Nathan – 14 October 2018

Our church is enjoying a special focus lately on our relationship with nature. A few weeks ago, we marked the 10th anniversary of our community garden – a special time of celebrating the unique and cherished place that has held for this church and the Kingston neighbourhood. Having celebrated our relationship with flora, we turn today to centre on the fauna surrounding us.

It is profound that an important part of being human is to recognize our relationship to species who are fundamentally different to us. The more we are able to experience good relationships with the diversity of creatures surrounding us, the more we learn about ourselves as humans. I am sure there are many present today who can testify personally to this – I am one of them. My family always had pets, growing up. It brings warm feelings to reflect on the unique places they each held to us.

Reflecting on our place in the Universe, I believe, none of this is particularly surprising. In fact, the Bible teaches that God very intentionally placed humanity at the pinnacle of His creation, and as such, tasked us with a responsibility that is distinct from everything else He made (Genesis 1-2). As the only species capable of our degree of consciousness and rationality, we have a duty – a God-given duty – to use these gifts for the

 

 

benefit of all creation. Sadly, we have failed. Our broken relationship with God has had disastrous implications on our relationships with each other, and with the rest of creation. We are selfish. We have sought the welfare of ourselves, as individuals, above all else. Science actually affirms that the climate is changing – grieving, hurting – as a direct result of the selfishness of human beings.

Today, then, is an opportunity for us. It is an opportunity to re-engage with that original call from the Creator. It is an opportunity to take up the mantle that our forebears have forsaken. It is an opportunity to accept our place in Creation, and to take responsibility for the welfare of those whose lives we touch – human or not.

In the words of a recent release of Hillsong’s;

 

And as You speak, A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
 Evolving in pursuit of what You said
 If it all reveals Your nature so will I
 I can see Your heart

in everything You say;

Every painted sky,

A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You, so will I

 

May today truly be a blessing – a blessing of the animals, but also a blessing to each of us, as we intentionally seek to engage ourselves in the welfare of this beautiful home of ours.

Nathan – 12 August 2018

The Living Bread

“Life” is a theme that surfaces over and over again in John’s gospel; the word itself appears 42 times in the ESV. The very start of the book tells us that, “… in Him was life and the light of humanity.” – John 1:4. Of course, probably the most famous example is, “… whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16. There’s the woman at the well, whom Jesus tells about a spring of water, welling up to eternal life – John 4:14. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to bring life, and life to the full. At the end of the book, John summarises his reasoning for penning the entire account, by saying, “… these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life.” – John 20:31.

Out of three Greek words that we translate, “life,” one is prevalent by far in this gospel – and is the word originally appearing in each of the passages quoted above: zoa. “Zoa” can be understood as kind of the force of life, the energy of life that is present in all things living. Zoa describes everything that adds up to the metaphysical idea of ‘life’. Someone who is the ‘life’ of the party is essentially the ‘zoa’ of the party. For something to be ‘life-giving’ is to be ‘zoa-giving’ – it is to say that this thing has imparted a new level of energy, vitality, meaning and direction to our existence.

“Life” is an idea that I believe has been cheapened by the church in recent decades. John 3:16 is a classic example of what I’m talking about. This verse has been taken simply to mean that Jesus imbues us with the capacity to exist without end. I believe the Bible certainly teaches that we are eternal creatures by nature – but I also believe that there is so much more to the meaning of ‘eternity’ here, than just ceaseless time. Just 11 verses earlier, Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the importance of being born of the Spirit. Let me paraphrase. To access the things of God in this life, we must be able to access things that are deeper than surface-level. We must actively decide to engage with the depth that God has imbued all of creation with. Eternal life is not just about never dying… eternal life, really, is about experiencing the full depth of life God has created – a depth that often is shut off to us by our fallen, selfish, surface-driven natures. John 10:10, another verse I quote above, confirms this. “I came to bring zoa in great abundance,” says Jesus. I picture a vessel of water that is bubbling over, because of a ceaseless supply of pristine water.

Zoa is like the core of the Sun. Every second, the Sun converts 5 million metric tonnes of mass into pure energy, in the form of light and heat. The equivalent mass of 15 Empire State Buildings just vanishes, every second, and in its place, an immense amount of energy bursts forth into the star. Some of it – the tiniest of fractions – eventually, reaches us.

Do you feel alive? You’re living, sure. You’re breathing. You engage in rhythms of everyday life; eating, sleeping, going to work. But do you feel alive? Do you really feel like you are overflowing with zoa? This is the very thing Jesus gives us access to and desires us to have – desires you to have. What might it mean for you to access the deep, rich abundance of life that Jesus promises, I wonder?

Martin – 5 August 2018

My wife invited me out!  We went to get some ‘culture’ at the Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition called ‘So Fine’: an exhibition featuring new works from ten women artists.  It was amazing, and one piece that especially caught my attention was Cross-Stitched by Bern Emmerichs.   Cross-Stitched is a cruciform talisman that pays homage to the makers of the Rajah Quilt, a quilt made by 180 convict women who sailed on the ship named The Rajah that left Woolwich England for Hobart Tasmania in 1841.  A replication of the quilt forms the central panel of Cross-Stitched, and three of the cross strands highlight three women (Lady Jane Franklin, Kezia Hayter, and Elizabeth Fry) involved in the making and receiving of the quilt.   It’s a visually stunning piece.

The Rajah Quilt itself is a well-known artwork telling a story of hope and struggle of the women who dared venture the treacherous seas in search of a new beginning. It is part of the broader ‘fabric’ of our colonial past.  But Bern Emmerichs’ contribution, in particular, and the exhibition ‘So Fine’, in general, stirred me to think about the valuable role women play and have played in our national story.  And it encouraged me to think of our church, and the women who are in leadership and who contribute and inspire us so much in being church.  I think of the contributions of Belinda and before her but still with us, Jeanette and Merilyn, as Ministers: this should be heralded as, only recently, I have heard stories that many Baptist churches in the ACT do not believe that women have a place in pastoral leadership roles.  I feel so sad that still there is this view on women in ministry, but grateful that we have known and can experience the benefit of their skills and gifts.  And then I think of our women Diaconate representatives, and Rebecca, our frontline person to the community, our women involved in the Community Centre, headed by Tryphena, all who come and contribute, do their bit and be available.  And of course, our volunteers, those who faithfully spend hours doing things around the church, making sure the church is run well, is neat, is organized, tidy.  

Our church story is full of people who have been remarkably formative in the building up of the church, including our foundation ministers and members; they are men and women who were filled with vision and drive.  Men often get the glory, but the women are there too, in church and in the building of community.  They are part of that story.  And so It is wonderful to be a part of a church community that thinks sensibly about giftedness, and not about gender. 

The exhibition ‘So Fine’ left me inspired and it echoed strongly with the celebration of our indigenous sisters during Naidoc week where we heard inspirational stories around the theme: ‘Because of her, we can’.   Perhaps we can say that too about our women at Canberra Baptist: because of ‘them’, we can; or even further: because of ‘them’, we are!

Salud

Martin – 29 July 2018

The Gospel reading for this week is a feeding story wherein the writer highlights Jesus as ‘the prophet who is to come into the world’ John 6:15. Belinda, I understand, will be preaching on this text, but I am prompted here to ask: ‘Who are the modern prophets that can help clarify what is important in our world?’

An article in The Australian by Henry Ergas dated 20 July 2018, as sent by Russell Holly during the week, puts a more positive spin on the manner by which President Trump has responded to leaders and crises in our world. Noting the comments from a columnist in The New York Times that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially could be a ‘historical disaster’, demeaning ‘the democratic ideals that America once embodied’, Ergas suggests that Trump may in fact be something of a modern prophet because he is addressing in like language our modern bullies (like Russia’s Putin (let alone Iranian President Rouhani)) who ‘make bluntness a crucial feature of their persona’.  Trump, writes Ergas, ‘knows how to be a lion.  Now, as consequences begin to be felt, he must show more of the artfulness of the fox’. Trump a modern prophet?  I don’t think so! 

Prophets may not get much press in our church.  I guess, if you go to a more charismatic church, the term may be more often bandied around, particularly as those who can mysteriously predict the future.  Biblically, and probably historically, however, true prophets are the men and women who spoke out about injustice.  They spoke on God’s behalf when the community went astray and forgot the critical edge of faith.  I think of Amos: ‘Hear this you who trample the needy and destroy the poor of the land’ (Amos 8:40); Jeremiah: ‘Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness’ (Jer. 22:13); Micah: ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Mic. 6:8). But who are they today?  I understand that Yoko Ono said that true artists are prophets. Could be!  But I can think of people like: Archbishop Tutu who spoke out about racism; Rev Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke out about segregation; Fr. Oscar Romero who spoke out about corrupt government and the oppression of the poor.  The list could go on.  I don’t have an answer to my question, but suggest that there are many, many people in our world who live honorable lives, and who wrestle for what is just and right.  And they may be great leaders and they may be the unheralded ones.  And they can be each one of us, just in the small things we do or say.

PS.  For those who heard my children’s talk, from Dr Google, a Zebra is a horse and it is black with white stripes. And for Katrien’s sake, a wild African dog is not a Hyena! Which leads me to another thought: Paul Falconer introduced some questions that the youth had for me, in jest. But I wonder whether there are some real questions the youth or anyone else has they would like me to address; namely, what is transubstantiation? Or, maybe even we could introduce some people and their story?

Let me know. Salud

Nathan – 22 July 2018

God’s on dinner duty

 

Cooking is a passionate hobby of mine. I take a great amount of joy in food, I think because it is an intersection of disciplines and pursuits that I find to be extremely meaningful. Cooking is artistic and creative, and it touches human beings at a deep level. We all need food. That much, even if nothing else, is universal. “Commensality” is the word given to this idea of partaking in food and drink together at a shared table. I find it to be a beautiful concept – and as a cook, I get to be one who facilitates this sacred process of bringing human beings together in fellowship.

 

One of my favourite images of fellowship with God comes from an icon from the Eastern Orthodox church. Many of you will have seen it. It depicts the three persons of the Trinity sitting at a table, around a cup of wine. Due to the perspective of the image, the observer – you; me – can actually be interpreted as being seated at the fourth position on the table. In a stroke of powerful theological imagery, this icon communicates to us that through the cup, the blood of Christ, we are invited to participate in this most holy fellowship shared by the Triune Godhead. We are seated at the table which the Father has prepared – gathered there with Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In effect, through Christ, we share such intimacy with God that we are invited to be part of His community – we become a beloved and honoured member of this Trinity, ourselves!

 

God, the Creator of the Cosmos, invites us to feast at the table that He has prepared. For me, this is where cooking becomes a deeply spiritual pursuit. Every time I prepare a table for someone, I participate in a living parable of what Christ is doing for me – and indeed, for everybody.

 

We’re talking about the feeding of the 5,000 today – a classic story, and one of the few in which we are privileged by the perspective of all four gospel-writers. It is a story which makes very plain this mission of God, this drive of God, to simply bring people to His table… where they can just exist, and be who they are, and relax in the knowledge of His provision and goodness…

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good,” we are encouraged in Psalm 34. “Relax.” “Rest.” “Come, have a seat.” “Can I get you a drink?”… This is the message of God – to each of us. “Come.” “Let me look after you.” “Come, all who are weary, and heavy-laden… and I will give you rest.”

 

What would it mean for you to be seated at the banquet God has prepared for you? To not have to worry about where you need to go, or what you’re going to eat… but to know that all of that is taken care of? Commensality with God and with His people is where the deepest, truest rest can be found. My prayer is for each of us to find a sense of that rest, together.

Belinda – 8 July 2018

As some of you will remember from my pastor’s note two weeks ago, the ACT government has just widened its Reportable Conduct Scheme to include religious organisations. Churches and other religious organisations became part of the scheme last Sunday, 1st July.

 

As a church, we already had a policy in place for responding to children at risk; requiring us to report any concerns that a child or youth (under the age of 18) was being abused or was at risk of being abused to the police and Child and Youth Protection Services. This policy remains. What the government is now requiring, following on from the findings at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, is that we also report the alleged offender.

 

Our responsibility mainly lies with our church. We must report allegations, offences or convictions of child-related misconduct by church staff or church volunteers or any contractors the church might engage. It also doesn’t matter whether the allegations or convictions arose during their work duties – or happened in their private time – what matters is whether they were engaged by this church at the time we became aware of the allegations.

 

Reportable conduct includes:

  • Conviction, or finding of guilt, under a territory or state or Commonwealth law, involving reportable conduct;
  • Sexual offences committed against, with or in the presence of a child;
  • Physical assault committed against, with or in the presence of a child;
  • Unreasonable and seriously inappropriate, inhumane or cruel treatment of a child (i.e. emotional abuse, hostile use of force, neglect, restrictive intervention);
  • Psychological harm;
  • Misconduct of a sexual nature (physical contact or any communication of a sexual nature, inappropriate relationship with or attention to a child, crossing professional boundaries).

 

If anyone in or outside our church needs to make an allegation, they can contact myself as Team Leader or our Church Secretary, John Higgins (who for the Reportable Conduct Scheme have been designated joint ‘head of entity’ for Canberra Baptist Church.)

 

Yes, these are stringent new requirements and yet, reflecting on the Royal Commission, I am reminded of Jesus’ strong words about millstones being tied around the necks of those who create barriers for children to experience God’s love. Unlike Jesus’ hometown, who were unable to respond to his challenge, we want to hear eagerly and embrace willingly measures which will help us to keep children and young people safe in our care.

Belinda

This subject may bring up strong feelings and questions. Be assured you are not alone, and that there are services that can offer advice and support: 1800 Respect, Lifeline 13 11 14 and the National Redress Info Line 1800 146 713

Belinda – 24 June 2018

This week I have been attending info and training sessions on the Reportable Conduct Scheme which, from 1 July, will include religious organisations in the ACT. This is one of the measures flowing out from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse and there will be more in the future as government bodies seek to ensure that all organisations are compliant with the Child Safe Standards the Royal Commission has recommended.

 

There will be more information in the coming weeks, but what this means for the church is that we are required to report all allegations, offences or convictions related to children and young people (under the age of 18) by anyone engaged in activity at our church (staff, volunteers or contractors) to the ACT Ombudsman’s office and conduct our own investigation into the handling of the matter. We already have a policy for reporting sexual or physical offences to the police and Child and Youth Protection Services (or other professional bodies), and this will continue, but from the 1st July we must also report unreasonable and seriously inappropriate treatment of children, including sexual misconduct, emotional abuse, inappropriate discipline, inappropriate restraint, neglect and psychological harm.

 

Although this will require some re-thinking of our procedures, we are strongly in support of any measures that will protect children and young people in our care. For us, as Christians, the mandate for creating safe churches and child safe standards comes from God; from God’s desire that all people have life and have it abundantly.

 

The overwhelming irony of my week, however, was to go from a day of training in these matters to the vigil in Garema Place on Tuesday night for Fariborz K, a 26-year-old Iranian detainee who suicided on Nauru last Friday. Fariborz is the twelfth person to die from injuries or illness sustained in offshore processing centres since 2012. Asylum seekers have been murdered by guards or have died from sepsis, medical neglect, accident and suicide.

 

How can we be so aware – and rightly so – of the effects of unreasonable and inappropriate treatment on people’s lives here in Australia, yet continue to allow this appalling treatment on the flimsy pretext that these people are “off-shore” or that their welfare is the responsibility of the “Nauruan authorities”? It is only a matter of time before Australians are facing another Royal Commission into what has happened in these camps – which – as the staff at the regional processing centre in Nauru describe as “Australia’s responsibility, it happened in their camp”.

 

“Who is my neighbor?” the man asks Jesus, and Jesus turns the question back on him, “Who was a neighbor?” “The one who showed mercy,” is the reply. Let us continue to act and pray and give in the hope that one day Australia and Australians might be known for our mercy; for our neighbourliness.

Nathan – 17 June 2018

Why does evil prosper? It’s a question that has echoed in the minds of humans since time immemorial. To wrestle with this question is part of being human. The psalms, among other parts of the Bible, ask this question time and time again.

 

It is easy to forget that we live in the capital city of evil in the cosmos – earth itself. Every morally abhorrent act that causes us to question the existence, or the presence, or the power of God, has happened here, in our backyard. Is it possible to create places in which evil is not allowed to flourish? Yes, it is – otherwise, what is the point of any of our vocations, or meetings, or policies? My point is that perhaps evil flourishes here because human beings, as fallen creatures, have set the earth up in such a way that evil is allowed; even encouraged, to flourish. That is certainly one response that is consistent with a Christian view of the world.

 

One of our lectionary readings today comments on the separation from God that we experience on a daily basis, as a result: “… we know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:6b. This physical world has cut itself off from a spiritual connection with its Creator – at the will of those He set in a position of leadership over her (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20). Evil flourishes on earth because really, for the most part, that is the way we like it. We like having the capacity to use greed as a means of creating our own comfort, for example.

I have had a few conversations recently, with people trying to wrestle with this whole question – and it is a difficult one to grapple. I certainly do not have all the answers I would like to have. Why did cancer take my grandma away, just a week after she was diagnosed? Why did someone blame me for a car accident I didn’t cause; to the point of my ending up in court to have my story confirmed – which it was? These are questions I have never arrived at a satisfying answer for, and there are many more.

 

I personally find the image of an earth that is separated from God, and from heaven, helpful; not miraculously question-erasing… but still somewhat helpful. Evil happens here because humans have willfully separated earth from the source of its goodness. Darkness exists only in the absence of light. We have created the conditions in which evil may flourish – and then we have the gall to cast the blame on God, whom we have rejected.

 

So, what are we to do? As Christians, we do whatever we can to undermine those evil-friendly conditions around us. Where there are dark alleyways, we install bright lights. Where there are murky caves, we bring lanterns. Where there are wounded people, we bring bandages. Wherever there is an opportunity, we work to bring an inkling of the light, and the goodness of God. Heaven seems like it exists in some far away place, without influence? Then we build Heaven’s embassies here, now, wherever we can.

 

May we be encouraged and empowered, as people of the Light, in a world that is dark.

Belinda – 3 June 2018

As those who were there Tuesday night – and others by now – will have heard, we have appointed a second minister for Canberra Baptist Church! Thanks be to God! And hooray!

 

His name is Martin Reilly and he will be joining us and the ministry team here at the end of June, along with Margaret, his wife. (Below is a picture of Martin and Margaret and their four adult children who live in Melbourne.)

 

Martin comes to us, most recently, from Nicaragua where he worked with Global Interaction (formerly ABMS) with at risk children and youth. This was through an organisation, Si a La Vida, that he had helped found during a previous term with Global Interaction in 1993-1995.

 

He trained at Whitley College and served at Euroa Baptist Church and Moreland Baptist Church before he and Margaret went, the first time, to Nicaragua.

 

After returning to Australia, he worked for the Red Cross with asylum seekers, and was then appointed pastor of Ivanhoe Baptist Church (another connection with our congregation!) establishing the Livingstone Community Centre and Ivanhoe Neighbourhood House; two ministries that many in our congregation are familiar with and some have visited.

 

Following these years in ministry, Martin re-trained as a lawyer and has worked in refugee advocacy, Family Law, and Elder Law/Seniors Rights.

 

As the Search Committee met with him, however, we were not surprised at his return to ministry in recent years. He has a rich spiritualty (and desire to explore that with others), an engaging and hospitable approach to community building, and a capacity to work with others to speak and act justice and love in our community.

 

As you know, Nathan’s appointment as interim was for a full 12 months (to give him an experience of a different ministry situation to Hobart), so we are very blessed to have three ministers for the next six months (and I am delighted to have two colleagues – in addition to Tryphena and Rebecca!)

 

Finally, a huge thank you to our Search Committee. You have prayed hard and thought hard and attended some very long meetings, and we are very grateful!

 

May God go with us on this journey, Belinda

Nathan – 27 May 2018

Relationships are fragile things at the best of times. Many of us would have experienced relational breakdowns of just about every kind. Familial, marital, social, vocational, spiritual, romantic… I personally, even at my young age, can put faces and names to each of these kinds of relational breakdowns, I have already experienced to some degree at one point or another. Sometimes both people are equally at fault – whether they choose to see it or not. Sometimes one person commits an act that the relationship is unable to manage. Sometimes the relationship is simply neglected; not out of malicious intent, but just out of naivety of the importance of continual relational investment.

Some forms of conflict even grow beyond two people, though, don’t they. Sometimes the hurt is too enormous to be contained by one relationship. Sometimes rumours grow, and factions form. Sometimes churches, families, even nations, only become increasingly divided, as fortified walls between peoples are only strengthened over the years. What a harrowing truth about the world we live in – displayed even just in our daily news.

Tomorrow, we mark a public holiday dedicated as a reminder that Australia is by no means innocent of all this. By no means. Our forebears, whilst we have much to be thankful for in their efforts to build strength into our society… also, frankly, have a lot to answer for. The treatment of the First Peoples of this land, the benefits of which we now take for granted, has been abhorrent, to say the very least. Children ripped from their families. Well-intentioned occupiers of land murdered. Water supplies poisoned. Atrocities of war committed, where no such war had been agreed to. These present times are not free of examples of this, either. The fact that there is still a ‘gap’ to close in education and general social welfare, between those of indigenous descent, and those not, is abominable.

What is the solution? On this, I stand with Bishop Michael Curry, and his message to the world during the Royal Wedding this last week;

There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.

Paul says it this way, in 2Corinthians 5; that God has reconciled us – to Himself, to each other, to the world at large – and so, we are also to carry on this ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors of Christ. Carrying on the ministry of reconciliation means being people who do not reinforce the fractured nature of the world around us; but rather, bring healing to her bleeding wounds. To cause wholeness and peace, rather than heated divisions.

In Jesus’ own words: “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called children of God” –  those who follow in the footsteps of God, in other words; those who carry on the ministry of reconciliation which He began.