Welcome – Information about Our Churches

Welcome to the Anglican Parish of Stirling

Our Parish is located in the beautiful Adelaide Hills in South Australia, and encompasses Crafers, Stirling, Aldgate and Bridgewater and surrounding areas.

The Stirling Parish has three different centres offering varying styles of worship and activities

 ALDGATE
Church of The Ascension
2 Akaba Rd. Aldgate

Aldgate is home to a reflective, spiritual and joyful community.

ALDGATESERVICES:

  • Sundays 8.30am  Sung Communion followed by morning tea
  • Wednesdays 10am – 11am  Holy Communion with lively discussion followed by a coffee-shop gathering
  • Fridays 5.30pm  Evening Prayer – A simple, short, small service in the peace of the evening

Garden for personal reflection

BRIDGEWATER
Church of Saint Michael & All Angels
435 Mt Barker Road, Bridgewater

Bridgewater is an informal gathering with a broad age range and variety of worship styles.

BRIDGEWATERSERVICES:

  • Sundays 9.30am  Communion followed by a delicious morning tea
    • 2nd and 4th Sundays – Contemporary, youth- oriented service
    • 1st and 5th Sundays – Traditional Service s
    • 3rd Sunday – Taizé Service (peaceful and reflective)

 

 

CRAFERS
Church of The Epiphany
Epiphany Place, Crafers

Crafers offers traditional services in a heritage church with choir and magnificent pipe organ

CRAFERSSERVICES:

  • Sundays 10am – Choral Eucharist
    Prayer for healing in the Peace Chapel, followed by morning tea.

Church open for private prayer when our office is open.
Memorial garden open daily for personal reflection.


 

Our Website includes information about our services, our ministry team, our ministries and our ethos:

    • Living as a faith community
    • Active in the world as God’s people
    • Reaching out with the Gospel

pewsheetYou will also find information here about our latest events, various groups, selected sermons, and much more.

If you live in or are visiting the Adelaide Hills area, we hope you will join us.

If you would like to arrange a baptism, wedding, memorial, or just have questions, please contact us.

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THE SEASON OF CREATION

THE SEASON OF CREATION – 2017
The Spirit in Creation

  • September 3 1st Sunday in Creation – Forest Sunday
  • September 10 2nd Sunday in Creation – Land Sunday
  • September 17 3rd Sunday in Creation – Wilderness/Outback Sunday
  • September 24 4th Sunday in Creation – River Sunday
  • October 1 St Francis of Assisi Day – Blessings of the Animals
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On Hearing the Word of the Lord

On Hearing the Word of the Lord

God seemed more vocal in my younger days –
more tangible, embodied and defined.

A sense of presence came in clearer ways –
it seemed that words were given, underlined.

The vision in my mind I knew as gift,
the words so wryly apt I felt God formed,
or gave the book that readied me to shift
my sights, my soul, to claim a world transformed.

Now though I still await the given word,
I trace it lightly on the page, not clear
what meaning quirks in what I thought I heard.

It swirls like steam drawn up to disappear;
yet insubstantial clouds can catch the light,
and draw the eyes that find the sun too bright.

Barbara Messner September 2017

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CHRISTIAN MEDITATION QUOTE August 2017

CHRISTIAN MEDITATION QUOTE August 2017

“Once into this journey most of us face periodic crises of confidence and stamina. Few have started without ever having given up at some point. There is a grace in this, as in everything, though, because it confronts us with our own weakness. Starting again always takes us deeper. One reason for this difficulty in sustaining the practice smoothly is the feeling that it is wasted effort or that the results do not justify the investment. This problem is considerably lessened if self-knowledge itself is seen as a major fruit of the practice.”

A letter from Laurence Freeman 2009/02

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Offering

Offering (Barbara Messner c. 2005)

His heart went out to them
and he fed them,
hoping they would recognize:

that the satisfaction of hunger
lies in leaving accustomed
sustenance, and waiting for him
to come amongst them, waiting
in the open, in emptiness,
needing to meet him and share
whatever may be on offer.

People were fed,
but grew greedy
to depend on such providing.
They would have made him king
so they need never hunger again,
although need had brought them
there, where abundance was possible.

His heart went out to them
and he fed them,
offering self-emptying openness,
offering his very being, and hoping.

His heart went out to them
and he healed them,
hoping they would recognize:

that awareness of weakness
is the only strength required –
to desire enough to reach out
to the hem of his garments,
or call out to him by the wayside,
to be lowered to him through a crowd,
or singled out by him in the synagogue.

People were healed,
but grew greedy
to claim the power of restoration.
They would have made him king
so they need never hurt again,
although pain had brought them
there, where wholeness was possible.

His heart went out to them
and he healed them,
offering suffering compassion,
offering his very being, and hoping.

His heart went out to them
and he taught them,
hoping they would recognize:

that space is needed for growth,
and hollowness for listening,
inwardly, for the word, proclaimed
or silent, for the hallowed name
above every name, which is
unpronounceable, and yet a word
on every baby’s babbling lips.

People were taught,
but grew greedy
to possess and regulate the word.
They would have made him king
so they need never wander again,
although wondering had brought them
there, where wisdom was possible.

His heart went out to them
and he taught them,
offering receptive silence,
offering his very being, and hoping.

His heart went out to them
and he died for them,
hoping they would recognize:

that life rises up, reborn
from the tomb of emptiness,
from the space of utter abandonment,
where blood is poured out
and flesh broken open,
and the seeds of life thrown down
where the harvest might well be lost.

People were saved,
but grew greedy
to be spared the loss of dying.
They would have made him king
so they need never fail again,
although surrender had brought them
there, where resurrection was possible.

His heart went out to them
and he died for them,
offering body and blood,
offering his very being, and hoping.

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Abraham’s servant

Pentecost + 5A 9-7-17 Bridgewater Genesis 24

A bit of background is helpful before we hear today’s episode from Abraham and Sarah’s story. God had promised Abraham he’d have many descendants and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–7; 22:17–18). Abraham and Sarah saw the initial fulfilment of this promise in their old age with the birth of their miracle child Isaac. But now God’s promises seemed to risk running into a dead end. In ch 23, we read about Sarah’s death.

Abraham is “well advanced in years”– 137, in fact (24:1 and 23.1), and with Sarah, the matriarch gone, there’s no mother in Israel. Unless Abraham can find a wife for his 37-year-old son Isaac, there won’t be any more offspring, no Israel, and ultimately no Messiah through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). That’s the issue this story tackles: how’s God going to fulfill his promises to Abraham; how will God bring us into being?

Of course, there’s human agency in this story too. Abraham won’t let Isaac marry a Canaanite woman. So he sends his trusted servant to “go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (24:4). The servant is worried but Abraham tells him God will provide the right woman.

So the servant goes to the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, Aram-Naharaim. When he arrives at the right place, a well, near where Abraham’s brother Nahor lives, the old servant prays,

Lord, God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day… Let it happen, that the young woman to whom I’ll say, ‘Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,’ – and she’ll say, ‘Drink, and I’ll also give your camels a drink,’ – let her be the one you’ve appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I’ll know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Vv. 12-14)

God answered the servant’s prayer “before he’d finished speaking” (v. 15). Rebekah appears, and she does exactly as the servant prayed she might. The servant gives her an expensive gold nose-ring and two gold bracelets, and asks if he might stay at her father’s house. Rebekah goes home and tells her brother Laban about Abraham’s servant, and Laban goes to invite the servant into their home – no doubt influenced by the expensive gifts the servant gave Rebekah. When dinner’s just about to be served, the servant says he must first carry out his mission – and that’s where we come into the story today.

Reading Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

The servant began by telling Laban about Abraham’s wealth and his desire to find a wife for Isaac from among his own family. He then tells of his prayer at the well and Rebekah’s response; obviously, she’s God’s answer to prayer. He then asks Laban if he “will deal kindly and truly with my master” (v. 49). Laban tells him to take Rebekah, and Rebekah agrees to go

This story is about the fulfillment of God’s plan for Abraham, for the nation Israel, about the Messiah, and the salvation of the human race. Isaac must have a wife if God’s plan is to be fulfilled – Sarah’s empty tent must have a woman to carry on the legacy. Abraham does his part by sending his best servant to find a wife among his own people and the servant does his part by carrying out his duties faithfully, but we’re told four times that it’s God who makes it a success (vv. 21:40, 42, 56)? “The Lord led the servant and gently molded the hearts of Rebekah and her family so that his plan was accomplished” (Greidanus, 47).

Yet there’s vital human agency in all this too.

We never learn the name of Abraham’s servant. He gets no glory for himself; he’s simply devoted to what’s best for his master. “

This servant illustrates what life is like for many servants of God. They enter into the service of their master and proceed faithfully in quite ordinary situations, remaining anonymous in the overall scheme of things, but they are crucial vehicles for the leading and blessing work of God in daily affairs” (Fretheim, 512). The servant refers to the Lord as “God of my master Abraham,” (cf v. 3, 7); only the God of heaven and earth could grant success in the foreign territory that was Aram-naharaim (v. 10).

Abraham has emphasised the importance of the woman’s own decision, (v. 8;. 58). Rebekah alone in Genesis parallels Abraham; she makes the faithful choice to leave home and family to follow God’s purposes. She’ll follow literally in Abraham’s footsteps ( v. 38 & 12:1) and she’ll receive the same blessing (v. 60 & 22:17). Rebekah’s hospitality also mirrors that of Abraham in 18:2-8 (v. 18-20; 23, 25).

Finally, there’s a hidden context in all of this which I find very moving. As far as we know, this story was written in the form as we know it during the exile. The people who wrote it, descendants of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, did so when they were held captive as slaves in the land between the rivers.

So what these slaves wrote about here was an incursion by their God – the God of Israel – into the domain of their owners and their owners’ Gods.

The heart of our faith too is that when we believe ourselves to be captives in enemy territory, God can come; God wants to come; God has come – and so God will come again to set us free. Remember, four times, they wrote that the Lord made this mission succeed. Divine providence does not mean that the future is somehow predetermined or that human decision-making can never frustrate the divine design. God is free, and we are made in that image. And yet this story tells us that God’s providence is real, whatever the odds. Amen

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The Scandal of Isaac

Pentecost + 4A 2-7-17 Aldgate and Crafers Gen 22 1-14 Ps 13 Rm 6 12-23 Mt 10 40-42

Christians call this story “the sacrifice of Isaac” and Jews call it “the Aqedah” (the “binding” of Isaac). It’s always scandalised us. Is it a story of an abusive God; of a deluded Abraham; of religious violence at its worst? Or is it about God and Abraham discovering mutual vulnerability? Many scholars say it’s essentially a tale of the shift from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. That’s because of the mention of Moriah, named [elsewhere only] in 2 Chr 3.1 as the mountain where Solomon built the Temple. So the sacrifice of the ram instead of Isaac at Moriah is for Jews the prototype of all the animal sacrifices to happen on the Temple Mount – Moriah.

For Christians, the sacrifice of the beloved son has obvious resonance with the death of Jesus, so Gen 22 is appointed as one of the readings for the Easter Vigil. For very early Christians, Abraham’s obedience – being ready to sacrifice his son – was one of the greatest examples of his faith: (Heb 11:17, 19) By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac … He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead. Paul portrays Abraham’s obedience as a model of faith against all odds, (Rom 4.32). And of course there’s the sense that this story foreshadows God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ.

But this brings us back to the scandal of this story, and the most obvious question: Has God ever possibly condoned child sacrifice? Anyone might quite reasonably ask this question of people of faith in our time of violent religious extremism.

The answer is a firm no. We know from the witness of the prophets and even from this very edgy story that God does not demand child sacrifice. Indeed, God abhors it (Isa 57.5; Jer 7.31). My guess is that Abraham was only able to imagine God might command this because child sacrifice was widely practised by other religions in his time. But God stopped him before he could go through with it; Abraham had passed his test.

Why the test, though?

God had promised Abraham he’d be the father of a great nation. Yet he and Sarah had endured long years of waiting. So they contrived the just-in-case birth of Ishmael. But at long last, the impossible happened; they rejoiced in the birth of a boy they called “Laughter.” Then at Sarah’s insistence, Abraham reluctantly casts out his first son, Ishmael with his mother, the servant woman Hagar. Was this like David Attenborough’s African shoebills – birds who, when a chick looks likely to survive, abandon their other chick as surplus to requirements? Was the exile of Hagar and Ishmael an assertion of self-sufficiency by Sarah and Abraham? Our recent census results show us that our culture of self-sufficiency is linked with an increase in the number of people who say they have no faith.

So is that the reason for this test? Does God need to see that Abraham won’t go down this track? Or Does Abraham need to discover this in himself? Either way, we see God demand a most horrible thing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (22:2). And Abraham and Isaac set off.

Three days into the journey, Abraham loads the wood for the sacrificial fire onto Isaac, and Isaac says; …we have fire, and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

Abraham, in agony, says, or maybe he prays, God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.

They reached the place of sacrifice. Abraham built an altar. He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son (22:9-10). Finally, the Lord cried out to him urgently, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham, with a mixture relief and hope said what he always says; “Here I am.”

But still, why the test?

Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God had chosen to bless the whole world (Gen 12:3). Could God be wondering; Have I made a mistake?

Abraham hadn’t always shown integrity where his personal security was at stake – the wife-sister deceit about Sarah in Egypt (12.10-20). So maybe God wanted to know whether Abraham, now securely in possession of his own son, might imagine he didn’t need the Lord any more. On Wednesday we saw how Abraham rejected God’s promise of wonderful posterity as he still had no child of his own (15.1-4). Might his changed situation now make him forget it was God who gave them their miracle child in the first place? We know self-sufficiency can kill a people’s faith. But Abraham does pass this most excruciating of tests: Now I know that you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

The story of the Aqedah reminds us that everything we have and everything we might hope to have comes ultimately from God.

Do you remember how the story finishes? Abraham names the place of the test the Lord will provide. The Hebrew – yhwh yireh יִרְאֶה יְהֹוָה – more literally means the Lord will see. This means Hebrew has a similar word play in it to the word we use to translate it, provide. Provide is Latin for see before. I can imagine God saying to that Angel who was sent to stay Abraham’s knife-hand; That boy needs rescuing. Would you please see to it?

Finally, the people who wrote this story were exiles hoping to be released. I wonder if they chose the word see as a prayer that God would see them and restore them from their living death just as Isaac was rescued. Would God see to them too?

We are adopted children; we’re distant from the events we read about, yet intimately involved. We’ve been called to remember again today what the Son actually did go through, for us; what our dear Father has gone through. And so we know with certainty, the Lord has seen to us. Amen

 

 

 

There is a Yiddish folk tale that goes something like this:

Why did God not send an angel to tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Because God knew that no angel would take on such a task. Instead, the angels said, “If you want to command death, do it yourself.”

 

The rabbis imagine the scene:

God said, “Take your son.”

And Abraham said, “I have two sons.”

He answered him, “Your only son.”

He said to him, “Each is the only son of his mother.”

God said, “The one whom you love.”

Abraham replied, “Is there any limit to a father’s love?”

God answered, “Isaac.”

 

Quoted by Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

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gracious hospitality to strangers

Pentecost +2 18-6-2017 Gen 18 1-15 & 21 1-7, Ψ116 1-2 & 11-18, Rom 5 1-11, Mt 9.35 – 10.8

Have you ever turned down an invitation and later on wished you’d gone? The invitation I most deeply regret not accepting was from a Bedouin shepherd in late 1987. I used to teach at the YMCA vocational school in the refugee camp outside Jericho. To get there, I’d take the regular bus down from East Jerusalem. The bus stopped on the way to pick up school children and day labourers from the Bedouin camps. One of the dads invited me to come and stay with his family in their tent for a few days. In the time before mobile phones, I couldn’t contact Vicky to let her know, so I reluctantly declined.

Bedouin hospitality has always been offered in this generous, impulsive way; it still is. The invitation home is pretty well the first thing they say to you. And it’s quite literally a no-questions-asked hospitality. These gracious people are so respectful of their guests’ privacy that they won’t even ask your name until after your third night staying with them.

This is the very gracious hospitality to strangers that we saw in today’s story from Genesis. Hundred-year-old Abraham, gently dozing in the heat of the day, started up to the sight of three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to greet them, and invited them to come, refresh themselves and eat. And you’ll have noticed that he offered them the best of everything he and Sarah had to give – water first, to wash; such a costly gift in the desert. He had no idea who it was at the beginning. We get told, but it’s only later on that Abraham and Sarah discover their visitor’s true identity – because, of course, they wouldn’t do any visitor the discourtesy of asking.

Part of the loveliness of this story is that their gracious impulse to hospitality is in no way diminished by their great age. It’s as fresh as ever it was.

That surprises me and it delights me, because several times now, God has promised them a child, but now Sarah is ninety years old, Abraham a hundred, and still there are no children. Childlessness was, and is, a terrible grief and shame in traditional societies. But they don’t come across in any way as embittered or discouraged by this crucial, terrible disappointment in life. Their hospitality to strangers shows us that they stick by the values they’ve always held. And this hospitality of theirs has become proverbial, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us. 13:Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

What’s all this got to do with us? Our culture doesn’t seem to have quite such a hang-up about childlessness. Our culture’s not so fanatical about hospitality to strangers either. And many people think that’s a good thing with all these terrorists and criminals apparently flocking to our front doors. Our media and our pollies are forever telling us to be more careful; not to be so trusting. This is something that separates us culturally from Sarah and Abraham. And some of our cultural differences cut us off from learning the lessons their story is meant to teach us.

The presenting issue for them is not their childlessness but the ticking clock. Years earlier, God had promised Abraham and Sarah as many descendants as there were stars in the sky, and Abraham believed God. (Gen 15.4-6) And yet now, here they were another twenty years on, and still no child. There could be no rational hope now that a child could come. So when Abraham was ninety-nine, and God told him again that he and Sarah would have a child, Abraham fell to the ground and laughed, delighted and incredulous that it might yet happen. So God told Abraham then that the boy must be called Isaac – יִצְחָק – s/he laughed. Today Sarah laughed too, just as bemused by this amazing promise.

The child came and he was duly named Isaac – s/he laughed. Sarah’s and Abraham’s moments of incredulous laughter had turned into a joyful laughter which would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The lesson for us is this. God’s time is not like our time. God makes promises, and God will fulfil those promises. No matter how much longer we have to wait than we think is reasonable, … how pessimistic our life circumstances might threaten to make us; … how inadequate the resources might seem for the promise to be fulfilled, as God’s servants, we must never forget that it is God who has promised what will come, and it will be so. So no matter how old and worn out we might feel, it’s never time to down tools. We are to respond to God’s call to be a light in the world, as long as any darkness threatens.

But how are we to be a light to the world? The example we’re given today is hospitality. Hospitality calls for very special qualities in us. At its most basic level, the call to hospitality is a call to us to welcome strangers into our lives. And that begins with a smile; a smile of welcome to the stranger; a smile of hope to those who need it; a smile of encouragement to the fearful; a smile of joy to celebrate another’s happiness. This demands that we cultivate very important qualities in ourselves and in our community. The first is instinctive grace – kindness. What this means, eg, for our care of refugees is crystal clear.

My personal demon is mistrust – I automatically wonder about the true motives behind a stranger’s cry for help. It’s something I’ve learned from a very few experiences of betrayal, and I’ve wrongly generalised from them to doubt anyone in need. I now have to make a conscious choice to trust; to be generous. So Abraham and Sarah are a light in the darkness for me, and, I hope, for everyone who reads their story. Let’s always remind each other of that child, Isaac, and make the right choice; laugh first and trust in God. Amen

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Trinity 2017

Trinity A 11-6-2017 A & C Ex 34 1-8, Song 3YM 29-34, 2C13 11-13, Mt 28 16-20

God is Trinity – triune; three persons, yet one God. We use many special names for each of the three persons we know as one God; names that’ve been handed down to us, or new ones. The names are often very rich in association and significance, but none is complete; none says it all. At times, one name seems more helpful than another. But later, another name might suddenly light up with new meaning for us. Let’s ponder a few of them together.

  • The Father: Using words from the Lord’s Prayer, we call God our Father in heaven. That’s language of belonging; of family. But in our prayers, we also call God our maker and our judge. Judge? That sounds distant; threatening. The prophets tell us that God watches to see that we care for the needy and the poor; that God requires us to be faithful and just. And the first five books of the Bible tell us that the Father’s true Name is so holy that we dare not even pronounce it (YHWH). Another of God’s names is plural (Elohim), and yet God is one. And Jesus speaks of God as the God of people who are, to us, long dead, and yet who are alive in God’s presence. (Mk 12) ……
  • The Son: We know Jesus by another name; Immanuel (Isa 7-8, Mt 1) – God with us. Some people call Jesus God with skin on – Jesus, the God we can touch; the God we can sit down and eat with. And Jesus is also our rôle model for life. He’s the nearest thing we’ll ever get to a clear view of the invisible God; gracious, passionate, kind, good and wise. By living and dying our mortal life, Jesus is for us God who knows from the inside what it’s like to be one of us. Jesus is right with us throughout our life-journey. We know Jesus as the one who has returned from the dead; who told us not to let our hearts be troubled. And so we need not fear even our own death.
  • The Holy Spirit: In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit is the creating wind ר֫וּחַ from God in the beginning (Gen 1), the Breath ר֫וּחַ who gives life to the creature of dust (Gen 2), the Breath ר֫וּחַ in Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones who raises countless dead to new life (Ezek 37), and she is Wisdom who guides and inspires us (the Wisdom books). A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus call the Holy Spirit our advocate, (Jn 14) our guide, our comforter, our counsellor, helper and mediator. We experience the Holy Spirit as God within and amongst us – the giver of spiritual gifts and fruits – the sanctifier (1 Cor 2, 12, 14; Gal 5; Jn 17).

We’re probably used to this language because most of us have come to church for a long time. But if anyone in the street asks me to explain it, I certainly find myself a bit tongue-tied. I have to go back to the stories to describe what all this means to me – the Bible stories, and my own story.

For example, God our Father in heaven, our maker and our judge; without some background, that sounds pretty threatening frankly. Is God watching whatever I do and scoring me for it? How can I be sure that God out there is going to understand why I do something before judging me for it? I might have failed to be kind to the poor and needy because I was avoiding danger. I could have been in a hurry and not noticed them. I might have been upset about something and not concentrating. There are any number of reasons why I might not do something that God wants me to. Does God care about that?

Our reading from Exodus today tells me that I shouldn’t be quite so defensive. In that story, God has just been really badly let down by the people. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and fed and watered them on their journey to the Promised Land.

Yet just as God and Moses were ‘cutting the ultimate deal’ as they put it in New York, drawing up the covenant which sets out an everlasting relationship between this people and God, the people down the bottom of the mountain got tired of waiting and worshipped a statue they made of a calf. What should our maker and judge do about that, do you think? What would your Father say?

We heard just that today. God sent Moses back up the mountain with two new tablets of stone to inscribe, appeared to Moses as promised, entrusted the Holy Name to Moses, and then said, [I] “…7 [keep] steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Now I know there’s that bit about “ …visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” But steadfast love for a thousand generations – that takes us out to about the year 23,000 before God might consider giving up on us.

And what’s the judgement process like? I said Jesus is the best picture we’ll ever get of what God is like. Think of the worst thing you’ve ever done and then imagine what Jesus might say. Do you feel like you’ll get a fair hearing? In Rom 8.34 Paul writes that Jesus is at the right hand of God pleading our case for us. So yes, there’s judgement, but it’s tempered by the most amazing Grace. God, who knows what it is to be a frail mortal pleads our case before a judge who’s declared steadfast love for us and still about 880 generations of our descendants.

And then the Holy Spirit – Jesus calls the Spirit our advocate. Moses and Ezekiel call the Spirit the breath of our life; the Wisdom literature calls her our Mother, and at our baptism, she draws closer to us than our own hearts. So is Trinity just an idea? No; it’s God who reaches out to us, God who draws alongside us, God who is the very breath we live by. Could we fully know Grace in any other way – God with us to the end of the age?

Amen

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Thomas Transformed

Thomas Transformed

The transformation of Thomas from sceptic to worshipper is a sign of hope for our age. As a metaphor, Thomas’s experience might represent a move from rational materialism to faith. It suggests that people in our society can move on from the limits of accepting only what can be proved and demonstrated to a respectful openness to the mysteries of spiritual and mystical experience. Our own tradition and most other cultures give far more weight to experiences that are by their nature intangible and unrepeatable, and yet are recorded in spiritual writings, poetry, drama, music and art. Sceptics may mock religious experiences, but just because they lack those experiences doesn’t mean there is no truth in the recorded experiences of others. Thomas shows us that. He demands physical proof, but once he has a personal experience of the risen Christ, he no longer needs the tests he thought he required in order to believe with integrity.

Twentieth century westerners were encouraged to seek concrete evidence for anything before believing. It was thought to be scientific and modern to ask to touch, see, and test any claim before it was accepted as real. Thomas’s requirement to see and touch the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and put his hand in his side is a metaphor for the continuing fascination with evidence and proof, which perhaps explains the popularity of police and forensic dramas. However, as we move further into the twenty-first century, a healthy doubt about the limits of scientific thinking is growing. Perhaps this move beyond science is aided by an awareness that unquestioned technological advance can lead to dangerous environmental damage. As we see the risks to our physical reality created by over reliance on science, we hunger for something beyond that reality, a wholeness that will motivate us to value and heal creation, rather than exploit it for short term profit.

In the global village that our world has become, we are increasingly aware that every culture has its blinkers. We tend to see what we expect to see. Christ’s ironic question and comment to Thomas is relevant to us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” It’s not wrong to seek personal experience, but openness to the experience of others can be equally illuminating. Listening to others can show us what to look for, and give us a way of naming and recognizing what we have experienced, and possibly ignored or discounted. Insights from those who have a different perspective can open up new learning. Scientific experiments can only prove or disprove the hypotheses that the experimenters are capable of conceiving. It has been shown that experimenter bias can influence what they expect to find, and therefore what they count as evidence. Paradigms shift as the minds of geniuses skip ahead of the limited understandings of a previous age. Newtonian physics of cause and effect gives way to the mysteries of quantum physics. In order for science to study any phenomenon, the theories that shape the hypotheses and the tests designed to prove or disprove them, have to be within the capacity of the minds of the age to formulate.

It is just as intellectually respectable to turn doubt upon a narrow use of scientific method as upon records of personal experience such as Thomas’s encounter with the risen Jesus. As we begin to accept that matter can be transformed into energy, so it begins to be possible that there is a scientific way of understanding resurrection as a differently constituted physical reality in which matter and energy are in different proportions. Whatever physical explanation may be possible does not lessen the spiritual significance of the event, nor lessen faith in the divine prime mover. Fortunately, some scientists are open to the bigger picture, and it becomes possible to see a bridge between mathematics and mysticism. If both are open to other ways of perceiving, science and religion may well find that common ground will continue to widen. Respect and open minds are the key qualities needed. Often what sceptics lack is respect for the experience of others. That was evident in Thomas’s response to his fellow disciples. If he had been more open to what they reported as their experience, and more willing to be present earlier to see for himself, he might have been spared a couple of weeks of grief and self blame. However, perhaps it is his grief and guilt that shut him off to community and respectful listening. After all, Thomas was the one who said, when Jesus chose to return to Bethany to Lazarus despite the danger of being stoned: “Let us go with him, that we may die with him.” When Jesus died, Thomas wasn’t there to die with him. Such an experience of grief and self doubt can cause a questioning of any source of hope.

Perhaps that is what we need to bear in mind when the sceptics mock Christian experience. We don’t know what wounds or losses have closed their minds and hearts to the possibility of new life in Christ. It seems to me that we ought to look to the reaction of Jesus to Thomas when we try to negotiate these debates in a way that respects the differences of people with different personality types and different backgrounds. Jesus’ first statement when he appears in a gathering where Thomas is present is “Peace be with you.” I imagine this may not have been the reaction of the other disciples to Thomas when he seemed to be discounting their experience of the risen Lord. Jesus immediately shows that he has heard Thomas’s needs for provable fact, and is prepared to accommodate him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” As Christians, we need to give those who doubt a chance to experience the reality of Christ, and we need to do our best to provide rational accounts of faith that can convince people intellectually. We do our faith no service if people believe they need to leave their brains and their life experience outside the door of the church. It’s one of the strengths of our Anglican tradition that we don’t dumb the faith down, or shut imagination or questioning out.

Still, there’s a sense in which questioning and intellectual probing become unnecessary when we have a personal encounter with Christ. We see this in Thomas’s reaction. Once he encounters Christ and Christ speaks to acknowledge his needs, Thomas simply worships – “My Lord and my God!” In our faith life there is a limit to what we can experience and test out personally. At some stage, many of us move on from our first experiences and the evidence that convinces us then. The Scripture record and the writings of deep spiritual thinkers down the ages provide us with material that vastly expands our first basic response of faith. We also become more able to open our awareness to the spiritual realm that gives meaning to the physical facts. Ultimately belief in the risen Christ is a way of opening ourselves to the possibilities of his risen life awakened in us. The evidence serves as signs to lead us into an encounter with Christ where we, like Thomas, can make our own response of recognition: “my Lord and my God.”

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Adelaide Hills, South Australia