Monday, 29 February 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 28 February, 2016 Lent 3

Readings:  Isaiah 55:1-9 ,  Luke 13:1-9

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

If Jesus had a stall in the market place, offering his particular wares, would we stop?  Would it draw our eye, engage our interest?  Would the shout of  “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” - would that shake us out of our regular routine I wonder?
It would be a novelty in any market place - where everything has its price and competing voices try to gain our attention and our dollars.  Jesus then continues to pull them in, speaking of  the richness of the food offered, food and drink that satisfies, covenant that is beyond all that could be hoped for, abundant mercy, hope-filled living.  Just turn back to me.

But the people Isaiah was speaking to might realise all too well that following God actually is not the unfettered, lovely experience that some might hope for and expect.  The people are in exile, in despair, and might be excused for avoiding that particular part of the market.  But they don’t – because they know from experience that God loves them and that Isaiah is preaching a very familiar message – that of repentance and promise of God’s mercy.  It’s not the first time they have been reminded to turn back to God from false ways, invited back into right living, and it won’t be the last. 
But for me today the really important words in here are ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

And I wonder how often we mis-interpret what it is that God is asking of us because our vision and our understandings are limited to our own conclusions rather that the ‘higher’ ways and thoughts of God?
Because we do and can get hold of the wrong end of the stick, especially with things like judgement and right relationship with God.  As did the people of Jesus time.

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus is trying to right some commonly held assumptions of the time and also wanting to challenge his followers and us to come nearer to God’s ways than the ways of the world.
He is talking about a particular cultural understanding that is quite deeply embedded even now - that bad things happen to those who have done something wrong, that disease and disaster and ‘wrong place wrong time’ is God’s judgement on the wicked and that those who avoid calamities must have repented and are living well with God.  Throughout time you can see this thinking- and it was certainly the assumption of the disciples – in John 9 ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’  In Job the advice of the friends to confess and then everything would be alright.  In the accident at Siloam, what had they done to be so punished?  And today we still think if life goes bad then it must be some kind of punishment for bad living. Phrases like ‘what did I do to deserve this from God?’ when something goes wrong and disasters being called ‘acts of God’ simply encourage this idea of a God who hands out punishment from on high, whether intentionally or quite randomly.  And in fact we carry this even further into our attitudes, for instance the ability to disregard the homeless or the jobless for it is in their own hands to do something about it and they probably did something to deserve it.  It is not uncommon for people to think this as an excuse for inaction.

And Jesus is telling us that this is bad theology.  That no one is perfect, all of us need God’s grace and mercy, and life is not easy nor fair, whatever path we chose to take.  Repentance doesn’t make us financially secure and materially comfortable in this life in the way we would think of it – good health, safe living, security and influence.  Coping with a bad patch doesn’t mean we are abandoned by God or living out some kind of penance for evil deeds.  God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts remember. 

Repentance, rather, to me is about living within God’s encompassing love and mercy and, because of that, because we know that we are loved and forgiven, here is the big thing, we are empowered to live in the way of transforming grace and mercy to ourselves and others – and amazing things happen.  We become givers, not just takers, we embrace not push away, we engage rather that isolate, we stand strong in faith in the midst of desolation and accept that vulnerability is strength and love is stronger than hate and anger and injustice.  And that Gods ways are not the ways of the world.

So what is God’s way for the future of the Presbyterian Church here in the south - I was at my first meeting of the Ministry Workgoup this last week and it struck me quite forcibly that, like the people Jesus was challenging, we too need to be re-thinking or thinking bigger and bolder about what it means to be the people of God here in the Southern Presbytery.  While there are stories of wonderful ministry, hopefilled futures and exciting new relationships, there are way too many other stories of despair and circling the wagons and just plain meanness and toxicity all in the name of Christ.  How could we have lost our way so completely?
There are times when our church acts like a big company putting measurable results and financial viability before relationship and mission.  Hunkering down within four walls and using every bit of energy to maintain those walls doesn’t seem to me like a covenant of love and richness and mercy.
And equally feeling people are a second class church if they can’t have a ‘Minister’ and maintain a building is just plain wrong.
We have to embrace broader thinking and diverse methods as we continue to be Christ’s people – and it is happening and it is exciting.  But I think that the story of the fig tree might just provide a couple of pointers for us to think about as we negotiate this really very turbulent and changing time for the church.
Manure – I like the analogy – we are to fed with the word of God, in the power of the Spirit, guided by the tender hands of the gardener for, tended well, we will provide fruit.  We are not to give up, not to wander in on our biannual visit and pronounce sentence of death to that which appears to be struggling but to nurture and engage and have faith in God working and present in the garden.  The gentle touch of compassion – the way of God, not our way.
But – and there is a but – there is a time when that care is not going to be effective – the tumbling down building, the ingrained meaness, the absence of the Christ in the so called Christian.  Then it is time for a new way, for Christ to be made known in a new planting which will bear fruit for a God whose ways and thoughts are beyond our understanding but in whom we trust and are held.

 “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to me;  listen, so that you may live.

I would like to finish with a song – a poem by Digby Hannah - Deeper River
There’s a river running deep within the silence of our souls,
Where the quenching healing waters carve their art
At its source a spring of living water surging and sustained,
It’s the voice of Jesus waiting for the listening of our hearts.

Sometimes the river of our life winds wandering away,
sometimes the rapids tumble restlessly,
Comes the time to stop and find the deeper river running strong,
to drink refreshing waters, and hear the spirit’s song.
Hear the call to thirsty people, there’s no need to thirst again,

To the weary come, beside still waters lie; full of goodness, full of mercy our cup will overflow  when the call of that deep river is a voice we’ve come to know.                                                    Digby Hannah.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 21 February, 2016 Lent 2

Readings:  Genesis 15:1-7,  Luke 13:31–35

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth, the meditations of our hearts be held in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.

We do not naturally trust God – Richard Niebuhr maintains that our first response, even though God is good to us, is to not trust God.  Because we hold, however deep down, this sense that we are not all that that good or deserving.  So the idea of being blessed beyond measure is too hard for us, needs some encouragement and promise that Abraham was extracting from God in his negotiations.
Children trust – we can easily picture a child under the wings of the hen – but can we see ourselves there?  We might remember the feeling with a sense of comfort and yet still fear to trust that God’s promise of love and comfort for us holds good now that we are adults. 

Trust is a really complex beast isn’t it.  We say we trust but want proof.  Or we trust where common sense should tell us it is the last thing we should do – scams bear testimony to that.  We refuse to trust anyone again when we have been let down once by one person.  We will all have experiences where we have trusted someone and been let down in some way.  And yet isn’t it better to be that way – take the odd knock – than never trust anyone.  I think so.  I would hate to be that cynical that I would see everyone as a hurt waiting to happen.

But it is another story when we talk about trusting God.  People can let us down – God does not.  Whether or not we choose to place our trust in God, God loves us and hold us under the wing of comfort and reassuring promise.  A story – of trust and of promise  ‘Tales of Grace: The Eagle who wouldn’t fly by Eve Lockett. [1]

Whether we be an Abraham, negotiating terms and conditions before allowing ourselves to fully believe or a timid baby eagle, needing a bit of a shove to get going, God is worthy of our trust and, if we will allow it, forever surrounds us with a love that sustains and comforts, holds us close. 

Is that what the lament for Jerusalem was all about, do you think?  The people had put their trust in a city, a building, a history: the messianic promise had become imprisoned by limited vision and bricks and mortar.  What use the house now, says Jesus?  Turn your eyes to Jerusalem but not to prestigious bits, the impressive buildings and the rich furnishings – you need to turn to the underbelly of the city, to the places of condemnation and suffering and death to truly understand how much your God loves you.  And to do that you have to trust your God will be with you.

So that is our challenge today –what kind of Jerusalem are we walking towards – uncomfortable underbelly or well-furnished security?  It is a bit of a difficult question.  For the Easter path asks quite a bit of us:
to take a journey not just for six weeks but for a lifetime,
to take the steps in trust and in faith, often out of our control
to walk it with Jesus, listening, trusting, being present. 

And that path will involve acknowledging that pain and failure are part of our journeys, that brokenness is real and belongs to each one of us. 
That vulnerability is not a weakness nor something to shun.
That we will get involved in politics, meet opposition and know disappointment on the way.

But it will also offer us a deeper understanding of the love of God made known through Christ – a love that transforms and enables us to go places we never would have imagined.
It will open to us a sense of the power of love to bring meaning and purpose to the least of us.
The path will guide us towards strangers, encourage us into new conversations and relationships, a pilgrimage with unexpected places on the way.
And it will lead us to the cross – for without the cross there cannot be a resurrection hope?  A dangerous path indeed but one which we are committed to walk as followers of Christ.

So what is it to be – lament to a dying city or trust in the one whose wings are wide enough, strong enough, faithful enough to hold us all in love and fly with us when we are strong enough to face our Jerusalem?

Margaret Garland

[1] Tales of Grace by Eve Lockett.  Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2005 p.112

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 7 February, 2016 Transfiguration Sunday

Bible Readings  Exodus 34:29-35,  Luke 9:28-36

Prayer:  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

God’s glory does shine, it certainly renders us conspicuous and its beauty absolutely disconcerts.  So says Thomas Currie. God’s glory revealed to Moses on Sinai and to Jesus on the mountain top.  Bible stories that take us into unimaginable mystery and astonishing assurance of God’s presence with us.

Take Moses- on Mt Sinai he had encountered the God whom heaven and earth could not contain, and came down to the people glowing with the experience, so bright he had to hide his face.  And the light shining him was powerful and compelling so that when he spoke to the people, they believed.  The light was conspicuous and beautiful, telling all that something incredible happened up there which strengthened and renewed him but also gave him an authority to deliver God’s word to the people.  He and his people were encouraged in their faith by the experience of God’s glory.  

Glory is not something that we do terrible well these days.  It’s a bit….brash, a bit conspicuous for us of the reformed faith -  and more so, it seems to be at odds with our often very pragmatic, work focussed, valley oriented faith ethic?  As if we feel the valleys are where we should be and the mountain tops something that calls occasionally but we are too busy trying to make a difference and often too frustrated to recognise that we actually would benefit from some encouragement, some mountain top experience that is God affirming and strengthening us for our ministry. 

The Gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus comes as a time when we as a world are desperately in need of encouragement.  If we allow it, there are a myriad of things that will pull us down into despair – see if anything in this list resonates for you:
Climate change, crime, refugees, ISIS, economic terrorism, reverence for life and respect for choice, breakdown of family structure, healthcare, an exploited and damaged environment, power hungry idiots, clever self-centred global manipulators, education standards, sexism, racism, poverty, apathy…….
We need, at times like this, extraordinary encouragement to keep on going. 
So too did Jesus.  He had come to the moment when he was about to turn his face from exciting if exhausting ministry and mission throughout Galilee toward the ignominy of his welcome in Jerusalem, the welcome of the cross.
He had just been affirmed as the Messiah, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and he had spoken to his disciples of his coming suffering and death
I suspect he had his own list of despairs that he needed to place before his father and most certainly needed to turn to God for the strength to endure.  And he did what he always did in times of need, he found a place (this time he went up a mountain with Peter and James and John) and prayed. 
And God met him there in spectacular fashion, Moses and Elijah too were present and the disciples were awestruck.

It is interesting that we often approach the transfiguration from our perspective, concentrating the disciples reactions and what we can learn from them or the mystery and how to explain it but I wonder if we don’t somehow ignore the fact that this moment was actually for Jesus – that it wasn’t yet another thing he needed to participate in to convince disciples or followers, it wasn’t primarily about showing the world that he was the Messiah because God came to him on the mountain, but it was actually about Jesus needing some serious encouragement, some building up to take that path to Jerusalem. 

And God’s response – a moment of pure glory.

Just like Moses – a spectacular shattering of the boundaries of belief and expectation and a moment of supreme encouragement.

Moses and Elijah were there, the great law giver and the great prophet – they who were the very origins of Jesus journey brought a blessed assurance to his continuing journey.  They who were the towering experience in this world of God’s continuing love and eternal promise brought, by their very presence, a message to not be afraid, to be sure that the one who sends you will be faithful in seeing you through.  Moses and Elijah were there, whatever the mystery of their appearance, to reassure and encourage Jesus journey when he came down from the mountain.

Why did Jesus take his friends and disciples up there with him?  Not I think another deliberate teaching opportunity, but rather so that they would be with him, so that he could share with them the doubts and uncertainties, to be with those he considered his closest friends, to hope that they had his back.  And they did, simply by being there – despite their somewhat befuddled response they were part of the encouragement.

And the glory of God – the voice from the heavens, affirming Jesus where he was and encouraging both he and the disciples in what lay before them.  That not only empowered Jesus but what an endorsement to the disciples too. 

Encouragement all round.  They were some pretty thoughtful people that came down off that mountain that day, pondering that which they had experienced, absorbing the meaning of all they had seen and heard.  Rattled to their very bones I expect.

What does this understanding of the transfiguration as a time of God’s spectacular encouragement mean for us?  If we can say that Jesus needed and received extraordinary encouragement and empowerment, what about us?  And are we prepared to be the moments of encouragement for others?  Because that is what will happen as it did for the disciples who were with him

I think that Jesus offers us a pattern of faith here that can help us through in the face of strong winds of opposition or tides of resistance.  When our despair at the state of the world threatens to overwhelm us we don’t necessarily do ourselves any good by trying to tackle it all by ourselves – perhaps we need to climb our proverbial mountain, whatever it might look like and await – or like Moses demand – the encouragement that is time spent in God’s presence, for us to be not only affirmed and strengthened by God’s light shining upon us but also to reflect that light convincingly into the world for we too are the beloved of God.

For too often we are the people in the valley below – trying to do things in the way of God, but discouraged and demoralised because we have lost that clarity, confidence and purpose that the sense of the divine presence instils in us and that can encourage us to be extraordinary for God in the most difficult situations.  

The proximity of God enables us to embody and radiate God’s love in the world – the closeness calls and sustains us just as it did Jesus.  How can we not be encouraged by the presence of God in our lives and our world?  Find your mountain and spend some time there – and then come down to the valleys, Christ beside you, Spirit to guide you, God to sustain you.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Resource:  The vocation of encouragement by James Forbes

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Intercessory Prayers at Opoho on 24th January by Abby Smith

We turn to you, our God, to give thanks.
It’s summer and everything is glorious.  It’s warm and there’s time to work in the garden.  There is light long into the evening.  We turn our faces to you, O God, in thanksgiving.
Birds are singing and flying and building nests.  Little creatures scuffle in the bushes.  Bigger animals stand in the fields and let the sun warm their backs.  Bees hum, and cats go out at night.  We turn our faces to you, O God, in thanksgiving.
People stand up straighter now that it’s not so cold.  We wear our summer clothes, and our summer faces.  People who are sick feel a little better.  People who are sad begin to hear music again.  People get together.  We turn our faces to you, O God, in thanksgiving.
We don’t know how to express the depth of our gratitude for the summer, for the sun and sky, for life on Earth, for our whanau and our community and each other.  You give us so much, and we can find no words adequate to express our thanks.
We turn our faces to you, O God, in the silence.


We turn to you, our God, for help..
There have always been battles, it seems like there always will be fighting.  We turn to you.  Help us to change how we disagree, to replace bombs and guns with words and ideas.  No one person can do it, but together in the communion of your spirit, maybe we all can.  We turn our faces to you, O God, for help.
There have always been strangers and drifters and victims and homeless, it seems like there always will be refugees.  We turn to you.  Help us to change how we respond to each other, to replace fear and distrust with kindness and welcome.  No one person can do it, but together in the communion of your spirit, maybe we all can. We turn our faces to you, O God, for help.
There have always been people without enough to live, it seems like there always will be misery.  We turn to you.  Help us to challenge how we distribute resources, to replace profit and entitlement with generosity and equality.  No one person can do it, but together in the communion of your spirit, maybe we all can. We turn our faces to you, O God, for help.
We turn our faces to you, O God, in the silence.


Here in our church, here in each other’s company, here in your arms, and everywhere else, as always, we turn to you, our God, and not in vain.