Readings: Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
We pray: May your word for us today, O God, challenge and transform us that we may be one with Christ in our living and our being. May the words of my mouth and the understandings of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
On election night – sitting around a table at a wedding reception amongst people whose political bent was unknown– the question that kept popping into my mind was ‘so did you vote for the party/policies that most benefitted you or that might have disadvantaged you but been good for the vulnerable and struggling people of NZ – because to my jaundiced eye those who voted for the current government were putting personal gain first. Yet hang on – some I knew and they were good people, generous and kind and caring of others- genuinely following their belief of the best way.
On Thursday I caught the very tail end of the Study Group where Bronwen led us through the wonderful experience that is the interfaith community here in Dunedin and further afield. I read the commitments of people of different faiths to live in respect of each other’s beliefs, to acknowledge that we are all in the pursuit of a better world, to understand that we can be an effective Christian witness without needing to demolish or isolate ourselves from those who have a different understanding of God than through Christ.
On Friday I read of the torture and death of Samira Salih al-Nuaimi, a woman, wife and mother, who was a human rights activist in Iraq, charged with the crime of apostasy – defined by Muslim hardliners as not just conversion to another faith, but also committing actions that are so against the faith that one is considered to have left Islam. What did she do? She posted Facebook messages critical of the militant’s destruction of shrines, churches, mosques and cultural sites in Mosul. Sites of spiritual significance for the people of the world.
And on Sunday we gather in freedom and security, allowed to bring our questions and our doubts, our joys and conversations - to worship God, to pray for ourselves and others, to sing songs and listen to beautiful music, to hear God’s word for us and to be Christ’s gathered community for a while here in this place.
The pervasive love of God in action in every corner of the world, in every act of reconciliation, of kindness, of courage for justice, of worship and gathering, in the hearts and minds of ordinary and vulnerable and needy people, lived out in so many ways beyond our ken.
Yet we are here. For all the fine words and the global reach, we have come together here in Opoho this morning, part of this community of faith, come from all over this city to share in song and prayer and word, greeting each other in the name of Christ.
So - what is in our hearts right now I wonder? What did we bring along with us as our companion to church this morning?
Well, I brought a bit of gloom still hanging around at the election result – and a bit of pessimism about the future of a party I align with, and a determination that this talk by the government of doing something about the poverty in NZ is just post election bunkum – and a tiny niggle that I might be not being very fair there.
Sometimes it can be guilt that we carry as our boon companion – that we have failed to be loving, kind, have ignored God most of the week, have not liked ourselves or what we have done very much. And all the words of assurance can’t quite rid us of that feeling.
Other times it can be exhaustion, no space to slow down, to breathe, to really hear any more words or new ideas or difficult challenges. Peace is all we want.
And we can come angry, with ourselves or the world or God or the unfairness of life, wanting to hit out at something, anything – just like the psalmists do. Too angry to hear the words of joy and hope, of promise and peace.
And we can come sad – hearts torn, life broken, hope in tatters, alone and in despair.
But we come – we come to share our common story, to be the community of Christ in the presence of God, we come to be still, to realise our humanity and to look beyond ourselves to the world so in need of the love and care and peace that you give us
We come along with people throughout the world:
· people who might speak personal advantage but who also act in kindness, generosity and love,
· people of many different paths to God who believe that violence, exploitation, tyranny are not God’s way and work to change it,
· people who stand up and give their all, their lives, for justice and right living,
· people who gather in all their vulnerability and humanity throughout time and the world to worship God.
We, here in this faith community, we come because we seek in some way to know the presence of the living God in our lives and to let the mind of Christ be our guide in our living, we come because we choose be a caring and hospitable community to those in need.
Paul invites us, as he invites the people of Philippi, to make that sense of oneness rather than our differences and worldly distractions our focus, to enter into our commonality of love and encouragement, compassion and sympathy, selflessness and generosity of hand and spirit so that we may, in all our uniqueness and with all our differences, be as Christ who emptied himself, humbled himself, even to the point of death, that others may have life.
And that has some real challenges. I remember times of worship (before ordained ministry I might add), where I have refused to let the companion I came to church with leave my side – came in guilty or angry or derisive or feeling inadequate in some way and went home just the same. I wouldn’t allow the word, the presence to feed me, to bring me peace.
This is a church where all are welcome – no matter where you are from, where you are going all are welcome in this community – but it is a Christ centred community and when we use it for division, injustice, prejudice, self accolade then Jesus weeps. When our inspiring words of peace and justice and reconciliation are accompanied by inaction, or acts that do harm to our neighbours, then Jesus weeps.
There are times when we make decisions that might bind us together, are the best for us, but might divide us from others who, in their very differences, teach us the power of the oneness that we find in Christ.
And here is the rub – do you know how Paul finally gets the message home – he uses words that the people of Philippi are very familiar with, the eternal hymn of the church of their time that expressed their deepest beliefs, that tells the story of Jesus emptying himself, humble, one with us, a servant no less, obedient even to the point of death, and his exaltation to new life, one in and with God. If Christ can humble himself, empty himself for us, how can we not do the same for others.
What is our hymn that will encourage us, in all our differences, to be of one mind with Christ, to share through our lives and our actions the grace and love that binds us as one? Amen.