Monday, 30 June 2014

Prayers of Intercession from Opoho Church 2014

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession 27 April 2014

Lord God,
our rock of refuge,
we give thanks for the beauty and fruitfulness of autumn,
for seedtime and harvest,
and for all that we have:
our homes, food and clean water,
gardens and beaches, bush and mountains,
family and friends, help and support,
this church and community,
and the freedom to worship you in peace and security.

Lord God,
our rock of refuge,
we pray for your world.
In the wake of Anzac Day,
we remember the defeat of tyranny,
the defence of peace,
and the death and misery and destruction of war.
We remember that war has not ceased,
that tyrants still rule,
and that justice and security are still denied to many.

Lord God,
our rock of refuge,
we pray for your Church.
We call to mind the needs and hopes of this parish,
of congregations throughout this land,
and of your worldwide Church in all its diversity and division.

Lord God,
our rock of refuge,
we pray for our friends and families and colleagues.
In silence we remember before you their particular needs …

Lord God,
our rock of refuge,
we pray for ourselves –
we who dare to call ourselves your own people.
Grant that we may find answers to our prayers,
not merely in our expectations of you and of others,
but in the kindness and active concern
that we ourselves can show to friend and stranger,
and that in friend and stranger we may find the One
in whose name we pray, Prince of Peace and sure foundation,
who has taught us the prayer we sing …

Friday, 27 June 2014

Sermon Opoho Church, Sunday 29th June, 2014 Pentecost 3

Readings:  Jeremiah 28: 5-9,  Matthew 10:40-42

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.
A debating chamber – two worthy opponents – the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah – the moot is ‘Should Judah rebel against the Babylonians?   And Jeremiah takes the negative.  Seems that he often gets on to that less than popular side of the subject.  Hananiah, arguing for the positive and supporting the view of his King, passionately believes that he is in the right, is representing the way of God and the nation, sure of the timing and that right is on their side.  Jeremiah, also passionate and articulate, begins his response with a wee touch of sarcasm (as all good debaters do) and says that he hopes and prays that what Hananiah says is true and that they could welcome back the exiles and all the vessels of the House of the Lord.  But no he says we must submit to the yoke of the Babylonians if we want to stay alive.  Wait instead for the prophet of peace. 
And when the vote was cast, Hananiah took the day –war was declared - and Jerusalem was destroyed and the people killed and scattered.
Both men believed they knew the truth of God, and yet the way taken was, with hindsight, devastating in its consequences. 
How do we decide when we are faced with those situations, where both options seem to have wisdom and faith and integrity, where we respect the speakers and can see the possibilities of both?  Is it always the conservative ‘do nothing’ approach that should win (the Jeremiah way on this occasion), or should we always step out into adventure sure that God is with us and will protect and guide us.
God’s people, then and now, called to discern the truth and act accordingly – yet faced with differing visions of God and God’s plan for them.

If we dig a bit deeper into the different approaches of Hananiah and Jeremiah – it becomes a little clearer.  Hananiah, and his King Zedekiah, have a strong focus on the covenantal tie with God, a tie that they believe will release the people from a yoke that they despise, that they are discomforted by.    You could say they expect deliverance as a matter of course, prosperity as a direct result of their established relationship with God. 
Jeremiah, on the other hand, sees this covenantal faithfulness of Jahweh not as an automatic insurance policy but rather rooted in an ongoing living relationship that requires the question each day ‘What is it that you ask of us today, O Lord?  What is it that we must discern from your many teachings and your deep wisdom and your spirit in our hearts – for this day?
On Wednesday night the first of our Winter Worship series looks at the question of spiritual carelessness or lack of spiritual discipline in our lives.  It will raise the question of being spiritually fit for making discerning responses to God’s word for us and challenge us for the times that we make decisions without thinking through the ramifications for God’s people and God’s world. 
Might I say then that Jeremiah was not as spiritually careless than Hananiah?  He went deeper that just past relationship – he discerned God’s way by listening with all his considerable heart, soul and mind to the word of God for this moment.  And that word centred on the coming of the prophet who would bring peace, not war, love not hatred, compassion not vengeance.  And so he prophesied – be still and do not rebel.

Decisions face us as a congregation over the next year or so – the future of the ordained ministry, building issues, commitments to community and to mission, sustainability -  both financial and energy-wise, and others not yet known. We even need to make decisions about whether we need to make decisions!  Options are always plentiful, some safe, some scary, some clear whilst others are exceedingly cloudy and we, as God’s people in this community are to discern God’s voice in our choosing.  We will all have varying opinions, we all would approach things in different ways – by nature some of us are risk takers, others change adverse, some have a long vision, some a ‘today is enough’ approach.  Without the benefit of hindsight, how do we know what is the ‘right’ thing to do. In fact, is there a ‘right way’ or just different ways?   And how do we creatively and hopefully and usefully sit in that space between what is and what could be?

Some thoughts.  Real discernment begins with silencing our own voice, being still in the presence of God – as one commentator puts it, when we are needing to choose a way, the first thing we are to do is “to invite God into our discernment, to listen more deeply than we have ever listened before, to pray that we may get far enough out of the way that God’s will may find its way in.”[1]
Times of prayer, of silent reflection, of recognising our oneness and shared community in Christ and setting aside, just for the moment, our own opinions and solutions are the beginnings of discerning the answer to that question ‘What is it that you ask of us today, God?’ 
In those times when we put aside personal agendas and rest quietly in the vision that God has for this world unexpected and often unwelcome possibilities can arise, can have a voice.  Whether it is adventurous or continuing without change it will be scary and uncomfortable for some of us.  But how we be sure that our discernment is faithful to God? 
We examine our vision against our understanding of God!  Are we expecting some future surety against past faithfulness as Hananiah seemed to?  Or do we believe in the living God who asks us that tricky question each day – what do you want us to do?   We believe not because we are owed but because we love and are loved.
Can we hold our vision up against the teachings of Christ – where love, mercy, justice, compassion, peace are preached and lived – and are worth disturbing our comfort for?  If the answer is in any way ‘no’ then we should be concerned, aware of the danger signs.
We all have our special words of teaching that speak deeply to us.  I constantly anchor in the words from Micah : ‘What does your Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.’[2]  These words are one of my measures if you like, a teaching that is so deeply embedded I can and do hold my choices and actions up to its light.  The words from the Gospel of Matthew that we heard today may well be the ones for you “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me...[3]”  And how do they all sit within Jesus’ commandment to us to love God, and our neighbours as ourselves.
So we are quiet in the presence of God, we discern our way in the knowledge of our understanding of God’s love and justice and mercy is for all, we look to the teachings and life of Jesus to bring light to our path and we walk that path in faith.
I want to finish with a story from today of a decision for action that is being formed.  Last week I talked about the persecutions and horrors within Iraq and Syria – today I invite us to consider the choice of response that the world has and could make to this.  Jim Wallis, in his regular blog called ‘God’s Politics[4]’ talks of the situation in Iraq:  First he talks about what I would call the ‘Hananiah’ decision of the US to respond to 9/11 by declaring a war of invasion and occupation, a decision that with hindsight is patently arrogant, wrong and incredibly devastating for so many people.  Then he suggests that there has been no moment of reflection on the ‘absolute wrongness’ of this, of some admission of mistakes made.  Then he asks what is the way of Jesus – what does scripture point us to?  He quotes from both Matthew “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God[5]” and then from Romans where  Paul says: “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”.[6]
And his conclusion:  As Paul suggests, we surprise our ‘enemies’ in ways that cause them to reconsider their actions and their attitudes.  Rather that engaging in warfare, making the people angrier and hungrier, why don’t we engage in giving them something to drink – give food and medicine, flooding those countries with the things they desperately need with a generosity that would make them stop and think that maybe there is another way.  Imagine if the billions spent on war had been spent on feeding the hungry, water to the thirsty instead.  Naive, maybe – but discerning and practicing the way of Christ? ‘Oh yes!  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] Tracy Haythorn in Feasting on the Word Year A, Volume 3 p.174
[2] Micah 6:8
[3] Matthew 10: 40
[5] Matthew 5:9
[6] Romans 12:20-21

Friday, 20 June 2014

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 22nd July 2014 Pentecost 2

Readings:  Genesis 21:8-21, Matthew 10:24-39

I remember back to one of the theological papers I took early on – it was part of a residential course held here in Dunedin with Rev Dr Judith McKinlay as the lecturer.  The title of the paper was ‘Reading Women in the Bible’ and it was a huge eye opener to me of the role of women in the biblical times.  Not only were they usually culturally and religiously second class citizens in their time, they were further vilified by selective reporting by biblical writers. Despite that, the exploits and actions of women, particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, do come through in rather a powerful way.  And today’s reading from Genesis about Hagar is one of those.  To be a woman, one thing, to be a woman and a slave, another, to be a woman and a slave and then to bear your master’s child, yet another.  And then to be sent away with your child when the Master’s wife is suddenly, amazingly, able to bear a child in late age – well what else could be heaped on Hagar.  Well – there was more – wandering in the desert of Beer-sheba, water gone, walking away from her child who she couldn’t bear to see suffer and die. 
And here is the sad thing – their life experience would have not been at all unusual – it would have been a repeated story, an ordinary story of the time of the weak and vulnerable being cast out and left to survive or die.  And throughout time we have countless told and untold stories of those whom society devalues being left to suffer and die.  The story of Hagar and Ishmael goes on, of course -  God hears the cries of despair, water is found and they go on to found the tribe of Ishmaelites and the Arab nation, be ancestors of Muhammad, with Ishmael known as prophet and patriarch of the Islamic faith.
We move on to the Gospel reading. Matthew 10 begins with the summoning of the disciples, the giving to them of authority and detailed instructions on how to carry out their discipleship.  What we heard today are some of those commands.  In the middle we have the reassurance of God’s love and care for us, but the rest of the reading is pretty, well, again ugly and at first glance a contradiction to everything we hold Jesus to be. Whilst we know that suffering and struggle are part of a Christian life, in this passage Jesus almost seems to go too far – he talks of bringing a sword and encouraging division in families – how can that be when we know a God of love and peace?
This is a good example I believe of the biblical words needing more than a cursory glance, requiring some  thoughtful consideration of context and intention.  For it is not a call to leave your family, nor is it permission to violently defend the faith with violence, or to build fences of exclusiveness around our faith community.  Yet it can be easily read as meaning just that. 

Instead, Jesus is, I would suggest, speaking bluntly to the faithful about the reality of living into their Christian faith; that they will be facing a life where their belief, and even just life itself, will inevitably bring them into conflict and discouragement and violence in the world.  The world then and now, Jesus knows, will neither welcome the message of peace and love nor want to change to Jesus way of justice and mercy and compassion - and so life will be tough.  The trials of life and faith will not go away – Jesus instead teaches of how to be strong and faithful to God when those trials hit. 

For trials are a part of life, some of which we recognise as the ordinary realities of life,  but there are plenty of others that are the result of human greed and violence and sectarianism in the world today, a world that is not willing to accept a different way of being.  So much is with us still.
Just in this last week – religious violence.  It was reported in Iraq that there are not only are Christians and other faiths being persecuted by the ISIL/Sunni group but that this one denomination of Islam is enthusiastically executing another group of Muslims as heretics, whether their holy men, soldiers or civilians. By the way do you know that the original Greek meaning of the word ‘heretic’ is ‘choice’ or ‘thing chosen’.  We’ve taken that meaning some distance haven’t we?
And who’s to say it wouldn’t be the same if the situation was reversed. Sunni or Shiite, Protestant or Catholic, religious persecution by religious persecutors is a horror.  Hagar and Ishmael would have wept for the knowledge of this! 
 Political machinations: countries who believe they have the right to impose particular ways on other countries – you could say Iraq is a stunning example of that.  In the process of arguably well-meant but unthinking and moralistic interference, so many killed, so many angry, so many displaced and forgotten, so much pain, so many awful repercussions.
Family conflict.  Jesus recognised throughout his ministry that there were times when family could not be the highest priority – there is no way that we could then and certainly not now say that the family would always be the most supportive, lived out example of Christian living. Where can we find Christ in family violence, abuse, exploitation, bullying, control, devaluing of human worth.  Family, whether nuclear or extended or community, without love and respect and equal value, is not where Christ is.  When we continue to kill our children, abuse our spouses, walk away from our commitments, threaten and hurt those who are vulnerable, we need to reject it, say NO – just like in the book we read before[1].  We are not being encouraged to give up family so that we may take up with Christ but rather, as in all aspects of our lives, to take Christ into our family and live in his way.  And there will be times when that might mean some disunity of the family – we need to accept that but also recognise that in Christ we would desire where possible to find anew the ways to be in and maintain safe and respectful relationship with family. 

So - ‘Do not be afraid’ say Jesus.  These things will happen in your life, and as a Christian you will have even more heaped on you because you cannot walk away from the things in the world that hurt and maim and expoit, that you know are wrong.  Doors will be shut in your face, you will know persecution, family division, as you seek to bring Christ’s way into your own lives and the life of the world. 
The thing is, Jesus tells us, that we need not fear, be afraid, for throughout all and in the midst of all, God is with us.  Our faith invites us to conquer fear, for we are held in the love of God and in our belief of enduring unshakeable relationship with God through Christ.

So are these ugly bible passages, violent, uncompromising, a step too far, as some think? Or do they speak to us of the assurance of the love and faithfulness of Jesus Christ in the face of the reality of a life lived in faith!  Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] ‘No!’ by David McPhail (New York, NY: Frances Lincoln Children’s Book, 2011)

Friday, 13 June 2014

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 15 June, 2014 Trinity Sunday

Readings:  Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13, Matthew 28: 16-20,

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

From the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church the creed of St Athanasius explains the Trinity in this way:
‘We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.’ Fair enough we say – but then in an attempt to further clarify the three persons, the creed continues: : ‘The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible... and yet,,,,there are not three incomprehensible, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.‘[1]

This is not about belittling the Creed, but rather about understanding the lengths that people have gone to in their attempts to explain the Trinity in words, as a doctrine of the Church – we have been captivated and teased, drawn into incomprehensible rhetoric and fiery debates for the duration of the Church’s history.  And I read that there is currently a resurgence of Trinitarian debate!
Maybe we are trying to describe the indescribable!  Maybe we rather need to sit in the mystery of the inexplicable and know the triune God within that mystery.
Right throughout the service today – and every worship service – we encounter the God who is the three in one, Father, Son and Spirit; Creator, Saviour, Companion.

And in the readings today we connect to that same triune understanding of God:
Within the Genesis reading we traditionally focus on God Creator but we also have the strong presence and immense power of the Spirit of God that hovers and broods over all and the piercing image of the Light of God that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it – the three in one.
In the Psalm for today we encouraged to live in this mystery of divine and yet God with us and to explore our place in God’s continuing creation – inviting us in to the loving relationship with a God incomprehensible and God who is mindful of mere mortals .
In 2nd Corinthians the triune blessing reflects the attributes of living that God calls us to – order, mutual agreement and peace – as lived out in the grace, love and communion that already exists within the Trinity.  We are to live in the same kind of relationship with each other and with the God who exemplifies respectful and loving community.
And in the commissioning of the disciples in Matthew, Jesus sends them out, baptising and teaching in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. 
So how today to engage with Trinitarian understandings.  Today maybe by going back in time.

I would like you to look at this 15th century icon – often in the visual we find a way into mystery – and this is one that connected for me.  It is an image of the Holy Trinity created by Russian Andrei Rublev and the inspiration for him was the story of the three messengers who visited Sarah and Abraham and announced the future birth of a child to this aged couple.  The icon shows three figures seated at a square table – the opening is immediately in front of the viewer.  The figures, if you look closely, seem to be almost looking into each other with an unqualified dignity, respect and loving gaze – three yet one.  There is an unspoken invitation for us to join in them at this table – to even join in the conversation.  There is a sense that the image is completed when we sit at the table. 
Henri Nouwen writes[2] that this icon was the image that carried him through a time of deep depression, that gradually over many months he began to experience the trinity as a community of love, a house of love, where all the things that were causing him such angst like anxiety and violence and anger were absent and only enduring love and deepening trust were present.  He sat down at the table with them and found peace.
So how does it look for each of us to be invited into this relationship, to sit in the deep peace of the three in one?  We will all have different thoughts in answer to that question.  You might be thinking ‘What on earth is she on about?’ It might have immediately triggered other images and experiences that are your expression, your understanding of a triune God.  Can we take a few moments to think about that before I offer my thoughts on where it takes me?

As I thought about the readings for today and studied Rublev’s expression of the Holy Trinity I found myself connecting with these words from the Gospel reading:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’’[3]
On one hand we have the invitation into the relationship with God, to the table and on the other we are sent out to baptise, to teach, in the reassurance of God with us.  And it is in the assurance of the welcome for us to the table that we can offer without judgement, without conditions, that same invitation to others.  Is this not what it is all about?  Welcoming others into the presence of the community of faith with love and acceptance and an understanding of difference, diversity, the same relationship exemplified for us in the community that is the triune God. 
And do you know what constantly reminds me of this relationship when I come into this place of worship each Sunday – the three aspects of being Christ followers that Christ commissioned us to go out and do that we should always have in front of us as our focus as we worship: 
Jesus said - baptise them in the name of the Father and Son and Spirit.  The font reminds us every time of the relationship we have entered into with God, of our covenant with the living God and our place with the communion of saints.  
Jesus said – teach them what I have taught you, what I have commanded you.  The bible and the pulpit remind us each Sunday that we are on a constant journey of learning who we are to be in Christ and then articulating and sharing that transforming way of being with others. 
Jesus said – remember, I am with you always – to the end of the age.  The table reminds us of Christ with us, in this world and of this world, the one who has lived and died among us, walked this earth and came again as the Spirit of God to guide, nurture and companion us in our journeys.   

The baptismal font, scripture and pulpit, the table  - all attest to the witness of the living Christ and our relationship with God.  We struggle to live as Christ wants us to live without that constant reminder of our baptismal promise, our hearing and living the teachings of Christ and the reassurance of Christ’s presence with us found especially at the table.  That is why you will sometimes see me getting a bit ‘particular’ about keeping those elements as the focus of our worship.  For I believe our wholeness as Christians comes from accepting the invitation to come sit with the community of the triune God and taking that same promise of community to the world.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1976), 864-65
[2] Henri Nouwen Behold the Beauty of the Lord (Notre Dame, IN: Ave maria Press, 1987)
[3] Matthew 28: 19-20

A Meditation for Pentecost Opoho Church Sunday 8th June 2014

Readings:  Acts 2:1-21, John 7: 37-39

Words © John L. Bell and Graham Maule. Music John Bell TiS  418 sung by the choir

In Hebrew and Aramaic the word for Spirit uses the feminine pronoun – she - and in Proverbs Chapter 8 we meet Wisdom or Sophia, present at creation and throughout time and place.  In the biblical book ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ these words are used:
The Nature of Wisdom
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
irresistible, beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.[1]
And it is this wonderful imagery that John Bell and Graham Maule draw on in their hymn ‘Enemy of Apathy’

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

Sitting, waiting ......  From the beginning of time the breath of God has been present, hovering over all that is creation, bringing her perspective of wisdom and compassion and counsel to the world.  Preparation for this day of Pentecost had been a long time coming  – the Spirit of God was sitting, waiting,- involved, active, - yet waiting for the Word to be made flesh and live among us.  In this Pentecostal celebration the spirit of Jahweh weaves together the generations; the exiles in Ba+bylon, those living under the yoke of the Romans, the darkness and despair of this world, and in the oneness of the breath of God brings life out of death, hope out of despair, new beginnings out of endings.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

Nourishment, food for the soul....The strong sense of universality of the Spirit, the dance that speaks to all people in different ways, the encouragement and the nurturing and nourishment that feeds us all.  Where is it that we are nourished?  Here perhaps, with this special family, in our own particular place be it physical, mental, creative, spiritual.  For it is there that the Spirit is moving, nourishing, offering food for the soul and bringing us to a new and evergrowing awareness of our potential as the people of God in this place....

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

There was no restraint this evening...’lose your shyness, find your tongue, tell the world what God has done[2]’.....there was no stopping her, no stopping us at the joy of the knowledge and presence of God.  In the whoop of the child as they race up to give you hug, in the dance of the woman who most would call ‘a disgrace’ but who had heard the music in her soul and just had to let it out, in the slightly out of time and dubious pitched singer who just has to sing loudly in pure joy, in the voices raised in praise in music, in prayer, and soaring rhetoric, there was no restraint at that first Pentecost where social mores just went out the window in the face of the breath of God.
 This was the outpouring of power of the Spirit of God that would transform a wounded and disillusioned band of stragglers into community that would change the world, bring meaning out of hopelessness, promise and vision out of mourning, healing and wholeness and forgiveness and grace, disturbing us and upsetting us, gathering us together as one people, inviting us into love and action, the avowed enemy of apathy for all the world.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

[1] Wisdom of Solomon 7: 22-26
[2] Words Brian Wren Together in Song 414

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 4 May Easter 3

Readings:  Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 and 1 Peter 1: 17-23, Luke 24: 13-35

 ‘Now that same day two of them were going… .’
                                                                                                -Luke 24:13.

This is a very familiar Easter story, but it has some ‘stop and think’ factors:

·         It only occurs in Luke’s Gospel (there is a very brief reference, Mark 16: 12-13, in the part of Mark we know was added later.
·         It is a very carefully composed story, quite unlike the naturally confused Easter Day reports from witnesses trying to cope with events beyond their comprehension – and sometimes, initially at least, beyond belief.
·         It has a clear and positive close – the confused and rather tentative Easter Day reports are not reflected in this account – the participants are convinced, and head right back to tell the others.

All the Easter stories are stories of appearances – there is no account of how the resurrection happened – or explanation of what kind of event it was.   The New Testament accounts are modest (compared with some of the stories we now know were circulating at the time) – accounts of what people believed they had seen, or experienced.

One last point is about ‘story’; for centuries, up to the modern era, the basic way of teaching was through stories – we see that in Jesus’ way of teaching, and in the Bible itself.  Stories are not ‘true’ or ‘false’ (like a piece of academic history) – but ‘true to life’ or not.  A good story is one we feel we can enter into, experience something important or learn from.

Some stories have been built up around an initial event or experience – to bring out or to share its wider significance

NOW for today’s story:
‘Two of them’ [two of the confused, uncertain and very surprised followers of Jesus] set off for Emmaus ‘that same day’ – and the story of what happened is familiar to us.  How we ‘read’ [understand] it is over to each of us.  Some will read it as a literal account of the experience of these two, or we could read it as a story created (like the illustration in a sermon) to encourage people in their faith.

My take on it is: that this story may well reflect the experience of two people on that Easter evening (one is named-someone people knew, or knew of), but has been shaped into a carefully crafted story, decades after the event so:
·         It no longer reflects the confusion and uncertainty of the first witnesses
·         It reflects the experience of the first generation of Christians, many of whom would not have known Jesus during his ministry.

So, in this neat, well-rounded, carefully composed little story we hear the experience of these first Christians – and we read an affirmation of our own experience.

Jesus meets us ‘as one unknown’ (Albert Schweitzer), coming into our lives as we are engaged with other things, journeying with us so unobtrusively that we only gradually come to realise who he is.

He joins us in what we are struggling with, like Jesus in the years of his ministry - drawing us back into the centre of God’s plan for us.

Then finally, who this is becomes clear in worship – particularly in the Eucharist – Holy Communion.  There we hear his words, recognise his actions.  (The simple meal at Emmaus, where the guest takes the initiative and offers the blessing would have been very like the original form of Communion.)

Here we see a pattern many of us can recognise:   Jesus’ ministry continues:

            He joins us on our life journey.
            He joins us in our struggle to understand
            He reveals himself in the breaking of bread – in the company of others.

Jesus ministry continues, seeking, encouraging, reconciling, - present in the gathered community, and in its celebration of worship.

Simon Rae

Sermon Opoho Church, Sunday 1 June, 2014 Easter 7

Readings:  Acts 1: 6-14, John 17:1-11

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

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus prays, just hours out from his arrest, for the community of faith, pulling together all the strands of his teaching into a rich message of love and hope: he prays that they will continue to know God through Jesus’ life and ministry, that knowing God will draw them into a new reality shaped around love and justice and service, and that they recognise the need for the continuing presence of the Holy One in their lives to guide, nurture and protect them in their very humanness, and finally, that they might be one as he and the Father are one.
And it is this last sentence that I would like us to think about   today.  What does it mean to be one with God and each other? If we go back through that last paragraph and use ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ what does Jesus prayer mean for us as a community of faith today?
Because this sense of oneness is clearly a core message from John’s Gospel – he begins his writing with the same message in the familiar first verses of John’s Gospel:: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[1] The son and the father –one with each other as we are to be one.

According to Linda Clader, some ancient theologians who studied these John 1:1 verses talked about Jesus’ oneness with the Father in terms that suggest movement – a kind of interweaving or even dance among the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.  And she asks “What if the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity was not about solidifying  into a monolithic block but, rather, was about joyful interplay, glorious dancing?  If we tried that idea on for a while, could it affect how we view our own disagreements with our brothers and sisters....[and see it instead as] the ability to join, in our disparate ways, in the common dance of faith.”[2]

Too often the idea of oneness conjures up a picture of total agreement, no deviance from the one accepted way.  We have been pulled into this way of thinking time and time again – all those phrase like ‘if you are not with us you are agin us’ and using all our energy (and power) to prove our way is right. You have heard me on this particular soap box before.  It’s not about duking it out in the boxing ring till one side wins and we all are expected to live in victor’s  truth (some might call that democracy) and it’s not about one  person grabbing the reins and dictating their truth to everyone.  I have just read about an extreme example of a place where that happened – it was a short book on the happenings in the Exclusive Brethren Community in NZ and the wider world – a faith group who, for many years, had lived by common beliefs with a reasonable dollop of discernment and communal integrity.  Then one person took up the reins of power and decided their way was the right way, their connection with God was the only true one and their right to dictate to all others their way of living was to be unconditionally accepted.  You then end up with every form of abuse, mental, physical and spiritual open to our creative little minds being applied in the name of God.  That’s not oneness!  

Jesus prayer for us was much bigger, more creative and fruitful – it was for a oneness that comes from knowing God in Christ, in sharing in a new reality, the kingdom here and yet to come, and knowing we need the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide, nurture and protect us. 
As so as we wait for Pentecost –the rather spectacular birthplace of the Church – we are encouraged to contemplate how we might live out that prayer into that oneness.  For Jesus knew our propensity for arguing and grandstanding, and so spoke into that – praying that we could, in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, live in unity in Christ amidst the reality of our own diversity.  He knew this was pivotal to our being effective disciples in a world that was always going to challenge and subsume our intentions and our vision – without oneness with God and each other we would be just as likely to stuff up as anyone. 

Why is the acceptance of diversity is such an important part of unity?  Some would argue strongly for just the opposite – a one look, one view church.  Well we go back to Jesus teachings and example: in all his stories, his encounters, his teaching did he ever try to make one person become someone else, ever want them to stop thinking for themselves, or impose their views on others – no he just wanted them to love God, and their neighbour as themselves, to follow the path of service and to know God in their daily lives.  That was their commonality of belief, of vision, of fruitfulness. And from there, it was in their diversity that the world would be reached, the Word opened up, the vision shared with all people.  Paul and Simon Peter walked different paths of ministry, I’m sure they didn’t agree on everything -  but they both were one in their faith and their love for God and the world.
So it is actually about how we nurture that unity, that oneness without boxing in or imposing limits upon our diverse ways of being the people of God.
And paradoxically, as we read in Acts, we are told to do that in community, (never in isolation), and in prayer.  It is with each other and in communion with God through prayer that we will be effective witnesses to Christ throughout the world – that we will hold oneness in creative tension with diversity.  So how are we doing?  And what can we do better?

Well we need to look to our own ways of standing in this tension.  Do we leave at the first sign that someone has said something we don’t believe in, or do we corner them until they come round to our way of thinking, are we not so welcoming as we could be or do we share our understandings with respect knowing that there are many paths.  I do know a Minister once who preached as if they had the answer to all questions and were just waiting for the congregation to catch up – hope I don’t do that!  I know people who have walked away from a church because they have heard a disturbing word, and will only come back if they can dictate the sermon – just like that young priest in Chocolat having his sermons edited by the Count until they were ‘right!’  I know people who have chosen to stay with a community that has tried to impose particular views contrary to their understandings of how Jesus prayed for us to live.  And others who have left, hurt beyond all measure.  You know the one interesting thing about the book on the Brethren was the extent to which people who knew that the new direction was unbiblical and just plain wrong were prepared to work from within to recover what they believed were their core faith understandings – in the end much separation and pain took place and new communities formed back around the foundational beliefs of the Brethren.

And do we pray as a community to not just know God in this place but also to affirm our oneness and celebrate our diversity. Perhaps not as much as we could.   Don’t be like a friend of mine in North Canterbury who refused to come to a bible study because there would be prayer – she had been part of the separatist church where prayer was only ever about your failure to conform to particular church standards and behaviours. We perhaps need to think about the opportunities we offer for prayer, the words we use and the ways we affirm each other in the presence of God.  For it is in the stillness and the waiting of prayer that we hear God opening ways for us to be part of the new vision, the new reality where love and justice and mercy are known, where God is known to all.  And it is in prayer too that we come together in, one with God and each other, to be in the presence of God and each other, to wait for the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us – not from the world but from our propensity to take paths that cause division and lead us away from realising the glory of God here in this place.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] John 1:1 NRSV
[2] Linda Lee Clader in Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 2 p.543