Saturday, 19 October 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 6 October, 2019 Pentecost 17 World Communion Sunday.

Readings: 2 Timothy 1:1-14  Luke 17:5-10

We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in our sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.
A few days ago I was sitting on the bench at the entrance to the Gardens, waiting to meet a parishioner.  And this guy came up to me and said how much he liked the cross I was wearing and what faith was I?
And the conversation progressed – he and his mate asked if they might sit, and as they shared a wine out of the brown paper bag with each other, we discussed God, the church, religious hypocrisy, spiritual clarity and responsibility. They were seekers, explorers of spirituality, askers of the hard questions in the midst of, and shaped by their brokenness.  I have to say it left me feeling humbled, a little confused and very aware of a special moment of encounter with God through these two men of faith.

Some might say their faith was not strong else they would live a better life.
Some might say their faith was not facilitated by doctrine and community – and therefore suspect.
Some might simply say – yuk – they smell bad and choose to walk away.
I say they were people of faith.

So how do we understand faith?  Especially in the light of the Gospel passage today where we are told we only need faith as small as a mustard seed to tell a tree to uproot itself and plant its roots in the sea.  Hints of miracles fed not by our efforts at building our faith but by God working with what we have.
As Paul says to Timothy …’not according to our works but according to [God’s] own purpose and grace.  Paul also talks about the faith of Timothy’s family and that all faith is the gift of God.

When the disciples ask for more faith to counter the troubled times ahead they are acknowledging, understanding two things:
One; that faith is a gift that only God can give, certainly not a result of any work on our part to complete the ten-steps-to-greater-faith programme. Faith is not something that belong to us.  Too often we talk about our faith in God, in Christ with the emphasis on the ‘our’. Faith is not a possession but is God at work in us. 
Two; that, in faith, nothing is impossible for God. 
Their conclusion therefore: more faith has to be the answer to their impossible future.
Well done, disciples.  A B+ pass at least.

Jesus, however, sees a good teaching moment – and grabs it with both hands.  Jesus sees they are still measuring their effectiveness as people of faith by how strong they think their faith is as a Christian.  Jesus wants them to understand that their faith in fact needs to be ‘in’ Christ to do what is needed with whatever faith they have.  Reformed theologian Margit Ernst-Habib puts it like this: When the disciples ask for greater faith, knowing that difficult times lie ahead of them, Jesus responds by asking for something small: a trusting faith the size of a mustard seed, so that the faithful follower might not look to [themselves], judging [their] own faith, relying on its strength or being scared by its weakness, but look instead at the one [they] follow.  [They] know that [their] faith is in that sense not [theirs], but the work of the Holy Spirit binding [them] to Christ.’  
Jesus is asking us to refrain from thinking that the volume, efficiency, and efficacy of our faith has a direct and measurable impact on the work of God in this world. It does not.  Trusting faith as big as a mustard seed, when it is held in the hope of Christ, will equally move mountains and part the waters.

This understanding helps us unpack the somewhat disconcerting statements that follow – that of humbly accepting your lot in life, expecting no thanks or reward for doing the work that is, after all, expected of you.  Rather we can begin to see that even the slave, the lowest and least, receive God’s grace in Christ as a gift and an extraordinary recognition of their worth.  Human merits make no difference to God’s work in and through us, thanks be to God. 

In a sense this frees us up from holding our precious faith in a bank vault, adding to it and building it up as we can.  Instead we are encouraged to throw our tiny seeds around with gay abandon – never sure of the details of the harvest but knowing that in the love of Jesus, it will be abundant.

We do have to be careful reading this passage, don’t we?  It is too easy to read it as Jesus is mocking the disciples, ‘If you only had some faith you would understand this…’ shaking his head at their lack of faith. Rather, it seems to me that Jesus is encouraging both his disciple of then and of now to realise that even ‘this much’ faith is enough – that we already have enough faith to do whatever is required of us.

Faith is a way of life, where we look out for each other, safe in the knowledge that, in the unfailing generosity of God’s grace, what we do and who we are will be enough. 

As Paul encourages Timothy so may we encourage each other to trust in God through the love and faith that are in Jesus Christ.

As I remember those two men I met on a park bench and heard of their faith in Christ, as they earnestly sought to share their beliefs, we trust that God’s work is being done.

As we continue as community here in Opoho remembering to be content with what sometimes seems like a mustard seed of faith, we trust that Jesus Christ will flourish his word and work here abundantly.

As we remember all the different expressions of faith across cultures and countries and over time and the ways in which these communities express their faith (large or small) in Christ Jesus, we trust in the wonderful diversity of God’s people.

And as we gather round this table today, we trust that we who have faith in the living Christ, know the presence of God transcending all boundaries, one people together. Amen.

Margaret Garland

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 20 October 2019 Pentecost 19

Readings:  Psalm 119:97-104  Luke 18:1-8

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. 

At the political meetings Philip ran here a few weeks ago, one the questions asked of the candidates was ‘who is your favourite superhero?’  I was intrigued partly because it was not one I could have answered easily myself and partly because there appears to be a wealth of superhero’s out there that I haven’t a clue about and was vaguely fascinated by.  It was notable that most people were in the Superman, Spider Man, Batman fold, with Superwoman making an odd appearance.  But we know that where you have a hero there seems to be a villain, an anti hero.  So who would have been the favourite anti-heros do you think?  Here again I am out of my depth – the Joker, Lex Luther?
Did you know that lists 6,438 superheroes and villains? Brittanica keeps it to 46.

The parables of Jesus had their heroes and anti-heros – and we meet one of the anti-heros in our reading from the Gospel of Luke today.  Like the unjust steward, the unjust judge is used by Jesus to illustrate both the goodness, and the grace of God.  And in this particular story to illustrate the power of tenacity of belief.

The judge is a fascinating character – one who had no regard for what other people thought of him, and scant regard for the law when it came to measuring it against personal nuisance value. The judge, a practitioner of the law, breaking the rules of his profession, putting himself outside of the boundaries of this judging business and exercising, in the end, what we know as grace.

So too the woman.  She owned not one iota of power, she was a widow therefore without social standing, a loser in life according to the times.  Yet she was like a dog with a bone – refusing to give up advocating for her cause.

The parallels to our relationship with God are declaring themselves.
A God who refuses to be bound by rules of engagement, not judging the case by its merits but rather for what we might call personal convenience – it calls to mind the words from Paul: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.[1] God didn’t wait around for us to realise our inadequacies, our lostness but simply steps up and showers us with grace.  Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, falls on us with delight, not caring where we have come from, simply that we have come.

The one we first think of as the anti-hero is in fact the one who is breaking through all the rules, impatient to gather those who are lost, determined to offer grace and mercy to us despite ourselves. 
So can we be like that widow – tenacious in our belief that God cares for us enough to explode through our self imposed rules, our idea of who is in and out, our guilts and our shame, our arrogance and our stumbling, our doubts and fears to reclaim us with impatient and overflowing love.

It’s a powerful picture of the love of God and the grace that covers our lives when we turn to God.

I think that the psalmists of old truly knew this truth – that living in faith meant seeking always the judgement of God, not in that way of expecting punishment but rather generous grace and guidance  – and that they had to be tenacious about it.  No withdrawing when they were angry with God, no hiding themselves when they were ashamed, no holding back on their need to share their innermost thoughts and doubts, and definitely no holding back on their adoration for a God who was faithful, full of grace and mercy.

Our psalm for today speaks specifically about the wisdom of a mature faith, one where the writer has learned that leaning on the precepts of God has been a delight and a light to their lives.  It’s like they are immersed in the presence of God, so much so that they can hold nothing back.
Hear some of those words:
Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

How can we be like that – how do we transfer that closeness to God out of the scriptures and into our lives?  Joy Cowley has asked the same question and came up with these helpful words.
Stop!  You are looking in the wrong direction!
I am not two thousand years distant but right here beside you, my shoulder against your shoulder, my hand resting on the back of your neck, my breath mixed with yours in the same moment.  How could you miss me?
Forget the history and the politics that make truth small.  They are not important enough to be pursued or rejected.  Turn with the eyes of your heart and see who has not left your side since your soul took human journey.  Say my name in our own secret language and remember what we have always be to each other.
Lean on me beloved.  Trust to die into my love.[2]

What a difference this would make to faith, to church, to being the people of God in this world, in this day if we could all grasp this understanding that God’s grace is enough, the belief that God will prevail, as strongly did that widow woman.

We could stop deciding who we think is acceptable to God and use the default premise that it is everyone.  The blinkers of racism, sexism, and all the other isms would fall to the ground. 
We could stop thinking we had the only wisdom, the best faith, the only denomination and realise that God speaks into lives and cultures and faiths beyond our experience.

We could stop building up treasures here on earth – think what that would do to the economic inequalities, the starving, the dispossessed.  We could stop too building up treasures in our churches just for the sake of it, or from the fear of letting it go.  Imagine the feeding of the poor, the housing of the homeless, the valuing of the voiceless that could come from releasing our rainy day funds.

We could stop holding ourselves back from leaning on God, stop trying to do everything ourselves, be in control according to our understand – be a people who trust in the grace and love of a God who pushed through all our barriers of distrust and selfishness and sheer arrogance to send Jesus to live among us, to teach us the meaning of love, of grace of mercy. Stop your worrying and lean on me, says Jesus, just like that widow woman.

Using some words from Tom Schuman[3]:
When eternity comes, maybe God will sort it all out:
the unanswered questions that keep us awake at night,
the injustice of it all,
the brokenness which we cannot mend
Someday, when eternity comes, maybe God will sort it all out but until then know this:
love showered earth when Jesus came, and flows from us to others,
hope was planted in our hearts and in God we trust,
joy became our souls companion and yearns to walk with us,
and grace was the gift we cannot exchange;
and these are all the answers we have until eternity comes.

And for this we say: thanks be to God.

Margaret Garland

[1] Romans 5:8
[2] The Eternal Lover from Psalms for the Road  by Joy Cowley p. 59
[3] Answers from Acorns and Archangels by Thom M Shuman  p. 220

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Climate Litany Opoho Church Sunday 29 September 2019

A Litany of Gratitude

We live in all things and all things live in us
We rejoice in all life.
We live by the sun, we move with the stars
We rejoice in rhythms of living and being.
We eat from the earth, we drink from the rain,
we breathe from the air
We rejoice in the life giving nourishment of this planet
We share with the creatures, we have strength through their gifts
We rejoice in all things created of sea, air and land
We depend on the trees, the bush, the ancient and the new.
We have knowledge through their secrets
We rejoice in all life rooted in the good soil.
We have the privilege of seeing and understanding
We have the responsibility of caring
We have the joy of celebrating
We rejoice in our care for the land and all that the land provides
We are full of the grace of creation, we are grateful
We rejoice in all life

A Litany of Sorrow
We have forgotten who we are.  We have become estranged from the movements of the earth and turned our backs on the cycles of life.
We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security and exploited simply for our own ends.
We have distorted our knowledge and abused our power.
Response: We have forgotten God’s call to care for creation.
Now the land is barren and the waters are poisoned and the air is polluted.
We have not been good stewards of the land, sea and air.
Now the forests are dying and the creatures are disappearing
and the humans are despairing.
We have not care for the creatures of the land, sea and air.
We ask forgiveness. We ask for the gift of remembering
We ask for the strength to change.
We seek mercy in Jesus holy name.  Amen

A Litany of Committment
As we seek to relax our grip so that the earth, our fragile sister, might rest from our labours, help us to see our world more vividly than we have done in the past. 
Grant us vision for the challenges of this age and give us hearts full of courage for the future.  
As we seek to be wise stewards of the gifts of the earth in timber and oil, coal, and gas, help us to know your world more humanely than we have in the past. 
Grant us the wisdom
to walk with care and reverence in this world.  
Deepen our faith and enliven our thinking, nourish our bodies and strengthen our souls, that we may be your message in the world, your servants for the common wellness of the earth.
Make us weavers of a new order, crafters of a new earth. 
Grant us the grace to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, in the love with earth, and with our brothers, and sisters.
May these commitments we make bring new life through God’s holy word, in our communities of faith and in deep solidarity with all creation.