Sermon for Lent 5 (29 March 2009)
‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’: these words are from Psalm 51, a prayer traditionally written by King David after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba that brought so much ruin to so many people.
‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’—the prophet Jeremiah’s words, and the answer to David’s prayer.
What law can be placed in our hearts? What law can make our hearts clean?
A beautiful Stations of the Cross prayer exercise:
Sermon for Lent 4 (22 March 2009)
A few years ago, the news media treated us to a video of that remarkable politician Pauline Hanson which began: ‘If you are watching this, it means I am dead.’
Of course, Ms Hanson is very much alive. And I think she’s probably satisfied with 20% of the primary vote in yesterday’s election. But my point is that I suspect that what that video came to light, many people didn’t take it seriously. Subsequent events proved them right.
I wonder how many people took Jesus seriously when he said that he would be killed? A few weeks ago, our Gospel Reading had these words (Mark 8.31):
Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man 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. He said all this quite openly.
Peter didn’t take him seriously. He ‘took him aside and began to rebuke him’. Subsequent events proved him wrong.
I wonder if Nicodemus took Jesus seriously when he spoke of his death? John’s Gospel uses a different approach, but the meaning was pretty clear:
…just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Hang on—did I say the meaning of something in John’s Gospel was pretty clear? Perhaps it’s not. I mean, what does John mean, ‘lifted up’? Typically of John, he means more than one thing.
I found this on Scott Gunn’s Seven Whole Days; Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gives a lucid introduction to Lent (some would say unusually lucid!). A good reminder halfway through the season:
Sermon for Lent 3 (15 March 2009)
1 Corinthians 1.18-25
It’s that time again. The Annual General Meeting of the congregation. Are you all set? Read the reports?
Frankly, I’m excited about this meeting. We have two very important proposals, which set the direction of our life and mission together in Christ.
The first proposal will ask us to adopt our new Vision Statement:
Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit.
The second proposal asks us to adopt our overarching Strategic Goals, as a summary of what we want to achieve over the next few years:
1 Nurture within our church a sense of community.
2 Develop a congregation focussed on discipleship.
3 Share with others our faith in God.
4 Connect newcomers with our church community.
5 Assist others to experience God’s justice.
6 Model to others our respect for God’s creation.
7 Enhance our capacity to live God’s mission.
If we adopt these goals, what we’re saying is this is the kind of congregation we want to be, and that we will work towards being that kind of congregation. That’s our aim.
I don’t want to spend the time of this sermon going through these things one by one; but I do want to ask what today’s lectionary readings say about how we are to go about being this kind of congregation. In particular, just how are we to live God’s mission as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit, and in this way achieve our goals?
There are some false ways we could take.
Today’s Eureka St has an interesting article on Irish poet Seamus Heaney called “Non-believer drawn by the sacred”, which says:
…the language of his Catholic past has found new power now. In the poem ‘Out of This World’, he traces the journey from his childhood immersion in ritual to the present, saying of his mature understanding:
And yet I cannot
disavow words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘host’
or ‘communion bread’. They have an undying
tremor and draw, like well water far down.
What to make of Heaney’s spiritual journey? It could easily be seen as a casualty of the so-called secularising effect of the ’60s and ’70s; as a loss of religious faith followed by the emergence of a more syncretistic spirituality.
But such a judgement misses the major transition. Heaney describes a shift from faith understood primarily as external adherence to ritual, to faith or the spiritual quest as having profound personal resonance. Even though he no longer sees himself as a believer, sacred words now ‘have an undying/tremor and draw’. They have the capacity to shake the soul and beckon it forth. (Not that I wouldn’t love Heaney to discover the full joy of Christian faith: I would, if he so discovered it.)
Read the whole thing here.
I preached on faith last Sunday, so it was good to see what Simon Barrow has written about faith in a very cleverly-named article, “The God elusion”. Like everything of his I’ve read, it’s worth spending serious time on:
‘Faith’, therefore, is not about submission to proposition, the refusal of reason or clinging blindly to dogma. It is the opposite of these things – it is a letting-go which goes on trusting beyond the ‘full-stop’ of certain kinds of rationalism, because it does not (and cannot) claim the power to impose limits on the love it encounters.
Faith is continual ‘reasoning with a mystery’, without allowing yourself to be deceived into thinking that you can have an adequate handle on either reason or mystery, or that you can abandon one for the other – the temptation of both the ideologically religious and the ideologically non-religious.