Monthly Archives: June 2017

June 29 – Peter and Paul

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.

Peter and Paul, apostles

The commemoration of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul in Rome brings together in death two figures who were sometimes at odds with each other in life. Paul recognised Peter as one of Jesus’ original disciples and a witness to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–5), but also claimed that his own encounter with the risen Christ qualified him to join the ‘apostles’ (1 Corinthians 15:8–10). The relationship between these two leading figures in the early years of the Christian movement was marked by a degree of conflict. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, speaks of a confrontation with Peter in Antioch. By stepping back from an earlier willingness to share table-fellowship with Gentiles, under pressure from colleagues in the Jerusalem church, Peter, in Paul’s eyes, acts hypocritically and in a way that is ‘not consistent with the truth of the gospel’ (see Galatians 2:11–14). As the context makes clear, it was this confrontation that led Paul to first formulate his understanding of justification that is based solely on Christ’s saving work (‘the faithfulness of Christ’) and that is received through faith (see Galatians 2:15–21). In Corinth, there also seem to have been tensions between Paul and sections of the church there that aligned themselves with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, including Peter (see 1 Corinthians 1:11–13).

This conflict, while central to the development of Paul’s theology, does not tell the whole story, however. Paul also indicates that, three years after his call to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he spent a fortnight with Peter, whom Paul regularly calls ‘Cephas’ (Galatians 1:18–20). A later visit to Jerusalem is also marked by co-operation and agreement (Galatians 2:1–10) as Peter and other Jerusalem leaders affirm Paul’s gospel and ministry. The ‘right hand of fellowship’ offered by Peter to Paul, stands as a fundamental gesture of their relationship. This more eirenic account of the relationship then becomes the basis for subsequent Christian accounts, notably that of Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, who strives to bring the two apostles into theological and historical alignment. A letter attributed to Peter commends the study of Paul’s letters, while recognising that ‘there are some things in them that are hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:15–16).

In this way, Peter and Paul became regarded as the joint founders of the church in Rome. The New Testament gives us no information about their respective deaths. Luke ends his narrative with Paul in Rome under house arrest (Acts 28:30–31), but it is later tradition that describes his martyrdom, along with that of Peter, in the period of the so-called ‘Neronian persecution’. Graffiti in the catacombs of Rome from the 3rd and 4th centuries appeal to both apostles from the context of suffering: ‘Paul and Peter, pray for us all’.

Peter and Paul bear witness to both the unity and diversity of the Christian community in the earliest period. But the subsequent commemoration of their joint witness also points us to the things that bound them together. In the words of St Augustine, we remember ‘their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching’ (Augustine, Sermon 295).

Written by Rev Dr Sean Winter

11 June – Mission, and Eating God

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Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:26-2:4a
Psalm 8
Matthew 28:16-20

I want to draw our attention to that part of today’s gospel reading we have come to call “the Great Commission”, to tease out our sense for mission and for the God who commissions us in this particular way. I’ll do this by drawing on two pithy little statements I came across in my reading last week, neither of which would seem – on the surface – to have much to do with mission or God as Trinity but which leapt off the page for me in connection with mission two quite different ways.

One is the maxim, “what is measured is managed” and the other is a paraphrase from David Foster Wallace: Everybody worships…and pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. Let’s see how these illuminate our approach to mission and the God who commissions.

“What is measured is managed”. As soon as I read that I wondered, What do we – as a church – measure? We measure our money. Each year we spend thousands upon thousands of dollars for auditors and our parish administrator and some of my time, and on top of that perhaps hundreds of volunteer hours making sure that the figures are all correct. We present to the Church Council and then to the Congregational Meeting a fat wad of papers that declare what we have measured and how well we have managed what we have. This is straightforward and understandable.

But I wondered, in what way to do we measure – and so manage – mission? Perhaps it’s even a horrifying thought to imagine that mission might be managed. When it comes to talking about mission we think, Worship is mission; we have “Hotham Mission”. But the missional character of these things is hard to measure and to manage. What is going on when we measure so closely one aspect of our lives but for other aspects we make almost no measurements at all?

When Jesus says go forth to teach and preach and to baptize he expects something to happen. We ourselves are here today precisely because something has happened on account of others’ obedience to the call. We manage our resources very well. We understand a balanced budget in terms of those resources. What does a “balanced budget” look like in terms of mission?

I don’t actually know! This is a very open question. But I wonder what, just as year after year we imagine that we have to secure one aspect of our lives – our finances and our resources, our risks – it would mean to manage our mission in a corresponding kind of way. What would it mean for us as a church to say that, at the end of 2017 (’18,’19?) we will have baptized one more person into the kingdom, not just the fortuitous arrivals which come from having young parents in the congregation but somebody who has encountered the gospel in the work of the congregation. There is a measurement there and it would require a certain kind of management: what the minister does with her/his time on? How should the Church Council apportion its time? What sort of things would the congregation do, or what would we expect of congregational members, if we managed our mission in the same way we manage our money?

This is an open question. Yet Jesus says, Go, and he expects something to happen. What do we expect to happen?

I’m going to leave that question there – open.

Perhaps more fundamental is the question, Why engage with mission? What in fact is mission? Why would we consider “evangelism”, something which makes many of us very nervous?

This brings us to the second of our pithy statements: Everyone worships… and pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. In fact I’m paraphrasing because the original author was merely being insightful but I want to be Christian, and so I’m pushing it a little harder than he did.

“Everyone worships”, which is to say that everyone has at the heart of their lives something which drives them. It is around such things that we orient our lives. It might be security; money and other resources; our relationships and family; our health; our “sovereign borders”. These are things which define our world for us – “everybody worships” whether they imagine themselves to be “religious” or not. Our lives are all oriented around something.

But then Wallace continues (and here is where I intensify him a bit): pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. What is meant by that is that you are not going to get life out of the things you worship. We see a very simple example of this in the person who worships just her health or primary relationship, or just his money, being reduced in his/her integrity or humanity by focusing so narrowly on such things. But, more broadly, part of what is consumed in this process is not just us but those around us. Worshipping the wrong things reduces not only us as individuals but reduces also our communal humanity. Pursuing something at all costs will cost somebody else, in addition to whatever it might cost us. We will be consumed, and consume others in the process.

Now, the church is not immune to this. The people of God is well able to worship the wrong thing. This is what gets messiahs crucified. But there is, at the heart of Christian confession, a different sense for being consumed, or what is consumed. At the heart of Christian faith we learn that this God does not consume us. God says, rather, Eat me: “This is my body; take and eat. This is my blood; take and drink”. It is a total reversal of Wallace’s point. We don’t live this very well, but this is what Christian faith is about – being nourished by consuming the God who gives himself to us, breathes our very life into us, sustains and promises to us a future. Take, Eat. Take, Drink: “Consume me”. This God is not a threat, will not consume us.

Yet this God is a strange kind of food. Usually, what we eat we turn into ourselves. A soft and sweet cream bun becomes just more Craig, and so forth. But the gospel is that, as we eat God, we become not our own body but the body of God, the body of Christ. Eat this, become this. It is a very strange food indeed.

[And, just as an aside and as a concession to today’s Feast: the reason that the church confesses God as Trinity – that strange and obscure mathematics by which three is one and one is three – is to make sense of how it might actually be that God can give Godself to us in this kind of way: being consumed by us and then making us the very presence of God.]

And this is where mission comes in.

God gives Godself in this way that we might eat God and become the presence of God. And, as the presence of God, we are given to the world to be consumed: the body of Christ, given for you. This is spoken first to the disciples but then spoken to the world as whole: the body of Christ, given for you.

The mission of the church is to be consumed by the world, that the world might become the presence of God.

This is our joy, and our burden, and our joy.

June 15 – Evelyn Underhill

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.

Evelyn Underhill, person of prayer

Evelyn Underhill was born in England in 1875 and was the only daughter of Sir Arthur and Lady Alice Underhill. Her father was a well known barrister in London, and Evelyn was brought up in a household steeped in the law. She did not go to school, but was educated at home. After completing her secondary schooling, she attended King’s College, London. During vacations, she travelled abroad, and was greatly attracted to Catholicism, and would have become a Catholic, but was put off by the Catholic Church’s antagonistic attitude to the Modernist trend in theology at the end of the 19th century.

In 1907, she became a member of the Anglican Church, aligning herself with the High Church of England tradition. In the same year, she married Hubert Moore, a barrister. They had no children.

Prior to becoming a member of the church, she had read the writings of the famous Christian mystics – people like Teresa of Avila, Augustine of Hippo, John of the Cross, Francis of Assissi, Walter hilton, Julian of Norwich and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. She became absorbed with Christian spirituality and Christian mysticism, and felt that the average Christian knew little about this side of Christianity. She had always liked writing, so she began to write about Christian spirituality and published a guide to Christian mysticism in 1911. Other books were to follow – books on prayer and worship, and new translations of the writings of Christian mystics for the ordinary person.

Her writings attracted a great deal of interest, and she was soon in demand as a speaker and spiritual guide. She began to conduct retreats and conferences and later gave radio talks. She was very conscious of the need to to keep a balance between the spiritual and physical elements of life – the necessary combination of Mary and Martha, she put it. As a result, she spent her mornings writing, and her afternoons visiting the sick and the poor.

Her writings are refreshing. Although she writes about deep spiritual matters, she uses unaffected illustrations which are easy to identify with. She had a gift for relating what she had to say to the lives of ordinary men and women. On one occasion, she drew a parallel between a Christian’s life and a two-story house. In this house, the upstairs rooms are the spiritual rooms – decorative and beautiful; the downstairs rooms are the practical, well-used rooms representing the physical side of our natures. The house is incomplete without both sorts of rooms. We cannot retreat to the upstairs rooms and ignore the fact that the kitchen downstairs is overrun with beetles and contains a stove that doesn’t work properly.

From all accounts, Evelyn Underhill was a lively person. She loved the outdoors and was passionate about yachting. She had a fondness for pets and indulged in bookbinding for a hobby. She was greatly mourned when she died in 1941.

by Rev Ross Mackinnon

MtE Update – June 14 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. Hotham Mission’s “The Weight of the World” Exhibition is happening TOMORROW June 15 at the Kensington Town Hall from 6pm-9.30pm; try to get there if you can! See also the Crosslight write-up of the exhibition.
  2. Next Wednesday June 21 we hosting an Arena/Institute of Postcolonial Studies forum on the Northern Territory Intervention into indigenous communities; it begins at 6.00pm in the church hall. More details are here.
  3. Our MtE-Habitat reading group continues: Walter Brueggeman’s “Praying the Psalms (Second Edition): Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit

Wednesdays – The Wednesday group has been cancelled

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

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]

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

  1. The latest Synod News (June 8) is here
  2. Changes in structure to SHARE are described here.
  3. If you’d like to do some background work on this coming Sunday’s readings (Sunday 11A), see here.

11 June – Evensong, Trinity Sunday in Luther Year

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Evensong, Trinity Sunday in Luther Year

Genesis 1:1-2.4a
Ephesians 4:1-6, 17-32

Sermon preached by Rev. Em. Prof. Robert Gribben
The joint congregations of St Mary’s and Mark the Evangelist Uniting

Martin Luther is notorious for nailing 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on All Saints’ Eve 1517. This is the act which has given this year its universal theme. It does capture Martin’s pugnacity, as does the hymn[1] we have sung, but it’s fifty years since the historians showed that it never happened; in fact, Luther rather boldly sent 95 theses to his superiors, and the rest is indeed history.[2]

These days, he would have tweeted them; all 95 are quite brief, single sentences (with semicolons), many of them under 140 characters. So, I was interested to discover that one of the younger Uniting Church theologians, Dr Ben Myers of Sydney, has recently published 65 tweets – on the doctrine of the Trinity.[3] Here’s #1:

#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity.

The Uniting Church is a curious combination.  Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, the two closely-associated traditions of British Nonconformity, both derive from Calvin. Even more curiously, the third party in that fateful legislation, the 1662 Act of Uniformity, the Anglicans also shared much of Calvin. And tonight’s liturgy is from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the very book which created the non-conformity which produced Presbyterians and Congregationalists.[4] It is a tragedy that that division remains with us in the 21st century when different choices are open to us.

So many of the theological and spiritual treasures produced in English during that chaotic period are now read with joy by all of us – well, at least by those who still read books. Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Donne, George Herbert – and Daniel Defoe, Richard Baxter, John Milton and John Bunyan. In 1662, the Church of England ejected its Puritans under the name of Nonconformity. And ‘we’ lost episcopacy, and a Book of Common Prayer and feared their recovery every since. We kept the monarch. In the 21st C, we can share the treasures, and we are able to revisit old disputes and divisions – but few are willing to act with the requisite courage and vision. We have, I regret to say, a long way to go in Anglican-Uniting relationships in Australia.

Tweet #5 The doctrine is not a mystery. It is simple and precise. The reality it points to is the mystery.

John Wesley was not a Calvinistic Anglican. His chief theological dispute was with predestination, which was sad because it was not Calvin’s best work. Calvin is a theologian of grace and joy. Above all, however, John Wesley owed a debt to Luther. Sitting with a group of German Christians in London just before Pentecost in 1738, he listened to someone reading from Luther’s Preface to his commentary on Romans, probably in German. He famously wrote in his diary,

About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. 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.[5]

In short, Luther’s great doctrine of justification by grace through faith, and all that it implied, hit him in an instant, and it brought him confidence and deep happiness. Within weeks, he had gone to what is now the Czech Republic, to sit with the original Moravian community at Herrnhut. There he experienced a kind of evangelical monasticism, for singles and families, small groups set up to promote spiritual life, hymn-singing, the love feast and a strong sense of mission. With a rekindled faith, and a good deal of Lutheran piety (which he shares with J. S. Bach), John Wesley began to create Methodism, as an Anglican society for the pursuit of holiness.

Tweet #54 The doctrine doesn’t have any adequate words for talking about God. But it’s a procedure for speaking faithfully and truly with inadequate words.

The battle-cry of the European Reformation was: Justification by faith. It runs through every nation and state in which the cry was taken up, in every language. It applies to what used to be the ‘mainstream Protestant’ churches of every hue, and it is there among the burgeoning new churches of Africa and Latin America, the Pentecostals and the new evangelicals.

And, perhaps most remarkably, that part of the Church which we call Roman Catholic, the other protagonist in the revolution of those centuries, is now able to say with Luther – and indeed with St Paul – Justification by faith is catholic doctrine. The Vatican set its signature to a Joint Document[6] with the Lutherans, saying so; and I presided at the liturgy in Seoul in 2006 when the World Methodist Council co-signed it.[7]

The Anglican Consultative Council, endorsed it last year in Zambia.[8] The World Communion of Reformed Churches is meeting in Leipzig next month to do so.[9] Each has added insights from its own tradition, enriching the doctrine for the whole church.

A little run of trinitarian tweets: an affirmation followed by three clarifications:

#31 The revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is an unveiling of the incomparable and unknowable uniqueness of the one God.

#32 The ‘oneness’ of God is not a number. It refers to God’s incomparable mystery. This is mysteriously revealed (not contradicted) by the ‘threeness’.

#33 The ‘threeness’ is not a number. It refers to the incomparable fullness of the life of the one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

#34 So the words ‘one’ and ‘three’ have to be abstracted away from their ordinary numerical meaning, and from any image of three things. The doctrine is not a mathematical puzzle.

The Church has made a mess of most of its doctrines. Sinful humankind continues to use doctrines as weapons of war. But I believe that that is changing, and I especially want to honour the people involved in theological dialogues, national and international, for decades of serious scholarly work, re-opening closed debates, and rediscovering the unity of the one faith in the one Lord. The problem has always been getting the results to the congregations – and indeed the actual reports would probably not help. (They need translation.) Our institutional inertia is a major obstacle. The fallacy that ‘unity means uniformity’ still sits in the pit of our stomachs. Unity in diversity is possible.[10] Ecumenism is all about seeking acceptable diversity. Finally,

#63. Liturgical afterword: A fitting communal response is not ‘Trinity Sunday’, but the whole church year as a symbolic participation in the economy of God’s saving work as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps that’s why the Book of Common Prayer named the next Sundays as ‘Sundays after Trinity’.

The connection between our two themes, Luther and the reformation, and the Holy Trinity, is this: true reformation calls the church regularly back to its roots. Glance at a page of Luther, Calvin or Wesley’s writings, or any of the great Anglican divines, and you will find the fruit of their study of the theologians of the early Church. The so-called ‘New Reformation’ of the 1960s too often began, and continues, with the passing fashions of contemporary culture, that is, with the world. Trinity Sunday reminds us that the Creator of everything, who is Father, and Son and Holy Spirit, is thereby on a different plane than anything else we can know or imagine,[11] a true Mystery – before Whom there is only one response: worship. That is what our hymns and prayers today have been about – and must always be.

This sacrifice of praise is the highest of our human callings, and from that flows the work of love in the world. From our prayer in common, like tonight’s, comes the gift and the fruit of Christian unity.

[1] Ein Feste Burg, (see TiS 103) words and music by Martin Luther, to a translation by Stephen Orchard of the United Reformed Church, UK.

[2] Dr Erwin Iserloh, professor of church history at Trier, first opened this question in 1961; it was well-known in Cambridge in the mid-1960s and generally acknowledged by scholars today. Luther wrote to his superiors on 31st October 1517, enclosing a copy of the theses. If he had hung his theses on the church door, as was the custom, they may never have been noticed; Luther ensured that his criticisms were known.

[3]  His blog is at See ‘Tweeting the trinity: because heresy is meh’, posted 1st June 2017.

[4] Its liturgies were imposed by law on all citizens: non-compliance led to fines and imprisonment. More than 2000 priests lost their livings after the Commonwealth, because they could not swear that every word of the BCP was ‘conformable to the Word of God’ For them, it was clear that the book was a human construct – and the Bible was not.

[5]  From his journal, written and published afterwards. This experience (its meaning has been much disputed) gives rise to an annual commemoration across world Methodism and in the Uniting Church (see Uniting in Worship-2, 2005, 121ff) called Aldersgate Day. The meeting took place in a home in Aldersgate, inside London’s city walls. His ‘strangely warmed’ was not primarily about emotion: the journal goes on to describe coldness of heart within 24 hours, and Wesley thinks through the role of feelings: that God sometimes give, sometimes withholds them, but our faith assures us of salvation.

[6] See


[7] The Methodist codicil, largely about the relationship of justification to sanctification, can be seen at

[8]  See See also ACC-16 Resolution 16-16 (Reformation) and 16-17 (JDDJ) at

[9]  See  In recent years there has been a concordat between Lutherans and Reformed Churches on full communion, following differences inherited from the European Reformation. See

[10] See the Second Lesson, Ephesians 4:11-16.

[11] Tweet #20, and the First Lesson, Genesis 1-2:4 and Ephesians 4:4-6.

LitBit Commentary – William Cavanaugh on the Eucharist 2

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LitBit: The Eucharist diffuses the false theology and the false anthropology of will and right by the stunning ‘public’ leitourgia in which humans are made members of God’s very Body. “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so who ever eats me will live because of me” (John 6.57). Augustine envisions Jesus saying, “I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me.”

William Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, p.47

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June 11 – Barnabas

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.

Barnabas, apostle

Joseph was nick-named “Barnabas” by the apostles, the translation of this name given as “son of encouragement”. We first hear of him in Acts 4:36-37 where he generously sells a field, bringing the proceeds to the early church for the needy. He was a Jew (tribe of Levi) and a native of Cyprus.

In Acts 11 we hear that the early believers had been scattered because of the persecutions which had happened after Stephen’s stoning. Some had spread from Judea as far as Antioch. The church in Jerusalem heard the stories of the gospel message spreading and so Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem. Seeing the “grace of God” working, Acts 11:23 says that he exhorted the people there to remain faithful to “the Lord with steadfast devotion;” Acts then glowingly describes him as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”.

An encourager by nature, he finds Saul in Tarsus (after Saul’s transformative encounter with the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus). Even though many believers had been afraid of Saul, now Barnabas brings him back to Antioch where they both encouraged and taught the people in the ways of Jesus (Acts 11:26). That Barnabas is listed first in the list of prophets and teachers in Acts 13:1 suggests he could have had a primary role in these ministries even ahead of Saul at this stage. Apparently times were tough for the church back in Judea and so Barnabas and Saul brought aid from Antioch.

After spending a year ministering in Antioch with Paul they are set aside for further sharing about Jesus abroad. Here they travelled to Barnabas’s home island of Cyprus and on to Asia Minor, following the lead of the Holy Spirit in their evangelical outreach before returning to Antioch. Eventually they report to the church in Jerusalem about the signs and wonders which had accompanied their mission, predominantly among the Gentiles.

A second journey is anticipated, however Paul and Barnabas have a falling out regarding whether they should take John Mark with them. We then read of Barnabas going back to Cyprus with John Mark. This is the last we hear of him in Acts. He most likely continued to evangelise widely as Paul speaks of him as being known to the Galatians (Gal 2:1, 2:13), the Corinthian church (1 Cor 9:6 – where Paul speaks favourably of him) and to the Colossians (Col 4:10).

Paul will describe Barnabas as an apostle (1 Cor 9:6) and was very much surprised that even Barnabas could be influenced by false teachers when Paul wrote Gal 2:11-14. Later legendary stories attribute the writing of the Book of Hebrews to Barnabas. Other traditions suggest that John Mark wrote The Acts of Barnabas which describes Barnabas’s execution in Cyprus. (This work was probably written much later in the 5th century.) Tradition also says he was the founder of the church in Milan, being its first bishop, and that he was martyred in 61CE. Barnabas was faithful alongside of Paul in sharing the good news of Jesus in the early days of the church. A powerful encourager and a Spirit-filled vessel he was committed to this great news of life in Jesus which he shared tirelessly.

Malcolm Coombes

LitBit Commentary – James K A Smith on Worship 1

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LitBitChristian worship is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of the triune God…Worship is not for me – it’s not primarily meant to be an experience that ‘meets my felt needs,’ … rather, worship is about and for God. […T]he triune God is both the audience and the agent of worship: it is to and for God, and God is active in worship in the Word and sacraments. It is this emphasis on action, and particularly God’s action in worship, that Wolterstorff distills as the ‘genius’ of Reformed worship. ‘The liturgy as the Reformers understood and practiced it consists of God acting and us responding through the work of the Spirit.’ As such, ‘the Reformers saw the liturgy as God’s action and our faithful reception of that action. The governing idea of the Reformed liturgy is thus twofold: the conviction that to participate in the liturgy is to enter the sphere of God’s acting, not just of God’s presence, plus the conviction that we are to appropriate God’s action in faith ‘and gratitude through the work of the Spirit. . . . The liturgy is a meeting between God and God’s people, a meeting in which both parties act, but in which God initiates and we respond’.

James K. A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom, p.149f

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June 9 – Columba of Iona

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.

Columba of Iona, Christian pioneer

In 563 Columba arrived at the south end of the tiny Scottish Island of Iona along with a dozen Irish monks. He climbed a nearby hill and looked back toward Ireland, but was unable to see it, so he chose to stay on Iona and establish his monastery. Not being able to see his native land meant that he would not be tempted to return. There is a lot of debate about why Columba came to Iona but the most plausible is that he came both out of a sense of mission and of penitence. Columba was a member of the Ui Neil family – the high kings of Ireland – and was a likely candidate for the role of High King, yet he chose the church. He studied under Finnian at Molville and established his own monasteries in the north. It is claimed that that Columba took and copied Finnian’s Bible, which may have been the latest version by Jerome, or may have been a book of the Psalms. However there was a dispute over ownership of the copy made by Columba and the ruling was ‘to every cow belongs its calf’- meaning that the copy belonged to Finnian. Columba refused to give it back. There are stories about how Columba was involved in a battle, either by his praying for the victory of his northern clan, or by physical participation. Whatever the truth of this Columba’s decision to become a pilgrim and exile from his country and go to the land of the picts, to evangelise that nation seems to be connected to this battle and the desire to do something that would redeem his actions.

Columba established a very significant mission on Iona, building close relationships with the King of Dalriada and beginning a systematic evangelical mission to the land of the Picts. It is reported by Adamnan – an Abbot of Columba’s Iona monastery who wrote an account of his life – that Columba took his coracle and sailed up the great glen to meet King Brude of the Picts and to convert him to the Christian faith, which he did in fact achieve. Columba is shown to be a man of great courage and determination; a visionary with a passion for God and a mystic, who wrote wonderful poetry and hymns.

Columba’s missionary purpose was grounded in a deep life of prayer. In the Benedictine Abbey built much later on that site a window in the South wall of the sanctuary depicts in stone a monkey and a cat. The cat speaks of contemplation, the monastic life of the monks, and the monkey tells of the energy and liveliness of the Celtic mission, that reached out to embrace the whole of Scotland with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The wonderfully illustrated Book of Kells originated from Iona giving expression both to Columba’s commitment to the Scriptures and to the importance he placed on Beauty as an expression of the Gospel. His life of prayer, his evangelical mission was also coupled with continued involvement in the political and ecclesiastical life of Ireland. He was a great statesman as well as a mystic who inspired in others an abiding faith in God.

Peter Gador-Whyte (alt)

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