Monthly Archives: July 2021

Sunday Worship at MtE – 1 August 2021

The worship service for Sunday 1 August 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 – July 30 2021

  1. Worship this Sunday August 1 will be a gathered service in the church at 10.00am – masks on for the duration of the service. The service will also be live-streamed.
  2. The most recent news from the UCA Assembly (July 28)
  3. This Sunday August 1 the service will be led by Robert Gribben and Rob Gallacher; background on the RCL texts for the service can be found here.

Other things of interest

  1. Taize-style service at Northcote ‘Chalice’ UCA 

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 34A; Proper 29A (November 20 -November 26)

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: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 see also By the Well podcast on this text 

Series II:

Matthew 25:31-46 see also By the Well podcast on this text 

Ephesians 1:15-23

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 10B; Proper 5B (Sunday between June 5 and June 11; if after Trinity Sunday)

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: 1 Samuel 8:1-20 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 138

Series II: Genesis 3:8-15 (no link) and Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Mark 3:20-35 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 15B; Proper 10B (Sunday between July 10 and July 16)

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: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 24

Ephesians 1:3-14 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Mark 6:14-29 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Sunday Worship at MtE – 25 July 2021

The worship service for Sunday 25 July 2021 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

25 July – The house of peace

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Pentecost 9

Ephesians 2:11-3:6
Psalm 91

In a sentence
God creates a peace in the midst of an unpeace bigger than we can comprehend

Those who watched the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics yesterday might have noticed the theme of peace in the speech of Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee. Yet it seems to me that, however well-intended were his words and other peace-themed elements of the opening ceremony and commentary, talk about peace deserves more.

We considered peace a few weeks back, and it appears again in today’s passage from Ephesians, and so we’ll press more deeply into what peace is in Paul’s account of the gospel. Paul addresses here a peace which has been found between the Jews and the Gentiles through the work of Jesus, who ‘came and proclaimed peace to you were far off [the Gentiles] and to those who were near [the Jews]’ (Ephesians 2.17).

It’s easy to be distracted from what Paul says here by things we think we know about Jews and Gentiles from reading the Scriptures and hearing that relationship preached for many years, perhaps intensified by contemporary Jew-Arab struggles in Palestine. So far as the Scriptures go, most influential for our hearing of the Jew-Gentile distinction is probably, first, our sense that Jesus was a radical inclusivist and, second, the resistance of the first Jewish Christians to Gentile inclusion.

The notion of Jesus the inclusivist owes most to the Gospels. We might take from texts like these that the Jews were exclusivist and that Jesus challenged this. Yet this reading forgets other things Jesus says and does – that John’s Jesus declares, ‘Salvation comes from the Jews’ or that Mark (and Matthew’s) Jesus characterises Gentiles as ‘dogs’ unworthy of the ‘the children’s bread’.

Jewish Christian resistance to Gentile inclusion began when Gentiles responded to the gospel about Jesus. The early church was composed of Jewish Christians, and the surprising conversion of Gentiles to the gospel caused much confusion and not a little resistance from Jewish believers.

Under the influence of these readings and perceived attitudes, the inclusion of the Gentiles looks like God overcoming human racism and bigotry through Jesus. The problem is cast as a lack of love on the part of ‘the Jews’, ‘finally’ overcome by God. Yet this is not what Paul says here. We presume ‘exclusivism’ because the outcome of what God does looks like political ‘inclusivism’. What God does here looks similar to what we aspire to do with our modern liberal notion of a broad common humanity and its corresponding commitment to a list of universal human rights. Because God looks inclusive in the way we seek to be, we easily conclude that it is exclusivist attitudes God overcomes, just as we seek to overcome them.

Yet Paul doesn’t speak of cultural or racial bigotry overcome in the newfound peace between Jews and Gentiles. He speaks instead of a divine intention previously hidden – and so unknowable – but now revealed. The absence of peace – the location of the Gentiles outside God’s house (2.12) – is not the result of a bad attitude on the part of the Jews. It is – or was – God’s ordering of things. Until it was revealed, there was nothing anticipated (or rejected) like the newly proclaimed relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jew-Gentile antagonism began not with the Jews (or the Gentiles, for that matter) but with God. We might say, then, that this unpeace was a God-sized problem.

To reinforce the point, we should also note that here it is not that the problem was a mistaken ‘idea’ about God and what God intended, God’s intention then being corrupted by religious bigotry. Paul doesn’t criticise the concept of divine election, the priority of the Jews or their distinctiveness among the nations. It was, for Paul, right that the Jews were separate in the way they had been. This distinction was God’s ordering of things. What happens now then, with the incorporation of the Gentiles into God’s house, is a total surprise or, in Paul’s language, a ‘mystery’.

The ‘mystery’ here is the co-existence in God of Jewish priority and Gentile equality. We don’t know how it is possible – apart from it having to do with the life and death of Jesus – but only that it is the case. And so Paul does not call us to peace here but declares peace – a peace which is already established, and established apart from the efforts of Jew or Gentile.

This has a strange consequence. For Paul the fundamental division in humanity is that between Jew and Gentile. Yet sin does not account for this division; the division arises – extraordinarily – from the grace of God towards the Hebrews. The strange thing is, then, that it is not sin which is overcome in the incorporation of the Gentiles into one body with the Jews, as God’s house.

It is because of this that Paul parts company with such talk of peace as we heard in the opening ceremony, including the unfortunate singing of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. When we say ‘peace’, we accuse each other because, in the secular world, there is no else to say it to, no one else from whom to seek or to expect peace, apart from each other – the implied sources of unpeace, now required to be different. When Paul says peace, it is not an imperative but an indicative: Paul says not ‘become peace’ but ‘here peace is’.

And so there is one other strange thing hidden in our passage today, related to what we’ve just said. The reconciliation Paul describes here is not quite a reconciliation of Jew and Gentile to each other. It is a reconciliation of each group to God (2.16). If there is a reconciliation between these communities, it springs from their respective reconciliations to God. This is to say that peace occurs between mutually antagonistic communities when God comes between them. As the Jews turn towards the Gentiles they see, as it were, through the God who is looking at them. And as the Gentiles look at the Jews, they too see through the God who is looking at them. There was a wall between them, now there is Jesus: to the Jews a blasphemer, to the Gentiles just a dead Jew. This is a peace out of nowhere.

Of course, despite what we’ve said about the divine source of the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, we know ourselves to be quite capable of bigotry and racism. And so, despite what we’ve said about God being the final source of peace, we can also ‘imagine’ ourselves capable of less bigotry and racism, and we can begin to act towards reconciliation. To proclaim peace as a gift already given is not to say we have no work to do. But it is to say that our work has the fundamental character of prayer. To build bridges is to give shape and body to God’s promise, the basis of all Christian prayer. Let us, then, pray for peace by working for peace, and call others this life-giving work.

And if this work were to be expressed as prayer, what might the words of that prayer be? Perhaps they would run something like this:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be profoundly honoured.

And so, may your kingdom come, and earth become heaven.



Lead us.

Deliver us.

For the coming of the peaceable kingdom begins and ends with you.

MtE Update – July 23 2021

  1. Worship this Sunday July 25 will be live-streamed VIA ZOOM at 10.00am. Please see the streaming link on the homepage for the Zoom link; the service will also be recorded for later viewing, although only those with liturgical roles (readings, prayers, etc.) will be ‘caught’ in the distributed recording.
  2. The most recent Synod eNews (July 22)
  3. UCA Assembly meeting (this week) highlights: day 1 and day 2
  4. This Sunday July 25 we continue our series of sermons on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, this Sunday picking up again the theme of peace, this time from 2.11-3.6. For more information, see the series page.


18 July – How things look from here

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Pentecost 8

Ephesians 2:11-22
Psalm 90

In a sentence
God embraces every ‘here’ and ‘there’ of our lives, and so we are never outside of God’s ‘house’

We were, of course, anticipating a conversation this afternoon around the theme of the future shape and location of the life of the Mark the Evangelist congregation. Yet, here we are staring at screens again, with that conversation probably a good month away!

I’ve decided, however, to continue with the sermon which I’d planned as a prelude to that conversation because what we need to consider as a congregation is not confined to one day and one conversation, and neither is what we are to decide only about our future.

Let’s then, through what we have heard today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, consider ‘How things look from here’. We consider this in view of the fact that we have resolved not to continue to seek to fix Union Memorial Church, and have resolved to make preparations to sell the site.

From here, we look towards a period of significant change – change about which we don’t yet know very much. ‘Not here’ doesn’t tell us much about ‘where’!

We are, of course, well-resourced and have a range of viable options before us. Yet, because we are not forced to do any particular thing, we fall in the realm of responsibility, on two fronts. The first is the front the gospel presents. We want to be peculiarly Christian in what we do, and so such themes as mission, community and worship are important for us. Yet, it’s by no means clear what would be the best way for us to be Christian in our decisions – assuming, of course, that there is a ‘best’ way.

The second front of our responsibility here is to each other. We are called respond to the gospel together, as part of a community. This includes not only ourselves as the congregation but also the wider church. Yet God has the most irritating habit of whispering into the ears of each of us different ideas about the best shape of that response. At least, it will seem that way when it comes to making decisions that matter. Yet, out of these murmurings must come a determination, unless we opt for a status quo.

And the status quo always seems to hold some promise, for it carries its own kind of peace. We are still where we are today because we can live with it all, given what benefits it provides, even if these are not all the benefits we (or God) might look for.

How things look from here, then, is a rather fraught. We sense that God wants something of us, and the church wants something of us, and we want something of each other. Yet, from here, the ‘there’ of our next life is not only different but is an uncertain and potentially risky place.

Our reading from Ephesians this morning features an account of ‘here’ and ‘there’ which is important for our own situation as a congregation, although Paul begins with the ‘there’ and moves to the ‘here’.

The community to which he writes is Gentile, and he reminds them of the ‘there’ of their previous lives. Then, they were ‘outside’ – outside the covenantal promises of God. This location is expressed relative to a ‘house’. House-language runs right through the last few verses of today’s reading, although our English translation obscures the connections. A more literal translation than we heard today might run like this:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and outside the house [NRSV aliens], but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole house [NRSV structure] is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are made a house [NRSV built together spiritually into] – [a spiritual] house [NRSV a dwelling place] for God.[1]

Paul tells of the movement of the Gentiles: you were outside the house but now you are members of the household of God.

Yet, this is no mere ‘coming inside’. Paul’s house-talk morphs through the passage. He begins with the notion that there is ‘a’ house which God has, implying other houses which God does not have – including the Gentiles themselves. By the end, however, the Gentiles – with the Jews – are made into God’s own house: a ‘dwelling place’ for God.

This lovely image is moving in itself but it has a far-reaching implication. From the outside there is a fundamental inside-outside division. Yet, once the Gentiles ‘come in’, there is no longer any outside. There is no ‘there’ which is outside God. From inside there is nowhere else we can be but within the household of God.

Paul is dealing with the Jew-Gentile question. We sometimes reduce this to an account of how God overcomes difference, but reconciliation is the effect of something more basic: that God incorporates all things.

What this means for us is that where we are, there God is and where we will be there God will be. This is a dangerous thing to hold, and it should only be said in hushed tones with evangelical fear and trembling: we believe in the church; we believe that our ‘here’ is God’s ‘here’, and that our ‘there’ will be God’s ‘here’ as well.

The promise in our decision about what happens next for Mark the Evangelist is not in our cunning or calculation. The promise is that God will be there, because for us there is nothing and no-one outside of God.

The eighth-century thinker Alcuin of York once observed that place is finally irrelevant in what passes between us and God. Had place really the power to make a difference, the angels would never have rebelled in heaven, nor Adam and Eve in paradise. The question is what we make of the promised presence of God in the place in which we find ourselves.

In our deliberations over the next few months, let us not imagine that we are reaching for heaven or for paradise or even for some approximation to these, as if our calling is to get the place right, as if there is a ‘there’ which is radically different than, and more promising than, ‘here’.

Of course, there is much to be said for a place which is comfortable, convenient and which we have some confidence will serve God’s mission well. Yet let us note that comfort and convenience and confidence are ‘communal’ words, ‘with’ words (Latin, con/com = ‘with’). To ‘comfort’ is to strengthen-alongside. Convenient is ‘convene-able’ – amenable to our coming together. ‘Confident’ means to believe or trust with others.

The comfortable, convenient, confident place is properly a communal one. And so the place we seek – the very temple of God – is the place we are called to become.

But neither are we yet to become this. We are indeed imperfect here and now but will not be less so in our next shape. Being the dwelling place of God is not something we are about to choose but is our calling here and now: today, in our conversations over the next few months, in the transition period and in the new place, whatever it is. Yet, as our calling, it is also God’s gift: in being the community of faith we are given the object of faith, even God.

This is to say that our ‘here’ and our ‘there’ are – in God – the same place, because the fundament – the basis – of here and there is what God is making and will make of us in Christ. We are God’s now and will be then. We do not, then, choose more of God in the next step apart from choosing more of each other, for that is where God will be found: among the living stones which constitute God’s own home, even us.

There is freedom in this. It is not incumbent upon us to find God in our next thing, for God has already found us. To know ourselves as found and then made God’s home is to have no place we can go where God is not already there.

We have, then, work to do but it is a work which declares that God is with us, and not which anxiously seeks to find God.

This is work, then, we can do without fear of recrimination from God or each other.

Work like this would scarcely be work, at all.

[1] ‘Oikos’/house appears in the Greek as part of various compound words which yield the different translations we have into English. It is also worth noting that the idea of ‘city’ (Greek, ‘polis’) – closely related to that of ‘house’ – also appears a couple of times in the whole passage: v.19 citi‑zens, v.12 citi-zenship (NRSV translates this as ‘commonwealth’).

Sunday Worship at MtE – 18 July 2021

Due the lockdown Worship this Sunday July 18 was live-streamed via ZOOM.
The service was not recorded and so is not available for viewing.

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

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