Sermon: Can we speak of Joy after the Royal Commission?

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
17th of December, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

For my twenty-first birthday a friend gave me the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. (Yes, I have always been a nerd.) When thinking about today’s service I decided that I would make use of it and I looked up ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’.

Happiness, according to the Shorter Oxford is:

  1. Good fortune, success.
  2. Pleasant appropriateness, felicity.
  3. Deep pleasure in, or contentment with, one’s circumstances.

Joy, on the other hand, is:

  1. Vivid pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation; gladness, delight, an instance of this …
  2. A pleasurable, happy or felicitous state or condition, especially the bliss or blessedness of heaven …
  3. A source, object, or cause of happiness; a delight.

And so, it makes sense that the theme of the third Sunday of Advent is joy, not happiness. We’re not talking about good fortune or success. People can be fortunate and successful at the expense of others. They can be happy doing things that harm themselves, other people, animals and the environment. We sadly see this every day. In fact, it can sometimes seem as though happiness comes from harming other people and the planet, or at the very least ignoring the harm that lavish lifestyles do to them.

But, joy, on the other hand, joy, I want to argue, is the feeling that comes from what the Shorter Oxford describes as ‘the bliss or blessedness of heaven’. When we experience ‘joy’ we’re exulting and delighting in God. Two days after the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was released this may seem unforgivably naïve, but I believe that this joy cannot be felt by those who do harm, but only by those who are obeying God’s commandments and loving both God and their neighbour. Continue reading

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Marriage Equality passes the Senate

0F04970E-9564-4172-9565-1A829596E217Yesterday I accidentally got to see the Australian Senate pass Dean Smith’s private member’s bill on marriage equality. I was in Canberra for about six hours with three other members of Australian Christians for Marriage Equality. We could almost have been the start of a joke: an Anglican priest, a Baptist pastor, and two Uniting Church ministers walk into Parliament House …
Continue reading

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Sermon: Religious freedom

Sermon for Williamstown
26th of November, 2017

Matthew 25:31-46

Recently I had a short street debate with a couple of Muslim men. It was a Saturday, and I was in the city on my way to a protest march. As I walked up Swanston Street I found two competing groups of evangelists on two different corners of the Swanston-Bourke Streets intersection; a group of Christians and a group of Muslims. As I walked past the Islamic group something they were saying about the Bible caught my attention and I stopped to talk to them.

The two men I talked to were comparing the Bible to the Koran. I don’t know anything about the Koran, but I know enough about the Bible to be able to agree with them. Yes, I agreed, some parts of the Bible contradict other parts. Yes, I agreed, the gospels were most likely written by people who had never seen Jesus themselves, people who were writing stories that had been passed down to them through oral traditions. Yes, I agreed, in the gospel according to Matthew Jesus is reported as saying that: ‘just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:40) and yet Jesus would only have been in the tomb for at most two nights. Basically, I agreed with all their arguments for the fallibility of the Christian scriptures. Why, then, they asked me, was I Christian? I explained that it was because I experience God’s love for me in Jesus. So, they said, it was blind faith. I said that I wouldn’t call my faith ‘blind’ but I agreed that it was faith. Continue reading

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Sermon: Worshipping false gods

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
12th of November, 2017

Joshua 24:1-3a 14-25

Joshua, the successor of Moses, is old and well advanced in years, and giving his last words of advice to the people of Israel, now living in the land of Canaan. Joshua wants the people to choose to follow the God who rescued them from Egypt, but he isn’t at all sure that they can. He tells them: ‘Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’

The people, of course, say that they want to worship the God who brought them up from the land of Egypt and freed them from slavery. But Joshua says to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord! Continue reading

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Sermon: Sinners and Saints


Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
5th of November, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12
1 John 3:1-3

Tuesday was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther possibly nailing his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, a day we celebrate for Luther’s insight that we are all sinners who are only justified, made right with God, through God’s grace. Wednesday was All Saints’ Day, a day that we Protestants now use to remember all those we love who have died and are now part of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us. We are also reminded that we are called to be saints, too; to purify ourselves as God is pure. We are all sinners. We are all saints. For the Uniting Church, these two identities might be called our Reformed (Presbyterian and Congregationalist) identity, and our Pietist (Methodist) Identity. How do we reconcile them? Continue reading

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For the newsletter: Let your light shine

Have you heard of ‘virtue signalling? The British journalist and author James Bartholomew claims to have coined it in The Spectator in 2015 after realising that Victorians gave much more to charity than contemporary British people do. He says that it describes:

… the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. Sometimes it is quite subtle. By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or UKIP, they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.
‘I invented “virtue signalling”. Now it’s taking over the world’ The Spectator, 10 October 2015 Continue reading

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Sermon: Commemorating the Reformation

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
29th of October 2017

On Tuesday it will be exactly five hundred years since an Augustinian monk called Martin Luther, priest and doctor of theology, nailed a list of 95 theses (arguments or propositions) on the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the equivalent of a modern academic or theologian writing an article to challenge their colleagues. And so began what we Protestants call the Reformation.

Luther and Katharina

The Uniting Church isn’t a Lutheran Church. One of the ways in which we describe ourselves is as ‘Reformed,’ looking back to the Reformers who followed Luther rather than Luther himself; people like the French John Calvin, who created a ‘presbyterian’ or committee-based church structure in Geneva, and John Knox, who took Calvin’s ideas to Scotland. But the 31st of October is our anniversary too. Continue reading

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