Sermon: Water and Wilderness

Mark 1:9-16

Water and Wilderness

Today’s Gospel story is so disjointed isn’t it? First we have a lovely family christening scene,- we remember when people in our church community have been baptised, with the babies in long beautiful gowns, and cake to follow.

But Jesus’ baptism is different – it’s in vivid technicolor, with doves, and voices from heaven, like a movie where the special effects budget was just too much. That’s because the supernatural aspect of baptism was very visible – and audible when Jesus was baptised.

It’s always there when we have baptisms too – little Beth was the most recently baptised here, and the Holy Spirit was no less present for that occasion that it was for Jesus’ baptism. But when Jesus was dipped under the Jordan, and the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, it was verrry public. All those around him saw it, heard it. Continue reading

Flowers for Easter

Well, thought Sylvia, they still look reasonable. I’ll just pull out the wilted greenery at the back and put in fresh leaves, and they’ll be fine for tomorrow.

Sylvia was looking at the flowers in the church, which she had arranged for Easter day the previous week.  She wasn‘t very happy with them at first. When she found out she was on the roster for Easter day, she was all excited! Now’s my chance, she thought, to do something really spectacular. I’ll use gold chrysanthemums, and those creamy white ones,…

Sylvia had all sorts of plans for the flowers, and each week during Lent as she  sat in church, she would plan them in her head.

But when it came to the week of Easter, it was with a sinking feeling that she realized that there were no chrysanthemums in her garden anywhere near ready for picking. There had been an awful lot of dry weather, and the council had banned using hoses to water the garden, so she would just have to make do with what there was.

All her plans for a symphony of gold and cream flew out the window, and it was with a rather grumpy attitude that she ventured outside on Easter Saturday, secateurs in hand, to try and find something that would fit her colour scheme.

But there was nothing at all, just deep red roses, and Leucadendron, and sedum.

Then the light went on. Maybe God was trying to tell her something, and she abandoned her plan. Sylvia had wanted to glorify God in her own special way, with an elegant colour scheme, that would bend to her plan. But God had other plans. She would have to use what was there. Well, she thought, I’m a bit like these flowers myself, a bit of a second choice really. I mean, I don’t have a glamorous public ministry or anything, just behind-the-scenes things like the flowers, and taking my elderly friends to home group.

As she looked at the deep reds glowing in the vase, Sylvia realised that they were like blood! Not in a sad sort of way, but rather triumphantly standing out against the cream wall behind the altar.

That’s what the resurrection is like! she realized. Jesus has taken something painful and a bit scary, like blood, and transformed it, redeemed it, from signifying death and pain, to a glowing, stained-glass tribute to life, to the Living one, coming through death with the keys in his hand!

It was with a lighter heart that Sylvia topped up the water in the vases ready for the Sunday. She had a new appreciation of Easter, and couldn’t wait to tell her friends at home group.

Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia sat in church the week after Ash Wednesday. She was feeling a bit disconnected, not really able to get into the stories about ashes, and pancakes, that had been part of the week. She wondered, why make pancakes and eat up all the eggs and milk, when you just had to go to the supermarket and get some more. What a silly tradition. And what if her grandchildren asked her to make her special blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes for them when they stayed the night with her? She felt that giving things up like pancakes just seemed artificial and irrelevant.

Sylvia started to wonder about Lent. The words of the opening hymn were sticking in her mind – ‘forty days and forty nights, thou wast fasting in the wild’. Well, fasting for forty days was obviously not going to work, not when she had to take her pills with food, and keep her carbohydrate intake even.

But the idea of being ‘in the wild’ for forty days, now that was appealing! Imagine a time of having none of the usual distractions, none of the shopping and the housework, or those phone calls where they said there was something wrong with the computer she didn’t have, or the noisy kids next door, none of the worry about the bills that kept coming through the letterbox, none of the doctor’s visits… Sylvia started to contemplate how she could find a wilderness to escape from her daily grind.

Well, she thought, I can get rid of the distractions. And the weather seems to be helping there – it’s getting darker in the mornings, it’s not so appealing to rush into the garden. Even the garden was winding down for autumn, flowers were finishing, leaves starting to turn..

Yes, thought Sylvia, that’s it! I’ll copy my garden! I’ll drop my leaves – get rid of what I don’t need in my life, like, like,… like chasing after friends who never call me back, and who seem content to go through their list of woes without once asking after mine. I’ll give up reading the junk mail from the shops where I never go, looking at things I don’t even want, and couldn’t afford if I did!

Yes, I’ll drop my leaves.

And then, she thought, maybe I’ll  tend myself as I tend the garden – after taking away the dead and finished  stems, I’ll mulch and compost.

How can I compost myself? She started to giggle as she thought about the last time she had turned the compost, and a shovelful had flung over her head. She remembered the worm that was still in her hair two hours later which had given her granddaughter such a fright.

Shh! Glared the couple in front of her at church.

Well, let them, Sylvia thought. They’re listening to the sermon, but I can’t really concentrate.

Yes, compost , that was it. I’ll feed my soul. I’ll read things that make me grow, I’ll listen to music that will build my faith, I’ll stop and let my roots grow deep and let God feed me. And then, maybe I’ll be like my apple tree, looking barren and lifeless but knowing that deep inside life is there, gaining strength, waiting to bring beauty and fruit.

Ash Wednesday

“Let us change our garment for sackcloth and ashes; Let us fast and come before the Lord. For our God is merciful to forgive us our sins.”

These are the words we sang at S. Michael and All Angels in Christchurch, where I grew up. It was a high Anglican church, and there I began my love of traditional plainchant.

But I’ve been pondering abut Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and wondering how it all fits into the modern context. I think the idea of a big feast on Shrove Tuesday is really just an excuse for a party. Not a bad idea in itself, but if we are to fast from modern things, like TV, or the internet, as was suggested in our service this evening, eating up all the eggs and milk by way of pancakes seems a little artificial, and in the Southern Hemisphere there is no agricultural connection with the leanness of early spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tonight’s service of the Imposition of Ashes took me straight back to the solemn liturgies I enjoyed in Christchurch. There is an intensity, a seriousness, a sense that it’s time to get real with God, about Lent. This is a time for raw honesty. I’ve often found it a disturbing time, a wilderness time even, when I’ve been forced to press deeper into finding God. Examining our hearts is a good thing to do, and part of the reason I love being an Anglican is that in this season of Lent we can concentrate on one thing. rather than taking on the whole Gospel message every week, which seemed to be what happened when we belonged to the Pentecostal church.

It is now the season for purple and ashes. It is a season for examining our hearts and our consciences, a season for calling for justice and righteousness. This is a good time to really think about issues of social justice. And please, I do not mean anything about planting trees, or hugging them, but I’m calling for a  renewed focus of Christians everywhere to speak up where there is injustice, not to sit back and say, well, there’s nothing we can do about it.

When two of my kids came home from school today, they were both upset that a stand of toetoe has been bulldozed away. This area was home to skinks, and from the Department of Conservation pictures it seems that they were the rare ones. The kids both were hot under the collar and wanted to do somehting about it. They both went straight to their rooms and wrote letters and petitions to those concerned.

Did you have that fire for justice when you were young? Have you still got it? Do the embers need fanning into flame?

Perhaps for Lent, it’s time to give up apathy, fence-sitting, and being too busy to help others.