Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Burden of Proof!

I’m now in the second week of my study leave, writing… And reading the odd detective novel. I want to thank Rev Dr David Pitman for preaching yesterday at Centenary. Here is what he said:

Sermon for Easter 3 (26 April 2009)

I John 3: 1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

One night, years ago, I was sitting across the table from a local businessman at the weekly Rotary Meeting. He was a new member and we had not met before. He looked at my name badge and my designation as “minister of religion” and said, “What’s your line?” So I told him that I understood myself to be a contemporary representative of Jesus Christ, called to help people to know Jesus as their friend and Saviour in their own lives and to share in carrying on the work that he began. While I was speaking, this man looked at me quite strangely, and then he said, “And you’re telling me you actually believe all that superstitious nonsense?”

I understood then, as I understand now, that confronted with skepticism and rationalism it is pointless to try and argue the case for faith in Christ. The good news about Jesus is to be shared, not debated! The apostle John had the right idea when he wrote in his first letter:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (I John 1: 1)

These words reveal very clearly that the first Christians also understood that they could not persuade others to follow Christ on the basis of rational argument. They witnessed to their faith in the light of their own personal experience and gave substance and authenticity to that witness through the way they lived!

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Study leave

I’m on 3 weeks’ study leave, hoping to complete my thesis in that time — except, perhaps, for the bibliography.

Began with a morning in the college library then had a very enjoyable lunch with Avril Hannah-Jones, up from Victoria.

I’ll try to keep you posted.


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Singing the weather

It’s a sunny day here in Brisbane, but we’ve had some rain lately. Normally, we don’t have weather… It’s just sunny day after day. Not complaining about the sun, but thankful for the rain.

Anyway, weather is a topic of conversation these days! Which reminded me that in the sixties, the Master Singers set the British weather report to Anglican plainchant, with wonderful results…

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In the end, we are the ending!

Mark 16.1-8

Christ is risen: 

Christ is risen indeed!

Three women go to a tomb with spices to anoint a body. That’s what they did in those days, in that place. Jesus’ body had been taken down from the cross in haste, to avoid it hanging on the Sabbath, and it hadn’t been anointed. The women were coming out of a duty born of love, to pay their last requests to Jesus, whose story had started so well, and ended so devastatingly badly.

But the women were used to washing and anointing dead bodies. They’d knew what to expect—they’d done it many times. They knew grief. This was hard, Jesus having been crucified and all, but they would shed their tears and see it through to the bitter end with every bit of their considerable strength of character. This they could cope with, this they has steeled themselves for. This they expected.

What they got was something else. They approached the tomb, realising they’d forgotten the detail of just who might roll the heavy stone from the entrance, when they found the tomb open.

They peer in, and see a young man, dressed in white—in their time, this was the robe of a martyr. He is sitting on the right side, the place of authority. He tells them that the Crucified One has been raised from death.

He tells them to tell the others that he is going to Galilee, where they will see him. This isn’t what they expected at all. Their resolve evaporates, and they run off, saying nothing to no one.

That’s where Mark’s Gospel ends. It’s the original cliffhanger.

You know, Mark has a great beginning! The first words are

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The first two words of the Gospel are “The beginning”—that’s a clear-cut beginning! But Mark has no end.

Or rather, it has this cliffhanger ending. Jesus is not there—he has been raised—and the women lose it. It’s not what they expected at all. Where do we go with that ending?

When the Gospel of Mark started to be copied, and spread to other places, people found this cliffhanger ending hard to take. So other endings were attached. You can see them if you look at your pew bible. They are called the Shorter Ending and the Longer Ending of Mark, and they have square brackets around them. Very few bible scholars believe they were part of Mark’s original story.

These endings are not what Mark wanted. Mark wanted us to feel something like vertigo, a dizziness of unfulfilled expectations. Christ is truly risen—but others encounter that resurrection through believers like you and me.

Christ is not seen within the pages of Mark’s Gospel because Mark wanted to make it clear that we are the living members of Christ’s body.

We are the way people will know Christ is risen. How? As we follow Jesus to Galilee, which stands for the place where we serve others in Jesus’ name.

You want to be the means by which others know Jesus is truly risen? Love as Jesus loved. You have intellectual doubts about the resurrection? Reach out to others and serve them in Jesus’ name, and you will know Jesus is alive.

Mark isn’t somehow having it both ways, saying Jesus isn’t really risen. But in his world, which was the world of Rome in the 60s of the first century, Christians were persecuted. Nero was the caesar. Being a Christian could get you killed, and you didn’t have physical sight of the risen Lord to comfort you. You had your faith in the Crucified One, who had died and is risen. You had faith that could help you to follow him, wherever that led.

It’s the same for us. In our world, few are granted visions of the risen Lord. We live in a world very different from the world of Jesus, but a world in which the Crucified One is still Lord. He is the one we follow, it is in his name that we live and work as the Church.

In the end, we are the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is our feeble efforts, linked to his grace and the power of his Spirit, that reach out to a world that still needs to hear: Christ is risen: Christ is risen indeed!


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Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation

The First Word

Luke 23.26, 32-34

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus… Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

‘Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.’

Is that the end, then? Are we there already? Is it time to leave? Father, forgive… Is that how it happens? We’re forgiven, and that’s it?

On the cross, Jesus forgives his enemies. Their slate is wiped clean. I can’t leave the cross just yet; I don’t know how to forgive my friends, my family—let alone my enemies.

Forgive me, Lord, that I may forgive others.

The Second Word

Luke 23.39-43

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

‘Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Jesus is dying, but the kingdom is still coming. It will not delay.

What did the thief say to him? ‘Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.’ This are dying thief may have spoken the greatest words of faith in the whole Bible; this dying man looks upon another dying man, and believes that this man will bring in God’s kingdom.

If that is faith, do I believe yet? Lord, I believe—help my unbelief.

Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith.

The Third Word

John 19.25b-27

Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

‘Woman, here is your son.’

If I were in your place, Lord, I doubt I’d be thinking of others. Every little pain and discomfort directs my attention inward. Yet on the cross, you see your mother and you see to her welfare. You know the pain she feels and will always feel, and you provide for her.

Forgive me, Lord, and show me how to care for others.

The Fourth Word

Mark 15.33-34

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

I cannot fathom what it meant for you to say those words, Lord, what agony of spirit you were going through, what it was like to be separated from the Father when you had never before known such separation.

I know what it is like to feel cut off from God. But I made that choice. I turned away from God and went my own way. Yet you too made a choice, Lord—you chose to endure being cut off from your Father so that I too might know the Father’s love.

Forgive me, Lord, and turn my face towards my Father God.

The Fifth Word

John 19.28-29

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

‘I am thirsty.’

We sometimes think you are above these things, Lord. Thirst. Hunger. Tiredness. When a child says ‘I’m thirsty’, we know what to do. We get a glass of water. But you, Lord—you are the one who gives us the Living Water! Yet you thirst.

What difference does it make if we help you? You’re going to die anyway. How can we make a difference? And when people die of cholera in Zimbabwe because of lack of clean water, or where women walk for hours just to draw water, what can we do?

Yet you said it, Lord: ‘Anyone who gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because they are disciples of mine, will certainly not go unrewarded.’ (Matthew 10.42 REB alt.)

And you said it, Lord: Anything you did, or failed to do, for one of these, however insignificant, you did—or failed to do—for me. (Matthew 25.31-46)

Forgive me, Lord, and turn my face towards those in need.

The Sixth Word

John 19.30

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

‘It is finished.’

Lord, you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’

It is finished.’ The work you had come to do was done. You had returned to the Father, the awful pain of being cut off was gone. You were victorious; you had done what you set out to do. You remained faithful to death, you loved your own unto the very end.

You promised that those servants who keep your word will one day hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ First and foremost, these words are for you.

Lord, forgive me, and keep me faithful to you.

The Seventh Word

Luke 23.44-49

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

‘Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.’

Having done all, you take your last breath, and entrust yourself to your Father.

So often, Lord, I stand at a distance from you. I avoid obeying you if it might cost me; I fear that I do not possess a commendable spirit.

You said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ You were pure in heart; that promise is for you.

Forgive me, Lord, and purify my heart, that the promise may be mine too.


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Memory & Hope

Sermon for Holy Thursday (9 April 2009)

John 13.1-17, 31b-35

At this time of year, we look back to the foundational event of our faith. We look to the time when the inner logic of Jesus’ life and ministry ended with his betrayal, his arrest and trial, his horrifying execution and his final victory over death. We remember that this is where it all began.

Memory is very important for us, and this memory is our foundational memory. Everything we are and do and say as Christians, as God’s Church, aims to make sense of this memory. As we sometimes say in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in our Communion services,

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Part of this foundational memory is two acts, which occurred before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The first is that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. The second is the gift of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

This memory shouldn’t make us dwell in the past, oh, no. We all know people who live in the past, who think things were better back then. And we know people who think the past is useless. Both are wrong.

This memory is important to us because it gives us hope. And our hope is in a living Lord. Jesus lives. Our hope is grounded in and founded upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

This hope knows that foot washing—humble service of others—is what we’re about. We are called to service that doesn’t look for a reward, save that of knowing we are imitating Christ in the power of his Spirit.

This hope sees the gift of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Holy Meal. In this sacrament, he makes us into one body. He comes and feeds us with his body and blood, with his life. He reminds us that we are his, he remakes us in his image. He shows us that we are to be a community of service to one another and to the world for which he died.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

That third line points us to the future: the kingdom is here, but it is still to come in its fullness. The Church witnesses to God and God’s will now by being a serving community in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us again receive the washing of feet.

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Mother and Child

For Holy Week…

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Jephthah’s story

Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday (5 April 2009)

Mark 11.1-11

Good morning! I’m Jephthah, a businessman here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good—and it’s largely because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? Even more people die on crosses! And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. The Romans call it ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

The procession was really impressive! Pilate looked splendid, so splendid he could have been Caesar himself! And the soldiers in their leather armour and the clatter of their swords and the stamp! stamp! stamp! of their feet! And the horses, and the battle standards, and…

What’s that? You thought I was going to be at Jesus’ procession? Well isn’t that a funny thing, because that’s just where Reuben was. It was that procession he was inviting me to!

What did you say? You’ve never heard of Pilate’s procession? You’re not from around here, are you? I mean, everyone knows that the procession is the Roman procession! Every major feast, Pilate comes in from Caesarea Maritima, where he lives, and stays in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. I mean, the population of Jerusalem is normally around 40 000. But we can have another 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. Normally, I like that—they buy gifts to take home, and I make money. But this time, it looks like there may be some trouble. And that’s bad for business.

They say this Jesus rode in on a young donkey as a sign of bringing peace—it was Reuben’s donkey, as it turns out—but to me he sounds like a right trouble maker. Imagine staging his poxy little procession for the ragamuffins and the ne’er-do-wells on the same day as Pilate’s procession! That was just calculated to provoke Rome. It really is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was taking the mickey out of the Romans in a kind of counter-procession.

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‘To find my own life is a task I cannot undertake without the neighbour.’

I’ve had many formative experiences as a Christian; one of the most significant was the period between 1977 and 1983 as part of the House of Freedom Christian Community, centred in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of West End.

In that time, I was sometimes in the thick of things, sometimes more on the edge; for two years I lived in common purse, where we took our inspiration from the earliest Christian community of Acts 2.

Looking back, it’s a time I wouldn’t want to be without. I got to know wonderful people, some of whom have since died or moved on. I think the thing I learnt about most was my own inadequacy without the people God gives me in life. I can’t make it alone, because I am a broken being.

So it was great to have a catch-up chat a few days ago with Rowena Aberdeen, whose own search for community led her to spend time with the Iona Community in western Scotland. Rowena has written something of her own reflections on living in community. I resonate with her discoveries, and wonder afresh how much better I could have done living in community. Thanks Rowena!


‘To find my own life is a task I cannot undertake without the neighbour.’

This comment by Rowan Williams from his book ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ in many ways sums up the reasons I chose to go and live and work with the Iona Community for three years. Of course, before I arrived I could not have articulated this thought so clearly. Still, in the years I spent as MacLeod Centre Warden I lived into the deeper meaning of this phrase – with all its attendant joys and challenges.

In our world today, most of us can choose our ‘neighbours’ – those we socialise with are usually people like us, who reflect the world as we see it. We struggle with church or office politics, and breathe a sigh of relief that we leave at the end of the day or only see people once a week.

So what happens if you put yourself in a position where you can’t walk away? Where your colleagues must also become your friends and family and support. Where, as we say on Iona, we choose to be open to unchosen relationships.

Well, then life gets interesting!

The unchosen neighbour provides us with a different perspective. A mirror that does not reflect our own preconceptions but instead holds us accountable to recognising who we really are, rather than who we like to think we are. It is in this way our neighbour gives us a new context: a different and perhaps more honest place in which we must put all our values and intentions into daily practice.

We are all wonderful and loving people … until we have to engage with the messy reality of human relationships, where nothing is perfect and we must wrestle each moment with our ideals versus the interactions that make up our days.

Am I really kind and generous? Or only when I’m not tired and stressed?

Am I really good at communicating? Or only when the other person reacts appropriately?

How do I react when I have to deal with the negative consequences of another person’s actions? Especially when I think they were wrong in the first place? Am I really loving, or does judgement and righteous indignation creep in?

We all know our ideals in these situations, what we believe about ourselves and how we think we would act, but it is in the testing of these that happens when we live among unchosen neighbours that we begin to see if these beliefs show through in our actions. In community living we can no longer pretend we are our intentions: we must recognise we are our actions, including our actions in tiredness, stress, hurt and conflict. In this, we come face-to-face with our own brokenness.

Luckily, for me anyway, daily life also provided many opportunities for a stumbling and halting progress towards a truer love for those around me. A daily practice of love. Anywhere else and I would have run away from that practice. I know because even on Iona I tried. Everyone tries, because deep love is hard – uncomfortable and challenging. I had to give up valuing ‘right’ and ‘fair’ and instead seek the deep truth of another’s story, no matter how foreign to mine. On Iona you can’t run away. You need your fellow staff; they laugh and cry with you, support and socialise with you, give you what you need to survive a busy and challenging season. So eventually you turn up and try again (and again … and again!), and in that you find moments of grace, of a love you didn’t think you had and moments where the Spirit moved when you’d thought it impossible.

Don’t get me wrong – not all relationships are reconciled and not all people become close friends. But you can move a step or two closer to being able to love others for who and what they are in your life, whether that be a close companion who provides nourishment and support, or someone who mirrors to us our judgemental attitudes because they trigger them all. Both are important to our journey; both help us to be open, to grow and to slowly move from brokenness to wholeness, as individuals and as community.

I love something one of my fellow Resident staff said: ‘When I’m not living in community, I’m a lot more careless with my relationships.’ Being on Iona and living in community has taught me more about the value of all the relationships present in my life, and for that I am grateful.

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