Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church Sunday, February 7th 2021, 9.30am led by Dugald Wilson

Coming Together as People of Jesus

Welcome and Notices:

E te whānau a Te Karaiti                                     Brothers and sisters in Christ

ngā mihi aroha ki a tātou katoa.                       Warm greetings to you all 

Kia ora.                                                                    

Call to Worship:

He korōria ki te Atua                                             Salute to God

He maungorongo ki te whenua                          Peacefulness to the land

He whakaaro pai ki te tangata                            Good will to the people

Ka haere tatau ki te karakia                              Let us go to worship

Singing:                     ‘Tama Ngakau Marie’

 Opening Prayer with the Lord’s Prayer: 

 Singing:                     ‘My Heart is Filled’

Listening to a Word from God

Readings:   Isaiah 40: 21-31 – God who created the earth and its peoples controls their history… this ‘control’ may be ‘hidden’, but those who wait on God will be vindicated.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;

23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Luke 16:19-31 – A story about God’s Judgement

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

This is the Word of the Lord   Thanks be to God

Time of Learning:  Gods Judgement   Isaiah 4021-31, Luke 16:19-31  A year ago we still had no confirmed cases of Covid 19 in Aotearoa NZ but outbreaks were immanent as people returning from various countries and places from overseas, were being advised to isolate at home and report suspicious symptoms.  We were, however, on the verge of significant community transmission and our famous ‘go early go hard’ lockdown.  We have been incredibly fortunate and dare I say lucky as we look back, that our politicians and scientists got on the same page.  And along the way we have learnt a new language; lockdown, asymptomatic, close contact, flattening the curve, community transmission, self-isolation, QR code, contact tracing, bubbles.

One of the new words in our vocabulary is the word ‘bubble’.  We have learned, that once the virus is in the community we can beat it with bubbles and isolation.   Separating ourselves and stopping close contact is the way to beat this thing.  Personally, I quite enjoyed bubbles, and clearly they work.  Separation, avoiding contact, living in our own limited world.  Currently our bubble is the whole of Aotearoa NZ and it is a great bubble to be in, ask the rest of the world, but as I look to the future the bubble has some other dimensions that I think we need to face up to.

Where is God in the bubble?   What is going to be the shape of the new normal that is emerging – for it’s not a ‘going back to how things were’.  What is our Christian voice into the journey we all face?

There is another word which like our Covid words is already in existence but which I think we need to talk about.  It’s not an easy word because it carries baggage and images which are often unhelpful, but it is a word that our scriptures use often.  It is the word judgement.

The word caries baggage and creates images.  A stern male God assessing and condemning to hell.  Mistakes pounced on.  Rejection.  Eternal condemnation when we die.  Fire and brimstone and endless torment.  Unhelpful, very unhelpful when taken literally.  But also very unhelpful when ignored and forgotten because judgement is closely allied with consequences….. another word the modern world doesn’t really like to hear.

Jesus talks in Luke 16 about a rich man who ignored a poor beggar called Lazarus who sat outside his gate as he feasted in luxury every day.  I guess the rich man saw him as scum, someone not worthy, lazy lay about, a nuisance at my gate.  They both die and the rich man goes to Hades while the poor man is carried by angels to Abraham’s side….a way of saying, I guess, one goes to hell and the other to heaven – but remember it’s picture language.  The rich man then asks Abraham to have Lazarus get him some water because he is in agony.  Interesting isn’t it, that there is dialogue between Hades and heaven as if somehow they are the same place, but experienced very differently.  Notice also in this dialogue, the rich man won’t address Lazarus directly.  Abraham rejects the request, so a second favour is asked.  Could Lazarus go and warn the rich man’s family of what’s in store for them.  If they had a message from someone who had died they would surely change their ways, but again the request is denied with the answer that they have the scriptures and if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets then ‘sorry that’s their fate’.

I’m sure you’ve got some questions about this picture story.  It’s not easy listening is it?  Surely Abraham could show a bit of mercy couldn’t he….a bit of Jesus-like softness.  But notice what seems to be the big issue.  It starts with the rich man ignoring the nobody Lazarus.  Lazarus isn’t even worth feeding with the crumbs.  No doubt the rich man feels he has earned his place, while Lazarus gets what he deserves for that’s how the world works doesn’t it.  The rich man in his little bubble.  But even in Hades he wants Lazarus to get him water.  When you get someone water you’re serving them.  Even in Hades he wants Lazarus to be his servant.  There is indeed a chasm between them but isn’t that chasm in the rich man’s heart and mind.  He can’t feel connected to Lazarus, he is not part of us, a fellow human being, the rich man’s bubble remains intact with Lazarus not included…. beyond, not part of my community .

The story has a sharp warning for Jesus’ audience, particularly those in power, and those with positions of prestige in the world to rethink how they viewed the world.  It has a message for us – particularly the pictures we all make of whose in my bubble and who isn’t.  Clearly Jesus is saying that there will be consequences for ignoring the Lazarus’s outside our bubbles.  To reject poor Lazarus was to reject God. To ignore and reject Lazarus was to invite – judgment – on you.  Our choices have consequences.  Stick your finger in the fire and know it will get burnt.  Judgement, consequences.

The rich man clings to his status, his pride, his ideas of success.  He’s unable to let go of this little bubble  which puts him on top and which ignores Lazarus who sits by gate.  In the story  the reality of what has occurred becomes complete with life ending and death, but in reality judgment is happening as we live. It’s not part of the pie in the sky when we die scenario but is about now.    Actually as you look back in our scriptures you’ll see judgement happens in this life.  The people of Israel forget their God and following the ways of God and catastrophe strikes the nation.  That’s a key message of Isaiah and the prophets.   Turn away from the way of God and there will be consequences.  They may take time but be sure they will come, in the ongoing life of the people.

Jesus assumes this  in his story about the rich man and Lazarus.  I think in Jesus’ eyes the rich man who represents some of Jesus’s hearers is already dead but he hasn’t died.  He’s in Hades, but still living in his fine mansion.  The dark cloud of judgment hovers over him already – consequences there for those with eyes to see…. But also the possibility for repentance – changes – and a rebirth into a life that’s truly worth living, the life of a greater whole, of a commitment to a greater good.  Judgement happens here and now, with the hope that eyes will open, hearts will change, a new way is found.

There’s plenty to consider in our own lives, especially on Waitangi weekend with words of John Banks ringing in our ears.  Racism remains alive and well in our midst and possibly in our own hearts.  But I want to zoom up and consider where I started this address.  Big picture stuff.  Covid stuff.

Until recently, the planet Earth was so big compared to humanity’s impacts that Earth’s resources seemed limitless.  The small number of human beings meant that we lived in relative harmony with creation.  The human population has now nearly tripled in just one human lifetime, and, at just under 8 billion people and counting, is still growing rapidly.  Provisioning the food, housing, water, and other goods and services desired by these ever-growing numbers of people has literally overwhelmed the planet.  Most of the world’s big rivers have been dammed to provide power and water for irrigation.  Producing what billions of people ‘need’ to survive requires energy in amounts that now far exceed what creation can provide and it is claimed we need at least two earths to provision the current wants of human beings.  We have pushed the greater efficiency button to generate more food, but we can’t go on.  Green house gases have increased as we have burned vast amounts of fossil fuels to provide for industry, demand for electricity, and transport.

But there are consequences….God’s judgement.    Global warming has become a dominant feature of modern life.  So we see more frequent floods, and wildfires as we have recently seen in Australia and other places threaten to literally burn up large areas of the earth.  Farming in many parts of the world is being decimated by drought, floods, and locusts.  Christians are used to reading of such things in their scriptures but now with increasing frequency, they are happening to us.

There are other issues facing us.  Macro and microscopic plastic debris has become a feature of every ocean environment.  Oceans are acidifying.  Insects which provide vital pollination of plants are being decimated at an alarming rate often by indiscriminate use of pesticides.

And of course there is the Covid-19 pandemic.  We don’t know for sure where this virus has originated but it seems it may have its origins amongst bats found in remote caves in China.  The pattern probably follows the patterns of other outbreaks like SARS or MERS.  As people come into contact with more remote parts of creation either searching for sources of food to make money from, or clearing land for profit they come into contact with disease organisms found only in wild populations.  With increased numbers of human beings, we push boundaries and encroach on previously undisturbed environments, exposing ourselves to unknown pathogens and viruses.  How many red flags do we need?  There will be consequences as we behave like gods who can manipulate, abuse, and use creation as ours to do with as we like.

I asked the question where do we see God in the Covid 19 pandemic, and clearly we see God in the compassion and caring of the front like medical personnel, in the skills and knowledge of scientists, but I also see God in the red flags, calling us to wake up and get serious about the issues that threaten the very existence of life on the planet we call home.  Judgement.

We live as if we are gods with the right to do anything we wish.  Our relationship with creation and with one another as creatures living in our common home, as Pope Frances calls the earth, is seriously out of kilter.  We live not as stewards but as masters who consume and dominate with unrestrained greed.   I pray as we journey through these days we will heed the flags, and hear the voice of God’s judgment on us saying we must open our eyes and change.  ‘Business as normal’ is not good enough.   I trust we will also know our God is merciful and forgiving, encouraging and empowering to those who repent and take another path.

I pray we will get more serious about caring for God’s earth our common home.  The core issue is that world-wide population growth must cease.  Educating and empowering all the women of the world will help, but it will need more, and I’m not sure what the answers will be.  I simply know we humans are consuming too much, dominating too much, and forgetting that we are not gods, but creatures accountable to God.

I rejoice in the recent report on climate change here in Aotearoa NZ (most of which has been said before) but I pray we will take it seriously as individuals and as a nation.  Business as normal is not good enough.  It will mean cost as we ditch our cars and reduce or herds of cattle but I believe God’s voice is clear.  We are being judged, our ignorance and short sightedness is being exposed.  We must take seriously the image of the earth as our common home.

I join with prophets like Siouxsie Wiles who points out it isn’t right for younger healthier adults in rich countries to be vaccinated before healthcare workers and more at risk people and communities in poorer countries.  Some of these poorer countries were of course where vaccines were actually tested.  At issue is using basic business models of protecting knowledge and patents and making profits for shareholders when we are producing lifesaving medicine for all.   Business as normal is not good enough.  At risk groups like Maori and Pacifica people will need priority when it comes to vaccination.

God’s judgement hangs over us all.  The question is are we willing to comprehend and are we willing to act.

Singing:                     ‘These Hills’

We go to be the People of Jesus

Prayers for the journey:


Singing:                     ‘God of Nations’


Singing:                     Joy Be In My Heart