St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Bethany

Listen!
Psalm 118:19-29 | Mark 11:1-11
The Passover festival was approaching. This was the high point of the Jewish year, the one time that every Jew who possibly could, would come into the city, and come to the Temple. As a result, Jerusalem was packed – every inn was full to overflowing, every street packed with stalls, animals, and people, people, people. The air was full of the sounds and smells of life.

But Jerusalem, in the days of Jesus, did not belong to the Jewish people. As Jews came to the Temple they could not miss the watchtower, the Roman military building built to overlook the Temple, to watch over the holy places of the Jewish faith. As the faithful passed through the court of gentiles and into the areas reserved for Jews only, they could see Roman soldiers looking down upon them. Resentment against the Roman occupiers ran high, and the Jewish revolutionary zealots found in this resentment an ideal opportunity to recruit for their cause.

For Passover was a religious festival, but it was more than that. At Passover the Jews celebrated the event which had defined them as a people; the series of disasters and miracles which had led to their freedom from Egypt. Passover was not just a celebration of the Jewish religion, but of the nation being set free from oppression; set free by an unlikely leader and the hand of God. And there were many who longed for the same to happen again – for freedom, this time from Rome.

And the Roman authorities were well aware of this – of the meaning of Passover, of the political implications, of the stories of the people being set free from oppression. And they had no hesitation in stepping in to crush even a hint of rebellion.

Now add to the political tension, another layer. Human nature being what it was, Passover was also a commercial opportunity. Animals had to be purchased for sacrifice, money had to be changed, rooms and meals had to be purchased – and there will always be those who are ready to provide these services at a healthy profit.

Put together the massive crowds, the political tension, and the money involved – and the city of Jerusalem at Passover was a tinderbox – a mass of frustration, and resentment, with sporadic violence and, never far from the surface, the possibility of riot.

It is into this city that Jesus rides to cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”. There can be no doubt that many of those shouting these words see in Jesus the political and military solution to their problems; a man who has built up a following, who has spoken of a kingdom, and who has now come to Jerusalem, the heart of political and religious power. A man who enters the city to crowds shouting, to palm fronds being waved, to shouts of acclamation identifying Jesus as the one who has come to save the people of Israel.

But what does he do? He enters Jerusalem, goes to the Temple, looks around, and then leaves the city again. Instead of staying in Jerusalem, he retreats to Bethany, to spend the night at peace.

If you read large chunks Mark’s gospel, quickly, as one might read a book or a magazine (and I recommend this, I really do), you will be struck by how Mark portrays events as moving rapidly – its all ‘immediately Jesus did this’ ‘straightaway they went there’. Jesus’ life, in Mark’s telling, is one of action, of dynamism; its the story of man who knows what he is doing and gets on with it.

But just a couple of times in the gospel there are moments like this – pauses in the action. These are moments when the whole story – no, the whole world – seems to hold its breath, waiting. And they occur at the key moments of decision in Jesus’ life – at the start of his ministry, at the transfiguration, and here, on the point of entry into Jerusalem. Moments when it is as if Jesus has to decide what direction his mission is going to take.

So as Jesus walked, or rode, back to Bethany that night, he surely reflected on what he had seen – on the state of Jerusalem. He had seen the Temple, seen the crowds, seen the soldiers. And so he spent one quiet night; one night with his friends, one night, perhaps, in prayer. Tomorrow he would start the sequence of events that will lead inexorably to his death.

He will preach against the religious leaders of the day in parables that they know to be directed at them. And he will throw the money-changers out of the temple, rejecting the commerce layered on top of faith in God. In these acts he will finally turn the priests irrevocably against him.

And in the same action, performed under the eyes of the Romans, he will cause a public disturbance at the heart of the festivities, the one thing above all the authorities want to prevent. They would have heard the words shouted to welcome Jesus, the talk of the coming kingdom, and would be more than ready to stamp out insurgency before it took root. In one act, Jesus would turn the two powers in Jerusalem, religious and military, against himself, knowing, surely, where it would end.

Perhaps this is why, when he saw the temple on Palm Sunday, he did not act right away, but took the time to go back to Bethany, a place of peace for him, the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Did he feel the rage of seeing the Temple defiled, but choose not to act in anger, but to take his time to reflect, to pray, and then to act in the full knowledge of what he was doing?

There is a sense of calm here – as if Jesus is the only one in the story who is fully in control of himself. The priests are driven by jealousy of a leader more popular with the masses than they are, the Romans driven by fear of a popular political leader, the crowds driven by wild swings of enthusiasm and disappointment, the disciples seem to just be along for the ride, desperately trying to make sense of what is happening.

In this swirling mass of confusion, Jesus appears as an oasis of peace, the calm at the eye of the storm. But, paradoxically, his peace is not one of passivity, not one of inaction. Quite the opposite – it is Jesus who acts – and everyone else reacts.

And I wonder if this is not where this story connects most closely with our situation today. For we live in a time of confusion, a time of turmoil and uncertainty, of economic and social change. We are surrounded by people who are driven by fear, jealousy, greed, uncertainty, pride. And we find those same motives inside ourselves, battling for control. In a time of turmoil, both within us and without, don’t we hear the phrase “the peace of God” with particular poignancy? Don’t we long to find that peace “which passes all understanding”, that confidence that seemed to characterize the life of Christ?

And so we should, we ought to long for that peace of God. But that word, ‘peace’, so easily misleads us. We hear it as the peace of passivity, the peace of accepting what is happening without question, the peace of not making a fuss, the peace of the status quo, of not rocking the boat. But none of those things mark the peace we see in Jesus. Jesus’ peace is the peace of a man who has understood what God would have him do, a man who has a vision of his calling, and who has made that vision the heart of his decision making, the core of his very being. Jesus’ peace arises not from passively learning to accept whatever happens as God’s will, but from seeking to know God’s will, seeking first the kingdom of God, and then working without fear towards that end.

This is the peace of working hard towards a goal that is worth working for, the peace struggling for something of true value, the peace of striving with all your heart, soul, strength and mind to make the kingdom of God just a little bit more real. It is the peace of praying for a vision of God’s will, and then living for it.

There is a temptation for people of faith in trouble times to retreat into an otherworldly spirituality; to focus their hopes and hearts and minds on the world to come, to look for peace in the simplicity of a hoped for future, rather than the complexities of the present. But if we are serious about being followers of Jesus, and would make him our model, then we cannot look for peace only in the life to come.

Instead, we need to do as he did. We need to look around, to see where we are, to see what the world around us looks like. We need to see the families which are broken, the kids growing up without the stability they need, the people living in fear. We need to see the refugee seeking our protection; those with long term injuries and disabilities needing special help; the indigenous communities struggling to keep their traditions alive; our Muslim brothers and sisters facing hate and abuse because of their faith.

We need to see the chaos, the conflict, the sacrilege. And then, perhaps, as Jesus did, we need to go back to our Bethany, to talk and pray with our friends and our community of faith, to seek to know what God would have us do about it.

And then we need to take our courage in our hands, and do it.

And that is where we will find Shalom, the peace of doing the will of God.

Amen

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday – 5th April – at 9:30am join us as we rejoice in the great miracle of the resurrection. Our celebration will be a mixture of song, prayer, craft, reflection and communion, and will be suitable for all ages. Everyone is welcome to join for this, the greatest day of the year….

Good Friday

On Friday April 3rd the St. John’s choir will lead us through a reflection in word and music of Jesus’ words from the cross. Followed by Hot Cross buns over morning tea.

Tenebrae

On the Thursday of Holy Week (April 2nd) we will be holding a traditional Tenebrae service – communion and the extinguishing of candles. Come along and reflect on the events of the first last supper…

Forgiveness

Listen!
Jeremiah 31:31-34 | John 12:20-26
Last week we explored the idea of judgement as it appeared in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. The judgement that Jesus described there was far removed from the sort of judicial imagery that we seem to instinctively associate with the term; (the judge finding you guilty and sentencing you to some penalty); instead what we found was the image of light coming into the world, and people choosing either to flee from the light, because they were too ashamed of what they had done, or choosing to come into the light, so that what they had done could be seen for what it was.

The judgement that Jesus spoke of there was not one imposed externally; it was a judgement that each person imposed upon themselves as they made the choice: will I dare to enter into the light? Will I have the courage to be seen, by God at least, for who I truly am?

And that, of course, is where the Christian tradition of confession comes from: whether it be the traditional Catholic confessional, or a private prayer, or the sort of corporate confession that is more common in protestant circles, in which we acknowledge together that we have fallen short of the standards that we would hold ourselves and other to, that we have done things of which we are ashamed, and that we have left undone acts of love and compassion and justice that were within our power to do.

Confession – of what ever form – if it is real, is all about allowing the light of truth into the darker parts of our lives, about choosing the truth of our shortcomings over the façade that we so often prefer. This is why confession has so much power; why parents work so hard to teach their children to say sorry; why twelve step programs like AA include as steps four and five:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, and

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Confession has power, because it is facing reality, rather than trying to fight against it. But that is only one half of the story. The second half, without which the light remains a dangerous exposure, is the promise of the new covenant in our reading from Jeremiah:

they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more

The most radical power of confession comes with the possibility – and, in the case of God, the absolute promise – of forgiveness. I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more; or, as the prophet puts it elsewhere – as far as the east is from the west, so far will I remove your sins from you.

But forgiveness is also only half the story, and much harm has been done over the years by a well meaning emphasis placed on forgiveness without the context of confession and repentance. How many victims of domestic violence have been told that the Christian way is to forgive the one who has hurt them? How often has the call to forgive been used to protect the status quo or to excuse the inaction those who ought to stand against the oppressor? How often does Jesus’ command to forgive get used to add to the injury of the victim?

And how often do we jump quickly to a declaration of forgiveness in order to avoid having to genuinely face the wrong that we, or others, have done.

It’s a long way from “making a searching a fearless moral inventory of ourselves”.

The Christian doctrines of repentance, confession, judgement, forgiveness do not, cannot stand in isolation from one another. Judgement alone too easily becomes the sort of judgmentalism which elevates me, and people like me, and people who think and behave like me above those who are different. But forgiveness alone slips too easily into a denial of the reality of the harm we do to one another.

it is only when we are able to bring together the judgement of light, the honesty before God which reveals to us who we really are, with the certainty of acceptance and forgiveness, that we start to draw close to the heart of our faith, the miracle that we call the grace of God.

When I was a teenager there was a very widely read pop psychology book entitled “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am”. Like many such books, it was really just one idea padded out into a paperback, but that idea was an answer to the question in the title:

“I’m afraid to tell you who I am, because you might not like who I am, and that’s all I’ve got”

To that dilemma there are only two answers: hide who you are, what you’ve done; or face the light and trust that you are beloved anyway.

And the promise, the miracle of grace, is that you are.

The incredible truth that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel is there in the parable in our New testament reading: unless the grain of seed falls into the ground and dies, it will never bear fruit.

Of course, for Jesus – and for many who followed him – that parable had a very literal meaning: they would died in order that the good news of the Kingdom of God might bear much fruit.

But the truth is that for each of us the “stepping into the light”, the preparedness to face the reality of who we are – and who others are – is a form of death.

It might be the death of our self-absorption, as we allow the light to show us the needs of others around us.

It might be the death of our illusions, as we allow the light to show us who we really are.

Or it might be the death of our carefully cultivated image, as we allow the light to reveal the truth.

Whenever we come into the light, there is a sense in which we are allowing something to die. And it is only possible because we believe, not just in Good Friday and the crucifixion, but in Easter Sunday and the resurrection. Because we believe that God will forgive our iniquity and remember our sin no more. Because we know that those who cling to their lives, their images, their illusions, will lose them: but those who are prepared to lose them, for the sake of God and for the Kingdom of God, will find that they bear fruit: life that is truly eternal, for it is founded not in darkness, but in the light of truth, and the light of God.

Amen

Judgement and Salvation

Listen!
Numbers 21:4-9 | John 3:14-21
The story of the snakes in the book of numbers is one of those that I’m pretty sure we would never read in Church if it were not for the fact that Jesus made reference to it in what is probably the most famous passage of the Bible – his conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. But because of that connection we find it in our lectionary, almost apologetically, as a sort of background, and explanation of what Jesus was talking about in those verses just before his famous “for God so loved the world”.

But perhaps it might be wise to ask why it is that Jesus chose this somewhat obscure and, let’s face it, rather unpleasant story to lead into his great and profound declaration of God’s love? Was it just a play on the words “lifted up”, as if to hint that Jesus already, even at the start of his ministry, knew just the form of death that he would face? Or was there something in the story of Moses, the people, and the snakes that Jesus wanted to be in the minds of those who heard him, and that John thought important to be in the minds of those who read his account?

Obviously you’ll have guessed that I rather think that it is the latter – that this juxtaposition of stories is no accident; that there is something of the story of the snakes that finds an echo in – or perhaps, is a pre-echo of – the salvation that Jesus described himself as bringing.

So what is it about these snakes? There role in the story as told by the author of the book of Numbers is complex and rather ambiguous. For a start, of course, the snake represents the enemy from the earliest days of the Jewish tradition; the tempter, the one who leads people astray.

And here too, the snakes are certainly an enemy – they are venomous, they bit the people, and people die.

But at the same time, the snakes are the tool of God: God sent them among the people as judgement for their rebellion. And then as if to just make it more complex still, the snake is turned into the symbol of the solution – the sign by which the people can be saved (by God) from the very judgement that the snakes were sent (by God) to bring.

The snakes are the judgement, the problem, and the solution, all rolled into one. And this is the image that Jesus chooses to apply to himself, when he comes to speak of salvation.

Which really brings home the central question of John chapter 3: a question which theologians, with a certain flair for pompous language, refer to as the question of “soteriogical necessity” – why, or from what, or for what, do we need to be saved?
Why do we need to be saved?

Now for some the answer to that is rather simple: we have sinned against God, God is just and so there must be consequences of our sins – a penalty, a punishment. Our need to be saved from the righteous anger of a just God; Jesus saves us by taking the penalty upon himself.

And that is an image used in the scriptures – indeed, it fits easily with the story from Numbers. God, the just judge, sends the snakes as deserved punishment; but also sends a way that the people can turn back to God, and avoid the deserved consequences of their sin. I have no problem with that sort of description of salvation, except to the extent that it becomes the only description of salvation.

For Jesus’ description of judgement and of salvation in the passage from John offers a rather different flavour to that judicial, legal, understanding. He doesn’t offer us as image of judgement a just judge, measuring us against a standard and declaring the rightful punishment.

Instead he offers the image of light.

this is the judgement, 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

Light has come into the world. And those who see the light, those who experience its brightness, have a choice. They can believe in the goodness of the light, they can walk into it, proud of what is good an noble in themselves, and prepared for what is broken and rotten to be seen and dealt with; or they can hide in the shadows. There is no judge saying ‘you may enter the light, but you, you are not worthy’. There is just the light, and the choice: come to the light, or choose the darkness.

The light doesn’t judge; it just reveals. The judgement is one we bring on ourselves.

Hear Jesus words again: he doesn’t say “those who do not believe will be judged”. This is not “believe in me, or you will be subject to judgement”. He says “those who do not believe are already judged”.

Those who do not believe in the goodness of the light, those who do not believe in the love of God that is fundamentally about saving, giving life; they have judged themselves. They have seen the light, and said no.

Our deepest need for salvation, it seems to me, is not to be saved from God’s anger because of the things that we have done wrong – for God is far, far more ready to forgive than we are to receive that forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is free, ready, available to all who will choose to step into the light and see that they need to be forgiven. To be saved from God’s anger is not a great need – it is a given.

Our need to be saved is not the need to be saved from God’s judgement; it is the need to be saved from our desire to hide the truth about ourselves from that judgement. To be saved from our preference for the darkness that hides who we are and what we have done. To be saved from our denial of our guilt, our resistance of anything that might show us as less than perfect.

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

Every one of us has things in us, things in our lives, of which we are rightly, nobly, proud. Things we’ve done that are simply good. Times we’ve made the right decision, done the hard but good thing, gone the extra mile, taken trouble to help, given of ourselves out of love, stood for justice. Every one of us has these crowns, these jewels, these nuggets of gold, that we are, in a good sense, proud of. We probably wouldn’t make a thing of them – that would seem to devalue them somehow – but if someone quietly said to us “that was good, that thing you did” we would accept the praise – humbly, but knowing it was fair.

And every one of us also has our parts of darkness and shadow. The things we hope no one will ever know. The decisions we’ve taken that we are ashamed to think of, that we wish could be forever left behind.

We all carry with us, in us, the gold and the shadow. The life giving, and the life destroying.

And this is the judgement Jesus speaks of in John chapter 3: when the light comes, do we believe that that light is the light of life, and not of condemnation. Do we believe that the Son of God came not to condemn but that we might have eternal life? Do we believe that the love of God is big enough to take our darkness and burn it away?

Or would we seek to hide our shadow side, even from God?

Lent is traditionally a time of reflection, of self examination. But self examination all too easily drifts into self flagellation. I want to challenge each of us, in the remaining weeks before Easter, to be honest, at least with ourselves and God, about our shadow. Not to embrace it, not to be proud of it, but to recognise and acknowledge it. To say “yeah, that is part of me too”.

If we choose to hide our shadows from God, then we judge ourselves, condemn ourselves to continue to live with pain and guilt and shame.

Come into the light, and all will be truly seen. An uncomfortable, embarrassing, terrifying thought.

But the gospel of Easter is that there is nothing so dark, nothing so mean or ugly, that Jesus will not take into himself, nothing that, when brought into the light, will cause God to turn away from you.

In the light of God, there is hope, acceptance, forgiveness, and even the power to change.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Not saved from judgement – but saved by judgement. Saved by the light which shows us our right and our wrong; the same light that will burn away that wrong and leave us to walk in the day, in the freedom of knowing that we are known, and even so, we are loved.

Amen

In response to the events of the past two weeks

Several people have asked if I would post the text of my comments before the sermon last Sunday – so here they are….

Friends, I doubt that anyone here today has not been aware of the events at the royal commission over the past week, and, especially given the very strong connections that many of us here have with Knox, the news reports, and the testimony itself, has been disturbing and, for many of us, deeply distressing.

At a time like this we are challenged to behave like what we are – the body of Christ. And in particular, to care for, and look out for, one another. Please be aware that there will be some amongst us who are profoundly hurt by the present events, and look for ways that you can be supportive of them.

Please also feel free to come and talk to me, or one of the elders, or the pastoral care team at any time. In addition, Stephen and Beverly Matthews, ministers of the Uniting Church at Burwood, have kindly offered to make themselves available to anyone who would like to speak with someone outside of the congregation. They amongst the wisest and most experienced ministers I know, and I am grateful to them for offering themselves in this way. Contact details for them can be found in the narthex.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to assure the congregation that we here at St. John’s take child protection very seriously; this is why we have worked hard to meet and exceed the legal requirements of the new working with children check; to ensure that all relevant staff complete safe church training; and that in all our dealings with children their safety is not just paramount, but visibly and accountably so.

Again, if you have any concerns, please don’t hesitate to come and talk to me or the chair of the Church Council, Kit Craig.

No barriers

(due to technical errors, no recording of this week’s sermon is available)
Exodus 20:1-17 | John 2:13-22
The cleansing of the Temple, we normally call it, and even the name comes laden with overtones of meaning – cleansing, making clean; the imagery of scrubbing away that layer of black gunk stuck onto the frying pan after a particularly unsuccessful fry-up (or that just me?) – making something clean again.

The account is found in all four of the gospels (one of the only stories, other than the death and resurrection, that is), but there is one striking difference between John’s account, and that of the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke. John places the events right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – it’s only chapter two of the gospel, whereas in each of the other three, the clearing of the Temple takes place right at the end, in Holy Week, just after the triumphal entry, and seems to mark the beginning of the end, the point of no return for Jesus.

So what do we make of this discrepancy? Some conclude that Jesus must have cleared the Temple twice – once at the start of his ministry, and once at the end. If you take a high view of the literal accuracy of the gospel accounts, that seems to be the case.

I have to say that I find it a bit of stretch to suggest that Mark, Matthew and Luke, writing of the second clearing of the Temple, didn’t think to mention that this had happened before, and to be honest, I think such reading doesn’t really do justice to the author of John’s Gospel. For everything about John’s writing points towards a carefully constructed piece of theological writing – of poetry, if you like – a story written not to tell the reader what happened when, but to tell the much bigger and truer story of who Jesus was, and what it meant.

John was writing for an audience who were not Jews –clear from the opening words of our reading, “the Passover of the Jews was near” – you wouldn’t explain the word Passover to a Jewish audience. So where Matthew (in particular) can take for granted knowledge of the Judaism of the time, John cannot.

So John takes a story which encapsulates all that needs to be explained about the state of Judaism at the time of Jesus, and places it at the start of the gospel, as an explanation, an introduction, so that his gentile readers have the context they need to make sense of the conflict between Jesus and the authorities that is to come.

And what is it, then, that John wanted his readers to understand – and that the other gospel writers all considered important enough to emphasise?

To answer that, I think we need to dig a little into the most obvious and striking aspect of this story: that it portrays Jesus, not meek and mild, but angry, decisive, even aggressive.
It’s quite often said that this is the only story in the gospels where you see Jesus angry. I’d have to say I don’t agree. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three other stories: when the disciples turn away parents with children because they think Jesus is too busy with the grownups, he rebukes them – an angry work. And his list of woes to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (“nest of vipers”? “whitewashed tombs”?) are not words meek and mild. And the not often quoted words of Jesus when he says of those who cause little ones to stumble that it would be “better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea”…

But there’s one interesting thing about all four of these stories, all the times I could think of in which Jesus is made angry, and that is this: his anger is always directed at those who make it harder for people to come to their God. People who put barriers in the way.

Whether those barriers are literal and physical – turning the children away; or legalistic – the rigid over interpretation of the law that Jesus condemns in the Pharisees; or, for want of a better word, psychological – causing the little ones to stumble.

Or, in the case of the temple, sociological, political and financial barriers.

Because what had happened with the Temple, was this: the outer courtyard had been transformed into a market.

Now what might not be immediately obvious was that the outer courtyard had an important symbolic role in the ecosystem of the Temple. It was known as the court of the gentiles – for it was as far into the Temple as those who did not share the Jewish faith were allowed to go.
But that emphasises the negative – they could go no further. Hear it again as a positive – even those who did not share the Jewish faith were welcome into the Jewish Temple, to offer prayer to the Jewish God. The court of the Gentiles was an architectural declaration of the sense that the Jewish was always intended as a blessing for all the nations, not just as an exclusive club for God’s chosen.

And it was that courtyard, that place for all nations to come to worship God, that had been transformed into the noise and smell and offense of a market.

And then you look at the services being offered in that market. Moneychangers, and people selling sheep, cattle, and doves – all the things that were needed by those who would bring offerings to God in the Temple.

But why the need to buy an offering? The description of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament is clear that the expectation is that everyone would bring an offering from their own possessions to give to God. But it seems that by the time of Jesus the rules that specified the animal offered must be a good specimen had become so perverted, so tightly defined, that the only way one could expect to have your offering accepted was to purchase it from an approved seller.

And similarly for gifts of money: roman currency could not be used, only the temple coin; so money had to be exchanged (for temple coin had little use elsewhere) if offering was to be made.

In each case, the Temple authorities had taken the law – the command (or perhaps invitation) that offerings be brought to God, and had added to it layers of complexity, of clutter; things that made coming and making a gift to God less a spontaneous act arising from a grateful heart, and more a regulated, strictly controlled process.

Rules added to the faith that created barriers, and handed control to those in authority; control, and, in this case, profit.

If there is one common theme in the four stories of Jesus getting angry that I can see, it is this: no one gets to control someone else’s access to God. No one gets to erect a barrier. No one gets to be gatekeeper.

No one gets to be Priest – not in the strong sense, of the one who in some sense controls access to God.

In my college days I had a – I think it’s called a frank exchange of views – with a lecturer on the subject of the regulations we have in the Church over the administration of communion. The lecturer argued that, without admittedly broad and generous rules, someone might take to celebrating communion in a terribly inappropriate way – and asked, didn’t I have a problem with this? To which I replied that they and God might have a problem, but (as long as they were not hindering or harming others) I couldn’t see why I would. And that any rules we made about how we ought to worship would be limited by our imagination, and would, in turn, limit the creative imagination of those who came after us.

I came that close to failing the sacramental theology unit – so please know that my views on the matter may be considered on the edge of mainstream.

But I do believe that as humans, we desperately seek systems, clarity, order, structure. And those are good things – they can provide us as a community with the safety we need to grow and flourish.

But so often we turn those means into ends; entrench a way we have found as the way; and, being human, draw power into fewer hands. And that way – for the people of God – lies the Temple courtyard that Jesus needed to cleanse.

So my pledge, I suppose, my hope for Lent is that I will seek to never believe or express that the way I have found to the experience of and intimacy with God is the only – or even the best – way. I will resist the belief that because others follow Christ differently, they follow him less well or less honestly.

I will offer them my story – I will share with them my insight into the story of Jesus Christ – I will encourage them to see their lives reflected in the words of the gospel, and find hope and courage and direction and meaning in the words of Jesus. But only if I am willing also to hear them share the same things with me.

And I might even challenge others; argue that their understanding is inadequate or misguided, their conclusions harmful: but only if I am also willing to take seriously their challenge to my faith, my decisions.

But I will not say, even to myself, that they are not seeking to walk the path of God. They might be, or it might not. But that is not my call to make.

Amen

Berowra Station to Berowra Waters and return, Saturday 14th March, 2015

The next day walk for the Cartophiles bushwalking club revisits one of the very earliest walks the club ever did: 5½ km from Berowra Station down to Berowra Waters for lunch, then return to the station.

We’ll meet at the Berowra Station car park at 10.00am on Saturday, 14th March. The walking is on fire trails and well formed tracks, and all the steep sections have formed steps, but because a couple of the climbs are steep it’s rated moderate to hard.

For more information see 2015 Walk 3 (Berowra to Berowra Waters) flyer.

To register for the walk, or to get more information, contact Kit Craig at cartophiles@stjohnswahroonga.org
or on 0411 507 422.

Metrogaine, Saturday 28th February, 2015

The view across the course from City Lookout

The view across the course from City Lookout

Congratulations James & Edwina!  The Cartophiles only entered one team for the NSW Rogaining Association’s (NSWRA) annual Metrograine in the Lane Cove National Park.  James and Edwina carried the weight of the Cartophiles’ expectations and didn’t let us down.  The came 56th of 94 teams in the mixed team category and 103rd overall out of 194 teams.

Here’s James’s report:

To the frustration of many (or some) of the Cartophiles, only Edwina and I faced the starter’s whistle for the Metrogaine held last Saturday, 28 February 2015. Not only that, we finished within the time limit.  

Before I fill in the details between the beginning and end, I wish to praise the organizers, the course setters and the map makers. This was my fourth Metrogaine and I have to come to appreciate the tremendous effort made by those who put it together. The event runs like clockwork (you lose 10 points for every minute or part thereof you are late), the course is challenging without being over the top and the maps are delightfully potentially ambiguous to keep your map reading skills on edge. It’s a great day.

This year’s event was held in the upper reaches of the Lane Cove River. It was called the Lane Cove Rivergaine.  It was bounded by Ryde Road, The Pacific Highway, Fox Valley Road, The Comenarra, Pennant Hills Road, the Northern Railway Line and the M2. The course was longer than usual because they were running both a 6 hour and a 12 hour event.  Only because of time restraints, Edwina and I entered the 6 hour event.

The weather was beautiful, the last day of summer. Walking conditions were superb. The temperature was only in the high 20’s when we were in the shade of the bush, rising to the mid 30’s when we were marching along the suburban streets and all of that was wrapped up with high humidity, soft breezes and a gorgeous cloudless blue sky. A great day for Whale Beach, not Whale Rock. It was one of those days which makes you glow and shine as your enjoy the steady trickle of perspiration ooze down your back or drip into your eye. The first thing we noticed as we started was the pong of BO in the air: a real incentive to find our own course. We spent much of the time hoping for a pub around the next bend. A typical metrogaine.

The hash house was the Baden-Powell Scout Centre at Thornleigh. We started at 11.00 which gave me time to mow the lawn before we left home. Life is too short! We then chose an anticlockwise route which took us to Pennant Hills Park, down to Whale Rock, back to the M2, up to Norfolk Road,  Epping (such beautiful homes), past North Epping Primary before heading back into the bush and down to Devlin’s Creek, along Scout Creek where we missed our turn up to City Lookout and had to backtrack, then up to the lookout (which really had me puffing and regretting that I had only had a hot cross bun for breakfast – we had to stop for lunch) then off to Thornleigh Park, before clambering down to the Lane Cover River and up to The Broadway (if the track goes down it must soon go up)  then back through the bush to the Comenarra, down the Comenarra to the cutting, through the bush up to Dawson Ave. Park and finally, we hightailed it back to the start. We covered about 19 klms, most of it on bush tracks, some of which were easy, one section was like a creek bed but most of it was undulating and rocky and at times, quite narrow and steep. The track was not as fast as I anticipated.

We had planned a longer route (about 23 klms) but at 3.30 we realised we weren’t going to make it and had to plan a new course to maximize our points for the last 90 minutes and not be late. With gut instinct and rough intuition (chaos always trumps planning) we managed to score over 1000 points and make it home with 4 minutes to spare. A quick sanger and drink and I was ready to cark it.

We had a splendid meander through some very beautiful bushland all so close to home. We hope other Cartophiles will take up the challenge with us next year. I plan to take a large magnifying glass because after a while all contour lines look the same.

Metrogaine competitors at the checkpoint at Whale Rock in the Lane Cove National Park

Metrogaine competitors at the Whale Rock checkpoint in the Lane Cove National Park

For all the results and more photos see the NSWRA site at http://nswrogaining.org/AboutEvents/Events/15MG/15MG.htm.

 

King, not just friend

Listen!
Psalm 22:23-31 | Mark 9:2-9
The journey of lent, as I suggested last week, is a journey that begin with a recognition of who we are: “you are my child, beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and ends with a declaration of our calling, our mission: “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news”.
So if we are to begin our journey by considering who we are, then it’s a fortunate coincidence (by which I mean I’d love to be able to say that I planned it like this, but unfortunately I didn’t), the series of sermons that ran up to lent ended – with the sixth day of the creation story – in a declaration of just that – who we, as humanity, are.

If we are to base our Lenten journey on who we are, that is where we begin. We, each of us, and we, as a community, are created by God; creatures of his creation, sharing with the animals and plants, rocks and waves the basic reality of being created: not derived from ourselves, not the master of our fate, not self-made men or women: when push comes to shove, not God, not divine, not eternal.

And at the same time, we, each of us, and we, as a community, are uniquely made in the image of God, gifted with the creative power of God, entrusted with the care of God’s creation.

But that is just who we are as humanity. That is the truth that we share with all men and women who live and who have ever lived and who ever will live – of all nations, of all faiths (or none), of all ages.

For the start of our Lenten journey we need something else. For, just as Jesus’ time in the wilderness did not start with a simple declaration of his humanity, but with his baptism, and God’s declaration “this is my son, the beloved”, so our Lenten journey begins with our identity not just as people created by God and in the image of God, but people who share that baptism, who have heard the call of that same spirit, who have chosen to enter into that story.

For who we are is a question that cannot ever be answered in isolation. If you want to ask who someone is, you might try to answer the question with an incredibly detailed analysis of the individual: a psychological profile, a complete DNA map, a thorough physical examination.

But I suspect we would all recognise immediately that those things are not the whole story – indeed, are not even the most interesting part of the story. They are things that a skilled biographer would most likely ignore, or at most pay minimal attention to.

To the question of who we are, all the interesting answers lie elsewhere. And in particular, they lie in that strange network of interconnected life that we call relationships. Who we are, ultimately, is shaped – defined – by the network of relationships that we are embedded in.
And who we are – in the context in which we ask this question, at the start of our Lenten journey – is therefore ultimately shaped by the relationship that makes us Christian: our relationship with – or to – Jesus Christ.

We are Jesus’ people. That has to be the place where we begin this journey.

Which, in a strange way, is why the odd, uncomfortable story of the transfiguration is such an important part of the process of lent.

In fact, even the fact that we find this story odd and uncomfortable (at least, I do… perhaps you are very comfortable with this part of the story – in which case it may be that todays sermon is more for me than it is for you. Sorry about that. I’m happy to give a full refund upon request). Part of the reason that we find this story uncomfortable is that it plays to an aspect of Jesus that we aren’t so familiar with, that isn’t so simple a facet of our tradition.

For as is so often the case, the faith asks us to hold truths in tension with one another. And whenever that is so, some of us sit more comfortably with one pole, and some with the other, and all of us struggle to live with the creative tension between the two.
We – most of us, in the Uniting Church – are generally pretty comfortable with the image and language of Jesus as friend, and companion, with the image and language of God as parent, as lover, with the image and language of the spirit as God’s presence, encourager.

But the story of the transfiguration takes that man Jesus – that challenging and confrontational man, that welcoming and accepting man, and shows us another side to his reality. For the language used – dazzling white, as no one could bleach them – speaks deliberate echoes of the appearance of God: and the voice of God, repeating the words heard at the baptism “this is my so, the beloved” but then giving them a new twist, with the command: “listen to him” – all points to a greater reality. This is not just our friend, our Guru, the one who has come to declare the presence of the kingdom of God: this is the king.

And that goes to the core of who we are. For we, the people of the Church, are by definition, the people of Jesus Christ. And it makes the world of difference to who we are, then, whether that Jesus is the wise teacher and reliable friend, or the king of the kingdom, the image of the creator.

I wonder, as we reflect on who we are, whether the words of a friend of mine ring true – that we in the Uniting Church are very good at working for the kingdom of God, but really quite poor at recognising the king of the kingdom.

Peter saw it – and for all that his response gets mocked, even by the author of Mark’s gospel – he is the one who gets something of what has happened.

We, instead, tend to get embarrassed by the story; the Jesus we are comfortable with is very human – even if the perfect human. But the tradition of the Christian faith has always sought to live in the tension that declares Jesus to be fully human, and at the same time, fully God. If the transfiguration is the divine nature of Jesus shining, for a moment, more strongly, then that might be the very reason we feel less comfortable with it.

But it is the scandalous challenge of the gospel; that when we decide to say that we are the people of Jesus, we are claiming for ourselves a share in that declaration: that he was, as the epistle put it, in very nature God.

This is who we are: the followers of the man who is God. This is where we begin our Lenten journey: not just people, created in the image of God; but believers in Jesus, the Christ.

Followers of the one who is God: and, as we journey towards the end of Lent, of the one who turns out to be the God who chose to die.
But perhaps that is a thought for another week.

Amen