Category Archives: Eucharist

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

———————-

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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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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The Bread of Life (3): You are what you eat

Reading
John 6.56–69

 

The living ‘flesh’ of the world is made up of communication with others. Into such a conversation the Word is uttered, and into the dialogue originally existing between the Father and the Son the various actors of the Gospel drama are drawn. As this process reaches out to include believers of every age, God’s unrestricted love for the world provokes the full play of human conversation as it turns on the meaning of life, God, human identity, and the destiny of the world itself. — Anthony Kelly & Francis Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, Kindle Ed’n, loc.782

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Almost 2000 years ago, people had some very strange ideas about what went on in Christian worship.

I’ll read you a tirade which comes from a book written by a Christian in the second century AD. It’s called The Octavius of Minucius Felix (chapter 9). Here, he is speaking as a pagan who repeating rumours of what Christians do:

Yours is a religion of lust. You promiscuously call one another brothers and sisters. You apparently do this so that your debaucheries will take on the flavour of incest.

Your vain and senseless superstition revels in wickedness. I would apologise for passing on the reports I hear about you if I weren’t so certain that they are true…

…The stories of your initiation rites are as detestable as they are well known. Your priests place an infant covered with flour in front of the new convert. Then they tell the convert to strike the harmless-looking lump of flour with deadly blows. Thereby the convert innocently slays the infant and is initiated into your horrors. The Christians present then lick up the infant’s blood and divide its limbs among themselves to eat. They are united by this unholy meal, since they are bound to mutual silence because of their wickedness. Your sacred rites are more vile than any imagined sacrilege.

All I can say is You may have noticed that Uniting Church services aren’t very much like that.

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Bread of life (1): Not like the others

O God, satisfier of hunger,
you sent your Son
to turn our hearts and minds from evil;
help us to steadfastly look to Christ
in times of plenty or famine,
that we may never hunger or thirst
for any other;
in the name of our Saviour Jesus. Amen.

Readings
Ephesians 4.1–16
John 6.24–35

 

… The next day (6:22) dawns with the promise of the new bread from heaven, even as it refocuses the cosmic presence of the Word in the scandalous particularity of the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus’ self-giving love. — Anthony Kelly & Francis Moloney, Experiencing God in the Gospel of John, Kindle Ed’n, loc.2388

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Perhaps sometimes you’ve watched Sesame Street with a young child. (Or maybe you’ve watched it on your own…!) If so, you might recall the One of these things is not like the others song.

Did you get which thing was not like the others? I’m sure you had no difficulty. But you know, sometimes it’s harder to guess which thing is not like the others.

Once on a short trip to Norway, I was told that there are four related Scandinavian languages: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. But one of these things is not like the others. Do you know which one? It’s Icelandic. People from Norway, Sweden and Denmark can understand each other, no matter which language they’re speaking. But they can’t understand folk from Iceland.

Why not? It’s a similar language—but it’s not like the others. People went to Iceland from Scandinavia a thousand years ago and settled there; the Icelandic language has developed in isolation from the others.

We’re in a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ place today. We all know there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But one of these things is not like the others. In the Sesame Street video, there were four items—one was a strange hat, while the other three were quite odd sunglasses. And the languages of far northern Europe are all ‘Scandinavian’; three are very similar, while one is different.

It’s like that with the Gospels. All four are telling the Good News about Jesus. Three are similar: Matthew, Mark and Luke. They tell pretty much the same story; in fact, the evidence is that Matthew and Luke adapted Mark for their own purposes.

We call these three the ‘Synoptic Gospels’. That means they all see the events of Jesus together.

All four are Gospels; they each tell the story of Jesus. But John is not like the others. And for a few weeks, we are delving into John chapter 6. Do you know some of the ways that John is different?

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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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The risen crucified One among us

Or, What on earth is the Resurrection?

 

…where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.                             Matthew 18.20

Then I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered….
Revelation 5.6

The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
from the Basis of Union, Para.3

 

Today, I want to ask a question I can’t answer, not this Sunday and not even in a month of Sundays. But even so, it’s still a very good question to ask.

The question is this: What is the Resurrection?

It’s a deceptively simple question. Only one word has more than one syllable. But ‘Resurrection’ is a big word.

How can we think about the Resurrection of Jesus?

Is the Resurrection a happy ending to a sad story? It could easily look that way; and the story has been told that way. Everyone was sad on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday they were happy once more because Jesus was alive again. But the Resurrection is no happy ending. Most of those first witnesses lost their lives because of the Resurrection.

Well, maybe the Resurrection a proof of life after death? Again, the story has been told that way. But that’s not how the Gospels tell it. The risen Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven. He instructs his people to make disciples of all nations, baptise and teach them. He forgives Peter, telling him to feed his sheep. He gives his peace to disciples who had let him down big time. He makes them breakfast. He helps them to be unafraid of death. He points them towards a transformed life here and now on earth.

Well, the empty tomb may be the clue we need. Does the empty tomb prove the Resurrection? No, it does not. I realised this with a big thump the day after my father’s funeral. I had returned to his grave to make a quiet space to pray. It struck me then that had my dad’s grave been empty, I would not have immediately concluded that he had risen from the dead. I would have made the ghastly assumption that someone had stolen his body, and called for the police.

The Easter stories in the Gospels are exactly the same. When the women see the empty tomb, they do not immediately assume that Jesus has been raised from death. They have to be told the news. Told by an Angel of the Lord (Matthew), a young man in white (Mark), two men in dazzling clothes (Luke) or a ‘gardener’ who was Jesus himself (John).

The women didn’t believe that Jesus was risen because the tomb was empty. They believed because they had a life-changing encounter with the Christ who had been crucified and who is now risen.

And there were other encounters.

Remember the two who were joined by a stranger on their miserable way to Emmaus? He made their hearts burn as he opened the scriptures on the way, showing how the Messiah should suffer; and then, at the table they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Today, we may encounter the Lord in the same way, in these means of grace he has given us, the scriptures and the eucharist.

Remember Thomas? Thomas wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been raised from the grave—but he was fully convinced when he saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon Jesus. I too have met people who have responded to the wounds that life has brought by allowing themselves to be transformed into being more Christlike. I have seen the risen crucified Lord in them.

Remember the disciples by the lake? Jesus made them breakfast. There are people who the Lord shines through because they know how to gladly serve others.

The Uniting Church’s Basis of Union calls the Lord ‘the risen crucified One’ (Para.3). When we speak of the risen Lord, we must always remember what the empty tomb does tell us: that it is the crucified One who is risen. The risen Lord hasn’t set the cross aside. He hasn’t put it in a cupboard somewhere. The body of Jesus is not something separate from his living presence. Jesus is the risen crucified One.

Jesus once said ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. He is here as the risen crucified One.

You may wonder why I’m labouring the point so much.

Jesus is the risen crucified One. Everything that brought Jesus to the Cross is risen with him. Everything that caused him to be crucified is raised with him:

  • his preaching of God’s coming kingdom
  • his healing of the sick and the oppressed, which pointed to the kingdom
  • his parables, that shattered human expectations of God and caused those who could hear to open their hearts to God
  • his compassion for the poor and those on the margins of society
  • his forgiving of sins
  • his opposition to religious hypocrisy
  • his intimate knowledge of God his Father—and now, through him, our Father

All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is eternal life itself embodied in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.

That is who is in our midst today, and wherever two or three gather in his name.

And Jesus brings his friends along. Remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? The nations are arrayed before the King. They are judged on one thing: did they act with compassion towards the poor? Did they

  • feed the hungry
  • give water to the thirsty
  • welcome the stranger
  • clothe the the naked
  • take care of the sick
  • visit the prisoner

Because, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

When Jesus the risen crucified One is in the midst of the two or three who gather in his name, he brings his family along. He brings the poor, the sick, the detained and the starving. He bears their wounds in his risen crucified body and calls his church to share the work.

And he also bears our wounds. We are not yet what we shall be. We still die. In 1 Corinthians (15.25–26), the Apostle Paul says Christ

must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We still look for the fullness, the completion of Christ’s work. In the meantime, by faith we share in the overcoming of death as we look to God for eternal life.

Some Christians are embarrassed by their wounds, or even put to shame. They think that God will bless them so much that nothing bad should happen to them. That is not right. We know Jesus as the risen crucified One. He bears our wounds in his.

We belong to the risen crucified Lord, and he will complete the work he has begun in us. But right now, we walk with him by faith; we look to him for help and for strength, and as the Funeral Service says, we live

in sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To God be glory forever.

Amen.

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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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