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

On the road to Jericho

Who is my neighbour? This is the question asked of Jesus by an expert in the law, and it provides the setting for Jesus’ telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is played out on the Jericho Road. It had a nickname in the time of Jesus – the ‘Way of Blood’. A remote road that for centuries had been a place of robberies, the Jericho Road is a symbol. It is the strip of  suffering.For Jesus, and still today, it is a symbol of the suffering in the world. Continue Reading

This one thing you lack

The story strikes terror into the heart of middle class Westerners like me: surely this is not a command for everyone, at all times?

When we think of a theology of simplicity we need to remember that we are under grace, not law. Grace leads us to whatever form of discipleship towards our material goods – and the way we conduct our lives – to which God calls.Continue Reading

An article on ‘courage’ – Why ask me?

Rev Rob Dummermuth abseiling as part of his training for the SES.

I recall being told once upon a time my name, translated, means ‘reckless bravery’. Is that why? So I ask. No, it’s because of my involvement with emergency services and disaster  response. Ah, but what has courage to do with that?

While away on holidays I have heard the Word and took notice of the context. A young girl shot because she was going to school was called brave. A woman swimming from Cuba to  Florida without a shark cage was called brave. A bystander jumping into the sea to help a person who had fallen off the rocks; a rescue crew responding to a road accident; fire fighters  responding to bush fires; a young child suffering a terminal brain tumour; a kayaker trapped on an island by a crocodile; a solo bicycle rider travelling around Australia on roads shared  with B-triples; someone walking across the Great Sandy Desert to raise funds for cancer research… the list continues.Continue Reading

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where –‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

Hmmm. I wonder what seven-year old Alice Plausance Liddell made of this story during a picnic on the river at Oxford, 151 years ago, when told them by her devoted Christian friend, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson? I wonder what we make of them now, as we read them again from that much loved story ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, written by Dodgson under his pen name, Lewis Carroll?Continue Reading

Called to be Christ in our community

Dongara Uniting Church. Typical of small country towns, the church can be the hub of the community.

Dongara Uniting Church. Typical of small country towns, the church can be the hub of the community.

‘A rural community is people living across a wide rural-based area serviced by a small town (often with limited facilities) which is a central hub for interdependent activities which meet  social, commercial, educational and spiritual needs.’ Rural Ministries Working Group

Jesus came and lived amongst people, ministering to people, loving people. The church is a community of people who are bound by that rule of love, giving of themselves for one another  as Jesus gave himself for them (John 13). The community of the church is called to live that life of love in all aspects of its life which includes in the wider community.  Community in a rural setting tends to be far more intense than in the city. In our small country towns each person is known to the other through the network of community groups in the  town. In pastoral care of each other this both helps and hinders the local church community. Everyday pastoral care comes naturally to those we know, and the church community  relates easily to the whole community.Continue Reading