Sermon: Life and death and Lazarus

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
29th of March, 2020

John 11:1-45

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we are again offered one of the beautifully symbolic stories from the Gospel according to John. It is a story about death and darkness and mourning; about life and light and rejoicing; and so it is an almost uncannily suitable story for us to hear during this pandemic, as the world faces the prospect of thousands upon thousands of deaths from COVID19. We need comfort in our isolation; hope while we are unable to physically gather together for worship. This story, the story of the raising of Lazarus, offers us that comfort and hope. Continue reading

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Prayer for Western Heights Uniting Church

Loving God,
we know that nothing can separate us from you.
Surround us with your love during this time of crisis.

Be with every member of the Western Heights community;
give us the courage, the patience, and the kindness we will need in the weeks ahead.

Reassure us that we are still gathered together through you,
even when we cannot meet.

We pray for all those still working in the community through this crisis,
all the medical staff, the emergency services workers,
the supermarket employees and freight workers;
and those who have to find new ways of working from home.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs,
who are facing an uncertain future.

We pray for the homeless and those in insecure housing,
for whom ‘self-isolation’ will be almost impossible;
and for those whose homes are not safe places,
and who will face domestic violence during this time.

We pray for our leaders,
for Scott Morrison and Daniel Andrews,
for Chief Medical Officers Brendan Murphy and Brett Sutton,
and all those who have to make the difficult decisions to keep us safe.

Loving God,
we know that ‘we, who are many, are one body in Christ,
and individually we are members one of another’.
Help us to continue to be that ‘one body’ in this difficult time.

In the name of your Son,
our Lord, Mother and Friend, Jesus Christ, we pray,

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Covid19 Diary 2


Samuel Pepys: March 23, 1665

Up, and to my Lord Sandwich, who follows the Duke this day by water down to the Hope, where the Prince lies. He received me, busy as he was, with mighty kindness and joy at my promotions, telling me most largely how the Duke hath expressed on all occasions his good opinion of my service and love for me. I paid my thanks and acknowledgement to him; and so back home.

March 23, 2020

For a few hours yesterday I thought that we were going to be able to keep the church open. There were only 37 people at the service, in a building that can easily seat a couple of hundred, so everyone was able to spread out. There was no morning tea, and no touching, and in a brief meeting after the service the church council wondered if we could continue to meet this way, recording the services for those who could not attend. But then I heard of the decision, made either by the Prime Minister or the Premier, to close all non-essential businesses, including places of worship. Now churches know our place in the government’s thoughts. In Victoria hairdressers and beauticians will be able to stay open, but we must close.

Continue reading

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Sermon: Who is welcome? The doubters; the faithful; the rule-breakers

Sermon for Western Heights Uniting Church
22 March 2020

John 9:1-41

Jesus is reported to have said, ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (Matthew 6:34) – but then Jesus did not live through a pandemic. Things have been changing so fast that it has been almost impossible to keep up. Last week we simply agreed not to shake hands at church. On Wednesday the Church Council decided that we wouldn’t have morning tea after church, and that we would offer small, family-only, funerals now and larger Services of Thanksgiving when the crisis is over. On Thursday Karen and I decided not to have the fabulous inter-generational service we’d planned for this morning because it was going to explore senses other than sight, and now is not the time to be using taste and touch in worship. When I had thought I had finished writing this sermon on Friday we weren’t sure what was happening next, but we were planning to stay open. So I had to do some rewriting on Saturday, after the decision had been made to stop gathering for worship. Given the pace of all this, it’s extremely hard not to worry about tomorrow, no matter what Jesus might have told his disciples.
Continue reading

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For the newsletter

The supposedly-Chinese (but probably really English) curse is: “May you live in interesting times”. Times have certainly become interesting! We do not know how COVID19 will affect us; we have already had to make changes to the way we live; and undoubtedly there will be many more changes before this pandemic is over.

However, some things will stay the same. Even if we cannot gather together, we will still be a community. Even if we cannot attend a Sunday morning service, we will still be able to worship God together – maybe virtually. (I absolutely hate being filmed, so my big corona virus sacrifice might be allowing myself to be videoed.) Whatever happens, we will continue to be the people of God, loving God and one another through this crisis.

We already pray for each other and for those in need in the world. Please continue to do that. Please also pray for the medical staff, who will put themselves at risk to care for the sick; for our leaders, who are having to make very difficult decisions; and for the poorest people in our community, including asylum seekers and others without access to government help. This will hit them hardest.

May God bless you and keep you in the days ahead.

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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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