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Sermons given by Rev Dr Brian Brown for the North Lake Macquarie Congregations

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SEASONS GONE SOUTH     presented to Warners Bay UC, Sunday 14th April 2024

In the course of my preparation for today I came across a poem at the back of the With Love to the World bible reading commentaries. The author, Alison Bleyerveen  followed her poem with a brief explanation of her own difficult journey through recent Easters, including this comment; ”The powerful yet poorly grasped words of Jesus ‘I have called you friends’ and his subsequent abandonment, seemed a sorrowful truth that did not yield easily to a 24 hour mourning period swept away by the church triumphant and hollow certitudes.”

The question her heartfelt words raised for me was “What is real here?” What is resurrection if it is unable to speak to our present reality; is not making any difference ‘on the ground’ as it were? Do we not need to take a fresh look at it, not through the lens of first century religious experience, but through our own eyes? (To be honest it is a question I have asked over and over again in the course of my Christian journey).

Here is her poem Seasons gone South:

What if resurrection is…

not Northern Star

but Southern Cross

and mellow Autumn’s

mournful song

of grief and loss…


What if resurrection is…

more God is not

than God is here,

more there in leaves

stripped bare

as life’s signs disappear…


What if resurrection is…

an apophatic exhalation,

a deep not knowing exaltation

as Winter Spirit fills the lungs

in warming fire

and foreign tongues…


What if resurrection is…

not found in creeds

but caring deeds

in stranger ways

and softened gaze…


What if resurrection is…

not 2000 years

of Western tradition,

but in attrition…

dying, sighing, letting go

of all we thought

we had to know…


What if our reality is different to the norm, the orthodox, the endlessly repeated certainties that do not cut it when the chips are down?


My Easter included watching about half an hour of St Peters Papal Vigil. Immaculately crafted and practiced liturgy with not a word or a hair out of place, adorned with white gowned ruff collared choirboys singing with prepubescent pitch and clarity. Scripture readings linked with choral intonations, a Papal homily with interpretation on delay, saying all the usual things about resurrection.


And as I watched, all I could think about was what was happening a proverbial stone’s throw away across the Mediterranean Sea, where children lie slaughtered among the Gazan ruins, annihilated with weapons we and our cousin democracies helped to provide.


And there was nothing in the Papal Vigil to connect the coinciding experiences of Rome and Rafa.


I know we cannot stare brutal reality in the face all the time. I know that sometimes our denial is a shield against going mad with the horror of it all. But as I watched the dramatic theatre of a Papal Vigil I also knew, as certainly as five decades of gospel immersion have assured me…if the choice lay between Rome and Rafa, I know in which theatre Jesus would be operating.

What I witnessed in the Easter ritual was an ill-fitting template of first century religious experience placed over the top of what is happening in the here and now, distorting if not obliterating it from our spiritual consciousness.


Today’s scripture readings paint a picture of stunned disciples gradually coming to terms with the emerging reality of the presence of their crucified then risen Lord. They also describe how the same people, having just been participants in the miraculous healing of a lame man in the temple, come out swinging with prophetic words that cut to the hearts of the hypocritical powerful. These are those first century Christians who were now praising God in Pentecostal tongues, and winning the hearts of many in the community with their gracious and sacrificial generosity.


And if we are honest, much as we wish it to be the case, that is not our reality. Frankly, I identify more closely with the struggles and questioning of Alison Bleyerveen’s poem than Luke’s dramatic representation of victorious resurrection life being lived out and empowered by divine presence.


We MUST ask the question WHAT IS REAL FOR US?


I would love to meet the risen Christ in the way those first disciples did; but did he not say to them “I must leave you so the Spirit can come.” Is he not now ascended to the father? What does it realistically mean for me to be in a relationship with the crucified risen Christ?


At Pentecost the writer of Acts says that the gathered throng all spoke in tongues as a sign of being filled with Holy Spirit. When the Charismatic movement was in full swing in the 70s and 80s, some were teaching that a person could not be born again unless they spoke in tongues. This is what I mean by trying to fit a first century template over a 21st century Christian reality. Are we to live in constant disappointment and defeat because we do not experience the holy Spirit as those early Christian did, or our Pentecostal neighbours? WHAT IS REAL FOR US?


It’s a different world, a contrasting reality, perhaps even a parallel universe. There are connections, isolated points of contact, some flashes of recognition between their experience and ours (depending on who we are), but what would the text read like if we were writing it NOW. What is the good news to which we would be testifying, and the resurrection life of our own experience rather than a second hand story?


In other words, WHAT IS OUR REALITY? And would it not be better if we started there as Alison did, rather than yet again imposing someone else’s template of how life should be over the top of our earthed and grounded experience?

For example, last Wednesday evening just up the road at the university, I thought I caught a glimpse of the crucified risen Christ in the impassioned testimonies of the homeless, the disabled, the climate advocates at the Hunter Community Alliance Inaugural Assembly. Amid the thousand strong crowd that packed the Great Hall were over 160 Uniting church congregants from this Presbytery, not to mention others from Uniting and Wesley Mission. The material shared with us in the testimonies was more than enough for ten Mission Plans.  And as the leaders confronted State and Federal politicians with the need for systemic change to fix the housing and rental crisis,  a system broken by the greed of the few at great cost to the many; also the need for disability sector reform and renewable energy acceleration, I thought I recognised the voice of Jesus as he called the leaders of his day to account for their lack of justice and carelessness in the face of inequity. Our church was in the forefront of this communal surge of energy for reform, with the slogan “Keeping faith, doing justice, building community”. THIS IS REAL, THIS IS NOW. This is a genuine resurrection vision in our region, and our church is filled with the Spirit’s energy to make it work.


This may not be a vision that is capturing the attention of THIS congregation at this moment in time. Yet it is not something to be forced, like that piece of jigsaw puzzle that looks just right for the space, but isn’t. The question we have to ask is not “why are we not living up to the great deeds of the early church in Acts”, or even, of The Hunter Presbytery, but; “what is real for us, now.” “Not, “what program shall we subject ourselves to”, but “how might the spirit move in our midst to amplify the gifts that we hold in common as this church here in Warners Bay.” Not, “what is the first century template and how does it fit,” but “what are the biblical principles we draw from it that divinely inspire us to embrace a resurrection of our own?”



We may not currently be able to bear witness to healing miracles as described in the Bible, but we do have a Pastoral Care Team that reaches out with prayer and pastoral visitation, living the witness as called for by Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats.  LET’S START WITH WHAT IS REAL  AND GO FROM THERE. We may not expect our members to sell their property and give all the proceeds to the church to share out among the needy, like the early church did - a wonderful example of idealistic community that probably broke down before long for all sorts of reasons of human nature. We do however have a highly competent Finance and Property Committee that manages the generously given finances of this church so that we can continue the ministry to which we are called. LET’S START WITH WHAT IS REAL  AND GO FROM THERE.  We also have five new elders and a few stalwart leaders who are working hard for the present and future of this congregation. The numbers are small and the workload is heavy, BUT LET US START WITH WHAT IS REAL AND GO FROM THERE.

Whatever we do, it has to be real. It has to take us as we are, where we are, and by God’s grace and inspire us to be infused with resurrection hope and Pentecostal power.

This is what I hear Alison Bleyerveen trying to say. What is real for her is not an Easter that leads to summer and Pentecostal autumn harvest, but one that stares into the face of bleak winter and finds there the warm hearths of relational community.

Whatever we do, it has to ring true. Whoever we are, being authentic is our best witness.

So here is the final stanza of Alison Bleyerveen’s poem. (Of everything in the poem that moves me, nothing compares with these closing words…)

”What if resurrection comes  

Not in lamb and bunny springing

But in hearts attuned to singing

Of harrowed hell

And the great love of friends

Walking each other home…”


Whatever else is going on in this place; as I witness the ministry of genuine, loving fellowship, I know that, whatever else might be missing, THIS IS REAL! A fellowship of friends, walking each other home.

Here I see a glimpse of resurrection, an expression of the life of the Spirit; reality I believe we can work with - a wonderful place to start.

Brian Brown.


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