Category Archives: Lord have mercy

Whose story?

Reading
Mark 10.2–16

 

We need not think that hermeneutical despair (‘anything goes’) and hermeneutical arrogance (we have ‘the’ interpretation) are the only alternatives. We can acknowledge that we see and interpret ‘in a glass, darkly’ or ‘in a mirror, dimly’ and that we know ‘only in part’ (1 Cor. 13.12), while ever seeking to understand and interpret better by combining the tools of scholarship with the virtues of humbly listening to the interpretations of others and above all to the Holy Spirit. — Merold Westphal, Whose Interpretation? Whose Community?, Kindle ed’n, 2009, p.18

______________________

I became a Christian at the age of fourteen after accidentally going to a Billy Graham rally. (Yes, it was a genuine accident!) I didn’t go to church for some months after that, but eventually I my best friend asked me to his church. I went, and I found that it was a Plymouth Brethren congregation. There are varieties of Brethren church; mine was the most ‘open’ there is. But they are mostly a fundamentalist group. In my time in the Brethren, I gained an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the scriptures, but really I didn’t learn good habits of interpreting scripture. 

I was taught that the bible is a book chock-full of propositions and facts to be believed without question. I was taught that the way the Brethren read the bible is the only way to read it. 

So there were no contradictions in the bible. The bible taught a literal six-day creation of the world, which occurred only a few thousand years ago. Jesus was coming again by the end of the 1980s. And women were not allowed to speak in church.

Moving out of the Brethren became another conversion. It was just as profound as my first conversion, and taught me not to stand on a supposedly inerrant bible.

It also taught me that we need to ask questions of the scriptures. I’d like to ask one of those questions today of the Gospel Reading. The question is Whose story is the text telling?

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The Seven Words from the Cross

Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation

The Seven Last Words are the seven last sentences, or phrases, or sayings, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, at least as recorded in the Gospels.

 

The First Word
Luke 23.26, 32-34

The soldiers led Jesus away, and as they were going, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon who was coming into the city from the country. They seized him, put the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.… Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called ‘The Skull’, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.’

Hannah Arendt was a Jew who left Nazi Germany for the USA in 1933. She once wrote:

Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.

Jesus reversed history by forgiving his torturers. Jesus has given the world a second chance. He said

Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.

People who hung on a cross were not meant to ask forgiveness for those who were killing them; they were jeered and sledged mercilessly, and they were expected to return jeer for jeer, sledge for sledge, until exhaustion took its toll. It was all part of the sport.

But Jesus forgave, and history can and one day will be reversed.

Teach us how to forgive, Lord. Teach the nations how to forgive, instead of seeking an eye for an eye. Amen.

 

The Second Word
Luke 23.29–43

One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, ‘Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!’

Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.’

Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.

Tradition gave the penitent thief a name, did you know that? He is called ‘Dismas’. He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

Dismas is a great example of faith to us: Jesus was enthroned all right, but his ‘throne’ was a cross, the place of degradation and shame. This was his only kingdom.

Can I see what Dismas saw? Can I see signs of Jesus’ kingdom as I look around the world today?

How is it coming? Does it really come as the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered? Or is that wishful thinking?

Lord, I believe—help my unbelief. Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith. Amen.

 

The Third Word
John 19.25–27

Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’

Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Woman, here is your son.

Things weren’t always smooth between Jesus and his mother. In the Gospel According to Mark, there is a time when his mother and the family come to take Jesus away, because he was obviously mad. That day, Jesus asks a question:

Who are my mother and my brothers?

He looks at those who are gathered around him and says

Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Friends, Jesus names us, you and me, as his sisters and brothers. He has created a new community, a whole new family through his love poured out for us.

Can we enter into these new friendships, these new kinship networks, that are created by his Spirit among us?

Can we love one another, as he has loved us?

 

The Fourth Word
Mark 15.33-34

At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

William Willimon, a Methodist from the USA, reminds those of us who believe that

God the Father did not save God the Son from the cross or rescue him from this agony. — Thank God it’s Friday

God the Father did not save our Lord Jesus from Calvary, but the Father was there with our Lord throughout that whole ordeal.

1700 years ago, Cyril of Jerusalem reminded us that it was right here Jesus that truly took our place on the cross. We know what it means to be separated from God, through sin or disobedience, though despair or unbelief, through grief and loss, through serious illness and as we face death.

We are separated from God; Christ knew that separation in order to be one with us.

Yet God was still there with him on the cross. My God—for you are still my God—why have you forsaken me?

As he cries out, Christ is for ever with us who are lost, so that we may find our way home.

 

The Fifth Word
John 19.28-29

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’

I am thirsty.

Did Jesus get thirsty? Sometimes, we are strangely surprised when we realise that of course, the answer to this question is Yes.

Jesus calls out, I thirst.

Jesus calls out to us today, I thirst—where people have to walk miles to fetch water; or in places like Flint, Michigan where their drinking water is contaminated by lead.

Jesus calls out to us today, I hunger—where drought or blight causes people to face famine.

Jesus calls out to us today, I am homeless—yes, on the streets of Brisbane.

Jesus, you thirst today. Give us hearts to quench your thirst. Amen.

 

The Sixth Word
John 19.29–30

A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said, ‘It is finished!’

It is finished.

Lord, we are grateful that you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’

Your work was finished. You accomplished the mission the Father had given you in your life and your death.

You now hand it on to us. You said we would do greater things; help us to trust you and your Spirit amongst us.

Lord, strengthen us. Keep us faithful to you. Amen.

 

The Seventh Word
Luke 23.44-49

It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father! In your hands I place my spirit!’ He said this and died.

Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.

Lord Jesus, once you said,

Blessed are the pure in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of God.

And Psalm 51 says,

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

And also

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

Deliver us from the ego-prison of our self-righteous spirits. Give us each one a renewed spirit, one we too may commend to your God and our God, to your Father and our Father. Amen.

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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?

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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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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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