South of the Hugh River, NT 2016

One Man's Web

You can listen here.

To undergo grace is not possess some untroubled existence— as though we could hold on to such a thing! It is to walk fearfully but with growing confidence into freedom and release. It is to touch the Christ and find that the healing of fear begins.

In 1988 we were about to starve. We were subsisting upon Commonwealth unemployment benefits, but did not have enough money to survive. I could see what was coming, and went to a state community welfare office. The social worker, whose name I still remember, said he could not help pay my electricity bill. There was no facility for that. However, he made sure I knew about rent relief, and helped me set that up. He checked we had enough to eat for the next few days. He made sure that I understood how to negotiate payment by instalment of utility bills like phone and power. And then he said,

This is how you survive: you will have enough money to pay the utility bills and your rent. That's all you need to pay. You can walk down here every day, if it comes to that, and I can give you money to buy food for the day.

He paused.

You blokes have been through hell. I suggest you should go through the motions of filling out your job search applications, but actually just sit down for at least six weeks and get healthy. Take a rest. You need it. We'll get you through this.

Those days are a distant memory in Australia, as anyone unfortunate enough to be in the clutches of that malaprop  Newstart well knows. Newstart is the misemployment of a word... Read on >>>>

I'd like to draw a contrast between how Mark and Luke tell the early part of Jesus' story. It will help us see something Luke is saying to us.

In Mark, Jesus comes almost out of nowhere; he comes to Galilee, meets Simon and the others on the sea shore and calls them as disciples. It's all very dramatic, and often makes us feel a bit inadequate as disciples. And then, after that,  there is teaching and healing, including Peter's mother-in-law being healed by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is "in a hurry" from the first moment; This is important, cries Mark.

Luke is a little calmer.

Luke imagines something different from his encounter with the same traditions and stories about Jesus. Luke tells us Jesus already knows these blokes. They've seen him at work, preaching, and healing. He even heals Simon's mother in law.

So Simon knows Jesus is becoming quite famous, and he understands why: after all, Jesus healed his mother in law.

One day, when there's hardly any room left on the beach, Jesus asks Simon if he can borrow the boat to teach. I reckon Simon is probably listening while he's cleaning his nets... Read on >>>>

I'm out of touch with the flow of Luke. My head has been in another space in that yearly moment in January where, sometimes, Australian clergy get a little downtime from their congregation. I've spent three weeks writing a paper, interspersed with building a couple of websites and carrying on with my other job in IT maintenance. It's all been done in the shadow of death: Our little congregation is involved in one last strategy for survival; one of my younger cousins is dying; a much younger friend is seriously ill. And it's been the hottest January on record, in Australia.

In fact, the paper has been about facing the challenge of death; underlying it has been the existential dilemma that life is a place where we have arrived without asking, and have begun to find there is no way out, which leads to the challenge that to really live, means to die...

And after all this... I came back to Luke, last night, to find a quaint story of Jesus teaching on the side of the lake, and to find a miracle story which, to modern ears, sounds ridiculous. How can I preach this story which is so alien to the place and situation of my congregation and me, next Sunday? What is its relevance to a congregation which is dying, and embarking upon one last strategy for survival? Read on >>>>

3-gur-startAssuming we have addressed the material in Staying Alive, where are we most vulnerable? There are several key areas:

  1. a) When we are just starting to move. This is the most likely time to take a fall, because we do not have the stability of speed, or we are not properly footed into the pedals. It's possible to put a foot down on the thin edge of a pedal, or to misplace a foot due to a wobble or slip in gravel. This can happen even if we are not using cleats or clips.
  2. b) At intersections where we are crossing traffic flows, or where traffic crosses our line. The collision risk is much higher
  3. c) Where the bike is de-stabilised by the road surface or by weather conditions.

There are a number of steps to decreasing these vulnerabilities, and to increasing our stability. Read on >>>>

routeThere is a cycling experience called the bonk. It's what happens when you ride too long without food, or didn't have enough breakfast to begin with, and the brain decides in the space of around 5 minutes, to reserve the remaining blood sugar for itself. It essentially says the rest of the body can look after itself until fat conversion gets into gear, which takes a long time. It feels rather like you are beginning to die.

I planned to use this year's Tour Down Under Community Ride as a springboard for a 400km day, and more if I still had the legs. If I start in the crowd at my average speed ranking of around 20 – 25kph, I find I post a really quick time for my age, but am then a bit burned for the rest of the day— something about the psychology of keeping up with those around seems to mess with my head. So I begin at the very back of the crowd. Sometimes I've ridden out behind the ambulance.  I soon begin to pass the very slow riders, especially when the hills start, but it's just enough of a mind-hack to help me maintain an appropriate long distance pace... Read on >>>>

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 >>>>


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 >>>> 

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