‘Shadows of the Cross’ – Book Review

Lent starts tomorrow! – a Lenten resource:

OT relevance to Jesus explored in Lenten study

“Our discipleship is enriched [through]… the relevance of the Old Testament to Jesus’… claims…”

Shadows of the Cross: Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, by Michael Raiter. (Anglican Press Australia, Sydney South, 2017 $10.95)

Book Review by John Harrower

A recent conversation with a travelling companion of Jewish faith reminded me yet again that Jesus Christ was, like my companion, a man of Jewish faith. Jesus was born of a woman who was Jewish, raised in a Jewish household, carpenter’s shop and community. His ministry was in the context of the people of Israel, who with their religious texts and traditions were firmly established in the lands of their ancestors, their lands promised by God.

Jesus made the extraordinary claim that he was the Messiah, the Christ, of whom the texts of the Jewish people testify! In a post resurrection appearance Jesus reminds his disciples that “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Our discipleship is enriched through a growing appreciation of the relevance of the Old Testament to Jesus’ personal claims and ministry.

Shadows of the Cross: seeing Jesus in the Old Testament gives such enrichment by opening up 40 Old Testament passages, one for each day of Lent, in easy-to-read two page daily reflections each concluding with a prayer.

Four sections comprising The Law, The History, The Wisdom and The Prophets, each of ten reflections, structure the studies. Eight sets of five questions for group discussion or personal reflection take us deeper. A mix of well-crafted general and personal questions facilitates a range of engagements with the Old Testament texts and their relevance to Jesus’ ministry.

Anecdotes commonly commence each reflection and give easy access to the theme. Thus the first reflection, ‘The Cross in the Garden’, begins with the story of the five hundred Australians who set out for Paraguay in 1893 on an ill-fated project to build a communist utopia. The study asks, “Why do our highest ideals invariably disappoint us?” and leads into “the fall of humanity” in Genesis 3 and then to consider the pastoral epistle’s warning, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:7). Reflection through story, Old Testament text, New Testament text: all leading to our life before God in prayer.

The author, Mike Raiter, puts to good effect his skills gained in teaching history and English to elaborate the context of the biblical texts.

Thus in developing the Day 11 study, “There has never been a day like this” – the sun standing still for the victory of Joshua and Israel as they did battle to occupy the land promised by God – the author’s storytelling reminds us of epoch-changing days: the Magna Carta, Wittenberg Door, first walk on the moon, the Twin Towers and a day when Rome ruled Palestine and the sun stopped shining at midday, and Jesus Christ died (only to rise again!).

Lament is a pervasive theme of the Lenten season. In considering Psalms 42 and 43, the author notes, “One of the great weaknesses of contemporary Christian songs is there are so few laments. We need songs of lament”. The image of the deer separated from the herd and panting for life-giving water is evocative of the psalmist’s lament which is then related to Jesus’ sense of abandonment in Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The study asks, “Can’t you hear Psalm 42 there?’ “Why, my soul, are you downcast… my tears have been my food day and night” (42:3,5). In prayer, we thank God for a Saviour who has known suffering and abandonment.

“Scales of Justice” (Day 36) brings a salutary warning from the prophet Amos against injustice and about the coming day of the Lord. “Little acts of dishonesty” are illustrated from the milkman diluting our author’s milk and from supermarkets which “falsely advertise bread, which was baked months before overseas, as ‘freshly baked today’”. The author doesn’t mince words in noting that Amos points to the final Day of the Lord when “Revelation portrays the merchants of the world weeping” because, “In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin (Revelation 18:17)”. Moreover, the prophet Amos speaks of a day when “(the Lord) will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). The Old Testament points to the cross of Jesus where darkness covered the land for three hours (Luke 23:44) – truly a “day of the Lord”.

I looked forward to each day’s reading and reflection, and I have no doubt that you too will look forward to these daily nutritional Lenten studies.

**This Book Review was published in the February 2018 edition of The Melbourne Anglican which available from your local Melbourne Anglican Parish. See also online news at, http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/this-months-tma

Being a Church in Mission

Being a Church in Mission: Reflections from Tasmania on the Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Institute Public Lecture 2016, Ridley College Melbourne.

“Imagine you are sitting in front of a Royal Commission Public Hearing. You are in the witness box having taken the Oath. Arrayed before you are Commissioners, barristers, staff, and because it is being live streamed, you are on view to people around the nation. It’s far from a relaxed situation! The Counsel Assisting the Commissioners asks, “Without asking for a sermon, Bishop, would you mind briefly assisting us with what are Anglican values as you see and understand them?”  What comes to your mind? What values define us?””

Download the Lecture here, Anglican Institute Lecture 2016 – Being a Church in Mission (Tas) 11 April 2016

The audio of the Q&A session at the Lecture with Paul Cavanough and myself (unfortunately, the audio of my lecture was lost) is, here

‘Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference’

Of questions, there are many when Christians get together to discuss Faith-Based Organizations involved in aid and development.

Over the last year, I have heard;

When a Christian organization sends out Christmas cards with ‘Season’s Greetings’ rather than Christmas greetings, has it lost its way?

When a Christian organization employs non-Christians to drive trucks to deliver emergency supplies has it lost its way?

When a Christian organization dispenses with Church volunteers in order to increase ‘efficiency’ has it lost its way?

Bob Mitchell has some questions of his own as he brings theology, governance and development practice together in his compelling, ‘Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference’, Orbis Books, New York 2017.

In an age of ‘Fake News’, Bob’s data based research using interviews and focus groups from diverse geographical and cultural communities is a gift to truth-telling! Bob, we thank you! Your data based research strengthens your engagement with critical issues.

By way of example, while engaging with the vexed issue of a Christian aid and development organisation working in a Muslim context the research data allows us to hear Muslim and Christian voices. In Senegal, an open theistic society, it is said that it is “easier to speak to people of faith if you have a faith, even if it is different.” and “once a Muslim sees that the development organisation is about prayer and spirituality, then a Muslim will say, “Now we can do business together.”” (p.48)

Mitchell draws the conclusion that communities within theistic societies may have stronger resonance with an organisation from another faith when compared to secular agencies. (48)

Of course there are other contexts where a more closed and militant faith may work against cooperation in development.

The book is scholarly in its approach and wise in its reasoning as it draws conclusions on the nature of faith motivation, and the delivery and effectiveness of development.

*Full Address at Book Launch Melbourne: Faith-Based Development by Bob Mitchell Book Launch by John Harrower 6 April 2017

BCA Councillor Introduction

Here are the personal notes about my commitment to Christ and the ministry of BCA which I was invited to share in the Councillor’s Column of The Real Australian, Summer edition 2017/18

Following her return to Christ, my mother blessed me by encouraging my attendance, during childhood and youth, at our local Anglican Church. However, I drifted away and it was through a Bible study and God’s grace that in my twenties I knelt at my bed and prayed a simple yet profound commitment to Christ. My wife, Gayelene, also committed her life to Christ at that time and we give thanks that ever since we have lived together in the joy and comfort of God’s embrace.

We became BCA members while serving with CMS in Argentina for nine years. During that time, we felt we should continue our concern for mission in Australia and so we joined BCA and began receiving information and encouragement to support ‘Australia for Christ ‘.

Upon our return to Australia and involvement in parish ministry in Melbourne our support for BCA continued. This involvement with BCA deepened during our 15 years in Tasmania. BCA is a long term partner in the mission and ministry of the Diocese of Tasmania and, as Bishop of Tasmania, I was privileged to work closely in developing new opportunities for mission. Because we saw so clearly the vital support of BCA missioners in areas of need, I willingly accepted the invitation to serve as President of BCA. It is a privilege and joy to continue in that role, and give to BCA a little of the great gifts I saw given to Tasmania (during my 15 years serving as the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Tasmania).

Now, in Melbourne, we attend BCA functions and continue our support for BCA, including running a monthly prayer meeting in our home for BCA. What a joy it is to serve God through such a visionary, strategic and prayerful family such as BCA!

May the God continue to bless the Bush Church Aid Society and all who minister through her fellowship in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Right Rev’d John Harrower OAM

President BCA

Bishop Assisting the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia

*[Information about BCA’s mission, including prayer notes, at Bush Church Aid.]

‘People of the Risen King’ – Book Review

St Jude’s Carlton 1866-2016 – People of the Risen King – History 150 years by Elizabeth Willis

This history is a deft interweaving of Church and society through 150 years: St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton.

Carlton’s socio-economic conditions and demography, clerical and lay personalities, theological emphases, liturgical practice, the Melbourne Diocese, and national and international affairs are colourfully woven. Testing times, diverse personalities and ever-changing ministries all contribute to the life and mission of the ‘People of the Risen King’.

The irony of writing of the seemingly endless struggle to make the parish buildings ‘fit for purpose’ at the very time it lies in ruins due to fire and a multimillion dollar building project is underway, is not lost on the author: a salutary reminder of the fragility and ongoing challenge of parish life.

The colour, vitality and ethos of St Jude’s in an ever changing Carlton is brought to life in this insightful and inspiring history. The Parish’s social work encompasses the ‘free seats’ of the nineteenth century and the Debt Centre of the twenty-first century: a wide embrace of society that is at no time loosened.

Carlton ‘larrikins’ blocking the entry of worshippers, the decline in attendance following the First World War, the depression, bulldozing to ‘clear the slums’, the building of Housing Commission estates, the opportunity to welcome ‘New Australians’, university ministry, discipleship training, parish partnerships and new congregations: throughout it all we see the faithfulness of men and women to the work of God.

A stimulating read: leave time for reflection along the way for this history is a reminder that through the changing circumstances of parish life the Church is the ‘People of the Risen King’.

Thank you, Elizabeth Willis, for your fine work in bringing this parish history to us, and to the faithful saints of St Jude’s Carlton, https://stjudes.org.au/

Commissioning CEO World Vision Australia 2016

Address at the Commissioning Service for Claire Rogers, CEO World Vision Australia, Ridley College Melbourne 2016

Walking the talk, talking the walk, and living the heartbeat of Jesus Christ

I have been asked to give a ‘sermonette’. Hence I will give my three sermon points, but no poem, no joke and no stories! I trust you will bear with me! J

Jesus Christ is the heartbeat of World Vision and we are to walk the Jesus’ talk, talk the Jesus’ walk and bring the life of his heartbeat to those in need.

God’s love in Christ is extraordinary.

God entered history in the person of Jesus Christ who walked, talked and lived the heartbeat of God in the conflictive world of Palestine. Jesus walked the Kingdom journey of family, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension for us and continues in intercession for us today, indeed he is praying for us at this very moment! Precious thought.

The coming of the Holy Spirit empowers our own walk of faith in the complex and conflictive world of today.

We believe that the Holy Spirit has gathered us here today to commission our Sister in Christ, Claire Rogers for her walk, talk and life as CEO of World Vision Australia.

*Address is here: Claire Rogers -Commissioning CEO WVA Nov 2016 – ‘Walking the talk, talking the walk, and living the heartbeat of Jesus Christ’

*Photo is of Claire Rogers with George Savvides, Board Chair, World Vision Australia

*More about Claire here, https://www.worldvision.com.au/about-us/our-ceo-claire-rogers *Print article ‘Successor to Tim Costello brings digital focus to World Vision’, page 12 of November 2017, The Melbourne Anglican (TMA). More info re TMA paper, here

Dealing with Trauma? – pastoral exploration

My ‘Pearce Memorial Lecture’ delivered at the OSL Healing Ministries Triennial Conference Melbourne October 2017:

When discussing a person who is suffering from trauma, how many of you have you heard someone comment, “Get over it!” “Pray believing!” “Go for a walk, get some fresh air, smell the roses.”

But, “No!” – A flippant dismissal of trauma is a gross misunderstanding of trauma.

Tragedy strikes and trauma follows. Although the effects of the violence (emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual) may lag the tragic event by years, trauma does come.

Trauma from tragic events accumulates through life and can grow to become a toll too heavy to bear. When a person is suffering from trauma, they feel down, down, down! Crying, weeping, hopeless and alone, despairing, a failure, embarrassed, humiliated.

But neither is wallowing in trauma with the tears, sadness, brokenness and hopelessness an option.

Is it possible to deal with trauma at all? And if so, how?

Let me say at the outset that I make no claims to professional expertise in the area of trauma or dealing with its consequences. My aim this evening is to learn from the experience of four people in Australia who have suffered traumatic events as well as a key character in each of two novels (‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’) in order that we might better walk with sufferers of trauma. This is a pastoral and personal exploration of a complex and pain laden issue.

Dealing with Trauma? – a pastoral and personal exploration is the Pearce Memorial Lecture delivered at the OSL Healing Ministries Triennial Conference Melbourne Oct 2017.

Lecture here, Dealing with Trauma – OSL Pearce Memorial Lecture 2017 – John Harrower

A report on the Lecture, ‘Trauma is serious get help says Bishop Harrower’ by Stephen Cauchi, is in The Melbourne Anglican (monthly paper), November 2017, No. 564, p.12.

‘Les Miserables’ – a personal reflection

We’re all ‘miserables’ in need of God’s grace

As I sat down to write of the profound effect Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables had on my life, I found to my astonishment that I was writing in the voice of my 14 year old self. And so I wrote:

I borrowed Les Miserables from the mobile bus library when I was 14. I liked reading and each week with a friend I rode my bike to borrow books.

The book seemed like an adventure story, so I read it. It was about a man who had a hard life. He helped people.

He rescued a poor girl and really cared for her. There were lots of adventures. But then, when she married, it was strange because he felt he shouldn’t be with her new family. This was sad. Eventually he died, nearly alone, but the candlesticks were with him. They reminded him always of a man who many years ago saved his life and helped him to go a different way. He was given a chance and it was not easy but he made choices to go that better way. They were sometimes hard choices. Choices matter.

But some people are cruel and they don’t give you another chance, and that’s not fair. In the story there were women and children who hardly ever got any chances. People were cruel to them. I didn’t like that. It was unfair. But the man, because he had been given a second chance by the first kind man, he then himself gave people second chances. I liked that. I wanted to be like these two men. They were both kind and gave second chances to all sorts of people. Second chances matter.

Growing up I didn’t have a father. I lived with my two sisters, mother, grandmother and great uncle. They all loved me and gave me second chances – and lots more chances. But people were not kind to my mother. They wouldn’t let us into a father and son night because she wasn’t a father. But a kind man from church saw my mother crying. He asked her if he could be my father for an hour and he took my friend, his real son, and me to the meeting. He was a good man who stood up for my mum and me.

I think that God helped the two men in the story. The candlesticks showed that. Throughout the rescued man’s life he carried the Bishop’s candlesticks with him to remind him that he belonged to God.They were with that man when he died: “He lay back with his head turned to the sky, and the light from the two candlesticks fell upon his face.”

Reading this, I do indeed hear my younger voice. I have never forgotten the story Les Miserables nor the two men, the second chance, and the story of the candlesticks.

The themes of Les Miserables (‘The Poor and Wretched’) are the themes of our own lives.

The released, but brutalised, convict Jean Valjean, having received the Bishop’s hospitality, then robbed him of silver cutlery. Valjean is subsequently captured by the police and brought for condemnation before the Bishop. To Valjean’s astonishment, the Bishop insists the cutlery has been given to Valjean and even adds two silver candlesticks (“You forgot to take these”).

Privately, the Bishop challenges Valjean: “You promised me to become a good man. I am buying your soul. I am rescuing you from a spirit of perversity and giving it to God” What beauty! The joy and power of grace and grace’s agenda.

Yes, forgiveness is given. Grace is received. A second chance begun. But the very next day, the second chance is dramatically thrown into question: Valjean robs a vagrant boy of a coin. The boy protests, struggles briefly, but then flees in fright. Valjean seems to suddenly come to himself and rushes after the boy but cannot find him. Guilt-ridden and in despair, he weeps in remorse.

This turning point (while omitted in contemporary musicals) is a key to understanding the book: “Did any voice whisper to him that he was at a turning point in his life, that henceforth there could be no middle way for him, that he must become either the best of men or the worst?… What was certain, although he did not realise it, was that he was no longer the same man. Everything in him was changed.”

Jean Valjean struggled to live out the consequences of forgiveness, of the grace of the second chance. So unfolds a wonderful story of redemption, hope, sacrifice and love: of living out the Bishop’s gift of the candlesticks.

I think that’s why I treasure my own ‘candlesticks’: reminders of God’s grace and forgiveness.

See, Inner Life: Book: Bishop John Harrower reflects on reading Victor Hugo’s classic ‘Les Miserables’ http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/inner-life/harrower-on-les-mis-290917  September 29 2017

God’s promise, my eyes

God’s promise given decades ago – true today and true tomorrow. Praise God!

Psalm 121 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Assurance of God’s Protection

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved,
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade
    on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and for evermore.

Dios es fiel – God is faithful