Thursday, 21 July 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 17th July Pentecost 9 and Prayers of Intercession

Readings: Psalm 52, Luke 10:38-42

Let us pray:  Holy God, may your word for us be truly heard and may we hear challenge, new beginnings and assurance of your love and grace.  In Jesus name Amen.

Are we a listening people?
At a meeting last week we were asked to carry out this exercise – get into pairs and one of you speak for seven minutes (some of us have less trouble with that than others) and the other was to listen – not to respond in any way, no nodding, no encouraging smile, no facial response and certainly no verbal interruptions.  It was a challenge and virtually impossible to not respond even in the most positive way.  But the point was to get us to think about listening well so that we may hear God’s voice both in our hearts and in the encounters with those around us.

In the words of Tom Gordon:[1]
To listen and not to speak.
To hear, and not to interrupt.
To pay attention, and need to respond.
To take note, and not write anything down.
To concentrate, and not miss what is important.
To be silent, and not cut a story short.
To accept, and not try to clarify.
To wait, and not be tired of waiting.
To be still, and not expect anything else to matter.
O God, how hard it is,
And yet, how important……

How important indeed – the silence that is needed for the words to have meaning and the meaning to enter our heart. 

In the Gospel story today Jesus said: ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
This story of the two sisters is, we could say, about the different approaches to how we honour God and serve Jesus best. For this was the dilemma at the heart of the tale of Mary and Martha and it will, I expect, speak to us in different ways.  There will be those who completely get where Martha is coming from, frustrated at all the work still to do, wanting to sit down and listen but wanting to be the best of hosts.  And how it rankles when someone else doesn’t have the same priorities, leaves the dishes on the bench for later and chooses to be part of the company instead.  Out comes the words, somewhat pointed, sharp, a wee bit whiney.  “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work – tell her to come and help!’
For Martha was the host, the doer, the person of action – a very important role and not taken lightly in those times: there was a hankering to be still and listen but not until the work was done.
And then there was Mary – according to Martha the taker, the selfish one – Mary was a listener, a student, one who saw the importance of hearing the teachings of Jesus and was willing to forgo what was expected of her – because she had decided where she needed to be – and it wasn’t helping her sister. That will be just so right for some of us, the ones who don’t want to get waylaid by the metaphorical housekeeping when there is something so much better to do.

For Mary has chosen the better part says Jesus.  Important though the doing is, we all need to take time to be the Mary of the story, putting the teachings of Jesus before the carrying out of the tasks that honour him; knowing why it is that we do and for what purpose has the edge on the doing.

You see I think that David was on to this – that he knew that it was only by anchoring himself in God, listening to the voice of God, being guided by God in his life choices that he would avoid the self serving piety and deceitful living of Doeg. We know David didn’t get it right all the time but he had some kind of moral compass (unlike Doeg) – whom he freely acknowledged was God.  He likens that sense of being able to anchor in God as being like an olive tree - not easily displaced when we are rooted in God, with God’s light nourishing us and God’s water sustaining us.  David safely puts his trust in God, turns his ear to God and so can walk in God’s way.

Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her. 
Let us dig down a bit deeper into this.
First of all let us not forget Martha. Jesus was not responding with his comments to the busy Martha but rather to the worried and distracted Martha. He speaks as to a dear friend (Martha, Martha) who is fussing over bits that don’t need worrying about and missing out on something important. Jesus did not say that this stopping and listening was all that we should do – but rather that this is essential to our doing.  And for sure there would have been other times when Mary’s lack of action would have been inappropriate and criticism of her sitting around justified, and Martha would have been the lynch pin and seen as such.  It is safe to say that there will forever be a struggle between word and deed, the speaker and the doer, the contemplative and the activist for that is the nature of who we are as human beings.   The important thing is that we need to be alert to the situation that we are in and respond accordingly, and to never assume either posture to the point of preoccupation or ideology.  Activism without contemplation ends in aimless doing and sometimes dangerous conclusions.  Thought alone, however, can also be dangerous – for where we theologically debate and discuss and study without life experience and the learning that comes from serving, then we are equally able to delude ourselves as to the purpose of God for us.
In fact this Gospel reading is about knowing when we need to be Martha and when Mary.  Discerning when we are being too much of one and not enough of the other.  But remembering that we first need to listen before we do.

Another thought here. We are to listen so that we not just comprehend the teachings of Jesus and live them out but also so that we can find the words to communicate God’s word to others – how sad that we have come to think that only those with ‘qualifications’ should interpret and share the word.  How sad that we think that theology is something written in books and debated at the highest academic level.  Certainly it is that, but is also you and me continually sitting at the feet of Jesus seeking to know his way.

Here is a thought too.  Does Jesus remind us of the meaning of the word hospitality in this passage?   That we can sometimes as a church get distracted by the many projects and programmes and activities that we feel are needed and forget to recognise that the source of all hospitality is Jesus and that deeds without the word are meaningless.  Whereas if we stop to listen to the words of Jesus, the promptings of the Spirit then those deed will flow out of a conviction and a hope rather than a timetable.

I also wonder how much the cultural expectation of the role of the women of the time informs this story.  Not only was Mary disrupting Martha’s expectations, there would have been some raised eyebrows that a woman would choose to a) avoid her role and b) sit down with the men.  There is a sense in which Mary was doing her bit for the right of women to be part of the listening and learning and discerning.  So you go Mary!  Right behind you there.

And finally, back to what we were talking about at the beginning: it is not just about engaging in conversation with God and each other as we seek to know Jesus Christ – it is about listening to what is being said.  And that takes some trust and some effort on our part. It is easy just to let the words flow over us as a well known and beloved scripture, it is also easy to get overwhelmed with words, to find it easy to distrust the use of words, but if we are able to listen closely, with discernment, we will hear what is actually being said sometimes despite the words.

So let us make sure that we stop and listen to God, let us hear the teachings of Jesus, and wait on the guidance of the Spirit in a ways that allows us to be the best, most deeply rooted, well nourished and fruitful olive trees in all the world here in Opoho  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession 17 July 2016

Let us Pray

We thank you Lord for plenty and sometimes even luxury
We thank you Lord for warmth and shelter and home
We thank you Lord for health and wellbeing
We thank you Lord for happiness, for joy, for content
We thank you Lord for security, for courage, and for belonging
We thank you Lord for freedom and a place in our community

We are blessed to be here, in this time, in this place, among these people

We pray for men, women and children who are hungry and poor
We pray for people who are cold and exposed
We pray for those who are sick, exhausted, mentally ill, disabled
We pray for men, women and children who are sad, depressed, or grieving
We pray for those who are at a loss, afraid, or anchorless
We pray for people who are imprisoned, alone, hopeless

With our prayers, we place them in the palm of your hand

It is time to stop telling hungry people that they should work harder, instead let us bake bread
It is time to stop telling cold people to find somewhere else, instead let us knit blankets
It is time to stop telling sick people to get better, instead let us bring medicine
It is time to stop telling sad people to cheer up, instead let us sing to them
It is time to stop telling scared people to be brave, instead let us wrap our arms around them
It is time to stop telling captive people to have hope, instead let us release them

We have been granted so much, Lord, let us stop judging and start giving of your plenty, in sympathetic generosity and knowing in our hearts that all people are your people

And we sing…The Lord’s Prayer

Abby Smith

[1] Tom Gordon.  A Blessing to Follow Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2009

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 10 July 2016 Pentecost 8

Readings:  Amos 7:7-15,   Luke 10:25-37

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 sustainer.  Amen

Sitting at my desk Friday afternoon, getting on a bit of a roll with Amos and Samaritans, procrastinating a bit as is my want by flicking across into Stuff – and then I read about the shooting of 11 people at a protest rally in Dallas – four/five dead.  Those shot were police who were presumably keeping an eye on a protest ‘black lives matter’ rally about the shooting of innocent black people by police.  Words fail.  Hatred rules. Lives ripped apart.  What is going on?

Those of us reading through the books of the bible have struggled with the violence and hatred of the time but we have to honestly ask if our time is any different from that say of two and a half thousand years ago.

Then as now there is mindless violence.
Then as now there is retribution.
Then as now there is the slaughtering of the innocents.
Now and then there is greed and a protection of self whatever it takes.
Or, here is a thought:
Now and then that is all that seems to make the headlines.

And that got me thinking.  Then and now the world, life is not all about horrible stuff, there are stories of hope and kindness and compassion.  In first and second Kings there are stories of peace and gentleness and justice – it’s just that they are few and far between, rarely reported.  Today there are remarkable and everyday stories of neighbourliness and compassion and forgiveness.  They just don’t seem to make the headlines.
And I had to ask the question if we, as a society, have a propensity to wallow in the horror stories and respond as I did with a complete loss of perspective and a sense of a black hole that the world has gone down. 

Do we allow our headlines to feed our fears and does the new global communication world we live in encourage our despair. 

Blogger Jeremy Spain thinks so - in a piece titled ‘A small God in a big world’[1] he reminds us that Jesus came not as a headline act but as a baby, that the deluge of what is wrong with the world doesn’t give us much space to contemplate what is right: he says
 “Imagine how different the world must have been even 100 years ago. Imagine how much bigger and more mysterious the world must have been without Google Maps and Google Earth, without Buzzfeeds that reduce our ever-shrinking ordinary world to a series of tragic headlines and newsfeeds that reduce our ever-expanding social world to a series of one-way conversations 140 characters-deep and 10,000 friends-wide. Imagine what it must have felt like to not feel like you are at the center of every event and every relationship on earth. Imagine a world with board games and the great big woods outback. Imagine what it would feel like to be as small as a human being…..
 You’d almost think the highest point of our nation’s freedom, that of its speech, is now being used to paralyze us. It’s like the headlines that feed us the bad news of the world have left us no room to speak about anything else, anything less important than politics or less complicated than the economy or less alarming than proofs of the immanent threat of radical Islam. How inconsiderate it would be to speak needlessly about the daylilies beginning to bloom outside with all that other stuff happening outside…”
He restates the answer to the question: 
Q: “When did we see you hungry and feed you and thirsty and give you drink?”
A: “When you didn’t see me on a screen and when you gave me more than your opinions.”

Let’s think about the good Samaritan story –  even without the advantage of the world wide web, the bad press for the Samaritans had done its business – they were despised foreigners, with a faith that had developed differently and were not to be trusted let alone associated with.  Samaritan was the shock word that Jesus used to tell this story of what it means to be a neighbour – even the lawyer wasn’t quite able to say Samaritan when asked to identify the neighbour – he skirted the issue by saying ‘the one who showed him mercy’.  Nowadays some could equally say insert the word Muslim or Asian or Sikh – and what has the western Christian world overtly despised for two thousand years - Jews.  Different, despised, responsible for all that is wrong with our world……..easy to demonize.

But actually, says Jesus – we can’t do that.  For kindness shows us who acts as a neighbour, not culture nor faith nor nationality – but kindness and compassion.
And our kindness is personal, relational, small in the scheme of things and unlikely to make the headlines.
It can come from the most unlikely of people, be shared into the scariest of places and it is not to be refused because we think someone unworthy or ‘different’.

So let’s not be undone by the violence and hatred and inhumanity that we can drown in in the world today.  Let us instead practice what it is that we are made to be – the loving people of God walking in the way of Jesus.  ‘Let us live in a world close enough to touch, low enough to look in the eye’; says Jeremy Spain. He reminds us that God speaks in a still small voice, not with a foghorn, and a still small voice require physical nearness to be heard. 
We can lose ourselves in caring for the things we can do nothing about and not see the neighbour over the fence who is in need.
We can despair at making a difference to a world that seems to be imploding and forget the teaching of Jesus that from a small seed of love expressed, amazing things can happen.  Each little act of compassion has the capacity to turn the world on its head.  Believe it!

So instead of being overwhelmed by the state of the world, let us focus on being who Jesus tells us to be - a good neighbour, getting to know those around us, offering and receiving a helping hand and building relationships with all manner of people, even those, especially those whom society would have us cross the road away from  – for it is there that we will find God at work in our world.

We finish with words from Brian Wren

We are your people, Spirit of grace,
you dare to make us to all our neighbours,
Christ’s living voice, hands and face.

Spirit, unite us, make us, by grace,
willing and ready, Christ’s living body,
loving the whole human race.

Margaret Garland


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 3 July 2016 Pentecost 7 Holy Communion

Reading:  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Let us pray: Abundant God, you whose love for the world is beyond our ken yet given into our hands, open our hearts and minds to your word for us today and everyday, guiding us in your way and strengthening us for the journey. Amen.


Jesus said: The primary gift you will take when I send you  out is that of God’s peace.  You are to offer this peace to all whom you meet – and if it is rejected you are to leave it at the door.

That reading you just heard was a paraphrase of our Gospel reading by Adrian Taylor in ‘Luke Illustrated Gospel Project’.   And some of the wording offers real insight into the way in which we are to equip and carry ourselves as God’s people going out into what Luke considered a dangerous world – a concept we would no less appreciate today. 
Taking the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, to preach the gospel – that word evangelise that we need to recover as ours, not just belonging to a certain type of church – sharing the good news of the Gospel is to be done with confidence, compassion, humility and above all in the peace of God.
For added clarity, let me add what it is not.  It is not to be done by haranguing and fear mongering, nor by glossy pamphlets on the street corner nor by arrogance nor adversarial debate.  I have to say I have heard and seen some incredibly bullying and dangerous evangelizing practices which are not only ineffective but downright unsafe.  Being a bearer of the good news of Christ is about living and talking of and acting out the love of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives,  for, make no mistake, evangelising we are called to do – uncomfortable as it might seem for some of us.

In a parish review document that we are to respond to about our relationship with community and those outside the church, this was defined, with every good intention might I say, by the following measures:
·         Our members know that evangelism is high priority and own it.
·         Many are able to share the gospel in a concise way and talk about their experiences with Jesus.
·         We organize regular events to share the message of the gospel and members invite friends.
·         We are pleased with the number of new believers we baptize each year.
Philip and I have struggled to find words to respond to this – and certainly to give ourselves marks out of 10 as requested – there was something wrong – more than just finding it weird to give ourselves a pass mark, more than a language of explicit directive.  And then it dawned on me as I read this passage from Luke exactly why I have had a problem - because it makes God way too small. 
If we are to take these as our measure of making Jesus Christ known in the world then we are limiting God to a very particular approach of sharing the good news of the Gospel – it involves verbal literacy, is ‘I’ focused, event orientated, and has a particular measure of success – baptism.
And I don’t think that this is the fullness of the experience of the 70 or, as we read it nowadays, of all humanity as we seek to share the grace and love of God.  Not at all.
Where is the listening?  Where is the vulnerable space?  Where is the thought that we don’t have all the answers?  Where is the understanding that God works through us and without us?  Where is the sense of God within that lights up our lives 24/7 and in everything we do and say?  Where is the psalmist and the poet and the storyteller and the contemplative and the journeying?

So yes we will share our thoughts with the wider church on how we at Opoho are doing as an outward looking faith community but I think our language will be a bit different. And I hope that it will be based on the directions of Jesus in all their breadth and depth and simplicity.

You see Jesus didn’t have the benefit of our creeds and doctrines and well developed theologies but he knew well the fears and the challenges that this commissioning would evoke.  So he equipped his people in the best way he could.

First of all he told them to go out.  Not to sit and wait for people to drift in and see what was going on.  Not to leave it to others, not to spend time in the planning and not to carry a big load of stuff just in case - go trusting in God to provide.

Then he told them to prepare the way for his coming – not to have it all sorted and signed up but to be the carrier of the seed that Jesus would nourish and bring to fruition.  We do not do this alone and we do not have all the answers. 

And he told them to go in peace – a peace which is guaranteed to bring them into conflict with the powers that be but nonetheless to walk only in peace.  And when rejected, not to have a shouting match or to threaten or to cajole, but simply to leave that knowledge of the peace of God hovering around the entrance to their lives and their homes.

He told them the need was urgent – both in time and in necessity.  The labourers are few and the need for the peace of Christ is huge.  The harvest is plentiful is a slightly awkward metaphor these days – perhaps if we understand it as coming to full maturity in God rather than being selected and removed from the field.

He told them to spend time building relationship, sharing stories, listening and conversing with those who welcomed them in.  No quick tick in the box and on to the next one but determined fellowship and community.

He also told them to expect no reward except the presence of God with them and to refrain from any judgement – whether welcomed or not.  Well – that is a timely reminder for Christians today. 

And finally he offers hope where hard heartedness rules: “there is one singular unrivalled matter we will leave with you: God’s kingdom with ever-growing borders is rising like the sun against the shadows.  Look!  You will not see it hiding in the shadows.”  The light triumphs over the darkness and the light is Jesus Christ.
As we gather as company around the table today, sharing the cup and eating from the same loaf of bread remember this is a sacred place where all are welcome within the peace of God and in the name of Jesus. Amen

[1] The Sending and the Welcome by Adrian Taylor from ‘Luke Illustrated Gospel Project: a conversation with Luke in Aotearoa’ edited by Malcolm Gordon.  Dunedin: KCML, 2015