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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Reflection: ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
14th of June, 2020

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ It is the question that the three visitors ask Abraham after his wife Sarah laughs at the promise that she and Abraham will have a son in their extreme old age. Today’s story tells us that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord, not even the birth of a son to a woman and her husband who have grown old.

‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ In nations in which much of the population identifies as ‘Christian,’ including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, tens of thousands of people marched last weekend against racism and the State-sanctioned killing of Black people. The protests started with the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis, but the thousands who marched in Australia were remembering the more than 400 Indigenous Australians who have died in custody since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). Australia is still a land built on genocide, a land without a Treaty, a land in which First Nations men are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than other Australians, and First Nations women are 21 times more likely to be in custody. Australia is a country that has not yet come to terms with its racist past, or indeed its racist present. Will it ever be able to? ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ Continue reading

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Covid19 Diary 8

Samuel Pepys: June 10, 1665

In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett in Fenchurch street – which in both points troubles me mightily.

June 10, 2020

We seem to be emerging from COVID19, at least in Australia (and in New Zealand they are COVID-free, so well done to them!). The schools are back, to the huge relief of the parents I know. And people here on the Bellarine seem to have almost completely ended physical distancing. There are still signs at some shops about how many people can enter, and lines on the ground to mark out 1.5 or 2 metres. But people are sitting down in cafes; cafes are using disposable cups again; masks seem to have almost disappeared. Yesterday, when I went shopping, I saw only one person wearing a mask, a man in his 80s or 90s. Continue reading

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Reflection: The Trinity (why it’s a very cool doctrine)

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Trinity Sunday, the 7th of June 2020

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday. I want to begin this reflection be saying that there is no way of describing the Trinity that is not a heresy. Our human minds cannot understand, cannot encompass, and definitely cannot explain God. And the Trinity is one of those things about God that we are never going to comprehend. We believe in One God who is also Three, which is why over the centuries people have mocked Christians as worshipping multiple gods. It sounds as though we don’t know our own minds, or as though we’re trying to do some weird quantum mathematics.

It would be easy to just ignore the Trinity. We could instead focus on God the Creator, worship and appreciate the One who made the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars. We could simply follow Jesus as an example of an outstanding human being, someone who lived out in full the potential we all have to be whole, without worrying about any claims of his divinity. As for the Holy Spirit; if you go to the video of images of the Trinity you will see a lot of birds. Continue reading

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Reflection: Pentecost demands Reconciliation

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Pentecost, 31st of May, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

Something so astonishing happened at Pentecost that churches, in years when we can gather, celebrate it with candles and kites and bonfires and the colour red. We try to find ways of symbolising the Spirit, of showing visually just how incredible was Her appearance to the first disciples. In Acts, Luke does the same thing. He tells us that as the disciples were gathered together in a house there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. And there came divided tongues as of fire. Luke is doing what we’re doing; he’s trying to describe the indescribable. We cannot truly express the coming of the Spirit in words or images. What happened at Pentecost is beyond description.

What we can do, what Luke does, is describe the effects. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and suddenly they’re able to speak in other languages. In a world so easily divided by language, in which we talk so often of communication breakdown, this barrier is overcome. The disciples speak, and the devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem each hear their own native language. The gospel is able to be shared with people in their own tongue. Continue reading

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Sermon: The Ascension isn’t about dangling feet

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
Feast of the Ascension, 24th of May, 2020

Acts 1:1-11

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, a part of the story of Jesus that we often ignore. It is such an important event that it gets a clause in the Apostles’ Creed; one of the things that the church believes about Jesus is that ‘he ascended into heaven’. But it is usually forgotten, perhaps because the image of Jesus taking off into the sky is so difficult to take seriously. Rising into the heavens looks cool when Superman or Thor does it but it’s hard to imagine Jesus doing it, especially since we no longer believe in a three-tiered universe of Heaven/Earth/Hell. I have put a selection of images of the Ascension on the church’s Vimeo page, created from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries, and you’ll see there how very hard it is to portray the Ascension without making it seem that Jesus has taken off like a rocket. But as one Biblical commentator has put it: ‘We do not, as a matter of fact, believe that Jesus ended his earthly ministry with the equivalent of a rocket launch, rising a few hundred miles above the earth. Nor do we think Jesus was the first to be “beamed up,” to use the term made so familiar by the television series Star Trek.[1] No matter how many artists have portrayed it that way, that is not what the Ascension means.

Ascension - William Morris, 1862

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Covid19 Diary 7

Samuel Pepys: May 14, 1995
Lords Day. Up, and with my wife to church, it being Whitsunday. My wife very fine in a new yellow birds-eye Hood, as the fashion is now. We had a most sorry sermon.

May 17, 2020

It’s starting; we are coming out of isolation. The federal government has introduced three Steps that will take us from lockdown to relative openness, without needing to wait for a vaccine or a cure. Here in Victoria Daniel Andrews is taking things a little more slowly, and there are still two outbreaks that seem to be spreading, one based at a meat works and the other centred on a McDonalds. But from last Tuesday we could visit each other’s homes again in small groups; we can have up to ten people at church; and Corio Bay has been covered in small fishing boats. Continue reading

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Sermon: One example of evangelism

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17th of May 2020

Acts 17:22-31

I seem to have accidentally started a series of ‘reflections on the sermons preached in the Book of Acts’. Two weeks ago we had the aftermath of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost; 3000 converted, baptised, and sharing all things in common. Last week we saw the end of Stephen’s sermon preached to the Jewish Council; Stephen dragged out and stoned. This week we have a third, and very different, sermon, preached by the Apostle Paul in Athens. Paul has a reputation as a hard-liner, but here we see him speaking to the Athenians ‘with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Peter 3:16). Paul’s approach to the Athenians models for us how to share our faith with those around us, living as we do in a very similar world. Continue reading

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Sermon: Forgiveness

Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
10th of May, 2020

Acts 7:55-60

The Book of Acts, the story of the creation of the Christian church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, contains some memorable sermons. Last week we heard the aftermath of Peter’s sermon to the crowds at Pentecost, when 3000 people joined the existing 120 believers and were baptised. I said last week that while we could use Luke’s summary description of the activities of this group as a way of assessing our own practices as a church, we shouldn’t worry too much about that group’s rapid transformation from a suburban-sized congregation into a megachurch. Nothing we do or don’t do is going to bring in a sudden flood of thousands of new members. But ‘bums on pews’ has always been one way in which the faithfulness of congregations has been judged; and there is a dreadful tendency for churches to assume that God approves of them if they grow, and disapproves of them if they decline. So it is salutary to read today’s story, the response to Stephen’s sermon, alongside last week’s response to Peter’s. As one commentator on this story writes: ‘Perhaps all unsuccessful preachers should take some comfort here. If their congregations merely complain or fire them, at least they do not stone them.’[1] Because that’s what happens to Stephen after the sermon he preaches. He becomes the church’s first martyr. Continue reading

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