Sunday, May 31, 2009

Expect the unexpected

I got caught out while giving a children's talk today. I thought I would follow standard procedure for a children's talk: have a prop. Today is Pentecost so I thought I would make a cake, put a candle on it, and talk about how Pentecost is the birthday of the church.

Into my stride in the talk I asked whose birthday it might be. "The Queen's" piped up an enterprising young lad. I was floored - momentarily - for indeed, this weekend is 'Queen's Birthday Weekend"*. The answer was 100% correct and 100% not the answer I was looking for! Well, somehow I worked around that (one good thing being, of course, that the adults thought this young boy's answer very funny, thus they were well engaged with the talk).

But it was a reminder about ministry - esp., perhaps, with children - that we must expect the unexpected and find ways to work with or around the unexpected!

*For overseas readers, Queen Elizabeth's real birthday is in April, but here in New Zealand we celebrate it with a public holiday on the first Monday in June.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roast Dinner or Sandwiches and Savouries?

Sometimes when out and about I am offered a lunch which consists of sandwiches, savouries, and (on a good day for taste but bad day for waist) cakes. Normally I munch my way through sufficient to feel full. But I have noticed I do not always feel satisfied. At least not in comparison to a roast dinner with trimmings and pudding to follow.

Sermons are like that too. Some are filled with bits and pieces: thoughts, observations, even occasional references to the text of the readings! Like a sandwiches and savouries lunch they fill up but do not satisfy. Others lead to satisfaction like a roast dinner. The secret? I suggest it is the preacher sticking to the text, digging deep into its meaning for today, and offering up the learnings from the deeper dig. Preferably this is not the regurgitation of an encyclopaedia article but allowing the text to speak for itself. People do not live by bread alone but by every word which comes out of the mouth of God.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reading the Bible in Church

I suspect that if you visited ten different churches over the next ten Sundays then you would find a variable quality to the Bible readings (probably a variable number in each service, too :) ).

Is there anything preventing a uniform high standard across all our churches?

Here are some rules or, if you do not like that word, recommendations:

1. The reader should announce the Bible reading first (and any page reference in pew Bibles only second).

2. The Bible reading should be announced in accordance with the manner prescribed in NZPB.

3. Normally no explanation of the reading, or chapter or section heading should be announced. (An exception would be where the preacher requested an explanation because this would assist hearers to make sense of a reading which, say, began mid-point during a long narrative).

4. The Bible reading should be read in a clear strong voice, with modulation of tone and volume appropriate to the reading.

5. The reading should conclude with the ending prescribed in NZPB and the congregation should respond with the appropriate response.

Oh, and then there is a 6th recommendation: if the shape of the service requires announcement that the reading or readings are now going to occur, then the service leader should say something suitable and honouring of the authority of Scripture by way of introduction:

Not, 'Now we will have the readings', but:

'Let's listen to God's Word being read to us'


' Please sit for the readings from Holy Scripture'.

If we believe Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and given to equip us for ministry, then hearing it read to us is a high point in the service.

Monday, May 11, 2009

St John the Evangelist

Occasionally some sermons of mine seem to go well. Here is one delivered last week in the College of St John the Evangelist on the feast day of the same:

The Feast of St John the Evangelist
1 John 1; John 21:19b-25

Three questions: Who was John? What is his gospel? What does this mean to us celebrating this Feast?

Who was John?
Is he John the Son of Zebedee?
He could be, for this gospel makes this leading character of the other canonical gospels into an almost anonymous figure, consistent with being the author who diminishes himself in order that Jesus might be glorified.
Is he another John, a Jerusalem based disciple who may be among those shadowy cast of figures in Jerusalem according to the other gospels who supply dining rooms and donkeys for Jesus?
We do not know. Either gives reason to think he was ‘the Beloved Disciple.’
But whoever this author was, he is rightly described in tradition as ‘the Evangelist’.
He writes in order that his readers may believe in Jesus Christ.
But if John’s purpose is clear, his content is puzzling.
Side by side with the Synoptic gospels, his gospel challenges us with its omission of the parables, inclusion of discourses and ‘I am’ sayings not found elsewhere. Then there is the question of its chronology:
how can the cleansing of the Temple be both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry?
How can John’s Gospel be true when read alongside the Synoptic Gospels?
I suggest that the key lies in understanding the relationship of the Beloved Disciple to Jesus:
in 13:23, 25 and 21:20 this disciple is the one who reclines close to Jesus at the last supper.
13:23 employs the word kolpos (bosom, heart, side) in its description of this intimacy, the same word used in 1:18:
‘No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’
The Beloved Disciple
who we also know as John the Evangelist makes Jesus known to us with the insight that intimacy affords, just as Jesus the Son has made God the Father known to us.
Thus John is confident, like all evangelists, that his message is both true and important,
for it comes from the heart of God via the heart of Christ.

What was his gospel?
Miracle at Cana is our clue, backed by all the Johannine signs:
water to wine, illness to health, paralysis to movement, a few loaves become a feast, blindness to sight, death to resurrection …
John’s gospel is the transformation of life through union with Christ:
‘the signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:30-31)
This happens through union with Christ which begins with belief in Christ:
‘I am the vine, you are the branches, … apart from me you can do nothing’, 15:5.
So one important summary of John’s Gospel of transformation through union with Christ is John 10:10:
‘I have come that you may have life in abundance’.
Either the Evangelist or an associate writes the First letter of John:
his words provide an alternative summary of the Johannine gospel message:
‘our theme is the Word which gives life’ (1:1 REB).

Celebrating this Feast, in this College, what does this mean?
I note that a recent draft of the College’s strategic plan speaks about ‘preparing students to be sent out from the College confidently equipped to be transformative, healing and reconciling agents in the name of Christ’.
In terms of John’s Gospel we could say that this means that the College of St John the Evangelist is preparing students to be sent out as evangelists,
as agents of transformation of life through union with Christ.
That could also mean that St John the Evangelist leaves us with some questions today:
(1) Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
(2) Has your life been transformed by his life?
There is no ministry unless we are the branches joined to Jesus Christ the vine: ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’.
We cannot be agents of a transformation we have not experienced ourselves.

May you and I each encounter Jesus and be transformed by him so that we too may serve the gospel mission as evangelists in the mould of St. John.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Synaxis refers to the gathering for action at the beginning of a service; it is a name for the first part of the eucharistic service.

Here I want to suggest that the action of gathering at the very beginning of a service is worth some careful reflection. I have been in a few services lately where guests have been present. As the service has unfolded I have wondered whether the 'feel' of the service might have been improved if we had exchanged greetings at the beginning of a service. When this happens we are in fellowship through the service as friends rather than strangers.

Note that I have said 'exchange of greetings' rather than 'Exchange of (the) Peace'. The latter should always take place at its proper place between the Synaxis and the Eucharist proper. The former, I am suggesting, has a place in some situations, especially those where either the special character of the service or the special day in which the service takes place warrants it as guests are present.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

In praise of 8 am

Last Sunday my wife, son and I went to an 8 am Holy Communion service. We departed the church at 8.29 am. That the three of us doubled the congregation may give you the seed-germ of a significant part of the explanation as to why the service was not longer. (Another part is that there were no hymns).

I do not want to offer a view here as to whether an 8 am service should be as concise as the one above or longer, include or exclude hymns, be in the main body of the church or in a side chapel.

But I do want to praise 8 am services in the Anglican tradition, that is, communion services which are normally quiet, dignified, spartan, time-disciplined acts of worship.

I think it may be me growing older but I find myself with ever deepening yearnings toward quiet and dignified worship(what is happening for you?). The classic, traditional Anglican 8 am service fills this yearning. (Though it is not the only means - other services at other times of the day can do this, e.g. Evensong and Compline. An advantage of 8am on a Sunday over evening services is that one gets to church before the unexpected calls of the day intrude with their potential to prevent one from participating in evening worship).

I like 8 am Communion. I hardly ever get to this service. Last week was a treat!