Looking South East from Hilltop Farm, Gladstone South Australia

One Man's Web

20181118-samsonflatfireIn my part of the world it is the week of an arduous and important synod. We will decide who we are.


How do we live when wars and the rumour of wars reignite all the fears of our hearts?

How do we live when

The notional two-degree figure widely cited by politicians as the upper limit of what we, and the planet, could possibly accommodate is a line we’re on course to gallop past in just a few years’ time. By 2100, we may well be looking at a five or six-degree temperature rise, and even then there’s a possibility we’re being lowballed. “The scientist who confidently predicts a five-degree warming by the end of the century,” Franzensuggests ...“might tell you in private, over beers, that she really expects it to be nine.” 

I remind myself I am going to die.... Read on >>>>


I guess that widow would need to carefully ration her pantry until the next pension cheque came in.

Except that the words "all she had to live on" are literally "all the life of her." She is "'ptoche' - really poor," and in a time with no pensions, will probably die because of her giving. And it's all for a temple and a system that is falling apart. A couple of verses later, Jesus is saying "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark puts her next to this futility for more than the purpose of showing the hypocrisy of the scribes. In the end, we are all poor widows— impoverished people who will be forgotten— even the scribes. Why do we bother with life?

Why did the scribe who did not parade and posture like his fellows, and who did not devour widow's houses, even bother to love his neighbour as himself? How do you keep going when the system is corrupt and the end seems obvious? Why bother?

For the first time in half a year, I ventured past the supermarket into the depths of our regional shopping centre, seeking the optometrist. Even without new glasses, my long absence helped me to see the place with a new clarity. There is nothing here, I thought, that I would buy. It is all junk. Why do people bother with this place? ... Read on  >>>>

When I left home at the end of school, I lived in a coeducational college. Even then, I could see that some of us men had bad attitudes towards the women residents; I remember conversations about how things might be improved. But I now understand that even we nicer boys still thought we were naturally superior to women. We would have denied this; it was  so much a part of our formation that we could not see it. It's all very well to see a problem, but it can't be fixed until we see the whole problem, especially if we are the problem.

Here is the point: If we do not see that all humanity— us too—  is involved in and formed by sacrificial practice, then what we say about the Gospel, and what we say about the lectionary gospel for this week, is compromised just like my early college efforts. We will fail to see we are the problem. We have assumed that "they" did sacrifices "back then in Jesus' time," but that we don't. That skews everything we say and do. 

Let us look at the text, which will lead us back to this point.

From the end of Mark Chapter 8, the journey to Jerusalem begins. If we look at the teaching of Jesus from Mark 8:27 to 10:52 we could say Jesus is teaching us what it means to be Messiah and what it means to follow the Messiah. We might also characterise this section of the gospel as Jesus teaching us how to love.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here.

Introduction to the readings:

Joshua 6: The Gospel of Mark doesn't tell us Jesus is in Galilee or on the lake just to fill in the narrative. Mark uses geography to say something about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. We might say that in Mark, geography is theology. So why does he tell us that Jesus' last stop before Jerusalem is the city of Jericho?

The first thing we do when we ask a question like that is look to see what the Old Testament says about a place. So the Old Testament reading today is about Jericho, which was the city which blocked Israel's entry into the Promised Land....


The Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Here are some things to note.

This is the last story before Jesus enters Jerusalem. It is the story before Palm Sunday. And although it seems the rich man could not give away all his possessions, just a few verses before, Bartimaeus gives up all that he had. He throws off his cloak. If you remember the Palm Sunday story, the disciples take off their cloaks for Jesus to sit upon on the donkey, and the people throw their cloaks onto the road. The message might be that to have our eyes opened we have to give up all we have... or, like the rich man, we will go away sorrowful. Let's listen to the story...

but one more interesting fact: Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jeshua; that is, Joshua. There were two Joshuas at Jericho!  What is different between them?...

Sermon: Leaving Jericho Behind

The saying goes that nothing is certain, except death and taxes. It's not quite true; there is one more certainty: Things   fall   apart.  I don't mean things like car engines. I mean that no matter how well we plan, no matter how high our ideals, human institutions always seem to strike trouble. Even our best and greatest hopes unravel, despite our constant attention. Things fall apart, and the small discontents and disappointments of a congregation are mirrored in the assassinations in parliaments, and in the wars of the world.

If we try to unpack what it is that defeats us, we find that somewhere in our plans there was an argument over power; it can begin with a minister who must have things his way. The need for power always leads to some kind of violence. And to keep the violence under control... we turn it, or focus it, upon  a scapegoat— when things go wrong, we always find someone else to blame.

And at the bottom of all that, the reason we get into this spiral with everything, is our fear of dying. People will do anything; they will give all they have, to save their lives, Satan tells God in Job 2:4.  

Everything human falls apart, and the fear of death is at the bottom of that. Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called God is not Great; Religion Poisons Everything. He was wrong. Religion is our attempt— good or bad— to stop the poison. It is the fear of death... which poisons everything.

Sometimes people deny this. From my personal experience I can only agree with research psychologist Richard Beck, who says,

you might claim that you don't fear death, but once you start loving others you'll quickly find out that you do...

And that's because love forces us to face death. True love costs us deeply; it gives up our power to stay safe.... Read on >>>>

I've just taken two long days on an unexpected trip to eastern Victoria, which means there is only a short reflection for this week. While driving I kept returning to the question of Jericho. Mark uses geography to make a theological point. Some scholars even suggest he invented the Sea of Galilee for this purpose. (Here for a summary and here for detail.) Why then, is Jesus in Jericho? As someone who frequented gentile territory, it is not likely that he felt the need to take the long route around Samaria to get to Jerusalem, (and that may be a furphy anyway.) Jericho has a theological purpose.

In the last lectionary cycle, I noted Mark D Davis' comment that "The last time someone shouted outside of Jericho, the walls fell down." It's a great line, but what are the walls that fall?

My thinking was interspersed with the constant reporting on the national apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse  in institutional care in Australia. This has indeed been one of the appalling episodes of our history, paralleling and includingthe stealing of aboriginal children from their parents across generations. It has not escaped the notice of many Australians that the politicians who spoke with genuine remorse on the part of the nation during the apology, are the same ones who support the detention of children in Nauru in the most appalling conditions. There, children as young as ten attempt suicide while the government repeatedly forces attempts to gain them proper care into the federal courts... Read on >>>>

From the post:

Two disciples come and ask that they may sit at his right hand and his left, "in his glory."  It is not quite a repeat of the previous event. Jesus does not correct them so much as indicate their naivety: "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

From our point of view their arrogance seems overweening— we wonder if they have listened to anything. But he merely affirms that they will indeed drink his cup and undergo his baptism— which I read as him, tacitly agrees to their request; he is saying they will be with him in his glory. However, he says the places at his left and right are not his to give; they are already given.

The disruption, or wrinkle, in the rhetorical pattern1 becomes a little more obvious when we find there is still a correction, but the  people he corrects are the other ten, who we might think are quite reasonable in their anger! The text makes it clear that their anger is not some righteous reaction to James' and John's lack of understanding, but is the same old rivalry of Chapter Nine. They are the ones who have learned nothing, whereas James and John— well, Jesus seems almost indulgent of them!! I wonder if instead of reading this text in the traditional stern voice, we can read it with the inflection of the good teacher who recognises that these two students have begun to see something?

Could it be that James and John properly long for glory— albeit naively? For it is in the third correction that Jesus most fully outlines his coming glorification, which is to be the cross.... Read on >>>>

You can also read Mark 10:35-45 - What does it cost us to win? (2012) and Mark 10:32-45 - Sandwiched between new and old (2009)

Being a camel. What can one say? asks my UCA colleague Peter Lockhart. He's right. The clear meaning of the text is that neither camels nor ships' hawsers1 can get through the eye of a needle. We cannot make it happen. And as he shows, we are undeniably camels.

The reading this week reflects a perceptual divide which has lasted from well before the time of Jesus until now. The disciples understood riches to be a sign of God's blessing, the view found in "Deuteronomy, which encouraged the idea that those who are godly are blessed with wealth, and those who are not blessed with wealth must not be godly." (Brehm)  For example: "But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today."  (Deut. 8:18) ...

Jesus' understanding of wealth is much closer to that outlined by Malina and Rohrbaugh, and far from Deuteronomy.

Essential to understanding poverty is the notion of "limited good." In modern economies, we make the assumption that goods are, in principle, in unlimited supply. If a shortage exists, we can produce more. If one person gets more of something, it does not automatically mean someone else gets less, it may just mean the factory worked overtime and more became available. But in ancient Palestine, the perception was the opposite: all goods existed in finite, limited supply and were already distributed. This included not only material goods, but honor, friendship, love, power, security, and status as well - literally everything in life. Because the pie could not grow larger, a larger piece for anyone automatically meant a smaller piece for someone else.... [a]n honorable man would thus be interested only in what was rightfully his and would have no desire to gain anything more, that is, to take what was another's. Acquisition was, by its very nature, understood as stealing... Read on >>>>

A certain 6 year old used to worry his parents with his lack of interest in reading. He could read well, but read only for utilitarian purposes such as  assessing the prices on chocolate. Then he discovered the Old Testament, especially the ten plagues of Egypt, garishly Illustrated in an old children's bible, and we began to worry at his incessant re-reading— poring— over those stories. One night I was subjected to an extended grilling about the facticity of these stories which would have done a teenaged atheist proud. I turned out his light wondering what the future held.

We must have talked longer than I realised, because I had to nudge him awake the next morning. He opened his eyes and announced, first breath, that "all that Moses stuff is obviously untrue and just a story. I don't believe it." Which rather undercuts the all too common idea that to accept the kingdom like a little child means to be unquestioning and naive. Children have to be silenced rather than taught to question.

We have been looking at welcoming children, (Mark 9:33-50) and not causing them to stumble. Now, though, the text changes to children doing the welcoming. (The receiving of Mark 10:15) What on earth does that have to do with divorce!? I ask this because the common feature across these pericopes is children. And when it comes to the question of possessions, in Mark 10, Jesus refers to his listeners as... children. So my suspicion is that children, whose vulnerability and lack of power illustrated something about what constitutes greatness, are also meant to illustrate and highlight something to do with divorce.

And why, here, divorce? What has divorce to do with learning to follow the Messiah to Jerusalem? (Mark 8:31ff, 9:30ff, 10:32ff) ... Read on >>>>

In Chapter 8 of Mark, Peter finally gets it: You are the Messiah! 

And from then on, Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to be Messiah, and what it means to follow the Messiah into the kingdom of God.

In the teaching of last week's reading, he took a child in his arms, as a symbol of God's love for all of us. The child epitomises the weak, the powerless, and the defenceless. And what Jesus said to the disciples, who were all about who was the greatest; who was in charge; who understood God— what he said was that, in God's eyes, to be great, to be a leader, to be like God and to welcome God… is to welcome the child and protect the child—and any person who is in the place of the child— above all others.

If the way we are living our lives as Christians is not doing this, then we are not great. We are not living as Christ called us to live. God forgives all things, but that does not change the fact that when we do not welcome the child, and put the child first, we are not living the life of the kingdom. Instead, we... are separating ourselves from God.

Now this week, Jesus really doubles down on this; he emphasises it all over again. It's the same conversation, and the child is still there in his arms, for he talks about "one of these little ones." 

But look how the little ones are caused to stumble by the disciples!  The disciples saw someone healing just like Jesus did, and they told them to stop because they were not "following us." It's as if I said Elliot and the church up the street should stop being church because they don't belong to us! Or one of you saying that Rod's congregation should stop doing what they are doing because they don't belong to the Uniting Church... Read on >>>>

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