Tag Archives: hope

Strengthen the weak hands…

Reading
Isaiah 35.1–10

 

To spend time in Advent in the company of the prophets is to open ourselves up to the great and costly truth that the world is God’s and can be lived in peaceably and joyfully only by people who know who they are and whose they are. In that sense, we are all called to be prophets, in that we point to the bigger narrative of which we are a part; we point towards the action of God in Jesus Christ, and prepare ourselves to live in the world that God has made. — Jane Williams, The Art of Advent, Day 8

———————

In some Advent traditions, today is Gaudete Sunday, Joyful Sunday. It comes from an old tradition of Advent as a time of repentance leading up to the celebration of Christmas. At one time, Advent was a time to think on the ‘Four Last Things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. For some, Advent is still a time of fasting, like Lent. 

So the Third Sunday of Advent became a little break from the focus on the Four Last Things, a time to focus on joy. One sign of that can be a pink candle, though ours is still purple. (One thing I’ve decided: God is less concerned with the colours we use that almost anything else. The colours are for our benefit, not for God’s.) 

Giving you this potted history helps to understand why the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent direct us to joy. Isaiah 35 begins,

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.

I wish that were the case right now in Australia. Instead, the land burns and is laid waste, and the powers that be do anything except address the issue. Perhaps true joy, deep joy, comes once hardship is faced and lives changed so that we can feel a worthwhile, lasting joy—along with peace and hope and love, the Advent themes that we are more familiar with. 

Perhaps there’s no joy until we face the pain of our land, which goes beyond those unprecedented fires. This pain includes the frontier wars that decimated the first peoples, who today are still not recognised as they should be. This pain is a result of greed, which means that water is not allocated properly. 

Pain runs deep in our country, and it will not be patched over. Until the roots of its pain are addressed, we shall not know true joy. 

Advent is about looking for Jesus as he comes to us; does he come to us in painful times? Is he ‘Emmanuel, God with us’ through those times? 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent, RCL, sermon

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

———————-

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?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Basis of Union, Church & world, Lord have mercy, RCL, sermon, suffering, Uniting Church in Australia

Dry Bones Living

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14

There is no way to Pentecost except by Calvary; the Spirit is given from the cross.… The Holy Spirit’s function is to reflect in us the likeness of Christ—of his truth and love and power—but how could he do that with any authenticity or completeness, if he did not also lead us into the likeness of his suffering? There could be no real reflection of Christ that did not consist of bearing his cross. Thomas A Smail, quoted in Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion

______________________

Can these bones come back to life?

It was ‘only’ a vision, but still Ezekiel felt uncomfortable. He was standing in a valley of dry old bones. And God was asking him a very silly question.

Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?

What to say? Standing in a pile of bones bleached white by the sun was not inspiring Ezekiel’s confidence. If he said No they’re dead and dusted, he could be accused of doubting God’s power. But if he said Yes Lord of course, he might have to say how on earth that could possibly happen.

So he takes the cautious path:

Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!

Ezekiel tosses the ball right back into God’s court. But God has been around the block a few times more than Ezekiel and tosses the ball right back to him:

Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord. Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles, and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

How can dry bones hear anything? Yet Ezekiel prophesies, and the bones become a mighty people. No one is more surprised than Ezekiel.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Pentecost, RCL, sermon

From doubting to waiting — Advent 3A (15 December 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–1

 

Poor John the Baptist. He’s been on an amazing ride for a few years, baptising crowds of people by the Jordan River and witnessing a religious revival. It gave him the confidence to confront King Herod about his adultery—and got him thrown into jail.

One of the highlights of John’s mission was seeing Jesus of Nazareth come into his own. It seemed that Jesus may be the one they had come to hope for, the deliverer, the Messiah, the coming one. But now he was in jail.

There, he has time. Lots of time. Time to think, to reflect, to ponder. Time to wonder if he is on the right track or not.

It must be hard to stay confident when you’re imprisoned, your future uncertain, and there’s nothing much happening on the outside.

John wants to hear that things are happening on the outside. He has begun to doubt what he had proclaimed, which was:

the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

“Children of the Resurrection” (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Readings
Haggai 1.15b — 2.9
Luke 20.27–38

 

In his argument with the Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says:

Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

What does it mean to be a ‘child of the resurrection’? Let me mention two things:

  • It means to be a person who even in grief or disappointment lives in hope of the living God.
  • It means to be someone whose way of life reflects the new life of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

A child of the resurrection is someone whose way of living is marked by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A child of the resurrection is not determined by the past, by its hurts and slights or even by its abuses. A child of the resurrection lives out of the future, God’s future, God’s new world.

A friend of mine, a child of the resurrection, recently wrote:

…we have the power to change the voices and rewrite the patterns and not make ourselves wrong or soiled or not good enough.…we have to have the courage and believe we are worthy.

A child of the resurrection receives the strength to have this courage and belief through the presence of the living Jesus within.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Vehicles of Hope

A sermon preached at the induction of Rev Henry Swindon as a chaplain at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital on 15 July.

 

Readings
Romans 8.12-25
Matthew 8.5-13

 

I remember once going on a routine visit to the Renal Dialysis Unit while I was a chaplain at The Wesley Hospital. If there’s anywhere that could show the truth of what today’s reading from Romans says about creation, it’s a hospital; and in particular, chronic units like renal dialysis. St Paul writes of a creation ‘in bondage to decay’ and ‘subjected to futility’. What more futile existence could there be than sitting in renal dialysis several times a week, depending on machines to stay alive, hoping against hope month after month for a transplant to come up?

I never quite knew what I was going to encounter entering any ward, especially this one. I often felt out of my depth in the renal unit.

On this occasion in I walked, and I went up to the first bed. I’d never met this patient before. He was an Asian man, and he positively beamed a welcome at me. Before I could sit down, he announced with the same infectious smile, ‘Life is suffering!’

I thought to myself, I know where you’re coming from. ‘Life is suffering’ is how the ‘First Noble Truth’ of Buddhism is often expressed. And I had a lovely time with this Buddhist gentle man, allowing him to share the joy in his soul with me. I really hope I helped him, because by the time I left his side, I was certainly feeling really great!

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Third Sunday of Easter (Year A, 8 May 2011)

The risen life: walking in hope

Readings
1 Peter 1.17-23
Luke 24.13-35

 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Cleopas and his friend had hoped…but their hopes died with Jesus.

People can live through any loss, except the loss of hope. Hope is essential to a human life. Without hope, we are diminished.

How do we sustain hope when things go wrong? How do we keep ourselves out of the pit of despair?

To answer those questions, let’s join Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus. (There are those who believe this was no friend with Cleopas, but his wife—and I think they make a good case. So I’m going to call them Mr and Mrs Cleopas.)

As we join them on the road, we notice something straight away. This isn’t an amble, a ramble or a stroll. Neither is it a quick march, and there’s no spring in their step.

These despairing disciples are trudging, they’re plodding, barely able to drag one foot after another.

The stranger can’t help but notice the way they’re walking. It looks a lot like the walk of a condemned man to the scaffold.

Yet even in their deep despair, they allow this third man to join them. They extend hospitality to him.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon