Sunday Sermon 24-05-2020

Service Easter 7 May 24 2020 (Yr A)

Leighmoor UC

Possible hymns

TIS 137: For the beauty of the earth

TIS 675: Lord, the light of your love is shining (Shine Jesus shine)

TIS 152: Joyful, joyful we adore you

TIS 147: To God be the glory

TIS 699: A new commandment

TIS142: Glory be to God the Father

TIS 755: You shall go out with joy

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Glory-filled God,

We come before your radiance in prayer.

Your glory brought into being all of creation,

Your glory was announced on the night of Jesus’ birth,

Your glory was evident in Christ’s resurrection, and ascension.

To you be all glory.

We thank you for another day.

In a world that is far from safe-may we never take a day, or hour, for granted.

Thank you for the gift-and glory-of life.

We thank you for the music of birdsong,

Of the tinkling of laughter as children steer past on bikes and skate boards.

And yet, we know we have let you down,

we have let others down,

and we have let ourselves down.

Forgive us.

Grant us a spirit of courage, of hope, of compassion.

Help us to become the people you created us to be.

(silence)

God is love.

Through Christ our sins are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Take hold of this forgiveness

and live our lives in the power of the Spirit.

Amen.

Bible Readings

Acts 1: 6-14

Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35

1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11

John 17: 1-11

Sermon: Love’s radiance

(John 17: 1-11)

In the story, The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes:

‘I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it.  I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.

When schoolmates asked “What happened to your lip?” I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass.  Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different.  I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.’ There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored- Mrs Leonard.  She was short, round, happy- a sparkling lady.

Annually we had a hearing test.  Mrs Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn.  I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back-like ‘The sky is blue’ or “Do you have new shoes?’ I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth, those seven words that changed my life.  Mrs Leonard said, in her whisper, “I wish you were my little girl.”

-I wish you were my little girl.

In John 17, Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”

Earlier, in John 13, Jesus, speaking about glory, said: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

“…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” 

God’s glory shines whenever we do loving things.

-or God’s glory is revealed in acts of love.

(repeat) 

Glory and love are soul mates.

Glory.

We speak, indeed sing, of God’s glory, or ‘glory to God.’

But what is it?

What does the word ’glory’ really mean?

And what are we trying to get across when we give glory to God?

According to the Oxford Dictionary to glorify-means to make glorious, invest with radiance, and with dignity.

That’s part of what we ‘do’

  • We speak about something of God’s character and being.

When we come to worship, to glorify God-to praise the Almighty, radiant God.  We honour God’s essential being.

But what IS God’s glory?

‘Glory’ is one of those church words which many of us use over and over again without really understanding what we are saying.

In both Old and New Testaments, there are many instances where the word ‘glory’ is used-in different ways.

For example, in 1 Kings, Solomon builds a temple for God.  In vs 10: ‘And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.’

-here it signifies the power, the presence, and the holiness of God.

BUT in Jeremiah, Chapter 2 the meaning is quite different.  God pleads with Jeremiah to ask Israel to repent of her ways, to cease following false gods:

‘But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.’

So-from the previous, positive image of power and majesty-

to the negative-the people are without honour, without dignity, without character-they have strayed from their true, authentic calling as God’s people. 

Who can forget the Christmas story?  In Luke 

‘Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them’

And later, the multitude of angels sang ‘Glory to God in the highest…’

Majesty, power, radiance-and praise,

It is a word rich in meaning.

In the Old Testament, there are two important elements in the understanding of God’s glory:

  1. It is a visible manifestation of God’s majesty

–we can see it

  1. In acts of power

While God is invisible, from time to time, God manifests Himself to people by a striking action-which is his glory.

Sometimes through the realm of nature-as in a thunderstorm,

Or

 as an incident in history-in their desert wanderings God’s glory is the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night-God’s presence is visible to the Israelites.

In the New Testament, since Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, he embodies divine glory

John 1:14: ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…’

And from today’s lectionary reading: ‘Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.’

The two important elements in the OT concerning the glory of God: 

-visible manifestation, or acts of power.

These two elements of glory are present in Jesus.

He represents the visible divine presence, exercising itself through mighty acts, or miracles.

Turning the water into wine: John 2: ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory…’

In John chapter17-nearly the whole of that chapter is given over to Jesus’ glory.  The entire passion of Jesus is presented to us as his ‘glorification.’

In the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the glory of God is revealed.

(repeat)

The resurrection was the mighty act of God par excellence.

It is in the face of Christ that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in our own hearts. (2 Cor 4:6)

Hopefully we now have a clearer picture or understanding of the layers of meaning in that 5 letter word: GLORY

So why have I laboured the point?

Because we may miss what giving ‘glory’ to God means.

God’s glory or presence reaches out to us as LOVE.

As love.

As Christ reflected God’s glory-so too are we to do the same-in our acts of love.

Jesus said: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

This does not meant that this is the first time we are told to love one another. Back in the Book of Leviticus we are commanded to do so.

BUT the newness of the command now given by Jesus is that the love he requires of his disciples is to be of the kind with which he has loved them.

It is to be love of the kind that will ‘reverse the roles’- leader to serve, love that will bring peace to the world.

It will be love that, like Christ’s love-does not ask questions about worthiness but simply gives itself in humble service.

How can we love like Jesus? 

  1. Jesus loved his disciples selflessly.  We may so often think-maybe sub consciously-about what we are to get from love-the happiness, the thrill-or the emptiness and the loneliness which we will suffer if love fails, or is denied.

We could be seeking our own happiness.  But Jesus never thought of himself-His one desire was to give himself and all He had for those he loved.

  1. Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially.

-there was no limit to what his love would give, or where his love would go-even to the cross.

  1. Jesus loved his disciples with understanding.

–he knew them through and through.

He knew all their weaknesses and yet he still loved them

Those who really love us are the people who know us at our worst and who still love us.

We are not perfect-sometimes those who love us point this out to us!

It is when we live with people that we find out their moods and their irritabilities and their weaknesses and vice versa.

We sometimes say ‘love is blind’ -but that is not so.

–real love is opened-eyed.  It loves, not what it imagines the person to be, but the person as he or she is-the whole person, warts and all-for better and for worse.

The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.

  1. Jesus loved his disciples with forgiveness.

–they were all to forsake him, to flee.

But Jesus held nothing against them.  There was no failure which he could not forgive.

We are called to reflect Christ’s glory, God’s glory-in love.

–love as part of God’s glory, God’s nature,

–love us part of our nature too.

Love changes lives-like the opening story,

and love reflects God’s glory.

G-Great God

 L-love

O-overwhelming

R-righteousness

Y-Yahweh.

Within the word ‘glory’ is love-hemmed in on both sides with the word ‘God’ and ‘Yahweh’.

Overwhelming love is part of God’s glory, and part of our own nature.

As Christians we are to reflect this light of love, of glory, to the whole of creation.

How to describe love?  Words are never enough-it is through our actions, our deeds that love is made visible, to God’s glory.

Amen

Prayers of the People

We pray for the world, our community, ourselves.

We pray for the victims, families and friends of victims of the Covid 19 virus, be with them in their grief, during their fear.

Make them aware of your presence, and strengthen them through this crisis.

We pray for the medical staff, nursing teams, and frontline responders.

Be with them as they serve, as they love, as they put their own lives in danger.

This week, we pray for those affected by Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh.  Now there are over 80 reported dead, and millions struggling to evacuate the region amidst Covid 19 restrictions.

Lord, we know this is hard, especially for the poor, who are already stretched to the limit by the economic impact of the virus.  The virus will also affect relief efforts and on-going recovery programs. 

We do not understand-but we know you care. 

Help us to think beyond ourselves-each person is someone’s grandmother, or grandfather, mother, or father, brother, or sister, child, husband, or wife, friend, colleague.

During these hard times, may we remember our world family.

In a time of silence we remember and pray about other issues which weigh heavy on our hearts. 

Let us conclude by praying the prayer Jesus taught his followers, which includes us:

‘Our Father…’

Amen

Blessing (a Bruce Prewer blessing)

The overflowing grace of Christ Jesus,

the embracing love of God,

and the invigorating friendship of the Spirit,

will be with you now and always,

Amen

24.05.2020 Leighmoor UC

Rev Barbara Allen

Holy Rest 26-03-2020

Hello Faith Pals/Angels/members of the congregation,

Hang in there! 

I have been taking our blind dog Harry, for some of the drives into Epworth hospital for David’s dialysis treatment.  I like to have company for the trip home, and Harry isn’t a ‘back seat’ driver!  (Actually, he sits in the front-not for the view, but because it is a more comfortable seat, and I can pat him when the traffic lights turn red).

He loves the car trip.  The motion, the rhythm sends him off to sleep.  When our son was little, I would often strap him into his car seat and go for a drive-it would always calm him down, and he would usually fall asleep during the trip.

Reminded me of God.  If we rest in God’s arms, we can be at peace, despite all the turmoil that is going on around us.  If we listen…we can perhaps even hear God’s heart beat.  It may be our heart beat, but our hearts are connected to the One who made them!  God is bigger than us, much bigger.  As you reflect on your life’s journey, and the number of times you got through tough situations, with God’s strength, Christ’s hand, and the Spirit’s peace…rest in God’s lap, tell God how you are feeling, and let the Divine soothe your troubled hearts, and brush away your fears and worries, as gently as a loving parent brushes back the hair from a sobbing child.

Here is a prayer which echoes my thoughts.  It is kept in the Bible that is on my bedside table. I do not know who wrote it:

When fear and doubts stroll through our doors:

God stands beside us, whispering of peace.

When we toss and turn late at night:

God sits by our beds, singing lullabies of love.

When we stumble through the shadows of error and sin:

God illuminates the paths of goodness and joy.

Lullabies.  Not only do they soothe, but in some cultures they are a way of passing down traditions or cultural knowledge.  Several of our Christmas carols were written as lullabies for baby Jesus, the best known one being Silent Night.

‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.'(John 1: 4-5)

Blessings,

Barbara Allen

 

Virus-free. www.avg.com

From Barbara’s desk 20-03-2020

Hello Everyone,

Did any of you have pen pals?  When I was a young teenager, the school I attended organized these writing partnerships/friends.  It was a way to learn about other cultures, and to encourage us to write. This was in an era before emails and internet and Facebook/Twitter etc. I had two pen pals for a number of years: Gerard, from Ireland, and Mieko from Japan.  I would look forward to receiving their letters, as well as excitedly writing back.  I can’t remember what I wrote about, but I do remember how precious and welcome their letters were.  It was wonderful having friends in other countries.

Maybe you could be addressed as-

Hello Faith Pals?

The first item I would like to share with you, to bolster flagging spirits, is a hymn.  I did not know it until I heard it on Songs of Praise a number of years ago. 

The background to it is very moving.  Let me tell you the story of its origin, and of a man named Horatio Spafford.

In 1870, lawyer and Presbyterian church elder Horatio Spafford, and his wife Anna were well off.  They had extensive real estate along the shore of Lake Michigan.  But their happy life was to change-the first way was through the death of their 4 year old son, from scarlet fever.  The following year, in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed their properties.  To help ease his wife’s deep depression, and to cheer up their four daughters, Horatio arranged for them to take a trip to Europe in November 1873. He was also planning on helping hymn writers Sankey and Moody with their campaign in Britain. On the day they were due to leave, Horatio was faced with a sudden business emergency, so he sent them on ahead, and said he would follow in a few days time.  On November 22, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, their streamer was struck by a British iron sailing ship, and sank in 12 minutes.  Out of the 307 passengers, only 81 were rescued-one of them was Anna Spafford.

Their daughters had drowned.

When Anna finally reached Cardiff, she sent Horatio a telegram with a brief and heartbreaking message: ‘Saved alone.” Horatio immediately set sail to bring his wife home.  Several days later he was called to the bridge by the ship’s captain when the ship passed the place where it was thought the steamer had gone down.  That night, alone in his cabin, with a faith that never faltered, Horatio penned the words of this moving hymn.  Later, he wrote to Anna’s sister:

‘On Thursday last we passed over the spot she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep.  But I do not think of our dear ones there.  They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.’

Who among us, faced with such tragedy-the drowning of 4 daughters, could write words like these, not just of acceptance and deep faith, but of thanks, hope, praise? To be able to say: ‘it is well with my soul.’ To add to the couple’s grief, some of the Christian community back in Chicago starting talking about the accident as being punishment from God.  Horatio, and his wife, and with 2 daughters they soon had, fulfilled a lifelong ambition-to go and live in Jerusalem.  There they were a blessing to many.  They established The American Colony and brought practical help and love to the needy, the sick, and the homeless. Their own loss seemed to give them great compassion for the suffering of others.  Their work and its legacy continues in Jerusalem today, at The Spafford Children’s Centre.

The first verse and chorus of the hymn It Is Well With My Soul:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

May it be well with your soul as we cope with the Covid-19 (Corona virus) situation. 

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.'(John 14: 27)

Now, Bill Pugh has mentioned that hymns are on from 7am-7.30 on 3mbs.  Of course don’t forget Songs of Praise at 11.30 on the ABC. Bill and Geoff also mentioned the pew sheets from Synod: victas.uca.org.au/pewsheets

Of course we are to pray for the world, and for each other. 

I have modified a prayer I found on-line which I thought was a lovely one to pray when we are feeling overwhelmed:

‘Everlasting , loving God, as I walk through circumstances that cause confusion and pain, remind me that your reign endures throughout all generations. Help me put my trust in you. Lift me up as I fall and raise my head when I feel overwhelmed. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’

Here is one from the President of the Uniting Church, Dr Deidre Palmer:

Prayer

Gracious and loving God,

Give wisdom and strength to all those in our community and around the world, who are responding to the coronavirus – health professionals, government officials, aged care providers, school leaders.

May those who mourn the loss of loved ones to the virus, be comforted.

May those in our community who are feeling anxious, find peace and reassurance.

May our congregations, and faith communities be places of compassion, attentive to those who are impacted by the coronavirus.

May we be communities of empathy, love and care, in all we face.

Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Remember, phone or email is a great way to keep in touch.

My quote from Winnie the Pooh:

“What day is it?”asked Pooh.

“It’s today,”squeaked Piglet.

“My favourite day.”said Pooh.

Well, that is enough for you!  I have attached the sermon for Sunday.  Please print out and share the sermons with those who do not have email.  Letterbox drop would be preferable,

Blessings and love

Barbara

 

The Cross Of Christ: The Diamond Of Christian Faith

THE CROSS OF CHRIST: THE DIAMOND OF CHRISTIAN FAITH.

{Christ Jesus is our substitute. He stands in our place overpowering evil – destroying its power over us – and setting us free. He does what we cannot do for ourselves. I contend that the dominant Christian notion that Jesus pays the price for our sins is a simplistic interpretation that fails to properly express the completeness of Jesus’ work on the Cross. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not over come it.” [Jn 1: 5]}

Early in my Christian walk I came across the use of a diamond as a metaphor for the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth. The Crucifixion of Jesus, like a diamond, has many facets. Like a diamond the Cross’ beauty and worth lies in the combination of its facets. The different faces and cut bring out the beauty and worth of the diamond.  It is a great treasure. However if we look only at one facet we will not appreciate its true worth and beauty. If we want to discard a facet because it has some imperfection we will lessen its worth and beauty if not destroy it. One can’t discard a facet of a diamond and still retain its integrity. I have found this metaphor a useful tool in dealing with difficult and challenging doctrines and theories about the work of God.

Let me proceed. I want to write a little essay on Christ Jesus’ substitutionary role.  I want to do so to clear my head regarding an insight I had reading the opening chapters of Mark.  I am very familiar with Mark’s account of the Gospel.  The scene is the Capernaum synagogue. Mark has it as the first occasion in Jesus’ public ministry [1:21f; Lk 4: 33]. A man with an unclean spirit interrupts Jesus’ teaching. The ‘spirit’ identifies Jesus. Jesus silences and exorcises the evil spirit.  I know this story so well. It is a demonstration of Jesus power over the evil spirits. Then it struck me. From the very inception of Jesus’ public ministry Jesus has to deal with evil in one form or another.  He doesn’t only have to deal with the sick, the doubting, the dullness and the opposition of religious authorities, but also the demonic.  The realm of evil, the devil or whatever you may wish to call it, is always present. The Gospel accounts show Jesus confronting not only human rebellion, but also the forces of evil with respect to both evil spirits and institutional evil. 

This set me thinking.  When Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, he encounters another form of evil: the evil of institutionalism. Without wanting to get too involved with the concepts of the Devil and evil spirits, I do want to acknowledge that while such concepts are now foreign to the Western mind set they are a reality in other parts of the world. Where they are present the inexplicable happens and evil occurs. I also understand that there are forces that take place when we build up our edifices, institutions and organisations that begin to take on a life of their own and we who create them become their servants. I see this as something akin to demon possession. The demonic possession is when a person seems driven and compelled to do things over which they have no control. 

I will say a little more about evil below, but let us return to Jesus before Pilate. I do not believe this is just a little sideshow in the grand scheme of the Crucifixion. The conversation between Jesus and Pilate, that John relates, is significant [18,19]. It is a scene of a representative of the World’s greatest empire of that time and the King of heaven and earth.  Jesus speaks of his kingdom as not from (ek tou) this world, but he is not saying it is not for this world. He is saying to Pilate that his kingdom has a different base. Its power does not rest on military strength but a moral strength derived from God the creator and expressed through love and truth. Therefore Pilate has no power to do anything except what God the Creator permits him to do. 

This conversation between Jesus and Pilate contains the great themes of who is the real ruler, who has the real power and what is truth.  It is the clash between good and evil. It is a clash between two world-wide kingdoms. The forces arraigned against each other are military power and the power of truth and love. Truth will overcome the lie. All the lie can do is kill Jesus, albeit very cruelly, but it will not destroy the truth and love he embodies. What we see here is the struggle between the power of institutions and their cultures and the love and truth Christ Jesus embodies.  Both the Jewish leaders and Pilate are part of institutions and organisations that have their own dominant cultures. The spirit of those institutions and organisations dominate and demonise their agents. Jesus stands in the place of liberation where truth and love are forces that will prevail to bring well-being.  

A little excursion into the meaning of Sin will be helpful. Let’s start at the beginning. We believe that humankind is created and grounded in love and for love to exist there must be freedom. So God’s gift to humankind is loving relationships and the freedom to enter and sustain such relationships. What has happen, it seems from time immemorial, is that humankind did not fall from a perfect state into an imperfect state, but chose a lesser state. We chose not to accept the lordship of God over our lives. In the decision to be like God knowing good and evil, we chose to elevate the self above the Other [Gen 3:5]. This elevation against the Holy Other, God, also meant we elevated ourselves against others. Indeed we embrace others as equals only insofar as they serve this mutual desire for independence and a false freedom.  This freedom we have in our independence – the assertion of our wills against another – places us in the clutches of something bigger than the individual self. This makes a lie of the freedom we claim we have. We elect to be free of God and thereby enter a set of relationships based on personal or collective self-interest.  These relationships feed our greed, ambition, competitiveness, party interests, nationalism etc. They are part of the warp and woof of our culture, and the organisations and institutions that we have created. (Watching the TV adverts for MKR I gathered that this cooking competition relies on ambition, aggression and the put down of others. And they appear to be caught up in that system that denies the well-being of others!) These systems of culture, organisation and institution end up not serving us but we serving them.  They inexorably dictate to us. We appear helpless in the face of their control of us. We seem unable to disarm them. They possess us: the demonic has arrived! We need to be set free.

Whether evil is an outside force or merely the spirit that is generated by the cumulative self-assertive and self-interested actions of individuals, evil is a reality. Recently we have been hearing about the cultures in various highly esteemed financial institutions in our society and how corrupt behaviour has entangled many. We see this happening to our sporting heroes. We might think back to Nazi Germany and how many ordinary, basically good people, either by actions or their silence supported the Holocaust. The same can be said about the pernicious and persistent racism of Apartheid in South Africa. Evil abounds. How can we conquer it?

When the Western world moved towards Deism in the second half of the 18th century, spurred by the tragic earthquake of Lisbon in1755, the Western world moved away from believing in a God who was involved in the world. Our theology was not keeping apace with these happenings and developments. By the 19th and 20th centuries Church and State became separated formally and informally in many Christian countries.  The Church was sidelined to a private affair with God in the distant heaven. Heaven no longer directed our daily lives and heaven morphed into our destination. Many influences led us towards an increasing secularism where Christianity became increasingly irrelevant in the face of scientific development.  We called this Modernism. We became more confident in human ability as our knowledge and understanding of the world rapidly expanded. We no longer needed God to fill in the gaps in our ignorance. By the turn of the 20th Century the prophetic voices of secularism predicted that education would set us free.  At the same time Social Darwinism contained an evil germ that encouraged genocide and racism (Herbert Spencer). Two devastating world wars closely followed each other. Our belief in God was more severely challenged. Religion became an increasingly private affair. That is what secularism wanted.  In this atheistic world where transcendent values were leached of their essence and power it is not surprising that the Holocaust took place along with the Gulag (Lenin’s Corrective Labour Camps). Tremendous cruelty took place at a level that was downright evil. What also became clear that those who were caught up in these systems were exactly that – caught up in them. The systems possessed them and drove them to inhuman practices.  We see this same trend in our culture, organisations and institutions today. Even our sporting heroes and esteemed and trusted banking and financial institutions have embarked on programmatic corruption and untruth.  There seems to be bewilderment about how this can happen. But is it surprising when the Church has failed to provide a robust theology and complied with the culture of secularism and majored on a private faith?  Is it surprising when we have exercised our interpersonal relationships and freedom to serve our own interest and reject any system of transcendent values and belief?  We have become gods of our own systems but at the cost of our humanity and the real freedom. Sin is the assertion of self against God and in the process we have become possessed by the things we have created.

How do we stop these structures of destructive self-interest, without merely stopping one set of organisations and institutions to start another set that will end up in the same place? We need a conqueror. But will the conqueror be successful if they use the same tools as those caught up in the evil? This is the good news. Christ Jesus faced this same evil force when the religious authorities and political administrators combined, driven by their respective institutions, to destroy this one who embodied love and truth.  Through love and by truth he said evil would be conquered. The battle was set and only Christ Jesus was able to stand against this evil.  He stood there as our representative. Where we should have been he was. He is our substitute because he alone is the truth and love and is able to conquer evil.   Our sense of truth and our quality of love have been corrupted. They have been corrupted from the time humankind chose to exercise their freedom and choose their self-interest. We needed a substitute.

The Gospel of Christ Jesus provides us with good news.  Christ Jesus does it for us, for he faced the full force of evil embodied in the institutional violence and wickedness of religious leaders, controlled by their own lust for power, and the Roman Empire equally jealous to keep their power. The latter two used violence to achieve their ends. Their violence was met by love and truth in its purest form. They killed Jesus of Nazareth but they were not able to destroy truth and love. The light overcame the darkness. The Resurrection of Jesus is more than a symbol of the eternal value of love and truth.  It is the authentication of Jesus as the Christ, our substitute, and it is the beginning of the new creation in which we can all participate.

In this sense Christ is our substitute. He stood where we could not stand. He faced evil with all it its power because he alone had not compromised himself before its enormous force.  He took our place, led the way, and shares his victory – God’s victory – with us through faith. When Jesus goes to the Cross one of the greatest things he is facing is not our everyday selfishness or little sins of commission and omission, but the very forces of evil which are disproportionality stronger that the individuals they represent. The religious and political institutions are arraigned against him aggregating to the level of evil in humanity, which unthinkingly calls for blood and violence. 

I understand that this sense of substitution fits better with the Christus Victor Atonement theory than the traditional understanding of the substitutionary atonement theory. I also contend that we need to highlight Christ Jesus as the one who has conquered the powers for I see we so desperately need to be set free and empowered to face the evil about us. 

A POSTLUDE ON THE TRADITIONAL SUBSTITUTIONARY THEORY.

The most prevalent notion we have of the Crucifixion of Jesus is that Christ died for our sins.  This understanding of the Crucifixion is so prevalent in our liturgy and speech about the Cross of Christ that it dominates the theological landscape of Atonement: those theories about the meaning of the Cross of Christ. It is a shibboleth for part of the Church. One dare not critique it. It is there in our liturgy – right up front – when we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness each Sunday. This understanding has some precedent in the priestly tradition in the Bible. People came to worship and gave their best to God acknowledging God’s goodness and their unworthiness. An elaborate sacrificial system took place. When Jesus was Crucified at Passover time and then rose from the grave it was easy to understand his death as a sacrifice, and that he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Indeed the Gospel account according to John states this [3:16]. Jesus spoke of giving himself as a ransom [Mk 10:45]. It seems so very clear that we need say no more. But wait a minute.

It is a precious truth that Christ died for our sins. This truth reminds us of God’s gracious acceptance of us. But his death is much more than that. In fact we tend to collapse a number of images into the notion of a sacrifice offered for the forgiveness of sins.  For example the Passover lamb was not the act of forgiving sins but the act that protected God’s people – and a mixed group of slaves [Ex 12:38] – from the evil forces of Pharaoh and slavery.  The Passover lamb was a sign of God’s liberation, not forgiveness. One can hardly imagine Moses saying to the slaves that their sins needed to be forgiven. He would have got very little street credit from them. Not withstanding the fact that those slaves did need forgiveness the Passover Lamb was a symbol of liberation.

Likewise we should not reduce Mark 10:45 to a simplistic statement of Jesus saying he is the ransom price for our sin.  This statement follows a discussion about the Kingdom and how the Kingdom of God will operate on a different ethical basis to that of the world. Servanthood would be the characteristic mark of God’s Kingdom. Jesus says, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. The significance of this verse lies first in its context and secondly in the terms, Son of Man and ‘service’.  Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man to indicate that his role is to establish a new order, as that is what the Son of Man signifies in Daniel 7. Therefore the notion of ‘ransom’ has to do with nature of the service Jesus and his followers will give: it will be costly – sacrificial. To reduce ‘ransom’ to some literal sense of paying something to someone (presumably the Devil) in this context of John and James’ argument about having the best seats in the coming Kingdom is to read something else into ‘ransom’. 

There are some other problems in turning this precious truth of God’s gracious forgiveness of us through Christ into the dominant meaning of the Crucifixion. If we repeat Sunday by Sunday the cycle of repentance, confession and forgiveness in our liturgy where does this take us? Crudely it means we can sin during the week and be forgiven on Sunday. Of course this is not what is intended. But that is what it seems to do. Furthermore when it is the priest / minister always leading that part of the liturgy it suggests they have a role that the layperson does not. In effect this practice domesticates the Christian Faith. Co-dependence develops with the Christian needing regular forgiveness. Implicit is the worshippers’ dependence upon the ordained worship leader. This may deal with our guilt and this is important, but it does not help us help see ourselves as agents of the Gospel bringing faith, hope and love to others. The notion of ‘Christ Jesus as our Substitute paying the price for our sins’ coupled with the repeated liturgical symbolism conveys a contrary image to the people of God as citizens of the Kingdom of God standing with Christ against evil. 

By the way the emphasis on this Substitutionary theory of Atonement was not emphasised by the first Christians. We must turn to the 11th Century and Anselm, the Bishop of Canterbury, to see the emergence of this emphasis. Not surprisingly this arises at the dawn of the Christendom. Christendom was a period that ran through the Medieval period and right up to Modernism and reaching its end in the latter part of the 19th Century. For Christendom to operate well it needed a liturgy that would encourage a more domestic approach to the faith rather than a liberating theology. That is why we need to re-think our theological understanding of the Crucifixion.

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Bibliography:

Hendrik Berkhof, Christian Faith  (1979)

Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1995)

Tom Wright, God in Public (2016)

And many other writers have contributed to my thinking.

Peter’s Blog

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Greg Sheridan’s article in the Weekend Australian 04.06.16, Churches are drifting too far from the marketplace of ideas, states that ‘religion is facing crisis in relevance’. He argues that the overwhelming strength of secularism and the strategic irrelevance of the Christian churches’ response to politics and morals is bringing this about.
Sheridan argues that our secularist Australian society generally supports same-sex marriage and that the Church has little influence to stop that movement and even less the moral right. The point is that marriage has already been undermined by the no-fault divorce laws, and this has turned marriage into a legal contract that one can easily dissolve at one’s will. No longer are the Jewish, Christian or other Religions’ theological views supported by the Marriage Act.  Further to the point the Christian churches are unable to enforce their own understanding of marriage on their members. Neither do the Christian churches represent society’s social conscience. The society has moved on from the Church. Our society essentially believes in the individual’s self-autonomy and self-legislation with no recall to a supreme being. And we Christians must confess that these values of secularism have permeated our communities and leaders. Sheridan argues that the churches response is essentially a rear-guard action based on the past understanding that the Christian Church is the conscience of an essentially Christian society. Our society is no longer Christian, though it is indebted to the Christian Church.
The telling point Sheridan makes is that the Christian Church, through its clinging to the notion that Church is the conscience of the nation, moves further into irrelevancy in the eyes of society that has moved away from the Christian Church.  In resisting changes to the marriage act the Christian Church is missing the key issue of religious freedom. It is religious freedom that most likely will suffer, not marriage by the provision for same-sex marriage.
We should not be confused by Sheridan’s point about the irrelevancy of the Church.  The Lord of the Church does not require us to be relevant but loyal to the law of love. At the centre of the Law in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is the law to love your neighbour. In the Christian Scriptures love is to be manifest sacrificially.  The Christian Church is most relevant when it is most loving. So the Church has been most relevant to society when it has practised its ministry of healing and reconciliation. So the notable movements of the great Medieval monasteries that were bastions of care, provision and education stand out, as do the movements to abolish slavery, racism and bring a message of hope and purpose to people.
It is the law of love that must be practiced.  God’s law of love required the people of God to provide for all in their society and especially those who were unable to provide for themselves. Again and again Scripture mentions three categories of marginalised people – the widow, orphan and alien / stranger. God is saying to the people that they must provide for their widows, orphans and even the person, who has no rights to be there, but finds themselves in their community. They must provide by paying a tax for their well-being [Deut 26:12; Lev 19: 34; 24:22].
There are troubled voices in our society looking for purpose and meaning, restoration and care of nature and a responsible and respectful provision for refugees. This is where the Christian churches should be focusing their energy and faith.    And we should be working to ensure the religious freedom of all as changes are made to such areas as the marriage law.
Rev Peter C Whitaker 
Leighmoor Uniting Church, Moorabbin Victoria.  pcwhitaker@icloud.com

Dealing with Death and Great Loss

Dealing with Death & Great Loss: Learning to love someone in their absence.
 
Our much loved son-in-law, John, took his own life recently. It was a devastating blow. How do we deal with death?  As a minister I am often at the bedside-of-death.  The reality of death and significant loss is part of the warp and woof of my professional life. But John’s death troubled me deeply.
 
One of my daughters passed on to the family an article by Lucy Hone who lost her 12-year-old daughter in a motor accident.  Lucy makes some interesting points. Apart from all the well meaning things that people say to us there is a general view that we need to move on. The collective wisdom hitherto has said that we should get on with life. That means we are expected to pack up, put away, and clear out the majority if not all of the memories. Bluntly put, it’s a severing of our bonds with the deceased.
 
Lucy Hone writes as an academic psychology researcher and points to the current research that indicates that the majority of people show positive resilience to death and great loss, and that there are new strategies for grieving. She writes:
 
“ … contemporary bereavement research suggests … the bereaved who somehow manage to cultivate an ongoing connection with the dead seem to grieve more easily. Tom Attig, past president for the Association of Death Education and Counseling, who has written and taught extensively about death, bereavement, and grieving, believes that the key to effective grieving lies in making the transition from loving someone in the present to loving them in their absence. “We can continue to ‘have’ what we have ‘lost’, that is, a continuing, albeit transformed, love for the deceased.
 
We have not truly lost our years of living with the deceased or our memories. Nor have we lost their influences, their inspirations, their values, and the meanings embodied in their lives. We can actively incorporate these into new patterns of living.” In other words, we can work out what their legacy is.
 
I have certain rituals that remind me of her (says Lucy of her daughter who died). I wrap my wet hair up in her old Barbie towel after swimming, just as she used to, I wear her necklace when I need extra strength, we continue to celebrate her birthday at the same spot on the beach each year, surrounded by her friends and eating B.B.Q. Kettle chips in her honour. When I spy something that reminds me of her, that I know she would love, I post a photo on Instagram … .”
 
When I read Lucy’s helpful article on the World Wide Web I immediately thought of the Jewish and Christian tradition. It made me conscious that we don’t always use our theological traditions well. For me, I must confess, to face death and great loss is to move on with life. I also know that is easier said than done. I also know that when we sweep horrible things under the carpet, so to speak, they emerge at awkward times and bite us. Sometimes we are unconscious of that happening.
 
What do our theological traditions teach us?  When the Jews were dragged off into slavery in Babylon in 587 BC, they didn’t forget their traumatic and deep loss of Temple, City and home. They remembered. They told stories. They remembered what it was like. They developed rituals of prayer, reading and sharing together. (We get the concept of Synagogue from this experience.) Their remembering was peppered with praise.  They lamented and they praised God. Their recalling of the past and their praise of God shaped their future.
 
Then I thought of the disciples – those men and women who sat at Jesus’ feet and drank in his teaching and actions.  They also remembered Jesus. They came together and remembered. It wasn’t easy. Some went off fishing. Some wanted to be alone like Thomas. I know they had the Resurrection that was a huge inspiration, but they also had to deal with the traumatic change from having Jesus with them and having Jesus present in a different way.  What they did was remembered. They came together. They remembered what Jesus did with bread and wine. They shared the stories of Jesus. They wrote down those stories and the stories of their new way of living with Jesus.
 
I confess when I work with people who are bereaved I don’t often mention the dead by name waiting for the bereaved to do so. By doing this I am encouraging the notion of moving on and severing the bonds!  I will change that now. I recognise that we need to learn to talk about our loved one, or the great loss we have experienced. That this is helpful.  It is part of ‘transitioning from loving someone in the present to loving them in their absence’.
 
So coping with our grief is not a forgetting but a remembering. It is responding positively to the great ‘loss’ and remembering our loved one and loving them in their absence. There will be a difference to the remembering that becomes a downward spiral of sorrow for our loss as opposed to remembering our loved one for what they gave and give us now.  Our rituals of remembrance are not about creating a shrine of sorrow, but a memorial of inspiration.
 
The father of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard, said that the great remembrance meals of the Passover and Holy Communion are ways of looking back so we can go forward. At the heart of Judaism’ remembrance of God’s salvation is a remembrance of the past so that they can step into the future, as is the Christian Holy Communion or Eucharist.
 
So I sense that to remember my son-in-law, John  (as I do my parents), my life will be tinged with a personal sorrow, but simultaneously enhanced with thanksgiving for his / their lives.
 
I pray and hope that this may help you.
 
Peter Whitaker (Rev)

Minister- Peter Whitaker

Hello and welcome. I have been at Leighmoor for four years now. For me it has been a very rewarding ministry.

Together we are exploring what it means to be a missional church as opposed to a Christendom model church. (You will find a more expansive comment on Christendom and Missional model churches in the section ‘Theological Reflections’.) We have come along way in two years and there is a real openness to this concept in this faith community that was raised in the Christendom church model. I offer a simple definition of a missional church as a church that has missionaries not members. We have committed ourselves to acting evangelically by using the ALPHA course. This has been a real blessing to the 12 participants in our initial one. And others in the church are wanting to sign up for this year’s course. Evangelism begins with us. Evangelism is at the heart of mission say theologians like David Bosch and Darrell Guder. Of course this is only the beginning and we have a long way to travel.

The ministry at Leighmoor is underpinned by a lively music programme spearheaded by my wife, Gillian. The pulpit ministry attempts to open the scriptures to understand the intentions and understandings of the original writers and readers of the 1stCentury church, and what this means for us.

I have come to this church with a deep sense of call and a love for God in Christ who has transformed my life. I love the church and believe God wants to see it prosper as a lighthouse to the wider community. In these first two years we have seen discernable personal and congregational growth.

I hope you find this brief introduction of Leighmoor and myself as minister helpful, and I offer these following general comments on my background.

Years of academic reading in the field of New Testament, articularly at Tyndale House, Cambridge UK, , have enriched my life. I have focussed on educational practice and research, but have also reflected on how the Church might relate the Gospel to students in a secular institution. I continue to read widely always coming back to the Bible and the history behind the New Testament churches.

Ordained in 1972, I have had 22 years of parish ministry in South Africa, Wales and Australia. A significant part of my ministry has been in Christian Education with six years as a chaplain, and almost twelve years as the chief executive officer of the Council for Christian Education in Schools (Access). Many things have shaped my life but not least my conversion experience and ministering in a country torn apart by racism.

As much as my ministry is my life, I also embrace life on a wider front. My wife, Gillian, is a music teacher and a fine accompanist. She joins me in this ministry as my friend, critic and partner in the Gospel. Together we enjoy music, reading, films, theatre, bushwalking, motorcycling, and I am a very enthusiastic dinghy sailor. Our three grown-up children, Bradley, Robyn, Heather and their partners Bianca, Peter and John, fill our lives with much pleasure, as do our two grandchildren, Jasmin and Keir. We can’t exclude ‘Spyder’ our black cat – our constant companion at home.

(Rev) Peter Whitaker

M.A., B.D., Dip, Ed.

The Qur’an

The Qur’an

 

I read 400 pages of a 500 page English translation of the Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. I was surprised by the contents.  I am a reader of ancient texts. I understand the need to be sensitive to context and history. So I say I read the text rather than studied it knowing the limitations but at the same time a reading of an ancient text provides a reasonable insight. The first thing that I noted was the predominance and repetition of the words submit (Islam), obedience, duty and punishment. They were repeated throughout the writing and were ubiquitous. The next thing I noted was the absence of the verb ‘to love’. In 400 pages I found it used once in reference to God and humankind (I may have missed some other instances, but doubt it).  God is spoken of repeatedly as all powerful, merciful and supreme. Mercy is shown to the faithful and the righteous (those who submit) and there seems to be nothing akin to the concept of God found in the Parable of the Waiting Father (Luke 15).

I became surprised after 100 pages or so not to find any explicit (there may have been implicit references but very subtle) reference to the Shema, the two Great Commandments, Jesus commandments to love one another as he loved us, and to love our enemies.

The Qur’an contains a polemic against Judaism and Christianity.  In fact what amounts to a creedal faith statement includes the denouncing that God has a son or a ‘partner’.  The latter is a reference to the Trinity.

Furthermore the inequality of women and men is not so subtly shown in the passages on divorce which note that a man has an ‘advantage’ over a woman in the process. And the advice on inheritances clearly has males receiving more than the females.

I came away with two strong feelings. Firstly disturbed by Holy Scriptures of a major religion that is loaded with notions of righteousness and punishment that God will punish the unrighteousness. Further more God punishes the unrighteousness – those who have not submitted – through God’s earthly agents. Secondly, I would love to sit down with an Imam and discuss these matters openly to see what I have missed or … .

But I came away understanding why so easily a Muslim could violently oppose those who apparently insulted or opposed them. The Qur’an implicitly if not explicitly requires such action!  That’s my first reading!

 

07.10.2012

Is the Worldwide Church going through a Great Reformation?

Is the Worldwide Church going through a Great Reformation?

 

Phyllis Tickle in her book “Emergence Christianity” (2012) says we are. She has provided a chronicle of what has happened, what is happening  and why it matters. She demonstrates that the Church is going through changes that are affecting structures and doctinal bases. She traces all the movements that have responded to the major decline in  institutional churches in the Western world. These responses range from the Taizé to Pentecostlism, and from house churches to Mega churches. She identifies theological trends that have supported these responses to the challenge facing institutional Christianity in the West. She names amongst those who have been most helpful Newbigin and Moltmann.

 

What Tickle goes on to say is that the Emergent / Emerging Church has:

Œ a new base for its authority. It is the life of the community in its practise of Kingdom values that Jesus taught and proclaimed. It is no longer the Reformation’s mantra ‘Scripture Alone’. 

Œ a more opened ended approach to the role of the church in the salvation of humans.  The emergent/emerging churches act more inclusively and emphasise participation in ministry as a sign of membership rather than the completion of standards/requirements set by the church. It also attempts to respond to the complexity of what it means to be human.

Πit does not accept the substitutionary theory of Atonement as the principal explanation of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Reading her work I found myself agreeing with much of what has and is taking place, identifying strongly with the emergent/emerging church movement, and recognising some of the strengths and weaknesses of my own journey of 45 ministry years with the institutional church.

 

I find myself in a very different ‘place’ to where I was 40 odd years ago. I attempt to lead the church  of which I have pastoral charge through these challenging times.  I thank God that they have welcomed a Taizé style worship service and have entusiastically embarked on establishing a MessyChurch service for families. In there own way I see them responding to re-formation in a traditional institutional church.

 

Furthermore Tickle’s work compelled me to reflect on my theological journey. My watershed experience that turned me more fully to the Church – faith in Christ Jesus as my Lord and Saviour – was under the auspices of Evangelicism/Fundamentalism. My formation as a Christian came through a liberal tradition and Liberalism itself. I never ditched Evangelicism but distanced myself mainly because such Christians in my country of birth ignored the critical isssue of Apartheid in South Africa. In time I came to reject Liberalism because of its epistomology and shortly followed that rejection with a rejection of Evangelicism because both ‘isms’ ground their theological processes in modernism. (I have never rejected the call to be evangelical.) Liberalism attempt to make the faith rational using the tools of modernism (Doubt, cause and effect and analogy) did not do justice to the mystery and beauty of God in Christ.  E.g. Crossan and Borg are a case in point where in their  book on  ‘The First Paul’ they provide an a political-social analysis that explains why Paul used the concept of ‘lord’ and applied it to Jesus. This is why I see Crossan and the like as liberals – they are trying to explain things. And this has a limited value.

 

09.10.2012

Trolls, Inhumanity, War….

Trolls, inhumanity, war …

What does trolling have to do with war? It might come as a surprise, but it is the first step in treating someone as less than human. To bad mouth – to denigrate another human being is the to treat them as less than human, less than yourself. It is a devaluing.  Have you ever noticed what happens in war. The enemy is never spoken of in you terms. E.g. the people of that country.  What we have is the Germans became Huns or Nazis, the Argintinians became the Argies, and Arab people Al Quaeda. It is easily to go and shoot people whose collective name is reduced to a non-human-term.

Jesus went to the heart of the matter. He was not so worried about the surface issues, but what came from the inner core of a person. Does our trolling represent our inner attitude to others.  Reflect on Jesus and that he gave us the golden rule in the positive – do to others as you would have them do to you.