From the Vicar

Sunday, 4 December

This past week Nina has been handing out Advent boxes to the children and families who have been part of our after school Arts4Kids programs in Warkworth and Matakana. A huge thank you again to the many people who helped put these boxes together, the children have been very excited to receive them and it has been a great opportunity to talk with them and their families about the meaning of both Christmas and Advent.

You might wonder what distinguishes the celebration of Advent from anyone else’s lead-up to Christmas. They are both, in their way, seasons of expectation and preparation (usually kids do all the expecting and parents do all the preparing!). But one thing that differentiates Advent is that it does not shy away from the difficulties of life; there is no requirement to live up to the “Christmas spirit” of TV and movies and pretend that everything is happy or nicely resolved. It is ok to not be ok in Advent. Indeed a theme of Advent (appropriately enough for our Northern Hemisphere brothers and sisters who are heading into winter) is that of darkness. The other, of course, is light.

Sometimes it can be easier for us to pay attention to the darkness than it can be to notice the light. The last two years have been a difficult, wearying time and life itself is no respecter of the season. But the message of Advent is that, even in the midst of darkness, there is light. The carol O Holy Night expresses this wonderfully well:

A thrill of hope,

the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks

a new and glorious morn!

What hope is there for a weary world? What is it that looks to break the darkness of night? God comes to us. In our weariness, in our hopelessness, in amongst whatever we are going through, the God of hope comes to be with us. We are not alone. The knowledge of this is thrilling, God has hope for us even when we have none. But if we look to the coming of his Son, that hope can be born in us, overflow from us. For unto us a child is born. And in a dark night, light dawns.

Sunday, 27 November

As a child December was without question one of the best months. Warm evenings held the promise of summer holidays, school was beginning to draw to a close, and preparations for prize-givings and end of year concerts replaced maths classes and spelling tests. And of course, even before the seemingly endless days of the January holidays began, you had Christmas itself to look forward to. As an adult there is still the promise of summer and the celebrations of Christmas to look forward to but there is also the knowledge of all that must be done between now and then. It’s tempting to approach the last month of the year with a feeling of weariness and an attitude of “let’s get through this”. Even the start of Advent can be taken as a warning bell: only four weeks until Christmas.

But Advent is so much more than a countdown to Christmas. Certainly it is a time of preparation, when our readings and our worship encourage us to prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas. But it is also a season of watchfulness - and of expectation. In Advent we have the opportunity to practise what you could call delighted-longing. Christ is coming, our tradition reminds us, not just at Christmas but he is coming again into our lives and into our world. Surely this is something to be excited about, surely this is something to long for.

Do we long for Christ’s coming or are we caught up in the busyness of the end of another year and the rush of Christmas? As with Lent (another season of preparation) one way of marking Advent is by taking up a new daily practice for the season. It could be pausing at midday for a short prayer, adding an element of worship to your evening, or perhaps just giving yourself extra time each day to sit in quiet contemplation and long for the coming of Christ. Then we can join with the rest of the Church in expressing that ancient desire, “O come, O come Emmanuel.”

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, 13 November

What do you do with your keys when you get home? Do you have a specific hook, bowl or drawer where you leave them? Or are you a bit more cavalier, a risk-taker, the sort of person who likes to live on the edge and just puts their keys down wherever. Keys may only be one of a long list of common items to be lost (like glasses, phones and remote controls) but there is nothing quite like the panic when you realise they are not where you thought they were. Because you have places to go, people to see - but not without your keys!

Perhaps it is just me but sometimes it feels like we have to spend more of our lives looking for things. I’m not talking about keys, wallets or phones here, I mean in general. Capitalism’s dedication to providing us with anything we might desire simply means that our lives are flooded with different options to wade through. Watching TV is no longer a matter of turning it on and choosing between 2 or 3 channels, now there are multiple channels and multiple streaming services - which themselves have hundreds of different shows to watch (but very few that are actually watchable). So it’s easy to spend as much time looking for something to watch as actually watching it.

More generally, we are constantly encouraged to keep searching for the perfect thing: whether it be cup of coffee, home, job or pair of shoes. There are even multiple TV shows about people doing just that! So it would be natural for us to take the same approach to faith, to see it as a matter of searching for something that fits. And of course the Bible itself encourages us to “seek the Lord”, to search for God, because - we are promised - He will be found. If we look for God (genuinely look for Him, not for philosophies or intellectual concepts) we will encounter Him.

But the Bible also teaches something else: that God is the one who searches for us. From the very start of the world the movement has always been from God to us. That is what takes place with Creation. It is what happens when, after the Fall, Adam and Eve hide from God and He goes looking for them in the Garden, calling out “where are you?”. The story of the Old Testament is the story of God reaching out to his people. And of course the story of the New Testament, of Christmas and Easter, is God coming to us in Jesus to show us his great love, to rescue us, to find us. As we approach Advent and a new year in the Church calendar let’s bear in mind that God is looking for us; He is searching for you. Are you ready to be found?

Sunday, 6 November

In my grumpier moments I enjoy a good grizzle about the ongoing import of what I call “Americanisms” into New Zealand, particularly when they seem to be little more than a transparent attempt by retailers to encourage us to spend more. Why, for example, do New Zealand shops offer “black Friday” sales when the term refers to the shopping day after Thanksgiving - which we don’t celebrate! Likewise, I suspect the growth of Halloween (which barely figured in my childhood) has a similar origin as simply another marketing opportunity for supermarkets and the Warehouse.

If there is a silver lining, it may be that at least Halloween keeps a cultural connection to the feast of All Saints with which we start November. But if the eve of All Saints (All Hallows) is meant to be celebrated with demands for lollies (or treacle scones in the original Scottish tradition), what are we supposed to take from All Saints Day itself? The standard answer is to look to the example of the saints for how we are supposed to live - but what example can we really take from a medieval nun or writer?

The Thought for the Day on the BBC this week made the point that we are wrong to think of Saints (with a capital “S”) as some sort of upper-class or special category Christians. Forget the stained-glass images, the speaker said, for the story of saints is simply the story of human lives lived to the full. Saints are not people who show how it is possible, with effort, to live a perfect life. Instead they are people “who make you think, ‘I’ll have what they’re having’.”

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good description of what Christian witness should be. Not a self-righteous, moralistic screed (there is enough of that in the world at the moment, even without the Church) but rather lives that reflect the liberating forgiveness, the transforming power and the relentless love of our God. Of course such lives cannot be manufactured, they cannot be put on or faked. But they can be lived. Saints, the BBC speaker explained, “are human beings who have an irreducible desire to travel towards the centre of things, to the dwelling place of God.” Let us be inspired by the Saints of history and pursue the heart of all things by seeking more and more of God. Let us live our lives to the full!

Sunday, 23 October

The arrival of Labour Weekend bids our annual tipping of the cap to Samuel Parnell, the Wellington carpenter who in 1840 famously argued that, as 24 hours were given to each day, “eight of these should be for work, eight for sleeping, and the remaining eight for recreation”. Some 180 years later Parnell likely wouldn’t recognise Wellington, nor indeed most of the occupations that make up the modern workforce, but he might find familiarity in the workplace trend of 2022: “quiet quitting”.

Quiet quitting is the name given to employees who refuse to do extra duties beyond their job description, take up extra-curricular activities on behalf of their employers or engage with work outside of usual working hours. The name itself is something of a misnomer. As one journalist has pointed out, doing the job you were hired to do for the hours you are paid to do it is not exactly quitting. The trend is blamed on pandemic exhaustion, a generational gap in the expectations of work, and/or many employees’ lack of fulfilment in their jobs. Workers, it is said, no longer see succeeding at work as a sufficient ambition, they want something more than the promise of more responsibilities or money. Yet some have argued that by limiting work to its bare bones, quiet quitters are actually missing out on the chance to find greater enrichment in what they do.

Who is right? Should work offer fulfilment (as opposed to mere reward or satisfaction)? Is it right to expect a job or role to complete us? Surely life is more than our occupation or source of income. But we also know that human beings benefit from having a purpose, a reason for being. Is that purpose supposed to be work or recreation, productivity or pleasure?

When Johann Sebastian Bach finished a new composition, he would often write the initials “S.D.G.” at the bottom of the page. They stood for Soli Deo Gloria - to the Glory of God alone. Bach was indicating not just the setting for which the music was written (he wrote it on both church and secular music) but the motivation, the ambition and purpose for the composition. He was saying, ‘I wrote this to glorify God’. Can we do the same? Can Soli Deo Gloria become the reason and purpose behind the tasks we undertake, the work we do, the activities we invest in, the lives we live? In 1647 the Westminster Catechism asked the question, what is the chief end of humanity. Its answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Sunday, 16 October

I’m not completely sure this is the place to do it but I would like to lodge a formal protest about the performance of this year’s Spring. Now I know that Spring is supposed to be a season of changing weather, that we should expect showers as much as sunshine. Even so, I think that Spring’s performance thus far has been sub par - and I want my complaint noted. The thing is, winter felt particularly miserable this year. There were so many storms, so much rain. We might as well have been living in Wellington. But then flowers started to blossom and trees saw their leaves begin to bud and it felt very much like Spring was telling us not to worry, all was in hand and months of drizzle were coming to an end. In short, the start of Spring was full of promise but it hasn’t kept them quickly enough for my liking!

I am of course being ridiculous. No doubt within a week we will be enjoying a balmy Spring day and you might wonder what all the fuss was about. Even if the next month continues its dreary ways it is not as if Summer will never come. Very soon it will arrive and before you know it I will be complaining about the heat and how the land needs rain. So why should a few more days of rain bother me when I know what is ahead?

In the series of children’s books Frog and Toad Are Friends, Mr Toad one day mentions to Mr Frog that he has never received a letter. Immediately Frog races home, writes Toad a letter and then runs it down to the Post Office. He returns to Toad’s house to say that he has written him and that now Toad will at last receive a letter. Full of excitement, Toad wakes up early the next morning and sits outside by his mailbox waiting for his first letter to arrive. But the Postman does not show up. The next morning Toad gets up and again waits in eagerness - but still nothing. This continues for the next few days, until at long last the Postman, who is a snail, arrives with his letter. When asked if he was worried or dejected when the letter hadn’t arrived, Toad says no: he knew his letter would come because he trusted his friend Frog.

Sometimes it can feel like a lot of the Christian life involves waiting. Whether it be for an answer to a prayer or the fulfilment of a promise, we can spend a lot of time in expectancy. Or perhaps in apprehension. Because waiting is hard. And the temptation is to think that the reality of our present defines the hope for our future. But as we see time and again throughout the Bible, even when His people had to wait for centuries, in the end God shows that He is always faithful. Nothing is left unfulfilled. So if we are in a season of waiting we can take heart: our letter will come, because we can trust in our God.

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, 25 September

As world leaders gathered first in London for the Queen’s funeral and now in New York for the United Nations conference, it is easy to feel a long way from the heart of things. Sightings of presidents and prime ministers are rare in our little corner of the world - which I suspect we are mostly quite comfortable with. There’s a peacefulness that comes with distance. We can view events from afar with a certain amount of detachment. Our shaky isles are also sheltered ones.

Except of course, as the pandemic proved, that is not really the case. Whatever smugness we once had about eradicating Covid, we are now having to learn to live with it in the same way as everyone else. In the end it seems we are part of the world too. But, if this is so, surely it is still the case that we are too small, too insignificant to make a difference? When our globe is plagued by an escalating war in Europe, the ongoing pandemic, climate change and the extreme weather that brings, not to mention inflation, energy insecurity and an increase in totalitarianism, there doesn’t seem much that the residents of Warkworth, Mahurangi or Matakana Coast can do about it.

But what does God ask us to do? Our Gospel reading from Luke 16 last Sunday reminded us - God asks us to be faithful. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever it is that lies before us, God asks us to be faithful with what we have been given. To be good stewards not just of our money and resources but of our time, of our efforts, our abilities. To seek to serve Him however it is possible for us to do. As one author explains:

Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely this week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed a neighbour’s cat.

The encouragement is found in Luke 16:10, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” Don’t despise what it is that you can do, whatever that may be, as too small, not worth it or not good enough. It may be much more than you realise. Lest we forget it, God’s plan to rescue our world, to heal its brokenness and to make right our mistakes, doesn’t rely on the councils of nations. For God’s plan is his Son. And where else should we expect to see Jesus at work, but among his faithful people.

Sunday, 18 September

Before we heard last Friday’s news about the death of the Queen, I had written a different newsletter for last Sunday’s In Touch. As it happens, it began with a quote from the late Queen Mother:

As during the past years of war, so through the present days of reconstruction, we all have great responsibilities to shoulder. If we rely upon our own strength, we shall find the burden too great. But if through prayer and Bible reading we learn to live each day in the strength and power of God, we may well go forth with confidence and hope.

The Queen Mother was speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Bible-Reading Fellowship in 1947. As its name would suggest, the Bible-Reading Fellowship sought to encourage people in the daily habit of reading their Bible. It did this through small groups and gatherings but most of all by way of a monthly publication with Bible readings and reflections for each day of the week. By 1947 it had nearly half a million subscribers. As for the Queen Mother, she was both Patron and a member of the Fellowship and so spoke from her personal experience of the value of reading her Bible each day.

The Fellowship was born from the December 1921 newsletter of St Matthew’s Parish in Brixton. Its Vicar, the Rev’d Leslie Mannering, noted how busyness can rob us of the dynamism of faith, saying, “We are so apt to be immersed in organisation, committees, and plans, that we become entangled in our own machinery… We need to go back to the fundamentals of our faith.” Too often, he felt, Christians did not engage with the practises of faith in their daily lives. For him, the fundamentals of Christianity were found in Holy Communion, prayer and Bible reading. It was to help with the latter that he started a small group in his parish - a fellowship as he saw it - that met together each week to immerse themselves in the Bible. To go with this, he produced weekly “notes” which included Bible passages for reading, a reflection and prayers to go with them. The experience transformed his congregation and soon other parishes were looking for the same - thus the Fellowship came into being.

Today you can still get resources from the Bible-Reading Fellowship through their website. Similarly, organisations like Radio Rhema offer free daily devotional guides such as the Word for Today (available by email or in print copies, including from the back of St Leonard’s) and you can even download Apps for your phone, like the Alpha-produced Bible-In-One-Year reading guide. Whatever you use the key, as the Queen Mum would tell us, is to read God’s Word and so learn to live each day in His strength and power.

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, 28 August

This Saturday our Vestry is meeting together for an “Away Day” where we will be thinking about our Parish: what is happening, where we are going, and what God might be saying to us or leading us into. We are taking as our passage for reflection John 21:1-11. This is the account of Jesus’ third appearance to his disciples after his resurrection. The disciples, feeling a bit lost and not quite sure what to do, had returned to what they know - spending the night on the lake fishing. Unfortunately all their efforts had been in vain and they did not catch a single fish. Returning to shore at daybreak they see Jesus standing on the beach (though they do not yet recognise him) and he urges them to throw their nets out the other side of the boat. Doing so, they are overwhelmed with a catch of fish and it is at this point that they realise it is Jesus.

In a recent talk on the same passage, Justin Duckworth the Bishop of Wellington, noted that the issue for the disciples was that they were in a different world from the one they were familiar with. Jesus had risen from the dead and this had changed everything. It was natural then for the disciples to be a bit uncertain, still unsure as to what this meant or what they were supposed to do. Bishop Justin goes on to make the point that for us too the world seems to have changed, it is not quite as we once knew it to be. And this uncertainty can be unnerving. It can make us unsure of what it all means or what we are supposed to be doing.

The encouragement from this passage in John’s Gospel comes in the presence of Jesus. As Bishop Justin pointed out in his talk, when the disciples encounter Jesus it leads to a mighty catch - for the very nature of Jesus is to be fruitful and to bring blessing. The challenge for us in the Church is to recapture this idea, to relearn that the nature of God is to bless us. Whatever we have been through in the last couple of years, God has not changed and his nature has not changed. He still wants to bless us and to bless our communities through us.

The story of the great catch is the last resurrection account that John includes in his Gospel. What then follows is the Book of Acts: the moment when we see the disciples step into their calling to become “fishers of men” as the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit works through them to begin to change the world. If there is a message for us today it might be this: the world may be different but God’s power remains the same and this should be our confidence.

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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, 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.

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.

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, 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 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, 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!