Many moons ago when I was first studying theology, one of the papers that was compulsory was Philosophy of Religion. I hated it. I found it so abstract and hard to get a handle on. Philosophical proofs for the existence of God did not excite me. And grappling with the theories of the existence of evil and suffering; religious language and proofs for life after death were tough going. I found biblical studies and church history much more fun!
But in the few years after I was ordained I said many times that I should have done more philosophy of religion. The questions I was always grappling with at funerals and bedsides and in people’s lounges was – why is my child suffering; and is there life after death? And don’t worry even though I was young and inexperienced I didn’t take people through the theories I had learnt, but knowing and being able to say that the greatest minds of our world have not come up with satisfactory answers was a help, and I hope stopped me from uttering platitudes.
The Book of Job, from which we heard a short extract this morning, is a lament. A lament about suffering which tackles the big question head on: why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there suffering in our world? If God is all powerful and all good then how come there is disease and tornadoes and earthquakes? Job is a good and righteous man and in the tale God allows Satan to “test” him to see if he will stay loyal to God. Calamity after calamity is visited upon Job. His initial response is “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21). As time goes on Job debates with three friends why he is suffering when he is a good man; in OT times there was a clear correlation between obedience to God and well being. Job must have offended God. But Job maintains his innocence and at the same time remains steadfast in his faith that God is just. So he demands to know from God what God’s charges against him are – he seeks to know for what he is being punished. Eventually God does speak “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” and goes on to describe the wonders of creation and the natural world, putting Job in his place as one tiny part of the whole. (ch38) “have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place …. have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”
God goes on like this for a few chapters, does not say why this has happened to Job, and in the end “restores the fortunes of Job” (42:10) who is blessed once again with fortune and family. Job dies, we are told “old and full of days.” (42:17)
The story of Job is not considered historical, it is a tale to help us grapple with the true reality of suffering which is real and not to be understated or swept away. It can give us words to lament and rail against God when we need them. It does not in the end give an answer to the question – why? Brueggeman says “The dramatic power of the book of Job attests to the reality that faith, beyond easy convictions, is a demanding way to live that thrives on candor and requires immense courage. Faith of this kind ….is no enterprise for wimps or sissies.”  Like the Beatitudes from last week we are called to name and face the realities of what we see in our world, and hunger for what is good and right; in that hungering we find God. Job did not give up.
In the same way in our gospel reading Jesus directs his audience to seek life. Some religious leaders try to trap Jesus with what they see as a complicated theological question. The Sadducees were a group who did not believe in life after death. The Pharisees did teach that there was life after death.
So the Sadducees set Jesus up with a question based in the practice in Jesus day that a woman who dies childless (and so therefore with no son to protect her) would then marry her husband’s brother. In the Sadducees’ example the woman is passed like a chattel along the 7 brothers. The religious elite use the suffering of the powerless and marginalized to score points against Jesus. “Human suffering, abstracted for the sake of argument, debate and theological comeuppance.” 
But Jesus has none of it. A week later “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk24:5) will be the question the angels ask Mary Magdalene at the tomb; and Jesus makes the same claim “God is the God not of the dead but of the living.” Like Job Jesus calls us forward to embrace life with all its paradoxes and confusion, with all our unanswered questions.
After our 10am service today we are beginning a conversation around “disability.” We are wanting to listen to parishioners who have disabilities (or as some might put it, are differently abled) to check in and see if there are barriers that need removing for full inclusion in the life of our parish. There are practical things to attend to – doors and ramps, microphones and lighting. But the much more challenging conversation (if we are willing to enter into it), is to listen to the story of faith of those with disabilities. Those who have every right like Job to rail against God and say why me? and how long, O God, how long? Those who may feel uncomfortable when they hear biblical verses which paint a picture of redemption like this from Isaiah: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5)
Those who are blind, or deaf, or lame, or unable to speak, can feel that the Bible paints them as imperfect or not whole. They would want to say they are whole and loved by God as they are, and do not need fixing or healing as some churches might teach.
Nancy Mairs who has multiple sclerosis asks the question “If a cure were found, would I take it?” All the same, if a cure were found would I take it? In a minute. I may be a cripple, but I’m only occasionally a loony and never a saint. Anyway, in my brand of theology God doesn’t give bonus points for a limp. I’d take a cure; I just don’t need one. A friend who also has MS startled me once by asking, ‘do you ever say to yourself, “Why me, Lord?”’ ‘No, Michael, I don’t,’ I told him, ‘because whenever I try, the only response I can think of is “Why not?”’ If I could make a cosmic deal, who would I put in my place? What in my life would I give up in exchange for sound limbs and a thrilling rush of energy? No one. Nothing. I might as well do the job myself. Now that I am getting the hang of it. 
How do we understand wholeness and healing? What do we do with our faith when the bad times roll around? Where is God when these things happen? These are the questions the poet who wrote the book of Job wanted to grapple with. These are also the reasons Jesus came among us as a living, breathing, and yes suffering human being.
As I learned after my Philosophy of Religion class the answers are not to be found in the books and the theories but in living the life of faith. As Debie Thomas puts it “The life of faith is not a spectator sport – to know it we have to live it …. We have to enter into the joy, the loss, the sacrifice, the wonder, the mystery, the grief and the challenge of life in Christ. Resurrection knowing is a lived knowing.” 
 An Introduction to the Old Testament; the Canon and Christian Imagination, Walter Bruggemann and Tod Linafelt, 2012, p336
Blessed are you – simply for being here – blessed are you. We are here for many different reasons today. Some of you are here because you have a loved one who has died in the last year, and their funeral was here. Some of you are here to hear the choir sing. Choir members, you are here to sing and to see how the Requiem you sing as a concert actually works in a liturgy. Some of you are here because you are always here. Some of you are here because you have wandered in by chance. Blessed are you.
Blessed too are the people whose names we will read during the prayers, or whose names you will remember as we pray. There are names on the list of people who died very recently, others long ago. Some old, some very young, some in between. For some of us the grief is so recent and so fresh we can barely breathe. For others the tears flow again, but more softly. Each life, whether short or long is complete in itself. In the midst of sadness and grief we can still be thankful. That is partly what Jesus meant when he said “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Wherever you are in your grieving and loving and giving thanks, you can allow the words of the Faure Requiem and the choir to speak for you. Whatever it is you want to say to your loved one, to God, or to yourself.
Words of thanks, words of anger, words of love, words of regret, words of joy, words of sorrow; tears and smiles; goodbyes and hullos. Do your own translation, let the music carry your prayer and your thoughts.
But then let me warn you the words of Jesus we just heard from the gospel reading might come crashing in and not seem quite resonant with your personal prayers. Jesus is like that – gets in the way of our own plans and thoughts. I said before that in the midst of sadness and grief we can still be thankful and that is partly what Jesus meant when he said “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” But the Beatitudes, as this list of blessing is called, are not really about us as individuals.
Jesus we are told went up a mountain to pray and them came down to “a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples (not just the 12) and a great multitude of people … and he looked at the disciples and said.”
He spoke to his followers (not to everyone), on the ground, on the level. Blessed are you who are hungry, who weep; when people hate you. These are not descriptions of individual struggles, but the life of the early followers of Jesus who were hungry for God, who were weeping at the state of their lives and communities, oppressed and hated by the Romans. Jesus’ words are a commentary on their community and way of life. And when Luke writes these words down the early church was definitely struggling and asking the question – what has changed? We are following Jesus but people are still hungry; we still weep for our world; the Romans are still ruling. What has changed? And don’t even start with love your enemies – how are we supposed to do that?
One writer, Mark Lau Branson puts it like this
The perspective being voiced here is not that poverty is good or that (weeping) is to be sought – but that a community that lives with these characteristics in vulnerability and receptivity to the presence of God’s reign will find themselves embraced, reconciled, comforted, even re-created. … Jesus wants them to have new eyes, different perspectives, an awareness of God’s generative work among them.” 
So it is about perspective and the way we see things.
Sam Wells calls it “a window into the heart of God that can be seen by those who experience adversity but is invisible to the comfortable.” 
And to drive that point home Jesus ramps it up with the “woes” or curses – woe to the rich, the full, the laughing, those who are praised. Again not so much woe to the individuals but woe to the society who ignored the needs of others and carried on in their own self satisfied way. Those who were blessed, the followers of Jesus, were the saints, and the rest, well they were the lost.
These words of Jesus are about life here and now and in every generation – life in all its complexities and paradoxes – life with all its questions and lack of answers. Who are the blessed, and who are the lost? Blessed are the hungry – those who literally are hungry and who will eat today at the City Mission. Blessed are the hungry – who will be fed today from this table – we are hungry for our ritual bread and wine – which represents to us life with God, life in community. Blessed are we who hunger for God in our lives – even if we are not sure who God is or how we might meet God.
Blessed are the hungry, who seek, who look, who want to know God and who want to feed the hunger of our world with love and service. At this table all are welcome and all are fed.
In the same way the mysterious words of the Requiem are sung for us all and those for whom we pray. The words weep for us and we are lifted up by their beauty. Blessed are those who weep.
Woe to us though if we think we have life figured out; woe to us if we are self satisfied and sure we know everything; woe to us if we neglect the hungry at our door. Instead we are invited to be here today – hearts and hands empty, hungry – ready to be filled with the beauty of music and the touch of God’s grace. In this moment where nothing else matters.
Nadia Bolz Weber is a Lutheran priest from the US and she has written a book Accidental Saints – Finding God in all the wrong people and this is part of a litany she wrote for All Saints’ Day:
Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are those who no one else notices.
Blessed are the forgotten.
Blessed are those who know there has to be more than this.
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak.
Blessed are those who hear that they are forgiven.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it. 
Blessed are you – simply for being here – blessed are you.
 p 59 Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry, Missional Engagement and Congregational Change 2016
 p 25 A Future that’s bigger than the past: Catalysing Kingdom Communities 2019
Today’s parable reads a bit like a drama, as do many parables if you think of them this way. We’re directed by the opening remark – this one's going to be about self-righteousness. We’re introduced to the main characters: a Pharisee and a tax-collector. They enter, or are placed, on the stage of the Temple. Don’t forget this drama follows hot on the heels of the previous one, almost scene 2 to last week’s scene 1, last week about a judge, who feared neither God nor people and took a good while to decide to administer justice to the widow, motivated by self-preservation.
It’s curious to imagine a parable in this guise – an enacted drama as a teaching tool. Although in the time and place of Jesus’ telling perhaps this was closer to the hearers’ experience, for Jesus told parables within their familiar lived context. So maybe it’s just curious for us to imagine applying this to a religious text.
For outside of a religious context we’re more than aware of the formational influence of drama upon our society. Especially in the West we only have to think of the influence of Shakespeare, his plays have “for four hundred years captivated theatre-goers worldwide, thanks to their unforgettable characters, gripping plots and poetic verse.” What I was unaware of, until recently, while reading Kate Haworth’s book Doughnut Economics, was that “To keep his actors on their toes, Shakespeare handed each member of the troupe only their own lines and cues to learn, intentionally leaving them in the dark about the unfolding plot.” Can you imagine that, stepping onto the stage with others, only knowing your own part and your cues, but no idea what’s to unfold?
Apparently, “Soon after his death … over-zealous editors added in complete lists of characters and, in plays such as the Tempest, introduced many parts along with their tell-tale traits.” The effect of providing such tell-tale character traits was to influence the way characters interacted, or expected to interact with one another, it shifted the balance between character and plot. As Haworth continues, “the play [becomes] pregnant with plot and the story ahead almost self-fulfilling.” 
As Jesus unfolds the drama of today’s parable, it’s assumed we know something of the characters involved and we play our part in determining exactly the plot. We’re asked to fill in a lot of the gaps and we do so and have done so perhaps for many years. We make meaning and find significance for ourselves (and perhaps of others,) depending on our context, our level of knowledge, what we need or want to hear at any given time. Because this parable’s placed in the mouth of Jesus and because it’s embedded in a gospel in scripture, it has heightened significance. For those who believe, it’s about God, this means it matters a lot. We want to learn, to understand how to grow to be well with God, aligned, made right, “justified” in relationship with God, to quote the gospel.
The parable begins a bit like one of those (often racist or sexist) jokes, “one day there were two men who went into a …,” well this time the Temple. As far as we know this is something they regularly did. A bit like coming to church each week, it was their practice. As far as we can tell they don’t interact with one another. We only know what goes on inside their head because of the dialogue Jesus gives us. Look around, can you even imagine the dialogues going on in here, inside each person’s head, not to mention the ones inside your own head! Perhaps this parable’s bit of a reminder to pay attention to why we came and what we’re doing here.
Each character in this drama stands before God. They have each come, they are each seeking … something. Yes, we do have Jesus tell us what they’re praying, or asking. But what do we know of these characters?
Let’s take a quick character check: first the Pharisee. In the Gospels the Pharisees often appear as the influential arch-enemies of Jesus. The Pharisees were a lay movement who placed emphasis on the Torah, particularly the importance of the purity code for everyday holiness.
In their opinion holiness wasn’t only for the priests and the Temple. By observing the purity code every member of the people of God might participate in the holiness of God. Pharisees held to a liberal interpretation of Scripture, the aim of Pharisaic law was to make observance of the Torah available to all.
Conflicts between the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus came to a head after the death of Jesus, when the Jesus movement began to accept Gentiles into membership without demanding that they be circumcised or that they observe the purity code. These controversies are reflected in the way the Pharisees are portrayed in the New Testament. 
And now the tax collectors: During the Herodian period, Julius Caesar made the rulers of the new Jewish state responsible for the taxes. The Herodian rulers farmed the taxes out to individual farmers or to associations. So tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the hated Romans. As the burdens of taxation became ever more intolerable, the tax collector become a more hateful and dreaded personality. At times they contrived to extract payments by torture. ... Since [tax-collectors] were classed with "robbers," talmudic law disqualified them from acting as witnesses. Neither was their money accepted for charity.  Despite our perhaps attraction to the tax collector character depicted in today’s parable they weren’t the most humble and simple of people.
Both Pharisee and tax collector come to the Temple and both of them leave. As far as we know neither of them change their jobs or their allegiances. What Jesus comments on is their changed orientation with God. As far as I can tell Jesus doesn’t pass judgement as to whether one is right or wrong, one good, one bad. Simply that one left justified, made right, in their relationship with God and one did not. What’s at stake is the alignment of each character in their relationship with God. Yes, that those who exalt themselves will be humbled while those who humble themselves will be exalted. Is this about the way they, we, are ourselves before God?
This parable speaks of our inner orientation toward God, yes, but also of how this outworks in our orientation toward the world. Of our tendency to think we know. And then to create a world that supports our thinking. To generate belief systems, determine practices, things to do we deem as correct practice that reflects our self-understanding. Too easily we come to defend so seal ourselves inside such self-created worlds.
I began suggesting today’s parable is scene 2 of a drama. In scene 1 a judge was named unjust – once he administered justice – is this because he knew how and chose not to. Scene two, today’s parable, suggests we know how to be transparent, honest before God yet most often we choose the safety of measurable, correct behaviours, right practices. We limit ourselves to safe parameters. This isn’t wrong. But potentially by this we deny ourselves the extravagance of God for us and for others. When we diminish our world, or limit it to safe self-creation, we diminish not only who we can be, but also who others can be, what the world can be. Is it sufficient to act correctly and not risk the disruption of an opened heart?
As they left the Temple, these two men of faith, one had opened himself to be changed; one had determined he and his ways need not be changed.
Where or perhaps when, do we open ourselves in honest declaration of how we are? Acknowledge our sense of incompleteness that, too often, our actions contribute toward. Not that they make us less beloved of God, but that sometimes our choices diminish us, our capacity to know and live as one’s divinely beloved. When we can be honest, we open up in us space for transformation, for being transformed, changed. When we know this, experience this, we discover we can choose to participate in change. We can choose to participate in changing ourselves so participate in the changing, transforming the world.
To return to Shakespeare who kept actors on their toes, he also wrote “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” Imagine if we understood ourselves this way. That each of us has a part in the play of life in the world. We know our part (or come to learn it) and work out the unfolding of life as we interact with each other player. The drama of life unfolds in the interaction between us, rather than being predetermined. It leaves a space for grace between us, for relationship to develop and evolve in the moment of meeting. That life is an unfolding with particular players who each moment are creating life within their unique context. Imagine what that might free us to create for the good of the world.
 Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist Random House Business Books, London 2017 61,62
In the name of God the Creator, Christ the Cosmic One, and the Spirit the Sustainer, Amen.
Every time I’ve come to any church to worship, I like to sit close to the front, on the left, on the aisle.
I’m such a creature of habit – of very deeply ingrained habit.
One of my earliest memories of church is sitting right there. Because that’s where my father always led our family to each Sunday. And that’s where I still gravitate to today.
Long ago, I fell into another deep habit. A rather worse one. At every Eucharist, I resort to my same little litany of sins. I cruise through Confession on auto-pilot.
Then a few years ago in my parish, St Andrew’s Epsom, I made for the first time a very different Confession in our Season of Creation Eucharist.
Repeating it in subsequent services made it no easier a Confession for me to make.
It was so confronting. In making it, I admitted I was massacring the abundant life God creates. I admitted I had shattered my relationship with God and his creation.
Yet I know God wants me to confess my ecological sins…so he can forgive me…so I have the hope, and courage to try to restore my relationship with his creation.
So, in that Spirit, please may I suggest we now make that same Creation Confession. I will read about each day of God’s seven days of creation. I will take one day at a time, followed by our mirror day of destruction.
With each of those I’ll offer some facts about our destructive behaviour; and then some suggestions about what we might do to help heal our relationship with God and his creation.
And then together we will give thanks and praise to God for his forgiveness and for his great abundance.
We will do so by reading together a verse or two of the Benedicite Aotearoa…not in the order they’re written!
So, would you like to turn please to the Benedicite, which is on page 63 of the prayer books in your pews. To give much credit where its due, the Benedicite was written especially for the prayer book by the Rev Bruce Keeley, when he and his wife Diane were vicars of St Albans, the co-operating parish at Chartwell in Hamilton, before they were vicars for many years at All Saints Howick.
A Confession for the Season of Creation
On the first day of creation you split the darkness and created light.
On the first day of destruction
we split the atom, exploded nuclear devices,
and created a black mist of death.
Nine nations have a total of 14,900 nuclear warheads. If just one of the most powerful ever built – Russia’s Tsar Bomba – was dropped on New York, it would kill 7.6m people, injure 4.2m more, and spread radioactive fallout over 8,000 sq km killing and injuring many millions more.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example, relate well to each other.
When we settle our differences and work together, communities thrive; When our communities thrive, our nation thrives. When our nation thrives, we can help other nations relate better to each other…so together we can rid the world of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
So, let’s read together verses 8 and 9 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
8. You Maori and Pakeha, women and men,
all who inhabit the long white cloud:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
9. All you saints and martyrs of the South Pacific:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
(…that is the nuclear-free South Pacific!)
On the second day of creation you created the sky filled with clouds, stars and fresh air.
On the second day of destruction
we began burning fossil fuels,
pumping fumes into the sky
and created pollution.
Since 1950, emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased nearly 7-fold (to more than 10bn tonnes a year); as a result, temperatures are rising and the climate is changing. With this, we are deeply damaging the ecosystem, our life-support system, which God created.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example, drive less; or use more public transport; or walk more…and rejoice in nature.
Let’s read together verse 3 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
3. Sunrise and sunset, night and day:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
On the third day of creation
you gathered together the waters
revealing earth, the source of rich vegetation,
forests, streams, and seeds for new life.
On the third day of destruction
we began to strip the land,
creating barren plains,
then we began to woodchip and burn the forests,
removing over half Earth’s vegetation
in less than a human lifetime.
We humans actively manage 75% of the land surface of the planet (excluding that covered by permanent ice and snow). Through our faming, mining, deforestation and other activities we move more of the earth’s surface each year than nature does.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example, eat less meat; grow some of our own food; and compost our food waste.
Let’s read together verses 4 and 5 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
4. All mountains and valleys, grassland and scree,
glacier, avalanche, mist and snow:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
5. You kauri and pine, rata and kowhai, mosses and ferns:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
On the fourth day of creation
You created the sun and the moon
and differentiated the day, the night and the seasons.
On the fourth day of destruction
we threw aerosols up into the sky,
ripping apart the protective ozone above,
and changing sunlight from friend to foe.
We’ve changed the chemicals we use in aerosol sprays, so the ozone hole is shrinking. But our ultraviolet levels are high because we have less air pollution than many other countries.
However, we create other kinds of aerosols such as very, very fine particles from the likes of airborne soil, or dust, or indeed from diesel engines.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for the high UV – slip, slop, slap and wrap (slip on shirt and/or into shade; slop on sunscreen; slap on a hat; wrap on sunglasses).
For airborne particles, try to avoid creating dust in its many forms; if you have a diesel-engine vehicle, trade it in for a petrol or electric one.
And another way to help repair our relationship with creation, is to immerse ourselves in God’s amazingly clear, bright, night skies.
Let’s read together verse 2 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
2. You sun and moon, you stars of the southern sky:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
On the fifth day of creation
you called the sea and air to bring forth life
of many kinds for the wonder and delight of all.
On the fifth day of destruction
we created DDT, killing the fish of the seas
and destroying unborn birds of the air.
Very, very little DDT is still used today. But many of our continuing activities are destroying natural habitats. Thus, of our 30 indigenous species of marine mammals – one quarter are threatened with extinction. We have 92 species and sub-species of indigenous seabirds - one-third are threatened with extinction; and a further half are at risk of extinction.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example, join Forest & Bird; fish wisely; help with a marine or land conservation project.
Let’s read together verse 6 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
6. Dolphins and kahawai, sealion and crab,
coral, anemone, pipi and shrimp:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
On the sixth day of creation
you watched as the creatures of the land emerged,
crawling, leaping, and playing games of life.
On the sixth day of destruction
we looked away as multitudes of species
disappeared through our destruction of their environments.
Of our 168 species of native birds, just 20% are doing OK, 48% are in some trouble, and 32% are in serious trouble. Of our native plant species, one third are threatened with extinction; likewise, our indigenous bugs!
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example, in our gardens, plant natives to help our native bugs, animals and birds multiply; trap predators; keep our cats in at night; and put a bell on them.
Let’s read together verse 7 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
7. Rabbits and cattle, moths and dogs
kiwi and sparrow and tui and hawk:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
On the seventh day of creation
you gave creation the blessing of rest
to celebrate and sustain all life.
On the seventh day of destruction
we created the relentless drive for progress,
exploiting all life to increase profit.
Since 1950, we humans have trebled to 7.5bn; but our economic activity has increased 8-fold (to US$65 trillion); our water use has quadrupled (to 4,100 cu km a year); the number of motor vehicles has increase 7-fold to 1.3bn; our use of paper has increased 8-fold, our use of fertiliser has increased 18-fold.
To help repair our relationship with creation, we could, for example: Buy wisely, buy less; and with our material possessions, reduce, repair, and recycle. And instead of possessions, we could enjoy the rich diversity of each other, and the simple things in life.
Let’s read together verses 10, 11 and 12 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
10. All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks,
professors, shop workers, typists and teachers,
job-seekers, invalids, drivers and doctors:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
11. All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists,
grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents,
seafarers, farmers, bakers and mystics:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
12. All children and infants, all people who play:
give to our God your thanks and praise.
We rarely think about these issues of God’s creation…the ecology, life support system, he has given us.
If we do, we salve our conscience, saying “my impact is so tiny.”
When we do feel responsible, we feel helpless. What difference can I make?
Yet, when we confess to God, he forgives us…and gives us courage to try again.
He asks only that we each play our tiny, tiny part in his creation.
If an infinite number of us each do our infinitesimally small bit, we can together restore our relationship with creation, and with God.
Let’s read together verse 1 of the Benedicite Aotearoa:
1. O give thanks to our God who is good:
whose love endures forever.
From Jeremiah: I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.
And from Luke:
you must hate your mother and father
You must give away all your possessions to the poor.
You must count the cost.
I could, I suppose have just decided I was talking about Spring and Creation, and ignored them, but the readings are of course strangely resonant with our present predicament.
We are seeking, today, in this season of Creation, not only solutions around our climate, but also meaning in creation.
The role of faith, of theology, is to reconnect us with nature. To read the signs of nature. I think we can all feel the buoyancy of Spring as it gives birth to new life. But creation may be signaling something deeper as well.
Creation, emergency, catastrophe, crisis are now all said together, in the same breath.
Indeed at Synod in the last few days not just one but two motions were passed on climate change and carbon neutrality.
Someone in Britain said recently that it feels as though we/they are sleepwalking into disaster, just like they did in 1914, seeing the disaster that is ahead, but unable to change it or do anything about it. Multitudes of men & women working feverishly but to what end. It really is as though the potter is at work, and the clay is slipping out of our control, as though someone else is moving the wheel. Not us!
As we commemorate the end of the first world war and the beginning of the second it is worth looking at some of the ways in which modern prophecy and poetry have together given voice to the premonition of disaster. A catastrophe and a sense of peril similar to that we now feel around climate.
A hundred years ago, just after the first world war Yeats wrote this poem (The Second Coming)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…
How did he know, a hundred years ago?
200 years ago as Napoleon wrecked havoc in Europe Schleiermacher wrote:
Great Forces of destiny are stomping about our neighbourhood, with steps that make the earth tremble; and we know not how they will draw us in.
We know not how they will draw us in.
And before the first world war also we get the Scream, or Shriek by Edvard Munch from 1893. He describes it like this:
I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
I was living near New York for a year in 2012 when the MOMA had an exhibition. I found myself drawn back to it over and over again.
What is common in all these expressions of unease, or disease, is the connection between nature and humans, nature resonates with our psychic health as well as responding to the results of human exploitation. If we are sensitive we hear and feel the earth tremble, or scream, as much as we sense its joy and new life.
For ancient Hebrews something similar was happening as they too faced a conqueror and the humiliation of deportation, and the sack of their sacred city, and with all this a loss of meaning. They took everything what we would call personally. I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. That is, God.
But equally ancient Hebrews as far as we can understand also believed that God was up close and personal with nature. For Jeremiah God’s Spirit was so close to nature that they were almost one. Where we might talk in terms of scientific objectivity. We might say; Nature or Gaia will pay us back, they would say: I am a potter plotting evil against you. There is not much difference really. We too fear at times that the potter is not on our side.
We are not facing anything entirely new. Just old trajectories re-traced. Although, as Yeats so profoundly says, there appears to be a widening gyre. We are retracing old patterns but the stakes keep being ratcheted up.
A few stories show the consequences of abusing or not heeding nature. The young Czech couple who decided to walk the Routeburn in Winter, without proper provision, guides, or permission. They made mistakes and one of them died. There are limits to how far a human can go to survive cold and ice, snow and wind without proper protection. They weren’t malicious mistakes. Just mistakes of judgment – lethal ones.
And on a completely different scale, I have also been watching Chernobyl. This was a disaster where mistakes were made mostly by young inexperienced men within a corrupt self serving system, and with shoddy manufacturing – it nearly cost the lives of tens of millions. Speak of the widening gyre. When your tussle is with the power of an atom the stakes are so much higher. The mistakes were not huge in themselves, but together they amounted to something that could have threatened human life in Europe.
This really is the human predicament. Small errors of judgment can have unforeseen consequences. We find it hard to understand the whole. We focus too much on some things and not others. There is malice and greed. But above all our problem is blindness.
IT is interesting that the gospels are full of stories of blindness and of healing from being blind. We can see now, that blindness is our collective problem. We are all a little like the couple stumbling around in the snow. Or the technicians trying to prevent a meltdown that would enter ground water or explode and kill 60 million instantly.
Wittgenstein said. The picture kept us captive … our ways of seeing, which are so powerful, create our worlds, and those worlds can be with the flow of nature or against it.
Recently we have begun to see that our ways of seeing are undermining nature.
But within the Christian story there is always hope… The Christian message both urges us to repent and gives us a vision of the future.
Barbara Rossing, the New Testament professor who was visiting us recently talked about how Jonah is a story of hope because it shows us that a corrupt system can turn around. Can repent.
She reminded us that salvation and healing are really the same word. We have always been talking about salvation in church, we just now need to see that it extends further than we thought, to the natural world as well as us.
She ended with the ubiquitous tree of life. This is the total vision of peacefulness and abundant life. The most powerful symbol of healing in the Bible. This is also what we have to offer the world. The vision of a world healed. Our message should always be something visionary as well as warning.
We need to hang on to these visions of healing because another aspect of our collective blindness is that we become so focused on solutions that we lose sight of the larger picture. The coroner explicitly said that was the problem with the Czech couple. It was also one of the problems at Chernobyl. It could easily be our problem now, as we navigate the climate issue. WE have to make sure that our focus does not become so narrow that we make the situation worse.
Because we are blind we need guides and prophets to warn us and to see this vision, every bit as much as people did in the days of Jeremiah.
But probably the best known young prophet is Greta. She is so sure and single minded.
She is unrelenting in her denunciations. Like Jeremiah she has been called as a very young person. She says she is too young to do this work. Jeremiah said something similar. The old ways have not worked, she says. The older generation has failed she says. Political movements have all failed, she says. She doesn’t hate her mother and father, but she did resolutely refuse to go back to school. She does hate the dithering and double standards of her parents’ generation. She’s not giving away her possessions, but she is speaking for the poor and living lightly in the world. So even the stern words from Jesus have some relevance today. Greta shows us that we need to do something new. And sometimes that does mean hating your mother and father and brother and sister.
As individuals we know so much depends on political powers
But we can learn to listen better to nature.
To Pray for nature’s healing
To pray that we will be healed from blindness
We can Support the prophets amongst us and those who work to change an unjust system.
As voters we can make this issue more important than any other.
As Christians, we can try to listen and find meaning and guidance in nature itself.
And we can pray…
I want to end by saying with you the healing prayer from the ecumenical community on the island of Iona
But here we are praying, not only for ourselves, but for every part of nature.
For nature as she groans as in childbirth, for nature as she is screaming, as the ground trembles. For nature where the centre does not hold. For nature as she labours on, one season following the other through all of this. For nature out of which will emerge the tree of life.
We could talk about Creation as the ‘Big Bang’ theory; but I shall leave that to the astrophysicists. OR we could talk about biological evolution, but I shall leave that to the biologists. OR we could marvel at all the creatures on land and sea and skies; but I shall leave that to David Attenborough.
Instead, I’m going to share a personal story.
Some people are fortunate enough to have had an epiphany.
Dr Google defines epiphany as: ‘a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.’
I have had just two epiphanies in my life. The first one was when I was born, during a snowstorm, and I discovered what a magical world it was. Unfortunately, I don’t remember that epiphany very well. The second one was in 2005, that’s 14 years ago. I was starting to read scientific studies about environmental issues, when I suddenly realised that there was a black cloud on the horizon that would change everything.
Scientists were calling it ‘global warming’ which means an increase in the average surface temperature of planet Earth. The predicted consequences of this were frankly alarming. I realised that I could no longer assume that I would live out my life in relative comfort. And my children and grandchildren could suffer terribly, and might not even survive to my age. If the scientists were right, I would have to change my expectations and my comfortable lifestyle. That epiphany, I do remember.
After this Epiphany followed Despondency. I could not see any way ahead, and it felt like a heavy burden. Furthermore, hardly anybody was even talking about it, so I felt alone. The Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had a similar experience recently when she was just 15 years old. She became aware of climate change caused by global warming, and she realised that this was incredibly important; but nobody seemed to care. The leaders in her society were not even talking about it. Then she became depressed, stopped talking, and even stopped eating for a while.
After Epiphany and Despondency, came Action. Greta skipped school for three weeks and sat down outside the Swedish parliament to protest Government inaction on climate change. Then other people joined her; then the politicians started to listen. On 15 March this year, an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries around the world joined her call to protest Government inaction on climate change. Greta has become a world leader at 16 years old, influencing even the United Nations. So one determined person can make a difference. The students will be striking again next month, and they have invited us all to join them.
Closer to home: way back in August 2006 (13 years ago) a group of us ran a workshop in the Cathedral on climate change, with support from the Dean and the Royal Society. We had 5 expert speakers in the morning and practical workshops in the afternoon. It was well attended, although not everybody was up with the play. I met one person who came along to learn about weather forecasting.
The next year, a group of Anglicans came together and formed the ‘diocesan climate change action group.’ Our mission was to help Anglicans to reduce their carbon emissions in order to help to mitigate climate change. A few weeks later, the UN inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC) published a technical report called AR4. This collated a great deal of scientific evidence on climate change.
Since that time, our Anglican group has given educational workshops on climate change throughout the diocese; we have persuaded the 3 Tikanga church of Aotearoa NZ to divest from fossil fuels and to offset its carbon emissions from episcopal staff travel; we have provided energy audits of church buildings; and we have worked intensively within one rural parish to encourage sustainable living practices. In July we made submissions to the environmental select committee on the Zero Carbon Bill. This is just a very small start, and there is far more that needs to be done.
So we had Epiphany, Despondency and then Action.
But what about Hope? Is there really any hope that we can avoid climate catastrophe, or have we left it too late for our children and grandchildren; and many of us too?
I can see a number of hopeful signs, and I want to share these with you today.
The world is waking up, at last. Thousands of the world’s scientists who study the land, the oceans and the atmosphere have made it very clear that we have a climate crisis that is heading towards catastrophe if we don’t take drastic action now. There can be no doubt that we humans have caused this by burning coal, oil and gas and cutting down the forests that store carbon.
Many secular groups have sprung up, determined to spur governments into action. In New Zealand we have Generation Zero, a group of young people who initiated the Zero Carbon Bill that is now going through Parliament. We have another international youth organisation called 350. We have Coal Action, Forest and Bird, the Green Party, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, Youth for Climate and other. Also, a large group of doctors and other health professionals.
So what about politics and business? Is anybody listening? Yes, there were about 1500 submissions to the Select Environmental Committee on the Zero Carbon Bill. There has been some understandable pushback from the agricultural sector and the fossil fuel and automobile industries, but it has cross-party support and I am fairly confident that it will go ahead. We already have incentives for public transport and for more efficient vehicles; and there is a growing interest in plant-based diets and corresponding changes in agriculture. Auckland Council and others have declared a ‘climate emergency.’ Some major institutions are trying to work more sustainably, and many of them have divested from fossil fuels.
But what about the church? Do we care enough about our world and about our future to take action? One of our mission statements is ‘care of creation’ and another one is ‘social justice’ but do we take these seriously? I have mentioned our Auckland group. In Wellington diocese, a young woman has been appointed by the Bishop to work on climate justice, and she has the energy and passion that are necessary. Throughout the country there is an ecumenical network of Christian churches learning from each other. General Synod is planning to appoint a Climate Commissioner for the church, with a focus on Tikanga Pasifika. After church next Sunday we shall be having a practical workshop here at St. Matthews, on the actions that we can take personally to reduce our carbon footprint. It will be informal and interactive, and I hope that many of you can come.
There is some Hope, and it comes about through commitment and action. We don’t have to despair, and we don’t have to carry the whole burden ourselves. But we have work to do.
SO: what can we do in practice? The scientists tell us that we must ‘put the world on a war footing’ in order to prevent climate catastrophe. It’s not too late; but we must take this very seriously, right now.
For Christians, the starting point is that old-fashioned biblical word: ‘repentance.’ This doesn’t mean getting depressed! Repentance is about changing our behaviour. The most important thing we can do is to reduce our consumption. As Quakers say: ‘live simply, so that others may simply live.’ The ‘others’ are our children and grandchildren.
In our workplaces and our places of leisure and our homes and churches, we can influence others by our words and our actions. Professor James Renwick, a well-known NZ climate scientist, says that we must talk about it. If it is swept under the carpet, nobody will do anything. Of course, we will have more credibility when we have started to make changes in our own lives.
We can support many of the secular groups that are working to change government policy. Prepare to be surprised and uplifted by the thousands of young people in our country who are working to preserve their future and ours. They need and welcome our support. If we show that we support them, they will take us more seriously.
At the local and regional level, we can get informed and vote for the candidates with policies that support our habitat. We have a great opportunity next month, with the local body elections.
At a national level, we need to stop oil and gas exploration immediately; phase out the burning of coal for electricity generation and for drying milk powder; stop dairy conversions; reduce the intensity of beef and dairy farming; and plant far more trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. We city people need to reduce our air travel; reconsider our local transport, our retail shopping habits, our food; our use of energy, our waste disposal, and our use of water. We shall be addressing some of these issues after church next Sunday.
We must also act collectively. Research tells us that transformational change comes about when networked individuals change. As Christians, we are already members of a community of people of goodwill. We are not alone, and as Wilf keeps reminding us: ‘the spirit of God is alive in the land.’
SO: from Epiphany to Despondency to Action to Hope and finally to Leadership.
Here is my challenge. Could we at St Matthew's lead the Auckland diocese in sustainable living practices? Could we become known as ‘the green church on the edge?’ Are we ready to change our personal and community behaviours? In 5 years from now, we could be known as the church that faced up to the existential challenges of our time. We could be known as Kiatiaki, custodians of the land and the oceans and the atmosphere. It’s up to us. Amine.
There is a group of about 15 people from amongst us that has been meeting for a few weeks to explore what might comprise a faith for today able to sustain us and empower us in the face of the issues and context of our time in history. From the conversations, it clearly means, letting go of most of the doctrinal statements that have comprised a ‘right faith’ until fairly recently. We are giving consideration to what we might put in their place. Our work together is provocative and serious theological work that is unsettling for many of us. It’s hard to let go notions, words, images, and metaphors that we have held since childhood: God the Father who will forgive us and judge 'others'; who will reward our efforts and respond to our prayers; the Son of God who died on the cross to save us; the angels who watch over us…
Over the last few weeks we have been considering our theology and faith in the light of the current climate crisis. This crisis now shapes our time in history and our theology and our faith must speak to it and offer us the resilience to face it. So we must ask,
“Who are we humans, and who now is God?”
We haven’t found the definitive answer yet!
But the questions must be asked.
In one first testament story, found in the book of Exodus (3:14) from about the 15th C BCE, Moses asks God what his name is so he will know what to tell those who ask. God's reply is translated as ‘I am who I am’ though these days it is thought ‘I will be who I will be’ is more accurate. The latter shifts the idea of God from a finished being, to an unfinished becoming; to a god always in process of becoming in response to the needs of the people and the times whether that be from swarming locusts or plagues, droughts or floods, war or famine.
So again we ask “who are we humans?” and “who now is God”?
We know we are consumers of the resources of the earth. We are the biggest consumers. We inherited a theology that set us on that path long ago along with stories that gave us dominion over all the earth and its creatures. We assumed all the resources of Earth were for our use and benefit (those of us from the religious tradition that became known as Christian that is). We humans produce nothing – we contribute nothing of substance to the wellbeing of the earth’s life-sustaining cycle until we die and decompose. Apart from that we fool ourselves with notions of creativity and our capacity to produce thing, but in reality we translate, transform or transmute the resources of the earth from one substance or thing to another by application our amazing imagination. Everything we use is sourced from the substance of Planet Earth; from the plants that convert carbon and minerals into food, from the rocks and soil, from sand and water, from the metals and carbons under the earth. Even our very selves, in all our amazing complexity, are made from the substances of earth: humans from the humus. As Sally McFague says in her book A New Climate for Theology, “we are born of the earth and the earth will be our tomb”. We are of the earth – we belong to the land as the Maori wisdom suggests – it does not belong to us.
Paul declared to the people of Corinth who were struggling from their different experiences, to understand who this God of his could be (Acts 17:28) “in whom we live and move and have our being”. Many notable theologians have pondered this image of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being”
What could that point us toward?
Who are we and who now is God?
We are of the earth and not separate from it, we are not different in substance and are totally dependent on it for our living. So what of God – of the earth too? Do we live and move in God as fish move in the sea?
What can we expect of God then, or of ourselves, in the face of the climate crisis? There is little doubt we humans have created the crisis and continue to exacerbate it with the carbon emissions we are still pumping into the atmosphere. The earth can no longer clean up our mess at a fast enough rate to ensure our wellbeing. Eventually acid rain will makes it impact; droughts and floods affect food supplies; air pollutants (including pollen) will affect our breathing. All these things we are seeing and experiencing already.
So who are we humans, and who now is God?
There is a thread in our Christian story that differs from the dominant 'dominion over' story with its location of humans as the pinnacle of God's creation and the suggestion, (that we have wholeheartedly embraced), that the world and all that is in it was made for us. The other thread suggests living well together, respecting and caring for each other and the earth. We are not too keen on this alternative thread because it goes against the grain of all we have been told for the past 400 or so years culminating in post-war consumerism: that Iam important and I deserve all Ican get. This individualistic ideology, and concomitant psychology, as worked to separate us from each other and to put boundaries around ourselves and our possessions. We have divided up the earth and set boundaries around bits of it for the individual possession of those who have the money to buy it, or the means to patrol the borders. As nations we are even setting boundary markers in the oceans and claiming it for our possession. We have turned the generous earth into commodities to produce profit for our individual-selves instead of food and commodities for the wellbeing of communities. The thread of our story we must reclaim is, that we are mutually dependent on each other and with the earth; that the struggle for justice includes justice for the earth; that it is in God that we all live and move and have our being. To this end our endeavours demand we stop privatizing and start 'commoning' to use a phrase I heard at a lecture last week. The protesters at Ihuāmatao are an example close to home offering us this wisdom. Our imaginations must turn from how we accrue private wealth to how we can share common wealth.
This is possible, if we give deep consideration to the questions who we are and who now is God?
Theology's cause is to help us shape meaning, value and purpose; to shape the questions and ideas that will guide us to living well together and help us understand who we are and a little more about God. The wisdom of our Christian heritage offers us a way of looking at all this. It offers us a lens through which to look when searching for how we can live well together. The Jesus story suggests the lens should focus on all humanity living well together in harmony with the earth, and not only a rich few or the nations with the most powerful military force able to dominate others and able to secure borders. Perhaps one of our key contributions to today's climate crisis is to actively promote this other vision of a world in which we all share life in a sustainable earth. It will mean some of us will have to consume less; it will mean knowing ourselves as part of the whole, it will perhaps mean knowing God as the matrix of all that is and in which we live and love and have our being.
When preaching, the common wisdom is never to give the last word to someone else, keep it for yourself.
But this morning I want to give my last word to a powerful prophet. Not a familiar prophet from our, but a prophet from our future – Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish climate crisis activist. To paraphrase what she said when addressing the UN leaders at an assembly on climate, "I don't care about offending people or being politically correct, I only care about the survival of the earth's capacity to sustain life for future generations."
I'm not worried about doctrinal correctness, but rather the wellbeing of planet earth and all who inhabit the earth – human and non-human – that we might all live well.
So let us ask ourselves who are we humans and who now is God?
Bouma-Prediger Steven. The Greeing of Theology. Atlanta, Georgia, ScholarsPress. 1995.
McFague Sallie. A New Climate for Theology. Minneapolis, Fortress Press. 2008.
Noah Harari Yuval. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. London, Jonathan Cape. 2018.
What Is Your Faith?
August 11, 2019
Ordinary Sunday 19 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is pretty hard to define faith. If someone asked you what is faith? What difference does faith make to you? How would you respond?
Shortly in the baptism liturgy Jeffrey and Malachi will be asked this very question – what is your faith? But you might notice that we ask them this question after they are baptised, not before. It is not an exam question like at school where you are asked the question and you pass or fail. It is a question asked and responded to after baptism, after receiving the love and grace of God symbolised in the water, not before. It is only in receiving God’s grace, or discovering God’s grace within us that we can respond to the question “what is your faith?”
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. So says the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (by the way we have no clue who the writer might have been; and apparently no clue either as to who “the Hebrews” were, they were not even necessarily a Jewish community).
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Frederick Buechner says faith is better understood as a verb and not a noun  so we could also say faith gives substance to things hoped for and offers a proving of things not seen .
Faith is active, in movement, not static and still. Faith is call and response, like the karanga on a marae, we are called forward by the Spirit and respond with our lives.
The writer of the letter evokes (Heb 11:8) the memory of Abraham and Sarah who were called from their homeland to travel to an unknown land and promised a child in old age in order to become the father and mother of the people of Israel. People of faith, the writer says, desire a better country, and God, we are told, prepares a city for them. (Heb 11:16) People of faith are travellers, pilgrims on the road. 
In being baptised today Malachi and Jeffrey do something pretty strange and countercultural. They join a tiny minority of people in our country who profess faith and are followers of Jesus.
We know that the community called the Hebrews suffered from ridicule and persecution (Heb 10:32-34) and while we do not experience persecution like many Christians around the world, we certainly can be targets of ridicule on social media and face to face.
People can be very dismissive of people of faith and make so many assumptions about what we believe or care about.
So we need our community here – we need to gather to be strengthened, to learn from each other, to seek the Spirit together, and to go out ready to find God in our world. Then we return next week with that God experience and begin again.
So often I think people think of the church as the “holy” place where God might be found and we are the holy people who take God out into the world. But God is already in the world long before us and we seek and find God there and then come here to reflect on what we have seen.
As I go along the communion rail each week I am acutely aware of what some of you bring with you and know that others carry just as much with them – worries about children, or parents or jobs; joys of births, new opportunities, travel; worries about school or friends; the joys of success and the pain of failure.
God is in the midst of all these things and so we bring God with us to the eucharist. We bring our whole selves not just the polished shiny part fit for public viewing.
Speaking of the eucharist brings us to the gospel reading from Luke – a rather strange parable:
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
It would be quite normal in Jesus’ time for a “master” to expect his slaves to be waiting for his return in case he needs something before bed. In this case though something strange happens – the master says for the slaves to sit down and he will serve them some food – unheard of and most shocking!
The phrase “fasten his belt” means to put a belt around a loose robe so it won’t get in the way of manual labour and hard work. Like putting on overalls or an apron.
There is an echo here of John’s version of the Last Supper when Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself and washes the disciples feet. (John 13:4)
They too are shocked that the master will take the role of a slave.
Back to today’s parable – what food is he going to serve them?
The master doesn’t seem to take time to prepare anything. Nor would he know how to! And he has been at a wedding feast so the servants will have assumed he doesn’t need food when he comes home. So they have nothing ready.
Writer Kenneth Bailey  quotes Egyptian monk Matta al-Miskin in saying that the master must have brought food with him from the wedding banquet. He could have easily sent a waiter home with food for his servants if he wanted them to have a few tasty delicacies but he comes and serves them himself. He brings the food and serves them.
And in the same way, at this table – the table of the eucharist – we are served. We are served the symbols of Christ’s self offering love – bread and wine, body and blood; the essence of his life for the strengthening of ours. The master comes, week after week and offers to serve us. Offers to serve us so we can receive strength and renewal at this feast.
So when we are asked the question “what is your faith?” we might respond with the classic formula which the baptism liturgy gives us – I believe in God the Creator, and in Jesus the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
Or we might unpack what lies behind that formula and talk about being in relationship with God and with each other; about the movement of our lives, being pilgrims on a journey and how each week we come to the table to be nourished and served by the master himself.
And while gathered at the table, we learn
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith is about having hope for the future and knowing that things we cannot see or touch are still real – like love and prayer.
Faith that we are truly, deeply loved and valued, no matter what.
And that the way of Jesus is the way to become who we most truly are, created in the image of God for the good of the world. 
Vanity of vanities and all is vanity! The Qoheleth, the teacher in Ecclesiastes declares. An elusive character, a teacher, perhaps more accurately one who summons and speaks to a gathering. The teacher, the Qoheleth’s assertion to be a Davidic king who ruled over Israel in Jerusalem is to intimate he’s Solomon. Sufficient scholarly doubt over this suggests this is most likely a ruse for credibility rather than a reality. “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” is his catch cry. “This too is vanity” is threaded through today’s reading. Vanity but perhaps not quite as we understand the word today. The “literal sense … is probably ‘breath of wind’ but it’s more often used metaphorically, to suggest transience, uselessness or deceptiveness. A comparable phrase in Hosea suggests ‘pursuing the wind’ it’s probably used to evoke the sense of the frustration inherent in attempts to achieve the impossible.”
Seeking meaning, understanding, reason and rationale for the life and experience of the human journey of life, is it a chasing after the wind? For whether you’re rich or poor, good or evil, blessed or cursed the sun shines, the rain falls on each the same. We each come to life and we each die, of this we are certain “the same fate befalls each of them.” And much of life is toil. Life is hard, not relentlessly or mercilessly so, for there are times of joy, gladness and celebration. Yet for the large part life is experienced as plain plodding persistence.
So we look back upon the trail of our life and seek to discern a pattern to it. To gain sense that we, through life, have gained, grown, accumulated some measure of, what shall we say – wisdom? Some sense we've had purpose, that there's meaning to the sum of it, to the sum of us. We attribute qualities to our achievements, to where we have come, from where we began, as does the teacher of Ecclesiastes. That all our toil has merit because it’s been done with wisdom, knowledge and skill. For longevity, that all our effort, revealed in what we've produced, created, generated, is rewarded when those it passes to also live this way so honour the value and effort of our sincere, hard wrought labour. We desire for the sum of our time of striving, of our life to count for something, somehow. To have our value affirmed, known, revealed in the sum of our parts, in what we've acquired through our striving labour, through living righteously and honourably.
And yet, uneasily, we also know that when we die all we've gained, amassed, will pass from us to those who did not earn it. And we’ve no control, no way of knowing or determining the character of those who’ll gain from our toil. We also know, uncomfortably, that there are those who live amassing, gaining little or nothing. Who live perhaps dissolute and dishonourable lives under the same sky as us, the same sun and the same rain. They too have lived and will die and the memory of them will, like ours, pass.
Vanity of vanity and chasing the wind, how are we to live with this being so, how are we to live?
Such echo of this resounds in today's gospel. We might be accustomed to hearing this parable as a remonstration against wealth, against the amassing of resources beyond our need. And this may well be a part of the deal. Yet the focus seems to me to be more upon the rich man’s self-understanding. About the choices he makes based on his understanding of what secures him, what tells him who he is, what bestows upon him value and worth. The way the story is told this rich man understands he and his life are described, valued, known and successfully secured by the sum of his wealth. So yes, for sure, excessive wealth is part of the picture – somewhat incidental, yet curiously telling.
Wealth is a potent measure of success in our society, as doubtless it was in the time of Ecclesiastes. Wealth’s a measurable thing. In its varied forms it’s a resource for trading with in life so we could see it simply as a convenience, a necessity. However it’s also become a primary means by which we measure ourselves, by which we compare ourselves one to another.
But let me ask you, does such wealth, the means of trade with which you’ve negotiated and amassed resources for your life, does it tell you who you are in the essence of yourself? I’m not meaning by this what you can do, how clever, intelligent, useful you are and how this is recognised through financial reward. Rather does your wealth remind, redirect you to consider the wondrous uniqueness of you, your created “beingness”? Does it cause you to pause and notice this moment? Consider the immense unlikely improbability of this creation that is, upon which you are delicately and utterly dependent? And that none of it’s your doing?
Has our ‘most of the time toiling in life’ for wealth and our ‘all is vanity seeking for this toil to have purpose and meaning’ come to cause us to think of ourselves as the sum of a number of parts? Perhaps with careful attention we’ve pieced together, determined and created an intentioned life for ourselves. Put together the component parts of what we discern and determine is a good life and one that fits us. And we’ve stitched these parts together to be a whole.
It’s not that this is wrong but I wonder – in doing so has this stepped us away from remembering we each are a uniquely created whole? Holy, naturally fitted to take our place as participants in the life of the world. Each inherently inclined to creative, life bringing activity for the flourishing of life. Each desired and loved into being to take our place, to live, intimate companions of the divine, and to act in accord with this.
Thinking of this reminded me of a piece I read recently, from real life.
“A young Peace Corp. volunteer entered a small village to teach biology to the native children in Tanzania. After dissecting a frog one day and describing all the muscles and organs to the class so that they could “understand” a frog, he was confronted by a local elder who offered his way to understand the working of frog.
He set loose a second frog destined for dissection and crouched down in a frog-like position and began to move his head and body in synchronicity with the frog. The native elder paused and looked around as the frog paused, and hopped as the frog hopped. The elder increasingly joined into the experience of “frog” with the frog until the frog finally hopped off into the bush.
After many minutes had passed in the becoming one with the frog, the elder described what he had felt happening in his body and “mind” as if he “were” a frog. He reflected to the young volunteer that the young man understood the components of the frog – its muscles and organs – while the elder understood the working of the frog – its froggy moves and idiosyncrasies as a unique frog in its species surveyed in a given environment. He also added that in the native way of knowing about “frog” the frog lived to produce more frogs. Neither way is a more “right way” to know; each leads to different knowings.
In the “dissection” model the view of the world is more static and fixed in time. The world that is sorted into components and parts tends to be interpreted in isolation from other elements. [This] model allows us to gain knowledge about the function of elements of something. The “being” model sees the world as moving and changing. The world is more related and interactive.” 
Neither way is a more right way to know but each leads to different knowings. Having said that, from a frog point of view, one way definitely is more right, one way diminishes and destroys life, the other frees and enables life to flourish.
As we toil in life, we construct, stitch together meaningful lives. We identify, develop and grow our capacities, discern creative opportunities to contribute, to align with others. Depending on the context into which we’re born and perhaps a fair dose of providence along the way we may have chance to amass wealth. We’re tempted, in fact encouraged to keep this wealth for ourselves. Easily and soon it can become a measure of our worth, if we do not also hold the native elder’s way of knowing. A way that invites us to step free from these things, see them for what they are - that they’re not us and may well be binding us. A faith, religious perspective such as this, invites us to remember who we are. To learn to trust we can release our bindings, to pause and notice, pay attention, become one with God. Grow to understand the divine workings of God in the world, each of us, idiosyncratically, as unique individuals in our given environment. We can choose to be rich towards God, generous, openhanded, giving of our abundance, honouring so releasing the abundance of others, not just store up treasures for ourselves.
 Sanford, Carol Science Into Technique: a Systems Research and Development Process for Organizational Science InterOctave, 1991, 6, 7.
In 1920, 99 years ago Casper Calder an assistant priest here at St Matthew’s started the Auckland City Mission. The 1920s was a time of social change after the Great War had ended in 1918 and with the returned servicemen and women came the pandemic influenza epidemic. Our returning soldiers suffered from what is now diagnosed as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and there was no treatment for this devastating condition. We had no Social Welfare system until 1935. Many in the community were suffering and Casper saw the need.
…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
2019 sees the Mission still “standing with those in desperate need.” This morning I will share with you the work of the different teams that make up the Mission.
I would like to welcome some of my colleagues who have joined us this morning.
There are eleven different teams at the Mission and I will start with Wilf’s all important Homeless Community Team. This is the team that manages Haeata our dining area serving over 100 meals at breakfast and lunch. Many of you are volunteers in Haeata and it is wonderful to see the volunteers come in each day so many Aucklanders are very generous with their time to the Mission. This team is not just about meals.
Jeanette organises the activities; Monday starts with Choir practice followed by a band practice then Music makers. Tuesday commences with Waiata attended by many Mission staff followed by the well-attended art class run by a wonderful volunteer Clare. Wednesday includes: Clay, Reading and writing concluding with meditation. Thursday we have Kapa haka and Golden Oldies (those over 55). Friday starts with a Quiz followed by carving. Sunday we have a movie. And there is more we have a Drama Club that meets here at St Matts on Monday evening. There is also a group who go out to work in the Community on a Tuesday.
When our meals are being served and eaten there is another team working in Haeata, Brief Intervention. This is a team of 4 key workers who assist our whanau with benefit applications, accommodation and any other need that may present. This team works with whanau for 12 weeks and if need still persists referral to another Mission service is made.
Our Homeless Outreach Support Service HOSS includes a team of three Key Workers and a Mental Health Nurse. They respond to notifications of homelessness from the general public and monitor those we now who are known rough sleepers. This team starts their day at 6am climbing under bridges, checking grave yards and Central Auckland Parks or where ever a rough sleeper maybe.
I would like to share with you some work I did with HOSS a few years back. We had a young man living on Queen St and he had been there for quite some time and was becoming very unwell physically. We monitored him most days often resulting in my taking down one of the Calder Health Centre’s nurse. Eventually Wiremu became so unwell it was decided we needed to get him off the street has he couldn’t physically manage this himself. On the third attempt we were successful thanks to an AT Bus driver who allowed us to park the detox van on the bus stop by the Civic.
Wiremu’s recovery has been remarkable, after a short admission to hospital we made a plan that he would come to the Mission each week for activities and reside at Karetu House in Greenlane. Now Wiremu is very busy working on his fitness and health. We are so proud of what he has achieved for himself and also reinforced to us how important it is to have activities our whanau can connect with while they work through the issues that caused their homelessness, allowing them to move forward.
A very special team that I work with closely is the Elder Service managed by Gerard who has been at the Mission for some years. This service takes referrals from the community and other agencies regarding anyone over the age of 55 who has social issues some are homeless, many are in their own homes and are socially isolated. Gerard, his Key worker and I have worked closely over the last few months supporting three men dying of cancer. While this is often a journey fraught with frustration it is always a privilege to be there to the end. As many of you will be aware some of our funerals are held here at St Matthew’s.
We have recently had a new team added to the wider HOSS group and this is Housing First where our rough sleepers are supported into accommodation and assisted to sustain their tenancies.
Crisis Care supports our community with food deprivation issuing food parcels from Union St and supporting our satellites such as MUMA, Papakura Marae, Clendon Community Centre and St Luke’s Manurewa. This team also offers budgeting services and advocacy for anyone who walks through our doors.
I am based in the Calder Health Centre as an Assessment Professional providing social work for the patients and working very closely with all our other teams. A rough sleeper’s life is shortened by nearly 30 years, so complex health issues arise for our community well before they are 65 and we have a health system organised to assist those over 65. Our doctors, Gerard’s team and I are constantly trying to manoeuvre around these restrictions. Our medical practice has 1600 patients and 75% of them are high risk. This makes us the largest high risk clinic in New Zealand. We have two full time nurses and four doctors who work various days, most days we have two doctors available. We have walk-in clinics five days a week, a Mental Health Practitioner once a week, Hep C Clinic twice a week, Cads Clinics and a podiatrist visits fortnightly.
Out in Avondale there is our Social Detox Unit who look after those with drug and alcohol addiction with ten in-house beds for treatment that usually lasts two weeks with follow up in the community.
In July the Mission took over the management of James Liston Hostel in Freemans Bay. James Liston has recently had a wonderful renovation physically as well as operationally. It is managed by Charlotte and her extended team. As an emergency housing provider our whanau typically stay there for twelve weeks and move on to permanent housing.
The Mission would not manage without our Distribution Centre. This team provides the thousands of food parcels, clothing and furniture as well as managing our New Beginnings Shops.
All our other teams are assisted by our administration team including our very important Fund raising Team and Homeground who are responsible for the building next door.
The Auckland City Mission in a thousand words. Thank you to my fellow team members for coming this morning and a special thanks to Wiremu.
I will finish with words from Micah:
…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
June 30, 2019
Ordinary Sunday 13 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Luke 9:51-62
Elisha and Elijah were two OT prophets; strange and mysterious men who strode the stage of the northern part of Israel in the 9thcentury BC. They railed against corruption and decadence; they pleaded with the people and the kings of the day not to abandon God. Elijah is said to have called down fire from heaven on the false prophets of Baal (a pagan God) and at the end of his life he was said to have ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire. Elisha performed many miracles of healing. These giants of Hebrew scripture are in the background of our gospel reading today.
Many of the people of Jesus’ time thought of Jesus as a giant like the prophets, a hero, a miracle worker, someone who stood up to the religious leaders of the day, someone who made them feel strong, someone who inspired them. People often asked Jesus – are you Elijah? But Jesus wasn’t interested in hero worship, he wasn’t interested in people following him for the hype and the excitement.
At the beginning of our gospel passage Jesus and the disciples are in Samaria; the Jews and the Samaritans were pretty hostile too each other and it is no surprise the Samaritans do not welcome Jesus.
So James and John, wanting to be heroes, suggest that they could rain down fire on the people (reminiscent of the prophet Elijah who did just that). James and John, the wannabe prophets. This puts Jesus in a pretty grumpy mood. His followers just don’t get it, they want to be heroes without the hard work, they want him to be a hero.
Then an innocent soul comes alongside Jesus as he walks and says I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus does not give any words of welcome or encouragement – rather he says – foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, I have nowhere to lay my head. A rather sad and lonely Jesus comes through – I have nowhere to call my own, no house I can retreat to. And he implies that anyone who is to follow him will also be on the road, always seeking new people and new places to hear the message, never laying down his or her head.
Following me is about your whole life, the way you live and think and pray, the choices you make.
David Lose says of this passage:
“Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives?
Does the grace, mercy, and love of God made incarnate in Jesus trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?” 
He doesn’t mean the over simplified idea that God has a “plan” for our lives; but he is asking does our faith mould our lives; are there choices we make and things we do differently because we are people of faith? or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?
Over the next 3 weeks we are going to be hearing from fellow parishioners in the Telling Our stories series. They will share something of their life story and share with us that very question – how has faith shaped their lives and their choices. Sometimes faith can be gentle and supportive; other times faith can be like the Jesus of today’s account – harsh and in your face. What does it mean to each of us to be a follower of Jesus? As we listen to their stories we will be encouraged to reflect on our own stories.
Back with our gospel story – another poor soul says he wants to follow Jesus but wants to bury his father first; a reasonable request one might think but Jesus says rather callously – let the dead bury the dead. Seize the moment; there is no time to lose; life is here, now.
A final person echoes the Elisha story we heard this morning from the Book of Kings – let me first say goodbye to my loved ones.
Elisha is permitted to do this by Elijah. But Jesus says no – even the great Elisha is not a model here. Do not look back. Tough words for us. Listen over the next few weeks to see how our fellow pilgrims in the faith look at how faith shapes their lives, in the tough moments and the good moments. They are not speaking to us as ‘experts’ but as followers on the same road as us.
In our readings over the next weeks we will continue to accompany Jesus through the eyes of the gospel writer Luke. We will be hearing about the Samaritans again with the famous parable of the “good Samaritan” appearing in two weeks time. The disciples Mary and Martha will argue about whether it is better to serve Jesus or to sit at his feet and listen. There will be encouragement to give up our possessions; stories of healing and of the lost being found. All of these readings in this season of “ordinary” time are there to form us as followers of Jesus.
And also in the next few weeks we will do some work on our parish review as outlined last week for us by Archdeacon Sarah Moss.
She explained the process of survey and workshops. We have an opportunity here to take stock and ask each other how we are doing as a community of faith. How well are we supporting each other as followers of Jesus? And what are we doing collectively to live out that faith. Does our worship empower us for ministry in God’s world? Then when we have reflected on our answers to the surveys we will look at what we want to focus our energies on as a faith community over the next couple of years. What are we being called to let go of? What do we seek in our future together?
While we are doing that we also have other programmes and workshops coming up – your WH lists them – work on anti discrimination; work on climate change; some evening sessions with our resident theologians Susan and John; and of course music and concerts galore. There is lots to choose from in this season – we don’t expect you to do everything but hope you will find something to stretch and challenge you.
Jesus lays out a challenge today – he said this is who I am, follow me or not, take it or leave it. You don’t get to be heroes and call down fire on your enemies. Instead: don’t look back, move forward.
Trinity Sunday again, the day we explore the paradoxical limitation of words with not a little confusion. Perhaps most apt it follows the cacophony of Pentecost voices. The explication of Trinity is as much to limit our grasping at God as to seek to explain. There’s not a lot we can do about this bit of the family inheritance bestowed us, well we could ignore it, but it’s not gone away and actually it’s quite a central identifier of Christianity.
Trinity brings with it incarnation, which we’re pretty OK with and the Holy Spirit of Pentecost that illuminates the wondrous colours of our diverse composition. Again, we’re OK with this. And of Creator, probably something we’re slow to contest. So that kind of leaves us with a Trinity. What can it teach us about incarnating, being the life of God in the world? Is it just theory or is there something real in it?
If we’ve hung out with the divine for a bit we’ve probably had to negotiate the highs and lows that come with relationship. Perhaps along the way we decided to wrestle with the theory, the theological stuff and it may’ve caught our interest. Even so next to the real life experience of God in relationship the theory can seem a little dry. What’s more engaging is working out what difference this God relationship makes – to our life, to the life of the world, to what we do, to how we live.
What affects us most significantly is our experience of the divine, more than words or theory. For to name, create concepts of God, even if they’re concepts intended to defy or deny conception, objectifies and dulls the lustre of rich relationship forged in the tussle with real life. Relationship that helps shape our hopes and aspirations, slakes our thirst for purpose and meaning.
The way God has come to be named is outcome of human discerning, of human perception. With words we name and communicate an experience of divine other. Not just this faith lineage but also other faith lineages are populated with people who've experienced transparency to that which is other, named divine. This is the grounding of the religious enterprise.
Naming God as outcome of relationship and lived experience, naming our aspirations to live as God people in the world is all well and good. But how do we move from word to act? Maybe our wrestle with the notion of Trinity is resource for us? Let me expand.
This last week I found myself faced with a situation of dishonesty and injustice. I could name the injustice but how could I speak so justice might prevail? Speak in sense of that first Genesis story whose narrators declare: God speaks creation into being, the ruach, Spirit of God breathes creation into life and creation becomes. Echoing in the poetry of John’s gospel, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and was God and all things came into being through [that Word.]” Faced with situation of dishonesty and injustice what words could be spoken so justice could come into being. How many of you have found yourself facing such situation? You’re willing to name injustice and want to be part of dismantling it. You’ve a fair idea of how it’s come to be and some idea how and why it’s perpetuated. How do you speak so word becomes act that unravels and unstitches the unjust system? Not in word and act of the system of injustice for that works to empower and feed such system. How does naming our desire for full inclusion of all people, naming the embrace and welcome of diversity as normative and authentic Pentecost church be word and act that makes it real? Not just an aspiration, a hope, a desire to be willed but this other-wise way of living and being made real in time.
The reality is we cannot undo our foolish ways, as the hymn words proclaim, with the same mind that teaches us our foolish ways. To be changed we need source beyond ourselves, beyond our limitations and the limits of our context. One to which we willingly cede, trust ourselves to, in process of transformation and renewal. For we cannot do what we do not know. Can we enact a church of full inclusion and embrace of diversity if we’ve no experience of it, if the structure and system of church isn’t formed this way? We can name we want to, but how can we do this when it isn’t what we know, our heads may want to but the habits of our hearts and bodies aren’t shaped this way. Just so with overturning systems of injustice we’re habituated into. Of course it’s possible, times of history attest to that. But it’s also important to know our limitations. Such change happened but not by sheer dint of unchanging will. Rather by concerted collaboration and a will that was changed.
The formulation of Trinity arose within an historical and political context, one not without intrigue. Words and concepts of that time were used to express in time something beyond time. Unless we can deposit ourselves back in time, or spend a lot of time banging our heads against philosophical conundrums and disentangling political scheming to gain glimpse of perspective, there’s not much we can do about this. However we could take a gentler approach, generate a more sympathetic attitude toward those who crafted these words rather than thinking their God as Trinity formulation was set up just to confound us. A story may help, recounted by Ernesto Sirelli as part of a TED talk, he’d read it in what he described as a futuristic magazine:
There was a group of experts who were once invited to gather together to discuss and consider the future of New York. In 1860 all came together and all speculated about it, what would happen to the city of New York in 100 years. And the conclusion was unanimous. The city of New York would not exist in 100 years. Why? Because they looked at the curve of population growth and they said if the population keeps growing at this rate to move the population of New York around they would have needed 6 million horses and the manure created by 6 million horses would be impossible to deal with. They were already drowning in manure. So from their 1860 perspective they saw that this dirty technology was going to choke the life out of New York. The inevitable conclusion was that the city of New York would cease to exist. But in 40 years’ time what happens? In the year 1900 in the US there were 1001 car manufacturing companies. The idea of a fundamentally different technology not even previously imagined had absolutely taken over.
We too only have the language and the understanding of the time and place in which we’re located to imagine and express things beyond our knowing. Things we’ve perhaps intuited, experiences we’ve had beyond the reach of our ways of knowing, beyond the edges of our present reality. Of justice made real, radical inclusion and diversity celebrated. This story has a very concrete and historical location yet perhaps it speaks to the dilemma we face with Trinity. We wrestle with these ancient inaccessible words yet we too in our time are trying to find words to authentically express our knowing and experiencing of God. Words that will provide continuity into the future, connect with the experience of God in the lives of people yet unborn in a world we can’t imagine. Words that express something of our experience, while aware they’re inadequate in face of God’s continuing self-revelation. It’s tempting to ignore, disregard or discard the words and wisdom of so many years ago. The discipline of tradition, however, advises against such action, suggests rather we’re to learn from and add to. That it’s difficult may prove quite useful – preventing us from grasping God, forcing us rather to learn from our experiencing of God.
It seems a human conundrum, as David Hart reflects in his book The Experience of God, “To speak of God properly … to use words consonant with the teachings of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baha’i … and so forth is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is … and for that reason absolutely [intrinsic] to all things. God so understood is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is God the universe itself. … All agree as well … that God can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassing mere conceptual comprehension.” 
God can be genuinely known. God is intrinsic to all things. Is God we can genuinely know intrinsic also to us? As we experience and come to know God more genuinely, might this suggest we also come to know ourselves more genuinely? As we experience God, dare to put words to describe that which we experience, do we describe something of the way we are and the way the world is? To talk of Trinity is to say something about mutuality, interdependence, being distinct but not separate from, that the expression of any part is an expression of the whole that the act of any part impacts upon and affects each part of the whole. Are we also speaking of how we, created in image of God, actually are in relation to one another and the world, whether or not we’re aware of it? If this were to be so it might make us very mindful of what we say of God and full of care in how we act.
 Hart, David Bentley. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014, 30.
During my radio interview with Kim Hill a few weeks ago Kim asked me “in your idea of paradise would there be one big church accommodating everybody?” I said “no, I think diversity is paradise; different expressions of the ways we come to God.” 
I couldn’t imagine anything worse than one monochrome church where everything was agreed upon and everything the same.
Imagine the impossible process to get there! But you might say – didn’t the reading from John last week have Jesus praying that we might all be one? (Jn 17:20). Aren’t we supposed to be “one”.
Well, what do we mean by being “one.”
Cate said last week “When we speak of oneness do we imagine oneness as something unifying, drawn together, retracting into a tight ball - held together by some centralising power?
Or do we imagine oneness as an ever expanding energy, a network with power held in relational connectivity?” 
Pentecost shows us that the second is to be true. An ever-expanding energy, retaining connection to the source.
Pentecost was the Greek name for the Jewish festival, which fell 50 days after Passover, a kind of harvest festival.
Pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for it.
And the followers of Jesus, we are told, “were all together in one place.” Earlier on in this account Luke writes that the believers numbered about 120 – so a few more than are here this morning but not many. A group about this size; all gathered in one place.
Feeling “one,” feeling unified by their grief that Jesus had died, feeling puzzled by the stories that Jesus had been seen, and then disappeared again. But they were together, they were in one place, they were one.
Then some pretty strange things happen – now, don’t get bogged down in wondering what actually happened – was there an actual wind and actual fire? The more important thing to ask is what are we being told in this story? This event is often seen as the beginning of the church – the moment when the followers of Jesus get their mission and identity.
So what are the components of this identity? First there is the noise like a violent wind – it is not gentle – it is loud and intrusive.
Wake up it seems to say. Then tongues of fire; again not gentle; but bright and urgent. Each person is touched, everyone is marked or chosen by the fire. No one gets to sit in the back row and hope they won’t be noticed. The followers of Jesus are on fire for their faith.
Then the followers speak. They do not speak the same language, they are not all on the same page; they are not all confined by doctrines and creeds. They speak and are understood.
What do they say? We do not know.
But they are understood by Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Lybia and Cyrene, even Romans, Cretans and Arabs. Being multicultural is nothing new – Jerusalem was an amazing city of many cultures, 2000 years ago. And this amazing mix of peoples and cultures; this diversity (which is such a clichéd word these days I know) this diversity was at the heart of the beginning of our church. The Holy Spirit made it so.
Peter tries to make sense of what is happening for people – he says the prophets spoke about this – you should recognise it – Joel said there would be wind and fire and young people and old people dreaming together. For the politically astute listeners in Peter’s audience they would have heard him quote the prophet Joel and would have noted that the same passage Peter was quoting, also says that God will remove the occupying army from the north of Israel. The Romans would not have got that clue but for the Jewish people of Jerusalem Peter was also making a political statement about the occupying army. This is not just a “spiritual” experience; this was the beginning of a revolution.
So will paradise be one big church accommodating everybody? – only if it is like the church on the day of Pentecost – one source of ever expanding energy. And a crazy diversity of languages and cultures and peoples and genders and orientations. People who have their eye on politics as well.
Markus from Edinburgh asked in his sermon 2 weeks ago – who trusts dreams anyhow these days? We do – because the Spirit came and threw open the doors and hearts and minds of our ancestors and said dream big, go wide, speak the truth to anyone, everywhere.
There are plenty of people within the wider church though who do not want to dream big and go wide but instead want to invite “outsiders” in only if they sign up to strict creeds and exclusive practices. And for too long we have let them hold our church to ransom. In recent weeks in our Anglican Church in NZ some clergy and lay people have left the Anglican church and set up a new “church” which they also want to label Anglican, affiliated with a worldwide movement called Gafcon, funded from the extremely reactionary Diocese of Sydney. These “no longer Anglicans” have elected someone they say will be a “bishop” to lead them. 
They have not said much about who is actually part of this new church nor who participated in the election of the new “bishop”.
Already our Maori colleagues have called them out over having no Treaty statement in their founding principles. Neither have they said publically what their position on women’s leadership is; their funder the Diocese of Sydney will be pressuring them to not have women priests, despite women being on their founding Board.
And then we have plenty of examples of non Anglican churches in the news who ascribe to the same principles of exclusion and inequality, with one of them trying recently to dress up a so called “apology” to the LGBT community for some better PR.
This Pentecost we can lay claim to our heritage, our biblical heritage of difference and oneness, all at the same time. And this Pentecost we reject the sinful forces in our church who would shut down difference and force everyone into a straightjacket of doctrine.
These people have left our wider church because we have had the courage to finally say yes to the Spirit and say yes to full inclusion of the LGBT community in our church. Yes to the leadership of women, yes to the dreams of the young and the prophesy of the old.
I fear that in all the handwringing and worrying about those who have chosen to leave that our bishops and dioceses will not be bold and move forward even more strongly now. We want to that say we are a Pentecostal church – a church of the Spirit who comes with a noisy wind and burning fire and gives us words to say and dreams to dream. We are ready to move forward into a new future and we will not be held back by those who have left or are threatening to leave our wider church. Like the followers in Jerusalem waiting for the Spirit we claim our place this Pentecost amongst the rainbow children of God.
Today is the last Sunday in the season of Easter. These last three weeks the gospel of John has treated us to a slew of farewell words. Aphorisms Jesus’ gifts his beloved disciples, wisdom to guide and prepare them to live without him.
Three weeks ago the gospel read, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Wilf asked not what does Jesus do and how do we emulate that but how did Jesus love. How is it that Jesus loves for by this we’re known as disciples? As if it’s not simply an acquired garment we overlay ourselves with.
Last week we heard, “those who love me, my Father will love and we will come and make our home with them; my peace I give to you, not as the world gives.” Let’s not ask what does this mean what does this peace look like so we can grasp to then emulate. Let’s ask how are we a place of home for the divine, how do we receive a peace given but not as the world gives?
The gospel today, “I in them and you in me that they may become completely one, so that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” How is Jesus one with the Father? How are we to become completely one, how is it possible? And who wants this – to become absorbed in some amorphous sameness of being with everyone?
There’s something revelatory going on here. We’ve heard these words before. The repetitive circularity of argument’s sufficiently convoluted to befuddle, perhaps make our eyes glaze over. Yeah, yeah it’s all about love. To disengage.
If something’s being revealed here, what is Jesus talking about? If we’re seeking to comprehend, to gain understanding so to be disciples in our day, what’s being shown forth here? It seems important.
Love, we had, then peace, now oneness. All of these things threaded through with Father and Jesus and Holy Spirit intertwined, as one, and now it’s our turn to be as one.
If we follow a thread through today’s gospel, evading its repetition, it sounds a bit like this, “that they may all be one; that the world may believe you have sent me; and loved them as you have loved me; before the foundation of the world;
Oneness, belief, sent, loved before the foundation of the world.
Oneness … is this about unity? About us being as one or is it that we’re as one being?
When we speak of oneness do we imagine that as some unifying, kind of drawn together, retracting into tight ball – held together by some centralising power? Or do we imagine oneness as an ever expanding energy, a network with power held in the relational connectivity?
This oneness Jesus speaks of in his farewell words to his closest friends – is it something they’re going to have to strive to achieve? Their success or failure as Jesus-teaching bearers depends on them being as one. So they’re to seek oneness before all else. And it may mean they have to guard and defend oneness from any threat of difference or divergence.
Or could this oneness of which Jesus speaks be something that is, the way things are. Consider creation itself. Is it expressing divine oneness in all its abundant and glorious variety, reflecting divine glory, revealing divine love from before the foundation of the world?
How is Jesus one with the Father? We’re accustomed to speak of the divine as uncreated over against that which is created. Jesus is created how is he one with the divine source of life? How can what’s created be as one with uncreated? These are of course words, by which we’re necessarily limited and bound, words to describe what’s beyond words.
Jesus farewell words – are they describing how things are, to his disciples, to those who will hear them and now to us. We’re being invited to participate in the way things are. Also being revealed is of a choice available to us.
If Jesus speaks of how things are, he tells of an innate already connection in God – the creating source of life. As he was sent, intended, so creation’s intended, we each, a creation intended, not by accident made. And, as Jesus knows this, so we can know this. In knowing this we too can be intentional. We too can attend, nurture, strengthen and develop this deep connectivity, participate in relationship, become as one. As we do so we’re opened, made aware we participate in the energy of and for life that which we name God, of our being part of a One. Uniquely and individually we’re created, empowered to choose whether to collaborate, cooperate with this energy for life or to turn aside.
In Brian Taylor’s words, “[W]e can let go of the security of keeping God as a thing for ourselves, as a being. [W]e can come to know God simply as Being itself. … [T]he creative and dynamic energy within us and throughout the universe, of life and love. … If God is Being, then union with God is not something to be achieved; it is a fact of life… our efforts in prayer … are to open ourselves to what is, and what can be realised in us, with awareness. ... If God is Being, then when we love we are … moving with, rather than against, the Being of all life. Love is what works and it is how things are.” 
We’re a community of rich and varied talents and preferences. I know that some of us likely have little time and perhaps little patience for such seeming introspection. Or rather it’s all good and fine but without concrete outputs, what use is it? Some of us just want to get on and do stuff. And last I preached I did indeed suggest that by what we do as a community of faith we’ll be known or become known. That how we enact what we speak of, reveals how we are the resurrected body of Christ in the world.
If being as One is the way things are. We can look to the plethora and variety of creation we see how Oneness is expressed. Or turn to Paul’s metaphor of the many parts that is body of Christ. We, as the body of Christ in this place, are a conglomeration of many, varied, diverse and different parts. We participate in the One that is. It means we need each other. It means we value and take seriously each person who has part, in all their wholeness and brokenness, in our Oneness. We don’t all need to be the same to express oneness.
Likewise we need to be mindful to align our doing with the knowing gained from our growing awareness of how to most skilfully and effectively enact the life of God for the world. We need to open ourselves, to be willing to be changed, to be willing to hear and heed the voice of the other and the cry of creation. We need one another, creation needs us to act and our world has a need of knowing this Oneness of which we speak. Aa authors Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker in Savage Grace: Living resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe, reflect:
“Many activists have … [a] profoundly limiting rejection of religion and any form of spirituality. … One of our deepest purposes in writing this book is to awaken activists of every kind to the urgent necessity of empowering themselves at a far deeper level … with the peace, passion, stamina and moral and spiritual strength that can only come from an incessant cultivation of the inner divine.
It would be tragic if the dominant soulless culture prevents activists from drawing on the grace, power, stamina, strength and discerning wisdom of the conscious spirit. …[C]onfronting the appallingly difficult world crisis in which we are engulfed without being sustained by spiritual practice is, as Marion Woodman once said … like walking into a raging forest fire dressed only in a paper tutu.
What this demands of us is an unprecedented claiming of our own inner and outer authority. If humanity is going to have the ghost of a chance … it can only be through the arising of a worldwide movement of universal love in action. This cannot come from above. It can only come from the individual acts of millions of ordinary people daring to come together … to claim and take back their power. In an increasingly authoritarian society … the only source of strength is within ourselves and within the communities we improvise and create. 
Oneness is not limited to the boundaries of community we create. We participate in Oneness with creation. We have unique and particular part to play. It is time to take our place. It is time to act.
 Brian C. Taylor Setting the Gospel Free SCM Press London 2010, 64
 Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker Savage Grace: Living Resiliently in the Dark Night of the Globe iUniverse: Bloomington, IN 2017, 49-51
Ki te ingoa o te Matua, o te Tamaiti, o te Wairua Tapu. Amine.
First of all, I would like to acknowledge the Iwi of this land on which I am but a guest. They and their ancestors have hallowed it with their presence and lives. I honour them: All our relations!
My name is Markus Dünzkofer and I am one of the members of the conference so wonderfully hosted by your vicar. Helen and Stephen are providing an amazing experience for us who have travelled from Paris, London, Hong Kong, Sydney and Edinburgh. It’s been amazing, as we strengthen our bonds of affection across the worldwide Anglican Communion. Thank you to all here at St Matthew’s for the hard work of organising this conference and thank you to Trinity Church New York for their generosity.
I am the rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh and I bring you greetings from Scotland, a nation which has much in common with New Zealand. And I am not just talking sheep and the Crown. But we share the experience of living with a considerably larger neighbour that sometimes makes all kinds assumptions about us and easily takes us for granted. And with all due respect to my Australian, English, US American, and German friends, but let me tell you, I very much understand that Kiwis are unique and different and that you can cope on your own quite comfortably, thank you very much!
Let me thank Helen also for inviting me into this pulpit to once and for all clear up the all-important question: What does a Scot wear underneath his… cassock? Well, a kilt, of course.
The great Jewish theologian Martin Buber tells this story:
Isaac Ben Jekel of Krakow in Poland after years of hardship had a dream one night. In the dream, God, baruch haShem, suggested to him to search for a treasure under a bridge in Prague in Bohemia. Isaac did not re-act immediately. But after he had had the same dream three times in a row, he packed up and wandered the long road to Prague.
He arrived in Prague and found the bridge. But there were guards protecting it. Isaac did not dare start digging. But every morning he would walk to the bridge and linger about.
Finally, the sergeant of the guard approached Isaac, and asked in a friendly tone: “What are you looking for?” Isaac replied: “While in Poland I dreamt that I should look for a treasure under this bridge.” The sergeant laughed and said: “You poor man. You left your home and journeyed to a different place, a different city, a different country, to please a dream? Who trusts dreams anyhow?” And the sergeant laughed again.
Yes, indeed, who trusts dreams anyhow?
Nobody in this difficult era of human history!
This is not the time to trust dreams! We live in a world, where we don’t need dreamers, right? We need practical people, we need do-ers, who can deal with the issues before us. Dreamers with their crazy ideas of globalisation and human interconnectedness have brought us to this point of crisis. Brexit. Christchurch. Sri Lanka. Rising nationalism and racism. Incompetence in sustaining the biosphere. All these ring out in our ears and dismantle the prevalent ideologies and philosophies of the past 50 years!
We live in times of anxiety and fear. And dreamers are needed no more! Rather, we defer to those, who can provide easy, practical answers. We embrace do-ers, who continue to operate within our experiences, within our limits, within our familiar understandings. We now trust those who connect to the populous with plans for swift, if short-sighted, narrow, and exclusivist actions.
Who trusts dreams anyhow?
No-one it seems.
Who trusts dreams anyhow?
The apostle Paul did.
Well, actually, this is not quite true: Initially, it wasn’t really a question of trusting a dream. Remember, he was knocked off his high horse by a dream, by a vision of something that was so removed from his experience that it shook and blind-sighted him. It was as if his entire religious memory bank, indeed, his entire identity was re-set, erasing fundamental understandings of the world and deep held convictions about God.
Saul, the do-er, who thought he had exclusive access to the divine and then thought he could translate God’s will into action, this Saul turned into Paul, who, despite being limited by his own time and culture, was a dreamer, who had a broader vision for God’s wandering people, a wider vision to move forward in the journey into the mystery of our triune God. Once Paul’s egomaniac and zealous facade had been dismantled by the Risen One, whose empty tomb to this day remains an implausible dream challenging our do-er culture – once Paul fell off his high horse, he saw as in a mirror something that he had never seen before: He saw himself naked and bare, frail and fragile, finite and imperfect, held captive by fear and rebellion against God, a puppet of the religious, political and economic elites as much as of his own self-righteousness and arrogance. And, yet, he saw something else. He saw himself at the same time as beloved and cherished: held close to God’s heart, redeemed by Christ’s blood, and infused with grace by God’s Spirit.
God caught him as he fell of his horse.
And God turned everything around, forcing Paul to broadened his vision of himself beyond imagination.
And it forced Paul to broadened the vision of God’s people, too: no longer was the church to be limited by rules and regulations, but what matters are the living and loving relationships with God, with one another, and with creation as a whole. It was a dream, and not just any dream. It was God’s vision and this vision proved to be the lifeline not just for Paul, but also for the church and indeed for creation. The Macedonian in today’s reading from Acts is more than just a man from across the border, longing desperately to hear and be given the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. The Macedonian also stands for all those throughout history who reveal to the church that the familiar and the comfortable, whatever that might be (including our liberal theology), blinds her and makes her incapable of recognising God already at work in surprising and unusual ways.
Ironically, once the church’s eyes are open, she can dream up a new reality: a broader, deeper, and bolder vision of what it means to be witnesses to salvation and redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ and of what it means to be a prophetic people from every nation, tribe, people and language, and from every gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic background.
The sergeant of the guard in Martin Buber’s story had too limited of a view of the world. He was a do-er, who guarded the status quo. He stayed put unwilling to be moved. And nothing life-giving would come of it.
Life, however, is brought about by people, who anchor themselves firmly in God’s self-revelation and who also are willing to dream dreams that move them to discover God beyond the confines of the familiar. People like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Joseph, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Evelyn Underhill, Florence Nightingale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and the apostle Paul himself. They let themselves be enticed by God and became God’s dreamers, willing to explore new shores fully expecting to discover God waiting there with the fullness of God’s grace.
A few days ago, I visited the Auckland City Mission with our group. What an amazing organisation! Obviously, somebody had a dream that has been life-giving ever since. What will stick with me for a very long time, though, wasn’t the history or the operational practices, but it was a series of photographs of streeties on the walls. They hit me over the head with a two by four, calling me to be a dreamer again. They became my Macedonian reminding me to trust God’s unique self-revelation in Jesus Christ and to dream up visions that will move me beyond the familiar and that will bring God’s healing not just to those hurting in body, mind, and soul, but that will bring healing to me as well. And I trust there are Macedonians waiting for you too.
Isaac Ben Jekel of Krakow in Poland was one of God’s dreamers. And Martin Buber’s story needs to be concluded:
The sergeant of the guard continued talking to Isaac after he had laughed at him.
“Who trusts dreams? If one were, I would have had to also pack up my things some time ago and go to Krakow to look for a Jew called Isaac Ben Jekel. In his kitchen under his stove there supposedly I should have found a treasure! Yeah right!” And the sergeant laughed again.
Isaac, however, bowed down deeply, went home, dug underneath his stove, found the treasure and used it for the good of God’s people.
With our Gospel reading today we seem to have been pulled back into Easter. (In terms of the lectionary of course, we have.) We are back in the upper room with the disciples and Jesus. Wet cloths, pitchers and bowls in the corner. Supper has been completed and Jesus has spoken at some depth to all those in the room. He has appeared troubled at times.
Just before our reading starts a strange and lengthy conversation is held between Jesus and Judas. Its strange because only the two of them know what Judas is about to do. The others have no idea. Judas receives dipped bread from Jesus and with clean feet departs into the night.
So our text begins.
When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus focuses on his mission and preparing his disciples for what is to come. He speaks of being glorified and of glorifying God, which in Johannine language is a reference to his elevation on a cross. Then he tells his disciples in tender words (“little children”) that he will be with them only a little longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come.
Then we come to perhaps the most oft quoted words in all the Gospels:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Just as I have loved you. How then has Jesus shown his love at this point in the Gospel. Well Jesus has, since he gathered the disciples, shown them how he has constantly loved them. He has taught them by his actions. Sitting with outsiders whether at a tax collectors table or at a Samaritans well. He has healed numerous times – especially the poor and people of little account. He has feed the disciples, kept them safe.
He has shown them how he has loved by his words, instructing them into the mysteries of this new way of being. He has patiently answered their questions and put up with their failures to understand. He has put up with their squabbles and jostling for pre-eminence. He has welcomed their families into his circle, taught them to understand the Torah from a new perspective. Many of these actions and teachings were dangerous for both the Roman and Judean authorities would have regarded much of what he said as blasphemy or insurrectionist.
In other words, he has demonstrated his love time and time again.
At this point in this sermon I could then ask, “how do we demonstrate our love to one another”. As a Deacon I could talk about my experiences at the Mission. We could explore the various forms of love found in scripture – but I’m not going to do either for I think that for our today we can take those understandings and knowledge for granted (albeit imperfectly).
No for today I’m not so much interested in how many ways we can show our love – I’m not even interested in how many ways Jesus loved – but I am interested in HOW he loved. Let me explain.
Jesus knows he is about to die. And not die gently.
How then can Jesus even begin to talk about love of those who have been with him from the earliest days and yet are about to betray him? How can Jesus begin to talk about love in the face of the devastating events that will soon befall his community?
For clues lets recall the context within which our reading is situated.
Before our text begins, we are told of the betrayal by Judas.
After our text ends, we hear Jesus telling Peter that he will deny him three times.
The horrific fact is that these two small sentences about love are bracketed by two acts of betrayal. One of total betrayal to death and the other a denial by one of Jesus closest followers.
Seeing these two verses in this context reveals a radical kind of love.
In this context Jesus doesn’t talk about love in a general sense. His words are spoken in an intimate setting to those who have travelled many miles together, have broken bread together and who have come to know each other deeply. He speaks simply to his followers without elaboration in the knowledge that soon they will truly comprehend the radical nature of his love.
Only in hindsight will his followers recognise the ferocity of total dedication that Jesus brought to his loving. How he immersed himself in his unique selfless task of loving. How he did this by drawing from his unique well of spiritual knowing, his total faith in his God and his understanding of how the world works. Jesus demonstrated, in his short life, a total focus on his mission.
This degree of focus seems almost inhuman, almost beyond us as humans … and yet.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a fascinating vignette of an intriguing neurological difficulty. Tourette’s Syndrome is a mental disorder that causes victims to have any number of physical and verbal tics. Some Tourettic people have constant facial twitches, others find themselves uncontrollably uttering verbal whoops, or words they wouldn’t normally use. Dr. Sacks recounted a man who was given to deep, lunging bows, a few verbal shouts, and an obsessive-compulsive adjusting and readjusting of his glasses. This behaviour was constant.
Now that man was a skilled surgeon! Somehow and for some unknown reason, when he donned a mask and gown and entered the operating room, all of his tics disappeared for the duration of the surgery. He lost himself in that role and he did so totally. When the surgery was finished, he returned to his old quirks of glasses adjustment, shouts, and bows.
I understand that Sacks did not make any spiritual comments on this, yet we can find in this doctor a remarkable example of what it can mean to focus or be totally immersed in a way of being.
We know from the lives of the saints both ancient and modern that there really can be a great transformation of peoples lives when they focuse on just one thing – focus to the point that bad traits disappear even as the performing of normal tasks becomes all the more meaningful and remarkable.
As humans we can perhaps just grasp the extent of love that drove Jesus – in the scripture stories we hear time and again the very humanness of love inducing situations that require a radical intervention. We are called to respond to need in an all consuming way.
We are called to feel a depth of compassion that’s gut-wrenching – the look on Lazarus’s family’s faces moved Jesus to raise him after four days of death. We are called to feel a depth of outrage at injustice, Jesus anger at injustice resulted in the clearing of the temple – a love of justice so fierce and so urgent that Jesus used a whip in the holiest place in the nation.
A radical kind of love indeed.
Something like this surely is our Christian goal.
To do this, we need an infusion of a kind of love that does not arise naturally from the context of the world as we know it.
To love in the manner that Jesus loved the disciples, reveals an utterly self-giving, all-consuming desire to live together no matter what, and, in whatever sense is called for. Even to lay down our lives for each other.
Moravian pastor Frank Crouch recounts the story of the Greek Orthodox Bishop Chrysostomos on the island of Zakynthos in 1944. At gunpoint, the Nazis told the bishop and the mayor Loukas Carrer to surrender a list of the names of all the Jewish residents on the island. When the list was presented to the Nazis by Bishop Chrysostomos, it contained only two names: Mayor Carrer and the Bishop. The bishop bravely told the Nazis, "Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me, and I will share their fate".
The bishop explained to the Nazis that Greek Orthodox Christians believed Paul's teaching in Galatians that there is neither Jew nor Greek.
The fact that the Bishop survived the war (as did all of the Jewish islanders) in no way diminishes his ultimate self-giving.
That same war saw some 2720 priests incarcerated in Dachau Concentration Camp. 1034 perished – the majority (868) were Polish.
Such example are not of everyday stuff – yet we can’t discard the fact that in committing to loving as Jesus did anything can happen that could challenge that love. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges however is not to be found in the heroic or remarkable but in the everyday events of our lives.
When we understand the significance of the foot washing, we realise that the kind of love that Jesus talks about can be found in the mundane happenings in our lives. We can only emulate the how of Jesus love by paying attention to the little things of life – for how else will be prepared when the big things come along.
The last words of our reading today “By this everyone will know.” speaks to a future that the disciples can probably hardly guess at. Love will become the litmus test of a Christian. Exhilarating – yes and perhaps terrifying. For to love to the depth that Jesus did will require all that the disciples have to give. And give they did. All were executed in enacting the love that was commanded of them – all with the exception of the generally recognised writer of this Gospel who died in his bed. And it is to John we turn for our last words.
It is said that John, in his old age, would remind those around him to love one another. When questioned why he told them this so many times, his reply would be,
“Because it is what our Lord commanded. If it is all you do, then it is enough.”
I came across an interesting discussion on twitter this week about the use of the term “Lord” in worship. 
I know – nerdy clergy stuff – but this is actually a conversation we also have here in our worship committee. Reasons to avoid Lord as a word for God were – it is a masculine name for God; it makes us think of medieval English hierarchy; people in the discussion were pretty much agreed that the many and varied names for God in the Bible should be used in variety and the occasional Lord in a hymn wouldn’t kill us. (Except that is for the 100 people the Rev Stacey Midge from Ohio had to block for being abusive and calling her a heretic).
More problematic though was the discussion about what to do with Jesus as Lord. When the early Christians say “Jesus is lord” they are making a political statement saying the Roman Emperor is not Lord, Jesus is. In making this claim they risked death, or at the very least persecution. Nobody really came up with a better more modern word in this scenario where we want to keep the political strength of the statement – the best was probably “sovereign one” – but in our context that still sounds a bit like the royal family.
We could have the same kind of discussion about the language in our first reading from the Book of Revelation. In the liberal/ progressive church tradition to which we belong I don’t think we often read from the book of Revelation. Its end times, apocalyptic imagery and talk of angels and thrones is not really to our taste.
Written for communities who followed in the tradition of the gospel of John and the letters of John, it speaks in images which are strange to our ears. It is written though, to real communities of people, about real situations, but in a style which makes it seem very disconnected from our reality.
When the multitudes cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10) we hear imagery which speaks of a far away God, in a heaven “up there” somewhere that we don’t really believe in. But try listening again to the words and think of early 2nd century Christians and Jews being persecuted by the Romans. Then perhaps we can hear them differently. As the twitter discussion reminded us, Christians were killed for refusing to call the emperor Lord. They defied the propaganda of the Roman Empire and called Jesus, Lord (read, sovereign). So “salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne” is not about God in some far away heaven, but God on the throne of the lives of those early Christians, God whom they worshiped, not the Emperor.
This was very radical and political talk and certainly cost them their lives. They are comforted by the writer of the book of Revelation – there will come a time when “they will hunger no more, thirst no more, and the Lamb (that is Jesus) will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17). In an interesting overlaying of imagery the Lamb is also going to be the shepherd who will guide them.
In the same way Jesus was the shepherd in John’s gospel, calling the sheep who know his voice to follow him. And echoing the 23rd psalm “the Lord is my shepherd, who leads me beside still waters and restores my soul”. The Christians are being asked to put their faith and lives on the line and call Jesus Lord, not the Emperor; and in doing so begin to build a new community, a new way of living, where souls can be restored.
In her sermon last week Cate said we are called “to tell a different story from the story of violence, intolerance, injustice and oppression” which has appeared in the form of the Christchurch massacre and other acts of hate in our land. She said we can we learn “to act together in a different way, so a way of living well together” is seen and heard. We can work as a community to model acts of graciousness and love and repel violence and fear.
The over dramatic language of Revelation says the same thing – there is a diversity of people “from all tribes and languages”, who declare their faith in God and in the goodness of God. They are not promised an end to suffering, but they are promised the waters of life. So how does this work?
The gospel of John seems to be saying that the foundation of the way we build this community is found in trusting that God has called us into this place of relationship with each other and with God.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them”; like Mary Magdalene at the tomb recognizing Jesus by his voice when he says her name, we hear our names called, and we are told no one will snatch us from the hand of God.
It is from that place of safety, from those still waters that we gather here and say – how can we face down the evil of our world; what can we do to offer dialogue and action that brings peace.
Yesterday we hosted a vigil for peace in Sri Lanka – I was very grateful that at short notice 8 parishioners were able to come and assist with the service and others of you attended. We stood alongside those of other faiths and supported people from Sri Lanka as they ponder yet more violence in their land.
“A great multitude from all tribes and languages” seeking peace and still waters. In order to find that place of peace and still waters we need to spend time hearing our names called; hearing our names called as we come to receive the bread and wine; hearing our names called as we share the peace, say the Lord’s prayer, light candles and receive a blessing.
We take time to nurture our faith so we can stand the heat of the desert and the “great ordeal” (Rev 7:14).
The heat of the desert is the reality of poverty, racism and injustice right outside the doors of this church, on our streets, in our homes, and on our social media feeds. The great ordeal is that racism turned to violence like in Christchurch.
Some of you have started conversations about what next; how do we respond. Keep talking, keep asking, keep listening to the voice that is calling. “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”
Wherever we are called to, we can be sure that no one can snatch us from the hands of God.
We are led beside still waters, and even if we walk in the valley of death we can still say Alleluia Christ is risen; He is risen indeed Alleluia.
Resurrection season again, in today’s gospel Jesus is recognised, either with the sudden abundance of fish or just because he is. It occurs at the end of an unsuccessful night long fishing trip and early morning cook up on the beach.
Other stories have Jesus recognised in a greeting, walking with, at table, in eating of food, in being named, in the breaking of bread, in the blood and flesh of wounds. As Helen said there are many and varied ways of resurrection knowing and doubting and disbelieving, all are part of resurrection. And each happens in the middle of the ordinary.
After Jesus death, after these resurrection encounters what did the disciples do? Confused, fearful, disbelieving, first of all nothing, from what we’re told, at least that was largely the male response. Then, it seems some went back fishing. What else do you do when your world’s upended? What you know.
Resurrection sermons reflect a certain circularity of argument. Resurrection is core to Christianity, necessary, crucial to this lineage. Without it Jesus isn’t the Christ, death isn’t overcome, our faith’s a sham. If there’s one thing you’ve got to uphold it’s this, if only we knew incontrovertibly what it was!!
So sermons might argue to prove plausible explanation for what happened. Or point out you can’t, logically, with the things of this world. But it’s OK, in fact the point, because it’s a matter of faith. And sufficient faith to believe this makes you a true believer, and that means you’re saved – risky to argue with if one with authority declares it. And poking around questioning the literality of bodily resurrection is still a little dicey.
But let’s take a step back. Talk of resurrection only happens in church, which isn’t to diminish it. But the persuasive rhetoric, the examining, the arguing to convince, or confuse, who is it for, what does it do?
What if we just let the story stand? Jesus died by crucifixion. Those who knew Jesus had experience of a continuing sense of him after his death - in different ways. They describe physicality to this after death experience. They were told, “don’t hold on, I send you, go from, believe, don’t look for the living among the dead, trust, receive the Holy Spirit.” This is what we know from the stories we’ve received. A miracle? Well something happened.
It brought to mind advice once given me, from a priest and friend. “It’s not the miraculous, the mystical, the spiritual experience you have that matters so much. For you might then spend the rest of your life trying to emulate it, to recreate the experience. It’s what you do with the gift of it, that’s what’s important. That’s what matters.”
What did the disciples do in response? Eventually they went and told the story of what had happened. Of Jesus – his impact on them, on their living. Jesus himself didn’t actually deliver a body of teaching, rather he taught in story and parable. Look around, see, the kingdom of God is near, is at hand. Look, see, hear, taste, touch, open yourself to encounter a deeper way of knowing what’s already here. Jesus’ companions experienced something in him. They came to name it God presence. It changed them. It changed the way everything was. They saw into the world, behind the veil, discerned the ‘real’. Paul’s experience that knocked him off his perch later impelled him also to tell of a world transformed through his Jesus encounter.
Jesus taught in parable and story. The disciples told the story of Jesus and their experience. The stories we tell, tell our story. The stories we tell story our world, make our world real, tell us and the world, what’s possible, what’s important. It makes all the difference which ones we tell and how we tell them.
In this place we tell the story of Jesus – his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension. Has it become like a miracle story? One to which we’re ever beholden. Has telling the story, doing just this become what it means to be faithful? If so, we’ll stay where we are, as we are, always looking back, remembering. Our yearning spirits diverted, our attention focused on new ways to do these same things in order to feel more, in order to be relevant for today.
How are we telling this story? This year let’s not ask what or whether the resurrection happened. This year let’s ask what our response is.
The resurrection directives are “Don’t hold on, I send you, go from, believe, don’t look for the living among the dead, trust, receive the Holy Spirit.” Resurrection impels us from and to the world to re-member God bodyness on earth.
Not for our sake but so the story of the way the world is, is told differently – other-wise. Impelled to live beyond ourselves with all the uncertainty this entails. Hand in hand with not knowing, with the not yet known, part ways with certainty. Isn’t this what resurrection shows us? We don’t know and live with the discomfort. We don’t know and still tell the story.
We do know we live in a world of entrenched injustice and oppression. The structures and systems of our society depend on it. Surely it’s an impossible, impassable embedded system. Sustained by the intransigence of a few with power and money and influence what on earth could we do?
Surely it’s unrealistic to imagine a viable alternative to this prevailing world system. Surely it’s unreasonable to insist we can be part of making real a system of equitable balance that restores dignity, flourishing, stature, to each and all? Before our scoffing inner cynic kicks in – let’s ask Mahatma Gandhi, let’s enquire of Nelson Mandela.
Since the shooting in the mosques in Christchurch there’s been an increase in overt racism, violence, religiously motivated attacks and abuse. Not only overseas but also in NZ. Just last Sunday in Palmerston North All Saints' Church, and the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit parishioners found crudely written anti-Muslim propagandapamphlets left on their windscreens after Sunday services. Both churches held solidarity events with the Manawatū Muslim Association after the Christchurch shootings. They believe the events were directly connected. City councillor Lorna Johnson said overall Palmerston North’s an inclusive and diverse community, but there are a few individuals who’ve become emboldened since the Christchurch shootings.
There’s a confidence now for people holding extreme hate views to express them in word and act. I suspect they’ve always been here but their virulence repressed, subdued by a society that disallowed, permitted no space for its expression. The ascendancy of Trump and his supporters have led the charge in making such speech and action permissible in the public square.
The gloves are now off. Neo fascism, white supremacy, right wing extremism is on the rise and now gets airtime.
It is not inevitable.
Our world’s in dire need of people who see through the appearance of things. In dire need of a people who insist for the life for all creation – not just the chosen ones. It’s time to activate overtly, quietly, insistently and with integrity ways of justice and peace.
St Matthew’s inherits a mantle of leadership for peace and justice and inclusion. A place with people who insist and uphold causes for peace and for justice. A place for all we say.A place and people willing to name injustice, racism, oppression, religious prejudice for what it is, should it come to expression in our society. And to act – to align with those disempowered, oppressed, abused. We are at such a time in our society.
This resurrection season what is our response?
Will we join those standing outside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch insisting Jesus is God and NZ is a Christian country in our black clad intimidating regalia?
Or will we be a place and a people to catalyse the gathering and activating of the many people who want to tell a different story than one of violence, intolerance, injustice and oppression. A place where the many who struggle to find voice – who want to speak to and with one another to learn how, can confidently come. A place for us all to learn how to act, together, for a different way, so a way of living well together is expressed. Not just to react against overt violence, hate and discord. Motivation against tempts us also to resort to methods and means of manipulation, violence and misuse of power to dominate.
Rather to choose to live for a world of equitable balance, that restores dignity, flourishing, stature, to each and all. Risk telling theunveiling Jesus story – this actually is the way things are, if we’ve ears to hear, eyes to see, hands and hearts to make real. Will we re-member God bodyness this way this resurrection season, this year?
Today we have the privilege of being witnesses to the commitment of two people, Elle and Heather, as they prepare for their marriage this week.
Today we pray with them, affirm God’s blessing of them, and send them on their way to get married. They asked for this ceremony to be in the context of our normal Sunday worship so we can celebrate as a parish community with them.
At the heart of this ceremony today is the simple love between two people. Words and prayers repeated pretty much every week in this building as couples come to be married; words repeated down through the centuries and across every culture – words of love and commitment.
And yet today we are doing something new, new for our church and newish for our country. Marriage equality is only 6 years old in NZ; and our church has been slow in catching up, and as yet has only agreed to allow for the blessing of a marriage in our churches, not for the marriage itself. Quite what the difference is and how that helps anyone is unclear to me but that’s where we are at. Let’s not dwell on that today but celebrate what we are able to do which is affirm God’s blessing on Elle and Heather.
The words we will use today are from the liturgy written for us by our Diocese. Using this liturgy connects us with our wider church and affirms that this service now finds its place amongst our authorized services.
For Anglicans that is an important piece, for what we pray together is what we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi is an ancient Anglican principle.
The words we will use today are about love, commitment and faith.
In any marriage service we say that the love of two people shows us something of what God is like. As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is the nature of God’s love and this is what we hope and pray for in marriage.
In our readings today we see two examples of the nature of love. In the Book of Ruth we read the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi has a husband and two sons, and both sons take wives from outside the land of Israel, from Moab where they travel to live to find work and food. But Naomi’s husband and two sons all die, leaving the women unprotected. Naomi says to her two daughters-in-law – our situation is hopeless; go back to your own people. One daughter-in-law heads home, but the other, Ruth, clings to Naomi and says, “Don’t press me to leave you. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Ruth demonstrates loyalty and love. And her love is rewarded as when Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Bethlehem, Ruth is able to secure herself a husband and Ruth has a child who will be the grandfather of King David.
This story is set in the time of the Judges (1100BC) but is likely to have been written in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah who wanted to purge Israel of foreigners (400BC). Against the tide of racism and exclusion Ruth’s story is told to show God’s preferential love for the outsider, the widow and the poor.
God is seen to bring a foreigner to establish the line of the kings of Israel.
It is a story which belongs in today’s worldwide debates about immigration and refugees. It is a story which belongs in conversations about who can be loved by whom; and who can be examples of devotion and loyalty to us all.
The in our gospel reading we have Mary Magdalene. Mary, the leader of the women of Jesus’ time, and the apostle to the apostles. In the poignant and beautiful scene at the tomb we see Mary’s love for Jesus. She is weeping at the loss of his body. She wants to care for the body, anoint it, see it properly buried. She searches for him like the woman from the Song of Solomon searching for her lover. “I will seek him whom my soul loves.” (3:2)
She then turns around and sees Jesus, but in her grief she does not recognize him until he says her name. Mary. (Makes us think of the good shepherd (John 10) who calls the sheep by name and they recognize his voice.)
Mary responds to Jesus with the word “Rabbouni” (like Rabbi) which means teacher. She reaches out to touch Jesus, to take his hands, to be reassured. But unlike Thomas who is instructed to touch Jesus, Jesus says do not try to hold onto me, I am no longer your teacher as I was.
You have a task, a vocation; it is to go to the others and tell them what has happened.
You will be the apostle to the apostles, you are the one whom I choose to send.
Mary is a disciple, a companion, and someone who loved Jesus deeply.
Despite the storytelling of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and many others, I do not think Mary was married to Jesus. Some people have argued that she was, it is certainly possible, but I think that diminishes her stature as much as falsely making her a prostitute did. She did not need to be married to Jesus to have a place in his life. She was a disciple and a leader of the disciples who was devoted to Jesus. Her love is like Ruth’s, one of loyalty and devotion.
Today Elle and Heather you are promising to love and care for each other for a lifetime. You are seeking to know each other more deeply and so to know God. You can call on the courage and steadfastness of Ruth and the devotion of Mary. This is a moment where you get to reach out and touch each other and find like Mary that Jesus is unexpectedly in our midst.
Vows of marriage are thin places where we get to see God. God embodied in love, and hope and joy. God who will walk with us through the good times and bad. God who is a God of Easter – of death and resurrection.
We find God in lots of other places too – we don’t have to be married to find God; but when we take the risk of choosing to commit, of choosing to love, we allow God’s love to be visible in our lives.
So thank you Heather and Elle for sharing your day with us. Thank you for claiming your place in our church and being our first couple to use this blessing of a marriage service. We look forward to hearing about your celebrations on Thursday – and seeing photos of course!
Carry these words with you;
“Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.“
Words to live by.
Looking for the Living
April 21, 2019
Easter Day Isaiah 65:17-25 Luke 24:1-12
“If the dead won’t even stay dead – what is there to count on?” asks writer Ann Carter Florence.  Or as Benjamin Franklin said “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Which is why the words of Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, are dismissed as an “idle tale.” In saying they thought it was an “idle tale” the translators are being polite – apparently a better translation of the Greek leros would be – their words are dismissed as utter garbage.  Of course no one believed them. Obviously the dead stay dead.
When Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary go to the tomb, early on the Sunday they are going with spices and oils to anoint Jesus’ body. A sad but important task. They are distressed to find the tomb empty and then terrified by some men in dazzling clothes – are they visions? angels?
whoever they are, they ask “why do you look for the living among the dead?” Why even look here? Why look in a tomb for someone who is alive?
They are confused of course but they are told by the angels to remember – to remember Jesus’ words, his teaching, who he was. So …. they go and tell the eleven (the 12 disciples minus Judas) what they have seen, and that they have been told to remember – to remember what Jesus had taught them.
Still none the wiser, the men dismiss this as an idle (read full of rubbish) tale of women. Women who are upset so easily they are acting hysterically. Visions of angels indeed!
Peter, though, just to make sure, goes to the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, and no body, and then Luke says “he went home”. What does he go home to do? Have breakfast, lunch? He has no idea what to do with this news. Maybe that is a more typical male reaction – we will wait till we know what is going on here before we start to spread idle rumours. The women do not wait, they tell what they know, even if they don’t understand it, they proclaim it, they live it.
On Good Friday we saw silence of Jesus. The silence of Jesus before Pilate – how we imagine him because of all the paintings – Pilate asking questions, the accusers accusing, the crowd shouting. But after he leaves Pilate’s house he begins to talk. He talks to the women who are weeping, to the criminals crucified with him, he prays. Jesus breaks the silence and speaks the truth of his and others’ suffering and speaks hope into their pain.
On Easter morning it is the turn of the women to break their silence and speak the truth about what they have seen and experienced. In Luke’s version they do not see Jesus – he appears first to the followers walking the road to Emmaus. But they share what they know, and it turns out notto be an idle tale.
If we waited to be sure about our faith, if we waited to have physical proof that would satisfy Richard Dawkins, we would not be here today.
There would be no Easter and no church. We don’t get to see Jesus either, we have the tale of the women and others to inform our faith.
At times in our lives we might be perplexed as the women were, at other times we might be terrified, and then at other times, disbelieving with Peter, or convinced like Thomas was eventually. There is lots of room in the resurrection stories for a variety of feelings and reactions.
We don’t all have to think or believe the same thing.
The question of the angels is still relevant to us, whatever we think: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Why do you look for life where there is none? Why do you expect happiness to come from the amount of money you earn? Why do you expect the worst of people and not the best? Why does twitter go crazy when there is bad news and not for good news. Why do you hang on to old tired ideas or ideals rather than seeking a new vision in your workplaces or your families?
When the terrible massacre occurred in Christchurch only one month ago our Prime Minister chose the living over death instinctively – she called us all to compassion, love and kindness; and denied the killer even his name.
And so we followed: we gave, we prayed, we hoped for a better world.
We made promises about calling out racism, seeking to assist our Moslem sisters and brothers. Have we done that? Will we?
We will if we believe life can conquer death. We will if we believe good is stronger than evil. One month on we are in danger of forgetting all our promises to make Aotearoa a better nation post 15 March 2019. Let’s not forget.
Easter is not about happy endings  like in the fairy tales; Easter is about choosing life when everything around you is pointing to death. Easter is about banning those weapons; going to a mosque to pray; reaching out to our neighbours who are different from us.
Easter is about hope – the people of Paris kneeling in the streets and praying and weeping as their cathedral burned and finding life in each other. Easter is about joy. Easter is about life.
On Easter Day we are called to step out of the tombs of our lives, the things that hold us back from new life as individuals and as a community.
Claim life, claim joy, claim hope.
It is not an idle tale, it is a tale which brings us life.
 Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan The Last Week p 205
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday John 13:1-17, 31-35
Tonight as we enter into the last three great days of Holy Week we share the Eucharist and offer to wash each other’s feet as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. During this Holy Week a myriad of feet have walked and continue to walk the labyrinth in front of us.
Feet, were an important symbol in ancient times. Occasionally people were permitted to glimpse the feet of the Unseen God; more commonly, they responded to the divine presence by taking off their own shoes. Devotees kissed the feet of their gurus, priests had their feet washed for them, and victorious leaders even tread upon their enemies’ prone bodies. Echoing that custom, Jews and Christians dreamed of their enemies being made into God’s footstool. Bare feet clearly represented both sacred and secular power.
In my working day I see and care for feet. The feet of the rough sleeper are often a very sad and sorry sight. Those feet have often walked for miles often without shoes and rarely socks. They need to be washed and usual need some medical attention. Often they need to be seen by our wonderful podiatrist who comes to the Mission fortnightly. They need socks and shoes that fit and like the disciples our rough sleepers’ are often not keen to have their feet washed.
Washing someone’s feet carries many different meanings: reverence, subservience, hospitality. In the time of Jesus people arrived usually on foot, their feet tired, dusty and sandy. The welcoming thing was to wash their feet.
In tonight’s Gospel Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave them the mandatum to do the same.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Loving one another is perhaps the most difficult of commands. It means we have to first learn to love ourselves. See ourselves as worthy of accepting, giving and sharing love. Jesus not only spoke kind words and did great deeds. He comforted and healed and gave hope for a brighter future. He embodied love. We are called to do the same. Our world cries out to see the face of Jesus, to walk the way of love, to experience a church that not only preaches love, but demonstrates love.
The 15th of March 2019 was a day of horror for all of us in Aotearoa. A day we will not forget and the out pouring of grief was enormous. This horrific event has changed us as a country. However it is all too easy to slip back into our pattern of life forgetting Jesus commandment to love one another and that includes everyone.
Let me finish with this prayer from Iona for this night:
Before the bright dawn in the garden
-when Love was resurrected,
Before the cold silence of the tomb
-by which Love was swallowed,
Before the black horror of the cross
-on which Love was broken,
Before the bitter struggle of another garden
-through which Love affirmed its choices,
Eating a final supper with his friends,
Blessed and broke bread and poured out a cup of wine,
On Friday morning during the National Memorial Service for the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack the crowd stood and clapped and clapped. They applauded words of compassion and forgiveness from Farid Ahmed who was a survivor of the attack and whose wife was killed by the gunman. Mr Ahmed preached a sermon really, on forgiveness. With a strong voice, a compassionate voice, he chanted verses of the Quran and explained them to the crowd. He said simply if I want to be a person of faith then I must forgive; if I do not show mercy and forgive then I cannot be a true follower of the prophet Muhammed (and the prophets who came before, including Jesus, peace be upon them).
He said “I do not want to have a heart boiling like a volcano with hatred, fury and rage, burning within and burning the surroundings. I want a heart that will be full of love, care and mercy, and forgive lavishly.”
Then he went on to say each human being is my brother and sister, including the gunman; “this is my faith”, he said. 
Challenging words – the gunman is also his brother? How could he possibly forgive him so soon? The challenge or shock of those words is similar to the way the crowd would have reacted listening to Jesus’ parable of the father and his two sons. This parable is about lavish forgiveness. Forgiveness that makes no sense.
Today’s parable is usually called “the prodigal son”; prodigal meaning wasteful, extravagant, irresponsible and self indulgent. Naming the parable this ways focuses our attention on the son who asks for the share of his inheritance and then goes and spends it all. This focus fits our western, capitalist worldview where we focus on income, work ethics and contributing to the economy (nothing wrong with that – but it is just one focus).
If we take a step back and look instead with the worldview of Jesus our storyteller we see different things. So set aside the “prodigal son” title in your minds and think simply of a father and two sons.
The son comes to the father and asks for his inheritance; which is like saying Dad, I wish you were dead, but since you are not can I have my share of the farm anyway. Great family dynamic going on there – Barbara Brown Taylor calls this passage “the parable of the dysfunctional family.” 
Emmy Kegler asks “what is so broken in this family that the second son leaves?” “where is the mother?” and why does the father give in?  Kegler says if you are the one seen in your family as the “black sheep,” the one who is lost, you want to ask: why did the father not do more to keep the son close – why did he let him go?
If you are a farmer you would ask why would anyone carve up their land and sell it to meet the demands of one son? The farmers of Jesus’ time would certainly be shocked – who would do such a crazy thing?
Then the son goes off and surprise, surprise, lives it up, spends all he has and ends up penniless. Think for a moment about what you remember from the reading of the parable and answer the question – why does the son “begin to be in need” as the parable puts it.
Why is he starving?
because he wasted everything
because there was a famine
because no one helped him
A writer, Mark Powell , tested this question on students in different cultures and countries and discovers that the answer to the question depends on your context. If you are an American you tend to answer a) because he wasted everything. If you are a Russian from St Petersburg with the memory of the 1941 seige and famine in your heritage you answer b) because there was a famine.
If you are a student from Tanzania schooled in hospitality for the stranger you answer c) because no one helped him. All three answers are in the text.
For all of these reasons the younger son is starving and travels home – maybe I can work on my father’s farm he thinks. He has his confession all worked out but before he can speak the words the father runs to him and calls for the best robe and ring to clothe him and orders a feast. “This son of mine who was lost is now found.” The father’s forgiveness is lavish.
That would be a good ending – but the story doesn’t end there. The elder son enters the story – the son who has stayed with his father, worked hard, done all the right things. He cannot accept that his father forgives his brother (he must have been building his resentment all this time – seeing a portion of the farm sold, while he continued to work). And he cannot accept that his father also loves him lavishly.
The father pleads with him to come and join the party “you are always with me, all that is mine is yours. We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
The story ends and we are left with a question – did the brother join the party? did he stay outside? Jesus does not say.
The parable is addressed to the Pharisees who were complaining about Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus is inviting the Pharisees to come join the party and eat with him and the “sinners”. The choice is theirs; the invitation is open. The ending to the parable will be provided by their actions – do they say yes and come and sit at the table or do they say no and stay standing in the courtyard with all their resentment brewing.
In a way the ending to the parable is found on Good Friday when the Pharisees take their resentment to the extreme and crucify Jesus. God’s answer to their ending is a different one – an answer involving life and resurrection and an invitation to again come to the table.
The cross and God’s forgiveness and embracing of evil with new life is at the heart of our faith. Is that what we would we say if we had to face the worst imaginable thing, if we were on that stage in Christchurch; is that what our creed be?
Mr Ahmed chanted verses from the Quran – we might choose a story of a father and two sons who were equally loved and who both in their own way rejected that love.
We might say how they were both forgiven and welcomed with rejoicing anyway. We could say our God is like that, our God welcomes us back again and again, no matter how hard we resist and fail.
Our God welcomes us to a table, where the feast is bread and wine, an offering of simple things which represent life itself. And we could say how we come every week to hear the invitation to the table and to share in the feast together and this is how we live our faith.
On Friday our Prime Minister said “do not leave the job of combatting hate to the government alone. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness.” 
In order to answer that call to combat hate we come here to seek forgiveness, forgiveness which is offered lavishly. We come to seek the support of our community as we live as best we can lives of faith and hope. We gather at the table and we rejoice because we were lost and have been found.
I know that this season of Lent we’ve had the intention of focussing on how our religious creation texts inform us about our responsibility to care for creation. How they inform our practice in daily life. Given the circumstances of a day in the life of our country Aarif Rasheed is unable to be with us today. It is perhaps not surprising.
In keeping with the notion that texts of faith such as biblical scripture, the Koran, or texts of other faiths, are a point of identity and resource for acting. How are our religious texts, or maybe I mean more broadly, how is our religion a resource for us in these difficult days? It is easy enough for glib phrases to trip off the tongue. Words that surely are the correct ones but somehow seem to slip and slide away. They fail to snag and catch the tearing of us, to be balm to our wounding.
What do we expect of religion, faith?
How does religion make sense?
Given what’s happening in the world how is divine presence a plausible possibility?
How is it that evil takes root and can thrive in a world of divine creating?
These questions are not new, of course, but maybe they are more urgent for us right now. Those of us sheltered from violence that shatters and takes lives. We who are unaccustomed to the raw face of hatred, to seasoned bigotry enacted. We haven’t developed a deep faith resilience to negotiate such things. And I don’t know we want such experience to be the cause of our doing so. But if we can’t turn and ask these questions of our faith, raise our fists in fear and frustration. If we can’t wail in anger and disbelief that this good God we say we love, this good news we say we proclaim seems insubstantial, inadequate to the task of speaking honestly to a reality unveiled. What use is our faith to us, how does it direct us what to do?
Last Monday evening Helen spoke of the visibility of religious affiliation expressed in clothing, by people of faiths largely other than Christian. Of worship rhythms that required people take leave from school or work to honour their faith commitment. The very visibility that signifies is the one that makes such people targets.
Veils, headwear, covering garments of distinctive origin that carry more meaning than simply garments that clothe the body. Such distinct wear is a visible reminder to others. It also reminds those who wear them that they choose an identity that sets them apart, that makes them different. It claims their priorities are aligned in a way which may run counter to the prevailing or predominating ones in the society around them.
I remember some years ago I purchased a new cell phone from a parallel import provider. Not long after I had set it up it kept unaccountably at random intervals playing music. Or that’s what I thought it was – until I paid attention. I then realised what I was hearing was actually a muezzin call to prayer. The intervals were regular, 5 times a day a call to prayer. As the vicar of a parish it was … interesting. Especially when the call emitted on the occasion a couple of young men of Arabic descent were servicing the photocopier. They did look at me a little oddly. What’s more I couldn’t turn it off or silence it. Even if my phone was on mute it would call out. It transpired the software had been embedded in the phone for they were intended for the Saudi Arabian market.
Stopping to pray that often is interruptive, I discovered. Given my job it was interesting to discover that being called, being reminded to pray regularly is interruptive. What’s more if faithfully praying includes kneeling, full body genuflection it submits you. It reminds you, that you’re not self-created, not a complete, self-contained, self-sufficient unit. Regular and interrupting prayer time changes the power dynamic of your priorities. It centres what’s most important differently. It disrupts what draws your attention. Such regular practice reminds you of your accountability for what you do and to whom you’re accountable. It is a form and practice, a way of enliving faith. It’s not the only way.
What happens to the way we learn of and wrestle with our faith if we don’t put it in front of us so intentionally? With no obvious outward signs we’re less visible to others – which we’re probably comfortable with. But what signifiers do remind us that we are receptacles of the telling? Remind us we’re a living Word known in how we live and act.
Without any, do we come to forget what it is we speak of? Do we, our words become without substance? Uncertain we become uncomfortable, perhaps even reluctant to act in name of faith. We shy away as if embarrassed. If we’ve forfeited habits that make us accountable. If we’ve ceased to make time to engage a divine transforming dialogue partner into our daily living. If we don’t wrangle and wrestle to understand why life so often fails our expectations, what becomes of this thing we call faith? Is it simply a habit of polite ‘doing good?’ How can the word of God be breathed into life through us if God’s become a silent, or largely absent, partner in the relationship?
This Sunday we were to learn from the wisdom of our Muslim brother of faith, he’s unable to be here, I’d like instead to invite Rumi to speak to us:
The son of Mary, Jesus, hurries up a slope
as though a wild animal were chasing him.
Someone following him asks, 'Where are you going?
No one is after you.’ Jesus keeps on,
saying nothing, across two more fields. 'Are you
the one who says words over a dead person,
so that he wakes up?’ I am. 'Did you not make
the clay birds fly?' Yes. 'Who then
could possibly cause you to run like this?'
Jesus slows his pace.
I say the Great Name over the deaf and the blind,
they are healed. Over a stony mountainside,
and it tears its mantle down to the navel.
Over non-existence, it comes into existence.
But when I speak lovingly for hours, for days,
with those who take human warmth
and mock it, when I say the Name to them, nothing
happens. They remain rock, or turn to sand,
where no plants can grow. Other diseases are ways
for mercy to enter, but this non-responding
breeds violence and coldness toward God.
I am fleeing from that.
As little by little air steals water, so praise
is dried up and evaporates with foolish people
who refuse to change. Like cold stone you sit on,
a cynic steals body heat. He doesn't feel
the sun. Jesus wasn't running from actual people.
He was teaching in a new way. 
Religious narratives teach us creation is abundant and full of life, beautiful, life sustaining, unique with capacity for adaptation and change. Yet also vulnerable, for the narratives include destruction and death, tell of a fragile balance in the dance of life with death. Humanity, these stories tell, has capacity to know, to name both beauty and despair, to know mortality, to know life as suffering. Humanity participates in creative genius and as agent of suffering and death.
The Christian faith story says God is revealed in human form. One who held up mirror for us to see reflected our image as beloved. Humanity would rather put such God to death than change and grow into the stature of such beloved creation.
We know what life and flourishing is and we know what it is not and we can open ourselves to be changed. Religious narratives tell us transformation deeper than our self-willed determination is possible, as we’re strong enough to be vulnerable. What might that look like?
Last Monday evening we opened the doors of this place for people to come – to be, maybe to pray, to lay stone or light candle, to sit or wander and mingle, to come, to go. Some words were said, some music played or sung. It was a place 600 or more people felt comfortable enough to enter, together to pause for a moment.
Something about this space, a space that does not happen by chance, that made it a sanctuary. A place that held us, leant us courage to face what had made us afraid. To lay down the weight of that fear, to light candle as sign of hope that fear would not have the last word.
It was a palpable experience – such set apart space transforms more deeply than words.
 Coleman Barks (trans.) The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition HarperOne: New York 2004, 204.
Less is more of words this day, heavy of heart, bereft and full of tears perhaps unshed, we gather, it is good for us to be together.
The unspeakable has happened, yet we must speak of it.
The unbearable has taken place in our place, yet we must bear it, together.
Like the death of a close loved one, is how it feels, I keep hoping to wake up and it not be true, the world to not have shifted so fundamentally. Yet it has and before this dread puzzlement I am stilled, numbed, I’m not sure what I can do to live with this being the way things are now, how to navigate.
Steadily each day turns, though and we must tread each one, even in our bewilderment, for it cannot prevent the flow of life that continues. So we continue to honour our Lenten commitment to consider the care of creation. Remember on Friday, before overshadowed by the shocking events of the afternoon our children were taking unprecedented strike action to confront us, our leaders, with the lack of action to address climate change. This Lent we consider how to care for creation learning from the wisdom of the creation narratives of different religions and practice. Today we have with us Jules Gaddie from the Auckland Hebrew Congregation. It may be our conversation moves and shifts a little given how we have been moved and shifted.
What we do know is we share the stories of creation found in Genesis with our Jewish and Muslim communities. We’re aware of two creation stories and even maybe that these texts aren’t the earliest writings but have been placed at the beginning as if they were. From the outset the human enterprise is complicated and we’d prefer it were not so. Jewish author Gabby Barzilai writes “Bible critics have sought to view these differences as evidence of two separate Creation stories, transferred to the Torah from two different sources. In their opinion, the "redactor (editor) of Genesis" included both stories because both found favour in [their] eyes and [they] did not want to choose between them.
Jewish Bible scholars wished to discount the idea the two stories entered the Bible by chance and have tried to find real reasons why both accounts were included and to show how they reflected different aspects of existence.
Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik writes, in Chapter 1 the Torah describes man as a creative being who asks, "How is the world constructed?" "How does nature operate?" Out of his desire to imitate nature, to improve and control it. In contrast, man as described in Chapter 2 is a philosophical being who asks questions of cause and effect: Why was the world created? To what purpose was man created? Who is the Creator, who is the Ruler of the Universe? His main point is that beyond the messages found in each narrative individually, an important message can be found by considering them in conjunction. [Hu]Man[ity] is not one-sided, solely a creative or a philosophic being; rather, humanity has the characteristics of a thinker and of a creator at one and the same time. The two stories present different aspects of human beings, since humans are complex, not to be encompassed in a single story.” 
Humans are complex, from the outset not one story can tell and this is before even considering the other dynamic in the creation narratives, humanity’s conceiving of the intimate divine partner in creation’s coming into being.
Complex, with freedom to choose and repercussions that are to be lived with. What happened in Christchurch is shocking, beyond our imagining in this country where we’ve an assumed etiquette of civility we expect to be honoured. However, whether we’re comfortable with the notion or not, the acts of this man and those aligned with him, people with such capacity for inhumanity are among us. We’d rather it not be so, but it is. What’s more such capacityfor inhumanity isn’t just over there, it’s in us. We’d rather this not be true. As disbelief and numbness dissipate there will be anger, desire for retribution and blame, for we humans like to feel we can do something, reassert meaningful control when it’s been stolen from us.
We humans are complicated and messy and we’ve capacity to choose how we enact our complexity, how we live, which stories we listen to and bring to life. Many years ago I heard this Native American tale, The Wolves Within it may be one you know:
An old Grandfather, whose grandson came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, said, "Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times."
He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way."
"But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"
The Grandfather solemnly said, "The one I feed." 
NZ’s darkest day, a defining moment in NZ’s history, these words have been spoken. Yet how will it define us, or how will we choose to be defined by it? Which wolf will we feed?
Will the violence of this moment define and determine how we as a nation choose to react, choose to be. Or will we define who we are by choosing for one another? Respond to such targeted violence by deciding, actively, to make the “they are us,” Jacinda Ardern spoke of real, to actively create space, offer welcome hospitality to NZ that is home for those who choose NZ as their place.
Will we choose to follow the lead of our young people who defied the authority of their schools, resisted the scorn of media, the derision of politicians and public opinion, (who seemed determined to talk about every issue but the one our young people were for) young people and act differently or there will be no future.
What is our choice? It is in our hands, each moment.
Today’s gospel is a cascade of pithy sayings, about the danger of judging others, that our actions reveal what we most treasure About those who come to hear one they admire and the repercussion of acting in accord with what they hear – of the transformation, or otherwise, of the heart. They strike me as common wisdom sayings, extracted from the gospel context they’d still apply. They don’t seem to me to be particularly ‘religious’ more common sense guidelines.
When taken out of the religious purview, they’re simply reflections of that which is known to be true through life experience. The blind leading the blind is not a safe bet. If you’re inadequately self-reflective, brashly confident in correcting, quick to judge and condemn, for you lack understanding gained only through experience you do more harm than good. What you do, how you behave expresses what’s most important to you. If you wish to emulate someone you admire, cede authority to their way of being, you have to enact what you hear to test its value and sustainability.
What difference does a religious perspective make? If you do these things from a non-religious perspective it’s pretty straight forward – by what you do, you become. You determine, decide what you will choose to become, it offers both freedom and constraint, free to choose yet limited to your own imagination, or someone else’s persuasion.
However, these sayings are part of, are woven into the tapestry of a larger and longer, deeper and broader story, told out of landscapes and contexts in and through time often times unimaginable to us. Sayings permeated with wisdom, through time wisdom distilled, wisdom filtered through experience. Wisdom that intimates there’s more to this creation in which we dwell than our imagining, there’s more in us, to what we can become than our imagining. Though bound by we need not be bound to our limitations that constrain us.
Today’s gospel sayings are included in Luke’s telling of the Jesus story. They follow in wake of Luke’s beatitudes – uncomfortable to those of us who have, not words we like to hear even as they echo in us. They follow the directive to love our enemy, act for their good, turn the other cheek, subtle yet powerfully subversive actions come to change us, our self-understanding. Come to change the way we are in the world, change the world from the way it is – to make the aspirational, seemingly unrealistic ideal, real. As you do so what you do will be made real.
I wonder if the challenge and invitation, the call and insistence in all of this is for us to live the heart of the law, for our heart not just our head to be converted. For such words to move from our heads, from being a good idea to being the way we live, something has to give or we have to give up something. Is taking this seriously a literal requirement, like cutting off hands or tearing out eyes should we sin? I suspect not but I don't imagine either that these words were spoken as a clever passing of comment. Something’s required of us, not because living by faith has to be arduous undertaking, rather living this way engenders our flourishing and the flourishing of the world around us. How are we to move from these things being a safe ideological ideal in our intellect to their being an embedded, indwelt way of being within us?
Let me illustrate with an anecdote philosopher Slavoj Zizek is fond of telling: “There was a young man who met with a psychotherapist once a week for years because he was convinced that he was a seed. Eventually, after many years, he became convinced that he was really a human being. Thanking the therapist, he returned home happy.
However, two weeks later the therapist hears a loud banging on his door. When he opens it he sees the man back again, sweating and breathing heavily.
"You have to help me," says the man, "my next door neighbours recently bought chickens, and I am terrified that they are going to eat me."
"But surely you know now that you are a human being and not a seed," replies the therapist.
"I know that," he says, "but do the chickens know?
Faith narratives and the religions that evolve from such sources tell us we can be different, we can live differently, the world can be different. We can tell ourselves we do live differently, we are changed, until we come under unexpected pressure or through circumstance beyond our control our world’s upended. Then words of our faith and aspiration once inspirational and full of meaning can seem somehow empty, a faded memory of the way things used to be.They struggle to touch our need, reach in and meet us – as if they're words of privilege, distant from us, not words speaking to the gnarly guts of what our life is now.
Is it because they're words in our head, not our heart? For them to get anywhere near our heart maybe we have to let them go, let go of them trying to mean or be something we think’s important. Let go of what we think they mean, let them go so they can speak to us, reveal to us the truth they speak – for they speak of the way things are. And come to recognise them not because we think of it but because it is indeed our experience. The irony of it is that even if it may be desirable, in fact a recommended gospel prerogative to live differently, be oriented entirely differently I'm not sure it's something we can just decide to do by dint of our own will, even with the best will in the world. If we can't do such gospel imperative, change by our own will, discover in fact we act quite oppositely to our espoused beliefs what is left for us?
Perhaps Pooh Bear can help. In the story of Pooh Bear, Pooh Bear's first introduced this way "coming downstairs now bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it." Transformation of the heart may not be something in our power to effect but it doesn’t mean we cannot be changed. It may begin by being willing to accept that there is a disjunction between what we say we believe and what we do and to pay attention. If he stopped long enough Pooh Bear may have discovered another way to come downstairs. Scary as it may seem maybe we need to stop holding tight to the seed we imagine being faithful is. Seeds are for become flourishing plants. Perhaps we’re afraid for we're not sure what we’ll become if we stop being a seed of potential, what flourishing will make of us and who God released from our bondage will be. Maybe if we stop trying to make God as we need God to be long enough, we’ll discover God with us we miss each day.
I’d like to remind you of the last words of last week’s sermon.
“But that is next week’s preacher’s problem!” Thankyou Hellen.
In preparing this sermon I quickly came to realise (as did numerous commentators) that there were at least three sermons worth of material in today’s reading. Don’t panic you won’t be listening to me for some 24 minutes!
First things first. Love as in ‘love your enemies’.
There are at least 6 kinds of love encountered in our Bible.
In the First Testament there are 2 main Hebrew words that are translated into English as "love."
The first, 'ahab, (AAHUB )is used in a variety of contexts, very much like our English word: sexual attraction, affectionate feelings between spouses / lovers, parental love for children and children for parents, love of places and special food, friendship, and finally God's love for us and human's love for God.
Ahab is the "love" of the great commandment, Love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength and the “Love your neighbour as yourself” found in Leviticus.
The second, hesed, (HEESD) is more difficult to translate because embedded in its meaning is the unbreakable covenant bond that God initiates with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants:
Hesed has the feelings of love, kindness, mercy, and affection but is defined primarily by the unconditional steadfast, loyal, faithfulness, trustworthiness of God for that covenant bond.
In the New Testament there are 4 Greek words that are translated into English as "love."
Phileo, is now commonly associated with "brotherly love," but in the Bible it is also used almost interchangeably with agape.
Charitas, is often translated as "charity," and has the sense of a generous, freely given, gift or action; grace.
Eros, is associated with sexual desire, romance and Valentine's Day.
Agape, which is closely associated with the meanings of the first Testament hesed. (HEESD) That is, with God's unconditional, unbreakable bond of love, kindness, and mercy. When Jesus quotes the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy and Leviticus above, it is agape that is used for "love."
And Agape is the word used in our text today. In this context it means a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other – the antagonist.
Nothing is held back. There is no hesitation. No calculation of costs and benefits. No expectation of receiving anything in return. Only a total desiring for the well-being of the other.
This may well mean that you might not like the other. Might oppose some of their behaviours. Might speak against some of what they stand for.
If you agape your enemies, (enemy may be better understood as hate) the way you express your dislike and opposition will also always express your total desire for their well-being.
When someone does something to us or says something to us that is disrespectful or abusive our responses are often delivered in similar vein. So often we retaliate and escalate. Instead of such a response Jesus teaches that we should somehow pause and come up with a response that doesn’t return the violence.
We need to prevent our all too common reptilian response of fight or run. We need to pause things, take a deep breath as it were and seek an inventive nonviolent response, one that seeks to maintain the mana, the dignity of the antagonist. We may well disagree with their action or words – that doesn’t matter. What matters is the manner in which we respond. It’s not easy.
There are many books available on confronting personal violence, de-escalating and managing anger. We have at our disposal many little techniques and micro skills that can assist in defusing an anger situation. They are useful and with practice can make a huge difference.
If we are not careful however, the use of these skills and techniques can become mere devices to ‘preserve the peace’ or protect ourselves – all worthy goals in and of themselves but the underlying principle of Agape is the unreserved desire for the well-being of the other and a quick fix does not honour that requirement.
So if someone hates you, curses you, or abuses you – employ the pause, seek a non-violent creative response, a response that will keep you safe from extracting an eye for an eye.
Now we come to that most difficult passage. “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also”.
We need to step back into history and place ourselves in the culture of Luke. The action Jesus describes – striking the cheek was not something "anyone" could do. This was the kind of thing only a privileged few could do. Something that those who were listening to Jesus would have witnessed and possibly experienced.
This was done by masters to their servants and slaves. It was always done by hitting with the back of the right hand across the right cheek. The blow was about asserting status and power over the other. This is not about random violence or fighting among friends or enemies. It is about rank, privilege and power.
And to preserve one's honour – one's public standing – it is crucial everything must be done according to the socially accepted protocols. The slave must obediently stand facing you without external coercion. You must strike only the right cheek; and only with the back of the right hand. Any variation on this would demonstrate that you were not in control; would be a public loss of face.
Now imagine your overlord has just slapped you on your right cheek, and without saying a word you silently turn your head to expose your left cheek. It appears that you are becoming doubly subservient; doubly accepting your master's authority over you. But you are actually rendering your master powerless!
Turning your head hides your right cheek and presents your left cheek. But the angle of your head will be such that the master can see but cannot strike your left cheek with the back of his right hand.
Lets try it.
Doing this would publicly expose the master to shame and ridicule. You would appear to be meek and servile; obediently waiting for a second blow. But the Master would be totally helpless. His only options would be to hit you with the palm of his right hand, or use his left hand, or walk away. All three would cause him to lose face.
An excellent example of a creative nonviolent response don’t you think.
The same creative response comes in giving up your shirt when your oppressor asks for your coat. There were two likely scenarios in which your coat could have been taken away. Someone demands your coat in repayment of a debt. You owe your oppressor something and since you have no land and very little money, your oppressor seeks your coat.
Now there were very clear restrictions regarding the repayment of debts. You could not leave a debtor naked at sundown no matter what he or she owed. It simply was not to be done. It was against the law.
So Jesus sets up another creative strategy. If they ask for your coat, give them your shirt too he says. The shirt in this context is the equivalent of our underwear. To give up your shirt was to be made naked. The oppressor will now be forced to deal with this new reality. No, no!" they say, "I don't want your shirt. Put it back on!" They might be so disarmed that they'll return your coat as well.
The other possibility would involve a soldier who just took whatever he wanted. The roman soldier was often brutal and regarded all non-romans as fare game. When your coat was demanded, and you also removed and offered your shirt you might well be embarrassed, but you would have publicly exposed the injustice – the injustice of having your coat taken in the first place.
Whilst it would be difficult to imagine this happening on Queen Street today (and I don’t recommend it) the case is again made for a different response. Both examples demonstrate how to agape those who hate us. Both are powerful non-violent, creative ways to expose injustice and hate.
It is this creative nonviolent inventiveness that that led Martin Luther King, Jr., to kneel down with many brothers and sisters before water hoses and snarling police dogs. Many people thought he was crazy. "Only violence can fight violence," they told him. But the authorities and the oppressors didn't know what to do with this kind of resistance. They knew the power of violence; they knew the powerlessness of victims who knew their place, but this was something they hadn't seen before: victims who refused to be victims, victims who refused to fight back with violence, victims who paused and found a creative response.
Many in the past – and present for that matter – have often viewed these passages as examples of Christion passivity. Passivity means doing nothing. Offering the other cheek, offering your underwear is doing something and something provocative. It risks greater harm in order to make a (nonverbal) statement, which requires the aggressor to take a second and more careful look at the one who is being victimized, with the possibility of a change in relationship. Perhaps another way of stating this is that we will not let the other person determine our actions – instead of reacting we respond.
In the middle third of our reading today we find Jesus starting to turn the screws – starting to drill down deeper into a more complete understanding of the ramifications of agape. If you love those who love you – so what. Even sinners love those who love them, even sinners do good and lend to those that lend to them.
The text makes it clear that in the culture of the day the sinners respond by following the rule of reciprocity – love those who love you, lend to those who lend to you. Jesus says that won’t do anymore. Give, not because you will receive the same kind of response when in need but rather give without expecting something in return. There is perhaps a higher reciprocity at work here. I give without regard to reward in kind in the knowledge that Gods Agape for all humans will suffice.
As with many of our passages today "Do not judge" is also a much-misunderstood teaching.
Jesus is NOT saying anything goes. We shouldn’t read this as meaning the church should not speak out on matters that need to be spoken about. We are clearly called to judge and to choose and act to combat injustice and oppression. We have a legitimate and moral duty to call out – especially when others are to frightened or uncaring to do so.
This is a teaching against the kind of stereotyping that is typically part of the gossipy way we pigeon-hole and stigmatize people-who-are-different-than-us. This kind of judging labels others; removes their humanity; and relieves us of the moral obligation to treat them as we would any friend or family member.
The answer? Don’t be quick to hate but try to find a way of reconciliation. Don’t be quick to punish someone who steals from you but discover why they were stealing and how people can solve that problem. Don’t be quick to judge people who beg. Why are these people begging and what can be done about it?
Jesus wants to change the way we deal with those whom would oppress us or would seek to do us harm.
If Jesus were to deliver his sermon today I wonder what inventive scenarios he might plan.
Possibly the lone man in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square.
Possibly a Gandhi.
And if he did visit us I hope he would speak to his disciples from the Pai Pai at Pari haka.
You are all brave souls turning up for church this morning.
Brave because by being here you have to listen to this gospel from Luke.
Blessed are the poor and woe to you who are rich.
Very uncomfortable stuff.
Woe to you who are rich, who are full, and those whom others speak well off – the outlook for you is not good.
I sat for a long time this week with this reading thinking what do we say about it? Do we want to be beaten up by these words?
Sure we are rich – but we give away some of our money, we help others – that is ok isn’t it?
Well, welcome to the gospel of Luke.
Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes was written for people like us – Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who recognise their poverty of spirit, their need for God in their lives.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers.
Matthew’s Beatitudes are a lot easier.
But that is not the way Luke tells it. Luke is going to make us uncomfortable all year. We have had Mary’s Magnificat, we’re going to have the rich young ruler who couldn’t give up his possessions, the rich man in hell and the poor Lazarus in heaven, the man who builds his barns full of grain and then dies suddenly, the wedding guests who can’t be bothered coming to the wedding feast, and Zacchaeus the tax collector.
Luke always emphasises Jesus’ teaching on the poor.
No escape for us this year.
However, as always it helps to understand the setting and the way this story comes about. The way Luke tells it Jesus has been travelling about with his followers for a bit. The Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day are keeping an eye on him and prior to today’s reading have pulled him up for picking grain on the Sabbath (which was classified as work and so was forbidden) and for healing a man on the Sabbath in a synagogue, also forbidden.
The Pharisees we are told “are filled with fury.”
So Jesus retreats and goes up a mountain to pray all night.
After this he selects 12 from among the followers to be “apostles.”
They are no doubt, excited, thrilled, he has chosen me – wow – but then as they come down the mountain they see the crowds coming, and they are afraid.
They have already seen the demands placed on Jesus, and they see that he has no home, he travels, he has no money, no food.
What about their families, their businesses – a reasonable question to ask – they are attracted to this dynamic man and his teaching – but give up everything to follow him?
And so Jesus looks up at his disciples and says:
blessed are you who are poor, because you have given everything up to follow me – yours is the kingdom of God – right here, right now.
And you who are hungry and worry what will we eat – blessed are you, you will be filled not only with food but with love.
And you who weep and mourn because you leave behind your families to follow me, you will laugh, laugh with joy at the new family.
And yes people will hate you on my account, they will revile you and defame you – my blessing will sustain you.
But over there – you Pharisees standing in the back there, criticising and cursing – woe to you.
You might be rich now but that is all you will ever have.
Your bellies are full now but there will come a day when you hunger.
And you laugh and scoff, but you will weep one day.
And woe to you if you listen to the false praise of these people – they don’t mean it – their ancestors praised false prophets and where did it get them.
Can you imagine the silence, the mouths open, the Pharisees melting away into the crowd, and the disciples .... what would they have felt – encouraged? I think actually they would have felt even more scared.
This is Jesus being very clear and very bold – not story telling, not being compassionate and caring for someone who is ill.
This is Jesus the prophet, standing in the tradition of Old Testament prophets and naming things as they are.
Like Jeremiah telling people to be like trees with their roots in water, not cut off from the stream, the source of life.
And so it is for Jesus’ disciples getting their job descriptions, and for us his followers of today.
Do not allow yourselves to be shrubs in the desert; but be like a tree planted by the water.
Our roots need to drink of the waters of justice and compassion, in our scripture reading and our prayer and our community sharing and worship. We need to be continually reminded and helped to follow in the way of Jesus.
We cannot do it alone.
Which is why we bravely turn up today to hear these challenging words.
What will help us move away from standing with the Pharisees, ensnared by their sense of privilege?
What will help us stand with the poor so that we are reminded of our own dependence on God?
Being here will help.
Being honest with ourselves and each other.
Allowing the words of Jesus and the words of our liturgy to sit with us.
Giving ourselves time and space to seek God’s spirit.
And being gentle with ourselves.
We are not perfect – far from it!
If we continue to seek God
We will be like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jer 17:8).
That is until next week we will be back and Luke will tell us to love our enemies.
Today’s gospel reading is like episode 2 of a Netflix series – the story is set up in the first episode – plot lines established and then in episode 2 suddenly the storyline takes an unexpected turn – just to keep you watching all the way through. If you recall last week’s gospel, the scene opener has Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. Nazareth, his home town where he grew up.
He has been away travelling and teaching and comes home and goes to synagogue, presumably with his family. He was the reader for the day – I wonder what their roster system was like? He is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and unrolls it to find the piece he wants to read; or maybe it was the piece set down for that day – we can’t be sure. Imagine the camera close up – what will he read this local boy who has suddenly become a bit famous? – a very familiar piece as it happens from Isaiah chapter 61.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Then imagine the camera panning across the congregation as we are told “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” This passage was one well known to them; it was a piece which spoke of the Messiah for whom they waited. The Messiah, the one who would redeem Israel and toss out the nasty Romans. And sure enough he says to them “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And the credits roll as people’s faces begin to change from interest and even amazement to anger. And the Netflix audience is left wondering – why? what had he said to bring about this change. Isn’t it great that he might be the One?
Our lectionary is like old fashioned TV, we have to wait till this week to see what happens. With Netflix of course we could roll right on.
Episode 2 opens a bit ambiguously – the next verse sounds like they are still welcoming what Jesus said – “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth – is this not Joseph’s son?” but it can read with a more condemning tone – as in “Is this not Joseph’s son? what a joke! who does he think he is claiming to be the Messiah. And then there is a bit of a rumbling as they realise – hang on a minute he has stopped the reading from Isaiah short – he missed off a crucial line – in fact he stopped half way through a sentence. It should read “I have come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” 
Vengeance on the Gentile invaders who sacked Jerusalem in 587 and by implication the Roman invaders now. Isaiah goes on to promise that these Gentiles, these enemies, will be the servants of the people of Israel as their cities are rebuilt. Jesus leaves all that part out. 
Then he goes on to give a sermon of sorts – he starts with a bit of a health warning – what I am about to say you won’t like – a prophet is never accepted in his hometown after all. Then he tells a couple of quick stories from the Book of Kings – a kind of flash back scene I guess – There was a famine in the land and who did the great prophet Elijah  help – not his own people but a widow from Zarephath in Sidon – that is a nasty Gentile, a foreigner; and what about the great prophet Elisha  – who did he heal? a Syrian general Naaman – you guessed it another foreigner.
Was there any more to the sermon than that? Luke doesn’t tell us but it seemed the people in the synagogue that day knew their scriptures well enough to join the dots; Jesus was highlighting the ways God and God’s prophets even in ancient times ministered to the outsider; and Jesus in editing Isaiah was doing the same. The day of vengeance is not here, but the day of release for the captives is. The day of release for those held captive by their hatred of others; for those held captive by their desire to exclude and to build walls. God’s love is for everyone, no exceptions and no questions asked.
As Susan said last week the people realized they were going to have to change. It was no longer a case of blame the Romans, blame Mr Trump, blame whichever politician is the baddie of the week.
Today, now in this synagogue, in this town, today Jesus wanted to change lives and set people free. From their own oppression of each other; from their exclusion of the outsider; from their own hatred. Especially from their hatred of those from a different religion, or a different ethnic group.  They would have to change, let go of power and assumptions.
“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up and drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of a hill on which their town was built, so they might hurl him off the cliff.” The punishment for blasphemy was indeed to be thrown off a cliff and/ or stoned to death.
Jesus, in their eyes, was a blasphemer – reinterpreting their understanding of the great prophet Isaiah. How dare he – one of their own – come and tell them they had to change.
Somehow, it is not really clear how, he walks away.
So often I think we sanitise Jesus – we turn his preaching into something sweet and nice which we can package up – love one another – of course! Paul’s famous passage about love which we also heard today – so often read at weddings because it is a great recipe for love – is of course not at all about romantic love.
It also follows on from last week’s episode from Paul about the body – and how we need all parts of the body to be valued and to work together – how? by learning about love which is patient and kind, not envious or boastful or rude.
Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is not love with a heart tied up with a bow – it is love that embraces pain and hurt and sorrow; and love that can stand up to and stare down hatred and exclusion. Maybe that is how Jesus managed to pass through the midst of them and go on his way.
He loved them, looked at them and knew them and they stepped back from killing him; this time anyway.
It wasn’t to be so 3 years later. But even then he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
What will be episode 3 in our Netflix series? What if Jesus walked in here to be the reader or the preacher. What if he chose the same passage – and said he has come here to bring good news to the poor; to release us from our captivity; to give us sight; to set us free. To set us free from our hatred; our blindness.
What or who do we hate – who would we exclude from our midst – from our family, our workplace, our church, our nation. This week as we mark Waitangi Day who would we exclude from our country?
Jesus holds us to account and invites us to lay down our fear, our self righteousness, our racism and invites us to walk with him. He offers to set us free, even when we fail time and time again.
There are lots of examples of the kind of hatred and exclusion Jesus was preaching about in our world – it is easy to see it out there – Trump’s wall; Israel’s wall; immigrants in Europe; refugees in Australia. All issues for us to be concerned about. But Jesus preached this sermon to his own people, in his own town. So let’s start again today with ourselves. And come to the table ready to be made free.
 Isaiah 61: 4
 Kenneth Bailey Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes chapter 12 p 152
 1 Kings 17:1-16
 2 Kings 5:1-14
 Charles Campbell The Word before the Powers p 50
Many years ago, 1983 to be exact, I was at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Vancouver.
A very small woman stood to preach at the main Assembly Eucharist presided over by a line up of robed church statesmen and attended by some of the most notable Christian leaders of the world at that time, all of them male – Bishop Desmond Tutu among them, he wasn't an archbishop then. The small woman's name was Lois Wilson, she was the moderator of the United Church of Canada and she spoke on body language.
From my place in the congregation two main reactions were visible: there was much fidgeting and wriggling on the one hand, and on the other a sort of frozen shock. What was this little woman going to say? I can't remember the details but I have always remembered the core of her message:
What do we want the Body of Christ, the Church, to say to the world, to say to those who are struggling for life and freedom, to those are locked in by their own fears and despair, to those who can't see the implications of their own actions? What message does the body language of the church give to them?
Feminist discourse was just beginning to make an impact, but even so, to talk about 'body-language' was a brave departure from the usual sermon topics. 'Bodies' were more likely to be thought of as carnal, earth-bound and sinful by comparison to the spiritual-gnosis sought after by those who would have us look toward heaven rather than toward earth; they were female and a bit grubby – a source of temptation for men, still. So you can imagine the impact of this small woman setting out to talk about the 'body-language' of the church to this august gathering!
Bodies have been troublesome for women for centuries: many of us grew up with the idea that our body was not perfect, that we did not meet the ideal body-shape to fit what was beautiful or attractive. Many women, young and old, suffered physically as well as emotionally as they tried to control their bodies. We still hear, even today, of girls struggling with anorexia, or bulimia, or one extreme diet after another. Body image seems to be issue for more girls than boys though of course not exclusively.
I have never forgotten the first time I was challenged to think of the church in relation to body-image! I find myself reflecting on the notion often as I wonder about the church and this community in particular: we speak of ourselves as the 'Body of Christ' and I wonder what our body-language says today.
I giggle nervously when I read the passage we heard from Paul's letter to the Church in Corinth this morning! He was very brave, or foolish to use the human body as an image of community relational health. Corinth was at the crossroads of trade routes and a rather wild place known for its vice throughout the world of the time. Paul wasn't too keen on physical bodies, certainly sex was off the agenda as far as he was concerned. If you couldn't manage celibacy then, and only then, marriage was the better part. But he did use a body image to impress on his hearers their mutual need for each other, and the need for mutual respect. The body was not complete without all its parts – the weaker bits as well as the well functioning bits – they all have their place and all need respectful care.
So it is with the Body of Christ: no matter our cultural background, no matter our theological perspective, no matter our place of origin, no matter our gender, no matter our social location, our wealth or education. We need each other to be a fully functioning body. So while I struggle with Paul's attitude to women in general, he is a bit of a misogynist, I applauded his struggle to hold together the social attitudes he grew up with, the contexts into which he speaks, and the challenging, life changing epiphany of his conversion to following the Jesus Way. It was not surprising he slid away a little from his earliest enthusiasms regarding the freedoms to be found for women and slaves as the Body of Christ! He seemed to feel the need to uphold the reputation of the Christian Way in the midst of very different social morés when it came to women.
Don't think that it was easy to preach the message of Jesus in those times of oppression and persecution. We know Paul spent time in prison, in chains for what he was saying. We know from our own experience that speaking across the grain of 'common wisdom' brings, more often than not, ridicule and resistance – we only have to think of our how long it has taken to get climate change onto the political agenda for change, and how many deniers there are still who promote fear of change to the common practices we are used to; think of those who sail the seas and seek to protect the oceans and sea-living species from the ravages of fishing and continuing oil exploration, and from our propensity to use the oceans as a rubbish dump; think of those who proclaim paying a wage sufficient to live on is too expensive and will erode profits.
The message Paul wants his hearers to understand is that we need each other, that together we are the Body of Christ. Alone we are not The Body, alone we cannot do what is required to ensure the freedoms to be found through the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth are distributed to everyone; the hope to be found in the new-life of the risen Christ; the confidence boosting affirmation we are loved by a generous God.
Paul was a great PR man for this new movement of Christ-followers. And like all good PR people today he knew how to appeal to the hopes and aspirations of his audience. He knew reassurance and hope were more likely to appeal than fear (though he could use that too), he knew joy and love and the fulfilment of dreams were likely to get a hearing. Body-language becomes his dominant motif for persuading his hearers to listen!
He knew his own body was not perfect, just as most of us feel and think we know our bodies are not perfect, He encourages us to love each other anyway – that is together with all our imperfections and self-doubts that we can the 'Body of Christ' bringing the good-news of God's life and hope to others as well as to ourselves. We may not be the perfect body, but together we are good enough to do what is required for love and justice.
For this core message of the gospel, for the expectation of what that Body is to be doing, we turn to the gospel writers, in particular to Luke this morning. As Luke tells the story, Jesus re-emerges from the desert after his Epiphany,' filled with the Spirit'. After teaching around and about for a while he comes to his home-town and attends the synagogue like any good Jew, and reads he from the scroll of Isaiah that sets out the agenda for his ministry: economic sustenance for the poor, freedom for those captive by unjust systems, insight to those blinded by the status quo and empty promises, and liberation to those living under oppressive colonisation!
Initially what he said was well received by those who were in the Synagogue with him, until that is, they realised he was challenging them to change their life and relationships and to do something about the situation in their town too. He was not just talking about other places other people and other situations – when they realised this they 'were filled with rage', Luke writes, 'and drove him out of town'.
Saying words about love and justice, peace and respect is not enough.
They are a beginning but only that; the 'truth' of what we mean by them will come to light by our body-language; by what we do collectively as the Body of Christ and as individual members of that body.
I am challenged, as this new year gets underway, wondering what the body-language of St Matthew's will say this year. I am wondering who will be affirmed by what we do; what priorities will be evident by how we enact our statement of aspirations.
I know that it is me, along with you who can ensure that our body-language is in line with Isaiah's message that Jesus read that day in the synagogue. Jesus set out for his followers, and for the townsfolk who knew him, what he believed the good-news of God to be about and what it meant to be filled with the life-giving, energising Spirit of God.
I am looking forward to working with you as we shape the body-language of St Matthew's this year.
January 13, 2019
Baptism of Jesus Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It marks the next step in Jesus’ life as we patch together a sketchy biography from gospel accounts. First Jesus prophesied birth, then his naming in Jewish ritual of belonging, last week his significance honoured by Magi outsiders to the tradition. Each is hint and clue in this building story of Jesus’ significance. Today Jesus is baptised by John the baptiser. John prophecies of One to come who’s to inaugurate something new, new yet in continuity with the God of Jewish tradition. In short order Jesus comes, one of many to be baptised with a baptism of repentance, yet only upon Jesus, Luke tells us, does the Holy Spirit descend like a dove, “You are my Son the beloved, with you I am well pleased,” are the words bestowed upon Jesus from heaven.
After forty days being led by the Holy Spirit in wilderness places, Jesus returns. Almost immediately people are drawn to Jesus, to his teaching, as if mantle of leadership is bestowed on him. For those who tell Jesus story, his baptism marks a significant transition in his life. As if it’s a revelation moment for Jesus from which he steps into his identity, his vocation.
So it is, the Christian tradition asserts, for those who choose to be Christ followers. Baptism was a marker point of identity in Jesus’ life, so it is for those who want to emulate Jesus way of living and being and choose baptism. “In baptism,” the baptismal service declares “you are marked as Christ’s own forever.” Baptism marks a significant transition. Over time it’s come to be understood as a requirement for discipleship, by extension a requirement for inclusion as God’s own. This can lend some anxiety to the sacrament of baptism. Doubt lingers – if baptism puts people “in” are those not baptised somehow “out” of God’s care? Does this suggest a human institution has power to deem some included and thereby some excluded, denied fullness of God relationship?
But listen to the beautiful words of Isaiah, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters … they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, the flame shall not consume you.” And why? “Because you are precious in my sight and honoured and I love you. Do not fear, for I am with you I will bring … I will gather you … everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
These words historically predate Jesus’ baptism. Jesus inhabits the tradition from which they come. Through, out of this tradition, redolent with words of love, of desire for relationship, John urges people to be baptised and “all the people and Jesus also” choose to be baptised. John urges people to turn to the One who calls, creates and loves them into being. Urges them to respond, accept their identity as one’s beloved, one’s who are to bring such ‘God-ness’ to life. God desires, initiates and gifts identity and relationship yet the choice to engage is left in human hands. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus initiates with his choice, the direction of movement is then from God to Jesus, the Holy Spirit descends and a voice comes from heaven. Jesus’ identity is affirmed, he’s named as God’s uniquely beloved.
Is our response necessary for God to love us? Is choosing to follow a religious way necessary for us to be included in God’s care? In his book ‘The Great Partnership,’ Jonathan Sacks writes, “The statement that every human being is in God’s image precedes both the universal covenant with Noah in Gen 9 and the particular covenant with Abraham in Gen 17, to tell us our humanity precedes our religious identity, whatever that may be.” Jonathan at time of writing was Chief Rabbi, firmly located in the Jewish faith. As Christians we’d claim a further covenant made in and through Christ, all such covenants are human response to God’s initiative.
If our being human, made in God’s image grants us divine reflection, what of religion? Does baptism make a difference? The church understands baptism as the sacrament through which people are made members of the body of Christ, the church. United in Christ, they gain access to God, to salvation, are saved. It can’t be denied - this expresses the tradition of the Christian church and its practices of faith. With integrity, the church seeks by this to express the immense gift of God in Christ. Efficacious is a word used of baptism, something changes.
Baptised, not baptised, religious, not religious, in our journey through life does it make a difference? If you’re baptised, religious, it makes a difference, if you’re not it’s a moot point. Baptism marks a beginning, perhaps of an intention to orient our living in a particular way, a decision to look for and expect to find divine fingerprint all over creation. The “quite how?” well, let me leave you with part of a poem. A bit tongue in cheek, it names some of the challenges of joining a Christianity of journey rather than of destination, it’s by comic poet, entertainer and all-round lover of words Jude Simpson:
I ask you, what’s the answer, and you just ask me questions,
and I’m like, “hello, I thought you were God?”
Can’t I just download you, pay-as-I-go to decode you
- a quick fix listen on my i-pod?
I ask you, what’s the answer, and you say, “where does the wind blow?”
Well, if Dylan couldn’t find it, then I won’t get too far.
What’s with all this mystery? How can you say, “follow me”
when I don’t even know where you are?
Your religion needs a makeover, you’ve got to de-clutter.
Make it softer, gooier and spreadable like butter.
I need a faith I can talk about and not sound like a nutter.
You ought to be easy to follow.
Like, a hop-on-and-off open-top bus ride,
a manual with A to Z tabs down the side,
I want a sat-nav path to heaven, not a Lonely Planet guide.
I wish you were easy to follow.
I want a Roman road map to instant glory
a happy-ending-ever-after chick lit story
and you just tell me another foggy allegory
featuring corn and sheep and wine and clay pots.
What are you like? Do you want followers or not?
Far be it from me to tell you what’s what,
but if you did make it easier I’m sure you’d get a lot more believers, Jesus.
Give me bite-sized thoughts in a faith shape sorter,
No more spilt blood or living water,
just a pint-sized god who’s a straight talker.
Make it easy to follow.
I want fruit-flavoured shots of the Holy Spirit,
bite-sized, trite truths in Boyband lyrics
“love” and “above” – yeah, that should fill it.
Make it easy to follow.
I want facts on a plate – don’t want to have to question any,
artificial roses every 14th of February.
I want simple faith – blind if necessary.
Why aren’t you easy to follow?
You say, “you are not my servant, now you are my friend”.
You say, “I will be with you until the bitter end”.
And I’m like, “why bitter? – I wanted happiness on prescription.
Isn’t that the whole point of getting religion?
And besides, friendship’s harder – can’t I just buy the subscription?”
Can’t you be easy to follow?
Give me a clear-cut structure, not a friendship’s fragilities,
favourable rights with few responsibilities.
I could follow that plan – yeah – religiously.
That would be easy to follow.
I want Quicktime cut-price broadband access.
Simple principles, easily practiced.
Directly transactional prayers – the fact is,
my time is precious, so why should I work?
Why should treasure always require a search?
I want a message that’s acceptable without having to plead it,
that’ll make people instantly realise they need it.
Yeah, thanks for the Bible – but have you tried to read it?
You need to be easy to follow.
I want all the answers set out in a paperback
of less than fifty pages, in the buy-now-read-it-later rack
I’ll skim it on the train down to visit Auntie Kate
and back – nice and easy to follow.
Everyone will warm to its convenient slimness.
It’ll be easily digestible and provoke a certain tingliness,
and every answer will be one sentence long, universally applicable,
and in English.
That would be easy to follow.
You see, I think you need to focus and refine your vision,
if you want to market the brand they call “Christian”.
I say, “give me clarity”, you say, “will you marry me?”
With all due respect, Jesus, I don’t think you were cut out for religion. 
Today is the feast of the Epiphany when we hear story of the three wise men, or Magi, or astrologers. Actually the number of them isn’t specified. They follow a trail traced by celestial sign to a place, at a time, where a person of moment in the course of earthly history, is born. We include in our faith story the telling of these ones who come from outside the story, from afar. Of ones learned in reading the signs of the time, who see written in the rhythm and spin of the stars, in the wisdom and word of the wise ones of old the coming of a king, a leader of significance in a tradition not their own. We tell of long travelling ones who choose to go toward, to see the coming to birth of such significant one. Recognition causes them to prostrate and pay homage. Now, you could say it was simply a canny move, for if indeed a new king is born, what better way to make alliances than this? To broker relationship and potential future trade deals. If so, it’s interesting that Magi, or astrologers, or wise ones are sent – unless their society was one that traded in wisdom.
Perhaps this tale is one of those stories that may not have actually happened but nevertheless is true. All number of curious investigations have been undertaken by people who’ve sought to prove scientifically and categorically that this actually happened, and it may have. Yet, if the context of our journey in faith is to wholeness and holiness in God, what has this story to teach us?
One Christian tradition interprets this Magi visitation as testifying to Jesus significance, foreshadowing Jesus’ Messiah identity. Matthew uses wise and learned ones from outside the frame of Judaic tradition to identify Jesus as the One prophesied to come. Its right and fitting that they acknowledge and prostrate before Jesus. After all the heavens themselves portend Jesus’ birth, for it’s by cosmic sign of guiding star that the footsteps of those who know how to read such sign are guided.
How do we ‘translate’ this story into today’s context, make sense of it in our journey in this time? I wonder who we’d cast as Magi, astronomers, those of wisdom in our day and age. We construct our understanding of the world we live in differently now from then. We consider ourselves far more knowledgeable about the physical world, so likely scoff at the notion of future telling by the movement of stars. Even if such future telling were done in conversation with prophetic, wisdom texts of long ago it’s not rendered more credible an exercise. Who do you consider to be the wise ones reading the signs of our times – social or political commentators, scientists, historians, theologians, artists, politicians, academics? After some puzzling I’m not sure I know. The more educated or trained or skilled people become it seems the narrower their field of expertise they become expert at very small and focussed things.
By compare, the Magi in today’s tale seem to have eye on a pretty big picture. Looking back and looking forward, they include, expect, seek to know, to understand a pattern in cosmic events over time that’s shaped past and will influence future. They know how and are willing to cooperate with, to trust themselves to the unfolding of this new thing, this event to take place. Open to wisdom, she teaches them there are far greater forces in heaven and earth than can be imagined, not for them to tame but for them to join themselves to. Through which they more deeply indwell the world they occupy.
Maybe in our today context if enough focussed skilled people gathered together they could create a bigger picture perspective from which to understand events, patterns that have shaped past, will and are influencing future. Assuming such a collection of experts was able to communicate meaningfully with one another and be willing to contribute their expertise beyond their specialty to benefit a cause beyond their own.
Or have we lost interest in a bigger picture world? With so much detail in our little picture world are we already almost overwhelmed. Maybe with all our expertise and knowingness we’ve given up really believing there’s any force greater than that of human ingenuity and power. Scanning the political and social landscape of our world at the moment, we might be given cause to consider.
Take the Trump phenomenon of selfish self-regard. We might abhor his strutting pride in playing loose and easy with truth and morality, his thumbing nose derision of accountability for his behaviour and flagrant gut trusting decisions imperilling the world. Scapegoat him as isolated example but I’m beginning to wonder whether such narcissistic priority isn’t leaching into our world. Or maybe it’s always been there, it’s just now become publicly acceptable for unapologetic self-seeking behaviour and attitude to be made overt on the world’s social and political stage. How often do we hear people, nations, alliances saying, we’re doing this because it’s good for us, seemingly without conscience or consideration for the repercussions or the impact of such action, especially on those with little or no power. How many countries are choosing for political leadership that promises self-preservation, inwardly self-focused protectionism against the outsider, against relationships that don't immediately gratify or be of benefit to them?
This way of acting seems to be gaining acceptability. Does choosing this way indicate we’ve given up believing we’ve connection in common with those different from us, with those gone before us, with those yet to come, with mutual responsibility each to the other? Given up believing there’s really any power/force that can influence or change the way things are with which we can cooperate and trust ourselves?
This Magi story of outsiders is also interpreted as foreshadowing a greater inclusion of those known as God’s chosen people, foreshadowing the inclusion of Gentiles, foreshadowing for Christians what becomes Christianity. From an insider Christian position we speak of God opening the boundaries to include more people. But what if we have this back to front? What if this tale’s rather to teach insiders than proffer promise to outsiders? For insiders to learn to see outsiders as also gift bearers – that those who see otherwise to us bring gift of our world seen differently. Open insiders to perceive a world deeper, wider, wiser than we imagined. Divine presence revealed in ways unimagined beyond the boundaries we create.
What is it the Magi seek when they read the stars; examine the texts of prophets, words and wisdom of sages gone by? Labelled as wise ones, are they seekers of wisdom? Ones open to deeper knowing, willing to learn, consider, perhaps embrace new ways to understand and perceive life, the world. Wisdom, that something which eludes the grasp of the intellect – shared in common, perhaps with differing words we express our encounter, yet even so when wisdom is spoken or spoken of it’s something we recognise, despite difference in dialect.
Matthew chose to include this story of outsiders. Unexpectedly, not by the usual route, from outside sources of tradition these outsiders search. Not exactly sure what they’re looking for they ask for assistance, they’re open to the knowledge and wisdom of another tradition, open to learn, open to delight, express joy in finding what they’re seeking, openly generous in sharing, giving of their abundance. These Magi of wisdom lineage are able to know when they’ve found what they’re looking for. Their seeing reveals this to be made real, the wisdom they sought is alive in the world – for Matthew in form of the infant Jesus. They come, prostrate, honour with gifts and depart. They’re not converted. We’ve no idea if they’re changed at all. By another route they return to the place that is home.
For Matthew these outsiders are necessary. Included in our story they reveal ourstory, of wisdom come to birth, present, with us. Wisdom seeking people recognise this, are willing to align themselves with it, acknowledge leadership of those who live and guide this way. It’s a leadership unlike that which predominates in our world. It’s a leadership that’s threat to those who lead as Herod does.
It wasn’t complicated what these wise ones did, they chose to take time to notice the world around them, to see and recognise in the world, patterns and shifts that revealed wisdom and augured change. Change taking place in real time. They chose to digress from their ordinary lives to act. Their acting reveals the presence of wisdom in the tangible knowable, flesh and blood vulnerable of daily life. Before this these wise ones pay homage in wonder – at the confluence of history and universe and holiness made real.