SERMONS 2020

A Revolutionary Christmas

December 27, 2020

Stephen Jacobi

Christmas 1     Luke 2:22-40 

Well, here I am speaking to you today from up here, courtesy of the Vicar who needs a quiet day after all the services this week!

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Are You Prepared to Be Shocked by Christmas?

December 20, 2020

Susan Adams

Advent 4     Oscar Romero Liturgies of Life     Luke 1:26-30 

This week we return to what we have come to consider the traditional Christmas stories. Last week it was all about John, kinsman of Jesus, pointing toward the one who would come to change the world as it was known and experienced. 

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Third Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2020

Wilf Holt

Advent 3

#AdventWord

December 6, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Advent 2     Isaiah 40:1-11     Mark 1:1-8

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

I love the gospel of Mark. It is short, fast paced, focused and to the point. No fluff, no wasted words. No birth story – we have to go to Luke and Matthew for that. 

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What is Hope?

November 29, 2020

Cate Thorn

Advent 1     Isaiah 64:1-9     Mark 13:24-37

 

Today marks Advent One and the theme is hope.

So let’s begin with an easy question, shall we? What is hope?

If we look to today’s gospel, hope, we might presume, resides the other side of suffering darkness, of stars falling and heaven being shaken, in words that will not pass away. Beware, keep alert, keep awake – hope is not yet, not in what is.

 

If ‘in biblical reference we do trust’ when searching what is hope, we might find ourselves in Romans 8 that reads “for in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” In hope we were saved; hope that is seen is not hope; if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience – hope in this context appears to be something we’re quite passive before.

 

What about hope in the context we find ourselves? Some of you may know that for the last couple of years I’ve participated in an online community of Deep Pacific Change Agents. Every 6 weeks a group of us, mainly from Australia and NZ, ‘meet’ via Zoom. It’s hosted by an American woman, Carol Sanford of some international renown. Carol shares her thinking and challenges us to test it, not to unthinkingly trust it. We learn together as we share and test her propositions through our lived experience. We met a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by a question she posed. It went something like this “How often do we work on something we don’t know how to think about?” “How often do we work on something we don’t know how to think about?”

 

Is this nonsense, how is it possible to work on things you don’t know how to think about? Mind you how do you hope in something that is not seen!

 

Let us consider … what do we want the impact of our life to be? The life we’re currently living, by the grace of God and good health, we’ll continue to live for some time. Yet we don’t know what, or perhaps how our life will play out. Yes, we can strategize and plan and imagine its shape – but we don’t know what it will actually be. And the longer we live the more we realise the unlikely, unexpected surprising happens more often than not. How many 5 year plans made since 2015 included a 2020 Covid-19 global pandemic?

 

Say we want our life to contribute into the world – for good. Maybe we can be more specific – for the planet/the homeless/jobless/to relieve child poverty, for our whanau, for our community. Each of these points to a life lived toward something beyond us, for a greater cause.

 

The reality is that what we do emerges from who we are – as individuals, as groups, as entities. Our doing emerges, expresses our thinking, our understanding, our learning. How much time do we invest paying attention to this?

 

Because if we want/imagine/hope for something – a way for the world to be that is unlike the way it is – for this to come into being, to be the work we do, the impact of our life, it requires us to be able to pay attention to how our thinking outworks and to learn to think differently. Because our habits, our ways of thinking, is creating our current reality.

 

When I pose the question, “What is hope?” I pose it here. Not into a vacuum but into a Christian context. A context that tells a story of God with us, that we’re divinely companioned. The question of hope therefore is posed into a context of presence, not absence. The reading we hear from Isaiah today is a lament. In this tradition the lament is understood to be a “profound statement of faith in God from the midst of utter human hopelessness … the worshipper prays in the midst of [their] pain” [1], believing their condition is cared about, trusting the outcome to be held in God, that they’re not abandoned. What is hope, in this context? Might it suggest hope is about having courage to remain present in all of life’s challenges? Even in deepest despair a peculiar courage and resolve arises – for something deeper resides, holds and grounds us.

 

The lament, we hear, is a profound statement of faith. In the context of Christian faith, what has faith to say of hope? Again, if we turn to the bible, our search might lead us to Hebrews 11 which links hope with faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Faith is assurance, conviction and understanding of things hoped for and not seen. Again hope seems something we’re passive before, faith is a trusting dependency that God will enact that which is hoped for. Could this be a way to interpret the world so to make sense of our human experience? Looking back we’ve created a story and we continue to tell it in like form into the future.

 

Yet “What is hope?” How about we ask, what is something we hope for? Say, a world without suffering? A world where honest, truthful mutually beneficial exchange prevails rather than one of incessant wrangling for power? Speaking to such aspiration Yuval Harari, author, Israeli public intellectual and historian proposes “Truth and power can travel together only so far. Sooner or later they go their separate ways. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions. If you want to know the truth at some point you will have to renounce power. You will have to admit things … that will anger allies, dishearten followers or undermine social harmony. … Scholars throughout history found this dilemma; do they serve power or truth? Should they aim to unite people by making sure everyone believes in the same story or should they let people know the truth even at the price of disunity?

 

As a species,” he asserts, “humans prefer power to truth … we spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it – and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control. Therefore if you dream of a society in which truth reigns supreme and myths are ignored, you have little to expect from Homo Sapiens.” [2]

 

Interesting, a little discomforting – maybe this too is a looking back, interpreting of human experience to create a story that continues to be told into the future. Are we willing to consider that what we hope for, more often than not, is founded on what we know and it’s prejudiced by a human preference for power over truth? Most of what we hope for is what we see. And it’s creating this world we occupy.

 

So what of hope?

Perhaps hope give us courage to live with what is, with the way things are, plans and expectations disconcertingly interrupted, courage to remain present even in the suffering caused by living fully. For “we do not hope for what we have” Thomas Merton reminds us. “Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them. It shows us that we have something to work for, and teaches us how to work for it.” [3]

 

In this season of Advent on this Sunday of hope, if we want things, our world to be otherwise, maybe it’s time to pay attention, to be alert, keep awake to our habits and ways of thinking, for in doing so we will pay attention what we do and it might make all the difference to and in the world.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/isa64.html

 

[2] Yuval Noah Harari 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2019, 281-282.

 

[3] Thomas Merton No Man Is an Island New York: Harvest, 1983, 13-1

Waiting

November 8, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Ordinary 32     Amos 5:18-24     Matthew 25:1-13

 

Today’s parable of the waiting bridesmaids might bring to mind the waiting that has gone on this week. 

Our own politicians waiting for the final election count; 

a certain other country waiting for their votes to be counted; 

Cate is waiting to become a grandmother again.

Think of the waiting you did this week – in traffic; waiting for an answer to an email; for some news – good or not so good. 

 

The bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable were waiting for the bridegroom.

He will come when the dowry negotiations have been concluded with the bride’s father. 

Then the festivities can begin.

The bridesmaids needed lamps, oil lamps to light the way from the house of the bride to the bridegroom’s where the wedding banquet is held. 

(Notice the bride is not even mentioned…)

Five of the bridesmaids have spare oil, and five do not. 

The bridegroom is late; and when he arrives the five with the spare oil will not share with the five who have. 

And the procession leaves without them.

Doesn’t seem like a model of Christian behaviour does it? 

They are told to go and buy more oil, well obviously the oil merchant stores will not be open in the middle of the night, and when they finally get there the door is shut and the bridegroom says “I do not know you”. 

 

So what happened to “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, …but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. (Mt 6:19), no hoarding of oil there.

and “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Mt 7:7), here the door is shut. [1]

 

This parable seems the height of unfairness; what bridegroom arrives at midnight anyway, and the so called foolish bridesmaids had enough oil for a reasonable day of bridesmaid duties. 

And how could he say he did not know them, presumably, they are friends or relations of the bride. 

 

So we don’t get anywhere trying to sort out this parable in a logical kind of way.

Jesus’ parables are never logical, but this one is particularly frustrating. 

 

Let’s think for a moment about the oil. 

The bridesmaids needed to take extra oil; like trampers taking extra water for a tramp; students studying well ahead of exams; investors investing wisely. 

You could always take the risk, carry a little less water and know that another group will bail you out and share their water. 

You could borrow your friends’ notes and cram at the last minute. 

You could invest all your money in high risk investments, after all you get a better return that way. 

Until one day the other trampers don’t come, or won’t share; your friend’s notes aren’t as good as doing the work yourself; and there is a financial crisis across the world. 

 

The oil is something each person has to have and can’t borrow from others. 

We have to be ready, while we wait. 

Let’s pause a moment there and look wider.

This parable is told right at the end of Jesus’ ministry on the Mount of Olives where the disciples are gathered after a day of testing the Pharisees and other leaders in the Temple. 

Jesus has even promised that the Temple will not last. 

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will (the destruction of the Temple) be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

 

So tension is high.

Going out to be with this bridegroom is going to take some courage.

What happens the next night when the disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane? 

They fall asleep. 

So if these disciples are going to be ready, what do they need?

What is it that we need to take with us?

The prophet Amos is pretty clear, it will not be our burnt offerings, sacrifices, and religious rituals and songs; these will see the door slammed in our faces. 

Amos says instead “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”. (5:24). 

 

Amos is a prophet in a very divided time for the people of Israel (8th C BC).

Amos names what he sees and berates the people.

One of my commentaries said this

“Amos comes from a world of sharp divisions … the people of Israel are divided into two groups: those who will be ruled only by a descendant of David (the former king) – no matter how corrupt – and those who will be ruled only by someone they hope is like David, or who at least shows the promise of who David was on his good days.” [2]

Sound familiar?!

The “day of the Lord”, the time of judgement, will be darkness unless justice rolls down like water. 

 

So let’s get back to the oil.

The commentaries I read said the oil was either our “deeds of love and mercy” [3]; or our faith [4] and so a life lived in faith means the bridegroom will open the door. 

The problem with that idea is that you end up measuring – have you done enough deeds of love and mercy, have you got enough faith. 

How full is your lamp? 

 

And I don’t think God is in the measuring business. 

I think God is in the desiring business.

How much do you want to go to the party?

Do you want to go enough to make sure there is oil in the lamp, so you can get there? 

 

Or what if, as Debie Thomas points out, the bridesmaids had decided to go anyway without any oil.

What if they took the risk and walked by the light of the others’ lamps.

What if they had trusted enough to arrive at the door on time but empty handed. [5]

I reckon the door would have stayed open. 

 

How is the oil in your lamp doing? 

Do you want to go to the party, to the banquet table? 

The bridegroom’s only question is how much do you want to be here? 

 

What might get in the way of our wanting to go to the party? 

Thinking we haven’t been invited? all are invited. 

Being busy, distracted, fearful, worrying about what to wear? all are invited.

Getting lost in duty and rituals as Amos describes? remember it’s a party we are invited to.

 

Bring the oil, bring the desire and then the door will be propped wide open.

If it feels like your oil has run dry, walk with someone whose lamp is burning and the door will be propped wide open.

Then we will see justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

 

 

 

[1] Sermon “Filling Stations” Dr Anna Carter Florence Nov 4 2007 https://day1.org/weekly-broadcast/5d9b820ef71918cdf2002671/view

 

[2] Wil Gafney in Feasting on the Word Year A vol 4, p226

 

[3] M Eugene Boring, “Matthew” in The Interpreter’s Bible volume 8, p449-451, Abingdon Press, Nashville 1995 

 

[4] Robert Farrar Capon The Parables of Judgement, ch12, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, 1989

 

[5] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay  01 November 2020

The Vocab of Faith

November 1, 2020

Helen Jacobi

All Saints' Day     1 John 3:1-3     Matthew 5:1-12

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

Think of all the new vocabulary we have added into our mental dictionary this year – PPE, clusters, bubbles, team of 5 million, going hard and early, epidemiologist, coronavirus, genome testing, serology, fake news, conspiracy theories, lockdown, level four, three, two, one, social distancing …

 

Words that when we hear them in the future, after all this is over, will evoke lots of memories and experiences. Key words that define this year.

 

Of course there are other things that define this year – different things for each one of us – some have joys to celebrate – births, marriages, overcoming the adversity of the year; some have sorrows to remember – our loved ones who have died – some of whom will be named in the prayers; others have loss of jobs and incomes; loss of opportunities; being constrained by our inability to travel the world to see family and friends.

 

The words of Jesus we heard today in our gospel reading are key words that define the community of followers of Jesus.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” it begins.

 

Mysterious sounding poetry. What does that even mean?

 

One of our problems with these phrases is that they have become so clichéd that we don’t hear them at all.

 

Another problem is that we hear them as commandments – with a “should” added in – you should be meek, pure and poor. Doesn’t sound very attractive does it.

 

Susan told us last week that there are 613 actual commandments in the Old Testament and Jesus chose just two as the most important – love God and love your neighbor.

 

The Beatitudes – as this list of sayings is called – are not commandments but descriptions of the community of people who love God and love neighbor.

 

Stanley Hauerwas says “This is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus.” [1]

 

And they are not about us as individuals, but about us in community, with the diversity of gifts we share.

 

Let’s try hearing the reading in a different way from “The Message” Bible:

 

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule.

 

4 You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

 

5 You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

 

6 You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. God is food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

 

7 You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 

8 You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 

9 You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

 

This is a description – in the present – of what we are – and what we can be if we trust in the grace and goodness of God. But it still doesn’t seem very attractive because we don’t want to be at the end of our rope, to have lost someone, to be content with what we have – we want more, and to do better.

 

We are driven by the sense that if we work hard or work more we will do better and achieve more, and then the income we receive or the house we can afford are all due to our own hard work.

 

Michael Sandel, philosopher and author of The Tyranny of Merit: what’s become of the common good [2] – would say that our income and achievements are largely due to our parents, their income, and the luck of the draw of having innate skill and abilities. Not much to do with our hard work at all. And discovering this to be true, he says, makes us grateful and humble and the kind of person one might find in amongst the followers of Jesus. He doesn’t mean that we should stop our work, or our creativity, or our striving to make the world a better place but when we do achieve something we realise with humility it is not all down to us.

 

In the church world the “prosperity gospel” – where people believe that if they are wealthy then God has blessed them and if they are poor then God has not – is a sign of meritocracy gone crazy.

 

It always puzzles me that prosperity gospel preachers have clearly never read the Beatitudes.

 

Let’s take the Beatitudes, even though they are puzzling and unsettling. Let’s be unsettled by them and reminded to approach life with humility and gratitude.

 

Being grateful is taught as part of mindfulness these days, but being grateful is a core mark of our Christianity.

 

We give thanks today for our loved ones who have died – we give thanks for their lives, their sorrows and their joys. We give thanks that we can gather for worship at all, go to the movies, go to the opera; that we can sing and celebrate.

 

And we pray for our world that is suffering and mourning.

We give thanks for the formation or our own government and the freedom to vote in elections and referendums.

 

As Susan said last week we can now think about how we can be part of the world we voted for; what can we do in our community to further the goals we all have of alleviating poverty and saving the planet.

 

And sometimes that might start with our own attitudes that creep in – can we catch ourselves thinking – if those with low incomes just worked a bit harder they would achieve more – and instead remember that we are fortunate because of many factors, not just our own work. We give thanks with humility and gratitude, and seek to be amongst the blessed who are comforted, and who will see God.

 

 

[1] Matthew p 61 

 

[2] https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/events/2020/09/08/michael-sandel-the-tyranny-of-merit

What Matters Most to You??

October 25, 2020

Susan Adams

Ordinary 30     Thessalonians 2:1-8     Matthew 22:34-46

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” The Pharisees asked Jesus.

 

And we know he replied “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” ... and then went on saying “the second is like it; you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” This is what Jesus seemed to think mattered most!

 

But did you know there were 613 commandments for him to choose from! I didn’t till a few weeks ago ... or if I did once I had forgotten. Clearly it was a question to test him, we would know that even if the writer of Matthew’s gospel hadn’t told us! And the testing questions went on between Jesus and the Pharisees with Jesus asking them “what do you think of the Messiah? Who’s son is he?” Perhaps a bit of intellectual rivalry, or antler-clanking going on do you think?

 

No one was really expected to remember all 613 commandments – 365 of which were negative (thou shalt not) and 243 positive (thou shalt). So it would appear that Jesus! following the usual practice of the teachers! had clustered them into two groups, which it seems he thought were pretty much the same! I find that very interesting. It is unambiguous: loving God and loving neighbour were like one another.

 

We have just had a general election. 

Which commitment, policy, or promise in the election mattered most to you? What was most important – sufficient to influence your vote? Your tikanga and your life experience will undoubtedly influence your answer to that.

 

Some of us will be happy with the outcome of the election, and some not so happy. Some of us will see our concerns on the top of the ‘to do’ list and some will not.

 

As I was preparing this sermon I was prompted to ask myself how many commitments/promises were made by the various parties? It seems! according to one analyst! that there were well over 600. When I tried to find out more detail it was difficult but I saw that analysts clustered the various promises under headings. Headings such as Economy and Finance, Climate, Tax, Children, Housing, Covid-19, Environment, Culture and Community, and more ... Under each of the numerous headings there were further lists of promises/commitments. It caused me to ask myself which, of the uncountable areas named as commitments and promises, I had focused on when deciding which party to vote for: what mattered most to me?

I can admit, when I tried to check out the range of possibilities, I wasn’t aware of many of them! They had passed by my notice!

 

We assume that the Pharisees were well schooled in the law as set out in the Torah, we assume they knew 613 of them. They were after all contemporary ethicists (rather than theologians) concerned with how people lived, and supposedly concerned with encouraging people to live the law well and honourably. Jesus was, it would seem from the big picture we have of his relationship with the Pharisees, a bit of a challenge to this. The writer of Matthew’s gospel suggests Jesus doesn’t think they do too well at living out what they preach and teach. In the verses that immediately follow today’s reading (23:3ff) Jesus has the temerity to say to his followers, “do whatever they teach you, and follow it, but do not do what they do, for they do not do what they teach...”

 

In our society we are pretty hot on walking the talk: doing what we say. We hold our politicians to account for their promises and shout and holler when we think they are not living up to them. But I am challenged to wonder how I am living in response to the primary concerns I identified and that shaped my vote last week.

 

The society we have shaped is multi-layered: individual relationships, family networks, local organisations, and national organisations of which parliament is the most obvious. We can have influence at each layer if we are so inclined and, we can be globally aware and press our representatives to take our global community seriously too so as to engage and have influence, as we have seen in the Covid response – and hope to see re the climate crisis!

 

So what was it that shaped your vote? Was a concern for the wellbeing of yourself and your family: tax cuts, access to pharmaceuticals, what would be best for you and yours? Or was it a concern for others: our neighbours in our local community, those with the least share of our national wealth? Or was it concern for our global neighbours: refugees and immigration? Was it perhaps the earth herself: the climate crisis and pollution?

What mattered to you?

How are you planning to walk the talk of your concern?

 

Jesus said the first commandment is “to love God with all your heart and soul and your mind” But God is not a black hole that soaks up love! Loving God is not providing the fodder necessary to feed an egotistical God. Rather God is the very life force that enlivens all things and love of God is shown by doing things that are life enhancing; in the way we love our neighbours so they might flourish in their living. In 1 John we are told we cannot love God and ‘hate’, (or today we might say ‘disregard, the well-being of) our neighbours – and we know neighbours are not just the people who live next door!

 

I was intrigued to notice there was dichotomy that I could reflect on and which might shape the way I chose to act: that was to wonder if I voted from fear or from generosity! Fear of scarcity for myself and my family or generosity toward the well-being of others and toward the earth. Such a reflection, of course, if we dare indulge, leads us to be quite specific and to ask ourselves how we will walk the talk of our election priorities: will it be with scarcity and fear as our guiding motifs, or generosity and abundance?

 

What is the talk you will walk; what is the gospel you will live by?

How will you walk, and with whom as companions?

Have you given thought as to what you will seek to hold this new government to account for?

 

How we cast our vote speaks to our priorities and to what matters for us so is worth reflecting on.

 

We can’t all attend to everything with the same energy and commitment, and sometimes we can feel guilty when we see how much time and energy others pour into issues. 

  • We can, however, all be grateful that others can do what we can’t. 

  • And we can support them with our love and our prayers.

In our turn we can resolve to be faithful to the commitments we have been able to make, walking the talk, and talking what matters.

 

We, gathered here are church, we are not church alone but in our common commitment to the gospel of God; we need each other so the fullness of the gospel can be proclaimed in word and in deed.

Taxes

October 18, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Ordinary 29     1 Thessalonians 1:1-10     Matthew 22:15-22

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

I do love it when the lectionary gives us the perfect reading – the day after our election we are reading about taxes and government!

The verse “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s” is sometimes quoted in political discussions. People usually quote it meaning we should keep politics and religion separate.

 

The political leaders of Jesus’ day think they have caught him out. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

You have to hear the smarmy tone as they sidle up to him.

 

Matthew notes that it is the Pharisees and the Herodians who ask the questions – normally two groups who would vie with each other for power but now they are united in their desire to trap Jesus.

 

And it might seem like an innocent enough question – but let’s remember the setting. Israel is occupied by the Romans, they are an armed occupying force. Everyone had to pay taxes to the occupiers. 

So to say yes to this question (yes it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor) meant Jesus was supporting the occupier, the oppressor of the Jews. But to say no – we should not pay taxes, would be to invite sedition and the wrath of the Roman soldiers.

 

Then there is another layer of meaning here – on the Roman coins was the head of the emperor – just like the Queen is on our coins – 

but the Roman emperor was seen as a god, and was worshipped, and the inscription on the coins, said the divine emperor.

 

The coins were seen as a symbol of Roman power and religion and the most strict Jewish faithful believed you should not ever even use the coins because that meant you were acceding to the Roman emperor being divine. And the Romans in fact let the Jewish people have different coins to use for transactions in the Temple because of this problem.

So a simple question about taxes was also a question about the divinity of the emperor and what the people should do when confronted daily (via the coins) with the divinity of this emperor who had invaded their country.

Many like King Herod and the Herodians mentioned in this passage were the accommodating ones who found a way to live and let live; 

others like the Pharisees and other more radical groups were hardline in their opposition.

 

So which way was Jesus going to jump? Jesus says – bring me a coin – whose image is this – and whose title? – the emperor’s they reply – well then – give to the emperor what is his. 

And then we imagine - Jesus turns to one of the people standing by him and says – whose image is this? Whose image is this person created in? God’s they reply – then give to God, the things that are God’s. And the people are stunned. 

Jesus has sidestepped the question of tax and turned it into a question of who we are created to be.

 

Humanity is created in the image of God, and not one of us resembles another, how vast then our understanding of God can become.

As vast as the number of people and cultures who walk the earth.

 

And yet in all that diversity each of us still are called to give to God the things that are God’s. And Jesus is not half hearted when he makes that declaration He demands that we look at ourselves and remember we are each made in the image of God. We cannot split ourselves – well today I am Caesar’s out in the world but tomorrow in the Temple I will be God’s.

 

Do we sometimes feel split – our life of faith on the one hand and the rest of our life on the other? Do we feel trapped like Jesus?

Do we feel trapped or at least unsure how to express or live our faith outside of the church walls? Do we feel trapped by the stereotype of what a Christian is thought to be? 

When Judith Collins prays in a church everyone is immediately asking – what does this mean? and is she targeting the conservative vote? No one ever asks – is she targeting the progressive vote?

 

And do we feel trapped too when our own church fails us on progressing same sex marriage; or makes unhelpful statements on the end of life choice bill; or when we hear of the years of abuse that went on at Dilworth School – and our hearts break for the victims. We feel dismayed, disappointed, let down.

 

So let’s do what Jesus did when he was trapped – not accept the premise of the question and step into a new space. Step into a space where everything we do and say belongs to God.

Our income, our taxes, our energy, our love.

 

Let’s not be Herodians and live with an acceptance of the way things are. And let’s not be Pharisees, rejecting the world altogether.

 

We can be followers of Jesus, challenging ourselves every time we come to worship, to go out these doors and embrace everyone as precious people made in the image of God.

As our new government gets set to spend our taxes, we can get involved, get political and roll up our sleeves for service. 

There is a lot to be done.

 

God’s world needs us.

Our whole selves, bearing God’s image in our hearts and in our minds, and on our faces.

Clothed for a Wedding Banquet

October 11, 2020

Cate Thorn

Ordinary 28     Philippians 4:1-9     Matthew 22:1-14

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

 “The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” “Bind him hand and foot and throw him into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Don’t you love it when we encounter these vivid passages in our Bible of a wrathful, angry and destroying God, should we assume this to be a parable of a king to be about God? How do we put such images next to the loving all-embracing God who welcomes us always, forever ready to forgive and restore our relationship?

 

Today’s gospel from Matthew is the third parable in Jesus’ reply to the question of his authority. The first was the one of the two sons asked to work in the vineyard, one said “Yes” and didn’t, the other said “No” and did. The second one was of the wicked tenants in the vineyard. Each is spoken in the temple to the Jewish religious leaders. We read today’s parable as one continuous story – although it might be seen as two stories juxtaposed. Both use allegory to portray their message. The stories open with the declaration, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Given this parable follows the two mentioned it is reasonable to identify the characters thus; the king is God, the son Jesus, the invited guests those who are like the wicked tenants, identified as the chief priests and the Pharisees. The first slaves who are sent out the Hebrew prophets, the second and third slaves sent out the early Christian missionaries, Jerusalem is the city that was burned, it was destroyed about 70AD, some time before Matthew’s gospel was compiled, the ‘good and bad’ who came to fill the banquet hall were the mixed membership of the church.

 

The first story ends with the wedding hall filled with guests. Guests, both good and bad, gathered from the street by the third set of slaves. It begins with the king calling those already invited to the wedding banquet of his son. According to the custom of the time, as accurate timepieces, much less cell phones with pinging calendar reminders were unavailable and preparation for a banquet was time consuming, invitations were sent out and accepted well in advance. Once the banquet was ready, the host would send notice. But, we hear, the guests “would not come”, without offering any excuses they simply refuse to honour the invitation. It was one thing, perhaps even a privilege to have been invited to such an event. Accepting an invitation in principle for some future event was easy and convenient enough. But now the invitation calls for action and the guests can only see its inconvenience. We might like to ask, “Is this story a parable for back then or is it a story of now?”

 

For we might be given cause to reflect upon the sense of divine call that brings us to this place of Christ following, however we understand that in our own lives. Maybe we're happy to accept the invitation to belong, to become part of the Body of Christ, the invitation is great – in principle. The invitation becomes however less convenient when it comes to the particular. We’re happy to embrace a discipleship that doesn’t move us outside our comfort zones, to live out ways of discipleship that don’t challenge us to change.

 

The king then sends out a second lot of slaves to these same people who’ve been offered and accepted his invitation to attend the wedding banquet. The king seeks to persuade them, tempting them with the lusciousness, the desirability and abundance of the feast that has been prepared and laid out ready for them. In order to receive this abundant provision all they’re called to do is respond. In ‘real life’ it’s most unlikely a king would give his subjects a second chance, much less try and persuade them to take that chance up but with allegory there’s a freedom to go beyond the usual. Maybe the author intends to make a point about this king who’s no ordinary king. This is God whose grace goes beyond ordinary expectations or experience.

 

The second time the invitees give a variety of excuses. Interestingly the preoccupation of the first who give various excuses is with good rather than bad things. They’re not out partying and drinking, no they’re distracted by the vocations to which God has called them. Maybe we’ll have time for God when we’ve finished being consumed with all the things that keep us busy. Perhaps there’s room to pencil God on our ‘to-do’ list, or we’ll simply make a mental note that God is important too. Perhaps God will just wait ‘til we’ve plenty of time.

 

The first part of the story is framed to speak against the Jewish leaders, perhaps as representatives of their people. Those who hadn’t responded to God’s call to attend the abundant wedding feast of God’s son, who refused to acknowledge Jesus authority. At first they simply did nothing when God called, then they were otherwise engaged and then they became actively resistant, persecuting and killing those who brought and reminded them of their obligation to respond to God’s welcome. The destruction of Jerusalem, the city that was burned, Matthew would wish to make clear was the judgement of God upon people who had rejected the invitation to the God’s banquet in the fullness of time. So as this story tells those invited had proved themselves not worthy. But God’s generosity and overabundant hospitality reaches beyond our imagining.

 

The king sends more slaves into the main street to invite those they find who will respond to God’s call and they do come and gather, both good and bad we hear. Historically, apparently the church of Matthew’s day offered such openness – it found an eager audience amongst those not welcome elsewhere, the irreligious and outcast, those banned from the synagogue because of mental or physical conditions. Again we might like to ask, “Is this story a parable for back then or is it a story of now?” As we reflect on this maybe we find ourselves thinking this analogy speaks of God writing off the Jewish people and replacing them with the people off the street – maybe even assume the people from the streets now invited are Christians – like us.

 

Well we could go that way but we still have the second, much briefer story, related to the first to tell. We’re in the midst of this abundant wedding feast, the hall filled with people, both good and bad, who have answered the king’s call. Then the king arrives, the first thing he notices is a man who’s not wearing a wedding robe. This is allegory remember, with its capacity to embrace extensions of reality, so we can put aside the finer detail of how people fresh off the street could be attired in wedding garments, maybe the king’s generosity could extend to include clothing the invited guests with such garment as they arrived. But the thing is that this man stands out, is noticed because he’s not clothed as the others. This story’s being told in the context of Matthew’s gospel with its own particular theme: no privilege on the basis of status. Only a life of transformed attitude and performance counts. Its Matthew’s Jesus who warns the disciples their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who do the will of the Father in heaven (7:23); that the kingdom of heaven will be taken from those who do not bear fruit and given to those who do (21:43).

 

The invitation to the wedding banquet, the call to be present – granted those found, those who hear and respond, isn’t dependent on a preapproved worthiness test. But something is asked should we respond – we’re expected to change. To don the garment appropriate to the context, in keeping with the occasion of feasting at this wedding banquet. What is this garment you might ask? Colossians 3 suggests, “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” They echo in the beautiful words from Philippians, “let your gentleness be known to everyone ... whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.”

 

We may know how we’re called to behave and to aspire to live and be people who are clothed thus. We also know we don’t always or consistently succeed. It is so hard to be thus. We do not live in, do not see reflected in the face of the world shown us, such hope or aspiration – rather much the opposite. It’s a struggle for us not to end up simply reflecting that world shown us. It can be hard to hold onto the thread of hope from which such garment is spun. And yet today’s gospel asserts this is what is required of us. To declare, insist there is an alternative way to see the way the world is, another way to live in and respond to the world because there is another way to see it. Insist that the world reflects not just the humanly created images flashing before us rather the world is place that reveals and expresses God’s blessing.

 

Having responded to the invitation to join the feasting at the wedding banquet of God, we remain aware of our presence there as those who choose to change, to acquire the garment fitting for our place there. It requires something of us, even if some days it feels our faithful response is more form than genuine content. Each day, each moment to choose to look for, seek, notice and speak of a world threaded through with divine presence, of grace and blessing revealed. Of divine grace and goodness bringing all that is into being – more pervasive than and prevailing over anything that would seek or seem to extinguish or deny it.

 

This parable, so they say, was the third in Jesus’ response to the question of his authority. It was spoken to the religious leaders in the temple. Matthew doesn’t let it rest back there, though – he confronts and disrupts us now, if we have said “Yes” to the invitation to this wedding banquet, quite how are we clothed?

Burdens

October 4, 2020

Helen Jacobi

St Francis' Day     Psalm 148     Matthew 11:25-30

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

We are carrying a lot of burdens at the moment. The world is carrying a lot of burdens. Covid 19 of course, watching the death and the grief around the world. But also the isolation. The curtailment of plans to spend time with family or friends. The loss of jobs and income and futures. And then political burdens; watching the US presidential debate makes us fear for our world. Seeing the climate crisis and other urgent needs being sidelined while we focus on covid is worrying. And we have choices to make in Aotearoa which are challenging – the election and two referenda.

 

Compared to the rest of the world we are doing incredibly well but that doesn’t change the reality of loss of jobs for some and rising anxiety for many. If you are a student missing your final prize giving or a university graduate missing graduation and your OE; or a hotel worker with no job; or a person with all their family on the other side of the world; the fact that we are doing better doesn’t really help your sadness and disappointment.

 

Burdens.

Jesus says to his disciples that his burden is light – if they stop trying to be like the know it all Pharisees – and become like infants – and trust him, they will find rest for their souls. Sounds fabulous – like a walk on the beach, or sitting in hot pools – whatever helps you relax and forget your worries.

 

But is that real or just a short respite and then all the burdens come rushing back at you?

 

St Francis was someone who got rid of his burdens – he followed the instructions of Jesus literally – the one about only having one garment and to carry nothing with you (Mk6:8) – and around the year 1200 he gave away all his wealth and founded a community of people who lived very simply and humbly.

 

People still follow his rule of life today – monks and nuns and lay people who belong to the third order of St Francis. Their rule of life of prayer and service gives them a framework within which to place their burdens and lighten them.

 

Our faith gives us a framework within which to live. Our church, its traditions, our life of worship, when at their best, help us to live well in God’s world. When faced with challenging times like the Covid era or challenging choices such as the upcoming elections we look to our faith to guide us.

 

After church today we are having a discussion about the referendum on the End of Life Bill. We are blessed to have a group of medical practitioners in our parish and so last year we had a conversation with them, and today we are having another. We will be listening and learning from each other in order to help us with the discernment we have to do in order to cast our vote. We are seeking to lighten the burden that we may carry as we make a decision. We will most certainly not be telling you how to vote, that is up to you.

 

It is unfortunate I think that church leaders including our own bishops have chosen a strong stance against the Bill and have chosen to tell us how to vote. As far as I am aware there has been no consultation with the church at large about how we might come to a common mind or even to agree some common questions we would like to ask together.

 

There has been an assumption we will all think alike and the bishops in signing two different letters to the public have aligned themselves with some very conservative churches who are more used to telling their people what to think.

 

We have a couple of resources to share with you later and one is from the staff at Trinity Methodist College.

 

They say there is no one single ‘biblical’ answer to the question of assisted dying, so there is no one ‘Christian’ response, either. But as Christians, we are called to search our scriptures, tradition, experience, and tikanga prayerfully, critically, and in pursuit of compassionate justice, love, and healing, allowing these insights to shape our response as we come to cast our vote. [1]

 

We believe life is a gift from God, and know that death is inevitable for us all. We also believe though that death is not the end, that we remain in God’s love forever. We are given human skill and intellect which have created the miracles of modern medicine which heal and enhance our lives. We are all acutely aware now of the way simple public health measure also save lives. Most of us will have stories from our own families of people dying “good” deaths and those who suffered too much in their dying.

 

We now have the opportunity to vote on the End of Life Choice Bill – please be sure to read the material sent by Election Commission and to read what the Bill actually proposes. A while ago we sent out links to a video of our Diocesan Chancellor explaining each provision of the Bill [2]. It was straightforward and clear. Take the time to be informed.

 

Know that people of faith will vote yes and people of faith will vote no. Each we hope will have come to their decision with prayer and reflection. If the Bill passes no one of course has to avail themselves of it. Some might choose to. Whichever way the vote goes our doctors and hospices will continue to give the best palliative care they can to their patients.

 

We have choices to make too in the general election – candidates and parties. As we discern that vote I think the biblical imperative is a little clearer – the question is not what will be best for me, my life, my tax rate, my wellbeing; but what will be best for those who have less than me – the OT writers have a summary term “the widow, the orphan and the stranger” which we might translate to “those with no income or protection, those without families to love them, and the foreigner or refugee”.

 

Who do we trust to care most about those in need and to care for the earth, God’s creation. Today’s psalm set down for St Francis Day – psalm 148 – is a good one to read when we are thinking – as we have been – about climate justice and the protection of creation. It finishes with “praise from all your servants, from the people close to your heart.”

 

If we are close to the heart of God, like St Francis and like Matthew, the far from perfect tax collector who is our namesake, we can lay our burdens down.

 

We can seek the companionship of Jesus who promised to reveal God to us.

 

We can take upon us the yoke of Jesus, and seek the gentleness and humility he offers.

 

With that mind we cast our votes and we seek to carry on serving our community in the name of Jesus as best we can.

 

 

[1] https://trinitycollege.ac.nz/

 

[2] https://www.selwynfoundation.org.nz/promotions/information-for-the-general-election

A Birthday Present for Matthew

September 27, 2020

Bishop John Bluck

St Matthew’s Day     Matthew 9:9-13

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

It’s a hard time to be church.

Nothing new about that.

But now it is harder than ever because everything is harder than ever in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight.

All our old habits of gathering, belonging, communing have been put on hold, our wider networks nationally and internationally seized up for who knows how long. And we don’t know when or whether they will ever return. We have all been distanced from each other quite literally. The old normal has gone forever.

 

And if all of that is not enough to feel sorry for ourselves, the two biggest church stories in the last month are Dilworth School and Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship.

 

So happy St Matthew’s Day to you all.

 

Even as we try to find out what it means to be church in the midst of a maelstrom is there anything there in this story of this man Matthew whose name we take to give us some clues of a way ahead?

What kind of church does he want us to be? Because it will be different from last year pre covid?

How can his story make us more effective and accessible and even more distinctive as a community?

Because being distinctive is something that St Matthew’s people pride themselves on being. I met a friend yesterday and told him I was preaching here today. Oh really, he said, that’s a pretty alternative kind of place, isn’t it? I’ll pass that on, I said.

We like to think we’re a cutting edge congregation, but are we cutting in the right places, are we really sharp enough?

We knew what we had to do when the rest of the church couldn’t cope with solo parents, so called as they were back then, so we invited them to come and dance between the pews and drink sherry with us.

 

When the rest of the church couldn’t cope with the gay community, we hosted a bible study group and then a regular service for gay people.

And it was the same with apartheid and racist rugby.

St Matthew’s knew what kind of a church it had to be.

As it did after the Christchurch mosque shootings, reaching out to the local Muslim community.

 

But what about right now in the midst of this pandemic that is killing and dividing us?

 

Matthew might have something to say to us on this patronal festival. After all it’s his birthday. What could we give him as a present?

 

He knew a thing or two about divided churches, like ours.

At end of first century the church was caught in tension between Jewish Christians who still tried to worship in the synagogues, where the Pharisees set the rules and fussed about them, on one side, and on the other, Gentile Christians who didn’t.

 

The Jesus Matthew portrays is still very focused on his own Jewish people, even telling his disciples to stay away from Gentiles, not bothering to explain Jewish customs because everyone should know them. So there’s a culture war as well as a religious fight going on.

As there is now across the church.

 

Let’s face it, we have to confess Jesus together with some strange bedfellows. Strange to us because we have so little in common not only in music and theology, but the way we see the world. Yet make no mistake. The Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship is as much a part of the body of Christ as St Matthew’s.

 

Matthew knew a thing or two about divided cultures. Jewish purity laws made the divisions very clear. Not over silly stuff like what shade of grey or white to paint your house. But who is ritually clean and unclean, how carefully you follow the dietary and social contact laws of Deuteronomy. Who is in or out. They make our quarantine laws look careless. The lines back then were crystal clear.

 

Especially if you were a tax collector. They were a bad lot in good Jewish eyes. Sub contractors to the agents who bought the customs franchises on goods and services from the Roman empire. The agents made forward payments to Rome then screwed down the subcontractors to collect the revenue, so corruption and coercion were rife. They were about as popular as finding your accountant was fiddling your GST payments and being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

 

So decent law abiding Jews had nothing to do with tax collectors except to hand over the cash when they had to and then treat them as social outcasts. Tax collectors had nowhere to stand in Jewish society, except to teeter on the edge, distrusted and despised. Matthew himself was one of them, he knew what it was like.

 

So what kind of a church is being called for in this story? What kind of a church would be faithful to what Jesus is demonstrating here when he says I’ve come for the sick not the healthy?

 

The sickness he’s talking about is social not medical; being left out of community. The sickness of exclusion and alienation and isolation. The sickness of those who have no place to stand with any hope or dignity.

 

And Jesus addresses that sickness by including people like tax collectors. Come with me he says. Come to dinner. Sit down and eat with me.

 

And the Pharisees who make the rules and enforce them are furious.

They ask the disciples, what does your boss think he’s doing? He’s breaking all the rules.

 

In this covid defined time of global crisis, when we’re all masked up and socially distanced from each other and our borders are locked down to the rest of the world, what does it mean to be the kind of church that Matthew describes and Jesus models?

 

And at a time when we are quick to judge and condemn those who break the rules of quarantine and masking and handwashing and distancing, slow to forgive and quick to anger, who are the Pharisees in our midst? Are we in their number?

 

We are living in times of incredibly hard moral choices, where the ground beneath our feet is tilted by social media driven conspiracies about dark forces at work. We have to condemn these lies yet we also have to find ways of engaging with the liars, meeting them in the midst of their fear and confusion. Because the more isolated they are the more extreme their rhetoric becomes. Have you noticed that the most alienated and angry of our politicians and church leaders are the ones promoting the most paranoid theories about covid vaccines and plots to control us?

 

I think the kind of church that Jesus models in our troubled time is as radically inclusive as he demonstrated around that dinner table on the night that Matthew joined him, as radically inclusive as that dinner table on the night before he died when there was even room for the man who would betray him.

 

It will be the kind of church that works hard at trying to understand the extreme and alienated voices. Engaging with them rather than amplifying them, calling them back into community that can cope with disagreement. No one else is doing that right now. We’ve got plenty of Pharisees quick to condemn, but very few who say let’s sit down with a cup of tea and talk.

 

I don’t have the courage to do alone where I live but I might if I had a community like St Matthews around me willing to try.

 

Imagine if we invited the elders of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship to come along to St Matthews and share a coffee and tell us what on earth they thought they were doing.

 

Let’s work to keep ensuring St Matthew’s is known in Auckland as a place where isolated groups of all sorts find a voice and a welcome, where all sorts of groups who struggle to find a place to stand and somewhere to belong, find a home here, or at least a waystation on their journey.

 

But there is another constituency who are just as alienated from the church of the old normal – those who find their inspiration and advice, even their pastoral care, online; who live and breathe in a virtual digital world, who wouldn’t come near us on a Sunday morning, with or without the covid crisis.

 

I’ve never had to preach the same sermon differently on a Sunday but I had to today, now and for the online version that comes later in the morning.

 

That digital version might become our new normal, as the covid crisis forces us finally to make ourselves accessible to an IT savvy generation and an online culture.

 

St Matthews is already seeking to do that. Few of our churches will have the imagination or the resources to even try.

 

And Matthew would approve, because it would be continuing a long held tradition of hospitality that this church has offered.

 

Matthew would like that. It would be the best kind of birthday present.

Climate Crisis

September 20, 2020

Alan Broom

 

Over the last 3 weeks we have been considering our responsibility to care for creation and in this context our carbon footprint and what each of us is prepared to do to make a smaller impact on our environment. We have all been challenged to review our way of living and engage with each other around these issues with high levels of concern expressed in favour of change.

 

And so we have considered our energy sources, our energy use, and decided to be more mindful about flicking the switches of our homes. We talked about travel, our daily commuting, and public transport and our air travel. And then our food, where it comes from, the energy that goes into processing and transporting food. We have talked about intensive animal farming and the impact on the environment. And we have discussed our wasteful society, how we wrap, tear apart, throw out, chuck and dump and the Earth is meant to swallow all of this. We have also alluded to the increased risk to the poor of the world, with the world in climate crisis.

 

It has caused us to think and reflect and to take action to see what differences we can make in lowering our environmental footprint. For this is Creation we are talking about. As yet, we know of no other planetary system like ours. We are called to love the Earth and the fullness of it, the abundance of nature, yet so threatened because of lack of restraints.

 

But, there is still a feeling that we are perhaps tinkering around the edges, that we cannot render significant change as a small group of people, and the real change, change that will release a world safe for the next generations needs to be done on the macro scale. Change that is mandated because we as humans, and our Governments, see the planet is in crisis of our own making. Governments need to change their approach radically and societies need to recognize there will be no societies unless there is major change. Change starts with us but today is about calling for change, advocating for change on a large scale. We will discuss the details of that in our after church discussion.

 

Listen to the powerful words of Jim Antal in his book Climate World, Climate Church:

For the sake of humanity, the world, the ecosphere, and countless generations of unborn children and creatures, our present social and economic system needs a moral intervention. And so does the church. It’s time to declare a new moral era. [1]

 

I’ll read it again.

 

Notice that the moral order is not just about humanity, but it is the world and the ecosphere, that is all of life and its teeming abundance upon which we are dependent, and it is the countless generations following us, the unborn children, our unborn grandchildren, great grandchildren and their children. It is for these that we call for change. And it is for the already disadvantaged in the world who as sea rises, droughts parch arable land, increasingly common floods and forest fires make their already marginal livelihoods impossible. It is not primarily about ourselves but all of creation and that which is yet to be created. It is about intergenerational and interspecies justice. It is a fundamental issue of justice, how we impact the future.

 

We are in the middle stages of a crisis but it is as if we are driving over a precipice blindfolded, hoping against what we are told, and read, and see on our screens. Wouldn’t it be good if this nightmare was just that, some entertaining of dark fantasy that will in the end not happen, or that maybe this is just a really bad year and next year will be better? How many 100 year floods, forest fires and droughts do we need in 5 years to convince us? Unfortunately the science of climate change does not allow this blind hope. Instead rising GHG levels in the stratosphere are wrapping the earth as it were in a thermal blanket, and this needs to reduce markedly to render any hope for the future. The science is disputed by a few who have another agenda but the main culprit is CO2 largely from fossil fuel emissions since the industrial age, with diminishing forestation to absorb the CO2. It is since the industrial age that CO2 levels have increased exponentially. Hence our crisis.

 

We ignore the vulnerability of our planet at our peril and to the peril of generations and all species to come.

 

Reversing climate change is like stopping a huge ship. Stopping happens 20km out of port because of the momentum. If and when we stop carbon emissions, there will be a long lag time before there will be observable benefit. We were told about this 50 years ago and the common response was that they, whoever “they” are will work something out. So here we are now, on the brink of collapse, and we have a very small window of opportunity left.

 

It’s time to declare a new moral era.

 

In the past crises have been averted because people have been emotionally engaged. With the pandemic, we saw what was happening overseas, the overloaded hospitals, the bodies being loaded into mass graves and we fell in with the Government plan. There was general acceptance that the plan was right and this is what we needed to do for each other.

 

The threat of nuclear holocaust made NZ stand up against the powerful and say no to nuclear ships. We had seen the evidence of nuclear devastation in Japan and knew much worse was possible. And the superpowers were loaded with weaponry, enough to destroy the planet several times over. St Matthew’s was a leader in the antinuclear movement.

 

Now we see the bleaching of coral reefs, and out of control forest fires on parched forest reserves. And we see huge areas of Africa inundated with floods and people fleeing their homes. Climate refugees are on the way.

 

It’s time to connect the dots that this is a planet in crisis.

 

As the human species, we occupy more than our share of the biosphere. We do not live in harmony with nature; rather we try to control it for our advantage and we consume much more than our fair share of resources. It has been estimated that if everyone on the earth ate a standard western diet of 2 servings of meat daily and processed foods, say ham sandwiches for lunch and then meat and 3 veg at night, maybe bacon and eggs weekly for breakfast, plus cheeses and desserts, it would take the equivalent of 5-6 earth planets to feed the world. That of course is not possible. I know most of us do not eat like that but many do.

 

Scientists talk about global warming of 1.5 degrees average as our tipping point. We are very close to that. I suspect most people cannot get their heads round that 1.5 degree change, or 2 or more degrees for far worse consequences. The numbers seem trivial. They are not. The earth is a finely balanced system of complex interactions between species, sun, water, soil and air, all held in a delicate balance. Think of the human body. If our body temperature rises 1 degree above 37 to 38 we have a fever and feel unwell. Even more unwell at 1.5 degrees above, needing to go to bed, rest, drink plenty of fluid. At 3 degrees above we may well need hospitalization. These tiny incremental differences make a huge difference. Our bodies are perfectly and finely balanced keeping our temperatures at a constant. Of course, our bodies do not have the same daily variations of internal climate, but the average temperatures of the earth are a reflection of a precise setting for balance between the Earth systems.

 

Some tech companies claim we are in an irreversible situation and it is too late stop climate change. So they are putting their creative energies into cooling fabrics, building and roading materials with higher melting points. There is money to be made here. Agencies such as MarsOne plan settlement on Mars partly for the survival of the human species. It is all I suspect a reenactment of the Tower of Babel myth where humankind is in a search for ultimate control.

 

I find this completely lacking in moral direction. It is a plan to escape this mess here rather than pitching in with their enormous resources to reverse the damage.

 

We are heading into more and more perilous times. Our customary comforts are going to be less obtainable, there will be much suffering around the world as peoples can no longer live in their environment whether it be because of inundation with risen sea levels, or land no longer bearing crops because of drought; “1 in 500 year” floods happening yearly; vast forest fires; food scarcity, and temperatures which are too hot for work and living; wars over land and water ownership. We are starting to see this.

 

I take no comfort in my age. We are starting to see enormous upheaval, but our children are going to see much worse.

 

“It is time to declare a new moral order.”

 

It is time to give away feelings of hopelessness and despair and be a beacon of hope.

Not a reality-avoiding hope that something better is ahead beyond the grave, but hope grounded in love for each other, and for all living things.

It is time to stop the blaming and to take responsibility.

It is time to lament our role in this crisis and ask “What can we do?”

How can we effect change in our country and signal to the world that we are serious, deadly serious?

 

There is a small chance of holding calamity back if we take on near carbon neutral lifestyles and help lead the nation to do the same. People argue that there is no point in NZ changing if the bigger culprits do not. But in the past NZ has been a leader – the women’s vote – we were the first and all Western nations followed. There has been a lot of noting of our pandemic response. We are powerful when we go alone. The world does notice. Let’s continue to be a model.

 

But people say that will cost us too much. How we trade, what we trade, how we relax, how we travel, how we eat. Yes there is a big cost but this is tiny compared to the cost to the next generations of a depleted planet.

 

There is a common false separation of the economy from ecology. Economic hazard seems more important to people than ecological disaster. In the US major political players and parties wallow in denial about climate change in order to make room for corporations and those who profit from them to become the de facto rulers of the earth as we know it.

 

The Earth has remarkable repair capacity when it is treated with respect but today the environment and the economy are seen as valid occupants of each end of a seesaw. The growth orientation of economies goes up and the environmental impact is driven in the opposite direction. We are presented with a growth economy which involves more extraction, more emissions, more polluted waterways – I would love to be convinced it could be different.

 

Has the Garden of Eden myth set us up with some simplistic false notions? There is the creation narrative and then the man and woman are set up as having dominion over all creatures. But it was a scene of harmony, man and woman naming all creatures – classifying all creatures. But the temptation has always been to have more than the natural order of things allowed. And so the apple was eaten and we continue to do that.

 

Don’t get me wrong. There is a genius in human discovery that has created so much and we are beneficiaries of wonderful human exploration and creativity. It’s just that we have felt entitled to dominion over land, creatures and indigenous peoples.

 

Matthew Fox asks the question:

What does it mean to wake up to ecology, to learning to love our earth home with a deeper love, and to acknowledge how much we owe her, and how deeply we need to adapt our ways to her, if we are to keep her healthy and fit so that future generations of beings can thrive in her midst?

 

The future is to a large part due to how we have been living our lives for the past 200 hundred years and the decisions we make in the next 1-10 years are the only chance we have for changing that picture for the better. We are responsible for the future.

 

The Gospel narrative of today is very familiar and has inspired charitable deeds over the ages. The man beset by robbers and the passers-by, the dignitaries, the religious leaders, those with means, pass him by on the other side of the road. But it is the outsider, the Samaritan who takes action to save this wounded man. He tends his wounds and finds him shelter and a place to recover.

 

Let’s modernize this story. Let’s think of the earth as having been exploited, gouged, drained, chopped, flattened, polluted, an Earth struggling to sustain life systems upon which all of life depends. And let’s think of our journey through life. We have been aware of the ecological consequences of modern living for a long time. I was a teenager when I first heard about it. We have been warned. Voices have been calling for restraint for at least the last 50 years. But we have changed little. There have been proclamations and agreements to cut emissions like the Paris agreement but worldwide the emissions increase.

 

On what side of the road are we walking past this wounded world? Yes, obviously the oil industry passes by looking away towards vast profits; industrialists pass by saying we need more oil and coal to power our manufacturing; others need to protect their shareholders; Governments pass by, elected by their people but are afraid to mandate strict environmental policies because an election is looming and so they pass by reluctantly; picture ourselves flying by, looking for pleasures in distant places; picture large parts of the church passing by, preaching salvation for the afterlife as its main message.

 

Yes, we see the damage done but who is going to come to the aid of the wounded Earth? Who is going to say enough, we have to stop and rescue the Earth before it is too late?

 

“It’s time to declare a new moral era.”

 

It is time to find another way than relentless growth by further extraction, production, acquisition, and waste on monumental scale.

 

It is time for us to mirror God’s love for creation and set that as our overwhelming priority.

 

How we might do this is in part the discussion we will have after church today. Is the Church going to be a leader in turning the world away from the brink of this nuclear moment. Let’s act together.

 

 

 

[1] Antal, Jim, and Bill McKibben. Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018 end of Chpater 3

Agents for Life

September 6, 2020

Cate Thorn

Ordinary 23

 

Today in our liturgical calendar is the First Sunday in the Season of Creation. The Season of Creation is a time when we decide to be more intentional in our noticing of creation. Play closer attention to creation, the gospel directs us to learn from the birds of the air, the lilies and grasses of the fields. Each is beloved into being and is sustained by our creator. And for these things we give thanks and praise.

 

It is also a season we pay attention to our relationship with creation. Be reminded of our fundamental interconnectedness. We’ve the habit of considering that being human makes us superior to the rest of creation. We’re prone to forgetting we’re made of the same substance as the rest of creation. In so doing we overstate our significance, our irreplaceability in the schema of this fragile planet. It’s curious to consider – if humans as a species were to die out, in time the rest of life on this planet would flourish. If the insect population were to die out, life on this planet would also die within 50 years.

 

The life, the existence of planet Earth, our only place of home, is precariously endangered because of human excess, so we’re going to pay attention to that. Pay attention to the choices we’re making and the repercussions of those choices for the continuance of the life of our only home. We can choose how we live and what we do differently. Different choosing changes things. So, yes, we’re going to talk about climate change.

 

Climate change – I could give you a lot of information about that.

I could talk about the science of it, the intricate and complex proving of the catastrophe that is at hand. But I’m not a scientist. And as journalist Nathaniel Rich writes in his book Losing Earth, “There has been no fundamental change in climate physics since 1979, only refinement.” [1] Or Rebecca Huntley reflects, “Climate scientists … realise that when it comes to the climate change cause, the bulk of their work has been done. All they are doing is updating the data on a theory already proven countless times to be true.” [2]

 

But I’m not going to talk about the science of it. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.

 

I could talk about wildfires, ravaged landscapes, of melting ice floes, stranded and disappearing polar bears. Or remind you of unprecedented cyclonic storms and record breaking freezing temperatures. Or speak of the anger of the First Nation people of the Torres Strait, or the people of Fiji or Kiribati. Who are helplessly watching their ensouled lands being washed away, witnessing the tearing apart of their ancestral, intergenerational identity, their interconnected way of knowing who they are. Washed away, out of their hands through no fault, no thing they have done, at the mercy of the actions of countries and economies well beyond their shores.

 

But I’m not going to about the landscapes of it. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

 

I could talk to you about Greta Thunberg, about the rallies of our young people pleading, activating, staring us down about our reprehensible lack of care, our intentional denying of them a future out of selfishness and greed. Of your children or grandchildren who won’t enjoy the natural playgrounds you explored and celebrated. Who won’t know the world we’ve taken for granted, the animals and creatures, landscapes and seascapes, the world we speak of, for it will have disappeared.

 

But I’m not going to talk about the next generation impact of it. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

 

I could talk about the links of a pandemic such as Covid-19 with human over stretch into untouched landscapes. Of humans who, for commercial gain, breach natural boundaries that keep us safe from interspecies contamination. Of overcrowded animal farming demanded by human consumption that creates breeding grounds for viruses to adapt and change the species that hosts them.

 

But I’m not going to talk about the destructive greed of it. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

 

I could talk about finger pointing, scapegoating and blame transferring of responsibility to those who are worse offenders than me or them or us. Of those who deny or of a sense of shame or guilt that cripples anger, freezes us, cows us into inaction.

 

But I’m not going to talk about the psychological impact of it. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before.

 

We know these things. 

Has any of this knowledge moved you in any fundamental way to change?

Has it moved you so deeply that you cannot imagine continuing to live as you have, if that way of living is truly destroying the world?

 

It can be hard to make the link between what we do, how we live and the life of the world. To understand how intimately we’re connected with creation. It’s hard to make creation out there personal in here. So I want to ask you to do something, don’t worry, it’s not arduous, it can be done where you are. I want you to hold your hand out in front of you, to look at it, consider it. Consider the complex beauty and utility of your hand, look at it, feel it, the pulsing of life in it.

 

How did it come to be? 

This is not a religious or scientific or philosophical question. It’s more: did you earn it? Did you deserve it? Did you choose it? Did you have part in its creation?

 

Or did you receive it? A gift you’ve grown into the knowing of.

How do we live so to best honour the gift given us, to reflect the dignity and beauty and unique nature of this gift?

The response to such question will be unique to us. 

There is much we take for granted. 

So it is with creation. It is a gift we receive, how do we live so to best honour the gift given us, to reflect the dignity and beauty and unique nature of this gift?

 

What would move us to deeply comprehend the situation we’re in? To accept the way we live does contribute to and cause this, what would it take for us to be rewired? What would cause us to be willing to examine our expectations of what makes for a successful life? To ask questions, deep questions about what truly matters to us, what we most value and whether the way we live allows those to be expressed. Maybe Covid 19 has forced the issue a little.

 

Even so, when the crowding pressures of production and productivity, of time poverty and income necessity, of social influence and mass misinformation, of obligations and responsibilities rise to overwhelm us, then climate change becomes another thing – too much.

 

Let’s take a step back, a step down.

 

Climate change is now a part of the way things are, the reality of this is irrefutable. For all the pressures on us, for all that we want it not to be this way, for all that we don’t want to change the way we live, or disrupt our expectations of life or inconvenience our lifestyle. A climate changing world is our reality. We know this, we experience this.

 

Rather than it being a burden out there, another external force pressing on us, what if we understood and accepted climate change is a part of our world, our ‘what is real’, yours, mine, not other.

 

For when we know what we have, when we know our circumstances, the resources that are available to us, we tend to turn to make the best of the situation. We tend to want life to flourish, utilising what we have. We want our uniqueness to contribute to that flourishing. And we know we need to do this with others whose uniqueness complements our own.

 

Maybe, when we decide for this, when we accept this is the way things are and that we have what is needed for the world to flourish we might live differently. Rather than as oppositional teenagers resisting an inevitability imposed on us, we might decide to be active agents for life.

 

[1] Huntley, Rebecca How to Talk about Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference. Sydney, N.S.W.: Murdoch Books, 2020, 46

 

[2] Ibid, 51

Fish and Bread

August 2, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Ordinary 18     Isaiah 55:1-5     Matthew 14:13-21

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

This story of the crowds being fed with a few loaves and a couple of fish is told six times between the four gospels. All four gospel writers tell it and Mark and Matthew tell it twice, just to be sure we get it. No other story is told 6 times. So it must be important.

 

In Matthew’s version the setting is particularly striking. “Now when Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

 

John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and prophet has been executed and his head is brought to Herod on a platter in the middle of a banquet.

 

Jesus is revolted, grief stricken, and concerned for his own safety and so he withdraws into the country.

 

The crowds follow and get there as he does, so he has no time to himself to recover, instead, he heals the sick.

 

The disciples come to Jesus and say for goodness sake send the crowds home so they can get something to eat.

 

Jesus says, you feed them. We only have five loaves and two fish they say.

 

(Sigh) get the crowds to sit down “taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowd.”

 

 

Matthew says Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to be shared. These are the actions of the eucharist, we bless the bread, we break it, we share it. There is no doubt in the way Matthew records the event that we are supposed to think – ah – this is a eucharist, a thanksgiving for life, a sacred meal of communion.

 

And we also hear echoes of the Old Testament: Moses feeding the people in the wilderness with manna; Elisha feeding 100 people with 20 loaves; the words of the psalmist: Can God spread a table in the wilderness? (Ps 78:19) and echoes of Jesus eating with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or on the beach after the resurrection; and of course the Last Supper.

 

Questions that we might have as rational 21st century people about – how did Jesus do this? was it really a “miracle?” one popular theory is - did people have food with them and were encouraged by Jesus’ actions to share? The gospel writers are not interested in those questions. Rather we are invited into this story with its many layers and echoes and invited to be there in the story and see what we notice.

 

I noticed this week that it is not Jesus that feeds the crowds. First he tells the disciples not to send the crowds away but to feed them. And then when that seems beyond them Jesus blesses what they have and then gives it back to them to distribute to the crowd.

 

“He blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples and the disciple gave them to the crowds.”

 

This is more than just being a more effective mode of distribution – it will go faster with a team – it is about Jesus blessing what they offered and then giving it back to them to do the work of feeding the people.

 

The disciples were operating from a place of scarcity – there is never enough – Jesus was operating from a place of abundance and plenty.

 

Think back to last week’s readings – the mustard seed that becomes a tree; the bread that rises one hundred fold with the yeast – these were definitions of the “kingdom of heaven” that Matthew longs for – and here we see the kingdom of heaven in action again.

 

This could have just as easily been added to that list of parables – the kingdom of heaven is like five loaves and 2 fish that when shared are enough to feed 5000 people.

 

This time it is a lived experience for the disciples, not just an image used to teach them. They offer up what they have and it is given back to them ten fold, a hundred fold, a thousand times more.

 

And also very importantly for Matthew this experience the disciples have is in stark contrast to what happens just before this: the terrible death of John the Baptist; violent and gruesome in the context of a banquet with the rich and powerful.

 

Now we have the contrast of John the Baptist, his head on a platter, and Jesus breaking bread and fish for the crowd. The violence and degradation of our world, and the hope offered in a piece of bread. How many places in the world see that contrast every day: death and violence and starvation; and hope and food offered. And there always seems to be more violence than food.

 

But Jesus in a very dramatic way is showing the disciples that what they have to offer is enough. The world might well be gruesome and violent; the world that will before too long kill Jesus himself; the world that will persecute and pursue the early Christians.

 

The disciples and the community Matthew writes for live in that world – they and we live in a world of violence and despair – but Jesus shows them that by offering what they have, the world can be changed.

 

When we lay the table for the eucharist the bread and wine is brought from the back of the church by the chalice bearers.

 

We do that to emphasise that the bread and wine is the offering of the people – like the bread and fish the disciples bring to Jesus.

 

We also bring our offerings of money which represent our working lives and we bring food for the City Mission, representing our care for others.

 

All of these things are offered, are blessed by our prayer of thanksgiving, and then given back to us.

 

We receive the bread and wine as a blessing for our week; the CM food goes to those who need it; the offerings of our money are used to pay for the running of our church community and for the service we offer to the wider community.

 

What else might we offer? What gift or skill do you have that you can offer today? What is there in your life – at work, at home, in the community – something ordinary and every day – that you might like to bring with you as you come to the altar today.

 

Think of something specific – if you are a teacher – think of a particular thing you offer – is it the way you listen to your class; or their parents; is it a creative artistry you bring to your lesson plans; is it music.

 

If you are a leader in your organization is it your ability to see the big picture; if you are caring for family members is it your ability to multi task.

 

As the bread and wine is brought forward today, offer your own skill or gift. See it blessed and given back to you.

 

And then expect that it will grow and that there might even be twelve baskets taken up of what is left over.

Social Services Sunday

July 26, 2020

Peter Lineham

Social Service Sunday     Romans 8:26-28, 35-39     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

JASPER CALDER AND THE CHOIR

It was the last few weeks of World War One, when Auckland was overwhelmed by the influenza epidemic. The vicar of St Matthew’s Rev William Eugene Gillam, who had done distinguished service as a chaplain on troop ships in the first three years of the war was out of action, very ill, and the curate, who was holding the fort in the fashionable church, had thrown himself into the needs of the community, volunteering on the emergency ambulance service. Not surprisingly, he came down with the flu himself, and in the terrible first week of November, services were cancelled at St Matthew’s. Out of his heroic work, Calder was idolised by the poorer members of the congregation, and when Gillam finally announced his resignation, they mounted a petition that Calder might succeed him. The key organisers of the petition were the choir. When the appointment of the vicar of Hawera was announced the choir walked out, and its leading singers stuck with Calder in all of his latest ventures. It is from this controversial split that the City Mission was born.

 

Jasper was unashamedly a populist. He loved success, he loved a crowd, he fed off adulation. He was “the chief”. His first concern was never with social concern.

 

He got on the wrong side of Bishop Averill who led the diocese of Auckland for 25 years. – Quite an achievement when his father was William Calder the long-time vicar of All Saints Ponsonby.

 

His sports services at Grey Lynn. His casual comments about gambling. Then his willingness to allow others to campaign for him to be vicar of St Matthew’s when he was serving as curate there. The choir went on strike.

 

There is no real evidence of social concern at that point.

 

He then is brought in to run the evening services at Holy Sepulchre late in 1919, and in the light of the St Matthew’s experience preaches a sermon on the need for church reform (to curb the power of Bishop Averill) and is immediately dismissed by the vestry.

 

His idea to form a city mission comes out of this. He supposedly ran it past Averill on the afternoon he left for the 1920 Lambeth Conference.

 

There was a lot of concern at that time that the workers were losing contact with the church, and the Methodists increasingly looked at social issues. The Anglican Diocese of Auckland was also concerned, and their social issues committee was active (although its solution was probably the temperance one.)

 

Jasper Calder probably had little awareness of these issues. He stumbled into them.

 

He began with services in a movie theatre, using a dance orchestra. It was all hearty fun entertainment religion.

 

Other – for example the Dock Street Mission of this church, and the various Methodist Missions – were quite active. But Calder soon discovered that the pastoral work of his mission tended to focus on men appearing in court on petty charges, and he found himself confronted with need.

 

THE CITY MISSION CHANNELLING SOCIAL CONCERN

It could be argued that for many years the City Mission as a result was based on ideas of charitable aid rather than justice. This approach has, of course, haunted the church. Appealing to our desire to do something, the agency is also helpful to get the poor off the streets and make the city safer. But it never had a holistic approach to social justice, and certainly not a consistent Christian view of social justice. Consequently, it has always been vulnerable to pressure from the secular government and city council for whom it is a convenient body.

 

Yet it is still a Mission, and as I ended writing the history of the Mission I was increasingly worried about why it was still called this, and what should, be distinctive about the social services of the church. But there I ran into a problem.

 

THE FOLLIES OF SOCIAL SERVICES SUNDAY

The Anglican Church in New Zealand recommends that parishes set aside one Sunday a year for social services Sunday. But that is about where it ends. For no denomination is more confused and directionless on social services in the community than the Anglican Church. It is not that the church does nothing. From very early on the church established most of the first orphanages in New Zealand, and today the scale of its social services is almost certainly larger than what anyone else does. (The Catholic Church may once have been larger with its huge number of people in religious orders, but that is a shadow of its former scale.) But the problem is that it remains a series of random services, operating very independently. In the Auckland Diocese, the ATWC, the City Mission and especially the Selwyn Foundation are huge operations, but they struggle to cooperate with each other (and the Selwyn Foundation would not even let me look at their minute books even though they branched off from the City Mission). There is or was a Commissioner of Social Responsibility for the whole church, now replaced by a Three Tikanga Social Justice Commission, but it just has Michael Hughes, General Secretary of the church as its interim chair.

 

The reason for this is that there is no clear social vision in Anglicanism. There have been attempts to organise such responses. At the end of World War One the Auckland Diocese like the Christchurch Diocese, attempted to set up a board for social responsibility, but effectively never got beyond temperance. Then in the 1970s and the 1990s there were attempt to create an overarching structure in this diocese, but the big organisations ensured that it had no power. Things are better in Christchurch, where all the agencies respond to a single Missioner, and in Wellington, where old people’s provision is under the City Mission, but without a shared value system or policy, none is really possible. Even the city missions have very little cooperation. This is in striking contrast to the other churches. However the Presbyterian organisation with its formidable national organisation effectively disaffiliated from the Church and Methodist and Catholic social services have struggled with resource issues. And the heart of the problem for Anglicans is there is a general feeling that the church ought to be doing more, but no coherent theology of social engagement. During the Depression, when many other churches gained this, Anglicans remained astonishingly cautious. The Church has it clear left wing elements (strong among clergy) and right wing elements, dominant among laity, who get concerned when anything other than a charitable model is proposed.

 

Now we might have got further in thinking of a model of social responsibility with the appropriate readings for the day. However it is emblematic of the problem that I am working from these unpromising readings. Still there is something to learn.

 

UNPROMISING PASSAGES

These are unlikely passages for Social Services Sunday, and of course they were never meant for this purpose. However, we might note the following:

 

The Mustard Seed

The Kingdom of Heaven is consistently compared to a slow process.

 

The smallness of the seed was noticed by Diodorus Siculus and Antigonus of Chrystus. Actually there are smaller seeds but this was the one that was proverbially tiny.

 

It is a tiny seed growing to a bush – indeed quite an invasive bush since it grows so easily, says Pliny. Moreover, here it is in a field rather than a garden as in other gospels. The case of micro credit. The small and humble has great potential. Deliberately this is not a cedar of Lebanon, and nor are the fully grown bushes much in themselves but they would sure fill the garden.

 

The mustard seed tells us that the kingdom is hidden.

 

And perhaps this is the story of the City Mission, small but persistent.

 

Why is the Kingdom so insignificant? The tiny mustard seed, the 4 m plant rather odd for the garden. (We would worry if birds sat on out carrots). Ae the bird symbolic of the Gentiles – probably.

 

The kingdom of heaven starts in an unpromising way, but the verdict needs to await its full growth.

 

The Yeast

The kingdom of heaven does not come with an approved label but with an inner potency. This is a homely image although the quantity goes beyond this. It seems to be about 50 lb or 22 kg. In this case this is the village breadmaker.

 

But Leaven is slightly disturbing as an image for the kingdom. “Common, uneducated fishermen and farmers, carpenters and women, tax collectors and disreputable characters – it would all seem rather distasteful. But God is like that. He takes distasteful characters and transforms them, and then transforms society through them.” (Matthew 13 in BST).

 

Note the scale of the cooking operation in the yeast parable. So it compares to the other parables of growth. The dough is folded over and over and slowly (and she can’t see it) the goodness is spread.

 

The kingdom of heaven has immense value and demands total commitment to it. Perhaps in the devotion of some of those women workers in the City Mission much less noticed, the matrons, the wrappers of food parcels, the library books deliverers, the Waiheke camp workers.

 

But perhaps also it is the lives of the people mixed up and inspired by something from outside, the leaven.

 

The Treasure in a Field

Imagine how many people have trampled across this field and had no idea what lay beneath them.

 

The poor man finds the treasure by accident. Rabbis very clear not that finders are keepers (although they have a right) but ensured by the purchase.

 

Palestine was rumoured to be full of buried treasure from the centuries of invading armies. The man finds the trunk but does not want to draw attention by digging it up.

 

The morality and indeed the legality of the man who found treasure in a field then buying the field at its ordinary price is very dubious and that is part of the shocking element. And how can one buy the things of God? But it is what he had to sell that is striking.

 

Now one colourful expositor suggests that the burying is precisely about the hiding of who we are and by works of mercy and generosity living the values of the kingdom. But that is so directly contrary to the light under a bushel that it cannot be correct. That sounds like the kind of special pleading that the City Mission tries to pretend that it is not a mission of the church.

 

So where might we discover this treasure? Presumably anywhere. It is in the field, and the field is the world.

 

In essence this is about the totality of commitment, embracing far more than expected in order to possess the treasure.

 

The Pearl

The rich man finds the pearl, and this was perfection. It is the powerful appeal of perfection.

 

Notice that this is a deliberate search unlike the accidental finding of the treasure.

 

Somebody complained to me that there is no sense in this decision. The one pearl and the many pearls have equal value. But this misses the aesthetic desire of the one perfect pearl, which every collector would know. Oh to possess the first edition of Shakespeare’s first folio or Darwin’s Origin of Species. Or the original Authorised Version of the Bible. And at various times this focused desire to make a difference has focused the social services hugely, but then they have run into the problem that Christians and in particular Anglicans, have not been all that committed to the social work. Will the church make any costly decisions? Or will the need to build a cathedral or protect failing parishes, take away our sense of mission. And could it also be that social services are sometimes set against other aspects of the mission of the church, when really there should be a sense of a single, united, purposeful desire to express God’s desire for the world to be loved and embraced and touched.

 

The Net

The kingdom of heaven touches and catches up all sorts. But the real quality of what has been caught and its real value will take time to see.

 

The parable along with the parable of the weeds does seem to deal with the persistence of evil. We need to be careful about seeing this as the anticipation of the failure in the church. (What Augustine called the corpus permixtum). More likely it is the presence of evil in the world and the purpose of God to purify the world.

 

The bad fish would have been non-kosher fish (fish without fins).

The further aspect is impatience. We want to see God act now. This is about God at work slowly, quietly in an inner fashion.

Think of the huge influence of the City Mission.

The net shows God will bring all things into judgement. Judas.

Perhaps in the dragnet we should notice the emphasis on all kinds of fish. People say this is unliely but this is a dragnet hauled between two boats.

Actually I think it is that latter parable which appeals to me in the present context.

This tells a great deal about the City Mission.

 

Conclusion:

Renewing our Concern for the World as Christians

My sense is that rundown churches are quite happy to do quite a bit. But the people who really make a difference are there volunteering at Tre Heata or in the opportunity shop, or working through the prison ministries, or touching the refugees and the orphans both here and throughout the world. And in the end, surely we need to be renewed in the mission of Jesus himself since that day when at Nazareth he took as his text

 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” [Luke 4:18-19]

 

I think only then will our mission as a church have a coherence and less institutional defensiveness.

What Are We Running From?

July 19, 2020

Cate Thorn

Ordinary 16     Genesis 28:10-19a     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

Today we hear the parable of the wheat and the weeds, a theme close to last week’s parable. But last week it was all about the soil, this week it seems to be all about the seeds. Just as with last week we get Jesus telling the parable then after some intervening verses we have the parable explained. As Helen said last week, Jesus wasn’t in the habit of explaining parables, spelling them out seems to make them something they’re not. The power of the parable is that it confounds. Riddle like, the parable opens us up to wonder, it continues to speak to us in many and varied ways. The very specific explanation we hear might suggest these are words from a Matthean community under stress. Jesus words enable them to make sense of their world in the midst of oppression and struggle.

 

As we hear today both wheat and weeds are sown in the world are included as part of God’s creation. Weeds are part of the growing environment of the wheat, part of what enables the wheat to grow to fruition. It’s not until the fruit of each plant, of wheat and of weed, is borne that the difference between each can be discerned.

 

Perhaps a salient reminder to us to be careful when we think we’re able to discern and judge that which is good from that which is evil. Are there echoes here of that mythical Garden of Eden tale that tells of our human desire to eat from a tree that would grant us knowledge of good and evil.

 

What makes for a weed and what makes for wheat – if we extend the imagery beyond the specific? Perhaps a couple of examples might push us to wonder. Some years ago as part of the Leadership NZ year we visited the Hinewai reserve on the Banks Peninsula. It’s a reserve that fosters the natural regeneration of native vegetation and wildlife. Much to the dismay of the neighbouring farmers, Maurice White, the initiator of this project lets the gorse grow. He discovered gorse to be a highly effective temporary nurse canopy for native regeneration. Rather than competing as do Manuka and Kanuka, when the regenerating native trees overshadow the gorse it dies off from lack of light. Gorse for him was not weed but, I guess, wheat in the process of native bush regeneration.

 

Likewise, we can be quick to decide or judge good from bad in our human environments and to act on this. And yet, what if we shift the frame a bit? During a workshop on the transforming power of place making an example was given of such perspective shift. There was a shopping mall in Australia that was struggling with an overabundance of under occupied youth. The larger number of them was male and they got up to the usual mischief that comes with under occupied young men. There had been a number of complaints made about this, especially by the elderly frequenters of the Mall who felt intimidated and had become afraid of them and so of coming to the Mall. The Mall decided to bring in David Engwicht an expert in place making. After consulting with all being affected a consensus was reached. These under occupied young men became wardens for the Mall. With vests to identify them, they became the custodians of the Mall, with a responsibility of care to look after the elderly and so forth. It transformed both the young people and the Mall. That which had been deemed bad, wasn’t inherently so, it needed understanding and to be given purpose.

 

Such examples we can understand – the idea that we might set up, from our own understanding or perception, ourselves or something as good, (not in an absolute but relative sense) compared to something else, which isn’t exactly evil, but not good. And we see in this way that ‘good and evil’ coexist in the world. Yet, as these stories illustrate and warn us we need to be wary of thinking we’re actually wise enough to judge. Which is all fine in theory then something dreadful happens, we could say the Covid-19 pandemic, we could say the actions that led to the Black Lives Matter campaign – surely this is evil? Who can we blame for then we can make meaning, understand somehow.

 

Let’s turn to today’s story of Jacob, Jacob’s on the run. Jacob’s not on a holy quest, Jacob’s fleeing from the consequences of his actions, the repercussions of him duping his brother first out of his birth right and then of his father’s blessing. Jacob is fleeing for his life. Night falls, Jacob makes do with what he has, where he is to sleep. Something happens in the night in that place. Written back or written forward what happens there changes how Jacob is in the faith story. It changes him, our hearing of him – from shady character of questionable moral fibre, self-focussed, without regard for the one closest to him – to divine agent. The one in whom God invests the future posterity of this emerging nation and identity. As we learn later this is the one who’ll be renamed Israel. This night changes who Jacob understands himself to be, he awakens – same place, same landscape, same wilderness and yet … not, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” Afraid, he says “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.” Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

 

We’ve this great theological word we have when we wrestle with God and the presence of evil in the world, the word is ‘theodicy.’ I sometimes think it’s so befuddling a word it’s usefully deployed to deflect from the genuine issues it faces. But actually it’s a prevailing question asked of me by different people from all number of different contexts, “If God is good, why does bad stuff happen? Why does God let it happen?” When such things are asked of me, when I hear this, I feel a bit like a jar of muddied water. A jar, with the water swirling and turning about, all shaken up. The thoughts and fears, confusions, ideas and ideals of the person asking and my own are swirling and turning about.

 

So many things I can’t answer, layers of confusion, of meaning seeking, of pain and disillusionment eddying about. I want the jar to be held still for a bit, so the confused and confusing demand to know can settle. So the drifting motes that make up the muddied confusion can be seen more clearly. Not because I’d then know but because then I’d have chance to see what was there. For things to settle in the jar I also need to be still. I can then discern that I am, over against the relentless weight of bad happenings.

 

Stilling myself gains me perspective – not so to disengage myself from concern or my contribution of care. But when we don’t still ourselves we become like Jacob, running from the repercussions of actions – mine or those of collective humanity, running for our lives in panic and disarray. We find ourselves in a darkening wilderness. We make camp as best we can. And as darkness falls in this wild and lonely place we, like Jacob, must rest. In our somnolent letting go, in our resting stillness, we discover a presence with us, we’re not alone, God is standing by us.

 

This isn’t to suggest God caused or let happen or made happen this pandemic, or the prejudice and hatred that led to the killing of people of colour – we humans are quite capable of crossing boundaries of nature or declaring that which is other to be of no value! We abdicate our responsibility when we attribute such things to God. But it might suggest that God is with us even in the bad stuff. Not as cause but as presence, with us even in our folly, with us even when we turn away. This isn’t exactly comforting, it doesn’t make everything all better, it doesn’t make everything all right and it doesn’t punish evildoers and those who transgress against us.

 

Last week the seed planted in good soil bore fruit abundantly. This week in good soil the weeds bear their unique fruit abundantly. Who decides whether the fruit it bears is of less worth than the fruit of the wheat? Last week we were directed to see the seed that did not fall on good soil as falling short. Yet we also know that some seeds need to go through the gut of a bird to propagate, some need extreme heat such as fire, some need the shelter of plant such as gorse and some need good soil to flourish. We’re accustomed to organising our world with binary opposites, it alleviates our anxiety, reassures us, but it’s not the world we live in.

 

We live in a world of wheat and weeds – it’s not as we’d prefer it to be, even as it is the way the world is. Of this we haven’t much say or choice. But each day, each moment we can choose to pause. To pay attention to the turmoil, to let it be as it is and see it for what it is – it isn’t who we are. As we put down the burden of our confusion, as we settle, we awaken to a sense of presence with us. Surprised, perhaps we too declare, “Truly God is in this place and I did not know it!!!” We might then wonder, “What have I to learn of divine presence in this place? Nothing is changed and yet everything is changed and it could make a world of difference.

Being Welcomed

June 28, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Ordinary 13     Jeremiah 28:5-9     Matthew 10:40-42

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

At first glance today’s readings seem to be two strange and short pieces just left hanging there with no context.

But if you recall last week’s gospel – Jesus saying he came not to bring peace but the sword; today’s piece follows directly on.

As Carole Hughes said last week Jesus is speaking into the reality of the persecution and confusion of the first followers of Jesus who in the early days of the church find themselves ostracised from family and community.

After all the scary talk, Jesus’ tone changes – whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

In other words I go with you; God goes with you.

 

The passage from Jeremiah is there to expand the understanding of what a prophet is as the people try and discern who they should listen to, who might be a prophet for them.

Hananiah and Jeremiah were both prophets in the court of King Zedekiah, the last King of Jerusalem (594BC).

Each had different messages – Hananiah urged the people to revolt against the puppet king of Babylon; Jeremiah said to take their suffering and punishment and wait.

The people followed Hananiah and they didn’t win against the Baylonians, Jerusalem fell and the exile began.

Jeremiah said a true prophet will only be known after time has passed, with the benefit of hindsight.

Think about Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or Te Whiti o Rongomai from Parihaka; prophets who some saw as true from the beginning but from our vantage point of history all know to be the real deal.

Jeremiah became the prophet to be revered by any people in future times undergoing suffering and persecution.

He had words that were real for them in their suffering and promised a new hope.

 

Jesus too speaks to a people suffering and says “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me”.

Welcoming is something we place great value on here at St Matthew’s.

We strive to be a welcoming community; a place of hospitality.

We pride ourselves on being a place for all.

This line from the gospel though is not about that, not about welcoming others - it is about the followers of Jesus being welcomed themselves.

Being the recipients of hospitality.

When as followers we go somewhere to receive a welcome we carry Jesus with us, so that Christ is also welcome in that place.

That is quite a responsibility.

 

As we (finally!) gather today for our AGM – 3 months late – there is lots in our reports about our own activities and the people we have welcomed here.

  • visitors every Sunday

  • people gathering for weddings and funerals and baptisms

  • the vigils we held for Christchurch and Sri Lanka

  • workshops on climate change

  • business breakfasts

  • living wage forums

  • our international network and clergy from our partner churches

 

The list goes on!

 

There is also commentary on places we have been welcomed as St Matthew’s – the City Mission; the Religious Diversity Centre; Ihumatao.

And we could list all the things we do as individuals in our workplaces and families and communities.

 

Then think about the last three months – in lockdown we were isolated from each other and our beloved church building.

Yet we connected in a new way as community in our Zoom gatherings.

(While a small number were unable to join, or some preferred not to) we welcomed each other into our homes and lives in lockdown.

I still remember the joy on the first Sunday of everyone coming online and greeting each other with surprise and astonishment that we had managed it!

And as the Sundays went by we had new and deeper conversations, welcoming each other and the gospel of the day into our hearts.

 

What was also happening each week was that we were being welcomed into the homes of 100s of others via our worship videos.

On Easter day somewhere between 400-500 people viewed our video.

On other Sundays it was at least 200.

We did 21 worship videos in all – including the Wednesday and Holy Week videos.

And it wasn’t just Cate and me our viewers were welcoming – it was each of you – in the welcome clips – or as readers, intercessors, singers, and in the still photos we used.

 

We have had lovely emails and messages from people across Aotearoa and overseas thanking us and commenting often on how much they liked the different faces – the community of St Matthew’s.

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.

You were welcomed, and so Christ was welcomed.

 

We did well; we pivoted, we got organised, we managed the technology.

And we did so in the midst of the anxiety and worry of the lockdown.

In the survey we sent you most of us either enjoyed the peace of lockdown or found it alright.

Most of us are worried about family and friends and economic futures.

We are committed to buy local and support local businesses and to live more simply and to focus on relationships and community.

We want to take the same decisive action on the climate crisis as we did with the virus.

 

We are though still settling back into our life together as a community.

Like all aspects of our lives things are the same but not the same.

Our collective national anxiety is very focussed on the border controls and the numbers there.

We all are carrying different worries about income, job security, health, families.

We are catching up with our grief.

Yesterday I took a memorial service for someone who had died in Level 4. In 2 weeks we have the memorial service for our own much-loved Tom Pallas.

The grief for those families is frozen in time and then begins again when finally they can gather.

 

We need to continue to be aware that we are all carrying that stress, and as our PM so often said, be kind to each other.

 

And as we move forward into our new normal, we will be exploring options for continuing video content (other than the livestream); experimenting with different groups to build on our zoom gatherings; working together on the climate crisis and other issues.

 

As we explore what our major areas of focus will be one of our guiding questions might be – who is waiting to welcome us?

rather than our more usual question of who can we welcome in.

Who is waiting and wanting to welcome us – online and in person.

The new community who will live next door at the City Mission?

Other faith communities?

Climate activists?

The Living Wage movement?

Where might we be bold enough to go, knowing we take Christ with us?

The prophets of old were led into exile; the first followers of Jesus were led into times of trouble and turmoil.

We are certainly living in a time of anxiety and stress.

 

I want to celebrate with you today what we have been able to do together in this time and I am confident that we can continue to build our new way forward as we listen to each other and discern as a community.

 

We have indeed been all in this together – he waka enei noa.

We will go into our future together.

Confident in the reassurance that wherever we go, Christ goes with us and meets us there.

Standing up for the Gospel

June 21, 2020

Carole Hughes

Ordinary 12     Romans 6:1b-11     Matthew 10:24-39

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

It is wonderful to be with you here this morning, and thank you for the opportunity to preach. I have now been in my role as Archdeacon, and working with the episcopal team of the Diocese, for over 9 years and one of the most enriching things that I do is worshipping with a different congregation each Sunday. I have about 36 ministry units in my region across central Auckland, out West, on the North Shore and up as far as Warkworth. And today it is your turn.

 

I must say though, that when I looked at the Gospel reading, I wondered why I always get the difficult texts, and perhaps Helen knew exactly what she was doing when she asked me to preach this Sunday. The issues covered include masters and slaves, destroying both soul and body in hell, using swords and setting family members against each other, and living in fear and the losing of one’s life. Wonderful theology! Just a few little subjects to cover! So how do I make friends when preaching on such controversial and difficult issues?

 

In saying that, I am excited about being here today to celebrate with you in the opening of the new offices. I think this occasion represents the priority that St Matthews in the City has placed on the health and wellbeing of the team who work from this place. COVID-19 has encouraged us to think about our life together, and how we care for one another and keep one another healthy.

 

2020 has certainly been an interesting year so far. During the COVID-19 lockdown many of us have deeply appreciated some time to slow down a bit, to refocus on the ‘local’, to enjoy time with family, and to support people around us in our journey together to prevent people from getting sick. In saying that there are many people around the world who are still deeply suffering, and who need our support and prayers. And there are many people in our local society who have been, and still are, struggling. The pandemic has highlighted the injustice in our world – both locally and globally. So, what can we do?

 

Well let’s look again at our Gospel reading this morning. On initial reading it is a divisive text. Here Jesus is promising to set a son against his father and a daughter against her mother, not to mention the daughter in law against her mother in law. Some have read this text to support family dysfunction and disunity – even justifying verbal abuse or violent behaviour within the family structure!

 

During the COVID-19 lockdown I was part of a global group of theologians who put together a resource in response to domestic violence during this pandemic, and it was published through the Anglican Communion Office. In this resource it stresses that many of our biblical passages have been used to justify violence, and especially domestic violence, and that we need to reinterpret and give clear teachings within these texts. I must say that this text this morning was not one of the passages mentioned in the resource, but never the less it could be considered a text that supports dysfunction and disunity and does not encourage happy families – quite the opposite in fact!

 

So, what is it saying to us? Well some would say that this text is a fine example of the biblical word’s not saying what, at first glance, it seems to be saying. It is an example of a text that is designed to shock us. It is also an example of where context is important. I would argue that we need to take context seriously in every text and indeed everything we do. Context is everything…, but I am bias being a contextual theologian!

 

Anyway, back to our Gospel reading. What does the context of Matthew chapter 10 look like? Well, the context is speaking into the experience of judgement and persecution. Jesus is addressing the faithful who seek to live into their Christian faith while facing conflict and discouragement, and even the threat to their physical wellbeing, because of the Gospel’s calling of justice. Sent on a mission of preaching and healing, the disciples have quickly learned what it means to face opposition and struggle. The cosy days of breaking bread with Jesus seem far distant when in response to sharing the Gospel they are rewarded with persecution. And sometimes we can feel a little like this – clergy and laity alike. When we stand up for justice, when we make ourselves vulnerable and go on a protest march – like I did, and many of you did, last week in the BlackLivesMatter march to stand up against racism and violence – or when we share some of our deepest concerns and insights with the people around us, we can be made to feel stupid. Or even worse – we get abusive words and sometimes violent actions thrown back at us. I am sure all of us have experienced times in our lives where we have felt persecuted or judged for standing up against violence or standing up for promoting healthy societies for all people. And some of the judgement comes from those who are closest to us – our family and our friends. I am sure I share experiences with many of you of leaving a family dinner or occasion furious because a specific justice issue is raised and very different opinions to yours are expressed. Maybe an unconscious bias raises its head and we try to highlight it. And believe me, and you will know, parents and brothers and sisters, let alone aunts and uncles do not take well to be being critiqued on such issues.

 

In our text today the point, or emphasis, is about the overarching importance of continuing to stand up for the Gospel of love and justice – even when we are judged. The individual, and the family structure, must be of less concern than the fight for justice. Because – and this is the important point – individual lives, family structures, and the whole of society will thrive when the Gospel of love and justice is heard and embraced. Jesus is not against the family. Rather he acknowledges that there will be times when allegiance to the Gospel causes a crisis of loyalty and forces a decision.

 

The Gospel shakes up values, rearranges priorities, and reorients goals. Following the way of Jesus does not mean a passive acceptance of the injustices and misery of this creation. Instead, we must model a way that gives signs of the realm of God that is to come, a strength that can be known by those who respond positively to the call of God in their lives – that brings freedom and love. We are a people who are called to shake up values, rearrange priorities and reorient goals. And violent events over the past weeks have highlighted that we need to do this more than ever. Thinking particularly today of the shooting of Constable Matthew Hunt, which is a deep tragedy.

 

In one of the online commentaries it reads:

‘The church that always manages to glide through life without ever rubbing anyone the wrong way may have reason to question whether it is truly Jesus whom it follows and honours.’

 

I know that this is ‘good news’ for many of you here at St Matthews in the City who have worked hard over many years in raising awareness of social justice issues across our city and nation. It is reassuring for me too, as I reflect on my ministry within the Anglican Church across this province. Because at times it has felt like we are ‘rubbing people the wrong way’. In other words, that through our stand for justice we have made people feel uncomfortable or very angry. And of course, this is precisely what this Gospel text is about. It is not about being quietly peaceful when it comes to justice, but rather it is about loudly challenging the injustices of our world. It is about bringing about change, and we all know that changing any institution let alone a mother or father’s unconscious bias is the most difficult thing in the world.

 

The sword language in our text today is not about chopping people’s arms or heads off, but rather it is a metaphor for cutting through the attitudes and actions that are unhealthy for our society. Words and actions that support racism, gender-based violence or any violence for that matter, homophobia, white collar privilege, to name a few. The Gospel is not about making people comfortable. You could say that it is about standing up against – not the people as such – but the opinions and attitudes and actions that speak of privilege and power over. It is about stirring people up to bring about positive change so that ALL people can flourish. In doing so, there is a risk that people get hurt and we fall out with our family, friends and church members. But I think that there is hope in these relationships when justice is realised.

 

To continue thinking about the metaphor of the family structure, I find it helpful when speaking into why we are shaking up values, rearranging priorities and reorienting goals. It is not just to annoy our family members, although sometimes we might secretly enjoy doing that. Rather the intention for change is so that the whole of society will thrive, not just the privileged ones. And when the whole of society thrives all relationships thrive, including our family relationships. In saying that, there is always work to be done. If we consider the context of our Gospel reading, the same overarching stories of abuse, persecution, unconscious bias and the falling out with those around us are with us today. Maybe the way we live and work together might be different from our biblical context, but the struggle for justice particularly for the more vulnerable in our society remain.

 

So, please do not give up on shaking up values, rearranging priorities and reorienting goals. It might feel at times that your family members in other parishes or dioceses or provinces are not always with you, but in order to bring about positive change there is always the fine line of keeping in relationship, which is important, but more importantly challenging values, priorities and goals in order to seek justice. But in doing this our text reminds us that there is often a personal cost. I don’t need to tell any of you here today about that. Many of us have experienced pain and extreme criticism in our striving for justice.

 

I cannot finish without mentioning verse 30 that we do like in our Gospel reading this morning: ‘Even the hairs of your head are all counted’. This brings it back to highlighting the attention and care that each one of us receives from God. We are all valued, no matter how frail, or afraid, or passionate or inappropriate we are – we are all deeply loved. When we fall out with others, or say things we regret, or don’t get the timing or phrase quite right in trying to articulate our ideals – we are loved. When our loved ones don’t get us, and we feel the pain – we are loved. For God loves us first. What we do in return is in response to that love.

 

So, may our response be about standing up for those who are vulnerable, and persecuted and who are not valued for who they are. In the name of God let us shake up values, rearrange priorities and reorient goals so that all may know and experience both the love of God and of one another.

 

Amen.

Sing a New Song 

June 14, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Te Pouhere Sunday     Isaiah 42:10-17     Matthew 7:42-47

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

Te Pouhere Sunday is a celebration of partnership across cultures.

“Pou” means post, like the large posts that hold up a whare nui; and “here” means to guide. Te Pouhere is the framework that guides how the church lives, prays, meets together; and how we give freedom to each partner to join in Christ’s mission in their own cultural context.

Our three tikanga of Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha are woven together and free to pursue our own ways of being. This constitution of our church was created in 1992 and it was a radical vision for its time. A vision of partnership and sharing of power, in particular at General Synod. As with all institutions it is far from perfect but it strives to create a more just and equal way of being the Body of Christ together.

 

We are being challenged to look again at our own cross cultural relationships in Aotearoa as we watch the Black Lives Matter movement sweep the world. After the horrendous murder of George Floyd the fires of protest have swept the US. And it does seem that even though there have been protests before and change has been promised before, that this time change is more possible. In conversations I have had in the past week with friends and colleagues in the US they are saying this time is different.

But also the craziness of “fake news” is also present. One friend told me about theories going around that the video of the murder of George Floyd was fake. And Trump followers are hanging on to their belief that the president is doing a good job. It is very easy for us to look from a distance and say how terrible it is in the US. And how their history of slavery has crippled their society and their race relations. And it is terrible and they need the support of the whole world to bring about change. We should always speak up about injustice when we see it.

I know our Episcopalian colleagues have appreciated the support of the worldwide Anglican Communion in condemning the photo op visit of President Trump to St John’s Lafayette Square. You know the one where he is holding up the Bible – quite why we do not know.

Bishop Mariann Budde, the Bishop of Washington said this:

The President just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.

I am outraged.

The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.

We in the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in His Way of Love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest. [1]

 

And so we support them with our messages and our prayer and our marches. But we do so while looking at ourselves and allowing ourselves to be challenged. We need to learn our own history; we need to ask our own questions. Why is 51% of our prison population Maori? Why is there so much income and health disparity between Pakeha and Maori?

In the church why are most of the Maori clergy unpaid? We need to be open to challenge and to learn; to catch ourselves if we rush to make assumptions about someone from another culture; and to dig into the concepts of “white privilege”, colonialism and systemic racism.

 

In our faith tradition one of the places we can look for inspiration is the OT prophets. The prophets call out those in power and challenge the people to wake up and change their ways. The prophets are not polite; they call it as they see it. We heard from Isaiah this morning – Isaiah living around 540 BC when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon but hoping to return.

Isaiah says to the people “Sing to the Lord a new song … let the sea roar …let the deserts and its towns lift their voice”.

 

Walter Brueggemann says that Isaiah is teaching the people “disciplines of readiness” to be ready for their homecoming to Jerusalem. [2]

The homecoming will not happen if the people are not living as people of hope, open and ready. He says first the people have to retell their “dangerous memories”, the truth of their own failings; and the truth that God has always been with them since the beginning of creation. And then they have to speak out against the empire that currently oppresses them – that too is dangerous. Then come the dangerous promises – the promises that God has made to the people of a return to home and the promises the people make to keep their hope alive.

 

“Sing to the Lord a new song … let the sea roar …let the deserts and its towns lift their voice”

And what will they sing?

They will sing praise to God who can be described as a soldier going to war; and then in the next breath a woman crying out in labour.

“For a long time I have held my peace … now I will cry out like a woman in labour … I will lay waste to this land and any who trust in false gods will be put to shame.”

Brueggemann says “The important point is that Isaiah’s poem is outrageous and unreasonable. It invites exiles to sing against reality, to dance toward a future not even discernible, to praise the faithful God who will not be held captive by imperial reality. The singing and dancing and praising is an act of hope, a betting on God’s capacity for an inexplicable future. It is the sort of hoping serious, baptised people must always do, always against the data, with trust in God’s promise.” [3]

 

So when we sing and pray and recite the story of our faith in the eucharistic prayer; when we march in a BLM march, or cheer marchers on from the sides; we claim that dangerous promise. We claim the hope that we can do better and be better; that we can look at ourselves and our history with the unflinching and searing eyes of the prophets.

And when we are found wanting we can pick ourselves up and sing to God a new song, praising the God who has created us good and created us better than we are.

Hannah Skinner, a chaplain at Manchester University in the UK wrote this:

And when a black man that I never knew suffocates beneath the knee of an oppressor that I’ll never meet…when life is crushed and death prevails… when the strength of the mighty is felt yet again upon the neck of those judged less safe, less precious and – ultimately – less human because of their skin colour…

Then anger surges like labour-pain, deep within my bones and forcing me to my feet. I am not black, but I am minority. I am not man, but I am sister. I will not meet George Floyd or lay my flowers where he met his curb-side death, but I live among my black and brown neighbours and encounter maybe something of his experience in them each day. So I will bring my minority anger, and I will stand as a sister-in arms – bright anger coursing through the fingers I use to weave each word and web of solidarity. From my own privilege I will offer up my anger alongside others, still dreaming that together we can create a world where children will be judged by the content of their character.

Power with those who protest, and power to them to bring change. Power with all us who are angry today, and power to us all to bring change. [4]

 

On this Te Pouhere Sunday we tell our story of partnership, of good things achieved and failures too, and hope that we can do better.

As the young people of the Diocese lead us in prayer before the BLM march we commit to looking at our own nation while calling for change in other nations.

We claim against all the data to be people of hope and faith who trust in God’s dangerous and wonderful promises.

 

 

[1] https://www.edow.org/about/bishop-mariann/writings/page/2 June 1 2020

 

[2] Cadences of Home; Preaching among Exiles 1997 p118 ff

 

[3] p126

 

[4] https://www.stpeters.org.uk/are-you-angry-if-not-wake-up/ Hannah Skinner

Just Then Loving

June 7, 2020

Jim White

Service of celebration for the Centenary of the Auckland City Mission.

Trinity Sunday

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Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. (Luke 14:2, 3)

 

I am that man. I have had dropsy and it seems that Jesus (with the help of pharmacy companies) has healed me. Dropsy, hydropsy, is oedema which is fluid retention or swelling, it is the build-up of fluid in some part of the body. I have had dropsy because I have lymphoma, it’s a terminal aggressive kind of lymphoma. I retired and went away. Against predictions I made it to my own birthday last weekend and this birthday, 100 years since the Mission’s nativity here in this church. Two great weekends I did not expect to have.

 

So, I happily stand here and honour all those who have gone before us who have given the Mission its life, been its limbs and lungs, who have served and sorrowed in our doorways, those who have been donors and those who have been the diners, most of the names lost to memory, some of them were real saints and all of them sinners, all of them in some way part of the fabric Mission down the century.

 

I acknowledge this building, this sacred space, my fellow bishops Ross and Kito, Helen, Cate, Wilf and Linda clergy here at St Matthew’s, Chris our current Missioner (and through you Chris, I’d like to honour all of the Missioners who have served faithfully in that role, beginning, of course, with the notorious and wonderful Jasper Calder) and then all of you, …those from the St Matthew’s whanau, the Mission whanau,  … all of you who have gathered here to offer thanksgiving and worship today. May the Good God be with us all.

 

Really, if you were to count all that I have said as not really sermon, but an introduction, it shouldn’t be counted as part of my eight minutes. Arguably, eight minutes should be the limit on any speaker or preacher this week after the eight minutes it took to extinguish the life flame from George Floyd.

 

The virus of racism has been surfaced around the globe and some are fearful, some are full of rage, mostly there is a blessed rage for justice and equality. In 1961, author James Baldwin was asked by a radio host about being Black in America. He said:

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.

 

I am aware that the virus of racism is not so much background but foreground for us today, along with the virus unimaginatively called Covid 19, which is also killing people in all sorts of nasty ways even as I speak. 40,000 dead in Britain! Numbers unimaginable.

It all presses in on us.

But this is the place and the work of the Mission, always has been, to be standing right there, with those who are staring into the faces of death – homelessness or health issues or are just plain hungry – hungry for food for themselves or their family; those who yearn for a different way than the no exit lines of unemployment, and choked lanes of welfare benefits.

 

And we might ‘tut-tut’ about the US of A and, say, the mass incarceration of black Americans, and the death penalty that is still legal in a number of States is shocking and shameful but the statistics that has the mass incarceration of brown people in this country is not much better and it all boils down to a matter of justice.

Justice delayed and delayed and deep justice that is plainly denied.

One can’t work at the Mission for long and not feel the words of Amos well up within us “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

 

But Amos is not our text, not the Gospel appointed for today (Luke 14:1-14), that comes from Luke. By the grace of God it is my task to crack open the Word with my words.

 

The Gospel passage has Jesus going to the house of the leader of the Pharisees. It is surely a companion piece of Luke 10 and Parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus is being questioned by scribes and Pharisees.  That story is possibly the best-known pieces of the New Testament; in it Jesus is quizzed by a lawyer about what he must do to inherit eternal life and the answer: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself’. The answer only leads the lawyer to ask: but who is my neighbour? and the parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus response, the neighbour is the one who acted as the neighbour namely the Good Samaritan who crossed the road to help the robbed and beaten man. The story is so well known that it as entered our everyday lexicon to refer to anyone who does good for others.

 

So, today some chapters later Luke has Jesus off for Shabbat dinner with the good synagogue going folk – what we might see as the church going, pious well to do and well educated of town – and the question of neighbour relations resurfaces because Jesus up and heals the man with dropsy right there and then without so much as a by-your-leave. So, the implicit questions become:

When should we help the sick? Who should we help? … and because we are at a dinner: Who should we have over to our place for dinner?

 

You might say that Jesus gets right up in the Pharisees grill – remember there is no actual grilling going on because pious Jews would have prepared all the Shabbat meals ahead of time – and he says don’t just care for your friends and family or those who society honours; you are to care for those with whom you have no relationship, no obligations.

If care is a synonym for love, and I think it is here, this is about neighbour love where the neighbour is somebody we have, what is called in philosophy, no special relationship.

 

I have a special relationship with my brother or my daughter. To love and care for them mostly arises from that special relationship. It was the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who first suggested that the love in special relationships was ultimately self-serving and therefore not a Christian love.

 

Similarly, some writers have questioned whether Jesus was interested in the question of justice at all. You see, justice is about giving and honouring the claim rights that someone else has over you or over society in general. According to Anders Nygren’s, seminal book, Agape and Eros, justice is a matter of duty and has nothing to do with Christian love. More radically Jean-Luc Marion argues that justice always ultimately belongs to an economy of exchange and love, what Marion calls the Erotic phenomenon, looks for no exchange. Love makes possible the true gift, a gift with no return. Charity if you like.

 

Now this is not the time or place to argue the details about Kiekegaard, and Marion, and the other who have attended to the question of Love and Justice. What I do think is that there is something in the insight about the difference between love for family and the spontaneous love and care for the other – the complete stranger. This is what Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel. It is love that reaches across and beyond any reasonable limits we might have, a love that goes where no relationship exists – no relationship except the most basic bonds of compassion for another human being.

 

If you can recall, When the Samaritan first sees the beaten man by the side of the road we are told in our English translations that he is ‘moved with pity.’ Pity is such inferior translation here precisely because pity conveys a kind of dominance. Compassion is the better word. God has compassion on us as mother for her child, the bonds of compassion are as the umbilical cord, a fundamental gut connection between one life and another.

 

Jesus tells us that where that compassion is all there is, when the other is not a family member, or someone I have any kind of special relationship with, go to their aid too. If someone in need is ‘other’, help them, watch over them, care for them, be part of their healing, love them too. Deep down this is what drives the work and witness of the Auckland City Mission. It is what has driven it for a century, I pray it will drive it for another.

 

In the name of the loving, liberating, life giving God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Voices, Voices Everywhere

May 31, 2020

Cate Thorn

The Day of Pentecost     Acts 2:1-21     John 20:19-23

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Holy Spirit poured out Pentecost Sunday, poured out on the faithful Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. The tradition proclaims the disciples gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in languages able to be understood by people from every nation under heaven. We, gathered now, are we also filled, empowered to speak in ways that can be understood by every nation under heaven? If so, what are we doing with this gift? Taking the good news, being witnesses to the ends of the earth, proclaiming a new way of living and being, made real, for this Spirit’s poured out on all flesh? Are we to stay revelling and comforted in the echo chamber of our own rhetoric? Or are we called and compelled to go from here, from ourselves, into the world, for the world, not for us to make the world like us, in our image, according to our liking?

 

For us to do this, to go into the world, we need to know the world into which we go. To see and recognise the world as it is. Be willing to stay with the way the world is, even if we’re not sure we like what we see, even if we’re not sure we can bear to hear the way it is. If we can do this, we give ourselves chance to discern the spirit of our world. We give ourselves chance to discern how we participate and contribute to this spirit and to choose other-wise. After all, it’s a part of us, as much as we’re a part of it. As we pay attention to our intention we become more able to listen, more willing to learn, to grow to understand how the good news we say we bear is good news for those we go amongst. Did not Jesus name the spirit to come the Advocate? The Spirit that pours forth at Pentecost is expressed in every unique language, welling up from the heart it desires to flourish.

 

How are we to gain knowledge of our world? The lock down time gave us many things. It gave us time to attend to our intention – to reorganise, reorder and reflect, to notice what’s important. I read a bit in that time, I listened to voices in and beyond the usual disciplines I explore. With the Covid-19 pandemic centre stage, many of these voices talked to or around the effect of the virus. I was interested in what I heard. Interested to learn at least a bit about the way things are in the world. Disconcerted at times I’ll admit but, heeding my own advice, I tried to stay with what I heard, to discern the spirit in and of our times. I want to share with you some of the voices I heard. As you listen I invite you to keep in mind the challenge before us – what does the good news we bear look like in our time, as Spirit sent people into the world what does an Advocate of good news look like?

 

First the voice of a journalist “The developed world’s response to the pandemic is imperilling health systems, economies and livelihoods already on the edge. … For many of the most vulnerable, the developed world’s cures are proving worse than the disease. At the extreme, families must choose between going hungry and getting ill. And their plight is exacerbated by Covid-style “underlying conditions” – chronic, pre-existing political, security, economic, and climate problems that grow ever more unsustainable. The pandemic is providing cover for malign governments to pursue or accelerate policies that place lives at risk, regardless of Covid-19. Right now, western responses to the virus are imperilling more people worldwide than the virus itself. [1]

 

From a young Pasifika leader: COVID-19 didn’t create inequity. It exposed it. “our decile 2 sch opened today. spent it watching ppl swap leavers notices for CV’s cuz money is low & mouths gotta eat. remembered every joke bout high school dropouts from the mouth of higher decile school kids that didn’t work a day of lockdown. it’s ironic. watched our teachers try their best with what they have while richer schools have unused resources locked away in unused labs. it’s ironic. when lvl 3 came, watched my friends bury their youth in every graveyard shift. day after day they were told they were essential but those chromebooks never came so i guess they were at the bottom of the waiting list. it's ironic. how ppl say “South Auckland broke the lockdown rules the most” when we ask to unarm the police. as if walking outside my house is reason enough to be shot in the street. it’s ironic. how we didn’t break the rules, our mobility rates are so high cuz while u work from home on zoom, we have the most essential workers. packing ur shopping, driving the buses, cleaning ur classrooms. it’s ironic. how Pasifika have one of the lowest infection rates but were put at the most risk. it’s ironic. turned on the TV to hear our domestic violence rates rose, then 5 mins later heard NZQA won’t lower credits cuz the time we have is enough. like any kid wants to write essays when they have to deal with being beat up. it’s ironic. they want us to earn credits but they never give us ours when it's due. it’s ironic. poorer brown kids living the life of the hard knocks, while white girls from Epsom are making racist tiktoks. it’s ironic. & no matter how hard i keep my head in these books, i’m reminded there are things only the streets can teach you. if education is key, why do our locks keep changing? if knowledge is power, why does it come at a price we cant afford? every problem of society taught in class can be found in the hood. 𝔡𝔬𝔫𝔱 𝔫𝔢𝔢𝔡𝔞 𝔡𝔢𝔤𝔯𝔢𝔢 𝔣𝔬𝔯 𝔢𝔪𝔭𝔞𝔱𝔥𝔶. it's ironic. how NZ wants to rebuild, but it's on our backs.” @rascal.gal on Instagram. Shared with permission. [2]

 

I wonder what you’re hearing. I wonder on this first day back in church, Pentecost birthday celebration day whether you’re thinking I shouldn’t be so grim. Maybe you’re right. But I want to invite to reflect for a moment. The voices you’ve heard speak of our world as it is. We live in that world and we happen to be people of enormous privilege by compare. With privilege comes responsibility, there’s something biblical about that, covenant of blessing and responsibility. So we know a little more, what are we to do? Let’s listen some more.

 

Top scientists ask “Regarding the future, should we be depressed or excited? Optimistic or pessimistic? The best approach is to be realistic and pragmatic. It is inevitable that humans will continue to develop technologies, but … we have to put boundaries around them – even though … we will disagree over where the boundaries should be. We need processes that assist us to reach consensus on such matters. … This requires much more sophisticated dialogues than those concerned simply with short-term political expediency. We need to take one of those forms of ingenuity that evolution has given us … the ability to be self-reflective – and synthesize what we can from the multiple of disciplines of science and the humanities to understand out nature and apply our ingenuity wisely. [3]

 

A moral philosopher thinks: “the period we inhabit is a critical moment in the history of humanity. … The next century will be a dangerously precarious one. If we make the right decisions, he foresees a future of unimaginable flourishing. If we make the wrong ones, he maintains that we could well go the way of the dodo and the dinosaurs, exiting the planet for good.

Not a pessimist. He sees there are constructive measures to be taken. Humanity … is in its adolescence, and like a teenager that has the physical strength of an adult but lacks foresight and patience, we are a danger to ourselves until we mature. … In the meantime … slow the pace of technological development so as to allow our understanding of its implications to catch up and to build a more advanced moral appreciation of our plight.

It’s vital that, if humanity is to survive, we need a much larger frame of reference for what is right and good. At the moment we hugely undervalue the future, and have little moral grasp of how our actions may affect the thousands of generations that could – or alternatively, might not – come after us.

Our descendants … are in the position of colonised peoples: they’re politically disenfranchised, with no say in the decisions being made that will directly affect them or stop them from existing. Just because they can’t vote … doesn’t mean they can’t be represented.” [4]

 

Journalists, young leaders voice concern for the disenfranchised, the consequences of choices made. Scientists, philosopher’s advocate for mutuality and accountability, voice whether there’ll be a world to live in depends on the choices we make. Nary a religious word between them. It’s time to wake up. To heed the call to live beyond ourselves, beyond our niches and echo chambers, to take each other seriously. For those of us who find ourselves in religious places like this remember, we are Advocate/Spirit bearers. We go into the world in and with the Spirit - it asks certain things of us, demands certain things be made real. Let the eloquence of a Rabbi speak, “I am disinclined to pessimism. I prefer hope. Love your neighbour. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our colour or culture, class or creed.

 

These are moral principles, not economic or political ones. They have to do with conscience, not wealth or power. But without them, freedom will not survive. The free market and liberal democratic state together will not save liberty, because liberty can never be built by self-interest alone. I-based societies all eventually die. … Other-based societies survive. Morality is not an option. It’s an essential.” [5]

 

Could it be as simple and as difficult as that?

 

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/03/while-the-west-fixates-on-covid-19-vulnerable-countries-pay-the-price?

 

[2] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12333389

 

[3] Gluckman, Peter and Hanson, Mark. Ingenious. The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019, 230

 

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/26/what-if-covid-19-isnt-our-biggest-threat?CMP=share_btn_link

 

[5] Sacks, Jonathan. Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2020, x.

We Are Here

May 24, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Easter 7     Acts 1:6-14

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We are here in our church, in our sacred space. Stones, coloured glass in the windows, candles, altar, the organ. We have been gone 9 weeks. 9 weeks which included Holy Week and Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter Day. We have proclaimed Alleluia Christ is risen every Sunday of Easter from our homes. And finally we proclaim it here today, this last Sunday of the Easter season.

 

We are here, but only a handful of us; we miss all of you who we hope will soon repopulate these pews. So while we are here we wait with anticipation for the day when we can all gather, around the table, to share the bread and wine of the eucharist.

 

We want life to be normal again. No social distancing and signing in at cafes. We want to have weddings and parties, and funerals. We want to be able to sing together, share the peace by shaking hands, and kneel together at the altar rail.

 

But I fear that in that longing we are like the disciples looking up to the clouds trying to find Jesus – where did he go – where did our “normal” lives go? The angels who come and ask the disciples – why are you staring at the clouds - are like the angels at the tomb in Luke’s gospel who ask “why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5) They also ask us – why are you looking for your “normal” lives. You can’t look back; you have to look forward.

 

We would rather return to our old ways; they were familiar and secure. We knew our routines, our jobs, our way of doing things. We want them back! And yet I think we are all finding the re entry a little strange. Some are not sure they want to leave their bubbles; others couldn’t wait, but find the people and the traffic a bit overwhelming. Students have to readjust to school routines. Parents miss their children (or maybe not so much).

 

We all need to take things at a slower pace while we readjust and not expect everything to be done in the first weeks of the return. We have to take time to find our new balance, our new way of being. And not lose all those things we enjoyed: the quiet and the birds and the lack of traffic. Can we weave those things into our new way of being?

 

Once the disciples realised they couldn’t hold onto the old way of being with Jesus, they gave up staring at the clouds, and returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room. And they gathered with their community, prayed, and listened and waited. They had no idea what the future would bring but Jesus had said to wait and so they did. Next week at Pentecost we find out what happened.

 

Had they known the enormity of the experience and the challenge awaiting them they might have quietly slipped back to their homes and lives. Instead they waited. We also need to take time to wait, to reflect, to see what this time has meant. As we go about rebuilding our economy and our communities we need to reassess our priorities both personal and national, and even global. At St Matthew’s we are taking time to listen to each other by way of a survey (please be sure to answer it) and in our Zoom discussion groups. We have been enjoying the small groups, and getting to know each other in a different way.

 

We have found too that of course Jesus is not contained in this space, beautiful as it might be. We knew that before, but we have really had to experience it these last 9 weeks. Finding God in our homes, and gardens, and in the peace and simplicity. Now we can continue to find God in all those places as well as in our workplaces and schools and cafes and shops. And then when we finally do return to our stones, windows, candles, altar, organ we will bring God with us from the world outside these walls into this space, and we will be the richer for it. So we wait, and give thanks for the presence of God with us wherever we are. We pray with the disciples and the women and the community of faith which stretches from their time to ours. Until the Spirit chooses to come amongst us.

Taking Time to Change

May 17, 2020

Cate Thorn

Easter 6     John 14: 15-21

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Quite often when we introduce our speaking in church we refer to a date from the liturgical calendar. It can seem like a special code or something for anyone unfamiliar. The church has a calendar year, running alongside the regular one, populated and punctuated with events, framed around the birth, life and death of Jesus. Its imagery often matches nature’s seasons, at least as they occur in the Northern Hemisphere as well as the imagery, and energy of many already existing rituals from the life of the communities into which Christianity spread. Having lived with it for a while it seems to me the cycle of the liturgical season – with its seasons of celebration and lament, of reflection and ordinary time also maps the experience of life and living – the human landscape of life.

 

At the moment in the liturgical calendar we’re coming to the end of the season of Easter. The feast of the Ascension occurs this week, with gospel reading depicting Jesus withdrawing and being carried up to heaven. Ascensiontide then ensues until the feast of Pentecost on Sunday week. So today is the next to last Sunday in the season of Easter. An Easter season that began with gospel readings of resurrection appearances, then had imagery of Jesus as good shepherd, before speaking of the Father’s house of many dwelling places and Jesus as Way, truth and life.

 

Each of these Easter season narratives promise familiarity, care, reassurance of continuity in a way the disciples can grasp. They include disciples who are slow to comprehend, or maybe ones brave enough to say what everyone else was thinking. They include disciple disbelief and doubt. They include the need for solid, easy to understand, spelled out explanation. Last week Jesus was heard telling a bewildered Thomas he already knew the Way. Maybe because been living with Jesus had been the way – in their waking and walking, eating and drinking, laughing and weeping, arguing and reconciling, in their incredulity and unbelief at the unexplained taking place in ordinary life. Of course significant words were spoken, but maybe the way was known even more surely through the solid, walking together and with this Jesus. Known in their meeting Jesus who called them to know their unique, potent beautiful selves and gained them courage to express it. In experiencing Jesus insistent determination to live as he proclaimed, to speak plainly and bluntly at times, to name inequity, to live with enough. Known in Jesus’ raging at injustice, his weeping out of love and irresolute naming of power misused. In Jesus frustration and patience with overzealous disciples who walked doubtfully, trustingly, disbelievingly with him – enthusiastic yet uncomprehending a good deal of the time. The Way wasn't magically somewhere else. Perhaps more unbelievably it was with them, in them, where they were, with who they were, together.

 

Today’s gospel continues from last week, for reassurance sake, or as future promise Jesus now tells of the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who is to come. Jesus will go from them, no longer be seen, but continuity will be known in the spirit who abides with, in, among them, as they love and keep Jesus commandment to love. Because we read retrospectively, or hear this through the filter of many years of interpretation and tradition, we doubtless hear this intimating Pentecost, the festival soon to come. Pentecost with its great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the sometimes named birth day of the church – it can be tempting to get exclusive again. As if the Holy Spirit, breathing life into creation, hadn't been there until now (at least not in this special way). But perhaps today is a reiteration, a reminder, a reassurance that Jesus stands in continuity in the flow of divine breathing life into being. Perhaps this small gathered Jewish community hears echo from their tradition, when the Shekinah took leave of the Temple. The remembered visceral experience of divine absence, yet also knowing it wasn’t the end. In time faithful community reformed, changed for and by context, simpler yet as served the needs for their time, place and context. Jesus will die, they will viscerally experience his absence, yet they will, in time, know continuity that will reform, reshape them for their place and time.

 

Reflecting on the disrupted lockdown times we’re living through there seem parallels with the season of the church year the lockdowns began in. Lockdown level 4 began in Lent, almost at the end of Lent. In a curious way Lockdown Level 4 was like an enforced Lent. For 5 weeks there was little we could do and it gave us time to reflect. Reflect on what was most important, required us to turn to those we found ourselves closely housed with and learn out how to live together. Perhaps uncomfortable truths about relationships were revealed – that they didn’t match our ideals. It hasn’t been easy yet it has been possible. The ripple effect of this time will be played out in the days, years, decades to come and not just in fiscally.

 

As we transition through Level 3, post Lent, post Easter, we emerge into what may now feel a very uncertain world and discover we’re different somehow. Some of us emerge with a greater awareness of what is important and what can be lived without. Others of us face the stark reality of relationships disrupted or of life without work. For some of us it’s something we’ve never known – life that’s been a particular way is so disrupted we’ve no familiar signposts, or life road markers to negotiate life and this unknown, frightening landscape is overwhelming. And others of us will have to return to life on the streets as winter sets in. Some of us can resume daily pursuits, if in modified form yet many of us are still shut away.

 

Hidden for so long, fearful behind our locked doors, as we emerge perhaps we’re looking for signs of normalcy to break in and reassure. Like those post Easter resurrection appearances that broke into the reshaped, remade world of the disciples. But they're fleeting, heart-warming in the moment, yet equally bewildering because they don't quite fit us or our changed world anymore. And so we begin to talk together about embracing this change and the opportunities opened up by this break with usual. Like minded interest groups are gathering and activating this way. It can be tempting for this to become more about particular causes than for a greater good. Having been so closely guarded, we might need reminding of the need to lift our eyes beyond the parapet our isolation has created.

 

As we tentatively move to Level 2 we become even more reliant on the cooperation of one another. Ascension this week marks the time the disciples discovered, experienced together an absence of guiding presence, of being left to depend on their mutual resourcefulness. They chose to take time to pray together, to trust themselves to the rhythm and ritual of prayerful presence in the place of faith known to them. Maybe it was a way of processing, integrating, giving time for their experience to change them, for them to learn the language in body and word they needed, or the world needed from the gift given them.

 

We’ve experienced a rift in the world, with Covid-19. The response in most parts of the Western world has been to shut down, to flatten the curve so not overwhelm medical resources. The closed door syndrome when we're afraid is normal and probably necessary for a time. But it isn't real. We’re globally interconnected, it’s vital to be aware beyond our parapet. As Arundhati Roy, writes from India, “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

 

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” [1]

 

Maybe we can allow Ascensiontide wisdom to speak to us. We need time to still ourselves, to step into rhythms and rituals that call us back to ourselves, remind us of what’s most important. We need time to process, to integrate our experience and be changed by it so we act in new ways for the life of the world.

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

May 10, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Easter 5     John 14:1-14

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Some of the lines from our reading today may be familiar to you – “Do not let your hearts be troubled; there are many rooms in my Father’s house” – this is often read at funerals.

And Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to God except through me” is one of those bumper sticker phrases which aims to exclude anyone from God’s love who is not a Christian.

 

Both of these passages we assume we understand because of those contexts which have been imposed upon us over time.

“There are many rooms/ or dwelling places in my father’s house” is heard as a reassurance for those mourning – “I go there to prepare a place for you.”

It is seen as a reassurance about the existence of heaven, and life after death.

And with apologies if this has been an important passage for you but John the gospel writer did not have funerals in mind when he wrote these words.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” is not actually about sadness at a funeral, but about deep distress, fear, and agitation in the face of persecution and suffering.

“John” is writing in the late first century for a community struggling to come to terms with their identity as people of Jewish descent who are being rejected by their own because of their new beliefs and practices.

Do not let your hearts be troubled in this context is – it will be ok – you can step out on the Jesus road – and it will be alright because God will be with you just as Jesus was with you.

 

Jesus is telling the disciples to stand fearless in the face of persecution, as he stood fearless in the face of death.

He tells them there are many rooms, or many places to dwell in his Father’s house which is not “heaven” – but about being in relationship with God.

The awkward translation “dwelling places” is trying to get at the double meaning of the word meaning a place, and as a metaphor for the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit”.

 

So when the disciple Thomas, who is ever practical and can’t think in images or metaphors, says “we do not know the way to this house, where are you going, get the map out and show us the way.”

Jesus replies – I am the way – I know God, God dwells in me, and God dwells in you too, because you have known me.

 

Exasperated Philip joins in “show us the Father and we will be satisfied” just show us already! where, how, what, on the map, in a place.

Jesus, also rather exasperated, says “Have I been with you all this time and still you do not know me?”

Knowing, abiding, dwelling, being in relationship; these are the things John writes about.

There are many rooms in my Father’s house; there are multiple ways to be with God because this is about relationship, not about a physical place.

The disciples know Jesus, he has said to them: abide in me as I abide in you; be with me, walk with me, to the cross, follow my way, and you will know God.

 

The line “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” has been used over the centuries as an exclusive line, to exclude other religions, and to claim Jesus as The (only) Way to God.

But again the context we use scripture in can distort the original meaning.

Remember John’s context of persecution and opposition and struggle.

They have to find their “way” through this.

The word used for “way” can mean a road, or a journey, or a course of conduct, the way we behave.

 

In the Book of Acts the early church is described as people of the Way (19:23, 22:4).

The followers of Jesus lived and acted a certain way; they followed a path laid down for them.

 

And that way was far from exclusive; Jesus never excluded people from his table, his teaching, his followers. Instead he went out of his way to welcome the outcasts and the “sinners.”

 

So what might these overused and seemingly familiar, but not familiar, lines have to say to us today?

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” might not go down to well – really? when 100s of 1000s of people across the world are dying and when our neighbor has lost their job and when the kids are truly driving us crazy after 6 weeks of lockdown.

 

Our hearts are rightly troubled by all of these things and more; we are experiencing something life changing and world changing.

If our hearts were not troubled we might be concerned!

 

Yet perhaps we can hold that sense of trouble or distress within the container of our relationship with God.

 

Jesus who went to the cross, Jesus the good shepherd holds all of that distress.

That doesn’t really seem possible does it.

Like Thomas and Philip we want to say – how, show us how?

And Jesus replies – stay with me; be in relationship with me; walk my way and I will show you, step by step.

 

So our challenge now is to discern what the next steps will be for each of us in the Jesus Way.

What will be the path; where will it lead?

As we move out of lockdown (we hope!) we need to take the time to reflect – what have we discovered about ourselves in this time?

what do we want to retain?

our sense of Sabbath time, more time for family and walks; the birds, the lack of pollution.

And what are we looking forward to most – not just takeaways – but seeing people, family, and enjoying the offerings of our local businesses – the hard work of our neighbours.

 

And what are the hard things we need not to lose sight of; the stress and worry for those losing jobs and businesses.

And what do we want to see on the other side of all of this?

 

I want to see the homeless who have been housed stay housed;

I want to see us tackle homelessness and poverty with the same energy we have tackled covid 19;

and can we apply the same worldwide energy to climate change.

 

When Jesus invites us to follow his Way – these are the things that we can do in our context.

 

At St Matthew’s over the next few weeks we are going to be having conversations together about our new world that we are entering. What do we want to leave behind; what do we want to embrace; what role can we have as people of faith in the public conversation that is evolving?

 

As we do this Jesus invites us all to walk the Jesus way, being held, and abiding together in the many dwelling places of the house of God.

Of Shepherds and Sheep

May 3, 2020

Cate Thorn

Easter 4     John 10:1-10

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

So far on Sunday’s in our Easter season we’ve been hearing stories of disciples’ experiences after Jesus death. Experiences of encountering a presence, a companion with them, they come to recognise as Jesus. Almost every time this presence appears, breaks into their world, they’re gathered, with another, going about their normal activities. Today the focus in our gospel shifts. Perhaps this ragged band of gathered followers is trying to make sense of things. Put some explanation around, some flesh to the one they’d gathered around. To strengthen and make meaning of the curious draw Jesus had, that he called out from them. Remember we’re embedded in a Jewish community here, a tradition replete with shepherd and sheep imagery narratives. Imagery used to evoke meaning and response, to enable understanding and stimulate action. I wonder the response arising in us to images of shepherd and sheep. I think there’s value in noticing and paying attention to the response these images engender in us, especially if we attribute them to God/Jesus. Unintended or unattended images of God can have potent impact on us and in us, especially if we’re cast as a sheep.

 

Lynda Patterson, a late Dean of Christchurch humorously illustrated this in a reflection included in a 2015 Lenten Bible study. “Once I was talking to some Catholic friends in Auckland, they invited me up for their little daughter’s first communion celebration. Little Casey was very excited about is and grabbed the phone to tell me about how she held out her hand and the priest put a wafer in it and then he said the special words. Her Mum took the phone and said that Casey had been particularly taken with the words, “God be with you” when she received the host. So much so that she marched home, sat her mother down, presented her with a pink wafer biscuit from one of the packets in the pantry and whispered to her mum in her most reverent voice, “God will get you.”

 

Out of the mouths of babes … It struck me that that’s a reasonable assessment of what some people think of God. [God] is out to get us.

 

[Lynda’s] grandmother was a keen embroiderer and [her] first encounter with theology was in the texts she embroidered and illustrated and left in various significant spots around the house. One of her favourites was “Thou God seest me” from Genesis 16:13. It was in every room of the house, accompanied always with an enormous and rather threatening eyeball. As a child it made [her] quite anxious. It was particularly disturbing to sit in the bath with the eye of God gazing down from slightly to the left of the bathroom mirror. [Lynda] always found [her]self adding an awful lot of bubble bath.”

 

She reflects, “I wonder how many of us secretly believe God is out to get us. God is the looming presence which makes itself felt whenever we’re doing something slightly dodgy; God is the admonitory finger which waves whenever we have an unworthy thought. The eye of God watches at the keyhole and sits under the bare light bulb interrogating us about our failings. We build up the image of God who is high up and far away – too high up to tolerate our slightest weakness and too far away to feel a great deal of sympathy for us.” [1] I wonder if this resonates with any of you. Even a more benign shepherd image is still other than a sheep and a sheep’s still need fully dependent.

 

Today’s gospel from John seems, in this Easter season to be moving us from resurrection revelation toward a naming, a validating of Jesus’ identity. The gospel passage is ever so slightly confusing. We hear of sheep and sheepfold, gatekeeper and gate, of thief and bandit, shepherd voice calling and sheep hearing, shepherd entering and sheep going out. Jesus explicitly claiming to be the gate, then explicitly claiming to be the shepherd and, depending on how you look at it, he might at the same time even be the gatekeeper.

 

So Jesus-the-shepherd enters Jesus-the-gate because Jesus-maybe-the-gatekeeper opens it for him ... so that he can get to the sheep. Confused? Perhaps he’s having an identity crisis, mixing metaphors … or maybe he’s trying to make a larger point.

 

Jesus as shepherd, well that’s familiar but Jesus as gate, how are we to understand that? There’s an interesting little detail, easily missed, which may help to clarify. But we have to visit Gospel of Luke, in the 13th chapter Jesus tells his disciples to “strive to enter through the narrow door, for many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.” This teaching from Luke is much better known than the gate-teaching in the John that’s often lost. This can create a problem because, if we’re not careful, we’d read “I am the gate” in John and think it’s Jesus talking about the same thing as in Luke. It isn’t.

 

The teaching from Luke tends to be remembered because of its moralistic overtones, as if to say you must walk the “straight and narrow,” and strive to make it into God’s Kingdom. It may be what the writer of Luke’s gospel is having Jesus say. But this differs from what the author of John has Jesus saying. This is a very different teaching.

 

I don’t know whether you noticed but the sheep aren’t the ones entering the gate (door) – Jesus is going in the gate (door). The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Notice Jesus goes in to lead the sheep out. Not in. The sheep’s coming and going to find pasture is secure when they hear their name and respond to being called. But first Jesus goes in to lead the sheep out, it makes you wonder: if we’re being led out, where are we being led out from? And, maybe more importantly, where are we being led to?

 

So if you understand yourself as one who’s chosen to respond and meander towards the one who knows your name, what’s it feel like to be called a sheep? A sheep’s become symbolic in our culture of someone who’s a mindlessly compliant follower of social norms. Many an Internet commentator has delivered withering, independent-minded diatribes against the unquestioning masses they deride as “sheeple.” Even if you’re comfortable with being compliant, there’s the discomforting reality that sheep are none too bright.

 

Hilariously commented on in the Monty Python skit, Flying Sheep [2], in which a tourist begins talking to a farmer leaning on a gate, looking into a field. The tourist is shocked to see sheep up in the trees – nesting – the farmer has come to the conclusion. They observe the sheep trying to hop two-legged around the paddock, unsuccessfully trying to perch and to fly. The trouble is, the farmer explains, that sheep are very dim. Despite all the evidence to the contrary they’ve been convinced by a sheep named Harold that they are, in fact, birds. Harold, the farmer explains is “that most dangerous of all animals: the clever sheep. He’s realised a sheep’s life consists of standing around for a few months and then being eaten, a depressing prospect for and ambitious sheep.” Might this suggest being clever is a problem? I don’t think so. But you might want to ask where Harold’s cleverness left the sheep? Harold’s doubtless correct in wanting there to be more to life than being eaten, but that doesn’t mean a sheep can make itself a bird – make itself something other than it is.

 

Do you sometimes wish you could be different, or your circumstances changed or that life in the world were different? I wonder whether the call in us is not toward being something different, but rather toward being more truly who we are. As we uncover this we change, our world changes and we become part of changing our world. The shepherd imaged today doesn’t round up the sheep with a whistle, or herd with whips and prods and dogs. This shepherd calls the sheep by name. Is our wisdom to recognise, to know our name when we’re called? Our skill as sheep is to listen – to listen from the deep place in us from which we recognize who we truly are.

 

Maybe when we’re called from the sheepfold, we’re called from ways of living that limit or entrap us to abundant life. Inside or outside the sheepfold there are risks and there are many clamouring voices. Choosing to respond and align our life toward the one who knows our name may not lead to a life miraculously made easy, certain and secure. But it may be known in the nature of the life engendered in us – we find ourselves opened to possibility, in some way freed, with courage and a passion to enquire and explore life beyond our familiar bounds. It’s strange to think we’d recognise our name being called. It might almost suggest we’re uniquely intended, honoured and respected. Our choice to respond and follow the one who calls enacts this, brings it to life and makes it real. Once called we’re not to stay in but to go from the sheepfold to give as generously as we’ve been given, to risk granting others the recognition, honour and respect already given us. Even as their being who they are is different from us, even as we may be changed in order that sufficient space is created for them so that they can share pasture with us.

 

 

[1] https://www.theologyhouse.ac.nz/theology-house-publications/2015-lent-study-book/

 

[2] http://www.montypython.net/scripts/flysheep.php

The Sacraments

April 26, 2020

Helen Jacobi

Easter 3     Luke 24:13-35

Video available on YouTubeFacebook

 

The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is I think my favourite Bible passage.

 

I love to wonder about Cleopas and his unnamed companion – women tend not to be named in the Bible so maybe she is Cleopas’ wife or daughter.&n