St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Indooroopilly

7 April 2024

Preaching on 1 John 1:1-2:2

Rev’d Richard Browning

At the school Easter service I led on Holy Tuesday we used a 5.5kg loaf of bread made by a student. It was huge. We used it as an instrument for storytelling. Before it was torn open on the altar, these words were spoken:

What if this bread is real?

What if this bread can become a part of you?

What if the bread gave you the courage to turn towards others with compassion, bringing light and life in all that you do?

Would you eat it?

Would you eat it?

If you are ever looking for a short summary of the Christian story, go no further than the words from today’s second reading:

This is our message.

\We have received it and maybe experienced it for ourselves:

God is light in whom there is no darkness at all.

What if.

What if there was a meal, shared at this table, that carried in its substance the same light of Christ, the light that shines from the beginning and emerges resurrected from the depths of death unblinking, such that those who reached out their hands and ate of it would bear in their own bodies the same light. If this were so, would you eat of it?

John is clearly writing from a community. There is an exuberant intelligence that delights in the undifferentiated affinity of Word with God and light and life and fellowship. One entity is seemingly indistinguishable from the other.

It continues. There is an essential interrelationship between ‘beginning’, the making of things and the holding of those things together, a fullness that is shared and an authority to bestow kinship with all the benefits of divine inheritance upon unlikely creatures called humans.

Within this exuberance there remains a compelling coherence. Something has been heard with ears, seen with eyes, touched with hands. This something is bound to the beginning, bound to God’s creative impulse which is bound to language and language to creation. The revealing of this life is simultaneously a revealing of life within Abba and Son, a life experienced as communion that is the very matter sought to be communicated and testified to:

God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.

What if.

What if there was a meal, available at this table, that was the communication of Abba and Son, the Creator and the Logos of Life, that by sharing in this meal with empty hands outstretched, we could share in that same communion? Would you eat of it?

If the Easter story is in any way real, then the work is done. Jesus’ radical solidarity with the human condition, his suffering, shame and humiliation of death as an outcast, has changed everything. Already human beings are children of God, worthy of grace and love, every single one. Already there is no separation between us, each other and God. There is no need to give another dignity. They already have it! All we have to do is attend to the present reality and treat each other as kin. Compassion is not an act of will, reaching towards others out of our apparent generosity. Recognising that the other already possesses dignity, compassion is the activity of aligning ourselves to reality. Compassion is an act of solidarity because we know we are bound as kin.

What if.

What if there was a meal, that marked a universal reality wrought by Christ that every single human is loved by God, that every single human bears a divine likeness and possesses an inalienable dignity that cannot be denied and has a place at the same table? What if this meal gave us the grace to hold what we have in common? What if, in this meal, we find ourselves alongside Christ and like him, alongside the cursed, the criminal, the outcast, the rejected? And what if, by eating this meal, we were invested with a power like Christ to draw alongside any other and share their story, their pain, their grief, their hunger? What if eating this meal gave us the wisdom to align with reality and live with untameable compassion? Would you eat of it?

There is an uncomfortable reality exposed in our story and in this meal. Whilst there is no darkness in God, there is within every human being. Alongside the divine likeness and inalienable dignity, there is also an evil inclination peculiar to humans, a capacity for sin, sin of unspeakable kinds. Whenever we hear a reference to atoning sacrifice in the scriptures, we are trained to hear it this way:

God hates sin, and justice demands judgment, dues are due to be paid and a sacrifice has to be made. There is no escape, so Jesus comes to appease this angry God, and by taking onto himself the punishment human sin deserves, the wrath of the Father is born by the Son.

But there is a problem here, and this is the Easter revelation:

God is light in whom there is no darkness at all.

This violent allegory of salvation is redeemed by our story – if only we knew Trinity as reality, not dogma. In the Incarnation, the Logos of God, the Divine Word is wedded with humanity. So much so that Christ makes no victim of another, instead becomes the victim of humankind’s own nature. God does not require sacrifice. Killing is what humans do. Within the heart of God, Christ cries out, empties himself and surrenders his breath in death, taking the very essence of Trinity to the edge of non-existence. This is as much as we can know. We claim the Spirit Jesus shares in resurrection was returned by the Father within death. This is the love that John touches, hears, feels and knows, declaring that God is light in whom there is no darkness at all.

What if.

What if there was a meal, whose very substance revealed the unconditional love of God and simultaneously exposed our own nature which is inclined towards violence and death? What if the reaching out of our own hands was a confession that our hands are the same as those that rallied for Christ’s crucifixion, are well-practiced at the rejection of others’ humanity and are accepting of death, even death en mass ? Would you still eat of it?

We may not be Sudanese, or Yemenis, or Congolese, but if they are not treated with dignity as fellow humans and we do not care, we ourselves become less human. We may not be refugees, sleeping rough or living with mental illness, but if we do not care for their lives, how can we ask others to care for ours?

Unless universal human rights are universal and apply everywhere, then they don’t apply anywhere. Unless Christ’s work works for “the whole world”, the Gospel is not Good News.

In our own tradition, we have fostered the soil that gave root and rise to the persecution of the Jews. We are the roots of blood libel and pogrom. You can hear the terrible possibility in today’s Gospel reading with the use of the phrase ‘the fear of the Jews’. David Bentley Hart’s translation is helpful. To say ‘Judeans’ is historically accurate, points to the genuine fear in the moment and disconnects the phrase from any correlation to the people made victims for millennia, a people with the inalienable right to exist and statehood. I do not speak in pious metaphors. I simply speak with terrifying recognition. God is light and we are not. Reaching out our hands at this table makes visible our complicity in death making.

To continue, if Palestinians are not treated like humans, and can have every single humanising artifact destroyed, from school to bakery, from university to hospital, from roads to sewerage systems, from student to doctor, child to grandparent, from olive grove to neighbourhood and as an entire people be systematically starved while miles of food trucks line up at closed borders, we should not be surprised that humanitarian workers are killed. Not because it is a war and ‘it happens’. But because when some people are treated as less than humans, then anyone can be. This week seven humanitarian aid workers were killed. A World Central Kitchen vehicle was hit by a precision missile and further along the same route a second was struck and further again a third and food is now even scarcer as a result.

What is apartheid, if not Palestinian life? What is genocidal killing in not tens of thousands of civilian deaths?

Why are we so comfortable with death? And silence?

In this here and this now:

how wonderful it is that God is light in whom there is no darkness at all;

how terrifying it is that in this meal our outstretch hands reveal our true nature;

how glorious it is that in this meal God’s true nature is known with our eyes, our hands, our stomachs;

how mysterious it is that the eternal light has a home in humans.

What if we could eat and become what God has made us, and we walk with and in the light?

Would you reach out your hands at this table and eat?


(for those with questions and a desire to go further)

On the Incarnation and spiritual practice.

I have been thinking a lot about Incarnational practices recently. As God in Christ has taken on humanity and lived as the True Human, reflecting the Father’s heart and mind and love, why is it that Christianity did not gift to the world more embodied practices like tai-chi, yoga, taekwondo? Or put another way, what is the quintessential Christian embodied practice? The answer is in front of us. It is the meal. The meal is the heart of our good news, our proclamation, our worship, our discipleship, our mission. Eating more intentionally as people of faith in our homes and with others is missional imperative.

On the translation of ‘Ioudaioi’ as ‘Judeans’ rather than ‘the Jews’.

I draw down on David Bentley Hart’s remarkable New Testament translation. His rendering of John 20.19 reads:

When, therefore, it was early evening of that first day of the Sabbath-week, and where the disciples were the doors had been sealed for fear of the Judaeans, Jesus came and stood in their midst and says to them, “Peace to you.”

The use of the phrase ‘the Jews’ “inadvertently introduces a distinction into the text that would not have been entirely intended by the authors. The books of the New Testament were written in an age in which national, ethnic, religious, and racial identities were not arranged in the often pernicious categories that came to hold sway in subsequent centuries; and it would be a severe distortion of the texts of the New Testament to allow these later developments to cast a shadow backward onto a time innocent of the evils of mediaeval or modern history.”

Bentley Hart concludes his apology for the use of term ‘the Judeans’ with: “I thought it better to preserve the unity of the word and the concept in the language of the ancient authors than to impose distinctions that would make the texts conform more readily to our cultural categories (and historical sins).” The New Testament, p548-549.

On Gaza

I choose to follow the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. I refuse to buckle at the accusation that humanising Palestinians is antisemitic. (Not just because Palestinians are themselves semitic.) I read and weep nearly every day. As the days of the war climb beyond #179, I write short poems and prose. As much as possible I seek to hear Palestinians in their own voice, Jews in theirs. I am open to the practice of dialogue. I am, like every human, political. Silence is a political instrument. To the best of my ability I seek to use the politics of Jesus and the way of the cross as my guide. There are so many questions to pursue. This is just one:

            Why are international journalists barred from reporting from Gaza?


The Jewish Council of Australia is a remarkable resource, https://www.jewishcouncil.com.au/news-media

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network is much more focussed on advocacy, and I find them to be intelligent, compassionate, reasonable. https://apan.org.au/

I am not an evangelist for Sarah Wilson, but her podcast with Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan (peace activists with Parent’s Circle) is deeply human and inciteful. Bassam and Rami are the two protagonists from Colum McCann’s Booker-Prize-longlisted book Apeirogon. As the blurb writes:

Both lost their daughters to the conflict, ten years apart. Yet in spite of – or because of – this horror they became dedicated friends, or “brothers”, committed to opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine and working with “the enemy” via Parent’s Circle, a peace group set up for parents from “both sides” who’ve lost a child.

The voice of Rev’d Dr Munther Isaac continues to ring out from our tradition and from behind the wall of separation. I joined thousands around the world in a Lenten Pilgrimage for Peace. Our walk was from Byron Bay to Ballina (we jumped off at 26kms at Lennox Heads). Its purposes were simple enough:

  1. Enduring and sustained ceasefire.
  2. Immediate flow of life saving food, water, aid, fuel and humanitarian assistance.
  3. Release of all hostages – both the Israeli hostages held by Hamas – and the Palestinian hostages held in the Israeli prison system.
  4. End of occupation so a just-peace can begin.