Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 28th November 2012

Readings: Job 42: 1-6, 10-17Mk 10:46-52

Let us pray
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts open not just our mind and heart but also our eyes and ears to your way for us Jesus Christ.  Amen.

‘I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear – now my eye sees you.’  So says Job at the end of his trials, acknowledging that he didn’t know all and that God was more that he, Job, could ever understand. 
‘I want to see’ says blind Bartimeus when asked by Jesus ‘what is it that you want me to do for you?’

I’ve always been fascinated by images, what we see, how we interpret it, how it changes from one day to the next.    On my frequent trips home to Balclutha as a student in Dunedin, I used to pass the time looking at the landscape and re-imagining with the eyes of one who was seeing it for the first time.  It was interesting how many new things I spotted using that perspective, how stunning the views and vibrant the life in it.  Likewise I remember the exercise at Playcentre of intentionally observing the behaviour of the children in a particular play situation and how much more I saw and how much more complex were the interactions, causes and consequences than if I was just walking by or involved in the play.  You often only see a part of the action: it’s a bit like the way the responder to an illegal action in rugby always seems to be the one to get pinged and not so much the instigator, although video cameras are helping a bit there!
What we think we see is so often just a part of what there is to see – and its worth reminding ourselves that whilst we don’t always have the luxury of video rewind or observation mode or re-imaging to enable us to see the bigger picture, we also have a tendency to think that what we see is the whole and complete picture.  Job came to that realisation the hard way –he acknowledged before God that his faith was limited by his inability to see, to imagine if you like, the wholeness of God.  The understanding that he would never see or know all of God was a moment of brilliant clarity, of deeply meaningful insight for him.
We have a very physical understanding of blindness really.  It’s really hard to imagine what it might be like to not have sight, ever, or to lose it when you have had it.  Margaret I stand in awe beside you, knowing that it has been, and is, really difficult for you but also absolutely inspired by your attitude and ability within it.  In fact it often seems to me that you see just as much if not more than I do with my still visually functioning eyes and you bless us every day with your insights into the grace and love of Christ.
Bartimeus, for all his physical blindness, was also a person who leads us into much needed clarity about the way of faith and it is this story of faith that I would like to explore a little more today.  It is worth noting that the Gospel of Mark sandwiches the two stories of the healing of physical blindness around the three accounts of the blindness of the disciples and their inability to see the truth when Jesus predicts his suffering and death.  Their response is blindness personified: rebuke by Peter for saying it, ashamed and fearful silence, and a request to have a position of power when they came into the kingdom.  They didn’t get it – at all.  But Bartimeus did!  The blind man did.
Lets tease out some of the action in this story of the healing of the blind man and then think about how we might sit respond to it. 
First of all the blind man was marginalised, on the side of the road, spoken to as of no worth, told to shut up – but Jesus heard and responded.
Jesus asked Bartimeus a question, interestingly exactly the same question that he had posed to the disciples in the reading last week: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
The disciples had responded with the request for ‘favourite status’, Bartimeus with a plea to be able to see.
Jesus said: tell him to come to me and Bartimeus got up and ran towards him – there was action, eagerness in his response to Jesus call.
And immediately he regained his sight, Bartimeus followed Jesus on the way.
Some of the thoughts that came to my mind:
How much so we, who think we see the whole picture, try to both exclude other perspectives and/or impose our thinking on others.  I’m pretty sure all of us have done this at some time – but what we have to be aware of is that whilst not of us have the whole picture, all of us have a role to play, a purpose to fill, a piece of the picture to contribute in following the way of Jesus.  And it needs all the perspectives, all the nuances to help make a bigger, more complete picture of being a community of faith.  That is why we need to embrace community – so that we can hear other stories, see other ways, be made wiser through the insight of others, build together a picture of the kingdom as God knows it to be.
How do we treat those who are marginalised in our society, how do we treat those in need, pleading for a helping hand, a word of care, an act of compassion, simply a recognition of worth?  Do we step out of our way to respond to those in need, whoever and wherever they might be?  If our outreach, our mission is not sometimes uncomfortable for us ie if we don’t have to sometimes step out of our well paved well mapped pathway, should we be re-examining our understanding of marginalised and mission?
What is our response to Jesus question “What is it that you want me to do for you?”  Only you can answer that question but it is one worth spending some serious time on and it is one we should answer from the very depths of our souls.  If our answer is to be that of Bartimeus – Lord let me see – then what is it that we each need to see more clearly?
For some it might be learning to express ourselves, our faith, in words and actions in a better way – words and actions that open up both the eyes of others and ourselves to the way of Jesus Christ. Expanding our horizons as well as offering new sight to others.
For others maybe it’s about being better stewards of our gifts and skills, our life experience and our possessions.  Thinking of big picture stuff when we can’t be bothered recycling a piece of plastic or choosing to not buy into the consumer society with yet something else that we don’t really need or hasn’t really broken yet.  Maybe it’s about offering our skills in places where we can’t be sure of the outcome or venturing into situations where we are the learner not the teacher?
And for all of us, no maybes here – it is the question of how we can better serve God, community and ourselves in the way of Christ.  For surely this is the core of the reading we heard today – immediately he regained his sight, he followed him on the way.  Show us, here in this place, O Christ, your way that we might follow it faithfully, generously and lovingly, opening not just our eyes but the eyes and ears of all whom we meet, in Jesus name.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 14th October, 2012

Readings Job 23, Hebrews 4: 12-16
 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 redeemer.  Amen.

General Assembly 2012.  I would like to begin with a quote from Charles Dickens.
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. This is a quote from Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities and was used by Jason Goroncy in his post Assembly Musings[1], following on with the suggestion that it was indeed something of a Dickens of a General Assembly.
This fairly much reflected my view – the best of times and the worst of times.
You can read a brief prĂ©cis of decisions on the website[2] or there is a page on the table in the Morrison Lounge at Church.  I won’t hugely go into them but rather would wish to talk about the way in which we do or do not make Jesus Christ known on the floor of Assembly.
I admit at times to feeling a bit like Job –God where are you, why have you deserted us? Do you not hear my groans? I would learn what you would answer me and understand what you would say to me![3] 
Because there were times when I despaired, times when I searched for the presence of God and was left wondering. 
?         Each time that people seemed to believe that 60% vote = the will of God and the imposition of that will on all the people.
?         Each time that the Assembly rejected a genuine desire to discuss and discern what the Spirit was saying to the wider church. 
?         Each time the total lack of trust led to hurtful comments, ridiculous decisions and skewed interpretations.
?         Each time that the wisdom and processes of the Presbyterian way were ignored in the haste to ensure the ‘right’ decision. 
Whilst the debate over leadership continued, mostly in grace but occasionally in diatribe, the remits on marriage probably caused the most tears and heartache for many.  A call to allow the wider church and in particular the Core Doctrine Committee to have a conversation on the theology of marriage was lost – to the concern of many from all sides of the theological spectrum – as was, thankfully, the motion that if Gay Marriage became legal, the Ministers of the PCANZ would be prevented from conducting such marriages ( remembering that 60% makes it so, this vote was lost as only 59.8% voted for it).  This debate was a real low point for me – and yet a place of hope too as many of all persuasions spoke up saying this is not a  process for discerning the way of Christ, that many are still praying about it and seeking what the Spirit is saying to each in their faith community.  This challenge to the discernment of the Spirit to speak into each situation and through those ordained to leadership (teaching and ruling elders) and presbyteries, seemed, to many, a step too far.
But then, like Job, we were also able to say: our feet have not left your path, we have held fast to your steps.[4]  There were many of those moments – special uplifting moments of unity and joy and grace.
When the Pacific Island Synod was granted status as a Presbytery Wayne Te Kawa, Moderator of Te Ako Puaho gave the most inspiring response from the Tangata Whenua, the first people. He talked of those of the Pacific as their elders, whom they now were able to welcome home.  And later it was passed unanimously that Church land no longer required by parishes be considered for gifting to Te Ako Puaho and that the role of their Moderator be given equal status to the Moderator of General Assembly as well be sent out for discussion in Presbyteries and Parishes.  We have come a long way in our bicultural journey and there is a sense of maturity in our partnership with the tangata whenua.
The recommendations to support the Living Wage movement by our own practices at least and to speak out for Vulnerable Children were embraced – even if not given the time they perhaps deserved.
The other unified commitment was to having a stronger voice in the plight of those affected by climate change in the Pacific. 
That was the business that gave a sense of hope – but so too did the worship led by the Rev Malcolm Gordon and the addresses/sermons from the current, past and incoming Moderators.  In particular Rev Andrew Norton, who will be Moderator in 2014, spoke eloquently and with passion for a healing of division and confrontation.  He said:
The language of life and faith cannot be contained in dogma, regulations or pronouncements. God cannot be reduced to the small mindedness of liberalism,conservatism, post modernism, fundamentalism or any
other “ism” that names you.
In an age of rapid change, uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity we need more than ever poets, song writers
and artists who have an ability to enter into that mystery, messiness, and experience of life, who will read between the lines and to give us language of faith and hope inuncertain times.
So we come back to the words of Job: “But God stands alone and who can dissuade him?  What God desires, that God does.” 
God, through and in the people of Christ Jesus, is working in our church, our denomination, our world, in all who live in the light of love and grace.  May all people in the PCANZ hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church and live in that light. Amen.

Margaret Garland