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

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