The Meaning of Christmas in Five Paintings 2 - Jesus was Fully Human (John Everett Milas, Christ in the House of his Parents)
Readings 2 John 1:1-10, Matthew 1:18-25
John Everett Milas painted Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s House) around 1849 and by golly did it cause controversy.
Those who read the e-news will have already seen this, but Charles Dickens, acclaimed (and beloved) author of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and (importantly) A Christmas Carol despised this painting. Of the figure of Mary (in the centre in blue) he wrote, "so hideous in her ugliness that ... she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin-shop in England" and that Jesus resembled, "wry-necked, blubbering red-headed boy in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke ... playing in an adjacent gutter."
What was it in this representation of the Holy Family that elicited such anger and disgust from Dickens? And what might all this have to do with the meaning of Christmas?
Let’s get to that by way of our readings. Our reading from Matthew will be well known to many. Our reading from the second letter of John (that small little book, covering only about half a page right at the back of your bible) is perhaps a little less known. Both, however, are concerned with a central testimony of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ was fully human.
Jesus, to go back to the creeds, was born of Mary. Borrowing the words of O Come All Ye Faithful, "Lo! he abhors not the Virgin's womb," Jesus did not come to earth any other way than the way we all come to earth: born – a human baby, of a human mother. Immaculate as his conception might be, it does not take away from the ordinary humanness of his birth – and all the things that go with it (with apologies to Away in a Manger, I’m sure our Lord did a little bit of crying that first Silent Night). The openings of the Gospel of Matthew take pains to stress the birth of Jesus, not only in the narrative today, but in what surrounds it: the genealogy to place Jesus within a particular lineage and history, the detail given to the character of his parents, and the context in which they lived. Let no one opening a New Testament miss it, this Jesus you are about to meet, he is Emmanuel, God with us, and he was born of Mary, he is fully human.
Sometimes the fullness of this humanity can be difficult to grapple with. It asks us to admit that Jesus experienced the complete vulnerability of infancy – relying on the adults in his life for every need basic to his survival. It asks us to accept that Jesus learnt – in the way we all do, observing and listening to those around him. Jesus scuffed knees, got dirty, celebrated rites and rituals, and grew up in a family that laboured and toiled under difficult conditions.
And yet, just a generation or so after his death there are some within the community of Christians who are propagating the idea that Jesus was not actually human after all… he was certainly God, he was absolutely divine, undeniably transcendent… and because of that he cannot possibly be human… that would be unseemly, utterly unfitting for a God to take on flesh and dwell among us… I mean, have you seen us have you seen flesh?
And so, the author of the second letter of John has to write to the woman leading this Christian community and say, Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. It is not for nothing that the first letter of John opens We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. This Jesus, the one we are always talking about – we saw him and more importantly we touched him! Retreating earlier in the corpus of John, the gospel ends with scenes of Thomas putting his hands in the wounds of the resurrected Christ and Jesus sitting on the beach and eating fish with his disciples – this man had a body, which could be touched, which ate, which shared rooms with us. This is what it means to say the word took on flesh and lived among us. Jesus, however immaculate his conception, however miraculous his resurrection, however full his divinity is human, fully human, no caveats or conditions.
And so we return to this painting and observe that what lies beneath its vehement rejection by those such as Dickens, is that this painting dares to present a human (and rather ordinary and mundane) holy family. The realism of the carpenter’s workshop (with its dirt and offcuts), the “plainness” of Mary and the balding of Joseph, the woundedness of Jesus who was – believe it or not – considered a little too Jewish in this painting… all of this combines to affront the viewer by making the holy family and the youthful saviour as too ordinary, too ugly, too human. Against the tradition of a beautiful, serene, ever-virginal Mary and a gorgeous, stoic, stern Jesus, and a sort of absent but if not then just kind of there Joseph, we are presented with a familiar and approachable domestic scene. The whole family at work, in a place well-worn by their labour, all now paused with concern to remove a splinter from the hand of the child who didn’t know you couldn’t run your hand across untreated wood. The very ordinariness of the scene is an affront to those who cannot abide the idea of a God who would get down in the muck of life, a God who would suffer, a God who would face the humiliation of public execution, a God who would need to rely on and learn from others, a God who needed to be nursed, a God who abhorred not the virgin’s womb.
And while we might chuckle at Dickens, and consider those who proposed an angelic Jesus floating an inch off the ground a relic of Christianity’s strange history with heretics, the true ethical danger posed by such an inability to see and accept a human Jesus, is that we become unable to see and accept Jesus in the humans he told us he would be present with… the hungry, the stranger, the imprisoned, the naked, the least and last of our world, the wretched of the earth, those most plain and unremarkable of people.
And so this painting draws us to the meaning of Christmas; Jesus Christ (Emmanuel) was born of Mary – he was a child who cried and nursed and learnt and grew. He was a boy raised in a poor family, who were forced to flee their homeland to escape persecution, who worked with their hands to survive. He was a boy who – as a carpenter’s son – got a splinter or two… it is in such places of modesty, humility, and vulnerability that the mission of God to reconcile and redeem all things took place, and it is in such places that we might encounter Emmanuel, God with us, today… if only we are ready to look.
Image: John Everett Milas, Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s House) around 1849. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-christ-in-the-house-of-his-parents-the-carpenters-shop-n03584
The Meaning of Christmas in Five Paintings 1 - Christmas, Context, and Colonisation (Mawalan Marika, Nativity)
Readings Proverbs 8:1-4, 17-31 and John 1:1-5, 14-16
Mawalan Marika was an artist, advocate, and head of the Rirratjingu clan from North East Arhnem land. While he is known most for his paintings of Djang’kawu sacred stories and ceremonies, he painted this Nativity scene in 1960, with natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark. Marika acted as an important negotiator between his people and the missionary, anthropologists, and other colonial bodies that began to press into Arhnem land in the C20th. He played instrumental role in the production of the ‘Bark Petition’ to the Commonwealth Parliament, used effectively as testament to their claim over the land and consequent right to negotiate the terms of mining on it.
Marika provides our starting point for our series exploring the meaning of Christmas in five paintings. For it is through his Nativity painting that we consider the particular meaning of Christmas in these lands – and through that, the impact of Jesus’ incarnation (becoming human) on our talk about God and manner of being the church.
It is hardly a modern convention to paint the nativity within one’s own culture. European artists have been painting European Holy Families for centuries. Indeed, they did it for so long that the church kind of slipped into accepting a white Jesus and Mary as an accurate, normative, and universally true portrayal of First Century Palestinian Jews.
So in some ways this painting continues a tradition of incarnating the incarnation – painting the story of Jesus within one’s own people/culture/country. Of course, because we have been so long accustomed to the European tradition as authoritative these other contextual products can feel ‘political’ even sometimes a little transgressive. And yet, to paint Jesus in the familiar scenes of one’s home and culture is a perfectly apt Christian practice, for it reflects one of the true meanings of Christmas: the word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Jesus – the eternal light and life of the world, was born of Mary under Pontius Pilate. Jesus, like all of us, was born into a people, a history, a place. He was not an abstracted ‘humanity’ nor an idealised ‘person’ – he bears particularity and specificity like all of us. And it is through these particularities and specificities that Christians are able to push outwards (as the faith crosses borders) and come to see and celebrate Jesus (the eternal word) within different particularities and specificities.
That is, artists and Christians, might render and speak of Jesus in Irish hillsides, Thai villages, African homesteads, Pacific Islands, or Ahrnem Land; not as a way of erasing Jesus’ Jewishness, but in confessing that Jesus was born and lived among us we are able to understand that us to include us as well. We are included, not as replacement but as an extension and expansion of Jesus’ presence via the power of the Spirit. After all, this is a blessing of our adoption by God, our grafting onto the covenant of love.
This painting serves to encourage us to take seriously our conversation and reflections about the sense and feeling and experience of Christmas here down under. It encourages us to claim and develop our own symbols, language, and imagery for celebrating Advent and Christmas. So many of our carols, hymns, and liturgy reflect the landscape and mood of the northern hemisphere at this time of year – long, cold, dark nights, and the promise of new light and warmth emerging within in. Which feels a far cry from our own experience of Christmas and our long hot days, where the darkness of shade and night is a cool relief. How might we speak of Christmas in a manner that draws on our own native fauna and flora, that draws on our own landscapes and culture, that might place less emphasis say, on the small light of the candle within an already bright space, and more seeing and feeling Jesus in the long-awaited cool change and the end of the heatwave?
And while this painting has already drawn us toward the meaning of Christmas in all we have observed, there is more still to be learnt and gained…
Sadly, the Christmas story comes to this country within the colonial project… there could have been other ways for it to come, but alas, this is how it arrives. However, despite these beginnings, this is not all Christmas comes to mean in this country. Paintings such as these, along with the practice and witness of Indigenous churches, testify to the good news that what is at first enforced can become claimed as one’s own. The Christmas story can be revisioned, embraced, translated, becoming a site of resistance and dignity.
The Christmas story in the gospels of Matthew and Luke remind us that Jesus was born into an oppressed people suffering indignity and dispossession under imperial rule. It is therefore of little surprise that despite the ways in which the Bible, the Church, and the name of Jesus have been used by imperial powers to dispossess and subjugate – those on the underside of history have continued to find Jesus compelling, have continued to see the truth of Jesus bursting forth from cultural trappings, have continued to seek the abundant life that Jesus promises in their very resistance to those who first taught them his name.
This painting draws us near the meaning of Christmas. It reminds us of the translatability of the good news – that though the Word took on flesh in the particular time and place of First Century Palestine, the Word and Wisdom of God comes near to all peoples and can be rightly articulated and presented in local tongues, cultures, idioms, and landscapes. And it also reminds us that the story of Jesus, born into an oppressed people on the underside of history has – time and again – through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – proved a site of resistance even against the corruption of his own name for colonial ends.
This painting reminds us that the meaning of Christmas does not lie dormant on the other side of the world centuries ago, but is encountered again and again wherever people experience the transforming and expanding good news that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Readings Hebrews 1:1-9 and Matthew 27:11-14, 27-37
The church’s liturgical year comes to a close with Christ the King Sunday and the readings send us into the new year with a bang. There are so many ways to answer Jesus’ famous question to his disciples, who do you say that I am, but this is one, from the author of Hebrews is one of the most striking – you are the brilliance of God’s glory and the reproduction of God’s very being and you sustain all things by your word.
There are similar moments in the scriptures, we might think of the confession from Colossians that Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, and that in him all things hold together. Or we might call to mind the words from Revelation, Jesus as the alpha and omega, the lamp of the heavenly city. Or we might remember Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, and I will be with you always, to the end of the age.
These high moments, dripping in the cosmic, eternal, sublime power and presence of Jesus – the one through whom and to whom all things are made, sustained, and find their end – these moments are fitting reminders at the end of the liturgical year, they serve as a kind of crescendo. They sound out in full volume the awesome wonder of the one who reconciled all things to God, the one in whose grace we are found, the one who serves as the church’s cornerstone, the one after whom we are named and whose way we follow. In him is the promise of redemption, in him is the coming rectification of all things. Jesus, the brilliance of God’s glory and the reproduction of God’s very being, who sustains all things by his word, it is because of him that we are, and so how else would you end a year.
These readings are the regular calendar year’s equivalent of the New Year’s fireworks – the spectacle that signals both the climax and beginning – they fill us with awe and provide a point on which to pivot our understanding of the world and ourselves.
And yet, in ending the church year with such readings, we also intensify the paradox of what comes next. We intensify the paradox of the beginning of the new church year… because we hurtle, right from these unparalleled confessions of Christ in his glory, to the season of Advent and Christmas.
We move right from reminder of the fullness of Christ’s presence, the fullness of Christ’s authority, the fullness of Christ’s divinity to the great season of waiting. Advent reminds us that we live in-between. Between the coming of Christ, born in a manger, and the coming again of Christ on the clouds ready to wipe all tears from our eyes. Advent is marked by a level of absence, by the yearning of the Christian for the coming of Christ to set right a broken and weary world. Advent is also marked by looking to the world in its unreconciled reality –in its hostility to the Prince of Peace, its hostility to strangers and outsiders, its hostility to those bearing children in insecurity and poverty.
We move right from the dazzling beauty of Christ as the image of invisible God, to the image of a baby born in a town of no repute. A baby born without a place to lay his head. A baby born so vulnerable his family will soon have to flee the violent machinations of a tyrant. One who will live a life marked by persecution and opposition, a man of sorrows, who weeps for his friends, laments the fate of his people. The only crown he will wear is in his life is one of thorns, affixed to his head by those who tear his clothes and pierce his hands.
This is the great paradox of the Christian faith – the one through whom all things came into being, the light and life of the world, the exact imprint of God’s very being, became flesh and lived among us (though not in halls of powers, but in backwoods and barns). This Christ, the majestic wonder of the cosmos, to whom all authority over heaven and earth is granted, will have his years among us directed by outside (and often nefarious) forces. The location of his birth determined by governmental decree, the place of his childhood set by tyrannical violence, the location of his ministry and rest variously moved about by the whims of crowds, opposition, and need… even the time and place of his death is set by others.
And yet we have never ceased to speak of the same One. For this is what it means to answer the question: who do you say that I am. Jesus is the one born of Mary and Joseph into poverty, forced to flee Herod into Egypt. Jesus is the one who calls fisherman as disciples and receives no honour in his hometown. Jesus is our friend and brother who taught us to pray to Our Father. Jesus is the one who heals and feeds and raises the dead. Jesus is the one executed wearing a crown of thorns beneath a sign reading: King of the Jews. Jesus is the one vindicated and resurrected by God’s love. Jesus is the one resurrected to glory advocating mercy for all. Jesus is the one present with his disciples to the end of the age. Jesus is the one we meet at the table, who nourishes us with Word and Sacrament. Jesus is the brilliance of God’s glory, the reproduction of God’s very being, the image of the invisible God, the alpha and omega. Jesus is the one through whom all things came into being, who sustains all things by his word, and in whom all creation finds its end. Jesus is the light and life of the world and the lamp of the heavenly city. Jesus is the majestic heart of all creation in whose name we have hope, and in whose way we go forth into another year.
Image: Christ in Glory between the angels and archangels, Guido Reni (16210
Reading Isaiah 65:17-25
A clear picture of the end guides a process – be it a puzzle, Ikea furniture, or the path of Christian discipleship – these final images form a reference to help us to see when we are moving nearer perfection.
The eschatological imagery in passages such as we heard read in Isaiah provide a vision of the age to come, of the arrival of the kingdom, and of the fullness of God’s presence. This not only provides hope for communities living in times of trial and turbulence, but also provide a way of determining how we are to live today. The future, that is the image of the redeemed and perfected future of the age to come, provides insights into how Christians are to live in the present (unredeemed and unperfected) age.
So what might the prophetic poetry of Isaiah open up for us in our considerations of the ever-present question, “what ought a Christian do?” Or perhaps, “what should the church be?”
The new heavens and the new earth imaged in this text tell us that there will be no more weeping, or sounds of distress. No one shall labour in vain, or bear children for calamity. No infant shall have their life cut short after just a few days, nor will anyone face death before the oldest of age. Life, we might say, will not be threatened – will not be marked – by the vulnerabilities of the current age. We will not hang precipitously close to the edge of mortality. We shall have life, more life, and this life will not know distress or sorrow.
Who then, should we be, and what ought we do in light of such a beautiful, harmonious, and hopeful vision of what God is about to do?
One month ago, on October 13 Cassius Turvey, a 15-year-old Noongar teen was murdered in a racially motivated attack. If Isaiah’s vision teaches us that we will grieve those who die at 100 as if they were a youth… how much more should we mourn and rage when someone’s life is cut short 85 years before they reach one hundred. How much more should we be spurned to act and demand justice when this boy’s life is cut short by violent calamity after only a few years. What ought a Christian do, who should the church be in light of the clash between Isaiah’s vision and the reality of the racial violence?
The book we read in our kid’s talk pondered where we see God… where might we have seen God, and where might we see God still in the wake of the murder of Cassius? Is God seen weeping with those who weep at vigils, standing with those who keep watch over coronial and judicial proceedings, walking with those who gather to protest? Working in communities to undo decades of injustice and hatred?
The passages in scripture that speak of the new heavens and new earth, where the fullness of God’s presence will be visible, the reconciliation of all things complete, and the groans of a weary world answered are some of the most sublime in all of Scripture. They are achingly beautiful and heart-warming. We should read them and cling to hope. But we can also read them and rage, read them and be driven to act.
Each week we pray, God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The utter unresemblance between the present order and the vision of what is to come spurs us to go forth - not as the world’s saviours (humanity can never close the gap between there and here) but as those who believe the world is created and saved by the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and thus this unresemblance is not what is intended or promised.
The picture of the good and proper end guides us into action, prayer, and community in order that we might – day by day – become the righteousness of God (to use Paul’s famous phrase). The picture of our end in God helps us to see how we might bear the fruit of the spirit in our lives, how to beat swords into ploughshares, how to not weary in doing what is right.
As long as we have an open heart and open eyes we will never cease being appalled and dismayed by the cruelty of this broken world. But as long as we have an open heart and open eyes we will never cease seeing God at work in the world. We will never stop seeing God in the small acts of gentleness and justice, compassion and mercy, joy and faithfulness, holy anger and righteous grief. As long as we look to Christ who was born in a manger and killed on a cross we will never cease to see God in the faces of those whose lives are cut tragically short by hate and calamity. As long as we look to the promise of the new order that is to come, we will never cease to see that such violent ends (as tragic and unjust and unredeemable as they might be) are not the only end, more is promised, more is promised – more life, more life.
What ought a Christian do? Who might the church be? We will learn as we look. As we look at the world in its pain and brokenness, look to the horizon in its dazzling beauty, and then look back, and look back, and look back, and learn to find ourselves in the right places in between, the very place where Christ was (and is) found. The very place Jesus was (is) confronting the powers of Sin and Death. The very place Jesus was (is) reconciling the world to God’s self. The very place Jesus was (is) breaking down the dividing walls of hostility. The very place Jesus was (is) telling us come to me all who are weary.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity
Image: Red Vineyards at Arles, Vincent van Gogh (1888)
Readings Hab 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10
It is always interesting to wonder what passages of scripture shaped the lives of those we meet in the Bible. For instance, I wonder how many of those who had lived under Zacchaeus’ exploitative tax collection had connected with the prophetic utterances of Habbabkuk? How many – hearing the words in their synagogue – would have said
‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
How long, they might have asked, must we suffer such injustice, such unfairness as is currently being delivered upon us by this collaborator with Rome?
And then I wonder, how many did as Habakkuk did?
How many agreed to stand at their watch-post and wait for God to answer their complaint? And how many, I wonder, gave up waiting… how many stepped down from the watch-post believing God had forgotten their suffering, turned away from their cries?
With this in mind, we enter the scene of our gospels with two groups… those still waiting in hope that God will indeed keep the vision of the appointed time and bring justice to the proud… and those who have ceased waiting and become accustomed to the triumph of the wicked in this world… members from both these groups make up the crowd pressing in on Jesus as he enters Jericho. And members of both these groups are present when Jesus spots Zacchaeus - the man behind so much grief and waiting and frustration – and says ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’
This must be gut wrenching for the first group. Instead of the appointed time of God’s justice, Jesus chooses to break bread with the man who broke hearts; bestowing upon Zacchaeus the honour of table fellowship.
The other group, undoubtedly also disappointed (for who does not long for justice in their heart of hearts) might have a moment of bitter confirmation, of course, they mutter, God was never for us. We were right to cease our watch.
And yet, surprise twist! The story is not one of betrayal of the people or endorsement of Zacchaeus… this is a story of salvation… but one which reveals that salvation doesn’t always look like we expect, and doesn’t always break into our lives in the same way.
Let’s start with Zacchaeus. For Zacchaeus, the moment of salvation comes when Jesus’s presence, drawing near to him, interrupts his selfishness and isolation from his community and liberates him from his love of money and cycle of exploitation (x2). Jesus sets Zacchaeus free from sin by opening his eyes and his heart to the pain he has caused. Jesus reminds him that as a child of Abraham, Zacchaeus is both an inheritor of God’s covenant love and the Torah (which forbids economic exploitation and commands reparations in order to restore right relations). Salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus because Jesus has come to seek and save the lost. Zacchaeus becomes found in the promise and responsibility that belongs to a child of Abraham. Which means being found requires he lose his ill-begotten wealth.
Salvation comes for the people, those who have waited and ceased to wait, in the return of what they had lost – in the return of the wealth stolen from them. It also comes in the reminder that even Zacchaeus – collaborator with Rome – remains a child of Abraham. For even a lost son is a son. The choices of those held in God’s covenant, who have been elected in God’s love and redeemed by God’s power, those choices cannot cancel out the choice of God to elect, the freedom of God to covenant, the power of God to redeem. Salvation comes to Zacchaeus because he too is a child of Abraham – in this reminder, and in the restoration of relationship following Zacchaeus’ reparations, salvation too comes to the crowd.
Salvation occurs in this story when the presence of Jesus Christ draws near. In his presence, power, and promise he delivers people from cycles of sin (perpetrators and victims). Such deliverance transforms behaviour, redistributes what was taken, and reconciles one to another. Salvation might look and impact differently depending on where one is in the story, but it comes to all, and leaves none unchanged.
The overturning of current inequalities and hierarchies lies at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God. From the song sung by Mary over him in her womb, to his reading of the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown, to his parables about banquets, through his late teaching on the sheep and the goats, Jesus’ ministry is marked by a series of reversals and upturning. Some are cast down from thrones, some of no esteem will be brought into the feast, some give away their wealth, some are returned what was stolen.
And yet despite the different ways it breaks through and reshapes a life, these moments of salvation, the long-awaited arrival of justice, is aimed at the same ends… the creating of a reconciled humanity, freed from coveting, able to share room around the table, and live well together before God.
But the story of Zacchaeus (matched with the prophetic cries of Habakkuk) reminds us that we cannot skip to the ends, without attending to means. You can’t have reconciliation without some reversals – wrongs must be made right, what was stolen must be returned (as best as is possible this side of the eschaton). That order is important. Through it we recognise in Jesus’ coming to the house of Zacchaeus the pattern of Christ coming to live amongst us. This story exemplifies the crux of the Gospel: that in Christ, God drew near, interrupting our sinfulness, exposing false hierarchies, deviant powers, and the corrupting lure of wealth. Christ drew near to reconcile all things to God, which in turn makes possible the kind of radical repentance and repair that might foster reconciled relations amongst creation. Christ drew near and draws near still in order that we who were estranged might receive a spirit of adoption and be made co-heirs with Christ and children of Abraham. Christ drew near to draw us into the life of God through which we are freed to live together in a new way.
Image: Jesus and Zacchaeus, Soichi Watanabe - Oil on canvas - 61cm x 73cm Saitama, Japan
Readings Jeremiah 31:27-36 and Luke 18:1-8
There can often feel like a tension or even, one might argue, a contradiction between God’s particular, local relationship as the God of Israel and God’s position as the cosmic God of all creation. This - like many aspects of God’s character - is exemplified in the Incarnation, where Jesus is at once the Messiah of Israel and the light and life of the world, the eternal logos. This tension is observed in both Jewish and Christian writings, what does it mean to stress the local character of God, who is intimately involved in one people’s history, who elects and covenants with one people, and yet, is not solely the God of that people, but the One God of the universe, on whom the foundations of the world are set and in whom all history finds its end.
It could be easy to think, given this particularity and at times partiality, that the promise and presence of God is reserved and restricted to one particular set of people (be they Jewish or Christian). That the story of the rest of the world’s people is somehow untied from the sovereign grace of God. A certain arrogance naturally follows such a position, as well, we might say, a certain diminishing of God, and the power of the Spirit of God to move over the waters of creation however They please.
On the other hand, to completely detach God from the particularity of the people of Israel, from the particular Jewish body of Jesus, carries its own risks. Such a detachment lies at the heart of Christian antisemitism and supersessionism, which sees the Jewishness of Christ and the Israel of God as replaceable and dismissible… and when that story is replaceable and dismissible, so are the people. Further, to detach God from this particularity, risks reducing God to a set of ideas, abstractions, and virtues, rather than a personal God, who took on flesh, who journeys with people, who experienced the pain of the world, who took sides with the poor and downtrodden. The laws of torah and the commands of Christ do not drop from heaven like a shopping list of thou shalts and shalt nots - they emerge out of a relationship of fidelity, freedom, and friendship that is tied to the particular history of God and God’s people, and of Christ as his embodied ministry with and to those he came to serve and save.
And it is with all of this in mind that we come to today’s readings. In the first, Jeremiah once more reminds the people of the promise of God amidst the desolation of exile. That despite their defeat and dislocation, they will return to their homelands. This passage extends the scope of the promise - not only will they return, but a new covenant is laid before them, one with exceeds the former, for this will be written on their hearts, and the initiation of this covenant will bring about an unparalleled intimacy and presence of God in the lives of the people – within such intimacy they will no longer have to remind one another to know the Lord, for such knowledge will be perfect, perpetual, and personal to each.
Now, amidst all these promises of God’s fidelity to Israel, it might be easy for those hearing these words to start to assume that the wider order of the world means little to God, that Israel’s fate is someone disconnected from that of the cosmos. And yet, Jeremiah brings the word of God:
If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever.
The position of Israel as the people before God is dependent on God’s upholding of the whole created order. Should any distance emerge between the whole of the cosmos and the loving presence of God then that would mean the dissolution of all things (including the covenantal relationship between God and Israel). All things are related to God, and all those relations (including the relation of Israel to God or the church to Christ) are interdependent within that ecosystem.
In this way we might speak of how the particular relationship of God to Israel and Christ to his Church symbolises and points to the broader relationship of God to the whole world. Take for example a jumper knitted by a grandparent for their grandchild. The jumper symbolises the love of the grandparent for the grandchild - the jumper is not the entirety of their love (it is not as if they give over the jumper and cease to express any affection, care, or interest for the grandchild), but the jumper isn’t irrelevant either - the jumper is important, cherished, and real! At the same time, we don’t look at the jumper knitted for one grandchild and think, ah, because this is the only jumper we see or are talking about at the moment that the grandparent doesn’t love their other grandkids, doesn’t care for or think about them. At its best we look to this jumper and see the love of the grandparent for their whole family symbolised through this particular act/gift to the one grandchild in this moment - knowing that there must have been and will be still many more moments, gifts, and gestures for the other grandkids. The nature of the particular teaches us to understand the whole – the gift reveals the grandparent as generous, caring, and involved. Likewise, the detailed story of God and Israel teaches us to understand the character and inclination of God to all people, to all creation.
I think of Hagar, the Egyptian slave given to Sarah, who in turn gives her to Abraham in order that they might speed up the promise of God by having Hagar bear Abraham’s child. Later, Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar and Ishmael result in them being expelled into the wilderness. Hagar, on the edge of death, worried for the life of her son, weeps for what has befallen them. And yet, God hears the weeping and intervenes (the language in this passage matches the language of God hearing Israel’s suffering in their own slavery in Egypt). God promises Hagar that God will make of Ishmael a great nation - God then provides water for Hagar and Ishmael as God provided water from stone for the Israelites in their own wilderness sojourn. We then read, God was with the boy [Ishmael] as he grew up. We also get an account of his descendants and Ishmael’s return and eventual burial in the land of his ancestors (his own deliverance to a new land).
The story of God and Hagar/Ishmael parallels the story of God and Israel. God shows up for Hagar and Ishmael, as God does for Israel, for this is the character of God, this is who God is (I Am What I Am About to Do). As Jesus reminds us, God does not keep putting off those who tap at the door, but God brings justice for those who cry out.
In this is the good news, God's cosmic relation and love means that, like a wild olive shoot, we are grafted onto God's covenant with Israel. We have been moved from the universal to the particular. Through the Spirit of Pentecost we receive a spirit of adoption, welcomed into the very household of God. And yet the good news is bigger still, more mysterious, surprising, and worthy of our hope. For the story of the banished Egyptians, Hagar and Ishmael, reminds us that God's loving presence and powerful justice is prodigal, existing without boundaries, unrestricted by our expectations.
The particular and the universal, the local and the cosmic might be distinct, and should not be conflated, but each is upheld and made meaningful by the reality of the One God who loves justice. Who hears those crying out in bondage and moves toward us, for us, so that we might receive a spirit of adoption and find a home in the household of God.
Image: Wassily Kandinski, Circles in a Circle (1923)
Readings Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15
Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is imprisoned. And this is the moment he chooses to buy a plot of land. And not haphazardly either, the reading is deliberate in documenting the deliberateness of Jeremiah's purchase
Judah is in exile, and Israel is not long behind. And this is the moment Jeremiah chooses to send word telling them to build homes, plant gardens, and raise families.
The latter signals to the people that they will be in exile for 70 years, so invest in where you are. The former signals that God will bring them back, so hold on to the hope of home.
Jeremiah’s purchase is a prophetic act of hope in God, his letter a prophetic act of realism (and a pastoral encouragement to life).
Millenia on from these words being penned… the question I was struck by is, does the realism sound more like hope, and does the hope look like delusion?
Every day you can find a half dozen articles about the lack of affordable housing and the awful treatment renters are often subjected. The dramatic increases in rent, the inability to secure long-term leases, sub-standard heating and cooling of rental properties… in the face of such realism, the idea of building homes and planting gardens is not so simple.
When Shoshanna was baptised, the church gave us a plant, as had been their custom for decades. It is a beautiful practice; to plant a tree and watch it grow along with your child, a reminder of the day and the promise of God… of course, such a practice reflects a time when most people coming in to baptise their children already owned homes… we did/do not (we are now very fortunate to be provided with housing as part of my stipend). But where would we, who moved about 5 times in 7 years, plant the tree? We were fortunate enough to have parents nearby who do have a garden, so it lives there, but many would not find it so easy to plant a tree.
On a larger scale, we have, over the past decade, seen the emergence of climate refugees as a category – one which is predicted to grown exponentially in the coming decades. Sadly it is those who have contributed least in terms of emission who are being most adversely and immediately impacted. In the Pacific, burial grounds, homes, and soon, perhaps, whole island homelands will be lost… what does it mean to read Jeremiah’s prophetic property purchase in a situation where in 70 years time that plot will be under water?
And what about Jeremiah’s charge to pray and seek the welfare of their exiled imperial city? His promise that in its welfare you will find your welfare, might read as somewhat naïve, given the history of sectarian violence and bigotry often directed at minority and immigrant communities who found welfare in their new city. Those who are scapegoated by majority populations who believe their welfare declining as a result of these newly settled arrivals?
And finally, we might wonder how to stop this teaching – to build homes and raise families – from fostering a kind of insular quietism, at odds with the radical vision of Christ’s kingdom which upturns such prioritising of home and family? How do we read this teaching and apply it to our lives without sanctifying middle class comfort, without reifying owning a home in the face of the world’s need?
How do we read these two prophetic teachings in our own time, without either ignoring the questions of our day or dismissing as entirely irrelevant the teaching?
I think we need to start by remembering a rather important fact: we are not in exile.
We (or at least we for the most part) live in a land that we have chosen to live (or at least haven’t been forced to live). We live in a land where our faith is not only allowed to be practiced but still holds a great deal of cultural cache, influence, and respect. Our city is not besieged, we vote for our leaders, and our voice is represented.
If anything, we more closely resemble the citizens of Babylon. Those who have experienced many generations of comfort and continuity.
There are, however, still exiles in our world.
And so the call to us, in passages such as these, is to position ourselves as neighbours to those who these passages have immediate relevance. To be neighbours and accomplices to those who are besieged and exiled, those awaiting deliverance, return, and hope.
What can we do, change, or say to try and preserve homelands in the Pacific?
What can we do to influence the current reality of unaffordable housing, rental crisis, and the broad stresses on cost of living?
How can we position ourselves to offer hospitality, support, care, and advocacy for those living exiled lives around us (the refugee, the unhoused)?
Might we be a people who can see the welfare of our city in the welfare of its newest arrivals, the strangers in our street, so easily vilified?
In attending to these questions – positioning them as essential to our decisions on what it means to be disciples, to be the church at the Kirk – we take seriously both the reality of our current situation and the reality of God’s promise still vital in these readings.
Some here today, or tomorrow, or perhaps some year long past, receive directly the words of comfort, hope, and promise offered by God to the exiled and besieged Israelites. And if you do, or did, rejoice! For that God is our God always and forever – God desires our life, preserves our life, and promises a return to life in its full abundance and flourishing.
For others of us, the word of God we hear in this passage is actually more like one we overhear. It is a word offered to our neighbours, to strangers in these lands, to those in islands neighbouring our lands, to those in desert and tropics in the north parts of our lands, to those applying for hundreds of rental properties now homeless in our lands. And the question for us – having overheard this word – is what can we do to help? What can we do or change to move with rather than against the will and promise of God? How will we be a neighbour, to search for and stand with those seeking their welfare in a new city? Those trying to raise families in lands they would rather not have to live in, those seeking to build homes and plant gardens until the day they can return to the plots of land purchased and prepared for them by their ancestors? How can we show our faithfulness to God and God’s promises by striving to realise them with those around us?
In this movement to our neighbours, to those exiled, besieged, and addressed in this passage, we like those who feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and visit those in prison encounter Christ himself - and in that moment, in that relationship, in that standing with and service to, the word of God addresses us directly once more.
Image: Claude Monet, The Artist's Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner of the Garden with Dahlias), 1873
Then someone yelled out "Contact, front"
And the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours, then a God-almighty roar
Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon
God help me, he was going home in June
I can still see Frankie drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie lying screaming in the jungle
'Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row
And the Anzac legends didn't mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn't even feel
God help me
I was only nineteen
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what's this rash that comes and goes
Can you tell me what it means?
God help me
I was only nineteen
Many might recognise the lyrics from the Redgum song, I Was Only 19, written by John Schumann based on the experiences of veterans of the Vietnam War. The 1983 song was number one on the charts for two weeks and influential in the campaign to add a war memorial for veterans of the Vietnam war.
The song’s impact, like the poetry of Jeremiah, speaks to the necessity to publicly grieve and lament the great pain and loss brought on by war, violence, and desolation. Schumann’s song captures the scars and trauma that don’t go away. Jeremiah captures the shock, grief, and trauma that Israel faced in their defeat and exile at the hands of Babylon.
Both pieces further capture the questions that emerge in the face of such horror and crisis; in particular, the question: what are they to do now?
What Israel did in exile should never be underestimated. Defeated emphatically in battle, their temple is destroyed and people dislocated from the promised land… there is little evidence that the God of Israel is either faithful to them or powerful enough to compete with the empires of the world. Away from their land and religious system the threads holding the people together and to their God are tenuous… they would not be the first nation, in such a position, to be assimilated into the wider imperial culture and religion.
And yet, that does not happen. As we recalled at the beginning of our service, Jeremiah – honest and unflinching in lament and exile – offers a promise to the people:
“The steadfast love of God never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Holy One is my portion…
therefore I will hope in God.’
And so the people retained their faith, identity, and hope. And they would do it again some centuries later under Roman imperial rule, when the temple is destroyed once more, and they would do it throughout history to this day… and yet, it is never done by excising the parts of scripture and religious expression which foreground lament, confrontation, grief, mess, and questions; the faith survives through those very things – for it is there that hope and trust take their most robust forms.
The Israelites in Babylon are certainly not the only people to perform such an act of survival and resilience in the face of imperial dislocation and violence. The story of these lands is one of that kind, where the Indigenous people to this day – in the face of attempted assimilation, conquest, even genocide – have held onto culture and story and connection to country, ancestors, and dreaming. Have remained the longest continuing culture – again, not by excising lament, but through the fullness of the truth.
In a similar way, Schumann and Redgum perform a kind survival through lament and public grief. They, along with others, insisted that the truth of what occurred to them both in Vietnam and on their return be acknowledged. There is an insistence that even if they carry with them a shadow of death that will not disappear, they will not be disappeared. In that conviction truth is told, and an opportunity for a nation to learn and do better is offered.
Sadly, lament, grief, questioning, and mess often get pushed aside in contemporary society and even in the church. We struggle to find ways to make space for lament, for rage and questions. Churches often neglect the need to provide avenues and encouragement for wrestling openly and corporately with what we feel God has done or failed to do. And because of this many are forced to face such storms and crises, alone. And in facing them alone, many feel they either have to hold it all together in public worship, or that there is no place for them there, slowly drifting away.
The question, then, is how do we hold onto this tradition of lament and questioning, of confrontation and wrestling with God so that we hand on a faith robust enough to weather the storms of violence, trauma, and woe?
For a robust faith is not only strong enough to survive storms, but it is strong enough to be received and wrestled into a shape that makes sense in the face of questions and storms we have never imagined… a superficial, gentle faith has to be handled with gloves and placed on a mantle where it can be brought down only in the most idyllic and controlled of circumstances, brought down as one might a nativity set at that time of year. A robust faith, formed in the crucible of existence, is a living tradition that can be received, moulded, stretched, and formed and reformed like good clay.
In today’s epistle, Paul notes that he worships, as his ancestors did. His worship is shaped by the faith of the midwives who rescued the Hebrew babies from Pharoah until God parted the seas, the faith of those Israelites in Babylon, who planted gardens until God brought them back to the land of their forebears, the faith of those Israelites, just a few generations before Paul, who revolted against Greece when their religious practices were outlawed and temple desecrated. Those who held and shaped and handed on the faith in the midst of trail and trauma, prepared an inheritance for Paul that would sustain him through his own trials and imprisonments; allowing him to hold a hope against hope that God would again bring deliverance.
Paul, with this wind at his back, reminds Timothy the sincere faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice; is the faith that now lives in him.
The responsibility to the kind of faith we are handing on belongs to us all. Not only the ‘heroes’ of scripture, or the ordained of the church, but to the grandmothers and mothers sitting around tables sharing their life with God with those in their care. It belongs to us all to demonstrate the fullness of our lives of faith, the fullness of our prayers and questions. To allow our Christian worship to express the gamut of our angst and doubt and joy and hope and lament and praise. To show that the One in which we trust is big enough, loving enough, and understanding enough to abide with us even as we struggle and wrestle and question and cry and rage and hope and doubt and turn and turn back and not know where to turn. Because if we believe that God is big enough then we can trust that however the storm might blow and the tide might carry us, however we are battered and bruised and betrayed by the world, we will not drift away, and the faith formed in this honesty will not be found wanting in the storms to come. For God, we find, is the ocean; where steadfast love has no end. God is the sun; whose new mercies rise every morning. God is our portion; the ground of our robust hope – a hope worthy or being handed on.
image: Melancholy, a sculpture by Albert Gyorgy
Readings, Luke 16:19-31 and 1 Timothy 6: 6-19
This week many will have seen the story of the 200+ stranded whales on the beach in Tasmania, and the efforts to return as many as possible to the ocean. An emotional story, to see such large, majestic beasts trapped and unable to return and the water. I celebrated each creature saved and felt somewhat grieved at the loss of the others… after which I went and cooked chicken schnitzels for the family and thought not a moment about it.
It is strange the way we become conditioned to tiers of care, taught to become insulated to one kind of animal’s death, while connecting emotionally to another – it's the long story of humanity that we are able to compartmentalise the creatures around us, some pets, some food, some labour… And yet, that is not just the story of humans and their relationships with animals, for we are also are readily conditioned to see the suffering of some people as unbearable (requiring great action and grief), and other cases of human suffering as natural (or, perhaps more accurately, we are able to become conditioned to see some suffering and not see the other). To some degree this is required, there are days to be lived and tasks to be completed, we cannot be sent reeling by every sad face, or sad tale… but we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that there aren’t nefarious forces at work in our conditioning, aren’t demons prowling beneath the decision of whose suffering to see, and whose to pass by.
Jesus tells a parable.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The two men die, and poor Lazarus is carried away by angels to be with Abraham, while the rich man descended to Hades. A great chasm has been fixed between two, such that no relief can come, such that no word can bring change.
Yet, the great chasm between their afterlives is not the only chasm to exist between Lazarus and the rich man in the story. For the great chasm of inequality existed in their earthly lives. This chasm insulated the rich man from his fellow, allowing Lazarus’ suffering to go unseen and unaddressed. The great gulf between rich and poor existed at the time of Jesus’ teaching, and has, sadly only gotten wider today. The world’s wealth is held by fewer and fewer individuals and, economists and historians confirm that the gap in our time is unprecedented. To give an example, if I decided to knock on your door every morning and say “here’s a thousand dollars” and every day we repeated that little exchange I would need to knock on your door and hand over a thousand dollars every morning for 2749 years in order for you to have one billion dollars (that’s 700+ more years since the time Christ told this parable). And that’s just to get you one billion dollars, which is nothing compared to the 276 billion that the richest man on earth is currently worth.
Timothy warns the church, the love of money is the root of all evils, for such wealth insulates you from the world, it twists priorities, expectations, experiences, such that one becomes increasingly walled up, inattentive to those dying at your gates. The love of money twists minds and hardens hearts such that a person is unable to be reached by the law, the prophets, and the gospel of one raised from the dead.
Jesus teaches his followers that they will find him present when they feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty… and when they ignore those suffering such material poverty they ignore him. And so the rich man, who was able to create a chasm between himself and the of the world, who was able to erect a gate between himself and those dying while he feasted, those naked while he wore fine linen, has found that he has placed a chasm between himself and God.
Such a chasm can only be overcome through the rich man’s death – though not the death we hear in the story, not the death that ends life – but rather the death that leads to the life. This is the kind of death we proclaim in baptism, where we die to Christ and rise with him to follow after him.
This is a dying to the self-sufficient, self-preserving, self-aggrandising self. This is a dying to a life measured in building up larger and larger storehouses to keep safe our surplus, and a choosing of the life that finds its purpose in the love of neighbour. This is a dying to life that is able to compartmentalising the suffering of the poor, that is able to justify the poverty and inequality as just the way things are, too big to solve and not big enough to worry about. It is the conversion to the way of God; a dying with Christ and a rising into the life that truly is life – which for some requires the parting with worldly wealth so as to not be apart from one’s humanity, one’s fellows, one’s God.
The rich man – after demanding Lazarus offer him service even in Hades – asks for word to be sent to his family so they may be spared the same fate. And yet, Abraham reminds him, they had Moses and the prophets (and there is a wealth of teaching in both that calls for the equal distribution of wealth, the release from debts, providing for the widow, orphan, and the poor) and yet that was not enough! And so too, Abraham says, it will not be enough even if they hear testimony of one who rose from the dead… to which Jesus, in telling this parable, refers to himself – who again, like Moses and the Prophets, is too often ignored by his own followers when it comes to teachings about money (something Timothy and many since have struggled against).
And yet, friends, we have before us today Moses and the Prophets, and we have the testimony of one who was raised from the dead. Let us heed these words in our own time, so that we might cross those chasms. Let us encourage and care for one another enough that we might relinquish that which incubates and isolates us from the suffering of others, so that we might work with Christ to break down the dividing walls of hostility and fling open the gates which hold so many in perpetual poverty. May we take up the charge of confronting and overcoming such chasms in our time, battling inequality, poverty, and greed. Let us, as Timothy encourages, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness, and be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. May we prayerfully and faithfully fight back the creeping love of money in our own lives and in our society - not only for the good of our neighbours but for the good of our mortal souls. Let us die daily with Christ, trusting the provision of God, and cross the chasms the world creates, so that we might take hold of the life that truly is life! It is not easy, but that shouldn’t deter us, we are followers of one raised from the dead – no chasm is too wide for those found in his name.
Image: Inequality, Elizabeth Coyle, 2020
Readings: 1 Samuel 2:12-17 and Matthew 18:1-7
[content warning: discussions of child abuse]
Uniting Church President, Rev Sharon Hollis ended her prayer for this Sunday this way,
May we do all we can to create safe and welcoming communities
so that your good news might be proclaimed with joy
and children might find life and hope in the gospel.
Child Safe Sunday serves as a reminder of the important work that is being a safe church. A reminder to be intentional, vigilant, and consistent in our work to ensure our church community – its worship, activities, and ministries – prioritises the safety of the vulnerable (particularly in this instance, the children).
Following the royal commission into institutional cases of child abuse, which exposed the extent of sexual abuse in churches and the paucity of institutional responses to prevent or address this abuse, the church has entered a new era. Not only did the truth-telling of the commission emphatically impact the church’s witness (and again the church bears full responsibility for this) but it compelled (and required) the church to take drastic action to ensure that such harm would not occur again. The church (like many other institutions) lost a great deal of trust and moral standing in society – and if it is to earn it back, if it is going to be able to be a city on the hill signalling the promised peace of God, it (we) must take up this drastic action in our life together – we must strive to be safe.
Sometimes this drastic action can be seen as burdensome, as bureaucratic, as something that inhibits the central mission and purpose of the community. It might be seen as a case of institutionalism triumphing over community, or a case of secular authority restricting the church. Some might lament the times gone by where it was so much simpler, where things could be more casual and ad hoc, where anyone could be pulled in to help out, or a new activity could spring up without having to first go through various stages of checks and balances. Others might think that it is all well and good that these procedures and checks exist, but we don’t need that here, because we’re a small group, and all know each other.
And yet, while much of the work done in the safe church process is done in order to meet legal and denominational requirements, and while sometimes it might not appear immediately evident how this relates to our central purpose and calling as disciples of Jesus, being and becoming a safe community is – fundamentally – about following Christ’s call to love God and neighbour with our whole selves. It is fundamentally in keeping with God’s own heart for the vulnerable. It is fundamentally reflective of God’s own anger toward any who would exploit their responsibility and power and endanger the spiritual life of a child.
We heard two readings. In the first we hear of God’s disgust and anger at Eli’s sons, who abused their priestly office to exploit the people, to take for themselves the best of the community, to scorn that which people have offered to God, and misdirect it toward their own pleasure. Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, and the sins of Eli’s house would not be expiated, and it would be the young boy Samuel, who would be chosen to lead Israel as their priest and prophet.
In the second, Jesus reminds his disciples that greatness comes through humility and childlikeness, and that to welcome a child is to welcome him. He then goes on to say, in no uncertain terms, that it would be better for a great millstone to be fastened around your neck and to be thrown into the sea than to be found to have put a stumbling block before a child. Jesus acknowledges that there will be stumbling blocks enough thrown up by the world and its pain… but to neglect, or harm a child, and so lay down a stumbling block oneself – woe to the Christian who does that!
How many children have had stumbling blocks placed before by abusers and their protectors in the church?
Could any find fault in a child who was abused, neglected, mistreated by someone in the church turning around and having no time for the church, no fondness for God? Could any find fault in their families and friends, being confronted with the breach of trust and the enormity of harm done, no longer being able to hear any good news in the words of Jesus? Such stumbling blocks are not readily put aside – after the royal commission it is of little surprise that many see the church as a house built on stumbling blocks, rather than the cornerstone of Christ.
And so we return to those words from the President’s prayer. Because while we strive to be a safe church so as to protect the vulnerable from abuse and harm – we also do these things so that all we do might create safe and welcoming community in order that the good news of Jesus might be proclaimed with joy and children might find life and hope in the gospel. We work to be a safe church so that none might have a stumbling block placed before them, so that the children might hear the invitational beckoning of Christ, and so that we – by striving to be a people of welcome – might not only welcome the children, but welcome Christ.
Image: Anonymous, Jesus Welcomes All, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.