Saturday, 28 December 2019

Reflection Sunday 29 December, 2019 Christmas 1 The Holy Innocents

Readings:  Isaiah 63:7-9  Matthew 2:13-23

The sun had barely set on the wondrous story of the birth of Jesus.  The magi had headed home after delivering their extravagant gifts, the shepherds were still excited but back tending their sheep, Mary and Joseph had got through the first days of parenthood and were starting to breathe again.  Herod was getting suspicious because the magi had not returned but gone home by another way, the little town of Bethlehem was lying still and quiet.

Enter the angel, this time to Joseph, with a sobering message.  Get out of there, it is not safe, leave your short time of bliss and go – far away.  You need to go to Egypt – don’t know how you will get there but you need to go – now!  Herod is after your baby – to kill him.  Go, go, go!

Hear the narrative in the thoughts of the holy family, from the king, from a Bethlehem mother, from Isaiah.

First from the family, from Joseph:
Mary, I am sorry to wake you but you need to get up, now!  Quickly, wrap the child up warmly, try to keep him quiet if you can, we have to go.  I had a dream, an angel of God warning us to flee, as far away as we can – Herod is looking for our son and will not let him live if he finds him.
I know you are recovering, I know this is a precious time of bonding for us all yet we must flee from all we know and love – become refugees, with Egypt our refuge, just like our ancestors.  If we go now, maybe Herod will give up when he can’t find us, maybe Bethlehem will be safe from him.  Quickly now, quietly, and we pray that the night will give us safe passage.

From Herod:
O, I promised them with sweet assurances.
I spilled soft words upon their ears saying nothing of my private fears.
I said to those magi: you must journey on and greet this newborn king?  Then you must journey back again and bring me news, that I may also go and worship him.

I wonder what gave the game away? How did they know?
Did they guess or did they hear something in my voice?
No matter, they did not return.  I had no information, nothing to show.  And no address.  A pity – the damage could have been less.  As it was, it was a bit of a massacre.

But I had to cover myself – so the order was to kill all male children up to two years old.  Might have been a few girls caught up in that but hey, that’s the harsh fact of kingship.
It’s my duty you see, I can’t let a child grow up to rival me.

And anyway, it’s only little people with little lives, and if any take a moral stand on this, I will tell them I have to think of what is best for the land.  And if it means upsetting a few unimportant Hebrew parents, then so be it.  What is important is that my position, my place, my power is unassailed – I’ll do whatever it takes.[1]

From Rachel, a mother to Mary:
Your child’s coming was my child’s going, Mary;
Swift appeared the soldier band, children’s blood spilled on the sand, grief and rage convulsed the land.
Mary, was your child born that Rachel should weep forlorn?

Your child’s living was my child’s dying, Mary;
Days hang loose like cloth unshrunk, nights are haunted, in anguish sunk, breasts are pained, the milk not drunk.
Mary, was your child worth mine laid in friendless earth?

Your child’s saving was mine’s destroying, Mary;
Cherished lives are lost forever, cherished hopes have now turned sour, cherished seed will never flower.
Mary, if Jesus saves, what mean to you these graves?[2]

From the refugees again, from Mary:
I remember every day that mad rush from Bethlehem – I know we needed to go, I know God was watching over us, I know that our young lad is precious in God’s sight – but did they have to do all that killing – I feel sick - still, guilty – still, frightened – still.  Yet we are to return to Judah – Herod is dead, my Joseph says – but will it be any better?  Will we live in fear still?  Joseph thinks so – so we are not going back there – it is to be Galilee instead.  I was so looking forward to this being over, for a while at least –but it is not to be. There will be no homecoming after all.  May God be with us.

From Isaiah
I have something to say.  Well actually two things.  You people of the future know how important context is – well I hope you know that the words you heard today are airlifted out of a psalm of lament – communal lament no less.  You need to know that the people were down, right down. They had come back to Jerusalem from Babylon, expecting it to be the same, anticipating former glory.  It wasn’t like that.  It was ugly.  Life is hard and exhausting. The people knew that they had not been faithful, that they had disappointed God, but thought that the coming back meant back to the old way, back to everything being sweet and lovely. It did not. It is not!
Because that is the second thing. Do you remember that in the very worst of times, God does not leave us? If I can recount the times that Jahweh has redeemed us, lifted us up and renewed us in our times of despair, then how much more can you people of the new testament understand that suffering and pain are not excluded from our lives, as you sometimes seem to want to do with the ‘wholesome’ Christmas thing.  If you remember all the story, the star and the birth and the flight and the killing of the innocents, if you place the cradle alongside the cross, you will better understand that God is in all that life throws at us.  As we go about living in the way of faith and mercy, memory of God’s unconditional love and saving grace, again and again helps carry us through distress and fear. And if you remember it all you will, with me, want to recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the steadfast love of the Lord, the mercy of the Lord, with loud voices and joy in your hearts. For surely we are all God’s people.

Margaret Garland

[1] Herod by Penny Hewlett (adapted) from Hay & Stardust p.184
[2] Your child’s coming was my child’s going by Ian M. Fraser from Hay & Stardust p.182

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Opoho Church: Liturgy and Reflections for Advent 3 15 December 2019

Call to Worship 
Come to this place, you who are weary;
peace is waiting for you and all that you bring.
We are here seeking respite from the expectations and demands of this season and this life.
Come to this place, you who long for a safe haven;
hope is here, God’s presence wrapped around you in love.
We are here with some hesitation,
yet also with a longing to know holiness
in the depth of our being.
Come to this place, you who are resilient;
by grace the Creator of all is with you.
We are here, waiting, alert, ready,
for the joy that is the Christ Child.  

Prayer of Confession
Holy God, we come before you today in a time of prayer – prayer of ourselves and for others.
We admit that it can be a confusing time for us in Advent, and especially this year. Our readings from scripture refuse to allow us to dwell in joy alone.  The cross is always alongside, birth and death companions in the journey - and it is hard. In the midst of this time of anticipation and loveliness and innocence of a new born, we encounter pain and loneliness and hard times.  We would love to talk just about joy today for there is much to celebrate and yet, especially for some of us, the sadness of this time is overwhelming.  Forgive us when we forget that you are a God of both valleys and mountains, that in Jesus you know both the delight and despair that is this your world.  Be with those who mourn we pray and hear, alongside the lament, the peace and joy that we find in Jesus, the child who fills our cradle of waiting.
We bring our confessions and our hope for the ourselves and the world.
We have sometimes failed to be aware of the vulnerable and the helpless, caught up as we are in our own bubbles of preparation and anticipation.  Forgive us when we close the shutters on life outside our immediate rooms and help us to see the joy and despair that walk hand in hand through our world. 
We pray for the families of those who lost their lives on Whaakari / White Island, for those still in critical care and   for those who will live but have a long and painful journey of healing ahead of them. 
In a time of silence we bring our confusion to you – our regret at things not well done, the embarrassment of being honest before God, our joy in new life as we cry for loss.
Hear our prayers, Loving God and in your mercy grant us peace we pray.      ....we say together  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…

First Reading Isaiah 35:1-2a, 5-6a
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church
People: Thanks be to God

Reflection: The Gifts that Jesus Gave  Abby Smith
Hello, my baby boy, just born, tiny and wrinkly and damp.  Look at your little perfect hands, your tiny wee nose.  I carried you inside me and now you are born.  I have never felt so much love in all my life.  Thank you so much, my baby, for teaching me what Love really is.
We remain seated to sing:
He came singing love and he lived singing love: he died singing love. 
He arose in silence. For the love to go on we must make it our song: 
you and I be the singers

We came over the hills, we left our sheep.  We never leave our sheep!  We saw angels and so we came.  We were afraid, but still we came, to see this child, this saviour.  The Lord himself sent us, so we came.  We did not believe easily.  We did not understand.  But now we see – this baby has shown us what Faith really is.
We sing: He came singing faith….

We brought gifts but he gave us more in return.  We read the stars, we knew he will be the King of Kin0067s.  We brought our gifts but he gave us more.  Now we know him the Prince of Peace.  All our troubles and worries have gone.  We will not go back to conflict and doubt.  This baby has taught us what Peace really is.
We sing: He came singing peace….

We have lived here in the stable for a long time.  We carry heavy loads, we haul the ploughs.  We eat what they give us, we go where they take us, we work, we eat, we die.  This baby, born in our dark prison, is like light.  He shines, saying to us who live in the dark, there is green grass and water and sunshine and freedom for us somewhere.  We did not know what hope was.  This baby has shown us what Hope really is.
We sing: He came singing hope…

I’m not important, just a carpenter.  The baby isn’t mine, not really.  I don’t understand why there are shepherds and kings and donkeys in here.  Mary smiles that secret smile, and I’m lost and I don’t understand.  But up there in the sky a bright star shines, telling me to trust in God.  And I do.  Suddenly a great joy rises up in me, I could dance, I could shout, but I stand here silent and happy.  I did not know what joy could be.  This baby has shown me what Joy really is.

Isaac Watt  17th – 18th C  WOV 224

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare a room and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns! Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Christ rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders of God’s love and wonders, and wonders of God’s love.

Gospel Reading  Luke 1:46b-55
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

            Reader: This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

People:  Praise to Christ the Word

Reflection Mary’s Gift
A contemporary reading: “God did not wait” by Madeline L'Engle

God did not wait till the world was ready, till...the nations were at peace.
God came when the heavens were unsteady,and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time, God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine. God did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame God came, and God's light would not go out.
God came to a world that did not mesh, to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made flesh the maker of the stars was born.

I wonder if we will ever truly understand the gift that was Mary’s acceptance of her role as the mother of Jesus – I wonder what might have happened if she had refused, as she may well have wanted to do.  I wonder if she argued with God, suggesting others who might have been more suited or that this could wait for a better time.  She had no power, no voice, not status, how could she possibly be strong enough for this, this disgrace, this complex burden of joy and pain that was about to be laid on her.

Yet we know that she does accept and not grudgingly as we might have expected –  it is like she has a window on the world that allows miracles, that accepts the desperate need that the world is in and she embraces this gift of new birth, a baby to change the way of the world, and her life forever.  What courage she possessed and what trust she had in God to be with her and to work through her in not just her unplanned pregnancy but in the birth and the years ahead.  For through this girl, a child was born that would bring joy to a despairing world, that would in most disorderly and unexpected manner, teach us how to live in hope even when life was hard, that would show a peace that permeated all the despair the world could throw at us, that would bring a love that turned aside even death.  Who would have thought that the courage of the young woman was such an amazing gift to the world?

Last words from Madeline:
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession O Come  Abby Smith

O Come All Ye Faithful
And all you doubters, all you worriers, all you skeptics
Come all you who don’t care, all you who are too busy, all you who hate,
All you who are too certain, all you who question everything, all you burnt and damaged,
O Come

Joyful and Triumphant
And fearful and defeated, disgusted and disheartened,
Wandering sad and unsure, devastated and lost, eyes down, head down
            Dark and broken and burdened with sorrow
O Come

Come Ye, O Come Ye to Bethlehem
Come to Dunedin, to New York, to the North pole, to a stranger’s home
            To a dismal hotel room, to prison, to refugee camps
  To soup kitchens, to brothels, to slums, to banks, to 
O Come

Come And Behold Him
Come and ignore him, come and look away, hide your broken heart
Despise him, defile him, plot his death, put him in a cage, pretend he is not there
Call him by the wrong name, misunderstand him, misrepresent him
O Come

Born the King of Angels
Born the king of children, of refugees, of beggars, of criminals, of addicts
King of wicked despots, of ordinary con men, of prostitutes,
King of broken-hearted nobodies, of money grubbers, of tax collectors
O Come

O Come Let Us Adore Him
O Come Let Us Adore Him
O Come Let Us Adore Him
            Let us return his love with all our hearts
  Let us love every child as if he and she could save
  the world
  Let us love the Christ Child like our own babies in
  our arms
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Christ the Lord

Margaret Garland & Abby Smith

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Sermon Southern Presbytery Licensing Service 5 December 2019 East Taieri Church

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.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I was here at East Taieri church with my family celebrating, along with 10 others, the end of internship and the beginning of this new life as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCANZ.   There was a great deal of celebration at the graduation service, that is for sure, and anticipation - but also a reasonable dollop of apprehension, the ‘can I do this’ question not far below the surface.  I had a parish who had been waiting six months for me to graduate – I wouldn’t be surprised if Opoho Church had been going through the same emotions – anticipation with a touch of apprehension, wise people that they are!

Ministry has been an incredibly rich journey for me and I wish that same blessing on all of you who are taking this new step in your ministry journey.

I am guessing that, as someone who is winding down in ministry, it is my task tonight to impart some crucial wisdom that will guide you on your way?  Practical hints, pitfalls etc.  Well don’t hold your breath on that.  I would not be so crass as to tell you how I think you should do it – you have had enough of that I suspect for a while – but I would be keen to share some thoughts on the wisdom of God in our lives – on how that shapes and forms the ministry that each one of us is called to.

Our scripture readings tonight have a very strong parental focus.  In Proverbs we are given a loving parent’s advice on how important it is to gain wisdom and insight as the people of God.  As my parent has taught me, so I teach you – let your heart hold fast to my words, keep my commandments and live…… and it is all in the present active tense.  The wisdom of God is not something we learn at a course and then get signed off on – it is a living growing challenging companion that will accompany each one of us as we walk in faith wherever it is that God takes us. At our peril, we are told, let us not forget wisdom, nor forsake her, for wisdom will keep us and guard us – we are to love her and spend time with her.  Powerful and sage advice from a father to his children – learn wisdom and insight as the people of God.
A long time passed and a child was born – a child who became the Word and dwelt among us.  A child who knew love and fear, who became a refugee with his parents, who grew up in troubled times and who knew the call that God had placed on him. We don’t often sit for any time in this youth period of Jesus life – keen as we are to get to the years of active ministry – but, tonight especially, it seems appropriate to pause and acknowledge the preparation that Jesus made for his journey to ministry and beyond.  We hear that God’s wisdom was already upon him at this early stage for Luke’s gospel says that the ‘The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.[1]

We come upon him in the temple - he had stayed behind to learn and listen and question; seeking wisdom, hearing God’s word, being taught in God’s ways.  The parents were understandably not best pleased to find him missing – but once they had found him, were amazed at his understanding and his learning.  And we are told that Jesus went back to Nazareth with them, increasing in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.[2]

So what is this wisdom that Jesus teaches and exemplifies? If you were prepared to sit here for say a couple of days we might make some inroads into the depth and breadth of God’s wisdom made known in Jesus Christ – but let us not do that –instead a couple of thoughts that might resonate for us.

First of all Jesus learned to listen – he listened in the temple, he listened to the call on his life, he listened to the one who tugged on his robe and he who spoke to him from the cross beside.  He listened and learned from the Syro-Phoenician woman, he listened to the repentant tax collector.  Above all his listened to his Father, his anchor and his peace: in the midst of the multitudes crowding in on him, when he was drained from preaching and healings, when he was frustrated with teachings that seemed to fall on deaf ears, when he was struggling with obedience.  He listened, always he listened.

It is certainly one of the first things I learned in ministry – to zip it.  Not all the time – not physically possible for me – but I found that in the listening to the stories of the people, both whanau and strangers, I was allowing room for God to shape the wisdom of response. Vulnerable pastoral encounters, especially, became experiences of deep nourishment when I learned to let God’s voice take charge   – for the wisdom of Parent, Son and Spirit surpasses anything I could bring to the table.   

So Jesus learned to listen.  But he also learned to ask questions in his preparation for ministry.  Questions that opened up the word, made people think and ponder the truth of God.  Questions that would encourage discussion and help seek new pathways of faith together.  And whenever he was asked a question that would shut down the discussion, or be about point scoring, right and wrong, he simply answered the question he thought they should have asked. I like that as a child he asked lots of question as he sought wisdom for the journey – and so we too should continue to ask questions and not be too perturbed if we can’t find answers to everything we ask, maybe because we haven’t quite got the question right yet or perhaps that we aren’t ready to hear the answer Jesus gives us. 

A growing and discerning faith community is one that is continuously seeking the wisdom of God through teaching and listening and questioning.  As we grow and mature and learn as followers of Jesus, as we teach and as we listen and as we question, may we always seek the wisdom of God as our truth and as our way in Jesus name. Amen.

I would like to leave you with a psalm that I have written – although it is about the ending of my full time ministry, I hope for you it speaks not just of the blessed reality of the incredible journey that is the ministry of word and sacrament but also that the discipleship we all live under has no beginning nor ending – it is who we are in Christ.

It is called A Retiring Offering

There is nothing new under the sun, say I.
It is just retirement, people do it all the time.
Why dwell on it, say I.
You are unique in my eyes, says God.
It is a moment on our journey together.
Shall we honour it together?

It is good to give thanks, say I:
thank you for opportunity and trust
  thank you for commitment and passion
    thank you for learning and growing
      thank you for the opening of heart and mind
        thank you for giftings and grace to endure
           thank you for encounters and encouragers.
You are welcome, says God, for each moment of thanksgiving is a blessing to be shared.

It is good to lament, say I:
for doubt that has paralysed
         for opportunities lost
           for shallowness of insight
             for lack of courage
               for failing to trust your promises
                 for moments lost to memory.
You are well loved, says God, for each moment of lament binds us more closely together.

It is good to celebrate, say I:
       the friendships and the companions
         the achievements and the failures that were steps on the way
           the laughter and tears of relationship
             the shaping and refining
               the ah-ha moments
                 the family alongside on the journey.
You are the celebration, says God, for each moment of love, grace and truth is a light to the world.

Shall we continue on our way, says God?
I am looking forward to the journey yet to come, say I.
I hope you are as excited as I am, says God.  I pray so, for there is much yet to do……

Margaret Garland

[1] Luke 2:40
[2] Luke 2: 52

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 1 December 2019 Advent 1 and Communion

Readings:  Isaiah 2:1-5    Matthew 24:36-44

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.

Today we are going to talk about time!  Time – the mathematical representation of our days, our weeks, our years.  It is a concept well represented in our language and our social interactions.  We talk of generations or decades; the swinging sixties, the millennials; and we talk of times of social identification such as the renaissance, the dark ages, the enlightenment.  Time is also colloquial, active and imprecise; time flies when you’re having fun; I’ve been waiting ages; I won’t be long. 
Time can fly, especially when you are really enjoying something and time can drag when you are waiting for that thing to happen.

Advent is a time of waiting.  Waiting for the birth of a baby, the story that, I hope never loses it wonder and promise no matter how many times we hear it.  We especially see the wonder on the faces of our children at this time of year and, if any of us feel we have lost that sense of amazement, perhaps this Advent we might seek to recover it.  Actually, at the Community Advent service here on Wednesday I got to ask everyone how many of Jesus birthdays they had celebrated.  When I said 10 years most of the school children’s hands went up, but I would say their sense that 10 was quite old was shattered as we got to the hands going up for 90+ years.  It was fascinating to watch the children’s faces realise a new sense of time. 

And today our readings are about time – God’s time.  And especially us waiting for God’s fulfilment of time to come around.
In the Hebrew scriptures, we have the remarkable picture that Isaiah paints of God’s promise to the people of Israel and the vision of the new Jerusalem – not just the glory but also the peace – swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, no war, no conflict; wisdom and light shall flow out into the world as people walk the way of God.  It’s a vision of hope is it not, for a people who have had more than their share of struggle and despair?

And then comes the arrival of the Messiah, the time when all would be put right.  But no, it wasn’t quite the way some expected – we heard last week of the trials and tribulations that will await the followers of Jesus – and the whole apocalyptic hell that will come before the end of the age, that new heaven and new earth.  And we of course ask the obvious question which is: ‘When?’
And the sub-text is ‘how are we to prepare for it?’

Because we would really like to know thanks, God. We’d like to be ready. We like straightforward answers to these things, if you don’t mind.  Just in case you didn’t know it, its very difficult to live in this ‘in-between-times’ waiting but not knowing when.

At Advent we anticipate the coming of God’s son in human flesh, the Emmanuel come to this world.  But we are also asked to anticipate the return of the risen Christ to finally fulfil the vision of God’s peace, love and grace present in every part of the kingdom.  We live out our faith between these two times.
What are we to do?  How do we follow the path of Jesus in this
Left to ourselves, we find several options. 
Picture this: a waiting room – not busy, just one other person in it when she arrives.  ‘Been waiting long?’ she says to the man as she takes a seat. ‘Oh about 2000 years, give or take’ he responds and then seeing the look of disbelief ‘Well, he said he was coming soon, so I’ve just been hanging around, sort of.’  ‘For 2000 years!’  ‘Well it’s actually gone by quite fast.  I wanted to be ready. Actually made a cup of tea for him – see, right here, waiting, prepared.’
‘But haven’t you ever given up hope?’ she says.  ‘No, no, he said he’d be back and he will be.  All good.’
‘Look, my friend, I don’t quite know how to say this but there has been a bit of a change in thinking since the early church – everyone expected Jesus back as soon as to rescue them from all the terrible stuff that was going on.  But now we think of the kingdom of God as something here, now, among us.  Jesus’ ministry was the beginning of this idea that the rebirth of the world is happening now.  Its even got a name – its called realised eschatology!’
‘Realised e – esk,,,,what? Anyway, sounds like a bit of a cop out if you ask me’ replies the man.  ‘What about being prepared, being ready?’
‘Oh we certainly need to be that’ she said ‘but should we let this world, this beautiful creation of God simply go to rack and ruin while we wait, eyes on the door?  What about the people who are suffering, the earth that is struggling for survival, justice and peace – should we just not care?’
‘Actually,’ said the man a little bit shamefaced, ‘I have wondered about that while I’ve been sitting here.  I’ve often wanted to ask God why no action on all the poverty and hunger, all the bad stuff going on.’
‘So why haven’t you,’ she asked quietly.
‘Because I’m frightened God might ask me the same question.’

Sitting, waiting, prepared with cup of tea in hand is not what Jesus is asking of us.  He is asking instead that we get on with bringing the kingdom of God to fruition in our ordinary and everyday living, working in the field, grinding meal, travelling on the bus and chatting with our neighbour or the stranger.  Alert always to the working of Jesus in us and through us and to us, we spread the light of love and grace and help shape God’s kingdom in the here and now. 
Our God is one who holds all time – past, present and future – in creation. We wait, we wait without knowing and we instead focus on living today in a spirit of wakeful and watchful activity - in Jesus name.  The light of Christ is to shine in our world both now and to come.  In watchfulness and wakefulness we remain alert to the needs of the world around us now, as, in our ordinary lives, in our every day, we walk in the light of Christ.  And let our hope be strong that in this time of waiting, the vision of a world full of light and love is to be fulfilled by a baby - born in Bethlehem – 2000 years ago – for us.  Amen.  

Let us hear these words from Shirley Murray as they lead us to creed and communion:

God of all time, all seasons of our living,
Source of our spark, protector of our flame,
blazing before our birth, beyond our dying,
God of all time, we come to sing your name,

Here in this place, where others have been building,
we come to claim the legacy of faith,
take in our turn the telling of your story,
and, though we tremble, speak your hope, your truth.

Spirit who draws our fragile selves together,
Spirit who turns a stranger to a friend,
Be at this table where we greet each other,
Be in the peace we pass from hand to hand.

Let us not die from poverty of caring;
let us not starve, where love is to be shared.
Come, break us open to receive your healing:
your broken body be our wine and bread
words © Shirley Murray AA 49

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 24 November 2019 Reign of Christ.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6   Luke 23:33-43

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.

There is a hymn, an old one, an anonymous one that goes like this:
Thou shalt not know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor by his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by anything he wears.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming shall make in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.  Amen.

I think it could be said that Jesus is the most paradoxical wielder of power in the history of the world.[1] He came to this world not with crown or drum but in a dark dank stable. He promised the world but ended up on a dirty old cross alongside criminals, a disappointment to those who had high expectations of his power and might. 
He restored others to life but could not seem to save himself.
Yet on the cross, in his suffering and weakness, he wielded more power than any earthly ruler.  He was the highest above all yet was treated as the lowest of scum at his death.  King of the lowlands might have been another apt inscription for him.  He was mocked for aspiring to titles that he never claimed, yet in the cruel jibes of the leaders and the soldiers the truth of his greatness was made known.

But Jesus had begun this story of upside down power from the beginning.  Born humbly, he was visited by the venerable wise sages from the east.  An innocent babe, he was perceived as a threat to his crown and hunted down by the powerful Herod.  A simple family became refugees through the warnings of the heavenly hosts.  This was an ordinary child, yet the power of kings could not destroy him and the power of heaven watched over him.

And throughout his ministry, his power always seemed topsy-turvy to those around him.  For it healed the weak and not the important, it sought out the unclean and not the holy, it beckoned to table the tax collector and threw over the tables of the temple.  He saw kingship as best understood by the role of shepherd caring for the flock, even the least and the lost.

If he was the messiah he was behaving in a most unexpected way, confusing and counter cultural.

For there was no doubt that the long awaited messiah was reckoned in worldly terms as a dangerous threat to the establishment– Judas thought so, the temple authorities thought so, Herod thought so too.  All from their different perspectives, they expected someone who would overthrow the rulers of the world and replace them. While this man didn’t quite fit the bill, they were taking no chances.
So they killed him.  Put him on the cross, belittled him, humiliated him, certain that that was end of that. 

Yet their mocking inscription held true –in a truly revolutionary way. King of the Jews.

You know if you were to do that word association thing – I say a word and you come back with the first thing it makes you think of, what would be your response to king?  It would be different to each person and certainly different to those people Jesus was speaking to 2000 years ago.  ‘King’ for us today does not hold as much of the menace or outright authority that it used to.  For them it was an instant connection with full and unassailable power, privilege and right.  The only thing that could possibly challenge it would be an even greater show of power, privilege and right.  That still happens today of course – ‘my bomb is greater than your bomb’ is heard in its many variations still.  Yet this was not the way that Jesus taught or exemplified – not in life or death.

Jesus, the most paradoxical wielder of power the world has ever known.

He seemed to be submissive – and so he was – to his Father.
He seemed to be have lost his assertiveness – but he spearheaded a revolution of love and grace.
He seemed to abdicate kingship in this world – yet he created a new understanding of kingdom not just in the yet to come but also in the now.
Jesus was dangerous, make no mistake about that, he was a true revolutionary, a subversive – but just not in the way everyone expected. 

And that is our legacy is it not?  How might we live it today?

Well perhaps first is the understanding that in we do not live bowed down by the accusations of the world – neither do we throw the accusations back with a louder voice and a better aim.  We offer a different way of living out the kingdom – love and compassion, justice and kindness are the laws we live by. We are the kingdom that Jesus established, by our living and our witness.

Then there is the thought that we are not helpless or hopeless, powerless just because we choose to walk the path of peace rather than war.   Jesus was born to show the world the power of love – yet we shy away from being that power in the world.  The words of Marianne Williamson, slightly adapted, challenge us to be more forthright and confident in the strength of the light of Christ in us:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be outspoken,
confident, brimming over with hope, trusting in God’s presence in my life?’ Actually who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure about you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some, it is in everyone.
And, as we let our light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

So let us not be cave dwellers, people of the dark – let us take on a bit more of the confidence that what we do in the name of Christ, in the name of love, has the power to make a big difference.

Another question: do we have a bit of the subversive in us, challenging the ways of the world that hurt and harm, especially the powerless. Challenging also the ways of the church when they honour not Christ but the kingdoms of exclusion, judgement, self righteousness, hypocrisy.
Coming at the woes of the world with new solutions, different answers, taking the revolutionary path of love and compassion.  Where is our subversive meter reading sitting at right now and does it need a wee nudge up the way?

It seems fitting to finish by coming back to those words of the old hymn we started with –  the assurance that in the coming of the baby Jesus to our world, and in this child’s unhesitating walk all the way to the cross, we are healed, we are made whole, we are made complete in his holy presence and power.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming shall make in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.  Amen                                    Margaret Garland

[1] Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 4  Martha Sterne p.315