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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Sermon: Loving ‘white supremacists’

Sermon for Williamstown
13th of January, 2019

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus or, as I like to think of it, ‘Divine Solidarity’ Sunday. On this Sunday in previous years I have talked about the strangeness of Jesus coming to be baptised by John. In Advent we hear the beginning of today’s story, with John coming as the Prophet Isaiah foretold, ‘proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. Since Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, lived his life in full relationship with God, he had no sins of which to repent. Sin is not primarily about what we do, or even about what we think or feel, but about separation from God, not living up to our potential to be the people God created us to be. Repentance is about turning around, returning to God, behaving like the prodigal son and going home to the Father who runs to meet us. But Jesus never turned his back on his Father. In the language of John’s Gospel, the Father and the Son were One. Jesus did not sin, and had no need to repent. Since John is baptising for repentance those who confess their sins Jesus had no need for baptism. Continue reading

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A statement by Bishop Philip Huggins, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia

Listening is the key – 08 January 2019

In response to the acts of a minority group in St Kilda last Saturday, Bishop Philip Huggins has released a statement:

The conflict and the visual character of these recent events have ensured their wide publicity, here and overseas.

Accordingly, there will be more of the same. Continue reading

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Sermon: Be careful when choosing your lodestar

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Epiphany 2019

As usual, in the lead-up to today’s celebration of the Epiphany, I have been thinking about stars. I have especially been considering the concept of the ‘lodestar’. A lodestar is a star used for navigation, typically the pole star, Polaris or Alpha Ursae Minoris, in the Northern Hemisphere. We don’t have a pole star in the south, but the Southern Cross is used in a similar way, with the help of the Pointer Stars. According to my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary the use of the word ‘lodestar’ in navigation comes from Middle English, 1150-1349, and the use of ‘lodestar’ as a metaphor, meaning ‘the person or thing on which one’s attention or hopes are fixed’ is late Middle English, 1350-1469.  So we’ve been talking about metaphorical lodestars for centuries now. Continue reading

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So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

John Squires explains what the somewhat confusing process of the Uniting Church mean for marriage equality.

An Informed Faith

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

1A. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on aprovision in the ConstitutioninClause 39(a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church…

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