Monday, October 15, 2018

Public worship as a spiritual discipline: getting more out of church attendance by what you put in (Hebrews 10:19-25, Psalm 134)

It’s hard to preach and talk about church attendance without it being seen as sending people on a guilt trip. We live in a time when there is more and more pressure on time and fitting it all in is difficult. How do we find time for all this stuff? In fact one commentator has coined the phrase “fastpeople” and suggests we are no longer trying to keep up with the Jones, but rather just trying to keep up with the gerbils, on the spinning wheel of life. Reflection, awe and wonder, community are stuff for the slowpokes out of step with society.

But October at St Peter’s is our season of prayer when we embrace being slowpokes, we look at taking time to step back and look at our spiritual practises and our devotional life and this year we’re looking at surprising spiritual disciplines that will help us grow in our relationship with God and I want to look at attending public worship, Church on Sunday as one of those spiritual disciplines. Viv Coleman last week talked about the idea of having ‘a rule of life’ a rhythm of practices in our lives that allow us to build our lives around Jesus Christ. She looked at the church in Jerusalem  after Pentecost and saw that they had devoted themselves, built their lives around  four things the teaching of the apostles, the gospel and the word of God,  fellowship what we would call community, prayer, both communal, as it says in Acts 3 they went to the temple for regular public worship and prayers, and personal, and the breaking of the bread, hospitality and remembering Christ in the Lord’s supper. Part of that commitment to life meant being involved in big group meetings, going to the temple and small group activities, living the Christian life together. As Good Jews and following Jesus example public worship would have been part of that rhythm. So I want to look at church attendance as a spiritual disciple, not to bible bash us about it, but hopefully so we can see it as a means of grace, we can get the most out of it by what we put into it.

The passage we had read to us from Hebrews chapter 10 come at the end of the central core of the book, where the author had reflected on the person and work of Christ mainly as a fulfilment of the Old Testament, and with the word therefore, now turns to exhort people how to live that out; what does it mean for us? As one commentator puts it this is the start of a great rollicking exhortation that will take us to the end of the book. In this passage he gives us three imperatives, three commands for our life, that go beyond simply talking about public worship, but that I want to use to help us explore public worship as a spiritual discipline. I was going to make a pun about salads and green vegetables and nutrition for our spiritual life, because each imperative starts with ‘let us’, but I thought that would be too corny. I don’t like corn in my salads…

The first imperative is in verse 22… let us draw near to God…In Christ we have access to the very presence of God. The writer to Hebrews, uses temple worship in the Old Testament to illustrate this. People would come to the temple to worship and draw near to God, but dependant on who they were there was a limit to how close they could come. If you were an invalid or unclean with certain illnesses, you couldn’t come in the gate. That’s the background to the miracle in Acts 3. The gentiles could only go to the outer court. You may remember in Acts 20 Paul is ironically accused of taking a gentile with him into the temple. If you were a woman, there was only so far that you could go, you were allowed into the court of the women, if you were a Jewish man you could come closer, an inner court,   if you were the priest  you could go into the holy place, we had it in our reading from psalm 134, which is a blessing on the priests at the end of one of the major festivals for all their work,  in the house of the Lord. Then there was the Holy of holies, the place where God dwelt with his people, only the high priest was able to go into that place, and only once a year on the day of atonement, after many animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. They used to go in with great fear, a rope tied round their leg, just in case they had undeclared sin and being confronted by the holiness of God would strike them dead, and they could be hauled out.

But we, says the writer of Hebrews can draw near to God, because of Christ’s blood, his death for the forgiveness of our sins. We can all go right into the very presence of God, the holy place, not with shaking and fear but with confidence, not because of who we are or who we are not, but that Christ has made a way, a new and living way. Christ our great high priest has paid the sacrifice for us to be clean before God and opened the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple for us. The one the gospel tells us was torn in two when Christ died. We’ve been welcomed in.

It’s not just coming to a place to encounter God, but its everywhere in life, we have that wonderful privilege, in prayer, this core section of Hebrews had started with a similar image of us being able to boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. The throne of grace was seen as where God sat and was the mercy seat the space on top of the ark of the covenant between the two golden seraphim. Because of Jesus Christ we can get that close In all of life… My son Isaac and I were walking along Bethells  Beach and came upon these three empty pairs of shoes right in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but think of Moses in Exodus 3 being told to take off his shoes for this is holy ground as he encounters God in the burning bush. Mind you if you take off your shoes in the middle of bethels baeach in the middle of summer you encounter not the burning bush but the burning hot west coast iron sand... However, It’s a great image because we can encounter and know that closeness of God and draw near anywhere. It’s all holy ground…On a west coast beach, an Auckland school class room, our place of work, in the wilderness and scorching iron sand of our own lives. But definitely as we gather for public worship, we come to draw near to God. Douglas Bradley has just moved from Glendowie to be the minister at Cromwell Presbyterian church and he said he took this great photo on the day that all the linemen for chorus used the church for a meeting, the photo was of all the work boots lined up outside the church door. Take off you shoes this too is holy ground…

George Guthrie helps us understand this drawing near to God as a spiritual discipline by asking the question ‘What is it you yearn for?” when you come to church what is it that you are wanting that you are looking for, do you come with an expectation of encountering and meeting with God, of somehow being transformed by that encounter. Do you come with a sincere heart, aware that we are able to come because we have been made clean through Jesus Christ, and it’s a great privilege we have to worship God together as brothers and sister with such intimacy and being so loved. At general assembly Graham Redding a previous moderator of the PCANZ spoke on Isaiah chapter 6, the calling of Isaiah, Isaiah was in the temple, worshipping, and suddenly it was like his eyes were open and he saw the reality of what was going on… he saw the Lord high and lifted up, the whole place was filled with the glory of the Lord, he is aware of his sinfulness and receives a pardon from God and then is given the word of God to take out with him into the world to be part of God’s kingdom coming. That was a foretaste of what you and I have in Christ as we gather for worship. Do you come to Church with an expectation of encountering God. ‘what is it you yearn for?’ not yawn for but yearn for…

The second imperative is in verse 23 let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Our hope found in Jesus Christ, that death and sin are conquered and on their way out because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that things can change, that there is a better world coming, because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Not because we simply believe it but because God is faithful. God keeps his word, he keeps his promise.

Again George Guthrie helps us see this as a spiritual discipline by asking the question What is it you are committed to? it’s a whole life question, one of the biggies that defines us, but its helpful to see that as it relates to public worship as well. By making it part of our rhythm of life we are witnessing to our hope. Its part of our profession of hope… Not wishful thinking like.. I hope howard doesn’t speak to long today… I hope they don’t sing those songs again… But that the gospel of Jesus Christ will make a difference, in me, and you through us in the society round us. In the face of what’s going on in our lives, still I will come and give thanks and hear the gospel proclaimed. It’s defiant and prophetic. I love Psalm 42 and 43, as the psalmist laments that  all he has known is being stripped away and he or she is being dragged away into exile, and it feels like the stormy waves Mediterranean sea and the turbulent  rapids on the fast moving  rivers that flow down from Mt Camel have combined to smash and crash over them, the psalmist say why are you so down cast O my soul yet I will still praise you my Lord and my king. Public worship says we have hope of light when it seems the darkest, it says in the midst of the business f life that there is time to stop and to contemplate something so much more important. It says to the worries and sorrows of life, I have hope in Jesus Christ, it says to the amusements and distractions of life, there is something more solid and real. What are you committed to…

Finally in verse 24 “Let us spur one another on towards love and good deeds” the writer from Hebrews carries that on by saying don’t stop meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing… The Christian faith is communal, its about being together and building one another up in the faith. When we think of spiritual disciplines we usually thing of solo alone stuff, of the hermit away in the wilderness, but its about being together in community. To encourage each other in ur love and our good deeds, which are the outworking of our relationship with Christ, we are loved so we love, we are cared for and shown compassion, so we show compassion and care.

George Guthrie again helps us see this by asking the question ‘who do we walk with?’ who we commit to journeying with. Whose shoes are with ours on the beach. When it comes to public worship Paul in 2 Corinthians 14 says we should come to worship, not with the attitude of whats in it for me, what do I want, but rather, what do I have to give, he says one should bring a song, another a teaching, a word of encouragement. One of my other favourite psalms, I think I have about 150 of them, is Psalm 107, which is the story of peoples epic journeys from exile back to Jerusalem. Epic desert journeys through stormy seas, from darkness to light, illnesses to health, even one that seems to talk of God using going from rich pasture to brokenness and want, but they each finish with people giving testimony to what God has done in the assembly to build one another up. Are we willing to pray for each other, Pauls letters to the churches were designed to be read in public worship and in them he prays for the people he is writing to and asks them to write to him. When we come together are we willing to use the gifts god has given us to build each other up. Even the gift of prophecy and discernment, speaking straight, spur one another on has an almost negative feel to it at one level, of pushing and prodding each other. Who are you walking with, invites us to look at worship as a chance to come and to contribute to others, not just to be a consumer society.

We very often use the analogy of life as a journey even our faith we speak of our spiritual journey and our spiritual disciplines maintain us and keep us on that journey. Often its like how you pack your car for that journey. With six people in our family how you pack a car is a big thing. How am I going to fit everything into this small space? It’s three D tetras… if you remember that game on your phone. But you start by putting the big things in first, the important things and then fill in round them, you find you’ve got space for the little things the extra things on top of those basics and essentials. It’s harder to fit a big bag last… Can I suggest for the spiritual journey we fit in those essential spiritual disciplines first and once they are in place the rest of life seems to fit round them. Public worship is one of those things.

The questions that help us choose what goes where are ‘what do you yearn for”, what are you committed to, who are you going to walk with? 

… So let us draw near to God, let us hold fast to our hope, let us consider how we will spur one another on in love and good deeds.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Power and Hope of Prayer ( Philippians 4:4-9, Psalm 113)

I hope as you were coming in to church this evening I hope you noticed the sign with our bible reading on it out the front, and the tree and bird house. The tree is a prayer tree planted in June here at the church. The idea is to invite the community to bring their cares and concerns and place them in the bird house and a dedicated team will commit themselves to praying about them.  Bringing them to God.

I’m not a member here at Mt Albert but think it is a great idea, and I hope people in the community take advantage of it. There is a wonderful picture in the book of Ezekiel chapter 17 of the coming messianic king, being like a tree that God plants out of the royal house of David, and it growing to be a strong and healthy tree bearing fruit and offering shelter and a place to nest to all the birds of the air. It’s picked up by Jesus in Mark 4:30-32 where Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds that is planted, that falls to the ground and dies, but then becomes the biggest of all the garden plants, and the birds of the air come and find shelter and nest in its branches. So I see all that symbolism in what you’ve done out the front. The bird house is like inviting people to come and find shelter and rest and hope and hopefully home amongst the branches, in the Kingdom of God, as they experience God in their lives through the power of prayer and your churches Christ like love and care.

When I came out to Mt Albert to get some idea for a poster to advertise this evenings service, it was
a cold rainy winters morning, and I had to keep whipping rain drops off the camera lens and my glasses. But down in the carpark I saw a tree that seemed to be an answer to the hope of the prayer tree round the front... It was blooming despite the adverse conditions, and I thought Wow, what a great picture, not just technically, by symbolically as well of the hope we have when we come to God in prayer; New life blossoming, freshness, beauty, health, I’m not sure if it was a fruit tree, but the hope of fruitfulness to come,  even in the face of the greyness and storms of life.

Now that all may sound kind of flowery, but tonight I want come in from the carpark and the outside and explore what Paul has to tell us about Knowing God’s presence and help in that verse from Philippians and what the wider passage has to tell us, and what at its heart it tells us about the power of prayer.

The church at Philippi was facing external opposition and some internal strife and Paul had written to encourage them to keep going and to be a unified community that would keep on sharing the gospel even in those tough situations. He was in Prison himself when he was writing and so able to share with them how he kept himself going.  The passage we read is like a series of three quickfire encouragements for the believers. In fact Paul would have been chained to a guard and here Paul says it’s not that guard that keeps me safe, but these things guard my heart and mind and will guard yours as well.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

In his letter Paul had used the word Joy fourteen times. In the face of persecution Paul wants his readers to know that standing firm is not just a teeth grinding, white knuckle hanging on for dear life, but rather to know in their lives and to share the fullness of joy that comes from Jesus Christ.  It is a joy that Transends circumstance, that is not dependant of situation or emotion or feeling. To rejoice in the Lord is to find our joy in who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  he has made the world and all that is in it, he is the God who is sovereign in history, who has shown his faithful love for his people, who send Jesus Christ to be one of us, Jesus Christ who showed us God’s great love, who died on the cross that we may be forgiven and reconciled with God, whom God raised to life again, who promised to be with us until the end of the age, who poured our his promised Holy Spirit on all of us. Who leads and guides, who is working all things for good not for harm, who will come again to put all things right. That’s just not our theology, that is our hope its our source of joy. When its going wonderfully well, we need to remember it is because of God’s goodness, when its going bad, we need to remember it is still true.

Paul himself had given the Church at Philippi an example of this. While in Philippi he had been arrested beaten and thrown into jail. Instead of grumbling and sulking, he and Silas had sung psalms and given praise to God. The Church would have been aware that as they were doing that an earthquake had happened and their chains had been broken and the cells sprung open. Even if they hadn’t I think Paul and Silas would have kept on praise God and rejoicing.

I read the testimony of Czech national Petr Jasek in the August edition of the voice of the martyrs magazine. Petr had visited the Sudan to encourage the local church and on the way out of the country was detained and jailed for espionage. He was kept in appalling conditions packed in with a group of Muslim extremists in what was meant to be a single person cell. He said his attitude to his imprisonment changed when he called to mind the prayer of the angelic hosts in the book of revelations “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God almighty”, and began using that as his public prayer of praise. It didn’t improve his circumstances his cell mates objected to it and became abusive towards him. But just as Pauls says to the Philippians he found that the peace of Christ was with him. Later in another cell he shared his faith with a group of people and saw a couple of them come to know Christ. he said this for him was the reason God had allowed all this happen. After four months in prison the Czech government arranged his release.

When we rejoice in the Lord it changes our focus from situation to God, from problem to god’s goodness, from despair to hope. It guards our hearts and minds.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. 

It is easy and maybe natural when we find ourselves in confrontation situations or situations where we are facing opposition to want to retaliate, to give as good as we get.  But here Paul exhorts the church to react in a Christlike way. To extend having the mind of Christ, he talked of in Philippians two not only towards others in the Christian community but to those outside.

We often confuse gentleness with weakness, but rather it is the word meek, which has the idea of harnessing ones strength for the common good and not being distracted by slight or injury, insult or threat from achieve that common good. The Clydesdale hporse is a great example of that… they are blinkered to stop themselves from being distracted so they can focus all their strength in achieving the common goal of pulling a cart. 

 In Romans Paul speaks of not returning evil for evil but overcoming evil with good. I was reminded of the example of one woman in the aftermath of the bloodshed and genocide of Rwanda, who even though up to fifty members of her extended family had been killed, looked after the father of a neighbour who was in prison for leading one of the very mobs that could have killed some of her family members.

“Don’t be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I don’t know about you but I find myself needing to hear this sentence from Paul. It is so easy to simply worry and be concerned about an issue, to let it sap you of your joy and peace, here Paul says the first port of call is not anxiety but rather in all situations to pray, with thanksgiving. 

 In his testimony that I mentioned earlier Petr Jasek said that as he began rejoicing and focus on Jesus Christ he found himself able to pray. He found that instead of worrying about his family and friends he began to pray for them, he found that his prayers for persecuted Christians round the world became more insightful and deep. 

It is as we turn to the Lord and bring him our cares and worries that we become aware of the presence of the God of peace and his presence can guard our hearts and minds. Shane Clairborne says that Christian often use prayer as a form of escapism they want God to airlift them out of a situation, but rather what happens is that Jesus parachutes in to the issue alongside us.  We talk about faith that can move mountains, its as if there is Jesus with some shovels and he hands us one and then gets to work right alongside us.

But the God of peace also tells us, that prayer is not only so that we may become aware of the abiding presence of God, but also that there is the hope of God kingdom coming as well. That God does answer prayer sometimes in miraculous ways . Peace in the scriptures comes from the Hebrew word shalom, which means wholeness and as we pray knowing God’s peace, can be God speaking wholeness into our lives, a restoration of right relationship with God, with each other, of justice when we have been mistreated and abused and a restoration to health,  as the consequences of sin are dealt with in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of these three quickfire encouragements, Paul gives the reason we can rejoice and be gentle and that we can have confidence in prayer. Paul is very Jewish in this thought patterns and often the central and most important thing appears right in the middle of a whole lot of ideas that are connected and here it is this wonderful short sentence… God is near. We can rejoice even in the face of tough times, because God is near, God is here, we can live with gentleness and not be distracted from living for the common good because God is near Christ is here, we can have confidence in bring all situations to God because god is near Christ is hear, the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us.

I love the picture of God that we have in psalm 113. The God who is sovereign in control seated on the throne above heaven and earth… but not a distant disinterested deity, cut off, separate and uncaring. But rather we have this picture of a sovereign God who stands and even more stoops down to see, to see and know what is going on, then who reaches down and raised up the poor and the fatherless those in need to seat hem with princes.

It is interesting that the idea of a king stooping down to see and to connect with the poor isn’t such a shocking idea for us, because we see it in our royal family, we don’t realise how historically unique it is, to have royals connecting and bending down to talk with children, or to play football with orphans. It maybe that the queen has had to learn that it is necessary to make that connection, or it maybe that it comes from her Christian faith and the idea of leadership as service. But its a good illustration what the psalmist says God is like.

This God who stoops and sees and lifts up the poor and needy and seat them in places o honour is at the centre of the scriptures. It’s the God Moses encounters at the burning bush, who says I have seen the mistreatment and sorrow of my people and I have heard the cries of my people and I am going to sent you to bring them out of their captivity so they may worship me, and I will take them into the promised land and they will be my people.

It is the posture of God that is at the centre of the gospel, God sees and hears the plight of humanity enslaved to sin and death and stops down even further and in Jesus Christ becomes one of us, and to die on a cross for our forgiveness, that we may be lifted back to being in relationship with God, we may know new life and fullness of life in Christ.

That is the power and hope of prayer, not our words, not our action, not even our level of faith, but the God who is near, who sees who cares who stoops down to lift up and restore and bring God’s peace.

So tonight can I encourage you to hear and to put into practise Paul’s encouragement that in all circumstance and situations, with thanksgiving we bring it all to God in Prayer.

If you ar here tonight and you don’t know Jesus and you feel that while God is near and Christ is here, that you are still out in the cold and dark, or caught up in captivity. We’d love to pray for you and lead you into finding peace with God. That God would guard your heart and mind…

If there is stuff going on, if you are finding yourself slogging through the greyness and the storms of life and you are longing for that spring bloom of hope come forward and we will pray with you. God is near. Christ is here.

If you are faced with illness and unwellness, we’d love to pray for you that you might receive a healing touch from the God who raises up and brings wholeness.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Consider the Birds of the Air: God's Providence and God's Puprose (Ezekiel 17:22-24, Matthew 6:25-34)

We are really blessed to live in New Zealand, with its unique and wonderful array of amazing birds.

I had a wonderful afternoon a couple of months ago down at the reclaimed  Taumanu reserve in Onehunga. I spent forty minutes sitting on a cold hard rock by the boat ramp as this pair of Royal spoonbills (Kotuku Ngatupapa) basically wadded right up close to where I was sitting. I’d only seen them once before and then off in the distance.

They Shock their heads scything those wonderful beaks sideways through the water to catch small fish. Some ducks even sailed by just to give me the chance of getting a photo so people could see how big these spoonbills are.

The Gannets at Muriwai, but also down the east coast, watching them circle majestically and then the lightning fast plummet and splash as they go fishing, then later having them dip and come along a wave face one wing tip touching the water… as if to say now this is surfing.

Stopping at homer tunnel in the South Island to take photos of Kea and having them jump on the car and start to eat windscreen wipers and the rubber of our door seals. When Kris tooted the horn to make them stop the only creature startled was … well me, crocuhed down by the bonnet for a better angle.  The Kea on the screen behind me is from Auckland Zoo. 

I’ve told you many times about the way in which God has usedthe wood pigeon or the kereru to speak into my life, as for me it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and every time I see one I thank God for his presence with us.

Today as Part of the season of creation it’s been good to acknowledge and give thanks for these wonderful birds and when
we had our greeting time I’m sure there were many stories of different birds and encounters. Even our church grounds here are full of bird life, the Tui’s swoop in and rule the roost when the bottlebrush is in bloom out the back and the sparrows seem to have taken to heart the passage we had as our call to worship and nest close to the worship area. The cover for our AGM reports is one of those sparrows sitting in the kowhai tree we planted last year as part of our season of creation.

Today I want to  look at two ways in which scripture looks at the birds of the air and see what they have to say to us as a  church specifically as we look at the coming year. Because in the two passages we had read to us today the birds of the air are used to speak of the providence of God and the purpose of God, both important for us. God’s provision and God’s purpose.

In our reading from Ezekiel, we are presented with a picture of the coming of the messianic king. God will take a branch from a cedar and plant it on a hill in Israel. That tree will grow big and strong and providing shelter and nesting sites for all different kinds of birds of the air. It’s an image that is echoed in Daniel chapter four where Nebucanezzar ahs a dream of a giant cedar tree providing shelter for the birds of the air, then the tree being cut down and the birds scattered but regenerating and once again being a home for the birds. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is that tree, in Daniel there is a sense that Nebuchadnezzar has come to admire the God of Israel, and as he humbly walks in a relationship with him, his kingdom can be a place of shelter and home for the people of the world, but as he reverts too thinking it is all about him and is filed with pride that kingdom vision is taken away. At the end of chapter 4  we see that Nebchadnezzar has a seven-year period of what we would call mental illness, but once he reignites his relationship with God he is restored to the throne.

Jesus himself picks up this image in Mark 4:30-32, to talk about the kingdom of God. He tells the parable of the mustard seed, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that is planted and grows into a mighty tree, the mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds and the mustard tree the largest of the garden plants, and it will provide shelter for birds of the air.

The picture is of the purpose of God for his kingdom, for his people and his church that in Christ we would be a place where people can come and find a home and a place to rest and have shelter. It is a picture of a welcoming and loving community rooted deeply in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, where people without those things  will find hope and purpose and rest and new life.

One of the things about living in New Zealand is that we don’t have an understanding of the significance of such a picture. We are a green nation there are so many trees, its as if the birds can pick and choose.  Maybe we catch a glimpse of what the biblical picture is like when you see a large tree in an urban landscape and as the day starts and finishes it is alive with bird song, as they all come to find rest there. I used to pick Kris up from work in Tauranga and Napier, and where I’d wait in both places was a solitary tree in an area of buildings and roads and the tree would be defeaning loud with bird song, and of course you parked under the tree at your own risk.

Lyn Baarb, who lectured in pastoral theology at Otago University, got an understanding of the scriptural story by living in the city of shiraz in Iran. In an article on the spirituality of preachers, She describes the place as mountainous desert and in the six months they lived there it only rained twice, which had the affect of simply turning the roads to mud.  The hills were barren of vegetation and everything was beige brown: all hillsides and rocks and dust and dirt. You were aware of any water as the blue was so strikingly distinct against the brown.

One day She and her husband were taken on a roadtrip by a church member, and he stopped the car by a small stream with a walking track by it in the middle this barren land. He told them he wanted to show them something amazing, so they followed him up the path, and came upon the source of the stream, and beside it grew a large tree, she said “the greenness of the tree amidst all the brown was “totally unexpected, astonishing and refreshing”. She said she had found the tree of Psalm 1, planted by a water source that does not run out, that the psalmist talks of someone who basses their life on God’s word is like.  She didn’t mention if there were any birds, but  it gives the idea of how important and special such a tree for the birds would be.

Our vision as a church is that we maybe an authentic, vibrant and sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus Christ, inspiring others to join us on the journey. It’s an image of being like that tree planted by the water source of the living word, Jesus Christ, and of us growing and being that vibrant, sustained green of a tree with a good water source, and producing fruit, also that God’s purpose and plan for us is to be a place where the birds of the air, birds of all kind, multi generations, multi cultures,  can find a home and shelter. In John 15 jesus uses the metaphor of a grape vine and says that he is the vine and we are the branches. We lived at Laidlaw Bible College out on Lincoln road when it was in the middle of vineyards, and you soon came to realise that vines attracted birds.  When the fruit was ripe, all day long the place resounded to the bang of bird scarers, every ten minutes or so boom, we don’t want the scarer thing we want to see God able to draw those birds here. God does not bring new people into a church that has a tendancy to go boom, with disunity, criticism and grumbling, those thing stop a Church from growing and thriving. Our hope is that people will come to find rest and shelter, to find new life which the idea of nesting speaks of. That people would find rest and welcome, and here find their lives sourced and feed by the water of life. 

Not wanting to mix metaphors but it is also a call for us to stretch out those branches be about offering room for people to land, of growing our community facing ministries, to children, youth, in families or by themselves. and of all ages. That the broken may find wholeness, that the poor of spirit may find the richest of fare as it talks of Isaiah 55. That is the purpose of God for his church.

In our Matthew reading from the sermon on the mount, Jesus also invites us to consider the birds of the air in terms of God’s priorities and God’s provision. We should not worry about what we eat because if we look at the birds of the air we see that they don’t plant or reap, but their heavenly father cares for them, and are we not more valuable than they are.

If you are more into flowers than birds, Jesus goes on to invite us to consider the  flowers in the field, they don’t sow or weave, but not even Solomon, the height of Israel’s glory as a nation was dressed as wonderfully as they are.  Just to prove the point, a couple of weeks ago, as I was leaving Church it was magic hour, when the sun is low to the horizon and I saw the flowers round our car park and went and grabbed my camera and took some images.

The passage speaks of God’s ability to provide, not so we can sit back and not do the work that needs to be done. It’s the birds that don’t sow and reap and the flowers that don’t labour and or spin, we need to do what we can to provide what we need, however we are not to worry about those things, they are not to consume our time and effort and energy, they are not to deprive us of sleep or rest. Jesus says “Don’t worry” rather be able the the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

It’s a call to trust in God’s ability to provide as we are willing to put the kingdom of God first in our lives. As a church we work hard to make ends meet, we are blessed by a good resource in our property and are blessed by people who give generously and sacrificially, the call and the challenge is to seek and find where God is calling us to  do his work and invest in those things. Churches often speak about the difference between setting maintenance budgets and mission budgets, that is a budget that is focused on the ministry of the church, not just on keeping things going. We need to look and consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and trust in God’s provision as we set out to fulfil more and more our vision and our mission. One of the maxims that people quote to me is that Money follows mission, and money follows vision, as we seek first the kingdom of God as we put first God’s purposes for us as a church, that is when we will see God’s ample provision more and more. Here  at St peter’s you’ve seen that, making a commitment to full time ministry and saying well we’ve got enough for four years, here we are seven years later… it hasn’t been easy costs are going up and we’ve got some big ticket items coming up in the next few years with our thirty year old building, but through careful management, wise decisions we’ve seen God’s provision.

We are really blessed to live in New Zealand with our wonderful array of unique and beautiful birds. Sadly as a nation with human habitation, we’ve destroyed various habitats and we’ve introduced predators and competitors to our native birds. But also its been great to see the energy and care and a concern that has gone into conserving what we have. One sign of hope for me this year has been spotting Dotterel’s, Tuturiwhatu doing their dance on the beaches of the Manukau and west coast.

For us as a church this year as we face the AGM, I believe God’s word for us is to consider the birds of the air. AS a metaphor and image of seeing God draw people here to dwell amongst the branches, our call our vision our hope is in Christ to grow in Christ and numerically. Like our kowhai tree out the front, we’re in a fragile state, but It needs to be the focus for our prayer and our efforts and like the birds of the air to trust in our heavenly father to provide the resources we need.  Amen…? Amen

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

from our Islands of Birds, we give you prasie O Lord... A Prayer of thanksgiving

A Bell bird ruffles its feathers on a cold winter morning 

As Part of the seasons of creation this sunday is animal Sunday, but wanting to give it a Kiwi twist I've decided to focus on Birds. New Zealand is a land of Birds and so it seem appropriate to give praise for them and join them in giving praise and thanks to God... It is partly a prayer I wrote a few years ago and I have to admit parts of it come across as a bit forced and laboured. It isn't really poetry but it is written in seven line stanzas with a refrain between.

As per usual please feel free to use any part or line you like or the whole thing or non of it.

On the dense bush clad hills

Across Rich pasture land, vineyard and orchard

In the Hedge rows and specimen trees of suburbia

And the single concrete encased trees of city centres

At even the faintest hint of light they raise their voices

Our land of birds sings its dawn chorus praise to you O God

And we join our voices to theirs to thank you Lord

From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

We praise you for the wonder of our seabirds

The long alone glide of Albatross over stormy Southern Ocean

The graceful flight, sudden plunge and splash of Gannet

The long journey back to clifftop homes, for roost and rest

The demanding harsh squawk of gull and skua

The purposeful low tide wade of spoonbill, oyster catcher and heron

And Dotterel dance on sandy shore

From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

For the bush dwellers unique to this place we thank you

The rare night time screech of kiwi, and satisfied morepork

The lonely kakapo boom, and cheeky antic of kea and kaka

The day time tunes of bell bird and tui, saddle back and robin

For fan tail flit and the beating air of Kereru swoop  

The seemingly effortless circle of watchful Falcon and Hawk

Pukeho and Weka strut, and welcome surprise of Takahe in tundra,

From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

For the birds that have come and made their home with us

Sparrow chirp, thrush and black bird in garden perch

The coo and the pooh of urban dwelling pigeon

The dazzle of red with rosellas in the park

Magpie in misty field, geese guarding and black swan gliding

Hen cluck and rooster call, duck waddle with pond and river grace

Pets of Parakeet, budgie and Cockatoo to talk to you

 From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

We join them to praise you for the wonder of your creation

The night sky, galaxy and star, that point us to eternity

The beauty of land and sea, flora and fauna

We join them to acknowledge your provision

That every good gift comes from your hand

You make the crops to grow and the earth to bear fruit

Gave us gift and talent to make it grow and to earn our keep

From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

We join them to praise you for your grace

You sent your son Jesus to be our way, our light

His death our forgiveness and being raised our new life

God who knows even when a sparrow falls to the ground

Fill us afresh with your spirit we pray

That we may know you more and more, tell your truth

That we may Love people, care for creation, and live for your glory

From our islands of birds, we give you praise O lord

Native birds at the zoo.

Just a couple of photos that I'm proud of at Auckland Zoo. A couple of A kea  (the kea is a New Zealand mountain parrot) and a shoveller duck (kuruwhengi) who seemed to be very upset I took a photo while he was a sleep and of course a couple of a New Zealand dotterel and Kereru or wood pigeon.