Tag Archives: Islam

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


Filed under Church & world, church year, RCL, sermon

No other name…but other sheep (Easter 4, Year B, 29 April 2012)

Acts 4.5-12
1 John 3.16-24
John 10.11-18 

I was sitting in my office one day. Not here, it was a few years back when I was head of the Pastoral Care Department of The Wesley Hospital. I’d just picked up the phone. There was a very angry woman on the other end, who was a member of the Uniting Church.

Let me start at the beginning. The chapel at ‘the Wes’ is open 24/7. As you’d expect—people want to come in and pray in a hospital chapel at all sorts of times. Sometimes, staff came in to pray too. There were a couple of staff members who at that time were coming daily to pray.

One had been coming for some time; she was almost part of the furniture. The more recent ‘pray-er’ was a student in the hospital. Like the first, she’d come in around mid-morning to pray. Unlike the first, she’d unfold her prayer mat, kneel and bow low to the ground. You see, unlike the first, she was a Muslim.

Sometimes, the two women would be in the chapel at the same time, the Christian and the Muslim each at prayer in their own way. The angry woman who rang me thought we were setting a very bad example to ‘young people’ by allowing this student to use the chapel to pray her Muslim prayers. She wanted to know why we hadn’t forbidden her.

I told her we were showing hospitality to a stranger in our land. That’s quite a biblical value, by the way, and to her credit she realised straight away that it was. She didn’t give up her objections, but she did eventually run out of steam.

What do you think our responsibility was in this situation? Especially in the light of Peter’s confession of faith to the leaders of his people:

There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

If there is ‘no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’, should we have done something different? Should we have offered her another space to pray? Should we have told her that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? I’m comfortable with what we did, though I do understand that for some people it’s not clear that we were right.

‘There is salvation in no one else…’ What does that mean?

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Filed under church year, Culture, Interfaith, Prayer, RCL, sermon, spiritual practices

Spiritual Practices 3.1—fasting

Last Friday, after two days of meeting with the Working Group on Worship, I still hadn’t written my sermon. (I like to have it down on Thursday.) I went to Samarco, the coffee shop next to the church, and had some of their excellent coffee while I wrote on my Mac. (Yes, there’s at least a trace of hypocrisy there, if not more…writing about fasting while in a cafe sipping coffee…)

I was halfway through my coffee when the man at the table next to me asked if I minded him interrupting me. He’d noticed what I was writing about; he told me he was a Muslim (a convert, the son of an Anglican priest). He told me that Islam has a practice of fasting two days a week, on Tuesday and Thursdays as well as at Ramadan. This weekly practice is in decline; apparently, it began when people couldn’t afford to feed a family seven days a week, so it gave them a communally sanctioned way to eat five days a week. These days of course, most people in Australia can eat every day.

He was saddened by this decline in the practice of fasting in his faith. I saw him today (same cafe, new cup of coffee) and he said he’d spoken to the imam (or whoever preaches) at the mosque at Darra. He had to explain what Lent was to the preacher; the result is, that this Friday, the topic of preaching at the mosque will be fasting!! Maybe I should go…

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The Challenges and Opportunities of Islam in the West

Next week, our student minister Kerry and I will be attending a three-day conference at South Bank, Brisbane, called “The Challenges and Opportunities of Islam in the West: The Case of Australia”. The keynote speaker will be Professor Tariq Ramadan, President of the European Muslim Network, based in Brussels. Professor Ramadan holds an MA in Philosophy and French Literature, and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva.

According to the website,

The main objective of this symposium is to address several important issues including:

  • Historical, cultural and political challenges of Islam in the West
  • The role and contributions of Muslims in Western societies
  • Islam and multiculturalism
  • Improving mutual understanding, cooperation and harmony—including the role and responsibilities of the Muslim community, political leaders and the media
  • Socio-economic issues such as unemployment and underemployment
  • Youth identity and self image
  • The radicalisation of Muslim youth

I’ll keep you posted!


Filed under Interfaith