Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Greetings, New Year Wishes, Holiday Break

 Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading and for commenting in 2023.

Thank you for recent expressions of Christmas and New Year Greetings!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May 2024 involve great strides to world peace, especially in Ukraine, Gaza/Israel/West Bank, Sudan and other places we forget about. Let's keep praying to this end, to the Prince of Peace.

As my custom at the turn of the year, I will not be posting for a couple of weeks: should be back c. Monday 15 January 2024.

Likely by then I will have a solution to all Anglican ills, Christian theological puzzles of our day, along with a proposal to get NZ out of the economic mire.

Or not :)



Monday, December 18, 2023

NT Wright, Romans 8, important stuff from one of the greatest chapters in the Bible

Our frequent commenter here, BW, has alerted me to a fabulous podcast with Russell Moore asking questions N.T. Wright proposes answers to.

BW's own summary of the podcast is this: "Nearly all podcast interviews are expositions of ideas elsewhere published, but in the best ones artful questions also open a serendipity in which insights are presented and developed in a fresh way. On the high ground of Romans viii, Moore elicits Tom's best comments yet on-- how moralism promotes repression and misses the gospel, how penal substitutionary atonement fits the wider biblical narrative, how that narrative is an alternative to Enlightenment hubris, how the complementarity of genders grounds the ordination of women, and how the resurrection warrants faith today. "

The podcast is entitled: N.T. Wright on the Bible's Most Miunderstood Verse

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Our new masters in Wellington? On the use of Te Reo

I don't often publish sermons I have written but this week the beginning is apt for some of what is changing with our new political masters in Wellington. To be clear: I think we needed a change of government, I am not opposed to all changes in the wings. Yet not all changes a change government brings in are to be accepted without comment. The occasion for the sermon was the installation of a new canon for our Cathedral.

Installation Cameron Pickering, Sunday 10 December 2023

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Ko te tīmatanga o te rongopai o Īhu Karaiti, o te Tama a Te Atua

The good news of Jesus Christ is spoken or written in a language.

John the Baptist and Jesus spoke their messages in Aramaic, a language not dissimilar to the Hebrew language of Isaiah.

Such prophets spoke so they would be understood by their hearers.

Mark wrote his gospel in Greek. Peter wrote his epistle in Greek. That was the universal language of the Mediterranean world (incidentally, Greek it was, rather than Latin, even though this was the territory of the Roman Empire).

Not so many people today understand Greek or Latin, so we do not have our lessons read from versions of the Bible in those languages. We like the Bible in our own familiar language.

For many of us that is English. Like Greek, it is something of a universal language. But it is not the familiar language of all peoples.

So we understand that the process of communicating te rongopai, the good news, goes from Aramaic to Greek to English to ... Chinese ... Spanish ... Māori – Te Reo of the indigenous people of NZ.

Te Reo is not just a familiar language to many Kiwis. It is an official language of our country. But we are slowly, very slowly waking up to the possibility of being a bilingual nation.

Certain moves lately imply a diminution of the importance of Te Reo. We can protest these changes creatively by ourselves using Te Reo (or permitting its use) as much as possible.

The best way to defy our masters in Wellington is to do what even they cannot forbid, speak Te Reo!

The Good News – Te Rongopai – is an announcement of the kingdom of God – te rangatiratanga o te Atua – that God is directly engaged in our world, reconciling people to himself, putting wrongs to right, working for justice between and among people, and healing diseases and brokenhearts.

That is a summary of the vision of a restored Israel which Isaiah begins to announce with the passage we heard this morning – a vision which through Īhu Karaiti escalates to a vision for a restored world.

The kingdom of God – te rangatiratanga o te Atua – has begun, its fulfilment is not yet complete – our epistle tells us both to wait for that fulfilment patiently and not to be complacent about our role in bringing it to fulfilment: in verse 12,

“waiting for and hastening the coming day of the Lord.”

December is a season of busy preparation for Christmas and that makes the church season of Advent a fraught time for carving out time to reflect on the first coming of Christ to begin the kingdom of God and on the second coming of the Kingdom to complete the kingdom of God.

But this morning we have a few minutes to do some reflection and on the occasion of installing Cameron Pickering as a clerical canon of this cathedral, we might focus that reflection on the role of the cathedral in hastening the kingdom of God.

Canons are members of Chapter, the governing body of the Cathedral, brought together to support the Dean in his leadership of the faith community associated with the Cathedral.

The governance of the Cathedral should ask and keep asking, what role can the Cathedral play in the kingdom of God growing in the world?

In reality, we get weighed down by mundane matters of finance (not enough!), compliance (too much!) and so forth. Cameron, help us not to be distracted from our primary purpose!

To be at the forefront of hastening the kingdom of God, the Dean, Chapter, the Regulars, the Volunteers, the staff, all visitors and myself – we - should keep asking, how can this Cathedral speak Good News – Te Rongopai – to the world – to the city and to Canterbury?

What language do we need to speak that Good News in? Yes, in English, in Te Reo, in Chinese and so on.

To speak the Good News in English or Te Reo or Chinese or any other language is simply a starting point in engagement with the language of the culture of the people of the world whom God loves.

How will we speak the Good News into the culture of our day, in ways, in forms of communication which this generation will receive and engage with?

That is a challenge because Cathedrals have become guardians of traditions of the church as well as places of intrigue and sacred mystery to which visitors come and to which seekers of God are drawn.

The culture of our day represents the traditions of past times evolved and adapted to present day norms and expectations which themselves will change as tomorrow comes.

To be a guardian of tradition and an adaptor to an ever changing world is a huge challenge, but ...

Cathedrals need to discern the cultural moment if the Good News is to be proclaimed in a manner which wins a hearing, leads to changed lives and to a changed world.

One of the strengths Cameron will bring to the role of Clerical Canon is an ability to discern the cultural moment.

Cameron, help Dean Ben and all of us with the primary Christian task of proclaiming the Good News in ways which mean we herald and hasten Te rangatiratanga o Te Atua. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

What is being Christian "all about"?

A profitable blogging voice across the Ditch is "The Other Cheek", run by John Sandeman, but with a regular contributor under the nom de plume, Obadiah Slope. A recent Slope post includes the following which I cite in full because, as you will read, Slope is citing someone else who cites someone else! 

My reflection further down builds on the insights of Saint Maximus, but with gratitude for Obadiah Slope drawing my attention to the passage via material from a Catholic writer, Anthony Marco, to whom I am also grateful, for his summation of Maximus' thinking abut deification and the human will ...


God’s will and my will: Does being a Christian obliterate my will in favour of God’s will? A voice from the ancient church might help.As a writer in the Notre Dame Journal, Catholic Academic Anthony Marco outlines, it is a topic that fascinated Maximus the Confessor. (Obadiah takes it as practical commentary on Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved meand gave himself for me.”)

But let the saint speak [via the introductory paragraphs to Marco's article]:

“Saint Maximus the Confessor offers a curious reassurance to the reader of his Ambigua to John. In his description, deification, the “state [when] nothing will appear apart from God,” is the eschatological unity we hope for in Christ. The Confessor addresses the reader directly: “Let not these words disturb you, for I am not implying the destruction of our power of self-determination (αὐτεξουσίου).”[1] Maximus holds in tension obedience and freedom—of conforming our lives to Christ and retaining our own identity.

“The Confessor’s thought addresses an underlying problem that vexes our secularized age: the disconnect between faith and life in the world. Two themes are central to this issue: freedom and meaning. First, how does human freedom interact with God’s will? Second, does human creativity and meaning-making add to God’s plan for creation or are these faculties mere temptations that cause us to stray from the divine will?

“Maximus’ answer can be found in Christ, the Logos, who wills to unite all things in his one person. On account of this union, the Confessor extends what we say about Christ in the hypostatic union to the Christian who is joined to Christ. He masterfully unites human self-determination with the divine in Christ and in the life of every Christian by participation. Maximus envisions the relationship between God and humanity drawn from the hypostatic union as an endless exchange of loving communion without assimilation or separation. By a close analysis of this dynamic, we will see that human freedom is not simply tolerated as a permissible reality but is a willed part of this ongoing exchange of love.”


My thoughts

Through this year Galatians 2:20 has been a central verse in my thinking:

I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

I am delighted to see that Obadiah Slope connects this verse with Marco/Maximus' thinking. At the very least I have been enlightened!

In Paul's verse there is an interesting tension between "I no longer live but Christ lives in me" and "The life I now live, I live by faith ...". As a Christian, have I lost control of my life, Christ having taken it over, or, have I a new orientation in life so that I keep trusting in Christ? (Or, both?).

Marco sees Maximus response as: "Maximus holds in tension obedience and freedom—of conforming our lives to Christ and retaining our own identity."

But the great point made here - the point which directs us to think about all that God is doing in the world, the church, your life and my life is this:

"Maximus envisions the relationship between God and humanity drawn from the hypostatic union as an endless exchange of loving communion without assimilation or separation."

Is what I do in the church (which, to be honest, often looks like "an endless exchange of emails") and in the world, my fitful attempt to love others, my often non-humble refusal to be loved by others aligned with God's great purpose, "the endless exchange of loving communion"?

That is what being a Christian is all about!