St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Friday, 22 July 2011


July 17                                     NOTES FOR REFLECTION                                Pentecost 5

Texts:  Isaiah 44:6-8; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Theme:  The importance of discernment.   What is of God and what is not?  How can we know in the particular?  To whom should we listen – who are today's prophets speaking God's truth?

This is expressed in Isaiah in terms of monotheism versus polytheism; Yahweh versus pagan gods.  It addresses the constant temptation of Israelites (and us) to create or follow gods of our own choosing.  For St Paul, the distinction is between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh (sinful or human nature).  Our parable tells us that it isn't always clear which is which.

A Helpful Book.  The whole issue of discernment is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality.  Thomas Green, S.J. has written a book on this topic using today's parable to shape it.  The title is "Weeds Among the Wheat", and he offers these criteria to help us discern true prophets from false one:

·        Prophecies that are challenging are more likely to be true than ones that are pleasing to the ear:

·        Predictions must come true to be authentic:

·        Prophecies must be consistent with the teaching of the faith:

·        The lifestyle of the prophet should be carefully considered.  True prophets are not sinless, but false prophets will always be betrayed in the end by their sinful life:

·        What is the prophet's real motivation – the glory of God or his own glory?

·        Does the prophet have a genuine sense of calling?

Isaiah.  God's identity is fundamental.  It is expressed in relation to Israel.  God is Israel's "King and Redeemer".  God is the one who has "established my ancient people".

God is unique: "apart from me there is no God.  Who then is like me?"

God is revealed in history: "what has happened..."  But he also knows the future: "what is yet to come..."  Foreknowledge is the true test of divinity: "let [the false gods] foretell what will come".

Therefore, the people may trust in God: "do not tremble, do not be afraid."  Everything has happened, is happening, and will happen in accordance with God's purpose: "Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?"

SO "you are my witnesses".  The two characteristics of a witness are personal knowledge/experience, and testimony to others.

God is the one and only "Rock".  This is a common metaphor in the psalms.  It speaks of stability, timelessness, etc.  It may also be a reference to the rock at Horeb struck by Moses to get water for the Israelites.  Is there some irony here?  False gods are those made out of material like wood and stone.  Yahweh, the living God is immaterial and yet like a Rock?

Links with Christian Teaching.

·        Christ is to be understood with Jewish salvation history – Luke 24:27:

·        Christ is unique – John 3:16:

·        We are his witnesses – Acts 1:8:

·        Christ is the "spiritual rock that accompanied Israel" – 1 Corinthians 10:4.

Taking it Personally.

·        How might you identify God in relation to yourself?  [God is my...?]

·        Looking back, how has God revealed himself in your personal history?

·        Do you have trust in God?  Why or why not?

·        What has been your personal experience of God and to whom have you witnessed about that?

Romans.  Isaiah emphasised God's relationship with his people: now St Paul's looks at our relationship with God.

God has done something completely new in Christ.  We are no longer separated from God, living "an animal" existence.  We are no longer under condemnation: we are renewed, the first-fruits of the new creation.  All this is through the Holy Spirit, whom we receive in baptism.

We are now "children of God".  We can address God as "Abba", as Jesus himself did, because through the Spirit we have been adopted by God.  So we have all the rights of a natural-born child, including the rights of inheritance.  We are  co-heirs with Christ!

And there is more!  What is already true of us (in part) will one day be true of the whole Creation: it, too, will be redeemed, and restored to a right relationship with its Creator. 

Therefore, we have grounds for hope for the redemption of our bodies (bodily resurrection).  In the meantime we wait patiently.

Taking It Personally.

·        Practice (in front of the bathroom mirror) introducing yourself as a child of God:

·        Re-read our baptismal liturgy: remind yourself that you have received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit through whom God raised Jesus to life:

·        Reflect on your own relationship with your parents.  What light does that throw on your relationship with God?

·        When you pray, address God as "Abba": how does that feel?

Matthew.  The Parable of the Weeds is unique to Matthew: this suggests that it was included to address a specific issue that had arisen in the community of faith in which this gospel was written.  It is also one of only two parables that come with a formal explanation: the other is the Parable of the Sower.  This suggests the people were having particular difficulty understanding these parables.

It is based in the real world, both literally and metaphorically.  Sow any crop and weeds will appear among it.  If Christ has "sown" the new Kingdom of Heaven on earth, how come evil keeps springing up all over the place?  The first response of the servants in the parable is to ask that very question: faced with the reality of evil, they wish to engage in theological speculation.

Only then do they consider what can be done about it.  Should they attempt to eradicate it?  No, for apparently practical reasons.  It would be too difficult to uproot the weeds without disturbing the wheat.

So it's about discernment.  We lack the ability to distinguish one from the other.  Despite the stereotypical approach to good people (like us) and criminals/sinners (like them), both groups look too alike to be sure which is which.

And there's another problem here.  Look closely at the explanation, and you'll find there is no reference to the servants.  Notice the change from "servants" in the present time and "harvesters" at the end of the age.  The "harvesters" are angels, but who are the servants?  At least in their own eyes, they seem to be "good seed" (people of the kingdom).  So perhaps the point is that in judging/condemning/uprooting those we consider "weeds", we risk harming ourselves.

That this interpretation might be on the right track is shown by the use of the Greek word "Aphete", for "Let".  It is the same word used for "forgive" in the Lord's Prayer, and also in the words of Christ on the Cross, "Father, forgive them..."

Taking it Personally.

·        Re-run the parable with yourself as the field:

·        What particular weeds are growing in your field?

·        How would you identify that which was sown by God and that which wasn't?:

·        Take these reflections into prayer.  What might you need to confess; and what might you wish to ask God for?

Report to Forum July 2011

Report to Forum July 2011


Somewhat out of the blue, I became the Interim Priest/Enabler in the Parish of East Otago on 1 May.  After 2 months in the position I have now taken services in each of our 6 churches.  What follows in this report is based on my observations, experiences, thoughts and prayers over that period.

On Thursday 23 June the Bishop convened a meeting in St Luke's, Oamaru to consider the provision of stipended ministry throughout East and North Otago.  Representatives of each of our 4 centres attended, along with those from the northern parishes.  At present, there is a full-stipend position in Oamaru, a 60% of stipend position in North Oamaru-Waitaki, and a 50% position in East Otago.  The Bishop asked us to consider the alternative of having 2 full-stipend positions throughout the whole area.

This review is at its early stages, and this is not the place to comment on it further.  What is clear is that change of some sort is inevitable.  What follows in this report is written against that background.

Some Parish Statistics

The parish in its present form is long and narrow, basically following the east coast and State Highway 1 from Waitati to Hampden, a distance of roughly 65-70kms.  Along that distance we have a chain of 6 churches, St Barnabas, Hui te Rangiora, St John's, St Mary's, Kotahitanga, and St Stephen's.

Services are presently held as follows:

1st Sunday        St Barnabas, St Mary', & St Stephen's:

2nd Sunday       St Barnabas, St John's, St Mary's, & St Stephen's:

3rd Sunday        St Barnabas, St John's, St Mary's, & Kotahitanga:

4th Sunday        St Barnabas, Hui te Rangiora, St Mary's, & St Stephen's.

Various arrangements are made for 5th Sundays.

Average attendances are as follows.

At St Barnabas, 15-20:

At Hui te Rangiora, 6-8:

At St John's, 8-12, except that about 20 Presbyterians join us on the 2nd Sunday:

At St Mary's, 6-8:

At Kotahitanga, 6-8:

At St Stephen's, 4-6.

To put it bluntly, these figures call into question our ongoing viability.  Our immediate aim should be an average aggregate attendance on a Sunday in the parish as a whole of 50, with a minimum attendance at each service of 10.

A Vision for the Parish

As I was praying for the parish one day I remembered a night when Trish and I were driving home from Warrington to Port Chalmers over Blueskin Road.  As we ascended the hill, the fog became thicker and thicker, until at the top, which was unsealed at that time, visibility was down to a few metres.  It was so bad we seriously considered having Trish walking in front of the car with me driving in bottom gear.  However, I noticed that from alongside one white reflector post on the left-hand side of the road, I could just make out the next one.  By driving from one to the next we were able to complete the crossing.

And so I envisaged our 6 churches as beacons of light guiding travellers along the journey, from Dunedin (All Saints & St Thomas' Pinehill) to Oamaru (St Luke's & St Andrew's, Maheno).  If even one of our lights is extinguished, the chain is broken and darkness will prevail.

To give a little substance to this image I wonder about a "pilgrimage candle": a large candle (like a paschal candle) blessed at All Saints, and brought Sunday by Sunday along the chain until it reaches Oamaru.  Does this appeal at all?

Related to this is a sudden insight that has proved very helpful to me.  For years as a priest travelling around on a Sunday morning I have always thought of myself as going somewhere "to take a service".  Inevitably, where the journey was long and the attendance was low, there was a feeling of disappointment, even a tendency to wonder why I had bothered.

However, what if I were to consider that each little church is a place specially set aside for the offering of prayer, so that my commitment is to ensure that I pray in each of those sacred places on a regular circuit with whomever happens to be there at the time?  This simple change of mindset means that, instead of being disappointed at the small number of people attending the service (sometimes making the singing something to be endured rather than enjoyed!), I am encouraged by the number present to pray with me!

I am not, of course, suggesting that services of worship are not important, much less that they should be replaced by "prayer meetings".  But prayer must be at the heart of the church and of our lives as people of faith.

I also think prayer can be the basis on which we can seek to build relationships with our local communities.  Perhaps through our local free newspapers we could advertise our willingness to pray with and for people about anyone or anything of concern to them.  Perhaps we could have "prayerboxes" (like letterboxes) outside our churches, or other means by which members of the community could "safely" request prayer.

On a similar theme there is much interest these days in "meditation".  Many associate this with eastern religions or New Age practices, but it has been in the Christian tradition from the very beginning.   Perhaps we have a calling to share this practice with those outside our ranks, say alongside night classes in a college or community programme?

With all this in mind I have booked The Reverend John Franklin, the Bishop's Chaplain, to come to the parish to conduct a workshop on prayer and meditation.  This will be held in St John's Hall on Saturday, 10 September.  Please mark your diaries and encourage anyone you know who might be interested to come and join us.

Some Specific Suggestions/Challenges

I want now to outline a few ideas for each of our centres to explore as we prepare for an uncertain but exciting future.  In many cases these simply build on things already underway.

St Barnabas

·        Explore the possibility of establishing a regular "presence" in the Waitati area: a home group, study series, etc.  Particularly important if the new library/community centre goes ahead:

·        Develop a relationship with Warrington School – the Principal is very keen:

·        Share human resources with other congregations, especially lay ministers, musicians, School nativity?

·        Production of parish magazine.

St John's

·        Production and maintenance of Memorial Book:

·        Related ministry to bereaved – anniversary cards, etc:

·        All Soul's Service:

·        Develop relationship with Hui te Rangiora:

·        Further develop ecumenical relationship with Presbyterians and Catholics:

·        Develop role as central meeting place for parish, forum meetings, training days, etc. – ministry of hospitality.

St Mary's

·        If services are held in the lounge during winter, explore appropriate changes to format of worship services – 'church in the round', interactive, use of lectio divina, etc:

·        Share insights and experiences gained with other congregations whose numbers suggest a similar move away from the traditional format:

·        Explore ways of strengthening relationship with St Stephen's and St John's:

·        Develop ministry to Kimberley Rest Home. 

St Stephen's

·        Consider format and frequency of services:

·        Develop relationship with Kotahitanga:

·        Develop relationship with St Mary's, and explore possibilities with St Andrew's Maheno.

I stress these are intended as suggestions to stimulate further thought, discussion and prayer.  I think they are all within the bounds of possibility, given our small numbers and limited resources.

Prayer, after all, requires only one person and no other resources.


Roger Barker, Interim Priest/Enabler.

Louise Booth