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christ the slain king: faithfulness in a world of effectiveness

On Sunday night I delivered the following sermon at a wonderful Uniting Church here in Sydney. I was told to speak about something that was burning on my heart.

Since I didn’t have time to memorise much of my sermon beforehand, I wrote much of it down. This means you get to read it! (Huzzah!)

Though I haven’t been able to post much lately this sermon represents some of the things I have been thinking about. I hope it challenges and comforts.

We come to the end of the year, for many of us a time of exhaustion.

For those who have done their best to walk the path of discipleship such exhaustion is compounded by the weariness of the pilgrimage more generally.

Perhaps it is providence that we find ourselves entering into the Christmas season where we join with the Magi, also suffering exhaustion after their long journey, in asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)

Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer,

In fitting with this the lectionary cycle this week reflects on the theme of ‘Christ the King’ as we again celebrate his coming. For those feeling the strain of walking the road of discipleship what hope and encouragement comes from reflection on this theme? As we will see, the encouragement offered to us by Christ as king is often not what we want, though it is what we need.

What does it mean for our discipleship that Christ is king?

Colossians 1:15-20 [1]

He is the image
            of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
            for in him were created all things
            in heaven and earth
            things visible and invisible
            whether thrones or dominions
            whether rulers or powers
            all things have been created through him and for him

And he is before all things
            and in him all things hold together
And he is the head
            of the body, the church

He is the beginning
            the firstborn from the dead
            so that he might come to have first place in everything
                        for in him all the fullness
                        was pleased to dwell
                        and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
                        all things
                        whether on earth or in heaven
                        by making peace through the blood of his cross

This powerful statement of the identity and meaning of Christ is well rehearsed amongst Christians, but often without much in the way of reflection on what it may have meant to Paul’s audience.

Place yourself in their world, a world colonised by images of Caesar: Read the rest of this entry

art & the prophetic imagination

On Saturday night here in Sydney TEAR Australia hosted the first of its Art of Resistance events. We had a really fantastic set of works, both visual and performance-based, which provided a wonderful witness to the prophetic power of art. (You can download the catalogue of works here.)

Here is a very rough text version of the short reflection I gave during the night’s proceedings:

In talking about art I don’t want to take long, since too much talking can interfere with the power of art. It’s like the story of a dancer who, having completed a dance piece, was asked what it meant. She replied that if she could explain what it meant, she would not have had to dance!

Why are we doing this? Why would an organisation like TEAR, committed to fighting poverty, bother spending time on art?

Because art is important, because art is powerful.

I think Bono said it well: Read the rest of this entry

imagining: the most revolutionary thing we can do

A few days ago I posted a song of mine, entitled “Imagining”, on the Art of Resistance website. I thought I would post it here also:

Here is the blurb I wrote about the song: Read the rest of this entry

“enough is enough”: walter brueggemann on abundance and scarcity

Below is an article by Walter Brueggemann entitled “Enough is Enough”. Brueggemann is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, prolific author and a prophetic voice in a world dying for lack of imagination. I don’t normally post exterior articles, but this is more than worth the exception.

Source: The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.

Enough is Enough

“In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
by Walter Brueggemann

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.

But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be? The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space. An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have. In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it. Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without. Read the rest of this entry

the deradicalisation of christianity?

A conversation with a friend today led to us asking the question – how did Christianity become so de-radicalised?

After all the story of the early Church, both in Acts and as implied in the Epistles and Revelation, seems to reflect a community that was at odds in almost every way with the surrounding culture.

(By being at odds with the dominant culture I do not mean abusing gays, doing apologetics or marginalising sex…)

How did we become so at home in the dominant culture? When did “taking up our crosses” come to refer to something other than directly confronting the dominant culture of idolatry and systems of injustice?[1]

Can we really say we are Christians, meaning “little Christs” or “followers of Christ”, when Jesus posed a real threat to the way of life represented by the dominant culture (enough to be liquidated) but most of us revel in it? Read the rest of this entry

talkin’ ‘bout your imagination

To know me is to know that I struggle with life as it is.

I am constantly frustrated.

Not with other people as much as with myself and my own life. My good friend Greg calls it dissonance between the internal and external; that is to say, there is a tension between what I feel and see on the inside and what actually happens in the external world.

This too often leads to deconstruction of the external. But there is only so long that the deconstruction piece can go on – it has to lead somewhere else, otherwise there is nothing left to deconstruct.

And the truth is there is somewhere else to go, even if we haven’t seen it. But of course very few of us have ever been taught to use our imaginations. Knowing that there is something bigger and better is a torturous experience when your imagination has been slowly sucked from the self by a sterile-but-seductive social system.

In the preface of his amazing book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, quoting Frederick Asals (who in turn is analysing Flannery O’Connor – complicated I know), writes;

The imagination, O’Connor discovered, might accomplish much more; it might become the channel of visionary awareness … For O’Connor, as for Aquinas, it is the imagination, with its roots deep in the human unconscious, that is the link between the depths of the self and the unseen reaches of the universe, that can reveal to finite man his apocalyptic destiny … the imagination for her is as dangerous a force as any named by Freud, for what it opens to, in those shattering climaxes when it achieves release, are the unwanted visions that ravage the lives of her protagonists.

… as the institutional guardian of the prophetic Word, the church has hardly been hospitable to the individual voice crying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

… Far from denying the body and the senses, the asceticism in the later fiction (of O’Connor) works consistently to affirm them, to release them from the false consciousness of her protagonists in order to experience reality. But reality, to the prophetic mind, is always double: “This world, no more shadow of ideas in an upper sphere, is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” For O’Connor’s sacramentalism, it is the natural world that becomes the vehicle for the supernatural, and her characters’ literal return to their senses becomes the means of opening their imaginations to receive it.

Suffering is central to the prophetic consciousness. “The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people’s capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain.” … This ascetic imperative in O’Connor is a part of that prophetic consciousness….

As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”

Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”

Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.

It has been a long time since I read anything that made my heart jump as much as those words, but reading them is like a much needed breath of air. My desire is that God would give to me and others the courage to use our imaginations in a way that bridges the deepest parts of the self and the outermost reaches of the universe, to have the Spirit of God working in us to prophetically imagine something different, bigger, greater.

And before anyone becomes concerned that I am advocating extremism, know well that such extremism is that of love and imagination, not violent action.

The truth is that I desperately want to be inspired, and to let my imagination run in freedom to create a world in which I and others want to live. I know that others feel the same. Perhaps together we can imagine a different reality.

May stars flood your dreams, and may we see something beyond what we ‘know’. May we breathe deep breaths and feel the beauty of the universe. May we become in touch with reality. May we become compatible with God.


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