Sermon: Sinners and Saints

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Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
5th of November, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12
1 John 3:1-3

Tuesday was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther possibly nailing his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, a day we celebrate for Luther’s insight that we are all sinners who are only justified, made right with God, through God’s grace. Wednesday was All Saints’ Day, a day that we Protestants now use to remember all those we love who have died and are now part of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us. We are also reminded that we are called to be saints, too; to purify ourselves as God is pure. We are all sinners. We are all saints. For the Uniting Church, these two identities might be called our Reformed (Presbyterian and Congregationalist) identity, and our Pietist (Methodist) Identity. How do we reconcile them? Continue reading

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For the newsletter: Let your light shine

Have you heard of ‘virtue signalling? The British journalist and author James Bartholomew claims to have coined it in The Spectator in 2015 after realising that Victorians gave much more to charity than contemporary British people do. He says that it describes:

… the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. Sometimes it is quite subtle. By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or UKIP, they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.
‘I invented “virtue signalling”. Now it’s taking over the world’ The Spectator, 10 October 2015 Continue reading

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Good and Bad Evangelism

The Blessing of the Animals this morning, so no sermon. I’ll sometimes make children sit through my sermons, but I won’t do that to innocent animals.

Instead, here’s a couple of photos from my visit to Castlemaine yesterday. One is from the Castlemaine Baptist Church. The other is a poster from Minus18 (Australia’s largest youth-led organisation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth) that is in the window of Stonemans Bookroom. I think one gives a message of love and welcome, and the other does not.

I wish more churches could understand how important a message of love is to people, and how little most of us need to be reminded of our sins.

Castlemaine Baptist

 

Castlemain Bookshop

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Sermon: Wait on the Lord

Sermon for Williamstown
15th of October 2017, Pentecost 23

Exodus 32:1-14

The God who is portrayed in today’s story from the Hebrew Scriptures is quite terrifying; an apparently angry and unforgiving God, eager to punish his sinning people with total annihilation. Admittedly, their sin in the today’s reading is quite extreme. Last week we heard the Ten Commandments, gifts to the people of Israel from the God who had rescued them from Egypt. The response of the people to those commandments was: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do,’ and almost instantly the people have broken the commandments that they welcomed. In response to their rejection of God, God rejects them, saying to Moses: ‘Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely …’

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The character YHWH in today’s reading from Exodus isn’t simply the same as the God we worship, and neither is the king in Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel reading. In both cases we have stories which teach us something about God, about our relationship with God, and about ourselves, but which aren’t straight-forward descriptions of the ways in which God acts. They need to be interpreted. So let’s do that. What does this story of the golden calf have to say to us today? Continue reading

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Sermon: When commandments bring freedom

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
8 October 2017

Exodus 20:1-20
Psalm 19

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The Ten Commandments, known by Hebrew Scholars as the ‘Ten Words,’ don’t have a good reputation among some Christians. Way back in 2008, as part of the introduction of his ‘New Faith,’ the then-minister at St Michael’s Church, Francis Macnab, put up an enormous billboard over the Tullamarine freeway with the text: ‘The Ten Commandments: The most negative document ever written.’ As a publicity campaign it was brilliant; as a piece of biblical interpretation it was appalling. The Synod meeting that year asked St Michael’s to take the billboards down and apologise, which as you can imagine was an unusual step for the Uniting Church to take. (In response Dr Macnab said that he had been defamed.) One of the reasons that Dr Macnab gave for his argument was that:

There are three critical commandments which are disregarded … “Thou shalt not kill”. (In wars we have killed approximately 70 million men, women and children in the 20th Century to the present time.) “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. People do this without reflection. “Keep the Sabbath day holy”. Continue reading

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Sermon: Food

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
1st of October, 2017
Talking about the Eucharist

Today I’m not going to preach on the Bible readings; I’ve decided instead to colour outside the lines. Today I want to talk about food.

Later in this service we’re going to celebrate what is called Eucharist or Communion or the Lord’s Supper. ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving and the name goes back to Paul’s description in First Corinthians when he describes what Jesus did: ‘when he had given thanks’ and ‘given thanks’ is eucharisteesas (1 Cor 11:24). ‘Communion’ describes what we do, we gather as community to share in common the body and blood of Christ and thus commune with God. ‘The Lord’s supper’ is what Paul called the meal when writing to the Corinthians; he says: ‘When you come together it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper’ (1 Cor 11:20). That name also reminds us of who is the Host at the table. The church isn’t hosting this meal; we’re all the guests of God. Continue reading

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Vote ‘Yes’ for Religious Freedom

As the slogan says, it’s okay to vote ‘No’. The people thinking of voting ‘No’ in the postal poll on the potential change to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry are not homophobic. Most of those who are considering voting ‘No’ love their LGBTIQ friends and family members, and respect their relationships. But they have concerns about recognising those relationships as marriages.

I’d like to speak to one group of potential ‘No’ voters; those who are concerned about religious freedom. Continue reading

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