All posts by Judy

Share the healing love of Jesus

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 8B – Mark 6 30-34 & 53-56

Do you think much about picture framing? I’m always impressed by people who know about colours and visual association. They see things I don’t. And when they show me how the associations work, it can really change the things I see.

The Gospel of Mark does this too, but in stories. Often in this gospel, one story gets put inside another. The first story stops while another story or two get told, then the first story picks up from where it left off. So the feelings, colours and impressions you build up as you read one story carry over into the next one. And just in case you’ve forgotten those impressions and feelings by the time you’ve got deeper into the other story, you pick them up again afterwards, because the gospel takes you straight back into the first story. So when you think of the middle story, your idea of it is touched and coloured by the story that surrounds it; by its frame.

The Gospel story we heard last week – that horrible one about Herod having John the Baptist killed – was framed by the story of Jesus sending out the twelve, and their return today. By putting that terrible story of the end of a ministry in the middle of a story about new ministries beginning, Mark is saying that bad things may happen in the midst of kindness and hope, but that kindness and the hope continue on anyway. So Mark uses the mission of the twelve as a frame to help us see that it’s the good news that sets the agenda; not the terrible event.

Today, we’re given a frame without its picture. First, we gather around Jesus as the disciples report back on their mission. Jesus invites us to sail away to a quiet place with him; somewhere we can rest and eat. But nobody lets us get away with that. People guess where Jesus and his disciples are going, and by the time they land, there’s a large crowd waiting for them. Jesus has compassion on that crowd. So that’s the top of the frame. Then we jump about twenty verses and find Jesus and his disciples again quietly mooring the boat. Again, a needy crowd quickly gathers. People rush off and stretcher their sick friends and family to wherever Jesus can be found. And they receive compassion and healing. That’s the of the bottom frame.

Compassion infuses this frame; people crowd around Jesus as soon as he arrives anywhere, and despite his fatigue, he doesn’t send them away; he has compassion on them. He gives them the teaching and healing they seek. His disciples have just returned from doing teaching and healing work themselves, and now they’re with Jesus sharing more of this same work. So this is the frame; what’s the picture?

Mark puts two miracle stories into this compassion frame; the feeding of the 5,000, and Jesus walking on the water. We’ll be looking at these stories next week in the version from John’s Gospel. But today we’ve just got the compassion-frame and us.

So do we fit in this frame? I think we do. Lots of us here will feel that the image of the exhausted disciples picks up something about ourselves. And Jesus said weary disciples need to spend some time quietly; somewhere by ourselves, just with him. So is that part of a picture of us that we find inside this compassion-frame? Yes it is; in our daily prayer, in our friendship and fellowship with each other, and in the solace we share, it’s a very real picture of us. But it’s only a part of the picture.

Also in this frame is the image of people looking to see which way Jesus is moving and making sure they’re headed that way too. So is that part of a picture of us that we find inside this compassion-frame? Yes, though I think that’s always a growing edge for us. But as long as it springs from genuine compassion – willingness to enter the sufferings of Christ’s little ones and respond – we’ll be on the right track.

And the people who bring their vulnerable ones to a place where they can make even the faintest contact with Jesus. Is that part of a picture of us that we find inside this compassion-frame? This is our most urgent task; to trust that the people we might bring to Jesus will truly meet him, and so to trust ourselves to do that – to learn together how to do that, and simply get on with it.

The frame we’re looking at today is made to embrace a picture that embodies compassion; one which includes self-care, attention to Jesus and an urgent commitment to bring others to experience his healing love. That’s the discipleship we’re called to embody and teach as the living body of Christ in this place. Amen.

Let our good works give glory to God

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 7b 11-7-21 – 2 Sam 6 1-5 12b-19 Ps 24 Eph 1 1-14 Mk 6 14-29

I’ve just negotiated a week with my brothers and my sister under our Mum’s supervision as we closed down her home and distributed her belongings to various people and causes. Despite odd miscommunications and our differing perspectives, we’re all still on really good terms with each other. We have no regrets about any decisions we made. But we did have our moments; families can be really awkward. This morning’s scriptures remind us just how dysfunctional families can be.

Today, we saw King David establish Jerusalem as the spiritual and political capital of the Jewish people. It’s a pivotal moment in their history and ours. And yet there’s a nasty little family moment in the story that’s quite puzzling. In great joy, stripped down to a simple priestly cape, David danced with all his might before the Ark of the Lord as it was brought into the city. But then we’re told 16 … [David’s wife] Michal … looked out of the window, and saw [him] leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. …………………Why?

There’s only one hint, and it comes just after today’s passage. When David got home, Michal greeted him by saying, 20 …How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of … female servants, as … vulgar fellows shamelessly uncover [themselves]! Our Bible study group speculated about Michal’s spite. Did she simply find liturgical dance embarrassing? Were there issues in their marriage? There certainly were. But why did the writers highlight this particular moment of tension? And what are we to do with it today?

The equivalent issue now seems to be when a family member gets religion and the rest of the family find it very, very embarrassing. It would be interesting to chat about that together. When I announced my call to ordained ministry to my parents and siblings, their response was quite varied. They’d known me all my life, and so they had quite a bit of history to set against what they made of clergy in general.

There was puzzlement; lukewarm acceptance – Well, if that’s what you really want to do. It ended up as a bit of a no-go zone in our conversations for some years. It’s tricky, isn’t it. Your family’s opinion is so important – you want to look after those relationships. But does that mean you only do something if they like it?

In the end, you can’t let a desire for people’s good opinion get in the way of doing what you believe is your responsibility – even if they’re your family. Imagine if David had been in the middle of his dance, glimpsed Michal’s face in the window and stopped. He went on dancing, oblivious to her contempt, and the rest is history.

We see the reverse of this in the Gospel today with Herod giving priority to his guests’ good opinion. Herod was giving a birthday party in his own honour. He counted the good opinion of his male guests so highly that he was prepared to expose his stepdaughter to them and then commit murder to honour a drunken promise they’d witnessed. As our psalmist puts it, Herod set his soul on an idol; in this case, mistaking his popularity for his honour.

So our readings today put a choice before us that we all face very often – as a group and as individuals – between what we believe God truly wants of us, and what makes us look good; between honouring God, and preening ourselves.

Today’s Epistle tells us it’s not just a matter of personal choice. It’s a family matter for us too. We heard in the letter to the Ephesian Christians that 4 [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 [God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.

The Christians of Ephesus are being reminded that they’ve been adopted into God’s family, and that this has implications for their conduct, even in the face of rejection from their ‘old family’ – who were mostly worshippers of Artemis. Ephesus was a major centre of Artemis worship. Her temple there was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. When the Ephesian Christians became followers of Jesus, they were adopted into a new family – an incredibly counter-cultural move in any traditional society – and not much less extraordinary for us.

We’re like the Ephesians. As Gentile Christians, we have the honour of being adopted as members of God’s family, with all the privileges and responsibilities that go with it. For some of us, that means we’ve renounced our birth families too – or been renounced by them.

However we became part of this family, what that change means in Biblical language is that now our lives reflect on the honour of God’s name. What people see Christians do affects how they can know what God is like. So the way the Church has protected its reputation and its power has tarnished God’s good name.

We are part of God’s family. The way people see us treat each other or anyone else is on display. What we say to each other; what we say about each other; what we do; the choices we make; who we include and who we leave outside – it’s all on display. We are to let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [God]. Mt 5.16      Amen

 

Power is made perfect in weakness

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pent + 6b  July 4th 2021 2 Cor 12 2-10  Mk 6.1-13

Grant us the first and best of all your gifts, the Spirit who makes us your children – we ask this through…Jesus…your Son  

A little child needs protection. Their vulnerability can unleash an absolute avalanche of attention, energy, love and care. It’s a paradox, isn’t it; the baby’s weakness unleashes a powerful tidal wave of care. Our New Testament scriptures today show us that this is a pretty good picture of the way God responds to us.

We just heard part of Paul’s second letter to a Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth. In his letter, we might be surprised to find Paul feeling pretty vulnerable; after all, this was a church that Paul had founded. But there were problems in the community, and in their relationship with Paul. What was wrong?

Paul’s mission involved lots of travel. He’d planted or strengthened new Christian communities in many places. When he moved on, he left pretty raw new leaders in charge of these very new communities. But Paul worked as a team-player. He kept in touch with a network of fellow church-planters, and with the mother church in Jerusalem. They were very careful to stay in touch with each other, and this communication worked as a pastoral care network, and worked to keep everyone’s message true to the teachings of Jesus. (There were no Gospels written yet).

Through this network, Paul was able to exchange letters with the churches he’d started. He’d get letters from them asking him to answer questions they had, or to adjudicate in their disputes. We’ve just heard one of his replies.

We know from his letters and from the book of Acts that apart from Paul and the original network, there were some loose cannons out there too; people preaching their own versions of the Gospel for their own benefit – out to make money and win prestige. There are still people like that around today.

After Paul had left Corinth, people like this arrived there and set themselves up over against Paul. They rubbished his teaching and instead proclaimed sensational messages of their own – claiming special, esoteric knowledge and great spiritual experience. This is what we heard Paul confronting today. And he sounded at the start as if he were going to refute their grand claims with more spectacular claims of his own. Caught up to the third heaven…caught up into paradise and [hearing] things that are not to be not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

But then he changes tack; he doesn’t go down the road of prestige. He pointedly turns from the temptation to beat those con artists at their own game and instead tells them that he’s got something wrong with him. He tells them he’d once believed he could be a much more effective apostle if he had that fixed; that he’d prayed three times that God might fix it, but that God refused.

Why is he telling the Corinthians that? He could have wiped the floor with those charlatans who were challenging him. But he refuses to beat them at their own game. It’s tempting, but it’s wrong. Instead, he explains that God has answered his prayer not by healing him, but by teaching him that it’s in Paul’s brokenness, Paul’s weakness, that God’s power is unleashed full strength – undiluted. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

Remember? A little child needs protection. Their vulnerability has the power to unleash an absolute avalanche of attention, energy, love and care. It’s a paradox, isn’t it; the baby’s weakness unleashes a powerful tidal wave of care. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ It’s quite mysterious really, but it’s the truth that Paul saw shining through the life of Jesus.

It’s what we’ve been learning from Mark’s gospel this year. Remember those times Jesus has acted with great power, healing people, casting out demons, raising the dead and then telling people to keep quiet about it. Mark wants it known that Jesus is far more than just a faith healer. But no-one will ever realise that – no-one will ever know who Jesus really is – until they see him on the cross. Jesus came as a helpless baby; he died a helpless victim. And yet we realise that in those moments of his greatest weakness, the power of God for the world was unleashed with its most tremendous force.

God told Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ And Paul remembered that: remembered that he followed Jesus whose power was made perfect in weakness. The Jesus Paul proclaimed was the Jesus of the Cross. And on the Cross, in helpless vulnerability, the power of God’s love for you and for me, for the Earth – is most perfectly revealed.

Our task is to live this way too; not to count on people’s respect or good opinion, but only on God’s grace, because for some reason, our vulnerability unleashes an avalanche of God’s love and power for us and for those we’re sent to serve. Amen.

Jesus responds to need and hope, not power and influence

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 5b – Mark 5.21-43 – 27-6-21

Jesus and his friends are in the boat again, on their way back to the Galilean side. Today’s weather’s calm, but he’s about to encounter a frenetic press of ministry; an onrush of need. Everyone wants his attention. Verse 21 literally says ‘a large crowd gathered epi auton against him’. He’s pinned between the crowd and the shore.

Today’s focus is the ministry Jesus has with two women. Mark takes one story, the story of Jairus’ daughter, splits it apart, and puts the story of the courageous woman in the middle. Weaving the two stories together this way heightens the tension. The frustration Jairus experiences when Jesus is delayed from attending to his daughter wouldn’t be nearly as intense without the story of the woman who butts in and seizes her own healing. Competing priorities and the delay are core to this narrative. Everyone vies for Jesus’s attention; who’ll get it; who’ll have to wait?

As Jesus steps out of the boat, he’s pinned between the crowds and the seashore. Then Jairus arrives, one of the leaders of the synagogue. The crowds make enough space for Jairus to fall at Jesus’s feet, and he begs Jesus many times. ‘My little daughter is near death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be saved and live’. Jesus goes with Jairus; everyone else must wait for this little daughter.

But the crowds don’t give up. They keep pressing in on Jesus, to have their piece of him. A woman comes up close behind Jesus – ‘If only I touch his clothes, I’ll be saved.’ She’s been losing blood for twelve years, with the cramping, the anaemia and the exhaustion that go with it. Every doctor has failed her; she’s spent all she has. Now, ritually unclean, no one will go near her if they can help it. She’s a courageous woman even to get up in the morning. She’s a courageous woman to push through the tiredness and pain to get out there to see Jesus; courageous to ignore the pressure to keep away from the crowds and from Jesus. And when she’s manoeuvred herself into position and managed to touch Jesus’ clothes, she’s wonderfully courageous not to melt away into the crowd and hide for shame.

So the touch happens. The power goes out from Jesus, and he knows it. He looks around and asks who did it. She comes forward in fear and trembling – emotions appropriate to a divine encounter – and she falls at his feet like Jairus did. And now this courageous woman pours out her whole story to Jesus. Such a story takes time, and Jesus gives her the gift of his time; gives her his full attention. What do you imagine Jairus going through right now?

At the end of her long account, Jesus calls her Daughter, restoring her to kinship and community as a Daughter of Israel. He says her healing is an outworking of her own remarkable faith. Then Jesus gives her a benediction: Go in peace. And finally, he gives her what she’d first taken without permission; ‘be healed of your disease’. Her shame is taken away. She’s restored to life and community.

But suddenly, while he’s still speaking, people from Jairus’ house arrive and interrupt: ‘Your daughter has died. Why annoy the teacher any longer?’ But Jesus, paying no attention to what they say, tells Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.*

That’s the big challenge for Jairus. For someone used to being in control – being obeyed – his encounter with Jesus has been incredibly disempowering. Couldn’t Jesus just let the woman have her healing and go quickly and quietly? If he’d not wasted all that time listening to her, there might still have been time for his little daughter. Jairus must fear that he’d missed the last moments of his daughter’s life on a wild goose chase. * In this moment, he’s poised between helplessness, despair and a glimmer of hope. He can’t control this situation. He goes with Jesus.

When they arrive, the mourning is in full swing. But Jesus says ‘Why are you distressed and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep’. The father and mother, and Jesus and his companions, enter the room where the child is. There are very few instances where the Gospels preserve a word or two in Aramaic, Jesus’s heart language. Here’s a precious moment where we glimpse Jesus gently addressing the girl directly in Aramaic: Taking her by the hand, ‘Talitha koum,’ ‘little girl, arise.’

Mark only reveals at this point that the girl was not an infant or young child at all, but in Jesus’s day she was a girl of nearly marriageable age, which was twelve and a half. Only now do we start to see links between this girl and the courageous woman: the twelve years of age and the twelve years of bleeding; the entry into womanhood contrasting the trials of mature womanhood; the attentive, perhaps even stifling family of the girl, as opposed to the woman’s lack of any family.

There’s a lot to take in once this key is handed to us. And I’ll leave that to you to explore. But for now, when we face the epidemic of coercive control that plagues intimate relationships across our country, and even more within our Anglican church, let’s remember today what happened for Jairus when he let go of his power to follow Jesus. He had to learn not to be afraid, but to believe. And in both stories, Jesus responded not to power and influence, but to need and hope.                 Amen

God the Most Holy Trinity – three persons yet one God

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Trinity Sunday 30-5-2021 Isa 6 1-8 Ps 29 Rom 8 12-17 Jn 3 1-17

Sisters and brothers…you didn’t receive a spirit of slavery…you’ve received a spirit of adoption. 16… that very Spirit [bears] witness with our spirit that we are children of God…joint heirs with Christ.

Paul packs a lot into a tight space, doesn’t he! Let’s unpack it slowly, and see what Paul might want to tell us on this Trinity Sunday.

There seem to me to be two layers of meaning. Firstly, there’s us on the receiving end of God’s kindness, and the implications that has for our human relationships. Then there’s God’s outreach to us which we experience as three co-operating forces acting in perfect harmony: encouragement, adoption, and incorporation into the family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So to the first layer of meaning: the human level. Paul calls the people he’s writing to sisters and brothers. (We can safely assume he means us too.) He says their and our status in the household of faith is not that of slaves but, as the Spirit bears witness to our spirits, we are God’s children.

Just as he experiences his membership of the body of Christ, Paul is saying that the Roman Christians (and we) are free, full members of God’s household; children – siblings – in our own home. So he says we have the astonishing privilege of being joint heirs with Christ. This is about close relationship; not insiders and outsiders – no lower or upper caste; no hierarchy, but shared, intimate, equal family life.

From his own personal experience as a former persecutor of Christians, Paul knows just how astounding it is that we Christians may be described this way: as siblings, as God’s children, and as joint heirs with Christ – no matter what our background. And that adds to the wonder of what he’s saying because the Roman church was profoundly split along ethnic and social lines.

The other layer of meaning in this passage is found in the three ways God offers us this privilege of belonging in the family.

Firstly, the words ‘we are children of God’ mean God has chosen to relate to us as our parent. Our tradition has responded; we call God our Father – or our Parent – Source of our Being. Before, we related to God more as our maker and our judge. But being invited to call him Father says this Maker is more than an artisan at work; and this judge is on our side. All this transforms our relationship, both with God and with each other, to family. This is the will of the Source of our Being.

Secondly, we are named as joint heirs with Christ. Jesus is the true heir of the Father! This teaching acknowledges Christ as equal with the Father. Just as any human child shares the human nature of their parents, Christ shares fully the divine nature of the Father. And he has taught us to pray and call God our Father too. How astonishing is this privilege for us?! And there’s that family connection again – with God and with each other – through Christ. He called us by his life and ministry, his death and resurrection and ascension into this relationship.

And thirdly, the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God … joint heirs with Christ. Again, I have to say this is an astounding honour. And there it is again too – the connection is a family relationship – which Paul affirms by calling us siblings, both to himself and to each other. It’s a family relationship which he has now told us has the threefold stamp of encouragement adoption and incorporation into the family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This has a special poignancy when we remember that Paul was writing to a divided church in Rome. As I’ve said, the Christians there were divided along ethnic and social lines, like many modern churches are. But he called them all siblings – siblings to him, to Christ, and by logical extension, siblings to each other. And he did so by asserting that this relationship was one deliberately established by God the Holy Trinity, as we’ve just seen.

Who would have imagined that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity had anything in it about breaking down ethnic and social barriers? Who would have thought that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity meant anything about our identity – about our relationships with each other – about us? But it does. Whatever our race or social standing, we’re siblings. Paul most famously spelt this out in his letter to the Galatian church 3.28 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

That rather knocks the stuffing out of racial and social prejudices, doesn’t it. Racists and snobs and misogynists are right out of touch with this ultimate reality about the way God sees us all. And it goes right back. In Genesis 1.26, we read: 26aGod said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.

Today, with our focus on God the Most Holy Trinity – three persons, yet one God – God in community, Paul teaches us that being in God’s image, after God’s likeness means being community, and so rejects forces of disunity. And it doesn’t mean a choice for slavish uniformity; it means seeking harmony in diversity.

Perhaps our musicians can demonstrate that with the notes E,G and C. Until we hear the three notes together, we don’t know what key signature we’re dealing with. Without knowing God as Trinity, we’re missing out on who God is, and who we are called to be.

Paul has just given us a lesson about God in community calling diversity into harmony. God whom we worship, God in whose image and likeness we are made – God is a community. And we discover our true selves as the image and likeness of God – in our family connection with God and with each other – in a choice to be community; family to each other.

And here we are; a community of people who are mostly not related to each other, and who probably wouldn’t know each other if it weren’t that God has adopted us all into this family. And somehow, together, we are the image and likeness of God. Our pilgrimage – our journey of faith – is to discover that, and to live it – discover who we are, why we’ve been called, and importantly, to ask What now?

Paul gives us a picture of the community of love that is God at work. We see it most clearly as an example to us in the ministry of Jesus – who is himself God. Reaching out to ex-communicated people, Jesus gathers these to himself. He incorporates them into a new family, if necessary, staring down ex-communication himself from a society which sets itself apart and keeps all the belonging to itself.

The community of love that Jesus models – and that is our calling too – is outgoing – active – notices these ex-communicated ones and includes them.

Such is our lesson this Trinity Sunday. Amen

Opening the Kingdom of God to everyone

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost  Year B – Ezek 37 Ps 104 Acts 2 John 15-16

Spirit and New Creation When you take away our breath, we die. When you send forth your Spirit, we are created, and you renew the face of the Earth. Ps 104.32 APBA

Today, as at every Whitsunday, we’re presented with a vision of the first Pentecost – new Spirit-life being poured out into our existing life; new life poured out to renew us and make this life even more abundant, more inclusive, more diverse.

Acts 2, tells us how crowds of Jews from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot – the Jewish feast we Christians call Pentecost. In the Jewish faith, Shavuot is the Spring festival, celebrating God’s gifts of the Law and the wheat harvest. It’s a celebration of God’s on-going provision to those who live in the secure haven of God’s Law. (Deut 7:12-13) It celebrates the ever-new gift of abundant life. So the crowds gathered in Jerusalem were already there to celebrate God’s abundant providence, but suddenly, even more life was poured out on them.

The immediate miracles of this story are the disciples’ sudden burst of courage and the diversity of languages. Newly leaderless fishers and farmers from the backwater of Galilee suddenly burst into the crowd proclaiming God’s deeds of power. And they do so in all the tongues of the known world, all at the same time. The crowds of faithful Jewish people had gathered from all the home-countries of those languages. That day, they were all invited to take new hold of their birthright; to embody the commissioning of Abraham and join God’s mission to bless all families of the Earth.

Before the Holy Land and its people ever existed, God had promised Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed – that Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would become the people through whom God would bless all families of the Earth with abundant, ever-new life.

Isaiah spelled out this destiny of Israel in an oracle from God: 42: 6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations … and today, here it was all happening in their sight and hearing.

The crowds listening to this multi-language sermon – the mighty deeds of God proclaimed in all their languages at the same time – all these people were being commissioned. They should each carry this gift home with them to every country they’d come from. The Jews’ time for being set apart was over. From this moment on, the Good News of God was officially launched to all families of the Earth.

The blessing is handed over, and it’s marked with fire, just as it was many centuries earlier with the burning bush Ex 3 and the pillar of fire. Ex 13 Our Paschal candle has proclaimed this for the through the Easter season. And with this blessing of holy fire came a gift of prophecy, another sign of the Spirit’s presence. Num 11.24ff Fire marked out each disciple as Spirit-filled, and the prophetic words they spoke in the tongues of every nation staked out God’s claim on the whole Earth.

That Pentecost, that Shavuot, that day, it sounds as if God cranked the amplifier and converted a solemn religious ceremony into a birthday party. The followers of Jesus became something like living, speaking birthday candles – like the burning bush, ablaze, but not consumed – speaking the very words of God to a crowd who’d never dreamt they’d hear such words spoken directly to them.

Birthday party? My dear old mentor, Brother Gilbert, used to scoff at preachers who called Pentecost the birthday of the Church. ‘Rubbish!’ he’d roar. ‘The birthday of our faith is the call of Abraham’.

He was right, of course. He always was. But I might just defy him for a moment longer. If I dared to call Pentecost a birthday, I’d have to say that Pentecost is like our twenty-first birthday – our coming of age. We were given a key that day – a key to open the Kingdom of God, but to others – to everyone.

And it’s vital that we do. All families of the Earth do know life, but do we all know it in the abundance God wants for us? What’s the Psalmist telling us? ‘God sends forth the Spirit…and the face of the Earth is renewed” 104.32 We join today with the whole Earth calling on the Spirit to come and renew the face of the Earth!  Amen.

The Ascension of our Lord

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Year B – Easter 7 – Acts 1 1-11 Ps 93 Eph 1 15-23 Mk 16 15-20

The Ascension of our Lord is one of the five great festivals in the Christian calendar. Yet it often goes almost unnoticed. It falls on a Thursday, so there’s a tendency in some traditions simply to overlook it; a sort of poor cousin, left high and dry between our celebrations of Easter and Pentecost.

In traditions which do focus on the Ascension, you’ll often see it represented in art that’s based on this morning’s reading from the book of Acts. It often shows sad-looking disciples looking up at a cloud that has a pair of feet protruding from its base. Maybe that cloud is meant to represent the one in Exodus which shrouded God by day, leading the people from Egypt. If so, it’s a powerful connection; it then makes the Ascension pictures about God leading us from slavery to freedom. But for many people, the seeming farewell focus of Ascension art seems to emphasise losing Jesus; like our extinguishing the Easter candle just now seems to as well.

That’s where I find the painting (on our service booklet) by the late Indonesian choreographer and painter Bagong Kussudiardja to be so powerful as an exposition of Christ’s Ascension. He shows with explosive energy the incarnation of God in human form taking that human form into the divine. And, according to the image our epistle and Gospel readings give us, that human form now sits at God’s right hand. So we have a human voice representing us at the throne of grace. And that also means in some mysterious way that we have divinity represented in every child of God on Earth too. We have a voice interceding for us at the throne of grace.

At this point in our nation’s history, this image, where one of us speaks on our behalf in the throne-room, is echoed for me in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; the declaration that the original custodians of this continent presented to our government in 2017. It called for an Aboriginal voice enshrined in the constitution; a voice that would speak for first peoples to our parliament.

No wonder it felt so prophetic; it was calling on our government to follow in God’s footsteps and, like Christ’s Ascension, give an oppressed, alienated people a voice in the throne-room.

The connection I see between the Statement from the Heart and the Ascension is this; Christ’s Ascension to the throne of grace where he intercedes for us signifies the arrival of the Kingdom of God for us in the form of full citizenship with all its rights and privileges. Finally, full representation, full citizenship in the here and now. And that’s what the Statement from the Heart proposes for the first-nations people of this continent – finally, full citizenship in the here and now.

I find this practical, here-and-now link with the Ascension is one which helps to broaden my understanding of our faith. And that’s a good reason for insisting on marking the feast of the Ascension today. If we’d just left it to pass silently by apart from a handful of us on Thursday – the poor cousin to Easter and Pentecost – we’d miss the perspective it gives us on the wider plan of Christ our King.

Easter speaks to us of resurrection, reconciliation, new life, and triumph over sin and death. And Pentecost speaks of our participation in the power and life of the Spirit. And they’re all central to our faith. But with these, our focus can be unwisely confined simply to the effect on us – us at the centre of everything.

Ascension widens our focus to direct our eyes to Christ and see in him our risen, ascended, glorified King. And Ascension opens our eyes to the nature of the Kingdom – to what Jesus called the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith. Mt 23.23 Certainly, Easter and Pentecost are front and centre, but without the wider, Kingdom perspective which Ascension gives, our understanding of them is diminished.

This Kingdom perspective helps us live in the paradox of Jesus’ absence and Jesus’ presence, God’s absence and God’s presence. Jesus is no longer among us, and yet we affirm that he is with us. We can’t touch him or see him, yet we meet him physically and spiritually in each other, and in the experience of the broken bread and wine poured out. Everyday yet extraordinary – God is totally beyond us, and yet through the Ascension, more intimately connected with us than ever. That is a wider perspective, and so somehow more freeing and inviting – calling us beyond our perspectives. For me this is summed up amazingly in the prayer of the week from APBA p. 519.

O God,
you withdraw from our sight
that you may be known by our love:
help us to enter the cloud where you are hidden,
and to surrender all our certainty
to the darkness of faith
in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let’s rejoice in the Ascension. And at Pentecost, filled with the Spirit, may we feel the warmth of God’s presence, comforting and strengthening us as we live in the paradox of separation from God, us with God, and God with us. Amen.

You didn’t choose me but I chose you

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 6 b  – Jn 15 9-17 Acts 10 44-48

Jesus said, You didn’t choose me but I chose you. Jn 15.16 It’s easy to lose sight of that – I/you didn’t choose him; he chose me/you. It’s quite confronting. I understand it to mean that Jesus acted to take hold of you and me before we even knew about him. It’s disconcerting enough to have our children flexing their independence and doing things without permission; it’s positively unnerving to have our God doing it too! Say goodbye to a comfortable, domesticated God!

This means that our faith is about choosing to respond to God – getting on board with initiatives that God calls us to; accepting the outstretched hand of God. It also means that if we walk out on the Church, it won’t make Jesus give up on you or me. Remember, he chose us! What we might do for Jesus won’t cause him to respond to us in love; he loves us anyway. Whatever we do, to please him or to cross him, his love for us is there. It never wavers. It’s just there; and that’s the force which can nourish and grow you and me into a people who are a blessing for the world.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts shows the earliest Church discovering that Jesus chooses people they never expected. They’re amazed; people who aren’t Jewish are given the Holy Spirit. You didn’t choose me; I chose you. We don’t often think about Jesus calling the shots; even less that he does it in such dramatic ways. We’re not used to dreams and visions and angels being part of our decision-making processes. We tend to make fun of that – to say it’s how fundamentalists think. We tend not to trust people who claim a special relationship with God.

Such misgivings can colour how we read scripture. If you take some today’s Gospel verses (10,14 & 16) out of context and read them literally, you might see a protection racket; Jesus saying something like ‘10 Do what I say, and you’ll be okay; 14 I’ll like you if you play by my rules; 16 Hang around with me, and I’ll see you do well out of it.’ Looks pretty worrying, doesn’t it. Someone who knew nothing else about Jesus, flipping open the Bible at this page, would probably balk at it. But they needn’t.

How would you help someone understand this Gospel passage? How would you open it up as good news for them? We’ve each been charged with doing just that. Personally, I usually start by looking at context. It always explains a lot.

The immediate context of this passage is the verses we read last week – I am the true vine. We’re reading through Jesus’ farewell to his disciples before he’s crucified. He’s giving them a message of a choice for love and friendship. When he talks of commandments, his command is to love like he does. And his master-servant relationship with his disciples, it’s laid aside, as he offers us his friendship.

He’s telling us about building a community of love, where the only measure of a relationship is the law of love. Keeping that law builds community that’s safe for all who belong to it, and any newcomer. We think only Jesus can create something so wonderful, yet today we hear him asking us to embody his creativity and trustworthiness. So when Jesus talks about us asking something in his name, v.16 c he trusts that we’ll ask what he’d ask – that we’ll be loving like he’s loving.

This looks back to last week when we heard Jesus tell us he’s the vine and we’re the branches. As his branches, it’s natural that we’ll genuinely express his care – particularly for the frail, the frightened and the needy. He’s chosen them. And we are his representatives, called to express his care for them.

As Christ’s branches, we are to reach out and provide hope and shelter and sweet refreshment in their season. Just as he reached out to us and grafted us onto him, we are to offer this belonging to others too – to offer without condition a connection, through Christ the vine – offer them connection with the true source their being, with a true reason for being. But like any branch, we can only draw the strength to do all of that from the vine; Jesus, the true vine.

That’s quite a bit of context, but it all helps to build bridges of unbreakable, free belonging. It helps us and all who hear this Gospel to know that his call to us, his way of love, his kindness and understanding can bring to a broken world the healing and peace of faith, hope and love – new life; true life.  Amen

I am the vine and you are the branches

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 5b  I am the true vine – John 15 1-8

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus says I am the true vine, or I am the Good Shepherd, or I am the way, the truth and the life, or any of the other I am sayings, the I am part is especially significant. It’s a deliberate echo of God’s revelation of the divine Name to Moses at the burning bush Exodus 3.14I am who I am – tell the Israelites that I am has sent you. You might remember in the Good Friday Passion Gospel when soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Jesus asked them who they were looking for. When they said Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replied literally I am, and everyone fell to the ground. The I am sayings in John’s Gospel tell us that the whole majesty and glory and love of God is present physically in this human being called Jesus.

Often, the I am sayings also make a connection between Jesus’ body and the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus referred to own body as ‘this Temple’ – a place where God is present John 2.19-22 – which was what the Temple of Jerusalem was for the Jewish people. Jesus called his followers to shift their gaze away from the Temple building, and instead turn to him.

Today’s I am statement, I am the true vine, is for us an obscure Temple reference. What does a vine have to do with the Temple? The archæological architect, Leen Ritmeyer is a world authority on the Temple of Jesus’ time. On the basis of his research, he and a colleague designed and built a scale model of the second Temple Jesus knew. Supporting its porch are four columns. Wreathed up these columns and over the porch is a huge vine, wrought out of gold; the Golden Vine of the Temple.

This vine represented Israel whom God had planted in the Holy Land. Ps 80; Hos 5; Jer 2. It graced the doorway into the Holy of Holies. And pilgrims would bring offerings of golden leaves and clusters of golden grapes to add to the Temple vine’s splendour. In the Mishnah, we read whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill-offering…brought it and [the priests] hung it there”. (Middot 3.8) So to return to this morning’s Gospel reading, when Jesus said I am the true vine, he was declaring that he superseded all this in his own person. He was effectively saying, By me, by this doorway, you enter God’s presence. I am the way.

Vines have a mind of their own. Watch them grow and you see creation at work before your eyes. Little tendrils stretch out quickly, looking for the next thing to grab onto. They set the direction of growth for the rest of the vine towards the light. Plants adapt to their environments like that. They adapt and belong – they give fruit, shade, beauty, variety, oxygen – they give life. So I find it a fascinating picture Jesus gives us of ourselves, the church, as the branches. It’s an image which speaks of amazing variety; an image of life-giving providence.

The vine growing in the soil is a picture of Jesus connecting us with the source of our being. It’s an organic, reciprocal image of a church community who can grow and spread where we’re needed in order to provide nourishment, refreshment, shade and beauty. There’s a wonderful purpose to it. Christ as the vine and we as the branches says that we are called to provide for anyone who needs our fruit.

Plants can be utterly different from each other – each specially adapted to its own particular environment. So how does this speak to us – St John’s, a branch of the true vine? In Adelaide terms, we’re an ancient parish – the second oldest – and we’ve seeded other parishes in our time – parishes, a school, St John’s Youth Services, our community store. And we’ve seen significant prunings too. The world around us has changed and we’ve adapted. And Jesus still calls us to bear much fruit. We’re the latest season of branches of the true vine, called to bear much fruit.

The golden vine of the Jerusalem Temple was a sign of God’s provision, and at the same time, an emblem of the people’s gratitude. It’s a very helpful image, this link between gratitude and generosity. It characterises people who know we are loved and blessed, and feel moved to respond with love and gratitude.

But how to respond to such a gift? In my weekly, I wrote about the work of St John’s Youth Services, which is a beautiful fruit of this branch of the vine. I also wrote about some related services that serve the poorest and most vulnerable in our community – homeless people; people escaping the poison of coercive control and violence; Aboriginal people in need – all on our doorstep, many with no safe place.

It’s time to ask if the fruit we’ve been producing until now is adapted to current needs. Are we bearing enough fruit – the right variety? Are we alive to specific needs; are we willing to be pruned; to have other branches grafted in with us, or to be grafted in different places ourselves? Are we called to something new? These are things we can only discern together through prayer and listening – openly and courageously. Do we increase the ministries we’re doing to meet increased need, or add something quite new? We in Parish Council await your suggestions. Amen.

The Good Shepherd

Bishop Greg Thompson

The Lord is my Shepherd Psalm 23/John 10

Kriol translation of Psalm 23 and then back-translated into English.

Psalm 23 – Saam 23.

Yawei, yu jis laik det brabli gudwan stakmen. Yu oldie maindimbat mi, en ai garram ebrijing brom yu. Ai kaan wandim mowa.

Yahweh, you just like that good stockman who’s everyday thinking about me, and I get everything from you. I can’t want more.

Yu lukaftumbat mi jis laik det stakmen weya im deigim im ship olabat blanga abum spel langa kwaitwan pleis garram bigmob gras en springwoda.

You look after me just like that stockman who takes his sheep to have a break in a quiet place with lots of grass and spring water.

Ebridei yu meigim mi jidan strongbala. Yu shoum mi det raitwei blanga bulurrum, dumaji ai trastim yu neim blanga dum wanim yubin pramis.

Everyday you make me strong. You show me the right way to follow. I can trust in your name because you do what you promise.

Nomeda if ai go thru langa brabli dakbala pleis weya enijing gin meigim mi dai, bat stil ai kaan bradin dumaji yu iya garram mi olataim. Yu garram yu spiya en yu longwan stik blanga lukaftumbat mi.

No matter if I go through a really dark place where things can make me die. But still I can’t be frightened because you’re here with me all the time. You’ve got your spear and long stick with you to look after me.

Yu meigm det padi redibala blanga mi, weya main enami olabat garra luk yu welkam mi en meigim mi jidan haibala, en yu filimap main kap til im randan.

You make a party ready for me where my enemies have to watch you welcome me and sit me in the highest place and fill my cup til it runs down.

Ai sabi yu na oldie gudbala langa mi, en yu laigim mi brabliwei ebridei weya mi jidan laibala. En ai sabi ai garra jidan langa yu haus garram yu olagijawan.

I know you want good things for me and you’ll love me like that everyday I’m alive. And I know I’m going to live in your house with you forever.

 

Sermon.

As a prayer, the Psalm helps us to consider the elements of our spiritual life. A Prayer that could motivate us to be walking with Jesus as our shepherd. A prayer that attends to the challenges of our lives and the invitation to trust God.

We have used the Kriol translation – a language spoken by over 50,000 speakers in Northern Australian. The youngest language in the world as it emerged in the 20th century in Arnhem land NT flowing from the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land. Kriol is the first Aboriginal language that has been used to translate the complete Bible in 2006 and it took over 50 years.

I wish to reflect on both the Aboriginal text and the back translation so that we may have some new perspectives within this beautiful passage. As well as gain insight in how we may read the text in our context, especially as we mark ANZAC day.

The Psalm echoes the sacred memory of God loving, calling and leading his people as the Shepherd/stockman. – it recalls all the history of God leading Moses and God’s people out of slavery, through the wilderness and into the promised. Once they were no people, now they were God’s people. God had been a shepherd to them. Jesus draws on this wonderful loving image in John 10 I am the good shepherd. The devotion, care and sacrifice of the shepherd is an intimate picture.

Kriol translators draw on the experience of their country and of the many language groups of Australian indigenous people as well as the influence of early settlers language. There are no sheep or shepherds in Arnhem land ,so they translated the Ps 23 this way ;

Yawei, yu jis laik det brabli gudwan stakmen. Yu oldie maindimbat mi, en ai garram ebrijing brom yu. Ai kaan wandim mowa.

Yahweh, you just like that good stockman who’s everyday thinking about me, and I get everything from you. I can’t want more.

Yu lukaftumbat mi jis laik det stakmen weya im deigim im ship olabat blanga abum spel langa kwaitwan pleis garram bigmob gras en springwoda.

You look after me just like that stockman who takes his sheep to have a break in a quiet place with lots of grass and spring water.

We have an invitation through this prayer to ask God to walk with us as the shepherd  stockman. The Kriol translation assists us in seeing the three places that the Good Shepherd walks with us ‘at the billabong (kwaitwan pleis )– along the track (in the darkbala pleis)- with the feast (haibala plais)’.

Kwaitwan pleis. repeated in the psalms as refuge. The place of retreat and renewal. The place where we may focus on the spirit and meaning for our lives. In the Top End it is the place for food and nourishment. We need to make space and time for such a place. Setting aside space in our church or in our homes or in our work place to pray. We see this in the pattern of Jesus. And we see this through the trauma of war.

The Top End was a battlefield from the air during WW2. After the regular bombing far and wide across the north over 250,000 troops were stationed to provide support to the islands north and to prepare for invasion.

Among the military personnel were the 31 Squadron Beaufighters based 110 km south of Darwin at Coomalie creek. The runway is still there with a number of buildings rebuilt in commemoration of the bravery and trials of this squadron.

I have led Anglican services there in the rebuilt open-sided Chapel following the original design. The original chapel was built and paid for during the war from the 31 Squadron. I had recounted to me that the squadron had raised money for a mess but because of the attacks by Japanese bombers and the danger they faced in each mission, they gave it to the Padre to erect a chapel. ANZAC Day reminds us of the need for personal and community sanctuary while we face either danger or despair.

The Psalm moves from kwaitwan pleis to darkbala pleis.

Ebridei yu meigim mi jidan strongbala. Yu shoum mi det raitwei blanga bulurrum, dumaji ai trastim yu neim blanga dum wanim yubin pramis.

Everyday you make me strong. You show me the right way to follow. I can trust in your name because you do what you promise.

Nomeda if ai go thru langa brabli dakbala pleis weya enijing gin meigim mi dai, bat stil ai kaan bradin dumaji yu iya garram mi olataim. Yu garram yu spiya en yu longwan stik blanga lukaftumbat mi.

No matter if I go through a really dark place where things can make me die. But still I can’t be frightened because you’re here with me all the time. You’ve got your spear and long stick with you to look after me.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; your rod and your staff  – they comfort me.

The shepherd stockman leads us on a track through a valley. We need the sanctuary and refuge of the spirit, and we need the track for walking with God.

In the New Testament, God sends Jesus to walk with us and to show us how to walk with God. Walking with Jesus was the school of faith. Unlike his rabbinical peers, his classroom for disciples is on the road – learning by listening, doing, reflecting and experiencing both rejection and welcome.

Our missional journey as Anglicans and your personal journey are bound up with the great journey of Jesus. And we have a history of walking through the darkbala pleis In 1908 in response to the atrocities heard during an Anglican conference in Melbourne, Bishops commissioned ABM and CMS to send a ship and a team to the Gulf. Aboriginal Christians James and Angelina Noble and Horace Reid arrived at Roper and were sent out to contact the scattered Aboriginal tribes. One of the translators of the Kriol NT was Rev Dr Joy Sandefur who pointed out to me a gorge in the hills where men would lie in wait to kill Aboriginal people as they made their way to the Roper Mission in the 1900’s. She said local elders were still calling it the ‘darkbaka pleis’ in the 1970’s.

Barnabas Roberts came into Roper mission as a little boy soon after the sanctuary of Roper Mission was established in 1908. Like many others, he and his family experienced the horrible times of family being hunted off their country. Like many other families, his was badly affected by leprosy, which claimed his first wife, Norah.

Barnabas held on to the best of his traditions, including helping to preserve the Alawa language. For many years, Barnabas worked as a stockman, and walked with a limp after an accident with a horse. This did not stop him walking long distances to tell people the good news of Jesus, something he did right up until his death. He set the pattern of going out to people in isolated camps and encouraging them to follow the ways of the Lord.

We walk in the company of these Aboriginal saints and we are invited to join the great journey in Christ.

The track through the darkbala pleis is where we learn to trust in God, to grow in faith, to move towards the destiny Christ has won for us.

As the kwaitwan pleis needs the track through the darkbala pleis, so the track leads to the haibala pleis. The place of hospitality and community and of welcome rather than judgement.

Yu meigm det padi redibala blanga mi, weya main enami olabat garra luk yu welkam mi en meigim mi jidan haibala, en yu filimap main kap til im randan.

You make a party ready for me where my enemies have to watch you welcome me and sit me in the highest place and fill my cup til it runs down.

Ai sabi yu na oldie gudbala langa mi, en yu laigim mi brabliwei ebridei weya mi jidan laibala. En ai sabi ai garra jidan langa yu haus garram yu olagijawan.

I know you want good things for me and you’ll love me like that everyday I’m alive. And I know I’m going to live in your house with you forever.

Ps 23 carries a vision of community not only of the individual and the personal bond with God. It is a catholic faith we share in, bigger than the boundaries of our personal faith, affiliations and experiences and it brings us into relationships, often not of our own choosing. It is an open community in his name that transcends culture, language, gender and status – an economy of love where the intimate bond between shepherd and sheep, between Christ and church is reflected in the relationships of a faith community.

Such bonds of love were tested when two policemen were outside St Johns Canberra church as a service proceeded in 1950, and it wasn’t for a dignitary that they were there for, but for a preacher. Before the day he preached, there were various groups bitterly opposed to what the church was doing. It was in the newspapers, letters to the Rector and Bishop and a deep concern fell on the congregation. Rallies were held in the local community to oppose the church’s action. The Rector had embarked on a public controversy and the local community was divided. The service went ahead.

The Rector was Archdeacon of Canberra the Ven Robert Davies. He had welcomed the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in Japan, Bishop Michael Yashiro – the first Japanese to be granted an Australian visa after the Second World War to preach at St John’s at Evensong on Friday, 9 June 1950. In a spirit of contrition and repentance, before his visit to Australia, he had sent several bamboo crosses to churches associated with the martyrs. The Bishop was to go on a pilgrimage to the various parishes in Australia, particularly the home parishes of ‘the New Guinea martyrs’ – Sister May Hayman was one of those martyrs whose window is in the St John’s sanctuary. During the service Padre F. Bashford of Duntroon took part. He was a former prisoner of the Japanese. Several of Sister Hayman’s relatives were present. The bishop dedicated the small bamboo cross bearing in Japanese characters the words ‘Reconciliation and Repentance’. This service was a moving occasion with profound significance but many of the community whose members had only too recently personal experience of the horrors of the Second World War found the timing too much. In this setting, it was thought unsafe to leave the little cross in the church and it was put in Davies’ care. (from ‘Firm Still you Stand’ Alf Body). It took more than 41 years to find its place in the church in what has been called the Reconciliation and Repentance Chapel.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows

I think of this bamboo cross story between bitter enemies and of how Christ’s love and courage through individuals began a healing journey at the Shepherd’s table.

Kwaitwan pleis, the track through the darkbala pleis and the community of the haibala pleis invite us to pray Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd will walk with us and when we are too weak carry us home.