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We cannot earn God’s kingdom

Rev’d Christy Capper

Year C 20th after Pentecost

I struggled with the readings this week. As I read through the passage from Joel and the passage from our psalm for today, I noticed the number of times that God’s provision of rain is celebrated, and that rain is promised.  This seemed to contrast so much with what I hear on the news at the moment. Theologian, Karl Barth, said that as Christians we should read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. While it rained for us a little this week, it seems that every few days we hear about another town that is about to or has already run out of drinking water. It seems strange that a thing like this could happen in a country like Australia, people being thirsty, people having nothing to drink. First, it was the crops and the livestock who were thirsty, now it is the farmers themselves. We know that we live in a dry country, a land of drought and flooding rains, but at the moment we could certainly make do with some more rains.

So as I read that “God tends with earth and waters it” in the psalm, and as I read “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.” I wondered what it must be like for our brothers and sisters in the country to be hearing those words this morning.

In the first three of our readings today how people are doing in their physical life and abundance seems to be closely linked to God’s will and blessing. We find this often in the Old Testament but in 2 Timothy we also see Paul giving thanks to God for his life. If you remember, Paul has been through quite a bit, he has been stoned, he has been left for dead, he’s been bitten by a deadly snake, and that’s just to name a few. However, in spite of all of this, Paul is still around, at least for a little while longer, and he attributes this to God’s desire for him to continue in the mission of sharing the good news of Jesus with the Gentiles.

But what is the good news of Jesus for those who have no rain, what is Jesus’ viewpoint in our readings today between material, or watery blessing and the faithfulness of a person?

In our Gospel reading today we are met with two stories, both of which are probably pretty familiar to those of us who have been in church for a while. The first is the account of the people bringing their babies to Jesus, the second is that of the rich ruler.

I’d like to start with the question of the ruler. This man who came to Jesus to ask what he must to inherit eternal life – to be part of God’s Kingdom. Jesus first quotes part of the law back to him to which he replies that he has kept all of these. So Jesus continues, telling him one more thing – that he should sell all that he owns and distribute the money to the poor. Then he will have this treasure in heaven and should come and follow Jesus. It is care for others, charity, that Jesus requires of this man. That the rich should be generous, that the rich should share with the poor, that the rich should accept downward mobility.

But this ruler is sad and the reason that we are given for this is that he is wealthy, he is wealthy and attached to his wealth. Jesus points out that it is hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom, hard, but not impossible as we are reminded later in the Gospel. The disciples are surprised. See, just like our other readings tend to, they associated richness with God’s blessing, surely a rich person would be able to enter God’s Kingdom. But no, says Jesus, for the rich it is hard. Jesus does not connect God’s physical blessing in wealth to God’s care for people. In fact, biblical scholar, Christopher Hay explains that the passages of Luke that we have been reading for the past few weeks are passages that are endorsing downward mobility.

This is where I want to take us back to the children coming to Jesus. See, Jesus says that to enter God’s Kingdom we must come like these little children. If you’re anything like me you might read this as being innocent, or naïve but when we read this in the context of God’s care for the poor and God’s desire for generosity, we read it differently. A baby has nothing to give in exchange for something. I’m at a stage of life at the moment where there seem to be babies everywhere, and as you know, they don’t earn money – they cost money; they don’t thank you for caring for them – they expect it, they don’t even let you sleep through the night! A baby has nothing to give, a baby isn’t looking for a fair exchange, a baby can only repay kindness by giggles and smiles and love. If a baby is anything like my 17-month-old niece they might repay you playing with them through a literal kick in the teeth and then giggle – but that’s not my point. Babies have no capacity to earn or pay for what they need. So, when we are to come like a baby, we are to come as one who recognises that we cannot earn God’s kingdom, that we cannot repay God for this gift, we can only give out love and affection. This can be hard for the rich to accept.

The disciples had to abandon their idea that the rich were more blessed than the poor and this ruler had to abandon his values of comfort, to abandon his safety net of riches, to engage in radical generosity. What might we need to abandon on our journey to follow Jesus? What might we need to change in ourselves in order to follow Jesus in his call to radical generosity? As we see just a chapter later, when Jesus meets Zacchaeus and dines with him the response of Zacchaeus is to engage in radical generosity – repaying those he defrauded four-fold and giving half his money to the poor. The point of the story of the ruler is not that wealth is bad, but that it cannot save us that that following Jesus should lead to radical generosity. It is then, when we have given it away, that we realise that our wealth cannot save us and we can enter God’s kingdom like a baby.

So, what do we learn? I think we can learn that this drought is not some kind of punishment upon people by God, but I am challenged by the call to radical generosity and charity that we receive from Jesus in our Gospel reading.

In a world where water is scarce and people are paying thousands of dollars simply to ship in water to drink, what does generosity look like for those whose taps run? For those whose income is not dependent upon the rainfall. Is it possible that it is we who are this rich ruler in this situation? In a world where there is famine and drought and severe weather, what might downward mobility look like so that we can engage in generosity with others?

As we adventure in following Jesus, may God help us to see how we can engage in radical generosity.

The Poor Widow

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 19:  Lk 18 1-8; Jer 31 27-34, Ps 119 97-104

I usually focus on the scriptures when I preach. I hope that today’s sermon will make it a bit clearer why I think it’s so important to do so.

Luke tells us that Jesus told his parable of a downtrodden yet very persistent widow so we’d know to keep praying and not to lose heart. There was a lot in this widow’s life to make her lose heart. She’d lost her husband, she’d been abused in some way, and to add insult to injury, her access to justice was blocked by a judge who didn’t fear God, and who couldn’t care less about his public image. The widow would’ve had no money to bribe him with and no male advocate to plead her cause for her, so it didn’t look as though that shameful judge would ever listen to her.

Yet she persisted. Repeatedly she confronted the judge’s shamelessness. She knew that the shame of her predicament was a powerful bargaining chip. She knew she was entitled to justice, and so she’d go on complaining until that judge went blue in the face, not her.

Where could she have got her inner conviction of justice from? As a Jewish woman, she participated in the corporate prayer life of her community. She’d have learnt of God’s commitment to justice in the Scriptures (Micah 6.8); learnt of God’s particular care for her as a widow. (Exod 22.22-24, Deut 10.17-18) She acted on her trust in God whom she’d heard speak directly to her in readings from scripture. She acted on her certainty in the God she came to know in those readings. It’s as if, when she had the unjust judge in front of her, she talked to God over the judge’s shoulder so she could keep on demanding her justice. It was time this judge learnt God’s ways.

Jeremiah described where her conviction lay in today’s passage from chapter 31.33 … this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.

So in his parable, Jesus gave us a widow who had God’s law written on her heart; that was the source of her conviction. She was a citizen of the Kingdom of God. It was irrelevant that she was the least in the social pecking order of antiquity. With the law written on her heart, she was on the same level as anyone else. So she had the conviction, and she found the strength to persist in her demands for justice. This morning’s parable reminds us that it’s also written on our hearts that we belong to God. So can we also have the courage to persist in prayer? And more amazingly, Can we discover God at work in that prayer – God persisting in claiming us?

Prayer is a marvellous, liberating gift from God. It’s a place in our lives where God meets us, embraces us, talks with us, and takes us seriously no matter what our circumstances. God is astonishingly broad-minded, and that’s the lovely thing we discover in the conversation of prayer. … When I say that prayer is a gift, I mean by that a spiritual gift which comes to us because of the Holy Spirit living in us. At baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. In the conversation of prayer, we find that we have become permanently invited eavesdroppers; eavesdroppers listening in on a conversation between our Mother, the Spirit, and our lovely Heavenly Father.

That intimate conversation is one which goes on whether or not we’re conscious of it. But from our baptism on, we grow in our understanding that this conversation includes us; that this conversation connects us with the true source of our being. St Paul describes that conversation in a part of his letter to the church in Rome.

“the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.   Romans 8:26-27

So the Holy Spirit speaks to God from deep within us. God searches our hearts, and there, finds the Spirit praying aloud the words written on our hearts. Through the Scriptures, through the Church, through friends, through creation, God speaks to us. Can we hear the Holy Spirit replying; crying out from deep within us?

It’s a life-skill, learning to hear God’s voice. But by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, God ensures that we are equipped to learn to hear that voice. Like any little child, we’re born with the faculty to learn our parents’ language.

God the Holy Spirit dwells within us. She’s the mother and teacher of our hearts. Because of her dwelling within us, our hearts gradually learn the life-giving nature of divine conversation. There’s something within us, written on our hearts, says Jeremiah – something within us that feels empty and alone until we’re engaged in this conversation. We don’t feel fully ourselves until we can express what is the very deepest part of who we are – until we can participate deeply in the most wonderful and profound relationship there is; discover God’s love. St Augustine prayed it this way; Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Jesus walks before us alive in the gospel, and beckons us by his love for us, and by his own example, to join in that conversation – more easily as he’s one of us too. Choosing to join in this conversation just once can change us utterly. Once invited, God persists. When I’m talking about persistence in prayer today, there’s the real persistence; God. God never gives up on us.

What comes of eavesdropping on our divine parents? This morning’s gospel sheds an interesting light on this aspect of prayer. It shapes the way we live, and it shapes the way you see ourselves. Remember that widow? Most onlookers would probably have viewed her as deluded, stubborn and hopeless; and we might be tempted to see her that way too.

But frankly, I see her example as inspiring. She subverted everyone else’s illusion of her powerlessness through her belief in her own dignity and worth in the sight of God. That belief was a free gift which God blessed her with; a faith nourished by her regular encounters with God through scripture and prayer. If you ever wonder why I focus my preaching so much on scripture, this persistent widow is someone I’d recommend you consider.                           Amen

180th Dedication of St John’s Halifax Street

Archbishop Geoff Smith

180th Dedication of St John’s, Halifax Street

  • Today we are celebrating the 180th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the original St Johns church on October 19, 1839.
  • It seems incredible that when that foundation stone was laid this church site was in the middle of paddocks. But it was.
  • That original church was condemned in 1886 and this church was completed in 1887.
  • So, given this is not the original church, today is not so much about a building but about ministry.
  • Anglicans have been gathering on this site since the original church was opened in 1841. This site has been a place of worship and fellowship. A place where happy and sad times have been celebrated.
  • Anglicans have gathered here through significant times in history which have tested the strength of the people. Two world wars, a crippling depression, the Korean and Vietnam wars plus much more.
  • The city of Adelaide has changed very dramatically all around this place. But here we are 180 years later gathered for worship. It’s not about buildings it’s about people.
  • The Old Testament reading and psalm for today are in some ways about a building- the temple in Jerusalem. They do focus on that building as the location of the presence of God. But actually, these readings too are about people. About faithfulness. About relationship with God. About seeking mercy and forgiveness. About prayers to God being heard by God. The temple building is significant, but that relationship with the living God is even more so.
  • The second two readings, while they use building imagery-for instance cornerstones, and house foundations, are also clearly concerning relationship with God.
  • It’s very easy to focus on church buildings because they are tangible. We can see them, we can invest in them. We can give things to build, furnish and renovate them. And they are important. Church buildings can be icons of the presence of God in a community. That there are church buildings visible in a community says something about that community.
  • Church buildings are very useful for keeping the sun and rain off when we gather.
  • And over time they are made holy I think by the prayers and the memories and the joys and sadnesses that are celebrated in them.
  • But a church without a lively living worshipping community using it really is either a public hall for hire, or a museum. Neither of those are bad, in fact they are important for the community, but are not what it’s all about.
  • What this is all about is a lively community of Christians worshipping and serving God.
  • Our diocesan Vision statement is that our vision and our yearning is to be a diocese of flourishing Anglican communities, united and connected, confident and competent to be disciples of Jesus in the power of the holy spirit. But the question is how do we flourish? The question is how do we be flourishing lively Anglican communities?
  • Last week I was in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. I am the Australian bishop representative on the Council of the Church of East Asia, and there was a full assembly of the Council in Sabah. So, bishops, clergy and lay representatives gathered in KK, as the locals call it.
  • The CCEA is an Anglican organisation in East Asia and includes the Anglican church in Korea, The Philippines, Taiwan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia and Australia.
  • Part of the program was a time of reporting from each of the provinces-Japan, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, South East Asia and Australia. Some of the reports included stories of religious persecution of Christians for instasnce in Malaysia, others living in a very fragile and unstable political environment, in Myanmar for instance where the civil war has raged for seventy years with impact especially on the Anglican church in whose dioceses some of the worst fighting has occurred.
  • Some reports were about battling government corruption and injustice, with priests being imprisoned for their activism, for instance in the Philippines.
  • But among the stories of difficulty there were also many stories of growth. The Anglican church in many of these places is numerically growing despite the very tough situations they are in.
  • There were a couple of key themes which came out in the reports and they echo the second and third readings for today. The first is commitment to Jesus. And the second is planning and focus for growth.
  • The gospel reading today, the little story about building on firm foundations, is actually about hearing the teaching of Jesus and putting it into practice.
  • Today’s reading comes at the end of the collection of teaching on discipleship known as the sermon on the mount. Three chapters in Matthews gospel of densely packed teaching about what it means in practical terms to follow Jesus-to be a disciple.
  • Our diocesan vision is about being disciples of Jesus.
  • We are all called to be disciples through our baptism, it doesn’t matter whether our baptism happened when we were young or old, whether it used a lot of water or a little, or which denomination it happened in. We are called, all of us, to follow Jesus. To learn from him, to take on his attitudes and priorities and to continue his ministry today.
  • If it’s been a while since you have read through the sermon on the mount can I encourage you this week to do that. We tend to be aware of the Beatitudes at the start of Matthew 5 and that’s it, but the sermon on the mount starts at Matthew chapter 5 verse 1 and continues to the end of todays reading chapter 7 verse 27. This is among the most important teaching in the Bible because it sets out much of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. And todays passage is all about that taking that teaching seriously and trying to put it into practice.
  • Jesus says-anyone who hears these words of mine-that is the teaching of the sermon on the mount, and acts on them will be like a wise man and so on. Everyone who hears these words of mine-the sermon on the mount, and does not act on them will be like a foolish man and so on.
  • So, the first thing is to actually take the teaching of Jesus seriously. Not just to believe in God, but to put Jesus teaching into practice. The more a congregation has that commitment the more the congregation will flourish.
  • The second theme comes from the reading from 1 Peter and I want to highlight a couple of verses towards the end of the reading. These verses are addressed to the Christians. They say this: ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, God own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’.
  • You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God own people, why? Not for our own enjoyment or satisfaction, but so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
  • One of the key features in the reports from the Asian churches that are growing is a commitment to spreading the good news about Jesus.
  • The reality is that we have blessed by God. We have been forgiven through Christ. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We are part of Gods great work of a new heaven and a new earth. We have hope for the future. That’s all good news. We have been blessed so as to share that good news. To tell others what we have experienced of God. Not to bottle it up and keep it to ourselves, but to share this good news with others.
  • We are like starving people who have discovered an endless supply of free food-we want to share that news with other people who need to know it.
  • There is a huge stigma in our church against evangelism-about declaring the mighty acts of God. But in the end, all it is, is us sharing with others what we have discovered about God. How we have been blessed by God. How we have found God to be trustworthy and inviting others to check God out.
  • There is also a pressure in our society not to admit we are Christians. I know that. I feel it myself. Even though half the population say they are Christians at census time, there is pressure to keep quiet. So that means we need the courage of our convictions. We need to be brave. Just as those Christians in Malaysia and Myanmar need to be brave. We have discovered something good and trustworthy and we need to be brave enough to share it and to push back against the pressure to be silent.
  • There has so far been around 180 years of faithful ministry on this site in Halifax Street. No doubt the parish has waxed and waned through all those years. But we are here.
  • And we not here to be museum keepers or public hall curators, but to be a flourishing Anglican community. A community of disciples, all learning of Jesus and committed to putting his teaching into practice. A community of disciples competent and confident to share what we have experienced of God-the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
  • That’s the point. That’s the purpose for St Johns Halifax Street. In order for that to be reality commitment will be needed. Intention and planned action will be needed. It’s not going to be automatic or happen all by itself-and that’s up to us-all of us.
  • As we celebrate this anniversary of ministry and presence may the Lord grant us the strength we need to be his people, to follow our Lord and to let the wider community know the good news that is Jesus. Amen.

Celebrate the vulnerable and defend the poor

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

St Francis’ Sunday

Back in the ‘80s in Melbourne, Vicky and I were involved in something called a Discipleship School. It was a full-time, live-in programme where young adults gave a year of their lives to being formed as disciples of Jesus. Life was pretty frugal at Discipleship School. No-one was able to give time to earning money; no-one had much of it. The disciples paid what they could – supplemented by whatever their family, friends or supporters might give them. And the parish subsidised the school by paying the rent on the building as well as fuel and water costs.

If life was frugal, it was also very intense. If you’ve ever been on a church youth camp, you’ll remember coming home both exhausted by the intensity of close community life, and filled with the exultation of deep worship. You’ll also remember red-rimmed eyes from the endless, profound conversations that lasted late into the night. Imagine doing that for a whole year.

Discipleship School meant daily Bible classes and worship together. Everyone did lots of work alongside local poor and under-privileged people; everyone taught Religious Education at local schools; everyone was on the team with whatever project or outreach the parish undertook. But the most challenging part was living together under one roof as an intentional Christian community. It’s in close, family community that the great challenges of living justly, truthfully, humbly and compassionately are right in your face every day. Discipleship School was tough and wonderful for everyone involved, and it shaped a number of unique Christians.

I think it’s the closest my life has come to living the sort of life St Francis saw Jesus live, and which Francis therefore chose for himself and for his order of Friars. It’s a life of intense community, a life of costly commitment and obedience, and a life of extraordinary privilege – set free to care for the poor and the sick; to bring the lost back into the presence of Jesus. It’s also a very controversial life: it was back in Francis’ day; it was in the 1980’s, and it’s still controversial now.

Here’s a part of the Rule of St Francis for his Friars.

Chapter VI

The Friars should appropriate neither house, nor place, nor anything for themselves; and they should go confidently after alms [not money or coins], serving God in poverty and humility, as pilgrims and strangers in this world. Nor should they feel ashamed, for God made himself poor in this world for us. … Let this be your portion. It leads into the land of the living, …

The St Francis we meet this morning seems to have a very different emphasis from the one we’ll meet this afternoon at the blessing of the animals. But the kind, gentle, compassionate Francis we meet this afternoon is the very same Francis who, this morning, is so strong on poverty, humility and proclamation.

His liberty from worry about material things set Francis free to join consciously in the community of all life that depends for everything on the providence of God. Can you remember a power outage, a storm, a fire or anything else that’s thrown your independence out the window and made you and your neighbourhood work with each other in an unusual way? You can get quite nostalgic for such times.

Francis, in his poverty, found himself a citizen of creation. His choice for poverty was to live simply as his Lord Jesus had instructed him in the Gospel. Absolutely central for Francis was Jesus sending his disciples out on the missionary road.

Lk 10.3 (or its equivalent in Mt 10.7-16) Go on your way. … 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid.

These are words Francis heard as instructions personally addressed to him: that Jesus called Francis to live the life which he had modelled; a life of pilgrimage as a pauper and a preacher; a life of humility; a life which would mean he was always truly dependent on providence. And that’s what Francis would call for in his Friars. It was counter-cultural in Jesus’ time, it was in Francis’ time, and it is in ours.

The Franciscan movement’s embrace of poverty posed a stark challenge to the monopoly on power which the Western medieval church exercised through its accumulation of wealth. We hear the name Francis and think of a harmless Friar preaching to the birds. But mention of Francis in his own era was just as likely to make people think of a troublemaker, a disrupter, and even a heretic. Franciscanism was hated for its nettlesome critiques of the Church’s abuses of power.

St. Francis, like Jesus, exemplified Christian love. And Christian love isn’t niceness. It’s a passionate and courageous witness on behalf of all God’s creation and against anything that sets itself against the work of God’s kingdom. So like Jesus, Francis exhibited love by celebrating the vulnerable and defending the poor.

St Francis’ Day challenges us to show love by celebrating the vulnerable and defending the poor; to choose a modest lifestyle which won’t alienate us from the living creation; to take hold of life that really is life. We are called to imitate Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave….Phil 2.6-7

What might a discipleship school look like for us, here? If we were to encourage each other to live the radical life that Jesus and Francis modelled for us, how might we do it? We’re still on the road to developing a Mission Action Plan.

We celebrate Francis today as one of the great exemplars of the courage it takes to bear the cost of true mission and genuinely follow Jesus. Francis formed an order to serve the world’s poor and the vulnerable; that was his Christlike MAP. We know the blessings his choice brought people. As we end our Season of Creation, it’s clear that a choice to work to protect and remediate Earth’s abused ecosystems is the most effective way to care for the world’s poor and vulnerable. We also know that as Francis experienced, this choice will meet vehement, selfish resistance. Let’s choose true connection with Earth, mutual reliance, lifelong family, and a life lived with Christ in tough, loving ministry to the Earth God has called us to serve. Amen

Season of Creation: Cosmos Sunday

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

4C: Colossians 1 15-20

When I was nine years old, I persuaded my Dad to lay his camera on top of our ladder in the back yard one night and take a photo of the Southern Cross. He used slide film so projecting the picture, we’d see a bigger, closer Southern Cross. He set the camera to open the shutter automatically and take a time-exposure shot. That way, there’d be no finger shake, and the stars should come out clear and bright.

When I finally saw the slide, my first reaction was disappointment. The stars didn’t come out as points of light, but as short lines. I felt better when I was told they were lines because of the spinning of Earth. The other thing that struck me was that stars come in different colours. There are three bluish-white stars, a red one and an orange one. The pointers are blue too – and the nearest one is a double star. So I started to learn about hot and cool stars, young and old ones, and binary stars.

But my biggest surprise about the Southern Cross was to come many years later. Down the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, you can still see the Milky Way very clearly. Looking at the Southern Cross one night, a friend got me to look not at the stars but at the spaces. Could I see the huge Spirit Emu with its head just below the cross – did I know that’s what Aboriginal people see?

I was thus introduced to a totally different perspective on the cosmos – how in the ancient dreaming, life on Earth is spiritually connected with the universe. That book I’ve been quoting by Bruce Pascoe is called Dark Emu. By calling his book by that name, he’s saying that he’s entrusting his readers with the perspective of the Aboriginal People – the perspective of a people whose life and culture has always been profoundly and consciously interwoven with Earth and Heaven – a people who see life where we don’t; where we just see emptiness.

This takes us again to the theme I’ve been emphasising throughout this year’s Season of Creation; the opposites – interconnection and alienation. I continue to discover more and more how the traditional life of Indigenous peoples is one of deep connection with the natural order and with the numinous – the spiritual dimension of life. There is no sharp dividing line between physical and spiritual life in traditional cultures. Everything is interconnected.

By contrast, our culture is becoming increasingly one of alienation; physical and spiritual alienation from the natural world, and from each other. I’ve said a couple of times now that this alienation is a working definition of sin. Its marker is spiritual blindness – whether wilful of born of ignorance; spiritual blindness, whose consequence is alienation from each other, from the created order, and from God. It leads to death; both our own death, and the death we are inflicting on more and more of non-human life. The result of this sin is that we are in crisis, and because of the influence we have over our environment, the whole created order is in crisis too.

So what do we do? How do we address this? On Friday, we saw the young people of the world rise up and demand change. Our children are frightened for their lives; they’re also angry at the obdurate stupidity – the wilful blindness – the greedy deafness – of those who claim the authority to run the world, yet who are allowing the destruction of nature for profit.

On Friday, for anyone with ears to hear, our children demanded something that our Christian faith teaches. They reminded us that the way to deal with the power of sin is repentance; turning around; turning from death to life; turning to follow the Way to life. Our children are calling us to turn to Life. That’s what repentance means.

You can quite reasonably ask me if I am saying this as a Christian teacher or just as a committed environmentalist. Am I just co-opting my faith to make it serve my greenie passions? Does anything in Scripture authorise Christian environmentalists to speak the way I’ve been doing over the past weeks? As it happens, we heard that very Scripture today. We just shared in the Colossians hymn. I picked out a few sentences from it in my weekly – they’re in bold print on the back of the pewsheet. Let’s consider the first three sentences. The first two say

In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created.

All things have been created through him and for him.            v.16

So this hymn teaches that the natural order belongs to Christ alone.

The third sentence says – In him all things hold together.                 v.17

So this hymn also teaches that the interconnectedness of the natural order is the result of Christ’s agency and will. What these words say to me – Christ’s ownership of the natural order and his will to sustain it – these words tell me that a failure to care for the natural order is a failure to respect the will of Christ. This has practical spiritual consequences.

Standing by while the environment is destroyed has the effect of shutting others off from encountering God. Paul wrote in Rom 1.20, Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. As we look on, human civilization is destroying those very things. Vicky writes about this.

Experiencing the majesty of the natural world, in all its diversity and strangeness, its symbiosis and complexity, is becoming a rare and precious thing – the stuff of eco-tourism and World Heritage sites. Wild places are now packaged and marketed, to manage the tourist footprint. The velvety depth of the night sky unencumbered by artificial lights is now, for very many, a memory.   …

If Christ embodies and reveals the invisible God in and through the natural world, this means of revelation is also becoming increasingly rare and precious. How are future generations going to glimpse the numinous, except artificially, in pre-packaged portions? As we allow the diminishment of species and ecosystems, we diminish our ability – and the ability of future generations – to perceive the glory of God. This can no longer be peripheral to those who love Christ. See VSB,  Colossians: An Eco-Stoic Reading

On Friday, our children called us to action – to repentance and action. Today, our scriptures tell us they spoke the Truth in Christ. How are we, as a parish, going to respond?             Amen

Season of Creation: Storm Sunday

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

3C : Psalm 29

Have you ever been out in a huge storm? Were you unsafe? What or who was your greatest concern? Did you understand what was happening – were you mentally prepared? Do the children you know have any idea about surviving storms?

Look at this picture of a dust storm sweeping east across Melbourne; 8th Feb 1983. I vividly remember the moment when that dust storm hit. I was teaching at Footscray TAFE College. We had no warning of what was coming; within a matter of seconds, broad daylight outside suddenly turned into an eerie, howling reddish darkness. It was quite terrifying. I remember stories friends told me later – stories about frightened people they’d seen dropping to their knees in the street and tearfully praying. For some, it seemed clear that the end of the world had come.

Storms can provoke very deep feelings in us. They can do it even when we know the science – the way lightning and thunder are produced, where all that rain comes from, and how it sometimes transforms itself into devastating hail. We know all this. And the picture of that tremendous dust storm reminds us that we know the effect we have on the nature of some storms. If you combine land-clearing, over-grazing, old-style ploughing and deep drought then add a 100 km/h wind, like that afternoon in 1983, it can become something like a 500 km wide apocalypse.

We’re emotionally engaged with storms. They bring some of us to places of fear, depression, remorse, or for some of us, exultation – emotions often associated with our spiritual condition. For the ancients, a storm carried both the fear of destruction and the promise of blessing – the welcome rains after a long dry. So are we spiritually connected with God by storms, through awe, through fear, through hope and through the reminder that the vast energy of the universe is not under our control? Today, we’ve heard two different accounts of storms and faith, Ps 29 and the Gospel. Let’s look at the Psalm.

The psalmist calls the Heavens and the Earth to hear God’s voice in storms. We hear God’s voice in the noise, the power and the destructive force of storms, and we join the rest of creation in feeling fear, awe, regret, or maybe wild joy and hope in the greatness of God who promises us the blessing of a fertile Earth, softened at last by the rain.

Maybe we have difficulties connecting with something so primordial and alien to our perspective. We’re not the first. This Psalm was actually a re-writing of an ancient hymn to Baal, the Canaanite storm god. The original was likely to have been a prayer or song which – with the help of some money or gift – would appease the anger of this god of storms. The Psalmist’s rewrite has taken on this protection-racket and set out to free people from slavery to such a capricious system.

Instead, our psalmist proclaims the God whose grace doesn’t depend on people’s willingness to pay; our psalmist proclaims the God who’s not confined by our ideas of what’s invulnerable – neither the cedars of Lebanon nor even the Lebanon itself. Nor is God confined to blessing only those who are worthy (as Jesus says, God sends the rain on the just and the unjust Mt. 5:45). God is the one who, come what may, is going to bring about the ancient promise to Abram and Sarah; the promise that through them, God will bless all families of Earth. This is a promise of spiritual blessing, but ‘families of Earth’ is also explicitly physical – a blessing we experience through our senses; a blessing lived most truly when we are living in harmony with Earth.

One of the principles of Earth Bible scholarship is that Earth has a voice. Another Psalm, Psalm 19 describes that as a voice from the heavens which have no speech nor words … yet their voice goes out through all the Earth and their words to the end of the world. Ps 19.3-4       Rant alert. As we’ve acknowledged over the past two weeks, the world’s Indigenous peoples have always been attuned to that voice, living in harmony with Earth.

Indigenous peoples have indeed been that voice crying out against the injustice of colonization. And they are still crying out today; putting the Earth’s teaching about God’s grace into words that we could understand if we would only listen; warning us of the danger of our alienation from Earth. But we don’t listen. Far worse, we are still deliberately silencing Indigenous people’s voices; dividing to conquer, or making laws that imprison them in our alienation from the Land – their Land. Two weeks ago the Queensland government quietly extinguished the native title rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou people over their traditional lands. Shortly afterwards, the people received notices of trespass from a foreign mining company.

The dust storms that used to be so frequent taught us something, you’d hope. But you have to wonder. Will anyone hear Earth’s voice speaking through unheard-of early spring firestorms? Earth has a voice; Earth is speaking. But we are strangely deaf to warning voices. We are becoming steadily more alienated from plain reality. We must do better than a minister for drought and water resources who says talk of human-induced climate change is irrelevant to the fire conditions in Qld and NSW.

We’re into our third week now of exploring an ecological spirituality – how our spiritual life (our relationship with the divine) is deeply shaped by our relationship with nature; our exposure to nature and our attitude to nature. This Season of Creation is a time for us children of Earth to remember our first calling; that’s our God-given responsibility to manage, serve and care for the Earth community. Gen 1-3 This is reinforced in our calling as children of Abraham and Sarah to be God’s means of blessing to all families of Earth. Gen 12.1-3 Our actions are spiritually significant; the way we deal with our Earth family constitutes our service to God who calls us to care and to bless. And Earth has a voice in this. Today we’ve remembered hearing Earth’s voice in storms; remembered our feelings of bewilderment, isolation and helplessness, or maybe wild exultation. May our memories of hearing Earth’s voice remind us to keep listening carefully; listen and respond to God’s call; obediently, humbly, gratefully and with courage.  Amen