Saturday, 18 May 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 19 May 2019 Easter 5


We pray: May your word for us today speak into our hearts, minds and souls that we may truly live as your people, loving God, one in Christ who makes all things new.  Amen.

A new heaven and a new earth, a new way of being, a new hope for our world, a commandment to love through which  we will show the world what it means to be known as the disciples of Christ. 
Just as Simon Peter struggled with what that might mean in real life so too do we today.
Just as he had to do away with embedded concepts such as; them and us, clean and unclean, our way or no way, so too do we. 
Just as Simon Peter’s eyes were blinded to translating the way of Jesus into the practical situations he found himself faced with so too are ours.
It’s a constant that links Peter and us and all in between – how is it that, as a disciple of Christ, living in the image of God, we can truly embrace the very heart of what that means in our worship, our living, our relationships, our choices and responses in this messy mucky world.   And how often do we get derailed, hindering God by our misunderstandings?  
To begin our thinking, to consider perhaps how we are doing, let’s reflect on these words from Iona
(Our image of Jesus from Present on Earth by Wild Goose Worship Group p37)

It is of supreme importance    that we get our image of Jesus            RIGHT.
For there are too many blithering idiots,        well meaning people,
religious schismatics,              church leaders,
liberals,           right wingers,
anarchists,       establishment figures,             WHO ARE LEADING PEOPLE ASTRAY.
So listen carefully....   Jesus                as we all know
came from a model family            his mother was pregnant when she got married
and lived in a secure home            they were refugees for goodness sake
as the old hymn says ‘Throughout his wondrous childhood’..           about which we know next to nothing....
‘he was mild and obedient’....       he did a bunk when he was twelve.
Jesus was the model working man           he became redundant when he was thirty
encouraging entrepreneurship in others    he told Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew to give up their jobs.
He kept good company,    dining out with beggars and prostitutes
he had a good word for everybody           vipers, blind guides, hypocrites
his conversation was about the finer things in life,      dough, sheep, pig farming, wise virgin, demons
he never dabbled in controversy               he just claimed to be the son of God!
Jesus never upset anyone by his language            except priests, Pharisees, pigeon sellers, executioners and wealthy young men
he was respected in religious circles         they wanted to lynch him after his first sermon

Jesus was a man among men        and women
he was a man of God        he was the Son of God
in his majesty we see God at work           in his humility we meet God in person.
That’s why he was worshipped                 that’s why he was crucified
Jesus isn’t here now                      he rose again on the third day
so we have to get on with it ourselves      he sent his Holy Spirit to guide us
We have to build the kingdom      we have to celebrate his presence among us
we have to give a lead       we are to follow where he calls
stand up and be counted                humbly
like soldiers           as servants
we are a mighty army                   we are the body of Christ
It is of supreme importance          That we get our image of Jesus         RIGHT.

 To live as the body of Christ, not hindering but making way for the new Jerusalem, requires us to remove the blinders from our eyes and see life as it really is, right here and now.  Franklin Reid in his book ‘Living in New Jerusalem’ says ‘To truly be church is to be New Jerusalem in the world: to be a place where God and God’s Lamb reign in justice and abundance for all people.’

To truly be church is to live in the image of God – to be deeply accepting this new way of servanthood, humility, love and justice.  Yet we constantly struggle with the desire to live in the image of us. To live with: them and us, clean and unclean, our way or no way, chasing status and money, divide and conquer.

It seems a good time to think about what it is we do that we need to wrest back from human imaginings and give again to God.

Always start with the gnarly one – money!  I look on with horror as I see the bank notes swirling around in places like Destiny Church – where people do without because they are told generous giving is the gateway to heaven – or perhaps we should say the gateway to the bishop’s mansion.  Yet equally there is another horror – that of stinginess.  And I am part of the horror – on Saturday I was putting a note into the Hospice appeal and the fervent thanks I got made me realise how I so often dispatch the loose change and save the notes for coffee. 
And here as this church, are we giving with generous hearts the best we can – or are we still in the loose change way of thinking? What is our attitude to giving, is it in any way conditional, reluctant, piecemeal – and please remember, let it always be within our means.

Talking of generosity - last night Mike and I attended the farewell at First Church for the Rev Anne Thompson who is finishing after 10 years there as Associate Minister.  I was prepared for the generosity of food – but the sight of Anne and Ian sitting there as quilt after cover after quilt was laid over their knees.  It was an incredibly emotional moment – basically each woman had made something filled with love and given it to express their appreciation of who she was to them.  It was extravagant generosity for all the right reasons.

Do we still hold a ‘them and us’ mentality?  It could be in protecting our ‘brand’ of Christianity, in our belief that we are in some way superior, in our fear of those who are not like us.  Has the shock of March 15 permanently removed our barriers or are they starting to slowly creep back up?
Do we feel safer when we can put down others ways, do we find ourselves speaking with disdain of other faiths, cultures, ways of living to shore up our own?  There are those who believe they will be contaminated if they speak or engage with those of another faith – and so they argue agin them from the safety of their uninformed prejudice.  Should we not instead be engaging, growing, sharing, sure of our God and willing to converse with the other. 

What are our examples of condemning another for eating with the uncircumcised?  What is holding us back from eagerly embracing those whom we once held unclean, unworthy?
There is the relationship between Catholic and Protestant, where one considers the other unholy.  There are different ways of doing church, when one considers the other irreverent, disrespectful to God. 
There is the insisting that the true measure of our Christian faith is found in a particular brand of sexuality.  What was that Peter said: ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?

In whose image are these behaviours based – not in God’s image, not in the image of the one who came, taught, loved, died and brought us to new life, that is for sure. 

Peter’s image of the new heaven and the new earth needed some shaking up – the vision left him in no doubt that he was wrong and that, in Jesus, things truly were different, the old ways had gone and the new ways were with us.  May we too see the obstacles that hold us back from being one people in the name of God and may we challenge those ways that hinder the gift of God for all people. 
May Christ and Christ alone be our vision, our best thought, our wisdom, our inheritance, our joy, first in our heart, now and forever.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 12 May Easter 4


Readings:  Acts 9:36-43  John 10:22-30

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.

On Thursday morning I was on a road trip to Gore with two other parish ministers.  In what passes for light conversation, we were discussing the often intriguing, sometimes tenuous links that we find in scripture when following the set lectionary readings for each Sunday.   Mulling over the links between the raising of the disciple Dorcas from death and the story of the Good Shepherd from the Gospel of John, I happened to mention that it was also Mothers day – yes me!  And as I told them that I planned to show the mosaic of the Good Shepherd I’d made to the children today, I suddenly made the connection that I had done this for my mother - to comfort and encourage her – for it was in the well known and comforting stories of the bible that she found her peace in her old age.  And suddenly all the threads came together, loosely I might say, to create a picture where shepherds and sheep and women and belonging all came into focus.

But first – who was Dorcas or Tabitha as she was also known in the Aramaic.  Dorcas was a Greek name meaning ‘gazelle’.   That is rather beautiful.  Did you know that there is a gazelle called the Dorcas gazelle – common in Africa and Arabia?
We know that she was a disciple of Jesus, that she did good and charitable works.
She may have been a widow herself – and we assume one of some means with her generous help for others in need.
She was important to her community and of some standing in the body of faith, suggested by the fact that when she died they were distraught – and that they immediately sent for Peter. 

What did they hope for – maybe solace for themselves, maybe recognition that in the small community of Christ followers this death was a significant moment of loss?  Or did they hope for resurrection?  When Peter arrives and is shown up to the room where her body lies it seems not – for the women there were in full mourning – showing Peter all that she had been to them. 
Yet Peter acted swiftly and decisively – and privately – to bring her back to life - it seemed that the acts of resurrection were not at an end with Jesus death, and that the community of Joppa would have been significantly affected by the return of this saint into their midst.

Today she along with Lydia and Phoebe are remembered with feast days in a number of denominations, and there is still a Dorcas society which provides clothing for the poor.

So Dorcas/Tabitha, significant in her day, and continuing to be a light for the church and the world today.

And one wonders how absolutely significant Jesus was for the women of his time.  A man who seemingly ignored the cultural hierarchy of gender in recognising and valuing discipleship, who inspired not just women but the spat-upon tax collectors and people crippled by disease both mentally and physically and the foreign soldiers – who inspired all of these who were the least to find their hope and peace in the safe hand of a loving God, in the love and companionship of the risen Christ. 

For Dorcas, for Lydia, (remember she was the seller of purple named as a disciple in Acts), and Phoebe (a deacon in Corinth mentioned in Romans), the image of Jesus as the good shepherd would have been, one imagines, quite reassuring both as disciples and as women.  To have someone understand and love you, not for what you do or say or what society says you are but for yourself – loved, held, valued as a child of God.

I think that is what my Mum found in the story of the Good Shepherd, a sense of being held in elemental peace. I think even today this imagery helps us understand the eternal love that binds us no matter who we are or what we do or say.  I think that was what I was doing when I made that particular mosaic, less than perfect as it is – I was expressing my love for my mother who was in need but I was also sharing with her my belief that Jesus is our rock, our sanctuary when all else around us is fragile.

I think that is what was happening here this past Thursday afternoon at a group of people at fellowship sat around the table and shared their thoughts on comfort food – they were sharing their stories, their vulnerabilities and caring for each other in a place of belonging, of trust. 

I think this was what we were also doing as so many of you rallied together for the fair – I hope that in the midst of the exhaustion and chaos, there were times when delight in being part of this community shone through, when it felt good to belong, right to be doing this in Jesus’ name and for his church in Opoho.  I know that this flock on the hill shone a light yesterday that illuminated us both within and out into the world. 

I have spoken to so many people who in different and often halting words have express that sense of anchorage, safeness, being loved by God especially when all else has gone down the plughole.  Who have clung to Jesus’ promise that his flock is forever held and nothing can change that.
And for the times when our lives are less traumatic the anchorage, safety, being loved by God unconditionally and eternally gives us the strength and courage to share this story of belonging to the world.  In our words and our actions we value others in the way we are valued, we love and care for and demand the right to justice for others that we are shown by Christ so that the whole world might know the belonging that comes from being loved. 

Today as we think of the women who in Jesus time knew that complete acceptance and fulfilment in Christ, as we remember the women in our lives and our history who have inspired and challenged us to be the best we can be, as we, men and women, value ourselves each one of us both in our celebrations and in our vulnerabilities and failures – may we hold the truth of a risen Christ, a loving shepherd who will allow no-one and nothing to remove us from his fold, who values all people diverse as we are, and may we know the peace of belonging and the conviction of the living faith in in our lives now, and forever.  Amen.

Margaret Garland


Saturday, 4 May 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 5 May 2019 Easter 3 Holy Communion


Readings  Acts 9:1-20    John 21:1-17

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 on this third Sunday of the Easter season, the lectionary presents us with two readings that remind us of the grace of God made known in the risen Christ challenge our response to that grace.  One set some days after the astonishing event of the empty tomb and the other- well, later. There is some debate whether Paul’s Damascus Rd experience was, like the disciples, a meeting with the resurrected Jesus before the ascension or rather vision on the road after that.  
But that is not the issue here - what was important was the fact that this was a very big conversion, a huge change of understanding in one who was to become a pivotal disciple of Jesus– huge in the story of the Christian faith and the Christian church. 

It was a sensational turnaround for a zealot who remorselessly persecuted those who followed this man Jesus. 
He had demonstrated a ferocious commitment to stamp out these miscreants, these Christ followers – which might indicate perhaps that he was quite familiar with Jesus’ teachings and very aware of the danger to the Jewish faith that this new ‘teaching’ brought – that it threatened the sacredness of scripture and its law and therefore the unique status of Israel.  Yet, as if often the case, the very act of suppression was counterproductive – scattering the disciples far and wide, where they preached in synagogues they might not have gone to, had listeners that they might not have engaged with.

And was Paul really as convinced of the complete awfulness of this new teaching – Bill Loader suggests that perhaps, by the time he was heading off to Damascus, chasing down some of these refugee Christians, his very zeal was that of someone who feared that what he was trying to stamp out actually had some validity.  It’s not an unknown thing that those who fear the truth of something are the most opposed to it.

So perhaps what happened on that road that day, the voice from heaven, the blindness, the conversion from prosecutor to believer was into a soul that was troubled and disturbed already.  We can only wonder.
What we do know is that the overwhelming sense of love, embodied in Christ he encountered on the road and now flowing in those who had become the body of Christ, such as Ananias – this love broke through his barriers of fear and reached into his very soul.  Paul, instead of being an example of the wrath of God, became the recipient of the grace of God. 

Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was extraordinary, a ‘big’ change, a very new and unexpected commissioning.  Is it any wonder that Ananias was reluctant to go to him? It showed great courage to on his part to go minister to this man that by all accounts was out to destroy the fragile Jesus movement in first century Israel. Yet his words were also full of grace "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  And so Paul was and his journey with Christ and with us had begun….

And we know that Paul went on to use that same zeal he had used against the Christians to instead follow Christ’s teaching, often going far beyond where other disciples and apostles were prepared to go.  He refused to withhold regular table fellowship with Gentiles, resisting those who insisted on circumcising the same people, asserting that, in the love of God in Christ, legitimate biblical law became an outcome rather than a driver of righteousness.  He was just as determined, focused, powerfully intense in his ministry for Christ to the world as he had been in his previous denial of Jesus as the Messiah.

And so we come to the Gospel for today – John’s account of the appearance of the risen Jesus down by the lake to the fishermen.  You can almost hear their thinking:  ‘What were we to do?  We knew Jesus was alive – we had seen him – but then he went away again and there were no instructions.  So I suggested we go back to fishing – and the others agreed – we had to feed ourselves at the very least – we couldn’t exist on memories and fresh air.  But that wasn’t much use – not a splash of a fish in sight – maybe it was some kind of punishment for us leaving him when he most needed us – for our doubting, and our denials and our blindness of faith all those times.’ 

There is that sense that, like Paul, they were troubled and disturbed and not sure what direction they should be going in. They also seemed to be reluctant to approach Jesus – not sure of their reception perhaps.  And yet they came to the shore, Peter first among them, drawn to the hope that was this stranger beckoning them in. Drawn to the meal that was so much part of their experience of being in the presence of the living Christ.
And we can say that this also was a time when the grace of God overwhelmed the doubt and denial and uncertainty of the disciples as Jesus welcomed them and loved them.  But it was for Peter that this encounter was most life changing.

Again imagine it from Peter’s point of view – sitting there, breakfast finished, a private moment with Jesus when he was asked: ‘Do you love me Peter?’ Three times!   The first time was embarrassing, the second he started to get annoyed, the third time he understood, he knew that this was the recycling of denial into affirmation of his commission to go out and feed Christ’s sheep no matter where it would take him.

It’s is remarkable how, in the commissioning for ministry of both Paul and Simon Peter, the risen Christ overwhelms them with grace, empowering them to walk the way of discipleship, unashamedly and unconditionally.

And I guess the question for us is where are we holding guilts and fears and understandings which prevent us from striding with conviction into the paths that we know we should be walking. 
Where are we denying a truth because deep down we are afraid it might have a validity?  I think immediately of those who prosecute others in the name of Christ because to do otherwise might shift some of their established and containable brick walls they build around their faith.  Quoting bible verses in hate, seeking to drive out those who are different, refusing to eat with those who also come in the name of Jesus.

Where are we refusing God’s grace in our lives? I think of those who allow guilt of past failure to determine their worthiness (or not) before Jesus – whose denials feel stronger than their affirmations. And those who block out God’s merciful voice to them because they are too busy shouting at themselves.

Where are we adrift, directionless, stuck in a limbo of nothingness?  I think of those who are looking in the wrong place, fishing out of the wrong side of the boat, unable to trust that by the grace of God, new and unexpected paths are where we are to go. I think of people unable to hear the love of God in Scripture, drowned out as it is by judgement and hatred and personal agendas.  I think of those who allow fear to rule their lives and their choices.

There is much that we can ponder from these readings today – and, as we gather round the table together, may we be reminded of the grace of God made known in Jesus Christ, may we be reminded of the purpose that we live in as Christians – to love God and one another in all we say, do and be, may we forever remember that we are Christ’s body here in this community, this city, this world and that we have promised, with Peter, to feed those whom Jesus loves wherever it might take us.  God’s grace be with us all.  Amen.

Margaret Garland


Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 5 May 2019 Easter 3 Holy Communion


Readings  Acts 9:1-20    John 21:1-17

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 on this third Sunday of the Easter season, the lectionary presents us with two readings that remind us of the grace of God made known in the risen Christ challenge our response to that grace.  One set some days after the astonishing event of the empty tomb and the other- well, later. There is some debate whether Paul’s Damascus Rd experience was, like the disciples, a meeting with the resurrected Jesus before the ascension or rather vision on the road after that.  
But that is not the issue here - what was important was the fact that this was a very big conversion, a huge change of understanding in one who was to become a pivotal disciple of Jesus– huge in the story of the Christian faith and the Christian church. 

It was a sensational turnaround for a zealot who remorselessly persecuted those who followed this man Jesus. 
He had demonstrated a ferocious commitment to stamp out these miscreants, these Christ followers – which might indicate perhaps that he was quite familiar with Jesus’ teachings and very aware of the danger to the Jewish faith that this new ‘teaching’ brought – that it threatened the sacredness of scripture and its law and therefore the unique status of Israel.  Yet, as if often the case, the very act of suppression was counterproductive – scattering the disciples far and wide, where they preached in synagogues they might not have gone to, had listeners that they might not have engaged with.

And was Paul really as convinced of the complete awfulness of this new teaching – Bill Loader suggests that perhaps, by the time he was heading off to Damascus, chasing down some of these refugee Christians, his very zeal was that of someone who feared that what he was trying to stamp out actually had some validity.  It’s not an unknown thing that those who fear the truth of something are the most opposed to it.

So perhaps what happened on that road that day, the voice from heaven, the blindness, the conversion from prosecutor to believer was into a soul that was troubled and disturbed already.  We can only wonder.
What we do know is that the overwhelming sense of love, embodied in Christ he encountered on the road and now flowing in those who had become the body of Christ, such as Ananias – this love broke through his barriers of fear and reached into his very soul.  Paul, instead of being an example of the wrath of God, became the recipient of the grace of God. 

Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was extraordinary, a ‘big’ change, a very new and unexpected commissioning.  Is it any wonder that Ananias was reluctant to go to him? It showed great courage to on his part to go minister to this man that by all accounts was out to destroy the fragile Jesus movement in first century Israel. Yet his words were also full of grace "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  And so Paul was and his journey with Christ and with us had begun….

And we know that Paul went on to use that same zeal he had used against the Christians to instead follow Christ’s teaching, often going far beyond where other disciples and apostles were prepared to go.  He refused to withhold regular table fellowship with Gentiles, resisting those who insisted on circumcising the same people, asserting that, in the love of God in Christ, legitimate biblical law became an outcome rather than a driver of righteousness.  He was just as determined, focused, powerfully intense in his ministry for Christ to the world as he had been in his previous denial of Jesus as the Messiah.

And so we come to the Gospel for today – John’s account of the appearance of the risen Jesus down by the lake to the fishermen.  You can almost hear their thinking:  ‘What were we to do?  We knew Jesus was alive – we had seen him – but then he went away again and there were no instructions.  So I suggested we go back to fishing – and the others agreed – we had to feed ourselves at the very least – we couldn’t exist on memories and fresh air.  But that wasn’t much use – not a splash of a fish in sight – maybe it was some kind of punishment for us leaving him when he most needed us – for our doubting, and our denials and our blindness of faith all those times.’ 

There is that sense that, like Paul, they were troubled and disturbed and not sure what direction they should be going in. They also seemed to be reluctant to approach Jesus – not sure of their reception perhaps.  And yet they came to the shore, Peter first among them, drawn to the hope that was this stranger beckoning them in. Drawn to the meal that was so much part of their experience of being in the presence of the living Christ.
And we can say that this also was a time when the grace of God overwhelmed the doubt and denial and uncertainty of the disciples as Jesus welcomed them and loved them.  But it was for Peter that this encounter was most life changing.

Again imagine it from Peter’s point of view – sitting there, breakfast finished, a private moment with Jesus when he was asked: ‘Do you love me Peter?’ Three times!   The first time was embarrassing, the second he started to get annoyed, the third time he understood, he knew that this was the recycling of denial into affirmation of his commission to go out and feed Christ’s sheep no matter where it would take him.

It’s is remarkable how, in the commissioning for ministry of both Paul and Simon Peter, the risen Christ overwhelms them with grace, empowering them to walk the way of discipleship, unashamedly and unconditionally.

And I guess the question for us is where are we holding guilts and fears and understandings which prevent us from striding with conviction into the paths that we know we should be walking. 
Where are we denying a truth because deep down we are afraid it might have a validity?  I think immediately of those who prosecute others in the name of Christ because to do otherwise might shift some of their established and containable brick walls they build around their faith.  Quoting bible verses in hate, seeking to drive out those who are different, refusing to eat with those who also come in the name of Jesus.

Where are we refusing God’s grace in our lives? I think of those who allow guilt of past failure to determine their worthiness (or not) before Jesus – whose denials feel stronger than their affirmations. And those who block out God’s merciful voice to them because they are too busy shouting at themselves.

Where are we adrift, directionless, stuck in a limbo of nothingness?  I think of those who are looking in the wrong place, fishing out of the wrong side of the boat, unable to trust that by the grace of God, new and unexpected paths are where we are to go. I think of people unable to hear the love of God in Scripture, drowned out as it is by judgement and hatred and personal agendas.  I think of those who allow fear to rule their lives and their choices.

There is much that we can ponder from these readings today – and, as we gather round the table together, may we be reminded of the grace of God made known in Jesus Christ, may we be reminded of the purpose that we live in as Christians – to love God and one another in all we say, do and be, may we forever remember that we are Christ’s body here in this community, this city, this world and that we have promised, with Peter, to feed those whom Jesus loves wherever it might take us.  God’s grace be with us all.  Amen.

Margaret Garland


Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday with Holy Communion


Reading:  John 20:1-18

We pray:  Holy God, risen Christ, may we know you in your word, may we explore your way for us and may we be blessed in our service to those whom you love, to all people.  Amen.

I begin with a poem – written last year by Abby – she called it ‘Women’s Work’ – it goes like this:

We came there to do the work;
Nobody wanted to do it, so we went--
            It was for him.
Everything was all wrong,
The stone moved, the door open.
            We couldn’t find him.
Where have they taken him?
We asked the gardener,
            But it was him.
Suddenly all those times he spoke to us
Came to life,
            And it was him.
When he said he would rise,
This is what he meant.
            It was him – him!
We ran back so fast it was like flying.
Nobody understood us we talked so fast, but we knew
            It was really him.
We had been hoping for a saviour, a messiah,
Looking for a way to reach God,
            And it was him
            It was always him.

It was him, it was always him!  
How many times, I wonder, have we cast our eyes out to the horizon, to the far distant hills or the unseeable future looking for our messiah, only to find that someone has been tugging on our hand, saying ‘I am here, I am here.’

Abby’s poem really touched a chord for me – a new path, you might say, into the story of Jesus risen and in our midst.
It may not be the path she envisaged but it was the one I found.

I have to say we are truly blessed here with our creative writers –of psalms, poems, prayers, hymns – and I love the way each of them invites us to consider things anew.  Something that may have become a bit old hat suddenly takes on a new life because someone has been brave enough, enthused enough to share their innermost thoughts with this community – and further afield.  

And with this poem, I am encouraged to think about the times I have been looking in the wrong place for the presence of God – the respectable, the safe, the predictable places where I invite God to come to me.  And instead maybe we, like the women at work, need to come to that understanding that Jesus is to be found in the person of the gardener, the friend you walk the dusty roads with, the one you sit down to a meal with, the one you explore the living of life with.

The Jesus of Easter Sunday and the days to follow can be a conundrum for us – we might choose to stand for a while in the impossibility of this thing that has happened, this man come among us again.  And so we look for him in the miraculous, the far distant untouchable mystery, the ascended Christ shining with glory to whom we can only look with eyes averted lest we be blinded.   And yet Jesus takes pains to assure the disciples of his familiarity to them; to walk with his people, talk with them, eat with them, discuss scripture with them, to be beside them in their daily living.  He is trying to tell them that it really is him and he really is with us again. 
There is a sense that nothing has changed and yet everything has changed

The Jesus of Easter Sunday can also be the cause of much perplexity – has his body been stolen, did this really happen, it’s impossible, that can’t be him – that’s the gardener, surely……
Just like the women – time spent looking down trails that detour us, trails that we imagine because the reality seems too fantastic.  So much time spent on trying to find an acceptable explanation, a robust thesis of resurrection that will get pass marks.  So much time spent determining his status when in fact all we need to know is that it was him, is him – and he is here with us, now.

The Jesus of Easter Sunday is, too, the focus of much excitement – imagine the transformation of hope when the news spreads around, when even the doubters are convinced that this ‘thing’ has happened.  Imagine the hand reaching out saying ‘It is I!’ when you expected to return to a life without him.  Those lines: ‘We ran back so fast it was like flying. Nobody understood us we talked so fast….’
When was the last time we were that excited about discovering again the risen Jesus with us, of realising that despite every nail of fear and hatred that put him on that cross, he triumphed over death to come among us again; when was the last time we danced with excitement – now that can be metaphorical rather than physical – as we recognised the risen Christ, come among us still. 

Can I invite you in the time of reflection to ponder the Jesus of Easter Sunday for you, can we find anew that excitement and conviction that despite all our looking in the wrong places, it was always and will always be the risen Christ who moves among us in the most unlikely and commonplace people and places, bringing love and hope to us all.   Can we too, when we do stand to sing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia’, do so with delight and excitement for we have suddenly realised ‘ It is him, I have seen the Lord and he is with us, not stolen, not dead, not distant but alive and with us as we continue to work out God’s purpose here in this place.’ 

Margaret Garland


Monday, 15 April 2019

Prayer of Intercession for Palm Sunday


Palm Sunday in the Southern Hemisphere

The Autumn Equinox passed by a couple weeks ago
And the mornings and evenings are darkening; the nights overshadow the days.
              Lord, I prefer the light, you know I do.
              I love the bright mornings, the long twilights, the sunsets
              But you made the dark too, Lord, and it has its own beauty and meaning.
A later dawn means I see it more often.
We praise you for the dark.

The first day of Autumn slid by last week
And it’s cooling off, mornings are cold, nights are chilly.
              Lord, I love the warmth, you know I do.
              I love hot sun on my back, bright days of summer
              But you made the winter too, Lord, and it has its own rhythm and pace.
The cold dark brings us together indoors, time for blankets and hot dinners.
We praise you for the cold.

Daylight Savings turned over last week
And the leaves are coming down, blackberries ripe in the hedges.
              Lord, I love the green leaves and flowers, you know I do.
              I love crocus and snowdrop, lilac and forsythia, azalea and cherry,
              Rose and kowhai, iris and daisy and buttercup and rata
              But you made the leaves to fall, Lord, and they are colourful and lovely too.
The natural world takes a rest, I could learn from that.
We praise you for rest.

As Autumn swirls in, we pray for people in the dark:  lost, ignorant, alone, blind, heartbroken, sick, dying.
We pray for people in the cold: the homeless, the heartless, those travelling away from home, those who don’t have a home, people without a blanket or a place to go or hope.
We pray for people with no autumn harvest: not enough food, no clean water, no extra income for treats, no prospect of a better future, no work, no purpose, no joy.
We pray for others, as we pray for ourselves:
God give us light, Christ keep us warm, Holy Spirit enrapture and enfold us.

The world around us tells the story:  The colour, light and heat that is Summer cools and fades into Autumn and Winter.  But Holy Week and Easter show us that darkness, cold and bleakness have their purpose, and they cannot last.

Abby Smith
14 April 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 14 April 2019 Palm Sunday


Readings: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-24,26-27,29     Luke 19:28-40


We pray: Loving God, open our hearts and minds to your word for us today – may we be challenged, intrigued, encouraged and strengthened today and everyday.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

It was Palm Sunday.  On the road to Dunedin, Jesus preached love and the crowd went wild with enthusiasm.  They played guitars and sang songs about love, waved balloons and banners that said, Make Love not War, They are Us, Save the Planet.  The march made the headlines in the papers; TV cameras and cell phones recorded it and social media loved it (well mostly)
This was the people’s hero, everyone said, a man who could change the world.  Some day he would be Prime Minister!
When they arrived in the city, he told them what love was all about.     
Service, he said. 
Selling that second car and giving the money for the child who needed an operation.  Seeing all people as equal.  Judging no one.  Visiting folk in prison.  Sharing food and shelter with those in need. ‘If you have a spare room in your house, why not invite a homeless person to come and live with you?’ he said.
‘Love is not about words but actions.’ 
By the end of his speech, most of the crowd had drifted away.  They called him a waster of their time, a looney, one of those extremists and they crucified him with their anger and their disdain.

Joy Cowley[1] follows up this slightly adapted psalm with these words:
We tend to see love as some kind of currency to be earned, to be carefully spent, to be given away with caution.  That is not love.  Love is reckless, extravagant.  It comes without price and it has no need except to give itself away.  Love is the outpouring of God in us and through us.

Palm Sunday is an incredibly awkward day.  We really want to sit in the celebration, the anticipation of what Jesus is bringing about.  The hosannas are for real, the hope is growing, the journey of the Messiah is about to be realised.  And we want to enjoy that bolt of pure delight – it’s a rare occurrence these days – and we don’t want anything to spoil it.  So we take the moment, gladly.
And then we too enter the gates and the voices slowly quieten for there is an aura of danger, we see the authorities keeping an eye on this man, we feel the tension of those who see him as dangerous, likely to upset their settled world.  And within us, deep down, is the thought we have tried really hard to restrain – that this servant model just won’t work, it’s too hard, asks too much of us.
Our faith in the promise of the Messiah is shaken by our realisation of the living it out.  We recognise that the dream and the reality are going to create some awkward moments for us and we fade to the back of the crowd. For it asks too much of us.

Did anyone see that posting about a gun owner in Auckland who is most reluctant to give up his (get this) gold plated AK-47 citing it as one of his most precious pieces in his large military collection.  Asking way too much of him, he says.  If he hadn’t already stunned me speechless that anyone would gold plate an assault rifle, he did it with the next statement where he said: ‘while he never shoots the gun as it would damage the gold, he is not open to making the gun inoperable either, as this would decrease its value.
I’m guessing there might be others who would not be so reluctant to let off a few rounds and ruin its value – oh and possibly a few lives along the way too?

Is it asking too much of us to step outside the safe bounds of the palm waving procession and to not just listen to but seek out the way that Christ’s word invite us into?  Aware always that we will have times of denial, of drifting past with our heads down and lingering on the edges of full commitment, do we at least sometimes throw ourselves in boots and all to the ‘dangerous’ ‘counter-cultural’ experience of sharing our love for others in the way Jesus did.

I think we do, I hope we do.  For our faith, as we have learned so abruptly this last month, cannot be held outside of the political, social, economic realm that is our world.  We need to have a voice, sometimes as Joy Cowley put it, a ‘reckless, extravagant’ voice into that which is hurting and harmful and horrific. 

Jesus did not keep himself apart from the world of hardnose politics and social deprivation and economic hardship.  In fact I read one opinion that suggested Palm Sunday was the most political day of the church year.   Really?

He was killed on a cross, they said, showing how much of a political event this was – if it was purely a church matter he would have been stoned to death as was the practice of the time.  But the fact that Jesus was on the cross meant that the civil authorities also saw Jesus as a menace. Jesus death was of the world, it was the world that he upset, the world he was a threat to.  You were stoned not crucified for your dangerous religious beliefs – the cross as the means of Jesus death points to civil unrest, as quote: ‘.. rooted in a political murder committed by security forces in occupied Jerusalem around the year 30 AD…’ 

Jesus, as he entered Jerusalem was faced with an impossible choice – if he entered into the argument with the authorities it would mean conflict – he would need to take coercive action.  Or – it would mean doing nothing because he came to found a kingdom of love and service - and coercion and conflict cannot be part of that.  So he chose to, by the eyes of the world, be a total failure, to be as nothing, trusting in his Father to respond with love and grace. He chose to show the world that complete obedience to love, that awkward, humiliating servanthood for the good of the world would, illogically, improbably, impossibly transform our world, would give us a glimpse of a kingdom of love and service. God did respond.  And so came a new way, a world of resurrection, God with us, a path of peace and service and justice. 

Kind our makes our hedging about feel a little precious doesn’t it?  Kind of encourages us to be love in action in this world of injustice and discrimination and hate doesn’t it?  Kind of strengthens us for the knockbacks and the uncomfortable places and the dark alleys we might have to walk down doesn’t it?  I hope so.

Jesus offers the way to peace.  Jesus yearns for the liberation of the oppressed, he weeps for the city and all who are in it, he refuses to buy into the power struggles or to turn his back on what might seem hopeless.

Love, reckless and extravagant, walked into the city this day and love, reckless and extravagant, was nailed to a cross for the world, that all might know the power of love, even over death. The kingdom of God is like this – it is the outpouring of love, reckless and extravagant, in us and through us.  We can do no less, for we have met the living Christ and nothing can ever be the same again – and for this we say: thanks be to God.  Amen.

Margaret Garland



[1] Palm Sunday by Joy Cowley from Come and See 2008 p.110 (adapted)