Friday, 28 February 2014

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 2nd March 2014 ‘Transfiguration Sunday’

Readings:  Matthew 17:1-9, Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21

Let us pray:
Open our hearts and minds, our ears and our eyes to your word for each of us this day O God.  May our speaking, our listening and our responding be held in the presence of your Spirit, in Jesus name.  Amen.
In the midst of the mundane we are startled by the unexpected, the mystical, the breathtaking presence of God.
In our ordinary life, in the routine and the boring, there are moments when we encounter, quite unexpectedly, the transforming glory of God. 
You could say that Moses was in the midst of the mundane when God called him to the mountain. It was a rather elevated mundane in that he was in conversation with God, but it was all business you could say. In the chapters preceding today’s reading we find a long and rather detailed description of how the laws given to Moses are to be applied to the daily life of the people. And in the chapters following we find equally detailed and somewhat long directions for the building of the tabernacle, offerings and rules for the conduct of worship.  Moses had already been up and down the mountain a few times when God called him yet again – he must have been a very fit man!  So he went again – obedient to the call – to climb the mountain, to meet with God.  But this time was different – this was not about rules and instructions, laws and statutes, this was a moment of absolute and pure mystery, where the transforming glory of God was somehow made known to Moses. There were more encounters with God, more trips up and down the mountain, but this was special, an epiphany if you like, a moment that fuelled his faith and had him shining with the glory of God. 
You could actually say that he didn’t ‘need’ this experience, for he had been in continuing conversation with God since the moment of his call, he was obedient and prayerful and effective in his ministry and leadership.   But for him and for the people he led, this moment made crystal clear to them nothing less than the glory, the power, the immensity of God, in fact, that God is!  
Likewise, Jesus called to the mountaintop was not about somehow bolstering his own surety of faith, his relationship with God but rather revealing to the others with him the transforming power of God through his Son, showing us all that Jesus is the Beloved, that God is with and in him.  There were no clouds to hide what happened this time - God shines forth in the Son, in the person of the Christ.
In this moment the human man that was Jesus became joined with the divine; the Jesus of history became one with the Christ of our faith experience. 
For all Jesus obvious humanity – in this moment something radiated from him that spoke of ineffable and eternal truth and it was the light of the divine in him and with him.
And what was the response of Peter James and John to this unexplicable, stunning moment of being in the presence of the living God?  They wanted to stop it, hold time in limbo, scared that this clarity of understanding would become a faded memory, that the journey to come, the journey to the cross, would wipe out the joy of this moment.  But in fact it was just the opposite – they slowly began to realise that they weren’t to leave the light up there on the mountain, but rather that it was to accompany them through the chaos and suffering and heartache that was inevitably to come.  The story of the transfiguration reminds us that we cannot separate the light that is the love of God from the daily rounds of life, from the joys and the sorrows that are our reality. In fact it is in the difficult times that the light of Christ shows most strongly. In the hospital room with two people who have just heard the worst news of their lives and you see the sick one reach out to assure their companion, the healthy one, that all will be well. There the light shines brightly
The transfiguration also serves to remind us that even without Jesus bodily presence, we can live in the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The challenge for the disciples, and for us, is for the light to continue to shine on with us, etched on our hearts and lived out in our lives.  To not forget, to not try to confine to a moment in history or to a particular place in the scriptures but to continue to experience the transcendent in the midst of our ordinary lives. 

C S Lewis puts it beautifully in his book ‘The Silver Chair’ -in Aslan’s final words:
“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly.  I will not often do so down in Narnia.  Here on the mountain the air is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken.  Take great care that it does not confuse your mind... Remember the signs and believe the signs.  Nothing else matters”[1]
 Remember the signs.

We all have transcendent moments I am sure, moments where we encounter the presence of God, where faith becomes clear, where the light of Christ just plain shines – sometimes almost too brightly for us to comprehend and in ways that we do not expect. And we hold those moments close to our hearts. For some it may be a mountain top experience – a mind blowing moment of understanding, for others, I hope for all, these moments of ‘God with us’ happen in the midst of our everyday life – in the classroom or office or kitchen or on the street, in the hospital room, playing sport, gardening together.  They are the butterfly that alights on the branch in front of you as you are standing at the grave of your best friend, the piece of music that is just a moment of absolute beauty in the midst or turmoil, the absolutely contagious laughter of a child outside the rest home window, the word of comfort and understanding spoken by a stranger, the act of giving when you weren’t expecting or needing it, the offer of help when you are feeling overwhelmed, the bliss of the familiar and the excitement of the new – all these moments are the signs of Christ with us – the breathtaking presence of God with us in the mundane, in the suffering.
There is no way we can hide ourselves from the rigours of life, no way that Jesus could stay up there on that mountain, not come down and continue the journey to the cross, but and this is a brilliant and life changing ‘but’, there is also no way that we can shield ourselves from the light of God that sheds hope into the darkest moments.  As we enter the season of Lent, as we sit around the communion table as Jesus did with his disciples at that last supper, let us remember the presence of God with us in the ordinary and the everyday.

I want to finish with a quote from Maryetta Anschutz:[2]
“The moment of the transfiguration is that point at which God says to the world and to each of us that there is nothing we can do to prepare for or stand in the way of joy or sorrow.  We cannot build God a monument, and we cannot keep God safe.  We also cannot escape the light that God will shine on our path,  We cannot escape God, Immanuel among us.  God will find us in our homes and in our work-places.  God will find us when our hearts are broken and when we discover joy.  God will find us when we run away from God and when we are sitting in the middle of what seems like hell.  So ‘get up and do not be afraid’.”[3]

 Margaret Garland

[1] C.S.Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York: Harper Collins, 1981), 25-26
[2] Maryetta Madeleine Anschutz in Feasting on the Word (Louiseville: WJK Press, 2010), 456
[3] Matthew 17, v 7

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 23rd February 2014

Love your enemies?

These are dangerous words in Matt. 5:38-48, words to divide the world. Ever since they were uttered, followers of Jesus have disagreed about what they mean and how, if at all, they should be practiced.
They set Jesus and his disciples apart from other religious and political movements of the day. The Zealots wanted to liberate God’s people with the sword, smashing the power of their Roman overlords. The Qumran community, living separated from the world, emphasized loving the children of light, those within the community, but left those outside to their darkness.

In vv. 43-44 Jesus is doing some creative theologizing. ‘You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ His Jewish hearers could not read that in their Scriptures because it did not exist. In several places in the OT, God commanded his people to love their enemies. So, as usual, the rabbi of Nazareth was faithful to his Bible; he had come to fulfill the law. By his day, however, human aggressiveness had gradually produced more narrow and exclusionary readings of God’s command to love: we love the people of God but not the godless; or, at Qumran, our fellow children of light; or, if a zealot, the true patriots who liberate God’s people by killing colonizers. So Jesus here suggests that the actual commandment by which most people live is ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ He is deliberating distorting the language of Scripture to make a provocative point.  

How do we read passages like these? Have we heard these words so often that they barely register? Has familiarity bred indifference, even contempt? ‘Turn the other cheek.’ Yeah right. ‘Love your enemies.’ Nice thought .... A second response takes Jesus words more seriously, but considers them not just impractical but dangerous. ‘Love your enemies.’ You can’t be serious? And get treated like a doormat?

There is an issue here. It’s not difficult to see devout wives thinking that such verses require them to submit to violence and abuse from their husbands. That loving your enemies requires endlessly submitting to abuse. Jesus commands, on this view, are not just foolish but dangerous, ideals that it would be crazy to practice in the real world. Yet everything that Jesus says and does suggests that he utterly opposed violence of the domestic as well as every other kind. In teaching such as this, Jesus is not laying down a program to be blindly and systematically followed in every situation no matter what the circumstances. That’s not the way to read this passage. I’ll say more about that shortly.

In the modern world, the cultured despisers of Christianity have dismissed teachings like these with contempt. According to Ayn Rand, political philosopher, literary bestseller and darling of the libertarian right, ‘If civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that we have to reject.’ On the left, Karl Marx, father of communism, condemned the ‘social principles of Christianity’ for preaching ‘cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submissiveness and humbleness.’
Similarly, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche despised the ‘slave-morality’ he thought passages like this inculcated; he dismissed Christianity as rooted in ‘ressentiment’—the secret hatred of the weak for the strong. Such critics are partly right. Turning the other cheek and meeting hatred with love are no way to get ahead. The rules for success in this world are well-known. It’s dog-eat-dog, the strong, wealthy, bright and beautiful flourish, and the little, the lost, the poor and the ugly struggle to survive, if they can. Isn’t NZ, God’s Own Country, growing a bit more like this every year, as the gap between rich and poor yawns wider than ever? Is this one of the consequences of the decline of the churches and the steady secularization of our culture over the past half century?

But Jesus isn’t trying to modify the rules of this world. He’s starting a revolution by rejecting the rules of his world—and ours—altogether. Relationships in the kingdom of heaven on earth must be governed not by power and fear but by love.
What do these passages mean to me?
e.g. basketball team-mate.
e.g. I easily turn hurt into anger, and find all sorts of ways to justify and legitimize why the mean and selfish ‘other’ deserves to be punished.
But loving enemies liberates from their power. They no longer get to set the rules in the relationship. Jesus wants to liberate us from the fear, anger and hatred that so easily rise up and dominate us, creating hell inside, and tearing relationships apart.

‘We love because God first loved us.’ I find I need God’s help to love those I find it hard to even like. I’m not alone. Martin Luther King in civil rights struggle, exhausted and terrified by white hatred. Alone, in his kitchen, desperate, he turns to God. He is given a calm and courage which stays with him the rest of his life, as he is beaten, jailed, stabbed and finally shot dead.

Are there certain sorts of people that we find it hard to love and easy to justify not loving? How about fundamentalist Christians? Destiny Church? You may be able to think of people who fit the bill at work, at home, or in your local community. As someone said: there are two sorts of people in the world: those who divide the world into two sorts of people; and those who don’t.

John Stenhouse

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 9th February 2014 Epiphany 5

Readings: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

Let us pray:
May the word of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

Do you ever wonder why we say a prayer before the sermon, a prayer that asks God for my ability to speak and yours to listen with discerning minds and hearts to the word of God for each of us?  Is it one of those unfathomable things that are just ‘done’ in a service?  Actually no – each time I pray that prayer I get to remind myself that it is not all about me. And I hope that it reminds you that God’s word is speaking to each of you in different ways.  Whether my thoughts are muddled or flow well, my words tentative or passionate, my interpretations spot on or completely off the radar for you, you will still be fed by the word of God if you listen with an open heart and mind.  Because, as Paul says, it is not my words but the work of the Holy Spirit in this time to write God’s truth upon our hearts and bring us to faith.  It doesn’t mean that any preacher is to do less than their best, but the prayer reminds us all that the word preached in human wisdom only lays itself wide open to abuse and misunderstanding. 
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is strong on this point – as he responds to the unlooked-for adulation being given him as preacher, as he comments on the unhealthy way he and Peter and Apollo are pitted against each other by some of the community by valuing their impressiveness as preachers.  Paul almost gleefully highlights his frailty and unimpressiveness.  He himself, he says, brought people into relationship with God despite this weakness of speech and proclamation because, through the Spirit, the wisdom he spoke from was the wisdom of the cross, a wisdom not of this world but of God.
Not that he either is holding up poor preaching as the way to go but rather to debunk the myth that it is human wisdom and clever rhetoric that brings people to Christ Jesus –as some of the people of Corinth seem to be saying.  Neither is Paul anti-intellectual, suggesting that we give up all wisdom and thinking and just pop out whatever comes to mind. He is rather choosing to let God’s wisdom drive his thinking than that of the world.  The foolishness of the cross exposed the wisdom of the world for what it is: destructive of life and love – and so he would follow the cross. 
And this is our constant tension isn’t it as we seek to live in Christ’s way.  For we are pulled one way, the wisdom of the world, and the other way which the world calls foolishness and we call the wisdom of God.
Where might this play out for us?  Well Mike and I went to the movie ‘The Railway Man’ earlier in the week (excellent movie by the way) – based on the true story of an Englishman who was tortured and abused, along with many others, by the Japanese whilst building the Burma railway.  As one of the other returned servicemen said ‘We don’t talk about what happened because no-one would believe us’.  And this is just a small thing, something that happens often when bringing a book to the screen, but apparently in the book when he returned to Burma to confront his nemesis, now a tour guide of the area, he brought forgiveness with him without knowing if this man was sorry for his actions, whereas in the movie he went with a heart full of revenge and hatred, only to find when he met him that he couldn’t carry this out and found he could forgive.  The Japanese man was full of contrition and sorrow and one got the impression from the movie that the forgiveness was earned, rather than given freely, unconditionally as in the book. The wisdom of the world versus the wisdom of the cross.
At our Parish Council retreat we all recoiled a little when the word ‘marketing’ was brought up. And yet we had to talk about ways of letting people know we are here and what we believe and how we live that belief.  But at the same time we had to understand the difference between trying to get people to sample our ‘product’ solely through our ability at being good sales people, producing the right programmes, worshipping well and find the right words to convince -   and the understanding that the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts and minds of people to create and grow community, without which all the expert marketing in the world would fall flat. People don’t come to faith in God because our logo is stunning or our web presence in the best money can buy – they come with hearts seeking Christ and look for community where they can grow in Christ and find Christ alive and at work.
But again it doesn’t mean we do nothing, that we sit on our hands and wait for the explosion of numbers, -, we still need to articulate and share and live our faith, be a welcoming and inclusive community of faith.    But this will be as nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit to open people’s hearts to the message of the cross.   We can’t make it happen just by our initiative, our persuasion.  The wisdom of a world that persuades and cajoles and markets versus the wisdom of the living Lord present and at work among us. 
It can also be seen in how we understand Church – is it a place where acceptance is earned by right behaviour and right believing (whatever that might be) ie are we setting the membership rules or is God?  Is it a club where only particular people can feel comfortable, where outsiders must do it right to be accepted, where advancement comes to those who conform only, ie the way of the world, or, if we believe that God draws hearts and lives to Christ, is it a place where all people are welcome, where love for God and each other transcends all difference, values all people, offers all gifts unconditionally - the wisdom of the cross.    I think not. It will be very interesting to see the ongoing development of the movement called ‘Sunday Assembly’ developed in the UK by a couple of comedians apparently – but it had grown throughout the world.  Where people gather on Sunday mornings to share inspirational stories, gather round to sing, reflect and go out to do good things.  A good and very caring approach to right living. The difference is: this is all without God.  Whilst our track record as a church is not brilliant at being inclusive, I wonder what rules for exclusion might occur in this gathering without the wisdom of the cross:  I wonder if they will simply dispense charity or realise that people, all people, have something to give each other, I wonder if they will continue to offer help when there seems no returns, no rewards, if they will understand the amazing power of love to change lives and the intrinsic value of each and every human being as they are!  Maybe they will and maybe there they will find God.
We who choose the wisdom of the cross, we who look to Jesus to show us the way of foolish love, unconditional mercy and amazing grace  – we  who are called to be the light that shines that the darkness cannot put out, the salt to the earth in desperate need of goodness, will we hear that prayer for our words to be acceptable in God’s sight and our  hearts to be opened to God’s guidance and call, to live in the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom of the living Christ. 
I finish with the words of C S Lewis:  “I believe in Christianity [in Christ] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else”.   Amen

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 2nd February 2014 Epiphany 4

Readings:  Psalm 15, Micah 6: 1-8, Matthew 5:1-12

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the understandings of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

‘What is it that God requires of us?’ is a question for all time.  2800 years ago the prophet Micah asked just that and we today struggle with exactly the same issue.  This reading from the 8th century BCE strikes at the very heart of how we live in right relationship with God, with each other and with all other communities of life on the planet.
For all was not well, is not well.  The wording of the Prophet as he seeks to convince the people of God’s frustration with them is just enthralling ‘For the Lord has a controversy with his people and he will contend with Israel’.  This is a classic piece of writing that draws out not just God’s dissatisfaction with the way the people of God are living but uses rather effective if gentle sarcasm to make the point. We begin with the fact that the Lord has a controversy with his people and is going to take them up on it, then there is an almost bewilderment that it should be so ‘What have I done to you that has caused you to treat me this way?’  It’s one of those questions we can hear ourselves asking when life is chucking a bunch of rubbish our way.  And then the tone gets a bit sterner – remember what I have done for you, how can you do this in light of these memories  And no -  I don’t want you to deposit burnt offerings, gift rivers of oil, give your most precious possessions as a transaction for your salvation.  It is simple what you have to do, laid out plain and clear, says Micah – do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
The people have forgotten – forgotten God and forgotten the memories of God’s grace – and so they are bumbling around somewhere in a dark place, doing things that they think are reverential but are nothing near where God wants them to be.  You might say they are talking the talk but not walking the walk.  Their gifts are worthless, empty of meaning without an adjoining obedience to walk in God’s way.  One commentator used the example of the funeral in church of a Senator in the States who, while he was alive, was known to run racially charged campaigns, voted against civil rights and did not see poverty as a genuine political concern.  In the homily he was applauded as someone who stood up for what he believed in even when unpopular, as if being faithful to his erroneous hurtful beliefs was more important than ethical living.  God doesn’t ask for blind obedience, as if it is a virtue in itself, but rather cares enormously what that obedience looks like. And it is to look like this: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
I talked last week about needing to have a knowledge of God to know when you were walking in God’s way and when you might be being led astray.  Today that same knowledge is needed to remind ourselves what is God’s way as opposed to what we might like to think it is. 
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was all about God’s way of living.  The Beatitudes clearly are a blueprint for living in right relationship with God.  Just as simplicity and compassion and caring for others is set against great gifts of wealth and possessions in the Hebrew Scriptures, so it is that Jesus teaches the same unlooked for values and way of living against the culture of violence and power and injustice in his world. 
The Beatitudes are interesting (as those of you would have realised in our recent study series on them): some say that when they read them they hear them as somewhat fantastical, meant only for the occasional saints of the world such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King to get near.  Too hard, too countercultural, too impractical!  And sometimes we try to over analyse them, try to figure out just what the minute detail of the blueprint is so we can get it right.  But the reality is that they are very practical and they are meant for each one of us to live to.  And in some way looking at them and their relationship to the concluding words of Micah in today’s reading might just be helpful. 
So how do they speak to us today, these words that form our memory, our understanding of what it is to walk in right relationship with God and therefore with each other.
Charles Cook[1] suggests that we make a mistake when we try to read the Beatitudes as individual instructions – rather, he says, look at the collection as a whole; as threads woven together into a fabric that is a way of being in Christ.  He suggests that each aspect is interwoven and builds on each other to produce a living and open knowledge of the way of God.  Further we can see that there are three main shades in the piece: those of simplicity, hopefulness and compassion, not dissimilar to the humility, justice and kindness that Micah speaks of. 
Simplicity, says Cook, has little to do with lack of sophistication.  Rather it’s about hearing the words of Jesus for what they are, not what we would prefer them to be.  Whenever we layer over such teachings such as mercy and justice with our own prejudices and subjectivity, including thinking that the task at hand is too difficult or that some are more deserving of our gifts than others, we are avoiding words that are spoken directly to us and opening ourselves to a wee bit of controversy from our God.
Hopefulness, like simplicity, is seen by the world as a trifle unsophisticated, setting yourself up for a fall.  We tend to the cynical and the unchanging nature of the world when we allow hopelessness to rule – for we are basically saying that we, the world, is never going to change and we just need to put up with it as it is.  But Christ comes to offers hope to the hopeless, a hope that expects, anticipates that things can be better, people can treat each other with mercy, love and peace.  And that makes us stand tall for justice and equality, knowing that there is a different, a better way for all.
And compassion: the third aspect of Beatitude living.  Not pity, not sympathy but simply belonging as family with and to each other.  Henri Nouwen has a brilliant definition of Christian compassion – “[compassion] grows with the inner recognition that your neighbour shares your humanity with you.  This partnership cuts through all walls which might have kept you separate.  Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust, subject to the same laws, destined for the same end.”[2]  Walking in each other’s shoes, in other words.
And so Micah’s words that we are to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God are meant to guide and shape us on the path.  The Beatitudes are written for you and me, telling us how to live in God’s way.  We invite controversy with God when we lose our memory of the deep love that is Christ Jesus’ for us and the love that is our promise to the world through Christ.

I want to finish with us hearing Jesus words simply spoken “You are blessed in this life whenever you demonstrate humility, bring a peaceful presence, open your heart to others, and show mercy on those who cry for it.”  For that is how we live in the way of Christ Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

Margaret Garland

[1] Charles Cook Feasting on the Word (Louisville, Kentucky: WJK Press 2010), 310
[2] Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands (NY: Ballantine, 1972), 86

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 26th January 2014 Epiphany 3

Readings:  Isaiah 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-23

Let us pray:  O God, give us the courage and the willingness to hear your word for us today – may my words and our hearts be open to your call.  Amen

What on earth was Simon, son of John thinking?  To drop everything and follow this, this stranger.  In fact if he had had any sense he would have seen that his brother Andrew was hooked and realised it was his role to be the sensible voice, the moderating influence!  Instead, up he gets and off he goes.  And what was Jesus thinking when it comes to that?  Two sets of brother – James and John as well – not fair, not showing much compassion for the families who relied on them for their daily bread!
In our reasoned and considered society of today it really is quite hard to relate to this unequivocal response to Jesus call to follow him.  ‘Sure but catch up with you later’ or ‘of course but I’ll need weekends off’ or ‘do you want to leave your proposal here and come back next week and I’ll let you know’ would more likely be our modern day response do you think?  That is probably a bit unfair but you get the drift.
What is it that allows Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John and all those others to drop everything and follow?  That is the question for today.
And I am going to suggest that the answer is preparedness.
Preparedness in their hearts and preparedness in their understanding of their God.
What on earth do I mean by that?  Well I got to thinking, in my somewhat unpredictable mind, what if Jesus and his family had never made it back from Egypt.  What if he had to launch his ministry in that far land?  How fertile would the ground have been if most of the people had never heard of or anticipated the coming of a Messiah.  “We have found the Messiah”.  “Who?” might well have been the answer. Simon instantly knew who his brother was talking about because he knew of and believed in what God had promised in the Holy Scriptures:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”  They all believed that this light would come, that the words of the prophets that told of God’s vision for the healing of the world would come.  All that preparedness was leading to this moment of decision, of acceptance, of action. 
You can see a parallel in the rather momentous occasion of January 20th five years ago when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African American President of the United States.  In that moment the vision of Martin Luther King, his dream came together with startling clarity for many people.  The new ‘black’ theology of an emancipated people was heard, God’s liberation of the oppressed from bondage was on the world’s stage in a way it had never been before. 
We have a preparedness for the coming of light of the world that reaches back through our long Christian history and theology and our church.  Each year at Christmas we anticipate and await the coming of the Christ child – trusting God that in Jesus the vision of a world reconciled to God is made real.  We know and believe that.
Yet we still have a conundrum.  There is another step we have to take.  Going back to the time of Jesus, many others also had this understanding of the Messiah coming, believed the prophecies, waited eagerly for the moment.  But when Jesus came they turned away.  Why did some believe and others not - that this was the one?  And this is where I believe we engage the heart.  In some ways for us it is like engaging in the philosophy of being a Christian – as I once did – where I thought it was a fairly decent way to live but I was keeping control of my life thank you very much - as opposed to offering your heart to God and so being able to hear God’s voice with absolute clarity when called.
There is a story shared of the elephant seals of Argentina.  Soon after she birthed her baby, the now famished mother abandoned her pup on the shore to go feed in the rich waters off the coast.  When she returned it was to a different part of the beach and then she began to call for her baby.  There were a whole lot of mothers doing exactly the same thing and it seemed impossible that they could find each other again, ever!  And yet they did – and the commentator explained that, from the moment of birth, the sound and scent of the pup are imprinted in the mother’s memory and ditto for the pup.  Is this how it is with God – imprinted with a memory on each other’s heart, so to speak, if we only are listening for the call?
Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John did believe in what was to come, but also they were eagerly waiting for the call, and maybe that was the difference – their hearts were prepared, seeking - and so they heard the call loud and clear and it was like coming home.
But we are not there yet.  Weren’t these guys taking a bit of a punt?  Restless eager hearts they might have been but how did they know that this was the one?  We who are subject to so many seemingly valid calls on our trust and our commitments, how are we to discern God’s voice among the myriad of noise in our world?
Well if we go back to the gospel reading for today maybe we get an inkling.  It doesn’t finish with Jesus saying:  follow me!  It ends with action –the work and words of Jesus ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing sickness and disease’.  And, in a way, this takes us almost a full circle back to preparedness in our understanding of scripture and God’s vision made known through the life and works of Jesus.  Because if we are well versed in that, through our history, our church, our Christology, then we are more able to discern clearly God’s call on our lives.
The things that take us away from compassionate living, just and loving actions, kindness and mercy are the voices that we need to reject - and all that moves us to live in the way and the teachings of Christ are the true calls on our lives.

There was a young man who found the courage to speak about his certainty that God was calling him to end his life, that the world would be a better place without him in it.  A very wise person told him that it was not God’s voice he was hearing but someone else.  And when the young man asked how he could be so certain, the person replied: In scripture,  in Psalm 139, you are described as fearfully and wonderfully made and Jesus said that he came so that you might have life abundant, that you are made in God’s own image, that Jesus came so that you might have life.  The voices are not from God.”
It is our responsibility to know the person of God so well that we can discern when the voice of call is of God.

And may our preparedness in both our hearts and our knowledge of God make us eager for the call to follow the Christ, wherever he may take us.  Thanks be to God. Amen

Margaret Garland