Sermon – Pentecost 4 – Ordinary 12 – Mark 4:35-41

Peace Be Still. By He Qi.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, remain acceptable in thy sight

O LORD my rock and my redeemer. AMEN.

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 You know Whanau, I feel lucky this morning, and its not because I won Lotto last night. As if preaching here, and being with you all this morning isn’t enough, when I looked in my lectionary last week to see what the readings were, I found the reading we have this morning is one of my favourites in the entire bible.

                Here we have Jesus and some of his disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that they are on their way to the town of Gerasa, and while they are on their way, Jesus falls asleep. Whanau, that right there is why I love this reading. Here we have Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and what is he doing? He is sleeping. In this moment, this brief instance we are given an insight into Jesus that we don’t often get, that is an insight into his humanity and indeed his human vulnerability. Here we are reminded of the human nature of God, the fact that God sent his son into the world for us. Not simply as conqueror, or some sort of super-human entity, but a fully human manifestation of God, what a beautiful thing. He got hungry, he got angry and he even got sleepy sometimes. Jesus experienced life just as we experience it and in that knowledge there is a sense of comfort for those of us who continue to struggle through life’s challenges, through life’s ups and downs. That comfort is the knowledge that Christ himself experienced these struggles, and continues to experience them with us.

As our reading continues, we see Peter, perhaps hysterically, attempting to wake up Jesus. There is a huge wind on the water and the waves are pounding the boat, fearing that the boat will sink, Peter puts it to Jesus, “Do you care?!?” So, in what seems like a dramatic shift, from a sleeping, fully human Jesus, we see a change to a wind and rain stopping Son of God.

I think a lot of us here can relate to what must have been going through Peter’s mind at that very moment. Here he was, literally facing death as the boat was being swamped and where is Jesus, the Man who can make it all go away? He is sleeping! I remember in 2010, my older sister, the oldest in our family of 7 kids, was very sick. She was having seizures and blacking out all the time and the doctors didn’t quite know what was going on. She had MRI Scans, she had tests but still, they didn’t know why these things were happening. It wasn’t until mid 2010, after a series of CT Scans that they found a tumour in her brain that was growing just behind her ear. In that moment, at that time, it felt to me as though Jesus had fallen asleep, and my whanau and I were alone, facing the devastating news that my sister had Cancer.

We all have moments like this, Whanau. Times where it can seem as if we are at it alone and we cannot see Christ or God in anything we are doing. When children are beaten and killed by their whanau, when loved ones pass away well before their time, when we look at the Newspaper and it seems as if there is war and suffering all around us, these are moments where we can all be forgiven for perhaps thinking that we are alone, and Christ has fallen asleep, unaware of the pain we are experiencing. But whanau, in our reading is the remedy for this feeling, all along, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat, and every step of the way, Christ is with us. Christ’s response to Peter after having calmed the storm holds the answer for us, Christ said “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Faith, Whanau, the answer is faith.

Of course this reading is all about faith, and faith, along with love and hope, is one of the most important aspects of our callings as Christians. This doesn’t mean that we are always 100% sure of ourselves or our lives; it doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of doubt, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be times where we think Jesus, or even God has fallen asleep on us. Faith means that despite those times, we remain strengthened and empowered in our calling as Christians to love and to serve. Faith provides the foundation that allows us to live lives of service informed by love, and if we do it properly, faith means that our love becomes real and transforming not just for us, but for everyone around us.

I believe that as humans, we are called to love. Nowadays, love is word that gets thrown around all the time, it seems we have almost gotten too familiar with it as a word that we no longer feel it as the deep and powerful emotion that it really is. We live in a world where the important thing in a marriage isn’t love, but your sexual orientation. We live in a world where we use love to explain the way we feel about food, we use it to explain how much we like a song or music, we even use it to say how much we like a pair of shoes or jeans or a stunning dress, as Christians, I believe that we are called to a much deeper love than that.  The Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote a lot on his ideas around grace, his main whakaaro was that we should avoid what he called ‘cheap grace’ and strive for ‘costly grace’ I think the same thing applies to love. It is easy for us to love those who we like, those who we are close to, but that sort of love is easy for us; it is a cheap love that costs us nothing. It is much harder to love those who no one loves, to stand with those who are being persecuted, the lost, the lonely, the outcast. When we refuse to ignore injustice, when we choose to speak out prophetically in love rather than remain silent, that is when we are exhibiting the love that all Christians are called to show. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but with the faith that Christ talks about in our reading this morning we are all the more ready to show that love when the time or situation demands it.

Our Gospel reading this morning alerts us to issues of faith, it is a reality of the Christian life that there will inevitably be times where we question our faith, where even the most faithful among us will be tested, the thing we are reminded of in our reading this morning is that even when those moments come and it seems as if our faith is getting smaller and smaller, we must remember that Christ is with us, even if like in our reading this morning it seems as if he is sleeping, he is there nonetheless, and that knowledge alone is enough for even us to command the wind to cease and storm to stop.

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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For Ports Sake!

Casualisation.

On the first Sunday of Lent I preached at my church in Mangere. While the sermon itself was structured around Lent and what this time of the year means for us as Christians, the overall theme of the Sermon was one of reflection. Not just idle, feel good reflection, but a real world reflection with real world applications, however small those applications may be. Along with that theme running through that particular sermon, lately I have also taken a shine to speaking about how important it is for our faith to be real, and therefore inform our actions. I suppose, when you put those two themes together, you end up with what I think is a fairly decent attempt to live a life based on the gospel, a life centered on Christ.

Right now, here in Auckland, we are being presented with an opprtunity to engage in some of that real world reflection. Right now there is a group of people on Tamaki Drive holding up signs, they aren’t human billboards for some pizza company, nor are they trying to sell you anything, no these people are workers at the Ports of Auckland, and they have had enough. The reason the men and women of the ports have set up camp on Tamaki Drive is because they have been issued an ultimatum of sorts, basically they have been told to sign new contracts, (contracts that will effectively make them casual workers) or else face losing their very livelihoods. While the Ports of Auckland’s Spin Doctor has been hard at work trying to paint a picture of a spoilt and more than well paid workforce, the fact  remains that the workers of the Ports of Auckland are being taken advantage of, and we who claim to be followers of Christ must, at the very least acknowledge this injustice that is happening in our very own backyard.

The issue of the Ports of Auckland is bigger than just a stand off between frontline workers and the powers that be. The real issue here is the knock on effect of what this attempted casualisation threatens to do to the workers and their families. The mere talk of casualisation sends a bolt of uncertainty to the very core of workers. Casualisation means an entire workforce living and working within an environment of concern and uncertainty. The workers are facing questions of how many hours will I be working this week? Will I have enough, come pay day, to pay my bills? Will I be seeing my family this week? All of these things, rooted in instability and uncertainty, can and will take their toll on the workers and their families. The tension that these questions will introduce to the families of the affected workers should be our main concern. As Christians we are, by virtue of our very calling to follow Christ, called to ensure that the community around us is cared for with Christlike compassion. One way we can do this is to ensure that our communities are well, and how do we get well communities? We build them on the backs of well families, something that we are in danger of losing to the tune of over 300 families if the workers are forced to sign this contract. This is not an issue of greed or bad will on the workers part, no. This is an issue of justice, and issues of justice are, by their very nature Gospel issues.

Here and now, we as Christians are called to step out and allow our faith to inform our actions. We are being (and are always being) called to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, here and now we need to stand with the workers from the ports and in this, the season of Lent, we are called to remind society of the reason why Jesus himself quoted from the prophet Isaiah saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked in reflection on his involvement with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, “We were involved in the struggle because we were being religious, not political. It was because we were obeying the imperatives of our faith.” Although on a much smaller scale, this is what we too are being called to do. We aren’t being called to go on a crusade motivated by political allegiances or leanings. It is something much bigger than that that is calling us to action, it is our very faith that commands us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the lords favor, and, in this instance, to stand in solidarity with all the workers of the Ports of Auckland.

Sermon – 1st Sunday in Lent – Mark 1:9-15

The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness

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.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Although we didn’t celebrate it with a special sermon, or a hākari, last Sunday was what is known as Quinquagesima Sunday. Its name tells us that it is only 50 days left until Easter, but before then we must first pass through the season of Lent. In many ways, today here in our Gospel reading, and in this the first day of Lent we begin a journey, both with one another and a journey with God in Christ.

It may seem a bit odd, but Lent is a time where we, as Christians are spoilt. We are spoilt in that we have a rather large amount of time set apart just for us, it is a time to reflect and think about our calling as Christians. During Lent we are given 40 days during which to really stop and think about what our faith calls us to do, not just for the 40 days of Lent but on into the rest of the year as well.

As usual, Mark doesn’t spend time worrying about the details of what is happening in our reading, instead we are told that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Mark moves right along with the story, unlike Matthew and Luke who elaborate on Jesus’ time on the wilderness. Perhaps we need to be more like Mark, perhaps we need to stop getting caught up in the little things, the things that are all around us that stop our faith becoming a true and informing part of our lives. Here and now in this season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to make that happen. We are given an opportunity to stop, just for a little while and reflect on our lives and what our faith is calling us to do, and then put that faith action; so that once the 40 days of Lent have been and gone we continue to live a life informed by our faith, and ensure that we are ready to triumphantly proclaim the good news of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Traditionally Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. During Lent, the usual question we get asked is “What are you giving up?” to which the usual responses come: Chocolate, or fast food, or still others give up their cell phones and computers. While there is nothing wrong with this approach to Lent , and to be honest, whenever I give up anything for Lent I always fail miserably, the one downside perhaps is that beyond our “giving up” being a minor inconvenience to us, nothing really changes. After 40 days going without, or even less for the weaker among us, we just jump straight back onto Facebook, or start eating Chocolate again and continue with our lives. As I said, there is nothing with that approach to Lent, but as Christians I think we are called to go beyond, we are called to effect real change and let our faith inform our action. This Lent is an opportunity to do just that. Now,  I am not suggesting that we all take up a cause, grab a banner and go on a hikoi, but rather that we take the opportunity Lent gives us, and devote the next 40 days to reflect on each of our callings to love and to serve, and to turn that reflection into a real world action, however small it may be. Whether it is starting a blog to write about issues of Social Justice, or volunteering somewhere or simply becoming more familiar with the issues that surround us every day, each little act contributes to effecting change. By reflecting throughout Lent and actioning that reflection, we transform Lent from the impersonal, blip on our radar, into a powerful tool for transformation and change, all informed by our faith and empowered by our baseline calling to love and to serve.

This Lent, there is a lot to cause us to pause and to reflect even if we don’t want to. Ash Wednesday coincided with the first anniversary of the February earthquake in Christchurch and although it is a year on, there are still people using chemical toilets and a return to normal is still far off. But it’s not just major catastrophes and disasters that should be in our minds as we ready ourselves for Lent. Here in Auckland, arguably the most advanced city in New Zealand and a city with an annual budget of over $3 billion and over $29 million worth of assets, 156 families are being evicted from their homes. Not because the tenants are abusing their properties, or because they are late paying their rent or even because they are breaking the law. No, these families, some of whom have called their houses their homes for over 10 years, are being evicted so that Housing New Zealand can sell the land, and property developers can move in and redevelop the sites for new homes. While it is true that some of the land will be used to build new homes for Housing New Zealand clients, there is no guarantee that the evicted tenants will be the ones living in them. This is more than just an issue of people losing their houses, this is happening in one of the poorest communities in Central Auckland and it is happening to some of the most vulnerable people. In one foul swoop, these people not only lose their houses, they lose their community, their comfort zone, their assurance, and their homes. They lose the things that cannot be bought and sold. These are things that come through stability and permanence, not through being transient and unsure. If this isn’t enough to get you off to a start on your Lenten reflection then look to what is happening with AFFCO. Yesterday, AFFCO, the biggest Meat Processing Company in New Zealand and a company worth over $968 million, announced an indefinite lockout of its workers at 5 meat plants across New Zealand. Workers that are overwhelmingly Māori, workers that are already being taken advantage of. Both of these kaupapa are just 2 examples of things happening all over the motu that we as Christians should be condemning. Quite often though, through no fault of our own, these kaupapa come and go without much notice a part from reading them in the morning paper. Here and now, as we begin our journey into Lent we have a very rare chance in today’s day and age of 2 minute noodles and broadband, to pause, reflect and think about these issues. Issues that aren’t happening overseas somewhere, but are happening here, in our own backyard. Issues that aren’t affecting Mr & Mrs Nobody but are impacting on our very own whanau and communities.

Whanau, our calling to love and to serve demands that we at least give more than a fleeting thought to issues like these because it is only then, and when we respond with action informed by our faith and calling that we can, like Jesus, emerge out of the 40 days of wilderness that is Lent, and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and call our whanau and our communities to repent and believe in the Good News.

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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