Month: March 2010

‘behold, the Lamb of God!’ (v)

This is a serialised version of a sermon preached as John the Baptist. Perhaps consider it a kind of ‘true confessions’ of that first eye-witness of the Lord.

I’ve been thinking. And I’m wondering if Jesus just might be ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’?

Not that I’m suggesting he’d be the star attraction for the under-6’s at the zoo. Give me a break! Have you ever actually hung around a flock of sheep out in the back-blocks of Palestine? It’s a dirty, smelly, cut-throat world.

No. There’s nothing particularly impressive or significant about a bunch of lambs. They’re stupid, mostly. Apart from roasting them with a little rosemary and garlic, probably the best thing you can do with them is offer them to God as a sacrifice! That is what being a Lamb is all about. That is what it means to be ‘the Lamb of God’, I’m sure. It’s got to be something like that!

Now the details are a bit sketchy, I know. Because if he’s the Lamb of God — and I guess it’s still a big ‘if’ — then, well, I suppose he’s going to die. And sure, I know everyone’s going to die, in a deep, existentialist sort of way. But this is different. This’ll be about sacrifice. About dealing with sin — like the lambs at the Temple. How could it mean anything less? To be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? To be crushed for us like Isaiah talked about?

I’m still chewing it all over, of course. And I can’t see exactly how it’s all going to work. But I’m thinking that maybe his ‘ordinariness’ is an advantage here. Not that he’s supremely average. But that he’s one of us — a human being, an Israelite, our brother. Which I guess he’d have to be if he’s going to represent us, stand in our place, die our death, deal with our sin. Kind of like a substitute.

But the Scripture’s tell us that no one can die in the place of anyone else. We’ve all got our own sin to deal with — one look at the sacrificial system will tell you as much: even the high priest has to go through an elaborate process of dealing with his own sin before he can approaching God on our behalf! But perhaps Jesus is the Lamb of God because he’s spotless. Blameless. Like one of the lambs we slaughter at Passover — without blemish or defect.

I know, I know! I hardly know the guy. Not these days. Could he really be spotless? Could he really not have his own sin to deal with? I’m starting to sound pretty crazy — even to myself.

What more, I guess we’re not just talking about Israel here. If he really is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then it’s got to be bigger than that. The world… The world that God made but which has gone bad? The world that pursues satisfaction and meaning in anything but in him? The world that needs the cleansing fire of judgement to straighten it out?! That the Lamb of God might take away ‘the sins of the world’… OK. That’s just mind boggling!

But let’s just say (for argument’s sake) that Jesus is going to be a sacrifice, that he might not have his own sin to deal with. Well, I still can’t get my head around how he can get to the root of the problem and deal with sin for everyone… Surely, only God could do that?

Like I said, I’m still trying to come to grips with it all. But I’ve got a feeling this is big. Even though it’s not exactly what I expected.

So, yeah. I met Jesus the other day. He wasn’t what I was expecting. But he sure left an impression.

announcing: ‘God without borders’

In contemporary Western societies borders have become a subject of deep ambivalence — verging I might say on the schizophrenic:

  • On the one hand, they seem to be dissolving as our rapidly globalised world renders them increasingly irrelevant. You can connect with anyone, anywhere, at almost any time (sometimes without even consciously pursuing connection — e.g., as your morning coffee habit implicates you in the mechanisms of global poverty).
  • On the other hand, though, there seems to be an increasing anxiety about policing our borders — ensuring our national ‘border security’ and desperately trying to establish our cultural and communal borders to ward off the (potential) enemy within.

How should Christians respond to this ambivalence? Does the Lord Jesus speak a word into our situation? And will it be comforting or profoundly discomforting?

The Centre for Apologetics, Scholarship and Education (based at New College, UNSW) is poised to help us ask — if not answer — such questions. I’ve had the privilege of being involved in producing the forthcoming edition of CASE magazine ‘God without borders’. It’s an immensely stimulating edition. And has a fascinating list of contributors — including:

  • Stanley Hauerwas;
  • Andrew Sloane;
  • Erin Goheen Glanville;
  • Matthew John Paul Tan;
  • Andrew Errington; and
  • Stuart Barton Babbage, among others.

Pick up a copy or become a subscriber HERE.

around the world

Daft Punk sung it. We feel like we’ve been experiencing it: since we last ‘live blogged’ our trip, we’ve been in London, Jersey, St Malo and Paris.

We’re really starting to stack up the stories, reflections and (yes) photos to inflict on you share with you… But for the moment we wanted to pause and register just some of the things we’re thankful to God for:

  • The really warm welcome we’ve received from family — physical and spiritual — wherever we’ve found ourselves.
  • The astonishing prevalence of free WiFi (when Natalie travelled abroad less than 10 years ago she pretty much dropped off the grid; we’re almost perpetually connected).
  • The nearly universally excellent weather — there was snow on the ground in NYC but it was perfectly clear; and now we’re wearing T-shirts in Paris!
  • Enough said.
  • The modern Western commitment to preserving history.
  • The generosity of French speakers in dealing with two totally inept Australians.

And now, a sample of the most recent photos:

Enjoying a delightful meal with our friends Matt & Michelle

Jersey; land of cows, potatoes, offshore banking and a really massive tidal zone

St Malo; a picturesque walled town in Brittany

We were struck by the way Notre Dame was more like a town hall than a parish church

Chris wondering about the occult symbolism of the glass pyramid at the Louvre -- maybe he could write a bestseller about it...

Sunny afternoon in Paris? Pull up a garden chair in the Jardin de Luxembourg with the locals

‘behold, the Lamb of God!’ (iv)

This is a serialised version of a sermon preached as John the Baptist. Perhaps consider it a kind of ‘true confessions’ of that first eye-witness of the Lord.

So, I’m expecting big things. Impressive things. God-who-rescued-us-from-Egypt-and-made-us-his-own-people kind of things.

Then Jesus showed up. And, like I said, he wasn’t what I was expecting at all! But the Spirit descended and remained on him. It marked him out — just like God had prepared me for. Like a giant neon sign saying: ‘Here’s the Chosen One’.

I was as surprised as the next person. As I said, Jesus really isn’t that impressive. He doesn’t really have the right ‘look’ … you know? I can hardly picture him as the triumphant Messiah-king. The judge of all the world. The one who’ll lift one hand and they’ll be vindicated and drop the other one and they’ll be condemned.

Let’s be honest, he’s hardly Lion of Judah material. He’s just doesn’t look like the all-conquering, all-judging type. He just seems a bit too meek and mild. Not really a prize fighter. No tattoos or rippling abs.

(Although perhaps he does have the charisma for it. Who knows? Two of my disciples — Andrew and one of the others — did leave me to follow him today.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was my first encounter with Jesus. The other day. And it sort of rattled my cage. How could someone like that be the Messiah?

It really got me thinking. So … I did what I’d been taught to do when something gets me thinking. I went back to the prophets. And, for some reason, those words of passion and insight that Isaiah spoke about the ‘servant of the Lord’, those words got their hooks into me and they set my heart on fire. To begin with, Isaiah pointed out that we should be expecting the unexpected (and humanly unimpressive). Because God’s servant — a bit like the nation of Israel — ‘grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; / he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’

Then Isaiah went on to speak of how this servant will be despised and rejected, struck down and afflicted. For us. In our place. Taking a bullet for us. Suffering for our iniquity, guilt and sin. Bearing the divine rejection and wrath we deserve. ‘Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent’ he’ll be killed. And, like a sacrificial lamb, his death will be ‘an offering for sin’…

So. Like I said, I read that and it set my heart on fire. You see, I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it or sounded its depths yet, but I think I caught a glimpse — a fleeting, dim glimpse — of what Jesus’ significance might be…

disability and theology #6

For the previous posts on disability and theology click HERE.
For full references, download the reference list HERE.

In truth, no person is without impairment in some form because none manifests the fullness of the image of God in which we are created.
Birch 2007 p185

The human experience of embodiment is really complex. By using the terms ‘disabled’ and ‘able-bodied’ we create two pretty artificial categories. Everybody’s experience of their physical and mental capacity is unique. Indeed, we can have great gifts in one area and be limited in others.

Some authors, like Thomas Reynolds, suggest people are only more or less limited than one another; that disability is simply the manifestation of human vulnerability. And before we jump to thinking that limitedness is a function of the fall, it might be useful to remember that even Adam needed a helper … he wasn’t wholly self-sufficient.

Authors who ask us to recognise our own brokenness often do so in order to elicit our solidarity with people our society would label as ‘disabled’. What this ought to do is help us (whether we have a disability ourselves or not) to regard people with a disability as close to ourselves. It is a framework that can help us love each other better.

But I do think it would be harmful to suggest that there is no difference between the experience of people with a disability and able-bodied people. There are many material ways in which people with a disability are discriminated against in which the able-bodied are not. We must not let a legitimate desire for solidarity blind us to the very real ways in which our society facilitates the exclusion of some, lest we become like the fool who declares ” ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body” (James 2:16).

everything in its right place?

Our second week in the UK has been full of time connecting (and re-connecting) with extended family — in Stamford, Cambridge and London — as well as taking in the sights of Olde London Towne. It’s been really delightful. And exhausting!

As we think back over it, we realise that we’ve found ourselves circling themes of war and peace:

  1. We met (for the first time in my adult life) my Dad’s half-brother and his wife, who lived a sizable chunk of their life near the site of Bergen-Belson concentration camp. We were struck by the way the events that happened there continue to reach into the present.
  2. We chatted with Natalie’s brother and fiancee, Alex, about contested land rights in resource-rich (and conflict-riven) countries in central Africa — the topic of Alex’s PhD. We’re glad there’s someone as talented as she is who is trying to make sense of some of the complex legal issues!
  3. We were oddly unsettled by the many monuments and memorials to the war dead in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. We recognise the appropriateness of remembering the departed in churches, but often it feels like it verges on glorifying war. We’ll think some more about it and maybe post some more later…

And now the photographic proof:

Chris and his uncle Roy in Stamford

At lunch with Natalie's brother, Ed and his fiancee, Alex, in Cambridge

Chris outside St Paul's cathedral, London

Natalie and the view of Westminster from the Thames

And of course I missed my College graduation ceremony…

but was well represented by the study group I was part of

h/t to Bek for the beautiful photoshop work.

‘behold, the Lamb of God!’ (iii)

This is a serialised version of a sermon preached as John the Baptist. Perhaps consider it a kind of ‘true confessions’ of that first eye-witness of the Lord.

Our prophets weren’t all doom and gloom of course. They also told us that this wasn’t going to be the end of the story. God, they said us, is going to do something about it. Something new. Something Big. With a capital B.

That’s what I’m doing out here at the fringe of the promised land — back where it all began, where God was with us and went before us and gave us victory and brought us into the good land like he promised. I’m here waiting for God to do it all again. Just like the prophets foretold. Gloriously. Mercifully. Returning. And setting things straight. Purging the land of all its moral compromise. Its false religion. Its petty jealousies and power struggles. Cleaning up the mess and establishing his kingdom. In perfect justice and righteousness.

That’s what I’m waiting for. What I’m hoping for. And that’s why I want people to repent. To get back to their roots. To make a fresh start as God’s people, ready to be swept up in the unstoppable tide of his victory and cleansing judgement — instead of being swept away by it!

It’s like what I told the ‘heavies’ who came out from Jerusalem. I’m just doing what the prophets said, just trying to get things ready — do a little house-cleaning. Before the Messiah shows and God arrives.

It’s not that they don’t expect the Messiah to come, mind you. They’re mad for it. Apparently some of their rabbis are talking about setting up a chair for Elijah out the front of the synagogue and presenting every boy who gets circumcised to it — hoping that Elijah himself will appear out of thin air and point out the kid that’s the Messiah.

I get where they’re coming from (I guess). They’ve heard the prophets talk about Elijah making another appearance before God returns. But really? Elijah himself! Sure he was taken away bodily by God — and so I know some people think he didn’t die… But, it’s prophecy people! They’re talking about the future in terms that make sense in the present. When they speak about a new exodus — no-one thinks we’re actually going to go back into Egypt and be delivered from there again. What God’s got in store is much bigger than that!

No. The reason I’m wearing this camel’s hair shirt and eating this diet of desperation — locusts and wild honey. It’s not because I think of myself as a trend-setter. And it’s not because I think I’m Elijah reincarnate or something. Not at all! I’m not Elijah. And I’m not ‘the Prophet’ that Moses talked about who would go one better than him — him who had seen God face to face! And I’m definitely not the Messiah.

I’m just the sign-post. The usher. They guy with the job of preparing the people, showing them to their seats before the main event so they’re ready for the Messiah when he finally arrives. And, I tell you, it’s going to be glorious! His triumphant arrival. Bringing God’s judgement. Setting things straight. Baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Doing for real what I’m only doing symbolically. Purifying. Burning off all the dross…

disability and theology #5

I’m sure that, before I started reading about disability, I would have quite simplistically asserted it was a ‘product of the fall’.

So much disability seems to be the product of a broken world. Sin has massive consequences for the physical world. Accidents, violence, disease, punishment — all can impair bodily function.

Yet I want to suggest that it can be decidedly unhelpful to point to the bodies of people with a disability as the site in which this all pervasive evil manifests itself. In fact, Scripture identifies God Himself as the originator of what, on the surface, can seem like impairments. For example, in Exodus 4:10-11, God takes creative responsibility for Moses’ speech impediment.

Yet congenital disability is not somehow ‘above’ other forms of disability. Jesus still reverses congenital disability. In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth, refusing to enter into the disciples’ speculation about the origin of the man’s disability.

Either way the loving sovereignty of the Creator must be affirmed in both the experience of disability and the healing of bodily impairments (whether ‘acquired’ or congenital).

Indeed, as a final challenge, it’s worth noting that the writers of the New Testament are much more likely to point to depraved human behaviour as evidence of the all-pervasiveness of sin than they are to point to the more visible disabled body.

We ought not mourn the disabled body but our own incompleteness and brokennness.


Natalie and I visited Hadrian’s Wall in North Eastern England yesterday. It’s one of the world’s most ancient boundaries — for which humans are responsible.

The wall next to the ruined fort at Housesteads

Like so many border areas, the boundary marked by Hadrian’s Wall was contested and re-configured time and again throughout its long history. Which gives us the theme of our post — and our time in the UK to date: boundaries, borders and other in-between spaces.

Along these lines we’ve been wondering:

  1. How to negotiate the odd way British university towns are both tourist sites full of history and antiquarian interest, and functional contexts in which people live, study, work and party.

    Oxford laid out in all its higgledy-piggledy glory (viewed from St Mary's church tower)

  2. Why the ‘geographers of religion’ (and associated sociologists, anthropologists, religious studies scholars and theologians) at the conference we attended in Newcastle seemed so anxious to ‘position’ themselves — by confessing their personal faith (or lack of it) and drawing or re-drawing disciplinary borders.

    There's so much stone in Newcastle that it feels like an open-air cave

  3. What to feel about the way ancient remnants in the UK — both Roman and Christian — have often not only been preserved but also restored and rennovated in relatively recent times (as well as from their earliest history onwards).

    Durham Cathedral looks massive now, can you imagine how dramatic it was in 1100?

‘behold, the Lamb of God!’ (ii)

This is a serialised version of a sermon preached as John the Baptist. Perhaps consider it a kind of ‘true confessions’ of that first eye-witness of the Lord.

Like I said, Jesus wasn’t what I was expecting. Not really.

Now, I may not have been to one of those fancy-pants Pharisee schools, but I’ve read the Torah. Lots. And as I read the sacred writings of my people, where God has spoken to us and made known his mind and plan for the world … well, I get the distinct impression that big things are about to happen. God-arriving-to-set-things-straight sized things.

That’s why I’m out here preaching repentance. We’re in a mess. This once-great nation of ours.

Sure, we’re the Israelites, the people that God rescued from slavery. The people God took to be his own. He made us a nation. Gave us a land. Showered us with good things. And gave us the privilege of serving him, making us part of his plan to save the world!

But we blew it. We forgot God. We got to the land and started acting like we could claim credit for everything he’d given us. Even though he sent us prophets to remind us and nudge us back to our roots, we just kept relying on ourselves and trying to live life our own way.

In fact, there were times when you could look at us and just think that we were no different from any other nation. Just as morally compromised. Just as confused about life and direction. About as inclined to give God the time of day as the Caananites!

Disgusting, isn’t it? It makes my stomach turn. It’s the same old, old tragic story. This is what’s become of the ‘great’ nation of Israel — God’s own bride, chosen and loved by him — paying him lip service. At best! (And you wonder why I’m telling people to repent?)

It’s just like the prophets said. God is profoundly upset with us. That’s why we’ve been judged.

Because we failed to repent, well … we’ve lost it all! And the nation’s come apart at the seams.

First, we had that civil war, leaving us with two kingdoms — a morally bankrupt but materially successful Northern kingdom. And a slightly less compromised and less significant Southern kingdom. But it wasn’t long after that before we weren’t so much sliding down the slippery slope of creeping worldliness and rebellion against God, as plummeting head-long into an abyss of idolatry, self-reliance and social dysfunction.

Then — as if things weren’t black enough — we were invaded, conquered and a deported. First the Assyrians wiped out the Northern kingdom. Then the Babylonians. They captured Jerusalem — God’s own city. They defiled the temple. And they carted most of us off into exile.

So. Yeah. So much for God’s blessed and privileged nation! Sure, by God’s mercy we’ve been restored. We’re back in the land. We’ve cut a few deals, scraped together the funds and kitted out a new temple that isn’t a total embarrassment. But we’re under the thumb of the Romans. We’ve got no sovereignty of our own. No independence. No say in world affairs. And (predictably enough) everyone’s pointing the finger at everyone else. No-one willing to call us to take responsibility. Before something worse happens.

Like I said, we’re hardly a beacon of God’s light in a dark world. Which is bad news if God’s about to arrive.