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.

ANZAC Day 2012 – Homily.

The Rev. C. Douglas-Huriwai preaching at the ANZAC Day Service, Orakei RSA 2012.

Each ANZAC Day for the last three years I have officiated at the morning service at my local RSA. This year was no different, and while the temptation is always there to play it safe and deliver a message that will be easily digested, it has been somewhat of a tradition for me to preach a homily that hopefully does more than that. What follows is the text of the homily I preached this morning at Orakei RSA, it is my hope that it offers something a bit different to the usual ANZAC Day sermons preached up and down the country during this time of year.

I am working on the video of the homily, but it may not be worth it as the traffic in the background is at times louder than me!

ANZAC Day – Homily 2012

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, Service Men and Women, as we gather here this morning, ANZAC Day 2012, we are called to remember the sacrifice of service men and women of every time, of every place, of every country. Not just here in Aotearoa- New Zealand or in Australia, but throughout the world. Ad as we do that, we are also called to remember the duality that surrounds us every day. In death, we are born to new life. Where there is hate, love can conquer. Where there is despair there is hope. In the midst of our darkness there is light. ANZAC Day, of all the days of the year, is a good time to be reminded of that duality. It is around this time of year that we get presented with the rhetoric of ANZAC Day. Every year in April, we all get caught up in the romance and nostalgia of ANZAC Day. Friends I’m talking about the images that are given to us year after year. I’m talking about expressions like “the glorious dead.” I’m talking about expressions like “lest we forget.” I am talking about expressions like “they died for our freedom.” And while all of those things are true, let us also remember the other side, the duality of those expressions.

“The Glorious Dead,” the name we give to those brave men and women who fought and died for our country in theatres of war, in all places, in all times. As we remember our glorious dead, let us not forget the glorious dead on the other side of that front line. They young men and woman, much like ours, who went to war. Not in hopes of killing other people, not in hopes of ravaging and destroying cities, but in the spirit of adventure, informed by their love of their country. Just like some of my Koros and grand Uncles who boarded those ships in pursuit of what we would call nowadays, their OE. Let us remember that they are us and we are them. No matter the flag on their shoulder, no matter the colour of their uniform.

Perhaps the most well known saying is “Lest we forget.” And while that saying conjures up images of our family members who went to war and those men and women who fought and died in theatres of war, it also calls us to remember the futility, the horrors, and the pointlessness of war. Lest we forget those who died and those who served, but lest also we forget the ultimate pointlessness that is war. For as the old saying goes, those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. Lest we forget.

Another saying we hear talks about how those that died in war, died to secure our freedom, and while that’s true, we can often get caught up in the romance of war, in the idea that war is necessary to obtain freedom. While we say these things, while we say and give thanks to God for the men and women who died to secure our freedom, we are also called to remember that war brings with it oppression and destruction, and so through the seeking of freedom, we risk taking freedom away from so many others.

And so friends as we come together this ANZAC Day and we say together and we give thanks to God for our glorious dead, let us also remember that our glorious dead are their glorious dead, and their glorious dead are ours. Let us remember that when we say “Lest we forget” we are also saying “Lest we repeat ourselves”. Let us remember that as we give thanks to God for those who fought to secure our freedom, that through our own freedom we are called to ensure the freedom of all people everywhere. This is the hope that we can take out of something as ghastly as war. By doing this we transform our tears of sadness, into tears of joy. We transform something so horrible, into a thing so beautiful. So that the ultimate sacrifice paid by our service men and women who served and continue to serve in our armed forces, didn’t happen in vain.

So as we gather here this morning let us give thanks to God, let us also give thanks to you, our veterans, to those of you who served and continue to serve in our armed forces. For everything you do, for everything you’ve done, we, together say thank you.

(Note: ANZAC Day is New Zealand and Australia’s national day of remembrance for those who have served in our Armed Forces, and especially those who died in theatres of war.) 

Sermon – 3rd Sunday in Lent – John 2:13-22

L-R: The Rev. Ngira Simmonds, Peter Bargh N/TSSF, and the Rev. Christopher Huriwai at the Ports of Auckland Rally.

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.

“Making a whip of chords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Well whanau, here we are, right in the thick of it. It’s the third Sunday of Lent and while our thoughts maybe turning to the hope and promise of Easter, and not to mention the Easter holidays, we need to continue to think about exactly what it is we are being called to reflect on this Lenten season. Here and now, as we pass through the half way point of Lent for this year, it is perhaps all the more important that we keep our calling at the forefront of our minds as we crossover into the second half of this season of Lent. As Christians, we each have a fundamental, baseline calling, that is a calling to love and to serve, and here and now, during Lent is the perfect time for us all to reflect on what it means to be called to love and to serve, not just those we know and love, but those we don’t know, and perhaps even more importantly, those we find it hard to love.

In our reading today, Jesus is actively clearing out the clutter; in our bibles this section of the Gospel of John is named “Jesus Cleanses the Temple.” Although in our reading, this clearing out is a literal one, I think that what we can take from this reading is not a literal calling to clear out everything from our Whare Karakia (Churches), but rather a calling, and an invitation to clear out, and cleanse ourselves from those things that clutter and gather up within us, that hinder, and in some instances even stop us from living out our calling to love and to serve. On the first Sunday of Lent I preached about the importance of allowing our faith to inform our actions, and in doing so, allowing our faith to become more than just an abstract idea. Here and now as we reflect on the importance of clearing out all those things that clutter our lives, we are given an opportunity once again to let our faith become a real and informing part of our lives so that when we are called upon to respond to issues that strike at the very core of our lives, we are ready and equipped to do just that.

Since last year, but in the last few months in particular, we have been witnessing the unravelling of one of those issues that strike at the very core of our faith and demands us to respond in a prophetic and loving way. I am of course talking about the issues surrounding the Ports of Auckland. The issues surrounding what is happening down at the Ports aren’t just a matter of money, although that’s what the big wigs down there would have you believe. The real issue is one of security and certainty, and the Port of Auckland’s attempt to deny those basic rights to their workers. Much like the earthquake in Christchurch, which brought words like “liquefaction” into the everyday vocabulary of all New Zealanders, the Ports of Auckland issue has also taught us a new word, “casualisation.” The new contracts that the workers were being asked to sign turned them all into casual workers, effectively casualising the entire workforce of the Ports of Auckland. Now, it may seem as if this isn’t too bad a deal. They will still be employed, they will still be working, and they will still be getting paid. But whanau, the issue is the uncertainty and complete lack of security that comes with being a “professional” casual worker. Not knowing when you are working, not knowing how many hours you will have each week, not even knowing what your weekly income will be. All of these things increase the levels of pressure and tension on the workers of the ports, not just on the job with their work mates, but at home with their families as well. Whanau, it is issues such as these that demand us to live out our calling to love and to serve and to meet these issues head on with the conviction of our faith and the knowledge of our calling. Like I said in the first week of Lent, we are called to respond with action, informed by our faith, no matter how small that action may be.

Yesterday, a couple of my friends and I decided that we would try and do something like that. We decided that our faith was calling us to establish a physical presence with the demonstrating workers and other unions as they marched and rallied from Auckland City to the Port. Although our actions were small, after all, all we did was walk, it was real, it was intimate and it was deliberate. It was action inspired by our calling, informed by our faith and lived out in the real world.

What we have here in our reading is a bit of a blue print, an example of sorts for us as followers of Christ to ourselves follow. One problem with our reading this morning is that it has become so familiar to us that the real intensity and craziness of it has all but worn off, but let’s think about it for a while. Here we have Jesus, the Prince of Peace, effectively storming the temple. Not only that, he actually made himself a weapon of sorts and physically drove out those in the temple who he saw as degrading the house of God. He turned up tables, he drove out the animals he rebuked those present. Here we have the same Jesus who calls us to be as gentle as doves, being the complete opposite! He is angry, he is passionate, and he is doing something about it. Now this doesn’t mean that we should be leading the workers at the Ports of Auckland on a rampage through the head offices of the Ports, or that we should all go to the City Council chambers and tip their tables over, rather it means that we should be open to allowing our emotions, our feelings and our passion become a part of our calling. We need to remember that just like Jesus, we act not just on behalf of ourselves, but by virtue of our baptism and our callings we act on the behalf of God. That might sound a bit odd, or even a bit whakahihi (proud), but what it really means for us as Christians, is that we need to be constantly looking for the money changers in our society and not be scared to act on our calling and effect change. It means that we need to be on the lookout for those issues that threaten to oppress and marginalise people and speak out, and indeed act out prophetically and with passion.

Whanau, if we take the opportunity we are given during this time of Lent, to clear out and cleanse ourselves of all of the clutter that builds up within our own lives that can hinder us from living out our calling, we will be all the more ready to respond with emotion and passion when we are faced with a decision to either keep silent or speak out.

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

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.

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.

A Piece of Art.

Matua Hone, doing what he does.

In my brief career as a preacher I have come to the opinion that preaching is a true art form, and sermons a piece of art.

Like most works of art, there are things that work well and things that don’t. Things that depend on the viewers’ (or listeners’) perspective and things that are just plain horrible no matter what perspective you take. This means that the act of preaching and indeed the sermons themselves become a very intimate thing, almost to the point when the sermons themselves become a piece of you and a little bit of you is weaved within the sermon.

For these reasons some preachers (this one included) can become a little bit shy about preaching and our sermons. Of course there are those for whom preaching seems to be natural. I have been blessed to witness some true masters of this art form in action, most notably the Venerable Dr. Hone Kaa, Kaumatua Priest and Mentor for scores of ministers here in Aotearoa. I am convinced that the reason Matua Hone is so at home in the pulpit is because what he preaches at Church on Sunday he is living on Monday, Matua Hone’s faith informs his action. Matua Hone isn’t always the most eloquent preacher and at times he comes very close to “the line” and may even step over it, but what Picasso or Michelangelo could do with a paint brush, Matua Hone can do with words.

In an attempt to get over my own shyness and to one become a quarter the preacher that Matua Hone is, I have decided to post my sermons here from now on. I realise that that could mean this blog is about to deteriorate into a theological wasteland, but it is pretty much already that so why not go the whole hog!

I apologise in advance for the ensuing sermons!

Kia koa, kia hari –Rejoice and be glad!

Remembering 9/11 – Sermon Pentecost 13

I don’t usually post or present my sermons online or anywhere else other than in the Church or for the congregation they were written for, but I have decided to post my most recent sermon here. Given that the topic for this particular sermon is of such a wide reaching nature I thought it would be nice to share it. I will share the transcript below but for those of you who don’t have the time to read it I will post the video of my sermon. If nothing else, the video at least shows what a beautiful Whare Karakia (Church) Te Karaiti is.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord my rock and my redeemer. AMEN.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Our reading this morning continues the theme, and subject of this part of Matthew’s Gospel, namely that of living in community.  Our gospel reading last week gave us ways in which we can resolve conflict within the community and within the Church and this week we continue that theme with a teaching on forgiveness.

Peter asks Jesus, ‘If someone sins against me how many times should I forgive them?’ Being Peter, he thinks he knows the answer and proposes 7. Here Jesus rebukes him and says, not seven, but seventy seven. Jesus then goes on to illustrate his point through the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Jesus’ command to not forgive someone 7 times, but 77 isn’t a literal command but rather says to us that we should always offer and be prepared to offer forgiveness. Not once, or twice or even seven times, but as many times as is necessary for that forgiveness to be taken. This means that as followers of Christ we are called to always be ready to offer forgiveness. We are called to always have our hands stretched out in forgiveness in the real hope that someone will accept it.

Every generation has it’s ‘news flash’ moments. Events that happen in our lifetimes that, no matter how old or young we are we can remember where we were and what we were doing. For my Dad, it was the landing on the moon. He had just left Primary School and was in 3rd form at high school in Gisborne. For my Mum, it was in 1977, she was 21 and Elvis Presley had just passed away. For me it was when I was 13, in 3rd form at Cashmere High School. I had PE for my first period this particular day and when I was getting changed my friend said to me, ‘have you heard? Someone has just bombed America.’

Today is September 11 2011 – the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and in churches all over the world there is a debate going on. Church leaders, ministers and preachers are wondering what they should do. Should they acknowledge this day? Should they ignore it? Should they just have a prayer and then move on with the karakia? Whanau, here, this morning we do acknowledge what happened on this day 10 years ago. We remember those who died; the passengers on the planes, the workers at the World Trade Centre, the people at the Pentagon, all those who died, we remember them. And with their loved ones we also reflect on the past 10 years.

The readings we do each Sunday here at Te Karaiti and at all Anglican Churches across the world come from this book, the lectionary. I am not sure who puts it together and who chooses the readings, but the readings for this morning, especially the Gospel are very helpful as we remember and reflect on the events of 9/11 and how the world has changed, if at all because of what happened on this day 10 years ago.

For the last 10 years America and several other nations around the world have been involved in a ‘War on Terror.’ This War on Terror was America’s response to the attacks of 9/11. Our gospel this morning is helpful in reflecting on the War on Terror and America’s response to 9/11. Where did this response come from? What was the foundation for this reaction? In light of our reading it seems that America may have been touch brash in their response to 9/11. Our reading this morning calls us all to forgiveness. The hard part here is, if America didn’t respond in the way it did then would we be better or worse off here and now, 10 years on. To be honest, I don’t know, but what I do know is that forgiveness doesn’t invade a country, forgiveness doesn’t launch a war, forgiveness doesn’t imprison people without trial, forgiveness doesn’t kill.

What we need to remember about 9/11 is that it didn’t happen in isolation. America wasn’t the only place in the world to change forever that day, nor were they the only people who would feel the pains of terrorism and war, no, the War on Terror ensured that scores of other innocent people would also experience the horrors of war. It is 10 years on and the people of America are beginning to return to some sort of normality. The rebuilding and creation of a memorial at Ground Zero are going well with the latter all but completed, people are starting to move around New York with more ease and most people aren’t nearly as nervous about flying as they were 5 years ago. But what about in the Middle East and Afghanistan? What about those innocent people who live in the countries where this War on Terror is playing out? It is important that here and now, 10 years on we remember them, those who continue to suffer as their homes and lives are torn apart by the ongoing war on terror, just as much as we remember those who died on 11th September 2001.

The real hard part about preaching on a day like today isn’t that I am scared I might say the wrong things, it isn’t that I am worried I may offend some  people, it isn’t even the fact that Matua Hone is sitting at the back giving my sermon a score out of 10. The real hard part is that while this day, 9/11, is a day of sadness and tragedy; we know that right outside our doors is a community that needs healing, a community that needs love, a community that needs forgiveness.  While thousands upon thousands of people died in the events of 9/11, and while that is a tragedy of epic proportions, we need to remember that here, in Mangere and in communities all across Aotearoa and the world; people are suffering and dying needlessly every day. It was just last week that Matua Hone himself was in the Herald speaking out against issues of child poverty.

As Christians, it is part of our calling to condemn anything that brings about suffering, from child poverty to hopelessness to war and unnecessary death in any form it takes. By virtue of our calling we are commanded to preserve life and ensure that its innate dignity is protected. Today is a reminder to us that we need to continually use our voices to condemn the ongoing War on Terror. America’s response to answer violence with violence was, simply put, the wrong one. Here this morning, our Gospel reading and our calling to follow Christ tells us how to respond to situations like these. We are called to respond from a place of love, a place of concern and perhaps most importantly, a place of forgiveness. True forgiveness demands that we don’t attach conditions or ultimatums, but rather offer freedom and wholeness. True forgiveness comes without any strings attached and is offered fully. Even when it seems that our offer of forgiveness is declined or goes unanswered we must respond to Jesus’ command to forgive seventy times seven if need be.

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

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