Prayer: May your words be as a healing balm to the chaos and busyness of our lives. Still us in this moment that we may listen for your voice and your direction this Easter time. Amen.
If I was to ask you the question “What is the highest form of prayer?” what would your answer be....? I believe that the answer to this question is “tears.” We are often misunderstood when we cry, sometimes we think people will see it as a sign of weakness, sometimes we see it as sorrow, or joy, we cry when we are in pain or hurting, we cry when we remember in sadness and lament, we cry when we see a beautiful sunset or an amazing scene of God’s wonderful creation, we cry when we are born into this world and we would like to think that the world cries too when we depart this life.
As Jesus wept for Lazarus, as we weep when we are in pain, as we weep when we lose our loved ones in death, as we weep in thanksgiving for the life that dearly departed had and we have today, that is the highest form of prayer. Tears, our tears that connect us to God. It is when we are at our most vulnerable that we are open to the power of God in our lives. For some it is equally as easy for them to walk away sorrowing because God seems absent in their time of loss, but it is also a time where we find God in the midst of our struggle and crisis.
The first song we sang this morning was Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest…. Lord we lift up your name, with our hearts filled with praise, be exalted oh Lord our God, Hosanna in the highest. I visualise the fervour of the crowd, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the hope of new things to come… is it hard to pick up a palm and wave it enthusiastically when you know how the story is going to end?
Does this procession stir something up inside you still like it used to do for me in Sunday school or are we so steeped in our annual traditions that the remembrance no longer stirs anything within us? How can Easter be different for you and me this year? That is a question only you can answer. Are our voices raised in praise, or are our voices lamenting the things to come?
I guess it’s hard when we already know what is going to happen, very soon the shouts of hosanna will taunt crucify him, crucify him. We know that Jesus will be hung on a cross to die and three days later rise to newness of life. Riding with Jesus into Jerusalem that day were the hopes of the oppressed and exploited peoples and the oppressed and exploited individuals. His ministry demonstrated some realisation of hope for them then and hope for us today.
The Gospels all treat the palm and the passion narratives differently. In Matthew's gospel it is the voice of lament that pervades Matthew’s passion narrative. “My God, my God, why…?” marks more than the voice of Jesus as he hangs dying. We hear it as Judas betrays, as witnesses lie, as disciples desert and deny Jesus. We hear it as the women wait faithfully at the cross and the tomb. He also portrays the Twelve disciples in a harshly revealing light. Bid to keep watch with Jesus in prayer, they fall asleep repeatedly. Once arrest occurs, they flee into the night. They are not at the cross or the tomb as the women disciples keep vigil.
Do you have a Gospel preference for the Easter story, does it matter to you which version you read or listen to each year? Our lives are a combination of Christmas and Easter stories interweaving themselves in and out of our lives year in and year out. A combination of the good the bad and the ugly, we cannot always choose which chapter will be visited upon us this year and the next.
To journey with Jesus to Jerusalem is to journey with him to challenge and change the structures and authorities of religious leadership and piety. I believe that is quite a powerful statement. For us to journey with Jesus not just this week and next week and on Christmas day and all the other Christian celebrations but every day, means that we too cannot just sit back and allow ourselves to be silenced because of authority and power. This Palm Sunday journey is not just an annual event but is a guide for us to prepare ourselves for the different journeys in our lives that will lead us to shouts of betrayal and contradiction. How urgent is our passion that our conviction hurts us so much as to feel that God is abandoning us? Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane asks God to take
away from him the cup of suffering, I can’t take it, he says? Wow! Jesus the human admits his limitations, no way God am I going to die this horrible death. He can see the path laid out for him as if it is in DVD right in front of him, but then he adds, “Not my will, but yours be done”.
Not my will but yours be done. This is the form of highest prayer. Tears and total vulnerability. God take this cup of suffering away from me…. Not my will, but yours be done.
The highest form of prayer is tears. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of sorrow and loss, tears of conviction, tears of fulfilment and relief, tears of hopelessness and abandonment. Tears of faith.
God hears our lament as much as our praise. God will not desert us; God’s presence can be trusted. When have you felt compelled to raise your voice to God and cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We are invited into the story, to see in it images of darkness and despair of our own times and our own world.
We are invited into the story to also see within the darkness and despair, suffering and passion and death, a light that shone then, and shines still.
When you come for communion today, you will receive bread and wine as usual but you also carry
the palm cross as well. The crosses invite you to take the story away, as part of you, into the week ahead, the months, and the year; into your daily life.
To take the story, to take the images of the palms, the cross and the resurrection to be life-transforming and life-renewing for you and for the people of your daily lives. To let the daily experience of passion and rising, of death and resurrection bring life and light, joy and loving. Amen.
New Years Day sermon 2012 by Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai Davis
Prayer: Make me a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me show your love, where there is injury your pardon Lord, and where there’s sadness ever joy. Amen.
I want to begin by thanking our elders and members of our congregation who were able to make the funeral of Maurie Coates on Friday. It was unfortunate that there was no Sunday in between so that we could have made a general announcement; nevertheless there was standing room only and
approximately 250 people who attended his funeral. A neighbour commented yesterday “who was the statesman that died” in response to the cars and endless people who seemed to just keep coming from everywhere.
I wonder, what grand plans have you made for yourself this year? What are some of the goals that you have considered that are achievable and measureable the short and long term? You’ve
probably already familiar with the anagram S.M.A.R.T., which means that the goals we make should be Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timetabled and K.I.S.S. keep it simple stupid. Is it the same as every other year, no drama, no plans just business as usual? Or is there an element of hope and expectation in the possibilities that 2012 might carry for you? I wonder
how life would be if we entered every new year with the mind of a film maker like Stephen Spielberg or Peter Jackson that no two years would ever be the same. What can you and I do that would be different and perhaps a little bit more spectacular or exciting or even just a little bit more different to anything you have ever done before? If that is what you want, of course there are many of us also who prefer just to be thankful for every new day that you are on this earth and thank God for the air we breathe, the legs that God gave us to walk with, the hands we can work with, the eyes we can see with, the nose we can smell. Perhaps just giving thanks to God for the little things in life is also for some us giving thanks to God for the big things in life, because to be able to do these things
are big things for some of us. I know that when we are confronted with illness and injuries that threaten our five senses, our ability to walk and use our hands then we are ever so much more
thankful when we still have these basic gifts to live our lives with.
No one can completely plan our year accurately, nor does anyone have complete control over what happens at every point of our lives. When we drive on the roads no matter how considerate and careful we are, we are at the mercy of all the other drivers on the road and if they are reckless and abusive then they run the risk of endangering the lives of everyone else on the roads and nearby. We only need look at the statistics of this holiday period and the terrible tragedies we have experienced in the last week.
What stands can we make against the things that made us angry last year? What changes can we make in our lives that might benefit people beyond ourselves? Beyond our familiar circles?
Our two readings for today are both very familiar readings. The Ecclesiastes readings we had on Friday for Maurie’s funeral…
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Maurie’s funeral bought back some school memories. When I was at high school on my history school report, “Fei means well but will never be I fear an historian”. Admittedly I hated what we had been learning that year - it was all about the Boer war and he was so passionate about it and I remember just sitting there thinking, “what was so exciting about it”? No matter how hard I tried to remember the facts we studied I just couldn’t retain it in my head because I guess you had to care in the first place. I tried, I really did but somehow I failed. We don't like to talk about failing these days. I’m not a school teacher and I’m not sure whether teachers talk about failure these days or concentrate on the potential within everyone - “anyone here want to throw some light on the political correct way of teaching and encouragement?”
It was great listening to my nephew Albert sharing some of the highlights of the two years as a secondary school teacher at Tamaki Collegein Glen Innes. I asked him what the cultural makeup was of his school and was surprised when he said they had “one palagi” in the whole school and that that palagi totally enjoyed that status. Where-ever we live whether it be West Auckland, South Auckland, North or East we all have our own ideas about our place being the best place to live. We see youths with t-shirts and caps that say West side or south side, which indicates that that’s where they are from and that side rocks. If you are not from there then we tend to judge what we are most unfamiliar with. When we read of the terrible abuses that occur locally and internationally in our world we are disgusted and appalled and often with our disgust we condemn and judge because we can’t fathom or grasp the depth and levels people will stoop to harm or hurt another human being or animal or way of life.
The reality, of course, is that we do make judgments all the time, but we don't like to talk about judgment. We especially don't like to talk about God's judgment. But in this story in Matthew
chapter 25 verses 31-46, Jesus says that there will be a judgment day.
So many preachers over the centuries have wrestled with what this text means for us today. Are we saved because of our faith or because of our works the things that we do? Or is it a combination of
both? It is our faith that encourages us to live a life that cares for others - obviously if we didn’t
believe then we wouldn’t want to do (does that make sense?). We do things not out of a sense of duty but because we want to (does that make sense?). You know it, and you do it because you know it, you know what I mean? It’s not a cult thing, or a secret language or code of living; it’s about compassion and passion I guess. Unless I’m passionate about the Boer war history I’m not going to make sense of it for myself nor am I going to want to do anything with this knowledge. And it is the same with some of these biblical principles that Jesus talks about. Unless we understand
these verses as guides for life our life and the lives of those around us, it will never make sense. It is not about keeping a record of all the good things we have done, nor is it about good works and performance to guarantee us a place through the pearly gates of heaven. It is about compassion and love and sharing Christ centred values which will feed the hungry and clothe the naked, be a healing balm to the sick.
When Rewi was in hospital recently Tearoa, who worked in the same ward that we were in, cared for us. Tearoa you were a saint to us. When Rewi was brought his hospital food on a tray Tearoa graciously brought me fish and chips from the staff canteen; obviously I had the better deal. This is an example of what Jesus talks about in Matthew. Thank you Tearoa for your compassion, you were just what the doctor ordered for me.
We want to be able to answer those judgment questions confidently and positively should ever we be approached in this life or the next. I’m sure you do not need guidance on how to do this; it’s all part of human nature and the Christian way of life. Matthew merely provides us with a scary story to help motivate us in to honouring our fellow neighbours and humanity. Go therefore and do
CHRISTMAS DAY SERMON 2011 By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai
Do you love people watching? I do. The mall is a great place to do this. Strangely enough Rewi and I went 3 days in a row this week and I just did a lot of people watching. I watched a man talking and laughing to himself in the food hall; it was like he was talking to angels around him because I couldn’t see the people he seemed to be greeting as he sat there. I saw an elderly woman sit on the table next to him and I said to Rewi, ok I’m going to time how many minutes it will be before she moves. Sure enough when her daughter arrived with her food, they were up and moved as far away as possible. When he finally go up to leave he walked past us and we waved out to him to say hello and he looked chuffed and surprised that we noticed him and in return he wished us a merry Christmas and a happy new year and offered us God’s blessing. So there you go, you just don’t know where Christ is hiding in the mall, in our neighbourhood, in the food hall.
On Friday I was waiting in the car while my husband went into his man cave at Mitre 10. I just sat there and people watched listening to Christmas carols on the radio. I looked 2 rows over and saw a disabled woman on her knees at the hatchback end of her car pulling her wheelchair out of the car and then hoisting herself up and wheeling her way into the store. Sometime later she returns (before my husband) with a huge bag on her lap wheeling her way back to her car. I thought I can’t just sit here I must get up and help her. I saw people walking by looking at her wondering if/how they would assist. But then they saw me walking towards her and you could see their relief as I approached her. “Can I give you a hand,” I asked? “Oh, yes please,” she said, “but I’m probably more used to lifting heavy weights than you as I have to lift myself.” “Not a problem,” I said, “I’m happy to help.” Anyway, she says, “that’s 20kg of cat litter for $20; a real bargain, much cheaper than what you pay for 9kg at the supermarket…” “How many cats do you have,” I asked? “Oh just acquired my 9th,” she laughs. Then she pulls her iphone out of her pocket and shows me a photo of 3 of her cats. We chat and laugh a bit then we bid farewell and she goes off to Pak n Save across the road to do some grocery shopping leaving her car at Mitre 10. A God opportunity that was to show someone you cared about them. Even just a helping hand, we don’t have to have major plans to do God’s work, just be open to the spontaneity of God in the opportunities around us in our community. Last night before midnight I went for a drive down Henderson to see if I could find any homeless sleeping on the streets - maybe I was too early I didn’t see anyone. What was I going to do if I found them? I can just hear my mother saying to me “ia fa’afea la pe a e maua, la lou mea e mafai ona fai mo ia?” O iai na iloa? Only God knows, quite often I have no idea. How often do we just go with the random and trust God’s grace to intervene in any God given moment. Have you left a window of opportunity open this Christmas for a God given moment, an opportunity to give God a helping hand?
The message of the gospel of the Christ child, of Jesus of Nazareth is that there is hope for all of us. Hope for the weary, hope for the lost, hope for the forgotten, hope for the homeless, the disabled. Hope came alive for the Samaritan woman at the well, trapped in her state of loneliness, the leper amongst the tombs, considered to be a schizophrenic, the paralytic at the pool, waiting desperately to enter the healing waters. All of these and numerous other people in the bible were excluded from and condemned by society, at a time when they needed the accompaniment of an understanding and caring community the most.
Jesus’ words and action to these and so many others is always affirming and reassuring; and always pointed to life beyond the misery of the moment. Jesus’ ministry is always a signpost of hope for the troubled people he encountered then and now; and for those of us struggling to make sense of life’s challenging and troublesome circumstances, Jesus is that beacon of hope at this Christmas time. I suggest that Christmas points to the extraordinary gift of God’s presence in the person of Jesus, who enables us to see differently, to claim possibilities, and to live above the fray.
Christmas is often a time of despair and struggle when the reality of “not being able to provide and give the gifts that the malls seem to be selling or the music seems to be playing out. For many Christmas is a time of loss and death and grief as loved ones just cannot hold on for another day. The Christmas Carol “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see Thee lie” informs and inspires my convictions concerning hope.
...Yet in thy dark street shineth
the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in Thee tonight
Like I said last night at our Christmas Eve service, Christmas 2011 greets us with the vulnerability and fragility of Christchurch, a city rocked time and time again from earthquakes and aftershock after aftershock. We are also confronted with families and children experiencing despicable and tragic acts of violence against them and so we need to reflect on our communities and the people around us, our neighbours, our communities, our schools, our cities, our nation. The hopes and fears of all the years must be met in Christ today.
Christmas is not just tonight and tomorrow, today marks the beginning of the work of Christmas for the rest of the year. Today we are challenged to imagine who is lost, who is hungry, who needs peace in March and April. When the shepherds have gone home, the tinsel and the lights are packed away for another year; Christmas for us has just begun. Remember to surprise and bring joy to another, to find someplace to offer the song of the angels to someone who needs not only in December but also in June and whenever.
Howard Thurman puts it this way in his poem “The Work of Christmas”: Which we will sing next week.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
I pray that this Christmas season will rekindle God’s gift of hope within us and stir us to keep it alive; that the message and meaning of Christmas will resonate with our struggle and search for a life of quality; and that God’s miracle of intervention will meet us at the point of our need.
Merry Christmas and God bless. Amen.
Colin Cowan, Christmas message from CWM General Secretary – Hope
The Cannanite Woman By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai
For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
I wonder what it would feel like if we had to rush to the doctors or to the hospital looking esperately for a doctor to heal our sick child and receptionist at the window serves someone else ahead of us because we are the wrong colour or unable to speak English or wearing the wrong clothes. And to add insult to injury she then has the audacity to ask us to go outside and wait whilst others are offered a warm room and a chair to sit in. We go outside only to find that the only other things waiting outside were the dogs of the owners inside the clinic. Am I really making this comparison with the reading we just had from the Gospel of Matthew? Surely this man Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah could not stoop so low as to treat a fellow human being with disdain and insult this woman to her face!
When I visited the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg in South Africa in June, it was unbelievable to think that a whole nation would stoop so low as to define and categorise people because of their race and skin colour. You were either black, coloured or white and, if you were white, then you received a much more privileged life. In mixed race families there were cases where a child was born white and another black; both same biological parents and both destined to live extremely different lives: one of privilege and the other underprivileged. Any colour other than white was unfortunate and unlucky. In India many Hindu’s find Christianity attractive and acceptable because there is no caste system and all are equal in the sight of the Christian God. But there are reports that some Christians who come from the upper castes (i.e. Brahmin class) refuse to serve communion to Indians of lower castes and especially the untouchables or dalit castes. Some of you may have watched Kevin McLeod’s documentary last night on his two week stay in Mumbai formerly Bombay. Last week he spent a night sharing a slum home with 21 family members in literally 2 rooms. In this week’s episode it was only after going out to the rubbish dump to work with people recycling rubbish for 1 pound a day that he realized how wrong his perception of life was. On his return visit to this same family the following week, where they lived and how they lived didn’t seem so bad after all. Life took on a completely different perspective when he experienced the desperate measures people went to day in day out just to provide an existence for their families.
Perhaps from an Indian context Jesus was a Brahmin and this woman a dalit and untouchable. In
the context of the Middle East for Jesus to call this Gentile woman a dog meant that she was unclean and shouldn’t be hanging around Jews.
You all know by now that I am a lover of dogs and many people tell me that Bailey and Peanut are very spoilt dogs, in fact they think they are human being. They have their own beds, their own heater, their own wardrobe and two servants 24 hours a day. For some of us dogs become part of the family. There is a recorded story about how a woman named Leona Helmsley left $12m in her will for her dog. So what’s so bad about being a dog?—especially if you are Leona Helmsley’s dog?
In 1st century Palestine, there was no such thing as domestic dogs. The only dogs around were wild dogs, roaming the wilderness, scavengers, eating unclean animals and even human carcasses. (Isaac, 2009) I wonder if this was the sort of dog that Jesus was referring to when he told the woman from Syrophonecia when she went seeking healing for her daughter from him that "Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She replied and said to Him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps."
This is an interesting story the woman kneels before Jesus and begs him “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon.” She addresses Jesus as both Lord and Son of David, words that a Jew might use for the Messiah – but she is a Canaanite woman. This woman is doubly an outsider, a foreigner and a woman. The interesting thing is that Jesus does not immediately respond to her yet throughout the Gospels Jesus immediately responds to anyone who cries out to him for mercy or salvation or healing. We could make excuses for him and say that he must have been so tired from the crowds and this get away retreat was rudely disturbed by a stranger?
The disciples offended by the woman’s screaming ask Jesus to send her away. It is not clear whether they want to just get rid of her or give her what she wants so that she will leave.
It is inconceivable to think that Jesus was literally calling this woman and her daughter “a dog.” If anyone was to refer to any of us here as a dog especially of the female variety we would be very offended and might even offer a similar expletive in response or retaliation. This woman is asking
for healing and Jesus responds basically saying that his own people “the children” are his priority, why would I want to use my gifts on second class citizens or worse still dogs? But isn’t her response brilliant “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then He said to her, "For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter." When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. Jesus metaphorically refers to the Jews as children and to the Gentiles as pups. In effect, he seems to be calling the woman’s daughter a dog. But, just as in a household the leftover scraps are given to the household dogs who
usually wait beneath the table, the woman argues so Gentiles should be able to benefit from the ministry of Jesus.
Because the woman believed and stood up to Jesus, her daughter was cured. Faith, no matter whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, is what characterizes an authentic disciple of Jesus. It is a woman who gets the best of Jesus. Mark is particularly sensitive to women and their needs. They occupy key positions throughout the Gospel. Why? Because in general they were powerless people. This story shows that it is the powerless who are really powerful.
Here in Phoeniciasomething different, something radically new happens. A Canaanite woman challenges Jesus. This woman doesn’t really care that she doesn’t belong. The suffering of her daughter compels her to violate boundaries, to go where she shouldn’t, to beg from strangers. Desperation can make you go crazy. When you care about something so much—it’s all you can think about—and you feel like your hands are tied, you go crazy.
The woman is saying that God’s grace and God’s love is for everyone. The Syrophoenician woman represents those outsiders. Who are we to judge those called by God? The Christian community can and should include those quite different to ourselves. This woman is different in ethnic background, religion and outlook. That does not matter. What counts is her faith, and to a lesser extent, her intelligence and wit. We must extend the same openness to those different to ourselves and our communities.
It seems to me that this reading is about the universality of the Gospel – it is not limited to a geographical area, a certain kind of person, a particular situation. Furthermore, Jesus enables people to hear the Good News and to speak it. And again there are no limits. We should expect the unexpected in our Christian walk.
This story innocently portrays Jesus expressing a racist stance only to abandon it when put under pressure. The abandonment of prejudice, the crossing of the traditional boundary, is the good news of the story and why it was told. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Jesus, himself, had to make a transition, had to learn. His response was more typical of the rather conservative Judaism of the time. Is it embarrassing that Jesus was human, too? Does it make the gospel any less valid if the historical Jesus also had to struggle to come to terms with the negative in his upbringing? (Loader). This story remains relevant for us today. Who are we to judge those called by God? The Christian community can and should include those quite different to ourselves. We must extend the same openness to those different to ourselves and our communities.
We are invited to love one another as we love ourselves, go then and do likewise. Let us pray…
Isaac, M. P. (2009). Desperate: a sermon on the Syrophoenician woman
Loader, W. Pentecost 9: 14 August Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28
SERMON 31 JULY 2011 - “Bring your nothing to me” By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai
Prayer: May the words…
There have been times during my ministry here at St. Andrew’s when I have felt absolutely empty and depleted of all energy and resources and I have stepped faithfully out of my front door on a Sunday morning completely reliant on God to inspire me and give me the words to preach to you from the pulpit. These times are when I am at my most vulnerable and I think I have nothing to say and nothing to offer. There have been times when even during the offering I’m thinking God what are we going to do? I have never said “God what am I going to do?” I have always felt a dual responsibility to provide inspiration for God’s people. “God you put me here, so you better perform a miracle or your people are not going to be fed. Do you want them to go home still hungry?” And the amazing thing is that those are the fullest times of my ministry, I pray the prayer of illumination “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight Oh God our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.” And it is at that point that the miracle occurs and the words begin to flow. In my emptiness and my vulnerability the Holy Spirit always steps in and fills me to overflowing and strengthens my confidence. It’s scary stuff; there is doubt and uncertainty because that’s just human nature at its best. I remember sharing with Bruce afterwards about this vulnerability and Bruce you have said to me, Fei you should have more of these sorts of times because this is when you are at your best (or words to that effect).
There have been times when I have been called on to pray and preach in the Samoan language with absolutely no notice at all and my Samoan language is not that good at these sorts of times. I remember gulping at the shock of having to offer a pastoral prayer to a family whose mother had just died at our family home, this was about 20 years ago. I was also traumatized by the event as it had all happened in my bedroom and she had died on my bed. At the request of our family minister
for me to pray I stood to my feet numbed by the experience but performing my duty to do what was required of me at the time. I opened my mouth and I said in Samoan “Agaga Paia e, fesoasoani mai…” and that is all I remember. I sat down at the end of my prayer feeling that something amazing had just happened. My minister and my father said to me, that was a beautiful prayer, and even to this very day I can’t remember what I said or how long I prayed for. All I do remember is that God filled my emptiness and used me to minister to a family in need at that particular time. I have to admit its horrible feeling vulnerable and uncertain, but God remains faithful to us especially at these times and waits to perform miracles when we least expect it.
“We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
This story reminds me that sometimes Jesus is asking me to simply give my nothing—my little loaves and fishes—and then to stand back and watch Jesus teach a different kind of economy, an economy grown by God’s abundance. You know this story. After the news of the murder of his friend John, Jesus retreats to a lonely place; I imagine to mourn. The locals get wind that Jesus has come. The crowd is overwhelming and needy. Jesus heals with compassion. The crowd stays late, and the disciples want to send the people away so they can get something to eat. Jesus wants to teach his disciples something fundamental about the nature of God. Jesus says, “You feed them.” The disciples look puzzled. They have nothing. No food. No reserves. They stare out at a hungry mass of people that looks more and more like a hungry mob. The disciples respond, “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, “Bring your nothing to me.” He blesses the fish and bread and proceeds to distribute food to the masses. As Matthew tells the story, “All were filled” (Johnson, Jul 28, 2008)1 from the five barley loaves and two fish. With that gift Jesus gives thanks and begins to distribute the food. Miraculously, all have plenty to eat. The crowds of people are in need. Not only are they hungry; the food supply is limited, and there does not appear to be enough to satisfy the hunger of all. Obviously, some will be sent away with little or nothing. Those responsible for controlling the crowds wonder how this precious food should be distributed. Then, in the midst of this need, something extraordinary happens. Not only is food provided, but more is available than is required. How did this happen? What are we to make of it?
The feeding can be taken as a nature miracle; Jesus producing food for the hungry crowd as a sign that he is the Son of God. At the opposite end of the scale it can be taken as a "miracle of sharing”. We notice that Jesus did not start with empty hands. Were there many people present who had food hidden away in their lunch boxes? We have no way of telling. In a sense it does not matter.
It is clear that even the disciples do not expect Jesus to feed the people in the way he does. He also makes the excessive generosity of Jesus very clear. Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the scraps. What started with five loaves and two fish ends up with a satisfied crowd and twelve baskets. One can only assume that the twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. In other words, there is in Jesus enough to satisfy the religious needs of all.
The miracle asks the church the question, "Doyou believe God will provide what you need to do the ministry God wants done?" Note the essential qualifiers -- what we need, not want, and the ministry God wants, not necessarily the ministry we’ve planned. Another way to ask the question: Do we operate according to a mind-set of abundance or of scarcity?
There is much hunger in the world today. Millions of people go to sleep with empty stomachs. We see the current crisis in Somalia; children are bloated from malnutrition and too hungry to cry. More than twelve million people facing starvation in the worst drought to hit East Africa in 60 years. 37.4% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the highest rate ever. Severe drought, soaring food prices and conflict have left millions at risk of starvation and disease in Somalia, Kenyaand Ethiopia. Pastures are barren, livestock are dying, water sources are dry and children are starving. It has been described as a “human tragedy of unimaginable proportions” by the UN.
When some hear the Gospel message they respond I don’t want life after death I want it now before death. What do we do? What can we do? Why can’t God perform a miracle for these people now, today? There is much about man-made barriers preventing aid from getting through to those in need, monetary aide form the USA decreased because of its own debt crisis. I’m afraid I have no answers or solutions to these age old questions either. We can only pray and hope that all agencies will work together to relieve this world crisis.
God is ever faithful in our times of crisis and emptiness, Paul often talked about when I am empty then I am full. Sometimes it is good to bring our vulnerability and emptiness to the foot of the cross and wait for God to work his miracle in and through us when we least expect it. “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish,” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
1. Johnson, T. D. (Jul 28, 2008). The God of abundance
CENTENNIAL SERMON TO CELEBRATE 100 YEARS OF ST. ANDREW’S PRESENCE IN HENDERSON 17TH JULY 2011 - By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai Davis
Psalm 100:8 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Ephesians 3:7-21, 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
How do you condense 100 years into a 15 minute sermon? Easy, you don’t. Most of you have a copy of the Centenary booklet full of the wonderful memories of St. Andrew’s from its very first years as a church categorized as “an aided charge”, too small to support itself financially, which even then couldn’t sustain itself so had to revert to the status of being a “Home Mission Station”. St. Andrew’s has survived 2 world wars and a depression and, even now today, emerging from the recession we have survived. And how have we managed to survive for 100 years? “By the grace of God.” We have come thus far by the grace of God. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
On one of my visits back to Auckland in 1994 I remember driving past the St. Andrew’s sign on Great North Road and thinking at the time “hmmm, that would be a good Parish to work in. There was not any special reason, it was just a feeling I had; I believe it was my first sense of call to St. Andrew’s. I knew absolutely nothing about this congregation or the crazy people that worshipped here. The only compelling feeling I had at the time was the fact that this was West Auckland, my home turf. I did not know that the minister at time Rev. Karel Lorier was leaving that year. I had just accepted the call to St. Andrew’s College in Birmingham, England so it remained just a passing thought at the time. Seven years later that sense of call was confirmed after Rev. Tino Scanlan took up the call to St. Paul’s, Manurewa. God alone knows the plans laid out for us long before we do.
Thank God for that notice board. But you know my only bone of contention with this place over the years is the Church buildings’ lack of physical visibility within Henderson. Unless you live on Tara Road or at the North end of Kereru Road you wouldn’t know that we existed. On the day of my induction here on January 23rd 2003 a few of my friends never made it because they couldn’t find the church. I have been told that there used to be a large wooden cross made from railway sleepers that you could see from Great North Road; unfortunately this was stolen some years ago. I’ve often been asked if my church is the Baptist Church or St. Michael’s Anglican Church. I even wondered why we put a house on the main road and the church at the back but anyway, as the saying goes these days, “go figure.” Last week I buried Sheena Mennie who was a member of Massey Presbyterian church until she missed the bus and followed the singing from the bus stop on Great North Road, along Phoenix house walkway to our church. She stayed with us from that day and came when she wasn’t in and out of hospital. I wonder how many more would opt for our type of church if they knew we were here?
I believe that this community of saints is quite unique because it prides itself in its “laid backness” we don’t point the finger or do a roll call every week to see how many Sunday’s you’ve missed in coming to Church. We don’t panic when people need to take a break, and why is that some might say? Because the reality is that almost everyone here is extremely busy, many of you work in the weekends. If you have a look at the photos of yesteryear particularly the Sunday school photo there are a lot of children in those photos, and this would be a similar picture in every church in New Zealand at the same time. Sunday school was the normal place to go on a Sunday. I was surprised when our family first moved to the Presbyterian Church in 1969 that some of the kids in my Sunday school class were dropped off at church by parents who didn’t attend. I didn’t understand why this was so. There used to be a time when children were to be seen and not heard, my how times have changed. When I see young families come to church today I celebrate the fact that you are here at all and think of how hard it must have been just to arrive here this morning. We don’t shush our children anymore; we celebrate their presence and their participation in our service of worship. They are not just the church of tomorrow, but very much the church of today. I am proud of the St. Andrew’s heritage of children taking up the offering on Sundays and all ages and generations participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion - it’s not just for those confirmed but for the whole people of God. Sure, as your minister I wish that the church was this full every Sunday, but as a realist I also understand the demands and expectations that society places on all of us economically.
We are the hands, the feet, and the voice of Christ in the heart of Henderson. By the grace of God we have come thus far and the one thing that remains sure and steadfast (as the Boys Brigade Motto reminds us) is the faithful stream of St. Andrews stalwarts who have remained the pillars of our church community over the years. Ministers have come and gone yet the elders and the families that have been the glue that have held this church together over its one hundred year history remain.
So when Paul wishes for us that we might be filled with God, he knows very well that this cannot happen by our own efforts. Instead it is the power of Christ at work in our hearts through faith. And as the Church, broken, as we are, inexperienced as we are, sometimes frightened as we are, Christ has called us, along with a host of others, to be the bearers of the Good News of God's love. For as we share this love, we learn it, we grow in it, and most importantly it transforms us, converts us, and embraces us in this love God which is Jesus Christ. And this kind of love does not seek to escape from the world, but rather to enter into its suffering that it might know the reconciliation and grace of Christ's love. (Love, 2007)
I love the words of William Loader who describes the church as being “God’s risk of love in history, as mature and immature as the average of its members, but God’s promise of the kingdom for now. Let us rejoice in the freedom of the Spirit that knows no bounds, that leads us beyond our fears and our barriers to the uttermost ends of the world, and that brings us back to the centre, to the Word of God borne witness to by Holy Scripture: God in whom we live and move and have our being and whose family we are.”(Loader)
And so it is with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness that I pay tribute to the wonderful men and women, youth and children, many of whom have died who have kept our church faithful and our worshipping community alive.
May God continue to shower us with the many blessings we have been privileged to receive and share over these 100 years. May our church continue to be that beacon of hope in Henderson that invites our local community to come, be, share, and witness the love of God in action at home. Thank you to all of you who without you we would not exist.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
Love, J. (2007).
I remember when mum and dad went overseas to the United States with the Samoan nurses association in the early 1980s and, believe it or not, trusted us their children to live at home by ourselves; mind you we were pretty grown up by then - I was 19. Mum and dad stocked up the pantry and the fridge and freezer and left money for us and lots of instructions and rosters for cooking, etc. We were thrilled that we were being trusted to stay at home by ourselves; it was awesome. We had a youth get-together with Mangere PIC church during that time and when two of the families heard that we were on our own they were there like a shot with a whole lot of groceries to keep us going even though we assured them we were fine. No one asked them to come but they just appeared unannounced to help us, to advocate.
“When I am gone I will send a helper, an advocate, the Holy Spirit…”
It is easy to take instructions when you know your parents are going away on an overseas trip. There is excitement, anticipation, a little bit of “hmmm, I wonder what we could get up to while they’re away?” We know they are coming back so it is ok to receive the last minute lectures and commandments that we have to obey while they are gone.
Wouldn’t it be equally great if we could also sit and listen to those final instructions with the ones we love before they die? If you love me you will do as I say you will obey my commandments. I will ask the father and he will give you another helper who will stay with you forever….when I go you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.
I can imagine a parent saying this to a child and the child responding, “Where are you going, I don’t want you to go, I want to come, I don’t want another helper, I want you.”
“How can you say I will not be left all alone when you are going away, it doesn’t make sense?” And in some ways that is the response one would expect from a child, it would be difficult to have farewell discourse like this dialogue that Jesus had with his disciples.
Remember that ad on television where the father is dying in bed and he calls his oldest son to his side and he whispers, “look after your mother” then he breathes his last breath. The younger brother says “what did he say” and his older brother replies, “He said I can have his chain saw.” That is a farewell scene that many of us who had the chance to say goodbye are familiar with. Some of us have probably experienced that very scene and been given final instructions for life by a loved one. Even in our state of health it is hard to talk about “when I die, or when I’m gone” no one wants to even imagine the possibility “stop it, I don’t want to hear it, you’re not going anywhere” and we would rather not say anything than talk about the inevitable that will happen to all of us at some time in our life. I don’t care, I just don’t want to talk about it.
No, its ok I’m going and I’m going to send someone else along to help you and then before you know I will be back. Pretty hard to understand and comprehend especially if you have experienced death before and you know that that person you loved did not come back and they did not send anyone else to come and keep you company in the meantime.
But this is just what Jesus said to them when he was trying to explain to them what was going to happen soon to him and to them. It’s like that British comedy “Allo, Allo” when the French spy comes in and says “listen fery garefully I will say this vunce and vunce only…”
Something was going down and Jesus wanted his disciples prepared for when that time came. Listen up, I will say this once and once only…in a little while…” They couldn’t shoo Jesus away and tell him to stop talking nonsense and hold their hands up to their ears pretending to block out the words, they needed to stop and listen to these final instructions because it was obvious, something was going on.
In a nutshell “when the disciples love Christ and get on with the job, two important things will accompany them. John lists them in 14:16-17 and in 14:18-21. Jesus defines his own role in 14:16 as a ‘helper’ (parakletos). It is the word used for a support person, especially in court, and can also be translated ‘advocate’ or ‘counsel’ or ‘counselor’.(1)
When we go through hard times and difficulty, when we need to visit the doctors or go to court we don’t want to go alone, we like to be accompanied by someone we love or someone who will support us and just hold our hands through the ordeal. When we find it even more difficult to understand everything that is going on in our lives and things just need a little guidance and help then often a counselor is just the person to step in and help us untangle the confusion and chaos that seems to have crept into our once peaceful world.
That is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples about not being left alone. When I’m gone you wait and see you will not be alone. You will know that I am with you because you will feel supported when times are tough, you will not feel abandoned like an orphaned child because I will be with you in spirit. O le tapuaiga fa’aleagaga. We’ve all said it to each other from time to time, sorry I can’t be there but I’ll be praying for you or I will be with you in spirit. And the truth is you know it and you do feel their presence. “O ou ma ma na” you go with the blessings and the spirits of the people.
That is what it feels like to have the support of absent friends at weddings and funerals. Christ with us, Christ with you, Christ with me, at the heights of human delight and the depths of human despair I know you have experienced that presence. It might not be obvious at first and sometimes it is only in retrospect but somehow, somewhere we have made it. And how? By the grace of God. We have come thus far by the grace of God. And sometimes you just can’t explain it because it is a miracle, to do so would take the power and the mystery of God away. It just happened you can’t explain it. We have one or two walking miracles here with us this morning … Pule, we should rename you “Lazarus.” We praise God that you are here. We all have been brought thus far by the grace of God.
Jesus reminded his disciples back then and continues to remind us all today that “I will not leave you all alone. The helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you. My Peace is what I leave with you.
We have a favorite family song which we love to sing at special family gatherings “O lo’o ia I le mamalu o le Atua i lenei mea ua ou faalogoina lona mana agalelei, surely the presence of the Lord is in this place I can feel his mighty power and his grace…” and we sing that song not because it is a song but because it is true, we have experienced it and we know it. It is our theme song and our song of strength when the times are tough and our song of celebration and thanksgiving.
(1) Loader, W. (29 May 2011). First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary Easter 6. Retrieved from http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MtEaster6.htm
Well we are still here after 6pm yesterday; the end of the world didn't happen as predicted. Did anyone here prepare for the possibility?
Remember Y2K when everyone was encouraged to go and buy gas cookers, lots of bottled water and prepare for our computers to crash when we switched from 1999 to 2000. Eleven years later and we are still doing well. If anything the nation is probably a little bit more prepared for possible earthquakes and natural disasters than it has been in recent years. We have been warned and we have the front of the yellow pages to remind us what to do in the event of a nature disaster, what to pack, and where to go.
Then of course there is the other advertisement on television with Keith Quinn reminding us to be prepared for that inevitable time of life when we die. The preparedness is probably more about leaving our loved ones in the lurch financially, so we are encouraged to take out insurances that will cover our funeral expenses at the time of death.
Our Gospel reading from John is really about the next phase of our preparedness, are we prepared for our next dwelling place? Do you feel confident that there is room for you in God’s mansion? Rewi and I went for a country drive yesterday to Puhoi, we have driven past it so many times on our way up to Russell but have never had time to stop and visit. So yesterday we decided to go there for lunch. On our way we stopped off at Waiwera beach and took the dogs for a walk along the beach and admired a few houses along the shoreline. Couldn’t see any real estate agents to see what was for sale and also how much it would cost to live there. We came away having decided that either nobody wanted to sell or that there was nothing there and no reason that anybody would want to buy, apart from the seaside of course. But then the new added perspective when viewing houses on the shoreline is “will this house withstand a tsunami or is it earthquake proof”?
Should we be worried about finding a place? After all Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
This is the Christian guaranteed passport into that hotel of eternity, knowing Jesus and knowing God through him. This is that special visa that will get us through customs and through to the waiting courtesy van to take us straight to this 5 star hotel that God has built especially for us. Christianity prides itself in this exclusive access to God’s mansion because the only way one can attain a visa is by going through his Son Jesus Christ to get your passport stamped. John is quite specific here he says “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me….” How do you feel about that, the requirements don’t seem too difficult to attain or achieve, many of us have had all our lives to work towards our visa applications, and if you want all your friends and family around you in this place then we all have to start marketing Jesus and showing everyone the way to the Father. That’s the road to eternity in a nutshell.
Non Christians have often argued that this is exclusive access to God what right does Jesus have to claim that “no one can come to God except through him?” Is the Christian faith elitist? Is that a fair question?
If Jesus has claimed through our reading from John that he is the way the truth and the life then what is he claiming? I believe Jesus is claiming that it is not just a belief in him that will get us that visa stamp but a belief in his truth and that truth is a lifestyle change. I am the “way” a new process for living that is founded on justice and integrity not only for ourselves but for those we are called to serve and live amongst. The “truth” that we live with honesty and integrity, we treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated, we live knowing that our neighbours are not starving and homeless and we feed the widow and the orphan. The “life” that Jesus has come that we might have life and life in all its fullness. Last week I tried to sum up what this fullness might be “Fullness of life in the spirit of Christ allows us to live peaceably and fully knowing that we are thankful for everyday that God gives us to live and breathe on this planet earth. That regardless of how much money we may or may not have, what car or scooter we drive, what clothes we wear, we are here for a purpose and that purpose is revealed to us each new day.”
I was watching secret millionaire last week where a billionaire and his wife left their huge gated mansion to go out into the poverty stricken streets to look for projects to sponsor and support. You could see how uncomfortable they were at the beginning to be working amongst HIV positive people; slowly you could see their confidence building. By the end of the program they were hugging one another and feeling confident in each other’s company. The program returned to the huge gates of their mansion and the husband utters these closing words “I realized that these gates were built to shut the world out.” He realized that his life was so much fuller without the gates, he learnt love and grace and compassion by living in the midst and in the heart of the city that he tried to shut out. That is our calling too. I believe that this is what Jesus means when he calls us to go through him to God. Many religions claim to know God without having to go through Jesus Christ and that is the freedom of choice and freewill. This passage of scripture although exclusive is not a just a stamp on a passport, it is a stamp that in order to get through customs you have to do the hard yards. Attached to that visa is check list and that checklist is made up of questions for you to fill in yourself. Are we people of integrity who have served our fellow human being in the way that leads to fullness of life?
If you want to guarantee a visa stamp it’s not just about being able to say “oh I’m a Christian I’ve been born again, I’ve accepted Jesus Christ into my life”. That is so easy to say and do; we do it and think that that is all we need to do. If that was all it required then, yes, that is exclusive access to God. But I believe the exclusivity comes with huge responsibility and that responsibility is Love in action.
I think that the guaranteed stamp for your visa application is found in Matthew 25 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ You never know when you have missed your challenge to serve and be the presence of Christ in your life today. Who knows, when you arrive at customs you might be confronted with these facts…” 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ Our reply might ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? ‘and Jesus will reply 45 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ I know that when I get to customs I want to hear these words ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Well done good and faithful servant enter into the glory of God. Auauna lelei e ma le faamaoni ulufale maia I le fiafia o lou Alii. Go now and do likewise. Amen.
SERMON 15 MAY 2011
“Life in all its fullness”
By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai Davis
PRAYER: Give us ears to hear and open our mouths that we may proclaim your greatness in our lives. Enable us in all our dealings with people to be genuinely humble, actively compassionate, gentle peacemakers who bring with us wherever we go the joy of Christ. Amen.
I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness… Ua ou sau ina ia latou maua le ola, ia maua atili ai lava. I wonder what that fullness of life looks like? Pe faapea fea foliga o lenei olaga? If I was to ask you what does life in all its fullness look like to you? What does it mean for you? What would your answer be?
For many of us as the years are added to our age every year, I know sometimes we wish we could stop the clock or go back to a time when we could do everything and not have to worry about this leg or that knee, my gout or my arthritis, my diabetes, the list can go on. We have all heard it said to us, and we have said it as well to others, “when I was your age I could do this and do that.” Many of us can talk of our younger days and recall times when we had more energy and strength, more get up and go. Some of you don’t need to look for memories or reminisce because you are still very young and have so much looking forward to do in your lives. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. What does fullness of life look like to you? Are we there yet? Has anyone been there, arrived, and gone beyond?
Many preachers quote John 10:10 as support for the idea that Christianity leads to physical prosperity and "every good thing." Prosperity theology, also known as, "Prosperity Doctrine," "Health and Wealth," "Name It and Claim It," or "Blab It and Grab It" and there is too much of that going on in a lot of these Mega churches. When you become a member of such a church you must first sign a direct debit form for your weekly tithing. Wow that would be so cool if we did something similar here eh, commit to us every week half your pay packet, and too bad how you going to pay your bills and put food on your table.
Too much negative Christianity is being preached in churches these days. I remember being told at a youth meeting I went to in Wellington when I was in my twenties that the word Christian meant “Christ-i-a(m)n(othing). I thought wooo slow down there, aren’t we supposed to be building up the self esteem of these young people? As the national youth co-coordinator of the Presbyterian Church I was called to work with and serve these young people who to me were something, something very important. As a minister it was my duty to direct them to be something, to find life in all its fullness. The word Christian does not mean Christ I am nothing, but because of Christ you are everything. Too much prosperity theology and too much judgmental theology creates division and dissension and perpetuates a world of haves and have-nots, blessed and cursed, rich and poor and them and us.
This verse has been used as a description of the Christian life, the normative pattern of life that Christians can expect because of God's blessings. Thank God for my wealth, thank God that I am not living like those people over in the next suburb, poor things, fancy having to live in that neighbourhood.
Many of you know I have been trying to study towards my PhD for too long now that I am too embarrassed to tell you just how many years. It was my goal to graduate when I turned 40. Today I’m 50 years old and I’m 4 months into my PhD programme at Auckland University of Technology and for the first time in 14 years it finally makes sense. I thought it did back then, but now I understand why it felt like I was trying to push a huge boulder uphill and every time I stopped it nearly crushed me in my tracks, and it took everything to keep it from rolling all the way back to the bottom of hill. In the end you know I had to let it go and wave goodbye to it and watch it smash at the bottom knowing that that was it. That was a necessary part of letting go in order to start afresh. When that metaphoric boulder smashed I was able to grab a chunk of that shattered dream and hold on to it. I believe that piece of rock that I grabbed was hope towards fullness of life. Fullness of life for me means not just finding the time to do the things that I am passionate about but also having the strength and the energy to do these things that will help me be more effective and help others be more effective and achieve their goals as well.
Other versions of the Bible call this fullness, abundance – life abundantly. Abundant life, the chance to not simply persist, but thrive, to not simply exist, but flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted.
John 10:10 does not promise an improved physical life for us Christians. The passage promises superior, abundant spiritual life, life empowered by the indwelling of Jesus Christ. Because we "have “this opportunity to invite Jesus to be a part of our lives we have the riches of a full life, life in abundance. John 10:10 promises a spiritual dimension to life, not physical wealth and health prosperity abundance.
Fullness of life as intended by Christ is life as we should live everyday of our lives regardless of our state of wellbeing and health. Fullness of life in the spirit of Christ allows us to live peaceably and fully knowing that we are thankful for everyday that God gives us to live and breathe on this planet earth. That regardless of how much money we may or may not have, what car or scooter we drive, what clothes we wear, we are here for a purpose and that purpose is revealed to us each new day. Not too romantic for you?
Think for a moment about the most important relationships in your life. How would you describe the way these relationships shape your actions?
We are creatures of habit who get used to living life the way we always have because we are shaped by our culture, our environment, society and those around us. When the relationships are broken and dysfunctional then our lives often reflect that brokenness and dysfunction. When they are positive and whole then we tend to emanate that in ourselves and in those we are in relationship with. In other words we reap what we sow, if we sow positivity and encouragement, we receive the same in return. What goes round comes round.
In what ways can you and I help make the lives of other’s easier to bear? I know that as a minister I need to be challenged always not to overburden myself and you with too much expectation especially financially.
We are the sowers of the seeds of many things both positive and negative. Our challenge today is to place the things we say and do as well as ourselves in front of mirror and take a good hard long look at what we see. Will we remember what we see; will our good faith in action reflect back on us in the lives of those with whom we are in relationship with, our family, our friends our church community? That is the challenge for you and I.
Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep – intimately and truly – and who calls us by name so that we, hearing the difficult truth about ourselves, may believe and receive the second and wonderful truth about God's great and victorious love for us. In the name of the living Christ. Amen.
 Lose, David, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair Luther Seminary St. Paul, MN http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=475
SERMON 1ST MAY 2011
By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai Davis
The Peace of Christ be with you all… These were the words that Jesus greeted his disciples within that closed room.
We didn’t need to be in attendance in London at Westminster Abbey to believe that Kate Middleton would make a beautiful bride, and perhaps we don’t need to know much about Prince William and Princess Katherine to know that the look they gave each other on their wedding day was one of “true love” of course the royal skeptics all have their own opinions. I found it very interesting to flick between tv1 and tv3 and I found TV 1 via BBC transmission very respectful and pro-royal family, whereas I found tv3’s commentary a little sarcastic and cynical at times and for me it was not something I was in the mood for on this special day. I think for a lot of the world they just all wanted to see “a dream come true for this special couple.” We have all grown up with the ‘…and they lived happily ever after’ and for many it was nice to see something of a fairytale coming true.
We’ve all heard the phrase “seeing is believing” or we sometimes rush in from witnessing something spectacular and begin with a negative, we say, “you won’t believe what I just saw” or if we have seen a blast from the past we say, “you’ll never guess who I just bumped into?” That happens a lot in my family and the response is always “oh wait don’t tell me, and we begin a process of elimination, often with Helen she will guess straight away. Isn’t it funny though when we say, “oh, you’ll never guess who I bumped into today”; we don’t really want them to guess - we can’t wait to blurt out their names because we can’t wait to tell them who we saw?” Why do we say, you won’t believe who I saw today. The other extreme is “as God is my judge I tell you that I saw... and I’ve lived to tell the tale” incredulous events are often accompanied with sensationalism because there is room for doubt and disbelief.
I wonder if that is how it was when the women returned from visiting Jesus’ tomb “you’ll never guess who we bumped into today?” I wonder if they would have known straight away that it was Jesus or would they have said “who?” thinking that Jesus was not going to fulfill what he said he would do. I remember a Samoan colleague in ministry telling me that when his father died he had recently joined a type of cult and his friends and everyone were happy after his dying because they really believed that he was going to rise again on the third day, they sang and prayed around his body and waited patiently for the third day when he would against all odds come back to life. Wow it happened to Lazarus, it happened to Jesus, and so therefore it can happen to him. After all, isn’t this what eternal life is all about, isn’t this what it means to live forever? Do you want to know what happened? Nothing, he stayed dead.
I know as a child I used to wonder why people still died after I was told that becoming a Christian meant that we would live forever, why then are we burying this person in the ground, how are they going to get out if we put dirt on top of them. Did you used to think this too?
So what does this eternal life look like? How do we know that it really exists? Has anyone come back to tell us that this is actually true? On Friday mornings on the Good Morning show they usually have a television psychic come on TV to answer questions that viewers have about loved ones who have ‘passed over’, to use their terminology, and I sit there eating my breakfast wondering how on earth they can just click into to where this lost spirit is hovering. How is it that this psychic can tune into the loved one of someone who has just phoned into the television studio? Is there a waiting queue of spirits hoping that their loved ones will ring in to ask for them in the next ten minutes? That is what doubt is to me, that is how I sound when I doubt something. We all doubt a lot of the time depending on what the situation is. I wonder if I will get a rise this month? I doubt it. I wonder if I will win lotto next week, I doubt it. I wonder if I will get shouted lunch today after church, I hope so?
We often assume the answers before we arrive. We know from personal experience that certain things are not going to happen for us, and yet every week some of us still buy that lotto ticket because you just never know. We live and we hope, we pray and we wish for good things for one another, for ourselves and for our families, and especially for our children. We wish that life was not about guessing and hoping, we wish that we could predict and know how our lives and our futures will pan out. We live in hope that all will be good, and we live and trust that whatever life dishes out to us, we will cope, and we will get through it. Romans 8:28 says: “all things work together for good for those who trust in God”. And one of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” These famous verses give us hope and strength on a daily basis to get us through the uncertainties and mysteries of life. Even if we doubt and are unsure then our faith helps get us through.
Imagine, missing one Sunday, and coming back to hear “Guess who showed up while you were gone?” Would you believe it? You’ll never guess who I bumped into today? Jesus! The women at the tomb seemed to have forgotten the “punch line”: that Jesus told them he would rise after three days. It took the angels to remind them of that rather important detail. And then when they ran back to tell the disciples, the men didn’t believe them! And Mary in the garden: she thought he was the gardener
And today we hear of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples: who were huddling in fear behind locked doors!
The risen Christ came to his disciples in the midst of their turmoil and fear; they were having a major crisis. He came in the midst of their doubt and their sense of having failed both him and their own selves and said to them: "Peace be with you."
Can we find him in the midst of our crisis? Can you see him here in our community? The vulnerability of Christ can be found all around us, we meet the vulnerable Jesus in ourselves as well. In our Gospel reading Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds. And when he said this he showed them his wounds - the holes in his hands and in his side -
The risen Christ is a reminder to us that death no longer has dominion over him. Our suffering although real and very painful through Christ and because of Christ no longer has dominion over us.
Easter is not just a time for day celebrating Jesus death and resurrection it is a way of life, not just 40 days of lent and 50 days of Easter but a lifestyle that we choose to live as followers of Christ.
Our walk of faith is a journey fraught with uncertainties, mystery and fear of the unknown, we live in hope, we live in trust that our doubt is overcome through the certainty of God with us. Our journey towards eternity is a step of faith that we just believe in because there is a peace that passes all our understanding and a presence that reminds us constantly that in our doubt and our fear Jesus reminds us time and time again, “Lo I am with you even unto the end of time”.
I want to close with this poem by Helen Mallicoat some of you might already be familiar with it: It is called “I am.”
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
"My name is I AM"
I waited. He continued,
"When you live in the past
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment
it is not hard. I am here,
My name is I AM."
April 2011 to June 2012