Category Archives: Lord have mercy

The Year of the Lord’s Favour

Reading

Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. — Augustine, On Christian Theology

The entire Biblical Scripture is solely concerned that man understand that God is kind and gracious to him and that He has publicly exhibited and demonstrated this His kindness to the whole human race through Christ his Son. However, it comes to us and is received by faith alone, and is manifested and demonstrated by love for our neighbour. — First Helvetic Confession, 1536

You have heard that it was said … but I say to you … — Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse brought down its final report on Friday, after 4.5 years. The life of the churches has changed for good in the light of the Commission.

One survivor of child abuse said on Friday:

Care and compassion has already lifted tenfold. We need to make sure we keep people alive and in a good place, by making sure they’ve got the counselling care they need.

It has taken a royal commission to bring this care and compassion to this man, and no doubt to many others.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we heard these words:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;…

I think we can see who are the oppressed, brokenhearted ones are in this situation. It is the children who have become adults with burdens that were never lifted from their backs.

Jesus once placed a child in the midst of his disciples. The story is in Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…”

The disciples hanker after greatness; Jesus shows them what greatness is in God’s eyes.

To be great is to take the place of a child, to embrace humility, to serve others. There is no other way; this is the way of the cross.

Time and time again, we have seen that the way church leaders took is another way altogether. It has been to protect their church’s good name, to keep their mouths closed, to disbelieve what they were told. Or they can’t remember anything about it.

The end result has been to deny care and compassion to the children in their care.

Perhaps I should read the next verse in Matthew18:

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

It’s a grim warning.

The consequences for the churches are also grim. Many non-churchgoing Aussies have lost any faith they had in the church as a community in which the love of God is to be found. Our moral authority is at record lows.

What should be our response?

Continue reading

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Filed under Advent, Church & world, Lament, Lord have mercy, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

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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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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The Cross, that strange sign of Life (Ash Wednesday, Year B, 18 February 2015)

Readings
Isaiah 58.1-12
Matthew 6.1-21

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

So the psalmist prays in the Ash Wednesday psalm, Psalm 51. We don’t know if this is so, but tradition tells us that David wrote this after his adultery with Bathsheba and his engineering of the death of her husband, Uriah. It doesn’t really matter if that’s so or not; whoever wrote Psalm 51 had a very keen sense of what it means to sin greatly against God.

I imagine there was a great deal of disorder in their life; the knowledge of their shame and guilt, the dread of God’s judgement, and an absolute inability to put things right.

I suppose we all know something about that.

We gather tonight to acknowledge several things.

  • We are mortal, and our lives are like the grass of the field in relation to the earth, the universe, to God;
  • we are finite, and we cannot grasp much beyond our own experience of life in the time and place we are in;
  • like sheep we have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way (Isaiah 53.6).

We may not have done anything like David did, but we know about sin and brokenness.

And it gets worse when we look at what is done in our name as members of a democratic society. So much cries out for justice and for reparation.

  • Children are spending their formative years in detention centres; in the years to come, there are likely be Royal Commissions which will cause us to hang our heads;
  • the gap between first and second peoples in our country is not being closed;
  • sixty women a year are murdered in Australia by their partners, more than one a week;
  • we are in danger of bequeathing an unliveable environment to our great-grandchildren.

It’s a mess.

And what are we doing tonight? We have a bowl of ashes to remind us of our mortality, our finitude, our sin. What use are they?

Yet: we have them with the Scriptures through which God calls, through which God wails for justice. We dare not close our ears to God’s cry.

And we have the cross, that strange sign of Christ’s victory—through what means?—through death!—through the very worst that can happen. The cross is the sign that proclaims God can take the very worst situation and turn it to good.

And those ashes will be placed on our forehead in the shape of that cross. Think of that. We could just put a blob of ash on our foreheads in any old shape, but we place it in the form of a cross.

The ashes on our foreheads will be in the shape of the cross through which the living God conquers evil and sin and even death.

The ashes on our foreheads will be in the shape of the cross that Jesus commands his disciples to carry on the way to life. Think of that.

We are dust, we will return to dust, but we bear the sign of victory. Thanks be to God.

 

Our liturgy  then goes to name the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded in Libya by Islamists. Their crime was to be ‘People of the Cross’. As we say their names, we give thanks for their witness; we pray for their families; we pray for Muslim people of faith; we pray that peace will come.

Milad Makeen Zaky

Abanub Ayad Atiya

Maged Solaiman Shehata

Yusuf Shukry Yunan

Kirollos Shokry Fawzy

Bishoy Astafanus Kamel

Somaily Astafanus Kamel

Malak Ibrahim Sinweet

Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros

Girgis Milad Sinweet

Mina Fayez Aziz

Hany Abdelmesih Salib

Bishoy Adel Khalaf

Samuel Alham Wilson

A worker from Awr village, whose name is known to God

Ezat Bishri Naseef

Loqa Nagaty

Gaber Munir Adly

Esam Badir Samir

Malak Farag Abram

Sameh Salah Faruq

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Do not live with fear … (Easter 6A, 27 May 2014)

Thanks to St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Middle Park for your hospitality, and for allowing me to preach.

 

Reading
1 Peter 3.13–22

 

I have some good friends who are Uniting Church ministers in Melbourne; some of them were arrested just last Monday. One is a past national president of the Uniting Church. In Sydney, other ministers, nuns and priests were arrested. One was the current moderator of the Uniting Church in New South Wales.

How come these clergy and religious were arrested?

A spokesperson for them said:

Australian churches have been speaking with one voice in increasingly outspoken terms for many years in both this government and the previous Labor governments about their deep, grave concern for the plight of asylum seekers especially the 1,023 children currently in detention.

1023 children. It wasn’t about the Budget, even though it has caused many people to be anxious for their future. It wasn’t about climate change, though that concerns them greatly. It was about asylum seekers. Especially the 1023 children in detention.

It was about the effects that being in detention has on the psychological health of such people. It was about an approach that seems to emphasise deterrence so much that those people who have well-founded fears of persecution are being ignored.

So why were they arrested? Continue reading

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What do you let yourself see? (Christmas 1A, 29 December 2013)

Readings
Hebrews 2.10–18
Matthew 2.13–23

 270px-Icon_01012_Begstvo_v_Egipet._Nachalo_XVII_v

Traditional societies are usually ordered with some kind of clan chief, or lord, or king at the apex of things. You might imagine all the king has to do is raise an eyebrow or snap his fingers, and slaves would feed him cherries and fill up his wine glass.

But you know, the king was often in a very insecure position. Frequently, there were others who thought they could do a better job. Since there were no elections, and a king had to die to be replaced, it wasn’t unusual for there to be plotting and scheming behind the scenes. A lot of plotting and scheming! (Sounds like the Australian political scene…)

King Herod the Great wasn’t in a safe position. He wasn’t popular, not by a long shot. He’d been given the throne by the Romans, not the Jews, and he’d had to fight for it. He had half a dozen fortresses in which to hide away if he need to; three were in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Masada, all places some of us went to earlier in the year. He killed anyone he suspected of plotting against him, including his wife Mariamne and a son. When he knew he was about to die, he ordered that political prisoners should be executed so that there would be grief and mourning once he was dead.

This is the political background of the first Christmas. It is central to Matthew’s version of the story of the Nativity, which is really quite different from Luke’s; only Matthew talks about the wise men, Herod’s rage and the slaughter of the Innocents, and the Holy Family going down to Egypt. Matthew is doing this to tell us something very important in his story: firstly, that Jesus is greater than Moses; and secondly, that he is the Son of God, the true fulfilment of everything an Israelite was meant to be.

Let’s look at that in more detail another time. For today, I just want to point out that in Matthew’s story Jesus is a refugee, an asylum seeker, an illegal immigrant. His family had to escape persecution, and they found a refuge in Egypt of all places.  Continue reading

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“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Readings
Joel 2.23–32
Luke 18.9–14

 

The prophet Joel looks forward to a day when God says 

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…’ On whom? On the upright, like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading? On rogues and scoundrels like the tax collector? What does all flesh mean? How selective will the Spirit be?

Let’s try to answer that as we go to the Gospel reading. Jesus tells a parable, which is a brief story with a sting in the tail. Two men go up to the Temple to pray, probably for one of the times of public prayer, mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

Each one stands alone, and stays apart from any other worshippers. They stand apart because each one is concerned about religious purity. There, the similarity ends. Continue reading

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