I wanted to include some photos in Strange wisdom, strange strength but the post was appearing blank. I’ll try to work on it.


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Strange wisdom, strange strength

Exodus 20.1–17
1 Corinthians 1.18–25

Paul sees the judging and saving activity of God as underway in the present moment; he describes the church not as those who have been saved, but as those who are being saved. The distinction is important, because he will continue to insist throughout the letter on the not-yet-completed character of salvation in Christ. — Hays, Richard B, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 28). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.


While I was down in Tasmania last winter, I was delighted by the little towns and villages that dot the landscape. One of the best is Ross, which is just a short drive north of Hobart. The wool store in Ross is home to this tapestry by John Coburn called Canticle. It depicts The Tree of Life. Isn’t it striking?

I went there a couple of times last year. I mean, I visit Ross just to stand once more in front of this tapestry for a while.

But there’s a lot more to Ross. Since this is a sermon rather than a travelogue, I’ll tell you about one other thing.

The Uniting Church in Ross is one of those lovely old structures that I at least always associate with ‘church’. It really is a beautiful building. Sadly, it’s no longer used for regular services. I would love to be at a worship service there.  Continue reading

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What do you mean by ‘must’, Jesus? (Lent 2B, 25 February 2018)

Mark 8.31–38

Everyone suffers. Some will attempt to flee. Those who are willing to interpret their necessary suffering as the spiritual task of relinquishment, who are willing to lose their lives (as they have made them) for Jesus’ sake, will receive a new, better, and—dare we say—resurrected life. The way through suffering is the way taken by any who would become a follower of Jesus. — Thomas R Steagald, (Homiletical Perspective, Mark 8.34–9.1), Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, Kindle edition, loc. 8920


Last week, we read that Jesus started his ministry in Galilee after John the Baptist was arrested. Well, trouble wasn’t only blowing up for John. It was blowing up for Jesus too. If you read Mark from the beginning (two chapters a days takes you just over a week!), you’ll see Jesus

  • preaches the good news of the kingdom of God coming near;
  • heals the sick, and delivers those bound by evil;
  • angers the authorities;
  • feeds 5000 with some bread rolls and a few fish;
  • is thought to be mad by his own family;
  • angers the authorities;
  • stills a storm on Galilee;
  • teaches using parables.

Oh, and did I mention that he angers the authorities?

And so we come to today’s Gospel Reading, which shows that Jesus really was heading into trouble with the authorities:

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law.…’

‘The Son of Man must suffer…’ What do you mean by ‘must’, Jesus?

We heard last week that the Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus into the Judean wilderness. Is it God who is now making sure that Jesus ‘must’ suffer? Is Jesus a pawn in the hands of forces bigger than himself?

(If you play chess, you know what happens to pawns. They get sacrificed.)

What does ‘must’ mean?

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Present with us (18 February 2018, Lent 1B)

Mark 1.9–15

Jesus himself points to God’s ultimate purposes that are about to be fulfilled: God’s coming reign, which is coming near. Such coming near eventuates in repentance and belief— again it is God’s action of bringing the reign close that sets human response in motion. — Jacobsen, David Schnasa, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) (Fortress Press. Kindle Edition, Loc.562–864


Let’s look at the Gospel Reading for today, which is of course from Mark 1. It begins this way:

Not long afterwards Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.’

Mark’s story is pretty quick fire. No sooner does one thing happen than we’re onto another event. Jesus comes to Judea from Galilee—and without delay, he is baptised by John.

John was the prophet of a new age, in which people repented for their sins and the sins of all Israel by being baptised. It wasn’t a mainstream thing to be baptised as John practised it; this was for those who were looking for the Messiah that God would send.

What happened after Jesus’ baptism was life-changing. He saw ‘heaven opening’.

We usually say ‘the heavens opened’ when it rains really hard and we get drenched. But that’s not what this means. Here, ‘the heavens opened’ means something like a direct line of sight between Jesus and God. It certainly seems so, because he sees ‘the Spirit coming down on him like a dove’.

Every English bible is a translation, with some well-done bits and others not so good. I have to say here that the Good News Bible could be better. ‘The heavens opened’: it’s better to say they were ‘torn apart’. That’s what Mark wrote.

When Matthew and Luke came to write their gospels, it seems each of them had a copy of Mark with them. They toned down Mark’s rough language in a few places, and both of them said at this point that the heavens ‘opened’.

But in Mark, they are ‘torn apart’. What difference does it make? You can close something that is opened. It’s a lot harder to put it back the way it was when it’s torn apart.

When God rips the heavens apart they stay ripped apart. Now, Jesus always has that clear line of sight to God his Father. And through the Spirit of Jesus, by God’s grace and by that grace alone, we can also come to know something of that line of sight.

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Treasure in clay jars

2 Corinthians 4.3–6
Mark 9.2–9

It is not indeed as risen, exalted, living, divine, but as crucified, that this Jesus Christ is distinguished unmistakably from the many risen, exalted, living gods and deified founders of religion, from the Caesars, geniuses, and heroes of world history.

Hans Küng, On Being a Christian


I want to tell you a couple of stories about my family today. Firstly, one of our sons. Karen and I took each of our kids on a plane trip when they had finished primary school and were entering high school. We thought it would be a good experience for them, and in those days you could get a ‘mystery flight’ for $100 to places like Sydney and Melbourne. It was a way of filling empty seats.

I remember taking one son who was just entranced as he was looking out above the clouds and onto the ground below. He just kept saying ‘Wow!’. I don’t know how many times he said ‘Wow!’, but it never got old for him or me. It’s one of my favourite memories, up there above the clouds with nothing but innocent pleasure.

It was a lovely time, but it didn’t teach me about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Preachers often talk about the experience of the disciples as a Wow! kind of time, a time to be in the presence of Christ who is revealed as God’s Son. A time to be amazed at Jesus, shining like the sun.

But do you remember a couple of weeks ago, we heard about the time Jesus spoke with authority in the synagogue in Capernaum and people were amazed? Jesus didn’t want their amazement. He wanted their faith.

So let me turn from the clouds and bring you back to earth, where we do learn what faith is. Let me tell you about my dad. Dad died of cancer just over 27 years ago. He was only 59.

Our relationship was fine,  but I have to say that when I lost my heart to Christ in my teens, a strange barrier developed between us.

Dad was initially hostile to my Christian involvement, and then neutral, and finally it was obvious he was proud of the way I knew my bible and went to church.

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In the Service of Christ

Mark 1.29–39

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. — John Wesley

…to know Christ is to have served the poor, to have felt the indebtedness of the very gift of life that animates such service, yet also to have received the identity of Jesus back afresh in the process. — Sarah Coakley, ‘The Identity of the Risen Jesus: Finding Jesus Christ in the Poor’ (in Gaventa and Hays, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Kindle Location 3576). Kindle Edition.


Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and as soon as Jesus arrived, he was told about her. He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

There’s something tricky about this, something just a little awkward for our contemporary sensibilities. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law—no,  healing a mother in law is not the problem—and straightaway she starts to wait on them. She immediately busies herself getting food onto the table.

And she has just been sick with a fever! Why doesn’t she take it easy, and convalesce? Now that’s a very good question!

Peter’s mother in law didn’t need to take it easy; she was instantly healed by Jesus. Made fully better. Maybe she felt better than she ever had before. No convalescence was needed at all.

But why did she serve them?

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A New Authority

Mark 1.21–28

…the unclean spirit recognises Jesus, yet the crowd’s reaction focusses instead on Jesus’ authority, not his demonically disclosed identity! Through this ‘secret’ readers are brought in on an insight that characters in the story fail to notice. The upshot is that neither the miraculous exorcism, nor even authoritative teaching, is sufficient for faith. This also underlines the fragility of the gospel promise that Jesus embodies. – David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), (Kindle Locations 973-975), Fortress Press, Kindle Edition.


Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee, was where Jesus had made his home. It is in the synagogue of Capernaum that today’s story is set. My wife and I were standing there in the ruined synagogue almost five years ago, on a journey to Israel. From memory, the current structure dates from somewhere around the third century. However, you can see at its base a darker stone which dates from the first century. Jesus would have seen this same stone.

This is the very site at which

the people who heard [Jesus] were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.

The people in Capernaum were amazed. Gobsmacked. At the way Jesus taught, and at his authority over the demonic spirit.

But amazement was not enough. It wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.

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