Learning Sabbath

Learning Sabbath

God acts to release people from bondage. But this is not some abstracted releasing, the word implies another actor is in play. Pharaoh held Israel in bondage, the Accuser held this woman in bondage - God’s liberative acts are acts for us and against another. Sabbath, then, is a time where we take stock of our lives, our communities, our world and seek to see that which is out of line with God’s will, that which is in opposition to God’s creative, liberative, and restorative work. When we come to such a state of awareness we draw near to God so we may be better postured for what God has released us for: participation in the making right of all that is wrong, every day of the week. 

Sabbath is about learning what it is that God demands. We must learn to rest: it is not all up to us, and our worth is not found in our productivity, or busy-ness (This is why it can be helpful to think of days beginning at night, with rest, than in the morning, with work. Rest is not something we earn from our labour, it is a gift given to us, just because we are human, and it is from that place that we then turn to our labour). We must learn to organise our communities in a way that lets others rest - especially those who work jobs with less security, or those who have to work multiple jobs just to meet basic needs (this is why I am passionate about the campaign to keep Boxing Day a public holiday - the combination of Christmas and Boxing Day serve as the only time of the year in which people could be guaranteed two consecutive days off - those at most risk of losing that are the vulnerable). We must learn to let the earth rest - to let fields and fuels rest by being ready to relinquish the privilege of “everything now” (my daughter has eaten watermelon almost every day of her life, and while I am thankful for the option when all else is failing, it is also concerning that we have structured our society in such a way that a seasonal fruit is available all year round). Learning Sabbath is also bout learning Jubilee; Sabbath is about the justice and equality that comes through the redistribution of land, the setting free of slaves, the wiping clean of debt so that people will not be stuck in cycles of poverty, so that disparity in wealth, health, and opportunity will not be enshrined and past on across the generations. Sabbath is about learning to be a people whose lives are shaped by God and God’s reign - where the lowly are lifted up and mighty cast down, the last are first and first are last, where the poor are blessed and so too the peacemakers, and where the banquet halls will be filled with those who are never on anyone’s guest list.

Image credit: Barbara Schwarz OP, 2014

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Thoughts on and from James H Cone's Black Theology and Black Power, Preface to the 1989 Ed.

Thoughts on and from James H Cone's Black Theology and Black Power, Preface to the 1989 Ed.

New Series: In this, the final year of my Masters, I'm writing a thesis based around the theology of James H. Cone, the father of Black Theology in the US - and one of my favourite theologians. Because of that I'm going to have to read a bunch of his books. This made me think, why not get a little synergystic and blog through the books of his that I'm reading. Cone is an undervalued theologian, and it is a shame how few people know him or his work. So if I happen, through this, to encourage people to check him out, then that's a win. Today is the first in this new series, beginning with the 1989 Preface to the 1969 work Black Theology and Black Power (Harper & Row, San Francisco). I'm also going to include companions (in forms of songs, readings, films, etc. along the way). This post also leads to some offshoot thoughts about Australia Day, the "Alt-Right", and X-Men. 

As Cone writes, “amnesia is the enemy of justice. We must never forget what we once were lest we repeat our evil deeds in new forms” (xi). Cone is applying this to himself and his silence on the oppression of women, and it needs to be something I apply to myself, to my own past (and present) misdeeds, shortcomings, mistakes, silence, and perpetuation of oppressive systems and structures against all those who are striving for justice (Indigenous Australians, women, the LGBTIQ community, migrants and refugees). It also needs to be something we remember as a community, about our past… and this makes me think about Australia Day…
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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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A Responsible Christianity

A Responsible Christianity

With my work with the Chaplaincy at Macquarie University we have been exploring the idea of a responsible theology - an expression of the faith which is responsible to the world we find ourselves.

"Because, and this has long been pointed out, too much theology is irresponsible. Theologies of submission and sacrifice have guilted too many women into staying in abusive relationships. Theologies of God as powerful monarch have made synonymous the good character of God with the virtues and traits of white male authoritative figures. Too many sermons on salvation as rescue have fostered utilitarian and anthropocentric views toward the non-human world. And this doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about, for example, Christ’s sacrificial and self-giving love, it just means that we should keep in mind the dangers and walk the path responsibly, offering the odd caveat or clarification."
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SICARIO, and being sent in the midst of wolves

SICARIO, and being sent in the midst of wolves

You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now. 

A reflection on the final line of the excellent film, SICARIO and Jesus' sending of us into the midst of wolves. Why do we need the mix of dove and serpent, of shrewdness and innocence?

Serpents are wise to the ways of the wolves, to the darkness of the land, and because of that serpents can be subversive in their resistance, crafty in their struggle. The shrewdness of the serpents allows us to sidestep repaying like with like, of believing that the only way to stop a wolf is to become a wolf... 
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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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Tripp Fuller's Guide to Jesus as a movie

Tripp Fuller's Guide to Jesus as a movie

What if Tripp Fuller's excellent guide to Jesus was reimagined as a movie about a competitive home brewer who reflects on his relationship with beer as he travels across the country to a prestigious competition? 

You'd see that right? Well, read all about a movie that will never be made about a book that can easily be read, right here!

"Finally, as the road trip ends we catch up with the present, arriving at the great brew-off. Our young man, drawing on his journey, the wealth of experience he has pillaged and plundered, presents his beer."
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