Monthly Archives: June 2015
MENTAL HEALTH UNWRAPPED SUNDAY 26 JULY, 1pm at St Mary’s Anglican Church hall, 428 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne.
Resourcing the Church to Support Mental Wellness. This workshop covers the important and often hidden topic of psychiatric or mental illness, and how churches can be ‘healing communities’ – places of honesty, acceptance, support and overcoming stigma, working with other services and supports, pastoral care strategies and places of prayer. Please let vicar Craig D’Alton know if you are intending to attend, or contact him for more information.
The congregation of Mark the Evangelist is pleased to welcome the Heaven’s Song church (choose the English version in the top righthand corner!), which will be using our hall/worship space on Saturday nights, 6-10pm. The congregation is part of a wider network of the Heaven’s Song church which has a ministry focussed on the Portuguese-speaking South American community. We pray that the two congregations will be a blessing to each other.
1 Samuel 17:57-19:9
There is a trick to the reading of Scriptures which involves, well, actually reading the Scriptures, closely. By this I mean that what is going on in the stories is not always as straightforward as it might at first seem.
Our reading from 1 Samuel this morning follows on from the account of David’s victory over the Philistine giant “Goliath”. Most of us have probably heard sermons which conclude from the tale what David himself seems to conclude, which is that if God is with us, nothing finally can stand against us. This must be true. But what if it is the case that God is against us? If God is against us in the same kind of way that we believe God was for David, then we have no hope. This is obvious enough for Goliath, about whom most of us don’t give a second thought.
But there is another player in the story, against whom God also stands, who is a much more nuanced presence, and so who might play on our sympathies rather more profoundly than Goliath: King Saul. We can dismiss Goliath because he stands for all that is bad. We don’t have much sympathy for him or real interest in him because he is defined as the problem, and so he is rather a one-dimensional character. But Saul is much more complex or, more to the point: Saul is much more like us.
In the unfolding of the story, we now know that Saul has been rejected as king. Saul knows this himself although he doesn’t really seem to know what to make of it, and who would? Does the rejection mean that he should simply stop being king, and go back to farming? That’s hardly going to work for anyone, God included, for David is not ready to be king either.
But the text’s account of the shape of God’s rejection of Saul is in fact rather more terrifying than the expectation that Saul might simply step down. We heard that “an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul”, whereupon Saul attacked David twice with his spear. It is the second time we have heard that Saul has received an evil spirit from God, the first time being even more strongly stated (see the end of the anointing of David narrative – 1 Samuel 16.13f – in which the spirit of YHWH comes “mightily” on David, leaves Saul, and an evil spirit from YHWH torments Saul.). I suspect that the sending of the evil spirit raises a serious moral problem for many of us. How is it “fair”, we might wonder, that Saul is actively influenced in this way? Do we not pray, Deliver us from evil, or similar, expecting that God will actually do this? What could one possibly do against a God who afflicts someone in this way? In what sense could this be the act of a “loving” God?
In fact, our moral objections here are likely to be somewhat confused and unclear even to ourselves. If God is for some things and those who do them, surely God is also against others. And, if God might act on behalf of those things God is “for”, might not God also act against those things God is against? But if we look to what happens in the story, it is more complex than this simple justification implies. Saul is as much the cause of his own downfall as anything God does.
We hear that Saul fears David because Saul perceives that God is on David’s side. This is rather strange. If God is on David’s side, and I want to be on God’s side, ought I not simply position myself next to David? Why not side with David rather than oppose him? This, of course, Saul does not do because, despite having heard from Samuel that he has been rejected as king he cannot, and does not, simply stop being king. And, in continuing in the role of king, he necessarily defends his kingship against perceived threats. It is seemingly a self-contradictory condition, but Saul can’t extract himself from it.
He does, then, the kinds of things which anyone might do in his situation. Perceiving him to be a threat, Saul removes David from the royal court, sending him out on military missions. David, however, is wildly successful, and this just further exacerbates the problem. Saul’s son Jonathon has already declared himself devoted to David. Jonathon has given David his own sword and armour and so has, perhaps, declared David to be Saul’s rightful successor. Further, Saul’s daughter Michal falls in love with David. This becomes the basis for another plan by Saul to deal with David. The wedding dowry demanded is the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Saul expects David to die trying to deliver, but he delivers 200 instead, further cementing David’s fame in contrast to Saul’s decline in the people’s imagination and David is now within the royal household as son-in-law. Saul grows more afraid of him and so, we hear, he becomes “David’s enemy from that time forth”.
If it is the case that Saul is tormented by an evil spirit from God, it is also the case that he makes perfectly rational and free decisions, each of which just makes the matter worse from his own perspective. He twists and turns against David – and so against God – each turn tightening the noose around Saul’s own neck. Every effort to destroy David brings David more strength. All of Saul’s political cunning works against him. He is, then, both destined to fail because God has abandoned him – as the story has it – and fails by his own hand; it is not possible to tease the two causes apart.
This is not exactly a heart-warming story but, whatever our emotional response, what does it have to do with us? Why might it be valuable to hear this story still today?
It is ostensibly on Saul’s behalf that we object to the suggestion that God sent an evil spirit to torment him, or even that God rejected him. Yet, if we are honest, we protest not on behalf of a long-dead Saul but on our own behalf. What if we are more Saul than David? What if God has abandoned us, only that we had no Samuel to deliver the news. Or perhaps our Samuel did come, and we did not know how to handle the announcement, as Saul himself clearly did not, or perhaps simply didn’t notice. Is this why things are as they are, why we are in this situation, why this or that has happened to us or to me or to you? What I mean by “this situation” could be anything: the condition of the mainstream church in the 21st century, or my failing health – anything for which we might be tempted to attribute some kind of divine judgement as the cause, anything in which an outcome might be thought somehow to be an “act of God”.
How baffling is the thought that not simply I might be against God but that God might be against me; for God must be against some, and not only one-dimensional nasties like Goliath but perhaps sometimes even against his own anointed, Saul. It is baffling because we tend to imagine that we are – whether as church, or as a nation, or as individuals – in some way, God’s anointed, enjoying the rights and privileges of God’s elect. We live in the expectation of the favour of God, or the world more generally. We live as if we are right.
The point of all this is not to make accusations. It is rather that the story of Saul and David suggests that, in fact, I do not know whether, when, or how God is for or against me, or you, or us here and now. Saul could not really know this. David could not really know it. As we noted last week: no one in the story has read forward to the end. For us in the midst of our own stories – and who have not read forward to their conclusions – the crucial point is that it is God who is at work in Saul and David, and here. The kingdom which is beginning to take shape in these stories is not that of Saul or even of David, but God’s own kingdom. As this unfolds the players are not mere pawns on a chessboard, directed here and there against their will, and neither are we. David and Saul are both free agents, both just doing what comes naturally under the circumstances. And yet, not their kingdoms come, not their will is done but, finally, God’s.
Is this not what we pray for each week: “…your kingdom come, your will be done…”? Perhaps, mindful of what the unfolding of God’s kingdom among us might look like, we might pray that prayer with a little more fear and trembling. It may well be that for God’s kingdom to advance, we need to be removed. Yet this is the prayer we are called to pray. To pray for the coming of the kingdom of God is not to presume with Saul that we will reign with God against all pretenders to our position and privileges. It is a prayer which asks that we will be humbled, as were both Saul and David.
This is not, in fact, bad news. To be humbled in this way is to shift interest from the anxious enacting and telling of our own story to the awareness, or confidence, that there is another story to be told, another who acts in and through and, sometimes, against us. This actor plays so that, whatever we might do, he will be found to be faithful to the promise of blessing. For we cannot bless ourselves. Saul was rejected as king because he presumed to become a blessing to God, and so to himself. David, on the other hand, does nothing to bring about his ascent to the throne and, as we will see next week, even laments what it takes for God’s promise to him to be fulfilled.
Through Saul’s waverings in and out of madness and David’s struggle simply to stay alive we see the slow process of the revelation of God’s own reign. There is no predicting of outcomes, no reading of signs from the events around us. No cleverly devised strategy or business case will guarantee us a future. We will not finally be sure whether God has worked with us or against us. We can know only that God always works through us, his kingdom to bring. We can only know that, in the end – sometimes because of us, sometimes in spite of us – God will triumph.
Even as we must calculate, risk, act or not, succeed or fail, our faith is that with this God the poverty of human morals and politics will be overcome – life out of death.
And, thanks be to God, we will wonder that it could have happened.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
When it comes to hearing such a Bible story as the one we have heard this morning – the anointing of David as king – we are at a disadvantage in making sense of it: we know how the story ends. The disadvantage here is that the story then becomes simply a story. It might be an interesting story – perhaps providing a good structure for a TV miniseries – but there is nothing much here but history, nothing much here but the past. And the thing about the past is that it is easy – we have it already sewn up; it is already comprehended. What is hard is not what these stories seem to convey to us but our own stories, for these are not yet finished, not yet past, and so we don’t have the comfort of knowing how it all ends up.
Our reading this morning is one filled with the tension of change and not knowing what is going to happen next. Samuel, who initially opposed the establishment of the kingship in Israel, has come to have a lot invested in Saul and now grieves that Saul has been rejected by God. At the same time, he is afraid of Saul, and goes to anoint the new king under the cover of fulfilling a religious duty. Samuel is convinced that he can see in David’s brothers the qualities he noticed also in Saul, but is told not to look to appearances. The principle contrast between the impressive-on-paper Saul and David is the contrast between the strong man and the man with heart. And from this point to the end of 1 Samuel the story is filled with the tension of the struggle between David and Saul.
These tensions are not what we are used to calling “creative” tensions. This is a messy business. It is the tension of shifting times, the uneasiness of knowing that something is changing but not quite knowing what or how. None of the players in the story have read forward to end; they are like us: David is no better a bet than Saul was. No one knows where things are heading, what tomorrow holds, who will live or die. The tension is going to last no small number of years for the actors in the story. David is anointed in the episode we’ve heard this morning, but then nothing actually happens in relation to the kingship for years, and even after Saul dies there is an ongoing struggle between him and Saul’s son and military commander as to the appropriate succession. At the same time, even though he has been told that he is to become king in Saul’s place, David remains devoted to Saul, even as Saul declines into a kind of manic-depressive madness.
The story is about the presence of the new in the midst of the old but there is more going on than simply the cycles of history, with fresh green growth replacing that which is withered and dying. Theologically, there is underway here is the process of establishing in Israel God’s own “heart” (cf. 1 Samuel 13.13f; 16.7).
The story of Saul and David is unfolded in such a way as to display the stark contrast between the two. David is something new in the history of Israel; there has been nothing like him before, and nothing like him again until Jesus. David is vitality and freedom, contradicting king and priest as it is necessary simply to survive, that God’s own promise be fulfilled. He moves through the pages with passion and energy. In contrast, Saul is heavy and slow moving, caught in up in ritual and sacral duties, even summoning for advice the dead Samuel via a witch, twisting and turning, seeming never to “get it”.
Of course, David is far from perfect. The labels “adulterer”, “coward”, “murderer”, “vengeful” could all be applied at certain times, and a few other labels besides. The Hebrews were not afraid to tell the truth about the great figures in their sacred stories. Yet, for all this moral imperfection, there is something extraordinary taking place here – something of such scope that it provides a large amount of the backdrop to the attempts of the early church to speak of what it had met in Jesus (who was himself proclaimed the “son of David”; see, for example, Matthew 15.22; 20.30; 21.15). Flawed as he is, David trusts himself to God. By contrast, Saul lives by transactions with God. It is an economy in which he fails miserably and he ends up bewildered as to what has happened. But David at his best is simply alive – vibrantly alive to God and to what is happening around him. Trusting himself to God, he is secure. And so he is free. And so he can act – not with impunity but without fear.
David can act in this way because, in return for his trust of God, God trusts him. This is not say that David is trustworthy: there are no shortage of instances to be cited where David fails. And yet – and yet – God gives over to David “the kingship” of which he was previously jealous. God effectively gives up his own claim to be king and settles for “having” a king, one who will stand in God’s place in the world.
Here our familiarity with these stories almost blinds us to just how extraordinary a shift is taking place here. God invests in David in a way which hasn’t happened before and will not happen again until the humanity of Jesus himself. Biblical scholars even suggest that David himself was the model the Scriptural writers used to give shape to the humanity of Adam in the garden, created in God’s image to have dominion over creation in communion with God (Cf. Brueggemann, W. (1973). In man we trust: the neglected side of biblical faith. Richmond, Va., John Knox Press, p44. The ideas of Brueggemann in this book have been important for developing this sermon). The kingship under David, and much more so under Solomon and the many who then followed, was certainly an imperfect work, but it became the sign of a new humanity – a humanity which bears the image, the kingship, of God. Perfection of this humanity was coming: a shoot from the stump of Jesse, the key of David, as we sing in Advent. Jesus himself is the one who finally trusts completely, and in that trust finds himself fully secure, and fully free.
But staying with David for the time being: if there was one true actor in the story of Hannah – God himself, as we noted when we looked at the birth of Samuel a few weeks ago – there are now clearly two on the stage. The first remains the God who continues to be faithful to the people despite their turning from him in their request for a king, and the second is the actual king who now steps onto the stage. This one is a game-changer because he has the elements of the kind of heart which is required for God to be free to be God and the king himself to be free to be a human being. For David does not know what will happen next, whether Samuel’s anointing is the action of a true prophet or a crazy old man. He doesn’t know whether all Saul’s efforts to kill him will succeed or not. He knows only himself in relation to God, and this is enough for him and for God. Everything else is only a matter of detail.
What else do we need but this – God in God’s place, and we in ours?
The story, then, is not told to tell us about God and his kings, but about us ourselves. It is not David’s kingship which matters here but the new, partly formed humanity seen in David’s career: a humanity after God’s own heart in the heart of David and offered for us all – a humanity which is learning not to fear, which is learning how to love, which can acknowledge its failures and seek forgiveness, and keep moving with God.
In Saul we see a man who did not know himself trusted, but sought always to do the “right” thing – the thing which “God” would do, were God in his place. This is an anxious place to live – always running back to check that I’m doing OK, that Mummy or Daddy or mentor approves. There is no sense of trust here, only a sense that there is but one way – “God’s way” – and it is required of us to read (or guess) God’s mind. A large part of the church even has a slogan for this, cast in the form of a question: WWJD? – “What would Jesus do?” The implication here is that Jesus always did exactly what God required. Faith – our faith – then becomes a kind of religious science by which we discern or “divine” what would be the godly act in any situation. This is not a free life but a fearful one: I am ever wondering whether I am doing the right thing.
But in, in contrast to Saul, we see in David one who is free to say Yes or No, to fight or not to fight, to act or not to act, because his relationship to God is not on the basis of what he does, but on the basis of a common heart: being a son to a father, and not a servant to a master, as it were.
The point here is not that we ought to have a heart “for” God, as Christian lingo sometimes puts it. Rather, such heart as David had does God: the glory of God is a human being fully alive (paraphrasing Irenaeus, d. c. AD 202), fully aware that as a daughter, a son, we are trusted, loved, free.
The gospel is that God looks not to appearances and efforts but to the heart, and declares that the human heart might yet belong to him: that we might know ourselves as God’s children – brothers and sisters of David and David’s greater son Jesus, the sign and promise of such a life.
By the grace of God, may all his people be open to such renewed and cleansed hearts by the implanting within us of God’s own Spirit, for the sake of life and of love. Amen.
THIS Sunday 21 June in the Melbourne CBD there will be a series of Pop-Up Protests (11am – 1.45pm at various locations) and a Finale Program protesting Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Join us to call on our politicians to STOP THE CRUELTY, and to protect, not punish refugees.
The main event is at 2pm in the City Square – the Finale program of speakers, performance and music, includes Mark Seymour, Corinne Grant, Rod Quantock, Mohammad Ali Baqiri, Pamela Curr, L-FRESH, the West Papua Black Orchid String Band, Les Thomas and other musicians and performers.
Bring a placard or banner – Stand Up and show your support for Refugees.
- Bring an old pair of shoes to add to the installation that will be created on the day: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IN THEIR SHOES? (add your shoes anytime after 11am at the City Square) All shoes will be donated to charity.
- Bring flowers to place on the memorial on Princes Bridge – for all those who have died in Australian detention centres, for those who have died trying to find safety here, for those who have died when Australia has turned them away, and for all those who languish without hope on Nauru and Manus Island. (lay your flowers anytime after 10.30am on Princes Bridge )
We can welcome refugees … we can resettle … we can treat asylum seekers with dignity ….we MUST stop the cruelty
10am: Stormy Waters on the Big Screen at Federation Square – the film highlights the contradiction in our reputation for generosity and our hostility to ‘boat people’, and calls for the humane treatment of asylum seekers.
11am: Phil Beggs and Phil Carroll – City Square – with songs from Stormy Waters
12noon – 1.45pm: Pop-Up Protests will be happening around the CBD – details will be posted athttps://www.facebook.com/events/1619890454964877/ and see attached to this email and below
1pm : Protest rally at the Liberal Party Offices, 104 Exhibition Street ( Refugee Action Collective)
2pm – 3.30pm: Finale Program in City Square
We believe we can – and must – do better:
It’s NOT OK to lock up innocent people – CLOSE ALL DETENTION CENTRES
It’s NOT OK to hold people – including babies and children in limbo on Nauru and Manus Island in punishing conditions – CLOSE the camps on MANUS ISLAND AND NAURU
It’s NOT OK to send people back to places of torture – STOP DEPORTING PEOPLE TO DANGER
It’s NOT OK to take short cuts with life and death decisions – PROVIDE FAIR & THOROUGH PROCESSING OF ALL REFUGEE CLAIMS
It’s NOT OK to turn people away when they seek our protection.
We can welcome refugees … we can resettle … we can treat asylum seekers with dignity ….we MUST stop the cruelty
See also below: program of Pop-Up Protests and media alert.
Marie Hapke – on behalf of the Organising Group for World Refugee Day
Refugee Advocacy Network
Enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org or 0409 252 673
MELBOURNE CBD to come alive on WORLD REFUGEE DAY with CREATIVE POP UP ACTIONS
“The traditional WORLD REFUGEE DAY on Sunday 21/06/2015 will be remembered in a different way this year by the people of Melbourne, “ says Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project. “The message of the day is STOP the CRUELTY- We can do better – it will be carried through song, theatre and artistic expression by community groups and individuals through Melbourne streets.”
Hundreds of Grandmothers singing on trams trains and buses will make their way into the city. Yarn-bombing and knitting enthusiasts will decorate the streets with messages of hope. Hearts will be planted in boxes all over the city. Peter Drewe, street artist will be at work. Flowers and memorials will pop-up in gentle spaces. Students, choirs and street theatre, spoken word artists and installations and even a funeral procession carrying a coffin for our precious human rights will pop-up throughout the CBD this Sunday 21st June, from 12noon.
The day will kick off with a screening off the new film Stormy Waters on the Big Screen at Federation Square at 10am.
At 2pm the artists, activists and the public will gather in the City Square, Corner Collins and Swanston Streets, for the Grand Finale with special guest stars.
- Mark Seymour with songs from his new album
- Rod Quantock armed with his shiny new Order of Australia will amuse and stir
- Mohammad Ali Baqiri – formerly a child detainee on Nauru
- Pamela Curr – Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
- Corinne Grant will keep us all in order
South of the River, the West Papuan Black Orchid String Orchestra, Les Thomas, L-FRESH and other performers will join for a rousing finale to the day.
Many Australians are heartbroken by our cruelty to people in need and the politics of hate souring the nation. The Refugee Advocacy Network believes that we can welcome refugees and that we can treat asylum seekers with dignity. We want a return to our fast held belief in a Fair Go for all. This Refugee Day is a time to affirm our hope for a kinder and fairer Australia.
CONTACTS: Marie Hapke 0409252673 and Pamela Curr 0417517075
See the latest update on the VicTas Synod’s MSR here.