Category Archives: RCL

Costly grace

Reading
Luke 14.25–33

 

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and, therefore, the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace? 

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

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There are some easy-to-miss words at the beginning of today’s Gospel Reading. Here they are again:

Now large crowds were travelling with him…

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus. Great numbers of people. You know what can happen when people get together in a crowd? They can become a mob very easily. A mob mentality can take over very quickly. 

Jesus needs to stay on mission. He doesn’t want a mob. He is starting what we could call the ‘Jesus Movement’, and he wants the people with him to stay on mission too.

So what does Jesus do? He gets them to count the cost. He sorts them out. Those who really can’t last the distance need to feel free to leave. So he speaks in the exaggerated way that teachers of his day had: 

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

Count the cost. In other words; If you follow me, you may find opposition from your family. If you follow me, you may be persecuted. Count the cost before you take another step. 

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A Beggars’ Banquet

Reading
Luke 14.1, 7–14

The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy! — Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Beggars know how to open their hands, trusting that the crumb of grace will fall.…living not with clenched fists but with palms open, ready to receive. — Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart waits

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Tonight, some of us will be going to the Beggars Banquet here in West End. A section of Boundary Street will be blocked to traffic, and tables will be set up. You bring the meal for your table, and leave a seat free for anyone who needs a place so they can join you. Sounds wonderful! 

I like going out for a meal. Do you? I enjoy sitting with people and getting to know them more over a good meal. Eating with other people isn’t just about the food; in an overused word, it’s about fellowship too. It’s about deepening relationships. 

When I was single, I learnt to go to restaurants and eat alone. It took me a while to feel comfortable with it; I did it though, and in the end it was fine. After all, I am a certified introvert. I like my own company, and I’d bring a book to read. But something was missing. Sharing. Conversation. Entering into the life of another, and also allowing them to enter my life. 

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus was invited to a meal. If you read Luke’s Gospel in particular, you’ll see that Jesus ate out a lot. For example, he eats at Levi and Zacchaeus’ houses—both of them were tax collectors. He has dinner with several pharisees, he feeds 5000 in the wilderness, and eats at Mary and Martha’s house; he eats with the twelve at the Last Supper, and with two disciples in Emmaus on the first Easter Day. 

Today’s story concerns a dinner at a pharisee’s place. The host had invited Jesus, but not out of the goodness of his heart; he and his friends were watching Jesus, to catch him out. But Jesus was watching, too. 

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Living in the tension

Reading
Luke 12.49–56

 

I have often repented of judging too severely, but very seldom of being too merciful. — John Wesley, Letters to John C Brackenbury, #656

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The sermon I’m about to preach had a few false starts. I started it at least four times with different ideas. That happens from time to time. Sometimes, in working out how to approach a difficult sermon, I take a personal approach. Which is what I’m doing today. 

Why was it so hard to write? I didn’t want to avoid difficult verses like this, but I didn’t know quite what to say: 

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!… Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…

Division isn’t easy. 

I’ve been divided from people because of my faith. Let me tell you about one or two times. 

I had a sudden conversion experience; I’ll tell you more about it another time. It was at a Billy Graham rally, and a couple of days afterwards I plucked up the courage to tell my dad. 

Dad was not best pleased. He told me not to post back the study material I’d been given, because all I’d get would be ‘begging letters’. He told me he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

That was my first taste of division, and of how complex divisions really can be. Hear again what my dad said: he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

Dad was saying that he was prepared to give a hearing to someone who truly followed Jesus. But he wasn’t prepared to listen to a man he believed (wrongly, in my opinion) was only in it for the money. 

This is a story of necessary division. When Jesus is there, we ultimately need to make a choice. Will we follow, or turn away? 

(By the way, my dad eventually listened to the voice of Jesus. But that’s a story for another day.)

The second division came a few years later. I was going to my best friend at school’s church. I mean, why not go to your best friend’s church, right? 

It was an Open Brethren outfit, a fundamentalist group who insisted that there were no errors or contradictions in the Bible; that the earth was 6000 years old; and only men could offer leadership in the church. What’s more, expressing any doubt or having other opinions was questionable or even sinful, and thoroughly discouraged. 

Before long the Vietnam War was getting close to home, and I was studying medicine at uni. The things I was being taught at church seemed very simplistic when I put them next to what I was learning at uni, and next to the problems we were facing as a country. The church’s teachings seemed like kindergarten stuff compared to what I was hearing and discovering elsewhere. 

To relieve the tension I felt, I read widely about the Christian faith. I realised that if I was learning Medicine at a university level I would have to educate myself as much as I could about the faith I believed. 

Problem: the more I read and learned, the more I realised that a fundamentalist way of thinking made very little sense. 

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Hope not fear … fresh words and deeds

Reading
Luke 12.32–40

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore”—“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. — from Laudato Si’, Encyclical of Pope Francis

———————-

In the 1930s, dark storm clouds were gathering over the peoples of the world. The Nazi Party had come to power in Germany, and the other nations were watching with great anxiety. What would Adolf Hitler do? 

The churches of Germany found out quite quickly what Hitler would do. A program was begun of 

  • downplaying the Old Testament; 
  • declaring that Jesus was not a Jew, but of the so-called ‘Aryan race’; 
  • pushing baptised members who were of Jewish descent and other so-called ‘non-Aryans’ out of the life of the church; 
  • and of emphasising ‘manliness’ over ‘feminine’ values. The churches were pressured to put ‘German values’ above the gospel. 

This was the time that the ‘Confessing Church’ emerged. The Confessing Church was determined to keep the good news of Jesus Christ at the centre of the church’s life. The Confessing Church was a church of resistance, which numbered among its members the pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. 

It was a frightening time. The Nazi regime was reinforcing its grip on the whole of German society, including the church. 

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Stuff gets in the way

Readings
Colossians 3.1–11
Luke 12.13–21

 

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help. — Basil of Caesarea (c.330–c.379), ‘On Greed’, a sermon on the Parable of the Rich Fool

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Luke’s Gospel emphasises in several places that riches can get in the way of being a disciple of Jesus. Today, Luke illustrates this with a parable of a rich man, a farmer.

A good farmer, a successful farmer. A farmer whose barns couldn’t hold everything he had grown—so he decided that he needed to build bigger barns. 

What other option was there? 

There was no other option in the limited world that this farmer lived in. It’s a good exercise to look at how many time the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ appear in the parable:

There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops. He began to think to himself, ‘I don’t have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do? This is what I will do,’ he told himself; ‘I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grain and all my other goods. Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!’

Who figures in this man’s life? No one but him. There’s no one else. He only thinks of himself, and he even talks only to himself! 

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‘On earth as in heaven’

Reading
Luke 11.1–13

The hinge of the prayer is ‘as in heaven so on earth’ or, if you prefer the usual translation ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. That centrally key phrase insists on mutuality and reciprocity, on an interaction between the heavenly ‘Your’ of God’s name, kingdom, and will and the earthly ‘Our’ of bread, debt, and temptation. — John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian. — Brendan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

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Luke tells us,

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’

What is prayer? I remember being told ‘Prayer is talking to God’. Yes it is, but it’s so much more. It’s listening, too. It’s an openness to life. It’s an awareness of injustice. It’s a longing for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. 

In the film Shadowlands, the fictional CS Lewis says:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. 

I’m convinced we pray more often than we realise. Let me tell you a story. 

I used to have an atheist friend. We’d have coffee together regularly. My intention was to show him friendship; his stated intention was to hone up his skills for arguing his atheist case. But we had a mutual respect. He had to go into hospital for surgery, and before he did he asked me for this favour: he asked me not to pray for him. 

I was a bit taken aback, but I agreed. I agreed because I wanted to respect my friend’s wishes, and I believed God would care for him without my prayers. 

I learned something about prayer in those days, a bit like ‘CS Lewis’ (actually Anthony Hopkins) saying ‘I pray because I can’t help myself’. 

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Christ in you, the hope of glory

Reading
Colossians 1.15–28

 

…sacraments are not things we possess; rather, they are relational events and personal encounters among people and God. These encounters are always embodied. It is the human body in its physical, social, and contextual specificity that is the ground for sacramental encounter. — Andrea Bieber and Luise Schottroff, The Eucharist: Bodies, Bread, and Resurrection 

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the continuing presence of Christ with his people is signified and sealed by Christ in the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion, constantly repeated in the life of the Church. In this sacrament of his broken body and outpoured blood the risen Lord feeds his baptised people on their way to the final inheritance of the Kingdom. — Basis of Union, Uniting Church in Australia, 1992 

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I was a very shy kid. So, on the first day of each new year at primary school, I used to sidle anxiously into the new class to face the new teacher. Almost invariably, we’d be asked to write an essay on ‘What I did on my holidays’. 

So, what did the Waltons do on our holidays? 

We went to the Northern Territory. We saw lots of interesting things. (At primary school, I’d be losing a bit of writing steam by now…) 

One thing we saw was Kata Tjuta. Here’s a dawn photo of Kata Tjuta that I took from Uluru:  

IMG_1848

In the language of the Anangu peoples of Central Australia, Kata means ’head’ and Tjuta means ‘many’. Kata Tjuta: ‘Many Heads’. Can you see the ‘heads’? So far, so good. 

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