There are many things for us to pick up on in this story of the anointing of Jesus, in John’s gospel. The first is that this takes place at the home of Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha in Bethany. The story specifically reminds us that Lazarus was the man that Jesus raised from death. We read about this in the previous chapter. We also read there that the Jewish authorities, from the day Lazarus was raised, made plans to kill Jesus. (At this point, we may do well to remember that there is no such thing as an unbiased view of history). Knowing of the opposition to him, Jesus withdrew to a place near the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.
The Prodigal Son
This is a story about a love which is far more extraordinary than we can even guess. This story breaks so many “rules” of the culture of the Middle East, that when we realise what’s happening, it makes our heads spin. During this week, I have been reading Kenneth Bailey’s book, “Jacob and the Prodigal”. Kenneth Bailey is Research professor of Eastern New Testament studies at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. He has spent 40 years living and teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. So we can see that he really knows what he’s talking about.Luke 13: 1 – 9
Luke 13: 1-9
This isn’t anyone’s favourite passage of scripture. Jesus’ words about repentance could scarcely be more direct and confronting. Certainly, he’s saying NOW is the time to repent! Get on with it! So what is repentance, then? We can say that to repent is to turn around and go the other way. To change direction, and take the right path instead of doing what’s wrong. So there we have a “blanket” kind of idea of what repentance means. What might the details be?
The Transfiguration. An amazing event in the life of Jesus. Before the eyes of Peter, James and John Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top. The disciples see Moses and Elijah speaking to Jesus, about his coming exodus in Jerusalem. We could take the easy way out and simply contemplate what a glorious episode this is, revealing as it does the majesty of Jesus as Son of God. I don’t think we should do just that, though. If we leave it at that, then we can distance ourselves from Jesus and not receive the message of challenge that this represents to us.
World Day of Prayer March 2013
We read in Matt.25:34,35 that Jesus speaks of a time when the king says to those at his right hand: “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Luke 4:1-13. The Temptation of Jesus
Luke 4:1-13. The Temptation of Jesus
What is temptation, any way? Some people would name things like wanting to eat a whole tub of ice-cream, or a whole chocolate mud cake all by yourself. And goodness knows, some people apparently do just that. But we’re not going there today, things like that are just a side-issue to the real problem of temptation.
One of the first things we notice about this reading is that not all Pharisees were against Jesus. Here’s a group of them who have come to warn Jesus about a plot to kill him. So we need to be careful not to tar them all with the same brush. Many of us have a picture in our minds of Pharisees as sticking rigidly to the letter of the law, but failing to follow its’ intent. We need to be careful about how rigid is our own thinking about them, and allow for a certain range of attitudes amongst them, both conservative and what we might call liberal.
Mark 12: 38-44
It would be clear to all of us that this passage is about integrity. Jesus takes aim at the scribes who delight in the prestige of their position, yet do not live out God’s justice. They display all the trappings of religiosity, but they do great wrong to the poor. They are all show and no substance. The original wording of the scripture makes clear that their lives are a pretense. Jesus’ warning is that they will receive the greater condemnation.
Baptism. Nov 18
I think, with this being a baptism service, and with so many children today, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. And that is the current scandal about the Church’s involvement in the sexual abuse of children. This is a crime, there are no excuses for it whatsoever. Sadly, many people will look with scorn on the Church because of recent revelations. And there is clearly more to come. The Uniting Church takes very exacting steps to ensure that the children in our care in no way come to any harm at all. Immediate, stern and effective disciplinary action is taken should there be any infraction of the law.
First Week of Advent, Dec. 2nd.
Luke uses startling, poetic language to tell us what the coming of the
Kingdom of God is like. This is known as Apocalyptic language, which reveals things previously hidden, in highly symbolic expressions. What we need to know is that the coming of God’s Kingdom makes all the difference in the world, to this world. That’s what we can glean from what we’re told of signs in the heavens and on earth. The coming of Gods’ kingdom is the advent of justice and righteousness, clearing away the rubble of dubious motives, greedy desires, selfishness, hatred, intolerance, and violence.
Advent 2. Malachi 3:1-4, Lk. 3:1-6.
Malachi’s were a warning to the Hebrew people. When we read the book, we discover that Israel’s worship of God was not at all pleasing to the Lord. In fact, the prophet says that the Lord was deeply angry with the absence of reverence shown by the priests and people in worship at that time. Foreign gods were being worshipped in the land. The whole point of the coming of God’s messenger, of which we have just read, is that God will refine the priests and the people, and put things to rights in worship and in the whole land. “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver…”
Advent 4. Luke 1:39-55.
Mary speaks of a world turned upside down, through the coming of God’s messiah. She exclaims about the mercy of God, who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, who brings down the powerful from their places and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and turns the rich away, empty. In all this, God is keeping the ancient promises made to Israel, from the time of Abraham and throughout subsequent history.
would be clear to all of us that this passage is about integrity. Jesus takes aim at the scribes who delight in the prestige of their position, yet do not live out God’s justice. They display all the trappings of religiosity, but they do great wrong to the poor. They are all show and no substance. The original wording of the scripture makes clear that their lives are a pretense. Jesus’ warning is that they will receive the greater condemnation.
Reading the letter to the Ephesians can be something of a challenge, because of the exalted language the writer uses. That’s why I have chosen the translation by Eugene Peterson from “The Message”, since I think it best explains to people of our day what the writer means. Let’s get a hold on some background so we understand the issues better.
August 6th marks the feast of the Transfiguration, and August 4th the centenary of the birth of a remarkable man, Raoul Wallenberg. We are acknowledging both these things in our worship today. I choose to bring these together, because surely the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is not simply there to inspire awe and wonder in us, and leave it at that. That story is not in scripture “simply” as yet another sign to us that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the anointed One of God. No, surely the story is there to remind us that as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, be it ever so slowly but surely, we are enabled to help transform the world about us.
A very perceptive person said to me quite recently that the letter to the Ephesians is substantially saying “Come on fellas, lift your game”. And there’s a lot of truth in that. Ephesians has a lot to say about how to live the Christian life so that we will be distinguishable from others. Scripture always encourages us not to accept the standards of society as our own, but to aspire to lives that really have the stamp of holiness on them. We’re not talking about being ‘holier than thou’, scripture never sanctions that kind of attitude. In fact Jesus labelled that hypocrisy. We’re talking about genuine humanity which is deeply touched by the transforming power of God.
As you can plainly see, the scripture from Ephesians is all about living wisely. Equally clearly, that’s all about following the will of God in our daily lives. I scarcely think that we need a lecture about not getting drunk with wine. However, it’s good to be reminded that we should constantly seek to be filled with the Spirit. We’re not talking about a “once off” here, either. We’re talking about something continuous, which grows day by day from being disciplined in studying the bible, in prayer, and in worshipping together.
The letter of James speaks with great confidence and conviction about prayer, such as we find it hard sometimes to match. It challenges us to move prayer out of the strictly private domain where we might express those things closest to our hearts, into the sphere of community where others can support us and pray with us, even about those things which touch us most deeply.
The book of Job is considered by some as possibly the greatest piece of literature ever written. We know from the start that we are dealing with a work of genius. So we realise that we need to approach it with great respect in seeking to understand it. We need to appreciate it as being from it’s time and place, and to read it as such, although it of course raises questions which confront every human being of any time and place.