Sermon: Love and Solidarity

Yes, sorry, I’m preaching about love again. It’s almost as though love was at the heart of the Christian faith or something.

Sermon for Williamstown
The First Sunday of Lent, 18th of February 2018

Genesis 9:8-17
Mark 1:9-15

I’ve mentioned before that the Gospel according to Mark is short, intense, and everything happens immediately. That’s lucky for us, because today in a mere six verses Mark gives us Jesus’ baptism; his temptation in the wilderness; and the beginning of his ministry; one after the other; bam, bam, bam. And this is wonderful, because the three, baptism, testing, ministry, go together – for us as well as for Jesus. We should thank the author of the Gospel of Mark for never taking a breath. Continue reading

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Sermon: Love in the face of Death

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The Feast of the Transfiguration, 11th of February, 2018

2 Kings 2:1-12
Mark 9:2-9

Today, on the last Sunday before Lent, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. The transfiguration is a theophany, a revelation of God. In the transfiguration the separation of earth from heaven is overcome by the presence of Jesus. Mark’s first readers would have recognised the heavenly nature of this event from the way Mark uses elements from the Hebrew Scriptures. The transfiguration takes place on a mountain, the traditional site of revelations of God; the place on earth closest to heaven. Mark tells us that the transfiguration takes place ‘after six days’, referring back to the six days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai in the presence of the Lord before the Lord called to him. (Exodus 24:15-16) Jesus’ clothes are described as ‘dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them’. They’re the colour of light itself; revealing that the person wearing them is an angelic figure, a messenger from heaven. The cloud that overshadows the mountain symbolises the divine presence, and God speaks from the cloud to the disciples on this mountain as God spoke from the cloud to Moses on Mount Sinai. Mark’s first readers would have had no doubt that what he is describing here is an encounter with God. Continue reading

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Sermon: #MeToo

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The second Sunday of Epiphany, 14th of January 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-20

In 2006 an American civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, started the ‘Me Too’ movement. In 1997 she had met a young girl named Heaven in Alabama. Heaven told Tarana that she had been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, and Tarana didn’t know what to say. She never saw the girl again. Eventually Tarana realised that what she wished she had said to Heaven was, ‘Me Too,’ and so almost ten years after meeting Heaven Tarana started encouraging women to say just that. Last year, when accusations of sexual harassment and assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein were made public, actor Alyssa Milano took up Tarana Burke’s words, ‘Me Too,’ using them as a hashtag on social media. The #MeToo campaign exploded, as women all around the world who had been sexually harassed or abused or assaulted by men, said #MeToo on platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

I said it. I tweeted #MeToo and put it on my Facebook page. Continue reading

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Submission: Religious Freedom

This is my submission to the Review into Religious Freedom being conducted by Phillip Ruddock. If you’d like to make a submission, you can do so here.

Thank you for allowing the public to make submissions on the question of religious freedoms. Since there is no proposed legislation to be addressed, I can only make a few general remarks, but I am glad of the opportunity to do that. Continue reading

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Sermon: Birth; Death; Stars

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Epiphany 2018

Over the past week, leading up to today’s celebration of the Epiphany, I have been thinking a lot about the stars. I have been thinking about celestial navigation, about the ways in which sailors and shepherds used to find their way by the stars. I’ve been thinking about the familiarity and sense of home I feel whenever I see the Southern Cross, no matter where in the world I actually am; and how lost and alone I sometimes feel in the United Kingdom and Europe, when I look up and the Cross isn’t there. I’ve been thinking about the astonishing scientific fact that we humans are literally made of star-dust; and the sense that can give all of us of being at one with the entire cosmos, whether or not we believe that the same Creator made the lights in the dome of the sky and humanity. I’ve been thinking about the first time I saw the Milky Way from outback Australia and the absolute, overwhelming awe that seeing those many, many stars brought me, especially when I realised that I was looking into the past, light-years back in time. Continue reading

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Sermon: God as one of us

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2017

The only time I have spent Christmas Day out of Australia was eleven years’ ago, when I was living in Switzerland. I went to Paris for Christmas, to stay with some Australian friends living and working there, and for the first time in my life I didn’t go to church on Christmas Day. There were two reasons for that: my French is almost non-existent and I wouldn’t have caught more than one in twenty words of a French service; and the English-speaking church that my friends attended, the Church of Scotland in Paris, didn’t have a Christmas Day service.

That shouldn’t have surprised me. The Scots have always had a slightly awkward relationship with the celebration of Christmas. After the Reformation, Protestants realised that a lot of Christmas celebrations weren’t biblically based. If Christians were to go back to the Scriptures as the Reformation demanded of them, and only celebrate those feasts and people who were mentioned in the Bible, then a lot of holy days or holidays, would have to go. Edward the Sixth of England was very canny about this. Saints’ Days couldn’t be celebrated anymore, but the apostles could be remembered, and so could biblically-attested events. So the newly Reformed Church could still celebrate Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day (Stephen being the first Christian martyr whose story is told in the Book of Acts), Holy Innocents’ Day (remembering the little boys killed by King Herod), the Circumcision of Jesus, and Epiphany, when the magi arrived with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And, lo and behold, when you added all that up, you got something not very far from the traditional twelve days of Christmas celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church between Christmas Day and Epiphany. Hooray! The party was back on! Continue reading

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Sermon: Mary the Magnificent

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
24th of December 2017

Luke 1:39-55

Recently I read an article by Irish writer Colm Toibin about his writing of the book and one-woman play, The Testament of Mary. He starts by saying how ‘shadowy’ Mary’s presence is: ‘She herself, as she is presented in the Gospels, is mostly silent, and, once Jesus leaves her home, she is mostly absent in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Luke she recites the Magnificat, but even there she takes account of her own “lowliness” before declaring, “From this day all generations will declare me blessed”. Matthew and Luke mention her in their Gospels, but mostly in her role as the mother of the infant Jesus. Mark hardly mentions her at all. It is John alone who registers her presence at the wedding feast of Cana and later at the foot of the Cross.’[1]

I feel awkward disagreeing with Toibin, but I don’t think Mary is particularly shadowy. We see a lot more of her than we do of Joseph. Continue reading

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