Sermon: Scarcity, Abundance, and ‘Enoughness’

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The 12th of August

John 6:35, 41-51

Today we continue to hear about the very intimate connection between Jesus and bread in the Gospel according to John. We begin today’s reading from the gospel with the same statement that ended last week’s reading: ‘Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”’ Jesus is making a huge Christological claim here; an ‘I am’ statement that directly connects Jesus with God. That in itself is offensive to the people around him. For the first time in his gospel John refers to ‘the Jews’ as the group who are opposed to Jesus. They are appalled at Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven. After all, they know that he hasn’t. They know that he is the son of Joseph, the carpenter. They know his mother and father. They know that Jesus cannot be anyone special, because they know him. There’s some tall poppy syndrome happening here. Continue reading

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Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The 5th of August, 2018

John 6:24-35

If you’ve been attending church for many years, and the church that you’ve attended follows the Revised Common Lectionary, you might have noticed something odd that happens after Pentecost in the Year of the Gospel According to Mark. If you haven’t noticed it before, it’s this: suddenly, in the middle of Ordinary Time, the Lectionary leaves the Gospel according to Mark behind and spends five weeks reading one single chapter in the Gospel according to John. For five weeks we read slowly through the sixth chapter of John, which is all about bread. I meet regularly with some other ministers to talk about the Bible readings for the coming Sunday, and there is always a point during August in Lectionary Year B when we just stare at each other in exhaustion because we have said absolutely everything we could possibly say about Jesus and bread, and we still have another two weeks to go. Continue reading

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Reflection: My chains fell off, my heart was free

In December 2017 the Parliament of Australia amended the Marriage Act (Cth) 1961 to describe marriage as a relationship between two people, rather than between one man and one woman. In July 2018, a mere six months’ later, the Uniting Church in Australia agreed to allow its ministers to marry same-sex couples in accordance with that amended Act.

This is extraordinary. When the government conducted the optional postal poll on attitudes to marriage in 2017, the question was described by many people as a controversy between religion and secularism. Certainly the very loud but unrepresentative Australian Christian Lobby put it that way. And yet here is a mainstream Christian church, the third-largest church in Australia after the Catholic and Anglican churches, agreeing to allow same-gender marriages to be conducted in its churches by its ministers. How did this happen?  Continue reading

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Sermon: Kindred in unity

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
June 24, 2018

Psalm 133
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16

‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!’ As most of you know, over the past six years the Uniting Church’s Working Group on Doctrine, of which I am a member, has been working on a report on same-sex marriage. The report went to the Assembly Standing Committee last year and the ASC decided to take it to the Assembly meeting coming up in July, with a recommendation that the Assembly allow Uniting Church minister and congregations to decide for ourselves whether or not to marry same-sex couples, acting according to our conscience.

The WGD report is now public, and the responses can best be described as ‘mixed’. This week I foolishly interacted with the Facebook page of a Uniting Church congregation in NSW and the page’s moderator replied to a comment in which is suggested that an earlier post was less than respectful: ‘We fully respect the WGD. We also fully disagree with their inaccurate and intellectually dishonest … paper … WGD will each have to give an account to God for false teaching … [the result will be] spending eternity with Satan in the Lake of Fire’. Continue reading

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Assembly Working Group on Doctrine response to Prof James Haire

To celebrate the 41st birthday of the Uniting Church in Australia, here is a response from the Working Group on Doctrine, of which I am a member, to a response by Rev. Prof. James Haire to the Working Group’s report to the Fifteenth Assembly on same-gender marriage. Happy birthday, Uniting Church in Australia! I give thanks to God for a church in which these discussions can take place.

The Assembly Working Group on Doctrine would like to comment on a ‘Response to the Assembly Standing Committee’s Report and Proposals on Marriage and Same-Gender Relationships’ by Prof James Haire. Prof Haire’s response has been widely circulated and also copied into the rationale of a proposal coming to the forthcoming Assembly meeting.

We reject the serious charge of Prof Haire’s paper that our ‘Report on Marriage and Same-gender Relationships’ contravenes the Basis of Union.  Prof Haire’s response to the Report reveals a superficial and selective reading and, at times, a misreading or misrepresentation of its content. Indeed, Prof Haire’s comments suggest minimal engagement with the details of the Report or its arguments. We respond to his criticisms as follows. His comments are included in italics. Continue reading

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Sermon: The importance of good biblical interpretation

Sermon for Williamstown
The third Sunday of Pentecost, 17th of June, 2018

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Last week, if you’ll remember, the Hebrew Scriptures told us about the desire of the people of Israel for a king to lead them. They wanted this king ‘that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles’ (1 Samuel 8:19-20). The prophet Samuel thought this was a bad idea, that YHWH should be Israel’s king, speaking through his prophets. Samuel consulted the Lord who told him to do as the people wanted – after first warning them of what a king would do to them.

The first king of Israel is Saul, one of the tribe of Benjamin. At first it seems that everything will go well but then Saul twice disobeys the Lord. First he offers the sacrifice in the place of Samuel. Then he doesn’t kill all the livestock of the Amalekites as the Lord ordered him to do. And so Samuel tells Saul that the Lord is going to replace him; that Saul’s family will not inherit the kingdom. This is despite Saul having a son, Jonathan, who is a great warrior and dearly loved by the people. In another story that the lectionary ignores Saul makes the sort of rash oath that always gets people in trouble in folktales. One day, while fighting the Philistines, Saul vows, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.’ His son Jonathan doesn’t hear this and when he finds a honeycomb Jonathan eats the wild honey. In response to the breaking of Saul’s vow God withdraws, so Saul has lots drawn to find out who has sinned and caused God’s retreat. The lot falls on Jonathan, who confesses. Jonathan is willing to die and Saul to kill him, but ‘the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Perish the thought! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die. Then Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.’ (1 Samuel 14:45-46.) It is this much-loved, great warrior, Jonathan, who is Saul’s heir. But he is apparently not God’s choice for the next king. Continue reading

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Sermon: So, you want to have a king …

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
10th of June 2018

1 Samuel 8:4-20

This Wednesday I asked those at the Wednesday Worship what they thought about today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures; the story of ‘all the elders of Israel’ asking Samuel for a king. Why, I asked, is this story in the Bible? They talked about it as a story about tithing or about human stubbornness, but none of the answers satisfied me. If we read today’s story as the Lectionary provides it to us, in isolation, it does seem to be a story of the people of Israel once again rejecting God, as they have done so often before, in their desire to be like the other nations. It provides the basis for a sermon on the human propensity to turn away from God and replace our allegiance to God with an allegiance to human things; as Jesus was to rebuke Peter a millennia later, ‘you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’ (Mark 8:33). But if we look at this story in its biblical context it is much more confusing. Continue reading

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