In my morning readings this week I had the chance again to read through Daniel 3. As I did so I was reminded of how three words from the text had been used during World War 2 and it seemed
appropriate to tell the story again as we celebrate Remembrance Day.
As the allied troops faced annihilation at Dunkirk in 1940 a message was dispatched to Whitehall. It was simply this, “But if not.”
These were the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar with death in the fiery furnace.
In the NRSV we read “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” Dan 3.17-18
“But if not.” What a poignant phrase. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were resolved to obey God, whether or not he chose to save them. They knew he wasn’t obliged to help them.
“But if not.” These words were instantly recognizable to the people who were accustomed to hearing the scriptures read in church. They knew the story told in the book of Daniel. The message in those three little words was clear: The situation was desperate. The allied forces were trapped. It would take a miracle to save them, but they were determined not to give in. One simple three-word phrase
communicated all that.
Boat-owners heard about the cry for help, and they answered. They answered with merchant marine boats, with pleasure cruisers, and even with small fishing boats. By a miracle, they evacuated more than 338,000 soldiers and took them to safety.
This is a great story that has a happy ending (for many) because people of the day were familiar with the scriptures. What would the plight of those soldiers be if the same message was sent today?
As Christians we know that the cross is central to our faith and an understanding that Jesus was the sacrificial one who was executed for the benefit of all. It is his death that gives us confidence to approach God and seek forgiveness from him – all in the name of Jesus.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday saw Jewish people observe Yom Kippur, a 25-hour period of prayer and fasting, which I am told is the holiest day of the year for them. In English it is the Day of Atonement. To gain atonement Jews must pray, repent of their sins and give to charity.
This isn’t so different to the undertaking of Christians who seek forgiveness from God. We don’t have to wait for a special day in the year, because we know that we can approach God at any time and confess our sins and seek his forgiveness. And, of course, we do all this in the name of Jesus. To gain forgiveness Christians are not required to give to charity, but as we have seen by reading through the Letter of James, our response to God’s grace in Jesus will require a changed life, which might well involve giving to charity.
In western Christian theology, atonement describes how human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ's sacrificial suffering and death. Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, enabling the reconciliation between God and his creation, which includes us.
Guilt and its partner, shame, can paralyse us. You may have experienced it. Yet Christian people have a way to minimise guilt by turning to God and seeking his forgiveness. This all contributes to a healthy life for us – which is exactly what God wants for us.
My mind has been on mission beyond the parish this week. On Wednesday we hosted a lunch for the Bush Church Aid Society, which was attended by about 33 people, with a number coming from other parishes. Many of our people contributed by making soup, which was followed by a wild array of sandwiches and then cakes and slice with tea and coffee. Thanks to everybody who supported the occasion.
The speaker was Topher Hallyburton who works in Darwin teaching religious education in schools and building a team of volunteers to support the work. Topher is supported by Buch Church Aid (and us via our support), Scripture Union and the Anglican Church in the Northern Territory. He quickly won us over with one person offering to go there for a short time to support his ministry.
Moving to another mission agency now, the Church Missionary Society, we must remember to pray for Andrew and Dominique Gifford and their family as they relocate back to Melbourne next month following ten years in Barcelona, Spain. When Andrew finishes his deputation for CMS he will be seeking a parish in the Diocese of Melbourne in which to settle and minister. Pray also for those they have ministered amongst as they grief the loss of their minister and ponder their future.
And whilst writing about CMS let me tell you that Margie and I have registered to attend the CMS summer school known as Summer Under the Son. This will be held in January at Syndal Baptist Church and will feature the Giffords. It is a great programme and I would encourage you to attend with us.
Over the weekend I attended some of the Anglican Future Conference at Southbank. The theme was Grace and Truth in Uncertain Times. I was particularly keen to hear Rev’d Frog Orr-Ewing whose church (All Saints) Margie and I visited in Peckham, South London, a few years ago. A couple from our times in Tanzania are now members of the congregation there.
And whilst we look beyond the parish, next Sunday our speaker will be Karyn Doyle who is the CEO of BayCISS [Bayside Community Information and Support Service], an agency to which we send groceries and which is heavily supported by our Op Shop. Come and hear the message she has for us.
All of these agencies need our support – financial, prayerful and commitment to be involved.
Next week we shall be in September and the season of spring will have commenced. In chilly Melbourne we are looking forward to the signs of warmth and green that spring promises. Wherever we live, we are increasingly aware that the seasons, the weather patterns and the climate of all our countries, has been changing, not only bringing more frequent and extreme weather conditions, but also belying the wisdom of farmers who can no longer reasonably predict how their crops or livestock will fare from season to season. How good it was that the Op Shop could send such a generous amount to drought relief ($10,000).
The ABC has been promoting a series called War on Waste, which has a message for us all. Just recently I ordered an orange juice in a café and it was served in a Mason (?) drinking jar and it came with a metal straw. I pondered whether somebody had used the straw ahead of me (undoubtedly so), but then comforted myself with a reminder of dishwashers.
As we think about changing our habits and doing without plastic shopping bags, disposable cups, straws, etc we might remind ourselves that we live in absolute comfort still. I think of the Maldives, the world’s lowest country, which aims to be carbon neutral by the end of next year, yet will its highest point at 2.4m be sufficient to save it from rising sea levels? How will my changing habits help the Maldives?
So while green action can be perceived as a privilege of upper middle class inner city dwellers, ecological injustice impacts most heavily on those far away from me. [Be it in Australia or The Maldives or some third-world country.]
All the communities and cultures we belong to are challenged– our church, our town or city, and our families.
We must make our prayer lives more mindful of the impact of our lifestyle choices on the environment and on the most vulnerable people. God hasn’t finished with us yet. Listen to what he has to say to you.
The headline read, “In this moment, I thought, what do I believe in?”  So thought Tammy Mills as she sat on high ground, huddled amongst other holiday-makers and Indonesian nationals, in the Gili Islands wondering if a tsunami would strike and as she waited for further after-shocks from the earthquake. With each fresh tremor people would call out to Allah.
In the article Tammy Mills doesn’t give us the answer to her thoughts. Did she reach a decision? Did she throw in her lot with Allah? We are left pondering.
It is often an emergency that drives us to think about the end times. We figure we have this life worked out, but will there be another chapter somewhere else? Waiting till the last page of this chapter might leave us in a panic and unable to think clearly. Give thought to those end-times now.
We are currently reading through John 6. Several times Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life. Jesus is ready and willing to feed us spiritually. Determine now to put your trust in him and then should a future emergency be experienced you won’t be left wondering what you believe in.
What do I believe in? I believe in the only triune God who has revealed himself in the person Jesus Christ and that through his sacrificial death I can rest secure in the knowledge that I shall spend eternity with him. I take comfort from scripture and in particular:
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. John 5.24
Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. John 6.47
My prayer is that at all times I will be able to recall these promises and hence never find myself in a time of doubt.
Bless you as you consider what or who you believe in.
 Tammy Mills, The Age, Thursday 9th August 2018. Page 8
Today is a sad day as we farewell Leonie Dekker from our staff. I have found Leonie to be a faithful and friendly co-worker. There have been times of embarrassment for me, when I have been discussing something with Leonie and expressing a desire to have a poster that would depict something in particular and then have Leonie swing the screen around to me and ask, “Something like this?” It was exactly what I wanted. How could she do this so quickly? At times I worried in case Leonie was reading my mind, but she said she didn’t. In so many ways we were on the same page and shared one focus for the parish. So, I thank God for Leonie and wish her well in the future. I’m sure such a creative and energetic person will not be retired for long.
This provides us all with the task of a future without Leonie. What does God have in store? I am sad that Leonie is leaving, but I have a sense of excitement about the future. In the next edition of The Melbourne Anglican you will see an advertisement for a Children’s and Youth Worker for All Souls. This advertisement has been circulated widely. If you know of somebody who might be interested in this role please pass on the information to them.
Anglican clergy are expected to say the daily office (ie daily prayers and scripture reading). Each day I read the following and it excites me:
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
When I consider the God whom I serve, how can I stay sad for long? May God set your heart on fire as you seek to serve him today and in the days ahead.
Thom Rainer published this during the week …
Baby Boomers Are Returning to Church
The rebellious generation may become the religious generation.
Baby boomers, those born between the years 1946 to 1964, are becoming more involved in church.
One of the most significant longitudinal studies (a study over many years) ever done provides a treasure trove of information for church leaders.
This discovery is the major finding from the latest wave of data collected from the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which was originally developed in 1970 at USC by then-assistant professor Vern Bengston. His successors have collected a ninth round of data in this 45-year study. The research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
Here is the gem in the study: One in five boomers have increased their religious and church activity in the past few years.
Don’t take that statement lightly. Among the boomer generation, 20 percent are becoming more receptive to faith and church. That’s approximately 19 million boomers when the percentage is applied to the entire generation.
The study cited three major reasons for this shift:
1 Boomers have more time, and they want to use that extra time pursuing a more meaningful life, including church.
2 Boomers are becoming more aware of the brevity of life and are seeking answers to questions they had not previously asked.
3 Boomers are more aware of the fragility of life. They don’t have the young and healthy bodies they once had. Such an awareness is driving them to find more meaning in the lives they do have.
Be ready to welcome them at All Souls.
Like me you must have been so pleased to hear that the boys in Thailand trapped in a cave had been rescued. On Wednesday last the Herald Sun had the headline “World’s Prayers Answered.” Prayer was mentioned on the front page of a daily paper. I had also noticed that many a TV news presenter had also said something along the lines of the boys being in our thoughts and prayers. In the emergency that these boys faced many people turned to prayer.
The cynic in me might ask what people meant by prayer – wishful thinking, positive thoughts – which might well be prayer, but to whom are the prayers addressed?
Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney wrote recently, “Prayer in the presence of God is the appropriate response of those made in the image of God, who know they fall short of the glory of God, yet who rest upon his promise of forgiveness when they stand before their Maker.”
I am certainly one who dreams of futuristic outcomes, wishes to understand the present and reflects on times past. Prayer for me, however, is communication with the living God. As I commence I seek to put my relationship with God in a positive place, which I do by confessing my sin, and then I feel free to go on and discuss various things with God and make requests of him.
I prayed for the safe evacuation of the boys from the cave and then upon hearing that all were rescued we offered thanks to God and prayed for their future good health.
God is always ready to hear from us, but our fallen state means that we have to confess our failings to him, seek is forgiveness and then proceed with adoration, thanksgiving and requests.
Bless you as you pray.
There are many aspects of the Christian faith that appeal to me, but the knowledge and awareness of a living God who is present at all times is a great comfort. We talk of God being omnipresent, which means that God is present everywhere at the same time. This knowledge blows my mind, but then I think that my thinking is limited by my human nature and realise that nothing is impossible for God.
During the Easter season we focus on the presence of the risen Lord Jesus. Hence today, a couple of weeks after Easter Day, we still have readings that focus on the risen Lord. Our Easter season in the Church continues until Pentecost (50 days after Easter). We might have a special focus on the resurrection for this season, but, of course, in truth, the risen Lord Jesus is with us constantly.
When we think of resurrection we must not think solely of an event in history. It was set in history, but it has an impact today. We celebrate the resurrection every time there is a baptism, whenever we celebrate Holy Commun-ion. When I wake of a morning and sit on the edge of my bed I like to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps 118) and, for me, it is a reminder that the Lord Jesus is present and will be with me through-out the day.
All the above is about me! It is one side of the coin so to speak. The resurrec-tion was part of Jesus’ experience, who was willing to enter the world at his incarnation and share life with us. His resurrection declares his ultimate triumph over sin and death. (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
Now, back to me – all this knowledge gives me hope that I am living the eternal life with God right now and I look forward to the time when I will enter his heavenly realm and experience an even greater closeness with God.
A friend and colleague sent me this cross. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was it mocking the cross? Then I thought about crosses we wear around our necks. I thought of crosses studded with diamonds and pearls. They have come along way from the cross Jesus was crucified on. I thought of the crosses on hot cross buns. What have we done with the cross? Yet surely the cross can be something joyful to us, who know that Jesus’ death on the cross brought forgiveness to us and eternal life.
This particular cross reminded me that this year Easter Day, the day of the resurrection, falls on 1st April, which is April Fool’s Day. This cross is full of clowns, fools.
In Paul’s firsts letter to the Corinthians he said, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1.18
Here Paul recognises that without God’s grace to understand the resurrection it is foolishness. God has granted us understanding. We can rejoice. We know that the doom and gloom of Good Friday is not the end of the story.
I do believe in the physical bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus. I know this is difficult for many people. For many it is a science/faith question. The resurrection might seem improbable and so it is not accepted as true. But I take comfort from Anselm of Canterbury, who said, "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand"
The last time Easter fell on April 1 was 62 years ago in 1956. The next time the two holidays will converge will be in 2029 and then again in 2040.
In the meantime, I can smile at this cross and see something of the joy and fun that is the whole of the Easter season.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.