The Spirit of Pentecost
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 15 May 2018
The Spirit in the Church
Pentecost 20 May 2018
At Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes in a manner that is both reassuring and completely alien; unless we understand this we will be doomed to look in the ‘wrong way’ for the Spirit moving amongst us today.
For centuries Christians have read the accounts in Acts of the Spirit’s coming in Jerusalem, plus other towns in Israel and the Roman Empire, in a manner which has inured us to how strange these episodes are in the Church’s life…but they are. The spontaneous breaking into praise in languages unknown to the speaker but known to those listening; two jail breaks achieved with no human intervention, including the spontaneous release from chains and the mysterious unlocking of prison doors; prophetic utterances which reveal information that could not have been known by the speakers. There are healings and various other miracles which all trace activity of the Spirit which is, frankly, alien. And yet, the fruit is an acceleration of the growth of the Church and of faith throughout the Roman Empire.
We are justified in looking for the Spirit to move again today and we should all be expectant that the Spirit is still moving through the Church to convince and convict those who do not know Christ’s love and grace. The Spirit is in no way finished with the Church or, frankly, with the world which God loves. But the Spirit has not changed and so the Spirit’s activity will not look like it once did. In other words, we can expect it to remain, in part at least, strange.
I too have made the mistake of looking, on many occasions, for the Spirit to move in a familiar way. I was involved in the great move of the Spirit in this country in the ‘70s and ‘80s and it was amazing and gave great heart to the Church. It introduced many young people to both the grace and the sovereignty of God and it convinced us of the desire of God for intimacy because we experienced in many various ways the closeness of God. But that was then and since then I have found many who are disappointed that God is not moving in the same way as God did then. And yet this is precisely what we should not expect.
In any revelation of God, and this is precisely what occurred during the revivals of the ‘70s and ‘80s, both the likeness and the unlikeness of God will be exposed and we must be prepared for that. God is like us in some respects but, as the theologians are fond of saying, God is also “completely other”. We must take this into account when anticipating God working through the Spirit.
Now although we thought we could recognise the likeness of God in the ‘70s because it seemed like the Acts experience in reality there were many things which happened then which were unlike anything in Acts. The rise of new and more modern music and the phenomenon of ‘Spirit -filled worship’ through this took things to a new level. The rise of people falling down under the power of the Spirit – something which had occurred in previous waves of revival - is not recorded in the New Testament. And there were many stranger things than this – things that many others in the Church could not accept were real - and I witnessed some of them.
The question is, where is the Spirit of God today? What is the Spirit doing today? I do not believe that the Spirit has gone into hiding. I simply think the Spirit is working strangely in a manner we do not recognise to bring about the same things – a glorifying of Christ in the world…and I do mean the world.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about the Spirit’s role is that we imagine that it is confined to the Church. It is not. Yes, the gifts are given to the Church so that the Church might operate to reflect Christ but the key goal of the Spirit’s activity is to convict and convince the world of God’s love and this is where we probably need to start looking for the next move of the Spirit. I say this because I believe that wherever the Church sets out to address the world’s needs with any kind of real intentionality, the Spirit will attend that activity. The Spirit is the Spirit of God’s mission first and foremost.
So, may you know the moving of the Spirit in your Pentecost celebrations but more so, may you be led by the Spirit to bring the healing love of Christ to the world, for through this are we more likely to witness the strange but powerful moving of God amongst us again.
Yours in Christ
Moderator Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Moderator's Anzac Message
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 24 April 2018
The commemoration of New Zealand’s involvement in both the first and second world wars has taken
on a new life in the last 20 years or so. Crowds have grown at Anzac Day services, particularly among
the young. Children and young people seem to make up at least a half of the congregation gathered for
this special day and they usually have to sacrifice considerable comfort as they turn up to dawn services
very early on those chilly Autumn days.
There is speculation about what is driving this unusual display of identification with generations past, but that it is exists is beyond question.
The connection today’s young people are experiencing with this violent part of our history is occurring
against a background of growing pacifist sentiment here in Aotearoa, and in the West generally. Indeed,
since the Vietnam War in the 60s, youth have generally been identified with an anti-military stance and a
latent pacifism that dislikes military solutions. This is, to my mind at least, as it should be.
There should always be a policy of military involvement only being considered after all else has failed. The results of military action are almost always relative and incomplete creating – at best – an opportunity to
resume building a peaceful and free state.
The question remains, however, whether military force is able to be a part of a Christian solution to the
political and social realities of human life. Can force ever be said to be a Christian option? Do we have to
settle for violence?
Whatever else may be said on this matter – and it is, admittedly, something that has occupied debate and discussion for centuries – several realities remain uncontested.
Firstly, fallen humankind, sinful humankind will use power to enforce its will on others and that includes
military power. In these circumstances, history often demonstrates that nothing short of a display of balancing power will stop the violence. Military action against Isis or Daesh (as they are otherwise referred to) is a good example. The terrorists who drove the violent Isis crusade represent no one but themselves
and have been disowned by most of the Muslim world.
A letter to David Cameron signed by the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers
made this very clear when it stated (regarding Isis): “It is neither Islamic, nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.”
So this group who has no standing with the majority of peace-loving Muslims uses unconscionable force and violence to achieve its aims, and the only thing that will cause those involved in it to give heed to the voices of the innocents caught up in this violence is in fact, violence itself.
And this is, in the end, what has happened: a coalition of western military has supported Iraqi military, and Russia has supported the Syrian military to defeat Isis. It hasn’t been easy and the violence has still not abated, but the alternative was to allow a violent faction take root in the world. And this brings me to my second point.
In this life and in certain situations where the State or, indeed, the world is faced with power that chooses
violence – violence seems to be required to bring about a just solution.
In such situations, however, it must also be admitted that the outcomes are extremely limited and often, in
themselves, full of injustice. Innocent people are killed, violent people are exalted and the states which are left
are often not much better off than before. Despite this, one must ask whether the alternative would have been preferred.
Last century New Zealand lost thousands of men and women fighting a regime which chose violence to enforce its will on its own people and on the nations around it. It was determined to rule Western Europe and, in doing so, to rule the world. Today we no longer live with that threat because of their sacrifice. God forbid it should ever
happen again, but if it does, I wonder if we’d make that same sacrifice so that our children and grandchildren might live in relative freedom again?
Moderators Christmas Message: Christmas for the Lonely
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 22 December 2017
Christmas is a struggle for the lonely. Nothing compounds feelings of loneliness quite like seeing others celebrate a festival for families, and being asked common pleasantries such as if family are coming to visit. It’s not the fault of Christmas but it’s what happens. Christmas is hard on the lost. Who can begin to be found when everyone’s so busy with each other that no one’s even looking for the lost?
Christmas is tough for the unlovely. Those who feel rejected because of something they can’t help, struggle to feel valued at a time when value becomes synonymous with price. Christmas is great but I feel for the marginalised people who are forgotten at this time of year: the lost, the lonely and the unloved.
I wonder if we could focus on making a difference this Christmas, even for just one person who lies completely outside the circle of our own family, someone who just won’t get to celebrate unless we include them in some way.
Perhaps it’s a person living on their own. Perhaps it’s a solo parent living down the street. Perhaps it’s a couple of little ones you’ve seen playing around your place and you’re pretty sure they won’t be getting much in the way of Christmas fare on the 25th. Whoever and however you choose to help, if we each make an extra effort it would make a huge difference.
I recently watched a wonderful video talk by Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of The Justice Initiative, which among other things has saved many people from death row in America. The key phrase which still rings in my soul from that talk was the first point he made about justice: true justice requires proximity. That is, it requires us to get close to those who are suffering injustice. Isn’t this what Jesus did by coming to earth on this amazing day we celebrate as Christmas? Isn’t this the universe changing version of getting proximate? I certainly think so. I want us this year simply to ask ourselves who we are going to bring into our inner sanctum, to share with and to learn from, who is in the lost, lonely and unloved category.
I hope and pray that you might be greatly blessed this Christmas. Thank you for all you work and commitment to our Church. It makes a huge difference to me and to so many who travel with us in this journey of faith.
God bless you and yours this Christmas,
Richard Dawson Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Christmas Call English & Te Reo
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017
Let us Pray!
As we approach Christmas and the end of another year I want to call the whole Church to prayer. I
am particularly aware of how important Christmas is both for the Church as a family and for her
witness in and to the world.
Christmas and Easter are still universally recognised as Christian festivals even if the depth of
understanding is not great. Many people only come to church on these special days. It is, therefore,
important that we recognise the opportunities we have at these times to bring a message of hope
and mercy to those who live outside the Church family.
I know many of you do engage the community in all sorts of creative ways at Christmas and I also
know that many churches put on special services to mark the occasion. Can I encourage you to
continue these traditions and to work as hard as possible to raise the Christ-child up at this time?
However, I also know that this is a very busy time for staff and especially for Ministers, so I want to
call the Church to prayer for our Christmas witness and especially for these people for this period.
Can you please distribute this letter as widely as possible amongst your people and so call them to
prayer for the areas I’ve listed below and can you engage in at least one special time of prayer in
your parish where people can come apart and spend some quality time in praying for these things?
The Church marches on its prayers. Let us, then, march together this Christmas.
Points for prayer:
1. That our witness this Christmas may be gracious and effective.
1. That we may find many ways to bless those who struggle with Christmas, especially the poor and distressed.
2. That we may bless our Ministers and staff through the Christmas period and ensure they get
3. adequate rest and refreshment over summer.
4. That we will find the needed resources to staff churches over summer.
5. That we will all experience peace and provision this year, which is at the heart of the Christmas tradition.
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ)
Christmas Call Tongan
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017Download file (PDF, 241.51kb)
Christmas Call Samoan
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017Download file (PDF, 246.11kb)
Christmas Call Cook Island
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017Download file (PDF, 260.16kb)
Christmas Call Korean
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017Download file (PDF, 257.49kb)
Christmas Call Chinese
Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 25 October 2017Download file (PDF, 323.01kb)
Let's be the best we can be
Kristin Jack, 23 February 2017
As we move into 2017, there is a real sense that God's Spirit is wanting to do something special here at Leith. It's a newness that will build on the many gifts, passions & dreams he has already planted in our hearts & that are just waiting to be fanned into flame. One of the things I love about our community here is the breadth & diversity of perspectives we have. We have folk from all kinds of theological & church backgrounds worshipping side by side, & learning what it means to simply follow Jesus - & help each other follow Jesus. I want us to keep building on this beautiful glimpse of they Kingdom among us, this pulling together of so many strands & creative ideas. Let's be the best & richest community we can be, drawing on our smorgasbord of traditions! Let's draw on our Word-centred tradition that honours & studies the Scriptures, seeking to apply it to all of life. Let's tap into the charismatic stream running through our community, & draw the best from it's love of worship, & Spiritual gifts; let's draw on the contemplative stream in our community, learning to be more prayerful & better listeners; let's draw on the passion for Social Justice & Peacemaking that's among us, & be propelled into action 'for the least'; let's draw too from our incarnational stream that sees God's presence & sacredness in all creation, & that responds to that with awe & a commitment to greater creation care. Let's be the best, most whole community we can be, drawing from the streams of every tradition that we have amongst us - all of which ultimately flow from Jesus himself. As Jesus said: "Whoever believes in me, streams of Living Water will flow out from deep within them" (John 7:38)
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