Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Christ descended … Christ ascended (The Sunday of the Ascension, Year A, 1 June 2014)

Ephesians 1.15–23
Luke 24.44–53


When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we say these words:

I believe in Jesus Christ,
God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was … crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living
and the dead.

‘He descended to the dead … he ascended into heaven.’

Please, do not ever get used to that! Don’t take it for granted, not for even one moment.

‘Jesus descended to the dead … Jesus ascended into heaven.’ Jesus went to the lowest depths, through a terrible death to the grave. And Jesus is now at the right hand of God. Jesus is Lord! I repeat: don’t take that for granted.

Jesus descended to the dead.

Jesus died, really died, on the cross. In his death, he identified himself with sinners—and with the victims of sin. He identified with those who suffer for their own sins, and with those who suffer because of the sins of others.

He did that so that when we suffer, he shows us that he is with us. Jesus is one with all people who suffer.

It doesn’t really matter what our suffering is. It may be the suffering of a failed marriage, of poverty, of unemployment.

It may be the suffering of grief, mental illness, disability or loneliness.

It may be the suffering of people locked away indefinitely in detention centres through the policies of successive Australian governments.

Christ suffered for us, and Christ suffers with us here and now. In the hells we endure here, he is with us. He has descended to the dead, to those who are dead in their own sins and those who are dead inside through the sins of others.

Jesus descended to the dead so that the dead may have hope. So that we may find the way, all the way back to the Father.

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Ordinary Sunday 22, Year C — Not only useful but beautiful too

Jeremiah 18.1–11
Philemon 1–21
Luke 14.25–33


I love the story of Onesimus. He is mentioned in the Letter to the Colossians as one of their number, so he and his (former?) master Philemon must have lived in Colossae. (Colossae was in what we know as western Turkey.)

Onesimus was a slave. His very name tells us that. Onesimus means ‘useful’. That was his name, Useful. Not much of a name, is it? Onesimus was a ‘slave name’—it was a name only a slave would have been given. It was also his identity—he was fed and housed because he was useful. Woe betide him if he ever became useless.

Well, in fact that’s just what did happen. He became useless to his master. It seems that he left Philemon, ran into the Apostle Paul in jail, and became a believer. Listen again to what Paul says, and listen for the play on words:

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was ‘useless’ to you, but now he is indeed ‘useful’ both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.

Onesimus has become a Christian, and Paul is his spiritual father.

But things are complicated.

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The footing of faith (2 June, 2013)

1 Kings 18.20–39
Galatians 1.1–12
Luke 7.1–10

It’s good to be back after a while away in the Holy Land, Jordan, Italy and England. While Karen and I were overseas, we were travelling through places that were quite different from us in terms of their religious life—from Israel with its distinct Jewish identity (yet with a strong Muslim and a lesser Christian presence), to Muslim Jordan, to Catholic Italy with its little shrines dotted here and there in town and country, and lastly to England, a country that can’t work out whether it’s multicultural, still vaguely C of E or post-christian. Or if it just couldn’t care less.

While travelling in these varied places, we practised the virtues of tolerance, happily accepting that people belong to different religions. That wasn’t the case for everyone else; for example, in Nazareth we witnessed a Muslim street preacher accosting religious Jews, near the Church of the Annunciation. It ended without success for the street evangelist, but—and interestingly!—with smiles all round.

I’m left wondering whether the Apostle Paul would sympathise more with the zealous Muslim street evangelist than with us. After all, he thundered to the Galatians:

if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

But you know, we didn’t curse a single person for being a Jew, a Moslem or a Roman Catholic. (I was tempted to curse a few drivers in Italy, but that wasn’t because of their religious faith!)

We were tolerant. But surely, these people, at least the Muslims and Jews, are proclaiming a different gospel to ours? Surely, the apostle Paul would take a different view. However tolerant we Uniting Church people may be, Paul says they are accursed!

It seems that the prophet Elijah would agree with Paul. There he is, one man against the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel. A bull for each side, and each god must set their own offering alight. Baal is strangely absent. Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal, even suggesting that their god had gone away to relieve himself. (The NRSV is a little coy here, translating it as “perhaps he has wandered away…”)

Then Elijah douses his offering with buckets and buckets of water, and fire from heaven consumes the lot. God wins!

Then he goes one further than Paul. Not only does Elijah count the prophets of Baal as accursed, but he also has them put to death in a horrific mass execution that would have him condemned as a criminal today.

So, we seem to have Paul and Elijah standing together on this one. What would they have done while traipsing around the places we went to? We didn’t go to Galatia, but we were at Mt Carmel; it’s a lovely peaceful place today, but I did wonder how Elijah might feel about that. Would Paul and Elijah embrace the tolerance of this Western tourist, or would they long for the ‘good old days’? Continue reading


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