Saturday, 15 September 2012

Opoho Church Sermon Sunday 16th September, 2012

Bible Readings : Matthew 13:1-9, Genesis 1:1-13

Let us pray:  O God, may your word be spoken and received in the truth of Christ.  Amen.

Today, within the suggested celebration of Creation in our church lectionary, is the day when we focus on the sky above and around us.  To begin let me share this story from the first people of this land about the anchor and guide that is the Te Punga, the Southern Cross.

From the book ‘Stories from the Night Sky’[1]  Te Punga.

In the beginning, the stars came travelling across the sky, making new lights.  When Te Punga is lifted, they set sail again.  Each year they sail, voyaging  across the night skies and each year they return and settle, safe in their waka, with Te Punga below to anchor them.
In the beginning we came, travelling across the oceans, seeking new lands.  When Te Punga was lifted we followed the waka.  We read the stars and rode the oceans, feeling the pull of the anchor and rope.  Here we settled, safe in our new land, with Te Punga above to anchor us. 
In the beginning you came, riding on the shoulders of your ancestors, breathing new life.  When Te Punga is lifted, you watch the star’s voyage.  You watch the unfolding of the seasons and your ancestors as they journey along the great pathway.  You grow with every lifting and it is Te Punga you grow towards.
You may travel across oceans, you may voyage across skies, you may ride to the far corners of the world.  Always Te Punga will be there, anchoring you to your land.  And if the seasons turn cold and if the ancestors call, just feel the pull of the anchor and rope, and let it bring you home.

It seems to me that this story in one of togetherness, of the importance of the guiding stars in creation for both Maori and the European settlers who were to follow.  And I found a great deal to equate with our journeys as people of faith, with our searching and our exploration, our stepping into unknown waters, our need of a guide and anchor not only when things go wrong but also when we take positive steps into new and often uncharted ways.
And springtime is a very good time to explore new ideas and search for new understandings – what did the story say? – you grow with every lifting of Te Punga – you do not stay the same but continue to grow and evolve as the seasons march on.
But we do not forget either where we have come from – ‘you came, riding on the shoulders of your ancestors’ – steeped in their faith, their witness, their nurturing and their wisdom we are who we are today, able to explore safe in the guiding and wisdom of those who have gone before.
And, in venturing into the future whilst remembering where we have come from, we also do not forget who we are at this time, what anchors us together as community and as a people of God.  ‘Always, Te Punga will be there, anchoring you to your land.
It really is an evocative story, one that lends itself effectively to our journeys of life and faith and hope.
It struck me too that this story offers an insight into the Gospel reading today – that of the sower of the seed and the type of ground that the seed lands on.
There are few stories more familiar to us, - the seed that fell on the path, eaten by the birds; the rocky ground where they grew quickly but, without deep soil, fell over; the thorny ground, where the seed was overpowered by the strength of the thorns; and the good soil which produced great fruit.  Later in the chapter Matthew has Jesus explain the parable more fully – likening the path as the hearts openness to evil, the rocky ground as those vulnerable to trouble or persecution, the thorns as the choking power of the world, and the good soil as the one who hears and understands the word and bears fruit.
And there are few stories that we are more able to place ourselves in too – the rocky patches in our lives, the distracted and the shallow all appear in each and all of our stories I am sure.  These are the realities of the human life.
But perhaps the question to ask is what leads us into these less than fruitful places and is there anything we can do about it.
Maybe a possible answer lies in another question – do we see these bad patches resulting from our failure to grasp the truth or failure to trust the truth?  It is suggested that this is the essential difference between the Matthew and Mark versions of this parable – in Mark, Jesus is scolding the disciples for not getting it, for their failure to understand what Jesus is saying in the parable; whereas Matthew seems to suggest that the people get the parable alright, it’s just that they have trouble living by it, trouble trusting what they understand.
And I wonder if this is something we can relate to?  I am reminded of the waka voyages that are taking place in the Pacific at the moment – where 21st century voyagers are choosing to navigate by the stars – the way that their ancestors used to - and I wonder, if we were somehow able to ask both the ancient and the modern navigators, who would have more difficulty: those of high technology who have learned to trust in the stars of their ancestors or those of old if we asked them to trust to the instrumentation that modern sailors use.  I suspect the stars would win – not because we do invention/technology/modern instrumentation badly but because those stars have proven their faithfulness, unchanging over time and space; they have been a beacon of hope and direction throughout human history.  It’s not too much of a leap to liken that to our trust in God is it and maybe answer our question of how we might trust God a little more. 
It is quite remarkable, when we trouble to think about it, how much of our trust in God is anchored in the witness of those who have gone before, those who have journeyed in the light of Christ throughout time and yes, too those who trusted God before the Christian era began.  I believe that it is when we replace that myriad witness with our conveniently modernistic interpretation of what it means to be church, the body of Christ, that we not only find our trust in the presence and power of God diminishing but also find it more difficult to step out into the unknown possibilities of the future.  Let me expand a little into what is a huge area of conversation.  Much of our understanding of what it means to be church for the last few hundred years has been almost exclusively based on the premise of  what has been called ‘chronological egotism’ – that we will get better at being church as time and human skills advance – potentially until we no longer need God some might argue.  We discovered this throughout our August study series on cringe words – how much we have lost or re-created the meaning of core biblical tenets of faith to our modern convenience, convenient in that we can contain and therefore often reject their meaning for our Christian lives.  Yet we say we live in and commit to the Christ made known in the Gospels and explored in the early church – but still hold on to doctrines and understandings of God that have been heavily influenced by our culture, our relationship with the state, our very human responses to threat and change and challenge as church.  And it has confined us, diminished us somehow so that we find we are valuing modern navigation over the creative timelessness of the one we call God.
We at Opoho are coming to a time when we will have to take some very big steps of faith into the unknown, trusting that God will guide us and anchor us in how we will be church, be the good soil for Christ.  And I suspect our ability to trust God and each other will be tested quite severely at times – those rocky roads and shallow soils and thorny grounds will seem like safe havens almost – but in the presence of Christ, through the teaching of the Gospel and with all the cloud of witnesses at our side we can and will hold true to the true mission of this church and this people – thanks be to God.

Margaret Garland

[1] Melanie Drewery (author), Jenny Cooper (illus.).  Stories from our Night Sky.Puffin Books, 2009

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