It was reckoned to him; it will be reckoned to us (Rom 4; Pentecost 2A)

This Sunday, we start into a series of readings offered by the lectionary from the longest and most theologically weighty letter written by Paul—that addressed “to all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom 1:7). Although it has this specific, localised audience in view, the letter has become a declaration heard and taken up and studied carefully by Christians right around the world, across millennia of years.

A reading from Romans will be offered each week until the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (this year, 2023, that falls on 17 September). So we will have many weeks to consider the theological exposition that Paul provides. This letter is generally regarded as the most explicit and detailed exposition of the theological commitments which had energised Saul of Tarsus to spend years of his life “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16). For this enterprise, he is well-known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles”.

In the structuring of the lectionary, the sequence of excerpts from Romans should begin with a declaration of the central theme of the letter (1:16–17) and the rich passage that details how God death with human sinfulness through Jesus (3:21–28). These two short, but central, sections of the letter are offered on the Sunday known as Proper 4, the first Sunday after Pentecost.

However, because Easter was (relatively) later this year, Pentecost is also later, and so this reading is not offered by the lectionary this year. Proper 4 is to occur “on the Sunday in between May 29 and June 4 inclusive, if after Trinity Sunday”; as Trinity Sunday this year fell on 4 June, there is no Proper 4 in 2023.

So we begin with Proper 5, for “the Sunday between June 5 and June 11 inclusive”—this year, Sunday 11 June. Which means that we have missed the initial declaration of the Gospel which Paul proclaims in this long letter; the Gospel which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, the Gospel in which “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (Rom 1:16–17).

This theological understanding is set forth, initially, through a quotation from a short book in Hebrew Scripture, that of the prophet Habakkuk. This prophet is a shadowy figure, known, really, for only one statement—just half of one verse. That is the short statement, “the righteous live by their faith [or faithfulness]” (2:4b), which stands as the text upon which Paul developed his important theological statement in Romans: “in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘the one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:17).

In the context of Habakkuk’s prophetic activity, the affirmation that “the righteous live by their faith [or faithfulness]” (2:4b) is the word that God gives to the prophet, responding to his complaints about what sufferings are taking place. Habakkuk’s complaints come because God is “rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own” (1:6), and through their dreadful and fearsome activities, God is “destroying nations without mercy” (1:17).

You can read more of my take on the short book of Habakkuk at

The claim that God is using foreigners to deal with Israel is a striking theological development—one that is at odds with the traditions that emphasise Israel as a chosen nation, holy and set apart, dedicated to the Lord; the nation alone through whom the Lord God works. That this God will use foreigners is a theme found also in the later writings of Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40–55), where Cyrus, the Persian ruler, is acclaimed as the one chosen by God, the Messiah, to allow the people of Judah to return to their land (Isa 44:24–45:13).

That God is at work amongst people who are not of Israel resonates, of course, with the activity that Paul and his fellow-workers had been undertaking amongst the Gentiles (those not of the people of Israel)—although Paul is not working in a context of oppression and threatening invasion. So this brief citation from Habakkuk is entirely apposite for Paul’s work and his writings. And as the later chapters of Roman clearly show, God has indeed been at work amongst the Gentiles in Rome.

On the overall theological argument developed in Romans, see


So in the passage that the lectionary offers us for this Sunday (4:13–25), we have the second part of Paul’s discussion of the patriarch Abraham—“the father of all nations” (4:17, citing Gen 17:5) and the figure who stands as the archetype for the message of the Gospel, that “the one who is righteous will live by faith” (1:17, citing Hab 2:4).

In this discussion, Paul is insistent that Abraham stands as the example supreme for that Gospel, since “his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3, quoting Gen 15:6, and repeating this at Rom 4:9 and 4:22–23). And more than this: what was done with Abraham “will [also] be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24).

This second half of the discussion of Romans 4 comes after Paul has established the universal scope of God’s providential grace—for this is how God meets the universal spread of sinfulness amongst human beings. So Paul focusses on the faith that Abraham showed, and its importance for believers in Rome (and elsewhere). The thesis for this part of the argument is that the promise to Abraham (which he was given in Gen 12:1–3) was “not through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13).

First, Paul indicates that the promise cannot be fulfilled only through “the adherents of the law”, for “the law brings wrath” (4:14–15; he expands on this in chapter 7). Then, he asserts that the promise must rest on faith, both to those who adhere to the law but also “to those who share the faith of Abraham” (4:16). Abraham is here described as “the father of all of us”, drawing on yet another scripture citation (Gen 17:5; Paul uses the same argument at Gal 3:15–18, and the phrase is also at play in the debate reported in John 8:41–59).

Then follows further explication of this scripture (Gen 17:5), particularly explaining how Abraham, “hoping against hope”, became “the father of many nations” (4:17b—21). Despite the barrenness of Sarah’s womb (4:19), Abraham “was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21). To conclude this exegetical foray, Paul quotes, for the third time, the foundational text: “his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (4:22, quoting Gen 15:6).

Paul then explains that these words describe not only the situation of Abraham, long ago in the past, but also the immediate situation of those to whom he writes (4:23–24). This is a foundational aspect of Paul’s hermeneutic; he restates it at Rom 15:4, declaring that the scripture “written in former days was written for our instruction”. See

And so the argument draws to a close, moving back into the heart of Paul’s concern, to expound the Gospel concerning God “who raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (4:24–25). The final verse is most likely a traditional formulaic expression; we find a similar pattern at 1 Cor 15:3–4, a midrashic-style reflection on this pattern at 1 Cor 15:42–44, and a variant form at 2 Cor 5:14–15.

There is also an extended discussion later in the letter to the Romans using the pattern of “Christ, dead and raised”, as the model for believers: “we are buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Paul provides a fuller discussion of this paradigm at 6:3–11, and there is a similar discussion, albeit varied for the different context, at Col 3:11–15.

And so the extended argument set out in all of this chapter takes us from an initial question about Abraham, through an exploration of the story of Abraham and Sarah, to a conclusion about the life of those who place their trust in what God has done through Jesus Christ. That God “will justify [or, reckon as righteous] the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (3:30) is the foundation for then claiming that, in like manner, “it will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24). It is all about being reckoned as righteous on the basis of faith. Thanks be to God!


On the diatribe style that Paul uses here and throughout much of the letter to the Romans, which is reflected in that pattern (“it was reckoned to him … it will be reckoned to us”), see

“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12; Pentecost 2A)

Each year during the Sundays which follow after the festival of Pentecost, the Gospel readings offer a series of stories, encounters, and parables from the Gosepl attributed to Matthew. In parallel to those stories, in the Hebrew Scripture readings, the lectionary offers a sequence of passages telling some of the key moments in the story of Israel, from the narrative books, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. These stories run through until the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, in mid-November.

This sequence of passages offers us stories which were told, retold, and probably developed over quite some time by the elders in ancient Israel. They are stories which define the nature of the people and convey key values which were important in ancient Israel. These faithful people from the past stand, for us today, as role models to encourage us, centuries later, in our own journey of faith. They are stories which are worth holding up for our reflection and consideration.

These stories each have the function of an aetiology—that is, a mythic story which is told to explain the origins of something that is important in the time of the storyteller. The online Oxford Classical Dictionary defines an aetiology as “an explanation, normally in narrative form (hence ‘aetiological myth’), of a practice, epithet, monument, or similar.”

Whilst telling of something that is presented as happening long back in the past, the focus is on present experiences and realities, for “such explanations elucidate something known in the contemporary world by reference to an event in the mythical past”.


The ancestral narratives of Israel (Gen 12–50), as well as the series of books known as “the historical narratives” (Exodus to 2 Kings, Ezra—Nehemiah) are all written at a time much later that the presumed events which they narrate. The final form of the books as we have them most likely date to the Exile or post-exilic times, although pre-existing sources would have been used for many of these stories. (There are specific references to earlier written documents—now lost to us—scattered throughout 1—2 Kings.)

Those older stories were remembered, retold, and then written down, because they spoke into the present experiences of the writers. Common scholarly belief is that the stories found in Gen 12–50 were originally oral tales, that were collected together, told and retold over the years, and ultimately written down in one scroll, that we today call Genesis.


For this coming Sunday (the Second Sunday after Pentecost), we are offered the account of the calling of Abram, who journeys into a new future (Gen 12:1–9). This has been a key passage for Jews throughout the centuries; Abram is remembered and honoured as “the father of the nation”—indeed, as “the father of all nations”; and this passage claims that it was God’s intention to grant the blessing of abundant descendants to Abram and his wife, to fulfil this promise.

The passage is found after the opening 11 chapters, which are often labelled the “Primeval History”, since they recount the creation of the world and the sequence of events which were fundamental for understanding human existence (such as human sinfulness and conflict, the expansion of humanity, the great flood, the growth of tribal entities, and the diversification of languages).

The passage also stands at the head of those stories, originally oral, which were collected because they revealed much about the nature of Israel as a people and as a nation. These chapters tell stories about the patriarchs and their wives (Abram and Sarai, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel). This particular passage introduces key themes for the people of Israel.

The passage indicates that Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him, “and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan” (Gen 12:5). They would also have had the (always unnamed) wife of Lot with them, for their companions would undoubtedly have included both males and females within the extended family grouping. We need to read this ancient aetiology with a contemporary critical awareness. Certainly, the faith of Abram and Sarai and their extended family is a key message conveyed by this passage.

The story explains four important aspects of life and faith for the people of ancient Israel and on into contemporary Judaism: the land is given to this people, the people (of Israel) will become “a great nation”, the name (of Abram) will be blessed, and the descendants of Abram, “all the families of the earth”, will likewise be blessed. These four points—land, pepople, name, descendants—loom large throughout the history of Israel. Indeed, they maintain their potency into the present age—and need to be read and understood with political and cultural sensitivity today.


This passage sounds the initial claim of the people of Israel to the land of Canaan. This was promised by God to Abram and his descendants, we are told. They set out towards that land; “when they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” (Gen 12:5–7). The claim recurs at various points throughout the ensuing narratives, culminating in the conquest narrated in the book of Joshua.

See more on this aspect of the passage at

and on the difficulties involved in the story of invasion and violent colonisation, see

In his commentary on this passage in With Love to the World, the Revd Dr John Jegasothy, a retired Uniting Church Minister originally from Sri Lanka, reflects on this story of journeying to a new land, from his own perspective as an asylum seeker some decades ago. “As a family we had to decide to leave Sri Lanka and migrate to Australia on Special Humanitarian Visa as I was a human rights advocate and death came close. God had a plan for me to be an advocate for refugees here.”

Dr Jegasothy continues, “I look at our journey as a journey like Abram and Sarai undertook. They absolutely trusted in God’s promises and because of their faith they were counted as righteous.” There is an invitation here for each of us to ponder this story, in terms of our own journey of faith. How and when has God called us on to journey into new places or new experiences?


Alongside the claim to the land of Canaan, the story of Gen 12 portrays Abram (and Sarai) as the origin of a multitude of descendants; through them, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Initially, this claim appears to be quite precarious; after all, the first mention of Sarai indicates that “Sarai was barren; she had no child” (11:29–30).

Later, when Sarai advises Abram, “see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (16:1–2), Abram diligently obeys; he “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress” (16:4). Tensions between the wife, Sarai, and the slave-girl, Hagar, lead to Hager’s flight into the wilderness, where she gave birth to Abram’s son, Ishmael (16:7–16).

Still later, when Abram (now Abraham) sealed the covenant with the Lord God through the ritual of circumcision (17:1–14), he is told that Sarai (now Sarah) will now be blessed by the Lord, for “I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (17:16). And in due time—despite the laughter of Sarah (18:12)—Isaac is born (21:1–3).

The lectionary studiously avoids the story of the birth of Ishmael, but provides us with a sequence of passages that recount the promise to Sarah (18:1–15, Pentecost 3A), the banishing of Hagar and Ishmael (21:8–21, Pentecost 4A), and the near-sacrifice of Isaac (22:1–14, Pentecost 5A), before turning to the story of Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Pentecost 6A) and then on to Jacob (with excerpts from chs. 25 to 37, Pentecost 7A to 11A).

After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and had six sons with her (25:1–4). He also “gave gifts to the sons of his concubines while he was living” (25:6), so there were other (unnamed) progeny of Abraham. In due time, Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac and his wife Rebekah gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau (25:19–26), whilst Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, was the father of twelve sons who had many descendants (25:12–18), as well as a daughter who was the ancestor of the Edomites. Abraham’s brothers Nahor fathered twelve sons (22:20–24) whilst Haran was the father of Lot (11:27), who himself fathered Moab and Ammon. Many of these descendants continued reproducing, and so the line of Abraham grew and expanded, generation by generation.

Collectively, this family was responsible for a multitude of descendants, which brings to fulfilment God’s promise to Abraham, “I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations; I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (17:5–6). The tenuous moments in the story leave us, as readers, wondering whether this promise would come to fruition; in time, of course, that fulfilment is reported in the Genesis narrative. Abraham does indeed become “father of all nations”, and a key figure in the sagas about Israel that were told and retold throughout the ages.

The spirit of glory is resting on you (1 Peter 4–5; Easter 7A)

We have been hearing a sequence of passages from 1 Peter which the lectionary offers during this Easter season. This week the passages selected from the latter part of the letter contain a series of verses that provide assorted exhortations and instructions to those who first received this letter (1 Pet 4:12–14; 5:6–11). The first of these two passages contains a wealth of riches; in this blog I will focus only on those three verses.

This section of the letter begins with encouragement (v.12), moves to offer an affirmation (v.13), returns to a word of encouragement (v.14a) and then offers a blessing to those who have received this letter (v.14b). Those recipients, as we have earlier seen, were “exiles of the Dispersion” in the five Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1), so the presence of scriptural quotations and allusions in this letter is no surprise.

However, a number of verses indicate that there would also have been Gentiles in their midst (2:12; and see my earlier posts on the “household table” of 2:18–3:7). Accordingly, the exhortations and instructions draw on both Israelite and Greco-Roman ethics. My focus in this blog is on the scriptural resonances in what is here written.

This short passage (4:12–14) is introduced by the words, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you” (4:12), before moving to an affirmation, “be glad and shout for joy” (4:13) and a blessing, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (4:14).

The “fiery ordeal” in that initial exhortation reflects the common prophetic depiction of divine judgement which would be experienced as a searing fire. Isaiah warns that the Lord executed judgement in his time by fire: “wickedness burned like a fire, consuming briers and thorns; it kindled the thickets of the forest, and they swirled upward in a column of smoke; through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land was burned, and the people became like fuel for the fire; no one spared another” (Isa 9:18–19).

This fiery image was provided by the very actions of the invaders: “your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners” (Isa 1:7). Accordingly, the godless ask, “who among us can live with the devouring fire? who among us can live with everlasting flames?” (Isa 33:14), whilst the prophet pleads, “let the fire for your adversaries consume them” (Isa 26:11).

Jeremiah describes how the Lord God called him: “I have made you a tester and a refiner among my people so that you may know and test their ways … the bellows blow fiercely, the lead is consumed by the fire; in vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed” (Jer 6:28–29). This description was also shaped, no doubt, by the actions of the invaders: “the Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come, set it on fire, and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and libations have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger” (Jer 32:29).

Ezekiel also predicts fiery carnage: “you shall take some, throw them into the fire and burn them up; from there a fire will come out against all the house of Israel” (Ezek 5:4; also 15:1–8; 19:12–14). God warns Israel, “you shall be fuel for the fire, your blood shall enter the earth” (Ezek 21:32); in a dramatic oracle, the prophet describes the gruesome fate of the people: “Woe to the bloody city! I will even make the pile great. Heap up the logs, kindle the fire; boil the meat well, mix in the spices, let the bones be burned. Stand it empty upon the coals, so that it may become hot, its copper glow, its filth melt in it, its rust be consumed. In vain I have wearied myself; its thick rust does not depart. To the fire with its rust!” (Ezek 24:9–12).

The author of Lamentations describes how God “has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn his right hand from them in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around” (Lam 2:3). Other prophetic references to the fire of judgement include Hos 8:14; Joel 1:19–20; 2:3–5; Amos 1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5; 5:6; Obad 1:18; Mic 1:2–7; Nah 1:6; 3:15; Zeph 1:18; Zech 2:5; 9:4. Most famously, in the predictive oracle of Malachi, the prophet looks to the coming day of the Lord’s messenger: “he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal 3:1–3).

It is no surprise, then, that many psalms reflect on the use of fire to signal divine displeasure: “the voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire” (Ps 29:7), “on the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur” (Ps 11:6), “as as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God” (Ps 68:2). Fire is listed along with hail, snow, frost, and stormy wind as “fulfilling [God’s] command” (Ps 148:8) and the psalmist affirms that “you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers” (Ps 104:4).

The vengeance of God is indeed a fearful sight. “Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him … he made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water; out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire” (Ps 18:8–12). The psalmist pleads, seemingly in vain, “How long, O Lord? will you be angry forever? will your jealous wrath burn like fire?” (Ps 79:5; also 89:46).

This rhetoric of the “fiery ordeal” in 1 Pet 4:12 is potent language, reminding the Jews of the Diaspora of the power that God has exercised in the past, and presumably is once again manifesting in the troubling experiences of their present. That ordeal has certainly brought suffering to the people; the suffering which was being experienced by believers is a constant refrain in this letter. It is noted briefly in the opening blessing (1:6–7) and described in more detail on a number of other occasions.


So, in the midst of this “fiery ordeal”, the author encourages those hearing this letter to “endure pain while suffering unjustly” (2:19–20) and says to them that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil” (3:13–17); “whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin” (4:1–2); “let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good” (4:12–19); and “you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (5:6–11).

In addressing this suffering, as we have noted, the writer offers an affirmation (4:13) and a blessing (4:14). Both affirmation and blessing sound very much like sayings of Jesus which form part of his famous Beatitudes, at Matt 5:11–12 and its parallel in Luke 6:22–23. In these sayings, Jesus refers to shouting for joy in the midst of sufferings, which resonates with the message that is set out throughout this letter.

Joy and suffering are linked in the affirmation, “rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (4:13). Being blessed is connected with being reviled in the blessing, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (4:14). They both evoke the words of Jesus, “blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man; rejoice in that day and leap for joy” (Luke 6:22–23).

The letter continues with the statement that “the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (4:14). This reflects the prophetic understanding of the spirit resting on people: “the shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” ( Isa 11:1–2); or “the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” (Isa 61:1).

This dynamic is also reflected in passages about leaders in Israel, recounted in narrative books, as the Spirit comes upon the seventy elders (Num 11:25), Balaam (Num 24:2), the judges Othniel (Judg 3:10) and Jephthah (Judg 11:29), the kings Saul (1 Sam 11:6) and David (1 Sam 16:13), and the chosen Servant (Isa 42:1). The Spirit came onto the messengers of Saul and led them into a prophetic frenzy (1 Sam 19:20).

Others who experienced the alighting of the Spirit included the little-known Amasai (1 Chron 12:18), Azariah son of Oded (2 Chron 15:1), and Jahaziel son of Zechariah (2 Chron 20:14), each of whom are reported as having spoken words from the Lord after that experience.

During the trials and difficulties of the Exile, the Spirit inspired the words of the priest Ezekiel, son of Buzi (Ezek 3:14; 11:5) and later inspired the unnamed post-exilic prophet to speak the oracles collected in Isa 56—66 (see Isa 59:21; 61:1). The prophets look for the outpouring of the Spirit to come upon “the house of Israel” (Ezek 39:29), upon the descendants of the house of Jacob (Isa 44:1–3), to enable them to live faithfully once more in the land (Ezek 36:26–28; and then in the famous vision of dry bones, Ezek 37:12–14).

This mirrors the experience of the people of Israel as they wandered for forty tears in the wilderness, for the Lord God “gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst” whilst the people of Israel were in the wilderness (Neh 9:20; see also Isa 63:13–14).

Indeed, the retreat from Judah of the aggressors sent by King Sennacherib of Assyria was due to the fact that the Lord “put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (Isa 37:5–7).

So to say that “the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (1 Pet 4:14) is a very strong statement of affirmation for the recipients of this letter!

IDAHOBIT 2023: Together Always, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

May 17 is IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. IDAHOBIT is a day to draw attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQI+ people internationally.

The day is marked worldwide in over 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal. The first day was held in 2004 to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including all people who have diverse gender identities or sexual expressions.

The date of 17 May was chosen for IDAHOBIT as this was the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Despite this, LGBTIQA+ people across the world continue to face hate, discrimination and violence.

The theme for IDAHoBiT 2023, adopted after consultation with LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide, is Together Always: United in Diversity. The website for this day at states that the theme undergirds the advocacy of many organisations around the world which are working to support LGBTIQA+ people “in a time where the progress made by our LGBTQIA+ communities worldwide is increasingly at risk”.

The website notes that “it is crucial to recognise the power of solidarity, community, and allyship across different identities, movements, and borders. When we unite, in all our beautiful diversity, we can really bring about change!”

For myself, I do not identify with any of the letters in the LGBTIQA+ acronym. I have lived my life as a male who is heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to me at my birth correlates with my sense of personal identity and gender)—in short, I am what is referred to as heteronormative. And, as a white male in the Western world, my life experience has certainly been privileged and sheltered from internal or external disturbances and challenges related to my sexuality or gender identity.

So I have no personal experience of the gender dysmorphia that others experience in their lives; nor have I had any experience of the prejudice or persecution experienced by people identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. My understanding of what such people have experienced has come through relationships, conversations, readings, and personal thinking through of the issues. It has required empathy and understanding, and I think that it’s clear that I haven’t done this perfectly; but hopefully I have done so at least adequately.

I’m also a person of faith, and thus embedded within a community that, sadly, has demonstrated a collection of failures in the way that sexually and gender diverse people have been seen and treated. The Christian Church has shown a persistent lack of understanding, a continual marginalising (or “othering”), an aggressive assertion about the sinfulness of the particular identity or lifestyle, and undertaking attempts to “change the protestation” or “reverse the gender” of some people. All of these attitudes and actions have been unloving, uncaring, and indeed (in my view) unChristian.

Thankfully, my own church (the Uniting Church in Australia), as well as many other enlightened faith communities around the world, have taken steps towards the acceptance, valuing, and inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people in every part of their lives. There are still important and major steps to be taken, but the direction is clear and the commitment to that pathway is resolute.

I asked last year (and so repeat this year) for IDAHOBIT Day: How are privileged, cis-gender heterosexual people like myself to respond to a day like IDAHoBiT?

I think we need to cultivate empathy and develop understanding. I think we need to seek out and develop respectful relationships in which we can hear stories, learn of experiences, articulate our own inadequacies and sorrow for how we have acted or interacted with people in the past. Most importantly, I believe we need to learn ways by which we can support survivors of gender identity change efforts and help prevent harm from the ideology and practices of such gender identity change efforts.

Underlying this is my own firm commitment to an understanding of human beings as intentionally created by God, exactly as we are, to be exactly who we are, without qualification or change. The “doctrine of sin” that the church has promulgated has impressed on us that we are all “fall short of the glory of God”, that we all do wrong things—and who would argue with that?

But this doctrine has also been used to identify and persecute specific sinfulness on the part of identifiable minority groups—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersex, and transgender people in particular—not recognising the nuances of differences that actually do exist across the spectrum of humanity. That’s a misuse of the doctrine, in my opinion. It should not be used to persecute someone on the basis of differences that are perceived.

What gender a person believes that they are, and what attraction an individual has to other people, is built into the very DNA of them as a person, wanting to force change in either of those matters is, to my mind, one of the greatest sins. I think it’s important for “allies” such as myself to remind others of this truth, and to stand in solidarity with “rainbow people” each and every day.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, let us ensure that each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or otherwise identifying people knows that we accept them, value them, and love them, exactly as they are!

And let us be strong in calling out any sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia, when we hear it expressed or see it enacted.

For information about IDAHOBIT in Australia, go to

Paul, Demetrius and Damaris: an encounter in Athens (Acts 17:16-17,22–34)

The following dialogue was written by Elizabeth Raine and John Squires,and delivers as the sermon for the Tuggeranong Uniting Church on Sunday 14 May 2023.


While Paul was waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy, he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the gentiles who worshipped God, and in the public square every day with the people who happened to come by.

Then Paul was brought before the city council, which met at the Areopagus in Athens. Today, as we listen to what Paul said to the council, we are also going to listen in to what might have been going through the minds of two people in his audience: a learned Greek man called Demetrius, and a woman of deep faith, known as Damaris.

Paul stood up in front of the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious.”

Demetrius: Yes, this is correct. We are very proud of our religions here in Athens. As religious people, we worship lots of gods. Just look around you, and you will see altars and temples of every size, shape, and description. Over there, is the fine temple to Zeus. And beside it, the shrine to Apollo; it, too, is a remarkable holy building. It is not for nothing that we in Athens have the reputation of great piety.

And, of course, when you turn your eyes to the top of the hill, you will see the pride and joy of our city: the magnificent temple of Artemis, where our ancestors have long worshipped the greatest of all goddesses. This temple is world famous. It is respected — even envied, dare I say — by peoples of all other nations.

And Athens has also been blessed by many famous teachers of philosophy. Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Pythagoras, Epicurus and many more. Why, even today, I believe that you could find no better array of teachers in any other city!

Yes, all of this shows you just how religious we are. This Paul is so right when he describes us in such generous terms.

Damaris: Indeed, it is true that we do have a lot of temples in our city. And we certainly have many fine teachers, as you say. Lots of people say that we are the most religious city in the world.

But something is missing, I think. There is so much ritual and pomp and ceremony that goes on; sometimes, I think that this can get in the way of worshipping the gods, rather than helping us to worship them.

And there are so many teachers who speak truths that are complex;  sometimes it hurts my head just to listen to them all! And all those poor animals that are sacrificed to all of these gods and goddesses. I wonder whether this really is such a good idea.

I have heard it said that Paul believes in a god that cannot be depicted on stone. It’s a curious idea to us Athenians; but some of my friends have told me about the group that believes this idea. A god that exists, but that we can’t see, or know much about at all is an odd idea.

23Paul continued, “For as I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found also an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God.’ That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples made by humans. Nor does God need anything that people can supply by working for him, since it is God himself who gives life and breath and everything else to all people. From the one person God created all human beings, and he made them live over the whole earth. God himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live.”

Demetrius: Mmm, yes. Good point. I agree. Paul has said some important things about this God. When you boil it all down, there is a force in human history that looks over all things. Providence, or Fate, we call it.

And despite all of these shrines and images of the gods, there is a quality about the divine that is rather unknown to us. In the end, we would have to say that the gods are beyond our understanding. This is what our revered teacher, Plato, said about them. The gods transcend this earthly life and really have no need of our human worship.

Many of the priests in our city would be horrified by this, as they insist that we get access to the gods by offering sacrifices. But this kind of other-worldly god is very attractive. I like what Paul has to say.

Damaris: Yes, I too find Paul’s words attractive, Demetrius. And it is reassuring to know that all the things that happen in life are ultimately under the control of Divine Providence. But I am a little bit worried about what Paul seems to be saying. The god he is talking about seems to be rather removed from us all. I wonder how Paul thinks this god of his could be accessible to us? How could we relate to this god, if we can’t see his image?

Paul went on to say, “God did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; as someone has said, ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ It is as some of your poets have said, ‘We too are his children.’”

Demetrius: Well, this is a surprising turn. From a god who is so far away from us, to a god who is near to us. Come to think of it, Paul is on to something here. In fact, he is quoting from our own Greek traditions here. I recognise those words he said — Aratus, I think it was, the poet, who said of god “in him we live and move and exist”. And “we are god’s children” — I know that, too. Well, that is very good, a Jew like Paul, showing that he knows our poetry and philosophical writings.

Damaris: I quite like the idea of a god who is with me all the time. All of these holy places and holy rituals can get too much, and tend to place too many things in between the gods and ourselves. Sometimes I’d just like to be able to relate to a god in an intimate, and personal way. So a god who is with me all the time — not just when I visit his shrine or place a sacrifice on his altar — is an appealing concept. “We are God’s children” — God as the one who gives birth to us, who nurtures us, who disciplines us, and who loves us. This sounds really good.

Demetrius: Yes, this is great. A god who is always with us. Why don’t we build an altar to him! I’ll get in touch with my friend Stephanas, he has a very good stone mason as one of his slaves, and we’ll see what we can come up with. I can just see it now; “To the god in whom we live and move and exist: this statue was erected by Demetrius and Stephanas” — no, “this statue was erected by Demetrius, with help from Stephanas”. Oh, why not just, “erected by Demetrius, a leading citizen of the city”. In large letters. Yes, that will look fine. And we’ll use the best stone; and have it trimmed in gold, with bright colours, so that it stands out, and….

“No!”, said Paul. “Since we are God’s children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by the art and skill of a human being.”

Demetrius: No?

Damaris: I think I see the point. If this god is always near to us, then it would be silly to build an altar or erect a temple for him. After all, the temple is where the god or goddess lives, so that we know where to go to visit them. But if the god is always with us, then we don’t need to build him or her a home. So, if we aren’t going to build an altar or put up a statue, how are we going to worship this god?

Then Paul explained, “God has overlooked the times when people did not know, but now he commands all people everywhere to turn away from their evil ways. For God has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice, by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!”

Demetrius: Oh, now he has spoilt it. What! How can a person be raised from the dead? Everyone knows that once we die, we go down into the underworld and live as shadows. Once you cross the river Styx, your previous life is left far behind. Who would want to go back into the earthly body once again?

No, this claim by Paul raises too many questions that are just not able to be answered satisfactorily. Any talk about raising the dead and bringing back their bodies is stupid.

Damaris: Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve always been worried by this idea. The thought of being a shadow after I die doesn’t really hold any attraction for me. I am much more interested in the story of a god who is able to transform death. What a powerful and caring god this must be! After all, death is what we all must face, and what we all fear so much.

And further, I am starting to see something quite special in what Paul is talking about. He has mentioned a special man, a chosen human being, who will be the one to carry out God’s justice in all the world. This idea is what really grabs me. To think that a god can not only be with us, but that this god can be a human being, just one of us, is really very special.

Now that I think about, this message reminds me of a letter that I received from my sister in Corinth just recently. As I recall now, she spoke about this man named Paul, who had visited the city, and had preached about a man from Nazareth, in the province of Galilee. Paul said that this man, Jesus, was not only a great prophet, but that he had been raised from the dead, and that he is the one who will bring God’s justice into the world. Perhaps this Paul that we are listening to today is the same person that she was talking about?

As Paul puts it, this God has a presence and a power that touches human life in profound and moving ways. This kind of power is lacking in the stone images that I see around me. Paul is leading me right into the heart of this God. So I think I will take his advice, and turn away from the gods I used to worship, and wait for the coming of divine justice through this man who is raised from the dead.

When the people heard Paul speak about a raising from death, some of them made fun of him, but others said, “We want to hear you speak about this again.”

Demetrius: Well, I have to say that this Paul is a bit of a surprise. I admit that he has said one or two foolish things — but not quite as many as I thought he would when he started. But this business of being raised from death is just not on. Yet some of the things that he has said are worth pondering. He is quite a philosopher, isn’t he? I can’t make up my mind about him, and about the god that he has proclaimed to us, and the religion that he has told us about. I’ll need some time to reflect on what he has said.

Perhaps he will be back in the public square tomorrow; I hope so. Maybe I will go there with my kitchen slaves in the morning, when they go to buy our household food for the midday dinner.

Then Paul left their meeting. Some men joined him and believed; among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and some others.


As we return to the 21st century, it is worthwhile pondering Paul’s words and actions, and the response that both Damaris and Demetrius had to these words.

The words of Luke suggests that perhaps Paul was “off duty”, as his prime reason for being in Athens was to wait for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him there. Unable to do nothing or ignore the temples of idols around him, Paul’s idea of “off duty” appears to be to argue with everyone he meets in the town square. However this may have been perceived, Paul’s message of “the God you are looking for, the God you don’t even have a name for, the God who is in danger of getting lost in the plethora of all the other idols you are worshipping – let me tell you about that God…” is the God that we surely could take with us into our own town squares – maybe represented today by our cathedrals of consumerism in the large shopping malls, clubs and coffee shops we frequent today.

Paul presents his “new teaching” and “strange ideas” by meeting the Athenians on their own ground, by quoting two of the Greek poets: the Cretan Epimenides (600 BCE), that “in him we live and move and have our being,” and then the opening lines of the Phaenomena by Aratus (315-240 BCE), a Greek poet and Stoic of Cilicia, that “we are his children.”

It is also worth noting that Paul does not condemn them as unredeemed pagans on a one-way trip to hell, he tells them that both he and they worship the same God. Paul plainly saw God at work in the world through all people, and we would do well to remember this as well. Paul viewed the venerable Areopagus as just another place where the Lord of all creation had gone before him and was already present; indeed, as Paul said to the Athenians, “He is not far from each one of us.”

We Christians need to be aware of isolating and insulating ourselves from our culture’s mainstream. We must avoid being inward-looking, self-absorbed, and judgmental, instead of engaging people in our contemporary Areopagus. Instead, we need to follow Paul’s example of living, learning and sharing the gospel in the marketplace of ideas, engaging real people where they live, work, and think, in order to gain a hearing for our “strange ideas” about God, grace, and the resurrection.


See also

Bless our God; truly God has listened (Psalm 66; Easter 6A)

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard” (v.8). That’s the opening line of the section of Psalm 66 which offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday, the Sixth Sunday in Easter (Ps 66:8–20). In these words, the call is made for people to bless and praise God because he is the one “who has kept us among the living” (v.9). This makes this psalm a most suitable song for the season of Easter, when the church celebrates the new life offered to believers through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Blessing God is a favourite Jewish activity—indeed, so many prayers still used by Jews today begin with a phrase of blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God …”. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth is prayed before a meal. Blessed are You, o Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine is prayed before drinking wine.

And a favourite blessing which I learnt from Jews is Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment. It’s a prayer to mark momentous occasions in life. All of these prayers of blessing begin with the Hebrew words, Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam, the same formula of approaching, acknowledging, and blessing God.

We can see that formula used in blessings spoken by David, who exhorts the people to “bless the Lord your God” (1 Chron 29:19), and the psalmist, who prays, “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes” (Ps 119:12), as well as in later Jewish texts such as Tobit 3:11; 8:5, 15–17; Judith 13:17; 14:7; the Prayer of Azariah (six times), and 1 Maccabees 4:20. It appears also in New Testament texts such as Luke 1:68; Rom 9:5; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3; and 1 Pet 1:3.

More familiar, perhaps, is when Jesus uses a prayer of blessing, but speaks it to human beings; “blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah” (Matt 16:17), or “blessed are the eyes that see what you see”, to his disciples (Luke 10:23), or “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), and most famously of all, in a set of blessings spoken to a crowd on a level place (Luke 6:20–22) or to his disciples on a mountain top (Matt 5:3–12). Jesus blessed people. But blessing God is something that is not unknown within Judaism.

The primary reason to bless God, then, is that we are “kept among the living” (v.9). What follows from that affirmation is the statement, “You, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried” (v.10). We know that life entails testing; no human being has avoided those moments in their lives when trials and testings are presented, seeking to entice us to think or act in unhelpful ways.

Scripture reflects this reality, that life entails testing, at many places. The fundamental paradigm is set out in the paradigmatic story of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22:1–19), and then in narratives about Joseph (Ps 105:16–19), the years when the people wandered in the wilderness (Deut 8:2), the incident at Rephidim (Exod 17:1–7; Deut 6:16; 33:8; Ps 81:7), and then whilst the people were living alongside hostile nations when in the land (Judg 3:1–6). And, of course, there is the similar paradigmatic testing story in the life of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13 and parallels).

The Psalmist notes that “the Lord tests the righteous and the wicked” (Ps 11:5) and the prophet declares the word of the Lord, that “I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity” (Isa 48:10; so also Zech 13:7–9). In the words of the sage, then, “I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals” (Eccles 3:18) and, using the same imagery as Ps 66, notes that “the crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Prov 17:3).

After listing various ways in which the people have been tested—“you brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water” (vv.10–11), the psalmist declares, “you have brought us out to a spacious place” (v.12 in the NRSV translation), or “a place of great abundance” (in the NIV).

The unusual Hebrew word which is translated as “spacious place”, la-yerawah, appears also in Psalm 23 in the affirmation, “my cup overflows” (Ps 23:5); the root word, ravah, has a sense of saturation, abundance, or being filled to overflowing (according to the Brown—Driver—Briggs Lexicon). The end result of testing is a place of fulfilment and satisfaction.

In response, the psalmist states, “I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows” (v.13). Prescriptions for burnt offerings, to be offered at the altar of burnt offerings (Deut 12:27; Exod 20:24), are detailed in Lev 1:1–17 and 6:8–13. They are integral to the rituals of the Temple and have a firm place in the piety of faithful people in ancient Israel.

Also integral to the temple liturgy are the vows which are to be paid to God. The psalmist elsewhere affirms, “I will pay my vows” (Ps 22:25; 50:14; 61:8; 65:1; 66:13; 76:11; 116:14, 18). The words of the psalmist are echoed by Eliphaz in one of his speeches to Job: “you will delight yourself in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God; you will pray to him, and he will hear you, and you will pay your vows” (Job 22:26–27).

So the psalm continues, “I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats” (v.15). This correlates with the levitical provisions, as already noted. The psalmists inevitably write from within the religious system of the time—which makes sense, since the psalms were composed for singing within the Temple liturgy.

This contrasts with many of the words of the prophets, who in a sense stand on the edge of the religious life of the nation, and offer their criticisms of the excesses and injustices that were part of life at that time (as, indeed, they continue to be, sadly, today). We might think, for instance, of how the prophets criticised the people for their offerings and sacrifices whilst tolerating such injustice in their communal life (Isa 1:11–14; Jer 6:20; Ezek 20:27–28; Hos 8:13; 9:4; Mal 1:14).

So the prophetic critique of Temple practices (which Jesus picks up at Matt 9:13; 12:7, quoting Hos 6:6) needs to be held in tension with the psalmists’ affirmations of those practices when they are performed faithfully. Although Jesus, following Hosea, appears to place mercy (hesed) in opposition to sacrifice, both mercy and sacrifice are integral to Israelite religion.

To end this song, the psalmist offers an exhortation followed by an affirmation. The exhortation is to “come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me” (v.16). “Those who fear God” is a typical characterisation of faithful people who trust in God and adhere to God’s ways of justice and righteousness, including Abraham (Gen 22:12), Joseph (Gen 42:18), leaders appointed by Moses (Exod 18:21), and indeed all who are faithful amongst the people (Lev 19:14, 32; 25:17, 36, 43; Deut 4:10; 6:2, 13, 24; etc; 1 Sam 12:14, 24; 1 Ki 8:40–43).

As Moses declares, “O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God” (Deut 10:12).

“What God has done” is an occasional biblical phrase, appearing in assorted places (Num 23:23; Deut 3:21; Josh 23:3; Ps 64:9; Eccles 3:11; Jer 5:19; Dan 9:14). In the New Testament, it is picked up in what Jesus says to a healed demoniac (Luke 8:39) and then in writings of his disciples (Rom 3:24–26; 8:3; Acts 2:22, 36; 14:27; 15:12; 21:19; John 3:16–17). It affirms the continuing and ongoing actions of God—what a former generation of scholars called “salvation history”—which is known through the stories of Israel and then through the life of Jesus and his followers.

The affirmation which closes this psalm is offered in typical Hebraic style, with parallel phrases that repeat and develop the central idea. In verse 19, the first statement, “truly God has listened”, is mirrored in the next phrase, “he has given heed to the words of my prayer”. In verse 20, “he has not rejected my prayer” is then expressed in a varied manner in the closing phrase, “[he has not] removed his steadfast love (hesed) from me”.

From Exodus to Nehemiah, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (hesed) is praised, in a refrain which recurs in many places (Exod 34:6; 2 Chron 30:8–9; Neh 9:17, 32; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Ps 86:15; 103:8, 11; 111:4; 145:8–9). Here, the psalmist uses this central insight into the nature of God to conclude the song, in which human trust in God and fidelity to God’s way have been well-expressed throughout.

The final words of the psalm form a blessing (linking back to verse 8) which emphasises the hesed of God (variously translated as mercy, or steadfast love). The psalm as a whole thus ties together the religious practices of the people (vows and sacrifices) and the understanding of God’s essential being (merciful and loving). It is a reminder that we need to hold the whole of the biblical witness together as revelatory of God; not select one aspect, not preference one over another, but hold all together. For in that, we draw near to the fullness of God.

On suffering as a virtue (1 Peter 3; Easter 6A)

Continuing our reading from 1 Peter during this Easter season, the lectionary this week offers a section dealing with suffering (1 Pet 3:13–22). The reality of the suffering which is being experienced by believers is a constant refrain in this letter. It is noted briefly in the opening blessing (1:6–7) and described in more detail in this section, as well as four other occasions (2:19–20; 3:13–17; 4:1–2; 4:12–19; 5:6–11).

There is never any suggestion that this suffering involved the physical persecution or even death of the believers; the “abuse” referred to comprised verbal criticism of believers (2:23; 3:16), as the lengthy scriptural citation indicates (3:9–12). Relationships with the Roman state appear to be favourable (2:13–17); there is no sign of systematic persecution.

In all but one of these discussions, suffering is interpreted with reference to the sufferings of Jesus (2:21–25; 3:18; 4:1; 4:13). The Spirit testified to the sufferings of Jesus through the words of the prophets (1:11). Jesus provides an example of how to deal with suffering; slaves in particular are instructed to “follow in his steps” (2:21), for the way of Jesus involves endurance in suffering (2:19–20) and adopting a joyful approach to life (1:8; 4:13) even in the midst of sufferings.

Suffering is known and addressed in the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The archetype of suffering in those books is, of course, Job, who although “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1), was nevertheless struck by a series of events that left his without property, without family, without animals, without servants (1:13–19).

The extended series of speeches in Job 3—42 address this situation of unjust, unmerited suffering, with a variety of points of view put forward. Although Job initially laments his fate, tearing his robe, shaving his head, and falling prostrate on the ground (1:20), he maintains his faith, acknowledging that “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). Yet in subsequent chapters, whilst his friends seek to persuade him to accept his fate as God’s will, Job himself despairs at his condition: “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest” (3:26),

Job rails at God: “the terrors of God are arrayed against me” (6:4), “when disaster brings sudden death, [God] mocks at the calamity of the innocent” (9:23), “why did you bring me forth from the womb? would that I had died before any eye had seen me” (10:18), God “uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (12:22), “you write bitter things against me” (13:26), “God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked … I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground (16:11–13).

Mocking the words of the psalmist, “if I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there; if I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Ps 139:8–10), Job instead insists, “if I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (Job 23:8).

Although the psalmist insists, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps 139:12), Job persists that God “uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (Job 12:22), for “when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came” (Job 30:26). Job can see no joy in accepting his fate; he continues in perpetual lament and anger because of his suffering.

The other well-known passage in Hebrew Scripture which relates to suffering is the fourth and last of the “Servant Songs” found in Second Isaiah (Isa 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12). In this long song, the “man of suffering, acquainted with infirmity” is portrayed as despised, rejected, stricken, and afflicted (53:3–4); wounded, bruised, and crushed (53:5); crushed with pain (53:10) and caught up in anguish (53:11). There can be no doubt that this figure—whether the corporate people of Israel, as in Jewish interpretation, or an individual chosen for this role, as many Christian interpreters prefer—is well acquainted with suffering.

Yet in the words of the song, the suffering of this servant is redemptive; although “we held him of no account” (53:3), yet “he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (53:4), “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (53:5).

Since “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6), he was “stricken for the transgression of my people” (53:8), his life was made “an offering for sin” (53:10) who “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). The redemptive suffering of this servant “shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:11).

Such suffering is not in vain; and when later Christian writers drew from the rich theology of this song, they attributed to Jesus the same dynamic of redemptive suffering. This is clearly the case in this week’s epistle, where we hear, “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The words provide a strong and clear echo of the fourth Servant Song. There is hope to be found in the midst of this suffering.

This motif of hope runs throughout this letter (1:3, 13, 21; 3:15; 4:13). What follows after suffering, the author writes with assurance, is God’s “eternal glory in Christ” (5:10); this is “the true grace of God” (5:12). Elders within the community of faith are to exercise their leadership with humility, and thereby provide “examples to the flock” (5:1–5). In this way, they will “win the crown of glory that never fades away” (5:4).

This, then, is the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” which was promised in the initial thanksgiving (1:4). This hope is what undergirds the distinctive identity of believers seeking to remain faithful to the way of Jesus in their society.

Swearing allegiance or reaffirming reality? (2)

When Charles III is crowned as King Charles III, people across the United Kingdom and in Commonwealth countries across the world will be invited to cry out and swear their allegiance to the new King.

I won’t be doing that. There are two key reasons for this. The first relates to the relationship between Australia and the UK. I wrote about that in my previous blog. The second arises from my understanding of Christian faith and theology, which I will address in this blog.

This area of concern that informs my decision emerges from my own faith, and my understanding of “kingship” in the heritage and traditions of that faith. In Hebrew Scripture, the king of Israel was expected to “trust in the Lord” (Ps 21:7), “rejoice in God” (Ps 63:11), and “judge [the] people with righteousness, and [the] poor with justice” which have been granted by God (Ps 72:1–2). That was the ideal. The reality was different.

We know, of course, from the narratives that tell the story of Israel over many generations (1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles), that many kings failed in this requirement, and “did evil in the sight of the Lord”, fulfilling the predictive prophecy of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 8:10–18). Nevertheless, the idealised view of kingship, which Samuel dutifully set out in writing for the people (1 Sam 10:26), held sway through the ensuing centuries.

This idealised view was particularly developed in the portrayal of Solomon, who was seen to be filled with “wisdom and knowledge”, and granted “riches, possessions, and honour, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like” (2 Chron 1:7–12, especially verses 10 and 12).

Indeed, King Solomon is said to have “excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of [those kings] brought silver and gold, so much, year by year.” (2 Chron 9:22–24).

This wonderfully wise, insightful, discerning man, Solomon—bearing a name derived from the Hebrew for peace, “shalom”—became a powerhouse in the ancient world. But he did not always live as a man of peace. Indeed, he used his 4,000 horses and chariots and 12,000 horsemen to good effect; we read that “he ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt.” (2 Chron 9:26).

Solomon was remembered as king over the greatest expanse of land claimed by Israel in all of history. Solomon was a warrior. And warrior-kings were powerful, tyrannical in their exercise of power, ruthless in the way that they disposed of rivals for the throne and enemies on the battlefield alike. Think Alexander the Great. Think Charlemagne. Think Genghis Khan. Think William the Conqueror.

Solomon reigned for 40 years—a long, wealthy, successful time. That is the model of kingship which survives through into the modern era. We expect kings to rule. We expect them to invade and enforce and dominate, for that is the heritage passed on. (And I won’t comment on Solomon’s marital relationships; I will leave 1 Kings 11:3 to,speak for itself!)

In a fascinating article about the coronation, British biblical scholar Margaret Barker notes that the story of Solomon, anointed by the priest Zadok and the prophet Samuel (1 Kings 1:34, 39), is central to the symbolism and mythology that informs the service of the coronation. She explains how a number of the symbols in Westminster Cathedral, the setting for this ceremony, hearken back to the glories of Solomon. The coronation taking place this week references and relies upon the story of Solomon. See

Indeed, at the moment of anointing of the King, a prayer is to be offered that draws this direct connection: “thy prophets of old anointed kings and priests to serve in thy name”, and as the anointing is carried out (in private, behind a screen, the anthem by Handel is sung, “ZADOK the Priest”, while the Archbishop declares, “as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so may you be anointed, blessed, and consecrated King over the peoples”. The connection is crystal clear.

And even the weird line that the people are invited to say, “May the King live forever”—not just “Long live King Charles”, but the impossible “May the King live forever”—is because of the story of Solomon, mediated through Handel, as my colleague Avril Hannah-Jones notes; see


Beyond the symbolism, however, the reality of the British monarchy emulates the way that Solomon exercised his rule, as a fierce expansionary leader. The promise to Abraham, that he would be given land by God (Gen 12:1), was set out in full detail in words given to Moses (as it was thought), where God promises the people that “I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates” (Exod 23:31).

That great extent of territory was nowhere near what Joshua or the Judges, or David or Saul ruled over; but by the time of Solomon, it is said that “Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt” (1 Ki 4:21). He had expanded his empire to the fullest extent. And the land was captured by force—pure, simple, aggressive military conquest.

The story of the British Empire is one of relentless expansion, built on the back of trading, invasion, colonisation, slavery, and systematic oppression. The British Empire stretched right around the globe; that gave rise to the saying, “the sun never sets on the British Empire”.

So the power of the King (or Queen) was felt in multitudes of countries, where local wealth was plundered and alien systems of government were imposed: India, Kenya, Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Malaya, Aden, Ireland, Palestine, South Africa—and Australia, as I canvassed in my previous blog.

On the cruelties and injustices perpetrated by the British, see and

On “stuff the British stole”—artefacts that were taken from the colonies to be displayed in the homes and museums of the Mother Country, see

It is only in recent years that some statements of regret and apologies have been issued by the Queen, or other key members of the royal family, relating to specific colonial situations; and that some artefacts have been returned to their countries of origin after spending decades in UK museums. That is a start towards backing away from past injustices—but much more can, and should, be done.


More than this: “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord, succeeding his father David as king; he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him” (1 Chron 29:23). He was considered to be the specific personal representation of the divine in Israelite society. That is directly mirrored in the way that King Charles III will be declared to be “Defender of the Faith” and also in the fact that he has the role of Head of the Church of England.

“Defender of the Faith” was conferred on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521, and every monarch since then has carried this title. The title of Head of the Church of England was adopted by Henry VIII in 1536, when he seized assets of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and declared the Church of England to be the established church.

The intertwining and enmeshing of state and religion is clear in these two titles—again, directly echoing the situation with Solomon and Israel. Although there is a stream within ancient Israelite religion which yearns and prays for the king to demonstrate the justice and righteousness that God desired for the nation. “By justice a king gives stability to the land”, says the sage, “but one who makes heavy exactions ruins it” (Prov 29:4).

Before being overrun by the Babylonians, one prophet in Israel declared that “the king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice” (Isa 32:1); another prophet, years later during the Exile, declared that “the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5).

That hope, in Christian theology, was taken up in Jesus, who was claimed to be the righteous branch, the one ruling with justice (Matt 12:15–21). Jesus spoke clearly about the need for justice in our lives (Matt 23:23; Luke 7:29). He provided a clear countercultural vision for his followers, and called them into a radically different way of living. Yet the church went a different pathway, thanks to the influence of Constantine and then the theologians and popes that followed after him.

And in recent centuries, the church in the UK has gleefully merged this fervent prophetic hope with the dominance of the monarchy, and blunted any of the sharpness of the message of Jesus. They have continued to support a system in which the British monarch is regarded as their spiritual leader and yet injustice continues to be perpetrated in their society, and in their Empire and then Commonwealth.

Canon Glenn Loughrey has recently reflected on this situation, writing that “the participation of church UK in the blessing of the continuation of the system which decimated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and others across the globe is both a denial of and a continuation of the church in all its forms in colonial genocide”. To continue to support the system which caused such damage is unjust and unethical.

Now, it is true that the King will be greeted on arrival at the Abbey by a young Chapel Royal Chorister, “in the name of the King of Kings”, to which the King responds, “in his name, and after his example, I come not to be served, but to serve”. And, indeed, when the Archbishop of Canterbury asks King Charles III, “will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?”, he will reply, “I will”; and later, he will pray, “God of compassion and mercy, whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve, give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom, and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth”.


Well, we shall see. Will the time under this monarch simply continue the imperial power that was exercised by his predecessors? It is hard to see any different happening. The system will continue, relentless and pervasive, continuing the privileges and power established in medieval times, regardless of the personal views of the incumbent monarch. And whilst it is true that the system has adapted and changed in minor ways into the present age, the crushing authority of the system, developed by monarchs in the past, is still perpetuated by governments in the present. There have been no apologies, no reparations, no acknowledgement of past failures.

Our Prime Minister has met with the new King ahead of the coronation. “He has a long record of interest in issues such as climate change, on issues relating to Australia’s Indigenous people, on issues across the full range, particularly of the environment, and that remains the case, ” Mr Albanese said after that meeting. It would be really good to see King Charles III express regret at the actions of the invading British colonies of 1788 onwards, clearly state an apology to the First Peoples of Australia for what their ancestors experienced, and urge the Federal Government to move towards The Republic of Australia, with an Indigenous President, as soon as possible. This is what leaders of various Commonwealth countries have called for. See

But I very much doubt that this will happen.

And so, I won’t be crying out my allegiance to the newly-crowned King when invited to do so during his coronation; rather, I will be quietly reaffirming the reality of Australia at this point in time. That reality, as I have stated, is well-encapsulated by the three words, Voice—Treaty—Truth. That commitment is what we need for the present times—not allegiance to an inherited powerful foreign ruler.


See also

Swearing allegiance or reaffirming reality? (1)

When Charles III is crowned as King Charles III, people across the United Kingdom and in Commonwealth countries across the world will be invited to cry out and swear their allegiance to the new King.

I won’t be doing that. There are two key reasons for this. The first relates to the relationship between Australia and the UK. The second arises from my own faith commitments. In this blog, I will address the first issue.

In the funeral of Elizabeth II last year, prayers were offered for the new King, with the person who holds the office of Garter Principal King of Arms praying to God, “we humbly beseech Almighty God to bless with long life, health and honour, and all worldly happiness the Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Monarch, our Sovereign Lord, Charles III, now, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter”.

Charles has many other titles, as well as that of King. In Scotland, Charles continues to be known also as “His Royal Highness The Duke of Rothesay”. In England, he likewise continues as “His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall”. The hegemony of the royals must continue to be buttressed by the arcane titles, it seems. In Wales, whilst he used to be “His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales”, as the heir apparent to the throne, that title moved from him on the death of his mother, to rest on his eldest son, William Prince of Wales. All of this titular profligacy relates to the history of the peoples of the UK over the past millennia. That’s their business, and they need to deal with all of that.

In Australia, on the death of his mother, the former Prince of Wales became “His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Australia and His other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”. That claim, King of Australia, is based on the claims for the land made long before in the “secret instructions” given to James Cook in 1768, before he set off for his trip to the south that included a time of sailing along the eastern coastline of the continent we now call Australia.


Those instructions specified that Lieutenant Cook, in the event that he found the Continent, should chart its coasts, obtain information about its people, cultivate their friendship and alliance, and annex any convenient trading posts in the King’s name. Cook went one step further: on behalf of the King (an ancestor of Charles III), he laid claim to the lands he had sighted as a British possession.

Cook had navigated along the coast of New Zealand, before he turned west, reaching the southern coast of New South Wales on 20 April 1770.—the day that now is remembered each year as “when Captain Cook discovered Australia”—a statement that contains two central historical inaccuracies! Cook was then only a Lieutenant; he was promoted to Captain at a later date.


Further, James Cook did not “discover” the land—other European sailors had charted the western coast in years before, and the continent itself had been home to Indigenous peoples for millennia before then.

Lieutenant Cook sailed north, landing at Botany Bay one week later, before continuing to chart the Australian coast all the way north to the tip of Queensland. There, on Possession Island, just before sunset on Wednesday 22 August 1770, he declared the land to be a British possession:

“Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken possession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast . . . by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answerd by the like number from the Ship.”

Cook had recorded signs that the coast was inhabited during the voyage north, had met a number of the Aboriginal inhabitants, and here he noted as he returned to the ship the great number of fires on all the land and islands about them, “a certain sign they are Inhabited”. But he still pressed ahead with his report that he had claimed all the lands for the British Crown. This was done, despite the fact that he knew there were inhabitants in the land.

Cook planted the British flag on the continent of Australia. He demonstrated how the imperial colonising power operated: the land, and the people, were to be subsumed under imperial rule, simply because the imperial power wished that to be so. The people already living in those places were simply to bend in obedience to this greater power. And, as we know, if they resisted, they would be met with force, violence, and murder.

See more at


All of this was enforcing the pattern that had been proposed centuries earlier by a papal decree that established the Doctrine of Discovery—something that all the Christian nations in Europe had willingly followed. There was a long-standing understanding amongst these European trading powers, that they had every right—indeed, a divine right—to explore, invade, colonise, and convert the “natives” of distant lands.

On the Doctrine of Discovery, see and my reflections at

The imposition of British rule was not without cost for the people who were already inhabiting the land when the colonisers arrived in 1788. A recent venture based in the University of Newcastle has been charting the many massacres that took place across the continent, from the early years of the British Invasion, through into the early 20th century.

University of Newcastle map of sites where massacres
of Indigenous Peoples took place since 1788

We perpetuate the hurt by continuing with 26 January as our “national day”, as well as by continuing with a system of constitutional government that places the UK monarch at the top of the hierarchy, as the Head of State of Australia. A foreign hereditary ruler as the Head of State in Australia? That is an absurd arrangement for our times.

So I won’t be crying out my allegiance to the newly-crowned King; rather, I will be quietly reaffirming the reality of Australia at this point in time. That reality is well-encapsulated by the three words, Voice—Treaty—Truth.

Drawing on the experience of First Peoples, we need to tell the Truth and name the settlement of this continent as a colonising movement, generated by foreign imperialism, manifesting in violent invasion and genocidal massacres, spread from north to south, from east to west, of this continent. We must continue to prioritise this commitment to tell the truth. This truth is that the 18th century British crown oversaw and approved of that terrible genocidal colonising invasion. See

Alongside that, I think we need to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, that medieval theological foundation upon which the worldwide invasion and colonisation of lands was based—including the invasion and colonisation of Terra Australis. King George III, who was the monarch of the day, was following the Doctrine of Discovery by sending Cook to the southern seas. Repudiating this doctrine is part of our commitment to tell the truth. My own church, the Uniting Church in Australia, agreed to repudiate that doctrine in 2015. See

Furthermore, we need to be committed to talking Treaty. We need to see the formalisation of treaties with the various nations of Peoples who have inhabited, nurtured and cared for this land since time immemorial. This commitment is based on a recognition of the Sovereignty of each of those nations, sovereignty over the land that the people have inhabited, nurtured, and cared for over those many millennia.


Sovereignty, as articulated in the Statement from the Heart of 2017, is understood by the First Peoples as a spiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and the First Peoples. See

Finally—and most topical of all—we need to support the Voice that will be the subject of a referendum later this year. The Voice to Parliament will ensure that the needs and concerns of First Peoples are always given due consideration in the policy-making processes of our federal government. See

Voice, Treaty, Truth—that’s the threefold commitment that I consider to be important on this coronation weekend. Not swearing allegiance to a highly-privileged hereditary foreigner, but reaffirming the reality of what we need to do to honour the First People of this land.


See also

A living stone, for a spiritual house (1 Peter 2; Easter 5A)

For the last few weeks, we have been reading through the letter known as 1 Peter during the Easter season. We have read parts of chapters 1 and 2 so far. This Sunday, however, the lectionary does something strange: it takes us back before the passage we heard last week, to a section of chapter 2 that focusses on the way that holiness is to be understood.

The theme of holiness has already been sounded earlier in the letter. The people who are receiving this letter are “the exiles of the Dispersion” (v.1), people of Israel living in other nations. For such people, holiness was an important idea. The fundamental charge of this letter was sounded earlier: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (v.15). This is supported by a quotation from scripture (Lev 11:44), which was a foundational text for the people of Israel.

Holiness characterized Israel; those who ministered to God within the Temple, as priests, were to be especially concerned about holiness in their daily life and their regular activities in the Temple (Exod 28-29; Lev 8-9). The priests oversaw the implementation of the Holiness Code, a large section of Leviticus (chapters 17–26), which explained the various applications of the word to Israel, that “you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2; also 20:7,26).

Holiness was also a concern of the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees devoted their lives to teaching and explaining each of the 613 commandments and ordinances that were included within the books of Torah (the books of the Law—the first five books of Hebrew Scriptures), and showing the common people how they could live in holiness, as they followed each of those commandments. Holiness was at the heart of the Law, so adhering to each commandment ensured holiness.

And holiness characterised the followers of Jesus, for he was leader of a holiness movement in a holiness society. Jesus debated often with the scribes and Pharisees. He seems to share much in common with them. They were all committed to living in accordance with the commandments of Torah, although they had differing interpretations of how to do this. Jesus advocated for the living out of holiness in daily life, as did the scribes and Pharisees. His teachings also focussed on adhering to God’s will, maintaining the justice-righteousness that God required, in all of life. He teaches his followers to adhere to that way in order the take part in the kingdom that God has planned for all.

Holiness, to all of these groups, meant being consecrated, dedicated, set apart for a designated purpose. It is often (mis)understood as signalling a superior status, an exalted place—”up there” above the unholy ones, just as God is “up there” above the earth. Of course, that old worldview is now obsolete. And the sense of elitism in “holiness” is also obsolete.

Further, whilst a holy person is to be an ethical person, overtones of morality are not the first and last aspect of holiness. To be holy is to be dedicated to the task, following Jesus with the whole of our lives, sensing the eternal in the moments of the present, experiencing the divine in the midst of human life. Excitedly, joyously (v.6), all this is to be shared with others who have not yet “caught the vision”.

There are many references to, and quotations from, the scriptures of the Hebrew people in chapter 2 of this letter. That makes sense, for—as we have seen—it was sent to “the exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1). These were their familiar scriptures. To live according to holiness (Lev 11:44) is the key principle (1 Pet 1:15).

In 2:4–10, part of the lectionary passage for this Sunday, we learn what that means, as the writer plays with a series of texts from the psalms and Isaiah. Each text contains a reference to “stone”, and relates an understanding of holiness to those hearing the letter.

The first reference point for “stone” is to Jesus, the “living stone” who is the cornerstone of the whole building. That slips quickly into applying “stones” to the people of faith who are hearing this letter: as “living stones” they are to be built into the structure as integral parts of the whole. Then, to reinforce that affirmation, a verse from Hosea 2 is quoted to emphasize how intimately and enduringly the people are connected with God.

Echoing still more scriptural terms, they are described as “chosen” (Deut 7:6), “a royal priesthood” (Exod 19:6), “holy” (Lev 20:7), and God’s own people (Hos 2:23) who are “a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6). Many passages are rolled into one sentence!

Later sections of the letter provide specific guidance as to how we are to live in that condition of holiness; what behaviours and actions are appropriate for being “living stones” in a “spiritual house”. The challenge for us, this week, as we hear and preach on this particular passage, is to help people to grasp the relevance of these important theological terms for ourselves today.


See also