Monthly Archives: July 2016

LitBit Commentary – The Basis of Union on the Congregation

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LitBit: The Congregation is the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ. Its members meet regularly to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to build one another up in love, to share in the wider responsibilities of the Church, and to serve the world.

The Basis of Union


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MtE Update – July 28 2016


the latest MtE Update

  1. This Sunday, July 31, we’ll have another hymn-learning session after worship for those who have time to stay and a desire to expand their repertoire!
  2. Hotham Mission is running a special community screening of the documentary “Chasing Asylum”, which explores Australian aslyum-seeker policy and its effects on those seeking asylum. We need a particular number of ticket purchases by August 4 (next week) for the screening to go ahead (the screening is on August 16); for more details, the film trailer and the link to purchase tickets, please see the UCHM web site.
  3. Our next study series will be in August, considering Rowan Williams’ great little book, Being Christian; details and registration page is here.
  4. For those who missed Bruce Barber’s Lenten studies last year, or want to hear them again, he is presenting that at South Melbourne UCA; details are here.


BasisBits – Paragraph 18: The people of God on the way


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The Uniting Church affirms that it belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end. The Uniting Church prays that, through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life, will bring it into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use its worship, witness and service to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

From Paragraph 18 of the Basis of Union (1992)


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BasisBits are intended particularly for congregations of the Uniting Church in Australia but could be easily adapted for general use by congregations of other denominations. The suggested use of BasisBits is as items in the “news” section of your Sunday pew sheets or regular congregational publications; some would lend themselves to incorporation into your liturgy order itself.

LitBit Commentary – Gordon Lathrop on Preaching 2

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Preaching is a trinitarian event: enlivened by the Spirit, the words of the preacher draw the hearer into the truth of our need, into the encounter with the Crucified-Risen One and so into faith and hope in God, into the communal life that flows from the presence of the life-giving Trinity. The preacher articulates, in the terms of the texts, what God has done and is doing in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in Baptism and Eucharist, and in the faith that these things sustain.

Gordon Lathrop, The Pastor, p. 50


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LitBit Commentary – Justin Martyr on Worship

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LitBit: And on the day named after the sun all, whether they live in the city or the countryside, are gathered together in unity. Then the records of the apostles or the writing of the prophets are read for as long as there is time. When the reader has concluded, the presider in a discourse admonishes and invites us into the pattern of these good things. Then we all stand together and offer prayer. …when we have concluded the prayer, bread is set out to eat with wine and water…

Justin Martyr, describing 2nd century worship

(from Gordon Lathrop, The Pastor, p.46)


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MtE Update – July 14 2016


the latest MtE Update

  1. This Sunday July 17 we have, as our after-worship conversation, Mark Duckworth speaking on “The Victorian approach to preventing violent extremism”.
  2. Our next study series will be in August, considering Rowan Williams’ great little book, Being Christian; details and registrations are available here.
  3. The church council has recently adopted a range of Synod “Safe Church” policies, the details of which are here.
  4. For those who missed Bruce Barber’s Lenten studies last year, or want to hear them again, he is presenting them once more at South Melbourne UCA; details are here.
  5. The most recent Synod newsletter (July 7) is here.

10 July – Journeying to Jerusalem

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Pentecost 8

Colossians 1:1-14
Psalm 25
Luke 10:25-42

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr Rob Gallacher

The parable of the Good Samaritan is part of a large section in Luke’s gospel we call “The journey to Jerusalem”.    After the Transfiguration Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem (9:51).    10 chapters later he enters Jerusalem on a donkey.    In between are the encounters that happen along the way.   You cannot plot this journey on a map.   Geographically there are many inconsistencies.     It’s about a different kind of journey,   a spiritual adventure.    Jesus is taking people into new territory, confronting them with a mystical world they do not yet comprehend.

Much of the language is strange to our ears.     The 70 returning from their mission say, “The demons submit to us”.    Jesus casts out demons, heals lepers, foretells suffering and pronounces judgement

It is a relief to come to the Good Samaritan.     Here is something down to earth that we can understand,   or we think we can.    “Yes.  I’m a Christian, like the Good Samaritan”.   All too often this parable boils the gospel down to doing a few good works.     There’s nothing wrong with deeds of mercy,   but it is important to see this parable in a wider context.  Jesus is taking the lawyer into new territory.     The lawyer wants a limited definition of neighbour, something he can quantify and manage.      By telling him to be like a hated Samaritan, Jesus is teaches that there is no limit to compassion.   It is not God’s nature to love this one, but not that one.

Mary and Martha follow immediately, to add balance.       It’s another story commonly misinterpreted.   Many people sympathise with Martha,   and not without reason.   First because those travelling with Jesus could well have been 40 or 50 people,    and second, because we all have Martha-type chores to cope with.     But Jesus wants to take Mary on to new Territory, and perhaps Martha too.    Mary’s listening to Jesus is prayer,   and prayer is the context in which actions have significance.

The next words are, “Jesus was praying” and the disciples say, “Teach us to pray.”    Then comes, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven”.    Prayer and work cannot be separated.    It’s new ground for the disciples, and new ground for Zacchaeus, only a little later in this section.    Zacchaeus dines with the Lord,   as we are about to do,   sees the world differently and expresses his new vision for life in a magnanimous act of philanthropy.   “Today salvation has come to this house” says Jesus.    It connects with:   “Mary has chosen the better part”.  “Do this and you will live”   “Demons fall”.    All this links prayer and work and contributes to the spiritual journey to Jerusalem.

I hope you can follow thus far.    The theme is pray and work, as the Benedictines put it.    I now want to make some comments on work and prayer based on this interpretation of Luke.

There are many ways of praying, and the usual advice is to pray as you can and not as you can’t.

The simplest linkage is to pray that God will heal this person or fix that problem.     Intercession has its place,   but it is easy for asking prayers to become glib, or worse, manipulative.       Rather remember that Christ is praying for us all the time.    He knows our need before we ask.   So it is better to listen to what Christ might tell us rather than us tell him what to do.      Listening prayer makes room for the Holy Spirit to move.   We like to manage, control, do it our way,   but when we ask God to conform to our concepts, we only shore up the status quo.     Jesus is always trying to take us into new territory, to give us a vision of what his journey to the cross and subsequent resurrection can bring into being.    He has engaged the evil powers, the demons, overcome them and now makes that stronger power available to us.

Here are some examples:

The Desert Fathers understood.    In their cells they battled temptation until they found peace.   This was not just personal salvation.    If the power of Christ in them was sufficient to conquer the devil on his own territory, other Christians could draw on this victory as they struggled to be the church in the world.    Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?”   The old man said, “There is no need to make long discourses.   It is enough to stretch out one’s hand and say, “Lord, as you will and as you know,  have mercy”,  and if the conflict grows fiercer, say, “Lord, help”.   He knows very well what we need and shows us his mercy.

The Quakers understood the link between this kind of listening prayer and work in the world.    Out of their silence before God came the foundation of chocolate factories to wean vulnerable people off gin.    Their contribution to prison reform was more successful, and their part in the anti-slavery movement was significant.

I have heard that Jesuit communities will approach a decision via an extended time of prayer.

At its best, the congregational meeting of English Puritans, known to us as Congregationalists, was a time of prayer rather than debate.    At Wesleyan Class Meetings people came to pray, but they brought also their penny for the poor.   It was one forerunner of trade unions and the welfare state.       Another way of linking prayer and work occurred to me when we visited the Greek Orthodox monastery of Gregoriou on Mt Athos.  We had a contact with an Australian monk.     As we talked I got this strange sense that somehow his life of prayer was setting the spiritual tone of his supporting congregation in Queensland, enabling them to work in the world in a special way.     It affected my approach to ordained ministry.

The word “vicarious” comes to mind.   A true vicar so embodies Christ’ victory over evil that she/he leads people on the journey to Jerusalem, enabling them to venture on to new territory.

There are two other references today:   Study the cover picture on the Order of Service with the explanation, to see how the Good Samaritan can be interpreted in an even wider context.

Read again Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9 ff.   “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will…. so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord … bearing fruit in every good work.”

There are many staging posts on the journey to Jerusalem.    When people allow Jesus to take them into new territory, it frees others,   and unexpected things happen.   Salvation, the better part, life, the fall of demons.

So, maintain the unity of the two commandments,   Love God and Love your neighbour,   and maintain the unity of the two natures of Christ.

Here, at Mark the Evangelist   we have a congregation praying and a mission working.     We live a gross heresy if we allow those two to be separated.

3 July – Why did Jesus die?

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Pentecost 7

Galatians 2:15-21
Psalm 30
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Why did Jesus die?

The mundane answers to that question involve the ways in which Jesus came into conflict with religious and political authorities: he rubs people up the wrong way. The children’s “Important God Thought #3” – that God sometimes gets in the way – is very much what we see in the person of Jesus. He is a great disturbance to the religious authorities and, behind them, there are hints that the broader political opposition is also going to be great.

And so, just like countless thousands – perhaps millions – of other martyrs, Jesus is crushed by the machinery of synagogue or church or mosque, or the political or economic system.

While it is a very natural thing for this kind of account to occur to us in our time, it is not the way the New Testament thinks about the death of Jesus. And so this morning we heard from St Paul of the “Christ who loved me and gave himself for me”. This is a very different account of the “why” of Jesus’ death. Unlike the institutional murder of being crushed by the synagogue or by Rome, here we have an intentional death on Jesus’ part: “loved me and gave himself for me…”.

This way of talking about the death of Jesus invokes the difficult category of sacrifice: Jesus “giving himself up” for me. The modern western mind, and not least the modern Christian mind, has a lot of trouble with the idea of sacrifice. Again at the mundane level, we are pretty squeamish these days when it comes to blood. Most of us would probably be vegetarians if we had to get our own meat from the farm to our tables, rather than buy it already styrofoamed and cling-wrapped. Blood is just not part of our everyday experience, and we are uncomfortable with it.

But there are some deeper objections to the notion of sacrifice as it is used theologically; in particular: the idea that God demands the shedding of blood – particularly the shedding of the blood of one named as God’s own Son. What kind of god is it that requires this kind of exchange to take place? We will even hear from time to time objections about the implied “divine child abuse”. The objection is a natural one, and it is a serious objection.

But the more profound objection, so far as Paul would be concerned, is that this understanding of sacrifice implies a kind of economy outside of us and outside of God which ties everybody’s hands – that somehow even God cannot move until blood is spilt. That is the most serious problem with the notion of sacrifice, whether the sacrifice of a son, or a lamb or even a dove.

The idea of sacrifice is there in the Old Testament because that is how people operated at the time. The children’s Important God Thought #4 is that “God is always somewhere”. For the Hebrews the Somewhere was a context in which sacrifice was used as a means of speaking about how we relate to God. And so it is as if God adopts that and refines it, turning from a means of exchange by which gods might be satisfied into a sacrament. It now looks like a buying of life from God, but the ritual of sacrifice is now given to us as a sign of what is involved in reconciliation – that God is doing the giving.

Paul takes up the Old Testament imagery of sacrifice when he talks about the Christ who gave himself up for me. But he is not saying that You understand about sacrifice, and sacrifice is about an exchange, and that explains Jesus.

It works the other way: that Jesus gives the full and proper meaning to how sacrifice works. There is nothing that ties God’s hands. There is not a Deep Magic which must be performed in order for God to act in love towards God’s people.

And so God is not looking for Jesus’ blood. Jesus’ blood is not a currency for salvation which changes hands.

Jesus is simple gift. He doesn’t give himself because that will affect something else in the way that we give money to get something else. His is not an “economic” sacrifice. What we have here is a sheer giving. Jesus’ whole being is giving. He is, as a previous generation spoke of it, the One for Others. That is the heart of what he is. So there is no economy operating here. That is why Paul says that circumcision, in the way it is insisted upon by the Judaizers, is not an item of on list of things you have to pay God in order for God to accept you.

The cross, then, doesn’t cause something to happen. It is a totally different kind of economy. Jesus doesn’t come in order to die. Jesus comes to live. It just happens that living in that different economy – that gift-economy – in which you know yourself as fundamentally belonging to God and not as having to acquire or prove that belonging – is potentially to come into conflict with those who require that we establish or prove, ourselves, that we get the religion right, or the politics right, or the economics right.

Jesus died because he lived in that way that he did. He lived knowing that his fundamental being comes from the one who loved him and sent him. And so he denies things which limit that fundamental being. This gets him killed.

This is not easy to get our head around. As I said last week, our lives are very much about acquisition, about trading and growing. But Paul says “I have died to all of that”. It has all been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to it. Now I seek to live out of what it that Jesus himself has. And we’ll see a little later in the book how Paul uses the nothing notion of adoption: Jesus is the Son, and I become “son-ified” (so we might translate the Greek) – I become one who exists in the same kind of way that he did, existing not with a view to acquiring God’s love but out of that love.

This is the fundamental word of the gospel: that God’s love comes to us before anything else. (This is our justification for baptising little children who can’t yet Yes or No: God loves us before we can love). And our call is simply to live out of that gift: to stand before each other already justified by God, not demanding of one another but living a life of gift.

I died to those other things. It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.

By the grace of God, may we ever more fully grow into this gift, and take on its form as our own.



(Slightly edited transcript from recording)