Tag Archives: Religion

Spiritual and/or Religious—Sunday 22, Year B (2 September 2012)

James 1.17-27
Mark 7.1-23

Religion has a bad press these days. I want to talk about religion today; I could do that referencing either the Gospel reading or our reading from James. Let’s look at what James has to say about religion:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

A few years ago, I was in a bookshop and overheard a man ask for a particular book, a ‘self-help’ or ‘new age’ kind of title. He was told the book was in stock, and it was in the ‘Religion’ section of the shop. He looked somewhat ashamed to be seen looking for a book that would be kept in the Religion section.

‘Religion’ gets a bad press these days. Some people associate it with all sorts of negative things, and blame it for violence and war. For example, there’s a slogan that refers to the tragic events of 9/11:

Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

And that is applied to mild-mannered Christian types like us just as much as it is to radical Islamists.

Short, snappy soundbites like this are a poor substitute for reasoned conversation, but they get inside people’s heads and they have their impact.

Religion has a bad press within the churches too. When I was young, in my Brethren church we were taught that we were not religious. Religion was the human attempt to reach up to God. We were taught not to trust robes, liturgy, candles, even crosses on the wall or on the Altar. All we needed was a relationship with Jesus though faith. Religion got in the way.

More recently, people have made a distinction between religion and ‘spirituality’. Here’s another slogan for you:

Religion is for those who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve been there.

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God on the nose with the ‘Me’ generation

From The Age:

NEARLY a third of Australian teenagers have no religious beliefs, new research has shown.

But academics from Monash University and the Australian Catholic University found those with serious spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to be more involved in their communities and donate money than non-religious peers…

Researchers surveyed 1219 people nationally aged between 13 and 24. More than 670 of those were aged 13 to 17.

According to the research, 47% of Australian teens aged 13 to 17 are Christians (of those, 17 per cent are active, 13% are marginally active and 17% are nominally active), 15% have a spirituality classified as New Age, 31% do not have any religious beliefs and 7% are classified as having other beliefs.

Researchers found that active Christians rated helping others and social justice higher than other spirituality types and that teenagers serious about their spirituality were more likely to be involved in volunteer activities than those who were less spiritual. Active Christians were also likely to be more generous than other spirituality types when giving to charity.

A separate study from the University of Queensland has found that moving away from traditional religious beliefs to trendy, self-focused religions and spirituality was not making young adults happier…


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A small-group saga

This year, I’ll be leading a small group of around a dozen in a study called Jesus in the Gospels, from the United Methodists in the USA. It looks good, and I’m looking forward to it very much. It’s related to the Disciple series, which is really well used in this congregation. I am able to do this because last month, a terrific group that had met weekly for two years in our house disbanded, most of us to do some version of Disciple this coming year. 

In the first year, we looked at Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy as well as the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Gospel Reading for a couple of weeks ahead. A Generous Orthodoxy was a real eye-opener for the members of the group, showing a way of appreciating sisters and brothers from the wide family of faith that was new to some, and confirming for others.

In the second year, we began looking at 1 Corinthians; we thought we could move more quickly through it, but it took us all year (??!) In the first part of the night, we shared a small group version of Lectio Divina, the meditative way of reading that comes from the Benedictine tradition. This is what I’ll miss the most! The insights we gained into how God was wanting to work in our lives were soooo valuable. What did we do? Simple, really. We read the RCL Psalm for the coming Sunday, using the following method:

1 I read it twice, after which we shared the word/phrase that came to us most clearly;
2 A member then read it a second time, after which we said why we thought the Spirit was bringing it to our attention;
3 Another member then read it again, and then we shared what we thought God was calling us to do or be in the next week on the basis of the word or phrase.
4 We then prayed for the person on our left or right.

That’s it, really! Simple, yet wonderful.

Oh, and we used the wonderful ICEL (International Commission for English in the Liturgy) version of the Psalms. ICEL is a Roman Catholic body, but the ICEL that produced the Psalter in the 1990s was very different from the one that exists post-2003, which is a Vatican-compliant group. The Vatican has also removed its imprimatur from the ICEL Psalter; it is ironic that we can use it freely! I am very grateful for the gift, and wish the Uniting Church could have used the ICEL Psalter as its liturgical psalter when Uniting in Worship 2 was produced in 2005.

How ironic is that? 

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Come and worship

Sermon for the Epiphany of the Lord
Matthew 2.1-12
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.  

‘Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.’

‘I see millions and millions of stars,’ Watson replied.

‘What does that tell you?’ asked Holmes.

Watson pondered for a minute.

Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions upon billions of planets. 

Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. 

Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have some good weather today. 

Horologically, I deduce that the time is about a quarter past three in the morning. 

Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. 
What does it tell you, Holmes?’

‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ replied Holmes. ‘Someone has stolen our tent.’

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Gladys Aylward

 Today, the Uniting Church calendar lists Gladys Aylward, who died on this day in 1970. I found this in Wikipedia:


Gladys Aylward was the Protestant missionary to China whose story was told in the book The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, published in 1957. In 1958, the story was made into the Hollywood film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman.   

Aylward was born of a working-class family in Edmonton, London in 1902. Although forced into domestic service at an early age, she always had an ambition to go overseas as a missionary, and studied with great determination in order to be fitted for the role, only to be turned down by the China Inland Mission because her academic background was inadequate.

Her determination was such that, in 1930, she spent her life savings on a passage to Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, China, where she founded The Inn of the Eight Happinesses (八福客棧; the Hollywood film changed this to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness) in a remote and backward area. For a time she served as an assistant to the Chinese government as a ‘foot inspector’ by touring the countryside to enforce the new law against footbinding young Chinese girls. She met with much success in a field that had produced much resistance, including sometimes violence against the inspectors.

In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces, and Aylward led ninety-four children to safety over the mountains. She remained in China after World War II, later moving back to England. She later decided to return to China, but was denied re-entry by the Communist Chinese government and settled in Taiwan in 1953.

She died on 3 January 1970, and is buried in a small cemetery on the campus of Christ’s College in Guandu, Taipei County. She was known as 艾偉德 (Ai-wei-de, ‘Virtuous One’) to the Chinese.


My Comment: What a truly great woman! Not one of the ‘celebrities’ we admire today could hold a candle to her.



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The Cappadocian Fathers and the Holy Trinity


Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity 


Today is the day the Church remembers Basil of Caesarea, who is one-third of the Cappadocian Fathers, the other two being Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa. (The Uniting Church remembers all three on this day; we are nothing if not economical with our Church Year celebrations.)
They lived in the fourth century, at a time when the doctrine of the Trinity was still fluid; there were those who minimised the Trinity, and said that God showed different aspects of God’s being to us in Christ and the Holy Spirit; and there were others who split the Godhead, so that the Father alone was properly ‘God’, and that Christ was a created being, and the Holy Spirit some kind of force.

The Cappadocians spoke of the Unity of God in the essence of God, and the specific properties of the Father, Son and Spirit were what differentiated them. This is important; otherwise, God did not come to us in Jesus Christ, but a created being; and we do not have God within us in the Holy Spirit, just a force or influence.
The icon is not the Cappadocian Fathers! It is the well-known icon of the Holy Trinity painted by the Russian monk Andrei Rublev, around 1410. It portrays the incident in Genesis 18 where three angels came to Abraham and Sarah, and were received with hospitality. It shows the hospitality of God to us, in inviting us to the Table. It has been said that this icon is a kinda ‘proof’ of the Trinity. I kinda agree!
I thank the holy triune God for it, and for the Cappadocian Fathers!

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