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Friday, 7 April 2017

God of the wrong places


KAUWHAU (SERMON) GIVEN at
TE POU HERENGA WAKA O TE WHAKAPONO
(SOUTH NAPIER)
PALM SUNDAY
(April 9th) 2016


Reading: Matthew 21.1-11


So much of preaching comes out of sharing a journey together, paddling the same waka[1] in the same awa[2] or moana.[3] Worship practices of Anglicans in Aotearoa and Ahitereria[4] are quite different in many ways, mainly in terms of high and low (Sydney is different again!). Since my ordination thirty years ago, I have usually practiced a very intense form of liturgy during Holy Week and Easter. Palm or Passion Sunday forms with Holy Week and Easter one great eight day liturgy, deeply solemn, a tangi in which a long and profound journey is taken through death, grief, reconciliation; often embracing more than one marae, we finally reach the hope of release of a lost one to be with tipuna[5] in a better place and a better state. But what a loved one, what a release, what a better state! On Easter Day the dance of mad joy begins!
Today we begin a descent. This was when I was a kid a day of palm waving and celebration better almost than Easter (except for the Easter eggs!). Today starts a descent down from a sort of wrongly directed expectation, believing that a political liberator has come to set a people free, down deep to the depths of disappointment and darkness on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The one who was to set us free has died. Where now, what hope now?
Only then the gobsmacking joy of Easter and resurrection hope and a message far greater than merely political revolution, defeat of mere political opponents. That is defeat of suffering and death and sorrow themselves.
Today is the Sunday on which acknowledge how we get it all wrong. On Friday, wherever we are and whatever we do, we will remember the day on which the extent of God’s love for humans and all creation and all time will be revealed – reaching even, as St Paul put it, to death on a cross, for all who suffer (and then even those who don’t).
On Sunday, in places where an Easter or Paschal candle is lit, priests will intone words that remind us that God’s love embraces all history, all time, all universes. The priest will quietly intone two prayers in particular:

Eternal God,
who made this most holy night
to shine with the brightness of your one true light:
set us aflame with the fire of your love,
and bring us to the radiance of your
heavenly glory;

and

Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to him,
and all ages;

It as if when we have travelled that mysterious journey through this Holy Week we can finally grasp the breadth and width and depth of God’s love for us and all creation.
But today we remember how wrong we get it. Today we look for a saviour in the White House, firing 59 missiles at Syria, or on a white charger leading us to military victory, or a saviour in Ivory Towers leading us to intellectual insight, or a saviour at the back of the All Black scrum making us proud of our nation, and in doing so we get it wrong.
We will in just four days’ time stand with all humanity and cry for our Saviour’s blood. “Why, what has my Lord done,” says the hymnist, “what makes this rage and spite?” Today we acknowledge that we look for God in wrong places, in polished places: in cathedrals and cohorts and palaces and parliaments, not an ugly cross.
The God revealed in Jesus is not in those polished places.
God is found instead in aching human hearts, breathing resurrection hope. God is found in honest human hearts breathing resurrection hope. God is found in loving human hearts breathing resurrection hope. In each case God is there even when the owner of the heart can’t identify the Christ-light dawning there.
I tend to see far more of the face of Jesus in the broken and uncertain than in the sure and complacent gate-keepers of our religious institutions. I often find far more of the face of Jesus in the uncertain and sometimes downtrodden hitchhiker trying to find a way to live after a stint in prison than I do in the wearers of designer labels who stand sentinel at the door of some of our most conspicuous churches.
In saying that I am over-simplifying. Dig deep and all of us know that we have unpleasant sides, that we have grot and darkness into which we need the light of Christ to shine and the healing love of the risen Christ to work God’s redeeming love. It is so whether we are paupers of kings, prisoners or princesses. But I suspect that the hungover hitch-hiker more easily knows her or his need than the Pierre Cardin-suited gate-keeper, more than custodians of religious purity.
Today we acknowledge our humanness. We acknowledge that we have often looked for the triumph of God in the wrong places. It is a great thing to wave and dance and sing, to create beauty and awe and mystery, but, as every alcoholic and other addict will tell us, to begin to think we are the triumphant crowd, to begin to think that God admires our greatness, to begin to think, as the prophets warned, that our glamorous programmes and smooth administrations and loudest of hosannas are what God really needs, is to forget to find God in the broken figure of a criminal on a cross.
When we lose sight of a criminal on a cross we lose ability to be shocked and awed and wowed by the good news that will break in on us next Sunday. Then we are seized by the awe of an open, empty tomb, and by the news not only that he is not here, he is risen, but that he goes before us into our every stumble, and lifts us slowly, gently, lovingly up to the eternal glories of God. There Christ, the same yesterday and today, is the King of glorious eternity share with us and those broken, stumbling people he has loved.

Lord God, who sits upon the cherubim, who has reaffirmed your power and sent your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to save the world through his Cross, Burial and Resurrection: when he drew near to Jerusalem for His voluntary Passion, the people that sat in darkness and the shadow of death took, as tokens of victory, boughs of trees and branches of palms, foretelling his Resurrection. Lord, keep and preserve us also, who, following their example, carry in our hands palms and branches, and who like the crowds and the children cry out, Hosanna! May we who offer you hymns and spiritual songs be accounted worthy to attain the life-giving Resurrection on the third day: in Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom Thou art blessed, together with your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, world without end. Amen.


[1] waka: vessel, vehicle
[2] awa: waterway (river, stream etc)
[3] moana: sea or lake
[4] Ahitereria: te reo Māori designation for Australia
[5] tipuna: ancestors

Note: as a mark of respect for te Reo Māori as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand I do not italicize words in either English or Māori except for emphasis.
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