Hare Street Uniting Church

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

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 >>>>

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Going Deeper...
Some UCA Resources

One Man's Web
Rev Andrew Prior
Old Testament Lectionary
Rev Dr Anna Grant-Henderson
Lectionary Resources
Rev Dr. Bill Loader
Sarah Tells Stories
Rev Sarah Agnew
The Billabong
Rev Jeff Shrowder
Stepping Stones
Rev John Maynard

 

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Woman preparing communion
Join us
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10am Sundays
GPdI Filadelfia meets at 3.00pm
 
 
 

 

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