We are the clay, you are the potter


Advent 1. Isaiah 64: 1 – 9
Sermon by Reverend Charmaine Braatvedt

Today I propose to do two things in this sermon:

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to Isaiah and explain in part, why the lectionary focuses on the book of Isaiah during Advent this year.

Secondly, I would like to highlight one verse in the passage set for today that impressed itself on me as I read the set text.

It is verse 8 which is the one that uses the image of a potter and clay.

Firstly, meet Isaiah.

His name means “The Lord Saves”.

This Old Testament prophet is widely regarded as the greatest of the writing prophets.

He was a prophet for the kingdom of Judah, and lived around 740-700 B.C.

He began his ministry in 740BC the year King Uzzaiah died.

He was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Micah.

Isaiah was married, had two sons and spent most of his life in Jerusalem.

Rabbinic tradition has it that he may well have been of royal blood.

His familiarity with priestly rites has also led people to believe that Isaiah had a close association with the temple.

The central message of the book of Isaiah is that God is the Holy One of Israel who punishes his rebellious people, but afterwards redeems them.

The book, consistently addresses the hedonism of Judah and the nation’s lukewarm attitude toward God.

The book unveils the full dimension of both God’s judgement, which is likened to fire, and God’s salvation which is likened to streams of water bringing life to a desert.

Isaiah denounces Israel for its spiritual blindness and deafness. The prediction is that because of this, God will judge Israel and she will be like a vineyard that will be trampled when the Day of the Lord, comes.

However God is also compassionate and merciful and in the prophecy we see that God will redeem his people by sending a messiah, a king descended from David, who will bring God’s salvation to all people. This messianic king will be the servant of the Lord and  through the suffering of the servant king,  salvation in its fullest sense will be achieved for Jew and gentile alike.

The book speaks of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, in a variety of ways—as a Branch, a Stone, a Light, a Child and as we have just seen, the King .

The New Testament writers recognized Isaiah’s special importance, quoting from it and alluding to it frequently. Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet.

Many verses and phrases from the book of Isaiah have passed into common use in literature.

For example, there are seventy quotations from Isaiah in the Penguin Dictionary of Quotations …;

and Handel used much of Isaiah’s language in his great work called the Messiah.

So here’s why we are focusing on the Prophet Isaiah this Advent Season. As we wait metaphorically to welcome Jesus the Messiah once again this Christmas, it seems appropriate to reflect on the writings of the prophet who is most renowned for encouraging the people of God to turn from sin, to get their houses in order as they wait for the salvation that will come from God through his Messiah.

So now I am going to turn to the passage set for today, Isaiah 64: 1 – 9.

This piece of writing from Isaiah contains a message to the people which is written as a kind of sermon prayer.

The literary style is that of a lament.

Generally, a lament is a prayer that cries out to God from the midst of desperate grief, pain, or any circumstance that seems out of control.

It does so with the conviction, the faith, that God can and will bring relief. A lament is a profound statement of faith in God from the midst of utter human hopelessness.

As I said before, there is one verse in this lament that impressed itself upon me and that I would like us to reflect on today, it is verse 8.

“Yet you Lord are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

We are all the work of your hand.”
I brought some clay with me today.

If you were to describe clay to someone who had never seen it, how might you describe it?

It’s soft and smooth and squishy.

You can change the shape of it easily.

You can pat it out thin or roll it into a ball shape.

You can make all sorts of shapes and objects with it.

When I was growing up, I loved to play with the wet clay after the rains at the bottom of our garden.

The Bible talks a lot about clay actually.

Clay was a common material to the people in Isaiah’s day because they used clay to make lots of useful items like jugs, pots, oil lamps and dishes.

“Yet, O LORD, You are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”


  • Who is the clay? We are.
  • Who is the potter? God.
  • What is the role of the potter?

The potter moulds and shapes the material into something useful and beautiful.

  • Why do you think the Bible compares us to clay?

Why doesn’t it call us rocks or bricks or something that is already finished being made?

Perhaps because God is always moulding us and shaping us. He is ever creating, redeeming and giving life.

  • So in what way can those of us who are open to the transforming work of God be compared to clay?

As the song we sang earlier in the service intimates, when we submit to God’s authority in our lives we become like wet clay in his hands, allowing God our Father to  teach us; to discipline us and to transform us to be more like Jesus.

In our natural state we are more like dry clay, brittle and inflexible.

However God’s Holy Spirit softens us and makes us malleable so that God is able to use the people and happenings in our lives to mould us.

Even when we face adverse circumstances and difficult relationships, God uses these difficult times to change us and shape us if we allow his Holy Spirit to make us like pliable wet clay.


What are the circumstances in your life at the moment that God might be using to shape and mould you?


What needs to change in your attitude and way of being at this time, for you to become more like Christ?


Do you think God will ever be finished with us, and we’ll turn into a hardened piece of clay?

I don’t think so.

I think He’ll always be wanting us to be growing and changing into something more and more beautiful according to His purposes.

I once heard about a 102 year old man who when asked why he thought God had spared him for so many years said:

“God must still have a reason for me to be alive. I think it is that he is still working in my life , shaping me to be more like Jesus”.

So let’s determine this Advent to stay soft and squishy and open to God so he can do His work in our lives that we might become more Christ like.

I’d like you to take the bits of clay you have been given and as you shape the clay into whatever you like I’d like you to reflect on how the Potter is moulding, shaping and forming you, as you do so I am going to ask the music group to sing the song the Potter’s Hand once again for us.
Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour

I know for sure,

all of my days

are held in Your hands

Crafted into Your perfect plan

You gently call me

into Your presence

Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit

Teach me dear Lord

To live all of my life through Your eyes

I’m captured by Your Holy calling.

Set me apart,

I know you’re drawing me to Yourself.

Lead me, Lord, I pray.

Take me, mould me,

use me, fill me.

I give my life to the potter’s hand.

Call me, guide me,

lead me, walk beside me.

I give my life to the potter’s hand.

Aotearoa Sunday


Aotearoa Sunday
Deuteronomy 6: 1 -9
Mark 4: 26 – 34
Rev Charmaine Braatvedt

As many of you will know, this year, 2014, marks 200 years since the first Christian sermon was preached in New Zealand and hence it also marks the start of the Christian Church in New Zealand/ Aotearoa. It seems appropriate on Aotearoa Sunday, for us to spend some time considering the implications of that auspicious event especially as some of us will be visiting the site when we go on our Parish Pilgrimage to Oihi this coming Saturday.

The story is a good one. Like all good stories it is filled with drama, danger and adventure.

Two characters stand out: The Rev Samuel Marsden and the Ngapuhi chief Ruatara. These two men who became firm friends, collaborated together to bring the Gospel to these shores.

The sermon that Samuel Marsden preached to a Maori and Pakeha congregation on Christmas Day in 1814 stands out as a defining moment in our history because, not only did this event mark the start of Christian mission in NZ, the partnership of Marsden and Ruatara led to the development of a special relationship between Māori and the Pakeha missionaries which shaped our identity as a bicultural nation.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these two men.

First, the Yorkshire man Samuel Marsden:

Rev Marsden was the Anglican chaplain in the colony of New South Wales. In addition to being a chaplain, Marsden was also a very successful farmer in Parramatta, 35 km inland from Sydney. He was a blunt and plain spoken man who could be touchy.

By no means a paragon of virtue, he had many failings and foibles. He could be a hard man and acquired a dubious reputation for his harshness as a magistrate. However, he was a man of some gravitas and leadership. He was unpretentious and very generous with his time and his money when it came spreading the Gospel and helping others. Most of all, he was a committed evangelical Christian who was both visionary and practical in his commitment to carrying out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, to preach the Gospel to all nations.

While living in Australia he developed a strong interest in New Zealand on account of the friendships he formed with some of the first Māori visitors to Australia. These included Te Pahi, the Ngāpuhi leader and his four sons who met Marsden in 1805 and with whom Marsden was greatly impressed.

Marsden’s God given passion for spreading the Gospel fueled his desire to share it with those who had never heard of Jesus and this desire took him back to England in 1807 where he approached the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) about setting about doing missionary work in New Zealand.

Marsden’s pragmatic vision was in line with the example of tent making in St Paul’s time. He argued that artisan missionaries should be employed to teach skills such as carpentry, blacksmithing and rope making using native flax, as a means of opening up the area for the Gospel. I suppose it was a very early version of ‘needs orientated evangelism’.

Marsden was very persistent and persuasive and so returned from England to Australia in 1809 with two artisan missionaries, William Hall, a carpenter, and his wife Dinah and their son, and John King a rope maker.

Let’s pause there to highlight the second important character in our story, Ruatara.

During that journey Marsden discovered that Ruatara, the young Ngāpuhi leader from the Bay of Islands was on board the ship. Ruatara was in a bad way. He had gone to England to explore trading opportunities and had even hoped to meet the King. When Marsden met him though Ruatara was gravely ill having been badly treated and humiliated on his voyage to England where he had not even been allowed to disembark. Marsden befriended Ruatara and nursed him back to health. Ruatara was always very grateful to Marsden for saving his life and for treating him with dignity and respect.

On arrival in Australia Marsden’s pastoral care for Ruatara continued. He offered him hospitality at Parramatta where he introduced Ruatara to new methods of agriculture including, interestingly enough, wheat growing.

Marsden’s plans for beginning a mission in New Zealand were however put on hold after the incident in which the ship the Boyd was sunk in retaliation for the ill treatment of some Maori sailors at Whangaroa in 1809.

A European reprisal raid resulted in the death of some sixty Māori including Te Pahi who hadn’t even been involved in the Boyd incident.

Given the tension in northern New Zealand the missionaries, King and Hall took up work in Australia until the dust settled. Thomas Kendall, a schoolmaster and a farmer joined them there.

Ruatara eventually returned to Oihi in 1812.

There he shared stories about his adventures in a very different world. He introduced wheat as a crop and showed his people how to make bread using a handmill he had received as a gift from Marsden.

In 1814 the governor of NSW gave  Marsden permission to open up contact with New Zealand. Marsden bought his own ship, the Active because it was proving very difficult to procure passages to NZ for the missionaries. This was a major investment and I think in part reflects Marsden’s commitment to his evangelical calling and in part reflects his astute business acumen.

William Hall and Thomas Kendall were dispatched on an exploratory voyage to discover whether it was feasible to set up a mission station in New Zealand.

During this expedition, they read prayers on board ship, sometimes in the presence of the Māori passengers and so impressed their fellow passengers that Ruatara encouraged them to migrate to NZ with their families.

In August 1814 the missionaries returned to Australia feeling very positive about going to NZ. On board their ship were Ruatara, the great Ngāpuhi leader Hongi Hika, Korokoro and other Māori traders.

While in Australia these men were introduced to aspects of European life: blacksmithing, carpentry, spinning, weaving, reading and writing, brick making, gardening and farming practices, the “English Sunday”, the magistrate’s court and they even got to meet Governor Macquarie.

In November of that same year,Marsden set sail on the Active from Australia with:

5 Māori chiefs Ruatara, Hongi Hika, Korokoro, Tuhi and his brother and 3 other Māori;

Thomas Hansen, the ship’s master, his wife Hannah and son Thomas;

3 Church Missionary Society missionaries and their wives: Thomas and Jane Kendall, William and Dinah Hall, and John and Hannah King, and five children;

2 Tahitians, 4 sailors, John Nicholas, 2 sawyers, 1 blacksmith, and 1 stowaway convict.

The ship also carried three horses, one bull, two cows, a few sheep and some poultry.

The missionary / Māori party arrived at Oihi Bay and Rangihoua Pa on the 22 December 1814.

We gain glimpses into the exchanges that were taking place on both sides as Maori and Europeans were learning about each other from written accounts of their arrival.

For example, when they landed horses and cattle the people were bewildered at such extraordinary looking animals. Apparently Marsden, ever the showman, impressed his Maori audience by mounting one of the horses and riding up and down the beach.

Ruatara’s stories about big dogs that could be ridden no longer seemed so preposterous!

Conversely, later that day, Korokoro and Ruatara not to be outdone staged a large mock battle on the beach for the missionaries’. The fighting parties in turn impressed the missionaries with a spectacular haka.

Ruatara was a natural leader. His evangelistic role in this first encounter of the Maori with the missionaries is significant and has a Biblical ring to it in that he prepared the way for Marsden and the missionaries by introducing them to his people. In this way he reminds us a little of Andrew who brought Philip to Jesus. Ruatara was determined to protect these missionaries. He is described as “The Gateway for the Gospel” Te Ara mo te Rongopai.

His support for the missionaries can be seen in that on Christmas Eve, 1814, Ruatara, on his own initiative, prepared a space where the church service was to be held as an open air church, he made an improvised reading desk, a pulpit, and lined up old wakas to serve as pews.

On Christmas Day, Ruatara and Korokoro, acted as Masters of Ceremony indicating to Māori the protocol of when to sit and stand during the service.

The Māori critique of Marsden’s service based on Luke 2: 10 was blistering. They said that they could not understand what he was on about. Ruatara famously replied that “they were not to mind that now, for they would understand by and by; and that he would explain the meaning as far as he could”[5]. He went on to precise what had been said in te Reo. This is significant for it meant that the Māori were to hear Marsden’s sermon through Ruatara’s translation. They were hearing the Gospel in their own language from one of their own leaders.

Marsden’s sermon and the service on Christmas day at Oihi in 1814, gave rise to a complex story which historians still struggle to unravel. Not all of our nation’s history has been positive, but framed by the Gospel reading of the mustard seed read to us today we see that from the early seeds sown by Ruatara and Marsden, grew a great big metaphorical tree called the Church which spread branches. On these branches generations of New Zealanders from all nations have been able to find a place of safety and spiritual nourishment.

Looking at the characters of those early missionaries, their mixed motives, conflicting interests and very human failings, I am struck by the second parable in today’s Gospel. Jesus says that people scatter the wheat seed on the ground. Night and day, whether they sleep or get up, the seed sprouts and grows though we do not know how. God makes it grow and turns it into a harvest. The seed of the Gospel was scattered by fallible people. In spite of their foibles and failings, the Holy Spirit used their efforts and enabled the seed to take root and blossom in New Zealand. This was no different in Biblical times. Moses David the prophets were all fallible people yet God used them nonetheless for kingdom work. Just so today God uses us with all our faults and failing. He calls us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it will be his Holy Spirit that will ensure its continued regeneration in this land.

Interestingly it was literally the wheat that Marsden showed Ruatara, that in part fueled his interest in the missionaries and it was the bread that came from that wheat that laid the foundation for them to hear about Jesus, the bread of life.

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long

This is our time, it is the time for the Church of 2014 to stand in the tradition of the early evangelists in this land, to be missional, to pass on the baton of the Gospel to the people of New Zealand.  200 years after Marsden’s arrival, the Christian message still needs to be preached if New Zealand is to continue to be a hope-filled, Godly place in which to live.

Winner Takes It All

Winner Takes It Allworkinvineyard
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
Matthew 20:1-16
21st September 2014

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny
The winner takes it all

The game is on again
A lover or a friend
A big thing or a small
The winner takes it all

The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain?

The parable of the workers in the vineyard picks up on the concept of winning and losing, coming first and last.

The story goes that some of the workers were lucky enough to get jobs early in the morning and some were not.

Yet at the end of the day, the twist in the tale is that on account of the compassion of the landlord, they all got paid the same amount. They were in effect all winners.

This intrigues me and so, I would like to talk about the concept of winning and losing in the kingdom of God.

We have just had a general election and today we have a new government.

Like you, I have been considering my vote and this caused me to wonder what a Jesus party might look like?

Instead of an Act Party, his party might be called an Acts party. What do you reckon such a party might stand for?

Jesus summed up what he stood for in a simple mission statement:

Love God and Love your neighbour.

Everything else he did and said was by way of an explanation or an outworking of this mission statement.

So in the light of this mission statement I would like to explore the concept of winning and losing as it is dealt with in the parable.

What does winning and losing look like in God’s vineyard, his kingdom?

In the parable I believe the landowner is God and we are the workers. The parable is a commentary on God’s relationship with humankind which is both personal and compassionate and loving.

I’m a bit of an Abba fan, both in the Biblical sense and as the name pertains to the 70’s and 80’s pop group.

The Abba song, Winner takes it all, which we have just heard has a verse which goes like this:

The gods may throw the dice, their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here, loses someone dear

This reminds us that we live in a fickle world where the winds of our circumstance blow hot and cold.

Furthermore, to quote another song, this time by Linda Ronstadt, pop singer of the 70’sEveryone loves a winner.

Once I had fame
I was full of pride
Well, there were a lot of friends
Always by my side

But my luck ran dry
Now my friends begin to hide

When you lose, you lose alone. More often than not, the love of the world is conditional and is meted out on the basis of beauty, good fortune success and such like.

Is this true of our Trinitarian God?

I somehow don’t think so.

The Gospel of John tells us that God is love and one thing we know about God’s love is that it is far from cold as ice. It is warm, compassionate and embracing.

Furthermore it is unconditional.

God’s love, often referred to as agape, is based on grace and so no matter who we are, what we do, or what we believe, we are the beneficiaries of God’s love.

That having been said, don’t you feel some sympathy for the men we read about in the parable, who worked longer and therefore expected to receive a greater reward, than the men who worked fewer hours?

I feel a sense of outrage that those who worked long hours in the hot sun, should be paid the same as those who’d worked for only one hour.

It simply doesn’t seem fair.

Isn’t this after all how it works? Whether you vote Labour or National they all seem to agree:

The harder we work, the more we should be rewarded with status, money, respect and even love.

Our worth, our love-ability, is to be earned.

You’ve got to put in the time if you want to reap the rewards

Everybody loves a winner.

This may well be how our Western society is organised, but we run into the realms of heresy when we import this notion into our theology because this is not how God works.

This parable teaches the shocking truth, that God does not only love winners. He loves the losers as well and his compassion extends to providing for every person according to their need. In the parable of the lost sheep, the loving shepherd went to a great deal of trouble to rescue that lost loser of a sheep!

The parable of the workers in the vineyard ends with a rhetorical question:

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

So the last will be first and the first will be last.’

Wow Jesus, that’s a big call!

There is a cultural consensus about what is fair and reasonable when it comes to the way society works which encourages us to be more critical of this parable, than any other of Jesus’ parables.

Of course it is true that anyone can be generous with their own money and resources, but let’s face it, elections are won and lost on this very question.

In the secular world, organised labour i.e. trade unionists and contractual negotiators, would not accept this as fair employment practice and any political party who tried to promote this practice would be dead in the water on Election Day.

On the other hand, consider this. I have shared with you before that this parable reminds me of something that I witnessed as a child that I found very upsetting.

I remember as a child that we used to drive past a 4-way stop intersection in S.A on my way to school at 7.30am. There I would see poor, unemployed people standing in droves waiting for someone to come and hire them to do unskilled word for the day.

I also remember how it would break my heart when returning from school I would see some of those same men and women at 3o’clock, still standing there waiting for someone to hire them.

The look of their despair still haunts me.

What, I wondered, would their families do for food that night?

Maybe the owner of the vineyard in the parable was operating from a similar awareness.

Surely the unemployed women and men who’d been standing in the market place all day, desperately hoping to get a job and feeling quite despondent because no one had given them one, needed a generous break too?

This parable attempts to address this dilemma.

We learn from the Parable that God’s love is undiscerning. Winners and losers regardless, are loved by God.

Everyone loves a winner, but God loves everyone.

I used to teach bible in schools and I remember that in one of my lessons, I shared with the children that God loves everyone no matter who they are or what they have done.

But does he love those who don’t believe in Him?

Yes I said.

Does he love all those nasty people in prison?

Yes I said.

So he loves murderers and rapists?

Yes I said.

I was surprised at how difficult I was finding it to say yes each time without adding riders.

I was thinking in worldly terms where conditional love is the norm.

Yet according to this parable, God’s love has no prejudice. He gives to each according to what they need not what we might think they deserve.

To understand God’s unconditional love go and watch new parents with their baby.

What does the baby have to do to earn their love?

This is how God’s unconditional love is revealed to each of us.

We live in a competitive world. The best are winners and we strive against others to be the best, to earn the rewards awaiting those who win.

The problem with competition is that, in the words of Abba, The winner takes it all and the loser stands small.

Or said in another way,

 The winner takes it all, the rest are left bereft.

In the Jesus party/ the kingdom of God, this is an injustice.

Everyone loves a winner, but God loves everyone and unconditionally at that. And here’s the thing if we are to be on Jesus’ team, in the Jesus party, then so must we.

If there are any winners and losers in God’s kingdom, then the winners are those who learn to love unconditionally and unselfishly.

This truth needs to shape how we treat the poor, the marginalised and those whom society might be tempted to label losers.

  • New Zealand has an unemployment rate of 5.6%

Lifewise says there are about 100 rough sleepers in a 3 km radius of the central city in Auckland and an estimated 15,000 in Auckland sleep rough in overcrowded garages or couch surfing.

  • According to a report by Every Child Counts, up to 270,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand.
  • The Ebola virus is causing havoc in Africa.  Nearly 5,500 people have been infected with the deadly disease, and already more than 2,600 people have died as a result.

Let’s take another look at verse15 ff

‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

Or are you envious because I am generous?

So the last will be first and the first will be last.’

I wonder how this parable might inform what we do with what belongs to us.

How might we share our resources so that there are no winners and losers in our world?

What causes might we support that will mirror the love of the God in whose image we have been created?

How does belonging to the Jesus party, which I shall call the Church, impact how we live and how we reward and how we choose to share what belongs to us?

And finally,

What difference does it make to your day, to wake up in the morning knowing that no matter who you are, or what you have done, or how you are feeling, God loves you. I’ll say it again, God loves you, God loves YOU , so smile because that  makes you a winner no matter what you or anyone else may think!

Father’s Day

Father’s Day
by Rev Jonathan Gale
7th September, 2014

Luke 15: 11 – 32

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’


Well, it’s Father’s Day. I have often asked myself what it is that makes for a good father. I’ve come up with the usual good things and there are many of them. But I do believe there is one critical characteristic of good fatherhood: and I’ll let you be the judge of whether it is so or not as we go along.

If you’ve been attending the Wed night services in the hall you might remember the story of the young boy who grew up on a farm and who just loathed having to use the dunny or long-drop outdoor toilet. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and stank all year round.

This particular long-drop was perched precariously on the bank of a stream and he longed to push it into the water below.

One day he found a large stick and wedged it up against the outhouse door, and giving a mighty shove, toppled the whole structure into the river.

That evening his father told him he wanted to see him in the barn. He knew this normally meant a hiding and of course he guessed what it would be about, so he hatched a plan.

As his father walked into the barn he said, “Dad, you know the story of George Washington? Well he chopped down a cherry tree and because he told the truth and admitted it was him, he wasn’t punished.”

“The difference,” said his father, “Was that George Washington’s father was not sitting in the tree when he chopped it down!”

Father-son, and for that matter, father-daughter relationships are not perfect.

When Charmaine asked me to speak about myself as a father I could tell right off that she assumed I had been a good father. I’m not sure that’s always true so I thought I’d speak about being a son instead – hence the picture of me, my father and grandfather. In fact it would be easy to talk about my father as I did so in June at his funeral. He was on my mind a lot.

But then I realised that the Gospel reading for today, the story of the Prodigal Son, actually better suited a talk about being a father mainly because when you look carefully at the passage, the father in the story has a few faults of his own. I could associate with that.

I was far from being a perfect father when the children were younger. My son’s earliest memory is of me reversing over his little plastic bike. I’m just glad I didn’t reverse overhim but of course that’s not what was on his mind. I had no idea it had happened and I just drove off to work in a hurry to his 3 year old sorrow at the state of his precious toy.

I also spent a lot of time away from home as a subject advisor until he was 3 and a bit and soon after discovered mountain biking and spent many a weekend away from home, but thankfully that didn’t seem to bother him.

When he was 4 or 5 I nearly got both of us killed in a cliff-face adventure. Our survival says more about him than me. When you’re both clinging to the edge of a precipice and your boy starts shaking, his nose bleeding and he says, “Daddy, I’m going to die” you know you’ve been stupid!

But I think – in line with the Prodigal Son’s father – I had one redeeming feature. I txted my son on Wednesday and asked him whether he thought I’d been a good father and these were some of his reasons why he thought so: “Spending time playing games with me when Lu was born. Ridiculously long, death-defying walks [we all know what he’s referring to there!]; encouragement; teaching me to body surf; but probably the main one though was letting me know I had your unconditional love and that you were proud of me.”

In that little phrase “unconditional love” lies an entire lifestyle. Praying together, reading bible stories together, going to church together regularly, championing God in conversation, loving my wife – in short – being a Christian and trusting God!

I think the Prodigal Son and his grumpy older brother had two things going for them: a father that loved God and a father that loved them. My son mentioned a few things we’d done together, but undergirding it all is unconditional love – and here’s the thing – I don’t believe that is possible without a love for God.

You see I don’t think I’ve been an excellent father, but I have loved God. I’ve loved God passionately and that has probably enabled me to communicate unconditional love to both my son and daughter. And I’m not talking here about being a religious nut. We’ve all come across those and wanted to run a mile. I’m talking about a genuine love for God.

The father in our Gospel story would not have been able to deal so compassionately with both his very different sons if he had not been a man of faith.

But here’s the secret. Any genuine love can only come into existence and remain in force in response to the knowledge that we in turn are loved. This is the secret to loving God: knowing and meditating upon the fact that God is a loving God who profoundly loves us.

A passionate love where God is not in the picture will be vulnerable to becoming misshapen, to quickly reaching the end of its resourcefulness; to selfishness, in a word.

My daughter’s response to the question “Was I good a father and if so how?” seems completely to have left out those difficult teenage years which is a relief!

I want to end with an incident in our relationship that goes to show that making an effort as a father is not all hard work and no reward, and that praying together with your children is probably the most important and rewarding thing you can do.

When my daughter was 2 years old I used to read her a story, say prayers and put her to bed each night of the week as Faith ran a night school for adult learners and so was away at work in the evenings. I don’t remember what the issue was but I was going through a tough time of sorts, probably to do with work. Of course I’d not said anything to my daughter but somehow the knowing little soul knew I needed comfort and she popped out with a little song for me one evening and it went like this:

The stars in the bright sky flash like a little brave fish

In the dark world, in the dark world

Go like a little brave fish.

The song stopped suddenly, she looked at me and gave me a hug. Somehow she knew I needed courage to face whatever it was I was going through at the time and to go like a little brave fish in the dark world.

That little song that spontaneously came to the surface was more than evidence of a bond of father-daughter love; it was, I believe, evidence of an early awareness of the way God loves: unconditionally and compassionately. When we’re open to God, we’re open to other people’s needs.

The father of the Prodigal Son showed just this kind of sensitivity. Vs 20 tells us But while he [the son] was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

Something told this man his son was in need and on the way home. While he was still far off, his father saw him.

Praying with my daughter had sensitised her to my needs. She was able to love me with a selfless compassion beyond her years because she had experience of God’s love in prayer. The Prodigal son’s father has a similar sensitivity. It is the one critical characteristic of fatherhood: unconditional love.

And it is so because that’s how God loves us

God bless you!


Walking On In The Sunshine

Walking On In The Sunshinetree_at_dawn
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
7th September, 2014

Genesis 32: 22-31

Jacob Wrestles at Peniel

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Romans 9: 1-5

God’s Election of Israel

9I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Matthew 14: 13-21

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Jacob, this man of God:

  • chosen yet apologetically entering the land of his birth,
  • called yet moving forward nervously,
  • burdened with the promises of God yet fearful of his brother Esau,
  • rich yet empty handed,
  • blessed yet injured.

There are few figures in Scripture more redolent with pathos than this image of the prodigal Jacob returning home.

Cold, weary and injured from the night’s struggle, he’s bravely carrying out his God’s command to return to the place in which God intended to work out his purposes for humankind.

Jacob is a somewhat inglorious link in the familial chain that began with Abraham and was yet to blossom into the people bearing his new name (Israel), a people designed to bring God’s light to the nations and eventually to usher in Jesus, the Messiah.

He is an unlikely hero:

  • effeminate,
  • his mother’s favourite,
  • someone who didn’t venture far from the family encampment,
  • a sly and smooth-skinned deceiver

who fled from his brother’s understandable anger to seek refuge with an uncle who took advantage of him for close on twenty years before he managed to escape and head back to the land of Canaan. Jacob’s great advantage was that he had the calling of God on his life. Otherwise, well, I don’t think he’d have received much profile in the pages of Scripture other than as an example of what not to emulate.

But this particular morning we see the survivor hobbling along and being warmed by the morning sun.

Why do we feel some sympathy for Jacob? We’ve just been through a number of chapters watching two scurrilous fellows, in Jacob and his uncle, trying to outdo one another. Laban has thoroughly exploited his nephew and Jacob has managed to leave with most of the farm’s livestock along with his uncle’s household gods. And no-one can condone the cynical manner in which Jacob deceived both his brother and his father Isaac. He’s not a particularly nice person.

I don’t think we feel for him because he’s struggling along with a sore hip in the face of danger, though that may play a small part in it.

I think deep down we sympathise with Jacob because, as is the case on all such emotive occasions, we see ourselves in him. We know that we are far from perfect. We know that much of the craven character of Jacob still resides to some degree in all of us.

But even more pertinently, as Christians, we like Jacob are called by God. We too are undeserving of the grace of God, a grace bestowed upon us through the agonising death of Jesus. Paul tells the Church in Rome For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5: 10).  Like Jacob we have been saved by the grace of God. We know we’re not here on our own merits.

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, (John 15: 16) Jesus tells his disciples.

Paul tells the Church in Ephesus that He (that is, God) chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1: 4a) We’ve not earned anything. Surprisingly, it is not we who have called upon God. Rather God has called us. Like Jacob we are embraced by God!

As Christians we identify with Jacob for a number of reasons, but identify we do.

The world has taught us that success should be spectacular, that we should feelsuccessful but most of us have no such experience. Most of us take comfort in the adage that nine tenths of success is just turning up each day.

Jacob’s early life is anything but successful. This in spite of his being called by God to the great task of carrying the Abrahamic torch. This is pretty much how most of us feel too.  We know that as Christians we too are called by God, but how well do we respond to the great task to which we are assigned?

In other words, we’re on the same team and we’re in the same condition as Jacob, essentially. There not by our own merit, and tasked with the work of conveying God’s blessing, a job that doesn’t appear to be going all that well.

But I think the real reason we have a degree of empathy for the forlorn figure of Jacob is that like him we have hope! We’re not giving up!

I said earlier that Jacob was an unlikely hero.

  • Do you consider him to be a hero at all?
  • How do you feel about Jacob as he limps along in the early morning sun?
  • As you listened to the reading, were you supportive of his having been chosen by God or did you feel that he was unfairly favoured?
  • To what extent do you in fact empathise with him at all?

You see the degree to which you appreciate Jacob as a flawed but courageous instrument of God’s purposes, is probably the degree to which you appreciate your own call as a Christian. Jacob had no guarantee Esau would not kill him. His calling had not kept trouble at bay thus far, but he kept going in hope.

Jacob represents the small and the fallible in the face of the great and perfect; undeservedly loved, with a less than perfect track record yet carrying the responsibility of agency.

In our Gospel reading Jesus takes the bread and fish offered to him. Secondly, he blesses them. Thirdly, he breaks them and fourthly, gives them to the people. We’ve seen this four-step pattern in Jacob. He holds fast in the struggle with the angel, and in the process is blessed, broken and goes out to fulfil his calling.

He becomes more than a symbol. He becomes a sacrament. In his engagement he is blessed. In his brokenness he is equipped, and in his going out he becomes a purveyor of the blessing of God.

You and I are ordinary people, but we serve an extraordinary God who makes significant use of people just like Jacob; just like us. The pattern is there to be repeated. We may not feel successful, but when we engage with God he can take us and bless us. When we allow our self-sufficiency to be broken by him and we limp on our way with the sunshine of hope on our backs, we become purveyors of the blessing of God.

It is only hope that keeps us going. Even faith is closely linked to hope. So smile kindly upon Jacob. He was determined to keep walking in his calling. We’re still in train. We have some way to go.

Therefore let us pray for one another, as Paul did for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1: 18) I pray, wrote Paul, that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, And that glorious inheritance is not pie in the sky in the bye and bye. It’s the privilege of ministry now for by virtue of our baptism we are all called to ministry.

31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Whatever Penuels you may have experienced, don’t rest on your laurels there. Pass on by to fulfil your calling as Jacob did.

Don’t give up on developing your ministry. Don’t fear failure. The very pain you feel – the limitations you experience – may in fact be evidence of the touch of God.

Jacob had work to do as the bearer of the promises of blessing God had made to his grandfather Abraham. We have work to do as those who are commissioned to bear the promises of blessing in the Gospel. You’ll notice Jacob didn’t stand basking in the sun. He was moving on, getting on with the job.

As I farewell Holy Trinity today, my greatest desire for each one of you is that you would ask God for new opportunities to serve Him; that you would not rest until each of you has found a definite role to play in serving your fellows in Christ. We are Jesus’ hands and feet, he has no Plan B, and he doesn’t do well as a disembodied head. The Body of Christ needs your ministry, no matter how small or how large. God does not look for ability. He looks for availability. What is God calling you to today?

You have good reason to think only of success in your ministry. You have been called, so feel the sunshine of hope in your life, for, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1,  3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

10Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

Charmaine and I have just returned from the annual Diocesan Synod in Waitangi.

There we heard much of Ruatara who welcomed Samuel Marsden to his pa at Oihi where the gospel was first preached on Christmas Day in 1814 – 200 years ago.

Contrary to the opinion of some, Ruatara was conflicted about welcoming the missionaries. He feared what the pakeha would do to Maori and his fears were well founded as history plainly tells us.

But he wanted the agricultural technology the missionaries offered and he took the chance.

We visited Oihi Bay and the Marsden Cross; and the site, I was pleased to see, is being referred to as the Gateway to the Gospel, as it was only a gateway. The first missionaries were a fractious lot. It took the arrival of the energetic and disciplined Henry Williams for things to take off.

Christmas Day 1814 at Oihi was the Penuel experience for the gospel in New Zealand. But, like Jacob, the work moved on. It was taken further by Henry Williams and others.

Let us all, with the sunshine of hope upon our backs, move on and develop the roles God has called us to.

Feel the sunshine, yes, but don’t stop to bask. Move on, for God has more for each one of us.

God bless you


Who Do You Say I Am?

questionsWho Do You Say I Am?
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
24th August, 2014

Matthew 16: 13 – 20; Romans 12: 1 – 8

Imagine if Jesus were to come into this church in person this morning. If he were to say:Hey guys I am taking questions.

I wonder what question you might think of to ask him?

For that matter, if he were to come into the church in person, I wonder what question he might ask of you?

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus asked his  disciples a challenging question:

Who do you say I am?

What was Peter’s reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And what was Jesus’ reply?

Your answer is divinely inspired Peter.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, intend to build the new messianic community i.e. My Church.

The words Christ and Messiah both mean “anointed” or “anointed one.”

The term Christ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, and the equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach.

This term is transliterated in the New Testament as messias

and has come down into modern English as “messiah.”

Now most of us would know that there was a longstanding biblical expectation, proclaimed repeatedly by the prophets, that one day God would raise up a messiah, a Christ, from his chosen people, to execute God’s justice and righteousness in the world.

At the outset of his ministry, when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, he deliberately evoked this messianic expectation, by defining his own ministry and mission in terms of:

  • bringing justice to the oppressed
  • and relief to the poor.

Remember the story in Luke 4:16 – 20:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

During his ministry, Jesus enacted this mission statement of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor, wherever he went:

The Gospels tell us that He proclaimed, the kingdom of God was at hand. By this he meant the long awaited reign of divine justice on earth was getting underway here and now. He unpacked this further by explaining that the dawning of the kingdom of God, was good news for the socially disadvantaged in that it brought to them, both the comfort of learning of God’s acceptance of them, and the reassurance that God was at work in Jesus to end their suffering and to restore them to community.

Jesus maintained the position that because ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone, God’s justice must be the measuring rod against which the exercise of all other institutional and human power is to be evaluated.

He summoned his hearers to put the claims of God’s royal justice ahead of all lesser concerns.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”

It is impossible to read the Gospels without sensing Jesus’ profound hostility to materialism. He strongly believed that as an alternative source of security, surplus wealth creates a barrier to radical submission to God’s authority.

We can be in no doubt that Jesus was oriented towards the poor and the marginalised which includes the destitute, the weak, the social outcasts, the demon possessed, children, women, the sick and the disabled.

For three years he went about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, delivering the demonized and welcoming the marginalised until his ministry was cut short by his untimely death on the cross.

And in that time he challenged the dominant religious and political systems that excluded or oppressed them.

In particular, Jesus criticized the wealthy elite for accumulating unneeded surpluses, for ignoring the needs of the poor and for exploiting the weak.

You see contrary to what is often taught about Jesus, he was a messiah in every sense of the word.

He incarnated our world in its entirety and so He was not only a messiah in the sense of being  a spiritual teacher, he was also a messiah who challenged the inequitable social structures of his time and who reached out to people who were marginalised and victimised by the social and political systems of this world.

He was in this sense an agent of radical political and social kingdom change. He challenged the religious authorities, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees as well as the gentile Roman rulers with the demands of God’s righteousness and justice for all people and that was why they hated him.

So what does all this mean for us as the Church,

the messianic community of faith, today?

As the messiah, God’s anointed One, Jesus called together an alternative society which would live out the reality of God’s reign here on earth, continue his work, be his hands and feet in the world. On this rock I will build my church. He says.

When in the beatitudes he blessed the poor, the hungry and the mourning, he was reassuring them that God intended to reverse their situation. God would do this through the influence and work of the Church.

So Jesus assembled a new, inclusive community of followers in which the poor were to be given preference.

Through Jesus, a new messianic community would be created which would work against poverty, hunger and misery.

This community would include you and me.

Furthermore, in this community a whole new attitude towards material possessions would prevail.

It would be a community that was committed to a lifestyle of sharing and sacrifice for the needy.

It would be a community that would be vigilant against the deceitfulness of excessive wealth and corruption.

His discipleship community would  turn prevailing patterns of power and greatness upside down.

In this community there would be servant leadership,

the first shall be last. As we read in Matthew 20:

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant…”

His radical change to society would be built not on a foundation of power, but of sacrificial love.

Jesus refuted violence as a means of bringing about the kingdom of God. Instead he chose the way of non- violent sacrificial love and required the same of his followers.

See Matthew 5: 38-44.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

Jesus chose the option of radical unconditional love for himself and for his messianic community, the church.

Hence the church must embody in its own life the characteristics of justice and generosity made known in the life and activity of Jesus.

In Romans 12 we read today

Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.

Today as we his church, consider our stewardship of the Great Commission, we realise that discipleship is more than worshiping Jesus as the Messiah on a Sunday.

It is living a radically different life from the prevailing world view from Monday to Saturday as well.

Again in Romans 12 we read:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Were Jesus to enter our church this morning in person he might well ask of us:

Who do you say I am?

We would  reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And then Jesus might well say to us as he did to Peter?

Your answer is divinely inspired.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, am building a messianic community in Devonport i.e. My Church.

But then I think he might well go on to say:

So what are you doing with the resources that I have given you to carry out my messianic ministry of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor in the world today?

I wonder how we would answer him.

How Big Is Your Bump?

How Big Is Your Bump?
by David Allis
17th August, 2014


Pregnant Bump

I have 6 children – which as you will appreciate has its good bits, and its challenges.

One of my sons got married a couple of years ago – seem to be living happily ever after – but a strange thing is happening – his wife is putting on weight – fortunately is because she is pregnant – she has a bump that is getting larger

I want to talk this am about bumps we all have – or I hope we have

I don’t mean our pregnant tummies

And I don’t mean our fat tummies

– although one of my sons, when he was much younger, saw me in my togs and asked if I was having a baby … he was obviously very young, very rude, and had terrible eyesight

Big Circle & Bump

Draw a big circle in your mind – and picture a small bump on the edge of it

The big circle is everything we do for ourselves, our family, our friends and people like us

  • It includes our time, energy, money, resources
  • It is for people we are responsible for (eg our children, our parents, our spouse, other relatives)
  • It is for people where we have reasonably reciprocal relationships – our friends, work colleagues etc – we do something for them, and later they will probably do something for us

The bump is the things we do for others – where there is no hope of payback

  • Things that are relatively altruistic – almost completely for the benefit of others, and with little benefit or payback for ourselves (apart from maybe making us feel good)
  • Things like sponsoring a WV child, or giving to a charity or feeding a hungry person

So – Big Circle & Smaller Bump normally – although some people might have a monstrous bump … someone like Ma T presumably had a very small circle, and a Big Bump

But most people in NZ have a big circle and small bump

Big Circle

  • Looking after ourselves, our family, relatives and our friends
  • I think most giving to church is part of this Big Circle – arguably most church giving is used to pay for the roof over your head and the pew to sit on etc – if we’re part of a church, we need to pay for our seats
  • While we’re thinking about the church – it also effectively has a Big Circle – and a bump – the Big Circle of activities, money, energy expended on providing the building, ministers, staff, programs for church people etc

o   And the bump is the altruistic things – missions, food bank etc

Big Circle – helping people we are responsible for or have relationship with – good things (not bad) – lovely, nice, good etc

Bump – also good things … but for the benefit of others – people who we aren’t responsible for, and are outside our normal circle of influence

The Problem / Challenge / Question

The problem / challenge / question we face is this

– we live in a beautiful & rich & safe country – and probably one of the best suburbs – we’re in the top 10% or 5% of people in the world (in terms of wealth, safety, health etc)

Our Big Circle is BIG

Yet, unfortunately, we live in a world where people are still starving.

Or dying of preventable diseases.

Or being persecuted.

Or being evicted from their villages, only able to take what they can carry.

Or living in refugee camps for years with nowhere to go.


We have BIG BIG circles – these people have very small ‘big circles’.

And our bump can make a huge difference in their lives.

The problem, or challenge, or question for us, is the relative size of our big circle, and our bump …. While others are in such need in the world.

Would we swap positions with the needy person in Ethipia? Or Iraq? Sudan? NO

But if the positions were reversed – if we were the starving person – what would we be saying to the person in Devonport with the BIG BIG Circle?

“Hey – look over here – help ….  Make your bump bigger … help me …”

Matt 22 – Love God & love neighbour

Matt 22:34-40   Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

613 laws of Moses
– condensed into 2 – love God (completely) & love your neighbour (as yourself)

In the Luke version of this, the lawyer asking the Q goes on to ask who is my neighbour

– Jewish teachers had often interpreted “neighbor” to include only people of their own nationality and religion

– and the ;lawyer was possibly hoping for this answer, and justification.

But Jesus replies & tells the story we know as the parable of the good Samaritan.

At the time of Jesus, the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for hundreds of years.

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be religious heretics of a foreignnationality and inferior race,

Jews would have no contact with Samaritans.

There was no one less like a neighbour than a Samaritan. (despised enemy would be a better term)

So – if a Samaritan man could be a “neighbor” to the Jewish man who was robbed and beaten, then Jesus is extending the definition of “neighbor” to include all people, regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other artificial distinction

In this, the person we are neighbour to expands to “whoever we see in need and can help”

Unfortunately these days, with TV, internet etc … we can see a lot further …. And we are able to help at long distances – our neighbours are everywhere in the world – we can reach out to help worldwide

TODAY we have more knowledge, and more reach, and more ability to help people in need than ever before in human history

Our neighbour is anyone we see in need and can help – TODAY  people in Syria are our neighbours – people in Iraq, in Sudan, in Ethiopia – OUCH – this is not easy. It is a huge responsibility.

Challengefor me – how big is my bump – and can I make it bigger

Son & d-in-law – their bump is creating a new life – its really exciting for them & us.

This is what we are biologically created for – to live a good life, and to give life to others

We don’t have to be pregnant to give life – we can have a different type of bump – one that can also create life – give life – save life – as we love our ‘neighbours’

Matthew reading – the lawyer was wanting to TEST JC – JC passed the test. But in some ways, his answer is also a test or challenge or inspiration for us  …. To love God fully, AND love our neighbour as ourself.

How big is my bump? Your bump? Our corporate bump (as a church)?

And can I make my bump bigger? Shuffle some of my time, energy, love, finance, possessions from my Big Circle into my Bump – and hence help others.

Can You? Can We? Can this church?

Our big circle might need to become a little smaller – but a relatively small change to it can make a big difference to our bump – and to the lives affected by our bump.

But What Can We Do?

In a world where 2bn people in world living on $2/day – there is no shortage of effective ways to help people

Sponsoring Children (WV / TEAR FUND) – many people in NZ are already doing this – great, changing lives

Something I came across the other day – a way to help children in Africa resulting in them, on average, earning 20% more each year for their adult life – imagine that – if I could do something to help my children earn 20% more – I’d jump at the chance (even for my rude son who asked if I was pregnant).

We can do this for some children in parts of Africa – Deworming – cost $1 per year – improves their health, and hence their education & hence their earning capacity for life

And there are things you can do in NZ – there are poor people in NZ, lonely people, those without families, people with psych problems …. Many people that we can LOVE

Local Friend – Saved from What?

Friend locally – not a Christian, no faith – but has a life that seems good – lovely wife, kids are doing well, successful in business. So – I ask myself – what would faith or salvation look like for him?  What effect could JC have in his life?

– my best answer is that one thing he could be ‘saved’ from living a lovely but relatively selfish & self-centred life (with only a very small bump) & become someone who is less self-centred & selfish, and has a much bigger bump – and makes a significant difference in the lives of others in this world

And this is what we also need to be ‘saved’ from.

We live in a society that is incredibly materialistic, hedonistic and self-centred.

We need to say NO to some of that, and YES to loving our neighbours in a life-changing way … our neighbours in Devonport, in Beachhaven, in West AK, South Ak, Chch, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq etc

We are called to be counter-cultural – we are called to serve God’s kingdom – we are called to love God (completely) and love our neighbour (as ourself)

Inhabit the Tension

I came across a phrase recently that I have found helpful to ponder – the suggestion that we need to learn to “inhabit the tension” rather than always trying to resolve it.

I explained this to my son the other day (the one who asked if I was pregnant) – he’s now in his 20s – I have a tension between being relatively rich, and living a blessed life in a wonderful suburb in a beautiful and rich country – with my awareness that billions of people in the world live in poverty, hunger, war, violence, and that we who are blessed have a responsibility to help those in need.

We are blessed – and so we need to be a blessing to others.

Our cups runneth over … sloshing down around our feet – while so many others in the world have empty cups.  That is a tension for me. My wealth – and others need.

I told my son that I didn’t want to resolve this tension – the 2 ways the tension could be resolved are both unappealing to me – I could stay rich and ignore the needy – or I could give everything away to the poor, and become poor in the process.

Neither of these is appealing – rather I want to “inhabit this tension” – so it shapes who I am and what I do for the rest of my life. I want to be uncomfortable about the gap between the rich (us) and the poor. I want to use that discomfort to motivate me to do something active – to try to be more effective in loving my neighbour


Jesus said the greatest commandments were love God (completely) & love neighbour (anyone we see in need and can help).

The challenge for us is to work how best to be obedient to this, in our modern, materialistic, self-centred society.

I want my bump to grow. I want to love God and love my neighbour. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to help change peoples lives. And I’m sure you all do to.

Heb 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another even more …”  It’s hard to follow God by ourselves. We need each other – for encouragement and challenge – spurring one another on to good works – to loving God, and loving our neighbours.

Finish with a thought about Christmas … for the past few years, Margaret & I have tried to do something different, and have tried to encourage a few others to do the same thing – we have asked ourselves

“Can we give more to the poor than to the rich this Christmas”….

The ‘rich’ are our kids and family.

How do we give more to the poor than the rich … possibly by giving less to the rich … possibly by giving more to the poor … one thing it has done is help us adjust our priorities / values a bit.

Bible Reading

1 Jn 3:16-24  16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us

Give And Get Free

By Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday, 10th August, 2014

2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 13

6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,

‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;

his righteousness endures for ever.’

10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,

Mark 10: 17 – 27

The Rich Man

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’


[N.B. Some information, part of the delivered sermon, and personal to Holy Trinity Devonport and to my family has not been included for public consumption]

I’m here to tell you that I am a Protestant through and through; and so we should be if we are Anglicans. We believe that salvation is first of all necessary and that we gain it by faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. It is by grace – a free gift of God – and it cannot be earned.

And we are each of us going to give an account for our lives; for how we have responded to the grace of God and how we have each of us lived out the saving grace of God here on earth.

These are the good things that have emerged from the Protestant Reformation, whose beginnings are associated with Martin Luther and whose effects were so thoroughly felt in Britain.

However, there was much in Catholicism that was good and our separation from Rome has had its disadvantages because we have forgotten some of them. One of these good things was a sense that the institution, the organisation of the Church was no different from the actual church as it exists in the mind of God.

In other words there was little sense that the true church consisted of genuine believers from all sorts of denominational expressions and that only God knew who these people were.

I am not recommending a reversion to Catholicism. In fact it is a pipe dream to suggest that there was a time when all the church was one big happy family. However it is true that in the mind of the average Medieval Christian there was (at least in Western Europe) the idea that there was only one church, that one belonged to it, and that involvement in its day to day life assured one of a heavenly future. There is something positive in that. It speaks of cultural and social, let alone religious, consensus.

That has changed, and at the root of that change lay not only a growing sense of individualism, but also a growing sense that our fallen natures placed us at odds with God. An overemphasis on the individual made it possible for us to declare unilateral independence not only from God, but from our fellows too.

And our overemphasis on the fallen nature of humankind made it possible for us to understand ourselves, even when saved, as conflicted creatures pulled in one direction by a desire to please God and in the other by a desire to please our fallen nature.

Prior to the Reformation, trust in the Church’s teaching and communal life was such that, by and large, adherence to its requirements was understood to bring life and wholeness. Both the individual and society was, one could say, less internally riven – less divided. If the church said it, it was true and – at the very least in the long run – beneficial.

And so, at least in the West, people were expected to carry out the biblical injunction to tithe for example, to give 10% of their income to the church. In the main they did so. In fact in most countries this was enshrined in legislation. It was relatively recently that the legislation was repealed. France officially abolished tithing in 1789, England in 1836, Ireland in 1871 and Italy in 1887.

Tithing remained a voluntary exercise encouraged by the Church of England but nominal membership meant income dropped markedly, especially under the influence of liberal scholarship which coincided with a drop in church attendance. A growing sense of individualism didn’t help, as individuals gradually began to identify themselves, in opposition to, rather than as part of, the church.

It became clear that an adherence to tithing was associated with a commitment to God.

Today those who tithe do so in denominations where it is expected. But in the traditional churches it is either carried out by a decreasing number of traditionalists from a sense of duty, or by those who understand it as a biblical imperative. It remains a measure of spiritual maturity and obedience to God.

There is a saying that the last thing to be converted is one’s pocket and this is not surprising in our consumer-driven society where the acquisition of things is given such priority. The mind-set of the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to that of society in this regard.

The understanding that a significant part of our makeup is at odds with God doesn’t help, and our independent individualism makes it easier for us to live our lives in discrete (that is separate) boxes where we have one set of values in one situation and another in a different situation. It makes it easier to ignore the things that please God.

The church has taken a pragmatic view on this and instead of insisting on an adherence to biblical principles, tends to appeal to the pragmatic and rational – pie charts of income and expenditure etc. – in an attempt to persuade us to part with our money in what is termed proportional and planned giving. For proportional read “we’re not asking you to be unreasonable” and for planned read “regular”.

I have a problem with this. It doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work firstly because only a very small proportion of people buy into anything for rational reasons. Secondly it seldom appeals to biblical principles and thirdly it seldom asks us to give in faith as a form of worship.

But enough of all that. We’re not legalistic in the New Testament. We should give as though we really did understand the extent to which Jesus, in giving his literal body up to crucifixion, now needs our support for his metaphysical body (the Church) here on earth.

I have already alluded to the fact that modernity’s values are at odds with God’s values. August is traditionally stewardship month, and while stewardship involves a great more than our giving money, it is a major part of it. So let’s have look at Jesus’ attitude towards money in the story of the rich young ruler. Let’s find Gospel – good news – in that story.

He’s a privileged man this. He’s not concerned with where his next meal is coming from, or where he’ll sleep for the night. His concerns are metaphysical.

He’s also an insightful man. Well, as Jesus people we’re a bit biased on that one! We reckon he recognises spiritual authority when he sees it. He comes to Jesus. In fact he kneels down before Jesus.

We read, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and mentions six of them. He replies, I’ve done that since I was a little fellow.

A bit annoyingly good this bloke. A bit like the kid in maths class who finishes his problems way before anybody else and then rushes up to the teacher for more to do. But then perhaps not, because Jesus looks into his eyes and the Scripture says, he loved him.

It sounds as though he really was keen to please God. Jesus took more than an instant liking to him. He felt love for him.

And then comes the bombshell. Vs. 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

Jesus sees within this fine man, a man whom he instinctively loves, the one and only area that prevents him from inheriting eternal life: his attachment to money.

It’s not that he has money that’s the problem. Jesus doesn’t dislike money any more than he dislikes electricity. Money is a prison for the rich young ruler because it is more important to him than God is. He’s not free of the need to have it.

I have no doubt the rich young ruler was a very generous man. He may have even heard Jesus teach (Luke 6: 26) Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.He may even have done just that. In fact perhaps he half expected Jesus to give him a big giving assignment. He’d have been prepared for that. He’d kept the Law of Moses and it certainly encouraged generosity to the poor. He’d certainly have tithed and more.

But everything?!! Clearly he wasn’t expecting that for we read in the next verse 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

The rich young ruler preferred bondage to things, to freedom with Jesus. Bottom line.

According to the National Catholic Register Pope Francis recently said: “Jesus teaches us to put the needs of the poor ahead of our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor, who lack the necessities of life.”  That’s why a fair whack of this church’s money goes to a good cause each month. It’s important.

Vs 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ This is a hard saying! I mean are any of us going to make it? In world terms if you own a car you’re wealthy.

But don’t despair. When the disciples ask Jesus who then can be saved, we read in Vs. 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Next week I’ll be altering my automatic payment with Kiwibank to close my payment to Holy Trinity and redirect it to St Peter’s where I begin my new ministry in September. Wouldn’t it be nice if a number of you here today went home and made the firm decision that you are going to set up an automatic payment with a meaningful amount and direct it to the Holy Trinity bank account.

I challenge you to tithe.

  • I can say this because it’s a biblical principle.
  • I can say this because Jesus espoused radical giving.
  • I can say this because it’s freeing and it’s an act of worship.
  • I can say this because I know that statistically Anglican giving is not the best. Not all of us, mind you.
  • I can say this because I’m not asking you to do anything I don’t do.
  • I can say this because neither I nor my ministry would benefit in any way from your doing so.
  • I can say this, not because I want to shame you into doing what you should be doing, but because giving generously brings blessing.

We all face these choices. Do I keep one part of my life in one box and the other parts in other boxes so that they have nothing to do with one another? Or do I practice internal transparently so that my life is integrated, so that I have integrity?

No amount of talking on my part will change anyone on this. We only change when open to the Holy Spirit. I urge you to be open to God’s Spirit in regard to giving.

Give and get free. Give to the glory of God.

God bless you


Dealing With Laban

By Rev Jonathan Gale
27th July 2014

Genesis 29: 15 – 28
Jacob Marries Laban’s Daughters

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ 16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ 19Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ 22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ 26Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ 28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 – 52
The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Three Parables

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Treasures New and Old

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 53When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.


One of the things I enjoy about getting out into the secular world is chatting to people who have no idea I’m a priest. Why’s that? They don’t filter their conversation and you get the unmitigated version of what’s going on in their lives.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the end of the financial year for some businesses right now but there are a lot of people under pressure out there. You might be one of them.

Frequently I listen to people describing the pressure they are under in terms of technicalities: looming deadlines, inefficient systems, poor supply chain issues, unexpected cost overruns, unforeseen changes in the state of the market etc.

However, one also picks up (and I well remember this from my years in development banking) that good management practices go a very long way to sorting these problems out.

That’s because at the heart of nearly every apparently technical problem, is a people problem. When people are under pressure they tend to lash out at other people without realising the damage they are causing.

But there is another kind of people problem in human relationships that is illustrated all too well in the person of Jacob’s uncle Laban from the account in Genesis 29 and that still bedevils humankind.

Just before our reading which began at verse 15, we read in verse 13: When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’

What a welcome! And how flattering! Jacob’s uncle has claimed identity with him. It wouldn’t surprise me if at this point Jacob was beginning to think, ‘This man treats me as an equal. My parents never did that. In fact my father prefers my brother Esau to me. What a great guy my uncle is!’

Then in verse 15: Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’

‘You’re my kinsman, no ordinary refugee. You shouldn’t work for nothing. Name your wages!’

‘My goodness me! I can decide what he’ll pay me?’

Poor naïve Jacob. He has no idea he is being groomed. He’s manipulated his brother Esau his whole life but he’s more than met his match here. He’s met the stage manager, the control freak, the arch deceiver and he’s being drawn within range of the spider little by little.

‘Name my wages?’ and Jacob goes all the way. He’s not shy. ‘May I have your daughter, Rachel?’ You see, the moment he says this he feels beholden, he feels like he owes Laban big time and he blurts out, ‘I’ll serve you for seven years for her!’ 

He’s playing right into the taker’s hands. Laban knows exactly what he’s doing and suddenly his tone changes. ‘Yeah. Okay. Rather you than some other man. Stay with me.’ End of conversation.

‘Boy. I have you right where I want you, and wait until the seven years is over. Have I got a surprise for you then!’ He’s got what he wants and it’s like taking candy from a kid, as they say.

Well, we know what happens. When the seven years is up Laban under cover of darkness, marries Jacob to Leah, not Rachel. When Jacob complains, the stage manager emerges and interprets reality for him. ‘This is how it’s done in this country. The younger can’t marry before the older. Work for me for another seven years and you can have Rachel.’

Have you met people like this? The circumstances of the relationship are introduced in glowing terms. There are hints of great promise. This buys your co-operation. But all the time you pay dearly for any benefits. You are made to feel as though you owe the person something and this is used, often in tandem with a withdrawal of approval, to keep you giving and giving.

When the promises are not forthcoming, the terms around which you engage are changed and gradually it dawns on you that you are doing all the giving and none of the getting. Eventually you find that in encounters with the person you come away drained and lacking peace.

As Rob Bell says, “Some people are toxic. They are energy-draining.” And he was speaking of Christians.

I hear modern versions of stories like this all the time.

This is sometimes known as the succubus stereotype. An encounter which should be positive and pleasurable is in fact negative and demeaning, ultimately draining.

Who knows what hurts Laban had experienced in his earlier life that he felt the need so thoroughly to control his environment, so completely to focus on his own narrow needs to the exclusion of others’ needs, so craftily to manipulate the people around him to get what he wanted.

One thing is for sure. If Jacob had had any dreamy optimism about the family into which he married, it was now gone. He was thoroughly used, and it was only God’s intervention that enabled him to escape with more than the clothes on his back and with his wives and children.

Perhaps you have had your hopes disappointed like this? Perhaps you have had your career aspirations violated like this. Perhaps you have had your dreams tainted like this.

It could be an unfaithful spouse, a subtly abusive employer or business partner, an exploitative relative, someone in authority you trusted. The Labans of this world do not advertise their machinations. Far from it. Like the trapdoor spider camouflage is important and people are taken in before they realise it.

Jacob eventually managed to run away. Fortunately he had God’s help and Esau’s forgiveness, and he was restored to his home, his country and God’s purposes for him.

Jacob took his chance when he could, but sometimes you can’t flee. What then?   Proverbs 26: 11 says As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Manipulators are seldom cured. They are like a dog returning to its vomit. They keep repeating their behaviour. That means you need some strategies for dealing with people like this.

The very first response of a Christian is forgiveness. Yes, even if there is no repentance, no acknowledgement of culpability. You forgive. And you know why? Forgiveness is for your benefit, not theirs. They couldn’t give a monkey’s. Their consciences are seared. A lack of forgiveness will destroy you. Jesus in fact implies in the Lord’s Prayer that unless we forgive, we will not be forgiven. It’s a big deal.

Forgiveness needs to be specific and it needs to be thorough. It is a kind of death, but it leads to resurrection. It leads to freedom.

The second response is to realise that we have a right to put boundaries in place. God does not expect you to be abused by anybody for their own benefit, no matter who they are. It may be difficult, but we need to make clear that certain forms of behaviour are not acceptable.

Proverbs 4: 23 says Guard your heart for out of it are the issues of life. If you are to love your neighbour as you love yourself, you need at the very least to look after yourself.

Jacob and Laban erected a cairn and agreed: I stay this side of it and you so that side of it. Boundaries are important.

The third thing is you need to adjust your perspective. What do I mean by that? Well, when your dreams have been tainted, your career quashed, your aspirations frustrated, the natural thing is to push back – to fight.

How many people do you know who have had a set-back and have later said, ‘You know, it actually turned out for the best that that happened.’  We don’t fight as Christians. We take things to Jesus. We take them to the cross. They get crucified right there with us as we are busy forgiving and as we acknowledge that the way we wanted things to be, is no longer.

We may have wanted something instant and big, but God says ‘No. Start with a mustard seed. It will grow eventually into one of the largest of plants.’

We might want to implement great change, and we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. But God says ‘Try starting with some yeast. Eventually the whole loaf will be leavened.’

We might know exactly how much we’re prepared to invest in order to realise our goal, but God says, ‘If you want that treasure it will cost you everything you have. How important is the Kingdom of God to you?’

You might want to expose the person who has made your life miserable, but God says, ‘That’s not your job. Every fish is in the net. The angels will do the sorting at the end of time.’

You see the Law of Moses gives us a clear indication that there is right and there is wrong, and it is wrong to manipulate people. The old law still holds in this regard.

But the new law says ’Love. Love your neighbours, love your enemies, love your friends and family.’

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, and with God’s help we will examine ourselves to make sure we do not manipulate other people, especially those we claim to love. We need to realise that our Western system is as faulty as any other system and built upon self-interest.

And with God’s help we will forgive those who have manipulated us for their own selfish ends. We will look after ourselves by maintaining appropriate boundaries with manipulative people and we will adjust our own driven ambitions, submit to God as we realise there is nothing more important than the Kingdom. It is worth giving everything to achieve it.

A final word. The thing that kept Jacob going was the call of God on his life. God had promised him the blessings of Abraham and they were substantial.

If you are a Christian, you are called by God. God has something for you to do.

Circumstances may have battered you around a bit. They certainly did Jacob, but when God grabbed hold of him in that famous wrestling match you’ve no doubt heard of before, he would not let go until God had blessed him.

Persevere in your calling, whatever it may be. God has an uncanny ability to turn suffering into blessing. Investing everything we are in the Kingdom of God is the most worthwhile thing we can do.

God bless you


God Is Simply Not Domesticated

domesticatedGod Is Simply Not Domesticated
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Friday Night Gospel, 2nd May, 2014

Exodus 24: 12-18

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.                                                              

Psalm 99

Praise to God for His Holiness

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

Holy is he!

4 Mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice

and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Extol the Lord our God;

worship at his footstool.

Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,

Samuel also was among those who called on his name.

They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;

they kept his decrees,

and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;

you were a forgiving God to them,

but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9 Extol the Lord our God,

and worship at his holy mountain;

for the Lord our God is holy.

2 Peter 1:16-21

Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’


Well, how many times haven’t we heard that story! It never ceases to amaze.

  • The mystery of the cloud. The associated shekinah glory of Yahweh that lights up Jesus (as happens also in The Revelation to John) – to the point where he is described as beingtransfigured – of altered appearance.
  • The sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah (representing of course the Law and the Prophets).
  • Peter’s strange (or is it so strange?) suggestion that they build three dwellings on the mountain.
  • God’s voice coming from heaven and the disciples falling down, trembling with fear.
  • Jesus saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’

And then suddenly it’s all over. They are alone with Jesus on the mountain.

Pretty overwhelming!

That reminds me of the story of the hen who saw a handsome rooster coming towards her (so she thought) from the other side of the road. She ran towards him just as a huge Mac truck thundered right over the top of her, the wheels passing just behind and just in front of her. The rooster of course ran for his life, but the hen shook the dust from her feathers and squawked, “Wow! Some rooster!”

Something happened but she wasn’t too sure what it was. It was a bit like that for Peter, James and John.

In both Luke and Matthew we see the Transfiguration occurring after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and that Peter doesn’t like the idea. In fact Jesus rebukes him (Matthew 16: 23) 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

These things are too much for Peter. He feels events are getting out of control – his control. No sooner has he experienced something divine and beyond his understanding when he wants to tame it, to institutionalise it. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Three new denominations – right there!

God of course ignores him – in fact speaks right over him. ’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’

How natural it is to try and control God, to capture God and domesticate him into manageable terms. Peter wants to box the experience into three dwellings or tents. His is a religious response, not a spiritual one. If we institutionalise this perhaps I’ll have a better handle on it. Pretty soon we’ll wrap it around with some systematic theology and hey presto, we have a course we can sell to the nearest student with a spiritual hunger or the nearest priest with career aspirations.

But God can’t be boxed. He’s not that small. And yet so strong is our desire to be in control, to be God (as Eugene Peterson would put it), that we too, if we’re not careful, do the same thing. We do so by minimising God into an adjunct to our agendas. Is it any wonder we find it difficult to believe that the small God we have created can be of real assistance to us when we do call upon him?

Peter, in fact, is in the process of committing idolatry. An idol is anything apparently spiritual we attempt to manipulate to promote our own agendas. The essence of idolatry is that I am here, God is over there, and he exists to assist me when I need it.

The essence of the gospel is that God has incarnated himself, pitched headlong, into humankind. God the Son has invaded not just our geographical space but our very lives. The Kingdom of God is upon us. The only appropriate response is to repent and believe the Good News.

Limiting God (after tying him up in religiosity) is the most respectable way of domesticating him. We reduce God to the one who saves us from our sin or the one who gives meaning to our life. God – the enhancer of us.

God won’t be domesticated. While Peter is speaking, God speaks over Peter. He affirms Jesus as his Son and addresses the disciples with these words, “’Listen to him”. It’s that simple, really. Jesus is Lord.

God’s appearance is that of a devouring fire says Exodus.

And in Psalm 99:

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

   he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

   Holy is he!

Now that’s the kind of God I want to worship; I don’t know about you.

Who is God to you? Is he a Church of England service on a Sunday? Is he that burning justice issue you feel so strongly about? Is he someone who is there to save and heal you when you need it? Is he the one who loves you – makes you feel wanted? Is it he that gives you significance and meaning in life – that makes you feel you are not simply a tiny and temporary collection of cells destined first to compost and then to break up as dust into the greater cosmos?

God is concerned to save and heal us. God loves us passionately, but it’s not God who is the problem. The problem creeps in when our relationship with God very subtly tips into one where we see God as a crutch, someone to use for our benefit, rather than understanding that complete surrender to him is the only sane response to who he is.

You see, when we focus on any of these elements to the exclusion of God as essentially beyond our complete understanding, as mysterious, the Lord of the universe who can’t be in-spanned to prop up our social and psychological needs, then we are not focussing on God; but on an idea of God.

We are like the little boy in kindy who sits in the corner, playing little games and talking to himself: avoiding his fellows, preferring his own little world because reality is too uncomfortable to deal with.

God is more than our needs writ large. God is God.

And one of the most profound mysteries of God is that in Jesus he has purposed to die, to do what logically is the impossible. God, by definition, cannot die. As the liturgy says he is the source of all life and goodness and yet death is what he is heading towards. The King James version puts it beautifully: He set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51)

In Luke we read that Moses and Elijah “spoke of his departure which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” That is what they appeared on the mount of Transfiguration to speak to Jesus about. The Law and the Prophets point forward to the Messiah and his sufferings. This foreshadows Jesus’ own explanation, on the road to Emmaus, of the Scriptures pointing to himself. (Luke 24: 27, 32).

Who knows what the purpose of the Transfiguration was. Possibly Jesus needed reassurance that he was on the right pathway in heading for the cross. It would be a bit sad being wrong about something like that! The disciples certainly needed the encouragement to believe this.

And they would need this encouragement, for the pathway Jesus had chosen was not an easy one. It’s difficult for us to understand what Jesus went through on the cross on our behalf. We know he didn’t want to go there from his prayer in Gethsemane. We know he suffered terribly. We know from his loud cry from the cross that he felt forsaken by God.

We can understand in a theological sense what the effects of his death and resurrection were. Both Paul and Peter use an imagery that makes this plain.

  • Paul in 2 Corinthians 5: 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Peter in 1 Peter 3: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are any numbers of theories that make sense as to why Jesus was crucified but they are there for us, not God. God can do as he pleases. He is God. Why God could not have done it differently remains a mystery.

Perhaps there is a clue for us as to why the crucifixion was so important in the concept of our being crucified with Christ. This is a phrase that appears in Galatians 2: 20. Paul says I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Our being crucified with Christ is best understood in terms of living out our baptism – i.e. the putting to death the old nature and living in Christ’s resurrection power. The old nature is symbolically buried with Christ as we go into the water of baptism, and we rise in Christ’s resurrection power as we come out of the water.

But how does this explain the mystery of crucifixion?

Well, here’s a thought: perhaps it was not so much Christ who needed to die, as it is we who have to die – die that is to our inveterate post fall desire to control our own lives to our detriment – and that Christ died as an example for us. Just as he didn’t need to be baptised but did so as an example for us to follow, so he died, for he knows we need to follow that example and die to our independent ways.

Perhaps, this is why God speaks over Peter and strongly suggests he listen to Jesus. The message to Peter is clear. You can’t domesticate God, but you need to domesticate your desire to be God.

Now that, as we know is a process, and it is a process that becomes a joy as we submit ourselves to Christ minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

Peter says in 2 Peter 1: 19b You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.