Covid19 Diary 1

Samuel Pepys: March 19, 1665
Lord’s day. Mr. Povey and I in his coach to Hide parke, being the first day of the Tour there – where many brave ladies. Among others, Castlemayne lay impudently upon her back in her coach, asleep with her mouth open.

March 19, 2020

Last night the Church Council discussed what to do if someone dies during the pandemic emergency. A much-loved member of the congregation had a fall on Sunday, and is not expected to survive. In ordinary times his funeral would be enormous, hundreds of people would gather to say ‘goodbye’. Obviously we can’t do that now. Continue reading

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Sermon: Who is welcome? Foreigners and women

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
15 March 2020

John 4:5-42

Today’s story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favourite stories in the entire Bible, with one of my favourite characters. But even though this is a famous story, celebrated in song, throughout history the Samaritan woman has been defamed.

The story starts with Jesus sitting alone by a well, when a woman approaches to draw water. John tells us that it’s about noon. Immediately we know that there is something wrong in this woman’s life. She’s coming to the well in the heat of the day, rather than in the cool of the dawn or early evening. She’s coming alone, rather than with the other women of the village. The woman is an outsider, isolated from her community. And yet Jesus, a Jewish man, asks her for a drink. Continue reading

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Sermon: Who is welcome? Those who need to be born again

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
8 March 2020

John 3:1-17
Butterfly House by Eve Bunting

In today’s reading we are introduced to one of the most tantalising characters in the Bible – Nicodemus. He only appears three times in the Scriptures, all in the gospel according to John, and we know nothing else about him. But in these three moments we see a journey from darkness to courage and love – a journey for us to imitate.

The reading starts with Nicodemus the Pharisee coming to visit Jesus by night. Why at night? Is he coming to visit a teacher in the quiet hours, when Pharisees were advised to study without the distractions of the day? Will a night visit mean that his fellow scholars are unlikely to see him visiting someone as potentially disreputable as Jesus? Or is the ‘night’ from which Nicodemus emerges to question Jesus symbolic, representing the world of ignorance into which the light that is Jesus has come to shine? Given that we’re reading a story written by John, probably all of these answers are right. Continue reading

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Sermon: Who is welcome? Sinners.

Sermon for ‘Ash Sunday’

Matthew 4:1-11

Our theme for Lent is ‘who is welcome?’ and, as you may have gathered from the Call to Worship, the answer is ‘everybody!’ Jesus was executed by the Romans because they thought he was a political rebel, seeking to overthrow them. But long before he entered Jerusalem on the day we remember as ‘Palm Sunday,’ Jesus was a social and religious rebel, well-known for welcoming those others excluded.

Today, the first day of Lent, the day on which we belatedly ‘celebrate’ Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that the ‘everyone’ Jesus welcomes includes ‘sinners who need forgiveness’. That’s just another way of saying ‘everyone’ because there isn’t a human being alive who lives without sin. Luckily, there is also no one whose sins God does not forgive. Continue reading

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Sermon: Do not be afraid

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
Transfiguration, 23rd of February 2020

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

‘And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.’ It’s so strange, the transfiguration. Some commentators suggest that what we have here is a post-resurrection Easter vision, or a vision of the end times, when Moses and Elijah were expected to appear, being read back into the ministry of Jesus. But I don’t think the Transfiguration is a vision. I think it is a ‘story’.

Stories aren’t seen as particularly important in our fact-based, scientific, world. The word can even mean ‘lie’; when we tell children ‘don’t tell stories’. And yet stories are essential. We understand ourselves and our world by listening to stories; we create our identity through them; we explain our experiences to others by telling them our story. This is particularly true in the church. We explain who we are and, more importantly, who God is, with story. Continue reading

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Sermon: The unfashionable virtue of obedience

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
16th of February, 2020

Matthew 5:21-37

‘Obedience’ isn’t seen as a virtue in the 21st century. This could be because the 20th century saw too much of it. After World War Two, trials of Nazis were held at Nuremberg. Those on trial usually admitted that they had carried out the crimes with which they were charged, but argued that they were just following orders. ‘Just following orders’ is now known as the ‘Nuremberg defence’. It was also later used by Adolf Eichmann when he was tried in Israel. He said,‘I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty … At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate. Obedience is commended as a virtue.’ The judges rejected this defence, both at Nuremberg and at the trial of Eichmann. They held that ‘just following orders’ doesn’t excuse someone from breaking international law. Continue reading

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Sermon: Following in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sermon for Camberwell Uniting Church
26th of January, 2020

Matthew 4:12-24
Isaiah 9:1-4

These weeks that we have between Christmas and Lent are dedicated to the nature of vocation or call. We’ve seen Jesus’ call to begin his public ministry in his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on him and God announced that Jesus was his Beloved Son. And both last week and this week we see the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, those first followers who will form the nucleus of the new community to which all of us now belong through our own baptism.

If you can remember last week’s reading from the Gospel according to John, you might be a little puzzled at the differences between that description of the call of Jesus’ first disciples and today’s. John tells us that Andrew and another disciple were initially disciples of John the baptiser, and that it was John’s recognition of Jesus as the Lamb of God that led to the disciples seeking Jesus out. It was only after spending time with Jesus, responding to his invitation to ‘come and see,’ that the disciples recognised Jesus as the Messiah. Then Andrew sought out his brother Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter. John’s story would have made sense to a Jewish audience, used to disciples seeking out their own rabbi. Continue reading

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