St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Friday, 26 August 2011

Notes for Reflection


August 28                               NOTES FOR REFLECTION                         Pentecost  11

Texts:  Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Theme:  And Now the Bad News.  Since the Day of Pentecost we have been on the road, learning to follow Jesus, to be a disciple.  It has been (largely) a time of wonder and joy.  Our side has been winning: the crowds have been with us.  Jesus has demonstrated his extraordinary powers over sickness, and even over the forces of nature.  It seems that nothing can stop him, and because we are with him, nothing can stop us.  The news has been all good.

Now comes the bad news.  Between Jesus and ultimate vindication stands the cross- with all that means for him, and, because we are with him, for us.  The goodness of God has come into a world that cannot cope with goodness – a world that believes in force, not love.  The world as it still is today.  It was like that when Jeremiah was called to be a prophet and found himself prophesying the destruction of his own country, a national crucifixion, we might say.  And it was the same world in which the Church was borne, a small struggling community called to live the good life – the godly life – beset by dangers all around it and constantly undermined by all the flaws and weaknesses of our human nature within.

Background.  One of the greatest writers on prayer and spirituality of the 20th century was a man called Anthony Bloom who later became known as Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.  In Courage to Pray he writes of the need to "seek for God in us and ourselves in God", and he gives us a practical way of going about this with the Scriptures:

We can begin simply.  When we read the Scriptures honestly we can admit that certain passages mean little to us.  We are ready to agree with God because we have no reason to disagree with him.  We can approve of this or that commandment or divine action because it does not touch us personally.  We do not yet see the demands it makes on us personally.  Other passages frankly repel us.  If we had the courage we would say 'no' to the Lord.  We should note these passages carefully.  They are the measure of the distance between God and us and also, perhaps more importantly for our present point, they are a measure of the distance between ourselves as we are now and our potential definitive selves.  For the gospel is not a succession of external commandments, it is a whole gallery of internal portraits.  And every time we say 'no' to the gospel we are refusing to be a person in the full sense of the word.

There are also passages of the gospel which make our hearts burn, which give light to our intelligence and shape our will.  They give life and strength to our whole physical and moral being.  These passages reveal the points where God and his image in us already coincide, the stage we have already reached, perhaps only momentarily, fleetingly, in becoming what we are called to be.  We should note these passages even more carefully than the passages mentioned above.  They are the points at which God's image is already present in us fallen men.  And from these beginnings we can strive to continue our transformation into the person we feel we want and ought to be.  We must be faithful to these revelations.  In this at least we must always be faithful.  If we do this these passages increase in number, the demands of the gospel become fuller and more precise, slowly the fogs disperse and we see the image of the person we should be.  Then we can begin standing before God in truth.

Today's readings offer a good opportunity to try this exercise.

Jeremiah.  God has made it clear he has turned away from his people.  The major complaint against them is idol-worship, even in the Temple itself.  As Jeremiah starts his ministry as a prophet the die is already cast.  His message is not a call to repentance but an assurance of coming calamity.  His task is made all the more difficult by false prophets uttering soothing words.  Today, Jeremiah pleads his own case, and typically he doesn't hold back, even "wondering aloud" if God has been deceiving him.  He "reminds" God of his faithfulness to God, and what it has cost him.  God assures him of his presence and protection.

Taking It Personally.

·   Reflect on the state of our own nation and our own people as we head towards our general election.  Have we turned away from God?  Are we worshipping idols?

·   What sort of future are we heading towards?  What sort of prophetic message might a Jeremiah have for us at this time?

·   Who are the false prophets in our country today?  To whom should we be listening?  How should our faith shape our attitude to national and political issues?

·   Reflect on Jeremiah's prayer in this passage.  Note its directness and openness.  How does it compare with your own prayer?

·   Have you ever felt God was deceiving you?


Romans  .Here is one of those "codes of Christian conduct" we find so often in St Paul's writings.  The basic premise follows last week's passage: we are in a hostile world that has turned away from God.  Therefore we are not to conform to the patterns of the world, but to live a life worthy of our calling as Christians.  And we are to live this life together – not as fully autonomous individuals.  Perhaps the most radical and demanding provisions relate to the way in which we are to respond to those who are hostile to us.  We are to bless them, and leave all questions of revenge to God.  Evil is not overcome by superior force, but by love.


Taking It Personally.

·   Give yourself a warrant of spiritual fitness test, using the criteria in this passage.  Note where you are presently compliant, and where you are presently non-compliant.

·   Which of these commands do you find the most difficult?  Why?

·   Would you like to do better, or are you generally content with the way you are?  (Be honest!)

·   Take your findings into prayer, confessing where appropriate and asking God for the grace to do better.


Matthew.  Today's story is the middle of three featuring Peter's mouth.  Last week he was inspired to acclaim Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of God".  This week he follows a different spirit in protesting against the way of the cross.  Next week he descends to babbling because (as St Mark tells us) "he did not know what to say".  Sometimes we get it right; sometimes we get it wrong; and often we do not know what to say.


This is the tipping-point in St Matthew's narrative.  Until now Jesus has been the man of authority, power and action.  When he has faced opposition, he has dealt with it, either by debate and argument, or by withdrawing from the scene of conflict.  From now on he will submit to it.


"From that time on" (v.21) refers to Peter's confession of faith.  "Jesus began to explain" (v.22): there are four specific predictions of Jesus' death and resurrection in the gospel.  This may indicate that it becomes a central theme of his teaching of the disciples.  Their reaction to his resurrection shows that they never really grasped what he was teaching them until it actually happened.


"Began to rebuke him" is very strong.  The same word is used for the exorcism of demons.  Jesus' response is equally strong.  Peter's stance recalls Satan's approach in the wilderness, trying to steer Jesus away from the cross.  Peter is thinking of death in the purely human sense, rather than in terms of God's salvation.  "Get behind me" is a reminder to all disciples to follow Jesus, not try to lead him.


The bad news is now made clear.  If we wish to live with Christ we must also die with him (vv.24-25).  We must not seek our security in worldly things.  V.27 seems most likely to be referring to Christ's return ("second coming") at the end of the age; v.28 makes more sense if it's a reference to his resurrection.


Taking It Personally.

·   Do you identify with St Peter in his propensity to speak out without due reflection first?  Or are you more likely to stay silent when you should speak out?

·   Is this passage good news or bad news?

·   Can you recall an occasion when you might have been a stumbling block to Jesus?

·   What does "self-denial" mean to you?

·   Does this passage help you to face your own death?

Workshop on Christian Meditation


The Anglican Parish of East Otago


Invites you to a





To be held in St john's Church Hall

Beach Street, Waikouaiti


On Saturday, 10th September

From 10.30am-3.30pm






The workshop is open to all interested people, whether or not they presently attend a church, and whether or not they presently practise meditation.  There will be no charge, but a gold coin donation towards expenses would be appreciated.  Please bring your own lunch: tea/coffee will be provided.



John Franklin is a very experienced spiritual director, retreat leader, and teacher on prayer and related spiritual practices.  He was one of the founders of Spiritual Growth Ministries, and is a regular contributor to its journal.  He was also one of the contributors of notes for reflection in the Spiritual Formation Bible.  John has been involved in parish ministry in the Presbyterian and Anglican Churches over many years, and is currently Chaplain to the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.  In that position he has particular responsibility for encouraging spiritual growth throughout the diocese.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Workshop on Meditation.

 Our Bishop's Chaplain, Rev John Franklin, will present this in St John's Waikouaiti 10th September,  10.30am -3.30pm  open to all. Bring lunch tea and coffee available. Gold coin donation towards expenses would be appreciated.          

Adventures in Prayer

Adventures in Prayer. This 8 week course will be presented in our parish 20th September – 5th November. The first 7 sessions will run on Tuesday evenings, and the course finishes with a 1- day retreat on Saturday. Please register your interest with Roger as numbers may be limited. Venue – Meeting room at  the Waitati Hall.


August 21                               NOTES FOR REFLECTION                    Pentecost 10
Texts:  Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Theme.  The third Sunday in August is designated in our Church Calendar as Religious Vocations Sunday.  With this special purpose in mind perhaps a theme such as Professing our Faith might be appropriate; or seeing All Things Clearly.
Introduction.  The term “Religious Vocations” is one we have pinched from the Roman Catholic community.  In its traditional usage it has a pretty limited ambit – basically, priests, monks and nuns.  That’s far too narrow for today’s Church.  Today we recognise that ALL Christians have a vocation by virtue of their baptism.
This is made evident in our baptismal liturgies, and in particular in the following passage from page 391 of the Prayer Book, where the following exchange between the Bishop and a candidate for Confirmation is stated:
[Bishop]  Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God.  From the beginning, believers have continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.  Will you commit yourself to this life?
[Candidate]  I will, with God’s help.  Through God’s grace I will forgive others as I am forgiven; I will seek to love my neighbour as myself, and strive for peace and justice; I will accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in my daily life and work; with the whole Church I will proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ.
There in those few lines is the religious vocation of ALL THE BAPTISED.
Although today’s readings have not been selected specially for “Religious Vocations Sunday”, they are remarkably apposite.  Through the prophet Isaiah God calls our attention to himself; and St Paul exhorts us to worship and serve God with all we have and are.  Through St Matthew, Peter reminds us who it is we are called to follow in our daily life and work.  With these things clear we are fully equipped to fulfil our religious vocation by the grace of God.
Isaiah.  This is a classic example of oracular prophecy.  A call to reflect on what God has done in the past; and with that in mind to look to God in trust with hope for all he will do in the future.
This passage comprises 2 short poetic oracles, verses 1-3, and verses 4-6.  The connecting theme is the call to pay heed to God: each section begins with an exhortation to “Listen” (v. 1 & v. 4.)  The theme of paying careful attention is taken up by the frequent use of the word “look”.  The people should look to the rock from whence they were cut (v.1); they should look to Abraham and Sarah (v.2); the Lord will look with compassion on Israel’s ruins (v.3); the islands will look to God (v.5), and the people are told to lift their eyes to heaven and look at the earth beneath (v.6)
The message is similar to last week’s (56:1-8): it foretells the coming of God’s salvation (cf. the coming of the kingdom of heaven in the New Testament).  The message of salvation (N.T. the Good News) is first of all for the faithful – those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord”: probably a reference to the faithful remnant within Israel (v.1).  But in verse 2 it is broadened to include the whole of Israel, all the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  The reference to Sarah in such a context is unusual: possibly it is intended to remind the people how God brought new life out of a “dead womb” (so he can be trusted to restore Israel despite its present “hopeless” condition).  The whole land of Israel will be blessed and made whole again – the Edenic curse will be lifted (v.3).
Then the message broadens again to include all nations: salvation is universal in its reach (vv.4 &5).  Furthermore, it is eternal: heaven and earth will pass away but God’s salvation has no end (v.6).
Taking It Personally.
·       What does this passage tell you about the nature of God?  Jot down the divine characteristics as they come to you in pondering this passage.
·       Can you recall an instance in your own life when you experienced any one of those characteristic of God?
·       What reason have you for trusting in God’s goodness towards you in the future?
·       How does this passage help you to understand your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?
Romans.  Paul has now finished his anxious study of the salvation of the Jews, even though they have rejected the Messiah.  He has concluded that, because of God’s covenant with Abraham which is irrevocable, God will have mercy on them and forgive their sins.  Thus God’s mercy is available to all; Jews because of the Old Covenant and Christians because of the New.  He now turns to our response to that mercy.  In a word, the proper human response is worship, but worship understood as a wholehearted offering of ourselves (all that we have and are) to God (v.1).  This calls for a new mindset – a new way of understanding and looking at the world – a new value system.  We must no longer conform to the way of the world – commonsense – the herd mentality – peer pressure.  Our minds must be renewed: only thus may we discern God’s will and be able to follow it (v.2).
Three other things.  First, we must get to know our real selves – our true selves.  We must be real – stop hiding behind our carefully constructed public masks.  “Sober judgment” excludes both boasting and false modesty (v.3).  Secondly, we’re not alone: we belong to one another.  The Privacy Act should not apply within the Body of Christ (vv. 4 & 5).  Thirdly,
we have each been given gifts with which to serve one another: our task is to discern our gifts and to use them as best we can (v.6).
Taking It Personally.
·       Spend some time pondering verse 1.  Do you agree that it is consistent with the religious vocation summarised in the baptismal liturgy (above)?
·       Is your own commitment to God consistent with this teaching?  Do you need to make any changes?
·       Are there any areas where you conform too much to the pattern of this world?
·       When was the last time you prayed for the renewal of your mind?  When will the next time be?
·       Write a completely true statement about your character.  No boasting and no false modesty: just sober judgment.  What do you find difficult about this exercise?
·       Do you feel that you belong to the other members of the Church, and they to you?  How does this belonging manifest itself in practice?
·       What gifts has God given you with which to serve the Church?  Are you presently exercising those gifts?  What impediments are there (if any)?
·       How does this passage help you to fulfil your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?

Matthew.  Chapter 16 opens with the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to Jesus to demand “a sign from heaven” – presumably, something to establish his prophetic credentials (at the very least).  He tells them none will be given except “the sign of Jonah”.  Then follows yet another boat trip across the lake in which Jesus warns them to be on their guard against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Now they are in Caesarea Philippi, the seat of Roman military and political power in the region, with all its massive and impressive buildings that all this entailed.  It is against this background that Jesus quizzes them about his true identity.  First, he wants to know the talk on the street: who do Joe and Josephine Public say he is?  The answer ought to surprise us on two grounds.  First, hard as it is for us to remember, at the time few would have heard or met Jesus, so it is surprising that so many have apparently formed any opinion on the subject.  Even more, it should surprise us that there was such a widespread acceptance of the idea of reincarnation, at least for prophets.

Then Jesus cuts to the chase.  The real question is never about the opinions/beliefs of others: the question for each of us is, who do I say Jesus is?  Jesus addresses this question to all of them: “you” in v.15 is plural.  Simon Peter answers; and scholars are divided on whether he does so as an individual or as the spokesman for them all.  Either way, Jesus is delighted; the answer is not borne of human wisdom, but has come to Peter from above (we might call it “inspired”, meaning the work of the Spirit).

There is a similar division of opinion on verse 18, this one of much more serious import.  The traditional view (at least in RC circles) is that Peter himself is the rock on which Jesus will build his church.  The opposing view is that it is on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God that the Church will be built.  In other words, the Church is a gathering of those who affirm the same belief about Jesus rather than those who follow Peter.

Taking It Personally.
·        Picture a large, important military town.  Imagine the impressive buildings, the height and thickness of the walls, the towers and turrets.  Now picture the military ceremonies, the horsemen, the chariots, the ritual of the changing of the guard, etc.  Against that background picture this small group of men, Jesus and his disciples.  Listen again to the dialogue.  Does it sound out of place?
·        Who do your family, friends, acquaintances and neighbours say Jesus is?  Do any care enough to have any opinion on the matter?
·        Who do you say he is?  Why?  What difference to your life does your belief make?
·        Take up your keys.  Look at them.  What purpose do they serve?  Who would you let have them, and who would you keep them from?
·        Now repeat the exercise, this time imagining that they are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
·        How does this passage help you to fulfil your religious vocation as set out in the baptismal liturgy (see above)?

Thursday, 11 August 2011


August 14                                           NOTES FOR REFLECTION                    Pentecost 9

Texts: Isaiah 56:1-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Theme: breaking down barriers.  From our liturgy: "Blessed be Christ the Prince of Peace who breaks down the walls that divide."  A thought:  in the kingdom of heaven there are no walls.

Introduction.  Matthew continues with the motif of coming and going.  We have had a gap between the story of Jesus walking on the water, and today's episode.  It was filled with the questions about Jewish purity laws; ceremonial hand-washing, etc.  Jesus insisting that only what comes out of our mouths can render us 'unclean'.  The purity laws were the key barrier between Jews and Gentiles.

Now Jesus has withdrawn again; in fact, he leaves Galilee and enters gentile (pagan) territory.   This time his desire for privacy is challenged by a woman.  He seems strangely resistant, even rude.  It's her persistence that breaks down the wall that he seems to want to hide behind.  It's one of those rare instances in the Gospels, where Jesus seems to contradict the teaching of Isaiah, who was stanchly universalist in outlook, as today's passage shows.  Meanwhile, St Paul nears the end of his struggle with the apparent divide between Christ and the Jews.  How can Israel be saved if it insists on manning the barricades and keeping Jesus out?

Background.  Walls have been of great importance in human history.  They give us a sense of protection and safety.  Cities invariably were encircled by walls – entrances locked at night.  Walls keep threats out – enemies, wild animals, etc.  Today we have walled homes inside fenced gardens.  We take it for granted that admission requires our consent.  Trespassers will be resisted.

Politicians promise us ever more prison walls; designed to keep in those who would otherwise threaten us.     They remind us of the ambiguity of walls: our attitude towards them depends on which side of them we stand.

Many of us remember the stunning overthrow of the Berlin Wall and the great joy that triggered.  We may have a more conflicted view of the wall Israel has erected against Palestinian "intruders"; or the border "defences" between the USA and Mexico.

Walls are not only physical structures.  We all live to some degree or other behind psychological walls to exclude those by whom we feel threatened.  Sometimes we feel excluded by the walls others have seemingly erected against us.

Do we want the Prince of peace to break down the walls that divide?  That depends on who built them and why.

Isaiah.  This passage begins "Book III" – comprising chapters 56-66.  These chapters look ahead to the things to come.  The overall tone is hopeful.  God's will is to be done in the end.

Verse1 reminds us of the opening campaigns of John the Baptist, and even more so, of Jesus himself.  "Maintain justice and do what is right for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed" is the OT version of "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  Verse 2 declares blessed those who do this.  The reference to Sabbath observance is not legalistic – it's shorthand for faithful worship of the Lord God. 

These two verses could be addressed only to Jews, but they are not.  Verses 3-7 make it clear that the message is universal in scope, by emphasising the inclusion of foreigners and eunuchs.  The same requirements apply to them – obedience and faithful worship – but descent from Abraham is not essential.  They will all be brought to the holy mountain; more, they will have a place within the temple walls – the very dwelling-place of the Lord God – and their sacrifices will be acceptable to him.  Even though they have no issue (in the case of eunuchs), they will be remembered (immortalised) by the eternal God.  The Temple – the home of the God of Israel – will be a place of prayer for all the nations.

Verse 8 uses the idea of two gatherings which we find throughout the writings of Paul (first the Jews, then the gentiles); see also John 10:16.

Taking It Personally.

·        Can you recall a time when you felt excluded, not good enough, not acceptable to others?

·        Have you ever felt not good enough for God?

·        Does this passage say anything to you about Israel's wall on the West Bank; or about the attitude of our own people to asylum seekers or immigrants?

·        Does this sort of reading guide your thinking in any way on such public issues as these?  Why or why not?

Romans.  St Paul reaches the end of his wrestling with the (for him) vexed question of the salvation of the Jews, given that it is the gentiles who are accepting the gospel and the Jews who are (by and large) rejecting it.  This is no mere theological puzzle for him.  He is a Jew himself; and the attitude of his fellow Jews is causing him "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" (Romans 9:2).

His argument is not always easy to follow.  Perhaps we can say the crucial verse is 29: "for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable".  God has promised salvation to Israel through the Abrahamic covenant: he has also promised salvation to those who have faith in Christ.  How is this salvation given?   Through forgiveness of sins – what Paul calls the mercy of God.  Thus Jews and gentiles become eligible for salvation through different covenants (Jews through the old covenant and Christians through the new), but in each case that salvation is effected by forgiveness of sins (the mercy of God).

Taking It Personally.

·        Pray the third petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us", slowly and repetitively.

·        Are you a sinner – are you sinful?  Or is all that old-fashioned unhealthy language?

·        Is there anyone you haven't forgiven?

·        Have you experienced the forgiveness of others?  Have you experienced God's forgiveness?

·        Ponder the term "the mercy of God"?  How do you feel about it?

·        Pray the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner", slowly and repetitively.

Matthew.  After Jesus walked on the lake and joined the disciples in the boat they sailed to Gennesaret on the north-western edge of the lake, where we left them.  There Jesus was quizzed by some Pharisees and teachers of the law about his attitude towards the Jewish purity practices.  Jesus insisted that what we eat cannot make us unclean; we are made unclean by what comes out of our mouths and hearts, not what we take in.  So radical was this teaching that Peter had to ask for an explanation.

Now Jesus has again "withdrawn", this time to Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon), to the twin cities of Tyre and Sidon.  In 11:21 Jesus had used these cities as examples of great godlessness.  This is gentile territory.  He is addressed by a Canaanite (or Syro-Phoenician) woman, a mother of a girl who "is suffering terribly from demon-possession".  She calls out in words very similar to blind Bartimaeus: "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

We expect Jesus to have compassion on her.  He doesn't.  He ignores her!  Her first appeal falls on (his) deaf ears.  Why?  Because she is from the wrong side of at least 3 walls – a woman, a gentile, and a worshipper of pagan gods?  It seems that she may have been pestering the disciples: they urge Jesus to send her away - just as they suggested he should send the crowds away to buy food (14:15), and just as they will try to drive the mothers away who bring their children to Jesus for a blessing (19:13).  This time Jesus seems to agree with them.  He "answered"...but did he?  The answer doesn't seem to make sense.  Perhaps it was directed to the woman; or perhaps what the disciples meant was, "grant her request so she will go away".

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."  This is clearly Jesus' original understanding of his mission: see 10:5-6.  The woman is undeterred.  Instead of going away, she draws near and kneels before him.  She makes her second appeal: "Lord, help me."  Jesus strongly, even rudely, rebuffs her.  She is not a member of the House of Israel.  But again she refuses to be dismissed.  We might recall the persistent widow badgering the judge, or the friend at midnight bludging bread from his neighbour. She doesn't respond in kind to the insult, but nor does she yield.  She hoists him on his own petard!  Her faith in him remains intact.  Jesus recognises her faith and grants her request.  He has mercy on her.  Her daughter, a gentile, is saved though faith by God's mercy.

Taking It Personally.

·        What do you make of Jesus' attitude towards this woman?  Do you feel any need to defend/excuse/explain his attitude?  On what grounds might you do that?

·        Some have suggested he was a man of his times; others that he was tired and exasperated, never able to get "off-duty?  Does this "only-too-human" Jesus appeal to you at all?

·        How does the woman's approach compare with your own approach to Jesus in times of need?  Do you persist in prayer?

·        Ponder the graphic image of the crumbs falling from the table.  Next time you see crumbs on your dining-room floor give thanks for this nameless woman who broke down the walls that would otherwise have kept her from the mercy of God.