The New Year stands as a time to stop reflect and celebrate. It is a crossroads of time… we look back and review the year that has gone before and also turn and look forwards to the new year: to new possibilities and new challenges and fresh hope.
Harry Morgan, a man I really love and respect, is taking the service next week and I know that he is going to invite us to look to this coming Year with the question “what direction is your life taking- this year”
… So this morning I want to invite you to reflect on the year that has been… 2015. To acknowledge the joys and the highlights, reflect on the changes and the challenges and in this safe place maybe also to be willing to revisit again the hardships and the sorrows.
On Christmas Eve I invited people to view the year on a wider scale in images that have stuck in our minds in 2015.(humble apologies if this feels like a repeat).
On a positive note, Ritchie McCaw holding up the Webb Ellis trophy again at the Rugby World Cup. One of the highlights of the year for me was being at Eden Park for the Bledisloe cup test with my two sons and being part of the crowd that spontaneously gave a standing ovation for Ritchie as he was subbed off, in his last test match in New Zealand. We are not very good at honouring our greats and heroes but there was something about that moment.
But also starker and darker images that we wish were not stuck in our minds that capture the reality of suffering in the world today.
The body of a young boy dead and floating face down in the Mediterranean Sea. It encapsulated the human tragedy and suffering of refugees fleeing civil war, ISIS and violence in Syria and the constant flow of peoples seeking safety and prosperity in the face of conflict and poverty.
Fields of flowers and banks of candles come to mind. Not where you’d expect them. Not in idyllic country visas, and ancient cathedrals, but as expressions of shock and grief in city streets: Outpourings of sorrow in front of the scenes of terror attacks, massacres and mass shootings.
A flash of flame and a trail of smoke in the sky, as a Russian fighter jet is shot down by Turkish air defence. It’s an image that made the world hold its breath: An image that sums up world super powers trying to impose a military solution, their solution, on the Middle East.
On a personal level, the image that I used for the service this morning is one of stepping stones over a river… It summed up for me that journey we make of one step at a time through life. Sometimes having to make giant leaps and strides, other times standing still as the rock beneath us seems to about to unbalance and toss us into the river. Or we are simply making small steps unsure of footing unsure of the way ahead.
Maybe for others it has been like jumping from rock to rock, clambering for footing around the cliffs of our wild western beaches… as waves have crashed and tried to strip us off and carry us away or batter us against the sharp mussel and pacific oyster covered rocks about us. Perhaps it’s been a mixture of all of it.
Our reading this morning was psalm 136, one of my favourite psalms and so fitting for the New Year. It is a recounting of the history of God’s activity. It starts back in the dim distances of time and space with creation; it looks back to God moving to liberate his people from slavery and to bring them out of Egypt across the desert through conflict and strife into the land God has promised their ancestors, it speaks of God’s ongoing provision and care.
For us today the psalm could have gone on and recounted so much more of God’s saving acts, we could remember as we did during the week, God sending his son into the world, his life his teaching, his death on the cross for our sins, new life through his being raised to life again, the sending of the Holy Spirit on all who would believe, the faithful witness in word and deed, life and sacrifice of his people down through two thousand years of the gospel.
It is a psalm that fits the story and life experiences of the congregation reading or singing it into that story, it fits us into that story… when in verse 23 it says and he remembered us in our lowly estate, he freed us from our enemies. We step into this, our times and our lives come into view.
The amazing truth of this psalm is not just a retelling and remembering of history and connecting us with it, but the fact that in the repetition again, again of that phrase ‘His love endures forever’ that we are reminded of the presence and the leading and guiding and love of God. Every step along the way ‘his love endures for ever. Every step along Israel’s journey ‘his love endures forever’, in Christ and his love for us, ‘his love endures for ever’ every step we have taken in our lives amidst the times of joy and sorrow, calm lake and raging storm ‘his love endures forever’, every step this last year… ‘His love endures forever’ as we turn to face the coming year shrouded in mist we can do so because ‘his love endures forever’. We finish this service with communion and we remember God’s love in Christ, we acknowledge his abiding presence with us, and we look forward to the fact that God will bring it all to completion in Christ. Every step along that way we can have faith and trust ‘his love endures forever.’