Sermon by Bishop Victoria Matthews 29 September 2015

Sermon for Michaelmas at St Michael and All Angels 2015

“There was war in heaven”.

C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942 while a scholar of Oxford University. Lewis was already a household name because of his series of BBC radio talks entitled Mere Christianity. So when C.S. Lewis’ sardonic book of letters from a senior, accomplished devil, named Screwtape, to his enthusiastic but slightly dim junior demon nephew, named Wormwood, were published, they were an instant hit. The focus of the correspondence is a newly converted Christian who, it is hoped, will be led astray by the wiles of the devil. It’s fun to read although at times one does need to remind oneself that in this instance the ‘enemy’ is God and the desired direction for the human life and spiritual journey is down not up. “There was war in heaven”.

In the extraordinarily popular Harry Potter series the adversarial relationship between young Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort is also subtle and sinister. Again the great object of desire for Voldemort is power. One of Harry’s strengths is his humility.

In Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, the first major character introduced is Satan. Formerly called Lucifer, he is the most beautiful of the angels and a tragic figure that sums up his lot with the statement, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”. Satan is deeply arrogant and charismatic. Despising servanthood, he attempts a rebellion and when that fails, he gathers up the fallen angels to be his army in hell. Setting up an alternative kingdom, Milton’s Satan oversees a third of the angelic population. Scholars suggest that Milton’s vision of a civil war against the King of Heaven, is a parallel universe to the English people deposing and beheading King Charles 1. Integral to the poem is the thought that while the fall of humanity is the direct result of Satan’s rebellion; it is not outside the plan of God. The Fall of Adam and Eve lead to the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. The Fall of Creation is necessary for the New Creation to be born.

One of the big questions about the war in heaven in theology is whether the angels battle it out prior to the Fall, or at the end of time just before the second coming of Christ. In other words, is the war in heaven how we got into this mess or how it will all end? However it is clear that God will triumph. The victory of God of a given. It is how it is accomplished that is the surprise.

Paintings and sculpture about the war is heaven and the battle between Michael and Satan usually highlight the violence that is described in Revelation: “the great dragon was thrown down” but it is important to recognise that violence is not the whole picture. Revelation 12.11, reads “The Lamb has won the victory”. It is not raw power but humility and sacrifice that are awarded the ultimate triumph. “The lamb has won the victory”. Humility is the desire that others flourish. It is the way of love we read about in 1 Corinthians 13.

As we gather here tonight we know full well there is violence and war raging in many nations of the earth. There is the immediate urgent refugee crisis in Europe. There is the reality of climate change in the Pacific. There are any number of battles begging to be fought. Yet beside that invitation to enter into battle is the declaration, “the Lamb has won the victory”. You and I are neither angels nor are we Christ the lamb yet we are created in the image and likeness of God and it Christ whom we follow. Hence may we remember that it is humility and sacrifice that mark the way and life of Christ.

Sermon by Fr Andrew Starky 20 September 2015

OS 25 Jeremiah 11: 18-20, James 3: 13-4:3, Mark 9: 30-37.

When the photo of Alyan Kurdi on the beach, face down and dead, went viral something changed. The Syrian civil war has been going on for quite a while and gruesome reports of its carnage have filtered into our media from time to time. We have heard the statistics of deaths and displaced people. There was something about the fate of this child that incarnated, or made present among us this horror and prompted a response.

Jesus’ disciples were distancing themselves from him. He spoke to them about how he would be betrayed, killed and rise again three days later. They didn’t understand the first time Jesus said this. Now they were too afraid to even ask him what it means.

While the disciples distance themselves from Jesus, they also begin to vie with each other for status. So often when Christians struggle to understand what Jesus is saying, they divert their energies towards working out who among them is the greatest.

The reading from the letter of James helps us understand where this impulse or craving comes from. He says the conflicts we have with others arise, very often from our own personal inner struggles. He contrasts the two kinds of wisdom that live within us and vie within us.

The wisdom from above which is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, merciful and showing good fruits, without any partiality or hypocrisy. This kind of wisdom is evidenced by works done with gentleness born of wisdom.

Earthly wisdom, by contrast, is characterised by bitter envy and selfish ambition, boastfulness and lies, disorder and wickedness of every kind. One doesn’t have to know too much church history to see how often this kind of wisdom has prevailed. We see the beginnings of it among these disciples.

This marks out the importance of taking time for silence and contemplation when we face issues of conflict and dispute. We need to examine ourselves and, and in particular what kind of wisdom driving us. We need to spend time with Jesus understanding his way. We may find when we’ve done that that we must engage in a conflict or dispute. Jesus had many disagreements in his ministry. The problem the church now is that we put far too much energy into internal disputes with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and far too little energy into challenging the kinds of things that enslave, blind and oppress people in the world that God so loved.

The disciples realised they were following earthly wisdom but wouldn’t own up to Jesus. He knew what was going on. It was the context for him to teach them about discipleship and leadership. He said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then as an acted parable he put a child among them, and then taking it into his arms he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

What is it about the child that illustrates Jesus point? In his day a child was essentially a non-person. They were the least of considerations and could really be understood to be the last and in many cases pressed into servitude from a very young age. We may like to think that we have progressed way beyond this now in our country. However there remain among us many children growing up in appalling conditions of family deprivation violence and even murder. Even in The Press this week we hear the refrain that schools are about children not teachers. Children, because of their size and immaturity, will always be vulnerable to adults: they will always be potentially last.

It is that vulnerability that is the essence of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship and leadership. Jeremiah likens himself to a gentle lamb led to slaughter. Jesus will be betrayed and killed. The disciples have yet to learn what this means for them.

As the church, this is why children are so vital to our mission. Their presence among us grounds us in the reality of our calling. Children are spontaneous, they are joyful, they are exuberant, they are vulnerable, they are small and they are shy. A church that thinks it is too sophisticated for children to attend has lost the actual essence of the gospel. Children are not just to be catered for, not just to perform, and they are not just future Christians: they are a vital part of the church of the present.

It was lovely, last Sunday, to welcome the Young Voices and some of the School servers to help celebrate the School Baptism service. A true welcome of children, though, is much more than an occasional appearance at Mass. Paul rehearses every week with the Young Voices, and we have spent a lot of time getting the school servers up to scratch. That’s the kind of background work which speaks of a real welcome. Likewise Children’s Church is also part of our welcome to children. We need, though, to encourage more children to join in, and with their families to become a regular part of St Michael’s. It’s that piece of work that I’m hoping the vestry will give priority to as we begin to look ahead to next year’s planning and budgets.

Jesus says that our willingness to welcome children demonstrates our willingness to welcome our Lord and our God. It’s no coincidence that the Old Testament prophets foretell God coming among them in the birth of a child: Isaiah says, “The Lord will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14)

Welcome home Godwits!

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Michael Goodson and St Michael’s pupils ringing the bells at St Michael’s on Thursday 17th September, 2015, to welcome home the Godwits (a revived tradition from before the earthquakes when the Cathedral bells used to be rung to welcome them back to Christchurch after their long flight from Alaska each year).

Letter from the Vicar 20 September 2015

Fr Andrew Starky small

Dear Friends,

Welcome to S. Michael’s today. It has been good to feel and see the beginnings of spring around us with blossom, daffodils and warmer days. Spring is a time of year when the cobwebs of winter are brushed off in the traditional ‘spring clean’. Also, gardens and paddocks are being turned over ready for seeds to be sown.

The readings for today ask us to work deeply within the soil of our own lives and motivations. The reading from Jeremiah gives us an insight into the depths of his struggle with God and the people of Israel. Many people struggle with the awareness of the evil deeds of others and this can even cause us to lose hope in the sovereignty of God. The gentle lamb being led to the slaughter seems completely vulnerable to its fate. Jeremiah is aware of the plans of others to demolish his reputation and his purpose as a prophet of God. In his prayer of lament Jeremiah hands all this to God to judge righteously and in his angst he calls on God to enact retribution.

When we are under attack it can be very tempting to take vengeance into our own hands, and when we do mayhem usually ensues. If we cannot seem to resolve matters personally we can always lay our complaint before God and leave it up to him to resolve the matter. This form of prayer is called a lament and is a common form among the Psalms. Laments are profoundly faithful prayers that place before God our deepest longings and desires. God wants to be part of the whole of our life, the joys and thanksgivings as well as the heartbreaks and the things that go badly.

Yours in Christ,

Fr Andrew Starky

Installation of the new fence on Durham St and Oxford Tce will commence on Monday.

Celebration of our Patronal Festival
Michaelmas
Tuesday 29 September
Festive Eucharist at 7:00 pm
Celebrant & Preacher: Bishop Victoria
Supper to follow in the hall, koha

 

Parish Notices

S. Michael’s School is now on holiday until 12 October.
Sales Table: in the hall after Mass. Details Anne Ladd (981 5012).
Organ Recital today at 2:00 pm: Graham Hollobon at S. Paul’s Papanui, proceeds to the Canterbury Charity Hospital. Afternoon tea provided.
• There is a cup of tea or coffee after the evening service each Sunday.
• The Meditation Group meets tomorrow at 5:15 pm in the parish lounge. Details Margaret Maclagan (359 9215) or Kathryn Starky (385 0197).
• The Bible Study Group meets tomorrow at 7:15 pm in the staffroom. Details Peter Oakley (960 0974).
• The Vestry meets on Tuesday, beginning with Mass at 7:00 pm.
Vege Co-op: orders and deliveries on Wednesdays. Details Kathryn Starky.
Forum-Dialogue: What sort of city are we building? Series continuing on Thursday at 5:30 pm. See www.knoxchurch.co.nz/news for details.
Recital: Paul Ellis with singer Anna Hoetjes. 7 October, 1:00 pm at S. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Manchester Street.
• The Needlework Group meets monthly. Details Ros Calvert (322 6078).
Book Swap/Donate/Share with a Friend/Give as a gift: Modern books that you have enjoyed. Fundraising koha to Anne at the sales table. Books available in parish lounge during the week and in the hall on Sundays.
Box lots of books are welcome at any S. Christopher’s Dove Book Shop.
Inasmuch Basket: please continue to support the City Mission with your gifts of food and other household items.

Michaelmas working bees:
Monday 10:30 am for brass-cleaning
Tuesday 9:30 am for flowers
Come and help—all welcome

Letter from the Vicar 13 September 2015

Fr Andrew Starky small

Dear Friends,

Welcome to S. Michael’s. Today we celebrate the baptism of Madi Tucker and Braxton Ellis, and we welcome you both and your families.

The reading that we will hear this morning comes from Paul’s Letter to the Romans and reminds us that we are one body in Christ. Paul carries that image further to develop the idea of the different ministries or functions by which each member contributes to the whole. Each person has gifts that differ according to the grace that has been given them in baptism. This means that we are really members of each other and we cannot function as a whole body unless everyone is doing their part.

In S. Michael’s people undertake many different kinds of ministries. Some are very obvious and up front. Others are not as immediately obvious. Indeed even though I’ve been here as Vicar for nearly two and a half years, I am still discovering the wonderful work and ministry that people of this parish do. Some of this is done when we meet for worship, but much is done at other times. For example, after I spoke about refugees last Sunday I had a parishioner approach me who has for many years had a role supporting them in this city.

Many people who do not profess to be Christians also do these things, and good on them. Christians, though, see it as a ministry, something that will transform them by the renewing of their minds, as much as it may help others. This is because we recognise Christ in the poor and needy, the hungry and the thirsty. It is this activity, when it is coupled with the spiritual worship gathered together in the Church, that provides the living sacrifice that pleases God.

In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say that he lays down his life of his own accord, no one takes it from him. He lays it down in order to take it up again in the power of the Spirit. This is at the heart of baptism. Of our own accord, we lay down our life as a living sacrifice to God, so that in the power of the Spirit we may take it up and live abundantly. This is our prayer for Madi and Braxton, and indeed for all the baptised.

Yours in Christ,
Fr Andrew Starky

Parish Notices

Sales Table: in the hall after Mass. Details Anne Ladd (981 5012).
Revd Anne Price will be inducted as Chaplain of Cathedral Grammar School, today 5:00pm at the Cathedral.
• There is a cup of tea or coffee after the evening service each Sunday.
Prayers for Healing with Fr John Rea: today 2:30 pm at the Burwood Christian Centre, 52 Bassett Street, hosted by the Lamb of God Community.
Meeting to discuss forming a Women’s Group: Tuesday after the 10:00 am Mass, in the lounge. Details Kathryn Starky (385 0197) or Pat Evans (358 0127).
Christopher’s Classics Concert: Tuesday 8:00 pm at S. Michael’s.
Vege Co-op: orders and deliveries on Wednesdays. Details Kathryn Starky.
Forum-Dialogue: What sort of city are we building? Four Thursdays at 5:30 pm, beginning this week. See www.knoxchurch.co.nz/news for details.
St Michael’s School will be on holiday from Friday until 12 October.
• The Bible Study Group meets next on 21 September at 7:15 pm in the staffroom. Details Peter Oakley (960 0974).
Michaelmas Festival Mass: 29 September at 7:00 pm, Bishop Victoria will celebrate and preach. Supper in the hall, details Claire Preston (342 4650).
• The Needlework Group meets monthly. Details Ros Calvert (322 6078).
Book Swap/Donate/Share with a Friend/Give as a gift: Modern books that you have enjoyed. Fundraising koha to Anne at the sales table. Books available in parish lounge during the week and in the hall on Sundays.
Box lots of books are welcome at any S. Christopher’s Dove Book Shop.
Inasmuch Basket: please continue to support the City Mission with your gifts of food and other household items.

St Michael’s School presents
Ali Baba
Wednesday at the McFadden Centre, McFaddens Road, St Albans,
1:00 pm and 6:30 pm
Details from the school office

Letter from the Church Wardens 6 September 2015

Dear Friends,

Welcome to you all as we join together today in worship and thanksgiving.

Over recent weeks the Vestry and the Parish Trust have been considering the future of this parish with reference to an on-site vicarage. Those who have been around for a while will remember that when the previous vicarage was demolished to allow for the rebuild of the school, it was promised and agreed that a replacement would be built as soon as possible. We were near to the ‘sign off’ stage on a high-rise building with vicarage and offices when the earthquake struck.

A vicarage sub-committee has been discussing the issue and the desirability of an on-site vicarage that ensures privacy for the vicarage family on this inner-city site. Fr Andrew is very keen to be living on site. Committee members are John Moyle (Convenor), the Vicar, Wardens, and Steve Woodside. We are grateful for the expertise and experience of John Moyle, who has done a lot of the preliminary work. Timing for this project will never be ideal, but the committee considers it is now time to press ahead. To this end, there are a number of principles agreed between Vestry and the Parish Trust, which will need to be adhered to:
1. Reconfirmation and commitment to an on-site vicarage
2. Minimising financial risk
3. Maximising the value of the site
4. Building aesthetically appropriate to the site.

We will begin serious work on this project with the blessing of Vestry and the Trust, CPT, and we believe the parish as a whole. We need to minimise the financial risk to our parish. Essentially we have a very high value site but lack the financial resources to develop it. This means that we may have to look at some kind of joint venture, or other financial arrangement that spreads the risk.

We acknowledge the value of this site, and that it is too valuable for it to remain undeveloped. There are a number of options to choose from, but the provision of a vicarage is paramount. We recognise that as a parish we lack the expertise to make decisions on the best option, so we intend to seek professional advice.

We also acknowledge that this is an inner city church site, and that we must have a building that fits in aesthetically with the whole S. Michael’s property. It is important, however, for the vicarage to be the main ministry focus as we plan work on this site. How good it will be for the work of our parish to have a vicar living on site, and for us as a community to provide a resident presence in the city.

As we progress to a final decision there will be consultation with parishioners.

Michael Graveston, Vicar’s Warden
Claire Preston, People’s Warden

Parish Notices

Sales Table: in the hall after Mass. Details Anne Ladd (981 5012).
• There is a cup of tea or coffee after the evening service each Sunday.
Regatta on Avon: lunch today at 12:15 pm. Details Kathryn Starky.
• The Meditation Group meets tomorrow at 5:15 pm in the parish lounge. Details Margaret Maclagan (359 9215) or Kathryn Starky (385 0197).
• The Bible Study Group meets tomorrow at 7:15 pm in the school staffroom. Details Peter Oakley (960 0974).
Vege Co-op: orders and deliveries on Wednesdays. Details Kathryn Starky.
• The Parish Trust meets on Wednesday at 5:15 pm.
Saturday Breakfast: 12 September 9:45 am in the parish lounge. Details Anne Ladd.
Advance Notice: Michaelmas Festival Mass on 29 September will be at 7:00 pm, Bishop Victoria will celebrate and preach. Supper afterwards in the hall.
• The Needlework Group meets monthly. Details Ros Calvert (322 6078).
Book Swap/Donate/Share with a Friend/Give as a gift: Modern books that you have enjoyed. Fundraising koha to Anne at the sales table. Books available in parish lounge during the week and in the hall on Sundays.
Box lots of books are welcome at any S. Christopher’s Dove Book Shop.
Inasmuch Basket: please continue to support the City Mission with your gifts of food and other household items.

St Michael’s School presents
Ali Baba
16 September at the McFadden Centre, St Albans,
1:00 pm (dress rehearsal) $5 and $2
6:30 pm $12 and $8
Tickets from the school office by 11 September
office@saintmichaels.co.nz or phone 379 9790