The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s123g15   Sunday 11 14/6/2015

‘the greatest of all shrubs .. so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade’  Mark 4:32

I recall many years ago a senior member of the clergy in Australia responding to the border protection policy of the then Australian Government, saying that desperate people were paying exorbitant amounts of money to unscrupulous people for passage on unseaworthy boats to come to Australia with no guarantee of a welcome.  The import of his words were that these people knew that they were desperate, they knew the traffickers were unscrupulous, they knew the boats were unseaworthy and they knew the welcome from Australia was far from guaranteed; and yet they did and continue to try to come.  What a price people will pay to find a nest in the shade!   In more recent times we have witnessed the tragedy of thousands dying in attempts to sail across the Mediterranean in order to find sanctuary in Europe.   Are there no nests in the shade to be found in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Libya?

As an itinerant vicar, for many years living in accommodation provided by the various parishes, one has never particularly felt ‘at home’.   Bishops are rightly worried for congregations where the minister overstays their welcome.   It is good to have a change as it brings different perceptions.   As I am coming to the end of my ministry, it is salutary to realise that I am entirely expendable.  God has got more humans ready, willing and able to take my place, to breathe the air that I would prefer to keep breathing myself.   While I recognise and am grateful for a being that cares for me unconditionally, I have to recognise that my time is limited and that the unconditional care extended to me is no more than the unconditional care extended towards all others.   Everyone else is as entitled as me to the shade that I have enjoyed.  Indeed one can appreciate that there may indeed be a divine impatience to care for others rather than just me.

I know something about having a nest in the shade.  ‘In the shade’ for us actually means living in our own home behind some sand dunes which lifts the ‘beasterly easterly’ over the roof.   It is in a small area in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch which has been largely unaffected by the series of 583 (mag 4+) earthquakes since September 2009.   It means being 275 metres from an often deserted beach where on a clear day we can see from Kaikoura 150 kms to the north and Banks Peninsula 50 kms to the south.   It is ‘tsunami-ville’ but we will live with this!   ‘In the shade’ means living in a civilised society where everyone is regarded as precious; where even the execution of alleged drug traffickers in Bali is questioned.

And I have to comment how society is actually more accepting than the church.   We have resigned ourselves to the comfortable acceptance that there are some people who will never be welcomed into our communion and fellowship.   We don’t have to worry, these others are expendable.   But no, in a civilised society, no one is expendable!

Recently I have been reflecting that for those of us in the western world, we hold in our hands more computing power than Apollo 11 had to put man on the moon in 1969.   To quote one article:  ‘Even the simplest software today would far exceed the technical constraints the Apollo team worked under.   The Apollo programme was pre-Moores's Law: in 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore wrote his vision of how the performance of computer hardware would double every 18 months for the same price. .. That a USB memory stick today is more powerful than the computers that put man on the moon is testimony to the relentless pace of technological development .. the Apollo programme proved that computers could be entrusted with human lives.   Man and machine worked in unison to achieve something that 40 years on, has yet to be surpassed.’  (1)

Hand in hand with this level of technological democracy, each and every one of us has the wherewithal to self publish a book, a song or a video almost without cost.

Crowd-sourcing is a way of interconnecting people to work together for a far greater good. (2)   Wikipedia has become the new Encyclopaedia Brittanica free of charge to everyone.

Crowd-funding is a new way of raising money for personal causes, such as ‘Give-a-Little’ (3)

Free Open Source video broadcasting software is already available, so any of us could essentially produce our own television program.  (4)   Locally we have recently witnessed the implosion of the local Police Headquarters in Christchurch (5) and are familiar with Go-pro cameras and drones to observe the damaged areas of Christchurch (6) and their capabilities to bring vision to the wider world.

I recall a senior member of the clergy once commenting: ‘What do you do if you don’t know what to do?   Instigate a structural review!’   For those of us who have felt threatened by the imposition of a structural review from above, a couple of quotations are key:

‘In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find
themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.’ (7) and: ‘Resolve to be a master of change rather than a victim of change.’ (8)

But again, this applies far more significantly to the church than it does to individuals.   Time and again throughout history, the church has been seen to resist change and excommunicate those who have discovered things which we now simply take for granted - like the earth revolving around the sun.   The church has been the learned who are equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.   The church which claims the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has become the victim of change!

On the other hand the internet is providing a ‘nest’ for a huge variety of people regardless of denominational or national boundaries, boundaries which have often been delineated arbitrarily by the victors of various conflicts, tragically now having to be redrafted by civil conflict.   It is on the internet others have found their voice, their audience, their contribution.

Yes, it is a ‘virtual’ rather than an actual community, yet I hazard to guess it would be far easier to argue the personal significance of the internet rather than the real presence of the eucharist!   It is far easier to argue the affirmation that comes from being accepted, included and listened to, more than receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.

And so the question is: Is the church desirous of being the branches of the tree which shelters the nests of all people, people just wanting to bring up their offspring, physical and conceptual, safely?   Or is the church only desirous of providing a safe haven for straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing and compliant Anglicans of my particular variety?   It seems disingenuous of such an exclusive church to criticise governments and their strong border protection policies, without ever questioning her own border protection policies.

7.  Eric Hoffer
8.  Brian Tracy