Monthly Archives: February 2019

Retribution and reconciliation

Rev Hugh Perry – February 2019 – St Martins


Genesis 45:3-11,15

Luke 6: 27-38.


Writing of our Genesis reading in his book The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand Maurice Andrew says:

This is the Joseph story’s version of one of the Bible’s most salient characteristics: that life for all can emerge from the wrong that people do to each other. A people can continue when those who have been wronged look beyond this and go to great lengths to resolve conflict. God’s role in such a process is revealed in the experience and interpretation of those most clearly involved.1

Like the story itself those are wise words to cherish at a time when the world seems to have its fair share of chaos caused by the wrong that people do to each other.

It is also worth reflecting on the reality that it is the genesis of the Exodus Saga where an alien people are welcomed into the land because of the skills a member of the family brings. But future generations of that family will be despised and exploited as slaves. Eventually they will become so numerous that they will be perceived as a threat to the ruling elite. Because they were Egyptian born Pharaoh couldn’t build a wall to keep these surplus aliens out, so he reverted to infanticide in an attempt to control their numbers. It wasn’t till they actually left that he realised they had a massive labour shortage and sent the army to bring them back.

We face similar dilemmas in our contemporary world. We don’t want immigrants because we fear they will take our jobs. But without immigrants Pharaoh didn’t have enough workers to build pyramids and we don’t have enough workers to harvest crops and build homes for the homeless.

What we easily forget is that we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. That is more apparent in New Zealand with our relatively short history, but history and anthropology tells us that, with the possible exception of a few hunter gatherers in Central Africa, all Homo Sapiens have at one time or another come from somewhere else. Along that journey and probably for good reason, we learned to be suspicious of people we did not recognise as ‘us’ and to seek retribution against those who did us harm.

According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens2 that ‘them and us’ response to others along with a system of limited retribution for wrongs worked fine while humanity wandered around in small groups. However, when agriculture drew people into settled locations and towns and villages replaced temporary camp sites, people needed the structured organisation and laws that eventually led to the global community we now live in.

This formation of cities and empires needed religion to pull diverse people together and religion was created and supported by stories.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity were three such religions that provided the laws and ethics that significantly contributed to the formation of a global human community. According to Harari Christianity, with its Pauline evangelistic focus, was the most significant. Our two readings clearly show the development of ideas that support a wider community over clan and reconciliation over retribution.

From Hebrew text we have the story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers. That story of reconciliation sets the scene for the Jewish Jesus to move ethics and empathy to an unexpected level in Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’.

In his book Harari follows the development of early humanity through the ‘in group’ ‘out group’ response of small family clans. In that context violence was limited by a retribution systems like the Maori Utu where revenge was limited to mirroring the violence committed.

If your cousin killed a member of another clan that clan is intitled to kill you, your sibling or another cousin to restore the balance. The retribution does not have to target the actual killer as long as the clan suffers a similar loss.

It does not take much imagination to see how such an arrangement could escalate into intergenerational vengeance. One reprisal just needs to be judged excessive for a new reprisal is instigated, which in turn is deemed to be unjust.

In her biography of Muhammad renowned religious writer Karen Armstrong quotes the limitation of tribunal vendettas as one of the motives for the uniting of the Arab tribes under Islam.

But that’s not just an ancient Middle East phenomenon. In his autobiography Drawn Out Tom Scott draws himself into a cartoon of an Irish Pub where someone is telling him of the atrocities committed against his family and promises that if he gets the chance, he will tear their hearts out with his bare hands. The cartoon Scott is horrified and asks, ‘When did this happen.’ To which his drinking companion responds, ‘About four hundred years ago’.

We can laugh about that except that when the sentence is announced after most high-profile trials the news media hounds those who feel affected by the crime and asks if they feel ‘that they have closure.’ The answer is usually ‘no’.

We still struggle to understand that justice and revenge are not the same thing. Our society seeks to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes, but our instincts want retribution.

It was not until religion created stories like the rehabilitation of Joseph that convinced people that the divine plan was for people to reconcile their differences. It was only then that humanity was able unite clans into tribes and tribes into nations.

The story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brother might seem obvious, or even trivial in the grander scheme of things. But grudges are still held within families in our time. By the time I was married both my parents had died so my father in law asked my uncle who he knew if he and his wife would stand in for my parents at the wedding. Unfortunately, my other surviving uncle felt that as the older brother he should have stood in for my Dad. Those two brothers had been best mates and regularly visited each other throughout their lives but from that point on they never spoke to each other again. That was a sad but violence free family tiff but if you have ever watched a number of episodes of Midsummer Murders you will understand that most murders occur within the family. Furthermore, New Zealand has an appalling record of violence within intimate relationships.

The rules spelled out in Leviticus strongly condemn family violence in line with our reading from Genesis. The classic line quoted in Jesus’ response to the lawyer in Mark and Matthew is Leviticus 19:18 which states ‘you shall not take vengeance or bare a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am Yahweh your God.

We can see by that final phrase that this is not recorded as some tribal rule that can be up for debate. It is a divine command. We should also note that it is about the way people must treat family and neighbours because the Hebrew Scripture is full of stories about how those who are not part of the family or the neighbourhood can be treated.

In fact, if we allow our imagination to take us inside the story, I think Joseph’s brothers were most concerned that, in selling him into slavery they had cast him out of their family. Therefore, he was free from any constraint to revenge that family obligation and the laws of Leviticus might provide.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Jesus quotes the tradition of his time as ‘you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (Matthew 5: 43)

Jesus then goes on to say, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 4:44)

We are focussed this morning on Luke’s alternative ‘The Sermon on the Plain’ where, in the opening verse, Jesus repeats the verse from Matthew and then goes on to command that we are to ‘do good to those who hate us and bless those who curse us. Then in verse 29 he suggests that ‘if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.’ So not only is retribution out generosity is in.

Much as these statements from Jesus in Matthew and Luke are revolutionary, they went a long way to make Christianity important in facilitating humanity’s move towards the global village we find ourselves in today. But people spend an awful lot of effort finding their way around regulations. It is therefore not surprising that we find lawyers drawing these statements out of Jesus. It is also a lawyer’s question in chapter 10 that prompts Luke’s Jesus to tell a story, ‘The Good Samaritan’, (Luke 10:25-37) to ground and fill out the essence of the regulations from our reading.

A story can always carry much more information and elicit a deeper response than bland statements or regulations. Furthermore, a story can be a complete figment of someone’s imagination but it still produce a response in the imagination of the listener. A response that changes people’s behaviour for generations to come.

That is why the gospel writers took the sayings of Jesus and wrote stories around them. Even today’s reading from Luke, which reads like a list of instructions, belongs in a story context.

Jesus went up the mountain and prayed all night and in the morning he called his disciples together and chose twelve which he also named apostles. Then he came down the mountain with them to a level place and a great crowd gathered round him. They came to hear him and to be healed. They all tried to touch him because power came out of him.

Jesus then looked at his disciples and began the instructions for Christian living we have read from.

Framing these rules within a story gives them a place in the development of the revolutionary ideas that became Christianity. A religion that united people and empires across Europe and out into the wider world with European colonialism. The Christian faith helped build empires that, for all their brutality, saw it as their duty to not just conquer diverse peoples but to bring the benefits of empire to the conquered people.

India were pleased to throw off the yoke of the British Empire but it had united diverse tribes into one nation, and as we have just been reminded they still play cricket with skill and passion.

But more important than the power of Institutionalised Christianity and its often-brutal contribution to the development of a global human community is the contribution of individual Christians.

Throughout Christianity’s two thousand years history there have been individual people inspired by the stories that are the foundation of the faith. The sayings of Jesus, the stories he told and the stories of Judaism in which Jesus own religious understanding was grounded. Such people have kept the faith alive in its darkest times and been true beacons of hope that have contributed not just to the development of humanity but, a more compassionate and caring humanity.

It can be argued that Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement that God is Dead meant that Christianity was replaced by humanism. But things are never that simple and humanism was grounded in Christianity. Furthermore, Christianity exists alongside humanism and as the influence of humanism fades to be replaced by capitalism, consumerism and the communication revolution, individual Christians and the Church still have a part to play.

The worldwide human community is evolving, and the influence of the church has certainly diminished within that evolution. But the fact that Jesus named only twelve apostles reminds us that small can be good.

We are still called by the Christ within us to be the salt that flavours the journey of humanity towards the people we are all divinely called to be.

1 Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999)p.80

2 Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (London: Vintage Books 2011)

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Sunday 24th February 2019


A very warm welcome to all who worship with us today. Please stay for a cuppa. Many thanks to Rev Hugh Perry for leading today’s service.

Fireside will meet in the Church, 43 St Martins Rd on Tuesday 26th February at 7.30pm. We plan to move all the equipment back into the new kitchen and put it into cupboards and drawers, so please bring a couple of tea towels and wear oldish clothes. We will also be bringing the new chairs out of the garage and removing the plastic wrapping off them, so a duster might come in handy as well! It could be a slightly dirty evening but will be good to catch up at the beginning of the year. Allison.

Minister’s holidays…. Dugald is on leave until 12th March. If you have need of a minister, please contact Lyndsey McKay 388 1264.

Next Sunday’s worship will be led by Rev Nancy Jean Whitehead.

Wednesday Walkers: 27th February. Meet 9.30am outside Under The Red Verandah Café, 502 Worcester St, (cnr Tancred St) for a walk around Avonside. Coffee will be at the Café.  All welcome. Judith 332 1577, or 027 688 1861.

Cleaner: Shortly we will need to appoint a cleaner for the church. If you know of someone please talk with one of the Managers.

Preparing for Entry: We now have keypad entry points to the church. Old keys will not work, and anyone needing access to the church will need to get the keypad number from the office.  Because this number needs to be kept confidential you are asked to sign a confidentiality statement.  This means we can keep an accurate list of those who know the number.

Please return all old keys to the Office.

Crafty Crafters: Thursdays 10am-12 noon at 43 St Martins Rd. New faces are always welcome. Bring along an unfinished craft item, or learn a new skill. Cost $3 per session. Contact Lyndsey McKay 388 1264 for more information.

Crafty Crafters Bus Trip to Geraldine Thursday 21st March 9am. Please pay $30 to Lyndsey McKay by 3rd March. Thank You.

From Board of Managers’ meeting held last Wednesday:

*Members felt that the church foyer was a good size for the meeting and after opening the windows, cool air circulated.

*A contractual cleaner is required and, in the meantime, Sue will clean once a week to assess time needed and the job description.

*Fireside will set up the kitchen at this month’s meeting.

*New seats have arrived but without arms to save costs. Cyril is sanding and cleaning some of the older chairs.

*Bike stands are being built.

*The old concrete paths need to be broken up and it was agreedthatthe concrete work would be undertaken by church members.

*All rental properties must meet new insulation standards by 1 July 2019 so we must obtain quotes for the manse to bring it up to standard.

*New advertising signage was agreed for the front of the church using the current triangular framework.

*Health and Safety and usage signs are to be erected to ensure users are safe and leave the premises tidy.

World Day of Prayer Friday 1st March 7.30pm

at Salvation Army, Southampton Street. Everyone iswelcome to attend this ecumenical service.

Jams, Chutneys & Relishes for Sale (most $4):

Tomato sauce, tomato relish, redcurrant & onion relish, plum & apple chutney; peach jelly, redcurrant jelly; Jams: hawea plum, greengage, raspberry, apricot, rhubarb & pineapple; Marmalades: lemon, orange & whisky, grapefruit, lemon & orange; $5: grapefruit, grapefruit & ginger.

If you have a favourite, place an order with Sue Saunders next Sunday 24th Feb – available to purchase 3rd & 10th March.  Cash sales only!

‘It’s Hot! Welcome to the Anthropocene’. Friday March 8th, 7.00-9.30pm, St Ninian’s, 5 Puriri St, Riccarton.

The Rev Dr Clive Pearson will present two lectures exploring the age of humans, i.e. the Anthropocene—an age which signifies the extent to which the human species has affected the planetary Earth systems. First session 7-8pm then half hour break for questions and break. Second session, ‘Believing the Anthropocene’ 8.30-9.20pm.

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Sunday 17 February 2019

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.


A very warm welcome to all who worship with us today. Please stay for a cuppa after the service.

Please Note: The Office telephone is still not working, but the e-mail is up and running. If you need to contact the Office urgently and do not have online access, Anna’s cellphone is : 0274332687

Minister’s holidays…. Dugald will is on leave for three weeks. If you have need of a minister, please contact Lyndsey McKay 388 1264.

Next Sunday’s worship will be led by Rev Hugh Perry.

Sound Operators: We are hoping Shipley’s will give a run down on the new sound system tomorrow (Monday) possibly at 9am.

Articles are now required for the next ‘Messenger’. The deadline is Friday 22nd February. Email:

Wednesday Walkers: 20th February. Meet 9.30am in Hawford Rd at Opawa Mall side entrance for a walk around the Opawa area followed by coffee at Opawa Café. All welcome.  Joan Scott 021 144 2406.

Board of Managers meeting this Wednesday 20th February 7.30pm in the church foyer.

Cleaner: Shortly we will need to appoint a cleaner to clean the church. If you know of a goodlocal person please talk with one of the Managers.

Preparing for Entry: We now have keypad entry points to the church. Old keys will not work, and anyone needing access to the church will need to get the keypad number from the office.  Because this number needs to be kept confidential you are asked to sign a confidentiality statement.  This means we can keep an accurate list of those who know the number.

Please return all old keys to the Office.

Crafty Crafters: Thursdays 10am-12 noon at 43 St Martins Rd. New faces are always welcome. Bring along an unfinished craft item, or learn a new skill. Cost $3 per session. Contact Lyndsey McKay 388 1264 for more information.

Crafty Crafters Bus Trip to Geraldine Thursday 21st March. Members of the congregation are invited to join us for a day out. Expressions of interest to Lyndsey McKay please. The cost will depend on the number of people who come.

Jams, Chutneys & Relishes for Sale (most $4):

Tomato relish, redcurrant & onion relish, plum & apple chutney; peach jelly, redcurrant jelly; Jams: hawea plum, greengage, raspberry, apricot, rhubarb & pineapple; Marmalades: lemon, orange & whisky, grapefruit, lemon & orange; $5: grapefruit, grapefruit & ginger.

If you have a favourite, place an order with Sue Saunders next Sunday 24th Feb – available to purchase 3rd & 10th March.  Cash sales only!

‘It’s Hot! Welcome to the Anthropocene’. Friday March 8th, 7.00-9.30pm, St Ninian’s, 5 Puriri St, Riccarton.

The Rev Dr Clive Pearson will present two lectures exploring the age of humans, i.e. the Anthropocene—an age which signifies the extent to which the human species has affected the planetary Earth systems. First session 7-8pm then half hour break for questions and break. Second session, ‘Believing the Anthropocene’ 8.30-9.20pm.

Town Hall Open Days

Saturday 23 February and Sunday 24 February, 12 noon – 6 pm, 86 – 95 Kilmore Street. The mayor will officially re-open the Town Hall at noon on 23 February, and people will be able to tour the Douglas Lilburn auditorium, the Avon Room that was Boaters Restaurant, and the Victoria and Limes Rooms. The James Hay Theatre will re-open in April, and August is the completion date for all restoration work.

From Barry Ayres, Executive Officer, Alpine Presbytery on Tasman District Fires

For the past week we have been monitoring the crisis in the Tasman area with the ongoing fires. We are keeping in touch with the churches in that area in case there are needs that we can help with.

Could I please remind you to: (and you will most likely already be doing this!) 
* keep the people in the Tasman area in your churches’ prayers – this is a very anxious situation for all concerned and a demanding time for all the emergency workers who are obviously doing a fantastic job in very demanding conditions;

* with the imminent plan to place restrictions on the use of water in the district there will no doubt be added pressure to local business and rural sectors;

* consider how your church could provide appropriate help  – I have had an inquiry or two and some have asked about sending food, etc. Our experience shows that in the main the best practical support is finance. Local people can then turn that into food or whatever may best help them. A good principle before sending any help is to ask what is most needed. The people at the scene will know best.

Donations can be made to the Tasman District Mayoral Relief Fund or to Alpine Presbytery and we will pass those donations on for you. The Alpine bank account is 06 0197 0399931 00 (please indicate whom the donation is from so that we can receipt you)


We continue to pray for the people of the Tasman region and indeed people in many parts of NZ as the fire-risk increases this summer.

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It All Begins Now

ILuke 4:14-30

We Protestants are an interesting bunch.  We have been shaped by one Martin Luther who had a deep crisis of faith and one day discovered that he didn’t need to prove himself good enough to be accepted by God but he accepted just as he was.  It was a profound moment of liberation for Luther and he set about liberating his church from the idea that you had to earn a place in heaven, by being good enough or by paying large sums of money to the church to purchase your ticket.  Justification by grace through faith became the catch cry of the new church that emerged.  God accepts and treasures you as a free gift, grace….accept this by faith and you are born anew.  And I trust you know this good news to be true.  I have to confess I need to go on hearing this because my faith is not always strong.  I thank God that there is an insistent whisper in the universe that keeps underlining this.  Amazing Grace.

There is an issue however with this message as the good news of Jesus.  Justification by grace through faith as I hear it is a very individualistic message.  If this is the good news of Jesus it seems to be about saving certain individuals.  Now clearly each and every one of us is precious to God – that is well seen in Jesus’ ministry.  He even goes out of his way to notice the untouchables, and the nobodies of the world.  It is good news to know we are loved, we are accepted, we are valued.  Jesus does set us free from the need to prove ourselves, to be good enough, and he sets us free from the crippling fear of a hell.  But it’s just not enough. There is something much more to Jesus’ message of salvation and healing than saving individual souls.  It’s not just for me and my salvation, but Jesus wanted to save and heal the whole of creation.

Jesus doesn’t talk of an individual’s justification by grace through faith.  He says I have come that the whole earth might find life in all its fullness.  He has come to bring heaven into earth. He says the kingdom of God is at hand, not just for a select few but for the whole earth.  His ministry was about transforming life, and transforming communities.  He talked of a new commonwealth.  Individuals mattered but individuals don’t stand alone.  We are all part of communities and we are all part of a larger web of life.

After spending time in the desert preparing for his ministry Luke gives us the bones of an encounter that serves as a key introduction to his mission. He arrives back in his hometown and on the Sabbath went with everyone else to the local synagogue.  He is handed the scroll of Isaiah to read and opens the scriptures at Isaiah 61, a passage originally from the time of Exile when the Babylonian captives were given good news that God was going to deliver them.  A new beginning was at hand.  God was going to act to set captives free, to deliver the poor, give new vision to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.  Great news.

It sounds like music to our ears.  We all want captives set free, deliverance for the poor, the blind given vision.  Nice words.  Nice sentiment. The reference to the year of the Lord’s Favour is a little less obvious.  It is a reference to what was known as the Year of Jubilee which was supposed to happen every fifty years in Israelite society.  (you can read about this in Lev  25:8-12) In that year all debts were cancelled and all property that had been sold was returned to the original owner.  This sounds odd to our ears but in Israelite society God owned the land and it was allotted to each family.  You didn’t own land but were simply trustees.  If you got into strife financially as plenty of people did in a hand to mouth economy you could sell your land but because it didn’t actually belong to you all you could do was sell it till the next year of Jubilee when it would return to your family again.  In effect you were selling years of use.  Investing ownership in God  was a radical way of ensuring the rich didn’t go on getting richer and the poor go down the plughole.  There was a constant rebalancing of wealth.  Likewise In the Jubilee Year all monetary debts were cancelled, and if you had sold family members into slavery they were released.  Everyone got a fresh start.  But it wasn’t just about people.  It was also a year of freedom for all creation, for the plants which were to be un-pruned and left free and wild for the year.  There was to be no intensive cultivation – creation was given a year to rest.  There were other laws about letting the land lie fallow every seven years, leaving some of the harvest around the edges for wild creatures and so on. The underlying message was the same, all of creation needed to be cared for, life was a gift, and should celebrate and emulate the grace of God.  All life should be given a fresh chance.   All creatures and plants included. 

It was a great passage to read.  But Jesus then sits down to teach on the passage that’s just been read as was custom.  Sermon time, and he says just a few words.  It’s happening now, this is what God wants and God want’s it now, here.  This is my ministry.

If he just said I have come to tell you God loves you, all would be well.  If he had just said believe and you are saved, there would have been lots of handshakes and pats on the back.  If he had just said have some concern for the poor and give them some left over change there would have been no issue.

But there was an immediate reaction….rage!  He says it’s time to take radical action to start living in a new way…the Kingdom of God way.  Forgive our debts and grudges, redistribute the wealth we have earned, sort out the conflicts, open the doors of the boxes we have put others in, set everyone free of the labels we have put on them.  Take better care of the environment.  You’ve got to be kidding.   It suits me to hold a grudge against old ‘so and so’.  It suits me to keep ‘x’ who I find a pain at arm’s length in a well-constructed figurative box.  The wealth and property I have is mine – I’ve earned it and I’m not about to put it at God’s disposal.  Don’t tell me to buy an electric donkey that doesn’t emit greenhouse gasses.    

To make matters worse Jesus starts naming outsiders as deserving God’s favour, and saying his hearers have domesticated their religion.  Outsiders don’t even put in the hard yards of going to church every Sunday.  This new earth is for them too?  What sort of God are we talking about here.

Seems like the answer to that question is pretty clear.  God is a God of grace.  God has a concern for everyone.   God wants to transform the world as we know it because it’s not providing life in all its fullness for everyone, and God wants us to take risks for this new earth NOW

Clearly it was all too much for the local synagogue.  Rage…. Isn’t this Joe’s son, and maybe the heat has got to him.  Who is he telling us good people what to do.  We are God’s people and we work damned hard to get what we have.    Jesus is just upsetting the apple cart.  He’s got a lot to learn about how the world really operates.

But Jesus is adamant.  The good news wasn’t about some distant heaven somewhere in the future, but about finding heaven in our midst now.  It was about Gods faithful solidarity with all humanity and all creation NOW.  It was about Gods compassion and call to be reconciled with one another NOW.  It was a summons to dare to be different NOW.    

Everyone agrees that the poor and down trodden should be helped sometime, that oppression and exploitation of the earth should cease one day, the planet should be respected one day, that wars should cease someday.  But for Jesus the message is clear…that someday is NOW.

The day has come today to cancel debts, to sort out issues with your enemies, to share bread with the hungry, to invite the outcasts over for dinner, to care for creation….to start walking a new road.

The church as I know it still struggles to cotton on.  We are still often in the someday mode.  I look around us and see all sorts of petty conflicts.  We are real human beings after all and we still have much to learn about how to sort out our life together.  I look around and we are all somewhat lukewarm about the idea that we are trustees of the wealth we ‘own’.  We ask how will I benefit from ‘my’ wealth  instead of using it to transform life for all.  We hear about issues about our environment and say someone else can take the steps to sort it.  I find it mind blowing to think that if Jesus used a plastic bottle of shampoo we could dig it up intact today some 2000 years later.  How many plastic bottles and bags have I consigned to the trash to lie around in the earth and other places or break down and fill the oceans with plastic pieces?   Am I really with Jesus and the kingdom of heaven on this?  As his disciples we should be leading the charge to care for our environment, to be the radical ones who try to practice sustainability, but sadly too often you and I are in with the crowd.

I know it’s not easy stepping out of the patterns of life we are all embedded in, but the call of Jesus is a call to take radical risks to give witness to a new way of living……  NOW.   We are to be the Good News….NOW.  it was all too much for the hometown crowd that day, and if I’m honest I have some sympathy for them.  If we are going to be different we will need to encourage one another, bounce ideas off one another, question and learn together, pray together, act together.  NOW!

Dugald Wilson 3 Feb 2019 t

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We are Apprentices

  Luke 5:1-11

People called Jesus “Rabbi”, which means teacher.  He gathered around him a group of people called disciples.  Disciples are people who believe their teacher has something to teach them.  They are questioners and learners.  The word disciple come a Latin word which means to learn.   Learners ask questions, learners experiment, learners commit time and energy to following.  Maybe a good term in our time is “apprentices”, because learning for discipleship involves hands on practice.  Discipleship is a way of life.

Discipleship is an honoured and treasured term.  I remember as a young man reading Jesus’ teachings and being drawn into a way of looking at the world and other people that resonated deep within.  I was looking for a guide to show me how to live well and Jesus helped me see what was good and true.  His teachings helped me find values to live by.  As a young child I discovered speaking the truth was one of those values.  I discovered it was much better to tell my parents that I’d broken a precious ornament rather than concoct a story about how the cat had mysteriously jumped up and knocked the prize vase off the mantelpiece…  I was amazed at the way Jesus reached out to strangers and people who were rejected by others and tried to do the same.  I saw kids being treated badly by others at school so would try and befriend them.  Kids from other countries or with a different skin colour would often be picked on or ignored, so I tried to put myself in their shoes and befriend them…  I didn’t realise it at the time but the space to reflect as I walked home from school was an invaluable time of solitude where I could reflect and chew things over and Jesus was often part of that time. 

In my early 20’s I took to heart Jesus’ advice to live simply and tried to avoid being duped into the consumer dream that happiness is found in having the latest whatever.  I found others interested in that dream and we set up our flat to live simply, because we believed that’s what Jesus taught.  Part of that dream was to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle so as to consume less of the world’s resources which we did for some years, but alas the meat lover has won through again.  We talked about issues together and were part of the anti-nuclear movement staging street dramas and doing whatever we could to alert others to the evil of nuclear weapons.  When Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, we took his words seriously.  To spend billions on making and peddling weapons of destruction in a world wracked by poverty and basic health and education issues, seems so wrong.  Jesus clearly stood for another way.  His rage at the merchants ripping off the poor in the temples was clear evidence of that.  His overturning of the money tables was not an anti-business protest, but was a protest about ripping people off and inappropriate and evil ways of making money.  Our banking industry needs to take note.  In our flat we talked often of how we could be a witness for Jesus and we tried to invite someone to share a meal with us each week.  Getting to know how others ticked and why they held views that were different was important. 

When it came to the inevitable O.E. (overseas experience) I felt called by Jesus to do something different.  Most seemed to head to the UK for a couple of years but I wanted to look at world poverty and decided to spend a year in a wealthy country and a year in a poor country to see what I could learn.  In America I volunteered to help in a rehab community for people suffering from mental illness.  It gave me a fascinating insight into the importance of community as a healing power.  I also learned as I walked the streets of wealthy American cities that there was terrible poverty there and many it seemed were consigned to the scrapheap of life.  Wealth invariably brought injustices as those with plenty tried to protect their position. In India I helped with the Presbyterian mission project in Jagadhri as well as spending time in a multi-faith project in Bihar state (maybe the poorest state in India) teaching children from surrounding villages about agricultural practices that might enable them to grow more food.  I learned that people with very little are often happier than those with much.  I learned many aid projects end poorly because they are too quick fix and not there for the long haul. People and communities are always very resistant to change even when the change will bring benefit.  I also learned that other religious traditions can help us rediscover spiritual practices of Jesus like the setting aside of quiet time to meditate and reflect with God who lives within on what was really motivating and driving my life.  Learning from other Christian traditions and other religions was an important part of listening to Jesus, and seeking to be a apprentice….someone who was constantly learning from Jesus.

Youth is, of course, a time to experiment and learn.  Unburdened by responsibility you can take risks and can be idealistic.  Sometimes I had no idea where I would lay my head at night, but things usually work out and around the world people are wonderfully gracious and kind.  Time progresses and sadly taking risks, experimenting, and exploring get trampled in our lives.  We start worrying about the future and get entangled in relationships that mean we are responsible for the welfare of others.  We adopt routines that minimize risk, or avoid pushing boundaries.  It’s easy for Jesus to become domesticated.  No longer is Jesus a teacher and we apprentices, but we are much happier to talk of Jesus as possibly a friend, or as a nice guy, and church can become a club rather than a community where we experiment and learn.  We reflect this in our makeup.  You go to Sunday School and Youth Group to learn and then you settle and get through life with the knowledge you’ve learned in those early years.  The truth is faith has to continue to grow and change as we learn more and more about life and face new experiences like what to do with wealth, how do we face aging and death, what do we do about climate change.  Too often faith becomes a private matter, a Sunday only matter.  We might go to a study group, but they tend to be about talking, head knowledge, and not ongoing transformation.  After three or four sessions we are as deep as we want to get with each other.

I believe that most of us want to live a life that honours God, our creator, a life that is meaningful, a life of significance, a life that honours our calling.  We want to live a life of integrity, a life that is true to our essence, and which will make a difference in our world.  To do this I believe we need a spiritual guide and we need to commit to ongoing learning.  As Christians we believe we see God most clearly in Jesus.  Jesus, is our light, our teacher, our Way, and we need to be learners of this Way throughout our lives.  Life long apprentices. 

I was speaking a while ago to a person who was learning a new way of living.  He had joined a  Weight Watchers group.  He said he’d been trying to lose weight for years and knew all the head stuff about what was required.  Eat less, exercise more….it’s pretty simple really.  But however hard he tried he never managed to put it into practice.  His weight remained the same or in reality slowly crept up over the years.  What made the difference he said was meeting with others who supported him and encouraged him to head down another road.  He needed to learn some strategies to do things differently, and he need to know others were with him as he instituted some changes in his life.  In just a couple of months he’s lost nearly 10kg.  It’s being part of a group that regularly meets together and encourages each other to with helpful advice that’s made the difference, he said.

I don’t quite understand why our religion and spirituality is so private.  I don’t understand why we give up learning.  I don’t know why we stop questioning and growing like little children do.   Life certainly becomes more complex as move down the track and face dilemmas and issues.  Disciples of Jesus don’t stop wrestling with that complexity and experimenting with answers. 

The truth is, Jesus didn’t just communicate some nice ideas, but declared “I am the way” and invited his disciples to form a community that would learn together and practice together a new way of living.  We live in a very different world some 2000 years after Jesus lived, but fueled and inspired by his example, teachings, and sacrifice, and listening for his Spirit alive in our time our eyes and hearts can be Jesus opened to see the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst.  We make the Way by walking not standing still or by always looking back to past traditions. 

Maybe we have been hoodwinked by our academic tradition that defined learning as acquiring information and knowledge.  We would be better off thinking of ourselves as apprentices  – people who learn by hands on learning and experimenting. The real answers lie in our lives here and now.  Past answers can help. But actually we have to face the reality of now.  If you ever had children that learned karate you’ll know the meaning of the word dojo.  A dojo comes out of the Japanese tradition  and it’s a place or school where you learn to practice martial arts or mediation.  Theoretically you could have a dojo to learn knitting or cooking.  The important thing is that it’s a place or a group where you learn how to do it through practice.  You learn karate by fronting up and focusing your energy to smash bits of wood.  It’s hands on practice.  It involves failure, commitment of time, some pain, connecting with people at the same stage and with the same vision.  Together the skills and the mental focus is learned that enables you to do amazing things.

It starts with someone recognizing and voicing a desire to learn and to grow.  Someone saying I don’t get it, I need help.  Asking a question.  Recognizing an itch or a hunger and being honest enough to own it.   I believe the gospel of Jesus, spreads not by force, or fear, but by fascination.  People itching together, people asking questions, people connecting.  Now there’s an interesting image for a church community!  People connecting with God by looking to Jesus as the rabbi, the teacher, the way of life.  People connecting with each other but also engaging with his Spirit today. People who know we make the road by walking and connecting. (net/cross)

So apprentices…. Learners… I’ve said before the church of the future is about circles…people engaging, connecting authentically, searching for true life.  Where 2 or 3 gather in my name, I will be there said Jesus ….maybe you have a question or an itch you need to share?.

Dugald Wilson 10 Feb 2019

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