Sermon: Maybe we’re the answer

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
16th of January, 2022

John 2:1-11

The story of the miracle at Cana must be one of the better-known miracle stories. People who know little else about what Jesus did, know that he once turned water into wine. But it is also a story that for a long time I found troubling. First, I did not like the way Jesus spoke to his mother. ‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”’ That struck me as unnecessarily rude. Second, it is sometimes used to support ‘replacement theology’ or supersessionism, the idea that Christianity has replaced Judaism and that the Church has replaced the people of Israel as the people of God. The argument is that the ‘stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification’ are no longer necessary because Jesus has come and filled them with the wine of the messianic banquet. It was only when I read that Jesus had produced somewhere between 450 and 680 litres of wine, a frankly ridiculous amount of wine, that I took another look at this miracle story. Continue reading

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Sermon for the Epiphany

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Epiphany, 9th of January, 2022

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Matthew 2: 1-12

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, the feast that concludes the twelve days of Christmas. The word ‘epiphany’ means any sudden realization; so that if at any time you have a revelation, you can declare that you’ve had ‘an epiphany’. But the particular epiphany about which Matthew writes and that we are celebrating today is the revelation to the Gentiles, through the magi, that the One God has come to live among humanity and can be seen in the infant Jesus. According to Matthew, wise men from the East saw Jesus’ star at its rising and came to pay him homage, bringing him gifts. The star went before them and when it stopped over the house where Jesus was the magi were overwhelmed with joy. This was a moment of great and sudden illumination, an epiphany, as the Messiah was revealed to Gentiles. The homage offered by these people from the East acknowledged that Jesus had been born for all humanity, even if they had been looking for one they called the ‘king of the Jews’. Continue reading

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Sermon: Being wowsers, do-gooders, virtue signallers, etc

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
For the New Year, 2nd of January, 2022

Revelation 21:1-6a
Matthew 25:31-46

Here we stand in the liminal moment between the old year and the new. Literary heroine Anne of Green Gables once said, after flavouring a cake with liniment instead of vanilla, ‘Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day without any mistakes in it yet?’[1] At this time of year I always think: isn’t it nice to be on the threshold of a new year without any mistakes in it yet?

Between Christmas and New Year two comments were made that I have been pondering ever since. One was to me personally and was roughly that I was a hypocrite who hid my inherent nastiness by donating money to charity and talking about it. The other was a tweet by Sydney Daily Telegraph politics editor James Morrow that said, ‘Public health has always been about endorsing a particular sort of politicised virtuous liberalism’ (liberalism with a small ‘l’, obviously). Both statements had me thinking about the relationship between doing and speaking, and the dangers that Christians fall into if we do not merely try to follow Jesus, but dare to do it publicly and talk about what it is we are doing. And then I saw today’s Bible readings and it all made sense. Continue reading

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Christmas Day: The unity of humanity

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2021

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Luke 2:1-20

O sing a new song to God, sing to God all the earth. Let the heavens be glad, let earth rejoice, let the sea roar and all within it, let the land and all it bears rejoice.

There are two opposing reactions to pain and fear and disaster. One reaction is to turn inwards, to circle the wagons around out family, our community, our nation. The other is to look outwards, to recognise that all of us on this fragile blue planet hurtling through space are part of one single community. The Bible contains examples of both ways of thinking, but the readings for Christmas Day encourage the latter. This is unsurprising, because the message of the Christmas is that the baby born in Bethlehem of Judea two thousand years ago was born for all of us, everyone, of every time and every place. Continue reading

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Reflection: Uncertainty on Christmas Eve

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Christmas Eve, 2021

Luke 2:1-20

Tonight we celebrate the second Christmas Eve of the covid19 pandemic. On Christmas Day last year I looked back on 2020 and said that for many people throughout the world it had been and remained a year of darkness. But I felt certain then, even if I did not dare say so out loud, that 2021 would be better. I am apparently a slow learner. When the churches first closed in 2020 I thought, “Oh well, we might not be able to celebrate Easter together in person, but it will all be over by Pentecost”. Through lockdowns three, four and five I thought, “Oh well, at least we Melburnians now know how to get to 0 cases of community transmission – short, sharp lockdowns”. Then, when Delta proved intractable and lockdown six went on for months, I thought, “Oh well, once we’ve all been vaccinated we’ll be fine”. Now Omicron has happened and finally, after almost two years, I know not to make any predictions at all. I have not only no idea what 2022 will bring, I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. But, really, that has always been true. We may think we live in a stable, predictable, world, but at every moment the unexpected can shatter it. Continue reading

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A bit cut out of the Christmas Day sermon

I wrote this, about Psalm 96, but in the end didn’t fit. So I cut it out. I hate having to do that. But I like it; so have an outtake from the Christmas Day Sermon, about God’s care for the non-human creation as well as the human.

Because of this promise, of light and joy and peace and justice, today’s psalm calls all of humanity to rejoice and praise God, even when God comes in judgement. The nations, all the peoples, are called to worship the Lord. And not merely human beings; the whole creation, the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that fills it, the lands and all they bear, and the trees of the forest, all the non-human creation is called to join humanity in our praise. At God’s coming God will judge not only the peoples but also the earth with righteousness and with truth, and this will be good news not just for oppressed human beings who need God to speak for them, but lands and trees and animals. The broad-faced potoroo and the Tasmanian tiger, the Paradise parrot and the Lord Howe boobook, the Illawarra zieria and the swamp lily, will all have their day in court. The Psalm reminds us that God’s love and concern is not simply for human beings, but for all of God’s creation, and at God’s coming all of the creation will be judged with equity and righteousness and truth. Judgement is not often seen as something to be greeted with joy and song, but God’s justice is to be welcomed

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Sermon: Small and insignificant

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
19th of December, 2021

Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:39-55

This week we were finally able to hold a memorial service celebrating the life of Marcelle Maisey. Jenny Preston presided, and she preached on the Bible passage chosen by Marcelle’s family, Proverbs 31:10-31, which is often titled ‘the capable wife’ in Bibles. Jenny pointed out that the word translated as ‘capable’ actually has connotations of military might or physical strength and courage, and so many commentators prefer to title this passage ‘a woman of valour’. Only two women in all the Hebrew Scriptures are described in this way, the woman in Proverbs 31 and Ruth the Moabite. Today we hear of two more women of valour, Elizabeth, and Mary. Unusually, in a Bible that usually tells the stories of men, today we see these two women meeting and conversing without the presence of any male character, other than their unborn babies. Their meeting and their lives change the world.

In Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ birth the focus is on Joseph, who discovers that his betrothed is pregnant and must decide whether to put her away. In Luke’s telling the focus is instead on Mary, who is told by the angel Gabriel that despite being a virgin she will conceive and bear a son she is to name Jesus. Last year we heard her brave response to the news of her pregnancy out of wedlock: ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’. This year we see what happens next. The angel Gabriel has told Mary that her relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and Mary hastens to see her. Continue reading

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Sermon: Rejoicing and repenting, or vice versa

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
The Third Sunday of Advent, 12th of December 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Luke 3:7-18

If, like me, you feel that most of this year disappeared in a locked-down haze you may, also like me, be shocked that today is the third Sunday of Advent. It feels as though 2021 never really got started, yet here we are approaching the end of it. At least this Sunday is one to celebrate; it is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday – Joy Sunday, the only Sunday in the entire liturgical year whose colour is pink. The name comes from a line in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Latin, ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4) is Gaudete in Domino semper. As we journey through Advent, with its sombre admonitions that we should be prepared at every moment for the Second Coming of the Son of Man, today offers us joy. Continue reading

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Sermon: Would we really want God to appear?

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
5th of December 2021

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Luke 3:1-6

Advent is a season of waiting, of preparing for the coming of the Lord. Advent could take the second-last verse of the Book of Revelation as its theme: ‘The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20. Yet today’s readings make me wonder whether we really do want the Lord to come.

The first reading comes from the prophecies of Malachi, made after the Babylonian Exile had ended and the exiles had returned home. The hopes of restoration had not been fulfilled, and people had begun to ask whether God genuinely loved them. Immediately before today’s reading Malachi warns the people that they have wearied the Lord. ‘[Y]ou say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17) It is in this context that Malachi makes the prophecy we heard this morning, of the Lord suddenly appearing in the temple. Hence Malachi warns them that the coming of the Lord will be like refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap, resulting in not just a superficial cleansing but cleansing by extreme heat and strong lye. The people cry out for justice; Malachi warns them that the justice that comes might be executed on them. We are given this prophecy in Advent as good news. Is it really? Continue reading

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Very short reflection on baptism

I decided that this needed to be a very short Reflection, given that in the time since Jarrah’s parents and I met to discuss Jarrah’s baptism, we’d had several lockdowns and Jarrah had grown into a very active toddler. I was right, and I’m not sure I managed to say all this on the day. Continue reading

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