Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 18th January 2015. Epiphany 2

Readings:  1 Samuel 3:1-10,  Psalm: 139:1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51

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.
“Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’”[1]
How incredibly difficult it must have been for Samuel – not just to realise that the voice of God was calling him – but also the message that he was to hear – the apparent down fall of the one who had nurtured and guided him throughout his life. How on earth can we ever think that the calling of God is an invitation to an easy life? 
Both our readings today are about calls to follow – Samuel hearing God’s call in the night and Nathanael hanging around under the fig tree and responding to Jesus even in his cynicism. 
In both cases there is an invitation and a response – and a realisation that this call is not ordinary nor is it safe.  There is a sense that there is an epiphany happening for each – an encounter that somehow transcends and turns upside down all previous invitations to relationship.  What was it that made a young boy and a cynical man centuries apart both take notice, enter into this life changing moment where belief in God becomes engagement with God? 
In my reading I came across this statement:  “that on this, the second Sunday after Epiphany, the church stands between Christology and discipleship, between the wonder of the Word made flesh and the gritty joy of our attempts to respond.”[2] 
It comes after the baptism and before the long painful journey to the cross, and is all about answering the call to discipleship from one who invites us to step out on a journey of faith.
As we consider that call on our lives it might be helpful to learn a little more about the two people we heard of in our readings today.
Samuel was a young boy – one who had already had trauma in his life, given away by his mother to this man Eli for a life of priestly upbringing.  And he was still in a vulnerable position, subject to Eli as his master, one who had full authority over him and his life.  He hadn’t imagined anyone other than Eli commanding him hence his constant and immediate response being to run to Eli.  He must have felt a bit of a chump afterwards, like we do when our brain just doesn’t engage and we get things so wrong.  And it took courage to pass on the message, that, because of the sins of his sons, Eli’s priestly line was to come to an end.  Yet he did it. 
The encounter with God instilled in this young boy something that was life changing – some  sense of urgency and courage for what was to come.  Some anchor to see him through a topsy turvey life.  For there was no instant wisdom or perfection suddenly gifted to Samuel – his own sons were equally to be labelled scoundrels and he too was put aside – but there was fuel for the journey – a journey that couldn’t be denied. 
Nathanael too found something in that moment of invitation that allowed him to respond unequivocally and urgently – one minute he was muttering that nothing good could come out of Nazareth – and yet his feet were taking him towards this man - and it wasn’t good argument or persuasive rhetoric that convinced him – it was the man standing before him, his very presence that somehow convicted him. 
And it wasn’t that Nathanael was looking for a lifeline – he was an upright faithful man – one lacking in any guile we hear.  It wasn’t that he needed adventure in his life or that he didn’t have a healthy dose of scepticism when it came to extraordinary claims, it was that something happened that called him into something more, something he couldn’t walk away from.  God knew his name and called him to follow.
I have come from a fairly traditional faith experience, brought up in the local church, a bit chary about overt expressions of worship and a reluctant or non-existent proselytizer.  Any call I had on my life was well supervised by self and my relationship with God was contained and measured.  But all the while there were little bits of excitement - you could say my ears tingled!  There was something greater, a hint of a presence, a wind of the spirit that said there was more.   I totally relate to Samuel – Margaret, Margaret, oi you!  Deaf as a post I reckon.  Till now.
What was it that changed – that encourage me to step out from under my fig tree, muttering all the while, but somehow drawn towards this new journey with unknown future (now if I’d have known Opoho was the future I wouldn’t have worried so much would I?).  There are no clear words that I can offer you except a sense of rightness, of empowerment, of presence with me in whatever I would be faced with.  It didn’t mean sudden perfection (trust me on this) nor did it mean a smooth path – but rather a deep relationship of trust and faith in the midst of the realities of life and a sense of urgency and an ability to step into places and spaces that normally terrified me with some small confidence in the presence of Christ there too.
So it is in our very ordinariness that we are called to discipleship – if a somewhat dozy youth and a slightly cynical but good man and a rather reluctant (what me) woman in her fifties can respond to God’s call, recognise the faithful presence of God in their lives and be empowered therefore to walk in new place with courage and hope – what might that look like for each one of you. 
For there is no magic formula – no definitive path – no one experience that all have to follow.  Each of us has our own story to tell and our own path to walk.  But we do all need to understand that the journey is not made to be suddenly easy, that we are called to trust in the presence of God wherever we might be and that we are to be the presence of Christ in our love for one another, our care of one another and our deep desire for justice, equality, mercy for all people of the world and for the world itself. They will know we are Christians by our love.... This is what discipleship is about and this is what Christ offers us when he invites us to join with him on the way.   We each of us have our own response – take some time now to consider what this means for you.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] 1 Samuel 3:11-14
[2] Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol 1 p.261

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 11th January 2015 Baptism of Jesus.

Readings:  Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1: 4-11

Let us pray:  Creator God, we seek your word to us today – make us open to see your vision for the world and for us, may we hear your assurance and follow courageously your light, that all may know Christ through our living.  Amen

There was a time when we were not.  Not part of creation, for first there was heavens and the earth, and water and light and darkness.... and we were not, yet!  In this story of creation, humankind was the last to be created. 
There was a time when we were not born into this world, where our ancestors did not imagine us nor our communities know us. 
There was a time when we were not gathered into the community of faith, whether through baptism or family or choice – there was a time when we were not. 
It’s important to remember this – for sometimes I feel we are so concentrating on our story that we lose important connections with the bigger story of creation and of the mystery that is God’s world.  I feel that our connections with the created world, what has been and is to come, what is wider than our knowledge and beyond our understanding is often tenuous at best and discarded at worst.  We tend to live in the now and the ‘me’ and expect to bring everything to our door or at least to be reachable!
There is a sense, especially in the western world (I am not sure that is any longer the right thing to say – maybe in our globally affluent world) that creation is our oyster, that every aspect is ours to take hold of or conquer or experience. 
What am I talking about?  I am talking about introducing a little bit of pagan back into our lives – now that really helped explain didn’t it? 
A New York theologian, Donna Schaper, suggests that much of our life experience today is focussed on climbing every mountain and fording every stream to the detriment of being connected and familiar with our own mountain and stream.  And that is why she wants to retrieve the word pagan – originally meaning of the country/village and from the latin ‘to be fixed or anchored’.  (The meaning of being heathen or not of faith or uncivilised came later. ) She further suggests that our lack of connectiveness with our roots in this globally affluent world leads us to ditch one of the most important of values, that of reverence.  Schaper defines reverence as a deep understanding of human limitation.  When we believe everything is ours to know and experience, then what place God in our lives.  Reverence is the accepting the mystery of creation and the creator - as something beyond us yet ours to be part of.  Reverence is knowing your value as a person in God’s eyes and recognising that there much we cannot and will not be or do – that we are beloved as we are.
You know I was driving to the church during the week, through the Octagon, and it struck me that on the whole I was very happy with who I was, where I was and my take on life.  You see I had a snapshot moment – there was this young man crossing the road in front of me who was smoking a cigarette and who in his other hand had a banana which, with the swing of his arm, looked like a tail.  I’m glad I see silly things like that, that I can laugh and notice ludicrous connections, that I see shapes in clouds and marvel at the beauty of buttercups and am refreshed by the smell and sight and feel of the sea and love walking barefoot through the lush grass of the south.  And in those moments I know and experience not just my own sense of belonging but also the mystery of a God far beyond my ken, a Creator God who spirit swept over the water, and whose light came to pierce the darkness of the world.  And that light came into the world and was baptised with water so that he could fully enter into the ministry of his father.  There is the sense where the circle that is creator, water and light in Genesis is fulfilled again in the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. 
And so to our baptism – our invitation into the cleansing water of new life – our connection throughout time and with all who believe to the God who knew us before we were and who loves us as we are. 
Now if you are sitting out there thinking – crikey I’ve never been baptised so maybe I need to quietly creep out the back door and never come back – then don’t.  The act of baptism is not in itself a magic pass but a symbol of a much deeper and public commitment to stepping into that living water that is the body of Christ – into the living stream which has flowed down through history and in which people come together in the name of Christ to live in Christ’s way. 
This is the place in which we find our roots, our worth, our purpose, our beginnings and our endings, here in the place where Christ is.  We need look no further, nor seek to be other than who we are, for the water of life continually refreshes and cleanses us, and leads us on - in Jesus name.  Thanks be to God.

Margaret Garland

Service of Worship Wednesday 24th December 2014 Christmas Eve


Call to Worship Isaiah 9:2-7
“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.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time on and forever more.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

18th century, based on the ancient Advent Antiphons  WOV 193

We are almost there, O God, almost at the end of our waiting, our preparing, our barely contained expectation.  Each Advent we have moments when we are not sure that we can find you in the midst of the messy busy time we have created.  But you always break through, you always find us, you always come again, the light of the world into the darkness.  We give thanks and praise for your faithfulness and grace.  In the name of the one who came to bring life and light we pray. Amen

Lighting of the Advent Candles
Over the past four weeks, we’ve been lighting candles on this Advent Wreath for those who travel in the way of Christ – for hopeful journey, for faithful journey, for expectant journey, for joyful journey.  Tonight we light the star – the sign of great hope for those who journeyed from near and far, the sign to us of the continuing hope for all who travel towards the light of Christ.  And as we light it we remain seated to sing:

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tune Forest Green WOV 240 

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by:
yet in thy dark street shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King
and peace to all on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary;
and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the glorious love of heaven.
No ear may hear God’s coming;
but in this world of sin,
where yearning souls long to be whole,
the dear Christ enters in.

Responsive Psalm: 96 adapted fromJim Cotter Out of the Silence’
Sing to the great God a new song,
sing to the Creator, sing the whole earth.
We sing to you, God, and praise your name,
telling of your salvation from day to day,
declaring your glory to those who do not know you,
and your wonders to the peoples of the earth.
Marvellous God, you are greatly to be praised,
more to be honoured than all the powers.
Glory and worship before you,
power and honour are in your sanctuary.
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad:
let the sea roar, and all its creatures delight;
let the fields be joyful, and all that is in them:
then shall the trees of the wood shout for joy.
For you come to judge the earth with your truth and your righteousness.
All creatures of the earth will sing your praise,
for you are a God who is faithful,
for ever loyal to your covenant,
creating light and hope out of darkness and truth out of despair for all peoples

Luke 2:1-7 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Words based on Piae Cantiones, 1582; Tune: Puer Nobis WOV 218

Unto us a boy is born!
Ruler of creation,
came unto a world forlorn,
the God of every nation.

Cradled in a stall was he
with sleepy cows and asses; 
but the very beasts could see
that he all folk surpasses.

Now may Mary’s son, who came
so long ago to love us,
lead us all with hearts aflame
unto the joys beyond us.

Luke 2:8-14
The Shepherds and the Angels
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
all seated on the ground,
the angel of the Lord came down
and glory shone around.

To you, in David’s town this day,
is born of David’s line,
the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord;
and this shall be the sign

The heavenly babe you there shall find
to human view displayed,
All wrapped around in swaddling bands
and in a manger laid.

Paraphrase of Luke 2:8-14; “Winchester Old” Melody from Este’s Psalter, 1592 WOV 223

Light Candles

Bright holy God, you come amongst us.  You fill us with awe and wonder.  You welcome our stories and prayers…
We pray tonight for peace, peace in places where there is anger and war and fear… we pray for peacemakers and peace keepers, for rulers, for politicians, for fighters, for older people and children, for all who are caught up in conflict, in bitterness and in danger.  We pray for peace with integrity and with justice.
We pray on this night for travelers… for those who are travelling to or from home for Christmas, for those who are travelling because they have no place, no shelter they can call their own… for those who are travelling to escape hardship and injustice.
We pray for all who are sick, and for those who care for them and pray for them.  We pray for those who have died, those we miss at our table……we pray our love for them be known and their stories be a continuing part of our lives.
We pray for ourselves – for our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our blessings and our empty places.
God in your mercy hear our prayers and let our hearts be filled with healing and hope – in Jesus name.  Amen

Christmas Eve – a really special time and special for me in that it has been a newly discovered Christmas tradition – and yet I know for many here, it is, and has always been the moment of the coming of the Christchild – in the night, candles, expectation, excitement – the joy shared, the family together, the gathering to worship and to celebrate with those we love the birth of the baby Jesus, the coming of the light of the world.
And yet there are many who cannot be where they want to be at this time, people separated by war, by prison, by financial constraints, by work, by distance, by divisions, by death.  Too many people divided, angry, violent and vengeful. Tonight I want us to remember another Christmas Eve where people were not where they wanted to be, where violence was not just present but expected,  and where the shared memory of the birth of the Christ child overcame divisions and enmity.  It is one hundred years since the event took place that we commonly know as ‘Christmas in the trenches’, where, at the first Christmas of WW1, soldiers from both sides of the conflict put down their weapons, walked out into that middle ground, no-mans land, greeted each other, shared Christmas blessings, may have played a game or two of football, shared in worship and sang carols together.  In that moment peace was found, humanity was rebirthed, a new way of relationship was established.  The units had to be broken up by their respective armies – for they would no longer fight each other.
I am not sure how many of you know that there appears to have been a similar exchange in World War II – between the Maori Battalion and the Germans at Orsogno in Italy in 1943.  Richard Spence says ‘At Christmas Eve, just on midnight, the Maori struck up ‘Silent Night’ in Maori.  And the Germans replied in their language.’
There is another way – an alternative to the vengeance and violence and conflict that plagues this world– and it begins with humanity voicing its love for one another – for in the light of love all becomes clear - for there Christ is come.
As we sing we remember those who call out for peace.  And we sing the first verse in Te Reo in remembrance of those who laid down their weapons.

Mārie te pō, tapu te pō 
Marino, marama 
Ko te Whāea, me te Tama 
Tama tino, tapu rā 
Moe mai i te aio 
Moe mai i te aio.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight,
glories stream from heaven afar,
heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ, the Saviour, is born, Christ the Saviour, is born.

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiant beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
 Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth

Words Joseph Mohr, Music Franz Xaver Gruber  WOV 236

Wait for midnight
It is Christmas Day – a child is born, a son is given. 
We greet the Christ.  And we sing the good news ….

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare a room
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Christ rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness
and wonders of God’s love, and wonders of God’s love
and wonders, and wonders of God’s love.

Isaac Watt  17th – 18th C Tune Antioch  WOV 224

And we greet each other – if you would blow out your candles now and we will share the peace and blessing  of Christ.

The Peace
Minister: Kia tau tonu te rangimarie o te Ariki ki a  
                koutou.  The peace of Christ be with you all

People:    A ki a koe ano hoki.  And also with you

Commissioning and Benediction
We go out into this Christmas morning in the peace of Jesus Christ.  May his peace, that lightens the soul with faith, lifts the spirits with hope, and leavens the world with love, be ours, tonight and always.
And the blessing of God, Creator, Son and Spirit go with us and remain with us now and always.   Amen

O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him born the king of angels;
O come, let us adore him (x3) Christ the Lord.

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo! He abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, Begotten not created; O come..

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exaltation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above,
‘Glory to God in the highest.’: O come..

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; O come..
John Francis Wade Tune Adeste Fideles WOV 228

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 7 December, 2014 Advent 2 Quarterly Communion.

Readings: Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13,  Mark 1: 1-8

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. 

In studying the Old Testament reading for today  – parts of psalm 85  - I was suddenly very aware of a sense of timelessness – a strong and faithful thread stretching from the day of the psalmist to us today. It was the pattern of the psalm – of acknowledging the greatness of God in our lives and our history, the forgiveness of sin, the word of God given and expanded on, and words of hope with which to journey on with.  A familiar liturgical approach that we continue to follow in services today.  It is also an inspiring sermon, powerful and evocative, one which deserves our close attention.
For is was just that – a word spoken in the midst of the daily life of the community and the regular worship of the people of God.  Not from a mountain top nor in the midst of prophetic fervour but spoken into the ordinary and the everyday, amidst the ups and downs of life – a word acknowledging the past but with a sense of urgency for the now and a clear vision of God’s intentions for the future.  May I read you the words of the psalmist again – they begin with a reminder of how good God has been to the people in the past, of how their waywardness has been forgiven and God’s love for them is constant, then we hear this vision for the hope of the world :
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”[1]
In this stunning imagery of hope and promise for the salvation of the world, we have four core phrases or words: 
steadfast love, righteousness, faithfulness and peace, spoken into and lived through the lives of all those who believe in and trust in God.
This is what God’s salvation for the world will look like.  And there is a pointed message in here for those who believe that salvation is only about a person’s individual experience, or is something that happens once and on which you can rest.  You know that annoying person who comes up to you and says: ‘have you been saved?’ The biggest thing wrong with that question, to my mind, is that it is set firmly in the past tense, a one off experience, a done and dusted moment.  We have so lost the art of the active tense – we talk reformed not reforming, baptised not continual and ongoing baptism, ritualised gathering round the table instead of a continuing experience of the presence of Christ and, particularly at this time of year, remembering only the historical birth of the Christ child and ignoring the continuing and renewing life God births into us and into the world. 
The thrust of this sermon of long ago is that salvation is an active and now experience, anchored in the faithfulness of the past yet reaching into the hope of a future yet to come.
And there are some quite helpful threads for us. 
The psalmist gets that salvation is not so much about the individual as the whole people of God and our relationship with the world we live in.
They get that salvation of the world is way beyond our limited and individualistic vision but stretches from the heavens to the deepest earth - across time, through many differing journeys, and in ways we have no knowledge of  - a confident, all encompassing vision of the kingdom of God.  
And finally the psalmist also gets that salvation is not about the elect escaping hellfire and brimstone in some distant future, but that it is a promise of now and future blessing and hope for all people, the active living out of steadfast love, faithfulness, peace and right living.  Powerful preaching indeed.  
And then we move forward in time to John the Baptist who is another thread in God’s vision of salvation for the world – he speaks of the coming of that blessing, of preparing the way for Jesus – he too looks back to the prophecies of Isaiah, speaks with urgency of the need for redemptive action now and holds out the promise of what, or who, is to come.  He certainly had no concept of sitting back and waiting for some perfect future time – and he definitely didn’t hold back on his clear vision of the coming of salvation, of the coming of the one we had been waiting for.   I had a random thought – if that was today and we were expecting this important person to arrive, we would be filing detailed security plans, have several options if the weather was uncooperative, be trying to pin down a time and place for television coverage, the media would be anticipating what this important person was going to say and why they were coming and we would be checking the background of this weirdo who credentials were hazy and didn’t seem to have any financial or online footprint.  Sorry – minor detour there.
Prepare ye the way.   Await the coming of Christ.  Live into the vision!    So how do we as the people of God do that?  As community and individuals, we honour and remember all who have gone before, where we have come from and the wisdom gifted to us by the faithful of all time. 
We recognise the vastness God’s mercy and love, and the limits of our understandings, trusting in God’s definition of welcome and salvation, not ours. 
We are clear in our vision and active in our belief that where steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other,  then there is salvation for the world – we are the hands and feet of Christ – welcoming, loving, compassionate and kind – especially to the vulnerable and unlovely.
We are a community of God linked through time and place with all who are now, who have gone before and all yet to come – the threads that connect us are strong and flexible, and require us to lean on and share with each other.  And for me, and I hope for you, we embody this Christian living  in the sacrament of holy communion  – as we gather around the table where so many have come, where all are welcome and where Christ Jesus is the host and, in the mystery of now and yet to come,  is with us.   This is a place where steadfast love and faithfulness meet, where righteousness and peace kiss each other – for here we are in the presence of Christ, in the company of love.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] Psalm 85:8-13  NRSV