Reflection: Pentecost demands Reconciliation

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Pentecost, 31st of May, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

Something so astonishing happened at Pentecost that churches, in years when we can gather, celebrate it with candles and kites and bonfires and the colour red. We try to find ways of symbolising the Spirit, of showing visually just how incredible was Her appearance to the first disciples. In Acts, Luke does the same thing. He tells us that as the disciples were gathered together in a house there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. And there came divided tongues as of fire. Luke is doing what we’re doing; he’s trying to describe the indescribable. We cannot truly express the coming of the Spirit in words or images. What happened at Pentecost is beyond description.

What we can do, what Luke does, is describe the effects. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and suddenly they’re able to speak in other languages. In a world so easily divided by language, in which we talk so often of communication breakdown, this barrier is overcome. The disciples speak, and the devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem each hear their own native language. The gospel is able to be shared with people in their own tongue. Continue reading

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Sermon: The Ascension isn’t about dangling feet

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Feast of the Ascension, 24th of May, 2020

Acts 1:1-11

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, a part of the story of Jesus that we often ignore. It is such an important event that it gets a clause in the Apostles’ Creed; one of the things that the church believes about Jesus is that ‘he ascended into heaven’. But it is usually forgotten, perhaps because the image of Jesus taking off into the sky is so difficult to take seriously. Rising into the heavens looks cool when Superman or Thor does it but it’s hard to imagine Jesus doing it, especially since we no longer believe in a three-tiered universe of Heaven/Earth/Hell. I have put a selection of images of the Ascension on the church’s Vimeo page, created from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries, and you’ll see there how very hard it is to portray the Ascension without making it seem that Jesus has taken off like a rocket. But as one Biblical commentator has put it: ‘We do not, as a matter of fact, believe that Jesus ended his earthly ministry with the equivalent of a rocket launch, rising a few hundred miles above the earth. Nor do we think Jesus was the first to be “beamed up,” to use the term made so familiar by the television series Star Trek.[1] No matter how many artists have portrayed it that way, that is not what the Ascension means.

Ascension - William Morris, 1862

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Covid19 Diary 7

Samuel Pepys: May 14, 1995
Lords Day. Up, and with my wife to church, it being Whitsunday. My wife very fine in a new yellow birds-eye Hood, as the fashion is now. We had a most sorry sermon.

May 17, 2020

It’s starting; we are coming out of isolation. The federal government has introduced three Steps that will take us from lockdown to relative openness, without needing to wait for a vaccine or a cure. Here in Victoria Daniel Andrews is taking things a little more slowly, and there are still two outbreaks that seem to be spreading, one based at a meat works and the other centred on a McDonalds. But from last Tuesday we could visit each other’s homes again in small groups; we can have up to ten people at church; and Corio Bay has been covered in small fishing boats. Continue reading

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Sermon: One example of evangelism

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17th of May 2020

Acts 17:22-31

I seem to have accidentally started a series of ‘reflections on the sermons preached in the Book of Acts’. Two weeks ago we had the aftermath of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost; 3000 converted, baptised, and sharing all things in common. Last week we saw the end of Stephen’s sermon preached to the Jewish Council; Stephen dragged out and stoned. This week we have a third, and very different, sermon, preached by the Apostle Paul in Athens. Paul has a reputation as a hard-liner, but here we see him speaking to the Athenians ‘with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Peter 3:16). Paul’s approach to the Athenians models for us how to share our faith with those around us, living as we do in a very similar world. Continue reading

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Sermon: Forgiveness

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
10th of May, 2020

Acts 7:55-60

The Book of Acts, the story of the creation of the Christian church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, contains some memorable sermons. Last week we heard the aftermath of Peter’s sermon to the crowds at Pentecost, when 3000 people joined the existing 120 believers and were baptised. I said last week that while we could use Luke’s summary description of the activities of this group as a way of assessing our own practices as a church, we shouldn’t worry too much about that group’s rapid transformation from a suburban-sized congregation into a megachurch. Nothing we do or don’t do is going to bring in a sudden flood of thousands of new members. But ‘bums on pews’ has always been one way in which the faithfulness of congregations has been judged; and there is a dreadful tendency for churches to assume that God approves of them if they grow, and disapproves of them if they decline. So it is salutary to read today’s story, the response to Stephen’s sermon, alongside last week’s response to Peter’s. As one commentator on this story writes: ‘Perhaps all unsuccessful preachers should take some comfort here. If their congregations merely complain or fire them, at least they do not stone them.’[1] Because that’s what happens to Stephen after the sermon he preaches. He becomes the church’s first martyr. Continue reading

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Covid19 Diary 6

Samuel Pepys: May 3, 1661
… and so out to Gresham College and saw a cat killed with the Duke of Florence’s poison. And saw it proved that the oyle of Tobacco, drawn by one of the Society, doth the same effects, and is judged to be the same thing with the poison, both in colour and smell and effect. (I saw also an abortive child, preserved fresh in spirit of salt.)

May 3, 2020

Do you remember Fuzzy Felt? I used to have a few boxes of them when I was a child. I can’t remember which ones I had, but I remember how they were used; a felt board on which felt pieces were placed to make a picture, each bit of the felt clinging to the other.Fuzzy FeltRecently Karen, the Children’s and Families’ Minister at Western Heights, pulled out the congregation’s huge collection of biblical Fuzzy Felt. They aren’t too bad, except that of course Jesus is too white and his robes are usually too clean. Apart from during the Transfiguration, when we’re told that his clothes ‘became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,’ I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be walking the roads of first-century Palestine in gleaming white robes. Karen and I started talking about whether we could wash Jesus in coffee to give him a more middle-eastern skin tone. Then we looked through all the figures, to see if we could find someone who could be Jesus, but wasn’t wearing white. And we found a series of ‘contemporary’ people. Continue reading

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Reflection: What does ‘church’ look like?

Reflection for Western Heights
3rd of May, 2020

Acts 2:42-47

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Today, for the fourth Sunday in a row, we are celebrating Easter and the joy of resurrection. It takes us fifty days to truly celebrate God’s defeat of darkness and death, the victory of love and light and life. Easter is ten days longer than Lent; forty days of thoughtful preparation lead to fifty days of celebration.

This celebration, this ultimate victory of life over death, has implications for the way that we as Christians live our lives. Today we have a tiny snippet from the Book of Acts, one of Luke’s summary passages. It comes after he tells us about Peter’s preaching to the questioning crowds at Pentecost, when Peter told them that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was their Messiah and Lord. Peter was obviously an amazing and spirit-filled preacher, because the crowd immediately responded by asking ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter told them to repent and be baptised, which they did. Then we come to the part of the story that we read today, the description of how these newly baptised Christians lived out their baptism. Luke reminds us here that Christianity is a matter of doing as much as it is of believing. Christians believe that God raised Jesus from death, and in everything we do we live out our response to that belief. Continue reading

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