Saturday, 22 June 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 23 June, 2019 Pentecost 2

Readings: Psalm 42 and 43 read responsively    Luke 8:26-39

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 the lectionary takes us to a bible story set among the people of Gerasene – a gentile community living somewhere on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  It is a place where Jesus and his followers become foreigners, a place where the customs are different, not least the presence of herds of swine pivotal to the local economy. It involves a man who is an outcast within that foreign place – a man so tormented that he did not know who he was or what he was doing.

It is also a story that perturbs our sensibilities in a way at first glance.  Why does Jesus seem to negotiate with the demons?  Why kill the pigs and ruin the livelihood of many?

Its not a passage that lends itself to clear cut answers – although we can offer some context.  The demons were actually going from the frying pan to the fire, did they but know it.  Water was considered the abyss, the place of destruction for demons so they gained nothing by their negotiation.   Why take a herd of pigs with them – well, it’s not only a dramatic visual image of the power of Jesus over evil but also a note of caution that the way of Jesus might lead to direct confrontation with the economic ways of the community. 

Today, though, I propose to explore three teachings from this scripture that are relevant to our faith journey. 

The first is gathered up in one word from the passage: ‘Legion’.  As the man was asked for his name, he responded with the poignant answer; Legion, meaning a multitude.  He does not know who he is.  Oppressed by so many demons, lost in the cacophony of their voices, he is no longer himself, an individual, a person.  He is a danger to himself and to others, less that human. 

Jesus heals him, restoring his identity, his name, not letting the voices of others rule his life.  He again has control over his life, is made whole in Jesus.  And we would ask the question: what are the things of the world that keep us apart from God, the times when we think we are in control of our lives but actually we are completely sidetracked by the realities of life around us.  You can answer this just as well as I can I know – it might be money issues, exhaustion, prioritising God out of your must do list, it can be chasing a forever elusive rainbow, it can be battling with mental or physical or emotional health and trying to do it on your own, maybe its about being overwhelmed: by hopelessness, anger, frustration, despair.  But whatever it is, if it takes away our identity in Christ, if it derails us from living in the ways of truth and justice and mercy, perhaps we need to present ourselves to God’s grace and allow God’s voice back into our lives.  It might mean losing some cherished bunkers we have surrounded ourselves with but it does also mean rediscovering the peace and healing of the living Christ.

The second teaching that leapt out to me in this passage is the fact that by following the way of compassion and healing Jesus put himself directly at odds with the community this man was to be restored to.  It tells us that it may not have been all light and joy for this renewed soul if every time they saw him they also remembered the huge financial loss that his healing had cost them.  It seems that Jesus had little or no traction in this unappreciative, fearful community, that the people of Gerasene had no desire to welcome, celebrate or applaud this miracle worker –– perhaps because they preferred the devil they knew? Or perhaps because they were so fearful of  this kind of power that they turned their back on knowing more.  Again the question for us is where is this happening in our lives?  It can be when we refuse to face our sometimes uncertain future as a faith community with confidence and faith, when we prefer not to meet with the different, expecting somehow that it will be a threat or uncomfortable, rather than a place of growth and learning in Christ. And the devil we know – that temptation to put up with what is not ok fearful of what might take its place. Oh that is one for each of us to ponder I think.

And out of this second learning comes our third.  This man healed by Jesus, this man that we in our wisdom would want to nurture gently along as he reintroduces himself to society, that Jesus might have wanted to invite along for a time of teaching and growing in the safety of the discipleship, this man whose healing has caused a major economic catastrophe and who might have wanted to get as far away from the scene as possible, was told instead to stay behind, to tell his story of how much God had done for him – in a hostile, gentile, unfamiliar place he called home.

This resonates hugely for me and I hope for you.  For in his staying he ensures that his healing, this miracle that is Jesus in their midst will not be forgotten, not allowed to become a ‘fairy story’ shall we say.  In his staying he is bearing witness to the truth of Jesus presence in his life – that is his story to share to those who would listen.  Not armed with deep theological understanding, not well prepared for all the questions that might come his way, not working out of an established church programme or even community this man, this gentile, this former madman, is working out of the witness of Jesus Christ in his life and his wholeness.   Can we do no less? 

In a time of silence now and also in our week ahead we ponder our identity in Christ, our response to Jesus in our lives and our community and our witness to God’s truth in our lives. And we give thanks for God’s healing in our lives, today and every day.  Amen

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 16 June 2019 Trinity Sunday

Readings:  Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31   John 16:12-15

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.

This last week has seen a few conversations about preaching on the Trinity – some mentioning our sometimes obsessive attempts to explain exactly what it is, others happily embracing the relational movement of the three-in-one, others freely admitting that they simply avoiding going there. 

In one of my books from Iona there was an article explaining that lines to explain the trinity tend not to be very helpful – suggesting that a straight line, what ever its orientation inevitably makes you think of progressing from one end to the other or, in triangular form inviting a hierarchical model which always puts one of the points at the top or bottom.  So a circle has a much better chance of symbolising the relational qualities in that there is no beginning and no end, no top and no bottom – an existing and eternal relationship that we pray into, live into, part of the dance of the circle.
You will have your own image – mine would be the facets of a gem – all bringing beauty from the centre to the face we meet.  I sometimes think that we should stop using words and start drawing pictures of the Trinity.

So what do we make of Trinity Sunday coming after Pentecost in the liturgical calendar, especially where we seem to have become mired in the trap of trying to explain the Trinity?  I do find the segue from dancing in the freedom of Pentecost last week to the stumbling around with the doctrine of the Trinity this week somewhat disconcerting. Yet I believe there are ways that we can also dance in the freedom of the triune God-with-us and that is what I would like to explore today.

Actually the way my head works (and I know it can be a bit weird at times), the concept of the trinity, God three-in-one is not a struggle for me nor does it drag me down in the slightest.  Instead I find it to be a very intuitive space where my understandings of God is made clearer, is more helpful and hopeful. 
God is not one dimensional after all and each aspect of God is centred in relationship – and in fact without relationship God would be - not God? Parent Son Spirit each needing other, each present with us in different ways, each speaking the same words with different accents.

And this is made clear in our reading from Proverbs today – Wisdom, Sophia, loud and bursting with attitude. She is hollering out an invitation for us to come to her, she is popping up in all these locations (the gates, the crossroads, the heights), she speaks of her longevity, her faithfulness, her working alongside the Lord, whirling, dancing in the creation of the world.  It’s a compelling picture of the energy of creation and the multifaceted God who is both creator and spirit.  And according to Wisdom, there was a great deal of delight and joy and play in the relationship that formed the world as well as delight and rejoicing in the inhabited world that was created– us, humanity.  It is a slightly different picture to the serious, solemn shape of wisdom that we might have carried. 

In today’s language the personification of Wisdom might look like this:
I was out shopping yesterday, and whom did I run into?  Wisdom.  Yes, there she was.  She called me over and we began talking.  Wisdom and I.  Then, I went down to the courthouse, and there she was again, making a plea for justice in some dingy courtroom where someone had been unjustly accused.  After that, I dropped by the school, and she had gotten there before me, calling for students and teachers alike always to seek truth.  Then I went for a walk in the bush, moving along the path in quiet meditation.  Wisdom snuck up on me and said, ‘Now that we are alone, I have something I want to share with you, a present I want you to enjoy.  You know, I have been around a long time, really before the beginning of time.  I have been whirling and dancing with God all along. I am God’s delight, laughing and playing.  I want you to know the lightness of spirit and gladness that comes when you welcome me.  Will you set aside those thoughts, words and deeds that make life heavy and sad for you and others?  Will you come and laugh and play with me?  Will you come and dance with me? Will you?’

On Trinity Sunday, hearing this wisdom from the book of Proverbs, we are reminded of the reciprocity of the trinity – giving and receiving within the very body of God.  The image of the whirling dancing Wisdom in creation calls to mind the image of a God who pours out overflowing gifts to humanity with gladness – in fact in the Orthodox tradition, the icon of Wisdom depicts a woman seated on a throne, her skin and clothing red, to symbolise the dawn emerging against the deep, starry blue of night.  With all her beauty and grace, Wisdom invites us all to walk, laugh, play and dance into the light of God’s new day.

And in the reading from John we hear in a different time and a different way the relationship of Father Son and Spirit to each other and to us, each sourced in the other, each sharing in the teaching of the truth of God to the world.  And this trinity of relationship has one focus: to guide us in all the truth.  To encourage us to hunger for a truth that is God’s vision for the world.  To tell us that this truth flows out of relationship and helps develop and cement relationship.  Relationship is core to the truth of God and to our living in the way of God.  Relationship gathers into one body the diversity, the unfathomable depths of a many faceted God made known to us in Christ Jesus but also speaks to us of the importance of meeting the truth of God in each other.

And if truth comes out of the relationship of God: Father, Son and Spirit then is truth itself not also relational – some people like to define truth as absolute, statements of fact, capital-T truth. Yet I would say that in the Trinity we are shown a way of truth that many people yearn for – where, out of relationship, centred in the love of God for us and for each other, comes the truth that shapes the kingdom of God here on earth.

To me the Trinity speaks to us of the celebration of and the absolute need for all the facets, the faces, the circles that make up the church today – that where we have a true understanding of the trinity we cannot but be expansive, welcoming, truly excited by the wholeness that comes from many strands made one in the truth of God.
And where we lose that sense of the relationship of Mystery, the Word and Companion/Advocate, then we find it easier to keep ourselves in limited relationship – both with God and each other.

So it is no surprise that I find this centring of the truth of God found in the Trinity is to me the celebration of diversity – the celebration that is all people in relationship in and with God and each other. 

I will finish with a psalm I wrote after attending a women ministers’ retreat and a younger ministers meeting – where I  pondered the diversity of our church and the truth of the oneness we have in God that we don’t always practice.

Very Simple Psalm

God who loves all people,
Jesus who walked and talked with all sorts.
Spirit who cares not for our otherness, greeting us all in Christ.

Earth with its eclectic mix,
People with their many ways of being,
Faith with its demands of belief and belonging.

Love expansive and unconditional,
Respect ours to give or withhold as we choose,
Fear a reaction to encountering diversity and otherness.

Jesus teaches us to love and delight in all people – how hard can it be?

we build on the trampling of other!
church can become a citadel of like-mindedness!
it’s easier to stay close to those who we have some respect for!
Jesus teaches us to love and delight in all people - how hard can it be?

God’s love bursting from our heart!
in company with Jesus, hearing the voice of others!
guided by the Spirit, greeting all people as God’s beloved children!

One people in all our diversity – praise be to God.

Margaret Garland

Monday, 10 June 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 9 June 2019 Pentecost Sunday Holy Communion.

Readings:  Acts 2:1- 8, 12-18    John 14:8-17, 25-27

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.

I just love Pentecost – I love the energy, the momentousness (if there is such a word) of the occasion, the idea of tongues of gentle fire resting on each person, almost a caress, the wind that entered every possible space, and above all the euphoria that shocked everyone out of their skin – not drunk with wine but drunk with God’s Spirit present with them.  Baptized with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It is an amazing image of celebration and mayhem and I love it.

What I struggle with is how easy it is to confine all this elation and exhilaration to one day.  Now I am not saying we could live with this level of excitement 24/7 but I am flagging that it needs to be a bigger part of our ordinary daily faith lives.

It is this Holy Spirit thing – troublesome to those of us who have been brought up in, say, a Jesus only church.  Or a God only church.  And I think that there are Holy Spirit only churches too.

When I was a child and teenager going to church, I remember a constant puzzle was the relationship between God, Jesus, Spirit.  I couldn’t figure it out (lets see if we can do that next Sunday – Trinity Sunday) but what I did discern, even then, was that most churches seemed to have an imbalance if you like.  I think that I belonged to a Jesus church – Gospel focus, concentrating on how to live, teaching right and wrong, our relationship with Jesus.  I don’t recall much of what today I would call Holy Mystery, transcendent God, divine presence and I definitely recall that we skimmed over the Holy Spirit with some trepidation and discomfort. 
Interestingly I read an article this week (rather aptly titled ‘The Elusive Presence’) that suggested the evangelical church as we know it had lost touch with the yearning to know God; that personal relationship with God was a distant second ‘to the authority of scripture, Christ’s death on the cross, the need for conversion and a life of service in both word and deed’. [1] The author argued that not just evangelicals but also other mainstream churches were, as he put it, ‘cold to mystery.’  And I guess the question is for us too – and especially today – are we cold to the Holy Spirit?

For if we look at the Gospel reading from John for today we see how Jesus was trying to draw his disciples into that understanding of God being more than him, more than the Father, more than the Spirit.   ‘Show us the Father,’ they asked.  ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father’.  And the Father will be glorified in the Son,’ Jesus goes on to say.  And the other advocate, the Spirit of truth, they will be with you forever, will teach you and remind you of all that has been said through Jesus.’  In this gathering of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, we will know a peace that transcends all other – let us not be afraid!

So we can say that it is good that we have a Pentecost Sunday so that those of us who shuffle along uncomfortably with the Holy Spirit might be dunked in the euphoria of Pentecost despite ourselves. 
But seriously – it reminds us that the foundations of our faith are firmly standing on a tripod of God-with-us – Father, Son…. and Spirit.

And today especially the Spirit of God and that event of that day long ago.
Last week, Ascension Sunday, we commented on the fact that the disciples were excited as Jesus left them, confident that they would not be left alone, awed by this God in whom all things were possible.  And so the reality of Pentecost was for them both expected and exceeded expectations.

They expected that they would not be left alone, they were looking forward to this day when the church would be born, when they would truly set out on the journey they were commissioned to by Jesus, they were anticipating a new beginning in the power of the Advocate that was to be sent.  

But perhaps the unexpected was found in the breadth of God’s vision for the church that day – as the Frederick Faber hymn says; ‘the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind.’
This broadening of the church to include people of all languages – from east and west, north and south.  It included women and men, slaves and free, young and old.  It involved dreams and visions, prophesy and portents. 
This truly was an empowering of the church beyond and across boundaries through which would come the transformation of the world.

Yet throughout time our grasp on this truth waxes and wanes.  We become limited, timid in our visions, cynical of our dreams, divided in our prophetic witness, blind to the signs of hope and accepting of the signs of despair.

How to recover that amazement, that liveliness of faith in which the church was birthed?  How to be awed and excited by the breadth of the vision for the church instead of hunkering down in fear of difference? 
For those of us of my age – the world has changed.  Dramatically.  As it did for my parents as well.  For them it was war and travel and technology.  For us it is globalisation, the web, the planet, cultural and ethnic intermingling.  Do we see God working in the broadening of our experiences or do we feel threatened?  At this point I would suggest that you might look to the excellent editorial John Roxborogh has written for the latest Signal – I read it last night having pretty much written this sermon and his thoughts about (to quote): ‘denominational identity being a dynamic and ongoing story which grows not shrinks as it crosses cultures and epochs in history.’   And he too talks about welcoming our increasing diversity through which we grow and are changed noting that Pentecost ‘is about something which both transcends and affirms our diversities.’[2]

Pentecost, it seems to me, really challenges us on that level of expectations and exceeding expectations.  As a church, a denomination, a faith we need to be grounded in the faithfulness of a God who never leaves us alone, yet ready to be intoxicated by the breadth of God’s vision for us and the world.  Our anchoring is this community, our heritage of faith, our belief in a loving and faithful God-with-us who is holy mystery and parent, teacher and loving saviour, advocate and companion on the way.  Do we also allow ourselves to be part of that intoxicating Pentecost moment where we know beyond a doubt that God’s vision of peace throughout the world, justice and love for all people, oneness in diversity is possible?

Like the people at that first day of Pentecost, are we the ones dancing for joy at the possibilities God puts before us.  For this is what the coming of the Spirit does for us – offers a way that the world neither sees nor knows, a way that the world may well look upon as symptomatic of stupidity, drunkenness, pathetic hopefulness.

And Jesus says to us – just do it – go ahead and be the church full of hope, the church at peace in the world, the church full of excitement and unimaginable breadth and new beginnings – be the church that will transform us and the world – in Jesus name. Amen.

Margaret Garland

[2] John Roxborogh, Editorial Telling stories about who we are in Opoho Signal June 2019 p.2

Liturgy, Hymns, Reflections for Ascension Opoho Church Sunday 2 June 2019

Call to Worship 
O God, open our lips and we shall sing of your wonders:
open our eyes and we shall behold your glory;  
open our hearts and we shall embrace your love;
open our minds and we shall discover your wisdom;
open our hands and we shall show your generosity;
open our flesh and we shall embody your presence.

Words © Marnie Barrell Tune Brunel AA 55

Great and deep the Spirit’s purpose,
hidden now in mystery,
Nature bursts with joyful promise,
ripe with what is yet to be.
In a wealth of rich invention,
still the work of art unfolds:
barely have we seen, and faintly,
what God’s great salvation holds.

Great and deep the Spirit’s purpose,
making Jesus seen and heard. 
Every age of God’s creation
grasps new meaning from the Word.
Show us, Holy Spirit, show us
your new work begun today:
eyes and ears and hearts are open,
teach us what to do and say.

Great and deep the Spirit’s purpose:
all God’s children brought to birth,
freed from hunger, fear and evil
every corner of the earth,
and a million million voices
speak with joy the Saviour’s name;
every face reflects Christ’s image,
never any two the same.

Great and deep the Spirit’s purpose,
nothing shall be left to chance.
All that lives will be united
in the everlasting dance.
All fulfilled and all perfected,
each uniquely loved and known,
Christ in glory unimagined
once for all receives God’s own.
Psalm 97  A Psalm of Praise  We will read the psalm
God is the centre, let the earth celebrate!
Let coastline and inland shout for joy!
Our clouded eyes prevent us seeing God,
whose rule is founded on all embracing love and justice.
Like a fire, God’s power flows straight ahead,
and transforms the enemies of love.
Like lightning the world is lit up,
the land and sea tremble.
When God is near, mountains melt and fall
in the presence of the earth’s maker.
The stars at night pulse within God’s mystery,
everyone can look up and see a wondrous glory.
The boasts of the image makers look foolish,
the gods we worship fall over in shame.
Your people, God, dance and laugh,
because of the decisions You make.
For you are not confined to the universe,
you precede and succeed all other mystery.
Those who love God will turn away from evil,
the faith-keepers stay safe and well.
Light will dawn on sincere minds,
and happiness will swell in sincere hearts.
Be happy in God, all you true souls!
Give heartiest thanks to God’s holy name!
.                                                     ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

Prayer of Confession based on a prayer from David Grant in Grant Us Your Peace

We come again this Sabbath, sedate in habit to routine ritual.
We come, with cheerful greeting, to repose in customary pew, and lazy eye scans the ordered assembly, the order of service, the ordained presence.
And you come again, Lord God, this Sabbath.

You come in triumphant procession, hidden in holy darkness, with lightning accompanying, supported by a rigorous righteousness and justice
And we didn’t see you.

Our minds were focused on lesser things:
pale gods shadowed our vision,
battered spirits proffered despondent hopes,
invidious anxieties diverted our intentions.
And we didn’t see you.

We pause, to bow down, and in a dulled mind’s eye search for a dawning.
We imagine you at your best – lover of good, and hater of evil, one who guards the faithful and gives them the justice denied them by the powerful.
But even our imaginings are half blind, and we only almost see you.

Holy God, resurrect this hour; bring us back from the dead, to witness the procession of glory and so proclaim with the whole heavens, ‘God is sovereign over all the earth.’
Then we will see you, and rejoice, and give thanks.
For you are wholly present, holy God.  Amen.

The Peace 
Kia tau tonu te rangimarie o te Ariki ki a koutou;
The Peace of Christ be with you all
A ki a koe anō hokiAnd also with you
we exchange a sign of peace with each other

Youth Hymn 
Words © Shirley Murray Tune © Jillian Bray AA 123

Small things count, so Jesus said:
cups of water, crumbs of bread,
small things done because we’re kind
count as big things in God’s mind.

Small things make the big things grow:
grains of yeast inside the dough,
puffs that fill a big balloon,
notes that make a happy tune.

Every hair that’s on our head,
every sparrow, Jesus said,
God takes care of, counts and knows,
God loves us from top to toes.

Offertory Prayer
Our hearts overflow with gratitude for the life and love in which we dwell.  As a sign of our thankfulness, we bring our gifts – and our very selves – dedicating them to the bringing of healing and transformation for all people.  We offer these now in the name of Christ, the One on whose life we pattern our own. Amen

Bible Readings  

Introduction to the Readings
Payer for illumination: we pray Holy God, source of all light, by your Word give light to our lives,  pour out upon us wisdom and understanding of all that you teach us in scripture is made known.  Amen.

It has been forty days since the women found the empty tomb – forty days of the continuing revelation of the risen Christ to disciples and followers. 
Next week we arrive at Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit, the power from on high that will enable and empower the continuing witness of Jesus through those who follow him.
And today we hear the story of the ascension of Jesus, where he leaves the community of faith here on earth to be with his Father. 
It is understood that the author of the Gospel of Luke and the author of the book of the Acts of the Apostle are one and the same.  And Acts picks up where the Gospel ended – yet giving a slightly different account of Jesus’ ascension. So it makes sense for us to hear those differences and to also place our image of the ascension alongside. 
Much art over the centuries has depicted the ascension of Christ as containing clouds, thrones, columns of light, an almost magical appearance and disappearance.  And it is not actually very helpful to view this moment of leaving as the literal lifting of Jesus to heaven – it becomes a bit of a locked-in image, a ‘cage’ when there is actually so much more to explore.
So as we hear this first reading from Luke, as we hear the continuing story from Acts of the Apostles, let us think about what is actually happening here – the disciples have come to know the Jesus manifested as the risen Christ -  and again he tells them that he is to leave them – the ongoing power of the God-in-their-midst is somehow to be withdrawn.  They give glory to God as witnesses to this moment, but the naturally explain it in a way that speaks from their traditions – and the story of Elijah swept up into heaven would be strong in their minds, would it not? It makes sense but let us not be captured by it alone.  And instead ask how would we today portray this sense that the Word, flesh of our flesh is no longer embodied in our midst and yet sit under the excitement of the promise made by Jesus that they will not be left alone – that a new and powerful Spirit will cloak them in power so that their witness will shake the foundations of the world.  As we hear these readings place yourself in them, so that we may all experience the great joy that was a farewell and the strong hope for new beginnings in faith.


Gospel Reading  Luke 24:44-53 

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.

And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.      
Reader: This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ
People:  Praise to Christ the Word

Second Reading Acts 1:1-11 
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Ascension Today….
How do we, as the Christian Church in 21st century Aotearoa make sense of this moment?  The reason so many preachers, myself included, struggle with this particular Sunday is, I believe, because our world view has changed so dramatically.  While we can relate to people, relationships, even sit loosely within cultural differences of the bible, this ascending to heaven, sitting in the clouds, can be a real stumbling block to our engaging with the depth of meaning of the ascension of Christ.   And do you know where I think we should go with this – I think that we should find a way to recover the glory of God, the immensity of the narrative that is beyond time, beyond our ken, that is holy mystery, creativity, vision, promise beyond our imagination.  And as we hear the words of Paul in our reading from Ephesians I invite you to hold the words and images that cause you to stumble lightly and to allow the glory of God to shine through.

Third Reading Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Reader: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church
People: Thanks be to God

Rediscovering the Glory of God
The ascension had a profound impact on the disciples.  Different to the sometimes awkward, shy almost, encounters with the risen Christ, and definitely different to the guilt ridden, bewildered farewell at the cross, this moment of leaving brings a sense of joy and wonder;  it is, you might say, a rediscovering for the disciples of the glory of God, the Father to whom Jesus is going. 

This act of ascension allows the disciples to reconnect with their God in a new way– imagine those who had walked with Jesus in life, met the risen Christ on the road and the beach and the upper room. In this moment their eyes were lifted again to the Holy, to the realisation of the oneness of Jesus with his Father, to the conviction that in the ascended Jesus they had a new relationship with the one who they named Yahweh.

And then there is this – Jesus’ going made room for the Holy Spirit – bounded neither by physical form or time, the Spirit was God active in the world in a way that the human Jesus could not be.  The promise of baptism by the Holy Spirit, the power from on high who would guide them and empower them and be beside them as they witnessed Jesus’ love and grace to the world; that promise was before them and they were overjoyed and excited, and they believed with every fibre of their being that it would be so.

For they had encountered the glory of God, they were finally and absolutely convinced that Jesus was the son of God, risen from death and returning to be with his Father in heaven.  They had hope in victory over death, they trusted his promise of never being left alone, they believed in the interceding power of Jesus and they believed that he would come again.

In this moment of Ascension the body of Christ was empowered to follow Jesus on his mission, confident that the light of Christ would shine through the ages, across nations; that the glory of God would be made known and the kingdom of God would come close.

We too go forward with hope and joy for, like the disciples, we are confident in the sufficiency of God, empowered by the presence of the Spirit and led by the light of the Word present with us. 

‘And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.’     Amen. So be it.

Words and music © Colin Gibson AA 57

Great ring of light, true circle with no ending;
clear beam so bright,
whose purpose knows no bending;
O Word of God, in darkness always shining out.

A man who cried upon a cross at Calvary;
for him who died an empty tomb, a mystery;
O risen Christ, all pain and loss transcending.

Immortal fire of love forever yearning
flame of desire for our salvation burning;
Spirit divine, our friend and present comforter.

The light shines still, the eternal Word has spoken;
on Calvary’s hill the power of death is broken;
and I receive the life, the joy, the loving.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
I am going to invite you to share thoughts and situations that are on your mind at this time in the midst of this prayer –
O God, our hearts are touched by the love of Christ for his people, for his care for us and his hope for us. We thank you for all that was given to us and to the world in the life which he lived.
We praise you for the loyalty and grace which you offer to ordinary people. It lives on among us in every generation
and transforms the way we see our future and the state of the world around us.
Christ of eternal grace, we pray that we may join you
in some small way in living bravely and justly in the world.
We will never reach the heights of your life, but we pray that the way we bear witness to our faith and calling in you will encourage those around us to bring new life to the community.
We pray for these situations and people now:
The people pray

Gift us with eternal values, O Christ. Help us to see the realities with your eyes and with visions of what might be
if we commit ourselves to move for change.
For we are those whom Christ inspires and who long to be true to that calling. This we pray in faith in the name of Jesus the Christ.
…we sing together
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. 
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. 
Amen, amen. Amen, amen. Amen, amen. Amen, amen.

WOV 676

All creatures of our God and King  WOV 3  v.1,2,3,7

Blessing Song
Words Joy Cowley Alleluia Aotearoa 95

    May the mystery of God enfold us,
may the wisdom of God uphold us,
may the fragrance of God be around us,
may the brightness of God surround us.

May the wonder of God renew us,
may the loving of God flow through us,
may the peace of God deeply move us,
may the moving of God bring us peace.