Monthly Archives: November 2018

Jesus Christ: faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth

Reading
Revelation 1.4b–8

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the man with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes—promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit—come alive. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Kindle ed’n, loc.394.

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It was a Sunday. John was on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a Greek island, but John wasn’t there on holiday. He had been exiled to Patmos, confined there, imprisoned there. I doubt they had a cocktail hour or any all-you-can-eat buffets on Patmos.

It was a Sunday, the ‘Lord’s Day’, and John was ‘in the Spirit’. His eyes were opened to a vision in which he  Continue reading

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Swords into Ploughshares

Readings
Micah 4.1–4
Matthew 5.1–9

 

I call out in my anguish
and God answers me:
Save me, Lord, from schemers,
from tongues that speak lies.…

…Why must I wander in Meshech,
Why stay among the tents of Kedar,
living so long with the violent?
I call for peace,
they speak of war. — Psalm 120.1–2, 5–7 (ICEL)

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One hundred years ago, the world was a different place. A war had been fought; they called it the Great War. The war to end all wars.

Sadly, we know it as World War One, because only twenty one years later, World War Two began. 

Will there be a World War Three? 

We are no longer able to speak of a war to end all war. There are wars still, and political leaders still make belligerent speeches. 

So, what are we doing today?

We are not making great speeches about making the world safe for democracy, neither are we being being patriotic.

We are not trying to inspire young men and women to join up.

We are not glorifying and romanticising the sacrifices made by men and women in World War 1; and we are not minimising the horror of trench warfare. 

We are not avoiding the fact that they came home with the scars of PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder, hardly understood at all a hundred years ago. They dismissed PTSD as ‘shell shock’ and shot any deserters.

People at home truly didn’t understand the horrific nature of World War 1. Here are some of the actual questions asked of returning soldiers, recorded in 1918 in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) magazine, Aussie:

You’re looking fine, old chap. I suppose if war started again you’d be anxious to have another go at them?

I suppose you delighted in splashing about in the water in the trenches?

Wasn’t it delightfully lovely living in those dear little dugouts?

So, if we’re not doing any of those things, what are we doing? 

We are simply remembering those who went and remained, those who went and came back, and those who waited at home. We are holding them in our memory.

We remember those who lie in France and Belgium, some of them unknown to this day. Young men who had a life to look forward to. Young women who went out in the Nursing Corps to tend the wounded.

We remember those who came back, those with visible injuries of whom Eric Bogle sings in And the Band played Waltzing Matilda; and those whose wounds are of the mind and the spirit, the ones invoked in Redgum’s song I was only nineteen.

We remember those who stayed home. Mothers and fathers whose sons or daughters didn’t return. Towns whose economic life suffered because of the loss of a generation.

Some years ago now, I met two sisters who had never married. They lived together, they served the church and I liked them very much. I asked them once why neither of them had married. They told me that after World War 2, some of the men in the town they grew up in didn’t return. The best-looking girls were the ones they married. My lovely friends were left to one side. They hadn’t chosen the single state; the war had pushed it upon them.

How different would their lives have been if they had lived through a time of peace?

General Douglas MacArthur, whose wartime headquarters was here in Brisbane during World War 2, 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. 

The Christmas Truce of 1914 that we spoke of earlier shows that the ordinary soldier wanted peace, he wanted to go home and back to his family and job. 

Soon at Christmas, we’ll hear the song of the angels:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those
   whom he favours!

That’s our song too. But we can only sing it while still remembering those for whom peace was only a distant dream. 

The other thing we proclaim at Christmas—and across the whole year—is the Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.

We honour the dead in war, soldiers and civilians, by working for peace with justice, and praying to that end. We honour them by saying War never again! as well as saying Lest we forget. Amen.

 

Preached at West End Uniting Church, 11 November 2018

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In Sympathy with God

Readings
Revelation 21.1–6a
John 11.32–44

As for suffering: I believe that there are fewer people than ever who escape major suffering in this life. In fact I’m fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. — Fred Rogers

We are not theologians because we are particularly religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God. We are crying out for his righteousness and justice, and are not prepared to come to terms with mass death on earth. 

But for me theology also springs from God’s love for life—the love for life that we experience in the presence of the life-giving Spirit and that enables us to move beyond our resignation and begin to love life here and now. These are also Christ’s two experiences of God, the kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of Christian theology, as well: God’s delight and God’s pain. It is out of the tension between these two that hope is born for the kingdom in which God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God…’ — Stephen Morrison, Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English, Kindle ed’n, loc.323

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What is a saint? A man, a Jew called Abraham Heschel once said that a prophet is someone who lives in sympathy with God, with God’s tears and God’s dream for the world in her heart. 

Perhaps we can also say that a saint is someone who lives in sympathy with God.* In particular, a saint is a person who actively hopes in God’s promises, and who cries when God cries.

God does cry at the injustice and madness of the world. Shirley Erena Murray, a wonderful hymn writer from New Zealand, says

God weeps
               at love withheld,
               at strength misused,
               at children’s innocence abused,
and till we change the way we love,
                                                         God weeps.

In each of today’s readings, there are tears. 

In Isaiah: ‘Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.’

In Revelation: ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….’

In the Gospel: ‘Jesus wept.’ When God becomes a human being, God sheds tears. A person who lives in sympathy with God will cry at what makes God cry. 

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