Monday, May 10, 2021

Revelation 3:14-20: an insight into why Kiwis are not turning to Christ in a time of crisis?

Last week I was at a very worthwhile event - a Tikanga Pakeha forum on Rural Ministry. But in the course of this event, as with many conferences in these islands about ministry and mission, there was no escaping the fact that fewer Kiwis gather for worship on Sundays, with this forum highlighting diminishing numbers in rural churches.

Despite the world crisis of the Pandemic (albeit with NZ doing very well relative to other countries), and other crises (such as the housing crisis in our country), the dial does not seem to be shifting upwards on worshipping numbers (across the nation as a whole - clearly some churches in some places are growing, and some of that growth is conversion growth).

Indeed, nothing has shifted the dial upwards for some decades.

And, as best I understand the wider world, what is true of NZ is true of the Western world as a whole.

Whether we talk about the secular society, the post-Christian nation, the shift from religion to spirituality, we are talking about resistance to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Why?

One theory I think has a lot to commend itself is that in a nation such as ours, notwithstanding crises re housing and threats such as Covid-19, most of us most of the time are incredibly blessed - good health, good times, good prospects.

There is so much goodness to explore and experience that there is little or no time to stop and ask about the truth of the universe, the meaning of life, let alone look within ourselves to see the state of our souls. 

It struck me - yesterday, because it was a passage I was preaching on - that when we read Revelation 3:14-20, the famous letter to the somewhat complacent and self-satisfied Christians in Laodicea, we could apply what Jesus says to the spiritual situation of (much of) NZ, as explanation for resistance to the gospel:

"For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing'." (17a)

Jesus speaking to the Laodiceans does not stop there:

"You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (18)

Nothing ever changes about our spiritual state before the God of Jesus Christ.

Could spiritual revival ever come to NZ without our realising that before God we are not rich but in great need?

Monday, May 3, 2021

What did John know about Matthew, Mark and Luke?

 Let's keep going in John's Gospel, but this week at the beginning and not at the end.

One of the great scholarly questions about John's Gospel is, 

What did John know about the other gospels?

Answers stretch from "maybe nothing at all" to "something, but not a lot, it would seem." That something, some think, could particularly come from knowledge of Mark's Gospel.

The reason for these answers is that 

1. there is s o much difference between John and Matthew/Mark/Luke (e.g. the teaching of Jesus in John is almost wholly different from teaching recorded by the other three); 

2. even where there is similarity between John and Matthew/Mark/Luke (some events, miracles, Passion and Resurrection Narratives), only a comparatively few words suggest knowledge by John of text of other gospels. 

Might he only have known of one or more of the other gospels through hearsay?

Yet John is, if nothing else, a very clever man. (For one example, relating to yesterday's Gospel, John 15;1-8, see Ian Paul's exegesis here.)

Could he have cleverly "covered his tracks", that is, known the other gospels well, yet taken another compositional path than one which betrays that knowledge?

Here is a hypothesis, based on John 1.

Knowing the other Gospels:

A. John takes Mark's "beginning of the gospel" (1:1), Matthew's genealogy (going back to Abraham, 1:1-16); and in John's Gospel, Abraham is important), and Luke's genealogy (going back to "Adam, son of God", 3:23-38) and pushes the concept of the beginning of Jesus Christ to pre-existence.

B. Matthew makes a particular point of Jesus being the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. In various ways, Mark and Luke do this also. In John 1:45 we read that Philip finds Nathanael and says to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." In that report there is a nod to the human patrilineage of Jesus through Joseph, something Matthew majors on (chapters 1-2).

C. The high point of Mark's Gospel, or, if you like, the central fulcrum on which the story Mark tells in his gospel is Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ (8:29-30). In Matthew's Gospel this confession of faith leads to Simon son of Jonah being nicknamed Peter/the rock (16:15-19). In John 1:41-42 this confession and naming sequence is set down by John. In verse 41 Simon's brother Andrew says to Simon, ' "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated the Anointed/Christ.' In verse 42 Andrew brings Simon to Jesus who promptly says, ' "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter/Rock)'.

D. The great theme of John's Gospel, the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God Jesus Christ is introduced in John 1:14-18. But this is a theme found in Matthew 11:25-27/Luke 10:21-22 - verses which could summarise John's Gospel, or be the catalyst for the composition of John's Gospel.

In other words, according to this hypothesis: John does know the other three gospels (but conceals this knowledge in terms of, say, direct citation) and makes those three gospels the starting point for his gospel. Within his first chapter John demonstrates that he starts from those three gospels but is going to move on from the stories they tell and the theological reflections they have offered their readers to dig deeper into the meaning of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Fascinating fish and intriguing repetitions in John 21

No, this post is not a further post in a recent series looking at the resurrection narratives plural and raising questions concerning their differences (here and here).

But it is still the Season of Easter and John 21 is a wonderful chapter of the New Testament to dig into at any time of the year but especially at Eastertide.

No doubt nothing I am about to write is original in its insights but a few things have fascinated and intrigued me, especially working on the Greek text, and why not share them with you?

Fascinating fish

In 21:11 the tally of fish caught is one hundred and fifty-three (hekaton pentekonta trion). It is well-known that 153 is a triangular number, the sum of the first 17 integers, i.e. 153 = 1+2+3+ ... +15+16+17. Augustine argued that 17 equates to grace (seven gifts of the Spirit) and law (ten commandments). See further on such interpretations and other fascinating features of the number 153 (e.g. it also equals 1 cubed plus 5 cubed plus 3 cubed) in a Wikipedia article.

Here is another theory, and it is a bit closer to John's Gospel itself.

In John 6 we have another story of feeding (and, as it happens, succeeded by a story of happenings at sea), taking place in the same location as John 21 (the Sea of Galilee which is the Sea of Tiberias).

In the feeding story, 5000 (pentakiskilioi) men (and likely an unknown number of women and children) are fed, with five (pente) barley loaves and two fishes. Afterwards twelve baskets of fragments from the five barley loaves are collected.

Obviously in this story the bread does the heavy lifting in the feeding of the crowd and the fish play an incidental role.

By contrast, in John 21 the story there focuses on the fish and the bread mentioned plays an incidental role (except that, see further below, in the feeding of the disciples at breakfast time, they are given bread and then fish).

In both John 6 and John 21 the physical feeding of the crowd and of the disciples respectively leads into Jesus making a point about feeding the spiritual life of God's people. 

In John 6 the point is a long discourse about (most of us think) the eucharist, about Jesus himself feeding us with his body and his blood: I am the bread of life. 

In John 21 the point is a sharp exchange between Jesus and Peter in which Jesus asks three times whether Peter loves him and when Peter each time answers affirmatively, Jesus instructs him to feed God's people (imaged as lambs/sheep).

Now, numberswise the two stories have a "pente" or "five" connection: 5000, 5, 153.

And, as we saw above, 153 is the sum of the first 17 integers. What does 17 equal? It equals 12 plus 5. 

In John 6 there are 12 baskets of fragments collected from the 5 barley loaves. Of course there is a lot more bread than that in the John 6 story because the great crowd is fed from the bread (and from the fish) but numberswise, the bread in John 6 generates two numbers, 5 and 12 and the fish in John 21 generates the number 153.

Is John making subtle reference back to the John 6 feeding story when he gives us the tally of the fish in John 21? In both stories there is a miracle in the way a large amount of food is provided unexpectedly and the food generates teaching about spiritual feeding of God's people. But the bread emphasis in John 6 is connected to Jesus himself feeding his disciples and the fish emphasis in John 21 is connected to the disciples feeding other disciples. Only Jesus is the Bread of Life.

(To calculate thus is NOT to rule out other considerations re "153", for instance that 17 also = 10 + 7 and 10 and 7 can be considered numbers of completion, and thus 153 represents the completion of the harvest of people for the kingdom. And so forth.)

In fact we have a further reason to think that John does want us to connect the two bread/fish stories closely.

In John 6:11 we read,

"Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated, so also the fish, as much as they wanted."

In John 21:13 we read,

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish.

Using bold I have highlighted words which in the Greek are the same root word (1. took, distributed = gave, 2. bread (singular) versus bread (plural)), and the same words but slightly different in order (3. so also the fish = the same with the fish).

Intriguing repetitions

In John 21 there are three moments of recognition that the person on the shore engaging with them in the boat is the risen Lord Jesus, but English translation don't quite bring out the precise, thrice repeated phrase we find in the Greek (though e.g. the REB comes closer than e.g. the NRSV).

So, taking four popular translations (NRSV, REB, NIV, GNB), we have two of the moments in verse 7 and one in verse 12:

Verse 7:

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, ... NRSV

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," ... REB = NIV

The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, ... GNB

Verse 12

Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. NRSV

None of the disciples dared to ask "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. REB

None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. NIV

None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. GNB

On the face of it, in English the two verses do not reveal three exactly the same recognitions. We need the Greek for that: three times, twice in verse 7 and once in verse 12 we read: ho kurios estin = It is the Lord.

John composes his narrative so that a core significance of the story, that the risen Lord Jesus is recognisably, physically present with the disciples, is underscored and underlined by a threefold repetition of "It is the Lord."

In doing this in chapter 21, John is mirroring a narrative device in John 20 where three times there is reference to "seeing the Lord" (though in this instance, in John 20, the Greek is not a neat set of repetitions as in John 21: heoraka ton kurion, hidontes ton kurion, heorakamen ton kurion).

"I have seen the Lord" (Mary Magdalene to the disciples, 20:18)

"they saw the Lord" (In full, "the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord," 20:20).

"We have seen the Lord" (The disciples report to Thomas, 20:25).

John seems to place significance on the value of three repeats because he describes the encounter on the Tiberias beach as "the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead" (21:14).

Strictly speaking this is true (the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples plural) but also strictly speaking this is Jesus' fourth appearance according to John's resurrection narratives since his first recorded appearance is to Mary Magdalene and occurs before the three appearances to the disciples.

There is likely a lot more to be made about these repetitions than I am making here. Comments?

A final reflection from me. In my view the key to understanding the difference in style/substance between John's Gospel and the Synoptics Gospels is the identification between John who writes the Gospel and the risen Jesus. There may also be factors such as John who writes is the Beloved Disciple who was "Jerusalem-based" rather than "Galilee-based" and so forth, but none of those factors themselves explain the significant difference between the first three Gospels and the fourth Gospel.

John's Gospel, therefore, is the Gospel of insight in which the writer of the Gospel speaks the words of Jesus and the interpretation of the words of Jesus with the authority of the risen Lord.

Why would John so dare to assume such authority?

John 21 is a clue: the risen Jesus can be present in ordinary moments of life, taking ordinary but familiar things (such as the bread of the eucharist) and continuing to teach his disciples.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Barth on PSA

I am a very slow reader of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics. I tend to read a few pages when on holiday at a favourite holiday location and it must be getting on for twenty years since I started and I am only a little way over a halfway through volume II.1. Very slow.

Of course the actual act of reading those few pages at a time is "slow reading" as far as words per minute and pages per hour go, because Barth cannot be read fast. Well, I cannot read Barth fast. And even when reading slowly I cannot often say that I understand him well. There is also the matter of beginning to feel sleepy when he takes a long time to say something, which seems quite often.

But there is much to appreciate in Barth - taking a long time to say something, for instance, is also to be painstakingly thorough, to meet and to head off all possible objections. Along the way there are his famous excursi (because in smaller typeface, because often long and interesting essays in their own right) and often these are thorough surveys of the whole of Scripture on the matter at hand. I happen to also like the way in which he draws the best - as he sees it - out of both Luther and Calvin.

Anyhow, this past week, while on a break I read through the first two parts of chapter 30 in II.1, The Perfections of the Divine Loving (pp. 351-406, in the edition edited by Bromily and Torrance), with part 1 on The Grace and Holiness of God and part 2 on The Mercy and Righteousness of God.

What particularly fascinated me in these pages is the way in which Barth is bold and unembarrassed to speak of the wrath of God, the substitution of Christ for ourselves as the object of that wrath and the making of ourselves righteous before God. Barth doesn't use the words "penal substitutionary atonement" in one phrase at any point but he does expound the doctrine albeit (and this is very important) always and everywhere on these pages in terms of God's mercy-and-righteousness. Never one without the other, never one before the other.

Over the years on this blog, especially around Holy Week, some of my interest in "the wrath of God" has been around the controversial line in the popular recent hymn, In Christ Alone, which we sing:

The wrath of God was satisfied.

In this line is an expression of the teaching known as "penal subsitutionary atonement." 

What struck me reading Barth this past week is that his starting point in respect of God's wrath is not God's wrath but God's righteousness. And his primary concern about God's wrath is not that God's wrath is satisfied but that the problem of our unrighteousness is resolved. And - noting that Barth is very keen on holding lots of things together so "and" is critical to his theology - the problem of our unrighteousness is very deep and very dark, so the death of Christ in our place is a forsakenness beyond words, beyond (in my reading) a short sentence such as "the wrath of God was satisfied" neatly and succinctly describing the forsakenness. And yet "the wrath of God was satisfied" is, within the Barthian narrative of our plight and God's rescue, true, though Barth doesn't come near to saying those words (as far as I noticed ... though I may have gotten a little sleepy.) Rather he says something which I think would be summed up differently than in the line of that hymn.

But first, so what does Barth say? There are lots of words, so I am picking out something of a representative set of passages:

"The meaning of the death of Jesus Christ is that there God's condemning and punishing righteousness broke out, really smiting and piercing human sin, man as sinner, and sinful Israel. It did really fall on the sin of Israel, our sin and us sinners. It did so in such a way that in what happened there (not to Israel, or to us, but to Jesus Christ) the righteousness of God which we have offended was really revealed and satisfied. Yet it did so in such a way that it did not happen to Israel or to us, but for Israel, for us. What was suffered there on Israel's account and ours, was suffered for Israel and for us.

The wrath of God which we had merited, by which we must have been annihilated and would long since have been annihilated, was now in our place borne and suffered as though it had smitten us and yet in such a way that it did not smite us and can no more smite us. The reason why the No spoken on Good Friday is so terrible, but why there is already concealed in it the Eastertide Yes of God's righteousness, is that He who on the cross took upon Himself and suffered the wrath of God was no other than God's own Son, and therefore the eternal God Himself in the unity with human nature which He freely accepted in his transcendent mercy." [pp. 396-97]

"The fact that it was God's Son, that it was God Himself, who took our place on Golgotha and thereby freed us from the divien anger and judgement, reveals first the full implication of the wrath of God, of His condemning and punishing justice. It shows us what a consuming fire burns against sin. It thus discloses too the full impliation of sin, what it means to resist God, to be God's enemy, which is the guilty determination of our human existence." [p. 398]

In a passage which engages with Romans 3:5, "Is God not unjust to exercise His wrath?", Barth writes movingly of both God's love for us and of the love which substitutes Himself for us (with my paragraphing):

"And - necessarily almost - the question arises in regard to the Old and New Testaments, whether God's reaction of wrath as it is attested to us in the Bible really stands in intelligible relation to man's opposition to God, to man's sin and guilt? And how natural it is to propose this question especially when we find or feel ourselves affected gy God's token judgments! "Is God not unjust to exercise his wrath?" (Rom. 3.5). Have we really deserved it? Are we really as guilty as all that, that we should have to suffer it? 

This murmuring, this question of Job's, is silenced - but only really silenced - when we remember how it is that God judges the world (Rom. 3.6), that is, His relentlessness against Himself as we have described it, His allowing Himself so to feel the pain of our sin that He spared not His only Son, but delivered Him up for us all. What do we know of God's righteousness, of what is worthy of Him, and therefore of what, when He confronts us as our Creator and Lord, He necessarily and rightfully has against us? 

It is here, where He guarantees - but in His love for us and therefore utterly on His own initiative - that he is not against us but for us (Rom. 8.31), that we have to learn what is His righteousness and our unrighteousness. And it is from this point of view, as a token of the righteousness of God manifested here, that we have to appraise and interpret the righteousness of the Law, of the threats and judgments of the Old Testament, and of those of world history and of our own life. 

It is here that we come to know of what we are accused and guilty, what our trespass is and means. It consists in an alienation from God, a rebellion against Him, which ought to be punished in a way which involves our total destruction, and which apart from our annihilation can be punished only by God Himself taking our place, and in His Son taking to Himself and bearing and suffering the punishment. ... Our position is such that we can be rescued from eternal death and translated into life only by total and unceasing substitution, the substitution which God Himself undertakes on our behalf." [p. 399]

That is, I think Barth's preference to "The wrath of God was satisfied" would be:

"The righteousness of God was satisfied."

On the matter of "penal substitionary atonement", the passages above (or otherwise in this chapter but not cited here) never use the phrase but Barth is very clear that our sin deserves punishment, that God in Christ substituted himself for us on the cross and our being made right with God is through the substitutionary action of the righteous-and-merciful God in Christ in receiving what we deserve.

Monday, April 12, 2021

An annual reflection on the resurrection accounts

Lots going down. Hans Kung has died. Prince Philip has died. (Incidentally, careful reading of some obituaries will yield the nugget of information that Prince Philip was a theologically informed believer.) This book may be useful for working out what it means to be an Orthodox Anglican. Try this blog also :).

It's early days in the Season of Easter so it is also okay to think a little about the resurrection narratives, which have been discussed here before (last year), and are also discussed at Psephizo (a recent updating of a previous foray into the subject).

1. The importance of the resurrection narratives are underscored by comments made by Bowman Walton to the previous post, themselves building on that critical and distinctive part of Romans - chapters 6-8 - where Paul develops the idea that a Christian is someone who has identified with Christ both in his crucifixion and in his resurrection. That is, the very nature of our life in Christ is connected by Paul to the resurrection as "event" and not as (say) a subjective experience in the minds of some of his followers who somehow attained the convction that Christ was no longer dead.

2. For Paul himself, according to 1 Corinthians 15, the evidence that Christ was raised from death was a series of appearances of the risen Christ to his followers (including, eventually, Paul himself).

3. In each of the four canonical gospels, the evidence is also that the tomb was empty (with Matthew 28 notably asserting that this was not because the body of Jesus was stolen). Three gospels include appearances of Jesus (Matthew, Luke, John) and Mark anticipates an appearance.

4. Unfortunately the gospel appearances do not tally neatly with Paul's list (which list is likely a circulating list among the churches, so not Paul's invention).

5. Also there are real or apparent contradictions between the gospels (perhaps most strikingly is Luke's persistent refusal to entertain that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee, when each of the other gospels either anticipates or records such an appearance).

6. It is difficult (as I read the NT) to see how the many things said about resurrection could have arisen unless something like Paul's 1 Corinthians 15 list of appearances actually happened: that is, that both the leading disciples (apostles) and other disciples had encounters with Jesus after his death which convinced the whole Jesus' movement that Jesus was truly and victoriously alive and exalted to God's side.

7. The 1 Corinthians 15 list then means that there were multiple appearances of the risen Jesus Christ to individuals and to groups, and thus the gospel writers had some choice when selecting which appearances to focus on as each reported on the resurrection while also bringing their whole account of Jesus' life to a conclusion. (Obviously the appearances recounted by the gospel writers mean that appearances of Jesus other than those listed in 1 Corinthians 15 took place, notably those in which Jesus appeared to women who are unfortunately missing from the 1 Corinthians 15 list. For a full list of appearances according to the New Testament, see here.)

8. Note that Matthew narrates two appearances, Mark anticipates one appearance in Galilee, Luke narrates three or four appearances in Luke 24 and reports many appearances in Acts 1, though only narrates one encounter in detail, and John provides accounts of four appearances.

9. Just as each of the gospel writers selects events from the life of Jesus before his death and narrates them in ways which fit their respective overall purposes in telling the history of Jesus, so the gospel writers select appearances from the life of Jesus after his death and narrate them in ways which fit their overall purposes in telling the history of Jesus.



Sunday, April 4, 2021

The resurrection and Alice Roberts' reminder

Rather than write a separate resurrection blogpost, I may as well share this sermon which I preached at our Transitional Cathedral on Sunday 4 April 2021. Next week I hope to come back to the "wrath of God" theme from last week ... seeking to relate "cancel culture" to "total depravity" ...

Easter Sermon at the Transitional Cathedral 04 April 2021

Readings: Acts 10:34-43    1 Corinthians 15:1-11   John 20:1-18 Psalm 118:1 – 2,16 – 17,22 – 23

Professor Alice Roberts, a University of Birmingham scientist, is President of the charity Humanists UK, an organisation which campaigns for state secularism and for "a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail".

 On Good Friday she Tweeted,    “Just a little reminder today. Dead people – don’t come back to life.”

That Tweet sparked lots and lots of responses, many of which chastised her for being unkind to Christians. Some responses were quite smart and witty along the lines of “well, one did come back to life and that’s why we make quite a fuss about him.”

But the best reply, I think, was from Tom Holland, the historian (not Spiderman) and author of Dominion,


Tom Holland makes the point that Alice Roberts may not be a Christian but she thinks and acts like a Christian: she wants to convert people from what she thinks is darkness to what she thinks is the light of truth.

 But perhaps we should also say, on this day, Easter, the Day of the Resurrection of our Lord, that Alice Roberts is not making an accurate claim about Jesus.

What she Tweeted could apply to Lazarus – a dead man whom Jesus brought back to life.

But the resurrection of Jesus was not God bringing Jesus back to life.

The resurrection of Jesus was God bringing Jesus forward to life in a new realm – life in a new body,

-          to be sure with marks of the old body (the nail marks in his hands and feet)

-          and the ability to eat and drink,

-          but no longer constrained by the usual constraints of space and time (see how in the resurrection stories, Jesus comes and goes from his friends at will).

The raised to life Jesus was – in language Paul uses later in 1 Cor – the first fruits of the resurrection of all baptised.

And those of us looking forward to that resurrection are not looking forward to being resuscitated after we die.

No, we are looking forward to a new resurrection body and life in a new world, in which we worship God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – eternally.

In other words, when we talk about the raising of Jesus from the dead, we are talking about much, much more than what Alice Roberts denies, that a man can be brought back to life.

We are talking about our Christian conviction that because God raised Jesus from the dead we dare to hope that Jesus’ death was transformative for our relationship with God – that through Jesus’ death we who believe in him might have peace with God – a reconciled, healed relationship with God.

Let’s go back to Friday. What happened on the cross? Michael Bird, an Australian Anglican theologian sums up the whole understanding of the New Testament when he says:

“On the cross, Jesus is the Passover lamb, the Levitical scapegoat, the suffering servant, the mercy seat, for on him God unloads the sins of the world, he bears the transgression of others, and the judgment of God against our wickedness falls upon him.”

Why would we think that? The plain fact of the matter is that if Jesus died on the cross and that was the end of his life, the end of his mission and the end of his movement, we would have heard no more about him.

If his death had some kind of eternal, universal significance, we would never have known it.

But something happened on that first Sunday after Jesus died and was buried. Our Psalm gives a hint, for instance,

 Psalm 118: 17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15 offers a list of appearances of Jesus to his followers.

John 20, in common with the three other gospels, tell us of an empty tomb and of an appearance of Jesus – a resurrected Jesus who has left the tomb.

When Mary goes to tell the other disciples that she has seen the Lord, as the apostle to the apostles, she sets in motion the possibility that the meaning of the death of Jesus will not be lost to the world but will be proclaimed to the world.

Acts 10 makes a very interesting point – let’s hear verses 39-42 again:

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

That interesting point is that God permitted appearances of Jesus to those who would share his message with the world. The resurrection appearances would embolden and encourage those who would share the significance of Jesus’ death.

 Paul – in later verses in 1 Corinthians 15 – leaves us in no doubt as to the importance of Christ’s resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:14: “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

We are not still in our sins because of what Jesus achieved on the cross; we know what Jesus achieved on the cross because his death was not his end: God raised him from the dead and so – especially according to Luke’s Gospel – the risen Jesus was able to explain the meaning of his death.

Alice Roberts is right, normally dead people don’t come back to life. That’s why what happened to Jesus, what Mary and Peter and the other disciple saw – the empty tomb, the burial clothes without a body in them, and then, later, along with many others, an appearance or three of the raised Jesus – is extraordinary. It shouldn’t have happened.

The Christian faith should have died, according to Alice Roberts, stillborn on the cross. It didn’t. Mary told the disciples. They saw and believed. They told many others throughout their world who believed and they have told others through successive generations.

As Ian Paul, a British biblical scholar says,

 Seeing and believing are the foundations of apostolic faith, but believing without seeing, based on apostolic testimony, will be the reality for successive generations. The new reality, that God is Father not only to Jesus but to all who believe, so that we are together brothers and sisters of Jesus, is established here but made real by the Spirit (Romans 8.15).

The resurrection is about you and me: through belief, will we enter into the new reality of God’s love made real for us on Good Friday and revealed to us on Easter Day?


Monday, March 29, 2021

Good Friday is coming, so we need to discuss the wrath of God (!?)

 A few times previously on this blog I have discussed the matter of "the wrath of God" (and sometimes linking that discussion to that widely sung modern favourite In Christ Alone with its much debated line "the wrath of God was satisfied").

I have noticed in the intervening years that the wrath of God is not something we can pretend is not a scriptural "thing" - the Old Testament has a lot about God's wrath. When the NT says something about God's wrath, it is not a de novo concept.

Moreover, just yesterday, preparing a message for a service in Holy Week, I was looking at verses which help us to make sense of Jesus' dying on a cross - that is, theological sense of what God was up to in Christ. An obvious treasure trove of verses is Romans 5. Let's reproduce the first 11 verses from the NRSV:

"5.1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

So, in 21st century terms, we have "nice" verses such as verses 1, 6, 8 and 10.

But we also have verse 9!

"Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God."

(Note the Greek says, "the wrath" rather than "the wrath of God" but "the wrath" here is surely God's wrath and not the wrath of any other being.) 

Why did God love us so Christ died for us (verse 8)?

To save us from the wrath of God.

It is increasingly difficult to talk about the wrath of God because a godly wrath we need saving from implies we have done something to deserve wrath rather than love - that God sees us first as sinners needing salvation and not as saved people needing assurance that we are loved by God.

In our crazy world today the starting point for many people is that we are good.

Sure, there is a lot of finger pointing going on against a bunch of people (including stale pale males like me! ... and, Kiwi horror du jour, I own more than one house), and no doubt the human wrath against today's malefactors has some chance of conceiving that God is wrathful against racists, misogynists etc.

But those who point fingers today (and those who stoutly resist the notion that "I/we have done anything wrong") generally assume the mode of being "righteous". Neither human wrath nor divine wrath is deserved by us.

God loves us because we are lovely and deserve nothing less than all God's favour all the time.

It is quite a bit of work, in these times, to develop an understanding that we are all fallen short of God's standards, that none of us has been perfectly just and that a bunch of things about the way we live incures God's disapproval and not approval.

Can we truly credit the wonder and glory of Christ's "finished" achievement on the cross if we do not consider that on the cross God's wrath against us was, in some expiatory or even propitiatory way, turned aside (if not satisfied!).

In simple terms, we all deserve X but Christ received X in our place and so we are now blessed to receive the opposite of X.

Thoughts?

Monday, March 22, 2021

Conjunction of secular and sacred in Kiwi custom

I started primary school at the age of 5 at Hororata School. Hororata is a rural district about 30 minutes drive from from the western edge of Christchurch city. The school began in 1870 and so its 150th jubilee was in 2020. Celebrations were planned for March 2020 but Covid-19 put paid to that. So the celebrations were held over this past weekend.

It is something of a custom in NZ school jubilees which last across a whole weekend for a Sunday morning church service to be part of the programme even though our state school system is secular.

A service was part of the weekend's programme. The service was held at the school, led by the Reverend Jenni Carter, Vicar of Hororata, with the sermon preached by me. The scripture reading was John 1:1-14. Below is a shortened version of what I said.

Hororata 150th School Jubilee (21 March 2021)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Greetings!

I am Peter Carrell. My early upbringing was in Hororata because my father, Brian was Vicar of Hororata from 1960-1965.

Hororata has a special place in my heart and I have many memories, despite being very young, of life in this beautiful district.

I started school at Hororata School when I turned 5 in the middle of November 1964.

I remember being worried before I started that I didn’t have a school bag – in those days, a leather satchell with a shoulder strap.

My Mum assured me it would be fine but I couldn’t see where it was and there were no trips planned into Christchurch shops.

Nor did I have the ability to foresee that it was all arranged that it would be a birthday present for me and thus be ready for day one at school.

We lived in the old vicarage opposite St John’s so the trip to school involved catching the school bus.

I don’t remember lots about my two and a half terms at Hororata School but I remember that we learned some things which didn’t involve reading, writing and arithmetic.

One of those was to tie our shoelaces for ourselves. Another was learning how to knit.

There was also something that happened when I was at Hororata School which has affected the way I have lived ever since.

Back in that day the government ensured that there was free milk for every pupil. So daily a delivery of half pint bottles of milk would arrive and at morning break we had to drink our bottle.

But the delivery would be placed – as I recall – on the main school building porch and if the sun was shining the milk would get warmed up.

I found warm milk was revolting and to this day I can only drink milk if it is fresh and from the fridge!

Hororata School like all schools was and is a place of learning.

Last night [at a dinner] Shaun Clarke spoke eloquently of the values learnt at Hororata School –

-        values which serve ex pupils well as we make our way through life

-          and values that from a global perspective should not be taken for granted.

But where do these values come from –

-          values which, for example, value human life and value humans working together for the common good?

A British historian, Tom Holland, in a recent book called Dominion, mounts an impressive case that the values we admire and propagate through our secular school system are the result of Christianity.

That is, if Christianity never started as a movement and became a dominant force in European politics and culture, the values of the world, including in Aotearoa NZ, would be very different.

In the Scripture reading this morning, as St John introduces his readers to his presentation of Jesus and characterises him as the Word – as the supreme communication of God into the world – we heard these words:

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Tom Holland’s book Dominion presents the case for these words being historically true: the influence of Jesus  through the Christian movement he founded has extended to the whole world.

It is something of a custom in Aotearoa NZ to have a church service as part of a secular school jubilee weekend.

Perhaps the most important reason for doing so is that a jubilee is an occasion for giving thanks and a church service is a means of expressing that thanksgiving –

-          appreciation for all the good that flows from the presence of a school in a community;

-          appreciation for all the benefits of education in our lives as pupils and ex pupils.

But a service such as this service today is also an opportunity to reflect on the future of school, of community and of society as a whole.

My question for that future is how long we can maintain our commitment to the values we cherish if we have no connection to the origin of those values, to Jesus Christ the true light of God.

May God through the light of Jesus bless Hororata School in its journey through the next 150 years.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Is there an Anglican future for Anglicans?

The past couple of posts have focused on some aspects of being Anglican in the world today which are institutional: a House of Bishops' statement, a counter statement, an Archieposcopal response to the counter statement, a critique by an Archbishop and a condemnation of that critique by another Archbishop.

Here I want to focus our attention on being Anglican and the future of being Anglican in respect of what Anglicans are doing on the ground, with or without episcopal or archiepiscopal guidance and direction.

There may or may not be any special insight attached to the ontology of episcopacy but a function of episcopacy is to experience Anglican life as lived by Anglicans across the many ministry units of a diocese (with some wider experiences from time to time via travel to other dioceses).

What I see as I travel around is that there is a range to being Anglican. For instance, liturgically speaking:

There are sticking pretty much wholly to our NZPB services Anglicans.

There are mixed services Anglicans (one service sticks close to NZPB, the other does not).

There are strongly influenced by NZPB services Anglicans.

There are exploring new ways of worshipping God Anglicans.

Or, put another way, and noting a couple of recent posts by Bosco Peters (here and here), there are Anglicans who value the principle of "common prayer" and engage liturgically accordingly, and there are Anglicans who do not value the principle of common prayer, for example, because they value something else more highly, such as local adapation to a particular context leading to a liturgy which is fit for that local purpose but not especially coherent with "common prayer" across the wider church.

It's all Anglican because Anglicans are doing these things.

But in the messiness of much diversity, there lies the question, what will continue and what will discontinue?

The English Reformation gave rise to the 1549 and 1552 prayer books, then to Mary's reactive reign, then to Elizabeth's progressive-towards-reformed-but-not-extremist Anglicanism, all which developments settled, post Elizabeth with the 1611 King James Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and long they reigned over us, into the 20th century.

We may never, of course, settle again on one version of the Bible and one prayer book. But it is a fair question, I suggest, to ask what currently diversified Anglicanism is going to become? Assuming we are evolving, are we merely improving the species or going to generate a new species?

That is, should any younger readers here be alive in 2100, what will the Anglican liturgy which buries you have become? What will the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have evolved to?

Here I resist the temptation to predict. I observe only this, I don't think we are going to see a movement which wants to take us back to a "clasic Anglicanism" whether that is say 1950s Anglicanism (all the great hymns, 1662 BCP and some use of 1928 PB) or 1989 Anglicanism (i.e. full switch over to the NZPB published in 1989).

We are going to become something and it may be something which bears a strong or a weak resemblance to our experience of Anglicanism in 2021.

That is, according to our understanding of "Anglican" today (acknowledging all disputes and arguments), we may not think the future of Anglicanism in these islands is actually "Anglican".

Though it might be. The Holy Spirit is involved in the evolution.

Yes, yes, I know that statistically speaking there may be no ACANZP in existence in 2100. I am hopeful, contra stats!


Monday, March 8, 2021

Our Communion's future: colonialism, context and controversy

 The Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, the Most Reverend Henry C Ndukuba, issued a statement on Friday 26 February 2021 which referred to “the deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality”. The statement goes on to use phrases like, “[homosexuality] is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough”. It also states that “secular governments are adopting aggressive campaign for global homosexual culture.” (sic)

I completely disagree with and condemn this language. It is unacceptable. It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks.

I am with the Archbishop of Canterbury when he speaks firmly and clearly in respect of ++Ndukuba, Primate of Nigeria's recent condemnatory statement agains both homosexuality and ACNA's "toleration" of it - see post below this.

But a thread of comments to a Thinking Anglicans post on the statement - see here - poses some challenging questions about our Communion's life as a global fellowship of Anglicans confessing some kind of intent to be Anglican.

Within the TA comments is reference to another thread of comments re the ++Welby statement, on ++Welby's Facebook page, in which Nigerians comment thus: (in my words):

- ++Welby should not tell Nigerian Anglicans what to do, that's straight up British colonialism, again.

- doubling down on the ++Ndukuba condemnation of homosexuality and toleration of it.

Then - back to the TA thread - there are comments to the effect of "the Anglican Communion's hardly a Communion, is it?"

All a bit Anglicanly depressing!

There is a kind of thread through such commentary towards a better future for the Communion, though the required will to find the thread would need to also be found if the future is to be better.

That thread would be:

- acceptance that the role of the ABC in respect of the Communion is to speak and such speaking is not to be dismissed as a renewal of colonialism;

- acceptance that the Communion includes many contexts and those contexts (whether we like it or not, agree or not) make a difference to how we approach, discuss and locally determine some matters;

- acceptance that on matters of controversy within the Communion, the path to Communion-wide agreement is only through the Communion's structures (e.g. the role of the ABC, the Primates, Lambeth and ACC) and through respectful conversation with and within those structural means for meeting together.

Is it unrealistic to propose that the Anglican Communion's future lies precisely in a regathering of Anglican provinces which commit to being a communion undergirded by the three acceptances above?

Monday, March 1, 2021

I didn't see that coming, did you? [Updated x2]

++CANTERBURY RESPONDS TO ++NIGERIA: ++Justin speaks clearly and firmly.

WORTH READING ALONGSIDE BELOW: Andrew Goddard's carefully considered analysis of the situation.

ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago I became aware of a brewing controversy, initally within ACNA, and now spreading out a little as Nigeria joins the fray and thus making it a controversy within GAFCON. (See documents at the first 5 links below).

I didn't see this coming. The likely "severe to the point of possible division" controversy within ACNA has been the ordination of women to be priests or bishops.

This is my summary of the current controversy rolling through the past few weeks: 

- within the strict (conservative Anglican) orthodoxy of "any and all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful", how might we pastorally care for, welcome and include Christians self-identifying as gay, indeed what language might we use  in talking about these matters, for instance, is it OK to use descriptors such as "gay Christian" or "gay Anglican"? 

- A recent ACNA HOB statement on this set of questions is (unexpectedly) fairly conservative; a challenge from within ACNA to the HOB statement thinks their fairly conservative statement is harsh; a (strongly conservative, unsurprising) reaction from Nigeria thinks ACNA is heading down a slippery slope to a TEC-like end, unless the strictest repentance for their loose-by-Nigerian-standards approach occurs. 

(For other ways of describing what is going on, see the links from 6 onwards below).

This post, spoiler alert, is not about the controversy as a whole intra ACNA, intra GAFCON exploding issue (let alone about That Topic which is at the core of the controversy ... endless reruns on this site from ages beforehand, no need to repeat etc).

I want to reflect on but two aspects of it, of interest to all Anglicans everywhere.

Living together in Christ with disagreement

1. Anglicans from time to time disagree.

2. While all denominations disagree from time to time, there is an arguable special genius or charism to Anglicanism which means our ecclesiastical DNA is distinctive, if not unique, and wires us to live together with disagreement rather than to fly apart.

3. It is profoundly Anglican to exude blood, sweat and tears in all and every attempt to to live with our disagreements.

[4. The deep sadness over the divide in North America which led to the formation of ACNA (from TEC and ACCan), the divide in the Anglican Communion which led to the formation of GAFCON, and, indeed, the divide in my own church, ACANZP which led to the formation of CCAANZ, is not that there is an unreconciled disagreement but that we could not find a way to live together with the disagreement.]

5. ACNA is finding itself this week in a very, very Anglican situation!

6. Ironically, ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion and seems able to contemplate living with disagreement whereas Nigeria (which remains formally a member of the Communion) seems unable to comprehend the possibility of living with disagreement.

If you are an Anglican reading this, and would like a contructive vision of living within disagreement, then I urge you to read this brilliant sermon, delivered at a recent ordination of an Australian bishop.

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality

Whatever we make of the ACNA HOB initial statement, the published reaction to that statement, and ++Foley Beach's response to that reaction (see links below), we are seeing evidence of the thesis that: 

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on divorce and remarriage after divorce?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching and practice disagrees with Eastern Orthodox teaching and practice disagrees with Protestant teaching and practice.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on the use of artificial contraception?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching is unique to itself, and (it would appear) practice among Roman Catholic Christians does not uniformly follow that teaching.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on abortion?

Answer: No. While most churches teach that life begins at conception and the taking of life in the womb after conception is wrong, in practice Christians take a variety of positions, notably, we might observe, prominent Catholic politicians in the United States (Biden and Pelosi spring to mind) faithfully participate in Mass while consistently supporting liberal laws on abortion.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on homosexuality?

Answer: No. Even where there is significant agreement that marriage is between a man and a women, there is disagreement over the pastoral response to gay and lesbian Christians. Again, this is profoundly illustrated in the various statements of Pope Francis over recent years where he assiduously avoids challenging official Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality while creatively voiding aspects of that teaching with his constructive, compassionate statements on the church's welcome and inclusion of its homosexual parishioners.

That is, sexuality within the phenomenon of human life is a complex matter and gives rise to endless disagreement among Christians.

Within its defining theological constraints, ACNA is completely correct to allow that there is disagreement within its own ranks.

The Nigerian Anglican church, frankly, is an Anglican outlier with its refusal to entertain even the slightest amount of divergence of views.

Yes, I know that the Nigerian Anglican church is the largest Anglican church in the world.


Necessary Links:

1. ACNA HOB initial statement.

2. Dear Gay Anglicans response (from within ACNA).

3. Archbishop Foley's response to 2.

4. Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria's response to 1, 2, 3.

5. An ACNA repudiation of 2 [which I think was published before 4].

6. The Living Church's report.

7. Eternity's report.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Brevard S. Childs on Scripture

I've been digging into the Book of Exodus lately. Spoiler alert: no significant insights coming in this post. But one thing leads to another. Digging deeper into Exodus led to a review of my commentaries on this book and the judgement delivered is, "Negligible." In remedying this paucity I have purchased a commentary I know to be somewhat more famous than other commentaries, Brevard S. Childs' commentary on Exodus.

Childs on anything in the Old Testament is always good, not least because he goes a bit against the grain of a lot of 20th and 21st century scholarship on the Old Testament which tries to read the books within it, if not the Old Testament as a whole, in its own right, divorced from its appropriation into the Christian Bible. The citation below captures how Childs wants to read the OT scriptures, 

"as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church."

In other words, Childs is a determined Christian reader of the whole of Scripture, intent on reading Scripture as rule or canon and understanding it within the creedal faith of the Christian church.

Although no one told me about Childs when I was growing up within the evangelical Anglican movement, it is difficult to think that Childs and his writings would in any way have diminished the seriousness with which I learned to approach Scripture as authoritative in word and practice of the Christian life.

The more so when we read the fuller passage from which the citation above comes, words which are the very beginning of Childs on Exodus:

"The aim of this commentary is to seek to interpret the book of Exodus as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church. As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored. Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

p. xiii, Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library) Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1974. 

Here is the thing which (in my memory) was not so well worked out in my experience of evangelicalism (generally) and Anglican evangelicalism (particularly): the "how" of Scripture as authority including the integral question of the "meaning" of Scripture.

It would have been good to have spent more time discussing,

"As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored."

Why? Because looking back I think we assumed certain divisions among evangelicals without reflection on how such divisions could arise if Scripture was straightforwardly authoritative. Baptist evangelicals and Anglican evangelicals differed on baptism of believers' children (we knew that ... of course!) but we were both reading the same Bible. Later (in my experience) charismatic evangelicals and non-charismatic evangelicals differed on baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we were both reading the same Bible. What ( I do not recall) we did, say in Christian Union discussions about Scripture and its authority, was discuss how Scripture was authoritative when we didn't agree on its meaning.

Childs, above, challenges us to engage with the question of meaning in relation to authority:

"Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

Of course this could be a licence (in evangelical perspective) for a liberal approach to understanding Scripture, not least because following Childs at this point means an openness to "fresh" meaning, finding the relevancy of Scripture to "the contemporary situation of the church" and allowing God's Spirit to help us appropriately appropriate the message of Scripture. From an evangelical perspective "Spirit" desperately needs definition lest we follow the spirit of the age rather than the Ageless Spirit!

Actually - I can now see - differences between Baptists and Anglicans relate to engaging Scripture with "each new generation" (Anglicans, for example, baptise children of believers because that is the right thing to do when the second and third and fourth generations of believers come along - something the NT does not pause to address).

When charismatic renewal came upon Anglican and Baptist churches in the 1960s and 1970s, there certainly was a "contemporary situation of the church" to be understood in the light of the "word" of Scripture as we were addressed by it and, those of us who embraced this new movement of the Spirit felt we were anticipating "a fresh appropriation of [Scripture's] message through the work of God's Spirit." All the while, resolutely not conceding for a moment that anything "liberal" was involved in our thinking!

I won't offer further analysis of the 2020s situation, suffice to say that in many and diverse ways, evangelical Anglicans continue to freshly appropriate the meaning of Scripture for today.

Thanks Brevard!



Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lockdown Blogpost Casualty - Ash (without Ashing) Wednesday Livestreamed

 I had  a post started and the finishing of it was (is still) in mind but then our Government wisely analysed some new Covid transmission in our community and imposed, for a minimum of three days, a return to higher Levels, Auckland from 1 to 3 and the rest of us from 1 to 2.

In any other week of the year this might have been a non-event re episcopal life, but this week the three days includes Ash Wednesday and thus advice to the Diocese has had to be given.

So yesterday's potential blogging time got squeezed out with all the bits and bobs of discussion about what to say and what - in particular - to do about our Ecumenical Service tomorrow evening in the Transitional Cathedral.

All sorted ... now. But no post in the usual way.

For those interested the Ecumenical Service will be livestreamed and the details (along with other advice, should you be interested, about Ash Wednesday in Level 2) are as follows:

"This minimum period in Level 2 includes all of Ash Wednesday and thus affects services on Ash Wednesday. Earlier today I gave this directive to our Vicars/Priests-in-Charge/Chaplains:

There is to be no Ashing at Ash Wednesday services.
 
Ash Wednesday services may be held (providing they comply with Level 2 Guidelines for our services and other gatherings) but they are not to include the act of Ashing people’s foreheads.
 
I recommend as an alternative the following action at the point in the service where Ashing would take place (with suitably adapted words being said): pause, silence, each member of the congregation using their own thumb and signing their own foreheads with a cross.
 
Yes, that means we do not have the witness of Ash on our foreheads as we depart from the service, but collectively, through a Lenten fast from Ashing, we are witnessing to NZ that we are taking our responsibilities in Level 2 seriously and solemnly.
 
Ecumenical Service at the Transitional Cathedral
5.30 pm Wednesday 17 February 2021: this is now a Livestream Service. 

We do not want to have to turn the 101st person away so Archbishop Paul and myself have agreed that we will ask everyone to stay home and share in this service via Livestreaming.
 

The only people present will be participants in the service. If you are not a participant, then please stay home and watch the service via Livestream from the Transitional Cathedral Facebook page or YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX1CvdiQsCUKka5bjH2ZHxA )."

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What's in a translation?

Last Sunday the Gospel was Mark 1:29-39. (You were there, right, and heard it?)

Something struck me in the passage for the first time but then I realised it was striking in one translation but not in others.

Concerning verse 31, when Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.

Here are some non-striking - for me, on this occasion, as I will explain - translations: 

"Jesus went and took hold of her hand, and raised her to her feet." (REB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up." (CEB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up." (GNB)

"He went in to her, took her by the hand and helped her up." (NJB)

What about the Greek itself?

"And going to [her] he raised her holding the hand."

So, nothing wrong with any of the translations above!

But the translation which caught my eye was the NRSV:

"He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up."

What struck me was the NRSV's "lifted her up." 

That got me thinking and the thinking became part of my sermon. Jesus lifted her up. That's what he does, he lifts people up. He lifts you and me up. Do we need lifting up today? So many things get us down and we need lifting up. And Jesus will do this!

Now to this week's Gospel, Mark 1:40-45.

A very striking issue arises.

The leper at the centre of the story begs Jesus, "If you choose, you can make me clean." (40, NRSV)

Does this mean Jesus could have chosen not to heal the leper?

Does this mean when we are not healed that Jesus has chosen not to heal us?

Answers on a postcard ... or a comment!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The church of God is people but are the people being separatist, even supremacist?

Michael Reddell, firing up again one of his blogs - in another blog he is one of NZ's preeminent economic commentators - reviews two books he has recently read, with the title "All one in Christ Jesus."

Book one is "... Mississippi Prayingwith the subtitle “Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, by Carolyn Dupont a US academic. "

Book two is "Hirini Kaa’s book, Te Mahi Mihinare: The Maori Anglican ChurchKaa is both an academic and an ordained Anglican priest, and his book was a really interesting read. The evangelisation of the Maori population in the 19th century, initially by CMS missionaries and increasingly by Maori Christians themselves is an inspiring story, full of individual tales of heroism, humility, and faith. (Sadly, the decline of Christianity – including Anglicanism – in New Zealand whether among Maori or non-Maori populations is the dominant story now). And the interest in Kaa’s historical material continues well through the 20th century (he stops at about 1990 just before he himself became a member of the General Synod), including the development of Maori bishoprics."

Along the way of the review there are interesting observations which raise important questions about what is admirable and what is not so admirable in church life expressed on racial and/or cultural lines (think, for instance, Peter McGavren's "homogenous unit" principle in church growth theory re what might be admirable and note Carolyn Dupont's concerns re resistance to integration between white and black worshippers re what seems less than admirable).

But what Reddell says about Hirini Kaa's book is particularly interesting to me because I myself am in the midst of reading the book.

Thus likely I will come back to this post to add some thoughts of my own ... but if you have read Kaa's book (or Dupont's), you may wish to comment now!


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The kingdom of Jesus

One of my favourite passages in the Bible was the gospel reading for Sunday, Mark 1:14-20.

Pithy, direct, active. Jesus preaches (a very short sermon!) and calls without preamble or ceremony his first disciples.

In the brief message is everything Jesus will do and say (all about the kingdom of God).

In the call is the call to all who hear the message: Follow Jesus.

The "me" in "Follow me" is illuminating. Jesus has no ego yet calls people to follow him alone, even giving up, as the fishermen do, everything that has been their life and livelihood.

Connecting the "me" with the "time is fulfilled" and have a very Jesus-centred kingdom.

When Jesus comes, the kingdom has come.

What Jesus does is the kingdom breaking into the world as Jesus takes charge of the world.

Jesus is the king.

The kingdom of God is the kingdom of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus join with Jesus in kingdom of Jesus work.

As servants of Jesus we obey Jesus' rule and thus do the things which assist the growth of the kingdom.

As servants of Jesus we may be tempted to think the kingdom's future growth depends on us and is exclusive to our good obedience to the king. 

No, the kingdom is greater than us and God in Jesus continues to do kingdom work in the world with servants we may know nothing of (and who may not realise they are serving the kingdom!).

While we can never know all that God is doing in the world - providence - we can be confident, because of passages such as Mark 1:14-20, that God is doing those things in the world which fit with what we see of Jesus' words and deeds in the gospels, including those things which Jesus-centred disciples say and do in obedience to Jesus.

So, yes, the kingdom is greater than the church but never less than the church.

The church, in the long run and for the most part, because of promises of God concerning the Spirit-led, Spirit-gifted body of Christ, will visibly demonstrate the kingdom in the world today.

But errors in teaching and in behaviour do occur in the life of the church and thus the church can frustrate the growth of the kingdom.

If we want to not be frustrating then we do well to read and re-read and respond and re-respond to Mark 1:14-20.