Sermons

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Around the Table – John 12:1-11

There were five children in the McDonald family.  With two parents that was quite a crowd at the dinner table.  My father sat at one end of the table, my mother on the long edge to his right.  My older brother sat down the other end.  My younger brother sat beside Mum, so she could keep him in order.  The three of us girls sat down the other long side.  Me to Dad’s left, then the middle sister, then the youngest sister. 

7 people, 6 chairs.  My youngest sister spent her childhood meals perched on the kitchen stool.  That was her place.  No one would have dreamed of offering her their chair.  She was the last to arrive, so she got the stool at the back corner of the table.

I want to give you a minute or two to think about the meal table of your childhood or perhaps the meal table where you brought up your own children.  Maybe the meal table of your childhood is the meal table you sit at now.  Think about that meal table.  What does it look like? How are people seated around it? Where was your place?  What happened/ happens around the meal table – arguments, laughter, catching up, eating, teaching manners? What happened when someone was naughty?

I invite you to turn to someone close by, (not your brother or your sister or your mum or your dad) and share a story of a particular meal, or of how things were at your place around meals.

…..

Were those meals always pleasant, happy, harmonious and kind?

Hold those stories of your real meal tables.

It is well known that when people first employ a home help or cleaner to clean their house, they usually attempt to clean up the house a bit before the cleaner comes.  I imagine that wears off over time, but it says something about us not wanting strangers or visitors to think we live in a mess – even if we do.

Maybe you have memories of feverishly cleaning the house before your mother or mother in law arrives.  Wanting everything to be spick and span for them.  Wanting them to know that you are managing just fine (in this case managing – having time to be meticulous in the housework).

People can sometimes be a bit like that when it comes to communion.  They feel if things aren’t perfect, or they are not in a great space with God, or themselves or others, that they really shouldn’t be taking communion – it is too important and sacred a meal for them to be participating in their current state of mind and spirit.

Perhaps that attitude was reinforced by the rigmarole associated with traditional Presbyterian communion services – only four times a year plus on high and holy days.  White cloths backing the seats where communion was served.  If you didn’t want communion you sat in the back seats without the cloths.  Communion tokens or communion cards so that the elders knew that you had been there.  Pre-communion services on the Wednesday or Thursday before Communion Sunday so that you would be properly prepared.  In some cases, a barrier around the communion table.  Most of which said ‘Holy’ rather than ‘Welcome’.

Perhaps that attitude was reinforced by the holiness traditions of Methodism and the Church of Christ and by their theology that underlined free will and responsibility.

Paul’s instructions about the need to eat the bread and drink the wine ‘in a way that is worthy of the Lord’ were given to members of the Corinthian church to remind then to be aware of the circumstances and needs of others in their church community, and not just of themselves.

Perhaps in another age when church and state were more closely aligned, those words, ‘in a way that is worthy of the Lord’ were understood in an individualised, internal, pious sort of way, rather than the community- oriented way of their original context.

When I think of the stories of Jesus and meals in the gospels, I can’t think of any of that could be described as harmonious, pleasant, happy, and kind.  Perhaps the meal at Simon Peter’s place, rustled up by Simon Peter’s mother in law after Jesus had brought down her fever, might be the closest.

The stories of meals with Jesus, whether in houses, on hillsides or lakesides, seem to be full of surprises and challenges.  Many have undercurrents of menace and conflict.  If you wanted a pleasant, undemanding evening out, he was perhaps not the best dinner companion.

And the story of this meal at Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ place is a case in point.  It’s a meal with friends on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  The chief priests have a plan and are waiting for their moment.  The next day Jesus will come into Jerusalem on a donkey.  In five days, he will be dead.

Anticipation, tension, anxiety, menace, warmth, appreciation, love, food, company … and one there ambitious for Jesus and ambitious through Jesus for himself.  (Dangerous waters.)

Martha has been cooking.  Lazarus, the brother they lost and had restored to them is sharing the meal with Jesus and the rest of the men.  In the middle of this Mary, the intuitive, whether in response to the tension or simply out of gratitude, picks up the most expensive thing she owns (a bottle of perfume worth thousands of dollars) breaks it open and pours it over Jesus’ feet.  Lazarus when he died did not get that perfume, but Jesus, who brought him back to her, did.

And the room explodes with the scent and the surprise, and the angry disparaging outburst from Judas about the stupid woman who did this.  Wasting an important asset in this way when it could have been put to far better use.  And Jesus comes to her defence.  He knows what she has done, better than she herself knows, and he is deeply touched and grateful.

And the meal that lies behind the communion meal is even more fraught than this one.  It is full of anxiety and fear, bravado, misunderstanding, betrayal, sadness and concern.

So, you see, there was nothing perfect about those meals, and those who were there were not necessarily in a great space with God or themselves or others.  But they ate and drank with Jesus.  And in communion, we are invited to eat and drink with Jesus as well. 

All of us.

Dedication of Church Banner – Easter Day 2019

Psalm 144 is a Passover psalm and no doubt that is why the lectionary uses it at Easter.

It celebrates the physical events from the Exodus out of Egypt and the desert wanderings in a poetic way – the Red Sea looked and ran away, the river Jordan stopped in its tracks, the mountains skipped like goats and the hills jumped like lambs (perhaps a reference to the quakes and storm on Mt Sinai as the law is given to Moses?).

‘Red Sea, Jordan river, mountains and hills, why did this happen?’ the Psalmist asks. And the unspoken answer is that the Lord is Lord of all the Earth and Earth trembles in God’s presence. The Psalmist continues.  ‘This is the God who changes rocks into pools of water and solid cliffs into flowing springs.’ This is the God, then, who not only rescued Israel from slavery, but also kept the people alive and sustained them on their journey, that eventually led them to the promised land.

For a people travelling on foot in the desert, the road is from one oasis or water hole to another. If that is not the road it is a dead end, literally. Water is life and its presence is what opens up a road way. To those who dwell in an arid land, to be in a place of abundant water is both gift and blessing.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Waikoropupu-Springs-Takaka.jpg

Te Waikoropupu Springs, Takaka

Jewish and Christian scriptures talk about ‘living water’. Living water is water that has come from a spring or a river or a stream or falling rain – fresh water. It is not there because someone has carried it or stowed it. Living water is water that comes directly, as a gift from God.

I have heard it said that the history of the Tawa settlement parallels the history of Wellington and its transport systems. The first road, the railway first from Johnsonville, then following the Tawa rail tunnels coming directly into the suburb, the motorway north/ south and now the new motorway, all of these have had and will have an impact on this settlement.

But before them all, before Pakeha settlement, there were the old Maori tracks that came up the stream gullies from Whanganui a Tara (Port Nicholson/Wellington Harbour) – the Ngaio, Ngauranga and Korokoro gorges and made their way over the hills to drop down to the valley on the other side. Our valley, with its own stream running through it – the Tawa Stream fed by tributaries from what we call Takapu, Stebbings, Kenepuru, and from a number of other smaller streams running off Colonial Knob- some of them in culverts now, and hidden.

The flood plain of the Tawa stream created flat land all the way to Porirua Harbour. And that made it the obvious route for the Old Porirua Rd that the soldiers built soon after the European settlement of the area began. That was the road that connected the two harbours in the region, the road that was the beginning of a land-based connection between Wellington and further north.

In a fundamental way this stream gave life to our settlement and others. It gave access to Maori and European settlers. It was their trade route, their water supply, a food supply, their playground. A generous stream.

The plan was to do a Tawa banner – so we had to have the stream.

The phrase ‘its waters gave life’ comes from the end of the book of Revelation. The writer has picked up on an old passage from Ezekiel, of a stream flowing out from the temple, getting bigger and deeper as it goes. A stream that brings life, fruitfulness, healing and blessing to all that it touches directly or indirectly. In the book of Revelation, the stream flows from beneath the throne of God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ). The trees that grow alongside it produce leaves for the healing of the nations.

The Easter story is an exodus story. It is about God in Jesus making a way for us out of entrapment and into the freedom of God’s grace and love. Easter is about the healing of you and me, and our neighbours and the nations. Easter is the generosity of God, a stream that gives life.

In John’s gospel there’s a story about Jesus talking to a woman he met at a well. She had had a tough life, been in and out of a fair few relationships. She was a battler and a survivor. They were at the well in the heat of the day and they got talking about water. Jesus said, ‘This well water – everyone who drinks it is going to get thirsty again. But I can give water that will satisfy a person’s deepest thirst, for good. The water I give will become like a spring inside them, bubbling up to eternal life.’ So they’ll not only find that their thirst has been quenched, but the life giving water they have received wells up and spills out of them to refresh others. So they themselves will become life giving water for others.

When you stitch something like this banner, it is not quick, and you have a lot of time to think about things. Those of us who worked on it have been looking at these words for a while, and we have been thinking that ‘giving life’ is pretty much what we are called to do, as Christian people and as a church.

The ancestors of the Jewish people spent their lives learning and relearning to trust their story with God. Our own lives with God involve that same learning and relearning to trust. But being open to receiving new life from God and working away at giving life to others is at the heart of it.

Clare Lind

What river runs through your life?

What river runs through your life?

Maybe you lived by it.  Maybe you holidayed beside it.

What did your river teach you?

Braided River4

This is the Tawa Union Church logo.  I am told it is a depiction of a braided river.  What does the logo represent for us?  What does it say about who we are and what we value?

I once got talking to a retired engineer, at the mouth of the Waitaki river.  There are fishing camps north and south of the river mouth and he lived in one of them.  He had come down, as I had, to look at the river.  He told me that there is very little river sand in the river.  Because of that boats on the river need special anchors that will grab the gravel sufficiently to hold them.  He recommended a couple of spikes attached to a couple of car suspension springs welded to a short length of railway iron.

He said that only around a third of the water from the river flows above the surface of the shingle that forms its bed.  The rest flows through the shingle which acts like a giant filter.

All large rivers have plumes where they enter the sea.  Often they are obvious after a storm; the water from the swollen river is a very different colour to that of the surrounding sea.  The fresh water plume from the Waitaki extends a long way out to sea.  In the days of sailing ships, ships were able to replenish their drinking water without having to come in to land.

My mother’s old neighbour is a geography teacher at the Girl’s College.  Each year she takes the girls on a field trip along the length of the river.  I asked her where the river begins.  She laughed.  ‘It is usually traced from the beginning of its longest tributary,’ she said.  ‘We say it begins at the Temple Basin at the head of Lake Ohau.’  She gets the girls to observe and measure the river stones along the course of the river.  ‘It is a bit hit and miss, because the three hydro dams on the Waitaki hamper the movement of the stones down the river.

ISS_Waitaki_River,_Canterbury_and_OtagoThe Waitaki has one of the biggest catchment areas of any river in New Zealand.  Snow melt from the Temple Valley, Mount Cook, Mt Tasman and from further north in the Southern Alps, feeds the glacial lakes of Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo.  Their rivers flow into the hydro lake of Benmore.  When it leaves Benmore it is finally called the Waitaki, and it passes through two more hydro lakes on its 110 km journey to the sea.  It is a braided river.  It frequently divides and merges along its course.  While its main channel is always deep, some of its strands are stream-like and easily waded.  With all this movement you might think that the overall course of the river would be full of twists and bends.  It is not.  If you look at this aerial photo you can see that the course of the river from when it leaves Benmore is surprisingly straight.

taieri-scroll-plainIts straight course is very different from the course of the river that was part of my growing up, the Taieri River.  The Taieri is a river full of sinuous bends.  In fact, its whole course is one great bend.  Its mouth is not all that far from its source as the crow flies.  In rivers that snake like the Taieri, sometimes the beginning of one of its bends is quite close to the end of the bend.  When the river floods it may change its course and carve a short cut through the land separating the beginning and the end of the bend.  When the flood recedes the bend is now cut off from the river.  It has become what is called an oxbow lake.  Given that it no longer has an inlet or an outlet it may eventually dry out.  In the upper reaches of the Taieri River there is a scroll plain where this has happened over and over.

We are commissioning people to be our leaders this morning.  How does all this talk about rivers connect with our life together at Tawa Union Church?  What questions does it raise for us?

I want to draw your attention to three areas that might bear our consideration.  You may have others.

1)The first is to do with habitat.  Braided rivers are full of shingle islands.  These islands lying within the riverbed between the strands of the river teem with insects.  This makes the islands an attractive habitat for our native wading and water birds –  oyster catchers, banded dotterels, wrybills and the rare black stilts.

 And the river isn’t just home to the waders.  I knew someone years ago who did some bird counting for DOC along the Waitaki.  He came back with an incredible photo of a New Zealand falcon.  He had unwittingly got too close to its nest and it buzzed him.  He said he could feel the wind from wings on the top of his head.  He held his ground and when the falcon came again he took the photo.  Its wings were fully spread as it pulled itself up from its dive, just avoiding him.

These precious habitats need to be considered when it comes to management of the water ways.  Changes in water flow can lead to increases in weeds.  It may also mean that predators like wild cats and rats and ferrets can reach nests and young birds more readily.

What are we doing to identify and nurture the precious life that exists along and between the strands of our TUC water way? 

2) A place of constant movement and change   Instability and change are inevitable features of braided river systems.  These river systems are in constant movement.  Small shingle bars appear and disappear as river channels shift and water flows vary.  Birds that nest in these areas have adapted to these changes.  For instance, many of these birds do not build elaborate nests, so they can rebuild them quickly if destroyed by flood.

How lightly are we holding things?

Are we living expecting things will change?  Because on a braided river they certainly will. 

3) Connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting

Along a braided river the different water courses within the river bed are always moving in and out of each other.  But the overall course of the river is remarkably straight; it is clearly heading in the same direction.  At TUC we are very proud of our different strands – different services, different programmes for different tastes and needs.  We are good at recognising difference and making space for it.   But how good are we at connecting and reconnecting and at moving together across the strands?  Are we only this wonderful community because we don’t see much of one another?  If that were so it would be a poor sort of Christian unity, and it would only pay lip service to our diversity as well, because we would never be getting close enough to really get to know our differences.

Our Tawa Union Church logo has a pleasing balance to it, with the curves on either side of the main stream suggesting alternate strands.

Does our logo look closer to a river with ox bow lakes or a braided river/ Or, more importantly, are we acting like a braided river or are we simply making ox bows and a scroll plain?

When did you last have a meaningful interaction with someone outside of the group you usually relate to in TUC?  What are you going to do about that?

Clare Lind

Beware of the Kids :- John 6:1-12

You know the story of the Emperor’s new clothes.

The Emperor was a very vain man.  He loved fine clothes.  A parade was coming up on his Imperial calendar; it was time to get a new outfit.  So tailors were invited to come up with something that was fit for an Emperor.

Emperor's New ClothesTwo confidence tricksters, who knew of the Emperor’s vanity and his love of clothes, came forward.  They told the Emperor that they could produce a set of clothes for him that would be so fine and exquisite that those with common eyes would not even be able to see them.  Only those whose tastes were noble and refined, like the Emperor’s, would be able to appreciate them.

Well that well and truly appealed to the Emperor’s sense of superiority, and the two tricksters got the job.  They insisted on working in secret, and they frequently came back to ask for money for this material or that.  It was turning into the most expensive set of garments the Emperor had ever had made.  ‘Still,’ the Emperor reasoned, ‘that was to be expected given the exquisiteness of the outfit.’

Finally the day to try on the outfit arrived.  With great anticipation the Emperor entered the fitting room.  But to his horror when the tricksters displayed what they said was the outfit the Emperor couldn’t see it.  They made a great show of helping him into it.  Smoothing a wrinkle here, removing a thread there, and they pronounced it a perfect fit.  The Emperor looked at himself in the mirror.  It was not any more visible to him with the mirror, than it was without it.

The Emperor is a snob, and he is caught by that.  He is too embarrassed to question what he is being told by the tricksters, because that might mean admitting that he is too common and unrefined to see what they are telling him is there.  And what if members of his court can see them and he can’t?  That would mean that there were people in his court who were more noble and refined than he is.  So he acts as though he can see them.  And he goes in the parade wearing his wonderful new costume, which is so exquisite that only those of noble tastes can see it.

And his entire court goes along with it.  They are either as snobbish as he is, or they are aware of who pays their bills.  And so the parade goes on, until a child who has no social etiquette whatsoever, nor any political sense ….  a child who is not afraid to trust what his eyes tell him, asks his parents in an over loud voice, ‘Why isn’t the Emperor wearing any clothes?’

And so the child becomes the truth teller for the crowd and the Emperor.  He gives permission to the people to acknowledge what is in front of their eyes.  He may be watching an Emperor, but that child is, at that point, the most powerful person on the street.

…..

Old_family_photo_by_allwellHave a look at this photo.  It illustrates a social and family expectation.

It is telling us that these boys are miniatures of their Father.  They are dressed like him; they stand in the same pose as him.  They are growing into him.  (If there had been girls, perhaps they would have sat on the near side of their mother on chairs that got progressively smaller).

Remember the boy in the story who told it as he saw it.  Remember the times when children, whom you know, have done that.  Do not discount the wisdom that is sitting there in your children and grandchildren, your nephews and nieces and great nephews and nieces.  Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we are the only ones with things to teach.  That they are empty containers waiting for all our knowledge and wisdom.  That they are somehow meant to echo everything that we think and so reassure us of our conclusions and our prejudices.  God did not give us our children to make them into miniatures of ourselves.

Yes we will undoubtedly shape them, and they may end up having interests and views of life and of God that are not far different from our own….  Or they may not.  For those who keep an eye on children, one of the hardest things to learn and relearn is that those under our care need the freedom to make their own journeys at their own pace.  To allow someone that freedom is an act of love.

We are not the same people as we were at 5 or 15, or for the older among us, 25, 45, 60…  We need to allow others that same privilege of growth and discovery.  If we do that we may be in a place to make some discoveries of our own, through them.  Remember the boy in the story.

It is quite possible that the children whom we rub shoulders with, may grasp a part of the truth that we have never noticed or have long since forgotten.  Their journey may encourage and inform our own.

…..

The story of the Feeding of the 5000 is found in all four gospels.  John’s account is the only one that mentions the boy.  The other gospels just give a count of the loaves and the fish.  John’s mention of the boy is responsible for turning this story into the Sunday School lesson favourite that it has become.  This is a story that is frequently used to teach our children that even children can do helpful, kind things (which is true, children can do kind and helpful things, and we would want to encourage them to do so).  However we don’t want to be eyeballing the children to let the adults off the hook.  You see the real barb in this story is for the adults.

Beware of the kidsLet’s have a think about that boy in the Bible.

How did he know that Jesus and his disciples were talking about food and how to cater for the crowd.  For that boy to know, he was most likely close in to where Jesus and his disciples were.  He was not among a bunch of kids mucking about on the edge of the crowd at the lake shore.

Did Andrew see him nearby and notice his lunch box?  Or had the boy wormed his way through the crowd (as children are good at doing)?  Was he watching, and did he overhear Jesus and the disciples conversing and so offer what he had to Andrew?

The story doesn’t tell us.  But when Andrew, the disciple, draws attention to the boy, Andrew doesn’t do it because he believes it is the solution to the catering problem.  He does it as a possibility to be discarded.  ‘There’s a boy here with 5 little loaves of barley bread and a couple of fish.  But what good is that with all these people?’  It is a bit like saying, ‘well we could go that way, but we know that just around the corner the bridge is out, so we wouldn’t get very far.’

But even if Andrew didn’t see it as a solution, I think that the boy may have offered it as a solution.  Interestingly, Jesus takes it as one, or uses it as the basis for one.  This is a subversive story.  The gospel readings talk about a crowd of around 5000 men.  They don’t count the women and the kids, though we know that women were among Jesus’ disciples and this boy indicates the presence of children.  It was a mixed group of varying ages who had come out to hear Jesus.  Around 5000 men in that crowd, but the germ of a solution has come from one of those who weren’t counted.  It has come from a child.

It can be foolish and arrogant to discount the ones that don’t count.

Beware of the kids….  The ones that tell it like it is, that tell the truth….  The ones that observe and wonder….  The ones that aren’t put off from doing or suggesting something because the grownups think it is impractical.  If you want a staid and settled life instead of a continuing journey, watch out for those kids.

 

Something About Mary – Luke 1:46-55

We have heard the story of Esther- the courageous wife and queen. We have heard the story of Ruth, the loyal and loving daughter in law. Today we come to the story of Mary, a woman who is famous for being a mother – the mother of Jesus.

Amid Catholic and orthodox circles Mary receives a lot more attention than Protestants tend to give her. In Catholicism, May is Mary Month. In different places around the world there are processions that venerate Mary. These celebrations celebrate the Catholic understanding of Mary as the Queen of Heaven (after all her Son is a King)

Some of these processions have a number of displays, with each display picking up a different title for Mary and honouring it. Some are large outdoor processions. But in many churches the procession may be a small one inside, where a statue of Mary is carried around and decorated with a garland of flowers.

That most Catholic of practices, the rosary has a strong focus on Mary. Legend has it that the concept of rosary beads as a prompt for prayer, came to St Dominic in the 13th century when he had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The prayer that is repeated most often in the course of saying the Rosary is the Hail Mary.

‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.’ That part is a repeat of the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary when he announces to Mary that she will have a son.

It is followed by a prayer…

‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our need.’

The mysteries that are remembered during the saying of the rosary recall events from Mary’s life as well as Jesus’. The purpose of the rosary is to come to Christ through Mary and so to come to the Father through Christ.

mary2No doubt you have seen pictures similar to this of Mary.

Of the three Jewish women we have talked about – Esther, Ruth and Mary, – Mary is the most in danger of being lost under all the veneration that has come her way; buried among all the things that people have wanted to put upon her.

We were looking at some old photos the other day, some of them very old. There was a severe one of my Great grandmother, surrounded by eight of her nine children. There was one of my mum, looking slightly hassled as she tried unsuccessfully to get four of her five children to look at the camera. There was one of me looking rather bleary, taken not long after the birth of our oldest.

We looked nothing like this depiction of Mary. There was nothing serene or sentimental about those images of motherhood. My mother wasn’t sentimental about her parenting of us, and great grandmother Jensen didn’t look the sentimental sort at all. While I have enjoyed being a parent tremendously I have never been sentimental about it.

In fact I don’t think that I have never met any woman who has been sentimental about her own motherhood. A woman might get sentimental about their mother’s motherhood, or the Duchess of Cornwall’s motherhood, for instance, but probably not their own. Sentimentality requires a certain disconnect and distance. Your own motherhood is, I suspect, too particular and concrete and close to allow you that distance.

What I am saying, then, is that the overlay that has stuck to Mary over centuries of veneration, almost certainly doesn’t reflect how she thought about herself and her role in raising Jesus and the rest of her family. She would have been far too busy and immersed in the concrete realities of life to ever think of herself like this, if she even possessed a shiny surface to look at herself in. It is also unlikely that Jesus and his brothers and sisters thought of Mary, in this sort of idealised way. She wasn’t a cartoon or an icon. She was their mum, with all that meant in warmth and grumpiness and rightness and wrongness, and similarities with and distinctness from anyone else’s mum.

As a young person on the edge of adulthood she had said, ‘yes’ to an astonishing proposition from God, and learned that ‘yes’s’ to God can have far reaching implications and consequences. Almost certainly that dawned on her long before she found herself heavily pregnant and a long way from home. And no doubt, as a mother, she said, ‘Yes’, again and again. For that is what most mothers do in the long haul commitment they make to the wellbeing of their family.

mum and toddlerIt is perhaps their long haul commitment to that, that puts a mother among the most influential people in her children’s lives. However you think the divine and human worked out in Jesus, (as if we can ever really know), Mary would have left her mark on him. Hers is the voice that comforted him and the others. She was the one who taught him his first words and who sang to him as she rocked him to sleep. The one who told him stories.

Mary’s song, which we heard this morning, is steeped in the Jewish scriptures. It has strong similarities with the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Although the pleasure that Hannah expresses at enemies getting their just desserts, has no part in Mary’s song.

What is interesting is that it has the same turning upside down of the social order that is found in Jesus’ teaching and interactions with people. It is not Mary’s invention, of course. The Jewish prophets were talking this way long before Mary. But Mary has grasped it. The God she has said ‘yes’ to is the God who restores the fortunes of the poor and who feeds the hungry, who brings down the arrogant and makes those who expect to come first, and grab the most, wait.

That is not so far from the Isaiah passage that Jesus uses 3 chapters later, to announce his ministry.

‘The Spirit of the Lord has come upon me, and has chosen me to tell good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoner, give sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.’

One of the unusual and controversial things about Jesus the rabbi was the way that he was happy to teach women and even include them in his inner circle. That says something about God’s valuing of people, whatever their gender. Perhaps it also says something about Mary, his mother, and the intelligence and openness to God that he had seen in her.

God is a mystery. But we know how humanity works. It is inevitable that something of Mary would have rubbed off on her son.

Clare Lind

A Prayer for the World

A Prayer for the World ……by Ron Bichan

A photo in the news this week
of a small child being carried dead from the surf
has haunted the world –
a living reproach upon how some
conduct themselves towards others.
A prolonged cry for action
to deal with refugees has been sounded.
Something has to be done,
by someone, somewhere.
Creator God, see our concern
and send forth your light
through lives such as ours.

 

People are gathering in other places
(from all over the place).
… driven by wars, by poverty,
by pollution of their space,
by fear of their neighbours,
by climate changing
where they have lived for ages passed.
Loving God, we cry out on their behalf,
send forth your light and your truth,
through lives such as ours.

 

People are searching for work, for a safe home,
for space free from violence for their loved ones,
for someone who will care in a careless world.
God of peace, let Jesus be found sowing his peace.
send forth your light and your truth
through lives such as ours.

 

In the faces of so many we see written
the dangers  they have passed through,
The privations they have experienced,
and the evil they have suffered.
God grant that somewhere on this earth
there may be new life for them.
Send forth your light and your truth
Through lives such as ours.

 

These faces may haunt us for a while,
But what next, O God?
Will our response condemn us also?
Will there be some who can open their lives
to the ones who stumble along life’s way?
God grant that there will be an inn
to shelter them,
A kindly heart to welcome them,
open hands to offer sustenance,
healing and mercy
from whatever wrong has been done.

 

Send forth your light and your truth,
Through lives such as ours.
 

                                                                       Ron Bichan

A Bad Day – a story for Girls’ Brigade

It had been a bad day… a really bad day.  When Ella thought about it, it was hard to think of anything that had gone right.  She had woken up late, and by the time she got down to breakfast her little brother had eaten the last of the Coco Pops, and that had meant that Ella had had to have cornflakes.  When she grumbled about it, her mum said, ‘Well there is always toast.’

‘I don’t want toast,’ said Ella.

‘You were happy with toast yesterday,’ said her Mum.

‘That was yesterday,’ said Ella.

‘Well, it will have to be cornflakes, then.’  And her mum put a bowl of cornflakes down in front of her.  Ella looked at the bowl of cornflakes.  She sighed and took a couple of mouthfuls from it.  It was not as good as coco pops.  Her brother Hamish was down from the table now and playing with his Duplo in the lounge.  ‘Hamish gets all the good things,’ she said.  ‘He is allowed to play and he ate all the coco pops.  He is full of coco pops happiness… my coco pops happiness.’

Her mother was fixing the lunches at the kitchen bench.  ‘Are you eating up Ella? Come on we need to head out to school soon.’  Ella took another mouthful of cornflakes.  Then she pushed her spoon through the middle of them and made a channel of milk down the centre of the bowl.  They had been learning about New Zealand at school.  ‘This is the North Island and this is the South Island and this is the Milk Strait,’ she said to herself.

‘Ella, are you eating or playing?’

Ella took another spoonful of cornflakes.’  and the North Island is not so big anymore.’

Hamish came in to show her the truck he had built.

‘That is not a very good one,’  she said.

‘Tis good one,’  said Hamish and his bottom lip trembled.

 ‘Teeth, Ella!’ called her mum from the kitchen.

Ella ran to the bathroom before Hamish started to cry.

Her Mum came in to the dining room and picked up Hamish.  ‘There, there, Hamish, what are you crying for?’ she said.  ‘What a lovely truck you have made.  Ella,’ she called ‘where is your lunchbox.  It is not in your bag and it is not on the bench.’

The lunch box was nowhere to be found.  ‘It’s a good lunchbox.  You need to look for it at school,’  said her Mum.

So Ella ended up having to take her lunch in her old lunchbox with the embarrassing Little Mermaid picture on it.  ‘I am so over the Little Mermaid,’ she scowled as she climbed into her booster seat in the back of the car.  They were late for school because of the lunchbox, and Mrs Rennie, her teacher, sent her to the office because she had already marked the roll.  It was not a good day.

At playtime Suzy Swanson didn’t want to play with her because she wanted to play with Bronwyn Wright instead.  That meant that Ella had to play with Elizabeth Fraser and Moana Erueti.  Moana was all right but Elizabeth was bossy.

There were ham sandwiches in her lunch, when her Mum knew that she liked Nutella ones.  Elizabeth was so bossy that Ella went off to play on the bars by herself.  It looked like Moana was thinking about joining her but in the end she didn’t.

Mrs Rennie took them to the library after lunch, but Ella wasn’t allowed to get a book out because she had forgotten to bring the book, that she did have out, back.  She was mad about that, because it wasn’t much of a book.  It was all about ice skating.  She had only got it out because Suzy Swanson liked ice skating, and Suzy was her friend.  But not today.  Suzy was sitting down beside Bronwyn Wright looking at a magazine together and smiling.  ‘I hope she sits on a nettle,’ thought Ella.

Just before home time Mrs Rennie took them out for PE.  They played four square, but today Ella couldn’t get past the second square.  She was sure that Bobby Williams had called her out when she wasn’t.  It was a bad, bad day.

Mum was a bit late to pick her up so she had to wait.  When she climbed in she kicked something under Mum’s seat with her foot.  It was her lunch box.  ‘Not much use finding it now!’ she thought.  Then they had to go shopping for a raincoat for Hamish because he was getting too big for the one he had.  There was a purple jacket that Ella liked, but Mum said that her one had lots of wear in it yet.  Hamish was singing about his new coat as he held on to it in his car seat in the back of the car.   And that just made Ella think about how she wasn’t allowed one.

‘You know,’ she announced when they got home ‘ I might just look for a new family.’  And she stomped up the passage kicking Hamish’s truck to pieces on the way, and slamming the door to her room.  A minute later while Mum was busy giving Hamish a hug, she quietly opened the door and stuck a sign on it.  ‘KEEP OUT!!!’

It was very quiet down that end of the passage for a long time.  When Dad opened the door to tell her it was teatime Ella was asleep.  He closed the door again quietly.

When he came back again later with a tray of food Ella was awake.  ‘Hey, kiddo,’ he said, ‘how was your day?’

‘Not so good,’ she said.

‘Tell me about it.’

And so she did.  ‘Whew,’ he whistled, ‘that was quite a day, wasn’t it?’

‘Yep,’ she said, it was a bad, bad day.

And that night after her bath, her dad sat on her bed and read her a story.

………………….

Princess AngieThe tiny kingdom of Fifefirey was ruled by the Fury family.  Princess Angie was a Fury.  From the time she was born she could bellow so loud that it could be heard around the greater part of the Kingdom. 

‘Ah,’ said her father, King Ferdinand the Furious, proudly, ‘Listen to that wailing.  That is the sound of a Fury.’ 

Her mother, Queen Jane, bought ear muffs. 

By the time she was three Princess Angie could yell so loudly that the vibrations would knock pictures off the walls two rooms away.  She had a fearsome temper.  There was a ding in her nursery wall where she had hurled the golden rattle, which her father had foolishly given her.  It was lucky for her that she was a princess or she would have had no toys that were unbroken.  Her nannies never stayed long.  Her tutors came and went.  She was her mother’s worry and her father’s pride and joy.  ‘Such lungs!’ he would exclaim.  ‘Such spirit! Angie, my angel,’ he would call her.  But to almost everyone else she was ‘Angie the Angry.’ 

Ferdinand the FuriousAngie may have been a princess, but her life was touched early by tragedy.  Her father, King Ferdinand, had a temper as fierce as his daughter’s.  Queen Jane did her best to contain it, but one day when his toast was too cold, and his bath was too hot, and his prime minister was too late, he picked up a lead candlestick and hurled it at the Palace window.  Unfortunately it hit the masonry and bounced back and hit him on the head. 

It was a tragic and untimely end – death as a result of an accident at his own hand.  Queen Jane had to rule in his place until Princess Angie was old enough to take over.

PatienceAngie had a cousin on her mother’s side whose name was Patience Fairweather.  It can be lonely being a princess, and Patience was Angie’s very best friend.  Patience was a sweet girl with a lovely singing voice.  Whenever Angie was worked up over something Patience could somehow quieten her down.  She never shouted at her.  She did not run to and fro like the adults did.  She just sat and swung her legs and hummed or sang or played.  In fact she acted as though Angie wasn’t even in the room.  After a while Angie would blow herself out, enough to see that there was just her and Patience, and she would quieten down.  Then Patience would say, ‘ Hey Ange want to do this?’ or ‘Shall we play that?’ The adults would return to find the 2 girls happily at play.  Patience was a very good friend.

Then one day Patience got sick, and quite suddenly she died.  Everybody was sad.  Patience was such a loveable girl.  Angie was sad too.  She was sad and angry all at the same time.  In fact she was furious.  She shut herself in her room and she bellowed and she broke things, and people were afraid to enter in case she threw something at them.  She was in there for days and the queen was very worried.  She summoned the Royal Physician. 

The Physician looked around the family portraits of all the Fury’s on the wall, all the old kings and queens of Fifefirey, including the late king.  ‘Your Majesty,’ he sighed ‘it is easier to deal with a little fury than a big one,’ he said.  ‘If you act now you may avert a bigger tragedy later.’

Ferdinand the Fierce1The Queen looked at the portraits too… So many of those Furys had died young.  …her own husband, King Ferdinand the Furious… his father King Ferdinand the Fierce, who had simply exploded in rage, in an explosion so fierce that they never ever found his royal slippers.  The Royal Physicist at the time had maintained that they must have spontaneously combusted.  His uncle Vernon the Volatile who had walked off a cliff in blind fury.  Such a waste of life.  And here was her own little Angie threatening to go the same way.

That made Queen Jane angry, in a way that she had never been angry before.  She had had enough of this Fury family and the way it destroyed itself.  It could not be allowed to continue to happen.  She marched down to Princess Angie’s room, and ducked the jug of juice that was thrown at her.  ‘You are coming with me’, she said.  ‘I have something to show you.’  She grabbed her daughter’s hand.  Princess Angie was so surprised that she went with her.  They stood in front of the family portraits and Queen Jane told her daughter all the stories about them that she knew….  so many people who died too young destroyed by their anger.

Queen JaneShe gave her daughter a hug and looked her in the eyes.  ‘I know you are upset because Patience died.  I am upset too.  She was a wonderful girl and a very good friend to you.  Life can be hard, Angie.  Often it doesn’t turn out as we wanted.   But do you think that shutting yourself in your room, and trying to hurt anyone who comes near you, is a good way to remember Patience?  Do you think Patience would want you to do that?  Wouldn’t it be better to remember Patience by doing some of the things that you used to like doing together?

It is not wrong to feel angry, but you can choose what you do with it.  You mean so much to me.  I would be so terribly sad if you chose to let anger destroy you.’  And the Queen shed a tear or two and Princess Angie did as well. 

Princess Angie still got angry.  Sometimes she got very angry, but somewhere in her anger her mother’s words would come to her.  ‘You can choose what to do with it Angie.  You mean so much to me that I would be terribly sad if you chose to let anger destroy you.’  And Princess Angie would remember her friend Patience, and she would sit where she and Patience used to sit and she would hum one of the tunes that Patience used to hum.  And when she did that, it seemed like Patience wasn’t so far away from her after all, and somehow her anger dissolved away.

……………………

‘And that, Princess Ella, is the end of the story.’

‘Thanks Dad,’ said Ella.  She leant over and gave him a kiss.  ‘I think I will stay in this family after all.’

‘That’s a relief,’ said Dad.  ‘You know, of course, that in this family we don’t slam doors.

Ella nodded.  ‘Sorry,’ she said.

‘Hey, tomorrow is a new day,’ said her dad.  ‘And at least you found your lunch box.’  And with that he kissed her goodnight.

A Matter of Love:- Romans 13:8 -14:3

I worked with university students for a while. I can remember reading over an essay for an overseas student once to check his grammar. It was an economics essay from memory. It was full of unnecessarily big words! Even more than a subject like economics would normally use. It was as though he had gone to the thesaurus and picked the longest equivalent word in the list and put that in his essay. I challenged him on it, and said ‘Why have you said it that way when you could have just said this? Because this is all you mean isn’t it?’

It was a conversation between an English Graduate and a commerce student with English as a second language. But he didn’t understand that if something can be put simply, that is probably the best way to put it. He made the assumption that many people who are not trained to write make. He thought that the longer the word, the more impressive and important things will sound… The more likely that the essay will get a good grade, because the marker will think this person must know what they are talking about, because look at the words that they are using! …Big, long dictionary words.

But that is actually not so. Unless it is a French vocabulary test it’s the thought that matters more than the words.

It is an interesting thing about the English language, that it is the short words rather than the long words that are most important. Maybe that is so in other languages as well. Unless it is a technical situation the short words are generally more useful and important than the longer words. ‘Go’ is more important than ‘proceed’, ‘help’ is more important than ‘render assistance’, ‘car’ is more important than ‘automobile.’

In the English speaking world the most important things are usually said with words of 3 syllables or less.  And one of those words, one of the most important, is ‘Love’. Four letters, one syllable, but with more meanings and nuances than we will ever know. ‘Love’.

As Paul turns towards the end of his letter to the Roman Church to give advice on how they should live as a Christian community, how they should relate to one another and to the wider community beyond the church this little word, ‘love’ and its practical implications crop up again and again.

In the first part of our reading he makes a point that is similar to the one that I have made about the short word for something being the most important. He refers to the Jewish law and its many commandments stretching over whole books in the Bible, and he says, ‘Look, this is what it all boils down to… This one overarching commandment, ‘Love others as you love yourself’. All the complexity of the law, and chapter after chapter of the law, can be summed up in this short word, ‘love’. It is all that the law demands. Love. In your life together, this is what you owe one another. Love.

Paul goes on to encourage the church members in Rome to be up and active when it comes to living out their Christian faith. He reminds them that they are part of the new thing that God is bringing into the world through Jesus Christ. They are part of the coming dawn. They need to let their lives be defined by that rather than by the night that is coming to an end… the night where deeds are characterised by selfishness, and abusiveness, disrespect, quarrelling and jealousy.

Now we may want to argue with some of this light and dark language. We might want to point out that the night is not completely black, that those who say they belong to the light are not without their darkness and that the promised dawn is a long time coming. But those arguments do not get us off the hook with the central challenge of what Paul is saying. Yes there has always been some light in the darkness There is a strong biblical tradition that the whole world is God’s and that God’s Spirit ‘blows both inside and outside the fences’ (J.K. Baxter). And yes the people of God don’t have a clean record, apart from being in Christ. And yes the dawn has proved to be further away than anyone in the early church envisaged.

But to live mostly by self- interest, to think that the meaning of life is to have more and more things, to be ground down by work, to not know the freedom that comes through knowing the love of God, to treat others as less than human, to live in fear, to believe that might is right, to trash the earth, to give no thought for others or for tomorrow… Surely these are forms of darkness or blindness. This is the sort of night that Paul says is coming to an end. Sad, dark, dangerous ways of living together that even many modern pundits are warning must come to an end, saying they are undesirable and unsustainable.

The word apocalyptic means something that is revealed or disclosed. The Christian faith is an apocalyptic faith. It is focussed on a future that started with Jesus Christ and is still in the process of being fully revealed. But what will be revealed will be in keeping with what Jesus talked about when he talked about God’s Kingdom. It will be in keeping with the life he lived. So Jesus is not only the beginning of this revelation of God’s new future, he is the pattern for it as well. He is our pattern… a pattern of self- giving love.

And so, when Paul encourages the Christians to live as though the future is here, he tells them to keep the Lord Jesus Christ close, as close as the clothes on their backs. Jesus is their model and their guide into God’s future – a future that operates in a very different way to the politics, social norms and expectations of the great city of Rome where they lived and worked…. A future that operates in a different way to greater Wellington where we live and work. Keep Jesus close Paul says, then you won’t be so easily side tracked by your own selfishness.

Our reading this morning ended with Paul tackling an issue that divided the Roman church, about whether it was alright to eat meat or not. If the meat was sold at the market place there was no way to know how and where the animal it came from was killed. That meant that it may have come from a pagan temple. Some were very bothered about this issue and others not much at all. Paul’s response is interesting. ‘Learn to live with your differences’, he says. ‘Do what your conscience tells you and allow others the space to do what their conscience tells them. Don’t be critical of someone because they don’t share your way of looking at things. God has welcomed them and so should you.’ Just as Jesus is the pattern for the Christian life, God’s hospitality to all sorts is the pattern for the Christian community.

Paul makes it clear then that if you are going to be part of God’s future today the way you do things will be challenged. Jesus’s pattern is not a focus on oneself but a focus on others. God’s hospitality is not just toward a particular group that mostly believes the same. God welcomes people who are like us and people who are not at all like us. And when we find that hard to handle it is not God that needs to change.

Love signThat word love is a simple, sweet sentimental little word from a distance. But up close and personal it has the power to challenge us to the core and change us. It is a tough word that pushes us out beyond ourselves to engage honestly and humbly with others. And we will begin to recognise that people say love in all sorts of ways… that some of them have perhaps been saying it to us all of our lives even though they hardly ever spoke the word out loud.

It is a word that will take us to our limits. It is a word that will force us to lean on God, because only then will we have the strength to love as God has loved us. If we take that track we will learn again and again that God is love. And that that love is spoken to us through other people, through mercies on the way, through the beauty and the steadying rhythms of the world around us. And sometimes we may even catch sight of the way that God has spoken love into other’s lives through us.

‘Love others as yourself’. ‘Be ready to live in the light.’ ‘Let The Lord Jesus be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t act selfishly’ ‘Welcome all the Lord’s followers…. After all, God welcomes everyone.’ Love…. Practical love. It all boils down to love.

Hagar and Ishmael – Genesis 16 & 21

Recently a baby was brought into the Waikato Hospital A&E. It had been knocked around in its own home.  Because of the severity of its injuries it was transferred to Starship Hospital in Auckland.  A few days later it died.  It was 9 months old. Read more →

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