Category Archives: Theology

the church as alternative politic and way of life

The following is a sermon I preached in my community on Sunday 28 July, 2013. I have been asked by quite a few people to post it, so here it is.

The first two paragraphs of this written version of the sermon have replaced a much longer section in which I told my story of being hurt by the Church in greater detail. I shared this story with my community, and I feel that it should remain there. I hope the remainder of the sermon makes sense, even without this background story, and that it is helpful and challenging for people.

MCA


In some ways it is a strange thing for me to speak about the Church, particularly for those who know my story well. In recent years I have experienced a fair amount of pain at the hands of churches, not least because of my theology, but also due to personal relationships.

I do not say this to evoke sympathy. I do not want it. My story is merely a description of a part of my life, the seemingly inevitable experience of the ugly side of the Church. Indeed, my story is by no means the worst experience of the Church and many others, including some in my own community, have lived through far more terrible injustices. Such people have too often been left hurt, with deep scars and a lingering distrust of “the Church”.

So why would I want to talk about the Church? Read the rest of this entry

christ the slain king: faithfulness in a world of effectiveness

On Sunday night I delivered the following sermon at a wonderful Uniting Church here in Sydney. I was told to speak about something that was burning on my heart.

Since I didn’t have time to memorise much of my sermon beforehand, I wrote much of it down. This means you get to read it! (Huzzah!)

Though I haven’t been able to post much lately this sermon represents some of the things I have been thinking about. I hope it challenges and comforts.

We come to the end of the year, for many of us a time of exhaustion.

For those who have done their best to walk the path of discipleship such exhaustion is compounded by the weariness of the pilgrimage more generally.

Perhaps it is providence that we find ourselves entering into the Christmas season where we join with the Magi, also suffering exhaustion after their long journey, in asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)

Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Melkite-Christ-the-King.jpg

In fitting with this the lectionary cycle this week reflects on the theme of ‘Christ the King’ as we again celebrate his coming. For those feeling the strain of walking the road of discipleship what hope and encouragement comes from reflection on this theme? As we will see, the encouragement offered to us by Christ as king is often not what we want, though it is what we need.

What does it mean for our discipleship that Christ is king?

Colossians 1:15-20 [1]

He is the image
            of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
            for in him were created all things
            in heaven and earth
            things visible and invisible
            whether thrones or dominions
            whether rulers or powers
            all things have been created through him and for him

And he is before all things
            and in him all things hold together
And he is the head
            of the body, the church

He is the beginning
            the firstborn from the dead
            so that he might come to have first place in everything
                        for in him all the fullness
                        was pleased to dwell
                        and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
                        all things
                        whether on earth or in heaven
                        by making peace through the blood of his cross

This powerful statement of the identity and meaning of Christ is well rehearsed amongst Christians, but often without much in the way of reflection on what it may have meant to Paul’s audience.

Place yourself in their world, a world colonised by images of Caesar: Read the rest of this entry

can law bring about true justice?

Below is the rough text of a talk I gave yesterday at the University of Technology Sydney. I was part of a panel who were asked the question, “Is the law sufficient to bring about true justice?”

We were each given seven minutes to give a perspective (no problem!), and thus this is only a sketch of some ideas. There was then some Q&A. I was asked to bring a perspective from a) a Christian and, b) the context of TEAR Australia’s work with the global poor. As a rich, white, educated, Western male I did my best to speak on behalf of the bottom 3-or-so-billion…

Law is a mere tool, a political construction, used by humans to achieve a certain social ends. Like any tool, it is subject to the use and abuse of the one wielding it.

Much of the time law can be understood positively – law created by those elected representatives for the good of most, of not all, people. So long as law serves in this capacity it demands our respect. Such laws help society to construct more just, albeit impersonal, structures.

However law does not always work this way. Read the rest of this entry

the truth will set you free (after it hurts like hell)

They say the truth will set you free.

But not before first causing much in the way of pain.

Truth is a mirror. We are faced with a vision of how things really are, and we must respond.

We can choose to turn away: “I don’t want to see.” We can choose apathy: “I don’t care.”

We can also choose to stare deeply into the mirror, accepting how ugly things really are: “This is not how I want to be…”

By facing up to the way things are we will be liberated, but not before experiencing all the pain that comes with this confrontation.

Like an AA participant, I must acknowledge what I really am, and what I really am not, before I can be set free. Read the rest of this entry

challenging liberalism: why i am less liberal than conservative evangelicals

I’ve been mistakenly called a “liberal” Christian many times (I imagine many of my readers have had this same experience, rightly or wrongly).

One particular experience stands out for me. I remember several years ago visiting a sick friend. I had just attended a conference, and I was sharing my experience, lamenting the singular focus of this particular conference on “church growth”. My friend sought to correct my frustration – “Church growth is great,” he said, “because it means less people are going to Hell.”

No doubt this reasoning is common in Western Protestantism. I responded with a polite understatement: “Well, I think it’s a bit more complex than that.”

The retort came quickly – “Oh, but you’re a liberal.” In other words I am apparently a liberal Christian.

Interesting. So easy to say – “you are a liberal!” This of course begs the question – what exactly is a liberal Christian? Read the rest of this entry

through the waters: unchristians as exiles & strangers

I was a slave
…..toiling under the gaze of the empire.
And I was heard by a liberator
…..led
through the waters,
through the chaos.

I was a wanderer
…..toiling under the gaze of the nations.
And I was guided by smoke and fire
…..led
through the waters
through the homelessness.

I was a mother
…..toiling under the gaze of a king.
And I was guided by an angel
…..led
through the waters,
through the escape.

I was an exile
…..toiling under the gaze of the empire.
And I was found by a baptiser
…..led
through the waters
through the resurrection.

I am a stranger
…..toiling under the gaze of the economy.
And I was found by heaven
…..led
through the waters
through death itself.

I am unChristian

Dedicated to Anthony John Abbott.

MCA

legalism vs. witness: moral claims in christian discipleship

It can be difficult to navigate the tension between the danger of legalism and raising the expectation of Christian discipleship to a high level.

There is no place for legalism in Christian discipleship. All of our kingdom-oriented action is enacted out of faithfulness and gratefulness on the basis of what has already been achieved in Christ. But of course none of this means there are no imperatives in Christian discipleship.

I know that personally I have been accused of pedalling legalism. As regular readers would be aware, I am passionate about and active in areas of social justice. At times I have offered prescriptions as to what I believe are just actions as we attempt to live in faithfulness to the gospel in the world. These prescriptions occasionally lead to accusations of legalism.

In saying this, I would wager that the same accusers often prescribe different standards of, say, sexual fidelity. Not that I am against fidelity (in fact I think it is quite revolutionary in our consumer culture!), but it does beg the question as to whether some would view such fidelity as a form of legalism.

Whose legalism? becomes a relevant question.

The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (c. 1623)

What, then, is legalism? Read the rest of this entry

the gift of the kingdom

It is tempting to believe we can make the kingdom. Work a little harder, longer, better.

Myth.

Our symbols are not a shovel, a hammer and a wheel.

Our symbols are far more extravagant: rainbow, parting sea, empty tomb.

Gifts. Grace.

We may shoulder a cross but we walk in resurrection. Recreation out of nothing much – that, my friends, we cannot make.

Grass and gophers, sparrows and spiders. The gift received with gratefulness: it can’t be bought and sold.

Bring us out from exile, bring us to our home. As we work for your kingdom, set our hands aflame.

MCA

the revolutionary humility of faith

What if faith itself is a challenge to the arrogance of our modern world?

We live in a world that esteems certainty, of knowledge beyond doubt. But the arrogance of Enlightenment reason has been shown to be, in so many ways, naive.

None of this makes knowledge bad; quite the opposite, knowledge is beautiful. But like beauty, knowledge is not easy to pin down.

Faith is, in part, an acknowledgement of our inability to really know many things with certainty.

Now when I say faith I don’t mean mere belief, Read the rest of this entry

when the coyote catches the roadrunner: peter rollins on achievement

Today on Facebook I posted a light-hearted update about why the fictitious ACME company, made famous in Roadrunner cartoons, hasn’t gone out of business owing to their flimsy products that always seem to backfire on the Coyote.

A friend then posted a link in response. It seems that someone has taken Coyote-related questions seriously.

Peter Rollins, in a fantastic post entitled What happens when you get what you want?, discusses the hypothetical: What would happen to the Coyote if he ever caught the Roadrunner? The below clip illustrates a possible outcome (warning: this clip includes profanity).

On its surface the question may seem trivial, even meaningless. However Rollins uncovers a significant question about human experience, particularly in our fast-paced contemporary world: when we are highly driven to achieve, what happens to us when we get what we have longed for?

What happens to us the day after? And the day after that? Read the rest of this entry

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