Teach us how to see (on Mary at the feet of Christ)

Teach us how to see (on Mary at the feet of Christ)

Mary stands in as symbol of all who sit at the feet of the Lord, all who follow as his disciples - all who seek to look to Christ for the one thing needed. All of us are invited to see much more than appears - all of us are encouraged to wait expectantly for something to burst forth from our Messiah, shedding new light on the landscape. And so we all look to Christ to see into the depths of reality, to glimpse the light and life of the world, to experience the fullness of God dwelling in man, to see the Lord of time who bridges the past into the now and makes possible our future, to see the one who at the consummation of the age will bring all out of their graves and wipe away all the tears of old as we enter the new heaven and new earth. By being present (attentive and expectant) in our relationship with Christ, we find ourselves where he is: in the depths of the non-intermittent, dependable, loving relationship of the Triune God; “the heart of discipleship is bound up with the life of the Trinity” (Williams). 


But we also find ourselves where Jesus is in another way. By looking to the face of Christ we are also taught to become aware of where and who he is with. The attentiveness we pay to Jesus, like Mary sitting at his feet, is not just a kind of aesthetic attitude while the important work takes place in the backrooms. Like walking out of a gallery we will be moved to find ourselves in the corners and circles of the world where Christ is pleased to be Emmanuel. Looking to Jesus teaches us to see him in our world today - sitting on street corners asking for change, stranded on Manus waiting on mercy, frightened in a youth detention centre isolated and abused. 

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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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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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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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Advent! What do we do when the end is nigh?

Advent! What do we do when the end is nigh?

From Y2K to Mayan 2012, Titanic to the movie 2012... how do we live in light of the end.

There seem to be two broad responses: 1) hoard and withdraw 2) intensify living. The second is the proper response for Christians, and when understood and embraced helps remind us (particularly in mainline traditions) of why focusing on the end is so important.

This was the model of the early church. The earliest believers tended to think that the end was nigh – that Jesus’ return would occur in their lifetime, or perhaps the generation after. However this did not send them off into the hills, this did not cause them to be insular, closed off, and withdrawn. Far from hording, it actually caused them to be joyfully generous with their possessions. The early church intensified their ethical engagement with the world; they upped their neighbourliness and outward focus. They sought to care for those marginalised by society – widows, orphans, lepers – they shared what they had, giving to all who had need, they devoted themselves to their cause, and to the one on whom it was grounded. The presumed immanence of the end empowered them to live boldly, to love boldly, to care boldly – because any difficulties, any struggles, anything they had to go without, would pale in comparison to what was coming. Rather than withdraw, they sought to witness and live out a rehearsal to the world that would be ushered in by the forthcoming end.

This post is based on a sermon I delivered at Forestville Uniting Church on the First Sunday of Advent, 2016.

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Sermon: Awaiting A Response

Sermon: Awaiting A Response

Habakkuk's prophetic book begins with a bang. Bursting open the doors of resigned apathy and quiet pietism by demanding of God a response to the violence and injustice he sees around him. I explore two responses, the first is direct from God, the second is found in Jesus' interaction with Zacchaeus.

... how many of those under the thumb of Zacchaeus, who’ve had to go without because of the taxes he levied, how many of those oppressed by his economic exploitation found solidarity with the words of Habakkuk – how many, when they heard the scroll of Habakkuk read in Synagogue thought of the violence and injustice inflicted upon them and their community by Zacchaeus, and how many cried out to God hoping for a response… and here, Jesus embodies that response and brings change.
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The Preference of God and the Presence of Christ

The Preference of God and the Presence of Christ

A sermon from Refugee Week: The Preference of God & the Presence of Christ. Eastwood UCA, June 26.

"When God enters the Exodus narrative, it is not as some abstract principle or ethereal ideal that all can strive for. No, God enters the narrative decidedly and emphatically on the side of the oppressed Israelites. God takes sides against Pharaoh and the Egyptian oppressors."
"... when we act to greet the refugee, to offer welcome and hospitality – we are not solely performing acts of charity – we are encountering and welcoming into our midst the Risen Christ. Just like for those who fed the hungry or clothed the naked, or welcomed the stranger in the story of Matthew 25, what we do for them we do for Christ."
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New Talk: Risky Hospitality and a True Gift

New Talk: Risky Hospitality and a True Gift

A talk I gave at H3O Church, Dee Why on the topic of hospitality. It begins with what I think is my best retelling of the story of getting lost in Maryland, USA and then moves onto some more serious stuff about hospitality as a true gift and a response to a visitation from the other/outsider.

Photo from Alexxphotos.com (and not from the talk in question)

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