Saturday, 31 August 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 1 September 2019 Pentecost 12 Holy Communion

Readings: Psalm 8    Luke 14:1, 7-14

It’s a little like the beginning of an action novel isn’t it – ‘when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.’
Because he was suspect, apt to behave in unexpected, unconventional ways and the authorities thought that they had best keep him under observation.
And maybe it was best to continue to invite him to table so that those who distrusted him could keep an eye on him.  I mean he knew how to behave (mostly)  and they agreed on obeying the Torah and keeping the Sabbath day holy – but Jesus is definitely and continually challenging their interpretations and priorities within that.
And in the part of Luke 14 sandwiched between the verses that we did hear today was yet another radical act – another healing on the Sabbath, this time of the man with palsy.  Jesus did not disappoint.  And the Pharisees had no reply – yet again. 

What is quite fascinating is where reading goes from there – to a seemingly random story which Luke introduces as a parable, something we know is intended to have a meaning that is deeper, more significant than everyday advice. 

For that is, on the surface, what we seem to have:  a rather pragmatic piece of advice from Jesus about how to avoid social embarrassment at one of the most formal of occasions, the public meal.  In these days of the meal often being treated in rather a casual manner, it is hard to realise how very important these events were for the maintaining of stature in the community. You had your place, worked hard at maintaining or improving your status in the community and losing face was almost like losing ones’ life.

And so being asked to move down the table would be of supreme embarrassment. Jesus appears to offer advice on how to avoid that, and in fact how their mana would be enhanced by being asked to move up.  So, is Jesus just telling them to put on superficial humility for self-interest’s sake?  It doesn’t sound quite right.  And then he truly confuses them and speaks about not inviting those who can return the favour, but instead the poor and the cripple and the lame and the blind - the ones who could never respond in kind – but in order to build up credit in heaven?  Again it appears to be about self-interest – a kind of use and abuse of the poor for our own capital gain – spiritual capitalism at its worst as one commentator said, and again it doesn’t sit well with us.

So….Bill Loader calls this a potentially very dangerous text – but full of blessing.  Dangerous when we use humility as a strategy, placing ourselves low only in order to benefit ourselves later. Or equally when we deny our strengths and gifts by considering ourselves valueless – the humility that God requires of us is positive, action filled, not self abasing.  And finally it is dangerous to deny the will of God and ignore the needs of others but equally dangerous to exploit the needs of others for our own end, to be do-gooders in the hope of reward only.

The blessing, says Loader, comes when we learn that the lines of love – for God, for others, for oneself – converge to form an inclusive love, all embracing, ever hopeful, and to engage in it fully in all directions, including towards ourselves.  And the promise of future reconciliation with God takes its place, not as reward but as coming home.
The blessing of grace: when we learn that our standing with God is a given and, held in that loving grace, our behaviour is a given – to care for each other and the world, to pour out our lives for healing and wholeness just as Jesus did.  Forget the hierarchies, ignore the naysayers, challenge the self interest of the world and find a new way.

And some thoughts for life today I continually ponder, and am horrified by, the place of self interest in the world we live in – as I am sure you are.  Looking out for self and doing whatever is needed has always been around but it seems to pervade our very bones these days.  And it is incredibly applicable to the mess we have made of our planet.  Self interest burns the forests in the Amazon, commercial self interest keeps money back from sustainable living solutions,  self interest and laziness sweeps the plastic out into the ocean for the marine life to ingest and get entangled in, self interest fills the skies with pollution and the land with extinct species. 
We have to cut through this attitude of ‘what can we do?’ and remind ourselves that while we are sitting comfortably the world around us is going down the gurgler.  There is no point chastising ourselves for letting it get to this point – it’s too late for that – but instead it’s about what we are to do now.  Asking if we are to continue sitting at that table Jesus was talking about, secure in our own lifetime and our own house on the hill or if we are getting up and seeing where we are needed and getting on with it?
For there are things to be done and we can all have a part in it.

We can only applaud the rhetoric of the youth on this issue, but we need to do more than applaud – we need to listen to them, take our lead from them, work alongside them – that is where the passion and the energy is coming from it seems to me.  
We can look to our personal habits and our channels of influence and see what can be done – surprising how many changes can come through our choices and our words and actions.
We can support the work of Chris Lambourne in Hastings wanting to get climate change up front and taken seriously at General Assembly next year.  As a church here in Opoho we can continue to put our energy and our voice into being aware and making good choices.
There is much we can and must do. 

So shall we start here and now, at the one place where self interest does not reign supreme – that would be around this table, this table where all are welcome, this table where the lines of love converge, where we are equally valued and where none of us are the more or less than the other.  This table where Jesus Christ equips us, transforms us, sends us into the world sure of our place as the people of God and prepared to disrupt and challenge the perspectives and priorities of a broken world, deeply in need of healing and wholeness.  In Jesus name.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 25 August 2019 Pentecost ll

Readings:  Isaiah 58:9b-14   Luke 13:10-17

We pray: Holy God, as we listen to your word for us today, may we know your presence, hear your voice and respond to your call on our lives we pray.  Amen.

As many of you know, I was brought up in the Methodist Church – my father’s family church in Balclutha.  It was a good place to be – good friends were made, social events were fun and safe, and the worship and teaching sunk in to the soul.  I know that, as children and then as teenagers, we can be relatively picky about what we remember but it was instrumental in who I am today. I do remember having Sundays as family days – Dad was off work, we were off school and, after church, we would pop into the local dairy, get a block of icecream, go home for a roast meal and pudding, then off down to visit more family at Hinahina more often than not.  We would play and climb vines and paddle and go home rested and exhausted for the next day.  I remember also being very surprised at finding out that according to one of the Methodist churches on the West Coast, we were sinners.  We had shopped, we had travelled other than to church, we had laughed and played and talked.
The western isles of Scotland are another place where the Sabbath is a very different day to the rest of the week.  No dairies open there, nor anything else.  Definitely a day of Sabbath rest.  And if any of you are familiar with the movie Whisky Galore you will know that in the tug of war between ending the whisky drought and observing the Sabbath, the Sabbath won out. 

How do we approach the Sabbath day?  In a 24/7 world of work, retail, sport, with no widely observed time of family or faith, how are we to interpret the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy?

To try and answer that question, it might be helpful if we unpack the conundrum that is the reading for today from the Gospel of Luke, which is, among other things, about how we observe the Sabbath and honour God.
For there is a difference of opinion!  Jesus has healed a woman crippled for eighteen years.  He is accused of breaking the law of the Sabbath.  He responds by saying that you take care of your animals by untying them and leading them to water, why would you not also take care of your people and set them free?  And the crowd was definitely on Jesus side!

If we look back to the scripture that Jesus would have been familiar with, we find two kind of directives as to what the Sabbath is to be for.  In Genesis, God crowns creation with a holy day of rest – a day blessed and consecrated as a turning away from work and facing the holiness of God. And this directive is no less for us – to put aside the things of the world and to spend time with God.

The other (and complementary) directive comes from after the delivery of the people from their slavery in Egypt and is found in Deuteronomy.  Equally the people are to observe the day and keep it holy but the emphasis is rather more on the active practice of holiness in some way.

And you can see that the leadership of the synagogues in Jesus time embraced the first approach of holiness, defining keeping God’s law as refraining from work and resting in the sanctity of the day. The trouble is that they ended up creating elaborate and complicated rules about what is and what is not work - for it was their responsibility to make sure souls were not put in jeopardy by their ignorance of what would please God.  In fact the cumbersome requirements ended up being a yoke of oppression and control that had moved far away from the heart of what it meant to keep the Sabbath holy.  The law was strong enough to deny a woman the chance to become whole again.
Jesus comes and, in their eyes and according to their rules, his healing of this long time crippled women is to be confined to the other six days of the week.

And Jesus pushes back, requires them to revisit their interpretation – which they seem most unwilling to do.  For, as many of us would find, it is easier by far to insist on adherence to the rule rather than accept that their interpretation is flawed, out of touch with its reason for being.

So Jesus pulls them, and us, back to the reason for being.

We are to honour the Sabbath and keep it holy, we are to turn our face toward God – have time with God where the expectations of the world are not our primary consideration.  Those words from the hymn by Helen Lemmel – in response to being weary and troubled, the answer is to ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.’
Evocative words of healing that come from time focussed on the holiness of God.  We need that in our lives – time to be still, time to praise God, time to reflect and be encouraged, to reclaim whose we are and recommit ourselves to the way.  Time to stop being hunched over, seeing only the dust and dirt below our feet, twisting ourselves every which way trying to catch a glimpse of the sun above.  Time to stand straight, cast off the burdens we carry and praise God.  Whether as individual or community, we are too often bowed down under the load of fear, anxiousness, dismay when in fact Sabbath living allows us to find time to stand tall and straight and whole.
And might we also explore what Sabbath living might mean when it is not confined to a day once a week but when it permeates our daily living – Sabbath moments as important to us as our breathing. 

The thing is, for Jesus, the Sabbath is also about rendering healing and justice – bringing freedom and rejoicing to those who have been enslaved – much as those who were led out of exile from Egypt.  Jesus healing touch brings freedom to the crippled woman – on the Sabbath.  He brings her out of the wilderness and back into community.  He touches her, you might notice – violating even more of the religious rules about the unclean and the marginal. 
He is being, (they say deliberately) disruptive to the act of worship as laid out by the religious authorities, undermining their authority, challenging their institutionalised ritual that gives them control of people’s lives and withholds care from those in need. 

He echoes the words of Isaiah who was also calling out the religious authorities of his day with the same message of misplacing and dishonouring God on the day of fasting:
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
…If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the LORD…[1]

What might we then take away with us today?  One, perhaps, is that of understanding the importance in our lives of the weekly or daily Sabbath both as a community here on Sunday and in our personal lives.  And we need to not let the habit or the ritual become the satisfaction alone but also recognise the need to open ourselves to the presence of God, to respond to the teachings of Jesus for us and through us.  To face the holy and be still before the glory of God.
And secondly I don’t believe we can do that by blindly following a set of rules about what we should or shouldn’t do on a Sunday.  I don’t believe that passivity and inaction is what Christ asks of us.
For as we hear from Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;[2]

I do believe that in honouring the Sabbath, being present with the holy, we will be stirred into active holy practice as Jesus was – lifting the burden not just from ourselves but from others we encounter who are in need of healing and hope.  And for this we say thanks be to God.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] Isaiah 58: 9b-10, 13-14
[2] Isaiah 58:6-8

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 11 August 2019 Pentecost 9

Readings:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40

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.
There is a Sufi story about a man who was so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles.  God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish.
So the angels visit this good man and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion of souls, and lastly the gift of virtue.  He refuses them all.  They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him. ‘Very well,’ he replies. ‘I ask that I may do a great deal of good without every knowing it.’ 
The story ends this way:  The angels were perplexed.  They took counsel and resolved upon the following plan: every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him it would have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow.  As he walked, behind him his shadow made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried-up brooks, fresh colour to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women.  The Saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it.  The people respected his humility, following him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles.  Soon they often forgot his name and called him  ‘the Holy Shadow.’[1]

This story of faith and works is pertinent to our readings today.  In her comment on the story Rachel Remem reminds us that it is comforting to think that we may be of help in ways that we don’t even realise.  She adds that we often do so in surprising and unexpected ways – that we are in fact messengers of healing for each other without knowing it.  Like the Holy Shadow.
There are those times when someone just says the right thing for the moment – for them an ordinary kindness, for us a light shining in the darkness of need.  I am sure each of us can think of a time like this.  Remen talks of a day when she was stewing over a friend who had incorporated some of her ideas in a book without acknowledging the source.  A client walked into her room and said ‘You know you can get a lot done in this world if you don’t care who gets the credit!’  She had read it on the bumper sticker of the car that pulled out of her parking spot.  ‘You know you can get a lot done in this world if you don’t care who gets the credit!’ 
So is it just coincidence, being in the right place, the stars aligning for us.  I think that explanation is simplistic, casual, cautious.
I believe that in faith, in the power of trust and love, this kind of reaching out happens all the time and we just don’t know it (and don’t need to know it).  The flicker of kindness becomes the bright light of hope, of healing, of love in those we touch in faith. 

Those words from Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The things that are invisible become visible in faith!  If we believe that living in love, in faith has fruit way beyond our imagining we begin to understand how it was that Abraham and Sarah set out for a strange land, lived simply while they waited for the promised city whose architect and builder was God, placed their trust in a ridiculous promise of descendants as great as the stars of heaven, as numerous as the grains of sand by the seashore.  We begin to see a glimmer of the possibilities the world can be changed if we but live in the way of God.  Of the transformation that comes from us truly being the presence of Jesus in our every day lives.  So why the stress around being a person of faith?  Why are we so loathe to accept uncertain future, to believe that trust that in Christ it will bear fruit way beyond our imagining?

In a way it’s like we don’t quite trust God’s presence in the  unseen unless we can check it off as well – we like to see the trajectory of our faith in action – be sure that our efforts are worthwhile, our planning and execution best practice, that the projected outcome is at least loosely achieved.  And we get easily despondent when that doesn’t happen.  Because our efforts seem to have failed, we don’t believe God’s work through us could possibly succeed! The Holy Shadow is not quite trusted.

Yet Abraham and Sarah did just this, they did trust in God – in faith they lived their lives as God’s people not looking backwards to see how well their sowings were growing but forwards in expectation of what, in God’s grace, is made possible.  They believed that God had their future in hand, they looked forward to the city that God had both planned and was executing, even though they were living in tents in the meantime.  They had faith in God’s eternal love and promise.  Let us not make Abraham and Sarah perfect people though – they would have had doubts, debates and difficulties along the way but the thing is they kept their faces turned towards the journey that they had committed to in faith.

And Jesus brings us both the knowledge and reassurance of that faithfulness and love of God: in his living, his teaching, his death and resurrection Jesus time and time again shows us the power of trusting in God completely, placing our lives, our futures, the transforming of the world into Gods hands in faith. 
It is here in this reading from Luke, where Jesus, in these wonderfully tender words, says to his people:  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
He goes on to encourage us: be dressed for action, have your lamps lit no matter how small you think they might be, for every moment you live in the expectation of the kingdom, then so it shall be.

So what shall we take with us as we go from here today.  Maybe it is to be the Holy Shadow as was the saint in the story.  Don’t panic because things are not moving at the speed you would like.  Don’t keep looking back in hope – trust that all you have done in faith is growing new things, offering hope and healing and new beginning because you believed, and then turn round and bring the same faith and hope for the future.

Carry these words with you today and ponder them in your hearts:  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

And trust that everything you do in love ripples out into bigger and bigger waves.  Trust in each other as a community of Christ – love into the unlovely, be gentle with the clumsy and the klutzy, forgive the times we don’t quite get it right, listen to the wisdom and the questions that come with community, speak with hope into the future, pray for the healing of the world, every day, and be ready, be the light of Jesus transforming the world, and let nothing, nothing put it out!   Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Remen.  P.245

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 14 July 2019 Pentecost 5

Readings: Psalm 82 - A Contemporary Reading from Grant us Your Peace by David Grant   Luke 10:25-37

We pray: Loving God, we have heard your word for us from scripture for today – we ask for open hearts and minds as we find our place the story of hope and love that you bring to us in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The story of the Good Samaritan is very familiar to most of us – a story that clearly has victims, villains and heroes.
The victim is obvious.
Villains - those people who beat and robbed, and definitely those who passed to the other side of the street. Although we also know they can be victims too.
Hero  - the unexpected, unlikely Samaritan who stopped and cared for the victim – and cared for him generously.
To help us get into this story many have written contemporary narratives – the farmer robbed, the church people walking by, late to a meeting, the bikie being the hero – such we wrote for our children’s church in Amberley.
But there is nothing like having something real happen to make you realise the compelling teaching that Jesus has for us in this story. 
I was coming back from the market a couple of Saturday’s ago and drove into Frederick St to one of my favourite coffee shops – the Fix.  No parks so on down the road to turn into Great King.  And there as I drove past was a body slumped down on the road – feet in the gutter, face down – with another chap standing on the path laughing his head off.  In the time of driving, parking, walking back I went through a million scenarios in my head of what had happened and what to do, thinking ‘this is where the rubber hits the road!’  When I got there someone else had intervened – had the drunken man from the road held up by the collar (I swear he was standing at 45ยบ) and was talking to the other chap.  It was quite sobering to acknowledge the relief I felt.  Would I have walked by – I don’t think so – but I would have called for help – which is sensible.
I heard another tell the story of a similar situation (before cell phones) where seeing a situation where someone needed help, this person knocked on the nearest door for someone to call services and were told quite firmly ‘it is not any of our business and no we will not phone for help.’

Maybe another way in to this increasingly uncomfortable story is to ask an equally sticky question – do we identify with any of the characters?
Is it the lawyer asking the questions – so tied up with debating the issue that he cannot see the need before him?
Is it the people who pass by – the church people who preach love and care –too busy with their religious duties and choosing to judge rather that give mercy
Are you the beaten one – accepting help from someone you perhaps wouldn’t eat a meal with?
Or the one who responded to the need despite risking rejection, of being seen as incapable of good.

To tell the truth, I have no problem with placing myself in all of these roles at different times.  And I suspect I won’t be alone.  So I believe it is worthwhile thinking about some of the things that get in the way of our ‘Good Samaritan’ responses to need, to mercy, to love and kindness being shared with those in need.
One thing to think about is how our life style and culture impacts our responses.  And I would share something we heard at our meeting here on Tuesday night – one speaker shared a story of an experiment carried out at a university – where a group of theology students were divided into two groups and sent to one of the two lecture theatres that were on either side of the campus.  Here they both received a lecture on the Good Samaritan before being told that they then needed to get across to the other lecture room for their next lecture – the difference being that one group was told they would have a good half hour before the next one started and the other that they were late already and would have to move it.  Both groups came upon a person lying on the ground, obviously needing help.  The group with time to stop almost all stopped to help.  Of the group that were running late – no one stopped.  The cultural imperative to be timely can make us blind to times when our compassion needs to rule.

Another barrier to compassion and care would be jumping to conclusions about what has happened – with a healthy dollop of judgement in there to justify our non-action.  And a lack of courage to enter the unknown. Yet Jesus consistently and in so many ways speaks to us of how, through compassion and mercy, the love of God is made known in the most unexpected ways and through the most unlikely people.  Yet we are loathe, as David Grant suggested, to enter the messiness of the world, and we fail in courage when you ask us to move towards conversation with the fringe folk, those we prefer to avoid. 
He uses words like embarrassment, nerve, courage, shaky – but he also follows the psalmist in reminding us that we are frail, of shaky resolve, and fearful duplicity – we are learners, faith-bearers learning faithfulness, flawed human being learning to stand alongside you – and asks God to take us as far as we can go in obedience, without guilt paralysing us and with the courage that we do have.

In reflecting on how to be a person who knows what it means to love your neighbour, to be a giver as well as a receiver of mercy and grace, it seems to me that we should also be kind and merciful to ourselves – as we do our best to follow in Jesus path of being obedient and courageous in loving our neighbour.  Because it is not always going work out.

The important thing is that we turn our faces away from justifying prejudice and apathy and exclusivism as the proud foundations of our Christian living and instead look towards the ways we can be more like Jesus – where we can offer a helping hand, be slow to judgement, be willing to share our time, our ear, our hand to those who have need of someone to come kneel beside them and love them. For in doing so, even when it is a little thing we do, we are bringing our neighbours, whoever they are, into the care and mercy of Jesus.
Perhaps there is one more person in this story that we need to acknowledge – and that is the innkeeper, the one to whom the Samaritan took the broken and wounded man for healing.  Are we innkeepers do you think?
Hear these words as we finish from the pen of Elaine Gisbourne – titled ‘Called on to be an innkeeper.’

I bring you my wounded ones;
the beaten, broken and messy,
the weary, the traumatised,
precious, wounded ones.

I bring you the ones from whom
others turn their gaze,
out of fear, disgust, shame;
rejected when most vulnerable,
I bring them to you.

I bring them to you because I trust you.
To see beyond the blood and dirt,
to look deeper than the bruises and scars,
and hold them,
stay with them,
attend to them and care for them.

I know this work will cost you,
cost you more than you think you can give,
but I know you:
you will give to them from the depths of your own generosity,
and you will continue to hold them
until I return and set them on their way.

I trust you because I know you,
that my promise is enough for you,
and that you know that it is our love that heals.

In our acts of mercy and love for neighbour lie the seedlings for transforming this world, so, as Jesus says, let us go and do likewise. Amen
Margaret Garland

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 7 July 2019 Pentecost 4

Readings:  Galatians 6:1-6    Luke 10:1-11

We pray:  Loving God, we have heard your word from scripture for us today.  We pray ears to hear and hearts ready to respond to your desire for us to walk in your way with commitment and courage. In the name of the one who shows the way. Amen. 
When a church is in crisis and the focus is on blame or solution, it is not unusual for the people to resort to infighting and behaviour based on difference.  Neither is it unusual for right and wrong to rear their heads and minor issues to be the focus of major difference.  This was the case for the church in Corinth – and it seems that one of the casualties of their argument and division was their care for each other.   Paul here is trying to bring them back to focus on the basics of living in Christian community where grace and compassion and mercy is the practice instead of accusations and rules. Galatians 6 also talks about corruption of the flesh and the role of circumcision plus false pride and reaping what you sow as Paul tries to convince them of the shape of this new creation that is Christian living and community.  A truly heady mix for any preacher. 
Yet today I would choose a thread that runs through both readings; one that I believe is really important for any faith community and definitely for us – and that is the shape of our relationships as Christians with each other and with strangers. It is a huge topic of course but maybe we can find some reminders or new understandings in these scriptures today.
So let us listen to the words Paul says again[1]Let us not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

It seems to me over this last wee while, that we as a faith community have not perhaps rediscovered but certainly been much more conscious of our need to care for each other and the wider community pastorally.  As minister here I have been reminded yet again of the gift that is sharing in the highs and lows of people’s lives, and the deep sense of God present with us especially in difficult times.
And as a congregation we have together walked through much that is unfair and untimely, death that leaves huge gaps, pain that hurts so badly and helplessness that overwhelms us.  And yet we could say that this time has also strengthened us and grown us.  For we care for each other – deeply.  We provide for each other and pray for each other and love each other in a myriad of ways.  It’s not always easy, we often don’t know what to say or do in difficult situations especially, and we sometimes are unaware of people who could really do with some care and compassion. We care for and provide for the wider community – the tears and outpouring of love and grief continues in the wake of March 15 even as we get caught up again in the day to day – but I believe that for many something has fundamentally moved in our thinking – a new creation as Paul calls it. However much we are active or not in making change, we are aware that this is the path Jesus has sent us out on.
For we are called to practice justice and equality, to honour all people and to care for those in need.  All these things are signs of a community that fulfils the laws of Christ Jesus.
But as both Jesus and latterly Paul says, this path that Jesus calls us to follow requires much of us: so let us look at three of the behaviours that build the community of Christ -  commitment, discernment, and generosity – all anchored in the love and teachings of this man Jesus and continued in the guidance and teaching of the Spirit. 

What does Jesus mean by commitment? I suspect it is a lot about courage – courage to knock on a uncertain door, courage to begin difficult conversations, courage to receive those who come knock on your door.  It is too having the ability to bear another’s burden, to know that you don’t have to do this alone nor do you have to have all the solutions.  It’s the strength to keep going in the way of compassion and grace when things get tough, resisting the temptation to fall back and raise the drawbridge of exclusivity as the people of Corinth were doing to the uncircumcised, as we do in our various ways today.  One commentator[2] put it this way: ‘Today what millstones do we tie around the necks of God’s children? The stones are as varied as our faith communities.’ And went on to talk about any time we say it has to be done this way and this way alone, we are committed to the service of the human ego, not God.  Rather we are urged to live out of the belief that the vision and purpose of God is not limited to our experience alone and that God’s church is a uniting of unbelievable diversity in the person of Christ.
So instead of debating the rights and wrongs of this or that practice, being a community of faith is totally about our commitment to the way of Jesus, to doing it his way, to walking and talking not according to our vision but to God’s.  We trust in God to take us where we need to be, to provide the wisdom to say and do what is needed, to tell us what we need to leave behind, and when to leave.  Let’s just take a minute or two to think about commitment to our God, our faith, our community and beyond.

And then there is the role of discernment in living as the people of God.  Jesus alludes to this as he tells his disciples to give everyone a chance but to move on where there is no welcome.  He invites us to enter every situation with peace and hope and trust in our hearts but also to discern when the time is not right.  And he invites us to engage with open hearts – so that we can discern God’s will rather than slap our own solutions on the table.  Have you ever had a conversation where you have grabbed a particular understanding early on and it has closed your ears to other possibilities - I remember back in my days as a librarian having someone come in and say they were looking for books on food – and before they could say another word I had led them to the recipe section.  It took them some time and courage to tell me that actually it was more about having a health problem and wanting to look at books on food allergies.  Discerning how Jesus wants us to care for each other in community definitely requires us to open our ears to new possibilities, things we might not have thought of, conversations that are guided by the Spirit rather by us. Discernment over the future ministry of this church is something that you all will be facing in the next while – I urge you to hear what the Spirit is saying to this church, not to grab solutions that mean nothing changes but to be bold and courageous and full of hope as a community of faith.   Not easy but prepare to be enriched, surprised, and blessed when it happens.
Again how might we see the place of discernment in our community – a moment or two to consider.

And living together in community, caring for each other, shouldering each other’s burdens as well as joys, definitely calls for generosity.
A generosity of grace – that spirit of gentleness wrapped in a cloth that values all people and is given to us without expectation.
A generosity of forgiveness – where we give zero power to the hurts and slights of life that can become our masters
A generosity of love – across all boundaries, despite all logic, gifted unconditionally
A generosity of time – time to listen, time to reflect, time to worship, time to study scripture, time to pray and praise, time to spend with others
A generosity of giving and receiving – where we do not measure or look for balance or return, where we keep on giving and receiving beyond our comfor
A generosity of listening  - prepared always to hear  God’s voice in silence and in others – to hear the new and the powerful where least expected, the hard truth when not wanted, the guidance of the spirit that might challenge our well thought out plan.
A generosity of caring and compassion and kindness – that permeates every aspect of our lives, our community, our faith, a deep love for all people lived out in our daily actions.
A generosity of truth – perhaps hardest of all for we each find it difficult to accept that truth is not static nor one dimensional nor rigid in time, space or church community.
I am sure you have other thoughts to add to these – a moment for considering generosity in our community.
And as we share communion today may we remember the generosity that is Jesus the Christ who welcomes all who hunger and thirst to come to his table and be fed.

These three things, commitment, discernment, generosity – through them may we continue to journey the way of Christ, a way where grace and compassion and mercy are the lights we walk by, a way where rules and decisions are always seen in the light of Christ and where our love for each other and the world is shown in our actions, our words, our listening, our hearts.    Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] Galatians 6: 9-10 NRSV
[2] Carol E. Holtz-Martin in Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 3  p.209

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 30 June 2019 Pentecost 3

Readings:  2 King 2: 1-2, 6-14   Luke 9:51-62

Today I want to talk about extravagance: the extravagance of God, of language, of expectations, and through all the extravagance of love. And flowing on from this, for us to think about what is it that compelled Jesus to take this journey to the cross and beyond and what is it that compels us to stay on the road with him?

I was tempted to title today’s sermon as ‘Mission Impossible’.   Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem – he sets his face to the holy city, he is on the move! And he is relentless in his singlemindedness, so focussed that he seems to almost sweep aside the niceties of life – the place to call home, the properly dignified farewell to one who has died, the desire to at least tell family where you are going before you go.   All to go by the board, according to Jesus. 

And then there is the Elijah and Elisha narrative – spectacular, with whirlwinds and seas parting and chariots of fire and Elijah rising to heaven, and Elisha, bereft, left with the memory of the vision and hoping, praying that he has the mantle to carry on the journey.  

Extravagant commitment from Jesus and from Elisha – sourced in the power and purpose of God.

Let us talk a little about Elisha first.  Though he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, there was no understanding that it would be so – no guarantees that he would inherit the mantle of gifts that Elijah received.  Yet he follows God’s will, unclear as to what that might mean, not at all sure what will happen but prepared to step out anyway in faith.  And it is only as he enters the journey, strikes the water with his staff, that he realises his call has been confirmed.  He acts in expectation of the passing on of the mantle, yet prepared that it might not be – but whatever the path given him, God will be alongside as his guide and companion.  Elisha, rather than waiting for a route map to be worked out and presented, get up and goes anyway. 

And Jesus too has this clarity of purpose that compels him to set out on his journey to Jerusalem with all the obstacles and struggles before him.  He too is on the move for God, on a compelling journey that makes other things seem peripheral, where the urgency of the vision is not to be waylaid by things that can distract.  Jesus has discerned the mind of God and is willing, nay absolutely focussed on expressing God’s profound love for humanity and all the world.  And if that means testing loyalties of those around him, then so be it – for discipleship requires commitment!

And so we begin to think about what it is that keeps us on this ‘Mission Impossible.’  For at times it seems so, does it not?  What anchors us to this vision of a world made whole and healthy, a people made loving and just, a difficult journey of faith made ‘possible’ because a deep sense of God’s extravagant vision compels us to discern God’s will for us and act upon it?

What is it that nourishes this seemingly impossible journey?  What keeps our discipleship focussed and compelling?

We could blithely say ‘our faith’ but I think that is a bit limited and needs some expanding.  Yes we are fed by scripture, nurtured by the Spirit, encouraged in community, welcomed and sustained in the sacraments, held in covenant with God through Christ but I am talking about the extravagant God that delights in us, that expects much of us, that loves us with a passion that surpasses all we might know, and, in Christ, is a light that will shine with extraordinary power and purpose in this world if we would be the vessel. How to keep that focus, to not be distracted from it, how to set our face to Jerusalem in all trust and expectation that God will prevails.  

I believe we need to be constantly reminded of the glory of God – to have the Mission Impossible fed by the pure delight in creation, the world around us, the sky above, the ebb and flow of the ocean, the beauty of our land, our flora and fauna, the rhythms of the seasons and the intricate and complex dance of relationship of all living things on this planet.  Matariki reminds us of not just the beauty of the skies but the intricate relationship of the stars with humankind and their cycle of life. 
And when we hold that vision of God’s creation, it makes the hurt we have done to this planet so much more painful, it makes our need to amend our ways so much more urgent, it makes our voice for change so much more strident - for we are destroying God’s vision for the world.

I believe we need to be constantly reminded of the way we meet God in our actions and interactions.  That we make the light of this ‘Mission Impossible’ shine so brightly in the world by who we are and what we do and say and be. 
Like Elisha – there is no point waiting around for certainty and guarantees – let’s just step out there command the waters to part so to speak, be prepared for God to be active in our lives in extravagant and spectacular ways – or in ordinary and little ways – all of which is the working of God’s purpose through us.  Like the blankets we have just blessed, like the Generation Zero work of people like Adam Currie, like the outpouring of grief and love in the events of March 15, like the care this community has given and gives to those who are in pain.
Like Jesus, deep down knowing that what we do to show the love of God for and in this world is the most important thing we can do and not to let things distract us from that.  And just a couple of points about the journey to Jerusalem that Jesus set out on.  It was quite a circuitous route he took - much happened on the way, many different roads were followed, the narrative was messy and all over the place, but it was always pointing toward Jerusalem.  And his journey was all about his sense of call – that God had placed in his heart the vision of a world healed and restored by his actions, and it was a compelling mission that all else became less in its light. 
And our actions and interaction are grounded in our worship, our hearing the word, praying, our singing and our sacraments of baptism and gathering around the table of our Lord.  If the extravagant generosity and love of God through Christ is not shown in our worship, in the gifts of forgiveness and teaching and caring for the world and each other, in the bread and wine of the table where all are one in Christ, then I don’t know how we can take it into the world.

And finally I believe we are to be constantly reminded of the role of those who have taught us and shaped us and guided us in faith.  Those of this place of worship who have impacted us, challenged us, held us through the hard times and celebrated with us the milestones of our lives.  We think of the Rod Madills and the Vetia Sheats and the Laurie Williams and all those named in our hearts who have nurtured us and been the shining lights of faith for us. 
We think of those in our families, our friends, our faith guides in other church communities, other places and times who have encouraged, taught, walked alongside us in our spiritual journeys.  We think of those we have read, listened to, debated with, who have developed our theology, reminded us of our purpose, shown us new ways and reminded us of old ways that hold wisdom and truth.  And we also give thanks for those from different faiths with whom we find spiritual common ground, those of our own faith with whom we disagree, those who challenge our understandings and behaviours when they see the log in our eyes better than we do.

May these three things, be our reminders of the extravagance of a God who is Creator, Servant, and Sustainer to each one of us and, through us to the world.  And may our journey on this way be compelling, full of action and commitment, may we see that in facing Jerusalem we become part of a Mission made possible in the love of God for us and the world.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 23 June, 2019 Pentecost 2

Readings: Psalm 42 and 43 read responsively    Luke 8:26-39

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.

Today the lectionary takes us to a bible story set among the people of Gerasene – a gentile community living somewhere on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  It is a place where Jesus and his followers become foreigners, a place where the customs are different, not least the presence of herds of swine pivotal to the local economy. It involves a man who is an outcast within that foreign place – a man so tormented that he did not know who he was or what he was doing.

It is also a story that perturbs our sensibilities in a way at first glance.  Why does Jesus seem to negotiate with the demons?  Why kill the pigs and ruin the livelihood of many?

Its not a passage that lends itself to clear cut answers – although we can offer some context.  The demons were actually going from the frying pan to the fire, did they but know it.  Water was considered the abyss, the place of destruction for demons so they gained nothing by their negotiation.   Why take a herd of pigs with them – well, it’s not only a dramatic visual image of the power of Jesus over evil but also a note of caution that the way of Jesus might lead to direct confrontation with the economic ways of the community. 

Today, though, I propose to explore three teachings from this scripture that are relevant to our faith journey. 

The first is gathered up in one word from the passage: ‘Legion’.  As the man was asked for his name, he responded with the poignant answer; Legion, meaning a multitude.  He does not know who he is.  Oppressed by so many demons, lost in the cacophony of their voices, he is no longer himself, an individual, a person.  He is a danger to himself and to others, less that human. 

Jesus heals him, restoring his identity, his name, not letting the voices of others rule his life.  He again has control over his life, is made whole in Jesus.  And we would ask the question: what are the things of the world that keep us apart from God, the times when we think we are in control of our lives but actually we are completely sidetracked by the realities of life around us.  You can answer this just as well as I can I know – it might be money issues, exhaustion, prioritising God out of your must do list, it can be chasing a forever elusive rainbow, it can be battling with mental or physical or emotional health and trying to do it on your own, maybe its about being overwhelmed: by hopelessness, anger, frustration, despair.  But whatever it is, if it takes away our identity in Christ, if it derails us from living in the ways of truth and justice and mercy, perhaps we need to present ourselves to God’s grace and allow God’s voice back into our lives.  It might mean losing some cherished bunkers we have surrounded ourselves with but it does also mean rediscovering the peace and healing of the living Christ.

The second teaching that leapt out to me in this passage is the fact that by following the way of compassion and healing Jesus put himself directly at odds with the community this man was to be restored to.  It tells us that it may not have been all light and joy for this renewed soul if every time they saw him they also remembered the huge financial loss that his healing had cost them.  It seems that Jesus had little or no traction in this unappreciative, fearful community, that the people of Gerasene had no desire to welcome, celebrate or applaud this miracle worker –– perhaps because they preferred the devil they knew? Or perhaps because they were so fearful of  this kind of power that they turned their back on knowing more.  Again the question for us is where is this happening in our lives?  It can be when we refuse to face our sometimes uncertain future as a faith community with confidence and faith, when we prefer not to meet with the different, expecting somehow that it will be a threat or uncomfortable, rather than a place of growth and learning in Christ. And the devil we know – that temptation to put up with what is not ok fearful of what might take its place. Oh that is one for each of us to ponder I think.

And out of this second learning comes our third.  This man healed by Jesus, this man that we in our wisdom would want to nurture gently along as he reintroduces himself to society, that Jesus might have wanted to invite along for a time of teaching and growing in the safety of the discipleship, this man whose healing has caused a major economic catastrophe and who might have wanted to get as far away from the scene as possible, was told instead to stay behind, to tell his story of how much God had done for him – in a hostile, gentile, unfamiliar place he called home.

This resonates hugely for me and I hope for you.  For in his staying he ensures that his healing, this miracle that is Jesus in their midst will not be forgotten, not allowed to become a ‘fairy story’ shall we say.  In his staying he is bearing witness to the truth of Jesus presence in his life – that is his story to share to those who would listen.  Not armed with deep theological understanding, not well prepared for all the questions that might come his way, not working out of an established church programme or even community this man, this gentile, this former madman, is working out of the witness of Jesus Christ in his life and his wholeness.   Can we do no less? 

In a time of silence now and also in our week ahead we ponder our identity in Christ, our response to Jesus in our lives and our community and our witness to God’s truth in our lives. And we give thanks for God’s healing in our lives, today and every day.  Amen

Margaret Garland