Sermon Against the Prosperity Gospel

Sermon for Camberwell Uniting Church
19th of January 2020

Isaiah 49:1-7
John 1:29-42

Prosperity theology is a popular contemporary heresy. This is the theology common to the enormous megachurches that says that righteousness leads to success, that we can tell of who and what God approves by measuring health, wealth, and happiness. As one Australian Pentecostal pastor says quite flatly and falsely on his website: ‘Wealth has always been a sign of the blessing and favour of God’. But it’s too easy for us to point at Pentecostal churches as proponents of the prosperity gospel. We in the Uniting Church can be just as guilty of it. We might not emphasise wealth as a sign of God’s favour, but we are equally likely to point to success as a sign that we are doing things right. Congregations that are growing are praised; congregations in decline are worried over. A congregation that welcomes numerous young families is asked for its secrets; a congregation with a small remnant of older people is seen as a problem for its Presbytery. Continue reading

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Sermon: God’s Humanity

Sermon for Camberwell Uniting Church
12th of January, 2019

Matthew 3:13-17

Several years ago I was lucky enough to visit Palestine and Israel. One Sunday I attended worship at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, a church started in 1854 by German missionaries. It was a wonderful privilege, but I was a little surprised and disappointed by its stained glass windows. As Tyler says in the story I just read Bethlehem is a hot place, and someone born there 2000 years’ ago would have had dark skin.[1] But the stained glass windows in the Christmas Church show Jesus, and the angels, with pale skin. This is probably because the windows were made in Germany and shipped from Europe with the organ, altar, and bells – before they were carried to Bethlehem by donkey. As Tyler notices in the story, in the western world we tend to see a white-skinned Jesus, if not a blond-haired, blue-eyed one.

Angel Just Like Me 1

From An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu

(Incidentally, the interior dome of Christmas Lutheran Church now has incredibly beautiful Arabic calligraphy in gold on a blue background, saying ‘Glory to God in the highest’. This was added in the early 2000s to balance the windows with their German inscriptions.)

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Sermon: The foolishness of the wise

Yes, I’m cheating. because I was preaching in a different church this Sunday from that I preached in last week, the second half of this sermon is a repeat of what I said then.

Sermon for Camberwell Uniting Church
Epiphany 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Tomorrow, January the 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany. For centuries January 6 was the day on which Eastern churches celebrated Christmas, and in some places in the West it was known as ‘Little Christmas’; while in Ireland it was called ‘Women’s Christmas’ because it was the one day in the year when men would help with the housework, presumably to give the women a tiny break after all the extra work they’d done to help the family celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. In these days of gender equality and men doing housework there is, of course, so longer a need for a ‘Women’s Christmas’, so tomorrow we will be able to give all our attention to celebrating the Epiphany, the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles seen in the visit of the magi to Bethlehem. Continue reading

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Sermon: Putting Herod back into Christmas

Sermon for Leopold Uniting Church
29 December 2019

Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

I spend way too much time on social media, particularly Twitter, time that I’m sure could be spent more productively elsewhere. But sometimes Twitter throws up fascinating conundrums. Before Christmas I became part of a discussion between people who were pondering why Jesus grew up poor, given that at his birth an unspecified number of magi from the east had brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Surely, the collective Twitter hive-mind thought, Joseph and Mary could have sold the frankincense and myrrh for vast sums and added those to the gold. They would have been rich! No need for Jesus to grow up the son of a carpenter in an obscure town in Galilee.

Wise Men

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Prayer for Epiphany

Prayers of Intercession for Epiphany. If you would like to make use of them, please do.

Loving God,
today as we remember the magi,
who had the faith to follow the star that led them to you,
and the wisdom to recognise you and worship;
we also remember King Herod,
whose fear and anger led to slaughter and horror and despair.

Right in the middle of the Christmas Story is death;
hard on the heels of joy comes sorrow.

Flight into Egypt (2)

So today we pray for all those whose Christmases have been hard:
the sick, and those in mourning;
asylum seekers, refugees, and all who have fled their homes;
people locked up in camps and prisons;
those for whom Christmas Day was just another day of hunger and homelessness;
those who have lost houses, animals, livelihoods, or loved ones in the current fires;
those whose Christmas Day was spent in fear and danger;
those who were alone, without family, at Christmas;
and those whose experience of family has been abuse, rather than love.

Massacre of the Innocents Mariawald Abbey

Loving God,
the story of your birth contains both darkness and light,
both hatred and love,
both sorrow and joy;
and so we know that we can ask you to take it all,
all that darkness and hatred and sorrow,
and transform it into light and love and joy,
as you cradle us all in the palms of your hands.
Amen.

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Prayer for the times: Climate Emergency and Bushfires

Creator God,
you made a world of wonder and declared it ‘good’.
You provided everything that was needed for life to flourish;
creation rejoiced at the work of your hands.

Yet today your good creation is in crisis.
Oceans are rising: Pacific nations face salinity and inundation.
Temperatures are rising; the very old and very young are vulnerable.
Fires are burning out of control; people and properties, animals and birds, are at risk. Continue reading

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Sermon: Counter-culturally caring for creation

Sermon for Richmond Uniting Church
17th of November 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25

What we are doing here this morning is profoundly counter-cultural. To begin with, we are gathering together in community in order to encounter God. I suspect that if we asked the majority of Australians where they encountered God, they would tell us that they found God by the sea, on the mountain, in the bush, or in the rugged red heart of the country. They might say that they encounter God in the love of family and friends; in the curl of a new-born baby’s hand around their finger; in the smile of a 90-year-old. Very few Australians would say that they encounter God when gathered with a motley crew of ordinary people in a suburban church on a Sunday morning. That is if they even believe there is a ‘God’ to be encountered at all.

Richmond Uniting

Good to preach at a church so welcoming that its sign is graffitied!

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