Beloved Daughter, Beloved Son

Mark 5:21-43 – Gospel for Sunday 28 June 2015 (Pentecost 5)

Preached at St George’s, Dunsborough

These stories are partly about two women’s ability to have children. The girl is twelve years old. On her next birthday she would have been old enough to marry and bring a baby into the world. As modern Western people we recoil from this whole business of treating a girl as a commodity to be sold. Bride price, dowry, physical attributes, and then the sheer hard work of bearing babies and keeping house – and keeping to the house – for the rest of their lives. To us, the customs of those times were as repugnant as the Taliban’s are now.

But her age is mentioned for that reason. Jesus restores her to her life prospects as wife and mother.

The older woman has had a bleed for 18 years. It doesn’t specify what sort of bleed, and that leads most scholars to suggest that it was related to her womb, not a stomach ulcer. With the medical care of those days, there is no way she could have children. There is no way she could be a wife under the Jewish Holiness code. Her life as a wife and mother was on hold at the least, probably finished, dead.

Jesus restores both women to life; and that includes to restore the possibility of their cultural role as wives and mothers. Whatever we think would have been best for them, being wife and mother was what they would have known and wanted, and certainly better than being dead!

But as Mark tells us the story, he insists on two words which take the restoring of these women far beyond those cultural expectations. The two words:

  • life
  • daughter

The woman has spent everything she had on cures. ‘Everything she had’: the Greek work is ‘bios’ which we know in English words like ‘biology’. She had spent her whole ‘bios’, her whole ‘life’, her whole ‘living’ on doctors and cures. At one level, it just means, she had spent all she had chasing a cure. But if you’ve ever had a complex medical problem, you know it’s not just the monetary cost. We are so blessed in Australia with Medicare, cost is not usually the problem. But we can find ourselves with so many appointments and treatments, visits to the pharmacist and physio as well as to the GP and specialists, not to mention waiting on the phone to make those appointment, that our whole life starts to revolve around our medical issues. Our life is in danger of becoming our medical impairments. There are times when we could easily spend our whole life on chasing a cure. It’s not good. That’s where this woman was.

Jesus healed her. Jesus gave her her life back.

Jairus’s daughter was dead. The professional mourners were already in place, and laughing at Jesus for thinking he could achieve anything. Her life was gone. There was nothing left but her pious burial. Jesus raised her from the dead. He gave her her life back.

Of course, both of these resuscitations are prefiguring the resurrection. And they are also mirrors to us. If we reach out to Jesus, just touch the hem of his robe, just taste his power in the Eucharist, then he may give us our life back. That’s what Jesus wants to do. There is no person, no thing, so far from God, who cannot be restored, who cannot receive their life back.

What that will mean will vary from person to person, just as it was different for the woman with the bleed and Jairus’s daughter, so it will be for you. But Mark is telling us the Good News that Jesus considers every person – even women in his society – should be able to live her life to the full, and that she can do that if she allows Jesus to restore life to her. Or him.

That’s more than the cultural script of being a wife and mother. That’s a gift of life that is wide open to all good possibilities.

The second word that Mark uses is ‘daughter’. Each of the women healed in these stories is called a daughter, because each is unconditionally loved. Jesus calls the woman he heals by the name of ‘Daughter’: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ (Mark 5:34). And then immediately follows the rest of the other story. ‘While he was still speaking there came from the house some who said, “Your daughter is dead”.” (5:35) Whose daughter? It is ambiguous, because she is both Jairus’s much loved ‘little daughter’, and a daughter to Jesus too.

I am blessed to have a wonderful daughter. I remember the day in 1983 when she was born. I remember a lot more of her childhood than she might like me to. I am so proud of her now as a young mother of three, working at an interesting job part-time. She is a lovely and accomplished young woman. Everyone knows that. But only Rae and I can call her ‘Daughter’. We have the privilege of loving her especially. The love that I have for Clare, and the love that I know is returned, is a real joy.

Jesus emphasises with the women in these stories that the Father loves each daughter just like, and even more, than a human father loves his daughter. Daughters, you are loved, you are loved by God, with a love that gives you your life and goes on giving you your life back. Sons, you are loved, you are loved, too, by the Father, but sometimes, even in this 21st Century after Jesus, the daughters need to be told more intensely, more Intentionally, that God’s love is for them in this way of deep joy.

But for all of us, daughters and sons, can we in reality imagine what Jesus is offering to us?

  • the fulfilment of our lives up to our expectations so that we can do what God wants us to do in this world, as the two women were given the opportunity to be wives and mothers;
  • secondly, to get our lives back richer than we can imagine and better than we can imagine: this is Christ’s gift to us. As we open ourselves to Christ, so we are being transformed into new people, leaving the old one behind, becoming the person God intended us to be from the beginning, and discovering more and more joy in that. This is why for me being fed with the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood is so important, as it feeds us on that journey of transformation.
  • and thirdly, knowing ourselves deeply loved as God’s children. God has loved us from the beginning and will love us eternally.

This is good news. It takes time to seep into us. It can be hard to hear this good news. God took human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth to show us what God is like. And this is what God is like. This is what God delights in doing for people.

Sin is when we refuse to let this love, the love of Christ penetrate more and more deeply into our hearts and lives, when we refuse to connect to Christ. Christ for his part continues to offer us our lives back, renewed and better than before.

Out of our poverty, we become rich, as Paul said in this morning’s epistle (2 Cor. 8:9) – and what wealth it is. What Good News it is! And what good news we become for others as this transformation takes place.

If you think I am being too idealistic, I plead with you to go back to the reading and see again what the gift is that Jesus gives to the woman and to Jairus’ daughter, and then to resolve to go about your lives knowing that it is true. God loves you through and through for eternity. Let him change you into his glory bit by bit.


A Water-Hole Gushing Up To Eternal Life

I’m a proud Noongar woman. I belong to this country. And I know how to open the gnamma hole to get water. I know what to sing to the spirits. I shout loudly to tell them that I’m coming. I’m about to throw sand down the gnamma hole to purify the water, when this wadulah man appears.

He’s a wadulah and he’s a man.

He thinks he knows everything and he thinks he owns our country. But he waits, back where I called the spirits, and says to me, respectful-like: ‘Can you get me some water, Aunty?’

I’m a bit surprised. I’ve never heard a wadulah ask before. For anything. If they know where the gnamma hole is they rip the top off and help themselves.

I’m a bit suspicious too.

‘What wadulah asks a Noongar woman to get him a drink?’ I ask.

‘If you knew who was asking you,’ he says, ‘you would ask him for living water.’

‘Where would you get living water?’ I ask him, ‘You got no gnamma hole and you got no spirits here. Our ancestors told us how the gnamma hole was made, and how the Wagul passed through the country. You’re not greater than the ancestors, are you?’

He said, ‘When you drink your water you get thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give will never get thirsty again. The water I give will be a water-hole gushing up to eternal life.’

I didn’t know whether to laugh or run away from this wadulah.

‘You’d better give me some of your water,’ I says, ‘so I don’t have to come out to the gnamma hole to get it no more.’

So he said to me, ‘Go and get your husband and come back here.’

‘Ain’t got no husband.’

He says, ‘Too right you’ve got no husband. You’ve had five husbands. But the man you’re living with now is not your Law husband.’

I swallowed. ‘Uncle, you must be a prophet. Our ancestors called on the spirits on this mountain and you wadulahs say people should worship in church.’

He replied, ‘Believe me, Aunty, time is coming when you will worship the Father not on this hill nor in church. You worship spirits you do not know. We worship God because he brings salvation. But time is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in a real true spirit. The Father is looking out for people to be his true worshippers. God is spirit.’

I says, ‘The Mission told us Christ will come and when he comes, he will tell us everything.’

Then he turns to me and puts it to me: ‘I, this one talking to you, I am he. ‘

Just then, his followers came back. They looked shocked to see him talking to me, but they didn’t say to me, ‘What are you after?’ or to him ‘Why are you speaking with her?’

I dropped my water-can and ran down into the camp shouting to everyone, ‘I’ve met someone who’s told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be Christ? Whoever he is, he’s made me proud of being me!’

Laudato Si’

My hymn

re-posted from

to honour Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’

Praise to Most High for sun so warm,
for moon and stars so bright;
praise to Most High for all that form,
the universe of light!

Praise to Most High for sparkling dawn,
for sunset splashed with gold;
praise to Most High for rich red soils,
and surf majestic rolled.

Praise to Most High for rain and wind,
for making new things grow;
praise to Most High for Mother Earth,
and  safe through death to go.

Praise to Most High for Jesus Christ,
His present power to heal;
praise to Most High that he was raised
and still his love falls real.

Praise to Most High for those we love,
and who are kind to us;
the gift of love we least deserve
is your sure sign to us.

Praise to Most High who shows the way:
love, joy, humility;
praise to Most High himself the gift,
our kindly Trinity.

8686 Tune “Nativity” TIS 204

© Ted Witham tssf 2008

St Francis praises God outside the Roman Catholic church in Collie, W.A.

St Francis praises God outside the Roman Catholic church in Collie, W.A.

Education, Education, Education!

First published on the Starts at Sixty website, June 12, 2015

Kids join Islamic State (ISIS) because they are hungry for a passion. In the grey world created for them by their adults, they want something exciting to believe in, some dramatic good they can achieve, something great they can create, a cause to give their whole life to. Of course they do. They are adolescents.

ISIS online

And they are also ignorant.

Teenagers these days know so many things, and they can google what they don’t know, but we have failed them dismally in teaching them about religion and about the religions expressed in cultures around the world. For various reasons, we have been afraid to have any religion taught in schools, and yet this is the very learning area that would prevent the radicalisation of young people.

I mean, of course, religion taught well, and taught by competent teachers. This is so urgent as to be the fourth ‘R’ of the 21st Century: young people need to know about religion alongside reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

They need to know why billions have embraced religion and found that religion provides wisdom, comfort and direction for their lives. They need to know what motivated Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and what produced the luscious religious art of the Renaissance. In a word, they need to know something of the passion, commitment and engagement in life that religion brings to many people.

They also need to know why millions reject religion. Religion is not just passion. It’s not just a response of the heart. It requires thought and discernment as well. Agnostics have reasons for questioning, and atheists have reasons for believing that religions have got it wrong, and students need to grapple with those reasons and see if they too are convinced.

It’s our fault that our young people don’t know about religion, don’t know its complexities, don’t know how rule of law, democracy, and science all came about through the work of devout Jews, Christians and Muslims, and how the modern world could not have come into existence without religion.

Eid – a time of joy and peace for families after the fasting of Ramadan

They have not been introduced to the proposition that morality, morality like reverence for life, arises from the pages of the scriptures of the great religions.

It’s our fault as a community. Rectifying that error will not be easy. When he was Minister for Education forty years ago, Kim Beazley Senior proposed a National Curriculum with nine Learning Areas, one of which was Religion. He foresaw that Religion needs firstly to be taken seriously as a curriculum area.

Countries such as Denmark that seem to be doing better in embracing minorities, including Muslims, are currently strengthening their ‘identity-carrying subjects’ such as history and Christian studies. Australia will get a similar result through serious teaching about all religions.

Politicians, principals and academics should publicly champion the teaching of Religion Studies as a national priority.

The Year 11 and 12 courses that now exist like ‘Religion and Life’ in WA need boosting into greater visibility in order to create a bigger demand.

We need to identify competent teachers to mentor other teachers who, though highly trained in other areas, feel inadequate to teach religion. There are such master teachers, particularly in church schools and in professional associations like the Australian Association for Religious Education.

Universities should review teacher training programs to make sure that they prepare teachers thoroughly to teach Religion. Sadly, the Universities I know have dropped successful courses because administrators have been indifferent. That should change!

The aim should be to make the teaching and learning of Religion as engaging and fascinating as religion – and the debates about it – are.

Schools need to make sure that there is sensible space in the time-table for Religion. Students cannot take seriously a subject that is allowed only 45 minutes a week. Imagine if Science or Maths had only one period in a week! ISIS has had runaway success in meeting its educational aims. As a community we can do better than ISIS.

In other words, our community needs a plan to end the ignorance by creating and nurturing a new, a ninth, Learning Area. Every student who sees through the extremism of ISIS because she learns that Islam is something different altogether is a treasure saved for Australia.

Ted Witham is Immediate Past President of the Australian Association for Religious Education and a retired Religious Educator.

Reptiles and Anniversaries

First published on the Starts at Sixty website, 11 June 2015.

Reptiles, Waterholes, Ranges

Why would anyone travel to Broome in December? Well, in December 2005, my wife Rae and I had an excuse. We decided we would use Frequent Flyer points to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our marriage with a few days in the far north of Western Australia. We flew into Broome for three days. On the first day it was 35 degrees and the humidity around 90 percent. Without a car, every journey to find a meal or to walk to Cable Beach was an unpleasant sweaty exertion.
That evening, we booked a day trip out of Broome along Gibb River Road. We figured that even if we saw little in the way of scenery, we would have two meals provided in air-conditioned comfort.
Comfort, however, is not the first word that describes the all-terrain military carrier vehicle, the Hummer, which bumped into our apartment carpark at 6 a.m. Even on hard tarmac, the Hummer rides like an ill-tempered camel. We bumped along at 120-130 km/h inland to Derby, arriving at about 10 a.m., as the temperature steadily rose. At a certain point, the heat overwhelmed the air-conditioning, and it gave out, leaving us to be conditioned only by the hot easterly air gusting through open windows.
As the temperature increased, however, the interest of the journey also rose. On a long straight stretch of road, the driver suddenly stopped the bus, jumped down and ran flat out. He returned two minutes later with a frill-necked lizard in his bleeding, bitten hands: the angry, frightened frill-necked lizard gave a wonderful display of his neck, large and red with emotion.
The Hummer bounced along the gravel corrugations of the famed Gibb River Road. On our left, the sheer jagged cliffs of the Napier Range rose abruptly where Bunuma resistance hero Jandamarra had hidden out in the 1880s and 90s.
Well after 1 p.m. we struggled through a darkened gorge, and swam in the deliciously cool water-hole at the far end of Tunnel Creek. Refreshed, and relieved not to meet a snake in the water with us, we enjoyed sandwiches and drinks from the car fridge, and turned back for Broome.
A red cloud of dust haunted the Hummer as the sun started to sink in the west. We stopped at Windjana Gorge, where a skittish posse of freshwater crocs played chasey with each other in the upper reaches of the sandy beach. ‘Don’t get between them and the water,’ advised our guide. It seemed to us tourists that wherever we stood we were between the metre-long reptiles and the water. However beautiful the place, we elected not to stay too long.
Darkness fell about 8 p.m. Back on the bitumen we stopped for a barbecue dinner, and with the Hummer’s lights turned off, visibility was nil. Rae and I walked off hand in hand into the darkness for the weird experience of seeing showy diamond stars piercing the ebony canopy but not being able to see our own hands or the tarmac beneath our feet.
The Hummer trundled into Broome after midnight. The driver said he would be up at 5 a.m. to re-fuel and repeat the experience with a new group of tourists. We could sleep in.
Next morning, however, another surprise blew into our wedding anniversary. The humidity woke us at about 9 o’clock. It was almost unbearable, even in air-conditioning. ‘The Build-up’, the locals call this time of year, and it makes people do strange things. The weather too.
The wind picked up, first from the north, then, it seemed, from every direction. Round and round like a whirlpool. A cyclone, which the day before had been over Darwin, was now threatening Broome. We prepared to leave for Perth.
Qantaslink staff hurried us through the airport and on to the plane. It was the quickest loading and take-off I have experienced. Forget security. As we circled over the town, we saw trees bending in half to the wind and felt the plane struggling to bank smoothly.
The speaker hissed. ‘We will be the last flight out of Broome until the cyclone has passed,’ announced the pilot. Rae and I sat back in our seats and smiled at each other. ‘I enjoyed our wedding anniversary,’ I said to my wife, ‘but now I need a rest in a cool quiet place.’ ‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘without reptiles.’

Re-Design my Pain

Todd Sampson reminded me on ABC TV last night that I can Re-design my Brain when it comes to my chronic pain. The three principles that I should meditate on for ten minutes a day are:


  1. This pain will pass,
  2. The pain can’t hurt me, and
  3. This pain won’t stop my body doing all (or most) of what I want.


The first principle is for those times when the pain flares up and is an invitation to live in the present. It is a reminder that in the future, I won’t have this pain. The future may be after I have slept tonight. The future may be after I have pulled the emergency cord and taken a pain holiday by consuming what my GP calls any “uh-zepam” drug. The future may be the next general anaesthetic I will some day have. The future may be after my death. It doesn’t matter how rare the future or how far out into the future, just the fact that there is a future where the pain changes for the better.


This pain will pass. Hang on to that.


This pain can’t hurt me. If I break my arm and then lift a heavy suitcase, that will hurt me. But my constant companions, the pains in my back and feet are not the result of new tissue damage or broken bones. I don’t have to limp because of my sciatic legs. The pain is just there, and movement will not make anything worse. In fact, movement may make things better.


Better to move than seize up. This pain can’t hurt me.


My body, considering all the things that are wrong with it, works very well. I can feel the wind on my face and see the waves down at the beach. I can hear the magpies sing their joyful carols. I can embrace those I love, and set my grandchildren on my knee and take them riding in my wheelchair. I walk three kilometres five mornings a week. I enjoy three meals a day. I can sit and type and engage my brain and fingers setting devious crosswords and writing stories.


Yes, I do have to work around the limitations of mobility that pain imposes on me. But my body can do most of the things I want to do.


Whenever I begin to be distressed by my pain, I can remind myself of these three statements of fact:

  1. This pain will pass,
  2. The pain can’t hurt me, and
  3. This pain won’t stop my body doing what I want.

These devious affirmations will change my brain’s perception of pain, and I will carry on.









Holy Spirit, Helper

Pentecost 2015                 St George’s Dunsborough


Gospel:  John 15:26-26, 16:4b-16

When the Lord God created the first human being, he was incomplete. It was not good for the man to be alone, God said. He needed, so Genesis tells us, a ‘helpmeet’, a companion who would be by his side to take his side. The word for ‘helper’ in Hebrew is a beautiful word, ‘ezer’.

God brought the animals to the man to see what he would call them. And the man gave the animals their names. But they were not the helpmeet the man was looking for. Maybe he was their helpmeet, their champion, their companion who could speak for them and make sure their world is a place in which they can thrive. But the animals were not a helpmeet for him.

But God put the man into a deep sleep (the first recorded instance of anaesthetics), and took from the man’s side a rib, and perhaps a grain of salt. We don’t have to take these foundation myths as literal history. They are stories that tell us the truth about ourselves. That’s why they are so important.

Creation of Eve by Paolo Veronese

From the rib, God created the first woman, and brought her to the man. She was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The same but different. Equal but not the same. She was the ‘ezer’, the helpmeet the man had been looking for; someone who could be a companion and a champion, speaking up for him when he could not. That was the ideal, anyway. And the reason she could be a helpmeet when the animals could not, was that not only could she be a helpmeet for the man, he could be a helpmeet for her. There was mutuality in the relationship. “The mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other”, as the old Prayer Book describes marriage.

Those of us who are blessed with marriage know something of what it means to have an ‘ezer’, a companion and a champion, someone who stands beside us and stands up for us. I thank God every day for the ‘helpmeet’ God has given me. And I know I am more human, a more complete human, because of Rae, because I am married. We men can be a little sub-human without our helpmeets.

And Genesis is describing not only marriage but other close friendships and partnerships. We may have an ‘ezer’ in an adult child, or in a friend we’ve had since childhood, or in someone we’ve only met recently.

People who study friendship say most of us have two or three, and at the most four or five people in our lives, who are close companions and who believe in us no matter what, and who we can speak up for too when necessary. I wonder too, whether an individual dog or horse might be an ezer for a human being. Is there a possibility of mutuality of care between species? Genesis doesn’t seem to think so, but seeing a recent program on ABC TV about dogs helping returned soldiers with PTSD made me wonder again.

The gift of a ‘helpmeet’ is a wonderful provision from God. But in the Old Testament God often describes himself as our ‘ezer’. Think of Psalm 46. ‘God is our help and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ – ‘ezer’. God promises to stand beside us and to stand up for us. He is our companion and our champion. God believes in us, and possibly the most difficult step of faith is to realise the depth to which God believes in you. God knows that you are not perfect, but he does not believe that you are therefore rubbish, he believes that you are of infinite value and worth. God will go to extraordinary lengths for you. Listen to what God says:

I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. – Isaiah 41:9

 God championing us in this way makes us more human, more complete. God standing beside us and standing up for us makes us more who we are; it gives us the confidence and strength to grow into our true selves. So it makes sense to allow God to be our ‘ezer’, to stand by us in this fruitful way.

So what of Pentecost?Holy Spirit card_sgl

‘When the Helper comes,’ says Jesus, ‘the Spirit of truth, he will bear witness about me.’ (John 15:26). The Helper, the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our ‘ezer’, and this Helper comes to abide with us, to be the ongoing companion and champion for us. Jesus reveals the name of the Helper, our ‘ezer’, it is the Spirit of Jesus, his ongoing presence with us.

And he also reveals something else: Jesus invites us into a mutuality with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our ‘ezer’, our Helper, and we rejoice in that wonderful presence in our lives, and he is also inviting us to be his ‘ezer’. Jesus is asking us to be his companion and his champion, to stand beside him and to stand by him in love; to speak up for him when appropriate, to make sure the world is a place where he can thrive.

Being a Christian is mutual; it is for the ‘mutual society, help and comfort’ that Christ and we have one for the other. And the more we allow the love of the Spirit, the Helper, to permeate our lives, the more human we become, the more truly human we become.

May I suggest a prayer – just a one-off, or to do regularly? You can do this by the beach, under the stars, or in the quiet of your own home, or right now as you sit in the pew. Take some moments to quiet your breath. Maybe do some controlled breathing, counting up to 30 or 40 slow breaths. Then imagine opening your whole self outwards. If you have room, you may spread your arms outwards. Then imagine the warm love of God surrounding you, and pouring into you from every side, filling you, leaving no room for anything else. This warmth is the fire of the Spirit of God. Hold onto the warmth and carry this feeling with you through the day.

*** *** ***

We dare to think that because we also agree to be Christ’s Helper, our love for Him will make him, in some mysterious way, more Christlike. Jesus continues the work that he began on the Cross through us. The Father has tasked him with bringing the world back to him, and Christ works, not by forcing his way through the evil that resists him, but by the gentle power of love, dripping like water on stone.

What we do can reduce that resistance, can open the paths of love, can help heal the pain of lovelessness, can sometimes even remove the stones that block the path of Christ. Look for acts of kindness, however small, opportunities to bring peace, and practise the way of Christ. There’s a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi. ‘Preach the Gospel always, if necessary, use words.’

So it is extraordinary first to take in that God loves us, believes in us without reservation, and that we can allow ourselves to bear the fruits of peace, love, joy, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) that appear in our lives just from being close to the Spirit. It is even more extraordinary to know that we are invited, as Christ’s companions, to share in his work, so that with the Spirit, he is more able to bring this world to the loving end that the Father has decreed.


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