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One Man's Web

Commentary on Mark,  11 January 2021

The latest update to my Markan commentary is here.
(Updated November 24 2021)

AWAKE BEFORE THE SUN,  14 June 2011

AWAKE BEFORE THE SUN

It is still dark, but it is a darkness I know well, the darkness of night about to yield to morning. This is my favorite time, a time of exquisite solitude, the kind of solitude that has nothing to do with loneliness. It will not stretch dangerously on and on for hours, like the solitude of late night, luring me into sadness. The dark before dawn is limited; it knows its time is short. Anything can happen...  Read Barbara here >>>>

The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm is a delightful email I receive... almost daily.

First Impressions: Lord of the Dance - Matthew 28:16-20 - Trinity Sunday,  14 June 2011

Trinity is not arcane doctrine. The architecture of the Central Processing Unit in my computer, or in the one on which you read this article is arcane doctrine . It’s there, it works,  but it’s not relevant to you and me. All that matters is that it works. The theologians from Intel can worry about it... and good luck to them!

This is not Trinity. Trinity is something we are within. Read on >>>>

Acedia,  12 June 2011
Listening to her rants though made me think of a talk I had just heard about the dangers of acedia. The term is most often associated these days with the sin of sloth (one of the seven deadly sins), but it goes much deeper than mere laziness to describe the state of not caring or being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. It’s a spiritual apathy that turns one inward instead of outward in a life oriented around loving others. In the talk I heard, it was compared to compassion fatigue – not having the spiritual resources to care anymore.>>>> Julie Clawson, One Hand Clapping
Mulga Bill's Bicycle,  09 June 2011

This classic Australian poem was published inThe Sydney Mail, 25 July 1896. Perhaps Mulga Bill should have started with a road bike rather than going straight into downhill MTB!

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"... Read on >>>>

Breaking Up with God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles ,  08 June 2011
People assume I’m an atheist, but I’m not. I don’t know what I am, but if I had to choose a label I’d choose agnostic. When I say that people usually ask me if I think God exists, and I usually give them the answer that my teacher, Gordon Kaufman, used to give me: The question of God’s existence isn’t the right question because it won’t get you very far. It’s a question human beings can’t answer. If we take God’s mystery seriously, then we can never know. I think there are better questions that we can be answering: What does a particular vision of God do to those who submit to it and to those who won’t submit to it? What difference is my version of God making? Who is it harming? In one of his books, Kaufman writes, “The central question for theology... is a practical question. How are we to live? To what should we devote ourselves? To what causes give ourselves?” He argues that theology that does not contribute significantly to struggles against inhumanity and injustice has lost sight of its point of being.... see the review at Religion Despatches
The Sermon Draft: The Wind has Changed - Acts 2:1-21,  08 June 2011

Think about living in Israel.... It’s dry, and it’s hot. Every year there is a wind which blows as the seasons change from winter to summer. It’s called the Hamsin, and it’s like a bad north wind that we get here on a foul hot, dusty day. The moon goes blood red, even the sun, like we get with a bad dust storm. We get a few days like this each year. In Israel, it happens every year! It is so regular and predictable, that the wind, the Hamsin, has been named after the time it lasts. Hamsin means “50”, and it lasts about that long; fifty days.

It was a time of great anxiety in ancient Israel, because a bad windy season could destroy the harvest. Imagine having a couple of rainwater tanks, and maybe a well in your backyard; or more probably there would be one a few streets away. That’s all the water you can have.

And the only food you have is what you can grow. There is no Coles, no Woolies, no IGA. The rich people at Hillbank might have enough money to buy food in, but herein Elizabeth, if you don't grow it, you won't eat it!

This meant harvest festival, harvest thanksgiving, was a really big deal; no tinned foods on the table down the front. At harvest festival, which they called Pentecost, there was a real, fervent thanksgiving for the harvest. And if the harvest was poor, there was a suspicion that God was not pleased. A poor harvest, or a bad windy season with the Hamsin, was a sign the people had not been faithful, they thought, and that God was punishing them... Read on >>>>

A 400km Day (Oct 2010),  07 June 2011
This trip was a four hundred kilometre challenge. Could I do it in 24 hours? The date was set for 7 October 2010, chosen for the warmer weather after winter but before the summer heat.  The day was a Thursday, which was chosen, as was the route, to minimise traffice exposure. I left Elizabeth at midnight.... Read on >>>>
First Impressions: The Main Game - Pentecost,  07 June 2011

Rabbits are not native to Australia. They are a feral pest. There were times before  myxomatosis when we were  almost been buried under rabbits. Despite this, rabbit is a good and nutritious food; so much so, that in Australia it is sometimes called underground mutton. Up north we used to say to the CSIRO scientists, “Do what you like to kill out the rabbits, but don’t bring it up here, because here rabbit is a really important part of the diet.”

On the sandy plains in Pitjantjatjara country, rabbits have a side effect. They attract lizards. The big sandy warrens of the newcomer rabbits have become a haven for Perentie, the fourth largest lizard on the planet.... Read on >>>>

The Sermon Draft: This is life - John 17,  01 June 2011

Let’s begin with two things about John 17.

John 17 is not a bottle of nice light Rosé wine which we consume for lunch. It is not to be read at a sitting. John 17 is Glenmorangie, which is to be nursed and savoured in small sips while we think about things at the end of the day. John 17 is deep and complex, rich and layered. We will only sip a little, today.

John 17 is also not an impromptu prayer at the end of tea before the disciples and Jesus go out to the Kidron Valley (cf Chapter 18). That’s just the surface appearance. It is planned and carefully written.  It is a theological manifesto.

When you wrote about a person in Jesus’ time, the done thing was to include a farewell speech, a kind of last will and testament, which summed up the essence of their teaching. You might remember Moses’ farewell speech that starts in Deuteronomy chapter 29... Read on >>>>

First Impressions: Glory - John 17:1-11ff,  30 May 2011

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come...’ This sounds like the closing prayer of the meeting. In fact, it is the closing prayer of his life. John 18 tells us that “after Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden...” The gospel ending is suddenly rushing upon us.

We could do worse than read this mystical prayer as his benediction, his last “good word,” spoken to us, and for us, as we face our lone journey to a garden somewhere.

Like all of John, the words have layer upon layer of meaning. There is comfort and challenge... Read on >>>>

The Sermon Draft: Being Open to Seeing Life - John 14:15-21,  25 May 2011

Imagine standing at the base of Uluru. The sheer rock face is so high it is half the world. The silence is alive with feelings, with awe, with spirit. There is nothing to hear, and yet everything. Like thousands of Australians, going back over millennia, this place both belittles and embraces us. Silent contemplation is our only response. And then we hear it.

"Oh, come on, Tony. It’s too hot. This is boring. I’m getting sand in my shoes, and there are flies. Let’s go back to the motel. I need a drink. This is so boring."

And their discontent whinges its way past the same rock, through the same thick numinous aura which has arrested us, completely blind and untouched. How could you be at Uluru, and be so untouched?

It’s not just Uluru, of course. We can be on the coastal cliffs, in the rainforest, held by a gallery painting, in another world with a musician’s artistry— even in church!— and hear blind, bored discontent whinging its way past, oblivious to holiness.

Jesus said, “This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him.”.... Read on >>>>

First Impressions: Musing on the Mundane Spirit of God - John 14:15-21,  24 May 2011

Life really began to come together for me in Year 10. The school science teacher, who was also my class teacher, had a lot to do with this. He was vibrant, brash, and noisy. He treated us more as equals than students. He kept order by lobbing chalk at us with uncanny accuracy, and crashing a yardstick down on desks in a paradoxically good humoured way. He used the rabbits l shot for dissection classes. He introduced a bunch of us boys to bushwalking, which was a life changing experience.

At the end of the year, he was transferred back to Adelaide. I didn't know how to say goodbye. After 40 years I still remember him saying to me, "You'll be alright. You'll make it. You've got what it takes." It was an intimate moment, and a substantial balm to a deep grief I didn't really recognise.

In this chapter of John the disciples are feeling that grief. The person who has brought life together for them, is leaving. How will they go on? He tells them they have what it takes.... Read on >>>>

The Sermon Draft: My not invisible friend - John 14:1-14,  19 May 2011

Jesus is preparing the disciples for the fact that he is leaving. John 14 is about life with God when Jesus is not there.

It’s really very simple, at one level. Jesus is the way to God. Jesus is the truth about God. You want life with God; Jesus is the answer. Just in case you don’t get it, Jesus says in verse 9 “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. Trust me.”

Well, if you were one of the disciples who knew Jesus, that might work. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t. Jesus sounded a lot like that invisible friend. And we all know invisible friends are not real. People who have invisible friends are either little children, or they have a little something wrong with them.

The problem was that I did have an invisible friend as a kid. And the whole Jesus – God – Church thing didn’t feel like that at all.  There was something there, something real,  in the whole Jesus – God – Church thing . Except... I couldn’t find Jesus. If a non believer made some crack about us Christians and our invisible friend, I wouldn’t bite, but I was always scared they might be right.

How could I meet Jesus?

It turns out, that I already have an invisible friend. Her name is Janet. I have no idea what she looks like. I couldn’t tell you how old she is give or take twenty years. She lives, apparently, in the United States of America. She’s a minister. She’s one of those ministers who moves around and does interim work, like me.  I have no idea where, in the USA, she actually is.... Read on >>>>

First Impressions: Meeting Jesus in John - John 14:1-14,  18 May 2011

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. (Luke 2: 1-4)

Joseph was descended from the House of David. It makes sense to say he was “in David’s house.” He belonged to the family of David.

This is important to grasp, because many people know today’s text only from funeral services. The promise that “in my father’s house are many mansions,” will have been one of great comfort or, one more example of the crazy things the church believes. This latter view will be held by many Christians, as well as folk who are not Christian! Indeed, the text is often an insult to grieving believers, who cannot seriously believe it literally in our modern context. Presented literally it is pap provided to mop up a flood of loss.

There are no houses in this text. The immediate surface reading is misleading. To get to this conclusion, and go further, we need to remind ourselves of the nature of John's gospel.  We need to do this carefully when preaching, because many people long to be in one of those houses, (not realising that in John’s terms, perhaps they already are,) and yet we are going to say there is no house!

The nature of John is that he is almost never writing about the surface of things. We can read the first three (synoptic) gospels “on the surface,” as though they were in the genre of a contemporary newspaper article, and make at least some sense of them. (I sometimes think the ease with which we can read them in this way, is one of our major problems!)

By contrast, reading John on the surface leads to frustration and bewilderment.... Read on >>>>

The Sermon Draft: Sheep and Other Mamils - John 10:1-19,  12 May 2011

The woman was thin and unkempt. Pain and starvation were etched upon her. Her eyes were almost dead, except that fear lurked in there. She was not someone in a survivor’s photo from Auschwitz, although she could have been. She was in my local shopping centre. She looked like a bruised and frightened sheep, immobilised on the back of a semi, unaware she was on the way to the slaughterhouse. I can't forget her. I can't explain how I am not her. And sometimes my fragility frightens me.

We are all born into a sheepfold. There is a place that is home; a place where we begin. For some of us it is safe, and almost idyllic. Others are born into a living hell. The thieves and the robbers have come over the walls, and are living off the sheep... Read on >>>>

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