Sermon: The Beatitudes

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
29th of January 2023

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Today, as we continue our Epiphany journey through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we hear one of my favourite descriptions of what it is that church believes: ‘For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ It is a perfect description of today’s gospel reading, because today the lectionary takes us to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and the foolishness and the wisdom of the beatitudes. Continue reading

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Sermon: In favour of the Voice to Parliament

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
22nd of January 2023

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

In last week’s reading from the Apostle Paul’s first surviving letter to the Corinthians, Paul started his epistle on a surprisingly positive note – for Paul. He wrote: ‘I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus’. (1 Corinthians 1:4-7) That is lovely, but in today’s reading, a mere ten verses into the letter, Paul is not so happy. The Corinthians are being scolded.

The problem is division. The Corinthians have been called by God into community, but they are a community in conflict. Apparently, they are idolising certain leaders, saying of themselves: ‘“I belong to Paul”, or “I belong to Apollos”, or “I belong to Cephas”, or “I belong to Christ.”’ We do not know exactly what this means, what each of those different factions represented. It could be that those who describe themselves as belonging to Cephas, Peter, want the church to hold more strongly to its Jewish roots. Apollos came from Alexandria; it might be that those who claimed to belong to him wanted Christianity to become a school of philosophy. We do not have the Corinthians’ side of this exchange, so we just do not know. What we do know is that (according to Paul) claiming to belong to a different evangelist or teacher from your fellow church members is divisive. Continue reading

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Sermon: The Church – always ‘of God’ but never perfect

This sermon refers to the sexual abuse of children by clergy. If this raises issues for you, remember that you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
15th of January 2023

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

‘To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints’. Here at the beginning of the new calendar year, our lectionary readings also have a very ‘beginning’ feeling to them. We have Jesus calling his very first disciples, two of whom are initially disciples of John the Baptist, and the third of whom is Simon, renamed Peter by Jesus: emotional, committed, brave, cowardly, and profoundly human. We also have the greeting from Paul’s magnificent First Letter to the church at Corinth. If we ever feel that size, strength, wealth, or unity are necessary to show that the church is on the right path, Paul’s two surviving letters to the Corinthians remind us that the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord can be small, weak, poor, and divided, and still be the church of God. Continue reading

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Sermon: Mutual epiphanies

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Epiphany 2023

Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

‘In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’.

An ‘epiphany’ is an illuminating discovery; the sudden perception of an essential meaning; a new understanding that comes from a simple and striking event. The Epiphany, celebrated by the church after the twelve days of Christmas, commemorates the revelation of the Jewish Messiah to Gentiles from the East; the discovery by them that God is present in the child born King of the Jews; a new understanding of the mystery hidden in former generations. As God is revealed to the magi in the child they see with Mary his mother, so the magi, Gentiles, are revealed to be ‘fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise’ that this child’s life, death, and resurrection will bring to the world. Continue reading

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There is no ‘war on Christianity’ in Australia

This was going to be in this Sunday’s sermon, but there’s no room for it. But it took me ages to find the correct Synod Minute, so I’m sticking it here so that I will remember it.

There is no ‘war on Christianity’. Christianity is simply losing its privilege. Many Australians are no longer Christian and so we cannot assume that everyone is happy praying the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the parliamentary day, for instance. And the Uniting Church has long said that we do not want the right to discriminate against people on the basis of race, disability, age, breastfeeding, industrial activity, status as a carer, physical features, political belief or activity, parental status, pregnancy, gender identity, marital status,  sex, or sexual orientation (Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Minute 10.7.10.2.6) so laws that prevent religious schools from firing LGBTIQ+ staff or expelling LGBTIQ+ students do not worry us.

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Sermon: Christmas Day

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2022

Psalm 98
Matthew 1:18-25

Today, Christmas Day, we celebrate the birth of Jesus to Mary in Bethlehem. Yesterday we heard Luke’s version of the story, which is the one we know best, with Joseph and Mary having to travel from their home in Nazareth to the City of David, where they found ‘no place for them in the inn’. Luke’s story has angels and shepherds and a happy ending: ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.’ (Luke 2:19-20) Matthew’s version of the story[1] is less joyful. Mary and Joseph might be in their own home, rather than on the road unable to find shelter at an inn, and there might be no messy shepherds disturbing their sleep, instead Matthew later tells us that magi from the East came bringing costly gifts, but it is still a dark and dangerous tale. Continue reading

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Christmas Eve: All hands were drunk

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Christmas Eve 2022

Luke 2:1-14

The first Christmas to be celebrated in Australia was in 1769, onboard Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour. According to the journal of Joseph Banks: ‘Christmas day: Our Goose pye was eat with great approbation and in the Evening all hands were as Drunk as our forefathers usd to be upon the like occasion’. The traditional Australian Christmas Day is older than modern Australia.

I love this story, of drunken sailors, because it reminds us that Christmas is not really the sparkly, sanitised, celebration we see on Christmas cards and in television advertisements. The first Christmas would certainly not have been like that. Birth never is; it is sweaty and messy and bloody. Whether Mary gave birth in her own home, as the Gospel according to Matthew suggests, or in a city in which ‘there was no place for them in the inn’ as Luke tells us, it would have been very unlike the placid event suggested by most Nativity scenes. Continue reading

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Sermon: Joy Sunday

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
The Third Sunday of Advent, 11th of December 2022

Luke 1:46b-55
Matthew 11:2-11

Rejoice! Today is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday – Joy Sunday, the only Sunday in the entire liturgical year whose colour is pink. The name comes from the Latin for ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4) – Gaudete in Domino semper. As the church journeys through the rather sombre purple season of Advent, while the world around us starts celebrating Christmas, this third Sunday of Advent can come as a relief. Finally, we are on the same page as the rest of society; we too are celebrating. Continue reading

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Sermon: Peace Sunday

Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
4th of December 2022

Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12

‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

You know me; I want to preach sermons of love and light, talking about God’s overwhelming, unfathomable, unmerited, inclusive welcome. Give me my choice and I will always choose to preach on passages like those in the First Letter of John: ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ (1 John 4:7-8) As I have said before, God’s love is my comfort zone as a preacher. And yet here we are, the second Sunday of Advent, Peace Sunday, and the lectionary has given us John the Baptist accusing people of being vipers. Continue reading

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Sermon: Jesus’ female ancestors

Reflection for the first Sunday of Advent
27th of November, 2022

Matthew 1:1-17

I did something quite dreadful to Kathryn, today’s Bible reader, by asking her to read the very beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew. We are now in a new church year and for the next twelve months we will be listening to Matthew’s telling of the good news of Jesus Christ, but it will not surprise you to learn, having listened to them, that the seventeen verses that Kathryn read this morning are not in the lectionary. Normally we would never hear Jesus’ genealogy read out in church, and obviously I think that is a pity, which is why we have it today.

Only Matthew’s telling of the gospel starts with Jesus’ ancestors. Luke also has a genealogy, but Luke puts it in his third chapter, after all the birth stories have been told, after John has baptised Jesus, and when we are told that Jesus is about thirty years old. Only Matthew begins with this list, which tells us how important Matthew thinks it is. The list is not historical; it is theological. Matthew is telling us that Jesus was the son of Abraham and the son of David. But Matthew also tells us that Jesus is descended from Abraham and David in unusual ways. In this boringly long list of names are some fascinating stories that tell us a lot about who Matthew thinks Jesus is. Continue reading

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