Monthly Archives: March 2013

I am about to create anew—Easter Sunday, Year C (31 March, 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 65.17–25
John 20.1–18

Through the prophet Isaiah, God says

I am about to create a new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or brought to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

I have to say this: I’m getting on a plane tomorrow to go to the Holy Land. A number of us are going on a tour together, and we’ll find out soon enough if Jerusalem is “a joy”, and its people “a delight”.

Someone told me the other day that you can feel that something special happened at Jerusalem. I’m really hoping that’s what we’ll find, anyway.

This passage from Isaiah is full of hopeful words, isn’t it? It was written to people whose parents and grandparents had been carted off into Babylon, in present-day Iraq, after Jerusalem had been destroyed. After about seventy years, they were allowed to return so they could rebuild. But it was hard. The new Jerusalem they were building wasn’t a patch on the old, and they knew it.

Jerusalem was a place with a problem back then, just as it is now. Jerusalem a “joy”? Well, not so much maybe. Continue reading

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Buried with Christ, raised to life—Easter Vigil, Year C (30 March 2013)

Reading
Romans 6.3-11

This is the night when our Saviour Jesus Christ passed from death to life! This is the Passover of Jesus Christ:

Through light and the word,
through water and the bread and wine,
we recall Christ’s death and resurrection,
we share Christ’s triumph over sin and death,
and with invincible hope
we await Christ’s coming again.

This is the night we gather around the new fire to light the new Easter Candle. This is the night we move into the darkened church with our candles lit, the night we sing songs of resurrection, the night we renew our baptismal vows and then share the Easter Eucharist with the risen Lord. (And we get to do it with the Anglicans!) I love this night.

For a few minutes, let’s look at what we’ll be doing next—renewing our baptismal vows. We heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Do you see what Paul is saying here? Once baptised, we are baptised into Christ’s death. Don’t forget, ‘baptism’ really means to be immersed. It might not look like it our churches, but we go right under the water in baptism. We go down for the third time—in fact, Paul says “we have been buried with him by baptism into death”.

Through baptism, we are dead and buried—to sin. We are dead and buried—to the old ways of living. That’s what happened when we were baptised, even if we were baptised as infants.

That’s why Paul can’t understand it when Christian people still live self-centred lives:

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

The scandalous truth is: baptised people, who have died to sin, may yet sin. We see that there’s nothing automatic about baptism. We may be dead and buried to sin, but the old self is still active. So Paul says:

we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

We have been buried with Christ. That’s done. Now, we are to “walk in newness of life”. But it’s not automatic. It’s not you are buried with Christ and you ‘automatically’ walk in newness of life, but you are buried with Christ so that you may walk in newness of life.

Once we realise who we are—people buried with Christ, dead to the old ways of the world—we can start to reorientate ourselves. We can start to live as part of the new creation that the Resurrection of Jesus has brought into being.

Yes, we fail, that’s why we need nights like tonight. A night in which we reaffirm our baptismal vows; in which we together proclaim the Faith of the Church in the words of the Apostles’ Creed; and in which we remind ourselves that we are marked with the sign of the cross. And where here, at least, we do it ecumenically.

Paul goes on to remind us of our great hope:

…if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

We walk in faith, we live by hope. We have been untied with Christ, one day we shall be like him. Baptism isn’t automatic, but it is grace. God redeems us; God sanctifies us; God will transform us so that one day, we may be his children in every fibre of our being.

What can we say? Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

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Palm Sunday 2013

Palm Sunday this morning at Centenary Uniting Church. Thanks Josie!

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Caught up in something greater—Lent 5, Year C (17 March 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 43.16–21
Philippians 3.4b–14
John 12.1–8

Christ is among us—

God is doing a new thing!

Another Sunday in Lent, another wonderful passage from Second Isaiah, who wrote when the people were in Babylon, forced into exile for life away from Jerusalem, where their homes were demolished or in ashes.

Their life as a nation was over. The Babylonian armies had conquered. The Babylonian gods had won. It was in this setting that Psalm 137 was written:

How could we sing the Lord’s song

in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand wither!

Isaiah’s message cut across this sense of doom.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

What new thing was God about to do? This is how Isaiah puts it:

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Much earlier, God had brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. Then, God had made a dry path through the waters of the Red Sea; now, God would make a river to follow through the dry paths of the wilderness.

God was doing a new thing, and drawing them into a new story. No longer would they only be people delivered from slavery in Egypt—they would also be people delivered from exile in Babylon.

God was doing a new thing; God has been doing new things ever since.

The story of Mary of Bethany is the story of a woman who found that God was indeed doing a new thing.  Continue reading

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The Powerless Almighty Father—Lent 4C (10 March 2013)

Readings
2 Corinthians 5.16–21
Luke 15.1–3, 11b–32

 

We heard one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

At least that’s its usual name in the English-speaking world. In Germany, it has a different name; it’s the ‘Parable of the Lost Son’. (‘Prodigal’ means ‘spendthrift’, not ‘lost’.)

So is it about a spendthrift son, or a lost son? And what about the older brother, who is lost in his own way? Is it the Parable of the Two Lost Sons? Or the Parable of the Elder Brother?

Is it about the sons at all? Is it really about the father? Some have called it the Parable of the Forgiving Father; that’s a really good name, because where would we be if the father didn’t forgive his son?

There are other names, like the Parable of the Waiting Father (Helmut Thielicke) or the Parable of the Father’s Love (Joachim Jeremias). These names highlight different aspects of the parable, don’t they? The father waits daily for his son’s return; the father’s love is the thread that runs through the whole parable.

The name we give to the parable influences what we see when we look at the parable. Let me share my favourite name for this parable: the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father (Eduard Schweizer).

We know about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. So let’s talk about the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father—you may be less familiar with this version. Hearing the parable this way raises questions for us: Is the Father almighty? Is the Father powerless?

The Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father starts

There was a man who had two sons.

A tension has already been set up. Two sons means conflict. It’s been that way from the beginning. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau are only the merest tip of the iceberg.

The Father is approached by the younger son, who basically tells his dad he’d rather his dad was dead. He wants his inheritance. Now. What can the Father do?

How about say No? An almighty Father has the authority to refuse to give the son anything, while he’s still alive. And who would blame him? No one—the son’s behaviour is unforgivable.

But the Father says Yes, and gives the son his inheritance. He is powerless to stop his son.

Once the son has gone, the Father looks out for . He stands at the door, he walks down the road, he waits by the gate, he scans the horizon for any sign of his son’s return. Day after day, there is nothing, but still he persists. He is powerless to make the son come back.

Eventually, the son does return. He has been prodigal, he has squandered his inheritance. He has lost his fair-weather friends, and he has descended so far down the social scale that he has fed pigs, which of course made him unclean. The son returns home with a scheme to save his hide. He can’t occupy the place of a son any more, but perhaps his Father will let him become a servant. Continue reading

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Life is a free lunch—Lent 3, Year C (3 March 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 55.1–9
Luke 13.1–9

 

What if there were such a thing as a free lunch?

We’re used to hearing There’s no such thing as a free lunch. But what if there were?

In our reading from Isaiah today, he sounds like a bloke in a market stall touting for business. But instead of Fresh fruit over here!  Come and get your lovely green apples, going cheap!, Isaiah is giving it away. Literally. Remember?

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

How can he do it? How can he just give stuff away?

There’s got to be a catch. Continue reading

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