Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 30th November, 2014 Advent 1 St Andrews Day

Readings: Mark 13:24-37, John 1: 35-42

Let us pray:  May your word for us, O God, speak into our hearts and minds, challenge us, encourage us and assure us in our faith and our living, in Jesus name.  Amen

I wonder, if we were to strip away our pre knowledge of the advent story goes, would that change the way we approach this season of waiting.  After all what is expectant waiting if you know exactly what you are waiting for.  What is hope-filled anticipation if you can say act by act what happened?  What is spectacularly transforming about this moment if you can rely on it coming round each year like clockwork. 
I ask this question of myself pretty much every year trying to find a new way into the Christmas story, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Mary, trying to strip away not just my familiarity with the story but also the layers of accumulated cultural and historical response and get back to the beginning.  I’ve previously talked of the Christmas card Mary – mainly a legacy of the Victorian era, or the white faced European Mary of religious art or the perfect Mary of the traditions that have deified her.  And yet we do her a disservice - is not her powerful message of trust and obedience to be found in her very humanity, her ordinariness, her faltering innocence and extremely vulnerable social position – the stuff we seem intent on doing away with?

So in many ways our contemporary knowledgeable anticipation of the coming of God’s promised one at Christmas is very different from the experience of those who, back then, awaited the Messiah not knowing the time or the place or the manner of this fearfully anticipated birth. A very different waiting from ours. 
Maybe this is why we have such a challenging Gospel reading at the beginning of Advent – a reading that seems both out of context and out of time: the second coming before the first, the end time when we are supposed to be thinking about the hope of new beginning.

Maybe the lectionary writers wanted to remind us of what it means to wait, knowing neither the time nor the place nor the manner of Christ’s coming, just as did Mary and Joseph all those years ago.
Here is something that might be helpful.  One commentator talks about the difference between passive waiting and active waiting and uses the analogy of someone waiting for the bus (passive – unless its late of course)– as opposed to hearing the sound of the parade and waiting for it to come round the corner – on tip toes, eagerly anticipating, full of expectation.

So does this mean that we are to spend our lives bouncing up and down in excitement, keeping our eyes peeled and our lives on hold?  Absolutely not.  Alternatively, are we to spend our time and energy trying to figure out when this second coming will be so we can be first at the welcoming gate?  Again absolutely not.
‘Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.’  This is not a call for us to figure out God’s timetable nor is it a time for us to wait alert, eyes peeled doing nothing else.  It is a call to active expectant waiting, anticipating yet engaged with the now.

The two stories together, the nativity and the second coming,  very clearly remind us of the most important of paradoxes in the Gospel – that of living with the truth of Christ among us already and also in anticipation of a full and complete relationship with God in a time yet to come.  The ‘already but not yet’ as we call it.
So our waiting is an active waiting, an alert and awake time of living our lives in the way of the one who has already come and in the hope of the one still to come. In that way we bind the waiting of Advent to that which is yet to come – because by living actively in the now as Jesus taught us, we continually encounter, glimpse, participate in what is yet to come.  In every act of compassion, of service, of justice and grace we are preparing the way for what is to come – is in fact a stepping into what will be.  If you plan to wait passively, alert only to the end, then you not only miss the journey – you also fall asleep.  If you join in the journey then the many wonderful God moments along the way will not only enliven your waiting but will kindle a light for others too.

For that is what the apostle Andrew did, did he not.  It is astonishing to look at the miles he travelled in his waiting, taking the gospel message to places like modern day Poland, Russia and the Ukraine (all of which he is patron saint to) and Greece and Constantinople  and Rome.  He is known to have set out at least four missionary trips through these countries and it was in Patras in Greece that he was crucified!
He wasn’t sitting back waiting – he was living out the call that was placed on his life – getting on with it.  So I can see an immediate exodus from Opoho as you all head of into the hinterlands – ok maybe not.

That was St Andrew’s story of waiting.  What is ours?  How do we live into the God with us and yet remain alert to the God yet to come?  What does our waiting, if that’s what it is, look like? 
I thank you all for your very positive response to the future of full time ministry here in Opoho – and for your trust in our journey together continuing.  Because by doing so you have made a conscious decision to not just sit tight and see out our time but instead to actively seek out ways of being Christ in this community. 

As we raise the level of awareness of our need to be financially sustainable – do you know what I see – increasing stories of acts of generosity inside and outside the church, gifts of money, time, energy to the needy, for the vulnerable in our city.  Did you all see that both the cities’ food banks and the Night Shelter will be scraping the bottom of the barrel this next couple of months?  Can we respond ?  Can we be generous in our giving of food and can we get some money to the Night Shelter – I suspect we can. 

As we continue to engage in hospitality for students, for neighbours, for those on the edges – we become more aware of the need to support each other too – how important is it to be made welcome, to share food around the table, to rest and have a safe place to ask questions.  That is a integral part of our mission in Opoho and we constantly think about how we can encourage and engage as a welcoming community of faith. 

And there is the everyday – remember that tree that we so beautifully decorated a couple of weeks ago – all the things that we do for each other and for the continuing of this, Christ’s presence, here in this place.  And do you know what was an unexpectedly important one for me – those who hold the memory of what has been – for it enabled me to imagine and see more clearly and have an expectant hope in that which was to come?    Does that make sense?

So none of this sounds to me like we are a people who are sleeping while they wait for the second coming.  This sounds to me like a people alert and engaged in the journey that Christ has invited us on, bringing the kingdom of God that is to come very intentionally into the here and now – and for this we say thanks to God -  in Jesus name.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 9th November, 2014 Pentecost 22 Remembrance Sunday

Readings:  Amos 5:18-24,  Matthew 25:1-13

We pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Amos was one angry man, was he not -  furious with the attitude of those around him, aggressively and vigorously provoking them with his ‘no holds barred’ rhetoric.  And he mixes his own rage with the rage of God into a particularly potent explosion of wrath. 
 Why do you do this, why is everything you do all about sitting secure in your rightness, waiting till you can come together on the Lord’s day, to celebrate and sing and offer your wealth and rituals to God.  You can almost hear him saying ‘A pox on you!’  They are stark images he uses as he seeks to hammer the message home (escaping a lion only to run straight into a bear and finding a place of safety only to be bitten by a snake), images deliberately to shock them into at least questioning their attitude towards how they worship their God.   He mocks their solemnity, their celebration, their idea of ritual sacrifice and offering, their idea of preparedness for living as God’s people.  If that is all you do then you are mocking God says Amos.  There is more to your preparedness for the coming of the Lord  - there is the living into ways of justice and righteousness too.

The Gospel reading too is about preparedness.  Some were wise, says the parable, and some foolish and the foolish were defined by their unpreparedness.  They seemed to be doing everything that they were required to do – but it came unstuck when the unexpected happened and the bridegroom was late. 
Both sets of people in these readings today were living in a sacred space separated from the realities of ordinary daily life. 

Amos understood this and threw some brutal words at his people.  He was wanting them to take a reality check – to realise that a God focussed life was not about just sitting and waiting but was also about engaging with the reality of the world as well – life out there was not pretty, in fact it is downright ugly and unfair and sad and we cannot shut ourselves off from that – to use modern day analogies – fleeing from a war torn country to NZ only to be  randomly murdered in your new ‘safe’ country or moving house and family to a new job only to be made redundant after 6 months. 
Likewise the foolish bridesmaids were living in a bit of a cocoon of unreality – expecting life to be as they had ordered it, and who consequently were unprepared for the unexpected reality that is life, left scrambling when the groom eventually came. 
Neither were realising that whilst they might be really good at celebrating together as the people of God, their passive attitude, their concentration on what was coming to the neglect of what was, had no place in a life of engaged faith.

Does this have relevance for us?
I remember as a child (and probably as an adult for a while too) thinking that if we prayed for a situation then it was job done.  If we spoke sympathetically about a downtrodden people, then it was appropriate stance registered.  If we came to church on Sunday then it was week solved, God time accomplished.  There is a book I have on my bookshelf written by Alistair Mackenzie and Wayne Kirkland called ‘Where’s God on Monday?’[1] which addresses this very issue, suggesting that for many there is very little connection between Sunday and heading off into the week – they are different worlds, disparate places.  And among other things they tackle the issue that we somehow think not only that the spiritual and the secular realms are separate but that that the spiritual realm is important and the secular less so – for some Christians it’s just about treading water on the things like jobs and ordinary weekday stuff until Sunday or church programmes or bible studies come around. 

Now I know that everyone here  is jumping up and down with impatience for all church gatherings – meetings, services, practices, working bees – but seriously what is there to our gathering if it is not followed by our sending out into the week and the world.  Where is the Christ in our lives if he is not part of our relationships at work and exercise group and family time?  What use our celebration and praise and hearing of scripture and story if we do not apply it to our everyday lives, our decisions and our attitudes.
Maybe, just maybe taking Christ with us into each and every moment of our living as well as our worship will be the preparation needed to speak into the unexpected and not always pretty aspects of living where there is desperate need for Christ’s love, grace and mercy to be shared through us.  We are Christ’s people, baptised into living every day in faith, not just Sundays!  Amen.  So be it.

Margaret Garland

Remembrance Day 100 years on from the beginning of the Great War
As Christians we are probably more used than most to putting ourselves into the stories of another time, of trying to imagine how life was once upon a time and why choices were made.  And so on this day, one hundred years on from the beginning of World War 1, I suggest we take a moment to put ourselves into that place at the beginning of a war that decimated humanity on a scale never before seen.  What might it have been like?  An adventure for some, a strong sense of doing what was just and right for others, a culture of doing as you were ordered to do, a sense of helplessness at finding any response other than violence to the threat.  Did anyone really know the horrors ahead – those who ordered and those who obeyed?  I doubt it.  I’m not sure how many of you are Blackadder watchers but in ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ set in the trenches of the western front, that scene in the last episode where, with a sense of the inevitable hopelessness and stupidity of the act, he leads them over the edge is firmly ensconced in my mind as the epitome of the futility of war. 
And the Christian in the midst? Their response?  History can give us the distance to be somewhat disdainful, judgemental of the inadequacy of the faithful to stand up and speak out about the wrongness of war but who of us would be sure of our response given the same circumstances. 
And so we here today remember and honour those who gave their lives in the pursuit of  justice and right and obedience – and we affirm our belief that there are better ways of resolving conflict than war and violence and that Jesus Christ is our guide and our light for that path to peace and reconciliation.
A peace litany:

May God hold them in peace,
For those who were killed in battle,
For those who gave up their lives to save others
For those who came home carrying disturbing scars all their lives
For those who stood against war at great cost
For those who cared for the wounded and broken
For those who stayed home and wept for the loss
For those who spoke out against the horror,
For those who tried to make the peace,
For those who prayed when others had no time to pray
For all humanity, we will pray:
May God hold them in peace and may God’s love flow over all the earth
bringing cleansing and peace to us all.  This day and for always.  Amen

[1] Mackenzie, Alistair and Kirkland, Wayne Where’s God on Monday (Christchurch, NZ: NavPress NZ, 2002)