Monthly Archives: February 2017

MtE Update – February 28 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. A reminder that Lent begins with our Ash Wednesday service tomorrow evening, Wednesday March 1, at 6pm at Mark the Evangelist.
  2. Our Lenten Studies (the Friday group) have already begun, and continue at Hawthorn at 9.30am; the Wednesday series will begin on March 8 (North Melbourne, 7pm). Copies of the study booklet (on the theme of the Lord’s Prayer) are now available on Sundays, or by download from the Studies page on our website (here).
  3. For the diary: our congregational picnic is coming up on March 26, following worship on that day (Royal Park).
  4. If you’d like to do some background work on this coming Sunday’s readings (March 5, Lent 1A), these links might be of assistance:
  5. Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

    Psalm 32

    Romans 5:12-19

    Matthew 4:1-11,

    Other things of potential interest:

    A seminar at Brunswick UCA

26 February – This is my Beloved

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Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
Matthew 17:1-9

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made…”

That’s quite a mouthful, is it not? And it is a somewhat contested mouthful. The fact that we actually have that stream of affirmations in our creed springs from controversies which crystalised in the fourth century and which have never really died down.

Today the question as to whether such statements about Jesus can make much sense is still answered in the negative as much in the church as out of it. Those outside the church, and outside any “religious” conviction, reject the notion of God to begin with, so that ascribing divine function to Jesus is simply something which need not be done. For many in the church, however, along with many people of other religious confessions, what is affirmed about Jesus in the creed must not be done. The creed goes too far, reducing God to one time and place; it obscures the truth of God by making God too small and obscures the truth of the world by making parts of it too big.

There is much which should be said about this but, rather than go into the kind of detail which would keep us here for most of next week, let’s come at the question of who Jesus is from the response of the disciples to the voice which is said to have addressed them in the Transfiguration episode in our gospel reading this morning. From a bright cloud a voice says, This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased, listen to him. “When the disciples heard this”, we are told, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.”

Taking this as read, a question: Why are they afraid? The obvious answer – always the answer about which to be most suspicious – is the religious experience itself: a bright cloud that speaks to you, presumably in a booming, resounding, Monty Python kind of way, is probably something which would give anyone the shakes. But this is not a very interesting answer, not much more than that loud noises make us jump, and who’s to say that the brightness of the cloud wasn’t lightning and the voice just thunder interpreted with zealous imagination?

An alternative account of the disciples’ fear, and a much more interesting one, is not that the cloud speaks but what it actually says: This is my son, the beloved, listen to him. Again, there is enough in this little snippet to keep us going for quite a while but let’s narrow it down to just one suggestion: that the emphasis in this declaration falls on the first word – “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him”. At least, the confession of the church about Jesus, such as we find in the creed, reads the emphasis on that first word.

This being the case the fear or (another translation) the amazement of the disciples is not that God has addressed them but that God has declared that Jesus is the Beloved, the one in whom the law and the prophets meet, the one who should be heard: this one, listen to him.

What is the amazing thing here? It is that God might be fully present in such a totally unexpected place; from the perspective of Easter, it is that God might be found in one who has been crucified. It is one thing to bump into God on a high hill, which is where God’s are supposed to be; it is another thing altogether to bump into God in something as ordinary as a Jesus who not only looks just to be one of us but who, on the cross, comes to look to be much less than most of us: godless and discarded.

This is a problem not simply for those who do cannot recite the creed, but for many of us who can. There is not usually much fear and trembling in the church along the lines of what those mountaintop disciples felt, rare appreciation of what it means to say that God comes as close to us as he does in the Jesus who will be crucified. Ironically, this is probably because we happen to say so often that such closeness is in fact what the incarnation was all about. It is very easy for the Transfiguration, the incarnation, the cross to become “facts” about Jesus which cease to do to us what they did to those who stood on the mountaintop or watched their flocks by night or met the risen, crucified Lord for the first time.

For this reason, our creeds can sound a bit hollow even to those of us who happily recite them. This ought not to surprise us – it is the way of things that familiarity breeds indifference, even contempt. But it teaches us also the nature of a creed or confession of faith, which is not that (or only) that it is “objectively true”, but that it has about it the character of a prayer. The creeds end with “Amen”. Having, in the recitation, affirmed what the church has always held, we say, “Amen”, “Let it be so”. Let it be, by the power of the Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, that we enter more fully into the reality in which Jesus embodies the fullness of God from God, light from light, that we might know God as he does.

In effect, to recite the creed is to ask that we might come to see God as those few disciples on the mountaintop did, however fleetingly.

To recite the creed as a prayer is to allow what it declares in fact to be strange. It is to allow the strangeness of the Transfiguration to stay strange, and not to seek to explain it away simply as fantasy or post-Easter invention or, what is just as bad, simply to believe out of piety that it happened.

The experience of those few disciples on that mountaintop was as fleeting as it was extraordinary. It was a glimpse of the “extraordinary ordinary” which Jesus embodied, the presence of God in a discard, crucified human life, the promise that nothing can come between us and a God who names even such a one as “my Beloved”.

“My Beloved” is what God sees each one of us to be, through the lens of Jesus. That Jesus participates in the heart of God in the ordinariness of a human life and even in the catastrophe of the cross is the basis of our confidence that we might, too, have a share in that divine heart; and it is the basis of loving those who look like they probably don’t have such a share.

Let us, then, heed that cloudy voice: Listen to him, that we might all know ourselves to be loved by God, and love all those whom God loves.

19 February – Love your enemies. Seriously.

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Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
Matthew 5:38-48

Most of us are familiar with the trick question about what happens when an irresistible force encounters an immovable object. In our gospel reading today we hear something of the same kind of intrinsic contradiction: do not resist an evil doer but love your enemies.

Though it can also be used in much shallower ways, with the word “love” we a deep gift passing between people; it is within this richer scope that Jesus uses the term here. The word enemy, on the other hand, is such a strong one that we almost seem to avoid using it in our culture; it is more a story-book word, or something which someone else – usually a long way away – might use about us more than we about them. Nevertheless, despite some squeamishness we might have about the word, we feel the clash in Jesus’ injunction, “love your enemies”.

These are the fifth and sixth in a series of “…but I say to you…” intensifications of the legal tradition we have been hearing over the last few weeks. Yet these two seem to have a different character about them. The other intensifications have been about my approach to world around me; these ones are about my very being. Enemies are a threat to me; they challenge my right to be as I am.

Because of this difference, the question which arises in us in response to today’s injunctions is different from that of the previous ones. We have heard in the last couple of weeks that dismissing another person out of hand is a kind of murder, that reducing people in our minds to objects of sexual gratification is a kind of adultery, that swearing oaths is a kind of dishonesty. And the challenge there – noting its virtual impossibility – seems to be that we improve our performance in such things: that we become more moral people. Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that, attempted in the grace of God.

But this is not the case with the command to love our enemies, because now things are reversed: we are the ones being dismissed out of hand – killed in someone’s heart, who are reduced to an object as an object of another’s lust, who are deceived with half-truths. While Jesus has already said that we are not to do such things, we now are asked to “love” – to bless, to pray for – those who behave in such ways, or worse, towards us.

How does that work?

If we mean by this question, How does this improve our situation?, then we will find no satisfactory answer. Loving our enemies in the way that Jesus describes is not a political strategy. It is not a means to peace or reconciliation, such that if I do this loving thing in a situation of opposition then that beneficial outcome will be the result. Loving our enemies is not a means to a social, political end. Meekness is not a method towards a better world. Paraphrasing the philosopher of Ecclesiastes, someone has observed that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet! Those who love their enemies will often see no benefits; the meek are often crushed. Loving our enemies does not “work” at all. Is this not the meaning of Christ on the cross, that the system cannot be fixed by its own logic?

If there is a logic in loving our enemies it is strictly a theo-logic of this particular God. St Paul writes: while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly; while we still were sinners, Christ died for us; while we were enemies God reconciled us through the death of his Son (Romans 5). Even here, there is no mechanism by which Jesus’ refusal to resist his enemies brings peace. God’s triumph in Jesus is that Jesus did not let his likely death on the cross define him, but rather was defined by God himself, the source of life. Jesus’ life, his path to the cross and his resurrection are signs which point to where true life is to be found, and signs of how deathly some apparently life-giving things are.

Such a way of life may or may not effect peace in our little time and space, but that is not the point for us as Christian disciples. The point is becoming “children of your Father in heaven”, becoming in our living towards all others as God has been towards us. Learning to love those who oppose us springs from a recognition that any enmity between us and God was also an enmity between us and others. If we have been forgiven our opposition to God, we have been forgiven our opposition to others, and now we are to be towards others as we confess God has been towards us. In this we become more God-like.

The command to love our enemies is not about changing our enemies. It is about being changed ourselves. It is about our not being defined by our enemies’ claim on us or rejection of us but being defined by God’s claim and embrace. It is about not being defined by the threat of death in any of its forms, but being defined by the gift of life in the promise of a love to which death is no barrier.

And, to acknowledge the usual objection here, loving our enemies is not about being voiceless doormats. It is not about refusing to challenge injustice and “alternative facts”. We are to resist all untruth precisely because we refuse to allow that the death with which others might threaten us has a stronger claim than the life that God gives. Love speaks the truth.

In the end, turning the other cheek and praying for our enemies is about knowing ourselves as children of the God who will, in the end, claim as children all people upon whom he sends sun and rain. Our confession is that in the end God will triumph, that all who hunger for righteousness and need for mercy will receive it.

We are not defined by the brokenness of a world which constantly turns hearts away from each other but by the triumph of the God in whom, whichever way we turn, we find ourselves facing him in his perfecting, reconciling love.

Let us then, seek ever to grow in love for all God’s children, reflecting the perfection of our heavenly Father.


MtE Update – February 17 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. Our Lenten Studies begin on Friday February 24 (Hawthorn 9.30am) and Wednesday March 8 (North Melbourne, 7pm). Copies of the study booklet (on the theme of the Lord’s Prayer) will be available on Sunday, or by download from the Studies page on our website (here).
  2. On Monday February 20 (6.30pm) we will be presenting Brother Bray of Bethlehem University at a public event in our hall. More details are available here. Please forward information about this event to other people you think might be interested. We hope also to be able to offer hospitality following the presentation; if you are able to help be bringing something to share, please speak to Alan or Ann about how you can assist.
  3. The most recent Presbytery newsletter (Feb 13) is here.
  4. The most recent UCA Refugee Network update is here.
  5. There will be a congregational meeting following worship on Sunday February 26. The main reason for the meeting will be the presentation (for reception) of our 2017 budget; the budget papers are available from the church on Sunday.
  6. If you’d like to do some background work on this coming Sunday’s readings (February 19, Epiphany 7A), these links might be of assistance:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Psalm 119:3304

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

12 February – Choosing life

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Epiphany 6

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-2, 105-6, 110-112
Matthew 5:21-37

Our reading from Deuteronomy is Moses’ summing up of his presentation of the commandments and statutes of God for the people of Israel, on the eve of their crossing into the Promised Land. With that summary comes the call: choose the life with God which comes with obedience to this instruction.

Presented in this way, it is tempting to imagine that this life is constructed out of sheer observance of these commandments, that such observance creates the foundation upon which we might stand before God, or ties God to us. Perhaps it is possible to live such a life; certainly a great many have attempted it and we have all probably greatly benefited from such attempts.

But, in what looks like a direct parallel with Moses’ delivery of the law and call of God, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount immeasurably multiplies or intensifies or fills the space between the commandments: “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” For all of the appeal which Jesus the Teacher has for modern minds, in contrast to the dogmatised Jesus, in fact Jesus the teacher is a real hard-liner. Murder is not just about the knife but thinking about the knife; adultery is not about keeping your hands to yourself but about actually becoming aware that you probably ought to keep your hands to yourself.

In these examples, and many more which aren’t listed, Jesus effectively makes it impossible to fulfil the law, to do or to be in the right way. But if it is impossible, this does not mean “don’t try”; Jesus is serious here about the nature of murder, adultery, truth telling and whatever else he might have added to the list.

So where do we stand? How can we move, righteously?

The simple, and common, solution, is simply to let ourselves off the hook. This is to imagine that impossible is impossible and that we have done enough identifiable good to impress God or anyone else we think we need to impress.

Yet this does not deliver to us certainty, and the moral life is typically lived with a view to certainty. We will still wonder whether we have been wise enough, or strong enough, whether our “enough” corresponds to God’s “enough”. There is here, finally, really only uncertainty – before God and before each other; I cannot know in advance whether I will have a (moral) leg to stand on.

There is, then, no gospel heard here, only the kind of “have I done enough?” uncertainty which comes with any attempt to live a complex human life according to a moral code, whether that code be simple or complex.

The “…but I say to you…” on Jesus’ lips is not the gospel; it is the signal that we need the gospel. We must keep in mind that those who hear these words – then and now – are told at the very beginning: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are such ones when we learn the extent of the command of God and are stopped short by its impossibility. Then we stand as those Jesus names: the unworthy poor in spirit; those who mourn or are meek – who are unable to effect for themselves the things they need. The blessedness of these ones is not in what they lack, but in that their only hope – the grace of God to provide – is promised them.

The intensity of Jesus’ teaching continues in the passages which follows our text for today until, the end of chapter six, we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry”! After declaring the righteous life to be significantly more difficult than any of us wants it to be, “Do not worry!” Why? Do not worry, for your heavenly Father knows what you need, you poor in spirit, you meek, you who thirst for righteousness, who long for mercy and peace.

Christian discipleship takes very seriously the call to a devout, holy, moral life. Jesus does not intensify the commandments to dismiss them; not one jot or tittle of the law is lost, he declares. Learning not to objectify others for our own ends or gratification, not to deceive or covet or envy – this is part of what it means to be in Christ.

It is just that “to be in Christ” is the starting point from which we enter into that renewed moral life. The first thing to seek is the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and everything else God calls for is then added to us. The moral life, lived outside of this grace, leads to the crucifixion because it does not know the freedom of the children of God. The moral life which lives out of the resurrection leaves moral fear behind and lives forward out of gratitude for the gift of life we did not think to ask for. In this way our weekly, or daily, prayer begins to be answered: as in Jesus himself, so also in us, God’s kingdom comes, earth begins to look a little more like heaven.

To come to Christian faith is to begin to realise that we already loved and desired by God as his children. This is not something we can earn; we can only have our eyes opened up to it.

This is a comfort, a righteousness, a mercy, a life we cannot rightly expect, and yet it is there for us to take.

Let us, then, choose life: the divinely command life of the free children of God, that we might enter ever more richly into the land, the life, which God promises.

MtE Update – February 12 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. There’ll be a hymn-learning session this Sunday, following morning tea; please stay to expand your repertoire, if you’re able!
  2. The most recent Hotham Mission Herald (newsletter) is available here.
  3. Our study groups for the year will begin with a Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer. Details about this and other planned groups through the year are here.
  4. There will be a congregational meeting following worship on Sunday February 26. The main reason for the meeting will be the presentation (for reception) of our 2017 budget; the budget papers will be available at church this Sunday.
  5. On Monday February 20 (6.30pm) we will be presenting Brother Bray of Bethlehem University at a public event in our hall. More details are available here. Please forward information about this event to other people you think might be interested. We hope also to be able to offer hospitality following the presentation; if you are able to help be bringing something to share, please speak to Heather M about how you can assist.
  6. The most recent Synod newsletter (Feb 8) is here.
  7. Other forthcoming dates for your calendar:
    1. Congregational picnic March 26
  8. If you’d like to do some background work on this coming Sunday’s readings (February 12, Epiphany 6A),

Deuteronomy 30:15-20,

Psalm 119.1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

Lent and Easter 2017 at MtE

Our Lenten and Easter events begin with Ash Wednesday and our Lenten Studies, through to Easter Day.

Ash Wednesday Service

Lenten Studies: on the Lord’s Prayer; more details are here.

Easter Services

Palm Sunday April 9, 10.00am with Eucharist

Maundy Thursday April 13, 7.30pm with Eucharist

Good Friday April 14 10.00am

Easter Vigil Service Saturday April 15 8.00pm

Easter Day Service 10.00am with Eucharist

Beyond the Walls: Father Peter Bray at MtE

Mark the Evangelist, in association with the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network, is pleased to be able to present Brother Peter Bray at a public gathering on Monday February 20, at 6.30pm, in the Elm Street hall (4 Elm Street, North Melbourne).

An educationist and an inspirational speaker who promotes Bethlehem University as an oasis of calm in a most difficult environment, Brother Bray speaks about the work of the university and the conditions under which they all live and work. You can learn more about Brother Bray here.

You are most welcome to join us!

Please feel free to share this event with others you believe might be interested.


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