Sermon: Don’t mention the Trinity!

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Trinity Sunday, the 11th of June 2017

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

As I say on this Sunday every year: today is Trinity Sunday; be afraid, be very afraid. Ben Myers, who teaches theology at the United Theological College in Sydney, put together a series of tweets this week that he titled ‘How to combat Trinitarian heresies. Because heresy is meh’. Here are a few of the sixty-odd points that he tweeted.

Ben Myers 7

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Sermon: Merited and unmerited suffering

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 28th of May 2017

First Letter of Peter

This past Thursday, forty days after Easter Sunday, was the feast of the Ascension. The Orthodox Mission that worships in the old Methodist Sunday School is named ‘Holy Ascension’ and they had a special service on Thursday morning. I attended the service at the invitation of Father Kyril.

The Orthodox do serious worship! The service went for two and a half hours. There are very few chairs in an Orthodox service, so most of those two and a half hours I was standing – I did occasionally sit down on one of the chairs set aside for the elderly – and by the end of the service my legs were aching. (I can only imagine how you would react if I tried to lead you in a two and a half hour service during which you couldn’t sit down! It’s not an experiment that I’ll be trying any time soon.) The Orthodox also have a reverence for their clergy that I found disconcerting. Bishop George was greeted by children throwing flowers in his path, and by people kissing his hands.

Everything was beautiful. I have some vestment envy when we have joint services with the Anglicans, but Anglican vestments are nothing when compared with those of the Orthodox. The liturgy is long and repetitive and sung and glorious. During the service people move around and occasionally talk to each other – I got to practice both my Russian and my Australian Sign Language, and if it wasn’t for my aching legs I could have wanted it to last longer, because it took me right away from my everyday life and into a realm of communion with God. Continue reading

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Sermon: In which Avril confesses to proclaiming a ‘nice’ God

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 21st of May 2017

Acts 17:22-31

One of the things that I do not feel I do well, either as a Christian or as a minister, is evangelism – sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in such a way that other people want to explore Christianity and make their own response in faith and love. I say, only half-jokingly, that my particular gift isn’t to encourage people to see Christianity as true; it’s to encourage people to see Christians as ‘nice’. I’ve had people I’ve met when speaking outside the church say that to me: ‘You make the church sound nice’; ‘If I did believe in God, I’d believe in your God’. My brother tells me that I fail as an evangelist because of that ‘niceness’. When he’s teasing me, he suggests that I should instead preach hellfire and damnation, and tell people that if they don’t become Christian they’ll spend an afterlife in eternal torment. It’s a genre of preaching known as ‘dangling them over the pit’. The trouble is, I can’t reconcile that with my experience of a God of limitless love. I can’t preach eternal damnation with any integrity. Nor would I do any better with my brother’s other suggestion for marketing the church, which is to preach the Prosperity Gospel and tell people that becoming Christian will make them rich. Continue reading

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Sermon: In which Avril, surprisingly, preaches about Mothers’ Day

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Mothers’ Day, 14th of May 2017

Isaiah 49:13-18
Psalm 131
John 7:53-8:11

Mothers’ Day is like ANZAC Day and Australia Day. It’s a day that isn’t marked in the Christian calendar, and that doesn’t completely mesh with the Christian faith, and yet it’s also a day that many church-goers want acknowledged. There’s been a lot of discussion on social media this week among ministers about whether and how to celebrate Mothers’ Day.

As you’ll have gathered from the prayers and Bible readings, I do want us to think about mothers today. But I want us to think about human mothers in the context of God as Mother. In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we hear Isaiah describing God as even more loving than a mother; and the psalmist comparing their relationship with God to the relationship between a calm child and their mother. (Incidentally, many commentators believe that this particular psalm was written by a woman, because the psalmist says that ‘my soul is like the weaned child that is with me’ and at the time a weaned child, or toddler, was more likely to have been with their mother than their father.) When the Bible wants to tell us exactly how tenderly God loves us, God is compared to a mother. Continue reading

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Sermon: God’s NO to violence

Sermon for Williamstown
Easter Sunday, the 16th of April, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the joy at the heart of Easter; the affirmation at the heart of the Christian faith; the happy ending that makes all other happy endings possible.

I had a strange Holy Week. On Tuesday I involved myself in a fight in a shopping centre car-park. Two men were grappling apparently fighting over one hitting the car door of the other. They both had partners and small children with them, and the children were terrified, so I found myself trying to get between the men while saying, ‘Sir, sir, please stop; you’re scaring the children’. At one point I had my arm around a little boy, I think about three or four years old, who was sobbing in fright. Continue reading

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Sermon: Innocent Blood

Sermon for Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Palm and Passion Sunday

Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

It’s such a quick transition; from the crowds who spread cloaks and cut branches to put under Jesus’ feet, to the crowds who yell, ‘Crucify him!’ It didn’t happen quite as quickly as it did this morning, but it still seems to have been an unusually rapid change of mood.

Matthew is more concerned than the other gospel writers with allocating responsibility for Jesus’ death. It’s Matthew, for example, who takes time during the Passion narrative to tell us about Judas’ response to his betrayal of Jesus. According to Matthew, Judas repents very quickly. As soon as Jesus is condemned Judas brings the thirty pieces of silver he was paid back to the chief priests and the elders and tells them that he has sinned by betraying innocent blood. In repentance, he throws down the money, and then goes to hang himself. It’s too late by then; despite his attempt he cannot absolve himself. He remains the betrayer. Continue reading

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Sermon: On death

Sermon for Williamstown
2nd of April, 2017

John 11:1-45

One of the things I like about the three year lectionary cycle is the trips down memory lane that it prompts me to take. When I begin thinking about the Bible passages for any particular Sunday, I look back at what I said about those passages three, six, nine, and now twelve years ago. So I can tell you that on the fifth Sunday of Lent in 2014 I didn’t preach at all, because we were celebrating both the Eucharist and a baptism. In 2011 I preached on the reading about the dry bones from Ezekiel, connecting their ability to live again with the church’s ability to live again even if our numbers and powers are declining. That was because six years’ ago the fifth Sunday in Lent was also the day on which the first Sci Fi and Fantasy service of the ‘Church of Latter-Day Geeks’ was held, and media from all around the world were reporting on it as an attempt to get more bums on pews in a declining church, rather than as Adam Hills making fun of me while I enjoyed dressing up. Fake news!

Nine years ago, and twelve years ago, I reflected on the raising of Lazarus in the context of death. I first preached in this passage in 2005, a painful, death-darkened, year for my community. Continue reading

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