Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 18 February 2018 Lent 1

Readings:  Genesis 9:8-17    Mark 1:9-15

I have recently taken up classes in weaving – it is a pleasure and something I have long wanted to learn to do properly.  Our teacher, Christine, is very patient and has much knowledge which she is keen to share.  And every now and then during a session we hear the words ‘teaching moment!’ when someone forgets to add a different colour to the warp winding, when the very fine fabric gets tangled, when someone is lost in the middle of a pattern – and we gather round and learn something new or remind ourselves of a way to be a better weaver.

A teaching moment arose at the Leadership Sub Committee meeting I was at on Friday too – we were presenting the completed report on Women in Ministry, we had a very positive response but I wasn’t  sure of the take-up when I said that it’s not enough to just agree with the principle of gender equity (that in itself a loaded term) but also to educate everyone as to how to live it out.  It was immediately after this discussion that one person, talking generally about ministers,  said something like ‘….but as a minister he needs to….’ And there were two people in the room who said immediately ‘he or she’ and I added the option of ‘they’ – a teaching moment if ever there was one – and the learning was impactful on a person who was still learning the living out required from a principle.
Maybe this is an approach that we can take to the reading for today from Mark - what are the teaching moments that help guide us on our faith journey in the midst of a world that desperately needs us to be knowledgeable in and committed to the way of Jesus.  That needs us to understand the teachings of Jesus and live them out in a way that transforms the world.

The poet Caitlin Curtice[1] puts it like this:
O God, this morning when we woke to your presence in and around us, we also woke to a heavy world,
and in this world, we can’t make sense of all the things
that are wrong and should be made right.
We cannot fathom that people are judged on the colour of their skin,
that lives are worth less because their pockets are empty,
that violence is an everyday occurrence, and it seems that no place is safe.
So when we wake to the sunrise and know that you are still good, teach us what it means to seek goodness when the world is dark.
O God, teach us what it means to live in grace — not just for ourselves, but for the collective whole.
Teach us.
Teach us because the future depends on it.
Remind us, we pray. 

The world that Noah lived in was dark, and it was out of a few people’s faithfulness to God that a re-creation of the relationship between the world and God emerged – a rainbow the symbol of God’s desire to for reconciliation with a broken world and a promise to never give up on us, ever. 

The world that Jesus came to was dark – the people had lost their way, the religious leaders were mostly blind and deaf to the teachings of God, the promised land was in thrall again, this time to the Romans.  Jesus came to teach us that we might again be reconciled to God.

He came as Messiah – to once and for all exemplify the meaning of grace and love and righteousness and truth.  He came to teach us with his very life that we are the beloved of God.  A principal the people might have grasped but not remembered how to live it out.

In a sense, the abruptness of Mark’s gospel encourages this sense of an explosion of Jesus into our world – in the baptism there is no small talk about who should baptise who for instance.  Nor is there a confession of sin or a call to repentance – rather we are straight in to the baptism as something that simply had to happen – a given.  Jesus is signalling that his former life has ended and that, in this new beginning, his living out of God’s rule, he is most definitely turning his face to the cross, to death.  For he knew that in the teaching us how to live in love and justice and grace, he would be violating just about every political, social, economic and faith principal that the world held dear.  And what happened at this moment - the heavens split asunder, the boundaries between heaven and earth dissolved at this moment.  Teaching moment – baptism places us in that same relationship with God through Jesus and on the same path of radical disruption in the name of Jesus.  Our old life is put aside and our new is begun. 
Mark likewise gives barely two sentences to the wilderness experience, leaving us to read other accounts of the temptations and hardships that 40 days of desert living could bring.  Instead we hear that the same Spirit that has come into him at his baptism now drives him immediately into the desert for forty days.  And the early Christians who read these words would have understood perhaps more than we do the symbolism of Jesus retracing Israel’s journey into the wilderness with Moses where, to be honest, they pretty much stumbled and staggered and rebelled and deviated from the path that God had set them on.  Jesus on the other hand – Jesus withstands whatever the wilderness throws, Satan and all – and rewrites the story of God’s people as that of victory over all that is evil.
He emerges to proclaim that the kingdom has come near – God’s rule in here, the old ways are gone and the good news is being lived out now and in this way. Another teaching moment for us here perhaps – everything that is good comes from God, and Jesus, as God’s son, is the teacher and exemplar of all that living in the good news means.

The world that we live in is a dark place.  Wherever we look we see senseless killing and violence and war, desperate need in the shadow of bloated excesses, ethnic and religious and cultural arrogance and deep grief at the way we are destroying this world we live in.

The words from Curtice again: ‘Teach us how to seek goodness when the world is dark, O God.  Teach us because the future depends on us.’

Perhaps the first teaching is to remind us that we cannot be bystanders – our baptism puts us on a path to revealing the good news of Jesus Christ not only in our declaration of faith and our attendance at church but in our daily everyday  lives.  Have we taken that on with the determination and understanding and focus that Jesus showed when he rose from those waters and began his ministry? Might we take some time in Lent to consider our participation in the life of faith and whether we might find some new beginnings that God is asking us to step out into.

And the second teaching might be that our wilderness experiences are our best learnings – for when it is on God alone we depend then that distance between heaven and earth is at its thinnest.  Could we spend some time over the next few weeks reminding ourselves of the times when we have encountered the living God in our silences and our difficulties and our temptations and how that continues to shape us as the people of God.

And finally the teaching of trust – Jesus fully and completely entrusted the direction of his life to his Father.  He knew that everything came from God and everything he did and said and lived was for God.  He came, he taught, he suffered and he died, trusting in God to make good that which was evil, to bring new life out of the darkness that is our world.  Might we take time this lent to learn to trust again that we live in the light of a faithful God, a rainbow God, so that in confident faith we can be the grace and the truth that is Jesus Christ in this dark world.

Margaret Garland


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