Trinity Sunday: A Sermon

PREFACE: The difficulty with recurring holy days within the church’s calendar is that even relatively new ministers such as myself quickly go through the set readings for the day after only a few years.  And while Scripture’s capacity to provide new insights and fresh perspectives from old readings is inexhaustible, I still think it’s advisable to “lie fallow” every now and then and try a different tack.  So this year I thought I’d preach about the significance of the day itself, instead of addressing myself to a particular reading.  Hopefully, this approach worked!

I have, on a previous occasion, mentioned the fact that developmental psychologists know that a child is developing empathy when that child learns how to successfully tease other children.  It’s an insight that sounds too counter-intuitive to be true – afterall, empathy is a good thing, right? But psychologists know that empathy is very much a double-edged sword: being the capacity to understand matters from another person’s perspective, to “stand in their shoes”, as it were, and see things from their point of view, empathy can be used for good or for ill.  So, for example, in order for a child to successfully tease another child, the child doing the teasing needs to see the world through their victim’s eyes, to understand their weak points and sensitivities so that the teasing strikes home with maximum effect.  And though we mightn’t realize it, it is precisely through the use of empathy that con-artists and confidence tricksters manipulate and defraud their victims. Continue reading “Trinity Sunday: A Sermon”

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1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 – A Wedding Sermon

PROLOGUE: One of the joys of my ministry at Mountview Uniting Church, where I am currently in placement, is that I have the privilege of ministering with an extraordinary group of younger adults; a privilege which has sustained me in my ministry and given me the anticipatory hope that I might one day preside at a significant and celebratory event in the life of this group.  Yesterday, I was accorded the extraordinary privilege of presiding at the wedding of a wonderful young man who is a member of this group and his equally lovely fiancé.  This is the sermon I preached for this occasion.

I don’t know about anyone else here today, but my favourite season is Autumn. It seems to me that Autumn combines so many different elements it almost represents the best of all worlds. On the one hand, you have the bright, clear days, the blue skies and gentle sunlight that lack the punishing heat of Summer. On the other hand, you have the explosion of colour in the trees, the hues of yellow and orange, red and gold, that are as brilliant as any Springtime display. There is something moving and pristine about the world in Autumn, something that – to my eyes, at any rate – makes everything seem more real, more evocative, much more connected to my own sense of being alive. Continue reading “1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 – A Wedding Sermon”

Acts 2: 1-21/Joel 2: 27-29

PRESCRIPT: For Pentecost Sunday in 2015, the congregation where I am in placement, Mountview Uniting Church, held a shared service with two neighbouring UCA congregations, Nunawading-North Blackburn and The Avenue (Blackburn) – including our congregations’ various Hindi, Vietnamese, and Falam Chin communities.  This is the sermon I preached for the occasion, a re-fashioning of a sermon first preached in 2012.

In 1897, the British writer H G Wells published his classic science-fiction story, The Invisible Man. It tells the story of a rejected and disgruntled man, Griffin, who invents a way to make himself invisible; and who then tries to use his invisibility to become a kind of Nietzschean “superman”, ruling through the force of his will and the power over others which he thinks being invisible will give him. What he fails to realize that being invisible has adverse consequences of its own; and when he fails to both overcome those consequences and reverse the process by which he became invisible, Griffin comes to an inevitable, albeit tragic, end. Continue reading “Acts 2: 1-21/Joel 2: 27-29”

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26

Most of you already know that one of my favourite TV shows is the classic British comedy, Yes Prime Minister. And of all its episodes, one of my favourites is the episode entitled “The Bishop’s Gambit”. In this episode, Prime Minister Jim Hacker has to appoint a bishop – a duty that falls to him because the Church of England is the “established” church of the British State; that is to say, the “official” religion of the United Kingdom. This episode is famous for the cynical remark uttered by Hacker’s Cabinet Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, that theology is merely a device that enables agnostics to remain within the Church. For my mind, however, it is also noteworthy for an exchange between Hacker and another senior civil servant on the matter of the “apostolic succession” – that is to say, the method by which the Church decides how important offices – such a bishoprics – are to be filled. Continue reading “Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26”

John 15: 1-8

As many of you know, I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition. And from my childhood, I have never forgotten a phrase which the priest used to recite as part of the Catholic Communion Liturgy: a phrase which declared that the Communion wine is the fruit of the vine, and the work of human hands. These words have always suggested to me a kind of partnership, a shared endeavor between God and humankind. Fruit of the vine refers to the abundance of creation, which itself comes from God; and the work of human hands speaks of the human intervention that is necessary in order to nurture and release the latent fertility of nature. In this image of shared work, it seems to me we have a metaphor for the creative partnership that is possible between God and humanity; a relationship that is more than mere co-operation, and is instead one of intimacy and friendship. Continue reading “John 15: 1-8”