From the Vicar

Sunday 3 December

And just like that, Advent is upon us once again.  For a season of anticipation and expectation it does have a habit of sneaking up on us!  Be warned it also has a habit of rushing past quite quickly as well.  As a child, this was a good thing as it meant the approach of Christmas, including the promise of presents, celebrations and school holidays.  Indeed, ask students if they are looking forward to the end of classes or kids if they are looking forward to Christmas and you will learn the true meaning of expectation!  But what about the rest of us, what are we expectant for?  Hopefully we too are looking forward to celebrating Christmas and enjoying a summer break but is that all?  What are the deeper longings of our lives.  What is it that we seek?

If we recall the story of the first Christmas we remember that pretty much no one was expecting or looking forward to Jesus’ birth; why even Mary and Joseph seem to be caught short!  But as the story expands we see there are those who, while they didn’t expect the Son of God to be born in a stable, were still looking forward to the coming of God’s salvation and to the arrival of Immanuel - of God with us.  The Magi arrive after a long journey from the East because they had been searching for this child.  In the Temple in Jerusalem a prophetess and an old man wait daily for the child’s promised arrival.  As Jesus grows, John the Baptist sets people’s hearts alight as he promises them that there is another still to come - one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Throughout the Gospels we see Christ encountering people - a centurion, a tax collector, a woman divorced many times, a fisherman and his brother - all of whom had a longing, a yearning to meet Jesus, even before they knew who he was.

Do we also long for Christ?  In the midst of all the busyness of life, do we dream of knowing afresh in our lives what it means to have God with us?  As the days grow long and the shops are crowded, may God grant us hearts that yearn for the one of whom the angels sing.

Sunday 26 November

For all that he impacted and changed England, only a handful of monuments to Oliver Cromwell are to be found in the country.  Given his most famous act was chopping the head off of a King this is perhaps unsurprising, though in 1899 the British Parliament did install a statue in his memory.  (Presumably the intervening 250 years had dulled the scandal of regicide.)  But even if there are few statues in his honour one of the most enduring, if unintended, monuments to Cromwell’s time can be seen in the Great West Window at Winchester Cathedral.

It was in the midst of the English Civil War that Cromwell’s Roundheads occupied the town of Winchester.  The troops, who hadn’t been paid, started to ransack the Cathedral in search of valuables.  They broke into graves and tombs and, when that failed, turned their anger on the great stained glass window.  Throwing stones and shooting muskets, they smashed every part of the window until the ground was covered in shattered glass.  After the troops left, local townspeople came and collected the broken pieces of glass which they hid away.  Finally, once Cromwell had died and his republican Commonwealth had fallen, the Cathedral at last was able to be restored.

Unfortunately, piecing together the broken shards of glass was too challenging a puzzle.  No one could be certain which piece came from where and, despite best efforts, many pieces were still missing.  So rather than trying to recreate the images that had previously graced the window, those restoring the Cathedral instead gathered together all the broken pieces of glass into an incredible multicoloured mosaic which remains today.  For many the window and its almost psychedelic arrangement tells a parable about the damage of war and how to put broken things back together.  It’s a story both of hope but also of the limits of undoing what has been done.

This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King, also known as the Reign of Christ.  It is a celebration both of who we understand the resurrected and ascended Jesus to be - the King of Kings - but also of what this means.  As Ephesians 1 reminds us, God intends to bring all things in heaven and on earth back together under the kingship of Jesus.  In a way, it is a bit like the West Window at Winchester.  God will take all the broken pieces of humanity and creation and fit them back together - only for Him the puzzle won’t be too great and the pieces will be fitted together as they should, into the image that God first intended, where his light can shine through.  To celebrate Christ as King is to remember that in God no one will be left broken, lost or neglected - for all will be regathered into His purpose.

Sunday 15 October

Amidst all the domestic news of the election campaign’s final week and the All Blacks gearing up for a quarter-final it would have been easy to miss events overseas were it not for the horrifying violence and savagery of the terrorist attacks on Israel, our fear for civilians caught up in the fighting and the dreadful anticipation of what another war in the Middle East will bring.  Meanwhile, Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to rage and coups and conflicts in other nations also make the news.  No wonder some feel that our world is being undone, that we are close to living through another time in global history when violence and chaos hold sway.

On a visit to Armenia last week (itself the site of another conflict), the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had this to say, “In times of fear and anxiety, the question for us is not ‘What should we do?’, but ‘Who should we follow and trust?”  He went on to explain the Christian perspective, We have our trust in God: it is he who brings down the mighty and lifts up the weak. He may use our hands, but it is his power.”  

This past Wednesday, at our monthly Parish Karakia prayer meeting, we prayed a prayer called “Peace for the Nations” from page 90 of our Prayer Book (it is in turn adapted from Isaiah chapter 2).  It reads in part:

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house

will be established as the highest of the mountains.

It will be raised above the hills

and all nations will flock to it…

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation

nor again prepare for war.

We trust in God because He is mightier than armies or men with guns - and because in Him we have the hope that our fallen world can be redeemed.  That peace and reconciliation can flourish where violence seems to reign.  That one day nations will beat swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks.  

We may yet face times of war or hard seasons of life.  There may still be moments when we have no answers but even in those moments we can still believe and trust in God.  For that reason this week, as with so many other weeks, our prayer for our world should be “your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as in heaven.

Sunday 8 October

I have spent most of this week exclaiming, “I can’t believe it’s October already!”  In truth, I’m still getting used to it being 2023.  I suspect my surprise at the advance of the calendar is only going to increase as the year progresses towards an end, though hopefully by New Year’s I will be ready for 2024.  But realising the year is marching on only reminds me of all the things that are still yet to be done.  Where has the time gone!

When the poet John Milton (he of Paradise Lost) began to go blind in his middle age, he composed a sonnet pondering its implications.  Milton mused,  “When I consider how my light is spent…” and wondered if he would be able to give a true account for how he had used the talent he had been given.  He also worried that the loss of his sight meant that he, a prolific writer and campaigner, would have nothing more to offer.

Such is the temptation to mark our time by what we produce or achieve.  One of the things that our culture values most is productivity.  Politicians debate how to increase it, self-help books teach how we ourselves can be more productive.  I well remember working as a lawyer and recording my time in six-minute increments.  Time could be recorded as billable or non-billable but you can easily guess which category law firms preferred.  A timesheet filled with billable time gave a sense of achievement, one made up of non-billable time would usually be a cause for worry.  In fairness, it is right for employers to expect workers to use their work time productively.  But should that be the measure of how our light is spent? 

Jesus teaches that we are to be faithful, and as the Parable of the Talents showed this includes using the gifts that God gives us.  Yet he does not teach that achievement should be the measure of our faith.  When he visits two sisters it is not Martha, rushing around to get things done, but rather Mary, sitting at his feet, whom Jesus commends as having chosen the “better part”.  

In his sonnet, Milton finds that patience reminds him that, as a King, God doesn’t need our gifts.  Sometimes it is enough to “bear his mild yoke” in faithful obedience, whatever that yoke may be.  There may be those who can rush to and fro, doing many marvellous things.  But, Milton concludes, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Sunday 1 October

The forecast for this weekend and the following week has not been encouraging.  I feel particularly for parents, faced with the risk of another storm (or at least more rain) keeping restless kids inside just as the school holidays get underway.  Yet, while the temptation is to grumble about more bad weather, I am reminded of the example of some of you, who choose not to moan when it pours but instead be grateful for what we get whether it be sunshine or rain.

George Buttrick was a 19th century American preacher (he led New York’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church) and a professor of Harvard University.  He once gave the example of a lecturer speaking to a group of businessmen who held up a large sheet of paper with a single ink blot on it.  The lecturer asked the group what they saw.  They all answered, “a blot”.  While acknowledging that the question was in some ways unfair, the lecturer asked why they did not see a piece of paper - only a small part of which was stained by a blot.  Buttrick went on to write:

There is an ingratitude in human nature by which we notice the black disfigurement and forget the widespread mercy. We need to deliberately call to mind the joys of our journey. Perhaps we should try to write down the blessings of one day. We might begin: we could never end: there are not pens or paper enough in all the world. The attempt would remind us of our “vast treasure of content”.

In seasons like Lent (or indeed at any point in the year) we may focus on various spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, good works or study of the Scriptures.  Such rhythms of grace are important to our faith.  But let’s not forget that gratitude or thankfulness is a spiritual discipline as well.  So from time to time we might perhaps want to take a leaf from Buttrick’s book and try writing down all the blessings of the day.  After all, as Psalm 107 tells us, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!"

Sunday 24 September

How are you feeling about the Rugby World Cup?  Quietly confident?  Resolutely hopeful?  Do you have a deep abiding conviction in the All Blacks’ path to victory?  Or perhaps you are not bothered at all!  There will be some who took our defeat by France as proof the tournament is already lost.  Others, however, will note hopefully that in prior World Cups dominance of the group stage was not a guarantee of finals success, so perhaps the inverse will work in our favour!  Either way, come 29 October we will know the result - and the pundits will probably start talking about 2027.

The World Cup that sticks in my mind is 1995 with its final, heartbreaking loss to South Africa.  My main memory is not of the defeated All Blacks or victorious Springboks, however.  It is a banner saying, “See you in Wales in 1999”.  On that cold Saturday evening, waiting another four years seemed near impossible.  Why 1999 was almost a lifetime away!  Of course 1999 came and went, so did 2003, and 2007 - until at last 2011 offered the relief of victory.  

Sports fans can actually be quite good at living for the future.  Lose this tournament, and we will immediately start hoping for redemption in the next.  (Of course win this tournament, and we might never let go of it - just ask an Englishman about the 1966 football World Cup.)  As humans, however, living for tomorrow can be a lot harder.  How often in life are we faced with the consequences of a failure to plan for the longer term by governments, councils, organisations or even ourselves.  It seems the immediacy, the urgency of now too easily fixes our minds.  

For most of this past month our Gospel readings have seen Jesus teaching us how to live as one of his followers - as his disciples.  So we have heard Christ tell us to take up our crosses, teach us how to deal with conflict in the Church, encourage us to welcome children and remind us of our need to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  These are of course important lessons that we need to know now.  Lessons on how, as the Apostle Paul puts it, to live lives worthy of the Gospel.  But note also why Jesus tells us these things.  Because of the kingdom of heaven.  Because there is a world to come, an eternal life to be lived, and it is not like this one.  It is one defined by God’s way, quite different from our world’s.  There forgiveness is offered.  There the last are first and the first last.  In our readings, Jesus lays down a challenge: we can live in the light of this present world or in the light of God’s kingdom come.

Sunday 17 September

I have been cautioned about commenting on some of the beautiful weather we have had over the course of the last couple of weeks.  Our year of storms and near constant rain has trained us to think such things cannot last.  Indeed, as I write this it is grey and drizzly outside.  Then again, the weather forecasters suggest that the imminent return of El Niño will mean a shift to hot and dry weather - which sounds very welcome at the moment but may lead to months of drought and dry ground.  We may yet miss the rain!  Even so, the recent weather has been something to enjoy and some days have almost been like an awakening as we relearn what blue sky and sunshine is like.

How easy it is to grow accustomed to things.  This year we have learned to expect soggy ground, wet concrete and overcast skies.  A couple of years ago we learnt to keep a distance, wear a mask and to be nervous of a handshake or hug.  Such adaptability is what helps humanity survive.  But, sometimes, do we learn our lessons too well?

So much of Jesus’ teaching is trying to awaken us to a new reality.  “The kingdom has come near”, he announces at the start of his ministry.  In passages such as the Sermon on the Mount he then goes on to explain what this means, how it changes things - changes the way we live, relate to one another and to God.  When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to pray or to love our neighbour he is not giving us a list of obligations, which we must fulfil to earn his salvation, he is telling us how life in God’s kingdom is meant to be.  Similarly, when Jesus bids us not to worry, to have faith, and to persevere it is because of the reality of his kingdom.  The problem is that we have learned the lessons of this life and this world so well.  And so we keep living in the old way of things.

A few years ago on a trip to London I went to a market to catch-up with a friend.  It was a beautiful day, warm with blue skies, and many were in short-sleeves.  But I also noticed a lot of people still in winter clothes - in many cases carrying their heavy coats with them.  Knowing London weather I realised that it must very recently have been cold and grey.  Those with their coats were either yet to take notice of the change in weather or did not fully trust it.

When we know Jesus our reality changes.  Let us trust it, trust him and live in the light of his kingdom come.

Sunday 10 September

In Shakespeare’s telling of the life of Henry V, he imagines the King rallying his troops on the morning of the Battle of Agincourt with a rousing speech.  Outnumbered by the facing French forces, Henry tells the soldiers that their deeds that day will be remembered, “to the ending of the world”.  But the King’s principal appeal is not to glory but to brotherhood:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition…

Like so many of Shakespeare’s words, the speech and its “band of brothers” has lived on.  In the midst of the Second World War Laurence Olivier read it aloud on the radio to boost British morale.  It was quoted by Admiral Nelson prior to the Battle of the Nile, gave name to a popular miniseries and has even been used as a motivational tool for lawyers.  What is it that resonates so strongly?  There is of course the idea of fighting against overwhelming odds.  But more than that is the sense of doing so as part of a band, a team, a fellowship.  Shakespeare expresses not so much our desire for victory as our longing to belong, to be part of a community.

The British journalist Juliet Samuel recently wrote that there are almost no places of real community left; that is, places where people will gather together on a regular basis to be with one another.  Instead, she noted, we increasingly spend our time in non-places, “transient spaces such as hotel lobbies, shopping centres and motorways, where humans are alone and anonymous”.  Even in the home the hearth, around which a family would gather, has been replaced by individual screens.  Attempts to create communities online often devolve into fights about bad driving or noisy dogs.  All of this, Samuel says, has diminished us.

So it should be with confidence that we affirm what we do this morning, as on every Sunday morning: gathering together as the Body of Christ, in communion (or community) with one another and with God.  Here we are a part of something, here we have a place to belong.

Sunday 3 September

The TV presenter and adventurer Bear Grylls knows a thing or two about the wilderness and how our natural landscape is formed.  Host of shows such as Man vs. Wild and Running Wild With Bear Grylls, Grylls (also the Chief Scout of the United Kingdom) has made a career out of climbing around the world’s mountains, forests and jungles.  In 2015 he took then US President Barack Obama on an adventure through the Alaskan wilds, convincing the American Commander in Chief to try some discarded salmon (left over by a real bear) and making tea with water from a melted glacier.  

Mountains and rivers form a big part of Grylls’ work environment; many of his shows are based around the idea of showing you how to survive if you found yourself lost in the wilderness.  A river, of course, is a source of needed water but also an obstacle to be navigated and, potentially, a path to safety.  So it is unsurprising that Grylls has thought a bit about rivers nor that he connects them to faith (Grylls is a Christian and an Anglican).  In one of his books he writes:

Given enough time and the right conditions, a river can slice through rock, leaving canyons that are thousands of feet deep. It’s not because the river is powerful but because the river is persistent. It’s the same with the Bible. If we take time to read and reflect on it, it’ll make an impact on our lives, almost without us knowing it… But like the river working on the rock, there’s got to be a point of contact.

I like this image of the Bible forming us through the years, carving channels into our being and shaping the landscape of our lives.  But, as Grylls points out, it takes time and requires persistence.

The reading of Scripture is an important part of Anglican tradition and worship.  Our services are built around the Ministry of the Word, and much of our liturgy is based on the Bible.  But, if we are to be formed by God’s Word, we probably need more of a “point of contact” than just Sunday mornings.  I know for myself it is not always easy to maintain the habit of reading my Bible throughout the week.  This is where devotional reading guides are helpful, giving us a structure and guided readings.  Many such devotional guides can be found online or bought as a book.  There are also monthly guides such as Word for Today, copies of which are available from Radio Rhema - or the back of St Leonard’s.  If you could use some help increasing your “point of contact” then why not give one a go.

Sunday 27 August

It’s perhaps an inevitable consequence of life in a western economy but most of us will, I suspect, be somewhat dubious about the bold claims that advertisements make for their products.  Will buying this shampoo truly give you a spring in your step, will owning this car really release you into a life of adventure?  Probably not.  The best we can hope for is that a product is reliable and will do what it says it will do, and even that is not always a certainty.  A certain cynicism towards the claims of marketers and ad men might be considered sensible, if not inevitable.

Some years ago, however, a British journalist with the rather wonderful name of Peregrine Worsthorne contended that adverts provide a more accurate picture of the world than the news.  His argument was this:

Advertisements suggest that aeroplanes take off and land safely and almost all of them do; that butter tastes nice, which on the whole it does; and that soap, correctly used, will wash the user, as is certainly the case… News stories tell us only of aircraft which crash, packets of butter that have unfortunately been adulterated with a deadly poison and wiped out whole families, and soap which by some unfortunate mischance turns the user’s face black.

When one considers the news’ preference for disaster, drama and discord you might think that old Peregrine was onto something.  There is the world as it is presented to be, and the world as it actually is.

This of course is the argument of faith.  Not, as some would accuse it of being, a blind refusal to face an unpleasant reality.  Nor is it simple wishful thinking.  Faith is an acknowledgment that reality is higher, broader and deeper than what we simply see or perceive.  It is the affirmation of our own experience but also the conviction that this is not the full story.  Faith says that the story of us has more to it than meets the eye.  

Part of what we do as a Church, in our worship, our liturgy, in the Word that we proclaim and the beliefs we affirm, is to both remind ourselves of and try to live out the full story of which we are a part: the story of God.  This is why we pray, this is why we sing songs of worship even in times of hardship.  It is because we are a people whose story will not end here and which will not be defined by what we go through in this world.  God is writing our story and the ending is good.

Previous Posts

Sunday 11 June

In recent years it has been the fashion for different organisations to designate specific days of the year as the “World Day of X” as a means of highlighting their cause.  For example, in New Zealand we know that Daffodil Day supports the work of the Cancer Society, while the International Day of Children usually gets some form of official attention.  But there are many, so many, more “days” that get lost in the mix.  For instance, did you know that the Global Day of Parents was on the 1st of June (and did your children get you anything to mark it)?  Or that already this month we are supposed to have marked World Milk Day, World Bicycle Day and the International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing!  If you happened to miss these days then this weekend offers a chance to get back on trend with World Gin Day on Saturday and the National German Chocolate Cake Day on Sunday.

Of course the Church has its own calendar of special days and one of those which the Anglican Church here records is Te Pouhere Sunday.  Te Pouhere is the name for the constitution of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.  Coming into force in 1992 this constitution recognised that the church in our province is made up of three strands or tikanga, representing Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia.  Te Pouhere celebrates this.

There is more to this than simply legal structures and official bodies.  For, in its own way, Te Pouhere was an effort by our Church to live out the Gospel in which we believe.  A few years ago, Bishop Ross explained how:

God in Christ has reconciled us to himself and has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. Those who are reconciled to God demonstrate that through reconciled human relationships. Paul writes that Christ died for all so that those who live should cease to live for themselves and should live instead for Christ. And for whom did Christ live? He lived for others. As the church we are constantly seeking to model how that is so in our relationships with one another. We seek to express it in the life we share as local communities of faith. Te Pouhere seeks to express it structurally for the life of our church as a whole.

For us at a Parish level there is often little chance to experience the fullness of our Anglican Church as represented in all three tikangas of Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia.  But it is still a part of the life of our church and this Sunday we might pause and give thanks for all those who make up the Anglican Church in this province, and for the reconciling ministry of Christ which brings us together.

Sunday 23 April

There is a lot going on this weekend, with the school holidays ending and then ANZAC Day on Tuesday.  The Church calendar is quite busy too.  Ahead of us lie more great feasts, those of Pentecost and Trinity.  But right now we remain in the middle of the season of Easter (or Paschaltide).  This is a time when we not only celebrate the Resurrection but also remember those occasions when the risen Jesus appeared to, and spent time with, his followers up until the day of his ascension.  

Amongst those encounters, including miraculous appearances in locked rooms and unprecedented hauls of fish, this Sunday’s Gospel account of two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus might seem comparatively undramatic.  Two men walk down the road and are joined by a third, with whom they talk about the events and meaning of Easter and the Scriptures.  It is only when they stop to eat, and he breaks the bread as he did at the Last Supper, that they at last recognise their companion as Jesus himself.  

A simple encounter yet the results are dramatic.  God transforms an ordinary event into an extraordinary one and the two men, who had been walking “with sadness written across their faces”, excitedly race back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened - and to discover that those disciples have their own resurrection encounter to share.  But what resonates with me is the image of Jesus walking with the men, talking with them, teaching and ministering to them, even as they are unaware of who he is.  Even as they are unaware that Jesus is with them.  It is only later, in retrospect, that they understand: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road…” they say.  Their eyes opened, they realise that God was with them the whole time.

I wonder how often God is with us, and we don’t recognise it.  How often He is speaking to us, ministering to us, and we don’t realise it.  Because the promise Jesus makes is that he will always be with us, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Just because we don’t always see Him does not mean He is not there.  Perhaps we might remember those occasions when our hearts burned within us, those times when we belatedly realised that God had been with us, helping us all along.  Or perhaps we might take encouragement from two men journeying to Emmaus.  Two men who, in the middle of their discouragement and sadness, were met by the risen Christ as he walked down the road with them.    

Sunday 16 April

It says something about the unfairness of life that a man who followed Jesus as a disciple and would then go on to become a great missionary apostle, one of the first to carry the Gospel into Asia, should be known throughout history as “doubting” Thomas.  We might wonder what more a person needs to do to be considered faith-filled!

Yet there is something apt about remembering Thomas in this way.  As the writer Philip Yancey says, “Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all?”  We therefore should be grateful for Thomas’s example, for showing us that it is possible to be faithful-doubters when we ourselves have questions or uncertainties.  We see that Thomas, despite his doubts, despite his initial unbelief in the other disciples’ report of having seen Jesus, doesn’t walk away.  Instead he persists even as he questions, continuing to meet with the other disciples in prayer.  And because he persisted he was able to encounter the risen Jesus.  In a way it was through his doubts that Thomas came to believe.

It is also encouraging to note that Jesus himself does not condemn Thomas for having doubts but rather engages with them.  By inviting Thomas to put his hands in his wounds, Jesus invites Thomas to explore the very things that he is questioning.  Yes Jesus will say that those who believe without seeing are blessed.  But it is clear that Jesus is not threatened by our questions, is not worried by our doubts.  He is happy for us to wrestle with these things, as long as we keep wrestling with him at the same time.  

Christ’s resurrection is a challenge for our faith because believing in it means we have to completely reshape our understanding of life, the universe, indeed everything.  All our former certainties are upended and we must learn to understand the world anew in the light of Easter morning.   There is risk here; as the German theologian Pannenberg points out, the problem with the Resurrection is that if you believe it happened you must change the way you live.  

No wonder we might have doubts.  No wonder vague ideas of the Resurrection as a metaphor or symbolic action might seem appealing.  But the witness of Thomas, for all his doubts and questions, is that Jesus is risen.  And life for Thomas will never be the same. 

Easter Day, 9 April

Today, in countries across the globe, in churches of all different styles, in diverse languages and tongues, millions of people will greet one another with the words, “Christ is risen!”.  And, like a rolling acclamation, the reply will resound from the Pacific, through Asia, across Africa, Europe and the Americas, “He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Few words are as central to our Christian faith, to our hope and to our lives as Christians, than the declaration, He is risen!  Here is the answer to our fears, to our failures, to the pains and shadows of life: Christ is risen!  Here is our hope for the future, for new beginnings and life everlasting: He is risen indeed!  Like a defiant shout into the chaos and darkness of our world, everything that seeks to pull us down and consign us to dust is silenced by the cry that Jesus is alive.  For in raising Jesus from the dead God has shown that nothing, not even death, can stop us from knowing Him, knowing his love or knowing the new life that he brings.  

He is risen!  Not revived, not resuscitated, not reanimated, reincarnated or reimagined – risen!  Jesus did not avoid death, he was not rescued from its grasp.  He submitted to death when it was before him.  But by the power of God’s love he was able to pass through that darkness to the dawn of resurrection and now he is risen!  No longer dead but alive, now and forevermore.  So we celebrate today because our’s is a resurrection faith.  We don’t believe in the perfectness of the church, the brilliance of theologians and priests nor even in the specialness of Christians.  But we do believe in Christ crucified and risen.  Every sermon preached by the apostles and recorded in the New Testament has the resurrection as its central theme.  For this is the very heart of the Good News of Jesus.

He is risen!  These words are as much invitation as they are proclamation.  Because in the resurrection God unveils a new world and a new life, and we are invited to share in them.  Christ’s resurrection holds within it the promise of our own.  It is the promise of the restoration of the life we were always meant to have, the life we were created for.   Christ is risen and as a result we can know new life and new beginnings in him.  

That new life begins today.  We find it in Jesus.  We find it when we open our hearts to the truth of this glorious morning and, joining with the Church universal, declare once more: He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Sunday, 19 February

Sometimes lines from the hymns or songs we sing on a Sunday morning can have a particular resonance.  This was certainly the case last Sunday, as we sang “thou rushing wind that art so strong…” while gusts buffeted the Church.  (I hope we might soon be singing again about the sun’s “golden beam”.)  It has, once more, been an extraordinary start to the year.  While fortunately most of our district has been spared the worst of Cyclone Grabrielle, I know that there was damage suffered and that parts are again underwater, recovering from more flooding or still without power.  Can I say thank you to those of you who have been checking in on neighbours and other parishioners and who have offered to help out any who need it.  It’s great to see (or hear about) the Church in action in these very simple ways.

The news from other parts of the country has been much harder, and I hope you will keep the people of the Hawkes Bay and East Cape in your prayers.  But while we by comparison have good reason to be grateful, even so, the repeated cycle of crisis that seems to be the current normal can be taxing.   So I paid particular notice when one of my daily Bible readings this week came from Proverbs 3:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own   understanding.

There is a simple truth, of which the Bible time and again seeks to remind us: we are better off putting things into God’s hands.  To the extent that we might try and master our own lives, trying to control events or focusing on our own strength and abilities, we will find ourselves tossed around by all those events we cannot control - natural disasters being one of them.  But the wisdom of Proverbs is that when we trust in God we no longer need to lean on ourselves or rely on our own strength; we can transfer everything onto God and rely on Him instead!

We know that this doesn’t mean there won’t be storms, hardships or even grief.  But in the midst of such times we can have security and comfort: the security and comfort that comes from trusting in God, in his goodness, his purposes and his love.  For these things will never fail.  And God is more than able to cope with the things that overwhelm us.  This week and every week I pray that the love and faithfulness of God may be your trust and hope.

Sunday, 12 February

Have you ever asked yourself why we not only gather on a Sunday morning for worship and fellowship but do so every single week?  Someone who had an answer was D.L. Moody, one of the great revival evangelists of the 19th century.  The story is told that Moody was invited to dinner with a prominent Chicago citizen.  As they sat around the fire and talked they began to discuss the place and role of the Church.  Moody’s host insisted that there was no need for a Christian to be part of a church.  In response Moody said nothing but instead picked up some tongs and took a blazing coal from amongst the fire.  He sat in silence, watching the coal as he held it in his tongs, his host watching too.  All too quickly the coal smouldered and went out.  “I see”, Moody’s host replied.

We are not a Church because of our old wooden buildings, nor thanks to the stained glass windows, nor our having a Vicar, nor a Prayer Book, nor even the cross on our roofs.  What makes us a Church is that we are people of Christ, who gather together in his Name, in his presence, for his purposes.  And if we were to stop gathering, then the buildings, windows, hymn books, and yes clergy could remain but the Church would not.  

It is true that just coming to church is not what saves us.  For salvation comes through our faith in and relationship with Jesus.  And yet it is not possible to divorce being a Christian from belonging to the Church, not least because the story of Jesus is also the story of His Church.  As is often said, Jesus did not build a building or write a book to be his legacy, but he did establish the Church.  What is more, the Bible makes it clear that there is nowhere for us to be part of Christ other than in his Body - which is the Church (1 Cor 12, Eph 4).  Put simply, it is in the Church that we are given Jesus.  

Gathering together is therefore about so much more than preserving our Parish.  It is because it is in the Church that God says he will encounter us and that means - though being a part of a Church can at times be annoying or frustrating - it is there that our faith can grow and our relationship with God be transformed.  Outside of it, we are like an ember left out of the fire to cool and go out.  But inside we are warmed by the flames.  As the poet John Betjeman wrote:

A fitful glow, is all the light of faith I know; 

Which sometimes goes completely out; And leaves me plunging round in doubt;  Until I will myself to go; 

And worship in God’s house below - My parish church.

Sunday, 18 December

In his short story, Smith of Wootton Major, J R R Tolkien tells of a man who discovers the long-forgotten land of Faery.  Tolkien writes that Faery was a mythical place both beautiful and fearsome in equal measure.  When Smith began to explore it he at first walked quietly among the gentler creatures of the woods and meads of fair valleys.  But as he grew bolder Smith went further: he stood beside the Sea of Windless Storm, gazed upon an untouched lake in the mountains and wandered lost in a vast grey mist until he saw the shadow of a great hill and the King’s Tree on top, its light like the sun at noon.  

Eventually Smith found a winding road through the Outer Mountains and at last he stood before the Queen of Faery herself:

She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty  and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head there burned a white flame.

It was then, standing before the Queen, that Smith felt grieved for he remembered from his childhood how the village would place a toy figure atop a cake and called it the Queen of Faery.  In the presence of the Queen herself the memory of the toy seemed embarrassing to him.  But the Queen told him not to be ashamed, for maybe a little doll was better than no memory of her at all: “For some the only glimpse.  For some the awakening.

It would be easy to dismiss our celebration of Christmas as little more than a token.  Despite best efforts our services will fail to match either the humility of the stable where Jesus is born or the glory of the angelic choirs that greet his birth.  And even some of those who visit our churches at Christmas may think it is only a sentimental tradition.  But there is more to the story than nostalgia and carols.  On that first Christmas night in Bethlehem, heaven touched earth - for God came to be with us, as one of us.  

For many the celebration of Christmas remains only a glimpse.  But for others it can be an awakening: an awakening to the greatest love we have ever known, a love more powerful than death and which will never leave or give up on us.  I pray that you will be awakened once more this Christmas.  I pray that you might look upon the manger and open your heart to know the child who was laid in it: this Jesus who is our Saviour, Christ the Lord.  

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 20 November

Let me start by saying congratulations!  You are not just one in a billion, you are one in eight billion.  Yes, according to the United Nations, this week the world’s population passed the eight billion mark.  Pretty impressive when you remember that a short 70 years ago there were only 2.5 billion people on earth.  If we go way back, to the Year of Our Lord (1 AD), the population of the globe was a mere 300 million people.  (Imagine how cheap house prices were then!)  But here we are in the third decade of the 21st century trying to squeeze past another 7,999,999,999 people - many of whom, it seems, are trying to get through the Hill Street intersection at the same time.

No wonder the internet is full of teenagers doing silly dances; it’s hard to stand out when 8 billion other people are trying to do the same.  But even if online fame is not your primary concern, all of us at some point wonder about the mark we are leaving on the world.  The psychologist Henry Cloud says people go through life like a ship moves through water, with each one leaving a wake behind them.  The wake which we leave is in our tasks and in our relationships: what did we accomplish and how did we deal with people?  He goes on to say that we can tell a lot about people by the wake they leave behind.  

What wake are we leaving behind in our families, our street, our workplaces or community?  Not just what have we achieved but how are we relating to people?  Do we leave people feeling loved, knowing that they are valued?  Are we adding to the frustrations and aggravations of life, or are we finding ways of adding God’s grace into the mix?  

Last Sunday’s readings, where in the gospel Jesus encouraged us to have “patient endurance” in the face of trials and tribulations, included this verse from 2 Thessalonians 3: “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”  It’s the Bible asking the Church (which means all of us) to keep being faithful, because God is faithful.  To go out and meet Jesus in the messiness of the world, and to be his hands and feet in amongst that mess.  It’s asking us to leave a Christ-shaped wake behind. 

Sunday, 9 October

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…”  His point was that everyone, every person we meet, is created for God’s Kingdom.  Created for eternity.  For all of us have the opportunity to share in Jesus’ resurrection.  As a result, even “the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to” is someone who may be resurrected in the glorified splendour of Christ.  Someone whom, if we saw them now as they will be then, we would be strongly tempted to worship so great will be their glory.  This, Lewis points out, changes things.  It means that we live in a society full of people defined by what Jesus may one day make of them.  So then, he says, “It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

Of course, in the midst of life and all the stresses and hassles that it brings, it’s not always easy to treat other people (especially given the stresses and hassles they can bring) with “awe and circumspection”.  One person who tried to do so was John of Kronstadt.  A nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox priest, John worked and ministered at a time when alcohol abuse was wreaking havoc amongst his community.  John would go out into the streets where, finding someone lying in a gutter in soiled clothes, he would pick them up, hold them in his arms and say to them, “This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.

You were meant to house the fullness of God.  This is the truth about our neighbours and it is the truth about us.  No matter what we may think or say about others, no matter what others may think or say about us, it does not change our true identity: we are children of the Most High God, chosen to be one of those in whom He lives and dwells, and created for eternity.  As C.S. Lewis would encourage us, we should let that truth inspire our lives.

Sunday, 11 September

I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad.  Each day is a new beginning.  I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God… I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.

So spoke our late Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in 2002.  Much is now being written about the events of her life, her extraordinary 70 years on the throne and all the many changes to which she was a witness.  But one consistency throughout her life was her deep and real faith in God.  In the foreword to a book published on her 90th birthday, the Queen wrote of her gratefulness to God for His steadfast love, saying, “I have indeed seen His faithfulness”.  

As the Prime Minister has noted, the Queen’s commitment to her role, even when she was well beyond the age at which most of us would retire, was extraordinary.  In part this may be seen as dedication to duty but far more than that it was a commitment to service.  At Christmas 2012, the Queen spoke of what for her was at the heart of service:

This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served’.  He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is my prayer this Christmas Day that his example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others.

The carol, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter”, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story of how God gave himself to us in humble service: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part’.  The carol gives the answer, ‘Yet what can I give him - give my heart’.

As we join with others across our country and around our world giving thanks for Her Majesty’s life and service, let us also give thanks for her faith and the One in whom she had faith.  We pray that God will comfort all who mourn for her, especially her family and our new King Charles.  And we pray that she will be received into the loving arms of her God.  May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

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.

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, 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.