Monthly Archives: October 2017

29 October – His Body Carries the Story

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Pentecost 21

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90
Matthew 22:34-46

Sermon preached by Matt Julius

God, help me by your Spirit to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord; and help those who listen to proclaim him where I fail. Amen.

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus offers his two great commandments: love God with the fullness of who you are, and love others as you do yourself. In a sermon I once heard on this text the preacher compared the two commandments of Jesus with the ten offered by Moses. The preacher summarised glibly: “there used to be ten commandments, now there are two; times change, what are you going to do about it?” While for me this was less than helpful it raised two important responses:

First, not every sermon is a good one – this could be one of those.

Second, it raises a question pertinent to our first reading today from Deuteronomy: is Jesus really trying to bring an end to the law of Moses by instituting his own commandments? As it were, taking the death of Moses further by replacing Moses’ law.

Many commentators have noted the parallels between Moses and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, suggesting that this Gospel paints Jesus as a new Moses figure. Motifs from Moses’ life recur in the way Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus:

A ruler ordering the murder of firstborn Jewish sons, time spent in Egypt, and then a flight into the desert, delivering commandments from atop a mountain.

Is Jesus, then, simply a new Moses? Replacing the old with the new for a changed time and place?

Our Psalm for today, Psalm 90, cautions us against this suggestion. This prayer, ascribed to Moses, tells us of the God Moses and Jesus worshipped. Standing before all of creation — “from everlasting to everlasting” — for the God of Moses a thousand years is like a day. This God is a dwelling-place for all generations, overwhelming our afflictions with endless gladness.

It doesn’t seem that the God of both Moses and Jesus is subject to the changing of the times, in need of replacing and updating the old law with the new.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees isn’t first and foremost a question of changing religious law – not least because it repeats commands already present in the Mosaic law. If there is a parallel between Moses and Jesus in today’s reading we should not think of the Jesus preaching from a Mountain, proclaiming new commandments. If there is a parallel, it is with the Moses who plays a central role in the foundation story of Israel: the Exodus out of slavery in Egypt, into God’s reign over the promised land. In Matthew 22 Jesus’ encounter with religious leaders expands this same story of God’s reign: from the promised land to this veiled notion of the Kingdom of Heaven. What Jesus begins to explain in the parable of the wedding feast — (about which Craig preached a couple of weeks ago) — is further developed in Jesus’ responses to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus’ teachings on the greatest commandment and the question about David’s Son is not a demonstration of Jesus as legal and Scriptural exegete. Rather, these teachings shape the identity and place of Jesus within the story of Israel – a story over which the God of Moses reigns. Indeed this is the same story in which Moses played a central role. This is the same story in which King David is heralded as the great King, mediating God’s rule over the promised land. The same story into which God reveals the very commandments that Jesus cites in retort to the Pharisees.

The Catholic New Testament scholar Brendan Byrne notes that it was not unknown within the Judaism of Jesus’ time for the law to be distilled to a single principle or all-embracing command. But what is particular about Jesus’ teaching is that he distills the law to two deeply connected commands: love God with the fullness of who you are, and love others as you do yourself.

The rejoinder Jesus offers to the Pharisees in today’s reading is not that they have misunderstood the law. Rather, they have misunderstood the story of God’s people into which the law enters. As we read this passage Christologically, and with the foreknowledge of where this story is headed, we can see that it is Jesus who carries this story in his own life. Jesus’ expression of his love of God coincides with his love of neighbour, on this basis he is able to counter the Pharisees’ myopic focus on questions of law.

Tying together the commandment to love God with fullness, and to love your neighbour expands our vision of righteousness. The demand for personal piety before God is incomplete without a concern for one’s neighbour. Allowing these two commands, taken together, to shape our imagination of God brings focus to the central event of Christian faith: the cross. In this event Jesus’ own love for God draws him fully into love for neighbour. And so the two great commandments of Jesus are not abstract commands, but in an odd sort of way they narrate Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection. These commands place Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection at the centre of the drama of God. These commands tell of a God who is ultimately known in the salvific act on behalf of neighbour: the salvation of humanity and the world on the cross.

The God who draws together the love of God with the love of neighbour is none other than this Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

“What do you think of the Messiah?”

As I reflected on this text in preparing this sermon I was drawn more and more to reflect on the second part of today’s reading. The questions Jesus poses became my questions:

“Whose son is the Messiah?”

“The Son of David?”

“How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord | If David thus calls [the Messiah] Lord, how can he be his son?”

Jesus the Messiah is the culmination of the story of Israel, the same story in which Moses played a central role, the same story that continued after Moses’ death with the reign of God in the promised land. Connecting the identity of the Messiah to David, the great king of Israel, connects the Messiah to the ongoing reign of God in the world. What Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

The question about David’s Son makes clear that the Messiah is the one that ushers in an expanding vision of the reign of God. Jesus does not deny that the Messiah is the Son of David. Indeed Jesus is introduced in the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel precisely as Messiah, the Son of David. But insofar as the Messiah continues the role of David in mediating the reign of God into the world he takes this reign further. The Messiah is somehow more than David. The Messiah further unfolds the story of God’s reign – the story of the Kingdom of Heaven. Beyond the people of Israel to all peoples and the whole world.

For those of us in the Reformed-Protestant tradition, gathering on the Sunday before the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, these are not idle or distant observations. We ourselves are heirs to the idea that the Good News is still unfolding, and we are called to participate in this unfolding. Responding by proclaiming like David that the Messiah is Lord — in fresh words and deeds. Recognising that our proclamation is shaped by what has gone before us, but always seeing in Christ a growing and ever expanding vision of righteousness.

The Good News is the story of Jesus Christ in whom the story of God’s people is brought to its culmination. For in Christ the love of God has been brought together with the love of neighbour, for our gain and Christ’s loss. This is Good News! We are the neighbours that receive the gracious love of God. We are brought into the story of the people of God by the Jewish Messiah who carries that story in his body. And in response we are called to proclaim as true what is true: that Jesus the Messiah is also Lord. We are called to participate in the righteousness that Jesus offers us, the righteousness that brings together the love of God and the love of neighbour. We are called to proclaim the Good News not as a lifeless end, but as an ongoing story that generates Hope, that expands the reign of God, the reach of love, and the care for neighbour.

May we, like David, proclaim by the Spirit that Jesus the Messiah is Lord. May we receive the gracious love of God. And may we tell the story of Jesus until we too are caught up in the drama.


November 4 – Søren Kierkegaard

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.

Søren Kierkegaard, Christian thinker

Kierkegaard was at once a devastating critic and a passionate advocate of Christianity. He was a 19th century Danish thinker, who wrote many books – often with very strange titles – in his own distinctive style and who continues to pose challenging questions to Christians today. Because of his intense focus on the individual person, he is often regarded as the ‘father’ of modern existentialism.

Born in 1813, he felt deeply the death of his mother, three siblings and his father within a short span of years. He felt that there was a curse on his family on account of a great ‘sin’ committed by his father. He felt a misfit in the society of his day and is often called ‘the melancholy Dane’. He broke off an engagement because he would not involve his fiancée in his unusual life and on his death-bed he would not receive holy Communion from a (Lutheran) pastor, ‘the king’s official’.

Kierkegaard was fiercely critical of the way Christianity was practised in Denmark, where the Lutheran church was the state church. ‘Even the cows in Denmark are Christian!’ He could not bear to think that people might live in the illusion of being Christian when they merely ‘played’ at Christianity. What matters is actually to be a Christian; it is not a system of thought simply to be given intellectual assent.

Kierkegaard attacked the very idea of explaining Christianity. He vigorously opposed the philo­sophical system of Hegel, both for its grand metaphysical systematising and for offering an explanation of Christianity at a higher level. Kierkegaard’s writing was a loud protest against this in the name of concrete existence; this made him one of the fore­runners of existentialism. Being based on the ‘Absolute Paradox’ (that God became human), Christianity is not to be explained. A person responds to it in faith and trust, staking one’s whole life on it, like ‘swim­ming in 20,000 fathoms of water’; not by intellectualising it and trying to prove its truth.

Kierkegaard never fails to challenge, even if he is sometimes shockingly over-stated. His style is deeply ironic, often caustic. If he were writing today, he might have said that faith is like bungy-jumping. This doesn’t say everything to be said about faith, but it does identify something essen­tial to it.

Christiaan Mostert


October 31 – Reformers, All Souls, All Saints

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.

Reformers, Saints, and Souls

At the end of the Christian year churches have four great celebrations, Reformation Day (31 October); All Saints’ Day (1 November); All Souls’ Day (2 November); and the Feast of Christ the King (the last Sunday before Advent).

Reformation Day is of course the day when Protestants especially remember the church-changing movements of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the heart of these movements was an emphasis on justification by grace through faith, on the centrality of Christ, and on the need for a constant appeal to Holy Scripture.

By any measure, the leaders of the Reformation were grand figures. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Bucer, Browne and the Wesleys were men of immense intellect, love of the church, pastoral insight and capacity for work. It is right to remember them with thanks and appreciation.

All Saints’ Day had its origin in the fact that the deaths of many martyrs and other faithful Christians were unrecorded. But various biblical texts remind us that we live within a communion of saints—the living and the dead; the known and remembered, and the unknown—and that it is right to remember that we, the living, share in the faith because it was handed down to us by these people. And so, in Syria and Rome in the sixth and seventh centuries, churches began celebrating with special prayers and services the faithfulness of those who had not been honoured on earth. As long ago as 835 these celebrations took place on 1 November. Take a trawl through your Bible, and see how many passages you can find that prompt us to remember the saints of old, the martyrs, “the cloud of witnesses” to our faith in Christ.

All Souls’ Day (not often celebrated in Protestant Churches, though perhaps it should be) reminds us of another New Testament theme. The key here is in the writings of St. Paul: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). If you still have your Bible out, take a look through Romans and Galatians, to find evidence of the strength of this theme. The celebration of Christian saints is indeed a good thing! But because Paul’s “all” means simply “all”, this theme is even better! In his commentary on 2 November 2008, Russell Davies calls this day “The Festival of All  Humanity”, because it represents “the widest circle that God draws to ensure that nobody is outside divine love and care.” Reformation Day and All Saints’ are in their own ways celebrations of our own “family” of faith. All Souls’ unites us with all people, because of its reminder that, as Russell noted, “nobody’s salvation stands outside the circle of God’s grace”.

Contributed by Peter Butler

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 30A; Proper 25A (October 23 – October 29)

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: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Psalm 90

Series II: Leviticus 19.1-2,15-18 (see Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18) and Psalm 1

Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46



22 October – Two Perspectives of God’s Anatomy

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Pentecost 20

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:17-4:7

Sermon preached by Rev. Bruce Barber

Exodus 33: 20 “The Lord said to Moses; you cannot see my face, for no-one shall see me and live” and then: “While my glory passes by I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

2 Cor. 4: 6 “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.


Our texts offer two perspectives of God’s anatomy: back and face. They are texts peculiarly relevant to the times that we are living. Both are far removed in popular culture from whom or what God is thought to be – if God is thought about at all. We read these texts in a day when the most serious of the three daily papers that are available to us presents an extended essay under the title: “Is God Dead?”  Whatever be the truth of the matter, many testify to the conclusion that, at the very least, God is imprisoned in a dead language, if not so much dead.  It all seems to be confirmed by the fact that since the previous census, 30% of the population, and the number is growing, ticked what has now become the first box of the 2016 Census: “No Religion”.

Both our texts, of course, are rich and colourful metaphors. The striking imagery of the Exodus text was the only way that the Hebrews could think to express the ineffability of God: not a face as a beginning, but only the back after the event.

We might have learned something from these our forebears, not least that even the glory of God is too incandescent an experience for myopic human eyesight, such that the cleft of a rock and a covering is required until – let us be clear about this – until God has passed by. While the world’s history unfolds, the backside of God, not the face, is the only human possibility. We hear that that is all that the people of Israel were promised, and for them that was more than enough. God as a hint in history was sufficient, whereas all that the culture has left three thousand years later is at best the headline question: “Is God dead? Or, at worst, the statement “God is dead”.

We have just sung “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise” which has been our Western way of saying the same thing as this ancient text – namely what God is not: not subject to death, not visible, not accessible and so on and so on. Much more will soon need to be said, of course, but with our Hebrew forebears we start only with the back of God not with the face.

The point is that whereas the reality of the God of the Exodus is entirely positive, these intriguing images now have an increasingly negative character. We live in a day when what was a majestic safeguard to Moses: “You cannot see my face and live, for no-one can see me and live”, has now become a self evident commonplace. What if in the 21st century we read this text not as safeguarding the majesty of God but as the narrative of the sad demise of the history of God over the last two thousand years? Of course there have been occasional brief moments of illumination – one thinks of Thomas Aquinas in the C12, of Martin Luther in the C16, of John Wesley in the C18th and of Karl Barth in the C20th. But otherwise we have experienced the last two millenia pretty much as the passing by of the glory of God, while we have sheltered in the darkness of the cleft of a rock – until now it is virtually too late.  We can presume that from God’s side we are still covered by his hand, but for an apparently increasing number of our contemporaries, God has well and truly “passed by” leaving only a rumour of his past traces, They conclude, either sadly or triumphantly, that God has taken away his hand, so that all that the culture is left with is the residue of an absent deity. Western culture is indeed living in the cleft of a rock.

It is possible to assume that all this is an exaggeration. But let’s rehearse the sad religious history of the West and its prevailing domestication of God.  Think again of what we have done with God.  God has been used to fill gaps when human knowledge was lacking; God has been used to solve, or more likely to fail to solve, admittedly real, but nevertheless contrived problems – earthquakes, tsunamis, cancer and the like; God has been used to accommodate our projected human needs powerfully exposed by Sigmund Freud; God has been used to solve the problem of insurance claims; God has been used as a mascot to accompany crusaders; God has been forced to adorn the belt buckles of  German soldiers, “Gott mit uns”, to accompany the opposition’s rally cry: “For God, King and Country”. God is presently required, though not for much longer, to open Parliament in what, in an ever more shrilling mandate, is an avowedly secular country.

This is the God who has come to an accelerating end in our day.

I have recently been given a book about the life of one of the most effective Anglican chaplain at Gallipoli in the First World War. It tells of a constant request for his services in the trenches in the middle of battles, usually the Eucharist. It tells of the request of soldiers by the thousand wanting Church parades. Remember, this is only a hundred years ago. What I found most remarkable of all was this statement of the Commanding officer to his fellows: “The most important officer we have is the Chaplain! And why? Because for the military machine he was there, not to perform religious duties, but “to build up morale”, to “endorse battle strategies”. Surely here is the most telling illustration of the eclipse of God in the guise of God.  But the really sad disclosure was that this brilliant selfless chaplain, who put himself on the front line over and over again, mostly burying corpses, survived the war only to become an agnostic. Why sad? Perhaps because he accepted his role as a “morale booster”. It is a puzzle how a priest ordained to a ministry of a bloody crucified Lord could not see the connection between the Lord of his calling and the grisly fate of young men sacrificed to the war machine.

I speak as the son of a father who was seriously wounded at the third battle of Ypres, and who later sought ordination precisely because he saw the congruence of Christian faith and the catastrophic human misery being played out, of which he was a part.

Well, so much for the death of God in our culture.

But what of Paul this morning? Here not the backside of God, but now the face. Yet even here, things are not as straightforward as we tend to presume. I imagine it likely that you can call to mind an especially significant personal biblical text. This is mine, for this reason.

Twenty five years ago I joined a bus tour travelling from Athens to Corinth. Greek light is intense, so naturally our guide reminded us that Apollo was the Greek god of light. A little further on, she told us that Diogenes, a famous philosopher of the day, lived in Corinth.  A contemporary of Plato, whom he loathed, Diogenes embodied the Hellenistic ideal – “to know the self”. To that end, he repudiated all the paraphernalia of civilised society, and lived in a barrel – actually it was a large amphora – with his dog, a kynikos in Greek, our word cynic. Now Diogenes preceded Paul in Corinth by four centuries. Why am I telling you this? Because only knowing this background will you understand what Paul is doing in this text, or indeed everywhere. Hear him this morning:

God who commanded the light”: implication: ‘light’ is not a deity as the Greeks embodied it in the figure of Apollo, but now light is merely a player in nature. Light can be commanded: “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness – then this – has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge, not of the self, as Diogenes advocated was what the pursuit of knowledge was all about, but now the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

See how Paul creeps up on the sacred mystery. It is bracketed all the way. Not God as a problem solver, a need fulfiller, a gap filler, but the only God there is. Here it is for the first time – now not the backside, not even its veiling, but the very face of God.

Putting all this together twenty five years ago, which from the guide’s side was merely inconsequential information, I wept – tears not only at this stunning revelation of Paul’s brilliance, but equally that I had wasted half a life time in ignorance of what this text has transformed: no longer “No-one can see my face and live”, but precisely its denial: “the light of the knowledge of the glory in the face.

I hope that this revolution might be something for you too.

Because the truth is that for the coming days, all we have to do is to live with Paul in this miracle of light, and tell the darkening world:  this is God.

MtE Update – October 20 2017

The latest MtE News

  1. Following worship on THIS SUNDAY October 22 we’ll have another of our new hymn-learning sessions.
  2. The most recent Presbytery eNews (Oct 17) is here.
  3. Our Presbytery (Yarra Yarra) is currently seeking nominations for its various committees for the next 12 months; please speak to Craig if you have an interest in serving in this way…

Old News

  1. The next “Conversations which make a difference” at Church of All Nations (Carlton) will be on TONIGHT October 20; see here for more info.

October 23 – James, the brother of Jesus

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, brother of Jesus, apostle

There are 42 mentions of the name James (Iakobos) in the New Testament — referring to as many as 7 different people — and a further 27 uses of Jacob (Iakob), referring to the Hebrew patriarch. It is sometimes difficult, therefore, to sort out which James is meant: one of the two disciples with that name; the ‘brother of the Lord’ and leader of the church in Jerusalem; or the author of the ‘letter’ of James — apart from other minor characters carrying the same name.

There are many suggestions about how the identities of the Jameses might overlap or be clarified, but the most commonly accepted position is that James the Just, ‘the brother of the Lord’ (Acts; Gal 1:19; 2:2,9), is the one who became the leader of the Jerusalem church and the most likely source of the Epistle of James. The other main James — the Apostle, brother of John and son of Zebedee — was the first and only member of the Twelve martyred in the New Testament record (Acts 12:1–2, around 44CE), but James the Just himself suffered the same fate later on in 62CE.

Indeed, the Jewish historian Josephus tells us more about the death of James the Just than he does about the death of Jesus, and attributes the dismissal of the High Priest Ananus the Younger to his blatant opportunism in having James clubbed and stoned while the Romans were absent (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, chapter 19).

We can see from the references in Acts (12:17; 15:13ff; 21:18) that in his own time, James had an authority and reputation in Jerusalem that exceeded that of Peter and Paul. James was the one who settled divisive issues in Jerusalem, and to whom Peter and Paul returned to maintain their good standing with the earliest Jesus-followers. The reputation of James (also known in the tradition as ‘camel knees’ due to the time he spent on his knees praying in the Temple), extends well beyond the Biblical canon. The Gospel of Thomas (logion 12) reads:

The disciples said to Jesus. “We know that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you have come, you will go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

Again, this provides further evidence from outside the Bible of the considerable reputation of James of Jerusalem.

The ‘Letter’ of James itself shows signs of some very early material and may well be a re-working of the sermons of the first Bishop of Jerusalem. It is a treatise on putting into practice the teachings of Jesus — on God’s bias to the poor, and on faith as action, not just belief (“Faith without works is dead!” James 2:26, a statement in some tension with Paul’s writings).

Traditionally, James the Just has been the patron saint of the dying, of milliners, hatmakers, fullers and pharmacists. Given the distinctive emphases of the James traditions in Acts and the Epistle of James, we might suggest that he also be seen today as the patron saint of the poor, of community development (and ‘practical christianity’), of Jewish-Christian dialogue, of knee and hip replacements, and of any teachers who struggle with their sharp tongues (James 3:1–12)!

by Dr Keith Dyer alt

15 October – Well Dressed

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Pentecost 19

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Matthew 22:2-14

Our gospel reading this morning is something of a dog’s breakfast of a text. The general story is well known to Christians, although we’re much more familiar with the simpler version Luke gives us. In Luke, a feast is prepared, but many excuses are given as to why the invited guests can’t come. The insulted host then sends out to the streets and lanes, and has anyone encountered compelled to come and take the place of the original guests: end of story, with a clear moral – don’t miss the invitation, because your place will easily be filled.

In Matthew it is rather more complicated. The host is a king, and the feast a wedding banquet for his son. The invited guests don’t simply dismiss the invitation (twice); they mistreat and even kill the servants sent to announce the feast. This much is straightforward, at least. But, notwithstanding that the food is presumably sitting on the kitchen bench about to be served, the enraged king then enters into a small scale war to destroy those evil-doers and their city. He then sends out again into the streets to gather in all they could find, “both the good and the bad”. And finally we have a strange encounter between the king and a guest who has no wedding garment on. It’s strange, because presumably none of those who were plucked from the streets were wearing their wedding-best at the time. Yet only this one features as offensive. The dumbstruck guest is then cast out to weep and gnash his teeth. And the text concludes with one of Matthew’s little summarising lines: “for many are called, but few are chosen”

It’s quite a lot to get your head around! Some scholars account for the strangeness of the story by proposing that here Matthew weaves together a couple of different stories, retold this way for reasons and a context quite different from Luke’s account. Yet, while that makes good sense in terms of accounting for the text as we now have it, it doesn’t really help us with understanding it as Scripture. The historical and critical tools we have for understanding texts these days are only relatively new. Until they were discovered, the church dealt with these difficult passages with their apparent contradictions and all. We also have to receive it as having its own authority, apart from how we might explain away its contradictions. What the historical approach allows us to do is to break the text up and explain each of its parts. But to explain the story and its oddities by these means is to render it of no use to us. What we can explain is something we already know – because we know the things in terms of which we explain it.

The truly interesting question is whether or not there are things in the text which we can’t easily explain, or which sit somewhat uncomfortably with us. Such things call us into question. They confront us with thoughts we don’t yet comprehend. It is only such things which lead us into new realities, new ways of seeing.

So it’s easy, for example, to draw “morals” from the story: take care to respond to God’s call when it comes. And when you do accept the invitation, take care to “dress” yourself appropriately by living a life worthy of one called by this God. But there is no real gospel here. This is all law – all imperative – do this, don’t do that. There is no liberation here except possibly the news that we are called. If it’s a calling to do things we don’t want to do, then it’s hardly good news.

What is the good news? The good news of the gospel has to do with Jesus Christ, and so if there’s any good news in this mixed up story of the king’s banquet, it’ll be ours only if we read it christologically – or if we allow it to read us christologically. We have to ask: how does the parable speak to us about Jesus Christ, and about us in relation to him? If the story of the king’s banquet tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like (22.2), and if Jesus himself is the presence of the kingdom of heaven, how is the story about Jesus and not simply about us as we accept or reject God’s invitation? The good and the bad are gathered to replace those cast aside. How is this so, christologically? The guest is inappropriately dressed and cannot speak for himself, and is cast out for that reason, and not because he is one of the “bad”. How is this so, christologically?

To answer these questions most succinctly: to read this parable christologically is to see that Jesus is both the invitation to the wedding banquet, and the wedding garment the guests are to wear. What does this mean?

The first part – that Jesus is the invitation – probably makes sense to most Christians. We are used to the thought that the kingdom is open to all – to both good and bad. Once the original guests refused the invitation, the banquet was thrown open to all, and Christians can understand this to be about God’s grace in Christ.

But what then about the guest who is thrown out? He gets in the same way everyone else did – in Christ, by grace, good or bad. The typical explanation here is that, having received grace, this chap did not rise to the challenge of decking himself in righteousness by growing in grace with good works. This is an important lesson, and it echoes themes in the earlier part of the parable where the invitation is rejected outright. Put differently, and more technically, this sees the parable as being about the importance of growing in sanctification after having received justification: coming to look like a “wedding guest” in good works after having received the gracious invitation.

But, in a specifically Christian reading of the parable, we can’t just leave the matter there. The separation of an initial justification from the subsequent sanctification is convenient for theology but, probably in direct correlation to that convenience, it is just not going to work. What we end up doing is turning justification by grace into a ticket with an expiry date such that, while we get into God’s good books by his grace, we stay there by our good works. (Recall here the problem we met a couple of weeks ago in the parable of the workers in the vineyard). We imagine that while we might get into the wedding banquet dressed only in street clothes, once there we have to cobble together something to dress ourselves more respectably, lest our host ask us some uncomfortable questions about our attire.

But this, in fact, is not how we order our lives as church. We gather each week not to compare moral achievements but to be lifted up, once again: once again to be invited to the wedding feast. This is named in our opening prayers and hymns. Each week we hear afresh that God knows us more deeply than we know ourselves, and loves us nonetheless. This is named in the preaching, the confession and the declaration of forgiveness. Each week we hear that even the breaking of the body of God by us is made – by grace – a breaking of God for us. Each week we gather as we are around a table abundant with symbols which speak the extraordinary thing we are going to become: Christ’s very Body. All of this contradicts any simple notion of an initial justification followed by a life of sanctification. If sanctification is something into which we are growing, then it is a very strange growth indeed. For what we grow into – if it is grace – is an increasing awareness of our ongoing need of justification, of our need of being set right again despite having heard the gospel a thousand times before. Our holiness increases with our increasing awareness of our need for mercy. In terms of the parable, our growing in grace is a growing in awareness of just how poorly we are dressed for this wedding reception.

Of course, there is much to be said for trying to put a special stiches into our ragged outfits. Even on our own we can do better than fig leaves. But whether we are good or bad matters less than whether we know what gives us a standing before the king who would ask us how we dare to attend his banquet unadorned. When the question comes, such a king – such a God – is to be answered according to his own decree:

I stand before you in the wedding robe which is the groom himself: Christ, in whose honour this party is thrown, and for whose honour I was called from my business to be here; Christ, for whose honour this world was created, and into whose image I am being conformed.

The grace of God in Christ is not simply the invitation, the way into God’s kingdom. Christ is also our wedding garment – our way of eating and drinking and laughing and dancing our way through the celebration – what we are to be wearing when our host greets us in the mingling. The confused guest in the parable is thrown out not because he answers wrongly but because he is struck dumb with fear. It is not that he wears no wedding garment, but that he doesn’t know that in fact he does; he doesn’t know the grace by which he could stand in confidence before the king. For none of us wears garments appropriate to the kingdom, save the garment we wear when we put on Christ. In Christ we are always well-dressed.

So then, may the Spirit of this Christ enliven the people in this place and all places to hear again the invitation of God: be yourselves in the Christ in whose name you are called, and by whose grace you stand.

And for the boundless grace in this invitation, all praise and honour be to God, now and always. Amen.




[This is an extension of an earlier text distributed but not actually preached at MtE]

MtE Update – October 12 2017

The latest MtE News

  1. The most recent Synod eNews (Oct 5) is here.
  2. The lectionary for the coming liturgical year (Dec 2017+) is now available here. Let Craig know if you would like a hard copy printed (on A3; this link will print on A4, but will be quite small script!)
  3. Following worship on Sunday October 22 we’ll have another of our new hymn-learning sessions.
  4. Our Elder’s lists have recently been reviewed and re-jigged by the Church Council; members’ designated elder should be in touch with you soon to let you know who is whose; if you don’t hear soon, please speak to Craig!
  5. Uniting Church in Australia: ‘A People of God on the Way’
    • Public forum: Sunday 15 October, from 3:00pm at the CTM Parkville, includes shared afternoon tea beforehand.
    • Dr Deidre Palmer, President-Elect of the national Assembly, will explore the current and future shape of the Uniting Church.
    • Rev Dr Geoff Thompson, established theologian of the Uniting Church, will address the Basis of Union as our continuing theological compass.
    • Join these two national leaders for an afternoon forum to explore where the Uniting Church is heading, and how will we find our way together.
    • FREE forum but please RSVP online for catering purposes:


  6. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday October 15, see the links here. We are presently hearing the Series II OT readings on Sunday.

Old News

  1. The next “Conversations which make a difference” at Church of All Nations (Carlton) will be on Friday October 20; see here for more info.
  2. “Sin boldly!” in October: In October Christ Church Kensington (76 McCracken Street, Kensington) celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, especially one of its leaders, Martin Luther—who actually meant it when he said, “Sin boldly!” On three Tuesday evenings at 7:30 PM (10, 17, and 24 October) at Christ Church, members of CCK will gather to learn about Luther (and what he meant by his “advice”). We will be reading portions of a short book, Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction by Scott H. Hendrix, available from Book Depository and Amazon. If you would like to participate, please let Craig know and he’ll pass on your interest to the organisers (or let Margaret Rolfe [Christ Church] know directly).

October 15 – John of the Cross

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 of the Cross, person of prayer

John de Yepes, known as John of the Cross was poet, mystic and reformer, born in 1542 near Avila in Spain. His writing makes clear the spiritual significance of ‘the dark night of the soul’. John became a Carmelite Friar and got to know Teresa of Avila and supported her work for reform within the Carmelite community, introducing the movement to the men. He was imprisoned at Toledo by opponents of the reform in 1577, and treated with great cruelty. He wrote his first poems in this period. After nine months, he escaped and held leadership roles in the reformed group in the 1580s. However, as the reformed group also split, John supported the moderates, was removed from office, and sent to a remote community in Andalusia in 1591. He died there after a severe, three-month illness. It was only after his death that the significance of his thought and work for the community was recognised.

John’s writings flowed from his own experience, and are recognised for their literary beauty as well as their spiritual significance. There are three poems, all with related commentaries by him: The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love, as well as the famous second commentary on Dark Night known as The Ascent of Mount Carmel. An emphasis on trust is God’s grace not worldly success is typical of his thought.

If only people would understand how impossible it is to reach God’s riches and wisdom except by passing through the thicket of toil and suffering! The soul must first put aside every comfort and desire of its own. A soul that truly yearns for divine wisdom begins by yearning to enter the thicket of the Cross.

Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians ‘not to be disheartened by tribulations’ but to be courageous, ‘rooted and grounded in love so that you may grasp, with the saints, the breadth and length and height and depth and the all-surpassing love of the knowledge of Christ, so as to attain the fullness of God himself.’  For the gate to these riches of God’s wisdom is the Cross; many desire the consoling joy to which the Cross leads, but few desire the Cross itself. (The Spiritual Canticle,  37)

With Teresa of Avila, John’s writing on the experience of prayer and growth in the spiritual life are regarded as having a unique authority.

By Dr Katharine Massam

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