Monthly Archives: May 2018

What Are We Here For? 6 May 2018

Why does St Martins Presbyterian Church Exist?          John 15:1-17

Over the past few months a small group (called the Mission Discernment Group MDG) has been meeting to try and clarify our mission as a community of Christians. Often it seems we assume we all know why our church exists, but actually when asked many are unsure. Maybe it’s just too big a question, or maybe we haven’t really thought about that. Church is just church and it’s always just been there. It is a big question and however good your answer may be it misses something. On the other hand however if we don’t have some sort of picture of why we are here it can mean that we get a little lost and forget what we are really on about.

Anthony de Mello a Jesuit priest and story teller tells this story: On a rocky seacoast , where shipwrecks were frequent there was once a ramshackle little life-saving station. It was no more than a hut and there was only one boat, but the few people who manned the station were an amazing group who kept constant watch over the sea and went fearlessly out in a storm if they had any evidence that there had been a shipwreck somewhere. Many lives were saved and the station became famous.
As the fame of the station grew, so did the desire of people in the neighbourhood to become associated with its excellent work. They generously offered of their time and money so new members were enrolled, new boats bought and new crews trained. The hut too was replaced by a larger building in which saved people could be dried and warmed. And, of course, since shipwrecks do not occur every day, it became a popular gathering place-a sort of local club.
As time passed the members became so engaged in socializing and running their club that they seemed to forget about life-saving. In fact, when some people were actually rescued from the sea, it was always such a nuisance because they were dirty and wet and soiled the carpeting and the furniture.
The social activities of the club became numerous and the life-saving activities few. But there was a showdown at a club meeting with some members insisting that they return to their original purpose and activity. A vote was taken and these troublemakers, who proved to be a small minority, were invited to leave the club and start another.
Which is precisely what they did-a little further down the coast, with such selflessness and daring that, after a while, their heroism made them famous. Whereupon their membership was enlarged, their hut was reconstructed.. and their idealism – smothered….. and you get the idea!
There is a constant need for us to ask the question ‘what are we here for?’

As the workgroup has wrestled with this question one theme that has seemed important to us is that St Martins Presbyterian Church exists to help people find ‘life’. ‘True life’. Our reading this morning uses an image of the vine and the branches. The vine exists to bring life to the branches. Branches aren’t much good unless they are connected to the vine where the life giving sap is transmitted from the roots. Jesus’ stories and his teaching assume that to find life we need to centre our lives in God. We need to orientate our lives in something bigger than us. Often this happens when people recognise they are not as complete as they might think. It’s when something breaks, or we face the reality that not all is well with us that God gets a look in. I think this is why healing was such an important part of Jesus’ ministry.
But it’s not just something for individuals. Some in the MDG also pointed out Jesus taught us guidelines or morals for living together in community. This is also part of finding life. Just as we need road rules to guide us to all drive safely we need ways of seeing and habits that enable us to live together in healthy communities. No killing even with words, forgive forgive forgive, be kind and generous, put away your swords….The teachings of Jesus provides a God inspired framework that enhances the life of community and enables us to live in harmony with the whole earth. They are about finding life. Jesus summed up this framework as “love one another.” Love is at the heart of it all or if you like the sap that flows through the Jesus vine. Sadly it is often the case that blind following of the rules and habits without love can actually destroy life.

Finding health and life is not just about our relationships with each other and the earth we live on, but is also about our relationship with our self and looking at what motivates and drives us. Jesus taught us to be humble. That doesn’t mean demeaning self, but it does mean examining our motives and looking at what we are really seeking. Jesus also recognised that many people are motivated by a need to bolster themselves in front of others. He stresses over and over that we find our true value in God. Our value is not based on achievement and worldly success, the exterior image, but simply is – a gift of God. This relationship with God provides life. God is a life giving God. Again we often picture God as policeman, as judge, as a stern old man, but we do well to picture God as midwife, as potter with clay, a life giving sap, giving rise to life.

There is an interesting term that John uses a number of times in his gospel. ‘eternal life’. Jesus brings eternal life. Sadly many people have thought of this as life after death. Literally the Greek term means life of the ages as opposed to life in this contemporary culture or life in this economy. Eternal life is not a good translation. John simply assumes there is a fuller life, a true life that can be found by drawing close to Jesus. I would be thrilled to hear people saying, “I go to church because I find true life there”, or “I look forward to going to church because the sap of life is set free in my veins.” Actually I do hear people saying these sort of things!

A few other points…. Jesus didn’t force this life on others. We have to find it. He told stories, he modelled actions so that people could see this life in action. This is in turn the work of the Church. To tell stories, to model actions, to teach.

Jesus assumed it was a personal thing but also a corporate and community thing which he named as a new society, a new community he called the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of heaven’. For some reason Paul never took up those names, and he called this new way of life ‘God’s new creation’. Paul talks of a ‘new fullness’, ‘freedom’, ‘new life’, ‘life in the Spirt’ and ‘life in Christ’. We have to discern what these things mean in our time.

I have to say the MDG didn’t find all this easy to sum up. We struggled to formulate a simple statement of what we are on about. But my take on what we were saying as we struggled was that our mission is to promote this life centred in God that was seen in and taught by Jesus. If I am to reduce this one sentence it is simply this: Our church community exists to discern, model, and teach what makes for true aliveness.

Dugald Wilson 6 May 2018

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Sunday 6th May 2018 10am

While our Church Building is Repaired we are meeting each Sunday at The Mineral & Lapidary Club 110 Waltham Rd (next to Waltham School) at 10am.

We would love to have the opportunity to welcome you.

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter 6th May 2018

 Wednesday Walkers: 9th May. Meet 9.30am at the Clock tower, by Margaret Mahy Playground, Manchester St for a shuffle in the leaves around the river!
Coffee from one of vendors in the Playground or maybe in New Regent St or Little Pom’s. Rosalie 021 239 5005.

Do you ever wish to catch up with a sermon? Sermons are now available on our website www.stmartins.org.nz They may not be exactly what’s said, but you should get the message! Feel free to respond with your thoughts. The notices are also posted to the website so you can catch up with them even when you lose your hard copy.

Parish Breakfast 20th May is on Pentecost Sunday (wear something red!) Yes, it’s breakfast time again at church.  The Men’s Group will be serving a choice of cereals, porridge and cream, and yummy hotcakes with fruit.   Breakfast is served from 8.45am and a gold coin is appreciated to help cover costs.  It’s a great time to get to know someone new and catch up with those you know well.

 Articles for the next ‘Messenger’ are now required. Deadline Friday 20th May. Email: anneke.howie@gmail.com

 Crafty Crafters Thursdays 10am – 12 noon at Beckenham Methodist. $3 per session. Lyndsey McKay 388 1264.

“What on earth is God doing about Unity?”
Stories of Justice, Peace & Hope. A lively panel discussion to kick-start this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
NEXT Sunday 13th May, 7.00-8.30pm, Knox Church, 28 Bealey Ave. Free/koha appreciated. (Supper served afterwards)

Building Update….Some very large steel columns and beams were lowered through the roof of the church last Monday and attached to the rear wall of the church.  Two brick infill panels are being removed and early next week the cross bracing will be placed in these ‘gaps’.  Other infill panels will then be removed and cross bracing placed.  This needs to be a staged process to ensure there is strength retained in the building should there be another good shake.

Thank you to Keith, Cyril, David, Colin, Barry, Rob & Dugald who helped clean up the church grounds last week!

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Something Has To Die – March 18. 2018

The True and False Self – Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-26

It’s amazing but the outer layer of our skin gets replaced every few weeks. The dead skin cells continually slough off and mix with the secretions of the sweat and sebaceous glands to form an interesting layer the surface of your skin. It just happens…well sort of. If not rubbed off into our clothing or washed away, the slurry of sweat and sebaceous secretions mixed with dirt and dead skin is decomposed by bacterial flora, producing a foul smell. Teenage boys often need to learn this truth. But it’s an amazing reality that bits of us are constantly dying to be replaced by new life. We are in a constant state of dying and renewal.

Death is part of life. It’s a truth that is happening all around us. It’s not going to be long now before trees start turning colour and leaves begin to fall. If we were Americans we would refer to the season we are now in as Fall. The leaves of deciduous trees die and fall to the ground to create nutritious leaf litter while the tree is left bare till spring comes around and there is an awakening of life again. In fact everywhere we look there are things dying and there is new life emerging, and Jesus proclaimed this was how life should be for us. In a famous passage he tells his disciples that if we want to follow him there needs to be death for us to find the way of life. There is according to Jesus something within us that needs to die so that new life can be born. What’s going on here?

I was talking to someone last week about someone else and I noticed we were having a put down session. We were enjoying pulling them to pieces like a couple of vultures around a corpse. What felt good was that this person was someone who in the eyes of the world was quite successful…. Maybe more successful and popular than we were. What was going on here? Why were we so destructive and why did it feel good? What was motivating our destructive behavior? When I reflected on my behavior I thought something needs to die here. There’s something within me that isn’t right and good.

Psychologists tell us that there are three things that we long for in our lives. We long for security, affections, and power and control. These are not bad things to hanker after. Without security life can become full of anxieties that cripple us, without affection we literally shrivel up like a prune, and without some sense of control life becomes meaningless as we take no responsibility for shaping anything. The problem is that from an early age the way we usually go about fulfilling these desires in unhealthy ways. As a baby we smile and it causes people around us to take notice. So we smile again. We quickly learn that we can manipulate others to get attention and affirmation. We start playing little games and we start manipulating an image of ourselves that pleases others and draws affection. Some may adopt quite destructive patterns to get the attention they crave. Whatever the result is that by the time we reach adulthood we are often skilled practitioners and have developed a well honed mask or persona that is good at getting security, affection and power. But what others see isn’t the real us. One of my first learnings as a minister came as I visited a church family one hot Saturday afternoon. In those days you often visited uninvited and as I reached the front door I could see everyone sitting around enjoying a beer together, What the family didn’t realise was that there was a side window open and I heard clearly the registration of shock as they realized the minister was visiting. Quick hide the beer the minister is here was heard clearly, and sure enough by the time I was ushered into the room there was not a sign of any alcohol and their reputation and standing in my eyes had not been dented. On another weekend I went to the local races and discovered several parishioners doing their best to hide from me and not wanting to be noticed. Why do we put on such masks in front of each other? Why do we promote false images to impress others? What drives that?

Psychologists talk of the development of a false self. This false self loves to compare with others, and seeks others it can look down on. It finds value and worth in proving it is a cut above someone else. I was with a couple a while ago and just about everything he said, she corrected him. I felt like saying ‘whoa there do you realize what you’re doing’. She had to get the last word in there. If he said there were five people in the room she would say, “actually dear there were six – you forgot to count yourself.” What was driving that? Why did she have to have the last word, and why did she always have to have a dig at him?

Maybe you notice how we like others to know about our achievements and how we like to build ourselves up in front of others. Do you ever find yourself telling a story in a particular way that makes you look better? Like you emphasize certain things that will twist the story in your favour and make you more of a hero than is really the case. You know add a little extra drama or drop the name of someone you know who is important. Why do we do it? What is driving this?

Jesus tells us something has to die. We need to start living from a different center, we need to change the default driver. We need to be born with a new heart says Jeremiah.

Something has to die….
That part that wants more in bank just in case
That part that is looking for others we can look down on.
That part that always has to be right
That part that always has to look good
The part that wants the biggest bit of cake for me
The part that’s always comparing ourselves with others
The part that wants to tell our friends about our children’s achievements because it proves what a great person I am
That part that craves for the affirmation of others.
That part that wants things my way
That part that has to cultivate the image of knowing it all.
When was the last time you put on the mask that that said I‘ve got it all together when underneath things were a mess?
When was the last time you did something just to impress someone else?
When was the last time you were anxious because what will others think of you?
When was the last time you rejoiced in someone else falling flat on their face?
When was the last time you took the secure road instead of risking generously?

There is something inside us all that has to die if we are going to truly live isn’t there?
There’s something inside us that has to die if we are going to be the wonderful, unique person God desires.
There’s something inside that has to die if we are to discover the eternal life – the life of integrity – the life of authenticity, Jesus wants for us.

Jesus said, “those that want to save their life will loose it”. Anyone who follows me must leave self behind. He also said, “do not worry about your life and what you will eat; don’t worry about your body and what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the birds; they don’t sow or reap, they have no store-room or barn; and yet God feeds them. How much more valuable each one of you is than the birds. Don’t worry – it won’t add a single hour to your life. Don’t be afraid.”
You see according to Jesus that part of us that has to die –the false self – is fed by fear.
The part of us that is eternal and good – our true self – is fed by love.
Our true self emerges when we trust God, know our security lies in God, the God who is known as unconditional love.

It’s a strange paradox that to find life we have to let something die. And as with our skin we have to keep letting it die. This death doesn’t just happen, although growing older often helps. Then we know as we get closer to the end that masks aren’t needed any more. We know we can’t take the props with us. We learn hopefully that we are cracked and imperfect but that doesn’t really matter. In fact as Leonard Cohen told us that the cracks are how the light gets in.

We aren’t perfect, we aren’t all powerful, and we can’t build an impenetrable fortress that is our life. The admiration of others is fickle and flawed because they don’t really know us. We have to let go, and the invitation is to find our security, our affection, our power, in God. The invitation is to learn to live in relationship with God who is bigger than us. According to Jesus this God is pure grace and love and that’s where we find our true security, the unconditional affection, and the power to stand tall and live authentically and courageously. The invitation is to let go and trust.

Dugald Wilson 18 March 2018

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Church Rebuild 2018

The church is currently being strengthened and will reopen in October 2018

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Euthanasia

Euthanasia – Gen 1:26-31, Luke 12:6-7, Eph2:10

 

Tom was a lovely old guy. I met him first when he was in his late 80’s. He had finally retired from his farm and moved into Ashburton. He had been a good farmer and had done well, but the last few years of his life had been hard. First his wife had died and then his only child, a daughter, had died in tragic circumstances in a fire on the farm. Now he was left alone without close relatives. Some four or five years after I first met Tom I was visiting him in hospital. He had an oxygen mask on and was finding it hard going to get enough oxygen into his lungs which were full of fluid. He had pneumonia.

We talked as best we could. It wasn’t easy with the mask and the shortness of breath and there were plenty of shared silences, but I could sense Tom was not at ease. When the nursing staff came by with the antibiotics I could see Tom wince. I simply said to him, “Tom you would like to be left to die wouldn’t you?” With a weak nod of a head he whispered “yes”. I went further, “Would you like me to talk to the medical staff about stopping the treatment?” Again he nodded with a feeble “yes”. We prayed together, and I asked God to take good care of Tom in his journey beyond us, and blessed him. I sensed a peace in him that was not there before our conversation. I sought out the doctor and shared my observations. He in turn promised to talk with Tom. Treatment was stopped and not so many hours later I got a call to say Tom had peacefully died.
I believe this was the right course of action to take. Tom had lived a good life but now it was time to die. He was ready to die, the question of whether to prolong his life was a question that needed to be asked. I didn’t believe Tom was depressed. He had simply come to the point where it was time to call it quits. I felt the peace of God in what was being proposed, and in what eventuated. We were walking on sacred ground and I was thankful the medical team were able to switch focus from life-saving to making Tom comfortable in his final hours. If you want to be a little more technical what happened might be called passive euthanasia. Treatment was withheld that could have prolonged Tom’s life, and the process of death was allowed to proceed unhindered. I find this a different scenario to asking the doctor to give Tom an injection to end his life – process called active euthanasia. Active euthanasia I believe raises all sorts of other questions some of which we’ll explore today.

End of life issues like these are becoming more pressing as we face the reality that people are living longer and we can treat all sorts of illnesses that used to end things for us. Many older people feel useless and a burden and wonder why they keep going. Wouldn’t it be better to have a choice to end things when life for us seem to have no purpose anymore and we are just a burden? On a wider scale, as more people get older and put pressure on our health system wouldn’t it be an honourable thing to have an easy way to end things rather than keeping aged populations going, many of whom suffer physically crippling conditions and dementia. Wouldn’t it be better to facilitate death on demand?
Some of these issues have been highlighted by several cases in recent years of people being hauled before the courts for assisting loved ones to die. You may remember the case of Ian Bubbins here in Christchurch back in 2001 who in the words of the press rotted to death with cancer. More recently there was Lucretia Seales who wished to have the choice of assisted dying in Wellington. All they wished for was the right to end things when they wanted. There was also the case of Greg Nesbit who became a tetraplegic and his best mate Warren Ruscoe who helped him end things. Warren was originally charged with murder, a charge I believe was quite out of order. Yet I am also aware of risks. People who work in the hospice movement will tell us that most requests for euthanasia do not come from the dying individual, but from families. Just what is motivating these requests will vary from deep compassion to outright callousness and a desire to get the will enacted as soon as possible. Things are often not as straight forward as they seem on the surface.

These are real and difficult questions that that take us back to core questions of life. As a Christian I need to engage my faith, and for me one of the central tenets is the sacredness of human life. A fundamental idea in our way of looking at things is that life is somehow called into being by God, and human life in particular is sacred. The stories of creation found at the beginning of our scriptures underline this.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them”. …..”and God saw what was made and pronounced it wonderfully good.”
Life is God breathed to draw from the older creation story. We are not here just because of the chance meeting of our father’s sperm and mother’s egg, but there is something more to our being. We have a God dream within each of us that I call soul. I am created and God is my creator. I can no more create myself than I can create a rose or a daffodil. This way of looking at life leads me to see life is a gift. It is not my property to do with as I wish. It belongs to God and when I die it returns to God. The ending of life is not simply a human decision.

My life belongs to God and as such is sacred. Jesus seems to emphasise this way of seeing in many of his teachings. The number of hairs on our heads is known to God…. “See these sparrows – God cares for each of them”, he said, “but how much more God cares for you.” Stories of looking for the lost sheep or coin emphasise the value of every ‘one’. The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians that every one of us is a fabulous piece of artwork.
This of course in the end is a matter of faith. I can’t prove this is true, but I believe this way of looking at life has shaped our society and the values of caring for others, especially those who may not be complete or who struggle in some way. At its best this way of seeing has produced people like Mother Teresa who reached out to the most hopeless useless cast offs of Calcutta and offered them care in their last days on earth. Most people of whatever religion recognise her work as revealing something of true life. What is it that touches us and says this is so right to care for the most wretched of life? Why is it that I suspect we would react with horror at the image of Mother Teresa going around with a drink of strong barbiturate to end things? We value life not because it has use in our eyes, but simply because life is sacred. A gift.

I hear the cries of a small group who say but what of the suffering some endure in death. This is hard ground to walk on. However there are alternatives. Cicely Saunders had an unhappy childhood in the UK but found her purpose in life when she fell in love with a dying man. Her eyes were opened to the need to care for those dying in a new way. She was told that if she wanted to put her views into practice she would need to train to become a doctor and so she did. Greatly encouraged by a Bible verse that had literally leapt off the page to her from Psalm 37 which said, “commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him; and he will bring it to pass”, she set about convincing people in high places that the care of those dying needed to be greatly improved. Firm in the belief that the final stages of life can be some of the richest and meaningful, she worked with others to develop new methods of pain control could allow a very different journey in the final stages and began what is now known as the hospice movement. This seeks to provide care for body, mind and spirit, not only for the dying individual but also for the wider family. Instead of finding an easy way out she steered a new direction that sought to enhance and value more deeply the process of dying and those going through it. The time of dying can be a good time to complete the journey of life and for those with faith to trust the deep love of God together.

When it comes to enacting laws like the current “End of Life Choices Bill” before our Parliament, I know I’m part of a small minority of about 20% who do not support it. I am happy to let the status quo remain. I know I could not administer the injection to end a life, and I wouldn’t put that responsibility on another. I uphold a belief that our lives are not ours to end, and that ending life is not purely a matter of individual choice. I don’t believe this means we should engage in heroics or endless treatment when it seems the end has come and I am comfortable withholding treatment or withdrawing life support. I find it helpful to make a distinction between passive and active euthanasia. I am however uncomfortable with the proposal that we would give responsibility to our medical practitioners to decide when someone should die and then administer appropriate medication to make this happen. I don’t think the roof will fall in if the Right To Die legislation currently before parliament is passed into law but I do see it as another step down a slippery slope towards a society where compassion and human life is less valued. I’m interested that some in the Netherlands, where similar legislation was introduced in 2002 and has had a chance to bed in, are now uncomfortable with the reality that euthanasia is becoming much more widespread with currently about 5% of deaths occurring through assisted means. I think our own legislation will be passed and it will be interesting to see how terms like a grievous and irremediable illness will be interpreted as a condition for allowing euthanasia.

In the meantime I believe our Christian faith must continue to shine a light of compassion and a light that values every person as a sacred child of God.

Dugald Wilson 29 April 2018

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