Monday, March 10, 2014

Thanks A Lot... Some reflections from a Thanks Giving service at Titirangi Presbyterian Church for all we had received from its Ministry to Young People.

I wasn't sure weather to post this on my blog.  But I decided I would. firstly to honour my many friends, mentors, mother and fathers in the faith who had invested so much into youth ministry and young people at Titirangi Presbyterian Church where I grew up  and to thank my friends from that time for the sense of community and belonging we still share... and secondly because there is some very important and useful things here for the people of God as they look at what it means to be Church.
Some friends of mine decided to have a reunion from our Bible Class days and a couple of us decided it seemed right to also have a service to say thanks to the church for all that we had received from their ministry... this is the message I preached at the service. Thanks to my friend Tim Pratt for his involvement in that service and to my children for coming and being the band for the day, and putting up with hearing stories of their fathers younger days. Thanks also to the Parish Council and people at St Peter's, who gave me the Sunday off to go and be involved, and the leadership at Titirangi for allowing us to invade their service.
It's not my best English (some of you will say what's new) and what is missing is the wonderful testimonies of people and expressions of thanks that were shared on the day, which brought real life and meaning to these simple reflections.
The two passages that we looked at were Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 and Acts 2:42-47.  

Thanks a lot… I don’t know about you but it has that sort of Yeah Right Kiwi cynicism about it. Thanks a lot… yet There is also an acknowledgement in a roundabout kind of way that we have a lot to give thanks for. And we do… Thanks a lot …today is really about saying thanks a lot… thank you for all the good things in our lives from the ministry of Titirangi Presbyterian Church to Young People. 
The two bible reading we had this morning, pick up two elements of what I think is happening today and what we want to do today’… The Ecclesiastes passage paints a wonderful picture of human life, as a series of times or seasons painted on the larger God size canvas of Eternity… Seasons so stark and different, some like a beautiful summers day, or with the new growth and promise of spring, others as stark and cold as a stormy winter night, or with the harvest and return of autumn. And for most people here, this place this people, this church has been a major part of those seasons. For many of us it was part of our spring, our youth… My first date was sanding the beams of this church. The faith that I had received from my Mother came alive and very real and grew through the ministry and love of the people of this church.   But this place, this people, this church has been part of the winter seasons for many of us as well. For my Kids when they come here the memory which is foremost in their minds is saying good bye to their nana. Of the balloons we released at her funeral just hanging round because of the low clouds and mist, like they and she wanted to linger here.  There have been good times and tough times… and in those seasons we have received a lot to be thank full for from the ministry in this place, this people this church…. So Thanks a lot.  
The second reading which we’ll look at a bit more later, is a summary, it’s a summary of life of the new people of God. That first church in Jerusalem, a people who had known Jesus, seen his crucifixion experienced his resurrection and received a new vitality and life with the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. As a summary I think it gives us some amazing insight into how the gospel and being church, the presence of God’s spirit with his people, impacts lives then and now. Many of the things that we have to say thanks for and have received are wrapped up in what is contained in that brief summary. And It is good to hear those things and be reminded of them. It’s good because for this Church it is I hope words of encouragement and hope and new life. For those of us who have come today to give thanks it is remembering and valuing those things, honouring the people who lived out the Gospel for and with us. I’ve found it helpful just to reflect on these things because it’s easy to get caught up in doing life, everyday life and to forget them even can I say get caught up in religious life, churchy life and we forget the important precious things we were given and the important things that being church, being God’s people calls us to.
Ok this is how we are going to proceed, We are here to say thanks a lot .. so I want to give people a chance just to retell things that they want to give thanks for. Quick stories, acknowledge people, So please come on up and just share what you want to… Tell us your name when you were part of the bible class youth group, and share with us…I’m sorry I’ll have to keep an eye on time. Then after that I want to briefly work through some of the things that come from the scripture in Acts that under girth what is being shared, then My friend Tim Pratt, is going to draw all that together in a prayer of thanksgiving… he got the unenviable, but precious task of bring those things together and saying thanks a lot to God.
lots of great stuff was shared which was really the heart of the service
I want to draw some thoughts from the passage that I think undergird what we’ve heard here and are things that we need to value.
Community The first thing that struck me was the word community. It’s not used in the passage but it is a great word to describe the life they had together. Meeting together for the teaching of the gospel, for celebration, in each other’s homes, keeping a common rhythm of prayer and ritual together, sharing what they had and holding things in common. At the centre of the church and the Christian faith is this sense of belonging and community. In Christ we have become a new people together, drawn from across the whole spectrum of society and world. Here as you heard, we have  benefited from the friendships and the camaraderie, the shared fun and shared support in hardship that grew out of the reality of being that new community in Christ. It’s easy to think church revolves around a building or what we do on Sunday, or just keeping an institution going. but I can never forget one of John and Mia Stein’s favourite verses from another John, john’s gospel…  “ a new commandment  I give to you love one another as I have loved you”  or from the epistle of John “ This is love not that we loved God but that God loved us and gave his son as an atoning sacrifice, therefore let us Love one another”. Granted we didn’t always do it, church can be a very hard place to be a Christian, we live in the tension between being made in the image of God, and remade in Christ and still being broken and fallen….. and The bible and the book of acts is pretty upfront about that tension…  and gives the hope that in Christ we are being bought to maturity Its why forgiveness, patience, long suffering and reconciliation are so important in forming and guarding community.
In fact that sense of Community is what many in our western society miss and are looking for… Andrew Polson who is a journalist living in London and was part of the bible class here, wrote an article recently about a new move in England “Atheists doing Church”, with their new found faith, atheism is a faith by the way…   they were seeking the things that church gave them… the first was community… so they gather to sing songs… a band plays the songs from the sound track of their lives. They listen to a message… the day Andrew went it was a physicist talking about the “Higgs boson” the so called God particle, and how it was going to transform our thinking and our lives. Then they hung round together after wards and talked over bad coffee, weak tea, watered down cordial for the kids and budget biscuits. Hopefully beyond that there was a loving and caring for one another.
Hospitality The second thing that comes through to me from this summary in Acts is the idea of hospitality. They meet in each other’s homes shared meals and held things in common.  AS young people many of us benefited greatly from people opening their homes to us. Bible Class suppers were called the invasion, and you could have upwards of sixty seventy young people descend on your houses like a pack of locusts. The picture we saw of the youth fx  in 1990 was a family opening their farm for the youth group to and camp for the weekend, which rekindled the whole ,ministry to young people at this church. Hospitality as a mark of the Christian church. But not only did we get invited into people’s homes and welcomed into church, but their lives as well.
Sacrificial giving That flows on to the third thing I want to mention, sacrificial giving… inspired by my experience here at Titirangi and with a sense of call I have been involved in Youth Ministry most of my adult life.. with that perspective…I am amazed at the amount of time and effort people were willing to invest in us. during the week I have heard of the home missioner here at Titirangi Bill Martin, I didn’t know that history, and Jim Gunn, Joyce Mitchell opening her home for the senior group, David Sage and his love as a minister for children,  John Stein, who was everybody’s second dad,  Jerry T, Peter Alpe,  jack foster in fact it’s hard to start mentioning people because I don’t want to miss anyone (as there are many who have not been named here) …  But these people were willing to invest their time and energy and themselves into young people, into other people. I think Paul, the apostle sums it up well in his letter to the Thessalonians “ we loved you so much that not only did we share the gospel with you but our lives as well, you had become so dear to us.”
A rather dishevelled,
 hairy, moody teenager
The term mentoring has become a buzz word in the church and business and all works of society really and what happened here before it became cool and recognised was people who were willing to do that sort of work, investing in someone to help them to grow and mature and blossom. I am forever grateful for the people, particularly  David Strickland, who took a chance with a rather dishevelled hairy, moody teenager and gave them a chance to be involved in leadership. My wife Kris and I had lunch at the fringe café last week and I had vivid flashbacks without mind altering drugs, thirty five years ago to an early Sunday morning when a group of men met with a group of us from the bible class and talked and shared about faith and life. I remembered an outreach coffee bar being run out of there and the people there investing time and energy and prayer into my life when I made a Christian commitment at a Titirangi family camp. 
Another buzz word round the church at the moment is missional, we are a blues brothers church… on a mission from God, and can I say people have struggled to define that. I like this definition being Missional  is to see where God is at work in the world and go and join him and invest ourselves in that place… that is we invest our lives and our time into loving others.    
Scripture I could go on and talk of people opening the scripture to us, inviting us to encounter Jesus in and through them.. and to see real people really trying to live it out in real life  As I’ve been meeting with people around a diner last night and in preparation for today some have said that church is no longer part of their lives, but I can’t help but think that a sense of justice that many of them have comes from our time at Youth group and those who taught us the scriptures.
Faith in Christ But I want to finish by picking up the last part of this passage that people were being added daily who had come to trust in Jesus. One of the things that I and many of us have had from your ministry here is our faith in Jesus Christ… You shared that with us. It has been carried out from here and had a major impact. I meet many people who talk of finding their faith, having it grow, being called to ministry and nurtured through the ministry of this place, this people, this church. Hopefully that inspires you for the future, it calls you to look at community, hospitality and sacrificial giving, investing into the lives of others with love and the good news of Jesus Christ.
We have a lot to be thankful for… so thanks a lot… no seriously thanks a lot for all the good things that we have received from the ministry of Titirangi Presbyterian Church to Young people down through the ages.  


  1. Only just found this today. How I wished I could have been there. My experience was obviously later and not as a 'youth' member but the community, caring and faith that encouraged me in the years I was involved served as a bench mark for my life. Thanks to YOU Howard for your input during the Youth FX years shaping so many young lives ( and not so young ). And Yeah Absolutely Right!!

  2. Thanks Jan and Ian as part of the service we gave Titirangi a book of memories for people to just write what they had experienced, through their involvement at Titirangi. I told jean Levi that I would happy pass on anything that people wanted to write and put in the book so if you want to write something. my email is