All posts by Barbara

Two-way spiritual stem-cell transplant

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost +7A – 16-7-23 – Genesis 25 19-34 Romans 8 1-11

No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus – two-way spiritual stem-cell transplant

We get a confronting entrée to our scriptures this morning. During this Pentecost season, we’re looking at Romans particularly, but we’ve also been tracking with the story of the Hebrew patriarchs and matriarchs – Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and today, their twin boys, Jacob and Esau. This was the family through whom God promised all families of earth would be blessed. This glorious promise from God was Esau’s birthright: he should bear this blessing to all subsequent history. Yet he gave it all away for a bowl of red lentil stew and some bread. And Jacob’s dealing with this stolen birthright was hardly more edifying.

Esau had a case of the ‘hangries’, and Jacob was a tad more selfish than is desirable in a biblical patriarch. They serve as compelling case studies in how not to treat God’s blessings. Poor old God – that great vision of all families of the Earth being blessed – how do you recover with drop-kicks like them in the saddle? The attitude we see in Jacob and Esau today is weakness, temptation, proneness to sin – a ‘me-first-now’ attitude – a choice for alienation from God and neighbour. We might call it the human condition. But these were the grandchildren of Abraham and Sarah, for heaven’s sake! How could the rot have set in so soon? Weak, selfish, Godless.

Paul uses a technical term to name this human condition – flesh / sarx. We’ve heard the word ten times in this morning’s Romans reading. It doesn’t mean our bodies. There’s another word he uses for that: soma / body. When Paul uses the word sarx / flesh, he’s naming the selfish, thoughtless attitude we saw in Jacob and Esau; the same shadow-side of human nature that afflicts the world now with all its catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences. Sarx is a word from which we get the word sarcophagus – which is appropriate as the thoughtless, selfish proneness to sin (alienation from God and each other) does lead to death.

But don’t despair. We heard Paul first announce in 3.21-22 – the righteousness of God has been disclosed, … 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Today he expounds this more fully and joyfully in chapter 8.1-2 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus ­– the Spirit leads to life, the life of flesh leads to death. Flesh and Spirit; the choices we hear named often in today’s passage.

If we think of ourselves as descendants of Jacob and Esau for a moment – with the petty, selfish values they bequeathed to posterity – their self-seeking characters have been apparently fused onto our spiritual DNA – what hope could there be? Plenty! This claim of Paul’s – The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free – announces that something like a spiritual stem-cell transplant has taken place to heal those who are in Christ. And Paul describes this as being something like a two-way transplant; our DNA / stem cells into Jesus, and his into us. 2 The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from this curse of an inheritance. But how?

In v. 3, Paul describes what’s happened. Jesus takes on our condition in place of his. 3 God … sends his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (in our likeness), and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (specifically, the flesh he took on). He looks like us – embodies our likeness – that of people with self-centred, thoughtless minds and hearts. But Jesus the human never wavers from a life of compassionate, selfless, tough love. And on the Cross, as a real human, he takes the full consequence of human selfish, thoughtless, Godlessness (sarx/flesh). And he takes its power with him to the grave, where it belongs.

In v. 4, Paul says Jesus did this 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Jesus offers us the way of the Spirit and life in place of the way of the flesh and death. A gift we receive not by works, but by faith. It’s all his work; his alone. When we walk in the faith of Jesus, when his Spirit takes up residence in us, the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus is somehow reckoned to us as righteousness by God. The way to death is replaced by the way to life. This choice of Spirit or flesh – life or death – peace with God or alienation – is the subject of the rest of today’s passage. Jesus takes our death into himself, buries it, and in return offers us his risen life.

This rings true for me because of what I see Jesus doing throughout the Gospels. Paul didn’t have the Gospels – his letters all predate them. But we do have them, and they illustrate in story what Paul has discerned and proclaimed.  I remember particularly the story where Jesus is at dinner with Simon the Pharisee. A so-called ‘sinful woman’ comes and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and anoints them with costly perfume, kissing his feet all the while. Everyone else is scandalised that Jesus lets such a woman touch him. Jesus takes her shame from her and in return, gives her his honour. Luke 7.36f

For me, Paul is writing of just such an exchange between Jesus and me; between Jesus and you. Paul is right to declare what he does: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God!       Amen.

Jesus’ Great High Priestly Prayer

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 7 A – Ac 1.6-14, Ps 68.1–10, 32–35, Ist Pt 5, Jn 17.1–11

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Holy Father, protect them in your Name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. Jn 17.11b. John 17 begins each year’s international Week of Prayer for Christian unity – in the lead-up to the first Christian Pentecost.

Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of a passage that the Church calls Jesus’ Great High Priestly Prayer. Here we see Jesus as priest, praying for those in his care that we may be one. What do we make of Jesus as our Great High Priest – which means someone who intercedes with God on our behalf? How do we take hold of that? I’m used to encountering this idea of prayer in churches where saints and angels are also asked to pray for us.

I’ve had conversations over many years with people who view that sort of prayer with deep suspicion. They see it more as a sort of superstitious lobbying than prayer. They feel that ‘real prayer’ should be between just me and God – direct, with no intermediaries. They feel that teaching people to pray by asking Mary or Jude or Christopher or anyone else to pray for us is some sort of heresy. But then I also hear of God answering just such indirect prayers in quite spectacular ways.

And then there are plenty of faithful Christians who look at us Prayer-Book Anglicans with at least one eyebrow raised: Can’t you pray unless it’s written down in front of you? they ask. What sort of prayer is that? Where’s the spontaneity? How do you expect the Spirit to find room to move if your prayers have all been written down years in advance? Providentially, the Holy Spirit is astonishingly versatile – not constrained at all by time; God is very broad minded; and Jesus is welcoming of the most unlikely.

You might think it’s pretty odd for me to be talking about all these differences between Christians on this first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. No lobbyist worth their salt should do that. But I think it’s really important to enter this week in the clear knowledge that we are all different, and yet, we are all alike loved by God. It’s really important that we don’t confuse a week of prayer for Christian unity with hopes of a week of prayer for Christian uniformity. The two things are not the same. If we try to define unity as uniformity, we are violating something that is fundamental to our created being, and to all our different ways of belonging to Jesus.

Story: The week of prayer for Christian unity in Jerusalem.

Something that’s absolutely basic to the faith of all varieties of Christians is that Jesus did what he did for us before we had taken a single step towards him. So no-one was out in front; no-one stood out as being ‘right’.

St Paul puts it this way in Romans 5.6-8

… while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

What Paul is saying is that our relationship with God doesn’t depend on whether or not we’ve got our theology straight. Paul – once a persecutor of the Church himself – learned that our relationship with God depends purely and simply on one thing; the gracious love of Jesus. And that goes for everyone, even persecutors of Christians.

None of us can say another Christian’s way of responding to God’s is unacceptable to God. It’s up to God to decide. And frankly, what God is gracious enough to accept is always likely to astonish us. That is, quite literally, our saving grace.

Jesus prayed that we may be one. That prayer is the reason for the week of prayer for Christian Unity. The first unity we need to recall is that despite our squabbles and failings, we all stand equal before God – all alike, loved by God. And the proof of this is Jesus’s coming for our sake before any of us knew him. So much for our partisan, tribal disunity. That’s a different world. Our unity is in the welcoming, all-embracing call of Jesus.

But then what? This is where the link with prayer comes in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Prayer opens us to the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. She will receive our multitudes of apparently conflicting various yearnings, and somehow weave that chaotic variety and contradictions into a blessing that is whole and unified – a blessing which can empower us to be Christ’s blessed presence in this world. This comes through the grace of unity – then effect of Jesus’ prayer – and our response.

Yes; we have agency in this. Sr Joan Chittister put it this way. She said that …prayer is not something given to us to change the world. It is meant to change us, so that we can change the world. Prayer is something given to us so that we can change the world.

I pray that we may join our Lord Jesus in his prayer that we may be one. May we overlook and even celebrate our variety – because that doesn’t seem to bother Him at all – and so let the world know that no-one can be separated from the love of God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen

Marks of Mission

Canon Bill Goodes

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  2022  II Kings 5:1-14,  Psalm 30, Galatians 6:7 – 18,, Luke 10:1 – 12, 17 – 24

“Cure the sick who are there, and say to them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’”  (Luke 10:9)

One of the buzz words of the Church today is that we should all be involved in Mission Action Planning, and last month your Parish Council spent some time putting together some preliminary ideas about such a plan for this parish.   The Anglican Consultative Council has identified five “Marks” of mission for the Anglican Communion —

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These marks may give a wider picture of “mission” than we have traditionally used, but each depends on the others for completeness.  Our Mission Action Plan is to be aligned to these “marks”, and the whole congregation will have the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of this Plan, as well as being responsible for its implementation!

We noted last Sunday that Jesus had earlier sent the twelve apostles on his mission, and now, after their return, as Jesus’ face is “set to go to Jerusalem”, he expands the mission work-force to involve “seventy others”.  Some have seen this expansion to such a large number of “missioners”, as a sign that mission is the responsibility of the widest possible group of Jesus’ followers.  The whole congregation perhaps?   What do his instructions to the Seventy suggest about our responsibility?

First, it seems, we are to be bearers of a message of peace:  “first say ‘peace to this house!’”  “Peace”, for those who schooled in the Hebrew language, was a greeting that carried with it a richness which is much deeper than the absence of warfare — shalom meant more a total well-being, with everything in its proper place, and a fulness of life.  Our mission, Jesus’ mission, always has that as its primary characteristic — we want everyone to enjoy this richness of peace, and to have that fullness of life that Jesus came to bring.

Then there is an interesting little sidelight there about justice — “eating and drinking whatever they provide,  for the labourer deserves to be paid”.    This refers not only to our responsibility to provide for  suitable living arrangements for people like our parish priests, but also the wider responsibility for ensuring that there is a just recompense for all who work.   The present cost of living concern in our society makes the question of what workers are paid an urgent issue for our community and its leaders to wrestle with.

But there’s the other side of that clause, too: the missioners are to be “eating and drinking whatever they provide”.   There is a responsibility of the guest towards the hosts, the responsibility of identifying with the hosts’ culture, and not imposing foreign values on them.  One of the most encouraging aspects of much of the Church’s mission today is that it tries to value the culture of those to whom it takes the good news of Jesus, not forcing people to abandon their culture and ways (language even!) to conform to foreign customs  before they become Christians.  Those photos of aboriginal children on mission stations dressed in western clothes and forbidden to use their own language, still makes me profoundly uncomfortable!

One of the qualities valued by those who follow a Benedictine spirituality, is Stability.  This has its basis in the instruction Jesus gives his missioners, “Remain in the same house…do not move about from house to house”.   This can speak to us in two directions: the first is about the base for mission.  This parish has been the base for mission for generations of people who have called it “home”.  One of the principal tasks of the parish is to provide a stable basis for people to continue the mission of Christ’s disciples.  We need to remember that stability, and to ensure that the parish provides a consistent encouragement to all its members to continue in mission.  That consistency is greatly strengthened by our regular attendance at worship and other activities.  The whole “two by two” direction to missioners speaks of this mutual encouragement that Jesus saw as fundamental to the task.

The stability works in the other direction as well — in the “targets” of our mission.  Mission requires a commitment and a perseverance with those to whom we take the good news of Jesus.  No flitting about from target to target!

When we listen to Jesus’ instruction to his missioners in the context of our “Healing Sunday” service, of course we will focus on the “cure the sick who are there” direction.  Our care in prayer and loving concern for our sisters and brothers who are dis-eased in any way is fundamental to our mission.  Sometimes we will see improvements in the physical, mental, or spiritual well-being of those whose cure we are seeking, and perhaps there should be more prominence given to our thanksgiving for these improvements.  I like to think of us wanting our friends to experience “wholeness” — after all, that is the word that first became “hale” (as in “hale and hearty”), and then became “healthy”.  Such wholeness (health) has physical, mental and spiritual aspects to its description of a person’s complete well-being, and any move closer to such wholeness can be seen as “healing” and greeted with thanksgiving.

But notice the twice-repeated “the kingdom of God has come near” message that accompanies the curing of the sick who are there.  For the mission that we are involved in is all about the kingdom of God, and the later section of the long Gospel reading today sets out that wider context most clearly.  Jesus’ prayer “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”   For the Mission that we are planning into action is not our mission — it is God’s mission, and God graciously reveals to us, infants that we are in so many ways, what this mission is, and how we might co-operate with God in it.  God bless us in our Mission Action Planning, and in our pursuit of that mission



Live by the Spirit

Canon Bill Goodes

Third Sunday after Pentecost – II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14,  Psalm 77:1-2, 10-20, Galatians 51,13 – 25, Luke 9:51 – 62

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  (Galatians 5:16)

For something like the next 20 weeks, we will be observing the so-called “Sundays after Pentecost”, which we began last week.   This sequence will be interrupted only by the Church’s Dedication Festival, and the month of the Season of Creation.   During these weeks, we follow three independent series of readings:  the first will be the ones from the Old Testament (properly now referred to as “the Hebrew scriptures”), and these will focus on the work of the prophets — this series began last week with the prophet Elijah, and today introduces his successor, Elisha.   The Psalm that is set each Sunday is meant to pick up some part of the theme of the first reading.   Today’s is a lament in which the Psalmist comes to question what God is up to making him suffer like he is — but then he goes on to a confident recital of God’s past actions.

The Gospel readings this year are mainly from the Gospel of Luke and we come today to a turning point in the story that that Gospel portrays of Jesus’ ministry — the point in his ministry where he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”.   John’s Gospel has Jesus in Jerusalem on a number of occasions before his final time there, but the other three see his move from Galilee to Jerusalem as something that only happens once — as the time of Jesus’ death approaches.   These writers are not so much interested in a kind of Google Timeline, which tracks Jesus’ movements in diary form:  rather they construct their telling of the story in a way that helps the reader to see the logic of Jesus’ ministry, rather than its calendar.

It is interesting, too, to see that Luke places this ‘turning to Jerusalem’ rather earlier in the story than do Matthew and Mark.   The first three chapters in Luke are taken up with the birth stories of Jesus and John Baptist, and then Jesus’ Baptism and Testing. This rite of commissioning and direction-setting  leads to a confident, popular ministry of healing, exorcising, teaching, feeding in the region of Galilee.    He is assisted in this ministry by his twelve apostles.   It is when they return from their mission of preaching the kingdom that Jesus reaches the turning point in his ministry in the crucial events recorded in chapter 9 — in that chapter we have the story where Peter acknowledges Jesus as Son of God, and then Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain where he is transfigured in their sight.   And now, he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”, because “the days drew near for him to be taken up”.   Over the next Sundays we will follow this journey, with stories of success and threat, until, ten chapters later, Jesus enters Jerusalem and the story of Holy Week begins.    As Luke tells the story, throughout this period “his face is set towards Jerusalem”, and what follows his entry into Jerusalem cannot be avoided:  it is who Jesus is!

The other series of readings is from the letters of Paul — beginning with the earliest of them, the letter to the Galatians.   Each of these letters tries to address particular situations in the life of the various congregations.  They do so by focussing on the person of Jesus, and on the appropriate way of life for followers of Jesus.   Today’s reading is a particularly significant one in describing that way of life — it lists the results of living a life only concerned with what our physical instincts and desires direct, and contrasts that with the fruits of living “in the Spirit”.

One of the principal situations that Paul addresses in this letter is that some people are telling the Galatian Christians they must follow the Jewish Law — and Paul’s experience of that Law is that it imposes a virtual slavery on people:  he contrasts this experience with the gift of freedom which life in Jesus brings:  “For freedom Christ has set us free…do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” today’s reading began.   However, this very freedom, fundamental to the life in Christ, carries with it a danger:  is the Christian disciple so “free” that there are no boundaries to the disciple’s behaviour?  “you were called to freedom…only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence”.

To make quite clear what he means, Paul then goes on to contrast “gratifying the desires of the flesh” with “living by the Spirit”.    Now this contrast between “flesh” and “spirit” raises some questions for us, because we have grown up being told that “flesh is good” —  our bodies are beautiful, objects of delight, God-given, to be cherished and valued.    Hating the body is thought of as “Victorian”, and out of touch with who we really  are.   The Greek word used for flesh is sarx, which comes into English in words like “sarcoma” or “sarcophagus” , and in Latin this becomes “carnis”, which gives rise  in English to both “carnal” and “incarnation” — perhaps giving an idea of just how revolutionary Christ’s coming “in the flesh” really is!

When I am guiding school-children on a tour of the Cathedral, I often ask them to look at the outside of the building, and ask them which way it points.   While some would say immediately “it points to heaven”, I have to try to steer away from that crude geography, and talk of “higher things” or “pointing away from those concerns that are only to be found in the earthly”.   I don’t know how much that takes root in their understandings, but it is the same contrast that Paul is addressing. For Paul here is using the term “flesh” in the sense of a direction of life governed only by carnal desires, those desires that deal only with the satisfaction of my wants — with no relation to other people or to God.

When we live “according to the flesh”, he says, it results in fifteen types of anti-social and destructive behaviours — these are the obvious ones, and there are others like them.   When we live by the Spirit, are guided by the Spirit, instead we show the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

This list of “fruits” comes with its challenge to our personal ways of working with one another:  do we always demonstrate these in our relationships in family, neighbourhood, political life, or even in our world-wide considerations?   But what about our Church relationships?   I am afraid that too often we see congregations demonstrating the “works of the flesh” that Paul is talking about — things like “enmities, strife, quarrels, dissensions, factions”.   Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in researching the story of this Parish, this Diocese, the Anglican Communion, historians were able to look at our story as demonstrating “kindness, generosity, love, self-control”   I don’t know why the compilers of our lectionary left out the final verse of this chapter — perhaps it was too close to the bone even then:  it says “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another”!

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

What are you doing here?

Canon Bill Goodes

Second Sunday after Pentecost  2022  I Kings 19:1-4., 8-15a,  Psalm 42, Galatians 3:10 – 14, 23 – 29, Luke 8:26 – 39:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (I Kings 19:9, 13)

Well, there’s a challenge for you!  It was a challenge for Elijah, and it is just as much a challenge for us.  “What are you doing here?

It came to Elijah who was feeling pretty depressed, Queen Jezebel, in all her power and deviousness, had made a public statement, on oath, that Elijah’s head was for the block!   Having a contract put on you by such a person would justify anyone fleeing for their life.  And Elijah had run for six weeks from Israel and finished up at Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.

We can feel a certain sympathy with the prophet here, as he answers the voice of God by saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant…killed your prophets…I alone am left, and they are seeking my life!”  When we think of how things used to be, and how this occasion would see the Church filled with parishioners and members of the Great Priory and their families and friends, we might well be feeling “I alone am left…!”  For that’s not how things are today:   we look around at who we are, all too conscious of our age and our many infirmities, and feel very much with the prophet.  And God says to us “What are you doing here?”

God responds to the prophet in two ways.  First, he shows Elijah something of God’s nature, and goes on to speak of God’s continuing call for the prophet.

God’s nature?  “Stand on the mountain before the Lord”  Then came the tempestuous wind, ripping the countryside to shreds — “but the Lord was not in the wind”.  Then came the trembling of the foundations as the earth rocked — “but the Lord was not in the earthquake”.  Then came a wild-fire, fearsome  and destructive in its intensity — “but the Lord was not in the fire”.  After the fire, “a sound of sheer silence” or “a mere whisper” — the older translations spoke of “a still small voice.”  Elijah then covered his face, stood outside the cave, and heard again the challenging voice “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I wonder whether his carefully rehearsed response might have been delivered a little more hesitantly in the face of this display of God’s presence (and God’s absence!).

There are some very loud voices in our experience, sounding like wind, earthquake, fire:  these voices clamour for our attention, saying “This is where the power is — you’ve got to listen to us!  Listen to our message of wars and rumours of wars, of broken-down systems, of terrible behaviour by people who ought to know better and yet who are in positions of authority themselves.  Listen to our message that says there is no reality other than the material world around us.  Listen to our message that says there is nothing that you can do.”  God’s message to the prophet comes in the quiet which the desert is so capable of — a silence in which one might hear God’s message, God’s challenge, God’s call, God’s reassurance.

God’s call comes to Elijah in two parts:  first he is to go and anoint some new leaders — in Aram, Syria, that power which is the greatest threat to Israel’s peace.  The passage goes on after the part we read, to speak of Israel, anointing Jehu to be king — which means that Jezebel is to get her come-uppance at the hands of one “who drives furiously”.  Then, in the prophetic field, Elisha is to take over from Elijah himself, for Elijah is about to come to the end of the ministry in which he has been so loyal.   And the call has a reassurance at the end of it, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel” who have remained steadfast in their loyalty to the Lord God.  Elijah is not the only one left!

What is God’s call to us, as we put those loud voices behind us, and listen to God in the sound of sheer silence?  Do we look for new leaders, even if we know that they will “drive furiously”?  Do we anticipate our own dying, the ending of things as we know them, so that another may come in our place?  But whatever lies ahead of us, God’s assurance remains, “there are still seven thousand in Israel” — we are not alone in our loyalty to the Lord, the God of hosts”, in spite of how few and how weak we seem to be.

The question “What are you doing here?” comes with a challenge, not only to Elijah, but also to us.  And there is another challenge in today’s readings.  Jesus comes to the Gerasene man, clearly in need of healing, and Jesus is greeted with the challenge, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  That challenge continues, after the man is healed, and appears “clothed and in his right mind”, when the villagers come out to see what has happened.  Faced not only with the healed man, but also the loss of a herd of pigs, they “asked Jesus to leave them”.  The man wants to go with Jesus, but is told, “Return home, and tell how much God has done for you.”

Even in our loyalty to the Lord of Hosts, we too are tempted to challenge Jesus with the same message, “What have you to do with me?”  Somehow we find Jesus’ presence even more confronting than the still small voice with which God can speak with us.  We have our ways of “asking him to leave” — I remember when our present Archbishop came to this Church for the first time, one of the comments someone made was “Too much mention of Jesus!”  Perhaps it is because of the kind of challenge that  Jesus gave the Gerasene man,and confronts us as well — “Return to your home and tell how much God has done for you”.

“What are you doing here?”

“What have you to do with me?”

And perhaps for us, nearly as challenging are the words of Paul to the Church in Galatia, “There 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.”  Can we make this real in our particular circumstances?

The different “persons” of our God

Canon Bill Goodes

Trinity Sunday 2022  Proverbs 8:1 -4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1 – 5, John 16:12-15

“…we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who  has been given to us”   (Romans 5:1, 5)

You may have noticed that we have included in the order of service today the Nicene Creed, which we normally omit on the Sunday we offer the Healing ministry in our more formal way.   But of course it is Trinity Sunday, and our readings focus on the different “persons” of our God,.   So it is important for us on this day to recite together this expanded form of the doctrine of the Trinity that was agreed to at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon in the 4th and 5th centuries.

What are we doing when we recite a creed?   In a few weeks we will have a Baptism at this service, and those who are bringing the baby for Baptism will be asked to answer on the child’s behalf, “Do you believe in God the Father?…Do you believe in God the Son?…Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?”   And in each case they will answer with the appropriate  paragraph from the so-called “Apostles Creed”.   After this all of us will be challenged,  “This is the faith of the Church” and we will respond, “This is our faith, We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”   “the Faith of the Church”;  “our faith” — what does it mean?

When we use the Nicene Creed nowadays, we use the original beginning, “We believe…”   The Apostles Creed has always been a statement of personal faith  “I believe…”   But how does it relate to my own understanding of God’s action and God’s nature?   I grew up in the Methodist Church, and in a tradition which was always rather suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church, so I remember struggling as a young man with the phrase in the Apostles Creed “I believe in …the holy Catholic Church” — could I really say that with integrity?   In fact the Methodist Communion service amended this expression to “the holy Christian Church”.

On Trinity Sunday in days gone by, the Prayer Book ordered that instead of either of these creeds, we should recite “the confession of faith known as the Athanasian creed”.   This is still printed in A Prayer Book for Australia, right up the back, but it is a long time since I have heard it used in public.   It begins in an uncompromising way, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.  Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly”.   It then goes on in complex philosophical language to make statements about what God’s nature is and what it is not.   This statement of right belief sets our “believing” in the context of everlasting salvation, and affirms that this salvation depends on our accepting as right belief all that this statement sets out.

One problem is that each of these “creeds” — “I believe”s — is couched in the language of its time, along with the philosophical background of that language.    However, this language does not always reveal or express the truth of God in terms that people of a different age might use.   But rather than have each generation write a new statement, we continue to use these historical statements and say, in effect, “I want to assert that I belong to the same faith community that developed this statement.”   We remember, too, that the statements were developed in the context of controversy about what was genuine, authentic Christian belief — a belief that would place its believers in the ambit of  the saving, reconciling work of Jesus.   And because the agreed statements were meant to address the ideas that were thought inauthentic, they place what we would see as a rather unbalanced stress on certain aspects of their statements — all that “God from God, Light from Light, …begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” all contradict particular aspects of what they saw as false beliefs.

But this whole concept of “right belief” or “orthodoxy” or “Catholick Faith” is used to exclude rather than include — Nicaea asserted that those who are “in” say that Jesus is “of the same nature” as God, and any who would dare say Jesus is “of a similar nature” to God are “out”.    The whole approach which divides people into those who are “in” and those who are “out” is one which has a long and deeply biblical background.   It took a revolution for Jewish people to accept that God’s purposes were not simply for them but for the whole of the created order.   There were hints of this wider reference from time to time, but the dominant theme was one of separation, of being chosen,  favoured, entitled.  (A bit like the attitudes of some of the British settlers to the indigenous people in our own land!)  The early Christians struggled mightily with the question of whether following Christ demanded becoming an observant Jew first.   Christian history, too, is full of stories of people who were not simply excluded, but even killed because their beliefs and practices were not those of the dominant group — carefully expressed in terms of orthodoxy of belief, but often underlying that were questions of power — “I have the power here;  you will believe what I believe, or else!”

When we recite a creed today, though, our aim is not so much to exclude people as to assert our unity with those who have held the faith of Jesus Christ down the ages.   Today we are wanting to say that we are “in”, while at the same time not wanting to claim that everyone else is “out”.   We are prepared to recognize that  truth can be expressed in many ways, and that a person’s integrity carries more weight than their stated beliefs.   And this, of course, is in line with the predominant philosophy of our age!   We have been able to find support for this way of working in the biblical record, although this interpretation is still contested by some.   Many of us find comfort in the words in this morning’s Gospel reading, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”   We have come to understand that this process of “guiding” has stretched out over the centuries, and we believe that some of the things that Jesus has had to say to us have taken a long time for us to “bear”!

So, on this Trinity Sunday, let us give thanks to the God of grace for calling us into the fellowship of “the Spirit of truth”, and that this Spirit has continued to guide us closer to the fulness of the truth.

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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.