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