Reflection for ANZAC Day

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
26th of April, 2020

On the 25th of April, 1915, one hundred and five years and one day ago, some 20,000 Australian, New Zealand, British, and French servicemen landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Russia, which was under attack by Turkey, had called for help from its allies, and it was also thought that attacking Turkey would help protect Egypt and the Suez Canal. But the strategy was a failure. In November 1915 one young woman, writing to her soldier fiancé who was overseas, said: ‘Things about the Dardanelles are coming out now and it is openly acknowledged a failure. And the details of the failure are appalling.’[1] In December 1915 the invading forces withdrew. About 120,000 men had died: more than 80,000 Turkish soldiers; roughly 8700 Australians; and approximately 2700 New Zealanders. Controversy has raged ever since over whether the soldiers were landed in the right place and whether the invasion at Gallipoli ever had a chance. One thing is certain, whatever it is we do on ANZAC Day we are not celebrating a military victory. Continue reading

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Reflection: Feasting with Jesus

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Easter 2, 19 April 2020

Luke 24:13-35

I am cheating a little today by focusing on this reading from the Gospel according to Luke, the story of two disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  In the weeks after Easter the lectionary readings from the gospels tell us about the disciples meeting with the resurrected Christ and remind us that the empty tomb alone was not enough to create faith. Today the lectionary suggests we read John’s tale of Thomas, who first doubted and then believed. But it is in this story from Luke that we find Jesus being made known to the disciples ‘in the breaking of the bread,’ and later in today’s service we ourselves will encounter Jesus in the breaking of the bread as we celebrate the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.

When we celebrate the Eucharist we imitate an important element in Jesus’ life. One accusation consistently made against Jesus during his lifetime was that he was a glutton and a drunkard. He was always feasting with the people around him, rather than fasting as the religious were meant to. His answer when once questioned about this was that ‘the wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast’. (Mark 2:19) So it is no surprise that food so often accompanied the appearances of the risen Jesus, too, when the bridegroom the wedding guests had mourned as dead was revealed to be alive. Continue reading

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Covid19 Diary 4

Samuel Pepys: April 14, 1661
Easter. Lords day. In the morning towards my father’s. And by the way heard Mr. Jacomb at Ludgate, upon these words, “Christ loved you and therefore let us love one another.” And made a lazy sermon, like a presbyterian. Then to my father’s and dined there, and Dr. Fairbrother (lately come to town) with us. After dinner I went to the Temple and there heard Dr. Griffith; a good sermon for the day.

April 14, 2020

It has been such a strange Easter. Less busy in some ways; no Maundy Thursday service, for one thing; and busier in others. Trying to put together a reading of the Passion Story done by different members of the congregation was much harder than simply handing out the readings and getting them to come up to the lectern one after another. I didn’t get the final recording of one reading until late Thursday afternoon, and then cutting and pasting them, and finding images to go with them, and adding in music at a few strategic places, was all hard. Doing it all at home, and having to tell my mother over and over again that I was ‘still working, yes, still getting the services ready’ was even more difficult. Continue reading

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Sermon: Christ is Risen!

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Easter Sunday, the 12th of April, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

I want to introduce you to what is probably a new word for most of you, the word ‘eucatastrophe’. You will know of ‘catastrophe’ which comes from the Greek words for ‘down’ and ‘turning’ and means great and usually sudden damage or suffering. Today’s new word, eucatastrophe, adds the Greek word for good or well to the beginning, the same Greek word we hear in eulogy – the good words we speak when someone has died. The word eucatastrophe was created by the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien. Writing about fairy tales, Tolkien said that all of them include a eucatastrophe, a good catastrophe, the sudden joy that comes in the midst of despair, the moment of unexpected deliverance. The reason, Tolkien argued, that fantasy writers like him were able to offer  their readers the Consolation of the Happy Ending is because the Creator had already given it to us:

The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy … There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.[1]

What we are celebrating today is a good catastrophe, the surprising moment when in the midst of their despair the disciples hear the good news that their beloved friend has been raised from the dead. This is the ultimate happy ending, as Tolkien argued it is the happy ending that makes all other happy endings possible, and each of the gospel writers describes it slightly differently. This year we hear the story according to Matthew. Continue reading

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Sermon: Palm Sunday Protests

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
5th of April, 2020

Matthew 21:1-11

Here we are at Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem to choruses of praise and a crowd going wild. Rather than entering as most pilgrims do, on foot, Jesus enters riding a donkey. The people cut down branches and place them before him, spreading their cloaks on the road, one of the ways the people of Israel had traditionally acclaimed their Kings. They greet him as the Son of David and the one who comes in the name of the Lord. They shout ‘Hosanna’, a special offering of respect to the one who saves. The people welcome Jesus with euphoria as a prophet and King.

Today is normally a great day of celebration for the Australian church. After five weeks of Lent Palm Sunday offers us a reprieve from the solemnity, penitence, and preparation that began with Ash Wednesday and the reminder of our deaths. While churches are still bare of flowers, and Christ candle is still unlit, palm crosses are usually made and blessed, and congregations often process with palm branches and singing. In a normal year all of this can seem a little incongruous, on the verge of Holy Week, as we are about to commemorate Jesus’ death on Good Friday. We are puzzled by a crowd that acclaims their King today and calls for his crucifixion a few days later. Today is sometimes celebrated instead as ‘Passion Sunday,’ with an emphasis on the suffering that Jesus will undergo on his way to the cross, which seems to make more sense as an introduction to Holy Week than the celebration of Palm Sunday. Continue reading

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Covid19 Diary 3

Samuel Pepys: April 1, 1665
… to see how my Lord Treasurer did bless himself, crying he could do no more than he could, nor give more money than he had, if the occasion and the expense were never so great, which is but a sad story; and then to hear how like a passionate and ignorant asse Sir G. Carteret did harangue upon the abuse of Tickets, did make me mad almost, and yet was fain to hold my tongue. Thence home, vexed mightily to see how simply our greatest ministers do content themselfs to understand and do things, while the King’s service in the meantime lies a-bleeding.

April 1, 2020

I seem to be doing more work than usual, not less, now that most of the country is in isolation. Which is definitely not something about which to complain when so many other people have lost their jobs, and so many businesses have closed down. But the church is now having to take a huge leap, from an extremely IRL-based community to one that exists almost entirely online, and that means a lot of work. Western Heights had previously done audio recordings of the Sunday morning service and put them on the website, as well as sending them to the church members unable to come to church because of ‘age and infirmity’. (Very Samuel Pepys, there.) Now I have created a Vimeo page for them, and the Children’s and Families’ Worker and I are putting videos up there for people to peruse and use. Continue reading

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Sermon: Life and death and Lazarus

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
29th of March, 2020

John 11:1-45

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we are again offered one of the beautifully symbolic stories from the Gospel according to John. It is a story about death and darkness and mourning; about life and light and rejoicing; and so it is an almost uncannily suitable story for us to hear during this pandemic, as the world faces the prospect of thousands upon thousands of deaths from COVID19. We need comfort in our isolation; hope while we are unable to physically gather together for worship. This story, the story of the raising of Lazarus, offers us that comfort and hope. Continue reading

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