South of the Hugh River, NT 2016

One Man's Web

You can listen here.

We are moving towards the end of Luke's introduction to Jesus and his Gospel. This introduction will end with Chapter 3 as we are told "Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work." (Luke 3:23)  It is the same age as David when he ascended the throne, (2 Sam 5:4) and as Joseph when he became Pharaoh’s servant and "and without [his; ie, Joseph's] consent no one [could] lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." (Gen 41:44-46) We see that Jesus has come to the age of maturity as God's beloved Son, and this is then reinforced by the listing of his genealogy which links his ancestry and inheritance back to Adam and thus to God. Now, the one shown forth, the one spoken about, will begin to speak for himself in Chapter 4, as he resists the temptations of Satan... Read on >>>>

We are beginning a new style of service this week, which includes the minister preaching a much shorter sermon! Here's my first try:

20190106-epiphanyDo you remember the last nativity pageant you saw? No room at the inn, shepherds in the stable, three kings... Well, probably there was no inn at all; the word we translate as an inn is more usually the guest room, the spare room. And when Mary and Joseph arrive unexpectedly, Uncle Fred and Auntie Maud and their kids are already in the guest room, along with John and Mabel's mob. So Joseph's second cousins in Bethlehem put him up in the only space left; the back shed where they keep the donkey... it's a bit like we might get a spot on the back veranda when one of those big old families with 7 kids and 25 grandkids all come home to Grandma's farmhouse for Christmas.... and when Jesus is born they use the only thing handy as a cradle— hey there's a big cardboard box in our carport at the moment; it had the new barbecue in it; use that! (I do not know the owner of this iconic image from Syria. Can you tell me its copyright owner?)  Read on >>>

The Queen and Prince Phillip once spent the night on Hamilton Downs with my Auntie Dawn and Uncle Bill. Dawn told my mum that the Queen took off her gloves, sat on the edge of the bed, and said, "Oh Dawn, it's been such a long day!" Auntie Dawn was charmed by her ordinary decency— she was nice. I wonder if, after some 70 years of this surprisingly ordinary and decent woman as Queen— despite all her privilege, we can have any idea of what the story of the Magi meant, and how unutterably unlike our nativity plays the story really is.

The Magi are not kings. Mark D Davis notes that they find

the Christ child by way of astrology! As the first speaking humans in Matthew's gospel, the magi ask, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage" (v. 2). This unusual route from the stars to the Christ is unique to this story in Matthew and quite unexpected, given the numerous occasions in the Hebrew Bible where astral cults are strongly condemned. Even the creation story of the first chapter of Genesis can be read as a defiant myth of God's sovereignty, embraced by the oppressed Hebrews against the astral cults of their Babylonian oppressors. And yet here are Matthew's astrologists looking to the stars and finding the Christ.

However, there are kings in the story. King Herod, with his power guaranteed by Rome, had pretensions to being King of the Jews, but the gospel is clear that Jesus is King of the Jews. The same Greek word for King is used for both men, and there is no sense in the story of any kind of orderly transition with Charles waiting long and patiently in the wings. Herod will protect his position at any cost. ... Read on >>>>

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With thanks to my friend Lynley, whose conversation is always inspiring.

I was never broken. My peers taught me I was worthless and wrong. I was chosen as a scapegoat among my school companions, and isolated. I was hurt and scarred more than I knew, I struggled to survive, but I was not broken. Instead, I fashioned a life where I was the victim who was nonetheless right, and who held the high moral ground. I became the mirror image of the bullies, more like them than I was unlike them. But always seeking something more, never able to escape the feeling that something was lacking in life.

So I was baptised. With Christ, I died "to the elemental spirits of the universe." (Col 2:20) The imagery of dying with Christ comes from baptism: Those being baptised put off their old clothes and donned a new baptismal robe. I was baptised, but still belonged to the world. I was still in the thrall, and the darkness, of

Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch. All these regulations refer to things that perish with use, they are simply human commands and teachings... [although they] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety... but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. (Col 2:21-23)

I was in that place where "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience" (Col 3:13) were still human regulations; indeed, they were my indulgence in self-imposed piety... Read on >>>> 

If you follow the way that this man Jesus shows you, you will find a life which is sublime. Not famous, not rich, perhaps not even successful in the eyes of the world... but sublime. You will know, and you will rejoice, because you will find you have been led into a life worth having and into a life worth living. God will come to you in your humiliation and affliction and lift you up so that all folk will see you are blessed. What I’m saying is that Jesus guides each of us into a life worth living no matter what has been done to us, not matter what we have suffered. We get... to really live.

So how does this relate to the Christmas story-- after all, it’s Christmas Eve? To understand what that story is about, it might help to remember things like this:

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Have you seen this sort of thing on the Internet?

Not everything you read on the Internet is true.  Albert Einstein.

Well, that's true... but he never said it, of course. Albert Einstein died in 1955, well before the Internet was thought of. Yet all over Facebook and the internet you will find that Albert Einstein said this... and Morgan Freeman said that... 

We have a habit of placing something we think is really important into the mouths of important people. It’s a way we try to get people to take notice.

In Jesus’ time, people did the same thing; the Christmas story was a way of getting people to take notice... Read on >>>>

We sometimes cling to the story of "Luke the Historian", taking comfort in his careful presentation of the facts. But history never recites what happened. It is always an interpretation. It always has a purpose. Luke's "orderly account" is written to all his readers so that you, Theophilus, the friend of God, "may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." (Luke 1:1-3) 

If Luke is not a recitation of "what actually happened," how do we describe the book? It's not historical fiction or a movie "based upon a true story." It is not a moral tale. Luke is a Gospel; a narrative theology. And in this narrative theology, the story of Mary is written after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, after lived reflection upon that crucifixion and resurrection, so that we "may know the truth of those things." It is a story illuminating the fact of Jesus' death and resurrection, carefully constructed to make the meaning of his death and resurrection visible to us.

So Luke takes the story with its well-known details, John, Jesus, Mary, Nazareth, a birth... and enlightens us.... Read on >>>>

Brood of vipers has such a force about it. It's like saying, "You bunch of snakes," with extra venom. So we tend to forget what a brood is. A brood is what Mark D Daviscalls "spawn." The Greek word it translates is about being the children or the product of something. (eg TDNT 1, 685) This makes some sense of the harshness with which John greets all the people coming out to him when, although they are coming repentant for baptism, he still calls them a bunch of snakes! The statement is one of those highly condensed texts that we need to unpack: the crowds come assuming they are children of Abraham, but are really the children of poisonous snakes. In this light, repentance means to bear fruit, or we remain the children of what we were always the children: the serpent. (It is true that Genesis 3 contains a serpent, rather than Luke's viper.  But Matthew 23:33 joins them together: "You snakes, you brood of vipers!" (ὄφεις γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν lit. serpents brood-spawn of vipers.))

The serpent is the one who plants the idea of rivalry into the life of adam; the root word of Eve is life, and the serpent is our primal fear about the gods, the fear that perhaps God is not our good creator, but may be winning over us, or living at our expense. It is not people who go out to John, but crowds. The crowd is adam— and us— at our most undifferentiated, at our most primitive. We are inclined to read crowds as a measure of success, pleased with how many go to a test match or to a church service, but the biblical crowd always has the stink of the mob about it. It is so with crowds today; anyone who has felt the moment a crowd becomes one organic being, and felt the flood of flood of fear overwhelm the brain stem, can never forget this. Crowds are an organism into which the brood-poison can flash flood. Crowds do not think; they are driven, infected, and poisonous. To be incautious in a crowd is to be unconscious of the poison, unconscious of our serpentine nature, and the primal urge to survive.... Read on >>>>

The people of Jesus' time understood they had been driven from the land God gave their father Abraham by famine, and they knew the place where they took refuge, which was Egypt, had turned into a place of captivity and exile. (We see that in the stories of Joseph and Moses.)

In the time of Moses God led them out of Egypt, and they were formed as a nation, and they met God, in the wilderness. And then, with Joshua as leader, they entered the Promised Land by crossing the River Jordan.

But eventually, Israel was taken in exile in Babylon for some 70 years about 600 years before the birth of Jesus. The leaders of the country who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem were taken back to Babylon and its surrounding cities.

Even then, God was faithful, and brought them home. The book of the Prophet Isaiah charts this remarkable return from Exile in Chapters 40-55, and the quotation in the gospel reading is from the beginning of that section of Isaiah which begins with "The voice of one crying in the wilderness...

But exile happens all over again!! ... Read on >>>>

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In the third year Trump was President, when Merkel was Chancellor of Germany, during the Prime Ministerships of Morrison and Turnbull, on the First Sunday in Advent, messages came from a border town.

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The probable, ironic, truth is a minibus of migrant workers taking a break in Tolmer Park, on their way interstate to pick cherries for Christ-mas. The "Christians" posting the Facebook hate above, also posted hatred of LGBTIQ+ folk during the plebiscite. The truth is hate, grown in the fear which is a consequence of sin.

Sin is not some wicked, bad, dirty sexual thing, despite what some folk appeared to think during the last meeting of Synod, and may suggest again in January. Sin is the mundane reality in which all people live. Sin is our unfulfilled humanity. We are allsinners. We all fall short. Sin is our captivity. Sin is the burden which weighs upon the longings and fears of our hearts: When we long for love and fulfilment, and when we cling to our lover, this is our heart crying out under the burden of existence. It is our heart, and our deepest being, knowing we are exiled a long way from home, knowing we are separated by mountains and valleys from our creator, and feeling far distant from God across a wilderness of terror; a wilderness which our heart fears to enter because of what may happen to us there.

Yet it is in the wilderness, the place we most fear, the place of our sin, that we meet God. God is not to be found in heaven; God is here in the wilderness that we fear, and God always has been here. It is only wilderness to us, because we have not yet learned to see God within it.... Read on >>>>

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