Monthly Archives: March 2018

MtE Update – March 14 2018


  1. Our worship space during Lent will feature a number of icons, increasing in number over the period to Easter. More details about this part of the worship can be found here, including a link to the icon for this Sunday, March 18: Lent 5
  2. Following morning tea on THIS SUNDAY March 18 there will be a conversation on the shape of our worship services at MtE. This will likely be the first of a number over time for exploring together what happens in church on Sundays.
  3. The last of the Wednesday night Lenten studies (NEXT week) has been moved from Wed 21st to Tues 20th, same times but in the St Mary’s hall rather than the church. The last of the Friday morning studies remain at Fri 23.
  4. The most recent Presbytery newsletter is here.
  5. A recent newletter (re-)introducing Uniting AgeWell.
  6. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday March 18, see the links here.


Illuminating Faith – Reading the Creed Backwards

The Nicene and Apostles’ Creed are important elements of Christian tradition, appearing regularly in the worship of some churches, although also sharply repudiated in the worship of others. These studies are intended as something of a ‘prelude’ to saying the Creed. The studies do not deal with the detail of the credal statements but consider the structure of the Creed as a whole. The emphasis is more on the manner of Christian faith, considering Christian confession as less a matter of content than as a matter of ‘style.’




llluminating Faith studies are occasionally edited for corrections and other minor adjustments. The version date is incorporated into the file name of the download – check that you’ve got the most recent version!


Lent 5 March 18: Mary and the Beloved Disciple

The Old Testament reading today is from Jeremiah, the covenant of the heart. The Gospel speaks again of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. The icon today depicts the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple at the cross. (John 19: 26-7) Jesus bids them each to care for the other. He thus establishes a new covenant of the heart, a covenant of mutual submission. (Note the inclination of the heads.) Formed at the foot of the cross, this new relationship is to be lived out in the spirit of the one who gives his life for others. It is a moment of transference. This new community is now to carry on the mission of Jesus, which, in his last words, is finished. Jesus lets go and trusts others – something we find difficult to do!

Some commentators pick up on the fact that the two people are not named, and so can be seem as representative figures. The mother of Jesus can be seen as all that gave Jesus birth, the whole tradition of Israel, the old covenant. The beloved disciple may represent all disciples, all who see Jesus lifted up and believe. We can see in this the relationship between the old covenant (mother) and the new covenant (the beloved).

For john, the church is a gathering of people where each cares and is cared for, where each washes the feet of the other, where worship is in spirit and in truth, where Jesus is lifted up, where the body of Christ is the new temple.

The story of the original version of this icon can be traced in detail. It was sent to the monastery of Poganovo in Bulgaria from the Empress Helen in Constantinople following the death of her father in 1395. There is a continuous record of the icon until it was removed from the monastery of Poganovo after World War 1, when the region was annexed by Yugoslavia (1919) . It has been kept in very good condition, and was cleaned and conserved in 1959. It now resides in the Institute of Archaeology within the Museum at the Bulgrarian Academy of Science in Sofia, Bulgaria.



Lord Jesus, you call us to be a community where each cares for the other,

a living temple where we are embodied through word and sacrament in your body.

In this scene at the cross we see the model for the new covenant.

Forgive us, Lord, if we think of church as a club where we can meet our friends,

a performance to keep us entertained,

a service group justifying ourselves through good works.

Lord have mercy.

We, your covenant people, offer our hearts.

we see you lifted up and believe,

we respond to your new commandment and submit,

we accept our part in your ongoing mission, and care,

May our worship be in spirit and in truth.

Make us all one, as you are in the Father and the Father in you,

so may we be in you, and you in us,

that the world may believe. Amen


11 March – Snake therapy

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Lent 4

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107
John 3:14-21

Sermon preached by Rev. Bruce Barber

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”.

For obvious reasons most of us don’t like snakes. We’re not the first to have this reaction. Our forebears in the faith first had to contend with snakes in their wilderness wanderings. We hear that they were rebellious with their lot: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” There is no food, no water. Then the story goes: the Lord sent poisonous serpents among them, and they bit the people and many died. Moses got the job of getting rid of them by making a bronze serpent, putting it on a pole, so that whenever a person was bitten they would look at the bronze serpent and live.

What do we make of that? Well, the story comes from a very early source in which magic and magical cures are prominent. But the form in which we have the story shows that it is now used to emphasize the capacity of a beleaguered people to discover a trust in Yahweh despite all appearances.

It is worth knowing not only that the snake was a well known reptile of the wilderness, but was, in fact, worshipped by many of the Hebrews’ neighbouring tribes. The crucial thing to recognise, however, is that, unlike for us, the snake represented not only evil and destruction but also healing and hope. This symbol of the healing snake is still alive for us in what you might recall as the physician’s symbol – once shown on a car’s number plate – which shows the snake entwined around the wand of Esclepius, the god of healing. The symbol of the snake was also associated with the Greek god Hermes, the messenger god, who for the Romans became the god Mercury. A doctor in our not so distant past, who making home visits driving a Ford Mercury, was literally a god of healing!

To recognise this double significance of the snake is crucial, because only on this basis will we understand the gospel today: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”.

The point is that Jesus now takes the place of the serpent. When the Gospel of John uses the phrase “lifted up” that is a synonym in the first place for the Cross. Somewhere else Jesus says: “I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all people to me “. Hearing this it is almost certain that we will assume that this being lifted up refers to his resurrection or ascension.  But for John being “lifted up” carries the powerful image of an immobile – but at the same time of a consenting – Christ, arms and feet pinned to the Cross, passively crucified, physically lifted off the ground by the imperial forces of Caesar with the connivance of the Jewish religious authorities. Immobile, but glorious in his immobility crying: “It is accomplished”.

So this “lifting up” carries the same twofold significance as does the bronze serpent. The man on the Cross, like the raised up serpent, represents not only evil and destruction, but also healing and restoration.  Jesus is bitten by human poison, yet is at the same time the antidote of that poison.

However, though the texts appear to be similar, there is yet this significant difference. The ancient healing of the serpent benefitted only the immediate Hebrews, whereas the healing effected by the raising up of the Son of man is to be universal.  This we are promised in the “whoever”: “whoever believes in him may have eternal life”, or perhaps the even better translation,” whoever believes may have eternal life in him”. The Hebrews had only to look at the bronze serpent to experience healing. The “whoever” – you, me, anyone – must also see, see now not with the eyes of the body since that is not possible because the lifting up of the physical cross is an event long lost in the mists of time. But we, too, must see – see with theological eyes. For John, this “lifting up” on the Cross is not for such eyes something that happened a long time ago in a far different place. Rather, the eyes of faith see the origin of the “lifting up” in the eternal love of God for his creation, and its intention as the healing of all who believe. For John, “to see” is in this sense “to believe”, and “to believe” is “to see” – really see in the very depths of what is happening here and now. What matters is what is happening in the present act of believing, not what happened however long ago.

How significant this insistence on the present is when we reckon with the fact that most people imagine that faith is about whether or not they can believe in the so-called facts of a long departed event. How can we get people to see this difference? In the final analysis, it is the basic task of mission today, yet it seems to be the hardest task of all. For our culture is mesmerised by the claim of facts, and as far as it understands Christian faith, past facts, once to believe them, increasingly to deny them.

This is why today’s text is so important. It could be as revolutionary in the 21st century as it was in the 2nd. What it offers is a gift that is open- ended. For the “whoever” is not merely someone else – it is held out again and again to contradict whoever has assumed that the decision of faith is something always to be settled once and for all. The “whoever” stands as a permanent potential destruction of the assumed gulf between insiders and outsiders. It calls in question all who have replaced the act of faith with a settled “belief”, whether that be positive or negative. That is to say, it calls in question all who are happier with the noun “belief” rather than the verb “to believe”. The gospel is always about verbs, not nouns. Nouns, you recall, describe a state or condition; verbs speak of action, always holding out a prospect of new possibilities.

Such we have here – whoever “believes”, not whoever “has” belief. We hear from time to time of someone who has, as the saying goes,
“lost their faith”.  What that really means is that they never had faith in the first place, since faith is something that, by the definition of the gospel, is not possible to lose. It simply ceases to inform one’s life.

Arguably the promise of this “whoever believes”, compared with the conventional view of belief as a noun, is responsible for so many indifferent, sad or angry people on the boundary. But it also might reassure anxious people at the very centre who, for example, unhappy with Creeds, are not quite sure if their belief is justified.

So it is salutary to have this text before us in Lent – this time of penitence and reflection. It brings the truth of God and the truth of our lives into a living union. “Who God is” is taken care of in the lifting up of the Son of man, in his own body imbibing our poison and achieving our healing. “Who we are” is taken care of in the “whoever” which invites us to this exchange in the always renewed act of faith, transforming the perishing, often poisoned, experience of our existence into a permanent offer of abundant life which nothing can harm.

So – have a renewed respect for snakes!


MtE Update – March 9 2018


  1. Our worship space during Lent will feature a number of icons, increasing in number over the period to Easter. More details about this part of the worship can be found here, including a link to the icon for this Sunday, March 11: Lent 4
  2. Following morning tea on Sunday March 18 there will be a conversation on the shape of our worship services at MtE. This will likely be the first of a number over time for exploring together what happens in church on Sundays. More details to come…
  3. The most recent Synod eNews (March 8) is here.
  4. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday March 11, see the links here.

Lent 4 March 11: The crucifixion


The icon of the crucifixion has been chosen today because Jesus speaks of being lifted up on the cross. (John 3:14, cf. 12:32) “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

The crucifixion icon is different from a crucifix. The emphasis of a crucifix is on the suffering of Christ. Generally he has eyes open, indicating he is still alive, suffering, paying the price, building the treasury of merit. The Reformers rejected this, and instead emphasised that Christ is risen by displaying an empty cross, as at Mark the Evangelist. The Eastern Church, some 500 years before the Reformation, reacted differently. Rather than simplifying the symbol, the East added features. Christ is dead, eyes closed, body slumped, blood and water flowing. Christ’s life giving (sacramental) blood drips down on to the skull of Adam, revealed in a cave beneath the cross. (The Resurrection icon will show the risen Christ raising Adam and Eve from their graves.) While grounded on Calvary, the cross reaches into the sky, a bridge between earth and heaven. The walls of Jerusalem appear in the background, indicating that the place of crucifixion is outside the city, and therefore of a different order from that which goes on inside the walls. Mary and John are present, and a new community of mutual caring is created by the words, “Woman behold your son, son behold your mother”. (John 19:26) In John’s Gospel the crucifixion is a demonstration of the extent to which God’s love will go for our sakes. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16) The new, caring community is to carry on this mission of Christ so that those who see Christ lifted up may be drawn to him and have eternal life. This done, Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19: 30)

Today’s particular icon of the crucifixion is Byzantine in style, but with some Australia touches, most notably symbols of Melbourne and Sydney have replaced the walls of Jerusalem, for the death of Christ ushers in a community and a culture that is different from contemporary culture and fashion.


Father God, you so love the world that you gave your only Son.

We look not on the horror of this scene, but on the love exemplified, and in that we find glory;

Love amazing and divine,

Love that counts not the cost, and creates new community,

Love that offers eternal life, and draws all people.

Love in which we participate as we receive the bread and the wine, the body and the blood.

Blessed Son of God, live in us, and we in you,

Through your being lifted up, raise us from earth to heaven,

From bondage to liberation,

From despair to hope,

From death to eternal life. Amen.


4 March – As good as it gets

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Lent 3

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
John 2:13-22

Last week I spoke about How not to Fall on Your Face before God or, at least, how to minimise the pain of the gift of being in the presence of God.

A first falling on your face before God is unavoidable. This is the form of meeting with God and knowing that it is God we meet. Such a falling marks the gift of God – that God wills to meet us with grace and blessing.

But, in the stories of Abraham and Peter, we saw a second kind of falling before God which marked not God’s gift but human presumption. Given that falling on your face is a painful experience – even when in holy awe – the best way not to fall on your face in this second way is not to get up again after the first fall.

Yet it remains the case that we do get up again. And again. And again, even if each time it – and the subsequent fall – is in quite different ways.

Our readings today relate to two of the gifts of God – the gift of the law and the gift of the Temple – two occasions for an appropriate falling before God. These are marks of God’s covenant with Israel, pointers to God’s presence to Israel, and to how Israel is to be present to God. Each is, unequivocally, a blessing, conveying the Who and the How and the Where of God’s relationship with Israel. The life of the people of God is filled with such markers – commandments and ethics, temples and liturgies, creeds and confessions.

But, having been bowled over by the gift of God, the people of God then climb to their feet. This is what we do. Commandments become separated from the one who commands them. (We might think of all those lists of the Commandments in churches which omit the crucial opening lines telling who it is who gives the commandments, and what he has done). And the life of a Temple becomes separated from the One to be met within it; we don’t need gospel readings to tell us that this happens. This is the cause of the wrong kind of falling on our face: separating the gift from the giver.

There is nothing wrong with Temples and creeds and liturgies and codes of conduct. In fact, all human existence is filled with them in one form or another, so it ought to be no surprise that God uses such things to deal with us, or provides them that we might deal with God. In fact we are right to be suspicious of talk about God which denies that God uses – even needs – words and community and buildings in this way.

This is to say that the Temple and the Commandments matter more than we are likely to imagine, for they are sacramental. Sacraments are things which look like one thing but are in fact something else. What is important in this is that the ‘something else’ is not inherent in the sacrament; it comes from God. God gives the sacrament and it only ‘works’ when it remains God’s. God uses the mundane – a bath for baptism, a meal for thanksgiving, a temple, an ethical code – to get to us, and that we might get to God.

The basis for our saying this is in what Jesus throws to us religious in the Temple story this morning: ‘Tear down this temple, and I will build it up again in three days’. Christians, of course, know what this means because the text tells us: Jesus casts himself as the temple, and there’s a hint here at his coming passion and resurrection.

But this is not enough. There is more here than the shift of the presence of God from the stones of the temple to the flesh of Jesus. ‘Tear this temple down, and I will build it up again’. The temple to be built up is the same temple which was torn down. The Jesus who is resurrected is the Jesus who is crucified, who stands before the temple authorities and the freshly minted disciples in all his ordinariness. This is tantamount to saying, ‘This is what the rebuilt temple will look like: it doesn’t get any better than this’.

And that is why Jesus is crucified: because we want it to be better than this. ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’, comes the challenge to Jesus after he has taken the whip to the temple marketplace, and he responds, ‘Tear it down and I’ll build it up’. But the sign is not the dazzling miracle of a resurrection – a neat enough trick in itself.  The sign is that the risen one is the very one who stands before them in the Temple courtyard. Knock me down, and I will get up again. God looks like this ordinary Jesus. Or like a Temple. Or like Commandments on stone tablets.

The extraordinary character of the work of God in Jesus is in the ordinariness of Jesus: this body, this flesh, this hungry stomach, these dirty feet, this bloody nakedness on a cross. All these things God can make a temple. To declare as we do at Christmas, that the Word became flesh, is not to say merely that it became meat. This flesh was not only body and blood but was all that become body and blood, and all that body and blood become. The Word became all that we need in order to be ourselves, and all that we create.

I am, Jesus says, what the Temple and the Commandments and the prayers and the sacrifices and the festivals – or even you – can be when God is active in them, and in you.

To fall on our face for the wrong reason is to have separated the gift from the giver, and usually precisely because we think that this is required for God’s own sake. Think again of Abraham’s derisive laughter and Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, and their proposals of how God might do things better. And so in the end a crucifixion seems necessary for God’s own sake, for here we assert that Jesus could not possibly be the sanctuary of God.

The gospel, however, is that God will not be separated from the gift, and comes and comes and comes again to reclaim our flesh as his own. This is the resurrection of Jesus. Here God declares not only who Jesus was, but that how Jesus – his ordinariness – is part of his identity as the divine Son. In this sense, the resurrection must be of a recognisable ‘body’ with a history, and not merely a ghostly apparition.

Having reclaimed the gift of fleshliness as his own, God then gives the gift again. And this is our resurrection. We are raised into the ordinariness of our lives: our work, our relationships, our temples and codes. These are the places where God will meet us because they are where we are.

You have torn it down, God says, but I will raise it up again and give it back to you. And then you will know me, and be amazed.

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