Monthly Archives: March 2012

Which procession will you go to? (Passion/Palm Sunday, Year B, 1 April 2012)

Which procession will you go to?

Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Mark 11.1-11


It’s a very special day today. Of course, I’m talking about April Fool’s Day. We don’t know much about the origins of April Fool’s Day, but we all know about it. Perhaps some of you have been fooled already.

This year, Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day come together. And the way Jesus entered Jerusalem does look a little foolish, when you compare it to the other parade happening that day.

This other parade came into Jerusalem through the western gate of the city. This parade was the entrance of the governor, Pontius Pilate. He was accompanied by row upon row of armed soldiers in their leather armour. There were horses and battle standards and shiny brass. It was an impressive show.

Every time there was a major feast in the Jewish calendar, Pilate came in from the place he lived in, Caesarea Maritima, and he stayed in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. The population of Jerusalem was normally around 40 000, but there could be an extra 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. So Pilate made sure there was a show of Roman might, just to deter troublemakers.

The Gospels have nothing at all to say about this parade, the parade everyone in Jerusalem knew about. The Gospels tell of another parade that entered from the north side of the city, a ragtag affair with no weapons, no armour, nothing splendid at all. It must have looked pretty foolish. Yet while most people were coming to Jerusalem as pilgrims, Jesus was riding into the lion’s den. (For any Lord of the Rings fans, it’s like he’s riding straight into Mordor.)

So on one side of the city is glitz, glamour and naked power; on another is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t playing some April Fool trick. There’s a message, and the people would have got it.

They would remember a great hero of Israel, the warrior Simon Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem from oppression over 250 years before the days of Jesus. Listen to this account of the entry of the Jews into the city after their victory, and hear how familiar it is (1 Maccabees 13.51):

…the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

People remembered Simon proudly. He was a hero more like Robin Hood than Ned Kelly. Yet now, they had another conquering power with its foot on their throat. Rome was invincible. Here comes Jesus, mounting a counter-entry to Pilate, so they wave their palms and shout their praise. But Jesus is bringing not the way of the sword but the way of peace.

When Jesus comes the people shout,

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom
of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Soon, we shall say,

Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

These words that we say at our Communion services are taken straight from the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus is coming to town, to us, to our hearts, to stay. Something is happening here. But we know how the week ends. It ends on Friday, with a darkened sky. It ends with Jesus crying

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

It seems to be a foolish dream.

Which parade would you go to? The one with the swords and the spears and the power, or the one with a man on a donkey who was riding to his death?

You know which one to go to.


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Timothy Noah: When Did ‘Christian’ Become A Synonym For ‘Conservative Evangelical’? | The New Republic

I saw this today (h/t @edrescherphd). While it’s from a US-centric perspective, there are places where things are becoming pretty similar here in Australia. ‘Christian’ is in danger of becoming a franchise rather than a way of describing a way of being a disciple of the Risen One.

Timothy Noah: When Did ‘Christian’ Become A Synonym For ‘Conservative Evangelical’? | The New Republic.

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‘We would see Jesus’ (Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 25 March 2012)

‘We would see Jesus’

Jeremiah 31.31-34
John 12.20-33

Way back in 1939, Winston Churchill said this of Russia: it is

a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

I feel the same way about today’s Gospel story. It’s a riddle. It’s a mystery. It’s an enigma.

Some ‘Greeks’ come to Philip and say, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’

Fair enough… But when Jesus hears about it, he seems to go off at a tangent. He says:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

You’d think he’d sit down with these visitors from far away, or at least give them a number and tell them to wait in line. But his reply is a riddle. A mystery. An enigma. The hour has come…

Jesus has talked before about ‘the hour’. At Cana, when Mary asked him to fix the alcohol shortage, he said (John 2.4),

My hour has not yet come…

And he said (5.25),

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

The course of Jesus’ life was heading to a climax, but not until the right time. Nothing could happen until ‘the hour’ had come (cf. 7.30, 8.20).

And with the Greeks, the hour had indeed come. What’s that about? The Greeks were the ‘other sheep’ that Jesus had spoken about (10.15-16):

I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

It was now time to bring all people together as one flock. It was time for the shepherd to lay down his life.

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Conversations with Rowan Williams – Eureka Street

Another thoughtful contribution to what I expect will be a growing list of reflectionsdon Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is vital for us in the Uniting Church to keep hearing its focus on conversation as ecclesial practice.

Conversations with Rowan Williams – Eureka Street.

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ABC to retire

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has just announced his resignation effective from the end of this year. Who’ll be next to take this poisoned chalice?

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Standing on the ground of grace (Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 18 March 2012)

Standing on the ground of grace

Ephesians 2.1-10
John 3.14-21


It’s a word we hear in church often. We hear it outside of church too—we speak of a dancer who dances with a certain grace, a certain beauty and delicacy. People say grace before a meal. If someone offends another, they may have the grace to apologise. You may receive a year’s grace before you must pay a debt—but if you don’t pay, you’ll fall from grace. And if Kate Middleton were ever to come here, she’d want you to call her ‘Your Grace’. It’s a very positive word!

Yet grace has another kind of positive meaning when St Paul says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…

Here, the word ‘grace’ means something greater and grander than any of the other ways we use it.

Grace is a great word, one of the greatest in the whole of the scriptures. We read in John’s Gospel chapter one that ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’:

the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And Paul says in Romans,

since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…

Jesus Christ has brought us grace upon grace; grace is the very ground on which we stand.

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Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street

A thoughtful reflection from Andy Hamilton of Eureka St about the ways online publishing influence public conversation.

Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street.

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Costly grace (Second Sunday in Lent Year B, 4 March 2012)

Costly grace

Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16
Mark 8.27-38

Create in us a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.


You know, nothing bad is supposed to happen to messiahs. A ‘messiah’ is someone whom God has anointed and chosen. A messiah stops bullets in his teeth, leaps buildings with a single bound, and puts all the bad guys where they belong. A messiah strides to inevitable victory; he cannot be defeated.

Jesus has created a huge stir in Galilee. He has healed people, touched lepers, confronted forces of demonic proportions, and spoken with authority. People are talking about him. They have all sorts of ideas about who he is: he must be some hero back from the grave, someone like John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets.

So when Jesus asks the disciples who he is, it’s not altogether obvious that he is the One they had been waiting for to deliver Israel: the Messiah. But Peter gets it—or does he?

Peter says the right thing:

You are the Messiah.

But warning bells are ringing for Jesus. He’s not you’re normal kind of messiah. He isn’t a messiah who’ll lead the troops to victory, throw the Romans out and bring in the golden age. Jesus is a messiah who dies in defeat. They’d never heard of such a thing before. So while Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, he is talking about the wrong kind of messiah. Jesus needs to help them all to see what sort of messiah he is.

So he says to them, ‘quite openly’, no secrets:

…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.

They didn’t hear that last bit. It’s like when you go to the doctor, and she says, ‘You’ve got a lump. It might be cancer, but we’ll be able to remove it and you should be ok.’

You’ve stopped listening at the word ‘cancer’. The glimmer of hope the doctor threw out was just white noise. You walk away feeling stunned.

Peter heard words like ‘great suffering’, ‘rejected’ and ‘killed’. Nothing else penetrated.

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World Day of Prayer 2012

One of the great things about the World Day of Prayer is that we catch a glimpse of the world through the eyes of other people. I have no real experience of Malaysia; I know a number of people who were born in Malaysia, I’ve had a few hours in the airport at KL, but no more than that. So I’m uniquely unqualified to preach this evening.

The World Day of Prayer reminds us that we are part of a worldwide family. The borders of the church don’t stop at our congregation or even at our tradition. They are broader and wider—perhaps broader and wider than we can imagine.

The World Day of Prayer calls us to remember that other members of this family are in very different situations from those we find ourselves in.

The women of Malaysia live in a predominantly Muslim land, with very different ethnic and cultural realities to ours. There is corruption on a wide scale, restrictions on Christian worship, churches are burnt, asylum seekers are greatly mistreated—that should give us pause for thought—people trafficking and the forced relocation of poor rural folk. Apart from that, the women have a difficult place just because they are women.

I’m sure they can identify with the woman who kept knocking on the judge’s door much more than I can.

I was very impressed with the story of Irene Fernandez, the social worker who spent thirteen years fighting in court because of official resistance to her work among migrant workers and people in immigration detention camps.

Women like this show us lives given to Christ in different contexts to ours; we need to pray with them and support them. But we also need to see where the justice deficits are in our own situation.

We know about asylum seekers, for example. They are called ‘illegal’, which they are not; they are vilified and kept in detention for long periods. All this is at great cost; it would be cheaper to process them in the community.  This is one area where justice, compassion and economics speak as one. Both sides of politics have demonised asylum seekers; one prominent politician recently published ignorant remarks about infectious disease coming into Australia from these people which a public health official issued a public letter to refute.

Why do I talk about this? Because Irene Fernandez has emboldened me to.

Those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary may be looking at these words of Jesus on Sunday:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It seems that we admire most those Christians who seem to put these words of Jesus into practice. We all know about the great witness of Mother Teresa of Calcutta; now we also know about Irene Fernandez, knocking at the door of so-called justice for thirteen years on behalf of the poor. Let us allow ourselves to be truly inspired by her witness, and follow Jesus in our own time and place. Amen.

Irene’s story:

My name is Irene Fernandez. I’m a social worker. I work among the migrants and other poor and oppressed people in Malaysia. In 1991 I helped establish Tenaganita (women’s force), a grassroots organization committed to establishing “protective tooIs” for women.

I did research and published a memorandum in August 1995 about the terrible living conditions of the migrant workers in detention centres. I interviewed over 300 former detainees who described insanitary conditions, inadequate food and water, frequent deaths from beatings and lack of medical care. Sexual abuse and corruption were common in Malaysia’s immigration detention camps. The government asserted that the memorandum contained errors.

l was arrested for “maliciously publishing false news.” I was on trial for seven years and then was found guilty. I was sentenced to one year of imprisonment. I appealed to the High Court. As a convicted person, the price I paid was high. My court battle took another six years. Finally the High Court overturned my earlier conviction and acquitted me on December 31st, 2008.

During all these years Tenaganita has succeeded in establishing reform amendments to rape laws, model contracts for overseas domestic helpers, and a domestic violence act which opened up complaint procedures for victims. Now we are turning our focus on people-trafficking, the heinous crime of modern-day slavery. We seek a partnership with government to change the systems that support human trafficking. At the same time the survivors of human trafficking need psychological and social support. With our advocacy and help the survivors can restore their lives and regain their feeling of self-worth and dignity.

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Finders Weepers, Losers Keepers: Reflections on Mark 8

A reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel that really engages the imagination:

Finders Weepers, Losers Keepers: Reflections on Mark 8.

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