Monthly Archives: March 2021

Sunday Worship at MtE – 28 March 2021

The worship service for Sunday 28 March 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

MtE Update – March 25 2021

  1. News from the Justice and International Mission (March 23)
  2. Our Lenten studies finish up this week. The next study series will be a survey of the New Testament, commencing online after the Easter school holidays, Wednesday night and Friday afternoons. This is a great course using online video (lectures), complemented by printed transcripts. Details of the NT studies can be found here. We are also looking at the possibility of running an online series again on the Old Testament if there is interest
  3. Our Holy Week and Easter services details are here
  4. This coming Sunday March 28, being Passion/Palm Sunday, will feature a reading of the Passion of the Christ according to St Mark, with psalms, hymns, prayers and Eucharist. Some comment on this text (Mark 14-15) can be found here.

Old News

  1. AGM — April 18, following worship

Sunday Worship at MtE – 21 March 2021

The worship service for Sunday 21 March 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

21 March – We wish to see Jesus

View or print as a PDF

Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
John 12:20-33

In a sentence
In baptism we take on the humanity of Jesus, and God’s love of him, as our own

In our reading from John’s Gospel this morning, some people approach one of the disciples and ask, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’.

Gathering as we will soon around the baptismal font, what do we wish to see?

We will see a child – a vital energetic boy, who may or may not co-operate with what we are going to do him! We will see in him innocence – for the most part! – possibility, promise, hope. We will see his parents and their love and devotion to him.

Now consider, instead, that we were gathering today for the baptism of a middle-aged woman. Her couple of marriages – and a few other marriage-like ‘arrangements’ – haven’t quite worked out. She has said and done quite a bit she regrets, has hurt many of those who loved her, and her possibility, promise and hope have largely been exhausted.

Such a person would have much in her past to overcome; for little Finn, what might have to be overcome is still in the future. For Finn, what is going to happen today will be without his permission and quite beyond his comprehension. For our imagined woman, a baptism would be thoroughly intentional and with at least some modicum of understanding. She would speak for herself; today, others will speak for Finn.

It would seem that two such people are far enough apart in their history, their present reality and their prospects as to make their baptisms entirely different things. For what has infant possibility got to do with middle-aged actuality? What has open promise got to do with proven disappointment? What has innocence got to do with guilt? What has the non-belief of an unwitting infant got to do with the belief of a consenting mature adult?

We must be able to answer questions like these because the baptism of a lively infant and the baptism of a weary mature woman are the same. The water does not know whether we are young or old, and the prayers do not know whether we are innocent or guilty.

We must, of course, each be some of these things. We will be strong or weak, poor or rich, young or old, ill or healthy, wise or stupid.

But baptism is there for all of us, regardless of what we see in the mirror. We might say that, when we are in baptismal mode, we are all innocent, regardless of what we have done, or that we are all guilty, regardless of what we have done: we are – each of us – young and old; we are – each of us – promise and disappointment.

This is to say, then, that there is an important sense in which baptism is not about us at all – at least, not about us as we imagine ourselves to be. As we request baptism, do our preparation, make our plans, gather into this space, pray the prayers, splash the water and make our commitments, what is glaringly obvious to us is just us, we who are gathered here today.

But, finally, to get here and understand where we are, is to find ourselves equalised, levelled. It is these days only the most Christianly ‘religious’ people who are baptised but religion is not the point here. The point here is to say something about humanity – the humanity of the religious and non-religious – in all its height and depth, its richness and its poverty. We say to the one baptised – surely, a most strange thing – ‘You are human’. This is not because he is young, and healthy, and white, and has likely landed in secure social and economic station in life. Someone, of course, has to be these things, just as others are other things. But whatever we are – white or black, straight or gay, old or young, poor or rich – these things do not define us, do not set our outer limits. We exceed all that we appear to be. This exceeding – this ‘more’ – is our connectedness to each other.

I am not myself only – you are part of me. If we wanted to tell the human story properly, we would have to tell the story of everyone who ever lived. We cannot do that, of course. This is, in part, because there are too many stories to tell. Yet, more poignantly, it is also because we don’t really believe that all those stories have the same merit; some are less human than we. This is what we proclaim when we allow male to dominate female, white to dominate black, Christian to dominate Jew, Israeli to dominate Palestinian, rich to dominate poor. In these dynamics, we declare that our humanity is not extended by the other but diminished.

We cannot tell the story of everyone, and we also don’t want to.

To this inability and hesitation, baptism is an answer. In baptism we set in place one story ‘over’ every story. This is not the story of the person baptised – not today Finn’s story, just as it was not mine when I was baptised or any of yours when you were baptised. The one story we tell is that of Jesus. Instead of telling his story alongside mine and yours and everyone else’s in a hopeless attempt to be comprehensive, we tell his story and join ours to his, one baptism at a time.

Why the story of Jesus? Because of what is said of him in the Scriptures: he is the one both closest to God – the Son, the image of God – and as far from God as one can be, in death by crucifixion. He is the one-for-others whose very humanity is for and by his connections to his friends and his enemies, and he is also the one rejected because he is too dangerous to tolerate or to be friend of. Jesus is the one who extends us, and also the one who threatens our sense of our humanity, who does not extend us but would diminish us. Jesus is everything and nothing.

We began by asking, What has infant possibility got to do with old-aged actuality? What has open promise before us got to do with proven disappointment behind us? What has innocence got to do with guilt? What has the non-belief of an unwitting infant got to do with the belief of a consenting mature adult?

What has everything to do with nothing? To ask questions like these is to have in our mind that this or that characteristic is more worthy, more valuable, more human. Our faith contradicts this: it is not enough to see only those things we think matter the most.

‘Sir’, those old Greeks asked, ‘we wish to see Jesus’. Why? Because to see him is to see the fullness of human being – the everything and the nothing – in the form of just one of us. And it is not simply to see this breadth but to see it embraced by God. The cross is the depth of what we can do – the nothing – and the height of what God can do – everything.

God’s arms around Jesus, if we are joined to him, are God’s arms around us.

To see Jesus in God’s arms is to see ourselves there.

As we gather to baptise, this is what we should wish to see.

MtE Update – March 18 2021

  1. The most recent Synod eNews (Mar 18)
  2. The most recent Presbytery News is here. (March 16)
  3. See the Hotham Mission home page for information about a new program for young women, at Kensington.
  4. This coming Sunday March 21 we will give Job a rest in view of the baptism to be celebrated, and hear several of the readings set for the day; details and some comment can be found here.

Old News

  1. Lenten study details are now finalised (with a recent, slight change t the presenters!): Wednesdays 10, 17 and 24, and Fridays 12, 19 and 26, and possibly others. The Friday series will be online — easy to get to, and a great conversion! The audio recordings and other materials are available via the above link.

Advance Dates

  1. AGM — April 18, following worship

Sunday Worship at MtE – 14 March 2021

The worship service for Sunday 14 March 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

14 March – Jesus, the dark light of the world

View or print as a PDF

Lent 4

Job 24:1-17
Psalm 107
John 3:14-21

In a sentence
Moral righteousness can only limit and deny; God’s righteousness heals and creates.

The news has lately been filled with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse even within the highest house in the land. These reports are sad additions to the many horrific stories we have heard over the last few years. Victims – typically victims of powerful men – have begun to find their voice and, in the main, these voices are surely to be believed.

In all of this, we hear an echo of Job’s complaint about the way of the unjust in the world: the thief, the murderer, the abuser and the powerful act under cover of darkness: ‘deep darkness is morning to all of them; for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness’ (24.17). The darkness, of course, extends beyond the dark of night. It can be behind the locked door of the school counsellor’s office or beyond the barbed wire of the concentration camp. It can be a detention centre on a distant island or mere social convention: the darkness which is our hesitation to talk openly about certain things.

The more recent voicing of Job’s complaint has led to increasingly loud calls for inquiries and commissions and investigations, has led to the demand for light. Strong and bright daylight is to be brought to bear to reveal what has been done in the dark, and by whom.

Such a seeking of light is not new to us. In the last generation, we have sought light via a significant inquiry into the separation of indigenous children from their families, royal commissions into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, into trade union governance and corruption, into child protection and youth detention, into banking and financial service, into aged care quality and safety, and into the exploitation of people with disability. And an inquiry into wrongs against Aboriginal people in Victoria is about to begin.

Not to put too fine a point on all this, we are experiencing a radical disruption: an exposure of works wrought in darkness which challenges assumptions about how the world does or should work. And many of us find ourselves blinking against the sudden light.

In our reading from John this morning, Jesus uses light and darkness to characterise the contexts within which people live and act:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

Yet John’s account of light and darkness in his Gospel goes beyond the necessary but merely moral illumination of our formal investigations and commissions into the dark places in our midst. For the Gospel, light is not quite the ‘answer’ to darkness, not its moral opposite.

In the opening verses of John’s Gospel, we hear of the coming into the world of a light which the darkness does not overcome, extinguish or comprehend (1.4f). Yet, it not as straightforward as might first seem, to say that the light is not overcome.

We are to understand, of course, that the light is Jesus, which becomes more explicit later in the gospel (John 8.12; cf. also John 9 and the theme of blindness). But what are we make of the crucifixion? Does the darkness – if ever so briefly – overcome the light at this point? The easy answer is, Yes. We might imagine Jesus to be like one of those trick candles which, once blown out, flickers back after a couple of seconds. The darkness pulls Jesus under, so to speak, but he holds his breath and wriggles free and resurfaces. The overcoming of the light here is only fleeting and so, perhaps, doesn’t count.

But John would push us deeper here. At the beginning of our Gospel reading today, Jesus invokes an old story from Israel’s history about a bronze serpent lifted high on a pole as a sign by which people might be saved. The details needn’t bother us here today except that Jesus now likens himself to that serpent and its saving powers. The ‘lifting up’ of Jesus now, however, refers to the crucifixion and yet not only the crucifixion. Several times in John’s Gospel, the phrase ‘lifted up’ is used to denote both the cross and a flag-waving social, political and religious elevation – a kind of enthronement (cf. 8.28, 12.31ff). These two types of ‘lifting up’ coincide in the one moment: Jesus is ‘enthroned’ on the cross.

To jump a couple of steps and to compress into a single statement what this means for Jesus as the light, we might say that Jesus becomes the light in the crucifixion. The light which is Jesus and the darkness of the cross cannot be simply – morally – separated. The light which is Jesus is not merely ‘against’ the darkness. It is a ‘dark’ light, a light shining out of the dark cross. The darkness does not – even in the crucifixion – extinguish the light because the crucifixion is the light claiming the darkness, not so much washing it away as ‘un-darking’ it, putting it to work now not as darkness but as light.

Contrast this now with the necessary but merely moral work unfolding in the – entirely justifiable – outrage around us. Our exposés and inquiries and investigative commissions are in defence of those who, we might say, have been crucified by powers exercised in darkness. It doesn’t go too far to characterise the sexual harassment of a subordinate in this way, or the bloody backblock decimation of indigenous communities. Crucifixion was no mere execution. It was precisely about dislodging someone from their own self-perception into our own perception of them and does not require wood or nails to be effected.

But, as important as it is that we illuminate the dynamics of power and the real abuse which happens in our midst, identifying the crucified Jesus as the light of the world reveals something quite different from what can be revealed by the floodlights of moral outrage.

The moral light will reveal fault. It will reveal where power lies, who has it, how they have abused it. The moral light, however, can only condemn, demand restitution and regulate the lighting of more lamps so that the dark can’t provide cover again, at least in that place.

The dark light of the gospel doesn’t do this. The bright light of our justice brings condemnation but the dark light of the gospel does not: ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3.17). The dark light of the gospel is concerned not with the dark but with what people do in it. It is concerned with the reality that we find the dark ‘useful,’ and with our capacity to seek out and create dark places. The light of the world ends up on the cross, and this is the judgement of the world: that darkness prevails among us. Moral indignation will not overcome this, whatever real good it might do for those subject to the darkness of others.

The light on the cross never leaves the darkness of the cross behind. The saviour – even risen from the dead – is always the Crucified One, always a dark light: a light which shines from dark things. God does not banish the darkness but works it into light. Like the bush in the old story, the cross burns with brilliant light but is not consumed; this light is always ‘crosslight’.

And so, crucified and risen, Jesus is the light of the world, not as a threat to dark places but their hope. The promise is not of a world morally erased, of persons morally cancelled, but of hearts transformed.

Put differently, we could say that, whatever else heaven might be, it is populated with agile cripples, the seeing blind, the rich poor, forgiving victims, forgiven perpetrators, holy blasphemers: all, in their own particular way, illuminated darkness, the risen dead. What is dark, debilitating, discriminatory, diseased and deathly – whatever marks us as victims or perpetrators – these things are the nothingness out which God creates, the grave out of which God resurrects.

This is the word of the cross, its foolish wisdom, its strong weakness, its scandal – its moral scandal. Our developing culture of cancellation is the sign that we cannot create out of nothing, bring life out of death. The light which is the cross is the sign that God can.

And more than can; God will create us.

For if the darkness of the cross is our own darkness – if it is, as we considered last time, we-in-Job who are crucified – then so also is the light of the cross our own: the light which God will make us to be.

It is in this light that we are to work, to live and to love: eyes being opened to the darkness, and looking to see it transformed by the grace of God.

MtE Update – March 11 2021

  1. Congregational Meeting — THIS SUNDAY March 14, following worship.
  2. WORSHIP UPDATE: From this Sunday March 14 we will only wear facemasks during the singing of the principal hymns (usually at the opening, before communion and at the end). Masking for the quieter communion sung responses will not be necessary. 
  3. News from the Justice and International Mission Cluster  (March 9).
  4. The most recent Synod eNews (Mar 4)
  5. Lenten study details are now finalised (with a recent, slight change t the presenters!): Wednesdays 10, 17 and 24, and Fridays 12, 19 and 26, and possibly others. The Friday series will be online — easy to get to, and a great conversion! The first audio recording is now available via the above link. It’s NOT TOO LATE to join the Friday group for the whole series, or to join in Wednesday nights for the two remaining sessions!
  6. This coming Sunday March 14 worship we will return to more thought about Job (24.1-17), although with a focus on the set gospel reading as a ‘resolution’ of Job’s question. Some background on this week’s readings can be found here.

Advance Dates

  1. AGM — April 18, following worship

7 March – The Silence of God’s Creation and the Sweetness of God’s Law

View or print as a PDF

Lent 3

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Sermon preached by Rev. Em. Prof. Robert Gribben


Our old friend, Professor Howard Wallace, used to remind both faculty and students that the psalms were not just another reading in the menu which the lectionary sets forth. In congregations like ours which regularly sing a psalm, it’s easy to think of it as a stepping-stone between the First and the Second Testaments, and to give it little thought.

Please listen again to the Ten Commandments, and to St Paul’s wonderful epistle, but today I’m with Howard, and I will stay with the psalm.


‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.’
(Ps. 19:14)

Many preachers have begun our sermons with that verse, the last in this beautiful and well-loved psalm. But it is more challenging than it seems: on what grounds would I assume that my words might be acceptable to God? Because a rock was a safe place, out there, exposed on the mountain before my enemies; the redeemer is the kinsman who pays the price of my release from slavery. These are the sinner King David’s images of the God on whom he depends for life and liberty.

The text of this familiar psalm in today’s service sheet will be new to you; when something is too familiar, it loses its impact, so I hope you may see some new things today. It comes from a new translation made by an official group of the Roman Catholic church, and I find it very fresh.

The psalmist begins by holding up two of the gifts of God, gifts which require a humble and grateful response: God’s creation and God’s law.

As a boy I used to go out at night into our backyard and look at the stars. In a small town in the Goulburn Valley in the 1940s, you could still see them. I was then – and still am when I manage to escape the urban light – utterly awed by the sight. You feel you are looking through a veil of lights to the infinite depths of space.

Pope Paul VI once began a homily – in French: ‘Le silence éternal de ces éspaces infinis m’effraie’.’ ‘The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me’. I think it was at the time that the astronauts first tramped on the moon. It’s a thought, a pensée, of the French philosopher Pascal. The psalmist, however, is not frightened; the sight opens his eyes and ears to the Creator.

‘O burning sun with golden beam/and silver moon with softer gleam’., and ‘fresh-rising morn, in praise rejoice/and light of evening, find a voice’ as the praise of St Francis put it. The psalmist invites us to learn ‘the genius of God’s work’.

It begins with the silence: ‘without a word, without a sound, without a voice being heard, yet their message fills the world, their news reaches its rim’. There will be a Word, as St John reminds us, a word heard and seen and touched by humankind, but the morning light enlightens us and is its herald.

Pope Francis says in his beautiful encyclical Laudato Sí, ‘It is [the humble conviction of Christians] that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet’ (#9). To look up is to look down at the earth we stand on, the earth which sustains us, the fragile earth on which everything living depends, and which today is under terminal threat – by us. ‘Day carries the news today, night brings the message to night’, but humankind has not looked or listened.

Of course, we don’t look at the Sun, but we observe its movement, as the psalm says – look beyond the sun to that vast blue dome. It is a magnificent canvas, an open marquee within which the sun makes its daily journey; its edges set the limits of its travel – for the limits of its power and purpose are set by God. The life-giving God launches the sun each day with the boldness of the bridegroom leaping from bed on his wedding day, of ‘an athlete eager to run the race’.

But this is not about stargazing and certainly not about looking at the sun, but as an ancient Mesopotamian poet put it, we are invited to read ‘the silent writing of the heavens.’ We’re also to feel it: ‘nothing on earth escapes its heat’. And think how often Jesus looked to the heavens, the waters and the earth for the lessons they taught.

So much for the first half, which may well have begun life as a separate poem, but someone joined it to the next one, the one about the law of God, the Torah. Christians might miss how Jews regard the Law unless we have the chance to be present in a synagogue on the Sabbath at the moment when the scroll is taken from the Ark, laid on the shoulder of the happy person honoured to carry it, and the congregation stands and sings – and dances. Everyone crowds to the aisle end of their row, and many reach out to touch it with their prayer shawl as it passes.  It is an ecstatic moment.

There is a slight relic of this tradition of our forebears in the procession into church with the Bible, which is intended to be a welcome to God’s Word, to indicate, in good Reformed terms, that everything that follows is a response to that Word. I sometimes wish we were a bit more excited about it!

So now we may join in the paeon of praise the psalmist heaps on God’s law. It ‘revives the soul’, it ‘guides the simple’, it ‘delights the heart and sharpens the vision’. Laws, rules, commandments, all have their uses, for the learned and the simple, when they speak of Good News. That is how Jesus applied the Law. ‘Let the children come’, ‘the sabbath was made for humankind’, ‘this temple I will rebuild in three days’, his answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, all the parables. Even ‘Take and eat’ is a command. Such laws taste good, ‘richer than honey, sweet from the comb’.

But more: ‘Keeping them makes me rich, they bring me light; yet faults hide within us, forgive me mine’. We have failings we recognize, and we have ‘unwitting sins’, ‘hidden faults’ which we do not see. The writer prays, ‘Keep my pride in check, break its grip’, a direct and clear-minded, honest confession!

But – do Christians have quite such an exalted view of the Law? Let me remind you of what the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union says of the law as the Church uses it:

#17 …The aim of such law is to confess God’s will for the life of the Church; but since law is received by human beings and framed by them, it is always subject to revision in order that it may better serve the Gospel. 

We have not always held or practised such a godly, Christian understanding of our law, in church or society.

Thomas Cranmer did when he set the Ten Commandments to be read before the confession in his Book of Common Prayer:[1] they were meant to bring you to your knees – and we tend to hear them in that way; not so our father John Calvin: he placed them after the Confession and after Assurance of Forgiveness, for he saw the commandments as a guide to right living.

And, in any case, if they came from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are read in his Spirit, these laws are comforting, strengthening, guiding words, bringing order to the chaotic tribes on the edge of the desert, touching every part of community life. We have discovered, in recent decades, as Jews and Christians have begun to talk to each other again, that for both of us, God’s law is grace.

So, we end where we began, with the psalm’s final prayer:

Keep me, thought and word, in your good grace.
Lord, you are my Saviour. You are my rock.

[1]  In his second, more Reformed attempt, in 1552.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 7 March 2021

The worship service for Sunday 7 March 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

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