Hare Street Uniting Church

Bible Study this week was around this:

You can listen to this post here. (18 minutes)

When is a “nature miracle” something else?

On the surface, this miracle story is making an obvious point. Jesus is Lord even of the sea. He can walk over the place where evil and chaos lie.

The point is profound. At the beginning of the creation narratives of Jesus’ people, “2the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2.)

The starting point for God’s work here is disorder, we might even use the stronger term chaos. In fact, the Hebrew word translated here "formless" is translated in other places as "chaos" (Isa 24:10, 34:11, both passages referring to judgment; cf. 4 Ezra 5:8) (Dennis Bratcher, quoted here.) …  In the New Testament, this imagery is reflected when the storms occur as Jesus is crossing the Sea of Galilee. For the readers of the time the message was obvious: chaos is challenging Jesus, who as 'Son of God' shows that he too has mastery over chaos. In the culture of the time, the chosen son had all the authority of his father. (Andrew Prior)

When the dry land is created “we see the power of God over the chaos. The waters are placed within boundaries.” (Andrew Prior)

Despite this, the fear of water remains. Israel knows too well that there is something chaotic in creation. Water is a key metaphor for this, and for suffering and death, and significantly, for betrayal.... Read on >>>>

We began Bible Study this week with this excerpt from James Alison's book Raising Abel:

Once more it is seen that the coming into existence of the kingdom incorporates a whole lot of people of no importance, of no apparent worth, and even these people are knocked out of joint, called in highly inappropriate ways, to become something which they are not, something which is a being stretched out of themselves beyond their limits, or, as St Paul says, referring to this same question, in one of the most notable passages of Scripture:

But God hath chosen the foolish things with the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hat God chosen, yea and things which are not, to bring to naught the things that are. (1 Cor. 1:27-28)

These lines give us the whole meaning: by means of Jesus, the Creator of all things is bringing creation to existence out of nothing. This preferring of the weak and foolish has nothing to do with any resentment or desire to turn everything upside down, as at times we imagine with a mentality which still conceives of God has brandishing some sort of vengeance against those who have it well in life. It is rather the case that only that which is fragile, weak, precarious according to the order of this world is capable of allowing itself to be broken so as to be created anew. The rest, that which is strong, wise, and so on, has its identity so anchored in its formation by the desires of this world that it is not capable of that breaking open of identity so that the new "I" may be called to existence. Sadly, that's how it is. The vocations to the kingdom are inappropriate because only that which is vulnerable can allow itself to be broken in order to be built up again. …

[Peter's] preaching of the gospel could not but be the story of someone who had betrayed his best friend and who had had to revise his whole life in the light of this best friend appearing first to him, without any element of recrimination or blaming.

John suggests the same, and does so in an especially beautiful way. Let's pause beside Peter's conversion in John. Remember that Peter gets as far as the courtyard of the high priest's house, and there he warms himself with others before a charcoal fire. (John 18:18)  It is there, beside the fire, that he denies three times that he knows Jesus. Then in John 21, Peter jumps into the sea when he hears that the Lord is on the shore to get him.

As soon as they came to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon and bread. (John 21:9)

The object on which the fish was cooking was, in Greek, exactly the same thing as that before which Peter had denied Jesus: anthrakian—a charcoal fire. Imagine Peter's psychology: summoned to recognise Jesus at the same object before which he had betrayed him. Jesus says nothing, but  calls them to eat.  After they have eaten he unties Peter from the memory of his betrayal by asking him three times if he loves him and then confirms him in his new identity of the one who will feed his Sheep.

Something similar is to be found in Luke, when Jesus, predicting Peter's denial, says:

 Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and you, when you turn again, strengthen your brother's. (Luke 22:: 31-32)

That is to say, the story of how Simon came to be Peter, the rock, the principal witness to the good news, is this story of someone whose personality had to disintegrate completely, in a process which I imagine to have been extremely painful, so that he might forge and create the story of someone who is apparently not he.

So the two pillars of the apostolic witness, the traitor and the persecutor, [Paul]  offer us something of the rules of grammar by which we came to be that which we are not: there is no beginning to create this new story, this new identity, except starting from how I was brought to the end of myself, sifted like wheat, and had my heart, formed by the deceits and violences of this world, broken open.

There is no story and empowered by the eschatological imagination that is not a story of this sort: of how I left Egypt. And this is not going to some punishing, finger-pointing god, a sort of celestial headmistress, but rather the weight of glory is too great to be carried in earthen vessels. There is no story of how "I" was turned into a vessel capable of bearing glory that is not also the story of the coming to an end of the previous vessel.  (cf 2 Cor. 4:7, 17) (James Alison Raising Abel pp90-94)

I've had some discussion with a colleague about my post on Matthew 14 with a colleague. As always, he has been incisive in his critique, and forced me to clarify what I am trying to say. Underlying our discussion are a number of issues which are often not acknowledged. Not least of these is the immense pressure that comes "from the pews," and other places, not to betray the received understanding of particular portions of scripture or, indeed, the received understanding  of wider theology or doctrines of the church.

There are also profound interpretive issues which will affect what we see in any scriptural story. Some are highlighted in the current week's reading, which is The Feeding of the Five Thousand (plus women and children) in Matthew 14.

Who are we as we interpret scripture? Are we looking to preserve the way we read texts,  or are we seeking to be transformed, opened to new possibilities? This is at the heart of much debate about biblical interpretation, although not always obviously so.... Read on >>>>

Hot off the press. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the set reading for Sunday August 6. We will be using the reading during Bible Study on Wednesday 2nd August at 1pm. (At the Church)

I have been troubled by Magic Jesus for most of my Christian life. Every time anything startling happens, there he is, working some more magic— although people call it a miracle. But it is magic. It moves stuff around just like Harry Potter does. It moves stuff which, just as in Harry Potter, we know can't be moved like that. How then can what the Bible says be true, instead of being Harry Potter: Draft One?

I understand the appeal of Magic Jesus. He lets us read the text without too much reflection or work: the Bible says it, I believe it. Believing in Him means that we are not ostracised, or even persecuted, by His many followers. And I grew up with the story of Magic Jesus. If it were true, everything would be all right in the end. I have emotional loyalty to the story. Or is that "loyalty" simply one  more reluctance to grow up and live in harsh reality?

And belief in Magic Jesus appears to give him, and therefore God, lots of power.  We say we believe in Jesus because of God, but many of us believe in God because of Jesus, and a Magic Jesus bolsters God's claims to power.

The problem with the power of Harry Potter, despite Harry's goodwill, is that he uses the same power as he who must not be named. He does a violence against the physics of reality, which is all too easily a violence against other people. Gentle though he is, his power is of the same order as the satan of the series; there is no qualitative difference beyond Harry's goodwill and the ill will of the other.... Read on >>>>

We've been referencing the work of James Alison and other Girardian theologians in Bible Study.  Andrew puts some of it together here.

You can listen to it  here (26 minutes) or read:

My change in understanding "life after death" seems to have come from an appreciation of the absoluteness of physical death. As a new Christian I had assumed that Jesus gave us, in some way, life after death. That was not something I had explored. It was more a way, I think, of avoiding death. It basically took death off the table, but if the Terror Management Theorists and the Girardians are correct, it was basically a denial of death. I was using my religion "under the table" to avoid the issue of death, just as other people immerse themselves in sport or computer coding.

The next step came as I understood the finality of death in its physical aspects. If we are merely physical, then death is completely destructive. If we are merely physical, we are dependent upon the physical substrate of our brain for our consciousness and being. And so I learned to live with that. I accepted it as given, and as inevitable. I began to cease the denial of my death. It's one of the side effects of burying your friends. Read on >>>>

Bible Study for July 26 was based around this post from Andrew.

For 40 years, this farm kid has read the Parable of the Mustard Seed with a nagging question: who in their right mind would plant mustard? Mustard is a weed. Blinded by my father's love of Dijon and English Hot, it has never occurred to me that the Farmer might not be growing condiments, but might be sowing a weed called Jesus.

And the Woman is hiding yeast in the unleavened bread of Passover.

After this pithy introduction, I am about to embark on a long exploration with lengthy quotations. I think it's worth following through. The parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, here in Chapter 13 of Matthew, and again in Matthew 25  expose a radical reorientation of our way of being. We tend to reduce them to something less, which has lost its edge.

Matthew 13  can appear to be a somewhat disconnected compilation of stories. But what if "he means what he says and knows what he means," as Mark D Davis puts it? What if we read the text as a whole— as having a driving purpose, rather than leaving out pieces,  and reordering our reading of the parables, as the Revised Common Lectionary does? What do we hear then? ... Read on >>>>

Andrew's take on The Parable of the Sower

There is a farm house out in the Hills which stands in a 30 acre paddock on some of the prettiest land in the state. Over the years, the owner has collected car bodies and old farm machinery which lines the farm drive, and is also scattered in a couple of hundred random clumps over the whole 30 acres like a demented mechanical cemetery.

I often wonder how some farming families can stand to have a dozen pigsties lining the drive up to their house— this place has pigsties as well, but this farm takes mess to a new level. 

Most likely, the cars, and the pigsties, are invisible to the owners. We become habituated to the place where we live, and blind to the features which seem most obvious, and even appalling, to fresh eyes. My wife could be tempted to suggest, at this point, that instead of talking about my desk, I simply clean it up! We are all like this.... Read on >>>>

This was the sermon for Matthew 11:16-30

We all know how hard life can be. I think most people have times when they'd just like to throw in the towel; it all gets too hard.

There are a couple of ideas floating around which really don't help us when life is hard.

The first idea is that some people have life all together. They are living the dream. They don't have problems. Everything is easy for them. Why can't I have that? In fact, we can beat ourselves up over not doing the right thing to get there,

...   or we can drag ourselves down with resentment.

There can be a grain of truth in the idea that some people are more fortunate. Life is easier without arthritis ... than with arthritis. It helps a great deal ... to have enough money to pay your bills easily. And it's far better to live in a place  where you are not being abused.

But what I notice, is that some folk who live, or have lived,  in absolutely terrible circumstances, seem remarkably at peace. They even have a level of ... contentment. And other folk who have everything--  or so it seems--  are miserable.... Read on >>>>

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