The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

One Man's Web

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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God is not the judge. God is not like the judge. The judge neither fears God nor has respect for people. The parable contrasts God with the judge. "God is the one who grants justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night... he will quickly grant justice to them..."

The problem for someone reading this, unless they live in the same comfortable and insulated suburb as the judge, is that it does not appear to be true. For a First Nations person in Australia it might seem that there have been over two centuries of injustice, where although the massacres of up into the 1920's have been muted, they live on through deaths in custody, racial profiling, and entrenched disadvantage and discrimination; there are still places where "fucking abo's" is said with neither racist consciousness nor social censure.

We don’t take seriously the fact that although Luke and Jesus contrast God with the judge, there has never been a quick granting of justice to the elect of God. We live in denial of this, and it makes our faith ridiculous, unless we address it. We are not talking about selfish prayer— Lord, won't you give me a Mercedes Benz— which is unworthy of an answer. We are talking of a world where even the suffering my congregants have witnessed to me has been stomach turning, leave alone the interminable Auschwitz and razor wire which defines our society. (I have spent time reflecting on this expression, and have decided to persist with it; Auschwitz is not the exception, it is the industrialised and organised and refined expression of our commonplace violence.) If there have been occasions where I have apologised to a congregant and walked around the room for a few moments to collect myself, then how much more should I walk away from God, and perhaps without apology. Unless there is some other way of seeing things.

Unless God cannot 'fix' the problem. Unless God would be a self-contradiction if God 'solved' the problem with the rapidity and coercion we desire. Unless God would be the violence that is us if God forced us to behave well.... Read on >>>>

There are three words or expressions for healing: in this story.

Made Clean
Made Well

They are all past tense. It was all done to them and for them.

Made Clean: the skin disease is removed. But the deeper meaning and more important meaning in the culture is that the person is brought closer to God. Unclean is not about hygiene but about separation from God, about not being blessed by God. 

In this story all the people are made clean. And today, God is making all people clean. Through the Holy Spirit God is bringing the whole world to completion and fulfilment. We are all being made clean. No one is being left behind.

One man is aware. He realises what is done to him. He's not like "At last I've gotten over this eczema or this flu..." He realises God has done it for him. God has done it to him, just as it is God who heals us of the flu. It's just whether or not we realise it.

So this man steps into a new awareness of God. He becomes aware that God is active in his world. And he comes back, it says, "praising God with a loud voice."

Made Well
But then the man focuses on Jesus. He does not merely thank Jesus. He falls at his feet. There is more than a hint of worship in this. He sees that Jesus is the channel of God's mercy. Jesus is the one via whom healing comes.

The other men are going off to see the priest and then going home to do the same things they always did.  Worthy things, even. But nothing has changed.  But this man realises everything has changed.

He does not go to the priests. He goes and shows himself to Jesus. Jesus becomes his priest. Jesus becomes his authority for living.

And this makes him well.  This is the final aspect of healing.  It is then that he can go on his way... but you see that Jesus sends him on that way. It is a changed way of living; a different path.

And the word for made well comes from sozo— it's a Greek word which means made well, transformed, and.... saved.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here.

From the text: At base, this might be a story against separation and racism. It is the third Lucan story where Jesus interacts with Samaritans. In Chapter 9 he refuses to call down fire on a Samaritan village which has rejected him. In the story of the traveller attacked by brigands (Luke 10:23-37) a Samaritan is the one who shows the mercy of a neighbour, which is the mercy of a person modelled upon God. And now we see a Samaritan is the one who is well, who is whole; indeed, he is the one who is able to worship well. The clear message is that the casual unexamined (often) racist stereotypes we have inherited, and by which we navigate our lives, have nothing to do with being well, or with salvation.


In a startling comment on Mark D Davis' page, Mark Rich notes that ten men is the minimum number of men required to form a synagogue. The ten rejected men have a certain kind of wholeness, a solidarity and community based in their common rejection because they are unclean. A synagogue comes to Jesus seeking mercy! Rich notes that "The leprosy was even stronger than the hatred that defined relations between Jews and Samaritans at the time." Read on >>>>

From the text:  Faced by climate change protests, and the simple but incisive speeches of a Greta Thunberg, we find something burrowing deep into the territory of our original sin, digging into the myth of redemptive violence, the idea that we can save ourselves from violence and death by being violent and by killing. All the behaviour which comes because of our desire to win and be on top, so that we can be safe and avoid death is brought to the surface.  Who knew that death could disguise itself as a school girl with pigtails and shake our foundations? ... Read on >>>>

Luke 163/4:32-40

32Then there was a discussion at Abraham's table. Some folk thought the man who had been rich was not thrown down close enough to the fires. They wanted him moved, more punishment was deserved. They listed off the evils he had done to gain his fortune. In that strange dimension in which he existed, even though he was far off across the chasm, the rich man could hear every word.

He was appalled. Not because of the hatred. Not because of the threat of more fire, but because he saw, at last, who he had been, and what he had done. It was all true. He should be closer to the fire; it was obvious, now.

Then Lazarus, who was next to Abraham, spoke. "We should leave him alone. Revenge will only damage us. Anyway, for all his faults, he had mercy on me. When his manager suggested they drag me off and toss me in the creek, he let me stay lying at his gate."

The man who had been rich felt a moment where it seemed all the fire was replaced with clean, cool air, but in that same moment... was  moved with the deepest shame. He'd let Lazarus stay there, because dumping him in the creek to die wouldn't have been a good look. He'd said as much in front of Lazarus as he stood there with the manager looking down on him.

And yet here was Lazarus, forgiving him, and speaking up for him. For the first time in many years he said, "Thank you," and meant it... Read on >>>>

Have you noticed our progression beyond the shepherd and the woman who never give up until the lost are found? We are led to the father who waits constantly hoping the son will return— again the lost is found, (15:24) and then taken to the elder favoured children of God. These include the elder brother; we don't know if he listened to his father's plea to enter his house. Also favoured are the amoral rich man and his steward, who appear too busy even to think about God but those who were rich were often considered to be God’s favoured and chosen people. The fact that the Pharisees who loved money ridiculed Jesus for that story, and for his insistence that wealth is idolatry, makes it plain they assumed that God was on their side along with the other rich folk.

And now we have arrived at the story of another rich man. Or have we come back to same rich man of 16:1-18? In the Greek, almost the exact same words are used in the story of the rich man and his steward and the rich man and Lazarus:  there was a rich man. Is this the same man?

In this latest story, however, the lost are not found. There is no repentance. There is, instead, "a great chasm ... fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us." There seems to be no hope of a reversal of the situation.

This is despite the fact that there is a series of reversals in these stories so far: the lost is found; the one who rejected his father repents, and then the apparently faithful brother rejects his father. Even in this current story, the rejected, ignored, and powerless one, is in the bosom of Abraham, and the blessedly rich man who had "good things" in life, is in agony. But now there is a gap which cannot be crossed.  The gap between the rich man and Lazarus—although close by at his gate— was already enormous at the beginning of the story. Is it because the rich man refused to cross that gap, when he could, that he now cannot cross the gap when he wants to? ... Read on >>>>

Have you ever been in that place where someone tells a story, and everyone laughs, but you can't see why?  That's a bit like where we are this week. Jesus has told a story, not meant funny in this case, and lots of his listeners are nodding and agreeing, but we have no idea what the story means; in fact, it sounds like the sort of thing Jesus wouldn't say!

He's telling the story to make a point about something else. It's not a complimentary story, and would have stung Luke's audience  a bit, because Jesus tells it as a criticism of them, and their discipleship.

What he's saying is this: Look at the top end of town. Those blokes are playing for sheep stations1. (See below, if you're not from Oz.) They are serious when it comes to doing business. No mucking around; they play it hard and fast to get the deal. I wish my people—you mob—I wish you mob would do the same. Because you know sheep stations are worth nothing at all in the bigger scheme of things. You know that you can't take it with you when you die. You've woken up; your eyes are open. So why aren't you focussed and committed and playing it smart when it comes to what really matters in life? Sometimes I wonder if you are really serious about being part of my kingdom, or whether you're more interested in just lining your pockets. I warn you: you cannot serve both God and wealth.

Here's the background: The rich bloke does schmoozing with the tax collectors and the local centurion while they pretend they're wine connoisseurs. He has a manager to bring in all the money. And the manager is in a funny kind of situation. He can 'cream off' a cut of all the deals; the boss expects that; it's not a problem.  But he has to make money. He has to make the boss feel like he's keeping up with the other rich fellas, or even getting in front, right?

But the manager can't go too hard. Because if he does, people will take their trade elsewhere or… they'll make trouble for him, and then he'll be in trouble with the boss. He has to be a shrewd operator. In this story it looks like something hasn't worked out. He hasn't been quite shrewd enough. Someone's got the boss's ear and been telling porkies about the manager. It doesn't matter if they are not true.  The rich man, the boss, can't afford to look weak, can't afford to lose face, so the manager is getting the sack... Read on >>>>

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