Joining with Jesus on his mission


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 25a The Parable of the Talents – Matt 25 14-30

Australia’s got talent, Britain’s got talent – people say there’s a lot of virtue in putting your talents to use. I suspect that attitude has its cultural roots in years of preaching on today’s Parable of the Talents. It’s easy to assume that the meaning of this parable is to use your personal talents; your special abilities. But it’s not what Jesus meant. In Greek (τάλαντον the word we translate as ‘talent’), the literal meaning is a monetary unit – enough silver to pay a day labourer for 16 – 20 years.

So given the life expectancy back then, the slave entrusted with five talents had a few lifetimes’ worth of wages in his hands. What can so much money have to do with the Gospel? What can such riches possibly represent? A convincing reading of this parable is that it’s about Jesus entrusting the spread of the Gospel to the disciples after his resurrection. Matt 28.18-20 So the talents represent the inestimable treasure of the Gospel. The man’s return then represents Jesus’ second coming, and the disciples are measured by the fruits of their mission. (Barclay Matthew II 375ff)

Jesus told this parable to his disciples sitting on the Mount of Olives. (Matt 24.3) They’d have been looking out over the Temple which was controlled by the religious authorities? Not long before, Jesus had denounced the scribes and Pharisees for ‘locking people out of the Kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 23.13) Is that what the third slave represents; taking the treasure of God’s trust and, like the scribes and Pharisees, fearfully burying it away to keep it safe and pure? Burying the Gospel deprives people who might be nourished and strengthened by it.

Is there support in the text for this interpretation? Yes. When we read about the first and second slaves, it says that they went and traded and made (ekerdesen) more talents. vv.16-17 The word, ekerdesen – translated here as ‘made’ – is used earlier in Matthew’s Gospel to speak of regaining or winning back a community member who sins against you 18:15. So yes, it’s reasonable to see this parable as emphasizing the proclamation of the Gospel to win people to Christ. Those Temple authorities over the valley hid God’s love behind purity laws. This parable says that’s crazy.

One commentator described the folly of their attitude pretty bluntly: Israel was charged to be a blessing, not a museum. (LC McGaughey in JBL 94 pp235-45) What we have in the Gospel is a treasure which grows when it is shared. It grows any who receive it. It’s the love of God for all families of Earth. That’s what the third slave hid away.

Jesus knows his time is nearly up, and in these final chapters, he gives his disciples a series of warnings, through prophecies and parables. He wants us to be ready for what’s to come. Anyone who stands for the things that Jesus stands for will risk the same persecution he suffered – but we are also promised the same rising! So in this parable, Matthew is challenging his community, and all who come after them, that we must not be as blind and fearful as that third slave was. We are to know enough of the character and hope of our Lord Jesus that we will take risks.

This parable is about joining with Jesus on his mission – continuing his mission. It’s about being God’s true people; about being the means of God blessing for every family of the earth. So what do we do next?

One thing this parable tells us is that we need to recognise the inestimable gift that God has entrusted to every individual in our community. That is the Good News of God’s intention to bless every family of Earth – first proclaimed in the call to Abraham and Sarah. Gen 12.1-4 This is why we read the scriptures together, over and over, generation after generation. It’s why we search their meaning and uncover the challenges they put before us. We are entrusted with an inestimable treasure, and what we do with that trust matters to Jesus, and it matters all families of the Earth.

What should the Church, entrusted with Christ’s Gospel as we are – what should we be doing with it? I think the passage which follows today’s parable – and which we’ll be reading next Sunday – gives us clear starting directions. It’s about the last judgement. Listen to what Jesus says: 34 Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

Jesus sees everyone – particularly the hungry, the thirsty, the outsider, the naked and the imprisoned – Jesus sees himself in every one of these. It’s compassion; it’s the golden rule – do unto others. In this land at the moment, the opposite is raging, and we feel powerless to oppose it. But we’re not. The cost of hiding the treasure is there for all to see in this country’s ongoing crises: the plight of the poor, abuse of women, of Aboriginal people, of incarcerated children, of refugees, of our disappearing wildlife and their habitats. We hold the Good News of a totally different world. Tell it and face danger, but Jesus’ parable tells us to risk it. Amen

Who gets into the wedding feast?


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 24a  Josh 24 1-3a, 14-25, Ps 78 1-7, 1 Thess 4 9-18, Matt 25 1-13

By any measure, this is a baffling parable. It talks about who gets into a wedding feast. And in parables, that means who gets to be with God. So it’s a wedding feast. But in this parable, the bride doesn’t even get mentioned, far less appear in the story. Ten young women go out to meet the bridegroom, but when he’s late, they’re kept waiting so long that they go to sleep. Where; out on the street at night?

And just as they hear the bridegroom is about to arrive, the ‘wise’ young women become harsh and selfish towards the ‘foolish’ ones and send them off to the shops. What ever happened to the golden rule? (Matt 7.12) And how are they meant to find an oil seller open after midnight? And what’s a wedding feast doing starting after midnight anyway? And the warning about keeping awake at the end; all ten women went to sleep, but the five wise ones weren’t locked out. So why even say that?

This parable baffles us because in the Gospels, the bridegroom always means Jesus. Yet he seems so unfair to these five young women, that we don’t recognise the Jesus we know. And yet he says he doesn’t know them. Do we assume that he leaves the door shut? What’s going on? How can this be Gospel – Good News?

There are other lockout situations in Matthew’s Gospel. Can they help us unlock the meaning of this one? There was Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for locking people out of the kingdom of heaven. 23.1-13 And then there were the chief priests and Pharisees arranging for a guard to stop people opening the tomb of Jesus. 27.60-66 Matthew also gives us Jesus speaking three times about the ‘outer darkness’ where you can be ‘cast out’, and where there’s ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. (8.12, 22.13, 25.30) The first is aimed at Israel for its lack of faith, the second at the guest without a wedding garment, and the last is aimed at the slave who hid the talent entrusted to him.

So that’s two where religious authorities are acting as gatekeepers, preventing people’s access to the kingdom, or to Jesus. And the other three are about people not pulling their weight and keeping faith. That reminds me of Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians today to contribute practically to their community. 1 Thess 4.10-12

In today’s parable, I asked if we assume the bridegroom kept the door shut on the foolish young women. It doesn’t say he did. Matthew just says to keep awake. What if the door was quietly opened after all?

That’s what the last door in the Gospel makes me wonder; the stone door which sealed Jesus’ tomb. It didn’t stay shut in the night, despite the best efforts of the religious leaders and their guard of soldiers. Maybe that’s where the Good News can be found; not in what the story seems to tell us, but in our wider knowledge of the story that we bring to any part of it.

I’ve always thought that great musicians are great because wherever they are in a performance, they have the whole piece in their mind. So they can interpret rather than just perform.

Is Matthew asking us to do that with this parable today? Are you and I to open this door? Amen

We are free to be sanctified; to be nurtured as saints.


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

All Saints Year A – Matt 5.1-12, Ps 34.1-10, 22, Rev 7.9-17

In 1974, Michael Leunig published a delightful cartoon that’s always stuck in my memory. A parishioner seeks pastoral counsel from their priest, saying “I’m confused. One minute I’m up, the next minute I’m down.” The priest replies, “Then you must pray to the patron saint of ups and downs.” The next picture shows the parishioner kneeling before an icon of St Francis of a See-saw.

Popular culture says a saint is a really good person. The Roman church says saints are people whose holiness and miraculous powers have been researched and verified by the proper authorities. Saints also seem to specialise. We once went to a church named for St Jude – patron saint of lost causes and hopeless cases. Great for finding lost keys! And angels and archangels get the gong too – St Michael and all Angels?! So the bar gets set higher and higher; they’re a rarefied breed, these saints.

But as it happens, no such qualifications are mentioned in today’s readings. And looking around the New Testament, throughout the book of Acts and Paul’s letters, ‘saint’ is mostly another word for anyone who belongs to Jesus; a Christian. That makes you and me saints – all of us. How does that feel?

Today’s readings identify saints differently from the way we tend to. In these passages, saints are ordinary, vulnerable people. They’re courageous, but they’re no super-heroes. When difficult things happen to them, what gets revealed is their dependence on God. In the case of Matthew’s community, this had a lot to do with the persecution they endured. You see that in the beatitudes we read just now; particularly the last two. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Did you notice that the persecuted receive the same promise as the poor in spirit – theirs is the kingdom of heaven? That expression poor in spirit has had an amazing amount of ink spilled about it. The best definition I’ve found so far is this. They are those who, in regard to their inner lives, stand before God as beggars … with the feeling of their inability to help themselves. Luz, Matthew I, p.191 Is that a familiar feeling? Are you encouraged? Because Matthew remembers this saying as Jesus addressing saints. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In our study group on Tuesday, we talked about the meaning of blessed at the beginning of each verse. It’s a word that doesn’t get used much in conversation.   So we looked for a more common word.

Some translations use the word happy. Our Psalm does that in the second half of v. 8, happy are they that hide in [the Lord], translating the Hebrew word for blessed אֶ֫שֶׁר (Gk μακάριος) as happy. But happy is too mundane to carry the weight of this idea. In Matthew and in Revelation this morning, we’ve been told that even in the face of the most terrible persecution, you can have both a confidence in God’s love for you right now, and a joyful trust that, no matter what, God’s blessing will be fully revealed. Rev 7.16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; … and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Matt 5.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

All that in one word. It’s a tall order, and happy just doesn’t cut it. The suffering being described is not the sort of experience a comfortable Australian is likely to bump into. Yet that’s what faith looks like in the world’s many war zones right now. The same goes for Australian Aboriginal communities, where life is filled with all-too-frequent hospital visits, and far too many, and too early funerals. The Gospel passage we’ve heard this morning will have been read out in the churches of Papunya and Santa Teresa and many other remote communities. These verses will speak to these fellow saints with an immediacy and reality that many of us can scarcely imagine. These people know God’s will to bless. And knowing that means they can name the wrongs they suffer, and call out in hope for God’s blessing now.

So, saint is a much bigger idea than just a good person. To be a saint, you don’t have to meet any other requirement than needing God’s grace. You don’t need to cultivate a confident faith; that’s God’s gift too. And if you think yours isn’t good enough, Jesus says yours is the kingdom of heaven. If you’re in mourning, he says you’ll be comforted, whether you can accept that now or not. And the meek? Meek doesn’t mean laying yourself out as a doormat; it just means gentle; not self-righteous. So God speed your inheritance; earth needs you!

All the promises Jesus makes in today’s Gospel are for the here and now, as well as for the other side. And this can support us in choosing a state of mind that Jesus calls righteousness. This righteousness is best understood as generosity. It’s a state of mind where you’re free to live generously, confident of God’s blessing. This righteousness has space for generous passion; passion for justice, for kindness, for peace, for growing in a purity of heart which finds Jesus in the downtrodden, the lost and the burdened – like Jesus did. We are free to be sanctified; to be nurtured as saints. And in turn, we are free to set free. Thanks be to God! Amen.

All Souls’ Day


Fr John Beiers

All Souls’ Day, St. John’s, Halifax Street

On November the 1st. the Church celebrates saints with a capital ESS, like John, Paul,  Mary, Elizabeth, Francis, and so on. The evening before is called Hallows’ Eve, which is abbreviated to Halloween. There is no Christian significance to that. However, it is the last day of the primitive Celtic calendar, and for them is the night of all witches, for which Celts invented rituals to protect themselves from the power of evil. It was called Samhain, (pronounced SAH-win). It was a time to welcome the harvests at the end of summer, and to light bonfires and wear costumes to  scare off ghosts. It was generally believed to be the night when the doors between the worlds of the living and the dead swung open, and re-location could take place. The present Halloween activities have nothing to do with Christianity, and if you take part in them, then you are opening yourself to powers of evil, over which you have no control. If something odd and unsettling happens, remember that you were warned!  So then, back to our Christian celebration.

On the next day, November the 2nd, Christians celebrate saints with a lower case ess, that is, all the members of the church who have passed on – like my mother and father, and younger brother, Jim. Over time, the two festivals became intermingled, but both are a thanksgiving for the future life in Christ.

When we die we pass into Paradise, as Jesus explained to the dying thief, crucified with Him on Calvary. “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.(Lk 23:43) Later, after His resurrection, Jesus appears to Mary in the Garden of Gethsemane.  and says, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father Go instead to my brothers and tell them , ‘I am returning to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (Jn 20:17) So then, it appears that all of us – Jesus, faithful Believers, and non-believers – go to Paradise. We do not know why Jesus would go to Paradise, but it might be to preach the good news to those who have never heard, or had it imperfectly preached to them, or to those who have rejected Him. (1 Peter 3:18-19, Jn 5:25)

But why should we, who are justified and saved and forgiven, go to a place of waiting before actually going to heaven? No one, however good a life they may have lived on earth is fitted at once to come into the glorious Presence of God. There are stains and imperfections still clinging to the souls of the very best people which must be purged and done away with, before the full sight of God can be endured, and His presence be enjoyed. For the saved, the intermediate state is as a preparation for the life of Heaven.

From Scripture, there appears to be two judgments – the First and the Last or General), both taking place in Paradise, where there is a foretaste of the things to come. For the saved , there is a taste of the Presence of God, and for the unsaved, a taste of the absence of God. We find this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk 16: 19 ff, where Jesus is describing the state of two souls in the interval between death and judgment. That He is not speaking of heaven or hell is evident. The Greek word translated “hell” in the sentence “and in hell he lifted up his eyes”, is “hades,” and is never used in Holy Scripture for the place of everlasting punishment. If this is a little difficult to fully comprehend, then let me tell you the good news.

Imagine a big round balloon. Inside are two smaller balloons. One is the church on earth, the other is the church in paradise. They are separated by the narrow stream of Death, but they are spiritually in touch with each other, because they are bathed in the Spirit of God. Together they make up the whole Church, and there is a spiritual unity between them. It is no wonder, then, that we on earth sometimes feel the presence of a loved one who has passed away, because we are one in the Spirit. That feeling is real, because we are united brothers and sisters through the grace of God.

Unfortunately, there appear to be some souls which are not at rest, for reasons we do not know, and for them we offer the age-old prayer of the Church:-   Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace, and rise in glory!


The Law of Love


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 22a  Matthew 22 34-46 

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. Over past weeks, we’ve seen a contest between Jesus and the religious leaders which began after he cleansed the Temple. This contest dragged on and the religious authorities were nervous. Roman military occupation threatened everything they held dear. Rome would not tolerate a local religion in its domain unless it fulfilled three criteria; it had to be historical, national and ethical for Rome to tolerate it. And here was Jesus publicly challenging the religious leaders’ legitimacy. Rome was always watching. So for their own safety, the Temple authorities had to shut Jesus down.

Their fear of danger was well founded. Less that forty years later, their city and their Temple would be no more. In the year 66 CE Jewish zealots revolted against Roman Rule. Rome finally crushed the revolt in the year 70 CE. They besieged the city, killed most of its people, and eventually destroyed the city and its Temple. The people of the region were exiled or enslaved.

So by the time Matthew’s Gospel was being composed, in exile from Judea, the surviving Jewish religious leaders – the Pharisees, also dispersed in the exile – were doing all they could to save Judaism from losing its identity completely. Without the Temple, they couldn’t practise their sacrificial rites any more. So they preserved their faith in the form of worship common to Synagogues. They focussed on teaching people to keep the Jewish Law and observe annual festivals. It was a vital task was. If they hadn’t done this, Judaism may well have disappeared.

But after the destruction of the Temple, Pharisaic Jews weren’t the only ones fighting for existence. Other Jews followed the Rabbi called Jesus. The Pharisees controlled the synagogues. Jesus’ followers also gathered at the synagogues, and Rome was still in charge. Jesus’ teachings challenged the way the Pharisees interpreted Jewish Law. So his followers couldn’t be given free rein in a situation where, again, the appearance of disunity might spell doom for everyone.

Knowing this helps us understand the way Matthew’s Gospel presents the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees over points of Law. The danger from Roman control was still real when Matthew’s Gospel was being written down. Christians risked being thrown out of Synagogues. So you might expect Matthew’s Gospel to portray Jewish Law simply as a tool being used for the maintenance of the Pharisees’ power over the synagogues. But while Matthew is not keen on the Pharisees, the way this Gospel speaks about the Law is quite another matter. The way Jesus speaks to us through Matthew’s Gospel offers us the Law as a gift, an affirming, empowering gift. Challenged by the lawyer, Jesus responds presenting the Law as the way to describe Love, to express Love, to live Love. Matthew’s Jesus tells us that the Law is about the love we have for God and for our neighbour.

Let’s pay attention to that: when Jesus is being challenged, he focusses on the essence of the Law, which he teaches is the love of God and love of neighbour. There are several places in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus speaks about Law. But two of them together provide us with a key to how Matthew wants us to relate to Jewish Law. They’re some of the best-known sayings in the New Testament.

One is the answer we just heard Jesus give to the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (22:36-40) The other is where Jesus says: In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets. (7:12)

Jesus was in mortal danger in his time and he focussed on the essential things; love of God and neighbour. And as decades later, Matthew’s community faced mortal danger, they focussed on those essentials too; love of God and neighbour. That’s their message to us. In our time of existential crisis with the shadows of climate catastrophe and uncertainty about wars and shifts in the world political order – and the western church’s time of questions about survival and relevance, Jesus and his apostle Matthew tell us to focus on the essentials: love God and love neighbour. Whatever threatens, we can’t go wrong if we focus on love of God and neighbour.

Archbishop Geoff challenged us at synod to put aside our fears and differences and focus on our core business. And basing his argument on Matthew’s Gospel, he put it simply. The Great Commandment is a pair with the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28; make disciples of all nations. We love God and neighbour by being disciples and making disciples. We are the way the world is to learn of the love of God. We’re not called to convert people – that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are all called to make the introductions. Our baptismal commission spells out how. Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; give honour to all; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are all ordained for this work by our baptism. So let’s forget fear and work on the essentials; love God and neighbour; be disciples; make disciples. Amen.


St John’s Dedication Festival


Fr John Beiers

Pentecost 21A

Some years ago, I visited an opal mining settlement which was in an isolated area of my parish. It consisted of a scattering of crude shacks along both sides of a small stream. Before I went there, I was told not to ask a lot of questions about the people I met there, but to allow the men to say just as much as they wanted to. Why? Because they will probably take you for a policeman, and most of the men are in hiding from the law, or had a stolen car hidden in the bush nearby. Possibly there might be a murderer or two. Some might be there to actually mine for opals. Play it on the safe side. Therefore, in white shirt with collar crosses (it was too hot for a dog collar) it was with some trepidation that I drove up to the mining camp. I was met with a variety of responses a nod, a dismissive growl, a civil smile — as I went from shack to shack. Hello! Here was a middle-aged man, building up the stone walls, now waist high of— a church, he said! Was it a penance for some past sins, or a vow to be fulfilled? Or what? I dared not ask him whilst we shared a cup of black tea, and he didn’t tell me. Bur why was he doing it? I guessed that, when it was complete, there would only be him patronising the building.

At a very small bush village, there was a man whose wife worshipped regularly in the only church there, but he did not. He said that the only way I would get him inside was in a 6foot long wooden box with the lid nailed down. I said that we could arrange that, and we both smiled. But…he mowed the lawn, repaired the fence, erected a metal archway over a gate that he supplied, topped it off with a golden cross, all of which he made himself. But why? Later, after I left that parish, I heard that he had succumbed to the love of Jesus, and, encased in a wooden box, was carried into the church he had cared for all his life. But why did he lavish such care on a house of the Lord?

In 170 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the beautiful Temple. Later Judas Maccabaeus regained control of that city, and one of the first things he did was to cleanse and re-dedicate the House of the lord with great rejoicing. Why? The answer here is more obvious than in the previous two examples.

The earliest recorded instance of the dedication of a church is that of the cathedral at Tyre (on the coast of Israel) in 314. By the 13th century It had become common usage and involved the Blessing of the exterior and interior of the building itself, and the blessing of the altar and all other interior furnishings for holy use.

A church building is something permanent (or semi-permanent) in the changes and chances of a fleeting world, and represents the existence of an unchanging divine presence — God Almighty! Thus the Tent of the Presence, forerunner of the Jerusalem Temple, was a symbol of God’s presence with the Hebrew slave as they fled Egypt led by Moses. At every camping place in the desert, the tent of God was quickly erected to remind the people that God was with them. God did not live in a tent, but He met with Moses there. In the wilderness, the tent silently proclaimed. “Wherever you go, I am with you”. Likewise, when ever we found a settlement or village, and built a church, it silently says the same thing. We look at the church and silently thank God that He is with us.

In the first reading today, Soloman causes a building of unsurpassed beauty to be erected as a symbol of God’s beauty and His presence amongst His people. However, Solomon clearly points out in verse 27 that God does not live there, because the heaven of heavens itself cannot contain the mighty creator. So, what is the building for? Read verses 28, 29 and 30 for that. Even so many of the Jews regarded it as a dwelling place of God.

When we come to Jesus, He initiates a new kind of house – Himself. He is the living foundation stone on which the whole house rests in safety. And He is also that House. When we are baptised into Jesus, we become part of that living house. Isn’t that wonderful? The house has a name. It is called church. This building, St. John’s, shelters the living Body of Jesus, so it is a place to be cared for and loved.

So now today’s gospel reading makes real sense. Our personal cornerstone has to be Jesus or we will fall over when the storms of life arise. Be wise. The other parts of the Body surround us, and we need to lean on their support when we find ourselves unable to stand alone.

So it is fitting when we conclude with a prayer of gratitude that we are part of the living Body of Christ, and give that’s for that is ours through the death and resurrection of Our Saviour.

Let us pray:- Bountiful Father, we praise You for this beautiful world You have given us – for the beautiful Body of Christ to which You have called us – for this beautiful house of praise, built by those of faith who have gone before us – for the heritage of prayer that they have bequeathed to us – for the atmosphere of divine love which their prayers here have filled this building like incense. And we pray that, following in their footsteps, we may love and adore you forever. Amen


How did you get in here without a wedding robe?


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 20 A – Ex 32 1-14; Mt 22 1-14; Phil 4 1-9

How did you get in here without a wedding robe? The day after the vote for the Voice.

In the Middle East, it’s really important for a guest to show respect to their host by dressing properly. I found that out the hard way early in 1996 when we returned to Jerusalem. Vicky and I were invited to a gathering of people connected with the Anglican cathedral. Bishop Samir, in his huge voice, greeted me and told me off for not wearing a clergy shirt: Are you ashamed to wear it outside a church? You don’t forget a question like that. The parable we just heard always vividly brings that moment back for me; ‘… how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’

This is the last of three parables Jesus told in the Temple to answer the high priests and elders leaders who’d challenged his authority. It finished with a guest who, like me, wasn’t appropriately dressed, and who did get thrown out. This guest was one of the people from the streets invited into the banquet. The king had already seen his son insulted by his earlier invited guests’ refusal to come. Now he’s had his servants invite anyone they can find on the streets to fill the banqueting table.

So this missing wedding garment; what might it represent? There’ve been many theories over the centuries – various communities interpret its meaning differently for themselves. But the common thread has always been that somehow the garment shows your true relationship with God.

My experience with Bishop Samir and the missing clergy shirt helps me see this. I was newly returned to Jerusalem after eight years away. The other guests, members of the cathedral’s local Palestinian congregation, couldn’t know how I fitted in. I could’ve been a tourist accidentally blundering into a church function. But a clergy shirt would immediately have spelt out my relationship with Bishop Samir and with everyone else there. The Bishop solved the mystery by identifying me in his huge voice. It was embarrassing, but kinder than sending me home to dress properly.

So for me, ‘wearing the wedding garment’ challenges me to acknowledge openly my relationship with God. I should publicly acknowledge the honour of God’s invitation to me. But what might wearing the garment say to others?

For the chief priests and elders, this parable confronts them with Israel’s neglect of their relationship with God; their refusal to recognise Jesus.

Jesus shows through this parable what it means that Israel wouldn’t wear the garment.

For Matthew’s community, wearing the garment meant solidarity with Jesus; in the face of persecution, being prepared to wear the cost of their integrity for him just as he had done for them.

For one early church, we heard Paul say how he expected people to live out wearing the garment. The church he founded in Philippi was the first Christian community on European soil. Squabbles between two of the community leaders threatened the health of the community. We know how very dangerous that is.

Writing from prison, Paul’s advice was to 4 Rejoice in the Lord … 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone … 6 Don’t worry … pray … give thanks … 8 think about whatever’s true, whatever’s honourable, whatever’s just, whatever’s pure, whatever’s pleasing, whatever’s commendable, if there’s any excellence and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

In this time of hurt and division – the pain suffered by Aboriginal people in this land – in this time of ghastly war crimes in so many places, of cascading natural and artificially created disasters, in such times, a community that can rise above blame and bitterness can be a haven of peace and hope; a lighthouse in a gale. It’s clearly needed right now. Imagine the last weeks and months if people’d been as kind as Paul suggests.

So is this what today’s parable says to us about our path – what our wearing the garment might be in our place and time; our role in such a world environment?

It’s not straightforward being that haven of peace and hope; that lighthouse in the shadows. The end of the first part of the parable, where everyone’s invited in from the streets, seems to say come as you are; you’re fine as you are. The invitation to all on the streets is generous; broad. But wearing the robe says it’s not an invitation to a come as you are party. It doesn’t pretend we’re fine just the way we are. We’re not. We’re out on the streets – many of us troubled, confused, lonely; many are sick; many in terrible distress. The invitation to the royal banquet implies a demand that we wear a wedding robe.

Former Lutheran then Catholic Leonard Klein writes, ‘The Gospel is not the announcement that [we’re] fine the way we are. Rather, God loves us so much that God will not leave us unchanged.

How do we let this happen to us?

Choosing to pray – come what may, to prioritise prayer – makes a palpable difference. And I don’t just mean prayer as individuals. As a community, we are called to expose ourselves to the possibility of being changed – and nothing exposes us to that possibility more powerfully than uniting in prayer together.

So let’s pray for this community to be a haven of peace, hope, healing and light to a country and a world where so many are suffering so cruelly. Amen

The creator of the night sky has offered the dignity of partnership


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 19A – Psalm 19 and the Ten Commandments.

A friend once told me that tortoises live the very long lives they do because they don’t have personal relationships. This makes me embark on today’s Old Testament readings with trepidation, because they’re about forming relationships, and caring for relationships – with God and with each other. I want to speak mostly about the special relationship painted by today’s Psalmist. So let’s go there first; would you please turn back to Psalm 19 in your service booklets?

When we chanted its three short movements together, our prayer ranged very widely. We joined with the heavens in a hymn of wonder at our Maker. We joined in an exquisite love-lyric to the Torah, which means ‘God’s teaching’; and finally, in vv.11-14, together with the Psalmist we were bold to address God directly. So as we said this Psalm together, we explored the spiritual world of a great Hebrew mystic poet.

As I said, I see three movements – three distinct parts in this Psalm. In vv.1-6, there’s the ecstatic hymn to the Creator. Then in vv.7-10 there is the love lyric to the Torah, and finally, there is the Psalmist’s witness to their power to shape a human life. While the link between the 2nd and 3rd movements is clear, the poet makes no overt attempt to link the first two movements.

So I wonder if you found the modulation from v.6 to v.7 a little jarring. Take a moment to look at it again. 6 The sun’s rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. We’re not alone in finding this change bewildering. Some commentators even talk of two Psalms patched together.

But there is a connection; and it’s something that any of us can bring to this Psalm – anyone who reads it.

Some see a connection between, on the one hand, the creative power that brought order and beauty to the formless void of the primordial creation Gen 1.2 (vv.1-6), and on the other, the gift of the Law which brought order and beauty to life with God and with each other (vv.7-10). This connection is beautifully evoked in a sentence which some commentators on Psalm 19 quote from Emmanuel Kant’s Critique of Reason. ‘There are two things that fill my soul with holy reverence and ever-growing wonder – the spectacle of the starry sky that virtually annihilates us as physical beings, and the moral law which raises us to infinite dignity as intelligent agents.’

The place where we find ourselves between the first two movements of this Psalm is the same as the place as Emmanuel Kant found himself. On the one hand, there is the sense of our irrelevance to the workings of the universe. But on the other, there is the infinite dignity accorded us by the fact of God taking care to teach us; each one of us.

Why, when I speak of Torah – God’s teaching – do I talk about our dignity?

I get there in this way. There’s a mistaken image I carry from my early formation as a Christian is of the Israelites in the wilderness. Having escaped Egypt, they’d been wandering for decades around the Sinai Peninsula getting steadily more depressed, but basically minding their own business when all of a sudden, they got up to Exodus chapter 20 and WHOOMPF! With a mere ten commandments, God loaded them down with enough legal and ethical baggage to ensure they’d stay guilty for an eternity. That’s the image I carried; but it was wrong! The Torah – the Law which God gave the Israelites was a covenant; it was a gift of partnership – of mature relationship – between us and God, and between us and each other.

For the Psalmist, it is this Law, the Torah – for Emmanuel Kant, the moral law – which embodies God’s care for us. So for the Psalmist and for Kant, placing the two together – cosmos and Law – it works at a profound level. Because being at the meeting point of those two movements says what it means to be human creatures loved by God, and capable of love.

Wandering in a desert is a powerful reminder of our insignificance – what David Attenborough once called our irrelevance – to the workings of creation.

If you’re wandering in a desert, your hold on life seems very tenuous; it hangs from the strap of your water bottle. A guide makes some difference. But how much more does it change things to know that the God of the sun, moon and stars claims you, and seeks a deep and abiding relationship with you. When the people of Israel received the Law at Mount Sinai, they had a guide; Moses. But in the giving of the Law, God offered them, and through them, us, a promise of deep, abiding loyalty and love; life in all its fulness. Jeremiah would describe this as being written on our hearts. There’s only one response to such a gift. So is it so strange to offer a love lyric to the Law?

The last movement 11-14 traces the way this living relationship matures.

v.11 When you move into a love relationship, you start by tentatively keeping to ‘the right sorts of things to say’.

Then when you’re more secure, v.12 you make some small, but still-tentative claims on the relationship.

Then v.13 there’s a thorough exploration of the extent of your commitment.

Finally, v.14 all uncertainty dissolves in the wonder of a trusting relationship.

We’ve entered a mystic’s private world of prayer together in this Psalm. It’s a world of someone who knows what it feels like to lie beneath the stars of a clear sky, night after night; someone who’s journeyed long with the burden of feeling insignificant – no, even irrelevant.

And into that world, the creator of that night sky has offered the dignity of partnership, of adult significance. Now those night skies proclaim the glory of the Creator, who has offered the poet and all creatures intimate relationship. From this point on, we can never see things the same way again. Amen

We are called to imitate the self-emptying love of Christ for others


Rev’d Balabanski

Pentecost + 19: Phil 2.1-11: Mt 21.23-32

Honour: is it an old-fashioned word? (The story of elderly lady on the bus; the big boy and the little boy and the dual transactions of money and honour.) In the Mediterranean world of Jesus and Paul, people were very concerned with their honour. There was a hierarchy of honour, and the person at the top of the pile was the emperor. His title was Saviour of the world.[1] Sound familiar? Anyone honoured to wield secular or sacred power in Rome’s dominions might do so only with the emperor’s consent. That included the chief priests and elders who were sparring with Jesus in today’s Gospel. Their exercise of authority was an honour granted only at the emperor’s pleasure.

Jesus had seriously confronted their sense of that honour and their status the day before. You know the story; he’d ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by adoring crowds. He’d cleansed their Temple of all its pilgrim commerce – the animals and birds to be offered as sacrifices, the tables of the money changers exchanging secular money for the pure-silver Tyrian half-shekels which were the only money accepted as an Israelite’s annual Temple tax. So no wonder they chief priests and the elders got stuck into Jesus today about his ‘authority to do these things’. They had the emperor’s backing; who on earth was backing Jesus?

We need to know about this economy of honour to understand what a threat Jesus represented to the chief priests and elders. He mounted a direct challenge to the social order. The equivalent today would see him going into the Wall Street stock exchange, smashing their computers and pronouncing our immutable doctrines of economic growth and market forces as abominations to God. But would he do that? They’re sacred! Nobody questions the centrality of economic growth or market forces, do they!

Jesus was this political; he was this radical; his way of living and dying was a huge challenge to the status quo in his time, just as it is in ours. Instead of amassing honour, wealth and power, Matt 4.1-11 Jesus gave them up – and he gave up far more than these. Instead of condoning a status quo which saw a few people monopolise wealth and power to the detriment of the many, Jesus showed us an utterly different way to be. He gave himself both to set ordinary people free from the cruelty of a life of fear and poverty, and he have himself to the rich and powerful – to us – to free us from our slavery to wealth and power.

In our epistle reading today, Paul gives us a hymn which names what Jesus did to enable this gift of setting us free. It’s a hymn of such significance in the Christian Scriptures that it’s been given a special name of its own – the Kenosis Hymn; which means the hymn to self-emptying love. It describes Jesus as emptying himself of his divine power to take the form of a humble, itinerant preacher.

Kenosis means ‘empty’ and the Kenosis Hymn – the hymn to self-emptying love –tells us that Jesus gave up equality with God to become ‘a slave’. And Paul frames the hymn with a call to shed the chains that bind us to a life that isn’t life giving: pride, greed, fear, delusional conceit. Our study group noticed an echo of the Buddhist teaching about striving for detachment. Paul emphasises that the purpose of this ‘shedding the chains’ is not freedom for self, but rather to give that freedom to others. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. That’s the top of the fame that this Kenosis Hymn fits into.

It’s intended that we apply this hymn to self-emptying love to ourselves; what are we meant to empty ourselves of; what are we able to give up that sets both us free, and sets the world free? In the season of creation, the climate crisis is a very obvious candidate. This hymn to self-emptying love shows God in Jesus coming to us where we are. It says Jesus comes as a ‘slave’ so that the most humble slave can say ‘Jesus is one of us’. He’s come with gentle, committed, rescuing love. And this message is in perfect continuity with the message of the Hebrew Law and Prophets. God feels the plight of the poor and helpless. Time and time again, God’s commitment to justice for widows and orphans and other powerless people was repeated by the prophets who warned that you ignore their plight at your peril. A society which runs on the basis of preferring power and privilege is the antithesis of God’s vision for humanity. God called the chosen people to be a nation that cared for the weak and the powerless; both their own, and others they called sojourners in their Land; the ones we call refugees.

And there’s another self-emptying challenge. There are more than 100 million displaced people in the world today, and in the news this week, Europe declared that the refugees wanting to go there would be an unacceptable challenge to their way of life. They’re very like us in that regard. So we have a situation where Lebanon, Turkey and Syria have each taken on millions of refugees. How can they manage that when we don’t think we can?

William Greenway writes that The Kenosis hymn is most easily heard in extremis. Then it surely comforts those with ears to hear, but otherwise? For those of us bearing critical responsibilities to family and others, and living within a fallen world where legitimate needs conflict? Well, then this towering hymn, taken without compromise, is terrifying.[2]        It challenges our whole way of being.

Paul reminds the Philippians of the Gospel he has proclaimed to them; that Jesus embodies all these principles – literally, physically! These principles are not imposed from above. Jesus, the itinerant preacher simply lived them out with us from the stance of the poor and helpless themselves; Jesus, who would be executed as a threat to the status quo.

Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God’s love for us; Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God’s commitment to creation by becoming part of that creation; Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God’s solidarity with the poor, the marginalised and the despised, Jesus is the most perfect revelation of how we should measure our own values.

5 Let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus!   Amen.


  1. Craig R. Koester “THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD” (JOHN 4:42) Journal of Biblical Literature 109 (1990) 665-680
  2. William Greenway, (2011). Theological Perspective on Philippians 2:1–13. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A (Vol. 4, p. 114). Westminster John Knox Press.

Grace is even better than being fair


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 17 – Matthew 20.1-16: The Labourers in the Vineyard

When I taught English to refugees, I had to get them to speak with each other in English. One of the best discussion starters I ever had for provoking discussion in my classes was today’s parable of the labourers in the vineyard. It never failed. A frigidly passive class would read this story and suddenly erupt into a storm of conflicting points of view all eager to be heard.

The Eastern Europeans always opposed the landowner. Paying the latecomers first was an affront to the dignity of the first-hired workers with whom they unquestioningly identified themselves. South Americans were deeply suspicious of the motives of the landowner. They thought he wanted to use his wealth to preen his ego, humiliating the ‘all-day-suckers’ by making them a laughing stock at pay time. Others were disgusted at the owner’s insensitivity, or else deeply worried by the disorderliness of it all.

When the hubbub eventually died down, the eldest Vietnamese man in the class would stand to speak for his people on this weighty matter. And each time, it was the same message: We think the landowner is a good man. He understands that everyone needs the same amount of money to give their families food and clothes, and he gives it to them. He is a good man. On one occasion the Vietnamese elder added that the latecomers to the vineyard had been waiting all day for work, and so it was a cause for deep joy that their good faith was rewarded.

As far as the other students could see, the Vietnamese students might as well have been from a different planet. But they were displaced persons too!? So whether it was the severity of the Vietnamese experience of escape, something to do with their particular stream of Mahayana Buddhism, or simply being the most recent wave of refugees, whatever gave them their perspective remains a mystery to me. But they always understood the need of the labourers who’d waited all day for work and were last to be hired, and always rejoiced with them in being paid a day’s wage. For them, the Kingdom of God is not fair or just. It’s better than that. It’s generous.

I met this parable in the flesh while living in Jerusalem. Around quarter past five each morning, the call to prayer would sound from the minaret just down the street and wake me up. Morning Prayer in the cathedral was an hour later, so I had a quiet time to contemplate the sounds of the new day. One sound always came just after prayers at the mosque finished. It was the sound of hundreds of feet; young men walking wordlessly from the mosque down towards the old city. They were walking down to an open market place on Sultan Suleiman Road, opposite the Old City’s Damascus Gate. They waited there from very early each morning hoping to be hired as day labourers by Israeli farm and factory owners.

I passed this market place often. I saw the way the young men were hired. An Israeli truck or a car would pull over to the kerb, and one of the occupants would bellow out the number of labourers they needed. Several of the young labourers would run over and jump aboard, and off they’d go.

But where people live under military occupation, gatherings of young men are not favourably viewed. Several times each day, a truckload of young soldiers would drive onto the market place and give the would-be labourers a hard time. They’d demand to see their identity papers, search them, shoving and kicking them around. It was all part of a daily ritual of humiliation and oppression. But still the young men came every day. They had no other way of providing for their families.

I read this parable and my Vietnamese students have taught me what those young workers would feel for a land-owner who came back every few hours to rescue more of them from their plight; what their families would think of him paying them enough for their daily bread, regardless of the hours worked. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like this landowner…the Kingdom which operates on the principles this land-owner lives by is a Kingdom which humanity desperately needs; a Kingdom where a person is valued; valued regardless of work done or ethnicity. In God’s Kingdom, generous grace abounds simply because it’s needed. And Jesus’ parable tells us this Kingdom grace can be embodied in an individual; in you or me.

Today’s parable is like a miniature of salvation history featuring us—the Church—as the late comers! We, Gentile Christians never endured the early start that the slaves in Egypt did. We weren’t called through the Red Sea at 6.00 am on the first morning of our pilgrimage. We weren’t called at 9.00 am to Mount Sinai either; nor roasted at noon by the prophets’ fiery summons to faithfulness. We weren’t even in the 3.00 pm cohort caught up in the tragedy of the exile. We’re the five o’clockers; the eleventh-hour people, who, a bare hour before knock-off time, had nothing to take home to our families. Then suddenly, we were called from certain humiliation and offered all the blessings of Kingdom life.

If we’re ever tempted to imagine that it’s our present power or wealth that gives our lives meaning, we are warned by this parable that our life’s true meaning comes from grace alone; from that unexpected call that we or our ancestors responded to.

The labourers in the Jerusalem marketplace also tell me to watch out for cultural blind spots. Most ordinary Israeli citizens are as oblivious to plight of Palestinians as we are to the injustice Aboriginal Australians continue to endure. Jesus tells us to be aware – like the landowner obviously was – and to be gracious and generous.

Be aware, be generous. Be better than simply just or fair. Go for grace. God wants all his little ones to experience grace. God calls us to be a mighty river of peace and justice in order that his little ones might drink deeply from the cup of grace. Amen