Category Archives: church year

All for transformation

Reading
Matthew 17.1–9

The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order—all of it—raised and glorified. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

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My wife and I are very fortunate in that we live by the river. Every day, as I leave the house I see it. We live on a bend in the river, and we see the gentle flow of the water, and often there are pelicans on the river and flocks of cockatoos.

Quite often, I get surprised that I live in such a lovely spot. I seem to forget after a night’s sleep. So I might step out of the house, and I am once more surprised and amazed by the river’s beauty.

Sometimes, I it moves me so much that I am transfixed. I have to stand still and gaze, or walk over the road so I can be closer to the river. Being transfixed is not the same as being to transformed, even transfigured; but I think it may be the first step.

Beauty can do that to you.

On other days, I just leave the house, get in my car and drive without a second glance. What makes the difference? Is there something different about the river—perhaps the light plays on it in a way that catches my attention? Or is there something different about me on the days I pause, maybe I’m in a mood to be amazed?

Or possibly it may be both the river and me? Perhaps sometimes it is.

When Jesus takes the disciples up the mountain, they see a vision of him transfigured and they are afraid. At least that’s what happened there and then. But I wonder what happens deeper in someone’s heart and soul when this happens? I wonder if the disciples were now taking baby steps on the road to their own transfiguration?

Because that’s what the Transfiguration is ultimately all about: the disciples being transfigured. ‘Transfiguration’ is about our transformation into the people God made us to be. Our transfiguration into being God’s children, bearing the image of Jesus Christ.

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But I say unto you…

 

Epiphany 6A, 12 February 2017

Readings
Matthew 5.21–37

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
Basis of Union, para. 5

The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. ― Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

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We’ve got unfinished business from last week, and it’s not about cooking with salt.

It is about last week’s reading though. We didn’t look at the whole thing.

After his words that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil… (Matthew 5.17)

What does Jesus mean about not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it?

Some people concentrate on not abolishing the law. Let me tell you about someone I knew at school.

When I was at school, one of the lads in our class was a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Seventh-Day Adventists have a very strong witness of keeping the law as it is written in the Bible. Yet much as I may admire them, I respectfully disagree with them.

My schoolfriend and I had a lot of conversations about which day should we worship, Saturday or Sunday; and whether we should eat bacon. (Now, I’m a bacon fan! Don’t try to convert me to a religion that bans bacon. It won’t work.)

I can’t remember all the details anymore, but my friend would have looked at this verse and said that Jesus had not come to abolish the law; therefore, Christians should obey the Old Testament laws. To the letter.

That meant keeping the Sabbath. On Saturdays only. And no sneaky bacon sandwiches behind the bike sheds.

The Gospel of Matthew presents us with a Jesus who does not abandon the law. Yet Matthew also says Jesus has come to fulfil the law. More than that, he says

unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What does that mean? How can our righteousness exceed that of people who spent their lives searching how to obey the law?

Was my school friend right? Do we need to follow the Old Testament law to the letter? Not only a life with no bacon, but let me add—no prawns either?

Today’s reading shows us how Jesus fulfils the law; it is by deepening its meaning, by drawing it down into our hearts. But first, let’s just stay with last week’s Gospel just for a moment.

What does Jesus say again?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil…

The prophets are in there too. What does Jesus mean by mentioning ‘the prophets’?

In many instances, ‘the prophets’ took the law of Israel and deepened it. They interpreted the law for their day.

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Blessed are those who… (Epiphany 4A, 29 January 2017)

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 1.18–31
Matthew 5.1–12

 

There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. (Charles James Cook, in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol.1)

 

Today we heard the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…

And so on.

These words are all well known to us. But do we let them penetrate our hearts?

Let’s admit it, on the face of it, they are pretty absurd. ‘Blessed are the meek’? Is that how Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin got where they are today?

‘Blessed are those who mourn’? You don’t feel ‘blessed’ when you are grieving.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’? The arrogant and super-confident are better candidates for blessedness!

So let’s try to get a hold of what ‘blessedness’ is.

Normally, we might say we’re blest if something wonderful happens to us. We are blest when a new baby comes into the family. We are blest if we get good weather for a family wedding.

Or we may say we’re blest by natural gifts and talents, by good looks, a musical gift or high intelligence.

We could say we’re blest to live in Australia.

(I just want to say I’m avoiding the word ‘happy’ here. It’s a misleading translation. I may be blest to live in Australia, whether I’m happy or not. I could be blest with a wonderful singing voice—(I’m not!)—but be unhappy. You can be blest without being happy.)

So, Jesus is not saying you have to put a happy face on when you are mourning for something or someone. But he is saying you are blest.

This is the thing about the Beatitudes:

Normally, we say we are blest because we have a gift or because we live in fortunate circumstances.

The Beatitudes declare people blest when they lack something real and true, or yearn for something real and true, or accept something that is real and true. 

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‘Immediately they left their nets and followed him’ (Epiphany 3A, 22 January 2017)

Reading
Matthew 4.12–23

Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. (When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship)

In Matthew’s Gospel, these are the first words John the Baptist speaks:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

By the time Jesus begins his public ministry, John has been thrown into one of Herod’s prisons. At this stage, Jesus was a ‘known associate’ of John’s; what would you do in Jesus’ place? Hide out? Run away? Change the message into something safer, more palatable?

I don’t know what you’d do, but I would take one of those alternatives. What does Jesus do? He preaches exactly the same message. He cries out:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Let’s stop for a moment and look at this. John has come across political opposition. This isn’t the first time political opposition has come in the Gospel of Matthew. It was there from the beginning.

First, Herod the Great tries to trick the wise men into revealing the whereabouts of Jesus, because he wants him dead.

When Joseph and Mary return from refuge in Egypt, they live in Nazareth because it’s off the beaten track and therefore safer.

Years later, John is arrested by Herod Antipas. Herod the Great, who wanted to kill the baby Jesus, was his father.

After John’s arrest, Jesus does withdraw from Judea, the southern part of Israel, where John was baptising. He goes to live in the north, in Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee.

But he wasn’t going into hiding! ‘From that time,’ we read, ‘from that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’

Jesus wasn’t being cautious. A lot of Christian people are cautious. But Jesus had a mission, and he was far from cautious.

Jesus preached about the same thing as John: the kingdom of heaven.

What is the kingdom of heaven?

It’s not where you go when you die.

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Is baptism important? (The Baptism of Jesus, Year A 8 January 2017)

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17 

…because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do with them. (Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes)

How important is baptism?

It seems to have been important to Jesus.

In Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist tries to put him off:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’

But Jesus insists. This is the way forward.

John’s baptism was a sign of repentance; that’s why John didn’t want to baptise Jesus. He knew Jesus didn’t need to repent.

But Jesus was identifying himself with sinners. All of them, from the unclean and those outside the law to religious hypocrites who thought they were fine as they were. He was identifying himself with the whole of Israel. Eventually it would be clear that he was identifying himself with the whole world. He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Christian baptism—our kind—is a little different. In his baptism, Christ identified with sinners; in our baptism, we are identified with Christ.

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Jesus was a refugee (1 January, 2017; Christmas 1A)

Readings
Hebrews 2.10–18
Matthew 2.13–23

65.3 million.

That’s the number of people who were forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict in 2015.

21.3 million.

That’s the number of refugees there were in 2015.

10 million.

Is the number of stateless people in 2015, people without access to healthcare, education, employment, and with no freedom of movement.

These are 2015 numbers; I suppose we don’t have accurate numbers for 2016 yet. They’re awfully big numbers to grasp. They boggle my imagination, and they may boggle yours too. Let’s try a smaller number.

3.

We can do three.

That’s the number of refugees in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees.

They’d barely be reported on today, of course. Just another Middle-Eastern family caught in the tsunami waves of lost souls, thrown up by dictator upon brutal dictator. We’d blink and they’d be gone.

It wasn’t reported on then, either. There is no mention of the Slaughter of the Innocents outside of Matthew’s Gospel. Bethlehem has only been really well known since Jesus was born there. There are around 25000 people there now, but there were less than a thousand in the time of Jesus. ‘Royal David’s city’ was just a village then.

People did remember that great king David was born there, but you can only trade on your past glories for so long. David had been dead for a thousand years. The royal line was gone, crumbled into dust. It was supposed to last for ever. Where were David’s descendants now? Any that were still around were nobodies, like Joseph.

The dream of David’s line was dead among most people. There were those who kept fanning the flames of hope for a Messiah, but most had moved on.

And now we have three refugees. Joseph was descended from David. So what? The royal blood in his veins didn’t prevent him from being on the move, looking for a safe haven for his family.

He found it in the land of Israel’s ancient enemy. Egypt.

There are two ways we can go from here to really appreciate this story. Let’s briefly do both.

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Be relevant to Christmas (25 December, 2016)

Reading
Luke 2.1–20

Recently, someone said we should make Christmas relevant to us. Actually, someone says that kind of thing every single year.

I think ’relevance’ is about having upbeat carols or an updated Nativity story, Jesus being born in a backpackers hostel or a social security office, that kind of thing. It has its place, but if we want to ‘make Christmas relevant’, we must do something else first..

We first must do the opposite and do it thoroughly. We need to make ourselves relevant to Christmas. I want us to look at our being relevant to Christmas today.

There are around 25000 people living in Bethlehem today, but at the time of Jesus’ birth there were less than 1000. It was just a village.

Yet most of those people missed what was going on. Only a few noticed that something was afoot. What was it about them?

Mary is at the centre here. When she was invited to cooperate with God’s purposes, she said

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

In other words, Mary said Yes! Her eyes were open; she knew that her Child would turn the world—and her own life—upside down.

And there’s Joseph. Unlike a lot of movies, the guy is not the main character here. We don’t know much about him. Joseph plays second fiddle. What a good man he must have been! How Jesus must have looked up to him.

And the shepherds. How many groups of shepherds may there have been out there that night? These shepherds’ eyes were open, open enough to see angels bringing good news. These shepherds were willing to get involved. They went in search of the child. And they found him.

We need to make ourselves relevant to Christmas, rather than try to make Christmas relevant to us.

I found some help from a bloke called Isaac. St Isaac the Syrian to be exact. St Isaac lived in the 7th century, about 1400 years ago. Listen to how he says we should live in the light of Christmas:

This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;

This is the night of the Most Gentle One –
Let no one be cruel;

This is the night of the Humble One –
Let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy –
Let us not [take] revenge;

Now is the day of Good Will –
Let us not be mean.

In this Day of Peace –
Let us not be conquered by anger.

Today the Bountiful impoverished himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.

Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.

This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.

Are we relevant to Christmas? Are our eyes and hearts and ears open to what God is doing? Are we living in response to the grace and favour that God has poured out upon us?

Don’t worry about Christmas, it’s plenty relevant. But as we gather today around the Christmas table, we would do well to open ourselves to God. Then, we may become relevant to Christmas.

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