Monday, January 30, 2017

A Prayer of thankgiving and confession for Waitangi Day Weekend... maybe

I'm very reluctant to put this out on my blog. In New Zealand Waitangi day is a day both of celebration of New Zealand and also of protest and reflection. It celebrates the founding of our nation with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which bring up the spectre that it has not been honoured in terms of partnership with, and the sovereignty of Maori. We see how far we've come as a nation and how many wrongs are being addressed through the Waitangi Tribunal but we also reflect on how far we have to go as well. Maori appear in imprisonment and poverty statistic too often. We need to learn to listen and consult and work together  in decision making processes.

I've written a prayer for waitangi day weekend. I've tried to capture the beauty and uniqueness of the landscape flora and fauna and our diverse peoples  in giving thanks for New Zealand. To capture something  of the gospels story here and how the church is now... to confess our sins and ask for God's help and guidance and not to be too long winded, over the top and full of flowery language about it.

Feel free to make comment suggest change, to use any or all or none.

To my many overseas readers there are many Maori words in this Prayer. I've put links in where I can to help with understanding

Creator God,

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

For Aotearoa, New Zealand, a land of contrast and rich beauty

The vast ocean that surrounds us, makes us unique, full of wonders

The roar of surf battered coast and shelter of harbour, bay and inlet

Bush and forest clad hills, and the green of rolling farmland fields

Volcanic cones and mountain peak, tussock lined and snow capped

Glaciers, fiords, bubbling mud and steam vents, distant Antarctic Isles.

For preserved wilderness right through to urban and suburban sprawl  

From warm sub-tropical north right down to the wind swept chill of south

Thank you for this land

God who made all things

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, a land of Unique flora and fauna

Towering kauri, silver fern unfurling, high mountain Daisey

sea life: seal, dolphin and whale, kawhai and snapper, kina and cray  

Wondrous and weird insects, Weta, centipede and carnivorous snail

Islands of birds, Gull squawk, Kiwi night walk, tree top chorus at first light

Cheeky mountain Kea, forest Kaka and the deep boom of Kakapo hope

Animals introduced, hunted and farmed, pets; loved and befriended

 Thank you for this teaming life

Father God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, for its rich diversity of people

The Tangata Whenua, first people of this land   

There roots deep in this soil, their rich culture and wisdom

Iwi and Hapu, Marae: a place to belong, and whanau gathered around

For those who have come and been welcomed from afar

Settlers from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and pacific atoll and Ilse

Each with something to bring, treasure to share, story to tell

Thank you for all your children here

Saving God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and your gospel and Spirits presence here

For the forgiveness, new and abundant life we have in your son Jesus

Through Christ’s life, his death, resurrection and his promised Holy Spirit

Thank you for the gospel preached in this land, for over two hundred years

Maori who heard it and bought it back with them and missionaries and church planters

For Your church in this land in its so many different forms and strands
worshipping with Hymn, Maori chant, pacific harmony, Asian passion, and electronic beat

And committed to mission, compassion, love, peace and justice here

We Thank you God

Righteous God

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and ask for your forgiveness as we have sinned

forgive us for the things that we have done wrong

forgive us for the good we have left undone

We confess that the Treaty of Waitangi has not been honoured

Partnership with, and sovereignty of Maori, has not been kept

We confess this land of plenty is blighted by need and poverty’s cruel grip

As we have confessed our sin we thank you that you forgive us

We pray for your help to set things right, and to seek justice in this land

Thank you for your grace.

Holy Spirit

We come to you this morning to give thanks for this land

Aotearoa New Zealand, and to pray for your presence and guiding

Fill us afresh with you Holy Spirit, your Wairua Tapu

Enable us to walk with humility and love, to seek your justice and peace

Help us to be good Stewards of your creation and bounty

Bring us together in this land, give us a generous and compassionate hand

Help us to share provision and blessing, with everyone

 We pray that your Kingdom may come and your will be done in our land

To the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Generousity and grace at the gate (Luke 16:14-31)

There is a whoosh and the door to the supermarket opens as if by magic. You head out to the car.. You’d gone and got what you’d needed and yes you had managed to fit in just one or two extras, not essentials but nice to have treats.

Right there in front of you is someone sitting on the pavement with a hand written cardboard sign and hat out in front of them. Not every time but more and more these days… They ask you for spare change…

Property developer, Bob Jones, said recently in a radio interview, it was a disgrace to see people begging in New Zealand, it’s a blight on our society, it shouldn’t be allowed. Another spokesman had said that the homeless and begging problem in the central city here in Auckland was stopping large top end international retail brands setting up shop there, it was a barrier to our ‘increased prosperity’. I think it is a sign of our increased inequality, we want bigger brands and beggars banned. Amazingly the head of the Auckland City Mission agreed with them. It is a blight, it needs real political and social and personal commitment and investment of resources and time, we need to tackle the real social needs of people on the street, with that we could bring real change not just spare change.

On a world scale, how we deal with those in poverty and in need as they come to our gate has been making headlines. We are going to build a wall… … we need to protect what we have…we are pulling back, pulling out…or conversely we’ve opened our boarders how do we absorb all these different people…  A bit closer to home, lets intercept them and put them in detention camps or on isolated pacific atolls. We may not be building a wall… we do rely on a moat, we hope we are too remote…But how we respond to the great tide of human migration and refugees is a pressing issue. Do rich Americans who can afford to pay their way get to jump the queue, that is if a nice enough home in Auckland can be found for them, apparently it’s a problem, while we are told any increase in refugee quotas will just have to wait. 

It is in this environment that Jesus parable of Lazarus and the rich man speaks to us today, even more so because Jesus spoke it to the religious people of his day. People whose public face was that they were God’s righteous ones, God’s blessed ones…but God who sees the heart knew at their core they ‘loved money more’.

We are working our way through the account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel. A journey which takes up a third of the gospel narrative and which focuses on Jesus teaching his disciples what it means to follow him.   In 2017, it’s kind of like we’ve gone splash off the deep end. .. we’ve come back into that journey after the holidays in a section where Jesus is teaching on finances and the Kingdom of God. That’s never comfortable and always challenging.

Last week we looked at Jesus teaching his disciples about finances and the Kingdom of God. He told the parable of the shrewd manager. He told them that all we have is a gift from God’s provision and should be used in a way that honours the giver, using in in this world with a forward vision to our eternal home. He warned them that you can’t serve two masters you will end up hating one and loving the other, you can’t serve God and wealth.

When Jesus teaches his disciples, we need to realize they are not alone the crowd is usually listening and in that crowd were some Pharisees who scorned Jesus for his teaching. They knew Jesus was talking about giving hospitality to people who could not return it, they knew it was a challenge to how they viewed wealth and caring for or not care for the poor in society.

Luke tells us they loved money. Jesus tells them that they were more concerned about external appearances rather than keeping the heart of the law in their hearts. What they value, did not stack up to God’s values. At the heart of the law is love for God shown in loving our neighbour.  They were good at keeping the letter of the law and missed the spirit of the law and prophets. It was shown in how they treated marriage, that if they kept the paper work all legal they could throw away relationships, and they saw people around them, the poor and marginalized as throw away people as well. In the kingdom of God however that is not the case. 

To bring that back to how we use our finances Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. He paints a picture of two people whose lives could not be any different, they live on the opposite sides of social inequality. The Rich man lives in a very luxurious house, the fact that it had a gate says that it was palatial. He wore purple cloth, which in Jesus day was very expensive, an exclusive colour, from one of those top line international brands. Jesus even mentions that his under garment was fine linen. From the skin to the outside he was dressed mighty fine. He ate luxuriously. Lazarus we are told was homeless. We don’t know what clothes he wore, in fact we are told people could see he was covered in sores, he didn’t get much to eat he would have loved the crumbs from the rich mans table. In Israel Dogs were not kept as pets they roamed the street as scavengers, when the food was thrown out,Lazarus is to sick to compete with them for the scraps, they come and lick his sores. The sores and the dogs made Lazarus ritually unclean.  Lazarus and the rich man may have been so far apart in terms of socio-economic status, but Lazarus was laid at the rich man’s gate. The gate of a Jewish man aware of God’s law and call for alms giving and compassion.  

Death is the great leveller and both men die. In the story Lazarus represents the righteous poor, who trust in God despite suffering. Lazarus is taken by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, the way the Pharisees would have thought of the afterlife. The rich man is simply buried. He finds himself in hades. This is the first century Jewish understanding of the afterlife. We could spend a whole sermon looking at what this passage says about life after death. But we see that the rich man’s torment is that he sees and knows that he has not lived a God honouring life. Lazarus we are told is in a place of care and consolation.

The rich man does not seem to have learned much however he is still full of pride. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus, like he is a servant, to give him a glass of water. Abraham replies that the chasm between them is vast and cannot be crossed. The rich man is concerned not for the impoverished but for his brothers. He is concerned about his own people He asks if Lazarus can be sent to warn them to change their ways.  Abraham tells him that this is not possible, they have the law and the prophets and besides even if someone did rise from the dead would they listen and change? Almost as aside here, this passages challenges the idea of spiritualism, of hearing and receiving guidance from the dead.  Death is final. Jesus foreshadows his own resurrection and acknowledging that even when that happens there will still be those who choose to go their own way,who will not listen, who are caught up in selfish wealth and prosperity.

Ok how does this speak to us today.

 I’ve called this message ‘Generosity and grace at the gate’… because in this whole story in life and death there is a wall or a chasm between the two characters the Rich man and Lazarus. After death we see this chasm is permanent and cannot be crossed, but in the first part of this story there is a gate a chance for change, an opening for generosity and grace.

There is a chance for change for the rich man and his brethren.  Remember Jesus is telling this story to people who we are told love money. It is a warning for them to listen to the law and the prophets, to listen to Jesus and the new age of the Kingdom of God, and turn their hearts again to God. In John 10 Jesus say he is the gate for the sheep, a way for them to know and have abundant life knowing and being known by God, to graciously experience the generous over the top love and forgiveness of God.

There is a gate for change for Lazarus because such a love will change our hearts and expresses itself in how we love our neighbour. when we started this journey in Luke 10 Jesus was asked who is my neighbour, and he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the answer was the person in need. On the road side, at our gate. In the image that I chose for this service we see a heart shape made with hands. What is in our heart becomes visible in how we use our hands.

The gate has an impact not just on a personal level but on the public space as well. The city gate was where in people sort Justice in Jesus day. It was where the law and prophets were applied to community life.

When I read this Parable I can’t help but see it as a critique of the trickle down economics that has been part of our western materialistic way of thinking. That if the rich prosper it will have a flow on effect. I think it’s a crummy was of thinking. Lazarus would have loved to eat the crumbs that came from the rich man’s table, but even then he couldn’t because they were being scrapped over.  In the book of Amos in the Old Testament, the prophet was speaking to Israel in a time of prosperity and religious celebration, and says that true religion is to not to make gain from the poor, not simply to have a trickle down, but to open the flood gates and let justice flow like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream. It is about the poor being welcomed in and given hospitality and given a place at the table. That Kingdom of God economics.  

But also in the public square. It reminds us that God is with the poor his heart of the oppressed and deprived. To the original hearers of Jesus parable and to us it would have been odd to hear the poor character have a name while the rich man remained nameless. It increased he effectiveness of the story by personifying Lazarus, and making it possible for us to fit ourselves into the character of the rich man. But theologically it gives dignity to Lazarus, that God would know his name, in a society in which a sign that we’ve made it is everyone know your name, or know who you are talking about by a single name…like with the Aussie open tennis finals this year … Serena v Venus and Rafa v, Rodger. But in God’s kingdom each person, even if they are normally just part of the faceless and nameless masses is important to God.

It also challenges us about where we stand in that public square as well.  I think it is summed up visually in the statue of Jesus, the Homeless beggar and the punch line to Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25  “ you did it for the least you did it for me.” It was rather ironic that when the statue was put up outside a church in North Carolina that the police were called by a passer-by to come and move the homeless person along.   One of the responses to the changing political landscape in the US and around the world has been to articulate what is called the Matthew 25 pledge. It’s an awareness that the church in the west has been guilty of loving money to much, but God’s call is for us to identify and be with the least, the marginalized, poor and powerless. The pledge is that in the face of every political system that is where we are called to stand, “when you did it for the least, you did it for me”.  

The gate is open, Jesus call is to come to him, and receive his generosity and grace, and allow that generosity and grace it flow from our gates, and in our city and nations gates as well.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Four types of healing a reflection. Psalm 30:1-5, John 5:1-15 (from a service at a retirement village)

After my first time here R… stopped me on the way out and said… They would like to hear some teaching on healing… I had to stop and think about that. I’m part of a prayer and healing team in our Presbytery, we are invited to various churches to teach on and pray for healing. I know you guys have good medical care here as well. But I said I’d take that as the Holy Spirit prompting me. But can I say I’ve been a bit scared to do it… Reluctant. I know many of you have been through the pain and sorrow of losing someone close to you, you’ve probably wrestled with praying for someone to get healed and felt as if the doors of heaven were closed shut, and God had gone home for the day, put his feet up and dozed off in front of the TV. But every time I’ve come back she has reminded me to speak on it so I am today.

I believe God heals people, yes by medical science, but also through prayer by the Holy Spirit, I love the truth in what John Wimber said “ he found that more people got healed when he believed that God healed people and started praying for them, than when he didn’t and so didn’t pray’. In Psalm 30 it is David’s witness that God heard his prayer and delivered him from the pit, from a dire illness, and death. In our gospel reading today Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethseda… I love the story because the man seems to be resigned to not ever getting well again and displays no faith, he does not even know who Jesus is! But in the mercy and Grace of God Jesus heals him.

I just want to talk about four types of healing.

1.       The first is death. Look I know that sounds rather pat, rather pie in the sky when you die, opiate for the masses. But in the end it is to go home to our maker, to be with Jesus a place where there is no more suffering or sorrow. I’m preaching on Luke 16 on Sunday the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus paints the picture of Lazarus in heaven in Abraham’s bosom, all his suffering and sorrow behind him. Through deprivation, homelessness, illness and the shame of being a beggar he had kept his faith in God and now he finds himself, with God, consoled and cared for.  It still leaves us here to deal with the grief with unanswered questions with loneliness that someone is not with us anymore. But it is the gospel hope.

2.       The second is forgiveness and reconciliation: Is healing. Healing of our relationship with God, the start of the process of finding wholeness in our lives, spiritual life and spiritual growth. It also enables reconciliation with each other the healing of broken relationships. I love the story of Louis Zamperini. He grew up a wild kid in California, became an Olympic athlete in 1936, was shot down in the pacific in world war two, survived 40 days in an open life raft, was captured by the Japanese and brutally treated as a prisoner of war. You might have seen the film ‘Unbroken’. After the war Zamperini became an alcoholic full of bitterness and hate from his mistreatment. One night he went to a billy graham crusade and his life changed. He became a Christian. He stpopped drinking right away and found his life starting to be on the up and up again. However he sensed to be made whole, be healed, God wanted him to go to Japan and seek reconciliation and forgive the guards who had mistreated him. He meet with all but one. The Japanese people so respected him for this he was invited to be part of the Olympic torch relay for the winter Olympics in Ngagano. God’s forgiveness opens the way up for healing and wholeness in our lives.

3.       People come to a new place of knowing God’s presence and peace even in the face of pain suffering, illness and even death. Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar. He talks about a process that he sees in the Psalms. He says there are the psalms of orientation, the happy clappys when everything is as it should be, life is good, God is good, its all good. Then he says there are Psalms of disorientation, like life is like going to the beach and being picked up by wave after wave and spun round and round gasping and fighting for air, and you don’t know which was is up… they are laments where people cry out well where are you God. Finally Brueggermann talks of psalms of reorientation, where the psalmist, come to the place of realising that God is present and with them even though it may feel he is far away, a distant disinterested deity. Psalm 33 has that in it it starts off you my refuge but I feel like I’m refuse, and comes to the point of saying But I will trust in you, I say my times are in your hands. Often when we pray for people to be healed God will lead a person through to that place… of spiritual health and maturity. the hebrew word for peace is shalom which means wholeness, finding that peace and trust in Christ is wholeness.  

4.       Finally God does answer prayer and heal people physically as well. Some would call it a miracle but the God who created it all, who is able to forgive sin and restore us to right relationship with him is also able to deal with the consequences of our fallen world as well. There is no formula to it, or a person or anything it is simply the sovereign grace and love of God. Often we can get put off by the showmen and the charlatans, or the rigmarole and razzmatazz that seems to go along with our Pentecostal brothers and sister. But you know what it is simply a matter of asking God and trusting in him to do what he wills.

 I’ve experienced in my own life. Deloras Winders was a very ordinary Presbyterian women from the states and when she came to New Zealand I had just started going out with Kris, my wife of 29 years, we were at Bible College (bridal college) which is now Laidlaw and she was thinking she’d have to go home because her asthma was so bad… The bible college is out in Henderson on what was a swamp and it was affecting her badly. When Deloras finished preaching she said ‘God wants to heal someone here of asthma’… Kris thought that’s nice but its not for me…about five minutes later Deloras looked up and said “god wants to heal someone of asthma and they are sitting over this side of the church… and pointed to the side of the church we were sitting on… again Kris though that’s nice… but its not me… finally after about ten minutes Deloras kind of put her hands on her hips and pointed down the back where we were sitting and said God wants to heal someone of asthma and they are sitting down the back… and pointed to us…like being told off by your grandma. Kris thought God might be talking to her and so she went forward Delores prayed for her, she was healed of asthma and has never had it again. Praise God because she stayed at bible college and against all odds fell in love with me and we have been married and ministered together for 29 years.

Can I just finish by saying I believe that God heals people… I’m always happy to pray with people and just see what God does.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Prayer of thanksgiving and confession for Auckland Anniversary Weekend (maybe)

panorama from One Tree Hill with both of Auckland's  harbours in picture.

Auckland City CBD
 from under harbour Bridge
This week coming up is Auckland Anniversary Weekend. I don't always tie services and prayers into what is happening on the calendar but I thought I'd give it a go this week. So I sat down and wrote a prayer of thanks giving and confession for our service on Sunday. I'm not sure I'll use it. It's a bit formal. My languge again gets a bit flowery.  It does pick up some of the wonder of living in Auckland:

the amazing diverse landscape, just living in Auckland you are bi-coastal, tow very different coasts as well. we have two harbours and with the sprawl north it is slowly becoming three with the Kaipara. It is built on a large volcanic field. in one direction the city goes off west to the waitakere rangers and its protected ' native bush', the hills that I grew up looking at from our house on the Titirangi Road ridge. The market gardens of pukekohe, which I have to say I only usually see as I take Highway 1 over the Bombay hills on my way south. There is so much more you could give thanks for in this city in terms of natural beauty.

The amazing diversity of people. Auckland is one of the ten most multi cultural cities in the world. With over 40 % of people having been born "elsewhere". The Maori are the people of this land and the migration of others from Europe, the Pacific, Asia, the Americas and Africa has happened in waves over the last century and a half (or more). people from down country have come to Auckland for education and jobs (and with high house prices they are moving back south!).

It has been great to see the Gospel proclaimed and lived in this city for the past 180 years as well. It is good to be part of a group of people trying to live out and share the gospel in the here and now and as i get a bit older to see new generations, fresh expressions and denominations and new leaders carrying on the task.

But all is not well in the city and we have our challenges. Inequality, how to deal with our colonial past with justice and integrity, someone commented to me the disturbing fact that while we are one of the worlds most multi cultural cities we are also one of the most segregated as well. Children living in poverty is an issue. Housing costs mean that the poor find themselves pushed further out from the city centre to the south and west. Gentrification and demand for housing is an issue. 

But I also trust that we can bring our city to God trusting that he will hear our prayers and fill us with his Holy spirit to be his people in this place.   

Once again feel free to use or not use all or any of this prayer you may find helpful.  for my non New Zealand readers... Tamaki Makaurau is the Maori name for this part of the country. Tanagata Whenua means the people fo this land. Iwi means tribe. Other names in Maori are the recognised place names.  

Creator God

This anniversary weekend we want to thank you for this place,

Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland city our home

The sparkling waters of Waitamata and island encrusted Hauraki gulf,

Our sheltered east coast, Pohutukawa lined, white sand beaches.  

The vast reach of the Manukau, with hidden sand bar and fast tidal flow  

The bush clad slopes, and wave pounded iron sand of wild west coast

 For the vista from volcanic cones and valley with rich soil beneath

The wilderness of Waitakere range and abundance of Bombay hills,

For its natural beauty and the emerging city scape in which we live.

Loving God

This anniversary weekend we want to thank you for this place

Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland city, our home

For the Tangata Whenua, the first people of this land,

Iwi with deep roots and those who have heeded the urban call  

For the people who have come from “all over”, for new life in this place

Those who came by settler ship or by quick or long haul airplane trip

We thank you for the great wealth of cultures in this place

The world is our neighbour and we are enriched

By all these people made in your image and loved by you

God our saviour

This anniversary weekend we want to thank you for this place;

Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland city our home

We thank you for your saving love shown in Jesus Christ

His birth, life, death and resurrection, reconciling us with you

Thank you for those who have faithfully proclaimed the gospel here

Who have lived out their faith in this place, with compassion and love

For those who have gone before us, planting and growing your church

For our brothers and sisters who seek to be your people today

We trust your spirit to abide with, and lead future generations on

Holy God

This anniversary weekend we confess our sin in this place

Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland city our home

We confess the Tangata Whenua have not been treated with justice

We confess greed and self-interest have allowed inequality to grow

We have stood by as poverty pushes people to the periphery and the edge

We confess that while the world is our neighbour, we still seem to be so apart

We confess we have done wrong and left undone the good you call us to do

Thank you that you are faithful and just, thank you for Jesus Christ

That as we confess our sins you forgive us and wipe the slate clean

God who is with us by the Holy spirit

This anniversary weekend we want to pray for this place

Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland city, our home

Be with our leaders and those who plan for our future  

Give them wisdom and courage, lead and guide them

Fill this place with your love, compassion and justice

Help us all to love our neighbour as you have loved us

Fill us afresh with your spirit to be your people in this place

That all we say and do will bring glory to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Monday, January 23, 2017

Managing Grace (Luke 16:1-13)...

The first book I opened this week as I began preparing for the message today, started by saying…

 “Luke 16:1-8 contains probably the most difficult parable in Luke”

Great …Not really the words you want to read right after a holiday. I like to ease back into things but this was…SPLASH! Straight in the deep end… right! It’s not a well-known parable, I can’t remember hearing a sermon on it, it’s not an easy parable to understand and it’s never easy when Jesus talks about finances, and on the surface, it sounds like Jesus is commending sharp financial practises. We don’t like the stark way Jesus generalises this parable…how he applies it and pushes it home…” you can’t serve two masters, you cannot serve both God and Money”. It may be a hard parable, but I believe this passage has a lot to say to us as a church and individually as we face this new year. It speaks to us about how we manage the lavish over the top grace that we have been given through Jesus Christ, through forgiveness how we use our resources and caring for those in need.

We’ve been working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel.  A journey that takes up the central third of the gospel. The narrative of which focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him. It’s a journey that will lead Jesus to the cross. For us it is a journey that will lead to the cross as well; as we will be on this journey till Easter and, more importantly, because Jesus invites us to take up our cross daily and follow him. To die to ourselves and come alive in Christ.

Before we had a break for Christmas we had been looking at three of Jesus most familiar and well-loved parables. The lost sheep, the lostcoin and the lost son. They are parables that Jesus told to explain to the religious leaders of his day why he was willing to sit down and share meals with the people they viewed as sinners and outcasts. They are great pictures of God’s great grace his willingness to go and seek and save the lost, to welcome people back into fellowship with him and God. They finish with a challenge to Jesus listeners about whether they will come in and join the celebration of rejoicing that people turn back to God, and welcoming them in as well. Over Christmas of course we have remembered and celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ, that saving grace coming into the world on that mission to seek and save: That we can be forgiven, reconciled and welcomed in.

In this passage, we are looking at today, Jesus now directs his teaching to his disciples. He had answered his critics about his welcoming repentant sinners to table fellowship and while this seems like a new section of teaching Jesus is pointing out how they, his disciples which includes us should act in response to God’s great grace, and of course when Luke talks about that we see that the depth of how much we have been changed by God’s love and grace is shown very practically in how deep it reaches into our pockets, wallets and purses, bank accounts, assets and priorities.  AS the book of James puts it what good is it to say “God Bless you” and send your brother and sister away in need…

Jesus tells the parable of a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. The rich man calls the manager to give an account of what he has done. It’s implied that there is some wrong doing here and that the consequence of this audit is that the manager will be fired. In the face of this crisis what is the manager to do. The manager may have been a slave or simply an employee, we need to realise that in his culture his status and prosperity even his life is based on his relationship with the rich man as a patron, he is part of his household. We don’t know what the manager had been doing, the word used here about his wasting his master’s possessions is the same used in the parable of the prodigal son for the younger son wasting his inheritance on lose and lavish living. the morning I started work one of the top stories on my laptop’s news feed was that one of singer Alana Morrissett’s managers had admitted to embezzling millions of dollars to feed his lavish lifestyle and gambling addiction.

The manager in the parable now must respond to this crisis. Like the prodigal son he sees his prospects are very dark. He will be dismissed from his master’s household, and not only will he lose his home his job he would loss his ability to make a living. Financial advisers or managers who have a reputation for misusing funds don’t find it easy to find another job. He is not physically strong enough to make a living as a labourer and he’d die of shame having to beg.

He comes up with an interesting plan. He calls in the master’s debtors one by one and negotiates a reduction in the amount of money they owe. One owed three thousand litres of olive oil… and the manager cuts this down to fifteen hundred. You may have bought a litre bottle of olive oil at the supermarket recently and so are doing some maths in your heard about how much this is. Scholars suggest that this amount of olive oil was three years’ production off an above average sized farm. The man who owed this much was a wealthy man as well and was now indebted to the manager. Likewise, another owed thirty tons of wheat and the manager negotiated it down to twenty-four. Again, it was a large amount of wheat and showed the one who owed it was also a big landowner.

Opinion varies on what was happening here. NT Wright surmises that the rich man himself was breaking Jewish law about not charging interest on loans. This was often gotten around by, by asking for produce like olive oil and wheat as interest. The manger was being shrewd by endearing himself to those whose debt he forgave by dealing with the illegal interest. The Rich man couldn’t then accuse him of any misdoing without having to acknowledge his own unjust financial dealings. Others suggest that this was the manager writing off his own margins on the amounts loaned, he is dealing with his own corrupt financial practises or he is simply writing off debt. But in each case, he has made sure he has people to whom he can look to for hospitality and friendship, people who are obliged to take him in and care for him. In Greco-roman society status and friendship were based on the idea of patronage and reciprocity, you were obliged to look after someone if you were in their debt or they did you a favour. The manager is relying on those relationships to keep him if he is indeed fired.  Now maybe his actions meant the rich man will get paid back quicker, but the emphasis of Jesus parable is on finding a home to go to. The Rich man commends him for this as he sees that he is indeed a clever manager. We don’t know what the rich man does to the manager, again its left unfinished, unresolved…  It allows Jesus to put his own disciples into the story.

Jesus uses this somewhat odd and negative example to invite his disciples to see how they use their resources in light of eternity and a relationship with God, do they squander it on keeping status, and perusing luxury in this world keeping themselves in the lifestyle they would like to become accustomed to, or use it in a way that reflects the Kingdom of God.

On one level the idea of forgiveness of debt in the parable has a spiritual connotation. Financial illustrations and forgiving others because we have been forgiven go together in the gospel narrative. In response to Peter’s question how often must I forgive my brother? Jesus talks of the servant who was forgiven a great amount then not returning that by forgiving a fellow servant a small amounts as a negative example of not forgiving a person. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others’, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

But Jesus stops it just being able to be spiritualised like that by tying his parable down to some very concrete teaching on Finances which are challenging and helpful for us.

We need to Plan a head. Financial planners are always asking people to think ahead, to look beyond the here and now. To go beyond the addictive nature of our consumer society and the pull of instant gratification. The government asks us to save for our retirement. In Jesus parable his disciples are also asked to look beyond the here and now to eternity, to make that the future planning that directs the priorities for life and their resources. In the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel Jesus set those same priorities by inviting us put first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you’. It’s not a prosperity gospel it’s not the keep to getting rich, it’s a providence gospel where we rely on God’s grace and mercy. Jesus however is not saying we should not care about finances and resources, it’s not that they should be squandered but rather we need to have good financial management in our lives and churches, but with the priority of investing in the Kingdom of God.

The second thing we need to view what we have been given as God’s provision. Jesus says that what we have is not our own but rather we have been given it by God. When we think of things in light of God’s providence how we use them becomes important. Right back to Genesis we see we are given stewardship over creation, our abilities to earn money are using God given talents, if we believe that God leads and guides us where we work and what we do and what we earn are blessings from God, along with which go responsibility: ‘If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?’ we have been intrusted with the wondrous Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s salvation or new and abundant life for all in Christ, sadly down through the ages it is amazing how much the churches and Christians attitude to wealth and possessions have got in the way of making that great liberating truth known and a reality in the world.

Lastly Jesus puts it in terms that we are not fully comfortable with. The relationship between a servant and a master, it is the key relationship in the parable and here Jesus applies it to our relationship with God. You can’t serve two masters you will end up loving one and despising the other, you can’t serve both God and money. It is easy to find yourself being dictated to by finances, weather you have a lot and even more when you struggling to make ends meet. It can compete for our focus and priorities with our relationship with Jesus… as a parent one of the issues that concerns me is the escalating price of housing in Auckland. I remember the mayor of Auckland speaking at the Epsom Girls Grammar prize giving two years ago and talking about the great public transport system and how the girls sitting there today will benefit from this in the future and I remember thinking I wonder how many of these young people will afford to live in this city. Futurist and Christian Author Tom Sine says that many Christian young people today are going to have to make decisions about the future. If they want to buy the kind of House they grew up in it is going to consume great amounts of their income and time, it is going to cut down the options for them in terms of different avenues of serving God. It is going to take some good and very clever financial thinking to envision a different future for our children. We need a fresh vision of the kingdom of God that will compete with the crumbling western world’s vision that I heard articulated many times at University… get a good education so I can get a good job and can get the good life… Bingo! That is what life is about?

Like I said at the beginning… this parable is one of the most difficult in Luke. To understand it we needed to explore its cultural context more than usual. I’m not sure I’ve done a great job in unpacking this morning. It’s difficult because it reaches into our priorities in life and how they are lived out in our finances. It challenges our business practises, it challenges how as a church we view money… the in way of looking at that is it’s a call to move from a maintenance budget, about just keeping going, to a missional budget, how can what we have be best used for the furthering of God’s kingdom. As we will see next week when we look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that it challenges how we respond to poverty about us. But at the start of the New Year it is a call to once again choose to follow Jesus. Yes aware of his great over the top lavish grace but also aware of the call that it has on all aspects of our lives, to with all we are and all we have been given to serve him as well.

Lets Pray...
Inviting people to Respond: By the way I dew the Illustartion we've been using as the focus for this mornings service on the carpark. I used this wonderful new product called washable pavement chalk... great for parents, it measn that they can wash off their kids chalk drawings. I had intended to invite people as you left to respond to todays message by standing fora moment and then choosing to walk one way or the other... it was intended as a way of connecting with the Kinethetic learners amoungst us... But it rained..  alot over friday and saturday night... and the thing about washable chalk is that it washeds off... and it did... but lets respond to what we have heard today by standing and singing " I have decided to follow Jesus'

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Belated New Year's Prayer of Thankgiving and Confession.

I'm back from my summer holiday break and preparing the service for Sunday. It is a chance to give thanks for this time of year full of people, holidays, reflection and yes the possibility of the  'same old same old' routine in the new year and also of change and new horizons, the uncertainties of personal life and the blur and churn of history's flow, but also of new possibilities trusting in Jesus Christ.

As usual I humbly offer this prayer. I'm aware its very southern hemisphere orientated for the weather and seasonal nature... but hey! feel free to use any of it that you find helpful.

Happy New Year

Creator God,

In summer holiday time we give you praise for what you have made,

Long warm days, sand beaches, shade trees and cooling summer breeze,

The many places we have been to explore, relax, unwind and recharge,

Distant open sea, holiday coasts, countryside and wild bush destinations,

Even the stay put, open space of city park and close by walks,

We thank you for the people we have meet with

 Family ties strengthened in festive celebrations,

Old friendships renewed and new acquaintances made.

Saving God,

In this new year we’ve taken the time to look back and reflect:

On your grace and mercy shown in choosing to become one of us;

Dwelling with us and knowing life’s joys and deep sorrow and pain.

In Jesus, we encounter the great Love you have for your people;

We know forgiveness and new life in his death and resurrection,

We know your guidance and enabling through the Holy spirit’s presence.

We see how you have been with us in the ebbs and flows of the past year

How you have worked your purposes, purposes for good, in our lives.

Loving God,

We thank you for the chance to have a break and holiday;

To allow ourselves to be recharged, invigorated for what is to come.

We thank you for being with us in the difficulties that don’t take a break;

Your presence with us brings us hope and gives us peace.

Thank you that in our failings and wrong doings you are with us too,

You forgive us and reconcile us to you and each other.

As we settle into the routine again allow us not to loose sight of you,

Rather to see that you are the one who leads and guides in all of life.

God who holds our time in your hands,

At this new year we look forward with uncertainty,

While it may be more of the same, we do not know what is to come,

The seasons and currents of this world seem to be in flux,  

In our own lives we sense the winds of change blow,

Help us to look forward with the certainty of your presence,

Help us to move forward in faith, trusting your sovereign guidance,

Help us to know and show your generous love in all we say and do,

That we may indeed bring glory to you God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Great joy in the face of Great Sorrow (Matthew 2:1-18) Christmas Day Message

it may be a bit late (due to laptop dying on Christmas Day but here is the message from Christmas day 2016).

Sometimes it seems like things never change.

Super powers trying to impose their will on the world, I mean that’s why Mary and joseph were going to Bethlehem, right, It was a census, an upheaval imposed from afar, Caesar Augustus called it to  gather information to count heads so he could get more taxes and revenue for the Roman empire.

A housing crisis leading to a pregnant mother desperately seeking a place to have her child… finally being offered a stable. I’m sorry there is no room. IT’s not ideal but you can live in the garage, it better than being in your car!

 Paranoid dictators concerned about the rise of alternatives, sending death squads to make sure any resistance is stopped, and stamped out.  The weeping of mothers as government forces move in with brutal violence and little thought of mercy. Desperate refugees  clinging to, holding and shielding their little ones, making the long wearying  trek,  fleeing carnage, seeking refuge and asylum.

Maybe these things only register on the periphery of history and our consciousness. They go almost unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of our lives, family celebrations, holiday plans and simply keeping things going. In the face of dealing with our own news and our own  pain our own grief our own suffering and sorrows.

Sometimes it seems like things never change.  The nightly news sounds so much like the Gospel narrative of Jesus birth.

But Christmas tells us that they can and that they do change.

It tells us that in the midst of all the human activity and even inhumane horror, that God is concerned and God cares and chooses to do something to bring change. That in Jesus God stepped into our world, the word became flesh and dwell in our neighbourhood.  Not with power and might, or shock and awe as we’ve heard the US military talk of, not by coming to a place of influence and privilege, where he would be listened to by right, able to demand obedience. But by stepping into the everydayness of life:

Born to a young women of faith but not of status, the circumstances of her pregnancy somewhat suspicious, her fiancĂ©  caught between loving her and wanting to do the righteous thing and send her away, his dilemma only resolved by an angel appearing in a dream.

Born amidst the upheaval of a census, where displaced peoples mean there is only room in a local stable.

When his special birth is acknowledged by people from far off countries it just about ruins everything, by alerting Herod, that there is one born ‘King of the Jews’, a rival to his only families dynastic claims, and he sends in death squads to kill every male child under two. 

Born in to a refugee family, fleeing for his life.

But this child when a man would speak out about a different kind of Kingdom, a different way to live, where all were welcomed in to know God as father, to have a clean start and new life, and be enabled and empowered to love one another, to care for the poor and lost and the least, to overcome evil with good,. He talked of a world order flipped on its head where the least was important to God and the powerful seen as blind to their own need for change and transformation.

Then he would die on a cross, a criminals death, an innocent man killed for political expediency. But a death that the Gospel narratives display as a coronation, a victory over the powers of this world, over sin and death.

But that is not the end of this story. God raised him to life again. Things can change because we can have new life, a fresh start, be invigorated to love and serve and be peacemakers and live generously because of Jesus Christ.

There is great sorrow in the Christmas story it finishes with a lament, the weeping of mothers for their dead children. But it is a source of great Joy. It is Joy that God has kept his promise to step in and bring change.

It is a cause for great Joy, because in this baby born in Bethlehem, there is a light that points us to a way to bring change and transformation, in our own lives as we meet and give ourselves to Him, no longer a baby, but the Lord.

It is cause for great Joy, because in following Jesus example of loving one another, even our enemies and facing down evil and oppression with sacrificial love, and poverty with loving generosity… that it can change.

You see there is great joy because the Kingdom of God, the reign of God, has broken into the realm of man.  If we will but embrace it and allow Jesus to bring his light and new life into our lives we can be agents of change.

So rejoice and find great joy this Christmas, In Christ’s presence and grace.