Monthly Archives: February 2016

28 February – God at home with us

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Lent 3

Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63
Luke 13:1-9

“Soul” is a word which doesn’t quite fit in our modern world. It is familiar enough in the church, even if even here we might struggle to give an adequate definition of what we mean by the word. Beyond the church we might speak happily of “soul music”, or occasionally of the number of “souls” lost in the sinking of a ship or the crash of a plane but, for the most part, it is a somewhat homeless word in a culture which wants to be past its former religious heritage but can’t quite shake the language.

In our psalm this morning it is the poet’s “soul” which thirsts, by which the poet (said to be David) implies that he himself – the “him” which is at his heart – experiences an emptiness like what being thirsty and faint with hunger is for the body.

David slakes that thirst by “gazing on God in the sanctuary” (v.2). The notion is probably of David entering the Tabernacle – the “tent” which was God’s specified dwelling prior to the building of the Temple by Solomon. In fact the translation is not easy here, and it could be either that he has looked upon God, or he will be looking on God. This makes it a bit harder to work out what is happening and in what order, particularly given that he is said to be in the wilderness when the prayer is written.

Yet, whatever precisely David means here, his experience is different what from ours can be. In the first place, the sanctity of the Tabernacle or the Temple is different from that of what we might consider our holy places – perhaps our churches. There was a singularity about the Tabernacle and the Temple which doesn’t apply to churches (the Muslim sense for Mecca would be closer to the Israelite’s sense for the Temple). The Tabernacle and the Temple stood for the presence of God in a unique way, such that an approach to the Temple necessarily gave a sense of being “closer” to God, not least because it was “the” place at which to encounter God.

But, in the second place, we here must read a text like this as Christians, for whom the idea and location of the “holy place” of God has undergone a radical and irreversible change. With respect to the Temple, this is most clearly put in John’s gospel. In the first two chapters of John there are two explicit statements that Jesus now becomes the Temple. The first is in John’s great prologue. There we read: “the Word become flesh, and dwelt among us”. A more literal translation would be “the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us”. This “tent-pitching” resonates with the Old Testament experience of the God who travels with his people, dwelling in a tent (Tabernacle) as they do. The second reference to Jesus as the Temple occurs in John’s version of the clearing of the Temple in which Jesus challenges the religious leaders to “tear down this Temple”, saying that he would build it up again in three days. John interprets this for us: the “temple” to which Jesus referred was his own body, his own person.

This cannot mean, however, that whereas the David or the Jews had the Tabernacle or the Temple, we now have Jesus. Jesus does not simply take over the role of the Temple. If this were the case, then those who had no use for the Temple would have no use for Jesus, either. It is precisely this kind of thinking which has seen faith marginalised in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike: the understanding that temples and messiahs have to do with religious concerns and such concerns, not being shared by all, thereby do not finally matter. It is this kind of thinking which allows David’s Tabernacle or a Christian’s Jesus simply to be a “crutch” in hard times, a place to which we run to escape the “real” world.

This is not, however, the faith of the church. If there is a holy place where God might be seen, it must necessarily be a place which is also our place – the place of all of us, the world as we experience it in common. The holy place is not just a place outside of us we can visit if we need to. It will be deeply rooted in what we are, what we need and what we suffer if it is to be our place, our home. David’s thirsty soul is a homeless soul – literally, perhaps, in the sense that he is being chased around the Judean wilderness – but also metaphorically, in that it seeks again to orient itself towards “home”: God in God’s sanctuary, God’s home.

The question is, Where is God’s home? For Christian reflection the home of God, and God’s own experience of homelessness, are central to the story of Jesus. Jesus, at what appears to be his highest and what appears to be his lowest, is God’s “sanctuary” – God’s sanctifying of the world as God’s home both as it embraces him and as it rejects him.

For our purposes in thinking through the psalm it is perhaps in the negative – in the rejecting of Jesus – that the idea of the sanctification in Jesus’ work is most important. Here what seems to be godlessness in its extreme – the crucifixion of a condemned man – is given as the assurance of God’s presence in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves. To look upon God in this sanctuary – the cross – becomes the affirmation that God is never far from where we are, wherever that may be. For God’s holy place is with us.

This may not seem much comfort; perhaps we would prefer that God’s presence were proven in God’s power to shift us from a literal thirst and hunger to satisfaction of those needs. For David, this doesn’t happen: he is still running from Saul or Absalom in the wilderness. Yet, he is moved to a series of affirmations:

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips…
… for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me (vv.5-8).

This sense of being upheld does not spring from being freed from the suffering and persecution afflicting him, but from a freedom from fear. This is a subtle shift, but an immensely important one.

Human life is filled with difficulties, disappointments and pain. The difference which David’s affirmation of faith makes is not that these things now magically go away, but that they might be faced without fear. Illness, death, poverty, persecution do not go away; but neither are they to be feared as ultimately oppressive. They are among the kinds of things which “happen” in the world. What is then to “happen” in response to these threats is the revelation of the children of God (Romans 8.19). Faithfulness is the manifestation of a different sense of who we are: the rising up of the resistance of the soul, the heart, to everything which denies us our patrimony, our inheritance, as God’s children. This inheritance is our sense of being gathering under God’s wings, just as Jesus longed to do for God’s people in last week’s gospel reading. Whatever is happening to us, this identity is not threatened and cannot be taken away, for in Christ we are “upheld”, kept close.

There will still be suffering and hardship and grief. There will still be difficult decisions and hard roads to tread. But there need be no fear. Only this one – whom David addresses and whom we might too – only this one is to be “feared”, and there is nothing to fear with him.

Let us, then, cling to him whose right hand upholds us.

Let us seek shelter in the wings of the one for whom no experience in the world is strange or foreign or overwhelming, not even death itself: the one who remains as “Father” to his children, at home with us wherever we may be, whatever we may be subject to, whatever we fear.

21 February – Jesus pities Jerusalem

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Lent 2

1 Chronicles 11:1-9
Psalm 27
Hebrews 12:14-19, 22-24
Luke 13:31-35

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr Chris Mostert

Theme   ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’                                                                                                (Luke 13:34)

[A] Introduction

In biblical imagery the cock and the hen symbolise very different things. It was a cock that crowed three times, marking Peter’s threefold denial that he knew Jesus. In today’s reading from Luke Jesus speaks about himself with the simile of a hen gathering her brood under her wings. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.’

The readings today focus on Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Zion or the city of God. David captured the city of Jebus (of the Jebusites) and made it his fortress. The Epistle directs our attention to the heavenly Jerusalem, Mt Zion, the city of the living God (Heb 12:22). This is an eschatological reality, essentially some­thing future, which has – in a strange interplay of tenses – already touched the present. Today, however, prompted by Jesus’ words over Jerusalem, our focus will be on Jerusa­lem past and present.

[B] The Dominus flevit chapel

There is a poignant reminder of Jesus’ words in a little chapel on the Mount of Olives, called the Dominus flevit chapel: in the place where ‘the Lord wept’ (cf Lk 19:41). From there you get a great view of the Old City of Jerusalem, including the great Mosque of the Dome which stands on the site of the great Temple, destroyed in the year 70 AD. The little chapel was built in the 1950s but from the 5th century there had been a monastery on the site. Inside the chapel there is a mosaic of a hen, with a halo around its head. Its wings are spread out, and underneath them there are five or six little chicks.

Ever since the 9th chapter of Luke’s Gospel Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem. It’s the turning-point of the book, for the decisive things will happen in Jerusalem, the place that would make or break a prophet. He doesn’t actually get to Jerusalem till late in the 19th chapter, when he is welcomed as a king, though riding on a colt. But now, at the end of ch 13, Jesus speaks with pathos about Jerusalem and its people. His words are a kind of lament: words of sorrow or grief. ‘If only you had recognised the things that make for peace.’ Jerusalem is the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers. Jeru­salem is the city where his own mission must take him and where the people’s verdict will be given. There’s no avoiding it!

[C] Jerusalem – the lamented city

Jerusalem is the city that stands for Judaism. For around 3,000 years Jerusalem has been a holy city for Jews. David’s son, Solomon, built the first great temple there. Jerusalem and Judaism go together, by divine fiat, as religious Jews see it.

The public relations material that promotes Jerusalem doesn’t tell you that it is a city that symbolises the competing aspirations – religious and political – of Jews and Arabs, and that neither side will countenance forfeiting these in any future political settlement.

There have always been Jews in Jerusalem, even after the Romans put an end to Israel as a political entity in 135 AD. For 18 centuries Jews lived mostly in diaspora – until 1948, when the state of Israel was restored. In no time it found itself at war with its Arab neighbours, who have been none too friendly in the decades since. · Why would the Jews surrender Jerusalem again?

There have also been Arabs in Jerusalem for most of that time, the people of Palestine, who lived under the so-called ‘protection’ of successive world empires. It was the Arabs who had to ‘make room’ for the new state in 1948. A mass exodus and refugee camps for thousands of Palestinians later, Jerusalem remains a holy city for Muslims too (though it has to be remembered that not all Arabs are Muslim: there are also Christian Arabs.) The temple mount is the sanctuary from which Mohammed is believed to have made the Night Journey to the throne of God. · Why would the Arabs give up Jerusalem?

For Christians Jerusalem is also a city of special signifi­cance. It includes many places associated with the life (and death) of Jesus. Pilgrims have always gone to Jerusalem. Christians have continued to live in Jerusalem, though now only in very small numbers. The Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, when Christian rulers gained (and then lost) control of Jerusalem, were not the end of Western attempts to gain political control over Jerusalem. It’s not without reason that Muslims reject the West for its expansionism and its injustice. Christianity is still seen as religion of the West. And Jerusalem is the point of meeting – and of division – of the three great monotheistic religions.

[D] The peace of Jerusalem

The author of Psalm 122 urges people to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’. ‘Peace be within your walls and security within your towers.’ But Jerusalem is not the city of peace it longs to be. It hasn’t known much peace, and the leadership of both the Jewish and Arab people don’t inspire much confidence that it will soon become a city of peace.

Yitzhak Rabin, not long before he was assassinated (in 1995), looked for a city ‘where the Jewish priestly bles­sing mingles with the call of the Muslim muezzins and the bells of Christian churches’. He looked for ‘tolerance between religions, love between peoples, and understanding between the nations’. But it remains true, as Jesus said long ago, that Jerusalem does not know what makes for its peace.

It is not the fault of Jerusalem alone! There are many whose sense of one injustice after another or whose fear of terrorism or spiral of violence makes them resolutely hostile and closed to the possibility of peaceful co-existence. And if the complex political forces of the region were not difficult enough, the rhetoric of the militant wing of Islam and of some prominent people in the West further creates a climate that makes co-existence and shared responsibility for Jerusalem a very distant prospect indeed. Meanwhile, the Psalms – shared by Christians and Jews – bid them ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’.

[E] Jesus’ compassion over Jerusalem

The writers of the Gospels know, as they tell the story, what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. The welcome he received when he came to the city turned to hostility, resulting in his death. Why did he go to Jerusalem or stay there once he got there? He tells those who come to warn him about Herod’s plan to kill him that he’ll go in his own good time! He’s busy; he has many things to do. He is healing people. He is ‘casting out demons’, that is, doing battle with the powers that destroy and dehumanise life, that break down health and wellbeing and commu­nion with a loving God.

Jesus is among them, enacting the love and mercy of God. He restores people to their community; he brings personal wholeness and reconciliation; he brings light to people’s darkness. He embodies for people the solidarity of God with all who are weak and vulnerable. He longs to protect them, as a hen gathers her chicks and shelters them under her wings.

This is a very tender image. Nature provides many examples of the protective care of a mother for her young. It’s striking that Jesus should express his love for people, indivi­dually and collectively, in an image such as this. He does not love people – the poor, the suffering, the exploited – in the abstract, impersonally, in general. He feels for them, longs for their wellbeing, their safety, in a personal way. That is how he thinks of them, feels for them, relates to them. It is no different today! Jesus does not speak to us, address us, as a figure from 2,000 years back but as one who is present and active among us now.

Of course, Jesus is not only gentle and tender. He is also strong: in his opposition to evil and exploitation and self-centredness. The image of a ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, as an old bed-time prayer has it, is at best one-sided and an worst a serious distortion. But love and compassion can be the basis of both tenderness and fearless strength.

But, as we see especially in Lent, the period leading up to the Passion, Jesus is a realist! He does not live in a fantasy-world. He knows that Jerusalem will bring a show-down. He will be tempted to stay away or escape from the opposition and the pain. But will it be worse for him than it is for Jerusalem? Eventually, it too will suffer; it will lose its identity and its power. Its temple will be destroyed, as he predicted. Most serious of all, it will not be the city of peace that it longs to be! If only it had known what makes for its peace. If only it knew so now!

[F] Conclusion

In this season of Lent the church throughout the world follows – actually, accompanies – Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. He will come to its people ‘in the name of the Lord’, as at first they perceive. But they will forget who he is, what he says to them and what he does among them. The last word will be one of condemnation: ‘Crucify him!’

In his name Christians have made war, and still justify war, the real motivation being only thinly disguised! But he is proclaimed as the one who brings peace between Jew and Gentile, between one party, one nation, and the other. He goes to Jerusalem in peace; he longs for peace for its children ­and for the inhabitants of all cities, no less now than then. He longs for peace for Jerusalem, for the whole region, for the whole world.

May God grant us to share this longing; and to pray, and strive and advocate for the peace of Jeru­salem; for peace between Jews, Christians and Muslims everywhere.

Thanks be to God, for giving us, in Christ, the way of peace.

MtE Update – February 19 2016


the latest MtE Update!

  1. Our after church conversation this Sunday Feb 21 will feature Dr John Flett on the topic of “What it Means at the Congregational Level to Engage in Mission” – will be worth hearing, and important for us as we consider future directions in connection with our building “issues”!
  2. On Sunday February 28 there will be a “workshop” on the Assembly’s new Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. This code can be found here. The workshop is intended particularly for those in our congregation who qualify as “lay leaders,” but all are welcome to participate.
  3. Our Lenten Studies have begun; Wednesday evenings until March 9, Friday mornings in Hawthorn until March 11; more info is available here. Please note that the Wednesday group was incorrectly advertised; the soup/bread is from 6.30pm and the study from 7.00pm (at St Mary’s Anglican).
  4. The deadline for pieces for the next issue of Mark the Word approaches rapidly! Please get in touch with Suzanne if you have something to contribute.
  5. Our congregational picnic will be after morning tea on Sunday March 6, again at the Native Gardens section of Royal Park.
  6. The most recent Presbytery eNewsletter is here.
  7. The most recent Synod eNewsletter (Feb 12) is here.
  8. Nominations to the next VicTas Synod meeting (June 4-8 2016) are now open, closing March 9. Nominations are open to confirmed UCA members; Craig has more details if you are interesting in nominating someone, or being nominated.
  9. Our Easter Service times are here.

Other things of potential interest:

  1. A series of talks at RMIT on “Philosophies of difference”
  2. A Unity in Diversity concert (Feb 28)


14 February – Temptation and identity

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Lent 1

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91
Luke 4:1-13

Lent has about it a strong sense of a beginning. Of course, the year has already started – both the calendar year and the church year; we’ve had Christmas, so Jesus has well and truly arrived, and already done a few things. But with there is something particularly tangible and “real” about the movement from Lent to Easter: something which causes us to sit up and watch and so seems to render all the rest to commentary or “and also”.

The beginning with which we begin Lent each year is the story of the temptation, or testing, of Jesus. In Mark’s telling of the Jesus, this is the pretty much the first thing Jesus actively undertakes; Luke takes a little longer to get to this story.

Temptation has become for us today largely a moral concept – often in some connection to sex, or tax declarations, or chocolate, or opening one’s mouth when it ought to be kept shut. It’s also something often mocked: “Let yourself be tempted” is the substance of no small amount of advertising of things we would normally consider too sweet, expensive or otherwise overly self-indulgent.

These are not the kinds of things which appear in our text this morning. There’s nothing particularly immoral in what is put to Jesus, even if we are to understand that there is something wrong in the devil’s proposals.

These three temptations are often interpreted as ways in which Jesus might consider fulfilling his call: bread for the hungry, political rule, religious miracle. This is a neat little triplet, and it is suggestive as a checklist for any budding messiah as to the things he or she should avoid, but it doesn’t really reflect much the details of the text.

The bread Jesus is invited to conjure up is presumably for him and not for the masses, as we hear (not surprisingly) “he was famished”. More important than the possibility of impressing people by feeding them is the preface to the temptation, “If you are the Son of God…” What is being tested is not what Jesus might do, but who he is and what that implies. A similar preface precedes the last temptation: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the highest point of the Temple…

What is at stake is not so much how Jesus will minister – although this is part of it. It is more a matter of who he understands himself to be and how this “being” is connected to God.

It is also often noted that Jesus counters each of these proposals with quotations from Scripture, which just as often leads to the conclusion: know your Bible! This is good advice, but it is not the point of the story. The impression we are to get from this exchange is not that Jesus knows his Scripture better than the devil and that we should too. It is, rather, that Jesus knows God: the character of this God, how God relates to his human creatures, what a truly human life looks like. When you know this, it is not so much that you “know Scripture”; rather, you are in a position to be able to write it.

This is, effectively, what Jesus does in his ministry: he testifies to the kingdom, or reign, of God. This he does not merely in the words he speaks; more deeply, he embodies this reign. For God’s claim on Jesus – and also on us – is not that we live within some sort of divine space, but that we relate to God in the right kind of way.

Jesus refuses the bread because this is a time with God, without bread.

Jesus refuses to worship the devil because no created thing is worthy of worship.

Jesus refuses the Temple trick because he does not grant the devil’s “if” – “if” you are the Son of God.

The temptation here is to justify himself, to prove to himself that he is who God has declared him to be. The devil’s “If you are the Son” follows on immediately after the declaration at his baptism: “You are my Son”. In each instance it is Jesus’ own identity as in-relation-to-God which is called into question, and in each instance he refuses to deny that identity.

What this means in “practical” terms is that there is nothing which Jesus does which can be said to be “necessary”. Hunger does not necessarily override all other things; the price tag on influence is not “all costs”. The temptations put to him imply a necessity, an “if, then” relation: if you are this, then you ought to do that.

The “ought” is the catch. When we are tempted, we know very well the “ought not”. This is the weight of years or decades of conditioning being brought to bear: you ought not to look at him, her that way; ought not to eat this or drink so much of that; ought not to lie or steal or curse. But we very rarely simply break the rules; we justify the breaking by making it an “ought”: I deserve this, I need it. I am this lonely/depressed/rich/bored, therefore I can justify my actions by referring to that loneliness/ depression/wealth/boredom.

In this way we live by bread alone, we worship not so much the devil as the end without reference to the means, we test and prove to ourselves that there is no God.

Yet in these things, Jesus is free. He is free to take bread or not, to worship the devil or not. There is no “if” about his identity: he feels himself to be “held” by God. Who he is and what he does flows from God’s address to him: you are my son. This is enough.

For us, it is no different when we feel that we might being tempted to move beyond grace. The thing about grace is that it is not necessary: it is freedom itself, given without reference to what is deserved. It is when we feel that we are moved to justify this or that action that we begin to hear the devil’s voice – in the way that Jesus does in this story: if you are/need/have, then…

The gospel proposes, gifts us with, something else: for all that you think you need, seek first the reign of God, and whatever else matters will be added to you.

Or, perhaps more concretely: listen for God’s name for you: son, daughter. It is here that everything begins, and from here is everything be dealt with as it should be.

10 February – Ash Wednesday

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Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

That is, when it comes to the place in your life where the things of God meets the things of the world, let that meeting be before God but unseen by the world.

Yet there is a strange tension between what Jesus says here and what has already been said. “…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.7)

On the one hand there is the call to an intentional public shining of a light before others.

On the other, there is Jesus’ warning here and in the sections of the text which follow: do not exercise your charity towards the needy in a public way; do not pray in an ostentatious way; do not draw attention to your meeting of your religious obligations (fasting, in particular).

This is to say, then, that there is both a public and a non-public nature to being a disciple of this Jesus. But the critical – and surprising – thing is this: these are not two different things, as if sometimes we are being public and sometimes we are being private. The public appearance and the private hiddenness both occur in the same words and actions. The light shines for all to see when I withdraw to pray, when I am quiet about my charitable giving, when I cover up the fact that I am fasting.

To understand why this fairly subtle point is important, simply note how often we say to ourselves in the church today, “we prefer to show forth our faith by our actions rather than our words”. How does this sit with Jesus’ saying about not doing our good works in order to be seen? As we strive to show forth our faith by our actions rather than our words, do we not strive to be seen to be good?

Jesus pushes us past our actions, past even our intentions, to our motivations.

Christians are subject to an extraordinary moral temptation. This is not simply that we are tempted to do the wrong thing. Rather, we easily choose the right thing for the wrong reasons. The desire to be seen to be good is important for us not only that others might value us or our God more highly, but important also that we might value ourselves more highly. Jesus calls this letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

The problem is not doing the good thing. The problem is that we are conscious of this as a good work, having judged ourselves and our works as good. We are aware that it will be seen as a good thing by those who are looking on. To be known to be “good” – do we not desire this?

Of course, we must strive to do the good. It is assumed in our reading this evening that we will be giving out of our own resources to those in need. The question is simply the spirit in which this will be done.

Let the goodness of what we do be something which is hidden as such to us. In this way, even if no one else does, we at least can give glory to God for the good that we do, allowing our lives and our works to be hidden in the life and work of Christ. Just so does God shine forth as the author of all good works, and we will find freedom from anxiety about our own goodness.

“Do not judge others” – this is little more than modern political correctness.

“Do not judge yourselves” – this is the demand and the freedom of the gospel.

For the possibility of life beyond mere the goodness of our words and actions, thanks be to God. Amen.

Easter at MtE in 2016

Easter is a time of special celebration in the Christian church. At MtE, we come together for a series of services marking particular aspects of the Easter, from Palm Sunday to Easter day itself.

You are very welcome to join us at any – or all! – of these services. The service dates and times for 2016 are:

  • Palm Sunday: 20 March, 10.00am
  • Maundy Thursday, including the Eucharist and the foot-washing ritual 24 March 7:30pm
  • Good Friday: 25 March 10.00am
  • Easter Vigil: 26 March from 8.00pm
  • Easter Day, including the Eucharist and a re-affirmation of baptism: 27 March 10.00am


The order for the reaffirmation of baptism on Easter Day

Sisters and brothers, in our baptism, we died and were buried with Christ, so that we might rise with him to new life. We were initiated into Christ’s holy church and brought to life through water and the Spirit. God’s mighty acts of salvation for us and for all people are gracious gifts, freely given.

As we reaffirm our baptism, we declare our common allegiance to Christ and seek to be obedient to his will.

And so I ask you now:

Do you turn to Christ?

    I turn to Christ.

Do you repent of your sins?

    I repent of my sins.

Do you renounce evil

and the false values of this world?

    I renounce them.


And now I ask you to confess the faith into which you were baptised, and in which you continue to live and grow:

Do you believe in God, who made you and loves you?

    I believe in God, the Father almighty,

    creator of heaven and earth.


Do you believe in Jesus Christ, your Saviour and Lord?

    I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

    born of the Virgin Mary,

    suffered under Pontius Pilate,

    was crucified, died, and was buried;

    he descended to the dead.

    On the third day he rose again;

    he ascended into heaven,

    he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

    and he will come to judge the living and the dead.


Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, and the continuing work of our salvation?

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,

    the holy catholic Church,

    the communion of saints,

    the forgiveness of sins,

    the resurrection of the body,

    and the life everlasting.  Amen.


This is the faith of God’s baptised people.

    We are not ashamed to confess it

    in Christ our Lord.

(Water is poured into the font.)

Come Lord Jesus,

refresh the lives of your faithful people.

(The people are sprinkled with water.)

(During the music those who wish to are invited to come to the font and, using the water, make the sign of the cross on yourself, or your neighbour with the words, I/You belong to Christ.)

LitBit Commentary – Alexander Schmemann on Prayer

LitBits Logo - 2

We pray in Christ, and he, through his Holy Spirit, prays in us, who are gathered in his name. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4.6). We can add nothing to this prayer, but according to his will, according to his love, we have become members of his body, we are one with him and have participation in his protection and intercession for the world.

Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist, p.54


How to use LitBit Features and Commentaries.

Yarra Yarra Presbytery Update February 2016

Presbytery News, February 8 2016

The Major Strategic Review is nearing its end, and is doing the rounds across the synod through February and March giving people the opportunity to hear and give feedback on its vision and plans as well as explore its findings and the potential changes for the church. The session to be held in this region is happening a month from today on Tuesday 8th March from 6:30pm-9:30pm (with a break) at Heathmont UC. I recommend it to you regardless of whether you are planning to nominate to attend the Synod meeting as a member and engage in conversations there. More information can be found here and you are invited to register to help with catering.


Other news:

  • Our next whole of council meeting is coming up on Saturday 27th February. Stay tuned for the agenda and reports.
  • Transform conference – ‘Transform’ is an initiative of several inner-city Uniting Church congregations:Brunswick Uniting ChurchChurch of All Nations, the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist and Wesley Uniting Church and seeks to gather young adults who might be alone in their home congregation or have no home congregation but want to explore faith. The next Transform conference will be held on the weekend of 19th-21st February 2016, featuring Rev Prof Bill Loader on the theme ‘The Bible, faith and human sexuality’. More information here
  • Clinical Pastoral Education – the next CPE program being offered under the Commission for Mission will commence 4thAugust; applications close 9th June.
  • Exclusion and Embrace: Disability, Justice and Spirituality – this multi-faith conference reflects a growing interest in issues of faith and meaning in the lived experience of disability. It is to be held 21-23 August 2016 at the Jasper Hotel, 489 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. For more information see the website
  • Women’s Theology Conference – seeks to empower women to effectively share their Christian perspectives on faith, theology, sacred texts, ministry, service, the arts and more through the expression of their academic and professional activities. To be held at Grace College, University of Queensland from 27th June-1st July. More information here
  • Mind Body Spirit at North Balwyn – Mr Robert Turner, a solicitor working in the legal unit of the VicTas Synod, will speak on the The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”, providing some background to the setting up of the Royal Commission and a few of the more topical issues which have arisen. This will be followed by soup and a short reflective service. Sunday 28th February, 5:30pm-7:30pm at North Balwyn UC, 17-21 Duggan St.
  • Lenten Studies at North Balwyn with Rev John Rickard – now retired, John worked for 10 years as the Resource Worker with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and for 10 years before that as the Executive Director of the Commission for Mission. The theme of this Lenten Study series is ‘Post-Colonial Theology’ and will be held on the following Wednesdays:

Ø  ‘The Theology of Colonialism’ – 2nd March, 8-9:30pm

Ø  ‘Post Colonialism and the Bible’ – 9th March, 8-9:30pm

Ø  ‘The Theology supporting a Post-Colonial approach’ – 16th March, 8-9:30pm

Cost: $10 for all 3 sessions incl. refreshments. North Balwyn Uniting Church, 17-21 Duggan St (Mel. 46 F3). Call 9857 8412 (W-F) or

  • Suicide Prevention Forum – a day of information, education and development for mental health professionals and support workers. A flyer is attached.


7 February – Changed in Christ’s light

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Psalm 99
Luke 9:18-36

I have spent – some might think, “wasted” – a lot of time over the years watching science fiction movies.

There are many pleasurable things about this pursuit, but among the more irritating things about science fiction movies is when they get the science wrong – at least, the science which isn’t part of the fantasy. So, for example, after Luke Skywalker screams away in his X-wing fighter, having just got off the fatal shot, we ought not to hear the massive boom of the explosion of the Death Star in deafening surround sound. In space, exploding imperial ambitions don’t make any sound. Explosions in space are very bright and very pretty, but also silent to any onlookers; there is nothing to carry the sound to our ears.

Rather more subtle, and of relevance for approaching our gospel reading today, is the way in which robots typically engage with other in these kinds of movies. So for example, C3PO and R2D2 actually talk to each other. (For those of you who, even after 39 years of opportunity, remain uninitiated in things Star Wars, you might at least have seen pictures of these two: CP30 is the skinny gold humanoid robot, and R2D2 the little white and blue trashcan on wheels). C3PO is a protocol unit, and so can speak English and many human and non-human languages; R2D2 can only squeak and squeal. There is, then, the need for C3PO to translate what R2D2 is saying for the humans in the story, and for us watching it.

But what I’m interested in here is why C3PO and R2D2 actually need to say anything to each other. What each machine has to do is first have its thought – presumably in some computer code – and then convert it into something which can be expressed audibly, generate the sound, and then wait for the other machine to hear that sound, translate it back into code, and go through the same process to reply. Consequently, communication between robots takes as long as communication between you and me. It would make much more technical sense for any exchange between C3PO and R2D2 to take place digitally and wirelessly, and for the whole exchange to be over in a microsecond.

Of course, if this were how it happened in the movie, we would not know what was going on most of the time, because the robots are central to the whole story and we wouldn’t know why they were doing what they were doing. So, quite apart from the fantasy of the story as a whole, we are also tricked into the fantasy that a civilisation which can build sentient machines prefers to wait around for them to have extended conversations than for them actually to be doing what they were built to do.

What has all this got to do with Transfiguration Sunday?

The Transfiguration story is a striking one – very familiar to most of us, and probably quite problematic for many as well. What is this vision? How could it have happened? What is it supposed to communicate?

There is here clearly something extraordinary being indicated about the person of Jesus.

I want to draw your attention, however, to one particular aspect of the story, and probably not the most striking:

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

What I’m wondering is: why they are standing around, talking? What exactly is there to discuss? Is there something to debate? Perhaps whether the Law does actually point to the cross? Whether there’s anything in the Prophets which makes that outcome inevitable? Or are there some details to be finalised? Does Jesus need a bit of a gee up?

It’s kind of a silly question, but what are they talking about? Can what is about to happen depend on this conversation?

Traditionally the church has understood the presence of Moses and Elijah to be a sign of the Law and the Prophets as the context for understanding who Jesus is and what he is doing. I’m not going to suggest this morning that there is anything broadly wrong with this understanding.

But there is a problem with this interpretation if it implies that somehow it is clear that the Law and the Prophets point towards Jesus. Indeed, it is often given to us to understand that this is clear, that the Old Testament anticipated the cross, that all the clues were there for anyone who could see them.

And yet, if this was all clear, no one actually saw that it was so.

The fact that no one saw these signs before the cross suggests a different thought about the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah: that it is the Law and the Prophets which have to understand that what is going to happen with Jesus is indeed the secret hidden within them. It is through the cross that everything is to be understood. It is to the cross that everything has been headed. And, so, it is from the cross that everything begins.

If it were the case that the identity of Jesus and the meaning of his ministry were dependent upon the Law and the Prophets, then it would be necessary for us to become first century Jews in order to know who he was – for us to have the Law and the Prophets at the centre of our own being before we could understand Jesus. When Jesus is shown to be conversing with the Law and the Prophets on the mountain top, he is shown to be engaged with the Everything of Israel. For this is what the Law and the Prophets are: where Israel has come from, and where it is going.

But nothing about Israel’s comprehension of that Everything could make sense of the cross. We can say, then, that it is not so much Jesus who is transfigured here. Rather, in the dazzling presence of Jesus, the Law and the Prophets are themselves transfigured – seen in a new light. Jesus “talking” with Moses and Elijah is Jesus engaging with all that has gone before. Everything points to Jesus. More than this, everything points to the cross.

This is largely the traditional interpretation but the problem with it is that, for us today to get to the heart of who Jesus is for us, we have somehow to be transported to A Long Time Ago in a Palestine Far, Far Away. This is because the Everything which the Law and the Prophets were for Jesus is not our everything. The link between Jesus and the Law and the Prophets given to ancient Israel is crucial for an account of the faithfulness of God, but not if we understand it in a way which separates God from our time and place here and now.

The truth of who Jesus is for us is not separated from us in this way. The Transfiguration isn’t just a Light-Spectacular intended to catch our, or the disciples’, attention. It is also Moses and Elijah seen in a new light. It is Jesus and the cross – the crucified Christ – seen to be the mystery of all that is thought to matter. It is the cross as the secret at the heart of what makes us tick, what we fear, what we long for – the Jews then, us now.

What, then, makes us tick? This is the question which precedes any enquiry into the meaning of Jesus and his cross. At the heart of our being might be our sense of moral righteousness, our economic status, our family, reputation, wealth, beauty, desires – any number of things on a personal and social scale.

What is it about us which Jesus might transfigure, cast in a new light, if indeed all that his people held dear resulted in his being crucified? How do our desires in fact crush us, or others? In what ways are we wilfully naïve about what we profess to value, deluding ourselves and denying others what they might need? Our values are different from those things valued in Jesus’ time, but they need transfiguring just as much.

Science fiction is just fantasy, even when it gets the science right. The thing is, most of our stories about ourselves and our future have a degree of fantasy about them and this suits us just fine, even if a few might need to be crucified for the whole thing to stay together.

Our laws and our prophets, then and now, need to be transfigured if we are to glimpse what it is we truly need, the secret at the heart of all we desire.

By the grace of God, may we be so changed in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Amen.

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