Community of St Martin @ St Chad's

Anglican Parish of Sandringham and Mt Roskill

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5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10 February 2019

St Martins @ St Chads 5th Sunday in Ordinary Times Sermon Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer. Amen Good Morning to you all and welcome to this wonderful morning, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Times. I want to begin by readings verses from the three scriptures read to us this morning. ‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And I said, ‘Here am I; send me.’ Isaiah ‘For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.’ Paul ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man! Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Peter. In each of these verses lies a commonality. A commonality of encountering the Living God. Isaiah encounters God in a vision, majestic and holistic, and in the presence of God’s glory, he cried out to the Lord acknowledging his unworthiness. God responded by using him to be His voice to his people the Israelites. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to testify about how he used to persecute the church and his encounter with God along the way acknowledging the grace of God in using him to transform from persecuting to proclaiming.

In the Gospel, we heard about Simon Peter after witnessing what Christ can do, fell at Jesus’ feet and proclaimed himself as a sinful man. Again, Christ responded by comforting him and used him as one of his disciples. The readings we hear today is indeed about the vocational experiences of Isaiah, Paul and three of Jesus’ first disciples, Simon, James and John. Though they are three different encounters, all of them heard and heeded God’s call, and in that moment their lives changed course and took a direction they had not planned. Isaiah goes on to be God’s prophet and discerner of God’s will for the Israelites, who were often unwillingly to hear and reluctant to change their lives. Paul entered into a relationship with God who used him to be his vessel into the gentile world and be the ambassador of the Gospel to all. James, John and Simon (who would be renamed Peter) were fishermen who depended on the sea for their livelihood. They were called to leave behind the relative security of their boats, nets, and families, put out into the deep, and to align themselves with Jesus in drawing all of humankind to God.

So, what can we get out of our readings and the vocational experiences today? In all the encounters God reveals himself into their worst situations. Each responded in fear because of all their wrong doings (sins). Despite the imperfections, God unconditionally forgave them and sent them out. That is the nature of our God. Our God chooses to meet and be with us in our daily lives. God wants to be with us, the real us, in our real lives. And when God touches our lives, we must also do likewise to those around us. We are to make him known to the world. God’s Nature- Love Here we see: God reveals himself, He inspires and transforms and then sends them. So, if we say we love God our response is to obey. It’s exactly what Isaiah, Paul, Simon, James, and John did. God shows them love and they were transformed and responded in obedience. That is our human nature. You see out of love comes obedience. They were willing to risk their personal well-being to follow a purpose that they did not plan. Being obedience to the call challenges each of us to step outside of our comfort zones and be led by God into the service of the kingdom. Like Isaiah, Paul, Simon, John, and James, we are called to break new ground and lead the way where others may fear to tread. There we will encounter the strange, the new, the untried and the different. It is this very journey into the unknown future that makes those called by God agents of transformation. We are called by God to bring light to those who are suffering to find the unloved and unwanted and bring the love of God to them. Imperfect we may be, we have the gift of faith, which assures us of God’s presences as we seek out and reveal God’s truth, justice and light in the darkness.

I’m going to say it again, lost in wonder, love and praise, Isaiah says yes to God’s call. Peter follows Jesus in sharing the good news of God’s coming realm. Paul receives a new name, a new life direction and a transformed vocation. The experiences of Isaiah, Peter, and Paul remind us that life-transforming inspiration may be right around the corner, in the next encounter, or in today’s worship. We can’t presume the nature or timing of such revelatory moments. But if we affirm that God is moving through our lives, filling us with divine presence even when we are least aware of it, then we can train our senses to be ready for these moments of divine inspiration. When God reveals his love to us we are to respond with humble obedience and reveal Him to the world. Out of love comes obedience and out of obedience comes blessings. The blessings that comes only from the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Litimai Sanegar

Presentation of Jesus, 3 February 2019

No doubt some of us made our usual list of ‘must-do’s’ and ‘must not dos’ for 2019, right? This age-old tradition is for those of us who need to have something to intentionally focus on e.g. no more chocolate, more exercise, no more frivolous spending, less wine and usually less of whatever vices we delight in… and the list goes on right? Lists are on fridges, pantry doors, post-it-notes here and there. On our computers and well almost everywhere… lists, and more lists. Our lives are plagued with them. It’s that time of year when lists are part of our lives. It’s not all doom and gloom folks… we have our Bucket Lists too! Most of us are in the latter years of our life and must have at least one thing on our Bucket List, right? You know, a list of things we want to do before we ‘kick the bucket.’ Sure, it’s a slightly crude way of looking at our inevitable demise, but it does call us to focus on living and not dying.

Simeon had a Bucket List, a rather unusual Bucket List. We’re told that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. So, it had to have been on his Bucket List, right? It wasn’t a trip to Hawaii or climbing Everest. It wasn’t winning the Lotto or an afternoon with Meryl Streep, or Dame Judith Dench? It was simply one thing — see the Lord’s Messiah. Now, that’s a pretty big “one thing” but I’ll come back to Simeon’s Bucket List in a minute.

I’d like to talk briefly about another possible bucket list. A bucket list that in his 90th year, our very own Brian Earnshaw might have. I was greatly blessed to be invited to the lovely gathering last night in honour of Brian’s 90th birthday. It was actually yesterday so we are thankful to you God, for Brian’s long life and the list of contributions he has made in that time… to his children, grandchildren, and friends. Not only that, Brian has made a huge contribution to science, teaching, lecturing, experimenting, building, taking risks, and a plethora of acts that have made a difference in not only his life, but in the lives of others. I met one of his students last night, who is himself… nudging on the latter part of his life.

As I navigated the walls of memories and memorabilia in Brian’s home, it is now clear to me that Brian himself has had a bucket list for a long time. I guess we all do during our lives… although, the bucket list is usually associated with the latter part of our lives as in Simeon’s. But in the Earnshaw home, I came across a plaque titled ‘The History of the Earnshaw name’. It derives from the 14th century, 1360’s or thereabouts, and meant ‘eagle wood’. Erne… evolved into ‘sea eagle’ or it’s later hybrid explanation of ‘heron wood’. The name is associated with the counties York and Lancaster. So, I would guess from the prominent placing of the Earnshaw plaque Brian must have had a bucket list relative to that history also! He’s had 90 years to stick his must do lists on his fridge, on the dash of his Holden maybe, and on the wall over the hearth in the home! What a warming thought…

But let’s come back to Simeon. Here he is with his bucket list, albeit with only one thing on it, but, as it turns out, it was even bigger than Simeon thought. We’re told that Simeon was looking forward to the “consolation of Israel.” In other words, he was looking forward to the salvation of God’s people, Israel. But look at what happens. The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon (we’re not told how) that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. Every day Simeon would look for a child born the Messiah. Every day, as parents brought their children to the Temple for the rites of purification, Simeon would look to see if maybe this one was the Christ. When Mary and Joseph appeared in the Temple with Jesus, Simeon knew, he just knew… this was the one! Taking the child in his arms was when something happened that no one anticipated, not even Simeon. Simeon gazed into the baby Jesus’ eyes and declared that this child was not only Israel’s salvation, but the salvation of the Gentiles too!

We don’t quite catch the magnitude of this statement because we’ve been brought up in the Christian tradition that believes Jesus Christ came for the salvation of all people, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, right? To say the Messiah, the Christ, had come for the salvation of Israel was one thing, but to say the Messiah, the Christ, had come for all people — well that was something else, that was something radically new! But Jesus is like that though… isn’t he?

Jesus’ life begins with fulfilling the Law and coming to the Temple for this purification rite. Mary, as a new mother, was to endure a rite of purification too, 40 days after she had given birth to the Lord’s Messiah. Lucky for Simeon… his one item bucket list was fulfilled because of the ‘must do’ list of Mary & Joseph! That’s so cool! We don’t really know how old Simeon was when his encounter with Jesus took place. He just looks old! Every artist's rendition that I’ve seen show Simeon to be an ancient man, perhaps supernaturally preserved well beyond the usual mortality rate. His beard hangs low and he is stooped with the weight of long-lived years. You might expect the undertaker to be following behind him wherever he goes… Well, if we thought that notion was true then what might we be thinking of our 90-year-old Brian?! The text does not categorically say how old Simeon was but what we do know is that his personal promise from God was fully kept. Fully honoured.

And as we give thanks for all God’s promises fulfilled… and giving us the incentive to have bucket lists… to be fulfilled, we give thanks for the long… life of Brian (that’s a movie you know) and his 90 years of victories, mysteries, and discoveries. We give thanks for the legacies people of long-lived lives leave us to ponder. Simeon’s bucket list was fulfilled beyond his imagination. God revealed to him the striking good news that Jesus came to save the world. So, a big question for you my friends: Is Jesus on your Bucket List? And is he on the bucket list of our family and friends? Hope so!

Jacynthia Murphy

3rd Sunday of Epiphany, 27 January 2019

The lectionary has really outdone itself, with these great scripture readings from Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible and Paul in 1 Corinthians, and the gospel of Luke. So many topics to draw from! It’s like having a nickel to spend and standing in front of the greatest candy store you could possibly imagine. So perhaps I can give a gentle nudge, and suggest...keep on reading Luke, and finish the chapter. It will be worth your time! Meanwhile here and now, however, let’s explore how these various texts come together, so we can help to appreciate the good news that the Spirit is laying before us, as God intended, in the destination of Galilee as Jesus’ ministerial beginning.

JESUS RETURNS HOME

Luke begins his description of the meaning of God’s kingdom in the territory of Galilee, and it is from here that Jesus’ mission and ministry begins.#1 As Luke reports, Jesus preaches in Nazareth where he grew up. A small town (roughly 500), everyone of course knows every one else. I recall that great play Jesus Christ Superstar, where in the end Judas arrives on the stage for the finale dressed in white, singing the song which includes the phrase, “why did you choose such a backward town in such a strange land?” It is a good question, for backwater comes to mind. And having been to Israel, I was a bit amazed by the destination of Nazareth, as it seemed far from any place else. Jesus’ gracious words (as quoted by his fellow church members) could not be called anything but what they were, GOOD NEWS. But he knew something was quite wrong, and thus reminded them that his reading of scripture fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.#2 He discerned either disbelief, or a lack of confidence in his presentation. All of this, of course, only comes later in further passages of Luke. I think it is accurate to surmise that the ministry wasn’t starting perhaps as he would have liked. Clearly Jesus’ home town congregation lacked the appreciation that the body of the church is one, with many members.#3 Let’s look more closely at Paul’s wisdom as reflected in the 1Cor. reading.

EFFECTIVE RUNNING OF THE CHURCH,

THROUGH GIFTS APPOINTED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

In v 12:28, Paul outlines the gifts that God has given believers. In the footnote to this verse, it is made quite clear that the functions can vary, but that in combination, “they enable the church to operate effectively.”#4 And, really, we at St Martin’s @ St Chad’s needn’t look further than our own doorstep to appreciate that. Through the struggles and the uncertainty in the near past (yes, remember those days), we just kept moving onwards, doing what we seem to do best...church! Our prayers were undoubtedly being heard, we listened to each other, and we seemed to take care to look out for others. We are not strangers to Paul’s advice in v26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.” Without feeling too proud about all this, it is rather nice, wouldn’t you say, to cast our eyes down the road we’ve already travelled and feel quietly satisfied with our efforts? But...we mustn’t rest on our laurels. There is always so much to do.

NEHEMIAH...THE BOB THE BUILDER OF THE HEBREW OLD TESTAMENT

My Christian dictionary describes Nehemiah as “a man of ability, courage, and action.”#5 He was determined to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Against all odds, by the way, he did get the wall rebuilt in fifty-two days! He formed a cooperative relationship with Ezra, a priest who returned from the Babylon exile.#6 What is fascinating about their relationship is how they so competently worked together, each providing their particular talents without getting in each other’s way. The main power of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is outlining for all to appreciate how God fulfilled his promise given through prophets to restore his exiled people to their own land, following that exile. When I was in Jerusalem last year, my friend and I did a lot of sight-seeing around various parts of excavations. We had no idea what we were looking at, but we knew the locations were extremely important. It is a bit frustrating to go so far away, only to realise you are looking at a site that means a great deal to your spiritual being. And, yes, I got back home, opened my favourite Old Testament text, and there it was in front of me—the excavation which uncovered part of Nehemiah’s wall. I want to go back to Jerusalem! It is nevertheless exciting to see with my own eyes what the Bible is telling me. And how exciting to understand that God just never forgets his promises, or fails to deliver. CLOSING As I take a deep breath, step back a bit from this sermon and pause a bit to wonder, “so, what does it all mean,” I admit to feeling a bit dizzy. But if you look more closely at the scripture choices for this morning, there is very much a sustained topic which resonates clearly; and that is God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are very much there for us, and present with us. The promises made, are not empty, nor are they forgotten, or issued with a limited time offer. And if we think we are functioning in some kind of a deserted space of time, we need to think again. God is with us, and he is reminding us that we are the body of Christ, and that in itself is a pretty good reason to go forth gladly and embrace our parish life and believe in our call to serve. And we certainly are not working away in a vacuum! Look around! You are in the company of fellow Christians. AMEN.

#1 -  Raymond Brown, Joseph A Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall),689.

#2 -  Isa.61:1-2, “because the Lord has anointed me He has sent me to bring good news to the Oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted.”

#3 - 1 Cor.12:12.

#4 -  Harold Lindsell, NRSV HARPER STUDY BIBLE (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Press, 1991), 1693, ff12:28.

#5 -  Kevin Green, Compiler, All-in-One Bible Reference Guide (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Press, 2008), 441.

#6 -  Ibid., 228.

Jean Rheinfrank

Baptism of the Lord, 13 January 2019

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S CHANGING FORTUNES IN HISTORY

John the Baptist has been a very interesting human being in Biblical history. He has been, depending upon the century you might have been studying, quite a figure in Christian history, and at other times he has been close to being overlooked. I remember in one of my underclass courses at Otago, the lecturer asked, “what can you say about John the Baptist?” One of my colleagues piped up, “he ate bugs!” And that, actually, was quite true. But as a devoted follower of the Hebrew Bible, John didn’t eat just any old bug...he followed the strict requirements laid down in Leviticus 11:13, and enjoyed, “winged insects that walk on all fours and have jointed legs above their feet.”#1 The point here, John was not some kind of alternative soul...everything he did, was done for a reason, and because it matched his belief in the Hebrew Bible. John had somewhat suspect dress sense, as his attire seemed to consist of a big, black leather belt around his waist, a camel hair course coat, thick open toe sandles, exposing his feet to the dust, grime, and dirt of the road. And this fact is important, because John declared quite clearly to all those with whom he spoke, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.” His respect and regard for Jesus—dating back to prior to birth—was certainly a level of respect, belief, and the hope that Jesus could provide humanity with an improved life and joy. And John knew that Jesus was without sin, so why was he wanting to be baptised?

BAPTISM FOR THOSE WITH NO NEED.

WHY DID JESUS WISH TO BE BAPTISED?

Once upon a time, in the earlier days of Trivial Pursuit, the question was raised, “who baptised John the Baptist?” It was a great question, with the answer being—no one, as John did it himself! It was a rite of initiation, which was reflected in the practices of the Qumran sect which was linked with the cult who hid the Dead Sea Scrolls. During my trip last year to the Holy Land, and my time spent at Qumran, I stumbled across a message board which explained that it was highly likely John the Baptist had spent time in Qumran! I was very excited by that discovery. For it made sense to me why John would even think to baptise himself. For John, this was a ceremonial washing and cleansing for purification. With regard to Jesus, we are looking at something quite different. There is, of course, adhering to scripture and following those words in Isaiah, “when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” In truth, the meaning and efficacy of baptism can be understood only in the light of the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ.”#2 As he claimed in Luke 12:59, “I have a baptism to undergo.” And this he followed up with, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”#3 With Jesus’ arrival, at the water’s edge, the work of John the Baptist takes on a whole new dimension, and the sacramental rite of baptism in the Christian church is endowed. It is fair to say that this is the beginning of one of the two church sacraments (baptism), which will be followed, in due course, by the second—the Eucharist—which is endowed at Christ’s Last Supper prior to his crucifixion. It is fair to say we are in the midst of the apostolic interpretations, which will be further crafted and established through Paul.#4 We are here at the beginning of the Christian church.

JOHN’S REPUTATION AND RESPECT,

EVEN THROUGH THE EYES OF HIS ENEMIES

King Herod was of course responsible for John’s imprisonment, as well as—ultimately his execution. It is amazing however to note that Herod, as told in scripture, truly respected John, perhaps feared him for his knowledge, and did enjoy debating with him. John was quick to pick up on Herod’s sins—and he certainly had more than a few—and John publicly, and quite bravely pointed out Herod’s flaws to not only Herod and his court, but the public at large. John the Baptist did not fear the consequences. He was truly concerned for Herod’s redemption and to see the King redeem his life. Herod could be quite vindictive, and all too easy pass a sentence of death on his own relations. And this John knew, but it did not deter him from his quest. He seemed to know, however, that time was probably his enemy, and that time was running out for him, who heralded the start of the Christian movement. History can become confused, and there are those who believe that John was already in prison when Jesus presented himself for baptism in the river. What does matter, is that the sacramental practice was installed, after his baptism, according to Luke, and Jesus prayed to his Father (which is not reported in either Matthew or Mark), and prior to John’s beheading, Jesus did get a message to him to assure him that he—Jesus—was the one of whom the prophets had foretold!

THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS’ BAPTISM,

PROOF OF GOD’S TRUST AND PROMISE

There is so much meaning and so many stories packed into the baptism of Jesus, it is quite impossible to do it justice in 12 to 15 minutes. But there is one point, which really reflects God’s steadfast love and promise to us. As we know, the events foretold in Isaiah, hundreds of years earlier did in fact take place in 1 CE. What I enjoyed very much about how the prophets operated, and was reminded is this: they are NOT fortune tellers. Those prophets in the Hebrew Bible such as Isaiah are messengers sent by God to tell people about events which will happen, and of which the people could not know. More to the point, God could not tell them directly for any number of reasons. So God sent his messengers and it became incumbent on the people to believe, or not believe.

 

#1 - Lev.11:13. As ceremonial laws, certain ones were superseded, according to Heb.8:1-10:18, as God declared many creatures were now clean.

#2 -  Kevin Green, Compiler ALL-IN-ONE BIBLE REFERENCE GUIDE (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Publishers, 2008), 98-100.

#3 -  Ibid., 99.

#4 -  Ibid., 100.

Jean Rheinfrank 

First Sunday in Christmas, 30 December 2018

INTRODUCTION...A FORETASTE 1,000 YEARS IN THE MAKING

How appropriate indeed that today’s first reading as presented by James has come from 1 Samuel. For this reading follows directly from a reading which was spoken and recorded to have been given by Hannah—mother of Samuel from the Old Testament, entitled a Song of Peace, in which she praises God for the miracle of her pregnancy. Hannah, who would become the mother of the prophet Samuel, had been childless for some years.#1 Heartbroken, she went to the temple at Shiloh and prayed to the Lord for a child.#2 This of course is quite familiar to the story of Elizabeth, mother to be of John the Baptist. As stated in the accounts, God heard Hannah’s prayer and answered, and she soon became pregnant and gave birth to a little boy.#3 She had given a vow that if she conceived a child, that child would become apprenticed to the temple upon reaching the proper age. And at that time, Samuel began to learn from Eli the wise temple priest, as an apprentice priest. Hannah sang her song to express her gratitude to the Lord for her son Samuel.

The song represents a foretaste of the prayer which Mary and Elizabeth offer to God with the intended birth of Jesus—Lord of the world--, which then she and Elizabeth celebrated in the Magnificat as reported by Luke.#5 Samuel and John—the miracle child of Elizabeth, were destined to become God’s prophets. And of course Jesus was the Messiah and peacemaker of the world. Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary would become over time the dearly loved women, and praised by Christians. Mary, identified as a sinful woman, bore a sinless son. The miracle of God cannot be ignored, nor forgotten. All of us, in the 21st Century are required to bear in mind how great is his power and care of us. There is great comfort in this reminder, praise God! And these important moments do not stop with the experiences of Mary and the women like her. The tribulations of being parents, however, did not pass by Mary and Joseph. It is thus quite normal to find that this very grateful woman, thrilled with the birth of a son Jesus, is then required to endure the dreadful time of searching for him just as any parent would do, when he became lost at the festival.

“CHILD, WHY HAVE YOU TREATED US LIKE THIS?”#6

With regard to that particular episode recorded in Luke, Jacynthia’s notes from the Rev’s Desk#7 are classic. Given it took Mary and Joseph three days to locate Jesus, WHY, indeed did it take them 3 days to figure it all out? I thoroughly enjoyed her great question...”HAD things been so ordinary since the angels, adoring shepherds, and OT prophesies that the mystery surrounding their son’s birth had begun to fade away?”#8 Let’s think about that a moment...isn’t that a really great thought?

JESUS CHRIST DID NOT BEGIN TO BE WHEN HE WAS BORN#9

To ponder the incarnation (taking on flesh) is understandably a head turner. But an easy way to remember the basics is to recall that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, but he did not begin to be when he was born and laid in the manger! As the second person of the Trinity, he was fully God. At the same time, he became genuinely a man. “Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and is to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person.”#10

How wonderful, therefore, and frankly amazing that these two loving, worried, and yes probably ready to explode parents did see and TREATED this amazing child as a normal, 12 year old son. When you stop to consider that, you begin to understand more fully the nature of God and the truest weight of the miracle produced. Who amongst us is prepared to doubt God’s ability or willingness to be with us and to help us? And of this particular moment in time between Jesus and his parents, he, as Jacynthia states, “disappears back into the fabric of his hometown.” We know that he continues to grow, nurtured by the love of his human parents, and growing in wisdom and experience through God’s love. Is it any wonder that Jesus turned out to be such an amazing Lord. And isn’t it, to be honest, a bit of a shame that this fact tends to get swallowed up in the mindless craziness of Christmas activities? Perhaps we all need to sit still and contemplate what we are doing at this time of year, and the true celebration of the miracle.

CONCLUSION...THE REAL PEOPLE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Today’s Gospel reading in Luke records the only incident of Jesus between his birth and the beginning of his public ministry at the age of thirty.#11 It remains a mystery, conjecture, educated guesses, and a great deal of academic research trying to fill in the 18 years between this festival and his adult baptism by John the Baptist. I sometimes have a tendency to forget that so many of the stories in the Bible are about the experiences of human beings like us. The only difference is they lived in a time that was so long ago the number of years can make me quite dizzy. In Jesus’ ministry beyond the age of 30, he was dealing with people like us! The stories were real...and not fairytales. God knew these people, heard their prayers and helped them. At times I think, “oh, I can’t pray for that,” or “God would not understand my talking about that.” And that is quite wrong on my part. Of course he knows, and sees. The Christmas miracle saw to that. And as I get older, see more and more Christmas celebrations, decorate trees, and then all too soon, take the tree back down, I think I understand with greater maturity how the spirit of Christmas and the message of the season is just beginning. We’ve all heard, of course, about the gift that keeps giving. Well, God’s miracle of the season is a real whooper! Because that has no end, praise God. AMEN.

#1James L. Kugel How to Read the Bible A Guide To Scripture, Then and Now (New York, NY: Free Press Publishers, 2017), 437.

#2 Ibid.

#3 Ibid.

#4 Ibid., 438.

#5 John Barton and John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible Commentary (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011 and Luke 1:44-56), 200-201.

#6 Luke 2:48.

#7 Rev’d Jacynthia Murphy, From the Rev’s Desk (St Martin @ St Chad’s Pewsheet), 30 Dec, 2018, p1.

#8 Ibid.

#9 Kevin Green, Compiler ALL-IN-ONE BIBLE REFERENCE GUIDE (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Publishers, 2008), 316.

#10 Ibid., citing doctrinal formulation at the Council Of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, p. 316.

#11 Harold Lindsell, NRSV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MICH: Zondervan Press, 1991), 1509, 2.41ff, in Luke 2:41.

Jean Rheinfrank

Christmas Day, 25 December 2018

‘I'll be back soon.’ How many times have you heard that in your lifetime? I’ll be back soon… For me it was when my parents went off somewhere, to the pub maybe or to a party with friends. My siblings would often say it too, and I would wait at the gate or on the road looking both ways waiting… My sister would disappear every now and then and say those words, I’ll be back… but many hours later I’ve fallen asleep waiting… and waiting. Believing that someone… would come back soon! It’s such a vivid memory for the youngest of 15 children!! Oh yes, they did come back… but, for me those four words ‘I’ll be back’ would sometimes have a negative effect on me because it meant that they didn’t want me to go with them. It meant that whatever they were doing didn’t include me.

So, what was it like for Mary… when Jesus might’ve said to her ‘I’ll be back’ and then hit the ministry road with whomever he pleased, including his disciples? He went to the temple on his own!! Never returned as expected and his parents had to find him, only to be told, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” How must Mary have felt every time Jesus said I’ll be back? Yes, Mary was with him at the wedding in Cana, but again he says to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”

So, I’ll be back… How many times had he said that to Mary over his lifetime? Was she anxious each time he departed from her? Well, we’ll never know because Jesus never kept a journal, nor did any of his childhood buddies or whānau. There’s nothing said about him between age 12 and his ministry, therefore we have no reason to believe that he didn’t take a two to five-year sojourn to somewhere other than Nazareth! So where am I going with this? Well, picture Mary with her baby boy… can’t walk or run… let alone leave… This surely is the most assuring time for her as a mother. No… I’ll be back for a while anyway!

This little baby all wrapped up… God’s plan was to become human, so you and I could look at Jesus and say, "That's what God looks like." The apostle John describes it as "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This verse contains the truth behind the story of the angels, shepherds, and the Wise Men, journeying to Bethlehem that first Christmas morning. John tells us what really happened 2000 years ago-and what it means to us today. Mary could never have known that when her son left home and said ‘I’ll be back soon’ that wherever he went the blind would see, the deaf would hear, and the dead would live again. This little baby boy who she would hold, cuddle, and play with for his first few years in the crib as it were. This little God made flesh! "The Word became flesh and blood. Moved into the neighbourhood" Ran down the roads and lived amongst ordinary people.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect lamb?

That sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

Mary did you know? #1

Jesus wasn’t invisible. When he said I’ll be back… Mary was probably not anxious. She knew… she knew that when the world would look at Jesus, we’d see the face of God, and God wants to be seen and to be known… in his son. She knew that when we hear Jesus teach; we hear God teach. She knew that those words… I’ll be back meant that when the world experiences Jesus; we experience God. She knew that each year we would welcome him back as the ultimate gift for Christmas!

#1 Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry Mary, Did You Know? lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Capitol Christian Music Group Pentatonix 

Jacynthia Murphy

Christmas Eve, 24 December 2018

INTRODUCTION on IMPRESSIONS

of WHAT REVELATION IS ALL ABOUT?

Once, boarding a flight from Sydney to Auckland, I was carrying a book which had, in big bold copy, the title: THE BOOK OF REVELATION! I threw the book on my assigned seat, so my hands were free to struggle with luggage into the overhead locker. A gentleman was passing by me, saw the book, and said, “sure glad I’m not sitting next to you!” It took me a moment to figure out what implication was being made. And I laugh out loud, long after he had gone further down the crowded aisle! How people do go on about it. One academic noted that people are more comfortable reading ABOUT Revelation, than actually reading the BOOK of Revelation. And, really, starting from the beginning, as we’ve just heard, it is a cracker for good news, isn’t it. Let’s stay with this for a few moments and explore this Christmas Eve selected reading and make some sense of it.

SETTING REVELATION APART FROM OTHER BOOKS OF THE BIBLE

Revelation is different from inspiration—because Revelation is the self-disclosure of God, to people about subjects the people could not know by themselves#1. John was the receiver of God’s messages which were passed from God to Jesus Christ, who passed it on to the angel to be delivered to John. This is a most exclusive set of highly dependable communicators, and certainly establishes a level of credibility that stands on its own accord. And I like the description about this book as being “the heavenly perspective on the earthly situation.”#2 And if the assumed time of writing is correct, that being about 96CE, then this book was being written during the time of persecution by Domitian, which suggests the Christian communities were having an extremely hard time. Many say that God was striving to encourage Christians that what they were experiencing on earth was altogether different from the Kingdom.#3 And if you’ve ever seen any of the Matrix movies (now…what is THAT all about), Revelation has been described as the Matrix without Keanu Reeves and all the women motorbike riders in all that leather! But for us here tonight, we are far more interested in what we can take out of this on Christmas Eve.

KEEPING A TIGHT FOCUS ON CHAPTER 1

Yesterday’s gospel reading from the gentle physician Luke told the story of Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel, telling her that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit#4 with the power of the Most High, and the child to be born (equivalent to this Christmas Eve) would be holy, called the Son of God. He would be called Lord, and bringer of peace. We are reminded of that promise, the re-enactment of which we have celebrated for over 2,000 years now. And with tonight’s reading from Revelation, as God reminds us, he is the Alpha and the Omega, and all events in history from beginning to end are controlled by him.#5 For Jesus, came to us from nothing, and with Revelation we are being allowed to part that curtain perhaps a wee bit, to be reminded that God remains in control, and Jesus Christ is, in every way, very much with us. Oh silent night, holy night, all is calm, and all is bright. I am always reminded of the empowering and complete truth of “be still, and know that I am God.”#6 There is this wondrous night before us.

CLOSING—OH LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM,

THE QUIET AFTER THE BUSTLE

On this night, those of us here, and in other churches all over Aotearoa choose to be here. We have finished our shopping, or run out of money, or possibly have exhausted the number of stores left to visit! Regardless of the reason, we are here together as we prepare for the time to be shared with family and friends, waiting the new day, and perhaps giving consideration to those around us, and what we might be able to do for them. I love this time, and the opportunity to see how many church services I can squeeze into one night! I can say with confidence I’ll be headed to a carol service later this evening, and possibly stop in on my way home to the neighbourhood Presbyterian church that has a glorious set of mechanical reindeer, who lovingly sway so quietly and slower back and forth, overlooking the manger prepared for Jesus.

My favourite radio programme this time of year is on Concert FM, with Robyn Jaquiery, Hymns on Sunday.#7 On 16th December she recited a great story about O Little Town of Bethlehem. It is delightful: In 1868 in the US, Mr. Brooks and Mr. Lewis were working on new hymns for the Christmas season. Less than a week before Christmas, Mr. Brooks requested Mr. Lewis to write lyrics for a new tune. Mr. Lewis wasn’t totally happy with that plan, as he was still working on the narrative for the Children’s Christmas Play! Now how many of us can relate to THAT deadline! Well, he went to bed the night before Christmas, and as he tells it, was awakened by an “angelic voice in his ear,” singing the words. He quickly got paper and wrote it down. Then, Christmas morning, he filled in the harmony, and the new carol was performed. He stated he never thought for a moment the carol would survive beyond that morning’s performance. But here we are, still today in the 150th year, singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” quite content to know that the silent stars go by. His imagination? A visit from an angel? You can be the judge. AMEN.

#1  NRSV Harper Study Bible (Grand Rapids: MICH: Zondervan Publishers, 1990), 1848ff 1.1.

#2 Simon Woodman, The Book of Revelation (London:UK, SCM Press, 1988), 21.

#3 Ibid.

#4 Luke, 1:39-45.

#5 Ibid., 1:45.

#6 Ps. 46.10

#7 Concert FM: Radio NZ, Sunday 16 December, 2018. Registering at 3:47 into the radio programme recording.

Jean Rheinfrank

Fourth Sunday in Advent, 23 December 2018

INTRODUCTION...A TIMELESS IMAGE OF TWO BOYS

Years ago, I was visiting Boston Massachusetts, and had the opportunity to go to the Boston Art Gallery, home to some of the world’s most amazing art, thanks to the extremely well to do citizens of the city who believe in the virtue of collecting fine pieces of art and other notable collection items. The art gallery is very large...several floors (7 I recall). I didn’t have a lot of time to go through it, and was doing what you might call a “cook’s tour” of the place. I remember I was walking with haste (much like the 14-year old virgin Mary on her way to visit with Elizabeth).#1 As I passed doorways to rooms of art objects, paintings, and other historical relics, I would peer in the room, but keep moving. One painting, however, caught my eye and I had to stop and inspect it more closely. It was an oil painting of two young boys. They were obviously playing, but standing side by side. One was taller than the other, with rumpled hair, and a somewhat dirty face (covered in dust). And what got me were the eyes of both boys. For they stared straight ahead, as though seeing right through you. Both had very wise eyes, I thought. For this was a painting from about the 1500’s, as I recall, and it was Jesus and John, standing still and looking at you. I was frozen on the spot! The artist had truly captured a moment. Just as Luke has equally captured an important moment orchestrated by God, for these two as yet unborn boys—one the Lord and bringer of peace, and the other a righteous and holy man (as labelled by Herod who both feared John the Baptist and admired him for his wisdom as a prophet of wide fame.#2), These two boys, through the skilled literary prose of the Gospel writer described as the gentle physician Luke, represented a stage of God’s Salvation History.#3

TIES THAT BIND THEOLOGICALLY

Luke’s skilful literary moment brings forth John’s acknowledgment (whilst still in Elizabeth’s womb) of Jesus’ status as Lord, thus bringing together the bind of the relationship existing between the Lord God, and the unborn Jesus. For recall, from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, John the Baptist would recognise Jesus and declare that Jesus would baptise not with water, like John, but “with the Holy Spirit#4.” And so too Elizabeth who recognised and stated, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that John’s turning in her womb was one of recognition of the unborn child’s clear status and recognition with God. This illustration is truly inspiring and vastly important in the overall story. I do recall reading a critique of Luke’s efforts, in which it was stated, “it strains to imagine a fourteen year old Jewish virgin making a four day journey by herself. Rather, stated the commentary, Luke’s intent in the “Visitation” is literary and theological.#5 He brings together the two mothers to be so that both might praise the God active in their lives and that Elizabeth’s child might be presented as the “Precursor” of Mary’s child. Of course we know that in the future, John’s death will...yet again...be the “Precursor” of Jesus’ death on the cross. And so it is that Luke will, in the remainder of the Gospel, go to great lengths to describe Jesus’ work of salvation as king in God’s kingdom.

RELATING THIS EPISODE AND RECOGNISING THE GOOD NEWS

IN THE 21st CENTURY

Both Elizabeth and Mary received the ultimate gift from God in the form of their pregnancies. God creates something out of nothing, and bestows such a gift, not once, but twice—for the barren and aging Elizabeth, and the young Mary, a true believer who responds wholeheartedly to God’s plan. We can recognise the tremendous power that God has, and we can just as easily bring ourselves to both understand and believe our prayers are capable of being answered, for God is indeed with us, provided we are capable of walking in the light of faith. Listen again to verse 45: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” As we, over the next two days, move into the magic, beauty, and awesomeness of what actually is being commemorated at this Christmas time, we pray the lights, bright paper, ribbons, and other trappings don’t act as clouds that distort and hide what this time is really all about. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, are we capable of leaping for joy in that which God has provided? What an amazing, incredible, God given moment.

HOW LUKE BRINGS THE STORY FULL CIRCLE

Two families are prominently presented by Luke, for as we know the manger scene in the barn will present the three main characters of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. So, too, in John’s birth narrative will there be found the characters of Zachariah, Elizabeth, and John. These two families will interact with each other, and the portrait of two boys sharing play together will understandably catch a moment of time which is quite important and yields the truth of realism in that which God has created. This, too, helps us to believe and appreciate what God is able to do. It remains for us to take the words of Luke’s Gospel and carry them carefully and truly in our heart with great belief: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.#6 ’ AMEN.

 

#1 Luke 1:39 (Unless otherwise stated, all scripture is taken from NRSV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, MICH, 1990).

#2 Luke 1:57-59.

#3 John Barton & John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford, UK: The Oxford University Press, 2011), 928.

#4 Mark 1:8.

#5  Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Roland Murphy The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 680-681.

#6  Luke 1:43.

Jean Rheinfrank

Advent 3: Nine Lessons and Carols, 16 December 2018

Christian mission work in Aotearoa began promisingly, through relationships established between the Reverend Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and Māori chiefs in New South Wales. At the invitation of Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara, Marsden conducted the first formal Christian service in New Zealand, near Rangihoua pa in the Bay of Islands, on 25 December 1814. Māori responded to this a haka of some 300-400 warriors.

“Ka nukunuku ka neke, Ka nukunuku ka neke!

Tittiro ki ngā wai o Tokerau, e hora nei

me he Pipiwharauroa ki tua

Takoto te pai, takoto te pai.

Whiti whiti tata tata, whiti whiti tata tata, he ra taua ki tua

Takoto te pai, takoto te pai!”

 

Move left, move right.

Move to the front, move to the back.

See beyond the waters of Tokerau,

where the shining cuckoo comes.

Let the goodness land, let the goodness land.

Let it spread out and transform, Let it rest here, let it rest here.

 

This initial gospel endeavour was soon followed by the arrival of other Christian mission leaders including the CMS Anglican Henry Williams (1823), the Wesleyan Samuel Leigh (1822) and the Roman Catholic Bishop Pompallier (1838). Peace-making endeavours by these missionaries and their Māori allies achieved success over time. Release of many slaves taken captive by northern iwi sparked an indigenous mission movement, as those people returned to their home communities with their new found Christian beliefs. Peace-making, translation of scripture, and the spread of the Christian message, led to a significant transformation of Māori society, reorienting it away from warfare and towards peaceful endeavour. Education of Māori in Western agricultural techniques also made a substantial contribution to better relations.

Although conversions were initially few in number, by the mid-1840s, half the Māori population was estimated to be gathering regularly for Christian worship, influenced by Anglican, Wesleyan and Catholic traditions. The work was taken up and expanded upon by Māori who returned to their villages as missionaries. These early missionaries are remembered in the midday canticle on page 154 of the NZ Prayer Book… Following requests by iwi leaders for British intervention in a changing and challenging geopolitical environment, Protestant missionaries brokered the 1840 te Tiriti o Waitangi/ the Treaty of Waitangi. They supported the document believing it was the best chance of protecting Māori interests in the face of increasing British settlement.

Māori have a saying: He aha te mea nui o te ao. What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. And in the words of Samuel Marsden in 1814, repeated by the gathering in 1914, and celebrated in words from our Archbishops in 2014: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” Let us now honour that tradition with the singing of a New Zealand Christmas Carol, Te Harinui:

Not on a snowy night

By star or candle light

Nor by an angel

There came to our dear land

Te harinui, te harinui, te harinui. Glad tidings of great joy!

 

But on a summers day

Within a quiet bay

The Maori people heard

The great and glorious word

Te harinui, te harinui, te harinui. Glad tidings of great joy!

 

The people gathered round

Upon the grassy ground

And hear the preacher say “I bring to you this day…”

Te harinui, te harinui, te harinui. Glad tidings of great joy!

 

Now in this blessed land

united heart and hand

we praise the glorious birth

and sing to all the earth

Te harinui, te harinui, te harinui. Glad tidings of great joy!

Te harinui, glad tidings of great joy!

Jacynthia Murphy

2nd Sunday in Advent, 9 December 2018

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

In 1974, St Joseph’s Māori Girl’s College joined with Te Aute Boy’s College in the stage production of Godspell. I was simply a prop dancing and singing on stage. I remember John the Baptist was played by a particularly handsome senior Māori boy, clad in a sack cloth carrying a jar of honey… who would forever leave me with the romantic image of who John the Baptist was… well… possibly was… could have been maybe… oh, okay probably was NOT! *Ahem* back to our sermon… The many songs of Godspell are forever in the hearts of both Christians and non-Christians alike. What I definitely remember is that we sang Prepare ye… with animated jubilance and expectation.

Now, I’ve already confessed that this time of the year has me humming and singing all the waiata (songs) of this expectant season and I could go on and on about that and the many favourite songs we share. Even at the Cathedral on Friday night, Litimai and I were on the forecourt with carol singers and good food. St Mark’s at Remuera, with Tony and Bernadette, will be singing on their lawn with food on the 14th. The Anglican Māori Choir, of which I am a member, will be singing at Hamlin Park in Mt Wellington on the 16th. Oh Joy, joy, joy!

Anyway… back to John the Baptist. We meet up with John every year in Advent, and we meet up with him always in the wilderness. It's the wilderness part that has me thinking this year --- remembering that the identity of the people of Israel was formed and shaped by forty years in the wilderness. Indeed, I expect that is why our Gospel writers make it a point to remind us that John was in the wilderness. God is always doing new things in unexpected times and places. And from what we know of God's history with the people of Israel, we can be certain that the wilderness is precisely the place where we can expect God to do new things!

So, it is John’s wilderness that has me going deeper. It seems to me that wilderness is not something many of us would choose to go at any time. Certainly not if it's true wilderness. I’ve stumbled up some of the mountains in the Hokianga in my lifetime and was it pleasant? Nope! And as I remember that wilderness, though probably different to John’s wilderness, we are called to contemplate a wilderness where there is no end in sight to the suffering, the struggle, or even just the uncertainty in our lives. And so… this Advent we are called to encounter John in that wilderness again. When we arrive, we hear his urging to prepare the way for the One who will come after him. I expect it's only after we metaphorically step into a wilderness ourselves that we learn how deeply our need for the One who is coming. I know it's in those times that I am more in touch with my own hunger, my own thirst physically, perhaps, but more surely, my own spirituality. Perhaps it is that in Advent we pause in the wilderness to be reminded of just this. And to heighten our joy when we encounter the Christ Child once more. But there is more to it, of course. The people of Israel surely encountered something in their forty-year trek. There they discovered God would care for them over and over again. I wonder how we see this in the story of John. In the story of our own lives... I wonder how the wilderness can be a gift to us once more. I wonder how we will experience the gifts of God in the wilderness this year. Who will we encounter on the way. Whose journey is a wilderness also. What might we do with what we discover there? How would you define 'wilderness'? When did you last step into the wilderness? Did you discover the gifts of God in that place? How does it help you to go into the wilderness if you do so remembering you do not go alone?

No one really knows much about the early life of John the Baptist until this point. Speculation suggests that he was adopted by the people of the Dead Sea community at Qumran. John, like those of Qumran was a man of the desert. Whoever raised him, had to make sure that John kept the strict vows of a Nazarite. He could not drink wine or strong drink. Neither could he cut his hair. In thirty years, it would have become quite long. He lived in the area of Judea clothed in animal skins like Elijah the prophet, and ate wild honey and honeycomb, or perhaps locusts. So, the appearance of this John must have been shockingly different than the average church member of this parish, I’d say! Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. John quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe the earthshaking transformation that must take place. Though his words can certainly be taken as images of a geographic construction site, in the context of Luke’s writings they evoke richer associations: valleys filled full, mountains and hills humbled, and everything crooked made straight and true. Wow. When we listen to some of his words, it is easy to conclude that John the Baptist is just a crazy protestor from Nazareth. He says things we don't apprehend and behaves in ways that offend. But his call to prepare challenges us to re-examine things around us. You could argue that all of culture around us is engaging this Baptist's call every year. It's the way for Christians, like you and me. And in the words of another of Godspell’s songs, Day-by-day, day-by-day… O dear Lord three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly… day-by-day. No reīra e te whānau a te Karaiti, “prepare ye, the way of the Lord”… and for the Boy Child we love so much!

Jacynthia Murphy

1st Sunday in Advent, 2 December 2018

Primary Texts:

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36 

 

As we begin this new church year, there a part of me that cannot resist the urge to sing. Growing up in a very strict Catholic home we were made to sing at this time of year. We sang songs of Jesus, not Santa. Songs of angels not reindeer. Songs calling all Ye Faithful, and drummer boys… parr rup-pa-pum-pum. We sang about Mary’s Boy Child, and O Holy night… we sang, sang, sang...

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya

Oh Lord, kumbaya

Someone's singing my Lord, kumbaya

Someone's crying my Lord, kumbaya

Someone's praying my Lord, kumbaya

Oh Lord, kumbayah. Oh Lord, kumbayah.

Why did the designers of the lectionary decide that we needed to hear what has been described as Jesus’ mini account of the apocalypse? Why take us into this particular darkness? Especially at this time of the year when we look forward to whānau get-togethers, frivolity, fun, and food! Scholars tell us that in all likelihood the writer of the Gospel according to Luke created this story to reassure the followers of Jesus that even in their darkness, even though it looked as if the heavens and the earth were passing away, Jesus’ words would not. It’s tempting to ignore the lectionary and skip the darkness of the apocalypse. But the more I think about it the more I realise that at a time of the year when all the world wants to sentimentalise, trivialise and retail-ise the Christmas story, perhaps we who follow Christ ought to begin our preparations with a sojourn into the darkness. Why, you might ask? A wise Sister of the Loving God once told me when I was feeling a little low, “Jacynthia, darkness and light live in the same house, in the same room. Be drawn to the light so that darkness will fade away.”

Someone's searching my Lord, kumbaya.

Let’s talk a little about my recent visit to Sydney, with 11 other NZ’ers, which aroused some mixed feelings in me. Some of you may know that the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davis, came to Aotearoa not long ago to speak very boldly to members of our Province, that his Standing Committee for the Diocese of Sydney passed a resolution noting "with deep regret that our decision on Same Sex Blessings is contrary to the teaching of Christ (Matt 19:1-12) and is contrary to Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference." Having been welcomed, and having listened to those gathered, Dr Davies then presented his proposal at the meeting. Almost immediately upon his return to Sydney he published it – and asked for a response from this church. Some of you might agree with his view, but many at that meeting didn’t. You can read our formal response here: http://www.anglicantaonga.org.nz/news/common_life/sydney. It was a difficult visit given the strain between two provinces and it was obvious that the Diocese of Sydney do not ordain women, there are no indigenous people anywhere in sight, and at a gathering at one of their churches there were no brown faces present except for the three Māori registrars who were attending the conference! Our contingent took great pleasure in inviting them and their whole family to Aotearoa in two years time, being hosted by Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa and the Diocese of Waiapu, and concluded with a Māori Hīmene/Waiata. #proudaz

Someone's hurting my Lord, kumbaya. 

I must confess, I find myself not dreading the end, but rather, I’d very much like the world as we know it, to end. I’d like the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine, Russia and the Ukraine, North and South Korea, to end. I’d like our government to live up to its own mandate to put an end to poverty and homelessness here in Aotearoa. I’d like to see the end of an economic system that enslaves 80% of the world’s population in poverty. I’d like to see an end to violence, hunger, racism, misogyny, and war. I’ve long since given up the hope that we will be rescued from the systemic evil that causes so much grief in the world, by a divine rescuer swooping in from above the clouds. My hope for the future does not mean an apocalyptic vision of Jesus returning to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, rewarding the former and barbecuing the latter. This super-saviour that has long been the hope of Christian communities weighed down and oppressed by savage governments and their policies. While destruction, pain, and oppression are a part of our global reality and we know that, despite our wishes and projections, hope does not come from outer-space. 

Someone's praying my Lord, kumbaya.

Hope has to be found in our here and now. It has to be worked for, discovered, accepted and developed. This doesn’t mean that the many pseudo-intellectuals who would have us believe, that God does not exist, and we should abandon all hope and run screaming from the church. This does mean that rather than looking to the heavens for salvation, we should look around us, and see that our God is located within our experience, our struggles, our communities and our hearts. After all, God is love.

Someone's singing my Lord, kumbaya.

Permeating our lives, our land, our communities, and all that is beyond us, there is a powerful love that touches our lives. That love reaches out to us in a neighbour’s smile, in the strident concerns of a protester, (I read your Letter to the Editor, Brian) the embrace of a whānau member, and even in a great government initiative to help those in need. Love comes in a myriad of ways. Just like hope. Hope is not a mental exercise. You don’t just stand up and decide that you are going to be hope-filled. Hope is the result of a combination of encounters with others. Advent is a time to build that hope.

I don’t know what it is about Advent and Christmas, but I/we tend to sing our best stories. Music opens us in ways that mere words cannot. So, let me begin our Advent journey with encouraging us to sing songs that help us find that light in the darkness. “This little light of mine…” In a world where we have yet to learn just how to love one another, Christ comes to us. “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord…” When we are hurting or in pain, when our world is darkest. When we are sick and tired, and when we have given up and can no longer bear to hope. Christ comes to us. “o come all ye faithful…” Christ is Emmanuel. Christ, laughs with us, cries with us, rejoices with us, suffers with us, heals with us, walks with us, shouts with us, struggles with us and dies with us.

So, today God stands with us and speaks to us a word of hope a word. Written by the Rev Dawn Hutchings of Canada let me conclude: Come by here my lord, come by here… Come by here and help us to bring the good news of great joy for all the people. Come by here and help us to sing Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace good will to all.

Come by here my Lord, Come by here... O Lord, Come by here.

Jacynthia Murphy  

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