Monday, May 30, 2016

Noses in ecclesial tents?

A week or two back Pope Francis made affirming and (for some) provocative noises about investigating the possibility of women deacons in the Roman Catholic church. A post on Euangelion, here, includes a line
"Our aspiring women deacons view the female diaconate not as a historical revival, but as a camel’s nose in the clerical tent.
That is as may be. In all churches there are quests for power or at least a greater share in the (perceived) power of the institution. But I suggest Pope Francis is less interested in sharing the power and more interested in sharing the load of responsibility. He always strikes me as a realist, not an idealist. He knows only too well that a huge "manpower" [sic] problem exists because of restriction of the priesthood to (a) men (b) celibate men (in the Western Catholic church). Here in NZ we see that shortage expressed in some parishes which are being run by female pastoral leaders. Francis is also realistic about the possibility of introducing women priests to his church = zero for a long time to come. And the time will only come if a start is made roundabout now. So, yes, in a sense Francis is trying to get the camel's nose in the clerical tent, but not  motivated by power and concern to share the power but by responsibility and concern to share the load with the 50% who are canonically unavailable to take it up. (Incidentally, Bosco Peters has also posted on women deacons here.)

Closer to home there was another camel's nose sniffing about an Anglican tent (literally re the tent, because that is what #gsthw16 met in).

This nose sought to nudge one of the time-honoured, traditional but "what's my theology?" sacramental actions of the church out of the tent, replacing it with, well, pretty much the same thing but with a new name.

Previously here I drew attention to a proposal to change "Confirmation" to "Affirmation." The more I thought and heard about this proposal, the less happy I became. Notably, I was less than persuaded that "Affirmation" was a better name than "Confirmation" and I was less than persuaded that much substance was actually going to change from what we already have in the NZPB if the change was approved.

Bosco Peters notes the situation (along with other #gsthw16 motions) here. Taonga reports here and it is worth citing in full to get a feel for how the debate went, which ended in the motion being booted to the touchline for some physiotherapy on it:

"The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has decided to broaden its conversation on confirmation after changes to the rites of baptism and confirmation were let lie on the table at General Synod/Te Hīnota Whānui in May.
The bill presented to synod proposed new formularies for the baptism of adults, baptism of children, and a new rite that would replace confirmation, to be known as The Laying on of Hands for Affirmation, Renewal and Reception.
The proposed formularies came in response to local research that outlines how confirmation has lost its pivotal role for many Anglican churches in Aotearoa New Zealand.
An accompanying report explains how the change in understanding and status of confirmation has mainly occurred since baptism became the sole rite required for Christians to receive communion in Anglican churches, going back as far as the 1970s.
Rev Michael Wallace (Dunedin) thanked Assistant Bishop of Auckland Jim White, who had completed the research on behalf of the house of bishops, but asked for a response that did not unnecessarily break with tradition,
 “This work on confirmation has identified a crisis in our church,” he said.
“But I believe the crisis is not with the rite of confirmation itself, but with our church’s approach to catechesis and formation.”
Bishop Apimeleki Qiliho agreed on behalf of Tikanga Polynesia,
“It is the teaching behind confirmation that helps candidates to live out their baptism,” he said.
The Anglican Schools Director, Rev Anne van Gend, opposed any shift from confirmation.
Joined by Kim Duxfield, chaplain of Nga Tawa Diocesan School, Ms van Gend asked for school chaplains to be invited into the conversation before any change went ahead.
She also reminded synod that school chaplains are responsible for the largest number of confirmation candidates throughout the church.
“Confirmation is an important rite of passage for our students,” she said.
“And I am loathe to see anything that would weaken that.”
Te Aute College Trustee Maui Tangohau also favoured keeping confirmation as is.
 “One reason parents send their children to Te Aute or Hukarere (Māori Anglican Colleges), is to maintain their Anglican faith,” he said.
“When you leave these schools, you will be baptised or confirmed or both.
“And that is valued.”
Rev Jay Behan reported Christchurch diocesan synod heard many voices in support of confirmation, while the Bishop of Waikato Helen-Ann Hartley spoke of the rite’s long-standing, worldwide role.
“I would hate to see it go,” she said.
“There are deep historic and pastoral aspects to confirmation.”
Bishop Jim White replied there was little in the concerns and questions that suggested a present-day rationale for confirmation.
“’That is our tradition’ is not sufficient answer, nor that ‘it is in the Book of Common Prayer’,” he said.
“We have jettisoned other parts of the Book of Common Prayer.
“We no longer hold to the same view (or doctrine) on baptism and that is key.
“There is nothing to ‘confirm’.”
He also said speakers had confused failures or successes in catechesis with confirmation.
“We must improve our catechesis, but that is separate and distinct from the use of an archaic rite.”
He finished with a challenge: “I hope that hui amorangi and dioceses will engage in the substantive matters set out in the report on baptism and confirmation and respond to the Common Life Liturgical Committee over the next two years.”"

I am very disappointed with the reported words re "tradition." Tradition in this context is not only about tradition (the enduring presence of the past in the present and future life of the everliving body of Christ) but about catholicity: confirmation is a sacrament or sacramental action of various branches of the episcopal churches of the globe. To ditch this tradition is to fray - once more - the (somewhat stretched) fabric of catholicity binding these churches together. It is a worry that few in ACANZP seem to (a) understand catholicity as a mark of the church (b) hold any great commitment to catholicity.

On Confirmation itself, I am all for the service. It was and remains important to me that I have confirmed the faith which my parents had in bringing me to baptism. Not just affirmed that faith but "con"firmed it ("con" resonating with the togetherness of being a family of God). And, frankly, it does not worry me too much at all that "Confirmation" is perceived as a "completing" of baptism. Yes, baptism is complete in itself, nothing can add to it or take away from it as a rite. But the poor infant being baptised and having no memory of it might like the opportunity to complete for themselves what they could not contribute at the time of baptism, "Yes, this is my chosen faith too." Complete, that is, the shift from faith expressed "on behalf of" to faith expressed directly by the baptised person.

Meantime, however, all such matters of arcane church life are put in perspective by this sobering editorial in the Guardian, here.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jesus the merciful contextualist?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of delivering three Bible studies to the annual Diocese of Christchurch Clergy Conference. My role was to deliver about 15 minutes of introduction before the clergy divided into small groups to discuss some questions, so my material is "introduction" and not "application" that being, hopefully, where the small group discussions headed.

The theme of the three studies was "Merciful Disciples" and the three studies were titled, Blessed Mercy, Radical Mercy and Just Mercy, all working from Matthew's Gospel. The following is an edited version of what I said (mainly edited towards a concise version for presentation here in the world of blogposts).

Introduction to the Studies:

I am writing a book entitled Gracious Truth: Reading Holy Scripture with a Hermeneutic of Mercy. A “Hermeneutic of Mercy” means reading Scripture on controversial (i.e. less than clear, not easy to agree about) matters in a way which favours a merciful interpretation.

Drawing on some thinking from the draft to date x conference theme of deepening discipleship these studies explore the theme of “Merciful Disciples.” Since the “Hermeneutic of Mercy” is particularly evident in Matthew 12:1-14, we will focus on mercy in Matthew’s Gospel (with occasional glances to other scriptures).

Notes here include some technical points (included transliterated Greek), headings for my introduction to each session and questions for group discussions each session.

What is “mercy”?
-          Old Testament: ḥesed [“khesed”] c. 250x = kindness, loving kindness, loyalty, steadfast love, mercy (= eleos in Greek OT (LXX)).
-          
      New Testament: Eleos c. 27x noun, 29 x verb. Pity, compassion, mercy.
-          
      Matthew 15:21-28, Caananite Woman’s Appeal for Her Daughter on Basis of “Mercy”: kindness which reaches beyond normal social boundaries (i.e. beyond Israel);
-          
      Matthew 18: 23-35, Parable of Unforgiving Servant: mercy is kindness which releases from debt, thus mercy goes beyond justice which (in same parable) requires payment of debt. Context of the parable, Peter’s question re forgiving a church member’s sins, means mercy is kindness which forgives sins generally, as well as debts particularly.
-         
      Luke 10:25-37, Parable of Good Samaritan: mercy (eleos) is proactive kindness which responds compassionately and comprehensively to raw human need.
-         
      Mercy involves action! We may feel compassion and pity, but there is no mercy when such feelings do not lead to action.
-          
      Mercy is action for the poor, the unfortunate, the undeserving, the last, the least and the lost. With the exception of forgiving an equal when they sin against us, we are not being merciful when we take a colleague out for coffee or invite our best friends for dinner.
  
Study One: Blessed mercy: Matthew 5:7, Matthew 23:23; (James 2:13; Micah 6:8; Luke 6:36)
Passage (plural short passages so each given in full here):

“Blessed are the merciful (hoi eleemones), for they will receive mercy (eleethesontai)” (Matthew 5:7).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith (krisin … eleos … pistin). It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).

“For judgment (krisis)will be without mercy (eleos) to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

“… what does the Lord require of you but to do justice (LXX: krima), and to love kindness (Heb: ḥesed; LXX: eleos), and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). (Greek is oiktirmones, compassion, mercy).

Matthew 5:7

To be “blessed” (makarios) is to be the fortunate recipient of something which makes you joyful or, with special reference to some of the Beatitudes, to be blessed is to be invited to be joyful because an experience is recognised as fortunate in God’s eyes despite what others make of it.

For biblical background to this beatitude we might turn to Proverbs 14:21b, “blessed is the one who has mercy on the poor” and a phrase only found in the Greek version of Proverbs 17:5c, “the one who has compassion will be shown mercy.”

Being merciful is a blessed state according to Matthew 5:7, but what does it mean to be merciful? Drawing on the notes in the handout under the heading of “What is mercy?” we could say this:

First, being merciful is about action and not about a feeling, and the action which is merciful is often hard, painful work.

The preceding beatitudes are about states of mind, i.e. about attitudes. But this beatitude is about action. We do not have a merciful state of mind, we have a state of mind which is expressed in merciful actions.

To show someone mercy is costly business, whether we think of the good Samaritan allowing his journey to be disrupted or the pain of Simon Peter forgiving his offending brother countless times.

Secondly, being merciful is action in favour of someone in an unequal state relative to our situation. The beaten man needs loving kindness and generous care. The good Samaritan does not have that need. Instead he shows mercy by meeting the need. The offending brother against Peter owes Peter an apology, possibly some kind of restitution. Peter could require justice from that brother and refuse to show mercy. But Jesus urges Peter to act according to grace and not desert by forgiving the offence.

Jesus here declares showing mercy to be blessed by God. With a twist: the blessing is not quite as we might think of blessing, e.g. while the good Samaritan is away on his next trip a secret team of workers followed by a TV crew comes to his house and makes it over to his joyful surprise when he returns. No, God blesses the merciful with … mercy! Welcome to the kingdom of God, it is not as the kingdom of this world!

John Chrysostom, commenting on the beatitude says that there is no “equal recompense” here.  Despite the reciprocal formulation of the verse, our human mercy is never equal to the divine mercy shown to us.

That is, if we ask not “what does it mean for us to be merciful?” but “what does it mean for merciful disciples to be shown mercy?” then the answer is first and foremost that God shows us mercy, God graciously draws us to himself, forgives our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness and declares and makes us right and just in his sight.

A merciful disciple is a disciple who has been shown mercy and continues the flow of mercy from God to herself or himself onto others.

To a degree the Sermon on the Mount is a new “law,” but the characteristic mode of being a disciple is not painstaking obedience to a raft of new laws (the error of nomism). Rather the characteristic mode of being a disciple is a new state of mind (cf. “metanoia”; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23-24) with a consequential readiness to act, to respond to life’s challenges justly, mercifully and in trust in God (see 23:23).

Matthew 5:7 ensures that disciples will not focus only on the life of the mind but will act for the sake of others.

Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, London: SCM, 1959, 100-101, in his commentary on this beatitude:

“As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation and sin of others.

They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety.

They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.

They will be found consorting with publicans and sinners, careless of the shame they incur thereby.

In order that they may be merciful they cast away the most priceless treasure of human life, their personal dignity and honour.

For the only honour and dignity they know is their Lord’s own mercy, to which alone they owe their very lives. He was not ashamed of his disciples, he became the brother of mankind, and bore their shame unto the death of the cross.

That is how Jesus, the crucified, was merciful. His followers owe their lives entirely to that mercy. It makes them forget their own honour and dignity, and seek the society of sinners. They are glad to know reproach, for they know that then they are blessed.”

Matthew 23:23

The triptych, “justice, mercy and faith” in this verse is almost certainly based on Micah 6:8, with “faith” a shorthand for the humble, trusting walk with God mentioned by Micah.

We have already found elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus “sums up” the law succinctly: reciprocity in 7:12; love in 22:34-50. In 23:23 there is another summary concerning what God requires of us which is no contradiction of the previous summaries.

Nor, at this point, is Jesus significantly different from his rabbinical peers:
- Hillel, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary” b. Sabbh. 31a

- See also t. Pe’a 4:19, “Charity and deeds of loving-kindness outweigh all other commandments in the Torah.”

“these you ought to have done”: Jesus does not set aside tithing as a matter of legal obligation(!!), not even tithing the details of material life. His objection is to what is left undone, especially when the details of the application of the law become a reason for neglect. The first priority in law is not the tithing of herbs but the doing of justice and mercy in a life of faith.

Conclusion:

Asking disciples to be merciful is both encouragement (be merciful to receive mercy) and warning (no mercy to the merciless), both promise (you will be blessed with mercy when you are merciful) and challenge (prioritise mercy!).

There is no theory here: mercy is action not attitude.

To be merciful is to fulfil Jesus’ teaching on discipleship: the merciful love their enemies as well as their neighbours, they show loving kindness to strangers in need, they forgive the sins of others and release debtors from their debts, they exhibit the character of God.

To summarise all our scriptures on mercy today: biblical teaching on mercy could be summed up in this way: those who are without mercy will not be shown mercy by God at the final judgment.

Bonhoeffer says that our blessing as the merciful is not so much that we are shown mercy as that we have the Merciful for our Lord! “Blessed are the merciful, for they have the Merciful for their Lord.”

Questions for discussion:
If you can, share briefly an instance when you have been blessed for being merciful.

Are the beatitudes in Matthew 5:6, 7, and 8 different from each other or saying the same thing in three different ways?

Who or what at this time in your ministry is challenging you to be a “merciful” disciple?

Study Two: Radical mercy: Matthew 12:1-14 (with Matthew 9:10-13)

Passage: Matthew 12:1-14 (with 9:10-13)

Introduction:

No more inspiring phrase than “radical discipleship” but what does it mean? Is it “pure discipleship” or “rugged discipleship” or “costly discipleship” or all of the above? One thing it did mean for Jesus and his disciples was negotiating a pathway through a maze of laws and interpretations which threatened the simple goals of Jesus’ mission, to preach God’s kingdom and to heal people.

Especially in Matthew’s Gospel (but also in Luke’s Gospel, think, “Magnificat”) a key to solving the maze was mercy. Calibrating his mission to mercy was a radical step for Jesus. Literally “radical” in the sense that Jesus tried to get to the root of what the law of Moses was about in order to chart a way through its constrictive contemporary applications.

In Matthew 12:1-14 as well as 9:10-13, we find Jesus engaging his opponents and their understanding of scriptural law with what scholars such as John Meier and Richard Hays have called “a hermeneutic of mercy.”

In both passages Jesus applies Hosea 6:6, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’

In the first situation, 9:10-13, Jesus is not accused of breaking a law, nor is he explicitly accused of supporting law breakers (something he is accused of in 12:2).

Perhaps he is being implicitly accused of supporting the sinners and tax collectors whom he sits down with (i.e. by not condemning their law breaking).

What is made clear is that Jesus views his mission as calling sinners into the kingdom of God. The invocation of ‘mercy rather than sacrifice’ suggests that this calling is alternative to condemning. Jesus’ mission is to reach beyond the law, to call those whom the law condemns for disobedience to God’s house.

His eating with these lawbreakers is a sign of God’s welcome (that is, forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation).

In the second situation, Jesus the interpreter who reads scripture mercifully goes to work on a specific law. He is being charged as a neglectful leader.

His disciples have broken the Sabbath rest by doing the work of harvesting grain. He should have better control of his troops. But Jesus won’t wear the charge. He outlines a hermeneutical strategy which justifies his disciples’ actions. They are hungry and that is reason, according to the strategy Jesus outlines, for the Sabbath law of strict rest to be set aside (12:1).

That strategy goes like this.[i]

(1)    Sometimes the law can be broken for the sake of the greater good (3-4). David and his companions were not priests (who could eat the bread) so it was not lawful for them to eat the bread of the Presence. But they did eat it. They were hungry and their mission was at stake. Obviously Jesus, Son of David, is implying a comparison between himself and David. The greater good is now the hunger of his disciples and the success of his own mission.
(2)    Sometimes one law is greater than another law (5-6). Priests have work to do on the Sabbath which, strictly speaking, breaks the Sabbath law. However the laws governing their work are more important than the Sabbath law itself. Neither Jesus nor his disciples may be priests according to the laws of Jewish worship but Jesus claims even greater status than the status of the priests (6, also 8). Thus the disciples are free of the Sabbath constraint and entitled to live according to the laws governing priests.
(3)    Mercy (understood as greater than sacrifice) is an even stronger ‘law’ governing action than temple laws which themselves may override other laws. According to the commentary by Davies and Allison,
          “The citation does not establish a moral law/ritual law antithesis; nor is Jesus asserting that the Pharisees should have mercy on the disciples. … The point seems rather to be that if mercy is greater than the temple cult (sacrifice), and if the temple cult can trump the Sabbath when necessary, then mercy should likewise trump the Sabbath when necessary.”[ii]

The next story, about a healing occurring on the same Sabbath (12:9-14), offers in my view a variation on point 3 of the strategy rather than a new point.

Invited to a legal debate about whether or not it is “lawful to cure on the Sabbath” (10) Jesus avoids strict legal argument (or, as we might say, hermeneutical debate) and appeals to the sense and sensibility of his questioners.

He asks a question (11) to which the only answer is,
“Of course, in an emergency, one does good on the Sabbath.”

So his answer to the question is that it is lawful to heal a human being on the Sabbath because no one would think it unlawful to help an animal in trouble. The presumption through this response is that mercy drives determination to do the right thing when faced with an ostensible dilemma between lawfulness and doing good.

Some noteworthy observations may be made.

First, Jesus interpreting the legal challenges before him in 12:1-14 according to mercy (or, we could say, Jesus reading scripture mercifully), does not justify lawbreaking per se. If his disciples were not hungry, if no one needed healing in the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples’ observance of the Sabbath law would have been diligent and occasioned no antagonism.

Secondly, Jesus makes the point that what is ‘lawful’ is sometimes complex, for instance, when more than one law applies. On such occasions it is not only knowledge of all relevant laws which is useful but some theological imagination which makes warranted identifications between the laws and the present situation (e.g. that Jesus’ disciples are like David’s men are like priests).

Thirdly, in the language of modern hermeneutics, texts are read contextually by Jesus.

The Sabbath law sits in the context of the scripture which records the history of David, as well as the prophetic utterances of Hosea. Jesus reads all three together.

Why? Because that particular Sabbath provides another context, an external context for reading the Scriptures of Israel: there are hungry disciples and there is a disabled man in need of restorative healing. It does not seem wrong for the disciples to pluck grain to eat and it seems right to heal the man in the synagogue.  Jesus finds a scriptural path to support his instincts about each matter. His hermeneutic is merciful: he works the meaning of ancient Scriptures towards a contemporary situation in a manner which leads to mercy being done.

Between these two stories the hermeneutic of mercy is not an exercise in consistent methodology. The first involves clever legal argument; the second appeals to common sense. Consistency between the two stories lies in a determination to see that mercy is done.

Jesus appears to prejudice his merciful conclusions by finding arguments which will support them. In an important sense, the one method which unites both stories is that Jesus sees acting mercifully as the highest law, as the greatest hermeneutical principle.

Mercy, we said yesterday, is compassion in action. Today mercy hits a stumbling-block. Rules threaten mercy. Jesus is not bowed.

His determination to be merciful means that mercy has a radical quality, it turns current understanding of law upside-down and re-establishes the underlying priority of the Mosaic law, to do good, to ensure the hungry are fed and the sick are healed.


Questions for discussion:

Have you been the recipient of radical mercy (that is, a favourable outcome when state law, or local rules or church canons pointed in a different direction)? What happened?

What is the most radical act of mercy you are being invited to perform in your context today?

What could radical mercy mean for the church in action in wider Kiwi society today?

Study Three: Just mercy: Matthew 12:15-21

Passage: Matthew 12:15-21

Introduction:

There is no mention of mercy here (in case anyone is still looking for it!) but there is a reference to justice (krisin, 18, 20) using the same word we find in the triptych in Matthew 23:23, justice, mercy and faith. Krisin can also mean “judgment” (e.g. NJB, NEB in v. 18 only), but here “justice” (so ESV, NRSV, NIV, REB, NEB in v. 20 only) is the appropriate translation because of the way verse 21 strikes a note of hope for the Gentiles rather than fear. The servant who comes to proclaim judgment victoriously is one who comes to bring justice to a bruised and broken world.

The first two stories in this chapter tell us about Jesus doing mercy in the face of legalistic opposition and show us Jesus meeting that opposition with a hermeneutic of mercy. The Scriptures can be read differently in order to permit good to be done. Now we have a passage in which a strong programmatic statement is made about the overall mission of Jesus.

The linking statement from the previous Sabbath healing story is the fury of the Pharisees in 12:14, now hell-bent on destroying Jesus. So Jesus makes some distance between himself and them but the crowds followed him. Consequently he healed them and asked them to keep quiet. Now was not the time for fatal confrontation with the Pharisees.

So when Matthew goes on to cite Isaiah 42:1-4, he gives a fascinating translation (it is not the same as the LXX and it does not literally translate the Hebrew) and a creative adaptation (it places more emphasis on the “Gentiles” or “nations” than in the original).

Isaiah 42:1-4 (NRSV)
Matthew 12:18-21 (NRSV)
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Here is my servant, whom I have chosen
My beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him
And he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
Or make it heard in the street;
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not break a bruised reed
Or quench a smouldering wick
Until he brings justice to victory.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
Until he has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands wait for his teaching.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.
[Verse 4 LXX: He will blaze up and not be overwhelmed
Until he has established judgment on the earth, and nations will hope in his name (NETS).]



It is challenging to see exactly what is happening in verses 15 and 16 which makes the “This” which Matthew says was “to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah” in verse 17. Commentators say it is the words in verse 16, the so-called Messianic secret when Jesus ordered the crowds he had healed “not to make him known.”

For the early Christians this secrecy led them to the so-called “servant songs” of Isaiah. There they found an understanding of a future anointed servant of God which fitted with their experience and knowledge of Jesus, the servant, the meek and merciful Messiah – no warrior or mighty king was he, rather Jesus was experienced as the gentle shepherd.

Here Matthew applies the first of the so-called servant songs in Isaiah to Jesus. The sensus plenior of that song in Isaiah 42, that is, the fullest meaning of the song is found In Jesus Christ. Here in this ancient song is the programme of the servant Messiah as he introduces the kingdom of peace and light to the world.

At the heart of that programme is justice.

What will Jesus do, according to this ancient prophecy? He will “proclaim justice to the Gentiles” and “bring justice to victory”.

The larger context for understanding “justice” with “judgement” closely associated with it is the whole of chapter 12, which begins with some basic human needs in danger of being overridden by religious gatekeepers and continues after this passage with a series of conversations and speeches in which the world is beset by evil which is driven by demonic forces.
Justice in this context means setting the world to rights, holding evil-doers to account (note v. 36) and ending the reign of the devil.

In the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel, justice is the kingdom of God replacing the kingdom of this world.

That is, justice is both about being justified by God (through repentance from sin and faith in God) and the unjust situations of the world being made just through human action (forgiving sins, compassionate response to need, etc) and through divine judgment at the end of all things.

In Paul’s writings the characteristic understanding of Jesus’ mission as proclaiming justice to the Gentiles emphasises the proclaiming of “justification by faith” – God justifies all people through Christ’s death on the cross, Gentiles as well as Jews. And this justification as God’s justice is also characteristically understood by Paul as the mercy of God in action – note specifically Romans 9:15-18 and Romans 11:30-32.

In James, however, and to a degree the Book of Revelation, both of which, in differing ways have common interests with the Gospel of Matthew, justice as the heart of the mission of Jesus involves justice between people, economic justice and social justice, equality between rich and poor, overcoming of oppression by the powerful against the weak and so forth.

Coming back to Matthew 12:1-21. The passage opens with the doing of mercy by Jesus through feeding and healing; it closes with the programmatic statement about justice. What is the relationship between “justice” and “mercy”?

I suggest it is at least this:

-          Mercy is an immediate response to human need as we encounter it;
-          Justice is a response to the unjust world which causes human need to arise.
-          In a just world, mercy would not be required; the merciful are in danger of ignoring this fact and colluding with an unjust world manufacturing a continuous stream of people in need of mercy.
-          But the needy in our world cannot wait for our unjust world to be made just, mercy is needed right now.
In the world today perhaps the most urgent example of the relationship between justice and mercy is the plight of refugees. In a just world there would be no refugees; and if we want to stem the flow of refugees from one country to another, we need justice to be established. But establishing justice in many places is beyond current human capacity, so there are refugees and they need our nercy now, not tomorrow.

So, my suggested theme for this study is “just mercy”:-       
      We need mercy and justice, we should not settle for just mercy if we mean by that “mercy alone”,
-          God’s merciful disciples must also be those who hunger and thirst to see justice [righteousness, dikaiosunen] prevail;

-          Such disciples will be motivated by Isaiah’s vision via Matthew’s Gospel to offer “just mercy”, that is, the mercy which is bound to justice and the justice which does not neglect mercy.
Questions for discussion:

Which is easier for you to commit to, being merciful or working for justice?

What recent acts of mercy on your part have raised questions about transforming unjust situations?

Generally our church seems more ready to engage in mercy than in justice. Why is this so? What might change the balance of this particular equation?





[i] I am indebted to W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004, pp. 190-194, for guidance and insight as I lay out my version of the strategy.
[ii] Davies and Allison (2004), 192.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Progress and regress at #gsthw16 ?

With thanks to Taonga for publishing reports on the progress and regress of various issues expressed in decisions at #gsthw16, we can note here the following (for which I leave you to work out which is progress, which is regress, which might be a bit of both, and which might be standing still and treading water):

Concerted effort to lift the numbers of women involved in our higher committees and boards.

Proposal to recognise interchangeability of Methodist and Anglican orders (discussed here on ADU previously, with foreboding and questions): missed a major checkpoint, so returned for further work, thus unclear whether or not GS is of a mind to push forward on this or not.

Suspension of the canon on Social Justice Commission: an interesting report here. There seemed to be some tension at #gsthw16 between a possibility that the future of the SJC might be to research for and give advice to the archbishops as key social justice spokespersons for our church and the desirability of of local Anglican social justice initiatives having validity and respect within the life of our church.

Not an easy tension to resolve because the case is obvious for both the archbishops being well-resourced to speak truth to power as well as to speak on behalf of ACANZP and for local initiatives to speak up for (particularly) local matters of concern.

As for me and my house this coming week, well, one of us is involved in our annual Diocesan clergy conference ... and that almost certainly means little or, more likely, no blogging for a while ... I will try to post any comments.

Some papal imitator is leading Bible studies on the theme of Merciful Disciples (in the Year of Mercy, let the reader understand). I will try to wring out of him permission to publish the fruits of his hard-worn labours the following week.




Friday, May 20, 2016

Order or chaos?

Pending reports otherwise, possibly the least debated matter on the recent #gsthw16's agenda was the passing of motions to complete the process of authorising change to our constitution and canons to make possible the authorising of services by our bishops. (Technically, this formalises in a watertight legal way something the bishops have been doing in past decades in an as-it-turned-out less than legally watertight manner - not because they acted illegally but because GS thought it had provided the necessary legality).

Bosco Peters has a report and reflection here, and the following is a direct excerpt from his post.

"Until now, an authorised service in our Church was one that had gone through what is nicknamed the “twice-round” procedure (it required passing at GSTHW; then by a majority of dioceses and hui amorangi; followed by a 2/3 majority at a newly-elected GSTHW; and finally a year’s wait for anyone to make an appeal). Let me be crystal clear: That process of authorisation, with its checks and balances, is as of now no longer required. 
In spite of some diocesan reservations and dissent, this GSTHW2016 altered our Constitution to read: 
Authorised Services” includes (a) Formularies, (b) Experimental uses as authorised by the 1928 Act, and (c) other services authorised under Title G Canon XIV. 
It is the new addition of (c) that abandons the twice-round process. As of GSTHW2016, this Title G Canon XIV now includes the following:
[Tikanga Maori bishops and Tikanga Polynesia bishops may determine their own conditions, and in Tikanga Pakeha] Diocesan Bishops and other Bishops with episcopal jurisdiction within a Diocese in New Zealand may authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units, after consultation with the Vestry or equivalent body, and in other particular areas of the Church’s work, upon such conditions as they may individually determine in each case, and in consultation with their Diocesan liturgical committees."

Further, that Canon provides a brake on what bishops may so authorise:

"Now, the only limitation on what may be authorised “locally” is that it “must not be inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies.”"

Now let me straight up park an issue which Bosco tackles: via this new mechanism for authorising services, Bosco sees a pathway towards the blessing of same sex relationships. I see that pathway too, though I also see a pitfall or three. But I am not discussing that possibility here, having sworn off discussing YKW (You Know What) for a while. You can comment on that possibility on Bosco's site.

My interest in this post is on other matters of order or chaos in our life as a church as a result of this decision (which I voted against in our diocesan synod).

Order?

There are many occasions in which one-off liturgies will be composed that require no particular involvement of the bishop and diocesan liturgical committee because they comfortably fit current flexibility already provided for in our formularies, due to something we agreed in 2006, as also noted by Bosco Peters:

"2006 An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist further extends options – the Eucharistic Prayer, now, may be one authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion.A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word provides for a flexible framework for non-eucharistic services not covered by the two Forms for Ordering the Eucharist."

But there may be such occasions, or even services for regular occasions (think, a weekly Taize service or a monthly Celtic Communion) where the local vicar and parish worship committee feel they would like to be sure that what they wish to use meets the standard of a service "authorised" for use. It can be a challenge negotiating one's way through the liturgical maze - the intricacies of our liturgical rules and regs versus the subtleties of the latest Wild Goose liturgy and so forth.

The new legislation offers a pathway via the local bishop for this to be done for services which, likely, the whole church has no wish to come to an agreement on whether it constitutes or should constitute a "formulary". For these services we (the wider church) are happy that they are "not inconsistent with the teaching of the Formularies" and have no pressing to need to ensure that they are consistent with the teaching of the Formularies.

In this way we have great potential for liturgical order on the edges and margins of our life together. We can be liturgically diverse and relatively free as we explore special service for occasions or as we develop specific services for aspects of our life (e.g. Taize services to connect with youth), all within the limits of the constraint "not inconsistent with the teaching of the Formularies."

But there are challenges to consider.

This legislation (as Bosco Peters points out) places a considerable weight of theological authority, if not autonomy on the office of the diocesan bishop who becomes sole local judge of what is "not inconsistent with the teaching of the Formularies." (I say "local judge" because on any such matter there is always possibility of appeal to a higher doctrinal authority if the episcopal judgement is questioned).

Further, this legislation is another step away from the notion of "common worship" binding us together as one Anglican church. There is no constraint placed on the bishop and diocesan liturgical committee to only authorise a few new services but to otherwise insist on the use of Formularies. In theory a bishop could authorise a different service as submitted by each parish in the diocese!

Chaos?

Thus there is potential for liturgical chaos if a plethora of unique services are authorised across our thirteen episcopal units. But there is also potential for chaos of a different kind, or so it seems to me. That chaos is the possibility (as far as I can tell) that bishops might authorise alternative baptismal, confirmation and ordination services to those prescribed in our prayer book. Could we become a church in which we one day realise that this one's baptism might not quite have been done correctly and that one was ordained according to a rite which on close inspection appears to have overlooked elements regarded by other jurisdictions as vital to valid ordination?

Or, am I just a worry wart? Let a thousand variations reign, you might say!

What do you think?

Even if you don't follow the "technical" issues re legal validity of liturgies, you might have a view on whether our worship services should have greater commonality or the diversity in our worship services is just fine ...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Climate Change: It is getter hotter every day now!

#gsthw16 had quite a bit to say about Climate Change.Three articles were posted during the Synod, here, here, and here. There is no doubt that our church faces a special challenge because we include the Diocese of Polynesia, parts of which are being swamped by the rising moana.

But what are we to do?

In a recent conversation about what we might do as a Diocese, it has not been a challenge to think about things we might do - form action groups, form study groups, propose motions at synod - but it has been a challenge to think about things we might do which might effect more than a mindshift.

What might we do, for instance, which impacts on the politics of this country? In that conversation a helpful analogy was made to me re smoking. It is good that people do not smoke, that individuals make decisions not to buy cigarettes. But that has little effect re the smoke people are forced to inhale from smokers while a government refrains from passing social changing legislation like banning smoking on transport, in restaurants and bars, in school playgrounds and so forth. Yes, I am old enough to remember how ghastly bus and plane travel was in the days when smoking was allowed and even those in the (so-called) Non Smoking sections suffered from it!

Climate change action is helped when I or you bike to work or read more documents on a screen than on printed paper. Even better would be giving up on computers altogether!

But it is small beer, I am informed. Political action which led to (say) restrictions on vehicle travel, including plane travel would achieve much more.

Does anyone else reading here sense that sometime fairly soon the state of the planet will make our current efforts seem pathetic? And make concerted, joint political action as obvious as supporting Helen Clark's bid to be Sec-Gen of the UN?

It has been the warmest, latest, sunniest autumn we Kiwis have ever known ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In the end is liberalism not only on the side of history but makes for better history?

There is food for reconciling Christians' thought here, whatever we make of Obama's presidency, policies and, lately, prognostications.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Short author, title, book makes tall impact

I am noticing, wandering around the internet, a book making an impact, being spoken favourably of and generally well regard.

It is God is No Thing by Rupert Shortt (published by Hurst & Co).

Rupert Shortt is a British journalist and this thin book is a thick argument for the existence of God.

A helpful review is here.