Monday, 20 July 2015

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 19th July 2015 Pentecost 8

Readings:  Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
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

It is Bible Sunday today – and it seems a good time to think about how it is that we, each of us, ‘read’ the bible.  The Thursday evening Bible Book group has just started here in Opoho – on to Exodus this month – that is a way to explore and experience the biblical narrative.  The church catholic over time and with various lenses has ‘read’ the bible, including choosing what is to be included in it.  We hear excerpts each day in church – the lectionary reading of the bible!  We read it at home, in groups, differing in translations and interpretations. Ourselves, we bring different understandings over time, perspective and as we journey in faith with Jesus Christ.
I have been sitting in on some difficult discussions over the last week – at our Presbytery Resource Group meeting and at a minister’s meeting on Friday.  I have heard divergent opinions, wise words of grace, and genuine bewilderment.  The theologies, defined by St Augustine as ‘the rational discussions respecting the deity’, the theologies of the church catholic, of denominations and of individuals are many, varied and always open for challenge and examination.  Some discussions are, you quietly feel, are more about who can use the biggest words or talk the loudest or quote the most bible verses, but all are part of growing our understanding of God in this world.
Just last week I read a blog online that seemed to me to be one of the most erudite, clearly stated opinion on one of the theologies that is pivotal to our faith, that of the theology of the cross.
And when I read the Epistle reading for today the connections were obvious – Christ is our peace, he has made us one, broken down the hostility between us reconciling us to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
The blog is called ‘The judgement of the cross’[1] and these are the thoughts of Rob Grayson – a person who defines himself as one who seeks to strip away the layers of Christian culture and find the truth embodied in Jesus. He questions a long held view and offers an alternative.  His words:

Christians are generally accustomed to speaking of the cross as the place and time where God enacted judgement on the world. But what does this actually mean, and what are its implications?
Usually, the cross as the place of judgement is understood to mean the physical location where God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. 
Here, wrath is understood as the punishment for our sin which God’s justice is obliged to mete out: namely death. And Jesus …. bears the brunt of God’s implacable justice so that we, in spite of our sin, can escape punishment.
And the cross as the time of judgement is understood as the point in history when God sovereignly intervened in human affairs to solve humanity’s sin problem…..
So there we have it: time and place come together at the cross as Jesus bears God’s punishment for our sin. This, then, is the judgement of the cross: a resounding verdict of “Guilty!” pronounced upon the human race by God, accompanied by an unappealable death sentence. The twist is that Christ comes in as an innocent victim to serve the sentence in our place.
This is what I believed, says Grayson, without a second thought for most of my Christian life. Until I began, through a process of reading and thinking, to see some gaping holes in it:
Hole number 1: In this view, God is not free to simply forgive sin; but rather is beholden to a higher principle of justice that must be obeyed. This is a major philosophical and theological problem, because if God is God, there clearly cannot be any higher principle than self by which God is bound.
Hole number 2: Following on from hole number 1, since God is bound by a higher principle of justice that must be satisfied, the only way God can forgive us is through some kind of transaction. God’s end of the transaction is that someone has to die, since the wages of sin is death. Jesus agrees to be that someone, so God can now forgive us because Jesus, the perfect son, has died in our place, thus balancing the scales of justice. The problem here is that this is supposedly the same God who elsewhere in scripture instructs us to freely forgive others, even as we have been forgiven. So God requires a different standard of us – free forgiveness – than he himself is prepared to meet. Hmm.
Hole number 3: This understanding makes God into a God who uses scapegoating to accomplish his purposes. In this view, Jesus is a God-ordained scapegoat. …. Scapegoating … shifts blame for a community’s ills onto an innocent victim and then buries that victim so that life can go on as before. The innocent is made to pay the price for the guilty, so that the guilty can carry on unreformed. Do we really think the God who is supposedly the apex of love and compassion would endorse such a practice, let alone deliberately use it as a mechanism of justice?
Hole number 4: This view treats sin as a legal problem to be settled, an equation to be solved. In doing so, it shifts sin from the concrete to the abstract. Thus, the event of the cross does little or nothing to actually address the here-and-now reality of humanity’s sin; it merely promises a clean legal record to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus.
I could go on, but I think those holes are already quite large enough.
In this classic view, then, the outcome of the judgement that takes place at the cross is this: humanity is found deserving of death because God must actively mete out punishment to all sinners; and God is not averse to engaging in the …practice of scapegoating in order to see Lady Justice satisfied. This judgement, I contend, is as much an indictment of God as it is of humanity. Both humanity and God are found wanting: humanity because of our sin and God because of a willingness – nay, requirement – to deal out violent death in response.
How, then, are we to understand the judgement of the cross? ….what exactly was being judged at the cross?
Let me first make a statement, which I will then try to unpack: the cross judges the world in that it proves that none of our violence or accusation was ever rooted in God.
Humanity’s number one problem is and always has been violence. Physical violence, verbal violence, mental violence. Violence expressed in war, in oppression, in racial hatred, in intolerance. Violence manifested in mistrust, suspicion, accusation and blame. We don’t mind talking about sin because it’s such an imprecise, abstract term that it’s easy to hide from its implications. But as soon as we talk about violence in its many and various expressions, we are all implicated.
So what has this to do with the judgement of the cross? Well, one of the main ways in which humanity has sought to justify its violence throughout history is by claiming it to be divinely sanctioned, or even divinely ordained. ….. And if God, the ultimate authority, sanctions human violence, how can the cycle of violence ever be broken? Answer: it can’t, and so the world keeps on spinning ever faster along a trajectory of escalating violence. That way lies apocalyptic destruction.
What happened, then, at the cross? Far from revealing God to be the ultimate dispenser of violence, the cross showed that God would rather die than engage in violence of any kind.
The cross drew a sharp distinction between humanity and God. Humanity gravitates towards violence as the final solution for every problem, and is prepared to engage in scapegoating and lynching to preserve the status quo. God, on the other hand, eschews all forms of violence and, in going to the cross, exposes scapegoating as the structural evil that it is.
God is not judged and found wanting at the cross: on the contrary, God is decisively shown to be genuinely, truly, perfectly good and non-violent. What is judged is the world, the kosmos, civilisation and the wicked systems of violence and injustice that underpin it. And, most importantly, humankind’s favourite excuse for its violence – God told me to! – is forever obliterated.
I must draw this to a close …But before I do, let me make one final point. I believe the cross was and is a judgement that has power to transform individual and collective life in the here and now, not simply to leave the status quo undisturbed pending a post-mortem deliverance. And how does it achieve such transformation? It does so by starkly revealing the problem of human violence and showing the only way in which the cycle of violence can be broken: free and unconditional forgiveness, first from God to humankind, and then from human to human. As he goes to the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. And as he returns from the grave three days later, he announces not vengeance but peace. The cycle is broken.
The cross is a judgement, yes, but it is a judgement of light and life. The question is, are we prepared to see it that way, release our tight grip on violence and enter into the virtuous cycle of forgiveness and peace?

Margaret Garland and blog material by Rob Grayson


Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 12th July 2015 Pentecost 7

Readings: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6: 14-29

We pray: Open our hearts and minds O God, inspire our imaginings and delight our souls through your word for us. In Jesus name.  Amen

So the readings for today were all that was promised, weren’t they: we hear of the celebration of grace, the spiritual blessings found in Christ and, alongside, the dramatic tragedy of evil and weakness, betrayal and death.
And yet, as always, as one enters into the readings, you begin to see some threads that connect, some balances that make the stories more real, more relevant held together than apart.  Well I hope so anyway.
Let’s begin with the Gospel – we have talked before about the many writing styles in the bible – poetry, parable, instruction etc – and this is most definitely drama – high drama.  And, as with all good dramatic plays, this is a story of betrayal and power and high tension.  The characters are sharply portrayed and the plot stark.  A relative innocent is convicted on a whim and, in the name of lust and power, is killed because of an extravagant promise.
And there, I think, is the thread that links – I’ll come back to that in a moment. 
Herod, the main character, was in a position of power, but wanted more, was sympathetic enough to recognise that he had a choice of decision but chose the wrong one.  It seems he was appreciative of John and his teachings, felt some friendship with him maybe, yet succumbed to the gruesome request by Herodias for his head.  The moment of grace was before him but in the end, he chose the path of gratuitous violence for the sake of increased power and forbidden fruits.
So back to that thread that links the reading – that of extravagant promise.  We should all know the dangers of making promises that you can’t fulfil – parenting 101 says do not say to a child such as ‘if you don’t come in now I will never let you play outside again!’  How often have we as adults used ‘If you don’t xyz I’ll never speak to you again’? or, in the midst of a grey week in Dunedin, ‘the sun never shines!’  We are lucky – we don’t usually get called on those ‘out there’ statements. The trouble was, Herod did get taken up on his extravagant promise – and didn’t have the strength of character to extricate himself from the consequences.  In the end – a death and a burial – reminiscent in fact of a parallel story: a mockery of decision making, death and burial yet to come.

For there was another person who was given to extravagant promises – and that was Jesus.  But these were different – they were founded in a new reality, anchored in a love that was stronger than death, confident promises born from his relationship with the Father and his hope for the world.  Extravagant promises, gifts beyond expectation, more that we could have hoped for.  

In his letter to the people of Ephesus, Paul is reminding the people of Jesus’ extravagance.  He reminds them that they are the beloved of God, blessed beyond all that we could imagine and destined to live in that promise. 
That is a beautiful word, beloved, isn’t it?  Those of us at Wednesday Worship this past week heard that word ‘beloved’ used by Teresa of Avila – always she spoke of God and Christ as ‘the beloved’ and Paul tells us we are the beloved of God.

Paul in this almost over the top, extravagantly worded letter, seeks to remind the people of their inheritance in Christ, the sheer joy of living as God’s people.   He tells them that this is no empty or wishful thinking, neither is it some words scrambled together to impress – this promise of grace and commitment is instead purposeful, planned and is happening – through Christ we are known, we are the beloved of God. The promise is real!

A couple of side observations at this point.  It is interesting to note that nowhere in this passage is Paul speaking into anything other than into community – we, us, our – the only individual moment is our choosing to commit, to belong.  The blessings are all in community.

And the other aside – predestination - some use this passage to suggest that only some are chosen as God’s people and some are not - ‘he destined us…according to… his will.’  Rather, in my understanding, all are chosen for it is God’s wish to gather all people together, some aware through Christ and others not yet or some taking other paths. But all are the chosen of God. There we are, the problematic predestination dealt with!.  I’m joking of course but I don’t want the offence of what you might not believe to shut out the joy and promise of what you hear in this passage.  Too often the troublesome locks the door to what is actually a beautiful garden.

Back to the main story. 

For any of us thinking that our work is in vain, our presence superfluous, this passage is a resounding song of hope.  A commentator suggested it was ‘the excess of the language of worship’ drawing us into the very presence of God.
It is all gift, nothing of our doing – we don’t have to dance to receive the promise – love is lavished on us despite us, for us. 
It is so contrary isn’t it to the way in which we determine worth in the world: dollars, status, hard work, school, birth, colour, success.  Here we are just ‘beloved’.
So what’s with the shame and the worthless and the guilt and the despair that we as a church so often display?  What’s with the stoic faces and the judgemental conditional access to the good news of Christ? 
What’s with the worry about the future and the anxiety of doing church well?  Isn’t Paul telling us to dance in the blessings of God and all will flow from that?
And instead we wallow in the fear of uncertainty and bend under the burden of ‘what if’.
We have been adopted into Christ – you will all know stories of adoption and inheritance!   We watch with some interest that programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ where celebrities seek out stories of their past, their ancestry, and how often are there tales of family that have gathered one another together, stronger in community, caring for the unexpected, widening their understanding of family and extravagantly caring for those on the edges.
They didn’t give up hope that things can be different – because they are anchored in the importance of family.
And we too have no right to assume the mantle of hopelessness or despair for we are anchored in the blessings of God through Christ, in the joy of being the beloved of God.  
We are to be a dancing church – how does that sound?  But you know what I mean. Too often we are worry warts, too often we expect the worst and anticipate failure – what would the Christian church look like if we made this joy of adoption, grace and blessings in the love of God our way of life, if we consistently focussed on the joy of what God is doing in our midst, in this congregation and this community that is a blessing.   Could we not then move from receiving blessings to being a blessing? 

And it’s not about belittling or ignoring suffering here by the way, pretending all is well – but rather it is, through our adoption in Christ, we are living in the certainty of what a world in right relationship with God does look like, and we want all people to know that - the blessings of being beloved. 
As always, someone else says it much better than I could:
“Our delight/dance is not na├»ve in relations to suffering – it is in the lamentation for what could have been that the hope for the world – eschatological hope – is based.”
When we encounter trials and suffering we have a clear understanding of what could be, and what should not be, and want to make that difference because we know the difference by being in Christ.  Is that not what Jesus commissioned his disciples, us, to do? Go out and by example, unashamedly, extravagantly show the world what joy and love there is in being the beloved of God.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 5 July 2015 Pentecost 6 ‘Baptism’ Communion

Readings: Mark 1:1-11,  Romans 6:3-4,  Mark 10:35-40

We pray:  may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be as a light to the world we pray, in Jesus name.  Amen

A couple of months ago – John Stenhouse lent me a book – and here we are today.  This was the book ‘Being Christian’ by Rowan Williams[1] (as in ex ArchBishop of Canterbury). A distinguished theologian, a man of the people, he writes clearly, deeply and passionately.  I intend to cover each of the four chapters over the next few months. Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer.  Today – Baptism.

What does it mean to be baptised?  We are all familiar with the act of baptism, the water, the promises, the welcome into the membership of the church but what does it actually mean?
Rowan Williams suggests there are a number of things that baptism asks of us and confers on us.
And he suggests that baptism should come with a health warning – ‘if you take this step… will be transfiguring, exhilarating life-giving and very very dangerous.’[2]
Why on earth would he say that – isn’t baptism about belonging, a commitment to God on our part and by God to us, a membership card into Christian living and community.  Oh yes, it is!  But it doesn’t stop there, it’s not a one off occasion, not something to have ‘done’ – which unfortunately is the way too many of us understand baptism. 

This is the dangerous territory that Williams leads us into: that, through baptism, we come into the death and depth of Christ. We agree to live into the experience of Christ – and there are two places we know Christ inhabits.  Christ will always be found in the neighbourhood of human confusion and suffering – and Christ will always be found held in the delight and love of God.  And we as a baptised member of the body of Christ, are also called to live in the midst of human suffering and muddle but also in the depth of God’s recreating love

The Good Friday experience prepares us – Jesus speaks of his suffering and death as a ‘baptism’ that he has to go through – until he has completed this his work will be incomplete, until he knows what it is like to be helpless, in the depths, live in the darkness, he cannot be the light of the world.  Baptism prepares us for suffering and enters us into the place where we can deeply encounter the living God.
The sacrament of communion that we share today too both remembers the suffering in the breaking of bread (the depths), and assures us of the living presence of ‘God with us’ (the heights).

I would like to talk a little more about William’s understanding of the first place that Jesus inhabits – the place of human confusion and suffering.
The Eastern church, when they depict the baptism of Jesus in image, almost always show him sitting neck deep in the water, keeping at bay the river gods of the old world, symbolically, in his baptism, subduing and overcoming the chaos of the world.
Christ came to recover the humanity of the world, to create right relationship with God in a world where chaos is rampant.  This understanding of baptism sits with the creation story where, in the beginning, there was watery chaos until the spirit of God, the breath, the wind, breathed over the water and created the world – new life.
And as the baptised people of God, expect to find us too in the business of subduing chaos – injustice, inequality, inhumanity – because we go where Christ goes and that is where Christ is.

So there is no way that the baptised can keep themselves separate from the world, no way that it is a ticket to easy living or elite belonging but rather a claim to solidarity with the mess of humanity.
We are washed clean by the water of baptism yet we are the engage in relationships that can drag us into the mire and will not leave us untouched – that is the paradox of living through our baptism.  We have to let down our defences and enter into the same relationships that Christ did with us, where he talked and ate with and healed those who were hurting and perplexed and in pain.  That is dangerous, that can be dirty and it will be challenging!
But we do this because, through baptism, we become part of the family of God, we call each other brother and sister in Christ, we want to restore and reconcile humanity as Jesus did, and because we are deeply held in God’s love and delight.

Jesus takes his stand in the midst of these two realities, chaos and delight, and so should we.

You know I am reminded of this every time I have the privilege of leading a service of worship when someone has died.  I thought of this yesterday as we joined together to remember and farewell George Goodyear – the pain, the chaos that his dying has meant to his family and yet the sense of a life well lived, the strength of love that holds the family together in the midst of that – the pain and the powerful presence of love – without one the other cannot be deeply experienced.

So baptism brings us into the strength of belonging, a family love that enables us to walk in the darkness and the light, to engage in relationships that that both test and delight, to give and to receive, to care for and to be renewed and replenished.

At the beginning I said Rowan Williams talked about the fact the baptism both confers or places on us and asks of us.  I would conclude with the three things that he believe that is.

And these too are dramatic, dangerous, deeply so.

We become prophets – asked to speak into our church communities and the wider community about right relationship, integrity, truth - calling us all to honour and be faithful to who it is that we are, what it is that we are here for.  To remember that we are a Good Friday people living in the delight of Easter Sunday.

We become priests – asked to build bridges between God and humanity – to restore relationship and heal division.  Where there is brokenness, damage, disorder, we seek in the power of Christ and spirit and prayer, to bring healing and reconciliation.

And we become royalty – in ancient Israel the king had the power and freedom to shape the law and justice in their society. Some did that very badly.  But the king who knew God would favour the poor, bring justice to the powerless, heal and restore the dispossessed.  Our ‘royal’ calling is to show in our relationship and engagement with the world that
in our lives and our human environment we too know and live God’s justice.

I would end with a poem by Thom Schuman, a blessing of baptism really.

A drop of water from the sea, where all life began,
on your forehead, beloved,
to pour abundant life into you all the days to come.

A drop of water from the sky, bringing relief to your parched soul,
on your forehead, my beloved,
that your spirit will never thirst for God’s grace.

A drop of water from my heart, overflowing with joy,
on your forehead, our beloved,
so that you feel God’s hope holding your hand with every faltering step you take.

One drop from the sea, one drop from the sky, one drop from my heart mingle with Father, Son and Spirit,
the living waters flowing with you, forever, beloved of God.  Amen.
Thom M Shuman from Acorns and Archangels Wild Goose Publications  p.170

[1] Being Christian by Rowan Williams.  London: SPCK, 2014
[2] P.9

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 21 June 2015 Pentecost 4

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13,  Mark 4:35-41

We pray:  Faithful and eternal God, we come from our many different places, various threads of this community, this city seeking to hear your word for us.  Open and encourage our hearts and minds to the possibilities you bring, if only we would listen.  Amen.

The storm was fearsome, the waves close to swamping the boat, the seasoned fishermen, the disciples, were helpless against the forces of nature – and yet Jesus slept.  This was it, the end, overturned boat, bodies washed up on the shore.  Make no mistake the disciples were frightened, very aware of the dangers of this untameable world and the frailty of their place in it.  And when he finally woke, what was it that Jesus said:  Why are you afraid?  On first glance, a rather unsympathetic response from someone who we might expect more understanding from.
But when we look and listen more closely we realise what it was that he did not say: he did not say ‘there is nothing to be afraid of’.  When a child wakes in the middle of the night from a nightmare and we go to comfort them do we say ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of’? (that is a bit ingenuous because they are frightened of something) or do we say ‘don’t be afraid – I’m here.’  Jesus said ‘Do not be afraid’ ‘have faith in God before whom even nature is gentled.’
Do not be afraid, for God is with us, not ever leaving us alone to walk this sometimes fearsome journey of life.  For there are certainly things to be afraid of, things that overwhelm us and we wonder if there is ever a way – but perhaps Jesus is telling us to not let that paralyze us, not to let panic and fear frighten us, not give up for we are not alone.

The psalmist knew this truth – some verses from today’s psalm - 9
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,  a stronghold in times of trouble. 
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. 
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.  Declare his deeds among the peoples.    
For he does not forget the cry of the afflicted. 
The needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish for ever. 

We are to remember that God is with us, that love is stronger than hatred - for it is indeed a frightening world.  When we look around us, we weep.  We only need to look at what has happened in the world over the last week – shootings, extortions, greed going its own sweet way in the property market, 12 year olds in the sex industry – and it goes on.

This is the Sunday in the year when we especially remember those who are refugees – from war, from famine, from political, racial, cultural oppression.  Was it only me whose insides churned at the thought that people who had paid exorbitant fees for a place in an overcrowded, unseaworthy boat watched as affluent nations paid the crew to turn them around.  I don’t think so!  What about those rescued in the Mediterranean, abandoned to the elements and the compassion of nations that might or might not want to help. They come from horrific conditions most of them – putting all there hope in others – the ones who take their money, the countries they might get to.  Yet they are invariably let down.  A transaction.  Not wanted.  A nuisance.  
Maybe it is oversimplifying it but we have a huge influx of people to particularly Auckland (and a big yes to the fantastic diversity we have in this country) but do not offer the same generosity of welcome for those who are literally fleeing for their lives.  Something is wrong here.

I don’t know how many of you have read the latest encyclical letter of Pope Francis on caring for our common home.  It is a powerful document on the ways in which we are destroying this our planet through greed and apathy and egocentric choices.  He targets our inability to care for creation, all of it, as intimately linked with social, economic and religious selfishness and rigidity.  And he challenges our ability and desire as the people of God, whatever faith we might be, to respond in even the smallest of ways.  Remember the mustard seed?
I followed some of the twitter response to the publication of this letter (I don’t think many who criticised actually took the time to read it) and was appalled at the comments made – they only proved his point really.   The selfishness and rigidity of too many of humankind.  The time spent arguing over whether the environment was more important than violence or morality – someone thankfully said ‘actually, both/and’.
I think one of the best was “why is the pope embracing communist/progressive talking points/propaganda? U should listen to the Lord not commies.”
And perhaps much more serious and repeated often was something along the style of “Christians all over the world are being slaughtered and #persecuted, and you're going on about #climatechange? I'm out!
 Seriously – we only care about Christians?  Which Jesus did they know?
And so to our response.  We have heard the Psalm:
that God does not forget the cry of the afflicted. The needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish for ever. 
Are we panicking in the boat, overwhelmed with what we see and experience, ineffective against the enormity of a world that seems to want to devour itself on so many fronts?  Or are we a people of faith who will continue to speak out, live caringly and compassionately, and trust to the grace of God as we seek to make a difference to our world.
Our church has I believe, got some issues to address before it can truly be a church of faith as described above – and this would be nothing new nor isolated to the PCANZ.
There has been another paper just published – and this is here in Aotearoa New Zealand.  The Moderator of our Church Rev Andrew Norton has released a White Paper that he asks all of us to seriously consider – and he titles it ‘A Matter of Faith’.  This is a document that we will provide opportunity to discuss and I hope that you can be part of that – it is, I believe, that important.
For it speaks to how it is that we are church, how we respond to the ills of the world, how we within the church can fall into the same rigidity, expend our energies on issues and try to right the boat by battening down the hatches so to speak.
Within the context of an increasingly secular society and falling numbers in mainstream churches, Andrew outlines the issues for our Denomination as he sees them –
·       Spiritual vitality of the church – our health is not about numbers or buildings but about inspirational journey.
·       Individualism and congregationalism – our engagement with each other as a national movement has been severely compromised by limited energy and division into each one’s small corner.
·       Woundedness – right and wrong, passive aggressive, power plays, distrust, suspicion – how powerful to live in not agreement but reconciliation
·       Loss of voice – we have largely become silent on public issues – and when we do speak out it is usually an ‘against’ rather than ‘for’.  Imagine a voice for the poor, for peace, for victims.
·       Raising the bar in Ministry – are the ways in which we call, sustain, develop Ministry relevant in our changing world?  The conversations are needed and the energies for Ministry released.
·       The ethics of mission – is our motivation to bring people to Christ or alternatively are they good works only?  Andrew says:  When everything is mission, mission becomes nothing. Yet at the same time everything we do must be grounded in mission…  
·       Busyness – are we busy to the point of distractedness, becoming like the world – too busy and too noisy, so we don’t have to face the loss of dream and deep organisational incoherence.
·       And finally stewardship – decreasing people numbers sit alongside increased stored wealth tagged for eg buildings.  Where are we gifting from our surplus to our communities.
Andrew invites us to engage in discussion of these issues, and ultimately to choose to the approach of Jesus in the face of the storms that surround us, to have faith in a God that is creating and recreating, who is for us and not against us, to embrace the adventure of faith in God alone.  Andrew leaves us with these words and I will too:
Before mission (works) comes intention
Before intention comes attention
Before attention comes love
Before love comes listening
Before listening comes grace
And before grace comes God alone.

Margaret Garland 

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 28 June 2015 Pentecost 5

Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, made whole from your illness.
                                                                                                            Mark 5: 34.

We see a pattern in Jesus’ ministry.  He touches the lives of all sorts of people, and draws the sad, the anxious, the troubled – and the alienated back into the centre of God’s purpose for them and their lives.  In his company we find wholeness and life.

The passsage from Mark’s Gospel which we have heard read this morning contains two well-known stories – one tucked inside the other – they embody and illustrate this pattern.

The First story: begins with Jairus, the ‘ruler’ of the local synagogue, a leading figure in the community, pleading with Jesus for his young daughter: ‘she is at the point of death’. (v.23).  This a very Palestinian story.  Jairus knew the stories in Scripture of the acts of God’s prophets – like the intervention of Elisha on behalf of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4: 8-37).  He may have seen Jesus as a new prophet – one whose deeds were signs of God’s power to heal and renew. ‘Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live (not die v.23.)
A  crowd formed and pressed in on Jesus as they went… 

And then the Second story occurs: a woman who had suffered haemorrage for many years, who had spent her resources and suffered many procedures without finding relief – and in fact was worse now - came up behind Jesus in the crowd, and reached out discretely to touch the hem of his garment – knowing that she was risking an angry reaction.

In many traditional societies blood and bleeding offended against concepts of social and ritual purity.  There were rituals for purification and strict rules of separation while this condition continued. But this tragic woman would have suffered continual alienation – something like being a leper.  Anything she touched – even her bed was defiled – and anyone she touched. (Leviticus 15: 25-27).
 – to touch a religious figure would disable his ministry – and risk his anger!  So she approached discretely from behind and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment: ‘If I but touch his clothes I will be made well’ (v. 28).

Jesus reaction startles his disciples – not because he is angry but because he wants to know who touched him in the press of the crowd!  Jesus and the woman both know something has happened – something mysterious, hidden, unknown to the others.  So, fearfully, she tells him her story and Jesus confirms what has already happened:  Daughter, your faith has made you safe and well (salvam fecit) go in peace and be whole (sanus) from your affliction. The Greek words in which Jesus’ response is recorded are not familiar – the Latin may be more so for us: salvus safe, well (saved); peace (shalom) has a sense of everything being as it should be – not disordered, or afflicted, or in chaos; and sanus: healthy, whole in body and mind.

The woman found well-ness, healing, wholeness and peace, not by some magic, as if Jesus was a kind of spiritual dynamo, but much more simply by responding to her conviction that in some way Jesus could restore her by bringing her back into the harmony (wholeness, safety, well-being) of God’s purpose for her life.
Of Course she wouldn’t have thought of it in those abstract words – for her faith was action – putting aside her fear of an angry rebuke, and reaching out meekly to make the most humble contact .  That was her salvation – her healing – her renewal – her peace. It was her faith/trust that saved her – not some magic act of Jesus. 

Then back to Jairus’s daughter.  While this was going on people from Jairus’ house came and said to him: Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher further?
Jesus overheard and said to Jairus ‘Do not fear, only have faith/trust.’ 
When they got to the house the traditional wailing had begun.  People laughed when Jesus said, The child is not dead, but sleeping.  And we know what happened. 
The young girl was revived from whatever state she was in – we should take Jesus’ comment literally; she was not dead but in some kind of death-like state – more familiar to us now than to people in Jesus’day’.
Little girl, get up! Called out of her trance or coma she is called to act – and then given food!  Back to normal…

These two very different stories, woven together, remind us that God’s gift is life and wholeness – for all people.  We see a universalism in Jesus’ ministry – a willingness to respond to all kinds of people – a synagogue official the very model of orthodox respectability, and a distressed woman alienated on account of an affliction she had not chosen;  we see earlier in the same chapter his response to a demented man living among tombs, who believed he was infested by a myriad of evil spirits.
We recall Jesus’ response to Roman officials (the occupying power) alien people (the Syrophoenecian woman who wanted to claim crumbs from the table of the chosen), the woman at the well who was so disreputable she had to come to the well when no one was around.  And so many more.

Today’s two stories have a common theme – God’s purpose for us is life – now; wholeness now.  For us, Jesus is the way to centre ourselves again in the light and life of God.  Faith is not about what happens in our head (what we believe) – but about reaching for help – for ourselves or for someone we love.
These stories do not promise any kind of magic – Jairus, his daughter and the woman in the crowd would all face challenges, problems in their lives, and ultimately, like us all, the experience of death – but they would each live with a hope based on their solid experience of God’s goodness; and of Jesus in whom it is embodied.

I have had this little funeral prayer for long time, a prayer  at the close for those of us  who having farewelled someone we love or respect are returning to our daily lives – it echoes the affirmation of life in these two stories from the ministry of Jesus:

Lord God, you were happy to give us the light of our eyes and let us be born; You did not make us for darkness and death but so that with all our hearts we might live and come closer to you.  Be merciful to us then, and lead us in the journey of life until, when we have served in our own time and generation, we may be gathered with those we have loved in your eternal peace.

Rev Simon Rae