Friday, 29 March 2013

Reflection for Easter Day ‘Hoping for an Echo’ by Tom Kerr (adapted)

Bible Readings : Acts 10:34-43,  John 20:11-18

I had a friend once who decided that ‘doing emotion’ was too hard – who chose to live instead seeking neither celebration nor sorrow – how did she do this?  By pretty much cutting herself off from relationships, from people – for it was when she got close to people that she found herself scarily happy or inevitably disappointed or hurt.
Sometimes we do that with Easter – choose not to engage with the seamier side you might say.  Flick straight from Palm Sunday’s hosannas to Easter Sunday’s allelulias without the pain of Good Friday’s horror– and yes Easter Saturday’s hopelessness.  And when we do this, we are not only ignoring the pain but also not giving the incredible joy of Easter morning a look in.  For it is from the doorway of pain and loss that the risen Christ can be truly seen. 
When I was searching for a reflection that might weave together both the magnitude of suffering and the joy of resurrected life into a clear message for us today I found this book on my shelves ‘If Jesus were a teenager today’ by Tom Kerr.  There were several stories that took my eye, especially the one about the island community whose understanding of Easter as the death and resurrection of Jesus was gradually replaced by purveyors of fine chocolate – but I thought I might keep that for another time – and then there is this one ‘Hoping for an echo’ which I hope will speak to you as it did to me.

If I came to your door with flowers and chocolate and said, “I love you”, would that do the trick?

If I came bearing gifts I’d made especially for you, fashioned with my own hands... if I flung a myriad of twinkling stars throughout the darkness of the night sky to show you the light of my love...  if I splashed my love around your world in waterfalls, waves, rivers and rain....if I painted you a world with all the colours of the rainbow, the delicacy of the flowers and the blazing power of the sunrise and said, “This is all for you.  I love you”, would that be enough?  Would you see that I love you?

If I wrote you letters and poems and songs and stories... if I put them all in a book and dedicated it to you with all my love, would that move you?  Would you believe me when I tell you that I love you?

If I sent you singers, poets and prophets, messengers, martyrs and saints to deliver the message of my love, would they get through to you?  Would you listen and would your spirit be sparked to life?  Would your soul rise up on wings like eagles to ride upon the thermals of my love?

If I sent my love to you in human packages, wrapped up in the skin of your family and friends, would you catch on?  Would you catch on that their love was also my love?  Would you see those people who love you as a dowry from me to you?

And when your own heart is at its best , when it swells up and overflows with compassion, affection, caring and kindness, would you know that I was at the source?  Would you know my love within the love you feel or give to others?  Do you know that you love others because I first of all loved you.... and that they love you for that same reason?

If I became like you and felt your pain and cried your tears and wore your frustrations; battled with the same desires and temptations that you struggle with; if I shared your joys and bore your sorrows all just to say “I understand, I know, I love you”, would you respond?  Would you love me back?

If I chose to walk a path of obedience that meant vulnerability and weakness, pain and death, so that you and I might journey together in this life, and into life everlasting... would that be proof enough for you to know?  To know that I love you?

If I rose from the dead and promised to stay with your always, to help you through the tough times, to encourage and guide you in loving and caring for this world, to break into your heart just so that every day I could whisper to you how much I love you?  Would I hear an echo, would there be a faint reply?  Even a meek response from you that said that you love me too?

God of love, let our echo be strong on this day especially.  For of all days this is the day when we know without doubt your love for us. 
We do love you.  Help us to show our love – by the words of our mouths, in our prayers and our praise, by the deeds that we do.  We will strive to give others our love, your love, as if giving it directly to you.  By our efforts and with your help we will seek to surrender to your ways, to feel as you feel, to care as your care, and to love you with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls, and with all our strength.
So that we might truly show that the echo you hope for is there.  So that we might truly know your presence around the table and in our lives.  So that we might truly say with great joy Alleluia Christ is risen.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 24th March, 2013 Palm Sunday

‘Blessed is the king, coming in the name of the Lord.’  (Luke 19:38a)

Palm Sunday is an important festival for Christians.  Today, when we have guests with us, for the Opoho School celebrations, might be a good time to explore together what it is all about.
Palm Sunday seems a strange event to modern people – procession, palm branches, a donkey, shouting and waving.  What was it all about?
Jesus was coming to Jerusalem – from Galilee where he had been safely distanced from the factions and struggles of the capital – the Temple hierarchy and the Roman rulers.
In Galilee Jesus had been acknowledged as a rabbi – a teacher, but now he was taking on the role of a prophet – a messenger from God who, in the Jewish tradition, not only declared the will of God but often dramatised it in symbolic actions.
Jesus believed that his ministry was reaching a crisis – and that this crisis would occur in Jerusalem.  How this would come to pass was unclear, but Jesus was acting in response to God – in faith that he was in God’s hands – on a path of obedience.
The drama of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem:
People were gathering from many places for Passover – the celebration of Israel’s rescue from Egypt.  They had heard about Jesus.  Hope for a new king (the Messiah) to free them from Rome would have been in many minds.
Jesus was aware of this expectation.  He arranged for a young donkey to be ready, and rode it toward Jerusalem: a sign – a king coming in peace (No one makes war on a donkey!)
People acclaimed Jesus, with words from Psalm 118 – a Psalm for a Jewish festival – v 28 is the greeting to the king (in the days when Israel was free) as he entered the Temple as a pilgrim.
Jesus’ followers we are told (v. 27) picked up on the sign and began chanting, acclaiming Jesus as the king who came in God’s name.  Palm branches waved.
Probably this was a quite local celebration – the Romans strengthened their garrison at the time of Jewish festivals, and acted swiftly against any demonstrations, but there is no sign that they had even heard of this event.
Jesus’ opponents however quickly saw the point (v 39) and called on Jesus to silence his followers – this kind of thing was too dangerous!
And it ends (v 41) with Jesus looking in sorrow over the holy city…
So we have the tradition of Palm Sunday:
-a king, but not like any other king. A king who embodied the ‘reign of God’, peace based on justice and compassion, which rejected political power, manipulation, and violent rule.
-a crowd – perhaps smaller than we sometimes think – filled with hope –calling ‘Hosanna’ = ‘save us’ and waving their palm branches.
-and critics, demanding that it be stopped.

But what about Jesus himself?  At the beginning of his ministry he rejected any kind of ‘superhero’ role, and use of power to impress or influence people;  calling people to return to God’s way (the ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ of God he called it).
Now he was laying down a challenge to the religious establishment – continued in later days in the events in the Temple when he attacked corruption and the  commercialisation of religion – and where he ‘taught with (personal) authority’.  His message was a message of new life through return to God, to living in harmony with God’s way.
We know what happened after that...  -and we know it didn't end on Good Friday.

But today: we are not celebrating an event in the past...
...we are celebrating the beginning of a journey
-the journey of Jesus into Jerusalem, and all that happened there - and beyond
-our own journies into Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter - and beyond.  A journey into peace, wholeness, new life, and stability in a changing world. 
This is a time to remember that faith is not about a lot of doctrine - or about believing the impossible.  Faith is about response, about taking up the challenge to find something new for our lives.
Faith is about joining the journey, in the company of Jesus, and of people we know and respect – and then going together.
and finding something new, and renewing - for our lives, and for our life together.
And we are all invited… .

Rev Dr Simon Rae

24. iii. 2013.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 17th March 2013 Lent 5

Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, John 12:1-8

Now you may not want to know this but for me, I often have my epiphany moments when I am taking a shower.  A time when all the bits that are floating around in my mind actually come together and, it is hoped mostly, make some sense.  And so it happened this week.  I was thinking about Rod, his journey of life and faith, my Mum, her almost equally long journey, the beatitudes that we have been looking at this Lenten time, the story of the woman pouring out perfume over Jesus shortly before his cruel death, the youth that are part of this service today and the moment in time that is the last Sunday of Lent, before Jesus enters Jerusalem and all that awaits. 
And somehow it seemed to me that it would be good to gather the threads into a picture, a visual creation that might speak to each of us in very different ways but which would invite all of us to consider our own lives, our journeys of faith whatever they might look like and how much is before or behind us as we move toward the Easter moment again this year – a moment of death and of new life.
So I am going to ask the youth to help me and we are going to create a symbolic garden made up of the many parts of who we are in faith and in life.

So let us start, simply because we have to have a foundation, with the sand – or the earth we could call it.  What is it that is so integral to our lives that we barely notice it – it is just there and informs and influences our very souls?  What is your river, your mountain, your whanau that makes you who you are?  It might be land, family, values, community, and, for many of us it is our relationship with the living God.....
Take time to consider as we shape some of the sand.

Then we place some stones in the sand – stones to symbolise the anchors that hold you throughout your life, the places or beliefs or people who guide your life choices and to whom you turn when all else fails, who are the voice of truth and strength for you.  It may be a piece of poetry, a moment in time, a scripture, a fleeting encounter, a constant companion, a vision for the world.  Think on this as we add some stones to the garden.

Whether we are young or old, jaded or enthusiastic, tired or energetic, we are on this earth to learn and to grow – all throughout our lives.  It happens in different ways for different people but who we are is something that never stays still (unless of course we choose to shut down and allow no-one in).  I could honestly say I have just come through a time of intense growth as I began my ministry journey.  What is a time of learning that you can think of that has had a profound influence on who you are now?  While you do that we will place ferns into the garden – the most beautiful of symbols for our growing and unfurling into the person God looks for us to be.

What about the challenges of life and how we have stayed afloat in the midst of them.  Throughout our growing – from youth to old age – we expect to be challenged, to have major doubts and sometimes significant regrets, to see things in a different way than we might have a couple of years or a couple of decades ago.  Our values, the way of life we hold dear, our understandings of God, when challenged, can make us feel extremely vulnerable.  Yet there is a sense in which those challenges are the very source of our growth in ourselves, in our relationship with each other and with God and so it will be of no surprise that the symbol chosen for this is water.  Water which cleanses, surprises, sweeps away impediments, waters our soil and accompanies us in its flow.  So we add water to our garden.

I think this garden needs some colour yes?  Let’s us call this part our joys and let us mark these with flowers.  The times when we just couldn’t stop smiling, the celebrations, the quiet moments of certainty and the belly aching laughter that just wouldn’t stop.  Our joys at love received and given, at gifts given and received and at generous sharing of what we have with each other.  Remember the story of a few weeks back of the Palestinian Christians exuberantly celebrating the coming of the Christ child, amongst the poverty and hardship of everyday life.  It is in our relationships with God, with each other, with this creation that joy is to be experienced.  So let’s plant some flowers, recognising that which colours our lives with joy.

Just two more for this garden: next we add that which has inspired us, has spoken to our creative self, has encouraged our knowledge and our imaginations, and continues to feed us with all things new.  Music, poetry, prose, scripture, garden, bush, sea, mountain, art, silence, crafts, seekers of truths, doers of great deeds, great questions and tricky answers, people who inspire and times of prayer and worship and community.  We add some blank pieces of paper – to symbolise that which is still to be written. 

And now at the last we add the light of faith – whatever that might mean for each of you.  As Christians we know Jesus Christ as the light of the world – shining grace and mercy and the hope of new life to all who walk in his way, but we remember too that Christ asks more of us than just receiving blessings– we are to be that light, to express and live those blessings into our community and our world.  The gift of God’s justice and compassion and mercy and love to us is the gift of the light that we are to carry in and through our lives and our relationships with each other.  Blessed indeed are those who live in and of the light of Christ – and so we light these candles of faith.

Whether we are at the beginning, end or middle of our journey of life and faith maybe this time of Lent – almost into Easter – is a time to reflect on who we are, what we have been and who we can be in Christ.  Young – we imagine who we can be recognising that our roots and anchors are already being formed and will help us get through and grow from all the challenges and questions and choices that face us throughout our lives.  Old – we remember our lives so far, the people and events that have shaped us and the love and compassion that have held us in times of need, the ups and downs, challenges laid down, joys celebrated, wisdom shared. 
All of us – we reflect on our journey of faith with a Christ who asks us to face whatever might be our Jerusalems with courage and faithfulness, knowing that in the living of our lives in grace and mercy, we are never alone.  Let us be like the woman who poured out the perfume, offering generous and compassionate love to all in need.  Amen  

Margaret Garland  as we celebrate with Rod Madill the 70 years since his ordination as Presbyterian Minister.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 10th March, 2013 Lent 4

Reading: Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Let us pray:
In all that is said, O God, may there be a searching for truth, in all that is heard may there be a hope for our lives, in all that speaks to us today may the Spirit guide us and nurture us.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

It might be that the Hobbits of Middle Earth (aka rural Matamata) could teach us something about how to celebrate a birthday – on their special day, so JRR Tolkien tells us, they give out presents rather than receive, they go to the trouble and expense of gifts for everyone else when we would be expect just the opposite, to sit back and receive.  So what is so appealing about this back to front approach?  Well, it’s fairly obvious - instead of just the one party you get to attend many parties in the year and at each party you, of course, receive another gift.  They understood the concept that in generous giving you end up with more – more parties, more fun, more loot!  Maybe they might just have a keen insight into the story of the prodigal son?  How’s that? 

The three players in this parable – wastrel younger son, reliable ‘good’ older brother and the embarrassingly compassionate father – bring us an enormous challenge, I believe - to be abundantly generous (to the point of stupidity), and to recognise that when we do that, it doesn’t lessen but increases our share of the treasure we seek after.  But before we get to this point, we need to deal with the context and our natural reactions to this tale that Jesus tells.  For there is so much about this story that is just plain wrong if we think of our normal inclinations for fair play, justice and understanding consequences of action.  First of all we have an irresponsible father – tut, tut for not teaching a lesson to this wayward son, for not making him sweat, for not waiting at the gate, inwardly rejoicing but outwardly stern!

In this story the Father doesn’t even let his son finish his stumbling confession before he calls for the celebration for the return of one who has been lost.  Is there not within each one of us a wee bit of a sympathy for the older brother – sure he is ungracious, grumpy, but doesn’t he have a right after all, isn’t he justified in being upset at such an extravagant response to one who has patently ‘done wrong’?  In discussing this with various people one commentator suggests that the majority sympathize with the older brother and resent what the younger brother gets away with.  And there you have it pretty much in a nutshell – what he gets away with.  This story, whilst wonderfully generous in the love and forgiveness of the Father, is also challenging our ground rules of fair play, understanding consequences and working hard for reward in the response of the other son. 

Then let us put the story in context in this gospel.  This is the third of a series of parables on those who are lost (the other two are the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin) – and it is in direct response to the Pharisees and Scribes challenging Jesus on his associating with people known to be abject sinners – tax collectors, prostitutes etc.  It not just his associating with them though – it is his exuberant, over the top, undignified joy that he greets each with – almost as if nothing else matters, and his apparent lack of judgment. 

I have not yet been bored by the story of the prodigal son – there is always something to discover, some new truth to learn about.  For me this time it has been found in the generous gifting of mercy by the Father (and by generous I mean not just forgiving his sin but throwing the biggest party ever, celebrating outrageously – some would say less than tactfully - his return) and the difficulty that the other son, the faithful, hardworking son, has with the injustice of it all, a stance that prevents him extending that same mercy to his brother.    

We aren’t told how the elder brother responded in the end to his Father’s words, but we do know that there is a fundamental truth here that Jesus challenged him and challenges us with – and I think it would go something like this: “When does our sense of justice and fair play prevail at the expense of generous and embracing love and mercy being shown?”  When does judgement prevent us showing  unconditional mercy and grace offered to those in the most need, the ones who have gone to hell and back and have nowhere to turn, nothing to say but Father forgive me?
In the beatitude story for this week on ‘Blessed are the merciful’[1]– April Blain shares the story of Laura – a toothless, poverty stricken, down and out single mother who can barely make ends meet and continues to make terrible decisions about everything – decisions that have definitely contributed to her current, relatively destitute, state.  April discovered that Laura, instead of being just another poor soul who came by the church for some help and advice to try and make ends meet,  was in fact living just round the corner from her, and suddenly found she couldn’t send her off to an agency as she would normally do – she was challenged to extend abundant and loving mercy to this woman – not just in giving to her materially but in offering her friendship and welcoming her into their family as Laura welcomed her. In doing so she discovered how, in the midst of her ongoing struggles and mistakes, Laura deeply loved and cared for her children, and of the life she had led from childhood, devoid of love and mercy in any shape or form.  April was struck by how many people made judgments on people like Laura straight up– that they expected her to pay for her mistakes, not be offered a second chance until she was able to show she could get it together, serve her time before she was truly forgiven and embraced, receive a share of society’s blessing. The handouts she was given seem very similar to the younger sons expectations of treatment on his return to the family fold.

But God asks us to take it further – not just to accept the prodigal’s need for forgiveness and restoration, or Laura’s need for food and guidance, but to wholly and completely generously welcome them into our lives, giving more than they ask for, more that we might consider their fair share. 

We are to be ridiculously generous for those who have suffered, those who have been at the bottom of the pile, those who continue to make mistakes, those who have never known mercy and love and compassion – they are to be  not just dealt out sustenance and a measure of help but we are to extravagantly welcome them as someone precious who once was lost but now is found, and rejoice that they are in our lives no matter that it takes – do we, like April, have the capacity to do that – or do we hold to the outrage of the older brother and hold our mercy and compassion  back until conditions have been met. 

Can I finish with the words of a song by Deidre Browne:[2]
Come as you are: that’s how I want you.
Come as you are; feel quite at home,
close to my heart, loved and forgiven. 
Come as you are: why stand alone?

No need to fear, Love sets no limits;
no need to fear, love never ends;
don’t run away shamed and disheartened,
rest in my love, trust me again.

I came to call sinners, not just the righteous;
I came to bring peace, not to condemn. 
Each time you fail to live by my promise,
why do you think I’d love you the less?

[1] Anne Sutherland Howard in Claiming the Beatitudes p.69
[2] Together in Song 693