Monthly Archives: January 2017

Blessed are those who… (Epiphany 4A, 29 January 2017)

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 1.18–31
Matthew 5.1–12

 

There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. (Charles James Cook, in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol.1)

 

Today we heard the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…

And so on.

These words are all well known to us. But do we let them penetrate our hearts?

Let’s admit it, on the face of it, they are pretty absurd. ‘Blessed are the meek’? Is that how Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin got where they are today?

‘Blessed are those who mourn’? You don’t feel ‘blessed’ when you are grieving.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’? The arrogant and super-confident are better candidates for blessedness!

So let’s try to get a hold of what ‘blessedness’ is.

Normally, we might say we’re blest if something wonderful happens to us. We are blest when a new baby comes into the family. We are blest if we get good weather for a family wedding.

Or we may say we’re blest by natural gifts and talents, by good looks, a musical gift or high intelligence.

We could say we’re blest to live in Australia.

(I just want to say I’m avoiding the word ‘happy’ here. It’s a misleading translation. I may be blest to live in Australia, whether I’m happy or not. I could be blest with a wonderful singing voice—(I’m not!)—but be unhappy. You can be blest without being happy.)

So, Jesus is not saying you have to put a happy face on when you are mourning for something or someone. But he is saying you are blest.

This is the thing about the Beatitudes:

Normally, we say we are blest because we have a gift or because we live in fortunate circumstances.

The Beatitudes declare people blest when they lack something real and true, or yearn for something real and true, or accept something that is real and true. 

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

‘Immediately they left their nets and followed him’ (Epiphany 3A, 22 January 2017)

Reading
Matthew 4.12–23

Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. (When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship)

In Matthew’s Gospel, these are the first words John the Baptist speaks:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

By the time Jesus begins his public ministry, John has been thrown into one of Herod’s prisons. At this stage, Jesus was a ‘known associate’ of John’s; what would you do in Jesus’ place? Hide out? Run away? Change the message into something safer, more palatable?

I don’t know what you’d do, but I would take one of those alternatives. What does Jesus do? He preaches exactly the same message. He cries out:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Let’s stop for a moment and look at this. John has come across political opposition. This isn’t the first time political opposition has come in the Gospel of Matthew. It was there from the beginning.

First, Herod the Great tries to trick the wise men into revealing the whereabouts of Jesus, because he wants him dead.

When Joseph and Mary return from refuge in Egypt, they live in Nazareth because it’s off the beaten track and therefore safer.

Years later, John is arrested by Herod Antipas. Herod the Great, who wanted to kill the baby Jesus, was his father.

After John’s arrest, Jesus does withdraw from Judea, the southern part of Israel, where John was baptising. He goes to live in the north, in Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee.

But he wasn’t going into hiding! ‘From that time,’ we read, ‘from that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’

Jesus wasn’t being cautious. A lot of Christian people are cautious. But Jesus had a mission, and he was far from cautious.

Jesus preached about the same thing as John: the kingdom of heaven.

What is the kingdom of heaven?

It’s not where you go when you die.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

Abide, dwell, remain (Epiphany 2A, 15 January 2015)

Reading
John 1.29–42

Discipleship…is a state of being. Discipleship is about how we live; not just the decisions we make, not just the things we believe, but a state of being. (Rowan Williams, Being Disciples)

Today we have the story of two men coming to Jesus for the first time; one is Andrew, the other unnamed. It could be you, it could be me.

It’s the story of their becoming disciples.

In this chapter, John’s Gospel uses what may seem to be an unexpected word to describe being a disciple. That word is ‘remains’.

It’s one of John’s favourite words. He uses it all over the place. It’s only one Greek word—meno, for the Greek geeks—but in our English Bibles it might be remain, stay, or abide.

For example,

This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14.17)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15.4)

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15.9)

Let’s look at where it comes in this chapter. Jesus realises he is being followed, and says:

‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi,…where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

The English language mucks this up a bit, but let’s persist. Where we have two words, the Greek text has only one.

Rabbi, where are you staying?
They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day.

Remember: staying, remaining, sometimes abiding or dwelling, it’s the same Greek word. (μένω, ménō) And it’s used a lot in John’s Gospel.

It describes what being a disciple is to a tee.

A disciple is a student who remains with Jesus. And in remaining with Jesus, the disciple is changed, even transformed.

These days, a student is someone who goes to uni when her scheduled classes are on, and perhaps at other times to work in the library. They may only see their lecturers when they’re in class.

It was different in Jesus’ day. If you were a student—a disciple—2000 years ago, you would expect to

hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street…
(Rowan Williams, Being a Disciple)

Not many people these days would make that kind of commitment just to get a BA!

But it’s the kind of commitment required of a disciple of Jesus.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under abide in Christ, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

The Story of Ezer and Elead (and What It Means for the Exodus)

Well worth reading!

 

Tucked away amidst the genealogies of Chronicles almost no one reads, the tale of two cattle-rustling brothers from Ephraim might just be the most obscure story in the Bible. Like many such tales i…

Source: The Story of Ezer and Elead (and What It Means for the Exodus)

Leave a comment

Filed under sermon

Is baptism important? (The Baptism of Jesus, Year A 8 January 2017)

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17 

…because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do with them. (Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes)

How important is baptism?

It seems to have been important to Jesus.

In Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist tries to put him off:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’

But Jesus insists. This is the way forward.

John’s baptism was a sign of repentance; that’s why John didn’t want to baptise Jesus. He knew Jesus didn’t need to repent.

But Jesus was identifying himself with sinners. All of them, from the unclean and those outside the law to religious hypocrites who thought they were fine as they were. He was identifying himself with the whole of Israel. Eventually it would be clear that he was identifying himself with the whole world. He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Christian baptism—our kind—is a little different. In his baptism, Christ identified with sinners; in our baptism, we are identified with Christ.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, church year, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

Jesus was a refugee (1 January, 2017; Christmas 1A)

Readings
Hebrews 2.10–18
Matthew 2.13–23

65.3 million.

That’s the number of people who were forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict in 2015.

21.3 million.

That’s the number of refugees there were in 2015.

10 million.

Is the number of stateless people in 2015, people without access to healthcare, education, employment, and with no freedom of movement.

These are 2015 numbers; I suppose we don’t have accurate numbers for 2016 yet. They’re awfully big numbers to grasp. They boggle my imagination, and they may boggle yours too. Let’s try a smaller number.

3.

We can do three.

That’s the number of refugees in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees.

They’d barely be reported on today, of course. Just another Middle-Eastern family caught in the tsunami waves of lost souls, thrown up by dictator upon brutal dictator. We’d blink and they’d be gone.

It wasn’t reported on then, either. There is no mention of the Slaughter of the Innocents outside of Matthew’s Gospel. Bethlehem has only been really well known since Jesus was born there. There are around 25000 people there now, but there were less than a thousand in the time of Jesus. ‘Royal David’s city’ was just a village then.

People did remember that great king David was born there, but you can only trade on your past glories for so long. David had been dead for a thousand years. The royal line was gone, crumbled into dust. It was supposed to last for ever. Where were David’s descendants now? Any that were still around were nobodies, like Joseph.

The dream of David’s line was dead among most people. There were those who kept fanning the flames of hope for a Messiah, but most had moved on.

And now we have three refugees. Joseph was descended from David. So what? The royal blood in his veins didn’t prevent him from being on the move, looking for a safe haven for his family.

He found it in the land of Israel’s ancient enemy. Egypt.

There are two ways we can go from here to really appreciate this story. Let’s briefly do both.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, church year, RCL, sermon