep love for each other and the world that we are part of.  No-one said it would be easy, or comfortable, or without stumbles. 
We can all relate experiences where our church family, our experiences in this body of faith are unhappy ones, where we have been hurt or we have hurt others, where our hopes and enthusiasms feel sidelined, where we feel we are taking the wrong path or wonder if it is all worth it.  Yet that baptismal relationship endures, and more than endures – it holds us close so that we can be upset and uncertain yet still persevere – because we know the worth and the power of that relationship – that love which never allows us to be separated from our God no matter what.  Our church is fallible – because it is made up of fallible human beings – yet it is God’s community to which we belong and in which we believe and so we gather and worship and pray and praise so that we can go out from here strengthened in purpose and hope to walk that pathway Jesus invites us to.

We know too that there are times when we slip off the path Jesus asks us to walk – and sometimes it’s really hard to get back on.  I’m doing all right by myself, I can choose to do what I am comfortable with, none of that uncomfortable prodding into new ways where I can’t see round the next corner – I like my life planned out.  We pretend we are ok on our own, but first of all we are not on our own – when we walked away God remains with us, waiting, and when we do return we realise that, for all the vulnerabilities and challenges of being part of the church family, it is where we need to be and where God requires us to be. For it is our place of belonging.

We know too that there are times when we overlay that pathway with our own expectations, forgetting that the body of Christ is an expansive, diverse, creative gathering of God’s people.
Some of you will know that I get very grumpy with people who define Christianity as a pathway lined with prejudice, arrogance, prosperity, exclusion.  How can anyone call themselves Christian when they are inflicting so much hurt and pain on others – it’s like you are recreating Jesus in your own image.  And I sway between being grumpy and feeling very sad for those who blatantly reject Christ’s teachings yet say they are Christians – sad because they do not realise the promise of their baptism – have not comprehend the words of Isaiah when God promises:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God

We don’t need to shore up our lives with walls of self- preservation and ‘me first’ – for God is with us and that is stronger and more deeply assuring than anything we can do for ourselves if we would only realise that.

For surely this is the core of our relationship with God, the core of our baptismal promise, the foundation of the path we walk on day by day as the people of God – God delights in us, calls us beloved, walks with us through all the turns and twists of our life – to the end and beyond. 

When we wonder at our worth, God loves us.  When we are not sure we will get through the tough times, God loves us.  When we are not sure who or whose we are, God loves us.  When we cause grief and hurt to others and ourselves, God loves us and forgives us.  God gives us our value and our identity and we delight in that.   

So we ask ourselves at this epiphany time, at this moment when we remember Jesus’ baptism and his public commitment to walking the way of servanthood all the way to the cross, when we hear again those words: ‘You are my son, you are my daughter and with you I am well pleased’.

Are we a people who are, often in the most ordinary of ways, living the love and grace and mercy that God has for us?   I believe we are and that God continues to delight in and through us and that, in Christ, as a body of faith, we make a difference when we walk in Christ’s way.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Monday, 10 December 2018

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession Sunday 9 December Opoho Church

Prayer by Abby Smith

Dear God, our God, our Lord.
We pause now to pray in thankfulness.  We are so grateful for your many gifts.
Thank you for ourselves – our own bodies, our own gifts, our own lives.  Thank you for health, for memories, for thoughts and ideas, for faith.  We know you gave them to us, and we are grateful.
Thank you for our communities – for Opoho Presbyterian Church and all that means to us.  Thank you for those who help us, look after us, inspire us, love us.  We know you gave them to us, and we are grateful.
Thank you for our city – for Dunedin Otepoti, this city nestled in the arms of an old volcano.  For its harbour, its beaches, its hills, its wildlife, its institutions and especially its people.  We know you gave them to us, and we are grateful.
Thank you for our country --for Aotearoa New Zealand, these islands, mountains, beaches and forests surrounded by the restless waves, the life and landscape, the people organized into government bodies, councils, laws, plans, reports.  We know you gave them to us, and we are grateful.
Thank you for this world – for the seas and the land, for the countries and their languages, art, music, medicine, heritage, for the air above and the land below, for the warmth that comes from deep in the planet, and from the faraway sun.  Thank you for all the lights – sun, moon, stars, lightning, fireflies, glowworms, candles, bonfires, lamps.  We know you gave them to us, and we are grateful.
We all have things for which we give you thanks.
We pray now for ourselves and others.
We pray for peace for this world – the peace of an environment in equilibrium, a place where things can grow and thrive, where the light of peace reaches the shadows of fear.  Lord, help us to work towards peace in the world.
We pray for peace in our country - -the peace of a place where people have food, water, shelter, care.  Where children can grow and learn, where people are respected no matter what they look like.  Where it is safe to drink the water in rivers, to walk the streets, to be a person who is different.  Lord, help us to reach towards peace in Aotearoa New Zealand.
We pray for peace in our city – the peace of a town where people of all kinds can work and play, learn and teach, take care of each other, and be taken care of.  Lord, help us to aim for peace in Dunedin Otepoti.
We pray for peace in our community – for a church on the hill where people look after each other, where laughter, music, caring, baking, sermons, cups of tea, prayers and psalms all come together to help us understand more about you and your world.  Lord, help us to practice peace at Opoho.
This is the hardest one of all, Lord.  We pray for peace for ourselves.  Help us to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, teach us to let ourselves relax.  Remind us that Advent is about joy, not about rushing around.  Show us how to find the peace that comes when we remember to spend time with you.  Lord, help us to allow ourselves the peace we wish for others.
Dear God, Our God, Our Lord, we place these and all our prayers into your hands.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 9 December, 2018 Advent 2 – Peace

Readings:  Luke 1:26-33   Luke 1:39-45   Luke 1:68-79

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

Ursula Franklin was a well known pacifist, Quaker and feminist, a holocaust survivor - she was also a scientist, an engineer, an academic and had a PhD in experimental physics. She was born in Germany, she came to Canada in 1949 where she died a couple of years ago in her mid nineties.  One, just one, of the things she is remembered for is the quote “Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear”.
There have been other attempts at defining peace in the world – Einstein said that ‘Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law and order’ but I believe that fear can make justice unjust, law untenable and turn order into oppression.  So I see fear as the more dangerous, an emotion that has tendrils far more invasive than we can know.

Zechariah, in his canticle of praise to God on the birth of his son John, both urges us to serve God without fear, and to allow the light that will break upon us (Jesus) to guide our feet on the way of peace.  In God’s mercy and through the one whom John the Baptist will prepare the way for, we will know the peace of God.

So it is interesting that the readings today offer us a narrative full of potential fear situations.  Let’s just put on our fear identifying glasses for a moment and see what we can find.

There is Mary – young, virginal, inexperienced confronted by the angel Gabriel (that would have got the heart rate pumping for a start), Mary, told she will take on a task beyond her comprehension on so many fronts. As an ordinary human being, she will have known fear; for her ability to do this, for her reputation, her relationship with Joseph, for her child – Mary,  did you know… did you know what faced your child/man as he grew – did you anticipate sharing him with the world in quite that way, the pain of the cross – yes I suspect you did.

There is Elizabeth – she and Zechariah’s high status had not made them immune to the heartache of infertility.  And then she promised a child and then found herself with child – and all the anxious moments that that brought, especially at her age.  Fear too for the life of her child and the difficult path he would take.

And Zechariah – his was a real up and down journey – delighted at the news that they are going to have a child who, he is told, will be the forerunner of the coming Saviour of Israel, terrified to believe that it will be so (and made mute for his disbelief), absolute delight when he becomes a father, then frustrated when he cannot speak his child’s name – and underlying all this, fear for the future of their son. 

Fear is very much a part of all their journey’s, a reality of their lives, which makes it all the more interesting that  Zechariah would, with his first words, preach that we are to serve God without fear!

Jesus himself tells us to not fear, I am with you – then points us onto a road that for many of us, is terrifying.  ‘If you follow me then you must take up your cross daily’ and ‘your ministry will be as sheep among wolves’.  We are asked to confront the principalities and powers that rule the world and the prospect of doing so would have most of us doing a Jonah – running the other way. 

So I have no doubt that Mary and Elizabeth and Zechariah and Joseph were confronted with fear – as was Ursula Franklin and so many of us.  But the thing is – how do we respond? Do we allow it to paralyse us or do we do as they did, as Jesus did, do we turn our steps towards Jerusalem and the cross anyway.  In the midst of our fear do we trust God to know the way and to be with us on the way?

I don’t think we can live our lives without fear - as it is very much part of the journey of life for all of us.  Fear of failure, fear of what might be asked of us, fear of the powers that can harm us, fear of the unknown – all these play a part in our lives.  But do we allow it to rule us, make our decisions, guide our steps?

Fear plays a large part in our culture too. We can so clearly see where it has taken control – even without going to the usual suspects, even if we just look at life in New Zealand – we can see where fear rules in our culture. 

Financial fear has our society encouraging the lining of our pockets way beyond our needs, has rendered us ungenerous, has us forever seeking, with little regard for impact, new ways of making money.  It has held us in paralysis for decades unable to speak against the powers and principalities that perpetuate the culture of greed and exploitation.

People fear – the recoil from those who are different, those outside our experience.  The need to put up barriers to keep our patch our patch.  The narrowness that believes our way is the only way and all others are a threat to that.  White supremacy, immigrant bashing, gated communities, racism, sexism  all point to our inability to embrace the diversity of our world.

 Fear that nurtures a blame society – we do that well, leaping in to assign fault at the slightest hint of something going wrong – before anyone can point the finger at us. Fear that we might too be culpable has us looking for scapegoats rather quickly.

Yet as we look to ourselves as the church, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have this conundrum - the encouragement for us to serve Christ without fear against the very real presence of fear in our lives, in our ministry.  I would presume to say that, for most of us, we could not imagine the existence of effective ministry without a healthy dollop of fear being present. In fact I would go so far to say, if it is not present, then there may be a degree of paralysis set in.  I might be taken to task on that one but it is worth thinking about.  For I have experienced fear in ministry (that is small m ministry, by the way, the one that we are all involved in as the people of God) as being just that – a place of doing nothing, where barriers go up, especially between God and myself, and where each direction I am pushed in becomes self-limited to my comfort zone, a peace of my own making.  Out of that come mediocre faith at best and a failure to grow in grace and mercy.

Jesus requires of us a different response – he requires us to trust that in the presence of fear, our love for and by the one whom we call God is stronger, wiser, transforming the world in ways we cannot begin to imagine.  

Mary was taken so far out of her comfort zone that she could have been completely paralysed – but she chose to trust in her God, to believe that she, unknown, weak and vulnerable had been chosen to bear a child, become a refugee, help that child grow to become a man who would turn our world upside down – show us a new way – the way of love.  All the while acknowledging the lurking fear of what was to be.

Elizabeth and Zechariah experienced the delight of a child born to them and yet were terribly afraid of such a happening in their old age – still they chose to be delighted that  they should be so blessed, to understand that even in the uncertainty and pain that was to come, God’s purpose was stronger than their disbelief.

To serve God without fear is about our ability to trust God in the midst of our fear.  To know peace us to understand that in Jesus Christ, all the whirlwinds of life are subject to the immeasurable power of love and grace – far stronger than the uncertainties and worries that plague our imaginations when asked to be uncomfortable for God.

So, let us not become preoccupied with the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘not me’ when new directions are thrown in our path, but instead might we do a Mary and say ‘yes I do know’ - and I am still walking this way because that is what God is asking of me and I trust, against all human logic and wisdom that this child born in a dusty manger, will be the saving of the world.  Love did indeed come down at Christmas.  And for that we say, thanks be to God. Amen.

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 2 December 2018 Advent 1

Readings:  Jeremiah 33:14-16  Luke 21:25-36

We pray:  God of all wisdom and understanding – grant us ears to hear, minds to apprehend and hearts to respond to your word for us today and every day – in Jesus name. Amen.

Advent season – the beginning of the church year guiding us toward the birth of the Christ child, the joy of family, a sweet time of wide eyed wonder and lovely stories of (mostly) cute animals and trees decorated with family favourites.  It seems somewhat incongruous therefore, to have as part of the lectionary readings that of the prophet Jeremiah, speaking from the days of despairing exile for the people of Judah.  Yet Jeremiah, says Gary Charles, is an Advent Singer. 
These are Charles’ words:[1]
“The season of Advent is puzzling to many Christians.  The stories read during this season are, by and large, not childhood favourites.  They have no star in the east guiding devout magi, no soliloquy of angels stirring the shepherd to  to go and see the babe, no harried innkeeper, no touching moment when Mary ponders these things in her heart.
The stories of Advent are dug from the harsh soil of human struggle and the littered landscape of dashed dreams.  They are told from the vista where sin still reigns supreme and hope has gone on vacation.  Many prefer the major notes of joy and gladness in the Christmas stories to the minor keys of Advent.”

What do we mean when we label Jeremiah an Advent singer?  Just this:
In the midst of the destruction and despair of exile, despite every sign to the contrary, Jeremiah tells his people that a day is coming when God’s promised will be fulfilled.  He faces a future with trust in his God to bring this about.  And he is fighting against the tide of popular opinion. 
For it must have seemed laughable to the people then; an impossible dream in the midst of their current reality  – in much the same way as we might see the birth of Jesus as a moment of loveliness in an otherwise hopeless world. 

As I said a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple, things that seem absolutely foundational, cherished ‘forevers’ are imploding around us – truth turned into falsehood at the highest levels, violence escalating under the no-rules tactics of terrorism, the very ground we stand on no longer safe, it feels like creation itself is faltering, going down the gurgler fast.  Do we feel a little bit like the people of the exile? Has despair set in and have we lost the ability to imagine God’s promised future – locking ourselves away in our theological bunkers waiting for the end?

Or are we, like Jeremiah, Advent singers, speaking loudly and clearly of our trust in God, our understanding deep in our hearts that the birth of this child is and always will be the sign beyond all doubt of a future beyond our imagining?

Because that is kind of what Luke is doing as well in his apocalyptic text (no opportunity here either to rest in the nativity narrative).  But it too is a text full of hope, full of Advent tones, we might say.  Assuring us of a future promised by God, Luke too is challenging us to go beyond our sense of present time, of what is happening now and place the advent story within the greater story of God’s love to the end times.  Some more words from Gary Charles on time:

“Advent also leaves us dizzy over time. Advent is not a steady, constant, ‘time marches on’ kind of time, a persistent drumbeat of day after day, year after year.  Advent is unpredictable time, unsteady time.  In this time-tumbling season, we look for a baby to be born while we know that the baby has already been born, and still is being born in us – this Emmanuel who came and is coming and is among us right now.  Not only is Advent not well behaved, neat and orderly; it contorts time.  Given the nature of Advent, it is no surprise that Jeremiah is its herald.”

So what do we take with us today from these two unlikely readings.
Well I would ask if we see ourselves as Advent singers, if we have God’s promise written deep on our hearts that we will not be left alone, we are not abandoned – much as it might seem to us to be so. That we can turn our faces into a future beyond our imagining and accept that it as our path even when we don’t know where that might take us.

I would ask if, as a people who walk the way of Jesus, our yearning for the world to be a place where justice and peace and reconciliation between all peoples is founded in our trust that it will be so.  And does our living, our choosing, our daily demeanour tell the world and our neighbour that we are passionate believers in an unbelievable world of God’s promise?

I would also want to ask if we can hold the nativity, the presence of God among us, as the sign of a God who is deeply attuned to our humanness, who knows need and yearning, who understands the pain of suffering, of rejection, of ridicule. Not a hands off God, not a God of exclusion or prejudice or bigotry or apathy but one who will bring more mercy and justice than even we can imagine.

As we come to the table today, as we share in the bread and wine, I would ask we remember that this is not a place of sweet narrative either – it is a table paid for by a price far too dear and which began with a baby born in a stable….

And I would ask if, in this time of Advent, our yearning for the birth of the one who is already here yet is born into our lives again this Christmas is so strong that we can barely contain ourselves in our waiting – our cries of O come, o come Emmanuel burst forth from our lips as we anticipate this miracle of God among us.

I would end with words from Joy Cowley from her latest book ‘Veil over the light[2]’ and her psalm ‘Advent’

Jesus, you remind us
that Advent fills all time
and the journey is everywhere.
Like the magi, we travel
from the head to the heart;
from the city of learning
to the fields wide open to the sun;
from the meaning of words
to the knowledge beyond them;
from the music notes on paper
to the sound of the concerto;
from the smallness of the manger
to the Love that holds the universe in being.

Margaret Garland

[1] From Feasting on the Word p.3-7  Westminster John Knox Press, 2009
[2] Joy Cowley  Veil over the Light: selected spiritual writings  Wellington, NZ: Fitzbeck Publishing, 2018  p.164

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 18 November 2018 Pentecost 26

Readings:  1 Samuel 2    Mark 13:1-8

We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hears be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

The end of the world as they knew it.  To the people of Jesus’ time the prediction of the destruction of the temple was devastating.  It was the symbol of all that was unchanging, impregnable and foundational in their lives, in their faith – they could not imagine that it could or would become a pile of rubble.  And yet a pile of rubble it became. 
We, on the other hand, know that buildings come and go – although we felt reasonably safe and secure that it would be at our convenience and not too impactful.  And then came the earthquakes in Christchurch – too close to home, devastation, death, destruction beyond our imagining.  Foundations of life gone for those who lived there – and all those church buildings as well – gone in a blink.  That certainly wasn’t supposed to happen: no-one saw that coming!
Let me talk about 2016 and the people of Waiau for a moment. That the small town in the middle of the Hurunui which also happened to be the centre of the earthquake that rocked North Canterbury and Kaikoura Districts 2 years ago.  74 properties were red stickered, 262 yellow stickered - spread across 4,500 sq kms.  One family took 2 hours to safely get their family members out of a badly damaged house – a husband and wife, their 3 grandchildren and their 3 foster children and a friend.  They commented that there was a dent in the ceiling from the toilet bowl.  Beyond imagination.  Few would have envisaged the chaos and devastation to that degree.

What has also been beyond imagination is the response to the destruction of the earthquake in the Hurunui.  Alongside real frustration and multiple examples at being treated as less of a priority than Kaikoura, the level of positive response from a devastated community has been amazing.  Mayor Winton Dalley has been at the centre of that, encouraging those who very foundations of living have been wrenched out of their hands. And if you were to ask them today what are the foundations they now stand on, you might find answers like neighbourliness, kindness and compassion, generosity – the people, the people, the people.

And things that are not supposed to happen in our well-ordered lives will continue to happen.  The rapidly changing climate will uproot long held expectations of what is normal and expected – safety on our shorelines, relative consistency in our weather patterns, moderate temperature swings – destroying yet again our understanding of what is safe and indestructible in our lives.  It keeps on happening.

And each time these foundational parts of our peaceful lives are taken out from under us, they create, along with many other emotions, an enormous feeling of loss; in a sense a loss of innocence because that which we believed indestructible is no longer. 

As Christians, what is our response?  We hold the hope that Jesus will come again, that the kingdom will be realised.  We get the warning that it is only in God that we should place our trust and that temples can come and go but God’s love for us will always be.
But in this reading is one further caution for the disciples – it is very easy to become fixated, like them, on the end event.  When will it happen Lord?  How will we know, what exactly will it look like……?

While these questions are not trivial, the answer is not for us to know and Jesus is trying to point this out to those around him.  While recognising the coming of the kingdom, he is warning us about that being our core focus.  What about the life of the world as it is now?  Are we doing all we can to grow a world that has love and grace and mercy as its temples - now? 

And there is a further warning here from Jesus – he recognises the zeal that the disciples have for the glory of the temple itself, especially in the context of the time. This text was first heard at the time Jewish-Roman war around the late 60’s AD – and that was where the temple was the focus for groups wanting to restore the Davidic kingdom, to reclaim the purity and independence of the nation of Israel – even if it means war.   So Jesus, by proclaiming the demise of the temple, is trying to turn the disciples away from the temptation of claiming the kingdom for God now and back to the goal that God has for the world – a time when the world will be rebirthed in the person of Jesus and peace and love will prevail throughout the whole world. 

And I think that we also lose sight of God’s vision for our world and do our best to hurry it along to the beat of our own drum.  And I may step on some toes here but wouldn’t the way in which some people are trying to purify the church, judging who is in and who is out be a way we are taking a temple detour?  That agenda belongs to some within the church, but not I suspect to God. Or equally the idea that there is no need to engage in the issues of the world because the end time is all that matters and, after all, we’re ok! 

Is that really the way Jesus taught us to live as God’s beloved people?  Wouldn’t energy expended on proving we are better than others be better used in caring for each other no matter who we are?  Much as we would like to think we are the advance strategy team for Jesus coming again, that is not what is being asked of us.  Rather we live in God’s way while we wait and hope for the end time.

Instead, within these incredibly unsettled times, when the very foundation of our lives is being shaken in a way we could never have imagined, Christ is calling us to neighbourliness, kindness and compassion, generosity, to, as a church, love one another, to engage in relationship with those who are ‘other’, while we keep awake, watch, resist the pressures of our own agendas.  For the one who came as a child in a manger is with us still and will come again as the fulfilment of God’s glory.  And for this we say thanks be to God.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Prayer Litany for Remembrance Sunday by Tui Bevin

Confession, Thanksgiving and Intercession Psalm written by Tui Bevin

Merciful God:
We confess we live in a world with abuse, bullying and consumerism;
despair, ecological degradation & fake facts;
Lord, have mercy upon us

We confess we live in a world with global warming, hunger and inequality;
jealousy, killing fields and labelling;
Lord, have mercy upon us

We confess we live in a world with military proliferation, nihilism and oppression;
pollution, quackery and religious intolerance;
Lord, have mercy upon us

We confess we live in a world with slavery, terrorism & unprecedented threats to creation;
too many vulnerable, war and xenophobia;
Lord, have mercy upon us

We confess we live in a world with youth underemployment
and zillions of pieces of plastic and rubbish polluting our seas, land, air and space;
Lord, have mercy upon us

Merciful Lord,
We confess we can be part of the problem,
living with insufficient thought
of You, others, our world or the future;

Lord, have mercy upon us


Let us pray.
Generous God:
We give thanks for artists, books and all creation;
dreams and diversity, education and friendship;
Lord, our cup overflows

We give thanks for generosity, health and inspiration;
Jesus, kindness and love and laughter;
Lord, our cup overflows

We give thanks for mentors, nature’s bounty, and the oceans;
pets and prayer, quirkiness and rainbows;
Lord, our cup overflows

We give thanks for sunshine, thinking, and unconditional love;
voting, water and xylophones;
Lord, our cup overflows

We give thanks for youthfulness, zinnias
and all the things that sustain us;
Lord, our cup overflows

Generous Lord, You are the source of all and give us all we need and more.
Help us be grateful and give You thanks and praise.

Compassionate God:
We also pray for aroha, bravery to speak out, and compassion;
     discernment, the earth, and forgiveness;
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for   generosity, hope and integrity;
justice, Kiwi ingenuity and love;
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for   music making, neighbourliness and openness;
peacemaking, questing and resourcefulness;
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for   shalom, thankfulness and unity;
vision, wisdom and expansiveness;
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for   understanding of Your will for us, Your kingdom here on earth,
and zeal for the road ahead;
Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God, You are the alpha and omega,  before any beginning and beyond any ending.  You have given us all we need ~ and more.   Help us use what we have
to live each moment with the end in mind, Your end.
Lord, hear our prayers both spoken and unspoken