Messages of Hope

Category: Uncategorized

Responding with love, hospitality and inclusion

Published / by Greg Elsdon

President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has called on Australians to respond with love, hospitality and inclusion to a surge in anti-immigration rhetoric in Australian public life.

“Jesus’ great commandment to his followers was to love God and love your neighbour. As Christians we believe all people are created in the image of God and deserving of respect and dignity. Racism is incompatible with the Christian faith,” said Dr Palmer.

In recent weeks, inflammatory opinion pieces have suggested a “foreign invasion”, a neo-Nazi has been allowed to air his views on a news channel; there has been more fearmongering about so-called “African gangs”, and a Senator has used his maiden speech to honour the White Australia Policy and call for future migration to “reflect the historic European-Christian composition of Australian society.”

“The Uniting Church is a proudly multicultural church. Our ministry in Christ continues to be powerfully transformed by the strong and flourishing intercultural community we hold across our diversity,” said Dr Palmer.

“Every day I thank God for the blessings of our gloriously multicultural Church.

“I was delighted to meet leaders of eleven of the Uniting Church’s National Conferences in Sydney recently and to hear first hand about their amazing ministry, which is transforming lives and communities around them. These Conferences include Uniting Church members from South Sudan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Middle East, Vietnam, Niue, Korea, and China.

“When I think of ‘Christian values’ I think about overcoming racism and discrimination in all its forms. In his ministry, Jesus challenged religious and social prejudice and sought to break down the barriers that separate us from each other socially, religiously, culturally and politically. Christian values are about inviting people to create communities, where all people can flourish.”

Outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane recently condemned politicians for race-baiting and sections of the Australian media industry of using racism as part of their business model.

Dr Palmer called on Church members to boldly bear witness to the reconciling ministry of Christ that we proclaim.

“Jesus’ call is to love in the face of hatred and to embody God’s generous hospitality. As Martin Luther King Jr famously observed – hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“So I urge Uniting Church members and all Australians to embrace the multicultural nature of our society and respond with love and compassion to those who are being made to feel unwelcome,” said Dr Palmer.

Prayers for Lombok

Published / by Sandy

Only a week after a magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Lombok, two more earthquakes caused more devastation. Registering as a magnitude-7.0, the first of the two earthquakes struck on the night of Sunday 5 August causing widespread severe damage to the northern section of Lombok and was felt by nearby, Bali. The second hit less than 24 hours later and registered as a 5.2 on the Richter scale. The death toll has since risen to 430 people with many hundreds more seriously injured and many more still missing.

Rescue teams have found it difficult to provide aid and support due to road blockages caused by debris and power, communications being completely cut in some areas, thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, and damage from landslides. Most of the damage occurred outside the city centre in regional areas. Since the first earthquake hit, over 20,000 people have been left homeless and at least 18 remote villages in northern Lombok’s mountains have been cut off from relief teams due to damaged bridges and roads from landslides.

The Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management’s spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has said that hospitals are overflowing and not everyone is able to be treated. According to reports from the ABC and the BBC, locals have been forced to tend to their broken limbs at home due to the overcrowded hospitals; one woman has even given birth at a temporary health station aided by the Indonesian Red Cross.

At this time of tragedy, Uniting Church SA Acting Moderator, Rev Dr Graham Vawser encourages members of the Uniting Church to pray for those affected.

“The Uniting Church members have always responded generously when alerted of the needs of people in Australia and around the world.  We are aware of people facing the drought in Australia, bushfires in Europe and the United States, and now the significant earthquake in Lombok (following on from the lesser earthquake last week). God’s gift of compassion rises in us as we see images and hear stories of destruction and struggle, particularly for our closest national neighbour.

We pray that God will show us ways to transform our compassion into action so that people who are grieving will be comforted, people who are injured will be healed, infrastructure and housing will be repaired and restored, and hope will be rekindled in each affected community. May God support and enable all those who use their skills and abilities to bring God’s blessing.”

UnitingWorld operate several aid programs in Bali, for more information on these projects or to donate visit unitingworld.org.au

(Source: New Times e-news)

Mind your language …

Published / by Greg Elsdon

2018 has seen a profoundly disturbing escalation of the language being used in the Australian press and in public discourse to talk about the problems of violence and lawlessness perpetrated by some young people of African, specifically Sudanese origin.

Headlines are warning of “marauding criminal gangs of Sudanese youths”, and some politicians are talking about “ethnic groups who will never integrate into the Australian way of life”. Now it’s clear that there is a problem, particularly in some areas of Melbourne. But racist headlines and xenophobic slogans do nothing but further inflame fear and stir up social unrest and violence.

Christian faith ought to cause us be at least uncomfortable with public displays of racism and scapegoating? And if that is so, what does our discomfort require of us; what does it motivate us to say, to do? What opportunities do we have as individuals, and together as faith communities to testify to another way of responding to fear and violence in our community.  Do we have Sudanese neighbours or contacts in the community we can talk to, encourage and befriend? Can we work within our communities providing safe places for respectful listening and building friendships which expose the lie of racism and hatred.

There are no quick or simple solutions to these challenges, but there are many simple things we can do to turn down the volume of hateful voices and increase the trust and respect for others that increases social capital and builds better communities for all. We can start by minding our language!

Remembering Hiroshima – August 6th

Published / by Sandy

This week the world remembers Hiroshima Day, August 6th, 1945 – 73 years ago. The threat of nuclear war remains ever-present. Remembering the past has the capacity to inform the present and shapes the future.

Adam Quang:Paper Crane installation

A PRAYER FOR HIROSHIMA DAY

Like most traumatic scars, the ones that are found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are permanent:
reminders of the terrible damage human beings can inflict.

Similar scars can be found in the hearts and souls of people around the world who understand this terror: scars of grief, sadness, fear and even shame.

None of these scars promise an end to war and devastation.
Instead, they serve as a reminder of healing and renewal – of a return to life.

Gracious God, Spirit of Life and Love, help us to see our scars:
those we have created,
those we are called to witness,
and those we can soothe and heal.

We are deeply grateful for the buds and blossoms
that even the most scarred offer as a revelation to the world.

And, especially on this anniversary of Hiroshima Day,
we renew our commitment to peace individually, collectively and globally:

To “peace within” which calms our anxieties and fears,

To “peace between” which overcomes differences, animosities and conflict,

And, to “the great peace,” beyond even our understanding,
that is God’s gift and which we attempt to be stewards of for the world. Amen.

(Source of prayer: William G Sinkford)

Introducing Franklin (Peanuts character)

Published / by Sandy

The letter to the church at Ephesus which we are following for a few weeks has a central focus on Jewish Christians and Gentiles learning to be together as the early church. It would be more ‘convenient’ to have like with like, ‘people like us’, rather than the challenge of people with a history of distrust and disdain learning to live together in the unity of Christ. The character of the community of faith that follows the example of Jesus is to shape a welcoming and inclusive community for all.

The essential message speaks powerfully into our own global/glocal community, especially as people of colour and people of other cultures continue to be denigrated and used as ‘political footballs’.

I was most interested to read the story of ‘Franklin’ – a character in the Peanuts cartoon series who was introduced on July 31, 1968 (50 years ago).

The story is told this way:

On July 31, 1968, a young, black man was reading the newspaper when he saw something that he had never seen before. With tears in his eyes, he started running and screaming throughout the house, calling for his mom. He would show his mother, and, she would gasp, seeing something she thought she would never see in her lifetime. Throughout the nation, there were similar reactions. What they saw was Franklin Armstrong’s first appearance on the iconic comic strip “Peanuts.” Franklin would be 50 years old this year.

Franklin was “born” after a school teacher, Harriet Glickman, had written a letter to creator Charles M. Schulz after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death outside his Memphis hotel room.

Glickman, who had kids of her own and having worked with kids, was especially aware of the power of comics among the young. “And my feeling at the time was that I realized that black kids and white kids never saw themselves [depicted] together in the classroom”.

She wrote: “Since the death of Martin Luther King, ‘I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.’”

Glickman asked Schulz if he could consider adding a black character to his popular comic strip, which she hoped would bring the country together and show people of colour that they are not excluded from American society.

She had written to others as well, but the others feared it was too soon, that it may be costly to their careers, that the syndicate would drop them if they dared do something like that.

Charles Schulz did not have to respond to her letter, he could have just completely ignored it, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But, Schulz did take the time to respond, saying he was intrigued with the idea, but wasn’t sure whether it would be right, coming from him, he didn’t want to make matters worse, he felt that it may sound condescending to people of colour.

Glickman did not give up, and continued communicating with Schulz, with Schulz surprisingly responding each time. She would even have black friends write to Schulz and explain to him what it would mean to them and gave him some suggestions on how to introduce such a character without offending anyone. This conversation would continue until one day, Schulz would tell Glickman to check her newspaper on July 31, 1968.

On that date, the cartoon, as created by Schulz, shows Charlie Brown meeting a new character, named Franklin. Other than his color, Franklin was just an ordinary kid who befriends and helps Charlie Brown. Franklin also mentions that his father was “over at Vietnam.” At the end of the series, which lasted three strips, Charlie invites Franklin to spend the night one day so they can continue their friendship.

There was no big announcement, there was no big deal, it was just a natural conversation between two kids, whose obvious differences did not matter to them. And, the fact that Franklin’s father was fighting for this country was also a very strong statement by Schulz.

Although Schulz never made a big deal over the inclusion of Franklin, there were many fans, especially in the South, who were very upset by it and that made national news. One Southern editor even said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”

It would eventually lead to a conversation between Schulz and the president of the comic’s distribution company, who was concerned about the introduction of Franklin and how it might affect Schulz’ popularity. Many newspapers during that time had threatened to cut the strip.

Schulz’ response: “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin – he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”

Eventually, Franklin became a regular character in the comic strips.

Glickman would explain later that her parents were “concerned about others, and the values that they instilled in us about caring for and appreciating everyone of all colours and backgrounds – this is what we knew when we were growing up, that you cared about other people . . . And so, during the years, we were very aware of the issues of racism and civil rights (in this U.S.) when black people had to sit at the back of the bus, black people couldn’t sit in the same seats in the restaurants that you could sit . . . Every day I would see, or read, about black children trying to get into school and seeing crowds of white people standing around spitting at them or yelling at them . . . and the beatings and the dogs and the hosings and the courage of so many people in that time.”

Because of Glickman, because of Schulz, people around the world were introduced to a little boy named Franklin.

Redefining community

Published / by Sandy

Week 2: Ephesians series (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The original audience for this letter was the fledgling Christian community in Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. This was a world where the Emperor was considered to reign supreme in a huge Empire. He alone was the source of peace – won, of course, through military domination. The proclamation that peace without war could be declared in the name of Jesus was outrageous, and was perceived as a challenge to the Emperor’s own powers. These were dangerous times when the gospel of Jesus ran counter to the systems of the Empire – which included identifying who had privilege and who did not. This ancient text has its own context, but is not unlike the systems and structures of privilege and exclusion today that need to be challenged by the gospel of Jesus.

The text begins by redefining belonging. The core issue was how to live as a Christian community that embraced both Jews and non-Jews at the same time. The Jews had always assumed special privileges as the people of God, and were bestowed with the designation of God’s chosen ones. Although they were not large in number in this part of the world, they nevertheless carried privilege with them. And into the mix of this new Jesus community were large numbers of what were named ‘Gentiles’ – in other words, non-Jews. They were defined by what they weren’t. This Jesus community was comprised of people who were by definition the antithesis of each other – Jew and non-Jew; Jew and Gentile; insiders and outsiders. It’s not an easy mix. Christ breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentiles. It is not that the Gentiles have finally found the God of the Jews, but rather God has brought together both Jews and Gentiles, and they are now one people, children of God, one body in Christ.

Many may wonder how it would even be possible to have people diametrically opposed to each other forming a new community following the way of Jesus. The witness we have is that Jesus gathered all kinds of people into his new community, the excluded, the denigrated, the discounted – mirroring the reign of God where all find welcome. Jesus challenged systems and structures that allowed ‘insider distinction’ and top down privilege at the expense of ‘the other’.

We can name our own experience of inclusion and exclusion, and barriers we erect or others erect. All of us know how this dynamic works. All of us know how sweet it is to enjoy privilege and how difficult it is when we encounter exclusion. Knowing this, why would we want to exclude any from community? And yet it happens – over and over again.
I wonder how we might name some of these dynamics in our time:
Able bodied people   Differently abled people
Straight people          LGBTIQ people
‘White’                         ‘everyone else’
Citizens                       Foreigners and aliens
the achievers              those perceived as failures – mentally, economically, socially
…and so many more…

The church as a community is called to a way that offers ‘radical hospitality’ and welcome to all people. It is called to challenge top down power, and systems and structures that serve to exclude. It is called to challenge distinction and privilege, and provide a counter-point to painful exclusion, until we are ‘built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’ (Sally Brown).

#Because of her, we can

Published / by Sandy

Aunty Rev Denise Champion


Katherine Rainger, Assistant Priest at Holy Covenant Anglican Church in Canberra, celebrates the transformative ministry and theology of Aunty Rev Denise Champion, the first Aboriginal women ordained in South Australia.

Aunty Rev Denise Champion is an Adnyamathanha woman, theologian and Uniting Church minister.

Aunty Denise was ordained in 2015. She was the first Aboriginal woman to be ordained in South Australia. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and aunty.

I know Aunty Denise through her writing and speaking. As a non-Indigenous person, her writing and speaking are a gift. They are a guide to deep wisdom. Because of her, I see and hear my faith more clearly.

Aunty Denise’s book, Yarta Wandatha, contains a theological method and a collection of theological reflections that bring together her Adnyamathanha culture and Christian faith. The voices of the psalmist, the prophets and Mary the mother of Jesus are interwoven with Aunty Denise’s Adnyamathanha Muda (worldview). Rich images of Christ as precious Living Water are shared through her stories and her connection and concern for her people and her Country. Praise and lament, rejoicing and mourning, memory and history, echo through the pages of this very special book.

Yarta Wandatha affirms the deep knowledge that creation holds and speaks to us if we are ready to listen. Yarta Wandatha is a recognition of Adnyamathanha peoples’ “long memory” of the Creator God in their stories and in their land (p.29).

I always say Australia is like one gigantic storybook. There’s a story in every part of the land and sky and sea. When we, as Adnyamathanha, gather and tell our stories we always say yarta wandatha – ‘the land is speaking.’ We also say yarta wandatha ikandadnha. The people are speaking as if the land is speaking. So the land is speaking to us and through us in these stories. There’s a oneness there. We are not separated from the land our mother. We always talk about the land as our mother, which fits very closely with the story of Genesis of the Lord God forming humankind from clay” (p.19)

Aunty Denise is a theological voice that has helped me to approach my research in Australian film and theology which includes the film The Tracker (directed by Rolf de Heer, 2002). The Tracker was filmed on Adnyamathanha country. It is a story of land, conflict between First and Second peoples, lament and truth-telling. Because of Aunty Denise I can see things in this film that I would never have seen on my own. Because of her, I see God’s activity through the creation of peoples, lands, lore and stories in this country we now call Australia. Because of her, I hear lament in the Australian landscape.

I give thanks to God for Aunty Denise, for her gifts of faith, healing, storytelling, theological insight and teaching.

(Source: Common Grace)

Uniting Church Assembly 2018: Proposal on same-gender marriage

Published / by Sandy

 

Proposals on marriage were presented to the Assembly in July. After much debate, discussion and prayer, the Assembly agreed to both the traditional understanding of marriage (wording unchanged) and same gender marriage. Here’s part of the official statement from the President, Dr Deidre Palmer.

The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has agreed to hold two equal and distinct views on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members.

Meeting for the first time since last year’s change to Australian marriage laws, members of the Church’s national decision-making body, the Assembly, resolved to allow its ministers the freedom to conduct or refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

“This decision follows many years of reflection, prayer and discernment, and I want to thank Assembly members for the way they have responded with grace to what is a difficult conversation for many people of faith,” said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years.

“I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,” said Dr Palmer, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

“We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space.”

“Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.”

15th Assembly same-gender marriages statement (and reflection by Andrew Dutney)

Pastoral letter from SA Moderator, Rev Sue Ellis

 

UCA Assembly 2018: ‘For the whole of creation’ – Proposal 19

Published / by Sandy

Proposal 19: For the Whole Creation
That the Assembly resolve to adopt the following statement, “For the Whole Creation”.

1. Introduction

1.1 The Uniting Church in Australia adopts this renewed statement on climate change recognising the growing urgency for significant action on this issue and heeding the clamour of voices across the world from people living with the impacts of climate change and fearing the future.
1.2 This Statement recognises there is a diversity of theological reflection, lived experience, policy positions and actions that draw people across the life of the Uniting Church into a deeper understanding of climate change and continuing responsible care of the earth.
1.3 This statement recognises the imperative for the Uniting Church to embody its prophetic role in the public sphere, acknowledging our relationship and responsibility within and with God’s good creation. In making this statement, the Uniting Church also calls upon its members to stand with vulnerable people affected by climate change.

2. Coming to our senses
2.1 The Uniting Church’s commitment to the well-being of the environment arises out of its belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being. This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation. Through its discerning of Scripture, the church acknowledges the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ. The Church further confesses with the whole Christian church that the Holy Spirit is the giver and source of life.
2.2 The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

Read the full proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Recognition of Sovereignty – Proposal 29

Published / by Sandy


In his final national message, the 14th President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan urged Church members to address the “unfinished business” of sovereignty and treaty for First Peoples.

“I started my Presidency with the Yolŋu words Bala limurr roŋyirr ŋorraŋgitjlil – ‘Let us return to the white ashes of the fire’. It was a call to reflect on the way all the people of God, First and Second Peoples have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in their own way.”

He continues to invite members to consider what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign and what it means to “stand with them in their pursuit of just terms treaties”.

A proposal to the 15th Assembly in July 2018 will ask the Uniting Church to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

“I pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the embers of the work done by both First and Second Peoples over the last three years so that we can together strive to achieve a more just Church and nation.”

Proposal 29: Recognition of Sovereignty

That the Assembly resolve: To affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

Proposer: Stuart McMillan/Seconder: Colleen Geyer

Rationale

We stand with First Peoples of this land by virtue of the Covenant we hold together.

The Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution (paragraph 2) acknowledges that:

“Through this land God has nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples, who continue to understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians (meaning ‘sovereign’ in the languages of the First Peoples) of these lands and waters since time immemorial.”

In the Covenant Statement of 1994 the Uniting Church says:

“We lament our people took your land from you as if it were land belonging to nobody.”

The 14th Assembly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples.

At the 14th Assembly we agreed to spend the next triennium in conversation considering what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign. First Peoples have never ceded their sovereignty which is of the Creator and springs from the very soil of this land.

The Covenant Statements, the Preamble to the Constitution and various apologies and statements the Uniting Church has made to the First Peoples leave one matter unsaid, the acknowledgment and affirmation that First Peoples are sovereign.

This proposal is important to us because everything that has been done over the past 41 years point to this, even in the preamble UAICC speak of themselves as sovereign. The Uniting Church has never affirmed First Peoples as sovereign. All that we do in our covenant walk together is underpinned by, and flows from, this fundamental truth. In this, in resolving that First Peoples are sovereign, the 15th Assembly gives moral leadership to our nation.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

Original proposal as outlined above. Final wording for the proposal below, and press release on the decision.

That the Assembly resolve:

In the light of:

  1. a)  the Preamble to the Constitution of UCA which defines sovereignty to be the way in which First Peoples understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians, and
  2. b)  the Statement from the Heart’s acknowledgment that sovereignty is aspiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and First Peoples,

to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

UCA 15th Triennial Assembly – Celebrating Global Partnerships

Published / by Sandy

In a report to the Uniting Church in Australia’s 15th Triennial Assembly meeting in July, UnitingWorld has highlighted the success of a collaborative, network-based approach to community development.

In a sweeping review of three years, the report details the impact of UnitingWorld’s programs across an estimated 250,000 people in breaking down barriers to education, health, human rights and leadership; and strengthening the institutional capacity of Australian and partner churches.

Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, Uniting World

Dr Sureka Goringe attributes UnitingWorld’s successes to its strong identity as part of the Uniting Church, and championing a relational approach over the charity model of “handing out grants in return for timely reporting.”

“Effective programs need to be built on a foundation of strong, resilient relationships between partners,” said Dr Goringe. “For us, good collaborations start with meaningful connections between people, where all recognise our equal place as children of God, learning from each others’ strengths and caring for each others’ needs.”

In an innovation conceived three years ago, UnitingWorld started using these strong relationships with partner churches to build regional networks, fostering multilateral collaborations; an approach Dr Goringe says was led by the partners themselves.

“In 2015, during a session of the 14th Assembly in Perth, 35 leaders from our overseas partner churches took the spontaneous and unprecedented step of penning a statement which was read out on the floor of the Assembly.”

The statement committed them to:

“Break through the boundaries of our denominations, in order to partner as God’s agents of transformation in the world” and to, “commit to develop, nurture and strengthen multilateral mission relationships by making our God-given resources available to one another, sharing our needs, joys, sorrows, achievements and challenges with openness and joyfully participating in the life of partners in a fruitful and effective manner.”

Following this landmark declaration, UnitingWorld recognised its value to church partners as a facilitator of new multilateral relationships, says Dr Goringe.

“Since then, UnitingWorld’s regional strategy over the past three years has been to create opportunities to bring together our church partners in meaningful ways. We have hosted 11 regional conferences since July 2015, each one aimed at creating a community of shared learning, cultivating connections and relationships and encouraging collaboration between our partners.”

The connections formed at the regional conferences have resulted in partners sharing resources, expertise, management tools and policies on shared issues. These have ranged from the theology of community development to child protection and finance management.

The report also highlights the success of UnitingWorld’s collaborations with the Australian Government (DFAT) on the theology of gender equality, and identifies challenges to be faced over the next triennium.

UnitingWorld looks forward to continuing this journey alongside our church partners.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Proposal 12 – Voluntary Assisted Dying

Published / by Sandy

(this proposal was withdrawn)

Proposal 12: Voluntary Assisted Dying

That the Assembly resolve:

To request UnitingCare Australia to commence a twelve-month process of consultation and discussion across the life of the Church to discern the Church’s approaches to voluntary assisted dying to be presented to the Standing Committee at a meeting no later than July 2019.

To request that the scope of the consultation include theological, ethical, social, pastoral, health, cultural and service aspects of the issue.

Proposer: Bronwyn Pike/ Seconder: Mark Lawrence

Rationale
The issue of Voluntary Assisted Dying is at the forefront in Australia at present. In November 2017 the Victorian Government passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill which allows people with decision-making capacity, who are experiencing unbearable pain and suffering at the end of their life, to be able to access medical intervention to end their lives in certain and limited circumstances. Governments in other Australian states and territories are also considering this issue.

A number of Uniting Church service providers deliver medical and aged care services across Australia and are therefore likely to have requests for Voluntary Assisted Dying to be undertaken in those facilities. The Uniting Church in Australia does not currently have a national position on the issue. Therefore, it is essential that the Church considers its position on this issue to guide its service providers. It is recognised that for a considered decision to be made across the Church, time is required for prayerful discernment and thorough consultation.

Read the proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

The incoming Uniting Church President

Published / by Sandy

Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications, interviewed Deidre in the lead up to her installation as President of the UCA. The full article is here.

When Deidre receives the symbols of ministry from outgoing President Stuart McMillan at St Michaels Collins St in Melbourne on 8 July, she will become the UCA’s 15th President and the second woman to take up the role. Dr. Jill Tabart was the first, serving as President from 1994 to 1997.

“Abundant Grace Liberating Hope” is the theme Deidre has chosen for her term. “This theme highlights for me Christ’s call to be a church that embodies God’s abundant grace, compassion and love – a Church that is a bearer of Christ’s hope and light in the midst of despair and darkness.”

Abundance
Deidre Palmer grew to appreciate God’s abundant grace at the Seaton Methodist Church in the western suburbs of Adelaide in the early 1970s.

Her formation took place in an era of great creative ferment. Tradition was under challenge on many fronts, from music to social justice. While Bob Dylan prophesied, “The Times they are a Changin’”, the peace, anti-nuclear, women’s and land rights movements all competed for Deidre’s attention.

“I was fortunate enough to be nurtured in a Church that gave voice to those movements. Geoff Scott encouraged people to think theologically about why they were passionate about justice – and how this came out of the radical call of Jesus to identify with the poor and to bring freedom to the oppressed.”

“Every year I used to go to the Mount Barker Easter camp and one year I heard about the Order of St Stephen which gives lay members the opportunity to give a year of voluntary service to the Church. I heard God’s call to that ministry through the encouragement of a number of Methodist leaders.”

Deidre’s offer of service coincided with a new Sunday school curriculum for the Methodist Church in South Australia. She was quickly enlisted into its rollout, working from the Methodist Conference office in Adelaide.

“I did it for one year. Then I did it for a second year and that second year was when the Uniting Church began. The Churches were coming together – not in a marriage of convenience or reasons about finances or efficiency – but because this is what the Spirit was calling us to do.”

Deidre and a group of young adults travelled to Sydney to attend the first Assembly at Sydney Town Hall on 22 June 1977. “It was a really exciting time to be part of the creation of this Australian Church. I still believe today that the Uniting Church is a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

Liberation
Back home in Adelaide, Deidre continued working in youth ministry.“We invited people to engage with Biblical stories through their own life experiences. Christian Education transitioned from a ‘schooling-instructional’ approach into a more relational experience of belonging to a Christian community.

The Holy Spirit moved again when Deidre met Lawrie Palmer on a Uniting Church Youth Committee.

They married in 1978. Life was a “wonderful adventure” with Deidre working at the SA Synod in Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Lawrie as a doctor.

In 1981, the Joint Board of Christian Education invited US academic and religious educator, John Westerhoff to Australia to speak about intergenerational ministry. “I heard Westerhoff speak in Adelaide. At the time he was doing the academic work for what I thought the Uniting Church was embodying in its approach to ministry. I spoke to him, as I’d been looking at doing some further education. He suggested I do a Masters in Religious Education where he taught at Duke University.”

A few months later Deidre and Lawrie were living on campus at Duke Divinity School. While Deidre completed her Master of Religious Education, Lawrie undertook a Masters of Public Health at the University of North Carolina.

At Duke, Deidre studied systematic theology with Professor Frederick Herzog. It was through Herzog’s teaching that Deidre engaged with the work of liberation theologians, including the writings of Gustavo Gutiérrez. “Reflecting on it since, being Christian and following Jesus gave Lawrie and I the courage to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily have done,” explains Deidre.

After two years in North Carolina she was ready for the next challenge – a PhD at Boston College with Thomas Groome. Groome’s educational approach, Shared Christian Praxis, has contributed to the shape of Christian formation in Australia and in many other countries.

Boston College is a Jesuit university and Deidre was the first Protestant accepted into the doctoral program in religious education and theology. There she took courses with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether and Gustavo Gutierrez. She read the works of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Christian ethicist Margaret Farley.

“I studied with women who were gifted leaders, but saw how they were denied full participation in some of their local Christian communities. When you see and experience abuse of power it reinforces the importance and radical nature of the discipleship of equals, to which Jesus calls us.

Deidre’s doctoral dissertation was called “An educational approach towards a discipleship of equals in a socially prophetic church.”

By 1986 it was time to head home to Adelaide to write up her thesis. Her doctorate was conferred in 1989, and after the high intensity of US academia she settled back into teaching and editing Christian Education curriculum. Through her Ph.D. supervisor, Thomas Groome, Deidre heard of a new opportunity – a position teaching Christian Education at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Deidre applied for the position and was successful. Deidre and Lawrie, with young daughters Kate and Joanna. headed back to the US, for the foreseeable future.

Grace
“I loved my job in Dallas. I loved the teaching and the students and the community life were amazing. We also had a fantastic church that was embedded in its neighbourhood, with a great minister, Kathleen Baskin who effortlessly integrated evangelism and social justice. She and I met for coffee every week to share our faith and support one another.”

Again a deep sense of call drew Deidre back to the Uniting Church. On a trip home to Adelaide in 1997 Deidre heard there was a faculty position vacant at Parkin-Wesley College and the Adelaide College of Divinity.

“I felt that in being in ministry in the Uniting Church I was pouring my energy into a Church whose vision I was deeply committed to – to the equality of women and men, to every member ministry, to the voice we give to children and young people”.

So she applied and won the position at Parkin-Wesley coordinating lay education, teaching Christian education, feminist theology and family and children’s ministry. She still lectures in Christian Education at Adelaide’s Uniting College and Flinders University.

In 2005 a weeklong family visit to the Christian Medical College of Vellore in South India sparked another academic adventure. Deidre saw social workers implementing the community development models of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who she knew worked alongside liberation theologians.

“I thought that’s a significant intersection with my work as a Christian educator.”

Deidre enrolled in a Masters of Social Work at Flinders University with a placement at Families SA in child protection and with UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide (now Uniting Communities) in family and relationships counselling. Deidre went on to work for Uniting Communities, counselling adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

“As a social worker, I heard their stories and responded to their suffering by inviting them into narratives of hope. As a Christian, I believe that this work is a vital expression of Christ’s compassionate ministry, especially in an area where Christian organisations have failed.”

Deidre was working as a counsellor three days a week when members of the SA Synod nominated her as Moderator-elect. The confidence placed in Deidre as Moderator of the SA Synod was resoundingly shared by members of the 14th Assembly in 2015 who chose her as President-elect on the first ballot.

Hope
Deidre’s first task as President is to preside over the Assembly meeting.

Beyond the Assembly, youth and young adults will definitely be a focus. During her time as SA Moderator, Deidre actively canvassed the views of young UCA members, their issues and struggles and what they thought their Church should be doing in the public space.

“These young people are amazingly gifted and committed to shaping the Church and to live their faith in the world around them.”

“We can move courageously into the future, because we see the hope among us now.”

(written by Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications)

 

EOFY – taking the pulse on generosity

Published / by Sandy

Each week, churches collect an offering; it is a practical expression of one’s personal faith to support the work of the church, as well as supporting local and global community initiatives and projects.

In the community, more than 80% of adult Australians contribute to charities and non-profit organisations. The statistics from 2015-16 show that $12.5 billion was given (up from 4.7 billion a decade ago). The average donation of $764.08 was up too in real terms, by $210.16.

Interestingly, the percentage of people donating dipped from 87% to 80% over the same period. The decreasing giving participation rate is a concerning trend that needs to be monitored. Annual data on tax-deductible donations tells a similar story, underlining the concern about a flatlining future for Australian charities if fewer people donate.

Some Australians are doubly generous, giving their time and their dollars. Those who both gave and volunteered donated nearly twice as much on average as givers who did not volunteer ($1,017.11 compared to $536.69). An estimated 43.7% of Australians volunteered an average of 2.5 hours a week, and a median of 55 hours over the year. This was up from 44 hours in 2005. (We are very grateful for the many people at Pilgrim who volunteer their time so generously).

More than 60% of charitable donations are given on the spur of the moment. Others consider, plan and deliberate about their giving. Some sign up to give in a sustained way month by month. Others might sit with their children and plan what donations they will make as a family in the year ahead. On average, these “planner donors” donate six times as much in a year as the impulse donor.

Nearly three-quarters of donations are focused on social services, education and research, health, culture and recreation, and development and housing. Practical support for the welfare of others, and a contribution to human flourishing – rather than allowing disadvantage to be the defining force in a person’s life. The impact of giving is immense in more than dollar terms, both for the recipient and for the giver.
(excerpts from How Australians are giving to charity by Alyx Williams published in 2015-16)

As a nation, the issue of foreign aid can be contentious. In 2016, a survey of ordinary Aussies by the Campaign for Australian Aid found that most people believed the Australian Government was spending about 13% of our total budget on foreign aid. “Way too high!” the people shrieked. “What about those in need here in Australia? The homeless? Our elderly?”

Fair enough. 13% is quite a lot… So if it were left up them, what did most people think was a reasonable percentage to spend on foreign aid? On average? Most people thought around 10% of the Australian budget would be fair to spend on foreign aid.

There’s a massive black hole between public perception and reality in the debate about Australian aid. Average Australians regularly state we give ‘too much’ to foreign aid. Those same people think we should give ‘about 10%’.

Australia actually gives much less than 1% of its budget to foreign aid and its getting less every year.

As a nation we give only 22 cents in every hundred dollars to life-saving vaccines, providing clean water and vital medical assistance.

Yet even such a tiny amount is helping make some stunning progress toward overcoming poverty.

So how can you help create the change we need to see on this issue?

Join the Campaign For Australian Aid here and let your local politicians know that you care about supporting our neighbours to lift themselves out of poverty. It’s good for all of us.

Donate your own money to projects that are supported by the Australian Government’s aid program. This lets the Australian Government know you support well-administered, accountable aid. Right now, the Australian Government wants to know what you think of UnitingWorld, a Uniting Church agency. They’re prepared to support UnitingWorld with significant funding, but they want to know you’ll back UnitingWorld with your own money first. For every $5 they make available to UnitingWorld through Australian Aid Funding, UnitingWorld needs to match the support with a donation of at least $1. This is a big opportunity to show the Australian Government you care about Australian Aid funding and want to see it increased, and will allow UnitingWorld to make each donation go up to six times as far this end of financial year.

Time to take the pulse on generosity to see how we’re doing!

Australian Aid: way too much?

The Uniting Church turns 41 – and we turn 151

Published / by Sandy

This prayer by Jon Humphries is adapted from the UCA ‘Statement to the Nation’ presented at the time of union in 1977. The Statement still resonates deeply in our contemporary context – in local and global matters, and as the church works through its own prioritites and fundamental commitment to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.

God Who Unites Us in the Work Towards the Common Good – A Foundational Uniting Church Prayer
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
The path to unity can be long and at times difficult.
You call us into unity as a sign of the reconciliation you seek for the whole human race.
In Christ you commission us with a responsibility to society which will always fundamentally involve us in social and national affairs.
You give us responsibilities within and beyond this country to work to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being and the need for integrity in public life.
You give us the task of proclaiming truth and justice and the rights of each citizen to participate in decision-making in their community.
You call us to advocate for religious liberty and personal dignity.
You commission in us a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
Move us to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur.
Push us to spend our time and effort for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond.
Fill our lungs with your Spirit that we might call for and affirm the rights of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, and freedom of speech.
Spur us forward to work so that all may find employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available.
Fire up our passion and burn away our complacency so that we might oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.
Give us the desire and the want to challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others.
Separate us from selfish thoughts and values that we might stand against that which encourages a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
Concern us with the basic human rights of future generations.
Urge us to find wisdom and take action to ensure the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
We owe you our first allegiance.
Under you the policies and actions of all nations must pass judgment. Steel us for when our discipleship and allegiance bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day, that we may stand your ground.
Unite us as one people so that your universal values find expression in national policies and that humanity may survive under your guidance.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.
We commit ourselves the family of the One God — the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth;
Who is the One;
Who gave His life for others.
In the spirit of His self-giving love may this be so. Amen
(Source: Jon Humphries)

Tell your MP: ‘We can do better’

Published / by Sandy

A Message from UCA President Stuart McMillan

As followers of Christ, our faith calls us to love our neighbour and welcome the stranger.

We have particular responsibility to challenge unjust systems and speak on behalf of those who are marginalised and in exile. Right now, it is harder than ever for refugees and people seeking asylum to find a safe place to live and to rebuild their lives. Australia’s policies are making it tougher for families living in detention or in the community to gain their right to protection.

I am thankful to many in the Uniting Church who are already doing so much to support refugees, through practical and pastoral care, prayer and advocacy.

In Refugee Week (17-23 June), I encourage Uniting Church members to think about how they can tell those in Government that we can do better for refugees.

In the lead up to the next election, all major parties will be re-assessing their policy position on this issue.

Visit your local MP and share your desire for a more compassionate and humane response to refugees and people seeking asylum. The more people in our community who speak up on this issue, the more likely we are to create a real opportunity for change.

When we advocate for others in this way, we give life to our faith in Jesus.

We are reminded in the Uniting Church’s Statement on refugees Shelter from the Storm

When advocacy and service are done with integrity, and as a proclamation of the Gospel, the Church bears witness to Christ, and enters fully into the faith and mission of the whole Christian church.

Together, as members of the body of Christ, may we seek a just society that upholds the dignity of every person where all can have hope for a decent peace-filled life for themselves and their families.

Stuart McMillan, President, Uniting Church in Australia, June 2018

The film ‘Border Politics’ has been launched in Melbourne as part of Refugee Week and screenings will take place in other cities in July (a Q&A screening on July 4th at Mitcham cinemas in Adelaide) and may be of interest to those who would like to explore more deeply the politics around border control and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. The film follows human rights barrister Julian Burnside as he traverses the globe examining the harsh treatment meted out to refugees by most Western democracies.
This contemporary story is about the threat to human rights, the loss of democratic values and our increasingly heartless treatment of ‘the other’.
Seventy years after the world constructed international conventions to ensure the horrors of World War 2 wouldn’t be repeated, Burnside finds it terrifying to see Australian and other western political leaders exploiting fears around border protection to extend political power.
Burnside defines humanity with the universally recognized Golden Rule – Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You as a benchmark. He questions whether the West has lost its moral compass by adopting ideas that reject humanity and undermine democracy. He concludes this erosion of human rights poses a threat to the very democratic values that define Western society.
(Information about screenings here)

The power of symbols

Published / by Sandy

On my travels in Ireland I’ve been fascinated to learn about symbols of the cross in Ireland.

The St Kevin cross from Glendalough is an example of how St Patrick tried to help the once pagan people of Ireland acclimatise to Christianity. This was done by combining the cross with the circle representing the sun, because the pagans worshipped the sun and moon. In time, this particular Celtic Cross was recognised as a Christian symbol. 

St.Brigid was the founder of the first Irish monastery in County Kildare, Ireland. She is credited with creating the unique cross which bears her name. The tale of its creation is somewhat confused, and there is not one definitive version. The tale as we know it is as follows….There was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some believe this was her father) and his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the saintly woman may calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him and it is here that she picked up the rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. Whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so enamoured by her words that the old Chieftain requested he be baptized as a Christian just before his passing. Since that day, and for the centuries that followed, it has been customary on the eve of her Feast Day (1st February) for the Irish people to fashion a St. Brigid’s Cross of straw or rushes and place it inside the house over the door to keep evil, fire and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed.

A few years ago, Pat Baker gave me a necklace with a cross, and on it was a female figure. The female image on the cross was thought of as nothing less than blasphemy when British sculptor Edwina Sandys wrought Christa in 1975. For the artist, it was a recognition that women had suffered and sacrificed their lives for love. Women were among the original martyrs of Christianity, brutally crucified by the Roman Empire.

And then there’s the inverted neon red crosses – four of them, each 20 m tall, that have been erected in Hobart as part of the mid-winter festival known as Dark Mofo.

Mofo’s creative director, Leigh Carmichael, said provocation was part of Mona’s* DNA and argued that while “the cross is deeply significant in our historical context … symbols don’t have an inherent meaning. The meaning comes from what we bring to them”. He said, “Dark Mofo has been exploring ancient mythology and religious themes since its inception in 2013. The cross is a powerful and deeply significant historical symbol, that has been used for thousands of years, with many cross-cultural meanings”.
(*MONA is Museum of Old and New Art)

Inevitably, predictably, there has been reaction. Outrage is the DNA of social media, and statements like Yvonne McAskill’s resonate with many: “All Christians are shuddering at this diabolical sign”. Clearly there is a lot of support for that point of view.

Interestingly, the original meaning of an upside-down cross was to recall the crucifixion of St Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. When he was crucified by the Roman Empire at a time when Christians were persecuted, he insisted he be crucified upside-down, because he felt he wasn’t good enough to be crucified the way that Jesus was. So at one point it was a sign of penitence, long before it was adopted as an ‘anti-Christian’ symbol.

Here are three other responses to the Dark Mofo crosses:

Ben Clark writes: ‘The cross itself is an upside down symbol of love over evil. If the message of the cross has been tarnished and turned upside down and used as a weapon for evil then this becomes a profound statement…

Michael Frost writes: The latest outrage-du-jour for Australian Christians is the upside crosses installation in Hobart. For a start, since when do Christians get offended by ART?!?!? We’re followers of the King who converted humiliation into grace. Art is meant to be a provocation, a discussion starter. So let’s have a conversation. Secondly, why all the knee-jerk outrage these days?!?!?

Reverend Matt Garvin of the Citywide Baptist Church, said that while the inverted cross was “commonly thought to be a Satanic symbol”, churches should “engage with the conversation that has been created (in Hobart)”.

It begs the question about what Christians get ‘outraged’ about, and what outraged Jesus – injustice, inequality, war, conflict, denigration, abuse of power and authority, cheating the poor, loss of dignity, loss of community, the way refugees and asylum seekers are treated…

How might churches and individuals engage with conversation in the public square rather than being (stereotypically) reactive?

Shaping priorities: religion in a secular age

Published / by Sandy

On May 6th, Ben Clarke from TEAR SA spoke about his recent trip to Cambodia looking at community based projects. Many in Pilgrim have a strong commitment to supporting the work of UCA partner churches. Earlier this year, a donation was made to the UnitingWorld appeal for Tonga after it was devastated by Cyclone Gita on February 12th. Pilgrim also offers support for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines through active participation in the Philippines Support Group, and community projects in the Philippines.
In an article on his website, Mike Frost poses a question for our day: Should we be helping other Christians before we help non-Christians in greater need? 
Mike writes: This question came into even sharper focus recently when the Trump administration announced that its nominee to become director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) was Ken Isaacs. The IOM has an annual budget of over $1 billion and is tasked with providing secure, reliable, flexible and cost-effective services for those needing international migration assistance. Refugees, basically.
So alarm bells started sounding for some when it was revealed that Ken Isaacs, currently the head of international relief for Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, has made comments that in some cases Christians should receive preferential treatment when being resettled from hostile areas. These comments appear to have been made on social media, reflecting on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and were coupled with disparaging references to Islam as a violent religion.
Mr Isaacs has since apologized for these remarks and said, “I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM.” Certainly, he has demonstrated a committed to helping refugees and has a long history of assisting those who are suffering. But his remarks, though retracted, reveal an underlying belief within the Christian community that we should help Christians before helping people of another religious faith (or no faith).
I fear it is becoming an entrenched assumption by many Christians that “charity begins at home”. There are many in Australia who express similar sentiments.
Didn’t Paul say we should prioritize doing good to Christians?
Those who think we should prioritize Christians in international aid often cite Paul’s words in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
It’s the use of especially they seize on. They agree we should help others, but insist that Paul is saying that we should prioritize assisting other Christians. That makes sense, I guess, if you look at this verse in isolation (which lots of people apparently do). But if you read it in its broader context, the meaning is somewhat different.
In the preceding section, Paul had just warned his readers to avoid sin, or to use his phrase, “sowing to please their flesh” (v.8). Instead, he insists, we should “sow to please the Spirit” and “not become weary in doing good” (v.8-9). So, doing good in this context refers to avoiding sin and pursuing spiritual things. When Paul concludes his argument by saying we should “do good to all people,” he means we should be helping everyone avoid sin and pursue the Spirit. So, it makes perfect sense that he would say “especially those who belong to the family of believers” because it’s particularly applicable to other spiritual people like the church members in Galatia.
This passage isn’t about providing practical assistance at all.
Another Pauline passage often cited in this context is 1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  This verse is in the context of Paul’s discussion about the need for church families to care for the widows in their midst, and is most certainly referring to practical assistance. At that time, widows were extremely vulnerable members of society, particularly those without children or extended family to care for them. Paul insists that the church as a whole care for those widows with no family support, but that individual families had responsibility to “provide for their relatives” and not expect the rest of the church to carry them. It’s very practical advice, but it can’t be used to defend the idea we should only take care of fellow Christians.
Jesus said, we should care for his followers first, right?
Another passage that could be used to make the case that we should show favouritism to Christians when helping the needy is Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Mt. 25:31-46). In that story people are separated into two groups – those who did feed, clothe, house and comfort “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” and those who didn’t. The latter are sent away to eternal punishment, while the former receive eternal life.
For a long time, “the least of these” was assumed to refer to the poor in general. But this was a problematic interpretation. Was Jesus saying that our eternal salvation is earned by feeding and clothing the poor? Surely this contradicts the biblical teaching on salvation by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9).
More recent interpretations have concluded that “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” just refers to Christians in need – those spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus. They would be in need of food and clothing and housing, and especially being attended to in prison, if they were persecuted Christians, possibly evangelists and teachers. Those who refuse to help supply their material needs are presumably also those who reject their message.
If “the least of these” are Jesus’ messengers, then it makes sense for Jesus to say your salvation is based on your response to their message – that is, the Gospel.
In other words, even if the Parable of the Sheep and Goats does refer to helping Christians, it isn’t making a case for prioritizing them over others in need. It’s a comment on the acceptance or rejection of the Gospel.
Are Christian refugees in greater need than others? 
Whether Ken Isaacs cites Galatians 6 or Matthew 25 I don’t know. His work in Syria and other parts of the Middle East has, no doubt, has put him face to face with the terrible persecution being meted out to the church there, and his comments about prioritizing Christians might reflect this.
What is more difficult to understand is the attitude of the US President, Donald Trump, and the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, neither of whom present as devout Christian men. Both Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull have publicly stated they will prioritize Christian refugees over others.
In fact, in their very first telephone conversation together, Mr Turnbull congratulated Mr Trump for such an approach,
“We are very much of the same mind. It is very interesting to know how you prioritise the minorities in your executive order. This is exactly what we have done with the program to bring in 12,000 Syrian refugees, 90% of which will be Christians. It will be quite deliberate and the position I have taken — I have been very open about it — is that it is a tragic fact of life that when the situation in the Middle East settles down — the people that are going to be most unlikely to have a continuing home are those Christian minorities”. (Malcolm Turnbull 2017)
This is based in some measure on a belief that Christians are more persecuted than other religions, particularly in the Middle East. But the data doesn’t bear that out. While Mr Turnbull wants 90% of his refugee intake to be Christians (the actual figure is closer to 80%), the UNHCR says Christians comprise only 15% of total refugees from Iraq and less than 1% from Syria. And Human Rights Watch, while not denying that the church has been persecuted in Iraq and Syria, points out that “Muslims have overwhelmingly borne the brunt of most of the atrocities by ISIS and the Assad regime.”
It’s very hard to get away from the view that it is a form of state-supported prejudice against Muslims. Mr Trump’s proposed travel ban against certain Muslim-majority countries reinforces this. As concerning as it is for secular states to engage in this kind of prejudice, my other worry is that Christians are being infected by this prejudice, believing it actually honors God for us to show favoritism toward other Christians.
Who, then, is my neighbour?
A far more helpful passage of Scripture to consider in this discussion is another of Jesus’ parables, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  The story is well known. A man is set upon by thieves, beaten to within an inch of his life, and left dying by the side of the road. Two fellow Jews – one a priest, the other a Levite – ignore the man, while a Samaritan – despised by the Jews – not only lends some assistance, but does so at great personal cost. The moral of the story: be like the good Samaritan.
Jesus told this parable in response to a man asking whether it was true that the Law of Moses required you to love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus agreed, the guy, looking for a loophole, asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer-in-the-form-of-a-parable is, quite simply, anyone you encounter who is in need.
It’s interesting that Ken Isaacs, the man currently in hot water about his nomination to the International Organization for Migration, currently works for Samaritan’s Purse. In Jesus’ story, the Samaritan’s purse was open to whomever was in need, not only his fellow Samaritans. As Christians we need to go back to the question of who is our neighbor, and also ask, what does it say about us if we’re only interested in saving our own kind?
Human rights lawyer with the Refugee Council of Australia, Asher Hirsch sums it up well:
“Our position is that refugees shouldn’t be selected based on religion, but that we should prioritise the most vulnerable (women and children, elderly, disabled, those at severe risk of harm where they are living, etc). This may be Christians but often won’t be”
Of course, we should want to help our sisters and brothers in Christ. But we also have a moral obligation to reject a policy that sees a secular state selecting refugees based on their religious beliefs. Today it’s Muslims who suffer from this favouritism, but a time might come when it’s Christians who are prejudiced against, and who could blame them if we looked around on that day and found our Muslim neighbors unwilling to help us.
(This article first appeared on Mike Frost’s website)

Spiritually hungry – and wanting community

Published / by Sandy

Spiritually hungry and wanting community – the priorities of churchgoers
. 

When asked what church attenders would like to see priority given to in the coming 12 months, spiritual growth and building a stronger sense of community in their church were top of the list.

These findings come from the 2016 National Church Life Survey, when adult church attenders were asked for their opinion about what should be given priority by their local church in the next year.

The survey question posed 12 options for current priorities.

‘Spiritual growth (e.g. spiritual direction, prayer groups)’ and ‘Building a strong sense of community within this local church’ were most commonly selected responses, chosen by a third of churchgoers (~32%).

The third most common response was ‘Worship services that are nurturing to people’s faith’.

These three top priorities clearly display a spiritual fervour amongst those who attend church. It could be argued that these desires reveal the primary purpose attenders hold for going to church: to be spiritually nurtured and fed as part of a worshipping community. In fact, these three priorities align with the NCLS Internal Core Qualities which focus on the inner life of churches: Faith, Worship and Belonging.

  • Do attenders have an alive and growing faith?
  • Do they experience vital and nurturing worship and do they feel a strong and growing belonging?

These ‘internal’ core qualities are regarded as foundational to church life. This is a reminder of the main qualities of church life that church attenders value, enjoy, and see as most central to their experience of church.

Believe or belong, which comes first? (It varies slightly with age and denomination)
Overall, there were differences between age groups. In general, those aged younger than 60 chose spiritual growth as their highest priority and building community as their second choice. Those aged 60 and over gave highest priority to building community, followed by nurturing worship and third, spiritual growth.
Attenders in different denominations vary in their priorities. Attenders in Uniting churches chose nurturing worship first and spiritual growth second.

Wanting to contribute and nurture
Following the top three responses, came ministry oriented choices – attenders are clear they want to be involved. ‘Encouraging people’s gifts and skills’, ministry to children and youth and ensuring new people are welcome here all align with the development and growth of ministry. Using gifts and skills in a ministry of all believers, nurturing future generations and newcomers all build a picture of strengthening the life of the church.

Lowest on the list of priorities were social action, faith sharing and new approaches, church plants or mission ventures.

This may reveal an internally focussed attendership, one that wants to develop and grow the internal life of their church, spiritually feeding people, bringing people in to the congregation and empowering them to contribute and belong.

Whether that comes at a cost of losing an outward focus into the local neighbourhood is open for question.

Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell and Kathy Jacka Kerr, NCLS Research.
Citation: Powell, R. & Kerr, K.J. (2017). Spiritually hungry and wanting community. http://ncls.org.au/news/spiritually-hungry
Data Source: Powell, R., Pepper, M., Hancock, N. and Sterland, S. (2017) 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

Don’t Keep History a Mystery: National Reconcilation Week

Published / by Sandy

This year’s theme for Reconciliation Week is “Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn. Share. Grow”. It is an opportunity for all Australians to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation.

(There will be many events during this week, including on Sorry Day, which remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers and the wider public about the significance of the Stolen Generations, and the profound and damaging impact that this has had, and continues to have, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is also a time to celebrate their survival, culture, and community).

Reading Henry Reynold’s book, ‘Why weren’t we told:a personal search for the truth about our history‘, was a revelation – and an awakening. It describes the author’s own journey from ‘innocence’ in his Tasmanian childhood, to facing the realities of race when he moved to North Queensland. He recognised the glaring reality didn’t match the two myths generally accepted in Australia at the time – that Australia was settled peacefully, and terra nullius. Reynold’s named starkly the reality of massacres of Aboriginal communities and other uncomfortable and ‘inconvenient’ truths. In 1968, WEH Stanner offered a challenge in his Boyer lectures to break the ‘Great Australian silence’ about Australia’s Aboriginal past. Speaking truth is a pre-requisite to reconciliation, past and present.

The 2018 Reconciliation Theme, Don’t Keep History a Mystery: Learn.Grow.Share’ is an opportunity to ‘break the silence’. The future of our nation depends on it.

The Australian Reconciliation Barometer (the Barometer) is one of the tools to assist us to understand how the nation is performing on its reconciliation journey. The Barometer is a biennial, national research study, conducted by Reconciliation Australia since 2008. The Barometer measures attitudes and perceptions towards reconciliation, and maps our progress towards the five dimensions of reconciliation – race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity and historical acceptance. Australia can only achieve full reconciliation where there is substantive progress across all five areas.

The 2016 Barometer tells us that since 2014 an increasing number of Australians are proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and believe these cultures are important to Australia’s identity as a nation. Almost all Australians continue to view the relationship between each other as important and many believe that it is possible that all Australians can be united.

The Barometer findings reveal that the majority of Australians maintain positive attitudes towards reconciliation. However, disappointingly, there is significant evidence that these positive attitudes have yet to translate into improved behaviours across a wide range of sectors in Australian society, including the workplace, law-enforcement agencies, and the education and community sectors.

More Australians, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians, now agree that Australia is a racist country. This racism is reflected in increasing incidents of prejudice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Barometer also identifies continued misunderstandings between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians. Both groups believe they offer more trust to the other than is returned. Reducing the perceived “trust gap” is critical to improving confidence in relationships between First Australians and the wider Australian community. Further, there is still misunderstandings within the wider Australian community about the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequality.

It is encouraging to note that in relation to settlement in Australia, more Australians now accept key facts about Australia’s past institutional prejudices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and feel that the wrongs of the past must be rectified before all Australians can move forward.

In assessing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours within both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the general Australian community, there are some positive signs of progress. The findings also show us that there is still much to do to achieve our vision of a reconciled nation across the five dimensions.

(Read the full report of the 2016 Barometer’s findings here)

For those planning worship this Sunday for Reconciliation Day on May 27th, consider using an Acknowledgement of Land (here’s some we use at Pilgrim) and resources prepared for the day.

What a beautiful day for love to change the world

Published / by Sandy

Bishop Michael Curry preached the homily at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan. The text is printed below. Even without Michael’s enthusiastic delivery (you can watch it here), the text is inspiring with it’s focus on the redemptive power of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a beautiful day for love to change the world.
And now in the name of our loving liberating and life giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
From the Song of Solomon in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave, its flashes of flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it out
The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said, and I quote: we must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that we will make of this old world a new world. For love is the only way.
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love.
Not just in its romantic forms but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it.
And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. And our lives were meant and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately the source of love is God himself, the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says, “where true love is found, God himself is there.”
The New Testament says it this way, “beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God, those who do not love do not know God. Why? For God is love. There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal on your heart. A seal on your arm. For love it’s strong as death.
But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we are all here. Two young people fell in love and we all showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with.
It’s more than that. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses. He went back and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.
This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said, on these two Love of God and Love of Neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world. Love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.
Now someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. A movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
I’m talking about some power, real power. Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says there’s a balm in Gilead. A healing balm, something that can makes things right.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. One of the stanzas actually explains why: they said, If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life. They got it, he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life for the good of the others, for the good of the other, for the well-being of the world. For us, that’s what love is.
Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an everflowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.


And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament, that’s fire. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and with this, I will sit you down. We’ve got to get you all married. French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, one of the great spirits of the 20th century. A Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic. In some of his writings, he said from his scientific background as well as his theological one. In some of his writings, he said as others have, that the discovery or invention or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history. Fire to a great extent made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible, there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no industrial revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.
Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did, I’m guessing, I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, the controlled harnessed fire made that possible. I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water, but I have to tell you I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible and de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
Dr. King was right, we must discover love. The redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, God loves you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

Solidarity in times of sorrow

Published / by Sandy

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan and UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe have written to churches in Indonesia to express sadness and solidarity after the tragic church bombings in Surabaya, Java on Sunday.

11 people were killed in the explosions and more than 43 were wounded in what has been called the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia in more than a decade.

A congregation of our GKI partner church in Java was one of those targeted, wounding an Elder and several young members.

A prayer has been written for the victims of the Surabaya attacks, and Uniting Church members and UnitingWorld supporters are invited to use the prayer to  join in solidarity with churches in Indonesia.

Letter to churches in Indonesia
Letter to our partner church GKI in Java

A PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF CHURCH BOMBINGS IN JAVA

Almighty God, we come to you with our hearts full of thoughts.

But you are our refuge and strength, the light in the darkness,

and so with confidence we offer our prayers to you.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We stand in solidarity with all good citizens in Java

pray for the churches of Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions,

and we are confronted by the attacks on Christian worshipers.

We bring to you all the deceased,

and our trust that in God’s peace their souls find rest.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of life,

for those who are traumatized during Sunday worship,

for those who are separated from the loved ones and friends;

we ask for your healing presence in their lives

and we commend to your love all the injured.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We give to your care all those

who have been involved in the rescue operation.

Be with local churches and government forces

as they minister to the suffering communities.

Sustain them through this time of stress.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We commend to your care those who are cleaning up,

for those burdened by unimaginable losses

and who have found themselves

like refugees in their own locality.

We ask that the emotional and spiritual support

already offered by local communities and beyond

will encourage and lift their spirits.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for communities that have been devastated

– especially in East Java and West Java.

May your peace bring people together

to rebuild their lives and communities,

and bring them healing from all evil.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for families and friends in Australia

who feel far away from the loved ones in Indonesia,

and those who had been through racial and religious attacks

– still trying to make sense of the past.

Comfort them across the physical and emotional distance.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We give thanks to God for the blessing in our lives,

especially the gifts of joy we so often take for granted

until they are in danger of being taken away from us

– the gift of family, friends, a home, our possessions.

Most of all we praise God for the gift of life itself.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

God of light over darkness,

come into our hearts in the moment of now!

Come to transform our sorrow over the lost

into blessings to the living.

Come to reassure us your eternal truth

in the resurrection of Christ Jesus:

Life is always stronger than death.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer. Amen. 

(Rev Dr Ji Zhang  张骥, Assembly Theologian in Residence, for our Partner Church GKI and Indonesian Communion of Churches. The prayer is rewritten based on the prayer of 2004 Asian Tsunami by Homebush Uniting Church)

Investing in the skills of women

Published / by Sandy

According to one report, it is anticipated that Australians will have spent a whopping $733 million on Mothers Day in 2018.

It is sobering to realise that many communities in developing countries still live in extreme poverty. West Papua has a staggeringly high number of people living below the poverty line. More than 27% live on less than $2 a day.

Marcus Campbell, Uniting World, reports on a group of women who are crafting themselves out of poverty by making traditional bark paintings (malo). These have been produced by women for hundreds of years. They spend weeks together making the canvases out of the beaten bark of fig trees, and then paint designs that express their culture, highlighting the theme of ‘harmony between all living things’. Ask them how they learned the designs, and they all say, “our ancestors taught us.”

The women live on an isolated small island on a lake in West Papua, on the far limits of Papua’s most modern city, Jayapura. People here still travel between the islands using wooden canoes. Many of the women work two jobs while raising children. Most of their husbands are fishermen, but fears of local overfishing has pushed their work out to sea and into the city where they make meagre earnings.

Uniting World is investing in the women’s skills so that their business can grow. ‘Our local partners have been running business training and are helping them buy industrial sewing machines to help them expand their business to include bags and clothing with their traditional designs”.

Empowering these women has huge flow-on affects for the community. Making positive changes for women affects all of society. The women’s hard work enables them to send their children to school; many of them never had the chance themselves. “Our local partners are working on strategies that invest in critical aspects of life: food security, health, women’s incomes and the future of children. They need our support to continue to make projects like these a reality”.

Perhaps you might consider investing in these skilful women and their projects that are helping people grow a new future in West Papua. Visit www.unitingworld.org.au/papua or call 1800 998 122 to make a donation, or talk with Julie in the office if you don’t have access to a computer.

(Following the review of all of the international mission partnerships at the Annual Presbytery and Synod meeting in October 2015, it was decided to ‘maintain a Partnership relationship with Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua (Evangelical Christian Church In The Land Of Papua (GKI) via the principal framework and projects managed by Uniting World and directly through congregationally driven activities with a major focus on supporting educational activities and building relationships. Read more about the UCA SA Synod partnership here).

The 2018 Federal budget – and overseas aid

Published / by Sandy

On Tuesday May 9th, the Federal Treasurer handed down the 2018 budget, with the hope of being ‘in the black’ from next year. There will be ongoing commentary and analysis on the details of the budget.

Every year, the budget allocates funding to overseas aid which improves the lives of millions of people around the world. It is an investment in a better future for our world and our neighbours. It also promotes Australia’s interests by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. In a globally interconnected world, less poverty and inequality is good for everybody. Social and economic stability reduces the risk of political instability, just as access to education for all plays a part in reducing the emergence of radicalisation and better equips communities to respond to it if it occurs – all of which benefits Australia in the long term.

After significant cuts to overseas aid in recent years, the overseas aid budget was frozen in 2017 for 2 years, and in the 2018 budget this freeze has been extended for a further 4 years, dropping to its lowest level in our nation’s history at just 19 cents in every $100 of Gross National Income. The people who suffer the most are the millions of people who rely on Australian aid in our region. As a consequence of the cuts, there will be a greater reliance on the contribution from churches, aid agencies and charities, which will have to work even harder to close the huge gap in overseas aid.The spirit of generosity of ordinary Australians is reflecting in the fact that 80% contribute to organisations that help vulnerable communities.

The Australian aid sector has been calling for an increase in overseas aid as a step towards returning our overseas aid budget towards levels in accord with our international obligations. Earlier this year, ACFID (Australian Council for International Development), of which the Uniting Church is a member through its agency Uniting World, had campaigned to prevent an additional $400 million in cuts to foreign aid that were being considered. These cuts were dropped, but the decision to freeze the foreign aid budget comes at a time when we see global inequality on the rise and millions of people fleeing violence and oppression.

This is not a time when overseas aid can be put ‘on hold’ for four years, especially when we see what is happening in the lives of our global neighbours.

In 2000, Australia signed on to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), joining 199 other nations aiming to halve extreme poverty by 2015. But in recent years Australia has been shrinking from its role on the world stage. While other countries have increased their aid programs, Australian aid is now at its lowest level ever, falling to 19th of the 29 countries that give overseas aid.

The hope is that a bi-partisan commitment can be made so that the overseas aid budget can reach 0.7% of GNI by 2030 commensurate with Australia’s international obligations and the commitments made as part of the MDGs.

Australian aid provides opportunities for our global neighbours to build a better future. It is work we should celebrate now, and look back on with pride in years to come. Can we champion a response to reducing poverty that is as generous as the Australian people?

Perhaps this something you feel strongly about, or you would like to know more? More information is available on the Campaign for Australian Aid website, and you can also find information on the Campaign for Australian Aid Facebook page. Campaign for Australian Aid is a joint initiative of Make Poverty History and Micah Challenge coalitions for all Australians who believe we can and should do more as a nation to end extreme poverty around the world.

Sandy would be glad to chat with you about this if you would like more information, or would like to learn about the impact on our partner churches supported through Uniting World.

Perhaps you might consider writing to or arranging a meeting with your Federal MP to share you concerns about this important matter?

(This article includes information collated from statements from ACFID, World Vision, Uniting World and Campaign for Australian Aid)Overseas aid as well as the contributions of individuals, groups and churches, is essential to supporting our partner churches in Asia, Africa and the Pacific through the UCA agency Uniting World. The diagram shows how this funding is used.

Living with diversity and difference

Published / by Sandy

The Uniting Church’s national Assembly has an important conversation about marriage coming in July. Here’s a link to the report and recommendations.

Here’s a video intro by past-President and Chair of the Doctrine Working Group Rev Alistair Macrae.

This week the Moderator of the Uniting Church SA sent a pastoral letter. Here is a (slightly) edited version:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The release of the Assembly papers on Monday has heightened the diversity of views held on same-gender marriage within the Uniting Church in South Australia.This topic has been painful for some.

I acknowledge that this has been a particularly difficult time for ministers and church leaders. It has been challenging for many to hold their congregations and faith communities together given the diversity of views and strength of conviction held by individual members of each church.

We have always been a diverse church since our inception when the leaders of the three denominations agreed to focus on Jesus’ call to unity and come together to form a new Christian movement for the Australian context. What we can often forget is how costly that was, as differences of opinion and theology were intentionally held apart for the sake of union. The Uniting Church has a history of working together, even through diversity and challenging times. In anxious times, it is easy to forget that we do have helpful policies that can guide and protect us as leaders. These policies remind us of our responsibilities in keeping our conversations around the Assembly respectful at all times, so all God’s people feel valued and safe.

The Code of Ethics for Ministers and the Code of Conduct for Volunteers and Leaders are the guidelines by which we live out our Christian life together in the Uniting Church in Australia. I commend these documents to you. The Social Media policy of the Uniting Church SA, which applies to comments posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms, is a useful guide. I would also like to remind leaders of the Media Communications Policy of the Uniting Church SA, which states:
“As specified in section 3.6.3.2 (g) of the Uniting Church Constitution and Regulations handbook, the Moderator speaks on public issues for the church. The Moderator is the only official spokesperson for the church. The Moderator can, if the circumstances are appropriate, authorise a suitable qualified person to represent the Uniting Church in South Australia to the media on his/her behalf. is also to be noted by leaders, and in particular, that the Moderator is the official spokesperson for the Uniting Church in South Australia.” Any request by media to a minister or lay leader for an interview, must be referred to the Moderator’s office first.

In the matters before the 15th Assembly, the Moderator alone will be the Uniting Church SA spokesperson to the media.

As we pray for the members of Assembly, we give thanks for those members who have offered themselves to be our people from South Australia. These members are called to be open to the Holy Spirit in the context of the Assembly and to discern together the way of Christ for the Uniting Church in Australia.

There are many important matters for discussion at the 15th Assembly in addition to marriage, including the domestic violence policy, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the sovereignty of Aboriginal people.

I’d like to conclude this message with words from John 15:12-13:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Grace and peace,

Rev Sue Ellis (Moderator, Uniting Church SA)

And these words from Rev Apwee Ting (National Assembly)
There are common stories sustaining God’s mission in the life of Uniting Church: grace, generosity, love, friendship, worship, prayer …
There are things that people value about UCA: diversity, covenant with first people, justice, inter/cross cultural, emerging leaders and leadership open for every member.
Thank God for Uniting Church.

 

Rethinking practices of exclusion

Published / by Sandy

Reflecting on the Acts reading (the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:26-40)

So, the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading aloud (a very common practice – if you had the ability to read, then you would read aloud) from the scroll of Isaiah (Chapter 53), a passage that has come to be associated with the passion of Jesus.

What was this Ethiopian Eunuch doing reading this particular part of Isaiah?

Well, the background is that eunuchs were specifically excluded from the temple:
“If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off,
he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord”
 (Deuteronomy 23:1)

But here, in the very section of Isaiah where the Ethipian Eunuch is reading, is this text:
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

A text of inclusion. It would have been a ‘favourite’ part of the Isaiah scroll for the Eunuch, one he would return to again and again, as it gave him a place of belonging. And, in the course of reading this text of inclusion, he would have become familiar with the surrounding text (no verses and chapter headings in those days!) including Chapter 53 that is the focus of the Acts 8 reading today (and for the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch):

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

After Philip gives witness to Jesus, the Ethiopian Eunuch is baptized (in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy), and eunuchs find a place of belonging in the reign of God. That which was excluded has now been included.

It would have been a surprising and wonderful moment for both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Here’s a great reflection on this reading by Richard Beck:

The “eunuch story” may, at least in part, speak to the issue of social contribution or function. It seems that great emphasis was given to function in the old covenant “congregation of the Lord”. The “commission” of old covenant community focused around the growth of the Jewish nation, particularly in terms of the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. What we think of as evangelism wasn’t a primary focus – having and raising children with a particular worldview and a peculiar kind of monotheism was. Eunuchs could not contribute to this social mandate, and were therefore viewed as vestigials, as supernumeraries. There was a central religious goal, and these eunuchs were people who, having no way to further that goal, had no place in the religious community.

So, when the Spirit of the Lord went to miraculous lengths to ensure that the first known Christian non-Jewish convert was both of an alien culture and a “functionless” eunuch, the intention was to make us think about what it means to have “function” within the new covenant community of faith, and further,  about how the Christian community, like a family, must embrace a non-utilitarian society.

In the Ethiopian eunuch, I see every person that typically would be relegated to the non-contributing “others” of society: the irritants, the wastes-of-time, the hangers-on. I see friends with Aspergers and autism spectrum disorders and severe depression and body odour. I see psychopaths and addicts and narcissists. I see people with unusual humor and inconsiderate conversational habits. Communities formed on utilitarian goals or on the fulfillment of mutual self-need, would leave all these people behind, but the community of Christ continually redefines itself in order to accommodate them.

The community patterned after the heart of God intentionally includes the maladjusted, the awkward, and the outcast, even to the detriment of “the perfect social atmosphere”. Loving “non-contributors” is inconvenient, messy, unpredictable and disruptive.

This is the practice of unconditional love. The church will grow more by that practice in itself, than anything that could be done by avoiding all the “time wasters”. Whatever is gained by avoiding them of time, comfort and money, is lost to apathy, impatience and unlove. “The community that seeks to save its life will lose it, but the community that loses its life for Christ’s sake will gain it.”

Lest we forget

Published / by Sandy

A homily by Rev Dr Greg Elsdon for ANZAC Day Evensong 2018

(Micah 4:1-4 and John 15:9-17)

Together with Lest We Forget, the words ‘Greater love has no man than this’ have become deeply and powerfully lodged in the secular liturgy of Anzac Day. And as we saw last year, any attempt to use these words to draw attention to the plight of victims of war, violence or injustice in other contexts is likely to draw immediate and savage condemnation.

Many Australians have mixed feelings and emotions when Anzac Day comes around each year. On the one hand we experience a deep and solemn sense of mourning and grief as we recall the brutality and inhumanity experienced by so many. On the other hand, we feel a profound sense of gratitude to, and pride in, those men and women who served their country with indescribable courage and self-sacrifice.

But it is not unusual for us to experience feelings of disquiet, even awkwardness, at the way these legitimate and worthy responses to the events of The Great War can so easily deteriorate into an almost cultish reverence or romanticisation of war and violence. In recent years there has even been a discernible push by some to elevate Gallipoli and the ‘Anzacs’ to the status of the ‘foundational events and stories’ of our Australian identity.

Lest we forget is the call for active remembrance of war not in order to glorify war or indulge ourselves in bouts of nationalistic pride. It is rather the call to acknowledge the gravity of the events and the consequences of what happened not just in places such as Villers-Bretonneux and Gallipoli, but wherever people have been killed in conflicts between nations.

But Lest we forget is also a call to mourn and to lament the horrors of all war; to pay respect to the countless millions whose lives were brutally taken or permanently disfigured or deranged – and to commit ourselves to do all within our power, our spheres of influence, to reject the deathly ways of violence and the romanticisation of war.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs —

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Lest we Forget

What will we do with our remembering?

What does our remembering mean for us?

What does our remembering demand of us?

Where will our remembering take us?

What value is our remembering,

– if it does not inspire us to commit ourselves to the ways of peace and reconciliation?

“In a society and world in which military metaphors and binary choices are extended increasingly to international relationships, immigration, customs, policing and welfare, Anzac Day is an occasion for dwelling compassionately on the things that bind us together, not those that separate us into allies and enemies.” [Andrew Hamilton SJ]

For those of us who encounter God in the life and teachings of Jesus, Lest we Forget is a call to eschew violence and learn the ways of peace and justice – following the one who dares us to learn what it means to love enemies and repay evil with good.

In Sydney’s Anzac War Memorial there is a bronze sculpture by artist Rayner Hoff titled Sacrifice.  It depicts the body of a dead soldier held aloft on a shield, his arms draped across a sword in a posture of crucifixion, like a sacrificial alter. Australian theologian Ben Meyer has comments, “It is a majestic image, a portrayal of worship, devotion and sacrifice. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid representation of the cult of war that lies at the heart of the modern nation-state.”

Rayner Hoff, Sacrifice

Rayner Hoff also sculptured another bronze, which wasn’t displayed. He called it The Crucifixion of Civilisation. Of this sculpture Ben Meyer writes;

“In this sculpture, the form of a young naked woman (symbolising Peace) is crucified atop a pile of corpses, limbs, weapons, and other wreckage of war. She is crucified on the weapons of Mars, the Roman god of war. The huge helmet of Mars gapes over her like some monstrous ravening mouth. From a distance, the whole hideous scene forms a traditional symbol of victory. Hoff himself described the sculpture like this: ‘Adolescent Peace is depicted crucified on the armaments of the ravisher, the war god, Mars. The Greek helmet animalistically gapes over the head of expiring Peace, the cuirass of the body armour hard and brutal in contrast to her lithe woman’s body’.”

Rayner Hoff, The Crucifixion of Civilisation

Peace, Shalom, human well-being … sacrificed on the altar of the cult of war.  It’s disturbing and deeply challenging.

We’ve been at it for a long time, this warmongering. You’d think we might have learned something by now.  But it seems not

700 years before Jesus, the Jewish prophet Micah – who lived surrounded by wars and rumours of wars – eloquently captured the human longing for peace and peacefulness: 

3 He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.  [Micah 4:3-4]

On this Anzac Day, may this graphic portrayal of human wholeness be that which calls us forward. May this vision of God’s Shalom be that which inspires and shapes our living.

And may the God of Peace be with us all.

Amen

Reframing the Good Shepherd

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Dr Liz Boase, 22nd April 2018, Pilgrim Uniting Church

The Lord is my shepherd.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd.

Bring to mind an image of a sheep with Jesus as the good shepherd. A tiny lamb lying in the arms of Jesus, the arms of God.  Cuddled, gazed on with love, every need provided. How wonderful is that? 

I wonder if that is what came to mind as you heard today’s readings? Do you picture Jesus as we see him portrayed in so much traditional art. A clean shiny Jesus, not a speck of dirt or dust anywhere, in clean white robes, cradling a snowy lamb, also surprisingly clean? The lamb looks so content and rested and it is clear that all the lamb will ever be asked to do is to remain lying there content with not a demand made upon it.

It’s a lovely, comforting image. 

But if that’s the image we hold, then we’ve got Jesus and the lamb all wrong. 

What are we saying when we say the Lord is my shepherd? What does it mean that Jesus is the good shepherd?

Let’s start with Jesus. 

The image of a gentle eyed Jesus softly cradling a lamb is, without doubt, a comforting one. It’s an image of gentle power, of someone who can control the uncontrollable in our world. And isn’t that what we want of Jesus?

We want Jesus to tame what is wild and unruly in the world. A God who can solve what is unsolvable and answer what is unanswerable. We want to feel safe and comfortable.

Regardless of what we want, though, we eventually come face-to-face with the reality that the world is wild and unruly, that there are questions without answers, that there are thieves and bandits in the world bent on destruction.

When we look at our world, at the destruction in Syria, the detention of refugees in off-shore centres, at the impact of natural disasters, environmental degradation, and so on, we are left wondering where is the Good Shepherd in the midst of the violence and the suffering and the destruction.

Where is the shepherd that will sanitize all that is wrong with the world, who will clean up all that is messy and misplaced in our lives?

Where is the shepherd? 

The Good Shepherd, He Qi

He’s right there, in the midst of it all. In there amongst the dirt and the grime. With the sheep, protecting the sheep, fighting on behalf of the sheep, warding off the thieves and the bandits. 

You see, that’s what shepherds do. They protect the sheep. Not in the rigid confines of the sheepfold, but out there in the midst of the world. If the shepherd simply kept the sheep in the pen, the sheep would not thrive. The food would run out, the sheep’s ability to grow and thrive would be restrained through lack of space. 

The shepherd takes the sheep out to where there is food, space, the potential to live an abundant life – but those places are also places where there are dangers, risks, thieves and bandits. The good shepherd, in contrast to the bad ones (the Jewish religious leaders in the context of John’s gospel) is out there to protect the sheep. The bad shepherds are there for their own gain, but the good shepherd is there for the sake of the sheep. The good shepherd is there in the dirt, the squalor, the un-sanitized places. The good shepherd is in the real world outside the safety of the pen.

The good shepherd is even prepared to lay down his life for the sake of the sheep. 

But why? What is it about sheep that leads to this? Why does the good shepherd act this way?

We have talked about the shepherd, and dismantled the view of a squeaky clean Jesus, now, let’s look at the sheep. What might this have to say about us and who we are as the community of Christ?

In the ancient world sheep were valued. Shepherds didn’t  generally keep sheep as pets, but because of their usefulness. 

Shepherding was a job, a means of making a living and feeding a family. If the sheep didn’t produce, the shepherd’s family was at risk. The shepherd cared for the sheep to ensure that they would thrive. That they would produce wool and provide meat.

So when we think about that lamb, we need to think about who we are as individuals and who we are as a church. What does it mean that we are cared for? What is expected of us?

The image of the good shepherd is not only about God, about Jesus, it is also about us – about what it means to be sheep.  It’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar and comfortable talk about green pastures and still waters. 

We don’t grow wool, that’s not of our nature. But we can worship and serve; we can reach out and share; we can study and pray; we can increase in holiness and tell the truth; we can fight for justice and to be willing to sacrifice. We can choose to grow into the fullness of who we are in Christ– and to do this in community, and with integrity. This is expected of us. 

The metaphor of the good shepherd tells us that there are expectations on us. . The care offered us is intended to lead to something, something real and substantial. There are other sheep – other people – that Jesus wants to reach out to, to enfold.

I need to make something clear here. Jesus as the good shepherd is about the gift of God. There’s  no fine print on Jesus’ promise to be the Good Shepherd, or that he’s only a good shepherd for the most useful of the sheep. Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves or turn us into dog food – or whatever it is you do with worthless sheep – if we don’t produce. God cares for us and has blessed us. Jesus has laid down his life for us. That sacrifice, that love, that continued care, these are simply gifts. They are given without condition and without exception. We don’t try to do stuff in the hope that God will be nicer to us or love us more. There is no “more.”

But there are expectations. We are to produce, to give back, from who we are – from what we can do, from what our situation in life is. From our various skills, abilities, resources and gifts. 

This isn’t just about church work – Sunday morning and committee stuff – although that can be part of it. Instead, this is about the work of the church, which is much larger and a whole lot more interesting.

Each and every one of the sheep, has purpose and value and worth.  Each is important. Each and every one of us can contribute, and is called to contribute, in one way or another, to the mission of the church. You can’t be too young or too old or too new or too sick or too ordinary or too uneducated, or too busy, or too anything to avoid that reality.

We are needed; and without us, without any single one of us, the mission and work of the God and the church are impoverished. 

So, let’s put aside the sugary image of a washed out Jesus and a meek and gentle lamb. Instead, let’s embrace the radical call of Christ the good shepherd. The call to be out there in the grimy, messiness of the world. A call to go with Christ and for Christ into the places where Jesus is already active and present. A call to walk along paths of righteous action. A call to dwell in and with God in God’s house, the world. A call be sheep, in all our glorious messiness, doing what we can, when we can, following the one who leads us.

Amen

 

Making a new world

Published / by Sandy

Acts 4:32-37: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts depicts the ideal of the Christ-following community and provides a glimpse of the dynamic experiences of a community enlivened by God’s Spirit. What do we do with this story from the early church? Sell up and move into community? Many have been inspired to do so, some successfully, and some where the communities have ended up fractured and dysfunctional. Is the depiction of the early church community a pipe-dream? Maybe a short term response to the hope of Jesus’ imminent return? Or is something else happening in this story?

The commentator Luke Timothy Johnson, says: While many of us go searching through the scripture looking for rules which will tell us what to do, what we find instead, particularly in Luke-Acts, is what he calls a “diversity of mandates”. Christianity isn’t an ethical system that tells you what you’re  supposed to do all of the time. Instead, it tells you who you are and through the shaping of that identity you then grow to discern, by the power of the Spirit, which mandate of the many given in scripture is the best one to be followed at a given moment.

Martin Luther King Jr followed a particular mandate of compassion and justice. The world remembered his death this month – 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Just 2 months earlier he had delivered a powerful sermon, at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor with his father. The sermon was entitled ‘The Drum Major’s Instinct’ (it’s available on the web to watch – be uplifted by his oratory and content). It features his trademark fusion of radical faith and politics, and calls out the dangers of capitalism, racism and militarism. Towards the end of the sermon, King speaks about his own mortality, and the way he wants to be remembered as one who pursued justice. “Every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I would want said?’” “I’d like somebody to mention that I tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that I tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness … Yes, Jesus, I want to be by your side not for any selfish reason, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world”. Two months later, this part of his sermon was played as part of his eulogy at his own funeral.

What strikes me about his sermon is the way he made clear that activism or acts of compassion emerge from and are sustained by faith. His action were not so he could find purpose and identity and fulfilment for himself but primarily about a selflessness shaped by the example of Jesus and the transforming work of God’s Spirit in his life.

Rev. Dr Sarah Bachelard, founder and leader of Benedictus Contemplative Church in Canberra, and an honorary fellow at the Australian Catholic University, has reflected on activism. Yes, she says, there needs to be awareness raising, advocacy, education – all these things are clearly vital. Yet by themselves, they’re not enough. What is also needed is the deeper transformation of persons, where individuals and whole communities let go of certain ways of imagining themselves and others, and build a different kind of community. That’s what was happening in the community in our reading today.

She cites another example: where the Jewish Christian Peter goes to the home of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10). It was a radically new way of relating that transcended the divides of religion, culture and tradition. It placed the primary focus on hospitality and a willingness to be vulnerable.

It demonstrated the imperative for followers of the Jesus way to be willing to give up particular social norms and patterns of behaviour and identity formation, and to take up new ways of being, belonging and behaving. It involves a willingness to let go of a constructed ‘ego’ identity with particular social norms and patterns of behaviour, to let go of old certainties, and to be willing to be vulnerable as new ways are practiced and embedded.

Sarah speaks about an example where she attended a pastoral care committee meeting. The agenda was how to ensure that people felt welcomed to the church, how to ensure that new people stayed. At one level, the concern expressed was genuinely for the people: Had they been offered hospitality? Did they feel accepted, cared for? They’re important concerns. At another level, though, I discerned something else driving the meeting’s agenda. Things like: Is our community growing and sustaining itself? Are we being seen as welcoming? Are we living up to our self-image as inclusive, caring and warm-hearted? In this she saw a clear distinction between selflessness in serving others on the one hand, and the concerns of the community to enhance their own identity. The problem is that too often Christian acts of compassionate care and our desire to do good don’t emerge from humility and poverty of spirit. Unconsciously, and despite our best intentions and sincere efforts, often our involvement serves our own needs, or the desire to be seen as “good Christians,” as “worthy and good”.

English theologian Andrew Shanks has identified the issue at stake here. He’s pointed out that when it comes to doing the “right” thing, two motives are, in most of us, deeply intertwined. There is the genuine desire to do justice, and show compassion, and then there’s the desire to find satisfaction in doing the right thing. This second desire, he says, gets in the way of the first. Instead of being genuinely other-directed, our concern is subtly but unmistakably self-centred. The same thing can be seen at times in the way the church speaks in the public arena. Throughout history the church has often been concerned to secure a place in the world, and has often been more a “sign of wealth rather than of poverty and has aligned itself with the rich and powerful on earth more than the weak and lowly”. 
(Luke Timothy Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), p. 125.)

When the church should be living out hospitality together as an alternative way of life in opposition to runaway and militant consumerism, we instead have become that which we have otherwise been called to convert.

The community of Christ is called to grow in ‘self-forgetfulness’ in order to more fully serve others. It would be good to reflect further on the difference between a self-forgetful church and a church that has forgotten faithfulness. How does the church identify and deal with the confusion between faithful Christian discipleship on the one hand, and ideology and self-protecting religion on the other?

Perhaps the example of the selflessness of the early church speaks to us afresh today – not to replicate the actions of caring and compassion for their own sake as a kind of blueprint of Christian community, but to open ourselves afresh to the God we know through Jesus, and to God’s living Spirit, so in turn we may become ‘self-forgetful’ and to give ourselves selflessly to others following the example of Jesus, so we can ‘make of this old world a new world’. 
May it be so. Amen.

(this sermon was inspired by and draws on an article, The Ego-Driven Church: On the Perils of Christian Activism 2017)

A meal for the homeless

Published / by Sandy

On the day of his funeral, Professor Stephen Hawking’s family donated an Easter meal for 50 homeless people in Cambridge. It was held at Wesley Methodist Church, about a kilometre away from where mourners gathered on Saturday to celebrate his life. A touching note, signed by “the Hawking family”, was left on the tables and told the 50 guests that the lunch was a “gift from Stephen”. Organisers of the event, run by the charity FoodCycle, said the much-loved professor was given a “little cheer” by diners before they tucked into their meals. FoodCycle Cambridge said: “We’re so grateful to the Hawking family for their generous donation so we could give our guests an extra special Easter meal yesterday. A heartwarming gesture from the Hawking family that no doubt provided great cheer and comfort to the homeless.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, another act of generosity, and another special Easter Day meal at Pilgrim Uniting Church. This year the meal was served to about 100 people in a delightful ‘al fresco’ setting in the Pilgrim Plaza area at the rear of the church, making the most of a balmy autumn evening.

Twice a year, on Easter Day and Christmas Day, the Australia Angels for the Homeless  (coordinated by the amazing Steffan Joseph) prepares a meal for homeless, and disadvantaged people. This has been happening for 10+ years, with Steffan bringing together a huge number of volunteers, and preparing a veritable banquet for those who rarely have anything to celebrate. Food and other items are donated and some are purchased for the meal, with takeaway bags with treats for each person, and a toiletries bag with a range of personal care items.

In addition to the meal, some guests at the special events enjoy an opportunity to have a haircut, manicure and massage.

This is truly inspirational. Congratulations to Steffan and his team.

And for the other Sundays evenings in the year, Pilgrim Uniting Church hosts the Sunday Night Tea program for homeless and disadvantaged people, with numbers averaging around 60-80 people each night. Volunteers from Pilgrim as well as other churches and the wider community provide a warm welcome, and nutritious food.

(If you want to find out more about the Sunday Night Tea program, or how you can be involved in supporting the special Easter and Christmas events, please contact Pilgrim Uniting Church, office@pilgrim.org.au, 8212 3295).

2018 Easter message from the Uniting Church President

Published / by Sandy

Easter Greetings to you. I’m Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. 

Welcome to my home town Darwin – a beautiful place of diversity and difference. 

For Christ’s love compels us – he died for all so that we should no longer live for ourselves. This is at the very heart of the Christian faith, and yet in our own lives we often fail to resolve conflicts between ourselves and others.

The Karama Indonesian Uniting Church Congregation here in Darwin is doing just that. This new community came together at the end of last year. After 17 years of separation Christ’s love compelled them to be reconciled, truly one in Christ.

REV. THRESI MAUBOY: Greetings from Northern Synod – Karama Indonesian Uniting Church. I’m Thresi Mauboy – I’m the Moderator of Northern Synod.

The Indonesian community in Darwin – we’re coming from a multicultural background. 

We celebrate diversity, but we are one. So we as a Christian people, we always make sure – part of what Jesus teaches us to do is to bring people into unity and reconciliation.

JESSICA MAUBOY: [singing Amazing Grace]

REV. THRESI MAUBOY: You can come together – to love one another, to support one another and burn the burden and the suffering – and start a new life. That’s part of the reconciliation.

STUART MCMILLAN: It’s this amazing grace, this love of God for all people which is the message of hope at Easter. For me that is the message of the Cross. Our world needs this message of hope, of reconciliation.

The love of Christ means we put the needs of others ahead of our own and seek to come together to find a new way forward, a way of peace and reconciliation. This Easter, Christ’s love compels me to pray, and continue to work for reconciliation; in families, in communities, in our nation and between nations.

May the God of love and peace be with you all.

Reflections on April Fools’ Day and Easter Sunday

Published / by Sandy

April Fools’ Day is the perfect excuse to talk about jokes in the Bible. Most of us believe that the Bible is all heavy stuff, and Christian discipleship is based on a very serious Jesus, so we need to try to be a very serious Christian. But the Bible is full of jokes! This does not mean Jesus is not serious. A joke need not be frivolous or false, and in fact the best jokes are neither. One reason we miss jokes in the Bible is our Puritan tradition of disdain for levity, which tends to frame the things Jesus says as pithy ripostes or clever aphorisms – but not jokes. There is a logic to this: we have no problem being fully human but struggle to be godly, so we should focus on what is godly about Jesus. The ability to tell good jokes (and get them) is deeply tied to our moral imagination.
A good joke in the functional sense depends on our ability to see the difference between the world as it is and as it could be. A good joke in the moral sense, then, depends on our ability to see the difference between is and should. A good joke can light up the dark between the two, can help us see one from the other. Not everything that is funny is a joke, and not every funny joke is a good joke, but a good joke helps us see the distance between who we are and who we should be. Who but Jesus ever saw so clearly the distance between is and should? Who else had the imagination to grasp fully the gulf between heaven and earth? Laughter is both human and humane, an essential tool to help us cross the distance to God.
The lectionary for April 1 – Easter Sunday – is heavy on the heavy stuff, but it does contain one good joke. In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus finds Mary Magdalene weeping over the tomb. Mary, “supposing him to be a gardener,” does not recognize him. It is a joke about Mary’s failure to recognize Jesus, but also a joke about the reader’s ability to do so. The joke is at Mary’s expense and also ours.
It is neither stretch nor slight to say that the resurrection was a joke – and a good one. What more could Jesus have done to mock the world that killed him than rise from the dead? When we say we are Easter people, we say we live in the light Jesus brought to the darkness between what is and what should be.
“Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honourable as tears. We have no problem with the Jesus who wept. This Easter, let’s grapple with the Jesus who laughed”. (Kurt Vonnegut)


(adapted from an article by Miles Townes on Christian Century

Here’s another thoughtful article on Eureka Street

How do we envisage Jesus?

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church Minister and Trinity College lecturer Robyn J. Whitaker writes:

While there is no physical description of him in the Bible, there is also no doubt that the historical Jesus, the man who was executed by the Roman State in the first century CE, was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.

This is not controversial from a scholarly point of view, but somehow it is a forgotten detail for many of the millions of Christians who will gather to celebrate Easter this week.

On Good Friday, Christians attend churches to worship Jesus and, in particular, remember his death on a cross. In most of these churches, Jesus will be depicted as a white man, a guy that looks like Anglo-Australians, a guy easy for other Anglo-Australians to identify with.

Think for a moment of the rather dashing Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. He is an Irish-American actor. Or call to mind some of the most famous artworks of Jesus’ crucifixion – Ruben, Grunewald, Giotto – and again we see the European bias in depicting a white-skinned Jesus.

Why do we continue to allow images of a whitened Jesus to dominate?

Many churches and cultures do depict Jesus as a brown or black man. Orthodox Christians usually have a very different iconography to that of European art – if you enter a church in Africa, you’ll likely see an African Jesus on display.

But these are rarely the images we see in Australian Protestant and Catholic churches, and it is our loss. It allows the mainstream Christian community to separate their devotion to Jesus from compassionate regard for those who look different.

I would even go so far as to say it creates a cognitive disconnect, where one can feel deep affection for Jesus but little empathy for a Middle Eastern person. It likewise has implications for the theological claim that humans are made in God’s image. If God is always imaged as white, then the default human becomes white and such thinking undergirds racism.

Historically, the whitewashing of Jesus contributed to Christians being some of the worst perpetrators of anti-Semitism and it continues to manifest in the “othering” of non-Anglo Saxon Australians.

This Easter, I can’t help but wonder, what would our church and society look like if we just remembered that Jesus was brown? If we were confronted with the reality that the body hung on the cross was a brown body: one broken, tortured, and publicly executed by an oppressive regime.

How might it change our attitudes if we could see that the unjust imprisonment, abuse, and execution of the historical Jesus has more in common with the experience of Indigenous Australians or asylum seekers than it does with those who hold power in the church and usually represent Christ?

Perhaps most radical of all, I can’t help but wonder what might change if we were more mindful that the person Christians celebrate as God in the flesh and saviour of the entire world was not a white man, but a Middle Eastern Jew.

(Robyn J. Whitaker, original article published in The Conversation)

https://tenplay.com.au/channel-ten/studio-10/extra/season-2018/how-do-we-envisage-jesus

Good Friday

Published / by Sandy

The hosannas have died away
O Holy God,
the hosannas have died away,
the palm branches have turned brittle.
Now, today, there is only this –
each of us,
all of us,
sitting in the darkness,
the hymns of lament in the air,
the mumblings of our own feeble confession,
on this Friday
which we tremble to call Good.

What is good about Good Friday?

What is good about the innocent one nailed to a cross?
What is good about the darkness of war that persists today?
What is good about our devastation of the planet?
… about people living in poverty?
… about the fog of addiction, depression, disease and despair?
What is good about the crushing weight of hunger, racism, scapegoating, apathy?

No, there is nothing good and desirable in these things.

Yet you, O God, are Good.

When suffering reigns, yours is the first heart to break.

When despair lurks about, we remember that you were there first,
peering into the abyss and crying out, incredibly:
“Father, forgive them.”

When we feel forsaken, we remember that in your last moments,
you cared for your mother and your beloved disciple,
binding them to one another as a new family.

When we feel overcome by guilt, we remember that you spoke grace to a thief:
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Your love for us is just that boundless,
and ever-present,
and Good.

Thank you.
What else can we say here, in the dimness,
in the darkness,
but thank you.

Amen.
(Source: MaryAnn McKibben Dana, LiturgyLinks)

Palm Sunday

Published / by Sandy

2018 Palm Sunday Rally – Walk for justice for refugees
Across Australia, people from faith groups, community groups and organisations and unions will join the Palm Sunday actions for Refugees, bringing banners and messages of support to express their concern about the treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. In Adelaide people will gather in Victoria Square at 2pm, before walking to Parliament House for presentation by guest speakers. Speaking truth to power. (Details of Palm Sunday actions for Refugees in other cities here)
Approximately 30,000 refugees are living on temporary visas in our community with their futures in limbo. Many families are separated by the harsh system, and people despair of ever being reunited. Many lack access to education and citizenship and fear being deported to danger.
Refugees on Manus and Nauru are approaching their fifth year languishing offshore.
The refugee movement is shifting public opinion. A majority of Australians are now opposed to the continuing detention of refugees on Manus and Nauru and believe they should be brought to Australia
Join us and show your support for:
1. An Australia that treats people seeking asylum humanely and in accordance with Australia’s international obligations ensuring access to a fair application process irrespective of mode or date of arrival.
2. An Australia where people are free to live in the community while their claims are transparently processed
3. An Australia that expands alternative migration pathways for refugees, increases access to family reunion and creates opportunities for increased community involvement in the refugee resettlement program
4. An Australia that shows leadership in working with governments and people in the Asia-Pacific to address the causes of refugee displacement and increase access to sustainable humanitarian solutions that include aid, active diplomacy and resettlement

A reflection on the gospel account of Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11)
The events of Palm Sunday open themselves to an element of foolishness in interpretation and application. We have already encountered this call to foolishness in Lent 3, but on Palm Sunday, the implications and impact of this call to Gospel foolishness are made more clear, and our need to respond is made even more urgent.
The archetype of the Fool is an important and subversive one, since the fool, traditionally, was the only person who could speak truth to power. The musical Godspell portrayed this through dressing Jesus up in clown make-up and clothing. Rather than being an irreverent and mocking way of thinking of Christ, the fool image is a prophetic and transforming way of encountering Christ’s message and work, and this is particularly true as we think of the rather foolish image of a Christ processing into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – not the most compliant of species at the best of times.
What makes this even more subversive and comical is the comparison with the second procession that would have been happening in Jerusalem that day – Pilate, on his white war horse, and his Roman troops arrayed in their best and most intimidating military finery.
In the Gospel of Mark’s account of this event, the strangeness of the procession is further heightened by the fact that Jesus does not immediately overturn the tables in the Temple. Rather, he simply looks around and leaves – leaving the crowds, I am sure, rather bewildered and perhaps anti-climactic. It is only the next day, when the “safety in numbers” is no longer there, that Jesus does his work of cleansing the Temple.
It is clear that Jesus is working hard here to reveal that God’s Reign is present, but to avoid either the excess of a military dictatorship, or the uprising of a bloody and violent revolution (which may well have arisen if he had done his table-turning with the crowds in attendance – in spite of what the other Gospels may say…).
So, this may be a good time to reflect on the foolishness of Christ, and the foolishness of following Christ in the ways and values of God’s upside-down Realm. This is actually the wisest way to live and offers real strategies for addressing our world’s crises, and the seeming wisdom of the world’s systems which are, in fact, fostering inequality, injustice, climate change, ethnic and religious violence, and fragmentation of our world and societies. When the simplicity, humility, generosity, compassion, justice, and grace of Christ are fully embraced – as foolish as these qualities may seem in today’s competitive world – the impact on our world is life-giving, healing and peace-making. The question we need to face is whether we are willing to become fools for the sake of the Gospel – and for the healing of our world. (John van de Laar, Sacredise)

 

Earth Hour – 24th March 2018 – 8.30pm

Published / by Sandy

Earth Hour is the single largest symbolic mass participation event in the world. Born of the hope that people could be mobilized to take action on climate change, Earth Hour now inspires a global community of millions of people in 7001 cities and towns across 178 countries to switch off lights for an hour. The event recognizes our global responsibility for the climate change which is already devastating lives and threatening the future of the planet. Now in its 11th year, Earth Hour 2018 takes place on SATURDAY MARCH 24TH 8.30-9.30 pm.  Our actions today can change our tomorrows. We love and care about our beautiful, fragile planet – “our common home”.

A reflection by Nancy Schreck, OSF:
Alice Walker, once asked, “Is there anything more painful than realizing we did not know the right questions to ask at the only time on earth we would have the opportunity to do so?” There are new questions for our time such as how do we and ought we think about God and the world, and about ourselves in relation to God and the world?

Or the question posed by Sallie McFague, “What if we dared to think of our planet as the body of God? God, not transcendent over the universe in the sense of external to, or apart from it, but as the source, power and goal; the spirit that enlivens and loves the entire process and its material forms. God the inspirited body of the entire universe, the animating, living spirit that produces guides, and saves all that is. What if the cosmos was the picture we turned to when we try to imagine divine incarnation? What if as Thomas Berry says “the body of Christ is ultimately the entire universe?”

For the past several hundred years at least, Christianity has been concerned almost exclusively with the salvation of the individual human beings (souls) rather than with the well being of the oppressed including not only the oppression of human beings but also the oppressed earth and all its life forms. What if we believed that salvation is about healing, and just as the cosmos itself can be ruptured and torn apart by injustice, so too it can be healed by human efforts to bring justice back to the human relationships with earth, air, fire, water, and one another. (Matthew Fox)

While Christians generally understand God’s will for salvation on earth to involve healing and wholeness for human beings, we must extend our understanding to include healing and wholeness for the rest of creation. To usher in God’s will on earth as in heaven requires that we treat the earth as if it were heaven. This means we must treat it with respect for its sacredness and ensure its health, beauty and wholeness. Human responsibility that reconciles humankind and creation with God does not requires dominating the earth as Christians have often misunderstood their task, but loving the earth as one’s kindred and one’s self. Restoration of right relationship with God includes restoration of right relationship with the earth. Such restoration is redemptive because we move toward God’s original intention of the harmonious interrelatedness of life. (Karen Baker-Fletcher and Garth Kasium Baker- Fletcher)

Though we live in a new time, so much of theological worldview continues to come to us from the Council of Nicea: While its hold is fading many continue to be formed in a kind of theological thinking in which there is the world (which was evil and to be escaped,) the church (which was the vehicle of escape) and heaven or the other world (our real purpose in life.) We have developed much of our theology based on this world denying approach. As I have said, much has shifted but it is not left behind.

Thomas Berry says, “The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation. Such, it seems to me, is the situation we must deal with now. We are confused at present because our historical situation has changed so profoundly. Our story, too, has changed. We no longer know its meaning or how to benefit from its guidance. We are in trouble now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”

A prayer for Earth Hour
Creator God, this earth is beautiful and fragile. Forgive our confusion and inaction as we confront the challenges of climate change. In the light of your truth, seen so clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus, help us to re-examine ourselves and our lifestyle choices and see clearly the implications of how we live on all that sustains life on earth. May we follow your leading in caring for every aspect of this precious world, which you made and love. Throughout history you have moved people to do amazing things for the sake of their neighbours and especially the poor. Inspire us now to work together, to change priorities in the way we live so that we build a fair and safe world for all your creation and for future generations. Amen
(Source: Eco-congregation, Ireland)

‘How to’ and ‘how not to’ vote

Published / by Sandy

 

The writer Gregg Easterbrook (The Atlantic Monthly; New York Times) was interviewed this week on Radio National and he said,

“By almost every meaningful measure the modern world is better than it’s ever been. People want to believe the worst because they think that optimism means complacency. Optimists are not the ones that have a ‘sunny disposition’, who think everything’s going to be fine. Rather, optimism is the belief that problems can be solved, that reforms can address the problems in society. Why then do so few of us not look optimistically to the future? That everything is worse than what it is? To say it’s better than it looks and to make a case for optimism is not the same as saying everything is fine. It isn’t. The world is full of problems. There are a lot of things you should be worried about/cynical about/angry about. Pessimists think the things you should be angry and cynical about are going to overwhelm us. Optimists can be angry and fixed, but think things can be fixed”.

So how does this impact on how we vote in the South Australian election on 17th March? How do we vote for the ‘common good’ and how might the ‘common good’ impact not only our politics but also our personal lives, families, churches, neighborhoods, and world? And the environment? How do we tap into the ‘belief that problems can be solved, that reforms can address the problems in society?

Dr John Dickson, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity has provided some ‘how to’ and ‘how not to vote’ tips for the upcoming State Government election on 17 March 2018.  The full article “Mixing religion and politics” can be accessed here.

How Not to Vote

1. Precedent: ‘how we always vote’

Voting patterns are sometimes based on little more than family heritage (‘We have always voted for x’) or geographical location (‘Most people vote for y where I live’). I want to suggest that voting by personal or demographic precedent is not a thoughtful vote, and whatever else a Christian vote must be it must be thoughtful.

2. Christian favouritism

Secondly, and perhaps a little controversially, voting for a candidate simply because s/he is a Christian, or our brand of Christian, is morally suspect; it is a religious form of favouritism. Having Christians in parliament is no guarantee—or even indicator—that our nation will be marked by peace, justice, compassion, truth and so on. Sadly, history is littered with counter-examples.

3. Economic prosperity

Thirdly, the main parties and most of the major media tend to make ‘economic prosperity’ a central election issue. This is a window into the soul of a country. However, Christians must seriously question a fixation with the ‘bottom line’.

How a Christian Ought to Vote

1. Vote for others

Firstly and most importantly, a Christian vote is a vote for others, not oneself. It is fundamental to the Christian outlook that life be devoted to the good of others before oneself:

Honour one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10).In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

2. Vote for the moral health of the community

Secondly, the moral health of our community provides another motivation for the Christian’s vote. Personally, I think the church has no right to seek to impose a Christian way of life on a largely secular society (‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?,’ said Paul in 1 Cor 5:12). Having said that, as citizens who believe that a society’s health depends (in part) on living as the Creator designed, Christians will want to ponder: which party and/or policies will promote the values applauded by the Creator, the values of justice, harmony (nationally and internationally), sexual responsibility, honesty, family and mercy.

3. Vote for the poor and weak

Thirdly, in voting for the ‘other’ the Christian will principally have in mind the poor and powerless. We will use our vote for those who need our vote more than we do.

4. Vote for the gospel

Fourthly, almost by definition, Christians are to live for the eternal good of others (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1). Concern for the advancement of the Christian message throughout Australia, therefore, will potentially play a part in a Christian’s voting patterns.

5. Vote prayerfully

Finally, a Christian vote is a prayerful one. The Scriptures urge believers to pray for leaders and for governments. And, ultimately, believers will see this as more important even than their vote.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

See also the Pilgrim Worship resources website related to Elections.

 

There must be a God somewhere

Published / by Sandy

A sermon at Pilgrim Church by Pastor Liz Dyson, 4 March 2018 

Over my head
I hear music in the air
Over my head I hear music in the air
Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

I work as a hospital chaplain. In hospitals, like in the largely Greek culture of Corinth – knowledge is highly prized. The knowledge of the Doctors is especially prized – though without the knowledge and expertise of all the other staff the place could never function sustainably.

Early in my hospital chaplaincy it took a while to get my head around who it was I was called to be in that place. I attended meetings with staff and began to learn a new language – the language of this medical world. I had nothing intelligent to say about clinical matters and initially no expertise to offer about what they were talking about. ‘What am I doing here,’ I wondered? What is the purpose of my presence?

I learnt though, that when the experts have come to the end of their answers that’s when the chaplain comes into their own. When there is nothing left to be done or when there are several options for the way forward and people can’t agree …everyone else steps back … And the chaplain is invited forward.

In time it’s become clear that my presence is my purpose. It’s not my role to give answers but to be a reminder of another way of being when the answers are hard to come by.

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

When I first started as a chaplain I was anxious about where to be. I felt the urge to sprint around the hospital looking for hot spots where I could be of use.

A wise woman offered me this … As you walk around the hospital … what would happen if you imagined Jesus walking next to you.

The moment I did that I realized that Jesus would not be sprinting. He’d be walking a whole lot slower. He wouldn’t be anxious or rushing.

He would be noticing. He would be pausing to enjoy people’s company. He would be stopping to listen and hear about people’s pain. He would be sharing a scone and a cuppa in the staff room. He would be living in the moment.

That changed everything.

If you were to distil the chaplain’s job description down to a few words it might be these … to notice, to listen, to value, to reconcile, to be.

Chaplains be with patients, as well as families and friends … and they be with staff – with the nurses, with the lady who brings the menus around, the man who lugs the dirty linen out of the wards, with the general manager.

Our text today repeats the notion of proclamation and of proclaiming Christ crucified. The function of chaplains is not to evangelise. The man who lugs the dirty linen is not at all keen for me to hole him up in the lift and ask him if he knows God.

But when people feel noticed and listened to and cared for, when people are reconciled to each other, or to God or to themselves, then they often sense something of the power of God spoken about in our text for today.

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

Generally chaplains are highly trained individuals.They’ve worked hard to gain wisdom and skill in their craft. Though these things are important the days when the real magic happens are the days when they throw themselves on God and say … I don’t know where to go today. I don’t know what to say today. Take me where you will.

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Starting the day in the way can take you to all kinds of unexpected places … Often it takes you to a bedside.

Recently a nurse at a nurses’ station told the chaplain that she struggles when a patient dies alone. Nurses often don’t have time to stay with patients themselves but it goes against the grain for the patient to be alone when others can’t be present. On this day there was a patient in that position not far away. Shall I wander in then? the chaplain said.

In the room the patient lay in a beautifully made bed. The patient looked peaceful and comfortable but was very low. It wouldn’t be long. What to say? What to do? But it seemed important just to be there for a while. Like an increasing number of patients in the hospital this person had described themselves as having no religion. Praying or singing amazing grace wasn’t an appropriate way to connect with this person.

I wonder what you like? The chaplain asked. I wonder what’s important to you?

And after a while of this the words to a song came into her head … so she quietly began to sing “somewhere over the rainbow, way up high… ” Strange that she would sing that song. It’d never been one of her own favourites. But it came to mind and it seemed okay to sing it.

After a while she went out to the nurses station and mentioned to the nurse what had just happened. Later in the day the chaplain received a phone call from the same nurse. The patient had passed away not long before. The patient’s sister had arrived and told the nurse that “Somewhere over the rainbow was one of the patient’s favourite songs.”

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

I would like to introduce you now to Jim (not his real name.) Jim is sitting alone in his hospital room. He’s pale and thin and sitting on the edge of his bed hunched over his overway. He needs oxygen to breathe freely and he’s a frequent visitor to the hospital. He has a wife, Mary, but they live in the country so he’s alone today and he’s feeling flat. A nurse comes in and notices this. Would you like to talk to someone? We have a chaplain here.

Not if they want to talk about God, he says. It doesn’t have to be about God the nurse says. It can be about anything. So begins a relationship.

That first meeting was a bit stop and start but the chaplain visited again and was well received. Jim went home and some months later returned. The chaplain saw he was in and visited him and he was pleased to see her. They didn’t talk about God. She found out he liked to paint. She met Mary, his wife. He told her about his favourite beach and how he loves to paint there.

Jim came and went, came and went. Sometimes he was unwell but jovial, sometimes he was weighed down. One day the chaplain felt brave. She found a picture of a man weighed down with a huge bundle on his back. She showed it to Jim and told him it reminded her of him. He said weighed down was how he felt. At the bottom of the picture was written, “Jesus said come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Nothing was said about that. Jim kept the picture.

One day Jim he rang the chaplain from home. He asked if there was someone like her near where he lived. Like me, she said. What do you mean? Someone who will come and talk with me.

She said there was a minister near where he lived – a woman. Would he like her to see if she would come and see him at home. He said he would give it a try. He received a visit. Then another. After a while Mary began to go to the local Church where that minister was leading. Then a while later he started to go too.

He would sit up the back because he was embarrassed about his oxygen bottle. He thought people would look down on him.

The chaplain told him that at any half reasonable church people wouldn’t be thinking that. Everyone is welcome.

Some months later the chaplain heard that Jim was in a different hospital and was very unwell. She visited him there and took with her a smooth wooden hand cross for Jim. Easter was approaching. She thought he might want something solid to hold in his hand. He was grateful. He told her he’d have to look out or Mary would want to pinch it, drill a hole in it and make it into a necklace. He said he’d been trying to paint a scene of good Friday but he couldn’t get it quite right.

Not many days after this she received a phone call to say Jim had died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Mary hadn’t known what to do or where to go after she’d left the hospital. She took the long lonely drive back to her country home and as she passed her church the cars were still there for Sunday worship. She went in and shared the news. The church mourned with her.

In the following days they visited her, drank cups of tea with her and helped her hang her washing on the line.

A few days later at Jim’s funeral – his life, which had been at times lonely and isolated and hard was remembered and celebrated . And the Church was full of people.

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

I don’t know if, like the Jews, you look for signs or, like the Greeks you search for wisdom. I don’t know what you believe about how God does or doesn’t connect with people.

What I do know is that in eight years of turning up to work in a hospital I have seen that Aslan is on the move. God is alive and well and lurking in the corridors of our hospitals and in the streets of our communities. And more than that, evidence suggests that God is open to me, indeed invites each one of us to be part of God’s plan for relationship and reconciliation of the whole creation.

I can understand if you think that is foolishness. There would be many in my hospital who would think the same thing. But I cannot help but proclaim today that when I walk slowly enough – slow like I think Jesus would walk … and when I notice the people I think Jesus would notice … and when I try to be present to people in the way I imagine Jesus might be present… Something happens. It’s like I can hear music. And I sense that other people can sometimes hear it too. Listen … can you hear it too?

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

Time of silent reflection

You can use this time as you will … or you might reflect on what God’s music might sound like? When do you hear it the loudest?
Or as we move through lent how would Jesus walk and where would Jesus walk. What might it mean to walk in step with that.

The changing of the seasons – autumn

Published / by Sandy

Autumn begins on March 1st in the southern hemisphere. In 1995 Parker J. Palmer wrote a reflection on the four seasons. Here is his autumn reflection, which seems most appropriate in this season of Lent. 
Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays toward winter’s death. Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring – and she scatters them with amazing abandon.
In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life.
But as I explore autumn’s paradox of dying and seeding, I feel the power of metaphor. In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface appearances – on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a work.
And yet, if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come.
In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time – how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the “road closed” sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.
This hopeful notion that living is hidden within dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn. What artist would ever have painted a season of dying with such a vivid palette if nature had not done it first? Does death possess a beauty that we – who fear death, who find it ugly and obscene – cannot see? How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?
For me, the words that come closest to answering those questions are the words of Thomas Merton: “There is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.”
In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.”
In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other—they cohere in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, as my body needs to breathe in as well as breathe out. But in a culture that prefers the ease of either-or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together. We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter, and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives.
When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off. Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.
Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to “make” a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.
Parker J. Palmer is a writer, speaker, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. The article was published here.

Winter Olympics

Published / by Sandy

(originally published by Christine Sine, Godspace)

Like many, I have had my eyes glued to the TV watching the Winter Olympics over the last few days. I have rarely been impacted so much by a sports event. Maybe it is because it began as the season of Lent was getting underway. Maybe it was just that I needed something to relax me in this challenging season. Whatever it is, I have been impressed.

The commitment of these athletes, their endurance and stamina which comes through discipline and perseverance is incredible. For love of the game they are willing to endure incredible pain and suffering. Some performed with broken bones and massive bruises. Others like Belle Brockhoff had just recovered from major injuries they chose to ignore because of their desire to reach their goal and walk away with a gold medal.

Australian Belle Brockhoff leads the field in her snowboard cross quarter-final. (Reuters: Issei Kato)

They are also willing to fail. I was fascinated to learn that the judges gave higher marks in many events to those who tried the most difficult jumps and fell than they did to those who chose simpler jumps. To try for the best even if you don’t make it is very important.

As I watched them I wondered: If athletes are willing to endure so much in order to compete for a medal in the Olympics,  why is it so hard for me to persevere with my spiritual disciplines? Why don’t we, as followers of Christ have the same level of commitment?

Not surprisingly the scripture that comes to mind is Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

We are indeed surrounded by a cloud of  2,000 years of persevering witnesses who have run incredibly disciplined races. The results of their commitment still enriches our lives today.

What I am challenged with today is to prayerfully consider what disciplines I must persevere with during this season of Lent that will enable me to reach my goal of a deeper and more loving relationship to God and God’s world. What setbacks and pain am I willing to endure because of my commitment to this goal?

Talking about Lent and sausages

Published / by Sandy

(This article was originally published by Mike Frost on his website)

Ash Wednesday is the traditional commencement of the Christian season of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance in readiness for Easter. I’m occasionally asked why not all Protestants observe Lenten fasts and I explain it’s basically about freedom from legalism. But it’s also about sausages. Yep, a lot of Protestants don’t observe Lent because of the humble wiener.

(Comment: Several years ago in Lent the Pilgrim community cooked sausages for a breakfast program we were running, premised on the following story about sausages. While it couldn’t match the radical and illegal act of cooking sausages in 1522, it was an imaginative way of recognising the strictures of ‘religion’ as distinct from freedom in Christ). 

Way back in the 16th century, a dissident group of Swiss Christians were putting together a new translation of the Epistles of St Paul. The edition was being published by a very prominent citizen of Zurich, the printer, Christoph Froschauer. Printing was still a relatively new trade, and wildly popular, so Froschauer had become a wealthy businessman, prestigious and influential. He was also a Protestant, having been caught up in the liberation and excitement of the Reformation that had begun to sweep through Germany and was creeping into eastern Switzerland.
Froschauer’s priest, the forceful and charismatic Ulrich Zwingli had brought the teachings of Martin Luther to Zurich, and he had seized upon the need to publish the New Testament in the vernacular, as well as distributing tracts and sermons to the citizens of the city. The priest and the printer became a formidable duo.

Anyway, in the spring of 1522, as the first copies of the new edition of Paul’s letters rolled off the printing presses, Zwingli and Froschauer were in the mood to celebrate. Together with his exhausted staff and his apprentices, and in the presence of a number of church clerics, Christoph Froschauer had his table loaded with beer and sausages (and presumably cheese and potato and sauerkraut) and threw a party.

Except…
…and this part is going to be hard to fully understand…
…eating sausages during the season of Lent was against the law.

Not just frowned upon, illegal! And Froschauer and Zwingli knew it. That feast was an incendiary act. They had just published Paul’s epistles, for goodness sake! So they knew Paul’s teachings against the imposition of ritual fasts and festivals. They knew his words from Galatians 4:
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain (7-11, emphasis is the author’s).

And his even more pointed advice to the Colossians:
Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind… If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 2: 16-18, 20-23).

Having just rolled those pages through his press, Froschauer was in no mood to kowtow to the Roman Catholic Church authorities. They had turned the Christian faith into a repressive system of social control. If you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or seen the Netflix series, you’ll know how vile and soul-crushing toxic religion can be.

Froschauer’s sausage dinner, or wurst abendessen, was a big “middle finger” to those very authorities. It was an intentionally provocative act, designed to show the city of Zurich that he wasn’t only prepared to print the words of Paul, he was going to follow them.

His partner in this act of defiance, Father Ulrich Zwingli, immediately prepared a sermon entitled On the Choice and Freedom of Foods and soon after, he climbed into the high pulpit at his church, the Grossmünster and unloaded both barrels.

There is no such thing as Lent in Scripture, Zwingli announced. The draconian rules imposed on you by the authoritarian clerics have no biblical support. If you think you can earn the church’s favor, and by extension God’s favor, by observing these rules, think again. You have been saved by grace, not by somehow achieving some required level of righteousness.

Or as Zwingli might have put it, you can take your Lenten fast and shove it.

Boom.

It’s hard for us today to fully appreciate the stifling religiosity under which men like Froschauer and Zwingli were living, and the enormous sense of liberation they felt when they realized Scripture freed them from all this dreadful rule-keeping and religious anxiety.

I spent a bit of time with Russian Protestants in Moscow some years ago and heard them speak of their revulsion for Great Lent, Clean Monday, Ash Wednesday, Lazarus Saturday, etc etc. They felt they had been set free from the slavish observance of these feasts and from the veneration of saints and the use of icons. When I asked them whether, in order to share their perspective with their Orthodox friends and relatives, they could still engage with these feasts and practices, showing that their salvation is assured in Christ, not via legalism, the answer was a big fat, NO.

When you’ve suffered under legalistic religion, you want no part of it again. Ever. It’s revolting.

There are a number of hallmarks of a bad religion. They include being chiefly concerned with things to avoid; measuring quantities (of observance etc.); locating our identity in our behavior; constricting life; simulating holiness; promoting suspicion; suppressing thought; isolating dissenters.

These are the very things Christoph Froschauer was done with when he dished up those bangers. No more bad religion for him, even if it meant risking arrest.

I’ve just watched The Handmaid’s Tale on Netflix and I’ve gotta tell you, it isn’t for the faint of heart. It is set in a near future when fertility rates have inexplicably plummeted, and a cruel and misogynistic religious state has been established. Fertile women (or handmaids) are used like cattle for breeding purposes, their dreadful treatment being veiled by grand-sounding religious jargon. The penalty for disobedience is torture and death.

Like serving sausages during Lent in 1522.

Today, Lent holds no such revulsion for Protestants who’ve never suffered under religious legalism. For many younger Protestants, Lent can be a season for bearing the burden of one’s sin in readiness for a fresh experience of God’s grace in Christ on Resurrection Sunday. The fasting element is designed to foster that sense of carrying a nagging need or hunger. Every pang of desire for whatever you’ve given up is meant to be experienced as a call to prayer and repentance. It’s a beautiful tradition when truly practised with the devotion of the penitent. And it makes the freedom and joy of Easter Sunday so much more enjoyable (especially if you gave up chocolate for Lent!).

I see no problem with Protestants reaching back into church history and pulling out ancient observances like Lent or Advent or traditional practices like the Stations of the Cross. I hear the concerns some people have about us adding to Scripture. But it’s possible to engage in traditional practices in a way that enhances our faith without diverting us from the freedom we have in Christ. While I have found the observance of Lent very enriching in the past, I’m not practising it this year. I think one of the ways to find it spiritually profitable is to avoid it becoming a routine, or worse, a slavishly observed ritual.

As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

‘This is my beloved:Listen to him!’

Published / by Sandy

(A sermon at 11am by Dr Tanya Wittwer, 11th February 2018)

Mark 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

There is mastery in the way Year B of the lectionary introduces us to Mark’s story, capturing the structure of his narrative. We meet Jesus on the banks of Jordan. The preaching and actions of the charismatic Baptiser, John, become merely background when the heavens are torn apart and the Holy Spirit appears, accompanied by the voice of God: this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. After a sojourn in the wilderness, Jesus calls disciples, controls and expels the demonic, heals, teaches. Then, in today’s Gospel, we reach the turning point and hear about the Transfiguration – an account of mystery, where three of the disciples hear the voice of God, extending the baptismal message. This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.

As we leave the mountain we turn our faces to Jerusalem. On Wednesday some of us will walk through a portal of ashes to start the journey. The Lenten journey will end when we hear that darkness covered the land from noon until 3, when Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last, and the centurion took on the role of carrying the message: Truly, this man was God’s son.

The Gospel of Mark doesn’t want us to miss that point, but actually, it’s not the key point.

You may recall the first verse of the book of Mark reads, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

That little phrase, good news, is theologically loaded: the people have been expecting this, in the light of God’s actions in the past. Israel has been yearning for good news. Isaiah had put words to their hope: “How beautiful … are the feet of the one who brings good news, who declares to Israel: your God reigns.” (Is 52:7) Or again “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Is 61:6) They have hung onto their deep longings through exile, decimation and occupation. In verse 14 and 15 of Mark 1, we hear, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

So it’s not the claim that Jesus is Son of God that is important, but that this hoped for good news is somehow to be linked to Jesus’ life, because of his identity as the Christ, the Son of God.

So when we return to the mountain and to the words “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him”, what is it that we should listen to that is answering the human yearning and human hope? How is God acting in that time and space? And what on earth can this strange transfiguration event, and these words mean for us, today?

Listen to him!” Moses had said that Israel should heed a prophet whom the LORD God would raise up (Dt 18:15). So to what should Jesus’ disciples pay attention? Presumably, everything that Mark records that Jesus says and does.

Jesus has arrived to bring about God’s reign. Somehow God will be acting through Jesus’ activity. And just as John had called for repentance, so does Jesus. People are being asked to change. They are being invited to believe in the immanence of the reign and to trust in God’s action in Jesus. It’s not a one person fringe event, but Jesus gathers people around him to share his joy and task, people that believe Jesus’ message and live as if they can see God’s reign already accomplished.

Jesus is setting people free. He has the power to exorcise and to heal, to call away from loneliness and addictions and to call to love and community. But, there is more.

Listen to him” the voice calls. In the section before the story of the transfiguration, Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one, and instead of a grand military parade, ticker tape procession or celebratory party, Jesus tells his disciples of his future suffering and vindication, and of the need for cross-bearing discipleship. It seems these hard things are to be listened to.

Is this why we have this strange story? In some mysterious way, three disciples, the core of Jesus’ leadership team, are being prepared for the unthinkable. God’s generous and overflowing love gave the community, through the three, a glimpse of something that would sustain through the hardest of times. The story is loaded with symbolism: six days, the mountain, the cloud, the two ancients who have not seen death, Jesus radiant as the righteous one, the light of God that has come into the world. Those for whom it was first recorded would have known all the hope and expectation loaded into that symbolism, and already knowing the end of the story, the connections to death and resurrection.

Instead of untangling those layers of meaning, instead of picking it apart, and making a declaration about what it means, I invite you to use the imagination the Holy Spirit has give you. Let’s not reduce it to a verbal explanation. Enter into the mystery, so that we are strengthened to live in this reign of God that we cannot yet see, strengthened to bring sight to the blind, to unlock the chains of the detainees and to set the oppressed free?

In Luke, when the angel visited Mary, she was told The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. On the mountain, the group were overshadowed … This is my son, the beloved. A cloud was the presence of the Most High. Through Jesus, the disciples shared this too awesome, too strong nearness of God. Some among us have been blessed with our own epiphany, our own moment when we have truly known God’s presence. But the promise of God’s presence is for all of us. The Holy Spirit has come upon us. Through our baptism we are joined with Jesus, and the Most High has overshadowed us. Maybe, with Mary, we have emerged from that overshadowing, pregnant with the possibility of the reign. Pregnant with all that is light and life-giving.

Dr Deidre Palmer has announced the 15th UCA Assembly theme: Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope, and I’d like to share it with you:

In a time where our world is overshadowed by violence, hatred and suspicion of the other, the Church is called to live an alternative narrative of hope, reconciliation and love.
As the Church, God’s grace at work in us liberates hope – communally, personally, in our society and in our world. We see God’s grace most fully expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ life and ministry, we see God’s hope for us and all creation expressed in the proclamation of the Reign of God. As the Body of Christ, the Spirit opens our eyes to God’s deep desire for our world, and we are led toward horizons of hope that expand our imagination into Spirit led ways of being and living that we had not thought possible!
“Liberating Hope” is an action of God in us, and it is a call for us to participate in God’s mission in the world. Liberation movements around the world have been inspired by the Gospel of Christ, to be communities of resistance and protest in the face of injustice and inequality.
The Uniting Church has been shaped by Christ’s call to be bearers of God’s justice, compassion, healing and hope in our world.
In the next Triennium, this theme highlights for us Christ’s call to be a church that embodies God’s abundant grace, compassion and love – a Church that is a bearer of Christ’s hope and light in the midst of despair and darkness. The overflowing of God’s abundant grace through us will be seen as we create communities and contribute to a world, where people experience God’s good news of reconciling love, healing and hope.
You are God’s child, the beloved. Listen to him!

“The prejudice of exclusion”

Published / by Sandy

As we turn towards Ash Wednesday and into Lent, it starts again… the self-righteous furore over Cadbury ‘removing’ the word Easter from the range of boxed solid eggs.
An old Facebook post by former Australian Senator Glenn Lazarus (he hasn’t been in politics for years but the post is still being circulated) says he’s sick of Australia bending over to ‘the rest of the world’ (??) to ‘appease everyone except Aussies’. (Presumably this is linking ‘the rest of the world’ with having something to do with removing the ‘Christian’ word Easter). What do solid chocolate Easter eggs have to do with Easter anyway (companies are making the most of a trading opportunity). Since when do Australians stand self-righteously against ‘the rest of the world’ (though it’s easy to work out that’s code for ‘people not like us’). The UK and other places have identical ‘outrage campaigns’ but tailored to their context. And the word Easter itself is commonly understood to have originated from pagan gods and goddesses associated with fertility (Easter being in Spring in the northern hemisphere).
The old fashioned hollow Easter egg could well be construed as a symbol of the empty tomb of the Christian story, but all the rest (like Cadbury’s solid eggs) are ‘seasonal’ rather than meaningful – meant for fun (and profit) rather than spiritual edification. No need for ‘Easter’ as a descriptor on the box.
My personal favourite ‘outrage’ was from @ChristineHodge2 who was trying to state the case that the word Easter had been removed so as not to offend other religions and poses the question, ‘since when was Easter offensive?’. Ummm, can I suggest you read the Gospels, Christine?
I’m much more interested in whether the chocolate is Fair Trade certified so that all stages of the chocolate harvesting and production are fair and just.
I came across this quote from Pakistani theologian Charles Amjad Ali: “We are all prejudiced. What changes in our dialogue with others is the focus of our prejudice. Can we be prejudiced towards justice, equality and respect, or do we always live primarily with the prejudices of exclusion?”
Can we stop contributing to the prejudice of exclusion and work towards a prejudice towards justice , equality and respect?
Ah, hang on, wasn’t that what Jesus’ life (and death) was all about…..?

Advance Australia Where?

Published / by Peter
The following is a letter from Justice for Refugees SA

Last year twelve former Australians of the Year wrote a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  calling on the government to act over the “human disaster” at the former refugee detention centre on Manus Island. This treatment does not represent who we are as Australians, or indeed as human beings.

This Australia Day many people are thinking about Indigenous dispossession. It’s also an opportunity to think about people who are imprisoned, yet have done nothing wrong, committed no crime, and who are even denied a trial, fair or otherwise. Especially consider the plight of refugees and people seeking asylum, people who, in earlier times, have contributed so much to make Australia great.

It is a good time to consider Australian values. Where is our Australia “fair”? What is happening to our Australian values? Whatever happened to the Fair Go for all? We are losing the right to transparent government, to habeus corpus, to fair trial, to nobody being above the law. We are being deliberately divided. The vulnerable members of our communities are being trampled on and manipulated as political playthings. Minorities are being scapegoated.

In history’s page let every stage advance Australia fair

The tune to those words we sing was written by Tommy Tycho, a Jewish refugee who came to Australia after experiencing, as a 15-year-old boy, the horrors of a forced labour camp during WWII. Australia gave him a chance to shine, to contribute.

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share.

In the lead up to Australia Day, Rural Australians for Refugees has launched a letter writing campaign. Justice4Refugees are supporting the campaign. It’s time to take a stance, for all good people to stand up and take action. So please consider writing to your MPs and Senators, and city and regional papers.

The letter cited above was signed by Australians of the Year
2015 Rosie Batty
2013 Ita Buttrose
2011 Simon McKeon
2010 Patrick McGorry
2009 Mick Dodson
2007 Tim Flannery
2005 Fiona Wood
2003 Fiona Stanley
2000 Gustav Nossal
1997 Peter Doherty
1996 John Yu
1983 Robert de Castella

Link to the Letter Blitz here . . .
Link to Justice for Refugees South Australia

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
Jesus – quoting from the prophet Isaiah – Luke 4:18

Media, politics and the South Sudanese community

Published / by Sandy
Stuart McMillan with members of the South Sudanese National Conference in Melbourne, 29 Sep 2017.
President Stuart McMillan with members of the South Sudanese National Conference, Melbourne, September 2017

President Stuart McMillan has expressed solidarity with Australia’s African community in the wake of recent negative political and media commentary.

“Fear and negativity are such a blight on our public life. I find it deeply regrettable and offensive that some of our political leaders and media have begun the New Year by demonising a group of young African men,” said Mr McMillan.

“This is no doubt hurtful to many Africans who have made Australia their home and do their level best to contribute to the Australian community whilst in many cases also supporting loved ones in their home nations.”

“Our politicians and media need only lift their eyes to the wonderful African communities of faith to find positive role models and affirmation.

“If, as I have, they attended a gathering of the Uniting Church’s South Sudanese National Conference, they would see a young, enthusiastic community, rising up from the difficult circumstances of settlement and growing young leaders.

“At two national gatherings in Brisbane in 2015 and at Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne in September 2017, I have marvelled at their faith and resilience.

“At Hoppers Crossing last year young people from the Nuer-speaking Faith Community in Brisbane led the opening worship.

“At the time I said: ‘Your community here in Australia shows us, the members of Uniting Church, how to be witnesses to Christ’s love by striving to be a fellowship of reconciliation.’

“There was much sharing on what it means to be the reconciling people of South Sudan living in Australia. Ideas were shared on practical ways to bring about greater unity among their communities. Young people under 30 also stepped up – taking up half of positions on the new executive for the South Sudanese National Conference.

“South Sudanese in Australia are taking their future into their own hands,” said Mr McMillan.

“I rejoiced last month when I read a Facebook post by the Rev. Amel Manyon from the Northern Suburbs Dinka-speaking Faith Community in Adelaide, celebrating her son’s 92.50 ATAR score.”

Rev. Manyon is the first South Sudanese woman to be ordained in the Uniting Church.

“I look forward with great anticipation to the contributions young African women and men will make in a diverse Australia,” said Mr McMillan.

“I refuse to let our miserable public discourse hold back these inspiring young people. Rather than engage with fear and negativity I will celebrate the achievements of my African friends and their children this year and at every opportunity.”

“I pray that you too will support and encourage African people who live in your community and those who may be members of your church.”

Mr McMillan referenced the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Philippi, saying Paul would urge us today:

“Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

South Sudanese ministers speak out

Rev. Amel Manyon from Adelaide’s Dinka-speaking Faith Community says she finds the commentary disappointing.

Reverend Amel Manyon and Pastor Moses Leth
Rev Amel Manyon and Pastor Moses Leth

“I don’t support crime being committed by our young people, but I want the public and the politicians to open their eyes also and see the other side,” said Rev. Manyon.

“They should not focus only on what is wrong. There are lots of good things happening in our South Sudanese community in particular with young people.”

“Nobody pays attention to those achievements and their contribution to the Australian community. In 2017 our community in Adelaide celebrated the academic achievements of our young people – Masters degrees, Bachelors degrees, and Year 12 graduations.

“We have lawyers and doctors in our community, as do South Sudanese communities in other states.”

“In the sporting arena, our young people are performing at high levels in basketball, soccer, football and wrestling. They are also involved in cultural activities and performance: singing, drums, dance, and so on – and they are involved in church leadership.

“I am not denying that some of young people are struggling with studies, some are brought up by parents who also struggle with settlement issues such as language and lifestyle.

“But that does not mean that all African Australians are what the Australian politicians and media think. We should not all be painted with the same brush.

“These children committing crimes are Australian like any other Australian who commits a crime here. I think there is racism and discrimination in the language being used.”

Pastor Moses Leth has led the Nuer faith community at St David’s Coopers Plains in south Brisbane for the last 15 years.

He says holistic ministry is required to address the challenges faced by young members of his community.

“Jesus responded to people’s physical and material needs, as well as spiritual needs. Christian workers should take care of the whole person as well.”

“We are looking to develop strategies that afford African Australian young adults opportunities to explore and develop to their full potential, as well as offer them protection from drugs and violence.

“We are trying to encourage young people by including them in discussions and decision-making concerning the church, and most importantly, listening to their ideas and views.

“We are also looking to sponsor young people for theological training.”

“We would like to provide more activities and resources to get young people involved,” said Pastor Leth. “Music and art equipment, employment support, training them and getting them involved in bible study can really encourage them to attend and take part in church community functions. The challenge for those of us working with African Australian young adults today is to explore how we can share our religious values that will allow them to bear fruit in the church of God forever. If we do that, they will better be able to engage in their communities with respect confidence and purpose.”

Entering the new year with hope

Published / by Sandy

I enter this new year with hope.
Yes, there is reason to be discouraged.
Of course we wish for the overthrow
of evil, greed and violence.
But our hope is not wishing:
hope is confidence
that God’s future is already present.
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can’t overcome it.
The spirit of love can’t be snuffed out
by politicians and their hubris;
the life force can’t be stopped
by corporations and their kept legislators.
God is alive and at work in this world.
Smart, thoughtful, compassionate, courageous people
are rising up, finding their voice, taking their place.
We have seen tyranny and cruelty before,
but we will never see the darkness win out.
Love always has more to say.
God is creating, always creating, and if we look
we will see signs of it all around us,
and its light will fill us and we will be radiant,
ourselves signs of the very hope that sustains us.

Yes, I have hope – joy and delight, even –
for God is here, and God’s world is still becoming.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

As the old year passes

Published / by Sandy

As the old year passes
(Tune: As the Green Blade Rises/Jesus Christ is waiting – Noel Nouvelet; Words: David MacGregor)

As the old year passes
we look back, reflect:
times of joy and promise,
times we’d best forget.

God of the ages
help us walk your way.
Help us greet your future,
seize tomorrow’s day

As the old year passes
sorrow wells within:
loved ones no more ’round us,
all that could have been.
God of compassion,
heal each ailing heart.
Guide us to your future
where new life may start.

As the old year passes
we cry for our struggling world.
Climate ever-changing,
fighting too often heard.
Jesus, you call us
to cherish all you give.
Call us to your future
where all in peace might live.

As the new year dawns now
we would give you praise.
Faithful God, come lead us
onward in new ways.
We’ll love and serve you
in the faith of Christ,
in your Spirit’s future:
people of new life.
(© 2007 Willow Publishing)

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they become inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

(Source: John O’Donohue, excerpt from ‘At the End of the Year’
in the publication ‘To bless the space between us’). 

Apocalypse now? The dangerous truth behind the birth of Christ.

Published / by Sandy

For most of us, there is a warmth, a magic, a timeless peace that comes with the Christmas season. Our childhood memories of Christmases past evoke in us a sense of transcendent wonder. Enjoying a good meal with loved ones, pausing to admire nativity scenes and colourful Christmas lights, and singing heartily along with the festive music that comes about only once per year.

These things help us return to a feeling of abiding hope, holy innocence, and supernatural rest. Many of us find that we deeply resonate with the classic Christmas song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. And, we long – as the song lyrics say – for our “troubles to be miles away,” even if only for a few days. We want to lose ourselves in the season . . . and hopefully to find ourselves sometime soon after the New Year.

No doubt, there is something worth keeping – even worth cherishing – in the peacefulness and restfulness that Christmas brings. The nostalgia and fond remembrance that it evokes in us is something I’d never want myself or anyone else to be without. Yet, when I look at the Scriptures, I start to wonder if in our eagerness to embrace the restfulness of the season we might have lost a sense of the restlessness toward which the birth of Christ is meant to call us. As noted theologian Jürgen Moltmann has said, “Faith, whenever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart . . . Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.”

What if the birth of Jesus evoked in us, not merely the seasonal warm fuzzies for the status quo of religious affection, but a revolutionary zeal to see the victory of God in Christ change everything? What if the incarnation of God in a manger in Bethlehem was not a merely merry occasion, but one that would have been terrifying to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds? What if it was an event that could be described – not as holly and jolly – but as vulnerable, dangerous, shocking, and dare I say apocalyptic?

In fact, this word – “apocalyptic” – is one that is applied to Jesus at many points in the New Testament. We tend to think of the word in negative terms, referring perhaps to the end of the space-time universe due to its association with the New Testament book of Revelation. However – contrary to the Christian movie industry – such a negative understanding of the word “apocalyptic” must be, if you will, left behind. ‘Apocalyptic’ (in Greek: apokalupsis) refers to the revelation of that which was previously hidden.

In Galatians 1:12–14, St Paul explains that the Gospel he received was not delivered to him through human beings. Rather, it came to him through “an apocalypse (meaning, ‘revelation’) of Jesus Christ.” Far from being the natural outworking of the status quo, or something Paul expected – the apocalypse, the revelation, of what God was up to in Jesus Christ literally knocked him off his horse. It shattered his world, it woke him up. He was spiritually illuminated whilst physically blinded.

If we asked Paul whether he enjoyed the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” I think he would be perplexed. He would likely suggest that we change the title to “Have Yourself an Apocalyptic Christmas!”

Paul would not have viewed the birth of Jesus as a merry little happening, complete with eggnog, Sinatra songs, and celebratory seasonal cigars. Rather, he would have perceived Christ’s birth to be an apocalyptic intrusion, a disruptive event that smashed to pieces the expectations and worldly restfulness of the status quo, replacing it with the inbreaking of God Almighty in the incarnation of his son for the redemption of the cosmos. And, of course, Paul would add, an apocalyptic Christmas should be ever calling us to remember the gravity of the gospel and cost of the victory of God, namely that the events of the first Christmas led to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, not to the return queue in Kmart. It is to the severe detriment of the true nature of Christmas that we let religious customs (even good customs!) or rank commercialism replace the apocalyptic power of the incarnation of God.

In fact, Jesus’ own name, which is mentioned in the birth account in Luke 2:15–21 often read on Christmas Day, is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “victory, deliverance, or salvation”. Thus, the manger wasn’t just an adorable, cute event; it was itself the initiation of the divine victory over the powers of sin and death through victory incarnate, Jesus.

When the Old Testament refers to the “victory” and “deliverance” of God (e.g. Psalms 96 and 98; and Isaiah 52:7–10); it uses the same Hebrew root as the word that is translated “Jesus.” Therefore, Jesus (“victory”) provides both the New Covenant lens and the literal fulfilment of the victory of God through Israel for the sake of the world. The victory of God in Jesus, beginning in Christmas, is thus the paradoxical joke of the gospel. Consider this: the greatest kingdoms and nations, the fiercest warlords and leaders, and the most brilliant thinkers and politicians have all been outsmarted and defeated by an infant in a manger in Bethlehem.

There is nothing less intimidating than a baby. And yet, a baby named “Victory” was God’s preemptive move in the metaphorical battle by which he is reconciling all things to himself. The vulnerability of the manger eventually led to the violence of the cross; violence inflicted on Jesus—not by God—but by “powerful” human beings intending to thwart the mission of Jesus.

Yet, profoundly, Scripture and the Great Tradition testify that through both his humble birth in the manger and his humiliating death on the cross, Jesus demonstrated that “power” and the “will to power” have been reframed by the paradox of the gospel. Vulnerability and sacrifice—not coercion, force, or violence—have now become the way of the people who follow the crucified God. All of this began on Christmas; and it changes everything. Or does it?

We must ask ourselves this Christmas season: is the humility of the manger and the humiliation of the cross the guiding paradigm and inspiration for our life together as the church, the body of Christ? Do we live by the apocalyptic message of peace, or do we think that—after all—the way to get things done in the church and in the world is through coercion, force, and manipulation? Do we behave more like the ones in “power” who crucified God, or do we adopt the ethos and character of the crucified God? Do we follow the way of the vulnerable God in a manger, or do we forsake that path for ecclesial pragmatism, politics, and worldly power—for the things that “work” and “get the job done”?

Have our Christmases been merry and bright; but not apocalyptic? Have we capitulated to the cultural Christ of comfort and commercialism, or are we seeking to see those things crucified in our flesh so that our lost, dying, and hurting world can receive more than a candy cane and a Christmas card this season but instead encounter the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ through us, through our ministries and through our churches?

An apocalyptic Christmas invites us to rest in the peace of the silent night in order that we can be preemptive peacemakers, holy troublemakers, and reconciled reconcilers in the light of day. The peace of the silent night is meant to shake things up; not simply to shut us up or settle us down. The restfulness of the silent night is not meant to serenade us into a permanent state of spiritual sleepiness in which the narcotic of religious nostalgia stuns us and subdues us, causing us to become complacent supporters of the status quo, at rest with the world in all its brokenness, injustice, and suffering.

The restfulness of the silent night is meant to be a missional rest, a Sabbath for the soul that energises and compels us to be restlessly active participants of the mission of God in the redemption of the world in and through Christ. My hope and prayer is that as individuals, families, churches and communities our Christmas may be flooded with the peace of Jesus Christ that brings both joy and apocalypse to the world

Sadness In a Time of Anticipation and Joy

Published / by Sandy

In the wake of the sad and tragic events in Melbourne (on 21st Dec), Rev Jon Humphries has offered this prayer…

Sadness In a Time of Anticipation and Joy
God of incarnate compassion,
We look to your Christ –
in a time where much of our world
is caught up in anticipation of joy and celebration,
our world throws us death and tragedy anew,
and we are cast back into the story of your birth,
where hardship and stress abounded,
and death and tragedy was awfully injected by cruelty and injustice.
So we find such things in our Christmas story.
Why do such things happen?
Where are you in all this?
Why are some effected and yet others escape harm?
More than ever we need hope, peace and joy.
More than ever we need to know and share your love.
Be with us Immanuel.
Be with those who are forced to mourn in shock and bewilderment.
Be with those who seek to help
that they might be resourced with resilience and compassion
as well as wisdom and skill.
In time and grace may we come to understanding
and then to forgiveness.
Yeshua – one who saves,
Save us at this time,
That we might cope and survive.
Gift us with the true gifts of Christmas,
so we might come through it.
Help us have faith,
for fear and anger and doubt – not to mention sadness unfathomable,
threaten to overwhelm us.
So, with deep need we pray.
Amen.

We must never forget

Published / by Peter

From the National Church

Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia has issued the following Pastoral Statement in response to the Final Report to the government of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Five years after its announcement, Australia’s landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has handed its Final Report to Government.

On this occasion I want to acknowledge the extensive and invaluable body of work produced by the Royal Commission and its staff, and remind all church members of our solemn commitment to child safety that is informed by the Commission’s work.

As Chief Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan AM warned at the Royal Commission’s final sitting, the sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past.

Justice McClellan said: “Poor practices, inadequate governance structures, failures to record and report complaints, or understating the seriousness of complaints, have been frequent.”

He went on to say: “If the problems we have identified are to be adequately addressed, changes must be made. There must be changes in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions.”

The Uniting Church in Australia will consider the Royal Commission’s Final Report carefully, reflect on its findings and recommendations, and implement measures to deliver the best quality of care, service and support for children.

At this time, I would again like to sincerely apologise to all children in our care who suffered sexual abuse in our church, whether it happened after our foundation in 1977 or before that, in our predecessor churches.

We are, and I am, deeply sorry that we did not protect and care in accordance with our Christian values for those children. I again want to acknowledge the impact that it’s had in the lives of those young people and their families, and to say that I am truly sorry.

We must never forget the courage of survivors who’ve come forward to tell their stories in public and in private. The Uniting Church will continue to work constructively with Government and other stakeholders for a truly national redress scheme, as the most equitable way to support survivors wherever they might be.

Our church’s commitment is that we will seek to make amends and strive to ensure others will not suffer as they have. Our prayers and a determined focus will be required if we are to build a robust culture of child safety.

With the collaboration of Synods and many others across our church, we have begun applying the learnings of the Royal Commission through a National Child Safe Policy Framework. The work of implementation will continue to be resourced into the future through the National Royal Commission Task Group and support staff, who will work to incorporate the recommendations of the Final Report in the weeks and months ahead.

I urge all church members to remain vigilant, to ensure that wherever you are in our church, agencies or schools, you are focussed on child safety. If you are a church member and would like information about safe church training, please contact your Synod or Presbytery.

In the years ahead, may God grant us the strength and wisdom to honour our pledge to be the safest church we can be for children, and for all people in our midst.

Marrkapmirri,

Stuart McMillan
President, Uniting Church in Australia

Marrkapmirri means deep affection, love as with a brother or sister, in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land.

Discussing these issues can raise difficult emotions and past memories.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call:

1800 RESPECT (1 800 737 732)

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

For the full text and including Prayers for personal use or corporate worship  –  see here