Sermon: These things are not ‘sent to try us’

Sermon for Williamstown
First Sunday of Lent, 5th of March, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

jesus tested

There is a comment that is occasionally made in my family: ‘Ah, well, these things are sent to try us’. It’s only ever used about something minor, traffic snarls, for example, or my littlest niece taking the scissors to her hair, and always as a joke. But there is a stream of theology that takes seriously the idea that difficulties are sent to us by God to test us. It has variations in which people say that God never gives us more tragedy than we can bear, or that God particularly tests those people whom he particularly loves. Continue reading

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Newsletter: Spending Lent Wisely

As I’ve mentioned before, the early Church baptised those seeking to join it at Easter. Candidates for baptism spent the forty days before Easter in preparation and fasting, and from the seventh century all Christians were encouraged to join them and Lent as we know it was established.

One of the results of the Reformation emphasis on living out the faith only as it’s described in the Scriptures was that Protestants stopped fasting in Lent. It became something that those Catholics over there did, and was looked at with suspicion. Continue reading

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Sermon: Do not be afraid of this story

Sermon for Williamstown
Transfiguration, 26th of February 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

Every time we baptise a child I remind us all that: ‘the Uniting Church, in baptizing children, takes responsibility for their instruction and nourishment in the faith’. This year the Electra-Lights program will include an occasional group for children in grades four and above, called ‘The Overs,’ that we’re hoping will contribute to that instruction and nourishment. The plan for 2017 is that these older children will learn not so much about what’s in the Bible, which is what the children hear in church and learn with the rest of the Electra-Lights, as about what the Bible itself is.

It’s vital for us as Christians to learn about what the Bible is, and just as importantly what it’s not. There are two big mistakes that people can fall into about the Bible. Continue reading

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Sermon: Rabble Rousing Riff Raff

Sermon for Williamstown
The 19th of February 2017

Matthew 5:38-48

I recently bought an ABC board book for my younger god-daughter. I liked it so much that I then bought copies for other toddlers I know, as well as a copy for myself. This is no ordinary ABC book. It’s called A is for Activist and it has pages like: ‘F is for Feminist. For Fairness in our pay. For Freedom to Flourish and choose our own way.’ That’s my sort of ABC.

scan20001 scan20002

Continue reading

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Sermon: Christians behaving badly

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
12th of February, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

Last week’s service was a celebration, in which we rejoiced that we are all lights in a dark world, our good deeds glowing gloriously as testimony to God. Today’s sermon is not nearly such a happy one. Today I’m going to talk about good Christians being angry with and insulting each other; being, as Paul writes, of the flesh. I’m going to need some nice comforting chocolate at the end. Continue reading

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Trump: Respect or Resistance

Some excellent words from Robyn and Sean. The horrors of Trump can be partly blamed on the failure of good theology and good biblical exegesis in much of American Christianity. That ‘evangelical Christians’ voted for Trump in large numbers is deeply disturbing.

Sean F. Winter

The comments below were written last week by me and my friend and colleague Robyn Whitaker from Trinity College Theological School. It is a response piece, taking up an article by The Age‘s former religion editor Barney Zwartz, now of the Centre for Public Christianity. You can read that article hereThe Age didn’t publish our response, so I am posting it here. Much more could be said, of course, not least in light of the events of the past weekend.

Donald Trump: Respect or Resistance?

In Tuesday’s Age Barney Zwartz argued that his Christian faith instructed him to pray for President Trump and to trust God’s sovereign purposes. It is not that simple. We share his view that Trump is ‘manifestly unfit for office’ and we are also convinced that handwringing is not the appropriate response to his election and occupancy of White House. We too are…

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Sermon: Dedicated to Arlo, Aimee and Alistair

Sermon for Williamstown
29th of January 2017

Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-12

This morning, with great joy, we’re baptising Arlo Conate. Baptism is many things: a cleansing bath; a symbolic death; an anointing; an initiation. Today I want to focus on that last. We’re making Arlo a member of Christ’s body the church. In today’s service Arlo is becoming brother to every Christian in the world. This week I’ve been thinking about what that will mean for Arlo as he grows; what that means for all of us who are identified by the sign of the cross on our foreheads as belonging to Jesus. Is being brother or sister to everyone who bears Jesus’ name a good thing?

I’ve been thinking about this because this past week was the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, a week in which the American President did many frightening things. I won’t bother listing them now – Waleed Ali did an excellent job of that on The Project and you can easily find that video for yourself. But I will quote from an essay that Australian historian and speechwriter Don Watson wrote before Trump was elected. In it, Watson describes a visit Trump made to a lobby group called ‘The Faith and Freedom Coalition’. Trump tells his audience of Christians that he himself is Presbyterian, to applause. He attacks Hillary Clinton, calling her ‘Crooked Hillary,’ and says that she wants a 500 per cent increase in Syrian refugees. The audience boos. At this point, Watson writes:

A young woman stands and shouts “Refugees are welcome here,” and goes on shouting while three bull-necked bouncers haul her out of the room, and the faithful chant, “USA! USA! USA!” Then two more women stand and shout over the chant, “Build bridges not walls!” They too are dragged out as Trump says, “What’s happened in our country is so sad. We are so divided … By the way, these are professional agitators, folks. They’re sent here by the other party.”[1] Continue reading

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