Three in one

Sermon June 7 2020

Genesis 1: 1-2:4a

2 Cor 13:11-13

Matt 28:16-20

It is often felt by the clergy that being on preaching for Trinity Sunday is drawing the short straw.

It’s such a complex and difficult issue, that the best advice on Facebook is, that in order to avoid theological heresy, I should avoid the topic completely and show pictures of kittens instead!

Well, today I have the privilege of drawing that short straw, and the task of unpacking what is surely one of the most complicated ideas in Christianity.

Now, many of you will have heard sermons on the Trinity for years, as I have. Many of you may be thinking, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, right? What’s so complicated about that?

My problem with that particular way of describing the Trinity is not that it’s too complicated. My problem is that it’s too simple.

God has so many different facets, powers and attributes that there are hundreds of names for God. Jehovah Jireh – God provides. Jehovah Rapha, – God heals. Saviour. Redeemer. The list goes on.

Let’s look at the traditional three-in-one picture of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now, my first problem with this as the only way of looking at the Trinity is that it’s gendered. It contains a gender for parent and for child. We cannot see Jesus as anything other than male, because he was born on earth as a man, as the son of God. He was a carpenter by trade. No problems there, he was definitely a bloke. That is, on earth. But how about after the resurrection? A famous early mystic, Julian of Norwich, describes Christ as a mother who suckles her young. The male gender of Jesus is not necessarily so important in the resurrected Christ.

How about ‘Father’ then? God as Father, male parent of the son, who came upon Mary and started Jesus growing in her womb. This makes sense in the context of Jesus’ incarnation.

But let’s look at some of the other ways we hear about God, starting with our first reading, which is the very first part of the Bible.

In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God’s very first appearance in all of scriptures is as creator. We know God as the beginning of everything, the one who set it all in place, who started the atoms moving, the proteins forming, the creatures evolving. God’s role as creator is so much greater than just Father. Father of Jesus is really important, yes, but if we look at God as creator we have so much broader a picture.

We can also avoid negative connotations of the word Father.

You may have had a lovely childhood, with a caring and gentle father. In this case the idea of God as father is reassuring and comforting. But if you had no father as you grew up, your idea of God may be of distance, unavailability, or rejection. If your father was a nightmare – cruel and violent, how can you see God as loving Father without having to do mental gymnastics ever time you hear the phrase Father God? It is very hard to unlink our own reality and experience with a word that has such a weight of imagery in Christianity.

If we see God as creator we are looking at a wider role than Father.

How about Jesus? If we are not going to say Father Son and Holy Spirit, what goes with creator?

Our NZ Prayer book has an answer for that. Creator, Redeemer and Life Giver.

Jesus is our redeemer. He was born on earth, in a male human body, with male human attributes. He has walked the path we too tread, and can share our life with us, the good and the bad. But it’s because of Why he came to earth that we can call Jesus redeemer. He came to save us from our sins, from the brokenness all around us. He came to give us freedom and hope. He came so that sin would no longer separate us from God, both what we have done, what has been done to us, and sin around us.

By seeing Jesus as redeemer therefore we enlarge the picture of Jesus as Son. We are not rejecting it, just thinking about the other facets of Jesus and his ministry.

How about Holy Spirit?

This is maybe the trickiest part of what is known as the God-Head. The Holy Spirit isn’t human-sounding like a father and a son. It’s not concrete like a creator or a redeemer. It sounds a bit like a force of nature, like wind or fire. But scripture reassures us that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, the third person of the Trinity, and that means we can relate to it as that.

If it’s a person, is it gendered? Is it a man or a woman? Much of the imagery in the Old Testament particularly places the Holy Spirit as a female force. This doesn’t mean that it is a woman like I am a woman, in human female form. But it does allow for more female imagery to be part of our picture of God. We read that The Holy Spirit wants to nurture her people on her lap like a mother with her little children. Jesus too speaks in those nurturing terms, that he wants to gather Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks.

I like the phrase life-giver. This is how it feels when we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, that everything has more purpose and is more vivid. There is more joy. It’s like a flow of electricity, and the Holy Spirit has thrown the switch.

In the late 90s a book came out, called the Shack. It is a great read, and I can lend it to you. In this book, the main character meets God, and the three persons of the Trinity have a different persona from that we often see in our literature and art. Instead of God the Father being a stern old white man, with a long beard, like in the Blake painting, The Creator part of God is portrayed as a large black woman, with a generous laugh and hugging arms. Jesus the son is portrayed as a youngish man, hands scarred by working with tools, and pierced by nails. The Holy Spirit is shown as a young Asian woman, who disappears like the wind.

This is not the only way to see God obviously, but I like this picture because it challenges how we see God.

One of our shorter readings today uses a well-known formula for God:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

This refers to the attributes of each person of the Trinity, but because they are all bound up together as one, like a plaited cord, they all apply to each. This is where the nature of God gets complicated. When asked where he had come from, Jesus answered, before Abraham was, I AM. Jesus’ nature is much more than human son –the Holy Spirit is there too, creating the world in the beginning.

No one role is more important than the others either – Jesus baptises the disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God is way too big and complex for our tiny minds to grasp all the inns and outs.

The picture of the Trinity helps us to understand some of the different roles and attributes, but instead of seeing it as the only way to see God, let’s take it as a starting point to meditate on.

Ascension

Sermon May 24 2020

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14

1 Peter 5:6-11

John 17 1-11

Our readings today attest to the awesome power of God, the supernatural, beyond human comprehension, incredible nature of our God. We see the picture of Jesus glorified, and ascending into heaven in a cloud! That’s not an everyday sight is it?

These are difficult times we have been going through, and we need to be reminded about how mighty God is, just how powerful and on top of this is our Lord.

This picture of Jesus too reminds us that even though Jesus is fully human, he is also fully divine, and has all the power of the God-head within him.

During Lent and Passiontide we saw the very human, frail nature of Jesus, and we knew because of this that he is well qualified to understand what our lives are like. But with Easter, when Jesus broke through his human nature to reveal the divine, and now with Ascensiontide, we can see more of His divinity.

Can you imagine what the disciples would have been thinking? They had just got used to Jesus being back with them, but somehow different. They were going about business as usual, wondering what it all meant, when he disappeared! They stood looking up, gob-smacked, and two angels – it has to be angels – said to them,

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

This is reassuring that Jesus will indeed return. It means that they don’t need to keep looking up, wondering where he has gone. But it also gave them an impetus to get off the mountain and Do something. Why stand staring up in the clouds?

They knew that they could not expect Jesus to pop straight back and say, ‘oh sorry, I just had to talk to my Father in heaven for a bit. Now, where were we?’

The disciples were on their own! Help!

But then they must surely have remembered that Jesus had only just told them what would happen next.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Oh, okay, they said to one another. We will receive power. That’s good, isn’t it. We will be okay without Jesus, the Holy Spirit will help us. Wow! They remembered what the Holy Spirit had done in the stories of their scripture. They felt humbled that they would have this wonderful Holy Spirit with them!

But hang on, Jesus said something else, didn’t he?

‘You will be my witnesses, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

The disciples knew that they would be telling everyone all about Jesus when the power came upon them! They didn’t have the power yet though, so it was still with some fear that they contemplated telling others. As for ‘all the ends of the earth’ ! How could they go anywhere under Roman rule? How would it even be possible?

At this point they just needed to trust the words of Jesus. They are still in a sort of limbo, in between business as usual and something wonderful. We’re a bit like that too, aren’t we? We have been in extraordinary times, but things are starting to come back to normal, except they’re not, are they? Maybe business as usual will never happen the same way again.

We, like the disciples are facing a somewhat uncertain future.

What can scripture tell us about it?

Let’s look at our reading from 1 Peter.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

Wow, he could have written it for us! There have always been periods of human history when Stuff was happening, when people were under stress. We know from this reading that we can be encouraged not to lose heart.

Remember, Peter who wrote this was the same disciple who denied he even knew Jesus, just before Jesus’ death on the cross. Peter was cast so low that he wept bitterly and didn’t even know if he would be accepted as a disciple after Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why Jesus told the disciples and Peter to come. He wanted Peter to know that whatever failings he may have had he was still loved.

Now Peter is bold and forthright in proclaiming Christ Jesus, and encourages us to trust him too. We can rejoice, knowing that God is in charge.

The next verse of our reading could have been written last week!

‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.’

All the world is suffering at this time. It is natural to be anxious, whether staying at home or venturing out for the first time.

Peter talks about the devil, prowling around like a lion, looking for someone to devour. Perhaps we could see despair as this lion, wanting to pull us under. Resist it! Be strong because God cares for you!

We do indeed know that our brothers and sisters all around the world are suffering the same kinds of suffering. Indeed, many have it worse than us. But this reminds us that when one is hurting, all are hurting. We can resist despair for their sake, embrace the new normal and continue to pray for those who are still in the midst of the pandemic.

In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus asks for a final layer of protection for the disciples. That’s not just the guys from 2000 years ago, that’s us. Jesus has prayed for our protection, so that we can go about the work He has set for us – the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to nations near and far, to those closest to us, like our families, or Judah, to those we don’t even like, or Samaria. We are encouraged to do this, but before we stop and quake in our boots, wondering how on earth to do it, remember what Jesus told the disciples- ‘I am sending the Holy Spirit to you.’

Now most of us heard this reading last year and the year before, and probably for a fair few years before that, so we know about the Holy Spirit. But maybe this is a time for a reminder about God’s amazing power, and how God helps us with that same power that made the universe! This week, we are preparing for the great Feast of Pentecost, for commemorating an outpouring of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. Let’s take some time as we pray this week to ask God to show us our next steps, and to fill us again with that power.

Shepherds.

Readings May 3 2020

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

There are many images around shepherds in the bible. The Lord is my shepherd – this is a beautiful psalm isn’t it? But let’s look at what our experience of a shepherd is. Not many of us have had a rural background, looking after sheep, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, most of you have watched Country Calendar a few times in your life. It is a window into the rural life, and a way of escaping from our bubbles for half an hour on a Sunday night. A shepherd cares for the sheep. Yes, that is obvious. But what does that actually mean? It doesn’t just mean nice feelings about them, cuddling them and ruffling their nice woolly heads. It means doing the necessary tasks – drenching, crutching, docking, weighing, shearing, feeding out, and in a big winter snow finding those which have got stuck and bringing them back to safety.

Have a look at this painting. It’s called High Country Shepherd, and painted after a Philip Temple photo by my grandfather David Davidson.

High country Shepherd might be its official name, but in our family we have always called it the Good Shepherd, and it has been in my house since my grandparents died.

Jesus is like that shepherd – he goes out into the cold and lonely places and brings us back into the fold when we can’t do anything for ourselves. This shepherd is not just leading the sheep, he is carrying it on his shoulders. I don’t know how much a sheep weighs but from my Country Calendar research a lamb can weigh 40 kilos, so a full-grown sheep must be at least 50 or 60 kilos. That’s a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders. And Jesus carries a lot of weight on his shoulders for us too – the weight of our sins.

He carried them to the cross, where they were dealt with once and for all. What does this mean for us? Since we have been forgiven, it means that we don’t need to dwell on our sins, on our past stuff-ups, our failures. We can move confidently towards the future, knowing that the slate is wiped clean.

Often we find ourselves thinking about the things that have gone wrong in our past, forgetting about the forgiven and wiped away part of that. Why do we do this?

Well, it’s because we have an adversary. The word Satan means accuser. And this is just what Satan does – when we are feeling ok, there may be that little niggle reminding us, yes but how about when you did that? Hm??? When we hear this voice we can hold fast to the picture of Jesus as our shepherd – he has rescued us from our sins, he has thrown us over his strong shoulders and brought us back to the fold. We can in all confidence say to Satan, get in behind! Or, get thee behind me, in the old version.

Why is Jesus our shepherd? What can that mean for us? He is the gate, as we heard in our reading from John’s gospel. He is the way in and out, the way to freedom, safety and good pasture. Jesus will take us where we can thrive and grow and produce.

Sometimes a sheep needs to be brought back in to the yards for scrutiny – for drenching and weighing, and for shearing. We come back under Jesus’ guidance periodically. It means coming to scripture, to prayer, to engaging with other Christians. One day that might mean coming into the same building and worshipping together, but for now, we are coming together in other ways, with more or less technical proficiency. Caring phone calls are part of that.

Just as a sheep needs to be shorn, sometimes we need to let things go in our Christian walk. If a sheep carries all its wool for too long it will fall under the weight, be bogged down by snow, and not able to survive. We can let ourselves be shorn too, let a ministry go, let our fruits go where they are needed, and then grown a new fleece. It might be different from the old one too. While we are apart these months in lockdown, it’s a time for reflection – let’s face it, there is plenty of time for that! We can consider what we have been doing that is producing good fruit, and where we feel called in the next season. It may be that, like sheep, year after year we produce a goodly amount of that same wool. That’s not a problem.

But maybe it’s time to see where Jesus will take us next. Will the pasture be the same as before? I was watching another programme on Country Calendar last week, where the farmer was planting all sorts of wildflowers in the paddock – tall sunflowers and mustard, 20 different varieties of plants, so the sheep could thrive, choosing whatever they wanted and sheltering from the heat. I think maybe our next season will be like that – our paddocks will be all the richer and more varied. Instead of having just rye grass and clover to chose from, we may see so much more variety.

This time of being apart has been hard. Our reading from Peter talks about a situation like this.

“But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

Christ had a 40 day time of social distancing in the wilderness, before he embarked on his public ministry. Indeed, the word ‘quarantine’ means forty days. He knows what it is like to be apart from others for extended periods of time. Everything that we go through, Jesus has been there before, and will be with us as we endure.

When life is hard for you, may you remember the image of the cold and tired sheep, slung across the shepherd’s shoulders, caring for you and bringing you to a place of safety and warmth.

Jesus is inclusive.

Readings for Sunday March 15 2020

Exod 17:1-7

Rom 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

It might seem quite normal for a person travelling to talk to those they meet in the town they arrive in. Jesus was sitting by the town well, waiting while the disciples bought something for lunch. He asks a woman for some water, because he has no dipper. This might seem an everyday occurrence here, but life was different in Samaria in the first century. The Jews and the Samaritans were not on speaking terms as a rule – there had a been a difference of opinion about how to worship God, back in the centuries gone by, and the two groups avoided each other.

There was another avoidance that was normal too – a devout Jewish man would not talk to a woman in public, especially not a woman who was not a relative. But Jesus ignored these two things, and spoke to a woman, and a Samaritan woman, at that.

Jesus was radically inclusive, and this is a lesson we can still learn from Jesus. He didn’t regard the “Other” as less than human, as different. He just treated them as a normal human being, worthy of God’s love and Jesus’ attention.

Our country is commemorating the Mosque attacks today. A year ago, a terrible thing happened, that showed us that there were different people living in our midst, and that someone was evil enough to harm them. Many of us were not greatly aware of the Muslim community. Many didn’t even know where the mosques were, especially the one here in Linwood, set discreetly back from the road.

If we did know abut the Muslim community, we would have seem a group of people who largely kept themselves to themselves, but looked a bit different going about their everyday activities. The head scarfs the women wear are a point of different here.

But the events of last year showed us that these people were vulnerable to hate, and as a nation we condemned that hate. We all came together in love as a community around our Muslim neighbours.

This is a kind, loving, Christian, human thing to do. But is it enough? We can support those who have been obviously harmed, we can hold hands around Hagley Park in support of love and togetherness, but how about when there are other challenges to our world view?

If we have learnt anything from the Mosque shootings, it should be that everyone needs to be loved and supported, and allowed to live in freedom and safety in our country.

If there are people who are marginalised, what would Jesus do?

Well, what did he do? You may argue that the Samaritan woman was not marginalised by being a woman and a Samaritan. Indeed, in her own community, that was not a problem. But there is another detail about her. She was going to draw water at noon. The normal time for the women to draw water was early in the morning, so their households would be prepared for the day. But this woman was not able to join in with the others. She was shunned. Why? Probably because of her history with five husbands and her current not-husband. Her community turned their back on her, excluded her, because of her marital status. Maybe they thought that losing husbands was contagious, and they might be affected. Maybe she had been divorced. We will not now, and Jesus also tells her that her current bloke is not an official husband.

Here is another reason that people have been excluded in our society – their marital status and their choice of who to love is disapproved of. But not by Jesus.

To come back to our earlier question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ He talked to the woman, treated her like she was worthy of his notice, and indeed gave her the greatest treasure he could, that is, telling her about the water that will never run out, the gift of eternal life. He respected her in spite of her status as an excluded member of her own society, and in spite of restrictions placed upon him by his own Jewish maleness.

Jesus gave the woman more – he gave her the confidence to go back to her community and tell them about him. Here was the woman who was avoiding the other women at the usual water-drawing time, going willingly to tell everyone about Jesus! She had a new confidence, because Jesus noticed her, treated her like a worthy person to share the greatest gift with.

While the woman is rounding up the others to see Jesus, the disciples return, and they urge him to eat,. Jesus then teaches them about his and their mission. and he says, cryptically, that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

This is exactly what Jesus has been doing in speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. But he needs to tell the disciples more. He needs to show them the path ahead for them. He uses a metaphor about reaping the fields.

“Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” (John 4:35-38)

I can imagine the disciples scratching their heads at this, and taking some time to understand what Jesus means. Reaping where other shave sown? In the natural world that would be theft, wouldn’t it? It’s like taking someone’s peaches from their tree without permission. What then does Jesus mean by reaping? He means a gathering in, bringing to fruition. The seed is sown when people hear about the word of God, the life of Jesus. The seed is watered when there is more teaching, more experience of the Christian life. But just as a plant takes a while before it can produce fruit, so the Christian life can take a while to mature. Some of us are quick growers, like poppy plants, ready to bear seed within a short season. Others are like a pine tree that needs to grow for many years, buffeted by the winds of life, until we are finally ready to start bearing fruit.

Well, what does this mean for us? If we place ourselves at Jesus’ feet, listening like the disciples, we can take the same instructions.

‘I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour.’

We are all called to the work and the joy of welcoming people into the kingdom of heaven. That’s the scary bit isn’t it? Coming to church is easy compared to telling people about Jesus and asking them if they are ready to receive Christ. This is where the saying of St Francis of Assisi is so apt: Preach the gospel, if necessary, sue words”

If the events of a year ago have taught us anything, it must surely be that loving, all-inclusively, is the only way that our society can flourish. We must surely have learnt that there are no grounds for exclusion. Not race, religion, gender, sexuality, taste in music or clothes, how much money we have, how clever we are, which rugby team we support, anything. This week, I want you to look at your attitudes to all those you encounter. Bring them to God in prayer, ask God to show you if you have been less than loving in any encounter or attitude. Especially pray about those who challenge you the most.

And never forget that God loves you, and them, so very much.

Nicodemus was a thinking man.

Sermon 8 march 2020

 

Nicodemus was a thinking man. He was a member of the Pharisees, a group of Jews who followed the law as closely as they could, and tried to be righteous. Saul was a Pharisee too, and the letter of the law was so important to these people. But Nicodemus had questions. He wasn’t happy to just blindly follow the law – he knew that this Jesus had something different about him, had something he wanted. But because Nicodemus was a man of status in his community, he couldn’t come openly to listen to Jesus’ teachings. He came by night, so that no one would see, and that no one would question whether he was indeed a good Pharisee. Continue reading

Lust, divorce and dishonesty

Sermon Feb 16 St Chad’s

Matthew 5:21-37

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The gospel reading we have heard today was the occasion of one of the most potentially embarrassing moments of my life. It was the week Kevin and I had decided to get married, and we had announced our forthcoming nuptials in the pew news. I was waiting for my divorce to go through. When we got to church, I had forgotten that I was down to do the reading that day, and had not prepared it – it had been a busy week! The person in charge of the roster came up to me, looking embarrassed, and offered to read it for me, if I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I thought, oh dear, what on earth is in it? You see, it’s always good to prepare if you are doing a reading! Continue reading

True Worship

Sermon Feb 9

 

Today we have been hearing about fasting and about true sacrifice. There is a contrast between outwardly religious behaviour, and the real religion that springs from the heart.

God, through the prophet Isaiah tells the people that it is a waste of time to make sacrifices and look humble, to cover yourselves with sackcloth and ashes and stand with heads bowed down, if you then go on to oppress the workers, to defraud people of their wages, to quarrel and to be violent. Continue reading

The presentation

Sermon Feb 2 2020 St Ambrose

Our reading today is very multi-generational isn’t it? We have a young family with a new baby, coming to the temple for the rites of purification according to their religion. But we also have not one but two elderly saints featured in the story. Sometimes it’s easy to feel overlooked when we are older, especially in a society which favours the young and glamorous, rather than the old and wrinkly. This is a great story to think about if you reckon you are too old to be of any use in the church. None of you here seem to be slowed down much by age though! Continue reading