St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

The Beginning Again

Genesis 1:1-5 | John 1:1-13
Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood….

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen…

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and for an author, that first impression lies in the choice of opening words. Authors will tell you of hours spent wrestling with those words, sleepless nights searching for that phrase which will grab the attention, and, crucially, set the scene for all that is to come.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Continue reading

The Prophets

Isaiah 52:7-10 | Romans 10:11-18

And so, this week, we come to the end of the first half of E100, with our final set of readings, taken from the prophets.

Actually, the very fact that the Old Testament ends with the books of the prophets is itself slightly odd. As you know, what we in the Christian tradition refer to as the Old Testament is the collection of books that make up the Hebrew scriptures, the Jewish scripture. But in the Jewish tradition, from which we inherited these writings, the prophets are placed earlier, along with the wisdom literature, and the scriptures end with the books of Chronicles, the summary of the history of the people of Israel. The words of the prophets are embedded in the books of history, reflecting the context out of which, and to which, they spoke.

When the Christian canon was put together, in a time of rather strong anti-semitism, the books of the prophets were pulled out of that context and placed at the end of the Old Testament, to emphasise the sense in which they were pointing forward to something else; creating the feeling of the Old Testament as an incomplete story, a movie in need of a sequel.

And the way we tend to use the old testament prophecies in the Church serves to further this feeling: we take, often out of context, quotations from the prophets in our telling of the Christmas and Easter stories, as if to say “these are really all about Jesus”; when reading larger blocks of the text makes it clear that the story is far more complex than that. Sometimes they seem to be speaking of a distant future, sometimes of a present event, sometimes somewhere in between. It doesn’t help that the Hebrew language expresses tenses in a totally different way to our sense of past, present and future. And sometimes they seem to speak of an individual, sometimes of the people of God as a whole. Continue reading

A special celebration…

A date for your diary… On September 16th, sometime in the afternoon (details TBA), we’ll be having a service to officially commission Amanda as our Children, Youth and Families Pastor. More than just a change of title, this is a recognition by the wider Uniting Church of Amanda’s calling to serve God in this role at St. John’s. Get the date in your diary, and watch this space for more details!

Messy Thanks

A huge thank you to everyone who helped out at Messy Church on Sunday – more than 70 people came along and had a great time exploring the theme “In His Light”.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1:1-7, 20-23 | Matthew 13:54-58

One of my favourite sites on the internet for a little bit of light relief is a blog entitled “1001 rules for my unborn son”. It began when the author discovered that his wife and he were expecting a child, and represents at attempt to pass on to his future son what he had learned about life, and wished he had known in advance.

The rules cover all aspects of life: “never underestimate the power of taking the rubbish out without being asked”, “the best way to ruin an apology is with an explanation”, “expect no sympathy for a hangover”, “take flowers. For her mother”, “don’t be the first to leave the party. Or the last” and “there are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The steps ain’t one”.

There is something refreshing about this light hearted but serious attempt to describe what it means to be a man in the modern world. This is modern, secular wisdom; practical instruction about how to live a life which is “good” in the sense of the ancient philosophers; fitting, appropriate, right.

This week e100 brings us to the biblical wisdom literature; and in particular to the book of proverbs, an attempt to capture the legendary wisdom of Solomon in written form. But of course the first question, before we start to read wisdom literature, must be – what is wisdom? And, in particular, what is godly wisdom, and does it differ from natural or human wisdom? What is it the author of Proverbs hoped to teach us from the wise king?

Fortunately, the book of Proverbs starts out with proverbs about proverbs, wisdom about wisdom. The very first verse lay out what wisdom is all about, what it is for. “for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; Shrewdness for the simple; Knowledge and prudence for young; Learning for the wise; Skill for the discerning”.

And the opening verses end with the memorable couplet: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Continue reading

Kings and Prophets

2 Samuel 11:2-5, 14-17, 12:1-9

Last week our extended wander through the Biblical narrative brought us to Samuel, who I described as the last of the Judges, and first of the great prophets of Israel. But that description glosses over a fundamental change in the social and political makeup of the people of Israel as they make the transition from being a family, to a people, to a nation.

For up until the days of Samuel, the people of God had been led, more or less exclusively, by prophets, by people who are described (rightly or wrongly) as hearing directly from God. Abraham hearing God’s call to leave his home; Moses in conversation with God; Joshua guided by God’s commands; and then the judges – legal, political and military leaders who are identified as prophets, as getting their insights and direction directly from God.

With the anointing of the kings of Israel; first Saul, then David, there is a shift in the dynamics of power. For though the kings certainly claim to rule by God’s will, they are far less inclined to claim to hear directly from God. Their decisions are made by reference to the will of God, but shaped by their own wisdom or foolishness, their military insight, their political and diplomatic manoeuvring. The nation has taken a fundamental step in the direction of the secular state – their laws are still the law of the Torah, but their governance is a monarchy. Continue reading