Monday, May 23, 2022

Lambeth Expectations: Much or Not so much?

So, this is the year of the Lambeth Conference for this decade (26 July to 8 August, 2022). The last one was in 2008. There should have been one in 2018. Contretemps in the Communion postponed it to 2020. Covid postponed 2020 to 2022. It's been a big deal for bishops since the first one in 1867. It's been controversial, none more so than 1998 with its resolution 1.10 which at the time seemed to settle the Communion on the matter of homosexuality, but it turned out that was far from the case. (It is not the purpose of this post to review that particular historical narrative). 

Subsequently Lambeth 2008 assiduously turned itself away from the making of resolutions as far as possible and was a big talk fest (indaba) which my then bishop, Richard Ellena of the Diocese of Nelson, described in the following terms: "I believe (at this stage – and there are still two days to go) that this has been the most expensive exercise in futility that I have ever been to". (Again, it is not the purpose of this post to review the worthwhileness of that Lambeth Conference, but clearly not all found it a profitable exercise).

So, what are the prospects for this year's Conference? Will it not be an exercise in futility? What is the purpose of the Conference and does it have a "big thing" it is trying to achieve?

In the end, I can't offer a pre-Conference answer to these questions. There is a "big thing" inasmuch as there will be foci in the Conference in the troubles that beset our world today and what we as bishops might say in response to them - and presumably any formal Conference statement will encourage our dioceses to continuing engagement in the tackling of these troubles. The theme of the Conference is "God's church for God's world" and I like the note that the church is "for" the world.

On the main Conference webpage we read this:

"Convened by The Archbishop of Canterbury in 2022, the Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion for prayer and reflection, fellowship and dialogue on church and world affairs.

With the theme of ‘God’s Church for God’s World - walking, listening and witnessing together,’ the conference will explore what it means for the Anglican Communion to be responsive to the needs of a 21st Century world.

The journey to the conference starts during 2021, where there will be opportunities for prayer, dialogue and reflection, involving the conference community – and wider Anglican World."

It looks like our reflection and dialogue will focus on matters such as the conflictual nature of our world, and the threat of environmental disaster and the diminishment of life through poverty and inequality.

Mind you, a world faced with environmental disaster doesn't quite cut it for some bishops as a "big thing." Thus:

Three Afican Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda) have issued an open letter, reported by The Living Church, in which they explain why they are boycotting Lambeth:

"The Communique issued after the Primates’ Meeting of March 2022 in Lambeth Palace, London, was silent on the agenda of the proposed Lambeth 2022, which is a ploy to evade the crucial issue of human sexuality. The conclusions reached by the Primates suggest that the subject of human sexuality is not on the agenda at the next Lambeth Conference, as if the problems generated by the admission of homosexuality as a normal way of life as opposed to Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 could be swept under the carpet. 

Instead, Lambeth 2022 is to focus on peripheral matters about the environment and difficulties experienced by disadvantaged communities. Their focus on the environment should be rooted in biblical theology within an authentic salvation message and must not abandon that for any social cause.

Human sexuality is not a moral issue to be wrapped in the garment of human rights which allows for distortion of fundamental biblical truth."

The planet is burning up, but that is "peripheral"!

Well, let's see what happens. I would be a bit surprised if nothing is said about human sexuality. Conversely, I have no personal desire to go to a conference which has nothing to talk about except the well worn conversational grooves of Anglican differences over homosexuality (1998-2022 edition).

I would love to find through the Conference how much we have in common as members of a global church when our globe is facing so many common challenges! That would be a "big thing" ...

In the meantime, apparently if we don't get Covid, or Covid-again, then monkeypox is spreading.



Monday, May 16, 2022

Clearly (Down Under and Up Yonder version(s)) - updated

Last week the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia met. Some sense of the big issues can be gained here and here (via the multiple links there). Has our neighbouring church come closer to a massive schism, or has it managed to find a way to not do so? I feel a little unclear about that!

Following debates, and ruminating on the particular shock to the Synod of the bishops not agreeing with the houses of clergy and laity on a statement about marriage, it has struck me that quite a lot depends in modern Anglicanism on what the word "clearly" means, whether we are agreed on what is "clear" and what is not, and whether we are minded to live together with those who are not as clear as we are on a matter or matters.

For what it is worth, I think the bishops got it right when the voted against a statement which said this:

"Marriage as the union of a man and a woman.  Pursuant to the authority recognised in s.4 and s.26 of the Constitution to make statements as to the faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline of this Church, and in accordance with the procedures set out in Rule V, the General Synod hereby states:  

1. The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5).  

2. The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.  

3. Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.  "

Why do I think that? Because (a) accepting (1) above is true when discussion concerns marriage between a man and a woman, does not entail that (2) and (3) are true without further reflection about the relationship between what Christ taught (as recorded in our Gospels) and what Christ did not teach (because no one asked a question of Christ about same-sex relationships, and certainly not in the context of modern states making civil provision for marriage between two people of the same sex). It is the case that "further reflection" in churches today both yields conclusions in which (2) and (3) above are held to be true (and thus the houses of clergy and laity voted in favour) and conclusions in which neither (2) and (3) are held to be true, or only (3) is not held to be true (and thus there were significant minorities against the statement).

And, thus, (b) the bishops got it right (I am interpreting their decision here), because they felt the ACA should be a church in which continuing exploration of two (or more views) on these matters is possible.*see further below

Or, more simply, those voting against the statement felt that things are not quite as clear as the statement's promoters and supporters make them out to be.

Incidentally, readers here, like me ignorant until last week of a specific requirement of the Diocese of Sydney, may be interested to know that the issue of commitment to marriage (in line with the statement proposed to the GS) in that Diocese is such that all new principals of Anglican schools there, along with new school board members, are required to sign a statement of support for marriage being only between a man and a woman.

Yet, let's be clear, it is also the case that clarity can be fervently held on the other side of this particular ledger. Over the weekend I noticed some discussion about an interview with Wesley Hill, a celibate, gay (wait for it) Episcopalian priest and theologian, who is interviewed here.

Wesley is a fascinating bloke, because a lot about his theological approach to being gay in the church would sit very satisfactorily inside ACNA. Yet he is coolly and calmly convinced that his place is in The Episcopal Church, promoting what he calls a "Side B" approach to being a gay Christian: commitment to being celibate while boldly being out.

But here's the thing.

If you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of support for Wesley.

But if you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of clarity that there is no place for Wesley and his views in The Episcopal Church.

Speaking personally, I would struggle to be part of either an ACA or a TEC which (finally) got to a position of shutting down all possibility of exploring aspects of human sexuality, respecting the fact that some lack of clarity attends the discussion.

Back to the General Synod across The Ditch.

There was also some controversy over a motion to celebrate 30 years of women in ordained ministry, that controversy reflecting the difference between dioceses in ACA over whether women may be priests or bishops.

If we put both controversies together, over marriage and over women being ordained to positions of authority such as priest or bishop, we highlight an arguably deeper question for Anglicans than one about clarity or lack of clarity, that question concerns whether anything in our understanding of Scripture may change as life changes.

Is that the great question for global Anglicanism in the 21st century? (Actually, it is the great question for global Christianity!)

But if it is the great question, then it is closely associated with the question whether global Anglicanism, and the Anglican provinces around the globe, can live with some answers to the great question being less than as clear as those of us who love clarity would like.

Updates:

1. Australian Primate warns against going it alone on SSB.

2. Case is made here (re who is or isn't Anglican in Australia) that the General Synod only narrowly avoided effectively determining that ACA is not a comprehensive church but "a narrow, even Calvinistic, confessional church".

3. On what the bishops' vote signifies, see this The Living Church article, and note this excerpt:

Bishop Garry Weatherill of Ballarat opposed the marriage motion, saying he was aware of only two same-sex blessings which had occurred in the church since the Appellate Tribunal’s decision.

“That is not a tsunami. People have been saying this is a tear in the fabric of the church, and drawing a line in the sand. It’s not,” he told TLC. “The reason the bishops voted against the motion was to leave the space open for discussion, not to make hard line edicts.”

The church’s primate, Archbishop of Adelaide Geoffrey Smith, told The Australian newspaper last week that the scriptures and church clearly understood marriage as between a man and woman.

“I am not aware of any proposal to alter that,” Smith said. “The current discussion is really about the ‘therefore’ part. Is it the case that therefore blessing a marriage that is not between a man and a woman is inappropriate or impossible to be done?

“Or is it the case that yes, the doctrine of the church is that marriage is between a man and a woman but actually we are living in a culture and society where lawful marriage is possible between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, and there might be good that comes from that relationship and it might reflect something of God’s love and therefore it’s appropriate for some kind of blessing or recognition.”

Archbishop Smith's statement/question, as expressed above, is pretty much aligned with my own position as a bishop in ACANZP: affirming marriage traditionally understood AND making room for exploration of what it means to be church in a changed society.

Monday, May 9, 2022

John 10:30 and current Anglican currents

So, in yesterday's Gospel reading, the last words were:

The Father and I are one (John 10:30).

The unity of the Father and the Son is one of the great themes of John's Gospel, if not the greatest theme of them all.

The mission of the Son in Johannine thought is the unification of humanity with God.

The church sort of understands that (e.g. when Paul in Ephesians writes about God's universal plan, "to gather up all things in [Christ]", 1:10) and sort of doesn't (e.g. when it has lots of factions such as Paul tackles in chapter after chapter of 1 Corinthians).

Division among churches at best is a handbrake on our participation in God's mission (we get distracted by issues internal to Christian life) and at worst it is a barrier to hearing the Good News  (non-Christians are turned off the purse gospel by the confusion of versions of Christianity). (

Aside: I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry yesterday driving down a street in one of our towns in which the Baptist Church is next door to the Catholic Church and Catholic School which is next door to the Union Church!

A special interest of this blog through its zillions of posts is unity among Anglicans. Putting the Union back into Anglican Communion!

On the good news front, I hear that more bishops than expected are planning to go to the Lambeth Conference in July this year. Cool!

On the what's going to happen front is the question of this week's Australian Anglican church's General Synod (here and here), where That Topic will be discussed.

This is my best understanding of what could happen - happy to be corrected by any Australian readers.

1. No particular change to the current situation which is somewhat unsettled (and looking forward to this GS settling one way or another).

2. An affirmation that various moves in a few dioceses in favour of blessing of same sex marriages are good to continue (but this may lead to disaffiliations from dioceses by some parishes; and even to some kind of separation by some dioceses from the national Anglican church).

3. An affirmation that any moves anywhere to bless any relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman is wrong (unconstitutional, heretical, and the like) - unlikely to lead to disaffiliations by those who disagree; would there by rebellion against such an affirmation?

I have no particular insight or information which leads to a prediction.

But I do want to say a few things about the framing of the differences and divisions in Anglicanlands about That Topic. 

Reading around the traps I see some conservative commentary which sees these matters as binary: light versus darkness, holiness versus sinfulness and consequently as matters over which people should leave the church to reform around what they believe. (Some talk, for instance, that the progressives should have the courage of their convictions and leave to form a church better suited to their view of Anglicanism).

My own preference is to see these matters as matters on which Anglicans have reasonable grounds for reasonable difference. 

At the heart of debates over homosexuality in 21st century life are two (or more views) on homosexuality as a phenomenon of human life. 

Some Anglicans view homosexuality as a result of the Fall and thus all strictures against blessing same sex marriages are logical extensions of a view that only sexual commitment in line with creation's intention itself can be blessed. 

Some Anglicans view homosexuality as a longstanding variation within human sexuality, likely present since the emergence of humanity (homo sapiens) from the evolutionary process and thus a state of life which is within nature rather than against nature, with a consequential hesitancy to interpret Scripture as constraining two homosexuals from committing to each other in lifelong, faithful love.

Given that no definitive statement of Anglicanism found in the BCP or the 39A determines that it is unreasonable for Anglicans to hold to either view of homosexuality, is it not within the bounds of Anglicanism for there to be differences of view on how our church might respond to two homosexuals seeking ecclesiastical blessing for a legal state of life? (We might note that there are statements within Anglicanism about the respected role of the magistrate in civil life ...!).

If such debate is framed in this way, then isn't it incumbent within Anglicanlands to find ways to accommodate our differences on such matters rather than to divide over such matters?

Monday, May 2, 2022

The explosion of the resurrection across the pages of the New Testament (with an exception)

Preaching yesterday morning (Easter 3), when the readings were Acts 9:1-6 (the Conversion of St. Paul), Revelation 5:11-14 (the worship of the Lamb in heaven) and John 21:1-19 (Fishing on the Sea of Tiberias) got me thinking ...

The resurrection is like an explosion with a massive rippling effect across the pages of the New Testament.

Sure, most of the four gospels could have been written without the resurrection (which takes up just the last chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the last two chapters of John). But without the resurrection there is no conversion of Saul to become Paul and no history of the first Christians which is Acts. No epistles of Paul, no other epistles, except may be the Epistle of James. And no Revelation with its vision of a heaven transformed through the presence of the once slain, now resurrected Lamb.

Which makes it all the more intriguing that the Gospel passage yesterday begins with no sign at all of an explosive resurrection impacting the main disciples of Jesus:

Simon Peter said to [the other disciples with him at the Sea of Tiberias], "I am going fishing." (21:3)

Simon and his fishing mates seem to be at a loose end! Now, sure, to be a bit anachronistic, workers for God need a day off, annual leave, team building exercises, and, within the 40 days (per Luke's account in Acts 1), there could have been a lull in activity in Galilee (though, per Luke the disciples do not go to Galilee, in contrast to Matthew, Luke and John).

Yes, the historical accounts of the appearances of the risen Jesus, especially in relationship to the commissioning-by-Jesus-and-what-happens-next, are intriguing as we note tension across the accounts between Jerusalem and Galilee and, in John 20 and 21, between Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, to say nothing of the tension between the explosive character of the resurrection and this exceptional lull at the beginning of John 21.

Perhaps that might keep us humble as readers many centuries later - humble in the sense of not being too sure and certain about exactly what happened, even as (through the witness of the apostles, embedded in the pages of the New Testament) we have high and joyful confidence that the Lord is risen and lives among us, as he did in the heady days of the expanding Christian church in the first century AD.

There are other things to keep us humble these days - or they ought to. Globally we have the continuing scandal of the Russian Orthodox Church showing not one scintilla of compassion for Ukraine and Ukrainians from its top leadership. Locally, Down Under, we have media stories about serious misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct in churches in Australia and New Zealand. Even when it is only a few named churches which feature in the headlines, it seems to me that all churches are tarred with the same reputational damaging brush.

I have been delighted, nevertheless, to read recently one heartwarming media story about a Down Under church - it concerns Curate Church in Tauranga and can be read here. (That's "curate" in a non-Anglican sense of the word "curate" - an active noun versus a role description!!)

Of course bad stories about churches do nothing to create, let alone enhance some kind of warm, questing space in people's minds re the existence of God and the possibility that God has revealed God's self to be compassionate and merciful. Secularism (in the sense of a society and its cultural expectations excluding the possibility of God's existence and interest in our world) grows apace hereabouts.

Interestingly, in this morning's Christchurch Press a local scientific commentator, Peter Griffin, has a column about the origins of life. As far as it goes it is an informative column, informing us of the possible role of meteorites (as carriers of DNA etc) in the development of life here. But its last sentence highlights the contrast between a questing science which knows not of God's revelation and a questing Christian (i.e. someone interested in meteorites) who knows of Genesis 1:

"Our origin story is still to be fully understood and written. But it will eventually make for one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of life itself."

(Incidentally, the thread of comments below the column is delightful!) 

These are challenging times. A person with no acceptance of the role of God as Creator is unlikely to be open to the thought that the power of the Creator has resurrected our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The pathway along which we hope the good news travels into people's hearts is beset with blocking landslides and unbridgeable chasms.

Yesterday Psalm 8 was read in a service. It struck me that verse 4 is the question which all of Scripture answers:

"what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

But the question presupposes the Being to whom the question may be addressed and from whom an answer has come. We live in a world, many of us on this planet, in which it is denied that there is anyone who minds us!



Monday, April 25, 2022

A Little More on the Resurrection Narratives?

Indulge me, please, with another resurrection post ... we are still well within the "50 Days of Easter"! It will be last one for Pascha 2022.

I have never noticed before the unusual character of the verse, Luke 24:12.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. (NRSV)

Notes:

1. Not all ancient manuscripts have this verse. That means it may not have been known to Luke himself and may have been added later (e.g. to bring Peter into the story at an earlier stage than otherwise, see Luke 24:34). REB confines the verse to a footnote.

2. The verse is reminiscent of aspects of Peter and the Beloved Disciple's racing/running to the tomb and seeing into it, in John 20:3-10: thus:

20:3 Then Peter and ... set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together ...

20:5 He [the Beloved Disciple] bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there ...

20:6 ... Simon Peter ... saw the linen wrapping lying there ...

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes ...

The emboldened words in Luke 24:12 and John 20:5 are exactly the same in Greek.

3. How to explain the relationship between Luke 24:12 and John 20:3-10. Did one copy/adapt from the other? Did they both draw on a common tradition? 

C.F. Evans, in his commentary, Saint Luke (SCM/Trinity Press International, 1990), pp. 899-900 lists three explanations for Luke 24:12:

A. "Luke wrote the verse, and it was later used by John." He then observes, "Against this is that some of the common language is characteristic of John rather than of Luke."

B. "Luke and John have used a common tradition of the empty tomb story in which disciples (Peter) were connected with the tomb, each doing so in his own way. Luke has combined it with Mark's story, while John has incorporated the beloved disciple into it." Evans then observes, "Against this, apart from the Johannine character of the language referred to above, the verse would be the only evidence for such a common tradition to be found in Luke's version, which is otherwise based on Mark's, and it follow awkwardly after 'an idle tale', giving the impression of something tacked on.

Yes, explanation C is the one!

C. "The verse is a later harmonizing addition to Luke's text, formed largely out of language borrowed from John 20:1-10, with the object of improving the transition to the narrative of appearances, and of brining Peter (cf. v. 34) into relation to the tomb." For Evans, "This is the most likely explanation of the presence of the verse here, and of its clumsiness."

Now various things can be contested here (e.g. I have seen a commentator deny that the language in v. 12 is Johannine), but the verse is a clumsy one relative to the verses preceding and succeeding it, and explanation C has a certain plausibility to it.

What does this mean for insight into the composition of the resurrection narratives?

Perhaps there are many insights!

Here is one insight:

The narratives across Mark, Luke and John are interested in the role of Peter as a witness to the resurrection - noting that Paul's tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:5 reports a specific appearance "to Cephas" prior to an appearance "then to the twelve."

Matthew, who follows Mark to a significant degree in Matthew 28:1-7, fails to follow Mark 16:7, where the messenger from God at the tomb says, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter ...".

Luke (who avoids any talk of appearances of Jesus in Galilee, in both Luke 24 and Acts 1) notes in 24:34 a specific appearance to "Simon", but via an indirect report. Luke 24:34 is consistent with 1 Corinthians 15:5. 

Luke 24:12 places Simon Peter at the tomb but without account of an appearance of the risen Lord to him. 

Otherwise, we assume in Matthew's Galilee appearance (28:16-20) and Luke's Jerusalem appearance to all the gathered disciples, that Peter is present in that group.

Similarly, in John 20, we assume that Peter is present in both accounts of appearances to the gathered disciples - only Thomas is noted as missing from the first account.

Nevertheless, in John 21, the appearance of the Lord to seven disciples gathered together at the Sea of Tiberias (i.e. in Galilee) becomes a major encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter.

Is there a developing interest in the role of Simon Peter as a witness to the resurrection, through the decades in which the gospels are composed (and, in the case of Luke 24:12 edited)?

But, why then does Matthew show no interest in Peter in his post resurrection narratives?

A possible deduction is that Matthew is a Palestine-based gospel and Peter is long gone from Palestine to Rome.

By contrast, if Mark is Rome-based (as many have supposed), then his interest in Peter is understandable. Luke is not as interested in Peter as he is in Paul, but Peter is important, and Paul himself does not omit the "appearance to Peter" tradition from his list in 1 Corinthians 15.

John, as best we can tell, is neither a Palestine nor a Rome based gospel. Possibly he composes his gospel in Ephesus. But his gospel represents a distinctive form of early Christianity, Johannine Christianity and this development is in contrast, if not in tension with the Pauline - Petrine Christianity across the water in Rome. So Peter figures prominently in John's Gospel, especially in the epilogue which is chapter 21. But the emphasis on Peter is not about boosting Petrine Christianity; it's about defending Johannine Christianity as a worthy form of Christianity, with as strong a foundation in the ministry of Jesus Christ as Petrine Christianity has.

All this is pretty well known.

Luke 24:12 offers the possibility of a strengthening of this analysis.





Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Empty Tomb and the Subsequent Appearances

It is that time again, to make observations about the resurrection narratives. (For reccent previous years see: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 (Pt 1), 2018 (Pt 2).)

This year a couple of things have struck me in reading the gospel accounts in preparation for two sermons (one re Luke 24:1-12 and one re John 20:1-18). I am treating Mark 16:1-8 as the original ending of that Gospel.

Empty Tomb then Appearances

Now, this is pretty obvious, but it has struck me that each of the gospel accounts tells us the tomb is empty (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13) and only then tells us of the first appearance of Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-18 - Mark anticipates a later appearance, 16:7).

None of the accounts mixes up the Empty Tomb with an Appearance (e.g. imagines Jesus himself is in the tomb, waiting for visitors). The "guide(s)" at the tomb ("angel", Matthew 28:5; "young man", Mark 16:5; "two men ... in dazzling apparel", Luke 24:4; "two angels in white", John 20:12) are distinct from Jesus.

So, the appearances (with a modest exception in Matthew*) then become the second part of the resurrection narratives for each gospel (including Mark's narrative, by implication).

Clearly, picking up Paul's account of Appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, there were - between "died ... buried ... raised on the third day" and Paul's conversion - appearances of the risen Jesus to a range of individuals and groups. 

Understandably, the Gospels tell us about Appearances. 

Not so understandable, of course, is that the Gospels (a) do not offer between them a particularly coherent account of these appearances, and (b) do not match well with Paul's list (with its air of authoritative tradition).

But, I muse ... were there a range of appearances of Jesus to people? From near the tomb to Galilee, were there many appearances during a limited period of time? And, so, from that range, are we now able to read in the gospels a selection of testimonies of those appearances? Thus: near the tomb (Matthew, John), in Jerusalem (Luke, John), near Jerusalem (Luke), and in Galilee (Matthew, anticipated in Mark, John).

Clearly there is a degree of creativity as the gospel writers (c) support the narrative of the Empty Tomb with a narrative or narratives of Appearances of Jesus, and (d) draw their overall accounts to a conclusion. So, we find on the matter of Jesus commissioning his disciples that there are three different commissionings by the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53/Acts 1:1-8; John 20:21-23/21:15-22).

Then, Luke and John show extraordinary theological depth as well as the ability to include a wide range of theological themes as they respectively tell of the Road to Emmaus appearance (Luke 24:13-35) and the "third appearance" in the Big Catch of Fish (John 21). 

*That modest exception is that between Matthew's first appearance account (28:9-10) and second account (28:16-20), Matthew refers back to the Empty Tomb by wait of a story about how a rumour was initiated by the authorities to explain the emptiness of the tomb (28:11-15).

Sight and Recognition

There is a lot of "seeing" and "recognising" (or not) going on in each of the resurrection narratives, with respect to the actual or anticipated appearances of Jesus.

Matthew 28:6: "Come, see the place where he lay."

Matthew 28:7: "... he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him."

Matthew 28:10: "... there they will see me."

Mark 16:6: "... see the place where they laid him."

Mark 16:7: "...he is going before you to Galileee; there you will see him."

Luke 24:12: " ... But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves."

John 20:5: "and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in."

John 20:8: "Then the other disciples, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;"

John 20: 14: "Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus."

John 20:18: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; 

Luke 24:16: "But their eyes were kept from recognizing him"

Luke 24:24: "... but him they did not see."

Luke 24:31: "And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."

Luke 24:37: "But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit."

Luke 24:39: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have."

John 20:20: "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."

John 20:25: "So, the other disciples told him [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands ..."

John 20:29: 'Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."'

John 21:4: "Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus."

John 21:12: "Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord."

Matthew 28:17: "And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted."

To be honest, I am not sure what to make of these texts. Perhaps, at the least, they make the point that the first witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus were eye-witnesses. They could be questioned as to what they saw, whether they understood what they saw, and what led to their recognition of the Lord.

Ultimately the gospel writers are painting word pictures of the risen Jesus for their readers (for you and me): we may not see Jesus with our own eyes, but we see Jesus with their eyes.

And we see Jesus with the eyes of faith: we believe because of their testimony.


Sunday, April 10, 2022

What is Holy Week and Easter without the Gospel of John?

Just as hot cross buns are nothing much to taste without sultanas and diced dried apricots [my faves for this year's homemade buns], so are the Gospel accounts of the events of Holy Week and Easter if we imagine only having Matthew, Mark and Luke and no John.

Here are a few of the ways in which John enriches us (if not entrances us with loads of puzzles):

- a key event is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, an event not even hinted out in the other Gospels (John 11);

- John tells the anointing of Jesus by a woman differently (but with enough similarities for us to accept that it is the same anointing): "six days before Passover" (not two); at the home of Lazarus (not Simon); with the anointing woman named, Mary (not anonymous);

- John's Last Supper is devoid of elements of "the institution of the Lord's Supper" narrative, otherwise made known to us not only in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but also in 1 Corinthians 11:17-31;

- Only in John's Last Supper is a ceremony of foot washing narrated;

- And there is the somewhat oodles of doctoral theses generating challenge of John's chronology re his timing of the Passover: the Synoptics place the Last Supper on the evening of Passover (so Jesus dies the next day, during Passover), whereas John times Jesus' death to occur when the lambs for the Passover meal are being slaughtered (19:14), so the Last Supper is not actually a Passover meal;

- only John supplies the so-called Farewell Discourses through his chapters 14-17;

- then there are his Resurrection Narratives, though we can note that when it comes to Resurrection Narratives, there are considerable divergences across all four Gospels: only John tells us of Jesus' encounter with Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Peter and the Beloved Disciple.

Now my point here is not rehearse things likely well known to readers of ADU but to note that I am delighted this Holy Week and Easter to have the assistance of a new commentary on John's Gospel.


David F. Ford is a renowned British theologian and tells us at the beginning of The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2021) that he has been working on this book for a couple of decades (p. vii). 

At the end of the commentary, as he discusses at greater length the people and books that have influenced him and been conversational partners with him, he mentions an opportunity in 2009 to engage in a "sustained conversation around John that has acted as an inspiration and a benchmark. Richard Bauckham had retired from St Andrews University to Cambridge and Richard Hays was in Cambridge for a six month sabbatical. We put twenty-one three-hour sessions in our diaries, and the three of us read the whole Gospel together" (p. 439-40). Oh, to be a fly on the wall ... 

Like all commentaries, there is much to look up on specific passages and their associated puzzles and controversies, and I intend to do that over the next week re the kinds of matters I have listed above. It could be a bit boring, however, from a blogging perspective, to list all the things he says (even if each is interesting in its own right) so I will simply finish here with his opening paragraph, not least because I have never previously thought of his summary description of John's Gospel before, though it is one of those brilliant, lovely insights that are completely obvious (especially if we think of John 10:10 as both a summary of Jesus' intended mission and as the centre/middle of the Gospel)!

From page 1, my bold:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:16). John is a Gospel of abundance. The prologue first sounds this note; the first sign that Jesus does turns a huge amount of water into good wine: the Spirit is a wind that blows where it will and is given "without measure" (3:34); the "living water" that Jesus gives is "a spring of water gushing up to eternal life" (4:14); when Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves, there are twelve baskets of fragments left over; through Jesus there is abundance of glory, healing, light, life, trugh, fruitfulness, joy, and love; the last sign that Jesus does brings about a large catch of big fish; and John's closing sentence responds to the impossible task of writing all that could be said about what Jesus did: "if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (21:25).

There is, indeed, an abundance in this commentary of things to be enriched by. 

May all readers of ADU have an enriched, abundant Holy Week and Paschal Festival full of meaning and significance.

Bonus Feature:

This is my recipe for Hot Cross buns (using a breadmaker, in my case a rather recent and IMHO brilliant Panasonic one):

(in this order in the bread maker)

1 cup of sultanas and diced dried apricots (either in the nifty breadmaker device which releases them automatically at the right time, or added to the dough cycle when your breadmaker signals for that to happen).

3 to 3.5 teaspoons of breadmaker yeast mixture (can this be obtained outside of NZ?)

3.5 cups of high quality flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 tablespoon oil

270 mls water (with the Panasonic this can be as it comes out of the tap; otherwise slightly warm)

Press start on the "raison dough" cycle

Near the end of the alotted time, prepare a thick flour-and-water mix for the crosses.

Once dough is ready, make eight (possibly nine) balls of dough and place in a container such as a roasting dish and let rise for about 30 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn oven on to bake at 180 degrees Celsius

Add the crosses to each potential bun

Once 180 degrees is reached:

Place container in the oven for however long it takes to cook the buns.

Option: make a hot syrup from brown sugar and a little water (or brown sugar, honey and a little water).

When the buns are cooked, pour the syrup over the buns (hence the roasting dish as this catches any excess syrup flowing off the buns).

Place the buns on a cooling rack

EAT.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Down a Rabbit Hole, in a good way, I hope

There has been quite a bit, lately, of going down rabbit holes, and not in a good way, perhaps most noticeable when some folk start alerting us to conspiracy theories filled with misinformation (some of it quite dangerous, Ivermectin anyone?) and before you know it, leaders and media in our country are "Wanted" for a Nuremburg style trial, all because malevolent folk interviewing their laptops have started digging rabbit holes for the gullible to descend into.

But there are other rabbit holes, of arguably a warmer, and healthier nature, in which one thing leads to another, and eventually one might find something rather good. Obviously, here on ADU I am speaking about theological quests (such as each week, me seeking an idea for a post!). Here goes for this week.

"Salvation is Unity with Humanity in Christ."  

I love that phrase, which Bowman put as an opening statement at the head of a comment to last week's post. It captures pretty much the whole thesis of Anglican Down Under.

Now, naturally, that leads me to the Anglican Primates' Meeting held last week which, I suggest, represented a modest triumph for the ABC. As reported here, most of the Communion's Primates showed up, in fact only three Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda) did not show up to the meeting (in person or on Zoom). While those three provinces represent a significant numerical proportion of global Anglicans, and if their bishops (and others, e.g. from Australia, Kenya) do not attend Lambeth (for reasons other than Covid-related), there will be a significant number of bishops missing due to disagreement about That Topic, it looks like some 39 of 42 Anglican provinces will be represented at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. That is, I suggest, a sign of some hope for "salvation is unity with humanity in Christ."

So far so good, but what is "unity with humanity in Christ"?

Well, it (at the least) has something to do with some rather large (or far reaching) but somewhat arcane debates in global theology.

So, on Saturday, looking at the sidebar of this blog, where Edward Fese resides, I noticed that he had posted with an intriguing title, On Hart's Post-Christian Pantheism, and that led me to a book review by Feser (on another site) of a recent book (previously unknown to me) by well known Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, titled You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (University of Notre Dame Press, 2022). 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, that took me further down an intriguing rabbit hole, because Feser's review leads the reader into a significant debate (some say the most significant debate of the 20th century) between the nouvelle theologians (think, especially, de Lubac) and the Thomists (think, especially Garrigou-Lagrange) over (in my words) the role of God in our salvation, that is, whether God reaches from the supernatural into our natural mode of life to save us, or whether God has so created nature (including ourselves) that (if we could remove all distractions) our pure natures - our pure souls - by design are intent on union with the divine. Thomists (including Feser today) argue the former, and when holding sway in the inner counsels of the papacy in the 1950s led to de Lubac etc receiving a fierce theological rap over the knuckles, i.e. inhibition as teachers of the faith. The nouvelle theologians argue the latter and eventually come to new prominence in the Roman church as the Vatican 2 conference unfolded. Much later, de Lubac would receive a cardinal's hat.

This intra-Roman debate has immense implications for all the rest of Christianity because on the matters Thomists are keen on herein, Protestantism more or less falls in line; and the theology of de Lubac and co has some significant alignments with Eastern Orthodoxy's interest in theosis (or, our becoming participants in the divine nature as God transforms our lives, 2 Peter 1:4), to say nothing with interests of (e.g.) Ramon Pannikar who has sensitively explored the interface between Hinduism and Christianity.

The latter name came up in correspondence as I shared the review of Feser with a colleague who has had a strong interest in "Vedantic Christianity" (to pick up a phrase in the review).

Another colleague over the weekend pointed out that John Milbank sorted everything out (or did he? I've seen an interesting review, or two!) when he wrote The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural and argued therein for a way forward beyond the kind of Feser/Thomist, goodies and baddies of theology approach.  (Incidentally, I have purchased the book on Kindle for $21, but that link advertises the paperback version at US$296!!!!!!!). I have started reading the book - it is very complicated.

Our unity as humanity in Christ is illuminated by the kind of work Aquinas, de Lubac, Feser, Pannikar and Milbank engage in because they explore who we are as creatures in relation to the purpose of the Creator in making us and the role of Christ in redeeming or, we could say, re-making us.

So, there is at least another post for this blog coming, via Milbank on de Lubac, but in the meantime, we can perhaps ponder that behind, beyond and within the wonderful statement, "Salvation is Unity with Humanity in Christ." there lies a lot to think about, informed by some sharp, if complicated theologians who make my brain hurt. In the deepest part of a rabbit hole there is not always as much oxygen as we would like.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Putin and yesterday's Gospel reading

Putin is scarcely the "waiting father" in the (most popularly) titled Parable of the Prodigal Son (yesterday's Gospel, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32), eager for Ukraine to return to the Russian fold. Nor is he the "dissolute son", despite his appalling profligacy in Ukraine - the dissolute son hurt his father emotionally and wasted his inheritance foolishly, but he never murdered anyone. Yet the parable speaks to Putin, and to you and me.

My cue for saying that is a lovely insight (which contributed to my sermon yesterday) in one of my favourite books of biblical scholarship, by F. Bovon, Luke the Theologian: Fifty-five years of research (1950-2005), 2nd edition, Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2006.

Writing about Luke and salvation, pp. 277-78, Bovon writes,

For Luke, the life of Jesus accomplishes this salvation: "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). His ministry, summarized in this way, is marked by the coordination of action and word. The importance of the proclamation of salvation, and so of the Word (in the form of the predication of the kingdom), permits Luke to remove anything that might be automatic from the notion of salvation. The response humans give to the offer of salvation is necessary. In Luke, it is called pistis and metanoia. Luke cannot conceive of a miracle in which the faith of the human is absent (the "your faith has saved you" is more frequent in Luke than in the other Synoptics, cf. Luke 7:50; 8:48, etc). We also know that Luke emphasizes conversion. The illustration he gives in the parable of the Prodigal Son (luke 15:11-32) is proof. (My bold; I have transliterated the Greek words).

Yesterday I said that the parable's main point is not that God loves the worst of sinners (though God does) but that God yearns for our conversion. Whether that conversion involves a change of life as well as a change of heart (the younger son) or a change of heart (the older son, whose lifestyle, or obedience and service to his father is approved).

I further said that there remain in each of us areas and aspects of life which yet need conversion.

So to Putin: horrible and terrifying though his actions over the years and most awfully in recent weeks have been, we do not need to judge that he is not a Christian, but might we reasonably say that there is a work of conversion yet needed in his life, towards the compassionate heart of the waiting Father God?

Of course we can only have such thoughts, in the light of what Jesus says about splinters and logs, if we ask ourselves what work of conversion is needed in our own lives.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Why is there suffering?

As the Ukrainian tragedy unfolds in its painful and bitter reality, day by day, beyond the deaths, injuries, destruction, separations of families as women and children flee,  this is also, unmistakably, a tragedy for global Christianity. 

One church, the Russian Orthodox church is supporting the Russian invasion and many, many other churches (including the Russian Orthodox aligned Orthodox church in Ukraine!!) are deeply opposed. For all the good the opposing churches are offering in the cause of Christ, it is being undermined by the warmongering of Patriarch Kirill.

It is as bad as it gets. It should not be happening. It is difficult to reconcile any aspect of this multi-level tragedy with the God we who are Christian claim to love and to adore.

Why is there suffering? Why is there such suffering as we see in the world at this time? (Totally acknowledging other terrible and terrifying suffering, still, in (e.g.) Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistant, Xingjiang and Myanmar.)

You'll likely be pleased to know that I am not going to attempt to answer that question here. I have no particular reason to think I could offer some new thinking on the subject.

But I would like to share with you a book notice, about a book I have recently come across.

This:



Why Is There Suffering? Pick Your Own Theological Expedition by Bethany N. Sollereder is very readable, intelligently written and cleverly taking care not to lead the reader to land on one and only one answer to the question. "Pick your own theological expedition" means the reader is invited to read the chapters that relate to the direction their thinking is heading in and skip the chapters (or come to them later on) which don't seem relevant.

For some readers here the book may appear lightweight but that could mean it is perfect to put into the hands of those who won't actually open up a heavyweight book on this subject.

Happy reading!


Monday, March 14, 2022

Re-thinking Scripture (3)

 More brilliant comments on last week's post - thank you!

One way to think about what I am trying to push for is expressed in this (albeit somewhat triumphalist - or "mock ironical" triumphalist) Tweet:


Scripture generates theology (our response to what we read, our understanding of what we read, with "our" invoking the church reading Scripture rather than "my" reading which might lead to "private interpretation.") and theology influences how we read Scripture. Hopefully this is a virtuous rather than vicious circle!

A lovely example in practice occurred this weekend where the readings set down for me to preach on were:

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 9:28-36.

The Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke) is connected to our transfiguration (our lowly bodies becoming bodies of glory, Philippians).

Yet, somewhat trickily, from any kind of "neat" biblical textual connection perspective:

- Luke does not use the lovely Greek word for transfiguration which Mark and Matthew use (in English, metamorphosis);

- in any case, Paul in Philippians uses a different Greek word for the transfiguration he is talking about (metaschematisei).

Some theology (building on themes of glory in both passages, including Matthew and Mark as voices in the reading of Luke) is required to say (as I the preacher said), our transfiguration is connected to Jesus' transfiguration.

Then: relating Philippians to some aspects of current life, I made two further points, from 3:17 and 3:20 - points which involve some theological reflection as well as reading out the words of the text.

On 3:17: there are some Christian examples we should not follow (e.g. very difficult to follow the example of Patriarch Kirill at the moment), so how do we apply this verse to our lives and the question of whose lives we model our lives on. In short, my proposal was that we follow those whose lives demonstrate the influence of the whole of the New Testament on them.

On 3:20: picking up a cue from a great footnote in my New Oxford Annotated Bible, "our citizenship in heaven" means we should not give any ultimate allegiance, in politics or otherwise, to any human figure or hero.

To say the latter in a sermon (which is pretty unremarkable and I imagine most preachers would say something along those lines, though maybe not in Trumpian on Putinian churches) is a theological interpretation of what Paul writes about our heavenly citizenship.

In some ways, the significance of what I am discussing here is about our willingness to acknowledge the role theology plays in all reading (and preaching) of Scripture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Re-thinking Scripture? (2)

Thank you for brilliant comments to last week's post, in which I raised the (not original question), what is the nature of Holy Scripture, given it is a set of writings with some very difficult-to-explain passages within it. A document which is somewhat human even as it is a document through which God has spoken and continues to speak to humanity.

If Scripture can be wrong in some of its statements (as I argued it is wrong about what it says about Cretans), does that raise the question whether we should be cautious about all its statements? (Answer, No. It's been read with scrutinizing eyes for thousands of years, and many statements stand up well.)

Does it raise the question, Should we its readers use it like a coal or diamond mine? Should we dig out of it a set of (true) propositions, evens a set of rules and laws to govern our lives? (Answer, Possibly. Many Christians in many churches through many centuries have derived from Scripture a large bunch of rules and regulations, as well as theological propositions).

Of course, Scripture as a coal or diamond mine of rules and propositions has been somewhat problematic. Most Christians drink alcohol, but some Christians, a whole denomination such as the Salvation Army beg to differ on what Scripture teaches on what we may drink. Ditto eating meat and the Seventh Day Adventists. Scripture is clear on X (so many think) and Scripture is far from clear on X (so some think).

Many Christians understand that you do not take everything literally in Scripture; but some things could or even should be taken literally. Then Christians differ on what the "some things" are - perhaps most famously, we differ on what Jesus meant when he said, with simple simplicity, "This [bread] is my body." Or, one of my favourite examples: get a group of Christians together for a Bible study, read the Story of the Rich Ruler from the Gospels, and see how many in the group take Jesus literally on what he says about giving away everything you have ...

The point (or one of the points) is that perhaps Scripture is best read as a set of writings which we engage with (as individuals, as study groups, as exegetical classes of students, as congregations attending to the read and proclaimed Word of God) as a message from God that we may discuss, debate even argue over but which we will not expect to overwhelm us with clarity such that we all suddenly agree. (Conversely, nor will we treat Scripture as a document which, when we cannot agree, we use as a reason to divide from one another).

Then, in the spirit of comments to the previous post here, what it means to "engage" with Scripture - as individuals, groups - is to allow God to speak to us in and through Scripture, allowing that word to shape and mould us as Christian disciples. Scripture as formation more than information. Or, perhaps better, Scripture to be read for Holy Spiritual transformation of our lives rather than for rules to behave by or propositions to believe in or facts to fill our minds.

It is not, by the way, that arguments and debates over Scripture signal we are reading Scripture wrongly or engaging with Scripture mistakenly. Scripture which provokes us to argument is also Scripture challenging us as to how we argue and with what attitude we treat our interlocutor.

In 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, Paul writes about divisions and factions in church and says:

"For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine."


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Rethinking Scripture?

A few days back the daily office reading, according to the NZ Lectionary, included a troubling passage from Titus.

There are many troubling passages in Scripture. 

Some split opinion, if not churches (e.g. passages on salvation, on women/men, on rules for sexual behaviour). 

Some are more or less ignored, or ignored most of the time (e.g. James in relation to Romans/Galatians becomes an issue when, say, we study James, but not when we study Romans or Galatians; ditto, the meaning of most of Revelation; perhaps also Genesis 1-2 on the creation of the world). 

Some passages raise questions which are difficult to answer and which reflect some serious, potentially faith-losing concerns about Scripture as (in any sense) the Word of God - the so-called texts of terror, in which terrible things done by one human to another, appear to have the authorisation of God behind them (e.g. some ghastly stories in Judges).

A troubling passage, which does not involve complex argument and counter argument about (say) gender or sexuality, is Titus 1:12-13a:

It was one of them, their very own prophet [=Epimenides, c. 600BC], who said, "Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons."

That testimony is true.

Paul, writing to Titus in Crete, appears to endorse this stereotype view of Cretans, a view which consigns them all to the mental bin in which we place persistent liars, vicious brutes and lazy gluttons. It is a view which we would normally describe today as racist. It is also a pretty strange view in a Christian document. Imagine a mentor of a missionary in (oh, I don't know, say) Russia who wrote,

"Russians are always liars, vicious brutes and lazy gluttons."

The missionary would likely write back, "Umm, Paul, some Russians behave very badly, but most Russians are not like the stereotype you think they are."

Back to Titus.

What does it mean that Titus 1:12-13a is (I would argue) both Scripture and controversial (i.e. the proclaimed truth can be controverted effectively, not least, by Cretans asserting the precise opposite to the stereotype)?

It could mean it is a puzzle, which we are invited to solve, in favour of Scripture as (in the end, behind the apparent racism) a pure and unimpeachable "Word" or revelation from God.

Certainly there are puzzles in Scripture - challenging passages upon which some of the best of biblical scholars have brought learning and intelligence to - and resolution of the puzzles has been achieved in some cases. For example, there is a way of reading Genesis 1 and 2, in the light of evolutionary biology and astronomy, which both affirms the truth of these chapters and the truth of science.

But there are also puzzles (and I think Titus 1:12-13a is one of them) which either defy resolution or have resolutions provided which, in the end, are not particularly persuasive resolutions (so attempts I read to resolve the puzzle of the texts of terror in Judges).

What if we think about Scripture in another way, that Scripture has some bits which, frankly, honestly and even embarrassingly, are not reflective of what is actually true of God and what God would say about some situations (e.g. God, speaking directly about Cretans would never be racist like Epimenides was and Paul writing Titus was)?

That is, Scripture is permitted by God to have, is not rescued by God from having some passages which are (sadly, shortcomingly) human and not (joyfully, perfectly) divine.

There are implications to concluding that this, or something like it, is the most plausible explanation for the awkward, difficult, impossible to explain away parts of Scripture.

I will try to get to them next week or the week after. There may be a need to say something about Ukraine next week - after all, Ukrain and Russia's invasion of it is also a problem for theology. Is God a Russian Orthodox or a Ukrainian Orthodox?

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Love your enemies?

Last Sunday the Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Plain had a repeated message, "Love your enemies." This was a particularly relevant theme to reflect on in my sermon, noting that Russia appears poised to invade Ukraine and that protestors continue to camp on our Parliament's grounds, promoting a series of objectionable messages, including calls for executions of politicians and journalists. Thus (slightly adapted for publication on a blog):

Sermon for 8 am and 10 am Transitional Cathedral 20 February 2022

Readings: for “big picture” theme, Love your enemies.

Gen 45:3-11,15 [8 am] – Joseph is reconciled to his brothers who hated him.

Ps 37:1-11,39-40: verse 8: refrain from anger andforsake wrath.

1 Cor 15:35-38,42-50: the spiritual body of the resurrection … our hope of glory!

Luke 6:27-38 [8 am]: love your enemies.

How would you move the protestors on from the lawn and surrounds of Parliament? From Cranmer Square?

For our sister cathedral in Wellington, St Paul’s Cathedral, this is a sharp question because the protest is disrupting life in and around the cathedral.

Perhaps your answer to the question would be the current answer of the police: to do as little as possible which inflames the situation, which, effectively, is to tolerate the situation.

Or maybe you feel a bit more militant, like a number of people, otherwise occupying both the left and the right on our political spectrum, who want to see police action, even military action to bring the protests to an end.

Or, since we Anglicans are often teased about taking the middle way, our answer may lie somewhere in between.

Actually, no one seems to have the answer right now, and perhaps that’s because each answer has strengths and weaknesses, possibilities for success and risks of painful failure.

Why not just let the protests go on for as long as the protestors want to camp? Winter will come eventually!

One answer is that when protestors are calling for our politicians and media to be hanged, when they threaten young and old alike for wearing masks as they walk to school and to work, there is a level of hate which is intolerable (and may be illegal) in a civil, democratic and compassionate society.

It is, you see, actually quite a challenge to love people when they hate us, to love people when they promote hate through word and threatening actions.

Yet our gospel reading this morning has some quite direct and clear messaging from Jesus to us, his disciples:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.

No ifs, buts or maybes.

Indeed Jesus goes on:

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Then a bit later on Jesus challenges us about loving those who love us in return and then says, again,

Love your enemies.

The final point he makes is that when we do this we love people like God love people.

AND the lectionary today places a story of Joesph in juxtaposition with this message of Jesus:

Joseph, whose brothers hated him and nearly killed him, is reconciled to those same brothers.

Yet, we do have questions:

What is a Christian response to the protestors?

What is a Christian response to someone, anyone who hates us and makes our lives difficult if not impossible?

We must love them. We must do good to them. We must bless them and pray for them.

We do so confident that God see what we are doing and will reward us – our Corinthian reading reminds us that God blesses us both in this life and in the next life. Our confidence to love an enemy is the confidence from knowing that we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.

Now, let’s be careful about one thing: we can love someone without returning to their abuse of us, without giving them further opportunity to give expression to their hate. We should not be doormats to abusive people.

As Dean Lawrence writes this week, we may need to not be present to a hater, but we can, nevertheless, pray for them and thus do good for them in that way.

Some of us agree passionately with the protestors. Some of us disagree passionately with the protestors. Some of us may have mixed feelings about everything Covid.

But we have no choice if we are willing to listen to Jesus, we must love those who make us uncomfortable, those whom we disagree with, those who go beyond disagrement with us and hate us as our enemies.

That’s something for deep reflection on our part as Christians who belong to our civil, democratic and compassionate society: how do we love our enemies today?

It would be good to pray also for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ukraine at this time also: their Jesus is the same Jesus as our Jesus. But they are facing a much, much more difficult situation than we are.

Finally, all times of upheaval are also occasions for speaking God’s truth into people’s lives. Chris Trotter, a well known left wing NZ columnist wrote something interesing on his blog:

Chris Trotter https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2022/02/17/reality-and-the-left-a-bitter-divorce/:

It was the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who grasped the extraordinary fluidity of reality in periods of acute social stress and political disintegration. Moments in history when the hegemonic explanations of the ruling-class have lost, or are beginning to lose, their power to allay the fears and misgivings of subordinate classes. In such times – and we are living through them now – people are desperate for new and more persuasive narratives about the nature of reality.

The most persuasive narrative about the nature of reality I know is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

The best evidence we can provide for the truth of that narrative is the lives we lead as loving people.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

A gospel obsession

From my sidebar:

"Fundamentally the Gospel is obsessed with the idea of the unity of human society.


Masure"

I think Masure is correct and also provocative (i.e. provokes us to think about the meaning of the Good News).

But it is a challenge, is it not, to agree with Masure and to work on unity?

Ukraine v Russia: in the swirl of anxiety about how this conflict may play out, let's not forget significant, embarrassing conflict in various churches in Ukraine and Russia which seems to owe more to nationalism than to "gospel-ism".

In our own Blessed Isles, where a challenging protest is playing out on the grounds of our Parliament. The protest's main message is that the Government should cease mandating vaccinations, but there is other messaging, and some of it is unsavoury (e.g. calling for lynchings of politicians and media) and some of it false (e.g. expressions of various misinformations re vaccinations, politicians involvement in global conspiracies).

While most of our country is united in wanting the protest to end, the protest is a reminder that we are not a united in our fight against Covid.

And, let's not forget, there is division in our churches (including Anglican churches) over vaccinations.

How do we achieve unity in church and in society in this age of pandemic and misinformation, of necessary collective action and concern for individual well-being?

 

Monday, February 7, 2022

At the core of the Gospel

Let’s give “Anglican issues” a wee break. They’re not going away anytime soon, and they won’t be resolved in the twinkling of an eye glancing at a blogpost here!

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was Luke 5:1-11. I wasn’t preaching but I gave the reading some reflection and that included thinking about its parallel in John 21:1-14.

First, the fascinating parallels between the two passages: both involve an unexpected catch of fish, against the grain of failure to catch, but in response to direction from the (carpenter, not a fisherman) Lord Jesus, with Peter a central character in each story, and some connection (direct in Luke, imminent in John) of Peter being (re)commissioned for ministry. But pretty much the parallels end there. Luke’s story sets Peter on the road to being an apostle who will contribute to catching people for God - a great big catch as the Acts of the Apostles tells us; and, by implication, sets others on that apostolic pathway, because Luke’s story substitutes for Mark and Matthew’s fishing-call stories of Peter, Andrew, James and John. John’s story is part of the larger lake/beachside story of Peter being forgiven for his three denials of Jesus and re-called to “Follow me”, with the emphasis on the renewed ministry not being the apostolic mission to grow the Jesus movement but on the apostolic role of pastoral care for the flock of Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Aside: on some matters previously touched on here, this year, with respect to Anglicanism’s relationship to the Roman Catholic Church and its claims to be “the” church of God because of its Petrine roots and continuing Petrine office, John 21 is also fascinating because of the interplay there between Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, or, we might say, between differing poles of Christianity, Petrine and Johannine. Anglicanism is (we could argue) at its strongest when it both respects and honours Petrine Christianity and confidently but humbly forges its own pathway according to a different pole. We can always do worse that allow ourselves to be inspired by Johannine Christianity!

Back to Luke 5:1-11.

While I wasn’t preaching yesterday, I did hear a sermon on Luke 5:1-11 (and its related OT reading, Isaiah 6:1-8). The preacher skilfully worked from both passages, and from the specific parallel between Isaiah’s and Peter’s recognition of their uncleanness/sinfulness in relation to “the Lord’s” holiness, to highlight the power of God to change us, to transform our lives from within (when so much of what the world talks about re change is change via external factors, behaviour modifications etc).

As I continue to reflect on the relationship between church and gospel, because I believe that beyond all diagnoses and prognoses of the church’s ills and ailments, lies the simple issue of the message we proclaim and the power of that message to win adherents in our day, it struck me that yesterday’s preacher put his finger on something very important.

Whatever words, or actions we use to describe and to present the gospel, the good news of our message must be that there is a God who is able to make a measurable difference to the human situation - that is, God can change us when other means and methods cannot; in a world of amazing transformations (this amazing device on which I type these words to you via the miracle of the internet; development of a virus beating set of vaccines in record time; etc), the challenge of transformation of ourselves remains, and if the gospel offers nothing in response to that challenge, what goodness does our news of Jesus offer?

Now there is lots more to say about the content of the gospel - about the good news of Jesus as an understanding of the world which provides purpose and meaning for human existence, even in the midst of pain and suffering, and thus is a message of hope, joy, peace and love, filled with authentic and eternal content. The gospel is nothing but the good news of lots of “both-and” goodness from God, with the cornerstone message that change to our lives and hope for our lives comes from God graciously reconciling us to himself, dying in Christ on the cross that we might live abundantly and eternally, sharing in the resurrection of Christ. But today’s post gratefully acknowledges yesterday’s particular insight from the preacher’s faithful engagement with the appointed readings!

Our challenge in these difficult days is to be the church which attests to the work of God changing us, transforming us, because by gathering in Jesus’ name, God through the Spirit is visibly making us into the kind of people other people want to be.

And it is a challenge, because we are often more frail and fallible than we would like to be. God is working among us and has a lot to do, yet. The remarkable encounter between Jesus and Peter in Luke 5 was life changing but it didn’t mean Peter would not later deny his Lord three times. The further life changing encounter in John 21 sorted out a number of issues for Peter but it didn’t means that Peter would not later need sharp correction in his not-yet-mature understanding of the scope of the gospel (Acts 10-15; Galatians).

What is God doing in your life and mine?

Monday, January 31, 2022

Those Anglican issues, they keep on coming!

So, last week, I named a few Anglican issues bubbling away.

I noticed another one during the week: the validity of Anglican orders (from a Roman perspective).

E.g. here and here. (With the 19th century "bull" background here). 

Isn't this a bit of a complicated matter? I mean, the validity of Anglican orders is the validity of the orders as ordered by God, not as validated by the Roman Catholic church ... isn't it?

And, while I appreciate that a Roman recognition of Anglican orders would open doors to greater unity between our churches (something I am keen on), what would such recognition mean in practice? Would it mean recognising the validity of men in the priesthood but not women? Would it mean Anglican priests could be appointed to vacant positions in Roman Catholic parishes? Could it mean that Catholics were permitted to receive communion when at an Anglican service? And vice versa? At an ecumenical service when Anglicans and Catholics join together for special occasions such as Ash Wednesday?

Obviously some important work needs to take place at a theological-conceptual level; and the dratted Papal Bull on the nullity and voidness of Anglican orders needs some deft footwork to get around it, etc. But I think I am more interested in the actuality on the ground of some changes in practice, whatever the carefully formulated subtleties we move forward on at a high but some what theoretical level are ...

Postscript, relating to last week's post: picking up again the brouhaha over a greater Communion say in the choosing of the next ABC, my fervent wish is that WE DO NOT HAVE A ROTATING PRESIDENCY.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Anglican Communion in 2022: What's going on?

Here in NZ it is only 23 January 2022, but already we have enough Anglican "ishues" to keep a blog going for the rest of the year. Let's introduce them (in no particular order of significance for the present and future of the Communion).

Ian Paul takes up the question whether the CofE is going about the making of senior appointments the right way, having announced the appointment of the Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments is a man married to another man. The wider Communion question here (aside from the role I imagine this appointee has in the selection of the next ABC) is facing the reality of a changing world.

Are English Anglicans overly sensitive? Another recent announcement has been the increase in numbers (1 to 5) of persons representing the Anglican Communion in the choosing of the next ABC. Cue curfuffle, ruffled feathers, and vigorous expressions of concerns: here, here, and elsewhere. 

Apparently we are in danger of choosing an Anglican pope (I fail to see where the Communion supplies the majority of votes in the process); 

or of not getting the theology/ecclesiology of the matter correct (I do not share the concern which seems to not appreciate NT moves re leadership which were pragmatically appropriate to the needs of the hour); 

or there is some kind of continuance of colonialism going on (sure, colonialism drove forward the expansion of Anglicanism globally, but the point now is whether the ABC inhabits a role of historical and geographical importance, measured not against the expansion of the British empire in the 19th and 20the centuries, but against the great historic episcopates and patriarchates of Christianity);

or of letting some conservative evangelical in (per influence of the majority Communion which, of course, is not completely aligned with the hopes and dreams of liberal English Catholicism) who will hold back developments and progressions easerly sought by ... well, it is not necessarily a majority of the CofE itself, is it?

Isn't the general point that whomever is appointed ABC and by whatever collective of minds and hearts, the ABC of tomorrow and of the day after tomorrow, will need to be a person who can hold the centre ground, controverted though that centre is, between the centre of English Anglicanism and the centre of Global Anglicanism?

Speaking of evangelical Anglicans, the Winchester College report on Smyth is out - Thinking Anglicans has a note here, with links. This story is painful and few associated with it emerge with credit - essentially it is the whistleblowers whose courage is in credit; most others are in deficit. In this story and in the story of Jonathan Fletcher, Anglican evangelicals have searching questions to ask, not least about the role of authority figures in the movement. (Speaking of Anglican papalism ... any authority figure anywhere in Christianity can become an unchecked power for no good.)

Finally, at lest for this week, Richard Burridge once stayed with us here in Christchurch and one abiding and pleasant memory of that week was his deep commitment to ... golf! But he is now in Anglican news because of his new book on Zoom eucharists, Holy Communion in Contagious Times, with an intro here, by the author himself, published in the latest Church Times. His thesis is straightforward and will be agreeable to many (as reported in another CT article), a Zoom eucharist (i.e. involving a priest and viewers in their own homes with bread and wine before them) is effective and valid. We should all read his book before determining whether he is right or wrong.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022: A mixed year already?

My 2022 is off to a very good beginning - we had a fabulous family wedding at the weekend (publications of pictures thereof reserved to the happy bride (our daughter) and groom, so none here from me) and currently I am very briefly in Auckland having made an unexpected, challenging but wonderful trip with my son to drive a caravan from Christchurch. (The challenge was in in learning to tow a caravan!)

En route we stayed in Waiouru and - of course - I took a photo of the majestic mountain, Ruapehu, which dwarfs the sky when facing west:


Ruapehu is an active volcano. Its capacity to cover the earth around it with rock and ash is readily observable in the landscape around the mountain, and very noticeable as we drove northwards up the Desert Road.

Our trip (as with all my trips around and through Waiouru through my lifetime) was benign. On this occasion, the sun shone, the rivers flowed crystal clear, and we had a magical lunch time on the shores of Lake Taupo (itself the result of  an unbelievably large volcanic eruption in the distant past).

Not far from our country, a little to the north of us, within the Kingdom of Tonga, an active undersea volcano erupted massively at the weekend, wrecking lives, livelihoods, so far killing two people (that I have seen news of) via the resultant tsunami, and sending a sound wave such distance that not only was the sound of the eruption heard in NZ, it was also heard in Alaska. Details about actual extent of damage this eruption has caused are sketchy - communications between the Kingdom and the outside world have been effected.

It is not the happiest of beginnings for 2022 for the people of Tonga. Much as I count my (and my family’s) blessings at the beginning of 2022 and give thanks to God for them, I must simultaneously ask God, 

What is going on? 

(Not the first time such question has been raised here).

I was going to begin this year’s posts with some vacational ruminations on the state of global Anglicanism (i.e. what is going on ecclesiologically, ecclesiastically but also theologically) but that sounds a little abstract when Christian brothers and sisters in Tonga (some of whom are Anglican) are in trouble and strife. Yet, the same question drives my as yet unposed Anglo-ruminations: 

Dear God, What is going on?

Let’s see what sense we can make of things in 2022 as the year progresses!