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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

No other church celebrates this



Te Pouhere Sunday 2018

No other Church in the world celebrates this Sunday!

It feels strange that, just after Trinity Sunday, we celebrate a Sunday that is unique to our New Zealand Church.  In just about everything else we connect with the international church through the readings that we follow with the Revised Common Lectionary - but not today.   

Today we celebrate the amendment to the constitution of our church – a constitution first agreed in 1857 to form an autonomous province, but revised in 1992 to have three partners in the one church who will order their affairs within their own cultural context.  

People have argued about Te Pouhere Sunday, this day that celebrates the constitution of our Church – at the heart of the arguments against it are that this is inward looking; it doesn’t celebrate anything critical to the faith and it cuts us off from the wider church; perhaps even more insidious is the argument that it entrenches diversity and discourages unity.

But my questions are where does faith start?  Where does theology start?  The two questions are effectively the same.

The answer is obvious – faith and theology issue from the same matrix – from where we are; from the local, the specific, the particular; they are not formed as abstracts, or rarefied concepts, but are drawn from our flesh, our world, our context, our matter.

For all of humanity it is certain that our contexts, circumstances and fortunes will vary but what we all share is our bare humanity, our flesh and our knowledge that we are finite, vulnerable and must die.  This is the universal fact of our humanity.  

To be human is to have this knowledge and to try to understand it and even embrace it in the faith that this all has some meaning – and that we can trust it.  This is the primary reality that spans and encompasses all humankind, and which seems somewhat at odds with the particular cultural peculiarity of Te Pouhere Sundsay.  We are all caught up in our humanity: all caught up on how to live and what it means.  In this sense faith is a verb, not an option but something that is the very essence of what it means to be human.  

"Our feet are of clay while we contemplate the stars; we are caught between time and eternity; between the finite and the infinite; between quarks and quasars – and we can contemplate both.  In that sense it could be said that we are an example of the universe become self-conscious. "

We are caught up in the processes of creation and something new is being formed – or, as Paul sees it, ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’

In this universal predicament of our humanity is our underlying unity.

Now, I want to explore another way of looking at it.

The case for Te Pouhere Sunday, is that it creates space and opportunity for us to acknowledge the Babel of humanity; it acknowledges the energy and extraordinary variety, the differences, the diverse ways of being through which language, culture and place have formed the distinctive peoples of our Three Tikanga.   In a world where forms of cultural difference are often the excuse for discrimination, persecution and violence, it is a good thing that we embed such differences within the unity of our church; show that this can be done and that this can be a source of energy and strength.

The tag that has been used for this is ‘unity in diversity’ – and a very Anglican notion that is – it could have been used for the reformation in England as a program to form the English Church; but it was Cranmer’s brilliance in the Book of Common Prayer that managed to hold diverse doctrinal options within the Church.  Something similar might be claimed on behalf of the New Zealand Prayer Book: namely that it provides liturgical forms that include Pakeha, Maori and Polynesia – and that in this liturgical unity our cultural diversity is celebrated.  Except that because we have a Prayer Book does not mean that we have (or want) liturgical unity – and the diversity of practices within Tikanga, dioceses, and parishes may demonstrate divergent tendencies rather than a convergent or integrating vision.

Nonetheless within this Three Tikanga church the moments of awkwardness and uncertainty are eased and refreshed at General Synod and diverse other occasions when the three parties meet and talk; share bread and wine in Eucharist; and come to know each other.  

Relationships are formed – and look – there is a new creation!  Here also is where faith starts from.

The collect for this day epitomizes the spirit of Te Pouhere Sunday for Tikanga Pakeha – it locates the settler spirit  in the southern sea and these islands, it yearns for a deeper belonging, a deeper sharing in a  cosmic purpose, led by Christ, nicely imaged as our ‘dolphin guide’. 

“God of the southern sea and of these islands, God of Norfolk Pine and Lofty Totara, God of spindle and sail, You brought us to this land of plenty and bound us here in sacred trust. Make us worthy of our covenant with You: Create in us a deeper belonging by Your grace, That we may partner Your ways together And serve Your purpose in each other. In the name of Christ our dolphin guide. Amen.“

A new creation indeed.


Monday, June 4, 2018

A Last Sermon


I am blogging my last sermon delivered as Dean from that supremely elegant pulpit in St Paul's Cathedral.  What a journey and what a privilege it has been.

Choral Evensong June 3, 2018


Readings:  Jeremiah 5:1-19; Romans 7: 7-25;

Tonight I thought we might talk about the deep truth of God - and us.  It was long ago expressed most memorably by St Augustine in his Confessions when he says to God: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”   In that phrase alone is encapsulated a love affair; a story of search and flight; of loss and recovery.   In the gospels we catch glimpses of this affair; parables and stories tell it, the lost sheep, the prodigal son.  We catch an echo of it even in the Romans passage this evening, when Paul laments: ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’  Who will save me from myself?  Let's begin with that extraordinary poem by Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven, just a fragment or so.

The Hound of Heaven

I fled him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled him, down the arches of the years;
I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter;
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me”


Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of his hand, outstretched caressingly?

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am he whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from Thee, who dravest me.”

Francis Thompson (1859-1907) (The Hound of Heaven,1893)

Malcolm Guite
Thompson’s poem can be found startling, strange, disturbing.  But when one reads the poem, it makes sense.  As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, so does God follow the fleeing soul by divine grace.  Our attempts to evade, thwart and elude are met by this divine persistence that sees through every attempt, every device, every shameful exploit.

A modern variation on this same theme is a much briefer poem by the priest and poet Malcolm Guite.  He uses the sonnet form, the Petrarchan form of octet and a sestet with the characteristic volta or turn at about line 8.  He sings the praise of the sonnet form: “At the heart of its virtues are
brevity, clarity, concentration, and a capacity for paradox, for expressing, juxtaposing and containing contradictions, all of which are required if we are to approach the paradox and mystery that is at the heart of the Christian faith.” (Introduction, p.xi.)




Hide and Seek

Ready or not, you tell me, here I come!
And so I know I’m hiding, and I know
My hiding place is useless.  You will come
And find me.  You are searching high and low.
Today I’m hiding low, down here, below,
Below the sunlit surface others see.
Oh find me quickly, quickly come to me.
And here you come and here I come to you.
I come to you because you come to me.
You know my hiding places.   I know you,
I reach you through your hiding places too;
Feeling for the thread, but now I see –
Even in darkness I can see you shine,
Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.

(Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons, p.50)

Guite’s telling of the ancient story of God and us frames it as a game, ‘hide and seek’, and through the lines are resonances of older texts.  ‘I know/My hiding place is useless’ irresistibly calls to mind the opening prayer by the priest in our 1928 800am mass:  “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, and from whom no secrets are hid.”  Of course, my hiding place is useless!

There is urgency here ‘Oh find me quickly’ and we recognise that urgency mirrored in our hearts and our lives.

Then we note the volta:
“And here you come and here I come to you.
I come to you because you come to me.”

The poet has us reaching in God’s hiding places, those churches we visit in the labyrinth of this world, ‘feeling for the thread’ to lead us into light and then the encounter with the One who is “Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.”

Augustine knew the truth: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”



Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Dance of the Trinity



Trinity Sunday 2018

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

To the best of my recollection, this particular text is the first verse of scripture that I committed to memory.  Not because I was particularly pious, it was at that very early age of childhood where one may be motivated by greed or covetousness and that this was in the context of a Sunday school where such competitive feats of memory were strongly encouraged and sometimes richly rewarded.

Nonetheless I take this text as the ground where I stand.  It is here that I hold my faith or not at all; it is here that I begin to consider the Trinity.  It is in the mystery and vulnerability of life, of lived experience, that we have a window into God.

I remember a most disquieting and terrifying moment as an 8 year-old, when in a darkened hallway, I attempted to imagine what it would be like never to have been born; attempted to imagine non-being.  I think I convinced myself that I had indeed glimpsed the abyss.

I look back on that memory from so long ago with renewed appreciation that our own bodies, and our evolving consciousness, are that little corner of the cosmos, from which we can be aware of the rest of the universe and all that it contains; and this is how we are driven to ask that question, why. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there anything at all?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

God (the Father) and the Son were the initial pointers that formed my barest simplest faith.  There had to be a creator and I knew the story of Jesus, but the Spirit eluded and baffled me until I somehow grasped that this was the power, the presence, that connected us all.  Much, much later I realised that this was what we may metaphorically describe as the dance of the Trinity; creating, sustaining, evolving, continually forming, unforming and reforming the world and all that is in it.

It was only at theological college that I first encountered the term ‘perichoresis’, initially used in the East by the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century to describe the inner life and relationships in the Trinity.  It means “mutual indwelling” while the associated word perichōreuō means to ‘Dance around’ – a wonderful dynamic image for the life of the Trinity.

So this text. .. remains engrained in my heart, -
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”-
This text holds the story of origination, incarnation, and sanctification; the celebration and summation of the dance of the Trinity in our faith, in our world and in our innermost being.  The inner life of the Trinity is in us and we are in it.

The ancient image of the Trinity, the triquetra conveys the dynamic  movement, the dance, of the Trinity as well as the interrelatedness.

I say the inner life of the Trinity is in us and we are in it because to understand the Trinity as way of being sustained in love, (mutual indwelling energy, i.e. perichoresis) is to realise that this love is the source of origination, incarnation and sanctification, and is to realise that the Trinity is entangled in us and in our world.  Once we start to think that way we may begin to look at the natural processes of the world differently and recognise God’s relationship with all that is: for instance, the proposition that God may not intervene in the natural processes of the world but may more commonly work within them.

So, pushing this thought a little further, we may begin to imagine further nuances of the Trinity as the dance of God within creation.  Think of God as spiritually immanent within creation, and guiding it to increased levels of complexity through the natural processes of evolution.  In that respect the dancing God is the God of evolution.

The apostle Paul touches on this dynamic truth when he says that it is within God that we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”-

Amen!










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Thinn li




Monday, May 21, 2018

Pentecost Morning and the Power




Romans 8:22-27

8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;

8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

We have all seen something of the labour pains of creation – as we have watched the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii as Kilauea has spilled larva down the mountain and opened cracks in the ground. A friend visiting us recalled her own visit to Hawaii some years ago and being taken up by helicopter for an evening flight and the awesome sight of an eruption: the red hot trails of larva that made their way to the sea; the sound of the larva tumbling into the ocean; the great bursts of steam and the larva seeming to turn to rock. She said, ‘We watched creation; we saw the world being made.’


This morning, our passage from Romans enfolds me with a great sense of familiarity, like an old friend who has called. It was years ago when this passage first struck me that the apostle had a brilliant powerful vision of the world and that it – this world of rocks, and all forms of matter and all living things – everything; was all caught up, together with us, in a cosmic process. There was that particular moment when that realisation hit me with all the force of revelation and vision. It was a vision of a cosmic purpose relentlessly destroying, shaping, creating and transforming, bringing something new into being.

The Jesuit philosopher and theologian Teilhard de Chardin understood this sort of vision. He touches on it when he says: “The cosmic sense must have been born as soon as man found himself facing the forest, the sea and the stars.” Something of that thought makes me think of mini-epiphanies in my youth: times when while camping in the middle of nowhere, accompanied only by the crackle of the open fire; there were moments when one felt open to the vast boundless sense of space, the forest and the stars; a connection to the universe, a connection to the ‘All’.

When we think of that the natural world is understood as the domain of the Spirit. It is a place for the activity of the Spirit. The Spirit is the expression of the new creation ushered in by Christ. That is not an original thought. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins coined it most memorably with his opening line in the sonnet ‘God’s Grandeur’ “the world is charged with the grandeur of God ".

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Chardin offers an insight: Christ has conquered death … By virtue of Christ's rising again, … everything is capable of becoming the blessed touch of the divine hands, the blessed influence of the will of God upon our lives. That is an activity of the Spirit – the Spirit loosed in the world becomes an instrument of grace. What seems ill can be turned to good. Hardships, losses, disappointments, loss of employment and status are not a dead end but may become opportunities for something new, though we need to be careful how we speak of this to anyone. (We can't be so naive as to say 'Don't worry, God will bring something out of that situation': suffering merits more respect than that.)

We are talking about love, the power of love and how this is an energy that has its source in a presence beyond us and it changes us. We evolve. We become a new creation. I have a particular instance in mind. The man nursing a dying wife may find a strength, patience and grace beyond all expectation – now that is an activity of the Spirit. That man is changed. He becomes a new creation. What a force love is!

Maybe (Chardin) “someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Yes! And then we truly will go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.



Motion 29 and Choral Evensong


 A succinct and thoughtful essay in the Otago Daily Times by Civis this Saturday just past.  Time to post something myself perhaps, so here is the Evensong reflection.

It is a fact in ministry and church life that we have great Sundays and then we have those Sundays that are not great, not great at all.

Last Sunday I got a letter from a couple, who I like and cherish.  They were apologetic and complimentary, they liked worship in the Cathedral; they liked the choir; they liked my preaching; they even liked the way I celebrated the Eucharist; but they were dismayed that General Synod had passed Motion 29 and so would have to withdraw from the Cathedral congregation. 

For those who may not be familiar with Motion 29 – it allows clergy to bless civil unions of LGBT persons; it does not command it of a priest, but allows it; the blessing can be denied if it is contrary to the priest’s conscience.  There will be no punishment for blessing or not blessing.  
  • The motion did not pass a judgement on LGBT status
  • The motion did not comment on marriage or the theology of marriage; it made no change to the formularies of our church.
For guidance I had commended to me an essay on the motion by a colleague, Vicar of a neighbouring parish.  He was strongly opposed to the motion and referred to the passages in the scriptures where homosexuality was prohibited. For instance:

1Cor 6:9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

The question is simply this: what does that statement from Paul have to do with whether or not a priest will give a blessing?  I am not here to judge or condemn, and if someone asks me for a blessing – which is to ask God to be present and to work in their life – how can I not do that?  My job is to bless. 

At the most ordinary level of guidance there no list of categories as to whom one may not bless; any more than there are any categories of people for whom we may not pray.

Where may one go for guidance?  Is there a gospel principle that might help   What do the gospels say?  The one point that came to mind was in Luke 10:25-37.  We know the story we call it the parable of the Good Samaritan, as below:

 "Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’"

Let’s not get too elaborate in how we unpack and read this parable.  It is a parable of reversals and of crossing boundaries; it is a parable about the reach of love.   

But I believe I can find in this parable a principle for blessing those who seek it.  No boundaries.  I find here a fundamental principle – no boundaries to God’s love.   

My neighbour is always  the one I have to deal with at that moment, the one who asks for blessing; the one about whom I feel challenged, uncertain, made uncomfortable, the one who puts me ‘on the spot’…



Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thoughts after Ascension



In the creed we affirm our belief in the Ascension but my sense is that a lot of our daily living the faith is managed without much thought of the Ascension and without much realisation of the significance of the Ascension.    Sometimes theology can feel like an exercise in which we attempt to connect a series of dots (more or less in the dark) with a rough reasoning – ‘if this’, ‘then that’, and ‘what if’, then ‘maybe that’.   The problem is partly one of language and one of thought and imagination: we are manifestly out of our depth here.  Paul Tillich tersely noted the dilemma: “(the Ascension is) … another symbolic expression of the same event which the Resurrection expresses.  If taken literally, its spatial symbolism would become absurd.” (Systematic Theology (1968), II, p.187)

Chapel of the Ascension Walsingham
The problem is perfectly imaged in the Chapel of the Ascension in the shrine at Walsingham, where, in the ceiling, Christ’s feet are depicted hanging from the ceiling.  It looks very odd; even bizarre; it is a visual assault on the imagination; it is utterly dissonant with how we experience and comprehend the world.   Tillich’s reference to this as ‘absurd’ makes sense.

But, let’s go back to joining the dots: we start with the intolerable mystery of the Incarnation; “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” as John puts it.  The reality of Jesus as God in our flesh is fundamental to our faith.  It is this same Jesus who rises from the dead and the nature of his risen body, however many questions it presents, we affirm.  

That said, following the account of the ascension in Acts 1, we tend to accommodate vague notions that when Jesus ascended he also slipped away from the flesh, ‘dissolved’ into spirit and went back to being the eternal Son of God.  Does that mean that the Incarnation was only a temporary break from heavenly being? If so, does that leave humanity still marooned?  Or, has Jesus, the fully human one, the new Adam, gone within the veil in our name and even in our skin, so that we may follow?   If so, then the ascension does not signal a return to business as usual between God and humanity but it is the continuation and fulfilment of the Incarnation.   

The ascension is a hinge on which turns the work of Christ as our Lord and King; though the ascension has moved Christ from human sight, he will return in his full and true humanity as judge of the living and the dead.

But I still come back to the plaster feet of Jesus hanging from the ceiling of the Chapel of the Ascension: the image still shocks me.  It is unabashed and disturbing in its naÏveté.  But perhaps it is precisely through this that something profound becomes clear.  What is it about Christ’s feet?  The last Chapter of Matthew’s gospel (chapter 28) tells of the resurrection and of the two Mary’s encountering Jesus:

“Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Never until now has that been a detail that registered with me.  To worship is to bow low, to prostrate oneself, to get down to the level of the feet.  These women hold onto the feet of the Risen One.  We come as worshippers, closely tracing his footsteps, but we cannot any longer look below; instead as the Lord is moving beyond us to another realm, we are required to figuratively look upwards.   Our Lord has already taught us this when he washed the disciples’ feet.  When we learn such
humility that we turn toward our neighbour and bow down, then we are changed; this is a descent that carries us upwards.

It is Malcolm Guite’s  poem on the Ascension that I end with: astute; and as good a summary of the theology of the Ascension that one could wish for.   The poetry sings in us and moves us beyond the confines of space and time, as in the closing couplet.

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place,
As earth became a part of heaven's story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted,
 He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centred now, and sings;
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Ascension Day, Malcolm Guite


Thinking of the sermon for Ascension Day made me painfully aware of the need to think again and read more widely; more openly; and more creatively.  




I am not there yet but I am hugely grateful for Malcolm Guite's sonnet on the subject. Sounding the Seasons (Canterbury Press, 2012) p.45.

Ascension Day

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place,
As earth became a part of heaven's story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted,
 He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centred now, and sings;
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.