Looking West from The Jump Up, north of Itjinpiri on the way to Amata, 1995

One Man's Web

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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 >>>>

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