Monthly Archives: February 2019

Love your what?

Readings
Genesis 45.3-11, 15
Luke 6.27-38

After I finished my lecture Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: ‘But can you embrace a četnik?’ It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called ‘četnik’ had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a četnik—the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. ‘No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.’ — Miroslav Volf, Preface to Exclusion and Embrace

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Perhaps you’ve heard this before: ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Or so they say.

Joseph’s brothers were lucky he didn’t subscribe to that little piece of wisdom. They had thrown him into a hole, sold him to slave traders, and never expected to see him again. Years later, they were begging for food while he had risen to the top in Egypt. Now, they were at his mercy. Would there be any mercy, or would they get what they deserved? Would they get the reward for their dreadful actions toward Joseph, or could something else be born out of their situation?

Well, the story goes, Joseph treated them with grace. Unmerited favour. And Jesus today speaks about treating people with grace, even our enemies.

One of our kids came out from preschool after his first day there. His face was beaming, and I wondered what he would say to me about his day. Excitedly he said to me, ‘Dad, I made two […pause…] enemies today!’ I never did get to the bottom of that; but most of us like to think we don’t have any enemies. 

But suppose you do. Just suppose there’s someone in your past or present who’s tried to do you harm. To damage your reputation, or undermine you at work, or just dead-head your favourite flowers in the garden. It could be anything. Enemies don’t all come in one size or shape. They’re not necessarily obvious at first. 

(Maybe you really don’t have any enemies; but there may be people who annoy you, irritate you or rub you up the wrong way…)

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The Great Reversal

Readings
Jeremiah 17.5-10
Luke 6.17-26

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The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift. 

— Mary Oliver

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Nations tell stories about themselves. Stories that establish who they are, how they see themselves in the world. For example, in 1950s and the early 60s in England, we could sing Rule Britannia and half believe it were still true. Now, they can’t even manage an orderly Brexit. 

The USA has its Declaration of Independence, which contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

‘All are created equal’? Yet some of the men who signed this document were slaveowners. 

‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’? Tell that to the ever-increasing American underclass. 

Australia’s founding story includes Terra Nullius, the lie that the land was unclaimed before Britain established a jail here for its own underclass. Terra Nullius enabled us to think of Australia as the land of the fair go, while ignoring the frontier wars that are our real history. Australia, the land of the fair go—but don’t arrive by boat. 

Luke has a foundational story for the Good News of Jesus. It’s been called the Great Reversal. We see it firstly in Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Mary sings:

[God] has brought down the powerful
  from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And Jesus himself follows it up, by reading from Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim
   release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Luke’s Great Reversal subverts all other stories. It’s a story of the poor being raised up and the rich being cast down. 

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Holy, Holy, Holy

Readings
Isaiah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 15.1–11
Luke 5.1–11

 

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. — 1 Corinthians 15.17–19

Christians, for instance, are not, properly speaking, believers in religion; rather, they believe that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his church as its Lord. This is a claim that is at once historical and spiritual… — David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions

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Our three readings today have one thing in common: the Lord is present in each one in a way that changes everything. We live in a world confronted by the Word.

Let’s start with the big one. This world is confronted by something that for many is literally unbelievable: that is, the Risen Crucified Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul says,

I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day…

‘He was raised on the third day…’ We might be used to the story of Easter, but really that is quite shocking. And just a bit after today’s reading, Paul says something even more shocking than that:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 1.17–19)

‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…’ 

The risen Christ is present with us in a way that changes everything. It’s a way that is not easily described, though we can and do experience it. 

The risen Christ brings life where there was death and decay. In the presence of the risen crucified One, we find ourselves confronted by life when we are confronted by death. Let me tell you about my dad. 

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Love never ends

Readings
1 Corinthians 13.1–13
Luke 4.21–30

 

…you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. — Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, 36:40

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Have you been to a wedding lately? If so, chances are you’ll have heard today’s New Testament Reading. It’s 1 Corinthians 13, often called ‘the Love Chapter’. And it must be the most common reading for a wedding.

It’s also one of the best-known passages of scripture there is. Its cadences trip off the tongue; Paul was writing in a pretty high style of Greek just here.

Love is patient and kind. Love envies no one, is never boastful, never conceited, never rude; love is never selfish, never quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.

Feels great, doesn’t it?

No wonder we love it at weddings. 

It may encourage us to believe that the Hollywood myth is true after all: true love does conquer all. 

But that’s not what Paul says. Let’s hear those last few words again:

There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.

Love doesn’t conquer all; love endures all. Perhaps Paul would say love endures whatever others may throw at us. Love endures whatever circumstances may test it.

(In the English language, we have one word for love. I love ice cream, though I shouldn’t; I love reading; I love my wife. But are all those expressions of love the same? I think not.  Continue reading

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