Category Archives: Thoughts

Opinion: Australia and Globalism

A  Response To the Prime Minister’s Lowy Lecture

by (Rev.) Dr Noel Preston AM, nwpresto@gmail.com  (9th October 2019)

On October 3, 2019, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, delivered a lecture to the Lowy Institute outlining his vision for Australia’s role in relation to what he called “globalism”.

On the surface, the tone of his speech was plausible and reasonable. But, on closer examination, his declarations, couched as they were in general terms,  are disturbing for many Australians of goodwill who seek a better direction for our nation as an international citizen – including progressive Christians (to whom this response is primarily directed).

PM Morrison rejected what he described as “unaccountable international bureaucracy”, clearly a side swipe at the United Nations. There was no acknowledgement of the role prominent Australian leaders of the past  played in establishing international forums which have defended peace along with human and environmental rights.

While rejecting “isolationism”, Mr Morrison opted instead for what he called “positive and practical globalism”. Moreover, ignoring his power and responsibility to lead the nation and inspire Australians to less self-centred policies, he  insisted that he was “responsible to the will of the Australian people” (whatever that is) invoking that slippery term, “the national interest”, as his justification.

Throughout  this bench-marking oration he did not once mention the issue of Global Warming and Australia’s responsibility to take a strong lead internationally, as life on the planet faces climate change.  Interestingly, he did not repeat his recent assertion to a United Nations assembly: “We are meeting our commitments and reject any say to the contrary…” That dubious assertion was strongly disputed by experts as demonstrated on the ABC TV program “The Drum” on the 8th of October 2019.

Sadly, his silence about this number one global issue in the Sir Frank Lowy lecture speaks volumes about his unwillingness to  prioritise a national strategy on the matter. Instead, the priority Mr Morrison espoused was  “security through economic strength”, seemingly code for “business as usual”.

Furthermore, there was no mention of his government’s record (and that of recent governments of all persuasions) on matters such as our diminishing humanitarian overseas aid budget or border protection with its unnecessarily cruel policies. Clearly, he was asserting, the Australian government will not listen to “unaccountable” international bodies who justifiably accuse Australia of violating  human rights.

That said, the lecture also, presumptuously, invoked Australia’s “higher values”, presumably the tradition we share with other middle powers like Canada and New Zealand.  Arguably, these nations  with whom we share much history apply values  that promote a somewhat different stance toward “globalism”.

The content of the Prime Minister’s speech is all the more disturbing when set in its context.

Clearly, it was fashioned and delivered against the background of his recent international tour which included his absence at the UN Climate Conference in New York, but an elaborate State visit to Trump’s USA (and it is President Trump who has given currency to this term, “globalism”). Of course, the context is wider: China’s rise to power, Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic style and the UK’s Brexit push.

These geo-political shifts provide a reason for the Prime Minister to clarify Australia’s approach to international affairs but they also emphasise the need for caution, lest Australia fall into line with  the mood for regressive nationalism.

Finally, in my view, people of Christian faith and all those who share a hope for the common good, cannot avoid the conclusion that, as he has become a custodian of great political power, the Prime Minister’s loudly proclaimed Christian faith has evaporated in the years since he delivered a testimony to that faith in his maiden speech.

Understood prophetically and progressively, Christianity, along with other like worldviews, believes the interests of the global community of life are paramount. It will be up to civil society in Australia, including  strong advocacy by religious leaders, guided by a different understanding of globalism, to push back and sound a different note. Otherwise, we will continue to slide further  from  authentic international responsibility toward a narrow and self-focussed national interest.

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Early thinking on sexuality in divine-human relations

[Posted to demonstrate the diversity of thinking amongst our growing cohort of progressives and the fact that this sort of thinking was in scholarly circles in the 18th century...]

From Brother Mac Campbell, Society of St Francis

I became interested in an eighteenth century German philosopher/theologian who was responsible for the birth of Romanticism.

Perhaps the following might interest readers:

Johann Georg Hamann on sexuality; Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
“One must also remember that Hamann confessed that he could not conceive of a Creative Spirit without genitalia; indeed, he was quite happy to assert that the genitals are the unique bond between creature and Creator. So sexuality in divine-human relations has two aspects. First, as paradigm of creativity, it is the way in which our God-likeness can most strikingly be seen. Secondly, as the point of the most profound unity, it is the locus for our union both with another human being and with the divine. Provocatively, Hamann sees original sin and its rebellion as embodied not in sexuality, but in reason. Overweening reason is our attempt to be like God; meanwhile, prudery is the rejection of God’s image, while trying to be like God in the wrong sense (bodilessness). (See Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage and Konxompax.) One should therefore distinguish ‘likeness to God’ from ‘being equal to God’. In the Sibyl’s essay, the male version of grasping at equality with God (cf. Phil. 2:6) is the attempt to be self-sufficient, to be the God of monotheism: the sole ruler, who possesses self-existence. Instead, the encounter with the opposite sex should engender in the man an attitude of profound respect towards the woman’s body, as the source of his own existence, from his mother. As the source of his own joy, lovemaking also is an acknowledgement of his own dependence, his lack of self-sufficiency and autonomy. But this dependence on another paradoxically is the Godlikeness of the Creator, the father, the one who humbles himself in self-giving (a favourite Hamannian theme in his discussion of God). Meanwhile, the woman’s temptation is to an artificial innocence; a secret envy of God’s incorporeality and impassibility. The defence of one’s virginity is another cryptic attempt at self-sufficiency. Instead, the woman must brave the ‘tongues of fire’ in a ‘sacrifical offering of innocence’, in order to realize her Godlikeness; which is not to be found in bodilessness and the absence of passion, but in passionate creativity; in the willingness to be incarnate. Thus, if human beings are in the image of God, it is a trinitarian image of God, a mutual relation of love of ‘Father’, ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’; found in creating, in saving, and in tongues of fire.”

Brother Mac Campbell (the Society of St Francis)   October 2019

The German philosopher Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) was known as the “Wizard of the North.” He held that truth is a matter of subjective belief, and he sought to reveal the divine in things and people.      

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Continuing discourse: Why I do/don’t go to church

From Tim O’Dwyer

Hi guys,

Thanks for this.

Here is a snapshot of my introductory remarks at our last “exploration”:

On the wall behind the pulpit at the Thompson Estate Methodist Church where I grew up was a large painted scroll with these words: “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”. Have been reflecting on that text for more than six decades…

Gained some insight as an adult when I discovered Micah 6:8 :

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

My Aussie paraphrase:

The good oil from God:

Fair go, cobber; be a mate, mate; and let’s all be humble little Vegemites.

Meanwhile, I found much the same message in the Gospel’s setting for Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable where Jesus essentially tells the trickster lawyer to never mind asking who your neighbour is – just be a freaking neighbour!

At the same time, I’ve always been gobsmacked by this New Testament insight: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (From 

1 John 4:16)

So to the term “God” which Lloyd Geering in “Christianity without God” has not only had a long and complex history but also has become a very confusing word. After suggesting that we can functionally take “God” to refer to the highest values which motivate us, Geering favourably quotes Theologian Gordon Kaufman’s observation that  even in a secular world the term “God” can still have for us a useful function as “an ultimate point of reference”. Hence “To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one’s life ans action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world…while standing in piety ans awe before the profound mysteries of existence.”

Finally why I “go to church” is summed up in part by this provocative passage from Don Cupitt’s “Radicals and the Future of the Church””

“…we should stay in the church and attempt by deception, by reinterpretation, by political stratagems and by perverting the minds of the young to do something for the transformation of Christianity and the future of religion…Self-imposed exile right outside the church may be the right thing for a few very creative people, but…many of us will find it more stimulating to be internal e iles, plotting, scheming and suspected, inside the church…(thinking) of the carefully thought-out deceptions by which we plan to use the old vocabulary as a disguise for smuggling new ways of thinking into the church.”

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Continuing discourse: Why I go to church

On going to church
Rodney Eivers
23rd August 2019
These notes were prompted by a presentation to be made to the Progressive Christian Network at Merthyr Road Uniting Church New Farm by Tim O’Dwyer on 31st August 2019.

Tim put the questions: Do you still go to church? If so, why? If not, why not? He invited me to throw in a few remarks from my own experience, so here goes. I have attended church probably from the time I was a baby in my mother’s arms and presumably before then when in my mother’s womb. My earliest memory of any sort, as related in my coming memoirs, was of returning from some function – perhaps a birthday party – alone. This, remarkably at the age of about three or four years. I looked down on my family home from the adjacent traffic bridge and pondered life and the future.

It would be easy to say that from that period on till my now 9th decade I have more or less regularly attended church because I accepted the invitation to be a Christian, or more accurately, as I would put it this way today, a follower of the ethical principles proclaimed by the wandering sage, Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago. But the questions being put by Tim are part of a wider issue and we need to narrow it down quite a bit. I shall assume that going to church and being Christian in ethos and practice is not necessarily the same thing. I shall be referring to belonging to a specific congregation and attending weekly services on “the Lord’s day” more or less regularly. I have been doing that for nigh on 80 years. Why have I been doing this? It is largely habit. It is one of my life’s rituals. Presumably this routine has some benefit to it.

That need not have been the case for everybody. Only the other day when I suggested that the church is an institution which undertakes to make the world a better place, my table companion responded that this has not been the experience for her. An immediate response to the original question may be that the church is my “community”. It is a community which caters for our social, personal and some might say “spiritual” needs. It does that in contrast to just about all other communal institutions, from the cradle to the grave.

We engage in that community at our baptism, we engage in that community at our marriage, we engage in that community in the moral guidance of our children and grandchildren, we engage in that community often in sickness and at our ending with our funeral. I am reminded of the large part a congregation played for so many of my family and acquaintances in our entertainment and social interaction.

Most of my social dancing was with church groups, any girlfriends I might have had would have come from church congregations – not necessarily my own – I met my wife outside the doors of a church in Port Moresby. I have written recently on the impact of Christian Endeavour in nurturing confidence as a public speaker and office-holder in secular as well as religious groups.

One concern I have with the loss of attendance at church by children and young people is that disappearance of an important source of “moral guidance” for those growing up and establishing a place in an adult world. That a congregation provides moral guidance is not taken for granted these day and I would be the first to challenge the negativity which comes from the supernaturalism and rules which come from the preaching in most of our churches. Some of the old stories of vengeance and slaughter in the Hebrew scriptures are truly horrifying. When reading or preaching from the Bible one does need to be selective and in practice this is what preachers and especially Sunday School teachers do.

One can take stories from a recent Sunday as an example. The lectionary reading was from Luke Chapter 13 where Jesus was chided for healing on the Sabbath. The moral guidance from this surely is that acting in a caring spirit is more important than complying with restrictive rules and regulations which can entangle us in exercising the practice of love. Or take the Bible story that my grandson absorbed this morning at his Sunday school class – that of Paul and Silas freed from prison because of an earthquake. After returning home the youngster – six years old – was able to repeat the whole story. It clearly provided for him the lesson of caring for others through its punch line. That is that Paul and Silas the two prisoners chose not to run to freedom because they recognised that this would mean big trouble for their prison guard,

Another aspect of a congregation which draws me is that it is a great social leveller. I am talking largely of the non-conformist Protestant tradition here. Any persons of whatever social class can be officers in the congregation. She or he can rub shoulders, for instance, as an elder, with peers from any level of society.

I recall in my teen years belonging to a congregation whereby the local mill manager shared a pew with people who would have been his employees. For me, personally, it also provides the opportunity to develop administrative and leadership skills. It is rare for me to be associated with an organisation and, in due course, not end up holding some office or other. Such offices are usually within that congregation or with other associated entities. It provides me with a vehicle through which to further my life-long aim of seeking to leave the world a better place than when I came into it.

Some might respond, “But how can you put up with all that supernaturalism and gobbledy-gook language which goes along with the enjoyment of companionship and familiar music, songs and liturgies?”

Well, one may well be swamped by starchy, unintellectual tradition but there is also the opportunity to introduce congregation members to new songs, new ceremonies and even new ways of looking at the scriptures. You have to be in it to win it and it may be that some of the examples we set as individuals may rub off to become new ways of being appropriate for a 21st century community.


My recent sermon on the Trinity (https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=2990&cpage=1#comment-273795 ) led some to say, “I had never thought about it that way before!” One privilege that we have in the Uniting Church is that anyone may address a congregation from the pulpit and additionally there is always the opportunity to express points of view in the variety of study groups.

So yes I continue to “go to church” and what’s more, I enjoy “church crawling” when I am travelling to other places and other countries. Although not to the same extent as with Roman Catholic followers, for whom going to church is regarded as a moral obligation, I enjoy seeing how other Christians express their faith through their church services. The familiarity of the liturgies and the communal environment helps me to sense the connection which Christians have with one another all over the world.

So I anticipate that I shall continue to go to church until they put me in a box. Hopefully this will be after I have cautioned my family and the presiding minister to express none of this supernatural “in my father’s mansions” hope at the final “celebration of my life”.

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Reflection: The Planet and its People

We joined a very large crowd at Gosford, NSW, for the Climate Action demonstration on 20th September. Gosford is the home of Rev Rod Bower, Anglican priest and advocate for many social justice issues. He has had significant influence here and across Australia.

What we noticed was the high level of participation by Seniors who outnumbered the school children. They carried placards declaring their concern about the future for their grandchildren and our Pacific Island neighbours.

It is clear that there is a rapidly growing consciousness about the state of the planet and the urgency of the need to accelerate the response to climate change.

A standout for us was the strong presence in the ‘Strike’ of UCA, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Quaker church people under their banners. All of these have active social justice and green departments that generated a lot of encouragemental to their members prior to the event.

The climate strikers have a purpose beyond establishing a public image and demonstrating. We have three goals:

  1. No new coal, oil or gas projects, including Adani’s mine.
  2. 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030.
  3. A just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities.

The critics fall into many camps. There are those who deny climate change and their numbers are shrinking. There are those who deny human influence on climate change but to makes their case they will have to counter the growing scientific evidence. There are those who claim that God is in control and we should do nothing. I have never found it fruitful to conduct any discourse with this group whose God is both loving and cruel at the same time. There are those who have given up, live in fear and feel powerless. There are those who think that demonstrating is a waste of time and will not produce a change and there are those who are just complacent or cynical. I am sure there are many other groups.

I am optimistic but frustrated by governments that are obfuscating. But perhaps this is a wasted concern. With growing globalization of opinion and action this may be a change that occurs despite governments. Already there is strong evidence that industry and commerce are moving towards renewable energy sources.

Jesus-inspired people wanting integrity in the change process are getting stronger voices in the movement to turn around climate distopia towards real collaborative action. Instead of claiming to know better than others they are working with science, with conservationists and with those who have found ways to get the message out. Their tradition has always had available arguments but these have been buried in pointless doctrinal and organizational mediocrity.

“God so loved the world….” is a restatement of powerful messages in Psalms, Micah, Genesis, 1 Timothy, Numbers, and hundreds of other encouragements to look after the planet and it’s people. The World Council of Churches has since 1970 been helping to build sustainable communities. In this Season of Creation many church groups are working hard on sustainability projects.

Jesus eschewed political power and sided with the vulnerable. .. We should do the same.

Rev James Bhaguar, the general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, addressing the UCA demonstrators in Sydney, appealed to Mr Morrison (PM) for Australia to do more to reduce its carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy:

Weve watched as our homes are eaten away by rising tides, and as Australia allows it’s emissions to rise. For Christians acting to prevent climate catastrophe is not just about survival. It is about loving your neighbour and protecting God’s creation. Right now, Australia is doing more than most to desecrate the precious gift that humanity has been given.

He too is learning how pointless it is to rely on governments.

All of this points back to myself and I have to recommit to doing all I can as an individual to further the goals of our Climate Change Strikers.

Paul inglis 22 November 2019.

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Some great feedback – more please

In case you have not looked at the ‘Replies’ we are getting to our post seminar question on why or why I don’t attend church , here is a sample:

Lauren Toogood

1.MY JOURNEY INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ FAITH

I had a traditional Catholic upbringing, including Catholic schools but not especially devout parents. My mother was Italian Catholic and my father Church of England but religion didn’t play a big part in our family. A sense of God and the sacred seemed to be a central part of my life though and I was open to issues of faith.

At university I chose the Protestant route but it was an evangelical, fundamentalist denomination although I managed to find the more relational, personal stream of that denomination fortunately. Doctrine was central to having a strong relationship and independent thinking was discouraged over ‘faithful’ obedience and belief in a set of rules.

Once childrearing was slowing down, and I started mixing more in the wider world through work. I started pushing the boundaries of the traditional beliefs (my husband was an evangelistic minister) and my thirst for deeper spiritual values was ignited. I could no longer agree with the most fundamental theology of my denomination which led to my choosing to be removed from membership.

My journey didn’t end there, as now I started questioning the fundamental beliefs of Christianity itself – did Jesus really say all those things?; did he have to die for my sins?; what kind of God allows so much suffering?; is the bible really an accurate account of history and God’s interaction with mankind?; who is God?….

With the internet I could explore and I was esp drawn to the writings of Marcus Borg, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen and then I came across the writings of David Richo a former catholic priest who wove together ideas of Christianity, Buddhism and Jungian psychology. That is where my heart resonated. I have deep respect for the compassionate values of all faiths and no faith and I now believe Christianity is a little arrogant when it says it is the only way to God (or the sacred).

God has become much bigger and more mysterious than any one faith teaches for me and I believe we do well when we learn from one another and help one another to grow closer to the greatest values of loving kindness and do no harm.

I did try to find a faith community but I ended up in a small coastal town where there are only a few individuals here and there who might have similar journeys. I would say I align the most with progressive uniting church ways and Universalism. I am not used to liturgy though after leaving the Catholic church so I really don’t miss that.

I like to think I belong to a tribe somewhere but I have grown more content with surrounding myself with individuals with similar values whether they have a faith or not. I find there are many places where these people can be found – bushwalkers, environmentalists, meditators, those interested in health, community volunteers, artistic people, and social justice advocates. I don’t feel the need specifically to be in a church. Part of me believes that if I belonged to a denomination again it would be a step backwards in my journey.

Having said that there is one sacred gathering that I did feel met a need in my heart but it was only in Canberra. It was a monthly gathering called “the Gathering” and it was a reflective hour where a theme was chosen based on world issues and art, music, and reflections from wisdom teachers (including Jesus) were shared by 2 leaders and a time of contemplation and fellowship over a meal was included. That would be the most I would look for now. Otherwise I feel I belong to the world and do not want to be labeled or boxed in by a denominational label. That is my journey which as others have expressed is always ongoing. It is encouraging to know there are like minded people out there also journeying in somewhat similar ways even though the specifics are all unique to each one of us.

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing.

***

2. MY EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH

Peter Marshall

Paul and readers, my experience of church as a child through the 60s, early 70s will be familiar to many. My way of understanding this experience is to acknowledge to myself that my childhood saw the death of an innate desire to explore a wonderful supportive presence that I could sense but not explain. I’m not sure if back then I viewed this presence as resulting from imagination or not, but it sure felt real. Unfortunately the strong message that got through to me was that Jesus died as payment for my sins and that I was a worthless sinner, fit only as kindling for the great fires of hell where most of us were destined to spend eternity. Eternity being a concept a little beyond my understanding as a 12 year old. So by age 16 I decided not to set foot in church again, except for marriages, deaths and christenings. Now the most wonderful thing is that I can see with hindsight that supportive presence of my childhood never left me. Don’t now focus too much on the word GOD, but it seemed I had rediscovered the supportive arms of GOD whilst understanding this was the case all along. All completely at odds with that main message I received from the church. Very important to note I genuinely harbor no ill will to those that delivered the message. No space to explain here but the all pervasive spirit and the Jesus story are central to my genuinely not retaining any malice at the theological teachings received as a child which ran parallel with Billy Graham crusades in Brisbane at the time. At 50 years of age I wanted to strengthen bonds with the supportive arms of GOD which I now understood as real because I deeply needed that connection. I saw the only option to get help with this quest was to reconnect with church. I went to a Uniting church, initially found some help there but after a couple of years saw that the old theology was still dominant, just not as overtly marketed. That may have been the end of church for me but along the way I discovered Greta Vosper and the wider progressive movement. This gave me the space to continue the quest which is very ably facilitated by the West End Contemplative service and West End Explorers group (I do not live close to West End but it is the best I am aware of to continue a quest around the GOD question, though I also do not sense that Progressive theology is dominant in this congregation. But at least we so called progressives are tolerated there and quite possibly are genuinely welcome) Would love so say more about how Sunday evenings at West End are helpful to my quest, but obviously can’t do so in this post. Maybe later if any are interested.
Peace – Peter Marshall

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Different responses to miracles in the tradition of enquiry

Thanks to Geoff Taylor for drawing our attention to this thesis.

How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry

Head, Ivan Francis (1984) How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.Full text available as:

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Abstract

Accounts of miracles are found in the four Gospels, elsewhere in the New and Old Testaments, and at other times down to the present. Responses to the figure of Jesus among his Gospel miracles differ with the different judgements that are made about the possibility of there being miracles at all. As a matter of fact, our tradition of inquiry contains diverging, even opposing conclusions on this point, and this has a definite impact on the study of the Gospels and their central character.

This thesis constitutes a comprehensive response to the issue of miracle as it affects the interpretation of the Gospels, and hence, what we are able to believe about Jesus and the extent of his miraculous activity. Having outlined the divided response to miracle (Chapter One), the thesis is built up by studies of six principal respondents to the issue of miracle.

On the one hand, we have chosen St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman and C. S. Lewis to represent the ’maximal’ depiction of belief in miracle. These three studies exhibit the interpretations of the Gospels that accompany, and in part depend on, the non-problematical acceptance of miracle. On the other hand, we have chosen David Hume, D. F. Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann to represent the ’minimalistic’ position on miracle. While Hume does not formally discuss the Gospel miracles, his conclusions are plainly relevant, and in the two latter studies, close attention is paid to the actual interpretation of Gospel miracle stories.

In all the studies, wherever possible, I have tried to concentrate on what in particular they believed about Jesus in his miracles. In effect, this has meant pursuing a miracle-structure from conception through to Ascension. In discovering what has been believed about Jesus in his miracles, we have often placed the emphasis on the interpreters’ response to a Gospel or Gospel passage. In the concluding chapter, I direct my own attention to St. Mark’s Gospel and, in the light of earlier chapters, put my own questions to it.

While interesting results emerge from the studies of the six interpreters, my principal conclusion is that there are good reasons not to identify the Jesus of the Gospel miracles with Jesus in his pragmatic existence. While it remains coherent to develop an apology or world-view in which literal miracles on the greatest scale have a place in nature and history, it is their very magnitude that raises the decisive objections to locating them as events in Jesus’ mundane existence, prior to the Resurrection.

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A Theological Reflection on the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

By Dr Peter Lewis
All the synoptic gospels have the high priest asking Jesus if he is the Messiah (Mark 14:61, Matthew 26:63, Luke 22:67). In Mark Jesus says, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” In Matthew the “I am” is replaced by “Yes, it is as you say.” In Luke, Jesus says that if he told them they would not believe him, and he goes on to say, “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” Despite these differences, in all three gospels Jesus asserts that he will sit at the right hand of God, but only in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel does this actually occur. In Mark 16:19 Jesus is taken up to heaven and sits at the right hand of God. This is what the reader would expect: it is the logical conclusion to the story and it confirms that the longer ending is what Mark originally wrote. But why is it not in the endings of the gospels of Matthew and Luke?


It seems that Matthew did not know Mark’s original ending because there is nothing in his gospel that relates to Mark’s text after 16:8. Luke knows the original ending because the disciples do not believe the women (Luke 24:11), Jesus appears to two of his followers when they are walking in the country (Luke 24: 13-35) and the disciples stay in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49), but Luke does not have the Ascension (he was taken up into heaven – Mark 16:19) at the end of his gospel because he wants it to be in the beginning of Acts, which is the second volume of the orderly account that he wrote for Theophilus (Luke 1:3). In modern versions of Luke’s gospel the Ascension also occurs in the final verses; “He was taken up into heaven and they worshipped him” (Luke 24:51,52) but this is a later insertion. It does not occur in Papyrus 75 from the third century, Codex Vaticanus and other ancient manuscripts, and should not be in modern versions. But how does Luke deal with the Ascension in Acts?
In Acts 1:9, after Jesus spoke to the disciples “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Then two angels appear and the reader naturally expects them to say that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, which is what he told the high priest (Luke 22:68), but instead they ask a stupid question, “Why are you standing looking into the sky?” What else would they be doing? Then the angels say that Jesus will come back in the same way as he went up. Why has Luke made such a significant change to Mark’s account (Mark 16:19)?
To answer this question we need to examine what Jesus said to the high priest in Mark 14:62. His first words were, “I am.” This is what God said to Moses when he asked what was the name of God (Exodus 3:14). God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that ‘I AM’ has sent him to them. This is God’s name and although essentially a mystery it has the connotation of being alive, of being conscious and aware. It is an amazing statement for Jesus to make. It means that he thought he was God or in some way divine.
Then, in his answer to the high priest Jesus uses a mixed metaphor: he cannot be sitting and standing at the same time. Sitting at the right hand of God has the sense of permanence and stability, and this metaphor derives from Psalm 110:1, which Jesus quoted in Mark 12:36. Coming on clouds has the sense of movement and this metaphor derives from Daniel 7:13 – one like a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven. Obviously he would be standing not sitting.
Actually, what Jesus tells the high priest is a paradox. Divinity is a mystery: God cannot be known as He really is. Ultimate reality is beyond the human mind. Just as the ultimate basis of our material existence is a paradox, i.e. the particle/wave phenomenon of quantum physics, so must the ultimate reality of God be to us. This does not mean that God does not exist: it means we have to use metaphors in talking about Him. Of course He does not sit on a throne in heaven as Zeus was imagined on Mount Olympus. Whether thought of as Being, Mind or some other category God is beyond human comprehension.
In Luke’s account of the Ascension Jesus goes up with a cloud and the angels say he will return with clouds (Acts 1:11). Jesus will be standing, as the disciples were at the time, not sitting on a throne. This is confirmed later in Luke’s account because when Stephen is about to be killed he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The significance of standing is that he is about to return.
Why has Luke changed Mark’s description of Jesus sitting with God, to Jesus being about to return? To answer this question we have to understand the time and circumstances of Mark and Luke. Mark was writing in Rome before the Jewish War (66 -70 CE). Although there had been violence such as the killing of James in about 41 CE it paled in significance compared with the terrible events of the war which climaxed in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and Mark’s circumstances were fairly stable. This is reflected in the ending he wrote: Jesus is seated with God and the Kingdom of God has come. If Luke wrote during or after the Jewish War he would have been greatly affected by it, as was everyone involved in it. It was a horrible time and Luke with all the Christians would have turned to Jesus. The expectation that Jesus would return was greatly heightened, and in his First Letter to the Thessalonians Paul describes the event: the Lord will come down from heaven and the Christians who are still alive will be caught up in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:16,17). Luke was one of Paul’s companions and he too would have expected Jesus’s imminent return, but to make his account more appealing he concludes it in 62 CE with Paul in Rome preaching the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded the disciples in Mark 16:15, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).
The ending that Mark originally wrote is very significant for a theological understanding of his gospel. Jesus enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand is what it is all about. And it is amazing to think that Jesus did it all himself. He arranged the whole thing, i.e. the birth of Christianity was his doing. On three occasions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) he said he would be killed and rise again: he knew it would happen because he was going to make it happen. With his staged entry into Jerusalem and his disrupting the business in the temple he provoked the authorities to kill him, and most importantly with his giving of himself at the Last Supper he carried it off. What an achievement!
It was not a group effort: his disciples did not understand him and fled when he was arrested. Even their following him was not their doing: Jesus commanded them to follow him (Mark 1:17). It was all part of his plan, and finally he sat down at the right hand of God. How bold! How confident! Whether God liked it or not Jesus installed himself, and we acknowledge him as Lord. But God did like it because, you see, God was Jesus.
God became a human being in order to become involved in the life of the world that he created and to guide it into the future. In this way human beings become co-creators with God in creating the Kingdom of God. Paul summed it up when he wrote that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19a). God expressed his love by giving to human beings the model of Christ: caring, forgiving, healing, and by giving his Spirit. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. . .” (Eph 5:1)

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Reflection: Death, Trinity, Hope and Religious Language


Rodney Eivers
Preached 23rd June 2019
Death has not been far away from me this week.
Indeed it may not be far from the thoughts of many of us in this congregation as we struggle with serious illness.
Even without serious illness most of us are in the later years of our lives and will wonder from time to time what lies ahead of us.
Some will be comforted by some confidence that this earthly life is not the end and that some heavenly destination awaits us. Do not let me persuade you otherwise.
One day we asked my father in law David, “Do you expect to go to heaven when you die?”
He did not give what might be called a simple answer but replied. “I have heard it said that we make our own heaven and our own hell here on Earth”
This leads me in to the thought of the way we use religious language. What do we mean when we talk about God, or heaven, or hell?
But first of all a little diversion over some of the assumptions we make about our Christian faith. A little bit of history.
Today is Trinity Sunday. We talk a lot about Trinity in our hymns and in our sermons don’t we? We assume “It’s in the Bible”. Actually Trinity is not in the Bible although there are a number of passages which lead people to think that this was what Jesus was talking about.
After Jesus died with his talk of love, of God as caring father and the Kingdom of God his followers thought so highly of him that they wanted to say he was equal to God. But then some of them wanted to take it further and say that Jesus was God.
In the next 300 years there were lots and lots of arguments about this and some people got very angry, even to the extent of killing one another. In the end Roman Emperor, Constantine got sick of it. He called all the Christian bishops together for a conference and said, “Enough quarrelling. Get this sorted out”
So they got this parliament together and there was lots of to…ing and fro…ing with debate. One fellow called Arius, said that if we were going to say that Jesus was the Son of God (there were actually lots of sons of God in those days, including the Roman Emperor) he could not be God equally with God as father. This is because children must obey their parents. That means they can’t be equal. Also if Jesus was the son of God and conceived as a baby he could not have existed at the same time as God as the book of John claims.
To complicate the matter some people threw in the idea of a Holy Spirit as also another form of God, thus making it three – That’s where we get Trinity from.
Hazel talked about the spirit of God in her sermon last week and I like the way she described it as an influence for good within our own minds and bodies.
Anyway, Arius and his mob lost. But the bishops kept arguing it for hundreds of years and indeed today it is still a source of argy bargy. Most of the ordinary followers of Jesus did not really know what was going on or what it was all about.
Perhaps they still don’t but we still make a big thing of the Trinity. You look at our hymns. Our Uniting Church school for ministers is called Trinity College Queensland.
Which brings me to the point that all we have for describing God, is our human language.
We find we have to think in terms of human beings. We know from our scientists these days (anybody watched Brian Cox on television?) that there are billions of stars bigger than our sun and millions of galaxies full of those stars. Where does a human being fit into all this?
A quotation used by many people since but including a Greek man called Xenophanes 2500 years ago noted “If horses could paint their gods, they would look like horses”.
So we are limited by our human language. We need to keep this in mind when it comes to interpreting what has been written in the Bible,
And we have a big problem here when it comes to bringing the Jesus story today to people, especially young people who have not read the Bible and if they do, find much of the Bible confusing and not making much sense.
We can talk about God and think we know what we mean but for people on the outside of the church our images don’t count for much. Most people in our culture (perhaps even some of us in this congregation) have decided that the God who controls and manipulates everything is unbelievable.
The characters in the Old Testament and Paul in the New were trying to sort our problems which existed for them at that time. They did not see them as applying to everybody for for the rest of history . It is not about sticking to the law. It is more about being “like Jesus” as best we can.
I trust that you, like me, even as we struggle to describe our relationship with God in human language and to cope with getting older and getting sicker will continue to “be like Jesus” as best we can. AMEN

oOo

An Informed Faith

That is the title of a blog moderated by Rev Dr John T Squires. John is a Presbytery Minister for the Canberra Region, minister at Queanbeyan Uniting Church, former Drector of Education and Formation and Principal of Perth Theological Hall.

John has been reflecting on a “small and extreme reactionary group that is generating much noise about matters of sexuality”.

He says
“There is clearly a place for an artculate, thoughtful, informed theology which is both conservative and evangelical. I dont dispute that. I have always valued such voices in the scholars have read,the students I have taught, and the colleagues with whom I work and interact. Good conservative theology makes a valuable contribution to the life of the church”.

We commend his blog to all crtically thinking members of the Church as well as those who have all but given up on it. In this blog John explores the reactionary edge of the conservative thread running through the four decades of the UCA. In the last three entries he focuses on the failed strategy of conservatives in the UCA as they ramp up the rhetoric, try to generate guilt and provoke panic in congregations and individuals.

Copy this link into your search engine and scroll through the most recent entries.

An Informed Faith – https://johntsquires.com
oOo