Season of Creation – A special series for September.

Sunday services and other activities include:

September 1 (10am) – Framing the Season of Creation

September 8 (10am) – Intergenerational dialogue

September 15 (10am) – Theology and Environment with Associate Professor Keith Dyer

September 20 (2pm) – Global Climate Strike action at Treasury Gardens.

September 22 (10am) – TBC

September 29 (10am) – The Hidden Power of the Forest

October 4 – St Francis of Assisi Day – Prayer and Reflection

October 6 (10am) – “How then shall we live?”

Waratah Bay Pilgrim Walk

As many of you will know, our Minister Jim Barr is a Pilgrim steeped in the Celtic tradition of peregrinatio, that wandering on land and sea that characterised the Celtic monks of the 6th-8th centuries. Of Scots extraction (generations ago) he is an Australian who seeks a spiritual engagement with the mystery of this continent and its ancient civilisations through a respectful journeying through country – that reality of place revered and understood by First Nations Australians.

As such, Jim is undertaking a range of ‘pilgrim’ journeys, which he will be posting at his own blog,, but which we’ll also be sharing here!

A training walk today – just a few kilometres around the Bay to prepare for a longer walk on Friday.

I started down through the Forest of the coastal reserve. On reaching the foot of the hill I turn northeast along the beach.

Walkerville campsites at the bottom of the hill.

The beach at Waratah Bay curves around past the settlements of Walkerville, Waratah Bay and Sandy Point. As I walk the birds are twittering in the forest on my left and the waves are lapping the ancient rocks to the right.

Some of the oldest rocks in Victoria are found along this stretch of coast. These beautiful eroded beds lie close the the ‘corner where the beach turns from the northeast toward the east.

The threatened hooded plover nests in this beach. Walking these sands reminds us of the fragility of nature and the damage humans are doing to the environment.

Human habitation on this coast goes back many Millenia. Occasional shell middens testify to earliest settlement but many have been scattered by the sea. More recent settlement is witnessed by the occasional ‘pebble’ of weathered hand-made brick dating to 19th century like that below.

The Forest comes right down the beach.

Since medieval times the scallop shell with its radiating lines from the hinge or nodal point of the shell has been the symbol of the pilgrim. “All roads lead to Rome, or Jerusalem, or Santiago de Compostela.” But Celtic pilgrimage has no destination, just hopeful wandering ‘to a land that I will show you’.

I sometimes think the shells on this beach are a better symbol of the twisted, varied, sometimes damaged, often beautiful architecture of life’s journey.

Pilgrim tools

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet/ my staff of faith to lean upon/ my scrip of joy – immortal diet!/ my bottle of salvation / my gown of glory, hope’s true gage/ and thus I’ll make my pilgrimage. (Sir Walter Raleigh)

Hooded plovers on the beach
Wilson’s Prom across the bay
Scallop shell on the beach

In the last 100m of the beach walk I came across this scallop shell. Right at the destination – Waratah Bay township. A perfect symbol to finish this little journey!

Jasmine Chapman’s Prayer

Our young people led a moving service which included inter-generational dialogue. One of the unexpected insights from the dialogue was just how different life had been for those who are now older when they were young. Perhaps in the future life will again be much simpler, more austere, but the recollections of the past made it easier to see how fulfilling and rich that might be.

One of the highlights of the service was a prayer written by Jasmine Chapman. Here is what she wrote and so movingly read during the service.

I’ve always known that this world seems to suffer,

But it was small, irrelevant when I was younger. 

But as I grew older the threats became clear.

The climate’s heating up, distilling fear.

Fires roam where rain used to rule,

To humans this earth’s no more than a tool.

Ice turns to water at an increasing pace,

These problems are something we all must face.

For now, I fear the future, a dystopian sight.

If my children will live during a losing fight.

We can’t limit the future because we failed to save

God’s precious earth, which to us he gave.

We cannot let this world we have slip away

Or it’s a price that we all must pay.

So Lord, I pray, that action takes place

So the future isn’t something that we erase.

Because I’ll fight, until my dying days

Hoping this isn’t earth’s final phrase. 

Jasmine Chapman

Counting the Cost

At Box Hill Baptist we are exploring the Season of Creation. On September 8th it is our young people who are leading the service. We invited them to lead us early in the series because it is they who will live with the consequences of the environmental crisis that is climate change. We need to hear from them, and dialogue with them. The teenage activist Greta Thunberg has been a catalyst for people of all ages to mobilise around climate change, but young people especially have responded to her message.

Whenever I talk with younger people about climate and environment I feel guilty – guilty because I know I will probably not live to see the consequences of how my generation, and earlier generations, have lived – but they will. Perhaps that is why the one Bible reading they selected from the smorgasbord of the lectionary for the service they are leading is Luke 14.25-33, where Jesus warns about the cost of discipleship, and how sensible people count the cost of what they are doing, whether in building or in battle, if they are going to succeed. When it comes to the consequences of our opulent lifestyles and technical mastery of the world, have we really ‘done the math’?

For those who trust David Attenborough, that avuncular but doughty prophet, you might like to look at his documentary The Facts. For those with a brave spirit and a taste for more punchy academic approaches, you might try the work of Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria. Jem’s blog is a fascinating resource that will introduce you to his work. His latest focus is the concept of Deep Adaption: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. Deep Adaptation presumes that we are facing “an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change” (cheery news!) and seeks to prepare us for the kinds of adaptations and responses we will be called upon to make. He also engages with the kinds of social and psychological defenses (‘systems of denial’) that stop us from thinking through such challenging scenarios (which defenses then compound the crisis and make everything worse).

For those of us familiar with the Bible however, the category of ‘inevitable near-term social collapse’ is pretty much stock-in-trade. Think about the Exodus and all that desert wandering, homelessness and near starvation. What about David and his paid soldiering and hiding, and wars and adventures before he got to be king with all those wives and concubines? The Prophets and their warnings of desolated cities and barren landscapes. Esther and Daniel and all that genocidal plotting against the people of Israel. Not to mention all of Revelation and some of the ‘reality therapy’ handed out to struggling Christians in a few of the letters in the New Testament. We are comfortable western Christians who have been rather well insulated (until now) from the effects of climate change, but if we have been reading our Bibles we know the world is not always like that. And we also know that even in the most dire and dangerous situation, there is hope!

Bendell in his Deep Adaptation model, asks us to engage with three positive responses to what he calls the climate tragedy. They are resilience, relinquishment and restoration.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress, involving the creative reinterpretation of identity and priorities.

Relinquishment is people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse.

Restoration is people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. This includes re-wilding landscapes, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play and increased community-level productivity and support.

(the above summary is from Barbara Lepani, Wild Mountain Collective Blog)

While Jem Bendell’s work is very challenging, I see it as an extended riff on Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost, complete with the warning that Jesus ended his speech with – that we are all going to be a lot poorer! But in other ways we may be richer, better off, happier, more engaged with each other. While looking squarely at the magnitude of the problem, and perhaps the inevitability of catastrophe, is very difficult to do, it is the only way to find hope on the other side of whatever is coming.

Jeremiah prophesied the end of his city (Jerusalem) and his society for decades before anyone took notice. They lived in denial and false hope. And then, when the inevitability of the disaster could no longer be avoided, and everyone was liquidating their assets and hunkering down, Jeremiah bought land and had the transaction publicly witnessed, and the deeds sealed and buried, as a sign that there was a future and generations beyond the present would someday build on what he had done. (What is it with prophets and their names – Jem/Jeremiah?)

We are in much deeper trouble than Jeremiah and his people, but Jesus urges us to ‘do the math’, accept the facts, look it square in the face and pray for the resilience to live through it, the courage to let go what must be abandoned, and the skill and hope to work for restoration into the future.

Jim Barr 8/9/2019

Language and Violence

I went to see the latest Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. Tarantino’s work I sometimes find confronting and a little intellectually overpowering, but this one I really liked. It’s his use of violence I find confronting. While Tarantino himself says he deplores real violence he certainly seems to glorify it (or should that be ‘gorify’ it?) on film. While the director himself may make fine distinctions, I wonder other his viewers are always able to pick up the subtleties he is seeking to communicate.

I googled ‘language’ and ‘violence’ to see whether there is a body of thought around how one might use violence as a cinematic language. What the search yielded was a lot of discussion as to whether ‘language’ can be ‘violence’ (mainly focussed on hate speech, white supremacy, vilification etc) but very little on whether ‘violence’ can be ‘language’. There were some articles on ‘Aestheticization of violence’ but very little on violence as a language.

This I found interesting as I am preaching this week on Hebrews 12 which mentions that ‘you have come’ (presumably in the worship of the church) ‘to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Heb 12.24). Here the metaphor of ‘blood that speaks’ certainly implies that violence is language. The violence implicit in the ‘sprinkled blood’ of Jesus speaks a more powerful and better (perhaps in the sense of goodness) word than the blood of Abel, which has been crying out to God from the ground ever since Genesis 4.

Does the language we use about the violence inflicted on Jesus ‘speak a better word’ than other blood that ‘cries from the ground’? The textual confusion over one word in Revelation 1.5 (lusanti/freed us from our sins cf. lousanti/washed us from our sins) led to several generations of earnest Christians who metaphorically bathed in blood and looked to the ‘fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins’. A narrow proclamation of substitutionary atonement lays the ultimate responsibility for the violence suffered by Jesus at the feet of God the Father. When I was the head of Spiritual Care in an Australian welfare organisation for several years I came across a number of social workers and other human services professionals who found ‘Jesus as sacrificial victim’ a message that disempowered their clients (many of whom have been severely victimised) and compounded the social blame for their own marginalisation that they experienced. For many, this language about blood does NOT ‘speak a better word’.

Another generation of Jesus’ followers saw the violence Jesus suffered as a form of victory, not victimhood. Christus Victor is an early, and enduring, view of Atonement (that is, what was achieved through the Cross) that sees the violence Jesus willingly suffered as a form of both triumph and transformation. There are a number of ways that Christians speak about the Cross, and ways of understanding how the Cross speaks to humans, that focus on love, surrender and victory. In this speech the sprinkled blood does indeed speak a better word than the blood of Abel.

Which kind of brings me back to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. The title does hint that this is all a fairy tale, and quite a dark one at that. In my reading of the story there is a contrast between the cinematic ‘good’ violence handed out by the heroes (Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo Di Caprio, and his sidekick Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt) which is always more powerful and effective than ‘real’ violence – whether it be the violence of the Charles Manson family, the violence of a succession of movie ‘bad’ guys and even the violence of a ‘real’ Kung Fu practitioner – Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh). Once Upon a Time is true to the movie trope that the ‘good’ guys will always beat the ‘bad’ guys. The kicker is that the violence of the movies spills over into real life and the ‘virtual reality’ of cinematic violence overwhelms the historical reality of how life plays out.

For me this is confirmed bythe dialogue in the film between the Manson family members on their way to kill Sharon Tate and friends. One of the girls talks about how ‘we’ are the generation raised on television, and TV is all about killing. So now ‘we’ are going to kill all those people who taught ‘us’ how to kill. In this logic there might be a sense of balance, or a feedback loop, or even a morality tale, but the surprise ending is dark indeed, and ‘virtual’ violence proves far from imaginary and even more deadly than real violence. To my ear, the blood that Tarantino sprinkles (or should that be ‘splatters’?) over his closing scene speaks a worse and more troubling word than all the centuries of real blood that cry to God from the ground.

Jim Barr 24th August 2019

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.

The Wedding at Cana

Isa 62:1-5, John 2:1-11

Box Hill Baptist Church, 20 January 2019

Mary Edgar


Gospel of John Context

Let’s look at the context of today’s gospel story. John begins with a hymnic celebration of Jesus as the incarnated Word, the initial witness of John the Baptist, and gathering of his first disciples. These events are structured as successive days to emphasise interrelatedness for interpreting his story of Jesus’ origin, identity, relationship to God and humankind, the importance of witness and meaning of faith and discipleship. Jesus told Nathaniel he would see greater things and in chs 2-5 we see the first realisation of his promise. We have the wedding at Cana on the third day, the cleansing of the Temple, conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and healing of the official’s son. These are set in Galilee, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and return to Galilee. They all demonstrate the authority of Jesus’ words and works. Jews and non-Jews, the orthodox and heretical, women and men all see and hear ‘the greater things’ Jesus says and does. Nicodemus is a Jewish authority who knows so much that he fails to recognise Jesus as Messiah, or be open to new possibilities. The royal official is a pagan authority who does recognise Jesus’ life-giving power and comes to faith through his word. These are historically based, symbolic characters, representative of anyone and the responses they choose. Most of John’s characters are nameless. This namelessness enhances their power to represent the many without losing the particular, and point us beyond thin literal interpretations to the spiritual meaning within them. Like peering through a keyhole of great poetry, the closer we get, the more we see.

These stories open up possibilities of new life and faith and the decisions individuals are called to in the face of those possibilities – the drama of John’s gospel in miniature. This section is shaped by 2 signs, John’s preferred term for miracle or wonder stories, both performed in Cana. These signs are 2 of 7 symbolic actions told by John, almost all different to the stories in the synoptic gospels, 7 emphasising the fullness of the divine witness to Jesus’ identity by his words and works, and containing the full spectrum of responses, from committed faith to rejection.

Wonder Stories – I avoid using the word ‘miracle’ because, while it’s used a lot in secular society, to many religious people, it means a supernatural act of God that violates the laws of nature in what we know is an interactive, dynamic and self-determining universe. In view of ongoing political rhetoric, we may call it miraculous had Australia accepted Rahaf Alqunun from Saudi Arabia, or freed the refugees and asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus prisons. Deliberate inhumanity and cruel torture detailed for us by Imran, the Rohingya asylum seeker accepted by the US from Manus, and especially by Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish Iraqi journalist and poet, who smuggled out as accumulating texts the outrageous, heart-rending No Friend But the Mountains, and is still in PNG. What has become of us! Or was always there in our treatment of our indigenous peoples!

A relational God acts with us and on our behalf for our good, but not unilaterally against the agency of creation or its beings. Through most of history, creation has been understood as a physical world open to the operation of both divine and demonic powers, a world desacralised in the modern West by a God-denying materialism, helped by a dualist theology of separation between God and the world, developed in the context of empire-building. But it’s not as simple as fully re-embracing or rejecting that different worldview, because wonder stories created inexplicable dissonance then. There was a strong sense then, as now, of the difference between the ordinary and the incredible. We can see this in the indications of people’s amazement. The wonder stories tell of occasions when God’s power surprises people way beyond their normal expectations, so they try to explain them away, reject Jesus or embrace the extraordinary, seemingly impossible, in faith. The wonder is almost always an act of God’s gracious help, available for bodily needs and dangers, although we are also told of wonders of punishment. The main types are: exorcism – the power of God over evil forces, healing, provision, controversy stories emphasising objections and Jesus’ authority, rescue from threat, and lastly, epiphany – a showing of Jesus’ identity.

We’ve looked at 2 epiphany stories in the last two weeks. Firstly, Matthew’s birth story showing Jesus to the Gentiles, when unnamed magi from the East, perhaps Zoroastrian priests, come with hope, seeking meaning, and find it in the God of the Bible – from the present Iraq and Syria (where Abraham was called to be a blessing to all peoples) to Jerusalem (where the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations) and to Bethlehem (from where the new age would arise). The story discloses God’s presence in all things, God’s reign available among all nations and religions, supremely recognised through Jesus, and the appropriate response of worship. It also speaks of some Jewish opposition and hypocrisy, both of the religious leaders who know the scripture, but do not act on it, and of Herod’s claims of wanting to worship, but with murder is his heart. Secondly, John describes Jesus’ baptism as showing his identity as Lamb of God and Spirit-anointed Messiah.


Wedding at Cana

Today’s wonder story, both epiphany and provision, follows the standard form: setting, preparation, the wonder, conclusion.

Vs 1-2 Setting Story placed at beginning of Jesus’ ministry as the significant inaugural event, similar to Luke’s inaugural sermon we’ll consider next week, a vivid enactment of the life-giving good news he has to offer. We are given only essential details: when (3rd day), where (Cana), who (the mother, Jesus, his disciples) and why (wedding feast). Other details we could be curious about are irrelevant to the point of transformation of water into wine.

Vs 3-5 The preparation is that the wine has run out, and Jesus’ mother assumed her son would somehow attend

to the problem. This is a joyful community occasion in which Jesus, no ascetic or hermit, fully participated and added to the festivities by providing an abundance of excellent wine. But Jesus is the only person named. The disciples, the servants, the steward of the feast, the bridegroom are all unnamed. Not even mentioned are the bride, or the parents who are the central focus and hosts of Eastern weddings. What does it mean that the bridegroom is represented as the host? Even as a key character, why is Mary not named, nor ever is in John’s gospel, but called the mother of Jesus? It’s not that John or Jesus is disrespectful of Mary. John often stylises rebuff as a stimulus to faith. This story depicts a warm connection, as Mary shows no offence at Jesus’ freedom from human control, even a mother’s privileged claim. She has pondered her son’s identity and God-awareness all his life, understanding his priorities, obviously believes he has unusual powers, and trusts his ability to act, so confidently tells the servants to do what he tells them. Obedience is not about simply doing as you’re told, but responding in vital relationship.

Vs 6-8 The wonder itself begins with a detailed description of the water jars, their number, composition, purpose and size. Everything is exaggerated in order to emphasise the extravagance of the extraordinary transformation about to take place, but how it happened is not actually described. These are empty vessels waiting to be filled to the brim with water, Jewish purification jars filled with a wondrous new gift. It’s meaning is not that water is inferior to wine – water is one of John’s core symbols of life in Jesus. It’s not a rejection of purification and hence of Judaism. The guests have already had wine, so it’s not an allegory of Jesus replacing the old religion, but a symbol of the creation of something new in the midst of Judaism. Weddings are about new beginnings, and relationships, full of hope and joy. The extravagant proportions here, and in other stories, show us the super-abundance of gifts available through Jesus’ Spirit, which are described for us in the 1Cor lectionary reading.


Vs 9-11 In the conclusion of the story, the steward verifies the astonishing transformation, the servants witness to Jesus as its source and to the astonishing beneficence of the best wine, provided by Jesus the true Bridegroom. His gifts are given because he is from God and symbol of the joyous arrival of God’s new age, as in Isaiah’s vivid symbolism. The steward didn’t understand that, trying to make sense by thinking the bridegroom must have shown unusual hospitality. His focus on the wine amazingly transformed from water is apt but still superficial, his perplexity pointing to a shattering of conventional reasoning and expectations. The disciples see in the abundance a sign of God’s presence among them, and they put their faith in Jesus.

 Mary as Symbol of Faith

The role Mary has is unique to her as physical mother, and also universally symbolic of reflective disciples of faith. Mary’s motherhood, as all his kinship relationships, is not dismissed but relativised by Jesus. The faith community included many of Jesus’ natural family. He belongs to the world, his spiritual family being disciples who hear his word and keep it. Mary saying ‘Do whatever he tells you’ is like Martha saying after the death of Lazarus ‘even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you’. Jesus tells her ‘Your brother will rise’ which is understood in terms of eternal life which does not yield to physical death, then ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ which gives a new dimension of depth, the possession of eternal life here and now, the spiritual experience of union with the risen Christ in this life. Heaven is not something we die into, but awaken into.

The mother of Jesus is symbolic of all who thus see his world-changing vision. Her character demonstrates faith in the word of Jesus. She and the servants anchor that trust in the ambiguity of human and natural experience. They and the Jewish community represent the range of possible responses to the action by which Jesus reveals his glory, his identity as the true Bridegroom, described by John through the gospel, symbolic of Isaiah’s God as Bridegroom. We don’t know who else believed, but the disciples find faith by allowing their conventional boundaries to be shattered and categories of life to be reshaped by the possibility of the inbreaking of God. John wants to challenge our assumptions about order and control, about what is possible, about where God is found and how God is known. The impact of the wonder event derives from its extraordinariness, the ambiguity it creates, and is lost if we don’t ask questions. Wonder is about astonishment and wondering. The grace offered and the glimpse of glory provided run outside conventional expectations and place us at odds with how we think the world is ordered and how we go about losing our little life to find the bigger one. What new things are inviting our awareness and decisions?

If we don’t experience a sense of dissonance in the story, and ask the big questions, we can’t experience its wonder either. Responses in terms of belief or disbelief in the supernatural or of rational explanation miss the mark as attempts to domesticate acts of extravagance, transformation and new possibilities. By having open hearts and minds, the faith community is freed to receive extraordinary gifts, centred on Jesus, to live life with generosity, abundance, fearlessness and beauty that mirror the Divine.

Hour, Glory and Participation

By referring to Jesus’ hour and glory John explicitly points beyond the astonishing story itself, wanting us to see deeper into Jesus’ authority and showing of himself and of God’s power and radiance. John calls it a sign, something that points to a separate object somewhere else, but that can be reduced to problem-solving – how can we get more wine, how can life be made better. The story may better be thought of as symbolic, within events, tangibly both revealing and concealing, ambiguously resisting explanation, but giving meaning. Signs are about information, symbols about relationship and life stances. These stories speak to our depths and the paradoxes of life. In mediating mystery, symbols are about aspects of experience, personhood and ultimately the Divine. To embrace symbols is to spiritually participate in an event brought into the present, here and now, by a real, though partial, relationship with the transcendent. This process is transformative and must develop and deepen into an evolved consciousness or die. We see these alternatives nowadays in contemplative renewal and institutional decay of Christianity.

Hour, glory and participation are themes of theological significance for John. He never presents Jesus’ death, as in the synoptic gospels, as kenosis, a self-emptying, which is then vindicated by resurrection. Rather, Jesus is glorified in and by his death, his hour, his exaltation, the final and definitive disclosure of who he is and what God desires for humankind and the whole creation. Jesus signals his hour on his last night, knowing he had come from God and was returning to God, by washing his disciples’ feet, an act of self-giving service, analogous to the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper. His discourse tells them its meaning, so they would believe. Works and words. He summarised his exaltation in his prayer ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’. His intimate love abolishes inequality among friends, signalling their access to everything he received from God, even his glory. ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one, brought to complete unity .. so that the world will know.’ Not the same being, but a mutual inter-dwelling. What a wonderful image of true marriage!

John’s account of Jesus’ ignominious passion and crucifixion is transformed into a glorious victory march by his calm trial and pronouncement of completion from the cross. This glorification makes possible his ascension to the Father and the resurrection narratives as his interior return to the disciples as his Spirit, to become his risen body in the world, witnessing as the faith community incorporating all who believe. John’s stories call us to trust Christ as mediator of God’s grace, liberator for the suffering and excluded, and giver of abundant life. It is our participation in Christ, each of us together, in relational abiding, that resources our actions of compassion and grace to do even greater works than the earthly Jesus had done. The community is the real symbolic presence of the glorified Jesus in the world, Christ’s way of being present in every time and place. May it continue to be true of us here in Box Hill. AMEN


Jesus Baptism and ours

by Rowland Croucher

Last Sunday I preached to an attentive group of worshippers from the Lectionary Gospel reading about Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22). When Baptists witness occasions when people who have chosen to be baptised are totally immersed, my experience is that the silence during that dramatic event is very profound. When, as a pastor, I’m standing in a baptistry with a candidate who’s about to be completely dependent on my strength to bring them up again from under the water (if they’ve chosen to be baptised backwards from a standing position: they have options to kneel and be baptised forwards if they wish) everyone is somehow identifying with the risks that one is taking, especially if they suffer from hydrophobia!

And I don’t help the hydrophobiacs by reminding everyone that trusting Jesus with one’s life is in a larger context similar to the trust our friend, the is placing in me. ‘I could keep you under, you know,’ I remind him/her mischievously!

I’ve occasionally agreed not to fully immerse someone who’s fearful about their head going under-water. Only the accompanying elder or deaconess would have known. (One such person came to see me the following week and asked to be ‘done again’: ‘I’ve come to believe God will reward my faith in him – and you, Rowland – if I trust him.’ After talking it over, we decided not to pursue a re-run of the event! Some women completely undo their hair so that ‘every bit of skin is bathed with water’).


Here’s the Gospel reading: ‘As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.’

‘All around the world,’ I said, ‘today is both a celebration of the Lord’s baptism by John the Baptist, and also a celebration of our own baptism. And it’s a challenging day for people considering this act of obedience…’

Young and old, they were listening…

The story of Jesus’ baptism is mentioned in the three ‘Synoptic’ Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and not directly by the Fourth Gospel, John. The three stories have slightly different approaches, so I rang a friend who’s a New Testament Professor and he made some interesting comments on those three passages. He noted one thing I hadn’t considered deeply: Jesus walked all the way from Nazareth – 70 miles or 113 kilometres, about the distance from Melbourne to Ballarat – to be baptised so obviously it was very important for him. And at the end of Matthew’s Gospel he commands his followers to ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News… baptising people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…’ ‘We could spend hours unpacking that’, I said.

Another note on the Gospel passages: Mark and Luke tell us the voice from heaven said ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ – apparently speaking to Jesus; but Matthew has the voice say ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ – apparently speaking to the crowd.

Question: how do we resolve that? There’s a whole industry dedicated to finding errors in the biblical manuscripts: but I reckon the voice was heard by everyone, saying something like ‘My Son, in whom I am well-pleased’, and people chose different recipients.

Something more: In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist mentions the purpose of his baptisms: ‘I baptise you with water for repentance.’ Paul affirms this in Acts 19:4: ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.’ John’s baptism was a symbolic representation of changing one’s mind and going a new direction. ‘Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River’ (Matthew 3:6). Being baptised by John demonstrated a recognition of one’s sin, a desire for spiritual cleansing…

Did you know the early Christians practised a form of confession-of-sin-to-another: ‘Confess your sins to one another, pray for one another, that you may be healed.’ (James 5:16). A lot of sickness – emotional, physical, spiritual – derives from carrying guilt with us through our lives. In our work with pastors and Christian leaders under the aegis of John Mark Ministries, many – a three figure number of these people – have done our two-day retreats which included a dimension of confession and absolution… Some wonderful healings have been experienced in those times…

At this point last Sunday I did a little survey: ‘Friends, you don’t have to raise your hand if you don’t want to, but it would be good to know what our varied experiences of ‘baptism’ are: 1. Baptised only once (as I was, actually) by immersion, your decision. 2. Baptised as a baby or small child, at the instigation of your parents/minders. 3. Baptised as a baby and then maybe ‘confirmed’ later.  4. Baptised twice – as a baby or as a child, but later you chose to be baptised by immersion or effusion/pouring. 5. Those who were baptised twice by immersion (as would happen in some American Southern Baptist churches: if you were ‘done’ somewhere else that doesn’t qualify). 6. Baptised by your choice but by effusion (‘that happened to Scottie who many of you know: he comes here in a wheelchair’). 7. Baptised as a baby in an Orthodox Church – possibly by immersion! 8. Not baptised at all. 9. Any others? Every category was represented, except the Southern Baptist one!

Let’s come at all this from another direction: imagine you’d come early to church this morning and were sitting on those seats outside at the place which might function as a ‘Conversation Corner’.  Someone asks you: ‘Do you belong to this church?’ ‘Sure’. ‘Why is it called “Baptist”? the stranger asks. How would you respond?


Well, if you’re a church member, you’ve probably done a course in ‘Baptist Distinctives’, and you’ll probably say something like this to the enquirer: ‘We believe in the baptism of people who want to follow Jesus – people who request baptism – who know what they’re doing – and we generally baptise by immersion. Our Baptist ancestors got persecuted for this strange practice, but they did it for these reasons:

(1) Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River – at a part of the river where there was sufficient water to do it this way, as John in the Fourth Gospel takes the trouble to tell us

(2) Jesus told his followers to go into all the world baptising people in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

(3) The early Christians did it this way. Paul uses the metaphor of death: ‘We are buried with Christ by baptism into a kind of death’ – and usually dead people aren’t sprinkled with dirt, they’re buried

(4) So it’s only for believers. It follows Christian conversion, which happens when people choose to ‘receive Jesus as their personal Saviour’…

And then your friend has a ‘Yes, but’ question: ‘Well, then why do most churches especially the Catholics, baptise mostly children?’ And because you’ve studied that question you’ll respond: ‘To get rid of the effects of Original Sin.’ As a Catholic theologian puts it: ‘As the Bible tells us, the promise is to you and your children (cf. Acts 2:39). When you explain infant baptism in the context of original sin and sacramental baptism—of being born into a state of original sin and being born again into a state of grace—you make a very powerful argument on behalf of the Church’s teachings in this area. And they do it straight from the Bible.’ [ ]

At this point your questioner will probably shrug their shoulders and walk away, really puzzled…

So let’s bring the discussion inside: There’s another question Baptists have been asking. So what if you were baptised as an infant: what if you ratified that in a later confirmation class? Do you have to be done again  – by immersion – to join this church? Did you know that most Baptist churches in Australia forty years ago had a rule: you’ve gotta be done again when *you* choose – and it’s got to be by immersion.

But the times are a’changing. It’s a good question: thanks for asking. My hunch is that 50% of all Baptist churches in Australia these days are ‘Open Membership’ churches: that means people don’t have to be baptised again – or sometimes even for the first time – to earn a ticket for membership.

Let me take you to a Deacons’ meeting in a church not far from here where the pastoral team raised the issue about what kind of baptism is Ok with how much water for a person to be a member. That church made the shocking discovery that there were at least a few people who were members and had snuck in the back door by transfer from churches in South Australia where the Baptists were sometimes a bit lax about all this: they’d either been baptised just as infants, sprinkled and without a sufficient amount of H20 – or they weren’t baptised at all. Why make a fuss about all that? Why not let ‘Grace reign’ rather than precedent or law and let people themselves choose how they’ll be baptised – or whether they’ll be baptised at all? One deacon at that meeting used an old trick to suddenly close down all the discussion: ‘Over my dead body!’ he said. (Well, I was with his dead body – and with his wife at his bedside, when he died. And he hadn’t changed his mind before (until?) then!)

Probably about a quarter to a half of all rural Baptist churches haven’t changed their mind on this question. Imagine: a Salvation Army officer who’s never been baptised retires to a town with a Baptist Church they’d like to join. But unfortunately they learn they can’t officially belong to the membership of that church unless they submit to baptism by immersion. Baptised teenagers can but not that veteran mature Christian leader.

Now a doctrine or a practise that results in those outcomes has got to have something wrong with it eh?

Sure has: I was asked to give a paper at Whitley College on all this where I listed the six general practices of Baptist Churches around the world, and the ten things wrong with a legalistic approach to the subject: if you consult Professor Google with my name and the title ‘Open Membership in Australian Baptist Churches’ you’ll read those ten arguments  – for grace, rather than law. [ ]

—->>>> Let me add quickly that I’d give a tick to the church where I’m a member for its position on all this: Here’s the wording of this church’s constitution:

2. MEMBERSHIP 2.1. Membership in the Church is open to any person who declares faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and who is willing to commit to the Church Covenant. 2.2. A person becomes a Member on being accepted by the consensus of a Church Conversation. 2.3. The normal practice of the Church will be to accept into membership only those who have been baptised upon profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in particular circumstances, membership may be open to those not baptised upon profession of faith but who are accepted for membership by a Church Conversation upon the recommendation of the appropriate Working Group. 2.4. A person ceases to be a Member when his or her name is removed from The Roll in accordance with this Constitution.

So let’s come back to us. What’s today’s lectionary reading saying to us? If Jesus came all that way – a hundred-plus kilometres – to be baptised in the Jordan, it must have been important for him. And if he’s commanded his followers to preach the necessity of baptism it ought to be important for them.

Where do we go with that?

If you’d like to talk more about baptism that’s why we have a pastor – Julia – and she’d love to talk with you about that. (And if you’re really desperate I’d also be happy to have a chat sometime with you on this – or anything else!).

Let us sing a famous song of commitment, attributed to the famous Indian Christian Sadhu Sundar Singh:

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
No turning back, no turning back.


[ ] [Written by Simon Marak, from Jorhat, Assam. However, according to Dr P. Job, the lyrics are based on the last words of Nokseng, a Garo man, a tribe from Meghalaya which then was in Assam, who along with his family decided to follow Jesus Christ in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of an American Baptist missionary. Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” His two children were killed and in response to threats to his wife, he continued, “Though no one join me, still I will follow.” His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, “The world behind me, The cross before me.” This display of faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village. The fierce opposition is possible, as various tribes in that area were formerly renowned for head-hunting. The formation of these words into a hymn is attributed to the Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh.  The melody is also Indian, and entitled “Assam” after the region where the text originated.

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 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.


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 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.


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.


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?


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 ( 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.


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. (

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…


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?