Saturday, 21 May 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 22 May, 2016. Trinity Sunday

Readings:  Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31,  John 16:12-15

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.

When the Spirit of truth comes, that Spirit will guide you in all the truth……
It is only in John’s gospel that we hear this title used: Spirit of truth.  It is a differing perspective perhaps, one that adds another dimension to our understanding of the Spirit, and one we don’t always use when describing the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the Church. 
And it does need to be said that John’s understanding of truth is not as fact, dogma, rules but instead as revealed and declared in Jesus, the Christ –that the Spirit comes to guide the community of faith in the truth that is the life and teaching of Jesus continuously working in the world.

In the reading from Proverbs we meet Sophia, Wisdom, calling from the market places and the crossroads – places where truth (wisdom) is both found and revealed.
Wisdom cries out to all – pleading for her voice to be heard and offering her impressive credentials for speaking the truth of God into all the world and in the most public of places.  True she has competition, folly’s voice is strong too, but Wisdom is belting out her message, God’s message of encompassing love creatively and audaciously. 
Listening to the role of Wisdom in the beginning, in creation, you might well imagine her as God’s architect, active in all the inhabited world, the delight of God and in turn delighting in the all human race.  John Calvin paints a picture of the work of God in creation with these words from the Institutes:
“Wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of God’s glory.  You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness.”[1]

Yet the God revealed in the market place and through nature can only be fully understood in the light of Jesus and therefore through later scripture.

So back to the Gospel reading on this Trinity Sunday.  John is not so concerned about defining the inter-relationships of the three in one God (he left that for theologians to battle with for 2000 years)– rather he is focussed how the triune God relates to the reconciling of the world to God.  And in this passage we are looking particularly at the role of the Holy Spirit in the continuing instruction of the way of living in the truth of Jesus.  In a sense the things that Jesus has held back on, that he couldn’t say, were not because he felt they were too much but rather because they would only be revealed in context of resurrection and through the Spirit of truth.
The journey of revelation continues to this day.  The truth of Jesus Christ is a living and creative happening in the world and, I have to say, not the captive of the institution that we know as the church.  Where we (the church) have decided that we already have all the truth, where the voice of dogma is louder than the voice of the Spirit, I would suggest we have well and truly lost our way.

We must expect God to be present outside the confines of church, we must expect to encounter wisdom outside of Sunday service, we must accept that God is at work in the world outside of our influence.  With vigour, with the passion and daring of Sophia, the Spirit of truth is at work in the world.

This Gospel text is encourages us into an openness to fresh encounters with the revelations of Jesus, engaging anew with the Spirit of truth and courageous enough to be the
raucous truth tellers that are needed in the world today. 

Jesus Christ – the way and the truth and the life as guided by the Spirit – our story to tell, our truth to share.  I wonder what this means for us.
I personally have a real problem with the idea of getting out into the market place and haranguing the crowds with what they need to do to be saved.  Not particularly effective at the best of times and  certainly not where the words are not surrounded by acts of living out the truth of Jesus.
Equally though I have a real problem with us expecting the world to come to us, the Christian Church, as the source of all truth.  We are not, God is!  We are continuing to be guided throughout time in the truth of Jesus Christ made known in the Spirit – how dare we assume that we have it sussed, signed off for all time.  We are part of the reformed and reforming church, forever discerning the truth of God in our lives – we need to be careful what we claim are the facts of truth and who has exclusive use of God.

Is it possible that in some way we have become entangled in religion, its familiar rites and passages, and lost our searching faith, our understanding of the truth that is Jesus Christ. There is a quote from the book Churchless Christianity that might speak to some of us:  “Come out of those jungles of religion.  If you once enter there, you can no more find the way.  Look for Christ, who by-passed the jungles, who pointed out the direction, who over-ruled the ceremonials, and who showed us how to live always for others.”[2]

One of the best ways for me to keep a handle on how it is that I as a Christian am asked  to live in the truth of Jesus, to be aware of where the jungle of religion is compromising that, is always to imagine my feet in his, my response as his, my choices as he would choose, my prejudices and biases and apathy to be swept aside by his care for all in the world.

So imagine if Jesus was born and lived not into the first century but the 21st century. 
Would Jesus be delighted with the religious establishment in any sense of the word?  Probably not.
Would Jesus choose to exclude certain groups of people because the community in its wisdom decided they did not conform – never, his arms would be open and his table a place of welcome
Would Jesus stay in a safe place and prefer not to engage with the different.  Heck no!
Would Jesus muck in with the homeless and the destitute, Heck yes.
Would Jesus be protestant (reformed of course) or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox?  Would he even be a member of the church? Or would he allow that faith and truth was to be found where people gathered to worship and learn to live in the way of Jesus?
Would Jesus sit in on the interfaith group, seeking truth together – I believe he did in his day and would do so today.
Would Jesus understand that diversity was delightful and be horrified at our desire for conforming to sameness? Yes and yes.
Would Jesus act as if there was nothing new to know – or would he be on a journey like us, excited about what might be around the corner?  Absolutely
Would Jesus be interacting with all the people he met never mind their failings? Yes, yes, yes.
Would Jesus be the raucous voice in the market place, seeking not to win souls for the church but to do what ever it takes to bring people into God’s love and justice, wisdom and truth – for all who would have ears to hear?  Yes indeed.

When the Spirit of truth comes, that Spirit will guide you in all the truth – the truth that is Jesus the Christ. 
I invite you, in a time of reflection, to consider how the truth of Jesus challenges and assures you in your journey of faith.

Margaret Garland

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia:Westminster Press, 1960)
[2] Citation: Kaj Baago, ed., The Movement Around Subba Rao (Madras: CLS, 1968) cited in Herbert E. Hoefer, Churchless Christiantiy,  Madras, 1991, p.161

Monday, 16 May 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 15 May 2016 Pentecost Sunday

Text Reading:  Acts 2.1-21

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable unto you O Lord the source of our strength and our redeemer. Amen

In this remarkable passage we read about the great day of Pentecost. Before this event the disciples’ hope was shattered and broken; they were disappointed at the turn of events by Jesus’ crucifixion. In vain had they tried to comfort themselves and it is as if all meaning had ceased. Three days later we are told of the magnificent event that so changed their lives from tears to laughter, their sadness to joy, their darkness to light. One event so transformed their lives they had no choice but to tell others about it, so that others’ lives can also be transformed by the same truth that so profoundly changed theirs.
A promise was made to them that Jesus will send them another comforter; that they should wait till the Holy Spirit should come. Jesus identified Comforter with himself, as He was with his disciples and walked with them, in the same manner another Comforter, Friend, companion walking along side of them/us, would be with them even to the end of the age. This is the hope they were waiting for as the day of Pentecost arrived. In patient trust they had to wait and accept His words that that would happen.

Pentecost was the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks. It is the Jewish harvest feast following Passover. In the Hebrew economy two big rain seasons referred to as the early rain and the latter rain. The early rain was for the sprouting of the seeds and they were left to grow through winter. The later rain was where ears of grain would plumb during spring and harvested.
The outpouring of the Spirit can be compared to the rain. As I understand it, Jesus began His ministry in the fall and for 3½ years he was sprouting the seeds of the gospel during the “former rain.” Furthermore He was teaching His disciples after His resurrection for another 40 days and before He ascended He told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. The Comforter will come to give them power. It is very interesting to note as well that Jesus fasted for 40 days before his ministry where he didn’t teach and eat and after He resurrected He did eat and teach also for 40 days. Acts 1:3
The situation of the disciples is very interesting, they just replaced Judas. They were in the upper room for 10 days, 120 people all gather, men and women, Jews and proselytes; meaning converts to Judaism. They didn’t know what to expect. Lev 23:15-16 we read the Jews had to count 7 Sabbaths after Passover which equals 49 days and the day after would be another Sabbath equalling 50 days. That is our word for Pentecost. Pentecost was celebrating the harvest 50 days after Passover. Jesus’ crucufixtion coincided with the Jewish Passover. Christ was the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the world.
God was going to give the church at this time its very own harvest because Jesus spread the seed earlier during His ministry i.e. early rain. The important point is that they couldn’t do the work of God without the power of God. They had to pray and wait – it is through the Holy Spirit that we experience Christs’ indwelling. They needed the Comforter. God the Son had to go, so that God the Spirit could come. What is the reason for that? It was to bring witness to others about this extraordinary event. The outpouring of the Spirit was to prepare the ‘crop’ before He came.
God wanted to take a piece of Jesus’ spirit and put it on His people. In some sense we all need it friends. It is a personal walk with Christ. How was this possible? Acts 1:14 tells us they were united with one accord, they were putting aside their differences to focus on the word that they heard and to work out what had happened in their immediate experience. Acts 2:1 tells us that they were in one place, they came together. They were gathering to study about what they received.
God wanted them to be one. In John 17:12-24 we read: “o that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. "I have given them the glory that you gave me, so that they may be one, just as we are one .” ISV

The same way that God the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one. God wants in a sense us to be one – not only with Him, but with others as well. You know friends, they only way we can be one is what we need is special glue. God’s special glue of love is what holds us and binds us together.  What is interesting is that they heard a sound of wind from heaven and it filled them with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t one person’s feeling; it was something outside of them that rested on them. Acts speak of the divided tongues appearing as fire with them; it was the very presence of God in their midst.
The question also naturally arises didn’t Jesus breath on them the Holy Spirit earlier? Yes! The problem was that their faith had died; the church in a sense had to experience its own resurrection. Sometimes the Spirit comes like a fire, sometimes like wind. We read that tongues of Fire rested on all the individuals present.
You see friends we cannot do the work of God without the presence of God. During those ten days they had to learn to rely on God and depend on Him. In that silence their faith was formed and moulded. They were made ready to accept the next part of what God wanted them to do. Life can throw us many curves and the disciples had to learn this the hard way too but trusting and walking with the Lord they realized that life is to be lived in dependence on God. Resting on their own, authority, their own words, their own efforts, their own strength they would not be able to do what God had wanted them to do. They had to learn to trust God in meekness and lean on God.
God picked the best timing on this Jewish holiday. Going to Jerusalem was one of the most amazing pilgrimages that a Jew could make, at least once in their life. As we read in Acts 2:9-10, there were Jews from all over the Roman world speaking many different languages gathering here at Jerusalem. God was bringing people to this one place where He was about to perform a work. Peter stood up and raised His voice. Pentecost set the stage for Peter’s sermon, a sermon unlike anything they ever heard. The Jews came in pilgrimage and for years they were expecting the Messiah to come.  These were not any Jews; they were devout Jews from all corners of the Roman world. They had come for the Messiah.
Peter says in Acts 2:22 “You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know: Act 2:23  Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” KJV

Friends can you imagine these words on those first hearers? These words knocked them off their feet, it knocked them of their pedestal with a cricket bat. It shook them to the very core. The Messiah they had come for and awaited was crucified a few weeks ago. People’s hearts were being changed, they were convicted; they were invited to make a decision. God was bringing them in so that He could send them out.
Notice that also this is the reason for the outpouring of the Spirit and I do think this trip a lot of people up. Notice in verse 4 we read “they began to speak in other languages” and in verse 5 it says “each one was hearing the them (the disciples) in their own language”. Notice it doesn’t say they heard babbling. They heard the wonders of the gospel story in their own language. Pentecost opened the door for the gospel to spread, each person heard from the same mouth in their own native language Peters’ words. This is the true miracle of Pentecost and I believe they were speaking in known foreign languages that they didn’t know before. There were others that mocked, these people were most likely leaders or part of the crowd at Jesus’ crucifixion, that now mocked when they heard different languages being uttered by the apostles mouths, it sounded like gibberish to them. (they were late to the party.) The miracle of Pentecost was that God wanted to carry the gospel message of the good news of Jesus crucifixtion and resurrection to the whole world. (God wants us to go higher in love)
You know friends God can do amazing this in our lives if we allow Him to. Pentecost was the invitation to harvest. God invites all of us to make a decision to follow Him, wherever it leads. The Jews went back home, to their communities all over the world to bring that unique story to all their relatives and families. In Acts 2:21 we read: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” KJV As they tried in those early moments to understand the message of Jesus little did they know that God was preparing their hearts in order to receive Him and go on this epic mission.
How are we preparing our hearts to receive God? No matter our station in life, our rank, age or ability we are all called to respond to Gods loving grace. This is not something we can keep to ourselves, others may mock but we are called to do it, to bear it and carry the torch forward. One last thing: The feast of First Fruits was part of the Feast of Weeks. The ancient Jews had to bring the best of their produce as an offering to the Lord. You know friends the disciples and the Jews and all the hearers present there at Jerusalem were the first fruits in many ways, they were the part of the magnificent growth that resounded through the centuries until today.

This is the story that so transformed them, it is their story, their conviction, their confession and it is ours. Where do you stand friends? Let us go forward in the knowledge, love, peace and power that God freely grants those through the Holy Spirit who ask Him and believe on His name to equip us for His good work. Amen. 

P.T. Jacobs

Friday, 6 May 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 8 May 2016 Ascension Sunday

Readings:  Acts 1:1-11,  John 17:20-26

We pray: Gracious God, we pray for a discerning heart and an enquiring mind as we hear your word for us today.  May all that we bring and all that we hear be gathered into your purpose for us.  In Jesus name. Amen.

Here, in this church today, we are surrounded by the imagination of others, and we thank God for the skill in bringing that into a medium where we can share in their imagining.  As always this art exhibition is an inspiring part of our rhythm of being church.  It also reminds me of something we did in our church in Amberley – a kids dream really – let alone the fun it was for the adults of which I was one.  We have a building – new actually – for the youth and children – and we had this group called Kid’s Club which was ecumenical – and we took a whole wall and said – lets create the stories of the bible on this wall.  So through paint and various other techniques we let our imaginations go for it.  If I remember rightly we had an Elvis hanging out with Jonah and sparkles on the dove and a myriad of creatures in the sea.  So much fun.  We talked about and never did get to the idea of painting the ceiling with the imaginations of heaven.  But I know that the first things that the children said they would do was their pets that had died – with them alive and jumping around and having a great time.

Interesting how we imagine the concept of heaven, what pictures it encourages in our minds.  In the days of the biblical writers heaven was a product of their world view – somewhere up there because earth was the centre of the known universe and all things rotated around it.  So it was conceivable that there was a place above, a fixed spatial location, where God resided.   Today our understanding of the where we sit within the greater whole of the galaxy makes that rather problematic and we have trouble with the concept of the risen Christ being beamed up as they say to some suspended castle above the clouds.  And so some simply avoid this part of the story of Jesus – finding it easier to skip over, denying its relevance to the Gospel story. 
Yet the ascension is absolutely relevant to our understanding of God and the relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit and with us.  We mustn’t let the problematic imagery prevent us from exploring what is actually a critical moment of our faith.

So, the ascension is the ending of a forty day period of wonder that begins with the resurrection appearance of Jesus.  They are intimately linked, resurrection and ascension, bookends around a period in which the risen Christ was encountered by his followers in a variety of ways – ways that in fact blew out of the water all that they had believed possible, that sowed the ground for Pentecost, for the coming of the spirit.
Ways that expanded their hopes and vision, that enabled them to live in the power of the spirit through all the trials to come, that formed community and indeed the church. 

The distance bridged in this moment of ascension is not to be measured in the number of miles from earth to heaven but in the overwhelming experience of the depth, breadth, height and length of the love of the triune God who will not leave us alone, ever.  Jesus who was sent to us from the heart of God as active love, returns to the heart of God, and the active love of God for the world continues in the coming of the Holy Spirit who will work to transform creation until all things are gathered up, reconciled as one. 
Ascension speaks of a spectacular promise of enduring relationship, the three-in-one God who is also and always with us.

The story of resurrection and ascension speaks then of a wonder that will resonate through the church, one that will strengthen and encourage the faithful throughout time.  And when we look at the Gospel reading for today we realise that Jesus recognised and anticipated the importance of the moment of ascension for the church that was yet to come.   

He saw that the wonder of this moment of unification of the son with the father was pivotal to those who are still to come – Jesus prayer in John’s Gospel for future believers firmly connects the reconciliation of Creator and Son with the ongoing story of the church – from those first disciples who were there through those tumultuous times to us here in Opoho in the 21st century. 
And so there is the sense that we are part of a faith where God continues be present in the world through the Spirit, where Christ lived and died for us, (not just those who were there at a moment in time), and where the work of the church and the faithfulness of its people is sourced always in the unity that is God Father Son and Spirit, always with us.    

It’s a thread of reconciling love that stretches throughout the church, past, present and future.

Jesus is keen that the wonder of the moment, the certainty of whatever experience was had by those early disciples, be there for us too.  Jesus wants us all to somehow share in that understanding of reconciliation and God always with us – more than just in our heads or our theology or our doctrine – but in our hearts.

There is a poem by Tom Gordon[1] I would like to share:

Remember me, when by your side I stood
in silent presence, there to wait for you.
Remember me, just as you said you would
and in the presence I’ll be there with you.

Remember me, when by your side I walked
on steady journeys, there to go with you.
Remember me, recalling how we talked
and on each journey I’ll be there with you.

Remember me, when you would take my hand
in tender sharing, to be joined with you.
Remember me, reliving what we planned
and in the sharing I’ll be there with you.

Remember me, when time is hard to fill,
in lonely waiting, no one there with you.
Remember me, when bonds continue still.
In constant loving I’ll be there with you,

Remember me, when I’m beyond your sight,
in blinded seeing, never there for you.
Remember me, and see with inner eye.
Invisible no longer, I’ll be there with you.

Remember me, when you search the skies
in constant wonder. Am I gone from you?
Remember me in all your tears and sighs,
and hear my promise – I’m still one with you.

I want to finish as we began with imagery and imagination – How do we as the poet said, search the skies in constant wonder, how do we remind ourselves of the forty days that blew our minds, how do we recover a sense of the overwhelming love of God made one with us through Christ and in the presence of the Spirit and go out in hope and vision of a reconciling love for all?  I don’t know about you but for me – I might just need to go and lie on some grass somewhere and check out those clouds – and remember that the story of the ascension was for me too.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] Remember by Tom Gordon from A Blessing to Follow Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2009 p.151