Monthly Archives: February 2009

Loving gay neighbours—think again for Lent?

A very good article by Simon Barrow, giving a convincing (to me) account of why Christians who condemn homosexuality should think again. You can read it all, with many comments, at The Guardian.

In the long battle against slavery in the 19th century, it was the voices of evangelical Christians such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley and Bishop of London Beilby Porteus who played an important role in swinging the domestic political debate in favour of abolition, alongside Quakers and others.

They did so because they realised that although there were verses in the Bible (for them the determining authority in life and conduct) that could readily be pressed into the defence of slavery, there was something much larger at stake in the Gospel message which led inexorably to the conclusion that the captives should be set free – as Jesus said in one of his defining sermons, as recorded by Luke.

On that basis they re-interpreted pro-slavery verses by understanding them as overwritten by the new order of grace brought about by Christ, as warnings about the partiality of human insight into the mystery of God’s love, and as stage posts in a process of unfolding, deepening revelation.

Similar arguments are being heard today from a growing number of evangelical Christians over the question of recognising the civil, ecclesial and relationship status of lesbian and gay people. These evangelicals are still a minority, but they are a growing one. They bring to the challenge of changing the hearts and minds of their fellow believers the same moral and theological seriousness that motivated their forebears in the anti-slavery movement.

This week, four evangelical organisations have joined together to remind their fellow “Bible people” that opposing hate speech and hate crimes against homosexual people – in this case the antics of the bizarre Westboro Baptist sect – means too little if you are simultaneously defending forms of prejudice and discrimination within your own communities.

The prime mover in this, Accepting Evangelicals, is a network of Christians who take the Bible with great seriousness, but who argue that what the handful of verses deployed by anti-gay campaigners address is not modern same-sex relationships built on mutual commitment and self-giving love, but practices of pederasty, cultic prostitution and abuse in very different cultural and religious contexts.

They are supported in this view by considerable biblical scholarship and by Christians of other stripes who share the conviction that being followers of Jesus in the modern world involves responsible freedom not backward-looking fear…

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Humility—a meditation for Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday eleven years ago, I was in East Timor (Timor-Leste) during the Indonesian occupation of that island. Early that morning, I walked the short distance from the Hotel Tourismo to the garden of Bishop Belo’s home for the Ash Wednesday service. The next year, 1999, the bishop’s house and garden were destroyed after Timor-Leste voted for independence. But that day, several hundred people were peacefully gathered.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. For a start, I only saw one other westerner there. But at around 1.91 m (over 6’3″), I also stood head and shoulders above just about everyone else there. I was obvious, and I don’t like being obvious.

When it came time to be marked with the Ashes, I stood in a line to to receive the Ashes from The Shortest Nun in the World. I had to bend very low before she could reach my forehead.

I was grateful that that was how it was. Because for me it was a sign of the one thing that is really needed as we receive the sign of Ashes: that one thing is humility, particularly among such a brave, proud-yet-humble people.

Jesus warns us against making a show of our faith. He warns us against the prideful attitude that says, ‘Look at me!’. When we walk away from here with the cross-shaped Ashes on our foreheads, we need to guard ourselves against wanting others to see how holy we are. We need the Spirit to give us humility.

You may not be worried about being proud. You may think you’re going to look faintly ridiculous. Good! Be ridiculous for Christ. Be a fool in his name. Remember the words of Scripture:

…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

We’re not too good at humility in places like Australia. Perhaps the current economic difficulties we face might give us some help. But in Lent we require humility rather than self concern. We lack the humility of Jesus, born in a shed, tempted in the wilderness, doing the Father’s will, dying on Golgotha. We can learn from the humility of the people of Timor-Leste. We need to let go of self-concern—for Christ’s sake.

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A doorway of glory

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Jesus (22 February 2009)

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

Mark 9.2-9

We sang before,

The splendour of the King,
clothed in majesty.
Let all the earth rejoice,
all the earth rejoice.

He wraps himself in Light,
and darkness tries to hide
and trembles at his voice,
trembles at his voice.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples Peter, James and John had what Matthew’s Gospel calls a vision; a vision in which they certainly saw the splendour of the King. Clothed in dazzling white, between the two great heroes Moses and Elijah, Jesus is called the Beloved Son by a voice from a cloud. God’s voice.

Today takes us towards the end of a season of the Church called Epiphany. Epiphany means revealing—the revealing of Christ. It begins with the revealing of the young boy Jesus to the wise men from the East. It includes the baptism of Jesus, in which God also says, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved’. This year, it proclaimed Jesus the deliverer of the man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Cana, Jesus the healer of Peter’s mother-in-law and of the leper.

And now this same Jesus is revealed in absolute glory. No wonder Peter wants to capture the moment! If he’d had a mobile phone he’d have had it out, taking a photo, flashing it to his friends and calling the press. What a coup! How good was it to be a friend of Jesus! Wait till the gang at home hear about this!

Not so fast, Peter. You don’t get it. We can understand that the disciples’ response is fear: Peter didn’t know what to say, ‘for they were terrified’.

Now, last week we talked about the bushfires in Victoria, and we said that they were not a punishment from God.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fear God. Continue reading

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God and the bushfires

Sermon for Epiphany 6 (15 February 2009)

Psalm 30

Mark 1.40-45

In our Gospel Reading, we read the marginal reading in the NRSV—’anger’ for ‘pity’ in verse 41:

Did you pick the word that was changed in our Gospel Reading? It was in verse 41:

Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’

If you look at your nrsv pew bible, you’ll see that Mark 1.41 says that Jesus was ‘moved with pity’. But look at that verse again: there’s a letter ‘o’ next to it. If you look at the footnotes where it says ‘o’, you’ll see it says, ‘Other ancient authorities read anger’.

We read the alternative reading, ‘anger’. I believe ‘anger’ is more likely to be what Mark originally wrote. Why? Simply put, an angry Jesus is an embarrassment. Remember, there were no printing presses back then, and the only way to get multiple copies out was to copy the Gospel by hand. So early on, this embarrassing anger was ‘corrected’ to ‘compassion’, and so we have a text that says

Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’

That’s much neater, much tidier. A compassionate Jesus is much easier to handle than an angry Jesus.

But it may well have been anger that moved Jesus. He may have been angry at the priests, who would not help this poor man; he may have been angry at the concern for purity that meant this man could not live a normal life.

One of the ways I am like Jesus is that I sometimes get angry. But that’s where the similarity ends. Jesus got angry when others were oppressed; I can get angry when I am not listened to. Jesus converted his anger to positive activity; but I’m more likely to lash out with my tongue, or get into a mood. I’m very versatile!

A lot of the bushfire victims have said they are angry. We can understand that. I was angry during the week too. What made me angry was this: a Pentecostal pastor said he a dream he had last October relating to the recent laws to decriminalise abortion that were passed in Victoria. He said:

In my dream I saw fire everywhere with flames burning very high and uncontrollably. With this I woke up from my dream with the interpretation as the following words came to me in a flash from the Spirit of God:

That His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb.

He said we can stop the fires if we repent the passing of the decriminalisation of abortion laws of Victoria.

In other words, God has allowed these fires because of this legislation in Victoria. I consider that this is total rubbish and an affront to God. I reacted quite angrily to it. Continue reading

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Failing to understand the nature of an understanding God

Barney Zwartz has written a great article. Here’s a taster; read the rest here.

CONTROVERSIAL Christian leader Danny Nalliah says the Victorian bushfires are a punishment for decriminalising abortion. Danny Nalliah is wildly wrong. He is wrong as a theologian, a thinker and a pastor, and has shocked and appalled both the mainstream community and the vast majority of his fellow Christians. They feel he has brought the name of Christ into disrepute.

At a time like this, the role of religion is not explanation; it is consolation. It is to seek to offer comfort and hope, a way of going on.

Uniting Church of Australia president Gregor Henderson speaks for most in saying Nalliah’s claim is ludicrous, abhorrent and misunderstands the nature of God.

Henderson says: “God is not punishing the people of Victoria, so many of whom lost their lives, and so many more of whom are working day and night to fight fires, support the victims and provide food, clothing and shelter. God is, in fact, there with the people, in the middle of their suffering; God is made known through the love that is extended to those most in need.”

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What’s the opposite of kooky crap?

The President of the Uniting Church, Rev Gregor Henderson, has spoken about claims that the Victorian fires are the judgement of God. In part, he says,

To suggest that the loss of life from these bushfires is the reaction of God towards the Victorian people for decisions made by Government is not only ludicrous, it misapprehends the nature of God, the giver of life.

God is not punishing the people of Victoria, so many of whom lost their lives, and so many more who are working day and night to fight fires, support the victims, and provide food, clothing and shelter.

God is, in fact, there with the people, in the middle of their suffering; God is made known through the love that is extended to those most in need.

God is with us—Emmanuel. The God who is most truly known through the cross does not send bushfires.

Read the rest here.

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Kooky crap indeed

This came from Bruce Mullan, of the Queensland Synod’s Communication department:

Catch the Fire Ministries (of alleged vilification of Muslims fame) has just put out a press release headlined “Abortion laws to blame for bush fires?”

CTFM leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah said he would spearhead an effort to provide assistance to devastated communities but was not surprised by the bush fires due to a dream he had last October relating to consequences of the abortion laws passed in Victoria.

“In my dream I saw fire everywhere with flames burning very high and uncontrollably. With this I woke up from my dream with the interpretation as the following words came to me in a flash from the Spirit of God.

“That His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb.”

Nalliah said we can stop the fires if we repent the passing of the decriminalization of abortion laws of Victoria.

Whatever one’s views on abortion, this kind of kooky crap gives all Christians a bad name and should be strongly rejected from pulpits across the nation.

Consider it rejected.

For the response of Rev Jason Kioa, Moderator of the Uniting Church’s Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, go here.

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