Monthly Archives: October 2015

Reading the Scriptures three dimensionally: “Should I not be concerned about Syria?” (Year B, 1 November 2015)

Readings
Ruth 1.1–18 (Psalm 146)
Mark 12.28–34

The Lord keeps faith for ever,
giving food to the hungry,
justice to the poor,
freedom to captives…
comforting widows and orphans,
protecting the stranger… from Psalm 146

As I come towards the end of my time here at Centenary, I wonder about what to say to you. So I have a particular question in mind as we approach the wonderful readings before us today. It is this:

Do you read the scriptures as two-dimensional words, or do you read them as a three-dimensional Word?

And what on earth does that even mean?

We can read the scriptures in two dimensions, as flat words on a flat page. When we read in two dimensions, every part of the scriptures is as important as every other part. So in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to kill whole populations; and Jesus says ‘Love your neighbour’.

How does that fit together? In my younger years, I heard preachers saying that the Israelites killing every man, woman and child was loving their Israelite neighbour, delivering them from temptation to a life of idolatry. I was never convinced.

That’s a two-dimensional way of looking at the scriptures. It seeks to harmonise things in the Bible. But you know, it’s really not possible to harmonise everything.

Perhaps it could be that the people of Israel grew out of the idea that genocide serves God’s purposes? If so, later they may have looked back at what their ancestors did and think they were just plain wrong. Perhaps they learned to read these stories as a kind of illustration of how to deal with sin in the human heart? An illustration of how sin needs to be removed, root and branch, but not a model of foreign policy?

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The God who serves (Year B, 17 October 2015)

Readings
Job 38.1–11 (Psalm 104.1–9, 24, 35c)
Hebrews 5.1–10
Mark 10.35–45

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you… Job 42.5

Two weeks ago, we encountered Job whose whole world collapsed on one day. Not only did he lose his 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and his servants; he also lost his seven sons and three daughters. And then he lost his health.

We saw that suffering is not a problem that can be solved, but that it may become an invitation to trust in God more and more. We also saw that there is no real answer to the question ‘Why me?’

Then last week, we saw that suffering can lead to lament; and that the question ‘Why me?’ is itself a lament. We also saw that lament is very common in the scriptures. 58 out of 150 psalms are laments. That’s over a third.

And we saw that lament in the Bible has a simple shape:

  1. We cry out to God in our distress;
  2. We remember God’s goodness and mercy;
  3. We hope in God once more; or at least, we hope to hope in God again.

Today, Job has done lamenting. He finally gets an audience with God.

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How long, O Lord? (11 October 2015, Year B)

Readings
Job 23.1–9, 16–17
Psalm 22
Mark 10.17–31

Then Jesus lamented: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”’ Mark 10.23

Last week, we spoke about suffering. We said that there is no real answer to the question ‘Why?’. There is something more to say though—not an answer to why bad things happen, but why we feel it so much when they do.

We feel the pain of suffering so much because we have a great hope that the world can be well. Our hope is ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’. And when we look at the suffering in our world, we can see that God’s will is not being done ‘on earth as in heaven’. And those who hope for God to act can find that it brings confusion, sadness, grief, even anger.

Those who lack this hope may just shrug their shoulders and sigh in resignation. ‘What can we do about it?’ they ask.

Or they just try to have a good time, ignoring the pain that others endure.

Or they may even decide to turn a profit from the troubles of the world: after all, there’s plenty of money to be had by an unscrupulous operator.

Lament is the biblical approach to the pain of suffering. But it is an an unpopular message today.

Take Uniting in Worship 2; many of you know that I was one of its editors. It was published ten years ago this month, but really it should have been published a year earlier. One reason for the delay was that we were including prayers of lament as resources and making it possible to use lament in our services of worship.

Those who opposed us were adamant that a service of worship should begin with prayers or songs of adoration. To begin with lament was starting with ‘us’ and our needs; it should always start with God, they argued.

Since that time, our decision has been accepted, but partly, and sadly, because of a humanitarian disaster. The Boxing Day Tsunami flooded communities around the Indian Ocean, and Uniting Church congregations were crying out for the National Working Group on Worship to provide worship resources. So we put the resources that were going to be published onto our website and gave people free permission to use them. No one at any ‘official’ level of our Church has since argued that we shouldn’t use lament in our services.

Just as well, because that’s exactly what the Book of Psalms does.

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Suffering is not a problem (Year B, 4 October, 2015)

Readings
Job 1.1; 2.1–10
Mark 10.2–16

Like a weaned child on its mother,
like the weaned child on me is my soul…        Psalm 131.2

When I was a chaplain at The Wesley Hospital, we noticed something quite concerning. We chaplains saw the way a number of young couples responded when they were confronted with a stillborn child.

These young couples were absolutely floored, of course. They suffered terrible grief, as you would expect. It was something they would never forget. That is the natural reaction to an unnatural situation.

That’s not what concerned us. Our anxiety was because it was obvious that these largely middle class couples had never before come across a problem that couldn’t be fixed.

Even more than that, to them any setback at all was a problem to be fixed. If you or your dad couldn’t fix it, you paid a professional or a tradie to do it for you.

They asked the question common to nearly all people: Why me, why us? But they also asked, Why couldn’t our technology solve the problem?

For some couples, this was the very first time they had been confronted by something huge that just couldn’t be fixed. Their usual way of coping with things just didn’t help.

What they found hard to grasp is that in losing a baby they were not being confronted by a problem. They were being unwillingly plunged into an encounter with loss, with grief, with suffering too deep for words. They couldn’t fix it, solve it, or manage it.

What could they do?

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Filed under Church & world, Grief and loss, RCL, sermon, suffering