Sunday’s Sermon

Sermon 26 March – Lent 5


My theme today is ‘Vision’.

Many years ago, a world Anglican Congress came up with a major report called Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, shortened to MRI. And also, from it came the words ‘the Church that lives to itself will die by itself’.  Over the years in different parishes, these have been among my personal guiding principles – working together, across boundaries,  as parishes, dioceses, denominations. Part of my vision has always been working together; doing our own thing, but in a co-operating team context.

When representatives (all men) of the Church of England in the various settlements around New Zealand met at St Stephen’s Chapel at Judges Bay in June 1857 for what must surely be our very first ‘future directions’ meeting in this country,   they would have had no idea of what the future would bring. But they ended up with a Constitution that began first of all with some fundamental, unalterable clauses.  After these non-negotiable principles were stated, came the various sections to do with practical governance and management of the church.  In principle there would be three houses – no decision for the Church of England in New Zealand could be made without agreement from each of the Houses of Bishops, clergy and lay representatives.  It was called synodical government.  The details of that constitution have been adapted over the years, and rewritten, but the fundamental provisions remain.  They would not have envisaged using anything other than the Authorised Version of the Bible (ie the King James version), the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Nor would they have envisaged the three Tikanga Church we now have of Tikanga Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia.

Every time the clergy (and some others) take up another position in the church, we make a declaration promising to abide by the Constitution.  It is signed and witnessed.  I witnessed for Jordan, and he witnessed for me. Remember the morning I gate crashed a Mothers Union morning tea two months ago?

There have been many changes over the years, both in the church and in the wider community.   But I wonder whether those men who drew up and signed the constitution were able to spare some time looking at the views outside the Chapel.  If they did they would have looked fairly directly across the Harbour. They might have admired the view – the sea, the land – and wondered what lay beyond.   There must have been a few people living in the scattered area across the water.  In time the occasional church was built for them and there are records of bishops and clergy traveling over the harbour in little boats for services and weddings. In due course scattered villages became individual small ‘towns’ separate from each other. Roads criss-crossed over the land, and farms were established. As these settlements expanded, people wanted their worshipping communities – meeting in local schools, halls, people’s homes etc. They were people who took their faith with them and wanted to worship God.

They could not have envisaged the growth that would take place, as year by year the housing and commercial premises pushed northwards, incorporating the country villages as part of the urban sprawl.

Long before the ferries, and decades before the bridge, isolated by the geography of the North Shore, groups of Christians of various denominations, gradually settled on the North Shore.  Over time, people of vision established churches throughout the North Shore.

Our church started when the Sugar Refinery built a small church for their staff. There were two rows of simple cottages down the eastern side of Colonial Road, and some slightly more substantial brick houses for management, along with a school and St Peter’s church. That little church later went to Birkdale, and still stands, as part of the Cedar Centre complex at Beach Haven.  I don’t know of any other settlement and church provided by a company for its workers like that in NZ. When the population moved uphill to Highbury and Hauraki Road, now known as Hinemoa Street, the worshippers moved up here where the growth was.  The Anglican worshippers met in a small hall, which they later bought, known as the Foresters’ Hall.  This hall was originally built as a meeting hall for a group of men who came from England.   We have photographs of the building being moved across the road.  I have heard of selling a church and turning it into something else, but our predecessors here took another building, and turned it into a church and that is what we worship in today. How creative and visionary is that?   If I have my way, we will celebrate that move 100 years ago later in the year.  

Have you looked at the view out the window of the kitchen in the hall lately? What do we see in the distance?  Some of the cranes from the huge new Northcote Central development that is being built.   Once upon a time the Anglican Church had a small church room up that way until it was closed and shifted. Surely this is a field ripe for harvest?

Decisions, decisions, decisions – are being made all the time in furtherance of God’s work, whether it is related to buildings, people, resources to use, who we minister to, and who ministers. Continuing the church’s mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and administering the sacraments among God’s people.

I pray for God’s blessing on you all as you consider your vision for All Saints Birkenhead, and how that is to be best achieved over the next period of time.


SERMON  19 March 2023. Lent 4.

John 4:5-52

 Our thoughts today centre around words from the Collect for the day:    ‘Open our eyes to the wonders of creation’.

Those of you who are my generation will remember the ballad that was popular many years ago:    ‘All day I’ve faced the barren waste without the taste of water, cool clear water.’

Those words have been in my mind lately along with ‘Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink’ (from Samuel Taylor’s  ‘The ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’).

We all know the need for water, to refresh, cleanse,  and nourish our bodies, both inside and outside.  And we know about watering the garden to help the plants live and grow, and water to clean the paths, and walls of the house, and our cars.

But there’s another side.  This year in particular we have heard a lot in this country about the new Three Waters Reform programme that has become very controversial and political, and with the possibility of a new plan to rethink the proposal. We all need to have equitable and readily available water as a normal part of life.  How is the best way to achieve that? – is the big question.

But water can be overdone.  We had too much water on Auckland’s anniversary weekend, when streets and houses were unexpectedly flooded out in west Auckland, followed soon after by the Cyclone Gabrielle through the north, Auckland, Coromandel, the east and surrounding districts, Hawkes Bay.  We need water, but in moderation!

Our Old Testament scriptures tell of a flood that lasted 40 days, the River Jordan running from north to south through the Holy Land, and streams (of living water), in an otherwise fairly arid land. And where water came from, such as wells, and water springing up.

Last week’s Gospel reading tells of Jesus and the woman at the well.  Jesus asks her for a drink of water from the local community ‘watering hole’.  Possibly we might say, ‘I’m nearly finished now, and then the well will be free. You’ll be able to get your own’.

But no.  The woman takes one look at Jesus, and says, ‘But I am a Samaritan woman, and you are a Jew; how can you ask me for a drink?’  Not, ‘I’m not going to get it for you, just wait.’  There was long-standing enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans (the people of Samaria).  Jews and Samaritans don’t use the same cups and bowls.    We read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the traveller who looked after the man beaten up and left on the roadside, while the Priest and the Levite walked on by on the other side of the road. The word ’Samaritan’ has come to mean in western culture someone who goes out of their way to do good, to help, to rescue a difficult situation. In many places the message is ‘Call The Samaritans when you need a confidential listening ear’. 

There are many little ways each day when we can be a Good Samaritan to someone else. From a ‘kindly gesture of friendship’ to big-time assistance.

But back to the water. Jesus gives new meaning to water.  It as a gesture of great good will as the woman gave him the water.     It seems obvious that the woman may be a regular at the well along with many others, and knew something about it, and how to fill the water container. She came well-prepared.

Jesus talks to her about the water from this well. And what he says is a symbol or metaphor for something else.  Refresh, cleanse, make new – yes, but what he gives is the water of life.  Life-giving water. Never running out. With qualities that are unseen, and significantly more than what is obvious to the naked eye.  Cutting through what divides one person from another – colour, race, sex, possessions, wealth.  Some things are universal – needs that we all have. Water is one.

And Jesus gives – eternal life, meaning, qualities that never dry up, that are never ending. Always available, if only we seek and recognise them and share them freely with others ourselves.

And this water is given freely to all – nothing grudging about Jesus giving it; and it is given freely and in abundance – it doesn’t run out.  God’s well doesn’t run dry. God’s love is freely available to all who ask for it.  We all know people who are grudging, calculating, almost mean; and we know others who are relaxed and generous, happy, good to be with, people genuinely trying to live a Christ-like life. Who know the life that Jesus gives. 

We have an expression, ‘showers of blessings’ which mean exactly what it says.  We might wish someone ‘many blessings’, showers of them, pouring down on them, on  another person.  There is no risk of God’s well running dry.

Another saying that was current some years ago among Christians was ‘Blessed to be a blessing’.  I learned it from Peter Lloyd of the Church Army.  We who have been blessed by God are to go out and be a blessing to others. On one hand we don’t keep it to ourselves, and on the other we share it with others; we are a blessing to them.

Today, the 4th Sunday in Lent is mid-Lent Sunday, traditionally kept as Mothering Sunday. The young people in the cities would be given a long weekend to go home to visit their mothers at this time.  On the way they would pick flowers from the sides of the road and paths and make little posies, little bunches, to give to their mothers. How happy they would be to see their young people come home for the weekend, no doubt with their tales of life in the big city.

In a few days’ time (Wednesday) the church will keep the feast of the Annunciation, the day we remember the Angel (Gabriel) that came to Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of a Son.  It is always a special day in the life of the Mothers’ Union, whose members will gather here on Wednesday.  Today we celebrate all mothers, particularly our own, in many of our cases now at rest in the presence of God. We remember Jesus’ life-giving presence, the water that he gives which nourished them in this world, and is a symbol of his life for us today, and in the world to come.

Thanks to our Mothers’ Union members we will celebrate the day with posies, and with a piece of traditional Simnel Cake whether she is here with us, or in the nearer presence of God.

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                                                                                                                   

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 week day 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

5th February 2023


Rev Jordan Greatbatch

Isaiah 58:7-10

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Matthew 5:13-20

As many of you will know I love to cook. Creating a delicious meal for friends is something that I really enjoy doing. As I learnt to cook and taste my food I started to create a palate. And as I did this I realised one of the most important things in any meal is seasoning. They say what separates are good chef from a bad chef is the right amount of seasoning. You will be surprised when you try a meal at a restaurant how much seasoning actually goes into it. The result is usually a delicious meal but the problem is, it is probably not healthy to eat like that every day. Seasoning is important, but of course too much can ruin a meal just as much as the right amount makes the meal delicious. It is a fine balance.

Salt, one of the most important of all seasonings is a fascinating element. It is seemingly useless in large quantities. It needs to be sprinkled carefully. On its own it is useless. Salt is only useful when it is used. When it is mixed with other things. Notice that the gospel says we are not just salt, but salt of the earth. We have to be put in the cooking pot of human affairs. Our responsibility is to be involved in the life of our community and our nation. We are to bring out the flavour of forgiveness, love and hope.


Our gifts are to be used like salt, they will be useless unless we put them into practice.

Light is the same. On its own it is useless. It can blind us if we get too much of it. Light is useful when it helps us to see things other than itself. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world”. It’s the world again. We are to light up the world and reveal its true nature. We are to light up the possibilities of bringing peace, harmony and justice. And why do we do that? Because of the gifts we have been given by God in our baptism. By being loving, forgiving and hopeful people we show what the world is to be.

However with many teachings of Jesus in this section of scripture we call the Beatitudes the bar seems to be set very high. There is a temptation that we move into a theology of perfection which can make us over zealous to make sure we live right and guilty when we fail. Yes Jesus makes the connections between salt and light and righteousness explicit in verse 16. Jesus declares that we too ought to be light like that city on a hill, that uncovered lamp. We too ought to reflect the goodness of God so that others might see the shape of God’s goodness and thus be grateful to God. But notice that the light in this metaphor does not belong to us but is an overflow of God’s call and grace.

“Our good works” then are not ours in that they do not belong to us for we are not the source of such good works; we are only the conduits of God’s righteousness, symbols pointing to a greater reality, signposts lighting the way to God’s righteousness, not our own. Yes, we may serve as “the light of the world,” but the conduit of glory for such light is not us or our achievements. That glory belongs to “your Father in heaven” (verse 16).

So also, Jesus calls us to be salt, to serve in the way we were designed to serve. But what if we do not? What if we lose our saltiness? What if we seek to occlude the light under a basket? The call of the Sermon of the Mount is high and costly and risky. The darkening of the light, the loss of the salt’s saltiness seems to be not without consequence.

After all, Jesus makes clear that he is not removing or discarding the law and the prophets. He stands in the streams of righteous hope and transformative justice that both have reflected God for generations of faithful Israelites. To abolish the law and the prophets is to declare that God’s voice has changed or, worse, that God’s voice was not to be trusted in the first place. Unfortunately this is problem that we face in our modern church. There is often an uneasiness with the First Testament. Many Christians want to dismiss it as archaic or at worse barbaric. Yes there are many things which are difficult to swallow but there is also an important thread running through it. The thread that runs through the First Testament is that of the prophets, who always call the people of Israel back to God with their emphasis on righteousness.

For if we proclaim the Sermon on the Mount as a wholesale innovation rather than an outgrowth of ancient traditions of faith, we may find ourselves participating in abolishment of the law and the prophets. Indeed, Jesus wants to make clear that his teachings are not erasing a letter or even a stroke of the letter of the law. For Matthew’s Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount does not replace the law and the prophets but echoes them.

After all, when Jesus here refers to the law and the prophets, he is pointing to the trustworthy promises of God, to the affirmation at the head of the Ten Commandments that the God of Israel is a God who heeds the call of the enslaved and sets them free. Why would Jesus discard such a trustworthy and transformative promise? Why would our teaching seek to do the same despite Jesus’ clear message?

Perhaps we have too often done this in our teaching and theology because we have neglected the shape of the law as promise and narrative and commandment. The promises God made, the actions God takes, the commands God voices are bound up together. And so, Jesus continues to explain in verse 19 that a rank of sorts in the kingdom of heaven depends on whether we live and teach the commandments or whether we reject and teach others to reject the commandments.

Again, this is not a call to moral perfectionism but a call to a life of trust in God. If we trust God’s promises, if we stand grateful for God’s actions, then we will bend our lives toward the life-giving ways God has called us to follow. The stakes are high, Matthew’s Jesus reiterates, as we close our passage. Verse 20 uplifts the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and asks those hoping to “enter the kingdom of heaven” to exceed it. Here, the scribes and Pharisees are less a foil for Jesus in his teaching than exemplars of the fulfilling of the law.

Jesus, however, has one more surprise to share in next week’s lectionary reading. As vital as the law’s commandments are, they may not ask enough of us. God authored those commandments, not as a barrier around obedience or as a limit to our faithfulness, but as a starting point for righteousness, an opening into a life attuned to God’s grace-filled will.

And so we are invited to be what we are; light and salt. We are to enlighten the world wherever we are. We are to bring out the true flavour of life wherever we are. We can do that knowing we already have the gifts God has given us. And here at this Eucharist we are strengthened again and again that we may live out our baptismal gifts to be loving, forgiving and hopeful people.