Sermon: Don’t accept injustice (Part 2)

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
14th of October, 2018

Job 23

Last week, we began to read the Book of Job, a poetic book written sometime between the seventh and fourth centuries BC, with a prose introduction and conclusion that might have come from a traditional folk tale. Last week, if you remember, God and ha-satan, the accuser or adversary, had a bet over the righteous man, Job. Would he still be a ‘blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’ if he is made to suffer? Last week we saw that, as a result of the conversation between God and Satan, Job lost everything he had and everything he was. He lost his wealth. He lost his household. He lost his children. In response to these losses Job said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,’ and we’re told that ‘in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing’. Then Job loses his health; he is inflicted with loathsome sores. His wife tells him to curse God and die, but Job replies, ‘Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ and it’s written, ‘in all this Job did not sin with his lips’. Continue reading

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Sermon: Don’t accept injustice!

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
7th of October, 2018

Job 1:1 – 2:10

After spending the month of September making our slow way through the Letter of James, in October we’re going to go to the other end of the biblical canon and spend some time with the Book of Job. We might not be certain whether the Letter of James was actually written by Jesus’ brother James the Righteous, but we have some certainty about when, where, why and to whom it was written. We know none of those things about the Book of Job. We don’t know where it was written. We don’t know who wrote it. Commentators narrow its date to sometime between the seventh and the fourth centuries BC. We are fairly sure that Job is not intended to be a real person; the opening and closing parts of the book may be based on a traditional folk tale. What we can be certain of is that this is an absolutely amazing book and I hope that over the next four weeks you take the time to read all of it. I’ll let the scholars at the University of Nottingham introduce it. Continue reading

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Sermon: The church is called to pray

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
30th of September 2018

James 5:13-20

This week is the last in which we hear from the Letter of James, learning from his teaching about the true wisdom that comes from above, as opposed to the ‘earthly, unspiritual, devilish’ wisdom of the world. Two weeks ago James warned us about the dangers of our tongues. Now James tells us how to use our tongues well, in prayer. Whether we are unhappy, happy, or sick, James tells us to pray; however we may be feeling and whatever is happening to us, James says that prayer is the appropriate response. This is how we can guard our tongues and ensure that we don’t start a fire with them – by remembering that all our words are said in God’s hearing. Continue reading

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Sermon for Police Remembrance Sunday

Sermon for Police Remembrance Sunday 2018
Williamstown Uniting Church

James 3:1-4:3 7-8a

Today is the Sunday before National Police Remembrance Day, which is held every year on the 29th of September. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the murders of Sergeant Gary Silk, of St Kilda Police, and Senior Constable Rod Miller, of Prahran Police, and the subsequent institution of Blue Ribbon Day. Today we remember all the police officers, state and federal, who serve the community, particularly those who have died on duty. We also remember those police officers whose deaths did not occur while they were on duty, but which happened as a result of it, officers who have died by suicide. We remember and honour them all, and commit ourselves to supporting police officers currently in service, those who have retired, and especially those who are living with PTSD as a result of their work.

Today we are also hearing the fourth of the five readings the lectionary gives us from the Letter of James. Last week we heard about the dangers of our tongues, the dreadful things they can say if we let them loose. As James wrote: ‘The tongue is like a spark … our tongues get out of control. They are restless and evil and always spreading deadly poison.’ He warned his readers that if we let our tongues run away with us, which I certainly am prone to do, ‘from the same mouth come[s] blessing and cursing’. James condemned this. After all, ‘does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?’ If we curse people with the same mouth with which we bless God, we are as weirdly unnatural as a fig tree that grows olives. Continue reading

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Sermon: We ALL make mistakes

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church

James 3:1-12

This past week another battle in Australia’s culture wars has broken out; and it went international. In the final of the USA Open Serena Williams was docked first a point and then a game for abusing the umpire. She protested that the umpire was being sexist. I have to admit that as someone with a hot temper myself I completely sympathise with Williams on this. Of course she shouldn’t have abused the umpire but, as Tracey Holmes has pointed out, in 2016 Nick Kyrgios said that the same umpire was biased and that the code violation awarded to him was ‘effing bullshit’ (although he didn’t say ‘effing’) and yet, unlike Williams, Kyrgios wasn’t docked a game. Holmes gave a few other instances of what seems to be sexism; male tennis players getting away with things for which Williams was penalised. Continue reading

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Letter to the Sunday Age

My letter was edited for space, so here is the full thing.

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‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,’ says the letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, ‘is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world’.

No mention is made of the nationality, religion, or sexuality of the orphans and widows, only of their need. Denis Dragovic and Barney Zwartz are correct that protecting religious freedom won’t lead to discrimination – because the adherents of  pure and undefiled religions do not  want the right to discriminate.

To speak only of the church to which I belong, in early 2016 Uniting Aged Care proudly became the first faith-based aged care provider to be awarded a rainbow tick for its commitment to serving the LGBTIQ community. Earlier this year UnitingCare’s national director affirmed its non-discriminatory policy in employment, recruitment, and service to the Ruddock review into religious freedoms.

The submission of the national Assembly of the Uniting Church to that same review said: ’Fundamental to the Uniting Church’s approach to its own religious freedoms is that such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society’.

At a time when far-right extremists claim that discrimination against Muslims is not racist because Islam is not a race there is no doubt that religious belief should be a protected attribute under anti-discrimination legislation. Sadly the arguments made by secular commentators too often focus on the ‘right’ of religious people to discriminate against others, rather than our right to be protected from discrimination.

Was that hypothetically homophobic Christian baker to be found in Australia, they would undoubtedly be following the advice of the Apostle Paul and baking same-sex couples the  most beautiful wedding cakes, thus heaping burning coals on their so-called ‘enemies’ heads.

 

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Sermon: Faith that is alive

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
9 September 2018

James 2:1-10, 14-17

We are in our second week of reading through the Letter attributed to Jesus’ brother, James the Righteous, leader of the church in Jerusalem. Remember last week, when we saw academics from the University of Nottingham describe Martin Luther’s abhorrence of this letter? Today we come to my favourite part of the letter, and the part that I think, more than any other, made Martin Luther fume: ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ Continue reading

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