Monday, 15 April 2019

Prayer of Intercession for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday in the Southern Hemisphere

The Autumn Equinox passed by a couple weeks ago
And the mornings and evenings are darkening; the nights overshadow the days.
              Lord, I prefer the light, you know I do.
              I love the bright mornings, the long twilights, the sunsets
              But you made the dark too, Lord, and it has its own beauty and meaning.
A later dawn means I see it more often.
We praise you for the dark.

The first day of Autumn slid by last week
And it’s cooling off, mornings are cold, nights are chilly.
              Lord, I love the warmth, you know I do.
              I love hot sun on my back, bright days of summer
              But you made the winter too, Lord, and it has its own rhythm and pace.
The cold dark brings us together indoors, time for blankets and hot dinners.
We praise you for the cold.

Daylight Savings turned over last week
And the leaves are coming down, blackberries ripe in the hedges.
              Lord, I love the green leaves and flowers, you know I do.
              I love crocus and snowdrop, lilac and forsythia, azalea and cherry,
              Rose and kowhai, iris and daisy and buttercup and rata
              But you made the leaves to fall, Lord, and they are colourful and lovely too.
The natural world takes a rest, I could learn from that.
We praise you for rest.

As Autumn swirls in, we pray for people in the dark:  lost, ignorant, alone, blind, heartbroken, sick, dying.
We pray for people in the cold: the homeless, the heartless, those travelling away from home, those who don’t have a home, people without a blanket or a place to go or hope.
We pray for people with no autumn harvest: not enough food, no clean water, no extra income for treats, no prospect of a better future, no work, no purpose, no joy.
We pray for others, as we pray for ourselves:
God give us light, Christ keep us warm, Holy Spirit enrapture and enfold us.

The world around us tells the story:  The colour, light and heat that is Summer cools and fades into Autumn and Winter.  But Holy Week and Easter show us that darkness, cold and bleakness have their purpose, and they cannot last.

Abby Smith
14 April 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 14 April 2019 Palm Sunday

Readings: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-24,26-27,29     Luke 19:28-40

We pray: Loving God, open our hearts and minds to your word for us today – may we be challenged, intrigued, encouraged and strengthened today and everyday.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

It was Palm Sunday.  On the road to Dunedin, Jesus preached love and the crowd went wild with enthusiasm.  They played guitars and sang songs about love, waved balloons and banners that said, Make Love not War, They are Us, Save the Planet.  The march made the headlines in the papers; TV cameras and cell phones recorded it and social media loved it (well mostly)
This was the people’s hero, everyone said, a man who could change the world.  Some day he would be Prime Minister!
When they arrived in the city, he told them what love was all about.     
Service, he said. 
Selling that second car and giving the money for the child who needed an operation.  Seeing all people as equal.  Judging no one.  Visiting folk in prison.  Sharing food and shelter with those in need. ‘If you have a spare room in your house, why not invite a homeless person to come and live with you?’ he said.
‘Love is not about words but actions.’ 
By the end of his speech, most of the crowd had drifted away.  They called him a waster of their time, a looney, one of those extremists and they crucified him with their anger and their disdain.

Joy Cowley[1] follows up this slightly adapted psalm with these words:
We tend to see love as some kind of currency to be earned, to be carefully spent, to be given away with caution.  That is not love.  Love is reckless, extravagant.  It comes without price and it has no need except to give itself away.  Love is the outpouring of God in us and through us.

Palm Sunday is an incredibly awkward day.  We really want to sit in the celebration, the anticipation of what Jesus is bringing about.  The hosannas are for real, the hope is growing, the journey of the Messiah is about to be realised.  And we want to enjoy that bolt of pure delight – it’s a rare occurrence these days – and we don’t want anything to spoil it.  So we take the moment, gladly.
And then we too enter the gates and the voices slowly quieten for there is an aura of danger, we see the authorities keeping an eye on this man, we feel the tension of those who see him as dangerous, likely to upset their settled world.  And within us, deep down, is the thought we have tried really hard to restrain – that this servant model just won’t work, it’s too hard, asks too much of us.
Our faith in the promise of the Messiah is shaken by our realisation of the living it out.  We recognise that the dream and the reality are going to create some awkward moments for us and we fade to the back of the crowd. For it asks too much of us.

Did anyone see that posting about a gun owner in Auckland who is most reluctant to give up his (get this) gold plated AK-47 citing it as one of his most precious pieces in his large military collection.  Asking way too much of him, he says.  If he hadn’t already stunned me speechless that anyone would gold plate an assault rifle, he did it with the next statement where he said: ‘while he never shoots the gun as it would damage the gold, he is not open to making the gun inoperable either, as this would decrease its value.
I’m guessing there might be others who would not be so reluctant to let off a few rounds and ruin its value – oh and possibly a few lives along the way too?

Is it asking too much of us to step outside the safe bounds of the palm waving procession and to not just listen to but seek out the way that Christ’s word invite us into?  Aware always that we will have times of denial, of drifting past with our heads down and lingering on the edges of full commitment, do we at least sometimes throw ourselves in boots and all to the ‘dangerous’ ‘counter-cultural’ experience of sharing our love for others in the way Jesus did.

I think we do, I hope we do.  For our faith, as we have learned so abruptly this last month, cannot be held outside of the political, social, economic realm that is our world.  We need to have a voice, sometimes as Joy Cowley put it, a ‘reckless, extravagant’ voice into that which is hurting and harmful and horrific. 

Jesus did not keep himself apart from the world of hardnose politics and social deprivation and economic hardship.  In fact I read one opinion that suggested Palm Sunday was the most political day of the church year.   Really?

He was killed on a cross, they said, showing how much of a political event this was – if it was purely a church matter he would have been stoned to death as was the practice of the time.  But the fact that Jesus was on the cross meant that the civil authorities also saw Jesus as a menace. Jesus death was of the world, it was the world that he upset, the world he was a threat to.  You were stoned not crucified for your dangerous religious beliefs – the cross as the means of Jesus death points to civil unrest, as quote: ‘.. rooted in a political murder committed by security forces in occupied Jerusalem around the year 30 AD…’ 

Jesus, as he entered Jerusalem was faced with an impossible choice – if he entered into the argument with the authorities it would mean conflict – he would need to take coercive action.  Or – it would mean doing nothing because he came to found a kingdom of love and service - and coercion and conflict cannot be part of that.  So he chose to, by the eyes of the world, be a total failure, to be as nothing, trusting in his Father to respond with love and grace. He chose to show the world that complete obedience to love, that awkward, humiliating servanthood for the good of the world would, illogically, improbably, impossibly transform our world, would give us a glimpse of a kingdom of love and service. God did respond.  And so came a new way, a world of resurrection, God with us, a path of peace and service and justice. 

Kind our makes our hedging about feel a little precious doesn’t it?  Kind of encourages us to be love in action in this world of injustice and discrimination and hate doesn’t it?  Kind of strengthens us for the knockbacks and the uncomfortable places and the dark alleys we might have to walk down doesn’t it?  I hope so.

Jesus offers the way to peace.  Jesus yearns for the liberation of the oppressed, he weeps for the city and all who are in it, he refuses to buy into the power struggles or to turn his back on what might seem hopeless.

Love, reckless and extravagant, walked into the city this day and love, reckless and extravagant, was nailed to a cross for the world, that all might know the power of love, even over death. The kingdom of God is like this – it is the outpouring of love, reckless and extravagant, in us and through us.  We can do no less, for we have met the living Christ and nothing can ever be the same again – and for this we say: thanks be to God.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] Palm Sunday by Joy Cowley from Come and See 2008 p.110 (adapted)

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 7 April, 2019 Lent 5 Holy Communion

Readings:  Isaiah 43:16-21  John 12:1-8

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.

From Isaiah we hear God’s words: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Would I be right in thinking that Aotearoa New Zealand is in the midst of a new thing?  That our foundations have been shocked to the core and the opportunity for new ways of being is reverberating throughout our country across all communities. We are of course responding in different ways to the events of March 15 but I think it would be fair to say that there has been a paradigm shift in this land – a fundamental shift in our understanding of how we live which we are still trying to process. A new thing has happened!

It’s fascinating when you look at the history of new beginnings, revolutions, reformations, renaissances – how the passion and the clear understanding of a different, better way hold the headlines for a while and then often get subsumed into the ordinary, that which has always been and  the new thing can get a little lost or subverted.  Its ok and probably quite healthy that the very sharp edge of new ways, new understandings are slightly blunted because few of us could keep up that degree of focus, of clarity for long.  Yet history allows us to follow the direction of the change and our part in keeping it connected with the truths we had thrust upon us in the moment of discovery.  The question is always whether the core truth survives as we inevitably move back into what we were doing before; whether we continue to live as changed people because something has happened and nothing can be the same ever again.

We use this language as Christians, when we say that we have met the living Christ and our lives can never be the same again.  We say these words when we gather round the communion table – we have met the Christ in this place and it changes us, gives us a new beginning. It is a fundamental part of our faith, the transformation that occurs in our lives and our ways when we encounter Jesus.
By definition I guess there is always some slippage as we find our place in this new way. It takes time to change – why else do we have prayers of confession and assurance of pardon each Sunday?  And it takes work to change – being alert to the truth in a new way takes discipline and awareness – lots of it. And it can be uncomfortable to change because it assumes some analysis of what we were doing before that is no longer good enough

A month ago, how many people thought they were doing ok in cultural and interfaith relationships in this country?  Do we have the same belief now?  I suspect not.  Our thinking has undergone a change – and we realise a much more positive and pro-active role is required from us.  We are in a new place.

So too are the disciples about to be.  Their world is about to get a major shockwave as they approach the gates of Jerusalem and the events of the week to come. They think they are prepared, that they have come to terms with this new and radically different approach of their Lord, that they have absorbed all the teaching, understood and trusted in this new revelation of truth from God.  But it seems not.  As we hear the story of Jesus and the disciples gathering in Bethany at the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, it becomes clear that not all are ready for what is to come.   When Mary, with her insight into the ramifications of the raising from death of her brother Lazarus and in all her grief for what she knows is before Jesus; when Mary breaks the bottle of expensive anointing oil over Jesus’ feet, not all the disciples perceived the extravagant act as being either necessary or helpful.   In the Gospel of John, Judas is very much the unfeeling, uncaring villain of the piece, but in Mark there are multiple voices complaining of the waste.  Jesus gently chides them for their lack of understanding.

Because, in a sense, theirs are the voices of the old way – voices of logic and practicality - whereas Mary, who lets her act speak for her, is a voice that recognises the new order that is to come – she anoints for a different type of kingship – one that will come through the cross and the empty tomb.  One that will be a new thing.  By this act of deeply generous love she gives Jesus comfort and us hope in what is to come.

Thus says the Lord: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?[1]

I don’t know, none of us do, what it was like to be in the shoes of those who had walked with Jesus all this time, the men and women who had shared a hope-filled journey that appeared to be heading for disaster.  Had some of them glimpsed the enormity of the change that was about to take place?  Did they perceive the power of this new thing that was manifested in their friend, their teacher, their Lord suffering and dying for love of them?  And do we understand how utterly the Easter experience is a new thing in our lives, a point of new beginning, something that changes forever our way of living and being?

And if we do, what would it look like – and what resistance might we meet on the way that would subvert us from the blinding clarity that is the Easter experience?

For in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus new directions, new understandings, a new way to walk is given to us. And it might look like this:

That we are to serve, and be served - not to rule or be served by right. 
So often we find that word ‘entitled’ creeping into our vocabulary where we add some judgement around where and when we serve.  The new thing is to serve from the whole of heart, spontaneous and extravagant just like Mary’s gift.

We are to love, not to hate, diminish, fear.  Every time we withdraw our love, leave some outside its circle, or choose to shut ourselves away from it in case it hurts, we the ones sitting in that room watching Mary and complaining of the waste.  The new thing is to be beside her, pouring out your extravagant love for the one who will suffer that you might know new life.

That we are a people of hope, not of despair or anxiety.  When we let ourselves be pulled down into that place of hopelessness, where we see no way forward because we are looking through our eyes alone, that is when we are resisting the Easter experience.  The new thing is to recognise that in Christ all things will come to be – to be strengthened in the love and grace of a God who sent Jesus to a cross not a jewel encrusted throne.

To trust God, not demanding proof of good will or holding back just in case. How many of us don’t quite trust that God has it in control and prefer our own way – kind of a plan b just in case God’s way fails.  Much of our paralysis as a people of faith comes from a failure to trust – that in a stranger God is found; that in ourselves, skills do abound, that in the extravagant gift of love that Mary recognised, the world is transformed.  The new thing is that the Easter message is true, that in God’s grace we are completely loved and in that love, equipped to transform the world.

And so, let us embrace this is the whole new way of being exemplified in this extravagant anointing of Jesus – let today and every day be a time of new beginnings built on service and love and hope and trust – and so we pray.

Oh God, today we give you our discontent, we give you our restlessness, and we give you our despair. Help us to be renewed in your abounding love, to cling to your wisdom, and to do the work that needs to be done. Amen.
Adapted from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Margaret Garland

[1] Isaiah 43: 19