He Couldn't Wait to Meet Them (an Easter Sunday sermon)

He Couldn't Wait to Meet Them (an Easter Sunday sermon)

Why does Jesus show up to the women on the road? After all they were just told to meet him in Galilee…

Here’s my favourite theory: Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them! The resurrected Christ is still the fully human Jesus of Nazareth - who made friends, shared meals with his followers, and invited them to share in his relationship with God. One of the most important truths of Christianity is that the resurrection can never be detached from the crucifixion - Jesus, though resurrected is still marked by the experience of the cross - as John records, he still bears its scars (and those scars are physical and emotional), and so Jesus must feel gratitude to these women who prepared him for this most humiliating and painful of experiences, must feel gratitude and love for these women who kept watch over him as he died, who stood by him when so many others turned away, who stayed to watch him be laid in a tomb and who showed up again at that tomb as soon as they could. I mean if you had friends like that, how would you feel?

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All the Way Down (a Good Friday sermon)

All the Way Down (a Good Friday sermon)

This is no performance; these are the real feelings of a man gripped by grief and fear. And, surprisingly, this is where we find the good news. The crucifixion of Christ, including Jesus’ own cry of dereliction, show that the Incarnation goes the whole way down; down to the very depths of the human experience. Jesus lives and dies in solidarity with all who are in desolation and dereliction, all who are abandoned and alone, all who have felt the sting of betrayal, all who have wondered if God cares about them at all. Jesus is a victim alongside all the world’s victims. And that is good news because Jesus is also the eternal Son, Jesus is the one who conquers the powers of Sin and Death, and is still present with us today. And because of that we can proclaim this word of comfort with full confidence.

Image: Käthe Kollwitz, Mothers (1919)

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And the Fragrance Filled the House

And the Fragrance Filled the House

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”

 This is a household that new the stench of death, a family that had experienced death’s cruel sting. Just one chapter earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to Martha and Mary too late – Lazarus has died, he had laid buried four days in his tomb, we hear that the stench of death and decay emanated from it. At that time, when Mary threw herself at Jesus’ feet it was to weep and protest that if he came sooner their brother would be alive. Jesus himself, moved by the mourning, by the loss, and by the sting of death; Jesus wept. The stench of death and decay, the pain of death and loss, fills the town, the homes, and the hearts of all present at the tomb of their dearly loved Lazarus. Jesus, however, in the final sign of his ministry, shows that he is the resurrection and the life, and calls Lazarus out of his tomb – o death, where is your sting.

And so here we are, Jesus and Lazarus recline at table, Martha serves, and Mary once again throws herself at Jesus’ feet – though this time there are no tears of bitterness, no confrontation and disappointment instead there is an outpouring of lavish care and tenderness. Taking a posture of humility she anoints Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume and dries it with her hair, the smell fills the house – this is not the smell of decay, nor of death, this is the smell of abundance, of beauty, of life.    

But why has Mary performed this act?

(Image: The Anointing at Bethany by Daniel F. Gerhartz)

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A Locating Prayer

A Locating Prayer

What is the point of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples?

What will be achieved in Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension is here proclaimed and passed on to us as unconquerable truth, we have been put on common and holy ground with the Son, “The Messiah has made us insiders”; not to a club, but to the very life of the Triune God - to the loving heartbeat of the source of all that is!

We aren’t taught to pray to Jesus’ Father, but to “our Father” signifying our relocation. This sermon was delivered at Warnervale Uniting Church on Feb 03, 2019.

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Temptation

Temptation

In facing temptation Jesus shares in this most universal, though most unfortunate aspect of the human condition. The deep solidarity of the Incarnation goes this far, indeed further; because Jesus is the one able to resist temptation even to his death.

This sermon explores why scenes of temptation have so long captured the artistic imagination, and asks why Matthew crafted his temptation narrative to mirror his Passion account, and how that communicates the good news of deliverance from the powers of sin and death.

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Some Thoughts on Elizabeth A. Johnson's "Creation & the Cross"

Some Thoughts on Elizabeth A. Johnson's "Creation & the Cross"

Elizabeth Johnson has written a superb, constructive, and accessible work of Christian Dogmatics. In Creation and the Cross she develops a theology of accompaniment, demonstrating the depth of God’s mercy and the consistency of God’s redemptive work, marked by solidarity and grace. God’s creating, accompanying, and redeeming work reaches wider and deeper than humankind. The whole of creation in its life and death, suffering and joy, is swept up by/in God.

I offer some thoughts on why it might be the best book of 2018.

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Joseph, Jesus, and staying open to a Resurrection

Joseph, Jesus, and staying open to a Resurrection

On rehearsing arguments in the shower and a God whose business is resurrection.

Joseph has remained open to seeing and experiencing the love and hope and presence of God in all things - even the darkness of the gallows. He held fast to his belief that God can bring life out of death, that what others meant for harm God was able to turn to good.  

Joseph theologically interprets his story – what you had meant for evil God worked for good – Joseph stays open to the fact that God can bring life out of death; that God can pull off a resurrection. Now it is important to note that Joseph did this work for himself. He does the work to see God in the twists and turns of his own painful journey. It is not for us to impose this kind of reading over another’s life, lest we end up like Job’s friends, chased off by the hurricane of God.

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Hope in Judgment (Advent 1)

Hope in Judgment (Advent 1)

Advent calls us to look forward. Place not your trust in the deception of human progress but the coming judgment and righteousness of God. This sermon was delivered at Leichhardt Uniting Church on the first Sunday of Advent 2018. “O my God, in you I trust”

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Tending Bodies Marked For Death

Tending Bodies Marked For Death

The story of Rizpah and the anointing at Bethany demonstrate how our care for the bodies of the dead, those approaching death, or those burdened by the existential deaths our society deals in, is a way of reflecting the careful attention paid to our bodies by a God who formed the human body out of the clay of the earth, who knits us together in our mother’s womb, and who will raise us bodily in the resurrection. (image: Rizpah by George Becker)

Amidst all the political drama of the story of David, it is this act of grit, performed by a grieving mother, that is commended as moving the heart of God.

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Doctrine as Translation

Doctrine as Translation

This post develops a proposal for a role of doctrine in a post-Christendom, global church. It explores writings by George Lindbeck and Kevin Vanhoozer, arguing their contributions restrict the potential for translation through calls to unity. To move forward I engage the function of doctrine, drawing on James H Cone and Ellen T Charry. They show doctrine needs to be transformative, meeting people in their contexts and drawing them into the mission of God. Finally I examine the potential of the role of doctrine as translation; a process empowering both the renewing and rebirth of past expressions of doctrine, and the emergence of entirely new forms built on the endless array of communal and individual experiences of God.

“Doctrine should do something. It should compel the Christian, drawing them into, or sustaining them through, the struggle for liberation and freedom for the oppressed.”

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The Transformative Power of Naming

The Transformative Power of Naming

In Scripture naming has a transformative power, it often reflects an encounter or expectation. This post explores four scenes involving naming (Moses and the burning bush, Hagar and El Roi, Jacob becoming Israel, and Simon becoming Peter). 

For we who encounter God, we too receive a transformed name – not necessarily in a literal sense like Peter (though that is the case for some) – but our name, our identity, our history and future is transformed by being conformed, swept up, in the life of Christ, in the history and future of God. We don’t lose our particularity, any more than Peter did, but we are drawn into the mystery of God and sent on God’s way – sent on the way of God who hears the cry of the oppressed, and sees the abandoned.

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Sermon Video: Learning and Unlearning in the Family of God

Sermon Video: Learning and Unlearning in the Family of God

This was a sermon I preached at Leichhardt Uniting Church on November 9, 2017, the Sunday after it was revealed that Australia had voted YES in the marriage equality postal survey. It had been a gruelling campaign, and even though this was a very positive result, the pain caused to the LGBTIQ community was not instantly washed away. Leichhardt had been very active on the YES side of the campaign and had been wonderful in the many varied ways they supported the LGBTIQ community throughout these past months. The sermon explores Nehemiah 8: 1-12 (the reading of the Law of Moses to those returned from exile) and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). The first reading demonstrates that in Scripture we have the ability to hear our humanity read over us, an affirmation of our status as created, loved, and liberated - an affirmation that moves the assembly to tears, a beautiful counter to their years in exile where they were dehumanised and oppressed. The Parable of the Talents is a commonly misread text, and thus demonstrates the way Scripture can be culturally accommodated to support systems and structures that bind rather than free. 

We must continually examine the affect Scripture has on our life. Is it something that reminds us of our humanity – of our neighbour, our strangers, our enemies humanity. Does it remind us that what God says about us it the truest thing about us, and what God says is we are loved and welcomed and called to a new way of living… Does it subvert the world as it is with an image of the world to come – a world creating, reconciling, and redeeming… Or, does it fall into thoughtless patterns where it becomes a way of setting boundaries, a way of propping up cultures of individualism, patriarchy, heterosexism, exploitative economics, colonialism, and so on… Without frequent reading in a community committed to liberation and in a movement to the margins these risks increase.
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All The Things I've Tried that Failed

All The Things I've Tried that Failed

If I were writing a book about my work as a chaplain it could be suitably titled All The Things I've Tried That Failed. In this post I search for a different way of measuring my (our) participation in the mission of God. Exploring Moses, who the Lord knew face to face; Paul, who came in gentleness; and Christ, who set the bar at love - there's a way of 'measuring' the Christian life that subverts and redeems all manner of downward slanting graphs.

To love God and love neighbour is to be drawn beyond ourselves and our own interests – it is, first, to seek fully and forever after a God who is both entirely beyond and within. It is to praisefully devote ourselves to the hidden and invisible God who we can know intimately. It is to experience and allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit of fire, without being consumed, without forfeiting agency. It is, second, to seek fully and forever after the interests of our neighbours who cannot be contained, controlled, or categorised. It is to joyfully commit ourselves to their flourishing and liberation, affirming their humanity as made in the image and likeness of God. It is to experience and allow ourselves to be converted by these encounters, without ever losing the confidence that who we are, as fearfully and wonderfully made, is, when coming to rest in God, enough. 
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To Hear Humanity Read Over Us

To Hear Humanity Read Over Us

When the post-exilic community hear the Law of Moses read aloud they are moved to tears, what a thing to be reminded of your humanity after living amidst a dehumanising system/society. This piece explores James Cone, Slave Spirituals, Kendrick Lamar, and Sia as examples in this lineage of speaking humanity over the oppressed. It also asks what does it mean for me to be reminded of my humanity in a system designed to celebrate it above all else.

It is in the Law that they hear their humanity spoken over them. In the Law that they hear that they are created in God’s image, created for freedom not bondage, and that God is for them and not on the side of their vainglorious oppressors. What a thing that must be, when for 70 years you have heard (and witnessed) nothing but the opposite. What a thing it must be to hear that you are known, valued, and a person when the society around you has demonstrated their belief, in no uncertain terms, that you are lesser, disposable, a non-person.
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The failing & hope of the Church: thoughts on and from James H Cone's Black Theology & Black Power, ch 3 The White Church & Black Power

The failing & hope of the Church: thoughts on and from James H Cone's Black Theology & Black Power, ch 3 The White Church & Black Power

My series on James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power continues. This post comments on chapter 3 "The White Church and Black Power".

From the chapter:

If the real church is the people of God, whose primary task is that of being Christ to the world by proclaiming the message of the gospel (kerygma), by rendering services of liberation (diakonia), and by being itself a manifestation of the nature of the new society (koinonia), then the empirical institutionalized white church has failed on all accounts.
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The Gospel and Black Power: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power: "The Gospel of Jesus, Black People, & Black Power"

The Gospel and Black Power: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power: "The Gospel of Jesus, Black People, & Black Power"

The 4th post in the series on the writings of James Cone. Here I reflect on Cone's response to questions such as what is the gospel of Jesus Christ, what is the righteousness/justice of God, and whether Christian love is compatible with Black Power.

Therefore violence may be the only way to express Christian love to the white oppressor, as it is the only way to confront the white oppressor as a thou, to remain a thou in the face of the threat of nonbeing, to remain true to the worth, value, and humanity that God has bestowed through the initiating agape love, the only way to embody love as righting the wrongs of humanity because they are inconsistent with God’s purpose.

 

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Asserting Black Humanity: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power "Toward a Constructive Definition of Black Power"

Asserting Black Humanity: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power "Toward a Constructive Definition of Black Power"

The 3rd post in a series on the work of James Cone. Here I reflect on Cone's definition of Black Power, the affirmation and assertion of black humanity in the face of white racism, how I am a racist, and the risk of liberalism.

To borrow a phrase from Paul, we live and move and have our being in a racist society, a racist climate. I cannot deny that which I have inherited, racialised narratives that shape the way I see the world and the gut reactions I have to stimuli and the way it shapes how I turn observation into meaning.
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Emotional Theology: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power, Introduction

Emotional Theology: thoughts on and from James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power, Introduction

The second post in the series on the work of James Cone. Here I talk about Cone's criticism on objectivity and the need for our emotional response to injustice to shape the writing and performing of our theology. A prescient point in light of the current refugee debate and proliferation of inhumane treatment of those seeking safety.

Calls to ‘remain rational and objective’ are more often than not a ploy of those with power to dismiss the objections of those without (this is obviously not a new insight). It is easy to stay ‘rational’, ‘objective’, ‘cool, calm, collected’ when your body isn’t on the line – when your life, and the lives of your people are not at risk
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