From the Vicar

Sunday, 24 July

The American author and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner speaks about how there are two ways to view God’s engagement with the world. One is to see God sitting apart, up in heaven and only occasionally intervening, dispatching a lightning bolt or a burning bush to say something, then returning to his seat. The other way is to see God as beneath life and history: underpinning it, upholding it. Every now and then, like rocks on a reef, He breaks the surface and we go - there He is! But actually He’s been with us the whole time, we just haven’t been paying enough attention.

The life of faith, then, is about paying attention. Buechner himself speaks of the quest to find the subterranean presence of God’s grace in the world. He explains that this leads him to a notion that sees, “the events of our lives – even, and perhaps especially, the most everyday events – as the alphabet through which God, of his grace, spells out his words, his meaning, to us.” In short, God is in our everyday lives and it is there (or rather here) that He is speaking. For Buechner this brings home the importance of the Psalmist’s injunction to “Be still and know that I am God”. In response, at the end of each day Buechner practises a form of personal examen, remembering the events of the day and seeking the grace within them:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the familiar story of Martha and Mary. I think it is easy for us to identify with Martha because we know what it is to be busy. Our good, Protestant work ethic prioritises doing what needs to be done, making sure the job gets finished. But the point of the encounter wasn’t that Martha didn’t have a lot to do (she did), nor is it that the work wasn’t important (it was), it is that something better was there. Martha had an exceptional opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and, despite all the work that needed to be done, that was the better part. With lockdowns now (hopefully) a thing of the past, and life returning to normal with all its busyness, let us not get so caught up in all that is going on that we, like Martha, get distracted and miss the better part. Let us be people of faith whose lives are attuned to the hidden grace of God at the heart of life

Sunday, 10 July

A story is told of a parish (not this one) facing a particular challenge. As the vestry wrestled with finding the right solution, one of the churchwardens commented, “I guess something we can do is pray.” To which the ashen-faced vicar replied, “Surely it hasn’t come to that?”

How do we view prayer? As an obligation, something better left to those more skilled at it, or perhaps (like the vicar in the story) as more like an emergency kit - break glass and pray if in need. Even when we do pray our reason for doing so can sometimes be wanting. Jonathan Aitken was a British cabinet minister who was convicted of perjury and sentenced to prison. It was then that Aitken came to faith in Jesus. Now an Anglican priest (and prison chaplain), Aitken explains how in his prayers he used to treat God as if he were his bank manager:

I spoke to him politely, visited his premises intermittently, occasionally asked him for a small favour, or overdraft, to get myself out of difficulty, thanked him condescendingly for his assistance, kept up the appearance of being one of his reasonably reliable customers, and maintained superficial contact with him on the grounds that one of these days he might come in use.

Jesus speaks about prayer as relationship. “When you pray,” he says, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father…” (Matthew 6:6). Prayer is talking with our Father who loves us, and who hears us. It is meant to be the heartbeat of our faith, the source of our life in Jesus. In prayer we can be real with God, there doesn’t need to be any pretence or keeping up appearances. At its best prayer is an honest and authentic expression of where we are at and what we are going through. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. Mother Teresa once said, “Prayer is simply talking to God. He speaks to us: we listen. We speak to him: he listens. A two-way process: speaking and listening.”

“When you pray” Jesus says, not if you pray. He knew too, as we so often find, that life is busy, complicated and full of things to do which can crowd out time for prayer. But he also knew it was important, so we see him leaving the crowds to find a place - and space - to pray. If we find it difficult to pray the first step might be to find our own place where we can make some space for prayer. If you think about it, one of the greatest privileges we have is the opportunity to speak to God every day, knowing that he cares for us and for our prayers. Have you enjoyed the privilege of prayer today?

Sunday, 3 July

It’s a lesser point when it comes to the significance of having a public holiday to mark Matariki but it occurs to me that June is now a month to look forward to, with two long weekends and two correspondingly shorter weeks. Facing into the long emptiness of a public-holiday-free winter (until October’s Labour Weekend), we might be tempted to think that June could make a good model for other months. Why not two long weekends in July? An August of extra days off? A September of short weeks?

It may sound like the daydreams of school students and wage earners but there is something of a (possibly tenuous) Biblical basis for more holidays and long weekends. For in the Old Testament God instructs the nation of Israel to have days of rejoicing (Numbers 10:10), festivals and feasts for them to celebrate. And He did mean celebrate. The festival which we now call Pentecost lasted several days, as did the Feast of the Tabernacles. These weren’t just days off work either: they were “days of gladness”, feasts, celebrations, fun. Think about that. Yes these festivals were religious in nature in that they were occasions to give thanks for all that God had done. But God’s instruction to his people was to make sure they had fun while doing so.

Do we tend to think of God as someone who likes to have fun? We should. Someone once pointed out, you don’t approach a boring person (as Jesus was approached at the wedding at Cana) to make a party better. Joy is mentioned again and again in the Bible as a marker of God’s presence (Psalm 126:2, 1 Peter 1:8). If we look at the world God created, what do we find? Birds, animals, dolphins - all having fun. Yes, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for mourning; a time for seriousness, hard work, lament and sadness. But there is also a time for laughter.

One author explains part of what this means for us:

Gladness has a purpose. It’s meant to point us to God in worship (Acts 14:17)... If I bear the image of God and if God seems to revel in pure and honest playfulness, perhaps I don’t take fun seriously enough. Yes, put in a hard day’s work. Yes, be responsible with your time. But the God who worked six days also took the seventh to rest. The God who holds the universe together also created our bodies to play and our hearts to be glad.

Sunday, 26 June

It’s definitely been a week for woolly socks and jumpers! What beautiful clear days we have been having, matched by some very cold nights and chilly mornings. We of course also had the winter solstice on Tuesday, our shortest day and longest night, which brings with it both the knowledge that the weather is going to get worse as winter truly sets it but also the promise of summer as, slowly, our days get longer.

It was actually a busy week for our calendars as, along with the winter solstice, on Friday we had our new public holiday marking the Maori new year of Matariki and (for the lectionary nerds among us) also marked the feast of St John the Baptist on the same day. In some parts of the northern hemisphere, John the Baptist’s day is considered the start of summer and is marked by bonfires on hilltops and other celebrations. But I think it works better for us here in winter.

The reason I say this is because of the meaning of John the Baptist’s ministry. He is of course an important figure early in the Gospels but, as he himself says, he has one purpose - that is to point the way to Jesus. He calls on people to prepare the way for him, so that when Christ comes people will be ready to receive him. We celebrate his feast six months before Christmas so that again we might point to Christ’s coming. As our days are beginning to get longer, we are bid to look to the light of the world who is Jesus. At the darkest time of year we are once more pointed toward the light of Christ:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Sunday, 19 June

A little like finding something on sale just two days after buying it, in the paper this week I found a description of the Trinity just a couple of days after preaching about it. The story, which was recounted by the English comedian Frank Skinner, is of an 18th century student who pointed to a carriage with three men riding in it as an illustration of the Holy Trinity. “Nay” replied his professor, “Show me one person in three carriages and then you will see the mystery.”

We preachers love to come up with different analogies and stories to explain the truth of God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But putting aside the metaphysics (let’s face it, an infinite God is always going to be beyond our full understanding), the more relevant question is what does it tell us about God - and about ourselves. One of the things we learn is that God is love. Not just that God is loving, mind, but that He is love. Because the dynamic of love is who God has always been. Put simply, for eternity God has been part of a loving relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit - that is who he is.

And this tells us who we are. For we are made in the image of God, so we too are made for relationship, love, community. Yet it feels like being part of a community is getting harder. As our world has gotten bigger, it has also become more impersonal. We become a post code, mobile number, NHI reference or IRD number. We can now work, shop, and be entertained from our homes without having to encounter another person. And as much as we all would like to be part of a close community, we are often just too busy to create it.

Into this situation, the Bible speaks its ancient message with new freshness, force and relevance. There is a Person behind it all. Creation is therefore pregnant with the possibility of relationship with the Person who made it, and that transforms the experience of our lives… Life that is lived in relationship with the Person who made you - however tentative and ambiguous that relationship may be - is infinitely richer than one lived in the belief that the universe is ultimately impersonal.

When we become Christians we embark on a never-ending journey of knowing and of being known. As part of this journey we are invited to be a community ourselves: a church, a family, a place where people can belong. This takes work. We won’t always do it well, sometimes we might even do it quite badly. But in our life together we have the chance to explore the wonder of knowing God, in whom no one will ever be alone.

Sunday, 12 June

As companies and offices around the world seek to return to normal operations, they are finding a new challenge after two years of lockdowns and restrictions: their own workers. In America it has been called the Great Resignation, as millions leave their jobs for something new. But across the world even those workers who remain are beginning to push back at long-held assumptions about working life. Many are asking to retain at least some of the flexibility that they discovered while working from home. Meanwhile, some corporate highflyers are beginning to question whether they really want to be working the long hours expected.

The latter development has the potential to be significant. Long hours have not just been a hallmark of corporate life, they are widely considered to be a marker of success or a way of proving your value. The irony of this corporate culture of long hours is that many studies have shown that it is bad for both employees and employers. According to one study, an employee who works 70 hours a week becomes less productive - achieving no more than one who works 50 hours a week. Other studies have proved that overwork does not increase output, it just decreases job satisfaction and personal wellbeing. Yet, even so, it is still hard to resist the pull of long hours. Ambition, a sense of duty, the prospect of greater rewards and the desire to perform or not be seen to under-perform - there are a lot of drivers that are hard to shake.

Which is where our understanding of Sabbath comes in. One of the first things we learn about God in the Bible is that he rested on the seventh day. Then we find that one of the Ten Commandments handed down by God is an injunction for all of us to remember and keep the Sabbath holy by resting from labour. There are many good reasons for such a command, including our own personal well being and that of our community. But it is not just about taking a break:

Think of Sabbath as an act of trust. God appointed the Sabbath to remind us that he is working and resting. To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward… By now you must see that God is there - you are not alone in your work.

When the Israelites first took up the Sabbath they were unique among the world’s cultures. In today’s world what may be unique is trusting in God, not in what we can buy or earn, to take care of us

Pentecost, Sunday 5 June

Lord, Holy Spirit,” says the ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’ in our Prayer Book, “You are the sun who shines on the little plant. You warm him gently, you give him life. You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.”

As I have mentioned in previous years, today is known as the birthday of the Church. This is because Pentecost, which we celebrate today, is the moment when the Church was formed to be Jesus’ witnesses and ministers to the world. It happened, of course, because of the Holy Spirit. It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that transformed the disciples from a group of scruffy, confused, frequently scared followers to the apostles of a movement that would change an empire.

Lest we think this is merely historical fact, the Holy Spirit is still at work. Indeed we would not be a Church, would not even be Christians, were it not for the Spirit’s work within us. God never leaves us alone to muddle our own way through. He has promised to be with us, and this includes when we are exploring our own faith. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we are able to believe in God. To put it another way, when we in our faith journey first pray that cautious prayer - are you real God? - it is the Holy Spirit who answers us. One writer puts it like this, “Thankfully, no part of us, and no part of the process of coming back to God, need be unaided. God reaches out to us in every place and at every turn… Which is just as well.

But the Spirit doesn’t come to seize control. He may help us with questions of faith, so that we don’t have to decide by ourselves, but we must still decide for ourselves. The choice remains ours alone. When Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit he refers to him as a Helper, Comforter or Guide. And when we talk about the Spirit’s presence today, we refer to the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The point is that life in the Spirit is a relationship: it is dialogue and partnership. Again the writer explains, “Far from threatening who we are, the Spirit enables us to be more fully ourselves. Far from impinging on our freedom, it is the Spirit who enables us to be free.”

Theologians often speak about how Christ’s birth at Christmas, the coming of God himself to be among us and the central point in all history, could not happen without first the quiet “yes” of Mary. That is how God works, he offers but waits for us to accept. This Pentecost, with his promise of the Holy Spirit before us, let us be people who say, “Yes, come Holy Spirit!”

Sunday, 29 May

Without question a phrase that has been overused over the last couple of years is, “in these uncertain times…”. I am certainly guilty of using it, so too have any number of politicians, banks, insurance companies and virtually every advertiser ever. Of course like many cliches it worked because things did (and may still do) feel uncertain. But as one British professor of psychology recently noted, uncertainty is a fact of life. Even putting aside the immense global changes all of us have lived through, in our day to day lives there is always some level of uncertainty ranging from questions of health to whether or not there will be traffic at Hill Street (in fairness, not that uncertain - there will be).

The good professor’s comments were of course in aid of her own marketing, in this case the sale of a book promising to transform your life by teaching you how to be mentally agile. In it she recommends a series of brain exercises to help us cope with uncertainty: practise switching tasks, think positively, avoid negativity, imagine how someone else (an All Black, Robert Redford, the Queen) would respond to a particular given situation. The promise of the book is that the author has worked with many high performance sports teams, helping them to achieve international success.

As cutting edge as some of these ideas might seem, there is little new about the questions they are responding to. It was the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher who wrote, “While the Emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than ever...

Jesus too spoke about peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” he said in some of his final teaching to his disciples (John 14). It is peace not like the world gives, he explains. Indeed, the Hebrew word shalom that is referenced here can mean ‘wholeness’, ‘soundness’, ‘well-being’ or ‘oneness with God’. This wholeness, well-being and oneness is the peace of God which passes all understanding. It comes not by practising mental agility or positive thinking but through the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has promised to us. For it is a fruit of God’s Spirit. This week as we enter the space between Ascension and Pentecost, between Christ’s going and the Spirit’s coming, we might be aware that now more than ever we have need of the Spirit which Jesus sends and the peace that he brings.

Sunday, 15 May

In news that was not surprising (but still something of a let down) Waka Kotahi have announced that the opening of the new motorway has been pushed back to sometime in 2023. It seems that, as with so much else at the moment, the usual suspects of a long lockdown last year and increased supply-chain problems are to blame. All this is quite understandable but still, driving to or from Auckland, it is hard not to look a little wistfully at the mighty viaducts straddling the road to Puhoi and imagine what it might be like to fly across them and speed your way home.

Of course the motorway will open in due course, we will fly across the viaducts and on through to Warkworth and in short order forget the little road below it on which we used to wind our way homewards. But in the meantime we just have to wait. As it happens, one of the consequences of our current times is that we are getting familiar with having to wait again. Stock shortages and shipping delays mean that just in time deliveries are a thing of the past (for now at least). In some cases we face delays of several months, if not more. Now for our ancestors, for whom a letter to a loved one in England might take a few months for a reply, this was just par for the course. But in a world of Whatsapp, Amazon Prime and same day deliveries it can be an unwelcome experience.

No one really likes waiting. In recent times many successful businesses have been created by recognising this fact and finding ways of helping us to avoid it. Our ideal world, commercially speaking, is one where we never have to wait: no queues, no hold music, deliveries within an hour. But what if waiting is supposed to be part of life; what if waiting is something we are meant to do?

Christianity in some respects is a waiting faith. It arises from what theologians call the “now and the not yet”. This is the understanding that in Jesus we can know God now, that today we can know his promises for life and blessing, but at the same time the fullness of that knowledge, of heaven and eternity, of seeing God face to face, is yet to come. We live in the reality of it but we also wait for it. Only we don’t call it waiting, we call it hope. Hope in the midst of life’s hardships and disappointments, hope in the face of all that is not yet as it should be. It is the hope that Jesus brought, of knowing and being known by him, of new and abundant life, of an eternity of wonder. It is the hope, the knowledge, that one day we will speed our way home.

Sunday, 3 May

Our Parish AGM is this afternoon after what is hopefully one of the last Covid delays. In the meantime, it is great to see many of our regular activities starting up again around the Parish and the sense (fingers crossed!) that we are returning to normal.

Of course the big news from last year was our long lockdown of almost four months. As we see in the AGM reports, all of our ministries, as well as Sunday worship and even the Parish finances, were affected by this. I comment in my own report what it means for us now:

Where does all this leave us as we move towards the middle of 2022 but have only just come out of Red? My view is that 2022 is going to be a year of rebuilding. Covid has been a bit like a storm that has come through, knocked down some branches, damaged the garden and maybe lifted a few roof tiles. We, as a Parish and as Church communities, need to repair some of that damage and rebuild ourselves for the future.

This begins with regathering and that is the stage we are currently in, with people now returning to services after our long disruption. The lockdown has highlighted just how significant this regathering stage is. I think we all at some point felt the absence of not being able to meet together in person. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, it is vitally important for Christians to meet together for it is in gathering that we are able to encourage and support one another in faith and in life. But after a long disruption, such as we have experienced over the last eight or nine months, it is easy to have fallen out of the habits of fellowship and worship. As I said at last year’s AGM we must put effort into re-establishing these habits of worship and fellowship, these rhythms of prayer and devotion, which form our life as a Parish and a Church. That is the next stage in our rebuilding and it is a crucial one.

There are some very exciting things to be looking forward to this year, including the continued development of our children’s ministry, the return of our Selwyn Centre with a new coordinator, and some opportunities for outreach later in the year. But for now I think we just need to focus on gathering again: meeting together, sharing our worship, enjoying each other’s fellowship and maybe even renewing our conversations. Let’s just enjoy being Church together again: that is my hope for this season.

Sunday, 24 April

One of the world’s hardest jigsaw puzzles is made up of 654 pieces that fit together in the shape of a spiral inside a rectangle. If that doesn’t sound particularly challenging the added obstacle is this: all the pieces are painted white and there is no picture or guide to work towards. Instead, completing this puzzle is an exercise in grabbing pieces at random and trying to make them fit. (Which in fairness is how some of the less patient among us try to do jigsaws anyway; I prefer the action of board games.)

Not to get too philosophical about it but it is easy to treat life the same way. Of course we can start out with the perfect life plan but - as we move through the years dealing with careers, family, mortgages, success and failure, good health and bad - I think most of us would admit that our plans don’t much survive the encounter with reality. Yet, while youthful dreams of being a rockstar might fall by the wayside, it would be wrong to think as a result that life is pointless, that it is not heading anywhere or that it is without a purpose. For our life does have a purpose, it does have a destination. And it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we see that most clearly.

The resurrection of Jesus is the picture on the box of the jigsaw of life, the guide both to where we are heading and to how we should live on the way there. One theologian explains it this way:

We are given, in the Resurrection of Jesus, a vision of what creation will look like when it is finally healed, a vision of what we will look like when we are fully ourselves, and a knowledge of what will last. It is our job now to live in such a way as to point in the direction we know we are headed, to be more and more the sort of people we know we shall be then, to align ourselves with the coming Kingdom and not with the passing age.

In this season of Resurrection, let us pray that our lives show it.

Easter Day (17 April)

If your New Year’s resolutions are now little more than a dusty and distant memory, then I have some good news for you. Because today, this Easter Day, is the real day of new beginnings and fresh starts. Today is the day when we know we can have a new life. Today is the day we learn that we ourselves can be renewed. Because today is the day that Jesus rose from the dead.

When we say that Jesus has risen from the dead that is exactly what we mean. Not that he was revived, resuscitated, reanimated, reincarnated or reimagined. We don’t mean it symbolically, metaphorically or even allegorically. Jesus died. As dead as anyone has ever been, as dead as we all one day will be. But now he is alive, for he has risen from death into new life! And this means that one day we will too. For Jesus’ resurrection is a picture of our own. As one author explains it:

We know that God can do it, because He has already done it to Jesus. And we know that He will do it, because what He did to Jesus, He did for us. The Resurrection is the pledge of our own resurrection.

If you’re wondering what that means, it’s simple: nothing will ever be the same again. The resurrection is God’s defiant shout into the chaos and pain of our history and our world; everything that seeks to pull us down and consign us to dust is silenced by the cry, “Jesus is alive!” For God has shown that nothing, not even death, can hold us back from knowing Him, knowing his love or knowing the new life he brings. It doesn’t matter our past, our failures, mistakes, or wrongs; it doesn’t matter what we carry, the pain, hurt, fears or burdens; whatever it is, God has made a way from you to him. That way is Jesus, and Jesus is alive!

If I’m honest, we don’t make a big enough deal about this. We don’t ring the bell enough times, shout loud enough praises, sing enough songs, light enough candles, clap enough hands or dance enough dances. Maybe because we are still just learning what it means, maybe because we are yet to understand even close to the fullness of Christ’s resurrection - and our own. But even if that is so, we can still hold on to the hope we find this glorious morning, the hope of healing, of restoration, of relationship and new life, and - with people around the world and across history - declare the world-changing truth that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Sunday, 10 April (Palm Sunday)

One of the ways in which the gospel accounts ring true is in the sheer humanity of the events that they depict. What I mean is how human nature is so recognisible in the gospels, even 2,000 years later. Take Palm Sunday as an example. Surely we recognise the sudden enthusiasm of the crowds, the way people get swept up in the excitement, how quickly they are willing to declare that Jesus is their long awaited redeeming king! Doesn’t a similar thing play out every World Cup, where one rugby player is identified as our secret weapon that will lead the All Blacks to victory? Or come election time when a politician suddenly becomes the voice of the people, the one whose common sense and connection to the public will right all the wrongs of our nation. It can even happen in the midst of a pandemic.

What is also familiar is how quickly such heroes can be dropped or turned against when things don’t go as well as we hoped. So again it is with recognition that we watch the crowds turn on Jesus over the course of Holy Week; shifting their cries from “hosanna” to “crucify” in a few days. Yet the crowds were right to proclaim Jesus as king, the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord. So what went wrong? The answer is that nothing went wrong. As Jesus rode on that donkey he knew he was riding to his crucifixion. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was just another step on his long road to Calvary. And so the crowds waving palms weren’t confused about who he was. But they were confused about what that meant.

Most of those in Jerusalem who saw Jesus as the Messiah, as their long awaited king, probably harboured vague but clear hopes of the change they expected: an overthrow of oppressive rulers, relief from taxation, perhaps even the conquest of surrounding, pagan, lands. There was much to do. Because, just like us, they had their lists of all the ways in which the world was wrong and what was needed to put it right. And so, just like us, they got annoyed, frustrated, and even angry when Jesus didn’t immediately storm the Roman garrison or declare a national uprising. But Jesus didn’t come to do what we want him to do. He came to heal us of our brokenness, to free us from our mistakes, and most importantly to restore us into relationship with the One we were created for. It cost him everything but Jesus was determined to do it, even as the crowds jeered him. Such is the love of God. The next week reminds us that we don’t always understand what God is doing, or why. But we can always trust his heart.

Sunday, 3 April

In one of our online services a few weeks back I mentioned a comment by an author along the lines that one of the most important things about us is the image that we have of God. The point was that our faith, and even our very person, will in part be formed by who we understand God to be, what we believe he is like. And this raises the question, what do most people think God is like? How do people imagine God to be?

One Australian minister makes the point that God reveals himself very differently from what the world assumes he would be like:

If God came into the world, what would he be like? For the ancient Greeks, he might have been a philosopher-king. The ancient Romans might have looked for a just and noble statesman. But how does the God of the Hebrews come into the world? As a carpenter.

Our Prayer Book reminds us, Jesus is the unique and full revelation of God; if we want to know what God is like, what his character is, we look to Jesus. And that is why the next couple of weeks are so important in the life of the Church. Starting from Palm Sunday the events of Holy Week, of Good Friday and then Easter morning are not incidental, accidental or unexpected. No, it was for these very days that Jesus came. In these days we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission, his true purpose. In these days the truth of God’s own nature as self-giving love is revealed to us. In these days we see his heart. I invite you then to consider how you will commemorate Holy Week this year, how will you follow Jesus on his walk to the Cross. How will you look upon his heart?

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Sunday, 27 March

You may not have noticed it but this past week marked two years since the first Covid lockdown. It’s strange to think back to those early days of the pandemic and how unknown Covid was. I seem to recall that amidst all the uncertainty there was a lot of worry and even fear, not helped by footage of lockdowns and infections abroad. Going into our own lockdown brought its own drama, something none of us had ever experienced before and a little bit like a national adventure.

In the two years since we have probably run the full gamut of emotions from the excitement of being allowed out in public again, to a period of self-congratulatory smugness, to joy at a Covid-free summer, to frustration at failures with MIQ and the vaccine roll-out, to the gloom of another even longer lockdown last year and finally our strange traffic light existence since. But if I was to try and name the experience of dealing with the pandemic for the last two years it would simply be wearying. While there have been many high points and things to celebrate amidst all the turbulence, the elusiveness of “normality”, the constant ups and downs, back and forth, have in different ways been draining. Which is perhaps why over the past week I have found myself drawn again and again to last Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 55.

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

In this beautiful chapter God speaks to his people and calls them to come back to him again. He does so not to scold them but that so that he can nourish them, refresh them, renew them. And this nourishment does not have to be bought, paid for or earned. God simply seeks to revive his people, just as he seeks to revive us.

In my Bible the passage is titled, “An Invitation to Abundant Life”. Another good title might be, “An invitation to all who are weary”. If you are feeling worn out or spent by the last couple of years, know that God is not asking you to prove yourself nor to renew yourself on your own. He is simply saying come: I have water and food, let me nourish you, let me revive you. All you have to do is come.

Sunday, 6 March

(1st Sunday of Lent)

The headline in Friday’s New Zealand Herald summed up the writer’s view of the current state of affairs: “From Parliament protests to a foreign war, how the world is scattered and broken”. Indeed, the last week has seen a lot of competition for the headlines: record breaking Covid numbers, a brutal war in Europe and growing humanitarian crisis, a riot in front of our own Parliament.

Old certainties, and former securities, have been shaken or even torn down. European commentators talk of a generational shift in worldview and security on par with the events surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union. At home, we have lost our cockiness about having kept Covid ‘at bay’, while fighting in the streets of Wellington is something we would expect from another place and time - not God’s own country. Yet, as Christians, such things - the loss of old certainties, the reality of a dangerous and scattered world - should not be surprising. For we know that the world is broken. That it is fallen.

To speak of a fallen world is to recognise that there is a vast chasm between the world as it is and the world as God wants it to be. It is to declare that the pain, suffering, loneliness, injustice and destruction we see are not parts of God’s plan or purpose. And it is to acknowledge the truth that this broken, fallen world needs healing, it needs redeeming, it needs saving.

The good news is that there is a saviour, a redeemer - one who has come to rescue the world from its falleness and make way for the Kingdom of God, for the restoration of the world as God created it to be. He is of course Jesus. For Christians, part of our task is to proclaim and to live out this Good News in our daily lives, so that the world might know there is hope - hope for healing, hope for justice, hope for a world without pain, without suffering, without evil. But as last week’s Gospel reading reminded us, to do so requires more than just paying lip service to Jesus. We must build our house upon the rock; that is, attend to Christ’s teachings, to his word, take them seriously and allow them to shape and build our lives. This Lent it is worth asking, how are your foundations? Because more than ever the world needs to see the hope of Jesus within us.

Sunday, 20 February

As I was leading the service at Warkworth last Sunday morning the building shook and the doors blew open - I felt like an old time revivalist preacher! Sadly, I think it had more to do with last weekend’s storm than the power of my sermon. The storm itself certainly delivered with its whipping wind; heading out to Kaipara Flats cemetery this week I was counting the fallen branches and broken trees. But perhaps the most striking thing about the storm was how suddenly it abated. After all that sound and fury, Monday and Tuesday were two of the most still and perfect days we have had all summer!

I was reminded of the events of 1 King 19 when the prophet Elijah, his life threatened by Jezebel, flees to the wilderness in despair. Sheltering on Mt Horeb he cries out to the Lord, only for God to tell him to stand on the mountain and wait for him to pass by. A great wind is stirred up, so mighty that it breaks rocks and splits the mountain - but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there is an earthquake - but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And then a fire! But the Lord was not in the fire. Last of all there is only silence. And it was in the silence that Elijah heard the still, small voice of God speaking to him; “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Lest we miss it, what is important about that moment is the intimacy of the stillness. Paradoxically, God speaks through the silence, not because his was presence was in the silence but because his presence was the silence. God, the creator of mountains and winds and fires, steps from behind the curtain of nature to be present with Elijah.

Our world certainly has its fair share of storms and wildfires at the moment. In such times we can be all too focused on the storms and what God might be saying about them or even through them - because surely a worldwide pandemic, global protests or the threat of war must mean something. And yes of course God speaks about and in the midst of such events. But if we only ever focus on the storms - what they might mean, what others say about them, how we should interpret them - we run the risk of missing God speaking to us in the quiet of his presence. In the midst of the storms of life, perhaps we sometimes need to turn our attention away from all the wind and fury and instead listen in the silence for the still, small voice of God who is present with us.

Sunday, 6 February (Waitangi Day)

On Waitangi Day last year two Anglican churches in Otaki came together for a special service. The Rangiātea Pastorate Church (part of Tikanaga Maori) and the Anglican Parish of Ōtaki (part of Tikanaga Pakeha) met for worship and fellowship on a grassy field that happens to sit between the two church buildings. You see both Ōtaki churches stand on land gifted by local iwi, Ngāti Raukawa, to The Church Missionary Society (CMS) - making it a fitting spot to celebrate Waitangi Day.

The churches said the hope was to set about living a new story on their small patch of shared ground: one of friendship, of faith, of solidarity. As the Rev’d Dr Rangi Nicholson, priest and Minita-ā-Iwi at Rangiatea Pastorate Church, explained it, each Waitangi Day was a chance to face squarely some of the history that had stood in the way of the dream of togetherness in Gospel mission.

Waitangi Day is a day to celebrate. As Archbishop Philip Richardson has said, I believe ‘our’ day is a day of which we can all feel proud. I’m grateful for all the Treaty offers everyone who lives in this land. It’s a covenant based on generosity and hospitality…” But, embedded within Waitangi, in its promises, its hopes and its failures, is also a call to work. It’s a call to the work of acknowledgement and honouring, of repentance and restoration, of reconciliation and healing, of living a new story. In case we forget, this is Gospel work too. This Waitangi Day let our prayers be for this ongoing work here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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, 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.

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.

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, 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, 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!