Category Archives: RCL

Spirit-wind, Spirit-fire

Readings
Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

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.

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.
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.

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. — from Uniting in Worship 2

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Some of you know that I used to be part of an Open Brethren congregation as a young man. When the Brethren talk about baptism, they seem to be describing quite a different thing to baptism in churches like the Uniting Church. 

Briefly, the Brethren only baptise adults. And they say that a person should only be baptised once they have been converted, once they are someone who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit inside them. 

We baptise people of any age. I’ve baptised old people, children, babies—including babies that were about to die. 

What can a baby who is about to die bring to the life of the church? We don’t baptise people for what they can bring to us, although a dying baby brings so very much. We baptise people to declare and demonstrate the infinite grace of the triune God. 

Why did John baptise people? Luke tells us that John the Baptiser

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 

‘A baptism of repentance.’ What on earth was that?

Well, to repent is to change your mind, it is to turn around and move in another direction. John’s baptism signified a change of life. 

According to Luke (3.15), 

the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…

But John was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus. And repentance, changing your life, was the way to prepare.

And when the Messiah came, John said,

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

What on earth?

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Filed under Baptism, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

Going another Way

In the west, today is the Day of the Epiphany. An epiphany is an unexpected experience of an enlightenment, a new and deeper understanding of life. When the ‘wise men’ or Magi visited Jesus, they had an epiphany, and became even wiser. 

In the eastern churches, Christmas begins today at sunset. Happy Christmas to brothers and sisters who are about to celebrate this sacred Day!

 

Reading
Matthew 2.1–12

It might have been just someone else’s story;
Some chosen people get a special king,
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In palaces, found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice. — Malcolm Guite, ‘The Magi’ in Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for the Christian Year

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We call them ‘wise men’, but my guess is that most of us would discount their wisdom today. It was the so-called wisdom of astrology, seeing signs in the heavens, trying to predict the future from the wanderings of planets through the constellations. Yet this time, it seemed to have worked.

We call them wise men, but the name the scriptures give them is ‘magi’. Magi is like our words magic and magician. I’m going to call them magi.

The magi weren’t what we think of as magicians; they were part of a Persian priestly group whose astrological wisdom brought them mostly respect, but also some mockery. 

We know the story, how they saw a star that they interpreted to foretell the birth of a new king in Judea. So they followed this strange new star to—well, not to little Bethlehem. Not at first. When they arrived in Judaea, they went to the logical place, the place you’d expect a new king to be born. They went to the big smoke. Jerusalem. 

And in the big smoke, they saw the big man himself. Herod.

Who else would know about a new king, right?

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Human as Jesus

Reading
Luke 2.41–52

 

…our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.
 — Charles Wesley, ‘Let earth and heaven combine’

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It’s quite normal these days for people not to believe in God. For example, I met a man at a party in Chile when we were visiting our daughter a few years ago. He asked me what I did, so I told him I was a pastor. He said, ‘So you believe in God? I am an atheist.’ I sized the situation up as quickly as I could and suggested we have a chat over a bottle of wine. (We were in Chile, after all!)

My new friend readily agreed. 

We had a good conversation (he spoke English quite well, which was good as my Spanish was pretty ordinary back then). 

Predictably, neither of us convinced the other. But honestly, I wasn’t trying to convince him; I was just trying to build bridges. And share a bottle of good Chilean wine.

He was surprised that I thought that God could save people who weren’t Christians. That God could save even atheists. He asked me if I taught that, and I said that I did.

Whatever teaching he had received about God, it seems that it was of a God who is remote and implacable. A God who sees your sins and takes note of each and every one. A God who balances the books at the end of your life by throwing you into hell.

He had rejected that God. I told him that I have too. In fact, I also didn’t believe in the God that he didn’t believe in. I joined him in his unbelief in that God.

The God I do believe in is not remote; I believe in Immanuel, God with us. I believe in the God who came to us in Jesus Christ. A God who took risks to win our hearts. 

A human God, who needs his mother Mary to feed him with her milk and to change his nappy. A human God who passed through the vulnerable years of childhood, and who was once twelve. 

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Now, but not yet

Readings
Jeremiah 33.14–16
Luke 21.25–36

 

Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic ‘final solutions’…, for its subject is not ‘the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Kindle edition, loc.82

The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. — Tertullian, Treatise 7, On the Mortality, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/ANF-05/anf05-117.htm

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Yitschak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli activist on 4 November 1995. Rabin was the prime minister of Israel; in 1994, he had received the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat for building peace in the Middle East. That peace seems a very long way away now. 

A short time after his death, there was a memorial service for Yitschak Rabin in the Mary St Synagogue here in Brisbane. I went to this service as the representative of the Uniting Church. 

After the service, I was filing out behind two Jewish men. They were saddened, they were thoughtful. One said to the other, ‘It’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come.’ 

There was a little playfulness there—it’s almost enough to make you wish the Messiah would come—but you couldn’t miss the genuine longing in this man’s voice. A longing for peace with justice. For all people, whoever they are.

We share this longing with Jews, but wait—there is a difference. We claim the long-awaited Messiah has already come. His name is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. 

The Messiah has come, but like those two Jewish men we still long for peace with justice.

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Jesus Christ: faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth

Reading
Revelation 1.4b–8

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the man with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes—promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit—come alive. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Kindle ed’n, loc.394.

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It was a Sunday. John was on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a Greek island, but John wasn’t there on holiday. He had been exiled to Patmos, confined there, imprisoned there. I doubt they had a cocktail hour or any all-you-can-eat buffets on Patmos.

It was a Sunday, the ‘Lord’s Day’, and John was ‘in the Spirit’. His eyes were opened to a vision in which he  Continue reading

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In Sympathy with God

Readings
Revelation 21.1–6a
John 11.32–44

As for suffering: I believe that there are fewer people than ever who escape major suffering in this life. In fact I’m fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. — Fred Rogers

We are not theologians because we are particularly religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God. We are crying out for his righteousness and justice, and are not prepared to come to terms with mass death on earth. 

But for me theology also springs from God’s love for life—the love for life that we experience in the presence of the life-giving Spirit and that enables us to move beyond our resignation and begin to love life here and now. These are also Christ’s two experiences of God, the kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of Christian theology, as well: God’s delight and God’s pain. It is out of the tension between these two that hope is born for the kingdom in which God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God…’ — Stephen Morrison, Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English, Kindle ed’n, loc.323

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What is a saint? A man, a Jew called Abraham Heschel once said that a prophet is someone who lives in sympathy with God, with God’s tears and God’s dream for the world in her heart. 

Perhaps we can also say that a saint is someone who lives in sympathy with God.* In particular, a saint is a person who actively hopes in God’s promises, and who cries when God cries.

God does cry at the injustice and madness of the world. Shirley Erena Murray, a wonderful hymn writer from New Zealand, says

God weeps
               at love withheld,
               at strength misused,
               at children’s innocence abused,
and till we change the way we love,
                                                         God weeps.

In each of today’s readings, there are tears. 

In Isaiah: ‘Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.’

In Revelation: ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….’

In the Gospel: ‘Jesus wept.’ When God becomes a human being, God sheds tears. A person who lives in sympathy with God will cry at what makes God cry. 

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The throne of Jesus

Reading
Mark 10.35–45

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.… 

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. 

It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, DBW 4, Kindle ed’n, pp.44–45

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Has anyone ever said to you, ‘Be careful what you wish for?’

A couple had been married for thirty five years and was celebrating the wife’s sixtieth birthday. 

During the party, a fairy appeared and said that because they had been such a loving couple all those years, she would give them one wish each. 

The wife said, ‘We’ve been so poor all these years, and I’ve never seen the world. 

‘I wish we could travel all over the world.’ 

The fairy waved her wand and ZAP! The wife had the tickets in her hand. 

Next, it was the husband’s turn. 

He paused for a moment and then said, ‘Well, I’d like to be married to a woman thirty years younger than me.’

The fairy waved her wand and ZAP! Now, the husband was ninety years old.

Be very careful what you wish for.

Jesus said something very like that to James and John. They had a question for him, a favour to be granted:

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

That’s nice, eh? You can imagine sitting on either side of Jesus when his true glory is revealed. I wonder what the two Zebedee brothers thought it would be like, sitting one either side of Jesus on his throne? Continue reading

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