In the 1970’s a “Biblical Garden” was planted on St Paul’s northern side, which was filled with palms, figs, olives, and even a cedar of Lebanon! It expresses the vision of St Paul’s as a garden planted by God in the heart of our city, and it’s an idea that finds its origins in the story of Scripture.
In the Book of Genesis two rival images of human life emerge. First, we see God’s vision of life established within the fruitful productivity of Eden—the original garden. A little later, a very different form of human existence takes shape in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Whereas Eden was animated by God’s abundance, Egypt was dominated by Pharaoh’s nightmare of famine-induced scarcity. Under Joseph’s guidance, Egypt’s people are progressively enslaved, trading food in stages for their livestock, their land, and ultimately their own freedom.
In many ways the ancient imagery of Genesis accurately reflects our own life in a bustling modern city like Auckland. The theologian J. I. Packer describes the Christian life as a journey through contested territory, in the space between the Creator and the Corrupter. Put another way, we live in the tension between Eden and Egypt—God’s provision versus self-reliance and the fear of scarcity. We’re privileged to live in a beautiful vibrant city like Auckland, but it also poses challenges to our journey of faith. We can become caught up in the creeping anxiety of how to sustain life and keep progressing in a competitive city that is among the world’s most expensive.
It’s within this challenging context that Jesus’s call to worship God with everything we have blows like a fresh breeze from Eden. And it's here where we need to acknowledge that our finances are heavily contested territory. But they also provide us with a powerful opportunity to express our faith in God’s provision, while blessing others. Scot McKnight calls this the “reciprocity of grace … God gives to us so that we can become grace to others.” Tom Wright puts it this way:
“Don’t let the parodies put you off. The habit of giving, of giving generously, is not an extra option for keen Christians … because our whole calling is to reflect God the creator, and the main thing we know about this true God is that his very nature is self-giving, generous love. The reason why “God loves a cheerful giver” is that that’s what God himself is like. Someone like that is a person after God’s own heart. Making a regular, formal and public practice of giving money is designed to generate the habit of heart which forms a key part of what is meant by agape love.”
So, today I want to thank you for what you give to this community of faith and the Kingdom of God through St Paul’s, and also to welcome you into that adventure if you are not currently giving. What this church does is only possible because of your generosity. So why not grab a giving card today and get involved?
Our ultimate future lies in the “Garden City”—the New Jerusalem. This will be a place where God’s presence and provision permeates all of human life. Just as rivers flowed out from Eden giving life to everything beyond its boundaries, St Paul’s is built atop one of the natural springs that used to flow down what is now Queen Street. Our vision for St Paul’s is that it would be a spiritual Garden offering hospitality, hope and restoration, and that its rivers of life would flow out into and bless our City as a taste of the New Jerusalem in the bustling heart of Auckland.
Rev Jonny Grant
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