Jesus’ Baptism – and Ours




+In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.


When it comes to the writing of sermons, there are probably as many methods as there are sermon-writers. Mine begins with prayer and reading of the passages set by the lectionary for the day. Then I read from books of lectionary commentary – my current favourites are those by Bishop Tom Wright and Jane Williams, wife of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.  I then look at a couple of books of sermons and read several sermons online.  Often enough, I then take a nap to let “the little grey cells” do some work.  Then, if all is well, I can commit fingers to keyboard and something moderately relevant probably appears.


Of course, it is rarely so simple.  There are distractions – two in particular: playing “Words with Friends” on Facebook with several friends in Perth and New Zealand; and our two Cornish Rex cats, one in particular, a chocolate tortie, who glories in the name “Tibby”, and sees me as her slave for cuddles and tickles, impeding my access to the laptop keyboard.


Well, between distractions yesterday morning, I was struggling to get much committed to the computer.  Until I glanced at my desk calendar.  This year’s calendar is a Peanuts one, and yesterday’s edition has Lucy talking to Snoopy the dog.  “You dogs don’t know anything about scripture verses”, she says. “You don’t know anything about grace or baptism or Moses or anything”.  Snoopy thinks, “That’s right… theologically, we’re off the hook!” I imagine our little Tibby would think the same were I to hold a similar conversation with her.  And she’d be right!


As human beings, made in God’s likeness, we are both blessed and burdened with the ability and responsibility of thinking theologically.  And today’s Gospel reading, short as it is, challenges us about grace and baptism.


Jesus’ coming to be baptised certainly confuses his cousin John, and probably does us if we reflect on it.  John says to Jesus, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’


John is baptising people in the River Jordan.  According to St Luke, this is “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, and Jesus – “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary”, as we proclaim in our Creed – is without sin, “tested as we are, yet without sin”. [1]


So, of what does Jesus need to repent in order to be baptised?




One aspect of baptism, though, is that of turning one’s back on an old life and setting out on a new one.  Those who came to John were seeking – and encouraged – to leave behind their sinful, self-centred lives and to start out afresh with new attitudes and actions.  In Advent, we heard John telling the crowds, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax-collectors he told, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” And to the soldiers he said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”[2]


While we acknowledge that John’s baptism is not the same as Christian Baptism – probably the subject for another sermon – there are parallels which we can note today: that of leaving behing the old life and starting a new one.


Our Baptism service in APBA asks these questions of the candidate (or of sponsors of those too young to answer for themselves:

  • Do you turn to Christ?
  • Do you repent of your sins?
  • Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust?
  • Do you renounce Satan and all evil?


Turning to Christ is turning away from Sins, selfish living and all that is evil – a 180-degree turn.


Jesus, in asking to be baptised, tells John, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.


What Jesus is doing then is not about confessing and turning his back on his sins.  It is about turning his back on the life of a boy from Nazareth, a carpenter and chief carer for Mary, his mother.  Jesus now has a mission to fulfil, and it’s the journey to the cross and beyond.  From now on, his life will be without a home and family and those responsibilities.  His life be homeless, surrounded by unreliable followers, haunted and hunted by unfriendly and eventually violent members of the religious and political establishment, betrayed by a “friend”, and executed on a Roman cross.


Jesus’ baptism is all about what he takes on for us.  At Christmas, we referred to Jesus both as Emmanuel – “God with us” – and Jesus – “for he shall save his people from their sins”.


Here’s where comes the grace.  What we could not do for ourselves in our state of alienation from God, Jesus does for us in his life and death and resurrection.


Grace – as much as neither Snoopy or Tibby will ever understand – is God’s gift of love to an unworthy and often unresponsive humanity.


In our baptism, whether we were aware of it or not, God was dealing with all that separates us from God and the outpouring of God’s love, restoring us to fellowship and friendship and wholeness.


Today, then, we give thanks for our baptism and that of Jesus who “fulfils all righteousness” for us.


The Lord be with you.


We stand now, as we renew the vows of our Baptism and affirm our faith in the God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [APBA pp 75 & 78]

[1] Hebrews 4:15

[2] Luke 3:10-14

Thomas the Believer

EASTER 2C – 28th April, 2019 – ST MARY’S, SOUTH PERTH


+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

It is probable that the Apostle John is writing this Gospel some sixty years after the events it describes.  It is more literary, more structured and more reflective than Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Luke begins his Gospel by explaining to “Theophilus” that he has spent time and effort investigating and compiling the stories of Jesus.  He is not an eyewitness, but a good researcher and compiler. He tells Theophilus that he wants him to “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”[1]  Luke’s “preface” explains his purpose, something which is common in most of the books I read – purpose then details.

John, on the other hand, speaks always from the point of view of an eyewitness, and is at pains to declare this often.  For instance, in the Passion narrative on Good Friday, we read, “he who saw this has testified, so that you also may believe.  His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.”[2]  And John saves his purpose till the end of his book – more an epilogue than a preface: “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

So what does today’s story from the Gospel add to our belief?

Well, it’s about Thomas and his experience of the Risen Jesus.

I am totally enamoured of Thomas.  He is a man much maligned throughout the history of the Church.  The term “Doubting Thomas” has entered and remained in our language, in and out of church.  Google lists the term 8.93 million times!  And which of us can claim never to have used it pejoratively at one time or another?

But if ever there was a misplaced put-down, this is it.

Thomas is an honest man, expressing things which others are too afraid or too pious to say.

When Jesus hears of the death of Lazarus and decides to go to Bethany, the disciples try hard to dissuade him; but loyal Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”[3]

And on Maundy Thursday evening, when Jesus is offering the disciples comfort in the face of his impending death, it is Thomas who is brave enough to ask the question the rest are afraid to raise: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  And getting the response, “I am the way, the truth and the life.[4]

So, to today’s Gospel.

Sunday evening in the upper room, doors “locked for fear of the Jews”, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you”. Frightens the life out of them, probably.  He shows them his wounded hands and side and he repeats, “Peace be with you”. And then they rejoice and believe! Peter and John have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has undoubtedly told the gathering of her meeting with the risen Jesus. And, according to St Luke, when the women who’d seen the empty tomb brought the angels’ message to the disciples, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[5]

But where was Thomas?  We only know that he was not in the room.  Can I suggest that he was the only one not afraid of the Jews, not insisting on being behind locked doors?  This man is my hero!

So, when Thomas gets back to the group, they tell him of what and whom they have seen, and he refuses to believe.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

And his colleagues come over all superior.  Trust us, we’ve seen him!  Of course he’s alive!  But their “belief” has come only through their having seen the physical evidence of holes in Jesus hands and side.  Their belief is no different from Thomas’ doubt. I imagine they spent a whole week giving Thomas hell.

So, come next Sunday night, all eleven of the disciples are again (still?) gathered.  This time, the doors are only “shut”, so perhaps they are a little less fearful.  Then, in an act of immense grace, Jesus comes among them again, and again says, “Peace be with you”.

He turns to Thomas, and says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas’ response is not – I hope you notice – to put his fingers and hand into nail and spear holes: he responds with the clearest and greatest statement of faith in Jesus that was ever uttered before or since, “My Lord and my God”.

Did you know that at the time of John’s writing – around 90 AD – the Roman Emperor Domitian was known officially as dominus et deus noster – “our lord and our god”?  So, John’s writing these words of Thomas is a direct challenge to the emperor and Rome.  Lots more of that in Revelation!

But who is this Jesus, this Christ, in whom Thomas declares such deep faith?

And who is the Jesus, the Christ, whom we worship and in whom we declare our faith week by week as we say our Creeds?

There are many people – in and out of the Church – who will declare Jesus to be a great teacher, a great philosopher, a very good man, yet steer clear of his being divine.

There are others who claim him to be a great advocate for justice and human rights, but deny his divine authority to make judgements.

We may even see him as a miracle-worker, a man with medical and psychological and psychiatric skills well ahead of his time, but deny the source of his healing power.

But let me remind you that the Jesus, the Christ, in whom we declare our faith is the wounded, crucified and resurrected Jesus.  The disciples recognised him not simply because he could materialise and dematerialise at will, appearing in and disappearing from their presence.  They recognised him by his wounds: the proof of his being Lord and God was – and remains – visible in his hands and side.

In which Christ will we believe? To which Christ will we commit?

I will never trust a Christ without these wounds.  Jesus is always the crucified and risen Lord; nothing less can ever suffice.  Thomas gets it.  Do we?

By the way, as followers and servants and friends of this wounded Saviour, we cannot live an unwounded Christianity.  Our life as Christians is lived in the presence of death emptied of its power. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”, says St Paul.[6]  We live the life of faith, all the while bearing our own wounds and scars – some healing slowly, while some remain to remind us of what Jesus has gone through and still goes through with us. Our wounds remind us of our powerlessness, and of the power that comes from walking with our wounded Jesus.

As, in a moment, we recite the Creed, we will be declaring with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

And we will hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed.”   TLBWY.

[1] Luke 1:4

[2] John 19:35

[3] John 11:16

[4] John 14:5-6

[5] Luke 24:11

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:55

A New Year Epiphany


THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY – 6th January, 2019



May I speak in the Name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.


The story we’ve just heard from St Matthew’s Gospel is one with which most of us have been familiar since childhood.  Three “magi” from somewhere well east , following a star, come to Jerusalem seeking for a new-born king of the Jews.  Having been redirected to the “little town of Bethlehem”, they find the child with Mary and Joseph settled in a house – not the stable any more, of course.  The magi kneel before the child in worship, and give him gold, frankincense and myrrh – more of which in a moment.


This way, St Matthew sees fulfilled prophecies such as those we heard from the prophet Isaiah in our first Bible reading this morning –

Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn…

They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”


and in our Psalm,

“May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.”


Today is Epiphany.  The full title for this day in the old prayer books is “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”, a bit of a mouthful, but at least an explanation.  The word “epiphany” means a “shining forth, a revelation, and what we might call an “aha!” moment.


Over the next few weeks in this season between Epiphany and Lent, we will hear of several such moments, including Jesus’ baptism, his appearance and preaching in the Nazareth synagogue and culminating in his transfiguration.


As good a story as is this journey of the Magi, my wife assures me it cannot be entirely true.  The challenge for her is that these men arrived in Jerusalem and asked for directions!  She also says that these men must have been confirmed bachelors with no experience of parenting – nappies, baby powder and nursery furniture would have been much more useful, she says, than gold, frankincense and myrrh!  Although, she concedes, gold might have funded a pretty good shopping spree! 😊


However that might be, we are told of the particular gifts brought by these “magi”.  It is possible that gold, frankincense and myrrh were “tools of the trade” for these men who might well have been astrologer/magicians, and that they were laying before the new king what they no longer needed as they found a true faith – much as magicians burned their books and spells before St Paul in the Book of Acts.  Leaving behind these items signalled a new life and a new faith.


For now, though, I want to think of what these gifts might mean for us in our seeking, worshipping and journeying on in faith. What do they represent in terms of our faith and worship?


Gold is, I suspect, the most obvious.  During the offertory hymn in a few minutes, money will be collected and presented at the altar.  I love it when we sing “Take my life and let it be…” as an offertory hymn.  If we’re not still ratting around our purses and wallets, we might well hesitate to sing

“Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold”


As a parish priest for thirty-five years, I think the thing I found most difficult to preach about was “stewardship” – especially where that related to asking people to pledge – and give – money for the work of the church.  I have no personal problem with giving, and have always seen giving a tithe (a tenth of my income) to the church as a biblical and appropriate response to God’s gracious gifts to me.  But to try and convince people to increase their giving has always been challenging.


Yet many of you know as well as I that it costs real money – our gold and silver – to do the mission and ministry of the parish and the wider church.  While your Rector is on leave, let me encourage you to bring your gifts of gold to serve God, the church and the world.


And then there is frankincense.  Most of the parishes in which I have served have been “allergic”

to the use of incense.  Personally, I love it, and it is wonderful to attend the Cathedral when the Dean or Bishop uses copious quantities of smoke.  I often say that there are two specific smells mentioned in the Book of Revelation – the first is incense and the second, sulphur.  I know which I prefer and the location associated with it!  In Revelation 8:4, we read


“The smoke of the burning incense went up with the prayers of God’s people

from the hands of the angel standing before God.”

While I am not urging on you the use of actual incense, I am urging you to prayer.  Incense represents our faithful prayers of both of adoration and thanksgiving, and of intercession and supplication.  Faithful prayer daily and systematically will change and enhance your relationship with the one who is Emmanuel, God with us.


If gold represents our tangible, costly giving of our resources in worship to God, and frankincense our faithful prayer life, myrrh is about practical worship by serving Christ in others.


In the time of Jesus, myrrh was used not only for anointing a dead body, but also for practical application in healing various ailments and infections.  A medical site I looked at says that


“Myrrh is applied directly to the mouth for soreness and swelling, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, canker sores, bad breath, and chapped lips. It is also used topically for haemorrhoids, bedsores, wounds, abrasions, and boils,” as well as for “indigestion, ulcers, coldscoughasthmalung congestion, arthritis pain, cancerleprosy, spasms, and syphilis.” [1]


So the gift of myrrh represents our interaction with and caring for all the people around us – even those who we do not like, or even find repulsive!  We reach out, committing ourselves to care for all in need.  We aim practically to heal, to comfort and to encourage.  Thus, of course, we heal, comfort and encourage the Christ who is in each person.  “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters”, he says, “you did it to me.”


We’ve just begun a new year, with all its possibilities and challenges.  It’s traditional to review our lives and to renew our commitments at this time.


Let me encourage you to renew your commitments to God and God’s Church and God’s people:

  • In material commitment of your resources of money, time and talent
  • In commitment to a prayerful life of worship, thanksgiving and intercession
  • And in commitment to practical, hands-on caring for Christ in all who are in need.


The Lord, who is revealed to all nations, be with you!




Blind, by choice?

LENT 4A – 26th March, 2017 – St Barnabas’, Rivervale & All Saints’, Belmont

BIBLE READINGS: I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41


+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

Twenty years or so ago, during a break from parish ministry, I was working for a St George’s Terrace law firm.  One day, during the lunch break, I was walking through the Hay Street Mall when, distracted by a street performer, I stumbled into another pedestrian and fell over.  My “victim” called out, “Look where you’re going!” I turned and saw that he was carrying a white stick and waving it in my direction.  It was, to say the least, an embarrassing situation: I, who am fully sighted, had tripped over a blind man 😦

Today’s readings – especially the Gospel – talk about the contrast of light and darkness and of seeing and not seeing.

The prophet Samuel is looking, at God’s instruction, for a new king for Israel. As instructed, he comes to the home of Farmer Jesse to see which of Jesse’s sons is the chosen one.  Samuel meets the tall, dark and handsome Eliab, Jesse’s eldest, and immediately thinks that this is the one.  But God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

How often do we fall for the most attractive person – whether in politics or business or relationships – blinded to the real person inside?  And how often have we despised people who don’t seem to measure up physically or intellectually, but who turn out to be the wisest, the most compassionate, the most genuine?

So Samuel is forced to move on.  He meets each of Jesse’s sons in turn, none failing to meet with God’s approval.  Having run out, he asks Jesse if there are any more. “Oh, there’s only David – but he’s just a shepherd!”  Not anything to write home about, and certainly not king-material.

But as soon as David appears, God says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  It also turns out that this David “was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Take hope, everyone, you don’t have to be ugly to be acceptable to God!  🙂

Samuel is in tune with God and is eventually able to see the wood for the trees, as we say.

The Gospel story – that of Jesus, a blind man and the Pharisees – is, in dramatic terms, both comedy and tragedy.  Perhaps we can call it a “tragicomedy”.

Comedy is properly described as a story with a happy ending.  Various bad things may happen during the course of the play, but to use the title of a Shakespearian play, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. There are usually funny and ironic people and plotlines, and you could summarise it with “They all lived happily ever after”.  Jesus’ parable of the lost son is one such “comedy”.

Tragedy, on the other hand, never ends well. We often see the “decline and fall” of someone apparently beautiful, respected or powerful.  Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus would be more in the tradition of tragedy.

Today’s Gospel, then, is both tragedy and comedy, depending whether we are following the fortunes of the blind man or of the Pharisees.

Firstly, the blind man:

Here he is, blind from birth.  Jesus’s disciples seem less concerned with the man’s predicament – how does a blind man with no social welfare or technology survive in a hostile environment?  They want to discuss theology!  For the record, we might suggest that the disciples are rather blind in their own way.

Thankfully, Jesus dismisses the theological stuff by saying that the blindness is no one’s fault – but that it will lead to God’s glory. He’s not going to argue theology when there is human need.   So he creates mud, puts it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go and wash.  He does as he’s told – no discussion, we might note! – and comes back healed.

Have you ever seen pictures of children just after their cochlear implant is turned on, and they can hear for the first time ever?  I suspect our once-blind man had a similar expression.

So, his eyes are opened and he can see.  But now begins the journey of gaining the sight which is faith in Jesus.  He runs into people who keep asking him, “What happened?”, “Who did this?”, who is he?” And then he meets the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees! [This is where we all boo, isn’t it?]  The Pharisees don’t like anything which challenges their authority and that of their faith.

Our man is asked, again and again, the same questions.  His answers reveal his growing faith:

  • “The man called Jesus made mud…”
  • “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”
  • “He is a prophet.”
  • “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
  • “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
  • “Lord, I believe.”

His faith has grown, his “spiritual” eyes are opened and he believes in Jesus; his life is irrevocably changed for the better – body, mind and spirit.

The Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, are on a reverse journey, however.

They talk about Jesus thus:

  • “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”
  • “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”
  • “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
  • “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

It is clear that the Pharisees increasingly reject Jesus.  His actions and teaching continually threaten not only their beliefs, but also their power and status, not to mention their relatively cordial relations with the Roman occupiers of their land.

My Dad used to tell me that his grandfather often told him, “There’s none so blind as them that don’t want to see”. I’ve also heard it said as, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts.” And how true that is for the Pharisees and other enemies of Jesus.

But never for us?  🙂

Well, in Lent, we are particularly challenged by the teachings and requirements of Jesus:

  • “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
  • “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
  • “Who do you say that I am?”
  • “You must be born again / from above.”

And we find ourselves called to leave behind our blindness and to walk in the light Jesus brings.   “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”, he says, and leaves us with the choice.

The Pharisees move on into tragedy; the blind man into light and life.

As my unintended victim in the Mall said, “Look where you’re going!”

The Lord be with you!

“The Better Part”

PENTECOST 9C – 17th July, 2016 – St Barnabas’, Carlisle-Rivervale & All Saints’, Belmont

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Households do not run themselves, Mma Ramotswe had often observed: there is shopping, [cooking,] cleaning, repairing and organising to do – and all of these, for some reason, seemed to be the responsibility of women, or almost always.
“She thought that only one of these functions could not be descried as a chore. No matter how much one tried to take a positive view of cleaning – no matter how frequently one told oneself that sweeping and dusting had their moments, it was difficult to see the whole business as anything but a use of time that could be more profitably and enjoyably spent doing something more satisfying. Even organising, which sounded as if it could be interesting, was really all about telling other members of the household what to do, checking up to see that they had done it, and asking them to do it when it transpired – as it usually did – that they had not got round to doing it yet. No, shopping was the sole item in the positive column of those household accounts.”
– Alexander McCall Smith, The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café, p 294
I suspect I hear Mma Ramotswe’s thoughts echoed by most of the female portion of this morning’s congregation  And even more, I know I’m hearing a similar “vibe” from Martha in this morning’s Gospel reading.
Jesus has come to visit Bethany, a few kilometres outside Jerusalem; and he and his disciples are enjoying a bit of R&R in the home of Martha and Mary – and presumably of Lazarus, whom we only encounter in John’s Gospel. All very well for the blokes; but not a lot of fun for Martha, who suddenly needs to serve lunch to a minimum of sixteen people. It’ll take a bit more than another cup of water in the soup to provide enough for them all. She’s probably had to race off to the shops for extra provisions – such a hurry making even the one normally positive household task unpleasant.
And as she rushes around getting the meal ready, Martha – undoubtedly the elder child! – realises that she’s getting no help from her “useless” sister, Mary. Looking around, she finds Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word, completely oblivious to Martha’s frantic activity.
Martha can only stand it for so long, trying to get Mary’s attention by waving her hands and raising her eyebrows to heaven, before she explodes. And it’s not Mary to whom she protests – it’s Jesus himself. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Just saying it probably feels a little better. But Jesus is no use toher at all at this moment.
Can you imagine her reaction to Jesus’ “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
It’s all right for you and your lazy bunch of male followers, Jesus! But I’m sure you’ll be expecting a meal any minute now. And hospitality is what it’s all about. The food won’t cook itself; and I’ll bet you blokes won’t all offer a hand with the dishes afterwards, either! And, anyway, we’re always being told that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. So why isn’t Mary helping. You tell her, Lord!
It’s probably just as well St Luke doesn’t tell us Martha’s actual response: it would probably have to be censored and carry the warning: “Strong Language”!

Undoubtedly, there must be times of busyness. Meals don’t cook themselves; dishes are not self-washing; nor floors self-sweeping (unless you’ve got one of those “robot vacuum cleaners”). Housework has to be done. Not to mention that income has generally to be earned by hard work. We can’t all be filthy rich and waited on hand and foot by a vast army of servants while we spend all our time praying, meditating and “sitting at Jesus’ feet”.
Perhaps the trouble is that Jesus is – as usual! – right!

I am grateful for times of withdrawal and retreat, as I had a few weeks ago at New Norcia. And I try hard to make time for regular prayer and Scripture reading and reflection – as must we all if we are to live and grow as Christians. But I, too, have work to do; a living to make; and chores to do. I’m grateful that KT does a lot around the house which makes my work and ministry possible. But I’m also keen to ensure that she has plenty of time to grow in her own faith. She has the privilege, for instance, of listening to me preach!
Each of us has to work to find our own balance of work and leisure; of busyness and rest; of ministry and of worship, prayer and reflection.
I believe the Rule of St Benedict – that by which the monks of New Norcia live – divides every day into three: prayer, work and rest. And that balance is one which most of us find hard to maintain. Yet, if we are to “choose the better part”, we will need to make real effort to – much as I hate the word – “prioritise” times of rest and refreshment.
Many of my clergy friends – and I probably should include myself here – find it hard to commit to taking time out for annual leave. A few years ago, when the Diocesan Secretary wrote to all the clergy encouraging them to use up their accumulated leave, the very first letter he signed was to the Archbishop!
Like Martha, we often feel ourselves to be too “important”, too “indispensable”, to be away from the parish. Thirty-three years, including a couple of doses of Long Service leave, many weeks of annual leave and a couple of significant bouts of sick leave have taught me that no parish has ever collapsed due to my absence. Much as that can be a blow to my pride.
And I have found that when I spend more time “sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what he is saying”, my “work” is more balanced and more effective. I suspect that listening to Jesus helps me better to listen to people and to pray for and with people.
In the twenty-first century, life is probably not really any busier than it was in the first. It wasn’t easy then; nor is it now. But I suspect we live with more distractions. We have many more “labour-saving devices”, and – theoretically – more leisure. But I’m not really convinced about our having “more time”.
In the reading from the prophet Amos this morning, we heard of traders desperate for the end of the Sabbath:
“When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?
Our society has all but done away with the Sabbath – be that Saturday, Sunday or whatever. Seven-day trading, twenty-four-hour trading, sporting events most evenings and all weekend: and the challenges of maintaining family life have become much harder.

I’m not advocating a return to the sad days of “the Lord’s Day Observance Society”, or the deadly dull and boring Sundays of my childhood. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.”
We simply need times of rest, relaxation, refreshment and retreat. We need, while having to deal with the “many tasks” of Martha, to take the time – to give ourselves the gift of time – with Jesus, to seek the balance which includes and even favours “the better part”.
I finish with a couple of verses from a somewhat dated, perhaps slightly too pious, hymn I learned in my childhood:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.

Choose “the better part”!
The Lord be with you!

Blue Christmas?

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT – 20th December, 2015

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fifty-two years ago today, my mother died suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. It was the last day of school before the Christmas holidays, and my brothers and I arrived home from school around 4 pm, to hear from my Dad the terrible news. I was eleven years old, and my brothers, nine and seven. With this happening just five days before Christmas, it’s fair to say that there was no “Merry” or “Happy” Christmas for us that year. My grandparents – Mum’s parents – came and stayed, until the funeral which was held on the 28th December; and I know that they tried hard with food and presents to make the whole thing a little less unpleasant for us. I do, though treasure the remembrance of being given a Dinky Toy Shell petrol tanker by the people in the hardware store across the road!

My Dad hated Christmas forever after that year, and managed to find good “religious” reasons why Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated: it was a pagan festival taken over from the Druids and the Romans; the Christmas tree was a fertility symbol worshipped by these and other pagan peoples; we don’t know what time of the year Jesus was really born, but it certainly couldn’t have been December; etc. I guess he saved a lot of money on cards and presents in his remaining fifty years of life, however 

Over the ensuing years, I, too, have had some difficulty with Christmas and the celebrations surrounding it. Whenever the 20th December rolls around, I find myself becoming unhappy and a bit depressed. It usually takes me a while to realise why; and often it’s only when KT pulls me up and challenges my mood that I realize, and – to some extent – “snap out of it”.

Over the years I’ve been in ordained ministry, I have come to realise that there are many people for whom the joy and festivity of Christmas don’t sit comfortably. The empty pew at Midnight Mass; the empty place at the Christmas dinner table; the anticipated card or present from a loved one that doesn’t arrive; the name you had to cross off your Christmas card list after you’d automatically written their card; the grandchildren you won’t see this Christmas because their parents have split up: all of these bring an edge of sadness and a piercing sense of loss.

When we read the Gospel for this morning from St Luke, we are invited into a very joyful and mystical time for the cousins – Mary, very young and a few days pregnant, and the much older, previously “barren”, Elizabeth, some six months gone. Both pregnancies are undeniably miraculous, each carrying mystery and being the subject of angelic messages.

Elizabeth’s husband, the priest Zechariah, is currently unable to speak because he doubted the angel’s message about the conception of the one whom we know as John the Baptist.

And Mary has been visited by the angel Gabriel with news of an upcoming – “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary was bold enough to ask, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’, and the angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” And Mary had replied, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

So, for these two women, there is joy and happiness and the normal apprehension about the process of giving birth and about the future of their respective children.

Now, jump forward thirty-odd years, and you have the Gospel stories of John the Baptist and Jesus meeting at the River Jordan, where Jesus asks John for baptism, and there is the interchange where John says that Jesus should baptise him, but he does what he is asked anyway.
Move forward to a little while later, and we see John imprisoned in King Herod’s dungeon at Machaerus because he prophetically challenged Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. And we see that wife get her revenge by demanding – and receiving – John’s head on a platter. Assuming Elizabeth to be still alive, we can imagine her pain and grief at the tragic loss of her so-much-desired son,

Move yet another year or two ahead, as we see Jesus nailed to a cross on the hill of Calvary. At the foot of the cross stands his mother, Mary, weeping at the humiliation and suffering of this miraculous and deeply-loved firstborn son. The old man Simeon had told her in the Temple all those years ago, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Now, let’s imagine Mary and Elizabeth at Christmas time not long after. I know, of course, that Jesus rose again from the dead. But still neither Jesus nor John would be physically present at the table to share in the turkey and plum pudding. Mary’s other children would all be there; but the sadness at the loss of two young men cut off in their prime would sometimes overwhelm their celebrations.
So, too, for many of us. If there is no such sadness in your life, please give thanks and pray for those for whom the joyous times are painful and overwhelming. If, however, you are hurting this holiday season, let me share with you some advice I read this week from an article, entitled, “Blue Christmas (What to Do When the Holidays Hurt)” (1):
Let it hurt. Make peace with your pain and allow it to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you aren’t okay, and you shouldn’t waste precious energy and time trying to pretend this isn’t so. Let grief and sadness do the necessary, invasive work in you that they need to do. There’s no defeat in feeling defeated right now.

Don’t hide it. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself you are able to give. Those deserving of you will not be pushed away by your woundedness or intimidated by your honesty. Allow people who love you to bear your burdens and sit in solidarity with you. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version of them you think they can handle.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. Today is, in reality, just another day even though the trappings and the framing may make your feel otherwise. Release yourself from the expectation to have some magical Christmas conversion; some George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life moment. If this season finds you less than alright, be that. You don’t owe the calendar anything.

Don’t be fooled by yourself. Despite how it may feel, most of the pressure on you to be happy is usually an inside job. Since you’re the only one who truly knows the depth and scope of your sadness, and the only one who’s fully walked your road, you’re probably beating yourself up the most about this blueness that others may not even see. Don’t be complicit in your own debilitating guilt trip. Go easy on yourself.

Give yourself permission to scale back or downsize or opt out. There are times and places during the holidays where the hurt is amplified, and you may see them coming; certain gatherings, parties, people, activities. Don’t feel as though you need to do and be it all and continually put yourself in harm’s way. Balance your desire to give others normalcy now, with your very valid need to protect yourself. Step away from the fray when you need to.

Embrace this Christmas as-is. You may be overwhelmed and bruised this season, but there is still goodness to be welcomed and blessing to be claimed here, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future when you will feel stronger and lighter, and these very difficult days are part of the road to them so accept whatever gifts they have for you. You may not fully open them for years.
And above all, know that it’s okay to be blue this Christmas.
It really is.
So be blue, but be greatly encouraged even still.

Now may the God for whose coming we wait, strengthen and encourage each of us in this time of celebration and reflection.

The Lord be with you!




Of Giants and Men

PENTECOST 4B – 21st June, 2015

+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our lectionary this Sunday presents us with two stories beloved of Sunday School children of my – possibly your – era. The killing of the giant Goliath by little David and the calming of a wild storm on the Sea of Galilee were staple diet in the mind of this eight-year-old.

We boys particularly loved the story of David. Blood-thirsty young lads could delight in a story in which it was not only not wrong to kill, but positively heroic. Goliath was, after all, the enemy of the people of Israel, God’s own people; so his killing was, as the American forces have coined the phrase, a “righteous kill”. Somehow, despite the message of the Fifth Commandment – “Thou shalt not kill”, this killing was OK. That the story goes on to tell us that David hacked off Goliath’s head with his own sword was just icing on the cake.

However, it seems to me somewhat uncomfortable to be reading in church about this heroic killing and the massacre of many of Goliath’s compatriots, when we have heard a couple of days ago of the killing of nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The American killings are abominable to us, of course. But how much have we gloried in our stories of God-given victory of the enemies of his people throughout our Old Testament stories. And how much have we claimed that God gave us victory in our World Wars by the killing of many millions of our “enemies”. Of course, both side usually see their actions as “righteously” doing God’s will.

The rationalisation of the killing of human beings in so-called “righteous” wars, may be the slippery slope which can lead the Anders Breiviks, the Martin Bryants and the Dylann Roofs of our world to “justify” the killing of innocent people in an imagined “righteous” cause.

I remember my youngest brother – at the time about five years old – interrupting a sermon of my Dad’s about David and Goliath by calling out, “It’s naughty to kill people”. It was difficult for Dad to recover from that, trying to explain in child-comprehensible terms the difference between murder and killing the enemies of God!

As our Study Group worked through the Book of Judges a few months ago, we were too often confronted by people like Gideon, Samson and Jael “taking out” the enemies of God’s people. I am honestly uncomfortable, and even embarrassed, by these stories in our tradition.

When I turned eighteen and was eligible for the conscription ballot towards the end of the Vietnam War, I registered as a conscientious objector. I must admit that I was intensely relieved that my birth-date was not amongst those drawn in the ballot, and that I didn’t have to argue my pacifist cause. Today, even with a perhaps more mature understanding of world politics, I still abhor war in all its forms. I wish with all my heart that we could find solutions without constant killing and destruction.

More and more of us are convinced of the evil of the death penalty; and the judicial murder of Chan and Sukumaran and their fellows in Indonesia brought home again the abhorrence of death penalties.

So what are we to think of the killing of Israel’s enemy, Goliath, by young David, of whose anointing as King to replace Saul we read last Sunday? We must take the story at face value as God’s solution to the oppression of Israel by the Philistines, and work out our own response to the power and oppression of evil in light of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. There is a definite case to be made for the “turning of the other cheek” and “loving one’s enemies” in the new dispensation. And Christians should be at the forefront of such action.
However, in context it is clear that David’s victory is directly attributable to the use of God-given skills and courage. It is probably fair to understand – as was taught us in Sunday School – that God is with us in our adversities and will help us to overcome. The same basic message seems to have been taught about the Galilee storm. I well remember, “With Jesus in your boat, you can overcome the storms of life.” Trite, perhaps, but basically true.

As Christians and human beings tainted by sin and evil, though, we cannot claim that our motives are always pure in our seeking to serve God. It is interesting to note that in the parts of the David and Goliath story to which were not treated this morning, we are told that David heard from some of the Israelite soldiers, “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills [Goliath]. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” Now that’s an incentive which just might outrank any scruples to the contrary!

Whenever the USA and its allies – with Australia sadly more often than not amongst them – go to war, there are companies and wealthy individuals who have much to gain from such aggression – munitions and supply companies have big financial benefits to gain, and governments seem to benefit from lowered unemployment figures. It is never just about “good moral values” and “just causes”.

In press reports about the Charleston killings, there has been a marked contrast in response from the authorities and the families of the victims. The Governor of South Carolina is quoted as saying that the State will “definitely” seek the death penalty. Meanwhile the families of the victims confronted Dylann Roof with forgiveness. I suppose we are all caught between these two extremes; but I’m sure I know where Jesus would stand. “Father, forgive them” was his cry from the cross. Whether I could forgive in such a way were KT amongst the victims, I don’t know. But I hope I could.

We all fall short of the deep love and grace and forgiveness which is the mark of God in Christ; and I pray that we will be enabled to journey more in that direction.

In the terrible events which befall us and our world, it is not unusual for us to want to cry out with the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But the one who “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” is still with us and still calls us to be peacemakers and healers and reconcilers and forgivers.

The Lord be with you!

Easter Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Resurrection-telling”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

The words which I have just read, and with which St Mark’s Gospel concludes, stand in strong contrast to those with which the Gospel began and which we read a few months ago on the First Sunday of Advent. There St Mark proclaimed, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1]

St Mark has set out to tell everyone the “good news”, but those who receive the great news of the resurrection of this Jesus from the dead react with terror and amazement and fear – and silence!

The women who have come to the tomb in which Jesus was hurriedly laid a couple of days earlier, – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – have bought spices with which to anoint his body. I heard someone say the other day, “I hope they kept the receipt!”

On the way, the women are worried as to how the stone in front of the tomb might be moved; but when they get there that worry is unnecessary. For the stone has been rolled away already – and Jesus is gone! A “young man dressed in a white robe” (an angel or two in other Gospels) tells them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him”. He then gives them a task: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.

Throughout this Holy Week, I have been talking of ministry (= “service”) given to us as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching”. Two of Jesus’ disciples were given the very ordinary task of fetching the donkey on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem. Our ministry of donkey-fetching is to do the very ordinary things of our life in service to Christ, whatever he asks of us. And most of us, most of the time will find “ministry” very ordinary.

On Maundy Thursday, we talked of “the ministry of foot-washing”. This entails our being willing to serve one another – Christians and those so far outside of the church. No one is outside the orbit of the love of God as revealed in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection; and we are all called to serve the least and greatest equally, without prejudice or discrimination.

On Good Friday, we encountered “the ministry of cross-standing”. According John’s Gospel, at the foot of Jesus’ cross as he was dying were his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John. Their presence was undoubtedly a comfort to Jesus in his last awful hours. We, as followers of Jesus and his disciples, are called to stand alongside those who are dying and those who are the victims of injustice and oppression, of violence and evil.

Today, we are introduced to the ministry of “resurrection-telling”. “He is not here; he is risen; go and tell”. This is the mission of all Christians. To tell the whole world that Jesus Christ has conquered death; that he has been through it and come out the other side; and so can we. This is “good news” indeed!

Sadly, in St Mark’s account of the resurrection, those who were given the “ministry of resurrection-telling” failed to do it. Which is probably why a number of attempts have been made to finish the Gospel on a more positive note. In many Bibles you will find at least two possible “better”, “happier”, endings. But Mark – the first-written of our Gospels – definitely leaves us with the mission unfilled.

Matthew, Luke and John have appearances of Jesus to various of his followers; St Paul in today’s Epistle details numerous post-resurrection appearances[2]; and the early Church built everything on the proclamation that Jesus not only died but rose in triumph because death could not hold him.

St Peter’s sermon to the household of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, of which we read a little as our first lesson this morning, tells the story clearly and succinctly. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.[3]

And so the story has been told generation by generation, for some two millennia so far. And so we – today’s disciples – are called to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus – to tell the story of his suffering and death which restores the relationship between God and all humanity, to heal division and to overcome the fear of death – and to tell of our own experience of his resurrection life in the here and now.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus went through human life and death, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”[4] Isn’t this good news?

It is good that we have journeyed together through this Holy Week – from Jesus’ joyous welcome into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper, his painful prayer-time in the Garden of Gethsemane, his unjust trials before the High Priest and the Roman governor; to his crucifixion and death.

It is good that we could experience a little of the utter devastation as the broken and pierced body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and walk with the dispirited woman towards that tomb early on Easter morning.

And it is wonderful that we can say with the angel, “He has been raised!”

But if we simply enjoy this celebration together and go off to eat breakfast and chocolate, and that’s all we do, we will be like the Marys and Salome in the Gospel – amazed, terrified and afraid.

The resurrection of Jesus is GOOD NEWS! And, like St Peter and the apostles, “we are witnesses”.

How can we not share this news – in our lives and with our words and actions?


The resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives and our world.


The ministry of resurrection-telling is yours and mine.


Christ is risen! Alleluia!!     He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Mark 1:1

[2] I Corinthians 15:1-11

[3] Acts 10:39-41

[4] Hebrews 2:14-15

Good Friday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Cross-standing”

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”[1]

These words from today’s Passion Gospel provide the springboard for my sermon this morning.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching” – that much of our service as Christians is in doing the mundane and ordinary tasks of being Christian – ministry which often goes unnoticed and without fanfare.

Last night, in our Maundy Thursday service, we spoke of “The Ministry of Foot-Washing” – humbly and willingly becoming, like Jesus, servants to one another and the wider world free of prejudice, reluctance, discrimination or favouritism.

This morning, I want to talk of “The Ministry of Cross-Standing”. By this I mean our willingness to stand by the cross of suffering and pain which is being experienced by those around us.

One of the most personally rewarding and challenging types of ministry in which I find myself involved is that of being with people who are dying. In the mid-2000’s, I worked for a couple of years as Chaplain to the Silver Chain Home Hospice Care Service, based out of the Murdoch Community Hospice. This was a time of meeting terminal patients in the last stages of their life and illness. It was a wonderful experience, working not only with the dying, but also with their families and carers and being a resource for the Silver Chain staff.

I was often in awe of the nurses, doctors and ancillary staff of the Service, in their unstinting willingness to be alongside these patients, and I learned a great deal about such care, which is frequently of help to me in my daily ministry.

On the night we call Maundy Thursday, when Jesus was arrested and taken off for his “kangaroo court” trials, all of his close disciples ran away and left him. John apparently attends some of the trial and Peter sits outside taking every opportunity to deny Jesus that comes his way.

When people come down with terminal illnesses, there are often friends and family members who “run away”, unable and/or unwilling to be around in such a situation. Precious indeed are those who willingly stay around to listen, to talk, to encourage, to feed and give fluids, and to help with necessary personal hygiene matters.

This “ministry of cross-standing” encompasses much that it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

Precious indeed were the women and John standing by the cross. Crucifixion was one of the most evil forms of execution known to humanity, both intensely painful and intensely humiliating. To run from the sight of it would be perfectly understandable; but the presence of Jesus’ mother and aunt and Mary Magdalene and John “the beloved disciple” would have been so important to Jesus as he gradually expired on the cross – not to mention extremely costly and even risky for them.

But there is even more to this “ministry of cross-standing”: Jesus in this situation represents all who are persecuted and penalised unjustly and unjustifiably.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the King who rewards those who fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, cared for him as a stranger, and visited him in sickness and in prison. The Jesus we see on the cross is a victim of all the unfairness and injustice and alienation the world could throw at him.

Every disciple of Jesus is called by the ministry of cross-standing to stand in solidarity with those who are victims of society, of governments and political powers, of wars and corruption and domestic violence and sexual abuse – while never forgetting to support and care for the victims of natural disasters.

Last Sunday, many Christians marched in Perth and across Australia’s cities and larger towns in support of the many refugees who are imprisoned in our “detention centres” on- and off-shore, especially the 107 children still held in these hell-holes. And this evening there is to be a silent vigil outside Royal Perth Hospital in support of an Iranian man who is on a hunger-strike and near death because our government wants to send him back into an impossible situation in his homeland.

Christians who understand our ministry of cross-standing will always stand with victims, actively supporting them, and actively working for the alleviation or removal of their burdens.

The Good Friday story is first and foremost about the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of humanity. This is about the removal of sin and all that hinders and damages the relationship between humanity and its Creator. And thanks be to God for the amazing love and grace which makes this possible!

Despite its awful story of injustice and cruelty and abuse of power, we rejoice to call this day “Good Friday”, because of all God in Christ achieves through the cross.

And as we come to the foot of the cross in worship, adoration, sorrow and reflection this morning, we can commit ourselves to the ministry of cross-standing, caring for and serving and advocating for all who suffer and all who are dying – both in the natural order of things and through all forms of injustice.

The Lord be with you.

[1] John 19:25-27

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Foot-washing”

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Feet! Most people find them pretty unattractive. I certainly do. I am grateful for the podiatrist I see every so often who checks on the condition of my feet – pulses, sensitivity, ingrown nails and other potential problems – and then cuts my nails and sands back the hard, dry skin. But there is no way I would want to do her job. On the other hand – should I say “foot” – the fact is that those of us who experience her care very much appreciate this service

In the time of Jesus, of course, people wore open sandals, or more often bare feet, as they travelled dusty roads in Mediterranean heat. By the end of a day’s journey, the feet would be pretty unpleasant. And the job of the lowliest servant in the house was to wash the feet of the master, his family and his guests. A humble and unrewarding job, we might well understand.

On Sunday, I spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching” – how much of what we are called to do in service of Jesus is very ordinary and mundane; how not all ministry is highly visible, rewarded and famous, just necessary and almost routine.

Today, the obvious title for the sermon is “the Ministry of Foot-Washing”.

In this evening’s Gospel, we see Jesus sharing a meal with his twelve disciples – probably the Passover meal.

And then we read that “during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

Jesus takes on the lowliest of jobs for those who are by definition lower in status than he. He is their rabbi, they his disciples; yet he takes on the role of the lowliest servant, washing their feet.

Peter, the regularly outspoken one in the group, objects, realising that this is all about-face: by rights, he should be washing Jesus’ feet. But Jesus insists, later saying to them all, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”


It’s not about status, Jesus says. In the Kingdom, none is greater or lesser than another. All are called to serve equally, without discrimination. Do you notice that Jesus even washes the feet of Judas Iscariot, into whose heart, we read earlier in tonight’s Gospel, “The devil had already put it … to betray him.”

The love with which Jesus “loved his own who were in the world” incorporated even the traitor. In this situation, we would almost certainly call out the traitor, refusing to perform for him any service, however elevated or lowly.

Of course, as the story continues, we will read that all the disciples flee from Jesus at Gethsemane, and Peter denies three times even knowing him. The element of service, the ministry of foot-washing, is not dependent on past activity or potential future outcomes: it is to serve high and low in the here-and-now, without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism.

You and I are people who have declared in our Baptism and Confirmation that we will “strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with our whole heart, and our neighbour as ourself, until our life’s end?”


And living as a disciple of Christ is to “follow in his steps”, to do as he did and taught. We are called to the service of others – within and outside of the church – without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism, as I’ve said.

For many centuries, Jesus’ action in washing his disciples’ feet has been “re-enacted” with the clergy washing the feet of lay people in what is an action more symbolic than physically necessary. As a parish priest for over thirty years, I suppose I have washed well over three hundred feet (or perhaps pairs of feet) in my time.

A bit of a problem with this is that it can still seem to elevate the priesthood in a way that is unhelpful. Surprising as it may be to you, I am not Jesus! J If anything, my washing your feet is to say that you are special, not I. It is an annual redressing of any sense of imbalance between “laity” and “clergy”.

At the same time, Jesus’ command to the disciples was to “wash one another’s feet”. So this evening, I’m going to start the washing, and ask you to “pass it on”. And somewhere in the line, I hope someone will wash mine.

By the way, if foot-washing is a problem for you, feel free to offer your hands to be washed. The symbolism of service is not limited to feet!

So, the call of Jesus to us is to the ministry of donkey-fetching and to the ministry of foot-washing.

And there’s more!

Part Three tomorrow.

The Lord be with you