Sunday, March 29, 2020

We are all in the boat, a global storm is threatening us and we ask Jesus whether he cares for us!

Pope Francis knows how to rise to the occasion.

I have a few ideas for posting some of my own thoughts about this and that but, really, when such a fine sermon is preached as Pope Francis preached yesterday morning (NZ time), why offer crumbs when a loaf is available?

"“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the fa├žade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7)."

Note how biblical, christocentric, cruciform this sermon is - a model for all preachers to aspire to!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Acres of time and space opening up for blogging?

NZ as local and possibly overseas readers will know is heading towards "lockdown". From 11.59 pm NZ time, Wednesday 25 March 2020, for at least a month, we are asked to stay in our own homes, unless we work in essential services (doctors, supermarket workers, etc), only leaving for walks in the fresh air and necessary trips to the supermarket or doctors.

For the next few days I am pretty busy in various (video) meetings because various things need sorting and rearranging. After that I am a little less busy but we have three or four crucial Board meetings coming up as we engage with the challenges of being a "shutdown" Diocese: services, meetings, community outreaches suspended. (We are "online" in various ways - of course!).

Beyond that, especially with no Holy Week and Easter services and travelling from one part of the Diocese to another, I am thinking some new time opens up.

Or does it?

We live in strange and interesting and stressful times.

Meantime I continue to read Doug Campbell's remarkable book, reflect on matters Anglican (overnight the 2020 Lambeth Conference has been officially postponed until 2021) and generally attempt to keep sane and calm.

Something more substantial on Monday ... God willing!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Normal transmission interrupted

I am working on a more "normal" post for this blog. But it seems a little odd to keep posting as though nothing much is happening in the life of our (or indeed other) Anglican church(es).

Here is our Diocese's latest post/policy re response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19:


Here is my introduction to the policy document.

Stay safe and well.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Love of God and our role in demonstrating it to the world

I am really enjoying working my way through Douglas Campbell's Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God's Love (Eerdmans, 2020).

By "Pauline Dogmatics" Doug (if I may so call him, not only because he is a fellow Kiwi, but we shared aspects of Dunedin ministry and mission together in 1984!) means integrating Paul's words (the text by which we determine and debate what is "Pauline") with the fruit of 2000 years of systematic theological study ("dogmatics.") Specifically, Doug's reading of Paul's letters is in conversation in this book with systematic theologians such as Barth (most frequently), Zizioulas and many others, including ancient fathers.

While it is early days - it is a big book and I am only 70 pages or so into it - I sense that "the triumph of God's love" will mean by the end, the power of God's love to permit no obstacles in the way of drawing everyone through the proclaimation of the gospel to God's own self.

In another post for another day, I simply note here that Doug makes Paul's and the most primitive church's great creed, "Jesus is Lord" the starting point for all theological reflection.

But here, in this post, possibly one of many, I draw attention via citation to some important insights Doug shares with the reader in respect of the love of God, God's love, God is love.

God as personal, relational and familial ...

"There has arguably been a predilection for describing God in much theology - and perhaps especially in reflections derived from Latin-speaking traditions - with categories that are fundamentally legal and political. God is viewed at bottom as a monarch or sovereign, and the key analogies for understanding his relationships, both internally and externally with us, are in terms of law and the state. However, careful attention to what God has actually revealed about his nature to us in Jesus, his Son, suggest that these reflections are inaccurate and possibly even quite misleading. They have their place, but only after due correction by the analogies that are primary. God is fundamentally familial and disposed toward us in this way as well - as our heavenly Father." [p. 53]

I think this is critical to our Anglican ecclesiology, incidentally. Do we understand ourselves as family? Or as a body defined by rules and regulations? Actually we are a bit of both ("They have their place") but if God is "fundamentally familial and disposed to us ... as our heavenly Father" then our primary self-identity is as the family of God bound by love and not by constitution.

God's love

"If we have grasped the extent to which God is fully familial God composed of persons who are what they are because of one another, then we are in a position to grasp another truth that is equally staggering. ...[noting Paul's reference to the beloved Son of the Father, Romans 8:3; Ephesians 1:6; cf. Romans 3:25] ... The Father dotes on the Son, we might say. The Son is the apple of his eye. And the Son loves his Father, which is why he does what the Father says, even when it involves what seems to us to be extraordinary demands. Here we can be helped, in their best moments, by the astonishing love that often does obtain within our families between spouses, and between parents and their children, situations where people can offer everything for one another. Such situations mediate the critical realization that the persons of the Trinity have a deep and profound love for one another, something that is then also apparent in the life of Jesus. So as the author of 1 John puts it - characteristically a little more compactly than paul, although doubtless the latter would have approved - "God is love" (4:8)." [p. 54]


"Paul says in a statement of near matchless importance - although he is echoing here a strong of similar statements found elsewhere in this and other letter - "God demonstrates his own love for us [in this] - that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:9). He goes on to say immediately in the verses that follow that it is this demonstration of love that eliminates any fear concerning a future angry judgement. ... The nature of God is revealed definitively by the death of the Son on the cross for us at the behest of the Father and the Spirit. There the Father has offered up his beloved only Son to die for us, doing so, moreover, while we, the objects of this costly mission, were rebellious and hostile. Before any response had been offered, then, the Father undertoo this ultimately costly act for us, which the Son obeidently carried out. And this proves that the Father's love for us is utterly fundamental to his character, and limitless, as is the Son's and their Spirit's. This God will stop at nothing in order to reach us and to heal us. God undertook this supremely painful action - the Father's sacrifice of his Son - to save a snarling and ungrateful humanity. Astonishing!" [pp. 55-56]

And our privilege and responsibility - Doug asks "where exactly do we meet Jesus and this overpoweringly benevolent and kind God?" [p. 56]

"We meet God through people like him - that is to say, through the community, and especially through its designated leaders. And we learn from this phenomenon that Jesus's followers mediate God's revelations." [p. 57]

Obviously there are occasions when God directly reveals God's self to some ... Paul is a great example! But more typical is "The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was proclaimed among you by me and Silas and Timothy" (2 Cor 1:19) [p. 57]

With a strong argument anchored into discussion of the human and divine wills at work in Jesus, Doug then works his way through the significance of this insight that the truth of the love of God is mediated to the world by you and me, as "witnesses" (p. 62-65). And there is much here to draw out which I will leav to another occasion, about how we must learn to tell the story of Jesus well. But, drawing this post to a close, this is Doug's conclusion to the chapter and to his thinking within it about our role in mediating the truth:

"Jesus did not write a book; he called disciples." [p. 69]

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trump on Pauline theology

Monday, March 2, 2020

Being Anglican, early 2020

Last week the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and the Reverend Margaret Sentamu visited the Diocese - the last part of a trip through Fiji, Samoa and Aotearoa New Zealand.

There was a lovely welcome on Tuesday at Te Waipounamu, Ferry Road, the base of the ministry of Te Hui Amorangi o Te Waipounamu (i.e. the Maori Anglican Diocese covering the South Island).

Later that evening ++John and Margaret spoke on "Being Anglican" at a gathering of senior leaders. The following day, Wednesday, being Ash Wednesday, there were a number of services ++John and Margaret were involved in, culminating with our annual Catholic-Anglican service at which ++John preached.

A fairly simple observation from the few days spent with ++John and Margaret, both in formal contexts and in informal chatting, is that, notwithstanding various attempts around the globe to paint churches such as ACANZP as some degrees short of being truly Anglican ( (because teaching falsely about You Know What), we are, in fact, (in my words) ordinarily Anglican. (I say "ordinarily" because it will never be a claim here that ACANZP is some kind of extraordinarily virtuous Anglican church, a benchmark and guide for others to follow. We are simply an Anglican church with the usual mix of the good, bad and indifferent occurring in our midst.)

I suggest the greatest challenge concerning "being Anglican" is whether "there will be an Anglican church to be Anglican in". Damian Thompson, writing at The Spectator (and also podcasting) makes this point:

"In every big city in the United States and Britain there are buildings – often quite magnificent – that were erected by Christian Scientists. But many of them are now offices and apartments, because this once thriving and very wealthy denomination is virtually dead.
In this week’s Holy Smoke podcast, I talk to Jon Anderson, an expert on religious and political sects, about the collapse of Christian Science – whose followers included Joyce Grenfell and Doris Day – and the scary lessons it holds for today’s mainstream religions.
There’s already a whole graveyard of Protestant denominations filling up in America and Europe. Could the more conventional bits of the Anglican and Catholic Churches one day end up there? What about Reform and Liberal Judaism?"

How might we avoid "the graveyard"?

I don't think we will avoid the graveyard by being one thing or another on You Know What - it seems to me that for every person outside the church who might be attracted to a conservative resolution of this matter inside the church there are two people who are put off going to church by the church's conservatism on this matter.

We will avoid the graveyard by continuing to win people to Jesus Christ through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and mercy to all people. But what we say in communicating the gospel will - presumably - need to be ever alert for what the Christian Scientists have failed in. (I am not sure what that is, not having listened to Damian Thompson's podcast, but I am guessing there will be something about the implausibility of Christian Scientism.)

What encourages me in this matter is finding young people not only identifying with our church but also making steps of commitment such as yesterday in one of our parishes when seven young people were confirmed and another young person baptised. (Of course all people of whatever age joining our church is important re our flourishing, but looking ahead 50 plus years, well beyond my own death, the "elders" of the church of 2070 will need to include wise and mature Christians whose adult journey in faith and discipleship begins now.)

Incidentally, looking beyond our local Anglican scene, I am also encouraged by the life and liveliness of many churches hereabouts. Whatever we make of a man such as Franklin Graham's ministry, over 100 church leaders participated in a dinner here in Christchurch last week to explore the possibility of his being invited to lead a mission in Christchurch next year. On Saturday I participated in the opening of a new Methodist church in Christchurch. It is, I think, the fourth of four new or renewed inner city churches in Christchurch since the 2011 quakes. In a few weeks' time another new inner city church will be re-opened.

There is absolutely no reason to be complacent about the future because there is no reason to think the aggressive and corrosive growth of secularism in our society will cease. But there are reasons to hope that the future for "being Anglican" is bright.