Tag Archives: christian

Letting go to walk with God in the greater peace: celebrating Frank Callaway

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne on 11 August 2015, at a Memorial Service commemorating the Hon. Frank Callaway QC RFD:

Cross of GloryAs Frank Callaway retired from the Supreme Court of our State, he thanked his colleagues in his accustomed gracious manner, and told them that in retirement he would return to his first loves: ‘history and philosophy and those aspects of human experience that, even now, are best expressed in religious language’ ([2007] VSC, Transcript of Speeches, p. 19). As we give thanks for Frank’s life, we also do well to turn to his first loves to make sense of the hope of the life that is forever: history and the kind of philosophy that is best expressed in terms of the language of our faith.

For Frank shared the faith in a life that is forever, even should our life here on earth be cut short. Just as he scrutinised the history that stands at the heart of that faith: the history of the carpenter from Nazareth, who was revealed to be the Lord of life one Passover eve in Jerusalem, as his life, too, was taken; at the time that the sun hid his face and the moon obscured her gaze, in darkness and alone. The mystery of the empty tomb, with its neatly rolled up grave-clothes, and a somewhat officious young man that turns the grieving away, redirecting them to the place where their journey with Jesus had begun: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you’ (Mark 16.7).

Frank’s life was profoundly shaped by this story, and this faith. It was this story that led him to excel, to strive to serve a cause greater than self: to seek to bring justice to others. It was the desire to serve the cause of justice that led him, at an early stage in his career to choose to devote his energies to cases in the appellate court. Seen by some to be a risky move, his specialisation, ultimately, led to his appointment to the Appellate Bench, and an opportunity significantly to shape Victorian jurisprudence ([2007] VSC, Transcript of Speeches, p. 3).

At the heart of the desire to serve an earthly justice was, without a doubt, Frank’s conviction that in so doing he would take a share in doing ‘what the Lord does require of you: to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’, as the prophet Micah reminded the people of Israel in our first lesson (Micah 6.6-8). In that sense earthly justice was an expression of divine justice – a justice that did not seek material recompense in the first instance ‘thousands of rams …, ten thousand rivers of oil’, even giving our ‘firstborn for my transgression’, but rather a justice that sought a change of heart, sought metanoia, repentance, and the transformation of life and circumstance (Micah 6.7, cf. Mark 1.15).

This is how Frank himself would put it in his retirement magnum opus of philosophy and faith, Reflections (‘Dougall A. S. Smith’, Reflections [North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2013]): ‘the intution of God led to compassion, not retributive justice’. And that compassion was shown forth most fully in the life of the builder from Nazareth who was himself both the one formed our universe, and was himself God in human form; the divine logos at the beginning of all creation, and the divine Son, Jesus Christ the Lord: the author of this world, of all life and, as our second lesson knows, the author of our salvation (Romans 8.31-35).

Through the incarnation of Christ, the ‘intution of God’ turned a retributive justice into compassion, opening a way beyond the material principle of repaying evil to the principle of justice itself, whereby neither ‘hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword’, neither ‘death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’, as St Paul reminded the Roman church (Romans 8.35, 38-39).

In the last few years, Frank pondered these questions deeply. In doing so, like many of the first hellenistic Christian writers, he drew on the work of the Greco-Roman philosophers to make sense of the ‘inexpressible and glorious joy’ of knowing and believing in the invisible, risen Son of God. The apostle Peter put this act of believing like this in his first epistle general: ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1.8-9). That joy, Peter knew, was motivated by the telos, the end result, of our faith: ‘the salvation of our souls’ (1 Peter 1.9).

Frank grappled with the concept of the truth, the validity, of St Peter’s claim in his Reflections: ‘if Christianity is true, the image and likeness of God would become the goal or telos of humanity and that image and likeness would be revealed in Christ’ (Reflections, p. 48). If Christianity is true, then the goal of our human journey is the inxepressible joy of knowing that divine justice. The justice that by right could demand full repayment for our tresspasses, but instead is reflected by the selfgiving compassion of the author of our salvation.

And it is that knowledge, that can enable us to bear the burdens of seeing others suffer; whether through illness and pain, or through injustice and ill-treatment. And it is that strength which can enable us to do, in this life, what ‘the Lord requires of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6.8).

In his Reflections, Frank hedged his bets on what the reward for a life lived according to the maxim of Micah and the apostles Peter and Paul might be like. For him it seems to have been not so much inexpressible joy, as simply inexpressible. This is what he wrote: ‘In the final analysis, life after death can be intuited or believed in, but it cannot be understood or imagined: … to do so, is literally impossible’. Frank concluded: ‘I often think that one should therefore live this life as well as possible and leave the afterlife to take care of itself’ (Reflections, p. 32).

Frank himself chose to let go of the constraints of this life and embrace the inxepressible, indefinable life of eternity. As part of his reflections on life, justice and the life after death, he also spent time reflecting on what it means to let go: ‘It is of the essence of the spiritual life … that one must first “let go”: … [this is first of all] a matter of stopping and, as it were, doing nothing. Later it extends to letting go of ideas, as well as mental habits that cause unnecessary suffering. For some people there is a release from anxiety and a sense of inner peace.’ (Reflections, p. 1). ‘Put very simply’, he would conclude his work, ‘to let go of the ego, the source of separation, anxiety and much else that is destructive, [is] to walk with God’ (p. 74).

At the end of his own life, Frank did let go, and entered the simply inexpressible life to walk with God. Now, having himself ‘let go’, Frank shares the closer walk with God, and the greater peace – that peace which passes all understanding. And we, who are still facing the complexities of this life, who still live by faith and not by sight, are now invited to ‘let the afterlife take care’ of Frank.

For us who are left behind, remains the task to celebrate his having succeeded in his intent to live his life as well as possible: touching the hearts of many, hearing the pleas and appeals for justice of many, meeting them with fairness and compassion and, wherever appropriate and possible, a justice tempered with mercy. We now may ‘let the afterlife take care’ of Frank. We now may let Frank go into the greater peace to walk there with God, because we share his hope and trust in the compassion of God that shone forth in the person of Jesus Christ. We now may let Frank rest in God’s peace because Christians believe that the author of the life of the universe at the beginning of all things is also the author of resurrection, ‘the conqueror of death’ (Romans 8.37).

And so, in this hope, let us commend Frank to the mercy and protection of the God who calls the departed to walk with him, live with him, in his peace; the One who invites us to become ‘more than conquerors with him through his love’ (Romans 8.37). The One who convicts us by his mercy, and bids us believe ‘that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8.37-39). Amen.

Australia Day – reaching across divides

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne on the Feast of the Conversion of Paul, marking Australia Day 2014:

The man for whom St Paul’s Cathedral is named would have been an excellent Australia Day ambassador: a man whose life was turned from a the deliberate persecution of others, to promoting the message of freedom and unity that can be found in serving God and one’s neighbours. Paul’s message remains a great encouragement in an age and a nation in which we are still grappling with the question of national unity in the light of our rich cultural diversity. For from the moment of his dramatic conversion on his way to Damascus, Paul lived out his profound insight that God grants unity where there are divisions; seeks the welfare and peace not of one nation or cultural group alone, but of all nations and languages.

Paul’s journey to Damascus was the moment that turned his life upside down; the moment that profoundly challenged his long-held values and traditions. The instant, in which he lost his religion and his sight, and instead received faith and insight. In our epistle reading, Paul gives us a glimpse into what life looked like for him before this moment of radical transformation: ‘You have, no doubt, heard of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it’ (Galatian 1.13). Paul’s entire life had been devoted to religious observance, our readings suggest: ‘brought up at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22.3), one of the greatest legal minds of the mid-first century, he was ‘educated strictly according to the Jewish law’. It is not out of pride, I suspect, but in order to make the point that his religious learning lacked nothing, that Paul assures the Galatians that he ‘advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people’ (Galatians 1.14). His radical conversion was not based on ignorance, Paul asserts. Indeed, he ‘was far more zealous for the traditions of his ancestors’ than many of his contemporaries, Paul confesses (Galatians 1.14). It was not his lack of study or understanding of his religion, its laws and traditions, that led to Paul’s conversion.

What did lead a zealous defender of the traditions and laws of one nation to become the ambassador of God’s freely-given gifts of grace, unity and peace, for all peoples, was a blinding encounter on his way to put his religious observance into practice: on a mission as a special commissary of the Jerusalem religious courts Paul was travelling to Damascus in order to bring those Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah into line. For Paul it was clear that those who saw Jesus as the Son of God, and professed his resurrection from the dead were a real threat to the unity of his religion: they were dangerous heretics, who departed from the traditions and laws of their ancestors. In our first reading we hear how Paul had ‘persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them into prison’ (Acts 22.3). Accused of breaking the faith and promoting heresy, Paul maintains that the point of imprisoning the followers of Jesus was for them to be killed. Paul was so good at his work that ‘the high priests and the whole council of elders can testify about me’, he explains (Acts 22.5). So good was his work as a special prosecutor, that he was furnished with arrest warrants to extend his operation beyond Jerusalem to other principal cities in the province Syria.

It was on this journey to Damascus that Paul lost his sight. Blinded by a dazzling vision as the sun stood at its zenith, Paul lost his sight. It may have been the loss of his physical sight that led Paul to acknowledge his inner blindness; led him to realize that his zeal to maintain the traditions and laws of his elders had left him with an inner blind-spot, made him ‘inly blind’. Many who were aflame with zeal for a particular course have shared Paul’s experience: those who followed their course relentlessly to the exclusion of all other pursuits may never come to recognize their blind-spots. It is only once they have been stopped in their ways, that that work of recognition can begin, Paul’s story suggests. At the moment at which Paul lost his physical sight, his inner blindness; his inward darkness was removed, replaced by the blinding light that took away his physical vision: ‘I could not see because of the blindness of that light’, Paul explains (Acts 22.11). His entire body was subsumed by a light whose brightness was such that it seared away all darkness: all was light. This was by no means a private vision, though its effect on Paul’s inner life was, at first, deeply personal. Those who accompanied Paul also shared in the vision of that light: ‘those who were with me saw the light’, Paul affirms (Acts 22.9).

The light that the darkness has never overcome consumed Paul’s inner darkness and took away his inward blindness. The light that was from the beginning dazzled him with its searing brightness and took away his sight. And so, left with inner vision and recognition but physically blind, Paul was converted from persecuting Christians to promoting Christ. And at the heart of that conversion lies the revelation that Paul alone heard: Jesus’ words of challenge and commissioning – ‘why are you persecuting me?’; ‘Get up and go’ (Acts 22.7, 10) – that reveal to Paul the reality of the Son of God and conqueror of death. Later Paul will reflect on that pivotal moment as God’s gracious personal revelation of his Son Jesus. The moment when, in the words of today’s gospel, his ‘mind was opened to understand the Scriptures … that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead, and that … forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations’ (Luke 24.45-47). And it was in the strength of that revelation, that conversion and commissioning, that Paul puts his hand into those of his travel companions, and is led into an unknown future—having lost his sight, yet full of insight; having lost his religion, yet full of faith.

We, who today mark this remarkable conversion, know where that journey would lead him: not to the safety of his old faith community in Jerusalem or to his fellow apostles in the same city, but first to the fringes of the Roman Empire, and eventually to its capital city. It was among the Gentiles, those who did not share his erstwhile religion, that Paul took his newly-gained insight that God’s will is done, not by slavishly following a carefully calibrated set of religious observances, but that God’s will is done where people seek his forgiveness, friendship and love. And in order for those people to know the good news the God who seeks to offer us forgiveness, they need others who will share that news with them. As Paul put it in his epistle to the Romans: ‘How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?’ (Romans 10.14b).

Paul’s conversion ensured that the faith in a God who seeks the friendship and peace of all people was proclaimed not to one community alone, but to all nations. The moment Paul regained his sight, he sought baptism, ‘to have his sins washed away’ (Acts 22.16) and, thus made a member of Christ’s family, ‘went away at once to Arabia … so that I might proclaim Christ to the Gentiles’ (Galatians 1.17). The message that Paul made known was simple and consistent: God no longer knows favourites; no longer knows a chosen people, but seeks the friendship and salvation of all people. God no longer knows Greeks or Hebrews, no longer distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles, but seeks that all nations and languages are made one in him. The message that Paul made known was simple, yet costly: our epistle reading only alludes to the conflicts that lay ahead for Paul in convincing his fellow-apostles, not only of the truth of his own conversion from persecutor to evangelist, but of his radical claim that God knows no chosen race. That work of persuasion, which would occupy most of Paul’s career, lies implicit in his reflection in our epistle that he did not ‘go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before’ him to persuade them of his newly-gained conviction, but instead ‘went away at once into Arabia’ to first make known his insight to Gentiles (Galatians 1.17).

Only after his three-year missionary journey into the Arabian peninsula and province of Syria did Paul go to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James. There he shared not only the story of his successes as a preacher of unity and peace among the Gentiles, but also his firmly-held conviction that this unity and peace was for all people; not only for Jewish believers (Galatians 1.18). In sharing his own story, Paul challenged his fellow apostles, and was not afraid to chastise them, either: for instance in ‘opposing Peter to his face’, shaming his ambivalent attitude to gentile believers as ‘hypocrisy’ (Galatians 2.11). For the rest of his life, Paul spoke out against such hypocrisy, chastised the exclusive pursuit of self-centred living, exposed those who pursued their own gain and goals to the exclusion of others, and rebuked those who deliberately sidelined or ignored certain ethnic and social groups. For the remainder of his ministry he explained that the blinkeredness that once characterised his own religious practice only ever will lead to a fragmentation of society; exhorted others to open their eyes to the reality he discovered for himself when he was struck by physical blindness: the insight that our God is a God who seeks to heal our divisions, is a God who seeks for all people to share in the gifts of unity and peace.

Paul’s message is not only for Paul’s generation. We do well to pay heed to Paul’s insights today. Our Australia Day celebrations bring into focus the desire that ours may be a nation where people share in shaping a society that is based on shared values; values that transcend our cultural heritage or diverse social structures. The apostle Paul discovered what it truly meant to live in God’s freedom when, blinded by the dazzling light that had subsumed his inner darkness on the road to Damascus, he put his hand into that of his travelling companion and entrusted himself to the care of his former opponents—literally stretching out his hand across the divides of culture and faith (Acts 22.11).

This Australia Day let us celebrate the rich diversity of our nation and city, our Cathedral and our congregations. Let us celebrate that our patron Saint that he challenges us to work to promote the gifts of unity and peace that are the hallmarks of true freedom and liberty; that he challenges us to turn away from our inner blindness that only ever beholds ourselves; that he challenges us instead to look out for others by sharing Christ’s light and life. This Australia Day, let us commit ourselves to work together for the unity and peace of our nation that are both gift and mission for all who seek to follow Christ. Let us do so in the knowledge that in transforming our own nation, we serve a nation that transcends all kingdoms and realms: God’s kingdom of peace where all can and will forever be ‘one in Christ Jesus’. Amen.