A topic that has caused a lot of concern in press and media in the last year is religious freedom. As I read various articles and statements about it, I notice that it seems like most of the disagreement arising from it is not about the topic itself, but over the fact that everybody seems to define it differently.
If you look it up in various dictionaries Freedom of Religion is defined as the right of all individuals, groups or communities to choose, worship, practice and observe the religion (or no religion) that they choose for themselves, without restriction or suppression by government.
Australian Law places limited guarantees on this principle. We are a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which affirms every person’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This freedom is limited, though, and subject to ‘such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.’ So, we have this freedom, but only where it does not endanger others, or restrict their freedoms and rights.
The tinder that started the fire in recent times in Australia was the Marriage Equality debate. Arguments stated that if one person’s religion expressly forbids a certain form of marriage, then if the Nation’s laws allow it, their religious freedom has been impeded. Those who wanted that form of marriage to be available counter-argue that unless it is permitted, then their own freedom of belief is being restricted. The problem is deciding whose rights of belief should be given preference when they conflict.
Over the centuries, the definition of Marriage itself has been constantly changing and diversifying. In our Scriptures, men could have many wives. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). As in most of the ancient world, nobody got to choose who they married - this was decided by their ‘Patriarch’ and family heads. Slaves and servants married as instructed by their masters, and their children became the property of that master. If a girl was raped, she had to marry her rapist. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). It appears a man could divorce his wife if she ‘displeased him’ but a woman had no such right.
Another point to note is that in the Scriptures, marriage was not a religious ceremony, it was a social celebration carried out by the couple’s families. Marriage by the Church is a practice that has arisen since perhaps the 6th to 7th centuries. In fact, following writings such as St Paul’s, the church for many centuries placed a higher value on celibacy and remaining unmarried than on being married. This is the principle behind the celibacy of Catholic priests, monks and nuns.
A further complication in the arguments comes from the assumed purpose of marriage. Is it a commitment of people who love each other? Is it the ‘proper’ way to have children? Is it the ‘building block of our society’? Is it the ‘license to have sex’? I have heard it defined in these ways and many others. The problem is that each of these definitions can conflict with each other, and each one alone does not stand up as a full definition of the state of marriage. Is it all these things? Equally – must it be all these things?
In the end, the issue with Religious Freedom is not about the principle itself, but the limitations of pragmatism that must apply to it. Firstly, does somebody having different beliefs to mine offend against my freedom? If their beliefs become a principle of law, does that bring my beliefs into conflict with my civic duty to observe the law? What if my beliefs become the law? What am I doing to those whose beliefs are different to mine? Am I any different to the Crusaders of past centuries who chopped the heads off ‘infidels’ and believed in their divine right to do so? Or in our modern era, those who bomb mosques, churches and temples around our world in the same belief.
If we look for guidance in our Christian Scriptures, I feel the first principle is ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ with the story of the Good Samaritan as your guide. Then accepting the next principle that follows ‘love your enemies’. I like that one, even though it is probably the hardest instruction Jesus gave, because it is self-canceling. If you love an enemy, that very love wipes out their status as your enemy. I especially like a Facebook slogan that is going around: ‘If your religion calls you to hate anybody – you need a new religion.’
Is religion ever a freedom, a right? If it is, then there is no wonder that it is so complex an issue with so much potential to cause conflict. Yet Jesus never seemed to say that. His proclamation was: “repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” My beliefs are about my relationship with the God who created me and sustains my life. My beliefs are about my acceptance of all God has done for me, centred on the mission of Jesus as the Christ – the one who comes into the world, to guide me back from my own waywardness into the presence of that loving God. I do not see my relationship with God as a freedom or a right – it is a wonderful gift of grace, that will never cease to amaze me.
I believe the only way I can respond to that love is to love my neighbour whether they are a believer, a doubter, another faith, creed, colour, orientation or even an enemy, but whatever – they are a child of God just like me.
Venerable Bill Beagley
As many of you know, I have been freewheeling around Europe for the last six weeks, enjoying what God’s mastery offers us.
I have seen the magnificence of the snowy and mountainous scenery of Iceland and experienced God’s great art expressed in Creation.
I have visited art galleries in Reykjavik, Paris, Giverny and Frankfurt that display the immeasurable creativity of artists, an expression of the image of God in which we are created.
I have been welcomed and shown hospitality by people of so many diverse languages, cultures and nationalities. They have demonstrated to me the love of a neighbour that Jesus calls us to strive for.
You can travel to the opposite side of the world, and still see God all around you. How wonderful is that!
Ask me more about my time away. I’ll be happy to share more of what i’ve seen, heard and learned with you.
The Venerable Bill Beagley
Easter seems so crammed full of symbols! Which is fine by me – I love symbols. They seem to often convey an idea or meaning or emotion so much more effectively and simply than words ever can. In art classes that I did many, many years ago, we were given sketching pens and paper, and had to draw something representing words that were thrown at us about every ten seconds, such as ‘time’, ‘danger’, ‘love’, ‘sickness’, ‘speed’, etc. It was a brilliant exercise, that showed us the visual capacity that art has to convey deep concepts, without the aid of spoken or written language.
So what are all these Easter symbols? Pass any supermarket checkout and you will notice eggs. Eggs are a vessel that brings life into the world. I find nothing wrong with that. Even if the egg is a fake one made of chocolate. Chocolate is one of the richest joys we can taste.
Rabbits seem to abound at Easter. Now, rabbits are an undoubted symbol of new life. Put two rabbits together in one place and in no time the surrounding fields are full of them! Also, rabbits are a life that comes up out of the dark earth. I can see something very Easter morning there as well.
Hot Cross Buns – they have been on the bakery shelves since about the day after Christmas. No doubting the symbol of the cross, telling us what our loving God was ready and willing to do for us. The cross sits at the centre of Christian imagery, representing how God could turn an instrument of torture and execution into a symbol of new life and salvation. Then all that rich fruit, herbs and even choc chips you find in the buns these days, also speaks to me of the rich gift of God that vests in the cross.
Some of the actual symbols that appear in the Passion narratives in our Gospels can tend to be overlooked. One that moves me greatly is the stone rolled away from the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the women with her knew they would be unable to move it, but it was already moved when they arrived. I see a symbol telling us that God has opened to us that which we could not ourselves have achieved. A similar symbol is the curtain of the Temple torn in two as Jesus died. This revealed the Holy of Holies, the place God dwelt in Jewish belief, as now open to all who approach, not just any chosen few.
The angelic characters who meet he women at the empty tomb symbolise to me that God is speaking to us through all these symbols. The Greek word ‘angelos’ means messenger. It is not angels who speak, they deliver God’s words to those to whom they are sent.
The three crosses atop a hill is often depicted to express the crucifixion. To me, they tell of Jesus sharing our human experience – even the very worst part of it. Many thousands died on crosses during the Roman Empire, not just criminals but any that the Roman rulers felt the Empire was better off without. The four Gospels do not exactly agree on what the other two beside Jesus were being punished for, but Jesus’ compassion for them, and absolution of the one who utters those words of supplication and praise – how wonderful a symbol of God’s faith to us, all humanity, no matter how fallen, how outcast or lost.
My favourite service at Easter every year is the Celebration of the New Fire. Before the sun has risen, a fire is lit in front of the darkened church. From it we light the new Paschal Candle, itself covered with symbols that are each explained in the service. Then all present light their own candles and we process into the dark church, calling out ‘The light of Christ!’ three times as we process to the sanctuary. We then reaffirm our baptism vows, and with the flick of a switch, light floods the church that has lain unadorned since Thursday, representing Jesus’ time in the tomb. This is a celebration so steeped in symbolic meaning – I struggle to hold back tears.
Yes, there are so many symbols woven into the Easter story. I suggest we do not try to evaluate which are valid or not, which are more valuable or deep. I think we should just let them all speak to us, enrich our thoughts, feelings and prayers over Easter, and even let them linger, like the rich feel of melting chocolate Easter Egg does on your tongue, for as long as we can after the season is finished.
The Venerable Bill Beagley
Language is a constantly fascinating thing. How much of our time do we spend speaking, reading, listening, writing or typing? Most of our waking hours I would estimate. During my holidays I spent a week at our beach-house all by myself. The thing you are firstly most aware of when you are totally by yourself is the absence of language. No talking. All your thoughts are yours alone and there is nobody to share them with.
And language is more than just words. Last week I attended an art exhibition themed completely on the skull. There were art pieces examining all the concepts the skull symbolises: death, pirates, mortality, medicine, poison, danger, eternal life, life after death and even as a warning of the need to live this life well. Language is also symbols. Think about emoticons – those smiley faces, sad faces, laughing faces packed into social media messages. Red lights mean stop, green lights mean go. An arrow bent to one side means go round the corner. For the last couple of years, Melbournians have been amused by the symbol of a rhinoceros on a skateboard that tells us not to walk in front of trams.
Language is the primary factor that binds us together or drives us apart. In my preaching classes when I trained for ministry, I once delivered a sermon to my fellow students, which was part of our assessment. The sermon had one swear-word in it. It was not even a very bad one - by today's standards, quite mild! But in their feedback to me, my fellow students only talked about that one word. It was as if they had heard none of the 1500 odd others. It amazed me that a single word had so much power. I had been a social worker with homeless people, alcoholics and addicts in the inner city before this, so swearing had become simply part of language for me, the colouring in of the edges of the picture. It had long lost its heat and shock. To those others, it was the foul detritus of an unwholesome world they had never participated in.
When we talk, we know what we are meaning to say. What we do not know is what the other person listening is hearing. We use words and expressions that might have a completely different meaning for them. I believe this is the cause of most conflict between people. Not necessarily what was said, but what the offended party thought had been said.
I have just read an essay by an Israeli Jewish-Christian scholar on Jesus’s statement about hating one’s father and mother in order to be his true disciple (Luke 14:26). This has been a very disturbing teaching always for me, and I am sure also for many others. The scholar's greater understanding of the original Hebrew helped him to see the nuances in the original Hebrew word translated 'hate'. His conclusion was that a closer translation would be 'love something to a lesser degree than'. The meaning is completely changed. Jesus is not saying “hate your mother and father”. He is saying you need to love me even more than that which you love most – your mother and father.
Which leads me to the sad admission that I think one of the least effective ways to present Christian belief to the world is preaching. Most people come to Christian belief by observing the goodness and good life of good Christians. That is the language we should be speaking the most! Preaching has a place, of course, in encouraging, enriching and uplifting the Christian community in their faith and Christian living. But the people who come to enquire about our faith will come mostly because they have observed your goodness. Go out and show it to them!
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father
Could you think of a better time to be at Holy Trinity, Williamstown? I have always felt that anything new is exciting. That is the thrill we feel as we unwrap presents round the Christmas tree. Something new is about to come into my life! How exciting!
Our Christmas present as a parish this year is our shiny new Parish Centre. So many things have been put on hold for years while we have waited for our efforts to come to fruition, when a place for it all to happen became ours. The dream of a completed Parish Centre has now become the dream of all we will be able to do with it.
Our morning tea after church will no longer on a rickety folding table at the back of the church. Our Community Meal and Emergency Relief services will come home to Holy Trinity. Toilets are no longer a temporary tin box shared by all! The bliss! Community Groups calling our centre home and showing the local people around us that the Christian Church has something to offer and a part to play in our community.
It is so good we are opening it on the Sunday that begins Advent, the season where we prepare ourselves to celebrate God’s greatest gift. This gift of his Son gave humanity a new understanding of itself. We are no longer mere mortals at the mercy of a distant God, but we are now loved beings accompanied by God’s own Son back into the embrace of a caring, forgiving and merciful Creator.
So put up your Christmas tree and cover it with lights. I know both those things emanate from Germanic and Roman festivities that celebrated the forest and the Sun and that both symbolised life coming into the world. I would guess that is why Christians adopted them from earlier religions, to mark the celebration of the true life God offers us coming into the world. To proclaim that the God who “emptied himself of all but love” and joined us here in the world to fulfill God’s purpose of winning us back.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall
not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
The Venerable Bill Beagley
Here is an abstract conundrum to consider. At what point is an issue we consider to be right worth fighting a war over? Of course we want what is right for our society, our nation, even our world. But when we engage in war over an issue, how much damage is done? How many lives are injured or lost. War itself is a bad thing. It hurts. Yet humanity has been resorting to it for thousands of years to sort out its disagreements.
It is certainly my belief that every individual, community and nation that has engaged in war has not done so to be evil to their opponent. They have gone to war to defend what they believe in, what they believe they must preserve. Their disagreement, anger and hatred of their enemy arises from their difference of conscience about what must be defended and preserved.
Such historical horrors as the Holocaust, Apartheid, the Irish ‘Troubles’, today’s terrorism movements and even the Crusades of the 11th to the 13th centuries all grew out of nations or religions or races developing beliefs so extreme and entrenched that to those who held them. They grossly outweighed the prospect of death and destruction that fighting a war would involve. In the minds of those who committed these gargantuan acts of violence, they were defending the right. In every war, both sides believe themselves to be the defending party.
Now this is pretty heavy stuff to be opening with, considering that what I want to write about is the recent movement towards Marriage Equality in our nation. I am not inferring that I expect we will end up at war on this issue. However, in the conflict arising in promotion of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases in the recent mail poll, many of the processes I described above have slipped out into the arena. All the arguments have been about “I hold a belief (about human rights, moral values, human traditions, etc), and your different beliefs threaten mine, so you must be wrong, so I must fight to defend mine.”
The question I have wanted to ask throughout the debate, and ask of both sides, is this: Does somebody holding a different view to yours threaten the views you hold? Because if you think they do, you need to ask if you looked in a mirror, whether your views equally threaten theirs? Are we opposed, or are we just different?
In my time as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church, I have had people refuse to take Communion from me because I have long hair. They believed that only a man can take up the priestly office of the church, and objected to and refused to accept the ordination of women. A significant minority of Anglicans worldwide still hold this view. The people I encountered, however, believed that because I had long hair, I was identifying as a woman and thus making myself unfit to hold the order of Priest. Was I angry? To me it hardly seemed worth it. I found their view to be incorrect to the point of the bizarre. I do not for a minute think I need to give physical proof of my gender, nor do I accept their argument that if I were a woman, I could not minister as a Priest, anyway. But since I believed they held their beliefs in all sincerity, so I could respect that, move on, and give Communion to the next person.
The points of difference in the Marriage Equality debate seem to me to arise from the definition of marriage. My personal views about this really revolve around the fact that most of the definitions I have heard put forward have been phrased to suit one view or the other, and neither side’s are fully water-tight.
Here are some examples:
Marriage has always been the ultimate commitment of love between two people. Actually, if you look at most weddings in the Bible, and in the ancient world, and even in many societies around the world today, couples are married who had no choice in it all. In most biblical weddings, the couple met at the wedding ceremony. Their fathers, the Patriarchs, contracted with each other to marry their offspring for socio-political purposes. Slaves and servants are told who their spouses would be. Have a look at 1 Kings 11:1-6. King Solomon sealed every international treaty or deal he made by marrying one of his counterpart’s daughters.
A marriage is solely about having children. Every family needs a mother and a father. So let me ask you this: If I, as a marriage celebrant, know a couple to be infertile, or even simply do not plan to have children, or are elderly and clearly past childbearing, should I refuse to marry them? If a father or mother walks out on their family, leaving the
other to parent alone, should those children then be removed from the single parent? Since social research has shown that children of same sex couples do not measure less than any other children on all developmental or emotional scales, I feel this argument falls before it even gets out of the stalls.
If marriage is redefined, our children will lose any sense of their sexual identity. This is the “my son was told he could wear a dress to school” argument that graced our TV screens over the debate. Putting aside the fact that it was shown that this never actually happened, there have been people who are same sex attracted, or have questioned their gender identity throughout human history. Even the Bible attests to this. We are back at the question, does somebody being different to me constitute an attack on me? Like the me/hair/woman/priest story I told earlier, if I am confident in my own identity, then no, anybody else’s identity, no matter how divergent, different or remote from mine, has no affect on my own. Children have growing up fine in a myriad of diverse social settings and assumptions for centuries, within every society.
All I hope for is that this humanity of which I am a member, and which I actually think is a pretty amazing thing, realise that no matter how different we might be, we are all in it together. Our existence is a shared existence. By respecting one another, by listening to the views and beliefs of each other, by striving to understand each other, we could make that existence a fabulous thing!
The Venerable Bill Beagley
So, the time of year to celebrate St Francis is here, and we will be filling our church with animals to bless on Sunday October 1.
Francis must rank as one of Christianity's best known saints. Needless to say, I really like him. More so since a few years ago when I had a few beautiful weeks enjoying Tuscany in Italy. We visited Francis' hometown of Assisi in the neighbouring Province of Umbria. However, you did not have to travel far in that area to find the marks of Francis everywhere. One village we lived in, Anghiari, had at the top of its main street an ancient church and monastery marking a place where St Francis planted a wooden cross in the ground. This is level of veneration of Francis you see in Italy. This is why there was such jubilant celebration there when the present Pope took Francis' name when he was elevated to the Holy See.
You see, the reason I love to travel is to meet famous people. Although Francis lived just short of 800 years before I got there, you meet him everywhere in Tuscany and Umbria. He is one of the saints who, the more you look for him, the more you meet the bloke, and find yourself liking him. And the more that bloke teaches you.
He was born into the luxurious wealth of the time and lived as a pampered party animal. He joined in the great adventure of war, but was caught and imprisoned and then later became extremely ill. These experiences brought him to a spiritual awakening that led him to discard and shun his wealth and live in complete poverty.
I personally admire this capacity to radically reevaluate what is important in life, to totally change your view of the world and its values. I am in awe of the incredible clarity Francis showed in his ability to see what is good and cling to it and totally cast off that which is an impediment to that good value.
Francis shook the world around him. His radical view of what constituted a life lived well affected many who met him, pushing him almost begrudgingly to establish and lead an order of religious brothers, and eventually, with Claire of Assisi, sisters, who admired and wanted to follow Francis' holy way of life. It is almost disturbing to try to reconcile the qualities of extreme humility with the powerful leadership that comes out of the stories of Francis' ministry.
Taking the humblest of positions to shake the most powerful authorities – in this I see Francis following as close as any ever have the footsteps of Jesus.
I truly identify with Francis in his desire to head out into the forest regularly to immerse himself in solitude. These times are when he was seen by other brothers in the woods preaching to the birds in the trees and ministering to wild animals and even a ferocious wolf that had killed people near the town of Gubbio. It is from this, and Francis' own teaching that all the world's creatures were created by God and worthy of our compassion, that he is the patron saint of animals, nature and the environment.
Perhaps I was most moved before I even arrived at Assisi. As you drive across the valley, passing dry ploughed fields, the city appears before you rising up the hillside on the other side of the valley. I made the driver stop so I could take it in and photograph it. It was truly breathtaking beauty. When I read Revelation 21:2, it is what I see in my mind.
I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
For all his humility, Francis must have been a pretty impressive dude for his admirers to have built this in his honour.
These characters we call saints – their purpose is not to be somehow holier and superior to us. They should be our guides and friends on this journey of faith that brings us back to our God. But in the great communion of saints, Francis is one of the ones I feel to most comfortable falling in next to.
It is a detail I think many people miss, but have you noticed that the four stone crosses that top each gable of our church are uniquely different? I had noticed, but when I recently climbed the scaffolding of the new Parish Centre, I was able to photograph them. It left me wondering why those 18th century builders decided to choose a different cross for each high point of our beautiful church. Perhaps we will never truly know.
The Orthodox Cross appears above the front door. This is a style of cross portrayed by Churches of the Orthodox East, which has two and often three cross bars. All crosses, of course, have the cross bar to which Jesus' hands were nailed. Orthodox crosses often add the small crossbar above representing the sign Pilate placed on the Cross, and sometimes also or instead, another below to represent the support for Jesus' feet. Often this lower cross bar is sloped down to the left, and thus up to the right. This represents Jesus' two journeys of descent into hell and ascent into heaven.
The form we see in our cross was adopted in Byzantium, and later by the Russian Orthodox Church and especially popularised in the East Slavic countries.
The cross above the nave altar, the most central on our roof, appears to be a St Thomas' Cross. The arms of the cross have 'shoots' coming out, representing the tree of life with new life growing out from its branches. It is a very ancient style of cross used by the 'Mar Toma' or Saint Thomas Christians, often also known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani. They are centred in Kerala, in India, following the tradition that they were founded by Jesus' disciple Thomas whose apostolic mission took him to India.
At the end of the roof above the High Altar is a Celtic Cross. The Celtic cross features a nimbus or ring around the central point of the cross. It emerged in Ireland and Britain in the early Middle Ages. A nimbus represents a cloud, ring or halo, which in the art of ancient mythologies surrounded the presence or the head of a sacred being. So it is that placing it centrally on a Christian cross represents the divinity of the one who hung upon it.
This style of ringed cross became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the Celtic British islands, especially in regions evangelised by Irish missionaries, from the 9th through the 12th centuries.
The fourth cross, and the only one not mounted in a line running centrally from east to west, is above the Choir Vestry, facing north. It appears to be a Lazarus Cross. At the end of each arm is a trefoil, so this style of cross is sometimes called a 'trefly cross'. Originally a trefoil was a three leaved European pea plant, but in sculpture indicates a three leaved end to an extremity. The use of three rounded or pointed leaves on crosses is a Trinitarian symbol, representing Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The name Lazarus Cross comes from the time of the Crusades, when it was combined with a green Maltese cross, to form the insignia of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. This order began in the 12th century establishing hospitals for lepers in Jerusalem, and later becoming an order of knights fighting for the Church in the Crusades. After the loss of the Crusades, the Order settled in Italy and France, and still exists today.
So our crosses represent the churches of Russia, the Caucasus, Turkey and the Middle East, India, Jerusalem, Italy, France, Britain and Ireland. The thing that immediately strikes me is that Jesus commanded the Apostles “‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) The origin of each cross shows how they obeyed that command. As they took the Word they proclaimed in every direction they travelled out into all the world. Each of the countries mentioned spread out like a great arc around the world – the known world of Jesus' time anyway.
So our crosses sit up there and proclaim Jesus who came for all people in all places around our globe. All should feel welcome here to hear his word and see his love expressed by us, his children. Look up, and let the message carved from stone by those Victorian era stonemasons speak to you and encourage you to take up the task our Lord gave us.
The Holy Trinity: Our church and parish are dedicated to it and during this month we will celebrate the annual festival the Church gives in its honour. But have you ever wondered what it actually is?
It is probably one of the most troublesome concepts in Christian thinking. I can assure you, in the theological colleges throughout the world, it is the topic students most fear studying! It is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yes, we all know that. The problem is trying to work out HOW it is.
Other religions confront Christianity and demand an explanation. How can you say you have one God, when you talk about having three? So we reply, it is not three gods, it the three natures or persons of the one God. So the questions come flooding back: Where was God the Father when God was being the Son? Where are the Father and the Son if you say God is the Spirit? If your creed says the Spirit 'proceeds' from the Father and the Son, how can you say the Spirit is equal to the Father and Son? Which came first? And which is most important?
Every time you approach the Trinity, you come away with more questions than answers!
I have a thing I say when people are talking about God and making major statements that define exactly what God is – If you think you fully and completely understand God, go back and see if you can find where you went wrong!
God must be more than our minds can fully encompass. Try to imagine the distance from where you are now to the furthest point in the world from you. (If you are in Williamstown, then it is a point in the North Atlantic about halfway between Spain and New York). Can you picture exactly how far that is? No. You turn it into an abstract figure – 20,037 and a half kilometres. Or you picture a map of the world and say, “It's from the green bit there to the blue bit there!”
If you cannot picture the size of the world without reducing it to understandable, finite concepts, how could you find words that fully and completely explain the God that created it?
So why do we reduce God to a set of words that could never fully encapsulate all that God must be? Holy Trinity? We do it because of what the words themselves teach us about God.
God the Father
In ancient times it was believed all life emanated from fathers. Before they knew about DNA, they believed fathers put babies inside mothers where they grew to emerge as new people. God the Father, then, meant God the source of all living, all life. I am completely comfortable with the concept of God the Mother, God the parent, God the progenitor. God the Creator who brought into being that most wondrous thing – life.
God the Son
Again, the ancients saw a man's son as the being of the father emerging in a new human. Jesus was the being of his heavenly father sharing our human life with us. We use the word 'incarnate' which literally means 'having taken on flesh'. For me, this is the truly amazing bit. God who created this miracle of human life also knows what it is like to live it. All the happiness, sadness, triumphs, defeats and struggles of it and even the pain of death that ends it.
God the Holy Spirit
Even though God knows us that well, that intimately, with all our flaws and failings, God still wants to hang around with us. In the Spirit we know God will always be there with us. And even better, that God wants us to find our way to God's perfect existence and wants us to share it forever.
Knowing God as Holy Trinity is knowing God to be everything we need to fulfill our lives and progress to that perfect life beyond it. God is everything in perfect harmony. That is what we mean when we say the name 'Holy Trinity'.
On Sunday, in the wake of the Anglican Church's response to the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse, I spoke to our congregation hoping to clarify the issue that the Anglicans received the most strident criticism for and for which our Primate and Archbishop had expressed our sense of shame.
Essentially our Church was criticized because while we can reach agreement on our failures and what needs to be done to move forward, the twenty-three Dioceses of the Province of Australia cannot agree upon the actual process of making those decisions and instituting change in our church. We know what we have to do, but cannot agree on how to do it.
After I made this short address, encouraging people to read and listen to the reporting and statements coming from the Royal Commission, several people expressed their concern about the Anglican position. They expressed the view that God, not Church hierarchies or officers, govern the Church. I believe this is an overly simplistic way of viewing the situation. The Church is the worldly gathering of Christians who believe in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Having heard Jesus speak to us, having accepted and come to believe in his teaching, we then begin the journey, sometimes even the struggle, to live lives that accord with that belief. We do this because Jesus has shown us that every such effort will bring us closer to God, and to the Kingdom prepared for us beyond this life. Jesus showed us on the cross the lengths to which God was ready to go to bring us home. Knowing all this does not make us perfect, it shows that God's perfection has been placed within our reach. That it is the hope that can encourage and guide us in this life. But once again, it does not make us perfect. Read John 8:2-12 to get Jesus' view on people who consider themselves so righteous that they have the right to sit in judgment on others.
The Church is the worldly gathering of Christians - just that. It is the people in this dark and sinful world who have seen the light and are struggling towards it. For many in our world that struggle is a difficult and painful one. In the balance of things, Australian Christians have got it pretty easy. We can choose from churches to suit every taste or aesthetic desire. Why are there so many different denominations of God’s people? Because humanity cannot even make how you believe in God a thing that unites us.
Human nature makes us want to stand up and say “If you don't see it the way I see it – you must be wrong and I reject you!” It amuses me a little to see that those who condemn the church for not being able to agree are themselves not agreeing! That we as humans never seem able to agree, to find harmony with each other is what I define as the source of human sin. The fuel that powers it is self-importance, self-centredness and self-satisfaction. As I have often commented, in sermons and elsewhere, note the prefix of all those words.
Yes, I agree that it is a sin that our Anglican Dioceses cannot find a way to agree on how to implement the rules, strategies and actions to achieve that which we all agree must be achieved. But it is a human sin, one that permeates every part of human society. It is the same sin that nurtures sexism, racism, ageism and all the isms that blight human society.
But pointing fingers never changed anything for the better. Our dwindling church congregations throughout the world, or more particularly the developed world, are the result of the church being seen to be critical rather than constructive, condemning rather caring. Nobody wants that, and I have never heard God saying it was part of the deal. The deal is “Love one another as I have loved you.” God is aware that the more you really try to live up to that, the harder you realize it is to achieve. But I have nearly always found that the greater the effort, then ultimately, the greater the prize.
Beloved I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Ven Bill Beagley
reflections and occasional thoughts (appearing in the Parish newsletter)