Mothering Sunday-Church as our Mother


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Lent 4 C – Lk 15 11-32 – The Prodigal Son

I wonder what his Mum told that younger son after the feast. Maybe something like this?

‘The day you left, you broke all our hearts. Dad couldn’t speak at all for days. Then month after month, he sat outside watching for you; just gave your brother and the servants their orders in the morning, then sat there watching, silent again.

I couldn’t do anything to bring him out of it. I could hardly get up in the morning myself. And your brother just got angrier and angrier. Every dinner time, I had to shut him up when he’d start ranting about what you must have been getting up to.

I don’t know what made Dad give you all that money. When I asked him, he’d just say you wanted him dead before his time. If you didn’t want to be with him – if you wanted to live as if he were dead – what was the point of holding on to you? You demanded that he give you your share of our family property. You didn’t want to wait for it. So Dad said “It’s only money. Better to give you what you want; let you go, and hope you come to your senses before you get hurt”.

He regretted it the minute you were gone. We couldn’t sleep for worry about where you might be; what might be happening to you.

Dad stopped going to sit with his old friends in the market. He couldn’t face them – didn’t want to hear the angry gossip about you – off in some foreign land full of strange people. What would they want with a fool like him anyway; a shamed man amongst honourable, sensible people?

Then the drought came; no food anywhere, no work for anyone. ‘What if he’s starving!’ he’d say, over and over. ‘Please God; bring him home alive!?’ Watching; watching: as if his hope and love could somehow keep you alive. I can’t bear to remember it’

Let’s leave her in peace for a moment.

Their younger son wanted everything that comes with belonging, but without having to belong. That’s common now in affluent countries where personal freedom is valued more highly than community. This living without belonging was unimaginable in the world of the parable – and in most of today’s world too. The younger son’s actions and attitudes rejected the core human value of belonging. But I fear he doesn’t shock us the way he shocked his own people. And if so, I wonder what that says about us.

In character, when he hits rock bottom, he thinks of a way to return home on his terms. As a hired servant, he can live apart from the family. He still doesn’t get relationship. Let’s listen to his Mum describe the homecoming.

‘The day you came home, boys from the next village rushed into our marketplace yelling out that you were coming back. A crowd started to gather; angry and ready with bitter words. Some held rotten fruit; a few held stones.

Dad saw all this and rushed out to get to you first. He didn’t care what people thought of him; he could only think of how bad you must feel, and how he had to protect you. The servants and I couldn’t keep up with him. Just as the first hand was raised to throw a stone, he reached you; hugged you; shielded you; kissed you. He ignored their angry words; he ignored your apologies; just yelled to the servants to run back and get his cloak, his ring and some sandals for you. He announced a great party: the whole village must come and celebrate with him.’

That embrace and the kiss were public signs of reconciliation. They were given before the son could give his prepared speech. That’s grace at work. Their relationship was restored by the grace of the father alone; certainly not by the son’s prepared speech.

Later, we meet the older brother. It was for people like him that Jesus told this parable. Pharisees and Scribes were grumbling about Jesus saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’”. The older brother grumbled like they did. He grumbled about his Dad welcoming his ratbag of a brother home and eating with him.

In telling those older-brother Pharisees and scribes this parable, Jesus did for them exactly what the Dad did for the older son when he humiliated himself again before his village by leaving the feast to beg yet another insolent son to come in. Jesus reached out to these older-brother types; upstanding people, certain of their inheritance and sure that God should damn other people. Jesus wanted them inside the love; not locked out by their rage; stopped by their arrogant refusal to come in and eat with him and the people they shunned. In this parable, Jesus tried to show those older-brother Pharisees and Scribes that God longs for us all to be inside, all together.

But it’s Mothering Sunday, isn’t it. Most often when I meet someone who forgives and trusts beyond all reason, that person is a mother.

So perhaps this story of this compassionate, forgiving father is right for Mothering Sunday. It’s a story which reminds us that this foolish grace – always ready to forgive, to trust; always determined to keep the connection alive, and always ready to bear the cost of it all – that this foolish grace that mothers find the strength to summon up, over and over again, is a wonderful way to help us understand the nature of God. When we think today of the Church as our Mother, and that she must be Mother to our children as she has been to us, gracious, trusting and tenacious, it’s good to spend time with this story to learn the nature of that Mother whom we must now embody ourselves.


We are called to bear these three hallmarks; patience, hope and compassion


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Lent 3 C  Lk 13 1-9

In last week’s One Plus One programme on the ABC, Rosie Batty interviewed Walter Mikac, a man whose wife and children were killed in the Port Arthur massacre. At one point in the interview, he talked about still having a faith in the face of this horror. But he keeps asking: How could a God who is good allow this to happen to children?

It’s surely a question echoed millions of times right now in Ukraine. And in Australia, every week as more victims of domestic violence and coercive control are killed – how can a God who is good allow this to happen to children? it’s the big question.

But a friend of mine has reminded me to wonder how poor old God feels about this. Wouldn’t God be asking: How can humanity allow these things to happen to my beloved children? Where on Earth is their compassion?

There was a rare compassion in Mikac and Batty’s interview – two people who had lost children to violent murderers.

When people talk about terrible things happening to others, instead of compassion, sometimes there’s an implied undercurrent in what they say. They sound as though they wonder if it there might just be some blame on the victim’s side. What did they do to deserve that?

Jesus sensed something like that in the people who told him what Pilate did to those poor Galileans. Jesus heard something in their way of telling that he wanted to challenge – an unspoken message that these poor Galileans may have deserved what they got.

Shouldn’t those messengers be protesting against the Roman governor? Very risky. Or supporting the victims’ families? Very costly. Instead, it sounds as though they chose to wonder if these people had done something to offend God; to imply in their message that Pilate’s victims were being punished by God. Other spiritual teachers taught that sort of thing, so maybe Jesus would too.

It’s a cheap, easy way out of compassion, isn’t it. You separate yourself from someone’s misfortune by casting doubt on them so they won’t deserve your compassion. Maybe something like this enables the cruelty that we human beings can perpetrate on each other.

Through the parable of the fig tree, Jesus teaches that it’s not just the problem of active cruelty and wrongdoing that concerns God. What worries the God whom Jesus reveals here people’s inactivity and procrastination in the face of that wrongdoing. In the parable of the fig tree. This is expressed as a question of fruitfulness.

But before we go into the parable, let me summarise what Jesus has taught in the first part of today’s Gospel reading:

  • sin is not just evil acts, but also good deeds left on the back burner;
  • there’s no easy one-to-one link between sin and suffering – karma is a lie;
  • Jesus’ compassion is not conditional – it’s offered to all who suffer.

The parable expounds this. Jesus won’t have anyone written off because of their misfortune, but nor will he see anyone written off because they don’t bear the fruit of compassion. Those messengers are portrayed as being like the fig tree in the parable that bore no fruit – bearing empty innuendo instead of the fruits of compassion.

But Jesus doesn’t write them off. He calls for patience and mercy. He’s the gardener of the parable, setting to work on the messengers, digging around; providing nourishment.

Jesus gives opportunities for growth and fruitfulness again, even where they had already been given and ignored. And when the tree does bear fruit, it won’t be by its own efforts, but by God’s grace; the grace we see expressed by the gardener, Jesus.

If you think about it in terms of a tree, it’s perfectly reasonable. If you think about it in terms of responsible adults, that’s when we seem to think the parable’s a little bit outrageous and permissive.

But that’s God for you; the outrageous gardener who prefers diversity to the routine, extravagant over-abundance to mere sufficiency, and who treasures creatures for who they are, and what God-given potential they’re capable of, rather than for their achievements.

This means three things for us.

  • Don’t judge yourself or anyone else as worthy or not; who knows what God might cause to flower?
  • And don’t be too hasty to give up on a seemingly fruitless venture. God knows, the Church would never have got off the ground if we had.
  • And finally, Jesus was calling those messengers from frugal disinterest to generous compassion.

The gospel calls the Church today to bear these three hallmarks; patience, hope and compassion. That’s a call to all of us. What a gift that can be to a humanity starving for those fruits.                                                                                  Amen.

Release the hold that worries have on us


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Lent 2C – Gen 15 1-12, 17-18, Ps 27, Ph 3 17-4.1, Lk 13 31-35

For Kids    We’re about to hear part of the story of Abraham today. Abraham and his wife Sarah are very important to all of us Christians as well as to Jews and Muslims all over the world. We see them as our spiritual parents. Abraham used to be called Abram and Sarah was called Sarai. In today’s story, they still had no children, and they were getting pretty old. They’d moved from their home country, a place we call Iraq today. They’d set out to go to Canaan, the place we call the Holy Land, with Abram’s father Terah and their nephew Lot. But they didn’t get there; they stopped in Syria.

Then in the next chapter, 12.1-3, God tells Abram, leave your father’s house, and go to the place that I will show you. I will make a great nation of you – and through you, I will bless all the families of Earth. Abram obeys God. He takes Sarai and their nephew Lot and they travel south to Canaan. There, God tells Abram I’m going to give this land to you, your children and their children.12.7 They explore the land. But then there’s a drought and a famine, so Abram, Sarai and Lot go further south to Egypt to find food.

They have quite a few adventures. You can read about them with your family. But in today’s reading, we find Abram and Sarai back in Canaan. They’re both very old now, and Abram’s really worried that it’s much too late for them to have any children. He tells God his worries, and God reminds him of the old promise and who it is that made it. Gulp. Abram believed God. We know the story. We know God kept that promise. But Abram couldn’t help worrying. It’s always important that we talk with God when we’re worried about things. Now let’s hear what happens in today’s part of the story.

Sermon     I spend a lot of time with worry; with sick or injured people and with their families who aren’t sure they’re going to get well again. We’re worrying about my Mum’s stuttering recovery from Covid. Today’s readings about Abram’s worries, a Psalmist facing war, and Jesus threatened with assassination resonate with all our worries about the survival of life as we know it; about war, Covid, about Earth herself.

The ancient stories have a lot to say to us in these times of worry; they are stories with lots of connections. Today, as we’re back in Canaan with Abram, he’s worried that he doesn’t have any children to inherit this land or his money and livestock. So God reminds him of an earlier promise to give this land to Abram’s descendants. We’re told that Abram believes God, and God reckons Abram’s belief as righteousness.

It’s a strange story, this one about Abram’s struggles with God. Abram’s worries about who’d inherit his wealth are answered by a look at the night sky; his worries about where he’ll live are answered by cutting animals in half.

We struggle with symbolism; we struggle with obscure references to other stories which are meant to explain questions about the story we’re in. We call this sort of story myth. Sadly, our modern use of the word myth suggests that it’s a sort of lie. But it’s not. Sometimes we learn deeper truth from myth than we ever can from ‘factual’ reports. But it takes work; and it takes us out of the comfort zone of our wish for ‘objective truth’.

There are moments in Abram’s story which connect both with key moments in the biblical story, and with key issues of our time. To notice these connections, it helps to hear today’s episode in the context of other things we know about Abram’s life, like his journey to Egypt and back which I mentioned to the children. That connects his story with the central story of Israel’s relationship with God – the story of the Exodus. It also connects with Jesus’ experience in Egypt as a refugee. And that connects with our response to people who cry out for asylum now.

Connections: We read the story about Abram’s deep and terrifying sleep and maybe we sense links with the creation story where the first human was sent into a deep sleep so new life might emerge – the first woman. Maybe we sense a connection with Jesus in the tomb and his rising again. And Abram’s dream also looks forward to the Exodus: God as cloud and fire leading Israel from slavery to freedom.

This story of Abram’s sleep with the deep and terrifying darkness descending on him has been important to the spiritual insight our mystics have given us about the hope we can offer even to those lost in the dark night of the soul; that we can offer genuine compassion, hope and trust in God to our dear ones lost in their pain and horror; to friends; and also to strangers who are suddenly sisters and brothers like the people of Ukraine today.

In its context of the whole witness of Scripture, this episode connects us with a rich tapestry of stories to help us navigate ethical and human questions which go far beyond the experience or wisdom of any of us. And very important; these stories don’t let us imagine that our judgements or attitudes are in any sense the last word. Far from nurturing dogmatic self-righteousness, these stories humble us all before God. They cry out to our compassion and shape us as people who can respond in a godly, gracious way to the challenging truth of inhumanities that we confront today.

So worries? They have a context; they have connections everywhere – with our origins, with our past and with the people we’ll become – with our stories.

The ancient stories we’ve heard today – if we read them carefully – show us that our worries happen in the context of a much bigger story. It’s the story of God’s love for us, for the world, and for the reconciliation of all things. In such a context – in the connection we have with that much greater story – we can release the hold that our worries have on us. We can do that by talking with Jesus about them. In that conversation, we can learn to experience our worries in the context of his overwhelming love for us all, and trust him, because of his personal understanding of the anguish of worry. Christ is with us, always. Amen

The Kingdom of God is within you


Rev’d Susan F. Straub

Lent 1


Today is the first Sunday in Lent and the theme is: ‘Worship and serve only God.’ It’s that period in the Church year, when we are led by the Holy Spirit, who came to us at our baptism, back into the wilderness of spiritual re-evaluation, doubt, and inner conflict.

Some time ago, Susan Maushart (Weekend Australian 24th-25th February 2007) wrote: ‘What is fundamentalism, whether of the religious variety or the strenuously secular sort, but a toxic deficit of doubt….Perhaps doubt is like cholesterol …. There’s the good kind, and the bad kind. Bad doubt clogs the arteries of inquiry. It does not engage. If deflects, refusing to get off complacency’s couch. Good doubt is pro-active. It doesn’t just wait to see if problems arise. It assumes they will – like dandelions ….’

So, as pro-active doubters in the line of Jesus and Thomas, we prepare ourselves to renew our baptism, our passing from death to life, to say once more “Yes” to life. One way we might do this by denying ourselves something we ordinarily take for granted, or by doing something extra, which we believe will benefit someone else. Maybe using the money we’d have spent on a block of chocolate or other little luxuries, to give to those who really need it. We could give to fellow Australians suffering amidst the devastation of floods in our eastern states, or to Ukrainians suffering the even worse devastation of war, where people take their families to safety then turn back to fight for their country. Then again, we might invite someone to dinner rather than watch TV of an evening.

Whatever we do, we soon see that making even so small a change invites conflict. We find ourselves reaching into our own depths to find what we value most and examining and then grappling with motives:  we expose ourselves to temptation.   However, we do this in the power of the Christ within. We bring into this time and place the forty days he spent in the wilderness immediately following his baptism by John.

Luke 4:1-15

What Jesus showed us in the wilderness was how to hammer out, how to become clear, about those spiritual guidelines that will inform how we’ll think and in accordance with which we’ll try to act. This is construction work – the construction of identity, of character. Just as the people of Israel did it as they wandered in the wilderness. Just as Jesus did it in the wilderness, we’re doing it. Constructing, creating from the scriptures what it means to be born of God. Beginning with:  who am I?  A child of God. Then it follows that I may worship and serve only God. When we do this, we’re walking in the Kingdom, the Promised Land.

Within the Kingdom of God, we each create a self we can live with. The word of God, ‘be doers and not hearers only’, is more important even than food. We can be honest about our beginnings for after all we have no influence over the circumstances into which were born: ‘a wandering Aramean was my ancestor’ or Jesus was the son, as was thought, of Joseph, son of Heli, and so on.

We can be honest about our troubles and ultimate dependence on God ‘we cried to the Lord’ and ‘the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness’. God not only lifts up the lowly but fills the hungry with good things.

When the worship of God or being a servant of God, when humility then is more important to us than personal power and authority.

Within the Kingdom, the worship of God, being a servant of God in humility, is more important to us than ego, and truth more important than any outward show of power. By not accepting without question even scripture, used duplicitously by one intent on amassing power to dominate, Jesus, in spite of extreme hunger, withstood the temptation to deny his calling.

As President Volodymyr Zelensky said in response to President Vladimir Putin’s national address: ‘We don’t have time for lengthy history lectures. I am not going to talk about the past. Let me tell you about the present and the future…(the) truth is that this is our land, our country, and our children and we will defend all of this.’

When we have such faith that we can doubt, question, wrestle, accept, then we see how God works in and through us, particular persons with particular characteristics. We become who we are called to be as persons and a people. And that is worship in spirit and truth.


Clearly reflect God’s grace and Christ’s self-giving love.


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Transfiguration – Last Sunday after Epiphany – Ex 34, Ps 99, 2 Cor 3, Lk 9

Imagine looking into a mirror and seeing an image of yourself that’s much lovelier than you expect. You look more whole; more alive; more at peace; more joyful; more kind. The mirror shows you the person you know you can be. And then imagine, that, as you watch, you start to change – you start to become like that wonderful person you see in the mirror. We heard Paul describe this today as something quite real. 2 Cor 3.18 we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become more like God. The Message

Transfigured – we saw it happen today to Moses, his face alight, shining with God’s reflected glory. And far more wonderfully, we saw it in Jesus today – but his light wasn’t reflected: Jesus’ light came from within him. The Gospels are all about Jesus. But they’re also given to change us.

Jesus’ transfiguration is meant to show us what God intends for us too: we are to be transfigured. Day by day, we are to become clearer mirrors of God’s love and joy and peace and beauty. We’ll learn more about that progression between now and Pentecost. The great light we see revealed in Jesus’ transfiguration will become the incandescent fire inspiring the disciples at Pentecost. So it’s meant for us too.

But it’s a daunting journey from Transfiguration to Pentecost. Good Friday, Easter, and Christ’s Ascension are inescapable way-points. What encouragement can I offer, that we might willingly travel this road together with our Lord? Thomas Traherne, a seventeenth-century spiritual writer wrote this: … as a mirror returneth the very self-same beams it receiveth from the Sun, so the Soul returneth those beams of love that shine upon it from God. For as a looking-glass is nothing in comparison of the world, yet containeth all the world in it, and seems a real fountain of those beams which flow from it, so the Soul is nothing in respect of God, yet all Eternity is contained in it, and it is the real fountain of that Love that proceedeth from it. Centuries of Meditations C4.84

This Wednesday, we will enter the season of Lent – the season of preparation. We are called to risk it: to voluntarily embark on this journey of transfiguration: called to look in a mirror, see in it the person of Christ. We are the community called to clearly reflect God’s grace and Christ’s self-giving love. That’s the call, and by God’s grace and because of Jesus, we will! Amen

A Prayer for Ukraine



Father God, King of all nations, we cry out to you now for the people of Ukraine. We ask you to rescue those who are vulnerable from the hands of their enemies that they may live without fear before you all their days [Luke 1:74-75].

Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Lord of lords and Prince of peace, our politicians are predicting the biggest war in Europe since 1945, and we simply cry out to you urgently to write another story in our time. Thwart the dark machinations of evil people. Give wisdom beyond human wisdom to peacemakers seeking an equitable and less violent way. May politicians exercise the wisdom from above, which is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy [James 3:17].

Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.


Holy Spirit, we pray for the church in Ukraine, a nation in which 70% of the population call themselves Christian. Give our many brothers and sisters in that nation courage in this crisis that they may proclaim the good news of your kingdom, bind up broken hearts, and bring comfort to all who mourn. [Isaiah 61:1-2].

Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

You Lord, make wars cease to the end of the earth; you break bows, shatter spears, and burn shields with fire [Psalm 46:9]. And so we ask you now to save the lives of many people in Ukraine. Make a peace that is strong and not weak. De-escalate this crisis. We hear of wars and rumours of wars (Matt. 24:6], but you Lord are our rock, our fortress and our deliverer. Our hope is in you. And so we address the nations now. In the name of Jesus we say: “Be still and know God! He is exalted among the nations; he shall be exalted in the earth [Psalm 46:10].

Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Meet wrong with grace, and respond to injury with forgiveness


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Epiphany + 7C – Gen 45 3-15, Ps 37 1-11, 1st Cor 15 35-50, Lk 6 27-38

Forgiveness – mercy: we’ve seen a life-giving example of this in the past week. A young driver was in court this week for driving through a give-way sign and hitting another car with a young family in it. One of her passengers – a teenage only child – was killed, and the driver of the other car is unable to face driving any more.

But mercy, not blame, was offered by the mother of the dead young woman. After saying how her family had been mentally destroyed by the death of their daughter, the mother told the woman on trial something quite amazing: I want you to overcome what has happened and to grow and achieve as I know that’s what our daughter would want you to do. And she was also offered forgiveness by the driver of the other car. He gave a moving victim impact statement, and then turning to her, said: I can’t imagine your position, but I can extend our forgiveness. Some choices in life have severe consequences, but nothing is too great for forgiveness. The people she’d hurt so dreadfully, to whom she was so shockingly in debt, chose to set her free; to give her a new chance at life. What might she make of such a gift?

In today’s scriptures, we see this mercy at work too. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery years earlier. Today we see him in a position of total power over them, yet rather than seeking the satisfaction of revenge, he chooses to forgive them. He chooses to give them a new chance at life – and through them, a faith-life-trajectory is set in train that we can trace directly to our gathering here.

I think it’s only with stories like these in mind – that remind us we are a community of the forgiven – reconnected to life over and over again by the free gift of mercy and forgiveness – only with this in mind can we receive the astonishing challenge of today’s gospel. We are to make the move from being the ones who have been given a new chance at life through Jesus – to make the move to become people who can choose to give this new chance at life to others who are in desperate need of it.

We can be like that mother, like the driver of that other car – we can be like Joseph. If we are deeply injured and wronged by others – even by those who are supposed to be our closest family – even so we are challenged to see God’s purpose to set other sinners free, to reconnect the lost to the community – to the family – and to collaborate with God in that great liberation project which we call salvation history.

Where we have the power to do so, we are called to meet wrong with grace, to respond to injury with forgiveness – with the gift of a new chance at life. Doing this sets the perpetrator of the wrong free – if they choose to accept that freedom. But it sets us free too; it undoes the bonds of injury which bind them to us. God’s will is always to offer a new chance at life. Can we join in that great work?    Amen

Good, transformational behaviour starts with us all


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Epiphany + 6C – Jer 17 5-10 Ps 1 Lk 6 17-26

I had an important conversation this week with a friend who laments the way we want to have good behaviour legislated rather than simply expecting it of ourselves and each other. This desire for legislation seems to arise from an us-and-them mentality – that we need laws to make them more decent. But today’s scriptures make it clear that an us-and-them perspective is not helpful. As my friend put it, they teach that good, transformational behaviour starts with us – all of us.

In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t just talk to one type of person and ignore the others. There’s no us-and-them; no goodies and baddies. There’re just different sides of the same people; all of us. Jesus’ blessing sayings are addressed to you and me, but so are all his corresponding woe sayings. It’s not as though the crowd listening to him changes from one saying to the next. We’re told that Jesus looked up at his disciples and said the blessing sayings and the woe sayings to them. We hear them as his words to us. Jesus is talking to us; people who are sometimes blessed, but who sometimes need challenging; the same sort of disciples we’ve always been; a mixed bunch of people who get the message one minute, but we’re deaf the next.

Jeremiah and the psalmist sing from the same song-sheet as Jesus. And there’s a pair of images each of them sets beside their blessing and woe statements. It’s the image of us by a stream of living water which strengthens and protects us as we seek God’s way, but finds us lost in a hot dry desert when we go it alone.

Our way has been modelled by Jesus – like him, we are to imitate God; to be kind, honest, humble, welcoming, accepting, compassionate, generous. When we follow this way, then Jeremiah and the Psalmist would say our community is like a stream of living water – poured out to refresh all of us, and all whose lives we touch.

Jesus went out to people – regardless of ethnicity, gender, propriety, religion or social standing – caring first, and dealing with explanations later. That’s the model he’s given us, and now it’s our turn. Now we are the bearers of his Gospel of new life in the clear stream of God’s love for all. We are the channel through whom the stream of living water flows. May God give us grace to open up unreservedly to the gift of this new life, and to hand it on authentically to coming generations. Amen.

When God calls, say yes and step forward


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Epiphany + 5 – Isa 6, Ps 138, 1 Cor 15, Lk 5

Would a divine experience scare you, or would you feel uplifted and transformed – that now you can do extraordinary things. Ps138.3 At a time when I called to you, you gave me answer: and put new strength within my soul. I hope you would feel uplifted, because a divine encounter often amounts to a tap on the shoulder. … Like Isaiah and Simon Peter, you’re called – you particularly, and not so much to a particular task as to a completely new life.

Today, we heard about God’s call to Isaiah, and Jesus’ call to Simon Peter. Both felt completely unsuited to their call: Isaiah – I’m ‘a man of unclean lips’, and Simon; ‘leave me for I’m a sinner’. Each has a vision of God, and each feels scared, inadequate and unworthy. But as Paul says in 1 Cor 15, self-reliance is not a true measuring stick. 10I worked harder than any … though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

So we’ve just seen Isaiah called to the life of a prophet, and Simon Peter sent out to the life of an evangelist. They’re callings which come both from within them, and from without; they were the ones singled out; specifically they the called.

Neither Isaiah nor Peter ended up having a life you’d call a party, but a life filled with purpose, challenge, seeing lives transformed, and the world turned upside down – I doubt they’d have swapped it for anything.

When we know this universe has a loving, enabling God, life is different; we don’t judge ourselves the same way. Isaiah and Peter found themselves in the presence of the divine and automatically thought of themselves as unworthy. But that wasn’t God’s view of Isaiah – or Jesus’ view of Peter; and ultimately, learning on the job, their understanding changed too. God is more broad-minded that we imagine.

So does God want something from you and me? I think the answer is yes. God wants us to see ourselves differently; positively.

An experience of the divine – a clear call – is for many people and congregations unique. Or maybe there’ll be two moments in life when we are offered ourselves; offered a new way of seeing who we are and who we’re called to be. The thing we learn from today’s scriptures is that, in a choice between our own self-judgement and God’s love for us, God is right. So when God calls, we must remember that. Say yes, and step forward into the adventure that only this lifetime can know. Amen.

Handing over the light of faith


Rev’d Peter Balabanski

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Lk 2.22-40

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple. … But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? The Lord that Simeon and Anna were waiting for sounds frightening. Who’d have thought it would just be a baby; a child that humble parents brought to present to God in the Temple?

Candlemas, forty days after the Church celebrates Christmas, is when we hear Luke remind us of two Jewish customs. First, for forty days after a Hebrew woman gave birth to a boy, she was viewed as being ritually unclean. After that time, Jewish Law (Lev 12) required her to present an offering for her purification.

The other custom looked back to the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt. In Exodus 13, it says that all the firstborn of the Hebrews were to be especially dedicated to God. But as ‘ordained’ service came to be something only tribe of Levi did, the law was relaxed so parents of other tribes could ‘redeem’ their children. They went to the Temple to make an offering which ritually bought back their firstborn from God.

So today, Luke shows the Holy Family coming to the temple for purification and for a type of ritual hand-over. And it’s this theme of hand-over that I want us to think about this morning. It becomes very poignant in our story as two very old people, Simeon and Anna come on stage. They came for a hand-over of their own.

Simeon and the prophet Anna had lived very long lives of faithful service to God. As prophets do, they sensed what God was doing. God was handing over the Glory that had dwelt in the temple, and entrusting it to a six-week old baby; Jesus, who would shine with that glory for all the world to see.

For Simeon and for Anna, this was at once a moment of exultation and of release. They could let go; they could die in peace; somebody else could carry the load now. The Song of Simeon’s is called the night-prayer of his life and remains the Church’s night-prayer of handing over to God the troubles of each day. So we sang the evening hymn – Hail gladdening light – to herald the Gospel today. We also recite the Song of Simeon at the end funerals, over the graves of our loved ones. It’s a song of loving hope.

Our own church embodies everything we read in this story. We have faithful seers and servants who have been holding on to faith here for a very long time. You have received the faith from your forebears, and by God’s grace, have borne the light aloft in the Church for many years. The younger ones who now share the burden with you faithful mothers and fathers of our church must hold the light aloft in a different world. Today, they pray Simeon’s song together with you. We all make it a prayer for ourselves – a thanksgiving for God’s fulfilled promises to us, and a prayer which asks that when we hand over the light of faith to those who come after us, we might hand it over to people who’ve been enabled to hold it; people enabled, by God’s grace, to hold aloft the light of faith in a world where deep shadows still threaten. This is our Candlemas prayer. Amen