Tag Archives: compassion

One in Christ Jesus

Galatians 3.23–29


For Paul, those who are in Christ Jesus are now seen no longer as sojourners on the journey out of childhood and adolescence but, rather, as adult members of the family of Abraham. Differences of gender, race, ethnicity, and class still exist but are now radically transcended by one’s status as a trustworthy, faithful, reliable grown-up in Christ. Clear parameters of relationship among oneself, God, and others are thus established, and the bondage of childhood—the need for a ‘disciplinarian’ or caretaker in this sense—has ended. — J William Harkins, in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3


So, the Uniting Church has turned 42 years old. We are a multicultural church, and we are the largest non-government provider of community and health care services in Australia. It’s hard to be accurate, but there are probably well over 80000 people worshipping in Uniting Churches today. 

There are rumblings from within though. Less than a month ago, an ABC news report suggested that we were on the verge of a split. There are vocal critics within the church who say that we are ‘apostate’ for adopting the decision to marry same-sex couples on the basis of conscience. An apostate is a willing defector from the Christian faith; this is a very serious accusation indeed. After all, we’re called to be one in Christ. We’re called to love one another. 

Difficulties like this are not unusual in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul faced a lot of opposition too. Paul wrote, 

There is no longer Jew or Greek (or Gentile),
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3.27–28

For us, these are inspirational words. Yet many people opposed Paul for them. They wanted to maintain a difference between groups in the church. In their minds, Jewish believers were the ‘normal’ Christians, not Gentiles; free Christians were superior to Christians who were slaves; and female Christians were inferior to male Christians. 

Maybe these people called Paul ‘apostate’ too! 

Paul endured opposition because for him, we are one in Christ and one in Christ alone. He tells us a fair bit about it in Galatians. 

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The Great Reversal

Jeremiah 17.5-10
Luke 6.17-26


The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift. 

— Mary Oliver


Nations tell stories about themselves. Stories that establish who they are, how they see themselves in the world. For example, in 1950s and the early 60s in England, we could sing Rule Britannia and half believe it were still true. Now, they can’t even manage an orderly Brexit. 

The USA has its Declaration of Independence, which contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

‘All are created equal’? Yet some of the men who signed this document were slaveowners. 

‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’? Tell that to the ever-increasing American underclass. 

Australia’s founding story includes Terra Nullius, the lie that the land was unclaimed before Britain established a jail here for its own underclass. Terra Nullius enabled us to think of Australia as the land of the fair go, while ignoring the frontier wars that are our real history. Australia, the land of the fair go—but don’t arrive by boat. 

Luke has a foundational story for the Good News of Jesus. It’s been called the Great Reversal. We see it firstly in Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Mary sings:

[God] has brought down the powerful
  from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And Jesus himself follows it up, by reading from Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim
   release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Luke’s Great Reversal subverts all other stories. It’s a story of the poor being raised up and the rich being cast down. 

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God’s compassionate presence

1 Kings 17.8–24
Galatians 1.11–24
Luke 7.11–17

Today, Jesus goes to Nain. Nain was a tiny village in Galilee, not far from Mt Tabor. I’m sure nothing much happened there, but one day Jesus was going there with his disciples and a large crowd. I imagine them to be in high spirits, walking with this new teacher who was doing such wonderful things. After all, who could help but be buoyed up in this situation? What a day they were having! The story could have been about them. But it’s not.

The crowd with Jesus isn’t the only mob there that day. There is another large crowd of people, but they were sad and despondent. They were accompanying a widow who had lost her only son, and they were taking him to his last resting place. This second crowd probably consisted of most of the village of Nain.

Two “large crowds” meet face to face. The road would have been a bit too narrow to accommodate everyone. I guess neither group could just politely pass the other by. They met that day not just face to face, but eye to eye.

Two crowds, two moods, one entering Nain, the other crowd leaving. They couldn’t avoid each other.

Maybe nothing much ever happened in Nain, but I can sense some tension in the air that day.

I wonder how the people with Jesus felt? Perhaps their day out with the teacher was spoiled by all the wailing and mourning that went along with a funeral procession in that time and place. Some of them must have been annoyed.

And how did the people of Nain feel? Here are all these outsiders, coming on a day that they just needed to be alone. A day they were sharing the grief of a poor widow. Now these strangers were coming into their village, on a day when there was no one home to guard their property. Continue reading

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The Powerless Almighty Father—Lent 4C (10 March 2013)

2 Corinthians 5.16–21
Luke 15.1–3, 11b–32


We heard one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

At least that’s its usual name in the English-speaking world. In Germany, it has a different name; it’s the ‘Parable of the Lost Son’. (‘Prodigal’ means ‘spendthrift’, not ‘lost’.)

So is it about a spendthrift son, or a lost son? And what about the older brother, who is lost in his own way? Is it the Parable of the Two Lost Sons? Or the Parable of the Elder Brother?

Is it about the sons at all? Is it really about the father? Some have called it the Parable of the Forgiving Father; that’s a really good name, because where would we be if the father didn’t forgive his son?

There are other names, like the Parable of the Waiting Father (Helmut Thielicke) or the Parable of the Father’s Love (Joachim Jeremias). These names highlight different aspects of the parable, don’t they? The father waits daily for his son’s return; the father’s love is the thread that runs through the whole parable.

The name we give to the parable influences what we see when we look at the parable. Let me share my favourite name for this parable: the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father (Eduard Schweizer).

We know about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. So let’s talk about the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father—you may be less familiar with this version. Hearing the parable this way raises questions for us: Is the Father almighty? Is the Father powerless?

The Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father starts

There was a man who had two sons.

A tension has already been set up. Two sons means conflict. It’s been that way from the beginning. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau are only the merest tip of the iceberg.

The Father is approached by the younger son, who basically tells his dad he’d rather his dad was dead. He wants his inheritance. Now. What can the Father do?

How about say No? An almighty Father has the authority to refuse to give the son anything, while he’s still alive. And who would blame him? No one—the son’s behaviour is unforgivable.

But the Father says Yes, and gives the son his inheritance. He is powerless to stop his son.

Once the son has gone, the Father looks out for . He stands at the door, he walks down the road, he waits by the gate, he scans the horizon for any sign of his son’s return. Day after day, there is nothing, but still he persists. He is powerless to make the son come back.

Eventually, the son does return. He has been prodigal, he has squandered his inheritance. He has lost his fair-weather friends, and he has descended so far down the social scale that he has fed pigs, which of course made him unclean. The son returns home with a scheme to save his hide. He can’t occupy the place of a son any more, but perhaps his Father will let him become a servant. Continue reading

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