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!

At the beginning of this World Cup, I remember looking at the draw and thinking there were no interesting games in the initial rounds. But, since then, there’s been a flood of upsets and close calls, which have made the competition dramatic, exciting and unpredictable. The magic of big tournaments is that they test the mettle and substance of those involved. With the world watching on, who can seize the opportunity and make their mark? And this isn’t about random chance. For the most part, those who rise to the occasion are the ones who have been refined and honed beyond the glare of the spotlight.
In the opening pages of Luke’s Gospel, an ageing Simeon epitomizes this theme. We’re told that he’s a good and faithful person, who lived in prayerful expectancy that God would restore His people. And Luke also tells us that the Holy Spirit has assured Simeon that he will see God’s savior before he dies. Simeon has been preparing for this big event, but will he recognize and seize the moment when it comes? Luke recalls the moment of joy when Simeon is prompted to go to the Temple where he holds Jesus in his arms and foretells his future ministry. Simeon’s calling is fulfilled and he feels released to move on. He became known by the later church as the “God-receiver.”
Today, we’re saying farewell to another, younger Simeon, who shares some of the characteristics of his biblical counterpart. Simeon has been a key part of our ministry team for over 6 years. He first joined us to cover maternity leave in our children’s ministry. But it quickly became clear that he had bountiful skills and passion for St Paul’s then fledgling youth ministry. Since then, Sim has brought an amazing array of gifts and talents to bear on this area, leading our young people through the formative stages of their pre-teen and teenage years, along with Holly for most of that time. He’s been a teacher, games-master, social organizer, and mentor. And, as his passion for the heritage of St Paul’s has grown, he’s also become our chief historian and researcher. This culminated in Sim delivering our Stained Historical Lectures over the last 3 weeks, which has attracted interest from far and wide.
But, more than any of this, just like Simeon the “God-receiver,” Sim has been a good and faithful minister, earnestly seeking God’s truth and guidance in each situation. He has journeyed with our young people through their formative years, and has been a valued family member of our staff team. So, it’s with a mixture of sadness and excitement that we say goodbye to Sim and Holly today, and pray God’s blessing on them for the next leg of their adventure on the Hibiscus Coast.
Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 24 June 2018 st pauls

With the World Cup kicking off this weekend in Russia, it brings back memories of NZ’s Spanish odyssey in the 1982 competition. I remember as a 10-year-old getting up with friends in the middle of the night to watch the grainy footage from a far-off place, followed by the goodnight kiwi video on tvnz. Despite losing to Brazil, the Soviet Union and Scotland, this adventure captured our collective imaginations, with our tiny rugby-playing country competing with the global giants. Even Zico’s legendary scissor-kick became part of our folklore.

Today, Lex is leading us deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ lesser-known collection of seed parables in Mark’s Gospel. They’re set within the context of Jesus’ strange story about a reckless sower, who spreads seed indiscriminately across paths, fields, rocks and thorns. Although it’s become clichéd imagery to many of us, this story is actually scandalous on so many different levels. Why would the sower — Jesus — extend the good news of the kingdom to the wrong sort of people? Why wouldn’t he take more care with who he invites? And, given Jesus’ conflict with the entitled, “religious” people, who is he calling good or rocky soil? There’s enough controversy in this harmless-sounding farming story to get Jesus killed, so it warrants our closer attention.

I think the most challenging part of the story is also what makes it most relevant to us. It relates to the final type of soil, the good soil that yields up to a hundredfold return. The point of Jesus’ imagery is that this return is unattainable, even with modern GM crops! Unattainable, but not impossible! It represents a miraculous crop that can only be produced by God’s empowering presence. This is where Jesus’ parable differs from the World Cup. The truth is that, although 32 teams are competing over the next month, only a handful of giants can win it, such is the weight of talent, wealth, and power that will determine the outcome. By contrast, in Jesus’ kingdom, it’s not the soil that produces the super-abundant crop, but the soil’s receptivity to the seed of God’s Spirit. This is how a working class fisherman could become the head of the early church, and how the chief persecutor of that same church could become its champion. But all of this is massively counter-intuitive to us as modern people – raised from birth as “self-shapers” (and self-limiters) of our own destiny.

Last week Ian Grant spoke about stories of people who trusted God with projects and plans that were far beyond their own reach; people who stepped out with courage and saw God produce a super-abundant crop through their lives. Recently Chris Gore from Bethel Church spoke at St Paul’s about his experience of praying for physical healing. He described praying for 10 years without seeing a single miracle. It was only when he realised that it was through God’s power, not his own efforts, that the crop grew. And so we reach the heart of the life of faith, as well as its essential difference from the world we live in. Maybe the most surprising thing about this story is that we are not just called to be soil, but also to be sowers of the kingdom, just like Jesus. So, where is God calling you to step out in faith today?

Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 17 June 2018 st pauls

After many years in youth ministry, my parents became parenting and relationship experts, sharing their insights across the globe through books and seminars. You can find some of those books in our “Requiem Library” in the corner of church. This inevitably meant that their material was full of embarrassing and apocryphal stories from my childhood, the truth of which I completely deny in all respects! Having said that, it’s hard to completely blame our own kids’ errant behavior on the other side of the family, and so perhaps the divine sense of humour echoes down through our genes, as a constant and humbling reminder! The point is this. All of my parent’s parenting advice was designed, not to teach people how to do life well, but how to be in relationships well. Indeed, all of life flows out of the quality of those foundational relationships.

The same is true in our lives of faith. Last week I spoke about the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, when the empty tomb challenged his followers to see life in a new light, and from a radically different perspective. The reality of our lives is that we live in a secular age, where seeing is believing, but we’re called — as people from another age — to see everything from a divine perspective, through the eyes of the Spirit who reveals the truth to us.

But, again, this is not primarily a matter of seeing the divine plan so that we can get on with it like good Christian soldiers. The Spirit has been sent to us, so that we might be drawn into relationship with God — that we would find ourselves “in Christ,” held by the Father, and sustained by the Spirit. What an amazing image of intimacy with our loving Creator Scripture invites us into. From beginning to end, from our genesis in the Garden (Eden) to our destiny in the Garden City (New Jerusalem), we are made for shalom — to be in perfect relationship with God and each other, and all of creation. That is what Jesus calls us into through his resurrection and the sending of the Spirit; that we would begin the journey towards our future destiny through intimacy with Him now.

On Wednesday, the funeral of the Reverend Bill Heald celebrated the life of a man who boldly pursued relationship with God, both personally and for the church. Bill was Vicar of St Paul’s for 9 years between 1984-93, and was a passionate sponsor of prayer and worship in the church. His legacy is a vivid reminder that God has been pursuing intimacy with his people since he first breathed life into Adam and Eve in the Garden. In those days, our forbears walked with God in the cool of the evening, and Jesus invites us to walk with him too.

One of the songs during Bill’s funeral was the great hymn “Abide with Me.” As we continue to explore what it means to live in light of Jesus’ Resurrection, we remember that this is, first and foremost, a call to “be in Christ”; to abide with him; to live out of the bold assurance of our Creator’s affirmation that we are His chosen children. Today, we may only see in part as Paul says, but resurrection life is a call to explore more of that part, and to walk further into the relational destiny that is set before us.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 15 April 2018 st pauls

My first memory of Paul was at St Mary’s Church in London. He had just joined our staff team after a spell serving in the world’s biggest Sunday School ministry in New York. On his first Sunday with us, we showed a film of his experience in America, which included watching the Twin Towers fall from the rooftop of his building across town. The events of 9/11 would come back to haunt us a little later when Paul and I went on our first overseas ministry trip together. We were crossing the Atlantic to visit a group in Charlotte, North Carolina, who were planning to plant a church with us because of their vivid experiences of the Holy Spirit in London.

Paul and I barely knew each other, but we bonded quickly during the unnerving experience of US border security almost refusing us entry on the suspicion that we were religious extremists! Possibly realising that the US already had nearly 400,000 churches and that we posed a minimal threat, they eventually let us through, and we led a surreal weekend of worship services in various people’s giant lounge rooms. What I remember from those early memories of Paul was that he carried a bold testimony and presence that people were drawn to, especially these American Episcopalians (Anglicans) who were thirsty for God’s presence — they accurately described him at the time as a “real live wire.”

So, we were excited a few years ago when Paul and Katy made contact about possibly joining us here at St Paul’s. We were even more surprised when they made the bold decision to bring their family to the other side of the world and become part of the team a little over 2 years ago. We’re so thankful for the contribution Paul has made to St Paul’s since then. He’s been a vibrant member of our leadership team, and has brought increased passion and clarity to how we do mission and evangelism as a church, including spearheading a hugely successful Life Course last year. Just like during that first ministry trip to Charlotte, he remains a spiritual live wire and has brought freshness, creativity and inspiration to our Sunday services and other ministry contexts in all their different forms.

We will miss Paul, Katy and their family as they move to Edinburgh, and Paul joins the clergy at St Paul’s & St George’s Church (known as “P’s & G’s”). It’s a rare privilege to do ministry with friends, and Paul & Katy have been a great source of support for us over these last few years. They have played an important part in making the church’s transition to a new season possible. We also understand firsthand the challenges of raising a young family so far from home, and so we wish them well as they move closer to their own sources of family support.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 08 April 2018 st pauls

Resurrection Sunday is good news. In fact, it’s the best news we could ever conceive of. In fact, it’s news that only God himself could conceive of — a divine masterplan to reshape human destiny towards the total shalom of God’s goodness throughout all of creation. So, what better excuse for a party in church today? But the first Easter Sunday caused mayhem as it unfolded among Jesus’ closest followers. It caught fire quickly with those first on the scene at the empty tomb, but it took a while to spread among the others. This resistance is most clearly personified in Thomas, who tells the others that he will only believe it if he can put his fingers in Jesus’ wounds. Those words will come back to haunt him, of course, as Jesus’ affords him that opportunity a week later.

Despite Thomas’ bad rep as a “doubter,” he’s an important figure in the story because he most clearly represents our own experience of faith. A few days earlier, Thomas has seen his dreams and expectations go up in smoke, as his friend and leader breathes his last words on a Roman Cross, rejected by the very people he’d come to emancipate. This was the same Jesus who had taught with unique authority, healed diseases and afflictions of every kind, and had even called a dead man out of a tomb. But all of that went up on the bonfire of Good Friday. Now, just a few days later, Thomas is being told that all of those hopes and expectations were just pale shadows of what has now happened — Jesus is alive!

When you think about the mind-bending nature of that first Easter, can you blame Thomas for struggling to catch up? Well, in the end he does catch up. In fact, when he touches Jesus wounds, he goes beyond the other disciples and speaks the words of worship that no-one else had uttered until then: “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is speaking about us, those who have responded to his call to follow him even though we haven’t touched his wounds or seen him in the flesh. And that’s the challenge of the Christian life, isn’t it? That we place our trust in the unseen reality of the crucified and risen Jesus, who frustrates our fantasies and blows our minds.

Theologian Richard Bauckham puts it like this: “There is no smooth path to God which we can ascend with all our expectations of life confirmed and fulfilled. There is only the way of the cross, where the condemned and crucified Jesus contradicts our expectations, forces us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we would like to be seen, and reveals the world as a strange new landscape we had not seen before, a paradoxical game in which only losers can succeed.” The mystery at the heart of Easter is that the Lion of Judah must die before he can breathe life into death. We, too, must go on the recurring journey of Easter — to have our low expectations gloriously frustrated, so that we might find our way through the back of the wardrobe into the vast expanse of God’s reality beyond; a world that our weak imaginations need the jolt of Easter to enter into. The dazzling hope of Easter Sunday is all the brighter because of the darkness of Good Friday. The Cross of Horror has become the Empty Tomb. The reality that Jesus has faced the worst and overcome it, is both our heritage and our destiny! Let’s seize upon that hope today.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 01 April 2018 st pauls

During our six years in Vancouver, we lived in the area surrounding the city’s massive university, UBC, with its 60,000+ students. It was a stunning context, set within a rainforest on an elevated peninsula, with incredible views across the water to snowcapped mountain ranges on all sides. The student population existed as a city within (or underneath) a city, with every basement inhabited by student hordes. But it was in the cafés near UBC that the awkward relationship between the city and its students was apparent. It was impossible to find a plug in most cafes, because proprietors didn’t want students and their laptops taking up space from their wealthy clientele.

This vivid memory of Vancouver stands for me as the challenge we face as People of the Spirit in the present age. In John 16, Jesus makes a remarkable statement to his disciples. He says, “very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. … I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

It’s difficult to exaggerate what Jesus is saying here. He’s reassuring his disciples that his leaving and the coming of the Spirit will give them more, not less, than they already have. It’s not, Jesus says, that the Spirit knows more than Jesus knows, but that he will offer us greater intimacy with God, because he will always be with us, constantly revealing the truth to us. This is an astounding reality for us to grasp just as it was for Jesus’ first disciples. Along these lines, the apostle Paul encourages the young church in Corinth to interact with the Spirit during their gathered worship: “For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor. 14:31)

Yet, all too often we can feel like a student at UBC, holding a cord but with nowhere to plug it in to receive the power we need. The Spirit can feel too abstract, uncertain or distant to experience or listen to. So, how do we live into Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will guide us into all truth and tell us what’s yet to come? This is a bold challenge for us individually and as a community of faith. Today, we’re exploring this journey into greater intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Helper (παράκλητος: paracletos). And we’re privileged to have two trusted travelling companions in David and Greta Peters.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 25 March 2018 st pauls

These days we are spoiled for choice when it comes to incredible entertainment — mini-series full of tales of corporate and political corruption on a grand scale. And yet these dramatisations struggle to compete with the reality of our world. Just this week, news headlines trumpeted a $700 million fraud in Silicon Valley, and allegations of a Cold War-style assassination with a weapons-grade nerve agent. All of this makes you wonder whether truth really is stranger than fiction.

Along these lines, our faith could be described as the ultimate Conspiracy Theory! In an amazing passage in his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul confirms that we don’t live in a spiritually neutral — or “secular” — world, but in one loaded with the spiritual dynamics of a cosmic struggle between God and his opponents. As Paul says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)

This is strong stuff for us to grapple with as Christians, and it would be easy to disappear into a paranoid, sci-fi version of our faith. But Paul’s warning is an encouragement to be alert and aware of our calling to be Christ’s people in the present age, and to see the invisible realities that shape our mission. That mission is to bring the “good news” into the world through the new community of the church. It includes re-aligning every aspect of the world, which has come under the influence of these fallen spiritual powers, with God’s rule through Christ. As Paul says, this is now our prerogative through Jesus’ victory over these spiritual powers, for: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2:15)

So how do we go about this? In Scripture there is no dualism between the spiritual and the material dimensions of reality; they are two sides of the same coin. And the same is true of the church — both the spiritual and material play equal and active roles in God’s kingdom.

Last Sunday I spoke about the finances of the church, which provides one of the clearest examples of this principle. Jesus describes money as a god, Mammon, and he warns that we cannot serve two masters at the same time. The key, of course, is not money itself, but who is really in charge of it — the fallen spiritual powers Paul describes or God. When properly focused, money plays a positive and essential role in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. Indeed, everything we do at St Paul’s is made possible by the generous giving of our congregation; it’s as simple as that. And so what we give into the church plays a vital role in our mission to re-align the world with God’s rule; both within our own hearts and within the structures and institutions of the world.

So, I want to thank those of you who financially support St Paul’s, including those who responded last Sunday. Thank you for your vision and generosity in giving to realities that can’t always be seen. And I also want to invite those of you who call this church “home,” to stand alongside us in the joyous project of nourishing our church so that she may thrive in the work God has set for us.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 18 March 2018 st pauls

“We have scorched the snake, not killed it,” Macbeth.

During the week, as part of our Diocesan Ministry Conference, we were treated to a night out at the Pop-up Globe Theatre for a viewing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Strangely, despite studying Shakespeare at school and University, I’d never been exposed to the “Scottish Play,” and my only knowledge of its plot came from the first season of Blackadder! So, both the unique context of the Pop-up Globe and the play’s script hit me fresh this week.

The next day, we had a fascinating discussion with the Theatre’s artistic director, Miles Gregory, discussing the potential resonances between theatre and church. It got me wondering why I found Shakespeare’s plays so powerful when I first experienced them as a teenage student. I think it has to do with the way that he brings the full drama of life — in both its personal and social dimensions — out into the open, and expresses that drama so clearly. I remember as a teenager feeling the discomfort of the characters, often royalty, as they bared their innermost thoughts and watched their lives unravel in public. But there was also something liberating about that process, a naming of life as it really is, rather than the surface tension of polite society. In fact we see a similar pattern in the lives of biblical heroes too, people like Moses, King David and Jesus.

And therein lies the most powerful connection between theatre and church. Both seek to name the full drama of life, to compress and express it in an abbreviated window so that we can see it more vividly than in the slow motion of our daily lives. As Christians, we also witness to a multi-layered drama, a Cosmic duel played out on an Eternal stage. During the play on Thursday night, one line leapt out at me with neon clarity and has stuck with me ever since. As his opponents circle, Macbeth says: “We have scorched the snake, not killed it.” He means that they have killed many enemies, but not enough to protect them. This line sums up the drama we find ourselves in as followers of Jesus in the time between his coming and his coming again. The serpent has been mortally wounded, but he still remains active for a time. And so we live in the tension between our present/future resurrection lives and our present trials.

As we journey towards Easter, when we celebrate the ultimate victory Jesus won for us, we’ve been focusing on what a life of radical faith looks like in “this time between the times.” And we find that biblical faith takes humility (true perspective about who we are and who God is), courage (responsiveness to God’s invitation in spite of our fear or the risks involved), and awareness of the nature of the drama that we find ourselves in. As we face the inevitable challenges and bogs of life, we walk with the bold assurance that although the auld serpent is not yet vanquished, unlike Macbeth we have the armies of heaven on our side and a sure path ahead.

Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 04 March 2018 st pauls

As I write this, the news of Billy Graham’s death is just coming down the newswires. Described as the most influential religious figure of the last century, he preached to around 100 million people in person, and reached many more through radio, TV and later online. It’s fitting that he died aged 100, justifying a letter from the Queen who was deeply influenced by his authentic faith and direct preaching. Like all public figures, and Jesus himself, Graham had his critics. Liberals critiqued his message as “simplistic,” while fundamentalists saw him as compromised. Regardless, he left a lasting mark on the world for the sake of the Gospel. My life, too, was shaped by him to some extent, growing up with parents who led Youth for Christ NZ, which was part of the organisation Billy Graham founded as its first full-time employee. My earliest memories were at camps and youth events, seeing un-churched teenagers respond to Jesus at a time in their lives when he was supposed to be least relevant.

Although we think of Billy Graham as old-fashioned and belonging to another era with his outdoor “crusades,” Brylcreem hair, and clean-cut suits, he was actually a cultural innovator, finding new and creative ways of connecting with people from all walks of life, from royalty and heads of state to common people in every country on earth.

What made Billy Graham distinctive in an age when many other charismatic leaders fell away, was his humility and unwavering focus on the “good news” of Jesus. So, it’s fitting today that we remember the moment when Jesus first announced the coming of this kingdom that would be good news to those who needed it most. As we hear Luke’s description of Jesus reading the scroll from Isaiah, our first impression is often a sense of distance between him and us — Jesus is speaking in a faraway place, a long time ago, and declaring promises that can feel foreign to our own experience of life.

But Luke’s intention is that we would find ourselves within the Gospel story, exposed to its full drama and challenge. That we would hear Jesus’ words as words directly to us. And that we would come to know what it means for this kingdom to take shape within us and to be passed on through us.

For me, amidst his countless achievements, the real power of Billy Graham’s life and legacy is that he put himself in the story, he took Jesus’ words seriously, and he boldly passed them on to millions of people around the world. This Southern Baptist boy from Charlotte, North Carolina, showed that the kingdom Jesus announced all those years ago, is as real today as the day it first arrived. The Brylcreem may seem foreign, but Billy Graham’s humble heart and radical faith is an inspiring example for all of us.


Blessings,
Rev Jonny Grant

0

The Back Page | 25 February 2018 st pauls

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