Friday, 20 July 2012

Sermon from Opoho Church Sunday 22nd July, 2012

Readings:   2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Let us pray:  Open our hearts, our minds, our very souls to your word for us O God, that we may be both challenged and affirmed in Jesus name.  Amen. 
Rachel Remen, in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom[1] tells the story of how, when she was just 3 or 4, her father began a family tradition of putting out a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle on a table and then hiding the box lid with the picture on it so that no-one knew what picture would eventually emerge. The child Rachel wanted to participate but wasn’t sure how – when she climbed up to look she noticed that some pieces were dark and shadowy and others brightly coloured and decided that the dark ones were like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening.  So she gathered them up and hid them under a cushion – a few at a time until there were around a hundred pieces missing.  She eventually owned up to doing this and watched as her mother added them to the picture – and said that she was astounded as this amazing picture emerged of a peaceful beautiful deserted beach.  Without the bits she had taken, the dark pieces, the picture made no sense.
And the question has to be asked – what are the bits of our lives that we might be hiding under our particular cushions because we think they are of no value or perhaps, as the young Rachel did, think that they are dark or scary.  Now there are many conversations that could come out of that analogy for each of us and I encourage you to think and pray about how that picture might speak to you.  But today, I want to pursue one particular aspect that we as a society have tended to devalue and what that might have on our impact as church as we look to make Jesus Christ known.

And that is the concept of rest, of taking time to be quiet and of listening to God.  And why we might want to value this more than perhaps we do and how it might empower our ministries.

One part of the training that interns receive from Knox Centre is about recovering the concept of the Sabbath – finding within your ministry time a space for reflection- for deliberate, personal, quality God time – and we are not talking daily devotions here or Sunday worship really but intentional listening and resting in the presences of God.  And it was the hardest teaching for almost everyone to grasp – or at least to translate into actual Parish life.  We all knew it would be the first thing to go in the busyness and commitment of being a Parish Minister – and so it was kind of ‘this would be lovely...’ rather than ‘this must be...’  It wasn’t that we thought it scary – rather that it was of lesser need than the obvious ‘doing’ roles ahead of us.
How many times do we read of Jesus trying to get away to a place where he, or he and the apostles, can rest for a while, spend time with God, recharge batteries.  In today’s reading he is trying to do just that, for the twelve have returned from successful ministries and are tired and played out – but Jesus is overwhelmed by the needs of the people and his compassion for them means he can’t turn them away.  Now you might think – Well wouldn’t that be all our dreams come true – people banging on the door for our help and us rushed off our feet in ministry, unable to keep up with demand.  Well actually – that is the way it is out there.  So many people, so much need, so much to do, that it is actually overwhelming. 
But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  How might a time of reflection, of rest help equip us for ministry?  And how do we hold that against the pressing needs around us?  Two big questions.  And in some way you can see the beginnings of a way forward in David’s story –where he at last seems to feel able to rest for a while, when the urgency of conflict and the web of political intrigue seem to have faded somewhat and he can settle in one place, take some time for reflection after  constant action.  And into that time of rest comes an incredibly important moment for David – where God through the prophet Nathan speaks of unequivocal hope in the future, of promise and faithfulness and steadfast love, of the building of a house, a family that will never fail or cease.  David in his time of ‘rest’ was open to new visions and the strengthening of his relationship with God in a way he could never be when constantly on the go.
Do we have such a busy life, however that might show itself, that we find it difficult to stop and listen, pause and reflect with God?  And busyness can be defined many ways, including only holding a one-way conversation all the time!  You know I can clearly remember the time I realised that my prayers were a monologue – all me! No place of listening for response or just even sitting quiet.  I told God what I wanted and then hung up.  How rude!  And how blind! 
For when we stop and listen, we can only grow in our understandings and our faith, be encouraged in our mission and ministry and be open to new visions of what it is we are called as a church to be and do.
How might that sit alongside what I talked of earlier – of being surrounded by the needy, the vulnerable, the seekers after truth and justice who are literally banging on our door asking for help? 
First I believe that in this time of rest, be it in worship, in Sabbath taking, in listening to what it is that God is saying to us, that we are strengthened and empowered to go out into difficult, awkward, challenging places of ministry.  We do not feed our souls just for our own satisfaction but so that we can then go out and feed the souls of others – what we receive we are also to give.  And receiving the blessings of rest with God enables us to be more courageous, more open and unashamedly vulnerable in our relationships with others, knowing that Christ is present in the tricky places we might find ourselves.  Trust and growing faith comes from relationships that take time to listen with each other.   
Secondly I believe that out of the quality of time spent in the presence of God we are more able to give of our whole selves not just our surplus.  It’s been a common understanding in certainly my experience of church that we can somehow compartmentalise our church lives and responsibilities into a separate box that gets our leftovers, generous leftovers often but still surplus to our needs.  Now before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me I do not mean that we should give all our assets and money and time and energy to Bishop Margaret up here, but I do want to try and say that there are probably places in our lives where we are give only what we will not miss and maybe its timely to examine those places.  Quiet time encourages us to remembers God’s generosity and thus re-examine ours.
Thirdly the compassion and care that we offer in our lives and our ministry requires our strength and our best and we cannot do that if we are empty – I use the image of a dry well to describe when I am feeling played out or just plain tired.  As we are called to be givers we also need to give time to care for ourselves – and we are often the last priority on our life agenda.  We cannot fix the world in one hit, we are not called to exhaust ourselves, to be superhuman in our endeavours, but to love and care for ourselves when we need to because we and our health are important too. Take a break when you can so that you can be the best you can in the service of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the whole picture of what a reconciled and just world might look like will only emerge when we take time to place all the pieces on the table – when alongside mission and ministry, worship and governance, compassion and love and hospitality, we add in those pieces which are our continuing reflection, rest, our renewal in the presence of God that we may together create a picture of hope and  service in the name of the risen Christ.    Amen

[1] Remen, Rachel: Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal.  Riverback Books, 2006

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Short Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 15th July 2012

Readings: 2 Samuel 6:1-2, 12b-19, Mark 6:14-29
The Ark of the Covenant, whether the Indiana Jones version, or a 21st century  impression by He Qi of China or this thirteenth century rendition from the Morgan Bible, has fascinated people throughout the centuries and across cultures.  Where did it go?  Did Jeremiah retrieve it and seal it up high in the mountains before the destruction of the Temple, or did the Babylonians take it with all the other treasure when they sacked the Temple?  Others say it is in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, that the Knights Templar have it in France or the UK, or that it has been destroyed somehow.  Whilst we could speculate a great deal on the fate of the physical Ark, (and some people have spent their lives doing just that) it seems to me that it would be more useful for us to ask what this text might say to us of God.  Samuel Giere[1], a US theologian suggests this text provides a dynamic portrait of God's presence and power with the people of Israel and speaks strongly of the danger and joy of being in God's presence.
The ark for David and the people of Israel was not a benign presence, a safe harbour – anything but – ask Uzzah who, the passage says, simply touched the Ark to stop it falling when the oxen stumbled and he was dead – nothing fair or just or deserving about that.  It goes on to say “David was afraid of the Lord that day”[2] and he only came back to escort the Ark into Jerusalem three months later.  Being in the presence of God, he discovered, is both a danger and a joy.
How do we do that sort of tension? How do we welcome the presence of God into our lives with great joy knowing that it can also bring an increased potential for danger –because we are called to speak out about those things that are unjust and unfair and unloving –in a culture that does not necessarily hold justice and love and compassion as the number one priorities.  When we challenge the status quo, we are inviting trouble, failure, put downs, retribution and it happens – more often than not.  Perhaps not quite the trouble that John the Baptist got into by speaking out against the household arrangements of King Herod but trouble none-the-less. And it’s not just about our intentional stands for social and political and economic justice that place us in relative danger – it is also about the ordinary hand that life deals us, the Uzzah moments in our lives where stuff happens – not because we deserve it or don’t deserve it – it just is.   Inviting the presence of God into our lives is neither a ticket to safety nor to immunity from the sometimes harsh realities of life for us.  As it was for John – he not only spoke out but he was also in the wrong place at the wrong time – a feast, the largesse, a spontaneous generous oath taken literally, an opportunity taken – all contributed to his untimely death. 
So we have increased danger from our speaking out and no less danger for being in the presence of God – where do we find the will to dance with joy in celebration of God’s presence? We can dance because we, like David, know that there is a bigger story, a greater truth to be found in the presence of God. For us that truth is found in Jesus Christ who came among us not only to heal and reconcile but also to invite us into that bigger story, a life greater than we on our own can perceive, where our lives and life of the world can be transformed way beyond our imaginings or our individual realities, where in the power of the risen Christ we are able to not only confront the powers that abuse and exploit way and make a difference, but that we can also hold on to a hope, a love that will not let us go in the midst of all that life throws our way.  That indeed is cause for celebration and joy even in the midst of danger.  Thanks be to God.

Margaret Garland