In Melbourne at the moment, weddings are banned until we achieve an average of less than 5 new cases of Covid-19 in the entire state AND that no new cases come from an unknown source, for two weeks straight.
That means that if there is an outbreak in a country town somewhere, then even if there are no cases of Covid-19 in the rest of Victoria, then no Melbournite will be able to get married (in the eyes of the State).
Not even if the minister social distances and wears a mask and performs the ceremony through livestream. Not even if the witnesses are viewing it via Zoom. Not even if you only have a group of 5 and everyone involved come from two households, even though during Step 2 the DHHS website says you are allowed to have outdoor “public gatherings – up to 5 people from a maximum of two households”… Just not for a wedding apparently.
To put this in perspective, since the 16th of March there has been only 6 DAYS that achieved that benchmark. That’s right, in the last 176 days, 170 of those days would have prevented people from being allowed to marry under the Victorian Government’s current standards.
The DHHS website states that this could possibly go on indefinitely as we will only be able to transition to Step 3 (where small weddings are allowed) “once the thresholds are met; there is no set date.”
There is a petition going around asking Dan Andrews to change his mind on banning weddings. I hope it is effective.
But if it doesn’t, and the wedding ban in Victoria goes on indefinitely, at what point do Christian couples just get married and worry about the formalities later?
At what point do we remember that marriage is not created by the Government. It is created by God. The State acknowledges it, registers it, records it and grants it certain legal rights and privileges. But the State does not make people married, nor can it ban people from making vows before God, with people witnessing (even if remotely).
History tells of the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who around 270AD apparently banned weddings for the sake of the Empire. It was thought that married men love their wives and children and so don’t join the military to go off to war as willingly.
The legend goes that St Valentine defied the law and married couples in secret because he saw marriage as not a right granted (or forbidden) by the government, but a sacrament given by God.
I’m not saying we should disobey the law, even over this issue. But I do think we need something of a St Valentine attitude. Marriage is a good gift from God, and like the ancient proverb from Nike says… maybe we should “Just Do It” and worry about the paperwork after we one day meet the crazily ambitious numbers the State has currently set.
The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ working example of how we should pray.
But many (including those who claim to follow him as Christ and Creator of the Universe) argue that Jesus was just a product of his times, and like problematic films like Aliens and The Goonies, much of the New Testament requires a disclaimer stating that Jesus’ teaching contains: “outdated attitudes, languages and cultural depictions which may cause offence today.”
Now, we could just cancel Jesus, doxx him on social media and force him to quit his job as Saviour of the world.
Or, we could just update Jesus’ prayer to something less offensive…
The Lord’s Prayer – Woke Edition
Our [god, free of all gendered imagery],
Hallowed be your name [not that you care about all that stuff].
Your [democratic socialist autonomous zone] come,
[Our collective] will be done,
On earth as it is in [whatever concept of the spiritual realm sits best with you].
Give us today our daily bread [with a gluten-free option and maybe an alternative for those that are cutting down their carbs. Also could we get some butter?].
And forgive us our [<no alternative found>]
As we forgive those who [offend] us [after destroying their career].
[Let us lead ourselves] away from temptation [unless it’s sexy or chocolatey or both].
And deliver us from [ignorance and low self-esteem, because no one and nothing is truly “evil” deep down, just misunderstood].
ADDITIONAL ENDING FOR WOKE ANGLICANS:
For Thine is the [democratic socialist autonomous zone]
The Power [to the People!]
And the Glory [of each one of us living out our own truth]
Now and for [the next few years until the zeitgeist changes once again].
[also Awomen and Athosewhodontidentifybyanygender]
If you want a slightly more serious reflection of what I think about The Lord’s Prayer, check out this article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition Australia: “Our Father Who Art in Parliament”.
It is argued by the Catholic Church that the apostle Peter is the rock that the Church is built on. This is their primary defense for the entire Papal system and indeed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
This argument is built on it’s own rock – this one verse in Matthew’s gospel.
And I tell you that you are Peter,Â and on this rock I will build my church,Â and the gates of HadesÂ will not overcome it.
What is the “rock” that Jesus tells Peter he will build his church on? The Catholic Church says it’s Peter and this is a position they have held for a very long time. For example, way back in 445AD, Pope Leo I justified his papal authority with these words:
“[Christ] wished [Peter] who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: â€˜You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Churchâ€™, that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peterâ€™s solid rock”
Pope Leo I (LettersÂ 10:1)
And in 451AD, the Council of Chalcedon describes Peter like this:
“…The thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith.”
Council of Chalcedon (Acts of the Council, session 3)
“Peter, your name means rock, but you’re not THE rock”
Now, as you can tell from the title of this article, I disagree with the Catholic Church on this one. I was recently asked by a Catholic friend to explain my reasoning as in his mind, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 seems so clear.
He also insisted that as Peter was given the “keys to the kingdom” and the other disciples weren’t, this was another sign that he was being established by Jesus as the first Pope. I disagreed on this point too, stating that whatever these “keys” meant, I believe they were given to all the disciples.
I addressed this “keys” point first, so I’ll put this below and get on to my argument about why I don’t think Peter is the “rock” the church is built on.
The keys were given to all disciples
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
So the text (and indeed the rest of the bible) doesn’t give any other explanation of what it means to be given “the keys of the kingdom” other than “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.â€
So if we accept that this is what it means to be given the keys of the kingdom, then we must accept that that was something given to all the disciples, not just Peter. Why? Because this privilege (or role or responsibility) to bind and loose is mentioned in other passages.
Just two chapters on, in Matt 18:18-20, Jesus is talking to all the disciples (as is made clear at the start of the chapter), and he says:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
In fact, by that last line, one might be fair to extrapolate that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, this role of binding and loosing is present. But either way, it’s clear that these “keys” are not only given to Peter, but to all the disciples.
Another passage that uses very similar language to the binding and loosing concepts in Matthew, is in John 20:23, where Jesus says to the disciples:
If you forgive anyoneâ€™s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
As the context of Matthew 18:18-20 shows that Jesus is talking about sin and forgiveness, I think it’s fair to say that John 20:23 is talking about the same thing.
Why Peter is not the rock, Jesus is
The issue for Catholics usually rests more on the fact that they have been taught that when Jesus says “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”, he is saying that Christ’s church will be built on Peter.
This is an incorrect reading of this passage I believe and I encourage you to, for a moment, try to read it with fresh eyes. I think it’s pretty obvious that Jesus, the disciples and definitely Peter, did not think of Peter as the foundational rock that the church was built on. The whole passage of Matthew 16:13-20, reads like this:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, â€œWho do people say the Son of Man is?â€
They replied, â€œSome say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.â€
â€œBut what about you?â€ he asked. â€œWho do you say I am?â€
Simon Peter answered, â€œYou are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.â€
Jesus replied, â€œBlessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.â€
Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
So what is the focus of the story? Who is Jesus. It starts with that question and it ends with that as well.
Peter is the key person who gets who Jesus is and he makes the grand confession of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus honour Peter for this confession and says “You are Peter and on THIS rock, I will build my church”.
What is the “THIS” that is the foundation of the church that Jesus will build? Is it Peter? No. If it were Peter Jesus would have said, “on YOU I will build my church”.
[Side note: I acknowledge that I am not addressing what to some Catholics might feel like the elephant in the room. Namely, the argument that Peter’s name means “rock”. Technically, in the original Greek the word translated as “Peter” is Î ÎÏ„ÏÎ¿Ï‚ (Petros) and “rock” is Ï€ÎÏ„ÏÎ± (petra) and so it’s not identical, but definitely can be considered a bit of wordplay by Jesus. The fact is though, this is not where Peter is originally given his name by Jesus. That happens early on in Jesus ministry (see John 1:42). It may indeed have been given by Jesus in anticipation of this moment in Matthew 16, but it still does not suggest that Peter IS the rock that is being referred to. Just that his name sounds similar to the word “rock”.
So when Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church” it is like him saying, “You are Matthew and on this mat I will wipe my feet.” I know that’s a crude analogy, but hopefully you get my point. In the bible people can be given a name that points to something other than themselves. For example, John the baptist was also specifically given that name by an angel and his name means “Yahweh is Gracious”. It doesn’t imply that he himself is Yahweh, but rather that his life and ministry should declare the grace of Yahweh. Likewise, Peter’s life and ministry should declare the “rock” which is, as I argue below, not himself, but the confession of Jesus as the Messiah.]
The rock that Jesus is referring to is the confession that Peter spoke about who Jesus is. The fact that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” is the foundational rock that the church is built on. Peter is NEVER in all Scripture referred to or thought of a the foundational rock of the church. You’d think that if that’s what Jesus meant and it was so important, that it would be repeated elsewhere.
But even in the other gospel where this story is repeated (see Mark 8:27-30 & Luke 9:18-20) the whole section about the rock is not even mentioned. This seems odd, if indeed this is the key verse that establishes the entire Papal structure of the church.
No, I think the foundational rock that Jesus’ church is built on is not Peter, it is Jesus himself and the confession that he is the Messiah. And although there is no other Scriptural support for Peter being the rock, there is LOTS of support for Jesus being the rock.
Multiple times, Jesus and the epistle writers quote Psalm 118:22 which says:
The stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.
The cornerstone was the foundational rock that the building was built on. In other places like Romans 9:33, they talk about Jesus by quoting Isaiah 8:14 which says:
See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.
If you’re looking for what or who Scripture says is the foundation the Church is built on, it speaks of Christ, not Peter.
For example 1 Corinthians 3:9-11:
For we are co-workers in Godâ€™s service; you are Godâ€™s field, Godâ€™s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 3:9-11
In fact, the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 3 is worth a read, because Paul specifically refers to Peter (or Cephas) and describes him as not one that Christians should say they follow as they are just “mere human beings” (1 Cor 3:4, 21-22).
Peter’s own words
The most compelling argument to me though is from the words of Peter himself. His first epistle is full of this language of foundational rocks and cornerstones, and he is always talking about Jesus and not himself. I will leave you with Peter’s words.
I want you to consider, in Peter’s mind, when Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church”, did Peter end up thinking Jesus was talking about Peter or Jesus?
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For in Scripture it says: â€œSee, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.â€
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, â€œThe stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,â€ and, â€œA stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.â€
There have been so many changes over the past few weeks that it is hard to keep up! The learning curve for adults and kids alike has been huge, as we have adjusted all aspects of life to a new corona environment. Our family has had fun working out how to â€˜do churchâ€™ at home and I thought Iâ€™d share a few of the things weâ€™ve been doing in case they help your family also. So here are 5 tips for making the most of live streaming church with your kids.
1) Be Prepared
One of the key things we have tried to do each weekend is ‘set up’ for church. On Saturday night (or usually Sunday morning) we pack away the toys, place out bibles, set up a table of activities and have nametags ready for when the congregation of three ‘arrive’ at church. A set up space makes the room feel different to the rest of the week and communicatesÂ that we are doing something special. InÂ the morning we prepare kids snacks for the service, weÂ get the livestream ready and make sure we have had breakfast (and caffeine for the adults!). The basic goal is that when church beginsÂ you can all participate without having to come and go.Â
2) Involve the Kids
We have found that the more we involve our daughter with this preparation, the more she is engaged with the service. Helping to set up the room, making nametags and choosing musical instruments tell her that this is something we are doing as a family together. For young children especially ‘imaginative play’ can help them get excited about church and give a sense of ‘normality’ to these strange times.Â Â Some families â€˜walk to churchâ€™ by walking around the block before the service begins, others do â€˜welcomingâ€™ andÂ we often do ‘drop off’ for Little Sunday SchoolÂ complete with pick-up tags!Â
3) Explain the Service
Livestreaming has provided us a new and rich opportunity to engage our kids in the Sunday Service. When else can you have a conversation with your kids during the service about what the word repentance means? We have used a variety of things to help engage our daughter during the service. From having a kid’sÂ bible open with the same passage, toÂ acting out the bible story as it’s being read or having home-made musical instruments ready for the singing. God’s Word reminds us that he wants us to explain our religious practicesÂ to our children so let’s make the most of this unique opportunity!
And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’Â then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ â€ Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
Exodus 12:26-27 NIV
4) Modelling Worship
“Church at home” gives us a great opportunity to model to our children our worship of God. More important than any creative tool you could use is the model we set as they watch us each Sunday. Making time and space in our home for church shows our kids how important God is in our lives. Our attention and participation in the service models how we listen to God in his word, talk to him in prayer and praise him in song. Never underestimate how significant a witness you are to your children simply to listening and responding to God. So make the livestream time on Sundays a priority and be aware of your own distractions. This may mean leaving your phone elsewhere if it is not needed!
As government restrictions are lifted we may also have the opportunity to model hospitality to our kids as we welcome other believers into our home to worship with us on Sundays. (A great opportunity to also model sacrificial love by cleaning and disinfecting in preparation!)
5) God’s Word for Everyone
The most challenging part of the livestream service is what to do during the sermon. We want our kids to engage with God’s Word but we need to hear it for ourselves also. For us, we send our daughter to “Little Sunday School” with activities she can do by herself and morning tea to eat. As a back-up we have our iPad with headphones ready so she can watch a kids’ talk whilst we listen to the sermon. For older kids, this could be a great opportunity to teach them how to listen to sermons. You could print off the sermon outline or transcript or give them a special notebook for their own notes or drawings as they listen. You could even think of one or two questions to ask them at the end.
I recogniseÂ that a lot of this is made easier for us having only one child, so if it is not possible to hear the sermon during this time either alternate which parent is ‘on duty’ or plan another time when children are sleeping to sit down and watch the sermon together.Â Whatever you decide, make it a priority to be able to hear from God’s Word for yourself.Â Remember, God’s Word is powerful soÂ there is much for your children to learn even by hearing his word preached in the background whilst building a Lego tower.
Have graceÂ for yourself and your kids
Even before coronavius, some Sundays are just difficult! Grumpiness abounds, kids are crazy, adults exhausted, the house is a mess and the list goes on. Your Heavenly Father loves to hear from you and provide for your needs so ASK for his help each Sunday. God has shown grace to us, so have an abundance of grace and patience for your kids and yourselves in this season. God doesn’t expect us to do things perfectly.Â In fact, our weakness exists so that we would trust his sufficient grace!Â (2Â Cor 12:9-10)Â
So pray, prepare and try new thingsÂ until you find what works for your family.Â We have been doingÂ this for a number of weeks now and each Sunday we have seen more and more fruitÂ from our efforts. Our daughter is participating in the singinging and children’s talks, we are able to hear more of the sermon and there are less meltdownsÂ on Zoom after the service.
There has been lots of prayer, conversation and experimentation to get us to this point. But it is worth it to make the most of this and every opportunity to teach our daughter how amazing our God is and that he is worthy of all our praise andÂ worship, both on Sunday and forevermore.
This coming Sunday, my church will be starting a sermon series on the book of Ephesians. One of the things I love to do (and I think is important to do) before starting to work through a book of the bible, is to read it all the way through from start to finish.
At my church over the years, I have hosted “epic readings” of large books like Romans, Ecclesiastes, Revelation and the Gospel of Luke. And every time I begin to study a new book in a bible study group, the first session is dedicated to reading through the book (if that is practical to do so).
Doing this has always been so rewarding and helpful. Like looking at a map before starting a road trip, it helps give you the big picture of a biblical text before you get stuck into it verse by verse.
It also helps you see thematic threads and the flow of the argument, which means when you come up to a confusing or challenging part of the text, you can use your general knowledge of the entire book to put it in perspective and hopefully interpret it more accurately.
Finally, it helps you “hear” the voice of the author of the text. Remember, the original author probably never contemplated that 2,000 years later we would be dissecting their letter like a frog, analysing every single word individually and writing theses on the meaning of the word “head”. What they did expect though, is that their audience would read the book out loud, all the way through, in one sitting. As Paul instructed in his letter to the Christians in Colossi…
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also readÂ in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
Think of it like a movie that you might buy from JB HiFi (not that anyone really does that any more!). A DVD is often broken up into chapters, but imagine how silly it would be to watch one chapter and then stop the movie, with the intention of just watching one more chapter a week later! Even if you were a cinema studies student who was keen to study each scene and analyse each camera shot, you would still naturally start by watching the whole movie, from start to finish.
So, before you study a book of the bible, either through a church sermon series, a bible study group or in your own personal devotions, try reading through the entire book in one sitting. Even better, read it out loud with a few friends. A small book like Ephesians takes less than half an hour. A big book like Luke’s gospel might take a bit over 2 hours. But really, if we’re willing to watch a film that goes for nearly 3 hours, surely we can rise to the challenge of giving God’s Word the same effort.
I guarantee, if you do, the text will open up insights to you and you will hear both the voice of the text’s author and the God that inspired them, like never before.
If you have a spare 25 minutes, feel free to listen to my reading of the book of Ephesians, and stay tuned for more info about an epic reading of The Book of Job that I am currently working on.
I love Shakespeare. I love the mix of poetry, humour, philosophy, old english language and universal human emotion.
For my 30th birthday I hosted a Shakespeare-themed costume party, where I insisted on no speeches. Instead, I asked my friends to perform scenes from my favourite Shakespearian plays (you can see one of my performances at that event down below).
Over the years I have had the wonderful opportunity of studying Shakespeare, performing Shakespeare, directing Shakespeare and even training others in Shakespeare.
Back in 2003, I even started a theatre company called The Backyard Bard with the original idea of performing Shakespeare in people’s backyards, and the very first show under The Backyard Bard was a production of Othello that I edited, directed and performed in (you can watch in in full below).
Simon’s Shakespearean Performances
Shakespearean Productions I have performed in over the years:
She sees the numbers from a distance. Squinting eyes widen with hope like the father spotting his prodigal son. She doubts herself for a moment and quickly digs into the heavy grey purse on her lap, pushing past the rattle of medications and an unnecessary pile of tissues. She pulls out a faded bus timetable and the scratched plastic reading glasses that she had bought at her local chemist back in 2011. Only $6. Why waste money at a fancy Optometrist when you can buy everything you need at the chemist for $6? She nodded to herself in agreement as she put them on and held up the paper close to her nose to try to catch the tiny writing between the scratches on the lenses.
Bus 566 – Lalor. She smiled. Thatâ€™s the one.
She looked back up to the road as the 566 approached, rolling towards her like a lumbering dog running to its master. She started to wave at the bus as if it would smile and raise one of its wheels to wave back. Groan. Her joy was interrupted by the ache of a stubborn hip. One hour was a long time to wait and the steel frame of the bus stop bench showed no mercy. But it was either one hour here or another hour at home. Her empty house had been a cold museum for the last few months. The walls lined with framed memories of family gatherings teasing her in her isolation. With her Type 2 Diabetes and history of lung cancer she was deemed high risk. Immuno-something-or-other her doctor said. So the anticipation of physical touch now that the restrictions had finally been lifted were worth every ache and pain.
Her hands, worn and crumpled as the old paper timetable she clutched, now tightened their grip as the 566 reached her stop with a hiss. The sound reminded her of the steam trains of her childhood growing up in Ireland. She would wait at the station with her mother for her father to arrive back from his long business trips in the city. When she spotted him step on to the platform she would squeal with delight and run into his open arms. His embrace was warm and safe and full of love. She longed again for that embrace. She could no longer run, but now she lifted her shaky frame off her seat with the kind assistance of her trusty walker. The doors of the 566 opened with a mechanical clunk and one person hopped off with a backpack and a beaming smile.
This was my contribution to a creative challenge set by a Writer’s Group I am part of. We had to write around three paragraphs based on the prompt “A woman at a bus stop”. Our challenge was to write it using interesting and creative words or phrases.
It was wonderful to write and then go back over a sentence and think “How else could I describe this?”
It was also wonderful to try to express some of the longing and loss that many feel during this pandemic season, especially the elderly and the isolated.
We are all longing to be able to embrace our loved ones again.
This is the Kid’s Talk that I put together for my church’s Easter Service.
It was maybe the second time I had done a kid’s talk for church (the last time being around 15 years ago), and it was definitely the first time I had done one on video.
It was a lot of work to put together, but I had the support and help of my wife Cat (who provided the voice of Mary) and my 4 year old daughter Dot (who voiced the angels).
This year is a particularly difficult time for kids as they have lost so much due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. It is easy for Easter to be lost in the chaos and confusion of this time. So I wanted to acknowledge that and point the kids (and the adults watching) to the joy of the resurrection that we not only read about, but are invited to share in.
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