Category Archives: Liturgy

Remaking the world (Advent 3B, 14 December 2014)

Reading
Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Earlier this month, I was in Adelaide at a two-day colloquium that was exploring the way our theological colleges across the Uniting Church teach liturgy and worship. I hope and believe that some very good things will come out of it. While I was there, I was thinking about what we do in worship, and about what the significance of our liturgy is.

Gathering together for worship seems like a simple thing to do. Yet we are doing something very significant every Sunday, week by week, as we come together to worship God as the Church. And that significant thing is this: we are sharing with God in remaking the world.

Does that sound a bit grandiose, a bit self-important? How can l’l ol’ us be remaking the world? Continue reading

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Baptised as God’s beloved children (The Baptism of Christ, Year A, 12 January 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 42.1–7
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17

 

When we baptised H last week, we made a brief statement about what baptism ‘is’. It started like this:

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.

Baptism is a gift. It’s not just being ‘done’, just going through the motions. And it’s not a useless gift either; baptism does something. Through the sign of baptism God’s Spirit joins us to Christ and makes us part of his Body, which is the Church.

The statement continues:

In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed
in his death and resurrection.

The best gifts are those that the giver values very much. Jesus valued baptism enough to go through it himself. He didn’t have to do it; John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. Jesus didn’t need to change his ways, but he identified with us in our “brokenness and sin”.

And baptism didn’t stop there for Jesus! Jesus identified with sinful humanity so fully that he died on the cross of Calvary. There—in death—his identification with us was absolutely complete. And in his resurrection from death, Jesus promises that we will share in his eternal life. Our baptism also is completed in our death and risen life with the Lord.

And then the statement says:

By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed
as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ.” What is “the faith of Jesus Christ”? It is more than believing in Jesus. The faith ‘of’ Christ is his commitment to the kingdom of God, to God’s will being “done on earth as in heaven”. The faith ‘of’ Christ is also his faithfulness to his mission. Faith in God and obedience to God go together. As baptised people, we are called to be faithfully committed to God and God’s ways. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you were a baby when you were baptised. Baptism brings to us the promises of God and calls us to seek the kingdom of God.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ, so that whatever is his may be called ours.” Here’s a great promise: “Whatever is his may be called ours”. We can see what is Christ’s as we look at his baptism by John. Firstly, he is God’s beloved Son; in and through him, we are adopted as God’s beloved daughters and sons. In and through him, we are part of the family of God.

Secondly, the Spirit comes upon Jesus; we also share in God’s Spirit in and through Jesus. The Spirit opens our spirits to the life of God, enlightening our minds, converting our hearts and gifting us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit applies to us the salvation Jesus won. Dying, he defeated death and rose again in new, eternal, life. Sharing in baptism assures us that we share in his risen life here and now, that we are “set free from the power of sin and death”—even in times of doubt or spiritual dryness.

The statement concludes like this:

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world
and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus.

Baptism gives us a purpose and a share in God’s coming kingdom as Spirit-anointed witnesses and sharers in Christ’s ministry and mission in the world.

Baptism isn’t something that happens once, which we then leave behind. Baptism marks our whole life. The sign of the cross is never erased from us, it doesn’t wear off. Today, we shall reaffirm our baptism as people who are on the Way with Jesus, the strange way to life he has pioneered. We are people made alive with him, people sharing in his Spirit. We shall commit ourselves for a new year; we shall set our course for 2014.

We are forgiven.
We are God’s children.
The Spirit of Jesus is with us. Amen.

 

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Taking Jesus seriously

Ordinary Time 19C; Pentecost 12C; Proper 14C

Readings
Isaiah 1.1, 10–20
Hebrews 11.1–3, 8–16
Luke 12.32–40

Right there in chapter one of his book, Isaiah tells Israel that God does not ‘like’ its worship services in the great Temple of Jerusalem. God says,

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen…

So, how do you feel after a service of worship? Do you enjoy our services? Perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should ask how you ‘respond to’, ‘experience’, ‘appreciate’ our services.

Maybe you don’t enjoy worship all that much. If not, why not? Often, when people say that they mean the music isn’t right for them. Or the sermons are too long. Or we should have Holy Communion more often, or less ‘liturgy’—whatever that is.

Maybe we feel that the Pentecostals have got it right, with their exuberance, their songs and their spontaneity. Or the Orthodox Churches, with their mystery, icons and incense. It may even be we’re ok with the way things are.

But let’s face the real question: If God didn’t like Temple worship back then, then the real question is not what we think about worship, but what God thinks about it here in Centenary Uniting. How does God respond to our worship?

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Palm Sunday 2013

Palm Sunday this morning at Centenary Uniting Church. Thanks Josie!

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Nadia Bolz-Weber: Entering the stream of the faithful | Faith & Leadership

I’m reading about this idea of ‘Traditioned Innovation’. It seems to me to have resonances with what we’re trying to do liturgically in following the path of ‘ordered liberty’, as well as echoing Robert Webber’s ‘Ancient-Future’ scheme.

Besides all that, Nadia Bolz-Weber consistently has a great message. Do yourself a favour, read it:

Nadia Bolz-Weber: Entering the stream of the faithful | Faith & Leadership.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A, 29 May 2011)

The risen life: the Spirit of unforgetting

Readings
1 Peter 3.13-22
John 14.15-21

The proud parents bring their new baby boy home from hospital. His older sister, all of four, asks if she may have time alone to speak with her new brother. Mum and dad agree, but they decide to listen in from behind the door. They hear big sister leaning over the cot and saying, ‘Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!’

We are frail, forgetful creatures. Jesus knows that, so he says:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

The Spirit ‘abides’ with us, stays with us as our Advocate, our Friend in high places. Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’; and ‘truth’ is a very interesting word in the Greek language in which John’s Gospel was originally written. The Greek word for ‘truth’ is aletheia.

A-letheia means ‘not forgetting’, ‘not hidden’, ‘unforgetting’, ‘unhiding’. In the Greek language of the New Testament, we find ‘truth’ as we recall things we have forgotten. And the Spirit stays with us partly so that we may not forget.

As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, it was the dead who forgot.

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Natural Disasters: Lament, community and the death of theodicy

Last week, I came across an article by Rev Dr Andrew Dutney, President-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, with the provocative title: Does God hate Queensland? This was before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disasters of Japan.

We had a bad summer with floods and cyclones; the photo at the top of the page was taken across the road from our house to show how high the water came during the flood. Japan is faring far worse than us.

How do Christians respond?

Theologians have classically gone for theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil and disaster. Why does God let these things happen?

There are two broad kinds of theodicy: one which says with Augustine that the creation fell from perfection with Adam; the others says with Irenaeus that the world began in an immature state, and that suffering is necessary for us to mature.

Dutney points out that

theodicy works for some but not all cases. There are far too many examples of suffering which are so grotesque or so excessive that they make it impossible to devise an explanation that is both rational and morally tolerable. In any case, it would be offensive even to try to explain such suffering away.

He also makes the very important point that ordinary Christians haven’t gone all the way with the theologians in trying to justify God’s ways. Rather for them,

the experience of suffering does not challenge belief in God as such, but rather forces the question, Where in this suffering is the God in whom I believe?

Theodicy has a limited place. The scriptures allow far more lament than we have allowed for ourselves in our services until recently. Thumb through the Psalms for example upon example, or read Lamentations; Uniting in Worship 2 has put lament into the ‘mainstream’ of the Church’s worship. For Dutney it is simply that:

There is suffering which will not be explained into quietness by church leaders, philosophers or theologians.

In the floods in Brisbane, people were bowled over by the number of people who came to help. And community is another discovery in disaster:

It turns out that our possessions are less important than our family, friends and neighbours. It turns out that we can trust strangers to enter our (shattered) homes and deal gently with our treasures – in fact we rely on them to do so. It turns out that my neighbours need does matter more to me than my own in this situation. It turns out that sitting in the rubble of the lives that we’d worked so hard to create we can laugh and experience genuine joy in the inexplicable gift of being alive – together. It turns out that when we look up and see what natural disaster means in Haiti and Pakistan we do recognize in a new way the responsibilities – the opportunities to help – that go with the advantages enjoyed by Australians and New Zealanders even in times of devastation. Who knew?

None of this justifies or minimises human suffering. But we survive—and we survive together.

Read Andrew’s article for yourself.

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