Proverbs 8:1-11 | John 16:12-15
Last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we placed the mystery of Pentecost in the context of the ancient story of the tower of Babel; and I reflected on the way that the story of Babel, along with many other narratives in the Old Testament and New, speaks against the power of human empire, declares the seductive danger of uniformity. It’s a danger we’re often aware of in the modern world – from the tyranny of dictatorship to the corporate abuse of monopolistic power – but also one that we sometimes need to be more vigilant about – the convergence of media ownership, the homogenisation of popular culture, the centralisation of power in the name of efficiency, whether it be in a country, a corporation, or a Christian denomination.
And against this backdrop, this antipathy to empire which, I’d argue, is one of the most consistent themes running through the scriptures – not surprisingly, perhaps, given the experience the people of God had with the empires of the world – against this backdrop, Jesus came and declared a different way, a different sort of Kingdom. A kingdom which did not insist on homogeneity, because it did not insist on control, for in this kingdom the greatest would be the servant of all; the most respected would be those whose love, not wealth, was greatest; the first would be the one who the world always declared to be last.
And this kingdom would reach across barriers of class and politics, as it did even amongst the first disciples; it would reach across barriers of language and nation, as at Pentecost; it would even reach across barriers of culture and religion, as it did in Peter’s vision and Paul’s mission to the gentile world.
And it is in and for the service of that Kingdom that the Church was called to be. Not that the Church is the kingdom of God – in Christian history we’ve made that mistake too often, with terrible consequences, as from the days of Constantine on we’ve again and again expressed that insidious desire for the power of empire in religious form: the Holy Roman empire, the conquistadors, the colonization of the heathens by “Christian nations”, even, to some extent, the power and status of the established Church, or the CEO-style centralised power of the modern mega-Churches.
No, the Church is not the Kingdom of God: it is the servant of that Kingdom.
The work of the Kingdom – that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven – is done within and beyond the Church of God, wherever people work for justice, for peace, for reconciliation, for the empowerment of the weak and the inclusion of the marginalised, for the protection of creation.
By faith we declare that the same Spirit of God who descended upon the followers of Jesus at Pentecost is at work through those of all faiths and none who do those things that Jesus did, those things he called on us to do.
And as members of God’s Church, as individuals and as communities, we are called to be part of that work; sometimes working alone, sometimes with fellow believers, sometimes with those who do not share our faith.
But we, God’s Church, also have a unique role. A vital part of the work of the kingdom that we alone can truly and rightly contribute.
For we are the keepers of the story, the inheritors of the good news, the ones called upon to proclaim that the kingdom of God is, now and always, at hand.
This is (in part) what Jesus said the gift of the Spirit was for. In the opening passage of the book of Acts, we hear Jesus’s words at the ascension – “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.
Or in today’s reading from John: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth … he will take what is mine and declare it to you”
The gift of God to the Church is the knowledge of the story of Jesus Christ. However much we do in the work of justice, peace, reconciliation, we fail to bring our central, unique contribution to the work of the Kingdom of God if we fail to also keep alive, and make known, that story. The Spirit declares it to us, and we, like the figure of wisdom in the book of proverbs, speak those noble things to all who live.
Now in the Uniting Church, we tend to be a bit leery of speaking out about our faith. Perhaps we think it’s a personal matter, politely to be kept within the family and in the community of faith. Or perhaps we just don’t want to come across like a pushy evangelist or a dogmatic religious type. Perhaps we’re slightly embarrassed – or perhaps we’re even concerned that we don’t really feel we know the story well enough to tell it.
We like to hear the words attributed (probably wrongly) to St. Francis – “preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary” – as suggesting that living out the gospel is our true calling, and speaking it out is an optional extra. But if we, who have received the story, who hear it week by week, do not tell it, who will?
Perhaps what we need is a different way of thinking about sharing the good news, the story of Jesus and of the Kingdom of God. I wonder if we have absorbed an understanding in which speaking about Jesus and the things he said is inseparable from the sort of religious intolerance, the “This is the gospel and you’d better convert”, the Christian v. the world mindset.
But that’s not the image given to us by Wisdom in the proverbs. Wisdom does not take people aside and badger them to agree with her. She stands at the crossroads and beside the gates – visible places, places where people would gather and talk – and offers her insights. She goes to the places where people are talking, and joins in. Adds her contribution. Not insisting that others agree with her, or arguing with those who do not: the language is that of an offer, a gift – “here is insight. here is wisdom. here is learning. take it!” And yes, she claims knowledge, superior knowledge – but in that respect, her approach is no different to sitting with friends or colleagues who are talking about a subject that you actually know about, and joining in the conversation, offering your knowledge.
The truth is, when it comes to the story of Jesus, and the insights of the gospel of the kingdom of God into life, the universe and everything, you are, relatively speaking, the subject expert in your community. You are the one who goes to Church, who hears the story, who thinks about it, who has something to offer into the conversation.
Is it impossible to imagine that there are times in normal life in which you might contribute from that well of knowledge? Just as you might mention is a conversation, quite naturally, something you saw on TV, or read in a book, or some knowledge from your field of expertise? Might there not be times when “as we forgive others, so we will be forgiven”, or “blessed are the peacemakers”, or “do not repay evil for evil” are meaningful contributions to the conversation.
But perhaps also, we need to know the story better. In our personal or professional areas of expertise we study, we read, with think, we listen, we seek to learn. And we get so immersed in our subject it flows naturally out of us when it’s relevant or useful. Perhaps what we need most of all is to develop that same degree of subject expertise in the story of Jesus, in the story of the people of God.
Which brings us back to our two readings. To Wisdom’s cry that we seek understanding more than gold; and to Jesus promise that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth, will speak to us the things of God.
Spirit will guide us, but we must play our part. We have something of a duty to seek to know the story. To put a bit of effort in. To read and reread, together and apart, praying for that guidance of the Spirit that Jesus promised. That is my challenge for us as the people of God in this place: to become a Church which knows the story, our story.
For as we come to know that story more and more deeply, we will become more and more able to be the Church that proclaims the good news: The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Sometimes it all just happens to come together: delightful weather, great scenery, an easy, flat walk and wonderful, friendly company. That was the last Cartophiles’ walk. If only there has been good coffee available … but more on that later.
Seven of us gathered at Chiswick Ferry Wharf at 9.30am: Sandra, Sue, David, James, Tim, Kit and, for his first walk, Paul. We circled the streets looking for a coffee shop. We could have bought beer from the bottle-o, but the only cafe didn’t open until 11.00. When the 10.14 ferry to the start point arrived, we were still coffee-less. It did bring Virginia, though.
We stood on the rear deck with the breeze in our hair and surveyed the route we were about to walk for the 15 minute trip to the start point and, hopefully, a coffee shop. The route from disembarkation at Cabarita Wharf is through the lovely Cabarita Point park and past the baths, where, sadly, there is no coffee no be had. There was, however, a photo opportunity.
From Cabarita Point we followed the shores of France Bay to the pretty little Prince Edward Park at Cape Cabarita, then past the Massey Park Golf Club and Exile Bay to Bayview Park. We hoped, in vain, to find a coffee vendor in the park – things were becoming desperate.
Bayview Park marks the disembarkation point for a fascinating group of exiles who created many unique local place names and help strengthen the bonds between Australia and Canada. Following the Canadian Rebellions of 1837, 58 French Canadian rebels were deported to Australia and imprisoned at Longbottom Stockade (now the site of Concord Oval). They broke stone for the construction of Parramatta Road and collected oyster shells for making lime. As well as the name Canada Bay many other parts are a reminder of this history: Exile Bay, France Bay, Durham Street, Marceau Drive, Polding Street and Gipps Street.
From Bayview Park we continued around Canada Bay, still alert for coffee. When a friendly local told us the nearest good coffee was on Victoria Road we stopped for morning tea at the Barnwell Park Golf Clubhouse where the coffee was only OK, but the home made caramel slices were a big hit!
After the photo opportunity we continued around Hen & Chicken Bay to Quarantine Reserve, once the home of the Animal Quarantine Station, before stopping at the Sydney Rowing Club for lunch. We ate overlooking the sun dappled river and wondered how anyone could bear to not live here.
The remainder of the walk was almost anti-climactic, skirting around Abbottsford Bay to Blackwall Point and our finish point. The 12½ kilometres had flown past in happy conversation.
There is one final twist in the tale. Normally we would retire to a hostelry somewhere to ‘debrief’ the walk, but on this occasion we finished at the aforementioned bottle-o. So we decided to buy some drinks and retire to the sunny park to discuss the day’s events. There was a lot of comment about the neighbours calling the police to remove the rowdy gang of hooligans drinking in the park, but instead we finished our drinks and set off home. It was a truly wonderful day.
To register for either walk, or to get more information, contact Kit Craig at email@example.com or on 0411 507 422.
Genesis 11:1-9 | Acts 2:1-21
About ten thousand years ago, in the Tigris valley, Mesopotamia, humanity made one of those inventions that changed the direction of history. The brick. Blocks of clay or mud, dried in the sun until they were strong enough to use. Five thousand more years would pass, however, before the technology referred to in the story of Babel. Fired bricks and bitumen mortar, capable of being built into buildings with some degree of permanence.
Now by this point in history, we know that people were already scattered all over the world – the indigenous peoples of Australia, for instance, had already been here for forty thousand years – and, though we don’t have written language to prove it, there seems no doubt that considerable linguistic variety already existed.
Which is to say, that as a story describing how people came to be scattered around the world, or how language barriers came to be, the story of Babel really doesn’t seem to have much to offer.
And yet, Babel is one of my favourite stories in the book of Genesis. Because it’s not really a story about language at all. It’s a story about humanity, about God, about power, and about empire; and it sets the stage for the great mystery of Pentecost.
So enter into this story with me; put aside questions of historical literacy, for they really aren’t the point. Hear the story as a story, a story about God and a people who have just discovered something new.
They migrated from the east, a people moving from river to river, waterhole to waterhole, finding food where they could. And then they came upon a fertile plain, and settled, and began to grow in number.
And as they grew in number, a family became a tribe became a people. They passed that point at which everyone knew everyone – and then they passed the point at which everyone knew every family. They moved beyond the village, and they realised that divisions had began to appear amongst them, that they were on the edge of ceasing to be one people. That they needed something to unify them, something to prevent them from being scattered. They would build a city. And not just a collection of buildings, for they had brick and bitumen for mortar, so this city would have a tower, a great tower, reaching into the heavens, a centrepiece, visible everywhere you went, a building so impressive that it would unite the people in pride at their achievement, and, presumably, strike awe and fear into any who were not “one of them”.
Until now, the people laboured for food, for shelter, for the things they and their families needed. Now they would labour together in a common cause. The agrarian economy changes to the beginnings of the industrial economy: produce or perish. Let us make bricks, burn them, build a city.
And God didn’t like it.
Why not? What was wrong? Was it the tower ‘reaching into the heavens’? Was God threatened by the idea that people might climb to the realm of God? It’s not as crazy an idea as it sounds: Hebrew cosmology certainly placed God’s heaven above the dome of the sky.
But that’s not what God says. The story continues. God said: Look, they are one people with one language, this is just the beginning of what they will do; nothing will be impossible to them.
Nothing will be impossible. I wonder if you’ve heard that phrase before, elsewhere. In the words of Gabriel, to Mary, when she asks how she, a virgin, can be pregnant – “nothing is impossible for God”. In the words of Jesus, in the punch line of the parable of the rich man and the camel and the eye of the needle “for God nothing is impossible”. Again and again through the scripture “nothing is impossible for you, Lord God”
But here the words are in God’s mouth, spoken of humanity. In an echo of the serpent’s promise in the garden, you will be like God. Or is it an echo of words spoken even earlier: “Let us make humankind in our own image”.
To a united humanity, God says, nothing will be impossible. The problem is, they are united in the cause of themselves. In the cause of their power, their glory, their reputation.
It’s generally held that the Genesis story was compiled from ancient sources (you get a sense for how ancient this story is in the way it is told: “God came down to see the city and the tower” – it’s a very early, by Hebrew standards, anthropomorphic image of God), compiled while the people of God were in exile. A time when they were all too aware of the power of Babylon and Assyria, and in which they cast their minds back to their time under the power of Egypt. It’s a time when you might expect the people of Israel to have a very clear sense of just how bad things can be when humanity is united in the common cause of empire.
Babel is a story told against empire. A story told against the centralisation of power. A story echoed by those who have stood against corrupt regimes throughout history, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And so God scatters the people, confuses their language, divides their purpose. It’s the ultimate separation of powers, God’s version of the checks and balances we rely on in most modern societies.
God will not allow humanity to be united. At least, not on their terms. But, as I said, this whole story sets the stage for Pentecost.
At Babel, the people were scattered over the face of all the earth. But by the time of Jesus, we read “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem”. The people had been scattered, but here they were gathered. And then comes the miracle of Pentecost: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”.
The barriers of distance and dispersion and linguistic diversity created by God, as the story goes, at Babel, those barriers which existed to prevent the kingdoms of humanity from being united in empire, at Pentecost were transcended by the inbreaking of the Spirit of God.
Transcended I say – for the barriers of language were not removed. The people there didn’t suddenly all start talking the same language. Pentecost is not a spiritual Esperanto. The author of Acts tells us that the apostles “began to speak other languages”. The differences of language and culture were not removed; they simply ceased to be a barrier to the good news of Jesus, the good news of the Kingdom of God.
All nations under the heaven, all languages, united as they were intended to be; united in the image of God. United not for power or glory, but for – and in – the Kingdom of God.
Pentecost is traditionally seen as the birth of the Church – so over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring what that might mean, what the Church is really for, really about. And with Pentecost we begin: the Church, as an agent of the Kingdom of God, transcends differences, reaches out across the barriers of race, politics, language, gender, education, class, culture, ability and the rest to draw all God’s children – which is to say, all people – into the work and vision and mission of the Kingdom of God.
Over the coming weeks we’ll look at other aspects of the work and meaning of the Church. But in a sense all the rest comes from this: in the Kingdom, in Christ, in the Church, those things that divide us are transcended in the one who unites us.
Last month’s journal contained plenty of great articles and updates, including this mini-biography by Jim and Morna…
Jim and Morna Buys
Jesus counsels us “ For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” Accordingly, when our son and daughter and their respective families immigrated to Australia, it was inevitable we would follow. In December 2011, we packed up our bags, our home and our lives, and we came to live in Sydney.
We have been asked to share a little of our history before that time. Our story begins with the birth of a beautiful baby boy in a small mining town in then Northern Rhodesia, on a crisp winter`s day in 1943. Little did my father – who was the doctor attending the birth – realise that he was delivering his future son-in-law. Lest you suspect we ‘arranged marriages’ in Africa, let me reassure you this was not the case. By the time I was born some three and a half years later, Jim`s father had immigrated south to Rhodesia, having made enough money on the Copperbelt to go farming.
Jim grew up on a Rhodesian farm where he developed a deep passion for the rural African life centered on the farm and the people who worked on it; by his late teens he was determined to pursue a farming life, preferably on his father’s little piece of Africa. At that time he could not know how much the politics of Southern Africa would bear on those early longings: with Prime Minister Ian Smith`s Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, and the United Nations endorsed sanctions which followed, farming ventures in swathes of the country were forced to close, to limit the build-up of stockpiles of crops which could no longer be exported. His farming dream shattered, Jim applied for a government bursary that enabled him to complete an Economics Honours degree at a S. African University.
To fulfill his contract, he began working in a government office responsible for the production of the country’s National Accounts (GDP) and Balance of Payments figures, which had suddenly become classified as “Top Secret” as they incorporated much of the detail of Rhodesia’s sanctions busting efforts. Thus the politics of the time became inextricably linked to his career in Economics, in a way that was to continue throughout his working life. In terms of the prevailing racial conflict, both in Rhodesia and later, S. Africa, Jim`s career was shaped by countries caught up in what could be regarded, in essence, as civil war.
Meanwhile, I had finished my schooling in N. Rhodesia, completed a B.A. degree in English and History at a South African University, and had also emigrated south to Rhodesia to teach English to High School boys.
Finally, we met. Jim – at the advanced age of 27, was a man of decisive action; we were married within 7 months.
As the military conflict grew in intensity and scale, Jim`s army commitments escalated to a point where 6-week call-ups alternated with six weeks at a theoretically full-time job. We battled with the political circumstances we found ourselves thoroughly caught up in, where we shared a growing concern about the morality of the course chosen by the Ian Smith government and the majority of the voting population, in itself a small proportion of the total population. The initially promised progression to a fuller democracy seemed to be fading away. In 1976, driven by our troubled consciences (not the military commitments in themselves) we considered emigration to Australia on skills visas.
However, I felt moving so far away would be tantamount to abandoning my parents. My father`s retirement farming venture in Rhodesia had failed financially: aged 73 and very vulnerable on his isolated farm, he had already singlehandedly repulsed a ‘terrorist’ attack, fending off thousands of rounds of small arms fire and grenades. Despite the fact that S Africa`s ‘apartheid’ policies were even more reprehensible to us, South Africa became our compromise option. Jim was headhunted, and in 1977 he began working for the Anglo American Corporation.
Anglo – at the time the largest mining conglomerate in the world – had as its chairman Mr. Harry Oppenheimer, who very actively supported and funded the anti-apartheid opposition in parliament, actually serving as an MP at times. Given Jim`s training as an economist, his employers provided him with various opportunities to engage in the wider debate on the ultimate futility of successfully running an economy dominated by the scourge of apartheid.
By the mid-1980’s he became a member of a team tasked with developing future scenarios for the global and South African economies. These were developed initially to assist corporate decision-making, but they led to a major initiative in the wider South Africa.
The South African scenarios developed by the team, within the context of international scenarios, argued essentially that South Africa was doomed to a deeply politically and economically troubled Low Road future in the absence genuine negotiation leading to an acceptable dispensation with true leaders of the country’s majority. Only such an approach offered a High Road alternative, with advantages for all the people of the country. Anglo’s executive were impressed by the persuasiveness of the scenario work, and decided that the country would benefit from public dissemination.
The leader of the scenario team produced a book detailing the findings, and was rapidly engulfed in public presentations to the point of a collapse of his health. The Anglo executive instructed Jim and a third colleague to assist with country-wide presentations in the face of extraordinary demand from all quarters, from the extreme left to the far right in political terms. Between them literally hundreds of talks were given. The new experience of hearing well-considered and argued “futures” for South Africa which were not party-political in nature, but which urged recognition of a viable and better future path, struck a remarkable response from the wider public. The leader of the team even made presentations to the then National Party cabinet, and to the ANC leadership still in detention.
Some years later, Jim found himself caught up in another exercise in “political economy”. Mr. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, and intensive negotiations were underway between the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC) aimed at finding an acceptable path forward to a new democratic dispensation for the country. Sadly, this was unfolding in the context of widespread violence and loss of life, and enormous uncertainties about the country’s future prospects for peace were compounded by the ANC’s highly publicized economic policies which promised a statist approach including the nationalization of the “pillars of the economy” including the mines and the banks.
In an initiative which provided an early indication of Mr. Mandela’s remarkable wisdom, statesmanship, flexibility and political courage, he approached Mr. Harry Oppenheimer to seek guidance on which economic policies would best provide the basis for the advancement of all of South Africa’s people in the years ahead. Harry Oppenheimer put together a small group of the most prominent “captains of industry”, and Jim was drawn in as an advisor. The meetings which followed were a fascinating example of constructive engagement between SA’s top business leaders, and future leaders of government who were emerging from years of incarceration, and understandably carrying a strong bias in their policy inclinations towards those practised by the former Soviet Union, their principal supporters during many years in the political wilderness.
Once again, it would be wrong to claim too much influence arising out of this exercise – many other engagements were occurring at the same time – but it certainly contributed to the balanced and centrist policy approach subsequently adopted by the post-1994 government under President Mandela. Jim personally enjoyed the first of several modest encounters with a man of extraordinary conciliation and stature.
Jim`s other “out of office” engagement proved to be the most challenging and time-consuming of all. For his final 8 years at Anglo, while Chief Economist, he also served as the Business representative in a new institution, comprising senior personnel representing business, the new government, and SA’s large and highly politicized union movement, to advise on fiscal, monetary and labour policies.
This frequently exhausting commitment did reward him in the sense of involvement in “nation building” in a country emerging from a past that had seemed to doom it to inevitable failure and a bleak future.
Counter-balancing Jim`s strenuous working life, I became a ‘stay-at-home mum’ with time to become very involved in the local Methodist church where I ran prayer cells, and worked in prayer counseling in the Pastoral Care arm of the church. In our final years in Johannesburg I became involved in teaching in a squatter camp school attended by the children of refugees from all over the African continent: the plight of education in our beloved country was one which concerned me deeply.
In 2002 Jim retired and we moved to a small village widely recognized as the jewel in the crown of the beautiful Garden Route on the Cape coast, where we spent 9 very happy years. It was therefore fitting that we should choose to end our migrations in the beautiful city of Sydney. Not least amongst God`s blessings since our arrival, has been the wonderful warmth, welcome and kindness we have received from so many at St John`s. Spiritually, we have indeed come home.
Pennant Hills Public School (attended by a number of kids from The Growing Place!) is having its fete – Sunday 26th May 10 am – 3 pm. Food, stalls, rides, activities, bands, fun for the whole family… more info
The Uniting Church (NSW Synod, I think) is running a survey to work out how people use, or would like to use, UCA resources online. If you’d like to take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey, follow this link!
Ephesians 1:15-23 | Acts 1:1-9
Over the weeks of the season of Easter, we’ve been exploring different aspects of Christian hope, of the hope that we have, as the people of God, in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. Today, as well as being a celebration of Mothers’ day, and a celebration of new life, in the baptism of Bronte, this Sunday is also the last Sunday in the six weeks of Easter. Next Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit, as promised by Jesus in our reading today from the book of Acts.
The last Sunday of Easter is also Ascension Sunday. And as those of you who were here last year, or the year before may remember, I’ve always found the story of the ascension rather odd. As with many of the accounts of Jesus after the resurrection, the imagery used by the gospel writers is a strange mixture of the real and surreal. Jesus, Luke takes pains to tell us, presented himself to his friends as alive, with many convincing proofs – he left them in no doubt that this resurrected Jesus was no illusion, no spirit, no ghost, but a real physical reality: in fact, that he was, in some sense, more real than reality, that in him heaven and earth had been brought together, that in him the barrier between God and humanity had been broken down.
But then his mode of departure – ‘he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight’ – returns to the surreal. As if, as I’ve suggested before, the writers were trying to make sense of something that they had witnessed, or heard first hand account of, but which they found no ordinary words could describe.
It’s an unusual story. But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to really like it. Not so much to like the story itself; that still reads to me as weird; but what it stands for, what it signifies, what it tells us about our faith, and our hope.
Like most people, I have an instinctive dislike of being labelled. In Church circles, in theological matters, we’re especially good at doing it: we speak of evangelical or liberal, high and low church, traditional, contemporary, sacramental, creedal, charismatic, missional – in fact, we’re probably even worse than politicians at labelling one another.
But to the extent that such labels are useful, the one that I would choose to apply to myself, is ‘incarnational’. I think this dates back to an argument I had with a school religious education teacher when I was about ten. We were asked to draw a sort of graph of the year, with the height of the line representing the importance of the season in the Church year. The line we were told to draw had a small bump for Christmas, and then a long climb up to the peak at Easter. And I argued, with that annoying confidence of the ten year old child that I’m now getting payback for from Jeyanth, that that didn’t make sense, that you couldn’t say Easter was more important than Christmas, because without Christmas, and Jesus coming into the world, none of the rest would have even happened.
And of course, that logic really doesn’t make sense. It would be many years before I found the idea that I was reaching for expressed in the words of C.S. Lewis:
the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him.
This is the incarnational faith: that in Jesus Christ God the creator entered into creation; that his life and teaching and miracles proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, in which heaven and earth would be ever more closely integrated; and that his death and resurrection broke the power of death to separate what his life had joined.
This is why the Christian faith places – or should place – such a high value on creation; it takes the refrain of the creation story – “and God saw that it was good” seriously; it truly believes that each person, man woman and child, was and is “made in the image of God”, that it is somehow possible that this collection of molecules, this thing of flesh and bone and blood and brain that we call a person can somehow reflect the image of the creator God. That this world is not just a practice run, or a test to see if we can get into heaven, but a part of God’s creation, that Jesus came to reunite with the creator.
And a faith which places the great story of the incarnation at its core also places great value on human relationships. Far from seeing the faith as essentially something between each individual and God, we see in the model of Jesus’ life that the way we treat one another is of the utmost importance. For the reality that we inhabit, the reality that Jesus entered into in the incarnation, is a web of relationships. In becoming human, Jesus became a son, a brother, a friend, a colleague; he became entangled in the lives of others just as we are. For that is what it is to be human.
So it is that the greatest command, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind, is immediately echoed by another commandment: to love your neighbour as yourself. That love for God cannot be real, cannot even exist, if it is not also expressed in love for neighbour, those connected to us in the web of creation.
And of course, famously, that web is extended out by Jesus to include not just the neighbour we know, but the stranger, and even the enemy. For if we are to hold to the claim that we are made in the image of God, we cannot deny that same claim to any man or woman alive.
If the great story of the incarnation is true, we dare not deny its meaning to anyone – or anything – in all creation.
And in this story, this one grand miracle, the ascension is the final phrase – he rose again, bringing nature up with him. For as the Christmas story speaks of the divine entering into creation, so the ascension is its mirror; this physical part of creation, this man Jesus, made of the same stuff, the same molecules and chemicals and stuff as us, enters into – and we struggle for words here – into the presence of God. Into what Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus, calls ‘the heavenly places’.
And not just enters into, but takes a place at God’s right hand, as the head of all things in creation – and most especially, as the head of God’s movement, God’s body, God’s people, the agents of the Kingdom of God to whom Jesus entrusted his message and his mission. A movement into which we have welcomed Bronte today.
So we come today to the end of this series for Easter, the end of our reflections on hope, with this last word of hope: that though no one has seen God, Jesus, at least in part, we can know. We have the accounts of his life, told by those who knew him and written by those who heard them tell. We have the words of his teaching and the acts of his life to judge him by. And in the ascension we have the assurance that this man, this character, this personality that we can, at least in part, know, is there, with God, at God’s right hand: that this man Jesus does indeed show us what God values, what God wants, what, in part, God is like.
In some sense, God must always be unknowable. But it is reassuring, to say the least, that we know what the one who sits beside God is like. That such hope as we can place in Jesus, we can confidently place in God.
This term at Nooma will be short (6 week) series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s “Embracing the Prophets in Contemporary Culture”. As always, everyone is welcome to join us at 7:45pm at the Manse.
This walk was destined to never happen.
It was scheduled for Saturday 20th and eight Cartophiles turned up in he pouring rain ready to start. Rachel & Tertius even drove up from Canberra to be part of it. Over coffee in the Coonanbarra cafe we unanimously agreed that walking in that dreadful weather was ridiculous, but we did reconvene at the Blue Gum Hotel at lunch time for a debrief.
Undeterred, we reconvened on Sunday afternoon to do the walk. Rachel & Tertius started early because they had to drive BACK to Canberra that afternoon. The rest of us met at St Johns at 1.oopm and drove off in a convoy to the start point: Sue, Annie, Edwina, Sureka, David, James and Kit. Unencumbered by a map or directions we drove to the start of the walk in the Marramarra National Park and started walking. It was a beautiful day for the easy 3.5km walk along Marramarra Ridge management trail to the campsite by the creek.
After the phone GPS told us we’d walked 4.5km and we were still on top of the ridge with no sign of going down to a creek in the near future we realised that we were on the wrong walk. We stopped for afternoon tea and walked back. It was very nice. We did have a lovely walk and good companionship.
Rachel & Tertius SMSed on their way home to Canberra, “Marramarra was beautiful. So peaceful.”
Oh well, the rest of us will just have to visit the campground another time.
The next Cartophiles walk is part two of the Parramatta River Walk, from Cabarita to Chiswick on Saturday 18th May, 2013.
St. David’s Uniting Church, Lindfield have a free screening of Peter Mullan’s “The Magdalene Sisters” at 7:30pm on Wednesday 29th May, in the Church’s Undercroft. Refreshments will be served over a discussion following the film.
This extraordinary film is celluloid incendiarism, rabble-rousing cinema with a delirious, delicious edge of black comedy – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Uniting Care Ageing are looking for volunteers to sit on their advisory councils. If you think you might be interested in serving in this way, take a look at the flyer.
On Sunday June 16th, Year 3 at Wahroonga Prep. will be holding a market in the Church Hall from 11am – 3pm, with all proceeds going to support activities at the school. If you have stuff you’d like to sell, you can purchase a table space; if you have things you’d like to donate then the Year 3 kids will sell them for you; on the other hand, if you’d like to browse and buy, you’ll need to come along!
For more information contact Shenaiya Day on 0425 058 789 or Renu Choudhary on 0435 182 800
Gordon Uniting Church are looking to recruit a community worker for up to 15 hours per week. If you know anyone who might be interested, send them this flyer.
Revelation 22:1-5 | John 14:23-29
The last few weeks, the weeks since Easter, have been following a theme, the theme of hope, the hope that we, as people of God, have, through the resurrection of Jesus. Three weeks ago we looked at the hope of reconciliation – the deep human need, and the deeper still response of God, modelled in Jesus’ restoration of Peter on the beach in the days after the resurrection. Two weeks ago we explored the hope that lasts through and even beyond death, the hope that love endure death undefeated, and that we may expect to be reunited with those that we have loved and lost. And last week we talked about the hope for the whole of creation; that when the Christian faith is taken to be just about getting us into heaven it is reduced to a pale shadow of the glorious image of the restoration of all things that is found in the scriptures, Old Testament and New.
And all three of those hopes are found in the words of John’s vision, our reading from the book of Revelation. The image of the river, the water of life, and on its banks the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, paints a picture of a creation at ease with itself; the city in which God walks once more with humanity, the very heart of reconciliation; the throne of God at which those who have died in the faith worship witnesses to the reality of the life beyond. After many chapters of psychedelic and downright bloody imagery in the book, chapters painting a picture of a world of violence, a world torn apart, a world anything but at peace, these final chapters offer a promise of shalom, the peace, the rightness, the world as it should be, as it was intended to be.
There’s a sense in which all our hopes in the faith, all our expectations of the kingdom, all the desires for reconciliation and redemption and eternity can be summed up in this one concept, this shalom, peaceful rightness, of God.
And this peace is the promise of Jesus in the gospel, when he speaks, in the farewell discourse, as recorded by John, of the sending of the Holy Spirit. Promising that after he is gone, God will send the Spirit to them, he continues with these words:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Peace I leave with you. These words are spoken in the context of Jesus’ attempts to explain to his friends what is about to happen, to explain that he is going to be taken from them: but that that is ok. That he is going to be with God the Father, and that instead of being troubled about this, they ought to rejoice, for what was to come was greater than what had already been.
I am going. But I leave you with the gift of peace. My peace I give to you. It’s a slightly strange turn of phrase. Not just peace, and not, as might be expected, God’s peace. But “my peace”. The Father will send the Spirit, but it is my peace that you will receive.
It’s like Jesus is saying, not so much that the peace comes from him, originates with he, as he’s saying “the peace that I have, will be yours”. As if he’s calling on their years walking with him, learning from him, witnessing the way that he interacts with people, the way he responds to events, the way he is in the world, and saying “You’ve seen me live. You have seen in me the true peace, the shalom of God. You’ve seen what it is like for a man to walk through the world at peace – not the superficial peace of the absence of conflict, but the genuine peace that is living the way of God, the way of the Kingdom, in God’s world. You’ve seen peace, because you have been with me. That is the peace, my peace, that I will leave you with.”
There, in Jesus’ words, is the core, the heart, of our hope.
And he goes on to say more about this peace:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
For there is something about, not just the gift, the gift of peace, that is being given that makes it unique; there is something about the way that it is given.
In a world in which everything seems to have strings attached, in which gifts so often come at a price, with the expectation of return, this gift is truly freely given.
In an economy based on scarcity, in which one person receiving means another going without, this gift of peace is one which is made no less by sharing. Peace is not a competition, not a finite resource; one person’s peace is not reduced by another sharing it – indeed, peace grows for all as it is experienced by more.
And in contrast to the expectation of obsolescence or impermanence of any gift we might give or receive, this is a gift that continues through life, and into eternity.
These words are the words of our hope. This gift is the gift that brings hope. This promise is the foundation of that hope.
And they are spoken, the promise is made, the gift it given, in the context of the promised sending of the spirit. The Spirit who, in the letter to the Ephesians, is referred to as a foretaste of our inheritance, the promise of our hope, the hint, the rumour, of what is to come. The promise of Jesus, the promise of peace, is the foundation of our hope; the gift of the Spirit is the vehicle of that same hope.
For it is the Spirit, Jesus tells us, who will teach us everything; the Spirit who will remind us of what Jesus had to say; the Spirit who will reinterpret the story of God to each generation; the Spirit who will lead God’s people as they write the next chapter of that story.
The Spirit would inspire John in his vision of the heavenly city, his vision of the peace of God that would one day be complete; the Spirit would inspire Augustine to write his theology, and Donne his poetry, drive Wycliffe to translate the Bible, Luther to speak out against the corruption of his day and Wesley against the religious lassitude of his; lead Wilberforce in the fight against slavery and Martin Luther King against racism.
Each of these movements; indeed, every great movement of the Christian faith; whether within the Church or in the wider society, has had at it’s core two things: a re-remembering of the story of Jesus, and a re-imagining of the peace, the shalom, the rightness which is Christ’s gift to us.
For this is the nature of our hope; it is not a thing of passivity, the numbing of the pain, the opiate of the masses: it is hope in the peace of God that turned and turns the world upside down; in a Kingdom which is at peace because all are included, not just the few who are like us, all are welcomed, valued, loved, protected, nurtured.
And it is a hope brought to us and sustained in us by the Spirit of God, the burden bearing, trouble making, conscience pricking, bearer of the story of Jesus, the story of God’s people, the story of hope.
The story that inspired those that have gone before us, and that we too must allow to challenge us, inspire us, correct us, and convert us to people of God’s peace.
For in God’s peace lies not only our hope, but the hope of the world.
Playjays started up again yesterday… with the weather turning a bit cooler, the twenty or so kids and mums greatly appreciated the warmth of the hall – although the chill didn’t stop some of the bigger kids from scooting around outside on the ride-on toys.
Next Friday, Playjays turns three! All of our original kids have moved on the preschool or big school by now, but we keep on welcoming new arrivals! And new friends are always welcome…
May’s Messy Church is fast approaching – come along for a celebration of fruit. Why? You’ll need to be there to find out! Invite your friends, family, and strangers you happen to meet.
You can download a hi-res version of the flyer here.