Monthly Archives: July 2017

August 8 – Mary Helen MacKillop

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.

Mary Helen MacKillop, Christian pioneer

 Mary Helen MacKillop became the first Australian to be officially recognised for ‘extraordinary holiness’ by the Roman Catholic church in October 2010.  She pioneered a new form of religious community for women, working in twos and threes to respond to the the need for both education in faith and social outreach in colonial Australia, especially among the poor.

A plaque in the footpath in Brunswick St, Fitzroy marks the place where the MacKillops’ rented house stood and where Mary was born on 15 January 1842. She was the first of eight children of Alexander MacKillop and his wife Flora (MacDonald) who had migrated from Inverness, Scotland. She was educated mostly at home by her father. The family finances which were often precarious, and relied on Mary’s income from the time she was 14. She was a clerk in Sands and Kenny stationers (later Sands and MacDougal) for four years, and then teacher in Portland, Victoria before taking a position as governess to her aunt and uncle’s children (the Camerons) in Penola, South Australia.

In Penola she shared her hopes of religious life with the parish priest, Fr Julian Tenison-Woods, and together they developed plans to provide Catholic education to children especially in rural and poor areas.  On 15 August 1867 she took vows as a religious sister within the new community dedicated to St Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and adopted the name Mary of the Cross. The rule of life of the new community emphasised poverty, dependence on Divine Providence, no private ownership and the openness of the Sisters to go wherever they were needed. In November 1867 Mary’s sisters Annie and Lexie joined the new community, by the end of 1867 there were 10 members, and two years later 72 members running 21 schools as well as outreach and welfare centres.

However, misunderstanding dogged the work, and Mary learnt early to remain serene while being misrepresented and humiliated. The Sisters did not fit traditional European models of cloistered life, and Mary was famously excommunicated in Adelaide for nine months from September 1871 until the sentence was lifted in February 1872, and papal authority for the work confirmed in 1873. Nevertheless, the Sisters’ system of central government (under the director of their own superior rather than the local bishops) remained controversial. In 1883 in the midst of ongoing tensions, Mary transferred the administrative centre to Sydney. She suffered a stroke in 1901, and although mentally alert was an invalid until her death on 8 August1909.

The wideapread publicity around her canonisation in 2010 brought new interest in her life. As the Josephite Sisters continued to remind the public, the conviction that God is to be trusted, that Jesus really is the model of freedom, defined MacKillop’s commitments before anything else. See

Mary modelled a commitment to ‘above all get help in prayer’. Her letters (the bulk of her writing) were often preoccupied with business, but underpinned by faith. She was sustained by her conviction that the human dignity of each person was God-given. Her capacity to speak reverently and carefully even of those who had caused her great pain and damage inspired her Sisters. She was committed to drawing out the best in others, advising: in 1871:  “Make no reserves with God. Reject no-one. You never know what grace can do.”

Katharine Massam

30 July – Again, the parables

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Pentecost 8

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The thing about the parables of Jesus is that they are his message.

As we noted last week, the parables are not something to be translated or reduced to some more basic concept. To hear the parables is to hear the “word”. It would seem, then, that the work of the evangelist – the preacher – is done when the parables are read. So it might be said, Here endeth the lesson; and I could now sit down. Perhaps, however, we might still say something useful, not so much about what the parables “mean” as about how they mean, or how they point us out of ourselves into the kingdom of heaven.

If there is a “heart” to Jesus’ message, it is that the kingdom of God – the reign of God, the proper relation of God and the world – draws near. The parables are “windows” into this nearness of the kingdom.

We can begin to get a sense for how they are such windows by noting just how ordinary are the things presented to us as parables: a treasure hunter, a woman making bread, seeds in a field, farmers and fisher folk. The images are concrete and familiar. Sometimes there’s a surprise – especially in the longer narrative parables – but even the surprises make their own kind of sense.

Because of their concreteness and day-to-day familiarity we might not recognise that there are, in fact, no ideas in the parables, no abstractions. The existence of God, the question of suffering, the meaning of life – no such things are entertained or addressed in the parables.

The parables are concrete, but Jesus’ use of what is ordinary and tangible to speak of the kingdom of heaven gives the familiar and concrete world a peculiar depth and colour, as if wiping away dust which has settled on all things. What is ordinary is tied to what, we imagine, is not: God. This world – where any netting at life catches the good and the bad, where it takes so much effort to leaven the dough, where distorting desires for treasure are the way of the human heart – this world becomes a new kind of “ordinary”, teeming with God.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

From almost nothing something grows in which God make a home.

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

A woman toils to pound the yeast throughout the whole batch of dough, that God might be leaven not just to a part but to all of creation.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

A man discovers a pearl which is worth all that he has – as God values and purchases each and every one of us.

How God is for the world in the parables is how, properly, the world is within itself: open to be receptive of God, however closed it might appear and however distant God might seem.

Jesus uses what is natural to invite us into a new experience of what is natural. No longer do seeds merely grow, bakers merely bake or farmers toil. These things become the possibility of knowing that God is active in and with the world.

We might be tempted in all this to limit parables of God’s activity to “good” images. By this we say that, in fact, God is only present in and to some of the world. Our debates among ourselves – the things that divide us – have to do with identifying those godforsaken places and avoiding them, as we imagine that God must.

Probably, we cannot avoid those debates.

But at the heart of Christian understanding is precisely God’s presence in the godforsaken, where no one can see God, where the window to the kingdom is broken and we have boarded it up and there is nothing to be seen.

We are almost at the point in the gospel story where Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matthew 16.21ff).

This history – the Passion – becomes a parable itself. It differs from the other parables in that it is a history and not a general image about seeds or wedding feasts.  But its historical character is not something in itself to believe. We don’t have, on the one hand, historical facts and, on the other hand, general observations extracted from experience, so that we can recognise the meaning of the parable images but not of the cross, or the other way around. The cross and resurrection point to the parables, and the parables point to the cross. The cross tells us that what is broken – broken even to the point of godforsakenness – even in this God can be for the world. The parables take the secular and mundane and do just the same. God is near to us in all things.

This is not easy to grasp; perhaps we will not, in the end, understand it.

At the end of our reading today, Jesus asks the disciples, “Have you understood all of this?” They answer, “Yep!”.

This has to be an ironic answer – if not for the half-understanding disciples themselves, then for the gospel account as a whole. And it has to be ironic for us too, were we to be asked the question and to answer it in the same way.

For we, as did those disciples as the story unfolds, experience no small part of life and world as places where God is not, as Godless and so hopeless. In this we find ourselves disoriented from God. The world is cut adrift.

But this is what the parable-windows of our baptism and Eucharist open onto: life out of death; godless brokenness by you and brokenness of you now made a near-God brokenness “for you,” that you might be made whole. What we would leave behind and forget as old, godless and dead, God makes a treasure, a lively seed in the fertile soil, even himself.

To be trained for the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is to be one who brings out of his treasure old things, as new. It is to be one who sees the world with new eyes and is beginning to experience what she sees with a growing joy and more confident hope because she is discovering that the kingdom of heaven is very near.

To what shall we compare the kingdom of heaven? The world, the lives of each and everyone of us. Because God is very near, to finish the creative work of love we are to become.

By the grace of God may the discover of God’s closeness, and the joy in hope which comes with it, be ever increasingly our reality and that of all God’s people.


MtE Update – July 28 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. Our next study series begins in a couple of weeks. We learn heaps together in the groups! The next book – “Migrations of the Holy” – is a study in “the political meaning of the church”, and we’ll consider chapters on “The Liturgies of Church and State”, “The Church as Political”, “Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk” and “The Sinfulness and Visibility of the Church.” You can REGISTER for a group from this page.
  2. There will be a congregational meeting on Sunday August 6 following worship; the main item of business will be considering proposed focuses for mission and ministry for the next 18 months; a report will also be given on progress with our buildings project.
  3. Public Lecture: Priorities for a public theology in a time of extremisms: Fresh insights from Bonhoeffer
    • Thursday, August 10, 2017
    • 6:00pm  8:00pm
    • Whitley College Theological School44-52 The AvenueParkville, VIC, 3052Australia

    Lecturer Revd Dr Keith Clements taught at Bristol Baptist College and Bristol University before serving with the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland and as General Secretary of the Council of European Churches. Author of What Freedom? The persistent challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Learning to speak: The church’s voice in public affairs and others.

    Respondent: Revd Dr Gordon Preece, Director of RASP, editor of Bonhoeffer Downunder, ATF, 2012. FREE | Register at TryBooking. This event is co-hosted by Whitley College and RASP.

  4. For those interested in some background reading to the readings for this Sunday July 30, see the links here. We are presently hearing the Series II OT readings on Sunday.

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 17A; Proper 12A (July 24-July 30)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Series I: Genesis 29:15-28 and Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

Series II: 1 Kings 3:5-12 [No link] and and Psalm 119:129-136 [see on Psalm 119:33-40]

Romans 8:26-39

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52



July 30 – William Wilberforce

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.

William Wilberforce, renewer of society

Born on 24 August, 1759 in Hull, Wilberforce was the son of a wealthy merchant, who died in 1768. Brought up by an aunt, he attended Hull Grammar and then St John’s College Cambridge in 1776.  In 1780, he became member for Kingston upon Hull. He was a close friend of William Pitt and an important independent, because of his eloquence and membership of networks. In 1784 he moved to the influential constituency of Yorkshire and travelled round Europe during 1784-85 in the company of Isaac Milner, who guided him into a deeper commitment to Christ and persuaded him to see a parliamentary career as a Christian vocation. He had two priorities – the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners, setting up a society for that purpose in 1787.

Wilberforce married Barbara Spooner in 1797. They had two daughters and four sons, brought up in Clapham, where he was part of an influential network of Christian activists. Concerned about the nominal commitment of many Christians, he wrote a best- selling book of 500 pages in 1797 to challenge their limitations. Entitled A practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians of  the higher and middle classes of this country contrasted with real Christianity, it went through many editions.  Wilberforce wrote passionately about the need for recognition of humanity’s sinful nature, the need for redemption and the importance of holiness, based on total commitment to the crucified and risen Lord. He thus outlined the main features of 19th century British Evangelicalism and its implications.

In addition, Wilberforce actively supported bodies such as the Church Missionary Society and the Bible Society, as well as assisting Hannah Moore’s work. He worked with Thomas Clarkson to achieve the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, after a wide-ranging combination of debate and publication. Initially supportive of Catholic Emancipation, he became more cautious on this after observing the results of the French Revolution. He helped to open India to Christian missions and was a strong ally of those working for comprehensive Sunday observance.

From 1823, he and his allies worked diligently for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, a goal achieved just three days before his death, 29 July, 1833. Not always sensitive to social injustice in Britain and becoming more conservative in his later years, he nevertheless contributed to many changes which benefited the poor. His example continues to inspire Evangelicals worldwide to work for spiritual renewal and social justice.

by Rev Dr Ian Breward



Migrations of the Holy – Study Series August and September 2017

Our August 2017 Study Series will look at William Cavanaugh’s, Migrations of the Holy.

Wednesdays August 9 – September 13, 7.30-9.00pm, Mark the Evangelist, North Melbourne (venue TBA) [Note: no group August 16]

Fridays August 11 – September 15, 9.30-11.00am, Habitat Uniting Church (Augustine) [Note: no group August 18]

In order to confirm the viability of the groups, please register your interest for a group here.

As the book is too long to treat in 5 weeks, we’ll only look at a selection of the chapters, as outlined below. The order of these selections is intended to give us an easier induction into Cavanaugh’s argument.

Week 1 — Introduction and Chapter 6 “The Liturgies of Church and State”

  • [The intrepid might find the long Chapter 1 a useful complement to the set readings for this week, but we’ll not assume that anyone has read Chapter 1]

Week 2 – Chapter 7 “The Church as Political”

  • [Chapter 2 might be a useful complement to this reading, for those with the extra time and interest]

Week 3 – Chapter 3 “Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk”

Week 4 – Chapter 8 “The Sinfulness and Visibility of the Church”

  • [for those with the extra time, Chapter 9 might be a helpful complement to Chapter 8]

Week 5 – TBC

  • [Depending on how we’ve gone in the preceding weeks, and what from the remaining chapters of the book group would like to look at in the remaining week]

Sourcing your copy of Migrations:

Kindle [instant electronic]
Book depository [Usually within a week from the UK]


23 July – Parables all the way down

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Pentecost 7

Isaiah 44:4-6
Psalm 86
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The need for “interpretation” is felt by anyone who reads the Scriptures. This is, sometimes, because we find in the Scriptures things we simply do not understand; the “plain sense of the text” is not plain at all to us. Other times, we understand the plain sense very well, and find that Scripture has us in its teeth. Interpretation – now a kind of rationalisation – is required in order that we escape that threatening situation.

We see “interpretation” operating in our reading today. Jesus has told the parable of the wheat and the weeds. There is a break in the reading as we heard it (filled with a number of other shorter parables we skipped over) and then the disciples ask for an interpretation of the parable: this is apparently a case of the plain sense not yet making sense to them.

Many biblical scholars question whether the explanation Jesus gives is, in fact, Jesus’ own sense for the parable, or whether it is Matthew’s. The fundamental issue is this: why bother telling parables if you are then going to “explain” them in “plainer” terms? This treats the parables as mere allegories which hide some deeper meaning. But why not simply go straight to the deeper meaning?

As it happens, the allegorical reading which Jesus – probably Matthew – offers here is not a very good one. It is implied that the sower creates the good people out of the good seed and the enemy creates the bad out of the weed seed, as if there are two creators, two kinds of people. A closer allegorical reading would be that we are all the soil, into which good and bad seed is planted. This creates a complex, blended humanity in which it is impossible to distinguish precisely what is good and what is not until God’s final and decisive action.

But which reading of the parable is better doesn’t really matter for my purposes this morning. More important is whether we can actually pluck a simpler allegorical meaning out of the parables.

When we hear from the gospel itself about why Jesus used parables, two apparently contradictory reasons are given. Asked directly about this – in the midst of last week’s reading – Jesus responds,

13.13The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.” 

That is, the parables seem to be told to conceal.

Yet, a little later in the same chapter we hear the evangelist Matthew give an explanation:

13.34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

Here, the parables are told to reveal. Jesus, then, seems to tell the parables in order that the truth be hidden from those who cannot hear or see while, at the same time, using parables to reveal what has been hidden from the beginning.

The only thing which will make sense of this contradiction is if the parables themselves are central – as parables and not as things to be “interpreted”: a kind of revealing in the hiding. The hiding is that the parable carries the truth, as a parable, and not some deeper meaning. What is revealed is that this is the only way this truth can be conveyed.

It is common for us to dismiss the parables as pictorial representations of deeper truths, colourful ways of representing the truth for the simple: theory and doctrine for the profound, stories and images for the uncomplicated – for children and the childlike.

But there is none of this in the gospels: the parables are a form Jesus directs at both the simple and the sophisticated: “To what shall we compare the kingdom of heaven?”  A sower, a mustard seed, a pearl, a woman who loses a coin, a wedding banquet… There is very little “doctrine” in Jesus’ teaching.

As we look to “interpret” the parables, we seek the firm ground underneath the imagery, truth “hidden” from view but which carries the parable. Here we might be likened to the ancient Asian philosophers who wondered what it was upon which the earth rested, and concluded that it must be something like a great turtle, and imagined that the problem was solved. Of course, it occurs occasionally that someone asks what such a turtle would be standing on. The half-joking, half-serious answer is, It’s turtles all the way down.

Our interpretations seek the great turtle “under” the parable images. Upon what deeper truth do they rest? To this pressing question of interpretation the gospel answers, half jokingly, half seriously: It’s parables all the way down.

Our push to interpret, to understand, is a push to make God appear as the ground under the image. But a parable is a way of talking about God in which God never appears. What does appear – seeds, weeds, sowers, soils, birds, yeast, treasure, pearls – these serve for “comparisons” to God and his kingdom, but we get no closer than that.

In his use of parables Jesus honours the second commandment: Do not carve God in eternal stone. God is “presented”, in contrast, in the most fleeting of things – words. Or perhaps, more to the point, in the even more fleeting connections between words, between images.

Christian life and confession are built like this, out of things like this. “This is my body, broken for you”. What does this mean?

It means, “I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven of earth”.

But what does that mean?

It means, “Your sins are forgiven?”

But what does that mean?

“Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

But what does that mean?

“Lost in wonder, love and praise”

But what does that mean? …

The word “parable” literally means a “throwing alongside”, a “heaping up”, of things. Christian speech about God and experience of God, is Parable.

And we ourselves are Parable: thrown alongside each other, heaped together, good seed, bad seed, friends, enemies. To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? A professor and a mechanic and an asylum seeker and a prostitute and a teacher and a vagrant and a little girl are thrown together – are parabolised – and they gather around a table. And they are given a parable to eat and to drink. And they become what they eat. And the world is suddenly theirs, and they are for the world: thrown-alongside, heaped together, the good seed with the bad, the good for the bad, so closely bound together that to pull up the one would be to pull up the other.

In this way God parabolises us and all things – heaping himself in with us, heaping us upon each other, throwing us in alongside the world.

This is how God gives himself. Let us rejoice in his, and so allow ourselves to become something to which God’s kingdom might be compared, that others might share in that joy.

MtE Update – July 21 2017


the latest MtE Update!

  1. TONIGHT July 21: Church of All Nations is sponsoring a “Conversations that make a difference” series, the first event of which will feature Andrew West (ABC Radio National), and Janet McCalman (UniMelb) discussing the place of religion in public discussions. See here for more info.
  2. Our next study series begins in a few weeks – on Wed August 9 (Nth Melb) and Fri August 11 (Hawthorn), and there may yet be another group. These groups are a great opportunity to spend some time together thinking about Christian faith and practice. First you read and then you join to discuss. We learn heaps together in the groups! The next book – “Migrations of the Holy” – is a study in “the political meaning of the church”, and looks into the relationship between the church and contemporary Western culture. You can read more about the book in a brief account by the author here. Plan to join one of the groups if you can!
  3. There will be a congregational meeting on Sunday August 6 following worship; the main item of business will be considering proposed focuses for mission and ministry for the next 18 months.
  4. Brunswick UCA the Palestine Israel Ecumencial Network are presenting on “Peacemaking in the Modern World” next Tuesday July 25; details.
  5. The August Pilgrim College news is here.
  6. The most recent Presbytery update is here.
  7. For those interested in some background reading to the readings for this Sunday July 23, see the links here. We are presently hearing the Series II OT readings on Sunday.

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 16A; Proper 11A

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Series I: Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Series II: Isaiah 44.6-8 [No link] and Psalm 86.11-17 [see Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17]

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43




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