Bibles Not Allowed?

No Bibles!

As a minister, a lot of people make assumptions about me, especially when they see me in a clerical shirt or ‘minister’s clothes.’ Some people think I must be really spiritual, while others take me for somewhat of a Moral Policeman. Some of those assumptions will be correct, while others will inevitably be wrong. This is one instance where I think people would be assuming me to take a certain stance on an issue, when in reality; I stand on the other side.

Recent reports in the New Zealand Herald (you can find the report here) tell the story of Tuni Parata, a hard working, committed member of the staff at SkyCity in Auckland. Ms. Parata has made headlines because, in the words of her employers, she breached the uniform policies of her job. So was she wearing bright nail polish or did she dye her hair a bright colour? No, Ms. Parata was carrying a Bible in her pocket.

As I said before, people would perhaps be expecting me to write in outrage at what has happened, but to be honest, I am not that outraged. I can only make an assessment on an issue based on what I know, and at the moment my knowledge on this issue is largely from the Herald report, and from that report, I don’t really see the issue. I accept that the response from SkyCity may have been over the top, I don’t think there was any need to issue her with a notice and use the rather stern language that was in the letter, but at the same time, I think SkyCity has a point, they have a policy on staff carrying things in their pockets and Ms. Parata breached that policy, Fair enough. I think where SkyCity went wrong was in the harshness of their response for what is, in the greater scheme of things a rather minor issue. It seems that a quiet word to Ms. Parata would have sufficed, instead SkyCity choose to go down a more formal route, a rather bad call in my opinion.

While at first glance this issue seems to be quite a big deal, and I accept that this has no doubt placed undue anxiousness and stress on Ms. Parata and her family, it seems to me that this is, in reality, simply a storm in a teacup stirred up by those with vested interest in ‘sticking it to the man’ at every chance they get. SkyCity isn’t banning Ms. Parata from bringing the bible to work and reading it during her breaks, SkyCity isn’t saying that she must choose between her faith and her job, SkyCity isn’t saying that the bible, in and of itself is the issue. SkyCity is, however badly, simply enforcing a standing policy in regards to staff uniforms, something they shouldn’t be made out to be anti-faith or anti-Christian for doing.

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Sermon – 2nd Sunday After Epiphany – Ordinary 2 – John 1:43-51

Calling Disciples, by He Qi.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts remain acceptable in thy sight o LORD our rock and our redeemer.

“Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip called you.’”

                Well whanau, I must have annoyed whoever puts our Ministry Team Roster together, because, as if preaching last week, the first Sunday in Ordinary time wasn’t hard enough, I have been put down again to preach this Sunday. Although it may seem like that is rather bad luck, I don’t think it is. The themes that were started last week continue this week and allow us another opportunity to reflect on what we are being called to do as we enter the year proper.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus and this week we follow on from that in the natural progression from baptism, to putting those baptismal obligations we spoke about last week, into action. During the season of Epiphany the themes we celebrate revolve around Jesus revealing himself to us and this week is no different. Here, this week with the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel we experience the revelation of Jesus in Galilee, a revelation that is revealed to us in his calling of Nathaniel.

According to Peter Woods, the imagery of the fig tree here in John points to the Old Testament idea of the Fig Tree being a place of blessing and comfort. On the other hand the fig tree in the New Testament is most often seen as a cursed place, an image of a withered fig tree is what we are given in Mark, chapter 11 . Although these two interpretations seem to be miles apart, and on different ends of the scale, it is this space that Nathaniel is occupying in this reading, and it is the place that we risk occupying too if we let ourselves slip into the “ordinary” this Ordinary Time.

This coming week marks a return for a lot of people. If they haven’t already, most people will be returning to work this week and although there is a few more weeks before uni and school starts back, book shops and malls are already starting their “Back to School” sales. Before we know it we will be lost in another year of School, work, and other priorities. It won’t be too long before we are all caught up in our own lives and our own issues, but one thing we must remember, even though thoughts of Christmas may be fast becoming a distant memory, is that we must take forward with us, into the year and the ordinary time, the spirit of Christmas and the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, wherever we go, and whatever we do, we carry with us the essence of our faith, the belief in Jesus Christ. This means, whether we like it or not, we are symbols of our faith and for Christ wherever we are. This responsibility calls us to live out our faith at all times. Not just at Christmas time or during Lent when we might be a little more conscious of our faith, but in all places and at all times. This calling to live out our faith is even more important during the normal, mundane times of our lives, and this time of the year is a good time to be reminded of that. Before the hustle and bustle of the year kicks in and we are truly overwhelmed by the pressures of life it is important to stop and reflect on our faith and what our faith calls us to do, before the year grabs a hold of us and before we know it, it is Christmas time once again and we have lost another year. Every interaction, every moment is an opportunity to live out our faith. That doesn’t mean that we should be standing on a street corner preaching or we should be actively trying to convert our friends, but rather that we should live our lives informed by our faith in Christ and become a walking, living testament to that faith. As St. Francis of Assisi put it, we are called to preach the gospel at all times, and only if necessary, use words.

Since October here in New Zealand, and all over the world there has been a group of people living out a type of faith. Since last year a movement called Occupy have been responding to what they perceive to be an injustice. The basic thrust behind the movement is an attempt to name and increase awareness about the inequality around the distribution of wealth and political power. Their main slogan is “We are the 99%.” This is reflective of the fact that 80% of the World’s wealth and power rests with a mere 1% of the population. The people involved in Occupy are responding to their beliefs, and their actions are being informed by those beliefs moving them to express their concern through various occupations throughout New Zealand and the world. Currently the movement in Auckland has occupations at Aotea Square, Queen Street, Albert Park and Victoria Park.  Now, whether or not you support the movement, or think what they are doing is the best way of going about raising awareness, we cannot deny that this movement is at least doing something. Just like the people of the Occupy movement we need to let our beliefs and our faith inform our action. Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to go and pitch tents outside Holy Trinity Cathedral, but rather that we need to be ready to step out in faith because of our beliefs. We need to be ready to leave the comfort and shade of our own fig trees in an attempt to effect change. To do this though we need to be constantly aware of our faith and the obligations that comes with being followers of Christ. This means not taking a place at the banquet table if our brother or sister is denied one, it means being ready to deny ourselves for the greater good, it means we need to preach the gospel, not with words but with actions.

Only when we, like Nathaniel leave our own fig trees can we truly effect change and whole heartedly live out our own calling in Christ to love and to serve. If we don’t we risk turning our fig trees into withered, cursed places of selfishness and greed, instead of life giving places of strength and foundation.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

Sermon – 1st Sunday After Epiphany – Ordinary 1 – Mark 1:4-11

The Baptism of Jesus, by He Qi.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts remain acceptable in thy sight o LORD our rock and our redeemer.

When Michael texted me during the week to see if I could preach, I must admit I was a bit nervous. Not because I didn’t want to preach or because the thought of preaching scared me, but rather because here we are, only the second Sunday of the year, but also the first Sunday after all of the hype and excitement of Christmas, New Years and the Holiday Season. Today is a hard day to preach… For the past month we have been spoilt for options when it comes to preaching. We have had the dramatic lead up to Christmas in Advent, we have had Christmas Day itself, and last week was New Years day. In the Church calendar today marks the beginning of two “seasons,” today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, and the first Sunday in Ordinary time. Although these things make it hard to preach on a day like today, I think that it is on this very day where the meaning of Christmas hits home and becomes real. Just like we recited together at Midnight Mass on Christmas eve with the poem: The Christmas Hymn: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…” The rest of the poem goes on to tell exactly what the work of Christmas is: “…To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”

Christmas is a time of year where, more than any other time, the difference between the rich and the poor is made obvious. It is at this time of year when the struggles of those on the lower end of the Socio-economic scale become front page news and for this one time of the year, the spirit of Christmas calls us all to respond to this poverty that is all around us. Here and now, on this, the first Sunday in Ordinary time, it is good to be reminded that poverty doesn’t just affect people during Christmas but also on the other 364 days of the year. The Herald reported that this year’s turn out to the Auckland City Mission’s Christmas lunch was an all time high, and so many people turned up that some had to be turned away.  It is now, after the struggles of the poorest of our community is no longer making it to the front page of our news papers that we should be responding to our calling to love and to serve. A calling that is inside every one of us that claim to be followers of Christ, a calling that is instilled in us at our baptism and nurtured for the rest of our lives.

Baptism, it is something that we do quite often here at Te Karaiti and in a couple of weeks we will be doing it all again as we welcome the Chanel and Tui who will be bringing their Children to be baptised. What a beautiful thing, a young newly married couple living out their faith in such a way that causes them to realise the promise, the potential and the hope that is signified in baptism. For Chanel, Tui and their whanau it will no doubt be an emotional time. Memories of past baptisms will come to mind…thoughts will turn to loved ones who couldn’t make it and still others who are no longer here. But the overwhelming feeling on the day will be one of joy.

This morning, although there will be no baptisms, we celebrate and remember all those things that baptisms mean; promise, hope, and potential…in the Baptism of Jesus. The gospel of Mark does not to have a Nativity Narrative, that is, there is no account of the birth of Jesus, instead we are taken directly to Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ seeking and acceptance of baptism is a sign of unity with and an example for us to follow. Although the baptism being offered by John was one of repentance, Jesus’ sinless nature meant that there was no sin needing to be repented, but rather the necessity for baptism and the importance of baptism was as a starting point, and an opportunity for a new beginning. For many, the baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of his ministry, a new phase in his life. At this time of year and on a day in which we remember the Baptism of Jesus we are given an opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about our own new beginnings and the promise, hope and potential that the New Year brings. When we think of the bible and the theme of New Beginnings we most often call to mind the creation story in Genesis, but the bible is full of New Beginnings and this, the baptism of Jesus is an example of just that.

Here, today, we are given an opportunity to once again stop and reflect. First of all on the past year, the good times, the bad, the successes, the failures, the ups and the downs. But it is also an opportunity for us to look to the future, the New Year and see where our baptismal obligations are leading us, and what those obligations are calling us to do.

Here and now, as we remember the Baptism of Jesus, we are being called to reflect on those words of the baptism liturgy which call us to “walk in the faith of Christ, crucified and risen, to shine with the light of Christ.” Although the needs of the poor and the marginalised have all but disappeared from the front pages of our news papers, the calling still remains with us to respond to our baptismal obligation and be the light of Christ amongst those whose own lights may have grown dim. In order to do that we must firstly and whole hearted live out the words of the Christmas Hymn: “…to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people…”

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

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