Thursday, 19 August 2021

Sunday Worship 22 August 2021

 A Reflection for Pentecost 13 - During Lockdown

A Prayer of Approach - based on Psalm 84

How lovely is the place where God is known to dwell. To God we bring our praise.       
My soul longs to be where God is, my heart and my flesh sing for joy  to the living God.      Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, in the presence of God. 
Happy are those who dwell in God, always singing God’s praise.  Amen.

 While we are unable to gather together physically today as church, we are still able to be with each other in the presence of God.  May God bless you and be with you as we worship.

These words by Carol Rose Ikeler are a reminder that we are 'Church' whenever we are praising, loving and seeking God.

The Church is wherever God’s people are praising, knowing they’re wanted and loved by their Lord.                                                                                                               

The church is wherever Christ’s followers are trying to live and to share out the good news of God.

 The Church is wherever God’s people are loving, where all are forgiven and start once again, where all are accepted, whatever their background, whatever their past and whatever their pain.

The Church is wherever God’s people are seeking to reach out and touch folk wherever they are – conveying the Gospel, its joy and its comfort, to challenge, refresh, and excite and inspire.

Gospel Reading  John 6:56-69

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you?
Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."


There are three things from this reading today to explore.  The strangeness of the life we are to live in Christ, the choice we make to stay or go and the shape of the community for those who stay.

 Our calling to walk the way of Christ takes us on a journey that is difficult, counter-cultural, often counter intuitive, and asks much of us. 

It strangely asks of us not just our loyalty but our very lives. It wants more from us than simply following the rules for good living, asking instead that God’s law be imbedded in our hearts. A quote from Dawn Wilhelm: our calling is more than skin deep, it reaches beneath the surface of our lives and into our workplaces, bank accounts, family relationships, eating habits, daily practices and all the other ways we choose to live and die for Christ and our neighbours.[1]

Walking with Jesus demands of us that we care for all people, hands on, and that we challenge the powers that do otherwise.  Our calling expects us to walk into situations where we feel vulnerable, helpless, where we need to trust in God to see us through. And lastly it asks us to put aside much of what we thought we knew and to be open to other ways of being.

 These were the words that Jesus was preaching to the disciples who flocked to hear him speak – and some of them at that point decided to leave, that it wasn't for them - quite a few in fact. But some stayed.  Some wanted to continue the journey despite the difficulties.

It is a particularly poignant moment – picture it in our time and place.  We are sitting together in church, and Jesus is preaching a bit of a challenging message, there is a bit of squirming on the seats and suddenly people just start leaving – in fact there was a bit of a flood, some not quite knowing but following the crowd – until just a few are left – the core, the stubborn, the deaf (just joking).  And they are asked: Do you want to go too?  There is a silence – until one says what all are thinking: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God.[2]

There is absolutely no sense of the remaining disciples saying ‘Yeah we get it. The teaching makes total sense and we understand it perfectly.’   It much more like: hey we too are confused and perplexed but what we do know is this – we have come to believe that You are…..the bread, the water of life, the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life…… And so we stay with you.

 The twelve stayed, for they, like the psalmist, understood what it meant to ‘abide’ in Jesus, an ’incarnational abiding’ where we are with and in the body of Christ, deep in  relationship, assured of the presence of God even in our perplexity and confusion.

And so community of faith was formed, recognising the difficulty, the strangeness, the unexpected, accepting if not always understanding the upside down wisdom that affirms vulnerability, grace, kindness and love to all people and in all situations.  We are that community – a people of faith together because, for all our uncertainties and questions, we choose to follow a teacher who offers us deep abiding relationship in God, who gave of his all so that we might know the truth of God with and in us.

May the words of Jesus invite us into that place of belonging in this time of separateness, reminding us that we choose to stay in community with Jesus, the Holy One of God, and with each other with, the people of God. May your Spirit makes a home deep within us; let us welcome and delight in your presence.  Amen.


Holy God, it is not well with us today.  We cannot gather together as we would wish, we cannot share food and drink, a hug, a wry smile for the thing we forgot to bring, a prayer speaking into the needs in the room.  But we can meet - for through you we are bound as one, through you we see each other's face and smile and response even when we are not together.  So bless us this day in our many different places we pray.

We pray for the Government and those who are guiding them as we again face a covid outbreak.  May people follow instruction, care for each other and be responsible.  May health workers not be overwhelmed and blamemongers be silent. 

We pray for the people of Haiti, of Afghanistan, of Aotearoa and of Fiji today as each seeks to find a way through uncertainty and fear.

We pray for those who are mourning this day, those concerned for family and friends in peril, those who are struggling with physical and mental challenges in their lives.

We pray for the Church in all its many hues - for wisdom instead of foolishness, for love instead of hatred and exclusion, for grace instead of judgement, for peace instead of dispute.

We pray for the people in our lives that are on our hearts and minds at this time. We name them before you compassionate God.

For all that we have prayed for, may we also find the strength to work for - in Jesus name we pray. Amen.
  Go in peace into the tasks and relationships which lie ahead.                                                  Go in faith because you never travel alone.                                                                                God is with us and we are with each other.
  And may you tread in the footsteps of the Christ,                                                                safely walking on the rock which is our God                                                                        and covered by the warm bright wings of the Holy Spirit. Amen

[1] Feasting on the Word Yr B, Vol. 3 p. 383  by Dawn Ottoni Wilhem

[2] John 6: 68 NRSV

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 19 January 2020 Epiphany 2

Readings:  1 Corinthians 1:1-9   John 1:29-31, 35-42

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.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, …
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….. I give thanks to my God always for you.[1]

I give thanks to my God always for you.  How tempting to stop there.  For what more does one say at this almost time of parting; when a ministry is completed, when there will be, by definition, some adjustments, some new ways into how we live our faith in this place? And what does it mean to follow Christ in times of change and how can we use this moment as opportunity to grow, to find the good and the encouraging in the midst of the farewells and, let’s face it, the odd tear? 

Imagine for a moment the fishermen that Jesus called to follow him.  Even though they were people of faith, attending the Synagogue, reading scripture, believing in God, there came this abrupt and momentous change in their lives when Jesus appeared among them calling for them to follow.  They left all that they knew to explore their faith in the company of man called Jesus. And we need to remember that they left important parts of their lives behind: family, work that supported that family, everything known, everything familiar to come and see where Jesus would lead them.   For them the change was really radical, for us this change is expected and accepted as the ebb and flow of parish life. 
But for all that, it is helpful to recognise and use this time of transition to pause and reflect on what has been in order to learn, to grow, to better equip ourselves for the future!

So here are some thoughts from the last few years, drawn out of the words Paul wrote to the Corinthians about strength and grace, of peace and gifts.

One thing that has stood out for me over this ministry has been the absolute importance of making this a safe place for all people.  Not safe in the sense of shutting out all that disturbs us but safe for us to be able to explore, be on the edges for a while until we are ready to move closer (or not), to re-engage with our faith, our God without being cornered.  You would have heard me say more than once of a person who came tentatively to a service, first time back in any church in a long time (no surprise that they sat close to the exit door), just waiting for a repeat experience of the judgement and bias that drove them away – and it didn’t happen.  This is a place of love in action, where thoughtful words, unconditional welcome, listening without presumption are touches of healing and peace.   May you continue to be a people and a church where God is allowed to be who God needs to be to each of you and to all of you. 

Another big thing is your engagement – with ideas, with people, with issues, with community, with determinedly walking in the way of Christ.  It blew me away when I arrived to discover that more than three people would turn up to anything outside Sunday morning service!  You are a family of thinkers, carers, workers, writers, players, laughter makers.  You have questioners, ponderers, peace makers and healers.  You have founts of wisdom, listeners, talkers, organisers, creators of new things.  You are blessed, we are blessed. 
Yet in the midst of all of this richness, we remind ourselves of the basics of being loving community in the way of Jesus.  We think anew what it means to truly be a welcoming place – that no-one would stand alone, un-greeted, un-welcomed; that no-one would be turned away or made to feel uncomfortable, that each one of us would know ourselves responsible for this thing we call ‘the hospitality of Jesus’; each one of us to lift our eyes and see where our ear, our smile, our touch is needed. Here at worship, in our church, in our homes, in our workplace, in our community – always looking to where the grace of God, having been given to us in Jesus Christ, is being made known in our word and action.  
It’s all too easy to leave it to someone else, tell ourselves we are not good at this, worry that we won’t know what to do or say – but I say; do it anyway, say it anyway, remembering that we are not doing this alone, but in the loving guidance of God with us.  Remember last week’s story: ‘Don’t ask me to …..’ says the reluctant disciple.  ‘Oh but I will’ replies Jesus.
Whether it be the greeting of and getting to know new people at church (just not all at once please) to the phone call or popping in to those who are alone, to being aware of others needs over yours, to accepting and asking when you need help, may the strength of Jesus Christ be among you all as you care for each other.

And then there is the place of relationship in our journey as a faith community and as a people of God.  We are different because we have known Jesus.  We are set apart to live out our faith in relationship with God and each other in a certain way.  We are more than an interesting club with Jesus as our logo.  We are bound, in all our wonderful diversity, as one people, walking a broad path of love, justice, mercy, grace.  We are covenanted to following a man whose wisdom made the way of the world seem foolish, who compassion for the least and the lost turned our hearts and our heads to a new and better way, who pursued relationship with the least and the lost, the challenging and the quarrelsome.
That is our path to follow but, much as some rather loud voices in our world would like to claim it so, we don’t know it all, nor do we get it right all the time.  
For it is a difficult journey asking much of us. We certainly don’t get it ‘right’ all the time in our relationships, we still find some people difficult to get on with, don’t understand their point of view or their approach, others get right up our noses at times, yet others are so easy to get on with we create a zone of exclusion. All very normal human traits but, as the people of God, we yearn for and choose to work a new and better way: for kindness, justice, respect, love to be woven in to each word and action even when it is hard to do.  We must learn to trust each other’s good intentions and seek ways of understanding each other, even when it might mean difficult truths – because this community is sacred, this community is, in Jesus name, the living embodiment of a love that transforms not just us and but also the world.   May you continue to be grace and peace to each other and may your relationships grow in strength, in trust, in hope and in love, in Jesus name.

And finally we have those words from the Gospel reading.  ‘Come and see’ says Jesus when the disciples ask where he is staying.  ‘Come and see….’
Come with me and you will see ….what?  Those first disciples hadn’t clue – yet they went with him.  They had no strategic plan for convincing the world that this was the Messiah, yet they believed in him.  They had sorrow at leaving and excitement at what was to come.  They had hope for the future, because they trusted in Jesus to guide them to the promised land and be with them in all that they encountered.  May you - and I - be excited by the invitation to ‘come and see’ where it is Christ is leading us in our futures.
To the church of God that is in Opoho, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…..
I give thanks to my God always for you.[2] 

Margaret Garland

[1] 1 Corinthians 1: 1-4a NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 1: 2-4a NRSV (adapted)

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 12 January 2020 Baptism of Jesus.

Readings:  Isaiah 42:1-9    Matthew 3:13-17

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.

It has been for me a week of deep conversations, me with God, me with me, me with some of you.  I hope that you too have had good conversations these few weeks.  I hope some have been beautifully nonsensical, some nostalgic, some challenging, some creative, some productive.  I value conversations – and I think that it is absolutely clear that I would have trouble not being able to speak for any long period of time.  Having said that I also value silence – shutting out the jabber of the world and of our own babbling and listening to God in the huge space left when we mute our own voice.

So it is not surprise that I find myself trying to imagine the conversations that actually go on in the sometimes limited, often cursory version of stories and encounters we hear.  For whatever reason, maybe through a desire for conciseness or perhaps an inability to notice the other conversations, or the desire to point us in a certain direction, I often feel that the lack of a complete story.  And I especially do this in the stories that we hear from Scripture – and I think it is no bad thing to be always seeking for the back story, the nuances of language, the eyebrows raised, the asides and the unspoken emotions. One technique well used is to hear another take on the story, place it in a different context, maybe a contemporary one that we can more easily place ourselves in, one that shakes us up in a different way, allows us to re-imagine. 
Today we have the story of Jesus being baptised – a few short sentences to tell of one of the pivotal moments in his life.  This reading invites us to think about what baptism means for us; that we all are drawn in to the waters of new life, again and again through the grace and love of Jesus. It tells us beyond doubt that we are loved, valued and encouraged in faith.  It tells us that, in the power of the Spirit, we are to be the light of the love to Christ to the each other and the world.
It is a moment of new beginning: of committed relationship, of deep conversation and connection with God and, most importantly for us today – the promise of walking in the way of truth and light in a world of great need.  And that promise can get lost or weakened to the point of nothingness  - not necessarily intentionally but through all those self-doubts, excessive expectations, fear of getting it wrong, sense of inadequacy for the task ahead.
When I came across this story that I am going to share with you in a moment, it reminded me of my once long held assumptions that I didn’t deserve to be part of a in depth conversation with God, that I was not good enough, skilled enough, deserving enough to warrant the relationship or be the light of Christ in the world.
Even now, at this stage of my ministry, I find it difficult to accept that God could say to me: Well done you good and faithful servant or This is my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
This story and poem by Tom Gordon challenges us to accept that we too are blessed as we commit our lives to God, reminds us that our baptism is a living daily reality, gives us courage to step up as the light of Christ despite our misgivings and feelings of inadequacy. 

Read Marty’s Baptism by Tom Gordon from Welcoming Each Wonder Wild Goose Publications 2010 p.50

Poem by Tom Gordon

Don’t ask me to stand in front of the crowd…..
I’ll have nothing to say;
and, even if I do, they won’t like it anyway.

Go on.  Give it a go. Put your toe in the water.
I believe in you

Don’t ask me to perform miracles….
That’s not my style;
and even if it was, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

Come on. You can do it. You’ve got more to offer than you’ll ever know.
I believe in you.

Don’t ask me to do clever things…..
That’s not me;
and, even if it was, it wouldn’t be as good as the others anyway.

Carry on. You can do it.  Just be yourself.
I believe in you.

Don’t ask me to carry huge expectations….
The load’s not light enough for me;
and, even if it was, I’m not sure I want this burden anyway.

Sign on. You can do it. You’ve got the strength you need.
I believe in you.

Don’t ask….
I will.

Don’t expect….
I will.

Don’t believe…
I will.

For you are my beloved; in you I am well pleased. 
This is your baptism……
Come on!
I believe in you.

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 5 January 2020 Christmas 2

Readings:  Jeremiah 31:7-14  John 1:10-18

We pray: May the Word we hear today capture our hearts and minds and nurture our faith and bring us closer to you holy God.  Amen.

Today on the second Sunday after Christmas, we take our last look for a little while at the story of the nativity, the birth of Jesus into this world.
For those who might like to have things arranged decently and in good order, the narrative of the birth of Jesus from the Gospels is a bit of a messy affair.  From the gospel of Matthew, we have the birth in Bethlehem without the census, no shepherds, the story of the mages from the east, and the slaughter of the innocents.  The family only comes to Nazareth after returning from Egypt.  Mark begins with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus – no birth narrative.  Luke offers the story of Elizabeth and Zacharias, John the Baptist’s parents, angels, a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the birth, stable, shepherds with more angels and finally Simeon and Anna.  We negotiate our way through these discrepancies, pull in the date stamp of the visit of the magi and voila we have the Christmas story as we lovingly know it.
Today’s narrative of the birth of Jesus comes, however, from the Gospel of John –a somewhat different approach but a birth narrative none the less. 

Less concerned with timelines, geographical identities or human endeavour, John instead takes us into the very completeness of God the Word and encourages us to reflect on the nature, the presence and works of God made known in Jesus.
This powerful, poetic hymn to the person of Jesus captures us into a quite different way to the traditional story and challenges us in the way that the Matthew and Luke narratives might not.

And probably the greatest of these challenges for us and the one I would like to focus on today come in these verses:  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.[1]
The light of the world came among us – and we did not recognise him.  Blindness is bad enough but John asks us to  also face the accusation that we choose to not accept him – which implies some recognition I think?

Yet when we do recognise the light, the exuberance of belonging simply erupts out of the mouth of John: inspiring words of the glory and grace, the very belonging and the vision, the gift of life in the coming of Jesus at the Word.  We are bound in new relationship with God as parent – not through kinship or human choice or physical birth - but through believing we have new birth.
And then we have some of the most poignant and beautiful words of the birth narrative in scripture – to me anyway: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.[2]

It all seems quite simple doesn’t it?  We have a choice.  Believe or don’t believe.  Light or darkness.  Rejection or acceptance.  Blind or visionary.

But when it involves humankind, it is never that simple.  We manage, with a guile that only we can produce, to find ways to live in the grey space – or a black space we think is full of light and vice versa. 
In fact I am just reading the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman book Good Omens where an angel and a devil reflect on the endless ability of the human race to take off down a wrong path without any pushing at all.  Similar to C.S.Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the propensity we have for sliding off the path of right living, of tweaking our faith for our own ends, has the agents of the devil rubbing their hands with glee. 

And much of that comes through our ability to justify our actions by quoting scripture.  One only has to look at history and current practice to realise how misused and misinterpreted the holy scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths have been.  In the Bible, the Torah and the Quaran, there are many instances of interpretation being so removed from intention as to make all religion appear evil. We know that almost anything can be justified by verses of scripture: injustice, exclusion, hatred, killing…. We are surrounded by it. 

So how do we encounter and understand the Word of God without going down this path of abuse and darkness.

The birth narrative from John’s Gospel directs us to the light.  He makes the point that the Word is not paper and ink but flesh, come to live among us as the Christ Child.   The Word is in fact part of creation, there from the beginning, the light and life of all people, full of grace and truth.  It is when we encounter the Word made flesh alongside the words on the page that we will come to understand what living in the light means.  When we read the words of the bible without the presence of Jesus to help us discern true meaning we are on a slippery slope.

There is a painting by Rembrandt called the Holy Family – it depicts the nativity as if in the 17th century and has Mary seated with a well used book (presumably the Scriptures) in her lap, held open by her left hand.  Her right hand is on the top of a rocking cradle pulling aside a cover to reveal a sleeping baby Jesus.  Mary’s head is turned from the book to gaze upon the infant.  Joseph works in the background.  Mary ponders both the words on the page and the infant beside her.  And as she turns back to her reading, you can feel that her understanding will be held in the strength of the Word made flesh.  Back and forth: words on the page to the word incarnate, spelling out the light of the Word in truth and grace.

I wonder if we could think about how we ‘spell’ the Word to the world.

Using the words of Thomas Troeger[3]:

How do you spell the word?
Where do you search and look –
amid the coos and cries you’ve heard
or in a well-thumbed book?

Hold back with the swift reply,
the pious, worn cliché
that softens how the child will die
when violence has its way.

Instead, let all you do
embody truth and grace,
and you will spell the word anew
in every time and place.

I wonder if this year, we might look to develop a richer fuller faith by tending to both the Word through words and the Word made flesh – the Christ who is with us in sacraments, at the table, in prayer, in this sacred space of our church, with us in our friends, with us in the stranger, with us in creation – since all things came into being through him, and without him not one think came into being.

And so we say – thanks be to God the Word come among us this Christmas time.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] John 1:10-11 NRSV
[2] John 1: 14 NRSV
[3] Feasting on the Word Year A, Volume 1  p. 193

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Reflection Sunday 29 December, 2019 Christmas 1 The Holy Innocents

Readings:  Isaiah 63:7-9  Matthew 2:13-23

The sun had barely set on the wondrous story of the birth of Jesus.  The magi had headed home after delivering their extravagant gifts, the shepherds were still excited but back tending their sheep, Mary and Joseph had got through the first days of parenthood and were starting to breathe again.  Herod was getting suspicious because the magi had not returned but gone home by another way, the little town of Bethlehem was lying still and quiet.

Enter the angel, this time to Joseph, with a sobering message.  Get out of there, it is not safe, leave your short time of bliss and go – far away.  You need to go to Egypt – don’t know how you will get there but you need to go – now!  Herod is after your baby – to kill him.  Go, go, go!

Hear the narrative in the thoughts of the holy family, from the king, from a Bethlehem mother, from Isaiah.

First from the family, from Joseph:
Mary, I am sorry to wake you but you need to get up, now!  Quickly, wrap the child up warmly, try to keep him quiet if you can, we have to go.  I had a dream, an angel of God warning us to flee, as far away as we can – Herod is looking for our son and will not let him live if he finds him.
I know you are recovering, I know this is a precious time of bonding for us all yet we must flee from all we know and love – become refugees, with Egypt our refuge, just like our ancestors.  If we go now, maybe Herod will give up when he can’t find us, maybe Bethlehem will be safe from him.  Quickly now, quietly, and we pray that the night will give us safe passage.

From Herod:
O, I promised them with sweet assurances.
I spilled soft words upon their ears saying nothing of my private fears.
I said to those magi: you must journey on and greet this newborn king?  Then you must journey back again and bring me news, that I may also go and worship him.

I wonder what gave the game away? How did they know?
Did they guess or did they hear something in my voice?
No matter, they did not return.  I had no information, nothing to show.  And no address.  A pity – the damage could have been less.  As it was, it was a bit of a massacre.

But I had to cover myself – so the order was to kill all male children up to two years old.  Might have been a few girls caught up in that but hey, that’s the harsh fact of kingship.
It’s my duty you see, I can’t let a child grow up to rival me.

And anyway, it’s only little people with little lives, and if any take a moral stand on this, I will tell them I have to think of what is best for the land.  And if it means upsetting a few unimportant Hebrew parents, then so be it.  What is important is that my position, my place, my power is unassailed – I’ll do whatever it takes.[1]

From Rachel, a mother to Mary:
Your child’s coming was my child’s going, Mary;
Swift appeared the soldier band, children’s blood spilled on the sand, grief and rage convulsed the land.
Mary, was your child born that Rachel should weep forlorn?

Your child’s living was my child’s dying, Mary;
Days hang loose like cloth unshrunk, nights are haunted, in anguish sunk, breasts are pained, the milk not drunk.
Mary, was your child worth mine laid in friendless earth?

Your child’s saving was mine’s destroying, Mary;
Cherished lives are lost forever, cherished hopes have now turned sour, cherished seed will never flower.
Mary, if Jesus saves, what mean to you these graves?[2]

From the refugees again, from Mary:
I remember every day that mad rush from Bethlehem – I know we needed to go, I know God was watching over us, I know that our young lad is precious in God’s sight – but did they have to do all that killing – I feel sick - still, guilty – still, frightened – still.  Yet we are to return to Judah – Herod is dead, my Joseph says – but will it be any better?  Will we live in fear still?  Joseph thinks so – so we are not going back there – it is to be Galilee instead.  I was so looking forward to this being over, for a while at least –but it is not to be. There will be no homecoming after all.  May God be with us.

From Isaiah
I have something to say.  Well actually two things.  You people of the future know how important context is – well I hope you know that the words you heard today are airlifted out of a psalm of lament – communal lament no less.  You need to know that the people were down, right down. They had come back to Jerusalem from Babylon, expecting it to be the same, anticipating former glory.  It wasn’t like that.  It was ugly.  Life is hard and exhausting. The people knew that they had not been faithful, that they had disappointed God, but thought that the coming back meant back to the old way, back to everything being sweet and lovely. It did not. It is not!
Because that is the second thing. Do you remember that in the very worst of times, God does not leave us? If I can recount the times that Jahweh has redeemed us, lifted us up and renewed us in our times of despair, then how much more can you people of the new testament understand that suffering and pain are not excluded from our lives, as you sometimes seem to want to do with the ‘wholesome’ Christmas thing.  If you remember all the story, the star and the birth and the flight and the killing of the innocents, if you place the cradle alongside the cross, you will better understand that God is in all that life throws at us.  As we go about living in the way of faith and mercy, memory of God’s unconditional love and saving grace, again and again helps carry us through distress and fear. And if you remember it all you will, with me, want to recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the steadfast love of the Lord, the mercy of the Lord, with loud voices and joy in your hearts. For surely we are all God’s people.

Margaret Garland

[1] Herod by Penny Hewlett (adapted) from Hay & Stardust p.184
[2] Your child’s coming was my child’s going by Ian M. Fraser from Hay & Stardust p.182

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Opoho Church: Liturgy and Reflections for Advent 3 15 December 2019

Call to Worship 
Come to this place, you who are weary;
peace is waiting for you and all that you bring.
We are here seeking respite from the expectations and demands of this season and this life.
Come to this place, you who long for a safe haven;
hope is here, God’s presence wrapped around you in love.
We are here with some hesitation,
yet also with a longing to know holiness
in the depth of our being.
Come to this place, you who are resilient;
by grace the Creator of all is with you.
We are here, waiting, alert, ready,
for the joy that is the Christ Child.  

Prayer of Confession
Holy God, we come before you today in a time of prayer – prayer of ourselves and for others.
We admit that it can be a confusing time for us in Advent, and especially this year. Our readings from scripture refuse to allow us to dwell in joy alone.  The cross is always alongside, birth and death companions in the journey - and it is hard. In the midst of this time of anticipation and loveliness and innocence of a new born, we encounter pain and loneliness and hard times.  We would love to talk just about joy today for there is much to celebrate and yet, especially for some of us, the sadness of this time is overwhelming.  Forgive us when we forget that you are a God of both valleys and mountains, that in Jesus you know both the delight and despair that is this your world.  Be with those who mourn we pray and hear, alongside the lament, the peace and joy that we find in Jesus, the child who fills our cradle of waiting.
We bring our confessions and our hope for the ourselves and the world.
We have sometimes failed to be aware of the vulnerable and the helpless, caught up as we are in our own bubbles of preparation and anticipation.  Forgive us when we close the shutters on life outside our immediate rooms and help us to see the joy and despair that walk hand in hand through our world. 
We pray for the families of those who lost their lives on Whaakari / White Island, for those still in critical care and   for those who will live but have a long and painful journey of healing ahead of them. 
In a time of silence we bring our confusion to you – our regret at things not well done, the embarrassment of being honest before God, our joy in new life as we cry for loss.
Hear our prayers, Loving God and in your mercy grant us peace we pray.      ....we say together  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…

First Reading Isaiah 35:1-2a, 5-6a
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church
People: Thanks be to God

Reflection: The Gifts that Jesus Gave  Abby Smith
Hello, my baby boy, just born, tiny and wrinkly and damp.  Look at your little perfect hands, your tiny wee nose.  I carried you inside me and now you are born.  I have never felt so much love in all my life.  Thank you so much, my baby, for teaching me what Love really is.
We remain seated to sing:
He came singing love and he lived singing love: he died singing love. 
He arose in silence. For the love to go on we must make it our song: 
you and I be the singers

We came over the hills, we left our sheep.  We never leave our sheep!  We saw angels and so we came.  We were afraid, but still we came, to see this child, this saviour.  The Lord himself sent us, so we came.  We did not believe easily.  We did not understand.  But now we see – this baby has shown us what Faith really is.
We sing: He came singing faith….

We brought gifts but he gave us more in return.  We read the stars, we knew he will be the King of Kin0067s.  We brought our gifts but he gave us more.  Now we know him the Prince of Peace.  All our troubles and worries have gone.  We will not go back to conflict and doubt.  This baby has taught us what Peace really is.
We sing: He came singing peace….

We have lived here in the stable for a long time.  We carry heavy loads, we haul the ploughs.  We eat what they give us, we go where they take us, we work, we eat, we die.  This baby, born in our dark prison, is like light.  He shines, saying to us who live in the dark, there is green grass and water and sunshine and freedom for us somewhere.  We did not know what hope was.  This baby has shown us what Hope really is.
We sing: He came singing hope…

I’m not important, just a carpenter.  The baby isn’t mine, not really.  I don’t understand why there are shepherds and kings and donkeys in here.  Mary smiles that secret smile, and I’m lost and I don’t understand.  But up there in the sky a bright star shines, telling me to trust in God.  And I do.  Suddenly a great joy rises up in me, I could dance, I could shout, but I stand here silent and happy.  I did not know what joy could be.  This baby has shown me what Joy really is.

Isaac Watt  17th – 18th C  WOV 224

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare a room and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns! Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Christ rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders of God’s love and wonders, and wonders of God’s love.

Gospel Reading  Luke 1:46b-55
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

            Reader: This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

People:  Praise to Christ the Word

Reflection Mary’s Gift
A contemporary reading: “God did not wait” by Madeline L'Engle

God did not wait till the world was ready, till...the nations were at peace.
God came when the heavens were unsteady,and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time, God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine. God did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame God came, and God's light would not go out.
God came to a world that did not mesh, to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made flesh the maker of the stars was born.

I wonder if we will ever truly understand the gift that was Mary’s acceptance of her role as the mother of Jesus – I wonder what might have happened if she had refused, as she may well have wanted to do.  I wonder if she argued with God, suggesting others who might have been more suited or that this could wait for a better time.  She had no power, no voice, not status, how could she possibly be strong enough for this, this disgrace, this complex burden of joy and pain that was about to be laid on her.

Yet we know that she does accept and not grudgingly as we might have expected –  it is like she has a window on the world that allows miracles, that accepts the desperate need that the world is in and she embraces this gift of new birth, a baby to change the way of the world, and her life forever.  What courage she possessed and what trust she had in God to be with her and to work through her in not just her unplanned pregnancy but in the birth and the years ahead.  For through this girl, a child was born that would bring joy to a despairing world, that would in most disorderly and unexpected manner, teach us how to live in hope even when life was hard, that would show a peace that permeated all the despair the world could throw at us, that would bring a love that turned aside even death.  Who would have thought that the courage of the young woman was such an amazing gift to the world?

Last words from Madeline:
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession O Come  Abby Smith

O Come All Ye Faithful
And all you doubters, all you worriers, all you skeptics
Come all you who don’t care, all you who are too busy, all you who hate,
All you who are too certain, all you who question everything, all you burnt and damaged,
O Come

Joyful and Triumphant
And fearful and defeated, disgusted and disheartened,
Wandering sad and unsure, devastated and lost, eyes down, head down
            Dark and broken and burdened with sorrow
O Come

Come Ye, O Come Ye to Bethlehem
Come to Dunedin, to New York, to the North pole, to a stranger’s home
            To a dismal hotel room, to prison, to refugee camps
  To soup kitchens, to brothels, to slums, to banks, to 
O Come

Come And Behold Him
Come and ignore him, come and look away, hide your broken heart
Despise him, defile him, plot his death, put him in a cage, pretend he is not there
Call him by the wrong name, misunderstand him, misrepresent him
O Come

Born the King of Angels
Born the king of children, of refugees, of beggars, of criminals, of addicts
King of wicked despots, of ordinary con men, of prostitutes,
King of broken-hearted nobodies, of money grubbers, of tax collectors
O Come

O Come Let Us Adore Him
O Come Let Us Adore Him
O Come Let Us Adore Him
            Let us return his love with all our hearts
  Let us love every child as if he and she could save
  the world
  Let us love the Christ Child like our own babies in
  our arms
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Christ the Lord

Margaret Garland & Abby Smith