Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 17th February 2013 Lent 1

Gospel Reading: Luke 4:1-13

Let us pray:
May all that is said, all that is heard, all that is understood be to your glory O God, that we might continue to be your people in this place.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

I would like to begin with some words by Joy Cowley:
“Who was it who said that competition was a good idea?
Who reckoned it was important to be first, best, biggest, richest, fastest, brightest, top of the class?
Not Jesus, that’s for sure.
Oh, he had his chance in the desert.  All the temptations given him were a push for self promotion.
He turned them down flat.
He knew that the secret of happiness lay in making others happy, in cooperation rather than competition, in helping another unwrap her gift, in listening to a brother’s song...”[1]

This coming week in the first of our Lenten studies on the Beatitudes we are seeking to unpack the first: Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It seems to be a tenacious and deeply held truth in much of our society that success is counted in terms of accumulation, whether its sports games won, most money made, biggest house owned, most power held, most people in church even.  Likewise those who never win, have no money, barely have a roof over their head and are at the mercy of all, the small and the weak, they are the ones to be pitied at best or despised at least.  Was that not exactly what Jesus was being offered in the wilderness – transportation from hardship into comfort, helplessness to power, and who wouldn’t want to take such a gift, says this world of ours?  Well actually- not Jesus.  The temptations heard in the presentation of the Gospel this morning were actually very subtle and persuasive, coated with honey we might say – appealing to that assumption that from a position of power we can be more effective in easing the lot of others, we can have more knowledge, more effectively directed solutions from the moral, financial or social high ground than from being amongst the troubles.  A bit like a General on the top of the hill shouting down the battle tactics in the carnage below.  And to this Jesus said a big fat NO – not going there. 
What can we take from this?  Does this mean therefore that we should live and work from within the places of poverty, helplessness, and loss, giving up completely material riches and the ability to influence through our positions of power.  No again, I don’t believe that this is what Jesus is telling us either.  That relative wealth in itself is not a sin, it’s rather more what it does to us and what we choose to do with it.
So what is left – if we are to be neither rich and powerful and beneficent or poor and helpless and alongside.  Where does that leave us, we who live relatively privileged lives yet are painfully aware of the great need around us? Often this perceived divide leaves us feeling overwhelmed, so much so that we are paralysed – other times we find it easier to be generous within our own circles, the places we know and can relate to – other times we give but from a distance almost, a gift from our surplus I have heard it called rather than from our very selves. I want you to take a look at this photo coming up – how do we break down this divide?
One way is suggested by Chris Wendell, a member of the  
Beatitudes Society in the US,[2] and that is to go into a third space –where we recognise that despite material and/or social wealth (they usually go together in our society) the kingdom of heaven is unlikely to be realised in this world or the next if we do not know spiritual wealth.  So he suggests that those in positions of material wealth (and almost all of us are, relative to other people) first have to recognise our poverties, our places of need, before we can enter into genuine relationship with others; that all people, no matter their status or strengths have both gifts and needs and therefore  we all have something to offer each other and we all have need of each other.  It might be, it will be, that we, the privileged, have in our means the enrichment of other peoples, say, material circumstances – but only if we allow that in that encounter of giving, our poverties will be met as well.  What Jesus said no to in the wilderness was the detached, from on high, type ministry, what he said yes to was realising that the kingdom of heaven, this kingdom of God was build in our commonality, our needs and our gifts, with none of us having the moral or spiritual high ground.       Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall know the kingdom of God – in recognising our needs, our scarcities we open ourselves to the needs and cries of others in a way of relationship rather than that of benevolent charity, and from that relationship we all grow and build the kingdom of God here in this place and this time. 
Those elders and visitors with a special calling to pastoral care in this parish have recently had a session together talking about the perceptions and expectations held and – I have to tell you – we have had a good go at dismantling some of them.  One in particular was that, as a pastoral carer you needed to have (and were expected to have) all the wisdom, God knowledge, skill, experience to be able to fix things, answer questions, give wise advice.  No!  That is not what pastoral care is, that’s that rather high ground approach.  Rather it is about getting to know each other, opening up a little, maybe being a little vulnerable around each other, trusting that in your mutual needs you would also find mutual giftings, and that you would build relationship with each other and within the body of Christ.
That is pastoral care – something that we all do for each other all the time.
Jesus, in his rejection of the temptations and in his determined walk to the cross, is telling us that it is only in relationship with each other that the kingdom of God is realised, and that only by opening acknowledging our needs, our poverty that we can truly minister in compassion and love to others.   In that approach to relationship and community what we think we can do to help is multiplied many times in the power of the Spirit.  By recognising our poorness of spirit we are truly blessed in our sharing of our gifts with each other – there is love known, there is the presence of God.
There are some very appropriate words from songwriter Kathy Galloway:
To seek your soul, it is a precious thing,
But you will never find it on your own,
Only among the clamour, threat and pain
Of other people’s need will love be known.
Thanks be to God

Margaret Garland

[1] The Human Race by Joy Cowley in Aotearoa Psalms
[2] Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation
by Anne Sutherland Howard[2].  (Herndon, Virg: The Alban Institute, 2009)

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