Messages of Hope

Month: February 2016

Repenting Death

Published / by Andrew

During the congregational bible study, we explored the popular understandings of some of the words in the  reading set for this week. One of my friends said, “Repentance means to say sorry and grovel!” We looked at other meanings for the word repent, which has led to the sermon notes below…

I have a friend who grew up in the desert. There was always food, she said. Honey Ants, Witchetty Grubs, Bush Tomato, Pigeon, Kangaroo… Whitefellas perish and starve in this country. But with eyes to see, it is brimming with life.

Our western culture is consumed by the notion of scarcity. We can scarcely see this; it is drummed into us from birth, and we have shaped the way we live with such thoroughness, that we have created scarcity. But live out bush with the Pitjantjatjaras, and you begin to wonder if it’s all a fiction we have made up. You might even see that there is nothing particularly superior about our life with its Toyotas and mortgages and mobile phones, compared to the old life which carries 3 spears and a water bucket made of wood, and is content. Yet, down in Adelaide we can’t imagine this. It seems ridiculous. It seems self-evident that our way of life is superior.

To say to another person from Adelaide that we are not superior to the original peoples of the land is often to be met with absolute incomprehension. I’ve chosen this example deliberately; after all, how could it not be better to have the hospital just down the street… and to have air conditioning… and running water. These things are the mark of a civilised and advanced society.

Yet in the last century the civilised and advanced societies killed 50 million people in the two major wars alone— who were the savages of the world?

Well I’m saying all this to invite you to be open to the idea that we just might be uncomprehending in our view of the world. We just might be blind to some things…

… and now I want to quote the biblical scholar Walter Wink:

… God is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human. (Walter Wink Just Jesus, My Struggle to Become Human pp 102)

This is not a word game. This is at the heart of Christianity; it’s real. When Jesus calls us to repent, he is calling us to the eye-opening, wholesale, utter change of understanding that realises we have misunderstood the world. We are not superior; we are fragmented, partial, uncomprehending, lost, broken, and in danger of perishing. We have described the world—and treated it— as though we understood it and owned it, but Christianity confesses that we barely glimpse what it means to be human.

Now this is what repentance is: in the way that you might pause to wonder if maybe—just maybe— there is something in what Andrew says about there being nothing inherently better or superior about our way of life than that of the old Pitjantjatjaras…

… so you might wonder if we have life completely upside down, and if God is the Human One, not us.

Now, I’ll be blunt: If we dismiss out of hand the idea that we are not superior to the Pitjantjatjaras— only different— then we are uncomprehending of the shallowness and the arbitrariness of our culture, not to mention its savagery and other shortcomings. We are blind to who we are.

And in the same way… if we dismiss the metaphor that God is the Human One, and that we have not yet arrived at true human likeness, we are blind to who we are. We are uncomprehending of the shallowness and the arbitrariness of our humanity, not to mention its savagery and other shortcomings.

Repentance is not about getting to heaven.
Repentance is not about saying sorry.
Repentance is not even about changing the way we act! True repentance will certainly mean we live differently, but our changed actions will be the result of repentance.

Repentance means to be changed. It is a wholesale change in how we understand something. That’s the meaning of the word. One scholar says it implies “an utter reconfiguration of [our] perspective on reality and meaning, including (in the New Testament) a reorientation of [ourselves] toward God.”

And repentance is to be healed of our blindness about death, and our fear that death will separate us from God. Repentance is to be able to see ourselves differently.

There is a savagery in the reading from Luke. We might see it in the line Jesus repeats: unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. But the savagery which stops me is this:

“See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’

If we do not bear fruit we are a waste of space. Why should we be wasting the soil?

And along with that savagery is an image of a God who is incredibly graceful: give the waste of space tree more time! Jesus has been three years ministering, says some of the Tradition, and yet there is no fruit; instead they kill him. But even then, God says, give them more time.

(Read this literally ethically, and it is wrong; no one is a waste of space. But poetically, if we cannot see how we can waste our space, we may not grasp just how precious it is.)

We worry, some of us, about the notion that we might perish, and ask what sort of God would do that. And, I think, that alive among us today, Jesus might not use language which implies that some folk will be finally outside the love of God…

… but repentance implies understanding— beginning to see— that there is something so profoundly precious and important about becoming human, that to refuse the gift of humanity— we call it salvation— almost makes us a waste of space!

Can you see how when he calls us to repent and believe in his first words in Mark’s gospel, he is calling us to a fundamental re-comprehension of who we are, and of  who we might become? (Luke makes the same fundamental redefinition of culture and what it means to be human in his quoting of Isaiah in Luke 4:16ff. cf Mark 1:15 )

I’ve Mark’s first words of Jesus because they capture an essential aspect of repentance, which is that it is a duet, a dance between the Divine and us.  God asks us to dance: there is something passive about repentance. God seeks us out. That’s implied in the parables of the lost sheep, and the lost coin. This is the good news for those of us who meet the faith and feel we understand nothing;  I remember the feeling that the penny would not drop; I just couldn’t see what was going on.

In the newssheet at Pilgrim this week, I have written,

There is something in this process [of repentance] which can’t be hurried, a mystery which, 40 years ago, led me to say, “I will come back.” Which led me to read, and to try to pray, and to seek understanding of what was happening in me, first in this place, and then at Scots Church. I often wondered if I was simply refusing to face facts when I stayed in church, but now suspect there was more being done to me than I knew; certainly, I cannot account for what has led to the wholesale change in how I understand life.

God changes us. We find, suddenly, unbidden, that we know and understand more than we thought we did. Be at peace— you are here! Something has called you. Repentance has begun. You have been found.

But we are also called to believe— the other part of the duet.  The very inadequate translation of the Greek word pisteuete (Mark 1:15) as believe, implies intellectual assent and understanding that we often don’t possess. But it also means— most accurately means, I think, to trust.

Trust the hint of God in your life. Live accordingly. My question—still!—is often simply, “If all this is true, how should I act?” And the acting seems to open me up to understanding more, and to seeing with new eyes.

So, after 40 years, I am still “fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human…” But there is a change. Life is infinitely more precious, and so much more glorious. And death?

Well, death has changed. The amygdaline, primitive, biological part of me is just as quick to swerve out of the way of a bus as it ever was, and I don’t expect that to change. That’s the animal we are.

But there is something else. Our funeral liturgy begins with the words,

… But we are here to affirm the Christian conviction that while death is the end of human life, it marks a new beginning in our relationship with God. (UIW 1)

And I have begun to think it is true. Not all the golf course in heaven rubbish…

… but a sense that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. A very solid suspicion that we are more than just biological machines, and that it would be quite odd if we just stopped being… when the machine stops.

Sometimes we translate the Son of Man as the Human One. We are saying Jesus showed us something about what it means to be truly human… which is why we also use the title Son of God. In Wink’s metaphor, he is the son of the truly human.

There’s a verse in John 10— the chapter where he says he has come to make life full (10:10)— where Jesus says, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord….” (10:17) It’s not just flowery incomprehensible verbiage. It’s saying that to be human is to be able to lay our life down of our own accord, instead of having it ripped away from us.

And while I’d rather not die next week— I like it where I am more than ever before— there are days when I get this. There are moments, even long moments, when I can contemplate laying my life down as… ok, as… what I will do. It will be all right. It’s how I am meant to be. This is the change repentance works in us.

So Isaiah this week says

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

Repent. Seek God out. Pray. Ask God to open your eyes. For life is richer than we have ever imagined.

Andrew.

The reading is Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Before we laugh…

Published / by Andrew

As a fellow preacher I find something discomforting about Tim Minchin’s clever and witty songs. He smiles in the wrong places. I fall into this trap, too. It is easy to smile at the cleverness of my words rather than smile as an invitation and encouragement for you to enjoy the insight I have discovered. And too easy to entertain cheaply at the expense of the justice and truth I wish to champion.

The song about Cardinal Pell is flooding across social media this morning. Celebrities are joining the cause. We are building up indignation which is beginning to demand a scapegoat. It would be a brave man who, secure in his complete innocence, came back to Australia at this moment.

Understand that in my writing of this, I am no supporter of the cardinal. Before it began to be assumed by many that he is party to the undoubted obfuscation surrounding incidents sexual abuse, I have been outraged by his apparent attitudes on a number of issues. But there is something at stake here which goes beyond the man, and which will go beyond any conclusions drawn by the commission of enquiry. It affects the healing of individuals, and of our society.

Violence is not redemptive. Violence does not heal. It leads only to more violence. Currently, violence is being done to Pell. The song, and the responses to it, go beyond the much needed call to justice. We are being entertained. We are enjoying a tragedy. And in such a place we are betraying the victims, because once the Pell of the moment is done away with by the mob, the victims are always forgotten. How can we care for the victims if we have publicly created one? If we were truly concerned for the victims, we would, despite his unsympathetic public persona, have concern for Pell, as well.

This is not at all to excuse him. He has many questions to answer. But those of us who think that we would have behaved better, or that now, knowing better, we would be more forthcoming, betray our lack of self-awareness. Do we who protect our mortgage and personal luxuries by voting for the parties of the rich, and by assenting to the excoriation of the refugees who are one step further removed from us than the usual targets of the unemployed, and the sick, and the aged — do we think we would do better if we were enmeshed in the politics and power plays of the church?

We are not excused. We all fail. But choosing the scapegoat does not heal us. It merely takes the heat off our own failings until the next crisis, when we again wait nervously hoping that the one blamed will not be us. And it familiarises us and blinds us to the myth of redemptive violence.

How do we do justice without hatred? How do we call to account without projecting own failings?

In Luke 13, which barely escapes enjoying what it perceives to be the just deserts of others, there are redeeming words:

… it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  (Luke 13:33b-34)

In this, Jesus mourns the ones who will kill him as they have killed all the other prophets. In Luke, the city of Jerusalem stands a symbol for the whole culture and religion of Israel.

If Tim Minchin would write a song calling George Pell to come home, which he sang with tears in his eyes, I could love it— he is a preacher of better technique than I am ever likely to achieve. And if he had tears in his eyes, I could trust his song. It would still call Pell to face squarely the questions being asked, but its mourning would hold us all to account for the tragedies, small and large, to which we have been party. And it would encourage us to hope that justice would be done to us in our failings, rather than mere revenge.   Andrew.

Let them stay, don’t be afraid

Published / by Andrew

There are two contributions here. First of all we have Rev Sandy Boyce at Monday night’s vigil, and then below that, with reference to Lent, Andrew asks of our attitude to refugees, “What drives the fear?”

Let Them StaySandy’s Address

Thank you for coming. Your presence makes a huge statement about solidarity with asylum seekers. I speak on behalf of Pilgrim Uniting Church, and my colleague Rev Jana Norman.

For many, this is a time of heightened emotions, but I want to suggest this is a time to be clear about information, lest we get caught up in a wave of emotion that has no substance.

What we do know is that last Wednesday 3 February, the High Court affirmed offshore processing based on legislation passed by parliament in June 2015. We know that this decision has serious implications for 267 asylum seekers, including 37 babies and 54 children, who were brought to Australia for medical treatment and now face being sent to offshore detention. People in the Nauru detention centre face indefinite detention, or face the prospect of being sent back to the countries from which they have fled. Detainees face a double trauma – both the experience of fleeing from danger, and then the despair in detention. And the toll of this is trauma that will last a lifetime.

We know enough, we know too much, to just sit back and watch these vulnerable people sent to Nauru.

For mercy’s sake: Let them stay!

An Australian teacher on Nauru describes the conditions there as “cruel” and “inhumane”, causing trauma to the children. He said kids were becoming very, very depressed through indefinite detention on Nauru, and quite often talked about thoughts of suicide, of self-harm. This school on Nauru has now been closed. The teacher reflects, “I’d look at those kids and you could see the next generation of doctors and teachers and nurses, and any opportunity that they have has been robbed of them. I find it really hard to reconcile that imposing that type of abuse and creating that type of trauma on these students is justified under the fact that it has stopped the boats”.

For those affected by the High Court decision and now threatened with deportation to Nauru, our only response must be compassion rather than the cruelty of sending them to Nauru. We know enough, we know too much, to just sit back.

For compassion’s sake: Let them stay!

For what purpose are they threatened with being returned to Nauru, other than a Government policy of punitive action to deter other refugees from seeking asylum in Australia. Isolation, indefinite detention, lives in limbo, trauma – are all seen as ok to serve this greater purpose of deterrence. But these are human lives, as precious as our own. They deserve better. They deserve a compassionate response. Minister Dutton has said all cases will be reviewed individually and taken on their own merit. He needs to enter into those stories of trauma, of fear, of cruelty, violence and death, of all that has been lost and left behind. He needs to see the human side of the statistics. He needs to see the human implications of a policy that needs to be changed.

He needs to know more. He needs to let them stay!Let Them Stay

The President of the Uniting Church, Stuart McMillan, has stated, “Returning families and babies to Nauru and Manus may be legal, but it is not humane. To send people, especially children and Australian-born babies, back to the place that has caused them such harm would be an outrage against human dignity.”

The Australian Church Refugee Taskforce last week asked its members, including the Uniting Church, to take symbolic action by offering asylum seeker families sanctuary within churches. Sanctuary is an ancient tradition of offering safe refuge for vulnerable people. This church, Pilgrim Uniting Church, accepted the invitation to offer sanctuary to those affected by the High Court’s decision. Pilgrim Church has a long history of support and advocacy for asylum seekers and refugees. It does so because we follow the example of Jesus, whose life bears witness to compassion, justice and love for all, and particularly the oppressed and vulnerable. We can do no other!

More than 10 churches of various denominations across Australia accepted the initial invitation to offer sanctuary, to open their doors to these asylum seeker families – with more congregations nationally offering the possibility of sanctuary.

Together, we represent some of the hopes of Australians who want Government practices and policies in relation to asylum seekers to represent who we say we are as a nation.

Together we say, Let them stay! (Over to you, Malcolm…..)                                                                                                                                                   Rev Sandy Boyce, #letthemstay

What drives all the fear?

The Fear
Australia’s refugee policy is founded in the assertion that we are at risk from these people and have to keep them out. “Stopping the boats to save lives” is a pretence at compassion to hide the fact that we do not want people to come.  What energises this essentially irrational fear? After all, the number of refugees who make it this far is tiny compared to the scale of refugee movements in Africa and Europe, and the vast majority of people who do arrive by boat are found to be genuine refugees, and not a security risk. We also know from experience after World War 2 and Vietnam that we are culturally enriched by the refugees who come to us. Why are we so afraid?

We may hypothesise that our attitudes are being fuelled by simple racism, and the fear of difference. We may also see that as outsiders who are vulnerable, refugees offer a chance to scapegoat people as a way of “dealing” with other problems dividing us. For example, the cultivated fear of refugees (and the constant demonisation of unemployed people) distracts and mollifies many who might otherwise question the government, and the rich, about declining social conditions in Australia.

The passion and fear of social media posts I have read suggests that to stop at hypotheses of racism and scapegoating is to underestimate the levels of fear involved. There are deeper issues at stake, and these begin to be addressed by the Gospel reading set down for Week One of Lent.

The Psychology
Our deepest fear is the fear of death. One branch of psychology which deals with this fear is Terror Management Theory.  I remember a six year old telling me at a funeral that he was not going to die! The fear starts as we begin to meet death, and as life continues, we bury the fear deep.  Research psychologist Richard Beck writes

Many people are psychologically crippled by a fear of death. And this isn’t necessarily a conscious battle. As Ernest Becker argued in his book The Denial of Death, much of our lives are actively involved in repressing our existential anxieties, usually via our efforts to be “significant” or to “make a difference.” According to Becker, most of our self-esteem projects are simply elaborate death repression mechanisms. We want to be “noticed” by a cosmos that seems largely indifferent to our birth, life and eventual death. So we fight to be noticed by the cosmos. “Hey Cosmos, look at me! I’m smart, talented, unique, special and have achieved a lot in life! For example, look how many hits my blog has!”

In short, our slavery to the fear of death is insidious and often outside of our awareness. So it would be liberating to step out of this trap, to face life in an existentially open and honest manner, to be set free from the slavery to the fear of death. Much of our emotional energy, freed from maintaining our death-denying self-esteem projects, would become available for more life-affirming and other-affirming activity. I could give up my neurotic quest to become “significant” or my pretending I could live forever (via things like working out, modern medicine, cosmetic surgery, diets, or cryogenics) and become open to this moment and the person right in front of me. For God’s sake, stop going to the gym and start drinking whole milk. You’re missing your life.

Beck points out in another post that all our effort to be significant in the world, “by and large,”

… is a good thing as our neurotic pursuit of significance leads to culture creation. We build, work, and create. Psychologists call this sublimation, where neurotic anxiety is channeled into culturally valued outlets.

Trouble begins when

in the face of existential anxiety we … engage in worldview defense. We replace the doubt with dogmatism which makes us hostile toward out-group members. And yet, this show of conviction is actually being motivated by a deep-seated fear. Rather than dealing with the existential anxiety we externalize the fear by angrily lashing out at those who we perceive to be a threat to our values, culture, beliefs, worldview and way of life. You see this fear-driven dogmatism and attacking behavior all over the place in Christianity.

This third quotation from Beck comes from a web post where he is critiquing the use of Christianity as a world view defence as opposed to that Christianity which is a life discipline for facing and dealing with death. The criticism he applies to “worldview defence Christianity” is obviously also applicable to folk with no religious affiliation.

So I am suggesting that in a time of declining social conditions, and a time of growing anxiety about climate change, our existential anxiety which is rooted in the fear of death, is being channelled into hatred and fear of refugees. As a nation we are assenting to successive governments’ morally indefensible border protection policies which involve incarcerating children and babies in concentration camps because we are afraid of dying.

Really??
The fourth century archbishop John Chrysostom said the one

… who fears death is a slave and subjects himself (sic) to everything in order to avoid dying…[But] he who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed ‘man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,’ [Job 2.4] and if a man should decide to disregard this, whose slave is he then? He fears no one, is in terror of no one, is higher than everyone, and is freer than everyone. For he who disregards his own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, he can accomplish in it none of his works. Tell me, though, what can he threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one’s country? For these are small things to him ‘who counteth not even his life dear,’ says blessed Paul [Acts 20.24].  Do you see that in casting out the tyranny of death, He has dissolved the strength of the devil? (Quoted in Richard Beck The Slavery of Death, Cascade Books 2014 pp 14)

Lent
Lent is the time we re-assess our place in the world, and how it is that we should live. It is especially the time we face our fear of death as we work out our response to Jesus’ command to take up our cross and follow him to Jerusalem.

The Bible
The reading set for Week One this year comes from Luke Chapter 4.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’8Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you”,

11and

“On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

12Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

In his book Beyond Literal Belief David Tacey says

In psychological terms we might say the devil is not pure evil, but represents the ego and its desires. Those desires are hunger, the desire for spectacle and certainty, and the desire to rule and find power in a worldly sense. In particular, what this scene dramatizes is not a fight with a supernatural demon “out there,” but Jesus’ struggle with his own egotism, his desire for worldly conquest. (David Tacey Beyond Literal Belief Garratt 2015 pp159)

Terror Management Theory would suggest that what drives much of our egotism— that “desire for world conquest”— is fear of death. Carving out my own little empire is an attempt at immortality—which might suggest why so few of us ever feel that we are rich enough! On my own website I quote more from Tacey on Jesus’ temptations, including that

The temptations

Satisfy short-term needs, but not the needs of the soul. They are rejected because they do not satisfy the inner self, which is only satiated by a deeper kind of nourishment. They are “wrong” because their promises are hollow and short lived…. Spirituality is not about suppressing desire but transforming it. (Tacey p161)

I tried the suppressing-desire-being-moral path and found it, too, is a promise with is hollow and short lived. There is a miserable, self-abnegating, insular kind of faith which does not transform, but which traps us, abuses us, and makes us miserable and small people.

This last paragraph describes a worldview defence. It is the stance of the fearful individual who is, at base, avoiding the fear of their own mortality. Life is, most of all, something to be preserved against death. Such faith often worries about “losing it’s salvation.”

The temptations of Jesus are, psychologically, a picture of him rejecting a worldview defence approach to life because he understands  that life

… does not consist in carving out my own little empire of “worldly conquest.” Life is about conquering my fear of dying—Lent is taking us to death, first of all— and learning to enjoy my being as sheer gift. Life is a gift already given, not a striving to become significant and permanent by accumulating material goods… [or] reputation… (Pilgrim News sheet February 14, 2016)

Compassion toward refugees—and political action for their sake— is not only morally exemplary, and is not simply a Christian duty. It is a gift to us, because it forces us to confront difference and fear. It is, if you like, a Lenten discipline which is part of our being freed from the fear of death.  Andrew

Sanctuary

Published / by Andrew

The Bible
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The Moderator’s Pastoral Note
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Yesterday the High Court ruled that the government can now choose to forcibly deport asylum-seeker families, including 37 babies and 54 children to offshore detention.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce of which the Uniting Church is a member, asked its members to take symbolic action by offering asylum-seeker families sanctuary within churches.

The Synod of South Australia was approached by the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, to nominate a local church that would be able to offer sanctuary to asylum-seeker families affected by the High Court decision. As the Moderator, I approached Pilgrim Uniting Church, who over a long period of time, have supported and advocated for asylum seekers and refugees. The South Australian Synod is working closely with Pilgrim Uniting Church as a result of the Uniting Church in Australia’s request….

In a statement released by the Uniting Church in Australia, the President, Stuart McMillan called upon the Prime Minister: “Mr Turnbull, I appeal to your sense of compassion. Please step in and make the moral decision to protect these vulnerable people.

“Returning families and babies to Nauru and Manus may be legal, but it is not humane. To send people, especially children and Australian-born babies, back to the place that has caused them such harm would be an outrage against human dignity.”

Mr McMillan and Rev Elenie Poulos of UnitingJustice have encouraged Uniting Church members to contact their local Federal Members of Parliament to express their concerns.

As a church, we are engaged in this advocacy, because we follow in the way of Jesus.

Jesus’ life and ministry witness to a God who calls us to embody God’s compassion, justice and love for all people, and in particular, those who are oppressed and vulnerable. As we enter into the period of Lent, we are reminded of our God who understands our suffering and invites us to be present with all those who suffer injustice.

I invite you all to assist wherever you can and I pray for courage and persistence for all of us, as we seek to faithfully discern and respond to God’s call to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)
Yours in Christ,
Deidre Palmer
Moderator
Uniting Church in South Australia

The President’s Statement
The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene directly to prevent the return of more than 250 asylum seekers, including children and babies, to offshore detention.

“Mr Turnbull, I appeal to your sense of compassion. Please step in and make the moral decision to protect these vulnerable people,” said Mr McMillan.

“Returning families and babies to Nauru and Manus may be legal, but it is not humane. To send people, especially children and Australian-born babies, back to the place that has caused them such harm would be an outrage against human dignity.”

Mr McMillan’s call follows today’s decision by the High Court of Australia to uphold the Government’s right to detain people in the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, PNG.

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia Rev. Elenie Poulos believes the Government’s response is a potential turning point in the Australian national identity.

“What the Government does now will define who we are in relation to refugee protection. Are we a nation that would send women and children who have been sexually abused back to the site of their abuse?” said Rev. Poulos.

“Are we a nation that sends babies born in this country to a deliberately harsh and damaging environment in another country just to make a political point?

“Our reputation as a country of fairness and decency is on the line right here and now.

“We are calling on Mr Turnbull to make a decision that reflects favourably on all of us. It is for the benefit of all Australians that as a nation we choose to protect and not harm all people under our care.” (Original)

The Writer
Writing my novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North I came to conclude that great crimes like the Death Railway did not begin with the first beating or murder on that grim line of horror in 1943. They begin decades before with politicians, public figures, and journalists promoting the idea of some people being less than people.

It is they who wield the sword, the cane, the rifle butt and the rifle trigger as surely as the guards and soldiers who follow them. And it is they who in the end must be judged as far more responsible for those great crimes against humanity….

One day, many years from now, another prime minister will stand up and to a teary gallery apologise for the damage done to refugees in detention. We will be told that we didn’t know then what we know now. We will hear testimony of destroyed lives. But we did know. We always knew. We just chose not to hear and to silence those who tried to remind us of the truth. Richard Flanagan

The Bible
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.    (Luke 4)

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25)