Love will bring you to your knees
To sow the seeds of grace

Like a carpenter I carved your hands
From driftwood from the deep

And in your heart I’ve placed a journey
And like a garden it will grow
And when you taste the fruits of bravery
I will part the seas below

Your heart is my promised land

Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church on Sunday, November 22nd 2020.

Ezekiel 34:11-24 (abridged)

As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them. There they shall lie down in good grazing land. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged. 

Together, gathered by the God of Jesus Christ, our shepherd, from all walks of life, from the by way and the high way, scattered and displaced, let us be led to a place of sanctuary of belonging, this our promised land. There we shall be brought together as one, there we shall be nourished, there we shall be fed a feast of justice. There all manner of sufficiency at the back of disparity, all manner of satisfaction in face of injustice, shall be no more. Yes, all manner of winning at the cost of others will be losing, in this upside down place. So, God’s people, who seek and long for a better world, let us keep our eyes fixed on the one who comes in the midst of his creation urging us and leading us from within along the way to our promised land. Jesus Christ is our God, our brother, the truth, the way and the life. See how his truth is love. Experience how his way is compassion. Taste how his life is peace. We shall get there together side by side, hand in hand, God and creation, heaven and earth, nourished by justice, mending the broken, strengthening the weak, bringing community to the lost.   

Prayerful Reflection: 

Music: Promised Land by John Lucas

Love will bring you to your knees
To sow the seeds of grace

Like a carpenter I carved your hands
From driftwood from the deep

And in your heart I’ve placed a journey
And like a garden it will grow
And when you taste the fruits of bravery
I will part the seas below

Your heart is my promised land 

Song:                          ‘Make a Joyful Noise’

Welcome and Notices


Song:                          Aaronic Blessing 

Praying the Psalm

We will pray a psalm together. Before we do, let me give an explanation. This psalm is song of praise. In praising, the psalm implores us to sing, to make some noise fitting of God who is great, who is King. It seeks to place this God above all things. The psalm gives reasons. The enormity of creation, the depths of all that is, belongs to him. This God is the maker, who is rightfully praised and worshipped. Then it reaches the climax. But the climax is not what we may have expected. Perhaps words like king and superiority fits well with lofty places, or grand spaces, in cathedrals, in palaces. On the contrary, the praise of this God reaches fulfillment in the midst of his people. It is in the intimacy of this God and his people that the praise finds its meaning. This great God, the King, the Maker is our God, our shepherd. We belong to this God who comes to his people like a shepherd, in the dirt and valleys, our checkered journey of life.

Family of God, and all those who seek the truth, the way and the life, what do we worship, who do we worship? What do we praise, who do we praise? Are you dismayed by the arbitrariness of power and authority? Are you done with pomposity of kingdoms of might and force? Let us make some joyful noise for leadership born and raised among the people. If we bow down to anything, if we are sold out for something, if we kneel at anything, let us do so to the God who comes in the midst of us, leading us from within. Let us make joyful noise fitting of Jesus Christ, whose name is Emmanuel, God who is with us, God who walks in our own shoes, as our brother, shepherding our journey towards a better world, a home for us all to belong together.

Please respond with the words in Bold.

 Psalm 95:1-7

O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Prayer for others

We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:

Offering and Dedication Prayer

Song:                          ‘Every Day’

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46                              New Revised Standard Version

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Ephesians 1:15-23                                                  New Revised Standard Version

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Sermon reflection:

Scriptures:  Ezekiel 34:11-24, Psalm 95:1-7, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:15-23

When I arrived in New Zealand, in 1995, I was just a little boy, an 11 year old boy. If you are doing the sums to figure out my age, don’t be distracted! Concentrate! New Zealand was touted as a land of promise. Environmentally, beautiful green spaces, more green than grey concrete, clean water and air worthy of exporting. Socially, an egalitarian dream come true, where everyone is a friend, so much so, women and men are equal, tangata whenua and colonisers share sovereignty, rangatiratanga, in honour of the peoples who are weaved together by the treaty. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. And I had hoped to make this dream a reality in this dreamland I have come to find home.

When I went to school, I was pleasantly shocked to see teacher and student talking to each other like friends. Teachers asking students to teach him, (and this particular teacher was a him), how to play a computer game. I had not experienced this. There was a friendly relationship between teacher and student back where I came from but one knew the relationship between teacher and student rather than between friends. The only way to distinguish the relationship was the uniform and appellation, Mr. Roberts. Unfortunately, this dream of mine was progressively beaten out of me throughout my schooling.

Sadly, I saw far too many abuses of this equality. Students ridiculing teachers, being disrespectful outright, causing so much trouble that I saw them leave a classroom, breaking down into tears, and therefore ruining the opportunity to learn for fellow students. With teachers seemingly unable to do much about it, I often wondered “who rules this place?” I saw students being racist to teachers of different ethnicity upfront, but what got me the most was the subtle way that they did it  – demeaning their humanity underhanded. And even my friends would do this in front of me. I challenged them once, “can’t you see me?” I have the same eyes and accent. Their defense can be summed up with the words often used: “I don’t see colour.” We are colour blind.

As I grew up, I realised what I experienced in the school was a microcosm of the wider society. Egalitarian culture of New Zealand society, structures itself in equality, flat structure, resisting hierarchy through structure and system in a formal sense. I am proud of our country for this. This is to be celebrated and rightly praised. We can hold our head high, oh wait, until of course, someone chops the head of a poppy standing a little taller. I learnt that though structurally, New Zealand culture has a level playing field, though formally we hold in check power and authority it is naïve to believe that there are no powers that rule over us. We cannot be blind to powers that operate underhanded behind the scenes, behind the structures and systems.

“Who rules this place?” There will be resistance from my pakeha friends. We are all mates here. Words like rule, power, king, authority doesn’t apply. Everyone has equal opportunity. If I can do it, you can too. We are all about a fair go. If you don’t seize it yourself, you’ve only got yourself to blame. Just work hard enough, just try harder to fit in, bleach yourself out a bit, blend yourself in a bit. It’s every man for himself, every woman for herself. I do wonder though, how others might answer this question: Who rules this place? What about a woman blamed for the terror of sexual harassment? She was asking for it, right? Actually, NO. What about the tangata whenua who are blamed for the drain in our resources for the historic settlements? Yet it is my right to a payout at market value if the government wants to use bit of my land. Who rules this place?

I wonder how you found yourself reacting as you heard the second reading from Ephesians. Did you find yourself scoffing? Did it rub you up the wrong way? All this language of power, authority, above and under, can seem over the top and alien and even wrong in our culture of mateship and a fair go. However, we must resist the temptation to allow the formal structures and systems to hide the powers at work behind the scenes. It is important that we name what is hidden and unseen. We must be brave to work in unity to reveal the subtlety that demeans the other. Our mateship culture is at its best when our tall poppy syndrome works to call out abuse of power, check the imbalance of power, so that indeed in our humanity, there is no one above another, no one under another, but always side by side.

So it is Christian conviction that on earth, all power and authority and dominion belongs to God not to anyone or anything but God only. This is because, though there is good in us, there are powers at large that inevitably corrupt us to think, “somehow I am superior, my wants and desires met is justice served at the cost of others”. Not only there can be no power and authority and dominion belonging to a person, there can be no power and authority and dominion that belongs to humanity. We see the disaster of putting humanity above nature, nature below humanity. It is easy to say this is how it is. Species die out and species rise up. It’s nature’s way. The fittest survives.

 Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a Christian I can speak for the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The fittest survive? That is not the Gospel. That is bad news. In fact, it is a curse to humanity. If I survive, it is because I am worthy, and you are not. If I thrive, it is because I have earned it, and you obviously haven’t. Just as we began today’s worship service, God feeds the fat sheep and the lean sheep equally. Yet it says what God feeds them equally with is justice. There is an integral connection between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. There is a justice issue. In the promised land from which we shall be fed justice, we shall find that the strong are freed from self-preservation and selfishness to love, to share that which we grasp at, as if it is ours for it gives us strength and power and position, which is actually God’s to be gifted to all. We shall find in the promised land from which we shall be fed justice, that the weak shall receive –  without shame or condemnation, for what they receive is not from the strong but from God. Together side by side we shall give thanks to God, making a joyful noise fitting to the one who indeed rules, the one who identifies the rule with justice, therefore, with the weak and the downtrodden and stands in opposition to those who are blind to see the face of Christ in the least of these.

Friends, as for this place, if our gathering for worship of this God of Jesus Christ is to be a foretaste of the feast of justice in the promised land, let us come humbly before God to ask who rules in this place. Who has had their fill, who is hungry? Who thrives, who just gets by? Who is satisfied, who is bereft?

Song:                          ‘From Heaven You Came’

Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you

Song of Sending:     ‘Like a Rock’


The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, the Communion of the Holy Spirit

be with us all now and forever. Amen