SERMON – 12 March 2023 – Lent 3 –

You’ll be aware by now that today is kept as the 3rd Sunday in Lent.  That means that we are coming up next weekend to the 4th Sunday in Lent,  to Mid-Lent Sunday, commonly known as Mothering Sunday,  before we get to Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.  The weeks are passing very fast this year! Already Lorelle and the choir have been preparing the music for some of these services.

Lent is the 40 days when we commemorate and remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, in the course of which he was tempted by the devil.  Matthew 4:1-11.  Although he was the Son of God, Jesus faced temptations, but he resisted or overcame them.  The point of us observing Lent is that we might recognise some of the temptations that face us, temptations of turning away for God, of greed, self importance; and then learning from Jesus, also resist them, and so be better, stronger people.

In my family, Lent was always a ‘big’ thing each year – no sweets (not that we ever had many).  At Sunday School we would be given little boxes, and cards on which we marked off every time we put some money in the boxes.  We would bring them to church on Good Friday, and the money collected would go, along with the money in the envelopes our parents used, for the missionary work of the church –ie  passing on the good news of Jesus Christ,

Lent was also a time for fasting (self-denial, self-control, going without something (eg sweets)  for a reason); extra week-day worship, Lenten programmes, study groups etc.

In church itself there would be a measure of austerity – no flowers or decorations; it was not a time for weddings.  Hence the need ‘to catch up’, the rush for weddings at Easter!  Instead of the hymns of praise and joy, we would sing the traditional less exuberant hymns (eg 40 days and 40 nights, thou wast fasting in the wild . . .)  My father and his mates would wish each other a ‘suitably miserable Lent’, which well-described what Lent was supposed to be.

The custom of burning the palm crosses and using the ash to mark people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday I would say was introduced into the NZ Anglican Church in the early 1960s – prior to that the name ‘Ash Wednesday’ was only a name of an ancient custom no longer followed – or certainly not brought to NZ by the 19th century pioneers.

Good Friday/Easter has become a time for a long weekend, holidays and travel, a break; a time for family get togethers. And sadly a time for car accidents.  Given the natural disasters of the past few weeks and months, I suspect Easter may be a bit different this year for many people in New Zealand. But it is central to our church’s year.   The purple of Lent, and the black of Good Friday become the white of Easter, and the excitement and joy of the news of Jesus’ resurrection – ‘He is alive, and we have seen and spoken with him!’

But I think this year, this Lent, as a time for looking at ourselves, really looking at ourselves, is particularly significant for us at All Saints, Birkenhead. I mean  looking at ourselves, firstly inward, where we have come from (our history), where we are at the present time (facing reality), and, looking outward at where we might go in the future (our goals). We are in a rapidly changing environment, so how and where do we fit in?  Without giving away anything of our Anglican heritage, what can we learn from the ‘growing churches’, and especially the growing Anglican ones!

Some of you may remember many years ago parish meetings and vestries sweated over what was known as ‘Mission Statements’.  Parishes, but also outside organisations, and companies, all had a Mission Statement, a phrase, or a short sentence, that stated what the group stood for, and was its goal. They were on noticeboards, parish publications etc. The one I remember most was ’To know Christ and to make Him known’.  But there are others. If you had a parish Mission Statement here you can tell me later what it was/is. 

I quite like the notice seen from the inside above the main exit door. ‘Our Mission Field begins here’. Do we carry our Christian faith out with us to the people we meet, or stop and have coffee with afterwards?  A surprising number of people walk up and down the street past the church – do we impact on them? I found waiting in the dentist’s waiting room a good place to meet and talk to other clients during the week.

Our Future Directions Consultation in two weeks’ time will give us the opportunity to re-examine ourselves in the light of God’s Mission, the Mission of the Church. It will be important for as many as possible of Jesus’ followers to attend and participate, because it will be a key event in our life here in Birkenhead this year, and for the years ahead.

So I invite you to pray for the wardens and vestry, for the Archdeacon, Carole Hughes,  as she leads the Consultation, for those who will be appointed as Nominators;  for our AGM which will be coming up soon after Easter; for our other parish leaders, that God’s will is done, Jesus’ commands will be obeyed, that this will indeed be a place where all are welcome, and a place where they will meet Jesus Christ, and where the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world today.

SERMON – 5 March 2023 

Rev John McCaul                                                                                                                  

Matthew 17:1-9

The events of the last few weeks have been at best worrying, and at worst absolutely tragic for many families in Auckland and its surrounding areas – N, S, E, W – as well as much of the rest of New Zealand.    We have had to face the elements – rain, wind, flood, cyclone, tornado – once, then again, and again. It’s like the whole planet earth is changing around us –and, to put it mildly, it’s been very unsettling for all of us, wherever we are.

We have asked many questions of our local body leaders and politicians lately, but in fact they are now telling us that climate change is all around us, whether we like it or not.  It’s all deeply unsettling for many people, and if you feel it getting to you, do remember you are not alone.

But in church, any church, the change of Vicar is always a landmark event – a sense of loss and of change. An ending, and a beginning; we experience a variety of feelings. A sense of sadness and grief at the loss of a friend and vicar after 8 years and on the other hand a sense of excitement and anticipation, as we look forward to the future here, and what that may hold.

All Saints Birkenhead will be on the map – partly because of my friends and family. In due course the position of Vicar will be advertised in the other New Zealand dioceses.  But Jordan is now at St Michael and All Angels church in Christchurch.  Its history goes back to the earliest settlers of Christchurch in the 1850s.  It is right in the middle of the city; it has a school attached to it; and a team of clergy who assist with the daily weekday services. Those who know that church and parish with its tradition and history will be asking, looking at their new Vicar – where’s he come from? and what is his experience? It is a significant church in Christchurch, and a significant position in the New Zealand Church.  It is what we call a High Anglican or Anglo Catholic parish with a very long tradition – and we wish him well.

But what of us who are left behind? We remain; this is still our parish, our church.  Our parishes, our clusters, churches, are like little out posts of the Kingdom of God, calling God’s people to gather and meet, centres of spiritual activity, and sharing the sacraments together, gathering for social activity and Christian spiritual activity. Every year Lent gives us the opportunity to reflect on where we are at in relation to God, and other people, and asking how might we become closer to God, and more faithful, more committed. More the people God wants us to be.  I’ve always seen it as part of my job to encourage and help build Christian community. A community of people who love and serve God, love and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, a people filled with the Holy Spirit.  But I cannot do it alone.  It needs other faithful committed Christian people, it needs the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.

Our calling is always to be faithful, but that is not all.  We live in communities, we worship as followers of Jesus in a Christian community, and so we are called to serve the community we live in; to get to know other Christians in the area, and especially those who make decisions on our behalf.  What will our role be in the coming General Election?  I liked the way our local political candidates have put up their posters – whether it is wishing us a happy Christmas, a happy new year, or even marking the Chinese New Year. But reminding us they are here and, I would like to think, inviting our prayerful support. Early electioneering maybe!

Coming up, we have the rest of the 40 days of Lent, Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday and our Consultation, Holy Week, and then Good Friday and Easter. It’s a time to deepen our faith in God, trust in Jesus Christ, and to be led by the Holy Spirit. It’s a pilgrimage, it’s a journey we are making together.  I invite you to make that journey together with me over this next period of time.

As members of this Parish, we will be challenged at our Future Directions Consultation to look to the future.  We entrust ourselves to God, but only God knows the future, and that future is in God’s hands. But it is our hands that God works through!

I’ve always quite liked Nicodemus, the Pharisee, the Jewish leader, who came to Jesus by night, so he wouldn’t be seen.  He enquired about what Jesus had said about making a new start, being born again, and Jesus gives him the opportunity to make a new beginning, a rebirth into the Kingdom of God.  What happened to him?

When it came to the disciples, those who had been called by Jesus and followed him around.  Peter, James and John with Jesus were taken up a high mountain in Galilee and where they saw Jesus transfigured – along with Moses and Elijah, two of the great men of their past.  What an experience, what a vision.  They saw Jesus in a new light – literally. ‘Transfigured’.  What a story to come down and tell the other disciples! What a story for us today!

‘We have a gospel to proclaim,’ starts one of our hymns ‘good news for those in all the earth; the gospel of a saviour’s name: we sing his glory, tell his worth.’                 

Listen again to the Collect for today –

Come, Holy Spirit, to all baptised in your name that we may turn to good whatever lies ahead. Give us passion, give us fire; make us transform the world from what it is, to what you have created it to be. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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