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Pentecost + 2B 7 June 2015 servant leadership

The subject of today’s Bible readings is servant leadership.

Three of today’s readings are about how we receive God’s leadership—we who proclaim God as our guide. They’re about the way we receive God’s leadership, and also about the type of people who should, in God’s view, be leaders among us.

The Psalmist knows God’s in charge. 2I will bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name because of your faithfulness and your loving-kindness, for you have made your name and your word supreme over all things. Kings praise God. But there’s a verse we might miss if we’re not awake, 6though the Lord is exalted, he looks upon the lowly and he comprehends the proud from afar. God’s interested in the little people. God won’t mix with the proud.

So leadership among God’s people is not to be given to those who would seize it. Such people are not close to God. True leaders in God’s community are more likely to be called from among the lowly—the meek—and leadership in God’s community is to be focussed more on the needs of the lowly than on the rich and influential.

The reading from Samuel underlines this. Leadership in God’s community is not like leadership in the secular world. Israel already had a wonderful leader in Samuel. Samuel had been close to God all his life. So as Israel’s judge and prophet, he gave wise and faithful leadership. In Samuel’s time, God was tangibly there with the people of Israel, as provider and protector.

But the elders knew Samuel’s sons were nothing like him. They panicked. They couldn’t see an obvious succession plan.

So they ganged up on Samuel; tried to bully him into giving them a King; the sort of leader everyone else had. Samuel was naturally upset, but his first response was to seek God’s wisdom; he prayed.

And obeying God, he warned the elders about the sort of leadership they could expect from a king. He was right, of course. What he said remains true to this day—except that the 10% taxation he predicted has trebled.

But the question for us remains: the leadership of God’s people, what’s it about? True leaders I’ve known are always thankful people. They see the best in everyone, and they have a strong sense of their servanthood. They want to offer something; to make a contribution to people who struggle—to raise them up. And we know from the footwashing story in John’s gospel that this was the spirit of leadership that Jesus has called all of us to exercise.

Normally I won’t use a sermon to talk about bad examples of leadership. That judgement is God’s alone. But today’s Gospel specifically warns us about bad leaders. Jesus’ family and the crowds, knowing the leaders they have, begin to be afraid for Jesus’ safety. His mission’s become too high-profile. He must be mad to let this happen. Vested interests both in the temple and in the political world are very dangerous. Question the authority of these people and they bite. We know the story of Jesus’ arrest and execution; they bite very hard.

But the family gets to him too late. The authorities are already down from Jerusalem and they’re taking matters in hand. Their tactic is slander: they publicly declare Jesus to be in league with the devil. Slander is utterly forbidden among God’s people: the ninth commandment says—You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. The religious leaders from Jerusalem misrepresent Jesus’ care for the needy with their malicious, lying slander—he has a demon. That’s bad leadership.

We know that slander still remains a tactic that leaders use against the people who threaten their power. The tragedy is, it poisons the spirit of any group or society which accepts leadership from them. We find out why after the next few verses.

Jesus begins to respond to their slander with the parables of the house divided and robbers binding the strong man. His parables expose the falseness of their slander. But his next words are terrifying. 28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for [the scribes] had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

The scribes saw Jesus heal people and exorcise demons from them by the power of the Holy Spirit, but they called this Holy Spirit power satanic. Jesus says what they have done is an eternal sin—the unforgiveable sin. I remember being terrified of this as a teenager. I thought I might have done it. 

Actually, committing the unforgiveable sin is pretty hard. It means seeing a wonderful act of the Holy Spirit, and fully in your right mind, calling it evil—calling it a work of the devil. Few people will sink so far.

But when a leader is known to resort to malicious, lying slander—to call good works evil—and when the people they lead know this, yet still accept their leadership, it can poison the spirit of that group or society. They are being led astray in a most Godless manner, and they are knowingly following this lead. Someone must warn them: name the evil and warn them.

And that’s where we come in. We—Jesus’ family—brothers and sisters and mothers of Jesus.

Jesus identifies his true family as those who do the will of God, like him. That makes us leaders like him—servant leaders. And the calling of servant leaders—from what we’ve read in the Scriptures this morning—the calling of servant leaders is to heal the sick, and to deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever oppresses them, and to do this work without fear or favour.

Deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever oppresses them We know who they are—they are people slandered by false leaders:

  • disproportionately imprisoned Aboriginal people whom our justice systems fail;
  • victims of abuse and attack who cry out for justice, yet are slandered by those who say they were asking for it;
  • refugees;
  • the unemployed;
  • the homeless;
  • the mentally ill;
  • victims of disaster;

all of them so often falsely accused, and so just like Jesus. As he said, … “Truly I tell you, just as you [cared for / stood up for] one of the least of these … you did it to me.” Mt 25.40

So how do we serve Jesus? By doing as he did; by serving those he served—and in our service, we offer the world the type of leadership which alone heals and makes it whole. This is our calling as the royal priesthood of all the baptised.


Trinity Sunday 31May 2015

R 815you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. 16… that very Spirit [bears] witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Paul’s saying we’re adopted into God’s family as God’s children!

We’re more complete as human beings when we belong in community—when we belong in a family or a group of friends. I know that when I’m home alone, and trying to summon up interest in cooking something. I like cooking, but there seems no point if it’s not for sharing. I’m comfortable with my own company, but it doesn’t hold a candle to belonging.

Of course I know that, compared with someone who’s lost their partner or close family member or friend, these moments when I’m at a loose end are nothing. But these times are enough to tell me that belonging in community is at the heart of my being fully a person. Why might that be so? I think it might be something to do with the way we’re made: we’re meant to be like God.

Back in Genesis 1.26, we read: 26a …God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Well, what’s God’s image and likeness like? What are we really meant to be like? Today, on Trinity Sunday, we think about this very question. Our focus is on God the Most Holy Trinity—three persons, yet one God—God in community.

It’s a baffling and complex mystery, this three-in-one and one-in-three character of God. But at its most straightforward level, we can say that God whom we worship—God, in whose image and likeness we are made—God is a community.

The community that is our God is a one of beautiful harmony. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been revealed to us as completely one in their love—loving each other and loving all creatures.

That love is why Theology teachers won’t let us replace the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with alternatives like Creator, Redeemer & Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator & Sustainer because that’s not a loving community—there’s no relationship. Calling God Creator, Redeemer & Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator & Sustainer is like saying God the Trinity is three engines, each for different jobs, that just happen to co-operate.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; a community of love who co-operate so closely that we can’t say who does what. Their love is so close that we can only comprehend what comes from God as coming from loving community. cf the key of C being hidden in each note, C E G, and while present in each note, yet only revealed in the chord.

But what does all this have to do with us? God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. And Paul wrote that we have received a spirit of adoption. … that very Spirit [bears] witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And here we are; a community of people who are mostly not related to each other, who probably wouldn’t know each other if it weren’t that God has adopted us all into this family. And somehow we are the image and likeness of God. Our pilgrimage—our journey of faith—is to discover what that means, both who we are, and why we’ve been called.

So let’s start from the basics. We are different from a social club or a special interest club. The reason for this community is God’s love; God has called us together. And the purpose of this community is the same love we see at work in the community of love we call God whose Name is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The clearest picture we have of the community of love that is God is given to us by Jesus—who is himself God reaching out to people. Jesus gathers people around him. He creates community. And he doesn’t let this community stay indoors and keep all the love to itself. … The community of love that Jesus establishes is shown how to be outgoing—active—to notice where they’re needed, and to jump in and help supply the need.

Jesus’ community of love is shown how to see broken hearts, see broken relationships, see broken people and to respond with loving respect and compassion. A community of God’s love is creative—Spirit-filled. A community of God’s love offers new ways, new connections, new freedoms. A community of love is a wonderful networker; always going for connections; always going for hope.

Of course there are good and bad ways to be community. We can belong in a family or a group like a church or a class at school and be perfectly comfortable and fulfilled ourselves. But at the same time, we can also be completely oblivious to other people who might feel on the outer. Our needs are being met; we’re fine. But theirs aren’t. And while that’s the case, our community won’t be in the image and likeness of God. Whole church communities can be like that too; whole denominations have been hostile to each other for generations. We can’t receive communion at each other’s churches. That’s not God’s image and likeness either.

We are in many ways a broken community; but that’s not the end of the story. Because we’re on the way—we are a pilgrim community following our Lord; we’re being created anew, each day, more nearly into the image and likeness of the lovely community that is our God. We’re sent help—prophetic voices like that of Grant Hay; gifts of the Spirit like our healing ministry; compassionate hearts; hospitality. We’re being created as a community every day, and we can risk being bold and join in that community-building venture. We should feel free to join with people of all Church traditions and make the community stronger.

Our Triune God is a loving community: we are told that God has made us to be in that image and likeness. Jesus has shown us how, and the Spirit gives us the gifts to do it. A final word from Jesus: a prayer he offered for his disciples, including us. John 17.20-21 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,  so that the world may believe that you have sent me. Amen

Ascension Sunday May 17th 2015:

Ascension May 17th 2015:

Extinguishing the Paschal Candle today might feel like a goodbye; goodbye to the flame that’s been front and centre at all our gatherings since the Easter Dawn service. It symbolises goodbye from the risen Jesus who’s now leaving us disciples after staying for a mere forty days.

But we’ve extinguished this sign of his resurrection life after hearing the promise of this morning’s readings. And the promise is amazing. As Jesus leaves his earthly life behind, returning to be with the Father, he leaves with a promise of the Holy Spirit coming to us who remain on earth.

That’s the promise we heard him give in the Book of Acts 1.8… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, Jesus, though not physically present, is with us closer than ever; stronger than ever.

The promise of today’s Gospel passage is that the Good News is for all creation, and that signs of healing, protection and power will confirm the message of the bearers of this Good News. … Power?

The letter to the Ephesians says this power is … far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (1.21) and that this power is for the Church is. Later in this letter, the connection is made more explicit. You might remember it as the aria from Handel’s Messiah—‘Thou art gone up on high’. When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people. (4.8) It then goes on to list those gifts of the Spirit—gifts to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

The one flame is extinguished and the many are lit.

Yesterday at out quiet day, we explored one of the gifts the Spirit has left with the Church—the healing ministry. Through story and teaching, Fr John Beiers reminded us how the power of Christ is present in us—the Church—to confront the sorrows and evils of this world. The Church has always been doing this. Some of Fr John’s stories were of lovely surprises for healer and healed. I didn’t share a story which I remembered yesterday—but it illustrates one thing that I think is important—it doesn’t depend on us or how much faith we have. Rod’s story.

The message of power at the feast of the Ascension is big. It is for all creation. We can, if we choose, take authority to confront wrongs and injustices: to name them and oppose them, and to do so without fear or favour. The Pope this morning is reported as deepening the Church’s connection with Palestinians—much to the irritation of the present world order.

In our part of the world, I wonder if we might hope to see the Church commit to becoming a neon sign of healing and protection for those poor Rohingya refugees set adrift by their crews and now for months being pushed out to sea by a succession of countries that won’t save them—and our own singularly silent on the matter.

The message of power at the feast of the Ascension is big. It is for all creation. Will the Church become the voice by which the Good News actually is proclaimed for all creation as Jesus commanded? Should this be left to green political parties when it’s actually us who received the orders in the first place—in today’s Gospel?

We here need to pray together about what Jesus calls us to do. We may feel utterly inadequate to confront the evils of our time, but our faith isn’t based on our feelings. (Remember Rod’s healing story)

We are witnesses to Christ’s love for those who hunger and thirst, for the homeless, the dispossessed, the sick, the poor. We are witnesses to God’s love for creation through our own love for it.

We don’t confront their sufferings in our own power. We do nothing unless we do it in the power of the Spirit. And the Spirit is promised to us today. Will we receive it? What’s to lose?

Look at Jesus’ earliest disciples—their transformation from fearful hiding to world-changing courage.

These poor, battered disciples—their hopes had been dashed by the crucifixion, then restored by the resurrection. Now, with the Ascension, Jesus is again taken from their sight. But in a very short time, we will see them changed. A frightened huddle of outlaws one minute; the next, they burst out of hiding. Filled with that promised gift of spiritual power, they will go out, reckless and passionate, with a transforming message about Jesus. And just as he said they would, they’ll press on, healing and preaching to the ends of the earth.

Paradoxically, it’s with Jesus’ Ascension—his departure—that his blessing of reconciliation can really begin to spread. No longer confined to where he happened to be, now, in the Spirit’s power, his disciples will carry this blessing to the ends of the earth.


Commitment prayer: Ascended Jesus, we are now the bearers of your blessing. You want everyone and all creation to receive the blessing of your reconciling love? We know this blessing, and we’re ready to share it. We pray that you may make us bold as we do. Amen

Easter 6 b -10 May 2015 – Baptism

“You did not choose me but I chose you.” Jn 15

Arash and Vahid, you’ve asked to be baptised; to become Christians. We honour you for that.Most of us born in Australia don’t understand what a huge decision that is for a person from Iran.

We don’t understand how it can make life very difficult and dangerous. Because becoming a Christian in Australia doesn’t mean our family throws us out. It doesn’t mean police come and take us to gaol, whip us or even hang us. Becoming a Christian here doesn’t cut the rest of our family out of normal job opportunities. It doesn’t stop our children being allowed to go to school or university.

Becoming a Christian here doesn’t have to cost us anything really. Not unless we take it really seriously. But we should, because being a Christian means we follow Jesus—who gave up everything for us.

Becoming a Christian seems like a simple choice to us Australians; but it’s much more than that. Today’s Gospel remind us of something very important. Jesus said that we didn’t choose him; he chose us. Jn 15.16 He chose you and me before we even knew about him. The Gospel also says that God loves us, and we can live in that love together as God’s friends.

This means our Christian faith is about saying yes to God—answering God’s invitation; taking hold of God’s hand which is already stretched out to us. It also means that even if we walk out on the Church for a time—as I once did—it doesn’t mean Jesus will give up on you or me—remember, he chose us!

And the good things we do for Jesus won’t push him to suddenly love us more; he loves us absolutely anyway. Whatever we do, for good or evil, his love for us is never taken back. It never grows smaller. It’s just there; the strength to grow you and me into people who are his blessing to the world.

The other thing today’s readings tell us is that we are a family—right across the world, even if we come from different countries, different cultures, different languages. Today’s story from the book of Acts shows Peter and others in the earliest Church discovering that Jesus chooses people they never expected. They’re amazed as people who weren’t Jewish were given the Holy Spirit; chosen by God.

Jesus said, ‘You didn’t choose me; I chose you.’

Jesus gave his disciples a message of joyful love and friendship. When he talks of commandments, the command is to love. And when he talks about his master-servant relationship with his disciples, it’s laid aside; instead he says we are his friends.

He’s telling us about building a community of love, where the only law is love. Keeping that law will create a community where it’s safe for us, and safe for anyone we invite into it.

We believe only Jesus can create something so wonderful, yet today we hear him asking us to live like that—to become like him. So when Jesus talks about us asking something in his name (v.16 c), he believes we will ask what he would ask—that we will be loving the way he is loving.

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus said he is the vine and we are the branches. It’s a great image—particularly for people who come from Shiraz! As his branches, it’s natural that we will genuinely express his care—particularly for the frail, the frightened and the needy.

He has chosen these ones. And we are to be his representatives, expressing his care for these.


Like branches, we are to reach out and provide hope and shelter and sweet refreshment in their season. Just as he reached out to us and grafted us onto him, we are to offer this belonging to others too—to offer without condition a connection, through Christ the vine, with the true source of their being, and with a true purpose in life. But like any branch, we can only draw the strength to do all of that from the true vine, Jesus.

Easter 5b 2015 – The True Vine – John 15.1-8

Jesus’s “I am” statements in John’s Gospel often make a connection between him and the Temple.

In Jn 8, Jesus was in the Temple at the harvest-feast of Tabernacles.(cf 7.2) The final ceremony of this feast happened at dawn on the last (8th) day. It was simple, but powerful. Two priests solemnly processed down the Temple steps to the Eastern Gate, then turned around again to face the Temple; the Holy of Holies, deliberately turning their backs on the rising sun. This showed they weren’t like the pagan sun-worshippers reviled in Ezekiel 8.16f; Jews worshiped the true God! (m Sukkah 5.4)

What does this have to do with Jesus? At this festival, said (8.12)I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” He’s claiming to be himself what this temple was for the Jewish people; the dwelling place of God. Jesus demands that his followers shift their gaze away from the Temple, and instead, turn to face him. Today’s I am statement—I am the true vine—also seems to be a temple reference, and also fits this startling category of supplanting the temple with his own body.

The archæological architect, Leen Ritmeyer is a world authority on the Temple of Jesus’ time. He and an Englishman Alec Garrard have designed and built a scale model of the Temple on the basis of Ritmeyer’s research. Inside the facade of its porch are four columns, and wreathed up and over them is a huge vine wrought from gold; the Golden Vine of the Temple. Pilgrims would bring golden leaves and clusters of golden grapes for it to add to the Temple’s splendour. In the Mishnah it says that: “whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill-offering … brought it and [the priests] hung it there”. (Middot 3.8) . This vine, represented Israel. It graced the doorway into the Holy of Holies itself. (See p.4 below)

When Jesus said I am the true vine, he was declaring that he superseded all this in his own person. By me—by this doorway—you enter the presence of God. I am the way.

Vines have a mind of their own, don’t they. If you watch them grow, you see creation at work before your very eyes. Almost overnight, you see those little tendrils stretch out looking for the next thing to grab onto. What they grab onto sets the direction of growth for the rest of the vine. Plants relate to their environments like that, don’t they. They adapt and belong. So it’s a really interesting picture Jesus gives us of ourselves as the church, a plant image. It allows for almost unlimited variety.

Often when we think of an image of Christian community, we think in terms of Paul’s image of us as a human body; the body of Christ. In that image, Christ is the head and we are the various members.

Today’s gospel image of Christ as the vine and us as the branches is different. I like it. It gives the sense that each of us can both contribute to the well-being of the vine itself and also look after those who need its fruit. I also see the vine growing in the soil as a picture of Jesus connecting us with the source of our being. It’s an organic, reciprocal image of a church community which can grow and spread in order to give pleasure and refreshment and shade and beauty.

I think that in terms of where this parish might flourish, this image of us as a plant is really helpful. The image of the body is also wonderful; don’t get me wrong. But that’s more an image of the proper internal functioning of a local church. It doesn’t imply the connection with the church’s environment like the plant image does. Human bodies are essentially the same the world over, but plants can be utterly different from each other—each specially adapted to its particular environment. And the body image for a church doesn’t relate to our reason for being in the same way that the plant image does, either.

So sticking with plants, I’d like to move to considering another one that may have a bit more to do with our church’s Anglo-Saxon heritage; one called the Major Oak. I’ll explain why in a minute. … (See p.4 below)

Peter Pillinger is a Methodist from the UK, who is involved in the fresh expressions team in London. That’s a group exploring what they call fresh—or new expressions of being church. The jargon goes that we need a mixed economy church. Different age groups, different cultural groups, different interest groups each like to have their own specialised style of being church. Some like to meet in their homes; some in cafes; some out in nature. The mixed economy church tries to cater to these varieties in taste. So this parish of Stirling is very much a mixed economy parish.

**But in a talk that Peter Pillinger gave in Canberra, he talked not about the mixed economy church but about the mixed ecology church. He said mixed economy says it’s good to have what we have already. But mixed ecology, says that “in every niche of our society, there needs to be a Christian presence which is the right plant to be growing there. It has to shape itself to bring life to the ecological niche that it’s growing in.” And just as every ecological niche on the planet is interlinked, so this expression mixed ecology speaks about the inter-connectedness of the church.

That might sound a bit baffling. But Pillinger explains what he means by telling the story of the Major Oak; an ancient oak tree growing in Sherwood Forest which is over 800 years old. (John was King of England from 6/4/1199 until his death in 1216.)

The Major Oak is held up by beams which support its branches, steel hawsers suspending other branches, and a metal band around the trunk so that it doesn’t fall apart. It’s magnificent, and people reverence this ancient beast.

It’s still producing acorns, and every year, those acorns are gathered up and they’re planted in different countries around the world. And in every place where they are planted, they carry the DNA of the original tree. But the shape of each tree will be different depending on local environmental conditions.”

We need to imagine what Jesus wants us to do when he says we are branches of the vine which must bear fruit. What will our fruit enable? Amen.

Good Shepherd 26 April2015

“Ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth” St Theresa of Avila

It’s lovely to hear of the generous donations to Vanuatu’s cyclone appeals.

Archbishop Tutu describes this sort of generosity as compassionate love. New Scientist 29 April 2006 p.48

Archbishop Tutu says this ‘is about feeling with someone rather than just for them. …Compassion that comes from your intestines. But it’s more than just empathy. It is not just a static thing. You are moved by it. It must impel you to do something to try to change the situation that provoked it.’

I noted the ABC Radio National comment that war memorials are not enough; action is necessary or the memorials are a sham. ‘Our memorials don’t rise up against injustice. We rise up against injustice. We shirk that responsibility when we go to a memorial instead of doing something,’ http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/the-trouble-with-dark-tourism/6412726

Active compassion!

Archbishop Tutu describes the way compassion works on us.
He says, ‘You try to put yourself in their shoes, to
enter into their situation. … you may not be able to change their situation, but your compassion still goes out to the victim, and you try to stand side by side with them.

This sounds pretty basic. But then Tutu says we feel this compassion because of something in us that reflects the character of God. ‘So it’s in everyone, not just church-goers; because all people are created in the image and likeness of God who is compassionate.’ That’s a big statement: we’re compassionate not because of what we believe, but because of who created usall of us. But does God really have this active sort of compassion?

In Holy Week and Easter we’ve explored the story of God acting in exactly this way; God looking at the plight of the suffering, oppressed, afflicted humanity, and feeling compassion that wants to change the situation; compassion that leads to action.

But there’s more. God’s change didn’t happen with a mighty arm smashing down oppressors and then raising up victims. Instead, God chose to enter into the situation of the oppressed; to become one of them. And we see a picture of the God who does that in today’s gospel. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ says Jesus, ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’

What’s the point?

What’s the use of a dead shepherd?

Aren’t the sheep more vulnerable than ever if the shepherd dies? It’s not pointless. We experience suffering as a part of being mortal—it’s a part of who we are. We don’t like suffering, but without it, we aren’t whole people. Suffering is the great leveller—it’s immune to fear or favour. Whether someone hits me on the head or I forget to drink enough on a hot summer’s day, the end result is the same; I go to bed with a headache.

If God sent Jesus as a bodyguard who took away my attacker’s club, it may save me from a headache. But that doesn’t change anything really. The world stays the same and God is still remote. The bodyguard Jesus is immune, and while I’m spared, many other people aren’t. The God of that Jesus is choosey. That God has favourites. That God isn’t the real one.

So, no big Jesus the bouncer. Instead, God came in Jesus as someone who was just as vulnerable to a beating as we are; someone who probably also got dehydration headaches on those long journeys, and when he was out ministering to the crowds. The real Jesus is one of us in our vulnerability; and I’m so grateful that he is. Because then, even the tiniest child has a God who knows what it feels like to be them in their hard times; helpless and blameless when someone or something hurts them. By being the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for us, Jesus is saying that he has compassion for us—that he is in our situation, feeling what we are feeling—wanting to change it.

He doesn’t want us to face our pain alone.

Our pain is not a weakness; it’s an integral part of who we mortals are. When Jesus says he’s the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, he’s telling us that in our pain, in our fear, in our danger, in our brokenness and incompleteness, he is with us. He is an integral part of who we are too.

So he’s not asking us to break bits off ourselves and throw them away. He’s taking us as we are, and asking to enter our lives and show us how to love ourselves as he loves us. It is in receiving that love, from Jesus, from ourselves, and from each other that we move towards seeing that we are whole and wholly loveable. Then we can change and grow together with the one who knows us most deeply—the one who can transform our weakness into a wellspring of compassion and love just like his. The one who can help us discover that it is in our weakness that we discover compassion, and in our compassion that we discover ourselves as made in the image of the lovely God who is the real one.

Today’s scriptures tell us that Australia’s compassionate response to recent tragedies has something to do with who we really are. We are willing the restoration of a broken people’s wholeness. We are with them in their suffering. We are being Christ for them, and they are being Christ for us. We are diminished by their suffering, but find resurrection with them in their healing.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now. Amen

St Theresa’s prayer again. And it might interest you to know that she’s the patron saint of those who suffer from headaches. Amen

Easter 3b —Luke 24.36-48

What we just heard in the Gospel happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead.

It’s the same day the women went to the tomb at dawn and found it empty.

It’s the same day two of Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, were joined by a stranger they didn’t recognise; a stranger who walked with them, talked deeply with them, but whom they didn’t recognise until he broke bread with them. … Then he vanished.

You’ll remember how they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem to find ‘the eleven’ and all the others, who are astounded, because they’ve just heard that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter! “The Lord has risen indeed,” they’re saying.

The two Emmaus travellers then tell everybody about their experience on the road. And it’s while they’re telling their story that Jesus suddenly stands among them and said, “Peace be with you.” … That’s where we just came into the story today.

It’s odd. Everyone’s just been saying how the Lord has risen, but when he does appear, they take him for a ghost—they’re terrified! I wonder if this is what severe shock and grief make you do. Didn’t CS Lewis say that grief felt just like fear. A Grief Observed But Jesus shows them he’s physically resurrected. Just like at Emmaus where he broke bread, he eats with them.

Another Gospel, John, tells us that the disciples huddle together behind locked doors, afraid that the authorities will come after them. I think Luke’s account also shows us how they struggle with fear—and struggle to take in these strange reports of “Jesus sightings”; wonder what it all means. Then suddenly, Jesus is there in their midst, “opening their minds,” (v.45) and he sets them free from their fear.

We need such transformation today. Today, this text challenges our own fears. What locked doors do we hide behind. Our fear may be very personal; fear of hearing the dreaded word “cancer;” fear of unemployment, the threat of financial insecurity, the fear of loneliness, and loss. But often our fears get played out at a national level. Australians fear being flooded with asylum seekers, terrorist attacks, identity theft, our way of life being destroyed. We need to be set free from these fears.

Underlying our fears is the fear of death, our own or that of someone we love. Our fears hold us captive. It makes it difficult to give witness to the great joy that is ours—that the bonds of death could not hold Jesus. Jesus is alive. Jesus suddenly stands among us and says, “Peace be with you.”

The power of the resurrection is the power to transform us—to take away the power that fear exercises in our lives, and in its place, to plant the seeds of life in all its fulness. A life lived in fear is a life half lived—Strictly Ballroom

The hope of the resurrection is grounded in the experience of those first followers. Jesus suddenly stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” Nancy Blakely, a hospice chaplain, sees hope in this passage that closed minds can be opened—set free—a whole new way of life opened up. She says the potential is for a release in a prophetic way. “The word of God calls us to peace rather than security”.

Blakely sees that such a theme becomes problematic in a day and age when we get so driven by personal and national security issues. She asks if the attempts to keep us secure might actually be working against the peace that the world needs? Blakely, N. R. (2008). Pastoral Perspective on Luke 24:36b–48. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B (Vol. 2, p. 426). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Yes, hiding behind “locked doors” may help us feel more secure. But we are still left with our fears and mistrust. The passage from Luke asks the question of us today, “How are we to be released from those fears in order to be a proper witness?” How can we allow ourselves to be transformed so that we can hand on the peace that Christ’s resurrection offers us?

Jesus didn’t conquer death so people could continue living lives corralled by fear. Jesus rose from the dead and came back to us to give us Peace—peace of the active, creative kind—peace that sets us free to be our most creative, our most generous, our most enabling. Jesus rose from the dead and came back to us to give us Peace; a freedom that sets aside any constraint that might prevent us from passing it on—like we just saw him do today with his paralysed, grief-stricken, confused followers.

They’d given their lives to him, and when he died, they thought they’d lost everything. Jesus rose from the dead and came back to them to give them everything they thought they’d lost and much more: Abundant Life: peace, purpose, passion, hope, love, joy—all the qualities that let you live life to the full and make you want to enable others to do the same. Jesus came back from the dead to give us that kind of peace

Let me finish with a charge from St Teresa of Avila …

Christ has no body now on earth but ours,

no hands but ours, no feet but ours,

ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth,

ours are the feet by which Christ is to go about doing good

and ours are the hands by which Christ is to bless others now.


Doubting Thomas – Easter 2 2015

“Doubting Thomas”?

The wonderful thing about this story is that even if John the storyteller is disgusted with Thomas, he can’t stop Jesus simply offering Thomas what he needs for faith. And Thomas’ need is a gift to us. We see his unbelief proved wrong. True scientific method is applied; Thomas expounded a theory of unbelief, then disproved it by a repeatable experiment. The result; unbelief swept aside; bodily resurrection proven by scientific method and Thomas, a sceptic converted by empirical proof.

the others told [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord.” But he replied, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The others use the words Mary Magdalene used to them when she came from the tomb. “I have seen the Lord.” Like Magdalene, it took a tangible experience of their risen Lord before they could proclaim this. All Thomas asked for was the same experience,

And Jesus gave him what he needed. … “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not be in disbelief, but believe.” Thomas’ faith was more important to Jesus than any noble reasons we might want him to have for faith. He doesn’t run him down; he just gives Thomas a sign, and enables him to believe. Jesus had done the same for Magdalene that morning at the tomb. He said her name and broke through her blankness, and she seized hold of him. When he offered Thomas what he needed, it evoked the most powerful and complete confession of Jesus anyone had given in the Gospel: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus speaks to Thomas, but this story is very much addressed to you and me; “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That’s us, isn’t it! We are blessed. Jesus reaches out those hands through the Gospel to you and me so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.

These are stories of the transforming moments in the lives of Jesus’ earliest followers. When we read a story and someone touches another, our hand goes out and touches them too, doesn’t it. The gospel today is about a transformation that starts with a physical need being met.

So I actually believe Thomas is an image of hope, not of doubt.

The other two times we meet Thomas in John’s Gospel, we find a loyal realist. We meet him first when Jesus finally turns to that dangerous place, Bethany, where Lazarus is entombed, Thomas… said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Jn 11:16 He knows how foolish it is to go back to Judea, but he won’t be left behind.

The next time we meet him is at the last supper. Jesus is saying good-bye to his friends, and he re-assures them: “… if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jn 16.3-5 Trying to get it straight. But not because of doubt. Thomas needs clarity and he needs to understand. But what he does is done out of loyalty.

Again, to him it all sounds like foolishness, but he won’t be left behind. What drives this determination? I think we find it in the image we started with: Thomas with his finger poised above the nail-wound in Jesus’ hand.

Thomas needs to see to believe—he wants help with his unbelief. In most of life, to see is to believe. In the spiritual life, to believe is to see. C R Wood So when the opportunity of proof is right under his fingertip, suddenly he doesn’t need to go through with it. And all at once, Thomas answers “My Lord and my God!” This isn’t doubt: it comes from hope fulfilled at last.

Magi Abdul-Masih says that hope is different from optimism. Hope is centred on God, while optimism is just focussed on reality. Hope says that no matter how bad things may get, every moment we are closer to the coming Kingdom of God. Optimism, on the other hand, just denies facts until it can’t any more, then collapses. Marguerite Abdul-Masih, 2002. Despair and Hope. Presented at: Canadian Commission for UNESCO Youth Forum, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1 Jan 2002.

Thomas stopped having to rely on empirical evidence; he could recognise the goodness of God in Jesus. Suddenly, his finger above that outstretched hand, he saw his hope poised above the wound. When you know God is so committed to you, you can hope. And that means everything.

When your finger is poised over the depth of God’s commitment and you hope in that, you’re transformed into a champion of that hope. You can tell people with utter integrity that God can be trusted. You can point to the wounded hands that were raised and nailed. You can say that those hands seized betrayal in hope. They and their bearer were raised and honoured by the God to whom they were lifted in hope. And now those hands are our hands: the hands of Christ. Look; your own hands. Amen

St. Thomas the Apostle Malcolm Guite

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”

Courageous master of the awkward question,

You spoke the words the others dared not say

And cut through their evasion and abstraction.

Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,

You put your finger on the nub of things

We cannot love some disembodied wraith,

But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.

Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,

Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.

Because He loved your awkward counter-point

The Word has heard and granted you your wish.

Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine

The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

Easter Sunday 2015

Easter 2015 Mark 16.1-8

go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee

We know this story well, don’t we. But there are always things in it that make us do a double-take, and for me, the last verse we just heard one of them. The young man in the empty tomb says the women should go [and] tell [Jesus’] disciples and Peter that [Jesus] is going ahead of [them] to Galilee … and Peter!? —Wasn’t he counted as one of Jesus’ disciples any more? Why wouldn’t he be? Let’s look back for a moment and see.

Last Sunday, in the passion story we read together, you’ll remember Jesus and Peter arguing about whether he’d deny Jesus three times. Jesus provoked that argument when he said, 14.27 “You will all become deserters; … 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Today, we heard the young man in the tomb tell the three women; 16.7 … go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you’ll see him there, just as he told you.”

So today, we’re being deliberately taken back to that particular moment in the story when Jesus said “You will all become deserters”. Remember how Peter rose to the challenge: “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” … “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

Well we all know the story; Peter did deny knowing Jesus—three times, as predicted. And the third time, he didn’t just say ‘I don’t know Jesus’; he swore an oath that he didn’t know him—almost as though he was divorcing Jesus. Maybe the others knew Peter had done this. Had they written him off?

Whether or not they had, the words of the young man at the tomb this morning tell us that Jesus certainly hadn’t. Jesus was calling Peter back to start again at that point, as if nothing had happened since; a clean slate.

16.7 … go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Jesus points straight back to that moment where Peter had been so strong and loyal, back to the time before his denials, and offers him a new start.

It is so delicate; so gentle. Can you imagine Jesus being resurrected and rolling away the stone and everything and still thinking to leave such a kind, healing message for Peter with that young man.

7 … go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There’s one other quirky bit to this story. The three women were told to pass on the message, but the gospel ends by telling us that they fled from the tomb,… and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

If that were the end of the story, Peter wouldn’t have gone on to serve Jesus as he did, and in fact, finally honour those words he blurted out to Jesus, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” The three women were obviously given a new beginning too. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, would we? But the message to us is also one we have to note well. In every generation, Jesus makes new beginnings possible.

This delicate, gentle, matter-of-fact offer of a new beginning to Peter points to the absolutely central, unique mark of the Christian faith; forgiveness. Christianity began with God’s most wonderful act of forgiveness; the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The Cross wiped the slate clean, and the Empty Tomb announced that new beginnings were open for business, effective immediately.

We respond to this in the Easter Vigil. We go back to our beginnings with Jesus and re-affirm our baptismal covenant with him. Because, as Peter discovered, we are a people of new beginnings.

We may have broken our baptismal promises a thousand times. We may have publicly renounced Jesus. Yet we believe in new beginnings—new birth; revival, new life—because resurrection doesn’t just tell us it’s possible; resurrection is who we are.

We are the body of Christ, and Christ is risen, Alleluia!



Kids—I want you to imagine yourselves inside an egg, not yet hatched.

Tell me about the world you know. What’s the furthest thing from you? What’s hot; what’s cold?

Now, everybody on this side, start to break your shell open and HATCH. Quickly, tell me—are you in a new world?

What do you see? Do you believe your eyes? Are you frightened?

Let’s ask someone else. What’s a someone else? It’s someone like you, but different—but of course, you didn’t know that. Let’s ask them.

Do you see what they do? …

Back to the first one; Now you’ve heard someone else, and they’ve seen it all too. Is it easier for you to believe what you see now?

Are you hungry? Can you see any food anywhere? There it is; eat up.

Just a moment; look over there; those are eggs that haven’t hatched. Other ones like you will come out soon. What will they need to know when they come out? Can you help them? Can you look after them?

Good Friday 2015

Meditation on the Cross

A friend of ours created a Stations of the Cross meditation recently which took the traditional scenes from Jesus’ passion and death and put them together with materials from the recent news. The Station that struck me particularly was about the parents of Peter Greste, the Australian journalist recently gaoled in Egypt. Early in his imprisonment, his parents wrote a letter to the Egyptian president offering to be gaoled in his place as a proof of their utter belief in their son. http://amyfeldtmann.com/2014/12/29/timeline-of-freeajstaff/ has a copy of their letter.

For me, their offer is a window into what has happened for us because of that first Good Friday. Today, we’ve gathered to remember that on the Cross, Jesus has done for you and me what Peter Greste’s parents offered to do for their child; to take our sentence on himself.


In Jesus, God has come to rescue us from our own predicament by taking our place; taking our sentence on himself. And like Peter Greste’s parents, Jesus’ reason for doing this is utter love for us; complete commitment to us.

Peter Greste got trapped in a cycle of justifying his actions—normal everyday actions in the day-to-day life of a journalist. But there he was, trapped, and justifying himself to some invisible, untouchable power. His arguments seemed alright, but no-one seemed to hear them. And his accusers never presented him with a tangible case to answer.

His experience with that justice system is very like us when we’re trying to satisfy invisible authorities that we’re okay; waiting on the results of an exam or a job interview; the results of a medical test. While we anxiously wait for the outcome, we speculate on what the decision-makers will think of us; we plead our case with any friend willing to put up with our worries.

But like Peter Greste was, we’re powerless to influence the outcome. We’re in a vacuum; disconnected—separated from the impersonal powers-that-be whom we have to satisfy. And we experience that separation as something like an invisible prison. And it cuts us off from everyone else around us because none of them seems to be in the same predicament.

People experience this as a type of gaol; a confining space that we can’t escape by our own strength or ingenuity. It might be the consumerist roundabout; it may be the online life we get caught in; it may be the consequence of a failed relationship; a toxic work situation; it may be the effect of chronic ill-health or our age. Whatever the gaol may be, we’re cut off from everyone else because none of them seems to be in the same predicament.

Strangely enough, this is something like a working definition of sin—being cut off from the source of our well-being, and seemingly cut off from everyone around us. This is what life can be like when we’re not consciously aware that God loves us unconditionally; when no-one’s told us that we don’t have to justify our own existence, because God has justified us already—and out of utter love for us. God justifying us? That’s where the Cross comes in.

The one who justifies another takes their side, and sees that all is well with them. God takes the lost cause of humanity and makes it his own in Jesus Christ. (Barth)

In more simple language, a perfect stranger called Jesus saw the bullet flying towards us, stepped in the way, and took it in the chest. And the question that leaves us with today is, how do we respond to him?

This Holy Week, we’re spending time with this story of God’s deep love for us. The most important thing to realize is that God loves you and me like any loving parent loves their child. And a loving parent will do anything to save their child from harm; a loving parent will go to prison to protect their child; a loving parent will die to save their child.

In Jesus, God died to save you and me. It’s happened.

Abp Desmond Tutu sums it up.

God has this deep, deep solidarity with us.

God became a human being, a baby.

God was hungry. God was tired.

God suffered and died.

God is there

with us.