Category Archives: Church & world

Joy, and two jailbirds (Advent 3, Year A; 11 December 2016

Readings
Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–11

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? (Matthew 11.3)

I want to tell you a story today. It’s the story of two jailbirds. One of the two is the Apostle Paul. The other is John the Baptist.

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Bad religion (8 November 2015, Year B)

Readings
Ruth 3.1–5; 4.13–17
Mark 12.38–44

…spiritual brokenness affects our lives and the lives of others. We have found, however, that God is eager to bless us even in our spiritual brokenness. (from Soul Repair)

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

That’s the opening line of a 1953 novel called The Go-Between. It’s a brilliant opening line for a novel and for a sermon. We must always remember when we read the scriptures that the past is a foreign country. They did things differently there. We’re going to see that as we look at our scripture passages today.

Firstly, widows: in an age with no social security, no pension, they could be in a precarious position.

The readings for this week and last draw our attention to the plight of widows in biblical times. We have Naomi and Ruth, husbandless and childless, forced to eke out a living gleaning grain from the fields that hadn’t been gathered by the men working there; and also forced to plot and plan to ensure that Boaz noticed Ruth. This is more than a romantic story; it is a matter of life and death for Ruth and Naomi.

And in today’s Gospel Reading, we have the widow who had fallen on hard times, whose offering is two small coins, each worth only about six minutes’ work. Her offering is practically worthless. But it was all she had.

And don’t forget that last week we heard Psalm 146, which proclaims that

The Lord keeps faith for ever,
giving food to the hungry,
justice to the poor,
freedom to captives…
comforting widows and orphans,
protecting the stranger…

The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments proclaim that God seeks justice for the widow, the orphan and all who are being failed by the society they live in. Continue reading

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Suffering is not a problem (Year B, 4 October, 2015)

Readings
Job 1.1; 2.1–10
Mark 10.2–16

Like a weaned child on its mother,
like the weaned child on me is my soul…        Psalm 131.2

When I was a chaplain at The Wesley Hospital, we noticed something quite concerning. We chaplains saw the way a number of young couples responded when they were confronted with a stillborn child.

These young couples were absolutely floored, of course. They suffered terrible grief, as you would expect. It was something they would never forget. That is the natural reaction to an unnatural situation.

That’s not what concerned us. Our anxiety was because it was obvious that these largely middle class couples had never before come across a problem that couldn’t be fixed.

Even more than that, to them any setback at all was a problem to be fixed. If you or your dad couldn’t fix it, you paid a professional or a tradie to do it for you.

They asked the question common to nearly all people: Why me, why us? But they also asked, Why couldn’t our technology solve the problem?

For some couples, this was the very first time they had been confronted by something huge that just couldn’t be fixed. Their usual way of coping with things just didn’t help.

What they found hard to grasp is that in losing a baby they were not being confronted by a problem. They were being unwillingly plunged into an encounter with loss, with grief, with suffering too deep for words. They couldn’t fix it, solve it, or manage it.

What could they do?

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Religion — in public?? (13 September 2015, Year B)

Readings
Proverbs 1.20–33
Mark 8.27–38

Wisdom cries out in the street.—Proverbs 1.20a

Do religion and politics mix? Should people keep their faith to themselves, or should they let their religious faith inform their political opinions?

And what about members of parliament? Should they keep quiet about it? Should they keep their faith at home, and only let it out on Sundays? Or only display it in the company of consenting adults?

The (online) Australian edition of The Guardian newspaper published an article just last Monday by Kristina Keneally. You may recall that Kristina Keneally was the Labor Premier of New South Wales before their last state election. You may not know that Kristina is a Christian, a member of the Catholic Church.

This article is entitled Of course my faith influenced my political decisions, as did my gender. So what?

In some circles in Australia today, this is a provocative title. I read recently of a suggestion that politicians declare their religion, just as they declare their commercial interests. (Or at least they’re meant to declare them.) This person wants religion to be declared so that a religious politician’s views on things like euthanasia or same-sex marriage can be discounted. What else would you expect a Christian/Catholic/Moslem/insert other faith to say?

There are forces in society today that are determined to push ‘religion’ out of public life.

To them, Kristina Keneally says: Of course my faith influenced my political decisions, as did my gender. So what? Continue reading

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Tony Campolo, getting there

Well-known evangelical author Tony Camplolo has spoken in favour of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/revangelical/2015/06/08/tony-campolo-comes-out.html

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The Church is not a gated community (7 June 2015, Year B)

Collect

Jesus, you were misunderstood
and slandered by others;
save us from calling evil what is good,
and help us to do the will of God,
that we may be found among your family,
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
Mark 3.20–35

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.—Romans 15.7

Today, we have a tale of the scribes and Jesus’ family. Mark combines the two in one of his famous  Markan ‘sandwiches’ in today’s Gospel Reading. The family and the scribes most likely felt they had little in common, but Mark combines them because they are both playing the role of gatekeepers.

Both want to stop the free flow of people to Jesus. Let’s start where Mark starts, with his family.

Jesus has gone back ‘home’. This probably means back to Capernaum, his adopted home town, rather than Nazareth. When they hear the news, his family come. Not to say g’day you understand, but to ‘restrain him’ because the rumour was that he was out of his mind. Some of them may have been concerned for Jesus, other family members may have had the family’s reputation in mind.

Whatever their reasons, they wanted to put Jesus away.

The scribes can’t take Jesus away, as the family can; so they seek to discredit Jesus. They use their teaching authority by announcing that the source of Jesus’ undoubted power is the devil himself. They literally demonise him.

It’s a flimsy argument. They may have made it up on the spot! Jesus has no difficulty at all in tearing it apart:

How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

Good point. Through Jesus, Satan’s power is collapsing one way or another.

Let’s move away from the scribes and the family for a while. This story reminded me of a contemporary figure, an American woman named Sara Miles. Continue reading

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On earth as in heaven (Ascension of Christ, Year B, 17 May 2015)

Readings
Acts 1.6–11
Ephesians 1.15–23
Luke 24.44–53

Jesus hasn’t just gone away. He has gone deeper into the heart of reality—our reality and God’s. He has become far more than a visible friend and companion; he has shown himself to be the very centre of our life, the source of our loving energy in the world and the source of our prayerful, trustful waiting on God. He has made us able to be a new kind of human being, silently and patiently trusting God as a loving parent, actively and hopefully at work to make a difference in the world, to make the kind of difference love makes.—Rowan Williams

…when he is seen, the exalted Lord is recognized, made particular, given content, by the fact that he bears tangible human scars, and forever confronts us wounded.—Rowan Williams, Resurrection–Interpreting the Easter Gospel

I decided to speak about the Ascension of Jesus today, and it took me quite a while to know how to approach it. To tell you the truth, if you just tell the story straight, it can be a bit embarrassing.

For example, the astronomer Carl Sagan once remarked that if the ascending Jesus had reached the speed of light, he wouldn’t have left our galaxy yet. Not even after 2000 years.

I mean, we don’t see the creation as a three-storey thing any more, with heaven on the top floor, earth on the ground and a shadowy world of the dead as the basement. We are becoming even more aware than ever of the vastness and strangeness of the universe.

The story is told about some Ascension Day celebrations at a particular theological college. A special Ascension Day service was held and the whole faculty in their robes and regalia gathered for the big celebration. It was quite an event.  Continue reading

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