Community of St Martin @ St Chad's

Anglican Parish of Sandringham and Mt Roskill

Patronal / Armistice Day Sunday, 11 November 2018

Primary Texts:

1 Kings 17:8-16

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

 

Our gospel today of the Widows Mite, is very much more than it appears. The contrast between the self-serving lawyers and the widow couldn’t be more obvious. Mark’s weaving of these two stories is, I think, where we find the meaning of those who give and receive recognition for it, and there’s those who give freely with no expectations. There’s a saying, “Aroha mai, aroha atu”. #It simply means, “Love given from us, is love given back to us”. These poignant words are for us, an insight into the heart. They are a reminder of what we give, is to be given with love, not for any other motive. Like our widow today. Given in love for God. Could there be a picture of someone more selfless than her? She doesn’t give out of her abundance, what’s left over, she gives from the very depths of her being. Her giving is sacrificial and completely selfless. And yes, there is that other selfless giving that we’re honouring today. Those selfless individuals who gave their lives for us in World War 1. Over 100 years ago thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing… gave sacrificially an ultimate gift of love… selfless giving… they died for us. Many were comforted, during their time in the field, by ministers of the faith. Ministers, who also gave without thought of receiving anything back… maybe freedom perhaps…

St Martin of Tours. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote this of him: “As a youth, he was forced into the Roman army, but later—according to his disciple and biographer Sulpicius Severus—he petitioned the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate to be released from the army because “I am Christ’s soldier: I am not allowed to fight.” When charged with cowardice, he is said to have offered to stand in front of the battle line armed only with the sign of the cross. He was imprisoned but was soon discharged. Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.

The first possible lesson that Jesus might want us to learn from the widow is this: “The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.” Those soldiers did! The second possible lesson is this: “It’s not the AMOUNT of the gift that matters; what matters is the SPIRIT of the giver.” Aroha mai, aroha atu… And in Acts 20:35 Giving is Receiving. There can be no doubt that we live in a selfish and inward focused world. The majority today have little concern for the needs of others, and few are willing to make any sacrifices to benefit someone else. Many will attempt to get all that they can and will gain only short-term satisfaction. Hmmm… you reap what you sow maybe? One must be willing to give in order to receive. We must be willing to turn loose of particular aspects of life and material gain in order to grow in our faith and receive the greater spiritual blessings. Jim Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador. He is credited as saying this, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” His quote is especially powerful when we consider that Jim was murdered by the local natives he sought to reach with the Gospel. He completely gave what he could not keep but gained something he could not lose – eternal life in Christ. Giving is Receiving. Aroha atu, aroha mai.

Today’s passage, in today’s context, does not demand that we give ALL that we have… but it DOES demand that we give… and I know many of us do already. So, yes… I know I’m preaching to the converted here. All of you give without any conditions. Without any thought to what might be gained. Without any thought to aches and pains, not enough time, or personal desire for that matter. I was here yesterday and witnessed giving in a selfless way. We have sitting amongst today someone who gave… someone who was not demanded to do so… but gave with her heart, in a selfless way. A heart filled with love for a beloved husband… a heart filled with love for God… and a heart filled with love for a tiny little church who had given to her also. We have in our congregation Mrs Alice Wylie. A special guest… a special friend… a loyal disciple… Mrs Wylie, nearly 60 years ago, donated the bell you heard ‘roaring’ a few moments ago. Selfless giving… probably never knowing that one day, that bell would be big news in the media! Mrs Wylie made the Taonga Online Website, you’ll see some of those photos during communion, and St Martin at St Chads has gone on to air on Radio NZ earlier this week. Ding Dong! We thank Mrs Wylie for enabling us to ‘roar’ with the others all around the world on this day of remembrance for Armistice 100 years. We thank you and God bless you.

To me, this section of Mark isn’t rocket science. It’s about the kind of faith that we are supposed to have, and the kind of practised faith that we aren’t. The faith of Jesus Christ isn’t about us. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about Martin, and it’s not about bells either. It’s about what we give to God and what God gives us in return. Love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, hope and so on… Aroha atu, aroha mai. Let us pray… In a world of self-seeking there is often very little space for anything else. Little time for giving or receiving. In the midst of living, the bustle of the shopping centres, the noise of the office or work, and the party small-talk… there can be real loneliness, unnoticed by all but you. Give us discernment, to see people as you see them, to be your love in this world, and to be willing to sacrifice time, and self so that others might know your love. We thank you for the widow, St Martin and St Chad, the dedicated soldiers, nurses and chaplains of WW1. We thank you for each other. May our eyes look out with compassion on the world. Our feet with which to go about doing good. Our hands with which you bless us all now. All these things we ask through your glorious name, Amen.

Jacynthia Murphy

All Saints Day Sunday, 4 November 2018

Primary Texts:

Isa 25:6-9

Revelation 21:1-6a

John 11:32-44

 

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” But for all its grammatical simplicity, it’s packed with profound complexity. Jesus wept after speaking with Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha and Mary, and seeing all the mourners. That seems natural enough. Most of us would have wept too. Jesus knew that in a few short minutes all this weeping would turn to joy, then tearful laughter, and then, ultimately to worship. He’d come to Bethany to bring these mourners the best news they could have imagined. So, one would think that Jesus would be this confident, joyful calm in this storm of sorrow and woe. But he was ‘greatly troubled’ it said. He wept is says. Why, was this man who knew that his visit was about to take on a transformative action that would leave many, changed. Lazarus included! So, let’s apply, for a moment, a microscopic lens into these two powerful words, Jesus wept. There is infinitely more to these two words than any preacher, or student of the Word, or postgraduate, could ever bring out of them. I’ll try this morning. ‘Jesus wept.’ Instructive fact - simple but amazing - full of consolation - worthy of our earnest attention. Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to discover for ourselves the wealth of meaning contained in these two powerful words!

We know of other men that have wept. Abraham, when he buried Sarah, wept. Jacob had power with the angel, for he wept and prevailed. Of David we are continually reading that he wept. His friend Jonathan and he, once wept together. Of Hezekiah we read that he wept sorely, and of Josiah that he poured forth tears over the sins of Judah. Jeremiah was a weeping prophet. I’m marvelling at Jesus’ humanness to weep. Jesus had friendships. Why wouldn’t he? Friendships are a natural human thing. He had so many people around him he was never short of a friend to love.

All of us going through this worldly life make many acquaintances, but out of these we have a few special folk whom we can call friends. All wise and good people have around them good spirits with whom their communion is freer and in whom their trust is more confident than in all others. And when good souls meet they can be counted as good friends. And what is we usually do with friends? We gather. We spend time strengthening our friendships in the merriment of sharing food of course! Often feasts. Often decadent. Rich food filled with marrow, well-matured wines, and… well you fill in the gaps to fit your feast! Often much more than we need or is good for us really!

“And he will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples…” Is this not the affirmation we accept from Jesus in John chapter 13? ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another… and by this everyone will know that you are my disciples…’ Today our texts have us feasting and loving… with one another. What a great imagery as we celebrate All Saints Day. We know that saints are those followers of Christ. Ordinary people in ordinary places. Just like us. Disciples and apostles… and we met them in our text last week. Over time, however, sainthood has become something that describes those who have led exemplary Christian lives, and left legacies that many can only dream… of attaining themselves. This understanding of sainthood is the one that has informed the popular imagination in our society today. Whether this is a good or bad thing, what isn’t helpful are the stereotypical characteristics that this collective thinking associates with saints – being other-worldly, narrow-minded, and even devoid of fun and frivolity in fellowship with others. In other words, saints could be perceived as unable to feast and love in the same way I speak of today. There can be no doubt that Christianity is a serious thing, but I’m almost as sure that if we were privileged to see into the everyday world of ordinary Christians, come saints, they would turn out to be more human and down-to-earth than the popular imagination would credit. Not an elevated saintly-ness at all! But, this is not a pick on the Saints Day, it’s an All Saints Day of celebration, feasting, and loving. Saints that were ordinary people in ordinary places, and yes, doing extraordinarily human things at times. So was Jesus. He wept. Not ashamed of his human weakness, human sadness, human-ness! He could have held back his tears, and many men do, but he didn’t! He revealed his love to Lazarus, so that others saw it and cried, ‘See how he loved him!’ they said.

As we prepare for our St Martinstide Patronal service and remember all those whose lives were taken in WW1 and celebrate the end of that suffering on Armistice Day next week, also remember… that it’s okay to weep. Tears of anger and longing were mixed with Jesus’ tears of grief too. From our text today, “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. The disgrace of his people he will take away… and when that day comes, death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. Then GOD will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” Jesus said to the family, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life”. Jesus wept no more…

Jacynthia Murphy

St Simon & St Jude Sunday, 28 October 2018

Primary Texts:

Isa 28:14-18

Eph 2:11-22

Luke 6:12-19

 

Today, as tradition we are commemorating the life of St Simon and St Jude. We know so little about these two, but the scripture ensured us that they were members of Christ's twelve-fold apostles. And their feast (St Simon and St Jude) completes the celebration cycle of the apostles in the course of the year. Who are the apostles? The apostles are those who are sent. They are simply those who followed Jesus’ teaching and became the messengers of His word and life. They are defined not by their own words and deeds but by the word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. They are called to be witnesses of Christ to the world. It is through their witnesses and sacrifices that we are able to hear God’s word throughout time, then and now. Their life is reflected within the New Testament in communion with Christ and the Holy Spirit. Though they are considered important, our focus should always be centered in Christ.

So then, lets us look and weave through our readings for today. Luke 6: 12-19 is where Jesus chooses the twelve apostles. They appeared to be ordinary just like us. A former Zealot, a former (crooked) tax collector, a reckless fisherman, two “sons of thunder,” and a man named Judas Iscariot (Traitor) and others. Jesus sees them as the best individuals to fulfill His purpose. They are humble, teachable and faithful. Despite their flaws, Jesus chooses them because to him these are the men who understood what people have to go through, worrying about self-esteem and struggles to earn a living. And amid their struggle, they will remain faithful because life comes at the end.

Such is the journey the apostles went through. They struggle and doubt among themselves and amid them is Jesus, teaching and encouraging them to continue to hold onto his way and learn from Him. Our journey as Christians is the same. Though our struggles, our challenges may not be the same, we must continue to remain faithful to Christ's ways and teaching. Hold on to Christ and do what is right.

Exactly what Paul wrote to the Ephesians reminding them that they are one in Christ. Though it was written to the Ephesians, it still speaks volumes to us today. We belong, we are part of God’s household, and God dwells in us. We must listen to this message and take reassurance and strength from it. We have become family and no longer strangers or aliens and that happens because of Christ.

The dignity given in being a member of God’s household is not something that we have deserved or earned. It is Gods gracious gift, given in love. And as his apostles of today we must reach out and pray for all who are estranged, left out or feel marginalised. We are called into one family in God. We are linked and connected with the generations of apostles, saints and prophets built on the cornerstone that is Christ Jesus Himself. Though we are of flaws, we are here to reflect God’s generosity by how we live and by what we say and do.

Its fascinating because Christ himself showed us through his words and actions. Luke tells a beautiful story that moves from night to morning to afternoon. Jesus spent the night alone in prayer and meditation with God. In the morning, He gathered His apostles around Him and formed a community. In the afternoon, with His apostles, He went out and preached the Word and healed the sick.

Notice the order – from prayer to community to ministry. So often we want to do things in the opposite order. If something doesn't work, we go to others and ask for their help. And, if that doesn't work, then we start praying. But the order that Jesus teaches us is the reverse. It begins by being alone with God in prayer and meditation; then it creates a fellowship, a community of people who support us; and finally, this community goes out together to heal and to proclaim the good news.

Prayer, community, and ministry. That is the pattern by which God acts and speaks through us. That is the pattern God uses to make great things happen. That is the pattern through which we become the hands and mouths of God.

Like Jesus, we need to spend time alone in prayer. A time where we allow God to speak to the centre of our being. Throughout His Ministry Jesus spent time alone to pray and seek God. This is where ministry begins. Ministry begins with you and God before going into community.

Though Jesus was both human and divine, He still formed a community. A community of disciples to help him through his ministry. Help him through His darkest hour in the garden of Gethsemane. In agony, Christ wanted support and encouragement. He wanted his disciples to pray and keep watch with Him. So, what does this tells us. It tells us that Christianity is about community. We are encouraged to grow and develop and mature as believers. As a community we are to support and encourage each other in prayer and in action. In doing so we are engaging in Ministry. The Ministry of Christ is our mission of today.

1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

3. To respond to human need by loving service

4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation

5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Litimai Sanegar

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 21 October 2018

Primary Texts:

Isa 53:4-12

Heb 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45

 

INTRODUCTION

This is such an amazing, awe-inspiring, and anxious text, and no doubt has been the catalyst for hundreds of sermons, and reams of copy! I’m only going to provide you with one sermon, and reign in my enthusiasm and resist the temptation to get too far into this brief, window of biblical passage! Scripture is calling us to look more closely at my “A’s,” being amazing, awe-inspiring, and anxious! So like Christ and the Disciples, let’s move forward.

THE WAY FORWARD TO JERUSALEM CONTINUES

We all remember a few weeks ago and according to scripture, Jesus turned his face—with no intention of turning back—towards Jerusalem (Mk.9:30-37). And he and the disciples began their final journey together (though the disciples, it must be said, were having a quite difficult time getting that message). In today’s reading, Jesus is—for the third time[1] —attempting to get the message through to his disciples that he (the Son of man) will be turned over into the hands of men, and be killed. Alas, the disciples are still pounding on about whom is the best, with James and John, sons of Zebedee, now trying their hand (no pun intended) in winning the honour of sitting to Jesus’ right and left when he “comes into his glory.” Of course, in the 21st Century, our best guess is that James and John are making an assumption that their intentions are designed around some assumed messianic investiture for Jesus, with a great banquet to mark the occasion, and James and John are trying to manoeuvre themselves into seats of honour! Yet again, Jesus is showing AMAZING self control and sincere love by not getting concerned about this pettiness, and he is trying to explain what is actually meant and will occur once they reach their destination in Jerusalem. When you pause to consider that ultimately at the foot of the cross, every one of the disciples will flee or deny knowing him at the most crucial of times—and Jesus knows immediately (Mark’s favourite word again) that the disciples have no intention of hanging around--he refuses to become ANXIOUS with his pupils, or show any sign of outward annoyance with his chosen disciples. He simply continues loving them and striving to help them, so they can carry on when he returns to the Father. To quote Jacynthia in the pew sheet today,”Christ is a priest who is well able to understand our weakness, and he is a priest appointed by God.”[2] And as that so appointed priest, Jesus goes out and selects his chosen disciples inviting them to come with him and become fishers of men.[3] According to Mark’s Gospel, time and again the disciples seem to come up short, and Mark seems to question more than once the selection of these particular men. But Jesus it must be said never doubts that decision. And to be fair to these disciples, when called upon by Jesus, they simply dropped their work, and followed him. Now we find that James and John have approached Jesus and prayed for “whatever we ask of you.” But Jesus makes it clear that the two do not understand what they ask, and queries their thinking by declaring back to them, if they are “able to drink from the cup that he—Jesus—will drink?” This mention of “the cup” harks back to the Old Testament in Psalms,[4] which states, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” For Mark, this reference back to the OT was a strong reminder to his faith community of the many lessons written down for the Jews, the tradition for which is acknowledged and followed by Jesus.[5] Clearly, the traditions of the past are being reconfirmed within Mark’s faith community, and those traditions are being recalled by the participants within the community. This is important, for to sever the history could break the bonds which link the community together and give it the recognition holding them together[6] and allowing them to go forth as a group.

THE MESSAGE OF DISCIPLESHIP REVEALED

Once again, and for the third time, Jesus is successful in limiting the talk of power and greatness amongst his disciples. As readers of Mark, we know that the disciples had previously tried to hold back the children desperate to see Jesus; lectured his disciples that others capable of doing good and possibly even performing miracles should not be stopped even if they were not part of the 12; and then striving to get the most important point of all across to his as yet unproven group—and that was that greatness requires servitude and humility and whoever would be first, must be prepared to be the slave of all, for the first will be last. And that message has continued to echo through time, just as it has been captured in Jacynthia’s cover story in the pew sheet.

“Are You Able to Drink the Cup that I Drink?

As has been said, the disciples were not getting the “gist” of disciplehood perhaps as quickly as Mark would have liked. And certainly their track record before and during the events of the crucifixion were not without obvious flaws. I do sometimes wonder how Jesus must have felt when, agonisingly nailed to that cross and in unspeakable pain looking around and finding none of his disciples there, at the foot. The holy and marvellous women, who from the beginning had been there with Jesus, were still there. But Jesus did foretell accurately, “The cup that I drink, you will drink.” For in time all the original disciples, with the possible exception of John who either died of natural causes much later, or was martyred in later years, were put to death whilst on mission. And whatever time each disciple had between Jesus’ crucifixion and their own death, was well spent—truly so—in growing the church, carrying on Jesus’ mission, and being true to his commandment to “go,” and “serve.” For our Christian religion continues, and Christ is with us, thank God.

CONCLUSION

And so for now, we will continue to track the progress of Jesus and his disciples as they come nearer to their destination. It does seem a bit strange that we are heading into these troubled waters, as we simultaneously begin to turn our thoughts to the time of Advent and Christmas. And as a member of the DTP, about to complete my second year and I begin preparing for the third and final year of this programme, the subject matter of service, what it means, and particularly how to accomplish that is very much uppermost in my mind. I am thus grateful for the reminders of our disciples, the struggles with which they endured, and worked through until they found the truth. And I am IMMENSELY grateful that my errors and omissions are not being played out in such a public arena and being written up and reported in some report! For it would indeed be a somewhat embarrassing moment, requiring bravery far greater than perhaps I might have. And so the question remains, “Are you (am I) able to drink the cup that I drink?” I pray to always be able to answer, “I am able.” AMEN.

Jean Rheinfrank

[1] Larry Hurtado, MARK New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MASS:Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004), 171-2.

[2]  Rev’d Jacynthia Murphy, St Martin @ St Chad’s Pewsheet, (21 October, 2018), 1.

[3]  Mark 1:16-20. “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

[4]  Psalm 75.8.

[5]  Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 2nd Ed. (Great Clendon Street, Oxford: 2002), 46-7.

[6] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (London, UK: Baker Academic, 1991), 246.

 

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 14 October 2018

Primary Texts:

Genesis 2:18-24

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

 

This passage from Mark’s gospel is troubling. Especially if you’re looking for a definitive interpretation. The term "eye of a needle" is used as a metaphor for a very narrow opening. It occurs several times throughout the Talmud, a Jewish Oral tradition. Obviously, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle therefore it must be concluded that it is impossible for a rich man to enter into heaven. It would then follow that only poor people can get there. That’s comforting for me at least, however, at what point does one cross the line over to rich, from poor? How much wealth do you need before you are considered rich? More questions than answers really! Is this story of a camel’s needle, impossible or possible?

Those who have travelled to Israel, and I have twice, have probably taken photos of a gate in Jerusalem which your guide, looking to wow their paying customers, might say that it is the gate known as the Eye of the Needle. It’s a small gate which was kept open after the main gate closed for the night, and a camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it were to have its baggage removed and got down on its knees and crawled through. However, your average guide might not mention that the gate was constructed in the 16th century… There are other variations to this ‘small gate’ which include ancient inns having small entrances… to mountain passes that have such small entrances that the traders had to dismount their camels to pass through. These explanations are plausible… and take away the impossibility of a rich man going to heaven… only that he has to divest himself of his riches to get there! By the way, there is absolutely no historical evidence of any of these explanations!

Most biblical commentaries will point out that such an expression is common in all Eastern cultures, but it is usually expressed as an elephant going through the needle which is an exaggeration to show that something is impossible. As far as using a camel to express this, it is believed that people in Judea would be more familiar with a camel. This phrase would have been familiar to the Jews as that very expression is, as I pointed out earlier, found in the Talmud. The Song of Solomon alludes to this saying in this way, “The Holy One says, open for me a door as big as a needle’s eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and camels.” Anyway, I could go on and on about the written vs oral interpretations of this text. And I could do an exegesis of the Greek vs Aramaic presentations too! And I could debate whether it’s a camel or elephant thought to be passing through this needle! But I won’t. You can breathe a sigh of relief now… What I really want to talk about is how this text talks to us here in the parish, in our Diocese, and in our province. Now that might take a while to talk about…

This text surely talks to us about making the impossible… possible! Doesn’t it? Someone recently said to me, “I never thought we’d be able to get the Pākehā, Samoan, & Cook Island congregations together in the one service.” Not once, but twice! Someone else once said to me, “you’ll never fit into a pākehā parish and the way they do things.” I’ve heard many impossibility stories, made possible! Making the impossible possible comes in many forms and they confront us daily. It could be something as simple as getting out of bed without the aches and pains. Getting up and speaking in front of a big audience somewhere. Hearing a bell ring once more. Who would think that we would have an increase of life longevity? At Hillsborough Heights we refer to the 3-4 in their 90s, as the 90s club. Who would have thought that this parish would have so many in their 90s still getting around? We had Alice Wylie here on Friday… 96 years old. Three generations of them came, and her grandson is my age! That’s the impossible, made possible! Tell me your impossible made possible…stories…

Needles in ancient times were not these little metal pins we have today, they were large and made of oak and you could thread a cord through it. They were often threaded with a cord and hung over the necks of the camels. It was when the cord was passed through the eye of this needle that some of its fibres would come off. Hence a rich man must, learn to shed some of his luxuries. The kingdom of God to the disciples understanding was not heaven but represented a knowledge of God and an understanding of God. Thus, a rich man to understand God is like a rope passing through a needle, their relationship with God might have to overcome some resistance and without God’s help it would be impossible. Jesus is simply stating a truth that is common to us all. When we run out of options and resources it is much easier to depend upon God to seek and enter a knowledge of the kingdom of God, than it is when we have plenty of resources and options at our disposal.

So, to make the impossible possible, for each and every one of us here in the parish, the Diocese, the province, we must learn to let go and let God! Making the impossible, possible… letting the impossible be possible! Amen!

Jacynthia Murphy

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time, 7 October 2018

Primary Texts:

Genesis 2:18-24

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

 

INTRODUCTION

As we know from a couple of weeks ago, in Mark 9:30, Jesus has begun his journey to Jerusalem and all that awaits him there. He is still in Capernaum, and preparing to leave. And as is typical, wherever you find Jesus you will find two other groups: those coming out to hear him teach, and the Pharisees, who continue to try and trap Jesus in that which he says! You really do wonder about the Pharisees...I mean really, how many times need you lose an argument before you surrender, eh? And so, on this final occasion that Jesus will be in Capernaum until after his crucifixion on the cross and his resurrection, when he will return, we have one more communication with the pesky band of Pharisees that just won’t give up. Let’s explore this.

TEACHING THE DISCIPLES ABOUT DISCIPLESHIP

Jesus’ focus, as earmarked in his turning around to face Jerusalem (Mk.9:30-37), was centred on his disciples. His task was to teach them, specifically, how to get along without him, how to function well in their environment, and learning fully all they needed to know about discipleship. And as we know, Jesus was trying to do this amongst a group more focused on determining which of them was the best! A tall order, to be sure. Thus the first block of verses Mark penned with the help of the Holy Spirit, dealt with marriage (10:2-12), children (10:13-16), and possessions/property (10:17-31). For anyone trying to glean information about discipleship, this is an excellent starting point for information. This same block of text, especially on the subject of divorce, has also been sited by theologians as being one of the best remembered conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, calling it “the most problematic and an intriguing series of debates!” Certainly it remains an important and troublesome series of discussions for any faith community in the 21st Century. I can honestly say I’ve been quite grateful over the past 5 years to have missed this text in my preaching rotation! It is quite accurate to say that the Pharisees question about divorce was a “loaded gun,” cocked and ready to be fired at Jesus. This question had divided many with regard to the permissible grounds under which Moses “allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife.”[1] Jesus’ initial answer, “what God has joined together (as man and wife), let no one separate (i.e., divorce)[2]. But as was the custom between Jesus and his disciples on the road to Jerusalem, public responses would be more closely examined when the group was “in the house,” which meant their later discussions, alone, and at night. For the disciples queried Jesus on how they should help their faith communities in dealing with aspects where “no divorce” is simply not an option. And we continue to discuss this over 2000 years later. An excellent exegesis of this passage points out that it is very important to set the question of the Pharisees in the “ancient context” to be appreciated fully.[3] In ancient Judaism divorce was the right of husbands only, and women were legal property. That the man had the right was not in question. What was, however, was the matter of the certificate—a required document detailing property which belonged to the woman and needed to be returned to her! What a grubby, impersonal, and negative process! Jesus was keen to skirt away from this procedural reality—just as he attempted to do with the issue of hand washing (remember that one), where he strived to illustrate the difference between a legitimate law and that which had been fashioned by humans, and not God. (Remember the accusation—“you hypocrites!”) And so it remains true, “text, taken out of context, can lead only to subtext!” We must be prepared to walk ever so softly and slowly through debates, and being diligent about that which we say perhaps all too passionately. It is fair to say this highly complicated debate has caused a lot of consternation and hurt. Some claim the process was highlighted due to the actual situation where Herod Antipas divorced his wife, in order to marry Herodias, who divorced her husband. John the Baptist condemned this arrangement, which of course caused him his life in due course. It was very much what we might refer to as a hot news item of the time, with Jesus walking into the middle of it on his way to Jerusalem. Are these “side issues,” important to us 2,000+ years later? Are those lessons compelling now and good reason for us to be concerned? Truly, I do not know. But even more so—what is the good news in all this? Perhaps that is a more valid question of which we can ponder here and now. And that, to be honest, is exciting and allows us to step back, look a bit more broadly at the landscape, and see an enlarged landscape! Remember what Jesus was doing, and where he was heading. Like a mother hen, he was gathering up his bickering bunch of baby chicks, and together was heading towards the Cross. And in spite of that, he was quite prepared to shift his concentration, his love, and his concern to these other matters, so as to help his beloved disciples—and let’s remember here that one will betray him, another will deny even knowing him, and the rest will abandon him—appreciate what discipleship truly means, and how they might deal with it later in their lives, when Jesus is not always there for them in the flesh. And that is the good news from this incident on the road. That is what I am happy to carry away. Jesus has such love to give us, TIME to give us, and wisdom. All we have to do, as did the disciples, is ask.

CLOSING—LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME

As we close, we turn our attention quickly...for this will be shown in future gospel readings...to the plight of the children. As females were considered to be property, so too were children. So much so, in fact, that the first Century Koine Greek writers (upon which language the New Testament was first written by the Gospel writers) the same word was used for servants AND children. It has been said that Mark used a positive attitude concerning Jesus and children to give legitimate examples of the place of children in a Christian fellowship.[4] To that I say, not my Jesus! It seems quite naturally to me that Jesus would have his arms opened wide, and rebuking the disciples for holding the children at bay, and in the same moment break into a wide grin of joy to have them leaping and racing toward him, to be encompassed into his arms, and embraced for an eternity. But we shall hear more about that in weeks to come. AMEN

 

Jean Rheinfrank

[1] Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 2nd Ed., (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 264- 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Larry Hurtado, NIV Biblical Commentary MARK (Peabody, MASS: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 159.

[4] Ibid., 168.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 23 September 2018

Primary Texts:

Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a  

Mark 9:30-37 

 

 

INTRODUCTION...Mark Ushers in a very serious Last Act for Jesus

       As you first hear this passage, or read it as a selection of gospel, it seems somewhat ordinary, for you might be thinking, ‘oh, well this is quite familiar ground—Jesus and his Disciples are leaving one area, and moving to another.  In truth, however, Mark’s writing of 9:30-37 is anything but ordinary, for Jesus is turning his back on all that which has gone before in his ministry, he has finished with his last sermon and teachings to crowds, shared his last parable, and completed his last story.  He has turned, and faces Jerusalem, where he shall be betrayed into “human hands,” and “they will kill him.”

       And his disciples will spend the entire journey between Capernaum from where they will leave, to Jerusalem, arguing amongst themselves about “who is the greatest?”

       You really have to give Jesus his due.  What an incredibly patient and loving teacher.

Mark’s Obvious Lack of Patience...or Is it Respect(!) with the Disciples

       When reading from Mark in this pulpit, you have many times heard certain impressions which seem to be repeated over and over:  Mark is always in a hurry to get us to the cross; the disciples really are clueless; and to be honest, given as has been told many times in the past that these Disciples did truly break out upon the world and spread the message of the Messiah who was crucified in a most humbling and vicious way, and actually turned the cause—THE WAY—into the religion that over 2,000 years later is fulfilling the dreams and wishes of our Messiah, you have to admit that those Disciples did a rather sterling job of keeping the faith not only alive but helping it to thrive beyond all recognition!  For if you recall back to the beginning of Mark in Chapter 1:16-18, Jesus selected his first, four disciples when walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, ‘and Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  This was not the normal custom of selecting a teacher, for it was the student who would approach a potential teacher.  Jesus had—as he usually had—other ideas.  And the disciples literally left their nets and followed him.  Just, like, that.  I think quite often, the Disciples are unfairly judged, and certainly by Mark.  But Jesus knew what he was doing, for his father had given him guidance on all of this.  The disciples had no way of knowing, but Jesus knew everything about them in advance.  As we learned a few weeks back, he knew who would betray him, and how.  And he loved each and every disciple as a member of his family. 

THE VOW of GREATNESS—DISCIPLES LEARN HUMILITY

       When they reached Capernaum, and were in the house (and I wonder if the house they were in was the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Remember, in an earlier reading how Jesus had healed this woman without ever touching her or doing anything to her, but saying a few words...and she immediately (there’s Mark’s favourite word again) got up, and served people food!  But back to the present, in the house Jesus had the chance to ask the disciples (knowing full well WHAT they were discussing) what they had been talking about along the way.  They kept silent, no surprise.  For they were arguing about who amongst them was the greatest.  And this, during a time, when Jesus was preparing to be handed over—by human hands—to those who would kill him.  Such extraordinary patience with his disciples.  Who could blame him for losing his temper, or becoming exasperated.  But he wanted none of that.  He wanted to teach these men of The Way, who would be going out in the future to spread the Christian message after his crucifixion and raising up.  He had no time for petty feelings.  But the evidence suggests that the disciples had plenty of time for such pettiness, which always came across quite negatively, from Mark’s point of view.  It is interesting to note that every time Jesus asked them what they were discussing, or if they had anything they wanted to say, “silence” seemed to be the more customary response.  I wonder...were they scarred, or embarrassed, or possibly frightened of Jesus?  I think we can agree that a certain level of adult behaviour was missing in the exchange. 

THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST, WELCOMING A CHILD OF GOD

       Until studying Greek five years ago, this next passage quite confused me.  It says, “Jesus put a child amongst them and explained the little one’s importance by saying, “whoever welcomes one child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  You see, the Greek word for child and servant is the same... παιδίον.  In Jesus’ day, children were considered, just as were servants, property which was owned.  This talk about welcoming children, etc., was extremely revolutionary for Jesus to be saying.  Little wonder these many small children would all flock to him when he entered towns and cities.  They loved to be in his presence. As we have explored in other gospel readings, and certainly Mark’s efforts, there was not a specific gathering or general calling of “Christians” to describe these people who would gather around Jesus.  The Christian movement by name would not be born, until Jesus had died at the crucifixion, and was raised on the third day!  Upon that miracle the Christian movement acquired a name, which has remained a true account of the time ever since.

It is such a fascinating story, and so solid.  Little wonder the movement has stood the test of time and the critics who come and go from century to century, tinkering with the message—which does not change:  Jesus’ way is the way of the cross: humility, rejection, and suffering.

THE TURNING POINT—TOWARDS JERUSALEM

       We end much where we began, facing Jerusalem, and heading toward Jesus’ cross.  There were no more crowds for him to speak with, except upon entry to Jerusalem and the amazing reception there.  Jesus refrained from using any parables speaking, as scripture would advise often, plainly and directly to the disciples.  Like a family gathering together to face a harsh winter, Jesus and his disciples were hunkered down discussing important matters.  He would try to get them to ask questions, but they were frightened, and we can only assume they did not want to hear the truth.  But Jesus continued to try.  Mark’s gospel records that Jesus tried three times to tell his disciples what was going to happen.  He also explained three times, with regard to his death, that after three days he would rise (8:31, 9:33, 10:34).  And yet, as we know from the women who faced the empty tomb—everyone was thrown into turmoil asking, “where IS he?”

       All of this allows us to see and appreciate that we humans are far from perfect, and our creative father is quite prepared to forgive us, help us, and turn us around when our own turning point leaves us unsure which way to go!  And that indeed is very good news and instills us with a large and strong dose of hope.  We are asked only two things:  maintain our faith, and believe.

       The story continues. AMEN

Jean Rheinfrank

 

 

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 26 August 2018

Primary Texts:

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18

Ephesians 6:10-20  

John 6:56-69 

 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going,
When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

I’ve got something to tell you
I’ve got something to say
I'm gonna put this dream in motion
Let nothing stand in my way

Gonna get me across that river
The price I'm willing to pay
Gonna make you stand and deliver
And show my love every day

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

Recognise these words? It’s a song from Billy Ocean. Its message is simple: Let’s get ready, let’s get tough! In other words, ‘perseverance… when times get tough’! 

If you’re like me, how often have you had long talks with friends and whānau/family in philosophical or theological conversations about God? Loads of times, I’m sure… The topic of ‘God’, in some of my circles, is one that friends and whānau never seem to tire of quizzing me about… in abstract terms: issues like, “How can you believe in God when science gives us so much evidence to the contrary?” or “If God exists, why is there so much suffering in the world?” or “How can you believe God made the world in 6 days?” *Ahem*… I heard that very statement being said not that long ago amongst some friends of mine… How about, “Christianity is just a fairy tale for the weak… to prop them up when they should be dealing with what life throws at them”. Now, that’s a bit harsh! These are the sorts of conversations that many people seem to be having and, of course, no answers are ever reached… and some of us are left feeling frustrated by it all. People love engaging in philosophical and theological debates about the concept of God. 

What happens when you try changing the conversation though? Stop talking about God as a ‘concept’ and try talking about Jesus instead. You might find that all of a sudden, the atmosphere changes and maybe even moments of silence. That’s been my experience with my whānau. They suddenly realise they are in the presence of someone who doesn’t want to talk about the intangible concept of God but rather, the reality of Jesus as a living human being. It stops them in their tracks… Puzzled, lost for words, uncertain about what to say next. Can this be a true story or not? It’s one thing to keep God ‘out there’ as a concept, but a human Jesus, once a baby… gestated in a human womb! Bring Jesus ‘in’ as a personal relationship, well… they don’t know what to do with that information. The truth, for many, is Jesus as a person with whom to have a relationship with is maybe a step too far and a threat to the intelligence of many. Yup! If I don’t believe in God, how can I believe in Jesus? 

So, being a Christian proclaiming the good news is tough! Many consider giving up the faith when there is too much challenge in being a Christian or follower of the faith. This is not a 21st century challenge either! We see the same story time and time again in the Gospels. The religious people of Jesus’ day felt comfortable in their way of doing religion, but Jesus comes along and turns the tables over in the Temple and is considered a threat and a challenge. And the same was true for those in verse 60, ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is too difficult; who can accept it?” Now Jesus was a drawcard, and everybody loved to hear his radical teachings, they loved his stories, they loved to see him challenge the religious authorities, and they were excited to see him perform miracles. But sometimes his teachings got a little close to the bone, when he started challenging them about their own personal lifestyles… it was at that point that some started complaining and many were tempted to give up following him. Verse 66, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” For some, Jesus is too much of a challenge…he is a threat to their lifestyles, a threat to their knowledge, a threat to their reality, comfort zones, and freedom… the freedom to live just for themselves! 

Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away too?” What a powerful question to be asked. It conjures up a plethora of excuses to go. And most importantly for us, what is the incentive for us to continue strong in the faith rather than be tempted to give up? Being a priest in the 21st century is tough. Being a female priest in a Māori context is tough! 

It’s tempting to think that the disciples who stayed understood who he was and what he was going to achieve by dying on the cross… and that they stayed because of their deep theological understanding. But that’s just not true… Time and time again in the Gospels, we are reminded that the disciples didn’t understand. They didn’t have any secret knowledge that was unavailable to others! It’s simply this: When Jesus asked if they were going to leave, Peter said, “Where would we go?” So how do we persevere as a Christian today? Maybe we accept our lack of knowledge also and be intrigued by the journey… fascinated by the adventure of following Jesus. 

But wait… there’s more… more reasons for us to give up! Our church has a long list of Do’s and Don’ts! Canons, Pouhere, Statutes! Not much fun for a Christian at all! Often, I find myself giggling at the seriousness of it all. How we have to behave doing priestly duties. Shouldn’t do this… or that! No playfulness or frivolity… There’s a part of me that fills with laughter… of the idea that God probably laughs at our seriousness! I know many who have given up following Jesus and dedicating themselves to the church family, because they felt stifled by these rules and regulations. Fed up with the restrictions of free-thinking and asking the difficult questions. Instead, too often, they are told what to believe and if they don’t believe what they are being told, then their commitment to God is questioned. 

And so, what is the tough we are hearing this morning? What’s tough, who’s tough, and why tough? How do we encourage ourselves and others to make a commitment to Jesus the person, not to abstract doctrines? From my fourteen siblings I’ve heard every excuse in the book. Oh Sis, “I need to have deeper understanding before I commit” or, “I just need to get through this problem in my life before I commit” or, “I’ll wait until the kids are grown up and settled and I have a bit more time before I commit”. But the truth is simple, isn’t it? None of us will ever have enough knowledge to make a truly informed choice. None of us will have a ‘problem free’ life. None of us will ever have ‘enough time’. 

How do we make the tough easy then? So that we can get going? I don’t know the answers… but what I do know is that I personally like a challenge and I love to make possible what was thought to be impossible. I think there’s an element of that in every one of us! I just wanna show others that my life is better off… for having Jesus in it! I just wanna show others… that I’m not a quitter. I love God and I love Jesus. I love Jesus’ parables and teachings. And Love… is what it is. No doctrines, no fanfare. God’s love finds us at any time and in any place. Love is a beautiful thing and, if we truly love, we will persevere and endure all things, no matter how tough! Next week we celebrate a 60th Wedding anniversary. Ask Frank or Dorothy how tough love can be. That it’s not just a smooth ride as it were. 

There are times in our lives when we just wanna give up. But for those who have experienced something of God in their lives, that isn’t an option. Like Peter said, “Where would we go?” Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life in all its fullness”. That is God’s promise to us. When the going gets tough… the tough get going...

Jacynthia Murphy

 

 

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19 August 2018

Primary Texts:

Proverbs 9:1-6

Ephesians 5:15-20  

John 6:51-58  

 

INTRODUCTION...SETTING JOHN APART 

In Troca de Figurinhas in Brasilia there is a most amazing Cathedral, the Metropolitania de Brasilia which overlooks the entire city, and would be a most worthy addition to a bucket list.  Suffice to say, it is on mine!  But the reason I want to visit, is to see a set of sculptures, positioned on either side of the main walkway into the church.  Three men are standing on one side of the walkway, facing a fourth man, standing on the other side.  The three are Matthew, Luke, and Mark, and they are facing John, who with upraised arm is preaching to the other three.  It is evidently an extremely impressive installation, which dictated in a sense how the main entrance to the Cathedral would be built, to best accommodate the sculpture. The church elders picked the sculpture before designing the building! I think the sculpture tells us a lot about the gospel writer John, for consider the following: His preferred vocabulary which is found in his gospel favours positive and optimistic language and is not readily found in the other three gospels.  John prefers: life, light, the world, love (as noun and verb).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to Jesus’ teachings which focus on God.  But in John, Jesus talks about and is quoted referring to himself, and particularly such examples as today’s reading, which is the first:  of the “I AM” sayings (which have no direct synoptic counterparts).  The first of these occurred last week with the direct statement in v35, “I am the bread of life. “John clearly owns this category and certainly makes good use of it through his seven “I AM” instances.  These explicit claims, being reported as coming from direct quotes by Jesus, are very much set apart from any reports offered up by Matthew, Luke, and Mark, which focus quite seriously on God’s activities and the Kingdom of God, as well as extended allegories, exorcisms, and such.  Perhaps there is a bit of irony that finds the three separated from John by a walkway which leads to the main entrance of this incredible cathedral!  In the early days of the Christian movement, and prior to the crucifixion, the Christian faith was known simply as “the Way,” with members striking forth and spreading the news!  Here at this Cathedral, the four gospel writers are physically separated by a very large concrete path...leading the way into the cathedral. 

JOHN’S GOSPEL AND THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke...so named as synoptic due to the occurrence of large areas of common subject-matter with often similar phrasing in more than one gospel, consistently talk about God, and the coming of the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus refers to the living bread, and tells the Jews that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven.  But the Jews, just as their ancestors did when lost in the desert, grumbled among themselves questioning Jesus’ veracity to make such statements!  And here again, history repeats itself, for the ancestors in the desert also grumbled and complained and questioned everything God said. 

Jesus promises that those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.  This is such a powerful word for him to use.  In this morning’s pew sheet, Jacynthia has offered us a detailed description of “folly,” to help us understand the reading from Proverbs.  We can borrow again from the Oxford dictionary to understand that to abide is to remain, continue, dwell, encounter, sustain, submit to!  Jesus is making some rather bold promises, that he intends to back up!  We are being handed a cast-iron promise from the Christ that he shall remain and dwell with us!  Not just for a moment, a few days, or a few hours.  But that is for always, and forever.

Jesus wanted the people to understand that their ancestors, when wandering through the desert who received the manna from heaven, still died having been fed, as it was necessary to repeat the feeding over and over again!   The current offspring assumed Jesus would feed them, which explains the large crowds who followed Jesus around.  But his message to them, far more important, and greater in its promise was that HE was the living bread, and his assurance was that they would never be thirsty or hungry.  They could not, however, understand.  And, just as their Ancestors, so many years ago grumbled and complained in the desert, now the newer generation were still grumbling and asking to be fed yet again.  And, they also had doubts, asking each other, “is not this Jesus whom we know...the son of Mary and Joseph?  How can he say these things, and how could he have come down from heaven?”  Jesus was offering them all eternal life, and that whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that Jesus will give for the life of the world is, in his own words ‘my flesh.’  Their mouths were open in arguments and complaints, but their ears simply could not hear him.  Perhaps we need to pause and ask ourselves, “are we listening?”  And do we, as Jesus invites us, ready to abide in him?  For that is his message to us all.  Listen with our ears, but believe with our hearts. 

FAREWELL TO THE QUEEN OF SOUL

Friday night, I thought I had finished this sermon.  Then I woke up Saturday morning to the sad, sad news that the lady of soul, had died over night.  It was, indeed, a sad way to start the day.  Aretha Franklin was like no other.  She could travel a four-range octave as effortlessly as someone walking across a room.  She had power, she could feel the spirit in ways the rest of us can only dream.  She was feted by three presidents, including one who described her with words much like one would use in describing John’s writing:  positive, powerful, light, a beacon, love, spiritual, and I could go on.

In the early 1980’s she recorded a gospel routine of Amazing Grace.  38 years later it still holds the record as the highest grossing gospel recording in the history of music.  And who doesn’t remember R E S P E C T...sock it to me!  One of contemporary music’s finest artists, she started in the church choir of her father’s church in Detroit Michigan and never forgot her roots. 

And Vestry members...hear this and weep!  Every time her church needed to raise funds, they would call on her, to give a concert.  They would raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars, with no problem.  Imagine having Aretha Franklin on your donation committee! 

Our world isn’t singing as well today, and is a bit duller, and possibly sings a smidge flatter.  But in heaven, oh my goodness the songs will be flowing, the angels will be rocking, and surely God will be smiling, and snapping his fingers. Thank you, Aretha, for passing our way. AMEN. 

Jean Rheinfrank

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 12 August 2018

Primary Texts:

1 Kings 19:4-8

Ephesians 4:25-5:2  

John 6:35, 41-51 

 

Have you ever been disappointed with God? If we're to be truthful... it's yes... and that's okay. So, I ask again, have you ever been disappointed with God? I know that sounds blasphemous, but c'mon... let’s be honest now... Has there ever been a time in your life when you thought that you had done everything that you were supposed to do, and things still didn’t work out well. What’s going on, Lord? I’ve lived a clean life. I didn’t do bad things, I didn’t get caught up with the wrong crowd, I didn’t do naughty things with girls, and I respected my parents... always obeying the rules of the house. I’ve followed all the commandments, I’ve gone to church, I give faithfully, and still sometimes bad things happen in my life. When are you going to give me a break?

 

We've heard for the last three weeks stories about food, hospitality, manna, and we might still ask, even after all the hospitality God has given, we might still ask, is God really with us? Especially when things aren't going well. Is God aware of my dilemmas or does God just show up in big acts of power, or in mountain top experiences?

 

Our story explores that question. Here we have our character Elijah. He has just come from a huge event that takes place on Mt. Carmel. And to be fair we need to take some time to go back to Genesis, when God calls a guy named Abraham. God promises Abraham to a blessing of making his offspring into a great nation and that through that nation he would bless all nations. Blessed to be a blessing. Then in Exodus we see that these people, the Israelites, are enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. God uses Moses to deliver them from slavery. God leads the people out of Egypt in a miraculous defeat of the Egyptian army, then takes them to this mountain. We know this mountain as Mt. Sinai. It is also known as Mt. Horeb. 

 

Our text today in 1 Kings tells the story of one of the most famous prophets. Enter Elijah. This is the prophet who predicted a drought and was fed by the ravens out in the wilderness. He was a bold man who stood up to Ahab and Jezebel. It's in Chapter 18 where Elijah challenges Jezebel and all the prophets of her gods, Baal and Asherah. He tells them to meet him here, on Mt. Carmel for a showdown. He instructs them to make an altar with an animal sacrifice on it, and he would build one, too. Whichever god was real would be the one that brings the fire himself to burn up the sacrifice. 450 prophets of Baal spend the whole day crying out to Baal. They are dancing, and chanting, and cutting themselves, and nothing happens. Elijah taunts them. Maybe your god is sleeping. Why don’t you shout louder! Nothing. Then its Elijah’s turn. He was so confident that God would deliver that Elijah doused the altar and the wood with water. Then God shows up and a great fire burns up the sacrifice, the altar, and all the water! Then Elijah takes all the prophets of Baal and destroys them and tells Ahab to look out over the horizon to see the storm cloud forming. A huge rain storm appears, and the three-year drought is broken!  At this point Elijah is feeling pretty good. The victory is his. God is avenged. Life makes sense. He’s done everything he was supposed to do. Then it happens. A messenger comes to him. “Excuse me, Elijah, sir. Um, Jezebel sends a message. Well, she’s really mad, and she has vowed to kill you, at all costs.” What?! That was not how it was supposed to go. This was the point where the nation was supposed to turn back to God and the wicked queen overthrown.

 

Here we come to our question. Have you ever been disappointed by God? Elijah did everything right, and things still went wrong. What would you do in that moment? Elijah did what most of us would do. He ran away. He ran for 40 days. 40 seems to be an important number in the Bible. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights to flood the earth. The Israelites were slaves for forty decades. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. 40 days is a long time. I can’t imagine running for 40 days without food and water. Elijah runs for forty days. Even the greatest heroes of faith have 40-day experiences of fear, loneliness, dryness, and hunger. It happens, and it prepares us for what God is doing. The interesting thing to me about this story is the place to which Elijah runs. He heads back to Mr. Horeb, to Mt. Sinai. It’s like he was thinking, when all else seemed lost, he needed to go back to where it all started, to get back to his roots, to his past. Isn’t that how we often do things? Many times, when things get confusing we want to go back to a remembered past when things made more sense to us. We want to recapture traditions and 'the good old days.' We want to go back to Mt. Horeb. Elijah gets there, and God asks him an interesting question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah cries out, “I’ve done everything right. I’ve stood up for you, and nothing has gotten better. I’m the only one left. All is lost.” Hmmm… “Step out here and let me show you something,” God says. I can just imagine Elijah getting excited at this point. God is going to reveal himself to me on this mountain, just like he did to Moses. This is just what I need right now. But... he falls asleep...

 

I wonder where you are on your journey right now. We will find ourselves at each of these places multiple times throughout our lives. Maybe you are experiencing your Mt. Horeb for the first time and God is doing amazing things in your life right now. That’s awesome. Maybe you are in the wrestling match with God. Maybe you have been faithful, and you are disappointed, and you are experiencing your 40 days. When does God show up? In all of it. God is here, and there, now, then, and will be. 

Two things I’ve learned from this lesson. First, you can’t go back. You can remember and honour the past, but you can’t go back. Second, God lives in the promise of renewing all things and works in new ways for every generation. His mercy is new every morning. Our job is to trust in God’s faithfulness and be willing to listen to the whisper of God. God is doing a new thing in this generation. The world is changing, and God is moving in fresh and wonderful ways as the Holy Spirit empowers and guides us to love and embrace each other. May we be encouraged that God still speaks, even in the silence, and God has an exciting future for us.

Jacynthia Murphy

 

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 5 August 2018

Primary Texts:

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Ephesians 4:1-16  

John 6:24-35 

 

Is it worth the waiting for?

If we live 'til eighty-four

All we ever get is gru... el!

Ev'ry day we say our prayer --

Will they change the bill of fare?

Still we get the same old gru... el!

There's not a crust, not a crumb can we find

Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge

But there's nothing to stop us from getting a thrill

When we all close our eyes and imag... ine

 

Food, glorious food!

We're anxious to try it

Three banquets a day --

Our favourite diet!

 

These lyrics from Oliver Twist (the musical) sets the scene for this sermon and our relationship with food.

 

Growing up in the Hokianga, I have, up until recently had four-legged, feathered, furry, meowing, mooing, and woofing friends in my life. One thing they all shared… apart from me of course… is the rhythm of feeding times. You animal lovers will know what happens at that time of the day!! They wait at the same time every day, some start behaving in a certain way, and some simply stare at you until you hold out that familiar item… be it a bowl or a certain shaped item that simply spells… FOOD… something that is part of a long standing daily routine. From this rhythm, they feel safe, protected, and loved. They look at you in that same loving way every time!! Sometimes, I’m late! Nonetheless, they’re still excited to see me and wait expectantly for that protective moment of loving care and safety. Love it!! They love me, and sometimes it’s only about the food… but I love them too! 

  

Perhaps in the same way, the people who got into the boats to follow Jesus after he had fed them, simply felt loved and safe. What better way for these crowds following Jesus to feel protected then to stick with him. He has done something incredibly loving by feeding them all, and it all came from one boy’s packed lunch. They were excited. They followed him and came to him wanting more. I’ve known a few furry ones that do that too! 

Jesus accused them of having the wrong motivation in coming to seek him out “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Spiritual and physical hunger. Is one more significant than the other? Jesus did not neglect the physical suffering and physical hunger of the people as he shared with them the meaning of God’s love. Jesus points out that the physical food perishes and the kind of food he is talking about endures forever. To make it easier let’s look at our spiritual food as nourishing us in the same sort of way as our physical food. As our bodies are nourished by food, our souls are nourished by Jesus. We feed on Jesus by prayer, Bible reading, weekly worship and sacraments and by life in the Spirit. 

Rev. Maggie Rode of Morningside in Christchurch puts it this way: Prayer is the protein in our spiritual nourishment. Bible reading is the fibre and Church is the carbohydrate. The life-giving Spirit corresponds to the vitamins. You need regular doses of all of these for a healthy spiritual diet. So, let’s look at these one by one. Prayer is the protein, the part of our diet that develops strong bones and muscles. Regular habits of prayer help us to become spiritually strong. Sometimes, certain things are overwhelming and in using the phraseology of the hymn ‘take it to the Lord in prayer’ just spending time with God quietly… can be helpful. If you miss your prayer time one day God won’t mind, it’s only you that will suffer. Our prayers are not meant to make God feel good, they are for our sake. It doesn’t have to be a special formation of fancy words. Just a conversation with God at the beginning and end of every day. Try it, it’s very satisfying. 

The Bible is for bulk. Without regular supplies of fibre, your digestive system becomes clogged up. A fixed time for Bible reading each day helps. The Bible isn’t always easy to understand, and it can be helpful to use Bible reading notes, or a commentary. Do it with others. Together with family and friends. Next, is the carbohydrate, the Church. Worship gives us our regular supplies of energy. We all have Sundays when we are working, not feeling well, visiting relatives or on holiday. Then we have to offer up a quick prayer and offer God our apologies for our absence. Apart from that, we need regular doses of worship. Wherever you are in the world! During worship we encourage each other. We are a community all worshipping together, and hopefully the sermon helps too! Week by week we receive spiritual nourishment in the bread and the wine. And finally, we have the Spirit, the life giver. Living a life in the power of the Spirit is as essential to our spiritual life as vitamins are to physical body. With this nourishment, our spiritual life will grow and be strengthened, with what we need to carry us through the hard times. 

Without Jesus, there may be physical wellness, but that isn’t life in its fullness. Jesus alone can satisfy us spiritually. Our hungry hearts can be satisfied… food glorious food… nourished by the true bread… food glorious food… we can have fullness of life, not only in this world, but in the world to come. Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”

Jacynthia Murphy

 

 

St Mary Magdalene, 22 July 2018

Primary Texts:

Song of Solomon 3:1-4

Corinthians 5:14-17  

John 20:1-2, 11-18 

 

Jesus’ Preferred Class of Company 

       Jesus was well known for preferring the company of those on the marginal fringe of society, as opposed to those in the upper middle classes, or the self confident.  A constant thorn in the side of Pharisees and others in the Jewish hierarchy was Jesus’ constant insistence on breaking bread with tax collectors, women, being surrounded by children, those infected with leprosy—heaven forbid—and the list goes on. 

       Our Vicar in Charge—NOW, let’s pause a moment.  Did you hear that...OUR Vicar in Charge.  This isn’t someone on loan...not like checking out a library book.  This is OUR vicar, and what an amazing spirit she brings into this place.  So, anyway, Jacynthia has caught for us this morning on our pew sheet, some vital information about this pivotal woman, who was always there—from the beginning, and up to the crucifixion, and holds the spot of having seen the resurrected Christ FIRST, and then she disappears!  But look at her credentials:  she didn’t run away (as so many of the disciples did).  She didn’t betray Jesus, as first Judas did, and then Jesus’ dear friend Simon Peter.  She was there, throughout.  And she was there, first thing on that important first morning of the new week, and the third day after his death.  Fearless, asking anyone and everyone, “if you have carried him away, tell me where he is and I will take him away.”

       Those who had been associated with Jesus, were keeping very low profiles.  Look at the disciples...they were locked away behind very thick doors in the Upper Room.  The disciples were staying put, but the women were visible walking around everywhere, trying to get at the truth.  And the truth was amazing, and at the same time rather horrible—Jesus was missing!

       Here was the absolute best news these believers could hear...but they were having great difficulty comprehending it.  This small group of believers (who didn’t even have a name other than “The Way”) were entirely at loose ends.  What to do now, for their leader was gone.  The Roman hierarchy were congratulating themselves—they had rid themselves of this Jesus of Nazareth fellow—shamed him and his group, meted out a grizzly, horrible, tortuous death by crucifixion; without any dignity, or valour, or sense of pride for which this man could be remembered.  And the Romans thought, we’ve solved once and for all any sense of candour or strength or representation this group could have!  It is dead.  It is finished.  It is truly, truly over.

       It wasn’t, however, for Mary who not only saw him, also heard him speak TO HER, as well.  When she first saw him she could not recognise him.  But when he called out to her, “Mary,” like a lamb from the flock who recognises its shepherd, she knew it was Jesus, and believed!  The disciples walking the road to Emmaus knew it was Jesus.  The other disciples, locked in their room who saw Jesus appear before them, and could recognise his wounds from the cross, knew it was Jesus.  And Doubting Thomas who needed to put his hand in Jesus’ side where the spear had been inserted, wisely decided he did not need to place his fist there, but knew it was Jesus.  And 2,000+ years later we, who call ourselves Christians now, because of Him, know it is Jesus, praise God.  And because of that, we are promised life everlasting, and can pray whenever we like, and know we shall be heard.  And scripture reminds us that these things we have heard, are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

       We are Christians.  We face the cross without apology, or shame, or sadness.  We need not be asked, “Woman or Man, why are you weeping?”  Because we are proud and joyful, without fear, and steadfast in our purpose and our belief.

       And that is amazingly good news, that frankly can leave you almost speechless with joy. AMEN.

Jean Rheinfrank

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 15 July 2018

Primary Texts:

Amos 7:7-15

Ephesians 1:3-14  

Mark 6:14-29 

 

Let’s look at these two definitions more closely. The definition of a prophet according to the Cambridge Dictionary: a person who is believed to have a special power that allows them to say what a god wishes to tell people, especially about things that will happen in the future: a person who supports a new system of beliefs and principles. The Collins says: a person who is believed to be chosen by God to say the things that God wants to tell people. Someone who predicts that something will happen. The Merriam Webster says: one who utters divinely inspired revelations. The writer of one of the prophetic books of the bible. One regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative ‘revealer’ of God’s will. One gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insights. One who fortells future events, An effective or leading spokesperson for a cause, doctrine, or group. And finally, the disappearance of material sense before the conscious facts of spiritual truth! 

Plumb lines, according to various dictionaries is a line from which a weight is suspended to determine verticality or depth! It is used to check that something such as a wall is vertical or that it slopes at the correct angle. They are used to determine perpendicularity. In the medical field the examiner drops an imaginary plumb line perpendicular to the long axis of the tibia from the fifth MTP joint to the plantar-most spot on the heel and takes a reading by visualizing the distance between that spot on the heel and the plumb line. Used to measure simple techniques for quantifying choreographically essential foot and ankle extents of motion. Human Kinetics describes it this way: The more posture deviates from the correct position, the greater the stress placed on the structures that work to maintain it. 

With those explanatories all said and done… let me start with…

Prophets are such a pain![1] They downright refuse to get with the program or play the game. Just when things are going smoothly, they start making waves. Tsunamis in some instances!! Others might be happy to go with the flow… but prophets… Noooo… they wanna swim upstream, go against the tide, they wanna row their waka (canoe) the other way. They don’t run with the herd… they choose to turn back, go against the flow of traffic… and get battered in the process! 

Today we hear from Amos and what a pain he is. He lives in the good times, of Israel. Jeroboam the Second is a powerful king and Israel is at peace with her neighbours. The economy is good. People are working. Life is idyllically humming along. Things are looking good. And along comes Amos. What is his problem? Why can't he just go with the consensus and be like everybody else? Amos's problem is that God has given him a vision, and he cannot get that vision out of his head. Even if Amos wanted to go along with everything and return to his sheep and sycamore trees, he can't. He can't because he no longer sees the world in the way that he used to. He’s a changed man. God has shown him how Israel has lost its way. 

Now, for all you builders out there… “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel…” A plumb line, reference point… I’m no builder or plumber, I might fix a microphone or two, replace a lock, and affix crocodile clips to sound equipment, but I don’t need to be a builder to know what a straight-line reference point is! We do it all the time! We do it on Mondays, doing Mosaics. Try dressing the altar with its vestments each Sunday! Jean would tell you, if she were here. Try parking your car straight… in an angled car space! Now that’s a sight… If you didn’t park properly in those angled spaces it is likely to cause some commotion, I’d guess. We have reference points in carparks too… all we must do, is park within them! Plumb lines are a way of seeing how our ways are different to God's. Prophets give us a way of standing back and appraising our condition. They’re such a pain! They give us numerous… reference points and indicators for reviewing our decisions… and to recondition our plumb lines with God. We only need to take their advice on board. Prophets are such a pain! 

Now, moving to Mark’s gospel… Herod is caught up in a web of complexity in his personal and social relationships. There is some degree of understanding between Herod and John. Mark tells us that Herod feared John and that he knew John was a righteous and holy man. Therefore, Herod protected him. Mark tells us that Herod heard John speak… often… more than a oncer… and enjoyed it… even though John’s words… perplexed him. This information about Herod and John’s connection paints us a fuller picture. The scene is less black and white than it originally seemed. Herod in some ways… liked John the Baptist… and wanted to keep him safe. But… prophets are such a pain! At least to Herod’s wife and daughter. They had an axe to grind with this truthteller and big mouth! They had reason to shut him up! So, in Herod’s efforts to please his spouse and to honour what he had promised to give Herodias his daughter… ‘ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her in front of everyone at the birthday bash, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you’. Essentially, Herod had made his decision. Even though he is taken aback by Herodias’ grotesque request, he keeps his word. He knew that he couldn’t decline her wish and would have to kill this righteous and holy man. He’s torn between trying to please many different people and maintain his own integrity. 

We are all faced with plumb lines every day. We constantly need a level that will help us to gauge our alignment with God. And sometimes, that needs to come from an outside authority. If we only looked in our own environment, things would always look right, even when they’re not. We have to make decisions that are hard… challenging… going against the grain… Even when we know that it would be easier just to hush… to keep our mouths closed… to go with what everyone else is doing… but more importantly, when we know it’s the right thing to do… do we? Do we have to listen… do we have to review one’s plumb lines? Prophets are such a pain! When reflecting on times when I did not follow my own moral compass, I think about the things I’ve done, even when I knew it was not the right thing to do. That's why Amos, like all prophets, is a pain. Because they call us to account. Amos points us deeper… he points us to assumptions we can make, and often without even knowing it. G. Porter Taylor offers us this story, “once a woman went into a café. She sat at a table for two, ordered coffee, and prepared to eat some biscuits she had in her handbag. The café was crowded, so a man took the other chair and also ordered coffee. The woman began reading her newspaper, and then she reached over and took a biscuit out of the package. She noticed the man took one as well. This upset her, but she kept on reading. After a while she took another one. She became angry and glared at the man as he reached over and took the last biscuit in the packet, smiled, and offered her half of it. The woman was indignant and left in a huff. As she was paying for her coffee, she noticed that in her handbag was her packet of unopened biscuits!” 

Back to where we started, prophets are a pain and plumb lines are too! Let’s not be like the woman in the café and let us share bread together. Let’s remember that Jesus Christ is our plumb line. And like the man in the café, let’s ask to discern God’s will in our lives and the world. By His grace, we are to tell others. Prophets and plumb lines… are welcome here!

Jacynthia Murphy

 


[1] https://wwwministrymatters.com, July 2018.

 

 

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8 July 2018

 

Primary Texts:

Ezekiel 2:1-5

Corinthians 12:2-10  

Mark 6:1-13 

 

Jesus took his disciples up the mountain, and gathering them around him he taught them: Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that mourn; blessed are they that thirst for justice; blessed are you when you are persecuted. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven... Then Simon Peter asked: "Are we supposed to know all of this stuff?" Andrew asked: "Do we have to write this down?" And Phillip said: "I don't have any paper!" And Bartholomew asked: "Do we have to give hand this in as an essay?" John said: "The other disciples didn't have to learn this." And Matthew asked: "May I go to the toilet?" Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan, and inquired of Jesus: "Where are your set of objectives and how do they fit with the long standing qualifications in the cognitive domain?" And Jesus wept…

Hahaha… I wonder if this sounds more like us… rather than those disciples who followed Jesus. What’s about to change for these followers being taught on that mountain is now they are being told that they have to go out and do rather than watching Jesus do the doing… and they simply just tag along… pen, papers, in hand or not! So far, it’s been the easy road for them up until this lesson, I’d say! Last week we heard that Jesus had been moving around doing his ministry, and healing people. We heard that Faith was the key. We heard that that the miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead does not generate faith. It’s the wrong way around! It is faith that comes first, and the miracles will follow! Faith first!

Today we have the twelve. Chosen by Jesus to go… We’re asked to do the same thing… it’s in the first Mark of Mission of the Anglican Worldwide Communion, of which we belong, to proclaim the Good News of Kingdom! We have to go on from that place of being… faith… to that place of doing… miracles! God has selected each of us to be those instruments that go out to tell others also. Bishop Gabrielle Sharma, of Fiji, shared this at the recent Decade of Mission Conference, “those of us who know… go out and tell those who don’t”! That was a sermon in it’s entirety! Those of us who know… that’s us… tell those who don’t know… I want to share with you the Mission strategy of tikanga Māori… based on Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, “the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Go on your way. I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house”. When Māori were strategising about this, one of the things that jumped out was… remain in the same house, eating and drinking, do not move from house to house. This seemed to defy the instruction to go out from house to house. Māori thought, okay we’re not going to go out in twos like that… knocking on some stranger’s doors. That’s not my cup of tea! That meant that Māori were prepared to do nothing! Then it occurred to us that we actually had strangers in our own houses. On our own marae. Some were our own children and family members… stuck behind their bedroom doors being strangers in our own homes. Why should we go out when the stranger is right in our midst…?

So, maybe we do need our pens and papers… and bluetak too… to pop a reminder on our walls at home remembering what Jesus has taught. To remember what we are to do… wear sandals and do not put on two tunics… We don’t have to be preached to by bishops and priests alone. By people who wear tunics, chasubles, stoles… They don’t live with you! Now, don’t get me wrong. I have heard Mark’s gospel declare, “Jesus said, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ I’ve heard that… and believe me, I know first-hand what it’s like to experience the jibes of those in my home town, “where does she get the authority? What is this wisdom that has been given to her? What deeds of power are being done by her hands?! And they take offence...” I know what it’s like.

To sit back and do nothing is not what Jesus has taught us. To let others do it, like the disciples were leaving it all for Jesus to do, is not what Jesus is teaching us either. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that thirst for justice. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven... Remember, Jesus’ love is boundless and works through each one of us in our words and deeds. Not by words alone. Proclaim it in music, in art, in fellowship with others, and most importantly, know that Jesus loves us and through that love we carry his ministry in ours… and out to bless others!

Let us pray: Help me, Jesus, not to be alone in my efforts to serve you. May I consistently share your work with those who encourage me, support me, guide me, and hold me accountable. Most of all, may I never forget that this is your work, which you have graciously chosen to share with me. Even when I am alone, I am always one of two with you. Amen.

Jacynthia Murphy

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1 July 2018

Primary Texts:

Lamentations 3:22-33

Corinthians 8:7-15  

Mark 5:21-43   

THE MARKAN SANDWICH[1]

This particular passage of Gospel penned by Mark is a good example of one of his favourite writing styles:  the Markan Sandwich.[2]  Throughout the Gospel are passages where Mark uses one story as an interlude into another.  You could view each story as a piece of bread, with a theme between the bread.  And the theme here is quite obvious, for we are dealing with people's faith in the hopes for healing to be achieved--the desperate father of a young, 12-year-old dying (or already deceased) daughter, and a desperate woman who has been bleeding for a very long time (twelve years).  Of course, we are attracted to the idea that both cases share a similarity in the number twelve...but other, quite more important things are happening here to capture our attention.  And one of those important things is, specifically, FAITH.  And the Gospel reading takes us on the quest to see that faith fulfilled for each of the people who have confronted Jesus for help.  In other words, this whole reading is designed to see a happy ending achieved.

Mark is the gospel writer who owns a great pair of running shoes.  He is the one forever in a hurry to get us to the cross...and do it the quickest way possible.[3]  For Mark, it was all about that!  He believed that the resurrection WAS the story, and all Christ’s experiences whilst on that journey to the cross were just that...experiences.  We, the readers, were the eye witnesses, and we were allowed the privilege of being given the truth about what was happening.  Unlike the Disciples who were kept mostly in the dark until Jesus appeared to them in the locked room after his crucifixion, we have known all along where this story would lead. 

HAVING THE FAITH TO BELIEVE

And the facts are these: Jesus is confronted by two, separate people...they do not know one another, they are not members of “The Way,” which is what believers were called before the Crucifixion turned everything—including vocabulary—on its head; they are linked by two facts:  both are desperate and prepared to do just about anything to get Jesus’ help.  And both are linked by a number...”12,” for what that might be worth.

And what really amazes me and in fact gives me a sense of excitement and hope right here and right now—some 2,000 years later is that Jesus is quite prepared and able to help them both.  Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, actually an enemy of “The Way!”  This was an extremely influential person, throwing himself at the feet of Jesus—IN FRONT OF THE CROWD!  Begging for help, so his daughter “may be made well, and live.”  And I love how Mark describes Jesus’ decision by simply saying, “So he (Jesus) went with him (Jairus).  This he does for a stranger.  How much more will he do for us—the members of Christ body.  Have you asked or prayed for anything of late?  Do you doubt the power to get an answer?  We are in the midst of some very good news with this story. 

And then what about the outcast woman who has suffered a horrendous bleeding ailment for 12, continuous years.  The nature of her complaint has defiled her.  She is unclean, quite untouchable, very much outside the social fabric of this society.  She is not allowed to participate in any religious ceremonies, and cannot even live with her husband.   She knows Jesus will be in the town, and she decides she must seek him out.  And in that crowd, she did just that.  And her faith was so strong, and she was so determined, and was prepared to go into that forbidden and uninviting crowd just so she could touch Jesus.  And if not touch him, at least touch his clothes, “if I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  And against all odds and ignoring the high probability she could truly be judged guilty or thrown out...she did just that.  And Mark reports back to us that Jesus IMMEDIATELY aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 

Now, Mark never really admits that the disciples are a bunch of clued up guys.  Certainly, if you spend any time reading Mark, that fact becomes pretty clear, and does so rather quickly.  For in their ignorance and lack of comprehension, they are quite astounded by Jesus’ question!  They respond in frustration, “how can you say that?”  Unswayed, he surveys the crowd and finds the woman who immediately falls down—again—to his feet.  He assures her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 

MEANWHILE, WHILST ON THE WAY TO SEE THE DAUGHTER

Sorry to move our focus from the desperate woman...but remember we were on the way to the home of Jairus, and his critically ill daughter.  As Jesus, Jairus, and the small number of Disciples headed for the house, a group of people from the house (actually professional mourners who were paid by the family to mourn...and do so loudly) rushed toward Jairus and Jesus, and wailing the daughter has died.  Jesus, however, would have none of this and exclaimed she was only sleeping.  This of course incited the crowd, got the professional mourners a bit upset and the group laughed at Jesus.  And Jesus, ushered everyone, except the child’s parents, and his disciples: Peter, James, and John—brother of James, and commanded the child (and it is interesting to mention that this account written in Koine Greek quoted what Jesus said in Aramaic: TALITHA CUM,” which when translated means, “Little girl, get up,” and the language used is linguistically an imperative which means Jesus meant it as a command!  And just like that, you have miracle number two!  All in one day, in fact within an afternoon. 

CAPTURING THE SENSE OF MARK’s PROSE AND UNDERSTANDING HIS TIMING

WHAT’S THE RUSH??

If you look again at this Gospel passage, one particular word keeps popping up...” immediately.”  Mark uses the word three times in this passage, and over 40 times throughout the gospel.  In fact, he alone of the four gospel writers uses the word more often that the other three combined.  Miracles happen immediately!  People are cured immediately!  People go from one place to another, immediately.  Perhaps timing does have a true purpose for Mark.  The writing of this gospel seems to have penned between 50 and 70 CE.  Almost 50 years since Jesus’ crucifixion, many of the eyewitnesses and many of his disciples have died.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit was putting a bit of pressure on Mark to write the account to help get the Good News out to others.  It is clear that Mark’s interest was in documenting what Jesus did, and not particularly on what Jesus said!  And Mark held Jesus’ miracles in high regard and wanted to describe them as true accounts.  And we are the benefactors of that effort, and very grateful for the effort.

CONCLUSION...HOW DO WE INTERPRET THIS IN THE 21st CENTURY

Unlike one of Jesus’ parables, this story is easily defined, and to explain.  FAITH is the key.  But it is important to keep it in the right context:  the performance of the miracle of healing the sick woman, or raising the deceased daughter does not generate faith. NO! That would be placing the cart before the horse.  Faith comes first, and leads to the miracle! And we, as members of the body of Christ, live with that reality at all times. And that is our good news, which keeps on happening from generation to generation. AMEN

Jean Rheinfrank

 



[1] Lindsell & Verbrugge, NRSV Study Bible, 1468.

[2] John Barton & John Muddiman, The Oxford BIBLE Commentary (Oxford, UK: Oxford Press, 2011), 897.

[3] Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, (Oxford, UK:Oxford University Press, 2012), 54.

St John the Baptist Sunday, 24 June 2018

Primary Texts:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Galatians 3:23-29 

Luke 1:57-66, 80  

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen. 

Today on the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time we are commemorating the life of St John the Baptist. The book, For All the Saints, a resource for the commemorations of the church calendar in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia says that, “John was from a priestly family and advocated a return to the strict observance of the laws of Moses in ethical and religious standards, and baptised people as a token of their acceptance of this. John’s message was popular with many, but it brought him into conflict with Herod and the rulers of Israel, many of whom followed Gentile customs. John was executed on Herod’s orders. Jesus’ ministry began with his baptism by John, and many of his followers were former disciples of John.” 

With that in mind let us now look at the gospel reading where Luke vividly described the birth of John the Baptist:  

     ~ An old couple - expecting the joy of giving birth 

     ~ A very familiar story that runs throughout the scripture 

     ~ Miracles of birth - Mothers and sons - sons and their callings 

Let us recall some mothers, the child they bore, and their callings:

     ~ Sarah giving birth to Isaac (seed of all nations) 

     ~ Jochebed- Mother of Moses (saved the Israel from exile) 

     ~ Hannah- Mother of Samuel (who became a prophet) 

     ~ Elizabeth- Mother of John (who prepared the way of the Lord) 

     ~ Mary- Mother of Jesus (who saved us from our sins) 

Each of these mothers and sons were chosen and called by God. Each have purposes and callings. This tells me that each of us are born with a purpose. You know what’s the amazing thing about these mothers? It’s the faith they have in God. Some of them were quite old (barren) while some were quite young. They might have doubted themselves, yet God always come through for them. 

The story of John’s birth is a story of faith, nurturing and calling. Luke chapter 1 involves the life of Elizabeth and Zachariah, Mary and Joseph and the birth of both John and Jesus. They seem to complement each other. An old and young couple, both husbands were in doubt, both women were overjoyed and filled with the Holy Spirit, and each of them served their purpose or calling. 

Zachariah’s and Joseph’s calling were to show us that even in doubt God can still work through us. Their purpose was to nurture their sons into the men they would become. The mother’s calling was to bear their sons manifesting the work of the Holy Spirit in each. When in faith and in doubt God will always find a way to make himself known. 

Interestingly, like Jesus, Johns life is recorded in all the four gospels. Each of them slightly tells a different period of his life but if you put them together we can see why John was important. He was to prepare the way of the Lord. Who is this Lord? No one else but our Lord Jesus Christ.  Which is why we heard from Isaiah of the voice crying, originally to exiles separated from their home by a vast wilderness, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’ 

John spent his life in the desert eating locust and wild honey as Matthew recorded. The desert or the wilderness environment was harsh, but it formed John into the man he became, who could endure what was coming to him, even upon his death. That was John’s purpose and calling. To prepare the people, and ways for Jesus. Jesus’ ministry and calling begins with John baptising Him. Faith, Purpose and callings. It is the same for us, the circumstances of our life may be harsh at times, but even there, our Christian character can be groomed and formed, and we can grow and become strong in spirit like John. 

At the beginning of my sermon, I said that each of us was born for a purpose. Our purposes are our callings from God. We may not know it right away. Some will become teachers, doctors and nurses, cleaners and businessman. Parents with children. Priests and deacons. Bishops and laity. Each of our callings have purpose. Our purpose is to be the hand, the mouth, the ears, and the body of Christ, here on earth. The little kindness, the show of faith, the touch of love we give to students, to patients, to creation, to family, to church members serves our purpose. The purpose of making God known. 

My dream as a child was either to become a teacher or a lawyer. I thought that was going to be my calling and purpose. I never dreamt about becoming a priest until that dramatic teenage period of my life changed me. Being away from my parents and stuck in boarding school with lots of peer pressure and temptations. One can say that was my wilderness. I fell so many times from hunger that made me join some naughty friends in breaking into our store rooms and canteens to get food for ourselves. Wrong purpose of being a student and a child. We got caught and the punishment was harsh, but it was also a learning experience. An experience that made me who I am today. Each of us may have faced situations like this in our life that made us see our purpose and our calling of today. 

Zachariah and Elizabeth struggled with their situation with John the Baptist but when the child was born, they were filled with excitement and joy, filled with the Holy Spirit they proclaimed and prophesied his purpose and callings.Now, that purpose and calling will become a reality if we have faith and hope always. Our Faith in that, God will always come through in every situation of our life, in our struggles, in our good and bad times as described in our lesson from Isaiah 40:10-11. 

Our God is the God of power and comfort. How greatly we need Him today, as anyone who works with children can appreciate. Mothers, fathers, school bus drivers, day care workers, teachers, street crossing guards, child welfare workers - anyone whose job it is to nurture, protect, and advocate for children can look to the Lord with faith that he will always be there to guide us. Let us then, continue to grow and become strong in spirit and manifest God through our words and actions for we are children of God by Faith.

Litimai Sanegar

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, 17 June 2018

Primary Texts:

Ezekiel 17:22-24

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 

Mark 4:26-34 

 

 

Matariki – means the eyes of God. Matariki – a time to look to the eyes of God gathered in a constellation of stars. Matariki – assured in the knowledge that God sees us. Matariki – emitting light into our Eucharistic liturgies, “Therefore, with all your witnesses who surround us on every side, countless as heaven’s stars, we praise you for our creation and our calling, with loving and with joyful hearts”. What a blessing!   

Matariki is a time to plant and plan for a harvest. It’s a time to give thanks for God’s goodness. It’s a time “to offer our thanks for the beauty of these islands; for the wild places and the bush, for the mountains, the coast and the sea. To offer thanks and praise to God for this good land; for its trees and pastures, for its plentiful crops and the skills we have learned to grow them”. And each time we look to the heavens, consider the splendour of Matariki - the eyes of God. 

And now we offer our thanks to God for the mustard seed. How often have you heard sermons on the mustard seed?  On mustard-seed faith. Pastors, and preachers, and teachers of the faith, will be talking about the little insignificant mustard seed!” So insignificant that we feel compelled to tell of it, throughout Christianity! In the thousands of churches in the world. So, how many seeds is that then? Who’s counting? Countless as heaven’s stars. That’s how many seeds we witness in our lives? Let’s face it, I love this parable. I love that every time I hear a sermon preached on the mighty mustard seed, I get excited all over again. The thing about our faith is that, with God’s help, a very little bit of human effort goes a long way. A very little seed of faith can sprout into a fruitful vine of love, compassion, action, justice, and wonder. You gardeners out there are probably already thinking about the garden, aren’t you? That time in our annual calendars when we’re checking the seedlings in those little paper bags in the garden shed. Each one not yet revealing its splendour. Each one, we all know, will eventually light up our garden beds with glorious colour and delectable tasty nourishment.

We here in Aotearoa can enjoy the fertile soils we use to grow crops. We have the Matariki constellation to prompt us each year, to prepare that soil for the harvest. We will never really know what it’s like to be without good fertile soil. It’s what we do with it that counts! 

Take Jesus. He was from a dry place in the Middle East. He knew what it was to be grateful for a few patches of plant life in a hot, arid world. Close to the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus spent a lot of time, it’s green and fertile . But we remember he and his followers also spent a lot of time in the wilderness. The rocks and hills and sandy desert were hard places to find food of any kind. Of course, that never stopped Jesus from feeding the five thousand. One of the last things Jesus did with his disciples was to sit down and eat a meal with them. We know from the Gospels that Jesus liked nothing better than the fellowship of a dinner table. Some of the most memorable incidents in the Gospels take place around meal tables. Meals made from the fruitful harvests of seeds. 

Christians are called to plant, to cultivate, and to appreciate the humble mustard seed that grows as tall as maybe 5 or 10 feet, and yet, it gives shelter to the smallest songbirds of the garden. The random acts of kindness ordinary Christians do every day are seeds planted for the reign of God’s Love. And yet, when we think of the mustard seed, we have to think, dandelions. It’s a weed.  Mustard did not begin to be cultivated as a food crop until many years after Jesus… in India.  And yet mustard is a good weed – it was always used as a spice, for food or medicine, and stalks were used to thatch rooves – because it grew everywhere.  Even today, you can see raggedy patches of mustard growing tall along the highways of Israel.  And as a ground cover, mustard helps return nutrients to the soil, deter insects, and shelter little birds that eat bugs.  Even wineries have learned to plant it between the rows in their vineyards. It’s abundant, and useful… and it’s still a weed. That’s not a bad thing!  

What, you might ask, has this to do with Matariki? We are God’s light here and now. Today, God wants to remind us of the words of his Son: You are the light of the world. God is telling us, “You are my shining stars!” So, what is it that prevents our church neighbours from seeing this light? I can assure you, my dear brothers and sisters, it is not our lack of love. It is not our lack of sympathy for the needy among us. It is not our lack of care for one another. God has placed us here to shine the light of Christ through our gentle and caring attitude in everything we do. We too, delight in sharing our meal tables with others. We too, love sharing the fruits of our labour with friends and whānau, (families). In fact, the greatest obstacle that prevents the world from seeing our light shining is our disregard of Jesus’ warning concerning the very purpose of light. Jesus said lamps are not supposed to be put under the bushel, but up somewhere so everyone can see them. If not in Matariki then perhaps, in those lofty branches of the cedar, where our feathered friends rest and play.  

The reason we have not impacted more on our community with the light of Christ is because we often keep it hidden inside the box of these four walls. We need to let this light shine… shine outside of the box. We need to be the seeds of light we know exists in Matariki – the eyes of God. We need to realise that that light and warmth will help the seed to grow. To burst forth into the world to shine life into others. Let the lights shine… to make a difference in the world. Sow the seed of life so that the others may rest in the branches of its fruit. Be the weed seed, resilient and enduring. Like the stars that shine on in our darkness, let’s be the light to the world! We are created this way, because God loves us. And as I say these words I think of that little song: My God loves me, and all the wonders I see. The rainbow shines through my window, my God loves me.   

From the Psalmist we sing, “Praise him, all his angels; praise him! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him! 

This week, pray that God might give you one or two opportunities to shine the light of God to someone. Pray that God might give us the seeds of wisdom. Be thankful that by the grace of God we have the determination to shine his light on into the world where darkness is not welcome and can live no longer. Remember, you are God’s shining star. Amen.

Jacynthia Murphy

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday 10 June

Primary Texts:

Genesis 3:8-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 

Mark 3:20-35 

 

Today on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, our readings are extraordinary, especially our gospel reading. When I first read Mark 3:20-35 I asked myself, what is going on here? People were saying Jesus has gone out of his mind. In other words, they are saying yep Jesus is going crazy. And when his family came to get him, Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” What is really happening here?

To understand this passage, we need to look at the context and the background of what, when and why this was happening.

Jesus had just started his ministry. He had gathered to him twelve disciples and was journeying through Galilee bringing healing into people’s live. His mission has spread, and he has gained popularity. Wherever he went there was a crowd gathered around him and pondering, ‘Who Is this man? While many people were amazed and willingly followed Jesus, there were others who were just anxious and even fearful of what Jesus might bring.

On this day, Jesus had entered a house with his disciples, and of course followed by the crowd. On hearing this, Jesus’ family have had enough and left their house to bring Him home thinking, ‘he is out of his mind’. Also listening are those in authority, the teachers of the law, the church leaders, who also left their house and came down to deal with Jesus in their own way, accusing him of being Satan because of the unfamiliar activities that he was doing.

So, what does this scenario mean to us? Looking closely, Mark presents to us four groups. The first group is Jesus in the house probably surrounded by his disciples; a picture of unity. The second group being the crowd; a picture of being a follower. The other two groups consisting of the family of Jesus and the church leaders who left their homes to deal with Jesus; a picture of fear.

Knitted within our readings are overwhelming emotions. There is love and fear. Jesus' response reflects his love and passion for His ministry. He did not use violence instead he brings the message across through parables. The response from his family and the leaders reflects their fear. What were they afraid of we may ask?

Jesus’ family may be afraid of the social ridicule they might get or being banished from the Temple, or they feared for the safety and well being of Jesus. Whatever they thought, it was through their fear that they wanted to bring Jesus home and stop him from doing whatever he was doing, even if it meant giving life to other people. On the other hand, the scribes or the leaders fear they might lose their powers, their positions, their people completely seeing Jesus as a threat. The only way to get rid of Him is making false accusations. Jesus. however. sees through them and responds with love.

Today, each of these groups are often reflected in the life of our church, as individuals and as a community. There are those who seek for unity and those who will continue to oppose because of the fear of losing something. There is a fear of change, of getting out of that comfortable place, of experiencing something new, of facing challenges.

Fear is something that keeps us from becoming what God intends for us to be. In reflections to our Genesis readings, it was through fear that Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. It was fear that hid them from forgiveness. It was fear that hid them from receiving life. God came looking for Adam and Eve for the purpose of forgiving them and to restore them to life in a changed world that they had created. And God will continue to look for us gathering us to him.

Today’s readings allowed us to see that we can move against this fear with the weapons of faith and love.

I remember the first time I stood up to preach. It was Easter and I had just turned 16. When I was first asked to preach I said to myself, I can’t do it. That was fear talking to me. However, gathering up that little faith I have, I stood in front of those older than me, with years of experience, and spoke about God. Terrifying as it was, it was my first taste of sharing God’s word and I loved it, inspiring me to become a servant of God. 

There are times in life that we will be ridiculed, falsely accused and persecuted because of our faith, because of doing the right thing, because of being true to ourselves. How we respond to that will reflect on what kind of person we are and yes as Christians we are to respond with love and with passion.

I have learned that ministry is not an easy journey. Like mother nature, there will be mountains and fields, rain and sunshine, rough seas and calm seas, happiness and sadness, tears and laughter which are all part of life’s journeys. And when fear overtakes us we mustn’t lose heart because love will conquer it. Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians, that we have the same spirit of faith and we must not lose heart because even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Through acts of love, Jesus has delivered us from our fears and gave us life through the Holy Spirit.

Finally, its ok to go crazy and be gone out of our mind but we must do it for Jesus in sharing his love all around, beginning with our family, and to you and me.

Litimai Sanegar

Te Pouhere Sunday, 3 June 2018

Primary Texts:

Isaiah 42:10-20

Acts 10:34-43 

Luke 6:46-49 

 

Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! First of all, my name is Jeke Maikali and I am a second-year student at St John Theological College and have my fellow colleague who accompany me to worship with you this morning. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the parish priest (Rev. Jacynthia) and to you all for allowing me to worship here today and to celebrate with you the life that God has given to us.

 In our church calendar, today is the very important Sunday for the Anglican church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. As we celebrate ‘Te Pouhere Sunday’ and my reflection this morning is based on Te Pouhere and I hope you will bear with me.

Te Pouhere is the constitution of Anglican here, the Anglican church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The 1992 Constitution, which we think about today, revised the constitution agreed on in 1857 by a general conference held in Auckland. It was back then that the Anglican church here became a self-governing province. The 1992 Constitution of this church provides for three partners to order their affairs within their own cultural context.

Who are these three Partners?

The partners to the Constitution are the three Tikanga which make up our church: Tikanga Pakeha, Tikanga Maori, and Tikanga Pasefika.

What’s a Tikanga?

The word tikanga with a small t means custom, way, style, but when it’s used in a specifically Anglican context it’s written with a capital T and means one of the three strands that together make up the Anglican church in this part of the world. Here, Tikanga Pakeha is made up of seven Diocese, Tikanga Maori comprises five Hui Amorangi (regional bishoprics, the boundaries of which differ from those of the dioceses). Tikanga Pasefika encompass (surround) Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, and is known as the Diocese of Polynesia.

So, is it three churches, or one church?

That sounds a little like the question that’s often asked about the Trinity – do we worship one God or three? And the answer is kind of the same: it’s about community which encompasses the distinctive character of its members. The Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia is one church, in which each Tikanga is an equal partner in the decision-making process of the General Synod, and where each can exercise mission and ministry to God’s people within the culture of each partner.

And don’t we have three Archbishops?

In the Anglican communion the province of the Anglican church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia are different from all the province because we have three Archbishop within one province for other province in the Anglican church in other parts of the world they only have one Archbishop in one province. May I said it again we have three Archbishop, Philip Richardson for Tikanga Pakeha, Don Tamihere for Tikanga Maori and Winston Halapua for Tikanga Pasefika. They work very closely together and have a real leadership role in this Province.

Well in New Zealand, the Anglican church was Maori first. It began in 1814 when the Maori chief Ruatara agreed with Reverend Samuel Marsden to give protection to three missionaries and their families at Oihi in the Bay of Islands.  When organized European settlement began after 1840, mainly from England and Scotland, a new focus of the church emerged; the formation of the church in the new colonial settlements. George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, arrived in 1842 as a bishop of the united Church of England and Ireland. So, the history of the Anglican church here has been the history of the Maori Church of the missionaries and the settler church.  Since European settlement, there have always been these two strands – but for a while there was only the Maori strand. The earliest synods of the diocese of Waiapu (the eastern part of the North Island) were conducted in Maori, under Bishop William Williams.

And the church in the pacific – how did that happen?

From the time of Bishop Selwyn, the Islands of the South Pacific had been included in the Church of the Province of New Zealand. The Anglican church in Melanesia became separate province in 1975. The Anglican church in the Islands of Polynesia (mainly Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa) was established as an associated missionary diocese in 1925. In 1990 the Diocese of Polynesia became a diocese and It has archdeaconries. Everyone celebrating this constitution Sunday today. General synod set down Te Pouhere Sunday in the Lectionary and the church calendar for the second Sunday after Pentecost. It’s one of a special Sundays that the Calendar offers us.

The Anglican communion is a world – wide family of Christians who affirm an expression of the Christian faith in the local circumstances of the nations in which they live. Allowing for local differences is one of the key Anglican principles, one that goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the Anglican church. and our three Tikanga constitution allows us to say something about community. Real community is about relationship, it’s about talking together and getting to know each other. It’s about trust and mutual.

We thank God for those who are gone before us, their dedicated, committed and devoted service to each tikanga and our province and for the builder of the church left their legacy behind for us to continue the mission of God. In our gospel reading for today, Jesus teaches about building on a solid foundation. We belong to the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, our life should be like a man who building his house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. The river overflowed and hit that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  To build on the rock means to be a hearing, responding disciple, practicing obedience becomes the solid foundation to weather the storms of life.

Jesus teaching must not only be heard but lived. Human life has a similar architecture. It requires a firm foundation. Living according to the structures of God’s real word require repentance and forgiveness of sins, a new and good heart, and the gift of God’s spirit. Those who come to Jesus and truly hear his words will receive, according to this gospel, all those gifts and will be able to put Jesus’ teaching into practice.

Today as we celebrate the Te Pouhere Sunday, it’s 25 years of celebrating our tikanga in the church. It’s about time now, to double check, to re-discover ourselves as a Tikanga to strengthen our relationship with one another, we should work together as one not three, most of the time we do things on our own. What can we do in the future?  My prayers that God will bind us together with His chords that cannot be broken. Our Three Tikanga need to be built in the solid rock foundation that is Jesus Christ. I believe Te Pouhere should not be taken lightly and we need to honor it and it’s wake call for us to strongly built our relationship better. 

Jeke Maikali 

Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

 

Three in One

 

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday in which most priests and preachers struggle to gather their thoughts trying to explain the Trinity. To be honest, preparing this sermon wasn’t easy either. Teachings, doctrines, theology and more theology, all seems to lead to nerve wrecking. They tug on my thoughts, from left to right, round and round and still more confusion. It’s true that the doctrine of the trinity is one of the most difficult aspects of Christian theology, yet, when we think about it, trinity really is all about God in unity. God in communion. God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. One God- One Love. 

In the last couples of weeks, we have been focusing on unity. We saw unity through the commandment of Christ that in love we are bonded to one another. In John 17 :23-26 Jesus had been praying on our behalf. ‘I in them and you in me, so that they may be brought to complete unity.’ We as the body of Christ are many, made one in the eyes of God. One God-One Love-One people. We as humans strive for Christian unity which at times is not perfect. The Trinity, however, is a divine unity, the one and only perfect unity, of how three distinctive persons are together as One. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Trinity Sunday is set aside for us to celebrate the ways in which God has revealed himself to us through time, since creation, through the life of the people of Israel, through the coming of the Saviour Jesus and his life and purpose, and through the coming of the Holy Spirit and the special role the Holy Spirt plays in the inspiration and the continuation of the Church.  

Our readings for today from Isaiah, John, and Romans gives a window to look at the Trinity, the three in one, united in communion with one another portrayed to us through love. Isaiah the prophet sees the power of God, feels his unworthiness but then encounters the love of God, gives him courage to go on behalf of the Lord. In Romans, Paul reminds us of God’s love and the assurance we can have of God’s love. In the gospel from John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus about Gods love, a love that is so great God chose to come into the world through Christ, die for our sins to give us our salvation. Yes! One God, One People, One Love. That is who our Trinity God is. In greater detail, The Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit - reflects the love of God. A community made of mutual love and respect and we are made to be part of it. Perfect in power, in love and purity.  

God is the creating Father. God shows us His love in creating us, establishing a relationship with us, and inviting us into relationship with Him and with all of creation. God is the Redeeming Son. God shows us God’s love in coming into the world and dying for our sins, then rising again so that we may have eternal life, which is an eternal relationship with Him. God is the sustaining Spirit. God strengthens us so that we might have a loving relationship with Him and others and do His work and will in the world. 

One God, One people, One Love. 

Looking closely, this love that the Holy Trinity portrayed is rich in relationship, communication and affection. A dynamic community life very simple and yet inexpressible for us. It shows how love creates unity out of diversity, unity of intentions, of thoughts, of will. Oh, the mystery of the Holy Trinity. 

In summarizing my 2000-word essay last year about Trinity, I wrote, Trinity is describing God in the light of the event of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of God’s transforming spirit. Trinity is about a loving relationship, it is about trust, it is about commitment, it is about community, it is about fellowship and togetherness. It is how far our human language can define God. 

The Holy Trinity has modelled for us the way we should live as a community. As Christians, we are to build relationships and help to support and care for each other. A model we can use within our three tikanga church which is already knitted in our theology of worship in the forms of prayers, liturgy, and sacraments, which we recite every Sunday.  

As a three tikanga church, Tikanga Māori, Tikanga Pākehā and Tikanga Pasefika, we need to clothe ourselves in love, and model out the life of the blessed Trinity. We are to build relationships, communicate effectively, and love one another within our diverse culture of worship and mission. We each have our unique differences that makes up our one church. One God, One people, One love. 

God comes to us in love and so we also must go out in love. From the words of Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, “We were made by a power of love and our lives were-and are meant to live in that love.” 

Holy, Holy, Holy. Merciful Almighty. God in Three persons. Blessed Trinity. Amen.   

Litimai Sanegar

Seventh Sunday of Easter, 13 May 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19   

 

Mother's Day

 

“My child it’s time for you to go, work hard and continue to lean on God as your rock, we will be here praying for you” These were some of the last words my mother spoke to me before I travelled to NZ for studies. Mothers, they always know how to comfort us with their words and love.

 

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s a day set aside for us to take our time to recognise and remember all the women who have made an impact in our lives.  For some, today is a tough time as we remember the impact our mother has made and that she is no longer here with us. Sensitive to say, there are those who have felt the pain of divorce or death and they have had to become both mother and father and at times have felt overwhelmed by the task.

 

On this Mother’s Day we should be grateful for their love and encouragement that carries us through valleys and struggles and difficult challenges and all of life’s circumstances. Such are our mother’s characteristics. One important gift of being a mother is the bond they have with their children. This bond begins in the womb and all throughout life.  What makes this mother child bonding so special is the mother’s love for her child. It is special because I believe mothers feel with their heats like no one else does in the family. Her love is selfless and true. This bond is so strong that we continue to feel it even when we are living far apart.

 

A mother’s instinct is to love, to protect, guide and care for their children and family throughout their life. That is the gift of motherhood from God. They say prayers as they send us off to school that first day. A prayer for safety in some whole new surroundings. They continue to say those prayers as we enter each new stage of life, ready to stride into the unknown. They are like a security blanket for us because often they save us from all problems before it comes to us. They never complain about their problems but always ready to listen to us. They always aim to make their children be a good human in life.

 

In the past few Sundays John has been trying to sum up what Jesus' life and mission is all about. He speaks at length of the bond between Christ and his Father.  A bond that can only be explained if we look at a mother’s bond with their child. It is from this bond of love that Christ was sent to us.

 

In our gospel reading today, Jesus portrayed this bond of love to his disciples. What was Jesus thinking about at that last supper? What was he talking about? What was he praying about? He was talking and thinking and praying about his disciples. Jesus’ love for his disciples is so immense that it endures eternally. He prayed for them for strength. He prayed for their protection and he prayed for them that they might have unity. “That they may be one, even as we are one.”

 

These things that Jesus prays for his disciples continues to apply for us today. We are his disciples today. Like a mother’s love for her children, Jesus prays for protection, strength and unity for us, his children, and the three prayers are of course one prayer, as when we have unity we are strong and protected.

 

In unity there is strength, and in strength the vulnerable are protected. And so, Jesus prays for unity for all his children, and not just a unity based on a common commitment to his cause but that “they may be one, as we are one”.

 

What does it mean to be one as Jesus and the Father are one? John is clearly suggesting relationships, specifically the intimate and mystical relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. Often it is hard to explain this mystical relationship but often becomes clear in any number of genuine relationships. Relationships between friends and lovers and partners and as mothers or parents to their children. This is the experience of that bond or mystical love that connects us together. That bond that connects us to each other.

 

This is the connection that Jesus wants us to have with him. In v21 of this chapter Jesus goes on to say, “As you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” Mystical as it is, it is fascinating when we sometimes find ourselves alive in Christ, with Christ in us and us in him.  It points to a reality that we cannot fully understand but is indeed a miracle where we as a community experience and make sense of who we are as members of Christ’s body.

 

I’m not sure whether I’m making a lot of sense in this, but what I’m wanting to suggest is that the unity Christ talks about here may not fundamentally be an institutionalised unity, where we are all officially a part of the same organisation, or even a functional unity, where we all wear the same colour and all play for the same team. It’s a unity that is found in intimate relationships, where the boundaries between me and we break down, and where we sense ourselves as a part of the body - Christ in us and us in Christ, and through Christ, one with another.

 

As a community of Christ, our love should not only be based within this community but to spread it out to the world. Christ wants his love and message inserted in the centre of the world, the city, the neighbourhood. As Christ prays for us, we must also pray for others.  Others who are beyond our active care. Since today is Mother’s Day, let us remember them in our prayers. Let’s take time today to seek for their forgiveness if we have disappointed or hurt them in any way. Let’s remember those mothers that are not with us. We give thanks for their nurturing and care. For all birth mothers, adoptive mothers, surrogate mothers, aunts and grandmothers, teachers, neighbours and all women who have shared their faith with us.

 

M... is for the million things she gave me, O ... means only that she’s growing old, T ... is for the tears she shed to save me, H ... is for her heart of purest gold; E ... is for her eyes, with love-light shining, R ... means right, and right she’ll always be. Put them all together, they spell "MOTHER” A word that means the world to me. 

 

In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Litimai Sanegar

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Acts 4:5-12

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18  

 

"I am the good shepherd" 

 

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen. For those of you who know already… go out and tell those who don’t! In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” I spent all day yesterday at the Decade of Mission Conference in Wellington which is where I was inspired to share that little mission statement with you this morning. Bishop Gabrielle Sharma from Tikanga Polynesia spoke of a new priest who had been asked by his bishop to do his very first sermon the following Sunday. In the leadup to that service the new priest, eager to impress his bishop, spent the whole week filled with great anxiety and each day that grew closer to Sunday, his stress levels escalated. He thought, how was he ever going to deliver this all-important sermon not only in obedience to his bishop but also in a way that theologically stimulated his congregation. The priest approached the lectern with great confidence, cleared his throat and began. “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen. For those of you who know already… go out and tell those who don’t! In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” 

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice”. Like Jesus we are to be the shepherds God wants us to be. To find the lost ones and call to them so that they come to the voice they know. Like the priest, those who know go and tell those who don’t”. We mustn’t be ashamed to proclaim Jesus as our shepherd and that he laid down his life for us. I acknowledge that it is easier said than done, but ashamed we must never be. 

As we delved deeper, at the conference, into the missional and shepherding tools we urgently need in our churches today, we discovered more and more that many of our churched, or those who know, may not necessarily want to go out and tell those who don’t. Many lack the inspiration or inclination to be shepherds in the field. There’s that notion that shepherding is only done by bishops and clergy. Not, me sitting in the pews. That’s what they were ordained for wasn’t it? 

Jesus, my shepherd… he is all I need. Let me play you a beautiful version of the 23rd Psalm sung by the acapella Australian group, The Idea of North…  

The shepherd image was common in the ancient Near East and obviously based on one of the principal occupations of that day. The Israelites were known as shepherds and the term shepherd came to be used in a much broader way, and to describe leadership. Terminology we still use in our churches today. It would be extremely difficult not to appreciate the simplistic beauty and comfort contained in the 23rd Psalm. Many of us know it off by heart. We hear it at funerals. We hear it in the evening prayer, and at the bedsides of the very sick. 

It is amazing to ponder that in order to become the Good Shepherd Jesus first had to become a sheep. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. So, as we wrestled with the shepherding tasks of mission at yesterday’s Decade of Mission, we came away as both sheep and shepherd. If you are to experience the comfort and consolation of Psalm 23, you can only do so as a sheep seeking the comforting shepherd. Psalm 23 is about every person who is one of God’s flock. Individually cared for as one of God’s sheep. 

Let us now say the 23rd Psalm together: 

The Lord is my shepherd I have all I need.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

beside the still waters he will lead.

He restores my soul, he rights my wrongs,

he leads me in a path of good things,

and fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,

there is nothing that can shake me

he has said he won’t forsake me, I am in his hands.

He sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,

he anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness

will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will live in his house, forever and ever.

Glory be to the Father and Brother,

and to the Holy of Holies.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be

life without end. Amen. The Idea of North 

 Jacynthia Murphy

Third Sunday of Easter, 15 April 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Acts 3:12-19

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48 

 

...we are God's children now

 

Little Kenneth, you will not yet know what I am saying to you this morning, but I hope your mum, your dad, and your papa who is visiting you here in Aotearoa, your godparents, these parishioners, and all the rest of your family in India, will remember some of what I am telling you. At least from time to time. Because today Kenneth, I want to tell you that you are unique and you are special. Out of all the people who have come and gone in this world not one of them is you. Only you are you and we thank God for who you are and will be in the future. 

No one’s hair will grow exactly the way yours does. No one’s finger prints are like yours. And just like your fingerprints, your lips have little markings on them too and little grooves in the skin. Everyone has a different pattern, so no one’s lips are like yours either. No one has your nose nor do they smell like you. And no one’s eyes are exactly like yours. Not one person in this whole wide world is loved by the same combination of people that love you. You are uniquely Kenneth and there is no other individual that is you. 

And what better example of uniqueness have we known than that which is imbedded in Jesus. The Christ who breathed on others. Uniquely Creator and Redeemer who with the Giver of Life has blessed us all richly, and blesses you also, Kenneth. In John’s first letter we shall all be called a child of God. It says, little children, let no one deceive you. You are a child of God and just like there is no other Jesus and no other Saviour, Kenneth, you are unique too! 

As you grow and learn about yourself and your Creator, as you come to know Jesus and learn to be his follower, we want you to know that you are part of a church where there is room for difference and where there is diversity of faith, and that's just how it is supposed to be. You will have freedom to experience the wonder of God's love in Jesus, in your own way. We will be here for you to help you and share ourselves and our faith with you. So, Kenneth, that's the kind of church you're welcomed into today. A place where everyone is important, and everyone's needs are taken into consideration even if they conflict with our own. A place where you can learn and grow and when you need something we will try our utmost best to take you seriously, honour you, and encourage you to do the same for others. 

As you mature we want you to enjoy your uniqueness. We don’t ever want you to feel that your uniqueness is less than anyone else’s. You don’t have to pretend to be like someone else. They are their own unique selves so, you are not meant to be someone else. You do not have to conceal the parts of you that are different and not like the others. You were meant to be who you are. Every bone, every hair, every smile, and every thought. You were meant to be unique. If you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from our lives. Treasure your uniqueness. It is a gift given only to you. Enjoy it and share it! God says you are more than you may ever think. You are designed in the way you are because that is the way God created you. You are uniquely different and because you are an important part of God’s plan we are faithfully thankful because there is no other Kenneth in the created world. 

What a blessing to welcome baby Kenneth into the family of God here at St Martin @ St Chads. Because we are the nurturers of new believers, as covenanted in the Anglican Communion’s five marks of mission, what kind of church is Kenneth being welcomed into? What kind of church is St Martin @ St Chads? Why as parents, would you want your child to be a part of this church or the Anglican Church? You don’t have to answer that by the way, though, one day, you may have to answer Kenneth, should he ask. 

I want to finish with square pegs, round pegs, and difference. I am a square peg. I’m a square peg because God made me that way. I’m not a round peg and I don’t know why round pegs keep trying to force me through round holes. I am a square peg and I will faithfully be the best square peg that God created me to be! We each belong to the body of the church and we each make up the parts of that body. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? Kenneth, you are special, you are unique. Thanks be to God, Amen. 

Jacynthia Murphy

Easter Sunday, 2 April 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Acts 10:34-43, 1

Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

 

He has risen...

 

THE REALITY OF DEFYING GRAVITY

According to Matthew, 21:21, Jesus once remarked that ‘having faith and truly not doubting,’ could bring about great and unfathomed events.  It would seem, in this passage that the Marys and Salome of this story held such doubtless faith in abundance. For consider this: they had gone to all the trouble of organising their intended trip to the tomb, buying spices to anoint Jesus, and setting out to pay their respects and prepare Jesus having no idea what so ever who would roll away the stone from the tomb?  I was educated a few years back in, exactly, how heavy that stone was—for an interesting exhibit at the Liverpool Cathedral in the UK demonstrated that stone’s weight—and it was very difficult to move without numerous, helping hands.  And such, as we have heard today was the women’s faith, and their continued love for their saviour, that they were prepared to make the journey, and clearly expected to somehow find the answer for their dilemma.  Do we have such faith, I wonder?  Were these women 1st Century’s answer to ‘girl power?’  Or is it, as Paul tells us from today’s reading in 1 Cor.: ‘I am what I am and God’s grace towards me has not been in vain.”  Do we, in the 21st Century have such faith?  What massive boulders do we face in our lives, and have we asked God through Jesus to come to our aid?  Those women, in their darkest hour certainly did not hesitate.  How much easier, therefore, is it for us to boldly move forward in our own times of difficulty?  Need we fear boulders unexpectedly placed in our way?  What might your answer to that question be?

 

FORGIVENESS NOT ALLUDED, BUT TRULY DELIVERED

One of the most exciting days during my trip to the Holy Land was the day spent at Capernaum, for I had preached just in February about how this place was in a sense Jesus’ “office,” and the scene of many healings, cleansings, exorcising the demon-possessed, as well as teaching, and preaching (all of which, according to Mark 1 v31 he did on the same day).  Arriving in Capernaum was awe-inspiring, and a marvel of the gift of skilled archaeology.  For as I walked through the town, I could see remains of the original synagogue built in Jesus’ time as well as the 4th Century model that was built over the original.  And also the house of Simon Peter, where his mother-in-law had been cured by a touch of Jesus...no words mentioned or required.  Simon Peter was a friend of Jesus, and the man upon whom Jesus’ church would surely be built.  And as we know, he was also the man who betrayed Jesus and not just once, but three times before the cock had crowed twice.  Jesus knew in advance what Peter would do, and yet his belief in his friend never wavered, and his forgiveness was, as mentioned in today’s reading of Acts, v43 “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Listen again to the words of today’s gospel, “But go, tell his disciples AND Peter.”  This message, quoted by the man dressed in white, has been prepared by another, and then quoted to the women in the tomb.  We can of course rightly assume that Peter’s popularity was completely compromised, and why not?  He has not demonstrated anything this night but, well...........being human!  And in spite of all that, in spite of the anger and surely the contempt being demonstrated by others...especially his brothers and sisters in Christ, in spite of human fraility, IN SPITE OF IT ALL, Peter is forgiven, and is singled out from those others to whom the message from the tomb is to be delivered.

 

But, wait a minute!  Mark’s gospel has recounted time and time again how, after performing miracles, Jesus would caution those directly affected NOT to reveal what had happened (and which of course, they certainly did tell others).  Now the whole notion is being reversed, for the women in the tomb are being asked to “Go (and this word was in the imperative which is translated as a command) tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  And the women went out, fled the tomb, and they said NOTHING to anyone, for they were afraid.  FINALLY, people are told, commanded no less, to tell someone; and they do nothing.  It does rather leave you dizzy, doesn’t it?  For here was a plan to restart the whole movement—but initial efforts to broadcast that were being stymied out of fear.  That is of course human nature, and suggests to us to perhaps take a step up, in spite of our fear or misgivings.

 

THE EASTER MESSAGE AND JESUS’ GIFT TO US

Today, in the Holy City, that sense of fear and misgiving seemed to follow wherever I went.  There was tension, people talking in loud voices, horns honking in true frustration, people shouting either to be heard, or just out of anger.  It was hard to tell sometimes.  Jerusalem was amazing.  My friend and I were actually based in Tel Aviv, but travelled 5 times to Jerusalem because we just couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  It gets in your blood.  You can’t leave it.

 

Last Sunday, we climbed up to the Mount of Olives to join a Palm Sunday parade back down to the bottom to the Catholic church.  It was extremely warm, and we were accompanied by about 5,000 people!  Big mistake.  Expecting something entirely different we were caught up in a potential mob scene...people pushing and shouting, and doing so in a small space.  I for one wanted out.  And we ducked through a gate...which was the entrance to the Mount.  It was beautiful, and so quiet.  What a stroke of luck.  We discussed of what we had just been a part:  many different people, and more a political than a theological crowd.  I did imagine, however, how Jesus’ entry on a donkey from one end of the walled city would have measured up to Pontius Pilot’s entry on a war horse from the other end of the walled city.  The timing would not have been a coincidence, for sure.  That and the incidents of overturning the tables at the temple would certainly have thrown the 1st Century spotlight on Jesus.  There is courage in his actions and certainly an attention-getting plan to be noticed and heard!

 

Jerusalem has a “sound track” which reminds me of the movie Dunkirk.  Throughout the entire movie there is this audible hum that is constantly being played.  It’s rather distracting, and you can’t block it out.  I feel the same about the Holy Land.  The tension is real, very real.  And yet, the place works!  It actually hangs today.  Because people are actually talking to one another, trying to be polite, respecting the various religions, and attempting to make sure we all continue to keep talking and, as Marcus Borg would say, carrying on the conversation. 

 

I left the Holy Land somewhat enthused with hope.  I remember a good friend saying, when I announced I was going over, “why would you do that...Jesus isn’t there, you know!  And so I say with great joy:  CHRIST HAS BEEN RISEN! (ALLELEJIAH!)

 

And the Holy Land is talking, and people are listening, and there is something to be said about all that.  Because if we are talking, it means we are not shooting each other.  And if we are meeting together, in the same room, with different subjects upon which to talk about, well that can’t be a bad thing. On a bulletin board in St George’s Anglican Cathedral, the following prayer was pinned.  I would like to leave that thought:  Pray not for Arab or Jew or Palestinian or Israeli.  Pray rather for ourselves that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts.

 

CHRIST HAS BEEN RISEN. Amen.

 

Jean Rheinfrank 

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 18 March 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Hebrews 5:5-10

John 12:20-33

 

Unless a grain of wheat falls...

 

I was searching on the net for a light little ‘seed’ joke to start my sermon today and found this little ditty from Karen and Mike Garofalo. It’s titled: People are like Potatoes! Some people never seem motivated to participate, but are content to watch others ... They are called ‘Spec-tators’. Some are always looking to cause problems and really get under your skin ... They are called ‘Aggi-tators’. Then there are some who always say they will, but somehow, they never get around to doing what they say they will… We call them ‘Hesi-tators’. Oh yes, we got some that spend a lot of time sitting inactive in their gardens ...They’re called ‘Medi-tators’. For the strategists and tacticians trying to maximise their crop yields whilst reducing their overheads ... We call them ‘Compu-tators’. And finally, a wee insert of my own referring to some of my own whānau (family) and often being guilty of it myself. We have the researcher of information and profound explanation via the ever-knowledgeable medium of television … well, they call us ‘Couch potatoes’!! Seriously though, for all those wanting to be more cultivator than potatoes, let’s dig deeper into the soil and take a closer look at our humble seed.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it bears much fruit." In context, the teaching concerns Jesus' imminent crucifixion and resurrection. But in a more universal sense, it speaks of every treasure we have, including our greatest treasure: life itself. It includes the teaching in Matthew 25 where one of the slaves dug a hole and buried his talent in the ground knowing that his employer was a harsh man and so he was afraid… Here we have the classic hesitator. If we hang back, protecting ourselves from the challenges of life, we remain no more than a seed, valuable for our potential, but otherwise useless. We have to risk failure or ruin if we are to fulfil our potential and be of use to ourselves and to others.

Some seeds serve a dual purpose: they serve as food, as well as filling their essential function as seeds. But all seeds share an inherent power to become something far greater than what they are. We share this inner dynamic with seeds. If we fall into the ground and die, as a seed does when it is planted, we can become radically greater, and of greater use, than we are now. Falling into the ground and dying is necessary for this growth and greater usefulness. But it is a risky, frightening, even painful thing to do. We tend to resist it. When we meet the challenges of life, our natural inclination is to work, to fight, to do what we have to do to overcome them. But our greatest power to accomplish things is a power we find only when we surrender; only when we let ourselves fall into the ground and die. That is, we succeed best when instead of trying, we surrender; when we let ourselves serve as a medium for the power of God. 

That is never more true than when we face the kind of challenge that is, temptation. Temptations are most commonly seen at times when we are faced with alternatives of doing things our own way, using our best strength, skill, and judgment. We argue with others about the rationale of our actions and thoughts, and we may even satisfy our own desires and ego by bullying others into submission. We call these people agitators! The way to overcome these temptations is not to fight it, but to surrender and let God fight it. When we are faced with a challenging task, or even a completely internal struggle, the way to victory is to admit that we cannot overcome the challenge, and to figuratively fall into the ground and die where God's way does a great deal more. 

Living is to fall into the ground and die. This great lesson is for each us, today and every day. And when some are first reborn in this way, we might think that the good we do and the truth we talk about, comes from ourselves, when, all goodness and truth comes from God. If we think that it comes from ourselves, we do not yet have a life of genuine faith. Falling into the ground and dying has nothing to do with funerals, dying and being put into the ground! It has everything to do with approaching each episode of life in the best and most effective way. It is expressed through the symbolism of organic germination and growth. Jesus was talking to a group of people whom John called ‘Greeks.’ These were descendants of Jews who had been resettled after Alexander the Great conquered Israel some generations before, and who now returned from Greece to observe the Passover in Jerusalem. As a group they were better educated than many of the audiences Jesus addressed. Although he spoke to them in simple terms, he dealt with a deep contradiction that philosophically trained minds might comprehend. He simply said, ‘Unless a seed dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces many seeds and then much fruit.’

 

Each of us are called to sow seeds. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. It’s not just the call of vicars, archdeacons, and bishops. It’s your calling too. Our shared calling. In the pews of our churches throughout this province and the whole communion, we are God’s people. Jeremiah said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”. We all are God’s people that Jeremiah speaks of. No longer should we simply say to each other ‘know the Lord’, but rather, we are to be the sowers, from the least to the greatest of those in our midst. Those in our community, and those in our homes and families. We are not to be simply consumers, the couch potatoes of God’s Word, but we are commanded to proclaim it to others as the sowers and cultivators. 

 

Dying is important for living. This is a fundamental law of life. This is a law of human psychology, human sociology, and human relationships. And the law is this,  it is in dying that we start living. St.  Francis of Assisi knew this law well when he wrote in his famous prayer for peace; “it is in giving that we receive; it is in dying that we are born again.” The Apostle Paul knew this law well when he said: “We will not be united with Christ in a resurrection like his, unless we are first united with Christ in a death like his.” 

 

And finally, fellow cultivators, when you meet a challenge that you have failed to overcome, or that seems overpowering, remember this simple, powerful command: fall into the ground. Let yourself go… and grow into the best you have learned on your various faith journeys, and surrender yourself to it, and to Jesus. Let’s lay down our struggles to maintain a fruitful harvest. As a seed must fall to the ground and die before it bears fruit, may the negative thoughts, feelings, and actions that separate us from God also fall away and die, so that new behaviours, new thoughts, and new feelings can come to life in us. As cultivators of Christ’s good works in the world let us take into our hearts the words of St Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which we must look out at Christ’s compassion on the world. Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Ours are the hands with which he blesses others.” Amen. 

 

Jacynthia Murphy 

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 11 March 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Numbers 21:4-9

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

 

For God so loved the world... 

 

For God so loved the world that she gave her only Son… What a perfect day to have this piece of Scripture because today is Mothering Sunday. This is a day of celebration, a pause in the austerity of Lent to give time to honouring Mothers. I know we have Mother’s Day later in the year too, but this one is specifically in our Church Lectionary to be observed in a Sunday Service each year. That’s not taking away the significance of celebrating Mother’s Day in May too. We can still accept the usual treats with husbands, or better still children, doing all that a mother does daily! So, we don’t mind honouring Mothers twice a year!! But today, we thank God and thank our mothers for our nurturing, our upbringing and chances in life, which they have given us, often sacrificially. Here we have a son being sacrificed. Being sacrificed for the common good, for all to prosper. And on this Mothering Sunday let us pay tribute to Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross, knowingly sacrificing what no mother should ever have to, a son birthed from her own womb, in obedience to God’s will, to die for our salvation.

 

On this Mothering Sunday Luke 2:33-35 says, “And the child’s mother and father were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Equally, John 19:25-27 says, “Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”

 

For God so loved the world that she gave her only Son… And who greater mother to honour today? A mother sacrificing her son, Mary. For she loved God that she gave her son obediently, for our sake. Mothering Sunday is about both mother and father. It is a day in which we celebrate the nurturing from both parents. As Christians we believe that we can ably speak about what God is like, because Jesus shows us God in human form. When we look at Jesus and his life we see the very best qualities which we need, to be good parents. One thing which we see very clearly in the life of Jesus was that God loves his children. When Jesus lived in Palestine he opened himself up to all sorts of people and showed an indiscriminate love. He welcomed thousands of people to the hillside and taught them and fed them all. He got along with the outcasts and the bad people, the undramatic and ordinary people. Jesus loved them all. This is what we expect from parents also.

 

Growing up in rural Hokianga, where the main gathering place is on marae, meant that we were a community that had to be welcoming, warm, and hospitable. Following all the formalities of speechmaking, history, genealogies, and stories, means that we are essentially creating loving connections with all those who walk through our doors, despite their background, status, or belief. These protocols conclude with feeding the multitudes and that seals our friendships and bonds forever. My parents taught me the critical importance of loving our neighbour as ourselves, and therefore our guests get the best of everything. We, as hosts, must wait until all others have been served before serving ourselves with whatever is left over. Practices still observed today. My mother would stand by and watch as aunts and uncles would order me to do this and do that. And, reprimand me when they felt the need to. Mum would stand by, say and do nothing. But, later would very gently brush my long hair and hum a little tune to put me to sleep after a day of work… My mother who sacrifices…

 

Last week I held a little baby, his name is Kenneth, and I felt a bit ‘mothery’… a tad gooey… because he was this little content sleeping baby. Kenneth was unfazed by all my fuss and simply kept on sleeping. For some parents that is when they are most beautiful and gorgeous, when they are sleeping. Sometimes though, we hear exclamations of delight of how beautiful a new born baby is, when quite frankly their faces are all squished up and wrinkled, and this by no means is any reflection on our little Kenneth of course! Have you ever wondered why they put boys in blue and girls in pink? It’s because when you look at new born babies it’s difficult to figure out their gender based on their looks… isn’t it? But, ask any parent, Mother, or grandparent, and they will tell you, without hesitation, that that child is the most beautiful, cutest, and perfect little treasure in the whole wide world! Parents, just naturally have that capacity to see all the beauty, wrinkled or not!! Therefore, we honour mothers, because mothers love their children, unconditionally, and see all the good in these little bundles. They love them so much that they still love them when they make mistakes.

 

For God so loved the world that she gave her only son… these loving words of unconditional love, sacrificial love, selfless love, is a good reminder that we are all God’s children. This love is something which we recognise very easily in Jesus. We can know that God loves us and forgives us freely, God knows that like children we all make mistakes and that the error of our ways, is human. We know from the way that Jesus treated people who had made terrible mistakes in their lives that God doesn’t use that as an opportunity to criticise us, but rather to forgive and hold out the opportunity for us to try again. God loves us so much. Jesus loves us so much, that he died for us and our mistakes. Made very clear on Calvary.

 

Churches are supposed to be places where God’s love is found. Where the qualities of our heavenly parent are made apparent. And when people come to our churches searching for love they can easily be soothed and comforted in its sanctuary. Sanctuary, a place where those who need a home, and have none, may find it. I like the concept of church being a safe place for all. A place of open doors and open hearts. It encourages us to be the kinds of people who show that forgiving nature of mothers. That forgiving nature of Jesus who healed, taught, and loved all those who came to him.

   

Today we remind ourselves that we are all part of God’s family. Jesus told us that we could speak to God as we speak to an earthly parent. We are all children of God and the church should be able to embrace all God’s children and welcome them with a love which demonstrates the best qualities of parenthood, to the extent that we are able to think of a ‘mother church’ which loves all God’s children as God loves them himself. We have a shared parenthood by virtue of our common humanity and baptism, to be the church mother to all who seek God’s love.

 

 

Every station of the Lenten season proclaims to us the unspeakable love of God. The God who loves is the God who gives!  And what does God give?  The greatest gift of all. Look at the cross that holds the Son of God. Feel the pain of a parent who gave a Son so fully. This is the price God paid. This is the price that Mary paid also. That “whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. It is by faith that we are saved. Trust in Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life and joy. We will sing about the wondrous love of Jesus. We will sing his mercy and his grace. He prepares a place for all who believe his precious promises. And when we all get there, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory. Then, we will all understand the mystery of God’s suffering and the divine love that sacrificed a Son for the salvation of the world. For God so loved the world. Praise God, who gave her only son. Amen.

 

Jacynthia Murphy

The Third Sunday in Lent, 4 March 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Jesus in the Temple... 

Isn’t this gospel account of Jesus disconcerting? It is so not like the many popular concepts we have of Jesus’ behaviour… but you’ve heard all of this before, haven’t you? There is no gently soft-spoken Jesus, no calm teacher and divine wisdom. Nope. Here we have Jesus with his sleeves rolled up, ready for a fight. After making a whip, yes, a weapon of assault, he brandishes it around the religious establishment striking forcefully and aggressively at a system that has become skewed, twisted, and warped. Imagine it! Jesus opens pens and cages of oxen, sheep, and doves with one hand, while, with a whip in the other hand, he is creating confusion and they all retreat… but you’ve heard all of this before, haven’t you?

 

Is John’s account of this scene, is it really our Jesus? What about his commandments to turn the other cheek? What about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? Mercy and love do not seem as evident in John’s account of Jesus driving people out of the temple like animals. However, all four gospels agree that Jesus charged through the temple like a bull in a china shop, overturned tables, poured out the coins of inappropriate commerce onto the temple floor. Yes, he did! Jesus drove the money changers and animals… out!! At the height of the Passover season in a city filled with pilgrims gathered at the temple, an angry Jesus, God’s only Son, our merciful Saviour… well, we already know all about that don’t we? Do we?

 

Jesus’ staunch behaviour doesn’t fit too well with our precious views of Jesus as a teacher, healer, comforter and loving shepherd. We may even soften this account of Jesus and think that he didn’t swing the whip too hard and maybe just waved it around a bit. He may even wield it forcefully by cracking it in the air or on the ground like we might see in today’s rodeo theatrics!! Surely Jesus didn’t actually whip anyone with it! Did he? Jesus would never do anything that radical, would he? Maybe, maybe not. Did he do it, yes, he did. Was he angry, yes, he was. Scary? Most likely, yes!

 

Jesus is far more confrontational than we ever imagined. It is a characteristic of his work in the world. Jesus is constantly disrupting things, whether it be on the corporate level of, say, a religious establishment, or on the personal level of an individual’s life. Wasn’t it Jesus who used the purification jars to hold wine instead of water at a wedding in Cana? Remember the time he entered a house to eat with some Pharisees but refused to wash before dinner? Then, before the food was passed around the table he called his hosts a bunch of hypocrites and pronounced, “woe to you Pharisees” then left without eating. Try that the next time you’re invited over to someone’s house for dinner and see if that doesn’t cause an eyebrow or two to raise!

 

And what about the lives of his followers? Did Jesus not cause disruption in their lives? Fishermen who were successful enough to have boats and hired hands left their livelihoods behind to follow him into far more difficult and unsettling work of fishing for men, women, and children. Similarly, a rich tax collector walked away from a lucrative business and the security it gave him in order to journey with Jesus. Simply put, Jesus had that kind of disruptive influence upon people’s lives… but you’ve heard all of this before, haven’t you? Jesus still has a disruptive influence on our lives today. Career choices and goals have often taken a new course and reshaped. Family relationships and lifestyles might have been interrupted. Decisions to be a follower, be faithful, and obedient to Jesus’ influence on our lives, have collided with cultural values and expectations, time and time again.

 

Jesus was disrupting a very set-in-our-ways institution. The temple was rooted at the center of Israel’s religious and national life. The people believed it was the principal place where God in heaven meets us on earth. The temple took 46 years to build and traditions stretched back many generations. Sound familiar? Well…we already know all about that don’t we? Old buildings, generational traditions, etc. But something was wrong! While Israel’s sacrificial practices are spelled out thoroughly in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it’s not altogether clear how or when money-changing and the sale of sacrificial animals originated in the temple. Somewhere along the way the religious leaders found it more convenient to allow for currency exchange and the provision of appropriate sacrificial animals on the temple grounds. Expediency was what it was all about! Traders could now make whatever exchanges were necessary on the spot. Very convenient indeed!! What a great system! More people could enjoy being religious; the system made being faithful a more comfortable, secure and accommodating experience… but… we already know all about that, don’t we?

 

Jesus steps into the temple wielding a whip like a wild man. He drives out the animals, turns the tables over, and spills the profits onto the temple floor. He kicks them out and tells them to take all their things away. “Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” They retaliate and Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” Can you imagine their responses? How preposterous! They said, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” What they were really saying is, “Rubbish! You’re crazy! You can’t build a temple in three days! You can’t do it alone! Things are just fine the way they are, thank you, and there is no reason to change!”

 

 “After he was raised from the dead, Jesus’ disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” They could see all of this because they had come to know and celebrate the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Son of the Living God, the One who was, and is, and always will be. We may live loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbours as ourselves. We belong to a disruptive God who boldly confronts that which is inappropriate within us and making us clean, whole and faithful. Let us praise God for disrupting us into obedience. Thanks be to God! But, we already know all about that, don’t we?

Jacynthia Murphy

The Second Sunday in Lent, 25 February 2018, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

 

...and follow me. 

 

The word gospel literally means ‘good news.’ Yet this week’s gospel is full of words that sound like really bad news, rather than good news. We hear the words suffering, rejection, losing your life, and carrying your cross. And Peter thought he could put a stop to it! Peter wants happy talk. He wants miracles and healing stories. He wants warm and fuzzy! He wants a staunch Jesus who seizes power, and stomps on his enemies. He wants a Jesus who praises and elevates his friends. But Jesus doesn't comply!


Jesus is not there to fulfil Peter’s wants and wimperings. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, the Lamb of God, here to save, here to serve. His kingdom is not of this world and will not be won by the weaponry of this world. Yet he is the greatest revolutionary the world has ever known. He will turn all rituals and order upside down changing lives and values, changing history, changing how we see ourselves and how we see each other. Most significantly, Jesus changes our entire relationship with God.  

Poor Peter, who wants a beaten Jesus, a humiliated Jesus, or a crucified Messiah? That wasn’t the plan! No… but that is what God sends us. A Jesus who will be beaten, humiliated and crucified. A Jesus who suffers willingly, and a Jesus who conquers death and rises above it all. For our salvation, God sends us a loving, humble Jesus Christ… both God and man… to teach us how to live, how to die, and how to rise again.

The life on earth that Jesus promises is not going as well as Peter thought. Christ tells us that his way is the way of the cross. It does not lead to earthly wins. It leads to sacrifice, and through sacrifice it leads to resurrection. Jesus does not call us to follow him, to take up our cross, just so that we can earn some brownie points towards our salvation. His cross has taken care of all that. He calls us to the cross because it is the essence of God’s unconditional love, the cornerstone of the new covenant. And that is what he wishes for us, to live as he lived and to rise again in his love.

In this gospel, Jesus is calling us to be what we call today a “servant/leader.” It is what he articulated in the Beatitudes. It is what he has demonstrated over and over again… in washing his disciples’ feet, in his compassion for the blind, the deaf, those in need, in his outreach to strangers, in his forgiveness of sinners, and ultimately in his sacrifice on Calvary.

We are called to be disciples. And as disciples our lives must actively proclaim the love of Christ. Not by trumpting on some street corner… but by a life of service. Like Jesus we must lead by serving. And in that context, leadership does not mean shouting out commands. It doesn’t mean dominating others. It doesn’t mean emotionally intimidating another person. It means example. It means inspiration. It means being a channel of God’s grace…witnessing the love of Christ in all we do and to all those we encounter. Sacrifice and service. The words are so easy to say but the life is hard to live. That is why Jesus accurately describes it as the way of the cross.
 

In an increasingly what’s-in-it-for-me world, we are called to carry the cross of Christ against all popular pastime. We are called to sacrifice and serve. But we can answer that call with confidence: knowing that we’re not alone, knowing that we’re on the right track. In Christ’s way, often a difficult way, the way of the cross.

Coming back to where we started, the word gospel literally means ‘good news.’ There is good news found in the tough words of today’s gospel. A suffering Jesus leads us to eternal happiness. 
In the translation of the Māori conversation with God on page 490 of the NZ Prayer Book we utter the words: Accept O God, our sacrifice of praise, and our response is: Ko tāu rourou, ko tāku rourou, ka mākona mātou. In other words, with your basket God and my basket, we your people will flourish! The good news just doesn’t get any better! Amen.

Jacynthia Murphy

The Sunday Before Lent, 11 February 2018, 9.30am

Pen and ink drawing of Jesus healing a leper, Rembrandt c. 1655-1660

 

Primary Texts:

2 Kings 5:1-14

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Mark 1:40-45

 

Being able to see Jesus

 

In her sermon last Sunday, Jean drew our attention to the fact that in the Gospel of Mark (or in relation to the Gospel of Mark) there are two sets of people who know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God – these two groups being ourselves (the readers of the Gospel) and the demons who seem to recognise that Jesus is the Holy One of God. By way of contrast, the disciples again and again fail to really comprehend what is ‘staring them straight in the face.’

That is an important insight, worthy of reflection in its own right, but what I’d like to suggest is that there is another group of people who recognise Jesus, instinctively, as a person through whom the power of God flows in a singular way. Those people are the little, insignificant people, pushed aside by others, just like the leper in the Gospel this morning.

Why do they see Jesus as someone uniquely special and effective, whereas others do not?

That is worth thinking about, because it may give us some valuable pointers on how to advance in holiness – on our relationship with God and the things of God.

I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers to why people on the margins are able to recognise Jesus as being ‘full of God’ but I will suggest one or two possibilities.

Firstly, they aren’t distracted by the many concerns and busyness that the more ‘well-connected’ people around them are distracted by. Because they have been side-lined – as it were –  they have the opportunity (forced upon them) to look at the world around them, and at the people around them, and notice subtle differences between people that might be missed or disregarded by people whose lives are richer (on the surface), more complicated but ultimately shallow.

Another reason why the ‘little people’ in this life are able to see Jesus and recognise his worth is because they experience – up close and personal – the harshness of life. They don’t live with the sort of privilege that can immunise or tranquillise a person from the effects of injustice in the world. They are ‘doing it tough’ in order to survive from day to day, and that constant struggle makes them aware of the fragility of life and attuned to the things that offer the chance of real life – life in abundance, as Jesus called it. Rich people, who have everything and more than they need, can easily be distracted from what really matters in life, by what gives pleasure.

In our world today, but even more so in the ancient world where children were to be seen and not heard, the youngest members of any society are relatively powerless, restricted in what they are allowed to do, and often at the receiving end of unjust treatment. The children of first century Palestine recognised Jesus in the same way that the Leprous man in today’s Gospel recognised our Lord, and like him, they flocked to him. As you will recall, the disciples tried to get them to go away, but Jesus said to them: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14)

Yes, it was the people on the margins of society, either because of the disease they had, the work they did, or the age they were, who had eyes to see Jesus and recognise him as the Holy One of God. One term that Jesus used to describe such people, collectively, was ‘the meek’ for whom the earth would be their inheritance.

If we are serious about being blessed in that sort of way – to have eyes to see Jesus as he approaches us through the Holy Spirit today – and real hope in our hearts for a better future, we are going to have to become more like child-like and meek. How do we do that?

Live more simply – turn off the mobile phone. Go for a walk. Live with silence for a while.

That is what Lent is for. A time to return to God by becoming more child-like, meeker, simpler, and thereby more tuned in to what is really going on in our world, our family, and not least ourselves.

That is the sort of therapy that creates the possibility for positive change.

This morning’s first reading, from 2 Kings, drives home the truth that God’s remedies are frequently very close at hand, and usually simple. Naaman was expecting to be the subject of an elaborate set of prayers and actions to be cured by the great Hebrew Prophet Elisha; he is lucky that he had discerning personal assistants to encourage him to do the very simple thing that Elisha told him to do – ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?’)

Let’s get into that simplicity this Lent.

I’ve speculated about the reason why the leprous man recognised Jesus when other people didn’t and I’ve suggested that we can learn from him what we have to do to be able to see Jesus (the Risen Christ) today. That is well and good, but the thing that shouldn’t be left unsaid is what happens in the story after the leprous man’s faith is rewarded with healing. His response to being healed is to run off and proclaim to anyone who will hear that Jesus has healed him. He just can’t ‘keep a lid’ on this good news, even when he has been asked by Jesus to do so.

We can probably learn something from that response, the deep gratitude that it demonstrates, the energy that it releases, and reflect on that in the light of our own encounter with Christ. If our response to our own encounter with Christ, to date, has yielded a less enthusiastic response than the one we heard about today in Mark’s Gospel, we might do well to ask why this is the case. The reasons might be many and varied, but they are worth seeking out, and Lent is the time for doing that, for, as our Lord says, ‘everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’

This community is in a time of transition. That is uncomfortable for all concerned – believe me. Certainty goes out the window; new relationships have to built up, trust earned and so on. That is not a place that many humans like to be in. There is a significant silver-lining to that unpleasant situation though; it forces us to reach out in faith to God, and – if the gospel story we heard today is anything to go by – it places us in a position to see Christ with much greater clarity than we do when we are just cruising along in life. If that silver lining is received with the gratitude it deserves – in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving – it will lead to an outpouring of energy from ourselves, for God and the things of God. That is the sort of energy that revives the church, that makes a disparate group of people the Body of Christ, and that overcomes human obstacles (within and without). May this Lent help us all draw closer to the source of that power, in a spirit of simplicity, and allow the grace at work within us to overflow for the building up of Christ’s Kingdom to the Glory of God Almighty. Amen.

Tony Surman

The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, 28 January 2018, 9.30am

 On God’s authority

Primary Texts

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

 

I think all of us here will have seen programmes on TV, or been to talks or lectures by people who really ‘knew their stuff’ about a certain area of human interest – be that politics (when the media call up a professor of US Constitutional Law to talk about the impeachment of Presidents) or public health (when a specialist in disease is interviewed during the outbreak of an epidemic, such as whooping cough or Ebola), or sometimes even religion (when a church historian who specialises in the particular field under discussion is wheeled out of their dusty office to shed light on a current matter). No matter what the area is there is usually someone who knows a great deal about it, and it is usually pretty interesting and enlightening to hear what they have to say. We call these people authorities because of their deep (and sometimes unique) understanding of a particular area of enquiry. 

Many of the religious leaders who lived in Jesus’ time were authorities in this sense. They knew their scriptures very well – reading them every day – but they were also well-versed (no pun intended) in what other great religious leaders had said and written about each part of scripture. They approached their sacred writings in a systematic way, much as scholars in universities do to this very day, by reviewing everything that has been said about a topic up to the present day. That is a good practice. It prevents scholars ‘reinventing the wheel’ as they go about the business of understanding a topic, and it hopefully stops them following lines of inquiry that have proved fruitless in the past (though of course, there is always the chance that now is the time when that line of enquiry will be fruitful). By doing this sort of review, scholars – be it of the Bible or chemistry or the stars (in the heavens) become authorities on what has been learned about something to date, and we very often call them experts. 

Being an authority on something, however, is not enough – neither for an academic nor for a religious leader. What is crucial is the ability to make something of the massive amount of data that one has reviewed – to be able to draw some conclusions from it that have relevance for people in the ‘here and now.’ To be able to do that is both a gift and disciplined labour. It requires time on a person’s part to regularly and deliberately reflect on what meaning there is in their field of expertise, and – because it is a creative exercise (in many ways) and requires a certain amount of mental stamina, it is dependent to some extent on the particular tools of mind that God gives us. Let’s look at an example in science. 

After finishing his university studies Albert Einstein went to work in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland. His education in physics had exposed him to all the major thought on physics up to that date. I bet it was a very rigorous course, full of high-level mathematics. When he left university, his mind must have been filled to the brim with ideas about physics. Working in the patent office would have filled his mind even further with all sorts of uses of science, some elegant, some clumsy, some entirely misconceived. That, on its own, however, was no cause to hope that the most significant developments in twentieth century physics were going to come from Einstein – surely (his contemporaries must have thought) it would be academics, working at the highest levels in universities who would make the real breakthroughs. This expectation (which I think is still a wide-spread prejudice) underestimated the importance of creative thinking when it comes to making sense of knowledge or understanding things in their most essential way. Einstein was gifted with an unusually powerful imagination, with which he was able to perform what he called ‘thought experiments’ in which he tested out different scenarios, drawing implications from what he saw through the language of mathematics. He spent a lot of time dreaming in this way, and though it became his strongest attribute as a mature theoretical physicist, it almost certainly explained why he hadn’t risen, in the conventional way, to be a professor after six or seven years of continuous university education. In class his mind wandered but his weakness for daydreaming and creative thought became his ally and put him in a position where he was not only an ‘authority’ on physics up to his day, but able to speak with authority and reveal deeper and more fundamental truths about the physical world. He became a game-changer in the human understanding of the material universe. 

Jesus, as he is presented in all the gospels, not least St Mark’s Gospel, is a radical ‘gamechanger’ in the field of religion. Like the scribes and the Pharisees he lived with, he too was well versed in the scriptures and what had been said about them. But in a way akin to Einstein, he had a creative, imaginative gift that allowed him to sift through all that data and discern what was truly essential. That creative ability of Jesus’ was nurtured by his deliberate, disciplined decision to spend time with God in prayer. 

When Jesus prayed I doubt that his pray was one long list of petitions. I suspect instead that most of his time in prayer was about giving time over to God, allowing God to speak to him through his imagination as his mind reflected on the history of his people revealed in the scriptures, and on what he saw happening around him, on the big scale and on the small scale. Giving time over to God in that way allowed Jesus to move beyond his contemporaries (who were authorities on religion) to becoming a person who spoke with authority. The gift that Jesus had for doing so was unique in magnitude. He spoke, even more so than the greatest Prophets of Israel, the very words of God, fulfilling, Moses prophecy (first lesson) that God would raise up a prophet like himself who would speak every word to the people of Israel that God commanded; God would literally put God’s word in this prophet’s mouth. In the synagogue in Capernaum, almost two thousand years ago, the congregation experienced the fulfilment of that prophecy. 

The authority with which Jesus spoke was passed on to those whom he called – most explicitly to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19) before his death: ‘I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,’ but that authority was also inherited by his disciples in his Risen life. It is seen very clearly, for instance, in St Paul’s certainty that for Christians it is now fine to set aside a whole lot of laws about dietary observance. That was a radical step, but it was made in an assured and authoritative way by Paul even though his own experience of Jesus as an historical person was very limited, and given the fact that a number of the disciples, including those who had been very close to Jesus during his earthly ministry – Peter and Jesus’ brother James for instance – struggled with what Paul was teaching about food regulations (presumably because Jesus’ personal practice had been typically Jewish). 

St Paul believed ardently that he was speaking with the full authority of the Risen Christ on this matter. On other matters – such as the rightness or wrongness of marrying, he was less certain, but on the matter of what was right to eat and drink, Paul spoke with authority to the disciples of his generation, modelling or mirroring the way in which Jesus had spoken to the people he encountered from moment to moment. Paul didn’t have a set canon of new testament scripture to refer to and claim authority from. His authority was from the risen Christ himself. 

The particular problem that Paul is dealing with in today’s epistle is whether or not Christians should eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul makes a good case for Christians having no concern about eating such food by reminding his readers that the ‘so-called’ gods to which these foods are offered are either subordinate to God or completely fictitious. As a consequence ‘we are,’ in Paul’s words, ‘no worse off if we do eat, and no better off if we do.’ It is a nice argument, and Paul is clearly confident in its strength. He is speaking with authority on this curly matter (and it must have been curly, because in many big towns in the wider Roman Empire, it would have been difficult for new converts to Christianity to avoid eating meat which had been offered to one ‘god’ or another). Jesus had not given a ruling during his earthly ministry on this matter. Paul, feeling himself full of the Spirit of Christ and called to be an ambassador of the Gospel, had no qualms about making this declaration.

We see the sensitivity and compassion of Paul in the way he bids his readers to respond to the liberty that he is giving them, by urging them to be mindful of those who are new to the faith, and still coming to understand right from wrong in this new way of living. In this concern he was at one with Jesus (Matthew 18:6 "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”) Paul could see very clearly that if experienced Christians, in good conscience, purchased and ate meat that had been sacrificed on one of the pagan altars in front of a person who was just learning that there is only one God, then there was a very high likelihood that the newcomer would be scandalised – made to trip (Matthew 18:7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!)

The principle being talked about has relevance for any sort of choice that a Christian makes. That choice may sit very well with the developed conscience of the experienced Christian but turn away from the faith a person whose journey in the Christian life is just beginning. This is quite sobering news for any Christian, not least for those ‘in authority’ in a Christian community. On the one hand we need to be warning people about the risk of (you might say) making idols of their prejudices, while on the other being sensitive to the fact that people who are new to the faith often need some clear guidelines and boundaries, because the place they have come from was, perhaps, very dysfunctional and destructive – in which case a very prescriptive approach to religion (only eat fish on Fridays, no eating or drinking an hour before Communion, a modest dress code, and so) is probably very helpful.  

But we need to move on – to change gear, so to speak - because we have someone in our midst who has been walking with God for a long time now and is about to share a little of her faith journey with us. This is something she feels called to do, and I am pleased to facilitate this, hoping that, through her testimony, others in this community will do likewise over the coming year. Each of us here, as disciples of Christ, have been blessed with the Holy Spirit to enable us to make sense of - and speak with authority on - the one thing that we each have expert knowledge of – our own lives. So without further ado I’d like to invite Ailsa forward to speak to us about her walk with our Lord.

Tony Surman

Ailsa's Statement of Faith - 28 January 2018

Hi, My name is Ailsa Warburton, for those who do not know me, and I am telling of my journey with God.

What God means to me today is much as He did 50 years ago except I now know Him a lot better than I did then, or perhaps I had my mind on other things then. When He called back to the fold after 50 years plus it was a source of amazement to me as, apart from reciting the Lord's Prayer most days, I had neglected Him shamefully and why had He chosen me when I did not feel worthy of His attention..

Back then, as I recall, it was a different environment and, apart from being something that one did, there was less emphasis on His love and caring. I feel modern liturgy has a better way of expressing what part God plays in our lives .  Nowadays we are taught every week about what God can and does do for each and every one of us, which is much better.

What does God mean to me today?  God epitomises everything that is good. Caring, forgiving, merciful, tender, compassionate, just, generous and most of all, loving, and possibly a few other virtues I have omitted due to memory loss or ignorance.  He also likes His own way and can be a tad pesky when He feels you are dragging your feet, but I feel personally that God is entitled to be a bit impatient with us mortals, as if we were all perfect He would have nothing to do..

I have come to ask His opinion on many facets of my life these days and, while I do not always get the answer I want, He does listen, and replies, sometimes days or weeks later.

When He sent me back after my cardiac arrests, I kept asking why did He send me back, what did He want from me?  Well, a few months later a voice began to tell me I had to return to the church of my youth.  After I did, the voice stopped.

I have learned that when He is very pleased with me, as when I had my Renewal, He has His own way of expressing it.  When I am in a quiet space God tells me He is there by enveloping me in a cocoon of love and warmth, quite unlike anything a mere mortal could engender.  Unfortunately, I do not feel it very often!

He is with me when I am sick, well, happy or sad.  I can call on Him day or night and know that He is there with me, beside me every step of the way.  I know He is generous because He gave us Jesus and the Holy Spirit both of whom watch over us as well.

These are some of the things I have learned about God since He called me back and I have never regretted His call, even if I still don't know why.  Because of Him I have the love and friendship of everyone here, the help and teachings from Grant, Noel, David and Tony and have become a better person for it.  God, through them, has taught me tolerance, forgiveness, charity and to love and be loved.  Thank you, God for this wonderful journey to date.

The one comment I must make before I conclude is this.  Put your trust in God every minute of every day.  If you have not done so to date, then try it.  He will never let you down, and there are no barriers.  I only regret I cannot turn back the clock, so I can enjoy more of it for longer.

 

Thank you for listening, thank you Tony for giving me the opportunity to express my faith in words and to God for letting it happen.

The Third Sunday of Epiphany, 21 January 2018, 9.30am

James Tissot's nineteenth century imagining of the calling of Peter and Andrew from their fishing work on Lake Galilee.

Responding to God’s Call

 

Primary Texts

Jonah 3:1-5,10.

1 Cor 7:29-31.

Mark 1:14-20.

 

It would seem from the Gospel we have just heard (Mark 1:14-20) that Jesus’ call on Peter and Andrew, and James and John to follow him came to them like a bolt out of the blue. Mark records no other communication between these men and Jesus before this incident. It is certainly very possible that Jesus did call these disciples in that way but the glimpses that the Gospels of Luke and John give us of Peter and Andrew (at least) suggest that these disciples were already very familiar with Jesus and the broad outline of the mission that he was on.

In Luke’s Gospel, for instance, a reference to the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law precedes (Luke 4:38-39) the calling of Peter and Andrew from their fishing duties (the reverse of the case in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-31) and Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 8:14-15) where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law after their call by Jesus at the lake). The way that Luke describes the healing of Peter’s Mother-in-law is consistent with Jesus already being acquainted with Peter (called Simon in this case). He doesn’t go to Simon’s house specifically to heal anyone, it seems, but because it was a natural place to retreat to after preaching and healing in the synagogue in Peter’s home town of Capernaum. Then, at the beginning of chapter 5 of his gospel, Luke refers to Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter, James and John following a miraculous harvesting of fish on the lake, with Jesus echoing the words he gives in Mark’s gospel today ‘Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.’ (Luke 5:10)

In John’s Gospel we don’t find any reference to Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James or John from their work on the lake of Galilee itself, but what we do have is a record of Andrew and Peter being very early disciples of Jesus, since the time that Jesus had visited John the Baptist in the Jordan Valley. In John 1:40, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother is named as one of two disciples of John the Baptist who became followers of Jesus, immediately upon John’s advice. And then Andrew – apparently quite quickly, brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. Following this incident, John’s Gospel reports on Philip and Nathanael becoming disciples (we heard about that last week), then we learn of the Wedding at Cana to which Jesus, his disciples and Mother went, before we learn that Jesus and his disciples, mother and brothers went on from there to the lakeside town of Capernaum, ‘and remained there a few days’ (John 2:12b) From there, the chronology is quite different than the other three Gospels, but what I think we can glean from this, and from the evidence in Luke’s Gospel, is that Peter and Andrew, James and John, as historical figures, were probably well acquainted with Jesus when he turned up on the shores of Lake Galilee and said to them, effectively, ‘I’ve got a real job for you guys; are you in?’ Based on all they had seen before, they knew they could not turn this opportunity down, so they ‘rose up and followed him,’ as the hymn we sang last Sunday puts it.

Of course, I may be wrong about this (as might Luke and John), and it may indeed be the case that Peter, Andrew, James and John were moved in an instant as they fished on lake Galilee by the powerful presence of Jesus, who was then a stranger to them. Certainly, from the way that Mark and Matthew present the calling of these fishermen we would be expected to draw this conclusion, which leads us to suppose that both Mark and Matthew are concerned to project the overwhelming power of Jesus when it comes to commanding the human heart - and there is nothing at all wrong with that! When we look at people who respond positively to Christ’s call to discipleship, some of them are, indeed, moved to accept that call without a deep acquaintance with Jesus (see for instance the handout this morning by John Shaw or the blog site where it comes from,  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shore/i-a-rabid-anti-christian_b_551799.html). Others, however, have a longer latency period, during which God is working away on them, preparing them to make the most important commitment of their life-time – to follow Christ and work with him in the building up of God’s kingdom.

It doesn’t matter which category we fit into; what matters is that we accept the call and go – not just in word but in action, surrendering our life in its entirety into God’s hands so that God’s good purpose for us and all people might be achieved.

In the first lesson this morning, we have the example of a prophet whose initial response to God’s call was not positive at all. Jonah, as you will recall from your days in Sunday School, ran away from the call that the Lord had placed upon him, namely, of going to the Ninevites (in Assyria) and forewarning them of God’s judgement on them. His motivation for running away was probably influenced by his knowledge of how brutal the Assyrians had been to his people, and other nations across the Middle East – ‘let them get what is coming to them’ appears to have been a big part of his thought process in this matter. This is revealed towards the end of the story when the Ninevites do, in fact, repent (big time), to Jonah’s immense displeasure (Jonah 4:1) and he says to God, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.’ (Jonah 4:3).  God does his best to show Jonah how perverse that way of thinking is. He points out to Jonah how many human and animal lives would have been lost in Nineveh if Jonah had continued to resist God’s command to forewarn them of the coming judgement, the importance of these lives far outweighing the discomfort Jonah experiences bringing salvation to a people he doesn’t like very much.

The book of Jonah is very short but it has been preserved in the canon of scripture because it makes explicit the sort of mission that God calls his people on – a mission to bring real life, authentic meaning and genuine purpose to all people (salvation); not just the ones we think are worthy of our efforts, but the ones we are quite prejudiced against, often for quite ‘good’ reasons, humanly speaking - like the wealthy (if we happen to be achingly poor), or the poor (if we happen to be filthy rich), and so on. And the reason for that is that God loves us all without exception and as scripture puts it, ‘desires the death of no one.’ (Ezekiel 18:32)

We encounter St Paul, in the second reading this morning, fully engaged in that mission as a result of his calling by the Risen Christ. His message to the diverse congregation in Corinth is coloured by his expectation that Christ’s return to govern the world completely is very close at hand ‘the appointed time has grown short…the present form of the world is passing away.’ In that belief he was mistaken (just as one or more of the writers of the Gospels were mistaken about the precise way in which Peter, Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus), but we cannot mistake the fact that Paul cared deeply for each of the members of the Church in Corinth to which he wrote. He didn’t want any of them to lose the gift of life that God held out to them through Jesus Christ, or lose the effectiveness that Christ gave them to bring life to others. His motivation is quite the opposite of Jonah’s.

Would that we were so gracious and faithful to our calling in Jesus Christ.

Tony Surman

 

 

The Second Sunday of Epiphany, 14 January 2018, 9.30am

Jesus, expanding the boundary of the holy

Texts:

1 Sam 3:1-10

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

 

At the end of this morning’s Gospel our Lord refers to a future time when -  rather mysteriously, angels will be seen ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Nathanael is already impressed with Jesus’ ability to see into a person’s soul, and understand things about them they thought were private (‘under the fig tree’ as it were), and this later assertion by Jesus really leaves him lost for words.

The reference that Jesus makes to angels and their ascension and descension is an allusion to an occurrence found early in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, where Jacob, son of Isaac and Grandson of Abraham is alone in the wilderness and sleeping (somewhat uncomfortably) with his head on a rock for a pillow. As he sleeps he dreams of a ladder stretching from heaven to earth on which he sees angels ascending and descending. A divine message accompanies the vision, affirming that the place upon which Jacob is sleeping will belong to Jacob and his descendants forever (Genesis 28:10-19). So vivid and awesome is the dream that Jacob calls the place the House of God (Beth-el, Bethel).

For thousands of years people have reflected on the significance of this story, and what it means. The first people to do so – and who continue to do so – were the Jewish people. Their great Rabbis have left commentaries on this (and every other event in the Hebrew Scriptures). The Rabbis interpretations vary considerably.

One interpretation of Jacob’s dream, understood in the context in which he had it, is that it highlights a boundary, notably between the land that God first promised to Abraham and his descendants, and the lands beyond. Each of the lands has a particular set of angels looking after it and the holy-ones therein. As Jacob, the man of God, moves from outside the land promised to his grandfather Abraham and into the promised land, the angels who have protected him abroad go back up into heaven on their side of the same ladder that the angels of the promised land descend to take care of Jacob in the holy land.

Another understanding of the story focuses on the particular spot at which Jacob has his dream and speculates that instead of the place being the town of Bethel (a possible location for Bethel as it is referred to in the Bible is about 18 km north of Jerusalem, where the current Arab town of Beitin is located), it is to be understood instead as Mt Moriah in what would become Jerusalem, Mt Moriah being the place where the Jewish Temple was built – Beth El, the House of God. In this understanding of the story of Jacob’s dream, the ladder becomes a conduit to a sacred spot where the connection between heaven and earth, you could say, is especially strong.

How does all this help us understand what our Lord is talking about with Nathanael in this morning’s Gospel?

Taking the second interpretation first, our understanding of Jesus’ assertion about the Son of Man being a ladder upon which angels ascend and descend, is enhanced by the thought that Jerusalem, the Holy City – El Quds in Arabic – is the focal point of Jacob’s dream. Jerusalem was of central importance to Jesus’ life and mission. It is the place where he was circumcised on the eighth day and became a part of the covenanted People of God, it is where he taught, and healed; it was the place that broke his heart because of its unwillingness to accept his message; it is where he instituted the Eucharist which we will celebrate later in this service; and it is, of course where he was crucified, rose and ascended into heaven. Finally, it is the place to which he sent his Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which gave birth to the Church. Taken together these acts lend themselves very well to us seeing Jesus as a very special ladder indeed between heaven and earth and particularly that place on it called Jerusalem.

If we turn to the first Rabbinic interpretation of Jacob’s dream (the first one I mentioned – possibly not the first that was made), namely, the idea that the ladder (as well as being a roadway between heaven and earth for angels) represents a border between the holy land promised to Abraham, and the rest of the world, then another light is shone on what Jesus’ says to Nathanael. In this case, Jesus (almost certainly equivalent with the Son of Man) is not only a bridge between heaven and a particularly holy spot on earth, but a type of boundary marker between the sacred and the profane. This take on what Jesus says to Nathanael reveals a truth that I believe is present throughout the New Testament, namely, that God connects with the world wherever Jesus treads, whether that be in the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, and the Decapolis or the deeply Jewish places that Jesus visited during his earthly mission, or the four corners of the globe that Jesus has made his presence felt in – in the hearts and minds of people over the last two thousand years. At each point of the earth – and presumably wherever one goes in the universe – where a soul accepts Jesus as the Son of God, holy land is created. It may look the same is it did before, but rest assured that the angels who guard God’s holy land, travel down the ladder that is Jesus to guard that sacred space.

In today’s second reading – The First Letter to the Corinthians – St Paul might be seen as one of those angels – or certainly as a man with an angel directing him – determined to protect the space that has been made holy through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t use the metaphor of a ladder to describe the saving, protecting, sanctifying effect that Jesus has on his people’s lives, but he might just have well have when he reminds the Corinthians that ‘anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ and that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit…bought with a price.’ It is because of that intimate holy relationship that Paul bids the Corinthians to shun fornication because of its inherent incompatibility with a person being united, in every aspect of their being, with God. And in this teaching he echoes very closely the teaching of Christ about fidelity in our most intimate relationships. Presumably Paul needs to give this advice to the Corinthians because some of them have interpreted the things he has said about the law being rendered obsolete through the work of Christ more enthusiastically than he had intended (see the first part of today’s extract).

The importance of keeping ourselves united to Christ and with the happy ‘boundary’ he creates is prefigured in life of the Prophet Samuel, who was a powerful, dedicated man of God during a time in Israel’s history when ‘the word of the Lord was rare…visions were not widespread.’ From an early age Samuel had been installed in the Temple at Shiloh, in the Lord’s service, apprentice to Eli. Eli, the priest, was a good man, but his sons, who worked with him in the temple were corrupt, and one of their named corruptions was fornication with women who served at the temple (1 Samuel 2:22). God by-passed Eli descendants in favour of Samuel who would grow to be a powerful priest and prophet. Eli was broken hearted that his sons, his own flesh and blood had let him and God down, but he remained faithful in his formation of Samuel, guiding him to recognise the call of God on his life.

Our hope is that through the grace of God we too will be able to remain united with God in the sacred space that Christ has opened up for us and all people. To be successful in that bid, we need to cooperate with God’s grace, and be determined to live a disciplined life, that keeps its focus on Christ, and its ears open to hear Christ’s call. May it be so.

Tony Surman

 

 

The First Sunday of Epiphany, 7 January 2018, 9.30am

The Feast of the Epiphany

Principle texts:       Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

The title of today’s service is a bit mysterious. If you think it sounds a little foreign, you would be right to think so. Epiphany is a word that we have borrowed – with very little modification - from the Greek language. In the New Testament scriptures – which were written in the common Greek of the first century, the word epiphaneia is closely associated with the arrival of our Lord – either for the first time, at his birth in Bethlehem (see for instance 2 Tim 1:10), or for the second time when he will appear at the end of time (see for instance 1 Tim 6:14). Epiphaneia connotes brightness or manifestation or illumination. Take for example, 2 Thessalonians where the author declares in the eighth verse of chapter two that (NRSV) “…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation (epiphaneia) of his coming.

The last word of this verse in English, coming, is a translation of the Greek word parousia, which in Latin is rendered adventus. For those of us who can remember back to December 2017, we spoke and sang a lot about Christ’s advent, his coming amongst us in time and out of time, so it is clear there is a very close connection between advent and epiphany. You might say that they are two sides of the same coin, or that the epiphany is the light/brilliance/illumination that accompanies God’s arrival among us.

Well, in a very literal way there was a light that accompanied Jesus’ arrival in the world. That light was provided by a star that appeared in the night sky and was recognised by the astrologers (Magi) who observed it as indicative of the birth of the King of Jews. The light of the star drew those academics from their homes in the east all the way to Jerusalem and thence to Bethlehem. I don’t imagine this was an easy or inexpensive journey. There were no aeroplanes, trains or cars – just camels for crossing the desert, but the Magi pushed on so that they might see the person who would be King over God’s people.

Their tenacity was rewarded when the brilliance of the epiphany that had led them across hundreds of kilometres (quite probably) “stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matt 2:9). Saint Matthew tells us that at that point they were “overwhelmed with joy.” (Matt 2:10)

The epiphany of that star, sent to them by God, had revealed the precise place where the Jesus lay.

They went in, and saw Mary his mother and knelt down and paid him homage.

That is astounding.

We are talking here about a group of the most educated men of their day, from the most civilised, advanced part of the world (in their time anyway) bowled off their feet by a foreign child. It is not too often that academics will bow down to anybody… Something remarkable and historic had happened. By talking the Magi’s language – speaking to them through the stars – God had brought the representatives of a non-Jewish people to God’s self.

The Magi were not the only characters in the story who had their eyes opened by the events that transpired over those months. Herod, for instance was shocked to learn from the Magi about the star, and to hear about their intense interest in a new-born King of the Jews. Indeed, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were concerned about what the Magi were talking about. They may not have recognised the star in the sky, but the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem on their very deliberate (intentional) mission must have made it very manifest and clear to them that God’s hand was at work in their locality.

Many of them may have rejoiced in this, but others, most notably Herod, feared what was about to happen. He was, in name, King of the Jews, but his mission did not coincide very closely with the mission that God had called him and his people to through Abraham, Moses and the Prophets – which was to do justice, to show loving-kindness and to walk humbly with God. Herod’s concern was for his own survival. He should have rejoiced that people from the far corners of the earth were coming to pay homage to the God of the universe but instead he recognised the object of their quest as a threat to him. God’s epiphany, which had so moved the Magi was lost on Herod. And that was a great shame, for him, his nation and a particular tragedy for the innocent children he would go on to kill in Bethlehem in his bid to eliminate a rival king.

I think there is something (indeed, probably many things) for us to learn from the way the epiphany of the star of Bethlehem played out two thousand years ago. One thing, certainly, that it demonstrates is that God’s action and God’s call is heard by some of the most unlikely people (and here we all are today, Praise God). What do I mean by this? Well, what I mean is this. The Magi were astrologers and, as their name suggests, connected with the world of magic and what we would call the occult. The Hebrew scriptures take a pretty dim view of astrology. Consider the following:

In Leviticus chapter 19 the Israelites are told that, as well as avoiding eating anything with blood in it (like blackpudding for instance), they are not to use enchantment/divination nor observe the times/soothsay/observe dreams. (Lev 19:26b)

And again in Deuteronomy they are told that “no one shall be found among you who…practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer (Deu 18:10).

Despite these direct commands against astrology God - in God’s own wisdom, chose the stars to proclaim the message of Jesus’ birth to the Magi, and made them very receptive to that message; they did not, for instance simply look up at the sky and recognise the sign that a new Jewish King had been born and note that down on their piece of slate, but they were moved to go and see this child. Given their enthusiasm and determination, we are drawn to conclude that the epiphany marked for them the end in a road of development that they had already been walking with God, even if they hadn’t been formally part of God’s people. Many of God’s people, however, the insiders if you will, were much less sensitive to the epiphanies that God was sending regarding the birth of the Messiah, and few – apart from the shepherds whom St Luke’s reminds us of – were galvanised to go and see the new born King. 

This is relevant for us in the 21st century because we are now, as Christians, ‘insiders’ in a sense. We endeavour, like the Jews of the first century to live out our lives in conformity with God’s will as that is revealed to us through scripture and church tradition with the benefit of the best reasoning we can muster. And, like the Jews of the first century, we have a tendency to discriminate against certain groups of people based on their way of life and beliefs. Generally we try to be as loving about this discrimination as can be, but we wouldn’t normally expect God to chose to reveal Godself to them through the very beliefs and practices we disapprove of. But as the epiphany of the Magi clearly demonstrates – that is precisely the way God has operated in the past, so we might just expect that God could act like this in the future.

This might cause us to look at other religions somewhat more generously than we might currently do, seeing them as pathways through which God is drawing people to his Christ.

I had an epiphany of my own about 12 years ago while I was working as a paint chemist. My colleague, the production chemist, was a devoted Hindu but I learned that he also had a high regard for Jesus who he recognised as an (rather than our 'the') incarnation of God. 

It is also the case that Islam has a high regard for Jesus, viewing him as the prophet to the Jews, and understanding his significance, perhaps in a similar way to the Magi, as the rightful head of the Jewish people.

And I’m sure there are many other ways through which God is leading people to Christ.

God help us to be sensitive to those seekers, willing to listen to them, and, where appropriate, to follow their lead in their quest to pay Jesus homage, just as Herod ought to have followed the lead of the Magi two thousand or so years ago in Jerusalem.

 

 

Christmas Day, 25 December 2017, 9.30am

Christmas Day Sermon, St Martin’s @ St Chad’s, 2017

Texts:    Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

The Reverend Dr Tony Surman

 

St Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth will be very familiar to many of you here. Together with the nativity story in St Matthew’s gospel – which has the Star (of Bethlehem) and the Magi (the Wise men) in it – it provides the basic ingredients for nativity plays – like the one we had here yesterday morning. It was great fun -  it warmed the heart – but it probably didn’t do full justice to the raw reality and discomfort of Jesus’ arrival in the world.

Luke does not shy away from the rather grim reality of Jesus’ birth. He is very specific about our Lord being born to a young woman, displaced from her hometown, having to cobble together a nursery with her husband in stable, ‘because there was no place for them in the inn.’

‘No place for them in the inn’ – and not even, you will note, an inn keeper to offer them the stable (they may have had to find it themselves). Jesus was born into a situation of deprivation and exclusion, and was fortunate to have resourceful parents who could improvise with what little they had in trying circumstances.

They found themselves in this undesirable state for no real fault of their own. The powers that be had decreed that everyone ought to be registered – presumably for tax purposes – in their home towns. I imagine many people struggled to find decent lodging in the ‘home towns’ they went back to for registration. They may have been away for years or even generations. To the local inhabitants, they were strangers, and, more so than the average stranger, a threat to local ideas of entitlement; Yes, those new arrivals would have been kept at arm’s length by the locals; there would have been no place for most of them at the local inn.

The undesirable situation that Joseph, Mary, the infant Jesus found themselves in because of a political decision made hundreds of miles away has obvious current parallels. Over recent years we have witnessed on our televisions the movement of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Afghanistan, North Africa, and now Myanmar (the Rohinga people of former Burma) from their homes – some internally displaced, others migrating to neighbouring countries or seeking asylum abroad, particularly in Europe. These people are the victims of political forces well beyond their control; because of decisions made in Washington, Brussels, Moscow, London and perhaps even their own Capitol they end up in the firing line, and if they don’t want to become collateral damage, they have to move and live in make-shift shelter and hope that they’ll get a break and be able to put their lives back together. In all that they suffer, it might be some consolation for them to know that the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, stand in solidarity with them.

In our own country too, this last year, the problem of poverty has been centre stage as we’ve gone to the polls, and witnessed a diverse coalition-government take shape. Our new government is making all the right ‘noises’ as it were, reaching out to folks in society who usually remain unseen. That’s a good start, but the path to building a happier NZ is going to take sustained, concerted effort from across NZ society, not least from those to whom the help is being directed.

St Luke’s Gospel – perhaps more than the other three Gospels - demonstrates the special concern God has for people who are ‘doing it tough;’ for the downtrodden, the lost, the heartbroken and rejected.  We see this concern, for instance, in the song that Mary sings in Luke’s Gospel when, pregnant with Jesus, she visits her cousin Elizabeth and declares that God has ‘lifted up the lowly;’ [and] ‘filled the hungry with good things.’ – a song of praise often referred to by its Latin first word, Magnificat, sung at every Anglican Evensong. It is evident again in the prophecy that John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, makes (in Luke’s Gospel) at his son’s dedication, declaring that God had remembered his promise to save his people from their enemies, ‘from the hand of all who hate us,’ as he puts it; and we see it in this morning’s gospel where God chooses a group of shepherds to be the first official group to visit our Lord.

Shepherding, as a profession was not highly esteemed in Palestinian Jewish society. Shepherds lived on the margins of society, and moved around a lot, to find pasture for their flocks. Like the character ‘Kenny,’ who installed and maintained portaloos in the Australian movie of the same name, shepherds tended to be kept at arm’s length by their compatriots (actually, if you are looking for a Christmas movie this year, you could do a lot worse than Kenny, and I think St Luke would approve of your choice). In a typically counter-cultural move, to describe our Lord’s birth, St Luke portrays the God who ‘lifts up the lowly’ and rescues the downtrodden ‘from the hands of those who hate them’ privileging shepherds to witness to the Messiah’s birth, and using them as his ambassadors to spread the joyful news that the nation’s saviour has been born.

This loving God has the same strong desire to restore the displaced and despised people of our world to their full human dignity, as he had to honour the shepherds of Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth, as he had to bless humble Mary with the maternity of the Saviour of the world. And he is reaching out to us, I sense, through the gospel today, bidding us to align ourselves with that enormous project of restoration.

Precisely how we align ourselves with that project will depend on our gifts, talents and personal circumstances, but it will involve each one of us adopting, by God’s grace, hearts that are caring, down-to-earth, kind and courageous – like our Lord’s.

Only those hearts will have the eyes to see the angels (and the Kenny’s) God sends, and the resolve to carry out the mission that that God sends them on.

 

May God bless us, this Christmas, with hearts like his own and enable us to discover and take up our part in his joyful project of human restoration.

Second Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2017, 9.30am

Preached by Jean Rheinfrank

Texts:

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

 

INTRODUCTION

In today’s pew sheet, Tony has pointed out that John the Baptist was charismatic, a man of great talents and had presence.  Personally speaking, I think his dress sense definitely solidified his instant recognition—clothed with camel’s hair, and a large leather belt around his waist.  His dress was reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet.  He was a big man, certainly an earthly man with a large following.  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes him in a straight-forward sentence, as the “Forerunner of Christ.”  And I certainly agree with the observation that this was a very humble man, who recognised Jesus as the Messiah, and immediately stepped back to provide faithful acknowledgement and accord.  Let us explore this unique relationship and freeze this moment of time in history for reflection and discernment. 

 

“PREPARE THE WAY OF The LORD—CRYING OUT in the WILDERNESS

Mark’s Prologue, did not fish around, and was immediately direct and got to the point.  In fact, the word “immediately” was, for Mark, a useful term he could use concerning time! 

 

John’s message was relatively simple:  proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  These first, 8 verses are certainly about John, but his significance, from Mark’s point of view, lies entirely due to the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.  His words and his actions continually point forward to the Successor (Jesus) as the Coming One.  John acknowledges that he performs baptism with water, but the one who comes after will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  And by this action, John accepts with all humility that his position does not measure up to Jesus, requiring John to make his most humble submission that he is not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals.

 

Years ago I heard an amazing lecture about the role of servants and slaves in Biblical times.  Due to the climate of the region, and the dryness, walking around in open toed sandals left the wearer quite unable to keep the dust off his/her feet, away from the sandals, and the feet were simply covered in the dry dust.  If you look under the heading “Sermons” on our website, you will see a photograph of an individual’s sandaled feet, and that the toes and the top of each foot are fully exposed.  Within the slave hierarchy, the absolute lowest task was to be responsible for brushing off the feet, removing the caked dust from between toes, etc.  It was a thankless and most definitely un-enjoyable service to render!  So John is making quite a claim...that he is truly lower than the low! 

 

TRYING TO WALK WITH MARK THROUGH HIS GOSPEL

But for us to walk in sandaled feet with Mark, requires one to move at a very fast pace.  I have to confess to a personal regard for the Gospel of Mark.  As  a Greek student, I enjoy translating his simple style, chock full of more easily recognised words, and sentence construction that doesn’t take hours to translate.  Within the simple, however, there is an amazing beauty and many memorable phrases.  Mark was the first Gospel I studied as a theology student, and my introduction to translating Greek.  But you learned quickly that the author’s pace is not slow, not necessarily organised, and certainly doesn’t follow a coherent reporting of events in the order in which they occur.  And the author had a sense of exaggeration and exuberance!  For example, his statement in v5 that people from the whole Judean countryside and ALL the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the river Jordan, was quite impossible.  Were that true, it would have taken weeks of continuous baptismal celebrations, to which thousands would have attended and been involved.  Such would not have been practical, for one man to perform. 

 

And neither would have been the statement that John makes his appearance in the wilderness as it is stretching the claim that the banks of the Jordan River are actually in the wilderness.  But the point, nevertheless, is borne hope that it is John’s voice who cries, “prepare the way of the Lord,” invokes the idea, to a people steeped in the history of a sojourn in the wilderness that through Jesus they have arrived at a new Exodus, which divinely will incorporate all peoples. 

 

These first 8 verses from Mark’s Gospel become, in a sense, a wider Prologue to a Greek play, and the Good News, as it is played out in the Gospel of Mark, includes us all as players in a narrative leading from the rising up from the waters of the Jordan River to a cross on Golgotha.  And we, as readers, are given this knowledge from the very beginning.  How fitting, indeed, to hear this story again during the second week of Advent, which translated from the Latin term means “coming.”

 

CONCLUSION

You may recall Tony’s story last week that his opening sermon from the Gospel of Mark had framed his first sermon some 20 years earlier (please see below). As I sat and listened, I was reminded that my first sermon...in a far less shorter period of time, being just 3 years ago almost to the day...was also on the Gospel of Mark, and was this same Prologue, and was in fact preached here at St Martin’s @ St Chads.  Thus, as did Tony, I dug out that sermon and found, to my surprise, that it certainly contained a very interesting point which seems quite relevant still today.  This is what was said: 

In this modern age of mass production, high speed photocopying, and the technological wizardry that allows for instant transmission of words, pictures, etc., all over the world in an instant...it’s almost impossible to slow down and consider that in the first century of the Christian church communication—and in fact entire Gospels such as the Gospel of Mark-- were read out loud, and passed from individual to individual!  They didn’t distribute pew sheets—such as we do today--before the service!

Try to imagine being a member of the house congregation who might have heard Mark’s prologue being read out for the first time.  From the first verse, the audience would have been informed that Mark’s words concerned Jesus Christ, the son of God.  Only the listeners (who later would become readers of the gospel) would know that secret...All others (including the disciples first chosen by Jesus), would remain in the dark about Jesus’ true identity, until the cross!  There’s a certain honour—and responsibility—in being in league with Mark of such information.

 

And as we heard in Advent 1 we have been reminded to be awake, to fill our oil lamps, and see the signs of the fig tree and changing leaves that signal a new day!  From Mark we can now add that John the Baptist is pointing us forward to the one who is coming.  And so we continue to search for meaning, and continue to experience both Jesus’ coming, and God’s presence as we journey forth to our joyous Christmas celebrations.

 

AMEN

First Sunday of Advent, 3 December 2017, 9.30am

Sunday of Hope

Texts:   

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13: 24-37

 

It is now the beginning of Advent – and the start of a new Church year. As I mention on the front cover of the pewsheet, we have moved from Year A to Year B of the church’s three year cycle of readings which means that we bid farewell to Matthew as our primary Gospel and welcome the Gospel of Mark.

I am looking forward to that transition – not because I think Matthew’s Gospel is deficient in any way, but because there is something about Mark’s Gospel, in its rugged simplicity, that makes the Good News very immediate (‘in your face’ as some would say); it gets straight to the point and has an uncanny ability – I find – to put Christ right in front of me. When I read this Gospel as a confused, anxious teenager – some years ago now, I found it truly transformative; it brought me back to God.

It actually happens that the texts that we have heard this morning are the same texts I preached on – in my first stint of church preaching – 26 years ago, almost to the day. It was at a youth service in the Catholic Church in which I was brought up, in the evening, on the First Sunday of Advent. How I got to be delivering the sermon is not so clear to me. It is pretty unusual for anyone except a priest to preach in a service in the Catholic Church, but we had a fairly accommodating (or easy going) priest overseeing young adults in the parish, so I got a chance to preach.

I came across the text of what I preached that day when we were moving home recently - coming here, I think, but honestly, we have moved around quite a lot in the last 21 years, so it is possible that I found it in an earlier shift. Be that as it may, I read the text with some trepidation, because I know some of my thoughts have changed over the decades – even over the last few years. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could still agree with what I said then. I might have phrased things a bit differently, but it was still ‘me’ and possibly a better version of the same, so I will read it to you now (it at least has the virtue of being short) and you can judge for yourself).

In tonight’s Gospel we are called to stay awake until the return of our Lord. This call is a challenging one for any Christian. At times, usually when things are going well, we feel the presence of the Lord very strongly and want to praise and follow him. At such times our faith is wide awake and it seems it will never decline. At other times the distractions of the world and our short memories of the good things God has done for us, cause us to distance ourselves from God’s love and mercy. In other words, we fall asleep to faith, just as Israel had fallen asleep and turned from God in the first reading. This of course isn’t a good thing because we know neither the time that Christ will return to establish his kingdom, nor the moment when our individual lives may end. Yet God is merciful and he continuously calls us back to fellowship with him, rocking us out of our drowsiness through the institution of the Church and the challenge of the sacraments. And we must respond to this challenge with a sense of urgency. It is human nature to take the easy way out and putting off the return to God can be seen as the easier road to walk. We travel this road consoling ourselves that there will be time to change tomorrow, forgetting that we live in a world of some uncertainty, where the unexpected is so often the only thing that can be expected and in which tomorrow never comes. Our return to the post of faithful doorkeepers to the Lord should begin not tomorrow, but now. The important thing is to put your faith in God, who, Saint Paul tells us, is faithful and ‘will keep you steady and without blame until the last day.’ God then, will supply us with all the strength we need to stay awake until Jesus’ return. Our challenge is simply to let the Holy Spirit act through us by opening our hearts to the Lord and letting his word be the light which guides our lives.’ (TS, 1 December 1991)

These days I’d probably be tempted to comment on the apocalyptic mind-set of the Marcan community that had put the Gospel together, but I think that would only have detracted from the work that the Spirit was doing through the Gospel – encouraging every member of the congregation to get ready for God now, not tomorrow, let alone next week.

The message coming at us through Mark’s Jesus is very clear; we are to be vigilant in the way we live, keeping our focus on God and God’s commands, so that when the time comes we will be in a fit state to meet the one who created us and to whom we owe everything, not least the gift of life itself.

How can we do this; how can we stay awake?

I think there are lots of ways – private prayer, study and reflection are certainly very important, (beginning with the intentional offering of your life to God through Jesus).

Regular church worship certainly helps – congratulations to you all on that score! Corporate worship builds our relationship with God and with one another. One of the primary needs of human beings is companionship – literarily, someone with whom to break bread, from ‘com’ – with, and ‘panion’ from ‘panus’ – latin for bread. So when we determine to meet together in church, week by week, to worship God, we are building our relationship with God in a way that is not possible through private prayer and study alone.

Beyond the Church door there are innumerable human needs to be met, each of which presents an opportunity to draw closer to God, and to ‘stay awake’ in our spiritual pilgrimage. These needs range from the mundane and every-day [ensuring the next generation are given every opportunity to develop into fully-rounded human beings], to the truly extraordinary [relief after natural disaster], but my sense is that God values one just as highly as the other.

Our ability to meet any human need, not least our own, is completely dependent on God’s grace. That is a point that St Paul makes in his first letter to the Corinthians. The happy thing is that God is more than willing to pour that grace into our lives. He is the most generous of masters, ‘faithful’ as St Paul says to the Corinthians, and determined to strengthen his people to the very end.

Advent is the time of year when Christians endeavour, collectively and individually, to get back on track with God. Through the course of the year, one thing or another may have caused our eye to be lifted from the real treasure of life, from the pearl beyond price. Now is the opportunity to take hold of God’s promise of faithful support so that when the master does return, as he will, we will be ready, whether that return be at ‘evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.' 

Tony Surman

The Reign of Christ in all Creation, 26 November 2017, 9.30am

Primary texts:

 

Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

 

Compared to Feast Days like Christmas, and Easter, The Feast of Christ the King is a relative newcomer. It was first celebrated in 1925 – the 1600th anniversary of the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) at which the unity of Christ with the Father was defined (The Nicaean Creed). That made 1925 a fitting year to begin an annual commemoration of the ultimate kingship or sovereignty that Christ has over the whole universe.   

 

Over the past two millennia the way in which Kingship has functioned in the Western, Christian world has often failed to live up to the loving pattern of Christ’s life and teaching, and that makes some people wary of calling Christ ‘King’ for fear that the singular, special nature of his rule might be confused with the many rather poor examples of earthly kingship there are to be had, hence an alternative name for this feast is the Reign of Christ in All Creation.

 

The readings for this feast vary on a three-year cycle. If you were here last year (Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary) you will have heard Luke’s account of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Through those words we encountered Christ’s authentic kingship, contrasted with the counterfeit kingship of the world, and in my sermon I spoke about the way that Christ’s sovereignty is based on love, love which is so strong and pure that it is willing to go to death so that people might be reconciled with each other and the God who made them. It is a reign that is real and effective, but largely hidden from the world, and seen, I suggested, most fully by the powerless and the humble.

 

In this morning’s Gospel we are transported by St Matthew, not to the hill of Calvary, but to the Day of Judgement, when the Son of Man (Our Lord) will be visible in all his glory, in a way that every eye can see. The story will be familiar to many of you here. The Son of Man is in the judgement seat, surrounded by sheep and goats which he separates into two groups; one for reward, the other for punishment.

 

What is the significance of the sheep and goats? The sheep are easy to explain. Throughout the Bible God is portrayed as a Shepherd and we as the sheep of his pasture. Goats are also mentioned, quite frequently and often together with sheep. They were a significant part of the sacrificial system – on the solemn Day of Atonement each year, when the priests made sacrifices on behalf of the nation, it was a goat (the original scapegoat) that was ceremonially sent off into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people.

 

Now, I can remember one thing from Stage One archaeology about goats in the ancient near east, which is that they were hard to distinguish from sheep; as far as the skeletal remains are concerned, there was no significant difference in size or structure between sheep and goats – which leads me to suppose that the point Matthew is making is that, from outward appearances there is very little to distinguish the crowd gathered before the Judge of the world.

 

A key point that today’s Gospel is making is deadly serious, and it can be summed up in this way; as we care for people we are serving God and being drawn deeper into a relationship with the Divine. And, conversely, when we neglect the needs of others we move away from God and our relationship with God suffers.

 

This is a truth that is reiterated in different ways throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Let’s consider a few briefly.

The writer of Proverbs taught:

 

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him. (Proverbs 14:31)

 

In Isaiah 58: 6-9 the close link between treating people justly and drawing close to God is made clear when the prophet spells out what God sees as the heart of religiosity

 

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

 

Similarly, in the prophet Ezekiel we read that a righteous person does,

not oppress anyone,...gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment...and is careful to observe [God’s] ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.   (Ezekiel 18:5-9)

 

This insight – that our treatment of people has direct implications for our relationship with God –  is taken to another level in our Lord’s teaching. Consider St Luke’s recollection of one of Jesus’ teachings;

 

...when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

 

Saint John, after a long period of ministry in the early church declares (1 John 4:12,20):

 

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us...Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

 

And, of course, there is the well-known teaching from Jesus’ brother James.

 

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

 

Christ’s Kingdom is a reign in which the love and care we have received from God is handed on by us to others in need. When we do that, we are essentially giving back to God; and in that divine cycle we ascend a little further along a spiritual helix coil of love, ready at our new position on that helix to be drawn into a deeper way of caring, and, in turn, a richer understanding of God.

 

 

Each of us are on that heavenly helix, with God’s spirit urging us to take another step forward in caring for the people around us. They may only be baby steps, but that doesn’t matter if we are persistent about it.  May we heed that call and come closer to God, to others and to be the person we were always meant to be under Christ’s gracious reign. Amen.

Tony Surman

Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, 19 November 2017, 9.30am

The Garden of Eden

Being Good Stewards of Creation

Preached by George Varghese, author of  Our Moral Crisis - Hope in a Troubled World (OMC, 2010)

Genesis chap.1.26. Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps  on  the earth.

Chap. 1.31. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Chap. 2.15. Then the Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.

 

Romans 8:38-39

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Matthew 6:33

But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that men desire shall be added unto you.

 

Our creator God, we have gathered here to worship you and listen to you. We pray that you  speak to us and give us hearts and minds that listen to you. Amen.

 

After God made the heavens and the earth, He looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Then God made man and put him in God’s garden and God told man to care for it. Today, let us take a look around us to see how we have cared for God’s garden and how we have used our power to dominate.

 

Last night, one seventh of the people in the world went to bed hungry – while at the same time one third of the food produced in the world is wasted. It is estimated that every year millions children die because of starvation and civil war.

 

In many cities the air is so polluted that fresh air, often sourced from the mountains of New Zealand, is sold in tins. You have to pay to breath fresh air.

 

Deserts are encroaching on what was once fertile land.

 

Every year hundreds of plants and animal species become extinct. Never again shall we see those beautiful creatures.

 

While we still see the glory of God reflected in the glorious beauty and diversity of His creation, much has been destroyed and lost. A lot of the damage is the result of human activity, abuse and neglect.

 

We have not cared for God's garden. We have misused our power to dominate. When God made the earth and the heavens, he provided enough resources to ensure that everyone gets their daily bread. The problem is not a shortage of resources but the wrong utilisation and distribution of resources.

 

In our single minded pursuit of economic goals, we are leaving behind us a trail of destruction that could eventually catch up with us and destroy us. If we don't change our ways, we, like the dinosaurs, could simply vanish from the face of the earth. With global warming now taking place and the existence nuclear weapons, that threat is becoming more imminent.

 

We seem to be involved in the rather strange process of filling our pockets with money and our homes with possessions while depriving ourselves of fresh air, clean water and healthy food.

 

What should we do about this.

 

In the face difficult situations, we should turn to the word of God for answers – for the word of God is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

 

1. Jesus cared for the earth in the best possible way - by living a simple life. Jesus said, "Foxes  have holes and birds have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head".

 

We should live simply so that others may simply live. We are consuming resources at such a rate that future generations may not have much left to live on.

 

It is possible to live an abundant and wholesome life without many of the material things that surround us. As Albert Einstein said, “a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.

 

If material wealth was the route to peace and happiness, the Americans should be the happiest people since America is one of the richest country in the world. Instead, however, they have one of the highest homicide rates, the highest divorce rates and the highest drug abuse rates in the so called developed world. Their economic wealth has not brought them the happiness they are seeking. Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

 

2. We should always use technology which is efficient and non polluting. Though such technology exists today, we are so bound by short term profit considerations, that we don't invest in such technology. We should never compromise the future for the sake of the present.

 

3.  We need to educate people all over the world about the need to care for the environment. People need to know that if we don’t care for the earth, the earth will cease to care for us.

 

4.  We should stop migrating to the cities. Isn't it better to be in the countryside and enjoy God's free gift of fresh air instead of having to buy it in containers.

 

5.  We should plant more trees and stop the destruction of forests. Trees provide us with fresh air, clean water and healthy food. Forests also provide a home to thousands of endangered species. As Swami Vivekananda said, "A tree is the greatest unilateral benefactor. It provides shade even to the axe man who comes to chop it down". The pews on which you are now sitting were once trees. Even in death the tree continues to serve. We must preserve the beauty and diversity of God's creation by caring for the plants and animals that are now threatened with extinction.

 

6. In one simple, succinct sentence, our Lord Jesus told us how to achieve progress – progress that is worthwhile, long term and sustainable. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that men desire shall be added unto you”. Upon this basis and upon this basis alone, can there be any worthwhile, long term and sustainable progress. Such progress is not measured only in terms of money and is not dependant on resources. In the absence of peace, goodwill and integrity no amount of resources, money or hard work will bring about progress.

 

Today we do not face an environmental crisis. Nor do we face an economic crisis. What we face today is a moral crisis which manifests itself as an environmental, economic and social crisis. That is why Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that men desire shall be added unto you”.

 

However seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness is easier said than done. There are many difficult questions to answer. For example:

·         How do we know the will of God?

·         How can we be motivated and inspired to do God's will?

·         Should we, like Mother Theresa, sell all that we have and become homeless people? All of Mother Theresa's possessions would have fitted into a bag not much bigger than this shoulder bag.

 

I don't have the answers to those questions, but as we ponder on those and other questions, may God be our guide and our inspiration.

 

A long time ago the psalmist echoed similar sentiments when he said, "Behold how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."  In the present context of environmental destruction, it may be more appropriate to say, “Behold how good and joyful a thing it is for all of creation to dwell together in harmony." 

 

Such a vision may seem like an utopian dream – hopelessly unattainable. The challenges on the way may appear insurmountable and we may be led to despair and disappointment. In the face of such fears, we have four reasons for hope.

 

The first reason for our hope is that many people all over the world are realising the importance of caring for God's garden and are doing something positive about it. For example:

·         The Anglican Diocese of Auckland has committed to operating in a carbon-neutral manner by offsetting the carbon it generates through travel by planting trees in Fiji.

·         Countdown and other supermarkets plan to eliminate the use of plastic bags.

·         Personally, I drive a hybrid car which consumes one third the petrol of a conventional car. Not only is it good for the environment - it also saves me money. But there is more that I can and should do to care for God's garden.

 

The list could go on and on about how people all over the world are beginning to care for the earth and we, as a church, have an important role to play in it.

 

The second reason for our hope is that God has given us the freedom to choose and the power to implement our choices. Sadly, we have often made the wrong choices. For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could be provided lunch every day for 5 years. The choice is ours. Only a fraction of the money and the resources that are now being devoted to the weapons of death and destruction are sufficient to turn all our deserts green. God has given us the freedom to choose and the power to implement our choices. May He also give us the wisdom to make the right choices.

 

The third reason for our hope is that a long time ago, Joshua had similar fears and doubts when he was called upon to lead the people of Israel. At that time God told Joshua, "Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Today, in the face of new challenges, opportunities and threats, we have the same confidence and assurance. We are co-workers with God in the ongoing process of creation. We plough the fields and scatter the seeds. Then God makes it grow.  With God working alongside us, our labour shall not be in vain.

 

The fourth, and probably the most important reason for our hope, is that in the midst of conflict, chaos and change, God is still in control and I believe that, God’s love, His wisdom and His might will ultimately prevail over our foolish ways. As St. Paul said, nothing can separate us from the love of God as revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Praise be to God.

 

Caring for God’s garden calls for a change in our values and the way we live. That change must begin with me and with you. Then when our children look at God's garden they would still be able to say, “Behold, how good and beautiful it is”.

 

Shall we pray. Sovereign God,  creator and sustainer of all things visible and invisible, we thank you for giving us your garden to live in. We are sorry for not caring for your garden. We thank you for giving us the power to dominate. We are sorry for misusing that power. We pray for the grace and wisdom to serve you more faithfully and follow you more closely. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Patronal Feast Day, 12 November 2017

The Feast of St Martin of Chad and St Chad of Mercia

 

The Rev’d Dr Tony Surman

 

Primary Texts

 

Deuteronomy 15:7-8,10-11

1 Thessalonians 5:4-11

John 13:31-35

 

Not long before he was put to death in Jerusalem, Jesus is reported by John to have been at a meal in his honour in Bethany (John 12:2), where a very unusual thing happened. Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, came in, and anointed Jesus’ feet with a very expensive ointment. Her action was extravagant, scandalous even. It caused at least one person in the room to exclaim that the money spent on the ointment ought to have been used to support the poor. That person was Judas Iscariot. His motive in saying what he did, at the time, was not pure according to John. John comments that Judas, who used to keep the common purse, was in the habit of stealing from it himself (John 12:6). Jesus’ measured response to Judas was that the ointment was intended for his burial and that “you will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John12:8). In the Gospels of Mark (14:3-9) and Matthew (26:7-13) Jesus says the same thing under similar, though not identical circumstances. In those instances Jesus is in Bethany, but there is no reference to Lazarus, Martha or Mary; there is a woman, but she is unnamed, she pours the oil on his head, not his feet, and the disciples /observers generally are miffed, rather than Judas alone, who goes off to betray Jesus as a result; all of which suggests that the three records we have point to an historic event in which Jesus was the recipient of an extravagant personal gift, delivered by a woman, which scandalised his companions and led to him commenting that the poor will always be around to be looked after, but he would not.

It is almost certain that Jesus, through that comment, was referring to a passage in the text from Deuteronomy that we heard this morning, ‘…there will never cease to be some in need on the earth’ (Deut 15:11a). The verse in question, in its entirety, helps us to see that Jesus was not making a glib remark at the expense of the wretched masses. Verse 11, as we have heard reads, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ (Deut 15:11). Jesus lived that commandment as completely as it can be lived. Town-loads of people would come out to him to be healed, for instance, and he never turned them away. His disciples ought to have been getting worked up about how they could imitate his kindness and generosity. Instead they, as a group, or just Judas alone, adopted a ‘holier than thou’ attitude ostensibly driven by concern for social justice, but really motivated by something much darker and selfish.

Our Lord and the author of Deuteronomy were spot on in their observation about the persistence of poverty. It continues to be a feature of our society. Solving the problem is not straight-forward but it needs to be worked away at constantly because one of the central values of our faith is the requirement to look after our neighbours, our fellow nationals (and in an increasingly global world), the whole of humanity.

That value is spelled out as a very clear commandment in Deuteronomy. It is not in the form of a riddle. It isn’t cryptic. It’s very black and white: Look after the needy in your society. Of course, one could contend that the society or nation being referred to here is the people of God, which today is represented by the church or the baptised rather than all the people who make up a modern nation (So forget everyone else, just look after your buddies in church), but I think that misses the point that the people of God being referred to in Deuteronomy was a diverse nation of people, committed to some core values, but differing on other matters (as you would expect in a federation of clans or tribes). The modern nation state parallels that situation quite closely. In New Zealand, for example, most of us can agree on a number of core values, but we disagree on how they might best be achieved – by more government intervention, smaller government, redistribution of wealth, greater personal responsibility, and on and on it goes. So when the writer of Deuteronomy calls on his fellow nationals to have a real heart for those in need in his society, his more recent counterparts are people like Richard John Seddon, the NZ Liberal Premier who oversaw the passing of the Old-Age Pensions Act of 1898, Michael Joseph Savage, the PM of the first Labour government which significantly broadened the welfare state, and a host of good people from all walks of life who used their talents or their success to give other people a chance to flourish.

Our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel today, in the context of his last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, is a plea for them to be united through mutual care for one another. As well as being a good thing in itself, the love they have for one another has an evangelistic element; it is through the love that they have for one another that the world will know that they are his disciples (John 13:35)

This is a teaching that every Christian community would do well to take to heart and concentrate their efforts on. Unfortunately, it all too frequently slips down a rung or two on the ladder of priorities. Usually the slip is not too dramatic, but still disappointing – parishioners harbouring grudges for something that was or wasn’t done, people being short with one another, by-passing certain people, a refusal to look someone in the eye, or to look them in the eye unkindly; the list could go on! Sometimes the absence of charity (of love) is so severe, however, that war breaks out in congregations and fists fly.

I’m very pleased to be able to report that there have been no assaults between parishioners over the last year (none that have been reported to me anyway), and, positively, I can honestly say that everyone here makes an effort to accommodate everyone else – allowing a bit of room for each of our peculiarities (speaking for myself at least when it comes to being peculiar). The worse things that I’ve had to deal with have been the occasional uncharitable remark made by one person or another to a fellow congregant. That shouldn’t happen, but sometimes it does, and it does cause hurt, not only to the person it is directed against, but to ourselves collectively and our mission to the world which depends on the witness of mutual love between Christians – ‘By this [says Jesus] everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

This parish is one of the friendliest I’ve encountered. It really does have a family feel about it, and I know from talking with people who have been here much longer than me that this has long been the case. That is a culture worth preserving and cultivating. By the simple act of looking after one another, being kind to one another, considerate and caring we preach the gospel and create an environment that is quite uncommon in much of the modern world – an environment in which people looking for meaning in life, seeking out God, can feel safe and at home.

We are fortunate to have two saints watching over us as a community – St Martin of Tours and St Chad of Mercia. I’ve written a bit about them on the pewsheet, and I won’t rehearse that again now, suffice to say, both our patrons opened their hand to the poor and needy, in their respective times and places, and we to, through the power of the Holy Spirit are compelled to do the same.

Something that might help us remember that call, and the power behind it, is the new artwork that has been lovingly made by parishioners for the church. Some kind people here gave money for the purchase of tiles and other material, and others gave their talent and time to putting it together. It is finished now, so I invite the Mosaics on Monday group to come forward to have their icon blessed.

Prayer of Blessing (from The Book of Occasional Services, 1979):

Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour manifested your glory in the flesh, and sanctified the outward and visible to be a means to perceive realities unseen: accept, we pray, this representation of the Holy Spirit; and grant that as we look upon it, our hearts may be drawn to things which can be seen only by the eye of faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

All Saints Sunday, 5 November 2017, 9.30am

Primary texts    

 

Revelation 7:9-17

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

 

 

As I mention in the pew sheet this morning, the word saint has come to describe a person of exceptional virtue or exemplary behaviour. That definition is fine, but it fails to address something that is even more fundamental to sainthood. That deeper meaning becomes apparent when you look to the origin of the word. Saint came into English from the Latin word, Sanctus, which we translate today as Holy. The core of saintliness, then, is holiness. Holiness is a key property of God – later in our Eucharistic prayer we will affirm this when we say together

 

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

 

Now, it is helpful to know that saints and God have something in common – namely, holiness – but it can be a bit tricky putting one’s finger, as it were, precisely on what holiness is. That is not surprising, really, when you consider that it is a property best exemplified by the Creator of the universe, who transcends time and space, and whose ways and thoughts are – as one of the prophets puts it – as high above our ways and thoughts as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9) In fact, it is the massive gap that exists between God and the world– in terms of love, understanding, justice, and so on – that provides us with a practical definition of holiness; to be holy is to be different and set apart from things as they normally are.

 

Saints, then, are people who have been called by God to a way of life – to a way of being in the world – that sets them apart in some way from the world around them.

 

The way in which saints are to be set apart is spelled out by Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. In that important teaching (often referred to as the Beatitudes; from the Latin to be happy or blessed) our Lord lists the behaviours and dispositions which lead to real happiness. On the face of it, many of the qualities which Jesus sets out as blessings are what the everyday world would describe as misfortune or misdirected (think  of mourning – what is good about that, the world asks – isn’t it just an unfortunate emotion to be put behind us as quickly as possible so we can move on to more pleasurable experiences? or they are  what the world might call a failure to seize the moment (being meek or poor in spirit is viewed with suspicion by a society that expects people to be assertive, competitive and concerned about self-actualisation above all else) or these qualities are what the world might consider a waste of effort altogether (think of what worldly wisdom would have to say about the blessedness of peacemaking in the middle-east for example; ‘a hiding to nothing,’ many would say); there can be no doubt that a person who lives out these teachings of Jesus will stand out in a world that operates according to a different set of values. They will be distinguishable on the spiritual level from many of the people with whom they rub shoulders on a daily basis. They will be holy. They will be saints.

 

Over the course of Christian history a number of people have stood out from the world in the way that Jesus describes as happy or blessed. By allowing the grace of God to work in their lives, and by responding positively to the promptings of the Spirit, they learned that what Jesus was talking about was the way to abundant life and extraordinary effectiveness, paradoxical as that would seem.

 

Take one of the most well-known and loved Saints of the middle-ages for example, St Francis of Assisi. Francis very intentionally became poor in both the spirit and the flesh. His approach to living out the beatitudes was so extreme it almost certainly contributed to his early death. My feeling is that he went too far in his bid to mortify the flesh but I don’t doubt at all the purity of his intention to be a true disciple of Christ, a saint, set apart to reflect Christ’s life to his own generation. God rewarded Francis’ pure intention through the burgeoning of spiritual life in Europe that followed Francis’ remarkable witness in the world. The ongoing importance of Franciscan spirituality is evident in the decision of the latest Roman Catholic pope to take the name Francis. Like his namesake, the current pope has distinguished himself by living as simply as a person in his position can, and he seems to be relatively unconcerned about courting the good opinion of the power brokers in his church. His pontificate to date has really been quite refreshing. His commitment to living simply and keeping the needs of the poor in the forefront of his mind has made a man in his every 80s (born 1936) with one lung, strangely compelling to Christians of all denominations, and effective in proclaiming the Gospel beyond the church to the world. 

 

Moving closer to home, we have the equally compelling figure of Bishop George Augustus Selwyn who set aside the prospect of a cushy posting in Britain for a life of challenge and uncertainty establishing a church in this land. Selwyn was very idealistic. His vision for St John’s College, for instance, was that it would be a community that engaged people of every age in study and practical work, and be a model for others to follow. His vision in that instance was not fully realised; not because it was a bad idea but because of flaws in the world and in human character. That set back doesn’t make him any less a saint; his sainthood depends (as does ours) on his intention and attention to building communities in which the dignity of every person is respected, where the potential of each person can be realised, where reconciliation between enemies is facilitated – where, basically, the beatitudes that Jesus’ taught are lived out in their fullest.

 

The saints of God, then, are a people set apart – not for their own glorification – but for the building of a world which exemplifies, or makes real, the loving principles that are at the heart of God. Those principles run counter to many of the cynical, earthly truisms upon which we base our everyday lives. It takes great effort and time; it takes blood, sweat and tears to combat those negative forces and to build a society that conforms more closely to the divine model. Thanks be to God it is a work that has already begun and that we, as individuals, and even as a generation, do not do alone. The foundation of this mighty work was laid by Jesus of Nazareth who, in his life and death, showed us what love really is, and by his resurrection, assured us of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty over all things.

 

Generations of saints, following in the footsteps of Christ, have built on that foundation until today, 80 or so generations removed from the church of the first century, the Gospel has become the pattern to which approximately a third of the world’s population have committed– in theory at least – to conforming their lives to. There is still a lot of work to be done. That is our task. It is a work that moves ahead when we let go of the world’s priorities and expectations and commit ourselves to the properties and qualities of God. When that change of focus occurs in our lives, new sensitivities develop and a fresh ability to make positive changes in our own lives and in the lives of others is unearthed. Our empathy with the bereft becomes more acute; we are indignant rather than indifferent when people are treated unfairly; and we are willing to forgive because we are more acutely aware than ever of how we ourselves have needed and have received mercy.

 

 

So you Saints of God, I salute you. Go on to fight the good fight. Run the race to the finish and trust that the love which has enabled you to change this world for the better, if only in part, will bring both you and your work to full completion in God’s good time. 

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 29 October 2017, 9.30am

Primary Texts

 

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46

 

The most important Commandment

 

 

We are in the same scene (as it were) in today’s gospel as we were last Sunday. Once again Jesus is teaching in Jerusalem, surrounded by people, and being quizzed by religious experts. The question asked of him today, however, doesn’t seem to be asked with the same degree of malice that the question about tax was asked. The person (or group) that asks Jesus ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ has already seen Jesus deal very effectively with tricky questions, knocking the wind completely out of his opponents, so the question this time appears to be asked with real interest about what the answer will be.

 

The first part of Jesus’ answer mirrors the words from Deuteronomy 6:5 which I commented on last week (love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind (Jesus)/strength (Deuteronomy).

 

This commandment is incredibly important. The instruction immediately after it in Deuteronomy is to “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

 

And it continues, “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9)

 

This instruction is kept in a literal way in orthodox Judaism. Two boxes (Phylacteries) with scripture in them (from Deuteronomy 6 and Exodus 13 -  the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt) are worn on the forehead and forearm in morning prayer. There is also an old tradition of keeping the texts of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (which outlines the blessings God promises to those who obey his commandments) in a small cylinder beside the entrance door of the home. This is called the Mezuzah, and it is touched or acknowledged in some other way as people pass it (rather like holy water at a church entrance way or in some homes), with the words of verse 8 of Psalm 121 being said in Hebrew – “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” It is a nice tradition that brings a bit of focus to a person’s comings and goings.

 

The second part of Jesus’ answer to what is the most important commandment is that we should love our neighbours as ourselves because that is ‘like’ the commandment to love God. I elaborate a bit on this on the front cover of the pew sheet, suggesting that our love of God is shown in the way we look after people, or treat people. Given that each person is God’s loving and loved creation, it follows that our treatment of people says a great deal about the value we place on God. This is a principle that we need to keep reminding ourselves of quite regularly – hour to hour, even minute to minute, as we interact with people at home, in the workplace, on the street. If we really love God, those interactions will be so much the smoother because we will see the person before us as something of great worth, and that will cause us to find areas of common ground in our meeting, even if our immediate purposes are at odds.

 

The job that diplomats have to do, for instance, is dependent on them being able to build relationships with world leaders who often have mutually incompatible visions of how the world ought to be. Their role can only be effective when they can see through the tangle of policy differences present at any meeting, to the human beings they are negotiating with, created in the image of God and priceless. The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, appears to be a person with this ability. It is unfortunate that his boss is less gifted in this regard (Trump told Tillerson, via twitter, that he was ‘wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man’ when Tillerson was attempting to have dialogue with the North Korean leader Kim Jon-Un). It is early days, but I think it is already fair to say that our new Prime Minister is cut from the same sort of cloth as Tillerson, with a similar instinct and ability to build relationships between very different people. The coalition negotiations are testament to that gift. May she continue to build relationships across NZ society and give glory to God through the respect she shows friends and opponents alike.

 

After answering some very curly questions very well, Jesus turns the tables on the people who have been quizzing him and he asks them a question which reveals something significant about his status in God’s plan for the world.  To understand what he is driving at it helps to know that the Psalms (or at least the majority of them) have been traditionally understood as being composed by King David, and that it was the common belief that it would be someone descended from that beloved King who would rescue the Jewish people from the oppression of other nations; the Pharisees answer Jesus’ question about who the Messiah is son of, by saying that the Messiah is David’s son. Jesus then notes that in Psalm 110 the writer, David, refers to a powerful figure before whom every oppressor will be vanquished (God will ‘put his enemies under his feet’). David describes this person as superior to him (he refers to him as his Lord), and his majesty is almost indistinguishable from God’s own majesty (this Lord will sit at God’s right hand, which is the place occupied by the crown prince). The implication is that if ever there were a Messiah, this person would be the one.

 

 

This baffles the Pharisees into silence. They have just heard a very convincing argument that the Messiah need not be a descendent of David. Almost certainly, most of them would have been keeping watch, for a long time, over well-connected families in the elite who might just rear a child who could be the next ‘King David.’ They wouldn’t have expected that person to come from the poorer end of society, and it is unlikely that they thought of Jesus as being in any way a descendent of David (although we know from Matthew’s genealogy that he did have a connection in a sense). Now, however, they had been given good reason to entertain the possibility that the Messiah could come from anywhere and be anyone. And, given the quality of the answers Jesus gave to their questions and the questions he himself asked, they must have felt, in their heart of hearts, that this could very well be the one destined to sit at God’s right hand. They had a difficult decision to make. Some of them, we know, decided to follow Jesus (Nicodemus)– perhaps not at that very moment, but after more time and reflection. Others did not. That is unfortunate, but what is important, here and now, is that we see what God was and is doing through Jesus of Nazareth, slowly (perhaps) but steadily vanquishing the powers of darkness within and beyond people, to the honour of God who made them, and who alone deserves our complete adoration, which is demonstrated by the way we look after each other. 

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 22 October 2017, 9.30am

 

Texts:

 

Isaiah 45:1-7

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

 

 

Giving God God's Due

 

"Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matt 22:21)

You will no doubt have heard the old adage that there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. There is truth in this statement. Death has been a part of life on this planet for the millions of years over which life has evolved from the simplest, single-celled organisms to the incredibly complex forms of life which grace the earth today. Taxes, understood as levies gathered in a systematic way from a population by those who govern that human unit are not millions of years old, but they are certainly thousands of years old and have been with us since humans began to cluster together into sedentary communities that required an administration to maintain law and order, and provide some level of defence from outsiders. The Roman Empire which occupied Palestine in the first century had a well organised system of taxation but it didn’t operate in quite the way that it does in twenty-first century New Zealand. In first century Palestine taxes were collected by agents who obtained the right to raise taxes on condition that they guaranteed to pay the Roman authorities a set fee – whether or not they were able to extract that sum from the people. They were, however, allowed to raise more money than their quota. There was a strong incentive to do so, because that surplus remained with them. It was ‘their cut.’ This system worked well for the Roman state. They were guaranteed a certain income. It wasn’t so wonderful for the population concerned, who were pursued by tax agents anxious to achieve their quota in tax lest they fall foul of the Roman justice system and keen to extract as much money as possible from each person they met. It is understandable, then, that tax collectors were despised by the local population. Any revolutionary figure might have been expected to be a harsh critic of the tax system and to have encouraged his/her compatriots to resist paying it. This is what the Pharisees were banking on when they quizzed Jesus about the justice of paying tax to the Emperor. If Jesus said it was wrong to do so, they could run straight to the Roman authorities and accuse him of sedition. If he said it was just to pay tax to the Emperor, Jesus – the Pharisees might reason – would be made to look weak to his followers. Jesus deflects their cunning, pointing out that there is justice in the paying of tax to the Emperor (“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s”). His ‘knock-out blow’ to the Pharisees is to bring God into the conversation when he states that we must also give God what is God’s due. This makes the Pharisees look very petty. They should have been spending their time asking Jesus questions on how we are to achieve the latter. That would have been a very productive thing for them to do, and so it remains today.

 

Tony Surman 

 

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 8 October 2017, 9.30am

Primary Texts:

 

Isaiah 5: 1-7

Philippians3: 4b-14: 

Matthew 21: 33-46: 

 

The passion with which St Paul writes in this morning’ second lesson is very moving, very persuasive. For Paul, his relationship with Christ was absolutely paramount, and as you know, completely life changing. He was a Jew by birth and upbringing – he was a part of that vineyard which God planted when he called Abraham and Sarah to a new place and promised to be faithful to them and their descendants, if they were faithful to him – yet Paul counted those formal qualifications (I guess you could call them that) as nothing in comparison with being united with Christ.

 

The first reading and the Gospel today are hard-hitting and important, but they are also dangerous. They are hard-hitting and important because they portray in vivid terms the nature and the consequences of humankind’s rebellion from God. They characterise human nature as having a tendency towards being self-serving (‘look after number one’ as the saying goes), and they demonstrate what happens when selfishness becomes the order of the day in human society, and the pursuit of God and the virtues and values which that entails ‘goes out the proverbial window.’ That is an important lesson for any age.

 

The danger they (the first reading and the Gospel) bring with them is the risk of incitement to hatred of a particular people – namely, the Jews, because it is pretty clear that they, or at least a significant group of them, are being singled out as villains here in the story of God’s interaction with humankind. That is understandable in the context in which the readings were being set down. In Isaiah’s case, the critique is harsh but it is being made by an ‘insider’ for the benefit of insiders. In Matthew’s case, Jesus’ reported speech also has that self-critical element to it (Jesus was a Jew, speaking so as to influence Jews – in the first instance), but the words themselves were being set down a generation or more later by communities that had been deliberately isolated from mainstream Judaism and were the victims of oppression and persecution (to some extent at least) from that community.

 

The problem with writing anything down is that when the context in which a text is read (sometimes centuries later) differs from the context in which it was set down, the text can have consequences that the original writers never intended (at least in their better moments). I think that is what did happen as Christians became the dominant group in Europe and Jews existed as tiny minorities with little or no security of tenure in any one country. The temptation for Christians was to read texts like today’s Isaiah and Matthew texts, as rationales for keeping the Christian foot firmly on the Jewish throat because these were the ‘bad guys’ in the story, wicked tenants and Christ-killers to boot, who were brazen enough to say in Matthew’s Gospel about Jesus’ impending crucifixion, ‘his blood be upon us and on our children.’ (Matthew 27:25)

 

As an example of the way in which changing contexts can have dangerous consequences on things that are written down, consider the great – and in a sense, the original – reformer of the western church, to whom our brand of Christianity owes a great deal – Martin Luther. This year is the 500th anniversary of his posting of his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral (31 October). Luther was a truly great reformer, and a man of energy, courage, vision, and fine intellect, but he was, in many ways, still a medieval, pre-modern man, in the way he thought about the world. One of the prejudices he carried with him was anti-Semitism. He hoped to be able to convert the Jews to Christianity, but when this proved unsuccessful (in some cases, Jews were making converts of Christians), he vented his spleen by writing some very horrid things about the Jews. In his 1543 work, ‘The Jews and their lies’ he wrote

 

“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

 

(I will just give the lead sentences to the paragraphs that follow)

 

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them…

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed... 

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them…

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb... 

Fifth, I advise that safe­ conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…

Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3[:19])…

 

The prejudices and outright hatred that Luther expresses here are no doubt influenced by a culture in which Christianity was dominant, powerful, and - though interested in reform - arrogant and lacking in self-criticism. So they read texts such as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants as indictments of the Jews, as a people of faith (if not a people, full stop). That almost certainly wasn’t the intention of our Lord, who was born and raised as a Jew, called Jews to be his disciples, and, even in his risen life, called a Jew to be his primary ambassador to the non-Jewish world. 

 

But there was worse to come. Luther’s own anti-Semitic writings – penned in the coarse and crude idiom of the time – in combination with the prestige he had in Protestant parts of Germany in the 20th century – provided an inroad for the Nazis to sell their policy of the elimination of Jewish culture - and ultimately Jewish lives – to Germans who identified as Christian, with ease. Luther, I’m pretty sure, would have recognised the sheer evil of the Nazi’s ‘final solution’ of the Jewish ‘problem’ if he had been alive to see it. But he wasn’t there. All that remained of his thought on the matter was his angry rhetoric, penned in frustration that the Jews of his time had not converted to Christianity as he hoped they might. We must beware of what we write in anger.

 

(Returning the Gospel) What we might have benefited from doing, as a church, across Christian history, when we read Matthew 21:33-46, was questioning the extent to which our assurance in the church as an institution, and all those rites and observances through which we find our identity, was more important to us than our relationship with Christ; we should have been rehearsing our ability to say, in parallel to Paul in the second lesson, that despite being a faithful, dyed in the wool Anglican /Catholic/Presbyterian/Baptist (you name it), we regard that fact (relatively speaking) as loss compared with the ‘surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, our Lord.’ I really think that would have been appropriation of the scripture that was more in keeping with the Spirit of Christ, revealed through the NT as a whole, not least through the letters of St Paul.

 

What is it to ‘know Christ Jesus, our Lord’ as Paul would have it? That is a big question. Maybe we can start by saying what it isn’t rather than what it is. It isn’t to do with knowing a lot of things about Jesus, although this probably helps. That is to say, it isn’t to do with how erudite we are as scholars, or how well we can quote scripture and verse from the New Testament – though both of those capabilities might be very useful. St Paul, as he tells us today, was very accomplished in his faith tradition. As a Pharisee he would have been in regular – likely daily – contact with the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been trained, and no doubt adept at debating with colleagues about the meaning of a passage of scripture. That was all well and good, but he managed to do that very happily while he was still, in the Risen Christ’s words, ‘kicking against the goads’ (Acts 26:14) or resisting God’s call to him through Christ.

 

If it wasn’t ‘knowledge as facts and figures’ that Paul was referring to when he asserted that he wanted to ‘know Christ Jesus, our Lord’ then what was it that he was referring to? Well, I think it is knowledge in the sense of acquaintance. That sort of knowledge is experience based, and it depends on an encounter with the Risen Christ. Paul’s own encounter with Christ, which led to his conversion, is reported three times in the Book of Acts and it is referred to in his first letter to the Corinthians and his letter to the Galatians. That encounter was very intense and powerful, but it was not a one-off incident. Paul’s whole life from that moment revolved around deepening his acquaintance with Jesus. That pattern is apparent in the lives of all the great saints – and it is the pattern that we are called to as well.

 

We need to keep focused on that core work, on keeping our relationship with Christ as central to our lives, even though there are so many things to distract us from that imperative, in the world, but also in the church where there is always the risk of getting caught up in serving the institution and its perceived needs rather than Christ and the concerns he has for all people. God forbid that we ever become so distracted from our central obligation that we fail to recognise the landowner’s Son when he comes to us, as he will, and very likely incognito, disguised, so as to be recognisable only to those who are well acquainted with what it feels like to be around real holiness. May we rise to that occasion by God’s grace.

 

Tony Surman

 

 

Thanksgiving for Creation - Pet Sunday, 1 October 2017, 9.30am

The three young men who sang the original Benedicite

Primary Texts

Song of the Three 52-65

Galatians 6:14-18

Luke 12:22-34

 

It is quite possible that this is the first Sunday you have heard of a piece of scripture called the Song of the Three but I assure you it is the reading that our official lectionary assigns as the first lesson on St Francis Day (who was mad about creation – and this is the closest Sunday to his feast), and it has been a major part of Anglican worship since the publication of the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549. In that book, the words of praise (which every part of creation is called upon to give to God – and taken from the Song of the Three) are part of the service of morning prayer – Matins. They come after the first lesson (reading) there, and were an alternate to the Song of the Church (Te Deum Laudamus). And that has continued to be the case through all the editions of the Book of Common Prayer, where the Song of the Three is called by its Latin name Benedicite. By the way, the Three people being referred to are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Azariah) who were thrown into a blazing furnace by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3) for refusing to worship the gods of Babylon. They were miraculously preserved by God. The song is their spontaneous response to God’s salvation.

Benedicite means ‘Bless ye,’ and may ‘ring a bell’ for you because we have one of our very own in the second Eucharistic rite in our 1989 NZ Prayer Book – Benedicite Aotearoa (p.457) which calls on everything from glaciers to pipi and from saints to shrimps to give praise to God. Even the creatures and things of creation that a bit problematic to our way of live are there – rabbits and avalanches for example, but this follows the pattern established in the Song of the Three, that everything, regardless of the apparent benefit it gives to us, has been put in the universe for one paramount purpose, namely, to praise God who made it. Some of those things, recorded in parts of the Song of the Three we don’t hear this morning, are ‘winter cold and summer heat,’ ‘ice and cold,’ ‘lightning and clouds,’ – not things that you are likely to find included in the advertising for a holiday destination. But it is all meant to praise God, and in fact, does praise him, through its very existence.

Which is why it is so good to have some creatures in our church today, beyond the human kind, whose purpose, like ours, is to give praise to God who made them.

They give that praise in all sorts of ways, just as we do, by using the gifts they were given to the full – running, jumping, playing – hunting even - but one special way in which they praise God is through the loving relationships they forge with us.

It is often said these days by people who make their living thinking and talking about God that the way in which human being can be said to be bearers of God’s image is through our capacity to relate to others – we are relational beings and God is a Trinity of relationships that move within and beyond God, reaching out across the cosmos. I think that is true and helpful, but it can’t fully explain how we image God in a unique way because we know that animals of all sorts can develop very strong, lasting relationships with their human companions. Rather than seeing this as a problem to be solved, however, I think this is something we should celebrate and it is something that ought to make us think long and hard about the way we treat animals. When we get that right, on this planet, then we might just be safe to be let loose on the universe which is likely to be inhabited by other life forms, but probably none who look like us - in the least.

 

There may not be any alien life with us today, but there are certainly some dogs and a few plants of various descriptions, which I invite down to the front of the church now for a blessing.

Tony Surman

Sermon for the Patronal Festival - St Martins @ St Chads

István Dorffmaister - St Martin in Glory

Sunday, 13 November 2016, 10.30am

 

Texts

Isaiah 65: 17-25

2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

Luke 21: 5-19

 

The Reverend Dr Tony Surman

 

The readings set for today, particularly the Old Testament lesson and Gospel, have a future orientation to them -  that is to say, they look forward to a world where things will be radically different than they are now (or when the texts were written). Even this morning’s Epistle, in which some members of the church of Thessalonica are told off for not working (‘living in idleness, mere busybodies’), is implicitly concerned about the future, because the likely reason why those individuals gave up their jobs was their conviction that the end of all things was just around the corner.

The first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, looks forward to a time when all the pain, suffering and injustice endured by the people of God will be put to rights in an unprecedented divine move. Indeed, so thorough will the transformation be that the heavens as well as the earth will be recreated. In that new world, Jerusalem itself will be restored, not just to its former glory under David and Solomon, but to a state of peace, justice and prosperity for all its inhabitants.

For people in the developed world, particularly those who are relatively well-off, Isaiah’s description of the numerous blessings that will accrue to God’s people in the New Jerusalem may seem very nice but not all that different from the blessings that they already have. If you are fortunate enough to live in the middle-classes of the developed world, you can expect to live a long life – maybe not to 100, but not far from it – and it is reasonable to expect that you will reap the benefit of your labours in life – with a reasonable pension from work to live on, a home to live in, a garden from which you may gather your own fruit and vegetables even. In that case, you might suppose that Isaiah’s prediction has, in a sense, already come to pass, or is at least getting close to its fulfilment.

The majority of the world’s population – including a large proportion of New Zealand’s population – however, would draw a very different conclusion from their reading of this passage than their more wealthy sisters and brothers might. These are the people who never have a home to call their own, let alone the time to plant a vineyard and enjoy the fruits of it. They make just enough money to survive – in good years – but not enough to get ahead in life, to build a more promising future for themselves or their families. Or they may have wealth but because the country they live in lacks political stability, they are never sure that their property won’t be confiscated or otherwise plundered in the next coup, annexation or occupation. When those people read this text from Isaiah, they see immediately, I suspect, the stark contrast there is between the world as it now is, and the world to come that Isaiah describes. And if their experience in this world has not driven them to cynicism or despair, they might read the words of the Prophet and feel hope, feel encouraged, feel a renewed purpose for their lives.

That is the way the vast majority of Isaiah’s original audience would have heard and received his prophecy, I believe, because most of them were living in a situation that was very different from the one Isaiah described. These people were a bedraggled remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah and its capital Jerusalem after two or three generations of exile in Babylon, to find their beloved city little more than a pile of ruins, and surrounded by other groups which resented their return. In the face of intimidation and threats they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple, but to nothing like their former grandeur. They just didn’t have the resources for that sort of building work. Any of the fine stone work of Solomon’s Temple and Palace remaining would have served to remind them, by contrast, of the extent to which the Babylonians had reduced their once mighty nation.

When they heard Isaiah proclaim, on God’s behalf, that ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ were on their way, complete with a new Jerusalem’ they would have been impressed to hear that the new state of affairs would be beyond comparison with anything that had gone before (‘the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,’ says the Lord, in Isaiah’s prophecy).

Isaiah’s prediction of the blessed time to come for God’s people did not come to pass in the prophet’s life-time, nor in the centuries that followed. The United Kingdom of Israel and Judah which King David established and handed on to his son Solomon remained the political high-water mark of the people of God as a nation. The land to which God had called Abraham centuries ago continued to be dominated by one regional superpower after another; Persians, Greeks, Romans – with only a brief period of political independence (110-63BC) under the Hasmonean Dynasty (and that was possible only because one regional superpower was in the process of yielding to another at the time). The land into which our Lord was born was effectively a vassal state of Rome, a nation within which the majority of people had little prospect of building houses in which they would be secure, or planting vineyards from which they could enjoy the fruit,  or living to a ripe old age.

Not surprisingly, these people were attracted to Jesus as he went about the countryside and towns of Roman Palestine, preaching about the coming of God’s Kingdom, of God’s reign of Justice and Peace, in which Isaiah’s hopeful vision would be made real. And one of the things that made his message particularly attractive to them was his message that the Kingdom of God was near or close at hand (Mark 1:15, Matt 3:2, 10:7, Luke 10:9); among them or within them even (Luke 17:21).

It would be natural for people to understand these statements to mean that everything in the world was about to change for better, very soon – if not tomorrow, then by the end of the month, or at most the end of the year. The fact that St Paul, years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, has to admonish the Thessalonians for giving up their jobs indicates that Jesus’ message was still being interpreted by many as an event that would happen very soon. And various sects have repeated this error from generation to generation.

The words that Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel today ought to have caused the Thessalonians to be more cautious about resigning from their day jobs. Before God’s reign comes in its fullness, Jesus asserts, ‘wars and insurrections’ must occur, and even then, ‘the end will not follow immediately.’ Instead, the pathway to the Kingdom of God will be tortuous, marked by opposition if not outright persecution.

The two Saints we call to mind today on our Patronal Festival, St Martin of Tours and St Chad of Mercia, walked that path, in their day and age, with unusual dedication and faithfulness. They were born and died centuries apart – Martin being a saint of the fourth century, when Christianity was in the process of becoming the established religion of the Roman Empire, and Chad being an exemplar of holiness in seventh century Britain among the Anglo-Saxons of the enormous Diocese of Mercia, centred on Lichfield (to which the first and only Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn was appointed, 1868 till his death in 1878). Though separated by centuries and hundreds of kilometres (Martin was born in what is now Hungary and did most of his work in France), Martin and Chad shared some very similar qualities of character (and indeed St Chad’s spirituality was modelled quite intentionally on St Martin’s).

Both of them were hard workers – St Paul would have been impressed by their dedication to furthering the Gospel amongst the people to whom they had been sent. Martin took the gospel out from the towns and cities of (France) and into the countryside by establishing the first monastery there, bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who had never heard it before, and beginning a self-perpetuating system of evangelisation (monks trained in one monastery would move to a new location and establish a new monastery which would itself become vital to the lives of those around it). Chad walked, and then rode a horse, around his enormous Diocese as its Bishop, urging his people on, and died less than three years into his episcopate from plague. They were then, both pioneers and missionaries, at work on the frontier of Christendom (and beyond) – a place that many churches now are finding themselves in all over again.

Both were noted for their humility, their simplicity of life, their down-to-earth nature and resilience in the face of opposition (often coming from within the church). What inspired them in their struggles was Christ’s promise of a Kingdom that was already among them, but yet to be fulfilled.

We here, in the Church named after these two great Saints, can draw inspiration from their example of effective Christian living at the margins of Christendom. They took the leaven of the Gospel out into a world that had barely, if at all, heard about the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, and they made that message stick. If we imitate their approach to ministry in the communities into which God has placed us, we too will build something that lasts, that builds people up, and prepares people for the New Jerusalem that God will inaugurate in God’s own good time; to him be the glory, now and forever. Amen.