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The Stones Cry Out                       

March 21, 2016

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Isaiah 43: 16-21            Luke 19:28-40

“Do not”, says Isaiah, “remember the former things, or consider the things of old”.

That’s quite a strong call. It’s a bit like telling someone who’s hungry not to think about food.

Isaiah continues the divine voice

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert… to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”

 ‘Declare my praise’. We often think of praise as if it were a private conversation between us and God. We praise God. God sits in heaven and says ‘praise me… that’s nice, now praise me more’. It makes God seem a pretty sad figure. But notice ‘declare’. This is a public declaration. There is a third party. Not just us and God.

 

We are the people who have caught a glimpse of the beauty of God. And we declare it. We are the bearers of that glimpse… for the sake of the world… not to boost God’s ego.

 

Jesus is riding a donkey for the first time in his career. It’s not clear he knows how. They put him on the donkey. They surround him. They do what they do for people who matter. They celebrate him… they line the road… they take their coats and lay them in the dirt of the road for him and his donkey to ride over. They declare his praise. The have caught a glimpse of the beauty of God in his life. They are not silent about it.

The religious establishment (the third party in this case) are not happy. ‘Tell your disciples to stop’.

Jesus replies. ‘I tell you if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

 That’s a fascinating phrase… ‘If they were silent, even the stones would shout out.’ There is something inevitable here. There is the momentum of God behind this revolution. The beauty of God has been seen and is alive. And if these people don’t bear witness to what they have seen God will ensure that there is still witness. ‘Even the rocks will shout’ [‘keep the story alive’]. God will ensure it. God will not be limited by the religious inhibitions of a few anally retentive pharisees.

 It is God’s mission, long before it is ours.

 

Last Sunday I read out an announcement from Session about Mary’s resignation. For those who weren’t here last week and for whom this is news I will read it again.

Session has received with regret the resignation of Mary Somerville from the position of Child, Youth and Family Coordinator. Mary will finish work at the end of April. At this time, with her husband John and daughter Jill, she will be resigning her membership in Coastal Unity Parish. We will be acknowledging all the work she has done and saying goodbye at a farewell. You will all have the opportunity to talk with Mary if you wish over the next month and a bit [when she returns from holiday].

 

We have had a week to reflect on this. We will pray for Mary and John and Jill (and Dan who will be leaving the parish with them) soon. I want to hold that thought for a moment now, and take some time in today’s sermon to reflect about my own journey over the last 13 years at Coastal Unity Parish.

 

I came here at the end of eight years in my first parish in the country. There I think I learnt the ropes… but still wasn’t completely comfortable in my own shoes and in the role. At that point the beliefs and hopes that had shaped my call to ministry were changing shape. I had always had the sense that Jesus was incredible and that he mattered more than anything else… To put it another way, I went into ministry with the thought that it wasn’t so important that we believed in God and that that belief might help us in some way… but that it was much more important that God believed in us (cliche maybe but worth reflection).

 

As I shifted from Darfield to Dunedin that inkling of truth was beginning to come alive for me in new ways that I hadn’t thought of before. When you spend your life reading the bible and preaching and talking to people its sometimes hard to know when these deep convictions begin and end. But somewhere along the way that sense of the enormous impact of Jesus began to become richer and take on new flesh in my thinking and preaching.

 

In Jesus we see God believing in us. Because of him, the human race… need not be a race… but can be a community of mutual giving. Because of him, the violence which structures our societies, in terms of whom we exclude (our common enemies) and whom we scapegoat, can be subverted and broken down… that our deepest fears can be unravelled and a new way of being human is possible.

 

And as I began to reflect on environmental issues it became clearer to me that creation itself might flourish if the human community can be set free from the struggle for scarce resources to share [key word] the abundant resources of the grace of our creator

 

This impossible possibility… that is associated with the Jesus revolution… an earthquake in the very nature of what it is to be human… began to take shape for me. My thinking became more political, it became more about the church (those are not opposite things, after all the christian community is a kind of body politic).

 

This change in being human is something that happens when the Spirit of Jesus comes to a group of people and then people enter into the Spirit of Jesus and start to practice together a different way of being human, embodying the kingdom of God, and so in their life they learn to ‘declare’ to the world the praise of God… before the rocks start to shout out.

 

I started to believe in the possibility of a people so captured by the beauty of God (in Jesus Christ) that they looked like that beauty and others also caught glimpses.

The bible does funny things to your mind!

 

I started to see how a community that is caught up in the beauty of the humanity of God is a community that lives, like Jesus, with the least, the last and the lost of this world. And in this way the praise of God is declared.

 

Selwyn and Ken and Mary and I (with Session) spent a lot of time talking about this vision of a community as an ‘embodiment of the kingdom of God’. Tom and Cat who were with us for a while really understood this vision. And then as some of these ideas were coming to fruition Tom and Cat and then Ken and Selwyn moved on in close succession. I found myself with Mary and others carrying on this vision, sharing regular meals with local people in Sidey Hall…. building gardens and connecting with the community in ways I hadn’t done so before. In many ways this period has been a highlight of my ministry so far.

 

black crossYou might have noticed that recently I have been wearing this around my neck [show plain black wooden cross]. For those at the back, with poor eyesight… it’s a symbol of an intersection, a meeting of two roads. In fact its a crash site. The site of a collision between human culture and God’s life. The cross. And it sums up everything I am learning. That those who seek to follow Jesus towards this intersection… and there is no other way to follow him… must also seek to share their lives in some way with the last, the least and the lost, as he did. And in doing so they risk the same collision as he experienced.

 

I’m not someone who usually feels comfortable in minister’s costume… but over the last year this little bit of ‘bling’ has started to feel right, somehow, as we have started to move outward together in the way of Jesus. Not always easy. There has been considerable resistance from some quarters. And Mary has born the brunt of it more than I have. I understand her decision to leave and I support her in it even though it will be a great loss to us and to the youth.

 

I had been praying about my own future for some months when Mary resigned a few weeks ago. Both Jan and I started to wonder whether our time had come also, whether we had made our contribution and it was time for someone else to take up the task. So when Mary resigned. I had a look on the great interweb in the sky and the first thing I saw was a congregation who wanted a half-time Community Minister (not necessarily ordained – someone to connect a congregation in mission with the last, the least and the lost in their area. When I saw the job description my heart leapt. It felt like the kind of work I had been prepared for over the last few years at Coastal Unity. So I expressed an interest and was interviewed along with a few others. To cut the long story short. We were offered the position and both Jan and I clearly felt the call of God in it. We have accepted and we will be leaving Coastal Unity at the beginning of June.

 

At this point in time there is a process involving Presbytery which has to be completed before I can tell you the exact location of our destination. But I am sure that will be public in a very short time.

 

There is a lot of excitement… There is also a lot of grief in this. Many of you have been enormously kind to us, opening your hearts to us. And you will always be in our hearts.

 

And I am going to ask you in a minute to pray for us, to pray for Mary and the family, and to pray for Session, who will be left with an enormous challenge over the months ahead. They will need all the support you can give.

 

Today’s text is challenging. It calls us to live and declare the praise of God. If these are silent, the stone will shout out. We are the people called to declare God’s praise to the community here. To live the Jesus life here beginning with those in greatest need. To be with them, not just providing help from our own comfortable distance.

 

And yet there is not just challenge, there is also consolation. None of us is indispensable. God will raise witness from others, from the rocks if need be. Our mission, in fact our continued existence as a parish, as a community of faith is simply a product of God’s mission. God, who is able to do much more than we can think or imagine will provide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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