From the Vicar

Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas

There’s an old Scandinavian folktale called The Three Trees. It tells of three trees growing on a mountain top who dreamed of what they might become. One wanted to be made into a beautiful treasure box, holding the most precious jewels in the world. Another dreamed of being a mighty sailing ship and carrying kings and emperors across the ocean. The third just wanted to stay on the mountain top and keep growing up into the sky, pointing people towards God.

In time a woodcutter came and felled each of the trees. But instead of being crafted into a glorious treasure box, the first tree was roughly made into a trough for animals. The second tree was excited when it heard it was to be made into a boat but to its disappointment found it was only to be a humble fishing boat, built for sailing on lakes and never to see the ocean. The third tree was the most disappointed of all for it was simply cut into logs and left in a yard.

Time passed and then one starry night a young couple, sheltering in a stable as they had nowhere else to go, took the roughly constructed trough and laid their newborn baby in it. As the first tree listened to the song of angels and saw the shepherds come to worship, it slowly realised that it was holding the greatest treasure the world had ever known. Some years later that baby, now a man, and his friends got into the boat made from the second tree to cross the lake. But a great storm blew up and the boat looked like it was about to be swamped. Then the man stood up and commanded the storm: “Be quiet, be still,” and the waves and wind obeyed. The second tree realised that it was carrying the greatest ruler the world had ever known, the King of kings.

Finally, one dark morning the third tree was startled when its logs were pulled from its forgotten pile. It was carried through a jeering crowd to another hilltop where the same man was nailed to it’s beams and died. The tree felt ugly, harsh and cruel. But three days later it heard that Jesus had risen and the third tree knew then that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the first tree beautiful, the second tree strong and whenever anyone thought of the third tree they would be pointed to God.

Next week we celebrate the most profound, significant event in the history of our world. We celebrate the day that God chose to come to be with us as one of us, so that in his love he might change our futures forever. As we celebrate this year I pray you all would know the joy and blessing of Christ come to be with you. And I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 12 December

I’m reminded of the words of Ken Livingstone, leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s until Margaret Thatcher abolished it in 1986, who upon being elected as the first Mayor of London in 2000 began his acceptance speech with, “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…”. It hasn’t quite been 14 years, and of course I’ve found lots of things to say and ways to say them in the interim, but still - as I was saying...

Welcome to our first In Touch in four months and to our first steps towards some sort of normality. You will notice that we are moving a little cautiously with some elements of our return to in-person services. For example, we will not always be offering communion and when we do it will be by bread alone. At the same time, there are a number of restrictions in place regarding wearing masks and social distancing which I ask that you please maintain. These restrictions are never fun but the last few months have emphasised the seriousness of this pandemic and why it is important for us to take care.

One of the hardest changes to put in place has been the decision by our Diocese to require that everyone have a Vaccine Pass if attending an in-person service. This was not a decision easily made. As the Diocesan policy says (an extract is available on our website) it grieves us to be in a position of potentially having to turn people away. While people might have different views on this decision, what we can be clear about is that it was not taken in judgment of those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated. (The main driver was concern for the vulnerable in our community.) For this reason we will continue to offer either the online or Home Morning Prayer services so that everyone can continue to participate in the worshipping life of our Parish.

Which really is the challenge for all of us. After all the chaos, uncertainty, boredom, solitude and picnics - after four months of lockdown, we find ourselves needing to re-engage with life and perhaps even with those rhythms of grace that help keep us centred in our faith. Fortunately Advent seems like a good time to be doing this. For all the words we hear from the prophets and radicals like John the Baptist have a simple message: Christ is coming. Let us be ready for him.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Italian researchers recently announced that they have identified 14 living descendants of Leonardo Da Vinci’s family. The Da Vinci 14 all reside in Tuscany and range in age from 1 to 85. They are not direct descendants of Leonardo himself but rather of his father Ser Piero. Even so, I would think that being related to Da Vinci gives you pretty good bragging rights in Italy (or indeed most anywhere).

Unfortunately for journalists hoping to add an extra spin to the story, there do not seem to be any artists or inventors amongst the current generation of Da Vinci descendants. The occupations of the 14 include civil servants, traders and a surveyor (and presumably just-being-a-baby for the one-year old). But maybe that is a good thing. It is tough enough for most artists to make a living without the added burden of being related to Leonardo Da Vinci. Even your finest efforts are going to pale in comparison to Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa. Just this past month a small sketch that Da Vinci did of a bear sold for more than $16 million! That’s a lot to live up to.

It is a very human thing to compare ourselves to others and perhaps it is even more human to feel that we are coming up short. Usually we don’t even have to look very far. Forget trying to compare ourselves with some of the more extraordinary individuals, like the phenomenal Lisa Carrington; there will always be a friend or neighbour who is better at something, more successful in some way or who has or can do that thing that we wish we could.

But that is not how God looks at us. God knows that he made each of us in his own image, and gave us our own gifts and talents with which to serve him. As 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 says,

Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us.

You are you because God made you - and he has given you your own unique way of serving him and joining in with his mission to build his Kingdom. The only question is are you offering what you have to bring?

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Nearly 90 years ago the poet T.S. Elliot asked the question, “What life have you if not life together?”. He went on to describe a world that to us sounds familiar; one where people live dispersed lives, dashing to and fro in cars, “Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.” Elliot’s vision was that individualism and convenience would in turn lead to rootlessness and isolation - towns full of strangers. For many today that is the reality. People are no longer likely to live in the areas they grew up in. Instead, families must move around to find employment or housing they can afford. The demands of work, and the ease with which we can travel from place to place, means that local neighbourhoods don’t always have the bonds they once did. And if they do exist, are they accessible - or even visible - to those new to an area?

It is in the midst of this, what one author calls the “relational desert” of the modern age, that churches can be an oasis. For a church is a community, a place of belonging. But is it a place where others can belong? Last month we trialled a later start to the second service at Christ Church. As I explained at the time, the possibility of moving the service to a 10am start time would serve two purposes: it would help ease the transition from the 8am service but, more significantly, we think it is a better time for families.

The trials went well and, when I sought feedback from the congregation, the majority were in favour of the time change with most of the rest comfortable with the shift. After discussing it with the Wardens and Vestry, I have now decided to make the shift permanent. Therefore from Sunday 1 August (that is, next Sunday) the second service at Christ Church will move to a 10am start time. Though this is a change, it is one I hope will go well. But in one sense it is about more than just starting half-an-hour later or what happens at Christ Church. It is us as a Parish looking to see how we can make space for others.

Elliot answered his own question about life together, saying, “There is no life that is not in community, And no community not lived in praise of God.” Let us make sure that our churches are communities where people can belong.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

As I commented last Sunday, it is very odd to realise that the Tokyo Olympics begin in just under a week’s time. Where’s the hype, the build-up, the daily countdown that focuses our attention on this four yearly sports extravaganza? We know the answer, it’s the same thing that has been cancelling flights and shutting down cities for the last 18 months. Thanks to Covid this year’s Olympics will be held in empty stadia with few or no fans allowed. According to recent polls most Japanese people would rather not go ahead with the Olympics - probably because they want to focus on more important things (like, again, Covid). But it seems the power of the IOC will not be resisted; the show must go on.

It’s very easy (and probably right) to be cynical about the Olympics: the corruption of the IOC and the role of money and corporate sponsorship. But truth be told, I do enjoy them. It is an enjoyable and, rare for this age, somewhat unifying spectacle. What I particularly enjoy is how, for a few short days, some of the most obscure sports seize the world stage away from football or cricket and their competitors get a chance to shine. (We see this most winter Olympics when curling usually enjoys a brief but very intense burst of popularity.)

I still remember watching the Beijing Olympics late one night and becoming completely caught up in a particular archery competition. As midnight approached I was gripped, willing the South Korean competitor to gold as I quickly became an expert (thanks to the commentators that is) in the interplay between aim, breathing and the all important release. And I think that is quite wonderful. That these athletes, who have shown extraordinary commitment and dedication to excel in their chosen sport, have this chance to be recognised and maybe even become heroes in their home countries.

Of course, most of us don’t get the chance to be an Olympian. There are no expert hosts breathlessly commentating our actions as we take out the rubbish, no crowds to cheer as we wash the dishes or visit the Post Office. But what we do have is a Heavenly Father who doesn’t just love us but is deeply interested in us and in our lives. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1st Peter 5 says. God cares about us - and not just the big things, but the little, daily things too. Our delights, our disappointments, even the very ordinary. Remember this the next time you are praying, God is interested in you and in what is happening to you. None of it is too small for God. For he cares for us, and for our prayers.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

“Oh, where is the sea?” the fishes cried,

as they swam the crystal clearness through;

“We’ve heard from of old of the ocean’s tide,

and we long to look on the water’s blue.

The wise ones speak of the infinite sea.

Oh, who can tell us if such there be?”

In the Christian life there are times, sometimes seasons, sometimes moments, when we know well the presence of God - his very nearness. But there will also be those occasions when we can find ourselves asking, where is God? On those occasions it can help to return to the places (or practices) where we have previously known God’s presence. But it is also helpful to learn to recognise God’s presence in the ordinary, every day of life. One practice that can help us do so is the Ignatian discipline of Examen. An Examen is an end of day contemplative prayer whose purpose is to awaken us to God’s presence in the midst of routine.

An Examen normally has five steps:

1. Begin by acknowledging God’s presence with you, and ask Him to help you as you look back on your day.

2. Review the day with gratitude: focus on the day’s gifts, even the small moments of grace. God is often found in the details.

3. Pay attention to how you experienced the day, what might God be saying to you through this?

4. Choose one thing from the day and pray into it.

5. Look with hope to tomorrow: ask God to give you light for the new day and to be with you in any challenges you may face.

If sometimes we can be like the fish wondering where is the ocean, practices like the Examen can help remind us of the Divine Presence that is with us each day.

Previous Posts

Sunday, 4 July 2021

The Babema tribe of South Africa have a tradition when one of their number does something wrong. They bring the offender to the middle of the village, where everyone gathers around them. Each person then speaks in turn - not to tell the offender off but to remind them of the good that they have done. All a person’s good deeds, kindnesses, strengths and good qualities are repeated at length, even if it should take more than a day. At the end the person is welcome back into the tribe. Their reasoning is that just because a person does something wrong does not mean they are bad. And so their ceremony is to remind both the wrong-doer, and themselves, of this fact.

How different that is from the way in which the modern world seems to operate. A wrong action, a wrongful statement, even the uncovery of a long past transgression can unleash a deluge of opprobrium in the media or (more commonly) on social media. This condemnation may often be accompanied by demands that the offender be fired, a contract terminated or an official removed from office. (I myself have willingly added to the chorus of demands that a politician should step down for specific infractions.) And it would be right to say that we should not turn a blind eye or condone bad actions and that we need accountability for wrongs. But what concerns me is that sometimes these pile-ons seem less about accountability and more about condemning others to show our own (self) righteousness.

In our Gospel reading last Sunday we heard the account of Jesus performing two miracles in the healing of the woman who touched his cloak and in raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Interestingly, both encounters placed Jesus at risk of violating rules around ceremonial purity and cleanness. Those rules taught that holiness required that some people should be kept at a distance until they were made clean. But Jesus never seemed to care much for those restrictions. Those who should be avoided were the very ones he associated with, spoke with, ate with. They were the ones Jesus went towards. And thank goodness for that, for that is all of us at one time or another.

As our culture wrestles with how to respond to those who have done wrong, the challenge for the Church is to remain a people of grace and forgiveness; not accepting of the wrongs, but of the person. For when society says that some people are to be avoided, those are the very ones that Christ might well call us to go toward.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

It seems the calendar has at last caught up with the weather (or perhaps it’s the other way around) and it is finally time to say hello to winter. I know there have been some gloriously sunny and warm days recently but the cold nights - not to mention the occasional hail and thunder storms - tells me that winter has taken up residence. Which seems very appropriate as Trinity Sunday, which we celebrated last week, also marked a change in season in the Church calendar as we now enter Ordinary Time.

New seasons bring with them new opportunities. Winter is the time (well, so I’m told) to plant fruit trees, along with some winter veges - carrots, cabbages, kale, coriander and the like. Similarly does a new season in our worship bring its own opportunities for growth.

Ordinary time is so named not because it is normal or commonplace but rather because it is ordered (coming from the Latin ordo). It is an opportunity to embed in our lives a rhythm of prayer and worship, even as the year charges on. Because if we are honest life can be very busy and doesn’t usually offer much opportunity to slow down - with, of course, the exception of Levels 3 or 4 lockdowns! So the question is, what does following Jesus look like in the midst of the busyness of life? How do we walk with God, even as we are rushing to do errands, finish work, meet commitments or look after family.

Strangely enough those involved in the early monastic movement faced similar challenges. Keeping a monastery running was busy work; how then would the monks remain faithful and not get distracted by the demands of running a grand estate or building a centre of learning? For St Benedict the answer was a rule of life, perhaps better understood as a rhythm or habit of life. It included regular times of prayer throughout the day - in some cases just a chapel bell rung on the hour to remind the monks working in the field to pause for a minute and give thanks to God.

What was the point of such formality and can it have any relevance to our lives today? Well, the idea of the rule was that it was like a trellis against which a rose is planted. The trellis is not the rose but the support and structure which it offers helps the rose to grow. So too with the discipline of daily prayer - it helps our faith and relationship with God to

grow. Perhaps as some will greet winter with a new regime of planting, we can greet the season of Ordinary Time by seeing if there is room to put a trellis - a chance to establish (or re-establish) a time of daily prayer on which we may grow.

Sunday, 30 May 2021 - Trinity Sunday

I remember that some years ago the actor Tim Allen, best known for his role as Tim “the toolman” Taylor on the show Home Improvement, got very interested in metaphysics and ended up writing a book about the nature of reality. Suffice to say it was an odd turn for a talented comedian. But, then again, each year when Trinity Sunday comes around every minister must decide just how deeply they plan to delve into the metaphysics of the Holy Trinity of God.

We believe in God as a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We base this confession on what the New Testament reveals about Jesus and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We know then that God is One-in-Three and Three-in-One. We can use metaphors, or even diagrams, to help explain this understanding.

But the mechanics of how God is the Trinity is more challenging. Yet perhaps the question of how is itself misguided. For if the Trinity is a revelation of God’s very self, then surely the bigger question is what it reveals about the nature of God. And what the Holy Trinity tells us is that the life of God is not static but rather is one of an active, ongoing, self-giving love - namely the eternal relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in Jesus this life is opened up to us:

We are invited to join in the relationship of love that flows within the life of God… Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “Come with me and be led by the Spirit into the presence of the Father.” We are to share in the life of the God who is love.

On this Trinity Sunday may we be renewed in our faith in the God who is eternally love, and may we take up the invitation to share that life in Him.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

A priest in Oxfordshire tells the story of baptising her young son in the Parish Church. She gathered the children who were in attendance around the font and asked if any of them wanted to say a word of prayer. One small boy enthusiastically volunteered. Silence fell, the congregation waited expectantly and then the little boy piously prayed, “Abracadabra”.

Apart from admiring the boy’s (unintentionally) comic timing, any of us who have been called upon to pray without warning might have great sympathy for him. There can easily be the worry, am I praying right? Have I used the right words, expressed the right sentiment? Even in our personal prayers we might worry whether we are doing it the right way.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has noted that “Lord, teach us how to pray” was a question that Jesus’ own disciples first asked of him. Prayer, he says, is not always easy and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. And yet if we focus too much on trying to pray “correctly” or on finding the right words we might be missing the point entirely. Prayer is not an incantation that only works with the correct formulation. Rather, it is both an expression and an outworking of our relationship with God. As Archbishop Justin goes on to say:

We discover that prayer is not about us making efforts to knock on the door of a God too busy or distant to listen, but instead, that it is responding to a God who has already started the conversation with us. A God who wants nothing more than to spend time with us, help us to grow, and surprise us.

No need for magic words then, just a willingness to spend time with the One who loves us.

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus uses the very familiar (in our part of the world at least) imagery of a grapevine. “I am the vine, you are the branches” he says, “... abide in me”. Prayer is nourishment for our faith and for our souls. In our praying we not only speak with Jesus, we begin to learn what it is to abide in him. Knowing how busy life is at the moment, I encourage you to make sure you are finding time for you and God to sit, to talk, to pray - and to abide.

Sunday, 25 April (ANZAC Day)

One of the greatest privileges which we all share as New Zealanders is that of living in a country at peace. It seems incredible that a little over 100 years ago young men were leaving their homes to fight in one of the most brutal conflicts the world has ever seen (including my own grandfather, TOL Jenkins, who left from Kaipara Flats railway station on 16 October 1914).

Among those who served at Gallipoli was Chaplain William Grant, a Presbyterian minister. He landed at Anzac Cove on 12 May 1915 with some of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. On the steep hills of Gallipoli, under regular fire, the 56yr old Grant stuck with his men. He carried biscuits and water up the ravines to the trenches, retrieved wounded men and assisted in dressing their wounds. Each Sunday he held a service in a wide trench, offering communion from a biscuit tin.

Part of his duties was the terrible task of burying the dead. Even under fire, Grant ensured that all the deceased were given a burial and their names and army number recorded on a primitive cross. Some of the dead included men Grant knew from his home in Poverty Bay. One was a young Jim Forsyth, who had been a boy in Grant’s Bible class. Another he knew was Ernest Stewart, whom Grant buried on a spur with a view over the sea - like the coastline between Gisborne and Tokomaru Bay. Grant would later write Stewart’s family, “we are dying in these smoking trenches for all the world.”

Grant became a familiar figure on the beach of Gallipoli, carrying water to men waiting for evacuation to a hospital ship and moving around to ensure that each man was seen and spoken to. On the 27th August, following a bloody assault on Hill 60 the previous day, Grant went out searching for wounded troops. He stumbled onto a Turkish position and was shot dead. A fellow chaplain buried him on the same hill, alongside his flock.

Of course the “war to end all wars” would not live up to its name, and a quarter of a century later another generation of young men was called up to fight in a second world war. It is right that we should mark their service and their sacrifice. We also give thanks for those, like Grant, who sought to minister the light and the love of God even in the midst of the dark horror of war. We will remember them.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

I have some bad news for those who have already finished their chocolate eggs but Easter hasn’t ended, in fact it has only just begun. In the Church’s calendar Easter is not a single day or weekend, it is a feast, a celebration, that lasts for 50 days until the day of Pentecost. And that’s a long time to make your chocolate eggs last. (Though, thinking about it, this might actually be good news for any looking for an excuse to have more easter eggs!)

Now liturgical seasons aren’t really the sort of things that people get excited about (and understandably so). But the Church uses them to help teach and remind us of certain things. In this case it is to remind us of a very important truth: we are a resurrection people. Our identity as Christians, as part of the Body of Christ, is formed much more by Easter Sunday than it is even by Christmas. For it is the truth of Christ’s resurrection, and the promise of our own, that defines us. As the Apostle Paul says, if there is no resurrection from the dead then our faith is useless; “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15). So why not take 50 days to celebrate it!

The main point is that Easter Sunday wasn’t the end of our Lenten season of preparation and repentance, it was the beginning of a new season of grace, joy and thanksgiving. And so perhaps this is a good opportunity to re-engage with the church community where God seeks to make this resurrection life known.

There are a lot of things taking place around the Parish over the next few weeks, not least is our Easter Study which begins the week starting 18 April. And of course there are our regular Sunday services where we get to celebrate and experience God’s grace. I invite you to consider how you will be celebrating Easter this year.

Easter Sunday, 4 April 2021

A few years ago I was with some colleagues - all of us dressed as priests - as we set up for a sunrise service on the beach on Easter Day. A man walking his dog stopped to watch us and then asked, “What are you lot celebrating?” We wondered if he had ever heard of a small holiday called Easter.

What are we celebrating? Why are Christians across the country and right around the world making such a big deal about today? Because

today is a day like no other. Today is a day of creation, a day of fresh

starts and new possibilities. Today is a day of healing and restoration. Today is a day without death. For today is the day of resurrection.

In the resurrection, God shows that he is without limits. That he will not accept dead ends or brick walls, that he will not be limited even by our own refusals or failures. On Easter morning God declares: I can bring life out of death, I can bring newness out of that which is finished. There is nothing, no end so certain, no hole so deep, no failure, mistake or wrong so great that I, God, cannot overcome it and start anew. For Christ is risen from the dead!

Christ’s resurrection is not just a metaphor or a symbol - it is the reality of Easter morning and the reality of life in Jesus. Jesus is alive, and all the old power of death and ending are gone; there is no more

sting, there is no more hopelessness, there is now nothing that is beyond God’s redemption and re-creation.

It is right then that we, and all of the Church worldwide, should celebrate with praise and with thankfulness this incredible thing that God has done. But the Good News of Christ’s resurrection, of the new life, the new beginnings, that he offers, is not just for Easter. The story does not end there. The life-transforming truth of Christ’s resurrection is a daily promise and a daily call. Jesus brings us life everlasting, and it begins today. Well after all the hot cross buns and Easter eggs have been consumed, we should still know the joy of this morning’s song, “Christ is risen!”

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, 28 March 2021 (Palm Sunday)

A lot can be covered in a week: why it’s even possible that a single week just might encompass a whole lifetime. As we embark upon our journey through Holy Week, it strikes me that much of our lives as Christians will be reflected over the next seven days. And it will be reflected not just in the highs but also in the lows. For if we are honest the Christian walk is not a life of ceaseless triumph, free of mistakes or discouragement.

Yes, there are many days when we find it easy to praise our God with cries of hosannas. But there might also be days when we will find ourselves angry with God and so tempted to turn our backs on him. Or, perhaps out of fear or heartbreak, find ourselves denying him. In our lives we will experience the beautiful intimacy of relationship with Jesus, as did those who gathered around the table with him at the Last Supper. But we may also experience the desolation and confusion of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when the purposes of God seem to have failed and God himself appears to be missing. And then there are those days when, like Judas, our mistakes and failures catch up with us and we wish with all our soul to take back those things which we have no power to undo.

And yet, lest the darkness of such seasons threaten to overwhelm us, we must remember how this holiest of weeks ends. With the dawn light of a new day and the resurrection power of God; a power that forgives our wrongs, heals our hurts and undoes even that which cannot be undone.

For Holy Week is the week of Christ’s victory, of his ultimate triumph. And the thing is, despite all appearances of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, despite all the noise and the hosannas of his arrival, this victory was in no way dependent on the actions of the crowd that welcomed Jesus that day. Whether the crowds praised him or condemned him, Jesus was always going to walk the way of the cross. Whether his disciples stood by him or ran from him, Christ was always going to defeat the power of sin and death by giving his life. And so with us, when we put our lives into Jesus’ hands, it is his victory we rely on - not our own. Just as with Easter morning, our destiny is assured not by our efforts but by Christ’s actions. One writer comments:

Our response is one of faith. No matter how fickle that faith may seem, God accepts us through the crucified and risen Lord. So on this Palm Sunday, as we head together into this most holy week, let us be encouraged as well as challenged by our most holy Lord.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Following Jesus was a very puzzling experience for the disciples. He didn’t always act - or react - how they expected him to. One habit which seemed to cause them great confusion was his tendency to withdraw to a solitary place to pray. It was perhaps not so much the choice to pray as when he chose to pray that would mystify the disciples. It seems that whenever Jesus enjoyed a great success, after seeing crowds respond to his message or powerful healings or miracles take place, his response was to go away and pray.

The disciples’ confusion is evident. Why are you here, they ask him. “Everyone is searching for you!” Their point is plain: things are going so well, now is not the time to disappear. Yet for Jesus that is precisely the time for prayer, precisely the moment to spend time with the Father. For Jesus seeks to be guided by his Father’s will, not by the course of events - not even successful ones. Nor indeed would Jesus let the darkest times guide him. Tellingly, Jesus begins his passion in prayer at Gethsemane. Through prayer he was able to find the strength to face the trauma of the cross.

One author explains why Jesus prayed so often:

Jesus prays because he needs to. What is at stake in Jesus’ prayer is his very identity and his mission… Prayer is at the heart of Jesus’ life because it shapes his identity, it feeds his relation to the Father, it keeps the love flowing..

In short, Jesus prayed because he is the God the Son. Prayer was a part of his very identity and being. He could not be the Son if he did not pray. For us too, as the Body of Christ, prayer is part of our identity and it should be part of our being. We cannot be the Church if we do not pray. Whether it be collectively in our worship, in small groups or in private on our own: whatever else is happening, let us aspire to be people of prayer.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

There is a train station in Japan with no entrance or exit. Seiryu Miharashi has no ramp, no stairs, no gate - nothing. The only way to get on to the station is by disembarking from a train, and the only way to leave is by boarding another. This is not the result of some bureaucratic foul-up. The station (whose name means Clear Stream Viewing Platform) was intentionally designed as a place to help travellers pause, slow down and admire the beauty of nature. Being completely isolated you have no choice but to wait until the next train comes along - no matter how hurried you might be feeling.

Hurry and busyness are very much features of the modern age but, as we saw in last Sunday’s gospel reading (from Mark 1), God will still bid us to stop, pause and wait awhile with him. At the start of his ministry, with crowds flocking to him, Jesus still made sure to take himself away to a quiet place to pray and spend time alone with his heavenly Abba. In doing so Jesus revealed that prayer is not peripheral nor is it an optional extra: rather it is the very lifeblood of faith. The theologian George A Buttrick expresses it like this, “Prayer is more than a lighted candle. It is the contagion of health. It is the pulse of Life.”

Setting aside time to pray is about so much more than making sure we take a break or practice mindfulness. It is about our relationship with the living God. Our relationship with God is built on our communication with God: it’s built on prayer. And like any relationship sometimes it requires effort on our part, sometimes we have to be intentional about talking with God. This week we enter into Lent, a season of preparation before Easter. Typically we approach Lent by choosing to give something up but we can also choose to take something up as a Lenten discipline. Would you like to see your relationship with God grow? Then perhaps this Lent you might want to start the practice of setting aside extra time each day for you and God.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

A couple of years ago a curate in the Diocese of Liverpool decided to write a book called A Field Guide to the English Clergy. In the book he recounted tales of some of the more eccentric English parsons - and boy did he have a lot of material to work with. Some of his subjects might be thought influential, such as a former Rector of Cadeby who used to drive a steam engine he called Pixie around a railway track in his garden and who apparently was the inspiration for the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine. Among others were the useless - such as the Rev Sab Baring-Gould who at a children’s party asked a young girl who her parents were, to which she tearfully replied “you are Daddy!” (in fairness he did have 15 children to keep track of) - and the useful, while a chaplain in the navy the diminutive Rev Launcelot Fleming (later a Bishop of Norfolk) used to be wrapped in cloth and pulled through the ship’s guns to clear out the barrels.

It does make modern iterations of roller-blading or YouTube dancing clergy seem rather boring and staid. But it’s a reminder, if we needed one, that the Church is made up of people, as ordinary (or occasionally eccentric) as you might find in a local cafe. In the Bible the original Greek word used for church, ekklesia, meant “a gathering of people.” Meanwhile the only church building which the New Testament talks about is a building made of people (Eph 2:22). Jesus is the cornerstone and each of us are the “living stones” with which God makes his holy temple. Put another way, God uses us - all of us - to build his Church and so to be Christ’s Body in this world.

We saw the importance of this in last week’s Gospel reading from the 1st chapter of Mark where Jesus begins his ministry to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God and immediately calls the first disciples. As one author puts it, “Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is near and then calls the disciples and says to them, now you follow me and make it near to others.”

I mention all of this because, after all the disruptions of lockdowns last year, I think it is important to remember how essential we all are - how essential you all are - to the life and ministry of our Church. Our worship, our fellowship, our prayer life, our ministry and our mission only happen when we all gather and play our part. As we move into February I look forward to embarking on a new year of ministry with you all.

Sunday, 15th Nov 2020

If you are someone who is constantly flooded with emails you might want to take a leaf from the late H. L. Mencken. An American journalist, Mencken often wrote contentious commentary pieces that would result in mail bags of letters coming his way. To these, usually argumentative, correspondents he would send the same reply: “Dear Sir or Madam, You may be right. Sincerely yours, H. L. Mencken.” Of course these days phones and computer programs are happy to suggest replies for us so we don’t even need to think of a response, just click a button and off it goes.

I sometimes worry that I adopt a similar approach to prayer; praying rushed, hurried pleas while I race to do something else. For if prayer is foundational to my relationship with God, if it is through prayer that I can know God’s love and peace, it deserves much more than the equivalent of a quick “Ok” text.

That is undoubtedly true but it is also true that the pressure to make our prayers sufficiently “religious” or “spiritual” can equally be a barrier to discovering the rich fullness of prayer. In his book Say It To God the Benedictine monk Luigi Gioia reminds us that, as part of our personal relationship with God, prayer should be entirely free and exquisitely personal. He suggests four directions as useful to growing a life of prayer:

  • Keep it simple: As we often see in the Psalms, a sentence, a cry, even just a word are enough if it expresses what you are going through.

  • Keep it short: Pray only as long as you need to, in time you will find yourself drawn to pray longer out of desire (not obligation).

  • Keep it frequent: The bells of a monastery will ring each hour to remind the monks at work to say a prayer, even if just a whispered thanks to God. Make a habit of stealing ten seconds each hour to do the same.

  • Keep it real: The most important reminder of all: there is nothing we cannot say or bring to God in prayer, so say it all to Him.

In a couple of weeks we will enter Advent, a time when we are bid to a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. It is also for most of us one of the busiest times of year and, therefore, not the most conducive to the types of studies and disciplines familiar to that other season of preparation, Lent. But, at the end of this extraordinary, disruptive year, perhaps a good preparation would be to follow the suggestion of Brother Luigi to take whatever is on our hearts or minds and say it to God.

Sunday, 8th Nov, 2020

My earliest political memory is of being in primary school and sending a card to a classmate who was away ill for a month. To cheer him up I included the biggest joke of the year, “What goes up and never comes down? Muldoon’s prices!”. The tragedy for me was that the 1984 snap election then took place with Muldoon losing, so by the time my friend returned to school he told me that my joke was all wrong and that it should have said “Lange’s prices”. Such was my introduction to the vagaries of politics.

This last month has been something of a festival for political junkies with first our own election and referenda and then, this past week, elections in the United States. Of course, like a World Cup final, the nature of elections is to have winners and losers and so some of us will have been delighted by the results of our own ballot and others of us will be counting the years to the next vote and a chance to try again. The elections in America are more distant but, this year in particular, I think we have all been keenly interested and might even have had our own (sometimes strong) views about who should win or lose.

Is there any guide for Christians when thinking about politics? Can we claim that God is on one side or another? In the past I have heard preachers claim exactly that - unfortunately they don’t always pick the same side!

This year I have been reminded that a lot of what Jesus spoke about is very relevant to the political season, especially perhaps in countries where the divisions are the greatest. What am I thinking of? Teachings like, “love your enemies” or “bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse” and even “turn the other cheek”. I am not suggesting that as Christians we shouldn’t be interested or involved in politics, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t campaign and advocate for those ideas, policies or values that we believe in. Quite the contrary, I believe that part of our call as Christians is to be active in the public space - to use the opportunity we have as citizens of a democracy to influence our nation.

Politics matters, as do elections. But the Kingdom of Heaven is much bigger than who sits in the Beehive (or the White House) for the next term. In a world where politics is about winners over losers, which (in some countries at least) sees political differences as grounds for division and hostility, we should remind ourselves that for Jesus the priority was not to beat our opponents but to love them. For in doing so we testify to the power of the Gospel to transform our world.

Sunday, 18th Oct, 2020

The cathedral at Salisbury is considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture, although it is its spire (at 123m the tallest in the United Kingdom) that gets all the attention. Visitors come to marvel at its spiky heights, or to look with unease at its supporting pillars - which noticeably bulge from carrying the weight of the tower. Perhaps such unease is warranted, it has now been discovered that some of the cathedral is held up by workmen’s lunch wrappers (well, in a manner of speaking).

This week it was reported that masons working on the restoration of the cathedral have discovered that gaps between the stones have been plugged with hundreds of oyster shells. It is believed that these were the remnants of medieval stone masons’ lunches, they would have carried the oysters up with them and (when done with lunch) used the shells to pack out the stones as they were laid. Today’s restorers use more modern techniques but still, struggling to replace one block that weighed 380kg, they marvel at what masons in the 13th century were able to achieve.

There is of course something of a parallel between the restoration of an old church building and the process of renewal in a local church. Indeed, the Catholics call this process divine renovation. Renovation is a concept with which we, as DIY property-mad New Zealanders, are familiar. It is not about the full-scale demolition of what has gone before but at the same time it is more than a fresh coat of paint. It’s about getting in and restoring and reinvigorating what is already there, while also updating and replacing where needed. It is divine because as we seek the renewal of our Church – and this should be our constant prayer – we are asking God to be the builder.

As Anglicans we are proud to enjoy a wonderful heritage of worship. But that doesn’t mean there is no need for renovation. To a certain extent elements of our worship have always been changing and so from time to time you will notice some changes in our services or music. The intent behind this is the same as with any renovation, it is to enhance what has gone before by bringing what is needed for a new generation. As we begin to plan for ways for bringing children and families back into our Church life, these are things we will have to consider and try. In the meantime, hearing the story of Salisbury’s physical renovation I am very grateful for our (comparatively) younger, and easier to repair, old wooden buildings!