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Living a life anointed by the Spirit of grace

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Epiphany + 3 –  Neh 8 1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Ps 19, 1 Cor 12 12-31, Lk 4 14-21

Children: Do you have a family story – a story that tells you where your grandparents and their grandparents came from, and why you live where you do now? What if you didn’t have your story? I’d feel like I didn’t belong; I’d feel lost. In today’s first reading (from Nehemiah) we’ll meet people who feel lost. They’ve come back from exile. Exile means being sent away from home and forced to stay there – sometimes for your whole life. These people’s parents had been born in exile. And over that long time, they’d lost their story – the story that could tell them who they were; God’s people. That’s why they felt lost.

2 Kings 22 tells us how a scroll containing that story was rediscovered during rebuilding work; a scroll of the first five books of our Bible. Those books tell their true story; the story of where they come from and who they are. And today we hear how the priest Ezra gathers the people and reads out their story to them, explaining the tricky bits as he reads. And as they hear their story, they learn that they are God’s people, who are called to give God’s blessing to every family of the Earth.

In today’s Gospel story we’ll hear how Jesus returns to the village of his childhood, and he goes to Synagogue – which is like our Church. Every week there, they read from the scroll of the Law, like Ezra did, and explain the tricky bits. Then it’s time for a reading from the prophets – prophets are people who remind us to keep our promises to God. Jesus stands up to read, and they give him the Isaiah scroll. Jesus finds the part we know as chapter 61. And as he reads it out, he changes it a bit. He leaves out the bit about vengeance, and adds a bit about recovery of sight to the blind. He adds bits about about poor people and blind people, but he leaves out the bit about revenge or judgement.

He tells them this is his story. We are followers of Jesus, and we tell his story today because it’s our story – so we know who we are, who we belong to. We learn it so we can give this story to people who need a kind, hopeful story of their own. Can you think of anyone who needs a story like that? Let’s listen.

Sermon. We’re most fully ourselves when we are connected – when we’re part of a shared story of God’s extravagant generosity. Today we heard Ezra tell the returned exiles: this is your story and it’s a story to be shared in word and action most particularly with those who have nothing to give back. We’re shown what this means for us when Jesus stands up in the synagogue and declares his commitment to the poor, to captives to the blind and oppressed. We are shown what this means for us when Jesus lives this story and dies to bless poor, blind, oppressed captives.

The Christian life can only be lived out in relationship; in community; in care and compassion. And central to the way we live it out is a shared commitment to the poor, to the weak and the marginalized. It’s not the work of a moment, neither is it the work of momentary grand gestures and inspiring events; though they may sometimes happen. The Christian life is lived out by ordinary people like us who can grow in our sense of belonging, care and inclusion. It’s simple, and lovely.

As we think about the handing on of stories, we remember that our children soon return to school. Can we see their return in a new way? Education is the sacred responsibility of each generation – handing on the story of how we’ve become who we are. Our children learn how and why they belong; they discover what gifts they have, and become equipped to care for their community when they become adults. Here, we seek to do that handing on of the story in the kids’ corner, and we are partners with other groups who seek to do it with us in the wider community – SJYS, Dulwich, MM, SLWS – partners honouring this co-missioning we share.

We call our community the body of Christ, so we seek to live a life modelled on his life; a life anointed by the Spirit of grace – not vengeance or judgement – grace; to proclaim good news; grace to offer this story to people who might have lost theirs; grace to release people from the prison of isolation; grace to offer Jesus’ vision to people who see no purpose, grace to offer release to people from the slaveries of our age. Jesus has this day declared free belonging and gracious purpose in this mission statement. It is his mission, and so it is ours. Amen

‘The Lord is Here’

Rev’d Susan F. Straub


In the season of Epiphany, we’re celebrating three major events in which those with eyes to see and understand, see God acting in the world as each event relates to us as God’s people: birth, baptism, and, today, covenant, told in the form of a wedding-story. God acting in time. Oh, the importance of God’s timing, sometimes not of our own choosing!

Seeing and understanding God in this way, is part of the wonderful inheritance we have as Christians from our Judaic forebears in faith. Not so the gentiles. Some worshipped birds or animals, their state personified in their supreme ruler, some the solar system. Those three wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus and saved his life by not returning to Herod, were gentiles; astrologers who sought portents in the stars, a form of religion with the others denounced by Judaism, since God is the creator of the sun, the moon, the stars and of all that is. Yet, through the stars, God told them ‘A king has been born. Do him homage’.  In faith they set out on their long journey, like Abraham, but not like Abraham to the Promised Land, but to the Promised One, the infant king.  They were obedient to that faith even though they went first to Herod, the evil one.

Last Sunday, we heard how Jesus came to John the Baptist for baptism and heard God acknowledge him as his Son.

Which brings us to the wedding at Cana in Galilee, the third event showing us Jesus, the Messiah, our Saviour, our brother, enacting a new covenant by filling up our shared feast of life with bountiful joy, finest delight.

John 2:1-11 – The Marriage in Cana of Galilee.

Mary was at a wedding in Cana in Galillee. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. The festivities would last a week and the honour of families on display in the sharing of God’s blessings in the best of food and wine. The joining of not only a couple, but two families, was part of the very fabric of the local community on every level: economically, politically and in future children.  Weddings were, and still are, part of building and strengthening society.  But to run out of food or wine in Jesus’ day was to run out of blessing, not only diminishing the honour of the families and the couple, but threatening the structure and stability of the district.

Jesus arrived on the third day of the feasting, and his mother greeted him with the devastating news:  already there was no more wine. Like all who have been faithful to God in their history, from Abraham to Samuel to King David to the prophet, Jeremiah, to Mary and Joseph, to the three wise men, now Jesus doubts and inquires before obedience in faith. For him, it’s a matter of timing!

Turning our attention to the wedding for a moment, St. John gives us signs of deeper meaning.

Jesus arrives on the third day. He would be raised to new life on the third day. That’s when new wine really starts to flow. There are six stone jars and they are specifically related to their Jewish religious significance. Six is one short of the perfect number seven. Seven blessings are read under the wedding canopy. Jesus is the one who brings the blessing missing from the faith of his people.

The water of purification has been used, as for us at our baptism, and the jars stand empty.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water” and after they had filled them to the brim, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” There was now a huge volume of the finest wine, probably about 500 litres, about 600-700 of our bottles. The blessings of God for us and humanity are so great, you could swim in them:  what joy!  What was lacking, was given – freely. As stewards of the feast of God’s blessings: Taste and see that the Lord is good!  He fills us, who come like empty jars, with a joy that comes from being acknowledged, claimed as his beloved; pleasing to Him, endowed with His own Spirit, made whole – holy – and empowered to act.

And then there’s the connection with the true Vine of John 15, and the wine of sober joy at communion.

But, do you see that the only people at the wedding beside Mary and possibly the disciples, who know what’s going on, are the servants. John makes this very clear. All the guests get to drink the wine – enjoy God’s blessing, but the only people who really appreciate what’s happened — those in the know — are the servants, who like Jesus, believed, and obeyed.

Anyone who’s ever worked in hospitality, even preparing and serving meals at home! know that it can be hard work and often thankless. Nothing’s changed. It isn’t the guests who know the full story, it’s the servants.

Jesus calls us to be servants, not to him, for to him we’re friends, and more, kin. Through Him, we’re heirs of the Kingdom, inheritors of the same spiritual DNA. His call to us is to be like him in and to our families, our brothers and sisters in faith, and to the world. So with your feet, bring the blessings of God’s love. With your hands, carry the wine of joy to those who have none or not enough. Oh, yes, the work of hospitality requires particular alertness to want, even that shown by over-indulgence or obsession. It requires nimbleness, humour, mopping up spillages, and many more things besides – well, actually nothing less than the exercise of our full humanity but filled with the joy of loving as God loves us and using our spiritual gifts whether wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of Spirits, or languages. Our Christianity is to fulfil God’s promises to the world, sign-posted by Epiphany, as serving workers who know what’s going on.


Baptism of Our Lord

Father John Beiers

Baptism of Our Lord – Isa 43;1-7, Lk 3:15-22, Acts 8:14-17

Lk 3:15.  John’s baptism symbolised the washing away of sins, when people were repentant, and showed it, by a desire to reform their lives. Baptism into the Church was when one personally accepted Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit when God’s blessing came upon him or her. In the early church evidence of this was often speaking in tongues, or a sudden increase of love for God and fellowmen. In fact, some years back when the Pentecostalists flourished, they claimed that speaking in tongues was the only evidence of the Holy Spirit entering a person.

This was doctrine of that church, and totally unknown to the other traditional churches. This doctrine caused great distress for many a lifelong and devoted Christian who had never spoken in tongues at all. I was impelled to study this new so-called truth early in my ministry. If it were true, then most of us were lacking an essential part of being a Christian.

I scoured the New Testament and every reputable scholar I could find, but there was very little information on this subject, except that the Spirit was a comforter, a mentor, and would bring to our remembrance what Jesus had taught. However, I found that the  assertion that speaking in tongues was the only evidence of the presence of the Spirit to be untrue, for these following reasons.

When we are baptised, we receive that Holy Spirit from God, but because we are generally baptised as babies, there is no visible response. Later when we confirm, or take on the baptismal promises ourselves at Confirmation, and  mean every word of it, then the dormant Holy Spirit begins to act in response to our invitation.

As we ask to be God’s children, something usually happens, even though we may not expect or recognise it. If a child or adult is taught to expect a sign from God, it usually happens. I discovered that there were other signs of the reception of the Spirit which some writers recorded. So I began to teach candidates that it could be anything that could happen to them, and not to be afraid. It could be pins and needles, something like electricity going through their body, a sudden flooding of their body with a love for God, a sudden tenderness for other people, a flood of compassion, or even speaking in tongues.

Checking after the bishop had laid hands on them, I found that many of these things had happened, and thrilled the candidates, some of whom had not actually believed me. I can understand how the Pentecostalists made up their doctrine, because speaking in tongues was spectacular. But they overlooked the fact that God works as He will, and will not be constrained, as I was to find out.

Later, at Port Adelaide Church, a tall and imposing young man walked into the church office, and said, “I want to hear about this Jesus. I have tried everything to make my life meaningful, drugs, alcohol, sex, and nothing makes sense. If this Jesus does not make sense, I am going to kill myself.”    I could tell that he meant it. So I gathered all the men then in the office and said, “Can we pray for you, and rest our hands on you?” He replied, “Well, I don’t like other men touching me, but if it is absolutely necessary…then, OK.”

So we laid hands on his head and shoulders, and in the middle of prayer, he leapt up, our hands going everywhere, and said “It’s beautiful, it’s bloody beautiful,” and proceeded to bearhug us all, individually. He then wanted to know what he had to give up’ since he wanted to be a real Christian. I told him that he had to start reading the New Testament, to find out what Jesus was like, to pray, and be like Him.

In prayer, Jesus would tell him what, if anything, he should give up. Well, first it was alcohol, then drugs, then swearing, then random sex. What else, but the Holy Spirit could cause such a change?

Since that time, the Anglican Church has developed a more detailed and informed theology of the Holy Spirit, thanks mostly to American Charismatics, who pioneered it for the traditional churches.

I’ll leave you to think about it. Amen

We’re called to enable people to believe in Jesus

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Epiphany 2022 – Isa 60 1-6, Ps 72 1-7, 10-14, Eph 3 1-12, Matt 2 1-12

We’ve just heard the story of that light-bulb moment in scripture when representatives of the whole known world come to see Jesus, the infant king. In this moment, which we call the Epiphany (manifestation), the nations meet the God of Israel; the God of the universe, revealed to them in the person of the infant Jesus. Long before, God had promised this to Abraham; that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed. (Gen 12.3) So at this moment when the nations come to Jesus, we Christians see the destiny of the chosen people affirmed. The promised blessing of the nations is being fulfilled.

So what does that mean for us? Christian history is filled with this Epiphany mission – both us taking the Gospel out to the world, and people coming to us. Taking the Gospel out has had its unfortunate side. Mission and foreign policy in the form of colonisation have been mixed together in ways that have had good and bad outcomes. And the other process – people coming to us – church signs all saying ‘everyone welcome’ – has seen a steady decline over the past half century. And even within and between churches, there is disagreement about how the gospel might be shared – how people might be blessed by an encounter with Jesus.

Some of my ancestors were missionaries. They went out to far-flung places intending to carry Jesus out to the heathen. But like so many other missionaries, they were surprised to discover that Jesus had got there before them. As missionaries learnt more of the language, the customs and the traditions of their intended converts, they discovered local stories and teachings that bore remarkable resemblances to the gospel of Jesus. Adnyamathanha elder Rev Dr Auntie Denise Champion has written books which give beautiful examples of this happening.

So where does that leave us? I believe we’re called to enable people to believe in Jesus. But it may be that they’ve met him already. They may have been introduced to him in unfortunate ways which have confused Jesus’ message with particular politics, values or behaviours, and discouraged them from pursuing the relationship any further.

I believe that we can be part of a healing, Epiphany process. If we each pray and read scripture daily, we open ourselves to the Spirit to transform and renew us. And if we know that Jesus is already reaching out to people we meet, then we can be part of his outreach –both to us and through us. I like to think that we participate in this Epiphany process every day; through respectful, open and life-giving interactions with others and through actions that reflect Jesus’ passion for justice, mercy and faith. Through our lives, Christ will continue to be manifested in the world. May God grant us grace to be people of an on-going Epiphany. Amen


Commit to an inclusive, open, creative community

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Christmas 1C – 1 Sam 1, Ps 148, Col 3 12-17, Lk 2 41-52

Christmas is a time where families gather and reconnect. So it’s a bit of a surprise that, on the face of it, our readings and collect prayer today seem to challenge family ties. The collect challenges our Christmas family focus profoundly. It says God’s call to us takes precedence over our family ties. It sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect of one of those exclusive cults that turn up on the news from time to time. So it confronts us. Yet it reflects the message we’ve heard in the stories in today’s scriptures. Samuel was dedicated to God’s service before he was even conceived. And twelve-year-old Jesus stunned his parents with a declaration of God’s prior call on his time.

The collect prayer says God is ‘God of community’ – and then goes on to unpack that community word by saying our primary family as Christians is our faith community, not our family of origin. I struggle with this; I want to find a balance to what it’s saying. And I think I find my answer in our baptismal liturgy – our christening services.

Baptism is where this confronting picture of Christian community is redeemed. Our baptismal teachings understand community and families as embracing each other; weaving our families together with everyone whose lives are linked with ours in a community of support, respect and love.

God’s community is one which embraces – it doesn’t exclude. That’s why the Psalm has us calling the whole creation into communion with God. That’s why the reading from Colossians is so focussed on the empathic, welcoming, forgiving choices and decisions we need to make to treat another person with respect. Because that’s what it takes to build a transforming, Christlike community.

Col 3.12…Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

At our baptisms, these are the choices we are encouraged to nurture in our families. Then our new Christians can grow into outward-looking people who can bring the peace of God to the world. Our families are meant to belong to the Christian community and our Christian family is to belong in the whole world; God’s world.

In the end, I think that’s what our collect prayer calls us to do; to commit to inclusive, open, creative community. Far from being an exclusive cult, we’re called to have open borders with wonderful gifts to share and receive, and a genuine desire to do just that.   Thanks be to God for this call!  Amen.


God came in Jesus to offer peace and healing

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Christmas 2021

With the omicron variant mucking up everyone’s plans again, the really big story has been how we all just want Christmas to be normal. Everyone longs to be safe together in a simple gathering of friends and family; longs to simply celebrate our love for each other and by sharing gifts, to show our thanks for each other. But then there’s this terrible adversity which separates us and controls us. A lot of people are feeling allergic to government control. Something in us rejects pressure to think more widely than just our own circles; our own needs and wishes – to reject pressure to shape our behaviour around global priorities.

All this can give us a new insight into the holy family and the many adversities they faced at this Christmas time. Where we face lock-downs, they were away from home and on the road because of an over-controlling government. They couldn’t find lodgings at a critical time in a pregnancy thanks to that interfering regime’s lack of compassion and flexibility. They had to improvise managing the danger it all posed to their child’s health and well-being, not to mention their own. Their tense relationship with authority and safety is the experience of so many people around the world now that it sounds almost subversive to tell their story.

Yet this experience we share with them may help us see for the first time how God really, really became one of us with all the adversities we face; facing all the barriers to our desire just to be allowed to live a normal life. The infant Jesus didn’t come into the world in a sanitised palace. Jesus and his family weren’t spared the adversities and inconveniences that normal people endure every day. And yet we believe that this Jesus is God. How do we piece that together? Maybe we begin by thinking of this baby Jesus as a picture of how close God is prepared to be with us; immediately exposed to our struggles and our vulnerabilities.

God came in Jesus to offer peace and healing – full connection between physical being and divine eternity. Christ’s incarnation – Christ’s taking flesh is the opposite of the virus coming among us. Wonderfully healing, his coming into physical being is the epicentre of a divine healing spark which grows exponentially in us, through us and between us to infuse the whole of creation with its healing glow. Christ’s incarnation transforms all life, all physical being by introducing the divine spark into us Earth creatures. The virus is one of many counterfeits of this. But knowing this, seeing it in the light of this story, we get to glimpse the staggering significance of the incarnation; Emmanuel; God with us. Thanks be to God! Amen

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