Lake Davis, near Woomera, 2016

One Man's Web

The panorama: I say to myself, "Surely you can make this shorter!" But there is a panorama here which is too important to ignore, and our reading is at its centre...
The centre: I want to sharpen the problem of being too busy to eat. We have contrasting feasts in the text of Mark; those of Herod and Jesus. If we do not eat of Jesus' banquet ourselves, we will inevitably find that we are sitting at Herod's table... Read on >>>>

Suddenly the death of John the Baptist is injected into the story of Jesus. It has always felt slightly out of place to me. Just as the disciples begin to succeed, we are told of John's death. And the story "is the one scene in all of Mark's Gospel in which Jesus makes no appearance." (Lohse)

I first began to understand John's death as the one of three feasts; a feast which stands in appalling contrast to Jesus' two feasts with the crowds in Mark 6:30-44, and Mark 8:1-10. Jesus' feeding of the crowd is everything Herod's banquet is not. His feasts are for the common people rather than the top end of town; all people, even Gentiles, are included.  His banquets are not characterised by violence and murder; rather than the coveted place to be, they are an image of blessed life in the presence of the shepherd of Israel, in green pastures far from any palace. In those two feasts, Jesus is a shepherd rather than a Herod.... But Mark's artistry and inspiration goes far deeper than this beginning. He contrasts the feasts of the kingdom with something at once ordinary and terrifying. And seemingly inescapable.... Read on >>>>

20180708mansplainingThere was a joint meeting of two regions of our denomination. There were to be speakers. I went in anticipation of some visiting authority who would bring us wisdom to take home. And found that the first, and main speaker, was a still baby-faced colleague who was in the first year of his first parish. I was ambushed by resentment. Why had I not been noticed? I felt belittled. Why had I not been asked to speak? All the hurt of my childhood home town— not so far from where we were meeting— flared up. It was a great grace that my competitor for honour turned out to have been very well chosen. His key point remains with me after twenty years, and he is a good friend and colleague who continues to bless me, rather than someone to be rejected and unheard.

The Individual
The text of Mark 6:1-6 could be seen to say something about home town issues, but I think it is also a summary of a greater section of Mark, and viewed as such, it is much richer.

A colleague wrote of  last week's text that

It also reminds me how much more all people were understood in terms of their relationships and less as individuals in that time and culture.  Women’s identity was even more derivative of their relationship with a primary man, but even men were defined this way.  I’m thinking of Bartimaeus, which means son of Timaeus…

And she notes correctly that the same happens to Jesus

[But it was also said of Jesus:] “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”  (KD)

What is happening here with the use of names?... Read on >>>>

This is a sermon which deals with violence. It speaks about sexual assault, and all the other violent exclusions we commit against sisters and brothers. I wonder if I have any right to speak about these things, but maybe a male voice is needed; we don't listen to the women.

The text starts with Jesus and a leader of the synagogue… Sometimes it's called the Healing of Jairus' Daughter, but if we look carefully we can see the story uses his name only once… and keeps calling him the leader of the synagogue.  I think it might be called The Enlightening of the Leader of the Synagogue, because it just so happens that the leader of the synagogue is called Jairus: Jairus means enlightened one. Do you see it?—at the end of the story he really is an enlightened one.

Jairus' daughter is an unnamed little girl, but the daughter of a leader of the synagogue is also… the community of faith… This is a story about the death and resurrection of a faith community; it could be our spiritual leader— John— coming to Jesus and saying about us, "My little daughter— my little congregation— is at the point of death."

The story of the little daughter has another story in the middle of it, and that's the story of an unnamed woman who has been ill for 12 years. She has been bleeding life for 12 years. She is slowly dying, too. ... Read on >>>>

I spent too long in the emergency department yesterday, and last night. It is beyond ironic, after witnessing a person suffering under many doctors, seeing them made no better, but rather grow worse, that the lectionary should open this morning to the story of "a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years."  It is almost the worst thing to sit hours in hospital and be able to do nothing. The worst thing is to be turned away.

Jesus has faced down the savagery of the elements, which were always suspected to be driven by chaotic and evil forces. (Mark 4:35-41) He has faced down terrifying evil which is eroding and brutalising people from the inside out. (Mark 5:1-21)  And now we come to intractable illness; a slow bleeding death which is sandwiched by Mark inside a story of the final injustice of premature dying. (Mark 5:21-43) The sudden dying of a "little daughter" has at its heart— comes from the same place as— a long bleeding of energy and life from the nation and from its people. (And, ultimately, from all of us.) The number twelve links child, country, and the bleeding woman at the centre of this healing of illness. And the beloved daughter links the spiritual leadership of the nation, the synagogue, to the same loss of blood; that is, the part of us which carries life... Read on >>>>

There are two ways to look at this story of Jesus calming the storm on the lake. Since the story was first told, there have been people who believe it is literally true: He commanded an actual physical gale to stop and it did.  And since the story was first told, there have been people who understand the story to be about a deeper truth than the mere calming of a physical storm; true in another, perhaps even deeper, way. They see that Jesus will take us safely through all the storms of life when we are about to be drowned. He will empower us to live in the eye of the storm, to live well, despite evil, destruction, and death, raging around us. We will be able to live in a way which is good for us and in a way which God desires— which is the same thing, even though it seems impossible and too hard.... Read on >>>>

When I lived with Pitjantjatjara folk, we ... worked around each other's cultural differences, and generally made sense of each other, and of what we were saying and doing. But occasionally we would walk into complete misapprehension of each other— I use the word deliberately. It was more than mis-understanding. There is deep anxiety involved when we simply lack the cultural hooks to make any sense of each other. I'm reminded of the general hilarity and community care happening in the airing of a domestic dispute I once witnessed in Aileron; children were playing in its midst, but the city white folk who arrived in the middle of it, were much closer to terrified than they were confused. ...

The story of the storm on the lake is a similar event. Mark D. Davis neatly sums up the preacher's dilemma.

Do we really think the wind and the sea have any sort of agency, whereby a command to them can be obeyed (or not)? Is a responsible preacher compelled to ask these sorts of questions? We can be sure that ... some of our listeners will believe this story in literal language and others will dismiss it because it seems like we are believing it in literal language. What is more beneficial – to address these kinds of issues out loud or to let them fester underneath the surface?

For the folk in any congregation there are two issues. One is how to get on with the bloke in the next seat whose understanding of the world is incomprehensible to their own. The deeper issue is to comprehend that neither he nor I can fully access how the culture of Mark's time works. Mark 4 is  one of those places of complete misapprehension, made worse because we can't talk with Mark.... Read on >>>>


This tree provided me with some seconds of confusion. It's a White Cedar, like all the other trees on that street. But the great profusion of leaves are of a Mediterranean Fig. It stands in the street behind the church and, one day, I hope to pick a fig from a cedar tree. For the Community of Divine Love we often call the Kingdom of God is like a fig which grows in a white cedar.

How does a fig seed get its roots into a cedar and flourish through the long summer of Adelaide? It's a parasite disrupting and feeding off the neat suburban vision of the local council. It is helplessly complicit in the vision— such as it is— of the surrounding culture. And it is so vulnerable. Who knows if the council gardeners will smile at it with indulgence, or slice it out with a chainsaw? But the fruit is large and rich, entirely different to the hard berries of a white cedar. It is a fig, not a cedar. Read on >>>>

This week's lectionary follows on from the controversy over Jesus' breaking of Sabbath customs. An excerpt from my post follows: 

The text this week (3:20-35) follows Jesus' disruption of the normal patterns of life. On top of breaking the sabbath, he has healed multitudes. He has chosen disciples. (3:13-19) And chosen a highly symbolic number of disciples; twelve disciples might symbolise a new Israel.  He is the new celebrity which the 'powers that be' must assess, for the elites are also subject to the consternation everyone else feels. Is he simply another Kardashian, apparently vacuous but really a financially astute clone and imitator of themselves, playing the same game, and whose moments in the sun helpfully shield the elite from scrutiny? Or is he a challenge to them?  The words of Mark 1 are not, first of all, admiration. They are consternation and anxiety:

27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’

By verse six of Chapter three, the Pharisees have decided that Jesus is indeed a challenge, and a challenge which must be eliminated. And in this week's text, the scribes are now set to inflame the disruption and consternation over Jesus into outrage and, hopefully, to direct that outrage against Jesus.... Read on >>>>

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