Messages of Hope

Month: March 2018

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)

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.

(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.