Monthly Archives: December 2018
Yearning is not a word often used these days. It’s probably a word like trivial… Anyone under 20 would have no idea what it means. I looked up a few dictionaries and a common definition would be an intense longing or eagerness for something. Often they tell us that longing isn’t easily met. Yearning isn’t a word we use often and yet I think it’s a deeply religious word. I think God is usually found in our yearning. True yearning comes from deep within, from our soul. If you are in touch with your yearning you’ll be in touch with why God breathed life into you. I need to offer a word of caution. Wanting or wishing are not yearnings. I might want a nice new car, or I might wish for a new knee for Christmas that doesn’t give me pain, but yearnings are something much deeper. We all have a host of things we might like or want in our lives but that’s just the outer shell of the onion.
Yearning comes from deeper inside. I often ask a question when I offer spiritual direction to people and that question is what do you deeply desire of God right now. That’s not a question that people answer easily and you can usually feel the a palpable deepening of mood as someone starts going deeper within themselves. Yearning is deep stuff, and after some stillness an answer might come back, “to know I’m valued”, or “help and encouragement to live out my inner calling” and if we go deeper it might change “help and encouragement for everyone to have opportunity to live out their inner calling.” I wonder what you may deeply yearn for? It’s a question we don’t ask often enough.
If we look at the story of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament you’ll discover a deep yearning that revolves around justice and security. The people yearn for a peaceful existence where there is harmony and life for all. I think there is also an even deeper yearning that doesn’t surface as often but that is about truly being a light for the nations, and modelling the true life of God. Unlike us they were a deeply communal people who were far less individualistically focused. The yearning is for their own land where they can settle and raise their families. Abraham typifies this yearning as he journeys from modern day Iraq to end up in the region we now know as Israel. But he and his family are just one of the inhabitants of the land and things don’t work out well. Abraham and Sarah’s descendants end up as slaves in Egypt. They cry out to God with a deep yearning for freedom and God hears them and leads them out of Egypt to fulfil their deep yearning to settle in their land, the Promised Land where the ideal was they would live as God’s chosen people showing the world what godly life was all about.
They finally cross the Jordan and Joshua the mighty leader sets out to subdue the occupants of the land they yearn for. There is success and roots are put down, but things go terribly wrong when they move from a tribal culture to a nationalistic culture ruled by a king. With few exceptions the kings of Judah and Israel do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Key in that evil mix is a feathering of their own nest and a failure to act justly in their rule to ensure all the citizens have a fair slice of the cake and opportunity to participate in the working of society. There is no true peace and the proud societies of Israel and Judah are crushed by foreign powers and the story of Exile plays out. The people yearn for a homecoming and a new relationship with God and each other.
We hear of this yearning in the proclamations of the prophets of the Old Testament. There is a yearning for a different sort of king and a different kind of kingdom. There is a yearning for new leader, a promised one, who would “do justice”, “love kindness”, and “walk humbly with God”. Sometimes they expressed this great yearning in a hope for a new David, a son of David, a new shoot from the stump of David. David they remembered fondly as being a just and godly king who ruled Israel before the monarchy became opulent and exploitative. We sang about this hope in the song we just sang that is based on the words of Isaiah – come let us go up to mountain of the Lord (to Jerusalem) that we may learn of God’s ways and paths. God will rule again and people will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks and nations will study war no more. It’s an image that has fed humanity for thousands of years. Death to the arms trade, peace and harmony for all the earth.
Micah (Micah 4:1-4) has similar words but he adds “and they will sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no-one shall make them afraid”. It’s a wonderful image of every family having their own land and therefore a secure and bountiful now and a secure and bountiful future. Everyone has opportunity … not just some.
This is the world the prophets yearned for. This is the world the prophets stirred up a longing for.
The Hebrews returned from Exile to rebuild their shattered society but by the time of Jesus the Hebrews had lived under one empire after another for 500 years. There were times when things weren’t too bad for some, but overall it had been grim. In Jesus’ time over 90% of the population lived in abject poverty, scratching out an existence with no surety that their family wouldn’t go hungry. We know at the time of Jesus’ birth there were major uprisings and the Romans sent in crack troops to Galilee to take care of the Jewish rebels. Sepphoris the local big town for the people of Nazareth and possible birthplace of Mary was ransacked about the time Jesus was a youngster. Women were raped, men were slaughtered, homes burned – when the Romans sent in the troops it wasn’t pretty. I wonder how many in Jesus’ close family were killed or abused. Heavy taxes were a fact of life, imposed to fund the troops and to fund the fine palaces of the emperor and his representatives. There was a deep and yearning for something better and a deep yearning for a new leader, a Messiah to establish a new homeland where peace and harmony might flourish under the reign of God.
It’s against that background we hear the song of Mary in our gospel…(Luke 1:46-55)
God has shown strength with his arm
He has scattered the proud with the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things
And sent the rich away empty.
There is a new wind blowing. A deep yearning of the people is heard. There is a coming together of God and people in a new way and when that happens there will be change.
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaks of Jesus as a mighty savior raised up from the house of David so that we might be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. By the tender mercy of God there will be a new dawn which will give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to guide us into the way of peace. (Luke 1:68-79)
John the Baptist spoke as a voice in the wilderness of the need to see with new eyes and to repent. (Luke 3: 1-14) The person who has two shirts must share with those who have none, honesty and respect had to be at the core of our living, greed and wanting more for self had to give way to seeing a bigger picture and balancing our needs with the needs of others. Those with responsibility must use that responsibility for the common good. The yearning was for a new society, a more equitable society, a compassionate society and John like the prophets of old was stoking the fires of yearning.
The yearning of God and the yearning of the people were in harmony and when that happens there is a radical power released….
And we know what happened. A saviour was born, a new light was ignited, a radical new movement took root that changed the world forever – all based on a simple catch cry love God and love your neighbour as you love yourself.
So as we prepare for Christmas, a question; what is it you yearn for? What do you deeply desire? What is the ache at the very core of your being? Beware though, if you really start digging, if you go deep it will bring your life into focus, and it will bring you close to God. It could be scary and it certainly will be risky and challenging. It will also be fulfilling. What is your deep yearning?
I invite you to consider your yearning this week as we continue our journey of giving birth to Jesus in our beings this Christmas. One final word….our yearning is often not clearly defined. It’s not usually reduced to a simple statement, but the best we manage is often to say’ “it has something to do with…..” “Something to do with”, is a good place to start.
May God bless your yearning.
Dugald Wilson 9 Dec 2018
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.
Sunday 9th December 2018
NOTICES: A very warm welcome to all who worship with us today. Please join us for morning tea after the service.
Thank you to everyone who has brought Christmas Gifts for Waltham Cottage.
Minister has led you astray…. some members of the Session have raised concerns about using the church without full sign off from the City Council. I doubt this will happen before February with the big Christmas shutdown and therefore I need to withdraw my promise to lead services in the church for Christmas. I also advertised an opening service on 27th January. This will not be the case. We need to expect that an opening service will be in March at a date yet to be determined.
Foot Clinic TOMORROW 1-4pm at Beckenham Methodist Lounge.
Wednesday Walkers 12th December: We will carpool leaving Christchurch at 10am and drive out to Lincoln where we will do all or part of the Historic Walk. Lunch is booked for 11.30am at The Flaming Rabbit. Please make sure Janette or Sonya know if you are coming. This is the last official walk for 2018.
NEXT Sunday 16th December – All Age Service… we’ll be building mangers, making stars, decorating angel biscuits, and creating beauty out of junk. There will be conversations, interaction, and creativity as we draw closer to Christmas together. Bring your children and grandchildren.
2019 morning tea and door duty roster now available – please pick up your copy.
Session meets Wednesday 12th December 7pm at Merchiston, followed by Board of Managers at 8pm. Please bring a plate for supper.
CWS Christmas Appeal: bring envelopes back to church any Sunday until January 20th.
South Elder Care Vacancy – we are looking for a couple of men to work with our increasing number of male clients, alongside David Hodder on the 2nd & 4th Tuesdays. We would like someone who enjoys the company of men, prepared to take part in active games – table tennis, darts, quoits, walking etc… We resume on 15th January 2019. Lyndsey McKay 388 1264.
CHRISTMAS & JANUARY Services
Christmas Eve 24th December 7pm
Christmas Day 25th December 9.30am
NB: Now to be held at CMLC, 110 Waltham Rd
Sunday 30th December 10am at Beckenham Methodist
Sunday 6th January 10am CMLC
Sunday 13th January 10am at Beckenham Methodist
‘The pressures of Christmas can be particularly hard on those who are working in and dealing day by day with those in our community who struggle everyday with life, let alone
Christmas time and the extra issues it can bring – the daily basics of food on the table, monetary worries, health and addiction.
A request to please include in your prayers those NGO’s and all the staff in organisations who work so tirelessly to ensure that everyone in our community is treasured and nurtured at this Christmas time.’
Carol Singing at Opawa Community Church, cnr Opawa Rd & Aynsley Tce, Sunday 16th December 5pm with Steadfast Brass. BYO seat/rug. Light refreshments available to purchase.
Building News: The external scaffolding is gone, and we believe all extra structural work is finished. Vinyl is laid in the kitchen and stainless benchtops have been installed. Interior painting is almost complete. Ceiling tiles and insulation should be installed this week. Concreting the drive has been delayed by weather but should happen this week.
Our issues with the Fire Engineer appear to be resolving without too much extra work and cost.
We are required to put extra gib in the upstairs store and in the stairwell.
So far there have been 57 major variations to the contract for this job, most of which have been from the structural engineer.
FREE tomato and capsicum plants available from Peter Saunders. Must be picked up by end of Sunday 9th, or they’ll be compost!
Preparing for Christmas….. Matt 25: 31-40,
So today is the big day. There’s a parade in town to officially launch Christmas. There will be crowds, lots of music, plenty of cheering and clapping. Tractors and trucks will roll on by with scenes from fairy tales, there’ll be cultural groups, dancers, bands, all announcing Christmas is coming. And at the end of it all the fellow who everyone is waiting for – resplendent in his red suit and white beard is Santa! Santa Claus, Father Christmas.
But who is Santa? In many places he’s known as St Nicholas or just plain St Nic. He always seems to be a gift bringer but in some countries he brings gifts on December 6th which is his special saints day. In some countries to try and reinforce good morals Nic only delivers presents to good children and in Holland there is a character called Black Peter who is in charge of the book of St Nicholas, and if your name isn’t in the book then you’ll not get a gift.
For some reason he’s associated with the North Pole, and I think this tradition goes back to a series of cartoons published in Harpers Weekly in the 1800’s when the North Pole was still out there somewhere and not yet visited by human beings. Earlier in the nineteenth century reindeer had been associated with Santa.
In history the real home of St Nicholas can be traced back to Turkey and a town called Myra. Nicholas was the bishop of the area back in the 3rd century when Turkey was a centre for the Christian faith. If you go to Turkey today they are rather proud of the old bishop of Myra, but most of his body and relics ended up in an Italian city called Bari. There it is claimed that each year on his saints day, December 6th they exude a clear watery liquid which smelled like rose water, which was called manna or myrrh and believed by the faithful to possess miraculous powers. Vials of myrrh from his relics have been taken all over the world for centuries, and can still be obtained from his church in Bari. Sometime in the next few days a flask of manna will be extracted from the tomb by the clergy of the basilica, where the relics are still stored, but I have to confess I’ll not be ordering any of the so called myrrh over the internet.
The story of Bishop Nicholas’s life is I think worth knowing about. There is a famous story which tells us about a few of our Christmas traditions but which also I think challenges us. One day he was making his way home after conducting a wedding in the local church. The wedding procession was making its way through the crowded streets and people were cheering and wishing the couple well. Three sisters from the poorer side of town were also making their way home after a miserable day begging to try and make ends meet. Their worn out clothes were in stark contrast to the fine clothing of the wedding guests. The kindly Bishop smiled at the girls as they passed and made the comment that maybe one of the girls would be getting married soon. The girls responded with the honest but harsh reality that their father had no money to pay a dowry which was needed to attract a suitor. The bishop in his resplendent red robe and flowing white beard was saddened. He knew where they lived and the truth of what they were saying.
Twenty minutes later the girls made it home to their simple single storied one roomed shack. The shutters were closed in the wintry weather because there was nothing in the windows to prevent the cold wind from whistling through the house. From the chimney spiraled a thin curl of smoke as the girls started a small fire to try and bring warmth into the little hut they called home. “My feet are wet through,” shivered the youngest sister as she took off their worn out shoes by the fire. “We can hang our socks from the rod that holds the cooking pot and maybe they’ll dry a little overnight,” said the middle sister as they set about making a soup from some scraps of food they had procured during the day. So they made themselves as comfortable as they could in the dim light of the fire as the soup slowly boiled. Some time later their father returned from another day in which he had found no work. Together they ate their supper of bread and soup, hoping for a better day tomorrow. Together they said their prayers and went off to bed.
Meanwhile the bishop had gone to join the wedding guests at their feast. His mind, however. was still filled with the image of the three girls. He was well aware that they could well end up having to earn their keep at the local brothel and was wondering what he could do. His faith taught him that it wasn’t right that some people had more than enough while others languished in poverty. Even he as the bishop could not alter that reality overnight, but he could do something.
The father of the bride was in a generous mood that evening and when he caught up with Nicholas he pressed a bag of gold coins into the old mans hand, with profuse thanks for performing the wedding ceremony. “That should help keep the church going,” he said with a wink. Nicholas thanked him in return but already he knew what he would do.
Around midnight Nicholas excused himself from the joyful wedding party, put on his warm red cloak and stepped out into the freezing city. He made his way to where the three sisters lived. The place was shuttered and dark. He pondered what to do and then noticed an outer stairway on the next door house would enable him to lean over and access the chimney of the little shack.. Chuckling to himself he tipped the purse of coins down the chimney and hurried away, taking care of course not to slip and end up with a broken led or worse.
In the morning the youngest daughter woke and went to light the fire for some hot water. Before she did she removed the socks and went to put them on, but to her surprise a gold coin tumbled out. She quickly called her sisters who also found coins in their socks and also in the ashes of last night’s fire. They danced around the house with joy puzzled as to how the coins had made their way into their socks hanging in the fireplace, but also realizing their life had changed. Their dear old dad muttered to himself I think I’ll be talking to some of my old friends about who might make lovely brides for their sons. Out loud he exclaimed, “a gift has come from heaven itself, praise be to God!”
Somewhere in another part of town Bishop Nicholas watched the sun rise. He too chuckled as he thought of the joy that would be in the house he had secretly visited. With just a little love and kindness this world could be such a different place. With a bit of Jesus in our hearts heaven can indeed come to earth.
Just a story, but a story that I want to highlight as we come to our first Sunday in Advent. The time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A recent poll of Americans conducted for World Vision showed that Americans plan to spend more this Christmas season on consumer gifts than they did last year, but give less to charities and ministries that help the poor. Many say they are tightening their belts a little and the place they are planning on doing that is giving to help others. So in America at least there will be more Christmas presents this year, but less help for the poor. I suspect the same applies here in New Zealand. While retailers, economists, and politicians rejoice at news about higher consumer spending, the lower levels of support for the ones Jesus called “the least of these” or the neighbour in need should I think have us concerned.
Indeed, the Matthew 25 scripture that we read this morning is one of the few, and most, judgmental passages in all the New Testament. About some things, Jesus was non negotiable and harshly judgmental. The Gospel clearly says that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Jesus. That’s pretty judgmental, especially when you go on to read what will happen to those who ignore Jesus call to generosity and kindness. Seeing the face of Christ is every person.
But rather than being judgmental, let’s do something about it. Two things:
1. Plan an act of unexpected generosity and kindness. Not something that is based on the few coins you have in your purse, but something radical and significant. A secret gift for someone who is struggling. If you can however acknowledge the birth of Jesus as the reason for the generosity.
2. Let’s start a “Christmas Tithe.” Let’s spread the idea to our kids, our families, our friends and neighbors. Let’s keep track of all our Christmas spending for gifts, food, and whatever this year, and then tithe a percentage of that amount to an organization or cause that directly serves the poor. A tithe is traditionally 10 percent, but you could decide to do less or even more. But make a decision about your Christmas tithe and pledge it to an organisation like Christian World Service, or to Waltham Cottage.
This is a time to give generously…more — not less. Sit down with your kids and grandkids and get them involved in a discussion about how we can do more for others who don’t have what we have. You may be surprised at how responsive they are to doing this together. Doing some thing for others touches our soul. The world proclaims this is a time of getting – let’s make it a time of giving! Let’s teach our kids and grandkids the true message of St Nicholas or Santa Claus, that giving is what is important and that giving can be fun!
Dugald Wilson 2 Dec 2018
Looking forward….. Rev 1:9-16, 13: 11-18, 17:1-6, 19:11-16, 21:1-7
The Book of Revelation at the very end of our Bibles is a book some people love and others wonder what on earth it is all about. Martin Luther the great reformer and leader of our protestant faith wanted the book removed from scripture claiming it was an ‘epistle of straw’. He thought it had little to teach us and plenty have agreed with him as they read its dramatic poetic language and imagery that seems to make little rational sense. It is what is known as Apocalyptic Literature which is largely foreign to us, and it’s very different from reading the morning paper. There are visions of strange beasts, four horsemen, angels blowing trumpets, wars, dragons, special numbers, Armageddon, lakes of fire….and through it all God sits on his throne attended by all sorts of amazing creatures. For conspiracy theorists it is an absolute goldmine and I remember well some Christian friends refusing bankcards when they first came in because they read Revelation chapter 13 about a great beast rising up that opposed God. According to the writer of Revelation the beast has a number and that is 666, and there it was on the bankcard for everyone to see. Further it says that no-one could buy or sell without the mark. It was all a sign that the end was nigh. Actually watching how many of the larger banks have operated in recent years one might agree, but to claim this is all predicted in the book of Revelation needs some serious critique.
Put simply some Christians believe the Book of Revelation offers a picture of how the world will end. There will be a great cataclysmic final period of history before God steps in and the faithful will be rescued to live on for eternity in heaven. The codes and signs in the imagery tell us what will happen in these end times and all through history there have been people saying they have cracked the codes and imagery. I recall a few years ago books by Hal Lindsay. Hal said the end times were upon us. He pointed to the setting up of the state of Israel and four key players – Russia, China, The Middle Eastern nations, and the European Economic Union which was seen to be the ten horned beast because there were ten countries in the union. Sorry Hal but it hasn’t played out as you predicted. I think you were plain wrong. (over 25 million copies of the Late Great Planet Earth were sold!)
I don’t think the book of Revelation offers us a coded road map of the future. I don’t believe there is a plan that details every event in the future. I believe the Book of Revelation has an historical context arising out of the bloody reign of the Roman emperor Nero around 60 AD and later that of Domitian in the AD 90’s. The events depicted in the visions revolve around the persecutions and events that were unfolding right before John the author’s eyes. The Christians were still a tiny tiny minority of the population, possibly .01% . But under Nero we have the first significant persecutions. It was during this time that Pricilla and Aquila were expelled from Rome, and tradition tells us that people like Paul and Peter were martyred. Augustine writing some 300 years later tells us that some saw Nero as the Anti-Christ, and a number of reputable scholars today contend that the number 666 in the Book of Revelation is a code for Nero himself. In Hebrew there is a system of allocating numbers to letters and if you calculate the numeric value of ‘Nero Caesar’ in Hebrew you come up with 666.
Imagine yourself part of the small group of faithful Christians. Jesus has been gone for 40 years and instead of improving matters are getting worse. With a mad dictator in Rome Christianity is now being singled out because these terrible Christians refuse to give total allegiance to the emperor. All mad leaders know the value of having scapegoats. (Jews, Mexican refugees) Key Christians are being targeted, and some are being brutally killed. You meet in secret, and you talk in ways that that are not openly understood. The Roman empire becomes a ‘beast’ and we all know what we are talking about.
In this light the book of Revelation was about navigating through some very dark times with courage. Even if violence and the cruel hand of the empire is knocking on your door and literally threatening to drag you out to face lions and other beasts, God is still at work. Kia kaha. But I think the book of Revelation goes further. It tells us 21st century Christians who often park God off out there somewhere, a distant observer, that God is involved in all the events of our world. There is if you like a constant battle going on in our own lives and in the life of our community, our nation, our world, between good and evil and frankly the world we live in isn’t such a lovely comfortable place we like to make it out to be. There are evil powers at work and there are battles to be fought. We need to remember this, and dare I say it our kids and grandkids need to be taught this. As one of my favourite books says in the opening lines, “Life is difficult.” It goes on to say when we expect it to be nice and easy we fool our ourselves and live with illusions.
So in a time of apparent failure the book of Revelation provided the disciples with a dramatic alternative picture of what was happening. This picture outlined in the Book of Revelation put God in the centre again. When some were saying let’s keep our heads down and live like everyone else Revelation says dare to be different and stand firm for what is good and true. It talked of great battles because the power of evil and death was and is real. Instead of saying the Emperor is a fraud and his violent regime is rotten and evil which could get them killed, Revelation tells a strange story about a monster who comes out of the sea, a place of evil, and is defeated. Instead of saying the established religions of Rome are corrupt it tells a story about a whore. Instead of saying the Empire is doomed, it talks of a past empire which reached glorious heights but which collapsed inwards into a cess pit of violence, greed, and inhumanity – Babylon. The language is rich in symbolism. It talks of a beast with seven heads and says these seven heads are seven mountains -the great city of Rome was located on seven mountains or hills.. and the writer is saying this city, the toast of the empire and apparent symbol of success , is a godless city built on the subjugation of many. It was not a just society it was not a sustainable society….ring any bells?
We read of the vision of Jesus coming on a great white horse and you may think it doesn’t fit with the Jesus I know in the gospels. This Jesus of Revelation seems to be a person of brute strength and violence. But read these visions carefully. Even before the battle begins Jesus’s robe is blood stained with his own self giving love, and the sword he carries is in his mouth not in his hand. The vision of the Messiah is of someone who has shed his own blood, and who fights not with guns and bombs, but with words of love and with judgements about what is right and wrong. This Messiah fights with the power of truth to bring healing and reconciliation into our world.
We may read passages in Revelation and think God is going to destroy the earth and think as some Christians do that we don’t need to worry about climate change, or polluting the earth, living sustainably, or being concerned about the plight of so many who have so little. God is going to destroy it all anyway. But that negates the beautiful visionary scene we read at the end of the book which pictures a New Jerusalem, or holy city, descending from heaven to engage in a new relationship with the earth. “See the home of God is now fully amongst us, and the earth is renewed. God’s home is now the very earth itself. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and violence and destruction will be no more. No more will people cry out with the pain of injustice. For the earth has been obliterated… no the earth is transformed and made new.”
The poetic picture is striking. This transformed earth doesn’t need a temple because God’s presence is felt everywhere. It doesn’t need a sun or moon because the light of Christ burns bright in every corner. Its gates are never shut and it welcomes people from all round the world to receive and bring blessings and treasures to one another. From the centre of the city, from God’s own throne, a river flows. But it’s not any old river, it is a river of life or aliveness. Along its banks grows trees of Life with fruit available every month of the year. True peace reigns as people live in harmony with one another and with all creation as children of God. The picture of the end of the world is not destruction but renewal. Everything made whole. Life in all its fullness.
God is calling us into this reality. It is not some distant there but it is here. And the final word of the Book of Revelation is compelling. That word is not ‘wait’ or even ‘one day’ but is a word inviting us to join the journey. Bringing something new into being. Each day of our lives we should hear this word – it is the word, “COME”. Come and join those walking the road of Jesus that leads us to a union of earth and heaven. Come join those who are working for good. Revelation tells us it won’t be easy and there will be times when all seems hopeless. But Jesus is the true way that leads to life.
Dugald Wilson Nov 2018
Was there something that caught your attention in the address today?
How have you viewed the Book of Revelation in the past?
Do you think the future is pre-planned or is it simply shaped by our choices? Where does God fit in?
Dugald claims heaven is located not somewhere separated from the earth but is to be located within the life we know. Contemplate this week some of the ways you have brought a sense of heaven into your daily life.