Sunday, 26 December 2010

Weeping for her children

Christmas 1 year A Sermon 
Matthew 2:13-23
In Israel’s ancient story…Rachel[i] weeps for her children
a toddler and a new born infant are left behind…
a people are carried into exile…
baby boys are murdered by King Herod…

When we hear Matthew’s gospel…
we discover the birth of Jesus is bound…
by blood and legend…to Israel’s story…

only this child…born in Bethlehem…
will bring a new covenant…from which God’s promises to Abraham and Jacob will be realised. [pause]

Both Matthew and Jeremiah...recall Israel’s ancient story…the epic saga of Jacob and Rachel
…who personify the nation…and bind them…
by blood and legend…to Abraham and God’s promise…

And whether you’re a Babylonian exile or a
1st century Jewish convert to Christianity…
you’d know Rachel’s tale by heart
when a nation and a baby are born…
and Rachel lies dying

God has just spoken to her husband…
‘your name is Jacob[ii]…but you’ll no longer be called Jacob….your name…will be Israel.
And so the saga goes…
God named him Israel…and said to him,
“I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply.
A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.
The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac
I also give to you…and to your descendants after you.”

Then God went up from him…and Jacob built up a stone cairn and poured a drink offering and oil on it. And Jacob called the place where God talked with him: Bethel.

Soon after… Rachel began to give birth… but with great difficulty. Her midwife tried to comfort her… saying “Don’t despair, for you have another son.”

But as Rachel breathed her last—for she was dying—
she named her son Ben-Oni which means son of my trouble. But his father named him Benjamin…
which means son of my right hand. [pause]

And though Jacob… loses the love of his life
he has become… Israel. With Jacob…now Israel…
God has renewed his promise and his covenant…

And just  like the prophet Jeremiah…
the gospeller Matthew…recalls Rachel weeping…

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled

Yes Jesus has been born in Bethlehem but
but the blood of innocents is being spilled…
King Herod has ordered the slaughter of every child under two…Rachel is weeping alright…

And we ask…our story teller…
just how… is there hope for the children of God…
in this turn of events! [pause]

But by recalling Rachel’s weeping…Matthew at once reminds us that promise and prophesy and covenant
into Jesus’ story too…

as a new Joseph goes down into Egypt after a dream… taking the child and his mother by night…
and staying put till Herod’s death.

And Matthew explains…
this fulfils what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,

"Out of Egypt I have called my son."

And when Joseph returns home to Nazareth…another ancient prophesy is fulfilled…
"He will be called a Nazorean."

Promise and prophesy and covenant…
keep the people going when all is in darkness… [pause]

It’s no wonder in the run up to Christmas…
we prefer Luke's account of Jesus birth…over Matthew’s …the gospels of Mark and John…don’t even mention it.

It could be because Luke has all the great lines:
the shepherds "watching over their flock by night,"
the angels' bring "good news of great joy,"
the baby "wrapped in swaddling clothes,"
the heavenly host singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased."

But Matthew presents us with a problem.
You can see the difficulty right away.
Even though Matthew’s story of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is historically accurate…it is an ugly and gruesome reminder of what’s still wrong with the human story...

it's easy to understand why children’s pageants and Hallmark Christmas cards… stick with Luke’s version …and advertising gurus ignore Rachel’s lament.
My guess is we’ll see no Christmas specials
on the plight of those wee Bethlehem babies.

But what do we…the believing community…the ones who kneel at Jesus' manger in obedience and not just in curiosity…what do we do with Rachel?

How will we heed the Spirit's plea through our sister's wailing voice?
How can knock back the bubbly and unwrap our presents…how can we revel in the innocent delight of our children and grandchildren with all that weeping and wailing in the background?[iii]

Will we forget, too? Will we read Luke story…
and then for theatrical purposes… borrow only
the visit of the magi from Matthew’s gospel?

I think there’s a God problem here…in how we remember the Christmas story…and it’s mostly
because you and I are sheltered and protected
from the bloody realities faced by the rest of the world.

The poor already know…
that what constitutes good news for them
is likely to be bad news for those who… like Herod…
have all the wealth and power.

Not everyone welcomes the baby Jesus. [pause]

The slaughter of innocent children is a scandal…and a scandal generally evokes abhorrence and opposition from "the world." Just as Jesus crucifixion was a scandal to the Jews and folly to the Greeks. And yet sound of this scandal continues today…
even in Aotearoa New Zealand. [pause]

It’s the sound of Rachel… weeping and dying.

It’s a sound that accompanies the birth of the Christ child in Matthew’s gospel.

And we will only begin to understand the whole story
if we consent to hear it.

Yes at Christmas we’re called to worship and adore the child born in a manger…but we’re also called to do justice, and announce Jesus…
in a world where mothers and fathers still grieve for their children…a world where war and greed, hunger and disease make orphans every day.

Otherwise our nativity scenes are nothing more than sentimental drivel.

Only Rachel's tears can help us truly comprehend Jesus' reassuring words:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament,
but the world will rejoice;
you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she’s delivered of the child,
she no longer remembers the anguish,
for joy that a child is born into the world.
So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.[iv]

Even though all creation appears to be covered in darkness and cries out in anguish,
the announcement of Christmas joy declares that a light does shine, that a child is born.

We are not alone, we are not consigned to destruction. Rachel will find her comfort. The streets of Ramah will once again echo the sounds of children playing unafraid.

Only when we hear the crying…only when we refuse to stop our ears…will we gain the true Christmas spirit for which we long. And by which…
the whole world is redeemed.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.... for unto us a child is born." Thanks be to God.

[i] Rachel is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 29 when Jacob meets her as she waters her lamb. He looking for his mother’s brother, Laban. Rebekah sends him there to be safe from his furious twin brother, Esau. During Jacob's stay, he falls in love with Rachel and agrees to work seven years in return for her hand in marriage. On the night of the wedding, under a veil the older sister, Leah, is substituted for Rachel. Jacob has to work another seven years as payment if he wants to marry Rachel too. After Leah bears four sons, Rachel remains unable to conceive. She becomes jealous and gives Jacob her maidservant as a surrogate. Bilhah gives birth to two sons: Dan and Naphtali. Finally Rachel is finally blessed with a son, Joseph, who Jacob's favourite child.
[ii] Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives
[iii] From A Voice Was Heard in Ramah. by Ken Sehested. Sojourners Magazine, December 1988
[iv] John 16:20-22

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A child is born

Christmas Day year A Sermon 2010
A baby is born… and two thousand years later…
half the world… sings out with joy…
on Christmas morning… echoing a message of hope.

Once again… we hear the angel’s promise…
in Joseph’s dream… we listen to Mary’s song of adoration…we remember the shepherds and the manger and the star.

Once again… we rekindle our awe and wonder
And our gratitude…that the creator of the universe … broke through time and space… to show us how much we’re loved… and to communicate an urgent saving message… for all humanity…

The message of hope spoken by the prophets but ignored… ‘turn your hearts back to God
to God’s way… live in peace, and do justice with compassion…take care of the vulnerable, the voiceless and the weak

and humanity will be saved from destruction, violence, poverty and war

The baby whose birth we celebrate today… personally delivered this message of hope… and as his followers…as Christians… we’re called to invite him into our hearts…and carry this message of good news to all the world…and we do don’t we? [pause]

Not always… you see sometimes we forget Jesus came with good news for all the world… came to save humanity…to be a light to the world…when Israel lost her way.

During the age of the ego… we twisted and distorted Jesus’ message… into one of private individual salvation… and overlooked his prescription for peace on earth…for the salvation of the world.

We must have overlooked it…because…even though we’ve had two thousand years…to wipe out poverty and conflict… the vulnerable, the voiceless and the weak…
Still suffer…especially children.

Jesus’ message of peace… was intended for the world.  When Jesus’ says Shalom…peace be with you…he doesn’t just mean…stop fighting…he means…
let’s you and I start creating…the just and equitable conditions that make for peace and wellbeing for everyone…

Even in Aotearoa New Zealand… the disparity continues to grow between rich and poor…a report just released
reveals large disparities in child health status for children in families most affected by the economic downturn. Those dependent on benefits are especially vulnerable. 

The 2010 Children’s Social Health Monitor issued by the Dunedin School of Medicine… reports last year almost 2000 more children were admitted to hospital than in 2007 for illnesses associated with poverty.
We love to sing the song Jesus loves the little children… but when it comes to tax time…
we forget it means all children…

Outside Godzone…half the world’s children…more than one billion children… still suffer the effects of natural catastrophe…war and preventable disease like HIV AIDS.
Yet the world’s spending on war is 20 times greater… than what it spends to provide clean water and adequate medical care for it’s children.

But on this Christmas morning we do not despair…


Because we remember once again…
that we are the bearers of hopewe
are entrusted with Jesus saving message…
we have the key to peace and wellbeing…

showed us the way didn’t he…love one another as I have loved you…even your enemies.

And while much of the world rejoices
in the birth of the messenger… we don’t hear a great clamoring for his peace… Why?

Jesus way…the way of equity justice compassion…and mercy is sacrificial for those who have enough… Jesus way means sharing…getting by with less… less wealth and less power… less control…

Jesus way may offer salvation for all humankind…
but how many of us are prepared to pay the price. [pause]

When we’re overwhelmed by all this bad news…
it’s tempting to cocoon ourselves..
in soothing Christmas carols and warm sticky pudding…and maybe a little bubbly

Tempting… to calm our jangled nerves…
in the beauty of the nativity…and blot out the world.

But today as we enjoy the spirit of this season…
and I’m certainly going to enjoy it…
let’s not forget… the work of Christmas isn’t done...

Today we’ll give up our entire offering…to bring good news to those served by Christian World Service…
our official aid organization…CWS is committed to eliminating despair and deprivation in places like Haiti Tonga Uganda and Palestine…it’s our tradition in this parish to give our Christmas offering for this purpose.

When the Christ child grew up he did not walk away from sacrifice…may he be our model and our master ever more.  

When a child is born.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

An invitation to dine

Advent 4  year A Sermon Romans 1:1-7 
‘Sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we’ve been… until we start getting a full… spiritual meal on a regular basis. And that’s why…here in our faith community…
I like to encourage a daily banquet…a feast if you like… on God’s word in scripture, dining in prayer and silence…

Like three square meals a day
when we practise the rhythm of faith
we find ourselves well nourished

Sitting down at table…with texts like Paul’s letter to the Romans… can provide us with hearty food for the spiritual journey – even in the first seven verses from today’s reading.

And so this morning before we share this most sacred meal…
I want us to savour the Word of God in scripture… together.
As you know the spiritual practise of Lectio Divina or Divine Reading is one way… we can listen for the voice of God

It’s not about interpretation or exegesis or biblical scholarship…it’s about savouring the word of God slowly…
allowing ourselves to linger…allowing ourselves to notice… where God might be calling us to stop… to chew on a particular word…or concept…appreciate it’s shape texture and taste …and it’s amazing how God can surprise us even when we’ve read the same verses a hundred times already.  

In its classic form, lectio divina has four courses…or steps:  listening…reflecting…praying…and obeying. When these steps are combined . . . they lead our spirit into a dynamic interaction with the Holy Spirit . . . If we’re always trying to make the Bible serve our own agenda – we distance ourselves from God. The process of lectio divina can help us recover our ability…to discern the heart of God…
in the Word of God.”

And it’s important we don’t shield any part of our selves from the words we hear or read.
There’s no point in pretending before God.

So now before we share our main course…the sacrament of bread and wine… our appetiser comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

First, I’ll read it again and you listen. Then I’ll put it up on the screen so you can reflect in your own time. As you listen and read…if you’re struck by a word or phrase that seems to have special meaning for you …just stay with that delicious morsel and savour it…and allow yourself to enter more deeply into
what God might be stirring within you. Now listen.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,
set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
the good news concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now ether with a Bible or with the words on the screen just sit with Roman’s 1:1-7 and let it seep in.

Romans text slide
[Three – five minutes silence]

Blank slide
I believe that moving our hearts and minds through the words of scripture… is one way God speaks to us.
Noticing this and staying with…
it is our work…the work of listening to what God’s saying to us.

Would anyone like to share what struck them about this passage…it will be different for each of us.


I recommend this savouring of scripture as a daily spiritual practise…as part of your ‘rule of your life’ if you like.

I almost always use this process when preparing my sermons and what struck me about this reading …
was that I saw embedded in Paul’s words the structure of one of the earliest creeds in the Christian faith…
sort of like the Apostles Creed but different…
words that express the heart of our belief… something the people of God can say together in worship…
as an rsvp to Christ’s invitation to this table.

I’ve reformed Paul’s words for this purpose…
and I’d be grateful if you’d stand and say it with me.

Slide words
We belong to Jesus Christ. We are his servants.
We are set apart for the gospel of God,
which he promised beforehand
through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures,
the good news concerning his Son,
who was descended from David according to the flesh
and declared to be Son of God with power
according to the spirit of holiness…
How? By resurrection from the dead.
God’s Son is Jesus Christ our Lord,
through whom we have received grace
and by whom we are sent out…
to bring about the obedience of faith
among all who don’t know him
for the sake of his name
We belong to Jesus Christ
we are called to be saints.

Please be seated

Part of what it means to belong to Jesus…
is to remember the story of his birth and his life… his death and resurrection…and accept his invitation to his banquet table… Let us pray

Prayer after sermon
God of apostles saints and prophets, Gentiles and Jews feed us today with your spirit of holiness and love. Sustain us in this meal we are about to partake
that it might bring about our own obedience of faith
in this holy season of expectation.
In the strong name of the One who is to come Amen.

In this meal the promise of the prophet is fulfilled
In this meal

slide words
God is with us.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Open your eyes and your ears

Advent 3 year A 10 Sermon  Isaiah 35:1-10 Matthew 11:2-11
The prophet Isaiah promises the hostages and the exiles that joy will come into their world.

‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the voiceless…
sing for joy.’

But centuries later…from the darkness of his prison cell … Jesus cousin John is losing hope.
Even his memory of the baptism and the dove…
and the voice from heaven… aren’t enough

…John gets a desperate message through to Jesus…
things are looking bad where I’m sitting cuz…
are you really the one promised by the prophets?

And Jesus sends his disciples back to John…
with a message of encouragement…words any Jewish boy would recogniseimagery
straight from Isaiah’s prophecy

yes indeed my cousin… Jesus responds…

the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
and the poor… have good news brought to them.

the time for joy is now
the kingdom of God is at hand…

it may not look like it… from your jail house window
but the day of the Lord has begun… [pause]

The Kingdom of Heaven has been born into our world. And the signs are all around… [pause]

Last week I got a message from prison
from a member of our church. Jan Campher now faces his second Christmas behind bars…without his children
And… like John the Baptist
Jan is thirsty for messages of hope and encouragement.

And it’s heart-wrenching…
to hear how the smallest things…bring him joy.  

‘In other news, us inmates were granted a family BBQ day for 8 December and I’m looking forward to spending some time out in the year with the kids. I’ll also be lying if I said I’m not thinking about having a delicious BBQ’d sausage and patty and a fried egg on the day as I haven’t had this for well over 16 months.

There’s even talk of maybe having a scoop of ice-cream afterwards! Wow! I can’t remember wait it tastes like! It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas again! As another perk for good behaviour I believe the prison are allowing us each to guy a genuine Christmas fruit cake this year on our cafeteria buy list for Christmas.

So I’m desperately trying to save my massive pay each week of around two dollars forty to have the fifteen dollars available for a fruit cake in two weeks. I also arranged a small pressie for each of my babies with the aid of the Angel Tree society and the prison chaplain, Jeff. I’m so grateful for this.’

How do we know when the kingdom of God comes near?
In Isaiah’s words…

When ‘the ransomed of the LORD return with singing…everlasting joy shall be upon their heads…
they shall obtain joy and gladness…
sorrow and sighing… shall flee away.’

Jan ends his letter with these words … 

[I] left my faith… and my fate… in God’s hands.
At the moment He’s taking me from strength to strength. I feel a changed man’ [pause]

There’s still sorrow and sighing in Jan’s life
yet I also discern signs of joy…signs of transformation… signs of God working… [pause]

When Jesus sends his disciples back to the prison
with a message of hope for his cousin
he simply instructs them to tell John…
what they see and hear around them…signs that
indicate the kingdom of God under construction


What do we see and hear? Could we discern…
where God might be at work… in our community? 
Beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…
the way Jesus’ asks his disciples to detect…
how God was working in first century Israel?

Would we know how…to look and listen for the signs? Would our eyes and ears be open to the hints in our friend’s lives… as we play beside them on the golf course or at the bridge club.

Would we be watching and listening…
for the signs of God working…
on the way home with friends after school …
or sitting with a young mum… at mainly music?

Can we discern the signs of God’s ‘call to action’
in the pages of the Messenger…
or the stories in the Wanaka Sun?

Or do we believe the only place God is working is
in the church?

Have we received the sight and hearing
promised by the prophets? Or are we
still blind and deaf… to the signs of God’s Kingdom
in our own lives and the lives of others?

Do we see marks of transformation?
Or clues to God’s calling… in people's lives…the call to make peace and bring hope…to work for justice
and bring good news… wellbeing and joy…
to those who are poor… in pocket and in spirit?
Do we even look for signs of Shalom?

You’d think it’d be easy to discern these signs
in our own lives and… among our friends here
in the church…you think it’d be easy wouldn’t you.
Yet my guess is…few of us have developed the habit of watching and listening for the signs of God working.

So just for practise…I want you to turn to your neighbour and listen carefully… as they tell you how God might be working in their life at the moment.
See if they can spot what God might be up to …
Then you tell them what you think God might be doing in your life… while they listen and discern.

[they talk]

[Some report back]

When you arrived this morning…you were given two cards… would you write on the card with the ribbon … a sign you’ve noticed lately of what God might be doing in your life or in the world. Or a prayer of what you’d like God to do.

Just leave the other card for now.
[silent time to do this]

And now… as is our custom in this congregation…
I invite you to come forward together…
as the people of God…to decorate our Christmas tree with these expressions of encouragement and hope.

[once they’re seated again]

And with the other card… perhaps you’d like to write a Christmas message…to Jan Campher and drop it on the back table as you leave…I’ll make sure he gets them.

Jesus calls us to "Go… and tell what you hear… and see.’

Open your eyes and your ears…Jesus is saying…
don’t open your mouth ‘till you have

I take this to mean… it’s vital we stop talking
and start listeningcritical…that we become astute observers of the community we’re trying to serve in Jesus name.

Only then can we bear effective witnesses…
to what God might be up to…
only then… can we begin to discern…
what God might be calling us to do…
right here where beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…
for the kingdom is still under construction.