Lake Davis, near Woomera, 2016

One Man's Web

In an early revision the reading this week reading was at the end of the Gospel of John. The reading sounds like the end, the final summing up, and I remember that I was a little surprised, on turning the page in my very first reading of John, to find that there was another chapter! It means that John puts here the things he thinks are of vital importance for understanding Jesus.

Key among such things is that we meet the risen Christ in worship.  Jesus appears to the disciples on the first day of the week, and then a week later. This is the sign that points to weekly worship, and doors shut or not, there Christ appears.  We should note that there is an almost word for word repetition in the description of the two weeks:

19:1 the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Ioudaioi, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.

19:26 Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

On the second occasion, the fact of the shut doors is slightly less pronounced, but the resurrection Gospel is identical; Jesus comes to the disciples; Jesus stands among them; Jesus says, "Peace be with you."

Repetition is important. It means: Listen! This is essential....

What we can miss ... is that there is another repetition in the text this week, which is equally important. Yes, "Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you,’" but then:

20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (John 20:10)

Looking only at this first instance for a moment, do you see that the convincing factor in their response to Jesus— what leads to their response— is to see the wounds in his hands and side? It is by his wounds that we know the risen Christ... Read on >>>>

20190421crossIn our congregation we have used a Good Friday liturgy written by Dorothy McCrae for a number of years. On the Sunday, we have often then placed the Communion Table over the outline left by the cross. I explained this to one of the small children at Good Friday this year, and saw him a few minutes later, go and stand next to the cross and say, "We can stand here and be safe!"

You will see reference to this-- we move the table back into place during the Easter Service-- towards the end of the sermon below. The draft of this sermon was written several days ago, and if featured the biblical character Job. Sermon drafts always change, and so does this one. So now we have the sermon rather more like it will be this morning. May it speak to you. Andrew, Easter Morning 2019. Read on >>>>

With God's permission, the Accuser takes everything away from Job. His riches are destroyed, his children are killed and, finally, Job is beset by illness. He endures terrible suffering. But he is faithful to God through it all. And at the end of the Book of Job it says: (Chapter 42)

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before....  17And Job died, old and full of days.

Well... there is a recent addition to the Book of Job:

When he was very old, Job came to the Lord, and thanked the Lord for all his riches, and prayed that the Lord would forgive his impertinence, and said, "Lord, what about my first children who were killed? How will you repay them? You brought evil upon them, too. All to make a point with Satan. How will they be repaid?

And the Lord could gave him answer, but Job could not hear it, for it was not yet a time when Humanity could conceive of Resurrection. So Job waited, and died, in hope and longing, saying to his daughters, "My Children, God is all there is. God is my only hope. But I am disappointed, for there seems to be no answer to life except that for many of us it is blood and destruction and unforgivable pain. We can only wait and trust for an answer." ... Read on >>>>

The story rings true enough in part. The women come to bury him. Cleopas and his friend go home in despair, knowing that it is all over, and that the world remains as it always was. The men dismiss the women's experience as "an idle tale." It is entirely believable, for we know this is how the world works. Nothing changes.

But then there is a story of men in the dazzling clothes of divine messengers, and the claim that Jesus has risen. And the story that he appears, in person, to people travelling on the road, and then to Peter, and then to all of them. What does one do with that?

Such stories have credence only for two kinds of people. There are those who need something to believe and who will believe anything which suits their purpose: Those who subscribe to flat earth foolishness, faked moon landings, or anti-vaccination hysteria. If such examples are not enough, our utter pliability and suggestibility, shown in countless psychology experiments, and by the persuasive power of advertising and social media manipulation, should lead us to be deeply cautious about the reliability of personal testimony.

By contrast, we can trust the engineering of a bridge because it comes from the power of scientific experiment: careful measurement, detailed testing, controlled conditions, and constant repetition, all building upon the knowledge we already possess, and publicly documented. We trust our lives to a bridge without much thought. How much can we trust the completely counter intuitive testimony of a few people two thousand years ago; testimony of something which we did not, and do not observe? How many dead people have you been able to ask to chew on a piece of fish when they came back?

Understand that I am not seeking to deny the resurrection of Jesus. I simply do not entrust myself to his Gospel on the basis of this one story in Luke. Rather, this story helps me explore and explain what I have met.

For I am among the other folk who give this story credence; the ones who pay attention to it because they too, in some way, have met the same person raised from the dead. Then the story changes from a fantastic claim to a corroboration. It leads us to say, "Yes! That's talking about what I have experienced." And that changes everything... Read on >>>>

Well, we're in an election campaign.  And we are seeing all the usual ridiculousness; we even have one party ridiculing the electric vehicle policy of another, although it has the same policy itself! No wonder we ordinary voters get a bit cynical! 

Here..., we need to be careful. Even the relatively peaceful elections of Australia are life and death affairs: people will live or die depending on the results of this election; certain political parties favour the rich and the privileged far more than other people, and the consequence of their election will be to move Australia farther away from anything remotely like the Kingdom of Heaven in which God loves all people just the same, and treats all people with just the same respect. Longer hospital queues, and lower unemployment benefits, actually kill people.

This is all relevant because the bible reading for Palm Sunday starts out with an election campaign.  It doesn't sound like that, because the official lectionary leaves out some very important text, but that text is the context of the reading. The official Revised Common Lectionary text says in verse 28, "After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem." As we know, after he had said this... is Luke's way of saying to us: "Go back and read the story before the Lectionary reading. You won't be able to understand the Lectionary reading properly unless you read the story before it."

So if we go back, here is what we get! This is the story that comes just before Palm Sunday.

11 As they were listening to this, [Jesus] went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.”... 

This is an election campaign in the days when people didn't get to vote. In fact, some scholars think this story reflects a real incident concerning Archelaeus who was the son of the King Herod who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. When that first King Herod died, his son Archelaeus went to Rome and lobbied Caesar to get his father's job. At the same time, another political group from Jerusalem sent a delegation to Caesar to persuade him not to appoint Archelaeus.  Archelaeus won Caesar's support, and when he came back to Jerusalem, he killed numbers of those who had opposed him.... Read on >>>>

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One night, a man had to walk home through Belfast during The Troubles. On a dark corner, a gun was stuck in his back and a voice hissed, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?"

With some relief he said, "I'm Jewish!"

"Are you a Catholic Jew, or a Protestant Jew?"

I am in two minds about telling this story. It clearly illustrates how we can be consumed by an issue and therefore be completely blind to what is in front of us, but I suspect there are other cultural issues at play to which I am blind. However, the story has a clarity which becomes muddied when we come closer to home seeking a similar illustration; for example, the slow torture of refugees in our concentration camps, where even little children speak of suicide.  "But we have to do this to stop the people smugglers and stop people drowning at sea, and keep the country safe," has been the blind mantra of the Australian politics of fear for a couple of decades. We are blind to what is in front of us.

Also close to home, Jesus struggles with a comparable blindness among his own people. Kings were the only way people could think of politics, along with "Are you a Jew or a Roman? Whose side were you on? You must choose a side." People were blind to any sense that perhaps the troubles in which they lived were something greater than Jew versus Roman, and unable to see that perhaps Jewish Nationalism and The Roman Empire were, in the end, the same thing. Rather like the bipartisan dehumanisation and torture of refugees by Australia.

So as Jesus came close to Jerusalem, people could only think of Kings, and Uprisings, and Victories, and Restoring the Kingdom. Luke tells us that Jesus "went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately." (Luke 19:1) It's an appalling tale of brutality and injustice, and of the pointlessness of much political struggle; those who oppose the tyrant end up being killed; the collaborators got richer, as usual. Tyranny ruled.

This parable tells us nothing about God. Jesus and God are not in this story, and if we find them there, we have misunderstood the Gospel entirely... Read on >>>>

thumb_hillclimbThe way we look at a hill changes everything. Hills and head winds are often perceived as the big bogey of cycling, and are a major deterrent for beginners. Certainly, in a race, hills can be enormously significant, but that's because in a race the idea is to cause the other rider to burn energy faster than yourself— so that you get to the line first, and a hill is a very good place to do that. But in the real world a hill is just... there.... Read on >>>>

20190402_8abovefallscreekMy holiday ride consisted of two day loop from Bright, Victoria, over Mount Hotham to Omeo, with the return through Falls Creek. This ride has some significant climbs. It is mostly uphill from Harrietville to Mt Hotham, which is a distance of 30 kilometres, with a climb of around 1700 metres; this section has an average grade of 6%.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here

Let's translate the reading into 'Austrayan.'

In Luke Chapter 12 Jesus is preaching a long sermon. And near the end of it, things are a bit uncomfortable, because people are beginning to realise that being a Christian might not be as simple as they imagined. It might involve serious arguments within families: two against three, and three against two.

Somebody in the crowd is feeling a bit uncomfortable about all this and they cry out to Jesus, "Yeah, but God will still punish the sinners, won't he? You know: Like that time Pilate murdered those Galileans in the temple.  I mean, if they had been real, faithful followers of God, then God would have protected them, right?"

And Jesus says, "No. Not at all. That's not how God works. Those Galileans in the temple were no bigger sinners than any other Galileans. Just like the people that had the tower of Siloam fall on top of them. They were no more sinners, and no less sinners than anybody else."

This is sometimes profoundly challenging to us, because we like to think— somewhere in the back of our mind— that really, if you get cancer, then probably you were doing something wrong and God is punishing you...

Well, usually we don't quite come out and say it like that— although I have heard it. What we tend to do is say things like, "They didn't have enough faith," when someone doesn't get healed after prayer. And, while I don't think I ever thought God was punishing someone because they got sick, I always had the feeling that I wouldn't get cancer, and I wouldn't get sick because, after all, I was a good Christian, and God would look after me. But if you think about it, it all amounts to the same thing: God will protect those who are on God's side. And those who are not on God's side... the ones that God ...  maybe...   doesn't love as much? ... ... ... Well, anything could happen to them.

But Jesus says, "No. That's not how God is. Life is not like that." ... Read on >>>>

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