12 December 2013
Preached at the induction of the new Presbyter at Crossroads Methodist in Papakura
There was some excitement in Papakura last week. It filtered as far as Papatoetoe where ..The Manukau courier reported Jonathan as saying "There hasn't been anything this exciting in Papakura for 50 years." He's not part of this congregation is he?
I thought, but Crossroads Methodist parish has been there all that time surely there has been excitement coming out of there.
Gillian - today I want to remind you and this congregation that those who worship God and those who preach the good news, will be comforted but not necessarily be comfortable. At times it can be downright scary following this Jesus.
In the ancient town of Pompeii [was destroyed in 79 CE] they have restored the town square. In the middle of the square there is a large stone. Anyone could get up there and speak about philosophies, discuss ideas, sell things. This was public access to communication, if you got too carried away and criticised the authorities you could get carried away to jail.
You were also exposed when you were standing there. A perfect target for rotten eggs, or you could be shouted down. A person could stand next to you and shout out the opposite message to the one you were giving. This was the setting in which the early Christians often preached., it was not a settled occupation, in many places if you preached you got into trouble. Excitement, there was.
The trouble today may be that nobody want to persecute you when you preach or worship.
Preaching was a dangerous occupation and things happened when people preached and went to worship.
I'm sure you know the stories of John Wesley. Look what happened when he preached. Gillian you are in the Methodist tradition now. You need to know what they might expect from their new Presbyter.
In Wallsall, Wesley was held at the mercy of a mob for over 6 hours. He escaped with only a torn waistcoat and some skin from one of his hands. In Somerset a maddened bull was driven into the crowd to stop him preaching. And he got his fair share of rotten eggs.
When we visited Winchelsea , there was a big Anglican church part of an old Abbey, and in the grounds outside a tree which marked where Wesley preached his last open air sermon. Good grief he was right in their grounds. I noticed a large tree in front of Papakura first Presbyterian when I came in. Have they given you a map of the other churches in Papakura yet?
Why the resistance? What was really happening is what happens through the mystery of worship and the mystery of preaching is that the power of God's spirit can change people, nations and places and above all change us.
Sometimes , very slowly, sometimes explosively, God's love reaches the hardened , hurting, places, prises open our clenched fists, expands the capacity of our hearts, and warms us into community, and we find God is with us, Emmanuel, God is among us.
A poor, broken and inadequate person can in the power of the Holy Spirit be the instrument of change. No excitement in Papakura!!!!
What happens when you meet people in your café out the front here. what explosions of love take place there?
But be warned. We can be easily seduced into using our worship [worship is the work of the people] to achieve our own ends instead of what God calls us to do.
The Isaiah tradition trumpets out from 530 BCE. It is talking to the people of God.
The Babylonians had captured the southern kingdom of Judah and destroyed Jerusalem, carrying off the leadership to exile in Babylon. The Persians, conquered the Babylonian Empire . Their policies were different, they returned the peoples and leaders to their own countries to provide stability for their empire. So the Jews of Babylon after hoping and praying for the last 70years are returned to their homeland...
The Homecoming. was disappointing.. The rose coloured images of Jerusalem, passed down to the children were torn away as they resettled.
Surrounding people has moved into their dwellings, 70 years is a long time to leave the house uninhabited. Imagine coming back to find Papakura filled with Australians.
Fields had been destroyed,, the land had suffered total devastation after years of war. The economy was at an all time low. Where are you God?
They rebuilt their houses, they became the oppressors.. They worshipped God. Oh they were so religious.
Day after day they seek me says God and delight to know my ways. Who did they delight, themselves or God?
But they did not please God.
Day after day they asked God for justice and righteousness
They met, the devotional life of the people was exemplary. They had incessant prayer meetings and they fasted. But also in their daily life they were exploiting their workers, having fights. Their interest rates shot up the bottom line was good but what they said in worship and what they did each day didn't compute.
They complained to God, we are doing all this fasting, we're doing all these devotional things but you don't notice, nothing changes"
In the OT fasting was usually done in response to things going wrong and the people needed God's help or God's presence.
In this case the people apparently assumed that if they fasted, God should respond. They were good at fasting, their action were right, their sackcloth was from the upmarket religious shop. They'd done their bit now God was to produce the results. In fact their worship was reducing worship to God, to the level of magic in order to manipulate God. Their worship didn't serve God.
The prophet tells them (v. 3)."you serve your own interest on your fast day"
You're enjoying the fast, because it meets your own needs. They have developed a "feel-good" religion. They are serving themselves not God. Worship service - service is there because we are serving God. what we do here today is for God
They need to be humble.. There's no humility in delighting in what pleases the worshippers if it does not please God.
What God requires for a fast, for their devotions, to recognise God's presence in their midst is that they maintain justice.
In the Bible Justice is not an abstract legal opinion but is ensuring that there are no members of the community who are deprived of the basic needs and rights that would allow them to function as part of the community.
Worshipping god includes practising daily, in the nitty-gritty of life, the kind of justice that meets the essential human needs of the powerless and oppressed and hurting of the world.
Jesus, enlarges that human community. He lives justice- love and includes those formerly excluded by Jewish custom, and breaking down barriers of status, race, gender, age and belief.
The early Christian church by welcoming, caring for, and receiving the gifts of those who were formerly excluded from society , demonstrated that when we worship God in serving others without distinction, a new order is in the making. . So did those first Methodists, Wesley connected with the people on the level of justice love, People were given faith , love and hope, sometimes out of very dark places their lives changed and the face of Britain changed.
Our worship, our priase and thanksgiving and work in response to Gods' inmmense and unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ , flows out being humble and doing justice
And that is dangerous. Justice is the practical rubber meets the road stuff. People don't like talking about justice, its uncomfortable it shakes out the systems which perpetuate injustice.
Systems which perpetuate injustice are a problem because they work for the majority of those in power , they keep the majority comfortable . In a democracy bad systems are particularly difficult to deal with, because unless the majority are prepared to be aware of the needs of the others, they will not vote for a change which disturbs their own comfort.
And If we focus on delighting ourselves rather than God in our worship, we are merely forming a human system which becomes fruitless or can in itself perpetuate injustice. You only need to read the history of slavery to see that.
If we forget who we are and to whom we belong and our light no longer shines.
Gillian - hear the promise you and this people are given of god's presence in your midst, and in those whom you serve
There are four pictures given of a community which worships God.humbly, does justice, shows love and mercy to others
Your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will spring up.
You will be like a well watered garden, a spring that doesn't stop flowing.
You will be light in the darkness
You will be salt for society
Gillian, keep focused on the one who called you as you serve the people of this parish in God's name.
And you of this congregation, remember your heritage as you approach this time of celebration and focus on the One who has brought you this far and calls you into costly loving of those you may not want to love.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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