Sermon: Hope Sunday

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
2nd of December, 2018

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Luke 21:25-36

Happy First Sunday of Advent! Happy New Church Year!

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is Hope Sunday. As we do every year, we hear today a prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia. This year we hear the prophecy from the Gospel According to Luke, and it is just as violent as those we hear in the Years of Matthew and Mark: ‘People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ The gospel writers want to warn us to be ready, because Christ may come at any moment, and if we want to be among those who welcome his coming as our redemption, we need to live lives that will enable us to ‘to stand before the Son of Man.’ But we hear this warning on the first Sunday of Advent because it is also gives us ground for hope. The season of Advent, which looks backwards to the First Coming and onwards to the Second, reminds us that once upon a time God came and lived among us in Jesus. In the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving that we will pray a little later we will all say together: ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again’. The gospel readings for the first Sunday in Advent might use the language of violence but they are describing the coming of Christ in glory, which is something to be celebrated. Continue reading

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Sermon: A higher loyalty

Sermon for Williamstown
5th of November, 2018

John 18:33-37

Yesterday was Election Day here in Victoria and all those of us who are eligible voted – I hope. The UK is currently celebrating the centenary of women getting the right to vote, and as I’ve followed that I’ve been reminded of the great privilege it is to be able to participate in a democracy. It is a right that Australian women won earlier than almost any other women in the world, in 1902. New Zealand women had won the right to vote in 1893, but they weren’t allowed to run for Parliament until 1919. Australian women could both vote and stand for parliament from soon after Federation, as long as they were ‘white’. In White Australia only white people could vote, so we can’t be too celebratory about women’s early enfranchisement. But Australia still had complete women’s suffrage earlier than any other country in the world; we were a model for the rest of the world, hence this amazing banner by Dora Meeson Coates, which was carried in suffrage marches in London in 1908 and 1911.

Trust the Women

Every-so-often I think it’s important for us to pause and remember just how astonishing it is that we live in a democracy in which all Australian citizens over the age of 18 are able to vote, and in which changes of government happen peacefully. For most of human history people had no say in who ruled over them, and when those rulers were changed it was by violence. Our electoral system is something to be celebrated. Despite this, we as Christians have an even higher loyalty than our loyalty to our democracy. Democracy is the rule of the majority and sometimes the majority can get things wrong, as it did when only white Australians were allowed to vote. Today, on the last Sunday of the Christian year, we are celebrating the reign of Christ, Christ the King Sunday. Today we affirm that Christ is not just the ruler of our hearts but of the whole world, and that our first loyalty is to him. Continue reading

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Sermon: Hannah sings a new song

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
18th of November 2018

1 Samuel 1:4-20

One of the interesting things about the Bible, this enormous collection of books through which we believe we hear the Word of God, is that our Christian scriptures include within them the scriptures of another faith. These are often called the ‘Old Testament’ but I prefer to describe them as the ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ because they haven’t been replaced or made obsolete by the ‘New’ Testament. If they were obsolete, they wouldn’t be in our Bible. Not only are they in there, they are by far the larger part of it, thirty-nine books (or forty-six books if you’re Catholic) as compared to the New Testament’s twenty-seven. The Christian scriptures contain the Jewish scriptures within them, and we Christians read from them every week.

Note: There was so much I wanted to say about this, but I realised that it didn’t fit in a sermon. But I’ll share it here: For Jews, the Hebrew Scriptures only contain twenty-four books, because books that we divide into ‘First and Second’ – Samuel, Kings and Chronicles – are each one book, and because Christians put the prophecies of the twelve minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi in twelve separate books while for Jews their prophecies are contained in one book titled simply ‘The Twelve’. For Jews the scriptures have three sections: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim, or the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. An acronym is made from the names of these three sections, which is why you may hear or see the Hebrew Scriptures called the Tanakh. We have divided up the Hebrew Scriptures into four sections: the Law; the historical books; the Prophets; and the books of Wisdom writings, and moved them around a bit. Now back to the sermon. Continue reading

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Reflection: The centenary of the Armistice

Reflection for Remembrance Day 2018
Williamstown Uniting Church

Today we remember the guns falling silent at 11 am on the eleventh of November, 1918, one hundred years ago today. But what is it that we are actually remembering on ‘Remembrance’ Day? I’ve recently come across copies of two small books, one published in 1917 and one in 1939, that have influenced my thinking about the Armistice.


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Praying for Melbourne

I have no words for my sadness at yesterday’s attack on Melbourne and particularly the death of Sisto Malaspina. So I offer again the prayer I wrote the last time Bourke Street was attacked. May God be with us all.

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Sermon: For all the saints

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
All Saints’ Day 2018

Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelation 21:1-6
John 11:32-44

Today we are celebrating All Saints’ Day, the feast declared by Pope Gregory IV in 835. As I reminded us last year, the early Reformers were unimpressed by the celebration of sainthood, and I want to again read from John Calvin’s satirical 1543 publication: A Very Useful Account concerning the Great Benefit that Christianity will Receive if it takes an inventory of all the sacred bodies and relics which are in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and other kingdoms and countries just because it makes me laugh. In it Calvin writes that if registers were to be made of all the saints’ relics throughout Europe: ‘one would discover that each apostle has more than four bodies, and each saint at least two or three’. He also wrote of Mary, the mother of Jesus: ‘There is so much [milk held in churches] that if the holy Virgin had been a cow, and had she continued to nurse her whole life, she would have had great difficulty to give so much’. Given this scorn, it’s one of the achievements of the ecumenical movement that Catholics and Protestants now both celebrate All Saints’. Continue reading

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Sermon: Don’t accept injustice (Part 3)

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
28th of October, 2018

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Today is the fourth and last week that we’ll spend with Job. So, a very quick recap: God and ha-satan, the accuser or adversary, have a bet over the righteous man, Job. Will he still be a ‘blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’ if he is made to suffer? As a result of this conversation between God and Satan, Job loses everything he has and everything he is: wealth; household; children; health. He ends up sitting in the ashes, scraping at his boils with broken pottery. Then his three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, come to comfort him. For a week they sit silently with Job, but then they start to speak, and they tell Job that he must have done something wrong, because God is just, rewarding the virtuous and punishing the wicked. If Job is being punished, it must be for a good reason. Continue reading

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