Saturday, 28 December 2019

Reflection Sunday 29 December, 2019 Christmas 1 The Holy Innocents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Garland

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

Sunday, 15 December 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac Watt  17th – 18th C  WOV 224

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

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

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

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

            Reader: This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

People:  Praise to Christ the Word

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession O Come  Abby Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Garland & Abby Smith

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Sermon Southern Presbytery Licensing Service 5 December 2019 East Taieri Church

We pray:  may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is called A Retiring Offering

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Garland

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