Tag Archives: Uniting Church

Remaking the world (Advent 3B, 14 December 2014)

Reading
Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Earlier this month, I was in Adelaide at a two-day colloquium that was exploring the way our theological colleges across the Uniting Church teach liturgy and worship. I hope and believe that some very good things will come out of it. While I was there, I was thinking about what we do in worship, and about what the significance of our liturgy is.

Gathering together for worship seems like a simple thing to do. Yet we are doing something very significant every Sunday, week by week, as we come together to worship God as the Church. And that significant thing is this: we are sharing with God in remaking the world.

Does that sound a bit grandiose, a bit self-important? How can l’l ol’ us be remaking the world? Continue reading

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Filed under Church & world, church year, Eucharist, Liturgy, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia, Working Group on Worship

Natural Disasters: Lament, community and the death of theodicy

Last week, I came across an article by Rev Dr Andrew Dutney, President-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, with the provocative title: Does God hate Queensland? This was before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disasters of Japan.

We had a bad summer with floods and cyclones; the photo at the top of the page was taken across the road from our house to show how high the water came during the flood. Japan is faring far worse than us.

How do Christians respond?

Theologians have classically gone for theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil and disaster. Why does God let these things happen?

There are two broad kinds of theodicy: one which says with Augustine that the creation fell from perfection with Adam; the others says with Irenaeus that the world began in an immature state, and that suffering is necessary for us to mature.

Dutney points out that

theodicy works for some but not all cases. There are far too many examples of suffering which are so grotesque or so excessive that they make it impossible to devise an explanation that is both rational and morally tolerable. In any case, it would be offensive even to try to explain such suffering away.

He also makes the very important point that ordinary Christians haven’t gone all the way with the theologians in trying to justify God’s ways. Rather for them,

the experience of suffering does not challenge belief in God as such, but rather forces the question, Where in this suffering is the God in whom I believe?

Theodicy has a limited place. The scriptures allow far more lament than we have allowed for ourselves in our services until recently. Thumb through the Psalms for example upon example, or read Lamentations; Uniting in Worship 2 has put lament into the ‘mainstream’ of the Church’s worship. For Dutney it is simply that:

There is suffering which will not be explained into quietness by church leaders, philosophers or theologians.

In the floods in Brisbane, people were bowled over by the number of people who came to help. And community is another discovery in disaster:

It turns out that our possessions are less important than our family, friends and neighbours. It turns out that we can trust strangers to enter our (shattered) homes and deal gently with our treasures – in fact we rely on them to do so. It turns out that my neighbours need does matter more to me than my own in this situation. It turns out that sitting in the rubble of the lives that we’d worked so hard to create we can laugh and experience genuine joy in the inexplicable gift of being alive – together. It turns out that when we look up and see what natural disaster means in Haiti and Pakistan we do recognize in a new way the responsibilities – the opportunities to help – that go with the advantages enjoyed by Australians and New Zealanders even in times of devastation. Who knew?

None of this justifies or minimises human suffering. But we survive—and we survive together.

Read Andrew’s article for yourself.

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Filed under Church & world, Liturgy, Lord have mercy, reflection, Uniting Church in Australia

Not before time

According to the ABC, “the Federal Government is preparing to announce plans to release of asylum seekers from detention and allow them to live in the community while their applications for asylum are being assessed.” Read the full article here.

Uniting Church President Rev Al Macrae comments:

This is a long overdue common-sense decision, given all that we know about the devastating effects of the detention environment on the mental health of asylum seekers, especially children.

We are pleased and relieved that the Government appears to be re-committing itself to uphold the Immigration Detention Values statement it adopted early on in its first term.

Housing children and young people behind fences, without adequate freedom of movement or opportunities for education and play, while under constant guard, has caused tremendous unrest, misery and depression.

Today’s announcement will provide a great relief for parents who will regain the right to raise their children in a safe and suitable environment. It will also go some way to rebuilding our international reputation as a decent and hospitable country.

The Uniting Church will do all it can to support the Government’s plan to house minors and children with families in the community. We will also continue to work for improvements to the reception and processing systems for people who come to Australia’s shores seeking our protection.

 

 

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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 22 August 2010)

Living God’s Mission


Readings
Jeremiah 1.4-10
Luke 13.10-17

We’ve heard a fair bit the last couple of weeks about the Church being here not for the benefit of its members, but for the benefit of those outside. And we’ve said that the Church is here to benefit us in one way: that is to meet our truest need, the need to become disciples of Jesus, the need we have to be made more like him.

I’ve been asked, ‘What about the abundant life that Jesus promises? Isn’t the Church here to help deliver that?’ And I’m very glad indeed to get questions like that, because they help me to shape what I need to say.

Jesus does promise us abundant life. So shouldn’t the Church be there to give us that abundant life? No. And yes.

No, because the Church isn’t there to give us the abundant life directly. The Church is there to form us as disciples. But: the abundant life comes to us as we commit ourselves to Jesus as his disciples. Look at the woman in today’s Gospel story. She was bent over. Perhaps we are too. She stood straight when Jesus laid his hands on her. She was healed—and like her, we are not truly healed unless we give ourselves to Jesus in love and trust.

Look at Jeremiah: he gains confidence in God as he allows the word of the Lord to enter his very being:

Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you.

Remember, our vision statement is

Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit

Being disciples is central! But never forget that first line: We are on about ‘living God’s mission’.

We don’t have a mission. God has a mission, and God invites us to join him in that mission. God’s mission is about setting people free (including us). God’s mission is about bringing purpose into people’s lives (including ours). God’s mission is about creating peace and harmony among people (including among us). God’s mission is about preserving the earth (so that all people can live and thrive, including us).

God’s mission is big. Seriously big. It’s bigger than the Church. It includes the whole creation. The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church says that God’s mission concerns the

coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation.

God’s mission is so big, it includes people of good will all over the place. Some of them don’t know they’re sharing in God’s mission. Some of them don’t even believe in the God with whom they are cooperating.

But notice: we are living God’s mission. God’s mission brings life. And when we are on about God’s mission, we bring life to people. Including to ourselves.

Sometimes, that life comes in the midst of death. Life is a bummer. Things are not going right; in fact, they are just wrong. But God is there, with abundant warmth and acceptance and compassionate love. Sometimes, that’s all we can know of the abundant life; but it’s there in abundance for those who live God’s mission.

Do you want the abundant life? Then see how you can share in God’s mission—through the congregation, and in your daily life. You’ll find the abundant life that Jesus promises through obedience to God.

So the Church isn’t here to give us that abundant life. It’s here to make us disciples. But: disciples are sharing in God’s mission, and that gives them the abundant life.

So the Church is here to bring that abundant life after all!… But the abundant life is a ‘side effect’ of sharing in what God is doing. If we seek the abundant life without sharing in God’s mission, without living God’s mission, then we’ll only have a counterfeit kind of so-called ‘abundant’ life. That counterfeit life will go once real difficulties come our way. That counterfeit life will go sour one day, and we’ll wonder where the joy and the peace went.

Living God’s mission. That’s the way to the abundant life that Jesus promises. It’s the way to true inner peace and joy and freedom.

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Conference time…

While far more important things are happening in the world (like Spain meeting The Netherlands in the World Cup Final), I am going south for a couple of conferences.

The first is in Melbourne, starting tomorrow night and going till Sunday. It is called Engaging the Basis, and aims to “provide an opportunity for scholarly discussion, debate and exchange of ideas about the theological responsibilities of the UCA and the particular theological commitments of the Basis of Union“.

Then, with friends Michelle Cook and Geoff Thompson, I’m stopping off in Sydney on the way back for a second conference on Monday and Tuesday: Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology. She is an Anglican priest who teaches theology at Harvard. I’m prepared to have my mind stretched at this one…

Back on Wednesday!

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I’ll write about synod soon

I’m just back from the meeting of the 27th Synod of the Uniting Church here in Queensland. There’s something to say, but I’m unpacking it first!

One of the best parts of the synod is that it’s by the beach at Alexandra Headland. The meeting hall at the Alexandra Park Conference Centre was redesigned with the synod meeting in mind.

Here’s a view from the balcony of the unit I shared with Michelle, James, Zane (not to be forgotten!), Kerry & Anna (and people sometimes wonder why we came to Australia!): 

 

Fab view

Fab view

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The Bible wants to rock, remake, deconstruct and rework your world

William Willimon (always worth reading) has written a short article on reading the Bible, called ‘On Wesleyan Commitment’. Of course, ‘Wesleyan’ refers to John Wesley, and the Methodist Church came out of the revival that began through his work. The Methodist Church was one of the three churches the Uniting Church was born out of, so ‘Wesleyan’ reflections should be of great interest to us.
 
Here are some great bites out of the article; click here, and read them in context!
 
…one of the most radical, truly countercultural acts that we perform in Sunday worship is when we gather and then open an ancient book— written in languages quite unlike our own, in cultures very different from ours—and we become silent, and we listen to the word read and proclaimed and thereby we say to ourselves, “These ancient Jews know more than we”. 
 
And
 
The Bible intends to be more for us than just a book of rules, a repository of helpful principles for better living. Attempts to use the Bible like that are bound to be frustrated by the nature of the Bible’s way with the truth. Scripture is an attempt to construct a new world, to stoke, fund and fuel our imaginations. The Bible is an ongoing debate about what is real and who is in charge and where we’re all headed. So the person who emerged from church one Sunday (after one of my most biblical sermons, too!), muttering, “That’s the trouble with you preachers. You just never speak to anything that relates to my world,” makes a good point.

To which the Bible replies, “How on earth did you get the idea that I want to speak to your world? I want to rock, remake, deconstruct and rework your world!”

And

Thus when we read Scripture, we’re not simply to ask, “Does this make sense to me?” or “How can I use this to make my life less miserable?” but rather we are to ask in Wesleyan fashion, “How would I have to be changed in order to make this Scripture work?” Every text is a potential invitation to conversion, transformation, and growth in grace. And, as we have noted earlier, we Wesleyans love to get born again, and again. Scripture is God’s appointed and most frequently used means for getting to us and getting at us and thereby changing us in the encounter. 

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