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

s191g10  Redcliffs Union Church  12/9/2010  Sunday 24  Celebration of Spring (which in the antipodes begins on September the first.)

This sermon is in two parts.  The first is an outline of an extempore time with young people and the second follows on from the first - for the adults.   Readers in the northern hemisphere will need to delete references to Spring :-)

Childrens’ Time:

There are lots of ways to lose something.   My ‘favourite’ is when I put something down to do something else, and I can never find it again.   Do you lose things?   How do you go about finding them?  (Think when you last saw or used it).   We still haven’t found my wife’s watch she took off before taking a shower a month ago!

Animals stray too.   Lambs are busy munching grass, and they see a greener bit a way away, and they go to eat this, and then another bit, a bit further away and slowly they stray from their mothers.   Last week my wife and I went for a walk along the tracks at the top of the gondola, and we saw the new-born lambs along with the magnificent views of Lyttelton and Heathcote.   But a little later the fog descended, and those lambs, previously happily munching, were bleating so that their mother ewes could find them.   And we can get lost too, reading a book, concentrating on a task, as we go into our own little world, and sometimes this is a good thing.

People can stray too, but not like sheep, or people concentrating on something.   People can think that they are too important for others, they are too special.   Do you know people who bully others?   So when the pakeha came to Australia and New Zealand, they treated the Aboriginals and the Maori as if they weren’t important.   And even today some pakeha act as if Aboriginals and Maori are not important.   And some people who go to church think that they are more important than others.   They think that everyone else should be like them.   They think Jesus should get everyone to come to Church.

And Jesus says that it is these people who think that they are so special who have strayed, they have gone off on their own deliberately, and Jesus calls them back into humanity.

Are you good at something?   Are you good at reading, music?   It’s good to be good at something, but others are good at other things too.

You and I know that God loves us, because God, of course loves all.   And one of the best thins to be good at is loving ourselves and loving others.

Adults’ Time

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

'he told the Pharisees and the scribes (who) were grumbling this parable'  Luke 15.2

One of the things that the liturgy gives us is the response to the bible readings: ‘Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church’.   And I point this out because often we think that the word of God is directed towards those who don’t come to Church, but should.   But the context for the readings for the gospel today is that the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are spoken to those who were devout.   These people were put out that Jesus associated with people other than themselves.

I have been a minister for many years now, and one of the constants for that whole time is that the minister lurches from one crisis to another.   No sooner is one person dealt with when another comes along with another need to be met.

Now these crises differ in seriousness.   It may be someone ringing the minister on their day off because they can’t find the keys to the church, or that they need to arrange a swap on the flower roster.   They can be nice things, perhaps a gift to the minister, like a pottery wheel - it just needs to be picked up.   Or it might be an idea for mission or outreach that the members of the church council have not been enthusiastic about, and if only the minister will support it then it might go ahead.  It might be a case of sickness, impending operation or, of course, a death.

And there are lots of reasons why members of a congregation believe that the minister needs to drop everything and deal with *their* crisis immediately.   One good reason is that the person in crisis comes to church each Sunday.   Another good reason is that the person supports the Church financially.   But of course, most members of the congregation also want the minister to be out and about, encouraging others to join our congregation.   So simply being a member or being financial should not be a criterion.   The minister can hardly say to one, ‘I’m sorry, but just at the moment I’m helping so-and-so who gives more than you.’   A person might indeed think this, but it is the minister who has the call, and can hardly respond this way.   Members of a congregation might complain when the minister conducts a funeral for someone who has never been in the church; but what an advertisement for the church, and how to encourage people to join!  

And so members of the congregation can grumble.   In a past parish in Australia where I was the minister, a few half dozen grumbled that I was helping a Sudanese refugee community too much.   The Sudanese came to church, indeed there were three ordained ministers who were refugees amongst them.   But, of course, they weren’t contributing much to the church coffers!  In fact of course, most of their dole money was being sent back to their families and friends back in the Sudan.

Of course, such half dozen people wouldn’t be in churches other than Anglican and certainly not in New Zealand. :-)

Today we are celebrating the beginning of Spring, and it is indeed a lovely time of year, in a particularly beautiful part of the world.   Christchurch calls itself the ‘garden city’ of New Zealand and it is indeed beautiful.

Spring is a time of rebirth, and I point out that it is rebirth into relationship with other people.   The lost sheep is brought back to the flock, the lost coin to its owner, the younger lost brother to his family, the older lost brother is exhorted not to separate himself from his family.   Rebirth is not primarily about a new beginning with God.   First and foremost it is about a new beginning with those around us.   Indeed, as I said to the young ones at the beginning, we can use our supposed relationship with God to separate ourselves from others.

Spring offers us the joy of relationship, with creation indeed, but also the joy of relationship with all those God puts around us.   And to enter into this joy is to enter into the kingdom God wants for all.   So secondarily, re-birth brings us into relationship with God.

But I want to stress that this relationship with others cannot be bypassed, for it is here that true enlightenment comes.   Enlightenment because we can accept ourselves for who we are, and enlightenment because we can accept others for who they are too.   We no longer have to be on a mission to change ourselves or others.   And it is in this acceptance of who we are and who others are that we glimpse how God looks at us and others as well, and what a joyful glimpse this is!

So it is lovely and entirely appropriate to be celebrating the beginning of Spring with these readings this morning, for they tell us that our journey with God is not in theological, biblical or moral stratospheres, but as we get our hands dirty with the ordinary things of life, amongst the ‘ordinary’ people God places us - if there ever is anyone who can actually be described as ‘ordinary’.   The sheep is extra-ordinary because it is lost, the coin, likewise, the younger son because he has separated himself from the family, the older son because he wants to separate himself too.   We are all extra-ordinary because we are loved in such an extra-ordinary way, by such an extra-ordinary God!

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