One Man's Web

From the text:

When the lawyer tested Jesus— what must I do to inherit eternal life— Jesus replied, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ (Luke 10:26)

 James Alison says that this verse reflects the fact that the law, or any text, is never read in a vacuum. We read it through someone's eyes. There is a Rabbi, a teacher somewhere, who has taught us what it is that we read in a text, and how to read it. "And that meant, as they well knew, “Who is your rabbi? Through whose eyes do you read this text?” (James Alison Jesus the Forgiving Victim, Essay 2)

When we read the story of God testing Abraham, even when we warm to the insights of one commentator over another, we are reading through the eyes from which we have learned: that is, we are reading according to a Rabbi who has taught us.

I experienced our recent Synod here in Adelaide, with the usual mixture of being moved to tears of joy at the riches  we are given in life, and despair at our falling short in our life together. There is within us a conservatism which insists its view of the world is the only correct one. At our best we live, and let live, and even build each other up, within our churches. At our worst we are defensive, dismissive of others, immersed in our own pain and blind to the pain of others, and judgemental.

I recognise this because it is where I come from, and because it is still too much of what I am. I grieve that I might thrust upon others the blindness and the judgement which has so often kept me from the joy of a deeper and fuller life. How can I read according to my Rabbi, Jesus who is Christ? How would Jesus, for example, read Genesis 22, today? How would he preach it? Would he preach it? Read on >>>>

I am reluctant to work with these texts. What do I know about violence and persecution? I only know about fear. The text says "have no fear… do not fear… do not be afraid." (10:26, 28, 31) It is in confronting my own fears that I find some way into the text.

Matthew tells us that persecution begins as a response to the healing work of disciples. (10:1, 8) At its best the church is healing, not judging or condemnatory. But it is the healing and the love behind it which triggers the persecution! Last week I showed the close connection of love to forgiveness. We cannot love without forgiveness, and forgiveness highlights the destabilising nature of love. I said,

James Alison says of the text, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16)" that

rather than this being an instruction about prudence, as it is usually made out to be, I suggest that this is what acting out forgiveness in the world looks like: it looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply destabilized by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you. On Being Liked

Why are we sometimes destabilised, as Alison puts it, by love and forgiveness? What frightens us so much? To love and forgive is to accept loss of privilege, power, and possessions, rather than seek reparation. It is easy to scoff at this idea, but if it is put into action, then to love and to forgive is to cut across the good manners of family loyalties and vendettas. It ignores and undermines the established hierarchies of power.  Love and forgiveness sometimes frightens us so much that we cannot be healed. We can think only of self-preservation; that is, the maintenance of the false security that comes with privilege, so love and forgiveness does not bring peace to the earth but a sword... Read on >>>>

We could read this text as a kind of summation of the teaching and healing Jesus has been doing in Matthew since Chapter 4. It is there he first says the kingdom is at hand as a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy

that 6 the people who sat in darkness
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
   light has dawned.’ 

Jesus now lives this out in "all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness." He models Kingdom, and directs the disciples to do the same. The wholeness of the kingdom, its restoration, and its coming fulfilment are symbolised by the number twelve, which is highlighted and repeated. Israel is  becoming what it was meant to be; the disciples are sent first of all to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. There is also a reminder of incompleteness and loss, for among the twelve is "Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him." One of those sent to have compassion upon the flock turns out to be on the side of the wolves, and in the future, (Matt 28:16-20) there will only be eleven. I take the reference to the eleven in last week's text to be a reassurance that even though we betray the kingdom, the task is not beyond us.

And then we have the great contrast to Kingdom, for those who are going out, moved with compassion, are told they will be hated because of their love.

I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves… they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me… 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name.

How does this work? How is this kingdom?... Read on >>>>

Listen here. The Hymn Bring Many Names can be found here on Youtube and in other videos.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

When did people decide there was something… behind the world? Nobody knows when we decided there is something greater than us, but we know that people called this "something" God.

And we know they thought there were probably quite a few of these Gods. You thought, or you hoped, that your God was the best God, or the strongest God. That's an understanding called Henotheism… you can see echoes of it in the Old Testament: God has taken his place in the divine council;    in the midst of the gods he holds judgement, says Psalm 82

But by the time of Jesus, Jewish people had come to understand there is only one God. That's called monotheism, and it's central to our understanding of God.

Monotheism says there is only one God. The rest are fakes... Isaiah 44 says a carpenter

plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it... 16Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it, and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!’ 17The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it, and worships it; he prays to it and says, ‘Save me, for you are my god!’

In the Old Testament, God is not merely a distant, high God. God is tender… When Israel was a child I loved him, says Hosea 11. ... Read on >>>>

In the Scriptures, which long predate the Doctrine of the Trinity, we see a basic tension. In answer to a question about which is the greatest commandment, Jesus said

The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Mark 12:29)

He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4. The understanding that God is one was basic and central to his faith, and is basic and central to our faith. The same story is included in Matthew's gospel, yet at the end of this gospel, when Jesus meets the disciples on a mountain, the place where people meet God, the disciples worship Jesus.

It is no wonder that Jewish and Muslim folk wonder if we have abandoned monotheism! No mere man is worthy of worship.... Read on >>>>

The distillation of Mystery cannot be grasped...

Especially in Chapter 17, John's Gospel can seem suspiciously similar to pseudo-spiritual gobbledegook from the New Age shelves. I've also seen  'spiritual letters' from self-appointed prophets which share some of the cadence of John, but whose authors have been plainly quite unwell. Even to sympathetic eyes, the book can seem impenetrable, perhaps like those prayers from the minister with phrase upon phrase where you wonder if he's— it's usually the men— actually saying anything at all! Why would John write something like that!?

Well, perhaps it was not as strange a type of literature in its time, as it seems now. (And there is one part of the prayer which should be familiar. It is one of those prayers which is also a sermon!)

If we feel like we are out of our depth and have no idea what he is saying, it's not that the text is obscure;  it's because he wants to put us out of our depth. He wants to pull us up short; he wants to stop us being familiar with the story of Jesus, and his death and resurrection, and to see the story in a new light. His hope, and indeed his expectation, is that the swirling repetitions and the lack of logical sequence— how does this connect to that!? —   in the text, will allow something of the deeper mystery of God which he has experienced to also break through into our consciousness. He wants to say there is something life-giving in this humiliated, dying, absent Messiah which is even deeper than we imagined!

A way in to all this may come from appreciating John's understanding of the evil of what he calls "the world." ... Read on >>>>


... As I grew up, I began to hear rumours of a deeper life in the church: A meeting with the Spirit of God which promised healing; which promised a depth of reality that would let me be at home in the world, rather than excluded, alone, and questioning whether life was worth it. At that time, I could not have used those words to describe my situation, but I certainly heard the promise of a knowledge and experience which would heal, and build up, and it sounded like cool water to a man "doing a perish."

One night, on a long drive through the bush, I was favoured with an overwhelming ecstatic experience. Although, even then, a little piece of me stood apart, watching with a raised eyebrow and asking, "Really!?" This doubt didn't then matter so much, because something real had happened to me; something real had given me a new ease with life. I had been give an epiphany. And, suddenly, I was accepted; in the church, I had become one of those who had "seen." ...  Read on >>>>

A long article, plus a sermon draft, this week. You may prefer to listen to the podcast.

From the text...

I remain Christian because of the writings of a Buddhist author who showed me a way through philosophical and theological dead ends. I returned to active ministry within the Uniting Church because of the witness of my Muslim friend, Fata. My Hazarra neighbours' grace and generosity enlivens my soul. But all this is necessarily experienced and processed through the story of Jesus, and the imagery of the Christian church. It's where I live.

All I would achieve by abandoning that imagery ... is that I would construct a new religious language and imagery. If it were to mean anything, and have any depth, it would necessarily in some sense still exclude those who had not "entrusted" themselves to it. But that does not mean it would have the whole truth!! I can lean over the fence and ask Hussein how things look from his backyard, but I must live in my own home.

Life is deep, and the depths can only be entered by the discipline and practice of a particular imagination, or home.... Read on >>>>

The Melbourne trip was the usual learning curve of unexpected events which seems to characterise long rides.... Read on >>>>





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