Monthly Archives: October 2009

A horizon of hope

Sermon for All Saints’ Day

As we listen for the word of God, let us pray:

God, almighty in love,
you have come among us in Christ,
whose word brings life to the dead;
keep us looking for that day
when tears will be no more,
and all suffering and loss will pass away;
when with all your saints,we shall see your face and be like your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God, now and for ever. Amen.

Revelation 21.1-6a
John 11.32-44

This past week, many of us have shed tears and grieved and felt helpless as we prepared for N’s funeral, and as it took place on Friday with all the amazing pageantry of a military funeral. And there were tears there too, some in the eyes of soldiers.

In the Lectionary readings for All Saints’ Day, there are two verses about tears.

John 11.35 says, in the old KJV language, ‘Jesus wept.’

Revelation 21 says, ‘God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

Which verse appeals more to you? It’s a hard choice. Each one is of immeasurable help to the Christian believer.

Jesus wept. Jesus wept in the face of death. Some of you may remember Neville Wran, the former Labor premier of New South Wales, who famously said back in 1983, ‘Balmain boys don’t cry.’ Well, Jesus cried, and probably Balmain boys do too these days, now it’s gentrified and in Paul Keating’s words, populated by ’the basket weavers of Balmain’.

If I say it’s good to shed tears when you need to, I am probably going to find general agreement. You may have heard the Jewish proverb, ‘Tears are the medicine of the soul’. That doesn’t mean everyone here will find it easy to cry, especially us blokes.

We males are taught early that crying is girlie stuff. (Is that so bad??!) I read during the week of an eight year old girl who was about to go into surgery. She said, ‘May I cry or should I be brave?’ She wasn’t just having a wart removed. This little girl was about to have her leg amputated. I think it’s very sad that she needed to ask that question, May I cry or should I be brave?

What would you have said to this little girl? And what if it were a boy asking the question—would you have told him to be a brave little man and not cry?

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus wept in the face of death, even though he was about to bring Lazarus back. Jesus wept even though he could say, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ Tears are the medicine of the soul.

Yet our reading from Revelation tells us that ‘God…will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

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God Twitters Creation

The original is by Melinda Taub at Melinda Forever. I don’t do (or even get) Twitter, but this is a stroke of comic genius that brightened my day!

God: Gosh its dark in here.
7 days ago

God: There thats better.
7 days ago

God: Hey guys im finally on twitter! Whats up?
7 days ago

God: guys?
7 days ago

God: oh right. i’m the only thing in existence, haha.
7 days ago

God: shut up i wasnt talking 2 you RT @Satan I TOO EXIST
7 days ago

God: BOOORREEDD with endless void gonna make some stuff
7 days ago

God: Hey look what I did today! Separated the darkness from the light. Universe looks like a black and white cookie.
7 days ago

God: I shall call the light day and the darkness Eileen.
7 days ago

God: Darkness doesnt look like an Eileen. Lets go with night
7 days ago

God: Also i created heaven & earth.
7 days ago

God: also i created apostrophes but im not gonna use them
7 days ago

God: thats enough creating for now. Catch ya tomorrow
7 days ago

7 days ago

God: oh i forgot 2 mention i created time too. Busy day.
7 days ago

God: kind of lame creating 2day. Created a firmament. Not sure what that is
6 days ago

God: OMme so much 2 do 2day you guys! Got to bring 4th land from the waters AND create plants and trees. What should i do first?!
5 days ago

God: should have done land first. plants sank
5 days ago

God: fixed! Trees now ON TOP of land.
5 days ago

God: sorry no tweets yesterday guys. Made the sun moon & stars. turned out 2 be more work than i expected. Theyre bigger than they look
3 days ago

God: another busy day. Made @beastsofthesea, @birdsoftheair, and best of all: @penguins. Those turned out so well.
3 days ago

God: made some more kinds of penguins.
3 days ago

God: Poll: What else should i make? a. beasts of the land b. creatures in my own image c. more penguins
2 days ago

God: Answer my poll!
2 days ago

God: maybe it was a mistake to create the internet b4 invention of computers
2 days ago

God: all right penguins it is. Yay!
2 days ago

God: oops. Penguins don’t like the desert.
2 days ago

God: or Indiana.
2 days ago

God: or the sky.
2 days ago

God: ill try the rainforest. Everything thrives in the rainforest.
2 days ago

God: Not penguins.
2 days ago

God: screw it. Made a bunch of other beasts of the land. Not as awesome as penguins but much less picky.
2 days ago

God: also created fake fossils and planted them in the ground 2 make the earth appear much older than it is. Just a little practical joke.
2 days ago

God: i need more followers.
2 days ago

God: #FollowFriday @adam @eve
2 days ago

God: @adam @eve I am the LORD your God who separated the light from the darkness. You shall have no other God before me for I am the LORD your Go
2 days ago

God: &#$%ing character limits. Point is, yay! I made you! Hi! Do what i say.
2 days ago

God: @adam: such as #noteatingapples.
2 days ago

God: @adam what do u mean why? Because im ur god and i said so.
2 days ago

God: @adam why r u bugging me about this? u can have all the mangoes u want and theyre way better.
2 days ago

God: @adam well youre just going to have to take my word for it.
2 days ago

God: @adam WHAT is ur DAMAGE with this apple thing? Eves not tweeting about apples. Shes just off – um –
2 days ago

God: @eve Hey!
2 days ago

God: @adam @eve: EPIC FAIL at #noteatingapples. Both of u r BANNED
2 days ago

God: so yesterday was really stressful. Im taking a break today. No more tweets til tomorrow.
1 day ago

God: Check it out, baby panda sneezing! (took a break from my break to create YouTube.)
1 day ago


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We are not alone

Sermon for 25 October

As we listen for the word of God,

let us pray:

O God, energy of compassion,

we praise you;

you found us in rags,

and opened our eyes,

that we may proclaim

the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,

in whose name we pray. Amen.


Job 42.1-6, 10-17

Mark 10.46-52

I remember visiting the renal dialysis unit once as a hospital chaplain. I bowled up to an Asian patient, all hooked up to his dialysis machine, who smiled broadly at me. I introduced myself, and he replied—again with that wonderful smile—‘Life is suffering.’

I knew straight away where he was coming from: he was reciting the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, which is Life is suffering. We can’t escape pain, anxiety, disappointment, illness; our existence is imperfect and time-limited, and everything that is will cease to be.

I had a lovely conversation with this Buddhist believer. It lightened his suffering, and brightened my day.

We may not generally say life is suffering. But we can agree that we can’t escape it.

In recent days, a number of our community have experienced the loss of loved ones, and we have wept and prayed with them.

In the story of Job, we have one of the great biblical examples of suffering. It’s the story of an upright man, who in one day lost everything—except his wife—and then went on to develop ‘loathsome sores’ from head to foot.

One of the vital things to get about the story of Job is that it doesn’t answer the question, ‘Why me?’ when things go wrong. It doesn’t tells us why suffering happens. It doesn’t even try to defend God.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Job teaches that suffering comes from Satan. In the first couple of chapters, God is pictured as an ancient king who receives his vassals and servants in court. ‘Satan’ is ‘the satan’—which is a title and not a name. Here, it means ‘the adversary’ or ‘the accuser’.

‘The satan’ in this story is not the origin and archetype of all evil, but rather it’s something more like God’s director of public prosecutions—but one who is quite over-enthusiastic and just loves his job.

Job is afflicted because of a wager between God and this adversary, this accuser. Sorry, but a bet will not do as a Christian answer to the problem of why suffering occurs. The wager in the Book of Job is a literary device, not an explanation of evil. We don’t receive a satisfactory answer to that question here.

So how can Job help us today? Two ways: it shows us how not to comfort those who are suffering. And it shows us that we need to be honest with God in our suffering. Continue reading

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Suffering and serving with Jesus

Sermon for 18 October

Let us pray:
Foolish as we are, Lord Jesus,
you have claimed us as your own;
help us so to love you,
that we desire above all else
to share your way, and to walk with you
in costly service to the world;
in your name and for your sake we pray. Amen.

Mark 10.32-45

I wonder if the two brothers James and John thought they were onto a sure thing when they came to ask their favour of Jesus? After all, they were in the inner circle of the apostles, along with Peter, who—you’ll notice—was not invited along on this occasion. No, the brothers wanted to catch Jesus on his own. For a little heart-to-heart.

The disciples were expecting Jesus to declare himself as Messiah any time. As Messiah, he would be the king, and he’d need his closest advisers by his side. In particular, he’d need one on each side. So they came to Jesus with their little prepared speech and said,

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

It stands to reason—perhaps they thought this —it stands to reason that if there are three in the inner circle, that when Jesus comes in his glory, only two can sit on either side. They wanted those two to be them, the brothers James and John, but not Peter. He could stand a bit to one side. But not too near the limelight. It seems to be human nature, that when we’re close to the centre of something we want the privileges that this closeness can give us. We love the perks, the privileges, of being in the inner circle.

Did you notice the first thing Jesus said in reply?

You do not know what you are asking.

You don’t know what you’re asking…

What on earth could Jesus have meant? Let’s listen to him.

‘You do not know what you are asking,’ he says. ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?’

Drinking a cup? Baptism? Is Jesus talking about the sacraments? Yes, he is—he is talking about their deepest meaning.

To sit at Jesus’ side is to drink the cup of suffering with him. To be baptised with his baptism is to undergo suffering for his sake.

It sounds like Jesus is saying that those who are close to him should be prepared to share his life in each and every respect. Baptism does not mean to be saved from suffering. To receive Holy Communion is to share the sufferings of Christ, as well as to share in the salvation those sufferings have brought about.

What else does Jesus say?

…to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.

What do these cryptic words mean? Who are those who sit at the right and left sides of Jesus? Is it the Moderator and the Pope?

Mark’s Gospel does identify these two on either side of Jesus. We know who they are. Yet we don’t even know their names.

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Why Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize.

I love this. (h/t to Seven Whole Days.)


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Give it all: law or grace?

Sermon for 11 October

As we listen for the Word of God, let us pray:

Your word, O God, cuts through our pretence;
we are unable to hide from you.
Guide us to know our secret faults,
strengthen us to put them aside,
and make us grateful for all you give us;
this we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


Mark 10.17-31

Nearly every Sunday, we hear these words in church after we confess our sins:

Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’

And we respond,

Thanks be to God.

‘Your sins are forgiven’: these are words of grace. They are words that convey a gift, a gift straight from the mouth of God. Forgiveness. Cleansing. Freedom from sin.

Our part is simply to say, ’Thanks be to God.’

We’re used to hearing these words as words of grace. Once these words are heard, they are able to convey grace. Part of growing into the Christian faith is to hear these words and to be thankful from our hearts.

Words of grace are not only heard in church, of course. A child hears words of grace from her parents too. Words like, ‘You’re a good boy!’ ‘You did very well!’ Or simply, ‘Thank you!’ These words are gifts from a parent to a child, gifts that help a child grow in grace themselves.

But there are other words of grace a parent speaks, words that might not be so readily understood as words of grace. Words like this:

‘Don’t touch that!’ when a child is about to put his hand on a hotplate.

‘Leave that alone!’ when a child is trying to pick up a cane toad.

‘Do your homework!’ when a school student would rather play games or chat on Facebook.

Believe it or not, these are all words of grace. They are words of grace because they show a child how to avoid the wrong way and choose the good.

They are warnings, commands; but they are gracious warnings, and generous commands. If these warnings and commands are heard, then they convey grace to us.

We sometimes hear words of grace like these purely as limiting words, words of judgement. And we miss the true meaning, the intended meaning, the grace.

Are these words of grace? Jesus says to the rich man,

You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

When you hear these words, do you hear words of grace?

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Can we be good without God?

Or, better put, can we live ethical lives without a faith in God? Lots of people do, so the answer is ‘Yes’.

Andy Hamilton looks at the issue in his usual insightful way in today’s Eureka St. The emphases are mine:

Christopher Hitchens does get you thinking. In today’s contributions toEureka Street, my colleague Herman Roborgh wrestles with the relevance of his argument for Islam. Here I would like to take up one of the issues which he often raises: whether ethical thinking needs to include God.

Before discussing the reasons for this assertion, I would like to despatch arguments that are untenable. It has long been argued that if people do not believe in a God who will judge and sentence them to hell for bad actions, they will feel free to act outrageously. The large number of people who believe neither in God nor in hell but act ethically argue against this claim.

The same evidence tells against the claim that individuals will not act or think ethically unless they believe in God. Most theists have friends with no religious belief whose delicacy of conscience and integrity we can only admire. Furthermore, the seriousness with which organisations and people from different backgrounds reflect on the ethical dimensions of research and governance argue that worthwhile ethical reflection does not depend on belief in God.

It would also be unjust to dismiss as worthless any ethical system that does not include reference to God. The slogans used to summarise the central claims of most ethical systems offer a good guide to behaviour. If we regularly sought the greatest good of the greatest number, weighed the consequences of different courses of action, did our duty and asked what would make us truly happy, we would be following substantially reliable ethical guides. The question at issue is how well-grounded are the ethical systems that underlie such good ethical advice.

The argument that ethical thinking needs to include God has partly to do with the need for a firm logical grounding of ethics, and partly comes from reflection on culture. It picks up Nietzche’s insights into the climactic character of the death of God in Western society. He saw the disappearance of God from culture as a given, but he associated it with terror and not equanimity. His world without God was a world for heroes, not for the complacent.

The difference made by including God in ethical thinking can best be seen reflecting on the claim that other people and the world make on me. We can answer that question in two broad ways. One is to say that when we respond to others and to our world, we respond to values that are already given in them. We recognise their value and respond to what we recognise. For theists who see things in this way, God is the source of value in our world, and so gives space for the ethical quest. God also gives continuity in our own human journeys. We have a history of response to value, and not simply a series of disconnected actions.

Without God it is difficult to find space for values that precede our judgment. It is more reasonable to say that individuals choose their own values, and that we make ourselves by the choices we make. We decide to give value to people and the world. This is the second way of dealing with the claim that other people make on me. To an outsider, it has some difficulties. It is hard to see why we should prefer other values when they conflict with our own self interest. It also seems difficult to establish common values except by majority opinion and to impose them except by legislation. Finally, the freedom that is given by the emphasis on individual choice will tend to become a burden if we have no sense of a significant human journey that can give meaning to our choices.

The God whom this argument claims is needed in ethics is not another character within our world. God is seen as the condition of the space necessary for an ethical life to have significance.

What are we to make of this argument? Its strength lies in its description of the character of Christian morality, and its commendation of the space that it offers for depth in recognising value, in finding common moral ground with others, and in allowing a dramatic sense of human life as a moral journey.

But the argument is not conclusive in dismissing the value of ethical frameworks that make no mention of God. It is the first step in a conversation that invites other large views of the ethical life to describe in their own terms how they find the deep human qualities that Christians preserve by grounding ethics in God.

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Marriage is so crazy, it just might work

Sermon for 4 October

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
You touch us in our place of need,
Jesus, elder Brother;
help us not to turn our faces,
but to receive you as you come,
that we may be channels of your grace
now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 10.2-16

Today’s Gospel reading treats the issue of marriage and divorce. Let me then read you some words on marriage by one Robert Farrar Capon, an author and a priest of the Episcopal Church of the USA. It’s a longish quotation, so don’t worry if you can’t hold it all in your mind (find the whole thing here).

Marriage is a paradox second only to life itself. That at the age of twenty or so, with little knowledge of each other and a dangerous overdose of self-confidence, two human beings should undertake to commit themselves for life— and that church and state should receive their vows with a straight face—all this is absurd indeed. And it is tolerable only if it is revelled in as such. A pox on all the neat little explanations as to why it is reasonable that two teenagers should be bound to each other until death. It is not reasonable. It happens to be true to life, but it remains absurd. Up with the absurdity of marriage then…

The world is going mad because it has too many reasonable options, and not enough interest or nerve to choose anything for good. In such a world, the marriage service is not reasonable, but it is sane; which is quite another matter…

I have rarely read anything so insanely sane about marriage. It says to me, Marriage is so crazy, it just might work.

Marriage is so crazy, it just might work. A young student once told me that he hesitates to get married because it would be so terrible if it failed. It’s better, he reasons, to live together because if you split up it’s not such a disaster; you don’t have the shame of a failed marriage.

That is a very high view of marriage, a very high view indeed. It greatly respects marriage. And I respect that. The thing that troubles me most with it isn’t that two people might live together without getting married; my impression is that this young man would require a high degree of commitment from himself in any relationship. My problem with it is that it’s too reasonable. There’s no leap of faith. There’s no crazy sanity, no trusting of your very self and soul to another person. And surely, wholeheartedly trusting yourself to another person is central to marriage.

The Uniting Church has a lot to say about marriage. Some of it is in our Marriage Service. In the section known as the Declaration of Purpose we say,

Marriage is a gift of God and a means of grace.
In the life-long union of marriage
we can know the joy of God,
in whose image we are made, male and female.

Marriage, we say, has been instituted by God. You may not marry God’s gift to women—or to men!—but marriage itself is a gift of God. And this life-long union is a good gift.

It’s a gift that can help us to know the joy of God. We usually call God ‘he’, but God is not male. God is beyond male and female. When we call God ‘Father’, we aren’t saying men are more like God than women. This life-long union with one of those mysterious members of the opposite sex may enable us to open ourselves more to the mystery of God.

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‘Unbelievable’ ping pong throwing!

This video is called Unbleievable, and it’s on YouTube through the work of one Islem Tbini. Enjoy! (But how long did it take them to get it right???)


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In the wake of disaster

This week has seen horrific natural disasters in our part fo the world—a typhoon and floods in the Philippines, a tsunami in Samoa (and Tonga), and an earthquake in Sumatra.

Lives have been lost, people are homeless and without food or water, and disease is likely.

Most of us can only do two things: pray and give. To give, why not contact UnitingWorld or Act for Peace (the aid arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia).

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