Monthly Archives: September 2013

The grace of open eyes (Ordinary Sunday 26, Year C)


By way of a beginning, I want to tell you about something that happened to me on the flight out to Australia, when our family migrated in 1965. We weren’t well off, we only had a few pounds for a family of four children. I was eleven, the eldest, and for my first time on an aeroplane I was dressed in my very best clothes—my school uniform. I was well aware that most people who flew on international flights could afford something better than a school uniform. But there I was—English school cap, tie and blazer, shirt, long pants and socks all thick enough to cope with the Yorkshire cold. And I was walking down the steps of the plane onto the tarmac at Kolkata Airport. It must have been around 40 degrees. 

It was the first time I’d known what ‘hot’ could mean. I had stepped out of the air-conditioned then-state-of-the-art Boeing 707—and right into a blast furnace. 

I don’t know how far away the airport building was. It felt like half a mile. I was walking with my dad, and I saw some of the local people. If I had felt that wearing a school uniform on an international flight was a sign of poverty, I was now staring real poverty in the face for the very first time. These people were in rags, leaning into the fence, on the outside, looking in at us. They needed new clothes and a good feed.

The distress in my voice must have been clearly obvious when I mentioned them to my dad. He was a good man; but all he said was ‘Don’t look at them, there’s nothing we can do for them.’

For me, it was too late. I had already looked and I had seen.

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God is not a possession (Ordinary Sunday 24, Year C)

Luke 16.1–13

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager is about the hardest of Jesus’ parables to understand. Jesus wants us to emulate a man who is shrewd  and unprincipled at best, deceitful and swindling at worst.

But that can’t be. Can’t it?

It doesn’t seem so, because pretty soon Jesus is saying

You cannot serve God and wealth.

That’s pretty plain. So where do we go from here?

Let’s look the parable. A manager is in charge of a rich man’s estate. The rich man doesn’t live on site, and the manager has a reputation around town of keeping money back for himself. Word of this gets to the rich man, who calls the manager to give an account of himself.

From the manager’s reaction, it does seem that he’s a crook. He isn’t defending himself, he knows what the verdict will be.

Then he hits on an idea.

(This is where it gets tricky, because there are different ideas about where the story goes here, and what the manager actually did. I’ll give you just one of those ideas.)

The manager knows he’ll need friends, so he goes to his boss’s bad debts. Every business has bad debts; it’s so now, it was so back then. He reduced the amount of money that the people who owed his boss had to pay. One went from a hundred jugs of olive oil to fifty and another from a hundred containers of wheat to eighty.

That way, he made himself some very good friends out of the boss’s dodgier clients. And he recovered something back from the bad debts his boss thought he’d never see a penny of.

So everyone was pleased with him, the debtors and the boss alike.

Now, that just may be the story the parable is telling. What on earth would that mean?

The manager is in a difficult position. There is a judgement coming, and he is going down. Time is very short indeed; how can he turn the situation to his advantage?

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Ordinary Sunday 23, Year C — God is Christlike

Psalm 14
Luke 15.1–10

Psalm 14 starts like this:

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Whatever Psalm 14 says, I prefer to withhold judgement. Let me tell you a story.

 Karen and I used to live in West End, an inner-city suburb of Brisbane. We had a neighbour two doors down, an old Greek man who had come out to Australia to farm the land in central Queensland. As we all know, Australia is a pretty unforgiving place for farmers. This poor man had lost everything through a series of prolonged droughts. He was never able to forgive God for this. He’d been a Greek Orthodox Christian, but after this experience he became an atheist. We used to visit and we’d drink coffee and eat baklava. He loved our visits, because he could talk at length about the God he said he didn’t believe in!

When I listened to him, I was reminded of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures. I began to feel that God hadn’t let go of him; and because God  hadn’t let go of him, this atheist still had a relationship with God. It was a strange relationship in which he was permanently ticked off with God. He complained as much as Job! I feel he wanted to hear an answer to his questions, one he couldn’t hear, an answer that would restore his faith.

I believed then and I believe now that God had not let him go; and that God would never let go of him.

What authority do I have to say that? I have the authority of three stories Jesus told, three parables that Luke puts together in chapter fifteen of his Gospel. I’m talking about the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son.

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Lord, have mercy…

He may be a likeable larrikin, but as a senator and a player in the balance of power?

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A Small Gem of Dynamite: another slant on Philemon

Rev Claire Alcock has written a sermon on Philemon, which links it to the Gospel very well. Read it here.

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Ordinary Sunday 22, Year C — Not only useful but beautiful too

Jeremiah 18.1–11
Philemon 1–21
Luke 14.25–33


I love the story of Onesimus. He is mentioned in the Letter to the Colossians as one of their number, so he and his (former?) master Philemon must have lived in Colossae. (Colossae was in what we know as western Turkey.)

Onesimus was a slave. His very name tells us that. Onesimus means ‘useful’. That was his name, Useful. Not much of a name, is it? Onesimus was a ‘slave name’—it was a name only a slave would have been given. It was also his identity—he was fed and housed because he was useful. Woe betide him if he ever became useless.

Well, in fact that’s just what did happen. He became useless to his master. It seems that he left Philemon, ran into the Apostle Paul in jail, and became a believer. Listen again to what Paul says, and listen for the play on words:

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was ‘useless’ to you, but now he is indeed ‘useful’ both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.

Onesimus has become a Christian, and Paul is his spiritual father.

But things are complicated.

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