Monthly Archives: May 2017

MtE Update – May 23 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. Our next MtE-Habitat reading group begins next week! Five studies using Walter Brueggeman’s “Praying the Psalms (Second Edition): Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit 

    Wednesdays May 31 – June 28, 7.30-9.00pm, Mark the Evangelist, North Melbourne (venue TBA depending on numbers)

    Fridays June 2 – June 30, 9.30-11.00am, Habitat Uniting Church (Augustine)

    I’m sorry the reminder is coming so late. Options for obtaining the book include (click on the links):

    Koorong [Quick – from within Australia]

    Kindle [instant]

    Book depository [Usually within a week from the UK]

    Please let me know by reply email if you’re able to attend one of these groups!

    [You can see the proposed dates and books for other series this year here.]

  2. Material for the next issue of Mark the Word is due by the end of the month; please get it to Suzanne as soon as possible…
  3. The latest Synod e-Newsletter is here
  4. Latest Pilgrim College news
  5. News regarding changes in the UCA’s “SHARE”
  6. If you’d like to do some background work on this coming Sunday’s readings (Easter 7A)

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

Other potentially of interest:

FROM: Vic/Tas Uniting for Refugees Network

Dear Vic/Tas Uniting for Refugees Network members,

I am emailing to let you know of some great upcoming training that the Uniting Church and CAPSA (Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum) are running to offer local church and community groups an opportunity to come together and build skills for action around refugee issues in Australia.

These training sessions have been designed to support the launch of an action toolkit by CAPSA. You will be offered a hardcopy of this toolkit at any of the sessions. 

 So what’s on offer?

Training #1 – Community Conversations

Community conversations are a great way for people to learn about the issues affecting people seeking asylum, and to join the discussion about how we can be treating people with dignity and respect. We believe that when a community is made aware of an issue and works together in defence of what is fair and right, anything is possible.

We’ll present a model for having conversations in your local community and give you the tools and structures to organise your own.


Training #2 – Meeting your local MP

MPs are our elected representatives in parliament and have a responsibility to listen to the issues that are of concern to their constituents. In this session we will work through some of the key things to think about when arranging, preparing for and following up your meeting with an MP.

We’ll build your skills to have effective meetings with MPs that are outcome-focused and help us achieve important change for refugees and people seeking asylum.

For our Wednesday 31st May training we will be joined by former ALP candidate for Melbourne – Cath Bowtell – who has years of experience working with government departments, unions and elected officials and is currently CEO of Industry Fund Services.

For both MP sessions, we will be joined by Catherine Neville, who has held senior policy and advocacy roles in government and the community services sector and worked as an advisor and Chief of Staff for the Bracks, Brumby and Andrews Labor Governments in Victoria.

How do I get involved?

Register your attendance for one or two of the four session we have on offer:

Wednesday 24thMay – 6.00pm-7.30pm – Community Conversation Training #1

Wednesday 31stMay – 6.00pm-7.30pm – MP Meeting Training #1 (with Cath Bowtell)

Sunday 4thJune – 2.00pm-3.30pm – Community Conversation Training #2

Sunday 4thJune – 4.00pm-5.30pm – MP Meeting Training #2

All workshops will take place at the Cathedral Room, Cardinal Knox Centre, 383 Albert St, East Melbourne.

To register your attendance, please reply to this email giving me your phone contact details and details of the sessions that you would like to attend!  If you would like further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me (my direct contact details are below).

We look forward to having a good contingent of UCA people along for these sessions, and seeing the great activity that will come out of this training.

 Kind regards,

 Jill Ruzbacky
Social Justice Officer, Justice & International Mission
Commission for Mission
130 Little Collins St Melbourne 3000
t  (03) 9251 5266  | f  (03) 9251 5241  | m  0417 878 982

May 27 – John Calvin

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John Calvin,   Reformer of the Church

In May 2009, the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French Reformer Jean (John) Calvin 1509-1564 was acknowledged in Geneva and around the world.  Calvin helped consolidate the Reformation movement. He was “second generation” to Martin Luther’s initial protest against Catholic indulgences in 1517. John Knox of Scotland (1514–1572) was another contemporary. Calvin was educated for the Catholic priesthood at the University of Paris and later in law at Orleans.

Calvin’s influence as a Reformed theologian was significant in Europe during his years in Geneva. His theology particularly emphasized two central themes: salvation by grace alone, and the Kingdom of God. His Institutes of the Christian Religion, first written in Latin in 1536 following his break with Catholicism, are still regarded as a clear authority in some Protestant churches today. In his many confessional documents and other writings, Calvin tried to meld together gospel and practical Christian living.

For Calvin, the Bible was the focal point of church life. All members were to be lifelong students of the Scriptures, which  “should be read with a view to finding Christ in them.” He wanted to inject conviction and the presence of the Holy Spirit into liturgy and divine worship. Calvin believed that while the Lord’s Supper should be central to each worship service, its mystery required protection from profaning sinners. This “godly discipline” led to a tightened access to Holy Communion within the Genevan church.

Calvin also attempted to transform the civil society of his time. He (and other Reformed leaders who lived in Geneva) cooperated with the town council to define the civil codes of the day. Some historians have pointed to this period between the mid-1550s and Calvin’s death as one of moral austerity and political control.

Calvin remains controversial. For some, the principal concern is with the emphasis of Calvin’s successors on an expanded doctrine of predestination, which led to a fear of hell. Other adherents have seen material prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing and its recipients as predestined for salvation. Later, Max Weber named Calvin the “father” of capitalism.

To mark Calvin’s 500th anniversary, the General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Dr. Setri Nyomi, reminded WARC’s member churches (Presbyterian, Congregational, Reformed, and Uniting/United), of their origins in the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Dr. Nyomi invited us to reflect on three themes from Calvin’s life and ministry.

First, Calvin professed a strong call to compassion and social justice. This may have been engrained in him through his flight from persecution, or from his ministry with expelled French refugees in Geneva. He believed that “Where God is taken seriously, humanity is cared for as well.”

Second, Calvin wrestled with “the question of whether, and how, the law of God revealed in the Bible . . . was to be obeyed in the political and social order.” For him, reconciliation involved justice in society and “the rejection of war [between nations] as a means to serve the Gospel.” Calvin believed that ”we must live together in a family of brothers and sisters, which Christ has founded with his blood.” To Calvin, this family included “barbarians and Moors”—an unpopular view in his day.

Third, despite the realities of the period of the Reformation, Calvin was committed to visible unity through the “one Lord of the one church”. He was willing to mediate matters of division to minimize “scandalous” schisms. Historically, however, Reformed churches do not have a good record on visible unity, and commitment to ecumenism is often undermined by internal division. For Calvin, such circumstances were a poor witness to the gospel and inhibited the church’s mission in the world as well as the lives of its members. Visible unity remains a challenge for churches to demonstrate the one body of Christ.

Judi Fisher (alt)

May 24 – John and Charles Wesley

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John & Charles Wesley, Reformers of the Church

The Wesley brothers, John (1703–91) and Charles (1707–88), founders of Methodism, were the fifteenth and eighteenth children of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susannah (nee Annesley). Both their grandfathers were nonconformist ministers. Samuel was rector of Epworth parish in the fenlands of Lincolnshire.

Susannah, a highly intelligent and capable woman, was responsible for the early education of her children, and remained an influential confidante and advisor to both John and Charles. Both brothers were ordained Church of England ministers, and remained so until their death.

At Oxford University Charles founded and John became leader of a small group of scholars resolved to live ordered and committed Christian lives, in contrast to what they saw as the indolence and laxity of many of their colleagues. This group, variously called “The Holy Club”, “Bible moths” and “Methodists” by their detractors, pledged to be regular in private devotions and in receiving Holy Communion, to be careful about their ethical conduct, to meet daily for prayer and Bible study, and to visit the prison once or twice a week.

Although the term “Methodist” Wesley was happy to retain, the dynamic of this Oxford Group was very different from the great Movement that later developed. Put bluntly, at this time its members were mainly concerned to achieve their own personal holiness, and thus to make themselves worthy before God, by acts of devotion, piety and charity. This too, it seems, was the main motivation that led John (who had become a Fellow of Lincoln College) and Charles away from Oxford to missionary work in the American colony of Georgia. This venture, however, proved a great disappointment to both. They returned to London in 1738, not only downcast at their failure in mission to others (they had hardly any contact with Indians they had hoped to convert; Charles was Chaplain to the Colony’s Governor, John the minister to the expatriate British congregation in Savannah), but also in despair at how far they were themselves from achieving personal holiness. John summed up their despondency: “I know that every thought, every movement of my heart should bear God’s image. But how far I am from God’s glory. I feel that I am sold under sin.”

It was Peter Boehler, a Moravian living in London, who guided both John and Charles through this crisis. He convinced them that it was precisely their sense of unworthiness that made them ready to receive the free forgiveness and saving grace of God. Good works and holiness would then be the result of, not the precondition for receiving the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. Giving intellectual assent to this doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, John was soon to be assured of its reality in his own experience. On May 24, 1738, at a religious society meeting (after attending Cathedral evensong and hearing Luther’s preface to Paul’s Letter to the Romans), John “felt his heart strangely warmed.”  He goes on to record “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Charles had the same experience three days earlier, and wrote “I am now at peace with God” and in anticipation of his great contribution to come, “He has put a new song in my mouth.”

The rest of their lives were spent in spreading this good news of God’s free grace far and wide, to all who would listen. It was evident that this would involve preaching outside church buildings, in fields, halls and street corners, because most “common folk” were alienated from, or did not find a welcome in parish churches. Initially reluctant to follow former Oxford colleague George Whitefield in this irregular behaviour for Anglican clergy, he was persuaded by his mother that “this may well be the work of the Holy Spirit.”  So from 1739 until his death John rode an average of 8,000 miles a year on horseback, through the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Ireland, preaching the Gospel to all who would come and hear. And they did come in their hundreds and thousands, and turning to Christ, were gathered into local Societies and smaller class meetings for spiritual nurture. These Societies were grouped together into a Conference, with John as its overall Superintendent. It was his intention that they should remain within the Church of England, not become a separate denomination.

However, John’s ordaining preachers for the work in America, (when the Bishop of London, after the War of Independence, refused) made the break inevitable, as Charles foretold with great regret, but it did not occur in the lifetime of the Wesley brothers.

Charles, whose domestic life was much more congenial than John’s, settled in Bristol to oversee the work in that area, centred as it was on the first purpose-built Methodist Chapel, the New Room, which is still in use, having escaped the incendiary bombing of World War II. His great contribution to Methodism, and to Christian life more generally, is his legacy of hymns, over 5,000 of them, enabling people to sing their faith in words that convey profound truth in poetic simplicity.

Norman Young

LitBit Commentary – James K A Smith on the Scriptures 1

LitBits Logo - 2

LitBit: …worship is Scripture’s home, its native soil, its most congenial habitat. . . . It is in the liturgy . . . that Christians are schooled and exercised in the scriptural logic of the faith. In particular, the Scriptures provide the story of which we find ourselves a part, and thus the narration and absorption of the story is crucial to give us resources for knowing what we ought to do. The end of ingesting the story—“eating the book”—is in order to be and become a certain kind of person and a certain kind of people.

James K A Smith, Desiring the Kingdom p.196


How to use LitBit Features and Commentaries.

14 May – A Text out of Context

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Easter 5

1 Peter 2:2-10
Psalm 31
John 14:1-14

Sermon preached by Rev. Bruce Barber

I don’t suppose too many people lie awake at night pondering the question why the Bible comes to us divided as it is into its various chapters and verses.

The fact is that when the books of the Bible were originally composed they did not contain the chapter or verse references which are familiar to us. That should not really be a surprise. After all, when we write letters we don’t divide them into chapters or verses. No more would Paul have done when he dashed off his letters to various churches. And the gospel writers were composing a sequential drama – why would they destroy the essential flow of the narrative by inserting chapters and verses?

As far as the chapter divisions commonly used today are concerned, they were developed by an Archbishop of Canterbury around the year 1227, that is, only 800 years ago. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Hebrew Old Testament verses were compiled even later by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in 1448. The New Testament division into standard numbered verses arrived even more recently less than 500 years ago in 1555, virtually yesterday.  It may well be the case that motivation for the verse divisions we have could be as pedestrian as indicating the amount of ink the quill of a monkish scribe could hold at a single dipping!

At any rate, beginning with the Geneva Bible, these divisions have been accepted in the main in all further translations.

Now if one concedes that these divisions allow us to find various texts quickly, the fact is that in more than a few places the divisions are poorly placed, and in some cases effectively destroy the intention of the writer.

Today is a case in point – John 14, a text commonly employed for funeral services, where it only belongs by real compromise. Sorry about that.  Another purple passage is the so-called hymn to love of 1 Corinthians 13, equally compromised by its use in marriage services without the final verses of Chapter 12.  Cherry picking texts like these without regard to the preceding verses destroys the intention whether of Epistle or Gospel.

So let me remove the chapter heading of John 14, and begin with the concluding verses of chapter 13:

“Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord where are you going?”

Jesus answered “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward. Peter said: “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you”. Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, before the cock crows you will have denied me three times”.  Only now can we properly start to read Chapter 14:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also.”

The point is that in Chapter 13 where Jesus is going to prepare a place for us is the Cross and, lest we overlook the consequent inference, “that where I am you may be also”!  It could not be clearer: “If any would come after me, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

This means that the gaining of the final “dwelling place” can only be secured, literally, by this bloody “resting place” on the way. Disregarding these concluding verses of Chapter 13, the assurance of Chapter 14 about “dwelling places” has been tamed virtually beyond any authentic recovery. Jesus’ promise of “going to prepare a place for you” is first of all the impotent resting place of the cross. It is not, to be brutal, a crossless cloud in the sky.

That is to say, before consoling ourselves with Chapter 14, we have to pan back from Chapter 13 to understand the larger context of the Fourth Gospel as a whole. Then it is that we discover that the whole book is about the revelation of the divine glory precisely in the salvation of the world, and that the way to understand this drama is to see it within the vast and sprawling story of Israel and the whole creation.

In other words, John is writing a new Genesis. In effect, the six stages of Creation of the first chapter of Genesis, concluding with the rest of the seventh day, can be likened to the stages of constructing a temple into which eventually the builder will come and take up his residence in the “rest” of the seventh day. So it is that Israel’s God will say in the Psalms about the temple: “Here is Zion, my dwelling place”, uniting the dwelling place of the creation with that of the holy people.

For this reason, as the Gospel of John unfolds the New Creation, it focuses the story again and again on the Temple; on Jesus’ upstaging of the Temple; on his implicit warning in his ministry of the untrustworthy Temple and its guardians; and on his final performance on the Cross of a new embodiment of Temple that the old temple could not achieve.

Only grasping something like this can we now understand John 14: “In my Father’s house are many “dwelling” or “resting” places. To such a temple place, Jesus is going by way of the Cross as pioneer in order that a true and final dwelling place for God and the creation can be built.

This foundational image of the Temple is brought home to us in the epistle reading today, as it builds on this image of the temple as both creation and the new creation, its corner stone requiring living stones forming a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, the people of God.  Here, after the inauguration of the new Temple of the crucified Jesus, the Creation and New Creation become one in the call to be a chosen race, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order  to proclaim the mighty acts of him “who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light”.

Just here the figure of the Crucified, as the light shining in the darkness, brings the “dwelling place” of the Cross and the “dwelling place” of the new creation together in the construction of the ultimate temple, a single heaven and earth reality. Only by way of the Cross does this one “temple/cosmos dwelling place” emerge, holding together God’s space and our space.

How far all this is from the ancient pagan world, and from our contemporary pagan world. It is in the ancient pagan world, not the ancient Jewish world, that we hear stories of an angry God and an innocent victim. In the same way, in our contemporary pagan world people hear what they think is the gospel, and instead of hearing that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” they hear the pagan story that “God so hated the world that he killed his only son”.  We have heard this fundamental disaster again just this week in the lamentable ignorance of such an otherwise clever man as Stephen Fry. Popular blasphemy will always get 7 million hits on YouTube.   You want to know what Christian mission today is, given the shame of the long failure of the churches to make absolutely clear this decisive contrast?   This mission is nothing more nor less than unrelentingly confronting this perennial paganism. To this end, John is writing a new Genesis, so that the death of Jesus becomes the new dwelling place of the renewed temple Image at the heart of a new heaven and earth.  It is just here, in this costly “dwelling place”, that the world is invited to recognise and understand its creator as the God of unstoppable love.

This is why John 14 must be glued without any break to John 13. So when you get home, white out the heading “Chapter 14”.

May 9 – James Egan Moulton

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

James Egan Moulton, faithful servant

Viewed in the context of Tonga’s Christian history, Moulton is probably the most influential European missionary to have served there. He was born in 1841 into a strong English Methodist family, one of four brothers all of whom were gifted and made great contributions to the fields of literature and education. A scholar in both Hebrew and Greek, James Egan offered for foreign missionary work. Arriving in Australia in 1863, Moulton was detained for two years in Sydney where he married and was appointed the founding headmaster of Newington College when it was situated in the colonial home at Silverwater formerly owned by the explorer Blaxland; for many years the institution served as both Methodist Theological College and boys’ school. 

Altogether Moulton spent almost 35 years in Tonga (1865-88 and 1895-1905). He made particularly significant contributions in education, biblical scholarship and translation work. In focussing on these areas, Moulton was not only engaging in his own interests but reflecting the deep educational concerns of Tonga’s high chief and first King, Taufa-ahau or Tupou I.  In 1866, Moulton was placed in charge of Tupou College (which opened that year and eventually became the most prestigious school in Tonga). An advanced and progressive curriculum was introduced which cemented educational achievement at the centre of Tongan life.  Moulton became an expert in the Tongan language. The historian of Tongan Methodism, Harold Wood, quotes R.G. Moulton (James Egan’s brother) as saying that J.E.M. turned raw Tongan into poetry through his translation of the Bible. He also supplied Tongan Methodism with beautiful vernacular hymns and manufactured a special tonic sol-fa which is still used today by Tongan choirs. In 1899 Moulton was honoured for his academic endeavours with an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Victoria University, Toronto.

Moulton has given Tonga a unique national motto. Observing the generally flat profile of the Tongan islands, Moulton said that “the mountain of Tonga is the mind”. It was largely due to his efforts that the Tongan church placed a great emphasis on the education of their lay people so that today, in Tonga and among the Tongan diaspora of Australia, there is a high value placed on biblical literacy and on the status of lay preacher.

by Dr Andrew Thornley

7 May – In the presence of our enemies

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Easter 4

1 Peter 2:19-25
Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Today we have for our text the most popular of all the psalms. It seems to speak to us in ways as deep as the still water it describes, and so we are very willing to pray and to sing it.

We noted last week that one thing about the psalms is that they speak a range of experiences which far exceed the actual experience of most of us. As such, the Psalms constitute something strange to us if we take the collection as a whole. One of our tasks this morning, then, will be to see in what way this most familiar and loved of the psalms might also be strange to us, or make us strange to ourselves.

We also noted last week that, if the psalms capture the breadth of human experience of the world and of God, then the one who sings them is ultimately Christ himself, who presents to us one instance of that breadth of experience (an insight which goes back at least to Augustine). The psalms are both our prayers and, in a way, come to us as a gift of Jesus himself.

Our approach to the psalms as Christians, then, is peculiar. We do not jump over the person of Jesus to access these prayers directly, without reference to him. Jesus “colours” our reception of the psalms. The still waters are the waters by which Jesus was given to rest; the “dark vale of death” was one through which Jesus walked, the “all the days of my life” where Jesus’ own days.

At the same time, Jesus gives us other things, which also impinge on our reading of this psalm. We’ve heard today from John’s gospel that Jesus himself is the shepherd. In this light, the Psalm turns us specifically to him and his benefits as the key to our singing the psalm. It is Jesus who leads us to safe pastures, whose rod and staff comfort us.

But there is one particular thing I’d like to present today as a focus for reflection – something which strikes me as very important although I don’t quite have a completed thought about it to offer you. Last Sunday I contrived a link between the Psalm 116 and our practice of the Eucharist on the basis of the reference in that psalm to a “cup of salvation”. The same is possible today although it is perhaps slightly less contrived! If we have moved from the Psalm as the occasional prayer of one of us to a prayer of Jesus himself, and from there to it being a prayer about Jesus as the Shepherd who leads and gives, as in the psalm, then another link to the Eucharist appears here:

He spreads a table before me in the presence of my enemies; he anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows.

We gather here, today, around a table. It is the table which this Lord, this Shepherd, spreads before us. It is not difficult to imagine that the table of the psalm is this table of the Lord. But if that is the case, the psalm invites us into an experience of the Lord’s table which, to me at least, is quite new.

The new thing is indicated in the line, “in the presence of my enemies.”

In what sense is our gathering around this table today a gathering “in the midst of enemies”? Or we can put the question differently by noting that this line about the table sits in apposition with the previous line in the psalm; that is, it says the same thing differently. So “the darkest valley” is being in the midst of our enemies; the comforting rod and staff are the table spread before us with the anointing oil and the overflowing cup.

In what sense is our gathering around this table today a gathering “in the midst of enemies”? In what sense is this table today set in “death’s dark vale”?

If we play with these images, and allow that they might inform our understanding of the meaning of the Lord’s table, then the Eucharist becomes something of a safe haven, or even a fortress. That is a new thought to me and, I imagine, also to many of you. I am not entirely sure what to make of it, but I suspect that we must make – and take – something from it.

Not least surprising here is the implicit suggestion that we do have enemies. The language of “enemy” is uncomfortable in modern society, perhaps only natural on the lips of our more belligerent political leaders. Enmity is “uncivilised”. If enmity appears at all in our understanding of the Eucharist it would normally be expressed along the lines of being in the company of enemies rather than in the midst of enemies. That is, we tend to speak of “communion” not only with God but with each other – a sharing around a common table by people who otherwise might even be enemies. The passing of the peace which precedes the communion is a kind of laying down of arms, an act of reconciliation, as is the sharing of the one bread and one cup.

Yet this is not the image of table of the psalm, which is more one of being encircled by external foes – gathering at table in the darkening shadow of death, enemies at the door.

Is this right? Is this table a fortress, a rod-and-staff weapon God wields on behalf of his people? This is strong language and is almost shocking to suggest; but I don’t think we can dismiss the thought too quickly. Note that here, as in the psalms, the weapon is held by God, and not by us. We are but sheep, God is the shepherd; the rod and staff are his to use to protect, not ours to strike those who we imagine stand against us. Vengeance – another strong and troubling theme in the psalms – is the Lord’s and not ours.

But even then this really only makes sense if indeed the people of God do have enemies. Do they? Do we? It is an unappealing, uncivilised thought. We seek to be a peaceable people and imagine ourselves to live in a largely peaceable community. Perhaps that is part of our malaise as a church culture – everything is too peaceable, there is nothing really worth dying for.

But the point cannot be that we need to whip up a bit of controversy, to pick a fight. Enmity for enmity’s sake is self-interested troublemaking. The question is whether the kingdom of this king, the shepherding of this shepherd, the humanity of this God, are sufficiently confronting to the usual way of things to make us strange to ourselves and strange to each other – strange enough even to create strangers of the dangerous kind: enemies.

If indeed we have no real enemies, then good for us.

But if we have blinded ourselves to what is going on around us, to what it is which the gospel names in us as enmity even as it calls us into love and peace, then we have need of having our eyes opened. I don’t intend today to try to list precisely where those battle lines might be; perhaps our looking further into the psalms in the next few weeks might furnish more thought about that.

But we can say that there is something about the nature of the reconciliation which the gospel proposes that is, finally, offensive and creates enemies. What right do we have to green pastures and still waters, to protection and anointing? Presumably, in the eyes of our enemies, no right at all. And yet we claim it, or claim that it has been given to us nonetheless, that our lives are lived in the house of the Lord, whatever might seem to be the case to others.

Though we pray our psalms in the quiet of our hearts, and celebrate our sacraments out of the sight of most of the world, those prayers and sacraments are social and political things and not private devotions. They speak of unexpected, even undeserved, reconciliations among ourselves and with God. We cannot expect that they will not give offence.

And so we will need, all the more, to pray just these prayers, and seek defence in just these sacraments. For they are God’s way with us, that we might finally find our way into God.

May 7 – Charles Harris

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.


Charles Harris, faithful servant

Charles Enoch Edward Harris (1931–1993) was a cane cutter, railway worker, Assembly of God evangelist, Methodist and Uniting Church minister, and the Founding President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. Harris was born on 8 July 1931 into a Christian family in Ingham, north Queensland. After a self-confessed ‘wild’ youth and various labouring jobs, Harris joined the Assemblies of God and became involved in youth work at Ayr. He later trained at the Commonwealth Bible College (Assemblies of God) from 1957 to 1959 and then took on several non-stipendiary pastorates with the Assemblies of God.

In 1966 Harris joined the Ingham Methodist Church and the following year he was appointed pastor to the newly established ‘Mission to Aborigines and Islanders in North Queensland’ in the Hermit Park Circuit in Townsville. Under testing circumstances Harris persisted for five years in this ‘evangelical and caring ministry’, visiting prisons, conducting missions, and caring for Townsville’s displaced and homeless ‘bridge people’.

Harris became a staff member of Central Methodist Mission in Brisbane in 1973, where he was introduced to the world of Aboriginal struggle for justice. Harris was ordained on 27 November 1980 in Brisbane, the first Aboriginal and Islander Minister to be ordained by the Uniting Church in Queensland.

Of the many achievements in Harris’ ministry two stand out above the rest. The first is the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress; it was his vision and energy that would eventually lead to the formation of Congress at Elcho Island in August 1983.  The second is the March for Justice, Freedom and Hope. It was Harris who was the driving force behind the idea of the March held on the streets of Sydney on 26 January 1988, the largest gathering of Indigenous people ever in Australia and arguably the centrepiece of Aboriginal protest during the bicentennial year. The March propelled Charles Harris into the national and international spotlight and promoted the fledgling Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress as one of the leading Aboriginal and Islander organisations in the country. Throughout the planning of the March Harris grew as a national leader and a symbol of what Aboriginal and Islander people could do together in their common struggle. Sir Ronald Wilson remarked on the occasion of Harris’s retirement: ‘The emergence of the Congress as perhaps the leading Aboriginal organisation in the country, the growing maturity of its leadership, and its finest hour—the Bicentenary March for freedom, Justice and Hope will stand as lasting monuments to Charles’ vision as president, his determination and keen sense of justice.’ Towards the end of Harris’ life, he became progressively more radical, seizing every opportunity to speak out against injustice and the church’s and governments’ role in perpetuating injustice.

Charles Harris died on 7 May 1993.

Contributed by William W. Emilsen (alt)

Edited down to a single page; see Commemorations document (see above) for the full text