Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 13C

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

Imagine you were creating a coat of arms.
You want to say something laudable,
pithy, inspirational by way of a motto.
Or a flag, like those in parts of the Muslim world
but with words from our holy Book emblazoned in the centre.

I reckon you could do a lot worse
than that phrase that began our Epistle this morning:
For freedom Christ has set us free.

A bit like Abraham: blessed that he might become a blessing
to all the nations of the world,
our freedom is a gift we get to share with others.

Paul says it explicitly:
For freedom Christ has set us free.
… only do not use your freedom  as an opportunity for self-indulgence,
but through love become slaves to one another.
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
And you’ll remember that,
when someone asked him “who is my neighbour”
Jesus told a story about a Samaritan, a foreigner,
who comes to the aid of a Jewish traveller,
when even the Priests and Levites of his own faith, his own nation
passed him by.

We have another Gospel story this morning dealing with Jews and Samaritans.
So let’s just examine the basics:
Jesus and the disciples are heading for Jerusalem,
pilgrims to the most holy city in Judaism.
And his envoys go ahead to make arrangements on the way,
looking for basic hospitality, but are made unwelcome in a Samaritan village.
Samaritans were not on speaking terms with Jews,
especially Jews heading for Jerusalem.

And so the disciples respond in kind,
give as inhospitably as they get,
harking back to the story about Elijah and the prophets of Baal –
calling down fire from heaven – only even more bloodthirsty:
God, in that story, only burnt up the sacrificial animals,
but the disciples are quite keen to get God to roast the people right in front of them,
people who are different in race and faith:
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down and consume them?”

So what has actually happened here?
We’ve moved in two sentences flat from seeking hospitality
to asking for some sort of divinely-mandated genocide.

I like to imagine that as well as rebuking the disciples,
Jesus rolls his eyes and utters an “oi vei” or two for good measure.
These are the disciples. This is the Church-to-be.
Aren’t we better than that?

We gather each week around a table and break bread.
Our central shared act of worship is an act of hospitality,
a parable of welcome and grace.
And yet we look at our history,
we look at our willingness to welcome those who are different to us,
and there’s certainly room for improvement.
So if welcome is what we ought to be about,
this morning’s Gospel reading is an exercise
in the politics of exclusion and exclusivity.
It’s amazing how quickly a story that could and should have been about hospitality is reduced to hatred
and fear of people different to us.
As Christ’s followers, we should know better,
but perhaps we too need reminding.

If we have been forgiven,
are we able, truly, to forgive?

If we have some small experience of God’s grace,
how do we express it in our dealings with others?

If we are welcomed to this table,
how do we ourselves embody hospitality?

It seems to me that
until we become more like what we claim to encounter
in the God Jesus called Father,
we’ve got work to do.

Later this year we’ll have the opportunity to invite others –
friends, family, neighbours –
to join us for worship on Back to Church Sunday.

One of the gifts of that exercise,
regardless of how many might rediscover God and join our congregation,
is that we try and look at how we do hospitality.
How we welcome.
What we say – in words, and more often outside our words –
about who we are.

And how we make the grace and hospitality of God known.


A Hymn for the Shortest Day

In Hymns on June 21, 2010 at 10:12 am

Blow, Holy Spirit, blow
Deep in the winter’s heart.
Let us your people know
Hidden creation’s art
Of tending life and shelt’ring light,
Denying neither death nor night.

Blow now, refreshing breeze,
Scatter the lifeless dust.
Dance in the barren trees,
Startle with sudden gust.
As light on an uplifted face,
Caress with unexpected grace.

Blow with the cleansing rain,
Water a barren land.
Pardon where once was pain,
Rivulets in the sand.
Baptismal waters soak the seed,
As mercy touches human need.

Blow in the icy gale,
Cold as the frozen dawn.
Brittle and all-too frail
Frost-footprints on the lawn:
While called to struggle and to strive,
God’s people feel they are alive!

Blow with the snow that stings,
Shape with the child who plays
Relishing winter’s things,
Light amidst darkest days.
O Holy Spirit, guide and greet
Your people where our seasons meet.


Tune: Little Cornard

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 12C

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

In our Gospel this morning, there’s a lot going on.

A man, long suffering mental torment and dementia,
confronts and recognises Jesus.
He is naked, as a prisoner in the ancient world might have been.
He lives among the tombs, ritually unclean by Jewish Law.
His hometown is among the Gentile region of Gerasa,
but he is totally exiled from anything like a community.
And he tells Jesus his name is “Legion”.

While the Good News Bible’s use of “Mob” gets some of the idea across,
for someone living in a corner of the Roman Empire,
“Legion” takes on much more significance than merely “many”.
There might be around 6000 troops in a Roman Legion.
They were the symbol and the sharp-end of Roman oppression and power.
And the region Jesus enters
just happens to be the heart of Roman military control for Galilee.

Jesus’ Kingdom does not with arms confront the soldiers of Rome,
but in this encounter it challenges everything that is oppressive and evil,
that dehumanises and debases.
We have such forces at work in our world, whether or not we call them demonic.
But that which dismisses human worth and wholeness,
which objectifies and commodifies, is a long way from being godly.

The herd of pigs that feed on the hillside are a symbol of occupation,
of pagan religion and Roman rule.
To the Jewish inhabitants they are an affront,
and a reminder that things are not as they should be.
More than that, the pigs may well be the literal Roman Legion’s food.

Into this world comes Jesus, he acts and speaks with power.
He frees a man from his demons and sends a Legion
and the piggy symbol of occupation into watery oblivion.
Whatever we might think in our scientific and sophisticated age,
the people of the First Century lived in world populated by demons.
Jesus’ actions are clearly understood by and effective to those who experienced them.

What I’d like to draw your attention to is the movement within the narrative:
from being demented to being in one’s right mind;
from nakedness to being reclothed;
from being once chained and wild, now placid and free;
from the cemetery, the world of the dead, to the land of the living;
from being without a house, outside a community, to being returned to his city;
and interestingly, from this man being driven out, to Jesus himself being sent away.

In a number of those instances,
Jesus’ life and ministry powerfully embrace that
which so afflicts the man-formerly-known-as-Legion.
That is ultimately the message of the Cross,
Jesus’ claiming and redeeming all that is unlovely and ungodly,
turning the tables on evil and wrong-doing, by taking it to himself.

Here, that reversal is seen most clearly
when the people of Gerasa ask Jesus to leave them.
For them, a fear of the demonic is replaced with a fear of God at work.
Do we fear the possibility of God at work?
We return to a consistent gospel healing theme:
are we ready for life to be different?
For old patterns and certainties, however harmful, to be cast aside
and the power and renewal of God to reshape our reality?

And of course, those pigs.
That industry, tangled with the tramp of Roman soldiers.
Jesus is not welcome when an economy’s at stake,
complicit – as it often is – with unintended evil.

The man restored to his right mind sits at Jesus feet.
He becomes a disciple.
He asks to go with Jesus.
And Jesus says no.

For the fullness of his healing is to return to his community,
to be restored to his family and neighbours,
and to there declare that God is at work;
that even those beyond the pale, seemingly inhuman and uncontrollable,
can find deliverance and redemption.

What kind of world would it be where we actually believed that?

Jesus says to him, “return to your home,
and declare how much God has done for you”.
The most important mission field for you
is among your own people.

The temptation to exotic ministry must not distract us
from the critical opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom
where we know, and where we are known.
To declare what God has done for us.
We are called to bear witness to our culture,
to confront that which is ungodly in our society,
to restore relationship and build community.

May our lives this week be our Amen, “so be it”.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 11C

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2010 at 11:44 am

I have three things I’d like to say about this morning’s Gospel.
They correspond to three camera angles in the cinema of its telling.

There’s a “her”.  There’s a “them”.  There’s a “me”.

First, the “her”: “[She] began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair.”
What does this look like from her perspective?
She seems to ooze and confuse repentance, love, sensuality, service, servitude…
not to mention that we know about another gospel narrative that parallels it.

Whether this is the same act or not in John’s Gospel, with Mary of Bethany,
Luke draws from it a different meaning, and would have us hear that meaning.
How often do we confuse all those feelings and motivations?
Do we try to “work” out our repentance? Live out our love?
In ways that are at best, confused?

God in Jesus welcomes us, defends us.
Notices us and blesses us in that, misguided and misgiven.

Cut to camera two:  “them”:  Jesus’ words, “Do you see this woman?”
Because while Simon and the Pharisees see the scandal and the sinner,
I wonder whether they see a daughter of Eve, of Sarah, and a child of God?

To “love the sinner and hate the sin” is a cliché that few of us get beyond.
What if we looked at people as people.
Children of God.
Would we see more compassionately?
Would we speak less harshly?
Would we glimpse others through the eyes of Christ?
As hurting, vulnerable, capable of love and change – and challenge –
if we might be trust-worthy and prayerfully practical in our approach?

But the most telling point of view is when the observer, the camera catches glimpse of itself in a mirror:
when “me” enters the frame.
The phrase that searches me, and maybe it searches you too:
“the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

We come, Sunday by Sunday, and we acknowledge our sinfulness.
It’s a little unfashionable and uncomfortable, and we get it out of the way at the beginning of the service.
But it’s also there in the prayer Jesus taught: “forgive us our sins, as we forgive…”
Forgiveness is pretty clearly a two way street, let’s not forget: “forgive us our sins, as we forgive…”

Repentance is only a country that can be visited with permission.
For many of us, a foreign land.

Through this gospel story, I am aware of my unconscious rebuff to forgiveness,
either because (A)  I feel I’m doing OK, thank you very much,
and forgiveness is for other people;

or (B)  because I’m being honest, and I’m only too conscious of my sin
and I’m petrified of actually living in a world where I might be other than “how I am”.
How I might live in that strange new world where I was forgiven and I lived as if I believed it.
Where I might love LARGELY rather than little.
What would that world even look like?
If I forgot control and boundaries and all the things life teaches me?

If I simply loved.  Largely.  Fully.
And lived.  Fully.

I like to think I love, but wonder whether I am stunted in my growing towards that.
A “little person” spiritually, nowhere near the full stature of Christ.
If “God is love” and God is the only ultimate reality and existence,
do I ultimately live less, here and in eternity, if I love less?

Remember the great Passion hymn – and that’s an interesting word: Passion –
“my song is love unknown/ my Saviour’s love to me/
love to the loveless shown / that they might lovely be/ O who am I …”.

That is the biggest question put before me today.
And I hope you’ll forgive me for putting it before you.

Let us in the silence listen for the voice of God.

Homily for Te Pouhere Sunday 2010

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

As well as being the Sunday we return to “Ordinary Time”
– although we’re reminded that no Sunday is actually “Ordinary” –
today is in this Church’s calendar “Te Pouhere Sunday”

And I have to tell you, on the face of it,
that’s not the most exciting of prospects.
Te Pouhere is the Maori title of the Constitution
of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia.

If you’ve read a Constitution lately, that’s not the kind of thing to get excited about.
But this day we are trying to celebrate the richness of the church in these islands:
the three distinct tikanga or “streams” or “ways of being” of our church:
Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika.

And well we might ask, what possible relevance does the structure of the church
have to its mission in the real world?

First, a potted history.

In June,1857 at St Stephen’s, Judges Bay,
a tiny wooden church overlooking Auckland Harbour,
Bishop Selwyn set his seal upon a remarkable piece of paper.

This was the Constitution of
A Branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand,
the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
This document not only declared this church
independent and self-governing from the English Church,
but put forward the radical and dangerous idea
that laypeople should have a clear voice in its governance and decision-making.

This tiny group of islands in the South Pacific
was the first in the Anglican world to enshrine the governance of Synods,
democratic bodies where the voices of lay people, clergy and bishops
were all guaranteed to be heard and valued.
On that day in 1857, 17 figures signed that Constitution.
All were men.  All were pakeha.
Not representative of the church in this place – not now, not then.

From the last quarter of that century onwards,
there were impassioned pleas from Maori leaders
to provide a bishop, a pihopa, to integrate and to be dedicated to work with Maori.
When finally established in 1928, it was pale shadow of what it could have been,
an assistant position, only able to act by invitation and tolerance:
not always forthcoming from the pakeha bishops.

At about the same time Polynesia was given a recognised Anglican presence.
The presence of a British administration in Fiji and very fruitful work
among the descendants of indentured labourers there from Melanesia and India
formed the basis for the Missionary Diocese of Polynesia,
a sort of outrider to the Province of New Zealand.

Back to New Zealand, and fast forward.
The journey the church was on
was also one the rest of the nation was struggling with.
In 1978 and more fully a few years later, the Bishop of Aotearoa was recognised
on a par with his pakeha colleagues,
and his ministry among Maori was by right throughout the country.
The 1980s saw a difficult appraisal of where we’d got to as a nation,
especially in terms of race relations.
The Treaty of Waitangi, resurgent Maori culture,
more and more Pacific peoples living in New Zealand…
The church was and is not immune
to the questions & concerns of wider society.

It was in this light that the Anglican Church in New Zealand
again decided to do something remarkable.

In the new Constitution of 1992,
each of the three strands of our Church: Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia,
were recognised as equal partners, each were given the right to decide
how ministry should be carried our among their communities.

Resources held by the pakeha church, sometimes originally given for use with Maori
were to be shared a little more equitably.

At General Synod, the two yearly meeting of the whole church,
decisions require agreement from the three houses of lay, clergy and bishops,
… so now all three tikanga were invited to come to a consensus.
Voices that had long gone unheard were invited to speak.

Most importantly, each part of the church was allowed to develop that unique voice,
to tackle key mission opportunities and concerns
in a way that acknowledged God and what was real in living out their faith.

It was as if the veneer of the institution, that “Church of England” transplant,
was peeled away to let us see what really lay beneath, this pakeha church included.

Like all good partnerships, the decades that followed the 1992 Constitution
have given us room each to discover ourselves, not trying to copy another culture
or generation’s identity, but to ask some key questions of ourselves.
Our conversations with each other, and our witness before God,
I pray, have been enriched by having had to re-examine who we are.

So today,
103 years after that first revolutionary Constitution was signed
that dared suggest lay people had a voice (the historic reality of the Church)
that gave us our beginnings as a Church very much in and of this land,
we celebrate our diversity, our heritage as one of these partners,
and our travelling along a road to faith and maturity
that recognises that Christian unity
doesn’t mean we must all be the same. Amen to that.