Monthly Archives: June 2013

NRA: Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Fred Clark is again blogging about the Left Behind series. Terrible novels, terrible understandings of what it is to be human as well as execrable theology.

But Fred’s critiques are brilliant, hilarious and right on the money.

NRA: Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

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Who am I? Whose am I? (23 June 2013)

Readings
1 Kings 19.1–15a
Galatians 3.23–29
Luke 8.26–39

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who was hanged on Hitler’s direct orders only a few days before the end of World War 2. While a prisoner in a Nazi jail in 1943, he wrote a poem called Who am I?.

Bonhoeffer’s poem starts like this:

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Bonhoeffer appeared to others to have it all together, even while he was a prisoner on ‘death row’. But inside, it was a different story. Continue reading

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Sermon: Forgiveness

A sermon from Avril Hannah-Jones on this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Some good words on forgiveness:

Sermon: Forgiveness.

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Me, crucified? Her, forgiven? Scandalous! (OT 11, Year C)

Readings
Galatians 2.15–21
Luke 7.36—8.3

 

Do you like scandals? I ask only because people are scandalised all over the place in our New Testament readings today.

The unnamed woman in Luke’s story has scandalised the pharisee Simon at his dinner party—and in front of all his guests. This so-called ‘prophet’ Jesus had allowed her to behave outrageously, crying all over his feet and kissing them while anointing them with amazingly expensive perfume. Simon had never seen such a disgrace—and in his own house!

But first, let’s look at the Apostle Paul. I hope you didn’t ’tune out’ in our reading from Galatians. It’s not just dry theology—it’s a scandal! Paul speaks of ’tearing down the law’, and ’dying to the law’. He speaks of being ’crucified with Christ’. But let’s think—only law-breakers were crucified! If Paul is crucified with Christ, he has become a law-breaker in the eyes of those who were the guardians of the Law. He has become an out-law for Christ, and even an out-law with Christ.

Respectable, law-abiding people like Simon the Pharisee would have been scandalised by Paul! Simon would rather lose his right arm than ’tear down the law’ as Paul had done. We’re law-abiding people, too. What sense can we make of this scandalous talk? Let’s try.  Continue reading

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U2’s Bono interview about Christ

Bono’s authentic faith.

U2’s Bono interview about Christ.

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God’s compassionate presence

Readings
1 Kings 17.8–24
Galatians 1.11–24
Luke 7.11–17

Today, Jesus goes to Nain. Nain was a tiny village in Galilee, not far from Mt Tabor. I’m sure nothing much happened there, but one day Jesus was going there with his disciples and a large crowd. I imagine them to be in high spirits, walking with this new teacher who was doing such wonderful things. After all, who could help but be buoyed up in this situation? What a day they were having! The story could have been about them. But it’s not.

The crowd with Jesus isn’t the only mob there that day. There is another large crowd of people, but they were sad and despondent. They were accompanying a widow who had lost her only son, and they were taking him to his last resting place. This second crowd probably consisted of most of the village of Nain.

Two “large crowds” meet face to face. The road would have been a bit too narrow to accommodate everyone. I guess neither group could just politely pass the other by. They met that day not just face to face, but eye to eye.

Two crowds, two moods, one entering Nain, the other crowd leaving. They couldn’t avoid each other.

Maybe nothing much ever happened in Nain, but I can sense some tension in the air that day.

I wonder how the people with Jesus felt? Perhaps their day out with the teacher was spoiled by all the wailing and mourning that went along with a funeral procession in that time and place. Some of them must have been annoyed.

And how did the people of Nain feel? Here are all these outsiders, coming on a day that they just needed to be alone. A day they were sharing the grief of a poor widow. Now these strangers were coming into their village, on a day when there was no one home to guard their property. Continue reading

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The footing of faith (2 June, 2013)

Readings
1 Kings 18.20–39
Galatians 1.1–12
Luke 7.1–10

It’s good to be back after a while away in the Holy Land, Jordan, Italy and England. While Karen and I were overseas, we were travelling through places that were quite different from us in terms of their religious life—from Israel with its distinct Jewish identity (yet with a strong Muslim and a lesser Christian presence), to Muslim Jordan, to Catholic Italy with its little shrines dotted here and there in town and country, and lastly to England, a country that can’t work out whether it’s multicultural, still vaguely C of E or post-christian. Or if it just couldn’t care less.

While travelling in these varied places, we practised the virtues of tolerance, happily accepting that people belong to different religions. That wasn’t the case for everyone else; for example, in Nazareth we witnessed a Muslim street preacher accosting religious Jews, near the Church of the Annunciation. It ended without success for the street evangelist, but—and interestingly!—with smiles all round.

I’m left wondering whether the Apostle Paul would sympathise more with the zealous Muslim street evangelist than with us. After all, he thundered to the Galatians:

if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

But you know, we didn’t curse a single person for being a Jew, a Moslem or a Roman Catholic. (I was tempted to curse a few drivers in Italy, but that wasn’t because of their religious faith!)

We were tolerant. But surely, these people, at least the Muslims and Jews, are proclaiming a different gospel to ours? Surely, the apostle Paul would take a different view. However tolerant we Uniting Church people may be, Paul says they are accursed!

It seems that the prophet Elijah would agree with Paul. There he is, one man against the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel. A bull for each side, and each god must set their own offering alight. Baal is strangely absent. Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal, even suggesting that their god had gone away to relieve himself. (The NRSV is a little coy here, translating it as “perhaps he has wandered away…”)

Then Elijah douses his offering with buckets and buckets of water, and fire from heaven consumes the lot. God wins!

Then he goes one further than Paul. Not only does Elijah count the prophets of Baal as accursed, but he also has them put to death in a horrific mass execution that would have him condemned as a criminal today.

So, we seem to have Paul and Elijah standing together on this one. What would they have done while traipsing around the places we went to? We didn’t go to Galatia, but we were at Mt Carmel; it’s a lovely peaceful place today, but I did wonder how Elijah might feel about that. Would Paul and Elijah embrace the tolerance of this Western tourist, or would they long for the ‘good old days’? Continue reading

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