Reflection: Wrestling with God

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
2nd of August, 2020

Genesis 32:22-31

I am writing this reflection on the day when the Victorian government announced that more than 723 Victorians had tested positive for Covid19, the highest daily count since the virus began. There are 9998 cumulative cases in Victoria. One hundred and five Victorians have died. It is hard to know what to say in the face of this. I cannot offer promises that things will get better, that all the sick will survive, that a vaccine will rapidly be found, that this pandemic will soon be over. Like so many Christians throughout history we are living through a time of danger and death.

The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes of his questioning when he lived through the bombing of Hamburg in July 1943, in which 80,000 people died. Moltmann says that his question wasn’t ‘why has God let this happen?’ Instead it was: ‘my God, where are you? Where is God? Is he far away from us, an absentee God in his own heaven? Or is he a sufferer among the sufferers? Does he share in our suffering? Do our sufferings cut him to the heart too?’[1] And of course in Jesus we know that the answer to these questions is ‘yes’. This is why the Apostle Paul is able to write to the church in Rome that affirmation that I have repeated again and again through this lockdown: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Romans 8:38-39) When we suffer, the God who loves us suffers with us. We are never alone. Continue reading

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The pandemic is making Australian media racism even more dangerous

Please, read this. And then be careful about which media you consume.

Ketan Joshi

Racism manifests in Australia’s media outlets in very specific ways. These are not immediately obvious to many, which means you have to carefully and patiently spell out exactly how and why waves of xenophobia rise in the industry. I’ve written about a few of these, before.

Pauline Hanson, a racist Queensland politician was elevated back into power through paid slots on morning TV. The flood of support for her was attributed to economic anxiety and employment related dissatisfaction, rather than racism. It made me frustrated. But the role of media in her rise was barely discussed. 

For just over one year, engineer and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied was targeted by News Corporation outlets (she’s Muslim, which played a big part) for suggesting Australia’s yearly war commemoration address other issues too, in a seven word Facebook post. The duration and scale of this was incredible, and I quantified in thesethree

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Reflection: Comfort during Covid19

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
26th of July 2020

Romans 8:26-39

‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.’

Recently I found out that the Haitian Creole Bible translates Matthew 19:26, ‘for God all things are possible,’ as ‘with God we can make do’. Haitian history would not allow them to say that all things are possible with God. But it did allow them to say that with God they were able to endure.[1] I wish I knew how they translated Romans 8:28, because I think this verse would be just as difficult. Can we honestly say that all things work together for good for those who love God?

Victoria is in the midst of a second wave of Covid19 infections; most of them seem to be acquired in workplaces; and we know that some people have gone to work even when sick because they are in casual employment and don’t have sick leave. People are now dying because over the past few decades we have allowed the casualisation of the Australian workforce, with so many people in insecure work that commentators now refer to them as the ‘precariat’. And this is in Australia, one of the richest countries in the world. We are seeing how much worse the situation is in countries without our resources. Over 15 million people have been infected with Covid19 worldwide, and over 600 thousand have died. Which elements of this situation can work together for good?


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Covid19 Diary 10: Signs of the Times

Samuel Pepys: July 20, 1665
… walked to Redriffe, where I hear the sickness is, and endeed is scattered almost everywhere – there dying 1089 of the plague this week … But Lord, to see how the plague spreads; it being now all over Kings street, at the Axe and the next door to it, and in other places.

July 21, 2020
Walking through Queenscliff yesterday.

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Reflection: The children of God

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
19th of July 2020

Romans 8:12-25

This week we are again hearing from the Apostle Paul as he shares the gospel with the Christians in Rome. There are two reasons that I have us spending so much time listening to Paul. The first is that the language of this letter can be quite difficult and it’s easy for us to misinterpret it. I talked about that last week, when I said that it was important for us not to confuse ‘flesh,’ which Paul describes as negative, with our bodies. When Paul says that ‘those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ he is definitely not saying that God wants us to ignore, punish, or reject the bodies that God created, for instance. So understanding Paul demands a bit of interpretation. But the other reason that I am spending so many weeks talking about Paul’s Letter to the Romans is that I think Paul is brilliant. Despite his moments of cultural blindness to the full ministry of women, Paul’s explanations of the good news of Jesus are quite often completely wonderful. There are three such awesome elements in today’s reading. Continue reading

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Covid19 Diary 9

Samuel Pepys: July 13, 1665
… Above 700 dead of the plague this week.

July 13, 2020

Last time I wrote about covid19 I said that we seemed to be emerging from it in Australia. That was a silly thing to say, because down here in Victoria the number of infections have risen again and greater Melbourne is back in Stage 3 lockdown. It’s all gone a bit haywire, so much so that I looked up the origin of the word ‘haywire’. (Apparently it comes from logging camps in the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘haywire outfits‘ repaired their tools by tying them up with wire.) Continue reading

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Reflection: THIS is who we are

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
12th of July, 2020

Romans 8:1-11

I hope you remember last week’s Reflection, in which we heard the Apostle Paul telling us sadly: ‘I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do’. Drawing on Brene Brown’s work, last week I said that I believed Paul was experiencing guilt, not shame; that he was talking about the bad things he did and not the bad person that he was. Today we discover how Paul was able to distinguish between what he did and who he was. We hear from a hopeful Apostle, as Paul rejoices that he has been set free from the law of sin and of death. Last week we heard Paul say: ‘with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin’. But this week he says: ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Left to ourselves we might have remained trapped in our wrongdoing – but we have not been left to ourselves. God has not left us alone. In Jesus Christ God entered into creation and joined us in our humanity, and in the Spirit God is still with us, around us and between us and within us.

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Sermon: We are not what we do

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
5th of July 2020

Romans 7:15-25a

One of the benefits of the three-year lectionary cycle is that I am repeatedly reminded of what I thought about a particular Bible passage three/six/nine years ago. Three years’ ago, when this passage from Romans came up, I preached about sin. I like to preach about ‘sin’ every-so-often because in our culture it has become a swear word, no longer to be mentioned in polite society. Today it is profoundly rude for a minister to suggest to congregation members that they might be sinners. There are good reasons for that; many churches misused, and some still misuse, the concept of sin to shame and control their members. In reaction to that much of the Uniting Church has swung to the opposite extreme and ministers refuse to discuss sin at all. I think that’s unhealthy, and there can be times and places when it is important for us to acknowledge that sin is still an unavoidable part of human experience. Three years’ ago in Williamstown I obviously thought it was the right time and place.

Things are different now. There is no way I’m going to preach that we are all sinners while we are separated, while I can’t make eye contact with you and check that I’m not hurting you by saying that. And, as I said last week, we are living through a natural disaster. The last thing people need in a natural disaster is someone telling them that they are sinners. When people are tired and shocked and scared and vulnerable, they don’t need to be told that they’re also sinful. So, instead, this time through the lectionary, I want to talk about shame and guilt. Continue reading

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Reflection: We are good enough

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
28th of June, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

I don’t know about you, but I am tired. We have now been in some sort of lockdown since the fifth week in Lent, through Holy Week and the entire season of Easter, and now we are several weeks into the season after Pentecost. And just as we thought we might be coming out of physical distancing, we have had to retreat again. It is exhausting. Continue reading

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Reflection: Choosing the Gospel

Reflection for Western Heights
21st of June, 2020

Matthew 10:24-39 and Refugee Week

I have to confess that the Gospel according to Matthew is my least favourite. (For those interested, my ranking of the canonical gospels is Luke, John, Mark, Matthew.) The gospel that the Matthean Jesus preaches often seems to me to be the opposite of ‘good news’. Today’s reading is full of examples of his severity: ‘Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell’; ‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’; ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’. On first reading these do not seem to be the loving words of the One who told his disciples to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. The sayings only start to make sense when we stop reading them from within our own context, and try to hear them as Matthew’s first audience did. Continue reading

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