Monday, 2 July 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 1 July 2018 Pentecost 6

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 Mark 5: 21-43

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.

A couple of days ago Mike introduced me to a you-tube clip that has been doing the rounds on social media - a programme called Carpool Karaoke – where host James Corden invited Paul McCartney to hop in the car with him and tour around Paul’s old haunts in Liverpool singing as they went.  And there were at least two stops, one at the house where he lived as a teenager and another at one of the pubs where the band used to play.  And at both of those places, the word he was there spread like wildfire and he came out to crowds of people just wanting to say hi, shake his hand – there was a quick ‘named my son after you, Paul’ – and to generally get a look at this legend that is Paul McCartney of the Beatles whose crowd pulling ability was a phenomenon of its time and still is.
You might also, those of an age, also be remembering the furore caused by John Lennon’s comment in 1966 in America that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and rock music would outlive Christianity.  Provocative stuff indeed and still so.

Well I reckon Jesus was the rock musician of his day – the authorities didn’t know what to do with this disruptive  phenomenon and the crowds gathered to say hello, listen to, touch, be part of the experience that seemed to flow out of this carpenter turned preacher, healer, rule breaker.  The crowds seemed naturally drawn to him and followed him where they could. We remember Jesus hopping in a boat to find some respite – but the people were waiting on the other side of the lake. And the people were from all walks of life – Jews, Gentiles, priests and the unclean, doubters and believers, disciples and disclaimers - they were all there waiting, hoping to encounter this perplexing man who pulled the crowds like no-one they had ever seen - and some of them were there because they were in desperate straits seeing Jesus as their last hope when all else had failed them.  Remember the man dropped down through the roof, another up the tree, the blind beggar, the leper – all pinning their hopes for life on this man Jesus.

Tara Woodward-Lehman[1] put it like this when pondering who people thought Jesus to be:
There were the curious who considered Jesus a novelty
There were the sceptical, who considered Jesus likely a fraud
There were the starstruck, who considered Jesus a celebrity
There were the faithful, who considered Jesus a friend, teacher, leader
Then there were those who were just plain desperate.

And so we hear today about two more of those desperate people – one whose daughter was dying and the other who was to all accounts dead to the world – two people who reached out to Jesus in faith because they were at the end of their hope and they saw in him something others didn’t.
To both Tabitha’s father and the haemorrhaging woman (I am going to name her Judith for today – she deserves a name along with Jairus and Tabitha I think), Jesus was the last hope to their desperate need, for they knew somehow in their need that Jesus was the answer. 

Their desperation and their faith in the healing power of Jesus shows in their approaches – a high official from the temple, full of authority and influence and reputation, on his knees – as one commentary said ‘..he kicks propriety to the curb, falls on his knees at the feet of Jesus, and shamelessly begs…’ and a nameless women, a social outcast, perpetually unclean, who braved the anger and I suspect potential violence of the crowd to reach this man and, not feeling able to speak to him or stand up for fear of being hustled out of his reach, she instead reaches out her hand to touch his cloak.

Jairus and Judith – from very different lives both seeing the beyond the hype to the very centre of this man Jesus in their despair.
One of the most interesting part of this scripture reading is in the way the two stories entwine – Jairus, able and willing to advocate for his little girl, becomes the bystander to a women who has no advocate whatsoever -  and Jesus claims her as ‘daughter’ telling the world that he is the one that intercedes for the marginalised, that she too is a beloved child of God through her faith in Jesus, she too has someone to speak up for her. 
I wonder how Jairus felt – impatiently waiting while Jesus responded to this random woman in the crowd.  And his fears were realised – he hears that his daughter has died before Jesus could get there.  He could be excused for feeling angry at the delay, upset that Judith, by her intervention, has possibly lost him his child – yet Jesus pre-empted any outpouring of outrage or grief by the words: ‘Do not fear.  Only believe!’  Come with me….
We do not hear Jairus’ reply, only that he went with Jesus. And that Tabitha rose up from her bed healed.

So what are we to take from these stories of faith, of desperation, of hope and healing?

One very obvious but often overlooked truth is that the stories of healing in the Gospel reading would in no way overcome the inescapable fact that we all eventually die – its one of the absolute certainties in our changing world – and there is no suggestion that by invoking the touch of Jesus we will avoid this thing called death. 
It is interesting here to look at the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon – who acknowledges death, but refuses to see it as a construct of God, but rather of the devil. He speaks instead of faith as the belief that death itself does not have the last word, that in belief the relationship with God continues past death into recreated life.  Jesus likewise does not deny death – but speaks into the power of God to overcome it, to continue in relationship with us beyond death and into life.   Perhaps it might not be harps and clouds and the gates of St Peter but we need to understand that God does not let us go into death abandoned or separated from the love of the God of eternity.

And this leads us down another thought track – we know that sometimes the bleeding doesn’t stop, the child does die, the prayers do not halt the cancer.  Our response to death can be to blame God, or to say we have not been prayerful enough or faithful enough or good enough in our living to have been heard by God.  That thinking is problematic on so many fronts – but let us just say for now that the God of grace does not bow to the supposed wisdom of humankind –that healing is not always about physical symptoms, that healing is needed even when we don’t know we are sick, that healing is not so much about curing but, in the words of 20th century theologian Jurgen Moltman, is about developing “the ability to cope with pain, sickness and death”. Being healthy is about having the strength to be human, as bringing divine love into the place of fear and powerlessness.[2]
The hymn words of Graham Bell gather these thoughts for me, resonate:
We cannot measure how you heal or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds where faith and doubt unite to care.[3]

And this what we see, do we not, in the healing of Jairus.  No, he is not physically pulled back from the brink of death, yes he is delighted at the return of his beloved 12 year old daughter when he thought her gone, no he is not wanting fixed the scene of his complete abandonment before Jesus, none of those.  No, Jairus’ healing comes in his moment of surrender of all that he held worthy (his authority, his influence, his reputation) before one who he recognised in this moment of desperation as truth, love and life.

Let us be honest about our weaknesses, accept that healing is needed in our lives in ways we might not envisage, and remember that it is better to take our desperation before Jesus than to perish in the limitations of worthiness the world places on us.  Let us, above all, acknowledge the desire of Jesus Christ to welcome us in our desperation and to name us daughter and son through our faith.

We finish with more words from John Bell:
God, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul,
to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.

Margaret Garland

[3] © John. L. Bell & Graham Maule; Tune: Ye Banks and Braes

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 24 June 2018 Pentecost 5

Readings:  Job 38:1-11    Mark 4:35-41

We pray: Gracious God, open our hearts and minds to your word for us today – challenge us, encourage us, guide us in your way we pray in Jesus name.  Amen.

Asra is twelve years old.  From Syria.  Now in New Zealand.  The other side of the world – in every sense.  Old enough to remember the idyllic life of happy childhood – that was until the war came to their village.  Old enough to have nightmares still over their escape in the middle of the night – they were separated from their father for days – but they met up again in the camp.  Old enough to recognise the tension and anxiety over food, confinement, future – seeing the parents having to be so careful of what they said, so protective of the children, so worried about what might happen.  Old enough to recognise that opportunity for resettlement was both exciting and scary – not sure which was going to win.  Young enough to adapt to this new place, to accept the different ways – and old enough to sometimes be a parent to the parents who were less sure.  Old enough to have lived several lifetimes – for that is being a refugee.
I do not know what it is like being a refugee, not me who is living a settled, choice filled life – and so, imagining,  I wrote that story – wondering if in doing so I could find just some of the reality of what is the lot of so many people in our world.  In 2016, in Syria alone, the UN estimated that of the 22 million population, 11 million were displaced from their homes, either within Syria or outside.  That is just mind boggling.

While the story of Job is different, it holds much of the pain and displacement and anguish of someone torn from their home, their family, their life as they knew it.  Job was down to the bare bones, frustrated out of his relatively calm acceptance by both the silence of God and the well-meaning but not so helpful advice of his friends. He had got to the point of demanding an answer of God – and goodness did he get one – not necessarily what he expected but got one.   And his question would be our questions would be the questions of anyone whose world is suddenly turned upside down and not in a nice way.
What have I done to deserve this, what can I do to make it better?  I  don’t know if the people of other faiths have the same propensity to blame God when things go wrong or if it is our strategy alone but I imagine that any experience of extreme pain would have many people questioning the loving presence of God in their lives.  I may have mentioned to you before the story of the young woman in North Canterbury who was killed on an icy bridge in the most horrible way – for her mother the Council’s lack of gritting the road was the focus of the most immediate anger but God copped the long term blame for allowing this to happen.

When we come to the Gospel reading, the disciples who were in the boat were men who had no doubt experienced some of the worst things the Sea of Galilee could throw at them, yet they were struck by blind panic at the immensity of the storm before them.  You have to wonder at their very human response of ‘do you not care that we are going to die?’ Was it the fact that Jesus was calmly sleeping through it that got them is such a tizz?  Would they have preferred a ‘we‘re in this together’ brotherhood moment where he joined in with their anxiety?  They woke him, and they got their answer – and it also unexpected.  ‘Be still, be at peace’ he said to the wind and the sea - and the storm abated, the calm returned.  But not for long – for his next words disturbed their peace again.  Jesus points to their lack of faith as the source of their fear.  It is not exactly a comfortable place for the disciples, this response.  The NRSV says ‘they were filled with great awe’ but the KJV translates if as ‘they feared exceedingly.’
The point Jesus was making: that his authority over chaos, the source of peace and calm found within the tumult of living, comes from his living in obedient faith in God.
And the disciples are told they don’t have that faith yet – for if they did they would not be afraid!

How do we relate to this?  If we were to see our life journey metaphorically as being a journey across the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, I wonder what unsettling images might come out of our imaginations?
The perils of our journeys – yes?  We set out on a really calm looking sea, having checked the forecast, supplied the boat and thought of all the contingencies required. We pray that the sea would be calm all the way across, don’t mind a bit of rowing or bailing out but nothing to worry about.  Then somewhere on the journey, usually over the deepest part, we are aware of the fragility of this boat we are in, the things that could go wrong.  And then there are the clouds gathering on the horizon, dark, threatening, coming closer and there is nothing we can do.  Nothing.  We are no longer in control!
Yet we are in company with someone who sleeps in peace – which makes us even more frustrated.  Torn between wanting Jesus to fix it and being aware of our own vulnerability in this moment of crisis, the sudden calming of the storm at his command is uncanny and unexpected.  Who is this man who can take away the terror and restore the calm, bring peace into our hearts in the midst of life’s crises?

It is important make a distinction here.  Jesus in not saying that there is nothing to be afraid of – there is plenty to face in our lives that can cause us pain and despair, just think on those who are refugees - a loss of all that they know and hold dear, every foundation they held dear gone.  Fearsome things are very real; isolation, illness, rejection, failure, death – but Jesus is telling us that they do not and will not have the last word. The message that Jesus it trying to get across here is that the God we know is bigger than the storms of life and we can in all faith completely rest in a God who is way beyond our greatest imaginings, who has authority over the chaos of creation itself – listen to those words again from Job: 
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’ 
It’s the dazzling picture of the majestic panorama of God’s creation that basically stops Job’s words of complaint in his throat, renders him speechless.  This is his God in whom he trusts to hold him in the midst of all that life throws at him – he see that suddenly and is at peace.

We have some Galilee Sea moments coming up here at Opoho – and might I say in the church at large.  But let us think about here for the moment.  Much as we would like our journey to be calm, predictable, safe there are definitely stormy clouds on the horizon.  Over the next few months there will be opportunities for discussions about resourcing, energy, our place in the community, our way of being the church in this place - all have the potential to disrupt our journeys quite dramatically.  None of us know what the outcomes might be – that is something we as a congregation will pray for and discern in the Spirit, but the message I hope we can all take from today is for all of us to approach our future remembering Jesus’ words, with a sense of peace and calm for our faith is strong and deep and we will not be afraid.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 17 June 2018 Pentecost 4

Readings:  Ezekiel 17:22-24  2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17  Mark 4:26-34

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.

We hear in the letter from Paul to the church at Corinth: ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’

Today I would like to focus on those words, see if we can find a way to truly embrace the concept of us becoming a new creation in Christ– what it means for us, what it requires of us.

That is a truly ambitious ask and of course we won’t get anywhere near it but I hope we will find some points of entry for us to take away and pursue.

Laying some groundwork, we remember that Paul is continuing to talk into the situation at Corinth where he has been compared to other preachers, leaders in the church and has been found wanting.  He carries on his persuasion that our giftedness is from and for God, that is only when our home is in God alone that we can discern the path God wants us to walk, and to do that we have to put away that which was and become a new creation in Christ.

And this takes some absorbing really.  New in Christ, put away old things, begin anew – there are some challenging concepts for us here.

The gut reaction, for me anyway, is to think about what it is that we are going to lose.  Pretty natural I suppose.  We value who we are, what we have, how we live.  A vast majority of us like to have some control over our lives, some of us more than others, and we like to have some idea of where we might be going before we commit.
The sharp tongued response might be to quip that we are in the wrong faith if that is what we believe – something that perhaps Paul might have challenged us on if he were here.
Because as Christians we commit to giving our lives to God; we commit in our baptism, our professions of faith, our affirmations that Christ Jesus is the very centre of our lives – we commit to being born anew, to giving up self and following Jesus. We say the words, often.  We live the words, sometimes….

This time, maybe it is helpful to first of all say what becoming a new creation in Christ doesn’t mean.

We don’t become a helpless people subject to the whims of a capricious God.  We are in relationship with God, made in the image of God and know well the journey we embark on as followers of Jesus – he makes no bones about the path we travel – he came to this world to teach us and show us - and in the end to die that we might be assured of the full love of God for all humanity, for all creation, in all time.

Our lives are not directed/choreographed from on high nor are we subject to a random preordained series of events written in some book somewhere.  We do not fall from God’s grace through our behaviour and we do not forfeit God’s love after three strikes.
A really common misunderstanding is heard in this story of a woman who was astonishing the people around her by her resilience and attitude to her fifteen year debilitation journey with cancer.  She was asked time and time again – how could she still believe in a God that did this to her?  That God allowed this to happen to her?  How many times have we heard God directly blamed for all that goes wrong?
Her response: ‘God was not the source of my cancer, God was the source of my strength and determination’.  Battered by her struggle to defeat cancer, she discovered through the experience that she was never alone – when she was in remission or when the news was grim.  She sensed God’s presence in the exhausting chemotherapy sessions, the kindness of care, the times of both hope and despair. Always, Christ was in her and she was in Christ. We all know people like this – and possibly we farewelled one of them this week.

And thirdly we are not about to become an amorphous lump of sameness – although some would like to make us this way.  Our very humanity, our diversity continues to be celebrated, and the fact that we approach God from various perspectives, differing understandings reminds us that our God does not belong to any particular strand of orthodoxy,  is in fact more everything than we would ever allow if left to our own limited imaginations.  If Christ is in us and we are in Christ the diversity of gifts and approaches continues in the life made new. 

So how does acceptance of new life in Christ happen – how do we set aside our own controls, our sense of loss of self, our plans for the future and allow the presence of God in us to be a stronger voice for who we are than our own?  How do we empty ourselves of our ambitions and our interpretations and be open to the new way that is Christ within us?

To perhaps begin us on our way here, can I share another story – this time segments of a tale from Rachel Remen in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom.

Rachel begins with these words: “I was thirty five years old before I understood that there is no ending without a beginning.  That beginnings and endings are always up against each other. Nothing ever ends without something else beginning or begins without something else ending.”
She tells of the time she was learning to make jewellery and had made a silver ring, cast it actually.  The design was the head of a woman whose long hair, entangled with the stars, wound around your finger as the circle.  Quite difficult to make, she was very proud of it and it was greatly admired by others.  There was a jeweller who ran a gallery up the coast and she was encouraged to go show it to him which she did.  She left it with him as he was going to recast it for copies to sell.  There was a storm setting in when she left that got quite wild and violent and in the morning she heard that a section of the road had fallen into the sea taking some buildings with it.  And it turned out her ring was now somewhere in the ocean.  Her parents castigated her: one said how stupid she had been to trust her ring to a total stranger and the other for being careless with something so valuable.  Her decision, her fault.  She couldn’t help looking at her empty finger, unable to believe it had gone.
Yet as she stood on the cliff overlooking the ocean that had swallowed her ring, she came to realise that landslips had been happening for millennia – it wasn’t a direct attack on her ring, in fact there was nothing personal in it all – just the inevitable cycle of nature.  She looked at the space where the ring had been and suddenly, empty was not a bad space, it just was.  It was a big space and there was a sense of curiosity creeping slowly in – what would come to fill up this space?  Would it be another ring, different, from someone else?  For the first time, she says, she allowed empty space to just be – she had begun to trust that it was also a beginning of something else – and she waited for what ever that might be with sense of excitement and anticipation instead of loss.

Might this be what being made new in Christ is about? 
 Allowing the old to pass away, not forgotten but rather let go, making room for the indwelling of a God whose purpose is way bigger than we could have imagined ourselves and who, in Christ Jesus, invites in us a sense of anticipation and excitement at the possibilities of what might be when everything is made new.

We pray
Loving and living God – help us to lose our apprehension of a future without us completely in control and place our hope in Jesus, your son and a man who trusted you to point of death that we might know new life?
Help us to realised that empty and new is not so scary when we anticipate a new life build on your faithfulness and love?
Give us the courage to believe that with us in Christ and Christ in us we can move mountains, endure onslaughts and transform this world in the name of love? Amen, let it be so.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 10 June 2018 Pentecost 3

Readings:  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1   Mark 3:31-35

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.

Mike and I have had a good last couple of weeks being family.  We headed up to Christchurch to see our eldest daughter Jessie off to Melbourne to begin her PhD, we stayed with younger daughter Isobel and with her expert help sorted out Jessie’s stuff for the move.  My sister and I farewelled a cousin who is heading off for a cycling holiday in the US and Canada – she has just turned 70 and we all pray she stays safe – but there is no stopping her.  I went up to Hawea for a night to stay with my sister and her husband and got totally engaged with digging in to our ancestry, and then we had the Mike and I time at home which was great.  And it struck me that this was all to do with family – for us a very restorative experience that speaks deeply of love and roots and commonalities and care for each other.  We are incredibly blessed. 

Not everyone is though.  Families do not always treat each other with respect, compassion, or love.  Families can be detrimental to health, when they hold someone back from realising their potential, when they impose views on others, when they refuse to compromise and particularly when they withhold sustenance – whether it be emotional, physical, spiritual.

And family means different things to different people.  Some of us will have a differing experience to my quite traditional and positive experience.  Some will have turned away (or be turned away) from biological families and consider that others fill that unconditionally supportive role. Some will find family in their clubs and at work, others with their neighbours and some not at all – for them the word may be surplus to requirements. For some, family is way more than unsupportive – it is destructive, violent, abusive – a living hell.
So just being called family doesn’t always define a good experience.  In fact it is said that families bust ups can be the cruellest because the security of belonging is so strong and expectations of love are so high - and I think that might be true.

As Christians, as church, we are a family –Jesus asks us to take care of each other, to share what we have, to love and nourish and build relationships that will withstand the darkest days that were coming.
However we do get a hint in the Gospel reading from today that families don’t by definition always have the right of it.  While Mark does not specifically name it – it seems that some of Jesus family might not have been that supportive of his ‘outlandishly provocative’ ministry, worried (no doubt from a good heart) that he was setting himself up for ridicule at the best – little did they know just how conspicuous that  ridicule would appear to be. 

Neither was Paul receiving much in the way of family support in his engagement with the Christians in Corinth – he was subject to criticism of all sorts – that he was not to be trusted with money, he was scatterbrained, was not physically a particularly impressive person, had no high connections or decent miracles to his name and lastly a particularly damning one - his preaching lacked the superb oratory of his rivals.  Ouch!  And from a family that he cared for deeply.

But Paul’s response is not to convince his detractors that he does not deserve these labels – rather he sets out to get them to re-examine the qualities that they consider important for belonging to this family of faith.  His biblical understanding is strong - he quotes the words from the psalm when he says ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ – faith in God made known in scripture and in Jesus gives him both authority and voice. And in Jesus Paul finds a new truth, different to what is being preached by others who measure success by worldly values.  As Willian Loader notes, ‘Paul identifies strongly with Jesus death and resurrection, with his vulnerability and suffering – and for Paul the evidence of God in him is not to be found in impressive achievements but in love and caring, especially when it exposes one to suffering and weakness.’

Paul offers himself to the community as the vessel of Christ – despite the fact that it might mean hardship and danger.  His love for them is such that he is willing to be judged wanting by the standards of the world so that he can live by the standards of his saviour.  Powerful oratory that resets the focus of the people of Corinth – at least for a time.

As Paul challenges the current day understanding of community, of family, so too does Jesus.  Family ties were very strong in the Jewish culture – yet we don’t see Jesus submitting to them if and when it curtails his ministry.  Instead, he creates a different definition of family –those who take God’s will seriously and live it are a new family and a priority for him, especially when his immediate family contradict the path that God wants him to walk.  Consequently for some that means walking away from family – for others he encourages the breaking out of the whole family to live radically for God.  Imagine that!
So there are dangers and dysfunctional aspects of families that might hold us back from living according to God will – and here we are concentrating on church families – but it may well be relevant to our natural families too.

There are times we need to be liberated from well-intentioned but suffocating love.  Any of us who have been parents will know the importance of letting go, of our children needing to find their own path to fulfil their potential.  As a church we can see that we might often seek to impose our understanding of truth on others, reluctant to accept that there are other equally valid ways of being a community of faith.  Letting go means trusting God being present in other ways than ours - and celebrating that.  It means that we don’t know it all and that is ok.  It means trust that the way we have nurtured each other in our family of faith is sufficient for new pathways to be explored.

Are there behaviours in our church that have their roots in fear and dysfunctionality or in a particular response to a moment in history?  We talk easily of dysfunctional families – are we as a church similarly labelled. Do we bind ourselves to bad habits in any way? We have to be constantly reflecting on how the grooves on our roads have been worn by past experiences and where we need to regrade the road to be the path we need of the future.  We still carry elements of historical racism, sexism, theological, cultural and social exclusivism that we need to deal with –as well as a list of other inappropriate behaviours that bring God no glory - that demonstrate that we take ourselves more seriously than we do God.

Good and happy families by definition develop a culture, a solid foundation that we absolutely require as we grow, a security that holds us and a love that allows us testing and forgiveness and healing.  That is what Christ offers us as the people of God gathered in community – but not so that we can become self indulgent people who live just for ourselves, or become tacit allies of the rich, the unjust, the powerful.  No, we are family so that we can, from a strong and focused foundation, carry out the will of God along whichever path we need to travel to care for the vulnerable, bring good news to the poor, love and respect each other.  The family helps us continually remind ourselves in whose name we gather and why we choose to live as a people that are downright inflammatory, madly provocative and sensationally courageous – because we are family of believers who take God seriously and live it.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 13 May 2018, Easter 7 & Ascension

Readings:  Luke 24: 44-53    John 17: 6-19

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

Last Sunday I was asked where I was going to go with a sermon after the focus on ‘climate change’.  For it has filled my head the past couple of weeks and there has been such of the response to this issue and much to delight in, much to ponder, much to challenge.

Yet in this Sunday, Ascension Sunday – the day we explore the next step of the disciples being sent into the world to be the presence of Christ in the power of the Spirit – has much to delight in, ponder and be challenged by as well. 

Jesus is preparing to leave them again – this time not by being ripped out from their arms onto the cross but a rather more considered farewell with encouraging words, the promise of companionship to come and a blessing for the journey.

This hiatus of time, waiting for Pentecost, is, unlike the black gloom of Easter Saturday, filled with anticipation and hope – Luke says that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.  Their delight was in the risen Christ who, though he was leaving them again, had shown the power that love has over death and gave them real hope that they too could be the people to carry that love to the world. 

I wonder if, in that delight, they took time to remember the prayer that Jesus prayed for them to his Father in the garden before his arrest (our Easter 7 Reading for today): the prayer that asked for them to be guided and cared for just as the Father has done for him.  The prayer where Jesus declaration of love for his people is fulsome and his trust in their ability to continue in the way leaves us breathless.  A prayer of eternal love and hope filled mission, of overwhelming confidence and trust! 

There is a different feel to the prayer today from hearing it as part of the narrative before Jesus was crucified – then I suspect it would have been more of a consolation, scant comfort really – now at Ascension it held enormous possibilities, a new reality to which they could commit with hope and trust.  Jesus had proven his power over death – the prayer took on new meaning in the light of the risen Christ.

Before Easter, it was swallowed in the chaos of pain and hopelessness – with no time to absorb.  Now it feels ok to simply sit in the space of this prayer for a while – to absorb the sense of being loved and belonging that surrounds us as the people of God.  Nothing is asked of us, nothing needs to be done, we are simply held in the prayer of Jesus for us.  The peace of Christ indeed.

And then, when we are ready, we emerge from the prayer and turn to face the world.  Prepared and yet apprehensive, exhilarated yet maybe a little cautious, eager to live out the prayer yet aware of our propensity to falter.  In the light of the resurrection we can pick up the prayer, put it in our pack for the road and take it with us – refer to it often, rest in it regularly and be reminded of Jesus love for us and his trust in us to do what he asks of us.

So what does this prayer for us say to us today?
We are reminded that Jesus came to make known the gifts of God, the very face of God to us the people of God. That in his death and resurrection those gifts are to be passed on to us to guide and strengthen us as we go about God’s purpose in the world.
The gifts of God are now ours and they are no light or easy gifts, for they demand that we live a life that is different, radically different, to that which we might choose left to ourselves.
These gifts determine our relationship with God and each other as we seek to be a loving community of care.

There is the gift of  revelation – we believe that Jesus was especially connected to God, a sharing in the divine,  and as such that his words and deeds reveal God to us in an authoritative and meaningful way.  In his death and resurrection, he gifts us with a new and deep relationship with God the Father, as he himself had known.

There is the gift of care – that God’s guidance and protection and guarding might be for us as it was for Jesus.  Jesus knows just how tough it is out there – not just the disappointments and sadness but also the intentional animosity and persecution because much of what we believe is in direct contradiction to the ways of the world.  God’s care for us has the same intensity and focus and love that was given Jesus, his beloved son.

And then there is the gift of sanctification – the understanding that through our baptism we are set apart to fulfill the purpose of God – it distinguishes who we are, how we act, what we say, how we respond and why we choose the path we walk. 
We helps us to stay on the way of Christ as we engage with all the joys and horrors and subtle temptations of the world; the deeply trusting heart stuff that tell us in those moments of despair, God is; the teachings that tell us something is just plain wrong and we need to speak out and stand up – because people are being hurt and excluded and trampled on;  the choices we need to make around mercy and grace and forgiveness, not because it’s the law but because it is who we are in Christ. 

We are called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world in word and deed – that is our purpose, that is what we are set aside for, that is the care, the mantle that is passed on to us by Jesus in this prayer of transition.  We are evangelists – yes we do get to use that word (and we need to reclaim it)– for it means sharing the good news of the Gospel with the world in word, deed and love.

Through this prayer, Jesus is showing us that yes the pressures of the world will lean heavily on us – but the answer is not to abandon the world but to live in it with the grace and love of God within us – that we may have the joy of Jesus made complete in ourselves.  In the care of God, we can live fully amongst the knotted complexities of this world and make a difference.  The Church is not to be shut off from but rather to be sent into the world, not to be exhausted by the world but to live vitally and faithfully into it, not to be owned by the world but to be fully engaged with its needs and wounds, energized by a God with us, a God over us, a God truly in and of this world.  As the day of Pentecost comes near, we remember and rest again in the strength and joy and promise of the prayer Jesus said for us.  For we are beloved of God through Jesus Christ – and the people said:  Amen

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Worship Service Sunday 6 May 2018 Knox Church Christchurch Climate Change

Knox Church is a congregation within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. We aim to create Christian community in which people of all ages, sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds and socio-economic situations are included as equally valued participants in our congregational life. We cherish our diversity, offering a safe place of belonging to any who wish to explore their beliefs in an atmosphere promoting discussion, the development of healthy relationships and spiritual growth. We strive to be open to dialogue and shared experiences with people of other faiths. We enjoy worshipping the
God made known in Jesus, endeavouring to do so in ways that are relevant to our daily lives, respect the integrity of creation, and make a positive difference to our wider world.

The Call to Worship:
We light a candle in the name of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.

Kia noho a Ihowa ki a koutou. God be with you.

St John (Havergal) The Parish Choir, Vol. III, 1851

1. Let all creation dance
in energies sublime,
as order turns with chance,
unfolding space and time;
for nature’s art
in glory grows,
and newly shows
God’s mind and heart.

2. Our own amazing earth,
with sunlight, cloud, and storms,
and life’s abundant growth
in lovely shapes and forms
is made for praise,
a fragile whole,
and from its soul
heaven’s music plays.

3. Lift heart and soul and voice:
in Christ all praises meet,
and nature shall rejoice
as all is made complete.
In hope be strong,
all life befriend,
and gladly tend
creation’s song.
Brian Wren (b. 1936)

Prayer of Adoration:
Just by being,
simply by existing,
the natural order offers its praise:
beauty, creativity, movement, and life begetting life.

From within the dance,
we too, God’s image-bearers,
offer our word of praise:
wonder and gratitude,

God saw that it was good.
God said that it was good.

Praise and thanks to God.
Praise and thanks to God.

Prayer of Confession:
A 21st Century Psalm of Darkness - by Tui Bevin,
Compassionate God, we remember the good news of Easter morning;
we’ve said our Hallelujahs and we’ve sung about being an Easter people;
but should we really leave Easter behind without a thought
of what might happen during a typical six weeks here on earth?
69 people would have committed suicide in New Zealand;
and somewhere in the world one person suicided every forty seconds.

Around the world 6.8 million babies would be born into poverty,
33,600 women would die from pregnancy and childbirth
and 1¼ million under five year olds would die preventable deaths.

Three languages would become extinct;
and a few thousand plant and animal species would become extinct.

There would be 40 active conflicts and wars
and three million guns would be sold in the US alone.

336 million people would fly in airplanes;
and about 4 million acres of tropical rain forest would be lost.

There would be 60 million disposable nappies used in New Zealand,
and 42 billion worldwide.

60.5 new plastic bottles would be made; and sold;
and roughly the same number of plastic bags will be made and discarded.

And lastly, the science and numbers on irreversible climate change
are fast becoming too terrifying to contemplate.

Some tell me that what I do or what I don’t do
won’t make any difference,
but in that case, what will?

What will it take to make people, politicians, and business leaders
~ put faceless others ahead of themselves,
~ put their grandchildren’s futures ahead of their greed,
~ put compassion ahead of their anger, and
~ put the environment ahead of their wants?

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Assurance and Response
. . . In the name of Christ I say to you:
You are forgiven and you are free.
Prayer of Supplication:
God of nurturing love,
whose care for creation
holds all things in being,
We pray this in the name of Jesus,
and pray as he taught us, saying:

The Passing of the Peace
Kia tau tonu te rangimarie o te Ariki ki a koutou.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
We exchange a sign of peace with one another.

If there are younger ones present
A Conversation with the Younger Ones
Although there is no Sunday School at the moment, young ones are welcome to enjoy toys and activity sheets in the play area at the rear of the church.

The First Lesson: Deuteronomy 8: 7-10
In this is the Word of God

Knox Singers: Where are the voices for the earth?
Shirley Murray (b. 1931)

The Second Lesson: Genesis 1: 27-31
In this is the Word of God

Tenderness Colin Gibson (b. 1933)

1. Touch the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder,
ours to surrender,
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

2. We who endanger,
who create hunger,
agents of death for all creatures that live,
we who would foster
clouds of disaster,
God of our planet, forestall and forgive.

3. Let there be greening,
birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God’s garden,
hope in God’s children,
regeneration that peace will complete.

4. God of all living,
God of all loving,
God of the seedling, the snow and the sun,
teach us, deflect us,
Christ re-connect us,
using us gently and making us one.
Shirley Murray (b. 1931)

Reflection: Rev. Margaret Garland
Love Unknown John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962)

1. God, bring the day to pass
when forest, rock and hill,
the beasts, the birds, the grass,
will know your finished will:
when we attain our destiny
and nature its lost unity.

2. Forgive our careless use
of water, ore and soil;
the plenty we abuse,
supplied by others’ toil:
save us from making self our creed,
turn us towards our neighbour’s need.

3. Give us, when we release
creation's secret powers,
to harness them for peace,
our children's peace and ours:
teach us the art of mastering,
which makes life rich and draws death's sting.

4. Creation groans, travails,
bound in its futile plight
until the hour it hails
the new found of the light,
who enter on their true estate.
Come, Lord: new heavens and earth create.
Ian Mason Fraser (b. 1917)

Prayers for Others and Ourselves
Led by Tui Bevin (Opoho)
Let us pray…. Creator God, here in this good land of flowing streams, wheat and apple trees, kai moana and honey, we have lives the envy of many in our world, yet we easily take so much for granted and are dissatisfied. We give thanks for the giggle of a child, the garden’s harvest, the colour and crunchiness of autumn leaves, and for this day of worshipping and learning together.
In the silence now we offer thanks for the blessings and joys in our lives….
Lord, meet us in the silence and hear our prayer.

Compassionate God, we pray for those who live in darkness, those who
struggle, who mourn, are lonely, who suffer, are unjustly accused, without work, or living through disasters. May they know that you are with them always, and they are never alone; help us hear their need and walk beside them and not ahead or behind; help us be the Good News in their lives and not be yet another damning voice or system.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our world, this planet earth that you created in all its glorious
abundance but that we desecrate by our actions. We pray for leaders and lawmakers, kuia and kaumatua, scientists and psalmists. Help them use their positions and mana to enhance creation and sustain a healthy world for our children’s children’s children so that we might avoid catastrophic changes from which there will be no turning back.

We pray for investors, developers, manufacturers, businesspeople and tax collectors. Help them use opportunities so that they are part of the long term solution to issues of environmental damage and climate change and don’t simply focus on the twin false gods of greed and growth.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the prophets and visionaries, and artists and poets who have a big role to play in helping us adapt to our changing world. We need them to help us see through new eyes. Encourage them to take their part in protecting the environment and finding solutions to the difficulties the future is bringing us.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Loving God, when we think about the darkness in the world and the crisis of climate change, it can be difficult to know what we ourselves might do and to find the strength to do it. We pray that you help us challenge our complacency and fire our imaginations so that we might
put faceless others ahead of ourselves,
our grandchildren’s futures ahead of our greed,
compassion ahead of our anger, and
the environment ahead our wants.
Lord, hear our prayer.

In the silence now we pray for the people and situations that are much on our minds ………….Lord, meet us in the silence and hear our prayer.
These and all our prayers spoken and unspoken we pray in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Offering and Dedication
We stand for the dedication of the Offering
Bless the food, that it may sustain the hungry.
Bless the money, that it may meet the need.
In Jesus’ name we pray.


Dunedin Vernon Griffiths (1894-1985)

1. Where mountains rise to open skies
your name, O God, is echoed far,
from island beach to kauri’s reach,
in water’s light, in lake and star.

2. Your people’s heart, your people’s part
be in our caring for this land,
for faith to flower, for aroha
to let each other’s mana stand.

3. From broken word, from conflict stirred,
from lack of vision, set us free
to see the line of your design,
to feel creation’s energy.

4. Your love be known, compassion shown,
that every child have equal scope:
in justice done, in trust begun
shall be our heritage and hope.

5. Where mountains rise to open skies
your way of peace distil the air,
your spirit bind all humankind,
one covenant of life to share!
Shirley Murray (b. 1931)

Benediction and Sung Amen
Postlude: Tuba Tune
Craig Sellar Lang (1891-1971)

Tea and coffee are served in the Knox Centre Lounge following the morning service
Music printed in this order of service is covered
under a music copyright licence agreement:
LicenSing #604802