Sermon: Do not be afraid

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
Transfiguration, 23rd of February 2020

Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

‘And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.’ It’s so strange, the transfiguration. Some commentators suggest that what we have here is a post-resurrection Easter vision, or a vision of the end times, when Moses and Elijah were expected to appear, being read back into the ministry of Jesus. But I don’t think the Transfiguration is a vision. I think it is a ‘story’.

Stories aren’t seen as particularly important in our fact-based, scientific, world. The word can even mean ‘lie’; when we tell children ‘don’t tell stories’. And yet stories are essential. We understand ourselves and our world by listening to stories; we create our identity through them; we explain our experiences to others by telling them our story. This is particularly true in the church. We explain who we are and, more importantly, who God is, with story. Continue reading

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Sermon: The unfashionable virtue of obedience

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
16th of February, 2020

Matthew 5:21-37

‘Obedience’ isn’t seen as a virtue in the 21st century. This could be because the 20th century saw too much of it. After World War Two, trials of Nazis were held at Nuremberg. Those on trial usually admitted that they had carried out the crimes with which they were charged, but argued that they were just following orders. ‘Just following orders’ is now known as the ‘Nuremberg defence’. It was also later used by Adolf Eichmann when he was tried in Israel. He said,‘I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty … At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate. Obedience is commended as a virtue.’ The judges rejected this defence, both at Nuremberg and at the trial of Eichmann. They held that ‘just following orders’ doesn’t excuse someone from breaking international law. Continue reading

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Sermon: Following in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sermon for Camberwell Uniting Church
26th of January, 2020

Matthew 4:12-24
Isaiah 9:1-4

These weeks that we have between Christmas and Lent are dedicated to the nature of vocation or call. We’ve seen Jesus’ call to begin his public ministry in his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on him and God announced that Jesus was his Beloved Son. And both last week and this week we see the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, those first followers who will form the nucleus of the new community to which all of us now belong through our own baptism.

If you can remember last week’s reading from the Gospel according to John, you might be a little puzzled at the differences between that description of the call of Jesus’ first disciples and today’s. John tells us that Andrew and another disciple were initially disciples of John the baptiser, and that it was John’s recognition of Jesus as the Lamb of God that led to the disciples seeking Jesus out. It was only after spending time with Jesus, responding to his invitation to ‘come and see,’ that the disciples recognised Jesus as the Messiah. Then Andrew sought out his brother Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter. John’s story would have made sense to a Jewish audience, used to disciples seeking out their own rabbi. Continue reading

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No need for a Religious ‘Freedom’ Act

1.      Introduction

Australia is a multi-cultural and multi-faith nation in which people from a great variety of religious backgrounds, and those who hold no faith at all, have found a home. With a very few exceptions Australians of all faiths are able to safely practise their religion here. As the Report of the Expert Panel into Religious Freedom (the Religious Freedom Review) documented, Australians whose faiths face persecution overseas appreciate the ‘relative safety that Australia affords people of different faiths’ (1.13). That Report recommended only small additions to Australia’s legislative protection of Australians’ religious freedoms.

Given this, the Second Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill (2019) (the Bill) is disappointing. It goes far beyond the recommendations of the Religious Freedom Review. Although the Bill describes itself as one that addresses ‘Religious Discrimination’ it should more accurately be titled a ‘Religious Freedom Bill’. It gives rights to people of faith that are not held by other people. It allows people of faith to discriminate against those with whom they disagree. It attempts to give rights that can only be held by individuals to religious institutions. If this Bill is passed, it will create divisions within Australia that currently do not exist. The passing of this legislation may license further discrimination within Australia, rather than less. Continue reading

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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.)

Continue reading

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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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