Sunday, 27 November 2011

How well do we wait for God?

Advent 1 year B Sermon 11 
From today until Christmas we enter the season of Advent…the season of waiting…
for the dawning of God’s future…and in these few weeks
we learn a different perspective on waiting and time…

instead of thinking of ourselves as moving out of the past into an unknown future…we begin to understand
that God’s future… is coming toward us

In the season of Advent…we remember how God’s people waited for God… sometimes demanding… sometimes pleading…

Slide words
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down

sometimes in despair…

slide words
you’ve hidden your face from us
and delivered us into the hand of our own iniquity

and in this season…we’re reminded of another kind of waiting…a patient… faith filled waiting…
as Mary and Joseph wait for their baby to be born…

slide words
Blessed… is she who has believed
the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!

blank slide
and we remember the confused and bewildered waiting
for Jesus to return in the life times of the first Christians…
because they’d misunderstood his words about the resurrection

And all this helps us greatly… as we wait…
two thousand years deep into the Messianic Age…
as we wait for God’s will to be done…
on earth as it is in heaven…. [pause]

Please wait slide
In today’s world we don’t much like waiting…do we? Technology’s made everything very fast… send a text and there’s a reply within seconds…pop tea in the microwave… push a button on the computer and it happens

skeleton slide
we don’t like it…when we have to wait even half a minute
the way we live our lives…time seems to be short supply
in frustration…we think we’re going to waste our lives away
if we have to wait for a programme to start up…
or a reply to our text…or for Google
to answer our questions or relieve our anxieties

Pregnant woman slide
And in our irritation and impatience we forget there are some things that simply can’t be rushedtimes in life where trying to force solutions…especially in prayer
won’t make things happen any faster.

Like waiting for a baby to be born

Please wait
What is it about our emotions and attitudes
that make it hard… if not impossible… for us to wait…
instead of going for the quick fix?
Possibly… one of our spiritual and emotional problems today is we’ve forgotten how to wait well…if we ever knew in the first place…so maybe the Season of Advent…has something to teach us about waiting… about how to become better
at waiting…especially for God.

Perhaps Advent is a good time to reflect on how we wait
because how we wait… can actually determine
how healthy we are… in body mind and spirit

Tee shirt slide
Some of the biggest lessons God taught me in life
are about waiting. And I like the tee shirt for people like me who need to remember how our attitude to waiting…
can make it harder than it needs to be.
It says …‘O Lord give me patience and give it to me now!’

Earth slide
If we think of God as Father Christmas rather than
as our loving parent and creator of the universe
the one who knows a lot more than we do
about what we need and what’s possible…

if we think God is like Santa… we going to get very down when what we’ve asked for…doesn’t magically appear under the Christmas Tree of our lives. If we think God’s making list and checking it twice… and going to find out
if we’re naughty or nice…when we don’t get what we want… we believe its because we’ve been bad.

Thank goodness the God revealed in Jesus Christ
isn’t Father Christmas. [pause]

I know people who’ve come new to the Christian faith…
in the expectation that becoming a Christian
would be a quick fix for all their problems.
And it’s usually not their fault of course… it may be
what they’ve been told…by well-meaning Christian friends.

Sometimes these new Christians will ask God…to take away their pain or their anger or their money worries or they pray that God will fix their marriage or at least make their spouse easier to live with…and when this doesn’t happen immediately…

well sometimes these new Christians turn their back on the church and on God…in disappointment. And that’s so sad
because they never had a chance…
to hear the story of God’s people waiting …and

they never got to learn… how God can be with us
in our waiting…like a baby in the womb waiting to be born…
they never discover…that waiting can be a time when growth actually takes place…and faith takes root

and so instead of inviting God into their waiting…
they refuse to wait…they give up on God…
and opt instead for a quicker fix…maybe they lose themselves in work or busyness…or in a bucket of ice cream …or a bottle of wine…or another person
but none of these things are an answer to their prayers
unless they’r praying for oblivion.[pause]

Park bench slide
You see it makes sense… that how we wait
and what we wait for…can determine how healthy we are …in body mind and spirit

How do you wait…have you ever thought about it?

And did you know there are different ways to wait on God …some far less helpful than others.

Like praying and then waiting impatiently…with gritted teeth and white knuckles…bearing down on God harder and harder for the results we want…under the illusion that somehow…
by the sheer force of our will …God will deliver the goods
more quickly…answer our prayers… faster…
and more to our specifications.

When we wait this way… it’s usually because we want to maintain the illusion of control… over things which are in reality beyond our control…instead of accepting our powerlessness…which is what God may be trying to teach us…we continue to pray for our will to be done…
instead of God’s will.

And what if it’s God’s will for us
to learn to wait a different… healthier way? [pause]

Still another way to wait is… to wait patiently
and this of course represents some progress in our spiritual journey…we’ve learned something…perhaps we’ve discovered the teaching in the book of lamentations
‘it’s good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.’

But there’s a problem with waiting patiently…if we’re merely waiting for our will to be done…
mistaking this for faith

And when our will isn’t done…after we have waited patiently for a while…well…we’re often resentful
against God…or worse…we begin to wait impatiently all over again…and lapse back into the illusion of being in control. [pause]

Years ago when I was in this waiting patiently phase of my spiritual journey…and getting tired of waiting…for my will to be done…I had this sudden revelation
‘What if my will isn’t God’s will!’

And since I genuinely wanted to conform to God’s will for me…at least on an intellectual level …suddenly God was asking me to do this on an emotional level…
which at that time in my spiritual journey…
I could never have imagined

In fact…God was asking me to ‘go beyond waiting.’
To stop waiting all together… for my will to be done.
And to pray only for knowledge of God’s will for me
and the power to carry it out.

And to pray only for knowledge
of God’s will for me…and the power to carry it out.

Well how do you know what God’s will for you is?

Sometimes when it’s not clear to me…since I live in the Messianic Age…as you do… I take seriously what’s already been revealed to me…about God’s will by the prophet Micah for example…

slide words
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

blank slide
and I take seriously…what’s been revealed about God’s will for me…by the Messiah himself…in his sermon on the mount

About accepting my powerlessness, about not trying to play God, about understanding suffering as part of life
and about… showing mercy and making peace

And I remember what Jesus revealed at the last supper
about choosing to accept the comfort of the presence of God living in me…over and above straining for what I want
when I want it.

In Christ…God has promised
not to leave us comfortless.
God isn’t absent in our in between times…God is with us…

And I’ve also learned to live in faith this way…
with regard to my will for other people
especially when I find myself waiting for them to change
to conform to my way of doing things
or my way of thinking…

It’s helpful for me to remember that my will may not be God’s will…and  that I am powerless over many things…
especially other people

So as we approach Christmas
next time you find yourself waiting
impatiently or even patiently… for your will to be done…
why not give serious consideration…to going beyond waiting…and simply pray for knowledge of God’s will for you and the strength to carry it out.

I pray that in this… you’ll discover the peace of God that goes beyond understanding.

And just as in Paul’s letter to the Philippians
going beyond waiting… doesn’t mean we stop telling God what’s on our hearts and minds…

but it does mean… that once we’ve told God…
we can let it go…because for us…
God’s will is what’s important…and that’s why Paul says…

Slide words
Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus. [pause]

Blank slide
As we travel through this advent time
toward our celebration of the birth of Christ…
as God’s future comes toward us…

may we be encouraged to discover better ways
to wait for God

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Survival of the fattest?

Title slide
Only pigs with 14 teats should be used for breeding…

Huh? Well that got your attention…

Why do you think that is?

[ask]  [won’t have enough for all their babies]

Ok here’s another question from animal husbandry…

Sheep slide
How many teats do sheep have?…
no farmers are allowed to answer…


But what if a ewe gives birth to three lambs…well usually there’s a good farmer around to hand feed the spare lamb or put them on another mother….

But…what about animals in the wild? …what happens when a wild pig has 15 piglets…or a ewe has triplets…in the wild? Are there some offspring which have a greater chance of survival than others?

What about the runts who have no chance of shoving their stronger brothers and sisters out of the way
to get a drink…

well they might die of starvation
survival slide
Some people would call this… survival of the fittest…
and many take it for granted as a law of nature
as nature’s way…only those fit enough to live to breeding age survive…thus ensuring the strength and success… of the species. 

This isn’t exactly what Darwin meant… by natural selection …but never the less…the idea that survival of the fittest is some sort of natural law… seems to be deeply accepted… even extended by some people…
to the social and economic order…

You’ll might hear people say …the successful and wealthy make it because they’re hardworking strong and intelligent…and the poor are poor… because they are either constitutionally weak or lazy or stupid…and people will say ‘well its survival of the fittest isn’t it?’

Still others make survival of the fittest into a faith thing…those with the strongest faith are more blessed with happiness and wealth and success…some countries that think they’re a Godly nation…believe themselves to be blessed with wealth and power…thinking it’s only the heathen who live below the breadline…
without providence from God…

Natures law…Black and white…
take it as read…as true as two plus two equals four.

But what if we were to hold this so-called folk wisdom up to the light of scripture?
would it follow automatically that what we think is natural law… is also by definition ….God’s law…
That somehow on God’s high country sheep station … the runts of the litter are just abandoned by the divine shepherd…just written off as
unavoidable and predicable loses… of the puny…
are the weak and the vulnerable sheep just collateral damage  in God’s paddocks…so the sleek and the fit can survive and thrive?

Israel slide
With these questions in mind let’s hear again Ezekiel’s prophetic word to Israel’s leaders …as they enjoy their captivity in Babylon…as the well fed guests of the royal family

Ezekiel tells them…The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel;
tell them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds take care of the flock? You’re happy to live off them…eat their cheese, wear their wool and slaughter the choice animals to feast on… but you don’t take care of the flock.

You don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bind the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or search for the lost. In fact…you rule them harshly and brutally. That’s not leadership at all…so they’re scattered because there’s no shepherd…and become food for wild animals. My sheep have wandered all over the mountains ... over the whole earth…and no one searched for them.

Therefore, you shepherds…you leaders…you guys with the responsibility for the flock…because this isn’t how things should be…as surely as I live… I’m against you and will hold you accountable… for what’s happened to my flock. In fact I’m going to remove you from the job

You’re just like the predators out there in the fields …I’m going to rescue my flock right out of your mouths …and from now on…I’m going be their shepherd myself
I’ll look for them and take care of them myself and
I’ll rescue them…I’ll save them…
from all the places they’ve been scattered. [pause]

Is it survival of the fittest on God’s high country sheep station?

Not by a long shot… right away we hear in Ezekiel…
that God’s flock won’t be neglected nor abandoned in the wild… to fend for themselves…at the mercy of predators

What’s natural in God’s economy
is God removes the shepherds who allow such neglect … what’s natural is that God steps in to carry out a search and rescue mission himself
everywhere the neglected sheep are scattered

Slide words
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

Do lost and frightened sheep lie down…no…
Do hungry sheep lie down…no….

But when sheep are have enough and feel safe...they will lie down…by the still waters and rest

That’s the natural way in God’s paddock… God will seek out the lost and the stray, and bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak… [pause]

Now of course Ezekiel knows those who hear this oracle will see themselves as either one of the flock
or one of the shepherds…the leaders…

And if your one of the neglected flock …you’re going to be hearing a lot of hope in this oracle aren’t you…
but if your one of the leaders… one of the shepherds…
you’re going to be feeling like God’s getting at you big time …and that’s not the end of it…there are repercussions!

And here it gets really interesting in the original Hebrew … God says
slide words
I’m going to destroy the fat and the strong
by feeding them…with justice.

There are repercussions…for the bad shepherds…

as far the oracle is concerned  in God’s paddocks…
the shepherds are just another badly behaved part of the flock…not a more advanced species…so the oracle continues… this is what the Sovereign LORD says…
not only will I be the shepherd… I’ll be the judge too… between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Why?

Sheep butting slide
Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you drive them away…that’s not the way it’s supposed to be in my paddock whether you think its natural or not
thus sayeth the LORD.

I will save my flock…and they won’t be plundered and longer. I will judge between one sheep and another.

And how will God accomplish this does the oracle say…

Slide words
I will place over them one shepherd, from my servant David, and he will tend them; I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

Jesus slide
And here is what this Messianic age will look like …here’s what will be natural in the Messianic Age to come …and now because of the beauty and majesty of God’s promise…I’ll read directly from Ezekiel …

“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and I will rid the land of savage beasts so they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests… in safety.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill
a blessing. I’ll send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops;
and the people will be secure in their land.

They will know that I’m the LORD,
when I break the bars of their yoke
and rescue them
from the hands of those who enslaved them.

They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them.

They will live in safety,
and no one will make them afraid.

I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they’ll no longer be victims of famine
or bear the scorn of the nations.

Then they’ll know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and they are my people.

Israel slide
What questions does this oracle of God from Ezekiel ask of us…

Who are the shepherds in our own story…within each family …each church…each community…what about the shepherds of our nation and the global economy.

How can we as the Body of Christ …how can we tell if their farming methods are those of God?

What word of prophesy might Ezekiel speaking directly to you?

Do you hear words of hope or words of challenge.

In every prophetic word… we listen for two things… hope and …challenge… 
without both our understanding is incomplete.

We can let the words fall off us like water off a ducks back…or we can drink deeply from them…

We can dismiss them or we can allow God to address us through them… we can allow them to work on us…
to work in us…to read our lives and our choices

In the lead up to this election, Church Leaders from seven major denominations including
our Moderator Peter Cheyne… have called on all political parties to acknowledge their shared responsibility as shepherds of Aotearoa New Zealand… to provide a just share of society’s wealth and resources for all our citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

This includes …the church leaders say…adequate income for everyone, fair taxation policies, access to good health care, affordable housing, and provision for sustainable living.

“These are not privileges, they point out, but part of the common heritage of humanity…made in the image of God. Social welfare is part of a greater picture
of social, economic and environmental priorities
and decisions about spending. Caring for others makes us better people and strengthens our community.”

This pre-election statement says …
It’s not every day church leaders join together with a collective voice. But bringing ethical questions to the proposals of political parties is critical

Like Ezekiel’s oracle…our church leaders ask:

Sheep and goat slide
How are the most vulnerable …faring in this society?
How will particular policies affect them?
What decisions will be made about land?
How efficient is our economy…
in producing wealth and income and ensuring its benefits are shared with all citizens?”

Do we have strong, safe communities and
well-protected children, and is the taxation load shared
fairly and proportionately…across all sectors of society.

Sounds a bit like Ezekiel’s oracle on conditions on God’s high country sheep station…don’t you think?

And our church leaders are urging all kiwis
to think about our values, especially during the Election. and then consider what direction we think our Government should take

to ensure a fairer future for all New Zealanders.”

Let us pray 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Poor in Spirit

Pentecost 21 year A Sermon All Saints Mt 5
Title slide
Once upon a time there was a great corporate king… who ruled his empire with power and might

one morning he woke up bleary eyed from a night of revelry…during which he’d done many shameful things…

blank slide
he ridiculed his best friend on earth in front of everyone …he flirted with the serving wenches…when he thought his wife’s back was turned… he cheated at cards…
and lied about his prowess as a salesman and a lover

And so in the morning when this king rose from his bed
he staggered to the mirror by the bathroom window [pause]
…he leaned his hands on the bench top…
and peered into his own blood shot eyes.

And from the depths of his misery and guilt… he prayed‘thank you God…
that I’m not the highest power in the universe.’

The king knew there was a mess to clean up…
his mess… apologies and amends to be made… relationships to be mended…not least with his own wife
and his best friend
after all…he didn’t want to lose them…

Oh God the king prayed…you’re going to have to help me…I’m to blame for much pain...
and I can’t fix this in my own strength…
Slide words
And Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of God[pause]

Girl slide
And once upon a time there was a young woman
who made a living from selling her body

She did this to pay for the drugs which helped her escape the haunting nightmares from her childhood.
Her self-esteem was non-existent…she considered herself the lowest of the lowdeserving the life she led …undeserving of love…in fact un-loveable…

One day when business was bad…hunger
drove her to an old stone chapel… to look for a hand-out.  And there she met a kindly and plump old priest
who invited her to join him and his assistant for lunch

the young woman protested…
You don’t want to be eating with the likes of me’

We’re not so different,’ chuckled the old priest…
as he ushered her through to the vestry…
where a lavish feast  was laid…‘We aren’t so different… for God loves both of us!’

I seriously doubt it…the young woman scoffed.
‘My girl…it’s only the sin of pride…that makes you think you’re too bad to love and too lost to forgive…
come lets pray together…
and I’ll teach you to become truly poor in spirit.

And so with the old priest’s help… the young woman became…very poor in spirit indeed…
and exchanged her pride for the love of God.

Slide words
And Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God…

How is it we can be poor in spirit and blessed at the same time?

And what is it… about the kingdom of God
that makes such blessing possible? [pause]

Jesus slide
Well in the past few weeks we’ve learned a lot about Jesus vocation as the anointed one of God…ushering in the Messianic Age…the age of peace with justice and wellbeing for all…the age of  God’s Shalom…
of God’s Kingdom

And what Jesus is telling us from that hillside so early in his story…
is whether we’re looking up from the gutter
or down from a penthouse…
when we look at ourselves in the mirror….we’re poor in spirit…when we perceive our true place
in the kingdom of God…

What Jesus is saying is … before we can be truly filled
with the blessing of God’s love…
we must come to understand our true poverty…

And instead of viewing our brokenness…
as a horror and a burdenJesus suggests… we view it as a door… to walk through… into the kingdom of God.

Woman mirror
And Jesus suggests…when we get a realistic view of ourselves…when we live out of this poverty of spirit…
then we see both how fallen and how lovable we are
in God’s eyes.

And with this new sight…the unexpected happens…we find our self…blessed …
for suddenly every moment seems like a gift…a lot of nonsense is cut out of our lives…
we don’t need to defend ourselves all the time…
or sacrifice our wellbeing to keep up a false image.

Man mirror
When we accept our true place in the kingdom…suddenly we’re free from the compulsion to criticise,
judge, and condemn ourselves and others people…and free from the need to retaliate

We find that living out of our poverty of spirit
changes our self-image and our expectations of others.
It changes the way we see the world.

woman praying
And when we’re poor in spirit we can become so open
that the love of God can flow through us into the world. 
Because we’re not blocking it off with our own pride.

So how do we find our place in the kingdom of God…where the poor in spirit are blessed? [pause]

We pray for it…

Reveal words one by one.
We pray for the blessing of serenity that comes when we accept we’re not God and there’s much in our lives over which we are powerless.

We pray for the blessing of freedom that comes from laying down our pride and admitting how broken we really are and how much damage we’ve caused.

We pray for the blessings of courage and endurance
to work at restoration and reconciliation in our own lives and in the world…

And we pray for the blessing of forgiveness
when patching things up is simply not our power.

We pray for the blessing of wisdom to seek God’s will in all things…and the blessing of humility…
to accept our dependence on God… in all things. [pause]

All Saints slide
This past week… the church celebrates the feast of
All Saints…or all saints day.
And a special part of this observance is to remember those Jesus called blessed in
his vision for the Kingdom of God revealed in the Sermon on the Mount in the beatitudes

And we also recall the story where Jesus tells us…

Child slide
unless you become like one of these children…
you won’t inherit the kingdom of God…

And so with God’s may we be like children…
knowing our profound dependence on God,
our limitations, our weaknesses, our vulnerability…
and how easy it is for us to fall down…hurting ourselves and others…and like children…
in our helplessness let us turn to God with gratitude and trust…and accept God’s love

and we when do…

as Jesus promised…

we will be blessed and the kingdom of God will be ours.