Messages of Hope

Month: May 2017

Pray for Manchester

Published / by Sandy

“We want to reaffirm our determination that those who murder and maim will never defeat all that is good in our society. Nor can they defeat the message of peace, hope and love which is a part the message of faith. Each one of us can respond to this horror by working to build communities which oppose those who wish to divide us. We should seek to defeat terrorism not by violence but by the power of love. A love which Christians celebrate in the teachings of Jesus.”

(A statement by UK religious leaders)

We have no words left.
God, whose presence we yearn toward in the stillness
after our shaken, broken voices and the fires of violence fall silent:
we have no words left.
The words others have said:
“horrific”  “worst”  “unspeakable” “impossible”
have been spoken so many times that we can no longer hear them.
Our hearts have broken so often, we cannot feel.
Our hope has been tried, and, we confess in sorrow,
has been found wanting.
There has been too much terror, 
and not enough answers
too many lost lives with too little time to grieve them all
too much violation of the ordinary
and not enough glimpse of the holy to hold us fast.
But you, oh God: beyond our words, beneath our hope:
be the creative breath that orders our chaos
the mercy and justice that compels us to action
the Love that is stronger than death.
We ask you again, for we have nowhere else to turn
Hold us fast, when we cannot hold on any longer.
Walk with us through the valley of the shadow
Turn us away from despair,
that we may not grow weary in well-doing
Beyond our divisions, bind us together as one family
in your kin-dom of mercy and peace. Amen.

(Source: The Rev. Dr. Laurie A Kraus)

A downloadable PDF tri-fold brochure with prayers and resources for Manchester

‘A reinstatement of hope’

Published / by Sandy

22nd May 2017

The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce (of which the UCA is a part) has called for a re-instatement of justice and hope for the 7500 asylum seekers yet to apply for protection in Australia.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce is dismayed at the recent ‘shaming’ language and hardline decision by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in regard to asylum seekers.

The decision by Minister Dutton to threaten asylum seekers who have not yet had the opportunity to apply for protection by using language such as ‘fake refugees’ is unjust and unbecoming of a Minister in the Australian Government.

Rev Mark Riessen, Deputy Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce; “It astonishes me that we have held people seeking refuge in our country in limbo for so many years. We have heaped heavy burdens upon them and they have become captive to punitive measures in an unfair ultimatum. The Christian faith calls us to work towards freedom for the captive and advocate for those treated unfairly, not to demonise them and shame them.”

Many of the people Minister Dutton derides did not even have an option to apply for protection for a number of years until the ‘fast track’ processing system passed in 2015. During this time many of them did not have a right to work and have been living in poverty.

The process of applying for protection is arduous for those who do not have legal advice, many of whom are waiting for pro bono advice from overstretched legal services. The 7500 who have not yet applied deserve the same respect as others who have applied before them.

Caz Coleman Acting Executive Officer;
“To draw boundaries that sharply delineate between those who are ‘in’ and to whom justice and fairness applies, and those who are ‘out’ and to whom justice and fairness does not, is to deny justice at all.”

The ACRT supports the need for all 7500 to be processed in order for them to be able to determine their future. However, the ACRT believes that shaming and punishing people is not the way to encourage engagement.

The ACRT calls on the Government to provide additional support to this group of people in the form of legal support and positive messaging to resolve the residual caseload.

Rev Riessen “At the core of this process we ask for a reinstatement of hope, and that there will be fairness and justice in this process.”

Media inquiries may be directed to:
Rev Mark Riessen
Deputy Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
0422 115 259

Caz Coleman
Acting Executive Officer
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

Living stones

Published / by Sandy

Reflections on 1 Peter 2:2-10 (edited version of sermon on 14th May 2017

It seems appropriate to pick up the theme of stones that runs through three of the readings today, and in particular the image of the cornerstone. This year celebrates 150 years since this beautiful church was completed – constructed 1865-1867.

In ancient building practices, the cornerstone was the principal stone placed at the corner of the edifice. The cornerstone was usually one of the largest, the most solid, and the most carefully constructed of any in the edifice. Jesus was described as the cornerstone that the church would be built upon, a unified body of believers, made up of Jew and Gentile.

And the church would be like ‘living stones’, each one lining up with the cornerstone. The early Christian community was described as the ‘spiritual house’ or the “household of God” (2:5), not describing a building but the people themselves. The brilliant Anglican theologian, N. T. Wright, has explored Paul’s writings where he is convinced that the new temple of God is not a building but is the human person. Richard Rohr speaks more about this insight here.

After the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70CE, Jews and Christians were thrown into a state of profound crisis and disorientation. 
The temple had been the centre of Jewish life – the ‘house of God’, where God was present. 
The solid form of the temple gave way to new understandings – that God was present in the people, that they were like ‘living’ stones building something very new.

Bill Loader, reflecting on this text, says: ‘The stone imagery invites us to see ourselves as stones and then to see ourselves together as not a random pile of rocks or stones strewn across the landscape of interim territory, but as stones belonging to a structure built on Christ. It is a wonderful image of belonging. It invites us to our own imaginings and reflections: stones are old, young, brittle, strong, shiny; fractured, solid, large, small, differently shaped and oriented – there’s room for everyone. The image expands to include not only belonging in a building, but also belonging in creating a space for celebrating the presence of God. People together are sacred places and spaces, temples not made with hands. Though the traditional dwelling place of God is gone, a new house has in fact arisen in its place with a royal priesthood in attendance. While the old stones appear to be dead, the living stones of the church, founded on the cornerstone of Christ, will now be the light that overcomes the darkness.

So the church came to be defined not as the building in which we meet but as the building we have become, the building we make together. Together, in our company, we make the space where people engage holiness and sense the presence of God.

“Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood”. The word ‘priest’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘bridge-builder’. The priest is a bridge: priests form a bridge for God to come to the people and for the people to come to God. So the priesthood of all believers takes on a bridge building role in the community as a mission-shaped church.

Something happens in the establishment of a physical grand edifice that can change the location of the household of God away from the people to the building. The building itself is described as offering sacred space, and then the role of the people is described as ‘going to church’. Can you see how this changes the dynamic entirely? The building is a static object, predictable, solid, strong. When we gather here in the shelter and safety of this building, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have walked these floorboards as we do, it is for the purpose of worship, enjoying Christian fellowship, offering hospitality, sharing stories of faith and our experience of God, being nurtured in the way of faith. But then we are sent out again, to join in with what God is doing in the world, to follow the example of Christ in ushering in the reign of God. It is to be the living stones that disperse, and then re-connect, disperse and re-connect. 1 Peter empowers its readers to choose to embody the place of God’s presence.

It would be easy to see the particularity of the ‘household of God’ as a retreat from the world, to be a people who live out a kind of purity from the world. But the cornerstone has shown us by example. We read those stories from week to week – Jesus with the tax collectors, and the last and the least. Breaking the purity code in order to bring release of those bound by disease. The Jesus mandate from Luke 4:16-21.

The Book of Acts shows how the early church continued to live and practice these kingdom principles that Jesus initiated. They were guided by a bigger vision – the realm of God. And all their living and actions were shaped by this. 

The early readers of 1 Peter 2:4-5 would have heard something very comforting – as well as unexpected and startlingly new. “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:4-5 NRSV).

It is our life’s calling. May it be so. Amen.

Money and Faith

Published / by Sandy

The Federal budget will be delivered on Tuesday May 9th by the Treasurer, Scott Morrison. The following article was published in the May edition of ‘Just Act’, a publication of the Justice and International Unit in the Vic/Tas UCA Synod.

What we spend our money on and how much we think we ‘need’ are deeply theological questions. Theological questions being those that ask the deep ‘why’ and ‘what’ – what it means to be in relationship to others, what it means to own or to share, what would make a good and just society, and what sort of vision we have for the future.

The Uniting Church understands this vision to be ‘one of wholeness, rather than perfection or freedom from disaster or suffering’. It is also not confined to ‘the world to come’ but is offered as a reality for the life of this world. It is a vision of flourishing, abundant life, of peace and reconciliation, justice and transformation, love and inclusion for all creation. Its antitheses are also described in the biblical stories: the worship of idols, of which mammon (wealth, gain or possessions) is prominent; and separation and exclusion from community, often wrought by violent and oppressive social, political and religious systems.

Walter Brueggemann, in Theology of the Old Testament, sees ‘justice’ in the Bible as being about redistributing goods and power so that all may share what God has given the human race. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, sees this as an important dimension of transformation, but that it also needs a further dimension – a focus on just relationship – that is, not simply redistributed property and influence, but a positively renewed set of social interactions and mutual nurture.

Our task then in Christian social justice work seems to be to both wrestle with what this means in our lives at a personal or household level and also how we can bring out more a just society for everyone.

For example, the ‘Make Lives Better‘ campaign (Vic/Tas UCA Synod) has called for the redistribution of funds into things that support the flourishing of life for those who are homeless, experience violence at home, are not paid a fair wage and to ensure schools are adequately funded instead of corporate tax cuts and concessions for the wealthy.

The Federal budget each year is one of the opportunities we have to ‘redistribute goods and power’. It also touches our own lives as we consider policies that will affect us now and into the future. It is an opportunity to integrate how we live at a household level and how this can then be an organising principle for greater society. This idea is reflected in Acts 4:33-37, ‘There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and bought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet and it was distributed to each as any had need‘.

Jonathan Cornford in ‘Coming back to earth‘ says, ‘In placing household economy at the very centre of faith…Christianity (can reclaim) the material substance of its spiritual message’. In other words, integrating how we understand the Gospel, how we make decisions about how much we earn, spend, work or volunteer, and how we advocate to Government about what this looks like is all part of living a faithful life.

The Economy of Life‘ statement prepared by Uniting Justice (Uniting Church in Australia) is an excellent resource for further reading (scroll to end of link for a downloadable booklet).

On the road, on the way…

Published / by Sandy

(Sandy’s sermon for Easter 3A, based on the Walk to Emmaus from Luke 24)
The story of the travellers on the road to Emmaus is such a familiar story from the Easter season. I wonder what resonates with your own experiences?
Here are some of the ways I engaged with this story again:
* the despair, the despondency, the sorrow, the sense of loss of those two travellers whose hopes had been dashed, ‘we had hoped he would be the one’….
* the remembering and recounting of the stories of our spiritual ancestors, and their testimony about the way they have seen God’s activity in their midst – tracing all the way back to ancient days of Moses…..perhaps a prompt to learn and discover more, to dip into our sacred stories with fresh energy…?
* the sense of anticipation and excitement when you sense the divine presence, even if we can never fully understand it….
* the sense of breathless excitement at sharing the good news about Jesus’ risen life, that cannot be kept silent or hidden but is transforming news for the whole world…..

This story was cradled by the early church as an important story, though the historical details would have been blurred somewhat by the passing of time between the appearances of Jesus and when Luke’s Gospel was written several decades later. But it holds important truths for us. And it is part of the narrative where the disciples and followers of Jesus came to realize they were in uncharted territory, where people like Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and Thomas were ‘alive’ and animated in a new way by what would later be called ‘resurrection life’. The Emmaus story unpacks what the struggle to make sense of it all looked like for the early church. Perhaps this walk on a single afternoon was but one of many such walks where Jesus was present with his followers. Perhaps it happened over several years or even decades. It recounts the walk of the whole early ‘church’ on its journey to make sense of Jesus’ risen life and the implications for them.

Perhaps that walk is still happening now, in our place and time. And yet, it’s hard to imagine the present church taking that walk. Our present culture does not sustain Christian practice as our spiritual ancestors practiced it. Post-modernity is a hard place in which to find and live out resurrection faith, or look for signs of risen life. Ours is a world where, for some, it is materially easy to live, where freedom is taken for granted, and leisure a right. It is a world of consumerism with every available distraction. It is a world endlessly busy. It seems it’s not easy to live in our time and place, and at the same time, orient the human spirit towards God.

The two disciples are on a journey when they meet Jesus. Scholars think that they are meant to be a picture of the early church for Luke’s community. It locates the church on the road. Jesus is met on the road. The Greek words for “on the road” are literally “on the way.” Christians referred to themselves as people of the Way. (Acts 19:19) The Christian way of living is to be on the road. Churches are not meant to be static and settled and comfortable and never moving. A word of challenge to us as we gather each week for worship in this beautiful building.

The two people could have journeyed with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and then let him walk on, but they invited him in for a meal.….Jesus took bread and broke it and blessed it and gave it to them…the words we recount in communion. Jesus is made known to us in communion.  If you read the story you will see it doesn’t say they went back and told the apostles they had seen Jesus, or that he had appeared to them. They went back and told them how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

What provoked the disciples to begin celebrating a meal in memory of Jesus is a ‘missing link’ in the history of the eucharist in the early Church. The disciples began to celebrate ‘the Breaking of Bread’ very soon after Pentecost. Immediately after Luke tells us about the coming of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching to the people, he writes, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’. (Acts 2:42)

Two people meet and travel together. (That’s a church.) They talk about life – about all these things that had happened, and without them even noticing, Jesus came among them. Jesus is present in our conversations – in our deep sharing about our own experiences, of love and loss, sorrows and struggles, and when suffering and fragile hopes overwhelm the possibility of joy and transformation. This is part of being church – where two or more can meet to talk and to share deeply, to name our deepest realities in our human journey.

And then… the conversation changes. With his help, the two people start to relate all the things that have been happening to what was in the scriptures. They started to make sense of their life and what was happening by looking back at their own sacred stories. We practice this when we read and reflect on the Bible when we gather for worship. Looking at our experiences through the lens of our sacred stories.

As the early church journeyed with Jesus, it grew mightily. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, one man’s testimony drawing others into God’s life, where they continue their own journey looking for signs of risen life. Our task as individuals and as a church is to remain always open to God’s life and where it may break out next, and then to be ready with a response that brings grace and life to others. In this year when we celebrate many important historical events here at Pilgrim, and the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia, we also need to step back also and ask, in what ways this community of faith, and our Pilgrim congregation, contributes to God’s work in the world, and especially amongst those whose journey is marked by the same sense of sorrow and fractured hope as our two travellers on the road to Emmaus? For the testimony of our own spiritual ancestors in this place bears witness to the risen life of Christ. If a church is “on the road,” and if it worships God by putting its life together informed by scripture, and celebrating communion together, then Jesus will be made known to it…

The journey on the road to Emmaus goes on, even now. The church – you and me, we’re all in it together – is called to be part of that journey, on the road, on the way, and to recognise and give witness to signs of risen life amongst, here and now and in all places and in all times.
May it be so. Amen.