Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Lost

This last week has been a very busy time at St. George’s Anglican Church in Gate Pa. Our church sits on the site of battle of Gate Pa. And the 150th anniversary of that battle is in less than 2 weeks. We are hosting an Exhibitions of Images of the Battle in the church, our hall is being used to display the entries to Art Competition, we have hosted a number school visits, and will be hosting a series lectures next week. Outside builders and carvers are at work preparing site for the commemoration. And some of us are busy preparing our various roles in those commemoration events. At times it is hard to keep track that Easter is close. It is hard to find time to even think about those events 2000 years go. As I retell the story of that battle and think of those who were killed or wounded, all  that carnage and death, it feels like we meet our own Good Friday here on this hill; filled with all the hate, angst, fear, pain and despair of that initial Good Friday. And like that first Good Friday it is very hard to find any good news. When I read on to the Battle of Te Ranga and the resulting destruction of Maori leadership and the massive land confiscation, like on Good Friday, I am lost to know where to find hope.
Over the last week or so I have been reading the book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell. In it he talks about how for the Prophets and Jesus heaven was not another place we go to after we die, but the hope of what this world will be like in next age, when God’s will is completely done on earth as in heaven. Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his defeat of death and bringing life for us all. To live in the hope of the resurrection involves asking what does resurrected life look like. Is it like now? Is it different? Bell suggests that living resurrection involves imagining what the world will look like in the coming age (with the help of what the prophets and Jesus taught) and living to bring that to reality now.
As I look again at the story of the Battle of Gate Pa I find people of great faith living to bring heaven even into the midst of this hard story, working hard to bring God’s peace and goodness to this terrible event. People like Rawiri Puhirake and Henare Wiremu Taratoa who wrote the rules of engagement that laid out (before there was a Geneva Convention) how the wounded, the unarmed and the non-combatants were to be treated. I see it in the actions of Heni Te Kiri Karamu or Taratoa, or maybe others, who, risking their own lives, took water to the wounded and dying British soldiers after the battle. Gestures filled with God’s mercy and compassion. In these I am reminded what resurrection life looks like. I am offered hope in the midst of this story.
May we who now live in this place follow in the footsteps of Puhirake, Taratoa, and Heni, and live to bring God’s peace, mercy, compassion and goodness to all those who live in Tauranga. In this way may we honour the memory of those who fought and died here, and find ways to live resurrected lives now. May Easter hope be found in all we do.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Youth Ministry taught me - or something like that

As I said in my previous posting we did something a little different yesterday at church. Hence no sermon notes this week.
And then last night we held a Taizé service based around the Stations of the Cross. Our previous Taizé service had nearly 20 attend. Last night we got to 5, eventually. My wife, who had done most of the work wondered before we started, if we just flag what was organised and if we just sing some Taizé  songs. I said no, let’s do it even if there are only 3 here, which there were at that point. This caused me to reflect on my approach to preaching and to worship. Both come out of my youth ministry days, and in particular Dr Bob Mayo at the first international youth ministry conference and the work of Pete Ward.

At the conference Bob’s suggested that in evangelism, instead of trying to explain the scripture stories we need to tell them and then shut up. We don’t need to explain them, we don’t need to help people work out what they are about. Just let the story speak for itself. I realised yesterday that that has had a huge impact on my attitude to preaching and to what we do in worship. Joel Green, who was my New Testament Theology lecturer in my Master talked about preaching being helping people’s imaginations being shaped by the biblical story. For me as a Franciscan, as one who seeks to walk in the footsteps of Francis, who waked in the footsteps of Christ, this means the gospel stories in particular. So our congregational drama was all about helping the story speak for itself and then letting people work it out for themselves.
But won’t they get the wrong answer, I hear some of you say. During Lent I have introduced several spiritual practices. One of them was the lectio divina. A basic understanding of that is that Christ the Word speaks to us, our lives, what we need through scripture. What I hear in the story will be very different from what I might read in a months’ time. Same with sermons. What I hear now will be different from what I hear in a months’ time. So last night I realised again that what I try to do in my preaching is help people into the gospel story, and to allow that story to speak to them, and them to that story. I do offer some thoughts, but my basic hope is that the story will speak to them and that their imagination will be shaped by that story. Thank you Bob and Joel for that approach.

This also affected my approach to the Taizé service last night. Because not many turned up we were tempted to not do it as planned. What was planned were slides of images of the 14 Stations of the Cross, with Taizé chants with some, and readings from the gospels about others when appropriate. It was another way of helping people into the story and letting it speak to them. When I looked on the internet there were lots of Stations of the Cross services. They involved prayers, reflections, occasional readings, even activities on occasions. None of it seemed helpful to me. I just wanted the story. Not what others thought the story was about. Just the story, with room for people to reflect for themselves. So in the end I just had the story. It was so good to sit for the hour going through the stations, engaged with the story in this way, and allowing the story to engage with me, more importantly.

I also realised when Bonnie suggested not doing the service that I really wanted to do it. I was reminded of Pete Wards thinking in his book about the Joy Community in Oxford that when we plan and run worship it should be for us, those planning it, and should be something we want to be part and we then invite others to join us. It should not be something we organise to attract people into our church. So there were three of us, OK. I still wanted to enjoy this experience, and did. And 2 more came and joined us. 

My drive home was one of reflection on these things. And with a sense of gratitude for these reflections.


Yesterday was Palm Sunday. I like to do things a little differently for Palm Sunday. Wendy, our Associate priest preached and presided at 8am and for 9.30 we did a congregational drama. 
Here are the basic instructions. We spent about 10 minutes in groups preparing, then let the drama unfold, with not narrator or anyone controlling it, and then another 10 minutes in mixed groups talking. We finished with an open mike for anyone that wanted to share with the whole congregation. 

This is the second time we have done it, in 3 years. And it went really well

Five groups:
·         Disciples                             

·         Cheering Crowd         

·         Onlookers                   

·         Pharisees                    

·         Romans                      

Preparation for the Drama:
·         What would it have been like to have been in this group?

·         How would they have acted and why?

·         Plan what do you do in this drama?

·         How might you respond to the other groups?

Questions for reflection after the drama:
·         What was it like being in your role?

·         What have you learnt?

·         How has that deepened your understanding of Palm Sunday?

·         How does this affect your approach to Holy Week and Easter?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014

Boundless Life

Gate Pa – Lent 5, 2014
Hebrew Scripture:                 Ezekiel 37:1-14                       
Psalm:                                     130 
Epistle:                                    Romans 8:6-11             
Gospel:                                    John 11:1-45                                   

What I want to say:
I want to explore the story of the raising Lazarus and wonder in what ways we are bound in death. I then want to offer the daily office as a means by which our rhythms may be shifted to God’s rhythms of life, our outlook shifter to God’s outlook of life, and we may slowly be unbound from the garments of death and freed to embrace “eternal life”.

What I want to happen:
People to try the daily office as part of the growing spiritual disciplines.

The Sermon

     1.      Introduction:

today invited into raw human emotions
            psalm - out of the depths –
            Ezekiel – offered image valley of dried out dead bones – vast army slaughtered
            story in John’s gospel evokes raw emotion around death loved one – this case brother and friend
            and for those follow story of John
            will be feeling raw emotion comes realisation that we are nearing the end
                        Jesus has taken on hated (especially in Galilee) Temple leadership
                                    priests and scribes
                                    seen wealthy, suck ups to Romans – only goal in life own self aggrandisement
                        if goes anywhere near Judea and Jerusalem – only be one outcome
as Thomas helpfully points out.

     2.      Jesus and the Judeans

Jesus is way down hills from Jerusalem
            near Jericho
            across Jordan
è hears good friend, beloved friend, is very ill
            problem is Lazarus and sisters live Bethany
                        very near Jerusalem and temple
            worse – appear from Gospel accounts –
                        Lazarus is part of temple hierarchy
                                    this is who Jews are – better translated as Judean Elite and Temple Hierarchy
                        they will be at his home – as custom demands
                        there will be no avoiding them
            so while rules say go and see him
            prudent action would be send message
            Jesus initially neither goes or sends message
            instead decides no – opportunity God glorified through his actions
-          opportunity stir up priests and scribes even more than currently are
waits two days and then goes

     3.      Jesus in Bethany

Johns suggests Jesus this point knows Lazarus has died
when arrived Bethany finds Lazarus has died
been dead for 4 days
            commonly understood that life force of a person, might say spirit of soul,
            hung around for 3 days
            Lazarus is gone – no turning back
and underscore that – told he is rotting        
Martha goes out meet him, maybe confront him maybe
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”
hear angst in this statement
full of regret, recrimination, love, loss.
“why didn’t you come?
why didn’t you even send word?
We thought you loved him!
where have you been!”
it is exactly the statement you will hear at every funeral
I wish that I had done this, or we had done that, or we had talked about …..
or I wish you had or hadn’t said that or done this.
raw, real, human emotion.
And Jesus is there in the midst of that
in the midst of that deep heart felt grief

     4.      Martha and the resurrection

Martha also plays it cool
22”But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”
Out of which comes a conversation about resurrection
Martha gives to right Pharisaic answer
which is also so human, so real
read as something like…
“"Yeah, sure, I believe in the resurrection of the dead." So what? It's out of my hands and I'll be dead when it happens or if it doesn't happen, so ... really, so what?”
I suspect most of us in truth approach resurrection of dead in similar way.
I wonder if many in John’s community thinking something very similar
to Martha
to John’s community
to us
John has Jesus say
"I am the resurrection and the life." I am - here and now - I am - not was, not will be - I am the resurrection and the life.
present tense
happening now
all around you
all around us
can we see it?
Again we have this word “Belief” which several commentators suggest is better translated “trust”
changes text to
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you trust this?
then Martha goes and gets Mary and she and Jesus have conversation during which shown glimpse of Jesus own sense of loss in all this
            his real human emotion
then Jesus goes to smelly tomb and orders Lazarus to come out
The Message Bible offers it like this?
"Lazarus, come out!" 44 And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him loose."
Said on multiple occasions
these are not historical stories
read and know more about Jesus
They are theology told in stories
when Jesus is saying Lazarus come out
because he is the resurrection and the life now
he is also saying to John’s hearers – come out
and to us.
When he commands "Unwrap him and let him loose."
He is also commanding that we too are unwrapped and let loose!
so what is it that holds us in death?
This lent
            what is it that we need to be unwrapped from and let loose

     5.      Daily Office

final spiritual practice explore this lent is daily office
from earliest records early church
            clear fixed hour prayer one oldest forms prayer
            along with eucharist
early church met pray at least 2 or 3 times day – morning and evening
done as offering to God - sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
done as way learn to fulfil Paul’s instruction
            – pray without ceasing

     6.      Benedict

couple weeks ago talked about St. benedict
translated a lot practices and learnings from desert fathers and mothers to western church
one things put into rule – daily office
8 services
about 3 hours apart
formalised a variety practises
based his offices around prayers early church
            singing psalms           
                        invite us bring raw, real human emotions into prayer life
            invite us to be real
            and like Mary and Martha,
            to know Jesus present in the midst of that,
                        weeping, railing, rejoicing with us.

Father Anglican Prayer Book
Thomas Cranmer
in his prayer book included morning and evening prayer
his hope that every village England would gather in morning and night
say prayers together
gift those offices past down
sometimes seen something just for clergy
in prayer book because all invited stop and pray

     7.      Why pray the Office

regularly pray,
            even one office day changes our rhythms and our priorities
re-orientates us to rhythms of God
            shifts priorities from our urgencies
                        God’s priorities
                        priority – stop
                                    be still
                                    l pray
in this reorientation we are unbound
            set free
            live resurrection now
in making this priority turned from mundane to divine
                        inward – what our needs are
                        outward – God in all creation
invites us to be honest with ourselves
            with God
            acknowledge raw human emotions find in today’s reading
            pray with psalmist – out of depths

     8.      Words

words office vehicle by which God invites us to come out
            gently unbound
words prayed 2,000 years
                        some much longer
            many, most – words found scripture
when pray them
            join all others who have prayed
            who will pray them this day
            join cascade Christians around world who with us pray without ceasing
when pray them
            words act on us like sandpaper
            hearts and mind gradually sanded

     9.      Conclusion

Morning prayer is prayed Wednesday and Thursday  here at 9.30.
it is this prayer that holds church together
establishes our rhythm of life and community
invite you to join me
also invite you to pray office at home time that works for you
join cascade prayers around world