Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fishing for People: The Medium is the Message


Memorial to fishermen lost at sea, Newlyn, Cornwall.
Sculpture by Tom Leaper. Photo my own.
No matter how scary I try to look, what with my short hair, frown lines, and black clothes, I’m the person in the street everyone seems to approach. Sometimes, I’m asked for directions; sometimes, they want money or cigarettes; sometimes, I’m told a story. And sometimes, I’m asked if I’m saved. I used to answer, “it’s complicated”, but that opened up a whole conversation I didn’t want to have. Then I began saying “yes”—but I discovered that meant further questions to find out if I’m saved in the right way. I won’t tell you what I say now; but, it seems that, whatever I say, it’s almost impossible to shake such a questioner off.

So when I hear Jesus saying that he will make his disciples fish for people, I feel a bit queasy. It’s right up there with ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ when it comes to smelling fishy, because words like evangelism, proselytising, and making disciples are, for me, associated with feeling manipulated, coerced, bullied, and guilty. Worse, in the international sphere, mission is bound up with the violence of colonialism. Yet Jesus tells his disciples to spread the good news, so am I just being a cynic when I view mission this way? And if not, then where’s the problem?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Anatomy of a Murder


Whodunnit? It’s the question asked of every murder mystery. Perhaps it’s Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the lead piping; or maybe it’s Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the candlestick. But “whodunnit?” is not a question that is asked very often about the death of Jesus: either we don’t think about it, or we assume that we know. But if we take a closer look, we might find that the answer to “whodunnit?”, that is, who demanded Jesus’ death, is not exactly what we assume; yet whodunnit has enormous implications for our faith.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dreamers and Truth Seekers

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On Sunday, New Year's Day, Joel Rothman reflected on Revelation 21:1-6 and Revelation 22:1-6 at Sanctuary. Here is his terrific reflection:

Today is the start of a new year, a time when we think about the year that has been, and our dreams for tomorrow. And the text for today is from Revelation, John’s book of dreams. So let’s talk about dreams. The dreams of yesterday, and the dreams of tomorrow. 

I want to go back and consider the dreamers of the Christian tradition. There are many great dreamers in the Christian tradition, stretching in a great line from Jesus himself right down to our own times. But let’s begin our reflections at one particular point in time, with the dreams of Reverend Martin Luther King, a great dreamer of the twentieth century. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Love, joy and conflict at Christmas


St Andrew's Fairfield had a donkey at its service last Sunday; Hillsong will have camels. The Christmas story is certainly very picturesque: animals, angels, shepherds, wise men, and, in the middle of the crowd, a baby. It's easy to forget that this baby's mother was a young girl, whose response to pregnancy out of wedlock was to praise the God who overthrows the powerful and sends the rich away empty. It's easy to forget that the first people to worship at his cradle were shepherds: impoverished social outcasts and not the right sort of people at all; and the second lot were religious outsiders, foreigners who practiced the abominations of numerology and reading the stars. It's easy to forget that the baby grew up in occupied territories, sought asylum in Egypt, and returned to a new town after being warned not to go home. It's easy to forget that the prophecies surrounding his birth triggered the slaughter of many other young boys; and that his preaching and ministry were violently opposed right up until the cross.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christian Family Values

A particularly gorgeous Holy Family, from The Nativity by Julie Vivas
I was pottering around a local op shop last week; and while I was there, I overheard some pretty strong affirmations of Christian family values. It was clear to those chatting that, if we all lived like Christians, things would be a whole lot better than they are now. Families would stay together; kids would be properly disciplined; and no one would be on the dole.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sometimes even prophets struggle to understand

Who likes to play cops and robbers? Who likes to watch movies where the good guys win, and the baddies are made to look ridiculous, or are thrown into jail, or are blown into smithereens? Most of us love the idea that bad people are punished, and good people win. Even the prophet John liked the idea. As we just heard, he preached that someone was coming—Jesus—who would gather all the good people together, and would burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. John’s preaching was so alarming that people came from all over the countryside to be baptised and to confess their sins. Yet John roared at some of them. He called them names—“You brood of vipers!”—and said that everyone who did not bear fruit, that is, everyone who did not live well according to God, would be chopped down with an axe and thrown into the fire. And the implication is that the axe, and the fire, are God’s punishment.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Scandal!

See Robert Lentz talk about this icon here.
If you identify as Christian, tonight’s reading quite possibly made you angry—and I’m warning you now, this sermon might make you furious! For like the older brother in the Prodigal Son, many of us Christians find God’s generosity a bit hard to stomach. What on earth am I talking about? 

Well, as we just heard, Jesus is crucified between two criminals. One mocks him; the other acknowledges his own sinfulness and asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And what we hear is that one criminal died mocking and implicitly condemned; the other, having acknowledged his sin, died forgiven and was guaranteed a place in heaven. In other words, this second man never even gets to the field, let alone works a full day; and yet he receives the full reward. So the text has generated a lot of writing and a lot of sermons about Jesus’ scandalous act of forgiveness, since he forgave even the hardened criminal who, at the eleventh hour and while dying an excruciating death, turned to Jesus. Such forgiveness is certainly scandalous. But if we look closely, we might discover that it’s a lot more scandalous than that.

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