Monthly Archives: June 2019

For Freedom Christ has set us free…

Reading
Galatians 5.1, 13–25

 

Fearing that the Galatians might misinterpret their freedom as a license for immorality, Paul offers ethical instructions throughout this passage. In the history of scholarship, some interpreters have considered Paul’s ethical exhortations as inconsequential ‘filler’ with no integral relationship to his theology. On the contrary, Paul’s ethical admonitions ‘are not secondary but radically integral to his basic theological convictions.’ (Victor Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul) In other words, authentic Christian discipleship requires both righteous beliefs and righteous behaviours. — Renata Furst, Connections, Year C,  Vol. 2

All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. — Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

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Do you have any favourite bible verses? This is one of mine: 

For freedom Christ has set us free… (Galatians 5.1)

See how the Apostle Paul doubles down here? We are set free for freedom, pure and simple! I don’t know, that still just makes me feel excited. 

Freedom has been in the news lately, couched in terms of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. (Everyone seems to have forgotten about the threats to freedom of the press, still a live issue in Australia following recent Australian Federal Police raids on a journalist’s house and on the ABC. Funny that…) 

Now, it’s the photogenic Izzy Folau and his right to tell people they’re going to hell while he (allegedly) breaks his multi-million dollar contract with Rugby Australia. 

Of course, this is a sermon and not a political speech; though I’m sure I’ll come back to Izzy later. Since I was preparing a sermon and not a speech, I took a look through the New Testament during the week to see where it refers to freedom. Some examples: Jesus says

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 4.18–19)

Freedom is release from oppression, however that oppression comes. 

Or this:

[Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
(Luke 13.10–13)

Those who have been bowed down are lifted up. 

And this one: 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(Galatians 1.3–5)

Jesus Christ has ‘set us free from the present evil age’. when I was younger, I might have baulked at using that language, but in a time of 

  • looming climate change catastrophe; 
  • people dying in spirit and in fact in Manus and Nauru; 
  • and potential loss of habitat for species like the black-throated finch if the Adani mine goes ahead (do you remember, God once looked at that finch and declared it ‘good’—have another look at Genesis 1). 

In a time like this, I reckon ‘present evil age’ is putting it very mildly indeed. 

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One in Christ Jesus

Reading
Galatians 3.23–29

 

For Paul, those who are in Christ Jesus are now seen no longer as sojourners on the journey out of childhood and adolescence but, rather, as adult members of the family of Abraham. Differences of gender, race, ethnicity, and class still exist but are now radically transcended by one’s status as a trustworthy, faithful, reliable grown-up in Christ. Clear parameters of relationship among oneself, God, and others are thus established, and the bondage of childhood—the need for a ‘disciplinarian’ or caretaker in this sense—has ended. — J William Harkins, in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3

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So, the Uniting Church has turned 42 years old. We are a multicultural church, and we are the largest non-government provider of community and health care services in Australia. It’s hard to be accurate, but there are probably well over 80000 people worshipping in Uniting Churches today. 

There are rumblings from within though. Less than a month ago, an ABC news report suggested that we were on the verge of a split. There are vocal critics within the church who say that we are ‘apostate’ for adopting the decision to marry same-sex couples on the basis of conscience. An apostate is a willing defector from the Christian faith; this is a very serious accusation indeed. After all, we’re called to be one in Christ. We’re called to love one another. 

Difficulties like this are not unusual in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul faced a lot of opposition too. Paul wrote, 

There is no longer Jew or Greek (or Gentile),
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3.27–28

For us, these are inspirational words. Yet many people opposed Paul for them. They wanted to maintain a difference between groups in the church. In their minds, Jewish believers were the ‘normal’ Christians, not Gentiles; free Christians were superior to Christians who were slaves; and female Christians were inferior to male Christians. 

Maybe these people called Paul ‘apostate’ too! 

Paul endured opposition because for him, we are one in Christ and one in Christ alone. He tells us a fair bit about it in Galatians. 

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Jesus, Wisdom of God

Readings
Proverbs 8.1–4, 22–31
John 16.12–15

It used to be the conventional wisdom of New Testament scholars that predication of a divine nature to Jesus came about as a result of the impact of Hellenistic culture outside Israel and the ideas that culture had about the Divine. The assumption was that early Jews in tune with their monotheistic language would not use such language of anyone but Yahweh. The oneness of God ruled out speaking of multiple persons in the Godhead. — Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christian Understandings of the Trinity, quoting Ben Witherington & Laura Ice, The Shadow of the Almighty

The reality that Second Testament and early church texts that speak of Jesus in relation to Woman Wisdom do not articulate a clear trinitarian self-understanding is not, in itself, an insurmountable problem. Across the early Jesus movement this is the same, as convictions about Christ and the Spirit are not clearly enunciated in a trinitarian doctrine. However, what is evidenced in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 is the claim that some early communities were experiencing the Spirit and the risen Christ, and understood these experiences in relation to Woman Wisdom. It was from the ground-bed of such experiences that later trinitarian theology arose. — Sally Douglas, Early Church Understandings of Jesus as the Female Divine

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In today’s psalm, Psalm 8, we read 

When I look up at your skies,
at what your fingers made—
the moon and the stars
that you set firmly in place—
what are human beings
that you think about them;
what are human beings
that you pay attention to them?                       Psalm 8.3–4 CEB

That’s the psalmist being awed by the night sky, but honestly he had very little idea of what the universe really is like. (Do you remember Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy among other things? Adams said something similar, in his own inimitable style)— 

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. 

We live in an amazingly huge universe. The distance from Earth to the observable edge of the universe is 46 billion light years. What’s beyond the edge? We don’t know, there may be something, maybe more of the same. Or not. 

We live in an amazingly old universe, some 13.8 billion years old. The earth we live on is 4.5 billion years old. 

We live in an amazingly odd universe, where light may have the properties of either a particle or a wave, where there is dark energy which can only be inferred, and in which if you know how fast a particle is travelling you can’t know exactly where it is. Or something like that.

We live in a universe that I can’t comprehend. When I say it’s 13.8 billion years old, or its edge is 46 billion light years away, I really don’t get those numbers. I can probably visualise a few thousand at most, but I’m throwing those ‘billion’ numbers around without any understanding of how big they really are. 

I can’t comprehend the universe, and I can’t comprehend God. 

I can’t comprehend the universe, yet I believe in God. 

Should that be like a confession, something from a twelve-step program? Hello, I’m Paul. I can’t comprehend the universe and I believe in God. It’s been six weeks since my last feeling of awe and wonder. 

How may I know anything about the God who spoke this universe into being? How may I have any knowledge at all of the God who gave birth to such an odd and weird place? 

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