Sermon: Jesus (mis)reads the scriptures

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Pentecost 2, 3rd of June

Mark 2:23-3:6

After all the many weeks of Lent and Easter, here we are in Ordinary Time; back with our gospel for the year, the Gospel according to Mark. Just as when we left him before the Transfiguration, Jesus is embroiled in controversy. The Pharisees are shocked at Jesus’ apparently cavalier attitude to the laws governing the Sabbath. Modern Christians are shocked at Jesus’ apparently cavalier attitude to biblical interpretation. Continue reading

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Women Celebrating Justice: Reflection for the Victorian Country Women’s Association

Reflection for the Conference of the Victorian CWA
Feast of the Visitation 

1 Samuel 2:1-10
Luke 1:39-56

You might not be aware (I certainly wasn’t) but today the Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches celebrate the Visitation. This Feast remembers the story from the Gospel according to Luke in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, while both women are pregnant with their sons. The two women meet and talk free of any men, other than their unborn babies. The Bible is a male-dominated collection of writings, and it rarely includes scenes in which women appear together without men, so although the Uniting Church doesn’t officially celebrate the Visitation as a Feast it seemed suitable for a service of the Country Women’s Association to use the Bible passages that the Lutheran church has chosen for it, one from the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, and one from the New.

Visitation Continue reading

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Sermon: Is Isaiah a role model for volunteers? (National Volunteer Week)

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church for National Volunteer Week
The 27th of May, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-13

Today is the last day of National Volunteer Week. So it’s providential that in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we meet the prophet Isaiah who, when God asks ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ immediately responds with, ‘Here am I; send me!’ What a wonderful role model for volunteers! God asks and Isaiah answers. No quibbling about how busy he is, no suggestion that Isaiah has done his share of prophesising in the past and it’s now someone else’s turn. None of that. This Hebrew prophet could be the patron saint of volunteers!

(I checked and the actual patron saint of volunteers is St Vincent de Paul, a French saint who founded several groups to support the poor in the seventeenth century. Did you know that?)    Continue reading

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Sermon: What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me)

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
May 6th, 2018

John 15:9-17

 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The problem with songs, or their strength, is the way in which they can take up residence in our brains and just flatly refuse to leave. The Wesleys knew that; it’s why the Methodists became people who sang the faith. Numerous studies have found that our brains remember things better if we sing them, even if they weren’t things we necessarily wanted or needed to remember (commercial jingles, anyone?). Every week as I prepare Sunday’s service I find that a song has ‘ear-wormed’ me; decided to play itself on repeat in my head. It’s often one of the hymns I’ve chosen, which can be helpful when writing the week’s sermon. But frequently it’s some other sort of music that has only the most marginal connection to what I’m meant to be thinking about.

And so this week, while I was meant to be reflecting on chapter fifteen of the Gospel according to John, what I’ve found myself singing has been a 1993 dance hit by a Trinidadian-German musician called Haddaway:

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

(I had no idea who had sung the song or when it had come out until I looked up that incredibly irritating ear-worm this week.) Continue reading

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Sermon: Forgiveness, not sacrifice

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
ANZAC Service – 22nd of April, 2018

Have any of you seen the recent film Good-Bye Christopher Robin? It flashes forwards and backwards between the two World Wars and the period between them. It begins in 1941, when author A.A. Milne and his wife Daphne receive the news that their son Christopher is missing, presumed dead. We look back to 1916, when Milne is in the trenches himself; and then we suddenly flash-forwards to find ourselves with Milne in post-war London, celebrating the birth of his son, Christopher Robin, commonly known as ‘Billy Moon’, in 1920.

From 1920 to 1941 the film tells its story chronologically. In 1938 Milne, Daphne, and Christopher’s headmaster are standing outside his school waiting to see whether Christopher has been found to be fit enough to join the army.

A.A. Milne: I was in the last war. The War to end all wars.
Daphne: Yes, well, it didn’t work, it seems.
Christopher exits the school in civvies, rather than a uniform.
A.A. Milne (under his breath): Thank God. Continue reading

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Sermon: Putting it all together

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
15 April 2018

Luke 24:36b-48

For us, Easter, both Easter Sunday and the fifty days that follow it, is a season of great joy. But our celebration is based on our foreknowledge. When we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, we are already looking forward to his resurrection; we know that after his death comes life. But Jesus’ disciples didn’t. Jesus may have warned them of what was going to happen, but quite understandably they didn’t take it in. For them Jesus’ death was tragic and his resurrection terrifying. On Easter Sunday this year we heard Mark’s version of what happened at Jesus’ tomb, which ended with the women fleeing in terror and amazement and telling no one what they’d seen because they were afraid. Today we hear one of the three times that disciples experience the resurrection in the Gospel according to Luke, and again the immediate emotion is terror, not joy. Continue reading

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Sermon: The story continues

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Easter Sunday, 1st of April, 2018

Mark 16:1-8

Today is April Fool’s Day. It’s still before noon, so we still have time to try to fool each other. It’s a perfect day on which to remember the resurrection, especially the resurrection as described by Mark. Today’s story sounds like the story of a prank going wrong. Women going to a tomb to anoint a dead body find the body gone. The explanation given is absolutely impossible, and so they run away in terror. Oops. The prank has miscarried.

(In fact, in the gospel according to Matthew we read the suggestion that Jesus’ disciples did hide his body: ‘While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.’)

In the gospel according to Luke the men think that the women who are telling a fool’s tale. Continue reading

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