Sunday, 20 May 2007

The plan and the promise - Ascension

Easter 7 year C Sermon 07 Ascension
Luke 24:44-53
They will never touch him again in the flesh...but before he leaves them... Jesus explains once more... what’s happened...and how it’s gonna be from now on.

Jesus lays out the plan... He reveals to his friends... how God’s promises and purposes... have already been fulfilled... and how God’s promises and purposes will go on... being fulfilled through them.
through his friends... his followers...through us. [pause]

Before his death...they’d been mystified and confused... and concerned for his sanity and safety...alarmed when Jesus claimed the scriptures would be fulfilled in him... because that would mean suffering. But that was before the resurrection... before their time... with the risen Christ.

Now it was different. They’d touched him... listened to him... and shared food with him.
Right before their eyes and ears... stood the proof that God’s love was stronger than death...proof the Law and the prophets and the psalms... were pointing to Jesus... as Messiah.

This part of God’s promises had been fulfilled.
And only now...could Jesus open their minds... ‘so they could understand the Scriptures.’ you see,

"This is what is written... Jesus told them: ‘
The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day...and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

You are witnesses of these things. You’ve seen the first part of the fulfillment of these promises with your very eyes.

But it doesn’t end with this...there’s work to do.
You need to understand... God’s promises won’t be fulfilled...until every ear in every nation...
has heard the call to turn God’s way of love and receive forgiveness. [pause]

I can just imagine the conversation round the campfire at this point.... Hey wait a minute Jesus... this sounds a little ominous... you’re not going to leave us again are you? You don’t really think we’re capable... of fulfilling God’s promises on our own
do you? Get real...Jesus...

we’re the cowards who denied we even knew you when you were arrested. We’re the ones who ran away quivering into the shadows...
on the day of your death. So uh...why don’t you tell us ...exactly how will repentance and forgiveness be preached to all nations.... when there’s only us...
left behind to do it.

And I can just imagine... Jesus shaking his head... and thinking... you never you?

But Luke tells us... that out loud... Jesus reassures his friends.... Don’t worry about it...

‘I’m gonna send you what my Father has promised; but for heaven sake...stay in the city... until you’ve been clothed with power from on high.’

Don’t even think about trying to accomplish this under your own steam. It was never the plan...
for you to do this work on your own...left to your own devices.

And though you absolutely will... have to be my Body when my human body.... is gone from this earth...
the only way up can be it... is by not jumping the gun ... you’ve got to wait... for the help I’m sending. [pause]

Amazingly and astoundingly...Jesus is telling his followers... the incredible news... that the long expected Day of the Lord... predicted by the prophets ... is about to occur...the time ‘After the sun has turned to darkness... and the moon to blood...
the time promised by God... through the prophet Joel.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD... will be saved.’

Poured out on all and and poor...slaves and free...even the Gentiles even the unclean...even pagans... Even on beneath these mountains and beside these lakes... even on us here at the ends of the earth. Visions and dreams of what could be.

And so when Jesus was finally gone from them...
what did his followers do... while they’re waiting for God’s Spirit to be poured out on them... [pause]

Well... they went back to Jerusalem and worshipped. They waited... together... patiently... [pause]

Why O why do we imagine it would be any different for us. Why do we try to be the Body of Christ... struggling to continue his work of... carrying the good news of God’s those who don’t yet know it... slogging away under our own steam... without ever... ever... waiting together in worship... on the outpouring of the Spirit.

Why do we continue the modern illusion that this is an individual thing... and not something Jesus asked us to do together? Week after week... year after year... we allow our corporate pride to tempt us...once more into the illusion of self-sufficiency.

Forgetting Jesus promise... that the only way his followers can carry on his healing redeeming work...the only way we can effectively be his Body ...together for our community...for those who don’t yet know his love...the only from time to time wait patiently receive what God has promised... [pause]

And when we receive it…. what does Jesus tell us… is going to happen?
Why then… we’ll be ‘clothed with power from on high’. Why then… we’ll be given strength to seek out those… whose backs are turned to the compassion of God… and the wisdom to tell them that God is longing for them…that forgiveness is already theirs ...because of what Jesus has already achieved. [pause]

You see my friends…Jesus coming…
his incarnation into our humanity… was a oncer…

some call Jesus entry into time and space to deliver the message of God’s love for all people… some call it the hinge of history… Those who walked and talked and touched Jesus… had seen the first part of God’s promises… fulfilled before their very eyes…. the Messiah had come… had suffered and died…
and Jesus had been raised to new life again…
they’d seen the power of the wielders of death… destroyed by love. [pause]

But the universe is still waiting for the second half of the promise to be fulfilled.
There are many still who haven’t heard the liberating message of Jesus.

Will we be obedient and wait for the guidance of the holy spirit before we set out on our mission. Unfortunately it seems to me we’re always in danger of thinking we can manage the future all by ourselves.

The church has often fallen under the spell of this illusion. And two thousand years… the body of Christ has often stumbled blindly on… struggling in the dark to defeat the powers of unbelief… injustice… hatred and death… without first waiting for the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Yet, Jesus promised he would send the help we need.

So when we suddenly notice we aren’t tearing down the walls that separate people from God and God’s way of love… if we seem powerless to end the harm we do to ourselves to one another and to God’s creation… then maybe it’s because we really haven’t even tried to wait together obediently… for the guidance of the Holy Spirit…

Make no mistake…the Day of the Lord must come again and again… the Holy Spirit poured out on every generation…until God’s promise is fulfilled in every heart and God peace fills all the earth.

So may we find ourselves as a worshipping community…willing and eager to receive the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit…so God’s purposes of love can be fulfilled through us.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

The river of the water of life

Easter 6 year C Sermon The river of life
John 4: 7- 14 and Revelation 22:1-6
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God

Where does the river of the water of life begin? Where does it flow? When we’re parched and thirsty how can we reach it? When we feel empty and drained…how do we open ourselves to it’s refreshing stream?

When we’re conceived… is the river of life already flowing in us?

It seems that unless a tragedy happens…as we float in the warmth of our mother’s womb… everything we need is provided…

And one day we spill out into the harsh light
into a colder environment… no longer weightless… we are helpless…yet though the cord is cut…
unless a tragedy happens… we are not alone…

when our little tummies are empty… someone is there to fill them. When our little bodies need warmth and touching… someone is there to hold us.
When we need praise and affirmation… someone’s eyes glow with love…someone mouth grins in our direction.

It could be our mum…it could be our dad…it could be any loving person…

And unless a tragedy happens… the river of life keeps flowing into us. We are filled up…our tummies and our hearts are filled up…and we know we’re OK. We know we’re loved…and we can then love other people from the overflow… [pause]

It’s not quite so simple is it? The problem is…
our parents are fallible human beings…aren’t they? They have feet of clay… don’t they? Even the most well intentioned parents make mistakes. A quick search for cartoons about parental influence… reveals the truth…

It’s true… we meet many obstacles in the river of life and sometimes these are our parents themselves.
We can find ourselves gasping for air… drowning from the blunders or bad judgment…
of those we were most dependent on…the most vulnerable to.

Or we find the flow of the river of life… has somehow been cut off from us …and we end up dry and constantly thirsty.

Now its time to take out your pieces of paper. And if you could draw a water tank Ok see it’s got an inlet pipe and an overflow pipe and a tap at the bottom which can drain the tank.

Take a minute to think about where you’d put the water level in your tank? And draw it in if you feel like it.

Now spend some time in silence answering these questions as though the tank were you.

Where do you go to get filled up?
Who has control over the tap?
And were you to be filled up…where would the overflow go?

The problem is… when no one ever explains to us that the river of life doesn’t begin at our conception… When we falsely believe that our ability to be OK totally depends of other human beings with feet of clay…we can become cut off from the flow of love and life that comes from a loving relationship with God.

When no one tells us about the river of life that comes from God and the source of love that can fill up even the emptiest heart…if no one tells us…if no one points the way… we can spend a life time expecting other people to fill us up. People who may be drowning or dying of thirst themselves.

Somewhere somehow we all need to learn that only God can fill that great big gaping hole in our guts.

Jesus knew all about this gift from God. When he met the Samaritan woman at the well, he knew she’d been looking for the water of life in all the wrong places...searching in unrewarding wells.

And she wonders why Jesus is even bothers to talk to her. Yet Jesus answers her.
‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him... and he would have given you living water...

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

The only way I know to be filled is to ask God to do it and to allow God’s love flow into our lives. Whether our parents were wonderful or appalling our health as adults can’t depend on them or on others with feet of clay.

When we place ourselves in the middle of the river of God’s love and wisdom we will be filled.

So may you stop looking for the river of life in all the wrong places. May you find the time to ask the Spirit to fill you. May you sit still long enough to allow the creators love to fill you. May you ask Jesus to give you God’s gift of the water of the river of life. And may you be filled and may you love others from the overflow.

may you never be thirsty again.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

The unclean of Darfur

Easter 5 year C Sermon 07 Darfur
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

"I am making everything new!" "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the one who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost… freely from the spring of the water of life.

And in Peter’s vision we heard the voice from heaven saying:
'Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.'

After Jesus departure… the ongoing companionship of the Holy Spirit… gave visions to those left behind… to continue Jesus’ work… of reconciling all creation to God. And I’m convinced… the Spirit is still encouraging visions today.

Visions of what could be…visions hope and justice…and visions that expose… the diabolical notion… that some
are righteous and deserving of life… and others unclean… deserving the confiscation of land, poverty illness and even death. Expendable.

This diabolical lie… rears its ugly head throughout history. Justifying wars, colonialism… even ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Christian’s are not exempt from this temptation.
And this diabolical notion… can deafen us to God’s call…
and blind us to the atrocities committed in its name.

In Nazi Germany… hundreds of thousands of worshipping Christians… became blind and deaf… to the systematic murder of millions of human beings. They went to church and sang their praises and prayed their prayers… and the furnaces burned with the bodies of men women and children.

And today…the world acknowledges… the shamefully inadequate international response… to the genocide in Kosovo, Cambodia and Rwanda.

And it’s happing again… in Darfur in the Sudan. And I could never forgive myself…if I didn’t open your eyes and ears to it.

Here at the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad…we Hawa Salihdin and her children waiting for help. Her father, her brother, her cousin and thirty other people… were killed when the militias attacked her village. Her mother disappeared and is still missing.

Here we see a malnourished girl…in the MSF therapeutic feeding center in Iriba, Chad. In spite of international assistance nutrition continues to be a problem for refugees from the violence in Darfur. The situation is worse inside Sudan, where the government obstructs access for relief agencies.

The Sudan has been on my heart for 14 years. From the time I met my first Sudanese pastor at a meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Wellington. This kind soft spoken man was very very black… and underneath the skin of his forehead… tiny beads had been embedded… to make a beautiful design. He told me then… that death was raining down on his people.

I am determined that we will not be deaf and blind in this church.

[Play Christian World Service Documentary]

Last Sunday, while we were worshiping on our beautiful hillside overlooking the lake…thousands of people came together… all over the world… to demand peace and protection for the people of Darfur…to make sure world leaders…
got the message that time is running out…
for the people of Darfur.

Yes there’s a growing movement… to end the crimes against humanity in Darfur…and to prevent future Darfurs from unfolding. But I’m not trying… to get you out into the streets in protest… though you might want to. Success for the people of Darfur won’t be measured by the number of rallies… the size of the crowds, or the media coverage. Success can only be measured… in lives saved…rapes prevented…
communities preserved and rebuilt.

And I’m not trying to get you to give more money to aid agencies trying to relieve the suffering in Darfur. Though you may want to. That’s not my purpose either.

Yes of course we can pray… and we can support humanitarian aid to the region…but what if I were to tell you…that in our deafness and blindness… we might be giving with one hand and taking away with another?

What on earth am I talking about? Well, in the documentary we just saw… how many of you noticed a brief reference…
to the wealth of oil reserves… which lie deep beneath the ground in the Sudan?

Ever wonder why the United Nations is so toothless in acting to stop the carnage in Darfur? Well, one of the main reasons is…
two of its permanent Security Council members…
Russia and China…refuse to vote in favour of confronting the oppressive government of the Sudan.

Both Russia and China… have major oil investments in Sudan: Russia’s oil company is Tatneft, and China has Sinopec and PetroChina.

Human Rights Watch… Africa Division…condemns China’s disregard for the Darfuris… in pursuing its own economic agenda: In response to domestic and international pressure…when the Canadians withdrew their oil company from Sudan… the Chinese took their place. And to make sure the Sudanese are able to protect Chinese refineries… China supplies ammunition, tanks, helicopters, fighter aircraft, and antipersonnel landmines to the Sudanese government.

And what is more frightening is that seventy to eighty percent of Sudan’s oil revenues are used to support their military… which not only protects the refineries… but supplies weapons to the Janjaweed. The managers of security operations for the oilfields and pipelines… have the power to grant or withhold healthcare, education and freshwater.

Local people are force off refinery land… by the Sudanese military…with tacit approval of PetroChina.

And there is a diabolical catch 22 here. The UN can’t send peacekeeping forces to the Sudan… without the agreement of China and Russia on the Security Council.

I guess it’s something to be proud of that at least New Zealand contributes to Africa Union peacekeepers in the Sudan…But the truth is… humanitarian aid and peacekeeping on their own won’t end the genocide.

Remember when I said we might be giving with one hand and taking away with another. Well what if we were to discover that our own investments… for retirement or income… were complicit…in the displacement rape and slaughter in Darfur?

PetroChina, lists on the Hong Kong and New York Stock Exchanges. The Chinese company CNPC which drills in the Sudan is completely reliant on PetroChina for its financial health. And some of the larger shareholders in PetroChina, are
Warren Buffets’ Berkshire Hathaway, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan, and Templeton.

These companies have a particularly important role to play… and an enormous ability to influence how PetroChina is viewed in financial markets.

If our money is in these companies… then we have a good deal of persuasive financial power… at our disposal. We can engage the companies we support… to use their power…
to pressure PetroChina…. to stop funding the Sudanese government and take the Janjaweed off life support. Such pressure could lead to a dramatic reduction in violence,
and save many lives in Darfur.

And if these companies won’t listen… we can sell our shares and put our money to better use in the Sudan. Were we to do that…the way the share market operates… other flustered investors would rush to sell. Shareholders can put pressure on these companies… whose decisions can make or break the share price of PetroChina.

This information is so new I haven’t had time to look at my own retirement funds, or the investments of the Presbyterian Church… but I will. It may be… that without knowing it…
I have money tied up… in companies with shares in PetroChina.

Shareholder pressure could end the use of oil company grounds… for military operations. Shareholder pressure… could end the forced displacement of local populations from oil blocks…. and allow refugees to return. Shareholders could demand an end… to abusive actions taken by the Sudanese military… to protect PetroChina assets.

And China will be increasing vulnerable to pressure…
because the next years Olympics in Beijing.

Never believe the lie that there’s nothing you can do.

Actually… the vast majority of multinational corporations operating in the Sudan… are helping… to facilitate development in that country. And because of its huge debt, Sudan relies heavily on foreign investment to sustain government expenditure…so we’re not trying to scare investment out of the Sudan.

But Mammon and death work well together...
so it’s important in order that all may have life to the fullest…
we aren’t blind and deaf…to what the scramble for oil is doing to the people of Darfur…[and the middle-east for that matter] and how our own money might be complicit…As disciples of Jesus who came to restore all creation to God… you and I can be part of a concerted effort…
to end the suffering of the unclean of Darfur.

For more detailed information see: