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Share the healing love of Jesus

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 8B – Mark 6 30-34 & 53-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let our good works give glory to God

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power is made perfect in weakness

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus responds to need and hope, not power and influence

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is with us in the storm

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 4B  20/6/21:  Mark 4.35-41

Ps 107.28 …they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress;

29 he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

This is a fascinating story – a story about going over to the other side with Jesus.

All day, Jesus has been teaching huge crowds – teaching in parables that have intrigued his listeners and bewildered his disciples. Now he sets off. The job seems incomplete, but there’s a sense of urgency; he must move on. Jesus has been exhausted by the effort of all his teaching, all those people, and in the boat, he falls into a very deep sleep.

Just how deep becomes apparent when a storm springs up so violent that the boat threatens to founder. His disciples panic and wake him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stills the storm. He is independent of their faith – sovereign over the great forces of nature. And the disciples, overcome with awe ask one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” Who can this be? That is the great question Mark’s Gospel confronts us with. But for now, we’re on their way to the other side with Jesus.

When we read on from this point, we’ll find that the other side is a ‘liminal’ place; out on the fringe of civilization. On the other side, they are met by a man living in a graveyard and possessed by an unclean spirit named legion; nearby are pigs; pigs in their thousands. The other side is a place where no decent person should be. But Jesus has gone there, and we, his disciples have accompanied him.

To choose to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads. And that is quite likely to mean a journey towards something that is other.

That’s something we think about in this Trinity season: we are shown that we reflect God the Trinity through our diversity. God isn’t content just to let us sit and get pot bound in our small corners. God wants us to be open to each other – to other ways of seeing – to various ways of being God’s children.

Last weekend, Vicky and I had the privilege of experiencing this when we went walking on Adnyamathanha Country with Auntie Rev Dr Denise Champion and her niece/daughter Rhanee. They took us to the places of dreamtime stories which they told us in situ – stories which Auntie Denise, Adnyamathanha elder and Christian minister, wove with Biblical stories and applied to our own lives. We were being welcomed to places where western Christianity would never have dreamt of going. We found Jesus to have been present in the Dreamtime. Who is this that even the barriers of culture and tens of millennia submit to?

God wants us to be a community with a hospitality that welcomes otherness; not with the sort that calls otherness in and tries to make it become like us. God wants us to let our hospitality change us.

To choose to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads. And that is quite likely to mean a journey towards something that is other.

And today’s fascinating Gospel story is a picture for us of just how other it can get. All that was normal, pure, orderly and safe – that all lay back on the familiar shore. Come wind and high water, Jesus was going to see us on another one. The choice to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads.

Each of us here has made that choice, or will make it. Why do we go with him on this journey? Curiosity? Attraction? Faith? To have a look? To be near?

When we were baptised, Jesus called us to go with him – to cross the water to the other side. Is there danger in this? Are there storms? Yes, there are; certainly in any Christian’s life, there will be. The sudden pain in the night; the shock loss of a job, the unexpected death of a partner or friend; on a mass scale, pandemic or war – or in the case of first Australians, worse still – ongoing cultural genocide.  Yet there is someone who will never let us face that alone; one who always accompanies us, who embarks on our every journey, absolutely with us even where others can be no more than onlookers and friends.

But we should pray for each other in all this, and today’s gospel story reminds us to do this, and gives us our prayer. “Who is this …”

The other point is make sure that whatever we do and wherever we go – whatever happens –  we are to make sure we’re with him…with Jesus…because then it will be alright.

It will be alright not because of any special faith we have – he’s independent of our faith; not because of any special favour any of us enjoys – he loves all. It will be alright because of who Jesus is, the one whom the sea and the wind obey. Danger, pain, even death may come. But he is the one who knows the way, and Jesus can come even from the other side of our death to be our companion on the way.

Jesus came to be with us in the storms of our lives, and he is with us still through the Spirit living within and among us. Know that, and look for him. Jesus knows these storms personally. Tell him how your storms affect you; he will hear and understand and never leave you to weather them alone.

Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes God lets the storm rage, and calms the child. Either way, Christ is with you; Christ is with us.    Amen

Prayer of the day

This is based on the Gospel reading from Mark where Jesus stilled the storm and the fears of his disciples . In awe they asked…
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Let us pray for all who are weathering storms in their lives

We pray for the world
For all trapped in poverty, famine, drought or the effects of natural disasters
For all battling Covid 19 in so many countries, with or without sufficient vaccine
For all living in areas of war or civil conflict where safety is never a ‘given’
We think particularly today of the peoples in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan
We pray for all for whom life is an endless struggle just to get through another day
May they sense your sustaining presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey …. hear our prayer

We pray for the church worldwide
For those in peril of persecution because of their faith
For those suffering imprisonment because of their faith
For those faith is sorely tested by unexpected difficulties or troubles
Help them we pray, to sense your calming presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves, our families and friends, and the communities in which we live
For those whose jobs are threatened, and who struggle to pay the rent or the mortgage
For those swamped by the demands of work or the responsibilities of care, whether it be the care of grandchildren or elderly parents or sick friends
We can never forget those living in hidden abusive relationships
Nor those living lonely lives, without support or encouragement
When we feel overwhelmed by worries and fears
still our souls that we may sense your calming presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for all who are sick, especially those who are suffering or close to dying
For those living with chronic pain, mental torment or stress about medical results
We remember those who are grieving, wondering how to go on without their loved one
When we feel overwhelmed by pain or loss
Broken and tossed about in any direction
Calm our souls we pray that we may sense your calming presence and power.

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

As we begin Refugee Week, we give thanks that the Sri Lankan family have been reunited in Peth and we pray for the recovery of little Tharnicaa
May they be free to live wherever they choose in Australia, albeit on a temporary visa.

We pray for the thousands of others living on temporary visas with no secure future, often separated from their families, their lives in an endless limbo
We remember too the millions living in refugee camps who know they and their children may never leave the camps because the world is unable or unwilling to resettle them.
May they sense your sustaining power and strength

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for those who have died
Remembering especially those whose death has been violent or untimely
and those who have died unlamented or unloved
When we are overwhelmed by the storms of life
When we come to face our own death
Calm our terrors and still our souls
And by your power bring us into the joy of your eternal presence

Adapted from Let us Pray by Janet Nelson
Intercessions following the Revised Common Lectionary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The complexity and simplicity of Christian faith

Rev’d Dr Elizabeth McWhae

Pentecost + 3B  13-6-21: 1 Sam 15.34-16.13, Ps 2, 2 Cor 5.6-10, 14-17, Mk 4.26-34

INTRODUCTION:

As I get older I am more and more aware of the complexity and yet simplicity of our Christian faith. I hope to unpack this idea of complexity and simplicity by starting with these verses from Paul. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything else has become new!

POINT 1:

Understanding the death of Jesus is just as important as understanding his life and resurrection. His death is the pivotal connection between his life and resurrection and our lives. So what is Paul trying to say in these versus. Firstly, he is saying that the death of Jesus was a cosmic event. It was for all humanity, not just those who see themselves as Christians. ….we are convinced that one (Christ) has died for all. This means for all people of all generations and faiths and lack of faiths over all time. So salvation is not an individual event or experience, but something that is communal and universal.

Jesus did not die just for you and me but for everyone. For all people, over all time. I suspect our Western worldview has caused us to see his death through the lens of the individual, but that is not the way Paul saw things. And so he writes therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

This is where things become complex, because we all know that people in our world, and this includes us, often do not live as though they are no longer living for themselves. In fact our whole culture is pretty much averse to this sort of thinking. We are instead told to look after number one, to stand up for ourselves, to get what we deserve, or need, or  want, or what is ours. We should be aware that sometimes what we want is not about living for Christ but living for ourselves. It can be very difficult to discern what it means to live for Christ.

Paul is very clear that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  Essentially he is saying that we are new creations, whether we realise it or not. And it was Jesus’ death that issued in this new life. It was not possible any other way. So death is the starting point for new life in Christ. The complexity here is that death may be physical or emotional, or relate to some loss. There are all sorts of deaths in our lives that are not literal.

POINT 2:

So how do we learn to live for Christ, instead of ourselves? And how do we remember that we and all people are new creations in Christ? Now do you understand why I mentioned complexity? These are really difficult concepts to apply to our lives. They sound good, but they are not easy to achieve. Just ask anyone who is suffering from depression or a catastrophic health problem or whose business is facing closure due to covid restrictions, and so on.

This is where our readings from Mark’s Gospel may be able to help. Both of the parables we heard this morning concern the kingdom of God, which I am going to call a new kingdom in Christ. Both of these parables have to do with growth of a seed. In the first parable it is a seed of grain. In the other it is a seed of mustard. Jesus says that the seed of grain mysteriously grows he does not know how. And when the grain is ripe it is harvested by God. So this parable of the grain is about the mysterious growth of the kingdom that happens because God makes it happen. Not the seed or the person, but God. And God is responsible for the harvest, nobody else. The kingdom of God grows mysteriously by the power of God and God is the harvester.

The second parable of the mustard seed, focuses upon a tiny seed which becomes a huge mustard tree. Or as Paul Kelly writes, from little things, big things grow. Jesus’ point is that the kingdom may start small but it ends up huge so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.The kingdom of God may look small, but it is far-reaching and always growing.

Both of these parables remind us that to live no longer for ourselves, but for Christ, we need to remember that this is a mysterious process that God is directing and it is a process that may appear small but is always growing and expanding.

POINT 3:

How do we practise being the new creations that Paul wants us to become and how do we see the kingdom of God at work in our world? Well, it is not always easy. But if we live by faith that we are a new creation in Christ, and so is everyone we come across, then it does deeply impact the way we see the world and our place in it and what God is up to.

How we view ourselves and how we view others determines how we live our lives, what we consider to be important, what our values are, and what sort of contribution we will make to our world.

CONCLUSION:

Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are new creations in Christ. In doing this he is also reminding us that we too are new creations in Christ. We live in a mysterious kingdom that is constantly growing and expanding by the power of God. Or as that annoying bird in the Bank SA add says: LET’S DO THIS. Let’s see ourselves as new creations in Christ, so that we can live the life God in Christ wants us to. Or as the Psalmist says Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses: but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.                   Amen.

Speaking out as sisters and brothers of Christ

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 2B  6-6-21 : 1 Sam 8, Ps 138, 1 Cor 4, Mk 3.20-35

Today’s Bible readings get us to think about good leadership. They help us explore the way we receive God’s leadership, and to think about what sort of people should, be leaders among us. We get a strong hint from the Psalmist: 6though the Lord is exalted, he looks upon the lowly and he comprehends the proud from afar. In other words, God comes close to the little people, but keeps the proud at a distance.

Today’s Gospel specifically warns us about bad leaders. Jesus’ family know the sort of leaders they have, and they fear for Jesus’ safety. His ministry has directly defied the authority of these leaders. His family are hearing others say that Jesus must have gone mad; and you can understand why. Vested religious and political interests are very dangerous. These people bite; witness Jesus’ arrest and execution.

Jesus’ family come and try to call him away, but too late. The scribes have already arrived from Jerusalem and taken matters into their own hands. These religious leaders hear people saying he’s out of his mind, and choose to build on that. Their tactic is slander: they publicly announce that Jesus has an unclean spirit.

Slander is utterly forbidden among God’s people. The ninth commandment says, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. The religious leaders from Jerusalem abuse their position of authority to misrepresent Jesus’ care for the sick and needy as the devil’s work; it’s malicious, lying slander. That’s bad leadership. We know slander remains a tactic that leaders still use against people who threaten their power. And it poisons any who accept them as legitimate and follow their lead.

Jesus responds very effectively to their slander with his parables of the house divided and robbers binding the strong man. His parables deftly expose the falsity of their slander.

But then his next words are terrifying. 28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’30for [the scribes] had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

The scribes saw Jesus heal people and exorcise demons from them by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet they called this work of the Holy Spirit satanic. Jesus says what they have done is an eternal sin – the unforgiveable sin. I remember being terrified as a teenager that I might do this accidentally. [The story of the Methodist lay-preacher’s snowman.] But actually, committing the unforgiveable sin is not something you do by mistake. It means seeing a wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, and fully in your right mind, denouncing it as evil – calling it a work of Satan. Few people will sink so far.

But when a leader is known to resort to malicious, lying slander – particularly when they recast the work of the Spirit as the work of Satan, they can poison the spirit of their community. Then someone must warn their community: name the evil and warn them; protect them from following this lead.

And that’s where we come in. We are Jesus’ family – we are sisters and brothers and mothers of Jesus. We are called to name slander for the lie it is, and protect those whom it might harm. Jesus identifies his true family as those who do the will of God, like him. That’s a call to us to be leaders like him – servant leaders. And the calling of servant leaders – from what we’ve read in the Scriptures this morning – is to heal the sick, and to deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever evil oppresses them, and to do this work without fear or favour, and without expecting anything in return.

Deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever oppresses them. We know who they are – they are people often slandered by false leaders: disproportionately imprisoned Aboriginal people whom our justice systems fail; victims of abuse and violation – women and children who cry out for justice, yet are slandered by those who say they were asking for it, and find themselves disbelieved by the authorities.

Others habitually slandered are refugees; the unemployed; the homeless; even the mentally ill and abandoned victims of disaster; all of them so often falsely accused – just as Jesus was. And in this week of the Tiananmen Square anniversary, yesterday’s World Environment Day, and with Reconciliation Week so recent, we see clearly on just what scale slander and denial are prepared to operate.

By naming and resisting such evil, we serve the poor and the weak. We must always remember what Jesus said, and be strengthened and convicted to speak out and to act, … “Truly I tell you, just as you [cared for / stood up for] one of the least of these … you did it to me.” Mt 25.40

By speaking out as Jesus did, by serving those he served, the Church must offer the world the type of leadership which alone heals and makes whole. This is our calling as the royal priesthood of all the baptised.                                                 Amen.

God the Most Holy Trinity – three persons yet one God

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such is our lesson this Trinity Sunday. Amen

Opening the Kingdom of God to everyone

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ascension of our Lord

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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