Reflection: Bad theology is dangerous

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
The Second Sunday of Epiphany, 17th of January 2020

1 Samuel 3:1-20

I am a member of the Council of the University of Divinity. The Uniting Church in Victoria has the right to appoint two people to the Council, and now those two people are me and Associate Professor Natalie Sims. The University of Divinity, founded in 1910 as the Melbourne College of Divinity, is the only university of specialisation in Australia. Its students consistently rate the University highly, in 2019, 93 per cent of students at the University of Divinity rated their education experience positively, the top result in the whole country, and I am extremely proud of it.

I say all that partly as an advertisement in case you or anyone you know is thinking of doing some theological study, but mainly because it is at meetings of the University that I tend to be most strident about the importance of theological education. As a private, specialised, university the University of Divinity is often asked to justify itself. Why does theology need to be studied at a university level? My answer is always that ‘bad theology kills people’, and I mean that literally. In most cases I am referring to the LGBTIQ people who over the decades have died by suicide because they have thought that God would reject them for their sexuality or their gender identity. But over the past week or so I have been reminded again of just how dangerous bad theology is. Continue reading

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Reflection: Chaos and Creation

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
The Baptism of Jesus

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Mark 1:4-11

Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus to the nations, the Gentiles, represented by the magi who journeyed to Bethlehem following a star. This morning we have another theophany, a revelation of God, as we celebrate Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river.

Reading this story, we instantly notice that something strange is happening; something just as strange as the Jewish Messiah being greeted at his birth by Gentiles from the East. The ‘Baptism of Jesus’ raises the question: why would Jesus be baptised? Today’s reading begins by telling us that John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The people from Jerusalem and all Judea came to John and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Then Jesus himself comes from Galilee to John at the Jordan, expressly to be baptised by him. But Jesus had no need of repentance. Sin is most basically a turning away from God, and Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, lived his life in full relationship with God. So, why, since John is baptising for repentance those who confess their sins, does Jesus seek baptism? What is it that we are celebrating today? Continue reading

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Reflection: The light still shines

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2020

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

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.’ These words from the Prophet Isaiah summarise Christmas Day; in fact, they could be said to encapsulate the entire meaning of Christianity and our parent faith, Judaism. Our faith does not say that darkness does not exist, or that we will not experience it. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus instead tell us that, as the Apostle John wrote, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it. Today we celebrate the birth in human form of that light.

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Reflection: Fighting on God’s Side

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
20th of December, 2020

Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:46-55

I know that this year has been different because here we are at the Fourth Sunday of Advent and I am not yet completely over Christmas carols. Usually by this time in December I have heard so many carols at Christmas events or while shopping that the thought of hearing another one drives me batty. But this year there have been few Christmas parties, and shopping has been a matter of deciding beforehand, walking in, and walking out, and so I am not my usual ‘Bah! Humbug!’ self. Continue reading

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Reflection: Rejoice!

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
13th of December 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126

Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is Joy Sunday, known for centuries as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word for ‘rejoice,’ with the liturgical colour pink. Designating this single Sunday out of Advent’s four as a time of joy immediately raises the question: what are the other three Sundays meant to be? The answer is that for much of the Church’s history Advent was a solemn time; a time for Christians to examine themselves and the world in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ; a time of fasting and quiet contemplation. This of course is why the liturgical colour of Advent is purple, the same colour as Lent. A few weeks’ ago Emily shared with me a website about ‘Celtic Advent’ but we both decided not to introduce Celtic Advent practices to the congregation when we found they included fasting. Continue reading

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Reflection: Called to make peace

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Advent Two, 6th of December 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Mark 1:1-8

Today, the second Sunday of Advent, is known as ‘Peace’ Sunday. Today we look forward to the birth of the Prince of Peace, at which angels sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

It might be the pessimist in me, but whenever I think of ‘peace’ the two sayings that come first to my mind are one from the prophet Jeremiah: ‘They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace”, when there is no peace’ (6:14; 8:11); and one from the Roman historian Tacitus, apparently quoting a Scot: ‘where they make a desert, they call it peace’. The psalmist tells us today that God ‘will speak peace to his people’ and that ‘righteousness and peace will kiss each other’. To which my response is: ‘Really? When?’ As we look at our world, how can we possibly say that peace has come? We live in a time of civil wars and terrorism – how can we say that peace has come? We live in a world in which desperate refugees flee for safety – how can we say that peace has come? We live in a country in which people who came to us seeking asylum have been locked up for seven years – how can we say that peace has come? We live in a country in which family violence is widespread – how can we say that peace has come? Yet today, on this second Sunday of Advent, that is what we proclaim. Continue reading

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Reflection: Hope at the End of the World

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Advent One, 29th of November 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

Happy New Year! And to those of you here, in the nave, welcome back to worshipping in the church building after months of lockdown. In previous years it might have been hard for us to experience the beginning of Advent as something ‘new’ because we were doing pretty much the same things at church that we had done the week before, give or take some Advent candles. That is not an issue this year. This year, as we start the new liturgical year, we are also starting a new (or renewed) way of worshipping God: together, not merely in spirit but in actual physical fact, in the church building. 2020 has been the year of learning to appreciate things that we previously took for granted, and being in the same place as other members of the congregation as we worship is one of those things.

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Reflection: This is what it all comes down to

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
22nd of November, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

Here we are, finally at the end of the church year, and at the story of the Last Judgement towards which we and Matthew have been heading for the past month. Today we are told exactly what distinguished the wise from the foolish bridesmaids; the slave with five talents from the slave with one; what more the one who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ must do to prove themselves a follower of Jesus. Today we hear one of the fundamental texts of Christianity. As we listen to it, we affirm that Christ is the ruler not just of our hearts but of the whole world, and that following the way of Jesus should determine everything we do and say. Continue reading

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Reflection: Being extremists

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
15th of November, 2020

Matthew 25:14-30

Ex-Prime Minister John Howard once said of the story that we hear today, the story most often known as the ‘Parable of the Talents,’ that it is: ‘the “free enterprise parable”. The parable that tells us that we have a responsibility if we are given assets to add to those assets’. This is why we should not ask politicians to do biblical exegesis. On the face of it, Mr Howard’s interpretation seems reasonable. In this story there are three slaves, two of whom double their master’s money and are rewarded, the third of whom merely preserves his master’s money and is condemned. Read simply, it does seem to be a parable about an apparent responsibility to increase wealth. But when we look at the context of the parable, and the details in the story, we discover that Jesus’ message is quite different.

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Reflection: Being wise, not foolish; wheat, not weeds

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
8th of November 2020

Matthew 25:1-13

So, here we are, near the end of the liturgical year and the end of Jesus’ life on earth.  Over these last three Sundays we hear three parables about the coming of the Son of Man that Jesus tells his disciples on the Mount of Olives in his last days. Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel according to Matthew began with the ‘Sermon on the Mount’; now they end with the stories he tells his followers as they gather privately on another mountain. These are parables for the church, for the people who follow Jesus and call him Lord. Continue reading

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