Born is the King

This is the text of my message for Christmas Day 2019.  KSSM (Kaniva Uniting Church) hosted the eccumenical Christmas Day service in Kaniva.

Luke 2:1-14; Titus 3:4-7

Jesus is a truly puzzling figure in history, there really is nothing straightforward about him. The stories we tell about Jesus can be pretty simple, how he was born in a manger and died on a cross, how he fed 5000 men plus their wives and kids from a single lunch-pack, how he taught the rich to look after the poor and how he taught the poor to trust God. Not everyone is convinced that the stories are true, but the way the stories are told is pretty straightforward, it’s plain storytelling. But the puzzle comes in how believable the stories are, and what their deeper meaning is. I mean, how can a baby born in a food-trough be God? How can any baby born anywhere be God? Simple tales told simply, but baffling meanings.

The story of Jesus’ birth is pretty well know, even if you aren’t religious. In fact you can be religious in another religion, but if you live in Australia you’ve probably heard about the manger and the three kings and the shepherds and the little drummer boy and the angels from the realms of glory. The story as it is actually told by the Bible is a little bit different, mainly because there are three versions of Christmas in the Bible but Australia like the rest of the world tells only one, which is a sort of mish-mash of the three to form a complete story. In our story this morning, which is only the one from Luke 2, we are told that Joseph and Mary, who we met in Luke 1, have to travel from Nazareth where they live to Bethlehem which is Joseph’s family’s home town. It’s possible that Joseph has never been to Bethlehem and that his grandfather’s grandfather emigrated to Galilee a hundred years ago; it’s also possible he grew up there and moved to Nazareth to find work, either way it doesn’t matter because he has to go there now. So, Joseph and his pregnant wife walk down to Bethlehem over the course of a few days, (the Bible says nothing about a donkey), and Luke 2:6 tells us that while they were there the time came, and Mary was delivered of her firstborn, a son. It’s highly unlikely from this wording that our common idea of Christmas is correct: Joseph and Mary certainly did not arrive in Bethlehem just in time for the birth, but too late for a motel room, and that Mary was left to deliver her baby alone and in the car-park barely hours after arriving. More likely is that the couple arrived in plenty of time and were camping outside the village, probably with Joseph’s cousins and brothers and so forth who would also have had to go back to Bethlehem. When Mary began to feel the pangs of labour Joseph might have gone in to town to find a guesthouse for the night, just to be a bit more comfortable, and unable to offer them some space in the crowded upstairs part where the people slept the landlord offered Joseph a quiet corner in the downstairs room where the animals were kept. It strikes us as a bit primitive, but we’re talking 4BC here so it’s probably nothing really out of the ordinary for Joseph and his family.

So, Jesus’ actual birth was pretty normal in and of itself. The fact that his mother was a virgin and his conception was by The Holy Spirit is unique, but the boy in the manger isn’t terribly remarkable. Having said that, the remarkable kicks in a few hours later.

Back outside the village, most likely in a camp not dissimilar to that shared by Joseph’s extended family, is a mob of shepherds. So these guys are locals, and they’re doing their job. In Luke 2:8 we read that they are lying in the fields, as you do when you’re a shepherd and there’s no barn, but then as Luke 2:9 tells us the glory of The LORD shone around them, and they were terrified. The baby in the manger is the one they’re looking for, and when they find him they will know that good news has come. That’s all well and good, but the question I want to ask this morning is “why shepherds?” Well, why anyone really? I mean, why can’t the paparazzi just let Jesus grow up anonymously and then announce himself as an adult, when he’s ready? After all, that’s pretty much what happens in Mark and John where their stories begin with John the Baptist saying “hey, look over there”.

I think it is significant that we hear about Jesus’ birth, and that Heaven drew attention to it at the time with angels and stars and visiting Magi and shepherds. There’s a message in the baby, and that message is that when God chose to enter the world’s reality as a baby God was saying that there is no rush. Sometimes we’d love it if God would just zap! or kapow! stuff into being, especially if that means the destruction of evil or the triumph of good, but God does not work that way. Christmas shows us that God is careful and slow; not ponderous and creaky slow, but not slap-dash and hasty: God’s way is the way of growth and as those of you who are farmers know growth takes time, conditions, and care if it is to occur in the best way. In Luke 2:13-14 we read about the angels singing and so we have no doubt that this event, the one with the baby in the manger, is a God-directed event and that this child really is something special, someone special, indeed the most special someone there ever will be. And this someone is a baby, only hours old, so there will be years involved in the revealing of this plan, the unwrapping of God’s story which has begun its telling but has a long way to go until its conclusion.

The story which Christians tell about Jesus does not begin at Christmas and end at Easter. It doesn’t even begin at Annunciation and end at Ascension for those of you who know those events in our calendar. The story of Jesus begins before Creation and Genesis 1, and it’s still being told today: it hasn’t finished yet because Jesus is still going. And that story is not just the biography of a carpenter who grew up in the north of Israel but who was born and died in the south: the story of Christmas and the story of Christianity is the story of the angels in Luke 2:14, God is glorified in the exchanges of peace amongst and between humankind.

In Titus 3:4-7 we read Paul’s take on Jesus’ birth. This is not actually a Christmas story, but it does say that Jesus the man, who once was that baby, came as a representation of God’s goodness and mercy. Jesus was not a representative of God, Jesus was God in all that God is; however Paul especially draws attention to the characteristics of Jesus to tell us what God is like. God is good, loving, kind and merciful, and not that Paul says it but its obvious from these other characteristics, God is patient.

This Christmas morning as we rush home to presents, food, family, and the fun of the day (and don’t worry, I’m nearly finished preaching), it’s good to be reminded that God is patient and never rushed. God takes the time to love us, to protect us as we grow, and to be patient as we stumble along towards maturity. Jesus was active in ministry for between one and three years, depending how you read the Bible’s seasons, and these were the last years of his life. Jesus didn’t start preaching and healing until her turned 30, so he was 31 or 33 when he died, and then he was back to Heaven seven weeks later. God didn’t rush Jesus into action; God let Jesus grow up and learn a trade and get some life skills, and then Jesus did what he had to do as a teacher and a healer, an example to the world, and then he died as a sign of God’s love and then he rose again as a sign of God’s authority. Then Jesus went home. No rush, just a well placed, well-paced life.

Let’s remember Jesus the saviour, and God the patient one, this Christmas. Let’s take the time away from the tinsel, even if only a few minutes, and slow down and be present and notice where God has grown us up to and where God is pointing us toward. There’s no rush, there’s only breath and inertia, but let’s not miss the quiet and gentle movement forward by frantically sitting with the flashy and the noisy.

Celebrate with joy, the Lord is come: do you have space to receive him?

Amen.

The Advent of Loss: 2 (Blue Christmas)

This is the text of the message I prepared for the community Blue Christmas service in Kaniva for 2019.  The service was hosted by the Uniting Church on behalf of all of the town churches.

John 1:1-14

Imagine a Christmas without all the pageantry. In a field of loss that might be nice, and December 25th itself might pass in quietness, another Wednesday in the world, with nothing to set it apart. Imagine if Christmas Day was just another birthday, someone else’s birthday, and joy to them and all of that, but good that I wasn’t invited, or even aware, because I’m not in the mood for celebration. In fact, even if it was my birthday, and it isn’t, but even if it was I’m just not into it.

Do any of you know what date of the year my birthday is? It’s okay, I don’t know when yours are either. It’s probably no surprise to you that your birthday this year was just another day for me, unremarkable, I don’t even remember what I was doing: unless it was a Sunday of course, in which case I was probably preaching, but then I preach most Sundays anyway so I’m sorry if I didn’t notice your special day. Or was it a Saturday in winter and I was at the footy, same answer, sorry I didn’t notice.

There are days like that for all of us. Not just birthdays, but other significant days and the anniversaries of significant days. There are people in this room, at the very least in this town, who lost friends and family to death this year: but what was I doing on the day that that happened? Can’t say. Others observed days of anniversary: a year, two, ten, perhaps fifty since a loved one died, again days unremarked by me or the rest of you, for the most part. And generally that’s okay, we often don’t need the whole world party to our personal grief, especially when healing has begun and the years have made the memories more fond for what was had and less sharp for what was lost.

But then, then there’s Christmas. I know two people for whom Christmas Day is the anniversary of a father’s passing. But even without that, Christmas Day is a loud and bright day, especially in Australia where it’s all-but midsummer, so the parties are outside with cricket in the street and barbeques in the back yard and it’s hard to hide from celebration even if you want to. That’s not to say that there aren’t lonely people, grieving people, distressed people even on the Day when we celebrate Santa’s coming to earth in human form, it’s just that those sad-sacks get their noses rubbed in by their boisterous neighbours and their cordial-powered, remote-control wielding children.

In John’s gospel and the opening chapter, which is really a prologue to the story than the opening of the story itself, we have Christmas without the paraphernalia. No wise men, no shepherds, no angels; no star, no animals, no manger; no baby. What we have is light and a word; a word which is a who (and not a what), a word who is glorious and alive, a word who is light whom banishes the darkness. I wonder what a Christmas pageant would look like if we based it on John’s account rather than Matthew’s or Luke’s. Would it actually be less boisterous if there was no bunch of kids dressed as a flock of lambs, and one solitary boy was dressed as everlasting light instead? I never got to be Joseph when I was a child, although I did play him in a monologue when I was about 42. I wonder how I would have felt had I been chosen to play the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all mankind as John 1:9 puts it.

The Good News Translation overlooks the phrase, but in the New American Bible (amongst others) we read in John 1:12 that to those who did accept him he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name. Now is not the time for a full theology of the Name of Jesus, but briefly, at Blue Christmas, let me say this. The name of the Word who came as light, is Jesus, and that name means “God Saves”. It’s the same Hebrew name as Joshua (Yehu’shua), the one who fit de battle of Jericho and the walls come a tumblin’ down. The phrase “in his name” also means to accept Jesus for all he is and all he stands for: the whole being of Jesus and his story. If you acknowledge and receive Jesus, the one who exists and proclaims the salvation of God, then you will become a son or daughter of God. Many did not accept Jesus when he came, during his life between 4BC and 30AD or whenever exactly it was, John 1:11 tells us that and we know it from other parts of the New Testament too. Many since then and right up to today have also not accepted him, either they have heard the story and rejected it for whatever reason, or they haven’t heard the story properly told at all for whatever reason. That’s why John 1:12 specifically says to those who did accept him, because in John 1:11 we’ve just been told that many didn’t.

And that’s where we find ourselves on Blue Christmas, and others find themselves blue at Christmas, because the story is unacceptable. Here’s a story about eternal light entering the world. Here’s a story about the Word of God, so God’s creative power (remember God created by “saying”) and God’s authority, entering the world. Here’s a story about a man who embodies all of the above and his name is literally “God Saves”, if not “God’s Salvation” as if the man is himself the saviour, and not just a living prophecy whose name is a message, he himself with the name is also the means of salvation. And yet here I am, on Thursday night 19th December 2019 (or Wednesday morning 25th December), and here I am mourning because God did very much NOT save. If God saves then why am I a widow, or an orphan, or a divorcee, or a bankrupt, or a quadriplegic, or a neurotic? Why? All this light you’re speaking about just makes my darkness even more obvious, and it’s just as painful as the noise of children on their new bikes and the sound of their dads on their fourth beer.

You say “God saves”, but I say that’s very hard to accept, let alone believe.

As a pastor I hear that, and I will not trample it. Yes I am a pastor, but only because I am a survivor in life,; and I’m a survivor in life only because I am a Christian. I’m not saying that you cannot survive life without Christianity, but I am saying that I would not have made it this far without Jesus. My story is that I have lost a lot. My grandparents have all died, so my parents (whom I dearly love) have lost their parents (whom they dearly loved). I have lost friends to death, and friends to distance. I have also lost friends to hatred, people who once were close who have turned against me and my family. I have lost health, and poor health has stolen decades of my life; in fact I’m going to say that much of my adulthood has been lost to sickness and disability. I was sexually molested as a child and I have lost most, if not all, of what it means to be in a romantic relationship. So, when you say that God’s salvation is very hard to accept, let alone believe, I believe you, and I accept your story as accurate and true.

But so is John’s story, accurate and true, and I know this because it is also my story. That I am here, after all of that, to tell my story and even more to tell John’s story from the Christian Bible, is all down to the fact that God does save, did save, will save, and that Jesus is the means by which that is accomplished. I am a Christian, a recipient of salvation, because God saved me and not because I saved myself. When I stopped trying to save myself and faced the overwhelming tide of death, because I was out of energy and motivation, that is when God has lifted me out and up and away. If you aren’t there yet well I’m not going to gloat, or accuse, or deny your pain. I will be respectful this Christmas of you in the way that I missed in Christmases past when others denied, excluded, and accused me.

Imagine a Christmas without all the pageantry: in a field of loss that might be nice, and December 25th itself might pass in quietness, another Wednesday in the world, with nothing to set it apart. You know, you are allowed to have it that way, you really are. But if you don’t want to, we’ll be here at 9:00am next Wednesday, and we’ll be telling the stories of how Jesus is God’s Salvation. And we’ll be nice about it too.

Amen.

Were we even given a choice? (WWHS)

This is the text of the message I prepared for Kaniva Day Centre (WWHS) for the chapel service on Tuesday 10th December 2019.  This was the final service for 2019.

Luke 1:26-38

Today’s story is often told on 25th March, or at least the Sunday closest to it, and it is the story that some Christian traditions call “The Annunciation” and other Christian traditions seem to ignore. It is the story of Gabriel coming to a twelve year old peasant, Mary, with the news of Emmanuel and her role in the LORD’s own coming.

Well, there’s a lot that can be said about this episode, and a lot has been said, on various 25th of March in years past. So this morning, 10th December of all days, I want to focus on one thing. Or rather not a thing but a person: a man. Joseph.

Every year it annoys me that I can’t remember what it was called, because I’d love to find it and be able to have a copy. Anyway, about 15 years ago while I was living in England, the BBC put on a story of the Passion, a mini-series which they had made, and it was shown on BBC One at Easter. In a particular episode the adult Jesus is talking with Mary, and he’s explaining what God is calling him towards in the coming week, so the crucifixion and all that. However distressing it is for Mary, she must understand that he must follow the will of The Father. You can imagine it, “yeah sorry Mum, but God says there’s a cross for me Friday week, and you’ll just have to accept it because I’m the Christ, yeah”. It’s not quite that direct, or Cockney, but anyway the important thing is what Mary responds with, and this I remember pretty much verbatim. She says “don’t you presume to tell me what the will of The Father entails, I know the call of The Father. Don’t you think, can you even imagine, what if Joseph had said no.”

What if Joseph had said no.

Not everyone who is called by God, not even everyone who is specifically and uniquely set aside by God, follows God. Think of Jonah who was called east and so he went west. Think of all the kings of Israel and Judah who inherited the throne promised to David’s line (and in Judah they were David’s grandsons) but who did evil in the LORD’s sight. We are blessed that Mary said yes, and her song Magnificat expresses the depth of her yes. In Luke’s gospel account Joseph doesn’t get a say, Mary meets Gabriel and the next thing she’s at Elizabeth’s house for six months. It’s only in Matthew 1:18-25 that we are told that Joseph has the opportunity to do the honourable thing and divorce Mary, (so that she can then marry the unborn child’s real father before it’s too late), and God’s messenger tells him the real story. We are blessed that Joseph said yes, and that Joseph did not say no.

What then happens within Mary’s body we are not expressly told. Did God fertilise one of Mary’s ova, or was Emmanuel a fully established zygote implanted in Mary as a surrogate? We know Joseph had no part in this, but I wonder whether Jesus actually looked like his dad growing up. I look like my father, and I have a baby nephew who looks like me because he looks like his mum, my sister. Jesus could have looked like anyone really, if he wasn’t genetically the son of his parents. That’s a bit deeper than we need to go now, the nature of the incarnation and the form that God The Son took as The Son of Man has been argued for as long as Jesus has been proclaimed LORD. But I’d like to think that Jesus bore a family resemblance to his dad and mum, and to his younger brothers and sisters; not because it matters to theology or salvation doctrine but just because in a world where Joseph might have said no, God said yes and gave the Carpenters of Nazareth a boy who fitted in.

But it is a little bit important, I think. Not significant for salvation, Jesus could have been angelically blonde and blue eyed and his death as messiah still would have cured our sins. But significant in that we can trust God to do right by us when we place our lives in God’s hands to do God’s will. God chose Mary, and by choosing Mary God also chose Joseph, and in choosing Joseph God did not set him up for embarrassment by allowing Mary to give birth to a boy so remarkable that he was obviously not the son of Joseph, setting off a scandal.

The story of the annunciation is the story of a trustworthy, faithful God. It is safe to follow The LORD’s leading, God will not abandon you to shame and God is considerate of what you will face in God’s name. This is not to say that discipleship is easy, Jesus died and Mary watched it happen, but God was kind as far as God could be, and the story of God with us, Emmanuel, remains so. God gets what it is to live amongst men and women, Jesus lived amongst men and women, and God has got your back if you have got God’s mission.

Amen.

Advent 2A

This is the text of the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 8th December 2019, the second Sunday in Advent.

Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12

The one who is coming will come from Jesse’s family, a return to the righteousness of the Davidic inheritance.” A shoot from the stump and a branch from the roots suggests to me regrowth out of what was cut off. Isaiah tells us that such a man is coming, and that God will be upon this man; this man will live according to God’s model of righteous living, and this man will live in a saving relationship with God by God’s grace. This man is an agent, a leader and a catalyst, a restorer of once-broken relationships between God and nation, between nation and land, and between citizens of the nation. God’s king will rule with righteousness, and stand with faithfulness.

In this picture of the kingship of God, and what life is like inside the Kingdom of God, we’re not actually seeing Heaven. All of this shalom in the air and infant herbivores sleeping beside adult carnivores is a description of what Earth will be like once more, when God’s rule is completely restored. Remember, (make sure you remember), that God’s promises about the end of things are not about dead Christians going up to Heaven; no, the promise is actually that The Trinity Godself and the New Jerusalem come down to complete the New Earth, which is the inheritance of the One whose robe is dipped in blood. (But that’s Christianity and we’re getting ahead of ourselves here). As far as Isaiah is concerned he’s writing about a restored King of Israel, the ruler of a nation that includes the people of all twelve tribes living across the full extent of the land promised by God to Abraham, (a land far larger than the land conquered by Joshua’s armies). Isaiah is writing about history as it was supposed to have been, a life where humankind never left Eden, and Isaiah writes with confidence that God will complete this work promised at the outset of humankind’s written history. Everyone who has been scattered will come home. They will know where home is because they will be able to see the root of Jesse standing on the horizon, and they will know that that place is indeed home because the root of Jesse will be calling them in with welcoming voices.

Isaiah preached this during the reign of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, (we’ll hear more about Ahaz next week), who was a good king of the kingdom of Judah. It’s possible that Isaiah is preaching at the time of Hezekiah’s coronation, so a time in Jerusalem’s history of “a new hope”. Israel to the north has been defeated and overrun by its enemies, so the Samaritan Israelites are not in Samaria but in Assyria as conquered exiles. Some of the Judahites have been taken away too, but Jerusalem held out and has been delivered from the threat of siege. So, the enemies are gone and the old king is dead (bad king, good news), and the new king is righteous and according to Isaiah 11:11 he will summon home all of those who were taken away: the Tanakh says that God will redeem the other part of His people, and the places named are the places where they were taken away to. So, as the Gospel According to Buble reports (Feeling Good lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley © Universal Music Publishing Group):

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

(Hey, it’s not really Christmas without Buble.)

Later in history the Patristic scholars connected the attributes of Isaiah 11:2 with Jesus’ reception of the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit: the idea being that Jesus was and is the foretold Davidic king who brings peace to the world. A similar story is told in Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 and similar to our Isaiah passage the Psalm is not so much a prediction that one day Jesus will come, rather it’s about what the people of God’s nation are praying for then and there about their king. Give us someone righteous, they ask, someone who will open the land to prosperity and blessing, someone who will protect the poor and disadvantaged so that their right to participate in national prosperity is protected and promoted. Give us someone who will reign for a long time and whose rule is refreshing to us all, and may God’s name be blessed because God’s reputation is being upheld. Give us a king who is like God in character, and bring on the kingship of God, The Kingdom of Heaven.

In Matthew 3:1 we hear John the Baptiser calling to the Judeans and saying repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Like the psalmist John is calling for social reform, and the fact that he’s preaching in the wilderness and away from the elites and the military is a sign that he knows his message is contentious. When someone is deliberately avoiding the cops and the bosses while he shouts for change you know a revolution is not far away, and that’s exactly what John has in mind. So did the Psalmist. Isaiah was pretty sure it had just happened with Hezekiah newly arrived and ready to take a new broom to old filth. “Change your thinking about the way the world works, begin to think about the way the world was supposed to work, the world of Eden where God is king and Herod and Caesar are not,” screams John, so you can see why the outback was good place for him to be. In Mark 1:15 it’s Jesus himself who says this, in fact it’s Jesus’ first words in that gospel account, the first thing written in red if your Bible does that sort of thing. Jesus has come (in Mark) or is about to come (in Matthew) and the Kingdom stuff from scripture is about to come into being. God has arrived on earth, to be king, and all the shalom is here for the asking. This is why I wonder sometimes whether the comma is in the wrong place in Matthew 3:3, and what it should say is the voice of one crying out: in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, so it’s not so much that John’s cry must come from the back of beyond, but that the cry is that Jesus will come first to the back of beyond and that that is where the way must be prepared for the Lord’s coming. The message of the Lord is scary, Jesus may even end up dead himself if he keeps up with this Kingdom of Heaven chatter, he’d better stay in the wilderness with John and be safe. You can’t live in God’s Kingdom unless you are prepared to follow God’s leading, and God’s instruction for us each is humility before Godself and care for the broken and downcast amongst our sisters and brothers. “Yes you belong to Abraham’s tribe”, says John in Matthew 3:9, “and yes you are saved by grace and not by works or obedience, but if you are not actively working with obedience then has grace really found a home in you”. In other words, Kingdom people live kingdom lives with kingdom values and kingdom actions, not because this sort of thing gets you into the Kingdom but because having entered the Kingdom by grace this is how life should be lived. Leave your muddy sins at the door and use your inside manners: cut out this dirtying the carpets and the squabbling and the name-calling, you’re Israelites, not bogan Gentiles.

So, you pack of bogan Gentiles, how are you feeling now? Well we know that a generation later Paul, alongside Peter and the whole mob of others, came to understand that Jesus called them to include and invite us bogan Gentiles too, showing us how to leave our muddy sins at the door, behind the cross, and to use inside manners. It’s quite plain in Romans 15:7 and Romans 15:5 where we read welcome one another as God welcomed you…and may God grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus. You aren’t saved by obedience, or even by confession, you are saved by grace: but as someone saved by grace you should be living by obedience and confession because that’s what God expects, and the Spirit instructs, of citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The news of Advent, as it points to Christmas and the coming of the king, is that we are each, each one of us, included in the Kingdom of God by God’s own activity. Indeed we are included the same way that every descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is included, by grace. By grace taught in the Torah, and grace taught in the religious and cultural traditions of Judaism. By grace shared and shown by those who extend hospitality for family and strangers; by grace shared and shown by Jesus who died at the hands of broken human people including (but not limited to) the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Romans 15:12 the rabbinical scholar, a Pharisee turned follower of Jesus, deliberately quoted Isaiah and wrote the root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles, in his the Gentiles shall hope. This is the hope of Advent, he is coming soon, and when he comes he will point us toward home and the Father and family who are waiting for us there with joy-filled expectation.

Amen.

Reputation

This is my ministry message for The Vision, the quarterly newssheet of KSSM, for December 2019.

In the December pew-sheet I wrote about respect and how in Australia the reputation of The Church has suffered with the ongoing news reports of Christians behaving badly. Not only across many channels of TV news and through the print media of newspapers and magazines, but also online through Facebook and Twitter many people of many forms of faith have been making heard their complaint. This is rightly so to some degree. But I made that point in the pew-sheet, and I have made that point in my public prayers on Sundays, so I don’t need to make it again.

What then of the good reputation of Church? Is there still a place, indeed are there many places, where local Christians have a good name and are held in good regard, or at least even regard (rather than negative) in Australia? I say yes.

Thirteen years ago when I was living in London and participating in a local church with a globally recognisable name, (if not brand), one of the annual events was “The Summer Party”. Now this church did parties all the time; it was a church where the majority were in their twenties and thirties, and the minority were those who liked hanging out with people in their twenties and thirties. It was also a church with a large minority of Commonwealth ex-pats, especially from southern hemisphere nations. (The majority of people were in fact British, but with so many Aussie-Kiwi-Saffa-Zim-Canadians around that wasn’t immediately obvious.) Anyway, lots of parties, lots of fun, lots of shared joy; and one big party in August in particular. The Summer Party was formal, but more like a school formal or a wedding reception than a black-tie event with the Queen, and everyone enjoyed sprucing up for the night. As a formal event it was always held at a proper venue; the year I am thinking about was 2006 and we gathered in a nightclub in London Bridge which we had hired out for the night. And we came, we saw, we partied, we had fun, and we went home.

There were two outcomes of that particular party.

1. The management told us that we’d not be invited back. Why not? Well, it was because we hadn’t purchased enough alcohol. The story goes that the venue ran a loss that night; even with 500 of us (a sell-out) paying a cover charge. With a house full of Christians many weren’t drinking alcohol at all, and those who were had two or three drinks rather than ten. The ticket price did not cover the venue’s costs and our alcohol purchases still left them short.

2. The staff wanted to know who the dickens we all were. Five hundred Aussie/Kiwi/Saffa/Zim/Can and British twenty-somethings went on the tear in London-Town on a summer’s night and there was barely any cigarette smoke (and what there was was tobacco), there was drinking but no drunkenness, there was not a single fight, and no-one spewed. Most of all, and this is what they really emphasised, the girls were safe. There was no groping, no leering, no lewd talk: it was as if everyone was out with their best mates, and their sisters and brothers; every one of the 500 was comfortable and not one of the 500 felt threatened.

You mayn’t come back here, but please, tell us when your next party is, and may we come too?” Imagine if that was the reputation The Church had in society. (You know what, in some places it still does.) May we in Kaniva and Serviceton in 2019 be like Ebeneezer Scrooge at the end of his story, may we be a people of such reputation that it is said of us that we always did Christmas well.

Damien.

Respec’

This is the text of the ministry message I wrote for KSSM for the monthly pewsheet in December 2019.

I‘m sure you‘ve noticed that the reputation of religious institutions in Australia, particularly professional forms of Christianity, have taken a huge dive toward disrepect in 2019. The Royal Commission into Intsitutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse didn‘t only review Church organisations, but the fact that it did, and that it found error amongst us, is sonmething for which we must repent. I find it hard to repent of this sort of thing, especially since I am not a perpertator, and most especialy since I have first hand experience with a survivor‘s story: but the fact remains that The Church did wrong and we are The Church so we must do right. That other groups did wrong does not remove from us the burden of The Church‘s guilt; neither that wrong was also done to us does it lessen the guilt we have earned. In fact, even if we were 99% right and only 1% wrong, we would still be 100% responsible for that 1%, and so the sad truth that many in The Church continue to resist redress and regress, and fight to maintain reuptation and standing, has left many Australians with a bad taste of God.

The first centuries Church never had this issue. True they were hated and persectued, martyred to death and exile, but never because they were lacking charity. That the Christians looked after their widows and orphans, and assisted their neighbouring widows and orphans who had been rejected and overlooked the Greek and Roman world earned them the respect of their neighbours. What happened to that?

As Christmas fills the world with the news of God becoming boy, and the profound gift of Heaven being present amongst us in personal glory, may we as The Church live out God‘s desire for a world of shalom: a world that starts in humility and apology from the wrong, and grace and acceptance from the wronged.