Thursday, 18 July 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 14 July 2019 Pentecost 5

Readings: Psalm 82 - A Contemporary Reading from Grant us Your Peace by David Grant   Luke 10:25-37

We pray: Loving God, we have heard your word for us from scripture for today – we ask for open hearts and minds as we find our place the story of hope and love that you bring to us in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The story of the Good Samaritan is very familiar to most of us – a story that clearly has victims, villains and heroes.
The victim is obvious.
Villains - those people who beat and robbed, and definitely those who passed to the other side of the street. Although we also know they can be victims too.
Hero  - the unexpected, unlikely Samaritan who stopped and cared for the victim – and cared for him generously.
To help us get into this story many have written contemporary narratives – the farmer robbed, the church people walking by, late to a meeting, the bikie being the hero – such we wrote for our children’s church in Amberley.
But there is nothing like having something real happen to make you realise the compelling teaching that Jesus has for us in this story. 
I was coming back from the market a couple of Saturday’s ago and drove into Frederick St to one of my favourite coffee shops – the Fix.  No parks so on down the road to turn into Great King.  And there as I drove past was a body slumped down on the road – feet in the gutter, face down – with another chap standing on the path laughing his head off.  In the time of driving, parking, walking back I went through a million scenarios in my head of what had happened and what to do, thinking ‘this is where the rubber hits the road!’  When I got there someone else had intervened – had the drunken man from the road held up by the collar (I swear he was standing at 45ยบ) and was talking to the other chap.  It was quite sobering to acknowledge the relief I felt.  Would I have walked by – I don’t think so – but I would have called for help – which is sensible.
I heard another tell the story of a similar situation (before cell phones) where seeing a situation where someone needed help, this person knocked on the nearest door for someone to call services and were told quite firmly ‘it is not any of our business and no we will not phone for help.’

Maybe another way in to this increasingly uncomfortable story is to ask an equally sticky question – do we identify with any of the characters?
Is it the lawyer asking the questions – so tied up with debating the issue that he cannot see the need before him?
Is it the people who pass by – the church people who preach love and care –too busy with their religious duties and choosing to judge rather that give mercy
Are you the beaten one – accepting help from someone you perhaps wouldn’t eat a meal with?
Or the one who responded to the need despite risking rejection, of being seen as incapable of good.

To tell the truth, I have no problem with placing myself in all of these roles at different times.  And I suspect I won’t be alone.  So I believe it is worthwhile thinking about some of the things that get in the way of our ‘Good Samaritan’ responses to need, to mercy, to love and kindness being shared with those in need.
One thing to think about is how our life style and culture impacts our responses.  And I would share something we heard at our meeting here on Tuesday night – one speaker shared a story of an experiment carried out at a university – where a group of theology students were divided into two groups and sent to one of the two lecture theatres that were on either side of the campus.  Here they both received a lecture on the Good Samaritan before being told that they then needed to get across to the other lecture room for their next lecture – the difference being that one group was told they would have a good half hour before the next one started and the other that they were late already and would have to move it.  Both groups came upon a person lying on the ground, obviously needing help.  The group with time to stop almost all stopped to help.  Of the group that were running late – no one stopped.  The cultural imperative to be timely can make us blind to times when our compassion needs to rule.

Another barrier to compassion and care would be jumping to conclusions about what has happened – with a healthy dollop of judgement in there to justify our non-action.  And a lack of courage to enter the unknown. Yet Jesus consistently and in so many ways speaks to us of how, through compassion and mercy, the love of God is made known in the most unexpected ways and through the most unlikely people.  Yet we are loathe, as David Grant suggested, to enter the messiness of the world, and we fail in courage when you ask us to move towards conversation with the fringe folk, those we prefer to avoid. 
He uses words like embarrassment, nerve, courage, shaky – but he also follows the psalmist in reminding us that we are frail, of shaky resolve, and fearful duplicity – we are learners, faith-bearers learning faithfulness, flawed human being learning to stand alongside you – and asks God to take us as far as we can go in obedience, without guilt paralysing us and with the courage that we do have.

In reflecting on how to be a person who knows what it means to love your neighbour, to be a giver as well as a receiver of mercy and grace, it seems to me that we should also be kind and merciful to ourselves – as we do our best to follow in Jesus path of being obedient and courageous in loving our neighbour.  Because it is not always going work out.

The important thing is that we turn our faces away from justifying prejudice and apathy and exclusivism as the proud foundations of our Christian living and instead look towards the ways we can be more like Jesus – where we can offer a helping hand, be slow to judgement, be willing to share our time, our ear, our hand to those who have need of someone to come kneel beside them and love them. For in doing so, even when it is a little thing we do, we are bringing our neighbours, whoever they are, into the care and mercy of Jesus.
Perhaps there is one more person in this story that we need to acknowledge – and that is the innkeeper, the one to whom the Samaritan took the broken and wounded man for healing.  Are we innkeepers do you think?
Hear these words as we finish from the pen of Elaine Gisbourne – titled ‘Called on to be an innkeeper.’

I bring you my wounded ones;
the beaten, broken and messy,
the weary, the traumatised,
precious, wounded ones.

I bring you the ones from whom
others turn their gaze,
out of fear, disgust, shame;
rejected when most vulnerable,
I bring them to you.

I bring them to you because I trust you.
To see beyond the blood and dirt,
to look deeper than the bruises and scars,
and hold them,
stay with them,
attend to them and care for them.

I know this work will cost you,
cost you more than you think you can give,
but I know you:
you will give to them from the depths of your own generosity,
and you will continue to hold them
until I return and set them on their way.

I trust you because I know you,
that my promise is enough for you,
and that you know that it is our love that heals.

In our acts of mercy and love for neighbour lie the seedlings for transforming this world, so, as Jesus says, let us go and do likewise. Amen
Margaret Garland

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 7 July 2019 Pentecost 4

Readings:  Galatians 6:1-6    Luke 10:1-11

We pray:  Loving God, we have heard your word from scripture for us today.  We pray ears to hear and hearts ready to respond to your desire for us to walk in your way with commitment and courage. In the name of the one who shows the way. Amen. 
When a church is in crisis and the focus is on blame or solution, it is not unusual for the people to resort to infighting and behaviour based on difference.  Neither is it unusual for right and wrong to rear their heads and minor issues to be the focus of major difference.  This was the case for the church in Corinth – and it seems that one of the casualties of their argument and division was their care for each other.   Paul here is trying to bring them back to focus on the basics of living in Christian community where grace and compassion and mercy is the practice instead of accusations and rules. Galatians 6 also talks about corruption of the flesh and the role of circumcision plus false pride and reaping what you sow as Paul tries to convince them of the shape of this new creation that is Christian living and community.  A truly heady mix for any preacher. 
Yet today I would choose a thread that runs through both readings; one that I believe is really important for any faith community and definitely for us – and that is the shape of our relationships as Christians with each other and with strangers. It is a huge topic of course but maybe we can find some reminders or new understandings in these scriptures today.
So let us listen to the words Paul says again[1]Let us not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

It seems to me over this last wee while, that we as a faith community have not perhaps rediscovered but certainly been much more conscious of our need to care for each other and the wider community pastorally.  As minister here I have been reminded yet again of the gift that is sharing in the highs and lows of people’s lives, and the deep sense of God present with us especially in difficult times.
And as a congregation we have together walked through much that is unfair and untimely, death that leaves huge gaps, pain that hurts so badly and helplessness that overwhelms us.  And yet we could say that this time has also strengthened us and grown us.  For we care for each other – deeply.  We provide for each other and pray for each other and love each other in a myriad of ways.  It’s not always easy, we often don’t know what to say or do in difficult situations especially, and we sometimes are unaware of people who could really do with some care and compassion. We care for and provide for the wider community – the tears and outpouring of love and grief continues in the wake of March 15 even as we get caught up again in the day to day – but I believe that for many something has fundamentally moved in our thinking – a new creation as Paul calls it. However much we are active or not in making change, we are aware that this is the path Jesus has sent us out on.
For we are called to practice justice and equality, to honour all people and to care for those in need.  All these things are signs of a community that fulfils the laws of Christ Jesus.
But as both Jesus and latterly Paul says, this path that Jesus calls us to follow requires much of us: so let us look at three of the behaviours that build the community of Christ -  commitment, discernment, and generosity – all anchored in the love and teachings of this man Jesus and continued in the guidance and teaching of the Spirit. 

What does Jesus mean by commitment? I suspect it is a lot about courage – courage to knock on a uncertain door, courage to begin difficult conversations, courage to receive those who come knock on your door.  It is too having the ability to bear another’s burden, to know that you don’t have to do this alone nor do you have to have all the solutions.  It’s the strength to keep going in the way of compassion and grace when things get tough, resisting the temptation to fall back and raise the drawbridge of exclusivity as the people of Corinth were doing to the uncircumcised, as we do in our various ways today.  One commentator[2] put it this way: ‘Today what millstones do we tie around the necks of God’s children? The stones are as varied as our faith communities.’ And went on to talk about any time we say it has to be done this way and this way alone, we are committed to the service of the human ego, not God.  Rather we are urged to live out of the belief that the vision and purpose of God is not limited to our experience alone and that God’s church is a uniting of unbelievable diversity in the person of Christ.
So instead of debating the rights and wrongs of this or that practice, being a community of faith is totally about our commitment to the way of Jesus, to doing it his way, to walking and talking not according to our vision but to God’s.  We trust in God to take us where we need to be, to provide the wisdom to say and do what is needed, to tell us what we need to leave behind, and when to leave.  Let’s just take a minute or two to think about commitment to our God, our faith, our community and beyond.

And then there is the role of discernment in living as the people of God.  Jesus alludes to this as he tells his disciples to give everyone a chance but to move on where there is no welcome.  He invites us to enter every situation with peace and hope and trust in our hearts but also to discern when the time is not right.  And he invites us to engage with open hearts – so that we can discern God’s will rather than slap our own solutions on the table.  Have you ever had a conversation where you have grabbed a particular understanding early on and it has closed your ears to other possibilities - I remember back in my days as a librarian having someone come in and say they were looking for books on food – and before they could say another word I had led them to the recipe section.  It took them some time and courage to tell me that actually it was more about having a health problem and wanting to look at books on food allergies.  Discerning how Jesus wants us to care for each other in community definitely requires us to open our ears to new possibilities, things we might not have thought of, conversations that are guided by the Spirit rather by us. Discernment over the future ministry of this church is something that you all will be facing in the next while – I urge you to hear what the Spirit is saying to this church, not to grab solutions that mean nothing changes but to be bold and courageous and full of hope as a community of faith.   Not easy but prepare to be enriched, surprised, and blessed when it happens.
Again how might we see the place of discernment in our community – a moment or two to consider.

And living together in community, caring for each other, shouldering each other’s burdens as well as joys, definitely calls for generosity.
A generosity of grace – that spirit of gentleness wrapped in a cloth that values all people and is given to us without expectation.
A generosity of forgiveness – where we give zero power to the hurts and slights of life that can become our masters
A generosity of love – across all boundaries, despite all logic, gifted unconditionally
A generosity of time – time to listen, time to reflect, time to worship, time to study scripture, time to pray and praise, time to spend with others
A generosity of giving and receiving – where we do not measure or look for balance or return, where we keep on giving and receiving beyond our comfor
A generosity of listening  - prepared always to hear  God’s voice in silence and in others – to hear the new and the powerful where least expected, the hard truth when not wanted, the guidance of the spirit that might challenge our well thought out plan.
A generosity of caring and compassion and kindness – that permeates every aspect of our lives, our community, our faith, a deep love for all people lived out in our daily actions.
A generosity of truth – perhaps hardest of all for we each find it difficult to accept that truth is not static nor one dimensional nor rigid in time, space or church community.
I am sure you have other thoughts to add to these – a moment for considering generosity in our community.
And as we share communion today may we remember the generosity that is Jesus the Christ who welcomes all who hunger and thirst to come to his table and be fed.

These three things, commitment, discernment, generosity – through them may we continue to journey the way of Christ, a way where grace and compassion and mercy are the lights we walk by, a way where rules and decisions are always seen in the light of Christ and where our love for each other and the world is shown in our actions, our words, our listening, our hearts.    Amen.

Margaret Garland

[1] Galatians 6: 9-10 NRSV
[2] Carol E. Holtz-Martin in Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 3  p.209

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 30 June 2019 Pentecost 3

Readings:  2 King 2: 1-2, 6-14   Luke 9:51-62

Today I want to talk about extravagance: the extravagance of God, of language, of expectations, and through all the extravagance of love. And flowing on from this, for us to think about what is it that compelled Jesus to take this journey to the cross and beyond and what is it that compels us to stay on the road with him?

I was tempted to title today’s sermon as ‘Mission Impossible’.   Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem – he sets his face to the holy city, he is on the move! And he is relentless in his singlemindedness, so focussed that he seems to almost sweep aside the niceties of life – the place to call home, the properly dignified farewell to one who has died, the desire to at least tell family where you are going before you go.   All to go by the board, according to Jesus. 

And then there is the Elijah and Elisha narrative – spectacular, with whirlwinds and seas parting and chariots of fire and Elijah rising to heaven, and Elisha, bereft, left with the memory of the vision and hoping, praying that he has the mantle to carry on the journey.  

Extravagant commitment from Jesus and from Elisha – sourced in the power and purpose of God.

Let us talk a little about Elisha first.  Though he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, there was no understanding that it would be so – no guarantees that he would inherit the mantle of gifts that Elijah received.  Yet he follows God’s will, unclear as to what that might mean, not at all sure what will happen but prepared to step out anyway in faith.  And it is only as he enters the journey, strikes the water with his staff, that he realises his call has been confirmed.  He acts in expectation of the passing on of the mantle, yet prepared that it might not be – but whatever the path given him, God will be alongside as his guide and companion.  Elisha, rather than waiting for a route map to be worked out and presented, get up and goes anyway. 

And Jesus too has this clarity of purpose that compels him to set out on his journey to Jerusalem with all the obstacles and struggles before him.  He too is on the move for God, on a compelling journey that makes other things seem peripheral, where the urgency of the vision is not to be waylaid by things that can distract.  Jesus has discerned the mind of God and is willing, nay absolutely focussed on expressing God’s profound love for humanity and all the world.  And if that means testing loyalties of those around him, then so be it – for discipleship requires commitment!

And so we begin to think about what it is that keeps us on this ‘Mission Impossible.’  For at times it seems so, does it not?  What anchors us to this vision of a world made whole and healthy, a people made loving and just, a difficult journey of faith made ‘possible’ because a deep sense of God’s extravagant vision compels us to discern God’s will for us and act upon it?

What is it that nourishes this seemingly impossible journey?  What keeps our discipleship focussed and compelling?

We could blithely say ‘our faith’ but I think that is a bit limited and needs some expanding.  Yes we are fed by scripture, nurtured by the Spirit, encouraged in community, welcomed and sustained in the sacraments, held in covenant with God through Christ but I am talking about the extravagant God that delights in us, that expects much of us, that loves us with a passion that surpasses all we might know, and, in Christ, is a light that will shine with extraordinary power and purpose in this world if we would be the vessel. How to keep that focus, to not be distracted from it, how to set our face to Jerusalem in all trust and expectation that God will prevails.  

I believe we need to be constantly reminded of the glory of God – to have the Mission Impossible fed by the pure delight in creation, the world around us, the sky above, the ebb and flow of the ocean, the beauty of our land, our flora and fauna, the rhythms of the seasons and the intricate and complex dance of relationship of all living things on this planet.  Matariki reminds us of not just the beauty of the skies but the intricate relationship of the stars with humankind and their cycle of life. 
And when we hold that vision of God’s creation, it makes the hurt we have done to this planet so much more painful, it makes our need to amend our ways so much more urgent, it makes our voice for change so much more strident - for we are destroying God’s vision for the world.

I believe we need to be constantly reminded of the way we meet God in our actions and interactions.  That we make the light of this ‘Mission Impossible’ shine so brightly in the world by who we are and what we do and say and be. 
Like Elisha – there is no point waiting around for certainty and guarantees – let’s just step out there command the waters to part so to speak, be prepared for God to be active in our lives in extravagant and spectacular ways – or in ordinary and little ways – all of which is the working of God’s purpose through us.  Like the blankets we have just blessed, like the Generation Zero work of people like Adam Currie, like the outpouring of grief and love in the events of March 15, like the care this community has given and gives to those who are in pain.
Like Jesus, deep down knowing that what we do to show the love of God for and in this world is the most important thing we can do and not to let things distract us from that.  And just a couple of points about the journey to Jerusalem that Jesus set out on.  It was quite a circuitous route he took - much happened on the way, many different roads were followed, the narrative was messy and all over the place, but it was always pointing toward Jerusalem.  And his journey was all about his sense of call – that God had placed in his heart the vision of a world healed and restored by his actions, and it was a compelling mission that all else became less in its light. 
And our actions and interaction are grounded in our worship, our hearing the word, praying, our singing and our sacraments of baptism and gathering around the table of our Lord.  If the extravagant generosity and love of God through Christ is not shown in our worship, in the gifts of forgiveness and teaching and caring for the world and each other, in the bread and wine of the table where all are one in Christ, then I don’t know how we can take it into the world.

And finally I believe we are to be constantly reminded of the role of those who have taught us and shaped us and guided us in faith.  Those of this place of worship who have impacted us, challenged us, held us through the hard times and celebrated with us the milestones of our lives.  We think of the Rod Madills and the Vetia Sheats and the Laurie Williams and all those named in our hearts who have nurtured us and been the shining lights of faith for us. 
We think of those in our families, our friends, our faith guides in other church communities, other places and times who have encouraged, taught, walked alongside us in our spiritual journeys.  We think of those we have read, listened to, debated with, who have developed our theology, reminded us of our purpose, shown us new ways and reminded us of old ways that hold wisdom and truth.  And we also give thanks for those from different faiths with whom we find spiritual common ground, those of our own faith with whom we disagree, those who challenge our understandings and behaviours when they see the log in our eyes better than we do.

May these three things, be our reminders of the extravagance of a God who is Creator, Servant, and Sustainer to each one of us and, through us to the world.  And may our journey on this way be compelling, full of action and commitment, may we see that in facing Jerusalem we become part of a Mission made possible in the love of God for us and the world.  Amen.

Margaret Garland