Category Archives: Social Justice

‘An informed faith’

Readings
Ezekiel 34.11–16, 20–24
Matthew 25.31–46

The Uniting Church acknowledges that God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God’s living Word. In particular the Uniting Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God’s ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith. The Uniting Church lives within a world-wide fellowship of Churches in which it will learn to sharpen its understanding of the will and purpose of God by contact with contemporary thought. Within that fellowship the Uniting Church also stands in relation to contemporary societies in ways which will help it to understand its own nature and mission. The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr. It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.

Basis of Union, 1992 version

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Last night, we enjoyed the a cappella singing of Daisy Chain and we also welcomed the Brisbane Pride Choir here at West End Soul. What a great night it was!

It’s only right then that today we look at the history of the Uniting Church’s response to and reception of LGBTIQ people. To make it a sermon, I’ll weave something of my journey in with the history. 

Let’s start in 1985. I turned 32 that year, the year I started my studies as a theological student. NSW had just decriminalised homosexuality and the Uniting Church there needed to formulate its response. Gordon Dicker, a good theologian and gentle human being, was Moderator of the NSW Synod at the time and chaired a group to address this question. The committee concluded that the Bible did not support homosexuality, but Dicker also wrote

[However] we did say that people with homosexual orientation should be welcome in the church, eligible for church membership and other suitable roles.

He produced a book, Homosexuality and the Church, and suffered savage abuse from people who disagreed with him. I enjoyed the book, but I have no idea where my copy is now. 

Fast forward to 1997, in Perth. I was out of college, ordained, and attending the UCA Assembly for the second time. The Assembly is the national council of the Church and meets every three years. The Assembly has authority to determine the Uniting Church’s position on areas of doctrine. 

This 1997 Assembly received a report called Uniting Sexuality and Faith, but did not act on it. The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress was opposed to any consideration of bringing LGBTIQ people into the full life of the Church, as were more conservative elements of the Assembly. 

A young woman came out at the 1997 Assembly, along with a number of others. Subsequently, we became and remain good friends. Three years later, at the 2000 Assembly, she asked if I would be one of the respondents to a questionnaire she had prepared as part of her PhD studies. I recall one question: 

If you were convinced that the Scriptures taught that loving homosexual relationships were wrong, would it change your mind about accepting LGBTIQ people? 

I answered No. It wouldn’t change my mind. 

That was a big call for a former fundamentalist. 

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‘Seek the welfare of the city’

Note:
We held a Blessing of the Animals service earlier in our Eucharist.

Reading
Jeremiah 29.1, 4–7

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29.7)

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‘The city where I have sent you’ is Babylon. Jews in exile are to work for the well-being (shalom) of the empire and its capital city. The well-being (shalom) of Judah is dependent upon and derivative from that of Babylon. This positive attention toward Babylon is very different from the deep resentment toward the imperial masters generally and Babylon particularly as expressed elsewhere (in the Jeremiah tradition, see chs. 50-51, and also Isa. 13-14, 47). Prophetic faith is powerfully realistic about the political situation of the Jews in exile. — Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming

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‘Seek the welfare of the city…’ 

Last week, we were immersed in the agony of the exiles in Psalm 137.

Let’s recap: the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding country were forced into exile in Babylon from the year 597 BC. Their great Temple was destroyed in 586 BC. They were a long way from home, existing rather than living in Babylon. Remember, Babylon was the superpower of its day, situated in what we call Iraq. 

In Psalm 137, they are grieving and more than that, they want revenge. Gruesome revenge. 

There were prophets who were speaking to their situation. Some were false prophets speaking fake news. So the prophet Hananiah said,

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. (Jeremiah 28.2–4)

Don’t worry folks, it’ll all be over soon. You’ll be home in two years. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, Jeremiah called BS on Hananiah. More than that, he said

Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord. (Jeremiah 28.15–16)

And, we’re told, Hananiah died within the year. 

Jeremiah has a different time span for the duration of the exile:

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29.10)

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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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