Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

St Simon and St Jude, Apostles

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2009 at 12:44 am

There was an ad on NZ TV not so long ago.

A man in a long coat,
slightly Nordic features, of indeterminate age,
walks purposely along, speaking directly to the audience.
Commenting insightfully on our national identity
and what it is we will and will not tolerate.
He – Harvey Keitel – walks into a bar,
and proceeds to take possession of a particular brand of beer.
The hook being, “What you say no to always defines you.”

For at least one of our dual Apostles this morning, that’s just a bit sad.

St Jude, famously the patron saint of “lost causes”, of last resort,
due to the tenor of the Letter that bears his name,
and because of his name itself,
is only know to us as an Apostle in the New Testament as
“Judas, not Iscariot”, plus as “son of James”.
Little wonder that Thomas Hardy chose to title a namesake “Jude the Obscure”.

“Judas, not Iscariot”
To be known simply by what you say no to, what you are not,
doesn’t make for great hagiography.

Simon the Zealot, similarly, has little known about him,
except that his title may link him with a former life as a fundamentalist,
as a freedom fighter, or a terrorist,
depending on whether you were Jewish or Roman.
He’s sometimes called ‘Simon the Canaanite’
because the Hebrew term qana meaning ‘zealous’
had been transliterated in that way.

Both, for all we know not of them, were Apostles.
Both were martyrs.
Both connect us,
through the laying on of hands in confirmation and ordination
with the companions of Jesus himself.
With his touch and presence, his life, death and resurrection.
Both speak of the passion and commitment
that faith in Christ allows us to touch ourselves.

A Church Times columnist says:
The Church does not celebrate celebrities.
It celebrates saints.
The distinction is an important one.
The lives of celebrities are public exhibitions.
The notion of a hidden celebrity is a nonsense.
It is otherwise with the saints.

We may know a lot about some saints,
but about most we know little or nothing.
And none of that great company — not Simon, not Jude —
would have it otherwise.
We honour them for their very hiddenness.

Of course,
while the New Testament does not supply us with great detail,
the Tradition, as well as the stories and legends of the Church
offer a number of accounts of these Apostles’ lives.

For Simon, the most widespread tradition is that after evangelizing in Egypt,
he joined Jude in Persia and Armenia,
where both were martyred about the year 65.
In art, Simon has the identifying attribute of a saw
due to the manner of his death, and is patron saint of related trades.

For Jude, a common Roman Catholic prayer runs:
“Most holy apostle, St. Jude Thaddeus, faithful servant and friend of Jesus,
the name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many.
But the Church honours and invokes you universally … Pray for me.”

We keep the days of Saints as an encouragement,
as a celebration, and as a reminder
that we are part of a family of faith, of prayer, intercession and hope
that is beyond ourselves,
beyond what we can see or touch,  what we can know or define.

We recognise that we are not so very different
to the faith-filled figures we commemorate.

St Simon and St Jude remind us that God has taken
the zealous, impetuous, violently affronted revolutionary
and the quiet figure whose shame it was to share a name with one despised,
and through their prayer and preaching,
their searching and their sacrifice
has built with solid foundation the living temple of the Church
of which we are the latest storey.
Built for the glory of God
and the proclamation of Good News.

Not to our own aggrandisement.
Some of the most remarkable bits of great buildings are the ones you don’t see.
They are its strength, allow its shape to be seen.

Saints, not of causes lost, perhaps,
but more of selfless, un-remarked-upon construction,
simple, unembellished, extra-ordinary folk,
in whose company it is our privilege to share,
and build
“upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined together and grows
into a holy temple in the Lord;
in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.”


Hymn for Labour Weekend

In Hymns on October 25, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Hymn for Labour Weekend

Celebrate the workers’ witness,
Sing of labourers on the land;
Hands and minds that meet in making,
God’s creative work expand.

God who rested on the Sabbath,
Modelling balance, peace and play;
In our re-creation bless us,
While we sleep, relax and pray.

Through our forebears’ perseverance
In reclaiming days of rest,
For the families still in struggle
God of justice, aid our quest.

Yours is every power, production,
Yours is every work worthwhile,
God, in you human endeavour
Seeks to share and rest awhile.

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 30B

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

It’s sometimes the most unlikely lines that jump out from a reading.

This Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) tells us blind Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus.
A bit of a Tigger.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.
Perhaps you remember the scene with the beggar
who springs up and bounces around Brian and his mother saying,
Spare a talent for an old ex-leper.
– Did you say… ‘ex-leper’?
That’s right, sir. Sixteen years behind the bell, and proud of it, sir.
– Well, what happened?
I was cured, sir.
– Who cured you?
Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business. All of a sudden, up he comes. Cures me. One minute I’m a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood’s gone. Not so much as a by your leave. ‘You’re cured mate.’
– Well, why don’t you go and tell him you want to be a leper again?
Ah, yeah. I could do that, sir. Yeah. Yeah, I could do that, I suppose. What I was thinking was, I was going to ask him if he could make me a bit lame in one leg during the middle of the week. You know, something beggable, but not leprosy..

That’s fundamentally the situation we’re in with our Gospel.
Or rather it’s not.

Jesus doesn’t wander about,
randomly bestowing healing on a passive Judean countryside.
Giving sight to the blind
just, as you might say, for the look of the thing.
Quite the opposite.

Blind Bartimaeus seems to have to go to some effort to attract Jesus’ attention.
Calling out – and being told to be quiet,
before eventually being embraced by the Jesus entourage when he is called up.
A parable about need and disability that may be all-too-familiar to some.

Bartimaeus calls out.
And seems, on the face of it, to be roundly ignored.

I think that part of that is because
Bartimaeus thinks he knows who Jesus wants him to think that he is:
the Son of David.
A term with distinct Messianic overtones,
but clearly politically and nationalistically oriented
in a way perhaps Jesus didn’t want to own.
Sounding for all the world like many other voices
that demanded Jesus’ attention and tried to put him in a box
for their own purposes.

But Bartimaeus called out again.

Blind Batrimaeus, sitting at the roadside, gets Jesus’ attention
and is asked that fundamental therapeutic question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”

No assumptions.
No “isn’t it obvious?”
No “I know what you need”

The “What do you want me to do for you?”
which sits alongside that other encounter with a streetside beggar
where Jesus asks
“Do you want to be made well?”

These are deep and profound questions of us,
we who come to Jesus,
wounded and aware of our impairments.
Some of us know all too well that our cries for healing, for ourselves and others,
are not always answered as we’d imagine.
Perhaps we can understand this story:
where we cry from for healing
and hear those who order us to be quiet,
and dare not have the courage to call out again.

But I do believe, too, that our cries are heard.
We need to cry out to God – for others and for ourselves.
I don’t know if that changes the world or changes God,
but I do think it changes or challenges us,
and in that we grow.
We become something other than simply victims.

We may call out to this Jesus figure who walks near to us,
but this gospel story says
we must then be able to be present to and be part of our own healing.

Perhaps sometimes it doesn’t fall on us –
unlike the beggar in the Life of Brian –
before we are ready to incorporate healing into our lives.
Before we can let go of the shape of a life, an identity.

We may trust that God knows what is good for us,
but that does not allow an abdication of our part
in the journey towards wholeness and wellness
and the other marks of the Kingdom.

The end of this story, if you can call it an end, is significant.

Blind Bartimaeus regained his sight and “followed Jesus on the way”
That is a story of discipleship.

Arts Festival hymn

In Hymns on October 19, 2009 at 10:19 am

For a festival of the arts


Behold the breathe of life!
The spark of co-creative wonder
when we are drawn near to God
in music, word and art.
Imagine into meaning
the gift of human being.
In godly creativity
you touch our very heart.

The music of the spheres!
Each atom in us ringing with an
energy that must proclaim
the wonder of our birth.
With instruments and voices
this dancing world rejoices,
in graceful sympathetic sweep
resounds the very earth.

O Architect of time!
Whose flowing cosmic cloth enfolds us,
fashioned from the heart of stars,
exquisite in design.
You shape imagination;
we re-cast your creation
in sculpture, beauty, structure, space,
our dwelling to define.

The rainbowed rill of light!
Where line and form and shadow speak of
beauty and beholder’s joy
in visual art’s array.
With colour, stark or tender,
to source and subject render
new insight, as the viewer joins
the dialogued display.

O drama-dressed Divine!
In story and in symbol-play you
speak upon our lilting lives
the poetry of grace.
In prose and meditation;
with sudden syncopation;
we hear an echo of ourselves
behind another’s face.

The soaring arc of space!
An infinite expanse glimpsed in each
sub-atomic subtlety
of all our God has wrought.
In artist and in teacher,
in researcher and preacher,
we long in our creative gifts
to seek as we are sought.


Sermon, Evensong, Ordinary Sunday 28B

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2009 at 10:21 am

I was walking through the heart of Christchurch six weeks ago.
I came across a shop: quite high-end and seemingly secular
which had above the door, in small letters, the reference: “Psalm 127:1”.
The Psalm we’ve read this evening:
Unless the Lord builds the house:  its builders will have laboured in vain.

I was intrigued, not least because I’d been inadvertently
mulling over that exact passage not ten minutes before.

In the middle of a city marked by its numerous and very often Anglican churches
I couldn’t help but think of the matching second verse:
Unless the Lord watches over the city:  those who keep watch will stay awake in vain.

What, I wondered then and I wonder now, does God make of our cities?

I think it would be fair to say that cities have a certain moral ambiguity about them,
if the Bible is to be believed.

The story of God’s people begins in an idyllic garden,
and things go downhill once that rural setting is lost.

Cain murders Abel, then builds a city.
We have Babel, Sodom,
conquest, counter-conquest, invasion and exile…  Egypt, Babylon, Rome…

What’s in common seems to be the city.

Jesus’ own journey
takes him from the Judean backwaters of Galilee, rural, marginal,
towards a confrontation with power and the impersonal in the Jewish city capital.
Thus a city it is where Jesus is condemned and crucified,
a garden where he is met, Risen.
A rather striking juxtaposition.
Martyrdom and opposition are – together with the first Christian communities –
found in cities.
And while Revelation concludes Scripture with a city, the heavenly Jerusalem,
God seems to need to fundamentally recreate the city anew, out of heaven
to redeem its so-often-sullied reputation…

From the moment of human rebellion at Eden,
Shakespeare’s prologue to Romeo and Juliet seems prescient:
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
“Civil” meaning “of a city or city-dweller”.

Cities seem to be so often in revolt, in mutiny against God.
Just ask the prophets: Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah…

That, in part, is the leaping-off point for Jesus’ complaint
against the little cities of Galilee, Chorazin and Bethsaida,
and the local administrative centre, Capernaum.
These supposedly Jewish towns, in Jewish territory,
should be waiting and watching for their Messiah.
Perversely, though, Jesus claims
they are less receptive than their pagan counterparts would be,
or even the ancient city of sinful inhospitality, Sodom.

Cities are very often cast as part of the problem,
symptomatic of sin and separation.
Centres of sophistication, and yet because of that,
made very powerhouses
of societies and cultures that turn away from God
and dehumanise, that deny welcome.

Do we recognise any of that critique?
In a city that has just celebrated 150 years,
I wonder how many of us stopped to ponder,
“what does God think of cities?”

Now we can’t – at least any time soon –
undo our entire civilisation.
A civilisation is, at least in purely linguistic terms, built on “the city”.
Civis – city – gives us civic, civil, civilian, civilisation.
But perhaps we might think about what our living arrangements
say about us as a society.

How the city shapes our mission as Church.
And particularly in a Cathedral so identifiably tied to this city,
focal point of, at least, central Nelson’s geography.

Most symbolic of the city in the ancient world was
the wall.

Walls went up, in defence and in delineation,
around any settlement that aspired to be called a city.

This evening we have heard a very well-known story
about those walls coming down in dramatic fashion.

Nelson isn’t surrounded by a wall.
We’ve individualised some of that idea into fences
– and thankfully most Nelsonians aren’t retreating into walled suburbs –
but I wonder whether the wall
hasn’t become ingrained in the psyche of the city-dweller?
Over the millennia we become just a little removed, cynical, suspicious…
We learn to lock our doors, our windows, our gates,
and do we lock ourselves away with some of that as well?
Are we generous?
I’m not talking money, but with our very selves?
Do we see the Christ who comes to us in the stranger?
Or do we, as so often have God’s people, only see difference and threat?
Do we recognise the one who comes to us,
proclaiming both our need to wake up, to change,…
and to find our rest, ease and lightness of load when we come to him?

What is the challenge to our urban existence that Christ brings?
What comfort and community do we seek to recover?

Nelson we might think of as a fairly benign cityscape
– barely a city at all by global comparison –
but with its unique nature come unique needs, opportunities and challenges.

We are fortunate that, even in difficult financial times,
hunger and homelessness do not stalk our streets
in quite the same way as elsewhere.
There is certainly need, and deprivation,
but the hungry are less visible, the dis-ease more subtle.

Beyond the physical, we live in a collective state of want.
We inhabit what Pope Benedict has called “the dead-end streets of consumerism”.

We find ourselves, all of us I suspect,
literally buying into that hollow house.
A real estate market even more fickle and fragile than we have known of late.

What has the Church – this church – to say to these needy,
to the poor in spirit?

How do we equip ourselves and others to live in the world as it is,
without investing our identity in its transitory value system?
Perhaps we remind ourselves that we are people of prayer.
We are people of justice.
And we are people of community, communion, communication.

And so we bring the needs of this city before God regularly.
To invest ourselves in making that commitment real.

We speak and we act justly.
We notice need, and seek to live in integrity,
in our finances, our friendships and with the land.

We learn each day the lesson of hospitality
that so often is a theme of our Scriptures:
with friends, neighbours and strangers,
the church through its members – you and I –
tells again the parable of Christ’s coming among us,
welcoming, awaking, redeeming.

Cities were certainly no less decadent and distracted
when first good news was preached and enacted
by a handful of faithful, flawed-as-we-are Christians.

The cityscape has changed,
but the call of Christ remains, insistent and inviting:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

St Francis of Assisi

In Uncategorized on October 4, 2009 at 12:39 am

Francis of Assisi

“I thank you … because you have hidden these things from the wise
and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Those are words of the gospel reading for St Francis.
Francis, the fool for Christ,
who like a child turned his back on all his age had to offer:
soldiery,  wealth, a certain rather attractive social life,
the expected and the easy.

Turned his back on them, not as an escape, so much,
as with a childlike unwillingness to accept
that this is the way things always have to be.

In some ways Francis never grew up.
He was this sort of compulsive figure his whole life long.
He would just do things.
Things that damaged his standing and even his family relationships.
He gave things away without thinking.
He made promises that were hard to keep.
He renounced his family and their fortune.

But part of what Francis did
was to clear some of the rubbish
we feel, as grown-ups, we need to surround ourselves with.

It was a message he brought not just to his own life,
but to the Church of his day.
A huge challenge, a kind of carbuncle of integrity
festering away on a soft and well rounded ecclesiastical behind.

Francis loved the Church,
but he could see
in the kind of way that the child who knows the Emperor has no clothes can see.

Francis followed the Crusaders,
and came away deeply disillusioned with the face of faith he saw there.

St Francis died, all too young, at 45.
The last two years of his life were marked by the gift, for so he saw it,
of the wounds of Christ, the stigmata.

Modern eyes have seen in this a disease of the poor – tuberculoid leprosy:
Francis and his followers had deliberately chosen from the very outset
to live and work beside a colony of lepers.

These were the wounds of Christ, the stigmata,
and to this day we know the word that shares its origin,
the word Francis tried to challenge by his radical living out of the gospel:

Here is a man who embraced poverty
and who prayed for the wounds of Christ.
And whose life came to an end bearing those very wounds.

That, as an image,
is both profoundly disturbing and beautiful beyond words.
What other reaction should a saint prompt in us?

Francis was a preacher, a man of words,
but he was also a man of symbol and action.
And it is the images of the childlike Francis preaching to birds,
talking with wolves,
stripping before his bishop,
that we have inherited most vividly.
Picturebook images that are our entree
into asking those most basic, naïve and uncomfortable questions
of ourselves and our lifestyle.

A view of the world that dares to delight in all aspects of the Created order –
in his Canticle, up to and including death.
A view of the world that chooses to confront comfortable expectation.
A view of the world that sees what we get a glimpse of as children:
a world awash, charged with the grandeur and the presence of God,
as if a conversation of the things we encounter:

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no-one is worthy to mention Your name.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Death, from whom no mortal can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.  AMEN.