Generosity

Nov 15 St Ambrose

Generosity

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the talents is a well-known story, and there have been various interpretations of it. Even our word ‘talent’ comes from this story. A talent was a measure of weight, of money. It was quite a lot – more than 50 kilos in New Testament times. This was a story guaranteed to catch the attention of the listener, using the Jewish sense of exaggeration that Jesus used in so many stories.

This story talks about trust. The man going away on the journey gave large sums of money to his servants to invest for him, trusting them to keep his affairs not only in order but productive while he was away, and could not attend to them. God entrusts us with a lot too. It doesn’t look like huge amounts of money to use, most of the time, unfortunately.

But what does God give us? God gives us everything we have – our life, our health, our family, our friends, our work, our abilities. To some, the amount is more than to others. Maybe your pile of health is a bit smaller than it used to be. Maybe your pile of talking- to-people talent is larger than someone else’s. Everyone has something in their pile.

In the story, the servant who had been given a large amount in the first place used it wisely and doubled it. This can happen with large amounts of money – they can be invested and grow. Apparently. I haven’t had the chance to try it. But what do we have that we can grow for the Kingdom? Do you have any ability? This is where we need to think outside the box. The obvious talents are things like musical gifts, sporting prowess.

When is was about 21 I met up with a girl I had gone to school with, who had never been very nice to me and my friends, -she was one of the bullies, you might say. But she told me that she had really envied us! Why? I asked. Her life seemed to have lots of stuff going for it. Because you were so talented, she said. It is true that my friends and I were good at music, and languages and such like. These were very obvious talents – it’s easy to see a talent when someone is painting a picture in front of you, or singing a song, or scoring a century at cricket.

But many of our abilities, our talents, are not so obvious. They may be talents with listening to people, the talent of encouraging people. The talent of affirming people. Loving people. These are the sorts of talents that don’t go around shouting from the roof tops, but just like investing money, they will grow if we use them.

If someone comes into the food bank and they have had a really hard day, we will meet them with love, with listening. With affirmation. I wonder what will grow then? We probably will never know what happens to that person when they go home. Maybe there will grow in their heart a bit of their own talent to love, to affirm, to be a friend. We don’t know, but God knows.

The idea behind this talent is that as God has given so we too must give. God has been incredibly generous to us – therefore we can be equally generous to those we encounter.

It’s a bit counter-cultural though isn’t it? So often in our society people do things when they will be seen, so they can be thanked. There was an add a year or so ago, which showed a man loading the dishwasher, and before he shut the door and turned it on, he checked to see that his wife was noticing! It was funny, but it showed our human need for praise. We can give other people the praise and affirmation that God leads us to give, but we don’t need to seek it for ourself.

God knows our heart, what we do and why we do it, everything about us.

Let’s look at the parable again. The first servant was given a large sum, and doubled it. The second also doubled what he had been entrusted with.

But the third didn’t do anything with it. He feared the Master, and instead of even putting the money in the bank to gain even a bit of interest he hid it in the ground!

What talents are you hiding in the ground? What attributes do you have that could be used for the kingdom of heaven, but you are not using them? This is something to take to God in prayer. There may be things about your life that you see as weaknesses, as failures, that are really talents, things of value for God. I discovered this when I used to help with Pop-in, a play group that our church ran back in Tawa. Here I was, a married woman, with my kids, and some of the young mums who came in were a bit self-conscious about their lack of a wedding ring. They were slow to warm up to me and some of the other helpers, preferring to talk to their own age group. But I got one of those Holy Spirit nudges to tell them a little bit of my story – it was only a tiny bit I shared, not a whole talent, only a couple of cents really. I just told them that I remembered the days of shared custody and struggling by on the DPB.

I could have ignored my earlier life, turned the page and pretended it never happened, but God had given me that to use. As a result, the young single mums opened up to me – they knew I could relate to them in their situation, and that I wasn’t judging them. We were able to develop a warm and friendly relationship, and they were blessed by belonging to the playgroup. As a result of this, several of them joined the church, and those who didn’t were peripheral members, and knew that they could come to us when they needed us.

God used my unlikely-looking talent of having been divorced!

Maybe your back story is a rich mine of experience to help other people. Maybe they can tell by the wise glint in your eye, the compassionate nod of your head, even without you saying a word, that you ‘get’ them, you know where they are coming from.

Our stories are our talents. No matter how ghastly, and I do know that the stories represented by people here would keep Shortland St going for years, if they were even allowed by the censor to use them!

Our reading to the Thessalonians tells us why all this stuff is so important – we don’t know the time when Jesus will come back on earth, and we need to be ready. If we need this, so do those around us, those whom we meet and interact with. We have a duty of care to God’s people everywhere to help them be ready for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and we can all bring that Kingdom closer by sharing our talents with the same generosity our wonderful God has shown to us.

As for me and my house…

Sermon Nov 8 2020

St Chad’s Reverend Felicity O’Brien

Joshua 24:1-25

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

These are stirring words that Joshua spoke aren’t they? I made a tapestry of them for Kevin once – they seemed to be important words to put on our wall to dedicate our home to God.

It’s an interesting exchange between Joshua and the people. He seems to be telling them that they don’t really need to serve the Lord, that they can choose for themselves, and that serving God will be difficult, because God is a jealous God. I think it’s a bit of reverse psychology, just like a father convincing his child to eat broccoli by telling him that he wouldn’t like it and only big boys eat it!

Let’s look at what Joshua said:

15 ‘Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.’

Here Joshua is issuing them with a challenge, after telling them that God has been with their people since Abraham’s time. They are challenged to make a choice, and then told the conditions of that choice. It will not be easy – far easier for them to follow the gods of their ancestors, or those of the land around them.

This has relevance for us too. Do we want to go on as our family did, or like those around us?

Some of us were raised in a Christian home, and have had that example from youth. But others of us were brought up in a situation where ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ was only used as swear words, and there was no understanding of the overwhelming love of God for each and every one of us. It takes courage, doesn’t it, to go against the norm of our family, and choose to follow God.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, stated Joshua boldly. It gives the best basis for a home, and children raised under God’s banner will always remember it. As parents we can do this when the kids are young, but when they get older they need to make their own mind up as to whom to serve. God has no grandchildren, as the saying goes.

How about following the gods of the surrounding people? In our context that means following those things everyone else worships – it might not be golden calves here in New Zealand, but how about the god of money? Or rugby? Or success? Or keeping up with the Joneses? Those other gods are just as relevant to us as they were to Joshua’s people.

Joshua reminds the people again that God is jealous and there will be no turning back from this decision. They had enough information, and they made a clear choice, with witnesses, that they wanted to follow God.

We too make this clear choice in many ways – by being part of a church family, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week. By promises at baptism and confirmation. By reading scripture and letting it feed us. By allowing time for God to speak to us in prayer. By treating others with the same love that God has shown for us. Sometimes it’s hard to swim against the tide of society to keep following God, but we need to do it, because evil triumphs when good people do nothing.

How does our gospel reading mesh into the story of Joshua’s’ people?

The story of the wise and the foolish virgins is about being prepared. If we are following the Lord, we are prepared for whatever opportunities present themselves- we are open to ways to serve the Lord at all times. It might be a conversation at work, or with a visitor, it might be a choice we make about how

we spend our money. If we are prepared to serve God all the time, and not just in the obvious times, we bring the kingdom of heaven closer to earth.

During November, the thrust of our readings is about the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven. Be prepared, because we don’t know when Jesus, the bridegroom is coming. Or, as the bumper sticker has it, ‘Jesus is coming, look busy!’

Part of being prepared for whatever God has in store for us, is keeping in touch with our marching orders. In any job you need to follow instructions to do what is required. Imagine if the boss is trying to give you the next task, and you won’t meet with them, or switch your phone off, and refuse to read texts! Just like this, is what happens if we stop praying. Prayer is a two-way conversation – we bring our joys and our concerns to God, and we also listen to God. Sometimes, the answer comes in a clear audible voice. But that’s the exception. It’s more likely that a thought pops into our mind, or a word of scripture, or a line from a hymn. Maybe you feel a nudge to go in a certain direction. It can be a bit like that childhood game Hunt the Thimble – the people hiding the thimble call out ‘warm, warmer, hot, or colder,’ depending on how close you are to the hidden object. The nudges from the Holy Spirit are a bit like those hints about how warm we are.

Part of the talking about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven is ‘eschatological writing’ or end-time stuff. It can sound very weird and supernatural, and makes for great if rather over-imaginative movies, like the ‘Left Behind’ series that came out in the 90s. Paul tells us a bit about what to expect when the times come to an end:

‘ 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.’

It’s not really an action plan though is it? Or a blueprint. There’s no time frame, no specifics about who will go this way.

The main point for us is this phrase: ‘and so we will be with the Lord forever.’ This is the whole point of being ready for the kingdom of heaven, that we will be with God forever. We don’t know when that will be, but there is a plan for our future. It’s something to look forward to, but it may be a long time coming. That’s why Paul said: ‘therefore encourage one another with these words.’ It sets us on a path of hope.

Our world surely needs hope at this time – with Covid, and rioting as a result of the non-result in America, and wars that have become so commonplace that our News programme doesn’t even bother to report them any more. This is a difficult time we live in. But this has happened before. There have been periods in history where people thought, surely things have got so bad that this must be the end time, that Jesus must be about to catch us all up to himself in the cloud, and we will be with God forever. Maybe this is the time, but even a thousand years ago the thinking was similar. We don’t know. But what we do know is that we will be with God forever. Eventually. This is what we must be prepared for and this is gives us the confidence to make the declaration, with Joshua, that ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

For all the saints

Sermon Nov 1

For all the saints

Rev 7:9-end

Matt 5:1-12

Sometimes I look around our small congregations, and start to wonder about our numbers, and I have to admit there’s a sense of smallness, that we are just a tiny group.

But then readings like we have just heard remind me of the vast number of those who have gone before us! One of the songs we often sing on All Saints’ Day is ‘for all the saints, who from their labours rest.

Let’s have a think about what that is all about.

All the saints! That’s not just the ones with Saint as their title, Saint Mary, Saint Francis, St Ambrose. It’s Saint Terry, Saint Jenny, Saint Dennis, Saint Trixie, Saint Graham, insert name of your parents here! Today we commemorate everyone who has ever loved God, all the way back through time!

How about some of the Old Testament characters? St Isaiah, St Eve, St Adam, St Moses? They don’t tend to get the title St because it has been used for people who have spread the Gospel of Christ.

In the Catholic church there are every specific steps that need to be taken before someone is canonised, that is, recognised as a saint. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the newest saints. They have to have had a life of loving God, and also miracles have to be attributed to them.

Today, we take the wider definition of saint. I can see some saints, here; St Ila, St Pete, St Kevin, you are all saints because you all love God and do God’s work in the community.

Thinking about the many millions of saints who have gone before us helps us see that we belong to a larger movement than just the smallish group gathered here today, and other small groups gathered in churches around the city. It is those of any denomination, all around the world!

I have no idea how many people would have ever loved God back through time! It must be billions! If we trust our scripture, we know that these saints who have gone before us have not disappeared from existence. Revelation tells us a bit about their current assignment:

‘And there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

Note that these saints were from every tribe and language – there was no discrimination, no segregation. Everyone can be a saint.

The saints in heaven were crying out salvation belongs to the Lord, and to the Lamb!

They were worshipping God, praising and affirming God as the bearer of Salvation, and the Lamb, that is Jesus, as our saviour.

When we are praying, we can hold the image of these multitudes in our mind, and let our prayers mix with theirs! Whenever you think, what can the prayers of little me do, remember that they will be added to the prayers of all the saints in heaven! That’s a mind-blowing thought really isn’t it? We are part of something so huge, so timeless, so powerful, when we think about the sheer numbers involved! Our prayers will have power because of it.

We hear more about the saints in heaven: They have come out of the great ordeal, and they will never hunger or thirst again, and God will wipe away every

tear from their eyes! That’s the future for us as saints in God, and what we can look forward to in eternity with Christ!

On Wednesday we were talking about some of the Negro Spirituals, which often have an idea of going across a river to a new land where there will be no more sorrow. They are talking about the kingdom of heaven.

Our reading from the Gospel also talks about the kingdom of heaven by showing us hope for the future:

Let’s see if we can remember some of the endings:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs ….is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they ….will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they ….will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they …will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will ….receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will ….see God.

These are words of encouragement, but they are not specific about when we will receive our reward, or how long we have to be meek, or sorrowful, or pure in heart, before we can rejoice.

They all have a theme about humility though don’t they?

In our world we are constantly bombarded by images of pride and greed from the media, especially now that the junk mail season, oops I mean the Christmas season, is approaching. So many adds are encouraging us to be greedy and proud, to try and out-do the Joneses. But, blessed are the meek!

Does that mean we have to be doormats for the Lord? no. It is about seeing ourselves as part of a whole, not at the top, but just somewhere in the grassroots.

This is where the work really happens.

Imagine a beautiful avocado seedling growing in a pot, putting up its handsome leaves, and saying to the other plants, I am so beautiful, my leaves are bigger than yours, and a much nicer colour. Look, my flower buds are opening, and my, how wonderful I am to have such lovely flowers. But then the roots of the avocado start to struggle, because there is no goodness or water left in the soil! The avocado starts to look a bit less blossy, the flowers drop off, and the leaves droop, and it can no longer boast about being the most handsome plant in the garden! The meek are the soil, what feeds the whole system. If we work away loving people, praying for people, serving people, without expecting praise or thanks, we are part of other people flourishing. Yes, it’s good to be meek, because then we can be useful.

How about ‘blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?’ I have often wondered about this one, partly because it was our school motto. Maybe the school was trying to persuade all the green-uniformed girls to be pure in how we lived, and stop thinking about boys all the time, but on reflection I don’t think that’s what ‘pure in heart’ means.

If silver is pure, it has been refined in fire, and all the impurities are burnt away. It is just made of one thing, pure silver. There are no characteristics in it apart from silver. It is completely predictable in how it acts, whether it is waterproof, can conduct electricity, is magnetic or not. There are no anomalies. If we are pure in heart, we are constant, consistent, we have integrity. We can relied on for our attributes. If we purely follow God there will be nothing that we say or do that does not reflect our love of God. This is why the pure in heart will see God.

This All Saints’ Day, remember that you too are a saint, and are blessed.

Why we do what we do

Sermon 25 Oct 2020

Deut 34:1-12

I Thess 2:1-8

Matt 22:34-46

There is a series of Christian videos for children called Vege-tales. Some of you may have seen them with your grandchildren – if not, I recommend them for entertaining programmes that bring a clear Christian message, albeit voiced by Larry the cucumber. A talking cucumber might be an unusual carrier of God’s word.

But the reason I mention this series is that at the beginning of every episode there is a saying, ‘why we do what we do’. The makers of these programmes for children make it clear that their driving motivation is out of love for the children, not to merely entertain but to share the Gospel message of love and hope with them.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians spells out too his reason for what he is doing –

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.’

Christian ministry isn’t an easy one, as I’m sure you all know. Paul encourages us by his example to share our own selves as we share the Gospel. This means sharing our hopes and our dreams, our triumphs and our despairs, with those around us. It is how we face life that marks us as Christians – are we proud when all is going well? Or do we give the glory back to God? Or when life turns to custard, and not sweet, hot custard, but lumpy cold stuff that’s burnt on the bottom, do we blame God? Or do we turn our face towards Jesus, confident and determined that nothing will take God’s love away from us, as we continue to put one foot in front of the other?

Paul had a really hard time proclaiming the Gospel. He was quick to tell his hearers about it:

‘though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.’

Paul can sound as if he is boasting about the hard time he had, rather like the Monty Python skit about the three Yorkshiremen, as they try to outdo each other about how hard their childhood was!

I think Paul is being encouraging, rather than boastful. He is telling the Thessalonians that they are worthy of his great effort, that they need to hear the Gospel. And that the love of God is freely available for them. In this he is also encouraging them, and us, to do the same – to share the Gospel with everyone, no matter how difficult it is.

It is difficult though, isn’t it? It seems that we live in a world of apathy at best, and outright hostility towards the church. When members of our on family don’t want to hear about the good news, when their eyes glaze over if we try to tell them about the hope we have in Christ, what can we do? Never give up, Paul would say. But maybe we have to be a bit crafty about how we share it. We show our love fro Christ in how we live our lives, how we love each other, how we behave when life is hard. This might seem too little, but it shines out from us, and people do notice. We have a hard job as Christians too, fighting against the bad reputation that some so-called Christians have given the church.

I was encouraged recently when a friend of my daughter’s was listening to people criticising the church for supposedly being rich and hoarding resources. He stated that all the Christians he had met were hard-core socialists! I was really glad to hear that, because Jesus’ own example is one of radical socialism, caring for others and not trying to grasp for himself.

Paul must have come up against criticism of why he was spreading the Gospel, because he justifies why he does it:

‘For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.’

Why would a Christian spread the Gospel out of deceit or trickery? I am thinking of some of the notorious televangelists here, who are always calling for large donations of money, and seem to spend it on themselves rather than where the need is. People like this give the church a bad name, and unfortunately the media are quick to publicise these stories rather than those of the many millions of Christians who are actively loving and helping others.

Paul tells us why we have been entrusted to spread the Gospel – not to please mortals, but to please God.

It can be very hard to please mortals. I had a friend who was an organist, and she said of her choice of music that you’re never going to please everyone, so you may as well please yourself.

Pleasing God is more than that though. How do we know if we are pleasing God?

We can hold our actions against scripture, or the short-cut, ask ourselves, what would Jesus do? If we can confidently say that we are loving others in the way Jesus would, we are on the right track. But if it takes a bit of finagling to put our desired ministry alongside this standard, it is time to re-think.

In our Gospel reading, we have another of the Pharisee’s questions to Jesus. Unlike last week’s one about the tax, this one is an easy one.

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment.

Fairly standard answer, the Pharisee thought.

But then Jesus confounds them with the sheer power of love.

“And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”

This is a help for us in those what-would-Jesus-do moments. If our action is loving our neighbour as ourself, then we are on the right track. But Jesus’ next comment is also really important.

‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Whenever the church is arguing over details of theology, or what the book of Deuteronomy or Leviticus says about whatever contentious issue is foremost, we need to remember Jesus’ words. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, and must be interpreted in their light. This is why there is such freedom in Christianity – or should be. Rather than trying to follow lots of rules about what not to eat or wear, or who not to talk to, we just need to look at Jesus’ words. Love God, love neighbour.

Here we have help available to us – we don’t need to think it through all by ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit to counsel and to guide us, to warn and revive. It’s good to practise listening for the voice of God. To do this we need space, time, freedom from distraction. This can he hard to find in a busy modern world, where there are so many things to attend to, and so many entertainments available. Even when we have free time it’s easy to fill it up with watching tv, reading, playing on the computer…but to hear from God takes a conscious effort to clear our diary for a bit, a time when we have no distractions, and can let God speak to us.

During the week I went for a walk in Riccarton bush, and for me it was a time to encounter God afresh. There were no people around me, no phone, nothing but the sound of the birds in the tall trees, and I stopped, and just listened for God. Where can you encounter God this week?

Coins

Sermon 18 Oct

Coins

Exod 13 12-23

1 Thess 1 1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

Today’s Gospel has another instance of the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus. They were living in an occupied country, and many prophets had already come, claiming to be the Messiah, saying that they would lead the people to freedom. So the Pharisees wanted to see what Jesus really stood for. Was he just another flash-in-the-pan, another hothead who would call for revolution but fizzle out? If so, was he a danger to the shaky peace they lived in under Rome? The Pharisees knew that if there was any insurrection, the Romans would be quick and ruthless in stamping it out – the countryside was littered with crosses from other wannabe revolutionaries who had been made an example of for disturbing the so-called peace.

So the Pharisees come to Jesus with a trick question. They begin their question by establishing what they know of Jesus – this is a bit like a political debate where the compere sets up the scene, hoping to find a way in which the politician can be made to squirm as they get caught out.

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.’

This would be the statement that would lull Jesus into a sense of security, they probably thought. Then they could come in with the sharp question and catch him unawares!

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’”

This was a very loaded question. First, they raised the idea of Jesus treating everyone with impartiality. He was known for his love of the outcast and the sinner, that he would not treat them as lesser. But here he was being challenged about how he regarded the high-ups, the leaders and rulers. Would he kowtow to them? Would he be subservient to the upper levels of society?

This is an interesting question for us to ponder about – we know that following Jesus means that we treat everyone as if they were Christ himself in our midst – that we are called to love the alcoholic, the mentally ill, the prostitute, the annoying person next door who steals all our lemons. But we are also challenged to treat the upper ranks of society with impartiality too, not to be subservient and greasey towards them, and not to see ourselves as of little worth compared to them. So what if they have the latest boat in their yard? Or the biggest house in the block? Jesus was known for showing no partiality, and treating everyone as if they were beloved by God. Perhaps people who have a lot of stuff and wealth and power are used to be seen as a meal-ticket by those around them, but they may not feel loved for who they are, not what they have. It’s like someone who wins Lotto suddenly finding that they have a whole lot of relatives they’ve never heard of!

Jesus didn’t fall for the Pharisees’ trick question. He took a coin, and asked them about it.

Let’s have a think about the coin that Jesus took. It was the hated coin, the very one used to pay tax. Just imagine if another country marched in to Christchurch and demanded that we paid them our own money, using their horrible currency! It’s just a coin, you might say. But for the Jews it meant something. Remember that there is a commandment about not making graven images? For the Jews, having the likeness of the emperor on the coin was against their religion, and handling the coin was distasteful for them. Unclean, really. And not only the image, but written on the coins were the words: son of God, high priest. These words were referring to the emperor. Yuk! Can you see how the Jews would have hated these coins and all they stood for? Caesar, the Roman ruler, was claiming to be God over them!

Perhaps the Pharisees were trying to goad Jesus into saying something revolutionary, something inflammatory that would cause the Romans to arrest him and get rid of him and the potential nuisance he would cause to the city.

But Jesus sees through their trick, and gives a surprising answer.

‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ he asked. They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

So often Jesus gives answers that are not yes or no, not black and white, and need further thinking about.

What on earth could he mean? Pay back Caesar in the coin he used, and pay back God in God’s own coin.

Or give Caesar what he gave, but give God what belongs to God.

What does this mean for us?

What does God give us, and what do we need to pay back to God?

God gives us everything we need – life, health, existence. We would not be here without God. God most importantly gives us love, and that love is seen in his sacrifice of his first-born son.

In our reading from Exodus, we heard that the first-born son is to be dedicated to God, and maybe that sits a bit odd these days, especially for those of us with no children, or a daughter born first. But God gave his own first born son for us, so that we ned never be separated from God’s love. God gave his most precious for us, so we can be his most precious too.

We need to hold lightly to that which is most precious, offering it up to God, asking God to bless it for God’s service.

Some people hold too tightly to their children, wanting to control them, not only as they are growing up, but when they are adults. Set them free, let them learn. Keep loving them, but hold lightly. Some people try to control their partner – again, love means holding lightly, letting God use what we hold most dear.

Jesus is showing us that we might have to follow the world-structure and pay our taxes, but this needs to be done alongside paying God what is God’s, and keeping the priorities of our life in balance.

This week, let’s ask God to show us how we can set free that which we are holding too tightly, so that God can bless it. Let’s pay back God in God’s own currency, which is love without partiality.

Authority

Sermon 27 sept 2020

Authority

Phillipians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

Our two readings today talk about the authority of Jesus. When Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders were disturbed by him, because he had a new message, and wasn’t following the status quo. They were suspicious, but also hopeful. For many long years they had been waiting for the Messiah, a saviour who would come and make their life better, and fulfil God’s plan for the Jews. For the last four hundred years, they were particularly looking for someone who could lead them out of the captivity the Romans had imposed on them. So they were wondering, could this Jesus guy be the one?

But they were not about to get their hopes up too quickly. There had been many who had proclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, and Jesus was the last in a long line that had led to disappointment. Furthermore, they knew that if the Jewish people rocked the boat, even a little bit, the Romans would come down harshly upon them. So they needed to know who Jesus was, and what he represented.

When they came out and asked Jesus straight by whose authority he was preaching and healing, Jesus, in his typical frustrating fashion, didn’t give them a straight answer, but rather addressed the questions going through their heads.

He pointed them at John the Baptist, his own cousin, asking them about John’s baptism. He had them caught between a rock and a hard place, because they didn’t want to admit that John’s baptism came from heaven, and they didn’t want to say that it was human. They were scared of being stoned by the people who did believe John’s message.

They took the wisest course of action which was to keep quiet and say that they didn’t know.
This is a good lesson for us at times too – if we don’ know the answer to something, there is no shame in admitting that. Better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and confirm it, the saying goes.

Jesus took advantage of the occasion to teach them by way of a parable.

This one resonates with all those who have lived with teenagers. The grumpy son who won’t take out the recycling bin on a Sunday night, but then decides to do it anyway, because their conscience is pricking them, or the keen to please kid who says yes of course, but doesn’t follow through. This parable tells us that it’s no good just applying lip service to God’s will for our lives. We don’t want to be like the son who says, Yes, sir, I go, but then gets distracted by the cares of life, and forgets to follow God.

We are urged that by eventually following the will of the Father, we will go into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus points put the example of the tax collectors and prostitutes, showing the religious leaders that these people may not be outwardly living righteous lives, but because they turn away and follow God, they will indeed enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’s harshest criticisms are for the religious establishment, those who are only too quick to follow the outward observances of faith, but don’t follow the heart of it. He never tells them directly where his authority comes from, but I’m sure they know.

Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians to see what he says about Jesus’ authority.

He explains that it is by humbly imitating Christ that we honour him, so that ‘at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.’

We are worshipping one who came lowly to earth, taking upon himself the form of a servant. He did not come on a white war horse to lead the Jewish people to victory over the Romans. He came with a subversive love for everyone that turned the world upside down, and is still turning it upside down.

Paul has good advice for how to live as a follower of Christ:

‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’

This advice to in humility regard others as better than ourselves goes against much of the popular culture of our world. There is such a striving to be seen to be succeeding, to be winning, that it’s easy to be really judgmental and rank ourselves with everyone we encounter. As we get older we stop worrying about such things, and that it one of the benefits of aged wisdom. It is not the Jesus way to blow our own trumpet, to hold ourselves up as better than someone else. There is a lovely Maori proverb about this – The kumara does not speak of its own sweetness.

No, in the kingdom of heaven there is love for others first.

Paul explains that it is because Jesus put aside his glory and humbled himself that God exalted him, so that at his name every knee should bow.

Some churches take this literally, genuflecting or bowing whenever the name Jesus occurs, such as in the Gloria or the Creed. That’s all very well during a Sunday service but how can we bow at Jesus’ name during the rest of the week?

We can follow his example in everything we do, even when our past life has not been too great. Remember the example of the tax collectors and prostitutes? No matter what we have done, or how many times we have failed to be the people God intends us to be, as we say during the confession, no matter how many times we find ourselves wincing at something we said or at an opportunity we shied away from to tell someone about Jesus, if we keep turning towards God’s will for our lives we will be like the first son, who refused to go and work in the vineyard, but heard the nudging of his conscience to do what was needed. To do this we are practising hearing from God, practising feeling those nudges from the Holy Spirit, so then even if the flesh is weak, the spirit is willing. It is this that brings the kingdom of heaven to earth.

Going back to the religious leaders who were asking Jesus by whose authority he healed and preached, I really feel a bit sorry for them. They were so vested in their forms of worship and religion that they were not willing to step out on a limb and try something new, that would bring freedom. I believe that the church in NZ is ready for something new. What that will be is not clear, but I feel hopeful. Here at St Ambrose we are soon to worship and serve in different ways, as we have the renovations done. How can we seize the opportunities this will give us in our neighbourhood?

Let this be our prayer this week.

Pick me!

Sermon 20 sept 2020

Pick me!

St Ambrose

Exodus 16:2-15

Matthew 20:1-16

Do you remember PE classes at school? I was never any good at PE, and was not interested anyway, but had to suffer it along with everyone else, wearing my green rompers, and my gumboots because mum wouldn’t buy me proper hockey boots.

The worst part of PE was when two of the popular and sporty girls were asked to pick their teams for whatever torture in the form of a game the teacher dreamt up. The first girl would pick one team member, then the other, alternating until there was only one person left to pick, and it was, you guessed it, me.

I always felt rejected, that everyone knew how useless I was at games, that even for the sake of friendship or kindness I would never get picked till there was no other option.

The story of the labourers in the vineyard reminds me of those times. The landowner hires a likely looking bunch of workers, and sets them to their task, promising them the usual daily labourer fee. Then more workers are needed, so he goes back for more. The next group were probably not as muscly, or not as keen-looking as the first, but they’ll do. And so on. Finally, later in the day, the landowner is at the marketplace – we are not told that he was actually looking for more workers, but he sees this group of team rejects hanging around, and asks them why they are there.

Their reply reminds me so much of PE days. Because no one has hired us, they say. We are the rejects, they seem to say. We are the ones no one wanted. The landowner has compassion on them and sends them into the vineyard to work, even though he really doesn’t need them.

This might all seem a bit odd, but what comes next is what’s really perplexing.

When it’s time to pay their wages, he gets the newest group up first, and much to their surprise gives them a full day’s pay, even though they have only been there for a short time! Imagine their delight! They had been standing around all day in the hot sun, getting more and more worried about how they would feed themselves without any work, when they receive a whole day’s pay for a little bit of work! They really didn’t expect to get anything like that – even a few tiny coins was all they expected.

They are delighted, and start to stand up a little bit straighter, feeling worthy and valued.

The next group comes up for their pay, grinning and nudging one another, expecting that if the newbies got a whole day’s pay for a few hours, then surely they will get more, because, after all, they were there longer. But no. The landowner gives them the same amount! They would be a bit grumpy, but then they reckon that they’ve only been there a couple of hours longer than the others, so, oh well, them’s the breaks.

But when the other groups, who have put in more hours, up to a whole long day of work, and are nursing aching backs and cramped hands, realise that they too are only going to get a day’s pay, that’s when the grumbling really starts!

The landowner points out to them that they have been paid the amount agreed, and that there is nothing illegal about this.

People however are always quick to see if they have been supposedly short-changed, have not been accorded the recognition they think they deserve.

Let’s look back a few more thousand years to the Hebrews wandering about the wilderness after they leave Egypt. They said:

‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

They too were worried about how to feed themselves. They looked back and thought, well at least in Egypt, it might not have been good, but there was food. I’m not sure what they expected in the wilderness – maybe they had been worried for some time about how they would get by, like the last group to get hired by the landowner.

God comes through for them! The camp is covered with quails in the evening! Great tasty protein, that will keep them full. And then in the morning, there’s this flaky white bred stuff all over the ground, which tastes like honey, and satisfies them! Their needs were provided for, in a way that they could not have imagined. God heard their cries for sustenance and fed them.

Does God hear our cries for sustenance too? Yes God does.

Whatever we need, we can ask God for. We can ask in general terms for God’s provision for us. When we do, we need to be prepared for the fact that with God, what we expect is not usually what we get. There will be something, but it might surprise us what exactly God has in store to nourish us.

We can also ask God for specific things. Maybe it’s best to be more modest in our requests – if you need a car, don’t specify a late-model Jaguar, because you might be disappointed. But trust God to provide for the need. I have often been shopping with God. What do I mean by that?

When I have needed a certain thing, for example green curtains for my son’s bedroom, and have only a few dollars, I have asked God to provide, and often I have been nudged in the direction of the right Op shop to find what I want. God is delighted to help us!

Let’s go back to the workers in the vineyard.

What is Jesus telling us with this parable? He finishes with the words

 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Those of us who feel neglected and rejected by the world are precious in God’s sight! And if you accept that you are precious to God, you will also need to accept that that other person is precious to God too, you know, the really annoying one at work, or the whiny child in front of you at the checkout, or the violent offender standing in the dock of the court. Yes, even the horrible, not just the merely annoying, people are precious in God’s sight. Even the most violent offender is precious. This is not in any way to condone what they may have done, but to remind us of God’s incredible love and compassion for everyone. And it’s also to remind us of God’s evenhandedness. There is a proverb that ‘the rains falls on the just and the unjust too.’ Jesus is telling is disciples that whoever is called to work in the vineyard is worthy of full wages, even if they are only there for a short time.

This is a challenge for us in the church too – some churches regard those who have been there longest as more saintly, more holy, more worthy. Some denominations feel that the newer expressions of Christianity are not really the real deal, and not so beloved of God.

But Jesus is telling the disciples and us that anyone who works in the vineyard – who proclaims the kingdom of heaven – will receive their reward. So it doesn’t matter if you were a martyred bishop of Melanesia, like one of the saints in the lectionary this week, or a really new Christian. If you are proclaiming the Gospel in word and deeds you will receive your reward – the kingdom of heaven.

Conflicts

Sermon 6 September 2020

St Chad’s

Conflicts

In my living room I have three shelves full of Christian books. And above my desk where I write sermons there are two more shelves. Why on earth would I need so many books?

In our readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have just heard the whole of the Jesus’ message summed up in one or two pithy sentences.

 ‘The commandments… are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’

Why then are there so many details added by the church throughout the ages?

Anything we as Christians are doing or proposing to do needs to be set along this standard of love – Is this action truly loving? Or am I more concerned about details of the law, which might have originally been meant out of love, but come with a hefty side-serving of judgment or smugness?

It’s for these occasions that Jesus urged his followers to take the log out of their own eye before attending to the speck in someone else’s.

Unfortunately conflict in society goes back to the beginning of time, and was certainly a theme in many of the Old Testament teachings.

This is why Jesus’ words are so radical for his time! Jews had been struggling to follow the law, the ten commandments, since Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain. Some had added more and more details and nuances and interpretations to the point where compliance was for its own sake, not for the sake of love. In Jesus’ day this group was represented by the Pharisees. Jesus

reserved his most sarcastic criticism for them – he accused them of being so legalistic about tithing that they even gave a tenth of the mint and cumin herbs in their garden, but didn’t follow the big picture – love everyone.

Our reading from Matthew’s gospel addresses situations where there is conflict between members of the church. The word used in the Greek is adelphos, which is brothers, or fellow disciples, so here Jesus is talking about a situation that arises within the worship community, between people who are committed to the Way. Some versions have the word ‘church’, but it’s really closer, more intimate than that.

It’s not really referring to conflicts between different denominations, though as members of a wide Christian community we should all strive to live peacefully with one another.

Jesus is talking abut the times when someone close to you offends you. Maybe you’ve been put on a roster on a day when you have specifically asked not to. Or maybe there has been a misunderstanding about whether an Alpha meeting you have invited your boarder to was offering a full dinner, or just a light tea. This really happened to me.

You know what I mean – wherever where are people there can be conflict.

Jesus tells us how to deal with it – go and talk to the person privately. Don’t tell everyone else, don’t go behind their back, just have a loving conversation. Who knows – this might just resolve the issue. Maybe both of you had got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and it can all be sorted out easily.

Our current society seems to thrive on drama – just see how popular Reality TV is, especially where people are arguing. One of my least favourites is Below Decks, where the crew of swanky yachts do more stirring and conflict-growing than ever they do sailing.

But the private conversation is the Jesus way.

How about when this gets you nowhere? Take a couple of others with you, and try again. This is a throw-back to the Old Testament way of justice, where witnesses help to establish the truth. Maybe your witnesses will have some hard words for you – they might be able to point out where the problem really lies, and a humble hearer will listen and make amends.

But, oh dear, there is still a problem. Step three. Take it to the whole assembly. This is inviting a whole group of people, whose peace is marred by undercurrents, to help sort out the problem.

Have you ever been in a church congregation where there is something going on, people are whispering in corners, and the atmosphere is so thick you could cut it with a communion wafer, but no one is talking out loud and it feels really tense? I was in a church once where two members of the worship team were having an affair, and it caused a lot of problems. Maybe a solution won’t be found to a problem by having everyone give their opinion, but at least it’s out in the open, and the problem can be ring-fenced – only the difficulty at hand is to be addressed, and it’s not a free-for-all for every grumble you have had going back the last twenty years!

But – maybe we need step 4. Maybe the issue has not been solved, maybe those found to be at fault by the assembly have not repented and tuned back to the right path. What then?

This is where Jesus starts to sound very strict. ‘Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector’, he says. 2000 years ago the very word Gentile meant Outsider, not people who were to inherit God’s kingdom, which was for the Jews. Tax- collectors were even worse – agents for the hated Romans, taking not only the tax Rome sucked out of the people, but skimming off more for their personal use.

Remember though that Matthew himself was a tax collector before he answered Jesus’ call.

Ooh, maybe Jesus is not telling his people, and us, to reject those ones completely, who refuse to toe the line. How did Jesus actually treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He loved them. He came when the Roman centurion asked him to heal his servant. He ate a meal with tax collectors.

This is a bit challenging isn’t it? What was looking like an escalating scale of more and more strict treatment of the bad guy, is turned upside down by Jesus’ loving example!

How then should we react when situations like this arise? We can come back to the other reading – ‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’

Love triumphs over everything. We may need to distance ourselves from hurtful and dangerous behaviour, but we must never stop loving. If every Christian in the world concentrated on truly loving every other person, what a wonderful world it would be! People who are not yet Christians would be drawn to that amazing power of love, and we would all live in freedom and in God’s truth.

This week, in your prayer time, ask God to show you someone you may not have succeeded at showering God’s love upon, and let God lift away the hurts, and set you free.

Burning Bushes

Sermon Aug 30

Burning bushes

Matthew 16:21-28

Exodus 3:1-12

The trouble with being a Christian is that we have no excuse to sit back waiting for someone else to do everything. Just when we think, oh, I’m too old, or too scared, we see great examples from scripture of how ordinary people are called into the wonderful but let’s face it not easy life of being a disciple.

First, let’s look at Moses. The story of the Burning Bush is a Sunday school classic, and it certainly makes a great image. What do we know about Moses? First, he was not a perfect person. He left Egypt in a hurry after killing someone! This is quite extreme, but God used him anyway. Second, he was not a young man. When he left Egypt he was already 40, and spent another forty years working with his father-in-law and keeping his head down. This makes him 80! That’s great for us, because quite a few of us are around that age. That’s two potential difficulties shot down.

What else do we know about Moses? He was observant and curious. His noticing of things is why he killed the Egyptian in the first place. He saw an injustice and blundered in to try and right it. Now, out in the wilderness where he had been looking for the sheep for years, he saw something new! Imagine if you are one of the farmers on Country Calendar, and you are mustering your sheep from a block which you know like the back of your hand, and which you could probably ride blindfold, when suddenly you notice smoke! Fire – wonder how that started? You would think, and go closer to see if it needs putting out. But this bush is doing something weird – it’s not being burnt up! Time for a puzzled, closer look.

Well, God really knew how to get Moses’ attention.

Have you had burning bush moments in your life? Times when something so odd happened that it really caught your attention? When you had to stop everything, put aside all your pre-conceived ideas and just open yourself to wonder?

Perhaps in our busy lives we have not had time to stop and notice. That’s one of the, albeit few, blessings of the time of lockdown- it gave us a chance to stop what we were doing and just open ourselves up to what God was doing around us.

Maybe this is another blessing of getting older too, of retiring from the hustle and bustle of going out to work, the days of getting children fed and off to school are long in the past, and you have time to contemplate.

Now, let’s see what happened next with Moses and the bush.

Suddenly a voice came out of it, as if it wasn’t odd enough already! God talks to Moses! Moses hid his face. I bet he did, he was probably shaking in his bare feet.

God tells Moses what he has to do, and what I love about the dialogues that we hear between Moses and God is that they talk together, back and forth, like friends, not like a mighty God booming from the sky, and a quivering wreck stammering back in fear. Some fire and brimstone preachers of the past, and of our local street corner, would paint a picture of God that is scary and unapproachable, but right from the early books of the Bible, we see a God we can talk to, who will answer our questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to God about anything at all!

God has a task for Moses, but Moses wants to know how he will be able to manage it. I’ll be with you, God says. Then again we have the phrase, ‘but Moses said to God.’

I think this phrase comes quite a few times!

Ok then says Moses, but he again needs clarification. Who shall I say is calling? Or, what shall I tell them your name is?

The name that God gives Moses is I AM, in English. It’s based on the verb ‘to be’ in Hebrew. It’s really a sort of way of God saying, I am existence, I am the beginning of everything, – just as it is spelled out in the beginning of John’s Gospel.

God is telling Moses that the sheer power of existence will go with him into Egypt to liberate the people!

Moses had no further objections – how could he, knowing that God would go with him?

When God calls us forward to do something, we too can walk out in confidence, knowing that God who made the universe and beyond is with us.

Come forward a few centuries, and let’s see what happens when Jesus tells the

disciples what’s in store for their future too.

Instead of coming with a mighty army to defeat the rulers, Jesus tells the disciples that he will go to Jerusalem to suffer, and even to die! Peter doesn’t seem to hear the next bit, to be raised again, and he objects greatly to the picture Jesus paints! Jesus rebukes him strongly, Get thee behind me Satan! ouch!

Remember, Jesus has recently told Peter that he is the rock on which God will build the church. The rock is looking a bit crumbly now!

Jesus talks of a world tuned upside down – deny yourselves, follow me.

We live in a society where the wealthy own more and more of the resources, and there seems to be a drive to get richer, to get more stuff, get more well-known.

Jesus is showing us that his way is different, it is upside down from that. To follow Christ we are all called to put aside those worldly ambitions, and humble ourselves.

I look around here and I see a group of people who do just that. I want to encourage you that you are following Christ when you care for others, when you help the foodbank, when you have a kind word for someone you meet.

You may not be able to march in the streets for social justice, or to lead groups of people out of slavery, but you can still further the kingdom of God in everything you do, knowing that the power of God, of the very foundation of our being is with you. That is why prayer never has a use by date, or a best before, or a retirement age. Keep on being the warriors in prayer that you are, and you find your life.

The woman from outside

The woman from outside.

Rom 11: 1-2a, 29-32

Mat 15:21-28

This story we have just heard sounds a bit shocking, doesn’t it? In our times we have seen other races persecuted just because they are a different colour, and the Black Lives Matter movement is sweeping the world. This story makes Jesus look like a bit of a racist really. It seems odd to say that. But hang on, we know the character of Jesus. We know about His great love for everyone. What is going on here?

We need to look at the first purpose of Jesus coming to the earth. It was to fulfil the promise that God had made to the Jews. They were called the chosen people for a reason. They had been awaiting the anointed one, the Messiah, for many hundreds, even thousands of years. Jesus’ first mission on earth was to fulfil that promise, to come and be the anointed one for the Jews. The title of the one the Jews were waiting for so longingly was ‘Son of David’. And, surprisingly, this is what the Canaanite woman calls him! She’s not a Jew, she’s not even living in Jewish territory. This story takes place on the coast some way north of Israel, and woman was from even further north. Some versions call her the Syro-Phoenician woman. Phoenicians lived on the coast, but the Syro bit refers to Syria, which is still further north.

So here was a woman from outside, claiming Jesus’s ministry to the world outside the Jewish world, for herself and her daughter. This is an example of the future ministry of Jesus breaking in on the first ministry. Her faith tells her that Jesus is on earth not just for the Jews but for everyone, so she confidently calls him Son of David, and asks for healing for her daughter. She acknowledges the Jewish call as the first one, by calling him Son of David, but it is her confidence in his wider mission that seems to take Jesus by surprise.

He challenges her again, and seems to be not only a bit racist but even rude. It isn’t right, says Jesus, to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Ouch! Gentle Jesus meek and mild has disappeared again. It was only a myth anyway.

But the Canaanite woman isn’t offended at being compared to a dog. Jewish people referred to Gentiles as dogs commonly. It wasn’t polite, but it was normal. She comes back with one of the best rejoinders in the gospels – even the dogs get to eat the scraps from under the table!

Sometimes at cafe church we have some doggy visitors. We are not supposed to feed them from the table – the food is not for them. But if bits fall on the floor they don’t last long! This is probably why dogs love small children – there are always bits for them to gather up.

This lady was content with the crumbs. She didn’t expect more. But she confidently claimed that much, knowing that even a crumb of healing, of love, of teaching from Jesus would be enough for her need, to see her daughter healed.

Jesus is amazed at her faith. We have seen this reaction elsewhere – in a previous chapter there is a Roman centurion who also shows this faith – another Gentile. We can see, in the midst of Matthew’s gospel, which was written for a Jewish audience, the future ministry of Jesus, and the life of the church being foreshadowed. Both these Gentiles were commended for their faith – the challenge is to the Jewish people – Will you also show this faith? Will you acknowledge that the one you have been awaiting for so long is here now?

Well, some Jewish people did trust Jesus, but others are still waiting, and it seems sad to me that they didn’t recognise him when he stood among them.

What can this mean for us?

Where do we see faith breaking out where we least expect it?

I remember going to a service in Wellington cathedral to install Bishop Justin. During the cup of tea afterward, I noticed a man who didn’t look like most of the others there– instead of being clergy, or nicely turned out cathedral people in their best clothes, instead of being let’s face it white, he was Maori, dreadlocks, scruffy, with prison tattoos on his hands. Interesting character, I thought, and went over to talk to him. He knew Bishop Justin quite well from a ministry Justin had had to the prison, and he was wearing a wooden cross with a red bead on it. Those of you who have been to Cursillo will recognise this, as I did. He had done the in-prison Cursillo programme, which is called Te Ara Pono.

This man didn’t look like everyone else there at first glance, but he had the identifying mark of a Christian – I don’t mean the cross around his neck, but the transformed, faith- affirming life that showed that he too was a follower of Christ.

The church has become an institution in many parts of the world, connected with colonialism and the British way. It can look very different from the city that has evolved around it. Just this week, a church choir in the UK has been disbanded because it doesn’t represent the make-up of the community it is based in. Someone has decided that because of the racial grouping it is elitist.

The story we have just heard tells us that any sort of discrimination is not relevant to the kingdom of heaven. Yes, Jesus’s mission was first to the Jews, but then to the rest of the world. The followers of Jesus in the first century took the church far and wide, with the message heard by people in all their own languages at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

We cannot look at a group of people and say, they’re too brown, too white, too green for that matter, to fit into a picture of what the kingdom of heaven can look like. The Canaanite woman knew that it was for her and her daughter. Here at St Ambrose we know that God’s love is for everyone, no matter what walk of life.

I hope the people who want to worship God by singing in the choir in the UK can continue to do so, regardless of their colour or background. I hope those who don’t feel they can belong to that choir because it’s too something can start their own choir, and instead of being one or the other, they can have many different ways of worshipping God.

Dear friends, our challenge this week is carry on doing what we already do well here – reaching out to everyone with God’s love, and the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven!