Archives for April 2017

John Morrison – 30 April 2017

What a privilege was theirs! As they retraced their steps back to Emmaus after their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus joined them and journeyed with them. As they walked together, he taught them and their hearts burned within them. As they ate together, he revealed his identity to them and they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell their friends the joyous news.

Their experience of the risen Christ was unique. Nevertheless, we too are privileged in related ways. Jesus joins us on the road and journeys with us. Jesus teaches us. And as we enjoy fellowship with Jesus, we come to understand more about him. The difference for us is that Jesus relates to us through his Spirit rather than bodily.

The metaphors of pilgrimage and journey are familiar ones for us. They are very Biblical. For centuries prior to Jesus, Jewish pilgrims would sing pilgrimage songs on their way to Jerusalem. Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of such songs known as the Psalms of Ascent. I particularly like Psalm 128:1-2.

“Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”

A more recent song that expresses similar ideas is “Trust and Obey” (hymn 548), especially verse 1 and the chorus.

In her book “Christianity for the Rest of Us”, Diana Butler Bass refers to M. Night Shyamalan’s film “The Village” in which a group of people escapes the contemporary world’s chaos by constructing an alternative community completely separated from the rest of society. It is protected by strict and unvarying rules and customs based on the model of a 19th Century pioneer town. In a moment of crisis, the town elders realise they must send someone out of the village in order to save what they most value. They choose a blind girl, so that she might not see and be contaminated by the world. Her journey is terrifying, but she eventually discovers that love, salvation and redemption lay only outside the walls and in risking the unknown.

Bass writes: “What if the story is not just the journey of a single blind girl?… What if the whole village went on a journey to see? On my journey, I travelled with those who are more comfortable in the wilderness, people who are willing to explore the new terrain around them. Yet they did not travel alone. I found that in the breakdown of old villages, Christians are forming a different sort of village in congregations around the country. Not spiritual gated communities or protected rural villages. Rather, their new kind of village is a pilgrim community embarked on a journey of rediscovering Christianity, where people can forge new faith ties in a frightening and fragmented world. For those I met, change was not always easy, and their churches were not perfect. But they embodied courage, creativity, and imagination. And risk.”

Blessings on your journey, pilgrims. Remember the risen Lord walks with you.

John

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John Morrison – 23 April 2017

Early this week I texted Belinda. Before she left I said I wouldn’t disturb her holiday by contacting her. She indicated, however, that she wanted me to let her know if anyone died. So I told her about Ian’s passing and she replied expressing sadness at the news.

She also mentioned that they had just visited Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  “Just beautiful!” she said. This amazing church, begun in 1882, is now 70% complete and is expected to be finished by around 2030.

Although I haven’t been there, I’ve visited many other grand cathedrals and basilicas in Europe. I must admit to mixed feelings about them. On one hand, I find them fascinating and awe-inspiring, especially the history and architecture. On the other hand, however, the expense and grandeur, bordering at times on ostentation, makes me uneasy. Couldn’t simpler and less costly buildings have sufficed making more funds available for the real mission of the church? Yet the beauty and magnificence of such buildings can lift our thoughts and spirits towards the Divine. And when we spend so much on other public buildings and on our own houses, doesn’t God also deserve worship centres that are a tribute to God’s magnificence and our commitment? As you can see, mixed feelings.

I had similar reactions at the recent Versailles exhibition. Versailles was such an incredible vision and project and yet it entailed the extravagance and decadence that eventually contributed to the fall of the monarchy. I have wondered at times whether such a fate could befall the institutional church. The difference of course is that the church, in essence, is spiritual and part of God’s plan, despite its human imperfections.

My sermon today includes a quick description of the Jewish Tabernacle, which was superseded by Solomon’s Temple and then Zerubbabel’s post-exilic Temple, which was extensively renovated and expanded from around 20AD by Herod and his successors. The Holy of Holies was God’s designated dwelling place. With the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, Jews were forced to re-vision worship without their centralised sacrificial system. Christian worship had already diverged remarkably with believers meeting together in homes. Their number grew rapidly, even without dedicated church buildings.

Easter reminds us of Jesus’ declaration “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” referring to his own body. (John 2:19-21) In Scripture, the term church refers to Christians, not buildings, and is described as the body of Christ. God dwells not in a building, but within God’s people through the Spirit. So wherever we worship, and in whatever sort of building, we worship the risen Lord Jesus who is God with us through the Spirit. Welcome to worship

John

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John Morrison – 16 April 2017

On Friday, Jesus was crucified and buried in a sealed tomb. But on Sunday morning, there was good news that quickly spread – “He has risen!” The gloom and grief of Friday and Saturday turned to rejoicing and celebration.

Good Friday services are very different from Easter Sunday services. There is always a sombre note to Good Friday as we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, even though we know what happened next. Easter Sunday bursts with joy as we celebrate the triumph of life over death.

We rejoice because we have hope through Jesus. The Anglican Primate, Rev Dr Philip Freier, alludes to this in his Easter message this year. He points out that a great cloud of darkness covered the earth at the time of Jesus’ death and that dark clouds still threaten in various places today. But, he says, “Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Day, and changed everything. His resurrection was the proof of his definitive victory over sin and death. For Christians, hope can never again be utterly distinguished. Easter speaks throughout the ages to the condition of human despair. Christian faith shows us the way in which we can share in Jesus’ victory over all that pushes us to despair.”

We also rejoice because of the new life in Jesus. In his recent Easter message, Neville Callam, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, said: “The one who was crucified and then laid in a borrowed tomb was not only the creator and giver of life, but is life itself. The One who self-identifies as ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ breathes the fresh air of new life into our old life, leading us to experience new birth. The Lord who is ‘the life’ speaks life into our deaths and brings the breath of newness where old ways and old imprisonments could continue to cramp or immobilize travelers on life’s journey… At Easter, we celebrate the gift of eternal life that is made possible through the death and resurrection of God’s Son! Hallelujah!”

Many Easter customs, such as those involving eggs and rabbits, point symbolically to this new life in Christ. So does baptism.

As Paul tells us in Romans 6:14: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

That’s why it’s such a delight and joy to have the baptism of Lydia Williams in our 10.30am service on this Easter Sunday. Her baptism is not only a testimony to her faith, but a proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection and new life in him.

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 119:24)

John

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John Morrison – 9 April 2017

It’s Palm Sunday and Lent is almost over. Next weekend it’s Easter. Are you ready? We often think of Lent as a time of preparation for Easter. Are you prepared? I don’t mean have you finalised your travel plans for the weekend, or your menus or your shopping for Easter eggs. I’m thinking more in terms of spiritual preparation. Are you prepared to celebrate God’s great act of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus and to affirm again your commitment to the Saviour? Are you all set to do that in unfractured connection with others, living out the new life?

Our sermons and reflections during Lent this year had a somewhat different focus than usual. Instead of concentrating mainly on the events of Jesus’ fateful journey to Jerusalem, we have considered a range of practices to enhance the life we have in Jesus. One church member told me his approach to Lent was not to give up something but to add something. Our aim this Lent has been exactly along those lines – to encourage the addition of some tried and true spiritual practices that can revitalise not just our observance of Lent but the whole of our lives and our life together. We hope you have found it helpful in an ongoing way.

We covered 10 practices identified as significant through research by Diana Butler Bass and reported in “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. In the book’s Epilogue, she describes the final church visit of her 3 year research study. It was the start of Lent, and the bulletin contained the following note.

“Lent is the season that invites us to ponder those things that keep us feeling separate from God. Inwardly, we may suffer from fear and guilt; outwardly we may remain silent in the face of injustice against our neighbors. The Lenten journey of six weeks gives us time to take these things to God, trusting in God’s wide mercy. At Trinity this year, we are focusing on spiritual practices that bring us closer to God, our neighbours, and our deepest selves.” (p. 280)

The preacher explained that Lent is not about being sad or doing some sort of spiritual penance, but is about change – the change that God can make in our selves, our faith communities, and the larger world. She talked about Lent being a time that opens our hearts to transformation, to becoming God’s people and doing what God calls us to do. This resonated with Bass, who felt it summed up her research and wrote: “Christianity for the rest of us is the promise of transformation – that by God’s mercy, we can be different, our congregations can be different, and our world can be different.” (p.281)

Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we do so knowing that that is where Jesus met his death. But it was also where death was miraculously transformed into life, opening the way for our transformation. Things are different because of Jesus. Hosanna! Blessed is the Son of David. Blessed is the King who came in the name of the LORD!

John Morrison

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John Morrison – 2 April 2017

Today we conclude the ten-week series of messages on spiritual practices for renewal. Diana Butler Bass calls them “signposts for renewal” in her book “Christianity for the Rest of us”. Ten practices that characterised the vital, healthy churches that she researched – discernment, hospitality, contemplation, healing, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, beauty and reflection.

In an appendix on her research methodology and findings, she says: “The congregations studied have found new vitality (viability, spiritual depth, renewed identity and mission, and, often, numerical growth) through an intentional and reflective engagement with Christian tradition as embodied in the practices of faith, with the goal of knowing God…

 These congregations emphasize contemplation in action, faith in daily life, finding God in all things, the reign of God in the here and now, and creating better communities; by joining spirituality to social concerns, they are constructing a theological alternative to both conservative evangelicalism and classic Protestant liberalism.” (p. 305)

The churches she writes about remind me very much of Canberra Baptist in many ways, even though none of them were Baptist.

Pilgrimage is a unifying metaphor used throughout her book, and one used by many of the people and churches she interviewed. In several places she contrasts being a pilgrim with being a tourist. “Unlike being a tourist, we embark on a pilgrimage, not to escape life, but to embrace it more deeply, to be transformed wholly as a person with new ways of being in community and new hopes for the world. Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new. Pilgrimages go somewhere – to a transformed life”. (p. 216)

Psalm 84:5 (NIV) says: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”.

We explored this theme a couple of Thursday nights ago in one of Kristine’s Introduction to Spirituality sessions. We concluded that while going on an actual pilgrimage walk might be insightful, we can all embark on a spiritual pilgrimage and live out a pilgrim mindset even while settled in one geographic place for a long time, as many at our church have been.

Transformation is a related theme that Bass often addresses, as in the previous quote. There are in fact three lengthy additional chapters on transforming lives, transforming congregations and transforming the world. They testify to the positive transformations that can result at all three levels through engaging in these ten spiritual practices.

May positive transformations be the ongoing commitment and experience of us all. After all, transformation lies at the heart of Easter and the Gospel.

John Morrison

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