Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Eunuch’s Bath

Reading
Acts 8.26–40 

[E]thnicity, sexuality, ableism, gender, religion, and many other expressions of human difference must be considered in accounts of societal sin. — Janice McRandal, Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Difference, Fortress, p.84. Kindle Ed’n.

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The Book of Acts is very clear that its story is the beginning of the global spread of the Good News. Jesus tells the disciples:

you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The Gospel news starts in Jerusalem, then spreads beyond into the surrounding country. From there, it goes all over the world. Even to Australia. 

I came to Australia too. I came as an eleven year old schoolboy, dressed up in my school uniform complete with cap, blazer, and tie. They were my best clothes. You could say that I came to the ends of the earth…

We flew here, and our flight was long. It took about 36 hours from boarding in London to disembarking in Brisbane. We made eight stops along the way, and each step further away from England was a step towards differences that were quite disorienting. In Cairo airport, I went to the loo. There were soldiers with big rapid action machine guns standing around in the loo, talking. It was quite intimidating. And Calcutta was like a furnace (remember I was in a school uniform made for the north of England). There were people in rags looking at us from outside a tall wire fence. And everywhere we went, people looked and spoke differently.

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Love is sacrificial

Readings
1 John 3.16–24
John 10.11–18

For Christians, self-sacrifice should be ordinary, not extraordinary. — David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 15550-15551). Presbyterian Publishing Corp. Kindle Ed’n.

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Wednesday is Anzac Day. 103 years ago on 25 April, the Anzac forces—and, don’t forget, the Turkish soldiers too—would’ve been going through hell. 

We sang the 23rd Psalm today; some of the Anzacs will have been reminding themselves of the words of that psalm. Later we’ll say the Lord’s Prayer; some will have been saying that prayer. They must have been praying above all for it to stop, so they could go home to their sweethearts and wives. After all it was General Douglas MacArthur who said: 

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

We know of course that these scars are not just  obvious ones such as lost limbs. They are post-traumatic stress disorders, they are alcohol and drug problems, they are homelessness, depression, broken marriages and chronic unemployment. 

You may have heard that Australia became a nation on 25 April 1915. Of course, that’s not literally true. We became a nation on 1 January, 1901. What actually happened on that day at Anzac Cove was that we suffered our first great disaster as a nation. Over 620 men died on that one day. All together, Gallipoli cost the Allies 141000 casualties, of whom more than 44000 died. Of the dead, 8709 were Australians and 2701 were New Zealanders. More than 85000 Turks died.

As a nation, we had to make some sense of it for ourselves. So—apart from that last part, apart from the casualties the Turks suffered—Gallipoli has become our founding myth. Like so many myths, parts of it are true. But only parts.

To mention but one aspect of the myth: mateship. It’s true. But Jesus challenges our notions of mateship. He calls us to spread our circle of mates very wide indeed. Jesus has mates in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. Therefore, so do we. The amount of foreign aid we give is a very small proportion of GDP, and it’s getting smaller. We have mates on Manus Island and Nauru. For Jesus, mateship has no limits. The big question for us is this: Are we acting like mates to them?

How can we speak truth about the Anzac story, while being true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Let me suggest two ways: we can honour those who served their country in time of war while we critique the politics that sent them off to war; and we can watch our language when it comes to speaking of ‘sacrifice’. 

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A ‘New Testament Resurrection’

Reading
Luke 24.36b–48

 

Easter ‘proclamation demands much more than an intellectual consideration. It is a summons to participate in a particular form of life, to become a “new creation” in Christ.’ — Brian D. Robinette,. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 7). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

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Years ago now, I was in a conversation with a man who was a follower of Sai Baba, an Indian religious leader who died in 2011.

He told me that he believed without a doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead; but it wasn’t of any importance to him personally.

It didn’t matter to him, it didn’t change his life at all. It proved that Jesus was a holy man, but my friend had his own holy man, Sai Baba. 

The conversation went on for some time, but I have to say I was a bit dumbfounded. Lost for words. I couldn’t get how someone could say they believe in the resurrection yet brush it aside, as though it were unimportant. 

Thinking about it, my friend didn’t believe in the Resurrection as the New Testament describes it. Let me explain.

It seems to me that my friend believed that Jesus had returned from the dead. He had come back to life. He had re-entered life and was subject to all its conditions, including fatigue, hunger, thirst, and death. That’s not a New Testament resurrection. 

It seems to me that my friend believed that Jesus had risen from the death because of his immense spiritual power, a power available to anyone who has the knowledge to tap into it. That’s not a New Testament resurrection.

What do I mean by ‘New Testament Resurrection’?

Most people of Jesus’ time looked for a resurrection in the future. A general resurrection of the dead, when everyone would be reunited with their physical bodies and face the judgement of God. Some would be judged as righteous, others would be condemned. 

What they didn’t expect was that anyone would face that judgement before the very end of time.

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No other God has wounds

Reading
John 20.19–31

Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but right close up. — Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain, kindle edition, 1998, p.118

If I were writing the Easter story, I wouldn’t write it like John.

For example: in the Gospel According to John, the risen Jesus greets the disciples with ‘Peace be with you!’ Shalom! 

My Jesus would be still a bit angry with them, you know? He’d rebuke them. He’d tell them he expected better next time, they’d better pull their socks up or gird their loins or whatever they did back then. 

And what’s more, my Jesus wouldn’t have wounds. He’d be pristine perfect.

I mean, whoever heard of a resurrected Lord with wounds? 

The very thought is bizarre. Yet there it is.

Shall we try to make some sense out of this risen but wounded Lord? 

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Called by our name

Reading
John 20.1–18

Though fully “present” to [Mary Magdalene] in his transfigured corporeality, the risen Christ appears in the mode of “absence,” in a way that at once communicates his identity and person while overwhelming her wildest expectations and capacities for comprehension. — Robinette, Brian D.. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 4). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

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When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb, she wasn’t expecting what happened. She found the tomb empty; the body missing. It sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie mystery, but there’s a plot twist that even Agatha would not have written.

The body was missing because Jesus had been raised from the grave.

Mary wasn’t expecting that to happen, but we shouldn’t criticise her for that. When my father died over 27 years ago, I wanted to spend some quiet time at his grave the day after the funeral. On my way there, I wondered what I’d think if his grave was empty. I’d react just as Mary did, I’d think someone had taken the body. I wouldn’t think my dad had risen from the dead; I’d have called the police.

Back to Mary. Later, she is weeping outside the tomb. Mary has not only lost Jesus her teacher, but now she cannot make sure he is laid to rest. People need that; we need to have a body to reverently lay to rest. Those who lose someone and can’t find the body experience a double loss. This was Mary’s sad reality, but it was about to change.

Things are starting to happen; now, there are two angels in the tomb. Then Mary realises there is someone else, you know how you sometimes just know someone is looking at you? She turns, and sees … the gardener. After all, they’re in a garden.

We know it’s Jesus; she doesn’t. What keeps him from Mary’s eyes? We don’t know, but we can guess. We can guess that the risen One is more than he was before, much more. Mary cannot take it in, she is overwhelmed by a resurrected Person standing in front of her. Mary doesn’t quite grasp who he is. But you know, neither do we, today.

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