Monthly Archives: January 2015

The shadow of the cross (Year B, 1 February 2015)

Mark 1.21–28

In April two years ago I stood here:

Capernaum synagogue

It’s what is left of the synagogue in the ancient fishing village of Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee. Not the synagogue that Jesus was in, this one dates from the fourth or fifth century; but it is probably on the selfsame site as the synagogue Jesus knew, built on top of the synagogue in our Gospel story today.

I want you to imagine something with me today. I want you to imagine that you are back in century one, somewhere around 65–70AD, hearing Mark’s story of Jesus for the very first time. You don’t know what comes next, you don’t know how it ends.

What have you heard so far?

You’ve heard the title:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So you already know this book is about Jesus, the Christ long-awaited by the Jewish people, who is also the Son of God.

And you’ve heard the story of his baptism, when Jesus heard God speak to him:

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

And you know that he walked along the Galilee lakeside and plucked fishers from their work to be his disciples: Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John. And you’ve already heard his message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

And by the way, as you listen to the Gospel According to Mark being read, you’ve already heard the words ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’. You’ve heard them four times in the space of 28 verses. You’re picking up that things happen when Jesus is around. There’s a sense of expectation. Something’s in the air.

So when Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, perhaps there’s a sense of anticipation. And the people aren’t disappointed.

They realise that here among them, from Nazareth, less than 50 kilometres away, is someone who speaks the things of God with authority. And who confronts the forces of evil with authority.

This was new to them. It made sense of what Jesus was saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.’ So

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

A good result for a preacher, you might say. Most of us would be very gratified with a response like that.

But is that what Jesus was looking for?

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Christ in you (Epiphany 2, Year B, 18 January 2015)

1 Samuel 3.1–10
1 Corinthians 6.12–20
John 1.43–51

I want ask a question today, a simple question: where do we need to be to listen to God? (Short answer: In the house of God.)

We are commissioning Katie today for her role  as coordinator of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Project in Mwandi, Zambia.

I think I can safely say that she hasn’t determined to go there so much by screwing up her eyes and trying hard to believe she can do it as by listening for that ‘still, small voice’, which speaks so calmly, gently, tenderly, persistently, and insistently. That Voice that just doesn’t give up.

But where do we hear that voice? We need to be in the house of God to hear it.

We talked about the voice of God last week. According to Mark, Jesus hears God say,

You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.

We talked about how we miss out on hearing that Voice, because—

Our own inner voices, perhaps accusing voices, drown it out. The sounds of politicians and advertisements and newspaper publishers drown it out.

We need to be in the house of God to hear it. We miss it because we are not ‘in’ when it calls.

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The heavens torn apart (The Baptism of the Lord, 11 January 2015)

Genesis 1.1–5
Mark 1.4–11

Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words. Let’s hear it again:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

That’s it. Mark tells the story of John baptising Jesus in very few words; and he tells it from Jesus’ point of view. The heavenly voice speaks to him: ‘You are my Son…’ Jesus sees the Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus sees the heavens ‘torn apart’.

Did anyone else see or hear anything as far as Mark was concerned? We just don’t know. Mark seems to be presenting it as a purely personal experience of Jesus.

I’m really intrigued about one thing. The first thing Jesus saw was ‘the heavens torn apart’. That’s a pretty violent image, don’t you think? Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Matthew and Luke tone it down in their stories of Jesus’ baptism. You need to be aware that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as one of the sources for their own work, and they moderated Mark’s language at a few points. This is one of those points.

Matthew says,

…suddenly the heavens were opened to him…

And in Luke we read,

…the heaven was opened…

We may prefer Matthew and Luke over Mark. Their accounts are calmer. ‘Opening’ is quieter than tearing apart. It’s more serene, more in keeping with the tranquility suitable to proper religious occasions.

Yet I can’t help thinking that Mark’s version would please the prophet Isaiah more. Isaiah’s heart yearned and burned for God to come down. He once wrote (64.1),

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Well Isaiah, it’s happened at last: the heavens are torn apart.

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Jesus, the Word (Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B, 4 January 2015)

John 1.1–18

Last year—all the way back in 2014!—Karen and I went on a driving holiday around Tasmania. It’s a lovely place—beautiful rivers, lovely villages, great seafood, old buildings (older than Queensland anyway), great seafood, wonderful people, very good wine—oh, and did I mention great seafood?

While there, we went to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. It’s a terrific place to go to and wander around. You could easily spend a day or more there. There are paintings, sculptures, installations of various kinds, some high-tech stuff. It’s safe to say I intend to go back one day.

There was a room that held me in its grip. It was a room lined with bookcases and filled with books. Two tables in the middle of the room had books strewn on them.

I admit I love reading (though now I usually read on kindle rather than books), but you may ask why I was so spellbound.

This is the reason:










All the books are blank. Every book on every shelf. I’d guess there are hundreds of books in that room. Not one contains a word.

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