Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Psalm 22 Remembering God

In Psalm 22 we read these words of hope:

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.”

The loss of our personal memories can be a devastating experience and can have wide ranging consequences for many of our relationships.  No less so our collective amnesia as human beings can have terrible consequences.

Last Monday on Q&A the panel discussion focussed in on domestic and family violence in Australia.  During the discussion it was said that 1 in 3 Australian women will experience violence against them simply because they are women.  And, even more disturbingly, 1 in 5 will suffer some form of sexual abuse or violence. As a man I found these statistics staggering and wonder at the culture we have created which so demeans women – What will this mean for my daughter and her friends? What does it mean for people in my congregation?  What does it mean for the young women I meet as a Chaplain at the University?

Whatever else it means I believe it is a symptom and sign of our collective amnesia as human beings? 

We have forgotten God and we have placed ourselves as human beings at the centre.

We have forgotten that each of us is a precious creation loved by our maker.

We have forgotten that God’s promises are for all people.

We have forgotten that God’s desire is that all people encounter and experience an abundant life.

We have forgotten that in Christ there is no male or female, rich or poor, slave or free.

The symptoms are not simply in the treatment of women but seen in our predilection for violence based on any difference race, class, religion or gender. Our inhumanity towards one another is rife.

Far too often people of religious persuasion interpret their relationship with God as an invitation to violence and there can be no doubt there are images of God that portray a picture of an angry and violent God, but remembering God’s promise of love and mercy in Christ transform these difficult images.  Jesus commitment was to life in all it wholeness for people, even those who had been pushed to very margins of society.

Remembering God is important and remembering God’s concern for the poor the orphan and the widow is vital.  God’s vision expressed in Psalm 22 is that the poor shall eat and be satisfied.

When people gather for worship one of core aims is the act of remembering – the technical term used is anamnesis.

The word has the opposite meaning to one which sounds more familiar, amnesia.  Anamnesis is about recovering our memory – our memory of God.

In coming together we are reminded of our common bond to God and to all created life.  We are reminded that despite what we may think God has not forgotten us.  We remember that God’s response to the violence of the world was not retribution but submission to the cross in Christ.

The violence of the cross is not the act of an angry God, rather it is the invitation to new life as God accepts the violence we commit against Jesus and transforms it through the resurrection.

Psalm 22 which is quoted by Jesus on the cross reminds us that God did not abandon Jesus but quite the opposite: “he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

As we remember God and turn again towards God’s love in worship we are transformed by our remembering – God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s desire for abundant living infiltrate our hearts, our minds and our souls as we invited to follow Jesus.

The psalmist cries ‘As for me I will live for the Lord” – remembering changes us into God’s people, called to bring wholeness to the lives of others.

God remembers us in grace what does it mean foe us to remember God?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Lent 1: God must be looking at the Rainbow!

Reading Genesis 9:8-17

8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Reflection: God remembers the rainbow

God said to Noah

“When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is
between me and you and every living creature of all flesh!”

God’s commitment to remember the promise God makes is an act of amazing trust and grace and as we enter this period of Lent I want you to think deeply on the consequences of God’s promise.  Lent is a time for repentance and owning the faults of our humanity – not simply our personal faults but our collective ones.

The story of Noah and the ark is one of the more disturbing and difficult ones of the scriptures.  It is also a story found within many ancient cultures – the story of a great flood sent as a punishment on human beings for their waywardness.

No children’s play set of Noah includes the multitudes of people and animals destroyed and floating dead in the waters surrounding the Ark – these images are too graphic and pointed because they speak to us of a God who seeks a new beginning and is willing to destroy lives to do so.

Yet at the end of story God’s heart and mind is shifted to focus on opportunity and grace and whilst the narrative does not suggest it I do wonder whether part of this is the realisation of the horror that has unfolded.

Yet my thought is that we do not need God’s intervention to wreak horrors on ourselves and it can only be God’s continuing to gaze at a rainbow that stays God’s hands.

Think about life in our world at the moment and how God’s heart must despair at our inhumanity.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

At the beginning of this week 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by members of the Islamic State.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

We have been following the story of the two young Australians who sought to smuggle drugs through Indonesia.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

So far 14 women have been killed in domestic violence incidents in Australia this year; that is two per week.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

Children are still being held in detention by the Australian government and our border policy demonises people who are fleeing terrible situations.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

Indigenous people are still disadvantaged in Australia and in many places around the world those who were colonised struggle to live.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

At an individual level people are self-interested and anxiety is rife.

God must be looking at the rainbow!

For me these continued tragedies of our humanity are signs that God sees the rainbow – God stays God’s hand.

But as we travel through Lent God’s rainbow coloured viewing of the world – allowing us to go on in all our depravity - is match by God’s own commitment to change our suffering.

We travel towards the cross where God rather than seek retribution shares the consequences of our depravity. In Jesus life and death God says that retribution and destruction are not the final answer.

Jesus resurrection is the promise of new life.  It is this fulfilment of the promise of the rainbow –God’s desire for the creation is a life and a future living in the peace and harmony that God desires for us.

So this lent as God sees the rainbow and remembers his promises let us repent not just for ourselves but on behalf of all people everywhere. 

Let us throw ourselves on God’s mercy and be his people.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Reading Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

We have already heard the good news of God’s promise to see the rainbow and remember and as God’s people in this time and place we have heard and believed that Jesus presence in the world is good news.

His very baptism is a sharing in the lives that we lead so as to transform the suffering and horrors we experience into hope.

We have taken our theme to be followers of this very same Jesus in the hope that as we follow temptations will be resisted and the kingdom of God will come close for the sake of the entire world.

This is our response to the promise of God to be for us and with us and not against in the face of the great challenges of this time and of every time.

So as God looks at the rainbow and remembers let us remember and be his followers.

In the words of the Psalm today there were some phrases used by the Psalm which I believe can be helpful in our response to God’s presence and our commitment as followers.

They are:

·         I lift up my soul.

·         My God, in you I trust!

·         Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

·         Lead me in your truth, and teach me.

·         For you I wait all day long.

·         Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord.

·         Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

·         All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.

Each of you has the opportunity this Lent to commit yourself again to God, to turn back and journey towards God’s ways as a response of thanksgiving for what God has done.

I would invite you now to choose one of these phrases and for the period of Lent make it your slogan, make it your mantra, make it your prayer.  Let it shape your existence!

After the service I will hand out a suggestion with each phrase as to how you might enter more deeply into the journey of Lent as you commit yourself again to God.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Authority from God

Yesterday those of you who are old enough to vote had the opportunity to exercise your democratic right to
elect your state government representatives.

In exercising this right we the people have been given the power to decide who will have authority over us.

Regardless of whether your chosen representative got in or not being involved in this process is an expression of our enlightened culture.  It is a culture in which we get to be involved in the choices about who will have authority to make decisions for us.

The scene at the polling booths yesterday though is very different to the scene which we read about in the scriptures when Jesus entered the synagogue and started to teach.

Jesus authority does not come through some democratic process but originates from his relationship with God.  At the very beginning of Mark’s gospel Mark lets all of his readers into a wonderful secret with his opening words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus authority is derived from his relationship with the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit are inextricably tied together.  When Jesus speaks God’s Eternal Word is speaking in our midst.

Last week I suggested that our theme for the year will be “Followers and Fishers” so this week we are considering a little more deeply what it means for you and I to be a follower of Jesus.

It means recognising Jesus’ authority.  It is an authority we do not give Jesus by voting for him but comes from the Maker of all things.

Last week we heard how Simon and Andrew, as well as James and John, on hearing Jesus call to follow him immediately left their jobs and followed Jesus.  They must have recognised some authority in his bearing as he spoke to them.

This week we encounter Jesus first preaching engagement described by Mark and as he teaches we are told that the people “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.”

Whilst Jesus is not with us physically, as his followers it is our task to constantly to seek to recognise his authority in the decisions that we make both as individuals and as a community.

Jesus said to his disciples that when two or three were gathered in his name that he would be present with them.  In the Basis of Union, which is the foundational document for the Uniting Church, it says that Christ is present when he his proclaimed.

This means that one of the most important ways for us to follow Jesus is to listen carefully together for Jesus speaking to us as we worship together.

We listen not just with our ears but with our hearts and with our minds and we weigh up carefully what Jesus might be saying to us about how we should go about following Jesus each and every day.

Not only should you listen and contemplate what God might be saying to you, but you should also test out what you think you are hearing and encourage others in your sharing.

In the reading that we heard this morning as Jesus is teaching the people they begin to speak to one another wondering about Jesus teaching and his authority.

As you know I often encourage you to have conversations during worship to do exactly the same – to grow spiritually, to recognise Jesus authority, to listen to one another.  All of this is about allowing your life outside of worship to be influenced by what you encounter here.

Of course in the story we heard about the man with the evil spirit who challenges Jesus and defies Jesus teaching.  He does so precisely because he recognises Jesus authority which comes from God.  There may be times that Jesus teaching makes us uncomfortable or we even want to reject what Jesus is saying to us about how we should live.

But Jesus presence in the world is the good news of God’s love.

Jesus casts out the opposition and he does away with the evil spirit. When we as followers experience a moment of correction or healing or transformation as we listen this is about us recognising Jesus authority in our lives.

The conversation about Jesus and his authority does not end in the synagogue.  

Even though the people who were there remain a bit perplexed about his authority, they are a amazed and Mark tells us that Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout Galilee.

Jesus fame spreads because people keep telling the stories, they come to the synagogue and then they go out and share what they have encountered.

Jesus – a man who teaches and preaches with authority and whose authority is seen in the miracles he does.

As followers we listen, we discuss, we grow, sometimes we’re perplexed and sometimes we’re amazed and then we go out and share our encounter.  Sometimes it is simply in the way we live and others it is more direct.

Sharing your encounter in the week to come involves the other side of our theme for the year which is to be fishers – to invite others to come and share in your encounter of God and your trust in Jesus authority which comes from God.

Next week is our open day and I have am asking again that you come along, that you pray it will be meaningful event, that you invite people to attend and  that you welcome any visitors among us with the love of God.

To finish where I began with talk of our state election, last week I heard the result of a survey about how much people trusted Campbell Newman and Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Despite the fact we choose our leaders through democratic processes it seems we do not trust them very much at all.  Annastacia Palaszczuk scored 4.4 out of 10 whilst Campbell Newman scored a meagre 3.2

Ironically as leaders they derive their authority from we who vote for them.  I must admit it made me wonder about whether using the general population as the source of authority may not be the best thing.

On the other hand, Jesus authority is derived from a completely different a place, a place from beyond this world and can transform and heal even the most defiant spirits.

As followers of Jesus I encourage you to recognise Jesus authority and its source and as you do so to place your trust in Jesus.  It would be hope that on your scale Jesus might do a bit better than 4.4 out 10 and that we could follow him a bit more confidently than we do our own chosen leaders.

Take a few moments of silence to consider God’s word to you this day.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Followers and Fishers

A few years ago we took Tim and Lucy to a Barramundi farm in Townsville.

For around $15 for half an hour we were each give a rod and a bucket of bait and sent to a damn which was about a big as the church.

You put your bait on a hook, you cast out your line, you reeled it in and on just about every cast you caught a fish – a barramundi.

In a world of instant gratification catching fish at the fish farm was as easy as surfing the net.

But real fishing isn’t as easy.

When Jesus saw Simon and Andrew and called them saying ““Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   I am pretty sure that their experience of fishing was very different.

Fishing was their trade and fishing involved preparation, perseverance, patience and persistence.

It was hard work.  So Jesus wasn’t inviting them to the barramundi farm he was inviting them to follow him and to get their hands dirty.

Now there are two distinct parts of this statement: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   

The first is an invitation to be a follower – to follow a leader, to learn from them, to be a student and a disciple and a part of the group of followers.

The second is the encouragement that who they are following and what they are learning is worth sharing with others – to fish for people.

Jesus wanted Simon and Andrew to be “followers and fishers”.

During the week I made the suggestion to the Church Council that this should be our theme for 2015.  That we should celebrate being “Followers and Fishers”.

You see by your very presence here this morning you are indicating that for whatever reason you came today you have responded to the call of Jesus to follow him.

Maybe you don’t think about it in those terms but in all likelihood at some point in your life someone asked, ”Do you want to go to church with me?” or “What do you think about that God stuff?” or “What do you know about Jesus?”

Even if you are still a bit uncommitted about your faith and belief the invitation has been given and you are here this morning.

So we respond to the invitation to be followers and as we respond we also begin to learn; to learn about God from Jesus.  But Jesus is not physically here so our leaning takes place within the community of faith.

We look at other Christians, other followers, and we learn about God by how they live and what they say and do.  We learn from people who we read about through history and we learn about it from each other. 

So I want you to take a moment to think about your own encounters with the idea of following Jesus and in particular who it is that may have helped you to know what that means. 


We are followers and we are also fishers.

We learn as followers, which is preparation for fishing but then we do go fishing: we share what we learn and experience in our relationship with God with others.

The other night at Church Council I began with a question.  It was a fairly simple question but a really important one, “Why do you keep coming to St Lucia Uniting Church?”

For some on the church council an immediate response came to mind whilst for others it was harder.  In everything we did at Church Council the other night this was the most important working out why we are here.  Why we bother!

One of the first answers shared was friendship.  Jesus came among us to encourage us to love one another – friendship, and friendship in the context of a church community, is vitally important to our lives and here we can meet new people and we can learn to be friends.

Some else shared loyalty.  Our first loyalty is to Jesus not simply this congregation but to Jesus.  Yet loyalty once again is a value that we can aspire to – loyalty to Jesus and one another in a world where advertises and brands are constantly competing for out loyalty.

Another person said word and sacrament.  Each week you come here to listen for God speaking to you, you seek to understand how to better follow Jesus.  Sometimes in the discipline of coming and sometimes in the personal experience of God’s silence it is easy to lose sight of this reality – God is speaking to us as we meet week by week.

Yet each week people come here hoping to encounter the divine and some weeks it happens.

The reason this little activity was the most important thing we did at Church Council is because if do not understand why this community of faith that we call St Lucia Uniting Church is important and why we come here then why would anyone else bother.

Being able to say we come here and why it is important is part of our preparation for the work of fishing.  It is rigging line and baiting the hook.

I have been asked on more than one occasion how I am going to grow the congregation, how am I going to get new people in.

Today what I am doing is this.  I am telling you that all of us, every one of you, is a “Follower and a Fisher” and that it is not my job alone to grow the congregation.

Today I am giving out the fishing rods and helping you bait your hooks.

A colleague of mine in a workshop about church growth was asked how do increase the size of your congregation.  He said that’s easy you can do it in one week.  You get everyone in the congregation to invite someone to come along – if they do it the congregation have doubled in size by the next week.  It is as easy and as complex as that. And just like fishing sometimes you have to through the line in more than once – you have to be persistent, patient and persevere. 

To help us do this to invite someone along in 2 weeks time we are having our Church Open day for 2015. 

There are three tasks for you to do as followers to be fishers of people.  The first is to think about why you come here and learn to say to people why this place is important to be a part of.  Second, and this may be a bit harder for some of you invite someone to the open day, and if that person no, invite someone else, and if that person no, invite someone else and so on – go fishing!

Third, pray!  It is said that unless the Lord builds the house those who labour, labour in vain.  Commit yourself to pray about new people coming along, pray for insight as to why it is important for you to be here, pray for God to build this house.

You are called to be followers and fishers.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve, Family Feud and Bethlehem Town

This week I asked people on Facebook to share their favourite Christmas movies.

So now, it’s a bit like family Feud...

Who thinks they can guess what’s behind the pieces of card board.

Top 8 Christmas movies

It’s a wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol
Miracle on 34th Street
The Santa Clause
The Grinch
Polar express

As I was thinking about these movies and I confess I have not seen all of them recently one of the things that struck me was that most of them have an element of the magical or supernatural about them. 

With amazing special effects and script writing we imagine Hollywood magic can take us anywhere.

It seems we long for the miraculous moment; the supernatural intervention; the miracle of the divine.  It is found in our obsession with all things magical at Christmas – we gaze at a star in East, we think about angels and amazing miracles; we sentimentalise the story and we make it fantastical. 

Yet running counter to this theme of the supernatural I have to admit I do like the retelling of the Christmas story as we heard it tonight from Andrew McDonough: Bethlehem Town

McDonough gives us a more realistic retelling.  Mary and Joseph probably stayed with relatives, the architecture of the first century Middle East meant the animals were inside the houses with the people, when the baby was born the men, including Joseph, were kicked out and the local women, probably relatives, came in to help. 

For many of us it is not the story we have been indoctrinated with but the archaeological and Biblical evidence suggest this is a better retelling than inns filled with strangers and wooden stables out the back.

The coming of Jesus into the world does have its supernatural moments, like the angels in the fields, but part of what Luke was trying to say is that Jesus birth was earthy and real and normal for the time in which he lived.

For me there is a reversal going on here.  Not us longing for the divine and the spectacular but God, the divine, longing for us, seeking for us, coming to be with us.  God wants to share in the mundane and might I say the hidden spectacular reality of human existence. By becoming one of us and sharing our life God reminds us that what God has made was good and more to the point that what God desires for us is life in all its fullness.

When the angels came announcing good news to the shepherds they didn’t say a Saviour is born so you can have a better afterlife or the Messiah is here so you can go to heaven and avoid hell.

No, the first concern of the angels was peace on earth!  Salvation was about what was going to happen to them in this life.

Of course, there is a bigger story at play and there are promises made elsewhere in the Scriptures about what happens after we die but these should intrude on this story nor take away from the affirmation and promise of fullness of life now.

This brings me back to all those movies I mentioned before and in particular two of them.  The old movie and favourite of many It’s a wonderful life is about the main character George Bailey discovering that his life meant something, that despite him missing out on many of his personal desires, the knock on effect of how he had lived and meant positive outcomes for so many others.

Salvation in the movie for him was not about him being rewarded with going to heaven but with being rewarded with the realisation of how wonderful his life had been.  It was in one sense about discovering gratitude for the life that he had.

Many of you will have had difficult lives, and often terrible moments within them.  Often these are times we ask in desolation where is God in all of this, why have you abandoned me.  Sometimes our prayers for healing and pain to stop seem to go unanswered.

On the other hand some of you may have not yet experienced great hardships yet in your life.  You may take what you have for granted and may not fully understand just how blessed you are.

The message of Christmas is about how God seeks to come alongside us to be with us in those tragic and difficult moments and to help us to find gratitude for the gift of life when things are going well.

In a similar way the movie A Christmas Carol and its various adaptations are about the key character Scrooge realising that his life too could mean something to others and that through his transformation others could rejoice more fully in life.

The message of transformation is part of the Christmas story as well.  Mary and Joseph were changed.  The shepherds were change.  And we can be changed by this encounter too.

Jesus birth to me is about God’s longing for us, for you, to live, to live fully, to live gratefully, to live mundanely in the everyday wonder of our existence seeing with hope beyond the terrible tragedies that God is inviting us all as humanity to live well, to live better and so encounter salvation in this life as we hope for it in the next.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will encounter the deep truth of God’s love for you: God become like you to affirm your existence and to share in all of the joys, sorrows and challenges of our human life and thereby make each moment that we live holy. 

May you catch a glimpse of the divine in the ordinary and extraordinary this Christmas!