From the Vicar
Palm Sunday, 2 April
If you saw the news from France in recent weeks you will have been reminded of two things. First, how the French have a very particular way of dealing with political disagreements (take to the streets). The second thing you would be reminded of is the power of crowds. Even in the 21st century there is something impactful about a mass of people on the streets. So we might imagine what it was like for Jesus and the disciples to be in the midst of the tumult as the crowds rushed to greet Jesus, crying ‘hosanna’ and laying palms on the road. We might also imagine just how terrifying it was when mere days later those same crowds were now crying ‘crucify him’.
But the story of Holy Week and Easter is not a story about the crowds; lest we mistake it, Jesus was not crucified because the crowds turned against him. Nor was it because of the Pharisees, priests, the Roman garrison or even Pilate. No, the crucifixion takes place because Jesus chooses it. He chooses to walk the road to Calvary, and it is there that he chooses to die. Holy Week is the story of Jesus’ secret ambition; his intention to give his life for our sake that by his death and resurrection we might be saved. As the Bible tells us, long before Palm Sunday Jesus had already “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. The point is, whether or not the crowds welcomed or turned on him, whether or not his disciples stayed with or betrayed him, Jesus was always going to walk the way of the Cross.
It is for this reason that we celebrate Palm Sunday. Indeed, we celebrate it for the same reason as the crowds: because the Messiah has arrived to bring freedom and life for all. We know now what that truly means, that it went far beyond freeing one small nation in one particular place and time. For us today, then, Palm Sunday is a reminder of Christ’s determination on our behalf. It reminds us that though we might at different times be confused, uncertain, feel unworthy or guilty, Jesus will still walk the road to Good Friday. For our sake, he has set his face towards the Cross and he will not turn from it.
Sunday, 26 March
It was wonderful to see so many of you in the Town Hall last week for our Parish Sunday service. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen, including all who brought something for morning tea, those who helped by serving, the many movers of chairs etc and also our excellent music group. It was a special morning and such a treat to be able to worship together as one community. Rest assured, Parish Sunday will return next year!
In our service we talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I find great reassurance in this depiction of Christ, for it tells us so much about Jesus: that he cares for us, that we can trust him, and that he will walk with and guide us through all of life’s circumstances. But, as we also discussed, to know Jesus as our Good Shepherd requires two things: to recognise his voice and to be willing to follow when he leads us out.
The truth for any parish is that life does not remain static, for our eternally creative God is always seeking to call us into new things and, especially, to new people. As I commented in my report to the AGM:
This is now my fifth AGM as your Vicar. At my very first AGM I made the point that our Church always has been, and must still be, a missionary church – that our charge (as stated in our Prayer Book) is to proclaim the Good News and help build God’s Kingdom in our community. This remains our calling. We do not exist as a Parish or church simply to serve our own needs. God has brought us together to be his hands and his feet in our community – and that is marvellous.
The point for us as a church is that we should never fear change as long as we are listening to our shepherd’s voice and are willing to follow where he leads. It is not good for sheep to remain in the sheepfold, however comfortable it may be. They must go out to find new pasture and refreshment. God has greatly blessed us in this Parish, whatever lies ahead for us as a church we can trust that He will continue to do so.
Sunday, 19 March - Parish Sunday
Hello and welcome to our Parish Sunday celebration here in the Warkworth Town Hall! If you will permit me to get a little theological, I was reminded this week that the word used in the New Testament for Church is ekklesia, which could be translated as congregation or community but literally means a group of people who are called to gather together. So our gathering together today from all parts of our Parish is very much in the spirit of the New Testament!
Gathering together is such an important part of Church life and indeed of the Christian journey. As you may have heard me say before, Christianity is not meant to be a solitary or private faith. Jesus does not want us to muddle through on our own but rather calls us into the life of his body - the Church. All of which leads me to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you. For it is you who, by your engagement, faith, roster duties, prayers and simple presence, make us a Church. To be the Vicar of a Parish such as Warkworth is a real privilege and, while the beaches and local cafes are a treat, that is because of the people of this Parish.
As we will no doubt reflect on at our AGM later this morning, the last two or three years have been a strange and sometimes challenging time for us. Even last year, though there were no further lockdowns, was overshadowed by covid, the restrictions it necessitated and the hurdles it imposed. That we were able to continue gathering for worship, and indeed maintain our outreach through ministries such as Selwyn or Seasons while also starting new initiatives like the Arts4Kids after school program or Explorer Kids Sunday children’s ministry, is I think something of a triumph and certainly reason to thank God for his faithfulness to us.
But it does feel very much like a new year. Not just because the old restrictions have gone but because there is a new energy around the place and maybe a sense, not just locally but in the wider Church as well, that God is doing new things. That is one of the reasons why I have been encouraging us to spend some time listening to God. For, whatever our own plans or ideas, the most important thing is, what does God have in store for us in this new season?
Just before our AGM last year I suggested that we needed to focus on regathering: meeting together again, sharing our worship, appreciating each other’s fellowship - to just take the chance and enjoy being a Church together. This year perhaps we can start to ask God with open hearts: what do you have for us next, Lord?
Sunday, 12 March
In the last week of January, during the first of the floods to hit our District, I got a message from a family who found themselves trapped in Kaipara Flats and wondered if they could stay the night in St Alban’s. By the time I called them back, however, some locals had already taken them into their home and they were happily enjoying a nice cup of tea and a dry place to sleep. There have been a few similar stories over the last month as wild weather has closed roads and forced people to rely on the hospitality of strangers. Of course the idea of welcoming the stranger is one with deep Biblical resonances, indeed we might go so far as to say that hospitality is a reflection of the Gospel: after all, Jesus tells us that when we welcome a stranger we welcome him (Matthew 25:35-40).
But it is not just our homes into which we can welcome people, it is also our Church. We might not always appreciate just what it feels like for someone to come to Church for the first time. If we have been members of the Parish for a long time, or good Anglicans for most of our lives, the sights, sounds and habits of worship (when to stand, sit, kneel or sing) can be not just familiar but reassuring - a bit like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. But for someone who is new there is a lot to deal with, even just working out where to sit can be daunting (especially if all the back seats are taken!). This is where our hospitality as a Church comes in.
Some of this is the part of those on duty, welcomers in particular have a very significant role in this as do those of us taking the service. (It is, in fact, one of the reasons why we are moving towards using screens in our services instead of prayer books - in the 21st century screens are far more normal, and therefore hospitable, to people who are new.) But the principal burden of hospitality falls on those who are the Church - its people. If you consider yourself a regular parishioner then the Church on Sunday mornings is your home - and that makes you a host whether you are on a roster or not. All of us should be willing to greet people who are new, making sure they are comfortable and that they feel welcome. It is a simple thing to do and yet it is by such small things that we live out the Gospel that we believe.
I am very much looking forward to seeing you all at our Parish Sunday celebration next Sunday, 19 March. After a strange period when we were often encouraged to keep our distance, it is a wonderful chance to be able to be together in one room and to share our worship and celebration together as a Parish. See you there!
Sunday, 5 March
Last weekend I had to attend a meeting in the Bay of Islands so on Friday afternoon I drove up to Paihia - right into the middle of yet another storm! Passing through Tomorata I soon came to a bridge already submerged under water, necessitating a quick u-turn and the need to find another route north . With all the diversions, and driving through one of the heaviest downpours I have ever experienced, it took more than 4 hours to get there. Naturally when I got to my meeting on Saturday morning I couldn’t wait to tell the story of my somewhat-dramatic journey north, and of course so did everyone else. So we began the day by swapping accounts of the routes we tried, all the slips and floods we saw, and how long it took us.
One of the simplest ways that we connect as humans is by telling our stories. If you call a family member or bump into a friend in the street, what do you do? You share what has been going on, what has been happening in your life recently. At church on Sunday morning we often update each other on how our week has gone, for this is part of what it means to be a community. Yet strangely we don’t always talk that much about our faith, what has been going on with us and God. Perhaps it feels too intensely personal or just doesn’t seem like the done thing. But as a faith community surely the stories we share with each other should include the stories of our faith.
There are two main reasons why I think it is good for us to share our own faith stories. The first is because it can help encourage and uplift each other, for there is power in our own testimonies. I know for myself that one of the things that is most encouraging, helpful and affirming to me as a Christian is hearing other Christians share about their faith or things that God has done in their life. Sometimes these stories can be hard, because life can be difficult and faith itself is not always straightforward. Yet there can be a beauty in even the hard stories as we hear about the faithfulness of God. Which is the second reason why it is good for us to share our own faith stories: because when we do, when we talk about what God has done or is doing in our lives, we glorify Him. We recognise his work and presence in our lives.
This Lent at Warkworth and Matakana we are including in our services short faith talks where different members of the congregation will be sharing something about their faith and journey with God. I do want to thank everyone who has agreed to share (I know that most are a little nervous to do so). And I hope you will appreciate, as I greatly do, hearing all the different ways that God has worked, and is working, in people’s lives. Let’s keep telling each other these stories.
Sunday, 26 February
A very significant day was celebrated this past week. Naturally I speak of Shrove Tuesday and the important matter of pancakes. However those more devout than I will quite properly point to Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent - our season of preparation, reflection and repentance as we head towards Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.
It is common, and quite fitting, to think of Lent as a journey. Just as Jesus walked the road to Calvary so we too are invited to walk a path through Lent, to undertake a pilgrimage if you will. Now whilst our pilgrimage might not take us far (geographically speaking) we are still challenged to leave behind the comforts and security of home by taking up a Lenten fast or new Lenten discipline. This is not so that we can “earn” some sort of reward but because, as many pilgrims have found, the act of leaving comforts behind is a step of faith which can lead to a time of real growth and depth in our discipleship. In this way the season of Lent challenges us to stop going with the flow of life and instead seek out the flow of God.
Sometimes that flow takes us into the wilderness. But this is not to be feared nor, as Bishop N.T. Wright points out, is this necessarily a mistake. As we see in the Bible you are never far from the wilderness when you’re in the Promised Land. Wright goes on to say:
Get ready for the wilderness. If you have begun your pilgrimage, sooner or later you will find it, or it will find you… [But] the wilderness is not simply an area through which the pilgrim way unfortunately happens to pass. The wilderness is the place where we are to learn new things about ourselves and about God.
One of the reasons why this learning takes place in the wilderness is because the normal pace of life, and all the things that encourage us to fill our days, don’t really allow us to ask questions. There is no time left for us to take stock, ask who we are, who God is and what that all means. Walking through the wilderness, on the other hand, forces us to ask just those things.
N.T. Wright concludes by reminding us that Jesus trod this pilgrim path before us. Indeed the 40 days of Lent are based on Christ’s own 40 days in the wilderness. And so even in a place of wilderness we can find what we may not expect, that the living God is there as well: “waiting to be discovered afresh, waiting to meet us in a new way, a way marked by the sign of the cross to be sure, but a way of new intimacy, new depths that only the silence and dust of the wilderness could make space for.”
Sunday, 19 February
Sometimes lines from the hymns or songs we sing on a Sunday morning can have a particular resonance. This was certainly the case last Sunday, as we sang “thou rushing wind that art so strong…” while gusts buffeted the Church. (I hope we might soon be singing again about the sun’s “golden beam”.) It has, once more, been an extraordinary start to the year. While fortunately most of our district has been spared the worst of Cyclone Grabrielle, I know that there was damage suffered and that parts are again underwater, recovering from more flooding or still without power. Can I say thank you to those of you who have been checking in on neighbours and other parishioners and who have offered to help out any who need it. It’s great to see (or hear about) the Church in action in these very simple ways.
The news from other parts of the country has been much harder, and I hope you will keep the people of the Hawkes Bay and East Cape in your prayers. But while we by comparison have good reason to be grateful, even so, the repeated cycle of crisis that seems to be the current normal can be taxing. So I paid particular notice when one of my daily Bible readings this week came from Proverbs 3:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.
There is a simple truth, of which the Bible time and again seeks to remind us: we are better off putting things into God’s hands. To the extent that we might try and master our own lives, trying to control events or focusing on our own strength and abilities, we will find ourselves tossed around by all those events we cannot control - natural disasters being one of them. But the wisdom of Proverbs is that when we trust in God we no longer need to lean on ourselves or rely on our own strength; we can transfer everything onto God and rely on Him instead!
We know that this doesn’t mean there won’t be storms, hardships or even grief. But in the midst of such times we can have security and comfort: the security and comfort that comes from trusting in God, in his goodness, his purposes and his love. For these things will never fail. And God is more than able to cope with the things that overwhelm us. This week and every week I pray that the love and faithfulness of God may be your trust and hope.
Sunday, 12 February
Have you ever asked yourself why we not only gather on a Sunday morning for worship and fellowship but do so every single week? Someone who had an answer was D.L. Moody, one of the great revival evangelists of the 19th century. The story is told that Moody was invited to dinner with a prominent Chicago citizen. As they sat around the fire and talked they began to discuss the place and role of the Church. Moody’s host insisted that there was no need for a Christian to be part of a church. In response Moody said nothing but instead picked up some tongs and took a blazing coal from amongst the fire. He sat in silence, watching the coal as he held it in his tongs, his host watching too. All too quickly the coal smouldered and went out. “I see”, Moody’s host replied.
We are not a Church because of our old wooden buildings, nor thanks to the stained glass windows, nor our having a Vicar, nor a Prayer Book, nor even the cross on our roofs. What makes us a Church is that we are people of Christ, who gather together in his Name, in his presence, for his purposes. And if we were to stop gathering, then the buildings, windows, hymn books, and yes clergy could remain but the Church would not.
It is true that just coming to church is not what saves us. For salvation comes through our faith in and relationship with Jesus. And yet it is not possible to divorce being a Christian from belonging to the Church, not least because the story of Jesus is also the story of His Church. As is often said, Jesus did not build a building or write a book to be his legacy, but he did establish the Church. What is more, the Bible makes it clear that there is nowhere for us to be part of Christ other than in his Body - which is the Church (1 Cor 12, Eph 4). Put simply, it is in the Church that we are given Jesus.
Gathering together is therefore about so much more than preserving our Parish. It is because it is in the Church that God says he will encounter us and that means - though being a part of a Church can at times be annoying or frustrating - it is there that our faith can grow and our relationship with God be transformed. Outside of it, we are like an ember left out of the fire to cool and go out. But inside we are warmed by the flames. As the poet John Betjeman wrote:
A fitful glow, is all the light of faith I know;
Which sometimes goes completely out; And leaves me plunging round in doubt; Until I will myself to go;
And worship in God’s house below - My parish church.
Sunday, 29 January
Given that January is almost at an end I really am sneaking this one in under the wire but Happy New Year! And welcome to 2023! There is an American scientist who each year makes the point on Twitter that New Year’s Day is an arbitrary date which has no significance to the movement of the planets and other celestial bodies. Which might be true for the planets but for humans I think the passing of another year and starting of a new one is worth marking, if only to celebrate what has been and look ahead to what is to come.
Admittedly the early weeks of this year’s Summer were something of a washout - literally - but on the other hand we can be glad we don’t need to be having the usual drought/empty-watertank conversations of most other years. Meanwhile, I would like to thank everyone for some lovely and successful Christmas services. These services take a lot of work and input from many people, so to all those involved a big thanks and especially thank you to our retired clergy who took services at Christmas and indeed over New Year’s and Summer.
At this time of year our readings usually focus on Jesus’ early years and the beginnings of his ministry, including his dedication in the Temple, his baptism and the calling of the first disciples. This of course sensibly follows on from the celebration of Christmas, but I think there is also a special resonance with these accounts of Jesus as he begins to step into his calling. For the start of the year is a good time to consider again, what is God’s call for us? God’s call for us as individuals and as a Church.
We can often have a very limited understanding of calling. Sometimes we think it is restricted to particular vocations (to be a missionary or for those who are ordained) but even to limit our understanding of calling to the idea of a job or a career is wrong. Throughout the Bible we see people responding to God’s calling at all ages and stages of life and in a variety of ways: by moving to a new place; in their family life; in the people they speak to and the messages they bring; and, yes, in the decision to follow Jesus. With that in mind, what is God asking to do, where is He asking to go, what is He asking us to say and who is He asking us to speak to in this new year? I invite you to join me in asking these questions once more of God in 2023.
Sunday, 18 December
In his short story, Smith of Wootton Major, J R R Tolkien tells of a man who discovers the long-forgotten land of Faery. Tolkien writes that Faery was a mythical place both beautiful and fearsome in equal measure. When Smith began to explore it he at first walked quietly among the gentler creatures of the woods and meads of fair valleys. But as he grew bolder Smith went further: he stood beside the Sea of Windless Storm, gazed upon an untouched lake in the mountains and wandered lost in a vast grey mist until he saw the shadow of a great hill and the King’s Tree on top, its light like the sun at noon.
Eventually Smith found a winding road through the Outer Mountains and at last he stood before the Queen of Faery herself:
She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head there burned a white flame.
It was then, standing before the Queen, that Smith felt grieved for he remembered from his childhood how the village would place a toy figure atop a cake and called it the Queen of Faery. In the presence of the Queen herself the memory of the toy seemed embarrassing to him. But the Queen told him not to be ashamed, for maybe a little doll was better than no memory of her at all: “For some the only glimpse. For some the awakening.”
It would be easy to dismiss our celebration of Christmas as little more than a token. Despite best efforts our services will fail to match either the humility of the stable where Jesus is born or the glory of the angelic choirs that greet his birth. And even some of those who visit our churches at Christmas may think it is only a sentimental tradition. But there is more to the story than nostalgia and carols. On that first Christmas night in Bethlehem, heaven touched earth - for God came to be with us, as one of us.
For many the celebration of Christmas remains only a glimpse. But for others it can be an awakening: an awakening to the greatest love we have ever known, a love more powerful than death and which will never leave or give up on us. I pray that you will be awakened once more this Christmas. I pray that you might look upon the manger and open your heart to know the child who was laid in it: this Jesus who is our Saviour, Christ the Lord.
Sunday, 20 November
Let me start by saying congratulations! You are not just one in a billion, you are one in eight billion. Yes, according to the United Nations, this week the world’s population passed the eight billion mark. Pretty impressive when you remember that a short 70 years ago there were only 2.5 billion people on earth. If we go way back, to the Year of Our Lord (1 AD), the population of the globe was a mere 300 million people. (Imagine how cheap house prices were then!) But here we are in the third decade of the 21st century trying to squeeze past another 7,999,999,999 people - many of whom, it seems, are trying to get through the Hill Street intersection at the same time.
No wonder the internet is full of teenagers doing silly dances; it’s hard to stand out when 8 billion other people are trying to do the same. But even if online fame is not your primary concern, all of us at some point wonder about the mark we are leaving on the world. The psychologist Henry Cloud says people go through life like a ship moves through water, with each one leaving a wake behind them. The wake which we leave is in our tasks and in our relationships: what did we accomplish and how did we deal with people? He goes on to say that we can tell a lot about people by the wake they leave behind.
What wake are we leaving behind in our families, our street, our workplaces or community? Not just what have we achieved but how are we relating to people? Do we leave people feeling loved, knowing that they are valued? Are we adding to the frustrations and aggravations of life, or are we finding ways of adding God’s grace into the mix?
Last Sunday’s readings, where in the gospel Jesus encouraged us to have “patient endurance” in the face of trials and tribulations, included this verse from 2 Thessalonians 3: “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” It’s the Bible asking the Church (which means all of us) to keep being faithful, because God is faithful. To go out and meet Jesus in the messiness of the world, and to be his hands and feet in amongst that mess. It’s asking us to leave a Christ-shaped wake behind.
Sunday, 9 October
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…” His point was that everyone, every person we meet, is created for God’s Kingdom. Created for eternity. For all of us have the opportunity to share in Jesus’ resurrection. As a result, even “the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to” is someone who may be resurrected in the glorified splendour of Christ. Someone whom, if we saw them now as they will be then, we would be strongly tempted to worship so great will be their glory. This, Lewis points out, changes things. It means that we live in a society full of people defined by what Jesus may one day make of them. So then, he says, “It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”
Of course, in the midst of life and all the stresses and hassles that it brings, it’s not always easy to treat other people (especially given the stresses and hassles they can bring) with “awe and circumspection”. One person who tried to do so was John of Kronstadt. A nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox priest, John worked and ministered at a time when alcohol abuse was wreaking havoc amongst his community. John would go out into the streets where, finding someone lying in a gutter in soiled clothes, he would pick them up, hold them in his arms and say to them, “This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.”
You were meant to house the fullness of God. This is the truth about our neighbours and it is the truth about us. No matter what we may think or say about others, no matter what others may think or say about us, it does not change our true identity: we are children of the Most High God, chosen to be one of those in whom He lives and dwells, and created for eternity. As C.S. Lewis would encourage us, we should let that truth inspire our lives.
Sunday, 11 September
I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God… I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.
So spoke our late Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in 2002. Much is now being written about the events of her life, her extraordinary 70 years on the throne and all the many changes to which she was a witness. But one consistency throughout her life was her deep and real faith in God. In the foreword to a book published on her 90th birthday, the Queen wrote of her gratefulness to God for His steadfast love, saying, “I have indeed seen His faithfulness”.
As the Prime Minister has noted, the Queen’s commitment to her role, even when she was well beyond the age at which most of us would retire, was extraordinary. In part this may be seen as dedication to duty but far more than that it was a commitment to service. At Christmas 2012, the Queen spoke of what for her was at the heart of service:
This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ. It is my prayer this Christmas Day that his example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others.
The carol, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter”, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story of how God gave himself to us in humble service: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part’. The carol gives the answer, ‘Yet what can I give him - give my heart’.
As we join with others across our country and around our world giving thanks for Her Majesty’s life and service, let us also give thanks for her faith and the One in whom she had faith. We pray that God will comfort all who mourn for her, especially her family and our new King Charles. And we pray that she will be received into the loving arms of her God. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
Sunday, 20 February
As I was leading the service at Warkworth last Sunday morning the building shook and the doors blew open - I felt like an old time revivalist preacher! Sadly, I think it had more to do with last weekend’s storm than the power of my sermon. The storm itself certainly delivered with its whipping wind; heading out to Kaipara Flats cemetery this week I was counting the fallen branches and broken trees. But perhaps the most striking thing about the storm was how suddenly it abated. After all that sound and fury, Monday and Tuesday were two of the most still and perfect days we have had all summer!
I was reminded of the events of 1 King 19 when the prophet Elijah, his life threatened by Jezebel, flees to the wilderness in despair. Sheltering on Mt Horeb he cries out to the Lord, only for God to tell him to stand on the mountain and wait for him to pass by. A great wind is stirred up, so mighty that it breaks rocks and splits the mountain - but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there is an earthquake - but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And then a fire! But the Lord was not in the fire. Last of all there is only silence. And it was in the silence that Elijah heard the still, small voice of God speaking to him; “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Lest we miss it, what is important about that moment is the intimacy of the stillness. Paradoxically, God speaks through the silence, not because his was presence was in the silence but because his presence was the silence. God, the creator of mountains and winds and fires, steps from behind the curtain of nature to be present with Elijah.
Our world certainly has its fair share of storms and wildfires at the moment. In such times we can be all too focused on the storms and what God might be saying about them or even through them - because surely a worldwide pandemic, global protests or the threat of war must mean something. And yes of course God speaks about and in the midst of such events. But if we only ever focus on the storms - what they might mean, what others say about them, how we should interpret them - we run the risk of missing God speaking to us in the quiet of his presence. In the midst of the storms of life, perhaps we sometimes need to turn our attention away from all the wind and fury and instead listen in the silence for the still, small voice of God who is present with us.
Sunday, 6 February (Waitangi Day)
On Waitangi Day last year two Anglican churches in Otaki came together for a special service. The Rangiātea Pastorate Church (part of Tikanaga Maori) and the Anglican Parish of Ōtaki (part of Tikanaga Pakeha) met for worship and fellowship on a grassy field that happens to sit between the two church buildings. You see both Ōtaki churches stand on land gifted by local iwi, Ngāti Raukawa, to The Church Missionary Society (CMS) - making it a fitting spot to celebrate Waitangi Day.
The churches said the hope was to set about living a new story on their small patch of shared ground: one of friendship, of faith, of solidarity. As the Rev’d Dr Rangi Nicholson, priest and Minita-ā-Iwi at Rangiatea Pastorate Church, explained it, each Waitangi Day was a chance to face squarely some of the history that had stood in the way of the dream of togetherness in Gospel mission.
Waitangi Day is a day to celebrate. As Archbishop Philip Richardson has said, “I believe ‘our’ day is a day of which we can all feel proud. I’m grateful for all the Treaty offers everyone who lives in this land. It’s a covenant based on generosity and hospitality…” But, embedded within Waitangi, in its promises, its hopes and its failures, is also a call to work. It’s a call to the work of acknowledgement and honouring, of repentance and restoration, of reconciliation and healing, of living a new story. In case we forget, this is Gospel work too. This Waitangi Day let our prayers be for this ongoing work here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Sunday, 18 July 2021
As I commented last Sunday, it is very odd to realise that the Tokyo Olympics begin in just under a week’s time. Where’s the hype, the build-up, the daily countdown that focuses our attention on this four yearly sports extravaganza? We know the answer, it’s the same thing that has been cancelling flights and shutting down cities for the last 18 months. Thanks to Covid this year’s Olympics will be held in empty stadia with few or no fans allowed. According to recent polls most Japanese people would rather not go ahead with the Olympics - probably because they want to focus on more important things (like, again, Covid). But it seems the power of the IOC will not be resisted; the show must go on.
It’s very easy (and probably right) to be cynical about the Olympics: the corruption of the IOC and the role of money and corporate sponsorship. But truth be told, I do enjoy them. It is an enjoyable and, rare for this age, somewhat unifying spectacle. What I particularly enjoy is how, for a few short days, some of the most obscure sports seize the world stage away from football or cricket and their competitors get a chance to shine. (We see this most winter Olympics when curling usually enjoys a brief but very intense burst of popularity.)
I still remember watching the Beijing Olympics late one night and becoming completely caught up in a particular archery competition. As midnight approached I was gripped, willing the South Korean competitor to gold as I quickly became an expert (thanks to the commentators that is) in the interplay between aim, breathing and the all important release. And I think that is quite wonderful. That these athletes, who have shown extraordinary commitment and dedication to excel in their chosen sport, have this chance to be recognised and maybe even become heroes in their home countries.
Of course, most of us don’t get the chance to be an Olympian. There are no expert hosts breathlessly commentating our actions as we take out the rubbish, no crowds to cheer as we wash the dishes or visit the Post Office. But what we do have is a Heavenly Father who doesn’t just love us but is deeply interested in us and in our lives. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1st Peter 5 says. God cares about us - and not just the big things, but the little, daily things too. Our delights, our disappointments, even the very ordinary. Remember this the next time you are praying, God is interested in you and in what is happening to you. None of it is too small for God. For he cares for us, and for our prayers.
Sunday, 8th Nov, 2020
My earliest political memory is of being in primary school and sending a card to a classmate who was away ill for a month. To cheer him up I included the biggest joke of the year, “What goes up and never comes down? Muldoon’s prices!”. The tragedy for me was that the 1984 snap election then took place with Muldoon losing, so by the time my friend returned to school he told me that my joke was all wrong and that it should have said “Lange’s prices”. Such was my introduction to the vagaries of politics.
This last month has been something of a festival for political junkies with first our own election and referenda and then, this past week, elections in the United States. Of course, like a World Cup final, the nature of elections is to have winners and losers and so some of us will have been delighted by the results of our own ballot and others of us will be counting the years to the next vote and a chance to try again. The elections in America are more distant but, this year in particular, I think we have all been keenly interested and might even have had our own (sometimes strong) views about who should win or lose.
Is there any guide for Christians when thinking about politics? Can we claim that God is on one side or another? In the past I have heard preachers claim exactly that - unfortunately they don’t always pick the same side!
This year I have been reminded that a lot of what Jesus spoke about is very relevant to the political season, especially perhaps in countries where the divisions are the greatest. What am I thinking of? Teachings like, “love your enemies” or “bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse” and even “turn the other cheek”. I am not suggesting that as Christians we shouldn’t be interested or involved in politics, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t campaign and advocate for those ideas, policies or values that we believe in. Quite the contrary, I believe that part of our call as Christians is to be active in the public space - to use the opportunity we have as citizens of a democracy to influence our nation.
Politics matters, as do elections. But the Kingdom of Heaven is much bigger than who sits in the Beehive (or the White House) for the next term. In a world where politics is about winners over losers, which (in some countries at least) sees political differences as grounds for division and hostility, we should remind ourselves that for Jesus the priority was not to beat our opponents but to love them. For in doing so we testify to the power of the Gospel to transform our world.