Sharing life’s stories

It is somewhat unique for me to be asked to contribute to a theological spot. For the past 20-plus years, I have found myself in front of 1200 to 1500 students weekly, talking about our  spirituality. I have also spent time at camps, sport and in the chapel. The choice of words reflecting centuries of theological insight has little if any meaning in this setting. Perhaps some would  say, ‘that is because the words aren’t used enough.’

I’m not convinced. I think Jesus was faced with this same dilemma as he spoke to the foreigner, tax-gatherer, child or outcast each day.

The theme of this issue, being ‘beyond your circle’ prompts us to ask ourselves, ‘how do we relate to others?’ I believe it begins with simply being with them and listening. The gospel often refers  to Jesus knowing what ‘they’ were thinking and then responding. He spoke through story and chose his stories to carry a meaning that they could identify. More importantly, he cared  what they thought and understood. Jesus would speak and tell stories about their world because it was his own incarnation – he was born as one of us.

Our stories at Scotch College are about things that the students are familiar with and to which they can relate. It may be the story of Disney’s animation film, Big Hero 6, or Dido’s song, Life for  Rent. When a School Captain shares his reflections on the ANZAC legend and a student shares a letter written by a young man to his mother from the trenches at Gallipoli – seven days before he  dies – others begin to understand the different ways people sacrifice. Continue Reading

Let your light shine

For many of us, being a Christian is easy… on a Sunday, in a church building, in worship, in the company of other Christians, etc. Come Monday morning and the other days of the week,  however, and all of a sudden we’re afraid of who we are. Why is that?

If we read Matthew 5:14-16 we will do well to remember that Jesus told us: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father  in heaven.”

As followers of Christ this is what we are: ‘the light of the world’.

In John Chapter 1 we are told that “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

This ‘true light’ is Jesus, and ‘his coming into the world’ we celebrate at Christmas time.Continue Reading

Why did Jesus die?

Why did Jesus die?

Many of you will immediately respond (wondering why I ask the question) “He died for my sins.”

But I’d suggest that we Christians need to stop and think about this a while, for at least a couple of reasons.

Firstly, if you respond with this answer when asked what is Easter all about by someone who is not ‘churched’ what would they make of it? What do you actually mean? “Jesus died for my sins” is actually a shorthand phrase for a lengthy theological account that many of us would have trouble explaining.

But secondly, as the billboard outside St Lukes, Auckland says “Jesus did NOT die for our sins.”

We actually know very little about the death of Jesus. We do know that he was crucified, probably around the Passover, in Jerusalem, by order of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate. It’s not much, but it tells us something significant about Jesus and why he was killed. It tells us that his executioners were Roman, not Jewish. It tells us that his crime was sedition against the Roman state. It tells us that he was regarded by his executioners as a peasant nobody who had the temerity to challenge the Roman ‘peace’.Continue Reading

How Jesus failed: Truth from the mouths of enemies

‘Let’s go back in time and listen to the voices who mocked Jesus. Hard though it is, let’s hear what they said against him and  uncover what it actually means.

Political failure

“Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pontius Pilate. Did he really want to know, or was he hurling out one of those sick  jokes that come up among soldiers? He could not see a man with an army. His followers, all disappeared by now, are all  ordinary folks and broken people. Is he going to rule the world with that lot?

Pilate thinks a king would gather to himself  unanswerable power, but Jesus does not really give him much of an answer. Political failure? Today, the lasting truth is that  Pilate is gone and the risen Jesus rules billions of souls.

We broken souls have been the bearers of the news of real enduring glory. Continue Reading

Bring down your walls this Christmas

‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…and the walls came tumbling down!’

This song and the story have been in my head since the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The stories about these walls are different: the Jericho wall was built to protect its inhabitants and to keep intruders out; the Berlin wall was built to stop East German people leaving their country en masse.

The stories about these walls are also similar: they were both brought down without violence, by people power, by persistent trust in a future that could be better than the present, by faith, as the Hebrews author puts it.

Yes, Jericho was invaded after the walls crumbled and its population butchered, but that is not the point. The point is that walls can be brought down – no matter how long, high, big or strong they are. The point is that when they do come down, there is reason for celebration.Continue Reading

Seeking God’s shalom for the world

For followers of Jesus, when it comes to speaking up for the rights of the marginalised, our voice should be as bankable as the presence of dreadlocks and bongo drums at a G8 rally. Proverbs 31:8-10, Psalm  82:3, Isaiah, 1:17 and Luke 4:18-19 are just some of the Bible verses that make our responsibility clear. However, in my opinion, it is not the verses that are compelling, so much as the vision for life that lies  behind them.

Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests that in the pages of the Hebrew scriptures we see God’s chosen people, the Israelites, constantly faced with ‘either or’ decisions. In other words, they  can live according to the standards and values of the world around them or they can live according to God’s alternative reality – life with God at the centre where justice, humility and mercy are valued. This alternative vision for life finds its full expression in the person of Jesus. He demonstrates what life to the full looks like; life with God at the centre which he invites us to join in. This is the crux of the  Gospel. American theologian, Ron Sider says, “The vast majority of New Testament scholars today, whether evangelical or liberal, agree that the central aspect of Jesus’ teaching was the Gospel of the  kingdom of God.”

We don’t talk about kingdoms much these days, so the term can lack meaning, but the concept is pretty straight forward. A kingdom literally means a ‘king’s domain’ – it’s where the king’s values, attitudes  and ways of doing things hold sway. So what does God’s domain look like? The short answer to that question is, shalom. Continue Reading

The fullness of life in the hardest of soils

‘I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance’. (John 10.10)

‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.’ (John 1.1)

What is it about what we know of Jesus’ life that some of the closest people around him made these sorts of claims? That he ‘gave life’; that his ways among people were ‘lifegiving’? And of  course within this, remembering that some of the more powerful and influential people around him experienced him as death-dealing. One of the most poignant and paradoxical stories of Jesus’ life as a life-giver is the story of his time in the wilderness – a place symbolically devoid of life – and the spiritual and physical  challenges he faced there. The stories depict Jesus emerging from there ready for ‘life’. These truths or wisdoms now forged deeply within his soul, undergirded a way of life by which he  ‘gave life’. These were not easily come by.

Is it possible that in the place of death-dealing wilderness, Jesus learned the secrets of ‘life-giving’? Contemplating the profound questions of  sustenance, the nature of relationship and spirit? Are these the questions we must contemplate when considering what might be life-giving for our souls, and where and how we search  for that? And what might come from ways of being in our spirits, being in our relationships and being in the world that are life-giving? Continue Reading

Action: What else are we called to?

Paul Tillich once said, “Here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves, is a new creation”. One could not have a better summary of our life in faith. Every ounce of who we  are as God’s people has to be reflected in action. Who we are, how we live and who we belong to are all tied up in the life we lead, both as individuals and as a church community. We  do not exist as human beings with little boxes for this or that, but as a complete integrated package. Heart, mind, soul, hands and feet.

Jesus, for so many people an object of worship,  but not a political or social activist, focuses our attention. We do not belong to Jesus because he saves us for a life elsewhere. We belong to Jesus because he shows us how to live here and now with God as our centre, how to live with love, and how to live in community with others. You only have to read the Sermon on the Mount to understand his vision for a new social order. As Lorraine Parkinson suggests, it is a blueprint for the best possible world. Continue Reading

Sermon: The Hymns of Charles Wesley

Rev Geoff Blyth, retired Uniting Church minister, preached recently at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, for their celebration of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. Following is Geoff’s sermon on ‘The Hymns of Charles Wesley.’

A You-Tube video clip turned up on our computer which caused us great hilarity and quite a deal of thought, if not nostalgia. It is called: “Methodist Blues” The singer, Garrison Keillor, makes reference to many of the characteristics of Methodism. But the lines that have stayed with me the most are these:

“Now Methodism was started by John Wesley, not Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley.”

Methodism was started by John Wesley

When I retired as a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia in 2001 I went with my wife, Esme, to take up a one-year appointment with the Methodist Church of Britain in the Kirkoswald Circuit and the ten congregations up and down the Eden Valley in Cumbria. Not only were we exposed to the People called Methodist, we stood on the spot where John Wesley had preached to the people of Gamblesby, right there near the barn where the whole village turned out to hear him. I preached regularly at Temple Sowerby where at the chapel door there was a stone and plaque declaring that: ‘John Wesley preached here in this village on two occasions…’Continue Reading

Discovery of self

Dietricht Bonhoeffer

Dietricht Bonhoeffer

‘Who am I?’ The issue of identity is a vexing one, complex and simple at the same time. Over the last century and a half, psychologists have grappled with the notion of identity and  human behaviour, previously the domain of philosophers and theologians. The Psychoanalytic approach suggested that who we are is determined by unconscious conflicts that exist  within us, most of which we are not even aware. Behaviourists reject this approach, focussing only on human behaviour that can be observed. ‘Who we are’ is explained by what we have learnt.

Behaviours continue if rewarded but decrease if punished. The Cognitive approach says that how we think about the world and ourselves determines who we are. Errors in cognition  (thinking) are to blame for many of the troubles we face. The Humanistic approach has an overwhelmingly positive view of human beings, suggesting that by and large, all things being  equal, we will strive for self-actualisation, to better ourselves and will search for meaning in our lives. I have struggled to find among these psychological theories a satisfactory answer to the questionContinue Reading