Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 25th March Palm Sunday

Readings:  Mark 11:1-11  Mark 14:1- 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 sustainer.  Amen

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about my past week – a time where a variety of happenings have somehow coalesced into one thread of thinking –what is it that builds our faith community into the transforming presence of Christ and what leads us astray? 

On Tuesday night I listened to the lecture by John Barclay – on early Christianity and the survival of the poor and the realisation came of how interdependent we really are as church community and yet how the culture of one way giving without reciprocal relationship has pervaded our way of living.  I have much more thinking to do on the issues raised by John but for now can I encourage you to keep an eye out for the podcast if you weren’t able to be there.

On Wednesday it was the turn of Wednesday Worship to add to the picture.  We explored the reading of the nameless woman anointing Jesus alongside the work of Susan Jones who wrote of what it was like to be that woman, facing the angry denial by others of her understanding of Jesus need and her own pain because she accepted that Jesus was about to die in great suffering. We were invited to put ourselves into the story and hear a different point of view.

That same day I heard several stories, in my Presbytery role, of churches where people in the congregation were being cruel to others – where the diversity had morphed into angry division and grace and extravagant love were being sidelined. At times like this, right and wrong takes centre stage and people are hurt and feel displaced.

Out of this and more came the question of whether our current understanding of being church community is perhaps needing some rethinking on our part. 

And so we go to the scriptures we heard today to explore what Jesus says to us about this.  To help us begin we will, like Susan, attempt to put ourselves into the two stories.

First of all from Mark 11. We can all be one of the people at the gate of Jerusalem, welcoming Jesus, waving our palm branches, raising our voices in praise and hope.  But what precisely is it that we are hoping for? 

Some words from Malcolm Gordon[1] - he imagined what it might have been like to be one of those in the crowd at that gate – recognising and welcoming the Messiah but not so sure of the path he had chosen – maybe Judas might have had some of these thoughts running through his mind too.

We pray
O Jesus our king, riding into the capital city for the great showdown with the powers of evil and corruption;
You are known as a man of peace but you might want to think about that
For those you are up against are merciless and cruel and the only place you’ll end up by turning the other cheek is high on a criminal’s cross.

We pray
O Jesus our king, riding into our hopes for redemption, where is your sword and where is your army?
This ragtag rabble of rascals and rednecks from the sticks aren’t going to fill any of your enemies with fear.
Just say the word, and we’ll throw down our palm branches and take up our spears, hidden away all these years.
Cast off the disguise of peacemaker and we will rally to you in a heartbeat.

We pray
O Jesus our king, you mock us, you refuse to claim the throne we offer.  You’ve taken hold of our hearts but you have rejected our fists and anybody can tell you that’s no way to rule.
So we’ve no use for you, you peacemaking poet from up north for the villains we face come with razor sharp swords.
Take your stories and die, they’re no good to us.  It’s going to take more to save us than your foolish love.

We pray
Jesus our king, the clamour and noise for you to reign on high, for you to be cursed and die have all faded and gone, like seed that springs up in shallow soil.
But you were still, like sleep in the midst of a storm.  You were the point of persistent peace while we all wanted war.  Now all our rage is spent.   We wonder, are you?

Malcolm suggests that we struggle to grasp Jesus radical approach to the salvation of the world.  We can get fired up, but we want it to be our way – the way that is logical and obvious to us.  Getting a handle on this up-side-down thinking of the cross as the pathway that Jesus invites us into is hard, and really hard for some of us who are used to problem solving or leading from the front especially.  We are also quite accomplished at giving up hope when the journey of faith doesn’t go the way we expect – the disciples, many of them anyway deserted in the face of the reality of the cross and they had to yet learn that the words of Jesus were trustworthy and true.

And what if we put ourselves in that room with Jesus and Simon and the unnamed woman - what would be our take on the situation? Would we be cross at the waste, sure we knew better what should be done or blown away by the act of love before us, even if we didn’t quite understand why?

I found myself following the debate about this woman unnamed in Mark, identified as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus in John’s Gospel. Commonly regarded as a reformed prostitute based on the Luke rendition (what else could sinner mean for a woman), there is little evidence that it was so. There is not mention of her character in the reading we heard today. In all Gospels though, she is seen as an interloper by those with Jesus, one who is doing a foolish thing. Yet for her it was imperative that she carry out this act of extravagant love.  Some of the words from Susan:
“What happened inside that gave [you] the courage, the energy to gatecrash the party at Simon’s house?
What deep inner need drove you there, your precious jar of ointment carefully cradled next to your body?[2]
What was going on inside to over-ride for you the murmurs of disapproval, the angry mutterings, the hiss of air sucked in between irritated teeth?”

Sinner or saint, Jesus welcomed her deep love and her act of anointing him for his difficult journey to the cross.  And she understood what the others did not – that this wasn’t a time for giving to the poor, or for questioning the best use of a costly gift but rather an act of unreserved love to one who faced a journey of pain and grief and despair.  The poor will always be with you, said Jesus but I will not be……

So how do these two stories and the story of my week come together and help us understand what it mean to live in Christ centred community – effective in the way of love and grace and mercy in Jesus name.
One very clear point is that community is made up of many voices – faith is lived with many understandings of the love of Jesus and we need all those voices to grow and flourish in faith.  Each of us brings a unique experience of growing in faith and we are to be encouraged to share and to understand that there are different approaches than ours and that others might have insight where we don’t.  Often it is the case that voices that shout the loudest have the least to say and the quietest are full of beautiful wisdom and insight. Jesus spoke through the weak and the vulnerable, the displaced and the doubting.  We must make sure we listen to all.  In fact, I would go further and say it is out of our very diversity as a people of faith that we can most effectively seek the way of Jesus.  Together we can do this!

The alternative is not pleasant.  For when we stop listening to each other, seeing our way as the only way, conflict and division ensues.  When we loudly voice our own certainties we can fail to hear the sometimes still small voice of Jesus in others. We become like that person Malcolm described at the gate of Jerusalem – not at all sure that Jesus way is the best way to establish the kingdom.  That this is happening in the church on a regular basis is incredibly distressing and sad.  The path of Jesus is clear and this is not it.

We have to recognise the need we have of each other as well as Jesus to live in grace filled community – Jesus talked about the poor always being with us – poor not only in material wealth but also the spiritually impoverished or emotionally and mentally and physically in need.  And this is all of us is it not? Our community is made up of a whole mix of needs - it most definitely is not about some of us always being on top of things and able to give without need of anything back (the charity concept). We will all be in need at some times in our lives, and the relationship developed as we give and receive strengthens us and the community of faith in ways we can’t imagine.  As John mentioned in his lecture, it behoves us to look after each other with extravagant generosity, knowing that we are going to be both givers and receivers.
When we stop caring for each other or thinking that we can get by with never needing the gift of anointing by others in our community then we truly do not understand the depth of Jesus love and the pain of the journey that is the way of the cross.

Community in the 21st century is pretty complicated – we tend not to live together but are spread out over the city – we are no longer in one church community for life or even at one time and we have incredible choices in who we will be and where we will go.  For most of us it’s not hand to mouth economically but equally our poverty can show in our spiritual tentativeness, our hands-off giving, our unwillingness to embrace the different or put ourselves into places of discomfort or new thinking. 

What has changed from Jesus day – not a lot!  What makes the difference then and now – a willingness to be open to Jesus’ unexpected directions and radical ways of loving that blow away most all of our fears and gather us together and make us whole. 

We pray:
O God, in this world where goodness and evil, action and apathy, love and hate  continue to clash with each other, instil in us, and in all your people, discernment to see what is right, faith to believe what is right and courage to do what is right.
Keep us aware of the subtlety of wrong, and preserve us, body, mind and soul, through the power of your Holy Spirit on your path and in your steps.  Amen.

[1]A way to pray’ by Malcom Gordon based on Mark 11 from The Illustrated Gospel of Mark p.124

[2] Body Language by Susan Jones

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 11 March 2018 Lent 4 International Woman’s Day

Readings:  John 4: 7-9a; 27-29, 39a     Mark 14: 3-9

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

In beginning this sermon, as part of a service focussing on women, I have to admit to not knowing where to start, which line to pursue, what to applaud and how much to get stroppy about.
You see, I have had multiple conversations recently about women in the church, in leadership especially.
I have always been a feminist – but my definition might not be yours and I stopped calling myself that as a defining characteristic years ago.
We are in a year of women finding their voice against inequality and abuse in employment situations and some men being called out for their blatant degradation of women in those contexts. 
We have the horror stories of women maimed, abused, de-valued, enslaved across the world – for there are many stories indeed where despicable acts of violence are perpetuated on vulnerable women.
It is easy to understand when the anger takes hold of some people after an eternity of male entitlement and power over women – is that the best way to respond?
But whichever path we go down today we can’t ignore the fact that we have to challenge the continuing inequalities in our societies and the way they deny women and men the full richness of all humankind living in the way of Christ.

For now we concentrate on gender – remembering that there are many other differences that are used as excuses for inequality and injustice.
So what does gender equality actually mean today – in a world where we recognise more than just male and female and where, some of us at least thought we had fought and won the battle for woman’s rights last century?  And especially what does it mean in this church that we are all part of and the faith that we live in?

Some of you will know that I have been part of a group gathering research on the role of women in leadership within the PCANZ – the stories that come out of that are mostly very positive – but there are others that are of real concern – of being shut out, treated as second class citizens, of the parenting questions that are not asked of men.
KCML has had two of the last three intakes all males. As were two of the three intakes when I was there.  And my intake was eight guys and three women. Why the imbalance?
Currently leadership roles in the church are overwhelmingly men – the last female moderator was in 2009 (five since then) and the current moderators of Presbytery and Synod, out of 10 positions, 2 are women.  Is it because women are not putting their names forward – if so why not?  I hope that it is not because they are thought still to be less capable or designed only for the home and hearth. 
For this is still a prevalent attitude in many parts of the western world  – there is that excellent quote from Helen Clark after her UN experience seeking the role of Secretary General:  “No-one should get a job because they are a woman.  They should get the job because they’re the best person, but being a woman should not count against them.”

So into this minefield let us introduce Jesus.  Jesus who counted women and men as his disciples, who recognised the strengths of each, the wholeness that both together brought to ministry, who raised up the value and dignity of women when the world preferred to subjugate them.  Our Christ–led church should be the last place to deny the equality of women, don’t you think?

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is a classic example of Jesus overturning the expected behaviour – his disciples were aghast that he was speaking with a woman of Samaria.  And at that point you want to ask – are they more aghast that it was a woman or she was from Samaria?  The next words seem to indicate which it was – ‘they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.’
The fact that this was a woman was the shock factor to the disciples but not, I suggest, the primary focus for Jesus.  He saw a person struggling with life and belief and welcomed her into the kingdom and into ministry for his sake.
Yet through this ordinary, wrong gender, somewhat flawed person speaking the truth of Jesus, many in her city came to believe in Jesus. We don’t know if her somewhat sullied reputation or her being a women was more off-putting to those she shared Jesus message with but despite both, she spoke with such passion and belief that she convinced many in the city - perhaps more so because she was an unexpected teller of truths.  Jesus had found a new disciple and her proclamation changed a city.  You go, girl.

The woman who poured fragrant oil over the feet of Jesus teaches us a different lesson - how important it is to hear all the voices of the disciples, women as well as men, tangata whenua as well as pakeha, pasifika as well as refugee, children alongside our elderly, the marginalised into the established.  We hear that everyone in the room with Jesus – we tend to assume it was all men but may well not have been – had grasped an important aspect of Jesus teaching – that of sharing their physical wealth with the poor – but needed to learn from this unexpected visitor that there was another approach to mercy and love – the anointing of Jesus was an extravagant act of welcome and understanding, of peace and healing – for Jesus.  Her action, her voice offered a new understanding of living in faith.
The words of James K Baxter from Wednesday night worship come to mind - ‘Truth’ — he said, and — ‘Love’ — he said,  But his purest word was — ‘Mercy.’  We need all the voices in the room and beyond for us to grasp the fullness of Jesus mission in this world, not just the women but the culturally different, the dreamers and the systematic theologians, the doers and the healers and the listeners – our voices are all needed to bring about the kingdom of God.

And finally, for today, the way we interpret and use scripture needs to be closely looked at for where it encourages the continuing sidelining of women in our faith.  It’s not just about being inclusive in our translations but also about hearing the stories that aren’t told or glossed over.  John Bell[1] speaks of the time when he was part of a preaching weekend at a well-known church where the lectionary reading in the morning was from Exodus 1 – where Joseph and his brothers had died and the treatment of his people under the new Pharaoh went from bad to worse.  That evening the reading was Exodus 2 beginning at a grown up Moses.  John was preaching in the evening and began his sermon by saying something like: ‘I am sorry to tell you that somewhere between this morning’s service and this evening’s service, five middle-eastern women have gone missing in the sanctuary.’
People did apparently start looking around rather anxiously – until he filled them in – they were the part of the Exodus story missing from the set readings.  Verses that talked about Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who defied Pharaoh and let the infant boys live by all sorts of clever ways, the mother of Moses who fashioned a floating cradle for him, his sister Miriam who stayed with him and devised a clever plan to reunite him with his mother when he was found by Pharoah’s daughter, who herself not only chose to let the child live but also raised him as her own.  Bell thought about these five audacious women who had saved the life of Moses – so that we could hear the words  ‘One day, when Moses had grown up…’  He completely acknowledged that there are plenty of audacious men in scripture and who are great models for our lives – but their stories normally get told – the stories of the women are not so well known.  And so he wrote the song we are going to sing in a few minutes
I want to finish with an affirmation of faith that reminds women and men that Jesus taught and lived equality – that through Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of us are one in Christ.[2]

We believe in Jesus Christ the liberator of this world
Who broke the culture of silence and affirmed and advocated for the status of women in society.
Who called us to follow his footsteps
To resist all the exploitative and oppressive systems to build a human community.
We believe in the holy spirit that empowers us to stand firm
Who renews and restores the integrity of the creation
Help all people to grow together towards wholeness of life. Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] https://sicamousunited.ca/2014/08/audacious-women/
[2] Galations 3:28

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 4 March 2018 Lent 3 Quarterly Communion

Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22

We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rockand our sustainer.  Amen. 

God has made foolish the wisdom of this world….for Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified……..

Ours is a topsy turvey faith – that which appears wise to the much of humanity is dubious in our eyes and that which seems foolish, weak, servant-like is what we proclaim.  Yet it is easy to slip back into the wisdom of the world, isn’t it?  To revere those who have power, to be persuaded into unholy practices, to convince ourselves that we have no need to look beyond ourselves and our needs. Today we examine our temple and if we have tables that we too need overturned.

I want to begin today with some words from Tom Gordon – the first two verses from a poem called ‘A divine clean out’.

The notice says its cleaning week – we need some volunteers
to give the church a good spring clean, the biggest on in years.
Before you rush to volunteer and contribute your part
perhaps you might like to give thought to this, and answer from your heart.

I wonder how we’d take it if our Lord offered his time
and rolled his sleeves up, did his bit, more human than divine,
to help us with the cleaning of our own most holy place?
And would he find it tidy, or an absolute disgrace?

Gordon precedes this poem with a story of a small village – one church that had a faithful gathering each Sunday but was not of any real import to most of the villagers.  Then one evening the farmer’s barn at one end of the village caught fire – and there was all sorts of mayhem and chaos – and it was a cold cold night – and the logical place to go was the church – well away from the fire, a few toilets and a kitchen and some heat – although it took a while to get that going.  So everyone piled in, including a good number that hadn’t been in the church for a very long time – they put some pews together so the children could sleep and spread the velvet communion table cover over them, piled pew cushions on the floor for extra seating, poured a million cups of tea, spilt some of them, and generally settled down to wait out the fire.  And eventually in the wee small hours they went home.  When the parishioners came in next day it was a mess.  And there were grumblings, cups broken, tea spilt, furniture all over the place – could have put everything back before they left muttered one who thought it was a disgrace.  And when it was all back in its right place – they were more than happy.  But did they notice that the following Sunday the congregation has expanded somewhat – by several folk who, apart from that night, hadn’t been in the church for a very long time!

So the question that Tom Gordon puts before us is whether we are doing things or being a people that might invite some cleaning out if Jesus was to join us today?  His poem goes on:

Oh, he wouldn’t find us selling things, like pigeons, and the rest.
…But he might find us peddling ill-will and discontent,
and selling truths so different from the truth he really meant?

Oh, he wouldn’t find us running our own money-changing booth.
..But he might find us selling short his openness and grace;
a love that’s unconditional that offers all a place.

I can think of any number of times when I have sold God’s grace short – or found a truth that suits rather than the truth which is painful.  When I have withheld unconditional love and cherry picked at the tasks Jesus lays before me.  We can all put our hand up at having tables that Jesus might want to overturn, I am sure.

I know, for instance, that I like a degree of order and things in their place especially in this place of worship - heaven forbid that the communion table should be out of alignment with the chair and the cross and the window.  Uneasy when the font is tucked away, I love the sense of everything in its place, the colour of the pulpit font changing at the right time.
I might have been one of those sighing and being a bit miffed that the evacuees had left the place in a mess. That   protocols and courtesy and good order snuck precedence over the joy of unexpected unconditional welcome and hospitality.
It gave me pause for thought – if my need for timeliness, say, or order, or formality becomes a barrier for what we can call those ‘Jesus moments of unexpected encounter,’ if I fail to see the God moments because I am too busy being annoyed by something that is simply different to my way, then I have a personal challenge, a personal table to overturn and that is to loosen up a bit– and to know that God is working in every situation and that welcome and relationship is built in many ways, not just mine.  So there are times for all of us when we all need to, metaphorically at least, loosen up, relax into someone else’s way and realise that the grace of God is especially present in such times.

The Corinthians had their own tables for overturning – pitfalls that they were falling into.  The Greeks believed in the persuasive power of great oratory and, while there were those who employed solid rhetoric and good argument, there were others who put on an absolute performance, who exercised powerful manipulation in their speaking to their own end. And they judged the fact that Paul didn’t necessarily show that same level of skill in performance oratory – it made him and his message less in their eyes.  Pauls makes the point to them that this is not how God works in the world, that it is not his performance skill that impresses on the hearts of his listeners but the truth that come from his mouth through the words of scripture, the proclaiming of a crucified and risen Christ who holds us in the enduring love of God.  Clever rhetoric muddied the waters at the very least.

And, as for the Jews, the signs were just all wrong – they expected strength, a full on challenge by a new power and authority to what was an oppressive worldly power against them.  They didn’t recognise the Messiah in this sad mess of a person nailed to a cross. The signs weren’t right, not what they expected.  And Paul explains the Christ he knows is one who completely shatters our human expectations and brings hope and truth to us in powerlessness and weakness, something the chosen people found hard to understand or accept.

Paul names the community in which Jesus message is birthed as one which is made up not of the people who have got it all together, who value powerful oratory and wisdom and status, but rather the weak and the foolish, the poor and the shunned and the stumbling. I am afraid that all too often we as the church have presented a face of righteous piety – and the behaviour in our temple has been downright arrogant and exclusive at times.

We are not an organisation, nor a club, a business on the (or decline) – we are a community of redeemed people who see the power of God at work in powerlessness and the gift of faith given to the least able – the tables we need overturned, the cleanout we invite when we ask Christ in to our lives are more to do with laying aside our own efforts and handing the control over to what God in Christ can do in us, through us and for us as the crucified one.  Be prepared for upheaval in our thinking and change in our carefully orchestrated lives when the Christ of the cross comes to visit.

Tom Gordon’s final verse:
Be careful when your invite calls for willing volunteers,
for Christ might slip in too and find what’s lain well hid for years,
and clear the very temple that you thought was just sublime
for with the human Christ you may get cleansing that’s divine.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 25th February, 2018 Lent 2

Readings:  Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16     Mark 8: 31-38

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.

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ 
How would it be if each Sunday, as we leave this service, this church, we were to pick up a cross at the door and carry it very obviously with us through the week?  What would it do to our sense of peace and community as we leave to have a rough hewn cross shoved into our hand, a reminder that our walk of faith involves personal discipleship to a man who died on a cross that we might find ours.  This second week of lent is a hard week – the journey has begun to Jerusalem, the words of recognition have been spoken – yes Jesus, you are the Messiah – the teaching about betrayal and suffering and death has begun with a new intensity, the drama of Holy Week is still a long way away and the joy of Easter Sunday not really on anyone’s radar at all.  And in the midst of it all is the knowledge that something crucial has changed -for them, for us. 

It is no longer ok to just be the bystanders, the students at the knee of the master, the followers who stand back and let Jesus be the one who preaches, who heals, who feeds the hungry, who forges unlikely relationships and challenges and disrupts in the name of love.  Step up, Jesus says – this is your journey as well – your life is to be put on the line too and I am asking you to walk this way with purpose and belief. 

This was indeed a difficult time for the disciples who were with Jesus – not that life had been easy or predictable before but suddenly the reality of the words of Jesus begin to take hold.
‘To be my follower, take up the cross and follow me.’  After the euphoria of naming Jesus as the Messiah, this message of suffering and death must have seemed full of doom and gloom - and Peter was having none of it.  It didn’t fit in with his understanding of the way in which Jesus would be the Messiah – Martin Luther calls it the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross.  For Luther, the theology of glory anticipates what people want in their God, sees what ‘should be’ based on what seems self evident – power rather than a cross, accomplishment rather than  helpless suffering.  The theology of the cross is the path Jesus is taking – God’s self revelation found in the weakness of suffering and death – Luther believes that to know God truly is to know God in Christ, which means to know God revealed in the suffering of the cross.

This theology of the cross is a counter intuitive approach for many of us including Peter.  He was looking for wisdom and strength in this newly declared Messiah – Jesus was telling him it involved what the world saw as foolishness and weakness.  Imagine being those disciples, without the assurance of the resurrected Christ, grappling with the concept of death and suffering being the ‘good news’. 

Do we do much better, understanding the cross to be the good news of Jesus Christ and does the knowledge of resurrection invite us to skip lightly over the moment of absolute grace that is the cross?  Perhaps we can find some guidance in the story of Abram and Sarai and the covenant God made with them.

For it was a covenant of grace – a promise for Abram and Sarai to receive and it was on God’s terms – asking no response. ‘I will be their God’ - there is no rejoinder of ‘and they shall be my people.’
We can recognise their faithfulness as the fruit of the covenant but God’s promise was not dependant on their faithfulness.  And it is the same with the cross - we are on the receiving end of God’s movement to bring life and freedom – found in the unlikeliest of places - the cross of suffering and offered for all of humankind.  Open and unconditional extravagant grace – the good news indeed.

And as Sarai and Abram committed to the covenant with God, they received not only promise but the recognition that, in becoming the faithful people of God, there was a new beginning, a clear sense of purpose, a new path to walk with God.  And to write that on their hearts they were given new names – they became Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah meaning princess.

And for us, through the extravagant grace of God, our life in the church and the waters of baptism, the covenant established with Abraham and Sarah and brought to fullness on the cross has been opened to us too. And when we too choose to respond to the grace of God we also gain a new name – we become a ‘disciple of Jesus’ signalling our new purpose as people of faith.

We think of others in the bible and in life who choose to take a new name – and why they might do it.
Jacob was renamed Israel, Hoshea became Joshua, the mute Zechariah writing his son John’s name on a tablet - and we continue in our contemporary world – birth, circumcision, baptism, kings and queens and popes, entry into monastic life, gender change, marriage, immigrants and settlers alike.
A new start, an acceptance of new direction or responsibility, a desire to lay aside that which was not fruitful or safe or healing and begin again.  A new name for a new purpose.

What might that mean for us, and how might reflecting on our ‘new name’ be significant for us this Lenten time?

One of the things we encounter in a new name is that people see us differently.  When I began the journey of becoming a minister one of the most difficult things for me was realising that people approached me with expectations, that there was an assumption of some wisdom, of compassion, of knowledge, of certain behaviour.  As Christians, newly named or long committed, how are we perceived by others?  Does our behaviour reflect the good news of Jesus Christ or is there very little change in the direction of our lives to others?

And we see ourselves differently - a decision has been made, a commitment embarked upon that has changed our lives.  No longer are we our own person but walk the path that Christ has walked – much of it needing a great deal of trust and faith.  We embrace servanthood and forgiveness and vulnerability, we enter into the pain of the world so that we might transform the world – a far cry from being in control or persuasion from a position of power.

And we see each other differently – we build relationships based on selflessness and hope, we engage with those we would not normally approach and discover Christ in the least and the different.  We hear the voice of Jesus in those whom we discuss faith and scripture and theology with.  We see the hands of Jesus in the people who we minister with and who minister to us.  We know the love of Jesus in the saints that surround us and the stranger we encounter in the strangest of places.

I want to finish with some lines from the poem by Andrew Norton called ‘Hello’ that we shared at Wednesday worship.  For me it gathers together all the threads of what it means to respond to the faithfulness of God, the new journey that we embark upon when we become disciples of Christ.  At this Easter time we remind ourselves of what we greet when we choose to follow Christ.

Hello by Andrew Norton

I search the horizon but cannot see beyond today’s unfolding
Hello to the unknown.
My bones ache, my breath is short, my feet and hands hurt – Hello to pain.
The grace of tears – Hello to love.
Light painting an azure sky with puffs of white clouds – Hello to wonder.
A pathway into the mist – Hello to mystery.
Now you have it, now you don’t – Hello to loss.
A hand written card, pure gift – Hello to kindness.
Thicker than blood because it is a choice – Hello to friendship.
Stories of endings – Hello to grief.
As champagne to a weary heart – Hello to laughter.
“Hosanna” fades as the crowd turns – Hello to forsaken.
I ask God “why?” so I may gain wisdom – Hello to silence.
In the shadows I’m at home in the womb of creation – Hello to darkness.
Sunlight through the rain – Hello to hope.
Hello to life, yes, to all of it!

Margaret Garland