(Not A) Sermon: Beginning the Letter of James

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
2nd of September, Pentecost 15

James 1:17-27

For the next month we are going to be reading our way through the Letter of James, attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, and addressed to ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,’ otherwise the Jewish diaspora throughout the Roman Empire. We first hear of James in the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew, when people are scoffing at the idea of Jesus being anyone special. ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’ (Matt 13:55, also Mark 6:3)

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Reflection: Notes from 20 years of the Uniting Church’s sexuality debate

2018
When a Korean-speaking minister implies that people like me should be exorcised, I console myself that something is being lost in translation. Not that ‘exorcise’ is said; the English translation instead uses the modern euphemism ‘deliverance’. ‘[S]ame gender relationships are the subject … not of blessings, but ultimately of deliverance’ says the translator and the Assembly listens respectfully as it is implied that there is something demonic about LGBTIQ people.

2000
While researching my PhD on ‘the sexuality debate in the Uniting Church, 1977-2000’ I am given access to all 8000 responses of the Assembly Task Group on Sexuality’s 1996 Interim Report on Sexuality. A few are so homophobic that after reading them I vomit. In order to read the responses without making myself sick I lug the boxes over to the History Department’s postgraduate room, so that as I read I’m surrounded by the sort of supportive community the Church is failing to be. Continue reading

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Reflection: Marriage for Eureka Street

I wrote something for Eureka Street. You can read it here. Enjoy.

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Sermon: Aren’t there times when you just want to punch Hitler?

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
26 August 2018, Pentecost 12

Ephesians 6:10-20

There are times when I not only accept violence; I absolutely applaud it. I’m a collector of comic books; a watcher of sci-fi television and films; a reader of fantasy and crime novels. I have no problem with Captain America punching Hitler, or Buffy staking vampires, or any of the residents of Narnia or Middle-Earth using swords and arrows. I cheer when Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star. In certain genres and for certain purposes I am extremely comfortable with violence. But for me those genres don’t include scripture, and those purposes don’t include the revelation and worship of God.

Captain America

We all know that connecting religion and war is profoundly dangerous. It can lead to crusades and military jihads; to the demonisation of opponents; to the justification of war crimes committed in the name of God. I can remember the shock and fear I felt watching an ABC documentary that screened in 2000, so well within my adult life, about the bashing of gay men in Townsville.  One young man said, ‘I’m a Catholic. It’s meant to be a woman with a man, not a man with a man. That’s sick. That’s hitting material’.[1] So it won’t surprise you that I vastly prefer those parts of the Bible that oppose violence. Luckily, there are lots of them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people: ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also’. (Matthew 5:38-39) Paul advised the Romans: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ (Romans 12:14, 17-18.) Christians celebrate the coming of Christ as the Prince of Peace, giving himself up to death rather than allowing his disciples to defend him with swords. Continue reading

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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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