Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

When we started our children’s ministry here, this was what we talked about on our first session.
We showed the kids the window at the back of St John’s which depicts this scene.
We got the children to imagine what it would have been like to be one of those children.
What would you talk to Jesus about?
What would you ask him?
They wrote their thoughts and drew pictures about this and we put them on the wall.

Starting with this saying was deliberate.
It was important to let the children know how important they are to God,
that they are as important to him as anyone else.
That in fact, there is something about being a child that is very important to God,
that Jesus tells us adults we need to find or recover for our own salvation.

So, what is it about children that is so important?
How does a child receive the Kingdom of God?

Children are completely dependent for everything.
They depend on their parents for food, clothing, shelter, warmth.
They depend on their parents for love.
There is nothing they can do to earn this.
They can’t buy it,
they can’t do chores for it,
they can’t take out a loan to pay it back,
they can’t do anything like that.

They can only receive everything as a gift.

All a child can do is receive all these things,
which all come from love, as gift.
They are given freely, they are received freely.
A child doesn’t understand stand the concept of dependence.
They just are dependent.
That is the way life is.
Complete dependence, complete acceptance, complete love.
The only thing a child can do in return is love.

That is how we are to receive the Kingdom of God.
We can’t earn our way into it.
We can’t do anything at all to get it.

All we can do is receive it.
All we can do is accept our complete dependence of God for the gift of life.
All we can do is accept that God loves us.

The only thing we can do is love God.

Well that all seems pretty easy.
Love God, and hunky dory, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.

Unfortunately, we are no longer children.
We are adults.
Some of us have children, grand children, even great grand children.
We are no longer young dependent loving little people.
We are adults with years behind us,
lives that have been filled with unmet expectations, disappointments, fractured relationships, illness, addictions, depression, and unanswered questions.

The little child who once was dependent and only loved in return became an adult with bills to pay,
battles to win,  and an urge to be someone that counted for something.
The little child developed a shell to protect it from the harsh reality of living.
The little child got lost in the world of accomplishment and ego,
and shrunk away hidden as the adult blustered its way into ageing.

It is a terrible tragedy.
This is what Jesus is getting at.
Notice that Jesus is speaking about little children because the disciples are being negative about them:

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them;
and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.

Jesus is making a comparison.

But Jesus called for them and said,
‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them;
for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 

You guys reckon you have gotten it all sorted out.
You think you know everything.
That is exactly the problem.
You think you know everything.
You don’t.
The fact that you do think you know everything shows precisely that you don’t.
You don’t get it.
See these children.
They get it.
They don’t think they know anything.
And that is exactly why the Kingdom of God belongs to them.
They are open.
They will see the kingdom of God because they have no preconceived idea of what it is like.
They are open to learn what God is like.

It is very hard for us to get back to this state of unknowing.
It is very hard for us to get back to the state of complete dependence and love that we at some stage we lived in.

It is scarey.
It makes us very vulnerable.
To let go of our preconceptions of who God is, is a big leap of faith.
It takes courage.
It takes humility.
It takes the mind and heart of a child.

And this is exactly what Jesus is telling us.
It is a journey that we need to go on.
And continue to go on.
It takes time.
It takes guts.
It takes patience.
It takes the mind and heart of a child.

It is in that state of unknowing, of letting go, of being open to God that we begin to find ourselves and who we are in God.
And it is in that place,
in that prayer,
that we find the mind and heart of a child.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus parable starts off like a joke:

‘Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.’

And like that oh so familiar joke, the point is juxtaposition.

In the joke, it is usually that one particular group of people,
whether it be based on race, region, or religion
is singled out as being stupid, or odd,
or whatever ever peculiarity that comes from their culture.

By their difference, they are placed on the outside of the norm.

Their difference is seen as a reason to discredit them,
and they are put outside.

It’s a bit like that in Jesus parable.
Yet it is not a joke. It is serious.
It is a matter of who is truly justified.

Now, we know from Paul, particularly his Letter to the Romans,
that we are justified by faith, not by works.
We know this.
Do we believe it?
Do we live it?
Is it the way we really live out our faith?

This is a very tricky area for us in the church.

You see, we know we are doing the right thing.
We know by coming to church,
by giving of our money and our time and our gifts,
we are doing the right thing.
The church survives because people like us continue to worship
and continue to give.

And that makes us feel pretty good.
We may at times feel we are better than those who don’t do those things.
We may feel justified because we do those things.

A dangerous and slippery slope.

Let’s change it around a bit.

‘Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one an Anglican Priest, the other a drunkard.’

The Priest, standing by himself, was praying thus,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
thieves, vandals, adulterers, or even like this unemployed person.
I pray twice a day; I spend my time talking to people about God, I give my time and money to the church.”

Now, those of you who have prayed with me,
or have heard me pray in church
know full well I wouldn’t pray in such a way.

When I sit at the pub and see some of the nonsense that occurs,
do I feel better than those people?
Well, sometimes, I guess I do.

I remember doing those same stupid things when I was younger,
and I remember the hangovers, the empty wallet, the regret for saying stupid and mean things.

But it isn’t really that I think I am better than them,
rather, that I think I am now making better decisions.

Am I justified because of my decision to serve the church rather than drink every night?

No. I am justified because I believe in Jesus in my heart.

This is the danger of comparing ourselves with others.

You see,
when we place ourselves in a position as being better than others,
or that we are holier than others,
or that we do more for the church than others,
or that we give more money to the church in others,
or what ever it is that we think that we are better,
we are falling into the trap of vanity, or judgement,
of being exactly like the Pharisee in the parable.

We all want to lead holy lives,
we want to live the way God leads us to live.

If we follow the way of the Pharisee in the parable, we miss the point.

The tax collectors prayer is a far better way.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

If we can recognise where we have gone wrong,
where we have missed the mark,
we put ourselves in a much better relationship to God.
To recognise our shortcomings,
to admit we have gotten it wrong,
to ask for forgiveness from God,
and from those we have hurt opens us up to the presence of God.

That presence gets cloudy and blurry when we are boasting or judging or whinging about someone else.
When we behave in such a way, we move ourselves away from God.

It is a humble heart that is open to God.

for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Sometimes our greatest sin will be our sense of entitlement, superiority, or self righteousness.
This is the sin that the Pharisee was committing. This is the sin we commit when we judge others as not being as holy or faithful or as good as we are.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

This is where we need to place ourselves.
Rather than seeing the fault in others, we need to see the faults in ourselves.

This can be an unsettling experience.
It can be hard to admit how we have gone wrong.
It is a humbling experience.

for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

It is a humbling experience. To think that God who created all time and space cares about how we go about our lives is humbling.

And the fact that he forgives us is both humbling and exalting.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

Your faith has made you well.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us:
faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.

Faith allows the miraculous to be a reality.

We hear today of the role faith plays in healing,
the role faith plays in the bringing in of those who were out.

These ten lepers were the lowest part of society.
They were excluded from all aspects of society,
they were completely on the outside of everything.
And because they couldn’t go to the temple or the synagogue,
they were outside of God.

It was a dreadful, in the truest sense of the word, predicament.
This horrible disease had placed these people to the outer edges of the universe, a place where God could not reach them.

They don’t ask Jesus for healing. They ask for mercy.
Their life situation had reduced them to beg for not wellbeing,
but just a touch of hope.

Furthermore, one of the lepers is a Samaritan.

We will remember that Samaritans were regarded as pretty low on the social scale.
So not only does Jesus heal those who were regarded as outside of God, he heals one who would also be regarded as an enemy. 

This Samaritan leper represents all that is wrong in the eyes of the old way of being.

In this one man, all that is to be rejected, ignored, and scorned is present.

And to make this point even stronger,
it is the Samaritan leper who responds to Jesus.

He turns back, praises God with a loud voice, and prostrates himself at Jesus feet.
The others, who we can only assume were Israelites,
go off to show the priests, as Jesus told them to.

But this Samaritan acknowledges that something far greater is going on.

The other nine go to the priests to thank God for their healing.
The Samaritan works out something far greater has happened, something far greater is happening.

That far greater thing is that God is incarnate in the person of Jesus,
that God’s healing power and love is present in the man who stands before him.

Who are the leprous Samaritans in our time?
Who are those who are regarded as enemies,
who are regarded as being outside of God in our society?

Who are the leprous Samaritans in your life.
Who is there in your life who you can’t stand to even think about?
What is the leprosy you see around you?
What is the section of society, the behaviour, the class, race, or religion of people that you struggle with?
Who is the person who you think of being outside of God’s mercy?

To those people, to that person,
Jesus puts his hands out and brings in, and loves.

Jesus heals those who we may be repulsed by.

Maybe it is us
who are quick to dismiss,
quick to remove from our sight,
quick to judge and damn those we don’t like,
maybe it is us that need the healing.

Maybe our behaviour toward our fellow human beings,
even our brothers and sisters in Christ is making us lepers to the world around us.

Maybe it is us who need to ask for God’s mercy for our behaviour that can be very unchristian.
Maybe it is us who need to prostrate ourselves at Jesus feet.

The good news is the Jesus is the healer of all.
He heals those who are lepers, he heals those who treat others as lepers. All can be healed by Jesus, and he never refuses anyone who asks.

We as a parish need healing.

We are about to say goodbye to St Mary’s in Greta.
That will hurt, and will leave a wound which will need healing.
The community in Greta will be upset and angry that what they had believed would always be there, will no longer be.
There will be healing work to do with the people of Greta.

There are relationships within this parish that need healing.
There are memories and hurts that need healing.
The vast division between our two centres needs healing.

What has been allowed to stay an open wound must be healed,
and we all have a role to play in that work.

The truth is, if the wound remains open, it will start to fester, it will rot, and it will eventually kill the parish.

The time has come for us to begin this most important work.
As a parish, this is our most important work.

This work begins most simply with forgiveness.
It is time to let go of any anger, hurt, or pain,
and give it to Jesus to be healed.
It is time to be whole, not a part.
It is time to forgive any wrong that has happened.

This is the first step on the way to healing.

As forgiveness flows, so will healing.
As God forgives us, we forgive others.
As God heals us, we can heal others.
As we are healed, our church is healed.
And as our church is healed,
so we can heal our communities of all that causes them suffering and pain.

Jesus said:‘your faith has made you well.’

You faith will indeed make you well.
God will heal you through your faith.
God will heal our church as he heals us.

Lord Jesus, let your healing love be upon us.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

Faith the size of a mustard seed.

Now, you all know we have started our childrens’ ministry, and we have named it Mustard Seed.
We chose this name because Jesus uses the image of a mustard seed quite a few times in his parables.
Later today at Mustard Seed, we will be hearing Jesus speak about the mustard seed growing into a tree.

Today’s reading is a bit different, but goes to the same point.


Without faith, we wouldn’t be here this morning.
Without faith, we wouldn’t bother with all the difficulties of living and having our being in the church.
Without faith, we wouldn’t be able to put our hands out to receive the body and blood of Christ at communion.
Without faith, we wouldn’t be able to pray.

I can only speak for myself, but without faith, I’d be completely lost.

‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

Now this is not a statement that is to be taken literally.
Jesus, as he does so often, uses hyperbole to make a point.
Faith, even a small amount can work miracles, if only we exploit it to the fullest.

Jesus is not speaking about a doctrinally correct faith,
or a faith that has gone through a series if intellectual propositions.
He isn’t speaking about a creedal statement.
He is speaking about our ability to affirm life in spite of what life may dish out, even in the face of doubts.

It has nothing to do with our formal intellectual beliefs.
In fact, these can often get in the way of our faith.

The importance of faith comes out in the gospels most often in the healing stories. Most of the healing narratives end with Jesus saying something like ‘your faith has made you well,’ or ‘your faith has made you whole.’

Faith is a function of the soul, not the intellect.
Like when Jesus said
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 

A child’s faith does not come from an intellectual process.
It comes from their soul.
Our faith needs to be the same.

Faith is something that is largely rejected in our time.
This rejection comes from an over intellectualised and over rationalised attitude toward life.
Humankind essentially worships the intellect and reason.
A belief in a creedal statement is mistaken for faith.
A belief in the 39 articles is mistaken for faith.
None of this can be proven by science or intellectual thought.
If they can’t be proven, they are generally rejected.
The intellect can’t believe in something unless it is proved.
This is why there is so little faith in the world today.
It is a mistaken idea of what  faith is,
how faith works in us,
and where faith comes from.
It comes from denying the soul.
Denial of the soul denies faiths existence.

The world values intellect more than feeling,
function more than relationship,
and even more,
the capacity to make money more than the capacity to heal.
Look at the US government at the moment.

Even religion values intellect more than these things in our time.
Obedience to law, rationality, puritanical morality are valued more faith.

I am not saying intellect is bad, or we don’t need it, or that it is anti faith.
I’m not saying that at all.
We don’t need to leave our brains at home when we come to church.
Not at all.
What I am saying is that faith comes from a different place.
It comes from us being in touch with our souls.
It comes from our souls being in touch with God.

Jesus almost seems to be saying as much:

‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

Our intellect knows we can’t uproot a tree by wishing or praying it to happen.
Jesus uses hyperbole to make the point.

The brain hears this, knows it not to be a rational idea and dismisses it.

But the soul feels it.
The soul hears it and is enlivened by such an idea.
The soul knows it, and faith springs to life.
With faith we hear this, and it feels like a great freedom is being placed with us.
With faith we feel the roots of the mulberry tree coming out of the ground.
Faith allows what the intellect deems impossible.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us:
faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith the size of a mustard seed allows the miraculous to be a reality.

Sermon for Michael and All Angels

you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

As a church in the 21st century, we have a very complicated relationship with angels. 

The more materialistic understanding of our world has led many people to think that if they can’t see or touch something, it can’t be real, or can’t exist.  
Many within the church have this attitude.
I mean, we can accept we can’t see God, and we believe he exists, but anything else, not really.

The difficulty with such a view is that angels are everywhere in the Bible. 
From Genesis to Revelation, angels pop up everywhere.  
In the New Testament, there is only one book that does not  mention angels, the Letter of James. 

Jesus knew about angels:
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man
This is my favourite line of scripture. 
I will never forget the first time I heard it. 
It was when I was preparing for confirmation at St Michaels in Christchurch. 
In that line being spoken, I heard the scriptures come to life. 
They became something I lived in, and they lived in me.

You see, the world I lived in before becoming a Christian was filled with talk about angels. 
This was stuff that I understood, this was common to many people I associated with. 
But here, in this line of scripture, there was something greater. 
This Jesus who had come to be everything in my life was saying that these same angels would ascend and descend upon him. 
These same angels existence, purpose and being was, like my own, like all of our own, centred on Christ. 

Like the collect we heard this morning:
Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order
the ministries of angels and mortals:
grant that, as your holy angels stand before you in heaven,
so at your command
they may help and defend us here on earth; 

It was that defending we heard about in the Book of Revelation: 

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.
The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated,
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 

I believe Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, indeed all angels are an important part of our Christian cosmology. 
But, more so, they have a function for us in terms of outreach and evangelism.
While the church has seemed almost embarrassed by angels and does not speak of them very often, 
they are spoken of, written about, prayed to, painted, and reported about by many parts of our society. 

Many people believe in angels, but have no belief in Christ. 

For us, angels can be a middle ground, a meeting place to speak with such people. 

But for today, we celebrate Michael and All Angels. 
We celebrate their being with us, and we worship God with them, as we say every week:
“with angels and archangels, we worship you Father, in songs of never ending praise”

May our liturgy make us aware of our closeness to God, 
and give us a tiniest glimpse of heaven.