From the Vicar

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.

Sunday, 21 August

In case you missed it - and let me say right off, it definitely was not something to celebrate - this week marked one year since we were plunged back into Level 4 lockdown. At the time we had no idea what we were in for; in my email to the Parish following the news I suggested that it might mean at least two Sundays of online services. If only! As we know, in the end it was about four months before we were able to open our doors again, and even then only under tight restrictions.

Of course Covid is still with us, still disruptive and even some of the effects of last year’s long, wearying lockdown still linger. But hopefully so do some of the blessings we received and the things we learned. For me, I treasured the blessing of being able to be joined together in prayer and worship through the online and Home Morning Prayer services. Those were truly special experiences. At the same time, however, they also re-emphasised just how important, how necessary it is to gather in person when we can. For if Church is something we are and do (as opposed to something we attend) it truly makes a difference when we are able to be together.

One writer hopes that Covid might help the Church re-focus on the essentials, on what it is all meant to be about. He goes on to comment:

The deep life of faith is simple as well. It’s made up of discipleship, worship, and mission. Each of these have individual and corporate components. For instance, while studying the Bible alone is important, it can’t be the totality of our Bible study. Why? Because the first person we lie to is ourselves. You need someone to hold you accountable to the text. You also need to be involved with others in worship. Why? Because there are times when you can’t praise God all by yourself. You need your brothers and sisters to sing with you. Other times, you need them to carry you through worship. Life will have been too hard for you and you won’t be able to sing at all. Your brothers and sisters will sing for you.

And you need to be serving the world for the sake of the kingdom. Find the place where your giftedness, your passions, and the needs of the world meet. Why? Because there are some lessons of faith we learn only in obedience. In doing what the Lord commands, we learn the validity and trustworthiness of His teachings.

I was very glad to hear this week that Covid numbers are well down. I for one am certainly not wishing for any more lockdowns, and I am very grateful that we can once more meet together and be a Church again.

Sunday, 14 August

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from around the globe concluded this past Monday. The theme of the conference was “God’s Church for God’s World” and at its conclusion the gathering of bishops issued a series of “Calls” to express what they believe God is saying to the worldwide Anglican Church today. The topics covered by these Lambeth Calls include mission and evangelism, safeguarding of the vulnerable and particularly children, reconciliation, human dignity, care for the environment, the importance of faith and science, and inter-faith relations. But the one which the bishops present agreed should be a priority was the Call on Discipleship, saying:

This Call, then, is for all Anglicans in every aspect of their lives to learn and to learn again to love and serve in the way of Christ ‘with the strength that God supplies’.

Speaking at a session to discuss this Call, Bishop Michael Curry (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America - but probably best known for his star turn at the royal wedding) said that when Jesus becomes our centre of gravity something profound happens - and this can change the world:

Jesus began a movement of people whose lives were centred on him. He was the centre of their lives and His way of love and His way of life became their way of life. They changed the world in the first century. If it can happen for them in the first century, it can happen for us in the 21st century and that is the power of discipleship.

The point he went on to make was that becoming a member of a church is only the beginning. To be a disciple, even for those of us who have been a Christian since childhood, is to be a lifelong learner. It is learning and relearning Jesus’ way of love and life so that this can become our way of life. As the bishops also noted, this is a demanding call. But the Bible promises that we can and should depend on God’s help (1 Peter 4). He is the one who transforms us and gives us strength to live in Christ’s way. The call to discipleship, then, is a call to let the reality of Jesus transform our lives, so that through us he can transform our world.

Sunday, 7 August

Driving down to a conference this week, I was listening to a breakfast radio show where the (I suspect very non-religious) hosts asked listeners to tell them when they had been in a situation where they had found themselves saying a prayer. Responses soon flooded in. People phoned or texted to explain that, while they wouldn’t consider themselves religious, they still admitted to having prayed to God at least once or twice. Some of the reasons for saying a prayer were clichéd (during bad turbulence on a flight), some were amusing (to win lotto or, for a strangely large number of people, to win at board games), and some were deeply moving (during a difficult birth, after having been diagnosed with a brain tumour). While the radio hosts had asked the question simply for entertainment, it reminded me of the truth that to be human is to pray. As one writer puts it, prayer is “the gaping need of every human soul since the very dawn of time”.

Indeed, evidence of people praying dates back thousands of years to the early days of human civilisation. Nor is this a phenomenon limited to primitive humanity or one unknown to modern times. The vast majority of people in our world pray. A recent survey in England (these days considered to be one of the more secular Western nations) found that a quarter of people who described themselves as non-religious still admitted to praying at least once a month. All of which should encourage us that prayer is one of the more natural, and less weird, things that we do.

There are of course many reasons why we pray: because we are in need or danger, because we want to win at Scrabble, because we are overwhelmed, because we are in awe. But perhaps the real reason is because we were created to pray. Or, to put it another way, we are created for relationship with our Creator and prayer is where that relationship is made real. The subterraneum longing for encounter, for transcendence, for connection which leads us to pray is perhaps just a reflection of God’s own longing for us. His longing to hear from us, speak with us, spend time with us, be with us. Prayer is about reaching out with our hearts only to find the ready welcome of God’s own.

So the next time you are in the midst of a tense Scrabble match feel free to pray. It’s not necessarily that God is wanting to help you win, but He will be glad to hear how you are doing.

Sunday, 24 July

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 July

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

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

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

One author explains part of what this means for us:

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

Sunday, 19 June

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

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

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

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

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

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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, 27 March

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

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

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

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

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

Sunday, 6 March

(1st Sunday of Lent)

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 February

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 February (Waitangi Day)

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

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

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

Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 12 December

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18 July 2021

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 July 2021

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

as they swam the crystal clearness through;

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

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

The wise ones speak of the infinite sea.

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

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

An Examen normally has five steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 30 May 2021 - Trinity Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 April (ANZAC Day)

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Sunday, 4 April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, 14 March 2021

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

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

One author explains why Jesus prayed so often:

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

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

Sunday, 14 February 2021

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

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

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

Sunday, 15th Nov 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8th Nov, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18th Oct, 2020

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

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

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

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