Friday, May 25, 2018

Te Pouhere Sunday - 3rd June 2018 [9th Ordinary]

This year Te Pouhere Sunday is also the 9th Ordinary Sunday.
Unfortunately I do not have time to offer notes for the Ordinary Sunday readings, only for the Te Pouhere readings.

For convenience I list the readings (related) for the 9th Ordinary Sunday, then the readings etc with notes for Te Pouhere Sunday.

9th Ordinary Sunday

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Psalm 81:1-10
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Added, Sunday 3 June 2018: Mark 2:23-3:6: there is a lot in this passage. It is Mark 2 but already the ending of Jesus life and ministry is part of the story of his ministry. What is the opposition which a few ears of grain and a healing generates? Why? Who benefits? Clearly the mix of Jesus' action and speaking about the Sabbath (perhaps also the popular response to his doing good) is threatening to those who begin to plot Jesus' downfall. Presumably those threatened have power if not control in Jewish society. The conspiracy with the Herodians suggests this power is more than religious power, it is also political power. Is Jesus over a religious teaching unleashing fear of breakdown in social order? Is there something we modern readers are missing?

Then there is the question for us modern readers who have our own rules and regulations about things, including unwritten rules about the way things should be done around here, which concerns how we both make those rules and how we understand those rules in relation to God's purposes for humankind. Is Jesus offering us a hermeneutical model for understanding God's revelation for our lives (i.e. a way of approaching challenging issues about which rules we need to follow and which we do not need to)?

Finally, for 2018, how radical are the implications of what Jesus does when he turns the Sabbath keeping from a rule-focus to a human-focus?

Te Pouhere Sunday

Te Pouhere Sunday (i.e. celebration and commemoration of the three tikanga constitution of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia).

Sentence: Galatians 3:28


God of our faith, 
strengthen our Church 
as it seeks to show your love in the ministry of its three tikanga. 
Make us bold to seek new ways to best serve you, 
showing your boundless love as you have shown through Jesus Christ. Amen. 


Isaiah 42:10-20
2 Corinthians 5:14-19
John 15:9-17

Comments: these are shaped towards and by 'Te Pouhere'

Isaiah 42:10-20

This chapter begins one of the so-called 'servant songs' in Isaiah, songs which look to the coming anointed suffering servant of God who will be instrumental in bringing God's plan for the world to fulfilment. Christian understand the servant to be Jesus Christ.

These verses call for praise and glory to be given to God (10-13)  because God is about to perform a great reversal. Darkness will be turned into light (16). Those who trust in images will be put to shame (17).

(Verses 18-20, frankly, are difficult to understand unless we read through to the end of v. 25. The gist is that Israel in rebellion is like a deaf and blind person - one who cannot discern where they are going - and will be punished by the Lord. But the hint here is that the Lord's messenger/servant (19) will identify with Israel. In further servant passages in Isaiah, the hint will be broadened to include the notion that the servant saves Israel).

A question for Te Pouhere Sunday observers is whether the constitution of our church,  and the way we express our allegiance to it, is a means for God to do a new thing, including a reversal of the typical outcomes of multiple cultures being part of one body, in which one culture dominates and the others become subservient.

2 Corinthians 5:14-19

There is an obvious sense in which this passage is chosen for Te Pouhere Sunday: a day in which we engage with the reality of our life as a three tikanga church is a day in which we encounter the true state of reconciliation between the three tikanga. This passage talks about the 'ministry of reconciliation' in the apostolic mission of the church (19b).

Yet we need to read the passage carefully enough to recognise that the primary focus of talk of reconciliation is between God and the world (18, 19a, 20). Paul's ministry of reconciliation means his message is 'we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God' (20).

What then of the relevance of this passage for Te Pouhere? Three brief observations:

1. Our constitution is first and foremost a document expressing our relationship to God as God's church.
2. Our ability to be reconciled with one another is enhanced by being first reconciled with God, not least because knowing that God has forgiven us much (see how much in verse 21) empowers us to forgive others (e.g. Luke 7:36-50).
3. From this passage (i.e. to end of 2 Corinthians 5), Paul easily begins speaking of life in the church: 'As we work together with him' (6:1).

John 15:9-17

In the end, the life of our church is commanded by Christ to be a life of love. 'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you' (12, see also 17). When we ask about the meaning of Te Pouhere, the Jesus of John's Gospel wants us to ask whether Te Pouhere deepens our love for one another.

What is our answer?

Postscript: our church's website even gives a sermon for Te Pouhere Sunday, albeit one that should be adapted by the preacher for this year and the preacher's specific context!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Trinity Sunday - 27 May 2018

Theme(s): Trinity/God is Three yet One/God is Father Son and Holy Spirit/The Triune God

Sentence: You, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. (Lamentations 5:19)

Collect: God of unchangeable power,
you have revealed yourself
to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
keep us firm in this faith
that we may praise and bless your holy name;
for you are one God now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17


On Trinity Sunday we reflect on the nature of God as the church believes God has revealed God to be through Scripture, 'We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who in unity with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, and has spoken through the prophets.'

Isaiah 6:1-8

We can read this passage in various ways. It has been, for example, the text for many a service of commissioning for ministry and mission (noting verse 8 in particular). It is a passage which conveys the holy magnificence and magnificent holiness of God: 'the hem of his robe filled the temple' (1) speaks of magnificence and the cry of the seraphs in verse 3 underlines the depth of the holiness of God.

But how does this passage fit into thinking Trinitarian thoughts?

One way is to observe some unexpected features of the vision. First, Isaiah 'saw the Lord sitting on a throne' (1). Other parts of the OT suggest that God is unseeable, being wholly 'other' to us (which is one meaning of 'holy' or 'separate'). When Isaiah 'sees' the Lord he himself is surprised (5). Later, seeing the Unseeable (in the face of Jesus Christ) is a reality for Jesus' disciples (noting especially John 1:14-18). This vision, in other words, anticipates the later and greater surprise that God becomes Incarnate among us.

Secondly, the movement of the seraph from the heavenly throne to touch the mouth of Isaiah as part of his commissioning anticipates the sense that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds' from the heavenly throne to come towards and to dwell in humanity, assuring us of the cleansing of our sins and commissioning us for ministry.

Psalm 29

On one level this psalm praises God and that is what the church should do on a day such as this.

On another level, the focus in this psalm on the 'voice' of God performing might acts connects to the Trinity in this way. In ancient theological thinking the more God was thought of as 'wholly other' or absolutely separated from humanity and creation, the harder it was to then explain how God had any interaction with the world. One solution was to envisage an aspect of God which conveyed a sense of how God could reach out to the world while preserving the Otherness of God. For Hebrew thinking, convicted that God had spoken to Israel, the idea that the 'word' or 'wisdom' of God enacted certain things (e.g. speaking creation into being, Genesis 1) was such a resolution.

Here this kind of thinking envisages the 'voice' of God (obviously closely related to the 'word' of God) being the link between God and the world.

Later still, Christians trying to express the conviction that Christ was the embodiment of such a link, took over Hebrew thinking about 'voice', 'word' and 'wisdom' and made it their own as they began to articulate how Christ was identified with God.

Romans 8:12-17

Crudely we can observe this passage is 'Trinitarian' because it mentions the Spirit, the Father and Christ! Can we be a little more sophisticated?

Paul, writing to the Romans about life in the Spirit now that the gospel of Christ establishes that observance of the Law is no longer required in order to be saved, continues working through chapter 8 on what life in the Spirit means.

There is still a battle between good and evil in the life of the believer, but it is understood here in respect of living according to the flesh (essentially this is living a life centred on one's self and what serves one's selfish ends) or according to the Spirit (essentially living life by following the leading of the Spirit and by putting 'to death the deeds of the body') (verses 12-14).

In this context the Spirit of God is decisive concerning status before God: 'all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God' (14). The Christian life, in other words, involves a relationship with God via the Spirit of God, the Spirit of God being the presence of God in the life of the believer.

In verses 15-17 Paul develops the theme that this relationship with the Spirit is also a relationship with the Father (15-16). We are not 'children of God' in an abstract or general sense that we in some sense belong to God. Rather, God has adopted us as his children (15) which implies, incidentally, that not all humanity is automatically counted among the children of God. Further, in that same action we are able, through the Spirit, to address God as 'Abba! Father!' (15).

Two notes, before proceeding:

first, in times past (it seems to my memory) exegetes have made a lot of 'Abba' as a term of intimacy between father and child, more 'Daddy' than 'Father' and much less seems to be said about that today. (That may be because some scholars have challenged whether calling God 'Abba' was unique to Jesus himself). But Paul's invocation of 'Abba' in a letter to Christians in Greek speaking churches in Rome suggests he is invoking a special memory about Jesus' own address to God the Father. And Jesus was especially intimate - of course! - with the Father.

secondly, already we see a kind of 'cash value' to the doctrine of the Trinity: when we believe that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are not believing something about God-up-in-heaven-and-distant-from-us. We are believing something about God's involvement with us.

Let's proceed. Where does the Son fit into this passage on Trinity Sunday?

We have already met Christ the Son in Romans 8, for Christians are those 'in Christ Jesus' (1), freed from sin through God's own Son dealing with sin (2-3), and indwelt by the Spirit of God who is also the 'Spirit of Christ' (9). With that in the background, we come to verse 17 and read, 'if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ'

'Heirs' here refers to the promises made to Abraham (of receiving God's blessing), elucidated previously in Romans 4. As adopted children of God we not only have the privilege of praying to Abba, Father, we are also heirs of the promises of God. But, wait there is more. We are not heirs in a secondary sense, so that Christ is the true Son and heir and we are lesser heirs (in the sense that, say, the eldest son gets to inherit the family farm and the other siblings get a lesser cash settlement). No, Paul writes that we are 'heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ'. He writes this consistent with his understanding, e.g. in 8:1, that Christians are identified with Christ Jesus, we are 'in Christ'. That means that what Christ inherits, we inherit.

On Trinity Sunday when we celebrate the revelation that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we may also celebrate the extraordinary truth that we ourselves are being drawn into the life of the Triune God, since we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and identified with Christ the Son.

John 3:1-17

As with the passages above, we could read this passage in a variety of ways (not least as the passage which brings to us the 'most famous verse in the Bible', John 3:16). But here we are looking for the Trinitarian 'payload.'

First, note the references - implicit and explicit - to God as Spirit, Son and Father (2, 5-8, 13-14, 16-17.

Secondly, note the various works of the persons of the Trinity:
- the Spirit works on bringing new life to believers: 'no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit' (verse 5, see also verses 4, 6-8).
- God (the Father) gives and sends the Son into the world (16-17).
- the Son (of Man) descends from heaven (13) in order to be lifted up (i.e. crucified, 14), that 'whoever believes in him may have eternal life' (15) which means that the descent and lifting up of the Son of Man is the same action as God giving the Son out of love for the world (16) and God sending the Son in order that the world might be saved through him (17).

In other words,
if the doctrine of the Trinity is the church agreeing on what the Bible says and means about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or, perhaps better, the one God whom we encounter as Father, Son and Holy Spirit),
once again we see that this doctrine is not only about an abstract set of relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is also about how these three persons who constitute the one God have worked for our salvation:
the Father sends the Son to save the world, the Spirit enables people in the world to be born anew in order to enter into the fullness of the life of God (i.e. the kingdom of God).

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday 20 May 2018 - Pentecost

Theme(s): Holy Spirit / Spirit of truth and power / Power of the Spirit / Pouring out of the Spirit / New wine of the Spirit

Sentence: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)


Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Your blessed anointing from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Overcome with eternal light
the dullness of our blinded sight. Amen. [Adapted].


Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104;24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15


Acts 2:1-21

Luke tells the story of the day in which Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit coming with power was fulfilled. In turn this coming fulfilled an ancient prophecy in Joel. 

The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone (not just the apostles, not just on male disciples but on both women and men). They speak in other tongues, in languages which the multitude of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the world could understand: 'our own native language' (2:8).  

The import of this language fluency is that the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus to give power to his followers so they could be 'my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth' (1:8). Jesus makes good that promise: his followers will be able to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth because they have the ability to testify to Jesus through receiving a supernatural gift.

The Holy Spirit both comes  on the gathered disciples (2:3) and fills them (2:4) meaning that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is overwhelming and complete: no aspect of life is untouched when God's Spirit comes into our lives.

Yet not all observers experience the same phenomenon as those receiving the Holy Spirit: 'others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine".' (2:12).

This accusation prompts an apologetic response at the beginning of Peter's sermon (2:14-16). No one is drunk, it is only 9 am in the morning, and let me remind you what the prophet Joel said! This is that (prophecy fulfilled), Peter argues.

This bold, courageous preaching Peter is a severe contrast to the Peter who denied his master three times. The most important outcome of the Holy Spirit working powerfully in our lives is that we are empowered to witness boldly for Jesus Christ.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Just one note here, pertaining to Pentecost. In verse 30 we read, 'When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.'

In the original creation the Spirit of God hovered over the deep. Here the psalmist acknowledges the continuing role of God through the Spirit in sustaining and caring for life.

Romans 8:22-27

In the context of the whole chapter Paul is expounding the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer, a role which is overwhelmingly life-giving (11-12). In today's verses Paul tackles the problem suffering - beginning at v. 18 - poses for his exposition of the life-giving Spirit. That is, Paul responds to the potential criticism of his eulogy of the life-giving power of the Spirit that suffering makes a mockery of the power of the Spirit to give life: Christians are persecuted, suffer illness and hardship and, of course, die: where is the life of the Spirit?

'Potential' might be a good summary word for verses 18-21: there is suffering, Paul acknowledges, but it is not worth comparing to the future 'glory about to be revealed to us' (18b).

At the beginning of our passage Paul develops the theme begun in verses 20-21 that suffering is anchored in the 'bondage to decay' of creation itself (21). In verses 22-23 Paul links creation's desire to escape the bondage to decay, via a change of metaphor to 'groaning in labour pains', with our desire for future fulfilment: 'but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies' (23).

In other words, the Spirit giving us life now is giving us a foretaste of what is to come. (If we are brutally honest, this is not obvious from reading what Paul says in verses 1-17, noting what Paul says there about 'adoption' - without qualification - and what he says in verse 23 about waiting for adoption).

Thus the Christian experience of the Spirit is both one of enjoying the foretaste (verses 1-17) and waiting patiently and hopefully for what is to come (24-25).

In a sense, we are in a weak state relative to a future strong, if not perfect state. So Paul goes back to the Spirit and what the Spirit does for us now when he writes in verse 26, 'Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness ...' The remainder of verse 26 and verse 27 spells out a specific work of the Spirit in the here and now of living in creation subject to bondage to decay: the Spirit works deep within us to enable us to 'pray as we ought' which is according to 'the will of God'.

But note an important point about the Spirit's work within us: the Spirit does not enable us to pray as we ought, but intercedes for us as ought to be the case, that is, 'the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God' (27).

Such prayers cannot fail! 

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

There are three important approaches to understanding the work of the Holy Spirit within our readings today. 

(1) There is the Lukan theology represented in the Acts reading in which the Holy Spirit powerfully propels the mission of Jesus forward by filling the disciples with the power at work in Jesus, making them brave and able to proclaim the gospel.

(2) There is the Pauline theology represented in the Romans reading in which the Holy Spirit works within the depths of believers to enable their journey from creation and its sufferings to a new creation and its blessings to be completed successfully.

(3) There is the Johannine theology represented in this reading in which the Holy Spirit as both Advocate (Comforter/Paraclete/Helper) and Spirit of truth does the following:

- testifies on behalf of Jesus (26)
- (implied but not quite made explicit) will act as though Jesus is still with the disciples (note 4b)
- will 'prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment' (8-10)
- will 'guide [the disciples] into all the truth ... speak whatever he hears .... declare to you the things that are to come' (13)
- will 'glorify' Jesus (14).

Each of these works of the Holy Spirit coheres with Lukan and Pauline theologies of the Holy Spirit (though I won't explain how here - causa brevitatis) save to note, as one example of each, the way in which 'declare to you the things that are to come' fits with Paul in our Romans' passage and testifies on behalf of Jesus fits with our Acts' passage.

We might wonder what verses 8-10 mean since the claim seems extraordinary concerning 'the world'. One insight which might begin an explanation I won't attempt to complete here is a sense in John's Gospel that, just as Jesus himself is put on trial in chapter 18, so Jesus puts the whole world on trial through his coming into the world. The world rejects Jesus (see the Prologue in John 1) and thus the world is placed on trial, charged with that rejection. The Spirit's work in the world, in part, is to convict the world that it is guilty as charged.

The claim in verse 13 is also one which many ponder. Is Jesus saying that there are all sorts of hidden, undisclosed revelations which he has not given the disciples but which the Spirit will later reveal to them? (Thus, to give a contemporary example, some say that the church ought to support same sex marriage because the Spirit is now leading us into this truth as part of 'all the truth' hitherto not revealed). 

Or, is Jesus saying that the Spirit of truth will lead the disciples into a deeper and more complete understanding of what Jesus has already revealed? That is, the Spirit's role is one of clarifying and developing what is partially understood - a point worth considering if only because in the gospel (in each of the gospels) the disciples are often quite boneheaded about what Jesus is saying to them!

We could also consider the option that 'all the truth' is both clarifying the already revealed and revealing the undisclosed.

What did Jesus mean? A simple application of logic to the situation yields the unexpected conclusion that Jesus would not contradict himself so that whatever the Spirit reveals to the disciples will be consistent with Jesus' (already revealed) teaching, 'for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears' (13). 'Whatever he hears' will be whatever the Spirit hears the Father and the Son saying.

A clue that this is the right line of understanding comes from considering John's Gospel itself. Compared to the three Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, is John's very different Gospel a new revelation of the Spirit or a deeper insight into the revelation of Jesus found in the three earlier gospels?

If we answer Yes to the former then we inevitably head in a Gnostic (i.e. new knowledge) direction and are powerless to resist the logic of (say) Mormonism or Islam which each claim new revelation from God which goes beyond the Bible. If we say No to the former and Yes to the latter then we inevitably head in the direction the church historically did head in: towards the encapsulation of the meaning of Jesus Christ for the world in the words of the Creeds, that is, towards orthodox Christian belief.