The Stuart Highway, near Kulgera NT 2016

One Man's Web

We don't really believe the end will come. There will be disasters, certainly, but not for us. We live as though

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
   ten thousand at your right hand,
   but it will not come near you. (Ps 91)

But it will, Jesus says.

They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name... 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name...

The author of Psalm 91 thought

8 You will only look with your eyes
   and see the punishment of the wicked. (Ps 91)

But Jesus warns of a time when it will be us who are the hated ones, even though we are not wicked.

I have lived my life in a bubble, seeing the ill fortune of others and deciding almost without consciousness that something about their living had been wrong; it would not come near me.

I was like a farmer's kid who helped fire the stubble during the autumn. Not knowing the day had been carefully chosen for its lack of wind, not knowing that the neighbours were on alert, blind to the fact that sheep had been left in the stubble for weeks, feeding and trampling it down, I would accompany my father with excitement as the torch was dragged around the paddock. The tame fire meant we could cultivate the land a few weeks later without clogging the machinery.

And then one day I went to a real fire, and stood with the men as they debated how to control the burn. It was only a small fire, really, at the base of a gully.  And then in a flicker towards the slope it jumped a quarter mile, roaring into our faces almost before we realised it was coming. We staggered back into the fallow paddock behind us; without that, most of us would have perished... Read on >>>>

From the text ... he has a little dig at them, which probably delighted the people who were listening. These guys were the Fundamentalists of their time. You can't change anything in Scripture, they said, so Jesus puts a little challenge in front of them.   Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac— the fathers of the faith,  had been dead for centuries by the time of Moses. But God did not say to Moses, whom the Sadducees understood had written their bible,  that He had been the God of those three men. He said I am the God of Abraham. I am the God of Jacob. I am the God of Isaac. They're not dead, but raised. How can you not believe in the resurrection, Jesus says!

It's not an argument that carries any weight for us, or even makes much sense to us, but if you were a Sadducee being  put on the spot in a public place, it meant people would laugh at you: Because you reckoned you were the ones who had really mastered the Bible. You knew what was right and wrong. Your theology was pure. And yet here Jesus is, making you look a bit silly with an argument that you haven't got an answer for.

The key thing in this passage was not that Jesus won a schoolyard argument. The key thing is a verse that Luke leaves out, for some reason. Jesus said one other thing to the Sadducees which Mark and Matthew tell us. The beginning of Jesus' answer to the Sadducees is a blunt repudiation of them. He doesn't argue with them at all. He simply says, "You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."  And that statement is as true today as it was then... Read on >>>>

We come to God for comfort, peace, a way to live in a harsh world.

And God says Yes, always Yes.

But what do we really seek? We are human. We inevitably seek the shortest, most obvious way, which seems will take less effort. And, in our pain and need to survive, it tends to be all about us. We can take the cheap option and miss the deeper pleasures of life.

Some theologies reward this.  If we "say the magic words," and believe, affirm, say the right thing, we will be saved. There will be some shibboleths— don't smoke or don't drink... whatever, but as long as we fit the mores or habits of our group.

These theologies have two underlying effects. One is that they demand little change in us outside of the group mores. Any group wants stability, not change and its discomfort. The other implication is that theology and faith are an intellectual exercise; that is, we can master them by intellect and by adhering to various doctrines.

It seems to work because if we can swallow the doctrines and group requirements we feel inclusion, approval, and some reduction of anxiety.  Church can be entertaining. The contacts of a wider group can be a bit like being a Mason or KSC: employment contacts etc can improve. There can be the relief of a well-defined set of rules to live by, for which we are constantly approved.

But it is a short cut. It makes faith all about us.  By contrast.... Read on >>>>>

We are here. We don't know where Here came from or why it is here, if we are honest. We have charted a biological and planetary history back billions of years, but why and how remain as big a mystery as they ever were.

What we do know is that there is good. In all the ambiguity and the horror of our experience, there is also much which causes us to flourish. There is displayed within people a beauty which is inspiring and worthy of the name Good, even Love.

There is also evil, or at least, a great poverty of goodness. Good seems to struggle to survive non-good, and is often overwhelmed.

We can hope that Here is not some inscrutable cosmic accident. We can hope that good, if not the design of the place, or the desire of the place, might still become our defining characteristic. Heaven, The Eschaton, Nirvana— all these witness to our human hope that good will prevail, and witness to our recognition that we are far from such a situation.

We might hope that there will be a time when The Good is the norm for this place where we are, and even a time when The Good has completely overcome evil. But we know that when things rule, there is usually imposition, and the beginning of not good... Read on >>>>

We all die. But we like to think we can do an end run around death. It shows up in our sympathy for those who must remain childless, and in that apparently irresistible question with its underlying disapproval: "When will you have children, Dear?" There is special significance and pain where there is no child for the continuance of the family line.  Speaking of the world of the Sadducees, James Alison says, "The only way of bluffing past the universal reign of death was by having children... The only way to have a blessing in the land of the living was by having children, descendants."  (Raising Abel pp36) We are not much different.

I suspect this is one reason the climate catastrophe is so confronting, as is the fear of nuclear devastation when we remember it: Climate catastrophe means we all come to the end of the line.

When we approach this reading it is not only that we deal with the universal human fear of death. We read as members of a death denying society. Chaplains and clinicians know well the anger which can be expressed when doctors say nothing more can be done; families sometimes insist that brain dead bodies be kept alive. We are surely unique as a culture that Karen Ann Quinlan was "an important figure in the history of the right to die controversy."   The notion of the right to die would be inconceivable to most people who have ever lived... Read on >>>>

I want to put Zacchaeus into our life story. What happens when Jesus comes to us and suddenly, there up a tree, we see a Zacchaeus? Will we pull him down, or follow him to Jesus? ...

Joseph Fitzmyer, hardly a raving radical, says [about the fact that Zacchaeus already gives half his income to the poor]

Part of the problem is the modern reader's reluctance to admit that the Lucan Jesus could declare the vindication of a rich person who was concerned for the poor and even for his own customary conduct. ...  Read on >>>>

You can listen  here

I am afraid.

When I have worked too hard and too long, and when life is throwing more at me than I can handle, I begin to fall apart.  Always at the back of that disintegration is my fear: How can I go on? How will I survive? What will happen to me?

If I can't keep going, then I will die— and what will happen to me then? That is the root of the fear.

We can learn very young that nobody will look after us. There is a girl child who used to play in the street with her brothers. The boys would chiack the rich whitefella riding past, or maybe play chicken by running in front of me. But she would look at me with blank, dead eyes which, if I did not look away, began to smoulder with the deepest hostility I have ever seen.

Those eyes betrayed trauma I shudder to imagine. Her material poverty is worse than anything I have ever known. Yet we are the same. We have learned to trust in ourselves that we are righteous because there is no one else to trust. She and I live life in the same pattern, born of isolation as little kids, and there is not much of a distance between us.

Righteous, at base, simply means that we are worth being, and that we deserve life anyway. And that we have a right not to be destroyed and thrust down into the darkness of death.

In all this, gods— if we believe in such things— can't be trusted. If a god is simply a larger and more powerful version of ourselves— what else could there be— we might do what we can to stay 'in its good books,' but we'd be a fool to trust such a god. Better to show such a god— manipulate them into thinking, perhaps— that we've done the right thing and are worthy to be preserved. And hope that it does not see too much of our smouldering eyes. And hope, really, that it's not true that there is a god. Who needs another bastard pushing you around? ... Read on >>>>

At the end of a couple of painful and divided meetings of Presbytery and Synod, the Chairperson reminded us that this would be the last meeting organised by the current Associate General Secretary. It's an enormous task to make these meetings work, and he's done it for years. As we began to applaud, we stood up and turned to where the Chairperson indicated the Associate Gen-Sec was standing at the back of the meeting. And so it was that I saw about 30 people who had remained seated as a group, stunned, grey, grim, barely applauding, if at all. They had just lost a vote to force the Assembly to reconsider recent decisions about marriage within the Uniting Church. What happened next is the subject of this paper.

As someone who is often very judgemental, and was deeply angry about the opposition to the Assembly decision on marriage, I was surprised at my lack of anger or judgement of them— where did that come from!?

I was even more surprised, with a moment's reflection, to find I had considerable sympathy for them; it is a terrible thing to be sure that you are right, and then to be ignored, to be rebuffed, and to find that the meeting continues on without you— as though what you hold dear is done with, and even irrelevant. There was a time when my feelings toward these folk would have been schadenfreude and condemnation; instead, my response was "You poor blokes"— what has happened to me!?

Indeed, it even occurred to me that perhaps some of them were not refusing to stand and applaud out of some principle, or anger, or churlishness, but were simply profoundly shocked by the place in which they found themselves when, shortly before, it had seemed they would win the day. Coming from me, that was unexpectedly charitable. My compassion was unexpected, and a surprise to me.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here

Have you had the experience of discovering that someone you liked, even someone you looked up to, has "gone off the rails?"  What causes that?  Or have you been like a friend of mine who reminded me how we'd all been full of high ideals in Youth Group and we were going to change the world for God... and he said, "Most of us have decided to live in leafy green suburbs with two cars and a beach house and a boat! What happened to us!? Look how many of us don't even go to church!" he said.

What changes people?  What goes wrong?

There is a very uncomfortable truth here. We like to think that we are an independent being: I am me. I choose my course. I make my decisions. I am in charge.   But it's not true... businesses pour billions of dollars into advertising... because it works... They know they can influence us and change us. 

And study after study shows how people who know they are being tested— they know this is a psychology experiment— are terrifyingly suggestible. To the point that people often seriously wonder if we have any free will at all.

We are creatures of habit, and our habits are largely dictated by the people around us... It takes a super human effort  that most of us are not capable of,  to be independent of the culture around us.  The best most of us can do is make sure we have good friends, friends who live well.   They keep us on track.

Have Jesus as a friend... pray because it opens us to God and lets us live by God's example and not Nike's example, and not by the dictates of the Adelaide Advertiser... It's that simple. That is this sermon in a nutshell.

When we have a different set of friends, the world looks different. With one group of friends it would never occur to us to drink and drive or to steal road signs and set fire to wheelie bins because nobody we know does that— you just don't do that!  With another group of friends it's a case of why not fudge your tax return or take stuff home from work— that's actually stealing— because everyone else does it? Well, no, they don't. We only think that because the people around us do that.

This kind of influence goes deep into our ideas.  It affects how we think about God.... Read on >>>>

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