19 January 2021
What does the Lord require of us?
When we look at our society at the inequalities, at a world where some starve and others have too much, we listen to the Prophet Micah. He speaks to his times, when Israel was relatively affluent, and asks what allows us to be at one with the holy God? How can we be holy?
The sacrificial system allowed for people to become holy enough to approach God. but like any system the ritual's underlying meaning could give way to expedient actions.
So Micah, severely critiquing the system, asks the following questions about what God really requires.
He goes through the list laid down in Leviticus for the different sacrifices.
Shall I approach our Holy God, giving the sin offering the for the sins I do not know about, the unintentional sins? The burnt offering - the holocaust - where an animal is completely burnt up, a bull or ram if you are rich, a dove of pigeon if you are poor.
You do not have to engage, to see the social ills around you in Israel at this time. You do not have to hear the voices of the oppressed. Just make your offering to cover all the things you do not see with calves a year old [Micah is clearly talking to the affluent] so you are put right according to the system.
Then having cleared my unintentional sins out of the way. Shall I bring my voluntary worship offering, the oil sacrifice, which recognises God's goodness, shows I love God,
Shall I sing all the praise songs raise my hands and worship the Holy God, like we did at Assembly -
I shall lift your name on High
We sang the Assembly song -
God our creator holy and sovereign,
In communion of love and embrace,
your spirit at work, leading sustaining,
Sent to the world to bring life eternal.
And its chorus
We see your hand,
help us to be part of your plan to draw all people
to embrace the world with your love.
Just like Jesus did.
Shall I, asks Micah, give ten thousand rivers of oil, sacrificial worship which is so much, more wonderful, uplifting, to approach you O Holy God?
Shall I give the compulsory sacrifice for sins? - the one which covers confession and forgiveness, not just one ram but thousands, to cover all my sins and that of the community?
We didn't have much confession at Assembly, maybe we couldn't agree what our communal sins were, maybe we assumed that we didn't need to. There were some silences for us to do our own thing, but together not really!!!
Jesus, I suppose, had mercy on us. We did sing a lot about in Christ we are free.
We heard the reports from Christian world service, our work around the world. About Nigeria where one heifer in a family makes the difference between life and existence. We heard from Presbyterian Support NZ about people in need. We heard from Glenn Barclay, telling us about living with, being alongside refugees in camps where the walls were built in the Accompaniment programme. People being cut off from hospitals, schools and work and what that meant. Glenn visiting the garden of Gethsemane in Jersualem in the week before Easter and only two tour parties going through in a whole morning and seeing the economy suffering as their shops stood empty. Then we hurried on to our main business about finance and sexual behaviour.
We heard from the Tuvalu church, telling us how their land was being covered by the rising sea, suggesting the Western use of resources had contributed to global warming so they will soon have nowhere to call home, no land to stand on. But I'm not sure how much we heard those voices. Maybe we were too busy being holy, ensuring the sacrifices were just right, unblemished.
Closer to home, the Pacific Islanders' Synod was finally approved. We had seen powerpoint photos of feasting, worship, fun and the mission of the Pacific Islanders groups, Cook Is, Tuvalu, Samoa, Niue and the English speaking group - great stuff. We love our women the Clerk and Moderator said, as each group were shown with the women dancing, serving, feasting, cleaning up. The Clerk and Moderator of the Synod said I have a dream .. to push for the synod to be able to control its own properties like a Presbytery"
After the applause had stopped and the motion was open to debate, two women stood, Samoan ministers in Palagi parishes and said they too had a dream, of women being recognised in the Synod, of women not being marginalised by old cultural habits, of New Zealand born Pacific Islanders given their place in the Synod. The silence fell as heavily as did the shoulders of the Clerk of the synod. Silence.... that maybe said our confession reminded us that not everything was perfect and holy.
May Christ have mercy on us.
Then the real getting to grips with our holiness.
Micah asks Shall I give up my firstborn child, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Sacrifice my own child? To be pure am I willing to sacrifice another human, so I can be pure? Shall I do this?
We voted out the Council of Assembly's motion, for parishes to be able to make their own choice of their ministers and elders, to give room for the Spirit of Christ to call those whom God wants to serve in our church, to trust each parish and Presbytery to know their own people and listen to God's prompting
"No!" we said. "We don't want the middle road, to wait, to see. We want to decide, now."
What does God require?
Micah says God has told you what is good. The Lord requires you to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.
We, in our efforts to be holy have made a ruling, in place from September 23rd 2004. It has yet to travel down to the Presbyteries under the Barrier act as it represents a drastic change of direction for our church.
It sounds fine at first, after all we all expect our leaders to be moral, good and honest. Marriage is to be celebrated. But when we use something to gain another end we can end up with a strange result. When we legislate for behaviour we slide down a slippery slope.
Our church may not accept for training , license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman. This means that if we were obedient to the ruling we could not elect an elder who is in a de facto relationship, no matter how long or loving or committed it may be. It could even mean those who are divorced and remarried, certainly some thought so. However a chance contact with a passing prostitute does not count, that is not a relationship although maybe our discipline regulations could come into play. It is committed relationships which are targetted.
There is an exception, that in relation to homosexuality, in the interests of natural justice, this ruling shall not prejudice anyone who as at the date of the meeting , have been accepted for training or who are licensed ordained or inducted. Some wanted people already in parishes, as from that moment, to leave their positions and the church. Why was natural justice needed? asked others. In two years, if the Presbyteries vote for this, Assembly has another vote before it becomes permanently the rule.
Shall I be willing to sacrifice another human, so I can be pure?
Micah replies that our sacrifices are not what God requires but walk justly, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
Do we not know that we do not need a sacrificial system to be holy, at one with the holy God, for Christ has already drawn us into the holiness of God? Our offerings are the RESPONSE [not works] of praise, the pouring out of gifts the serving of one another, walking justly, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God and loving one another?
We reluctantly voted for the recommendations to disestablish the four Mission resource co-directors' positions. More people whose lives are deeply involved in Assembly decisions. Their jobs their lives were part of all these decisions and your own Simon McLeay was one of those affected. We said goodbye to them.
We finished with communion, for we could not ignore that our unity is found not in ourselves but in Christ, the life poured out...., the broken body.....
I am reminded that God is bigger than us..
May Christ have mercy on us.
Dean Drayton from Australia gave a brillant series of keynote addresses on the nature of the church and sending us into mission.
I will finish with one of his stories.
"I was waiting in a plane in Melbourne on my way to Sydney. It was hot the hostess were told to arm the doors we were underway. But the plane didn't start moving. The disembodied voice told us we would be delayed . We were waiting for a late arrival. The doors were disarmed.
I was in a hurry and was getting irritable, it was hot, we started to grumble about the delay. Then finally the captain's voice came over the intercom. "Thank you for being patient. We are waiting to be able to transport a heart to Sydney. There was a problem with the transport arranged and the timing has been changed. If we waited we can get it to the operating theatre in Sydney on time. It is coming on board now".
Silence fell as we realised what that meant. Somewhere, people were waiting. No one said much on that flight, we were conscious that we were bringing life for an unknown person with us. It was fragile and vulnerable it was important that we got it to its destination."
So is the church the humble carrier of life, the heart of Christ travels with us. Let us take care that it arrives at its destination, bringing life not death.
May God Have mercy on us
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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