Gifts exotic and rare

Feast of the Epiphany
Grafton Cathedral
5 January 2020

adoration-of-the-magi

[ video ]

Here we are—almost—at the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Tomorrow (January 6) we complete the great celebration of Jesus’ birth within the Western tradition, and then tomorrow evening the Orthodox faithful will begin their Christmas celebrations.

This double celebration in western and eastern parts of the church is an accident that derives from our different ways of counting time.

In the West, we have tended to count the days according to the movement of the sun; which works pretty well provided we have an extra day inserted every fourth year to keep things in sync. The calendar we know was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and was itself a reform that involved skipping ahead 10 days to make up for a gradual drift out of alignment that had happened over the 1,628 years since the previous reform of the calendar by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE.

Although the Gregorian Calendar has been widely adopted and is now used by almost everyone in the world for civil and commercial records, the older Julian calendar continues to ‘set the clock’ (as it were) for religious purposes in the East.

While it looks to us as if the Greeks are celebrating Christmas almost two weeks late, that is simply because our ways of counting time are out of sync.

Both in the West and in the East we celebrate a 12-day festival between Christmas and Epiphany.

That quirk of public timekeeping reminds us that how we see reality often depends on the lens through which are looking.

I wonder if there may be a subtle lesson for us as our ‘culture wars’ over climate change paralyse our public administration so that we are unable to respond appropriately to the massive fire emergency across vast areas of our ancient continent.

Rather than defend ‘how we see things’, perhaps the fire emergency is calling us to deal with what is now happening in our forests and even on the water’s edge.

 

At the heart of today’s Gospel is the strange tale about a visit to Bethlehem by a delegation of leading scientists ‘from the East’.

It is a marvellous symbolic story that invites us to imagine an impressive entourage of exotic people turning up in the little town of Bethlehem. And there is nothing in the story to restrict their number to three people!

Matthew is not describing three mates off for a fishing weekend.

Matthew is not suggesting one person with a package of gold, another person with a bundle of frankincense and a third person with a jar of myrrh.

Rather, Matthew is pointing to a delegation from the faraway eastern lands who brought ‘truckloads’ of precious materials not easily available on the local market.

These sages will not have been travelling without a bodyguard, plus slaves to look after their camels and other slaves to prepare their meals, offer personal services, etc.

We actually have several descriptions of one such Eastern delegation to Rome around the middle of the first century, and that visit may have been the inspiration for the scene that Matthew has created in his birth legend for Jesus:

The story of a state visit to Emperor Nero by the Armenian ruler, Tiridates, is told by several ancient writers, but this example from Dio Cassius gives a sense of the scene being constructed by Matthew for his readers:

In the consulship of Gaius Telesinus and Suetonius Paulinus … Tiridates presented himself in Rome, bringing with him not only his own sons but also those of Vologaesus, of Pacorus, and of Monobazus. Their progress all the way from the Euphrates was like a triumphal procession. Tiridates himself was at the height of his reputation by reason of his age, beauty, family, and intelligence; and his whole retinue of servants together with all his royal paraphernalia accompanied him. Three thousand Parthian horsemen and numerous Romans besides followed in his train. They were received by gaily decorated cities and by peoples who shouted many compliments. Provisions were furnished them free of cost, a daily expenditure of 800,000 sesterces for their support being thus charged to the public treasury. This went on without change for the nine months occupied in their journey. [Dio Cassius, Roman History.]

 

Now that is one impressive state visit by Eastern rulers (magi), and it helps us to imagine the scene that Matthew is suggesting for his audience.

Unlike Nero, also a nasty character by most accounts, Herod does not make the eastern visitors welcome but rather seeks to exploit their visit for his own evil plans.

This is not history, of course, but an imaginative celebration of the significance of the birth of Jesus. Luke, as we know, tells a very different story; but each in their own way are teasing out the political significance of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Lord, the Saviour.

 

So here we are celebrating this ancient legend as we wrap up our Christmas and as our Orthodox friends prepare to start their own celebrations.

And our country is on fire!

Are we just playing holy games inside the Cathedral to make us all feel better about a world which is a real mess and our lives which are far from perfect, or are we dealing with spiritual wisdom that is not only relevant to everyday life but has the power transform how we deal with reality?

Most people in town—and maybe most of our family and friends—think we are playing harmless religious games, but I hope we have a sense that the faith we share has the power to change the world.

It did so in the past. Repeatedly. And it still has that capacity.

As our country burns we could use some wise ones to come from afar—east or west, north or south—and brings gifts to help solve this fire emergency which threatens to consume such a large part of our countryside.

Actually, wise and generous people have already arrived and most of them came from close by:

First of all the amazing volunteer fire crews (how can we ever thank them?)

Alongside them a vast network of emergency response people: setting up evacuation centres, preparing food for both the fire crews and those escaping the fires, donations of money and goods to assist those impacted by the fires, as well as chaplains offering emotional and spiritual care to everyone involved.

Then we have the array of scientific and technical people who bring their expertise to help us understand the fires, the weather; to fly the aircraft and to maintain the fire trucks.

The defence force has become increasingly engaged in the battle, for such it is, to save our communities from the flames that are licking at the suburbs of Sydney and consuming isolated rural communities.

Ordinary members of the public doing their part and then even more to assist as and where they can.

Not to mention the volunteer fire crews who have arrived from overseas.

We are all in this together.

 

Most of these wise and generous strangers have emerged from among us, just as they did some weeks ago when the fires were causing devastation in the area around us here on the north coast.

We have been overwhelmed by the scale and the ferocity of the fires, but we have also been renewed and lifted up by so many acts of kindness and generosity.

 

The fire emergency points to the larger climate emergency which our politicians seem unable or unwilling to see:

a world where extreme weather events become the norm

a world where ice caps melt

a world where sea levels rise

a world where islands and delta regions vanish under the sea

a world where fires start earlier, burn hotter and last longer

 

In such a world and at such a time we need wise and generous people who will bring gifts that calm our fears and address our challenges.

As people of faith, we are the ones with ancient spiritual wisdom on which to draw as we face the fire emergency and beyond that the climate emergency.

What gifts do we bring?

Gold might be useful, but let’s set aside the frankincense and myrrh.

In the spirit of Epiphany let me suggest three spiritual gifts we offer to our community and our nation at a time such as this: hope, courage, solidarity.

 

Hope

The fires are destroying more than landscapes and structures.

Dreams are going up in smoke. Homes are destroyed. Lives are lost and livelihoods vaporised. Wildlife is devastated and massive quantities of emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.

After the fires subside the grief will persist and the challenges of starting afresh will remain. The climate emergency will continue and will doubtless get worse before it improves. And the fires will be back long before the next summer begins.

Despair robs us of energy to meet these challenges and paralyzes our political leaders.

This is not a time for recrimination, but it is a time when people need hope.

We are people of hope and the Easter message is a story of fresh beginnings.

Our Christmas faith proclaims a God who is present among us and identifies with us: Emmanuel. Not a faraway power nor a pure philosophical principle, but a God who is born into a third-world village on the edge of a vast empire.

We dare not pretend to have all the answers, but we do have spiritual wisdom which gives us hope even in the darkest times.

Not ‘hoping for the best’; but remaining hopeful even in the worst of times.

 

Courage

To face the fires takes immense courage, raw courage.

To rebuild lives and communities will also require courage.

The ultimate source of the courage we bring to bear in these difficult times is our spiritual confidence in the power of love. For us, love is at the very centre of the universe and we know that love as Emmanuel, the God who is with us, within us, between and one of us.

Addressing the challenge of our climate emergency will require courage, and courage requires deep spiritual roots if it is not to wilt in the heat of these fires, in the dryness of this drought.

Thousands of years ago an anonymous songwriter from Jerusalem talked about finding a well from which to drink as we pass through the valley of weeping (Psalm 84:5–7).

That well is our faith, the spiritual wisdom we have inherited from our forebears and have tested in our own lived experience.

This one of the gifts we bring to our community as a Cathedral and a people of faith.

We do not fold under pressure, but we go deep and find those hidden wells from which to draw courage to face the tough questions and courage to make the changes as we create a new and sustainable future.

 

Solidarity

In times of crisis we need to stand together, and we have seen that happening in every place where the fires have torn communities apart.

Perhaps that is why we find it so offensive for political leaders to go on vacation as the fire emergency engulfs our country.

Solidarity is at the heart of our faith.

Emmanuel is a God who identifies with us, who is in profound solidarity with us.

From the beginning of Christianity we have spoken about being “in Christ”, united with one another and forming the “body of Christ”.

As we gather at the table of Jesus to break bread and bless wine, we are engaged in a ritual of solidarity: Holy Communion.

We belong to each other and our future is a communal one. We are not just saving individuals, but transforming whole communities, indeed the entire world.

 

As we join together in solidarity, inspired by courageous hope and hopeful courage we can overcome the devastation of the fires and even find a way to address the larger climate emergency.

Divided and paralyzed we will surely fail, but we bring to our community, our nation and the whole planet profound spiritual wisdom which gives us hope, fuels our courage and draws us together as one people.

Find the wells and tap into the ancient spiritual wisdom of our faith.

Then bring our gifts of hope, courage and solidarity to a nation in need of all three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating the birth of Jesus

The Christ Mass
24 & 25 December 2019
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton

[ Let Mum rest | Video ]

 

Around the world today millions of people will engage in various rituals to mark the birth of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Millions of Orthodox Christians will keep the same feast on January 6 & 7, while the Armenians will have their celebrations on January 19.

Some of those people will be in Bethlehem itself, where crowds will attend services at the ancient Church of the Nativity as well as the nearby Lutheran Christmas Church.

Some will join in the celebrations by digital communications, singing carols together despite thousands of kilometres distance between the participants, or watching the liturgy on television.

Some will be in remote military bases where soldiers serving as peacekeepers or as members of international forces take time out to ‘sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’.

Some will be in grand cathedrals in Rome, London, Paris, Washington, Melbourne or Brisbane; to name just a tiny handful of places.

Some will be on holidays by the sea or camping out in the bush, where the stars shine more brightly.

Some will be pausing their fire-fighting efforts to remember the child whose birth we celebrate today.

Some will be in churches across Grafton, as Christians of different traditions mark this special day in ways that reflect their particular understanding of faith.

And some of those people are right here in the Cathedral for this service!

Not everyone will be a person of faith, but Jesus has a significance for our world that goes beyond religion.

It would be hard to identify any other individual who has had the impact on the world which Jesus has had over the past 20 centuries.

 

Yet, to the extent that we know anything at all about the circumstances of his birth, it was not a promising start.

His immediate family—Mary and Joseph, along with several brothers and at least few sisters—were from the small village of Nazareth in Galilee.

Luke has the family based there even before Jesus is born, while Matthew has them move to Nazareth for safety after they become refugees and asylum-seekers. It was a good thing they were not seeking refuge in our country. They would have ended up in off-shore detention with a lifetime ban on entry to Australia.

We now know quite a bit about Nazareth 2,000 years ago.

It was a small pioneer farming village. Maybe just 15 families who had recently relocated from the south (near Jerusalem) to establish a Jewish presence in the Galilee area, perhaps encouraged by government land grants and tax concessions.

Nazareth was—by our standards—a third-world village. Most families started out using one of the local caves for shelter, as well as storage for their crops. The caves also provided a place to hide from bandits and tax collectors. Over time the caves were modified with modest structures being added at their openings, but the village had not yet developed to point of having a schoolhouse or a resident rabbi.

Like many pioneer communities, the families of Nazareth maintained strong ties with the places from which they had emigrated.  For the family of Joseph that seems to have been Bethlehem, but we know from our archaeological finds that these people were very attached to the Temple in Jerusalem.

From this previously unheard-of village came someone whose name has become famous: Jesus of Nazareth.

 

The Holy Child of Nazareth held no political or priestly office, and commanded no armies. He was not born into a wealthy family nor into a family with high status in the wider community.

So far as we can tell he was illiterate, not being educated sufficiently to master either reading or writing.

The longest journey he ever took as an adult was the 100km from Nazareth to Jerusalem.

That journey took him to his death: executed on a cross as a rebel against the Roman Empire.

His ragtag band of followers scattered and went back to their old lives as fishermen, scribes, and tax collectors.

From humble origins, his life had ended in shame and failure.

 

Yet Jesus turned the world upside down.

Almost exactly 300 years after his execution the Roman Emperor Constantine publicly identified himself as a follower of Jesus and convened a council of bishops from around the Roman Empire—all at government expense—to draft the creed we shall say together in just a few minutes time.

The story since then has not been all glory and success. We have failed so many times and in so many ways. We have done what Jesus would never do and aligned ourselves with people of power and wealth.

Even worse, we have abused and exploited children and other vulnerable people.

Despite the church, millions tonight will gather in homes and churches to mark the anniversary of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s reign, but sought no power for himself.

Jesus healed the sick, gave hope to the oppressed, fed the hungry and was even said to raise the dead back to life.

Jesus blessed bread and wine, then invited anyone to come and eat. No limits to acceptance. No boundaries to compassion.

“Imagine this”, Jesus said. “Imagine a world where God’s law of love prevails rather than the edicts of Caesar or the privileges of the powerful.”

And he taught us a prayer which—if we ever really lived it fully—would turn our own lives upside down as well:

Our father in heaven …
Your kingdom come …
Your will be done on earth as in heaven …
Give us the bread we need for today, one day at a time …
Forgive us by the measure of how we forgive others …
Do not put us to the test …

We shall say that prayer together later in this service, and I invite you to hear afresh how that prayer reverses what we often think we know about God, or power, or church, or ourselves.

This is the legacy of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tonight.

No wonder Jesus matters even to people for whom religion is meaningless.

 

 

 

 

 

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Son of David

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)
22 December 2019

[ video ]

What a difference one week can make …

Queue at Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Saturday last weekend we were lined up in the beautifully restored Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, waiting—along with hundreds of other people—to visit the ancient cave below the altar of the church. That cave has been venerated for almost 2,000 years as the place where Jesus was born.

Earlier we had spent time at some fields where shepherds once tended their flocks, but we did not see any angels on high. We did, however, sit inside a dark cave and read the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds.

Later we visited the cave where Saint Jerome worked on the translation of the Bible from Greek to Latin, a project that would shape the spiritual imagination of the West for another next 1,500 years and in many ways still does.

The Christmas decorations were everywhere that we went, since both Muslims and Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Sadly, Jews in Israel are not so inclined to join in the celebrations.

Returning to Australia in the early hours of Thursday morning it was beginning to look a lot of Christmas here as well.

And there is nothing like a child to remind us of the magic of Christmas. Newborns remind us of the holy infant, while older children infect us all with their delight as Christmas beckons us to loosen up and be nice to people.

It has been great delight these past few days to have the opportunity to meet baby James, the newest member of our family, here from Canada for a few precious weeks.

And it is a special privilege this morning to welcome Mitchell Gosson and his extended family as we celebrate his Baptism.

Any noise they and their buddies make is simply part of the sounds of Christmas!

 

A child to turn the world upside down

Each newborn is a focus for our hopes and dreams: What will they be like? What will they become when they are older? Will they be like us? Will they be different? Will the world treat them kindly? How might they make the world a better place than it has been before?

For sure they turn our lives upside down as we rearrange everything to provide the love and care they need. And who needs sleep in any case? They evoke love and tenderness from everyone, including complete strangers at the shops!

But what will the future hold?

Running through the readings set for today is the theme “son of David” as a title for Jesus.

We mostly speak about Jesus as “son of God” or even—at this time of year—as “son of Mary”. The church—and especially the church in the West—does not talk so much as about Jesus as ‘Son of David’.

That title suggest a Jesus who goes beyond our comfort zones. He changes stuff. He gets involved. He gets political. And that worries us.

Two weeks ago I was with a group as we visited a small Greek Orthodox Church on the side of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

IMG_2247We were there to meet Archbishop Atallah Hanna, an outspoken and courageous Christan leader at a time when his people’s future is being stolen by military occupation and incessant illegal settlements. When there was an opportunity for questions, someone asked if the messages that he gives from his pulpit are as courageous as his actions outside the church.

It was an odd question in some ways, but Archbishop Atallah answered it well.

The courage of a sermon, he said, reflects the character of the preacher. Some priests cannot speak words that give their people hope. They should keep silent. But he will not.

Then two days ago news came through that Archbishop Atallah had been rushed to hospital are being poisoned by tear gas thrown into his church by Israeli soldiers.

I have no idea whether King David was an ancestor of this bold Palestinian Christian, but he is certainly a ‘son of David’. He speaks truth to power. He is bold. He gives his people hope.

Thankfully he is also expected to make a full recovery from the attack.

 

As son of David, Jesus is not just offering to make us feel better, give us hope or provide assurance of life after death.

As son of David, Jesus turns the world upside down. Our world. The whole world. The world of power and privilege. The world that ignores the scientists warning of climate change until the fires are so bad not even politicians can turn a blind eye.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the next few days, the son of David invites us to have big dreams for a better world, to live boldy, and to nurture that spiritual boldness in our children.

That is what we sign Mitchell up for as we baptise him here this morning, so let’s go and get the water ready!

 

 

 

 

 

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Good news for some

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecosts (C)
27 October 2019

[ video ]

rich-young-ruler

That gospel reading has two episodes, and in each of them people are coming to Jesus with hopes of finding some spiritual blessing; either for their children or some piece of wisdom for themselves as adults.

In neither case do things go as expected.

For the people bringing infants to Jesus for him to touch, the minders—better known to us as ‘the disciples’—were refusing them access to the Master. That is a story to unpack someday when we have the time needed to make sense of it in a world that was very different from our own; a world where children were not valued or appreciated as they are in our culture now.

Suffice to note that Jesus challenged and overturned the attitudes of the disciples.

To be ready for the reign of God, says Jesus, we must be child-like.

There is a lot in that to explore some other time.

 

Then we get story #2, and it is a well-known story.

We probably know it as the “rich young ruler”, but that title already mashes together three different versions of the same incident in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Mark provides the earliest version. Here the key character is a man who has lots of possessions and is seeking advice from Jesus about what he must do to be sure of eternal life. This fellow is neither young nor a ruler. Very few people ever get to combine those two attributes, of course.

Matthew edits Mark’s version to remove some theological issues and, in the process, the rich person becomes a ‘young man’. He is still not a ruler, but he is a very pious Jew seeking spiritual advice from Jesus.

Some decades later, Luke makes his own set of edits to Mark’s version of the story. Luke does not follow the same line as Matthew, but he upgrades the asset portfolio of the gentleman and he also turns the rich man into a ruler. In this version, as in Mark, the rich man is an older person.

So we are dealing with a story that was well-known but which each of the three gospels chose to tweak in its own way. Later on, the church mashed all three versions into the meme of a ‘rich young ruler’, but the core issue about this person is that he is very rich.

Each of the gospels uses this episode as a lesson in discipleship, and all of them link the story with an odd saying about a camel not being able to pass through the eye of a needle.

For Luke—our key Gospel for this year—this episode occurs in chapter 18; very close to the end of the extended ‘long march’ which Luke created by devoting almost half of his storyline to Jesus making his one and only adult journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.

As Luke tells the story, Jesus has almost reached his destination (see next chapter) when he is approached by this wealthy ruler seeking spiritual advice.

Like the parents who brought their children to Jesus, the visit does not go as Mr Money Bags might have expected.

In fact, it ends in tears.

Maybe not actual tears, but disappointment and confusion all around.

The rich ruler walks away from Jesus. He has not found a wisdom that he is willing to embrace, and Jesus has missed out on a wealthy new member of the movement. They probably could have used his offering envelopes!

The disciples had been saying: No room for children in the Jesus movement.

But Jesus seems to say: No room for rich people in my movement.

No prosperity gospel here, and no special favours for rich and powerful supporters. This, guy—as Luke tells the story—was both exceedingly rich and a ruler. He could have been rather handy on the team.

Jesus does not promise that people who follow his wisdom will become rich (or happy or powerful or healthy), but rather the opposite. Those who want to be his followers must become poor, relocate to the edges of society, and lose all their social connections.

Tough words indeed.

Very few people in history have been able to embrace that message. But some have: Francis of Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, and Mother Theresa … to name just a handful.

The disciples are shocked.

In their minds, rich people with influence have a much better chance of pleasing God than ordinary folks like them But Jesus has just turned their world upside down. It seems they had not been watching very closely during the previous few months.

Mind you, the church has not been very good at listening either during the past 2,000 years. We love influence. And we enjoy privilege. We accumulate wealth, property, assets. Indeed, we have sometimes loved those things more than the little children, as the recent Royal Commission has demonstrated so grimly.

Jesus doubles down on his message.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s empire.

He seems to be quoting an ancient Middle Eastern axiom, and perhaps it originally said ‘camel (rope)’, but over time the axiom has been exaggerated to make it even more compelling. It is not just that one cannot thread a needle with rope made from camel hair, but it would be easier to thread the whole camel through the needle than get a rich person into the kingdom of God.

No wonder the disciples are confused …

 

This is classic Jesus, the verbal poet with an ear for a great turn of phrase.

This is the same person who told people to rip out their eye or cut off their own hand if those body parts cause them to sin.

Hyperbole was one of Jesus’ favourite tools, and we certainly seem to have it in action here.

Infants are welcome, rich rulers can go to the end of the line.

Now that is good news for some, but not do for others.

It is good news for the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the refugees, the people whose lands will soon disappear under rising sea levels, and everyone who the powerful and privileged people overlook.

It is not good news for those of us who are comfortable and privileged.

Yet Luke was writing his account of Jesus for the successful people in the second-century Roman world. He wants the rich rulers to hear the good news that Jesus both proclaims and lives.

And we need to hear that good news as well.

If we have wealth or privilege or status, then that is to be spent for the sake of others. It is not to be hoarded and protected as if it somehow gives us a cosmic superannuation fund for the future.

For the rich ruler ‘giving away all that he had’ sounded like a punishment, rather than an opportunity to share the blessings around.

Yet a core spiritual principle of our faith is that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (or we might say to share rather than to hoard).

Maybe the rich ruler realised that, at some stage, and came back to Jesus ready to share all that he had with those who had so little. I like to think so.

It would be his only hope of redemption and it may be ours as well.

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Two people walked into Grafton Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Pentecost 19(C)
20 October 2019

pharisee-and-publican

 

[ video ]

Today’s Gospel presents two views of religion.

It is a great little story by Jesus because it captures the big story in just a few words.

Let’s tell it again in local terms …

 

Two people head into Grafton Cathedral.

They were both going to pray. Maybe to light a candle, or perhaps just to sit quietly and absorb the holiness of the place.

Then again, perhaps they had come for a baptism service … ?

 

One of them is very comfortable in the Cathedral. Knows just when to stand, sit, kneel and cross themselves.

They even know that the green book has the words of the service, while the red book has the songs.

Their name is on the roster: they welcome people to the Cathedral, they read from the Bible during the services, they say the prayers, they wear red robes and carry candles, or crosses or even incense. Maybe they clean the Cathedral or arrange morning tea after the services.

They probably volunteer in the OpShop and they work in the Bookshop.

They know this place so well.

They are respectable.

Everyone here knows them and they are very comfortable here.

 

The other person does not come into the Cathedral very often.

They are not sure what to do, or where to stand. Should they kneel? Are they supposed to sit? Take off their hat?

Maybe if they just stand in the back corner it will be OK?

Yet they always feel good when they come in here. Probably should do it more often. Maybe even come to church sometimes on a Sunday, but they are busy with family stuff on the weekend …

They hope the other person over there in the nice clothes does not think they are here to steal anything …

It is just that the Cathedral is such a special place for them, and they like to pop in briefly when they get the chance. Have been doing it ever since they were kids here in Grafton.

Those big doors just always seem to be open: come inside. You’re welcome here. God loves you. So do we.

Kind of makes them feel closer to God, which they know is silly because God is everywhere, but this is a special place and kind of feels like a gateway to heaven.

Once upon a time they had been baptised here. Over there in the corner. In the funny shell held by the angel. Not that they remember it, but they have seen the photos. And the baptism card. and the odd little candle.

Been to a few funerals here as well. Love the whiff of incense when they come into the Cathedral after there has been a funeral. God’s room freshener, they reckon.

“Hi, God. It’s been a while. Sorry not to come more often. I’m OK, thanks. Appreciate you caring about me. Sorry about the way I messed up last week. Sure wish I had not done that. I will come back soon. Promise.”

 

Now, why did Jesus tell that story?

Because some people thought they were doing just fine, and looked down their noses at some of the other people who did not come as often, or did not look so respectable.

And which kind of person does God like to spend time with?

The second person. They’re God’s kind of people.

They are not especially religious, but they have no tickets on themselves and they really do want to live their life in a way that pleases God and does the right thing by other people.

 

The prophet Jeremiah, about 600 years before the time of Jesus, said that people like them have the law of God written inside their hearts.

They do not need other people telling them how to love, they just need to follow the nudge that comes from God inside them.

 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with coming to church so often that you get to learn the ropes.

What matters is that you are honest with God, pop in here from time to time or chat with God outside. There is no place you can ever be where God is absent.

And that, my friends, is what we need to teach Chase who we are about to baptise.

Teach him to be real with God. And bring him here to this place so it becomes his special holy place as he grows up.

 

Let’s go baptise the boy …

 

 

 

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Scripture trumps Constitution​

Given continuing debates around the Anglican Church of Australia and elsewhere about the status of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Articles of Religion (commonly called “The Thirty-Nine Articles”) of 1571, it may be timely to publish the brief speech I gave to the 2019 Synod of the Diocese of Grafton in response to the following motion:

 

MOTION 27: STANDARD OF WORSHIP AND DOCTRINE
That this Synod affirms the authorised standard of worship and doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as set out in the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Constitution.

The constitution referenced in the motion is the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia, and the particular clauses of the constitution seeking to be affirmed by those supporting the proposed motion appear to have been the following:

(2) This Church receives all the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation.

(4) This Church, being derived from the Church of England, retains and approves the doctrine and principles of the Church of England embodied in the Book of Common Prayer together with the Form and Manner of Making Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and in the Articles of Religion sometimes called the Thirty-nine Articles but has plenary authority at its own discretion to make statements as to the faith ritual ceremonial or discipline of this Church and to order its forms of worship and rules of discipline and to alter or revise such statements, forms and rules, provided that all such statements, forms, rules or alteration or revision thereof are consistent with the Fundamental Declarations contained herein and are made as prescribed by this Constitution. Provided, and it is hereby further declared, that the above-named Book of Common Prayer, together with the Thirty-nine Articles, be regarded as the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this Church, and no alteration in or permitted variations from the services or Articles therein contained shall contravene any principle of doctrine or worship laid down in such standard.

Not only were clauses 1 and 3 of no particular interest to those supporting this motion, but they explicitly claimed that clause 2 took precedence over both clause 1 and clause 3.

While the motion referred to the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Constitution, it was actually adherence to the Ruling Principles which they wished to promote.

Affirming the first three clauses—which the Constitution itself identified as the Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church of Australia—would not have served their intention, which is simply to limit the worship practices and the doctrines of the Anglican Church of Australia to those which were developed in the Church of England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This is an especially odd position for the Australian Anglican Church to adopt, since neither the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 nor the Articles of Religion have that same status within the Church of England today. Nor do they have any status at all in some other provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church (USA).

Adherence to the doctrine and liturgies of the late-1600s and mid-1700s—at which times we were literally killing each other over differences in faith and practice—is not an essential attribute of Anglicanism, but it is a requirement for ministers and other office-bearers of the Anglican Church of Australia.

In other words, the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia is a flawed document that reflects the theological factions who dominated the process when the Constitution was drafted and adopted.

All of that was too much information for a brief two-minute speech under the Standing Orders of the Synod of the Diocese of Grafton, so my speech was crafted to tease out the essential issues and urge Synod to reject this motion.

As a footnote, the motion was overwhelmingly rejected by the Synod, and even many of those who supported the motion say they did so only because they could not bring themselves to vote aganst a motion which purported to uphold the Constitution.

Of course, the motion was not about upholding the Constitution but rather was a tactical move seeking to align the Diocese of Grafton with the extremely conservative views promoted by the Diocese of Sydney and its allies. A similar motion had been brought to the previous session of Grafton Synod and also rejected.

This is part of an on-going culture war in contemporary western society, and within the religious campaign of that ‘war’ the focus is on sexuality; particularly marriage equality and non-binary understandings of gender. The battle continues in the wider domain with demands from the same groups for special legislation to ‘protect’ them from religious persecution and to allow them to discriminate against other people on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation or marital status.

My brief speech to the Synod was as follows:

Mr President, I rise to oppose this motion.

After more than 40 years of ordained ministry in the Anglican Church of Australia, I have repeatedly affirmed the Constitution of our Church including the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles.

These are not paragraphs which we have any option to amend at this point in time.

This motion, therefore, makes as much sense as our Synod being asked to declare that sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Whether we say so or not, the sun will rise tomorrow.

Whether we pass this motion or not the Ruling Principles will remain in place.

Until our General Synod agrees to re-establish itself with a new constitution, there is nothing we can do about the Fundamental Declarations. They remain in place. They define the boundaries within which we seek to live faithfully and generously as one church.

However, there is a deep problem with the existing Ruling Principles, as set out in paragraph four of the Constitution.

As this motion reminds us, those Ruling Principles elevate the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and The Articles of Religion as the standard for worship and doctrine.

Not the Bible!

In other words, those who promote this motion ask us to affirm that Scripture has less influence in our church than the BCP and the so-called Thirty-Nine Articles.

As a Reformation Christian, I find that to be a faulty view of authority.

It is a mistake.

One day—hopefully soon—our Church will replace the Fundamental Declarations and the Ruling Principles with provisions that better reflect the authority of Scripture in our Church and the diversity of worship and doctrine across the Anglican Communion.

As someone who takes the Bible seriously, I look forward to the day when the Ruling Principles are replaced. Until then, as duty bound, I submit to these inadequate words and reserve the right to advocate for their replacement.

And I look forward to the sun rising in the morning.

Posted in Reflections, Theology | 2 Comments

Faithful responses to climate change

 

In the last couple of days, there has been some controversy around the comments made by the Principal of the Coffs Harbour Christian Community School in a newsletter distributed last Friday, the last day of term three.

You can read the comments of the CHCCS Principal by downloading their newsletter from the school website.

Coffs Harbour Christian Community School was founded by—and continues to be operated as an activity of—the Coffs Harbour Baptist Church.

I became aware of this controversy when I was contacted by the Coffs Harbour ABC radio station with a request that I comment on the CHCCS Principal’s message in last week’s school newsletter.

My concerns fall under three categories.

 

Intellectual Rigour

My first concern is that the Principal seems to think that his views on climate change carry more weight than the collective research undertaken by thousands of independent scientists whose work is reviewed and assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Such an attitude would be a deep concern in any context but is especially troubling when it is promoted by someone who leads an educational institution. Schools are essentially places of learning. Wilful ignorance—whether in the form of so-called ‘creation science’, anti-vaxer campaigns or climate change denial—has no place in schools.

We need to be teaching children to think for themselves and navigate competing truth claims, rather than distract them from the best science currently available to serve some other agenda.

 

Religious fundamentalism

In this case, the CHCCS Principal appeals to the ancient myth of a giant flood, which he describes as “the first, and only, complete catastrophic climate change”. Apart from the stunning ignorance in such a claim, this is a naive approach to the Bible which reflects the biblical fundamentalism promoted by the school’s own Statement of Belief. This statement can be found on the back page of the School’s Prospectus, but—oddly—is not easily accessed from the school website.

Such an approach to the Bible ignores and demonises more than 200 years of critical biblical scholarship. CHCCS and their local Baptist owners are not unique in holding such views. Indeed their form of Christian fundamentalism has a lot in common with other forms of religious extremism which reject the insights flowing from the natural and social sciences, while appealing to ancient traditions with no intellectual credibility. Needless to say, such religious communities and their institutions, neither prepare people for the modern world nor offer safe places for gender-diverse persons. Like all forms of fundamentalism, Christians who espouse such views promote toxic forms of religion and do not represent the best spiritual wisdom of the Christian faith.

 

Vilification and abuse

The intellectual and religious objections to the views expressed in the recent newsletter from CHCCS are significant, but the final objection is perhaps even more important.

While appealing to an indefensible reading of Scripture to support his rejection of the best currently available climate science, the Principal of CHCCS went to an even darker place. Not content to ignore science and twist the biblical texts, he launched an attack on the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, as a “little girl with self declared (sic) various emotional and mental problems”.

This is unconscionable and especially so for an educational leader with a professional obligation to protect vulnerable children. Neither her small stature, her age nor her mental health are appropriate targets for such an attack by a powerful male figure. What message does it send to young children in CHCCS or in the wider community, let alone anyone living with physical disabilities or mental health issues? And all this while ingenuously claiming to be concerned about unnecessary anxiety among his students and other persons connected with the school.

 

Happily, another religious school operating in Coffs Harbour offers an example of a ‘more excellent way’ (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Bishop Druitt College is a large Anglican school based in Coffs Harbour and serving the same region as Coffs Harbour Christian Community School. BDC encouraged students to participate in the recent school strikes for climate action. More than that, they also provided buses to transport students to and from the rally.

More recently, the Principal of BDC has issued a statement on the school’s Facebook page about the approach which his school takes on the climate change issues. I will quote just the final couple of sentences from that statement:

At Bishop Druitt College, we applaud Greta’s integrity, courage and her sense of social justice. It should also be noted that these three values are part of our set of college values.

This coming Sunday at Grafton Cathedral we will be hosting a seminar on faith-based responses to climate change, presented by the Revd Peter Moore. The seminar is open to the public and free of charge. No need to be anxious about climate change, come a learn how people of faith can respond to the crisis with courage, hope and science.

Fr Moore is an accredited climate change workshop facilitator and a member of ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change). In this session, we will be updated on the latest data as well as practical ways for people of faith to respond to the crisis our planet is now facing.

Posted in Grafton Cathedral, Reflections | 6 Comments

Season of Creation: 3. Storm Sunday

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Season of Creation, 3: Storm Sunday
15 September 2019

 

[ video ]

storm-port-macquarie

A thick storm cloud over Lighthouse Beach shows rain falling over Port Macquarie and Bonny Hills in 2017. Photo: Ivan Sajko (Ocean Drive Images)

 

As you will have already noticed, in church today we are paying attention to the theme of storms: real ones.

We are not talking about personal crises, tough times in relationships, or ‘storms in a teacup’.

All those are real enough, and painful as well.

On this third Sunday in the Season of Creation we are talking about those wild weather events that trigger emergency alerts, threaten to destroy homes, and can even take away our lives.

 

Season of Creation

If you have not been here for the last couple of weeks (or even longer) you may need a brief heads up.

During September we are observing a special series of services, the season of creation, as we explore various aspects of the web of life; that complex and subtle web of relationships between all of us and all of existence.

So far we have had Ocean Sunday and Fauna & Flora Sunday, with the focus today turning to storms. Next Sunday we will go bigger with the Cosmos as our chosen theme. On the final Sunday of the month, we wrap up the series with the blessing of the animals in the Cathedral gardens at 10.30am.

Bring your creatures great and small that day …

 

Storms

Storms have been in the news lately.

Last weekend the focus on the fires really grabbed all our attention, but the week before that we were watching with awe as a massive storm—Hurricane Dorian—bore down on the Bahamas and then headed towards the US east coast.

We have had some massive cyclones in this part of the world as well as seeing them active in other places.

Right now, when it is all so dry, we are desperate for rain. But we can also remember those times when the rain and the wind have been so bad that we just wanted them to stop.

In their own way, even the fires of last weekend were storms, as their ferocity and speed were partly driven by the winds that were blowing so strongly.

There is a huge difference between a fire on a calm day and a fire when a storm wind is whipping things up.

We might admire the power of a storm from a safe distance, but they have a way of putting us in our place. They remind us that we are small-scale life forms, and very vulnerable to major natural events.

  • Cyclones / hurricanes
  • Hail storms
  • Thunderstorms
  • Lightning storms
  • Tornadoes and twisters
  • Snowstorms and blizzards

 

Spirit, wind and breath

In ancient times we see that people were fascinated by the dynamic relationship between breath, wind and spirit.

In fact, often we find the same words being used in the ancient Hebrew or Greek text, and only the context telling us which English term to choose.

Perhaps the classic example is in Genesis 1, the great creation poem which opens the Bible.

There we read that the “spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters”

וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם

wᵉrûaḥ ʾᵉlōhim mᵉraḥep̱eṯ ʿal-pᵉne hammāyı̂m

 

Depending on the Bible translation you pick up, that line may be translated as:

KJV: And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

NJB: with a divine wind sweeping over the waters.

JPS: and a wind from God sweeping over the water

NRSV margin: while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters.

 

In the next chapter of Genesis, God will breathe into the nostrils of the new Earth creature that has been created. When the breath of God comes into the Earthling, then the first human is alive and has become a living spirit.

This life force that we know as storm we also meet:

  • in the first breath of a newborn child
  • in a pleasant summer breeze
  • in a bracing blast of winter wind, and
  • in the destructive power of a cyclone

 

As we baptise Alexis and Hudson this morning we celebrate the life force which hovered over the waters of creation at the beginning of time, and we open ourselves to the eternal power of God who can be gentle as a dove or fierce as a storm.

We need to learn to live in sync with this spirit/storm, while Alexis and Hudson look to us to show them how to do that, how to bend with the wind that is God at work in our lives.

And theirs.

There is a beautiful hymn that draws all these threads together so very nicely, and since we are not singing it in this service let me read it to you now as we say YES to the wind that blows where it will and transforms all who it touches:

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained,

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

Enemy of Apathy
John L. Bell (1949–) and Graham Maule (1958–)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in all its abundance​ and diversity

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Creation Sunday 2: Fauna and Flora
8 September 2019

[ video ]

creation-2-fauna-and-flora

During this special series, the season of creation, throughout September we are exploring various aspects of the web of life; that complex and subtle web of relationships between all of us and all of existence.

Last week we reflected on the oceans, that vast body of waters from which all life has emerged.

This week, our focus moves to fauna and flora, the animal kingdom and world of plants found in all their abundant diversity across our glorious planet.

In the ancient Hebrew poem which opens the Bible, we observe a symbolic symmetry between the creation of dry land, the sea and plants on day three, and the creation of animal life (including humans)—creatures who live on the dry land and eat the plants—on day six.

All animals depend on plants, not least for the oxygen they generate. Sea creatures, birds, land creatures are all connected in the fragile web of life.

The Bible encourages us to see all of this as God’s design.

The Scriptures also affirm that this is all good. Every aspect of creation is assessed by God and pronounced to be good, while on Day Six we are told that God saw everything that s/he had made and “indeed it was very good”.

 

Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! (Psalm 148:100

It is often easier for us to recognise our affinity with the animal kingdom.

As sentient beings, we discern a kinship with the animals that is reinforced by our knowledge of evolution, by the study of our skeletal structures and—more recently—by DNA research.

For many thousands of years, humans have shared our lives with some animals more than others: dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, camels, goats, sheep and cattle among many others.

We have changed through this relationship and so have they.

  • Companion animals
  • Wild animals
  • Working animals
  • Production animals
  • Dangerous animals
  • Scary animals
  • Pests

All creatures “great and small”

The diversity of animal life is one of the great ecological assets of our world, and yet that diversity is threatened by our collective actions.

A recent UN report advised that one billion species at risk of extinction.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz (Argentina)

According to the IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson:

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The scientists tell us that it is not too late to turn things around, yet we may wonder what all this has to do with religion.

In fact, for people of faith the future of the planet has everything to do with religion.

It is not just we humans who are beloved by God and for whom God has a dream of a blessed future in perfect harmony and peace. That vision extends to all God’s creation: all the animals, all the plants, the earth itself and the oceans as well.

When we understand our role in the scheme of things, we see ourselves stewards of creation.

If we take our creation theology seriously then we must do all we can to save the planet from the catastrophe that is about to befall us.

 

From grasslands to forests

There is a similar diversity among the plants, but we tend not to relate to our plants in quite the same way we engage with at least some of the animals.

They mostly seem not to be sentient beings, although some avid gardeners insist that their plants respond to more than light and water.

From the beauty of a delicate new bud to the grandeur of a mighty rainforest, the plants evoke a response of awe, admiration, connection and presence.

Some of them have a brief life cycle that makes us seem like the ancient of days, while others live for such a long period that we seem insignificant beside them.

They feed us and they provide the oxygen we need to survive.

Yet we have cut them down, cleared them from the land and set them ablaze … almost always in the search for commercial gain.

We have sold our soul, and what have we achieved?

As the ancient forests of the Amazon blaze with fire we are not just burning down the house, we are giving the animal kingdom a massive case of emphysema.

We are destroying the living creatures who create and purify the air we need.

There is no need to argue about original sin.

Our latest sin is both foolish and self-evident.

 

Consider the lilies

Well might the sage of Nazareth urge us to consider the lilies, to reflect on the ravens … to look beyond our own insecurities and see the bigger picture.

Do not be anxious, says Jesus.

Your father knows what you need.

Relax, focus on what really matters.

Let God take care of those things we really do need.

Focus our best energies on the things where we can make a difference.

 

That is not permission to ignore climate change.

But it is an invitation to stop and smell the roses, to see the staggering diversity of creation that we mostly rush past in our glass and steel cages, or with our faces turned to our smartphones.

 

If Jesus were here today, perhaps he would revise those words from Luke?

Maybe he would say, “There is a good kind of anxiety and a bad kind anxiety.”

It is right to be anxious about creation, but it is wrong to be anxious about our accessories and our comfort.

Actually, he did say that even in Luke:

“Do not keep striving for what you are to eat … and wear;
… instead, strive for God’s kingdom …”

Or in even more direct terms:

“Stop stressing about your first-world problems,
and look at what is happening in the world around us!”

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The web of life

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
First Sunday of Creation: Ocean
1 September 2019

[ video ]

Broken Head Nature Reserve

Season of Creation: Ocean Sunday

Well, we have no shortage of themes to consider here this morning:

  • For starters, it’s Fathers’ Day (at least here in the southern hemisphere).
  • In addition, it is the first Sunday of the season of creation and a day when we celebrate the ocean (even though we are many kilometres from the sea).
  • It’s also a day when we will be baptising little Ruby and celebrating her presence among us and all that she is going to become in the wider world.
  • And it’s a day when the family of Jim Harper has gathered so that we can lay his ashes to rest in the memorial garden beside the cathedral.

Yes, we pretty well have it all today — without even thinking about the topics to be covered in the dean’s forum at 11 AM.

I want to keep our primary focus on Ocean Sunday but weave into that line of thought various other connections as we go along. So buckle your belts and get ready for the ride.

 

Season of Creation

The season of creation is a recent ecumenical and international initiative. It reflects a growing awareness of the ecological dimensions of our faith and also of the religious dimensions of the earth, and our deepest character as Earthlings.

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, one happy outcome from this initiative is that for once in the year what we’re doing inside the church with our liturgies reflects what is happening outside the church in nature.

For most of the year our liturgical cycle is based upon the northern calendar, but for the next few weeks what we’re doing inside church reflects what is happening outside in the garden as new life breaks through the soil, plants blossom and many creatures welcome their new offspring.

Of course, the choice of dates for the season of creation was not made for the benefit of Aussies, Argentinians, Kiwis, or South Africans. Rather, the timing of the season is based on the annual celebration of St Francis of Assisi on October 4. We simply work back the four or five Sundays during September to carve out this special opportunity to celebrate and to reflect upon our place within the web of life.

 

The web of life

We are becoming more familiar with the concept of the web of life.

This idea has deep theological and philosophical roots, and these have recently been validated and extended by scientific discoveries relating to DNA more generally and the human genome in particular.

We now have a whole new appreciation of our deep connection with other people as well as with all of the life forms on this fragile planet.

This sense of deep unity with one another and with all creation is something that we celebrate in the Holy Communion liturgy each and every time that we gather around the Table of Jesus.

 

Ocean Sunday

On this first Sunday of Creation we pause and reflect on the ocean, where all life began. We appreciate our intimate connection with oceans, seas, lake and rivers. And we reflect that our own lives took form in the secret ocean of our mother’s uterus. Before the waters broke.

When we stand on the seashore and watch the immense ocean flowing up to our feet, we are in a sacred space; just as when we hold a new-born baby in our arms. On the edge of mystery. On the edge of the deep.

For those of us who are fathers, we are conscious of being in a line that stretches back into the distant past and beyond us into our children and their children.

Our fathers and grandfathers held us in their arms as our life began, and we gently place their remains in the ground after their lives have ended.

The web of life. We are all connected. We are all one.

All this and more is swirling around us today as we celebrate Ocean Sunday.

But our Bible readings this morning nudge us to engage with these dynamics in some different and particular ways. Let’s turn to them now.

 

Job 38

The first reading this morning was from the book of Job, one of the classic texts of western civilisation.

As the story goes, for more than 30 consecutive chapters (chs 3–37) in that book, God has been listening to Job’s complaint. Life is unfair. He has been treated badly. Job is the ultimate good person to whom really bad things have happened. He wants to ‘shirt front’ God. He has had enough.

Starting with the passage we heard just now, God ‘spits the dummy’. God, for her part, has had enough of Job’s complaints. Enough already! Halaas!

Note the opening lines from chapter 38 as God calls Job into the conversation which he has been demanding the right to have:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” (Job 38:1–3 NRSV)

 

Ouch!

This does not sound like a gentle conversation, and indeed that it how it unfolds …

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.” (Job 38:4–5, 8–11, 16–18 NRSV)

 

In the ancient text Job remains silent in the face of this divine barrage, but on this Ocean Sunday I suggest we can actually be bold enough to answer God: “Yes, we were and yes, we are!”

In saying that we are not speaking as particular individuals born in the very recent past.

But when we understand who we truly are—beings comprised of ancient atoms from the stardust of the big bang at the beginning of time— then we can claim our true identity and respond to God, “Yes, we were there and yes, we are able to plumb the depths of the sea. She is our mother.”

At the risk of a bad pun, on Ocean Sunday we appreciate the depths of our own existence.

We—that is, the universe finding its voice in us so late in time—we are 15 billion years old. We come from the first nano-seconds of the cosmos. We were conceived in the oceans. We are not just Earthlings, we are also sea creatures.

So today—as we baptise Ruby, and as we, celebrate fathers, and as we inter Jim’s ashes—we remember our deep and ancient roots. We appreciate our true selves, and we celebrate the amazing web of life of which we are integral parts.

 

Luke 5

Our Gospel reading was—most appropriately—a fishing story. A story set on the lake. A story that celebrates a deep intuitive knowledge of the ways of the sea.

But this reading is very different from Job.

God in the person of Jesus asks a very different question. Jesus is not asking, “Were you there?” rather, Jesus is asking, “Will come with me into the future?”

Will you trust my guidance and let down your nets into deep?

And that, of course, is the challenge.

We have some idea of where we have come from, but we have little idea of the future.

We had no choice about arriving here, but the future is ours to choose.

As we baptise Ruby this morning we are making a choice to let Jesus guide us into that future which is known only to God, and we are promising to teach her how to live that way as well.

Let down your nets … the future calls us on this Ocean Sunday.

 

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