Everybody wants to be transformed, but no one wants to change

Often, the promise that we can ‘change the world’ comes wrapped in suggestions that “For the price of a coffee a day, you can change Sanjay’s life forever.”

Is change really that easy? If it was, everyone would be doing it. The promise of transformation is attractive, but the hard work required to get there; the discipline and commitment? Not so much.

So how does real change take place?

Whether you begin with seven minutes or seventy, creating change begins with deep conviction and small steps, incorporated into daily routine. And that’s where spiritual practises can be  genuinely helpful. Continue Reading

Missio Dei?

When one thinks of mission, how many of us immediately think of these words from Matthew 28; what we’ve come to understand as the Great Commission?

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

For many years I believed that ‘going,’ ‘baptising’ and ‘teaching’ were mission instructions from the king and head of the church to all of us. Lately, however, I am beginning to understand these
words as more of an invitation from God to us for the sake of the world.

Let me explain. Continue Reading

Love, care and non-judgemental acceptance

Edith Smirk is a Uniting Church chaplain at Bentley Health Service. She reflects on her role offering pastoral care to people living with mental illness.

People with mental [illness], like other people, have a need to relate to a god or a philosophical world view that allows them to place themselves and their lives within a larger context. However, for a person who has  been diagnosed with schizophrenia this can be problematical for a number of reasons. For one thing, the onset of the disease often occurs during the same period of life when religious and philosophical beliefs  are in great flux. For many during the early stages of their illness, they may believe they have been specially chosen by God. When auditory hallucination is experienced, these beliefs are usually reinforced. It is  important not to encourage such beliefs, just be present. E Fuller Torrey MD 2006

Jesus listened and told stories. This is something I can do. Just to be there and to listen non-judgmentally is the greatest gift we can give at times. Working in mental health can be very challenging and at the same  time very rewarding; I believe for me it has been a true calling. I believe God has in some way been preparing me for this role throughout my life.

Working with the patients brings me such joy. Hearing their stories sometimes touch on my own. Jesus knows our pain, he suffered and was tempted by the devil, he knows our weaknesses and by trusting in the  Lord we grow strong. When we reach out to Jesus, he touches our hand, and his hand touches God, which gives us life, love and hope. And it is this hope and love I try to bring to our patients. Continue Reading

Towards a theology of welcome

The city of Birmingham in the UK is perhaps one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Some years ago, in response to the question “Is Birmingham a welcoming city?” the city developed a social inclusion process giving hope to locals.

Places of Welcome describes themselves as “a network of small community organisations, including faith communities, who offer an unconditional welcome to local people for at least a few hours a week.”

The program has a set of guiding principles, known as the 5 Ps:

Place: An accessible and hospitable building, open at the same time every week.

People: Open to everyone regardless of their circumstances or situation, and staffed by volunteers.

Presence: A place where people actively listen to one another.

Provision: Offering free refreshments (at least a cup of tea and a biscuit) and basic local information.

Participation: Recognising that every person coming to a Place of Welcome will bring talents, experiences and skills that they might be willing to share locally.Continue Reading

Truth and life for those worn down

In Micah 6:8, the prophet challenges us, “What does the Lord require of you? Surely it is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Six years ago, my daughter – who is a professional midwife – was advised that her unborn child had a high risk of Down Syndrome and was advised to consider abortion. She struggled with this advice and in her prayers turned to this text. She and her husband decided to go ahead with the pregnancy and to face whatever consequences may lie ahead; acting justly, loving mercy and walking with God. As it turned out their son, who has been named Micah, was born without Down Syndrome.

I write this because we so often make our choices for our own personal benefit, rather than for justice, with mercy and in humility. It is a difficult balance and we often get it wrong.

Jesus set us an example of how to walk this balance. It did not mean that his view of equity for all made him a soft touch. Indeed not! He was angry at injustice, he rejected favouritism, and he overturned the tables of the crooked moneylenders. And yet he called a tax collector, loves sinners and forgave those who killed him.Continue Reading

Taking a stand: love in action

Since January 2015, representatives of Northam Uniting Church have visited people detained at the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

The weekly visits to a few men have become a Bible study and support group for people from China, Sri Lanka, Iran, New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Some are Christians, some Muslim, some have a Hindu background. All speak English; some speak it well, some are beginner learners.

Body and sign language, as well as drawing pictures, are much needed extra means of communication. We talk about the Lectionary readings for the coming Sunday, so the men can get ready for church (a maximum of four people a week are allowed to go) or to prepare their own worship at the centre.

The readings are read and interpreted in the context of – indefinite for some – detention. They trigger childhood memories, comparison of how Christmas and other feasts are celebrated, stories about work and life in now far away countries, and accounts of how the men are treated while waiting for a visa or a day in court.

Waiting.Continue Reading

Harmony: the odyssey of salvation

Although the word ‘harmony’ does not appear in the Scriptures even though it existed in Greek diction at the time when the New Testament was written, a cognate or synonym is used frequently in the Scriptures. That word is ‘reconciliation’. Though the word itself is not used, the idea of harmony is central to the history of salvation.

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Corintians 5:19) could be rendered “God was in Christ harmonising the world with himself.”

I do not propose to talk about the mystery of reconciliation. Despite our best theological explanations it still remains a mystery. It is a truism that all our talk about God (theology) tells us more about ourselves than about God. So, let me reflect on the idea of harmony in relation to ourselves.

The term itself is a musical one. It denotes the agreeable effect of the apt arrangement of parts to form a harmonious whole. To harmonise, everyone vocalising, or playing an instrument, has to be playing or singing from the same music score. To use a contemporary idiom, they need to ‘be on the same page.’ Each may be playing a different instrument or part, but the music score has to be the same. Each part compliments the others to form a harmony. So, differentness is essential to harmony; and harmony is the result of the reconciliation of diversity.Continue Reading

A God who speaks

God speaks to us through the words of Scripture, as we celebrate the sacraments, as we open ourselves to God in prayer or worship, as we engage in the world around us, through the words of friend and stranger and the voice of the church.

Sometimes God’s word is one of comfort or encouragement, forgiveness or hope. Sometimes God’s word challenges us out of our comfort zone and leads us in new directions.

Through the ages, God has called people to particular responsibilities. God called Moses through a burning bush to set God’s people free from slavery. God called Isaiah as he was worshipping in the temple to speak God’s word as a prophet. Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to join in his mission in the world. Jesus called Paul on the road to Damascus to become apostle to the Gentiles. To all of these people, responding to God’s call took them in new and unexpected directions in life.

God still calls today. Each disciple is called to a particular ministry which builds up the body of Christ and serves God’s people and the whole of creation. Because each of us has distinctive gifts, the particular ministry God calls us to will differ, but all ministries are part of the ministry of Christ.Continue Reading

Faith for stepping in the dark

A Conclusion of Placement Service was held for Jessica Morthorpe, First Third Specialist for the Metro West Region, on Thursday 10 December at All Saints Floreat Uniting Church. Ashley MacMillan delivered the following sermon.

So, I’m going to talk about faith… and Jess. But given that faith manages to make it onto the list of most mis-used words in the English language, I thought I should do some clarifying before I began.

Faith is often considered to be ‘belief without proof’, making faith just a subset of belief. Yet not only is this mistaken, it also makes faith just as boring as belief is. Belief refers to what you think is true. We have beliefs about thousands of things, some of these beliefs we hold no doubt about, such as my belief that that that the Earth revolves around the sun. Other beliefs are things that we acknowledge we may never be certain about, or that there cannot be an objective truth about, such as my belief that summer is the best season. In short, belief is a broad thing, and whilst it might be a significant thing, it’s also a bit of a boring thing. It is just a form of intellectual assent to an idea. Belief is passive.

The word ‘faith’ though stems from Latin, via old French through Anglo-french, and then into middle English, before finally landing in modern English, and it means ‘to trust’. Trusting is a step in the dark. There’s this game that I used to play as a kid, where you close your eyes, hold your arms straight at your side and let yourself fall backwards. The person behind you will catch you, but the trick is to not try and save yourself. The game is to trust them.Continue Reading

Naming God

Some feminist Christians have apparently abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity, in which God is known as ‘father, son and holy spirit’. Others still use these words, knowing that all human  language is symbolic and inadequate for naming God and that gendered words do not make God male.

However, the political and pastoral uses of an implied maleness in naming God have always affirmed and empowered men, in preference to women, in the church. How should that be weighed against the danger for the church in abandoning the doctrine?

Alternatives that name three functions instead of relations, for example ‘creator, Christ and companion’, can only be accessories, not central in doctrine or liturgy. Alternatives such as naming God  ‘mother’ and suggesting the spirit is female do not seem to find wide acceptance in ordinary congregational life. Perhaps they only create the same problem differently. Perhaps they founder  on the facts that Jesus was a man and that his naming God ‘father’ was very distinctive.

But the use that Jesus made of claiming God as his ‘father’ is equally distinctive, if less discussed. It had radical implications for him and his political and pastoral relations with others… which  were not good news for patriarchy.

According to Mark’s Gospel, unclean spirits recognised that Jesus was the son of God, but two important groups of people did not. Religious leaders accused him of sorcery, and Jesus’ own family  accused him of insanity. Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters attempted to restrain him (3:19b-22). And yes, this does mean real brothers and sisters; Mary’s other children. But where was  Joseph, who, we imagine, begat these other children? Surely it would take a father, the real authority in a first-century Palestinian household, to restrain a first-born son like Jesus, not younger brothers, or sisters or a mother? Continue Reading