Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Love, joy and conflict at Christmas

St Andrew's Fairfield had a donkey at its service last Sunday; Hillsong will have camels. The Christmas story is certainly very picturesque: animals, angels, shepherds, wise men, and, in the middle of the crowd, a baby. It's easy to forget that this baby's mother was a young girl, whose response to pregnancy out of wedlock was to praise the God who overthrows the powerful and sends the rich away empty. It's easy to forget that the first people to worship at his cradle were shepherds: impoverished social outcasts and not the right sort of people at all; and the second lot were religious outsiders, foreigners who practiced the abominations of numerology and reading the stars. It's easy to forget that the baby grew up in occupied territories, sought asylum in Egypt, and returned to a new town after being warned not to go home. It's easy to forget that the prophecies surrounding his birth triggered the slaughter of many other young boys; and that his preaching and ministry were violently opposed right up until the cross.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christian Family Values

A particularly gorgeous Holy Family, from The Nativity by Julie Vivas
I was pottering around a local op shop last week; and while I was there, I overheard some pretty strong affirmations of Christian family values. It was clear to those chatting that, if we all lived like Christians, things would be a whole lot better than they are now. Families would stay together; kids would be properly disciplined; and no one would be on the dole.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sometimes even prophets struggle to understand

Who likes to play cops and robbers? Who likes to watch movies where the good guys win, and the baddies are made to look ridiculous, or are thrown into jail, or are blown into smithereens? Most of us love the idea that bad people are punished, and good people win. Even the prophet John liked the idea. As we just heard, he preached that someone was coming—Jesus—who would gather all the good people together, and would burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. John’s preaching was so alarming that people came from all over the countryside to be baptised and to confess their sins. Yet John roared at some of them. He called them names—“You brood of vipers!”—and said that everyone who did not bear fruit, that is, everyone who did not live well according to God, would be chopped down with an axe and thrown into the fire. And the implication is that the axe, and the fire, are God’s punishment.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


See Robert Lentz talk about this icon here.
If you identify as Christian, tonight’s reading quite possibly made you angry—and I’m warning you now, this sermon might make you furious! For like the older brother in the Prodigal Son, many of us Christians find God’s generosity a bit hard to stomach. What on earth am I talking about? 

Well, as we just heard, Jesus is crucified between two criminals. One mocks him; the other acknowledges his own sinfulness and asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And what we hear is that one criminal died mocking and implicitly condemned; the other, having acknowledged his sin, died forgiven and was guaranteed a place in heaven. In other words, this second man never even gets to the field, let alone works a full day; and yet he receives the full reward. So the text has generated a lot of writing and a lot of sermons about Jesus’ scandalous act of forgiveness, since he forgave even the hardened criminal who, at the eleventh hour and while dying an excruciating death, turned to Jesus. Such forgiveness is certainly scandalous. But if we look closely, we might discover that it’s a lot more scandalous than that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On

Is it the end of the world? A violent misogynist and serial liar, who shows naked contempt for women, people of colour, the democratic process, the office of the President, and the law; a man who deliberately muddies truth and fiction; a man who threatens to exclude 1.6 billion children of Abraham from his country simply because of their faith; a man who claims to represent the working class, yet flies in a gold-plated jet and pays no income tax himself; a man who feeds on and fuels the anger of a nation: this man has just been elected president of one of the biggest military powers on earth.

Then tomorrow night we will see a rare astronomical event: a perigee-syzygy, or a supermoon. This is when a full or new moon happens at the same time that the moon is closest in its orbit to the earth. This week’s full moon is the closest full moon the earth has seen since 1948: it will loom large in our skies. What with the violent threats of the president-elect of the United States, and the signs and portents in the skies, it would be easy to believe that the end of the world is nigh, and I am sure there will be preachers who will say so.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

True Stories at the Zacchaeus Tree

On Sunday at Sanctuary, Joel Rothman reflected on Luke 19:1-27. Here is his reflection:

This is a very well-known story isn’t it? It only occurs in the Gospel of Luke, but it’s in all the children’s Bibles. Me and my kids were reading it in the children’s Bible recently. We talked about taxes and kings and tax collectors. We talked about why the people hated the tax collector. Was it fair that they hated him? Was it his fault that that was his job?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune … is in the good books with God. One of the problems with growing up comfortable and in the church is that it is too easy to think this. For we are the good guys: the right sort of people who never do anything seriously wrong. Insulated by our wealth and our privilege, we glance over at all those ghastly people whose lives are a mess, congratulate ourselves for our nice morals and clean living, and assure ourselves and everyone else that we belong in God’s house. For we are not sinners like them. We never rejected God; we belong in the kingdom. Yet, week after week, in God’s house we hear stories which should challenge our assumptions, and this week is no exception.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gratitude, schmatitude

James C. Christensen Ten Lepers
Gratitude, schmatitude. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit over the gratitude industry. Every time I go hunting for a gluten free recipe online, I seem to end up on some kale-and-quinoa-scented mommy blog which is panting with gratitude; and this usually triggers in me a powerful urge to shred a pair of yoga pants then run around shrieking obscenities.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hate mail or a love letter?

From a medieval manuscript. Reproduced at

Lots of my friends don’t go to church. Some never had any experience of it; but many of them have sat through countless services at school or with their families. Yet they have, at some stage, rejected it. There are lots of reasons for this, but one I often hear is ‘hell’. Perhaps my friends could not affirm or even understand justification by grace through faith; perhaps they found it a bit medieval and abstract to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour; perhaps they were same-sex attracted or feminist or having sex without marriage—whatever the sticking point, many of my friends were given to understand that a fiery hell awaits them if they cannot conform to the teachings of some Christians on these and similar things. And having been taught this, the Bible reads to them like hate mail from God.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cheeky Acts of Forgiveness

Dinner with fellow sinners can be delicious!
Once upon a time, the churches were commissioned to go out and participate in the mission of God: to bring good news to the poor, to free the captives, to heal the sick, to forgive debts, and to make disciples. Yet much of the church took this as a mandate to accrue wealth and wield power. Some preachers controlled their flocks through fear; some upheld violent nation-states to their own advantage; some wielded proof texts like a weapon. Some religious leaders took advantage of vulnerable people, while others used their power to cover up their colleagues’ acts of abuse. Churches hoarded riches, and locked them away; denominations invested in corporations that denuded the forests and poisoned the rivers. Some congregations became private clubs, and made anyone who was different feel deeply unwelcome; some became places of such vitriolic hatred that all who came into contact with them were burned.

All these goings-on in God’s name made God feel totally ripped off. So God decided to leave the churches, and let them fend for themselves.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Bogan, A Biddy: Beyond Human Boundaries in the Culture of God

Emmanuel Garibay Emmaus (2010)
So Jesus was at the pub, eating and drinking and talking with whoever turned up. There were gay men and rainbow families; transgender teenagers; women who prioritised work over family life; some sex workers; a couple of drug addicts; more than a few atheists; and some traumatised Muslim asylum seekers. And these people were crowding around and listening to what he had to say.

Just inside the door of the pub, a huddle of priests and ministers and good Christian types stood awkwardly clutching their glasses of warm mineral water and grumbling among themselves. “Who is this feller?” they were asking. “If he keeps hanging around those dodgy people, nobody will take him seriously. And what is he saying? If he’s telling stories like that, maybe he needs to rethink his connection with the church.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bent out of Shape

Image from the website of Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, Boone, NC
A reflection on Luke 13:10-17 and Psalm 71:1-6
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 21 August 2016

When I was in the seventh grade, we all did drama at school. One day, each of us had to walk like somebody else. One girl walked slowly across the room. Her hands were folded in front of her. Her back was curved over, her shoulders were hunched, she stared at the ground as she walked. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. I said something to the kids next to me about how awful it was, and wondered aloud who walked like that. The kids laughed. “Are you joking?” they said, “Don’t you know? Anyone can see that it’s you.”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Duke of Division, or Prince of Peace?

Icon from Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, CA.
Love the icon, but I'm wondering about the eagle. Is it Uncle Sam?
A reflection on Luke 12:49-56
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 14 August 2016

Isn’t it great to be here? Isn’t it a relief to be part of a new congregation with a bunch of people and a pastor who ‘get’ us? Isn’t it wonderful to be at a church that is not like the others? Here, women can claim their authority, and preach. Here, children can move around throughout the service. Here, the furniture is scuffed and wonky and nobody needs to worry about sticky fingers and sand on the floor. Here, we can ask difficult questions and not be censured. Here, people seek to integrate their lives and their faith, and we don’t have too many empty words. We’ve been listening to Jesus, we understand that his ways centre around hospitality, care for the vulnerable and peacemaking, and we’re all on board. Isn’t it great?

But into this lovely peaceful place erupt the words of Jesus: “I did not come to bring peace, but division. From now on, households will be divided, and the people you love will turn against you.” What on earth is Jesus trying to say to us here? Isn’t he supposed to be the Prince of Peace?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Follow your heart?

A reflection on Luke 12:32-40 and Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 7 August 2016

So on Wednesday I was listening to my daughter doing her school reader, a stimulating text called All Fairies Can Fly. In it, a wise old frog tells the sad fairy a widely-held truth. “You know what is right for you,” he says, “just listen to within.” And that, of course, fixed everything.

Follow your heart! Follow your dreams! You know what is right for you! Listen to yourself!

All of us hear these messages every day of the week, in advertising, on Facebook, on tea towels, at school, at work, even, at times, from the pulpit. We live in a society which places enormous trust in the impulses of our hearts. And so we believe that, if we only do what our hearts tell us, if we just tune in to that inner voice, we will find our treasure: satisfaction, well-being, meaning, vocation, whatever. And when we don’t find treasure, when we find ourselves feeling empty and restless and longing for something more, we think it’s because we haven’t listened well enough to our hearts, and we try even harder to tune into our own selves.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Possessions, Possession, and the Kingdom of God

Marie Kondo in joy pose. Picture from the New York Times.
A reflection on Luke 12:13-21
Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 31 July 2016

We just all heard a great story from Jesus, in which a rich man hoards a heap of stuff and congratulates himself on it. But did you hear what God said to the rich man? “You nincompoop! On this night all your things are possessing your soul! You don’t own them; they own you. And all this stuff you have piled up, whose is it, anyway?”

Someone like me needs to hear these words again and again, because I love stuff. I love old plates and pretty bowls and my grandmother’s piano. I love vintage chairs and crochet rugs; and I like to own lots of them. And so tonight’s words made me wonder, am I an idiot, too?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wicked Women Welcome

Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus, by Frank Wesley
A sermon by Alison Sampson on Luke 7:36-8:3
South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 12 June 2016

My last sermon at the South Yarra Community Baptist Church! If you prefer to listen to it, click here and follow the link.

Many years ago, both my husband and I had dealings with a particular Christian group at university. Back in the mid-eighties, when my husband was first involved, it was a group whose members sat around at lunchtime talking about faith, asking difficult questions, and wrestling with difficult answers. But it soon changed, and by the time I had arrived, eight years later, it was led by staff workers who were deeply concerned with right doctrine. In my first year of university, I was living at college and thinking a lot about faith. But as someone who asked lots of difficult questions and didn’t accept most answers, I quickly became a target. I found myself in conversations I never wanted to have, in which the acceptability of women in leadership, the doctrine of evolution, questions of sexual identity, and many other issues were put under the microscope, and my position was always shown to be wrong.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Love despite fear, fear despite love

What sort of crazy person would buy this building?
I have staggered to the end of another semester, a semester in which I overcommitted to study, kept working, kept raising children, kept combing out nits and cooking meals and sweeping floors; and somewhere in the midst of everything, a whole new surprising project took root. Now I am emerging from the fog of study and the chaos of family life and the demands of work to discover that I am moving to a regional city in a few weeks’ time to start a new church. I should be thrilled and excited—and there are many times when I am—but I am also just as likely to feel overwhelmed. I think often of Leunig’s observation that there are only two emotions, love and fear, for the new project certainly arose out of love, and yet it fills me with fear.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” So begged the Jews in the portico of the temple. Can you hear the poignancy, the yearning, in their question? How long, O Lord? How long until a Messiah will come and sweep through this city, and make everything right? How long until the corrupt are thrown out of power, the violent contained, the poor fed, and the world restored? How long until political leaders demonstrate compassion? How long until religious leaders repent for the damage they have inflicted? How long until asylum seekers are freed from detention? How long until public schools and hospitals are well-funded and well-run? How long until children in foster care are returned to stable, healthy families? How long until Australia’s First Peoples enjoy the same life expectancy as other Australians? How long, O Lord, must we wait?


To read more, click here.

(Image from

Monday, April 4, 2016

Response: Communion, by bell hooks

Communion: The Female Search for Love
Every now and then, you come across a book that rocks your world. For me most recently, that book has been Communion by bell hooks. Maybe it’s been the turning of 40, or maybe there have been other triggers: but for whatever reason, over the last year I have spent hours wrestling with what it means to be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and employed. In other words, I’ve been wondering about and wrestling with pretty much everything that forms my identity.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Image from

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Day 40: Saturday: Like the water

What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

Do you experience love as abundance or drought? How was this reflected in your experience of baptism? Has anything changed? Pray that you might know God’s abundant love.

New Collected Poems
'Like the Water' by Wendell Berry New Collected Poems (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012), 168-9.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Day 39: Friday: Reduced to rubble

… on my baptismal day all those years ago, nobody – not even great-aunt Ginny – who worried about us going to hell unless we were saved – acknowledged that anything out of the way had happened to me. The uncles joked and taunted as usual; the aunts told stories; the children played and fought in the grass the same way they always had, and thus, by such baffling, painful indifference my experience of my baptism (though not my baptism itself) was reduced to rubble.

How did those around you respond to your baptism? Were they delighted? Indifferent? Angered? How did their responses affect your experience? Tell God about it.

Houses: Family Memoir of Grace
Reading from Roberta C. Bondi Houses. A Family Memoir of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 80.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Day 38: Thursday: Presence

Ever-guiding Presence,
Baptism brought You to
call me by my name
and Your nurturing patience
nudges me gently.

In the hushed silence
You rise from the mists,
but I hold You
at my cold distance,
no room for You
when my work locks me
away in my heart –
Your Presence less than
an echo in my mind.

Separated from You,
I plot an empty curve,
without a star for my path.

Did you hear God calling you by name in baptism? Do you make space for God now, or are you holding God at a distance? Take some time to sit in the Presence.

Poem by Brother Xavier FMS ‘Presence I’ from Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry Les Murray (ed) (North Blackburn, Vic: Collins Dove, 1986), 295.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 37: Wednesday: I still have reservations

I was baptised as a child in a ceremony in which my parents and the church vowed to nurture me in the faith. They took their vows seriously so that as teenager I became a member of the church through a profession of faith.
    About twenty years later I went to a Baptist church. My wife was immediately accepted into membership as she had been baptised as an adult but I could not be accepted for membership because I had ‘only’ been baptised as a child. 
    Being of the stiff-necked variety I took offence. I saw this as a personal affront and a slight to all my Christian friends who had not undergone adult baptism. Was I to be tolerated as a non-member, like a child or an illegitimate adult in the household of God? The whole issue of adult baptism is a problem if one has spent one’s whole life grappling with the issues of faith. It also makes the question of how we treat the children of the church very problematic.
    I resisted for about twelve years but one Sunday I finally joined a group being baptised and so became a member.
    I still have reservations about the decision.

Has a baptism ever caused you reservations? Why? Pray about your reservations, and ask God to show you a path to peace.

Reflection by John Sampson, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 22 January 2016.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Day 36: Tuesday: The mystery of it

I baptized her. And I felt like asking her, “What have I done? What does it mean?” That was a question that came to me often, not because I felt less than certain I had done something that did mean something, but because no matter how much I thought and read and prayed, I felt outside the mystery of it.

Was there a sense of mystery to your baptism, either in the lead up or in the ritual itself? Or did it all feel very mundane? Pray about your experience.

Reading from Marilynne Robinson Gilead (London, Virago: 2004), 24.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Day 35: Monday: What is to stop me?

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
    The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39, NRSV).

What conditions were placed on your baptism? Did you attend baptismal classes or go through some other form of catechumenate process? How was grace acknowledged? Give thanks for that which helped, and for God’s infinite grace.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Gift Far Too Small

A friend of ours had been sick for a long, long time. He had multiple health problems; he had dementia; and he had been in a slow decline for years. After many dips and rallyings and further crises, it looked like the end. His wife called some very dear friends to let them know. They lived on the other side of the country, but they jumped on a plane and flew over to see him one last time. When they arrived, it was time to eat. Nobody felt like cooking, so they ordered Chinese takeaway.

To read more, click here.

Image from

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Day 34: Saturday: How does one explain?

Oscar hit the water without breaking stride, if you could call it that. I stood at the front of the Ford, my clothes hanging from the hood ornament, and watched the ceremony. Three times the preacher dunked my friend Oscar; three times my friend Oscar came up sputtering and grinning. Hair plastered to his forehead, Oscar Koeppen looked like a gleeful twisted child.
    Minnows … a large school of them scattered when I walked into the water. Three times the obese minister dunked me: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and …
    And when I came up for the third time I opened my eyes to see that one of Shannon’s Herefords had left the herd to observe the proceedings from a closer range—a much closer range, in fact, because the animal’s forelegs were in the creek. The cow was looking straight at me, as if she expected an explanation, and though the afternoon was early already her udder was tight with milk.
    No one had thought to bring towels, so we stretched out on pallets of buffalo grass and let the sun do the toweling for us. I remember lying there—first on my stomach, then on my back—with my eyes closed, the hot sun making me giddy, and I remember also that I tried to give the Hereford a silent explanation; but the words refused to come sufficiently together … how does one explain baptism to an animal whose body transforms grass and grain into the white milk my grandfather and I directed into the mewing mouths of thirsty cats and kittens?

How do you explain baptism to yourself and to others? To non-Christians?  Pray that you might be a witness to the mystery, and the invitation.

This Death by Drowning
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 76-7.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Day 33: Friday: I was unaware

I joined the church at the age of five. I well remember how this event occurred. Our church was in the midst of the spring revival, and a guest evangelist had come down from Virginia. On Sunday morning the evangelist came into our Sunday school to talk to us about salvation, and after a short talk on this point he extended an invitation to any of us who wanted to join the church. My sister was the first one to join the church that morning, and after seeing her join I decided that I would not let her get ahead of me, so I was the next. I had never given this matter a thought, and even at the time of my baptism I was unaware of what was taking place. From this it seems quite clear that I joined the church not out of any dynamic conviction, but out of a childhood desire to keep up with my sister.

Was your baptism triggered by sibling rivalry or peer pressure, or was it a more considered step? Give thanks that any baptism, no matter its motives, can be the beginning of a life of Christian witness and service.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.
Reading from Clayborne Carson (ed) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr (London: Abacus, 1998), 6.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 32: Thursday: The presence of God

When I was 15, I attended a baptismal service at the church one Sunday evening … At the end of the service I indicated that I was interested being baptised myself. It was August.
    I joined a study class with a few peers to prepare. It was held at the same time on Sunday mornings as the All-Age Sunday School. I expected there would be about six classes then we would be baptised. It ended up taking eight months. Other people kept joining the group until the last few weeks – I suppose it was like the parable of the workers in the field! The date kept being pushed back as there were more “important” events in the church program. I had thought that baptism was top of the list in a Baptist church – but I was only 15 – so perhaps I did not understand.
    Eventually on Sunday April 10, at the age of 16, I was baptised with eight other young people aged between about 15 and 21. That afternoon I had ridden my bike up to Ringwood Lake and spent some time reflecting and praying there on what I would say as my testimony. I was baptised in my Crystal Cylinders t-shirt and my white cricket pants in the lukewarm water of the Heathmont Baptist Church in front of a pretty full church of 200 or so which included my parents – a rarity, especially for my Dad.
    I remember vividly the rousing organ playing “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days, all the days of my life” as I emerged from the water. It was a euphoric experience – I felt the presence of God and the significance of the event.

At your baptism, were you aware of God’s presence? Have you been aware of it at other times? Sit quietly, and take the time to sense God’s presence now.
Reflection by Paul Holdway, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 10 January 2016. For full text, click here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 31: Wednesday: Significant adults

... the love of God and the attentiveness of [the] adults came to be so thoroughly mixed together in my mind that soon I couldn’t tell which was God and which was Mrs. Dunn, singing in the choir beside me. This is why it was inevitable that one Sunday morning during the altar call after the sermon I should go forward “to take Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and dedicate my life to him.” Being baptized, joining the church, and becoming one of those among whom I had a place was exactly what I wanted to do …
    What a moment that was for me, shy, lost child that I was, all alone on the platform above the assembled congregation as I said my vows to the preacher and he sprinkled me with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost! How holy I felt, then; how close God was, there in the belly of the body of Christ!

Who were the significant adults on your journey into faith? Why? Give thanks for them, and pray that you too might be a significant witness to someone.

Houses: Family Memoir of Grace
Reading from Roberta C. Bondi Houses. A Family Memoir of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 78.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 30: Tuesday: Aspects of God

It was natural, given my mother’s evangelical Anglican background, that I should be baptised in 1937 at eight weeks of age. I cannot remember it of course. But I can’t remember not being part of the Church. I have been at worship from age 7 (having previously attended Sunday School), and was a choir boy and an altar server. I have witnessed many a child’s baptism, and as a Methodist and Uniting Church minister I baptised over 300 children myself, with great joy.
    I remember well my confirmation, at age 12, which is an absolute necessity for those who practice children’s [infant] baptism, for we need to own for ourselves what has been done for us, and so “know and experience” this … Christian faith has always been part of my life, and at 12 I took very seriously what we were taught about prayer and Bible, regularity at worship and communion, and living a Christian life.
    Things changed dramatically in our family when I was about 14. My mother underwent a dramatic Christian awakening, which resulted in her immersion baptism, my father’s return to the church after 30 years, and as a family going to the local Church of Christ … In a few months, I responded to the “call” given every Sunday night and said “yes” to the simple statement of faith (based on Matthew 16:16). I was visited by the minister to go through the basics, and was baptised by immersion and welcomed into membership at the Lord’s Table.
    It was a three Sunday step then in the Church of Christ. One was surrounded by encouragement. I think six were baptised on my night. The church was very excited at all the young people being baptised.

Which aspects of God were emphasized at your baptism? Grace? Salvation? New life? Love? Community? Other things? Take some time to reflect on one of these aspects of God.
Reflection by Gilbert Joyce, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 10 January 2016. For full text, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 29: Monday: He began to proclaim Jesus

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
    So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:10-12, 17-20, NRSV).

Did you give a testimony during your baptism? What did you proclaim then? What do your words and actions proclaim about your faith now? Ask God to help align your life more closely to the faith in which you stand.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Day 28: Saturday: Humility

I had opened a closed wood-slatted gate so we could drive the black Ford across the pasture to be as close as possible to the creek. Oscar waved off our offers to help him out of the car. He instead sat there in the back seat, naked as a jaybird. This surprised me. I hadn’t really given much thought to how the ritual might evolve, but when Oscar without the slightest hesitation undressed himself all the way down to the nubbins I confess: I was surprised. And when I looked at the preacher to catch his reaction my surprised doubled: he too was naked, and before I could say anything—not that I had anything to say—he had turned and was headed for the water …
    As I took off my clothes I watched Oscar maneuver himself out of the car and move crablike toward the hole the minister had found for the immersion … it is difficult for me to say precisely how I felt. There in a pocket of Shannon’s Creek, up to his knees in a pool of clean clear flowing water, stood an obese man of God, a married man who had no children because his stones had not formed correctly or completely, and moving towards him was Oscar the beloved crab, and viewing it all was a young incorrigible whose midsection, free of its shirt and its shorts, was as white as the underbelly of a channel catfish.
    Humility. Until a better word happens along, I’ll settle for—humility. I believe that for the first time in my life I knew a moment of absolute humility, and that moment is a touchstone against which I have since measured all humilities.

What were the dominant emotions at your baptism? Humility? Euphoria? Relief? Obedience? Fear? Gratitude? Something else? Reflect on what these emotions tell you about yourself, and about your understanding of God.

This Death by Drowning
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 76.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Day 27: Friday: It was enough

When I was baptised
   there was no River Jordan,
   just a dented tub in an ugly room.

There was no hairy prophet,
   but a smooth-skinned man
   who told me to read Tillich first.

God’s voice didn’t thunder.
The heavens stayed resolutely shut.
Not even a small bird floated down from the skies.

Coming up from the waters
   I felt silly, adolescent,
   awkward, strange.

No more sure of God’s love
   or my direction
   or my self.

Yet somehow, in all its smallness,
   it was enough.

Was your experience of baptism euphoric or pedestrian? Solemn or silly? Give thanks that, whatever your experience, it was enough.

Reflection by me, Alison Sampson, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 10 January 2016.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Reading Jeremiah's 'Oracles Against the Nations' in Australia today

I would prefer a Bible that did not contain Jeremiah’s Oracles Against the Nations (Jeremiah 46-51) or other texts of retribution. I would prefer to worship a God to whom not a speck of vengeance is attributed. Like many interpreters, I would prefer to think that the inclusion of these texts is a mistake made by patriarchal editors, who sought to validate their own violence by attributing violence to God. But that would be to do a disservice to the text. The Oracles are in the text, and so I must grapple with the reasons why.

To read more, click here.

Day 26: Thursday: All you have to do is want it

“‘Do you desire to be baptized?’ All you have to do is want it.”
    I wanted it so much.
    The prayer book called baptism the “sacrament of new birth” and promised that those sealed by anointing at baptism would be “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
    I wanted new life, as fiercely as I’d wanted a child in the middle of a war … oh, I desired it …
    So that Sunday morning, Donald Schell poured water over my head from a scallop shell, as I stood outside St Gregory’s back door at the fountain, where sweet water gushed from a huge, split-open slab of rock. He made the sign of the cross, motioned Mark and the people around us to pray, and asked me to make some promises. “Will you continue in the breaking of the bread?” he read aloud.
    “I will,” I answered, “with God’s help.” We sang a hymn and walked back into the church. My face was wet.

How did you approach your baptism? Did you desire it fiercely? Did you approach it reluctantly? Pray about your experience.

 Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion 
Reading from Sara Miles Take This Bread (New York, Ballantyne, 2007), 123-4.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Day 25: Wednesday: I was trying

I come from a secular family, and made friends with a Christian girl in high school who introduced me to her world of faith.  I was fascinated, and drawn by the friendliness of the people, but it was a weird cross-cultural experience in many ways. The gulf between my intellectual upbringing and the charismatic church meant that it was several years before I gave up waiting for ‘proof’ of God’s existence and decided I wanted in anyway. I was 18.
    Our church usually baptized people at the beach, but it was decided that we would have a joint service at the local Church of Christ which had a baptismal pool. This was disappointing and I don’t remember being asked, but I probably would have gone along with their preference anyway.
    I remember very little of the service. My parents came, which was awkward as they were very uncomfortable with my association with Christians, but they surprised me with a gift of a silver chain for my cross.  I don’t remember giving a testimony. I didn’t know anyone else being baptized and there were lots of unfamiliar people in the church.
    I was wearing a white robe and I was laid back into the water by my church minister and a friend.  I was hoping desperately for some kind of spiritual ‘feeling’ to occur, and I was trying to act the way I thought people were supposed to act when they undergo a significant faith experience, which means that somewhere there exists a very embarrassing photo of me with eyes raised to the ceiling after I come up out of the water.  Shortly afterwards, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a towel.

Were you fully immersed in your baptism, or were you also playing a role? Ask God what uncomfortable new roles you are being asked to practice now.

Reflection by Samara Pitt, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 22 January 2016.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Day 24: Tuesday: It must mean something

He took the bucket from her and helped her down the bank as if she hadn’t gone to the river for water a hundred times herself, and he sank the bucket into a pool and brought it up, brimming, and poured half of it back. The crouching was a little stiff and he smiled at her—I am old. “I don’t need much at all,” he said. “A few waterskeeters won’t do any harm.” He was dressed in his preacher clothes, and he was careful of them, but he liked being by the river, she could tell. “What do you think? Up there in the sunshine or down here by the water?” Then he said, “Oh, I left the Bible lying on the grass. I could do it from memory. But I like to have a Bible, you know, the cloud of witnesses.” She didn’t know. “Since there aren’t any others.” She still didn’t know. No matter. He was glad to be doing this … So it must mean something.

When you were baptised, did you have a clear understanding of what it meant? Do you have a clear understanding now? How has your understanding changed? Give thanks for knowing and for mystery, and for the capacity for growth.

Lila  Reading from Marilynne Robinson Lila (London: Virago, 2014), 86-7.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Day 23: Monday: Who are you, Lord?

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-12, NRSV).

Have you always had a strong sense of who God is, or has it been a process of discovery? Ask God, “Who are you, Lord?” and reflect on what emerges.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Day 22: Saturday: Down deep in the sea

From the onset my minister … was elated at Oscar’s request. It was the minister then, who chose the day and hour, who seemed blessed with foreknowledge, because that Wednesday afternoon in early August seemed created for outdoor baptism—warm and windless, with last night’s shower rising damp and aromatic from the bunchgrass…
    I had a cheeseburger and french fries; Oscar opted for the hot beef sandwich. I sipped at my iced tea and helped Oscar with his coffee. We had barely finished when I saw the minister’s black Ford pull up to the curb. I pushed Oscar in his wheelchair outside and the preacher and I helped him into the car. Actually, Oscar could manage by himself, but with great effort; even then, he could not straighten himself, so he had to waddle close to the ground, using his arms like a skier uses poles for balance.
    The preacher… was a jolly obese man whose sermons were a lot like most Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide. I don’t believe he cared. He preferred the song to the word; on Sunday nights, in fact, that’s all we did— sing. “Shall We Gather at the River?” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” “In the Garden.”  I still know all three verses to “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” One of my favorites is “Down Deep in the Sea”:

My sins have been cast in the depths of the sea,
Down deep in the sea.
So deep they can never be brought against me,
Down deep in the sea.

Isn’t that a helluva concept…? You take all of your sins and secure them in a gunnysack, say, then affix a flatiron and toss the whole shebang into the sea, into water so deep they can never be brought against you. I try to imagine how deep that might be … but the mind boggles.

Anyway, it’s a song that the basso profundo loves to sing, because its last notes are maybe almost as low as the seabottom:

Down, down, down, down, down in the depths of the sea –
The sins of the past are all gone at last,
Down in the depths of the sea.

We sang this song as we rode south towards Shannon’s pasture and its meandering creek. Oscar strained to bring forth several grunts and a narrow assortment of gutturals, most of them uttered at the wrong times, but nobody, including the cattle near the barbed-wire fences at the roadside, seemed to mind. Before we had finished more than a couple of other hymns we were there.

What was sung at your baptism? Does it continue to have significance for you? Give thanks for the gift of song, and for the power of music to convey meaning.

Extra: To listen to ‘Down in the depths of the sea,’ click here.

This Death by Drowning
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 71-2.
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