Reflection: What are you building there?
The Old and New Testament reading today have a loose theme around “building”. The Temple of Jerusalem fills a big space in the mindset of Judaism. On one hand it became a centre for the worship of God and the performance of religious rituals. Most traumatically, however, the Temple was destroyed twice—once in 587BC and then, again, after its rebuild- ing, in 80AD. Our first reading is about why it was that it was not King David who built the first temple—and how it will be one of David’s descendants who will build “a house for my name” says the Lord. In Jesus’ day, while the Second Temple still stood—it was truly splendid, because Herod the Great had spent so much time and effort on its renovation—forty years. But the physical Temple became a two-edged sword—inspiring people to worship God and being such a splendid thing dedicated to the glory of God. But on the other hand, there were those huge warning signs posted all around the perimeter of the Temple threatening outsiders— Gentiles—with death if they dared to enter it, as only Jewish men were allowed into its inner courts. For Christians like St Paul who had an ambivalent relationship with the physical Temple—Paul was once famously arrested and evicted from the Temple!—there was a growing sense of a new “holy temple” and it was the body of believers who corporately constituted the church. Of this new “temple”, Christ is the “cornerstone”, and Jesus’ followers are the living stones that make up this new living Temple. THIS Temple proved far more enduring than the physical one built in Jerusalem. And Paul, in today’s reading rejoices in this living temple’s capacity to include “stones” of great diversity—including the Gentiles Christians (“those who were once far off”) and the original Jewish followers of Christ (“those who were near”). And enabled by the Holy Spirit, and through the reconciling work of Christ—they can all cohere. Our living Temple—the Church—needs to keep this capacity of being able to incorporate the newer folk while holding on to the old. Paul writes encouragingly that in Christ Jesus, “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together in the Spirit into a dwelling place for God.” Bernadette Farrel capture’s the thought in a prayer in song: Make us your building, sheltering others, walls made of living stone. Peace, Dean
Gospel: Mark 6.1-13
Some weeks it is so easy to discern a theme among the collection of readings that are
prescribed for the Sunday. And then the Collect often “hits the nail of the head” and captures the
same theme. Not so this week. This week the theme is a little more allusive. But there is a subtle
theme about reception running through the readings. How well do we “receive” what God is
saying to us or doing among us? In the readings we can see the potential for reception and
welcome or rejection and hostility.
As King David ascends to replace King Saul we see the citizens racing to welcome the new king
and the new dynasty. But a lingering uncertainty hovers over their response. Is it because they
discern God’s hand or is it politically expedient?
The epistle too speaks about the reception of St Paul and his message. How does his reader
accept his message? And what credentials ought he put forward to persuade his reader?
Paul seems to suggest that his credentials, although, in part, very impressive, are ultimately of no
great significance. Paul realises that he is the weak and fragile vessel containing God’s
message. Paul’s credentials are therefore not important.
Jesus is finding mixed reception depending on where he goes. Eventually he commissions
others to take his gospel message. They (we) too will encounter mixed reception. Sometimes
we’re to settle in with those who receive us and Jesus’ message hospitably. At other times we’re
to shake the dust off our feet. There’s no guarantee that folk will accept a good
message, even if it’s life giving. We have to be prepared to roll with the responses of others
which ultimately are their responsibility, not ours.
We are called only to bear the message faithfully.
Gospel: Mark 5. 21-43
Reflection:“Why trouble the teacher any further?”
Usually you tell one story, and finish it, and if the audience is up for another yarn, you start another story and finish it. Ever wondered why, then, in today’s Gospel reading that one
story has been split into two and used to wrap around another story? The story of Jairus and the healing of his daughter is the story that is split into two; and the middle story is the story of the healing of an older woman who suffers from haemorrhages. The two stories are not only connected by interlocking and proximity—comparison is invited through conspicuous likenesses and contrasts in the two stories. The girl is the daughter of a respected leader in the community—the older woman has lost her respectability and endured the shame and marginalization of an unstemmed issue of blood for twelve years. The bleeding makes the older woman perpetually ‘unclean’ in the eyes of her religiously conservative community. The girl is twelve years old and the older woman has been haemorrhaging for twelve years. Both are called “daughter”.
When the clergy of the Gippsland Diocese were at Clergy Conference on Raymond Island last week, the Revd Dr Chris Barnett from Melbourne Centre of Theology and Ministry, a speaker with a long commitment to ministry to children and families spoke about the inseparable
nature of ministry to children and ministry to adults. Chris’s expertise is intergenerational worship. Chris explained that to have healthy ministry to either youth or elders, you must have healthy ministry to both. Perhaps that is why the healing of the older women is wrapped in the healing of the younger. Mark was perhaps the first to write down the two stories in this way—and interestingly the other Gospel writers who include these stories never depart from this structure of the story within the story. The two healings remain inseparable.
Chris Barnett went further to suggest that children in the church are like the canaries in the old coal mines. When the youth are not flourishing it is a sign that the environment is toxic and everyone’s flourishing is endangered. The mine then is unsustainable. A mine isn’t a mine unless there are a diversity of people in it thriving and actively going about mine activities.
A mine without mining is just a very elaborate and expensive hole in the ground.
I love Jesus’ explicit and implicit words throughout these stories: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace”, “Do not fear, only believe”—and of the little girl who is revived—“he told them to give her something to eat.” What a thorough and thoughtful Saviour!
Gospel: Mark 4.26-34
26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and
would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know
how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the
head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has
come.’ 30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will
we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest
of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all
shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its
shade.’ 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear
it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his
Reflection: Another way of seeing each other
The Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading both make a reference to
contrasting ways of looking at people. One way is to look upon the outward appearance and
the other is called “looking at the heart”.
In the story of the choosing of David from among the seven sons of Jesse, God cautions the
prophet Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I
have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward
appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Paul in writing to the church in Corinth also draws the contrast: he encourages the folk of this
new church not to be beguiled by those who boast in outward appearances—again
contrasting this with a looking upon “the heart”.
We live in an age of increasing encouragement to judge by appearances. At the same time we
perhaps are losing our facility to look upon the heart. Perhaps, as the Book of Samuel
suggests, this has always been the way with mortals. Maybe. Nevertheless, the
encouragement of God’s word is that this is not how the Lord looks upon us.
In our combined family movie night, a couple of weeks ago, in the story of PT Barnum as told
through “The Greatest Showman” there were many instances of the benefit of learning to
look, not at outward appearances, but upon the heart. One instance is where the homeless
teenage Barnam is starving on the streets of a city when he is fed—given an apple—by a
person with a facial disfigurement. The symbolic apple reappears in later moments of the film
when Barnum is challenged to remember the principle of looking upon the heart and not the
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom
no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy
Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name:
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gospel: John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15
Reflection: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
It is good to ask ourselves what were those things that Jesus couldn’t say to his disciples?
What were the things that would take more time before they could “bear” to hear the Holy
Spirit speak to them about? Some have guessed that Jesus might have meant his passion,
crucifixion, resurrection or departure (ascension)…and yet throughout all the Gospels these
are things that Jesus frequently speaks about to his disciples. Jesus frequently explains that he
must suffer, be persecuted by the scribes and elders, be crucified and on the third day rise
again. What then could Jesus have meant by the things which his disciples “cannot bear them
To seek an answer we do well to look in the sequel to the Gospel…the book of Acts. What
happens in the Book of Acts that takes the disciples by surprise? Many things! But here are
two biggies. Firstly, Jesus instructs the disciples to be his witnesses after his ascension, but not
just in Jerusalem, not just locally, nor even just in Israel, but “to the ends of the earth” and to
“all nations”. For a group of men whose vision was still limited to the restoration of God’s
kingdom only to Israel, this was a surprise. And that first surprise works itself out, in the Book
of Acts, as we see the salvation of Roman Centurions, a Philippian Jailer and his household,
and an Ethiopian court-official. Gentiles coming on board with this new following of Jesus is
the really big surprise.
The second big surprise is where help for the early church comes from when they in strife.
Help comes from some of the least likely quarters: (again) Roman centurions, Pharisees and
Rabbis (like Gamaliel and his zealous student Saul), Roman magistrates, tribunes, and
governors. These two surprises are interconnected: we cannot know who will respond
positively to the Gospel or who will help the progress of its spread…but it is a caution against
judgmentalism or pessimism. The Spirit can move and enliven in the most surprising and
unanticipated ways. And we need to ready ourselves to hear the Spirit’s surprises which often
run counter to our old prejudices. Peace, Dean
Gospel Reading: John 15.1-8
Reflection :On the afternoon of ANZAC Day, my parents-in-law visited, and kindly brought
their long-handled pruners and a chainsaw. And so our two mature fruit trees—the lemon and
the fig—both received a good pruning. Both had grown so high, you couldn’t reach the
highest branches even with a ladder.
I love Jesus’ horticultural figures-of-speech. It’s a little confronting today at first when you
hear the words: “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.” Fair enough. Make
mental note: be sure to bear fruit! Or God may wield his chainsaw and long-handled pruners!
But then the next sentence seems a contrast to what you might expect. “Every branch that
bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” What? Pruned if you don’t bear fruit and
pruned if you do! How is that fair?
But if I think back to my beloved lemon and fig tree, I get it—because pruning isn’t just about
removing dead or diseased parts. Sometimes perfectly healthy parts of the trees are thinned
to make provision for admission of light and air. Sometimes parts of our lives need thinning to
admit space and light. Sometimes healthy parts of plants are trimmed to restore symmetry
and balance. Sometimes our lives need a restoration of balance.
The main thing for those parts that do remain attached to the tree is, just that, that they
remain attached and in the light and the breath of the spirit that they thrive and bear fruit.
Gospel: John 10.11-18
In the reading from John’s gospel we hear Jesus’ statement: “I am the good
shepherd” and we are given an insight into what it means to be “the good shepherd”.
This good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A shepherd who would go out
and seek those sheep who were not yet part of the fold and bring them home. How?
They would listen to his voice and come home. As Jesus returns to his father he
commissions his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in
the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” He promises that he will be with
them to the end of the age – Matthew 28: 16-20.
The second reading reminds us that Jesus laid down his life for us – and we ought to
lay down our lives for one another. How? Not only in words or speech but in action.
This is where our call to be disciples is to be more than just words, we need to be
people of action. Laying down our lives so that we can be used by God to go and seek
out those who are yet to become part of God’s kingdom. We are to learn how to love
them and teach them how to hear, recognise and follow the shepherds’ voice of welcome
In the Acts reading, Peter models the stepping out in faith. He is turned from a man
denying Christ to a man full of the Holy Spirit standing and pointing people to Jesus –
and many listened.
We are called into this same ministry – to be people who know that we are filled with
the Holy Spirit – commissioned by Jesus to go out, to be and to show the love that
God has for all, so that there will be one flock led by one shepherd. As we move from
Easter and look toward Pentecost, may we be ready to be filled anew with the gift of
God’s Holy Spirit, and ready to use the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to go out
make disciples as commissioned by Jesus.
Gospel: John 20.19-31
Reflection: The Greeting of Peace
The Greeting of Peace, too often in our churches, becomes a free-for-all of greetings and
gossip. We forget its origin and deep meaning. Today’s gospel reading tells us of the origin of
the Greeting of Peace. Nowhere in the Bible or in the life of Jesus till now is the phrase, ‘Peace
be with you’ used. It instantly became the sign of Christian fellowship, and we continue the
practice today. St Paul begins all of his thirteen letters with the phrase (mostly in the form,
‘Grace and peace be with you’). In the Eucharist, the Greeting of Peace follows the Confession
and Absolution. I like it best when it follows immediately. Then, as confessed and forgiven
Christians, we can look one another in the eye, recognising our equal identity before Christ,
and asking the blessing of the Lord on each other. ‘Peace be with you,’ we say, and ‘And also
with you,’ we reply. It’s a way of bringing us together, and it began here, as we hear in the
gospel for today, with Jesus, risen from the clutches of death, drawing the disciples into his
presence and fellowship with those words, ‘Peace be with you.’ I don’t think the disciples
would have said anything in reply. They would have been too thunderstruck! The liturgical
reply came later.
Peace be with you.
The coinciding of Easter and April Fool’s Day.
God’s plan to save the world. Let your only son exchange the
power and glory of heaven for the vulnerability and risk of
becoming human and being born in one of the most dangerous
times and places in human history. Let him be misrepresented and die a
criminal’s death. Yes, Saint Paul is right to identify a seeming foolishness in the
salvation plan of God and a seeming foolishness in those who would follow
such a ‘foolhardy’ messiah.
Most of us, when we undertake a significant project, count up our resources
and allies—all those things of power that we can muster and marshal—all the
reliable supports we can count on. Jesus’ way is, on some level, completely
contrary to the way we plan things. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a
slave, being born in human likeness.”
Of the way of the Cross, St Paul writes, in his First Letter to the Corinthians
chapter 1 verses 18-31,
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of
this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in
the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided,
through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For
Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ
crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those
who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the
wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s
weakness is stronger than human strength.
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by
human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble
birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God
chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;28God chose what is low
and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that
are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of
your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and
righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is
written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
Paul’s language of foolishness is strong here. The Greek word he uses six
times in this brief passage is moros—from it we derive the English word
moron. Imagine the text with the word “moronic” every time you see
“foolish”—and you feel the strength of what Paul is implying about how the
world might view the Christian message and those who follow Jesus.
And yet this is the way of God—to choose the moronic in the world to shame
The battles for salvation will not be won by the size of the army, nor the
number of horses, nor by the peer-reviewed intellectual resources we can
muster, the number of QCs we can afford to hire—God will use the weak in
the world to shame the strong; “God chose what is low and despised in the
world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no
one might boast.”
On Easter morning we celebrate a victory not won by power or might—but by
the gentle perseverance of Christ’s righteousness, compassion, humility,
obedience and gentleness. “Put away your sword,” Jesus counsels Peter in
the Garden at his arrest. And he calls his followers to do the same. To walk in
all righteousness, compassion, humility, obedience and gentleness. “Utter
foolishness!” cries the world, “An excellent plan for losing!”, “Morons!” Yes.
Because we love the ‘fool’ from heaven more than we worship the wisdom of
Taking the corner and turning into Lent.
Candlemas is a lesser known feast—also known as the
feast of ‘The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’—it is always kept
on 2 February, forty days after Christmas Day (Luke 2:22, Leviticus
12:2-6). Because Candlemas can never fall in Lent (the earliest
possible Ash Wednesday is 4 February), one of the purposes of
Candlemas is to ‘signpost’ the approach of the ‘corner’ between
Christmas and Easter. Part of the responsorial liturgy of Candlemas
“Here we bring to an end our celebration of the Saviour’s birth.
Help us, in whom he has been born,
to live this life that has no end.
Here we have greeted the Light of the World.
Help us, who now extinguish these candles,
never to forsake the light of Christ.
Some candles are extinguished.
Here we now stand near the place of baptism.
Help us, who are marked with the cross,
to share the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion.
Help us, for whom Lent is near,
to enter deeply into the Easter mystery.”
There are other ‘signposts’ to help us to turn the corner into Lent.
On Shrove Tuesday, we feast on pancakes with eggs and leaven and
sugar in preparation for the great fast of Lent, but we also burn the
Palm Crosses of the year before to prepare the ashes of repentance
for their use on the following day—Ash Wednesday. We remove
flowers from the church and change the liturgical colours from
green to purple. And so with all these signposts and symbols, we
‘take the corner’, turning from Christmas and Epiphanytide to
Lent, Good Friday and Easter. Taking that corner well shows our
preparedness to follow Jesus in his wholeness: not just followers
of the bits of Jesus we find most palatable. Not just followers of
the Babe of Bethlehem, but followers of the man who walks a road
of controversy and hardship, passion and crucifixion, and
The disciples sometimes found it hard to ‘take the corner’ toward
the suffering and death of Christ: when Jesus in the Gospels first
announces his destiny to suffer, and be rejected by the elders and
chief priests and the scribes, and to be killed—Simon Peter
rebukes Jesus. (We read this Gospel in the second week of Lent).
But it is essential that we—Jesus’ followers—travel with him on
the harder road of Lent, Good Friday as well as Easter. Only then
can he be our complete Christ—not just a Messiah for “fair
weather”—“when the sun’s shining down on me, and the world’s
all as it should be”—but a Saviour who can be our faithful
companion when the going is tough, when illness or grief or loss
loom. Then together, with our faithful Christ, we can anticipate
that most bright and glorious morn of Easter Day.
Gospel: Mark 1.9-15
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the
Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son,
whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the
wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was
with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went
into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom
of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
The opening Gospel is packed with treasures to carry with us on our Lenten Journey.
There is the humility of Jesus as he submits himself to John for Baptism. There is the violent
rending of the heavens in order that the full Trinitarian identity of God can be revealed.
There is the violent casting of Jesus by the Spirit into the wilderness—in Mark’s Gospel time of
withdrawal and contemplation always bears fruit. Jesus comes out of the wilderness with clarity
of vision and purpose: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent
and believe.” There is, in the economy of God, a fullness in having nothing. In the wilderness
the angels (and perhaps the wild beasts too) ministered to Jesus. As we read from Paul on Ash
Wednesday. “We are treated as having nothing and yet we possess everything.”