Prayer is God, Christ and the Spirit at work through us

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost 23 C – Remembrance Sunday – Isa 65 17-25, Isa 12 1-6, 2 Thess 3 7-12, Lk 21 5-19

Kids: We’re just about to hear some words from the prophet, Isaiah. He’s speaking to people who’ve had a terrible time – so terrible that you could hear weeping all over their city. (Weeping is the sort of crying that means you can’t do anything but cry. And when it stops, you’re so exhausted, you can’t do anything except sleep).

But Isaiah’s telling the people about a dream God’s given him – a dream that everything will be new and good again; so good there won’t be weeping any more.

God gave them a dream. What happens when you dream? Do you wake up and find your dream’s really happened? What do you think happens with God’s dreams? I think they happen – maybe not straight away, but I’m pretty sure God’s dreams happen.

Isaiah wanted people to dream God’s dream – to dream what God was dreaming. People who know how it feels to weep and weep have always understood what Isaiah means, and they’ve made songs so sad people can dream God’s dreams and give each other some hope. Here’s one of those songs – special today on Remembrance Sunday

Peace / love / joy is flowing like a river, flowing out through you and me; spreading out into the desert; setting all the captives free.

We might not see God’s dream happen straight away, but maybe some people who weep will hear us singing God’s dream for them. And that might just help.

And now it’s time for us to hear the readings.

Sermon: In Isaiah 65 this morning we heard glorious promises—new heavens and new Earth, gladness and rejoicing for ever, delight – and ‘the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.’ Isaiah lists those former things that definitely won’t be in this glorious future. No more weeping or cries of distress or infant deaths; no more lives cut short. Poor people will no longer farm and build only to see the fruit of their work fall into other hands. People won’t work in vain any more. Their children won’t be born into a world where they lack prospects of good health or happiness. People won’t live in a world where they think God doesn’t hear them; doesn’t answer the prayers.

Why could they think like that? For people of Isaiah’s time, the future could seem pretty bleak. They lived in a little country which kept on being invaded by powerful armies. Both their ancient ancestors and their more recent ones had been slaves in foreign countries. They were near the bottom of the world’s pecking order. And yet, Isaiah, in our first reading, gave them a dream of a beautiful new future. And in Isaiah’s song, which we had as today’s Psalm, we heard that their vision for this beautiful future was not just for themselves, but for all the other nations as well.

Faith like that is a gift from God. It’s generous; outward looking; courageous and realistic. It’s not as though these people were oblivious to the mistreatment and injustices they suffered. It’s not as if they were oblivious to the pain of brief lives and premature deaths. They knew all about these things. But the gift of faith that God gave them set their hearts free to hope courageously and with outward generosity. Their hearts were set free to look to a future God held out to them and the whole cosmos.

This is the divinely-inspired realism, courage and generosity we heard Jesus call from his disciples today as he neared the end of his earthly ministry. It’s what he calls from us today in the ambiguity of our prayers for peace on Remembrance Sunday in a world where many on-going conflicts still poison millions of lives.

We might think that our prayers on this Remembrance Sunday are pretty feeble and ineffective. But Sister Maria Boulding writes about the significance of our listening to God through prayer in spite of such misgivings. She writes, ‘Your silent listening through prayer, through people and through events will be very personal; it may seem very solitary, but it is not. You are the answering readiness, the receptivity, without which even today God cannot give as he longs to give. Our noisy busy world has little time to listen and wait and – what is worse – it is starved of hope. So many hopes disappoint, and people are afraid of being disappointed yet again. It is when we reach the brink of despair that hope grounded in God has a chance, because there is nothing else left. The modern world can surely not be far from the brink. In the name of many other people, you can listen to the word that tells you you are unconditionally loved.’ The Coming of God p. 7

Cultivating this habit of listening helps us hear what Jesus tells us – his disciples – today. When we find ourselves up against seemingly impossible odds; when we know it will be very dangerous to express the values of justice, mercy, love and faith that he’s taught us, we won’t waste our strength planning our defensive strategies. If we’ve practised the ‘silent listening prayer’ that Sr Maria has described, then Christ’s words will come to us. We’ll speak words – we’ll embody a wisdom – that will silence voices of violence and conflict, the voices of greed and persecution; the voice of war will be silenced.

This Remembrance Sunday is a call to such prayer. Isaiah gives us a vision of what to pray for. And Jesus tells us that the power of prayer is the gift of prayer. We must recognise that it’s not our strength that means prayer is effective or not. Prayer is God at work; Christ at work; the Spirit at work through us.

When we receive that gift, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. And for that, we give God thanks and praise! Amen.

 

Seek to grasp the various ways resurrection life is reflected in scripture

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 22- Haggai 1 15b-2 9, Ps 98, 2 Thess 2 1-5, 13-17, Luke 20 27-40

Today we find Jesus bailed up in a situation very like a hostile press conference. He’s been teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel Lk 20.1 when a group of officials arrive – chief priests, scribes and elders. They set out to publicly discredit Jesus with a series of trap questions. They first challenge his authority to teach at all. When he brushes that off, they try to trap him with a trick question about taxation, so he’ll be either arrested for treason, or despised by his people. Now we’ve just heard the Sadducees’ absurd question about marriage and resurrection.

The weird thing about these groups of religious officials is that they disagree with each other about the very issues they try to trip Jesus with. Sadducees shocked their compatriots by being quite easy with paying taxes to Caesar. They were the chief priests, and they controlled the Temple. They were hugely wealthy, and quite unpopular. Another disagreement these Sadducees had with Pharisees and other Jews is the reason they’re described as they are today’s Gospel. Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, asked Jesus a question. v. 27. They didn’t believe in resurrection, nor in the angels Jesus mentions in his answer to them.

Pharisees and Sadducees had disagreed about resurrection and angels for well over a century before Jesus’ time. Sadducees believed only what they could find in the written Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – which people call the books of Moses. Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection or angels because they couldn’t find evidence of them in the Torah. So their question to Jesus begins, v. 28 ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us’. They’re literalists and the way they frame their question suggests they were quite pastorally challenged too.

The Pharisees – and Jesus – believed in resurrection and in angels. Alongside the written Torah, they used a parallel ‘Oral Torah’ – other teachings given to Moses and handed down to them by word of mouth and through Prophets and Psalms. In this Oral Torah, they found strong support for their resurrection beliefs, especially in the book of Daniel. So, this was something where Jesus and the Pharisees agreed. Even so, Jesus meets the Sadducees on their own turf – the written Torah – and in the burning bush story, shows the Sadducees there is evidence of life after death.

Jesus believed in resurrection and in angels, and this calls us to consider what we think. At All Souls last week, we thought about resurrection, and today, Job, the Epistle and the Gospel demand that we think a bit more about it.

I’ve often wondered what resurrected people will be like. Will we look old or young – or will we all look as if we’re about 29? If so, then when we see old friends, will we recognise them? Will they recognise us without our wrinkles? When the risen Jesus appeared to his friends, some of them took quite a while to realise it was him. Magdalene in the garden didn’t know until he said her name. His friends on the Emmaus Road didn’t recognise him until he broke bread. And Thomas had to see the wounds of his crucifixion before he’d believe it was him.

The resurrected Jesus cooked and ate and drank with his friends; Magdalene grabbed hold of him in the garden. So, he was physically real. But then the Gospels also record him passing through locked doors and appearing and disappearing to people long distances apart. If that’s what we are to expect for ourselves, it all suggests that resurrected people will somehow be the same people, but different.

Today, we heard Jesus say we’ll be like angels; children of God; immortal. And his way of reading the burning bush story says that God and the living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were present to each other many hundreds of years after their earthly lives while God was speaking to Moses. So, does that mean our resurrected selves will be beyond time like God is – present to all time? Watch this space.

At All Souls we heard Paul’s response to other people who couldn’t accept the idea of resurrection from the dead. He was writing to Greek people, and so he wrote in terms that would make sense to them. He referred to the most widespread philosophy of his time-Stoicism. He talked about us being raised with ‘spiritual bodies’; not resuscitated bodies like Lazarus. Stoicism speaks of spiritual bodies which are not ghosts; bodies that can change, and which can affect things.

Whether all this is more a comfort or a mystery, these ponderings make me read Job with fresh eyes when he says, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

There’s a strong element of judgement in resurrection theology – including fire and brimstone imagery. But Jesus’ recourse to the story of the burning bush makes me think in a different way about the image of fire that is so often used in judgement oracles and statements in scripture.

The burning bush, which was blazing, yet it was not consumed, makes me think differently from how I otherwise might about John the Baptist’s thundering warning earlier in Luke about the coming Messiah’s judgement. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ 3.17 The burning bush reference makes me imagine that we might similarly burn, but not be consumed. What there is of us that has no place in the Kingdom of God will doubtless burn away, but the essential person that God has imagined, created and sanctified will remain. But I hasten to add that this is just my speculation in an area of deep mystery – where I trust that grace and love overwhelmingly influence God’s judgement.

It’s a mystery, yes. And also, a comfort. It’s important that we seek to grasp the various ways resurrection life is reflected in scripture and the experiences of Jesus’ disciples over the millennia. It’s various because we are all different. They present us with an extraordinary vision of freedom, connection, and hope that we can surely trust in God’s endless love for all of us.            Amen.

All Saints Day – Who’s a Saint?

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

All Saints – Daniel 7 1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1 11-23, Luke 6 20-31

Who’s a Saint? Is it a really good person – always cheerful and kind? Is it someone whose effect on the world around them is so powerful that miracles happen? That’s how some saints get their official title. But then some people are described as having the patience of a saint – so is patience a saintly qualification, even if it doesn’t get them officially recognised? Should being very patient get them their saint gong? Are there other credentials like that?

The people who lead our Sunday prayers often mention the big-name saints for the week – saints who have a whole day dedicated to their memory. But what about average workaday saints – do you know any? I reckon we all do.

The letter to the Ephesians begins by saying that it’s written ‘to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus’, (1b) so that means more or less every Christian there is a saint on a good day.

But why don’t we know their names? In the whole letter, no Ephesian is singled out by name. So maybe modesty is saintly too. Whatever the case, this letter assumes pretty well everyone there is worthy of being called a saint. Why; how? Today we read about their ‘love toward all the saints’; (15) that they could hope to share the glorious inheritance of the saints (18) because they were blessed with a spirit of wisdom and revelation to enlighten their hearts. (17)

That’s a bit more than just being patient, isn’t it. They’re loving, they’re wise and they’re enlightened. But importantly, these qualities are described as gifts they’ve been given. That’s emphasised in the verses that come before the passage we heard today. These verses explain that all these blessings come from Jesus in whom they – and we – have been adopted, redeemed and forgiven. (Vv. 5-7) They’re free gifts; unearned grace. All saints receive these gifts; it’s something we call being sanctified; set apart. ‘All saints’ includes you and me. Let’s think about that.

Today we see how Jesus does this amazing thing in his followers. So please turn back to our gospel for today so we can see him at work making people saints.

He started before today’s passage up on a mountain praying all night, before choosing twelve of his disciples as apostles. Then he set to work forming them. He came down the hill with them to a level place where they gathered with ‘a great crowd of his disciples as well as a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon’. Everyone is there – crowds of disciples, and multitudes of Jews and Gentiles listening in on his teaching. So, his first lesson to his disciples is that no-one is excluded.

Jesus heals everyone who asks – no insiders or outsiders – and then, in the presence of all these people, he looks up at his disciples and says what we just heard; the four blessings, the four equal and opposite woes, and then his teaching about love for enemies and the Golden Rule – do unto others.

The four blessings declare God’s love for those who experience exclusion. The four woes challenge the people whose wealth, comfort, ease and prestige cause the exclusion which blights the poor, the hungry, the grieving and the despised.

But in case we mistake this for a re-introduced us-and-them mentality, Jesus wipes it away with his challenges to love enemies, to do good to those who hate us, pray for our abusers, turn the other cheek, to give more to those who take from us, to give to those who beg from us and to renounce our rights to belongings. These are very hard words for us to hear. They’re the language of the ‘upside-down Kingdom of God’; more difficult for wealthy, contented people than for the majority world.

Those contrasting blessings and woes, and then Jesus’ amazing commands confront us with a choice to follow the lead which Jesus gives in his teaching today, and which he lived and died for the world. Saints choose to receive the gift of living this teaching, and in doing so, reveal the kingdom of God. If our epistle is addressed to Adelaide rather than Ephesus, you and I are called saints. What are the implications of that for you?

It’s not an easy path to follow; it’s often a very dangerous path. Yet it’s a gift we can choose to receive. Today, we thank God for all the saints who have received and lived this gift and who challenge us to receive and live it too.    Amen

Address for St John’s Dedication Festival

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Dr David Hilliard OAM

St John’s is one of a handful of congregations in Adelaide which have had a continuous existence since the early years of the colony of South Australia and, unlike most of the others, it remains on the same site. Today we celebrate its history and look forward to its future.

The original church of St John the Evangelist was only the second Anglican church to be built in Adelaide. The foundation stone was laid in October 1839, the anniversary we celebrate today, but the building was held up because of a lack of money and it was not opened until October 1841. Initially it stood by itself, quite isolated, with few houses in the area. The original church eventually fell into a bad state of repair so that finally, in 1886, it was condemned by the City Council as unsafe and was demolished.

The new church was opened in 1887 and, although changes have been made to the interior, it is the same building as we have today. The bricks and timber from the old church were used to build a mission church in a poor part of the city, in Moore Street, which opened in 1887 as St Mary Magdalene’s. This has roughly the same appearance and dimensions of the old St John’s.

By the 1870s the south-east corner of the city was filling up with houses – small cottages in the side streets and mansions fronting the parklands. St John’s was the big church of the area but not the only one. Further west along Halifax Street was Madge Memorial Methodist Church, and Stow Memorial Congregational Church had a mission hall almost next door. However, the separate churches were not on speaking terms. It was not until the late 1920s that the city churches began to cooperate in a procession of witness and evangelistic service on Good Friday.

St John’s from the 1890s to the 1930s was a prosperous church with a congregation that was drawn both from the immediate area and from further afield. Socially it was very mixed. In those years churches were not only places for Sunday worship. In each community, they also provided sporting clubs, youth organisations, dances, choirs and groups for married women at home for whom an afternoon church group was a welcome opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the company of others. So churches had links with many people in their area who were not regular churchgoers. From 1918 to 1930 there was a parish day school in the hall, with two or three teachers and some 70 pupils from grades 1 to 8. In the early 1920s the rector compiled a card index of the individuals who had a connection with St John’s – received the parish magazine, attended occasionally, went to Sunday school, and so on – and he reached a figure of 1700.

The Reverend Egerton North Ash, who was rector from 1928, was a bundle of energy. He made the Dedication Festival a whole week of celebration. For his first one in 1929 he had special services on two Sundays at 11 and 7 with visiting preachers; on Monday and Tuesday evening there were dramatic and comic performances by the St John’s Church Entertainers; there was a ‘quiet afternoon’ for missionary-hearted people; a special service for women at which the Lady Mayoress gave an address; and on the final Sunday evening a procession and festal evensong, attended by the Governor of South Australia and members of the Masonic Order. During the 1920s the number of Easter communicants reached a peak of over 330.

Gradually the south-east corner of the city changed. From the 1920s onwards there was a constant drift of people to the suburbs. The housing decayed and many buildings were demolished, replaced by factories and business premises. The people who moved into the area were more transient, poorer, many of them were European migrants, and they were unlikely to join an Anglican church. The parishioners who were resident in the area declined in number and eventually the majority of the congregation was drawn from other parts of the city.

The church was saved in the late 1970s by the arrival of the Society of the Sacred Mission. Its members injected new life into the parish. The church interior we see today is a product of the vision of Father Christopher Myers.

What are some of the distinguishing features of St John’s?

  1. For much of the last 130+ years, since the opening of the new church in 1887, St John’s has had a strong tradition of church music. In the early years there was large choir of men and boys. H. P. Finniss, who was rector in the 1920s, was a noted church musician. In recent years this tradition has been revived. The church has come to be a popular location for concerts and recitals and is therefore is widely known in Adelaide. Many people who come to concerts at this church admire the harmony of its interior.
  2. Some notable people have been associated with this church. Not many churches can claim as a parishioner a professor who was later (in England, in 1915) awarded a Nobel Prize, in Physics – Sir William Bragg, jointly with his son Lawrence. William Bragg was a sidesman and lay reader here and young Lawrence was a Sunday school teacher. Many parishioners have played an important role in the public life of this city and state. They have included Charles Glover, three times Lord Mayor of Adelaide (who was also the author of the centenary history of this church) and several city councillors including in recent years the late Tony Williamson and David Plumridge. Another parishioner was Sir Henry Barwell who was state premier in the early 1920s. Jean, Lady Bonython, wife of the Methodist Sir Lavington Bonython (who was a director of the Advertiser), lived around the corner at St Corantyn and was a parishioner from the time of her marriage here in 1912. But just as important in the church’s history are the ordinary folk who did most of the work and the nineteen young men associated with the church – former Sunday school scholars, servers or members of the church cricket club – who were killed during the First World War. Some families, such as the Ivesons, have had a connection with the church extending over two or even three generations. The late John Lelliott was a parishioner for over seventy years.
  3. Ministry of women. St John’s was one of the first Anglican churches in Adelaide to have women on its paid staff. The first of them was Hilda Burden who was the Parish Worker in the early 1920s. She was the first woman in South Australia to be awarded a degree in Theology. Another was Deaconess Winifred Mann in the late 1920s. This church was a strong supporter of the ordination of women. In the 1980s it was a regular meeting place for the Adelaide branch of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and in recent we have valued the ministry of the ordained women who are parishioners.
  4. Social outreach. St John’s has never been inward-looking. The people of St John’s have not been concerned only with personal piety and the church world. They have sought to meet the physical needs of people of the area – relief to the unemployed during the Great Depression, Father Wallace’s assistance to homeless men in the 1960s and 70s, and the shelter for homeless boys which began in 1981 and evolved into the respected St John’s Youth Services. In the 1980s it provided a meeting place for a group of gay and lesbian Anglicans. It has given hospitality and support to refugees from Iran. In the present a number of individual parishioners are involved in organisations and causes that seek to redress injustices and make a better world: promoting action on climate change, supporting refugees, and working for justice for First Nations peoples, the Community Store, and many other causes. The National Church Life Survey in 2021 showed that some 40 per cent of the congregation are involved in community service or welfare activities and value this aspect of the church.

There is much to be proud of. However, no church can live off its history. All churches these days have problems, and no one can predict their future. However, this church has shown that it can adapt. It has a faithful congregation and great resources to meet the challenges ahead.

 

Pray always and don’t lose heart

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 19 – Jrm 31, Ps 119, 2Tim 3, Lk 18

One theme in today’s readings is pray always and don’t lose heart. We’ve heard it in the parable of a persistent widow who wears away at the indifference of an unjust judge, and in the parable of that hated species, a tax collector who dares to pray in public. This message about persistence is reinforced in 2nd Timothy where a veteran missionary writes to a younger colleague about endurance and constancy in the face of setbacks.

Alongside these encouragements to persistence is a second theme: God’s teaching – God’s Law – within us. We read about a poet’s love for God’s Law in Psalm 119, and then we heard Jeremiah’s promise that God’s law is written on our hearts. Persistent prayer and God’s Law; what links these two themes?

The widow and the tax collector both embody this link. They are both persistent in prayer, and we must assume that they get the strength to sustain this persistence from a deep-seated conviction that they will be heard. In the face of contempt and ostracism and deep trouble, they find something in their hearts – something written on their hearts that gives them the courage to pray – and to keep at it.

I sometimes meet people in trouble who won’t pray. They say, If I couldn’t be bothered praying when things were going well, I’m not going to start bothering God now that things are a total mess. I’ve got my integrity, you know.

I can understand people saying this. But they’re speaking as though there’s no integrity to our relationship with God unless we feel like we have something to offer God – as though we’re on an equal footing with God. But we’re not God’s equals; we’re not expected to keep the balance-sheet equal between what God gives us and what we give God. We can’t. Otherwise, that proud Pharisee would’ve had God’s ear, and that painfully humble tax collector would’ve gone unheard.

When we hear these stories as comfortable middle-class Australians, it’s amazing what our habits of self-reliance can filter out of them. Did we get the point of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge – the reason we should pray always and not lose heart?

It’s because our prayer is not offered to a reluctant, petty official. It’s because our prayer is offered to the matchlessly generous God; and God will grant justice and mercy. And as Jeremiah says, God puts that prayer on our hearts in the first place.

Today’s parables tell us that our faith is not something we achieve or earn or do. It’s something God writes on our hearts, and our part is to open ourselves to that. The widow and the tax collector do just that; they sense what God has placed on their hearts, and it gives them the courage to speak; to trust; to persist.

When Jeremiah tells us that God writes his Law on our hearts, it’s not a statute book that’s being put there; it’s beautiful teaching about a promise of eternal love; eternal belonging. We mimic that forever thing with those hearts people carve into the bark of trees. But God has written eternal life onto our mortal hearts.

Prayer is a learnt thing; born of habit. Our weekly gatherings to hear scripture read and interpreted, and to pray together – they are meant to nurture that habit in us. And the daily office prayers of the Church have been shaped to strengthen and nourish that habit. They invite us to take our part in the process of having God’s teaching inscribed on our hearts – taking that resource into ourselves – having our prayers nourished by daily scripture readings.

We often mistakenly think of prayer as something we have to do. And we don’t have time for it, or we don’t have a habit of doing it. We need to forget this ‘doing prayer’ idea. We need to change our thinking to prayer being something we hear, and something we join in with – like singing along with a much-loved song.

When I was commissioned in this parish, I was told that I must be among you as a person of prayer. It wasn’t the first time I’d been told that, but God has given me the gift of keeping that promise in a new way here. My daily prayers have grown and grown over the years here. And I am constantly amazed by what God puts in my heart to pray, and the ways in which God blesses those prayers. I need to help everyone here to discover the joy and the peace of this. The persistence thing: it’s not work. It’s another of God’s gifts. Choosing to pray is simply to open our hands to receive that gift; simply to open our hearts to let the blessing fall inside. Amen

Jesus challenges the distinction between the in-crowd and the untouchables

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 18 C – Jrm 29 1 & 4-7, Ps 66 1-11, 2 Tim 2 8-15, Lk 17 11-19 

Kids: 10 in bed song. Each one fell out, and the song doesn’t say what happens to them afterwards. Today, we heard a story about 10 people who had something much worse happen to them than fall out of bed. They had nasty sores on their skin and back then, it meant they couldn’t live with their families or hang around with their friends. They weren’t even allowed to live in their villages. They camped outside the village, just with each other for company. They were very sad; it wasn’t their fault they were sick.

One day, they saw Jesus. They’d heard of him, and they were sure he could help them. So, they called out to him; they asked him to be kind to them. And he gave a strange answer. He said, ‘Go and show yourself to the priests.’ Maybe you don’t know, but back then, if the priests saw your skin sores were better, they’d say you could go back home.

I wonder what could Jesus mean; ‘Go and show yourself to the priests.’? Maybe they wondered too. Maybe on the way to visit the priests, they checked under their bandages. Can you guess what they saw?

They were better! They were all well again! How wonderful! The priests would tell them they could go home to their families. They couldn’t wait! They hurried away to see the priests.

But not all of them hurry away. One of them remembers something. This one remembers asking Jesus to be kind. He remembers that Jesus told him to go to the priests. Jesus must have made him better—it must have been because of Jesus that he’d be able to go home. He was so grateful; he ran back to Jesus straight away to say thank you.

Isn’t it good that this man came back! Because of him, we know that all ten of them were okay. And I’m sure he told lots of other people what Jesus did for him. So, because he did that, we’ve found out that Jesus cares for us too.

It’s really important to tell people that Jesus cares for us. So, I’ve brought some band-aids to share, to help us remember to tell everyone this story too.

Adults: Remember the pandemic – how we had to avoid each other? It was a time where some people were in particular danger – elderly and sick people – and they were protected from everyone else. And remember how we had to isolate when it was possible that we’d had contact with ‘a case’ – how we might have been dangerous? And remember the closed borders – state and national – and the things that were said about people who ignored those rules and crossed borders anyway – how angrily they were treated? Overall, it’s an experience that’s left people with mental and physical scars.

For many of us, the pandemic time has given us a taste of the type of taboos that there were in Jesus’ time. There were people back then who you couldn’t associate with, because contact or proximity with them made you ritually unclean. And when you were unclean, you couldn’t join in any religious ceremonies. You might pass on your contamination to other worshippers; so, you were an outcast. You had to self-isolate and go through lots of hoops before the priests might declare that you were clean again.

So maybe we can see for the first time what a shock it was for many people that Jesus spent time with the sort of people he did. The Jesus we meet in today’s story is very like those pandemic border-crossers that everyone reviled. He often shocked the rule-keepers. But the outsiders – the people who had to permanently self- isolate; the ones who were told they couldn’t belong – Jesus went out to these people all the time; and they flocked to him too. Can you imagine their relief; their happiness; how thankful they’d have been? It’s good that we can imagine that now, because it reminds us what his coming has done for each of us too. He’s come to us full of love and welcome whether we feel deserving of it or not, and whether others think we’re deserving or not.

Today, Jesus met ten acknowledged outsiders in an in-between, liminal place – between village and wilderness, between Galilee and what was for Jews the foreign country of Samaria; an in-between place inhabited by people who didn’t belong. Jesus didn’t keep himself pure with the in-crowd. He went out – out to places where distinctions between insiders and outsiders caused great pain. The disease these ten suffered from meant they didn’t belong anywhere inside; only with other outsiders; all shunned together.

Try to think of people in that situation in Australia; who comes to mind for you?

Going out to liminal places, crossing those borders, ignoring protocols and shocking the arbiters of right and wrong, Jesus is saying that for him, making a distinction between insiders and outsiders isn’t right. All the way through the gospels, we see Jesus challenging the distinction between the in-crowd and the untouchables.

We’re his followers – so that’s what we’re meant to be like too – a community where such distinctions don’t count; a people who challenge our society when it exiles people.

And that’s a stance we find supported in our reading from Jeremiah today too. The message he wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon – to settle, marry, build and have families – wasn’t just meant to benefit them. Babylon was also meant to benefit from their Jewish slaves living in ways that worked for the welfare of the city. God’s blessing doesn’t recognise borders – it goes across them and surprises foreigners and outsiders with love and blessings which are showered on all alike.

So Jesus didn’t sit in the temple or a synagogue rearranging things and making them more user-friendly in the hope that a casual by-passer might drop in and feel comfortable enough to stay. There were people who couldn’t come. He went out to where these people were and loved them into belonging. He loved them where they were, and he loved them just as he found them; even outcasts whom no-one else would go near. That challenges us if we think hanging around here making things more user-friendly in the hope that people will come and stay – if that’s what God wants from us.

I need us all to do a bit of homework this week. Could you please pray all week—the biggest prayer you can – about the best ways this parish can possibly show Jesus’ outgoing, outreaching, dangerously compassionate kind of love to the people who live around here? This prayer will grow and change during the week. When you believe it’s quite clear – that it’s a prayer that lots of people in the parish could pray with you – could you please write it down, and bring a copy to put in the offering bowl over the next few Sundays.

God be with us as we pray; guide us; hold us; and help us know how to share your love with people who don’t know it yet – that these too may know your love. Amen

The clarion call to a spirit of gratitude

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

St Francis – Pentecost + 17 – Lam 1 1-6, Ps 37 1-9, 2nd Tim 1 1-14, Lk 17 1-10

When I first came here halfway through my training for ordination, I was put under the supervision of Fr. Francis Horner SSM. Francis was a self-confessed gardener. Most of his waking hours were spent tending the gardens of this church. And out there, he was very much the human face of this parish for our many passers-by. They couldn’t have met a lovelier, quieter, gentler person. It was one of the special qualities of this parish that people on the street outside got to meet someone of such deep prayer and compassion. I feel very blessed to have had such a person forming me for ministry.

The saint whose name Francis took at his profession, Francis of Assisi, is celebrated for his own special connection with nature. St Francis inspired the hymn which opened and closes our worship today. Singing those words reminds us of our primal vocation. Scripture says we’re here to serve and protect creation.

And it goes both ways. When we ensure that creation can flourish, then its health, its abundance, its diversity and its beauty bless us by revealing to us the nature of God. That two-way relationship is something this hymn teaches us to live out. It reminds us to bear witness that all of creation, by its simple existence, praises God constantly. Singing this hymn unites us with all creation and with the whole Church as together we celebrate our Maker.

Today we look back at where we’ve been through this Season. And then we can also turn to look forward along the path that the Season’s Psalms, readings from the prophets, and the example of Jesus and his early Church have encouraged us to walk. And we’re particularly conscious today of the guidance of Christ’s disciples who’ve been called or chosen to be called Francis.

So first, looking back. This Season, we’ve had Heather and Pauline give us practical insights into local land-care, and into living in ways that are careful of Earth. We all have to do that as and where we are. We’ve also seen how Earth care and living justly are closely linked; that the gap between rich and poor must close. And we’ve been mindful of the fact that the worldwide Church is large enough to really make a difference in some of the most pressing issues we face today. With a commitment to unified action, the Church can have a real, transformative impact on the climate, refugee and inequity crises.

Our parish council has been working on that trajectory for this parish – and today we focus on two parts of that trajectory. One is our response to God’s call to serve and protect the natural order. Council has also recognised a call to the just sharing of God’s gifts to all the living. One of our responses has been to incorporate ecological and justice commitments into our draft Mission Action Plan. Everyone on our email list got a copy of this in my weekly.

Working with Canon Bill Goodes, and under the guidance of David Plumridge as chair, Council has built a Mission Action Plan on the framework of the Anglican Communion’s five marks of mission. We’ll soon discuss the whole document together.

The ecological focus of that plan is based on the fifth mark of mission.

  1. We will safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

and under that heading, Council has identified seven practical commitments.

  • We will continue to be conscientious in our care for the Church grounds
  • We will further develop the children’s garden area
  • We will continue to be conscientious about recycling and limiting the use of paper
  • We will optimise the use of our solar panel installation and other energy use
  • We will continue to promote creation care and climate change action in our publicity
  • We will continue to observe the Season of Creation in liturgy and action
  • We will consider promoting the use of the Aunty Barb’s Walk app to encourage

walking around the South-East corner of the city.

They’re mainly developments of things we already do – and that’s advisable, because we need to commit to things we can actually do. We’re careful to make our grounds attractive and hospitable to the community – to develop children’s love of being in the sun and fresh air and gardening. And the gardens are well used. We seek to be careful with earth’s resources, and to live and promote the link between Earth-care and justice. These are all things we’ve been exploring over this Season of Creation. I hope we decide to take up the last suggestion – where we link creation care with justice for First People through Aunty Barb Wingard’s walking history journey. (Download the App – ‘Aunty Barb walk’)

In the Gospel today – where we’re called to see ourselves as slaves – we’re challenged at the deepest level to confront what we’ve identified as the biggest ecological issues; greed, selfishness and apathy. Like Jesus, St Francis, left behind his wealth and his rights. Preaching to humans and wildlife alike, he proclaimed a spirit of gratitude. People we meet who are filled with gratitude are astounding. There’s no room in them for envy, resentment or greed. They’re too busy giving; giving thanks, giving compassion, giving generously, giving praise to God for all of it, just as we call all creation to do in Francis’ hymn.

There’s that hymn again; a clarion call to a spirit of gratitude; gratitude whose firstborn child is generosity. That’s where real difference can be made; that’s the call we hear this Season of Creation. Now is our time to respond. Thanks be to God!  Amen

The parable of the rich man and the sick beggar at his gate

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Season of Creation 4 – Pent + 16 – Jrm 32 1-3a, 6-15, Ps 91 1-6 14-16, 1 Tim 6 6-19, Lk 16 19-31

Children – Jeremiah 32 I-3a, 6-I 5 – You remember last week we thought how sad it was for Jeremiah that he always had such bad news to tell people? Mostly he did have bad news to tell, because his people were doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t – like being selfish and mean to poor people and sick people. God asked Jeremiah and lots of other prophets to warn people that if they kept on behaving like that, then the king of Babylon would come and take over their land, and carry them all off into exile where they’ll all be slaves. Poor old Jeremiah! Always full of bad news. But today is different!

The king of Babylon will do what Jeremiah said; he will carry everyone off into slavery. But today, we’ll hear how Jeremiah does something to show everyone that there’s still hope. God gives Jeremiah a sign that their exile won’t last for ever. God tells him that his cousin Hanamel will visit him soon and offer to sell him some land. Normally with a foreign army surrounding you and about to cart you off into exile, the last thing you’d think of would be buying land. But God tells Jeremiah to do just that, and to seal the purchase documents safely in clay jars, ready to be opened again when they come back from Babylon. So today, Jeremiah gives the people a sign that there is hope. And that’s something we should always do; no matter how worried we might be – no matter what. As God’s people, we always have hope, and that’s something we should share with everybody.

Sermon – Luke 16.19-31 – The parable of the rich man and the sick beggar at his gate.

A few weeks ago, I quoted a scientist who’d once believed that thirty years of good science and innovation would help get us through the threat of climate change – that the problems were physical and chemical issues. But now he says he’s realised the real climate change problems are people’s greed, selfishness and apathy – things that he as a scientist is not equipped to address. He says we need a spiritual and cultural transformation to make the necessary changes. That’s something people in the Church have known for a long time. And this Season of Creation is a call to action.

The first Letter to Timothy today speaks to us from that spiritual perspective. We read, Those who want to be rich…are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6.9  And we rich people are exhorted … to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share – [so as to] take hold of life that really is life. 6.18

This exhortation prepares us for hearing the parable of Lazarus and the greedy, selfish, rich man who was so apathetic to the plight of the poor man at his gate.

Jesus tells this parable to the religious elite – who are named here as ‘lovers of money’ – people who believe their wealth is a sign of God’s blessing to them – not a sign that God wants them to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. In this parable, Jesus confronts them with a picture of a rich man who dresses like royalty; a wealthy glutton who feasts sumptuously every day while at his very gate, poor, hungry Lazarus lies daily in hope of the best thing a stray dog might expect.

It’s a one-on-one picture of the disparity that exists on a national scale within this country, and on a world scale between countries like ours and the majority world. Sometimes, we’re confronted by this personally; and we’re directly challenged to do something about it. When I was a child, we lived in Thailand, and for some of that time, in a hotel. It had a swimming pool set in a lush garden with high walls surrounding it. We had lots of fun there. But only later when someone showed us a photo they’d taken of us from their upstairs balcony, I saw that outside the wall, there was a rubbish-strewn dustbowl, where poor families lived in shanties propped against the other side of that wall. Extreme wealth and privilege unconsciously cheek by jowl with utter destitution, and until that photo was developed, we had absolutely no idea.

The rich glutton in the parable wasn’t unconscious of poor Lazarus, slumped in his gateway, covered in sores and desperate for a morsel of food. He knew him; we know this because after they’ve both died, he cries out, Father Abraham… send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. 16.24 Send Lazarus! He even knew his name; so his neglect and selfishness were habitual and personal. And even in Hades, he still only thinks of Lazarus as an errand boy for his own comfort. Michael Trainor, in his commentary, names this style of injustice as the behaviour of an Earth-enemy. Abuse of wealth and exploitation of the poor is directly linked to the attitude of the wealthy to Earth’s gifts. And on a global scale, that’s landed us where we are; 100 million displaced persons, species disappearing and a planet in peril. By contrast, Jesus’ dress and eating practice identify him as Earth’s child, and revealer of God’s all-embracing delight in creation.

We are followers of Jesus. His life choices and his teachings are our example. I believe I once saw him at work, showing what’s possible, on another journey. Vicky and I were on a train journey through Eastern Europe. We sat opposite an elderly couple. The wife pulled out a rye loaf and some butter for their lunch. Our train pulled into a siding, and suddenly there were lots of grubby, poorly-dressed children banging on the window and pointing at their hungry mouths. We threw them some of our barley sugar. But the old lady solemnly buttered the end of her rye loaf, cut it off – a lovely thick slab – and passed it out of the window down to the children. They, equally solemnly, showed her their deep gratitude. She knew them; she knew what they needed. She, the image of Jesus, Earth’s child, just as those children are.

I remembered then a story of communion in a poor country where the little children cried when they weren’t given communion like the adults – they hadn’t been through first communion yet. But they cried not because they felt excluded, but because they were so hungry that even that tiny morsel would have meant the world to them.

We can make a difference; we can make hope possible.  Amen

The parable of the dishonest manager

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Season of Creation III – Pentecost + 15 –Jer 8 18-91, Ps 79 1-9, 1st Tim 2 1-7, Lk 16 1-13

Children:  There’s a soft toy called Jeremiah the Bullfrog; he’s big, soft, green with spots, a worried look on his face, and he has a rough, croaky voice. I wonder what made them call their frog Jeremiah. Maybe his croaky, grumpy voice made them think of the prophet Jeremiah. People didn’t like how the prophet Jeremiah spoke. We’ll hear from him in a minute, so you can see what you think of him. Jeremiah kept warning his people about the dangerous hot water they were in. He told them that they should stick with God. Otherwise, enemy countries would take them over. Oh, and hot water’s dangerous for frogs; ask anyone.

People don’t like warnings. We don’t like anyone telling us to stop doing what we like. Anyone who does that used to get told to stop being a Jeremiah. That’s how we tried to make them keep quiet. I think poor old Jeremiah the prophet would have liked to keep quiet, because people did terrible things to stop him talking. But God wanted him to keep on warning them, and so he did, no matter how lonely it made him.

That makes me wonder; should we think of Jeremiah the Bullfrog – the soft toy – as someone who warns us. Did you know that the hotter the climate gets, and the more pollution and rubbish we make, some of the first creatures disappearing are frogs? They’re a bit like us; if things get slowly worse – slowly hotter – they don’t notice, so they stay put until it’s too late. They don’t seem able to notice the danger. And soon, they’re gone. They’re like a lot of us people, aren’t they. And we have to listen and change. Anyway, let’s listen to Jeremiah the prophet.

Sermon – Luke 16.1-13:  This story is usually called the parable of the dishonest manager or the unjust steward. It’s a challenging story. After the manager was dismissed, it tells how he secured his future by giving enormous reductions in the rent that local tenant farmers owed his master. The tenants would naturally believe he was doing his master’s bidding – that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. But he’d be credited with engineering this reduction, so he’d always have lots of friends in the village. So the tenants would celebrate the master’s great generosity and also love the manager.

The master would have seen the writing on the wall the moment those falsified accounts were in his hand. If he went down to the village to tell everyone it wasn’t legitimate, his name would be mud. The manager bet that his master wouldn’t risk that; and he was right. It stayed a secret and so the manager got off scot free. A very elegant scheme. So should he be called a dishonest or unjust manager? Let’s see.

In his Earth Bible commentary on Luke, About Earth’s Child pp 214-16 Michael Trainor opens up different dimensions to this story. Michael begins by reminding us that Jesus is telling this parable only to his disciples – to us. Michael reads the parable from the perspective of its near-eastern culture. He also reads it from the perspective of Earth, and with the conviction that the whole Earth Community was given by God – was given equally for all; not just so the powerful could grab it and take control.

Michael reminds us that in that time and culture, when Jesus identifies the land-owner as wealthy … [it] automatically means he’s greedy. In a world of limited economy, he’s achieved his wealth at the expense of the poor, those who, in the parable, are his debtors.

We’re meant to read this from the perspective of the tenant farmers, like the disciples would have. Then we’d see how Luke shows us a manager working out ways to help the wealthy share their possessions with the poor. For the disciples, the manager has acted as an authentic disciple; he’s dispersed wealth for the benefit of all. cf Acts 2.44-46 – also from Luke’s pen

Michael highlights the fact that the commodities owed to the master are Earth products – olive oil and wheat. He also points out that the quantities are huge – 100 measures of olive oil is 3,500 litres, and 100 measures of wheat is two to three acres worth.

These excessive amounts owed to the master illustrate his greed and his attitude to Earth. These fruits are for his own benefit and status; their accumulation deprives others.

In the face of such greed in Middle Eastern eyes, Michael sees this parable presenting the manager as something of a hero for everyone concerned.

His master will be greatly honoured for what the manager has done, so even he commends the manager for his shrewdness. And everyone in the village benefits from their reduced debts. Earth is restored again to rightly being the source of God’s impartial blessing for all.

So the manager appears as the disciple concerned about the harmony of every member … of Earth’s household. For the benefit of all, he redistributes wealth – which is unrighteous mammon – and in terms of this parable he is a model for all disciples to follow.

So what does that mean for us as disciples of Jesus?

The main thing is that we’re called to focus on things from the perspective of the little people, and on the perspective of the Earth.

The little people – hear Jeremiah and all the prophets: ‘For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn and dismay has taken hold of me.’ Jer 8.21 God is crying to us to do something about the obscene, growing disparity between rich and poor. We – the Church – are big enough to be heard. There’s always a twin strand to this Season of Creation; justice for Earth and justice for the poor. We should not just lie down and accept the catastrophic consequences of unlimited economic growth and unfettered accumulation – it is something which we disciples must challenge.

If Michael’s reading of this parable is to be taken seriously, we are called to actively challenge these evils. Earth is suffering – Earth is abused, insulted, belittled endangered; people, birds, animals, frogs, fish are suffering, abused, insulted, belittled, endangered – by the doctrine of unlimited growth and consumption which is destroying our biosphere.

Our study group is seeking to keep positive during this Season of Creation – to focus on what we can do to improve things; to protect and encourage thriving. Yet Jeremiah reminds us that God also calls for evil to be named and exposed for what it is.

So today, I offer a prose-poem from a modern prophet who has done this, the American poet, Mary Oliver.

 Of The Empire

We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver. From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 46. Published by Beacon Press 2008

My prayer is that the worldwide Church can hear this warning – that we can turn and help the world to hear this warning – that we can turn and envision positive change and inspire the world to open up to better ways of being here together.  Amen

A topical book-launch which took place at the Effective Living Centre yesterday

https://www.facebook.com/effectiveliving.org/videos/471604664867688

 

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin

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Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Season of Creation II – Pentecost + 14 – Jer 4 11-12, 22-28, Ps 14, 1 Tim 1 1-2, 12-19a, Lk 15 1-10

In her talk on creation care, Pauline helps us see how we can all be careful with things that are precious. Most important is Pauline’s commitment to care for the things that belong to everyone, like water, clean air and food. Because if we treat them badly, or if we’re just not careful enough about them, everyone gets hurt.

In the reading we heard from Jeremiah, we get a shocking picture of just how dreadful the hurt can be if we don’t take care; particularly when we don’t think of God’s poor. v. 11 Jeremiah says it’s God’s poor who will be in the greatest danger. Anyone who exposes God’s poor to such danger is described as foolish, stupid and without understanding. v.22

The dangers Jeremiah describes have uncanny similarities to the horrors that are afflicting the vulnerable around the world right now. Hot winds vv. 11-12, disappearing wildlife and entire populations leaving, v.25 desertification, v. 26 and the heavens turning black. v. 28 His choice of words – Earth being waste and void v. 23 – is what Creation was before God’s Word called forth light and life. Gen 1.2 Jeremiah is describing ‘de-creation.’  v. 27a The other time de-creation was described in Scripture was Noah’s flood. Gen 7.11

Maybe the fact of this warning coming from an acknowledged prophet rather than from today’s studiously ignored body of climate and environmental science might be able to get humanity engaged more deeply. Maybe Jeremiah’s direct language about foolish stupidity can spur the action we all must take to care for Earth and for God’s poor.

I’m grateful to Pauline for reminding us of a time before we became so insulated from the realities of daily life; a time where we lived in a world where we all had to be careful just to get by; where we all had to look out for each other just to survive; a place of deeper and more truly connected community. Europe looks to be facing the challenge to recover this in the coming winter.

These very important reminders take us into the same place that Jesus’ parables do – the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. I find hope in the interpretation Brother Benedict Ayodi gives them. He’s a Capuchin Franciscan friar from Kenya. He writes about these parables in a joyous way that I find inspiring. And because he has taken a vow of poverty and joined a community, for me, his words carry great integrity. He says,

The two parables tell us that God loves us equally and will not rest if only one sheep is missing nor one coin is lost. … Parables always teach us about ourselves. The lost sheep is helpless and vulnerable; it needs the flock and the shepherd to protect and guide it. Just so, every person is created to find meaning and fulfilment in communion with God, and others – thus the two great commandments of loving God and loving neighbour. The lost coin is completely without value unless it is possessed by its owner. Likewise, each of us has a mission in life, a purpose and a task, but its proper place is within Christ’s Kingdom. These are wise words.

Further thoughts from Br Benedict can be found at https://preachingforgodsworld.org/season-of-creation-week-2-14th-sunday-after-pentecost/

So today, we’ve heard Pauline telling us about the nuts and bolts of her take on creation care. Then we’ve heard Jeremiah warning us about the absolute dangers of injustice – of selfishness. And we’ve heard Jesus answer the cruelty of an apartheid world of insiders and outsiders; of haves and have-nots in his parables. Jesus confronted this head on with God’s love for every last one of us – especially for the poor and the least and the ones who have strayed or been excluded or lost. God is willing to risk everything to retrieve these lost ones.

Br Benedict says this ‘… expresses a crucial truth. Giving something up for something less significant is a feature of heavenly power rather than human possessiveness.

We are called to learn to be more like God, to form a community which cherishes all creatures as God does; to leave our own importance behind and enter into the wonder of God’s love for each and every part of Creation.

This call challenges us to see that the self-deprecation which can honour God’s cherishing of the smallest and most needy is intrinsic to justice in the world.

Such humility is needed for proper care of the Earth that is God’s gift to all. The Church community – some 2.38 billion of us – is capable of bringing this lovely way of God to a world that is daily more desperately in need of justice, peace and faithfulness. And today, we have been shown practical ways in which we can each join in this mission. Amen