Sermon: Imitating God

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
24th of February, 2019

Luke 6:17-26

If last week’s extract from the Sermon on the Plain, with its terrifying ‘woes’ to balance the blessings, was difficult to hear, this week’s reading is even worse. ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ I have heard and read this passage over and over again through the years and it still makes me gasp. This is what Jesus wants us to do when he calls us to follow him, and it is absolutely impossible. ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ might seem manageable, but ‘do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’? Surely Jesus cannot be serious here; the Sermon on the Plain can only be aspirational. Continue reading

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Sermon: The value of a human life

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
17th of February, 2019

Luke 6:17-26

Do you know how much your life is worth? How about the lives of those you love? It’s a ridiculous question, of course; it should be impossible to put a price on a human life. I discovered recently in an article written by Richard Dennisss, the chief economist at the Australia Institute, that the federal government knows exactly how much an Australia life is worth. It is 4.5 million dollars. If you die prematurely, then each year of forgone life is worth $195,000. It’s fascinating – I went to check the advice that Denniss quoted in his article and found it freely available: a three-page document from December 2014 called ‘Best Practice Regulation Guidance Note: Value of statistical life’. The note says that, ‘A number of regulatory proposals are aimed at reducing the risk of physical harm, for example, occupational health and safety laws, warning labels on tobacco products and transport safety measures such as seat belt laws’. In order to work out whether they are worthwhile, public servants need to determine whether the value of the lives saved is greater than the amount spent to reduce the harm. Future lives are considered to be worth less than present lives. It’s considered more beneficial to save three lives now rather than five lives in eight years’ time – the note has a table showing that. I might not have believed Denniss if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Continue reading

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Sermon: The Glory of God

Sermon for Williamstown
10th of February, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Are Christians too casual about the ways in which we interact with God? Too familiar, perhaps, in our language? I have a Jewish friend with whom I chat online, and whenever she refers to God, about whom we talk surprisingly often, she spells the name ‘G’ hyphen ‘D’, in the respectful Jewish manner. This is based on the way in which God is described in Hebrew. Rather than spelling out the name of God the tetragrammaton (four letters) YHWH is written, and where we Christians blithely say that aloud as Yahweh, Jews are more likely when reading YHWH to say Adonai ‘my Lord’, or Elohim, ‘God’. It’s only we Christians who are so bold as to refer to God by name.

It’s not just in our language that we treat God as an equal. In many ways this is also the way in which we worship. My Professor of Worship talked to us about the ‘Uniting Church’ worship style. He said that when the Uniting Church was created we had had a choice about the way in which we would set this new church’s worshipping scene. Either people could enter the church silently and reverently, communing quietly with God while waiting for worship to start, or we could enter informally, as though we were entering a friend’s house, chatting with each other while waiting for the call to begin worshipping. The option that most Uniting churches have taken has been the second. That’s a fairly recent phenomenon. In my childhood people still wore special clothes when attending church – I remember wearing a good dress and the generations before me remember wearing hats and even gloves. Nowadays if I’m not actually leading the service the most I might do is find something clean. We feel comfortable and at home in church, or at least that’s the idea. Continue reading

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Prayer: Remembering Black Saturday

CSIRO_ScienceImage_10345_The_Kinglake_National_Park-1200w

The Kinglake National Park after the Black Saturday bushfires, 2009. CSIRO

Loving God, today, ten years’ on, we remember the horrors of Black Saturday, 2009.

We know that just as your share our joys, so you also grieve with us in times of sorrow.

We ask you to especially bless those affected by the fires.

We remember those who lost loved ones, all those grieving for 173 irreplaceable lives.

We pray for those who lost their homes; towns that lost their community buildings; children who lost their schools.

We hold in our hearts before you the people of Kinglake, Strathewen, St Andrews, Steels Creek, Hazeldene, Humevale, Kinglake West, Flowerdale, Whittlesea, Marysville, Redesdale, Bendigo, and all the other places that suffered and were affected.

We pray for all those whose memories of past fires were stirred and reawakened by Black Saturday, and those whose memories of Black Saturday will be stirred and reawakened by this anniversary.

Loving God, we thank you for all those who fought the fires, and those who helped with the recovery and rebuilding.

We ask for your blessing on all our emergency services personnel, who so generously devote themselves to helping others. Keep them safe in times of danger; grant them courage when they are afraid; give them wisdom when they must make quick decisions; lend them your strength when they are weary; and let them know your love all their work.

When the need arises and they are called to aid both friend and stranger, let them faithfully serve you in their neighbour.

Encircle us all with your care, loving God.
Amen.

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Sermon: A LOT of wine

Sermon for Williamstown
27th of January, 2019

John 2:1-11

As I confessed last week, I’ve done some swapping around with Bible readings. Last week was the week that we were meant to hear the story of the wedding at Cana, and this week we were meant to have Jesus giving his manifesto at the synagogue of Nazareth. I swapped the two because I thought that the story of Jesus’ preaching at Nazareth fit better into the Sunday of Mourning than today’s incredible celebratory story with its gallons of wine. Both stories are establishing stories, tales of Jesus’ first actions after his baptism. In the gospel according to Luke, after Jesus has been baptised and tempted in the wilderness, he begins his Galilean ministry (as we heard last week) by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. In the gospel according to John, after Jesus has been baptised and called his first disciples, he begins his ministry with the miracle we hear about today. Luke shows us Jesus as the one who brings liberation, inaugurating the kingdom of God in which the hungry are fed and the imprisoned set free. John shows us Jesus as the one who does signs and wonders, revealing his glory and his identification with the Father who sent him. For both Luke and John, Jesus is the one who brings about a new world and a new way to live.

The miracle at the wedding at Cana is, according to John, the first of Jesus’ signs. As with all miracles, we can find ourselves impressed or puzzled or dismissive of the unlikeliness of what happened. But the miracle itself is not the point. Amazing as it is for water to become wine, the point of the story is that the wine is a sign. The question is: what exactly is it a sign of? Continue reading

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Sermon: Day of Mourning

Sermon for Williamstown
Day of Mourning, 20th of January, 2019

Luke 4:14-21

I need to start today’s sermon by apologising. Those of you who follow the Lectionary might have realised that although we are in the Year of Luke the gospel reading we were meant to have heard today was the story of the wedding at Cana told in the Gospel according to John. Instead I’ve swapped two weeks around and today we heard the Gospel and Epistle readings from next week. (If you didn’t know that, and didn’t notice anything, please ignore this.) The Uniting Church has agreed to commemorate today, the Sunday before Australia Day, as a Day of Mourning. This acknowledges that while for most of us the colonisation of Australia was a very good thing – I for one am very glad that Australia welcomed ten-pound-Poms after the second world war – for the First Peoples of this country colonisation saw their land stolen from them and their culture almost destroyed in ways in which we are only beginning to confess. We cannot celebrate everything that Australia has become without acknowledging the shadow side of our history. This acknowledgement seems to me to be illuminated by the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel according to Luke, the Nazareth manifesto. Continue reading

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Reflection: For Bill

I’d like to thank Leanne, Rachel, Sarah and Tess for asking me to speak at Bill’s funeral. 

We are gathered here today to give thanks for the life of William Alan Beagley and to commend him to God.

Funerals are celebrations of life; we thank God and offer comfort to each other by sharing our memories of Bill. But as Bill himself said at funerals, while this service is one of celebration and thanksgiving it is also okay to be sad! Today is a day of mourning, as well as of celebration. We are acknowledging the end of Bill’s life, the end of his living presence among those who love him. We are gathered here to grieve, as well as to give thanks, and the sorrow we feel is a measure of our love for Bill.

It is also okay to be angry. Bill was only sixty-three when he died. In God’s perfect world, as described by the prophet Isaiah, ‘No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth.’ I’m sure that if this world were as God intended it to be Bill would have grown old with Leanne, and would have enjoyed grand-fathering the children that Rachel, Sarah and Tess might have in the years to come. We do not live in that perfect world, and so people die too soon, and that is something to lament. I believe that as we grieve Bill’s too-early death today, God grieves with us. Continue reading

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