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Rod Mitchell's Ministry

 Rod Mitchell's Ministry at Mornington/Glenaven has been much appreciated,  and with his permission we are printing two scripts of his preaching, a summary from  the first Sunday,  April 1,   and an edited script of last Sunday’s sermon  ( May 6)   entitled   “Love is that skill which creates the appropriate space in which others may grow.”

    *     Rev Dr Rod Mitcherll is a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand,  and kindly gave a six week preaching supply in our Parish from   April 1,  2007

SERMON  1          April 1,   2007      MORNINGTON & GLENAVEN CHURCHES

Ken Russell has asked me to briefly reflect on my seven very exciting weeks [April 1st to May 6th] of ministry with the Mornington, Glenaven and Broad Bay church communities.
One thought that I would want to leave with these congregation is the following taken from the first sermon I preached. I hope it might summarize an emphasis in our sharing over last seven weeks.
An extract from 1st April sermon – hopefully no April fool!
“Now I want to introduce you to a good book friend of mine – He knows nothing about who I am but I have enjoyed his writing. Professor Roger Haight S.J., [a Jesuit Priest] has taught theology for over 30 yrs in Chicago, Toronto, Philippians, Cambridge Massachusetts, Union Theology NY at present he is teaching in a protestant theological university in Canada. He has been a visiting professor in France, India, Peru, and Kenya. He is a past president of the Catholic Theology Society of America (1994 – 95). For his massively creative and thorough book called “Jesus the Symbol of God” he won first prize in the Catholic Press Association 2000 Book award for Theology.
Roger Haight claims we have a choice about the way we understand and express what is taking place in the crucifixion and resurrection. How we see and understand salvation as flowing from the Easter drama is the touch stone of our Christian faith expression. And without going into fine detail I will express his views in a sharp contrast. Roger claims there are two distinctly different ways of expressing salvation.  Both these approaches can be supported by the bible and church traditions. The first of these positions has become the dominant one.

  1. Jesus is seen as being the cause of salvation. Jesus dies for our sins; he is the sacrifice that transforms the world. His dying has changed the world – he now becomes the unique cause of salvation. He has redeemed us; the sinless human being dies for the saving of the world. For Christians Jesus is the only way to be saved / made whole / there is no other etc. He has become the divine Christ through whom the Spirit works to lift us above the trials of this earth.
  2. In the second way Jesus is understood as the revealer of the saving activity of God. It is the same God who has from the first day of Creation been willing to search out, to save, to hear the cries and to seek people and creations release from bondage and destruction.

Roger Haight makes no apologies for choosing the second of these two options. His book title says it all. Jesus is the symbol / sacrament / icon/ window into something of the character and nature of God.
This distinction by Roger Haight landed him in deep water with the Catholic hierarchy… An implication of Roger’s position is that God does and will have many other saving encounters with human kind! Jesus is unique for Christians but God is not trapped by this one event when we think about our friends in other religions. Roger is willing to consider that God has offered saving events and experiences in other religious traditions besides the Christian faith. Please remember Jesus was a Jew; not as we Christians so easily assume a Christian!”
If you ponder carefully the implications of what Roger is inviting us to consider, it really has some staggeringly exciting challenges for the Christian faith, in a world that is highly charged religiously. May we all travel a journey of peace and endeavour to be peacemakers in our little corner of the globe.
Three challenging books: by Dr. Roger Haight SJ.
‘Dynamics of Theology’                        published 1990 / 2001              Orbis Press
‘Jesus Symbol of God’             published 1999             Orbis Press
‘The Future of Christology’                   published 2005             Continuum Press


SERMON 2          May 6,   2007      MORNINGTON & GLENAVEN CHURCHES

Acts 11:1-18
              Psalm 148
              Revelation 21:1 -6
              John 13:31-35
Acts 11:
11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.  2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,  3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”  4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,  5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.  6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.  7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’  8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’  10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.  12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.  13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter;  14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’  15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.  16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
John 13:
The New Commandment

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  32 If God has been glorified in him, † God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Ever thought what type of Christian you are? Seems a rather strange sort of question? Let me make it even harder… are you a Friday, or a Saturday or a Sunday type Christian? Well let me give you a clue and then link it to the two reading that we have just heard. I am thinking about Easter and how the three days give particular flavor to the type of Christian faith we express. If you lock yourself into Friday – the day of Jesus cruel death then our Christianity can have all the characteristics of despair and disappointment, a hopeless Christian. Or Christian can swing to the other extreme and have a glorious Sunday faith that lives with no acknowledgment of the harsh reality of life. And yet I want to remind people that we really need to be Easter Saturday Christians, living in the messy middle. We need one hand to be in the Friday suffering of life, one hand to be in the future, glimpsing the new possibilities of Sunday, while our bodies are always squarely in the messy middle of Saturday. Well the love that Jesus talks about to his disciples is a Saturday Love. Filled with the Saturday mystery and creativity of God, never forgetting the Friday of death and sufferings of life yet clearly never overwhelmed. Saturday love needs to be tough and resilient. Not soft and sentimental, lacking a backbone.    
I went and saw three films in the film festival – Always good to know what the latest good films are wrestling with. But you don’t need to go to the film festival to know what some of the top topics are exploring. Violence / love and how people relate in this complex world – global village. Certainly two of the films [ The Beast in the Heart; Go for Zucker]; both these films displayed plenty of the ingredients found in all messy relationship. Unresolved issues about how to have intimate relationship across genders, ages, and religious/non religious and across cultures were to be found.  
Love in our world is in a mess.
Love in religions and certainly in Christianity is in a mess.
Wouldn’t you think, after all these centuries and centuries of teaching about love – that the human race might have got it right?  But we haven’t; have we?  If movies, music and literature are anything to go on, our society hungers for love.  We yearn to be fully known and loved; and yet, so often, we fail in our attempts to love others.  Why is that?  I’d venture to suggest that it’s because love is the most difficult thing to do.  Like breathing and moving, it is intrinsic to our very being – but unlike breathing and moving, love carries an element of choice.  We determine how we will love.  In spite of all the romance that can be found in love songs, and poetry and movies and books, real love – love as demonstrated by Jesus – is gritty, tough and dangerous.  Yes, the outcome is marvellous – abundant, meaningful life.  But the journey is only for the strong-hearted.   “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, what choices will we make to demonstrate this love?

In the Kingdom of Jordan, two Bedouin youth got into a fight, tumbling to the ground in their fury. One boy pulled out a knife, plunging it fatally into the other’s chest. In fear he fled across the desert, fled from the slain boy’s vengeance-seeking relatives, fled to find a Bedouin sanctuary, a ‘tent of refuge,’ designed by law for those who kill unintentionally or in the heat of anger.
At last he reached what might be a refuge – the black tented encampment of a nomad tribe. The boy flung himself at the feet of the leader, an aged sheik, and begged him: “I have killed in the heat of anger; I implore your protection. I seek the refuge of your tent.”
“If God wills,” the old man responded, “I grant it to you, as long as you remain with us.”
A few days later the avenging relatives tracked the fugitive to the encampment. They described the assailant to the sheik and asked, “Have you seen this man? Is he here? For we have come to have him and to take him back.”
“He is here,” said the sheik, “but you will not have him.”
“But he has killed, and we, the blood relatives of the slain boy, will stone him according to the law.”
The sheik raised his voice, “You will not, as long as he remains with us.”
“We demand him,” the relatives declared.
“No! The boy has my protection, said the sheik. “I’ve given my word, my promise of refuge.”
“But you don’t understand,” the relatives implored.
“He killed your grandson!”
The old man was silent. No one dared to speak. Then, in visible anguish, with tears searing his face, the old man stood up and spoke ever so slowly, “My only grandson – he is dead?”
“Yes your only grandson is dead.”
“Then…,” said the sheik, “then this boy will be my grandson. He is forgiven, and he will live with us as my own. Go now; it is finished.”
(From: ‘Sowers Seed’ 6th planting by Brian Cavanaugh, page 98.)
That’s the kind of love Jesus was talking about – tough, hazardous, love that demands our all.  No wonder it’s so difficult!
This brings me to the wonderful Acts reading we heard this morning. Peter was in a messy Saturday moment in his life. Some of the stories we have in the gospels show that Peter often didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to teach.  More often than not, Peter seems to come across as faithless, impetuous, self-centered, controlling, judgmental and boastful – pretty human, just like you and me.   But in the book of Acts, we see another side of this man – a transformed Peter, modeling his life on the way in which Jesus loved. Aware of the suffering of people on the one hand but equally open to the power of the Spirit that brings about new and transformed lives. This morning’s reading provides an excellent example of that transformation. But we must not allow familiarity with the story to prevent us from seeing how difficult it must have been for him. 

First, he had to trust the dream from God – a dream that called on him to go against the teaching of his religion – to eat forbidden food.  Secondly, he had to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit – and to be led into an encounter with people who were outside his religion.  Finally he had to justify his actions in the face of the criticisms of his companions.  “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 

Like the one on whom his life now was patterned, Peter stepped across clearly defined boundaries, welcoming others – others who are usually not welcomed – into the realm of God.  In modeling his life on the love Jesus showed, Peter was able to encounter people in places way outside his comfort zone.  



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