Is Truth Hidden in Literalism or in Front of Our Eyes?

Last week for those who follow the lectionary the text took us to Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5000 This week we continue the stories about ‘bread’, but I have returned to the storyteller we call John. This week, the crowd respond with the cry: ‘More sir!’.

Indeed, this Lectionary theme of ‘bread’ will continue for several more weeks yet. So, I want to start with the premise that these stories are familiar to all of us.  The people eat their fill of bread. Yet John indicates they are not satisfied. Why?  Well maybe we can think about some of the things we face today for a clue.

How do we, in the 21st century world, receive and interpret the stories from our biblical tradition. This can be a very frightening question to ask and many don’t want to face these questions. I was just at a memorial service for the closing of St David’s Khyber Pass Rd in Auckland and if I was being critical, I would have to say it was head in the sand, scared of the future sort of stuff. Not in the closing but in the unwillingness to ask the hard questions about the future of the church. The proceeds of sale were to be spent on trying to do what was done in the1870s and while it succeeded then it has failed in the 1990s

For me and for many progressive and thinking people this is an important question.
Because the competing answers are so different, it can be very frightening to face the reality of today and it is easier to just fall back on the traditional and the one time successful but it is a denial of the present and thus the future.

In this and the other stories on ‘bread’, all the storytellers have Jesus trying to get the people to look beyond the literal to the meaning and world view the teller is inviting them to consider. But like many of us they either refuse or are unable to do so. So, expressing a degree of frustration, John’s Jesus says: ‘you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat’.

Jesus has just fed them. They were hungry because of staying on the hills and listening to his words, and he had compassion for them. But they continue to want the actual thing – the literal answer. Like many of us they wanted the renewal of the past. And like today there is no literal answer given, because Jesus argues that it leaves everyone just as hungry as before. They are unable to look beyond the words. That is too complex.
Too difficult. Too stressful. They settle only for what they see and taste and touch.

Like many progressives I think John’s Jesus is a realist. He knows these people are looking for actual food that fills the hungry stomach. They want miracles that will make their lives easier in a rural peasant culture. A culture;

• where food is not always plentiful,

• where peasant farmers had been forced off their land, crushed by the rich and powerful,
• where people are persecuted because of their beliefs… magic or miracles are easier and more welcome than the grind of daily reality.

Let’s be careful here not to label them as backward, dumb or wrong. The last thing we should do is suggest that somehow these people deserve their plight or are responsible for it, or if they only prayed harder, or had more faith, their situation would change.

What John is trying to suggest through this story, maybe 60+ years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, is for them to look, listen, hear, imagine beyond the literal words. This is an indication that as the gospel took hold on minds across the world literalism began to take over from a metaphorical world view and the fundamentalisms of today would suggest that there is a need for John’s message again today, if we are to understand spirituality, religion and its place in our societies today.

Katerina Whitley, a professor of communication at one of the state universities in America,
who has also reflected on these stories, suggests: ‘The words of Jesus, though based on what the people knew from experience, always point to that which is true, to that which does not perish.  But the people clamour for more assurance than that. Like then we too get caught up in the demand for certainty for us rather than the truth that transcends time and culture. Never more so is this need than today in our so-called ‘postmodern’ society.

We live in an age where the ‘literal’ is constantly struggling with the ‘more than’, in a climate where answers have international or global implications. And the literal seems to be winning. Fundamentalists still ask for a sign, an answer, that is firm and unquestionable:
to the sadness of abortion, to the fear of terrorism, to the problem of disobedient children,
to the rapid technological changes, that baffle them.

In our moment of time, indeed for more than 25 years, we are particularly conscious of this ‘firm and unquestionable’ position, in regard to the questions of difference in sexuality. It is easier to retreat from the world and its problems. Most of us want concrete and secure answers. Ambiguity is troubling.  We want definiteness. And literalism, even as it picks and chooses only those portions of the Bible it can manipulate, gives to the fundamentalist this assurance. I can remember the debates at a 1986 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in NZ where biblical texts were thrown around like statements of infallible truth as people sought to impose their truth on the Assembled. All that happened was that scripture lost out to its own ambiguity and contradiction.

Katerina Whitley also points out that: ‘Literal interpretation of what we don’t like gives us permission not to love those who are different from us’ (Worship that works Web site 2003). And that too is very serious!  I happen to agree with many that

This confirms for me the main problem with literalism and it is that it does not reveal truth, in fact it hides it. Literalism comes from a position of fear, and is fueled by what is a misrepresentation of religious experience. And when it comes from within the Christian community it is often all the more dangerous and vitriolic. Bishop John Shelby Spong knows about all that. In his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, he writes: ‘I have had a ‘truth squad’ based at an evangelical theological college in Sydney follow me throughout Australia wherever I lectured, handing out their tracts and publications designed to mute my witness.  I have lectured with guards protecting me in Calgary… (and) endured a bomb threat… in Brisbane.  I have been the recipient of sixteen death threats, all of which came from Bible-quoting ‘true believers’…’ (Spong 1998: xvi).

This all suggests that in taking up Spong’s challenge of a ‘new Reformation’ one, requires courage and will be at some risk. And it has to be said that a lot of thinking people are not prepared to take risks, either for fear they shall be criticised, or dismissed from office, or both. I happen to believe that an ‘honest church’ requires its theologians and ministers to be that – honest as opposed to being right. John’s Jesus was not a literalist. The eating of bread is much more than the mere ingestion of food as nourishment for the body. It is the symbolic sharing of our common humanity, in mutuality with those around us. So, John the storyteller invites his listeners, then (and I reckon, now), to seek the meaning beyond the words, beyond the ‘bread’.

For in the doing of that we are freed to go on the journey chartered by Jesus rather than being caught up in worshipping the journey of Jesus, as do the literalists. Such a ‘Jesus’ theology’ is, I believe, liberating because: it shows us something of what it means to be human, it invites us to find in ourselves the same powers that were manifest in Jesus, and it means we are to be co-creators with God. Now, if we have the courage, that can indeed be a great blessing!

In closing I want to offer something that is not about knocking what was or complaining without offering a way forward and while it is a huge challenge to predict anything I want to suggest a definition of spirituality that might help and make a few suggestions about what that might look like. What if ‘Spirituality’ is the experience of living in the moment of human interactions that are bristling with virtues and values? Spirit is what occurs between souls as we interact with each other, with nature, and with things. It is what happens in our brains when we encounter another person, receive any sensory input and process it, or manipulate tools and materials. Therefore, spirit is the driver of our mental assembly of new responses to what we have seen or heard, or what has happened in our surroundings, and is the cause of all our questions. Spirituality then is the experience of living in the moment of human interactions that are bristling with virtues and values, even if those interactions were in the past, and even if we participate through print or visual media. Many of us would agree here with Dominic Crossan when he says, I can no longer distinguish between prayer and study. If the function of prayer is to allow God to get at you, then scholarship is where that now happens for him. It is where I am at also in facilitating conversation during and after a sermon, it is because I want to explore the idea that the incarnation as a living dynamic theology is to be found in the interactions, in the conversations, in the sharing of being human through language. Sermons should not be a one-way communication event. Why? Because when the right and left hemispheres of our brain clash with one side seeking security and the other growth it is only through the creative use of metaphor that the clash can be transcended. The truth is actually that the whole world is a metaphor for something else. A sermon that explores the ’what if it is like?’ is a healthy sermon. Literalists forget to use ‘it is like’ and we end up in trouble. We need to critique the tradition and we have a growing need for experimental language and thought to explain religious experience so that we can place it in our lives with greater understanding. It must become common sense rather than something to believe or else.


Spong, J. S. 1998.  Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.

St David’s Closure’

Posted: July 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

‘St David’s Closure’

Today’s address is conditioned by both sad events and events that are timeless, part of history and hugely significant in terms of creative events. I want in a short, few words introduce a reflection rather than make one. And I do this because your refection is more important or just as important as mine.

When a passionate person interested in saving the 1827 built Church building from demolition called St David’s building a Cathedral, I think they erred as much as they endeared what took place in that building. What they did was to expose the heritage of St David’s to popularism and to the world of marketing. And let’s be clear here, this is not unknown today because even though history shows that fewer people value the place of religion, and church in society the idea of preserving historical buildings as a commodity that can be marketed to raise funds is not unknown. Again, the question of materialism and usury which traditionally the church has warned against is laid aside in the interests of preservation. This is perhaps too harsh a claim to make but in Presbyterian ecclesiology maybe not so.

In a traditional Presbyterian culture, to have a Presbyterian Cathedral is an oxy-moron at least and an anathema to the founders of The Presbyterian Church at worst. Remember, a Cathedral is reliant on it having a Cathedra or a Bishops Chair, and many will remember the strong opposition to Church Union in New Zealand due to the desire for Bishops. In calling St David’s, a Cathedral, one could argue that ecclesiological sensitivity and heritage is in danger of suffering from expediency. One might even say that to do so is to elevate the Presbytery to be the corporate Bishop as opposed to the assembly of teaching and ruling eldership who value the collective polity.

However, in calling the building a cathedral we are reminded of what the congregation of St David’s have been saying repeatedly over many years. The Church is the people not the building. And they have been saying this not in defence of their losing control of their building or to make a point of congregational elitism and control. They have been saying it defence of the place a Presbyterian Congregation has within the society. For them the Cathedral was a place where the civic and the religious meet in practice rather than a place of institutional hierarchy. It was and still is in some liturgical sense, the place where ceremony and meaning and service and interaction all take place at once. In the past livestock was traded in many ancient Cathedrals, it is true that they, were places of commerce and civic interaction. In St David’s historical world as a significant Congregation, Corporate Board members and directors and CEOs rubbed shoulders and discussed the world, tested the morality of their economic and management strategies. Community met there and shared values were developed, people played there, people socialized there. In St David’s world the entrepreneur, the social developer, the civic minded, the university academic, the medical professional, the legal professional, the construction industry leaders were all represented and gathered as congregation to talk sing, discuss and play together. The development of the City of Auckland is perhaps a time of its greatest expansion was significantly created by the people who were St David’s congregation. In this way perhaps it was a role akin to the Cathedral of the Roman and Episcopal tradition created by Presbyterians who were of a differing approach to power and influence.

Throughout its life St David’s people, and its Ministers and Elders have served many purposes in the civic life of Auckland city and even the country as well as the life of the church. As the assembled gave time expertise and energy to the work of the General Assembly they changed the world. While town commerce and livestock trading may not have taken place in its buildings, civic ceremonial events were held and they have reflected history and culture in a degree heightened by the longstanding role and power which the church has exercised in previous centuries. St David’s has acted like a cathedral and has had space and resources to sponsor and encourage the arts, be it in music, paintings, poetry prose or sculpture as well as theological exploration and the art of theological praxis. It is also true that whether they are of any architectural significance or not all the buildings are part of St David’s heritage. Again, in a sense more so because of their use rather than their existence. Maybe that’s why they are in need of repair today.

It is also true that many cities would be the poorer without its cathedral and in this case, Auckland would have been different without St David’s, Auckland would have been the poorer without St David’s, not only for its contribution to the growing of the city but also for its commitment to those on the very margins of society, street livers, addiction sufferers, and the homeless. Through its longstanding hosting of and support for organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Ala-non, and its commitment to prisoner’s aid, refugees, asylum seekers, men’s anger group and its very effective opportunity shop St David’s has acted like a Cathedral in many ways. Sometimes in its Presbyterianism, more effectively than some Ecclesiological Cathedrals themselves.

And what is yet to be fully understood St David’s has over many years offered New Zealand society, a challenging and brave self-critique of church, religion and Christian Faith. It has played its part in all levels of the church by hosting and providing support for its deliberation and action. Its people have been committed to being a haven for those who are curious about the place of religion in life, welcoming those who can slip in and slip out without obligation. Just ask any family about their connection with St David’s and one will find a marriage, a funeral or a bible class connection. It has also been a resort for those who flee from their churches if they have become too evangelical or too conservative, too charismatic, too ‘jolly’, too predictable and arrogant. Too judgmental. St David’s has been like a cathedral perhaps as a place that in its offering of anonymity, seems a safer space than a local church or chapel. St David’s has maintained a degree of a classic Presbyterian way of worship which is measured, ordered, and yet open to innovation of thought. It has sought to offer intelligent and thought-provoking liturgies, sermons, and music that values congregational singing and stimulates theological thinking.

St David’s has throughout its existence as a parish also displayed a rugged independence of mind. Some have suggested that this maintained an elitism while truth be told, there has been a strong commitment to scholastic rigor and well-read leadership as a way of encouraging a pragmatic practicing faith response. There have been recent examples of contemporary issues where its pragmatism has enabled diversity of opinion to be valued, such as the acceptance of openly gay leadership and acceptance of same sex marriage, as well as a willingness to explore, non-theistic, non-doctrinal ecclesiology. One might suggest that St David’s people as a community have tested the creedal literal conservative viewpoints as part of their walking the Jesus Way with integrity. It has in recent years been a part of the global movement named Progressive Christianity in its traditional commitment, often unstated, to open, enquiring theology, that enables those who may sit light to the doctrinal claims of Christianity but find in a thinking faith and in both music and art a sense of otherworldliness and self-critique akin to a traditional faith. A commitment to theopoetics as opposed to literalism has been something that St David’s has been able to explore within a City Church, Cathedral like setting of anonymity rather than a clublike, familial church experience for those who prefer a certain sense of detachment from the worldliness. Yes, it has meant that St David’s is not a touchy feely sort of place but it has preferred and given respect to honesty, faithfulness and integrity.

Sadly, what has been a downside of the heritage building focus in recent years as energy has been consumed it has resulted in a deterrence from a radical sense of bringing in the kingdom of God as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus – a distortion of a concern for justice and compassion, along with the growth of intolerance and an added complexity to the desire to transform our society to become a more equal and sustainable world. In short it has taken away energy that could have been directed at people.

St David’s despite the perceptions imposed upon it has always valued a society where those on the margins are brought into the centre. This is of course not exclusive to St David’s as many churches are engaged in this calling but City Churches like St David’s have always had a pivotal role to play, thanks to their somewhat privileged and traditionally well-resourced position. And here is perhaps the source of St David’s dilemma. As a result of the growth of suburbs Its traditional member has been largely a white, middle class, middle to older aged congregation, coming in from the wealthier suburbs, with choristers, teachers, elders and leaders often drawn from the city’s private schools, serving a transient local populace and in recent decades an increasingly multi-cultural urban population. To its credit there has been a reaching out across the city but somehow attending a service does seem to be somewhat out of kilter with contemporary life. Many obviously enjoy the pomp of and ceremony provided by the Cathedral model. The Civic processions provided within the anonymity of a larger gathering provide this sense of being part of a larger community and this is borne out by the decline in attendance as the congregation reduces in number as well as in St David’s when the congregation moved away from worship in the brick building. Another example of this might be the decline in ethnic congregational connections, projects and foci of language ministries, while well supported, failed when less anonymity was available. The loss of cultural norms due to the smallness of gathering was detrimental to growth.

So, change has brought us to today but what is this change to be and what facilitates it and resources it? The professed desire of St David’s has always been to better serve the urban mix of people in this city and it has been by a wider participation in the needs of the city and there are a number of suggested causes as to why St David’s now faces the change that closure brings.

The first thing to recognise is that closure of St David’s began in the 1960s, at the very peak of its growth. And that there have been many reasons for that change. One very recent change was the closure of the brick building. Not in its closure but rather in the loss of communal anonymity that has been part of St David’s strength. The gathering community became more familial and possibly seen to be less inclusive as a result, the other was a rise in the levels of intolerance. Since the building closure conflict has been more obvious and thus detrimental. That might sound emotive and exaggerating but in essence a healthy level of conflict has always been inherent in the DNA of St David’s. The issue is in the level of that conflict and its effect on an increasingly fragile community.

Throughout its history there have been conflicts of thought and interest that have been resolved both arbitrarily and otherwise, such as which side of the Newton Gully to locate the parish, where to build the new church, how much to pay for the organ that some of the congregation wanted to bring back from the dissident group? How much to pay for the new church building, what to do about the leaking walls, roof and Oamaru Stone around the windows. How to use the manse at the back of the church, Where the office should be and so on. All logical debates within communities one could say but also the logical outcome of a community under siege from difference. In fact, many of these issues were not addressed but rather shelved for later. They have come to rest now.

In St David’s case it could be said that in recent times the pressure to meet heritage values, and economic viability issues surrounding property in inner city Auckland as well as wider church survival strategies has meant closure is an inevitable and dare, I say it a logical option.

However, despite the closure of the congregation the question remains as to St David’s value as a missional, developmental and future enhancing place within the Presbytery. It may be that the closure is and was the best approach for the future and that will be discovered if and when human community and spirituality needs it.

The issue of the future is perhaps even more complex than we think as our traditional form of Christendom has been shown to be no longer an effective vehicle for the sharing and exploration of Spiritualty as a public social construct or as a congregation as an ever -growing mass expression of community. Congregational fragility has been further exposed by Covid-19 and by required levels of critical mass and community capacity. The questions faced might be; do congregations have to be of a certain size tied to an economic model? Do they have to be multicultural or language and culture specific and is there a single cultural definition of mission? These questions have been debated for many years without resolution which begs the question as to whether they need resolution?

Maybe St David’s is once again leading the way? Maybe once again the pragmatism of St David’s is asking the questions about the future of the Christian faith, is Christendom the only mode of being? Is it time to learn from the past and specifically from the days of the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth? It is time to put aside the theological isms and remember the power of his example that enabled the living through of an empires demise, a religion’s evolution and a worlds social, economic and political transformation with a certain hope of not just renewal, but a new life of unprecedented outcome.

Maybe it’s time to see the closure not as a sad ending but as a significant opportunity for the new thing. I for one shall treasure the opportunity my call to be a Minister of St David’s congregation gave me to make the best out of life until I no longer can. Thank you.

Let there be Spaces

Posted: July 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

Mark 6:30-34

Let there be Spaces

The storyteller we call Mark was clearly impressed with what he was told about the beginnings of the Jesus movement. Part of his story this morning describes in summary what he saw was the impact of Jesus’ ministry. For him, it seems the nature of the Jesus’ ministry was to offer leadership in teaching, and in acts of compassion that brings healing and sets people free from what oppresses them.

This is more significant than it sounds, especially when one reflects on just how complex and energy sapping and big picture driven as an enterprise. Jesus had to be an extraordinary insightful thinker and not only that, have the skill to put his vision and ideas into practical application in his culture and situation.

And we know this can be demanding work. People get tired. They need time out and the prayer time and the wilderness retreats of Jesus tell us this. They are not Gods who can supernaturally avoid being human much as we would like them to be freed from what we know about life in its biological and psychological nature. They are not the saviour’s of the world. They are ordinary human beings who need ‘space’ to continue on.

Kahlil Gibran’s meditation called ‘Speak to us of marriage’, from his popular book, The Prophet, is much loved by folk wishing to be married, and who are looking for a reflection or reading that is not biblical. I am sure you have heard it.

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls” (Gibran 1969).

It may be that this particular meditation is as well known, if not more so, than some biblical passages.  And good on it, because it resonates with what we know of an idealistic love that cannot face the realities of human living and loving.

Further on in this meditation Gibran writes:

“Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music”.

Then towards the end:

“And stand together yet not too near together:
for the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow.

Some clergy I know add a small rider to the end just in case people miss the message in the poetry. They add or repeat with an adaption:

“…let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you”.

This is in recognition of the fact that all human beings need ‘spaces’ – physically, emotionally, spirituality – in our busy lives. There is so much to do and think of that we need time to stop and discern a response. And perhaps the popularity of the quote says that getting married is not a bad time to be reminded of this.

It is also salutary for all those involved in ministry, to recognise that, according to storyteller Mark, Jesus was encouraging of the disciples/others to desist, to care for themselves, to reflect, and not to feel they must respond to every ‘squeaky door’ or appeal for assistance. They were not God. They were not the saviours of the world. They were limited human beings who needed space. They needed time out so as to be able to continue on. To sort out what was important.

Our very own New Zealander Ian Cairns of whom I had the privilege of knowing during training and whose daughter is a good friend made a comment as another good reminder of this need:
“This brief passage…he says…  gives us a fleeting but appealing insight into the natural rhythm of the lifestyle of Jesus and the circle around him: times of intense effort are succeeded by moments of unwinding, and of quiet relaxation.  The fact that the intention on this occasion was frustrated, detracts nothing from the attractiveness of the ideal” (Cairns 2004:87).

He asks; Do you have a ‘space’ – a place of peace and rest in the “natural rhythm” (Cairns 2004: 87) of your life, where you retreat for silence and re-creation?

So asks Bruce Epperly, co-author of The Call of the Spirit. When he says; “Our so-called ‘space’ or ‘quiet place’ can be anywhere.”

One of the things I am beginning to cherish in retirement is a re-discovering of the joy and peace of the beach, the sand, at water’s edge. And the sounds and smells of nature. It’s like feeling the texture of nature as I did when a young person, playing on the beach and walking the Waitakere’s.
Even on a cool and cloudy, Central NZ winter’s day. There is a timeless connection. And Epperly also says that other ‘space’ places could also include: a favourite chair or study, a meditation room in your home, a park, or the bush, and yes, the seashore. “The divine center is everywhere.  Wherever our adventure of ideas or geography take us, God is our adventurous companion” he says. (Epperly 2005:79).

And in his web site article:

“Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself.  Health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy.  Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone” 

(Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

Many advisors call this ability to create ‘spaces’ in our lives, ‘boundary setting’. Indeed, Epperly suggests today’s gospel story is just about that. He says that;

“Jesus took time apart with his followers.  His ‘no’ to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said ‘yes’ to spiritual growth and self-care.  His ‘yes’ to compassion was grounded in interconnectedness with God and his followers” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

But it is clear also that there is an art and a discipline to finding ‘spaces. It needs to be intentional and it also takes practice. Epperly offers some suggestions as to how we can create these ‘spaces. He lists some as;

• Sabbath time.  Or Take a few hours a week, a day, a month, for silence, for retreat, for prayer.
• Breathing prayers.  Breathing in.  Breathing out.  Remembering God’s present-ness, and

  centering in God’s companionship.
• Keeping meals sacred.  Install and use an answer phone.
• Cultivate intimate relationships.  Relationships take time and require leisure.
• Distinguish the important from the trivial.
• Learn to say ‘no’.

So maybe Mark’s lesson is – Let there be spaces in your togetherness, your living, your busyness. Even your ‘good and helpful’ busyness. Maybe this morning Mark’s story is not about the so-called ‘biggies’… such as feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, or grain that produces at the rate of 100 times, for example. Rather it is about getting an ‘OK’ for the very human need for ‘space’ in our lives.

Maybe we are encouraged to learn to create ‘spaces. And let us all learn to use them well.

“…for the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow” (Gibran 1969).


Cairns, I. J. 2004.  Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. NZ: Masterton. Fraser Books.
Gibran, K. 1926/1969.  The Prophet. GtB: London. Heinemann.
Cobb, Jr, J. B.; B. G. Epperly, P. S. Nancarrow. 2005. The Call of the Spirit. Process Spirituality in a Relational World. CA: Claremont. P&F Press.

John 6:1-21

Bread and Words are Meant to be Eaten

What is hospitality all about? What do we seek to emulate by taking communion together? Why do we place so much importance on eating together? What is it we think we are contributing to?

I wrote this poem as a possible answer. What if we are  ………….

Entertaining Angels

When people flee from scenes of war and carnage,
when people know terror because of violent rage,
where is the place of sanctuary?

When families are split by conflict,
when wounded victims escape from bloodshed,
where will they find a refuge?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspired to welcome the asylum seeker,
encouraged to transform the stranger

When we offer sanctuary to such as the other,
we open the door to the child

To know our heart and home

Jesus often talked about food and gospel writers such as this morning’s storyteller we call John,
often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. But from all the studies that have been undertaken on the ‘historical Jesus’, one thing seems sure – Jesus was not a literalist. He spoke so words would be eaten. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. They are more metaphor than fact. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Jesus often talked about food. As he moved from place to place he would seek rest in a house.
He would make his way to the cooking space because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. For it is the cooking space which is the place of transformations…

Brazilian Rubem Alves. suggested that; In the cooking space nothing is allowed to remain the same. Things come in raw, as nature produced them. And they go out different, according to the demands of taste and pleasure. The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear.
The hard must be softened. Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out. Cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures. In a cooking space everything is a new creature. Everything is made anew. Mouth is the place of eating and drinking long before it is the place of speaking. Companions are those who eat bread and drink wine together.
We are what we eat.

John, our gospel storyteller this morning, consistently takes stories from the oral and written traditions about Jesus and moulds and reshapes them so they make new statements and suggestions about who Jesus was. Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests that these statements
show evidence of a long theological development, and are so poetic and skillfully crafted, they
“cannot possibly have been the literal words of the historic Jesus”

(Spong 1991:186).

While William Loader suggests that what John wanted to say was important, was that Jesus is intimately linked to God. So, for storyteller John, Jesus so much represents God, that divine attributes easily transfer to him, in this the most symbolic of Gospels in our religious tradition.

In our particular story, often called ‘The feeding of the 5000’, storyteller John continues to have 
little sympathy for the crowds who follow because of the so-called ‘miracles’. For they fail to see this story is a sign of something more. For John it seems that when bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become new energy and new purpose, transforming weariness into compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour. This is akin to the Hebrew understanding of the Passover as an event relived in real time. Each Passover is the liberation of people from bondage. The Passover meal becomes mre than symbol, more that mirackle, it is a new reality.

Those of you who are familiar with many of the biblical stories will recall that various versions of this story also appear in all the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – with a double whammy in Mark. While Mark’s story is probably the earliest each storyteller tells his or her story just a bit differently.

And this is not startling because we would expect this because each story is told  in a different context, to a different audience, with different purposes in mind, by a different storyteller, using different resources – both oral and written. And then there is our different situation and stories and life experiences…

Mark’s second story suggests a compassionate response by Jesus as the ‘shepherd’ of the people. Matthew’s story suggests everything depends on Jesus’ words and authority. Luke’s story suggests the disciples are expected to initiate action. While John suggests to relate to Jesus was to relate to God as the symbolic ‘bread of life’.

There is still much debate as to the author of John’s Gospel and perhaps the nearest to knowing is a comment by Bishop John Spong who suggests that it is a high probability. that “There was obviously a theological giant in this process somewhere, a genius of rare spiritual depth who could weave together this profound narrative” Rightly or wrongly it is safe to say that this is fascinating stuff!

We also think that in times of high anxiety and stress, many so-called religious people
seem to narrow their focus and become more rigid. The decline in Church attendance seems to bear this out as the fundamentalists seem to attract more attention. But despite the narrowing down and the fervour for a metanarrative or single story the storyteller will have none of that crude, narrowing focus. He paints a big and broad and colourful picture of the one called Jesus of Nazareth, identified as the Christ. The author, through his life experiences found a unique way to tell this Jesus story that contrasted sharply with and separated it from, the other Gospel stories. Through sign and symbol, beyond literalism, and fired by imagination, the storyteller invites his listeners to sense the very real present-ness of God in Jesus. For him, Jesus is “the doorway into God”.

It is a pity that those who seek to defend biblical truth, today be it on matters of food, Jesus, or human sexuality, “so often fail to comprehend the gospel’s message” and distort the story by literalizing it and claiming a factual truth that traps it in historic calcified thinking which affects its authenticity and contributes to further decline in attendance. Gospels by their very nature are living dynamic evolving expressions of truth and should never become and ossified institution.

In the words of Yuval Harari, who wrote The Sapiens ‘A brief history of Humankind’ ‘I encourage all of us whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues”.

To leave you with a question yet to be answered. Did the first cooked meals help fuel the dramatic evolutionary expansion of the human brain?

Becoming Angels

When people flee from imagination and symbol,
when people choose apathy over engagement,
where is the picture of a new tomorrow?

When humanity is split by difference,
when wounded minds escape from responsibility,
where will they find a future?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspiring the welcome of the mind seeker,
one is encouraged to transform today

When feeding the mind of the other,
we open the door to the angel of development

feed our hearts and our sanctuary


Spong, J. S. 1991. Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism. A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. NY: New York HarperSanfrancisco

Harari Y N Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind  Penguin Press 2011


Seasons and Self…

Posted: June 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

Seasons and Self…

It is not easy to say much good of winter. Except as something hard that exaggerates the Spring reprieve. It just is. Take trees for instance. If those trees are the imported kind, their coloured clown suits of leaves will have already turned winter brown or yellow, and as if to sacrifice their life, fallen to the ground to become spring fertilizer. Take snow for instance. We don’t get a lot of it in New Zealand and it is mainly concentrated in the higher regions. Indeed, it may even have been said by farmers that snow is ‘the poor man’s fertilizer’. It was next year’s water. It was next year’s crop.

The truth is that seasons are as much a cultural phenomenon as food, music, religion and dance. In reality, the delineation of the year into four seasons—Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter— is as arbitrary as starting them on the first of a certain month. 

Even with the relatively small size of New Zealand there is not one single seasonal calendar for the entire country. Temperatures do fluctuate on a national basis We have the winterless North and the Cold South, and the windy middle for instance.

Over all, summer is the warmest season of the year, falling between spring and autumn.
Warm weather, days at the beach, and the start of an extended holiday period herald summer’s ‘southern’ arrival. According to ‘astronomical summer’ the season occurs on or around December 22 in the Southern Hemisphere, when the South Pole is tilted toward the sun, and when night and day are approximately the same length. But there is another definition for summer. A meteorological season is defined as the 12 months of the year being divided up into four seasons with three months each. June, July and August are considered summer, north of the equator, while December, January and February are summer to the south. Which of course means the latter makes for a different Christmas!

Autumn has gone right now and winter is here… People tend always to read, think, and understand from their particular place on the planet. But it goes further. The natural seasons not only have symbolic value they also affect us physiologically. Seasonal changes in temperature, sunlight, precipitation, barometric pressure, and lunar cycles all have demonstrable effects on our moods and physical functioning.

Like Earth, we too have our seasons marked by change and often best reflected upon by the poets and liturgists in our midst. Because human beings are ‘storytellers and scenario spinners’.

“Now I am not so very young,
        and time runs faster that, it did.
        I am much more mortal than I was at ten…

“It takes a little while to know how much of life is death
        and not to dread it so.
        To sense the equilibrium of the earth,
        To be at home in time, and take the limits
        of both life and love…” (Coots 1971:61, 62)

As one grows older it is often referred to as entering the ‘autumn years’. The younger version of me always dreaded the idea of growing older. But now that I have not only knocked on autumn’s door, but opened the door and taken a few steps inside, I admit to being some-what pleased to have made it this far!

“No matter how old one is,” writes Huffington Post blogger, Judith Rich, “we’re always standing at the edge of the unknown. There is no certainty, not even about taking the next breath. But growing older affords one a certain perspective on life, not available from the earlier parts of the journey. Gratitude comes forward, front and center, as the prevailing consciousness. What could be better than that?” (Rich 2011) And then comes the end of life as we know it… Death. Our death. Few people think about death. Their own death, that is. It has been traditionally considered a taboo subject. When it is talked about, most of the time the conversation is shaped around death as an abstract principle – a dispassionate facet of Life. But when death becomes personal through someone we have known, respected, and loved, it comes in a variety of guises and triggers varying emotions. As a progressive and a religious naturalist Rex Hunt suggests that his understanding of the universe is that, the natural world is all there is. Death is part of the life process. There is for him no heaven and no afterlife. This life is all there is. Traditional and fundamentalist Christians will blame all this on Charles Darwin, but there is no scientific evidence of anything supernatural. Neither is there any credible evidence that humankind is a unique creation by a deity, nor any basis for the existence of a ‘soul’. I happen to be a little less certain about when life begins and ends but I do go along with the idea that this human life experience is all we have now. As with Rex, I agree that it matters far more to come to terms with our end than to be preoccupied with ‘metaphysical speculation’ about what might lie beyond this life. “Death is present and palpable, a matter of evidence. Not only are there no good grounds for anticipating immortality, but also doing so distracts us from the life that we do have.” (Aronson 2008:151)

We all die. And all of us dies. Seasons of the self.

Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, has a couple of interesting, if detailed,
comments about our ‘seasons’, and ‘self’. He writes: “We contain in us—in all of ourselves after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations—the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe.” He then proceeds to ask the question: ‘How old are we?’ His response:
“phenomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years.” (Peters 1992:412) To the additional question: ‘How long will we continue?’ Peters adds: “phenomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5 billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never… It all depends on how we think of ourselves.” (Peters 1992:412)

Ian Harris in his new book ‘Hand in Hand’ reminds us that ‘agnosticism’ and for those who can avoid the hard questions can become a complacent perch for not asking the questions about the meaning of our existence. Do our lives have purpose beyond mere survival? Even the so-called non theist, non-religious face these questions.

Peters, answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. And he reminds us that the seasons of nature is in us as much as we are nature. “We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos… As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…” (Peters 1992:412)

When I think of my own life, like Rex I too want to live my own seasons’—I know I want to exist as long as I can in a healthy way in my present state, fulfilling the possibilities of my own existence, and contributing positively to my culture, to my family and grandchildren, to the environment. And at centre stage is a sense of wonder and acts of celebration. The world—a circus of forms—of leaves and mulch and earth and rocks and butterflies, and human fingers with or without arthritis. The celebration of life—the whole of life is the living of the questions. And to be dumbstruck by the gentle burst of colour and the struggle of little lambs in early spring keeps the questions before us! But then… as Marx has said – Groucho Marx that is, or as Rex’s seven, year old grandson would prefer putting it, Captain Underpants: ‘Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.’ In other words it is hard to say good things about winter!

Harris also reminds us that a certain John took a Jewish understanding of the life and death, teachings and example of Jesus, and transposed it into a Greek thought-world for people whose culture was Greek, much as a composer might write a variation on a musical theme to give it a fresh perspective and new depth. This has to challenge us in terms of our seasonal constructs and take seriously the need fir dynamic fluidity in thinking and to keep living the questions.


Harris Ian, Hand to Hand Cuba Press.

“Talitha cum”

Posted: June 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

“Talitha cum”

I want to tread lightly yet deeply with our Markan text this morning, Lightly, in the sense that I don’t want to examine the meaning of the particular story and the reasoning around the story’s inclusion in Mark but rather the placement of it in the gospel at all. What is the story addressing in its audience, if we can know anything at all about that and I want to do this by showing you a video of what I think might be the audience on its journey in our time today. I think what I am doing is exploring the hermeneutics of text in doing this but wiser minds than mine might suggests otherwise. What I hope you will see and hear is the search that many of us today are embarked on as church attendance declines and new opportunities arise in how we might approach an understanding of what religion might be or as Hopkins says, what Spirituality might be.

The first thing we note is that Mark is the second book of the four gospels; the second book of the New Testament; the forty-first book of the Bible. Why is it the second book is an interesting question because we believe it is the first gospel written because it is the shortest and the one that has very little of the great story we now consider as the orthodox story of who Jesus was. This suggests that it might have been a story of Jesus as opposed to a story about Jesus, and this might suggests that we might begin by asking not who this Jesus was and concentrate on why we think he was there in the first place. And let’s be honest also that we know very little of the thinking of the audience to Jesus let alone the audience of Mark. While the specific audience of Mark is not mentioned in the book itself we can expect both external and internal evidence to help provide information in this area. Externally, the earliest traditions associate Mark as being written based on the teachings of Peter while in Rome. This would indicate the audience included people in Rome interested in knowing more about the teachings of Jesus.

The second point is that there is little emphasis on Jewish traditions and less citations of Old Testament passages, so it is likely written for a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience in Rome. Further, many Aramaic expressions are translated, and some Latin terms are included. The book also provides several teachings in the forms of sayings or short stories with abrupt transitions from one section to the next.

The audience of Mark would quickly grow beyond Rome, however, as church history indicates Mark took his Gospel to North Africa. His work also likely influenced the other Gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, that both appear to use Mark’s writing as part of their own sources for their Gospels. In terms of time it is thought by many that it was most likely written in the early AD 60s when both Peter and Mark were ministering in the city of Rome. It was written no later than Mark’s death in AD 68. Some suggest an even earlier date in the AD 40s or 50s. In any case, Mark is most likely the earliest of the four Gospels.

Our particular reading today is about Jesus’ encounter with a synagogue leader and his ailing daughter, after pausing to describe Jesus healing a woman who had suffered for years with a debilitating hemorrhage. We remember the context in Mark as being after he controlled a fierce storm (Mark 4:35–41), expelled a legion of demons (Mark 5:1–13), and healed a chronically ill woman without even trying (Mark 5:25–34). Now He will raise the dead. This is the first of three times Jesus is recorded as raising the dead (John 11:1–44; Luke 7:11–17). Remember here that this is not about who Jesus is or was but rather about his faith, his understanding of the world and how one can engage in it with courage determination and most of all with hope. Despite this supernatural display, Jesus will soon go to his hometown of Nazareth where he will be rejected by the people who have known him longest. This account can also be found in Matthew 9:23–26 and Luke 8:49–56 and it is a call to the reality check, the call to see clearly the nature of a faith connection, the nature of faith as perhaps a ridiculous irrational motivation, That despite all the struggles of human life a positive, confidence in the love of God can make a new heaven and a new earth.

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, He insists the girl is not dead but only “sleeping.” And here is the important thing. This is meant for metaphorical intent: she had physically died, but Jesus fully intends for the girl’s death to be temporary, like sleep. His actions now support His decision. He doesn’t lay His hands on her or anoint her with oil and pray. He takes her hand and helps her up, as if she is already on the cusp of waking.

The Greek root word for “taking” is krateo and means to hold securely with power. “Hand” is from the Greek root word cheir which infers a power that is used to help. As casual as Jesus’ words and gestures seem to be, the actual healing does take the power of the Holy Spirit. Changing the nature of this small piece of the universe is hard work.

And when it comes to the liturgy or the life changing words the phrase talitha cum is Aramaic and basically means “little girl, get up,” or “child, arise,” as Luke interprets it (Luke 8:54). It is thought that Mark included the literal Aramaic to prove that Jesus uses mere words, not a magical spell. It is not about miracle or supernatural belief but about human faith, human conviction, human loving. Our faith is not defined by great words in prayers, liturgical readings of scriptures with literal interpretation, or by some magic words, but rather by faith, or as I prefer to say by the act of trusting. That is where what we know as God’s grace is made real, and Jesus’ knew this.

Now I want to show you an interview with Anthony Hopkins that I think depicts the questions Mark was trying to ask in his context. Questions, that showed just what the guy Jesus was on about in his time.

Fear of What?

Posted: June 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

Fear of What? 

The theme for today’s service has been the anatomy of fear as we journey with the disciples in the boat on the lake when as is apparently not uncommon a storm arises and Jesus’ confidence is seen as indifference to their fear of possible drowning.

What this reminds us of is that fear is a very powerful thing in our lives. It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger. Sometimes it is a positive force as it motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures. It also serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, and human. But on the other side of these impulses, we know fear also prompts us to lock the doors of our lives from the mystery and wonder of the unknown and run into places of isolated hiding. Very few emotions are stronger than fear.

Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. Fear can also be a symptom of some mental health conditions including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fear is composed of two primary reactions to some type of perceived threat: those reactions are biochemical and emotional.

Taking a look at the biochemical reaction we see that fear is a natural emotion and a survival mechanism. When we confront a perceived threat, our bodies respond in specific ways. Physical reactions to fear include sweating, increased heart rate, and high adrenaline levels that make us extremely alert. This physical response is also known as the “fight or flight” response, with which our body prepares itself to either enter combat or run away. This biochemical reaction is likely an evolutionary development. It’s an automatic response that is crucial to our survival.

Taking a look at the emotional response we see that its response to fear, on the other hand, is highly personalized. Because fear involves some of the same chemical reactions in our brains that positive emotions like happiness and excitement do, feeling fear under certain circumstances can be seen as fun, like when you watch scary movies. Some people are adrenaline seekers, thriving on extreme sports and other fear-inducing thrill situations. Others have a negative reaction to the feeling of fear, avoiding fear-inducing situations at all costs.

Although the physical reaction is the same, the experience of fear may be perceived as either positive or negative, depending on the person, the environment and the situation.

This morning’s gospel story by the one we call Mark, is about fear. But fear of what? When Mark retold the story of ‘the stilling of the storm’ it is very likely his small community was either facing or recovering from, persecution in every direction. And in the face of this persecution or threats it seems their fear was directed at the silence of God. Or God’s felt absence (Webb 2007).

So, it is possible, their fears, their concerns, were expressed in these felt needs or similar words:
Is God indifferent to our suffering and persecution? For our tradition goes on to tell us, Mark told them this story. But I wonder if this story was heard?  Really heard, that is? It can’t be traced back to an event in the life of Jesus… All reputable scholars agree with that.

There are also strong hints this story has been influenced by the Hebrew story of Jonah. Or perhaps told as a counter story to the fame of Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth “who was regarded as the master of storms, of fire, and of perils of all kinds” (Funk 1998: 77).

And according to one myth which was widespread at the time, the original act of creation involved God in a desperate, but finally victorious, contest with the forces of chaos and evil, which were identified with the waters of the sea. As a consequence, Mark and other storytellers of the day saw that the ability to control the sea and subdue storms as characteristic of having ‘divine power’ (Nineham 1963: 146).

But staying within this story, we can wonder if the telling of it worked as an answer to the community’s fears. It is very likely however that is didn’t work. Tis brings us back to our question: Fear of what.

There is an old Buddhist saying. That says something like: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. By itself its hard to see its value but the biblical scholar Walter Wink who had also commented on this Buddhist saying wrote: “We fall in love with our mentors or set them on pedestals, refusing to see their flaws and regarding them as bigger than life.  We project what we long for, into them” (Wink/LookSmart web site). And later on he added: “A storm threatens to engulf them.  Jesus is asleep in the stern.  They might have reproached him with, Don’t just lie there – bail!  Instead they attack him personally: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  They personalize the storm, almost as if he has sent it against them spitefully.  They address him not as another available hand in a crisis but as their teacher.  They project on(to) him concern for their well-being and survival, and are thus emptied of the inner resources to deal with the storm themselves – these weathered seamen!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

Here we have an inkling of our answer to our original question: Fear of what? These experienced, fisher folk weren’t just surprised by, or afraid of, the storm. Been there.  Done that. The Sea of Galilee was notorious for storms. Every day they ventured out, was to engage in some risky business.

Neither were they suddenly regretting the fact they hadn’t clicked onto the Weather Company web site for the latest advice, before they set out. Yet, here they are, all “at sea on water”! (Carroll 2007: 46). Why? What were they afraid of? They, are afraid of themselves. They had lost their courage. They had developed a dependency on Jesus. And panic ensues as a result of their dependence.

Again Walter Wink is helpful, I reckon, with this comment: “They awoke (Jesus) with reproaches, not the cry of believers for help.  They also lacked faith in themselves.  The response is’ “You deal with the storm.  You are the seamen here.  You had the resources, and you failed to call upon them.  Exercise your own faith!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

Now that is interesting…  Confront your fears. Forget your dependency. You have the resources.
Exercise your own faith! Stop relying on your beliefs, your set doctrines or creeds, stop being dependent on someone else’s interpretation. You have the resources, you have your faith and that is not belief but rather trust, find the positive fear not the negative one.

While these fisher folk were probably afraid of death in this moment, Jesus’ challenging of them in this story by Mark shows they (and by implication, Mark’s community) were also terrified of life!
“…they had given up their courage by entering into dependency on Jesus.  And so they experienced the storm not as challenge to overcome, but as an evil threat… A trap in someone else’s fears, where had their courage fled…?” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

They had not yet seen or heard the Gospel of Thomas (which didn’t make it into the Canon) says:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” (GTh 70. Quoted in Webb 2007: 133). Maybe this is an answer to our question: Fear of what?

A number of years back now Dr Francis Macnab, a man like our own Lloyd Geering unleased a storm of protest when he suggested the church should issue ten New Commandments. Ten New Commandments or guidelines which assert a new way that is meaningful for the way we will need to live, now. I want to read them to you in the hope that you might not have heard them and you might like to think of them as an opposition to the fears that are generated by many of our traditions beliefs that have remained unchallenged for too long now.

Commandment 1: Believe in a Good Presence in your life.  Call that Good Presence: God, G-D, and follow that Good presence so that you live life fully: tolerantly, collaboratively, generously and with dignity.

Commandment 2: Believe in a God-Presence in your life that will lift you constantly to live harmoniously in yourself and with others, always searching for your best health and happiness.

Commandment 3: Take care of your home, your environments, your Planet and its vital resources for the life and health of people in all the world.

Commandment 4: Be kind and caring of the animals, the birds, and the creatures of land and the rivers and the seas.

Commandment 5: Help people develop their potential and become as fully functioning human beings as is possible from birth, through traumas and triumph to the end of their days.

Commandment 6: Be magnanimous and excessive in your support of good causes, and use your affluence and material goods and scientific skills in altruistic concern for the future of the world.

Commandment 7: Study ways to encourage and sustain the dignity, hope and integrity of all human beings and study ways to help all human beings embrace their dignity, hope, and integrity. 

Commandment 8: Be alive to new possibilities, new ways, and to the unfolding mysteries and wonders of life and the world.

Commandment 9: We often focus our lives on many things and pursuits that promise our fulfilment.  Study the deeper things of the Spirit, and the things of ultimate concern for all human beings.  Be part of an evolving life-enhancing Faith that will also bring a new resilience to the future.

Commandment 10:  Take time to worship the great Source of all the positive transforming energies of life, and search to be at one with ‘the spirit of the good, the tender and the beautiful.’

These Ten Commandments, suggests Francis Macnab, are: “positive, plausible and powerful.  If you embrace them, really put them into practice, they will change your life.  And they will change the world” (FMacnab. St Michael’s UC web site, 2009).

Especially, these could be a way of avoiding the fears that lock us in dependence on other people’s faith rather than our own and especially those of our tradition that were chosen in order to appease political or social control of the people. They might just help us on the journeys which take us through fearful ‘storms’.

Carroll, J. 2007.  The Existential Jesus. Carlton North. Scribe Publications.
Funk, R. W. (ed) 1998.  The Acts of Jesus.  The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Nineham, D. E. 1963.  Saint Mark. The Pelican New Testament commentaries. Hammondsworth. Pelican Book.
Webb, V. 2007.  Like Catching Water in a Net. Human attempts to describe the divine. New York. Continuum International Publishing.

Harris Ian 2021 Hand in Hand Wellington NZ Cuba Press

Mark 4:26-34

A Non-Empire Run by a Non-King!

The Lectionary designers are allowing our storyteller Mark to tell a story or two. The story or parable of scattered seed and the story or parable of the mustard seed. Or as Rex Hunt of who I am grateful for todays, inspiration, reminds us, the story of “Gradual growth, sleeper Sower, and Mischievous mustard.  (Reid 1999:61)

Like Rex I want to focus on just one of those parables today: Mischievous mustard. With the suggestion that all the stuff we have previously heard about this parable, suggests that there is a good chance many of us have heard that this is a story about contrast: tiny mustard seed grows into the greatest of all shrubs.

Botanically speaking “mustard does not grow to be the greatest of all shrubs, nor is it the smallest of all seeds; hyperbole is used to drive home the contrast.” (Reid 1999:68) On the other hand, wild mustard, a pesky weed, is almost impossible to eradicate once it has infested a paddock or vegetable garden. When you get it in your paddock, your paddock is ‘unclean’.

So, what might the storyteller be suggesting? Well! Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar suggest:
“Jesus’ audience would probably have expected God’s domain to be compared to something great, not something small.” (Funk 1993:59)

And then this interesting point: “As the tradition was passed on, it fell under the influence… of the mighty cedar of Lebanon as a metaphor for a towering empire… In his use of this metaphor, Jesus is understanding the image for comic effect.” (Funk 1993: 484) Either way, Funk says, the parable “betrays an underlying sense of humour on Jesus’ part.” (Funk 1993:485)

Other scholars take a different tack.  According to Funk they conclude Jesus “deliberately chose the symbol of the weed and its seed to represent the poor, the toll collectors, and the sinners: they are pesky intrusions into the ordered garden of society.” (Funk 1993:60)

But Bruce Sanguin, (2015) takes an ‘evolutionary’ tact. Suggesting that ‘seed’ is one of Jesus’ favourite metaphors,

Sanguin suggests three interrelated dynamics: 

  • the growth of the seed describes how God’s grace works in the universe, from the inside out and within the impulse to become;
  • we ourselves are divine seeds – the same natural grace that animates seeds is working within us to bear fruit;
  • the very image of God is within us in potential form, just as an oak is within an acorn in potential form.

Here I think is support for my suggestion of an “Almost’ God, a potential, ‘a yet to be that is promise and call’ A God that does not exists but rather ‘Insists” as John D Caputo puts it.

“But when humans focus on exteriors (the husk and not the kernel) we fall into idolatry, confusing the true life within with the shell.” When we lock our understandings in a belief system, or a creedal and doctrinal form and we lock it away from the potential and promise. Then we try to capture grace in the same way and we miss the miracle that is a dynamic living God at work in the potential and the yet to be.

So, as Rex says; there we have it.  Some brief reflections and good guesses based on some scholarship, on this parable. A parable about a pesky weed that can take over everything. Which, when you step back and think about it a bit, “is a strange analogy of the empire of God…  It pokes fun at our expectations that an empire must be a mighty anything.” (Scott 2001:37, 39)

But that is what makes this story a parable. And the analogy is nearly as strange as the two camps represented by this story. The first camp: the Roman Empire. The second camp: the undesirables, the nuisances and nobodies.  (Crossan 1991:276-79)

And so, the story plot unfolds…

Chapter 1: ‘We are here for the duration,’ said pompous Rome. ‘Stay in your place and we will let you live. Misbehave and you will end up like all these blokes.’

Chapter 2: ‘We aren’t going away either,’ said the undesirables. ‘There is a new kingdom coming and it is already breaking through.’

Chapter 3: Remembering the original ‘Jesus’ people’ were not a gathered community, they – the undesirables – begin to organize.

And the collection of Easter stories was their way of saying: “This new kingdom is a non-empire run by a non-king.  Its, way is peace through justice, and justice through non-violence. Not that of empire with might, and violence in search of peace. Its royal court consists of poets and crazy minstrels who think the poor should be filled with good things.  The non-king’s army is a band of off-key resisters who keep getting in the way as they sing for peace. “Don’t look for this new upside-down world in heaven.  It is right here, right now, within and without us.  Anyone who is ever left out, despised, rejected, forgotten, spit on, looked over, stood up, washed up, or left behind is in the non-king’s cabinet” (John Shuck. ‘Easter for the Nonreligious. Shuck & Juve blog site, 2009).

Mark the storyteller asks: ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?’ Well, now we’veheard the story, there are a few other questions we need to ask:
Where is God’s reign to be found? With what kind of power is it established? Who brings it?
Who stands to gain by its coming? Whose power is threatened by it? (Reid 1999:69)

Those questions become even more interesting for us when we reflect on what has taken place in our world in recent times. In the promise of a post covid world in New Zealand there has been a focus on refugees and migrants and the economic needs of our industries “If we regard people seeking a new home only as economic necessities then we might choose to close our doors to them.  But if we regard them as human beings in need, deserving of being treated with dignity, compassion and respect, we will be able to tap more easily into that great spirit of generosity that moved our hearts so deeply during the mosque attacks.

Barbara Reid, rather eloquently, brings it all back home, so to speak when she says: “The reign of God does not have to be imported from far-away… nor does it come with an impressive power.  Rather, it is found in every back yard, erupting out of unpretentious ventures of faith by unimportant people – but which have potentially world-transforming power” (Reid 1999:69).

Unpretentious ventures and unimportant people… who spend their Saturdays preparing meals for the hungry, who repair homes for our poorest sisters and brothers, who care for broken, hurting, and diseased bodies, who calm troubled minds, who risk their lives to protect the vulnerable, and who boldly speak truth to power on behalf of healthcare and equal rights.  (Shuck & Juve blog site, 2009)

To be sure, many parables can leave us frustrated. They are not neat parcels with answers inside.  Just like this one, which says: Take your choice.  Reign of God equals mighty cedar or pungent weed!

Meanwhile, Lloyd Geering’s comment of a few years ago is helpfully suggestive: “The Jesus most relevant to us is he who provided no ready-made answers but by his tantalizing stories prompted people to work out their own most appropriate answers to the problems of life.  That is why the parables… will be remembered long after the historic confessions and creeds have been forgotten.” (Geering 2002:145)

So equally important for us, is this additional persistent question: can we have faith with Jesus in the re-imagined world of the parables? The big question that persists for the church still remains. Can the 21st century congregation can live out such a 21st century gospel.


Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.
Crossan, J. D. The Historical Jesus. The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. North Blackburn. CollinsDove, 1991.
Funk, R. W. & R. W. Hoover. The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York. MacMillan Press, 1993.
Geering, L. G. Christianity Without God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Reid, B. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Mark. Year B. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press, 1999.
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.
Sanguin, B. The Way of the Wind: The Path and Practice of Evolutionary Christian Mysticism. Toronto. Evans & Sanguin, 2015.

Sometimes life, like reality, isn’t what it seems.

The people in Samuel/s time thought they needed a King to progress the society as they knew it. The people in Jesus’ time thought that the rules around family hierarchies and structures were in need of reinforcing, We think that family and society and community is under threat today and the assumptions we make today about what is proper care of society environment and relationships are being challenged. I want to try to address this huge topic in a few minutes which is silly really but I will tell three stories to see if we can grasp the complexity of the topic in a few minutes. An impossible task by the way. The first story is about our perception of the cosmos, the big picture and I tell it to see if I can illustrate how our reality has changed, and the second is about the perception that more rules, more order and centralized control will deliver a more cohesive and peaceful world. And the third is about the personal human struggle with who we are as individual human beings in the journey of life. Our attempt to understand reality and gain what we think is some control over it. I hope you will catch what I mean.

It was Christmas Eve in December 1968. Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon, the American astronauts busy photographing possible landing sites for the missions that would follow. “On the fourth orbit, Commander Frank Borman decided to roll the craft away from the earth, rising.  “Oh my God,” he said.  “Here’s the earth coming up.”  Crew member Bill Anders grabbed a camera and took the photograph that became the iconic image perhaps of all time” (McKibben 2010:2) The space agency NASA gave the image the code name AS8-14-2383 But we now know it as “Earthrise”. As the other Apollo 8 Crew member, Jim Lovell, put it: “the earth… suddenly appeared as ‘a grand oasis’” (McKibben 2010:2). But author and environmental activist Bill McKibben has since pointed out: “…we no longer live on that planet” (McKibben 2010:2). Not that the world has ended. Earth is still a web of interconnected and interdependent forces and domains of existence. It is still the third rock out from the sun, located in a galaxy called the ‘Milky Way’. What has ended is the world as we thought we knew it. That ‘grand oasis’ has changed in profound ways “We imagine we still live back on that old planet”, says McKibben, “that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind.  But they are not.  It’s a different place.  A different planet” (McKibben 2010:2). That ‘different planet’ as McKibben describes it, has been brought about by global warming. The sudden surge in both greenhouse gases and global temperatures. And “a series of ominous feedback affects” (McKibben 2010:20). The world is a different place so why shouldn’t our understanding off God, humanity, and the cosmos be different?

The second story is the biblical story of a people who were convinced that only having a King would solve their societal issues and bring stability and order to their world. Samuel was all things to all people, a judge, and a one-man band. When the old curmudgeon wasn’t out in the field trying to fight off the Philistine guerrillas, he was riding his circuit trying to keep the tribes of Israel honest, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was giving them hell for cheating on Yahweh every time a new fertility god showed up with a come-hither look in his eye. When he reached retirement age, he might have turned things over to his sons, but they were a bunch of crooks who sold justice to the highest bidder, and the Israelites said maybe he’d better get them a king instead. They’d never had one before, but they felt the time had come. Samuel threw a fit.

He said there was only one king worth the time of day, and Yahweh was his name. He also told them kings were a bad lot from the word go and didn’t spare them a single sordid detail. They were always either drafting you into their armies or strong-arming you into taking care of their farms. They took your daughters and put them to work in their kitchens and perfume factories. They filled their barns with your livestock and got you to slave for them till you dropped in your tracks. What was more, if the Israelites chose a king, Yahweh would wash his hands of them and good riddance. Samuel had it on the highest authority. But the Israelites insisted, and since Samuel didn’t have the pep he’d once had, he finally gave in.

The king he dug up for them was a tall drink of water named Saul. He was too handsome for his own good, had a rich father, and when it came to religion tended to go off the deep end. Samuel had him in for a meal and, after explaining the job to him, anointed him with holy oil against his better judgment and made him the first king Israel ever had. He regretted this action till the day he died, and even in his grave the memory of it never gave him a moment’s peace. (1 Samuel 8-11)

The third story is one that I got from HuffPost off the internet. It is not the usual story read in church but it highlights the personal struggle with one’s own identity and engagement with life and I think goes to the reason for Jesus’ action in challenging the assumptions around family and what it might be in relations to culture, history and the field of life.

Samantha Boesch is a journalist with HuffPost and is talking following a Christian ministry meeting in 2009 during ng her freshman year of college.

She starts by saying that there are 12 women in the room, herself included, all seated in a circle of plastic folding chairs. Some of them are holding foam cups full of the free instant coffee offered to them at the door. She is on my second cup already.

“Hi, my name is Angela and I’m a sex addict,” the woman sitting directly across from Samantha says.

“Hi Angela,” the rest of the women respond in unison.

“This week, I … um … I’ve been struggling with watching porn again,” she continues.

Samantha listens as each of the women, in a clockwise direction, takes a turn speaking. Soon it will be her turn and she feel a knot forming in her stomach and she is overcome with a wave of nausea. They all continue to confess their transgressions of lust, masturbation, and late-night pornography-viewing escapades. The woman to Samantha’s right, Rebecca, finishes speaking. It’s now Samantha’s turn.

“Hi, I’m Samantha …” She says.

She pauses for a second, wondering if she has to say the next line. The group leader is looking at her with her eyes wide. Samantha feels like she’s staring into her soul.

“… And I’m a sex addict.” She says.

Samantha was 23 when she attended her first Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting and back then she believed with all of her heart that she had a sex addiction. For her entire life, her evangelical Christian community had told her that any sexual activity, thought or desire outside of marriage between a man and a woman was a grave sin against God. The path to her salvation had hinged on her ability to remain sexually pure. When she confessed her “sexual sins” to her church mentor in 2014 after years of struggling to ignore her sexuality, she suggested to Samantha that she seek recovery for her addiction.

Samantha attended the group for just under a year but her time spent there and the events that led her to those meetings had a lasting impact. She now knows that she was never a sex addict but instead was a product of a dangerously insidious purity culture that still thrives in many religious contexts today.

My parents weren’t raised religious, but Samantha was sent to Sunday School when they had life changing experiences that rocked their worlds. It was at Sunday School that Samantha learned about sin and salvation. She was told God created the world, was constantly angry at humans for messing up, and then sent his one and only son to die so that everyone else would be free. Her teachers warned the children about sin every chance they got. She was riddled with guilt her whole childhood and prayed to God every night before bed for forgiveness.

In the sixth grade, she heard about “sexual sin” for the first time. The youth group leader told them that God saved her from her lustful ways. She said she used to put her worth in men and in finding love. She explained she was empty, dirty and lost until God found her. “God saved me from my sexual sins,” she said. She cried as she told the children her story.

Samantha went home that night scared that something like that would happen to her, so she pleaded with God to save her from the same fate.

In high school, she dove even deeper into her Christian community and started attending a high school ministry group called Young Life. They talked a lot about sexual sin ― about things like sleeping with one’s boyfriend, doing things or watching porn. Like many young people in search of identity and seeking adulthood she was curious about sex and about her body and was constantly thinking about what it would be like to make out with the guy who sat behind her in chemistry class. Sex was on her mind ― just like most other teens ― but underneath, her thoughts thrummed a steady hum of shame.

In college, Samantha became a Young Life leader and continued investing time in her church community. she was still watching porn often, but she was trying to wean herself from it while simultaneously maintaining the appearance of purity that my community revered. After a while, though, the weight of knowing that God knew what she was doing felt too heavy to carry, so she decided to confess her sins to her friends and hopefully get help.

Everyone told her they were proud of her for being honest about such a dreadful sin. She was considered “brave” for her vulnerability. When she told my mentor, she was congratulated on taking such an enormous step of faith and recommended a few “sex/porn addict” support groups, one of which was the sex addicts group Samantha was hesitant at first, but she already had a friend who attended the group so she tagged along with her the following week.

Everyone in the group was a devout Christian, all trying desperately to avoid their sins of lust. After the first few months, Samantha was assigned a mentor. Her name was Ella and she had been a recovering sex addict for over five years. She was bright and bubbly but her shoulders hung low. She and Samantha would meet 30 minutes before each weekly group meeting to go over what she had been working on.

There was one meeting with Ella where Samantha was feeling particularly anxious. She had developed a crush on a co-worker and he had reciprocated my interest. Samantha was nervous to tell Ella that they had made out at a party the previous weekend. In the group they were encouraged to stay away from any sort of sexual activity, including kissing.

Just as Samantha had suspected, Ella was shocked at Samantha’s confession. She didn’t think it was a good idea for her to be making out with random guys while she was dealing with her recovery. Samantha stayed quiet and agreed with her but she felt uneasy on her drive home that night.

For the first time since she started attending, the group she was angry. She was mad at Ella for telling her what to do with her situation ― and at all of the other people from her church who had done the same.

Tears poured down her face and anger welled up inside her as she drove home. But almost as quickly she asked for forgiveness.

In the following months, no matter how hard she tried, Samantha couldn’t shake what she felt after that meeting with Ella. She was now hyperaware of the shame in her life and all around her. It was palpable. She would sit in church services, Bible studies and meetings, trying to drown out her anger with prayers to God. But it was too late. She felt she had let the anger in and she could no longer ignore it.

Then finally realized that her whole life had been made up of other people’s decisions ― decisions based on fear, misinformation and attempts to control. Samantha now saw the truth: Her sexuality, her body, the things she felt, the questions she had, and her desires weren’t evil.

By her 24th birthday, she had left Sex Addicts Anonymous. Her church community, too. The anger she allowed myself to feel after that meeting with Ella was the first time, she truly let herself push back against what her community believed. It was the first time she trusted myself and there was no turning back after that.

Do you think that might have been what Jesus was on about when he challenged the assumptions around family and its seemingly unassailable status in society in his time?

Samantha realized that her whole life had been made up of other people’s decisions ― decisions based on fear, misinformation and attempts to control. She now saw the truth: None of what she had now learned meant something was wrong with me. She wasn’t addicted to sex and she didn’t need the help she had been convinced she needed.

Walking away was terrifying because she spent her whole life believing what her community or her church family had told her and she was still worried she might be making the wrong choice. Maybe God would smite her and condemn her to hell. Maybe her life without the church would be miserable. But choosing to turn away from shame, being able to listen to the intuition that had been inside her all along, felt well worth the risk.

For our society as a whole, it’s obvious how these historical teachings have a far wider impact and can lead to a lack of comprehensive sex education, a lack of accountability, misogyny, homophobia, and sometimes even the sexual violence that we see in our culture on a daily basis.

Samantha’s story may not be the catalyst for change but she hopes that the church might realize how harmful some of its teachings are and take action to do better. She and I am sure most of you also, know that these beliefs seem to be the foundation of the church and, therefore, unlikely to change. However, like Jesus’ challenge to the accepted family culture of his time, maybe her story will be there to assist with the change that is needed.

She wants people to know they can live their life happily, confidently and without shame.

Samantha Boesch works as a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. She writes about health, wellness, and sexuality, and is studying to become a sex educator. You can connect with her on Instagram at @SamanthaBoesch or on Twitter at @SamanthaBoesch.

I want to finish today my attack on assumptions and cultural distortions by reminding us what theologian Gordon Kaufman said; that the traditional anthropomorphic god called God has long since died. The role of theology, was to seek to “reimagine, reconceive, reconstruct the symbol ‘God’ with metaphors drawn from the ways in which we now understand ourselves and our world” (Kaufman 2004:126).

Remember also that it is still the tendency of institutions, the church included, to dilute the power of spiritual experience, to honour the past above the present, and to restrain progressive tendencies out of fear and in favour of suppressive controls! What is now needed he says is a theology that helps people realise and feel the immense creativity that flows through them. And for that to happen, as Bishop Jack Spong has argued for years, more than a cosmetic updating of theological language is required in order for Christianity to become relevant in our time.

Progressive religion’s broad contributions are a recipe for dancing with and living in harmony with, our world and the various environments that help shape us. A call to live humanly and humanely. An invitation to hope this other and a hope for the fullest and the best that human beings together in concert we can achieve.


Badger, C. R. The Reverend Charles Strong and the Australian Church. Melbourne: Abacada Press, 1971.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for religious naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6, 2006.
Kaufman, G. D. In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.
McKibben, B. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne: Black Inc., 2010.
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2002.
Sanguin, B. The Advance of Love. Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver: Evans & Sanguin Publishing, Forthcoming 2012.
Vosper, G. Amen. What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishing, 2012.

What is there about Nicodemus that disturbs you? If it is the idea that doubt has good qualities rather than bad ones then that might just be good.

I invite you to hear that Nicodemus was a pilgrim. He was a sincere religious seeker. A student who uses his precious study time to expand his search beyond the standard texts and distractions of the day. I invite you to also to hear Nicodemus as a member of the religious institution of his day, who is a mover of theological boundaries. Willing to risk leaving behind the so-called ‘truth’ as he and his colleagues have known it, in order to explore something new.

So, if you accept that invite you will instead of questioning his motives, recognize him as both open and honourable. You will do this because Nicodemus must be allowed to respond to ‘the new’ or ‘the different’ in a variety of ways rather than prescribing a single mode. How else can he and we discover that our lives and our thinking might be different? Nicodemus, then, is Patron saint of the curious.  And for many of us, our patron saint. So may he protect the curious in each of us.

The next invitation is to see the Trinity as an invitation to explore your thinking. Here I remind ne of the St David;’s Mission Statement “Honour The Mind, Live the Questions and Explore the Adventure of Humanity.” “Honour the Mind reminds us that ‘The Trinity’ as a theological concept or the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (as it is officially called), has only been observed since the 14th century, and only in the Western Church. It is also observed as a result of an edict issued by then pope, John xxii. Although it was the 2nd century theologian Tertullian who was the first to name God as a trinity. The second thing to remember is that the Trinity has been the subject of plenty of controversy over the ages, primarily because the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures. The third thing is that it is the only Sunday in the Lectionary which celebrates a doctrine. And if you are old enough and can remember the 1960s John Robinson Honest to God debates, you may also recall that Robinson said: “I was once asked a question after one of my talks: ’How would you teach a child the doctrine of the Trinity?’  It was one of the easiest questions I have ever received.  The answer was: ‘I wouldn’t’.” (Robinson 1967:86)

So, for a piece of theology which was supposed to bring unity in the church amid political intrigue and a host of opposing theological opinions, of ‘suspected heretics’ and dissidents’, I am not so sure such a doctrine can claim to be a success!

 Suchocki, professor emerita of Claremont School of Theology and executive director of ‘Process & Faith’ said: “despite (its) divisive history, the doctrine of the Trinity is more important today than ever, and for two very practical reasons: the first is that the doctrine can keep us from the idolatry of thinking God is just a human being, only bigger and better than the rest of us.  The second is that the doctrine tells us that the very deepest form of unity is one that includes irreducible diversity.” (Process & Faith web site 2006)

I was having a debate the other day about the importance of being a sceptic in today’s world. Not just because of the state of information and news and truth. Cyber hacking and media manipulation and the acceptance of fictional lobby as legitimate activity. The debate was about the importance of avoiding a single truth about anything and what impact that has on life? It one can’t have a truth what is there left. It can be said that this is both a scientific question as well as a theological one. I suspect that the debate about the doctrine of the Trinity is part of that scene. How to ‘Live the Questions?’ might be the context. As a helpful doctrine it gives a place from which to move and as an unhelpful doctrine it locks us in the belief or not belief debate.

I think this is what John D Caputo might call radical theology, not because one believes in it but because it invites us to debate the naming of God as God. It invites us to explore the naming of God as an event and not just a concept to believe in. The dynamic of the doctrine being about relationships invites us to be sceptics and explore the dynamic nature of theology not just as a theory of God but rather as a dynamic event in itself every time it is raised. What Caputo calls a theology of ‘perhaps’ always a dynamic event and what I call a theology of ‘Almost’ a dynamic living about to be event, ‘the kingdom is already come here and now and yet still about to come as well. The trinity invites us to be a sceptic, value doubt as Nicodemus reminds us and embrace potential, unknowing and the ‘almost’ The dynamic of the Trinity also invites us to see that living life is about valuing it as an ‘insistence’ Again a dynamic event of creating. This is what Caputo might say is the God in life as the insistence of life as opposed to the life itself. God is love fits here also in that it is in the loving that love exists it is in the insisting of loving that love transforms. Theologically this means that radical theology is always to come. Doubt as Nicodemus portrays and our scepticism becomes the event of transformation.

Finally, we might explore the adventure of humanity. Embrace scepticism, doubt and living the questions as a positive engagement and perhaps the Trinity remembrance might become an opportunity to celebrate All Heretic’s Day. Here we might want to thank our Unitarian colleagues because Unitarians (and many ‘progressives’) certainly brand themselves honourably with the title ‘heretic’.  Many of them were reformers, questioners, and seekers.  They defied the religious conventions of their times.  They blazed new paths and made greater choices for us today” (Lane. Unitarian Church of SA. web site 2008).

They questioned many things about Christian doctrine.  In particular the notions:

  • that God favours some with salvation and condemns others to perdition;
  • that individual men and women are permanently depraved and highly dependent upon the so-called doctrine of the ‘Atonement’ for their redemption, and
  • that God is a trinity of co-equal, consubstantial and co-eternal persons.

In all these cases the Unitarians proposed a different theology. They proposed:

  • that God’s love is available to all and that no one is condemned to perdition;
  • that people are mostly humane and that human effort is a welcome contribution towards the quality of human life, and
  • by indicating God’s oneness and God’s participation in the whole of creation.

For their efforts they were ruled to be ‘heretics’, because they held doctrine “contrary to the orthodox or accepted doctrine of a church or religious system… [or] any opinion or belief contrary to established theory”.

“These early heretics favoured a critical approach to religion that appreciates the place of reason, human thought and the right to think for oneself.  And, they advocated the right of private judgment and the necessity for personal integrity to be upheld in the face of imposed creeds and confessions of faith.” (Lane. Unitarian Church of SA. web site 2008)

Two prominent people in this world were Lloyd Geering (NZ), and Charles Strong, in Australia. Strong (1844-1942), described his theology as ‘broad or liberal’ which, he said, was absolutely necessary to a minister of the gospel “in order for the development of a healthy Christian life.” (Badger 1971:51)

Born out of doubt and scepticism such a theology had several characteristics:

  • it was fluid;
  • thinks of God as an indwelling, energising Spirit;
  • God was manifested in Humanity – Humanity was God’s ‘Son’; love and justice were always working together;
  • allied itself with science, and
  • is based on human experience rather than an infallible book.  (Badger 1971:285)

So today as Trinity Sunday, The day of Nicodemus and All Heretics Day; might be about the invitation to be curious about life and theology. To rethink assumptions with an altered perspective. Trinity might be more than a name for a day or a doctrine. It might be the call to participate in an even of transformation, to not just ask the questions but rather live them, and not just about conducting an autopsy on our past, but rather engaging in the exploration of what it means to be a human as we look to the future through the eyes of new possibility To be born anew! To consider how life might be different? Maybe today can be a day that places us in the company of earnest and compassionate teachers
whose openness defines a new community of hope and grace… As traditional theological boundaries (Honour the Mind) are pushed, and pushed again, ( Live the questions) with honesty and creativity. (Explore with confidence the future of humanity) Amen.

Badger, C. R. The Reverend Charles Strong and the Australian Church. Melbourne. Abacada Press, 1971.
Lowry, E. L. “Strangers in the Night” in W. B. Robinson (ed) Journeys Toward Narrative Preaching. New York. The Pilgrim Press, 1990.
Robinson, J. A. T. But That I Can’t Believe! London. Fontana Press, 1967.
Vosper, G. Amen. What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief . Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012.

John D Caputo The Insistence of God, A Theology of Perhaps. Indiana University Press2013

Doug Lendrum, with David W Williams & Emma McGeorge Almost A Memoir 2020