POETIC TRANSFIGURATION – “I wonder what sort of a world we’d live in if people more readily stayed with poetry? …” (see Greek ‘poetes’ here)- Audio mp4 here

Exodus 34.29-end and Luke 9.28-36


Website for this image
Collection of the Whangarei Art Museum. Acrylic on canvas

WRITING in her new Making Sense of the Bible about the works of the New Zealand artist Philippa Blair, Helen-Ann Hartley says:

no two displays of her work will ever look the same. In order to view her work, therefore, one has to study the textures and contours and observe the ways in which the colours reflect off one another in that particular context: the art is not flat, nor is our viewing of it!

Absolutely. That’s why we need art and poetry in our lives. And that’s why we need books like this one. For exactly the same words might be said of the Holy Spirit, and that, in turn, is exactly why I find it exciting and inspiring to be a priest in the Church of God today; exactly why biblical exegesis and the wider theological enterprise holds my daily attention. No two displays of Holy Spirit’s work will ever look the same. Her art is not flat, and will and must be viewed from innumerable angles and approaches.

Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, recently preached a sermon about leadership – another human “art” that is not flat, nor is our viewing of it! –  at the end of which she quoted the murdered Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that can be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there’s a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not the Master Builder; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”


THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.

“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.

Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.


LUNCH WITH ROGER CLARKE the other day reminded me of one of the hymns we’ve got lined up for the 9am Eucharist here tomorrow: “As water to the thirsty”. Lunch with Roger has been like that for me, every now and again, for over a quarter of a century. The steak burger was great but I came away, as ever, with another kind of food, too, the kind for which I have a large appetite. Introduction to someone else asking – and seeking to live faithfully with – the same kinds of theological questions that are on my heart and mind day and night. In this case Roger mentioned Dale C Allison’s Constructing Jesus: Memory, imagination and history. The title had instant appeal and was purchased that afternoon alongside Allison’s The Historical Christ and The Theological Jesus – page 1 of which offered instant relief for the present writer, this committed Christian (and parish priest) who for the whole of his life has doubted the possibility of theological certainties:

“It may be necessary to live with uncertainty as an alternative to living with a closed mind” – David Hay p.1

quoted by Dale C Allison Jr
The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

Does the (hotly disputed) “historical Jesus” matter as much as some religious agencies would have us believe? Is the “theological Jesus” rather that voice, that Spirit, Advocate, Comforter and Guide of God, that Jesus is said to have promised would be “sent” to lead us into “all truth”, and is the theological Jesus just as important, or more important than the historical? Should both be given equal weight? Are we to be directed by a once and for all Jesus, and if so, whose Jesus? (including consideration of the “Jesus” known through other world faith traditions) – or are we to be open to a degree of fluidity, a continued outpouring and outworking? – the Word engraved on tablets of stone (or papyrus) – or the Word emanating from hearts and minds and souls and bodies “new every morning”?

Are we still waiting for the physical Second Coming of the Historical Christ or can we know his continuing advent in hearts and souls and minds and bodies NOW – if only we’d “hush the noise” a bit, if only we’d “be still for the presence …” of the Theological Jesus. ? These are the questions of my daily life, and they matter to me, as I’ve said so often, because of my passionate conviction that matter matters … all created things are from God, belong to God, and are intended to return to the fullness of God. And too many elements of that Creation are engaged in doing battle over unknowable “certainties”.

My personal soteriology has more to do with salvation from such certainty than with “nights of wonderful conversion”. I rather wish that church attendance, or bible reading, or the sacraments really could show me, or anyone else, “how to have life in all its fullness”, but such fullness lies yet in the future for me, and for many (millions of) others – amongst these, sons and daughters of God whose physical hunger and thirst leaves neither time, opportunity, energy or inclination to debate theological niceties. Would that (anyone’s) theological certainty might give food and drink to more than just the token few of such as these.

“I believe there are visions that come to us only in memory, in retrospect. That’s the pulpit speaking but it’s telling the truth.” – Marilynne Robinson p.6

quoted by Dale C Allison Jr
The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

Isn’t there a measure of truth that comes to us today as we engage in theological reflection? Isn’t it the case that we sometimes just intuit truth for our time and our place and circumstance as did the prophets of old? Do we leave room in our learning, our discipleship, and especially in our preaching for “visions that come to us only in memory … the pulpit speaking … telling the truth”. Might not a move away from tired literalism stem the exodus from our churches? Wouldn’t a genuine openness to the voice of the Spirit of God in our own day make way for re-energising and for necessary revolution?

Bishop John V Taylor wrote in 1989

Though we may not understand what he meant by it, we know what the Gospel of Jesus was: “The time has come; the Kingdom of God is almost here; turn your minds round and believe the good news.” Here is the keynote of the faith of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the word which, on his lips, moved people with such extraordinary power. If we could resuscitate that declaration so that it conveyed in the terms and in the experience of our world the essence of what it meant to his, might it not stir the pulse and quicken the imagination of a new generation in our own day and restore a clarity of purpose to the churches?

John V Taylor
Kingdom Come

What and where is the Kingdom of God that is almost here? What will it look like? How will our politics look? Will the hungry be fed? Will justice and peace prevail, and how? Will the long-running and tragic sores of our denominationalism, gender issues, homophobia, “Westernism”, and other-phobic forms of alienation from almost anything different from ourselves have been resolved? And how? Will our addiction to “raising funds” have been quietened? Will our “growth action plans” have been sufficiently brought to prayer so that the “still small voice” can get a word in edgeways? Will we “redeem the time” – make the time? Do we need to turn our minds round first?

The Church of England’s General Synod last week heard a non-too-cheerful exchange:

The Church of England will no longer be “functionally extant” in 20 years time according to some projections, a member of the General Synod has warned. The Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, from Norwich, told members of the Church’s national assembly that they were facing a “perfect storm” of ageing congregations and falling clergy numbers. The average age of congregations was 61, with many above that, he said. “These congregations will be led by fewer and fewer stipendiary clergy … 2020 apparently is when our congregations start falling through the floor because of just natural wastage, that is people dying. “Another 10 years on, some extrapolations put the Church of England as no longer functionally extant at all.”

The first Church Estates Commissioner Andreas Whittam Smith said the demographic “time bomb of 2020” for Anglicans was a “crisis”, “One problem may be that decline is so slow and imperceptible that we don’t really see it coming clearly enough,” he said.“We know about it in theory but we don’t really know about it in practice.” He added: “I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this.” – Yorkshire Post

Mr Whittam Smith is not alone in wishing members were possessed of a “real sense of crisis about this”. I sense already that Dale Allison will be “water to the thirsty” for me in that he IS possessed of just such a sense of crisis, and it comforts me beyond all telling that there are others out there in the big wide world, and in the big wide Church, who doubt that adherence to the biblical / theological literalism of the past is going to do anything much at all to lead us out of it, and may even lead us deeper into it.

But “visions that come to us only in memory … the pulpit speaking but … telling the truth” … could this be the nudging of the Divine Word – from pulpits within and without the Church in our day? Please God …


TRANSFIGURATION GOSPEL tomorrow. We’ll be trying to make connections between Moses called “up to me into the mount” and transfigured by the giving of the Law, (Exodus 24.12-18 KJV), and Jesus’ transfiguration on “an high mountain apart” (Matthew 17.1-9 KJV) – in the light of a new fulfilment of the Law. The connections, and what we make of them, are vital, the story having been told after “the Son of man be risen again from the dead.” I’m looking forward to a good day – with 3 different preachers.


going out and coming in

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. Psalm 121:8 (KJV)

I’VE BOUGHT A NEW COPY of the King James Authorised Version of the Bible, glad to play a small part in celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2011. I’m old enough to have grown up steeped in the cadences of the KJV and it has shaped my faith, my reading and my poetry.

Here’s epic “tale” – from Genesis to Revelation – of a whole human society being shaped by an eternally morphing faith, a perpetual re-reading of its history, and a constantly interpreting poetry. And – to borrow an image from the poet William Stafford – the every far sound of that humanity called the listening out into places where the rest of us had never been.

There’s a great deal of anxiety in our humankind in these early years of the twenty-first century – a sometimes impossibly demanding going out and coming in. It’s plain that history repeats itself! So I shall return, in this 400th anniversary year, to some of the great texts that were inscribed upon my soul in my own earliest years … The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore … and will often, almost certainly, bring to mind the closing stanza of William Stafford’s Listening:

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.