Near Molong, NSW 2011

One Man's Web

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Let me attempt a reading of this story.  Jesus has just calmed a storm; we might pun that he has shown his power over the elements, those elemental spirits (Col 2:8,20) that lurk in untamed depths of water.  Water remains dangerous to us (and in the imagination of the New Testament) because although God has said Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear, (Genesis 1:9) which brought the Chaos under control, creation is not yet complete. That will not happen until the sea [is] no more. (Rev 21:1) The lake and the sea are always threat. And now Jesus steps out onto the land, which proves to be another place of elemental spirits. As he stepped out on land; this the challenge is immediate. Perhaps the land is no more safe than the sea. Perhaps the sea is really only a symbol of the violence of the country in which we live. The Gerasenes are us.

The challenge at this moment comes from a man of the city. Where did the city come from? There is no mention of a city before this;  they were going to the country of the Gerasenes, which signifies the place— the whole cultural environment— which the Gerasenes inhabit. Suddenly the place they live is diagnosed as the city.

The city is always an ambiguous place in Scripture. It is certainly not green pastures beside still waters in the presence of God despite the presence of enemy and death. (Psalm 23) It is the place of gathering, which it is not called ecclesia. Unhealed city always has the smell of "The Naked City," John Sylvester's crime column from The Age. His title reflects the underbelly of our gathering as people. Under the brick-veneer of our civility there is something visceral and naked about us; something driven. We are owned by our appetites... Read on >>>>

What is it that we have actually done here today in this baptism?

We've said it means God loves Evie May. Indeed it concerns all of us who are here today, not just Evie May; God loves those of us who are in this building for the very first time, and those of us who've been coming here Sunday after Sunday for 50 years.  But what does that mean?

Baptism is not just words and water. It's a promise. It's the promise that's in the reading from John 10 where Jesus says, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." Some translations say, so "that you might have life in all its fullness."

But let's put this in really cold, hard, on-the-ground practical terms. Climate models predict we’re currently on track for an average global temperature rise of somewhere between 3C and 4C by the year 2100.  When Evie May is my age, 65, she'll be living in a fundamentally different world,  where climate scientists openly wonder about the very survival of our civilisation. The Emeritus Director of the Potsdam Institute... warns that “climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.” He says that if we continue down the present path “there is a very big risk that we'll will just end our civilisations. The human species will survive somehow but we'll destroy almost everything we have built up over the last two thousand years."  In 2018, Rear Admiral Chis Barrie told an Australian Senate inquiry that "after nuclear war, human- induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet." ((Breeze,N.2018.“It’s non-linearity, stupid”,​The Ecologist​,3 January 2019, accessed 18 March 2019, stupid) quoted in Existential Climate Related Security Risk.)

So how can there be any good news in this?... Read on >>>>

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Imagine this: A traveller comes to the city gate.

The gates are where the laws of the city are put into action. At the gate the city decides— the gatekeepers decide— if you are to be allowed to enter. The city will decide if you belong, or if you are an alien or a sojourner. At the gates, the city will decide if you will be rejected. And for those inside the city, it is at the gates that the city will decide if you still belong, or if you will be thrown out. That's the world of Boaz and Ruth, and of Jesus, and all of us in church know about... gatekeepers.

There are two people at the gate who will be especially significant for us. One is the satan. He is the accuser, the prosecutor, the one who will tell the city that you are wrong, that you are a danger, that you should be expelled in order to keep the peace. So the gossip in the back room who says we should not allow so and so to be in church is.... a satan. And if you are human like me, you know that even in your own heart there is a satan, an accuser who tells you that you are unworthy, that you are not good enough, and that God does not love you.

But also in the gate, or in the gateway is the goel. The goel can be translated as the redeemer. If you translate the thought into Greek you might call the goel the paraclete, or the Advocate for the defence. The goel is the one who will pay money for you, to redeem you, and to allow you to enter the city and become one of us. In Ruth chapter 4, Boaz redeems Ruth, the outsider and alien from Moab, an often enemy country. He redeems her in the gate of the city; she becomes one of them, and is great-grandmother of David the great King... Read on >>>>

The Ascension of Jesus is decades ago. People feel separated from God; this is why John has Philip ask Jesus to show them the Father. Into this anxiety, John speaks the Good News to his community. He says to Philip, "If you have seen me, you have seen the father." And, more good news, they have not been left orphaned. The father has sent another Advocate, another helper as Jesus was, to be with them. And Jesus says, "You know him because he abides with you, and he will be among you." In John's time, that future statement is fulfilled. Jesus is saying to John's community, "You know him because he abides with you and he is with you."

Augustine speaks to every one of us who has ever felt belittled by 'spiritual' Christians: "How can we love so as to receive Him, without whom we cannot love at all? And his answer was: "We are therefore to understand that [the one] who loves has already the Holy Spirit, and by what [she] has [she] becomes worthy of a fuller possession..."

We forget who we are. We are not the first Christians of Jerusalem. We are not those who are witnessing a new outpouring of God called Holy Spirit. We are the children of those people. And so, for us, the presence of the spirit is the same as the presence in John's community. "You know him because he abides with you and he is with you." ... Read on >>>>

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I long for glory. Some nights, when the noise of the highway has begun to fade, I stand in our back yard looking into the stars, and it is as though I might fall into the sky; it is as though we are on the edge of something so profound we can barely guess what it is, yet sense that there is something here— that we are a part of something— which in swallowing us up would fulfil us beyond our dreams: Glory. I sense some thing the same as we gather tired and distressed around the Table in all our difference and irritation and pettiness. We are near that One which is Glory.

Chapter 17 is a summing up of John's Gospel. It is the final word before the decisive act of human history, which begins in Chapter 18: "After Jesus had spoken these words, [the words of Chapter 17] he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden..." That valley divides the Mount of Olives (where the Messiah stands to rescue Jerusalem in Zechariah 14) and the city of the temple. It is a great divide, and yet Jesus seeks to heal the divide and make the two places one.  John calls the place, not the Mount of Olives, but a garden, a paradise, in Latin, that genesis-place in the tradition where we hold the vision of Creation in its wholeness. In fact, in his death and resurrection, Jesus does heal the divide; the question is whether we will embrace the healing... Read on >>>>

The Podcast

Joining the text as Eve eats the 'apple': ... so she ate the thing that God was protecting her from! And Adam watched her eat. Adam let her eat. And when God questioned him, he said, "Not me, Lord. Not us— not you and me. It was them... that is, it was her. (Just like the misogynists of today still say: "It was her. She can't be ordained or in leadership." It's the same old blame game.)

She took the apple, said Adam. And the rest is history. Eve blamed the serpent, and, as they say, the serpent didn't have a leg to stand on.

One way of looking at what happens next, is this. Adam gets put out of the garden, too. He tries to put himself on God's side, but God says, "There are no sides. There is only us. We are all in this together. So we all leave the garden... together."

That way of doing things: blaming, avoiding responsibility, making people like us into a 'them,' is what means we lose paradise. I wonder what would have happened if Eve had simply said, "I was jealous, I didn't trust your goodness to me. I am sorry." Or if Adam had said, "I was happy for her to eat, because I was jealous, too. I didn't trust your goodness to me." I wonder if it was not so much that God drove them out of the garden, as it was that they could not stand to be in the presence of God along with their lies. They had no peace....

...  'Us and them' blinds us to God, and it blinds us to the truth that there is only 'us.'

Here is what that word from our text,  "How is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" means: The world is a way of describing us. The world is us when we insist on the  old human law— the old human lie— of' us and them.'

The world is a way of describing us when we insist
that we are better,
that we are different,
and that other people are less than us,
and deserve less than us,
and can be treated without the respect we demand for ourselves.

The world is a way of living.
It damages us and destroys us.

We Christians can be the world: we... can be those who no longer see Jesus, and who cannot feel the peace Jesus gives. It will be because we have not trusted him, and have only trusted the old deadly law and lie of 'us and them.'

There is no peace, then, and there cannot be... Read on >>>>

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From the text:
It does seem as though Jesus just couldn't help himself when it came to healing people in a way that would cause offence to the establishment. And yet it's clear why. Unless something radically different breaks in on our consciousness in a way that is startling, or aggressive, or even offensive, then we often don't see it for what it is. We remove its offence, or we domesticate it in some way, or we simply forget it.

We all live inside our own view of the world; some would say we live within a paradigm (Kuhn) or an episteme. (Focault) Whatever we call it, and however we nuance it, we live in a reality which we may not much like, but which is our reality; we know it or, at least, we think we do. Going outside of it is really frightening, and extremely hard work. Everything about us works to prevent us from going outside.... .... And so we reject the offering of something truly new— something deep in us tells us our life depends on this rejection, and that it is better not to disturb things. Or, like the man in the story of John 5, we grasp onto something of the surface of a new thing, but in reality, it becomes merely a gloss painted over our old being, which remains fundamentally unchanged... Read on >>>>


I remember the shock of seeing him in the mirror. I liked him. It was the first time. I was fifty. Sometime around then, one of my children took a photo of me, the first one I ever liked. I began, in those years, to value and enjoy life, rather than live occasional days or weeks of distraction and temporary forgetfulness of all the self-hate and alienation. I realised one day that I was 'at home' in the world; I belonged; it was my place; it was good; I was no longer defined by alienation and pain.

We forget. We sleep securely in our slavery. (Carole Etzler) The money inures us a little— buys us some anaesthesia, we find others to look down upon, and we forget, or do not begin to see, just how much we are driven by the world, and what it has done to us. But every so often, the Spirit gives us eyes to see: last week, when I made a dopey mistake, I exclaimed, "Oh Andrew," with an emphasis on the syllables which I had not heard since childhood. I knew the voice at once, and recognised an undefined pain which is still too hard to begin to explore. The world comes into our kitchen and owns us and gives us no peace at all; it only tells us where we must go. We have simply forgotten this, most of the time, or become used to it... or not yet woken up... Read on >>>>

This post continues my exploration of Acts 9-11.  At its base is the sense that, even now, we have barely understood what it means when God says to Peter, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." What follows is more notes than anything complete.

Peter always was unreliable. He denied our Lord, you know, but what else would you expect from a Galilean? As they say, nothing good can come from Nazareth. No— Jesus was born in Bethlehem; that makes all the difference. He came from a good family.

Peter never understood how one thing leads to another. You have to stay true to the Faith, and keep the traditions,  or you can end up who knows where. Take that Aeneas incident, for example. Another one of those Greeks. I know they've been circumcised and all, but the leopard never changes its spots, as the scroll of Jeremiah1 tells us. And that's where it starts to go wrong because then— after that, Peter's off to Joppa, always impetuous, never thinking it through.

Did it never occur to him what that the fact that half the widows in the town called that woman Dorcas actually means? I've heard people suggest she was Greek, too. And to call her a disciple!? Even the women at the cross are not called that. Anyway— Greeks again, and he's raising her from the dead. What about all the good orthodox Jewish Christians who missed out; was she the only one who died that day? It's not a small city, you know.

One thing really does lead to another: it all went to his head, and he went and stayed with that stinking Simon the tanner. Well, both Simons stink. Some upstart Roman Centurion thought he had a vision from God— all those rumours from Lydda andJoppa, I suppose— and sent to ask for Peter... who actually gave this fantasy credence, and went off to Caesarea... Read on >>>>

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