The Wounded God

Readings

Luke 24.36b–48

For Luke, as for all believers, the resurrection, ascension, and final triumph of Jesus comprise the axis around which all history revolves. But the Resurrection is not a culmination of a life of glory, power, and honours; rather, it comes after a life of constant persecution culminating in the insults during his trial in the praetorium and on the cross of Calvary. Luke’s Jesus is, in the words of Isaiah, ‘a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity’. But he is also the conqueror of the grave and death. — Justo L González, The Story Luke tells 

The one whose life the church shares in Word and Sacrament is not a ghost or a disembodied spirit. He is the risen Lord. Those who serve him do not serve a general moral or religious principle, nor just the natural spiritual urges of humankind; they serve one like themselves, yet Lord of all. — Justo L González, Luke. Belief: A Theological Commentary

———————-

The Human One, by Emmanuel Garibay

On Easter Day, the ABC published a survey by the Centre for Public Christianity. This survey asked a number of questions, including whether people believed Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The answers were very interesting.

28.3% answered ‘don’t know’. 

15.8% said they didn’t believe in the resurrection, with 12.8% saying it was unlikely. 

23.6% do believe Jesus rose from the grave, while 19.7% thought it possible. 

We could take some heart from these numbers. 43.3% of those surveyed are certain or think it possible that Jesus rose from death; 28.6% are certain or think it’s likely that Jesus didn’t rise from the grave. And 28.3% just don’t know. 

I was surprised that 71.6% of those surveyed — 7 out of 10 in secular Australia — believed in at least the possibility of resurrection, or ticked ‘don’t know’. 

But for me, there’s a more interesting question. It is ‘What do people think the resurrection actually means?’ Is it a fact of long-ago history or does it change the world? Does it change me? And how? 

Many years ago now, I had a conversation with a man who was a devotee of Sai Baba, an Indian guru. He told me that he believed that Jesus rose from the dead. But he saw the resurrection as a sign of Jesus’ spiritual mastery. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Grief and loss, RCL, sermon

Faith Seeking Understanding

Reading
John 20.19–31

Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith which becomes a message, and as an explicit message seeks to offer a new possibility of life experience to others who hear it from within their own experience. — Louis Dupré, ‘Experience and Interpretation: A Philosophical Reflection on Schillebeeckx’ Jesus and Christ

If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if he burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. — Yann Martel, Life of Pi

At least in my experience, the hardest part about doubt is feeling isolated from your community. — Rachel Held Evans, Inspired

———————-

I said last Sunday that I’d talk today about faith and doubt.

I also want to speak about how faith seeks to understand God and life more. And how this seeking to understand involves doubt. 

Let’s talk about faith first. Two things: 

  • Faith is an encounter
  • Faith seeks understanding

I learnt to call faith an encounter reading the Catholic theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx. He said this: 

A specific experience stands at the beginning of Christianity. It began with an encounter. Some people, Jews, came into contact with Jesus of Nazareth.

‘It began with an encounter.’ When I first read those words hundreds of years ago, an explosion happened in my mind. It began with an encounter, a meeting, with a figure who changed the way people lived. It began with a relationship. 

And it is still a relationship today. 

Schillebeeckx continues,

This encounter and all that took place in Jesus’ life and around his death gave new meaning and significance to their own lives. They felt born again, heard and understood. Their new identity was expressed in a new enthusiasm for the kingdom of God and therefore in a special compassion for others, their fellow people, as Jesus had shown them. — Interim Report on the Books Jesus & Christ (ed. 1981)

I spoke last week about an encounter I had with Jesus at the age of fourteen. It was a night that changed my life. It gave me a new focus, a meaning for my life. 

But before long, that wasn’t enough. I had to seek out how to understand what had happened to me. And to understand God better, if possible. 

Almost a thousand years ago, a man named Anselm of Canterbury spoke of ‘faith seeking understanding’. 

Faith — trust in God, in Jesus — seeks to understand who this God is, and how Jesus and God are related. And what this means for life here and now. 

I want to suggest two ways that churches have done this. Those two ways are 

  • Stay in a box; and 
  • Under an umbrella. (Rather like Amy June and Juniper Bates’ children’s story, The Big Umbrella; read it!)

The first church I joined was a stay-in-a-box kind of church. There was a great emphasis on getting the doctrine right. These doctrines included the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, so for example, Adam and Eve were literal, historical characters. And women were — in practice — subservient to men. For example, women couldn’t preach, neither could they read the Bible in a church service. 

Fifteen year-old me found it to be a pretty big box at first, with lots of room. I liked the box I was in. I was learning more about the Bible. Also, it was back in the days of little neighbourhood churches having large youth groups. Life seemed good. 

This was a stay-in-a-box church because all their doctrinal positions were seen as one piece. If you doubt one, then you would soon doubt the lot. And then an eternal, non-stop hell may be awaiting you. The thought terrified me.

It was a pretty powerful motivator to hold on to those beliefs. 

I did start doubting things though, even though the stakes seemed so high. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Basis of Union, Easter, RCL

A Sonnet for Easter Day

A wonderful sonnet from Malcolm Guite. See the whole thing at https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2021/04/04/a-sonnet-for-easter-dawn-5/

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves

And now he blesses hers who stood and wept

And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s

Last touching place, but watched as low light crept

Up from the east …

Leave a comment

Filed under sermon

Meeting Jesus: A Testimony

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Mark 16.1–8

 

Good Friday must give way to the triumphant music of Easter. — Martin Luther King, A Gift of Love

———————-

Remember this? 

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

Of course, it’s that great song Pride (In the Name of Love) by the Irish band U2, and it refers to the assassination of Martin Luther King, which happened fifty three years ago to this very day. 

(Did you know U2 got the time wrong? It wasn’t ‘early morning’, it was more like 6pm. I don’t know why they didn’t change the lyric to ‘early evening’.) 

It wasn’t quite Easter on 4 April 1968, when  Martin Luther King was shot dead. Easter was 14 April that year. 

So why am I preaching Martin Luther King and not Jesus Christ? Stay with me. And: I’m just preaching today, but I’m also giving an old-style testimony.

I remember Martin Luther King’s death. I was fourteen, thrilled by the vision of justice he had and naively believing that civil rights for African American people were just around the corner. 

4 April 1968 hit me hard. I felt lost. Devastated. Such a good man, gone forever. 

A man who said, 

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

A man who said, 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

A man who said, 

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

And who proved it to be so.

A man who I’m sure inspired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote the words of our Introit today: 

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through him who loves us.

So. I felt lost after Martin Luther King was killed. I don’t want to draw too trite a parallel today, but there is something similar here to the story of the cross. Jesus is taken and killed, and the disciples are shattered. Scattered to the four winds. Lost. 

And the story is told so many times through the centuries, as someone who has excited a sense of hope in others is silenced by those with hate in their hearts and power in their hands.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, Easter, Martin Luther King, the risen crucified One

Christ died for (love of) us

Today, we have heard the story of the suffering and death of Jesus told in word, in prayer and in song. 

The Apostle Paul once wrote: ‘God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’. (Romans 5.8)

Sometimes, Christians worry about Christ having to ‘die for us’. They find it unhelpful, perhaps because it reminds them that it can make God sound like a child abuser; you know, where God is sending everyone to hell, but in dying for us God’s Son Jesus pays the penalty that God the Father demands. 

There was a time I found that package of ideas helpful, but then again — that’s all I knew. I knew nothing else. 

What I do find helpful is that somehow on the cross Christ dies for love of us. To use a very imperfect illustration: we sometimes hear on the news that a parent has died tragically at the beach in a strong rip rescuing his or her child. That parent dies for the child. For love of the child. 

When Jesus set his facets firmly on the way to the cross, he was walking a journey in which he would die for love of us. Jesus lasted the course. He went all the way, upholding the way of love even when it meant crucifixion. And he welcomes us, who fail to stay the course, who fail to keep loving in the face of opposition and ridicule, who deny him and wander away. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 

He draws us to himself today, because we sense that he has died for love of us. Amen. 

West End Uniting Church, 2 April 2021

Leave a comment

Filed under Holy Week

How the Light gets in

Readings
Jeremiah 31.31–34
Psalm 51
John 12.20–33

 

Kintsukuroi is a Japanese word that means ‘to repair with gold’. When a ceramic pot or bowl breaks, a kintsukoroi artisan puts the pieces together using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, then it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection. Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/luminous-things/201510/resilience-growth-kintsukuroi

_______________

It’s a bit of an obsolete expression now, but perhaps you’ve heard of someone being called ‘a jeremiah’. A jeremiah is someone who complains all the time or expects things to go disastrously wrong. A jeremiah is a thoroughgoing pessimist whose glass is always half empty — or even lower.

We get this name from the biblical prophet called Jeremiah, who is also called ‘the weeping prophet’.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, God gave him a commission. God said (Jeremiah 1.9–10):

Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak. Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

It was Jeremiah’s job to prepare the people of Israel for the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and for the exile that they would face in Babylon a Jerusalem was gone. He was the weeping prophet because he did a lot more uprooting and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing than building and planting.

But today, we come to the part Jeremiah builds and plants hope within God’s people:

The Lord says, ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant.’

God had made a covenant with Israel when they left Egypt. This covenant was summed up in the Ten Commandments. God gave the commandments to them as a path to life, but time after time they broke the covenant.

Though God’s heart is broken by the people’s sin, God offers a ‘new’ covenant:

‘The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.…’

I read once about how some Jewish rabbis read this verse. They asked, Why does God write the law on our hearts? Surely it would be better if God wrote the law within our hearts?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Lent, RCL, Ten Commandments

Anything can become an idol

Readings
Numbers 21.4–9
John 3.14–21

For many, religious icons — indeed religion itself — are symbols connected with a belief in magic. — W Eugene Marsh, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2

For when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon your people
and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents,
your wrath did not continue to the end;
they were troubled for a little while as a warning,
and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command.
For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld,
but by you, the Saviour of all. — Wisdom of Solomon 16.5–7

___________

Ophidiophobia. This is a medical term for the fear of snakes. I’m scared of snakes, and I’m perfectly fine with that. We saw several on country roads last weekend. When I see a snake, I avoid it. I don’t try to pat its head or tickle its cute little red or yellow belly. I leave it well alone, and I hope it leaves me. 

I haven’t got what a doctor may call ophidiophobia. But if I did, I might not want to be cured, thank you very much.

Were there were a few more Israelites suffering from ophidiophobia after being confronted by the ‘poisonous serpents’ in today’s story from the Book of Numbers? 

Or was it not quite as simple as that? 

The English version of the Hebrew Scriptures we read today is the New Revised Standard Version. It a good version, a very good version. It talks about ‘poisonous serpents’. But if we were reading from the old King James Bible, which some of us remember, they would have been called ‘fiery serpents’. 

Fiery serpents? Maybe the bite caused a fiery reaction in the skin? Or maybe the newer versions of the Bible we use today has made the story more of a wilderness travelogue. Poisonous snakes are easier to picture than fiery snakes. I mean, what does a fiery serpent look like anyway? 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Lent, RCL, sermon

What do you mean, ‘must’?

Reading
Mark 8.31–37

Jesus calls those who would follow him to pick up their cross. A cross was not a random form of suffering; it was the punishment those in power in his time imposed on rebels and troublemakers who challenged things as they were.… Risking that particular kind of suffering is not a form of accepting an oppressive order, but a way of challenging it. — William Placher, Mark

___________

Today’s passage is a turning point in Mark’s story of Jesus. Until now, Jesus has taught in parables, healed, worked miracles in and around Galilee, but now he will turn south, heading to the centres of power, to Jerusalem. South, where he 

must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 

And there’s another change: until now, Jesus has taught in parables like the Parable of the Sower; now, he speaks ‘openly’ to his disciples about what will happen. 

And not only about what will happen; what ‘must’ happen. Why ‘must’ it happen? 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, suffering

What’s got into Jesus?

Readings
Mark 1.9–15

… any onlookers to Jesus’ baptism would have seen and heard nothing except one more small-town tourist from up country joining in the frenzy of baptism and confession along with the Jerusalem crowds. (Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark)

___________

It’s the First Sunday in Lent. Most years, we hear the story of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan, found in the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke. 

This year, we concentrate on Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t say too much on what happened when Jesus was tested in the desert. In our Gospel Reading today, we go from Jesus being baptised to being pressured — yes, pressured — into the wilderness to be tested, and then — after John is arrested — himself proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. All in seven verses. 

That’s fast moving! 

This morning, I’m not going to move as quickly as Mark did. I’ll hardly get past the baptism. 

You know, later in his ministry Jesus said something about baptism. It may seem strange to our ears: 

I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12.50)

Jesus said this long after John had baptised him. It seems that for Jesus, there was something about baptism that was still to be completed. 

The word ‘Baptism’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘immersion’. And yes, Jesus would soon be immersed in a process involving the law makers and the tradition keepers of the land, a process that would end with him strung up on a cross on the first Good Friday. 

The cross would mark the completion of his baptism. The cross, where Jesus becomes part of the refuse of the world, one of those who are left to die without a thought. Where Jesus is fully identified with the so-called ‘worst’ of humanity. As the prophet Isaiah says (53.3):

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Let’s go back to today’s Gospel passage. 

John the Baptist was in the southern part of Israel, while Jesus came from Nazareth, a hick town near the Sea of Galilee in the north.

Mark tells us people were coming to John the Baptist from all over Jerusalem and Judaea — in other words, from all over the south of Israel. But down from the north there comes this lone Galilean, Jesus. 

Now, what this Galilean experiences in his baptism changes the world. 

He sees the heavens ripped apart. The veil between heaven and earth that hides the spiritual realm from daily life is in tatters. 

Through this rip the Spirit of God comes upon and into Jesus. 

A voice — God’s voice! — sounds through the rip, telling Jesus that he is God’s beloved Child. 

Jesus’ life is forever changed. 

The thing about John’s baptism was that it is a baptism of repentance, of renewal, to call out of Israel a group of people faithful to God. They were in a difficult time. The Romans had invaded the land, and the Jewish authorities were collaborators. John was looking for faithful people to rise, not to fight against the Romans but to live faithfully so the Messiah might come. 

In being baptised, Jesus identified himself with those who were repenting; yet it was clear to John that Jesus was much more than another member of the group. 

Let’s look a bit more at one of those things Jesus experienced when he was baptised: the descent of the Spirit. 

… just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw … the Spirit descending like a dove on him.…

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are stories that Jesus would know well. 

In the creation story in Genesis 1 (v.2), the Spirit hovers dovelike over the surface of the primordial waters. And in the Flood story, a dove brings an olive leaf to Noah, so he knows that the waters are receding. 

The dove prefigures amazing hope in darkness, a new creation; the Spirit descends like a dove upon Jesus. 

Or does she? Mark wrote in Greek, and he could just as easily have meant that the Spirit descended into Jesus, not just upon him. 

What’s got into Jesus? They will be asking this question by chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel. The scribes who have come from Jerusalem spread a rumour that he is possessed by Beelzebul, the chief of the demons. And his family — including his mother! — come to take him out of the public eye because everyone is saying Jesus is out of his mind. 

What’s got into Jesus? None else but the Spirit of God, who remakes, renews and redirects our lives every. day. of. the. week. 

The Spirit ‘drives’ Jesus out into the wilderness. No, she isn’t a chauffeur. Jesus is prodded and compelled by the Spirit to go out there. Jesus had some real thinking to do. Mark says his conversation partners were Satan and wild beasts; oh, and yes, ‘angels waited on him’. 

I’ve known angels who have waited on me, taken care of me, ministered to me. None of them have had wings that I can see, unless they were cleverly hidden. No, my angels have been human. 

How can I call them angels then? ‘Angel’ means a ‘messenger’ of God. I have been blessed by people who have brought me a message from God many times. Some years ago, I was in the wilderness of depression. I needed those angels then, but: I also need the angels God sends me when I judge things are going ok. 

Who are the angels in your life? 

There’s much more I could say about all this, but I’ll leave it there. 

We often describe the Season of Lent as a wilderness experience. We may or may not feel we’re in a wilderness right now, but I am sure there are aspects to each one of our lives that could be called a little wilderness-y.

Let’s just reflect, as Jesus may have done out in the wilderness.
What is God doing with me here and now?
Can I see the angels God has sent me —
and will I receive the message they bring to me?

West End Uniting Church, 21 February 2021

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Lent, RCL

Does Christianity work?

Readings
2 Corinthians 4.3–6
Mark 9.2–9

How good, Lord, to be here!
Your glory fills the night;
Your face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.…
… How good, Lord, to be here!
yet we may not remain;
but since you bid us leave the mount
come with us to the plain.

J Armitage Robinson

_________________

‘Christianity doesn’t work!’ So said someone I knew, maybe 40-odd years ago. I wasn’t a minister back then, and I hadn’t gone to theological college yet. 

I replied, ‘It works for me!’ My conversation partner countered with ‘Well it doesn’t work for me!’ 

Thus ended the conversation. I mention it to illustrate the robust nature and amazing depth of intellectual debate in these parts forty years ago.  

I wonder what people mean when they say ‘Christianity doesn’t work’. Maybe they’ve had unanswered prayers. Someone close to them has died. Or they see the evils done by men like me, men of the cloth. Or they hear what so many churches have to say about LGBTIQ people. Or — as in the case of my friend, an ardent and professional ecologist — the church doesn’t care enough about the environment. 

There must be a million reasons why Christianity doesn’t work. 

For example, you could be high on a mountain with Moses and Elijah, and only a few months later be high on a cross, your life ebbing away, crying out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 

Of course, ‘Christianity’ didn’t exist in New Testament times. So let’s ask: did the way of faith ‘work’ for Jesus? (And let’s also ask: does that question even make sense?) 

And did the way of Jesus ‘work’ for Paul, who tradition tells us was executed by decapitation for being a Christian? Did it work for Peter, who (we are told) was crucified upside down? 

What does it mean for Christianity to ‘work’ anyway? Should it be like a well-oiled machine? Should you put a coin in the slot and get what you want? 

The Apostle Paul had some trouble with people who seemed to think that way. The church in Corinth had been influenced by people whom Paul called ‘super-apostles’, people who claimed to make this Christian thing work for people. 

These super-apostles spoke brilliantly, they did miracles, they dazzled the crowd. Their teeth glinted when they smiled. (No they didn’t really, I made that bit up.) 

Paul on the other hand would concentrate on dreary things like the cross and the cost of discipleship. 

In the verses following today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Lent, RCL, sermon