Free English Language Classes @ BHBC

Starting on the 1st of March 2021, Box Hill Baptist will be delivering twice-weekly English language classes to the local community.

Supported by the Whitehorse Council and in partnership with the Box Hill Central Community Connector, these classes will improve English language skills (both written and conversational) and help you make new friends in your local community. Classes will be taught by a qualified teacher and supported by local volunteers, and include both formal teaching and fun, informal conversation.

Classe are taking place at Box Hill Baptist Church (corner of Station St & Ellingworth Parade, Box Hill) on:

Mondays: 11am-1pm (changing to Tuesdays in April)

Thursdays: 11am-1pm

To enrol or for more information, contact Box Hill Baptist Church at office@boxhillbaptist.org.au or text/call 0481 350 251.

Readings for the fifth week after Epiphany

Monday, February 1, 2021Psalm 35:1-10; Numbers 22:1-21; Acts 21:17-26

Psalm 35 is a complex Psalm that has been simplified by only including the first 10 verses. It is a prayer song in which the petitioner her innocence in the face of her enemies and accusers.  The situation of the singer is made very clear in vs 1 – she is in a serious dispute or fight with others. Further details are provided in vs 7. The singer has been trapped and falsely accused.

The Psalmist appeals with calls for help in vss 1-3 that originally belonged to the institution of holy war. Yahweh is appealed to as the great warrior and deliver who brings salvation to the oppressed who are dependent solely on him.

Vss 4-6, (and then  vs 8) are petitions for the punishment and destruction of the singer’s enemies.

Vs 7 describes what the singer’s enemies have done and vs 8 seeks to turn back the traps and net they laid for the singer on their own heads.

Vss 9-10 prefigure the song of thanksgiving that is found at the conclusion of the Psalm in vss 27-28.

The Psalm as a whole is a lament of one who is falsely accused and engaged in a legal case, even a war with her enemies.  It shows similarities to Psalm 7. While still engulfed by dangers the singer breaks into songs of thanksgiving.

In these days of cyber-bullying and our relentless exposure to communication technology we can feel as if we are harried, threatened, overwhelmed. This ancient psalm is a source of both comfort and wisdom in the challenges of modern times.

Numbers 22 presents the story of Balaam. A bit like the after-dinner speaker circuit of today in which celebrities demand high prices for short addresses, Balaam was a diviner for hire. The situation of Israel’s rise is outlined in vss 1-5. Balaam is engaged (vs 7) by Balak son of Zippor [who] was king of Moab at that time (vs 4b).

In vss 7-14 the first round of negotiations ends in Balaam’s refusal to take the job. But a second round of negotiations (vss 15-21) appears to be more successful. Note however, two key triggers for the action that will come in tomorrow’s reading buried in the today’s text: but do only what I tell you to do (vs 20c) and So Balaam … saddled his donkey (vs 21)

Acts 21.17-26 is a follow-up to the Council of Jerusalem (in Acts 15 – note today’s text vs 25 cf. Acts 15.19-29). The meeting of Paul with James is a meeting between the leaders of the Gentile and Jewish factions of the early church. Vss 20-21 make clear that the ‘settlement’ of Acts 15 between these factions is still controversial among the Jews and vs 22 expresses the problem. Vss 23-24 propose a strategic action that will placate the Jews (see vs 24b), which Paul then agrees to do (vs 26).

Tuesday, February 2, 2021Psalm 35:1-10; Numbers 22:22-28; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40

For the Psalm see Monday.

Numbers 22.22-28 is a lovely story, although we only have the first half of it here. Why has the lectionary ‘spoilt’ such a good story by leaving out the ending? There are several interesting points to note. The first is that, in vs 20 the Lord has commanded Balaam to go, but in vs 22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. These inconsistencies are sometimes a part of Scripture – seemingly contradictory narratives about what God says and does. There are other examples of this in the OT. It may be that different traditions have been conflated. Whatever is happening, we cannot smooth over these difficulties but must simply accept the sovereignty of God. Whatever the case, that is what the text says. 

The donkey sees the angel, while Balaam cannot. When the donkey saves him from disaster, Balaam starts to beat it, until the donkey finally finds the power of speech and queries the actions of his owner. We are not given the rest of the chapter in which Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees the danger he is in and goes on to bless, rather than curse, the Israelites.

This truncated story is perhaps appropriate for this moment in human history. Who knows what avenging angels stand in the path of humankind in this age of climate change? Nature itself might be bucking and rearing, seeing the looming disaster and resisting, but many human beings want to wield the staff of human power and continue to bend Nature to our will. The Lectionary has focussed for us very crisply the crisis of this moment, and it is up to us to determine whether we will listen to the voices of nature, and of science, or keep trying to force our way. We cannot yet see how the story will end. That is in our collective power, and the ending is not yet known!

1 Corinthians 7.32-40: I want you to be free from anxieties (vs 32). What a comforting and reassuring thought! Here Paul engages with issues about relationships – and the lack of relationships. There is no doubt that human relationships remain a key source of anxiety for many people. Paul engages with the anxieties of a) being in sexual relationships (vss 32-35), of b) whether to get involved in sexual relationships (vs 36-38) and of c) managing life after the end of sexual relationships (vss 39-40). Now Paul, consistent with his day, speaks of married relationships. There were also relationships under the structures of slavery in his day of which he does not here speak. I have generalised his comment  because in our day we have legal marriage, common-law marriage (cohabitation) and we also live in an age when many people choose casual relationships.

I think Paul’s point is that whether you are in relationship, thinking of getting into relationships or have just come out of relationship there are challenges and anxieties. I think what he says is true not just for the married, but for anyone negotiating the paths of active relationship, or singleness, or separation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021Psalm 35:1-10; Jeremiah 29:1-14; Mark 5:1-20

For the Psalm see Monday.

Jeremiah 29.1-14: This letter of Jeremiah to the Exiles in Babylon is one of the treasures of the Old Testament. Having spent twenty years preaching that Jerusalem was going to be overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians – and being rejected and mocked and abused for his trouble – Jeremiah might have been entitled to a big spray of “I TOLD YOU SO!”  But he goes exactly the opposite way, He guides and encourages and consoles and gives hope.

The essence of his message is the encouraging and hopeful words of  vss 4-7, and summarised and encapsulated in the final exhortation But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (vs 7).

In vss 8-9 is the explanation for these words. Many others are prophesying a quick turnaround, a miraculous deliverance. ‘False hope!’ shouts Jeremiah. ‘Set yourself for the long haul. Knuckle down and build a life in the circumstances God gives you!”

In vss 10-14 the prophet of doom becomes the prophet of hope. This oracle may have been proclaimed by a later prophet in the tradition of Jeremiah who saw the imminent restoration of Jerusalem.

Mark 5.1-20: This fascinating exorcism is rich in detail and poses many questions. What is a herd of pigs (unclean animals) doing in the story?  “My name is legion; for we are many” (vs 9) what is all that about? Why did the people beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood (vs 17)?

Some modern commentators have seen in this exorcism a very political message given by the gospel writer. In this part of the country some historians have found evidence of a large Roman garrison (‘our name is Legion’). Is the exorcism some kind of symbolic expulsion of Rome?

Why did they reject Jesus and ask him to go? Was it that the sending of the demons into a herd of 2000 pigs might look like a condemnation of Roman soldiers in the minds of those suffering under their occupation? Was the entreaty for Jesus to leave because of the destruction of the local economy (thousands of dead pigs is a big economic price in this Gentile community)? Or was it a stylized request for the Romans to leave? Or is it a fear of retribution from Rome should the story of this exorcism be seen as an anti-Roman parable? 

We are only just beginning to read the Bible against the political and social realities of the time. This story is one that is assuming an increasingly central role in our evolving understanding of how Mark was presenting the teaching and action of Jesus in the context of his time. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; Proverbs 12:10-21; Galatians 5:2-15

Psalm 147 belongs to the category of songs of praise. Is is a smoothly crafted song of three strophes or stanzas: vss 1-6, 7-11, 12-20. So consistent is the structure that some commentators have suggested it may be three separate psalms! The lectionary has given us the first two stanzas of this song or poem. The psalm is situated within the worship of the OT cultic community. It is dependent on more ancient hymnic traditions and has similarities to Ps 33 and has some individual figures of speech from Ps 104.  The statements from vss 2 and 13 give a hint that the date is post-Exilic, from the time of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

The psalm calls the people to worship the Lord (vs 1). Framed by statements of the saving activity of the Lord (vss 2,3,6), vss 4 and 5 proclaim the creative power of God. The psalm suggest that Yahweh’s creative and salvific powers are as one and the same thing.

In vs 7 a new beginning is made with a call to thanksgiving (the keynote of the first stanza has been praise!). Vss 8-9 declare that God is the Lord of creation. Vs 9b suggest the cry of the ravens is a form of prayer that is answered by the Lord – a lovely thought that the bird song that surrounds is a part of nature’s prayer, ceaselessly raised by all things.

So great is the Lord’s power that he takes no delight in the usual sources of strength that humans respect and admire (see the footnote to verse 10b – ‘the legs of a person’). Instead the delight of the Lord is in those who fear him. Note that the parallelism of  vs 11 a & b here equates the fear of the Lord with hope.

Proverbs 12.10-21: Proverbs is at the heart of the Wisdom literature of the OT. Here we have a series of Wisdom reflections and insights. I mused yesterday why the lectionary cut short the story of Balaam and left us with the donkey’s accusation but not the later narrative resolution.

Here we have a clue as to what the lectionary is doing! The righteous know the needs of their animals… (vs 10) is the hint. The lectionary has juxtaposed the truncated Balaam story with these insights. Read through and prayerfully reflect on them in the context of Balaam and his ass, of Israel and Moab, of the great question as to whether we should bless or curse the movements of history as they pass before our eyes.

Galatians 5.2-15 is helpfully headed The Nature of Christian Freedom. The letter to the Galatians was written to a community that had been living under the Gentile ‘minimalist’ understanding of what the gospel requires, but had ‘turned back’ (in Paul’s understanding) to a fuller observance of the Jewish law. We saw on Monday in the Acts reading how Paul might occasionally undergo Jewish rites to placate the Jewish wing of the church. In Galatians he writes to a church that wants to opt for a fuller Jewish observance and identity.

The circumcision mentioned in vss 2, 3, 6, 11 is a shorthand way of referring to the full gamut of Jewish ceremonial and law. We can see some of the issues that may have drawn the community to this path in vs 13b and in vs 15. Obviously, the freedom of which Paul speaks has led to problems.

In vs 12 we have perhaps the most bitter condemnation of the Judaizers that Paul offers anywhere.

In vss 4b to 6 Paul elegantly and simply expresses the relationships between grace, faith, hope, righteousness and love, the core aspects of his understanding of Christian life.

Friday, February 5, 2021Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; Job 36:1-23; 1 Corinthians 9:1-16

For the Psalm see Thursday.

In the book of Job we find an extended poetic engagement with issues of justice and theodicy (whether God is fair and acts justly). The narrative framing is the fortunes of Job (described in chapters 1 & 2, and 42.) The remaining 39 chapters are an extended dialogue between Job, three of his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar). Later, Elihu joins the dialogue, angry with Job and with the three friends. Elihu offers an extended commentary (chapters 32-37) on the whole drama before the Lord answers Job and brings the argument to close.

Today’s passage (Job 36.1-23) comes from the middle of Elihu’s long speech. Elihu’s role is almost amicus curiae – a ‘friend of the court’ (see vs 2b).  Against Job (who has argued he is innocent), and Job’s friends (who have argued that God is fair and manages the minutiae of life – so Job’s suffering shows he must have sinned), Elihu offers a bigger picture of how God works in the world. 

He defends his authority to speak (vss 2-4) describes God and God’s advocacy/protection for the righteous (vss 5-12). He describes the godless in heart (vss 13-14) and then focusses on Job’s situation describing God’s goodness and purpose in general (vs 15) and specific-to-Job (vs 16) terms.

In vss 17-23 Elihu engages the nub of the issue: you are obsessed with the case of the wicked; judgement and justice seize you (vs 17). These 7 verses are a treasury of wisdom for those who feel aggrieved, or who have experienced injustice or affliction.

1 Corinthians 9.1-16: The key to this passage is declared in vs 3: This is my defence to those who would examine me. Paul is in conflict with some in the church who are critical of him. Here he defends his bona fides – that he acting in good faith. Vss 1-2 emphasise his apostleship with the Corinthian church, if not with others.

Vss 4-7 outline his rights to food and companionship, rights he has not taken up.  Vss 8-12a explore the biblical foundation of those rights.  Vss 12b asserts that he hasn’t used this right before giving another foundation for his rights in vss 13-14.

Vss 15-16 declare that he has not used these rights and his obligation to preach the gospel is not a matter of right but of compulsion.

Saturday, February 6, 2021Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; Isaiah 46:1-13; Matthew 12:9-14

For the Psalm see Thursday.

Isaiah 46.1-13 comes from the work of Second Isaiah who prophesied in the time leading up to the return from Exile in Babylon. The imminent rescue of Israel is declared at the end (vss 12-13). The earlier part of the oracle is built on a contrast between the idols which must be carried on beasts and cattle (vss 1-2) and the living God who isn’t carried, but in fact carries you (vss 3-4)!

Vss 5-7 carries on the contrast between the living God and the idols and vss 8-11 are a declaration of the power of this living God.

Matthew 12.9-14: Here is a controversy story, an argument between Jesus and his enemies, built around a healing. Their question in vs 10 is a taunt, almost a dare. And Jesus takes up the challenge. He draws on an exception to the law of the Sabbath (If your sheep falls in the ditch on the sabbath, pull it out…) and then uses the greater value of a person to a sheep as his rationale for authorising healing on the Sabbath.

The response of the Pharisees (vs 14) indicates that the die is set, Jesus must die!

At the heart of this passage is the caring, loving, liberalising message of Jesus in conflict with the spirit of religious rules. Those who defend the rules are still conspiring against the Spirit of Love, how to destroy him (vs 14).

Daily readings for the 14th Week after Pentecost

This week we will suspend our explorations of Romans so that we can follow the Season of Creation for the next 5 Sundays. Tuesday this week marks the first day of Spring. The indigenous seasons of Melbourne had a ‘true Spring’ season (called Pareip) from September through October. As we come to the end of winter and look to another season of light and growth, it is appropriate to focus on the Creation, the challenges all living creatures face together, and the stewardship of the human race over the Creation entrusted to our care.

The Sundays of this five-week cycle are inspired by a Zoom discussion we had as a church community months ago when we reflected on the 4 elements of ancient cultures – fire, earth, air and water. We will follow these in sequence and then share together in the final service on 4th October, the anniversary of Francis of Assisi!

The daily readings for the month will follow the usual pattern without amendment but the Sunday readings will follow the Season of Creation.

If there is a common theme to the readings presented this week, it would appear to be conflict –conflict between leaders and the people of God, conflict between the people of God and other nations, and conflict within communities of the people of God.

Monday, August 31, 2020Psalm 83:1-4, 13-18; Exodus 4:10-31; Revelation 3:1-6

Psalm 83 is identified as A Song. A Psalm of Asaph (heading). This is one of a collection of 12 Psalms so identified comprising Ps 50 and Pss 73-83. A Song indicates that it was a community prayer song or community lament. The heading A Psalm of Asaph may indicate authorship by Asaph, or it may be a sign that theses Psalms are to be sung by the Asaphites, a group of singers within the Temple. In 1 Chronicles 6.39 Asaph is named as one of the two men David placed in charge of the service of song  in the house of the Lord and he is mentioned again in the time Solomon’s temple was dedicated at 2 Chronicles 5.12 where he is the first named of the Levitical singers.

The Psalm opens with a Call on Yahweh (vs 1).  Vss 2-4 describe the conspiracy of the enemies which is clearly directed at your people (vs 3) Israel (vs 4)

Vss 5-8 name the various tribal enemies. Most of these enemies are local peoples of Canaan and the surrounding districts but vs 8 includes the regional superpower Assyria.  Over the years many different ‘contexts’ have been attributed by scholars seeking to locate the precise historical circumstances in which such a precise alliance of forces rose against Israel. Can one assume a single context at all? Is this Psalm a plea for Yahweh’s help that embodies all the threats and invasions and wars that Israel had known over her history? 

Vss 9-18 are petitions for God to act in defence of Israel by striking down their enemies. Vss 9-12 are quote strong and name specific peoples. The lectionary has (with some delicacy) removed vss 5-12!

There has been criticism of the ‘piety’ of this psalm because of the ‘wishes of malediction and vengeance’ in these verses (9-18). They are the prayers of a people under threat, a ‘model’ for many nations when we are threatened by alien powers. We should not be too judgmental: in times of great war when our nation has been threatened (as in the dark days of WW 2 when Japan marched like a whirlwind through Asia) many pulpits in this country would have echoed these prayers. Particularly powerful and jarring is the prayer that God might deal with them as fire consumes the forest, / as the flame sets the mountains ablaze (vs 14). Vs 15 appears to introduce the metaphor of a firestorm, as the image of the bushfire merges with that of the tempest and hurricane!  Those who have lived through the summer of fire in 2019-20 in Australian might be reluctant to pray such terror on anyone, even our enemies!

Vss 16-17 focus on the infliction of shame on the enemies. Vs 18 strikes a less strident and vengeful tone with the prayer that the enemies may come to know the might of the Lord.

Exodus 4.10-31: Moses’ reluctant response to God (‘but suppose…’ (Exodus 4.1) now moves into its climax. Moses objects to his commission a second time (vs 10) to be met with God’s assurance of support (vss 11-12). A third time, Moses objects with the simple, elemental plea, “O my Lord, please send someone else” (vs 13). 

Then the anger of the Lord was kindled… (vs 14) and the commission is altered to include Aaron, Moses’ brother (vss 14b-16).

Vss 18-20 tell of Moses leaving Midian. Vss 21-23 prefigure the eventual narrative of chapters 11-12.

Vss 24-26 are a strange and mysterious fragment. Commentator Brevard Childs writes, “Few texts contain more problems for the interpreter than these few verses which have continued to baffle throughout the centuries. The difficulties cover the entire spectrum of possible problems. … the passage seems to have little connection with its larger context. Why should Yahweh suddenly seek to kill his messenger? … the reaction of Zipporah is without explanation. How did she know what to do? .. how is it related to … circumcision? … how is one to account for the irrational, almost demonic atmosphere of the passage in which blood seems to play an apotropaic [having the capacity to avert evil influences or bad luck] role.”  (Brevard Childs, Exodus, SCM Press, 1974: pp 95-96).

These verses tell of a mysterious encounter between God and the family of Moses. Some have interpreted it as a story related to the origins of circumcision. However, the origins of circumcision as a sign of the Covenant are explored in Genesis 17.9-14. Just two chapters before that, in Genesis 15, there is another passage introducing the covenant associated with dark and unusual rituals. In this passage (Genesis 15.7-21) there are some similarities to Ex 4.24-26: the man (Abram or Moses) is either asleep or passive; in Genesis 15 the Exodus is predicted by the Lord; the mysterious encounters happen at night; there is either terror and darkness for the man (Abram) or the intent of the Lord to kill him (Moses).

Rather than explaining the origins of circumcision, the story may reflect Moses’ failure to circumcise his son (perhaps because of his assimilation to Midianite culture) thus explaining Yahweh’s attack. Zipporah makes good Moses’ failure and saves the life of her husband. The exact significance of the words attributed to Zipporah (two separate sayings in vss 25b and 26b) probably reflect two different ‘layers of tradition’ that have struggled to understand and give meaning to this unusual story.

Vss 27-30 summarise the Lord’s word to Aaron, the meeting of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, the beginning of their shared ministry (vss 29-30) and the response of the people (vs 31).

Revelation 3.1-6:  The book of Revelation starts with an opening vision of Christ (Chapter 1.9-20 and then introduces seven ‘letters to the churches’ (2.1-3.22). Each letter starts with To the angel of the church in —– write: …. and the last four messages all end with Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  This week the Lectionary presents us with the letters to the churches in Sardis and Philadelphia.

Sardis lies in the western part of Turkey, close to the Aegean coast. The accusation against the church is given in vss 1b-2.  The startling accusation is that while the church has a reputation of being a live church, it is actually dead. A repeated call to wake up (to yourselves?) follows in vss 2-3, with a reference to the early Christian theme of Christ coming like a thief in the night (vs 3b)

Then follows a reminder that there are a few who have been faithful (vs 4). Vs 5 presents the promise that will attend conversion and renewed devotion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020Psalm 83:1-4, 13-18; Exodus 5:1-6:13; Revelation 3:7-13
For the Psalm, see Monday.

Exodus 5.1-6.13 is a long passage. Here the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is first joined and the basic lineaments of the struggle to come are outlined. 

In vs 1 Moses and Aaron present their demand: Let my people go! The reason given is to worship in the wilderness – an ironic allusion to what will follow in the wilderness wanderings or a false reason to cover their escape? Their speech to Pharaoh is prefaced Thus says the Lord – words well known to us from the prophets but very rare in the Pentateuch. They only occur on the lips of Moses addressed to the Pharaoh.

The word of the Lord is met by Pharaoh’s disavowal of any knowledge of the Lord and his refusal to let Israel go (vs 2). Moses and Aaron then try a personal appeal (what God has said to us – vs 3) only to be personally rebuked and accused by Pharaoh (vs 4). A further reason for repressing Israel is then given (vs 5) and Pharaoh dictates a policy that is then implemented through the hierarchy of Egyptian power (vss 6-14).

When the Israelite foremen complained to Pharaoh (vss 15-16) the policy is re-affirmed (vss 17-18) and the effect of the repression is to drive a wedge between the foremen and the new Israelite ‘prophetic’ leadership of Moses and Aaron (vss 20-23).

The Lord then responds with a recommissioning of Moses (6.1-8) but this is rejected by the people (vs 9). Again, the Lord commands Moses to go to Pharaoh (vss 10-11) but Moses refuses, neatly expressing how he is caught between the people of Israel and the Pharaoh of Egypt, neither of whom will listen to him. Vs 13 summarises the state of play, an apparent stalemate of practical action overshadowed by a call to, and vision of, freedom.

Revelation 3.7-13: Philadelphia was a small city that lay about 25 miles southeast of Sardis. The church was not strong (vs 8b) but this letter contains no rebuke, only encouragement. The church was in conflict with the local Jewish community (vs 9) and in opening the writer claims for the Risen Jesus the ‘power of the keys’ to open and shut (vs 7, repeated in vs 8). There is a promise that, because they have been faithful and endured, they will be spared the coming trial (vs 10).

Vss 11-12 promise that the Lord is coming soon and urges them to be steadfast. Vs 12 looks forward to the coming of the new Jerusalem in terms very similar to chapter 21. Two signs of ‘ownership’ and approval are promised – that the one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God (for the recognition of leaders as ‘pillars’ see Gal 2.9) and I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God. The revelation of that name is part of the unfolding drama of God’s final victory (see Revelation 19.11-16).

Wednesday, September 2, 2020Psalm 83:1-4, 13-18; Exodus 7:14-25; Matthew 12:22-32
For the Psalm, see Monday.

Exodus 7.14-18:  It is rare that one has opportunity to prepare study notes so perfectly suited to the contemporary context. As Melbourne lies under Stage 4 lockdown regulations because of a disease pandemic, and all drinking water must be boiled because of storm-damage to the water supply, the Lectionary delivers us the first of the plagues of Exodus – the undrinkable water of the Nile!

In the plague traditions we find a variety of sources that have been edited together. This composite nature of the narrative can be seen in some slight irregularities of plot. In this passage we see an inconsistency in whether it is Moses (vs 17) or Aaron (vs 19) who did the staff-wielding. Vs 20 harmonises this with Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he [who? Moses?  Aaron?]  lifted up the staff … This should not make us sceptical of the reliability of the text but reinforce how important these narratives were to Israel and how they were transmitted in different versions.

There is scholarly debate as to just how and why these narratives were shaped and why they were so important to Israel. Pharaoh emerges with his own distinctive personality and will. His obstinacy and repeated ‘failure to learn’ of the power of the Lord is developed at length. One fruitful suggestion as to how these stories were remembered and transmitted sees them belonging to those who treasured and embodied the conflicts between prophet and king that characterised much of Israel’s later history. In Moses we have the archetype of the prophet, and in Pharaoh the archetypal king. In the various bands known as a ‘school (or company) of prophets’, these stories may have circulated, been remembered and venerated.

In modern context, this struggle is not so much between organised religion and the powers that be, but between the press and political power. All of this is changing rapidly in an age of internet and social media – where once there may have been a struggle between the voice of morality (vested either in the prophet or the press) and the voice of power (political leaders), there now appears to be a three-cornered struggle between i) traditional media platforms, ii) tech platforms and social media and, iii) politicians.

What is fascinating in our time is how the very narratives of plague are still the focus of disputed interpretation.  Anti-mask groups, anti-vaxers, medical authorities and health officials and politicians of various outlooks are all trying to shape our views of the current plague, and what its trajectory will be. It is helpful to consider what the faithful prophetic voice (in Biblical terms) would say in the current social context.  

In terms of yesterday’s Exodus reading, we might see Moses as the true prophetic voice, caught between the power of the king (Pharaoh / politicians / governments) and the muttering and disbelief of the people (Twitter / QAnon/ anti-vax voices / Facebook).

Matthew 12.22-32 is a passage that first appears in the Christian tradition in Mark 3.19b-30. It is also paralleled in Luke 11.14-23. A full reflection on this key passage across the three Synoptic gospels is beyond the scope of these notes.  Again, it is a story anchored in the controversy between Jesus and his detractors (in this instance, the Pharisees (vs 24)).

The key to this passage is vs 29: to the accusation that It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons (vs 24) Jesus uses the metaphor of robbing a strong man’s house: you can only rob his of his possessions (i.e. cast out demons) if you have first defeated him (vs 29).

Vss 31-32 have perhaps caused more anguish and guilt among Christians who have felt that they may have spoken against the Holy Spirit (vss 31-32) and thus earned unending and unforgivable condemnation. We need to think on these verses carefully as there is no doubt that Jesus’ charge is a very serious one. My own view is that Jesus is speaking of the fundamental misnaming of the work of the Holy Spirit as something demonic or destructive. For that reason I am very reluctant to use the language of the demonic realm – even though I think such forces are real and need to be engaged.

Thursday, September 3, 2020Psalm 149; Exodus 9:1-7; 2 Corinthians 12:11-21

Psalm 149 is an unusual Psalm. It opens with an exhortation to sing to the Lord a new song, and offer praise in the assembly of the faithful (vs 1), sentiments reinforced in vs 2. It seems to be a straightforward call to worship the Lord and a praise song. The setting would appear to be the assembly for worship – confirmed by the mention of dance and music in vs 3. 

However, in vss 4-5 the tone changes slightly with the description he adorns the humble with victory (vs 4) and the rather puzzling Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches (vs 5). Some scholars have emended this live to let them sing for joy according to their generations (which would align in parallelism with vs 4).

Vs 6 however introduces a startling note, hardly consistent with worship: Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands. Vss 7-8 make it clear that vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples and binding kings with fetters / and their nobles with chains of iron is the work of this praising throng.

Vs 9 exults that the faithful execute on them the judgment decreed. / This is glory for all his faithful ones.  The context would appear to be that of holy war – of a spiritually ordained act of war by the host of Israel against some identified enemy.

Many Christians today would struggle to see this as appropriate to Christian worship. However, we should be honest enough to acknowledge that we worship in a society that is protected by treaties with nuclear-armed allies, and that our society has been shaped by the deployment of many double-edged weapons over two centuries of struggle with the less-empowered indigenous nations of this continent. We don’t wave the battle-axe in our hands as the praise of God fills our throats – but is that just because we are not as honest as our Israelite ancestors?

Exodus 9.1-7:  For those who believe in the Chinese virus, this passage might be encouraging. The Lord made a distinction between Israel and Egypt so that none of Israel’s livestock died. The text does not tell us, but I wonder if the Egyptians called it the Israelite pestilence (vs 3)? Here we have a narrative that records that the impacts of the plague were felt along the lines of race and political identity.

Lest we think this is related to a far-off situation in the mists of antiquity, there is evidence that some social and ethnic groups are disproportionately impacted by the current pandemic. We should also remember the impacts of disease on indigenous communities after European settlement of Australia. Beyond the impact of ‘natural’ infection there is also evidence of some instances of infected blankets being used as a weapon to destroy indigenous people. It is to be celebrated that governments and citizens in the current plague have been very careful to protect Australian indigenous communities. 

In more recent history, despite the banning of biological weapons, there is evidence that in the second half of the 20th century there were attempts to develop biological weapons (diseases) that were genetically targeted so that only some racial groups would be affected. (Hint: the aim was that white people would not contract such diseases.) Despite years of research it proved hard to achieve (apparently our common biological humanity gets in the way) and was abandoned. As you can imagine, details of this research are not readily available, but the Monash Bio-Ethics Review ran some articles on it in the 1990’s.

2 Corinthians 12.11-21   The second letter of Paul to the Corinthians is a rather tortured text – and that mood is revealed in this passage. It is fraught with tension between Paul and his readers. Some estrangement had arisen between them, and 2 Corinthians as a whole is Paul’s appeal to them for reconciliation and for the renewal of his authority to teach them. He rehearses some of the accusations that have been made against him – of having been a burden (vss 13, 14, 16), of being ‘tricky’ (vs 16) and exploitative (vs 17-18). He mixes endearments and warmth (vs 16b) with irony (vs 16) and sarcasm (vs 13b).

Vss 19 disavows any attempt to defend himself and declares his honest intentions. In vss 20-21 he expresses his fears for what he will find when he visits them and echoes some of the moral failings he had already found necessary to address in his first letter – see I Corinthians chapters 5 through 8.

This passage is a helpful reminder than relations between Christian leaders and those they seek to lead are not always smooth and harmonious. Conflict, misunderstanding and disagreement can sometimes mark the territory and need to be engaged with candour, courage and love.

Friday, September 4, 2020Psalm 149; Exodus 10:21-29; Romans 10:14-21
For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Exodus 10.21-29: When the Lectionary readings were chosen the world hadn’t yet heard of Covid-19. I wondered whether the compilers were particularly prescient and knew what was ahead, and decided to spare us six of the ten plagues (frogs, gnats, flies, boils, thunder and hail, locusts) and give us only four: water into blood (Wednesday), dead livestock (yesterday), darkness (today), and the plague on the firstborn (tomorrow).

This is an unusual plague – simply darkness! Nothing is harmed, and there is no physical interruption to the life of Egypt through damage. Some interpreters have found the darkness that can be felt (vs 21) anti-climactic, even comic, after the terrifying plagues preceding it. Others have stressed the unique terror that such darkness for three days imposed.

It forms the backdrop for the final negotiation between Moses and Pharaoh. Pharaoh makes an offer but includes a limit – the flocks and herds presumably being kept as a guarantee that the Israelites would return after their worship (vs 24). But Moses holds a hard line (vss 25-26) leading to a breakdown in the discussions (vs 27).  Pharaoh’s final threat (vs 28) is accepted by Moses as an ironic judgment on Pharaoh: “Just as you say, I won’t see you again. I’ll be gone!” (vs 29).

(The notes below are drawn from our previous consideration of this passage on 5th August.)

Romans 10.14-21 explores just why Israel has failed to respond to the gospel. Paul is rehearsing (and dismissing!) possible excuses for Israel’s continuing lack of faith. He opens (vss 14-15) with a five-layered model of mission that works ‘backward’ from the final result to call on God. To reverse the order given so that the missional process is expressed in its temporal, causal structure we find sending🡪 preaching 🡪 hearing 🡪believing🡪calling. The first two of these are the actions of God, the last three are the actions that must be followed through if people are to respond. Paul takes it as read that God has played God’s part with the first two. But what of the other three, the steps for which humans must accept responsibility?

Vs 16 declares that not all have obeyed the good news (‘the calling on God’ that marks response) with a confirming quotation from Isaiah 53.1.

Vs 17 names the two steps where Israel might be able to find an excuse for their failure to respond: they must have had opportunity to believe (have faith), and that means they must have had an opportunity to hear. Vss 18-19 deals with each of these possibilities in turn.

Have they not heard? asks vs 18. The answer – No! – is supported by a quote from Psalm 19.4, originally describing the movements of the heavenly bodies, but used by Paul as a description of the early preachers of Jesus spreading out from Jerusalem through all the world.

Did Israel not understand? (i.e. have faith) asks vs 19: have they acted in ignorance? Paul quotes from the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32.21. By stressing the authorship of Moses, Paul anchors this statement in the headwaters of Jewish history and the work of one of their foundational figures. Further, Paul makes the reference more pointed and direct by changing the original text I will make them jealous… to I will make you jealous… The rather puzzling mention of jealousy of those who are not a nation, with a foolish nation makes the implied point that Israel has been even more foolish, that any lack of understanding has been her own fault. This rather neatly prefigures Paul’s argument in chapter 11 of how jealously and ‘stumbling’ have been used by God to the mutual encouragement of both Jewish and Gentile communities.

Vss 20-21 bring two further quotations from Isaiah 65.1-2, the first describing the situation of the Gentiles and the second the situation of Israel.

Saturday, September 5, 2020Psalm 149; Exodus 11:1-10; Matthew 23:29-36
For the Psalm, see Thursday.

Exodus 11.1-10 brings the cycle of plagues to its climactic, grizzly conclusion. Again, the targeting of the plague to affect only the Egyptians is highlighted with the haunting image of widespread wailing in Egypt, but among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal (vs 7).

The reason for the asking of silver and gold from your Egyptian neighbours, is not given until 12.36. This chapter is a link passage, bringing the plague narrative to its conclusion but also foreshadowing both the institution of the Passover and the plundering of the Egyptians (both in chapter 12).

The whole cycle of the plague narratives presents some interesting challenges. In the battle between the Lord and Pharaoh it almost seems as if the adversaries are evenly balanced (it did take ten disasters after all!) The narrative stresses however that the Lord was hardening Pharaoh’s heart, almost as if to extend the theatrical element of the contest. This is emphasised as a kind of theological coda to the whole plague cycle in vss 9-10.

It raises important questions about Christian attitudes to emergencies and disasters. I well remember an essay question from my undergraduate theology classes: Discuss the ethics of praying for rain. By the time I had finished researching, reflecting and writing I had a much more balanced grasp of the scientific, ethical and pastoral implications of such a prayer. It has been fascinating to read the reflections of Christian leaders (or their surviving family members!) who have been naively  certain the Lord would protect them from Covid-19 infection in the current pandemic – possibly encouraged by passages such Exodus 11 – only to then contract the disease.

One of my questions is whether our attitude to plague and pestilence (fearfulness, resistance, anxiety, suspicion, on the one hand; or calmness, confidence, trust and hope, on the other) actually feeds into our experience and outcomes with regard to living through, and coping with, the pandemic.

What is coming much clearer to us is just how much Biblical material there is regarding the reality and experience of plagues and disease, not only here in Exodus, but in some of the prophetic narratives, in the history of Israel (eg. 2 Kings 7) in the apocalyptic tradition (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation) and not least in the healing ministry of Jesus (of disease, rather than plague). If we want some indication of how different our experience is to those who lived only 150 years ago, review the children’s hymns in any collection of traditional Christian hymns from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In most collections around 80% of children’s hymns have a verse about dying – because infant mortality was so much a part of many families’ experience at that time.

We have lived in a very privileged age that has known the miraculous benefits of anaesthesia, antibiotics, vaccines, organ transplants, and gene therapy. Of these, the last four have been with us for less than a century. What we are experiencing now in the pandemic is actually closer to ‘the normal’ of human experience. As we face a rising tide of anti-biotic resistance in micro-organisms and increasing disruption to the biosphere through climate change, and a pandemic that may be with us for years, part of the long-term outcome may yet be an altered sense of our own physical/medical vulnerability and a very different sense of our mortality. We may come back to all these Biblical resources about plague and pestilence with different questions and needs and whole new solutions to the spiritual and human challenges of these difficult realities!

Matthew 23.29-36 has a parallel in Lk 11.47-51. The origins of this passage lie in a sayings source that circulated in the early traditions of the Christian communities. The Lukan version lies closer to the original tradition.

In vss 29-32 Matthew outlines the dynamic of the teachers of the law and Pharisees (vs 29) who today venerate and revere the prophets of yesterday – whose words have become today’s orthodoxy. They proudly say “if we had been around then we would never have persecuted them!” even as they complete what your ancestors started (vs 32) by persecuting the prophets and sages and teachers that have been sent to this age (vs 34).

As I look at the contest between truth and error that is so much a part of contemporary life, I find these words of Jesus ever more relevant to our context. Who were all these protagonists (teachers of the law / Pharisees on the one hand; and prophets / sages / teachers on the other) in Jesus’ day, and who are they in our day? While the battle may have been between the synagogues and the early church communities in the time Matthew and Luke wrote, in our day it is far more likely to be between figures within the church across the broad spectrum of faith, and between Christians in the prophetic tradition and the intellectuals and ‘-isms’ of our day. If Jesus came back today, who would find themselves on the sharp end of his tongue? Would I be numbered among the contemporary Pharisees? 

In my view, one of the failings of modern Christians (and for this the Baptist view of liberty of conscience bears some responsibility) is that we do not call out the silliness, moral turpitude or glib prudery that we see in various Christians around us. I am firmly committed to freedom of conscience, but it shouldn’t stop us saying “You have a right to believe and propagate what you believe, but I think it is simply wrong – and here are my reasons…”  

As so-called ‘cancel culture’ and political correctness are protested by those who hold deeply objectional views, we have a responsibility to hear those views, even as we name the snakes and broods of vipers that hold them. Having a right to your opinion, does not make your opinion right!

We welcome Rev Jim Barr as our new Pastor.

 

Box Hill Baptist is delighted to announce that the Rev Jim Barr will be joining us as our new Senior Pastor from the 24th of March, 2019.

After a long search, Jim will be bringing his wealth of experience, knowledge, skills (and stories!) to the rapidly changing community of Box Hill, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Jim has an amazing record of ministry and a reputation (positive of course!) that precedes him, including ministries at Collins St, Rosanna, & Canberra Baptist churches, and most recently the Welsh Church – amongst many other roles and activities.

We look forward to welcoming him and his wife Jane to our community, with the induction service planned for the 7th of April. All are invited to the induction service and you can register your attendance here.

Burned out on Religion?

ARE YOU BURNED OUT ON RELIGION?

Sermon based on:

Matthew 11: 28 -30 (The Message)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

JESUS OFFERS ANOTHER KIND OF LIFE

Jesus offers to all another kind of life, a life where God permeates every bit of it with His presence and goodness and frees us – liberates us from either falsely believing we have to work it all out ourselves and become self- sufficient, or that we need to have it all together and be some kind of good person.

MEDITATING ON MATTHEW 11:

I’ve been meditating on the Eugene Peterson version of Matthew 11: 28 – 30 for a few years now. Wondering what its all about, what was Jesus getting at? What is He inviting me into? What am I missing or have I often missed in all Jesus offers and how do I learn the unforced rhythms of grace?

I’ve titled this morning sermon Are you burned out on religion? Drawing inspiration from The Message version of Matthew 11: 28 – 30.

MY PRAYER

My prayer for us all this morning – especially you with the weary soul – tired – somewhat burned out on religion can find space to pause

To breath and find rest -rest for your weary and tired soul.

FAITH GROWN – SEASON LIFE – REST IN

Over the years my faith has grown and matured. – I am now in a season with Jesus where I find myself resting more fully in the strange dichotomy that while I know God knows all of me, all the good stuff and the broken stuff, yet He loves me deeply and fully.

Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book titled Life of the Beloved – I highly recommend reading it. On page 21 Nouwen writes:

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rest on you.” For many years I had read these words and even reflection upon them in sermons and lectures, but it is only since our talks in New York that they have taken on a meaning far beyond the boundaries of my own tradition. Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words, “You are my Beloved” revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.

And I have come to the same kind of conclusion as Nouwen and others, that it is imperative this foundational truth about Gods love and acceptance of us as Gods beloved needs to be the foundation our lives are built upon.

WALK THROUGH MATTHEW 11

So, let’s take a walk through the Eugene Peterson – Message version of Matthew 11: verses 28 – 30 and see what God might want to say to us this morning.

Is there a deliberate way in which life with God works better – is freer and lighter if we take up this invitation.

I have broken these verses into 4 steps. Easy to follow and remember four steps:

STEP 1 – come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.

What do we need to do most when we are weary, tired and burned out on religion? Jesus invites us to simply COME.

Stop – turn around – don’t keep pretending or work yourself into the ground.

Know how you really feel but know Jesus offers invitation. In other reading from Marks gospel Chapter 2: 15 – 17 is stating that people who know they are sick or struggling – weary – tired – will be the ones to seek out help. Admit how they are feeling and do something about it.

STEP 2 – Jesus says I’ll show you how to take a real rest.

We live in a society that seems to be addicted to GO GO GO and DO DO DO!

Yet there has never been so much anxiety, depression, mental health issues, stress, burn out and worry. To state a few modern epidemics.

Jesus invites us to come to him and in this coming and being – we will learn from Jesus how to take a real rest.

Do you know how to rest? Do you rest?

REST IN BELOVED-NESS

And this rest is deeply embedded in us resting in our beloved-ness before God. If you know – truly know you are loved and accepted you stop trying to earn love or work hard to somehow be a good person. Instead you simply accept you are Gods beloved, not because of what you do or have done but because of who you are – your identity.

In a book titled The good and beautiful God by James Bryan Smith (www.ivpress.com/the-good-and-beautiful-god) there is a chapter titled How to make a pickle. The chapter addresses societies hurry sickness – we seem to always be in a hurry – we have no time, I can’t stop, I’ve got so much to do. And if you’re not hurrying or busy doing something – well people don’t know how to relate to you.

I think Gods people have an incredible opportunity in this day and age to show others what work and rest in an ebb and flow rhythm are like so others can see we don’t need to be deceived into thinking life is all about productivity and doing.

So the remedy to weariness and tiredness – burn out – is simply to rest

STEP 3 – Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.

One of my favourite theologians and writers is Dallas Willard. I love his reminder to Gods people that what we have neglected to understand is that we all are all Jesus’s apprentices – and we should view our inter- active life with Jesus from this kind of perspective. If Jesus is offering everyone a different kind of life, a life where we are being transformed into Christs image and likeness day by day then the best way to become more like Jesus is to look at what Jesus did, how Jesus went about doing things and being present towards others, and simply do likewise.

Here Jesus follows up the come to me and rest in me with – now we have things to do together. Not a sort of ‘you going off on your own – independent and autonomous’, but interdependent and collaborative working together.

UNFORCED RHYTHMS OF GRACE

Jesus wants to teach us how to live differently – how to live in the unforced rhythms of grace. This discovery as to what the unforced rhythms of grace might be about is a whole other sermon or sermons. But I encourage you to google search Dallas Willard’s definition of grace. It would appear that the biblical understanding of grace is so much more magnificent and dynamic than what many of our churches or traditions have defined it as. (https://churchleaders.com/pastors/videos-for-pastors/153074-dallas-willard-difference-between-grace-and-effort.html)

Oh, Jesus teach me how to live in a kind of unforced -unhurried rhythm of grace. I really need this for my life.

STEP 4 – keep company with Jesus.

Finally step 4 and what is a never ending and ongoing need for all of us to do our whole lives. We all need to keep company with Jesus. All centred upon relationship – intimacy with God – time with God – being with God.

I visualise this coming, resting, walking, working, and being as deeply intimate and stunning to consider. That the God – the entity that made all things – creator – sustainer – wants to be with me. With you.

Really all four steps are cyclical because humanity has this default mode inbuilt to keep deluding ourselves that we can work it out all on our own – we don’t need God – we don’t want Gods help etc. Guess what happens then?

We start to travel down the road of weariness – tiredness and even being burnt out on religion again – and again.

And then guess what Jesus says to us – COME…

HOW ABOUT FOR YOU?

So, what about all of this for you?

What step resonates most with where you are at right now?

And what one practical thing can you do this week to live more fully into this kind of unforced rhythms of grace?

The Future Church

“It is imperative that we become a people who understand who we are, who God is, what God is about in the world and what God is calling us to be about in the world.”

Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Word Books, 1971) p.37.

What does this mean for us? I suggest it means that we need constantly to be asking these questions:

Where do we see Christ moving in our present situation?

What is God saying to us here and now?

What is the Spirit calling us to be and become, to discover, venture and do, in conformity with the way of Christ?

What then shall we do, individually, collectively and co-operatives?

These things form the basis of the life of a local church: a continuing conversation about and with God—a conversation on the way.

117 years of ministry in and to the Box Hill Community.

This Sunday we celebrate and reflect upon Box Hill Baptist’s 117th Anniversary.

The church has witnessed so much over that time, including two world wars, and countless new communities coming to join us and share their cultures with us.

And no doubt there will continue to be much change before us also – And we look forward to continuing to be a part of and serve our local community.

Who is Christ for Us Today?

In the wider Christian church, this Sunday is a celebration of Christ as the Lord of all the world. In some places it is called ‘the Feast of Christ the King’. For many people, however, this language does not exactly work. The challenge is to maintain our faith in Christian a way that is both meaningful in the contemporary world and retains the basis of hope that has sustained the church through all the centuries.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in prison during the last year of the Second World War, wrote about this struggle for modern day Christians: ‘What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today.’

Who is Christ for us today? This is the challenge for us, because it not only defines something about him, it also declares something about who we are, what we care about, and what we hope for.

Today, and in the weeks ahead, in the season of Advent, we enter into this wonderful and challenging time of reflection, a time of faith, and hope, and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Models of the Church- Multicultural and inter-cultural

No doubt our society becomes more and more multi-cultural every day, month and year. It seems likely that there is no place in our society which is not multicultural. Our workplaces, our schools, our local communities, our sports and hobby clubs, and our homes are multicultural.

Hence, many people find it exciting to live in our multicultural and dynamic society, especially those who come originally from a mono-cultural and mono-ethnic society.


Our church is then called and committed to embracing and demonstrating these multicultural dynamics in our ministry, vision and future direction. Moreover, our church is called to be a model of an intercultural community in which active intercultural engagements and interactions take place among its members and between the English speaking congregation and the Cambodian speaking one. In order to so, we need a multicultural and multi-linguistic leadership team and pastoral team.


“…there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

 

Models of the Church FUZZY LINES

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:18-19

 

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”

Ephesians 2:17-20