Saturday, 27 October 2018

Prayers for ourselves and others Opoho Church Sunday 28 October 2018

Let us pray together.
All over the world people are busy.  They are planting, harvesting, cleaning, selling, cooking, ordering, putting things away, taking things out, filling in forms.  Lord, Bless us all in our busy-ness.
All over the world people are creating.  They are painting, singing, writing, sculpting, designing, filming.  Lord, Bless us all in our creativity.
All over the world people are interacting.  They are hugging, arguing, loving, ignoring, fighting, helping, talking, meeting, governing.  Lord, Bless us all in our relationships.
All over the world people are suffering.  They are hungry, homeless, voiceless, poor, exhausted, hurting, losing, dying.  Lord, Bless us all in our misery.
All over the world people are worshipping.  They are praying, singing, listening, talking, hoping, learning, wondering, doubting.  Lord, Bless us all as we try to understand you.
We pray together.

Abby Smith
28 October 2018

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 28 October 2018 Pentecost 23

Readings:  Job 42:1-6    Mark 10:46-52

Let us pray
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts open not just our mind and heart but also our eyes and ears to your way for us Jesus Christ.  Amen.

‘I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear – now my eye sees you.’  So says Job in this moment of spiritual clarity, acknowledging that his experience of God in his life had been limited; that it was primarily formed by that which he had been instructed in, learned from family and community - and now he is in the thick of a huge storm in his life – he’s been to hell and back – and it is the midst of this suffering that he has this new experience of God,  There is this moment or awakening – of realisation that what you might call his theological arrogance has blinkered him to the truth that God transcends Job’s knowledge, his theology, his experiences.  For it is in the midst of his suffering he knows God’s transforming grace –has found a new way of speaking with God.  And it changes his life. 

 ‘I want to see’ says blind Bartimaeus when asked by Jesus ‘what is it that you want me to do for you?’  Despite the attempts of the disciples to shush him up he yelled louder and louder until Jesus heard the commotion and invited him to come and be healed.  It has to be noted that the disciples still had their blinkers on too – not yet convinced that the lowly and the disreputable were just the ones Jesus wanted to see.  Bartimaeus leaps to his feet, the scripture fair pulsates with his determination to encounter this man Jesus – for his eyes have been opened to the truth of Jesus well before his physical blindness has been cured.

I’ve always been fascinated by how we see things, the way in which familiarity can shrink our understanding and preconception can make our eyes slide over things we really need to see.  On my frequent trips home to Balclutha as a student in Dunedin, I used to look at the familiar landscape around me and re-imagine it through the eyes of one who was seeing it for the first time.  It was interesting how many new things I spotted using that perspective, how stunning the views and vibrant the life in it. 

What we think we see is so often just a part of what there is to see – and its worth reminding ourselves that while we don’t always have the luxury of video rewind or observation mode or re-imaging to enable us to see the bigger picture, we also have a tendency to think that what we see is the whole and complete picture.  Job came to that realisation the hard way –he acknowledged before God that his faith was limited by his inability to see, to imagine if you like, the wholeness of God.  His theological stance did not allow for God to be more than Job perceived him to be, hence his anger and bewilderment at suffering for such a righteous man. The understanding that he would never see or know all of God was a moment of brilliant clarity, of deeply meaningful insight for him.
Bartimeus, for all his physical blindness, was also a person who leads us into much needed clarity about the way of faith.  It is worth noting that the Gospel of Mark sandwiches the two stories of the healing of physical blindness around the three accounts of the blindness of the disciples and their inability to see the truth when Jesus predicts his suffering and death.  Their response is blindness personified: rebuke by Peter for saying it, ashamed and fearful silence, and a request to have a position of power when they came into the kingdom.  They didn’t get it – at all.  But Bartimeus did!  The blind man did.
Lets tease out some of the action in this story of the healing of the blind man and then think about how we might sit respond to it. 
First of all the blind man was marginalised, on the side of the road, spoken to as of no worth, told to shut up – but Jesus heard and responded.
Jesus asked Bartimeus a question, interestingly exactly the same question that he had posed to the disciples in the reading last week: ‘What do you want me to do for you?
The disciples, still with their blinkers on, had responded with the request for ‘favourite status’, Bartimeus with a plea to be able to see.
Jesus said: tell him to come to me and Bartimeus got up and ran towards him – there was action, eagerness in his response to Jesus call.
And immediately he regained his sight, Bartimeus followed Jesus on the way – to Jerusalem and the cross.

I wonder what blinkers we wear – often very comfortably. 
There are certainly people within the Christian church who believe their experience of God is the only one.  Immediately they have limited God, distrusted Jesus teachings of the immensity of God’s love.  Not just in the Christian faith too.
I came across a quote the other day that made me bristle.  And it is about spiritual blinkers.  It was from Sinead O’Connor who has recently converted to Islam and she said: ‘"This is to announce that I am proud to have become a Muslim. (That didn’t get me going – quite the opposite – but this did.) This is the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian's journey. All scripture study leads to Islam. Which makes all other scriptures redundant
How profoundly arrogant I thought. Not in her conversion but in the barrier of conceit that she stands behind. A conceit that intelligent thinking belongs only to one faith, that in order to celebrate a new relationship you need to stomp on others.  I hope that in time she learns that the love of God permeates this world in ways we cannot even imagine.  I hope she has a Job moment.

How much do we, who think we see the whole picture, get stuck in our own narrow perspective finding it hard to reimagine our God experience.?  That is why we need to embrace God and community with our eyes open to new things – so that we can hear other stories, see other ways, be made wiser through animated conversation with God and the insight of others, building together a picture of the kingdom as God knows it to be.
How do we respond to Jesus’ question “What is it that you want me to do for you?”  Only you can answer that question but it is one worth spending some serious time on and it is one we should answer from the very depths of our souls.  If our answer is to be that of Bartimeus – Lord let me see – then what is it that we each need to see more clearly?
Whatever the answer, it has to do with how we can better serve God, community and ourselves in the way of Christ.  For surely this is the core of the reading we heard today – immediately he regained his sight, he followed him on the way.  

Show us, here in this place, O Christ, your way that we might follow it faithfully, generously and lovingly, opening not just our eyes but the eyes and ears of all whom we meet, in Jesus name.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Sermon Sunday 7 October, 2018 Pentecost 20 World Communion Sunday

Readings:  Job 1:1, 2:1-10    Mark 10: 13- 6

Let us pray:  As we hear the word of God for us in our hearts, may we find understanding, challenge and assurance as we seek to be the people of Jesus Christ in this place.  Amen. 

One of the highlights of our trip to Victoria (apart from see our daughter) was sharing a house for the weekend with three other couples, two of whom I hadn’t seen for 30- 40 years and the others who we had never met.  We got on really well and there were some very good conversations.  But the one that stands in my mind is the one with the guy I’d never met, a farmer from the central North Island, who asked me a question that is not uncommon when people find out I am a Christian and minister I guess – ‘How can you believe in a God that allows children to starve and wars to decimate entire communities?’ And it continued – ‘How can you believe in a church that allowed my ex-wife to annul our marriage as if it had never been and effectively negated our three beautiful children?’
As you can imagine we had a long and wide-ranging conversation and I hope he is in some way able to reimagine his understanding of God and church.
And then this last week, back in Dunedin we had lunch with an old friend who was a pastor in a New Life Church and who told her story of trying to break down the barriers of white middle class conservative exclusivity only to be faced with the uncompromising wrath of the indignant self-righteous.

Yet I went to a service in the Fairfield Uniting Church in Melbourne where I was told with some delight by the 80 something ex Baptist minister service leader that their Minister didn’t make Sunday service one time because she was in jail – arrested for protesting against the mining of coal in Queensland.  Active in a number of social justice issues, they hang a pride flag alongside a First Nations flag on the outside of their church, and speak actively into refugee treatment, climate concerns etc.  They are not a big church but they are alive and active.

While away I also had time to focus on the world around – to ponder the ‘Me too’ movement and how it had given hope to those who have had no real voice before. Yet against that hope, sits the image of 11 serious faced white men in suits lined up facing or should we say intimidating (but saying not a word to) Christine Ford who was testifying to the actions her abuser, potential Supreme Court Judge Kavanagh.

I saw the huge numbers of homeless on the streets of Melbourne – beds being made on pavements and in doorways, in front of shops where people bought yet another unneeded piece of something and a few feet (yet a world away) from the Merc or Bentley passing by.
I saw a man at Victoria Market sitting on the pavement muttering to himself about the humanity that was passing him by and how he couldn’t understand half of them and then two young boys, with their father watchfully standing back, approach him with some food and drink.  This rambling man stood, talked with the boys, gave thanks, smiled and walked away a bit taller.

All this reminds me that we quite often make a real hash of taking God’s message of love and hope for all people into our world – whether that world be within the church or facing out into community.  We are quite capable of taking a singular experience and allowing it to colour perceptions, understandings, judgements in an unthinking way.  To see the homeless on the street and fill in the details of their failed lives without talking with them, to use our prejudices to treat people as liars and faceless non-entities, to allow our understanding of God to be manipulated to suit our church doctrine.
It reminds me that we who have things pretty much under control, for whom life is reasonably ok are not so well equipped to deal with the horror that is life for some and tend to shy away.  
It makes sense that those who see the horrors of the world and the double standards of the church might have trouble believing that there is a God, or at least a God they would want to be in relationship with.

It is entirely appropriate for the reading for today to be from Job.  Job, the most upright of men, faultless in his living, persistent in his integrity and, as it happens, quite successful in his living – stripped of all that he knows and loves, reduced to a suffering horror, equipped only by his trust in God.

There are so many ways we could engage with this reading – but today let us follow this train of thought.

Job was not perfect – much as we would like him to be – no-one gets it all right before God.  Yet we hear that his faith was strong and his trust in God deep rooted.  And that gives us the clue that his life belonged to God in a way that Satan was envious of.  But he did not have all the answers, was not complete in his understanding of the way of God.  Neither, I suspect, did he see life as a place of intense pain and suffering, a daily horror. He was about to find out – and in the end his relationship with God was deeply intensified and greatly expanded.  His life was again to become a good life but I bet his ministry was the richer and way more effective for the experience in the reality of the wider world.

We would not wish the story of Job on anyone but it does point us in the direction of ways in which we can be better at being the word of God made known in this world.  It begs the question of where we might be living in a bubble of content or behind the closed doors of self-righteousness.  Are there times or places where we mould the ways of God to our satisfaction, our comfort ignoring the fact that we know we are hurting and excluding and judging? Are we aware of a sense of incompleteness in our living out of the grace and love of Jesus but never quite enough to make us take that step into vulnerable encounter?  Are we living as a church, as a people, that enables others to see God in us and believe in a God of love, not one of hate and hypocrisy.

Our hope – I present to you the children on the streets of Melbourne who came to the discontented, rambling down and out - with offerings of not just food but of respect and valuing and love.  We take our hope from them.  For Jesus said:

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Order of Service Opoho Church Sunday 23 September 2018 Led by Abby Smith


Call to Worship
We stop today, Lord, to praise your glory.
Looking down we see the earth and stones on which the world is built,
   and we thank you.
Looking down we see the lakes and streams and sea that give the world life,
   and we thank you.
Looking around we don’t see the air, but we know it’s there, with its wind and light,
   and we thank you
Looking around we see the trees and flowers that make the world green,
   and we thank you.
Looking around we see the creatures great and small that walk with us through life,
   and we thank you.
Looking up we see the sun and moon and stars and clouds that watch over us,
   and we thank you.
We stop today, Lord, to praise the glory of creation.
   and we thank you.  Amen.

Today is the 266th day of the year, so it is 92 days till Christmas.  It is Civilization Sunday and Pentecost 18, and Creation 4 Mountain Sunday.  It is the international day of Sign Languages.  And it is my father’s birthday.
…..As you know I’m a natural scientist, and Margaret and I chose this Sunday for me because Creation means a lot to me -- so we are going to talk today about creation – the whole thing.  We’ll be hearing the big story of the big wide world in several different versions.  We’ll sing about it, too.  And we’ll have times of silence, to think about it. 
….So let’s start at the very beginning. 

Reading Genesis 1: The Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.
God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.
God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.
God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.
God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Hymn  All Creatures of Our God and King.  WOV 3, verses 1-4 and 7.

Time of Silence

We give thanks, Lord, for the whole great big world, and all that is in it.  We give thanks for the land and sea and sky, birds and fish and mammals, for the sun and moon and stars. 
The world is enormous and glorious and so much bigger than we are.  We live here, and move here, and everything we do is part of that big world.  We know that we are part of it, and that we each have our small role to play in being part of it. 
And we also know we don’t always work in harmony with creation.  We can be selfish and lazy, ignorant and tired.  We can fail to do our best for the world, even when we know what we should be doing.  We can make choices that are bad, even when we know what we are doing.  We can turn on each other, blame other people, cause more problems than we solve.  
Forgive us.
Help us to be better. Help us to realize that just because our part in creation is small, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.  Help us to be what you created us to be.

The Peace and Community Time

Chat Time

Hymn  All Things Bright and Beautiful, WOV 70(ii)

Reading 2:  Psalm 104 read responsively
All:        Praise the Lord, my soul.
Women:            Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
Men:    The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
Women:            He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
Men:    He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.

Leasder:            You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment; waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.
All:        You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
Leader:              He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
All:        The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

Pulpit side:       He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.
Piano side:       The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers.  The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.

Men:    He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.  You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
Women:            The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening.
All:        How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Leader:              There is the sea, vast and spacious, with creatures beyond number— things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All:        All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
Leader:              When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

All:        May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works — he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
Leader:              I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.  But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.
All:        Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord.

Time of Silence

Reading Job 38: 1-18 – The Lord Speaks

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.”

Time of Silence

In today’s readings we heard a pretty simple description of the Universe.  There’s light and dark, sun and moon, land and sea, plants and animals.  And for most of us, most of the time, that’s a perfectly reasonable recipe for the world.  We get up, we look out the window and choose what to wear, we go out there and do stuff, and then it gets dark and we go to bed.  Timeless, simple.
Science, however, tells us that the universe is very complicated in ways we cannot see.  There are, on average, 1500 bacteria in every square cm of our hands – all invisibly doing their bacteria thing. There are, apparently, about 100 million stars in our galaxy, all spinning around in the night sky, but we can only see a few thousand of them.  The Big Bang theory tells us that the universe exploded into being 13.8 billion years ago, and is still expanding.  Our own planet spent its first 2 billion years alone, without life, and then only very slowly began to develop a thin skin of green-based life.  The nerve cells in your fingertips fire 5 to 50 times per second, without you noticing or doing anything.  And so on.  The universe is unimaginably big, ridiculously small, dauntingly long-lived, and full of tiny moments. 
Somehow, in one place at one time in this universe, a combination of random chance and natural selection produced, on one small planet, a great biodiversity of life.  Or, the world was created in seven days by God.  Or both.
I don’t have any problem with holding two different ideas in my mind at once.  Any of you who are parents will know that you can feel terrified, furious, happy to see him, hopelessly loving, and like you want to kill him -- all at once.  The human brain is very good at holding different notions at the same time.
So we can begin to understand the great complexity of a 4.5 billion year old planet where a combination of random chance and selective pressure from the physical world has resulted in a bipedal primate with strong social ties and a talent for communication.  And we can believe that the creator God made the world in his infinitely complex image, and populated it with a creature who could explore and be curious about it.
The hallmarks of the human mind are the capacity for sentience and self-knowledge; curiosity and wonder; innovation and invention.  (And perhaps a regrettable tendency to do things that are clearly not of benefit to people and the world.)  So the idea that we have to choose between two simple options – do you believe in evolution or in God? – is frankly a pile of horse poop.  It’s one of a number of false dichotomies that oversimplify God’s complex intricate world.
So for example, we are told we have to be female or male, and that there are particular ways to be female and male (which is one of the reasons I don’t like the Wife of Great Worth reading much) – when many people feel like they are both, or neither, or somewhere in between.  We are asked if we are For or Against abortion – as if a single-word answer could possibly address the difficult, many-faceted and delicate relationship between a woman’s life and that of her potential child.  We are presented with such black and white (sometimes literally) choices -- us vs them, good vs evil, black vs white -- by advertisements, by politicians, by the media, by each other.  These constructs do very little good.
In fact, they fail utterly to capture the range of possibilities and diversity in the great glittering Universe of dark and light, sun and moon, waves and mountains.  The beauty of a planet encrusted by a sphere of life, leaves and flowers and seeds, worms and sparrows and snails and elephants.  And the remarkable creature who walks through it all, able to think and wonder and solve problems – and create them.  The whole astonishingly superb universe, made in God’s image and thus infinitely complex and full of dimensions we have not yet begun to explore.
I’m a scientist that believes in God.  I’m a Christian who works in science.  I live in a world of enquiry and evidence.  I live in a world of beauty and complexity that takes my breath away and inspires me to worship.  As a human animal, I have no problem thinking about creation in different ways at different times.
Creation is the simple ordinary place where we do our daily living, with the sun in the day and the moon at night.  The place where we live and move and have our being.
Creation is the complicated, multi-layered huge and ancient universe that science is unfolding and exploring, both too big and too small to experience directly, too old and too new to know.
Creation is the reflection of the multi-dimensional and glorious beauty of its creator.  It speaks to us of his and her infinite love. 
We don’t have to choose how we experience creation.  We can choose: all of the above.

Hymn  The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of the Lord, WOV 625

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Sung Lord’s Prayer

Hymn  Morning Has Broken, WOV 91

Benediction -- Abby
As we go out into the big wide world, be with us Lord
As we go out into this glorious springtime, be with us Jesus Christ
As we go out into this shining day, be with us Holy Spirit.

Sung Amen