Monthly Archives: June 2020

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 14A; Proper 9A (July 3-July 9)

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

Series I: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 45 or Song of Songs 2:8-13 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Series II: NT to be updated when available

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Romans 7:15-25a

Ezekiel – That they might know I am the Lord

Over the period from August to October 2020 — COVID-19 willing!!! — our principal focus for Sunday sermon reflections will be the writings of the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel appears in the Revised Common Lectionary cycle about 10 times, although largely as a ‘supporting artist’, complementing other readings or events in the liturgical calendar. Our 2020 series will be to look more closely at the preaching of the prophet himself, now supported by whatever other texts pops up in the Lectionary on those Sundays.

Ezekiel is a ‘long haul’ read, and attention to the whole of the text in detail would take a couple of years of Sundays! We will, instead, draw from the text via a series of themes central to Ezekiel, in order to develop a picture of his proclamation and what it might mean for us today. The principal text(s) for the coming Sunday’s reflection will be made known via the weekly MtE Update posts on our home page.

Preparing for the series

Whether you are going to be following the services online or attending MtE once we’re back for worship post-COVID-19, you’ll find it helpful to read the whole of Ezekiel. It’s a long text, and may take a couple of sittings.

Good support for this reading can be found from the Bible Project’s summary of the book in two videos — Part 1 and Part 2 (about 15 minutes in total) — and from Professor Christine Hayes’ introduction to Ezekiel in her Yale lectures (about the first 30 minutes of this lecture). A text intro with a structural breakdown of the book can be found here.


Two possibilities include Nancy Bowen’s ‘Ezekiel’ (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary – full range of purchase options), or Bruce Vawter and Leslie J. Hoppe’s ‘Ezekiel: A New Heart’ (International theological commentary – full range of purchase options. The Interpretation commentary series is also a reliable resource; the Ezekiel one can be previewed here, with a full range of purchase options (paperback) here (hardback and e-versions are also available). These three commentaries haven’t been sighted (libraries are not yet open on the COVID-19 regime!) but can be expected to be quite accessible and are commended on the basis for the quality of the series of which they are parts.

For the intrepid, Robert Jenson’s Ezekiel is a thorough commentary from a historical-theological perspective. Full range of purchase options, also available on Kindle.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 28 June 2020

The worship service for Sunday 28 June 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

28 June – Beyond good and bad

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Pentecost 4

Romans 6:12-23
Psalm 13
Matthew 10:40-42

In a sentence
Ever tempted to justify ourselves before God, God sweeps our efforts aside and embraces us regardless

In our reading from Romans today, it seems that Paul is going round and round in circles and drawing contrasts which are too stark to maintain.

Indeed, there is a going-in-circles in his argument here, although it is more a matter of him following a helical path – as in a corkscrew. Around and around he goes, but making progress in another dimension – in a direction ‘above’ any of his circling, adding metaphor upon metaphor to develop the contrasts his proclamation of the gospel requires.

But what about those stark contrasts? Central to our passage today are themes of slavery and dominion. Paul holds that we are all enslaved by something, and he reduces these to just two alternatives: slaves to sin, or slaves to righteousness. At first hearing this seems too simple, for surely we are capable of both good and bad. Are we not, then, sometimes ‘enslaved’ by the temptation to do the wrong thing and sometimes freed to do the right thing? It seems Paul needs more ‘balance’ in his account of how we are and how we behave. ‘Balancing’ Paul is what many of his readers spend a good deal of time trying to do.

But this is to miss the force of ‘slavery’, and then to miss what Paul means by righteousness. ‘Slaves’ are subject only to one master; vacillating between masters is not an option. If Paul is consistent here, and we know that we are capable of both good and bad, then both bad and good works on our part fall under the one heading – under the one slavery – which would be Paul’s ‘slavery to sin’. This is where most of us part company with him, and also with his gospel, because for us ‘doing the right thing’ is the meaning not of sin but of righteousness.

Yet, to speak of righteousness as simply doing the right thing lands us back where we were last week. There we considered our tendency to justify sin in terms of its necessity: if I had to do it, then it is not sin, and so in accord with what God commands. This is a negative approach to righteousness – our defence against a charge of having done wrong.

A positive approach to righteousness would to be to do what God has commanded because God has commanded it, for it is a ‘safe’ thing to do. If asked by the Judge why we did such and such, we can happily point to where it is commanded in the law.

Yet, in either case – whether defending ourselves against a charge of unrighteousness, or claiming righteousness for having worked according to God’s law – the law we point to to justify ourselves is external to the relationship we have to God. That is, the law stands between us as a barrier to be overcome, or as a third party with whom we have to check before we and God know that we are in positive relation to each other. If we imagine, then, that we are sometimes slaves to sin and sometimes slaves to righteousness, we end up keeping a balance sheet, seeking to ensure that we are in the black. This kind of righteousness might impress the locals but it places divine commands and our efforts to meet them between us and God as something in their own right, as something by which even God is bound.

Nowhere in such a dynamic is God the God who justifies sinners, for we are constantly required to justify ourselves with reference to the law and God’s hands are tied by this. This means that good news for those who cannot write their own good news is entirely erased.

The stark contrasts Paul draws – between grace and works, Adam and Christ, death and life, sin and righteousness – have their energy in a radical re-imagination of what it means to stand before God. Righteousness is not what we do or can justify to defend ourselves against God. For Paul there is no defence against God, and there is no need to defend ourselves. Righteousness is, rather, what God does to bring justification and relationship with God.

The law is not erased, but neither is it God’s reference point when considering us. In Paul’s terms, being right with God by doing the right thing is displaced from our spiritual imagination with ‘faith’. This is not mere belief – believing for example that God ‘exists’ or that God wants us to do certain things. Faith here is openness to God’s gift of life and blessing, as a simple gift.

The good life – the life of doing good – is still part of our calling, but it is now no longer our way into God but our way ‘out of’ or from God. Good works move from grace, and do not now seek to secure it. Good works, then, become a repetition of grace.

We give richly because we have received richly. We give to liberate and not to bind. We give, in mercy, what is needed but has not been earned.

In all this life flows from grace, with grace, for the purposes of grace. This is God’s gift and call.

Let us then, not from compulsion or anxiety but in joy and freedom, receive the gift and answer the call, that we might become what God gives us.

MtE Update – 26 June 2020

  1. Hotham Mission at Work update
  2. This week’s Synod eNews
  3. A friends of Vallore fundraising appeal
  4. This week June 28 we continue with set RCL readings, looking again at the selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Some introductory comment on the readings for Sunday can be found here.
  5. A brief account of ministry of the saint(s) commemorated this Sunday can be found here: June 28 – Irenaeus

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 13A; Proper 8A (June 26-July 2)

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

Series I: Genesis 22:1-14 see also the By the Well podcast on this text and  Psalm 13

Series II:

Matthew 10:40-42 see also the By the Well podcast on this text

Romans 6:12-23

Sunday Worship at MtE – 21 June 2020

The worship service for Sunday 21 June 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

21 June – Reasonable sin

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Pentecost 3

Romans 6:1b-11
Psalm 86
Matthew 10:24-39

In a sentence
To free us from necessary sin, God kills us in order that we might know the freedom of Jesus

The thing about sin, not immediately obvious to most sinners, is that the sinner will generally argue that it is ‘necessary’ that the wrong thing be done. We rationalise what we do – perhaps especially when we have knowingly done the wrong thing – and in this way we make wrong-doing necessary, unavoidable. If it is unavoidable, we cannot fairly be held to account for our actions. This is the genius of the accomplished sinner.

And so it becomes justifiable to kneel on a man’s neck so heavily and so long that he dies, for he was potentially a dangerous man; and riots and looting are a justifiable response to that calculation, for surely they have put us down for too long; and sending in the troops to ‘dominate’ the streets is surely justifiable because perhaps the looting is not justifiable after all. This is a chain of ‘if-then’ connections: if I don’t do this bad thing, worse things will happen. If I do do this bad thing, then worse things won’t happen. I am not free here, my hand is being forced. If it is sin, it is also necessary.

This applies in any scenario when we feel we need to justify to ourselves or to someone else a decision we have made: spending more on your next car than you really need to, indulging in online porn or not going to church on Sundays (when that is health-safe!). We have rational justifications by which we seek to persuade the judge, the Twittersphere or God that the agreed rules of engagement made it necessary that we did what we did.

We might even add: if God would only make it that our hands were not tied in this way, then we would not have to sin. In the passage we have heard from Romans today, Paul proposes that God indeed frees us from the necessity of doing the wrong thing.

How? God frees us by killing us. God’s liberation is as strange as this.

Today’s passage from Paul has him in mid-flight through a rather complex account of the human condition, around the themes of sin, law and death. At the centre is that God gives us a death linked to the death of Jesus. It is this death which liberates us.

Death is a useful metaphor here because if there is one thing we can say about the dead, it is that they are free of necessity. The dead truly can do nothing, and so truly need do nothing.

The only thing the dead can do is what they are told – either ‘stay dead’ (which is fairly straightforward) – or, in the instance of creation or resurrection, ‘stop being dead’. Having no other option, the dead must rise if there is one who can bring this about, for they can put no argument that they need to do something else. The ‘freedom of Jesus’ is that he, being properly dead, is then in a position to be raised from the dead at God’s command. Jesus being raised is now, surprisingly, simply a matter of obedience.

Paul argues: you must die in the same way, so that you might be raised to a newness of life – dead to the necessities of sin, and alive to God. Surprisingly, being dead to having to justify our actions corresponds to being alive to the freedom of Jesus.

In the life-and-death of Jesus, we are given a humanity which does not have to justify itself. For there is no longer any reference point outside of the God who commands, who addresses. And so there is no means by which we can test that we have done the right thing, no third party justification for not obeying.

Of course, we want such points of reference and will scarcely give them up. We might comfort ourselves with the justification that ‘blacks’ deserve to be treated that way, or that white privilege and affluence justifies rioting and looting, or that peace demands sending in the troops. But this doesn’t work. In this situation, and in all other cycles of violence and retribution, there is always another ‘necessity’ which arises from another point of view, out of the now changed circumstances, justifying more violation.

What does all this mean?

For Christians it means that violence does not justify violence, whether it is the crushing of a possibly dangerous man, the trashing of the shops of the privileged or the threat of violence from armed soldiers. Acting inhumanely – sinfully – has no justification.

But it also means that having power and privilege does not mean that these cannot be shared. It means that wealth – which we think must necessarily be guarded – can be given away. We cannot justify the great differences in power and privilege which cause others to calculate justifications for sin.

It is when the alleged necessities which serve as self-justification are allowed to fall away that the unexpected possibilities of freedom suddenly open up, that grace begins its work. It is to this freedom in grace that Paul calls us.

But let us also understand that letting go of ‘justified’ sin doesn’t mean that very much is likely to change in the wider world. Or we might say that as much will change as changed with the crucifixion of Jesus. Grace is not a ‘method’, is not a means to a calculated end. Means-to-ends are calculations, rationalisations: if this, then that.

Grace certainly brings freedom. Yet, though it might free me, you may not yet be free. This makes you dangerous and can lead to such things as well-rationalised crucifixions: ‘it is better that one die than that the whole people be lost’ (John 11.50).

Grace brings freedom but does not know what happens next. This is because the freedom is a freedom to respond to the command of God: Sleepers awake, rise from the dead. Obediently responding to this call, we then wait to hear what we are to do next.

Dead to all rationalisations of sin, we are free to do what is right, for God’s sake and for the sake of those wait to see God’s righteousness working through us.

Let us, rise and respond, presenting ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. For sin has no dominion over us, no argument by which to persuade us not to live the rich and free humanity God commands.

MtE Update – 19 June 2020

  1. Our study groups wind up the current series this week. A continuation of the Old Testament overview series will commence again in the third week of July, following the school holidays. 
  2. News from the Justice and International Mission Cluster (June 15)
  3. This week’s Synod eNews  (June 18)
  4. A friends of Vallore fundraising appeal
  5. If you’ve not had a look lately, check out what’s happening at Hotham Mission
  6. Hotham Mission in the local news…
  7. This week June 21 we conclude return to the set RCL readings for a at least a few weeks. Background to the readings for Sunday can be found here.
  8. A brief account of ministry of the saint(s) commemorated this Sunday can be found here: June 24 – John the Baptist

Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures PARTS 3 and 4 (October-December 2020)

Our 2020 fourth quarter study group will complete the overview of the Old Testament we have been working through this year, utilising some excellent online lectures and materials from Christine Hayes at Yale University. These lectures provide a solid introduction to the OT as a whole as well as an introduction to critical historical work done on the OT over the last two centuries.

The material for each week is given on the ‘Illuminating Faith’ links here, the first five weeks’ material in Part 3 and the final weeks’ material in part 4:

Illuminating Faith – PART 3 of Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures

Illuminating Faith – PART 4 of Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures

The version of the transcript Yale provided here is reformatted for printing, with added paragraph numbers for reference in our discussions. (The original lecture series and its associated resources can be found here. The ‘Sessions’ tab brings up the full list of lectures, and clicking on each brings up the video, text and any other resources (occasional handouts, etc.) relating to that session.)


There are two groups running; feel free to shift around between groups as you need to! The groups will again meet via the ZOOM video conferencing platform. The Wednesday group will meet at 7.45pm via Zoom (starting October 7), and the Friday group via Zoom at 1.30pm (starting October 9) . If you are not already on the reading group list or have not otherwise received the meeting link, you can request it here: <>. Meetings will be open a few minutes before the start time for you to check your connection. For info about setting up Zoom, see here.

Preparing for the discussions

Prior to each session, watch the lecture via the links below, or read the transcript. There is also an audio-only version of the lectures available on the Yale course homepage under the ‘Sessions’ tab — click on the session you want and the audio can be downloaded at the bottom of the session page. For most sessions there is a section of biblical text which it would be helpful to read in conjunction with Hayes’ lectures, and usually a reference to the Jewish Study Bible (JSB) which will assist those who have a copy.

A book companion to the series as a whole, which some might consider buying, is The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. It is not exactly cheap – being around $AU65 new. As well as providing a Jewish reading of the Hebrew Bible, it has a great deal of comment in the margins of each page as well as introductory essays to each of the Old Testament books and scholarly articles on history, interpretation, and so forth. It is a book which will likely serve purchasers well for a long time. A look at the ‘Look Inside’ feature for the book on Amazon might be worthwhile, if you’re considering getting a copy. See here for a range of online sources for this book.

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