This vision on the mountain is similar to the vision of Jesus' baptism, where "suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove... and a voice from heaven [saying], ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’" (Matthew 3:13-17) It's unclear if anyone but Jesus saw all this at his baptism. But now, the baptismal vision, and more, is specifically given to Peter, James, and John, three people whose number constitutes adequate and trustworthy witness under law.
And, clearly, the vision is a rebuttal and rebuke, not to mention an enormous grace, to these disciples whom we understand have been resisting the notion that the Messiah must suffer and die at the hands of his own people. (Matthew 16:21-23)
But why does Jesus say, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead?"
Politically, in Jesus' time, the son was the presence of the father. If the son has visited, then so has the father; if the son speaks, he speaks the will of the father. Our little city spent weeks renewing the street gardens and the bitumen along which the grand-son of the Queen would process, even leaving re-laying the bitumen of the last kilometre or so until the day before he arrived, so that Wills and Kate would arrive on a brand-newly-tarred red carpet. I rode past the town hall on the way to work shortly after 6am, that morning. People were already beginning to line the road for Wills and Kate's arrival at 11. In fact, I had to ride on the footpath, because no one was allowed on the new bitumen! Even in our allegedly secular culture, the Queen or King is second only to God, and if the son, or even the grandson, is coming, we line the road for a glimpse of transcendence... Read on >>>>
Miracles are risky business. Not only are they a thing of interpretation— one person's miracle is another person's coincidence— but even Scripture is ambivalent about them. At Masseh, according to one tradition, (in both Deuteronomy 6 and 17) Israel has tested God. But in another rendition, (Numbers 20) it is Moses who is the problem because— unlike the Deuteronomic stories— it is understood that he was the one not trusting in God's provision!
What's a prophet meant to do? "Do not put the Lord your God to the test," is the central statement of the reading for Lent Week 1, yet Jesus will go on to perform many miracles. And the miraculous is often a touchstone for authenticity in the church. We long for the extraordinary and the spectacular as a proof of the reality of God's intrusion into our everyday lives, whether they be drudgery or trauma. In many places, those who do not witness to some in-breaking work of power are seen as lacking in faith and blessing.
The same Spirit which endorses Jesus, and blesses him, drives him out into the wilderness.... Read on >>>
Twenty years ago I'd see 3 or 4 runners doing circuits and intervals around one of the city's large parks as I walked home from work. They were the nerdy sort of runners who never consider "active wear." There used to be a daughter with them, an intense stick on legs, but already showing the physique of a distance runner. The men adored her, always including her in the bunch, even though she was barely twelve. For her part, she was determined not to need accommodating, and ran with an intensity and passion which, I suspect, meant her Dad had to pace her down.
I've seen her grow up. Those men were soon running with a young woman who was the runner of the bunch. Occasionally I see her flowing way out along the linear park on her own.
A little while back, I saw her holding a sharp pace with her dad, around the same park. He's too old to keep up with her now, and was pacing her on a bike, relaying stats, as they circled the park with the same old intensity. She runs with the loose grace of the cheetah you see in the slow motion video of documentaries except, somehow, this cheetah has learned to become an ultra-marathoner.
They reminded me of another twelve year old I slowly overhauled up a long slope "in the middle of nowhere" in regional Queensland. She was running with an easy grace I had never managed. I matched her pace for a few metres and told her how impressed I was by her style. "I loved running," I said, "but I could never run like you do."
She glanced at me with a small "Thanks," and turned back to the road. She had the same intense focus as the other girl, and even at twelve, sadly, the same practised reserve that has had to learn to armour itself against us men.
Another kilometre and a half up the hill I found a woman parked in the dusk by the roadside . I asked if she was Mum to the lass behind. "She makes Cathy Freeman look awkward!" I said. Mum laughed, shaking her head at the same time, knowing the grace of her runner, but mystified by the passion. "It's the last long run before the regionals next weekend."
Grace, says U2, makes beauty out of everything. All of us have a place, a part of us, where we run with a grace and ease which swells the heart of the Cathy Freemans of our particular world. If we would give ourselves to the passion that tugs within us instead of running away from it; if we would focus on, even obsess upon, that gift, then perhaps our souls could run with an easy grace which would fill our hearts with joy and tears.
Andrew Prior (2020)
The plan was for 600km ridden in six six hour hundreds, which is a pretty good touring speed for an old bloke. In the event, I rode 500km. 300km or so of headwinds, and cross winds from the front, made it a hard and cold trip— although I appreciated 95km of tail breeze along the Murray.... Read on >>>>
The Hebrew creation narratives are not some naïve prescientific view of the world, as one might conclude from the impoverished six day "creation science" ideologies of fundamentalist churches. The creation narratives of Genesis are a sophisticated critique of the Babylonian world view of chaos and capricious gods who held humans at their mercy. (See here)
In Genesis, God is in control. God is not capricious. God overcomes the chaos. The creation is a good place. Humanity (adam in the Hebrew) is placed at the pinnacle of creation, not as a bothersome being to be wiped out whenever it suited. Adam ("male and female he created them") is god-like... and of course, that can be taken in the wrong direction, for which Genesis 3 has been the corrective.
Following this stream of thought we have Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Old Testament.) The name means (deuteros + nomos) "second law." It's a reprise of much of the story of Israel's Exodus from Egypt.
The story is told that during the reign of King Josiah, the Priest Hilkiah discovered a long lost scroll (which we now know as Deuteronomy) in the temple, during renovations. (Such convenient discoveries have occurred elsewhere: "In Mesopotamian shrines there were foundational tablets that were punctually discovered during restoration work." Simone Venturini.) The King realises that the nation has not lived according to the Law and that this is the source of its troubles. It is said to Josiah that
because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 20Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.’ (2 Kings 22)
This prophecy fits exactly with the theology of Deuteronomy, where Moses says:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.... Read on >>>>
The Tour Down Under Community Ride for 2020 was 162 kilometres beginning in Norwood and finishing in Murray Bridge. This was an excellent distance for practising slow riding techniques for Deborah, especially since we planned to ride back to Norwood, which raised her total to 242km for the day... Read on >>>>
Presented to the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts Planning Day, 28 Jan 2020
I doubt I can tell you much today that you don't know. What I'd like to do is to concentrate on some things I've found have particular traction in my preaching practice— both for me personally, and for those who are listening.
What we bring to the text
We are talking today about themes in Matthew. There are two kinds of themes. One type is structural, and most people can see these when they are pointed out. We'll look briefly at a couple of those.
Then there are themes based around subjects which, if you will excuse the pun, feel much more subjective. We can be unconvinced about the presence of these themes, even when they are pointed out to us.
This is because the themes we see in a gospel are unavoidably shaped by the theology we bring to the gospel from outside, and from before. This is why something we learn in college and forget quickly, suddenly becomes live and potent a decade later: We have changed and brought a new perspective which changes what we read. (It also explains why some people can list of seemingly irrelevant facts in great detail, and be ignorant of what we consider to be most important!)
All preachers and readers do this, we impose a view upon the gospel, we never come as a blank slate which is not bringing an opinion, and this includes the preachers who claim they “just preach the bible,” and suggest that we don't. One definition of a fundamentalist is that they are the person who doesn't think they have a hermeneutic (Richard Beck) or that they are not following a theme.
Our best defence against our bias, and the best way of being open to the gospel changing us, is to be as aware as we can of what theology we bring to the gospel. In fact, when I am anticipating push-back, or I've had pushback, or I'm wondering what on earth to do with a text... one of the most helpful things I am able to do is to remind myself of what is theologically important to me and what I understand to be the heart of the gospel. This is where we can decide what to go to the wall for... or not. And sometimes it really clarifies what's important in a text.... Read on >>>>
There were no indigenous people where I lived growing up. My nanna told she thought they had all died out. I found out later that was a lie; they were still there, they are still there, and the deaths didn't just... happen. But already, many people— Nanna included— didn't know they were not telling us kids the truth. They were simply repeating what they had been told. Indigenous people had already been made invisible in my part of the world by the 1950's. And most of us didn't know people like the local farmer, for example, who showed one of my colleagues, with some pride during the 1990's, the rifle "great-grandpa used for hunting aborigines."
We didn't know about the massacres— even the one down the creek from our farm. And when, up north, I met indigenous folk who had witnessed massacres, and survived them, it was a shock. I didn't realise, even then, that the continent is littered with massacre sites. I didn't know that the war of resistance against white invasion that had been fought in the Kimberly— I found this in an obscure book on my parent's shelves, but no one seemed to want to talk about it— I didn't know this war had been fought all over the continent from the earliest days of the invasion.
I didn't know— we didn't know— that indigenous people built houses, hay stooks, ingeniously engineered weirs and fish traps. We didn't know that entire ecosystems had been destroyed by the introduction of sheep and cattle. In the 60's, as a child, I wondered why things were so different and so much drier than the stories of the grandparents: it was us, and our farming.
We didn't know indigenous people were forbidden to speak their own languages, and now, still, have European school-teachers marking them down in class, and discouraging the indigenous ways of speaking English which indigenous people in many localities have developed to survive. It's fine to use Americanisms in our speech, and change all our spelling to suit Rupert Murdoch's papers, but indigenous people report that the use of language— I'm guessing— like deadly, or proper-dark, or sister-girl... which all describe real things, have teachers telling their children, "You are wrong: Don’t speak and write like that! " Here
Walk in the cities and towns of Australia with your eyes open and it is immediately apparent that indigenous people are treated... very differently.
And this stuff is ingrained within us. My daughter is named for her Pitjantjatjara mother, a wonderful, inspiring Christian leader, a human being among human beings, and yet I find that prejudice rises in me, unbidden. I hate this. Pitjantjatjara people gave me my life... and yet the old prejudice will not die... Read on >>>>
Searching for a gold reef, the prospector Lasseter died alone in central Australia. Fifty years later a group of elderly Pitjantjatjara men told me stories of the original white incursions into their lands, including that of Lasseter. We tried to help him, they said, but he kept shooting at us, so we left him alone. Perception changes everything. It can turn an offer of salvation into a thing of death.
There is a sense in which we are blind to our perceptions, and ruled by them. Not only do they colour what we see, they almost define what we are able to see. But perceptions are never innocent. Perceptions serve a purpose. Perceptions are often about the preservation of privilege. They are an unconscious tool for keeping us safe, although sometimes I think we know...
In Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe relates the story of an intricately engineered fish trap in a purpose built weir, where fish, directed by the weir through a loop, would trigger a spring constructed from a sapling which flung the fish out of the water for the fisherman. This is what the invading colonist who observed this wrote:
I have often heard of the indolence of the blacks and soon came to the conclusion after watching a blackfellow catch fish in such a lazy way, that what I had heard was perfectly true. (Bruce Pascoe Dark Emu pp7)
Pascoe speaks of a potent mix of the "power of ... assumptions... of morally justifiable and probably inevitable... [ideas about] ... the advance of civilisation" but also of "the need for colonists to legitimise their presence." (Ibid 5)
If the colonist had seen the indigenous fisherman as part of a sophisticated culture then he could no longer justify seizing the land from an inferior being; he would become a conscious invader.
In theological terms this incident becomes, at base, an example of idolatry. Our perceptions are always part of a worldview carefully curated to keep us at the centre of things, both with respect to God and to other people, which is to allow us to remain as our own masters. (And I deliberately use that gendered term to again illustrate the purposefulness of a 'natural' perception of superiority.) God works to subvert our idolatry in order to bring us to our full freedom as created and contingent beings made in God's image... Read on >>>>
This site is about celebrating life. My own life is too busy; my work is almost designed to keep me from reflection and enjoyment. In the busyness and competition of life, it is hard, especially for men, to be honest about fears and feelings. All this works against celebrating and enjoying life except in a most shallow fashion. So here, I seek to be unbusy.
One Man's Web has grown haphazardly, reflecting the interests of friends and myself. You will find abandoned blind alleys, ideas we no longer adhere to, things we never believed but "hung out there" to see what would happen. There are areas where I am remain passionate, but can't keep up; the area on Australia's refugees is one.
If you find some enjoyment or challenge here, I am glad. Celebrate life!