Sermon Trinity Sunday 2018
Isaiah 6: 1-8
psalm 47 (tis 29 vs 1, 4 &5)
Romans 8: 14-17
John 3: 1-17 Nicodemus comes to Jesus
psalm 47 (tis 29 vs 1, 4 &5)
Romans 8: 14-17
John 3: 1-17 Nicodemus comes to Jesus
‘How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways’,
wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning more than a century ago.
She went on:
‘I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach.’
Such is the passion of young lovers.
I was also reminded of the love of parents for children by the local Mail, where a couple have kept vigil, remembering their daughter who died 17 years ago with a morning tea of Lilian’s ultra light scones. Scone makers know the care needed to produce such scones!
All the more care is required by a home-builder constructing their own house, as some here know.
Each of us in our own way gets involved in labours of love, for family, friends, even strangers.
What’s love got to do with it? asks Tina Turner. And by way of reply in The Age Revd Rod Horsfield, not a bishop but a former Uniting Church Moderator, reminds us of the variety of words for love in the Greek language, ranging from friendship to familiar love, passion and self-giving..
So far, so good, this will turn out to be a fairly standard Trinity Sunday sermon. That is, until an Episcopalian Bishop elbowed his way into the Royal wedding. Pushing beyond politeness he recalled Martin Luther King’s passion.
He spoke of a love that changes the world with ‘a justice that flows down like an ever flowing brook’.
You probably heard some of the commentary. Too long, they said. Too impassioned. The Royals are restless! Too political, they probably meant!
And knowing that the faces of his little congregation of two – Prince and Princess - were being beamed around the world, the Bishop invited them into a changed world. A world altered by the passionate power of self-sacrificing love.
To be honest, I am a little bit envious of such a sermon and such a preacher. No, not the Rolls Royce, the pomp and ceremony. Nor the sumptuous menu and royal company.
No. Or perhaps, yes. There is a slight regret that this preaching was regarded as so unusual. After all, the sermon was similar to the preaching in this place regularly on a Sunday morning, sermons preached, hope for the world uttered aloud, and we being called to be God’s people in this place
Well, who would have expected that Trinity Sunday would take this form?
And not a hint of mathematical puzzles, trying to fit three into one, and one into three.
Rendering the Trinity into nonsense! Best ignored. Only of interest to theologians who like a good mystery!
Seeing a kilt being worn at the wedding it occurred it did occur to me that a tartan might give us a clue to the Trinity, where several different stands of colour are woven together into a single cloth.
But, even when the war-like character has been replaced by a new tartan– the tartan of peace – it doesn’t seem personal enough.
No, let’s not take that path.
Let’s be shaped by the new world God promised. Let’s be shaped by that passion, by the new world promised by the prophets of Israel; by the new world Jesus of Nazareth announced. A new future. As the hymn says: God gives us a future, daring us to go.
This is a call Abraham and Sarah heard, and headed out into a promised future, beginning the story of the Jews. From darkness into light.
And we hear the same in the New Testament, written down to tell the story of Jesus.
Key to his story was the way he addressed the God of Israel: ‘Abba’. This mimics the syllables a baby utters – Mumma, Dadda, Abba. And so he prayed to and spoke to this Abba as the tender One who embraces us with intimate care.
Paul, the apostle, took up the language of Abba, and says that the Spirit speaks to our spirit and enables us to cry out to Abba, Father.(Romans 8)
So as the young church spread this prayer was uttered.
(Regrettably the church tended to lose that emphasis – competing with the notion of Father as distant and stern.)
And, perhaps to our surprise, it was that story the early church told as it spread. Church councils met to decide on the story we can trust. Which led to the composing of creeds. I wonder how you view the creeds. In the past couple of centuries Protestants, in particular, have become wary of creeds: too formal, too dogmatic! Not simple enough.
Are these creeds set in stone?
Church leaders and councils took some hundreds of years to agree on them. It helps to know what question the creeds were answering. The question concerned the God of Israel who was active in the world in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen. These days, when we read the Apostle’s Creed (and the Nicene Creed, too) there are some things left out. It leaps from Jesus’ birth to his trial by Pilate.
Remember, the Gospels tell of Jesus’ baptism and his ministry with John and other followers, including women and children; he announced the nearness of God’s reign, healed the sick, fed the hungry, welcomed ‘sinners’, liberated people oppressed by powers and announced a welcome to the poor. If a new ecumenical council met, as happened in the AD300s this expansion of the describing of Jesus would be top priority – especially because we have seen in Jesus that God sides with the poor in solidarity.
(In the meantime hymns and other statements faith help us.)
Our discussion of the creeds has another strand.
It is set in the wider experience of the world we live in. It expands the work of the creeds.
Last century, after the horror of the Jewish genocide in Nazi death camps was seen (with the disabled, homosexuals, critics of the Nazi regime), church declarations were written to acknowledge that church anti-Semitism had played a large part in this slaughter.
And the discovery that the God we worship is the God of Jew and Gentile. That has led to a further discovery, of another branch to the family tree -– Ishmael, Abraham’s son presents us with the people of Islam as our biblical family.
We are discovering what it means to sit at the same table as Christians, Jews and Muslims. But we are continually shocked by what is happening in Palestine/Israel, Gaza and Jerusalem.
It seems that the fear of the Nazi genocide with so many Jewish murders has produced a harsh and fear filled people I in Palestine/Israel. And those who were once oppressed are treading others down.
This week which is marked as Reconciliation Week –yesterday was Sorry Day - reminds us that we are not free of this. The way the Uluru Declaration, ‘A Call from From the Heart’ has been dismissed by our political leaders uncovers yet again the deep-set attitudes toward the original inhabitants of this land.
Lurking here is the threat of powers which snatch life away, the power of death. These powers come as death of the old at the conclusion of a long life, or as a sudden accident which kills the young. It makes us lonely, produces fear, it turns us into enemies of those who differ, and enslaves us with darkness.
In Australia we grew accustomed to speaking of the land of the ‘fair go’. But we are overshadowed by the islands to the north which have become detention centres, where men, and also women and children, are living in a sort of hell.
We are not permitted to hear the full story of these camps, but too often are reports of deaths by suicide. People detained for years are languishing. Fortunately there are people who refuse to accept this, who will not stay silent. Wednesday afternoon at 5pm comes around every Wednesday, too quickly, as we sit on the steps of the Market Centre and hold our welcoming banners. I worry when I find that I am writing yet another sermon and praying prayers that cry out for refugees.
This brings us to the wide experience of the modern world/
Consider this: in the 20th century we learned to live in a time of global warfare, with new destructive weapons and the deaths of millions of soldiers and citizens, culminating in the atomic explosions that destroyed whole cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in one moment.
It seems that this global destruction and its weapons and military force was preparing us to accept this devastation as normal.
[Since 2001 in this 21st century we have been brought into a new style of war; Invasion of other counties (Iraq and Afghanistan), conflict in nations (the Sudan and Syria), and foot-soldiers are ready to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers, shooters in eh United States schools, regimes now constantly at war and people fleeing from their homes, seeking asylum.
We may also see this warfare in the production of weapons, submarines, fighter aircraft, and offers to young people a military career. Our economies are being woven together with warfare. ]
Sometimes people ask, in the face of these harsh conditions, What can I do, I feel so helpless?
It makes me wonder whether Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for about 24 years, asked, what can one person do? What if Jesus had used that as an excuse?
But there are those who act, write letters, telephone, pray and talk about their disquiet And, as last week, more than 50 people sat at table together in the Ray Bradley rooms, a meal was cooked and served to the crowd of people, of mixed languages and cultures. By sitting ate table together we learn each other’s names and family story, and shift from being strangers to acquaintances, perhaps even friends. And learn to pray together.
Is it a surprise that the church helps us here? Not that we have time now to spell out all that the Trinity means – but I leave you with a picture written by a Russian Orthodox monk Andre Rublev. This is a picture of the Trinity three persons, one community.
They are seated together at one table, turned toward each other, with the Eucharistic meal of bread and wine at the centre. That is a clear reminder that from the earliest times when the church heard the word they also shard the Lord’s Supper. In our day, the Catholic and Orthodox, Anglican and Churches of Christ, have reclaimed this and serve communion each week. The fixed pattern relegates our communion to once a month.
You may have noticed in Cross light that several Uniting Church congregations have taken on the discussion about more frequent celebration (weekly?) of the Lord’s Supper. I hope we take that up in some way.
But for today, we are staying with our usual pattern.
With one difference. We are taking up a helpful action that takes place for Orthodox Christians.
When people leave an Orthodox service they are given bread for the journey. Today we will- in the absence of the Lord’s Supper – distribute bread today.
But, before I forget, there is something else important in the icon. Notice the lines, the perspective. Normally the lines join at a distance, at the horizon. In this picture the lines come to us who stand in front of the table, converging where we stand. That is the reminder that we ae invited to be seated at the table!
And there we ae invited to sit with our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, with people seeking asylum, refugees, no longer strangers.
So, there we have it: from love poetry, to the Episcopalian Bishop in England to a world-wide response to the preached word, a celebration of life given in Jesus, the gentle and Triune God’s liberating embrace for those who suffer the pangs of death.
We are people baptised into that new life. May we receive, live out, and share that life offered to us. And so live faithfully as the Spirit breathes in us, the Wisdom of the Son enlightens us, and the grace of Abba Father creates life in us with friend, no longer strangers.
Easter 3 Sermon 15April 2018
First Reading Acts 3: 12-19 (Peter’s sermon Jerusalem);
Psalm 4 (TiS 2 Cantor says verses, congregation sings refrain);
Second Reading: 1 John 3: 1-3 children of God;
The Gospel according to Luke 24: 36b- 48
In these weeks after Easter we are meeting the followers of Jesus who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. But more, we are meeting them as those met by Jesus risen from the dead. They were terrified and amazed at this, with some disbelieving.
Now we are taken to Peter as the leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem.
Before Jesus’ arrest Peter impulsively declared his allegiance to Jesus, but when faced with Jesus’ arrest, he denied Jesus. The same Peter who hid from the authorities is now out in the middle of Jerusalem, speaking boldly, accusing the Jewish authorities, his own people, for handing Jesus over to Pilate, declaring Jesus is now raised by the living God. A dangerous thing to do.
And not Peter alone, the disciples who had travelled with Jesus from Galilee to the capital city, are being reclaimed by the one they betrayed; of whom they can now say: Jesus is risen from the dead and he has met us, his disciples.
The early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles present a rich account of early Christian preaching; and tells how they become a new style of community – and they declare they are acting in the name of the risen One.
Peter, chief of their team, stands up in Jerusalem, the very city whose authorities murdered Jesus. Peter accuses them: although Jesus had come to Jerusalem as a Jewish prophet, chosen by the living God, he was met with rejection by those who should have recognised him.
Consider this: Peter and the rest of the disciples are foreigners to this city; though Jews, they are Galilean, from the north, and head south to Jerusalem the capital city - like those who come from the northern climes of Queensland to southern Victoria. As an outsider, Peter proclaims a disturbing word. This is bound to bring trouble.
As I imagined Peter standing up in the city, something caught my attention: news of Martin Luther King’s death by shooting 50 years ago.
Photos of the time show us large crowds of black African Americans; gathered first in the American South (Alabama), then proceeded north. Their leaders are on a platform with microphones. And armed police stand around the crowd. Martin Luther King, who said he was first a Southern Baptist Pastor, and then a civil rights leader, declared a vision of unity and harmony for black and white alike. He was not only talking about America internally with its division between black and white, but he also spoke out against the war in Vietnam, and the nuclear arms race: as he would surely do now to us who have soldiers and war fighting machines – in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Syria. As he would speak out against the injustice of poverty of so many, in a society deeply divided between rich and poor.
As Pastor King said such things, those who benefited from the police order and their wealth saw him as trouble, a disturbance. Other black leaders resorted to violent struggle; King was committed to non-violence; he went willingly to jail, in order to show up injustice. And the response? The assassination of this man.
Others like Desmond Tutu and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are also known for their risky discipleship of Jesus.
There are yet more surprises.
Women. At Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion we are told that women accompanied Jesus from Galilee, and supported him financially. When the men fled they stood at a distance from his cross. Mary Magdalene with other Marys see his tomb, then, days later, see the tomb empty and are given the task of telling Peter and other men disciples that Jesus is no longer held by the tomb.
And women are included in the witnesses who saw the risen Lord. Here is a remarkable thing. In those days, women were not allowed to speak in a court of law. But it is the women who are called to be witnesses who carry news of Jesus’ rising first.
There are clear hints in the New Testament that Mary Magdalene was a key leader in the early church (which was played down in later years by a Christian community shocked by her). The names of women church leaders in the European church are becoming known again: Julian of Norwich and Hildegaard of Bingen. And in recent times, theologian Elizabeth Moltmann- Wendell.
And for us there have been powerful voices and witnesses for equality and peace by women who were willing to bear abuse and imprisonment – such as suffragette Emilia Pankhurst, and pacifist Vera Brittain who protested against war. Similar voices were heard in the Vietnam protests (Save our Sons), and today in Grandmothers for Refugees.
Non-violent voices produce a great wave of upheaval.
Just as now in many American cities are young people, too young to vote but in danger of being shot, protest against guns, and call forth a new impulse for change.
When women and men were met by the risen Lord after his rising, they were not told to keep things the same. They did not hear support for the Roman Empire who wanted the order of things to remain in their hands, and in worship of their emperor who claimed to be Son of God.
When the disciples declared themselves to be for Jesus, they were making it obvious that they were breaking the Roman rule. And every ruling power that serves death and not life.
Jesus was crucified as a rebel against the beast of the Empire, and his first disciples rebelled in the same way.
This is where Easter takes us.
The crucifixion reminds us that the cross was designed to keep ‘order’; to resist change. But the happenings here in Jesus’ rising were beyond staying quiet and out of sight. To be one of Jesus’ followers was to commit insurrection, rebellion, uprising, revolution - and the result was to be imprisoned, even crucified, for new life in the name of the risen Lord Jesus.
The movements in our time draw on the same hope of a new humanity. So Martin Luther King’s call to be a minister of Jesus Christ also led him onto the streets, a minority movement challenging the status quo.
In this country there are voices which struggle to be heard. Voices of Aboriginal people, the indigenous people of this land, who spend their life seeking a hearing. And being silenced by political powers. Their names are known. Men such as Charles Perkins, Mick Dodson, Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson, Uncle Ricky of the Dja Dja Wurrung family here in Castlemaine.
There are voices in in the Uniting Church, through ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, such as Djinini Gondara, who led to the acceptance of a Preamble for the church’s Constitution
This sermon has prompted me to admit that I know fewer Aboriginal women. They can be heard on ABC radio Awae. I am embarrassed to say that I know fewer women – I do know of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and here in Castlemaine, Aunty Paulette. And to help people like me, NITV has put together a ‘list of 20 trailblazing Indigenous women who have changed Australia’ beginning with. Truganini (1812-1876). They hold their communities together in education and health care, and in political life, in art and culture. [NITV has put together a list of 20 trailblazing Indigenous women who have changed Australia., by Andrea Booth and Luke Briscoe: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2015/03/06/20-inspiring-black-women-who-have-changed-australia]
Perhaps the sharpest reminder of this People’s exclusion is the Tent Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra.
Yet change can happen. Paul Kelly recalls this in the story of Vincent Linguari who led his people in a seven year strike for the reclaiming of their Land, celebrated in the: song ‘From little things big things grow’.
To our shame, too often, the church has been lured by powers that silence voices of protest, tread down the weak, produce war.
Some think the church is meant to be a conservative organisation, keeping thing as they are.
But not for those who met the risen Christ. They were impelled to step out into the Jerusalem crowds, to declare that Jesus is the beginning of a new creation, who changes the world with shalom, deep peace.
This is not keeping things as they are.
Did you notice Easter Day this year was ‘April Fools Day’? Apart from a few jokes I almost missed it. But it was rich for imagining. Traditionally on April Fools day in medieval life the King took off his crown and stepped down from his throne. And the Fool, a wise but questioning figure, put the crown on and sat on the throne for a day. I wonder what decisions such a wise fool might have come up with.
Today we might see Jesus as a ‘fool figure’, who goes onto his throne - on the cross. And, with that, tips everything upside down.
Isn’t Mary Magdalene, with Peter, calling us to join this crowd of fools who see the world upset?
They call us to resist the powers that want us for heartless, uncaring, unjust, brutal ways. Jesus comes to us in the crowd of strangers, war victims, refugees, abused and starving children, sufferers of mental illness and homeless – and wants us to recognise him there as he fosters gentle life-giving lives and hearts.
As children of God, we are called to give up securities and fixed orders and doing things as we have ‘always done them’ – into an experiment of hope that looks, waits and acts for the radically renewing life of our risen Lord.
The Lord is risen;
He is risen indeed.
Prayers for the church and the world.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
We pray for all who have been baptized this Easter;
For Christians everywhere as they celebrate this season.
Risen Lord of life : Hear our prayer
For all communities under pressure of violence and persecution.
For all who witness to your new life in Christ.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
For Indigenous people of this and every land who have been forced from their lands, and whose resistance is met with imprisonment, violence, even murder. Grant them justice.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
We pray for your whole creation,
Under threat from heating and overpopulation.
For animals and other creatures oppressed by human s.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
For people of non-belief.
For those who are persuaded to be violent for their beliefs, set them free.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
For those places and peoples experiencing war;
For people seeking asylum, shelter and our welcome.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
We pray for ourselves, that we may be your faithful witnesses in this town.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
For all who are ill, awaiting death, and for those who care for them,
For those grieving.
Bless and strengthen them.
Risen Lord of life: Hear our prayer
We give you thanks for all who have died in the faith.
Shine on them your resurrection light
March 11 2018 Lent 4.
By Wes Campbell
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (hymn 67); Ephesians 2:1-10. John 3:14-21.
A MEDITATION ON REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Do you remember that verse? It was one of the verses we learnt in Sunday School in the 1950s (and earlier, I am sure.) Each week a new text.
Key verses gave us a summary of Christian faith.
Learning the text ‘by heart’ it shaped our mind. Repeating aloud we would re-member and be helped to be a member of the faith!
Not everyone agreed that this was a good method but in any case, such memorising is from a world that is fast disappearing. Whenever we have a question, Mr/Ms Google is there waiting for us to search the internet
And what we are doing here is unusual these days, with you sitting quietly while I speak without interruption (or at least, not out loud!) And younger people attached to their device’ live in a world that is hardly recognisable to us older ones. Smart phones that we have had for a little 10 years seems to say that everything has changed, and we are still working out how they bring wisdom that is life-giving.
In preparing this sermon, I did what is usual, consulting a variety of commentaries, and other sources of information. I was particularly drawn to the figure of Nicodemus who appears in the Fourth Gospel.
We are reading the Bible in a way that was quite unimaginable for generations of Christians.
True, the process of making the Bible available to every church member began with the Reformation and interpreters such as William Tyndale, Johannes Huss, Martin Luther and John Calvin. Archaeology has made a profound difference. Discoveries of clay tablets, parchment found in caves, the Dead Sea Scrolls), texts from the same time as the writing of the Bible, open up a world of rich information about how he Bible became a written text. It continues to surprise how many years the words of Scripture were carried by communities in memory, reciting it by heart, and being written only after a long process.
Putting all this together can be somewhat overwhelming. It is clear that Christian faith lives now in this world.
If we were tempted to retreat from this changed situation, treating the Bible literally as a book of ‘facts’, the document that brought us together, the Basis of Union takes a different path:
The Uniting Church acknowledges that God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God's living Word. In particular the Uniting Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God's ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith.
So we are reminded that as Christians we are to be shaped by the biblical story.
That is possible personally and in a private way. But remember that the Bible is a community book shared by whole communities. In our place and time, when we are influenced by contemporary knowledge, and rely on specialists, interpreters, physicists, historians, poets, and theologians. When we approach the Bible we are involved in interpretation. Historians have hunches, to be tested by others. Their work gives us a view of the ancient world far richer than any previous generation. In a world filled with information the important question is whether we are shaped by Scripture.
Nicodemus is a clue to us.
He appears several times in the Fourth Gospel and seems to point to something going on among the early Christians. It is suggested that Nicodemus represents a community of Pharisees. Jesus apparently had greater conflict with the Pharisees because they were not far apart in belief; for example, in the matter of resurrection.
Where they did differ was in their attitude to the Torah, keeping the Sabbath, and food laws. We hear the Pharisees condemning Jesus’ companions for eating in ways they think breaks the Law. So, condemnation follows.
Condemnation from Jesus? No, he welcomes us into a life of free grace.
In the heat of law and condemnation Jesus speaks clearly: his Father does not condemn. The Gospel here presents Jesus as a sign of grace. He declares it in signs: wine, living water, bread, and then long and poetic explanations.
The Forth Gospel shows how a person becomes a disciple of Jesus. Nicodemus comes first as someone without belief: in the dark. In the middle of the Gospel he is still in dispute. But when Jesus is crucified and has died, it is Nicodemus, with Joseph of Arimathea, who takes the body hurriedly dresses it, and places it in the new tomb.
With Nicodemus we are shown a pattern that is also reflected in Thomas – a shift from questioning doubt to recognition of Jesus as, ‘Lord and God’, living Word, Wisdom.
Was this Gospel composed later in the first century, or early shortly in the decades after Jesus? In any case, the challenge is whether Jesus is sent from God.
Jesus speaks to both groups. He explains why he has come into the world; as he is lifted onto his cross he is marked out as life for the world. Jesus’ ascent up onto the cross – in fact a descent into death – is the banner of life. What is certain is that this is a Gospel that seeks to shape us.
Hear that verse again:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life
Eternal life’ has often been taken to involve an escape from the world or a rejection of the physical world.
Or it has been thought of a quantity, something that goes on and on endlesssly.
We do well to listen to Jesus’ explanation of Moses and the snake. The experience of being saved from the snakes speaks dramatically. The replica of eh snakes is placed on a pole and lifted high. Those who look at the ‘snake’ is saved. This, of course , draws from ‘sympathetic magic’. Out purpose here is not to deal with magic, but to remember that Jesus was raised high, like the snake – on the cross. As he was raised (and descends into death) he gives life to the world.
As the dangerous, poisonous snake threatened the Hebrews in the desert, and the threat was taken away by Moses holding up a replica of them, the people are saved, so Jesus is raised ono the cross to declare God’s infinite love for us. Do not think of eternal here as a huge quantity. Eternal is a matter of quality. If we would put weight on a future after this life. Jesus first declares life here and now. In his final prayer with his disciples, Jesus puts it this way:
3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (John 17:3)
So there is cross, and glory. Jesus does his Father’s will. He can therefore also give life without limit. Eternal life. Depth.
He is present as the glory of God: he is Wisdom who with the Spirit, creates the world.
When we are baptised and confirmed tThe question is whether we will ‘turn to Christ’. The question is put again this Lent – will you (er)-turn’ to Christ?
And, recalling the discussion at the beginning of this sermon, will we let our minds be changed for him, being ‘re-minded’ as we ponder the Scripture we have heard today? Will our minds be re-made? And, again, will we be members of Christ, ‘re-membered’ to Christ’s body. ’Will we be –membered by him just as Nicodemus was? May we, like Nicodemus, ask our questions, then entrust ourselves to Jesus raised in the world on the cross, raised to eternal life, for the sake of all.
THE CHALLENGE OF DEMENTIA - PASTORAL IMPLICATIONS FOR LOSS OF MEMORY
With this talk of remembering we are brought into the experience of forgetting, forgetfulness, dementia. The recalling of the texts as we have heard today will be less possible for those who are now forgetting. Some will continue to connect with hymns and other music or reading favourit stories. action.
Notice that there are two experiences here:
one for the person whose memory is being lost and lose a sense of self.,
the other for those who live with and see the effect of forgetfulness in their partner or other loved one.
Thinking about this from the side of Jesus there are two experiences here too.
First, Jesus went into the darkness alone . He died. He did not ‘experience his own death. The dead Son was in the darkess with others threatened by death.The Son died.
Second, His Father experienced his death. And the Spirit carried the death of the Son to the Father, who grieves his Son.
Does that speak to the forgetting of dementia? Will it give resources for us to live through this experience? Will we together share memories as we remind each other.?
Those whose memories are now fragile or lost may nevertheless take confidence that they are known and remembered by the Spirit of life, and their loved ones..
When memories disappear for the carer, let the community of Christ gather, surround all those affected by love, and embrace them with care that springs from the eternal life of God. Let the reading aloud of Scripture draw us into the Story of God’s care for us.
We will be able to share life with others, in spite of dementia.
When the confusion has passed for the forgetter, there is still the confusion and questioning in the one who remembers. Those who are partners and carers will not forget; they will experience the distance that grows between them and their partner.
.May they (may you) likewise receive the consolation and comfort of the community of Christ and his meal.
The word of comfort here is offered in the figure of Jesus, our brother, who went into the darkness of being removed from us, into darkness and death, and is with us in the darkness. There his promise of eternal life offers his deep and unending care for all, won for us in cross and resurrection.
Simply put, in all this, we are in the company of him who came, not to condemn but to give his life for the world.
May we remember his gift of life to us, so that we may find in him that which generates new life here and now, and entrust ourselves to him who is both beginning and end for the world.
Now by the power of the Sprit who raises the dead, let us give thanks to Jesus crucified and risen who has won eternal life for us, sharing in the glory of the life-giver Spirit and the gentle Father, through the Son’s Wisdom, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
4 Lent, 11 March 2018
Living and holy God, Maker of all that is, and Fosters in it, we offer prayers to you.
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For all who are called to be yours, to live in the world as Christ’s, signs of his love for the world:
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For all who are committed to knowledge, wisdom, careful understanding of the world, the whole creation, that they may enrich understanding and foster wisdom in the way you have created,
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For all who are denied your gift of infinite, compassionate care, for the sick and debilitated, lost and homeless,
that they may receive your care and healing:
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For those who seek to understand the patterns and structures of life, and resist the powers that war and destroy, we pray that they will serve the enriching of life.
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For the church, called as Christ’s body in the world announcing the signs of his love. Where there is persecution or destruction of your people, give your Spirit
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
For all who have lived for you, and now have died. Receive them into your eternal life, and flood them with your resurrection life.
God of infinite love
hear our prayer
We pray for ourselves, that we may truly live for Christ, in whose name we pray.
11 March 2018
4th Sunday in Lent
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 Sung refrain, spoken verses Hymn 67:
Verses 1, 2 5, 6 , 6
Ephesians 2:1-10. J
153 God is love
(Psalm: TiS 67) – sung refrain
219 9 (ii) Jesus us come with all his grace
611 God of grace
Sermon for Lent 4, 11th March 2018
By Wes Campbell
Prompted by the alternative reading set for the fourth Sunday in Lent (year B).
A contribution to the discussion of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Numbers 21: 4-9
Luke describes the gathering of the earliest Christians in Jerusalem in this way:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (2: 42); all who believed were together and had all things in common. , they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts... (2:45-46)
Luke is describing a picture of the early church which may be called ‘early communism’. Some modern scholars think it is idealised , and are inclined to dismiss it. But for Luke, who is closer to the Jerusalem congregation, the breaking of bread and sharing of wealth are key in the Christians ‘new life.
Bread plays an important role in the Bible.
Paul’s letters give instruction for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, especially when the poorer members of the congregation are being mistreated. Jesus and his disciples eat in a variety of places, and also in ways which conflict with religious requirements.
Jesus breaks bread as ‘my body’ on the night before his death.
The risen Lord, feeds his grieving companions with bread and fish.
Bread is remembered and eaten in a meal( Passover, Seder) to recall how the Hebrew slaves escaped from Egypt with Moses. In the desert when they hungered and feared dying they were fed.
And what’s more, the biblical prophets speak of food for the poor; God will feed them with justice.
In the past century the church has learnt again how important the theme of bread and feeding.
In the world-wide church there has been a rediscovery of the importance of the Lord’s Supper, and an exploring how sharing of bread and wine could lead to a new church unity. So Uniting Churches emerged in various parts of the world, Australia included.
Then, as we learnt that Jesus’ wish is for his companions to share in one community, our failure to eat the Lord’s Supper makes the pain of separation sharper.
How painful it is to be separate, and to have the words in the Great Prayer:
We are the Body of Christ.
We who are many are one body
For we all share in the one bread.
Gathering at the one table reminds us, as the Letter to the Ephesians says, we do not earn this meal; it is the gift of grace, of unearned generosity, freely given.
Which brings us to the feasts in the Gospels: the feeding of the five thousand men; and the four thousand men, plus women and children. Notice that this meal is not given to the disciples. Rather, the disciple are instructed to order the people, to hand out the bread, and to collect the uneaten extras. It is the crowd, the hungry poor, Jesus feeds. The prophets expect such open air feedings to take place when the Messiah comes.
The mass feedings we have heard of took place in in Galilee, in the north. There in response to Jesus’ teaching and healing, a crowd gathers and increases in size.
After the feeding today, they want to crown Jesus him king. But Jesus withdraws. We have here a replay of the temptations in the desert; Jesus fasted, then was tempted to take the path of working wonders, turning stones into bread, and gaining power in that way. But he rejects that way.
The feedings do echo Jesus’ last meal with his disciples – but go well beyond it. In bread, and his own body, Jesus takes his place with the poor. The Greek word here is ‘ochlos’: the hoi poloi; the oppressed and crushed people.
And in his teaching he says a strange thing: that the poor, the meek, the merciful and the persecuted are blessed, and receive the reign of God.
God comes near in feeding to those who are disappointed by the world; they receive what the world cannot give; God’s nearness.
Jesus announces that reign of bread, of blessing, but we are confronted with what happened when he turned south to go to Jerusalem: Jesus who announces blessing will hang on a cross with others executed as enemies of the Empire: as many as 7000 crucified along the roadside. Strange fruit.
And though he has spoken of God’s nearness, he goes into the darkness of god-forsakenness alone.
Some will ask, ‘Did this really happen? Modern historians say that if we want to know what happened we have only a little to go on. Liberal scholars tried to fit Jesus into the world we know.
They said that when the boy gave up his food, he must have prompted others in the crowd to open up their sandwich baskets and share them with their neighbours.
But does that ring true to what we read? We heard that it was late (darkness approaching), the crowd was lost, hungry, without food through they have followed Jesus.
What Jesus does is astounding. Those who hunger are fed to excess by him. The wilderness feeding is as powerful as the crowd of Hebrew slaves who fled from Egypt.
Does he fit in the world when he comes announcing God’s nearness, leading the poor, condemned and crucified and then, most startling, his meeting his followers gain after his death?
Most strange and startling we meet is Jesus his Easter presence, and his feeding – his announcement of the God who brings new life, and promises to alter the world, to renew and transform it.
That is what lies behind the mass feedings.
Read carefully and we see that today’s meal for the hungry crowd points forward to the bread and fish offered by the risen Lord to his companions. And beyond that, to the healing of the whole creation, nature itself.
I conclude by offering some pastoral implications of the feeding of the crowds.
Bread is given by Jesus to bind his followers together. The great irony is that bread of certain sorts can produce pain and inflammation. It has led to a practice in the Lord’s Supper of offering two or more sorts of bread, gluten free, for example. That might be seen as an accommodation of the sufferer of gluten. But the symbol of unity is lost. Far better is that we acknowledge the sick among us (as Jesus did) and find bread that can be shared by all in the congregation and, preferably, a bread that is wholesome, tasty and (like the Orthodox Christians) made with yeast so the dough rises.
A second pastoral implication of the feeding of 5000 and 4000 suggests itself: Jesus feeds the entire crowd, women and children, with the numbered men. The feedings are a sign of unity. So, we of the Uniting Church in Australia would do well to revisit our worship practice when it comes to bread: generous, and a frequent ‘breaking of the bread’ (as in the Acts of the Apostles), and so become a sign to our divided humanity of a meal of peace. If peacemakers are blessed, so Jesus’ companions are also to bear the unity he offers. Think globally, and as we act locally we are Christ’s witnesses. Something similar may be said about the sharing of the cup. It is time for us to share one common cup from which all at the meal drink from the same cup. The Lord Jesus who offers his cup, asks us to take the risk of eating and drinking together, even those called enemy.
A third implication is this: Jesus who feeds the crowds is one who feeds all humanity, and does this by beginning with the desolate poor. As Jesus’ followers, we are also called to stand with the poor, to be in solidarity with those whose humanity is smashed, as in warfare (in Syria, for example, and Afghanistan), and who are torn from their homes seeking asylum in other lands, like Australia. Support of refugees is not just a political issue; it is the claim Jesus puts on us in our sisters and brothers who seek our welcome, a readiness to share our bread (food and money), just as Jesus calls us to eat at his table.
So as we commit to preparing for Easter in some form of Lenten discipline, remember that Jesus asks us to receive the free gift of bread, and with it free grace; with that he calls us to long for justice, and so to live for the new world God is making.
With the risen Jesus, let us look to the Spirit who will empower us to live as Christ’s body, eagerly awaiting the healing of the whole creation, by the power of the same Spirit of life, with the beloved Son and gentle Father. AMEN
WORT ZUM SONNTAG
A reflection on Gospel acc. Mark 8-9 written after hearing a sermon in the local Evangelical Congregation in a small village, Langenstgadt, in Bavaria, SE Germany.
Turning toward Jerusalem and declaring his confrontation with the powers of death (and Empire), Jesus is then on the mountain. [We are expected to read texts such as this within the history of traditions.]
On the mountain Jesus is alone – with only the verification ‘this is my Beloved/Son/Chosen’ from the cloud. The voice comes from his Father.
It is no accident, then, that the following episode has a father crying out for Jesus’ intervention, seeking his healing release from powers (dunamis) that make him as good as dead.
Confronting the spirits of death the father is helpless. [This observation was offered by the Pfarrer /Pastor of the Langenstadt congregation – a general observation that parents are helpless when facing powers that enslave their children. Their last option is to cry out for Jesus’ healing’.] Note that there are two episodes here, the father and his son, and then the Gentile woman and her daughter. Bth are offered within the injunction that the reader is to listen to Jesus the Son.
I suspect that we have existentialised and personalised the events before us. By contrast the designation of Jesus as ‘Chosen’ reminds us that Jesus’ ministry was that of declaring the near reign of God, [the same point as for Advent] and his cross was the emblem of the empire he confronts. The cross is the punishment meted out by the Empires of this world to the rebels who see another empire rising in Jesus. The healing story concludes with Jesus extending his hand to the son who is as good as dead (and beyond the father’s ability to help), as he does in the stormy seas to Peter. The point here is that Jesus who died on that instrument of torture, the empire’s power, has the power to raise up our children who are as good as dead. The crucified Son who died on the cross is able to raise the dead, even as he was raised.
Writing this on the day ICAN was granted the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to ban nuclear weapons reminds us of powers that threaten life on this planet, driven by the greed for power, the future threatened by instruments of mass destruction and global threats generated by Nature following our abuse of the world’s economy. As a parent and a grandparent I know about the threats, but I cannot release my offspring from them. * I am in the position of the parent who sees his child threatened. All he has open to him is to cry out to Jesus for his saving power – much as the Gentile women also does in the same Gospel.
These reflections are much closer to the coming of Jesus than we often meet in the Nativity. Let this year be an entry into the story of Jesus as one in which the dead are raised to life.
· I expect that parent who see their teenage sons go to war trusting the false promise of glory experiences this.
on 8th October 2017
Do Not Be Afraid, A reflection on Matthew 10, verses 26-39
Some sayings stick in the mind. “Life was not meant to be easy” is a memorable comment of the late Malcolm Fraser. It is salutary to think that this one phrase is his most famous utterance. Another memorable phrase is that of Gisela Kaplan, who said, during a Radio National talk on the magpie “No two magpies have the same feather pattern”. This got me thinking that there is no mass production in God’s world. It sharpened up my observation of the flock that co-inhabits my neighbourhood. I recalled that saying when Jesus remarks about the sparrows, of how each is cared for by our dear Father.
Matthew chapter 10, verses 26-39 contain some striking promises of the love and care of God. They are, each of them, sayings of Jesus that are like Malcolm Fraser’s memorable remark. Bible scholars suggest that these sayings were committed to memory, or even written down, while Jesus and his band of disciples were travelling, that they became a stand-alone book, placed in circulation even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, authentic, jaw-dropping sayings, to be recounted, re-told, treasured.
Mathew writes that these sayings form a briefing to his disciples. Luke however, says that they were delivered to the crowds, crowds so dense that they were treading upon each other as they strained to hear the teacher.
The most repeated command in the Bible is contained in this briefing. “Do not be afraid”. It was immediately memorable because of the setting. Jesus tells his disciples words like “The authorities will be after you. You will suffer physical and emotional violence –do not be afraid.” Or “You will run the risk of being arrested as revolutionaries – do not be afraid” .
Jesus then commands them “What I tell you privately is to be proclaimed openly” They are not receiving secret teaching, They are not to be intimidated. While they were indeed a small minority, Jesus believed that God would ensure that his teaching would have great impact. And so it has.
At this stage, another new concept is introduced. They are not sent just to heal the sick and proclaim God’s kingdom, but also to witness to Jesus. There was no precedent for this, So it was memorized.
And then, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps is not fit to be my disciple” This is shocking talk. Jesus is not talking about shouldering the burdens that life brings, not talking about the afflictions that we all must bear. This is self-denial. This is something that you need not do, but do it for Jesus. Matthew, in writing his Gospel, knew that Jesus really meant this but at the time, people said “”Phew, did he really mean that?” - and committed it to memory.
So this ‘briefing’ is really a collection of Jesus sayings. Each can stand alone. Each is memorable. Each is valuable guidance. Each is counter-intuitive. Each is a key to Life.
We may now consider the every day application of these sayings of Jesus.
When our forebears came to this part of the world it was bush land, far from civilisation. Every man carried a gun and, each evening, to prove that he would be prepared to use it against robbers and claim-jumpers, he would stand at the door of his tent and fire his gun into the air. In my fathers generation there was a gun in every household. As for me, in my teens, with a good understanding of Christian teaching, I resolved to never carry, or fire, a gun. Do not be afraid, said Jesus. And I have never felt the need of a gun. In his small book Rev. Dr Wes Campbell says “The only response to this world’s madness is not to carry arms”
In his column “Matters of Faith” in the Castlemaine Mail, Rev Jim Foley .tells that he and Margot were in Manchester at the time of the explosion at the Arianna Grande concert. “Within seconds of the explosion people ran toward the casualties to do what they could to help –regardless of the risk to themselves. “ Surely this is a response to Jesus command to take up your cross and follow in my steps.
A third example is to be found in Don Watson’s “American Journeys”. The famous Australian writer was in the near vicinity in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. This was the United Sates’ most devastating natural disaster. It killed 2,000 and left hundreds of thousands of people – mostly African Americans and poor renters - homeless. Don Watson wrote” Hurricane Katrina had hardly blown out to sea than a wave of volunteers from all Christian denominations from all parts of the country descended on the wreckage” The military response was next, with armed services personnel sent in to patrol the streets. Days later the humanitarian aid arrived from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Days later!
So it was volunteer Christians who demonstrated the reality of Jesus’ claim, that people are worth more than the sparrows. They were not going to let the victims of Hurricane Katrina fall to the ground unnoticed. Don Watson goes on to state “ New Orleans revealed that religion has a purpose and a principle. It has the capacity to imagine something beyond and higher than the present reality and to make it possible for people to transcend self. This purpose or belief guides and energises.”
St. Paul would agree when he writes of “being alive to God by the workings of grace”
Jesus’ sayings give us the confidence to trust to God our lives, our souls, our bodies, everything. Whilst we face temptation and danger it is our allegiance to Jesus that comes first. Jesus reason for saying “Don’t be Afraid” is because a time will come when everything will be revealed, and what will be revealed is the follower’s loyalty and faith. But Jesus reminds us of those who would hold us back – the near intolerable pressure which arises when an unprecedented creative proposal becomes evident. To take the newly opened course will be costly. It must have been hard for the Christian volunteers to leave family responsibilities to drive across the United States to bring relief to the people of New Orleans.
Jesus followers today – you and I - are like the emergency workers who are voluntarily first on the scene of chaos. You don’t have to look far these days to observe scenes of moral and relationship chaos. Do not be afraid. Life was not meant to be easy but you can transcend self so long as you are alive to Christ. . Do not be afraid. You are precious to God. Do not be afraid.
Mr George Milford - Harcourt
HYMN 403 Come Holy Spirit
FIRST READING; ACTS 2: 1-21
PSALM 104 –HYMN 65 (verses 3 & 4)
SECOND READING: 1 COR. 12 3b-13
GOSPEL JOHN 7:37-39
A huge ocean wave was pictured in The Age recently, with a tiny surfer gliding down the face of the wave, plunging at last into the turbulent waters below. Seeing the force of these waters it’s not surprising that ancient Hebrews, desert people, feared the ocean. For them it was a place of nothingness that can take your life away. It’s as the first verses of Genesis pictures it: in this darkness and void, blows a great wind.
We have seen people to our north take the risk of sailing in those dangerous threatening waters, boarding flimsy boats, risking being swamped, drowned. Such are the waters in the story of Noah and the flood. The Tsunami in the 1990s, you may recall, drowned whole communities. Now rising oceans and cyclones threaten Pacific Islander peoples.
Tim Winton, in his novel Breath explores the limits set for young surfers. They hold their breath under water risking suffocation and death.
The Psalms tell of the great wind of God that blows into our world, where all living things - birds and trees, even rocks, share the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit breathes life into them. At the end of life the Sprit is withdrawn. When a person dies, Aboriginal people tell of the movement of the Spirit as it leaves. The body visibly shakes. Life is extinguished.
[Francis of Assisi knew of this intimate connection with other creatures.]
Another image of the Spirit presented in the writing of this sermon: in 1983 as the long drought came to an end in Victoria. I recall vividly driving on the Tullamarine Freeway into a wall of red dust being blown from the north, and the large drops of muddy rain that signalled the end of the drought.
We are not accustomed to speaking of the Spirit in this way; the Spirit is more often presented as a personal, private, ‘spiritual’ experience. Whereas the Bible depicts the Spirit more like a tornado, as we hear in Acts with its great sound of wind and flames of fire. [All the more apt as we meet here today – as I am reliably informed that in this terrain we are in tornado country, a path.]
In the Book of Acts of the Apostles those onlookers who saw and heard it could only stammer accusations that these Galileans must be drunk.
Do we get the force of this? Peter (who shortly before had denied Jesus and witnessed his death at the authorities’ hands), now stands in the market place of the city that murders prophets. He declares that in this very Jesus who was killed and should have disappeared, the new age is here. Now here in Jerusalem (and later Galilee) the Spirit breaks through to imprisoned peoples, and new communication happens.
Peter stands and declares that now there is a new day breaking, centred on the crucified Jesus. The risen Jesus is forming a new literacy. He is now opening bonds between people of differing languages and cultures, making a new community. The shock of this would be like walking into the Market Building and seeing materials concerning Aboriginal communities in this country, with information about their culture strange to us.
Or it would be like stepping into a street in a Middle Eastern city, waling among women wearing scarves, and men with long dark beards.
A new community emerges, driven by peace, shaped by love of the enemy. A new world is emerging. The terrified followers of Jesus (as depicted in Acts), are now a people bearing the signs of the Spirit, a fire for new life. Now, no longer hiding in back rooms, they stand up and declare a new thing.
A question? Did these earliest Christians have the capacity to refuse the call? In Matthew’s telling of the gospel we are told that among the disciples who met Jesus after his resurrection ‘some doubted’. What we can say is this: they were overcome by this new power – it is a power that energises but will not coerce or force them.
People are being drawn into a surprised, vibrant, vigorous, baptised people who are not only shaped into a community of the Spirit, but are given courage to speak for Jesus, to point out that in his resurrection Jesus calls us into crucified and risen life.
This takes us into new ways of thinking and praying.
So the hymns today bring us to the Spirit who, as our Mother breeds life; who, as a Friend, walks with us in this new way.
What a contrast to news reports we hear every day which try to convince us that our world will never be free of bombing ,of violence, tit for tat.
Let’s take a few small examples that mighthelp us.
I was reminded that all creatures, living beings are given life by the Spirit. The dog that our son and daughter-in-law have at home took this seriously when he discovered my book which spells out the Spirit of Life’ and began to eat it!
In preparing to preach – and in preaching itself I am facing a new experience. Parkinson’s affects the body differently. I am finding that to produce audible wards, I have to muster the breath in me and to breathe it out. Such is new life in the Spirit. By letting others know our life-struggles, we open to nbei8ng supported by them.
In Reconciliation Week we newer Australians are being asked to remember that in 1967the situation changed for Indigenous Australians with the vote to change the Constitution. That was matched by the Mabo Findings that overturned the legal fiction that Australia was ‘terra nulius’, an empty land, before European occupation. Now the Uluru Declaration invites us to the call for a Treaty.
As Uniting Church people were are reminded that we have altered the church constution with a Preamble. In several sentences we are reminded that God was present in this country before Europeans. And Indigenous people understood the Spirit was active for life here.
I understand that before they came to this Land Europeans called this continent ‘the Land of the Holy Spirit’. That means we can learn, with our indigenous sisters and brothers, to recognise the Spirit in this land. And with that we must also admit openly the brutalities that were inflicted on the First Peoples of this land. Most graphic are those photographs of men with chains around their necks. In those times of settlement church people did seek to offer the good news of the Gospel through various acts of support but they were also caught up in supporting Government policies that led to separation of children from their communities; tragically waters were poisoned and lands snatched away.
These things that are familiar to us also recall the upheaval in and among the first Christians in Jerusalem. As they stood out in Jerusalem they were learning to be citizens of a new country. They were not first citizens of the Romsan Empire with its boots and swords, keeping order and ‘peace’, they said. Rather, the first baptised community began to learn of a new loyalty: - headed by Jesus, who took the hurt and wounds of our world onto himself – into himself - breeding courage and new imagination, so that the strange peace of the crucified Lord shaped a new path in the nworld, just as Paul spelt it out to the new congregation in Corinth.
We are being called into that new style of community. For that we are baptised with water, fed with bread and wine, and pushed out into the wider community, so together we may celebrate the gusty, swirling life of the Spirit, who with Jesus the Son and the Father draw us into new life. AMEN
Lent 1 5th March 2017_3
Psalm 32 Hymn 20 vs 1 & 2
Romans 5: 12-19 From one man
Mathew 4: 1-11 Jesus is tempted
In the next six weeks the church will be preparing for Easter. There will be baptisms. Jesus was baptised, even though John resisted it. And Jesus doesn’t take baptism lightly. That is why we, regardless of age, can consider seriously what baptism means to us.
We are left with a question: If John baptised people who were sinners, why would the sinless Jesus come for baptism?
Matthew tells us that Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan: he takes onto himself the heavy weight of his people’s sin, and becomes the capital S, Sinner.
Baptised, Jesus is driven into the desert, to fast and pray, and then to face the Tempter.
Matthew certainly knew the Genesis readings we heard today. We read only a few verses; II encourage you to read the whole story in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 with a good commentary.
Warning: there are ways not to read this. Literalists who say they believe every word will miss the wrestle and engagement of this tale.
Moderns or Progressives may well recognise the ancient story, but are embarrassed by words such as sin, repent, guilt, and they stop reading.
You know this tale: Genesis tells of a Garden Paradise, where the man and woman are at home, and care for it. .They are naked and not ashamed.
So we have here a sort of biblical Dreamtime. When Jewish teachers want to tell something important they tell a story.
We have here a gripping tale of a serpent, a crafty creature in the Garden, who challenges the Creator’s warning that the man and woman may eat of every tree except one.
With the assistance of the crafty snake the man and woman face a question: ‘Did God say?’
With that the humans are drawn into testing God – they are the first theologians.
Perhaps their questioning is not so shocking to us, because our science is based in asking questions, where the philosopher Descartes came to the conclusion, ‘I think therefore I am.’
But if some think these actions by the humans are making them mature and wise, not the biblical story teller who is filled with horror by what happens.
As the humans reach up to grasp the fruit of all knowledge and power, the world is changed.
The serpent assures them that they will not die, but something more tragic happens: their world is fractured
The human pair do have their eyes opened, they see they are naked, and are ashamed. This is the power of death. When they hear the Creator in the garden, they hide in the bushes. When they are called out of hiding, they admit they are naked, and blame others for that.
Humans are set against their creator, against other creatures, and against their human partner.
It is not that they fall over dead, but death has entered in here.
They are no longer at home. And they are now excluded from the garden.
(Note this: when the church has made the woman to be the cause of sin, the story sees both man and woman as partners in crime. The apostle Paul regards Adam as responsible for sin’s entry into our world.)
Matthew presents the Temptations echoing the snake’s tempting. Jesus is not in a garden but in a wilderness. There Jesus, announced in his baptism as the Chosen Son, faces the Tempter, Satan.
This connects directly to Jesus’ baptism. The vision Jesus saw as he came out of the water confirmed him as God’s chosen - He has come into the world to announce that God is near. That is exactly why the Tempter attacks him, challenging Jesus to seize power and use it for himself.
Mathew’s Satan echoes the challenge. f you give yourself to me, you will rule the world.
The tempter uses scripture to claim Jesus, offering power and glory.
Here we might say that ‘Alternative Facts’ are at work! And with three attempts at it the Tempter is met by three rebuffs from Jesus the obedient Son who also quotes Scripture: But the tempting is not over: Satan will return to wrestle with Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on his cross.
Jesus refuses to worship Satan.
He accepts his own calling as the Son and takes onto himself the fracture of the world, the weight of sin, and the reign of death.
Paul knows the threat Jesus faces in this world ruled by law, sin and death. Later Martin Luther spoke of it as the ‘bondage of the will’.
Paul shows us how it works:
In one rebellious man, Adam, came law, sin and death. But in one obedient man, Jesus Christ, came life.
As Charles Wesley never tired of saying and singing Christ takes our shame and guilt from us. He acts for God, rescuing and bringing us into new life.
Charles Wesley sang:
O For a thousand tongues to sing; my great redeemer’s praise
the glories of our God and king,
The triumphs of his grace.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
He speaks and listening to his voice
New life the dead receive. (210)
And what about:
And can it be that I should gain an interest in the saviour’s blood…
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and natures night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray - …
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose went forth and followed thee. (209 verse 4)
At the cost of his life, Jesus sets us free for new life.
Where can we start?
The psalmist tells us this begins for us in silence. As we are silent and listen -- we may receive new life. So in this Lenten season, silence your chattering. Listen carefully.
So now we come back to the man and women expelled from the garden yet clothed to hide their shame and guilt.
Though human pair are shut out of the garden they continue to act in and for the world. They, make music, they farm, and also make weapons.
The protection provided by stitched leaves points in a sense to Jesus who provides us with protection and renewal.
Notice something surprising. The humans cover themselves because they are ashamed.
In our society that has been reversed.
We live in a culture that is ready to strip for the camera, to take selfies, to send nude photo by phone. In a TV program strangers meet and are disrobed and get into bed.
I heard reports of an event in the Gallery of New South Wale where a nude painting is on display. Dancers and patrons at the opening of the exhibition were naked. They then proceeded, nude, to view the rest of the exhibition.
Typically in our society the response has been to cover up.
Yet strangely here is a reversal; by stripping, naked people try to experience life, deeper than skin. Just as naturists do.
Sexuality also exercises its power, particularly where casual sex is taken to be an expression of freedom.
This is all more important as Royal Commissions have had to wrestle with abuse of children. We are pressed to appreciate the power of the body, and to explore what it would mean to ‘sew leaves’ together for protection.
We do well not to turn this into a moralistic question. If we did that we would lose something significant.
There are people who dissent and reject the move to nudity. By dressing differently they produce an element of shock, even fear. Especially women covered from head to toe, concealing themselves from public view. And in the most challenging way, covering their eyes.
Our Islamic and Catholic sisters present a vision of life not driven by sexualised life.
We might recall that not all that long ago it used to be mandatory for women to wear hats in church!
If we do not join in the process of covering up, we are pressed to consider what clothes mean to us.
These ruminations on clothing and shame must cause us to pause, and deter us from taking up weapons against them. After all, we Gentiles have been grafted onto the Jewish story; and that includes Muslims too.
If we entrust ourselves to Jesus we may discover in him a new freedom for God’s world, trusting that gives us partners, quite unexpectedly, regardless whether they wear the Burka or Bikini, the Burkini or budgie smuggler!
And will it help us to appreciate the Church’s strange practice of putting a clothed person under water - ‘drowning’ them in the waters of baptism as a sign of new life?
If you are not baptised, consider this Lent whether now is the time! And if you are baptised, receive again Jesus’ victory over the Tempter as your liberation!
To the Chosen One, Jesus Christ, be all thanks for the Word he speaks, guiding us into life. AMEN