Hare Street Uniting Church

Where we're heading this week:

What's happening in this confrontation in the temple?  Well…

if Jesus says it is wrong to pay taxes to Caesar, he can be charged with inciting insurrection— the Pharisees even brought some government stooges along just in case he did! (That's the Herodians.)

But of course if Jesus says you should pay taxes to Caesar… then all the religious folks will be upset because… well, that means he's saying that God is not God, but that Caesar is more important. And then the Pharisees can say (only not when the Herodians are around) that you should only give money to God so, clearly then, you shouldn't listen to this Jesus, because he thinks you should pay taxes to Caesar.

It's a very clever setup. But Jesus outsmarts them. He says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." So the Herodians can't complain. But then he says, "And give to God what is God's." So, neither can the Pharisees complain, because that's actually what they think, and what they want him to say.

But…  …   have you ever been somewhere when someone tells a joke and then, after a second or two there's a single laugh as it dawns on somebody what the person really said… and then, a couple more laughs, and then… slowly, as people cotton on, everyone starts laughing?

Well, something like that is happening here. Slowly, everyone starts to smile as they get the joke. Everything belongs to God so… what is there to give to Caesar?

And by that time, even if the government agents want to find fault with Jesus, it's too late. The crowd is on Jesus' side.... Read on >>>

Andrew: My colleague Carolyn has written a sermon for today, which I've exchanged with her. She's written the first part, and I've written the last part. Carolyn says:

         As someone who just preached last Sunday about God taking our transgressions, our sins, and casting them into the deepest part of the ocean, I’m struggling with what God will do, will say to the man who, later that evening, fired hundreds of rounds into a crowd at a concert in Las Vegas, killing some 59 people and wounding nearly 600 more.

         Corrie ten Boom forgave the guard from her death camp, but the man had repented and asked her forgiveness. What about the shooter? Just before he killed himself, did he regret what he had just done? If so, perhaps, just barely, we might be able to accept that God forgave him.

         But what if he didn’t? And, of course, we will never know.

•••

         So what if he didn’t? Did God … could God … would God, looking down on the devastation, on the bloodied bodies scattered in the crowd, the terrified survivors huddling behind whatever protection they could find, what would God feel? 

Certainly, the pain of the people below. 
Certainly, a great sorrow at such loss of life and ability and future. 
Certainly, the tragedy of the moment must overwhelm even God. 
Certainly, God’s tears mingled with those below.

         But then God is called into the judgment chamber, and the man who appears before him is the very man who committed those atrocities.

         According to the news, he was not a religious man. No ties to any particular religion. In our scenario, we’ve already determined that he is not repentant. Standing before the judge, he shows no remorse, even though his lawyer suggests that to show some such feeling might make his sentence lighter. No, he simply stands there, no pleading for mercy, no phony tears of regret. He just stands there, waiting for the verdict.... Read on >>>>

Here's where the sermon is going this week...

To really hear what's going on in Matthew Chapter 20, we need to back up to the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus, in Chapter 19, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?"

Eternal life is not about getting to some place called 'heaven' when we die. Eternal life is life in the presence of God… now.  It is life listening to God… now, and seeking to follow God… now.  It's a life which pays attention to God. And we either pay attention to God… or we don't— we may not even have noticed God. Or, like the rich young man, we may find something is blocking our relationship… that something is missing, despite all our riches.

Dying makes no difference! Where we are now, is where we will be then. Dying is not the end; it's just a biological marker which does not change our relationship with God.

So the man was not asking Jesus how to get to heaven. He was asking Jesus, "What good deed must I do to be alive with God— relating with God— now."

Jesus said to the young man, "If you want to be complete— to find life coming together— that's what the word "perfect" implies, then sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

Get rid of your possessions— the things that are stopping you following me—  be free of them, and you will enter the life of the kingdom, the life that lives with God, which we call Eternal Life."

When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions which he didn't want to give up. So at that moment, he chose not to enter into eternal life, but to continue a life separated from God....

The sermon does get to the vineyard... :-)

Here's the thing: Like the landowner, God has given me what is right, and what is just. But the landowner was not God. The landowner could have paid more to the men who worked harder and longer! Why doesn't God do this?

It's because God gives "to each of us the whole of what there is to give." (Michael Hardin) There is no more that God can give us than giving us relationship with God.  All of us will sit at the right hand of God, at the table, because that is what salvation is. That is all God can give us, for relationship with God is everything.... Read on >>>>  (Not that we'll necessarily end up just in the same place as the sermon draft!.)

I learned in Council this week that Needle and Thread Group, during June and July, made 15 skirts, 66 tops and t-shirts, 14 pairs of shorts, 13 bags, 9 rugs and 8 dresses. They also knitted 16 Beanies, 5 scarves, 3 set of slippers and a poncho.. awesome work!

The Gospel reading this week is Matthew 18:15-22. Here's where the sermon is heading...

I want to be loved… I want to be cared for, to be safe. I want to be happy. I want to matter, I want to be worth something.

And Jesus says, "I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly… in all its fullness." (John 10:10)

The trouble is that my whole learning… our whole learning and indoctrination…  says that we get love, and happiness, and worth, by putting ourselves first.  In our house the cat, who is, frankly, needy, jumps up on our lap mewling for love and attention. And when she does, the dog often flies into our lap and pushes the cat out… and not gently. The dog is just like us. It doesn't believe that we still love it… if we love the cat; and we can't believe we are loved if we are not at the centre of things.

In fact, the doctrine of Original Sin might be understood this way:  in the fact that we are almost unable to conceive of being worthwhile without winning, or without putting ourselves first, without being at the centre of things. All the other stuff we call sin flows from that.

This stuff is insidious. For a while, I worked very hard at being better than everyone else …. by putting myself last, and by being more humble than everyone else! My love was actually all about me. And… I used to work at doing things really, really well. And had to learn I was not really serving God with excellence, at all; I was proving to myself, and to God, and to other people, that I was better, and that I was deserving.

This stuff is what is called a "wicked problem"; that is, it is seems almost impossible to get a solution to it. How can we not be at the centre of our universe? It's not as though we can step out of our self and walk away, is it?...   Read more here >>>

August 27 and September 3 are covered by the one reading which has been split into two: Matthew 16:13-28.  Andrew has provided us with three posts for this period.

1. The hero must die: ... the Messiah, the Son of the living God, must die at the hands of those who long for him and who have preserved the traditions which look forward to his coming.

Peter is horrified at this non sense  statement from Jesus, and no doubt even more stunned to be called Satan and a stumbling block: if any want to be my followers they must understand that "there is [a] binding necessity to Jesus road to the cross," (Mark D. Davis) which they must in some degree imitate. To state that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the living God, without understanding that the Messiah dies and is raised again, is to miss the point. The one cannot be separated from the other; it depends upon the other. And Peter can never fulfil his calling, and neither can the church, until we see this... Read on >>>>

2. Peter and Jonah: ... Jesus is very deliberately telling Peter that not only is he going to be like a rock, but that he is a prophet like Jonah.  

Now this makes a lot of sense. Because Jonah was a prophet who ran hot and cold for God. He refused to do what God wanted, but finally did the right thing…  but… as we saw in the story, he completely misunderstood what was going on. He thought God should hate the Ninevites for what they had done. He wanted God to kill them all, and he was really angry, and had a total sulk, when God didn't kill them. He had completely misunderstood God, and had completely misunderstood what God was about.

This all fits together, because immediately after Jesus says Peter is a Jonah kind of person, yes… a prophet of God, but one who nonetheless has no idea what's going on, guess what? Peter shows us he has no.  idea.  at all. He is so far astray in his understanding that Jesus says he is Satan!!! — you can't get much more blunt than that... Read on >>>>

3. My self tells me whose I am: You can listen here.  ... [Our struggle] rests on the idea that we already have a self to lose! But we don't. I am a mix of memories, and modelling, and envy, formed by my past and by the people around me. I 'talk South African' without realising, as much as my old colleague places his hand on his head without knowing;  as much as another friend constantly calls herself stupid whilst I am awed by her equally constant acts of love to those around her; while another, genius-level, constantly sabotages himself.

We are a mess of rivalry, desire, and trauma, which has no solid centre. We are a derivation, despite our conviction that we are a solid self. We do not have a self. We are formed by others. To die, first of all, means to let go of the idea that we form ourselves. Then it means to let go of our formation, and to follow new models... Read on >>>>

This is the beginning of the essay for bible study this week. The text is Matthew Chapter 15:10-28. Bible study is 1pm Wednesday 16th August.

Observe the flow through the last few chapters of Matthew: In Chapter 13 we hear about Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of Heaven. Chapter 14 begins with an alternative kingdom which is the kingdom of Herod, and his feast; exclusion, fear, exploitation and, finally, murder. Then Jesus shows us the feast of the true Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven in story of the Feeding of Five Thousand men, with women and children, as well; inclusion, safety, healing, and compassion. We are then shown the lordship of Jesus over the whole creation, and over all the chaos of creation, which includes us and our culture,  in the story of walking on the water. And soon, (Chapter 15:32-39) we will see another Feast which is specifically shaped to emphasise the inclusion of Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It all leads to this point: God's Kingdom is for all peoples.
In all of this there is a movement from the crowd in general, to the particular behaviour of individuals. Compassion, healing, and love, all become very personal things; none of us are exempt. It is we who make up the crowd, both in our need, and in our nastiness.
This week we begin with Jesus in Jewish territory, although Galilee was considered less orthodox than Judea and Jerusalem. The  whole story is taking place in the world of Jewish orthodoxy, the proper Jewish people are the ones who are being upset by Jesus, and already, by being in Galilee, he is on the margins.
But then he goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon which is not only gentile territory, but is highlighted by Matthew as Canaanite. This is the place, and these are the people, of the old enemy. Mark D. Davis wonders if there may be an Old Testament memory here that Matthew wishes to evoke. In 1 Kings 17, Elisha is sent to Zarephath: "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you."
Being fed— given life— is central to the expounding of the Kingdom in Matthew. How ironic that a holy man of Israel who goes to Sidon is fed, and that another holy man of Israel refuses (at first) to feed a woman of Tyre and Sidon!... Read on >>>>

This is how the sermon for tomorrow is shaping up...

Did you hear about the netballer who was asked how many how many goals she had kicked during the game on Saturday? That's what's called a category mistake.  It is not so much asking the wrong question, as completely misunderstanding what's going on!

    (If you live in the USA: netballers don't kick the ball.)

In the story where Jesus walks on the water, we often make a category mistake. We ask whether he really walked on the water or not. But that's a question of our time, not Jesus' time. It's not the wrong question— it simply misses the point.

In Jesus' time there were people, without doubt, who simply assumed that he literally walked on the water. And there were other people— followers of Jesus— who assumed he didn't walk on the water; that idea would have made no sense to them. It was not the question they would have asked about the story.

The question that was of interest to Jesus' people was not, "Did it really happen?" but "What does this story mean? What on earth happened to make Matthew tell us this story?"

That's the question we're going to look at this morning. We could ask the other question, and we could argue about it for ages, but I'm pretty sure it would not get us anywhere useful.

Water, and particularly lakes and the sea, were symbols of a place for chaos and evil in Jesus' time. In the story of the beginning, in Genesis, God comes to the water and imposes order upon the chaos. You remember that it says "the Earth was without form, and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." The word without form is translated as chaosin other places in the Bible.  ((Isa 24:10, 34:11, both passages referring to judgment; cf. 4 Ezra 5:8. Quoted here from Dennis Bratcher)

So, in this story, when God creates the land, what God is doing is pushing the water back, pushing back the chaos, creating boundaries around chaos,  taking control of the chaos, and making order.

But for Jesus' people, the sea and deep water remained as potent symbols of all that is wrong in the world. They were a way of talking about how the creation— including us— was in some sense incomplete, or fallen, or gone wrong. We heard Psalm 69, where terrible things were happening to the person writing the psalm, and the way they talk about these is to imagine their suffering in terms of sinking down into deep water.... Read more

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A place where we try to live the life lessons of
Jesus of Nazareth

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and new friends
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