missed this week's printable happening? this is where you'll find articles from 'the back page' – replete with little nuggets of wisdom. go on, get reading!

We live in a world that’s given its basic rhythms by the familiar seasons of the year. Just as they do for the ‘natural’ world, these cycles are designed to give us rest, renewal and flourishing with different emphases at different times. The Christian calendar picks up on this same rhythm, using the annual flow of the year to retell the story of God’s redemption plan through Jesus, as we celebrate Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and so on.

But living within this seasonal cycle does not mean living in circles, like a repetitive Groundhog Day. As we journey through the Christian seasons of the year, they’re meant to lead us deeper into the radical ramifications of what it means for us to be the leading edge of the new creation that has broken into our world through Jesus. This is life-changing, world-altering stuff, if we can grasp it.

So, how do we live into the radical cycle of the Christian seasons, without just going around in circles? The answer lies in our unique attribute as human creatures. Unlike other animals, which live instinctively and reflexively, we are what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “hermeneutical creatures,” meaning that we have “desires about our desires.” Simply put, we get to choose whether the desires and habits we have, are the ones we want. For example, we may resist our craving for sugar because of a greater desire to be healthy. This means that, in a world of persuasion, we get to choose what sort of life we want.

We see this vividly in Jesus’ forty-day encounter with the Devil right before the start of his ministry. Jesus’ ancient enemy offers him some easy outs, appealing to his lower cravings and tempting him to live according to the rhythms of the old creation — to make the same choices people always had. But Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, resists these cravings and chooses something different. He chooses to embrace the radical path of following God’s calling and trusting His purposes and plans, and the rest is history.

The Early church took Jesus’ bold example seriously, and used the forty days leading up to Easter as a time of refocusing their lives around him, and preparing for the coming of Resurrection Sunday. That’s why we observe Lent, because it encourages us to live further into the radical mysteries of following Jesus. So, I want to invite you into this positive season of preparation for Easter with two practical suggestions. First, you could “take up & read,” by reading a chapter of the Gospels every day. Luke and John have 45 chapters between them, so you could read both and still have a day to spare before Easter (there’s actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter)! My second suggestion is to take up courage in the Spirit. We can only follow Jesus and do what he did because we have the same Spirit within us. So why not commit to the adventure of stepping further into engaging God’s empowering Spirit within your life. You could start by coming to the movie we’re showing at St Paul’s this Friday night, “Christ in You.” It will challenge you, but it will also call you into the radical journey of following Jesus.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 11 February 2018 st pauls

As I write this, PM Jacinda Ardern has just announced that she’s pregnant and due in June. It takes me back to those foggy early days after the arrival of our first child, when all of life seemed to merge into a sleep-reduced haze. I remember the mixture of joy and terror, holding this fragile child with all of the potential and uncertainty that lay ahead.

Today we’re looking at the nature of faith and what it means to put our fundamental trust in an unseen God in the age before Jesus returns. Faith can, at times, feel like holding a vulnerable child. The great theologian Karl Barth named it well when he said that everything we believe and do as Christians is enabled and sustained by the Holy Spirit — our faith “hovers in Mid Air.” Barth’s point is not that our faith appears to hover in Mid Air, but that it actually does, held up by the wind of God’s breath. This leaves us in a challenging place as people of faith living in a materialised world, where we’re taught to put our trust in tangible things like houses, careers and our own bodies (Bitcoin being an obvious exception to this rule!).

But Jesus calls us to live boldly in the time between his coming and his coming again; a time when our faith “hovers in Mid Air.” This is swimming against the tide of our world to say the least, and we need to be attentive to what faith looks like. As I said last week, more than anything else, faith takes courage. Karl Barth was a Swiss German theologian who resisted the rise of the Nazis and their adjusted vision of church. He mentored another pastor called Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who also refused to let the church become a shape-shifter for the Nazi cause. Bonhoeffer’s faith took huge courage, but it was also fuelled by the perspective that God’s greater, yet still invisible, kingdom made sense of our faith. Bonhoeffer believed that God had a destiny for each of his followers. After a year in a Nazi prison, he wrote, “I’m firmly convinced—however strange it may seem—that my life has followed a straight and unbroken course, … and is being determined necessarily and straightforwardly by a higher providence. I believe that nothing that happens to me is meaningless.”

I’ve been struck over the last few years how challenging faith can be. Like the Israelites eating manna and quail in the wilderness, God sometimes doesn’t give us more than we need, often laying down the track as the train rolls over it. This is designed to strengthen us in our faith, so that we come to know that the divine breath sustaining us is the most secure place on which to build our lives. That’s the challenge of faith and it's the challenge for us this year — to entrust every aspect of our lives again to the wind of the Spirit for the glory of God and His greater purposes.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 21 January 2018 st pauls

It already seems like an age ago that we celebrated our amazing array of Christmas services, remembering the story of God coming to us in Jesus in a whole host of creative ways. But there’s nothing quite like the Kiwi summer — tropical storms included — to take a break from the hard yakka, and to recharge for the year ahead. I hope you’ve had a safe and restful break and are desperately missing church. Thankfully the wait is over and so welcome back to St Paul’s. At this time of year, we are joined by new members of our congregation, and I want to extend an especially warm welcome to you. We’re looking forward to a great year ahead.

As we look ahead to what’s coming, it’s critical for us as followers of Jesus to remember the story that we find ourselves in. One of the characters in the Christmas story that particularly stood out for me recently was John the Baptist’s father Zechariah. He was a priest stationed at the Temple in Jerusalem who drew the lot to enter the holy place to burn incense at the altar. When the angel Gabriel gave Zechariah the good news about his wife Elizabeth’s conception, he totally missed the moment and was struck dumb for his lack of faith until after John was born. God clearly takes this priest on a journey because when John is circumcised, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophecies about God’s saving grace — known as “The Benedictus.” What I find most challenging about Zechariah is that he was a man of prayer, working in the very place where God was expected to be present, and yet he was shocked and off-balance when God’s messenger actually showed up to fulfill the very thing Zechariah had been praying for all these years: a child. I think that’s our challenge too!

As Christians we boldly follow the God who can do all things — who is in the business of confounding human expectations and changing the scope of our horizons. But to enter into what God has in store, we need to go on the same journey of faith that Zechariah went on. Over the holidays, we’ve been reading our son Theo’s Marvel-inspired “Action Bible,” which is quite a ride! It’s impressed on me again the constant challenge God lays down throughout Scripture not to look back at the advancing Egyptians but to turn and face the new path that God is opening up in front of us — to put off fear in all its subtle forms, and to embrace faith and courage. That is the essence of the Christian life and it’s the choice we are faced with as individuals and as a church.

So, I want to welcome you into a new year, full of new challenges and God-inspired adventures. I want to encourage you to consciously choose faith and courage as your travelling companions this year. My prayer this summer is that God will refresh our bodies, renew our minds, and enlarge our spiritual imaginations for the surprising work that He is preparing us all for.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 14 January 2018 st pauls

The essence of the Christmas story is the advent of a world-changing reality unfolding in secret. It is a pattern that’s been embodied and played out in the lives of Christ’s followers ever since, through their humility and service. Recently, we witnessed a vivid example of this from our own community of faith. In November, our organist Michael Jenkins received a national award in the Parliamentary buildings, presented by Simon O’Connor MP. This “Unsung Heroes Award” was in recognition of Michael’s “faithful and sacrificial service in demonstrating a heart for mission in the local church and for being an inspiration and example to all Christians around New Zealand.”

Michael grew up aware of his family’s heritage in Christian mission, especially among Maori. Coming to faith in his teens, he was actively involved in teaching at children’s church and worked with ‘at-risk’ young Maori in Ponsonby. St Paul’s is an historic church, founded in the same year as the city, but it’s rare to have someone whose ministry here also spans the decades. Over the last 25 years, Michael has taught and ministered to young people, and particularly international students, through St Paul’s. As a professional music teacher, he has given many hours of free music tuition to promising students, as well as providing open and free keyboard lessons every Saturday morning in the church. Michael has given countless hours of free English lessons to international students over the years, with this hospitality providing an invitation to explore the Christian faith through social events and bible studies.

For decades, Michael hosted Friday night “gospel services” at St Paul’s for mostly Asian international students and immigrant families. He and his team of helpers served those who came, providing home groups and pastoral care. Michael has a huge heart and has generously opened his home to those who are most in need over the years.

Finally, Michael is St Paul’s resident organist, playing with passion and faithfulness in and out of season. We hope that forthcoming repairs will enable him to further harness its beauty and power for the sake of the church’s worship for many years to come.

This morning we want to thank Michael for his radical hospitality towards people from many nations and cultures over the years on behalf of this church. As this award suggests, he is one of our Unsung Heroes, whose humility has kept his ministry hidden in plain sight. And yet, like the Advent story, it carries the world-changing power of the gospel. So, today we want to shout his praises from the rooftops!

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 10 December 2017 st pauls

One of the church’s early fathers located our core personal identity in “our memory”—essentially our consciousness about who we are and where we’ve come from. Developmental psychologists encourage families to tell children the stories of their heritage—how their grandparents or parents first met, where they came from, some of the challenges they’ve had in life and how they got through them. Our memory is the very foundation that we live upon and so curating our memories is a key part of what it means to “be in Christ”—progressively bringing our imagination and identity under the goodness of God’s grace.
My warmest memory from living in North America was spending Thanksgiving with various friends in all different parts of the US and Canada. Aside from the madness of Black Friday, there was something magical about families travelling from all over the country to be together for a few days of feasting and reflection. Thanksgiving has its genesis way back in the 1600s when the original pilgrim settlers arrived in America. It was a harvest festival that was about thanking God for His provision.
As we look ahead to the New Year, it’s important to take time to pause and reflect on what God has done in this past one. Thanksgiving is not about covering our memories with the mist of fantasy but, rather, it’s about thinking well of the year by redeeming our memories with the good that God has done. It’s significant that the Thanksgiving tradition was forged during the most challenging times, when they needed it most. It began with a group who were far from home facing an uncertain future. Many years later, Abraham Lincoln finally set a common day for the whole country to share Thanksgiving at exactly the worst moment in its history—during the Civil War. It was a symbol of the peace and unity they yearned for at a time when it seemed furthest from their grasp.
Out of the complex busy-ness of the year, it’s often challenging to separate out what we’ve journeyed through and to make sense of it all—to find a coherent thread. For some of us, the year may have been dominated by life-changing events like a serious illness or injury, the end of a relationship, a different job or stage of life, or the death of someone close. In times like that it can feel easier to look forward than to reflect on what’s gone before. But the Christian art of Thanksgiving comes into its own at times like this. The Christmas story reminds us that God has stepped into our shoes and has walked where we walk—including through the uncertainties and inevitable pain of human life and death. Not only does He understand the struggles of the world as it is, but He has also breathed into life the promise of the new creation.
So, as we pause to think well of the year, we thank God for what He’s done, and we renew ourselves in the hope that as we turn towards Him, the source of light, all shadows fall behind us.
Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 03 December 2017 st pauls

The end of the kiwi year can feel like a Doomsday Clock as we rush to cross every imaginable task off our list before the impending end of the world on Boxing Day! As we approach our annual “silly season,” we’re faced with a word that sums up an essential part of the human condition—limitation. We’re unique creatures because we are aware of the infinite (God has placed eternity in our hearts), but we are also constrained by the intimate (we can only do what we can do, even at the limit of our stretch).

We are limited across so many dimensions: by our time and energy, by our health and finances, by our relational states, by our families of origin and what we learned there, and by our capabilities. One of the most frustrating constraints we face is that we’re partial creatures, possessing some gifts but not others, and so we’re reliant on others to experience fruition. U2’s Bono once described the rage he felt knowing that he couldn’t write a song without the band, that his fullness lay in them.

It’s timely that our silly season coincides with Advent, because it is here—in the Incarnation—where the astounding message of Christmas and the Christian story really grip our experience. The idea that Jesus, being the Infinite One, chose to be constrained by the limitations of the intimate for our sake is staggering beyond comprehension. We tend to think Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness must have been easier for him because of who he is, but they also posed a challenge that we don’t face. Satan offered Jesus what he’d already known, an opportunity to step out of the frustrating limitations of the intimate and seize back the power of the infinite. Jesus, of course, famously chose to humble himself and embrace the will of his Father in heaven.

The Incarnation—God taking on human flesh—radically transforms our lives because it redeems our limitations; they’ve been shared by God. It allows us to make peace with the frustrating constraints we face, and to be present to the here and now of our lives, rather than always facing into what we don’t have. And, as we make peace with what is before us, it also opens up the possibilities of the infinite through the One who can do all things.

I’m always struck by the Apostle Paul’s orientation to his calling to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. Because we read history backwards, it’s easy to read Paul’s letters and ministry with the confidence that they would eventually shape the western world through the power of the Holy Spirit. But, the daily reality of Paul’s experience involved dealing with small, fledgling and often-dysfunctional communities, which existed on the margins of their societies. Paul is a great model for us because he embraced the intimate with conviction and passion, and God breathed the infinite into his work and ministry. As we approach the silly season, let’s make peace with the constraints of the intimate and be present to what God has given us. And, as we make space at this busy time, let's fill our minds with the One who has placed eternity in our hearts and can breathe new life into all things.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 26 November 2017 st pauls

I hope you’ve been enjoying the Alt Carols album this week. Aside from the diverse musical genres and creative artistry, for me the power of it has been lighting up age-old lyrics in a way that has landed for me in a new way. It has brought our essential story—the Christmas story—to life.

A few centuries ago, during the Enlightenment, it was decided that this story would have to justify itself according to the scientific principle, meaning that the Christian faith had to be proved through reason and evidence. Instead, the true curve of the universe is not revealed through scientific discoveries, but through the daily realities of our lives. We find there that we are not masters of our universe, but worshippers within it. It’s the heart as much as the head, which steers our daily lives and our future destiny. As Augustine says of our Creator, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” We are restless creatures, drawn to God as the Source of our yearnings, and yet also bent towards other loves.

The late novelist, James Foster Wallace, describes this struggle in his famous commencement lecture at Kenyon College in 2005. He says: “In the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.”

Wallace brilliantly names the human struggle to live an authentic life. It’s a big project and one that took nothing less than God himself taking on the human condition and breathing heaven’s new life into a weary world. As Advent approaches, we’re seeking to let this story fill our imaginations afresh and to invite others into this wild adventure.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 19 November 2017 st pauls

Every Sunday we gather together and do a strange and counter-cultural thing—we sing songs of praise and worship. We do this, in part, because God’s people always have. No less than 41 psalms tell us to “sing unto the Lord.” Carrying on this tradition, Gordon Fee says the early church was characterised by its singing; wherever the Spirit was, there was singing! And whenever there’s been spiritual renewal in the church’s history, there has been an accompanying explosion of Spirit-inspired songs. So, it’s timely that our stunning new Alt Carols Album lands today. It’s putting a fresh spin on those timeless, Spirit-breathed songs of worship. We’re chuffed with how stunning this album is, so be sure to grab a handful and pass them onto others!

So, why do we worship? What’s the point? Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith calls worship “the heart of discipleship” because it’s in worship that we regularly train our hearts to trust God, to aim our desires, longings and aspirations towards Him, and to turn away from other sources of our identity. Smith puts it like this: “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our (ultimate) love is constitutive of our identity. So we’re not talking about trivial loves, like when we say “I love pizza”; we’re not even quite talking about significant loves, like when we say we “love” our parents or we “love” a spouse. Rather, we are talking about ultimate loves—that to which we are fundamentally oriented, what ultimately governs our vision of the good life¬—in other words, what we desire above all else, the ultimate desire that shapes and positions and makes sense of all our other desires and actions.” (Desiring the Kingdom)

To be human is to love, and that means living our day-to-day lives in a dense forest of competing sirens that draw us towards different sources of light. But we soon find out that not all that glitters and shines leads to life. As we gather on Sunday to worship, we re-tune our hearts to the melody of heaven. In Revelation 4, John describes a scene of unceasing praise as God sits on His heavenly throne. Probably echoing one of the early church’s songs, the elders in John’s picture sing: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” In worship we join the praise of heaven and remind ourselves that our Creator is the source of life, the only One who we can trust with all of our longings and desires and fears.

St Augustine knew firsthand what it was like to be pulled in all the wrong directions by his cravings. He once famously prayed, “Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not just yet!” Describing worship, he said, “You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 12 November 2017 st pauls

As the world eagerly embraces the release of Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok”, it’s a powerful reminder that kiwis can compete with the best. But, more than that, the film shows our enduring appetite to create imaginative worlds beyond our own, which shine a light back on our reality. As we’ve journeyed through the Apostle Paul’s letter of encouragement to the young church in Colossae, I’ve been impressed more than ever just how important it is for us to exercise our spiritual imaginations at full stretch, that we might come to understand the unimaginable riches we have in Jesus.
It may seem far-fetched watching Thor battle a green rage-monster in a far off galaxy, but Paul presses our imaginations even harder with his description of the Gospel in this letter. Paul says we live under a Big Sky, a sacred canopy which reshapes our perspective on every aspect of our lives and relationships, as well as our ultimate future. At the start of the letter, he reminds the Colossians that, in Jesus, we see the God who spoke creation into being, who brought order out of chaos, who spread out the heavens like a tablecloth, and who set the stars in their allotted places. For Paul, putting Jesus in proper perspective is fundamental for understanding our own lives, because it is this Jesus who has bound himself to us, who calls us his friends, and who invites us to share in his resurrection life now. Once we are established on this foundation, Paul says, why fool around with the frail and powerless things that we used to trust in?
This week we continue our journey under the Big Sky Paul paints for us in Colossians. It shows us that the key to the Christian life is engaging our spiritual imaginations about who Jesus is and what he’s done. Once we really grasp that, we can put our full trust in him, leaning the whole weight of our identity and aspirations on him, and the rest is detail.
At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul encourages us to get up high and see life from God’s perspective. Not to let our ambitions be earthbound, but to see everything from where Jesus sits. We’re called to judge everything from the standpoint of the new creation to which we now belong, not by the standards of the old world order that we buried at our baptism. So today, I invite you to let your imagination expand to fit the world Jesus has called us into, a new creation that has dawned with his resurrection, and will one day be revealed in its fullness when he returns. As G. K. Chesterton put it: “The trumpet of the imagination, like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.”

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 29 October 2017 st pauls

This weekend we were reminded of two things that define our present existence. Daylight savings reminds us that we are bound by the limitations of time, while national politics reminds us that we are bound by the imperfect rhythms of human ideals and schemes. Whatever the result overnight, we are truly blessed to live in a country with relatively free and clean institutions, which allows us to make choices about what sort of community we want to be part of. Our privilege of voting in each election cycle reminds us of the lack of freedom experienced by so many around the world, whose communities are shaped by corruption and coercion, rather than freedom and choice.

The bold promises of present-day politicians brings into focus the political manifesto that stands above all others, unrestricted by both the limitations of time or human frailty. In Luke 4 Jesus picks up the baton passed down by the prophets of the Old Testament – the good news of God’s rescue and restoration of all people. This mission took on new life in the ministry of Jesus, as he healed, freed, affirmed and restored outsiders back into communities, before passing this same manifesto onto his followers, to proclaim God’s salvation through words and actions. This was a charge taken up by the early church under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, many of the institutions of care that our elected governments now steward, had their origins in the bold and sacrificial care of the church.

That’s a legacy we’re seeking to pursue with the same vigor here at St Paul’s. So, today, we’re celebrating some of the ways that people within our community are stepping into that mission to make God’s grace known to those most in need, the very people Jesus spoke about in his Luke 4 Manifesto—the poor, prisoners, the blind, the burdened and battered. As we do this, we’re also considering how each of us can support these ministries of compassion and all that we do as a church. I want to thank all of you who support St Paul’s financially and making what we do possible. And if you consider St Paul’s to be your church, I want to invite you into this adventure of giving to what God is doing through our community of faith.

Scot McKnight sums up this privilege: “The Apostle Paul thinks everything we have is the result of God’s grace, that the material and the spiritual are tied together, and that our responsibility is to see that God’s grace is such that our duty is to pass the grace — we get in order to give. God rescues us and we respond materially, and others provide materially and we respond spiritually. It’s tied together. The fundamental principle of Paul’s theology of money is reciprocity. God gives to us so we can become grace to others. Paul doesn’t teach the tithe or charity. He teaches grace and grace is more radical and more revolutionary than the tithe and charity.”

So, as our politicians promise the earth, let the Kingdom come in Jesus’ visible and active body, the church. As Bill Hybels audaciously put it: “The local church is the hope of the world”!

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 24 September 2017 st pauls

So goes the story of a tourist visiting the Emerald Isle who asks a local from Cork how to get to the big city of Dublin. “Argh,” says the local man with a look of disgust, “I wouldn’t be starting from here”! Today we are speaking about who we are as a church, and our sense of vision for the future. As we do this, it’s also important to discern where we are now and how we move ahead towards what God is calling us into.
Like the early stages of a new relationship, we are often most attuned to what God is saying when he first calls us into a new context or project. I vividly remember when Esther and I first arrived at St Paul’s during Easter 2014. We had a strong impression of the things God had for St Paul’s—to be a place of spiritual renewal for the wider church, and a source of mission to those around us, including the 60,000 students that migrate through our parish.
That and much more lies ahead of us, and St Paul’s is already a garden bursting with so much life that I’m constantly surprised throughout my week by ministries that I’m still discovering in our remarkable church. And yet, at the same time as our garden blooms, we are in a year of significant rebuilding that will eventually enable us to fulfil our visions for the future.
The image God has set before me for this year has been that of Nehemiah’s calling to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The essence of the story is that the walls had to be restored before the city could thrive, and this project involved everyone in the city, with each family and group working side-by-side. This restoration project was led by both Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra was a priest who worked with worship and words, while Nehemiah was a builder who worked with stones and mortar. Both were sacred tasks that were equally important in restoring God’s people.
This year we, too, have been steadily rebuilding our own ‘walls’ across a whole range areas—across our leadership and staff, across our ministry and volunteer teams, and across our congregation and our finances. Like Nehemiah we are also rebuilding our physical walls, although we stand on the shoulders of previous generations who have set aside capital in trust to help restore our buildings. It’s been hard work but—like ancient Israel—this call to restore and protect our church deepens our resolve, commitment and unity as a community of faith.
Earlier this year, as a church, we filled a significant hole in our finances. Despite that, we still face a challenge. So, today, I want to thank those of you who financially support St Paul’s. And I also want to invite those of you who call this church “home”, to stand alongside us in the joyous project of restoring the walls of our church so that it may thrive in the work God has set for us.
Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 17 September 2017 st pauls

There’s nothing like the first few days of Spring to remind you of life on the other side of Winter. It takes me back to the final days of University exams, when all of the intense study and stress gave way to the smell of freshly cut grass, the warmth of the sun, and the possibilities of the Summer ahead.

God has set us within his creation, which includes the seasons of the year. And some of the most powerful imagery we have in Scripture of God’s renewal is rooted in seasonal change. In Isaiah 35, for instance, God likens his saving presence to the glory of Spring in the desert: “Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color.” The streets of Vancouver are planted in cherry blossom trees, and this Scripture reminds me of one week every year in Spring when the whole city would burst into silent song, a riot of white and pink. It was a moment of sudden awakening and it had a dramatic impact on us all. So, it’s fitting that our church is in full bloom this weekend. All of this Spring life is cause for celebration, and it’s also a call to prayer for God’s renewing life to flood the dry and waterless places—in our lives, in our church, and in our wider networks. At Deeper on Tuesday night we all got a taste of what that might look like!

So, what new life is springing up this weekend? One of the highlights is the Life Course Weekend in beautiful Flaxmill Bay in the Coromandel. Over the years this weekend has been a watershed moment for people as they tangibly experience the undeniable presence and power of God. We’re looking forward to the stories of encounter with God that come back!

Also, over the last three days, several of us have been taking part in our Diocesan Synod at Holy Trinity Cathedral for its annual parliamentary session. It brings together over 300 clergy and other representatives of the Anglican Church in Auckland to discuss and vote on key issues within our church. It’s a good opportunity for us to mingle with others within our network, but also to have a voice into the many strategic issues and opportunities that face our church. Our People’s Warden Louise Bridges boldly led the prayers and intercessions that happened alongside Synod for the whole three days. For me, Synod is an expression of the significant role St Paul’s has to play in the future as we pursue the church’s renewal in our city. That’s a vision that fills me with excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, tonight back at the Cathedral, Chris and the St Paul’s Youth Band will be leading over 1,000 young people for a combined youth worship event, for the second year in a row. The event is focusing on the theme of faith in Jesus – both the challenge of sharing our faith with others and also growing in our own faith in Jesus. And so, as we contemplate and celebrate all of this Spring life, let’s be open to how God is breathing his renewing Spirit into each of us, especially in those parts of our lives where we need it most.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 10 September 2017 st pauls

Today we celebrate two types of dads — our human fathers in all of their imperfection, and our heavenly father whose guidance and love is perfect. Between these two poles lie the journey of life, and the goal of being fathers of faith ourselves.

In the first sense, research confirms what our intuitions already tell us, that actively engaged fathers are essential to the development of healthy personal foundations.
Even from birth, children with involved dads tend to be emotionally secure, gain confidence to explore their surroundings, and develop healthy social connections as they grow up. Sigmund Freud said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” This is all good, except that even the very best fathers fall well short of these ideals. This is where our heavenly father comes in. As we come to know God’s love, you could say it redeems and completes the foundations of our lives built by our parents. This is a bold vision of life because it doesn’t leave us in a fatalistic dead-end as unfinished products of human labor. It takes the pressure off our own dads and, through understanding and forgiveness, gives us a clear path ahead.

Our heavenly father also provides a goal for us as fathers ourselves. As we see and taste God’s love and forgiveness, we experience what we seek to pass onto our own kids — love, acceptance, protection, friendship, empathy, joy, adventure and challenge. This is the strong hope of the Christian vision. That as we journey deeper into God’s presence, we get to pick up what our fathers have handed to us, and pass onto our children something better. That’s the generational blessing of being part of God’s family and learning the rhythms of forgiveness that he offers us. In short, knowing our heavenly father puts our earthly fathers, as well as our own gift of fatherhood, into clearer perspective.

The late, great Jonny Cash sums up this bigger perspective in “A Boy Named Sue”:
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun, Called him my Pa, and he called me his son
And I come away with a different point of view,
And I think about him, now and then, Every time I try and every time I win
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him Bill or George; anything but Sue. I still hate that name!

Mark Twain puts this journey into understanding like this: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years”! So, today, we raise a toast to our dads — for all the sacrifices, for all the dangerous adventures and fun, and for all the love and protection they’ve given us. And we thank our heavenly father for his perfect love, and the vision and power he gives us to be better men and better dads.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 03 September 2017 st pauls

My earliest memory as far as I can tell was when I was 4 years old. We lived in Wellington, but my Dad built a classic A-frame bach on Mahia Peninsula where we took family holidays. I clearly remember climbing the tall ladder inside that bach to a small nook in the very peak of the A-frame. There must have been something about the sense of achievement of scaling that height without anyone’s help that locked in my young memory. Our first recollections are often foundational ones for our sense of who we are and what’s important to us. Certainly that memory speaks to the dynamics that shaped my life.

This is no more apparent than in the life of Moses. When we see the span of his story from beginning to end, we can see so clearly how God shaped and led Moses in the purposes God had set aside for him from before his birth. It’s unlikely Moses was aware of floating down the Nile as a newborn under the dark shadow of Pharaoh’s murderous decree. But these early experiences were like divine seeds planted right at the genesis of Moses’ life. It’s interesting that, 80 years later, the final plague that broke Pharaoh’s resolve took the lives of Egypt’s newborns and that Moses led Israel into freedom through another body of water—the Red Sea. You could say he was born into this calling!

These recurring symbols and patterns in Moses’ life show us that the Lord is God, that he is in charge of our destiny, and that we can trust him to weave a coherent story out of our past, present and future. As the author of Hebrews says, Moses’ story is first and foremost a story of faith. But what is faith? Faith is knowing who God is: that he is above all things; that his ways are higher than our ways; that his word is like rain on the land which always achieves its goal and never returns to him void. And faith is trusting our lives to this God and stepping into his calling over us. As we see his divine fingerprints in our lives—the patterns of his guiding and provision—it gives us confidence to keep moving and to become bolder.

Hebrews 11 puts it like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.”

As we continue our journey through the Exodus Story, what step of faith is God inviting you to take today?

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 27 August 2017 st pauls

Personal freedom is the cornerstone of western society. In the modern era, whole countries have been founded on this principle alone. So it raises the question: what is freedom and what is it for? As our culture has got less and less tethered to a coherent vision of reality, freedom has come to mean essentially autonomy or independence: license to do whatever we want or, within postmodern culture, whatever comes to hand.

But the Exodus Story leads us back to a bigger vision of reality that gives our lives purpose. And true to the Biblical script, God does this via the counter-intuitive route of the desert. This iconic story confronts us with the question: “what good can come in these barren places and why would God allow us to go through them, or even more troubling, lead us there intentionally?

The answer goes to the very heart of what freedom is and it concentrates our attention on what lies at our core — our deepest desires, motivations and sense of identity. The Exodus story, which Jesus walked himself generations later, weans us off a vision of freedom as autonomy (essentially to be free from other people and things), and it forms us in the rhythms of trust that lead to the freedom of following the loving Creator who sees our lives from a bigger perspective.

Last Sunday I spoke about my own wilderness wandering in the “beautiful desert” of Vancouver before we came home to St Paul’s. In that time, as many of the old certainties melted away, two questions rose to the forefront of my mind. The first was why God had seemingly called me down a series of paths that now felt like loose and disconnected threads, and also how he could make life add up after what seemed like a significant slipping back down the sand dune of progress. As I look back over that time and the years since, I marvel at the way God miraculously wove all of those threads together in a way that I could never have mapped out for myself, and also the way that he, not only filled in the years, but added in more still.

The Exodus Story is a story of salvation, which means both rescue and restoration. Through it God rescues us from the narrow confines of our own independence, and shows us how to enter into the expansive life that he is calling us into. Most dramatically, the Exodus story is about God setting captives free. So today, we’re looking at two equally dramatic ways that God is doing the same thing in our times through people who have been shaped by the Exodus Story. What would setting captives free in its most essential form look like today? Well, freedom from prison and prostitution seems like a pretty good place to start.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 13 August 2017 st pauls

When I was 9 my best friend and I went to see Rocky III at the movies. Before the intermission there was a documentary about Australia, and so we assumed that the whole show—including the boxing—was a true story! The film changed our young lives and we came away pumped up with a new vision of the future: to become famous fighters and to defeat the likes of Mr T, Apollo Creed and Hulk Hogan just like Rocky had. Later that afternoon we began an intense training regime and we planned to join a boxing gym. But I remember that initial thrill giving way to the crushing reality a few weeks later, when I spotted an article about the ‘real’ heavyweight champion at the time, Larry Holmes. It was then that my short but promising boxing career came to an end.

For ancient Israel, the Exodus story was a similar journey. The excitement and promise of leaving Egypt soon gave way to the daily reality of living in the harsh wilderness beyond the waves of the Red Sea. And it wasn’t long before they wanted their money back. A few weeks into the adventure the wheels began to fall off, and the ravages of fear, control and nostalgia took hold. Even though they were now free, the people pined for their old lives in Egypt. It’s a powerful insight into the human condition.

What that wilderness generation missed is that the same God who had miraculously delivered them from their slave masters, had something much greater in store; a land of abundance prepared for them. But, first, they needed to learn how to be free—to rely on God’s guidance and provision.

The Exodus story is full of interesting characters. Last week we described the artisan Bezalel who built the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. But the person who towers over the whole story is Moses. Moses was not perfect. Once a Prince of Egypt, he killed a man and fled to a distant country. He was aware of his own weaknesses, making the obvious point to God that he stuttered when being called to challenge Pharaoh. But Moses seized God’s calling and pursued it with conviction, holding his nerve when people turned against him or circumstances looked hopeless. It seems as if God constantly tested him, but Moses stands as an example par excellence of courage, resilience and perseverance.

We all face different “Egypts” in our lives, and different forms of “wilderness wanderings.” But as we consider what it means to live out the Exodus Story, I encourage you to approach it with the courage and conviction of Moses. As Paul says:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Phil. 3:12-14)

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 06 August 2017 st pauls

There are some stories in the Bible that really spark our imaginations and one of those is the account of Bezalel in Exodus, whose name means “in the shadow of God.” He was the artisan commissioned by Moses to build the Tabernacle as God’s dwelling place and the Ark of the Covenant. Exodus describes how Bezalel became filled with the Spirit of God, giving him the skill and creativity to make and furnish the house of God. God’s instructions to Moses were extremely detailed and they paint a vivid picture of how beautiful the sanctuary would have been. Like the ancient churches and cathedrals that took their inspiration from it, these places of worship were intended to reflect something of the beauty and majesty of God.
St Paul’s was built in the year Auckland was founded and any painting from that time reflects its prominence as the church on the hill—it became known as “the mother church of Auckland.” At the laying of its original foundation stone 176 years ago this week, the city gathered to celebrate, including 300 from the local iwi led by Ngāti Whātua chiefs. The cutting away of Britomart Point in the 1880’s to create the foreshore undermined St Paul’s foundations, and our church on Symonds Street was built as its final resting place.
But, like all of us, St Paul’s remains an unfinished project! There have been several attempts to complete it in the 1930’s and late 1960’s. In the years since, parts of the church have fallen into serious disrepair, and over the last 10 months we recommenced the restoration work, completing major repairs to the failed drains under the crypt floor.
Over the last month St Paul’s Vestry, Heritage NZ and Auckland Council Heritage have given permission for us to go ahead with the restoration of our frontage on Symonds Street. This will involve extensive repairs to the stonework, the replacement of two sections of roof, and the repair of many broken windows. We will also submit plans for some key internal reconfigurations and upgrades that will significantly improve access between the two main floors.
We’re excited that, just like with Moses, God is making the way ahead clear and we pray that, just like with Bezalel, God’s Spirit will be on all whose skill and creativity will help to restore the beauty of this place of worship that continues to be “the church on the hill” in this city. The original foundation stone now resides within our Eastern wall, and it symbolises the privilege we have of continuing the story of God’s unbroken faithfulness through our beloved church. As we thank God for the good of the past, we can say with great assurance that the best is still to come!
Blessings, Jonny & Esther

0

The Back Page | 30 July 2017 st pauls

C. S. Lewis is known as one of the great cultural raconteurs of his day. He brought his huge intellect and imagination to the question of life, meaning, and faith, but not in the warm safety of the church. He largely held these conversations in the midst of a world in turmoil. His book Mere Christianity stands as a timeless description of our faith, but the most powerful aspect of this project was its context. The book began its life as a series of radio shows broadcast in Britain during the darkest days of WWII. It was Lewis’ inspired response to the questions and challenges faced by his culture—to bring comfort and clarity to a people cowed by War.

Last Sunday I spoke about how we are being formed by the daily habits, patterns and rituals that we spend our time and energy engaged in—whether it’s shopping, work, social media, fitness, and so on. Philosopher James K. A. Smith makes the insightful point that there are no religiously neutral times or spaces in our lives. Even the things we do that seem most neutral or functional actually carry a specific vision of life—what Smith describes as “secular liturgies,” which are essentially devotional practices that point our lives in a certain direction, towards a certain goal. So, if we are (at least in part) made by what do, last Sunday we spoke about how we can be “Sabbath-keepers” who carry the peace of Christ with us 7 days a week.

The flipside of this, of course, is that we are also called to articulate the hope of our faith in words and ideas that relate to every context of life. Just as C. S. Lewis engaged with the challenges of his times, we are also scattered as salt and light in ours, to cleanse and clarify. We follow in the footsteps of one of the iconic characters of the Old Testament, King Solomon, who stands as an exemplar of our role in the world as God’s people. In Solomon’s humility, God granted him wisdom in every sphere of life, which travelled far beyond the confines of Israel. Foreign rulers came from every part of the known world to draw on his wisdom and knowledge. (1 Kings 4:34)

So, with these illustrious mentors in mind, today we’re exploring what it means to engage with some of the urgent questions and concerns bubbling up within our own culture. These sorts of topics may feel strange to be discussing in church, and yet they go to the very heart of our faith and calling in the world.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 07 July 2017 st pauls

I recently gave a lecture at a graduate college and was struck by the words of a student there. He was wondering aloud whether we can say anything with much certainty as Christians. Given that previous generations have so often got it wrong on issues like race and gender, how could we be sure we’re not falling into the same mistakes on different issues? It’s a sobering question and one that should give us plenty of humility as we seek to make our way in our faith.

But it’s also a question that gives way to a more assured answer. Responding to this sort of uncertainty, theologian Stanley Hauerwas observed that “we don’t know everything, but we have enough to go on.” Our faith is a bit like marriage. There is a certain naiveté about standing in church in our relative youth and making grave promises about a shared but unknown future. Much complex uncertainty lies ahead, but in our love for each other we have enough to make a start.

So what do we have to go on in our faith? In a word, it’s the Incarnation. Rather than our faith consisting of abstract ideas and beliefs, like a philosophical work or political manifesto, it has taken shape in human form—in the flesh and blood of Jesus’ body, in the rhythms of his life and teaching, and in the world-changing significance of his death, resurrection and ascension.

The Apostle Paul sums this up in his amazing description of Jesus in Colossians: “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end.”

So what does all this mean for us? Most significantly, although we can adhere to ideas, we can actually follow the person of Jesus. Just as Paul did before us, we can walk in his footsteps and model our own lives on his. In Jesus, the invisible God becomes visible. So there is at least something very right about the impulse behind the “WWJD” movement and ones like it. In Jesus we see God in the flesh, working out His purposes in the world.

The student in my lecture was right, in part. God in His wisdom has not shown us everything, but He has given us enough to go on, and He’s given us each day as a field to play on. One day we will see in full, and until then we see in part. In the revelation of Scripture, in the community of the church, in the breaking of bread, and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, the invisible God is made visible in our lives.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 23 June 2017 st pauls

One of the challenges of being a man is that when searching for things in cupboards, sheds, or on the kitchen bench, what we’re looking for can be right in front of us but still physically invisible. It’s known as the legendary “man-look”; a legitimate gender disability which we can’t possibly be blamed for.

The same can be said of aspects of our faith as followers of Christ. The sorts of things we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, for instance, are so audacious that they can easily feel disconnected from the practical hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and so fade into our background consciousness. And yet it is these astounding convictions about true reality, human identity and the destiny of the world, that breathe transforming life into the things we do everyday—the vocational contexts we travel in, whether in our families, jobs, studies, and other pursuits. Genesis 2, Psalm 8 and Isaiah 61, for instance, infuse everything we do with divine and eternal purpose, even those things that seem mundane or insignificant. God’s calling is often hidden in plain sight within the contexts and conversations of our daily lives.

This week as a church we’ve raised over $15,000 to ease the bleak daily experience of Syrian refugees. Seen in one way, it’s a mere drop in an ocean of need. But seen from the perspective of heaven, this is a spring of generosity poured into God’s redemptive mission in the world, bringing joy and hope to real people. So thank you St Paul’s!

One of our greatest challenges as Christians in a secular world is keeping our vision fixed upon the greater story that we’re part of. That is, the bold conviction that Christ is Lord over all creation and is bringing all things under his rule; that we already live in that future age made present. The incredible hope of the Christian message is that everything we do in God’s name, whether it’s overtly spiritual or not, is swept up into this future. Put another way, none of what we sow into this kingdom will be lost.

This vision gives huge significance to everything we do—our training and education, our acts of love and compassion, those all-nighters nursing sick children, advocating for the dispossessed, and our care for God’s creation. As Chris Clark from World Vision said last Sunday, the key is that we are not called to bear the burden of changing the world, but simply to join in with God’s mission to save and restore His world.

C.S. Lewis sums this all up in Mere Christianity: “A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in"; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 16 June 2017 st pauls

Our perspective on things is decisive for how we approach and travel in the world. For instance, whether it’s been a good week for the Lions tour depends a lot on which side of the fence you stand. And whether Jimmy Spithill is a good guy depends a lot on which boat you want to win.

Along these lines, Eugene Peterson makes an insightful observation about how we tend to see things as modern people. In relation to our faith, for instance, our scientific paradigm tends to treat any mystery as uncertainty to be clarified and made certain through sharp-lined description. If we can just solve the mystery then everything else will fall into place. And yet the most important aspects of Christian belief terminate in paradox. Who can fully explain the divine trinity, or the incarnation, or what embodied life in the Age to come will be like? Yet, as Peterson says, our faith does not present complex problems to be solved, but rich mysteries to be entered into and explored. Even in the fruition of that future age, we will never reach the end of our understanding of who God is.

For me Peterson’s insight also provided a pastoral epiphany. Forming an authentic community of faith is a messy business and it can feel, at times, like people are complicated problems needing to be fixed. This never-ending slog ultimately creates an unbearable burden for those involved. Peterson helpfully flips this perspective on its head, so that becoming part of a community of faith is less like solving a murder mystery and more like admiring the pattern of an intricate Persian rug. It is our joy to enter into the unfolding mystery of relationships as we enable the Spirit to bring transformation in each of our lives. Just like that Persian rug, this brings coherence to the complexity of our community rather than simplifying it!

The same is true as we look across our world. One perspective would be to see endemic chaos, corruption and violence, and to throw our hands in the air or to engage in mission as an act of defiance. But it’s here where the divine lens gives us a radically different perspective, which brings with it hope and energy for mission. As Tom Wright says, the central message of the Gospels is not to prove that Jesus is God but to show that, in Jesus, God has become king of the world. His peaceable kingdom has come in power and one day we will see His rule throughout the whole of creation. Although we don’t always see the evidence of this on the surface of things, every act of generous love we make is sowing seeds into this eternal and unshakable kingdom.

I’m proud that St Paul’s is such a generous community and actively engaged in God’s mission in the world. As we highlight missions this month, I hope you can take this opportunity to sow more seeds of generosity into the great work going out from this community.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 09 June 2017 st pauls