Winnowing out only violence, or the move from John to Jesus

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Some years back, I saw a woman in a carpark smacking her child. And as she smacked, she yelled, “WE DO NOT HIT IN THIS FAMILY! WE LOVE!” It reminded me of those ostensibly Biblical parenting models, in which cool and collected parents maintain discipline by spanking their naughty children—and then lovingly use the moment as a teaching opportunity. Because the people being hit are children, and because our society doesn’t rate children’s experiences very highly, we adults can miss the contradiction here. Yet if we substitute ‘women’ for ‘children’, perhaps things become clearer: even if it’s ‘just a smack’, there is a mixed message going on, to say the least. Continue reading “Winnowing out only violence, or the move from John to Jesus”

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Rethinking Forgiveness

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A year or two ago, someone outside the church contacted me. They had come across one of my sermons, and they wanted to talk. We met, and I asked what was bothering them. “We-ell,” they said, “It’s as if you’re saying that God loves us even before we have repented.” “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” I said. “I can’t accept that,” they replied, “That’s definitely not right.” Continue reading “Rethinking Forgiveness”

The God of Your Dreams

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Like everyone, I have a heap of ancestors. Many were good Christian souls; several were pastors. Some were butchers, one was a cook. Others worked for local government. A couple of women were abused, either as children or as wives; and one man was a violent drunk. So if a person was telling the history of God’s work through my family, who would get a starring role? The Methodist minister? The mayor of Burra? The jolly butcher? The good wives? Or the violent and good-for-nothing drunk? Continue reading “The God of Your Dreams”

Our Fundamental Task: Forgiveness

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Last week, we heard about two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how they encountered Christ. Through gathering, confession, Word, and Table, they came to recognise the Risen Lord in a stranger; and when this happened, they were so excited that they rushed off to tell everyone about it. This story is so foundational to our faith that, for over two thousand years, Jesus’ disciples have largely followed the pattern of gathering, confession, Word, and Table whenever they meet: and it is this pattern that we follow in our own worship service. We do this because we trust that when we engage in these practices, somehow, somewhere, we will catch a glimpse of Christ and be oriented back to God, an orientation we are to carry into the rest of the week. So that’s why we meet the way we do. But what of the rest of the week? What are we to do then? Continue reading “Our Fundamental Task: Forgiveness”

Love who?!

Once upon a time, I was sitting in a class at the theological college when the concept of ‘love your enemy’ came up. The pastor of a large church became annoyed and said, “I’ve got no idea why we waste time talking about this. We’re Christians—we have no enemies!” His comment revealed what is actually a fairly common idea: Those of us who are not actively oppressed by a violent regime, and who work very hard to be nice, often think we love everyone. But is this true? And can we throw the whole idea of loving our enemy out? Continue reading “Love who?!”

The Honours List

Last week, the annual Australia Day Honours List was announced: a list of people recognised for their contribution to our nation. So it is timely that in tonight’s reading, Jesus gives us his own honours list: the people honoured for the way they embody and contribute to God’s culture. The Australia Day Honours List usually includes politicians, military officers, scientists, sports stars, charity workers, artists, businesspeople, and others. Who do we find on Jesus’ honours list? Well, as you can imagine, it’s a bit different. Continue reading “The Honours List”

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. Continue reading “Anatomy of a Murder”

Scandal!

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. Continue reading “Scandal!”

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune … is in the good books with God. One of the problems with growing up comfortable and in the church is that it is too easy to think this. For we are the good guys: the right sort of people who never do anything seriously wrong. Insulated by our wealth and our privilege, we glance over at all those ghastly people whose lives are a mess, congratulate ourselves for our nice morals and clean living, and assure ourselves and everyone else that we belong in God’s house. For we are not sinners like them. We never rejected God; we belong in the kingdom. Yet, week after week, in God’s house we hear stories which should challenge our assumptions, and this week is no exception. Continue reading “Pride and Prejudice”

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