Sermon: #MeToo

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
The second Sunday of Epiphany, 14th of January 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-20

In 2006 an American civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, started the ‘Me Too’ movement. In 1997 she had met a young girl named Heaven in Alabama. Heaven told Tarana that she had been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, and Tarana didn’t know what to say. She never saw the girl again. Eventually Tarana realised that what she wished she had said to Heaven was, ‘Me Too,’ and so almost ten years after meeting Heaven Tarana started encouraging women to say just that. Last year, when accusations of sexual harassment and assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein were made public, actor Alyssa Milano took up Tarana Burke’s words, ‘Me Too,’ using them as a hashtag on social media. The #MeToo campaign exploded, as women all around the world who had been sexually harassed or abused or assaulted by men, said #MeToo on platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

I said it. I tweeted #MeToo and put it on my Facebook page. Continue reading

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Submission: Religious Freedom

This is my submission to the Review into Religious Freedom being conducted by Phillip Ruddock. If you’d like to make a submission, you can do so here.

Thank you for allowing the public to make submissions on the question of religious freedoms. Since there is no proposed legislation to be addressed, I can only make a few general remarks, but I am glad of the opportunity to do that. Continue reading

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Sermon: Birth; Death; Stars

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Epiphany 2018

Over the past week, leading up to today’s celebration of the Epiphany, I have been thinking a lot about the stars. I have been thinking about celestial navigation, about the ways in which sailors and shepherds used to find their way by the stars. I’ve been thinking about the familiarity and sense of home I feel whenever I see the Southern Cross, no matter where in the world I actually am; and how lost and alone I sometimes feel in the United Kingdom and Europe, when I look up and the Cross isn’t there. I’ve been thinking about the astonishing scientific fact that we humans are literally made of star-dust; and the sense that can give all of us of being at one with the entire cosmos, whether or not we believe that the same Creator made the lights in the dome of the sky and humanity. I’ve been thinking about the first time I saw the Milky Way from outback Australia and the absolute, overwhelming awe that seeing those many, many stars brought me, especially when I realised that I was looking into the past, light-years back in time. Continue reading

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Sermon: God as one of us

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2017

The only time I have spent Christmas Day out of Australia was eleven years’ ago, when I was living in Switzerland. I went to Paris for Christmas, to stay with some Australian friends living and working there, and for the first time in my life I didn’t go to church on Christmas Day. There were two reasons for that: my French is almost non-existent and I wouldn’t have caught more than one in twenty words of a French service; and the English-speaking church that my friends attended, the Church of Scotland in Paris, didn’t have a Christmas Day service.

That shouldn’t have surprised me. The Scots have always had a slightly awkward relationship with the celebration of Christmas. After the Reformation, Protestants realised that a lot of Christmas celebrations weren’t biblically based. If Christians were to go back to the Scriptures as the Reformation demanded of them, and only celebrate those feasts and people who were mentioned in the Bible, then a lot of holy days or holidays, would have to go. Edward the Sixth of England was very canny about this. Saints’ Days couldn’t be celebrated anymore, but the apostles could be remembered, and so could biblically-attested events. So the newly Reformed Church could still celebrate Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day (Stephen being the first Christian martyr whose story is told in the Book of Acts), Holy Innocents’ Day (remembering the little boys killed by King Herod), the Circumcision of Jesus, and Epiphany, when the magi arrived with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And, lo and behold, when you added all that up, you got something not very far from the traditional twelve days of Christmas celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church between Christmas Day and Epiphany. Hooray! The party was back on! Continue reading

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Sermon: Mary the Magnificent

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
24th of December 2017

Luke 1:39-55

Recently I read an article by Irish writer Colm Toibin about his writing of the book and one-woman play, The Testament of Mary. He starts by saying how ‘shadowy’ Mary’s presence is: ‘She herself, as she is presented in the Gospels, is mostly silent, and, once Jesus leaves her home, she is mostly absent in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Luke she recites the Magnificat, but even there she takes account of her own “lowliness” before declaring, “From this day all generations will declare me blessed”. Matthew and Luke mention her in their Gospels, but mostly in her role as the mother of the infant Jesus. Mark hardly mentions her at all. It is John alone who registers her presence at the wedding feast of Cana and later at the foot of the Cross.’[1]

I feel awkward disagreeing with Toibin, but I don’t think Mary is particularly shadowy. We see a lot more of her than we do of Joseph. Continue reading

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Sermon: Can we speak of Joy after the Royal Commission?

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
17th of December, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

For my twenty-first birthday a friend gave me the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. (Yes, I have always been a nerd.) When thinking about today’s service I decided that I would make use of it and I looked up ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’.

Happiness, according to the Shorter Oxford is:

  1. Good fortune, success.
  2. Pleasant appropriateness, felicity.
  3. Deep pleasure in, or contentment with, one’s circumstances.

Joy, on the other hand, is:

  1. Vivid pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation; gladness, delight, an instance of this …
  2. A pleasurable, happy or felicitous state or condition, especially the bliss or blessedness of heaven …
  3. A source, object, or cause of happiness; a delight.

And so, it makes sense that the theme of the third Sunday of Advent is joy, not happiness. We’re not talking about good fortune or success. People can be fortunate and successful at the expense of others. They can be happy doing things that harm themselves, other people, animals and the environment. We sadly see this every day. In fact, it can sometimes seem as though happiness comes from harming other people and the planet, or at the very least ignoring the harm that lavish lifestyles do to them.

But, joy, on the other hand, joy, I want to argue, is the feeling that comes from what the Shorter Oxford describes as ‘the bliss or blessedness of heaven’. When we experience ‘joy’ we’re exulting and delighting in God. Two days after the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was released this may seem unforgivably naïve, but I believe that this joy cannot be felt by those who do harm, but only by those who are obeying God’s commandments and loving both God and their neighbour. Continue reading

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Marriage Equality passes the Senate

0F04970E-9564-4172-9565-1A829596E217Yesterday I accidentally got to see the Australian Senate pass Dean Smith’s private member’s bill on marriage equality. I was in Canberra for about six hours with three other members of Australian Christians for Marriage Equality. We could almost have been the start of a joke: an Anglican priest, a Baptist pastor, and two Uniting Church ministers walk into Parliament House …
Continue reading

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