Beyond US and THEM – a twist on the parable of the Good Samaritan


Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 
(Luke 10:25-29)

So Jesus told him a joke.

A Jewish guy and a Chinese guy walk into a bar …

OK, it wasn’t that one, but I’ll come back to that one for those who haven’t heard it, and if you haven’t heard that one you’ve heard others like it that work off racial stereotypes. When I was a boy I used to hear jokes like that all the time. Most of them targeted the Irish and were always highlighting apparent stupidity!

I have no idea how the Irish managed to be stereotyped in that way as I have never heard any evidence suggesting that Irish persons really do have below average IQ’s. Perhaps it was all a vestige of my Protestant heritage, targeting the Southern Irish.    I really don’t know, but it’s easy to target a group like the Irish when you don’t know any Irish people or anything about them.  Racial stereotypes thrive on ignorance!

The other racially-orientated jokes I was familiar with in my youth were Scottish jokes, and that was because I’d been left a set of ancient Scottish joke-books by my great-grandparents who were Scottish. I still have those books – so old that they had no dates in them and were illustrated with traditional wood-print etchings!

My favourite book in the collection was entitled “Canny Tales Fae Aberdeen” and my favourite canny tale in the book concerned a gift shop opened by Scott McTavish in the main street of Aberdeen.

Shortly after opening, Scott’s friend, Sandy McTaggart, wanders in and says “Weel, this is a lovely wee shop you have here, Scott, all except for the blind in the window. It’s awfully shabby. Have you thought of getting a new one?” Scott grumbles about the cost of new blinds but assures Sandy “I’ll see what I can do?”  Only a few weeks later Sandy passes the shop again and notices a lovely new blind hanging in the window! He congratulates his friend “that’s a lovely frilly blind you’ve got, Scott, but how did you afford it?” Scott replied, “it was easier than I thought, Sandy. I just put a box on the counter here, labelled ‘for the blind’ and I got more than I needed!”

I find it easy to laugh at a joke like that as I’m laughing at my own ethnic heritage, and it’s from a book of Scottish jokes put together by Scots for Scots. That’s not the norm. We don’t normally tell jokes about ourselves. You don’t hear many jokes playing off stereotypes of the white Australian community (or at least I don’t hear many). I do remember one – an account by a traveller to our shores who was saying that he’d heard bad things about Australians before coming here, but once he got here he found Australians to be some of the most generous and hospitable people he’d ever encountered. He then added that it was only the white bastards that he couldn’t get on with! That traveller was Irish comedian, Dave Allen. Touche!

Yes, if we hear white-Australian jokes they are likely to come from an outsider. White Australians are far more likely to tell jokes about Asians or Arabs or about our Indigenous brothers and sisters, most of which make me cringe when I hear them.

Mind you, I do remember hearing one joke about Indigenous Australians that I was told was approved by the Aboriginal Land Council. I shudder to repeat it except that I think it’s worth sharing. It concerns a white Australian guy who runs over a group of Aboriginal people in his car while driving at high speed on a dirt road out in the bush.

The man doesn’t know what to do after the accident so he decides to bury the bodies. Just as he’s completing his grisly task, a police-car pulls up and asks him what he’s doing. He figures it’s best to be honest and tells the police how he’d run over a group of Aboriginal people and was now burying them. The police ask “were they all dead?” to which he replies “well, some of them said they weren’t but you know what lying devils they all are!”

That’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear that joke told in church, and it’s one of those jokes where the joke is really on us, and where our reaction to the joke is probably pretty close to the sort of reaction Jesus got to a lot of the jokes he told!

‘Did you hear the one about the Jewish guy who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers?’ (Luke 10:30)

This is Jesus’ joke and most of us know it well, and we recognise it as a Samaritan joke, playing off that familiar form of racial stereotyping.  I suspect Samaritan jokes were a common source of humour in Jesus’ day, and I don’t doubt that a lot of Samaritan jokes would have been passed around between the disciples during their three years with Jesus, even if this is the only one that ever made it into print.

Now, in case you don’t know anything about Samaritans, let me tell you a thing or two about them. First of all, they are a lazy breed of people – all of them! They live on government welfare benefits because they can’t be bothered to get jobs. They sit around all day spending your hard-earned tax dollars on beer and pot, and the only reason they come to this country is so that they can take our women and take our jobs …  hang one a sec! They can’t be taking our jobs if they’re not working, can they? I’m getting a little mixed up but you get the basic idea. I’ll get back to the joke.

“A [Jewish] man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Luke10:30-33)

“As if!” I hear you say! ‘As if a Samaritan would stop for a wounded Jew out of pity?  If a Samaritan stops near the prostrate body of a Jew, it’s to put the boot in! We know what these people are like, and they’re all the same!’

I think that’s why Jesus goes on to fill in the details of His story, lest we fill them in with our imagination.

“[The Samaritan] went to [the injured Jew] and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’” (Luke 10:34-35)

This is an offensive story because we all know that a Samaritan wouldn’t do that.  We know what they are like. They aren’t the sort of persons who care about us. We’ve heard of plenty of stories like this, of course – true stories – but they generally have the Samaritans playing the role of the robbers who beat up on the defenceless Jew and not the other way around. Of course, this is just a story!

That’s the weakness of Jesus’ joke, of course, or at least it seems to be. It’s a story about a Samaritan who doesn’t perform in accordance with the stereotype we constructed for him. Even so, it’s just a story and we’ve got no reason to believe that it was a true story. Do Samaritans ever really behave like that? None that I know of!

If we feel tempted to think that way, it shows that we didn’t actually get the joke, which is not really a joke about Samaritans but it’s one where the joke is on us!

It easy to miss the punchline in this joke as it actually comes quite early in the story!

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:31-32)

I know we covered that part of the story already, but were you offended by it?

I remember, as a youth, being brought up in the church and listening to sermons on this passage where the preacher would often speculate at this point of the story as to why the good guys – the priest and the Levite – would pass by on the other side.

After all, priests and Levites are a part of our tribe. They are one of us (or two of us) and they are exactly the persons we would expect to stop and help one of us if one of us where in trouble.

And so preachers speculate:

  • Perhaps the priest was late for his synagogue service?
  • Perhaps they were worried that the man was dead, meaning that they would be rendered ritually unclean if they touched the dead man’s body?
  • Perhaps they were concerned that the robbers who assaulted the man were lying in wait for another victim?

It was my friend Stephen Sizer (an Anglican priest in London) who pointed out to me that Jesus actually makes it quite clear why these two avoid the injured man. Indeed, it’s stated quite explicitly in the opening words of the joke.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.”

The robbers left the man naked and half-dead (in other words, unconscious), meaning that the priest and Levite couldn’t see his clothing nor hear his accent.  They therefore had no way of knowing whether he was one of us or one of them!

This is how we distinguish between us and them. We discriminate on the basis of the way we dress and the way we speak. When someone says “G’day mate!”, he’s one of us! When someone speaks with a ‘funny’ accent, she’s one of them! When you see someone wearing a hijab, she’s one of them, and when you see a guy with a big, square beard, you know he’s one of them – a Muslim (or maybe a hipster).

I do have a problem with my stereotypes in that area. How many times have I been about to say ‘Salam Aleykum’ to someone with a great big beard when I’ve noticed that they’re drinking beer … out of a jar!

Even so, this is the way, and it’s generally the only way, that we can tell whether somebody is one of us or one of them – by looking at the way they dress and by listening to the way they speak, and in Jesus’ joke, in the case of the injured man, the priest and the Levite don’t stop because the man was naked and unconscious, and so they couldn’t tell whether he was one of us or one of them.

The shocking thing about the Samaritan in this story then is not simply that he is an impossibly nice guy who doesn’t fit his racial stereotype but it’s rather that he himself is one who doesn’t pay attention to racial stereotypes! He just doesn’t care whether the injured guy is one of his own or not! He doesn’t care whether he is a Jew or an Arab, and obviously neither does Jesus!

‘Go and do likewise’ Jesus says, and in case you misunderstood the punchline here, the challenge is not simply to ‘go and do likewise’ in terms of finding an injured guy and putting him on your donkey and taking him to a hospital, but rather the far simpler yet far more radical challenge of going and doing like the Samaritan does in showing an utter disregard for the distinction between us and them!

A Jewish guy and a Chinese guy walk into a bar. They don’t know each other but they sit next to each other at the bar as they knock back the schooners. With each drink the Jewish guy gets more surly. Eventually he turns to the Chinese guy and pours his beer over the other man’s head, saying “that’s for Pearl Harbour! My grandfather was killed at Pearl Harbour”! The Chinese guy is aghast and says ‘that was the Japanese, you idiot! I’m Chinese!’ His antagonist shrugs, ‘Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese – what’s the difference? You’re all the same.

The Chinese guy orders himself another beer and pours it over the Jewish guy’s head. That’s for the Titanic’ he says. ‘My great-uncle drowned on the Titanic!’ ‘I’m Jewish’, says the other guy. ‘What have I to do with sinking the Titanic?’ ‘Feinberg, Steinberg, iceberg – what’s the difference? You’re all the same!’ he says.

The truth is that they are not all the same, and the deeper truth, of course, is there is no ‘they’. I quoted Matthew Bolz-Weber last week in saying that “whenever we draw a line between us and them, we’ll always find the Lord Jesus standing on the other side of that line”, and isn’t that exactly what we discover here? Perhaps you thought that the “no Jew, no Greek, no slave, no free” thinking started with St Paul.  No! It all starts here, in the jokes of Jesus!

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That was the original question that prompted the joke.  The answer, it seems, according to Jesus, has a lot to do with letting go of the distinction between us and them!

First preached at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill on July 10th, 2016


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A Tribute to St Paul


“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin”
(Galatians 1:11)

One of the things I had wanted to do while in Damascus recently was take the rest of the team to see the house of Judas in Straight Street – the very place where Ananias prayed for St Paul (formerly, Saul, the persecutor of the church) and baptized him!

I’ve ended up at the chapel there – the chapel of St Ananias – just about every time I’ve been to Damascus. It’s right in the middle of the old city. You have to climb down a flight of stairs to get to it – once a small house, converted into a chapel – though interestingly it was apparently once at street level! Over the years, the newer buildings have been built on top of the old, such that every modern building is now one level higher up than those that existed in New Testament times!

There’s a wooden carving behind the Eucharistic table in the chapel, depicting three of Paul’s key moments in Damascus:

  1. Paul falling off his horse on the road into the city, where he was struck blind!
  2. Paul being baptized by Ananias in the house where the carving hangs.
  3. Paul being lowered over the wall of Damascus in a basket after plots on his life forced him to make a hasty exit from the city!

Of course these scenes are all detailed in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9 where I assume we’ve all read about them. Even so, I found that some of my Boxers for Peace team had not read about them and so I was keen for them to see the site and learn something of this piece of history. So, after an extensive stint in Damascus’ most famous ice-creamery, I asked our guide to take us to the chapel of St Ananias, as I was convinced that it was only a short walk from where we were.

‘Go to the street named straight’ (Acts 9:11) I barked confidently, and our guide seemed to know exactly what I was talking about, but after walking for about forty minutes, with me thinking that the chapel must be around every corner, I realised that there had been a mix-up and, sure enough, when I was then told ‘here we are’ (at a beautiful Orthodox church) we had to re-orientate ourselves back to the location (one that had been much closer to our starting point than the one we’d reached) and by the time we got there the house was closed to the public.

This was painful, not because I really expected any of our team to have a Damascus Road experience at the house, but simply because that house has to be one of Christianity’s most significant historic sites. Indeed, it could be said that Christianity as a religion started in that house!

That’s a provocative statement, I appreciate, and I’m not denying for a second that the Christian faith as we experience it today is rooted deeply in the person of Jesus. Even so, the communal dimension of our faith, in all it’s multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-coloured complexity, really begins with the church-building work of the Apostle Paul, and Paul, the Apostle, begins in that house in Damascus!

Paul was a fighter. That’s one of the things I love about him. Indeed, whenever you come across him in the New Testament, Paul is almost always fighting with someone or he’s in some sort of desperate trouble!

The three aforementioned scenes of him in Damascus are archetypal in that regard:

  • Paul falling off his horse
  • Paul groping blindly while Ananias prays for him
  • Paul hiding in a basket, fleeing for his life

Paul managed to get just about everyone off-side, one time or another in his career. He remained a proud Jew throughout his life, though it was leaders of the Jewish community that he was fleeing from when he escaped Damascus, from where they continued to pursue him. He was a leader in the Christian community, though he always seemed to be at odds with others in leadership positions, including the Apostle Peter. He was a Roman citizen, but it was the Romans who killed him!

Paul was a man who never seemed to know any peace in his life, beyond that mysterious peace that he spoke of – ‘the peace of God which passes all human understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – and the issue for Paul was always the same. He believed in a church that was bigger than Judaism – where it didn’t matter if you were Jewish or Greek or Indigenous Australian – all were equal, all were loved. And it was a vision that, to my reckoning, none of his peers every got fully on board with.

Of course we take the equality of all races under God as self-evident now. How could it be otherwise? As I’ve said before, truth tends to come in three stages:

  1. First, it’s seen to be ridiculous
  2. Secondly, it’s violently opposed
  3. Finally, it’s seen to be self-evident

We are privileged to have been born into a generation where that truth is indeed seen to be self-evident, but Paul was always either ridiculed or violently opposed, and in his case, we aren’t using metaphor when we speak of violence!

One question that always comes to mind for me when I think of Paul, and one that I’ve reflected on while sitting in the chapel of St Ananias, is ‘what made Paul so sure that he was right?’

Paul took on everybody from Jews to Romans to his fellow Christians, from the Apostle Peter on down, brandishing his own peculiar understanding of the mission of Jesus to the world, maintaining that it was simply no longer relevant whether you were Jewish or Greek, male or female, rich or poor, weak or powerful, smart or simple. It was all the same to God! What made Paul so sure that he was right?

Behind the polemic we read in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia is exactly that question, of course. ‘What makes you think you are right, Paul?’ Authoritative-looking brothers and sisters have come up from the church in Jerusalem, telling us that you’ve got it wrong and that we do need to embrace the more Jewish elements of our faith (such as circumcision) if we are to be fully in sync with God. Why shouldn’t we listen to them?

What is Paul’s response?

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8-9)

That’s Paul at his uncompromising best, and those of us who are familiar with the history of ecclesiastical debate within the Western church can all appreciate why polemical Protestants have so regularly taken St Paul as their champion.

I was brought up in a household where we were never explicitly told that all Catholics were going to hell but where it was pretty well understood that if you crossed yourself or said the rosary you were playing with fire! Why? Because Catholics didn’t believe the Bible but believed in their traditions and in the teachings of Popes and prelates. Their faith was in the corrupt institution of the church rather than in Christ, and they gleaned truth from their traditions rather than from the clear waters of Scripture!

St Paul seems to champion this Protestant cause completely!

“If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  (Galatians 1:8)

It doesn’t matter what the Pope says! It doesn’t matter what I say! It wouldn’t matter if an angel from Heaven said it to you! If it’s garbage, it’s garbage! Don’t believe it!

As I say, it’s obvious enough why those who are critical of the church as an institution see St Paul as their champion, for he clearly did not believe that the ecclesiastical pedigree of the speaker guaranteed the integrity of the message.  Even so, Paul is not exactly an archetypal Protestant either, pointing us instead to a clear word of Scripture – not in this instance, at any rate.  In this section of his letter to the Galatians, Paul simply appeals to the spiritual insights of the people, or so it seems, as if they should know instinctively that what he is saying is true!

We have no idea, of course, how Paul’s letter was received, but I envisage any number of people in the church of Galatia feeling quite ambivilent about it all! ‘Why should we believe you, Paul? Why should we assume that you have a monopoly on the truth? What makes you think that you are always right? Shouldn’t we at least listen to what these people from Jerusalem have to say? After all, they are the direct link back to Jesus, whom you never actually met, except in that strange experience you keep telling us about – the one that you had on the road to Damascus?’

This was the heart of the problem for Paul, I believe. Paul wasn’t a good Catholic in the sense that his preaching was just a repetition of what had been taught to him by others more senior in the faith.

Paul wasn’t acting as an emissary from Peter, James or the other Apostles, and so he wasn’t a good Catholic but, on the other hand, he wasn’t a good Protestant either in that he didn’t come to faith in Christ through his study of the Scriptures – not at all! Paul had not stood up after a forty-day period of fasting and contemplation of the Torah to say “My God, I added it all up wrong! Jesus is the Messiah after all!”

Paul didn’t inherit his faith in Christ from Jesus’ first Apostles, nor did he find it through contemplation of the Scriptures. We know exactly how Paul came to confess Jesus as Lord! God threw him off his horse and confronted him about it directly!

That was Paul’s story at any rate, and that was certainly at the core of Paul’s self-understanding. He was a man who had switched tracks mid-career on the basis of a confrontation he’d had with the Almighty that he simply couldn’t get past!

It is indeed the extraordinary thing about St Paul – that he was able to dismiss an entire lifetime of learning, steeped in the traditions of his Jewish forefathers, all on the basis of one extraordinary experience on the road to Damascus!

They say that after the death of Blaise Pascal, the great philosopher, they found sewn into the lining of his jacket an account of his life-changing encounter with God – an account that he always kept with him.

I won’t read it all here as it’s a long account, but it begins:

“The year of grace 1654, Monday, 23 November, feast of Saint Clement, Pope and Martyr, and of others in the Martyrology. Eve of Saint Chrysogonus, Martyr and others. From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.

Fire. ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace”

Pascal, as I say, kept this hand-written account of his intense experience of God next to his heart (literally) till the day he died. I suspect that when he struggled with doubts and uncertainties and wasn’t sure of the way forward, that he put his hand on his heart over where he stored this piece of paper, and so reminded himself of his experience – an experience that strengthened him and gave him the resolve he needed when he most needed it.

St Paul was the same, I think. I don’t know if he kept any account of his Damascus road experience sewn into his clothing but he evidently talked about it all the time. The story turns up three times in the book of Acts and is referred to in numerous letters, reflecting, we can assume, the regularity with which he retold the story.

If Paul had lived till his dotage and ended up in a retirement home, I suspect that he would have been one of those cantankerous old souls who’d come out at least once a day with “did I ever tell you about the time I was on the road to Damascus and …” to which everybody would respond “only around 5000 times, Grandpa!”

It was the experience that defined Paul’s life, and this might make him sound more like someone at the extreme Pentecostal end of the Christian spectrum, rather than a Protestant or a Catholic, though you can’t pigeonhole him there either as he never seems to expect that ecstatic experiences like his were the norm. He doesn’t expect anyone else to have bizarre experiences like the one he had. He seemed to believe that his experience with Christ was as unique as it was transformative.

So unfortunately neither Ange nor any of our team got to visit the chapel of Ananias in Damascus, though I was concerned at the time that the experience, if it had happened, might have been something of an anticlimax.

I say that because I was conscious at the time that I had been talking the place up and, on reflection, I was talking it up to a group that had just visited:

  • The tomb of Hafez Al-Assad
  • The shrine of Zaynab
  • The ruins of Palmyra

In each case the word ‘majestic’ comes to mind. These were each spectacular landmarks of architectural excellence and spiritual beauty.  The chapel of Ananias, on the other hand, was just another house on Straight Street, so inconspicuous that it took us forever to find it!

Perhaps, as I say, finding the house earlier would have been something of an anti-climax on account of its relative ordinariness. Even so, I have a feeling that that’s exactly how Paul himself would have liked it – a monument to the great founder of the modern church that remains a very simple place of prayer.

For Paul was not an arrogant man. He was an humble man, he was a lonely man, he was a damaged man, he was a fighter. He was a man who, one day on the road to Damascus, experienced Jesus – an experience that transformed, energised and animated him for the rest of his life!

May God give us grace to tap into that same transformative energy that is Christ.

Sermon given at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, May 2016


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Time is Short – a sermon on Luke 9:51-62


When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 
52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I don’t normally begin a sermon by reading out the complete passage I’m intending to speak to but this is a risky passage not to read out.

The risk is that I’ll start speaking about the passage and referring to it, and those amongst us who are not already familiar with it (which is probably most of us) may well find themselves thinking ‘Jesus didn’t really say that, did He?’ or at least, ‘He didn’t really say it exactly like that, did He?’, and so I’m beginning by reading it out, exactly as it is written, lest anybody accuse me of making this up!

This is what is written, people, and it is indeed one of the more offensive passages in the Gospel of Luke. I wouldn’t say it’s the most offensive by any means, as indeed there’s a lot of material in Luke that is unpalatable.  Even so, if we were to publish a special collection of sayings of Jesus that are hard to digest, and put them in order, from the most offensive to the least, this particular passage, I’d suggest, would probably still make it into the top half of the list!

It’s not quite on the level of “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children … they cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26) but it’s not “Come to me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden” (Matthew 11:28) either, is it?    It is at the pointy end, I would suggest, of the offensiveness scale.

The Samaritans won’t deal with Jesus. James and John say ‘let’s burn them all!’ Jesus says ‘for God’s sake! No!’

A wanna-be disciple says to Jesus ‘I will follow you wherever you go!’ Jesus says to him ‘do you even know where I go?’ In terms of reasonable accommodation, I have nowhere to go!’

More disciples come to Jesus, wanting to be a part of the team and seeming very sincere, but they have some serious family responsibilities they need to get out of the way first. Jesus says ‘see you later!’

I’m abbreviating, but I want us to try to grasp these encounters as a whole. In terms of how they depict the relationship between Jesus and His followers, the very clear impression we get from this passage is that Jesus and those who followed Him were rarely ever on the same page! Jesus and His team had fundamentally incompatible understandings of just about everything that mattered. I find that disturbing!

I know that we who have been reading the Bible for years and years often take this sort of scenario for granted. We think of the twelve as a group of lovable duffers – a bit fluffy-minded and prone to emotional outbursts at times but basically sincere and endearing. Maybe so, but what sort of people were these twelve such that they and the women and the various hanger-oners could be with Jesus for the best part of three years and learn virtually nothing!

What makes this particularly incredible, to my mind, is that these accounts of the life of Jesus were put together by the very men being written about! I don’t mean Peter and James and John literally wrote down the words of the Gospels themselves, but they were involved, and certainly John survived long enough to read some of these Gospel accounts, and they were not flattering portrayals of him or any of his friends!

When you compare, for example, the Gospels with the stories of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, those men come across as flawless men of integrity when compared to the motley crew Jesus had with Him! You could be forgiven for assuming that the authors of the New Testament didn’t like the disciples yet, on the contrary, we know full well that the authors of the Gospels were almost certainly all themselves faithful disciples of those disciples!

I like to think that this is an indication of the fact that the twelve in their later years really didn’t take themselves too seriously, and that the Gospel-writers knew that those men were happy to be portrayed warts and all!  The other more disturbing possibility, of course, is that the New Testament narratives actually are very generous in their depictions of the disciples, and that the reality was far worse!

Perhaps if we’d been there when James and John had confronted Jesus about what they wanted to do to the Samaritans (in the incident related to us today) we’d realise that the account in Luke chapter nine has been sanitized! Perhaps James and John acted far more vilely in their threats towards those people and started throwing punches at them? Perhaps they regularly screamed at Jesus, and the Gospel-writers had to tone down their language and their behaviour for the sake of the readership?

I’m not going to speculate further on that, but I will say again though that however we interpret the behaviour of the twelve and the other disciples in the narrative given to us today, what is clear is that Jesus and his followers were NOT on the same page, and that itself should disturb us!

You would think that, having lived pretty much in each other’s pockets for three years, the disciples would have adopted their master’s mindset by this stage. They hadn’t. That is disturbing. What is more disturbing still though, and what perhaps helps explain some of the tension between Jesus and His disciples, is that the mindset of Jesus seen here is not one any of us want to adopt! Indeed, in these clashes between Jesus and His disciples, it’s the disciples who get it right!

Isn’t that the case? Don’t we find ourselves siding with the disciples in these arguments? Do any of us really think Jesus was in the right in these confrontations?

Jesus says to one nameless man, “Follow me!”  He says “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” (Luke 9:59). Our response would be, “Of course! Go and bury your father first, and give my condolences to the rest of your family.”

Another says, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Luke 9:61). We would say, “No problem! Take as much time as you need!  It’s a big decision. Make sure mum and dad understand what you’re doing.  Hopefully you’ll have their full support.”

These are sensible responses. These are the responses we would make. This is how the first century disciples saw things. Twenty centuries later, we don’t see them any differently, and yet Jesus completely disrespects this common-sense approach!

“Let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60), He says, and “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). These were tough things to say. They are still tough things to say!

Now, admittedly, it has been suggested by those who better understand the culture of the time that for the guy who wants to bury his father, his father is still very much alive at the time. That may be correct. In other words, it may be that the statement ‘let me first go and bury my father’ is a way of saying ‘let me first go and fulfil my responsibilities to my family’. It’s likewise possible that the request of the last guy (‘let me first say farewell to those at my home’) has similar implications – that it’s a farewell that may take a few years.

This may be the case, and I appreciate that this changes our perception of the dialogues somewhat. Even so, the requests of these wanna-be disciples – that they fulfil their responsibilities to their families before embarking on mad adventures with Jesus – seem entirely reasonable and commendable. We are supposed to honour our father and mother, surely, and we do have responsibilities to our families!

In truth, I can never read this passage without being reminded of a young man I was quite close to in a church I used to be involved in. This young guy was ready to drop out of his University course so that he could throw himself full-time into Christian ministry, and then he decided that he should really finish his course (as he only had a year to go) and after that throw himself into ministry, but then he decided that his parents had invested a lot of money in his education and that it was only proper that he should give a couple of years to the profession that his parents had worked so hard to prepare him for before heading off on a mad adventure with Jesus and, so far as I know, this guy has been working diligently as an accountant ever since!

Do I intend that story to be taken as a damning indictment on this then-young man? Not really. I just can’t overlook the close parallel to the narrative we read of here. There’s a choice to be made between a mad and impulsive course and a sensible, responsible one. We generally see it as a virtue to choose responsibly, and we urge our children to do the same. It’s Jesus, and Jesus alone so far as I can see, who is constantly urging us to choose the crazy path!

I read this account in Luke chapter nine and I ask myself ‘does anybody in this narrative actually have a half-decent understanding of what Jesus is on about?’  Sadly, I think it’s only the Samaritans in the story who come even close!

The Samaritans appear right at the beginning: “they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him” (Luke 9:52-53)

The Samaritans, I think, understood very clearly that Jesus was trouble, and so they didn’t want to have anything to do with Him! The disciples do want to deal with Him, of course. They just won’t follow the crazy course He has set for them!

Why is Jesus so unreasonable in His demands? Why is He so dismissive of social and cultural norms and even of family responsibilities? Why is He so hard to get on with? The answer, in this case, is actually given at the very opening of the story.

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)

Jesus ‘sets his face towards Jerusalem’, and it’s this that leads the Samaritans to reject Him and which makes His calls to action so urgent. Jesus faces Jerusalem – embracing His destiny in the final run-down to His own suffering and death. In that context it just doesn’t make sense for anybody to go back to business as usual!

There’s a sense, of course, in which Jesus had always been facing Jerusalem, in that He’d always known what lay ahead. The Gospel writer though sees a turning point at this stage in the journey where Jesus actively embraces this future and starts deliberately striding towards it!

I don’t want to suggest that we all need to face Jerusalem in the way that Jesus did, as I recognise that His destiny in this regard was unique. Even so, I think it is of great benefit to us all, to face squarely our own mortality, and to embrace that.

We are all heading towards death and destruction (at least at a personal level). That’s not to say that our demise will be as violent as Jesus’ or that it is imminent.  Even so, it is our future, and it does make a real difference, I believe, if we can embrace that rather than simply going on trying to avoid thinking about it.

It’s been the common testimony of those who returned with me from Syria recently, that the journey helped put things in perspective for them. It helped them recognise that a lot of the things we get stressed about here really are just first-world problems that aren’t worth stressing about. Conversely, the backdrop of violence and death there gives you a heightened sense of what is really important in life. So many things that seem important – even legitimate responsibilities to family and community – really aren’t that important, and are certainly not that urgent, and other things that really are important need to replace them as our personal priorities NOW!

“Let the dead bury their own dead… No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Why? Why so harsh? Why so urgent? Because time is short! Your time is short, my time is short, and our world doesn’t have much time either! Go, and proclaim the kingdom of God!

sermon delivered at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, June 2016


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St Paul and Gay Marriage – a sermon on Galatians 6:11-18


“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
 13 For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. 17 Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” (Galatians 6:11-18)

Thus Paul concludes his message to the church in Galatia, in what is often referred to as Paul’s ‘angry letter’.

Indeed, it is a passionate letter, brimming with frustration and strong language that at times seems downright crude, and that passion is on full display here at the very end of Paul’s message as he grabs the stylus from the person he has been dictating to and completes the letter in his own unmistakeable scrawl – “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand …” (Galatians 6:11).

Lest anyone should doubt that these words come straight from the mouth and heart of the Apostle, Paul puts his hand into the production of the letter as he completes it, just as he’d put his heart and soul into it from the very first line!

This is Paul’s angry letter – his passionate letter – and it should not surprise us that the matters under discussion had Paul so worked up because the whole existence of the early church was at stake. Even in its infancy, the church was divided, and Paul believed that the church was going to die in its infancy if it didn’t get some key things right, and, as crazy as it might seem to us now, the crucial issue at the heart of all the grief Paul experienced was, of course, circumcision!

Crazy! That’s how the debate appears to us now, though of course it’s easy to be wise in retrospect, especially when there’s a good twenty centuries of retrospective wisdom between us and this letter. Even so, I don’t think St Paul would disagree that circumcision, in and of itself, was a trivial issue, but behind that specific issue there was a far broader issue at stake, and that broader issue did indeed threaten to divide and destroy the early Christian community.

Some things change. Some stay the same. We too live at a time when a specific issue threatens to divide and destroy the Christian community as we know it – the global Anglican communion most especially. The issue at the moment isn’t circumcision but gay marriage – a completely different issue, of course, or, at least, it seems to be a completely different issue.

Not everybody here may have followed the events that took place at the beginning of last year when Anglican Primates from around the world met in London and voted to suspend the Episcopal church of the USA from full membership in the global Anglican Communion because they had chosen to act unilaterally in authorising same-sex marriages.

If you did follow that event you will no doubt remember Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry – a powerful African American church leader – speaking passionately of his desire to maintain unity with those he had been in conflict with, saying “We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated.”

This 2015 suspension of the Episcopal church did not, of course, appear suddenly out of a vacuum but rather reflected divisions in the Anglican Communion that became explicit at the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) of 2008, which met in Jerusalem in response to the emergence of a ‘false gospel’ that was said to emanate from a certain sector of the Anglican Communion that “promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right.” Our own Archbishop of Sydney at the time, Peter Jensen, was elected General Secretary of GAFCON in 2008, and I believe he remains so to this day.

The specific issue, not explicitly mentioned in the GAFCON statement quoted above but assumed to be at the basis of the controversy, was the US Episcopal church’s 2003 consecration of the openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. However we understand the evolution of the issue though, what is clear is that we (Sydney) were involved from the beginning, and hence it should come as no surprise that we (the Sydney Anglican Diocese) took a very deliberate stance in the current election on the issue of the projected plebiscite regarding gay marriage.

It’s probably high time I confessed that I was in fact encouraged to make an announcement to the congregation on either of the last two Sundays, instructing parishioners as to the positions taken by the major parties on the issue of same-sex marriage, so that each of us might be fully informed as to how our votes might affect the issue.  The assumption was that we would be united in our opposition to same-sex marriage and that I would be doing us all a service by helping us all to mobilise in support of our common cause. This, of course, is not our reality.

I did indeed let the bishop know that I wouldn’t be making the announcement on the week the task was given me, most obviously because we had a gay activist preacher giving the sermon that Sunday. Of course I didn’t make the announcement last Sunday either, and I probably would not have mentioned it at all except for the way in which today’s Epistle reading from the final section of Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia seems to me to connect to the very issues addressed in the announcement, though probably not in the way that the authors of the announcement might have envisaged.

 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)

I actually changed my mind about the issue of gay marriage some years ago, along with my judgements concerning issues of sexuality in general, and the change for me came while I was reading Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia! I don’t remember if it was this exact passage, but if not this one it was one just like it.

The key insight that I felt unlocked Paul’s thinking for me, not only in this passage but throughout this letter and throughout so many of St Paul’s writings, was that the Apostle wasn’t really interested in circumcision as such, but rather with the bigger question that the issue of circumcision raised – namely, ‘who is welcome in the church of Jesus Christ?’

Of course, if you were to ask any church leader or any church member that question in that or in any other period in the history of the church, I suspect the answer you’d get would always be the same – namely, ‘everybody is welcome!’ – but, in truth, there is normally a fair bit of fine-print attached to that welcome. We have never really been very good in making everybody welcome.

We are pretty good at welcoming people who are just like us. This is the way we naturally work. I spend a lot of time, as you know, with members of the Muslim community, and I often wonder how we’d go if some of those dear people expressed a desire to join our church. I suspect we would be very welcoming initially but that it wouldn’t be long before someone said to one of the new members “why don’t you stop wearing that hijab now? After all, it’s a symbol of your oppression and you don’t need it!” She might respond “but I don’t see it as a symbol of oppression” to which we might respond with “well, I do!” and the battle-lines would be drawn!

Of course it might not happen exactly that way, but the truth is that we don’t find it easy to accommodate people whose dress and language and lifestyle are different from our own, especially when those points of difference are fundamental to our identities as individuals and as a group!

This was the issue for Paul – who was welcome in the church of Jesus Christ? Paul and the Apostles and the entire first-century church would all answer with one voice “everybody”, but there was regularly some fine print attached!

Joining the church meant becoming a member of the people of God – the people of Israel – and while everybody was invited to join Israel, being an Israelite meant adopting certain practises and lifestyle choices and dress-codes that marked you out as one of God’s people, and most fundamental of all it meant entering into the age-old covenant of circumcision, such that all the males in your family – young and old – would physically mark themselves in this way so as to identify themselves as members of the nation of Israel, the people of God.

It’s interesting that Paul, in this letter to the Galatians, doesn’t challenge the idea that to be a joined to the people of God means becoming an Israelite. Instead, what Paul does is to redefine Israel as a spiritual concept rather than as a nation state!

Did you pick that up in this passage? Galatians 6:16: “Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” The ‘Israel of God’ is here redefined as an open community that includes all who ‘walk by this rule’.

Paul doesn’t disagree that we all need to be Israelites (in a sense). All who ‘walk by the rule’ are Israelites by definition! What he does challenge is that in order to be Israelites (in this new spiritual sense) we need to adopt the lifestyle and the dress-code and the practices of that ancient Biblical people. Paul came to the conclusion that all of those symbols and practices were nothing but superficial tribal markings that could be happily discarded by members of spiritual Israel who weren’t genetically connected to people of the Old Testament.

Paul’s thinking is beautifully summed up, I think, in Galatians 6:15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

Paul recognised that the circumcised and the uncircumcised were distinct ethnic groups, and I don’t think he really wanted to trivialise ethnic and cultural difference. Even so, what he recognised was that, in the eyes of God, those traditional symbols of ethnic identity counted for nothing!

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Yes, there are real and tangible things that divide us ethnically and humanly, but before God these differences count for nothing. It’s the new creation that counts, and that is something far deeper and more mysterious than circumcision or ethnicity or status or gender or, I think Paul would say, sexual orientation.

As Paul says earlier in this same letter, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

What counts is neither ethnicity nor status nor gender nor anything else. That’s not to say that each and all of these things aren’t important. Indeed, they define who we are! Even so, in the eyes of God they don’t count for much in the sense that they don’t help qualify us for membership of the people of God any more than they disqualify us. These things in themselves are irrelevant to our spiritual identity. All that matters at that level is our openness to the Spirit of God and our willingness to be transformed!

If you’ve never read the spiritual adventures of St Paul as he argues for this position of inclusiveness throughout his apostolic career, you get a lot of it right here in this letter to the Galatians.

In chapter two Paul details how we had a stand-up argument with no less a character than the Apostle Peter in Antioch because Peter had taken a compromise position with the non-Jews there. Peter had been happy to welcome the uncircumcised into the community but, according to Paul, he accepted that they should nonetheless eat separately from the Jewish members of the church, thus making them, for all events and purposes, second-class citizens (Galatians 2:11-13).

This all sounds very familiar – welcoming everyone into the church but denying certain groups full status. That’s not to say that we don’t eat with them, but we probably don’t allow them into positions of leadership. We certainly don’t consecrate any of them as our bishops!

The specific issues change – circumcision, the consecration of a bishop, a proposed change in the Marriage Act – but the basic question remains the same: ‘who is welcome in the church of Jesus Christ?’ Paul’s uncompromising response was always the same – ‘everybody!’… really, no fine-print, everybody – Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, rich and poor, male and female, straight and gay, sinner and saint, everybody!

It’s hard to be open to everybody. We are always feeling a need to put people into categories and draw lines around those who are acceptable and those who are not. And we who like to think of ourselves as being at the open-minded, liberal end of the spectrum can be just as intolerant as anyone else. Our intolerance just tends to focus on those we consider to be intolerant! We are very open-minded, except when it comes to dealing with people that we don’t see as being open-minded!

True inclusiveness is not easy, and yet it is our calling. As one spiritually mature person put it to me recently, ‘whenever we draw a line between us and them, we can be sure that the Lord Jesus is on the other side of that line’.

St Paul saw this, I believe, and he was right too when he saw that the future of the infant church depended on how they dealt with this issue. Humanly speaking at least, had Paul lost the battle for inclusiveness, we can only imagine that the church would have remained a small sect within greater Judaism, most likely to disappear completely when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in the year 67, if not before!

What kept the fire of Christ burning in the church, and what continues to keep it burning, was the radical proclamation of the Gospel, upheld by St Paul, that all people are loved by God, all are of equal value, everybody is welcome!

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:15-16)

sermon delivered at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, June 2016


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The Father Dave Mural in the centre of Sydney’s CBD!

It was an enormous privilege to be involved in the recent ANZ ‘Inspiring Locals’ project. It’s meant having my portrait painted by world-renowned graffiti-artist, Luke Cornish (who happens to also be a personal friend of mine). 🙂

Even though I’ve watched Luke at work, I still really can’t work out how he puts it all together. What that man does with stencils and spray cans goes well beyond anything I’d previously associated with graffiti!

If you haven’t seen the mural, it’s right in the centre of Martin Place – the heart of the Sydney CBD. I feel like I should be spending more time in there – setting up a confessional booth right below the pic or something like that. I’m sure I’d do a roaring trade! 😉

I included below the interview that Luke and I did on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program, and also a couple of images of the mural.

I notice that a lot of my friends have been getting their pics taken at the mural so for those who have taken a pic, I’ve installed a plugin that allows you to upload an image with your comment. Please add you pic! 🙂

One thing few people would know is that we originally planned for an image of me as a priest. I’d told Luke that I didn’t really feel comfortable being immortalised as a boxer since, quite frankly, I didn’t think I deserved to be. I’m a priest by vocation but really only a wanna-be boxer.

Father Dave murals that never were!

The murals that never were!

What you see above is two of the virtual mock-ups that Luke created.  Apparently he had already cut the stencils for one of them when he was told that they wouldn’t permit an image of a priest in the middle of Martin Place! Whether it was the Council or the sponsors who blocked this, I don’t know. Either way, the final image turned out to be much more dynamic and sexy than the one I had in mind, so who am I to object. 😉

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Please use the button below the comment box to upload your image posing in front of the mural 🙂


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Father Dave’s Al Quds Day speech, July 2nd 2016

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.

I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.

Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!

The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.


Al Quds Day 2016

As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.

It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!

I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!

The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.

I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!

This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.

The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!

I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!

The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!

The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.

We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.

Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)

The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.

Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards justice and peace.

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day


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news.com.au: Father Dave and Boxers for Peace aim to highlight the real situation in Syria

This is the best article to date published about the 2016 Boxers for Peace mission to Syria. Our goal is to tell the world about the real Syria and news.com.au has a great audience and, what’s more, Oliver Murray told the story as we gave it to him.

Our hope is that by helping people understand what’s really going on in Syria, they will be less inclined to bomb the place and more inclined to help. One can only hope, but I do seriously believe that the violence can only continue while it’s upheld by lies in the media.


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Daily Telegraph: Fighting Father Dave Smith subject for renowned street artist E.L.K

It was a great privilege to be spray-painted by my friend Luke Cornish (aka. E.L.K.). This is the same man who came with us to Syria and returned the head of Khaled Al-Assad to Palmyra through his amazing artwork.

Some images of the final artwork are pasted below the article.


IMG_2911


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SBS World News: Australian boxers fighting for peace in Syria

A big thank-you to Luke Waters for putting together this piece for SBS World News. It is perhaps the primary goal of Boxers for Peace to let the whole world know what is really going on in Syria. In truth, it is hard for us to get our story out as it doesn’t fit in with the prevailing narrative.

Our message is simple: Syria is more than a war-zone! It’s a beautiful country full of beautiful people, most of whom are just trying to get on with their lives despite the violence they are being forced to endure. They don’t need us to introduce more violence (except in cooperation with their military) and they are quite capable of electing their own political leaders.

Maybe there’s a way of putting that that’s simpler still. Even so, I trust you get the message.

Father Dave


For those for whom the iframed feed from the SBS website is being blocked due to you being outside of Australia, the text and the video are below:

An unlikely group of Australian boxers have returned from a remarkable, week-long tour of war-ravaged Syria where they delivered a unique message of peace in unique fashion.

Profound messages of peace and hope are rarely associated with the combative sport of boxing, but for Dulwich Hill-based priest Father Dave Smith, it’s a constant narrative.

For years Father Dave has used boxing to help countless people through troubled times, and he has extended his outreach all the way to the war-torn country of Syria.

He recently took eight Australian boxers to Syria to train with Syrian boxers in the ancient ruins of Palmyra.

“The experience in Palmyra in particular was very surreal,” Father Dave said.

Palmyra was seized by IS in May, 2015 and dozens of people including Syrian civilians were executed and parts of the ruins were destroyed.

The historic site was liberated in March, and Father Dave said it was highly symbolic for Syrian boxers to spar and train in a place that saw unimaginable atrocities just months ago.

“We’re going into a place that’s been associated with brutality and death recently and we’re playing – we’re playing sport with Syrian kids,” he said.

Syrian boxers have limited opportunities to improve in their chosen sport.

Being about to train with the Australian boxers was a rare treat and a diversion from the brutal reality confronting their homeland.

“We are very grateful for the help from the Australian delegation,” Syrian boxer Ghadir Abaydi told Father Dave through a translator.

“We hope they will always honour us with their presence, so we can benefit from their experience and knowledge.”

The trip was Father Dave’s fifth to Syria in four years, and he said the contrasts were typical of the country he has grown to love.

“I appreciate there’s a backdrop there of violence and pain but the light shines in the darkness and things keep moving forward,” he said.


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