Monthly Archives: September 2018

30 September – Breathing under water

View or print as a PDF

Pentecost 19

Psalm 1
Mark 9:38-50

In a sentence:
Baptism is the rite to life

What are we going to do today to poor, defenceless little Olivia?

What you will see is that she will be taken in hand, she will be liberally wetted, prayers will be said around her, she will be carried into the gathered community and some will make on her forehead the sign of the cross, and these things will be said to be the stuff of ‘salvation’

These actions and their interpretation are increasingly odd to modern eyes and ears. This is not least because we might not be sure about even the need for salvation in one such as Olivia. Out of what does she need to be saved? The actions of baptism are pointless if the meaning we attribute to them sounds like nonsense. We ought, then, to attempt to make some meaning of all this.

Something I’ve said before of a child presented for baptism is worth hearing again today: that the only thing of which one such as Olivia might be guilty is that she chose the parents she did. This, of course, is an outrageous suggestion, first because Olivia did not choose her parents and, second because those who know her parents well might want to rush to their defence as, in fact, a worthy choice by their daughter!

But to speak of such guilt on Olivia’s part is not to say anything which could be defended in those ways. ‘Choice’ here is not a moral category – it is not something we actually do. It is what is done or chosen for us. Here Olivia’s ‘choice’ of her parents means simply that she has parents. And that they have parents, and that they had parents. It is the same, of course, for each of us.

Apart from simple life support, what our parents do for us is provide a language and a culture. These are prescriptions for experiencing and living in the world. In this way we are taught what to love, what to loathe, what to value, what to fear.

But this is not only what our parents do for us; it is also what they do to us. For, if we are lucky, we eventually come to experience the world in ways other than how our received language or culture may have narrowed it down. We learn that there is more than we learned there was, or that what we learned to love ought in fact to be feared and vice-versa. We recognize that we might have been brought up differently, for others indeed were. Our parents’ way is not the only way.

But it all happens long before we are paying attention to what is happening, and then it is too late, for we are formed. This is what it means to be ‘guilty’ of having chosen the parents we did; it means simply that we are human, and that our humanity is caught up in the humanity of every person who came before us, for better and for worse. This is what life holds for Olivia, and holds also for every child who dares to be born. This is not a matter of judgement but simply a matter of fact.

All of this is a pretty secular account of what it means to be human and it is – on its own terms – a fairly comprehensive account. It speaks of us as a whole. What we do in baptism is bring this account of who we are into collision with another account of being human – the kind of human life we see in Jesus. We’ve heard something of that humanity in our reading from Mark’s gospel this morning, speaking is does of what we are ‘for’ and against, what we might do to keep ourselves safe. And a collision course it is, if we take seriously that Jesus ends up on a cross.

Yet I’d like to put a different spin on at least part of our reading – that part which probably strikes most as the most confronting: if an eye or a foot or a hand causes us to fall, tear it out, cut if off. Clearly we have here rhetorical hyperbole. Jesus is not proposing self-mutilation, and the same point could have been made if he’d said, ‘look away, don’t walk that way, put it down’; his way is just more memorable. And, we’d have to say, his point is really only common sense. If you can’t leave the chocolate in the cupboard, don’t buy it in the first place. If you are wasting your life looking into a small bright screen, get rid of it. If your credit card is killing you, cut it up. We already know what Jesus says here; it is only the force of his language which surprises.

But the twist I’d like to suggest here is that the tearing out of the eye and the cutting off of the foot or hand which going to cause you to sin – this is exactly what happens to Jesus himself.

He is born into a world with its own language and culture, hopes and expectations, fears and loathings. Not surprisingly, he looks very much like everyone else. How could he not? This is what language and culture does to us. He is part of the social reality, the political body which bore him, and this is what the church means when it insists that in him we see someone who is truly human.

And yet there are differences. To the outside, uncultured eye, they are subtle or not even visible but within that society they are enormous. In fact they are so significant that Jesus is perceived to be a threat to the well-being of the community. As a member of that social body he becomes an eye, a hand, a foot which is causing breakdown, bringing instability.

And so that social body does what it knows is best for it – it cuts away the threatening member; this is the meaning of the crucifixion so far as the authorities are concerned: better that the one die than the many be lost because of him (cf. John 11.50). Jesus himself is the danger, and the crucifixion follows Jesus’ gruesome advice to the letter.

When the church speaks of the resurrection, it speaks not of a one-off nature miracle in which a dead heart starts beating again. It speaks rather of the realization that Jesus was not the threat to our truth but very truth amongst us. To say that Jesus rose is to say that the crucifixion was a kind of auto-immune response which killed the best part of us. It is to say that our humanity matters enough for God to give a damn but also that when God does we are likely not to notice, and something like a resurrection is necessary to make the point. To speak of Jesus’ resurrection is to say that God will nevertheless insisthere is what you are; to be for Jesus might cost you dearly, you might be cut off, but it is the truth of you, the way of being for which you were created.

Baptism is an action which ‘speaks’ this. It is a washing bath which cleanses what must be cleaned but which nothing else can clean.

Baptism is deep water in which we are drowned and from which we are then raised to life again, different.

Or, perhaps more vividly, baptism is about ‘breathing under water’.

For to be human is to be in deep waters – deeper and wider than any of us can imagine – and we are each small in that vast expanse. We know how dangerous it can be, what might lurk beneath, the sapping cold, the weariness of keeping ourselves afloat.

The life of Jesus was a baptism into our humanity with all its best and worst, and yet was a life in which he was able find breath regardless of where he was, even to the point of being dragged out of the water and left on the shore to die, cut off from the context of life – the very deep waters which seem so dangerous.

This is what we are offered in the call to follow him, and what we mark in baptism – life in all its fullness wherever we are, whatever we face.

We will sing at the end of the service today,

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your days be bright.

The call might seem costly but surely such a gift is beyond compare: light in darkness, a firm foundation beneath change and decay, life in the midst of death.

And the gift is given freely as a spring of water flows from its source.

Let those who are thirsty drink.


MtE Update – September 27 2018

  1. The latest Presbytery eNews is here (with the correction that the next Presbytery meeting is Nov 17, not 24).
  2. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday September 30, see the links here (we’ll be hearing only the gospel reading, supplemented with Psalm 1).

Other things potentially of interest

  1. Brunswick Uniting Church is offering a forum on the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation

Old News

  1. If you’re interested in following up further the material Robert Gribben presented two weeks ago on the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, you might be interested in looking at his book on the subject; some copies are available here ($10 plus postage…). It can also be consulted at the theological library at the CTM. (Robert Gribben, Uniting in Thanksgiving, The Great Prayers of the Uniting Church in Australia,  Melbourne: UAP, 2008.  It has three parts: (1) The Genealogy of the Great Prayer; (2), a commentary on the texts and (3) A Practical Commentary).
  2. Our series on the Ten Commandments will return for 4 consecutive weeks in October; if you were planning get one of suggested background reading resources for this series but haven’t yet, now’s a good time to order it!

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 26B; Proper 21B (Sunday between September 25 and October 1)

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: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 124

Series II: Numbers 11.4-6, 10-16, 24-29 (cf. here) and Psalm 19.7-14

James 5:13-20 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Mark 9:38-50 see also By the Well podcast on this text

September 27 – James Watson

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 Watson, Christian pioneer

James Watson was an outstanding pioneer Methodist missionary. He began his ministry in 1891 as a member of William Bromilow and George Brown’s huge Australasian missionary venture to the island of Dobu in the British-administered territory of Papua.  Watson almost died because of repeated bouts of malaria and was obliged to return home after two years’ service. From then on he served in circuits at Narrabri (1896–1898), Inverell (1899–1901), Broken Hill (1902–1906), Wallaroo (1907–1910) and Kempsey (1911–1913). His interest in missions however never waned. In 1914 he was appointed Foreign Missionary Secretary with the Methodist Church of Australasia and in 1916, was selected by the Methodist Overseas Mission Board to establish and lead the Methodist Aborigines’ Mission on South Goulburn Island (Warruwi) in Western Arnhem Land.

Watson was a man of untiring energy and zeal. He was an expert horseman, sailor, builder–immensely practical both in the bush and on the sea. He was a gifted raconteur, competent photographer and throughout his long life, a powerful spokesman for Methodist missions.

At a time when there was a widespread belief that Aboriginal people were a “dying race”, Watson played a prominent role in challenging Methodist attitudes towards Aboriginal people. On his first excursion into Arnhem Land in 1915 to find a suitable site for a mission station, his first-hand experience led him to the conclusion that they were a “remarkable people” to be greatly admired for their physical strength, athletic prowess, intelligence, poise, patience, humour and imagination. He expressed nothing but appreciation of “this most fascinatingly interesting race”. Watson represented the beginnings of a new wave of thinking in Methodism, one of making reparation or doing atonement for the diseases and destruction inflicted on Indigenous societies by European civilization. In public lectures and short articles in the Missionary Review, he often pointed out that it was not the wish of missionaries to try to radically change the way Aboriginal people lived but by “means of friendship and the Gospel to gradually improve the living conditions of the people who had undisputed right of title to these lands”. For Watson there was both a standing with Aboriginal people and a standing between them and injustices of white society. During World War I he boldly compared the treatment of Aboriginal people with “the atrocities of the Huns”—a foreshadowing of recent arguments about Aboriginal genocide.

Watson had a practical faith and was a man of his era.  His obituary in the Methodist states that he was “no great lover or student of books” but had a great capacity to get alongside people and to learn from them. His simple, practical faith is probably best illustrated by a sermon he delivered in Bendigo in 1903 on the subject ‘true religion”: “true religion consisted in being good and doing good”. It was also reported that when Watson died, his last words were: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.” It is testimony to a man who was “a brave and devoted soldier of Christ”.

William Emilsen

23 September – Dying to live

View or print as a PDF

Pentecost 18

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Mark 8:31-38

In a sentence:
That the life of Jesus, even the cross, is true life

Our gospel reading for today – the second part of what was set for last week – is often identified as a turning point in the telling of the story of Jesus.

Up to this point in Mark’s narrative, the question of Jesus’ identity has been constantly in play; now Jesus hears the word ‘Messiah’ on Peter’s lips and seems happy to allow it to go unchallenged – the identity of Jesus is established.

The narrative now turns from establishing Who Jesus is to the Whither and Why of Jesus. The confession of Peter, then – (heard last week) – together with the new orientation toward Jerusalem and the cross, are a turning point in the story.

But there is another sense in which this passage is pivotal. This is in that the story is not merely a story – an account of what Jesus did, and then did next. What Jesus did and what happens to him is now extended to what will happen to those who would count themselves his disciples: ‘those who would follow me must deny themselves, take up their own cross and follow.’ This amounts to those disciples ‘losing’ their life also.

As confronting as it is, we must see that this is not a simple recognition by Jesus of the familiar way of things – that, if he gets whacked, so also will his followers. Suffering by association happens often enough but how the politics might unfold is not a central interest of the gospel; it is only the background.

The link between the cross of Jesus and the cross of his followers speaks to the nature of the work which Jesus does in the first place, and where he does it. The work of Jesus is perhaps not best characterised, in the first instance, as ‘saving’ us. His first work is to live the life of a free human person, open to God and open to those among whom he is placed. We’ve noted before (e.g., Sunday July 29 2018) that the cross of Jesus is not the point of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ life is the point of his life; this is what an open human life looks like.

The call to follow Jesus, then, is not a primarily a call to hard work or to suffering, as if such things in themselves were redemptive and even if it will involve suffering. The call is primarily a call to life – eyes and heart wide open to the dangers and the possibilities of a human life, and taking up the richest of those possibilities despite the dangers. Taking up one’s cross is living – truly, freely, openly, lovingly – in the time and place in which we find ourselves. Anything less than this is what Jesus calls losing our life, even if our hearts are still beating. It is to be a shadow, a hollow casing for an experience which should have been there but has been eroded away by ignorance or fear.

And so today’s reading from Mark is a turning point not only because the story changes direction here, but because Jesus’ own calling is revealed also to be our call. Peter’s objection last week – that the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus could not possibly happen – was an objection not only that the Messiah was above all this. Peter rejected any notion that such might also be the fate of Peter himself.

For there is something ‘distant’ about the Messiah in Peter’s unbaptised understanding. For him – and for us whom he represents – the saviour is a ‘thing’, a prized possession which we hold, a charm which protects us from whatever threatens, an airbag against colliding with life. Such a charm changes the world but it does not change us. This is what merely valuable things do; at best they confirm us but they do not change us.

In a poem fragment from John Donne he speaks of the difference between this and the twist the gospel requires of Peter’s understanding; (writing of Christ:)

He was all gold when He lay down, but rose
All tincture, and doth not alone dispose
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is
Of power to make e’en sinful flesh like his.
(‘Resurrection, Imperfect’)

‘He was all gold when He lay down’ – that is, as gold, he was a valuable thing, a purchase on the world, a security: ‘you are the Messiah, and such things can never happen to you’.

‘…but he rose / All tincture’. A tincture is a substance used to colour a metal – to change its appearance. Donne’s point is that Jesus is not simply precious – which is what Peter holds. Rather, Jesus makes us like him, although not merely in appearance: for Christ does

…not alone dispose
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is
Of power to make e’en sinful flesh like his.

The call of Jesus is not that we believe in him, in the sense of believing a thing about him. We do not believe merely that he is ‘gold’. The call is to become before God as Jesus himself is before God: to become flesh like his flesh.

If this is the call of God, then it is also the gift of God.

This is why we speak of the church as the body of Christ. The church is not merely ‘a’ body – a body politic. It is this body: the body of Jesus. (From the weekly liturgy:) ‘Let us receive what we are, let us become what we receive – the body of Christ’: the emphasis – and this is your part to emphasise! – falls on those last two words.

Acknowledging that this is not always a comfortable gift, St Paul puts it this way:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8.28; cf. also 2 Corinthians 3.18)

This is not different from what Jesus describes in his talk about taking up our cross. To follow Jesus – even in costly ways – is to begin to look like him, to be free as he is, to be open to God as he is.

To follow Jesus is to have the things we might normally fear – which is death in all its lived forms – behind us.

To be growing into such a life, then, is to begin to look like someone who has been raised from the dead.

And when that kind of thing happens, not merely the gospel narrative but the world itself comes to its own turning point, and changes forever.

Let us, then, take up the call to follow wherever Jesus might lead, and watch God transform the world.

16 September – The incarnation at Easter

View or print as a PDF

Pentecost 17

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116
Mark 8:27-33

In a sentence:
For God, incarnation is the easiest of things

Today’s reading is, for many of us, a very familiar text.

And the text itself is about familiarity. The disciples report to Jesus who ‘the people’ understand him to be: ‘They know about the prophets, and you are starting to look something like that.’ Familiarity reads what is new and unfamiliar.

When the question of Jesus’ identity is then put to the disciples themselves, Peter responds, ‘I’ve been watching more closely. I know something about the Messiah, and you’re beginning to look like that.’ Again, familiarity reads what is new and unfamiliar, if now differently.

Then comes the truly unfamiliar and unexpected – the shock of Jesus’ prediction of his fate, reinforced with his dismissal of Peter’s objections as demonic.

This is unfamiliar and unexpected to Peter but, of course, some of us have heard it hundreds of times. None of us where shocked to hear Jesus confront Peter this morning. We can hear that Peter was shocked, but we cannot share his shock. We ‘know’ that Jesus was right – at least, right that he would die – and we even have theories as to why this must be so. We cannot un-hear a story we have heard many times and be surprised when we hear it again.

This to recognise that it is almost impossible for a church which faithfully tells its central story not to domesticate that story – even become bored with it – simply because we have faithfully retold it and so know it very well.

And so this text becomes a very hard one to read; we know that we are supposed to be Peter in the exchange, and yet we know more than he does. This is the problem of our own familiarity with Jesus. If familiarities of ‘the people’ and of Peter blind them to who Jesus is, what do our familiarities blind us to?

In fact, there still is a shock waiting for us here. It is almost the opposite of what took Peter by surprise although it also has to do with the identity of Jesus. Peter’s problem is, how can it be that the Messiah dies the death that we die? Our problem is, how can it be that the death of Jesus is different from the death of the rest of us? That is, how can Jesus be different from us?

We have no problem with Jesus dying. This is either because – as sceptics – we don’t think him different from us or – as believers – we’ve already made some sense of this death. Our real problem today is that Jesus lived. That is, the offence for us is that one part of the world – the person of Jesus – could be special in this way: that everything could take its definition from one thing.

‘Specialness’ is offensive to us today – at least the depth of ‘special’ the church has said that Jesus is. This might be surprising but, despite all our contemporary talk about valuing what is different, all difference and specialness is quickly subsumed because true specialness would contradict everything we typically think about the world.

We do not allow ‘special’ in our thinking about nature – in our science.  Special doesn’t fit in a world defined by natural ‘law’, because the notion of natural law was itself developed in no small part to exclude the special – the unpredictable breaking in of God into the mundane. If anything in the world appears ‘special’ – a purported miracle, or whatever – it is either held to be deception or that our theories are not yet comprehensive enough to account for the observation. Here it less that there is no such thing as a miracle than that miracles quite simply have no place to happen if the world is like this.

In a similar way, in our thinking about history, ‘special’ is only related to the shifting fortunes of power – now this one is special, now another – but each is really just another version of the other.

We do not allow that there could be something truly erratic, truly unpredictable and so new in history or in nature. And yet the Jesus of the gospels is portrayed in precisely this way.

This is to say that the shock in Jesus’s response to Peters ancient and modern is that God is both in-and-for the world and external-and-against it. This is the shock of the incarnation – ­that God and the world meet in this way in Jesus, without either stopping being what it is.

This seems contradictory, and impossible – and the impossibility of the incarnation is the point we usually emphasise.

Yet the incarnation was an easy thing, even if for us conceptually impossible on this or that way of thinking (as the ancient and modern Peters know). Despite what we’ve just said, to confess the incarnation is not to say that something ‘special’ happened, if by this we mean something which ultimately ought not to have happened. The incarnation is, in its own way, entirely ‘natural’ or ‘appropriate’ to how this God creates and relates to us. What we call the incarnation is ‘merely’ an affirmation or filling out of the creation itself: this is the sort of world we live in: one from which no part is beyond God’s reach, no part outside of God’s capacity to use it for God – even death itself.

Though Mark’s gospel is a whole other world than that of 1 John, they both orbit the same sun: that the crucified, very human Jesus is the presence of very God (‘God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God’): the home of God is with mortals (Revelation 21.3).

This means that what we consider natural and familiar now comes to be an entirely new thing. And this means that our reception of the world, our approach to the people around us changes. It becomes natural to act unnaturally: to love the stranger, to help those who have no claim on our help, to give to those who have done nothing to deserve it, to forgive what could not before have been forgiven.

That Jesus lived and died as he did – that his was a life defined by giving – is not only what he did because he was the Messiah. It is also that he is the Messiah because that is what he does: he gives, in life and in death, and in this way he is the place at which God meets us and gives us our very being.

Jesus ‘becomes’ like us in life and death that we might become like him in life and death; this is unexpected love which makes us unexpected lovers.

Let us, then, open ourselves to how God would charge the world with himself, and live and love has God has done – to our greater humanity and God’s greater glory.


MtE Update – September 21 2018

  1. We will gather for conversation following worship THIS Sunday September 23 to hear and discuss information on the proposed subdivision of the MtE site for divestment and some building concept options for the new complex. September-November will be a period of considerable input into design of the new buildings. This will not be a formal congregational meeting but will set us up for important decision-making about the project over the next few months.
  2. If you’re interested in following up further the material Robert Gribben presented last week on the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, you might be interested in looking at his book on the subject; some copies are available here ($10 plus postage…). It can also be consulted at the theological library at the CTM. (Robert Gribben, Uniting in Thanksgiving, The Great Prayers of the Uniting Church in Australia,  Melbourne: UAP, 2008.  It has three parts: (1) The Genealogy of the Great Prayer; (2), a commentary on the texts and (3) A Practical Commentary).
  3. A pastoral letter from the UCA Assembly President on church governance (and the recent marriage resolution).
  4. Our readings this week are ‘contrived’ from various lectionary resources to help our reading further into last week’s gospel reading; click on the following for some background to the texts: Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Mark 8.31-38.
  5. Other things potentially of interest

Brunswick Uniting Church is offering a forum on the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation

  1. Old News

Our series on the Ten Commandments will return for 4 consecutive weeks in October; if you were planning get one of suggested background reading resources for this series but haven’t yet, now’s a good time to order it!

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 24B; Proper 19B (Sunday between September 11 and September 17)

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.

Proverbs 1: 20-33 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 19

James 3: 1-12 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Mark 8: 27-38 see also By the Well podcast on this text

9 September – On being careful what you pray for

View or print as a PDF

Pentecost 16

1 John 5:14-21
Psalm 146
Mark 7:24-37

In a sentence:
We pray for those things for which the church gives thanks

There is to be a lot – again – going on in our reading today. While I’ll focus on just one aspect of the passage, I suspect that the point drawn from that illuminates the other seemingly problematic and challenging assertions John makes here. I’ll leave the work of finding that illumination to the hearers and readers of what I do say!

* * * *

Conventional wisdom has it that we ought to be careful what we pray for, lest we actually get it.

The point here – not often made explicit – is that we don’t know what to pray for, that we don’t see clearly enough our confusions about our needs, and so we shoot prayer off in the wrong direction.

What, then, should we pray for, keeping in mind that our answer must be a specifically Christian one, springing from of what we know about the God who deals with us in Jesus? John helps us with this in our final text from his first letter today: pray for those things which are ‘according to God’s will’.

Immediately, of course, the question arises, What then does God will? Again, John helps: we have heard over and over in our meandering through the letter that God wills only one thing which might be expressed in two ways: that we believe that Jesus is the Son, that we love one another.

Put differently, God wills reconciliation, for this is the substance of God’s work in Jesus and of the life of love we are to live. We pray for reconciliation because reconciliation is what God does, what God gives. Praying for something which God does not give – the answer to the exam question, the parking spot in front of the bank or even, perhaps, the long and happy life – is not prayer in the Christian sense.

It is God’s will that the world be reconciled to God and to itself, and it is this for which we are to pray. The absence of such Godly reconciliation is seen in human hubris and selfishness; it is seen in the fear of our creaturely mortality and the denial of the life of the body; it is seen in the borders and the ‘-isms’ which drive us apart. To pray according to the will of God is to pray that those things be taken away which divide us from God, from each other, and from peace with ourselves.

Prayer is, then, ultimately not prayer that this or that thing happen or not happen – it is not a kind of spiritual technology for getting things done. Prayer is our stand against sin and its divisive effect. (In passing, we might note that John moves directly from the affirmation about prayer to praying for sinners).

More specifically, Christian prayer is prayer that we never despair, that we never collapse into action or attitude which expresses that, in the end, not the God who raises the dead but some other is Go – perhaps Death itself. The sin against which we pray is not naughtiness; it is the false perception of who really is God, and so the wrong conviction about where hope really lies. The final verse of John’s letter, ‘Keep yourselves from idols,’ seems to hang rather strangely from nothing in the text unless we see that it is as much a remark about what prayer is, as it is about who we are to pray to.

We can never know in advance precisely what prayer for reconciliation sound like, for it springs from a particular situation. Yet the basic orientation of a Christian’s prayer is given in the established prayers of the church. Specifically, if we want to know what to pray for, we look to what it is for which the church gives thanks. This is because when the church gives thanks as the church, it does so in its priestly function in the world. The church responds on behalf of the world to what God gives to the world: the promise and ongoing work towards the reconciliation of all things with God.

The thanksgiving prayer of the church sits at the centre of its liturgy – at least its theological centre, even if it might be the first prayer in a particular liturgy. This prayer ‘controls’ the other prayers of the service, which either lead up to the thanksgiving, or follow from it. In our liturgy here at MtE, thanksgiving features principally in the ‘great prayer’ of the Eucharist (‘the Eucharist’ means, from Greek, ‘the Thanksgiving’).  This prayer gives an account of gift of creation and the gift of salvation.

The familiar Great Prayer from Uniting in Worship – heard often enough here and in other Uniting Churches – runs like this:

Thanks and praise, glory and honour are rightly yours,
our Lord and God,
for you alone are worthy.

In time beyond our dreaming
you brought forth life out of darkness,
and in the love of Christ your Son
you set man and woman at the heart of your creation.
We thank you that you called a covenant people
to be a light to the nations.
Through Moses you taught us to love your law,
and in the prophets you cried out for justice.

In the fullness of your mercy
you became one with us in Jesus Christ,
who gave himself up for us on the cross.
You make us alive together with him,
that we may rejoice in his presence
and share his peace.

By water and the Spirit
you open the kingdom to all who believe,
and welcome us to your table:
for by grace we are saved, through faith.

This might be said in any number of ways but the point today is not to thanksgiving it itself. Rather, we are to see in it the clue as to what we are to pray for – those things which the prayer declares God gives. We are to pray that the thanksgiving of the Great Prayer be truly our thanksgiving, that our lives be lived in the assurance of that reconciliation with God, with ourselves and in ourselves that the prayer names.

We will all, at times, be poor, sick, hurt, disappointed, oppressed, afraid or guilty. The words we say in our prayer will be expressed in these terms, although we may not receive what we asked for in the terms we asked, because brokenness does not define wholeness.

The basic prayer of the church on behalf of the world is that God be ours, and we be God’s: your kingdom come, your will be done – earth be heaven. Another biblical writer in the family of John put the object of prayer this way: that the home of God be among mortals,
that he will dwell with them;
that they be his peoples,
and God himself be with them;
that he wipe every tear from their eyes; that Death will be no more; nor mourning or crying or pain (c.f. Revelation 21.3f).

Whatever it is which causes us to turn to God in prayer, this is the substance of what we pray for, and it is no mean prayer.

The guarantee of God’s response to this prayer is that it is God’s own desire that it be so, and that God gives us what he desires for us.

Let us, then, meet God’s desire with our own, and pray as he wills, that all which God has to give us will indeed be ours.

MtE Update – September 7 2018

  1. The latest VicTas Synod eNews is here.
  2. LATE UPDATE: After worship next Sunday September 16 our reflections on worship will continue with Robert Gribben speaking on the “Great Prayer of Thanksgiving” in the Eucharist.
  3. There will be a meeting following worship on Sunday 23 September to hear and discuss information on the proposed subdivision of the MtE site for divestment and some building concept options for the new complex. September-November will be a period of considerable input into design of the new buildings – more details to come!
  4. A further pastoral letter from the UCA Assembly President on the marriage resolution, the new marriage service, and other things. This comment on the character of the Assembly debate may be of interest.
  5. Our focus for this Sunday will be 1 John 5.14-21
  6. Visions of the Invisible: An Icon Exhibition of the Uniting Church Icon Schools

Icons painted by members of the three Icon Schools during the past 12 months – 10 are for sale, at the Centre for Theology and Ministry, 29 College Cres, Parkville. 10 September to 22 October 2018, 9.00-5.00 Monday-Friday

Official Launch on Saturday 15 September 2018 by Rev Dr Rob Gallacher, 2.00 – 4.00pm; Info: 9434 4742

« Older Entries