Category Archives: sermon

Swords into ploughshares

Readings
Isaiah 2.1–5
Matthew 24.36–44

 

Our nature is goodness. Yes, we do much that is bad, but our essential nature is good. If it were not, then we would not be shocked and dismayed when we harm one another. When someone does something ghastly, it makes the news because it is the exception to the rule. We live surrounded by so much love, kindness, and trust that we forget it is remarkable. Forgiveness is the way we return what has been taken from us and restore the love and kindness and trust that has been lost. With each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move toward wholeness. Forgiveness is nothing less than how we bring peace to ourselves and our world. — Desmond Tutu, Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving

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Isaiah the prophet wrote this: 

God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2.4

Well, Isaiah, someone might say—if you’re going to dream, dream big. 

Let’s look at this verse a bit more. It doesn’t only tell us about whatever dreams Isaiah may have had: it tells us of God. 

God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples…

Nations have gone to war with other nations for centuries. Often—far too often—they claim that God is on their side. They pray for God to make them victorious, and to grind their enemies into the dust. 

Yet in Isaiah’s vision, when God judges between the nations, it is for peace. Not for victory for some or defeat for others. God is the God of peace. When God arbitrates, when God is the umpire, God decides for peace. No one wins, no one loses. Instead,

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks…

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Father forgive

Readings
Jeremiah 23.1–6
Luke 23.33–43

The old Coventry Cathedral

It is as if [Jesus] were saying ‘Yes, you did this to me, as you do it to each other, and here I am undergoing this, occupying the space of it happening, but I’m doing so without being embittered or resentful. In fact, I was keen to occupy this space so as to try to get across to you that I am not only utterly alive, but that I am utterly loving. There is nothing you can do, no amount of evil that you can do to each other, that will be able to stop my loving you, nothing you can do to separate yourselves from me. The moment you perceive me, just here, on the cross, occupying this space for you and detoxifying it, the moment you perceive that, then you know that I am determined to show you that I love you, and am in your midst as your forgiving victim. This is how I prove my love to you: by taking you at your very lowest and worst point and saying “Yes, you do this to me, but I’m not concerned about that, let’s see whether we can’t learn a new way of being together.”’ — James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim

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A week ago, we spoke about the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, even while creation groans in unprecedented and catastrophic bushfires. We spoke of the need to have hope in the new creation that God has brought into being in Jesus the risen crucified One, and that God is giving birth to even now. 

So last Monday, it was a bit of a jolt for me to see what another preacher had been saying last Sunday about those same bushfires. 

Israel Folau, former rugby player for Australia and now media celebrity preacher, told his church that the bushfires and droughts we are seeing now have come straight from the hand of God:

You think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys, Australia, you need to repent.

What you see right now in the world is only a little taste of God’s judgment that’s coming, it’s not even a big thing.

And what is God saying, according to Israel Folau? That we should repent of laws on marriage equality, laws legalising abortion. That we should repeal those laws and go back to how things were. 

Mr Folau says God caused the bushfires because of our sin. And if we don’t repent, there will be much, much more. 

The god that Israel Folau preaches sends judgement in a haphazard way. People died in the bushfires. More lost everything. Some of them might actually agree with Mr Folau about a number of things. But they get caught up in it anyway.

The god that Israel Folau preaches lacks basic discernment and compassion. 

What about the God that Jesus embodied? Does this God send thunderbolts to start bushfires? Our Gospel Reading gives us a hand to discover just who the God who came to us in Jesus really is. 

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Creation groans

Reading
Isaiah 65.17–25

 

Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart. — Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club 

Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea as a result of people’s actions, so he will make them taste (the consequences of) some of their actions, so that perhaps they will return (to righteousness). — Quran, 30.41; and

The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
and few people are left. — Isaiah 24.5–6

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Creation groans; and we are part of creation. So let me ask: did this last week frighten you? Like we’re on the edge of a precipice? About to fall into an abyss if we don’t burn to a crisp first?

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Children of the Resurrection

Reading
Luke 20.27–38

 

To proclaim the bodily resurrection of Christ is to affirm that his whole person was restored to life. — Katherine Willis Pershey, ‘Making sense of chronic pain’, The Christian Century, 7 January 2015

There is nothing wrong with making sense of life from within the human perspective. That is what human beings do. After all, in Jesus Christ, God stands with us as a human being and empowers us to respond to God from our standpoint, as broken, messy, and complex as it is. The mistake, however, is to insist that all that life can mean is contained within the horizon of our own experience.… Jesus explodes the human horizon. There is profoundly more to life than just the human experience of it, even if that means we cannot wrap our heads around it. Death is not an ultimate condition for Christians, and it does not permanently bind the experience of life and its meaning. — John E Senior, Feasting on the Gospels—Luke, Vol. 2

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Human lives are bordered by birth and death; and very often, human lives are bound by the fear of death. 

I read a lovely article last Monday in which former US President Jimmy Carter said that when doctors told him in 2015 that his cancer had spread to his brain, he found that he ‘was absolutely and completely at ease with death’. While he would of course miss his family and his work, it didn’t ultimately matter if he lived or died. Though I’m sure he’s happy to be alive and still very active at the ripe age of 95. 

In an argument with a religious group called the Sadducees, Jesus spoke about ‘Children of the Resurrection’. I think Jimmy Carter’s attitude to death suggests that he may be a Child of the Resurrection. 

I’d like to illustrate what it means to be a Child of the Resurrection today, but first let’s recap that conversation Jesus had with the Sadducees in our reading from Luke. 

Luke introduces the Sadducees as ‘those who say there is no resurrection’. There was quite the argument going on back then. While the Sadducees denied it, others like the Pharisees believed in newer ideas like the end-time resurrection from the dead. In this debate, Jesus sided with the Pharisees. 

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Servants of the Subversive Kingdom

Reading
Luke 19.1-10 

We had a guest preacher today: Dr Janice McRandal. Janice is a public theologian working out of Wesley Central Mission, Brisbane.

 

In April 1940 the DC Comics Batman strip introduced to the world the now well-known nemesis of their great American hero: The Joker. Always depicted as the dark otherside in the battle for good and evil, the Joker, with his warped and whacky humour and relentless attempts to cause chaos and destruction, played a crucial role in moving the Batman stories along. He was dark and twisted, and a villain who approached crime and weaponry with great creativity and flair. The Joker’s backstory was scant: indeed, for the longest time, we were told that the Joker was an ordinary man who fell into a vat of chemicals, bleaching his skin white, reddening his lips and, fatefully, driving him insane. It’s the kind of fantastical comic book origin detail that does just enough to create a villain and nothing more. The Joker was a plot mover slim on relatability and high on homicidal rage. 

But the Joker story has shifted significantly over the last 30 years, and in 2019, the most controversial film of the year is a re-telling that throws everything we know up in the air. Entirely dedicated to the Joker backstory, the 2019 Joker is brought into a real world as a real-life character that might even make sense. In this psychologically heavy retelling, the chillingly plausible origin story of the Joker humanises this character in ways never thought possible. And suddenly the Batman and Joker story is not at all what we thought. It requires a different approach, a different way of thinking and analysing of the story. Something else is going on here. 

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Two prayers

Reading
Luke 18.9–14

The Pharisee is not a venomous villain and the publican is not generous Joe the bartender or Goldie the good-hearted hooker. Such portrayals belong in cheap novels. If the Pharisee is pictured as a villain and the tax collector as a hero, then each gets what he deserves, there is no surprise of grace and the parable is robbed. In Jesus’ story, what both receive is ‘in spite of’, not ‘because of’. When the two men are viewed in terms of character and community expectations, without labels or prejudice, the parable is still a shock, still carrying the power both to offend and to bless. — Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation series

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We heard the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector today. So I have given in to the temptation of telling you this story:

Two ministers are on their knees at the front of the church, crying out to God, saying, ‘I have sinned. I am unworthy, I am unworthy’. Just then the cleaner walks in, and seeing this rare sight she also kneels with them saying: ‘I have sinned. I am not worthy, I am not worthy’. The first minister turns to the second. He sneers, ‘Now look at who thinks she’s unworthy!’

I had a conversation over coffee with a friend this week. She’s had very varied church experiences over the years, but for a number of good reasons it’s hard for her to be part of a local church right now. She told me that she had difficulties with the idea of going back to a pentecostal-type church because of the need they have to hide their vulnerabilities and present themselves as ‘victorious’ Christians. All. The. Time. 

Later that day, the thought came to me: Thank God I’m not in a church like that! And I fell straight into the trap of the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 

See how I did that? It’s so easy to do, a game anyone can play. So let’s look at this parable, and let’s have a bit of empathy for the Pharisee from the word go. 

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Surely the day is coming and now is

Reading
Jeremiah 31.27–34

 

The poet proposes a two-stage philosophy of history which is crucial for the full acknowledgment of exile and the full practice of hope in the face of exile. The negative has happened; the positive is only promised. The poem places us between the destruction already accomplished in 587 B.C.E. and the homecoming only promised but keenly anticipated. The oracle places us between a death already wrought and a resurrection only anticipated. — Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming

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The last couple of Sundays, we’ve been visiting the time of the Exile, which was around five hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Do you remember?—the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were taken as exiles to Babylon, and there they stayed until Babylon itself was defeated. Then they were allowed to go ‘home’, though of course most people who had known Jerusalem as home were dead by now. 

It’s impossible to overemphasise the importance of the Exile—for Israel, for us as Christians, for the whole world. 

It was in the Exile that they began to write much of the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament. They started to collect and put together the ancient stories of Israel were while they were in Exile. 

Scribes gathered together the old traditions to write the stories of the past, stories like the Flood, or the life of Moses. At the same time, prophets such as Jeremiah spoke new words into the current age.

In Babylon, the exiles had to work out a theology that responded to a place of defeat. The old idea had been that Yahweh was Israel’s God, and the other tribes and nations had their own gods. Yahweh was just the best of the bunch. Until he wasn’t, because the Babylonian gods had defeated him and shown they were more powerful. 

What could the exiles have done with this? I guess they could have decided the Babylonian gods with names like Bel, Nebo and Ishtar were the winners, so they should ditch Yahweh and pledge allegiance to them. 

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