Messages of Hope

Month: January 2021

2021 Awards, 26th January

Published / by Sandy
Grace Tame, Australian of the Year 2021

Grace Tame, who took on the law over rape silencing, has been named Australian of the Year for 2021. She is the first Tasmanian to be named Australian of the Year. After a sexual assault at the age of 15, she was unable to speak about her experience due to Tasmania’s sexual assault victim gag laws. Ms Tame ultimately applied to the Supreme Court for the right to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor and won. Her case is one of those that has prompted the Tasmanian government to reconsider the gag law, for which it is now taking community submissions. Ms Tame has continued to use her media profile to advocate for other vulnerable groups in the community. In her acceptance speech she said she was focused on empowering survivors and using education to prevent child sex abuse.
(1800 RESPECT is the national sexual assault and domestic and family violence counselling service on 1800 737 732)

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann (AM) of Daly River in the Northern Territory was named Senior Australian of the Year.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann, Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Baumann, 73, is an Aboriginal activist, educator and artist who in 1975 became the NT’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher. She campaigned for years for visual art to become part of every child’s education, and has served on the National Indigenous Council. In 2013, she established the Miriam Rose Foundation, which drives grassroots reconciliation. to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and the rest of Australia.
Dr Baumann said, “We have lived in this great country for many thousands of years and 200 years ago we began to interact with whitefellas. And now, Australia has become multicultural. Since then we have adapted to a new way of living. We learnt to speak your English fluently. For years, we have walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way. I’ve learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities, and even worked in them. Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and how – and to understand how we live, and listen to what needs are in our communities. When you come to visit or work in our communities and leave your comfort zones, I ask that you bring your knowledge and wisdom, but we ask you also to learn and understand how we live and function in our communities, and listen to what our needs are.”

The Young Australian of the Year was tonight revealed to be 22-year-old social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall.

Young Australian of the Year, Isobel Marshall

Isobel is a full-time student at the University of Adelaide, where she is studying medicine and surgery. She was just 18 when she co-founded women’s organisation TABOO with school friend Eloise Hall. The pair crowdfunded $56,000 to launch their range of hygiene products in August 2019, selling organic cotton pads and tampons to Australian buyers, with all profits going to One Girls, a charity that provides education programs for girls and women in Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Ms Hall said, “Menstrual products should be accessible, affordable, not a luxury or a choice. But the reality is one in every 10 girls around the world can’t afford menstrual products and culture stigma forces women and girls to isolate the days they bleed.”

She called on all Australians to join the cause. “Firstly, let’s change the conversation around menstruation. Those on your period, expect respect in place of shame and be proud of what your body can do. Families and teachers, invest in creating an environment that understands the importance and the strength of the menstrual cycle, and don’t shy away from the conversation. And, of course, let’s all commit to fighting period poverty around the world.” TABOO also provides free hygiene products to Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre, for women in need of emergency accommodation in South Australia.

Migrant and refugee advocate Rosemary Kariuki was named Australia’s Local Hero. The 60-year-old – the subject of 2020 documentary Rosemary’s Way.

She arrived in Australia from Kenya in 1999, fleeing family abuse and tribal clashes. Her early lonely years in Australia made her realise how isolated migrant and refugee women could be – with many unused to going out alone, having no transport, and struggling to speak English. “It took me a while to feel like this country is home”.
Ms Kariuki encourages women to become involved with the community, creating with the African Women’s Group the annual African Women’s Dinner Dance, which attracts a crowd of hundreds. She also ran the African Village Market, which helped migrants and refugees start their own business. Currently she is the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Local Area Command, specialising in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.
She urged people to embrace Australia’s multiculturalism.
“Together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater. So let us share what we know and give each a helping hand. Let us embrace our multicultural nation, more building on it and looking for the opportunities and positives. I would like to encourage every one of you to meet someone new from a different background this coming week and see what doors open to you.”

Australia’s local hero, Rosemary Kariuki

National Australia Day Council chairperson Danielle Roche (OAM) congratulated the recipients. “Grace, Miriam-Rose, Isobel and Rosemary are all committed to changing attitudes in our society and changing lives. They are strong, determined women who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocating for people’s rights – particularly the rights of women and children.”

Inspiring women! Inspiration for us all!!

(Text sourced from Channel 9 news report, 25 January 2021)

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A fresh look at Jonah

Published / by Sandy

(A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 24th January 2021).

If we can think beyond boats, storms and whales from Sunday School lessons about Jonah, we might find ways that the story is surprisingly relevant.

God called Jonah the prophet to deliver a hard message to the city of Ninevah. God had seen their wickedness and Jonah was to call them to repentance. Jonah was reluctant to go. More about that later. Instead, Jonah fled in the other direction. Sunday School lessons have given a negative spin on Jonah. Shouldn’t he have been like those fisherman in today’s Gospel reading who just dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus, no questions asked. Shouldn’t Jonah have just eagerly shared God’s message to the people in Ninevah?

Let me tell you about Ninevah, the largest city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, on the outskirts of Mosul in what is modern-day northern Iraq. Nineveh was a city great in power, culture, and size. The citizens of Nineveh felt secure behind its massive walls – some 30 metres high and broad enough for three chariots to be driven abreast on the roadway running along their top. The Assyrian Empire was powerful, and sought to conquer the world. Enter Jonah, a Jewish man, who God asked to leave his own country of Israel, and go into the heartland of an enemy people, to declare the coming wrath of God.

Now, the Assyrian empire considered the Jewish God inferior to their own, especially since their own gods had prevailed. Ninevah as a city was thriving, defeating enemies, gaining power and wealth. Nobody would have felt they were evil and needed to repent – they just relished the success they had achieved.

To maintain its power, the Empire had a way of dealing harshly with anyone who challenged the status quo. Jonah knew he risked imprisonment at the very least for the message he would bring. Ninevah was infamous for mutilating and torturing its prisoners. He faced the prospect that he might even be killed as soon as he opened his mouth. The prophet Nahum had called Ninevah ‘the city of blood’.

Jonah declared, “40 days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He had the audacity and courage to speak truth to power, right there in the centre of the city that served as the capital of the Empire. Just 8 words (5 in Hebrew). And God wasn’t even mentioned. Nor was there any mention of what the people should do in response.

But, surprisingly, the city listened, took it seriously, and acted. A fast was proclaimed; everyone wore sackcloth. Even the King put on sackcloth and sat in the ashes. I’d like to see a few current day leaders repent, don the sackcloth and repent! The King declared everyone should turn from their evil ways and from the violence that was in their hands, so that God’s mind would be changed and the people would not perish. Indeed, that’s what happened. The threatened calamity was averted. I could round this off by saying this passage from Jonah reminds us that people can, in fact, turn from their unfaithful ways, and that the voice of a prophet can be extremely powerful!

But we need to read on – the punchline is that Jonah was angry with God when the Ninevah actually put on a show of repentance. He was angry because God’s mind could be changed so easily, just because the oppressor had a temporary change of heart and put on a bit of a show. In fact, the Assyrian Empire would quickly return to its ways. History reveals Assyria conquered Israel in waves in the late 8th century deporting most of its citizens. A remnant remained in the north, but the nation of Israel was under Assyrian rule. Tens of thousands were deported and put to work as servants in Assyria. And then, the Assyrians began to populate Israel with people from other nations they had defeated (2 Kings 17:24).

This was a practice called geographical migration, or transmigration, where they would invade an area and uproot the heart of their society, forcing them to move to another region of the Empire. It’s a strategy still used in our world. The resulting confusion and terror ensured that the people can never rise against their oppressors. Scholar Christy Randazzo cites three factors: ignorance – since the people had no knowledge about the new place in which they were forced to live and work; starvation (“uprooting” was meant literally: they lost their carefully tended fields, which often took generations to cultivate); cultural trauma because so many cultural practices had been linked to the physical landscape, the land itself. Many turned to the gods of the Empire for comfort.

Empire would cut the heart out of a people, in effect killing their entire sense of “peoplehood.” This form of cultural genocide was, and is, irrefutably “evil”. It’s part of our Australian story and the dispossession and dislocation of First Peoples. It’s why the conversation about January 26th matters.

The Assyrian Empire was clearly the oppressor in this story. Violence. Nations and patriots. Power, privilege and entitlement was on their side. Oppressive systems and structures.

Jonah was a lone voice calling for change, for justice, for repentance. Jonah’s call for change, had it led to transformative change, would have enabled the nation of Israel to safely live in peace, to be unafraid. His call for change is replicated in those voices from the margins over the centuries calling for transformative change, for the sake of the poor and marginalised. Repeatedly, the biblical witness tells us that God’s priority is for the welfare of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. The groundswell of such voices led to the Black Lives Matter movement. To the Civil Rights movement. To recognising Aboriginal people in the 1967 Referendum.

How does the Church speak to the Empires of our day? How do we listen to the voices of the prophets in our midst calling for justice, mercy and repentance? To turn from evil and towards good. Modern day prophets, like Jonah before them, will be angry when repentance is lip service only and does not lead to changed lives, nor substantive systemic change that disrupts power and privilege. Injustices need to be named, and structures that created and sustained injustice completely reimagined. Anything else is cheap repentance, the cause of Jonah’s anger.

What is needed is a change of heart.

The Book of Jonah may have been written in the context of Jewish people encountering cultural genocide by the Assyrian invaders, to explain what was happening to them. They would have resonated with Jonah’s rage. How could Ninevah, the centre of the Assyrian Empire, the one that would destroy God’s own people, be reconciled to God? Jonah lamented, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you’re a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing”.

God: gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. God’s love is for all, even enemies like the Assyrian Empire – when there is repentance. The prophet Isaiah (Ch19) says, “Behold the days are coming when God’s promises are all fulfilled. Behold the days are coming, when I will bless Assyria, my people Egypt to my chosen, and Israel, my inheritance”. There is the possibility of many blessed, beloved chosen peoples.

God never gives up hope on anyone, even the least likely.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Epiphany 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 10th January 2021

The Day of Epiphany, in the Western church, is celebrated on January 6, completing the 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally Epiphany marks the visit of the Magi, the wise men – Gentiles from another culture – who recognized Jesus’ kingship and bowed before him in worship. It begins the season of Epiphany in the church calendar when Christians celebrate how the light of Christ spreads to all people and all ethnic groups. The true identity of Jesus as the revelation of God is revealed afresh to us.

Usually, the Day of Epiphany gets a liturgical nod and not much more. It’s when Christmas trees and decorations are often taken down, and the nativity set packed away. 

This year Epiphany began in a quite different and shocking way. We had good reason to contemplate the actions of an anxious leader with a manic claim to power.

I’m speaking, of course, of King Herod.

History remembers him as a leader who had no hesitation using violence in a bid to ensure no-one would be able to challenge his authority and absolute power. His power depended on his capacity to convince people that his power alone was legitimate, that he alone had the capacity to protect the interests of the citizens in his part of the world. 

King Herod was enraged when he learned from the Magi, the wise men, that there was an infant born in Bethlehem who they were seeking to worship. He smooth talked his way with the wise men, using them as pawns in his quest to protect his own power. He asked them to inform him about where he could find Jesus, promising he too was a devout religious man, that he would like to worship the infant king too (Matt. 2:8). Epiphany this year is a sobering reminder that religious language and symbols can be co-opted as a weapon of earthly political power. Herod was also happy to use his own religious advisers as pawns to retain power. 

The arrival of the Magi was a catalyst for Herod to unleash violence. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 2) highlights that there was “fear,” “terror,” and “lies” when the Magi come calling on Herod. Herod was anxious, and the people under him were cautious and apprehensive. The Magi discerned something was wrong.

The Magi, we are told, did find Jesus and pay homage to him, and then instead of returning to Herod, went home by a different route. 

This year, the story has particular poignancy, with the power plays of Herod and the feigning of religious belief and appropriation of religious symbols.

Like the Magi, we too may need to find a different route to travel on from this point.

We speak about Epiphany as a time of light and illumination, a time of revelation, to see more cleraly the revelation of Jesus. Epiphany this year was also a wake-up call – that we need a new direction to head as a global community. 

We are tired. Tired of the pandemic. Tired of political life that exploits and delivers partial truth. Tired of economic and political movements that promote nationalism, isolation, and versions of xenophobia. Tired of wealth that is hoarded by a few people while others struggle to simply survive. Tired of the way policy is guided by insecurity, fear, prejudice, and racism. Tired of the overwhelming reality of global climate change and so little we can do when those with power refuse to confront the issues for the sake of future generations. The earth is groaning. 

We need a prophetic vision, focused on the light of Christ. A vision that invests in human flourishing and well-being. The story of the Magi is a story to enliven our own faith. They had seen something hopeful that propelled them to undertake a long journey. It was this hope that sustained them. Such a hope in the God revealed in Jesus is one to sustain our actions, our prayers, our relationships as we share in God’s redeeming work in the world. 

The Genesis reading we heard today begins, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . Scholars believe it actually says, ‘In beginning…’. An action, rather than a time. And that action continues. 

Mark’s Gospel states its intention with the words: ‘the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. It suggests the beginning of a new order, a new world that is to come. And it happens through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Mark’s Gospel begins in the wilderness on the far side of the Jordan, on the Jordanian side of the river. UNESCO has declared Bethany Beyond the Jordan a World Heritage site, identifying present-day Jordan as the location where Jesus’ baptism is believed to have taken place. The Vatican and Orthodox Christian patriarchs have given their blessings to the site. This location was also closely associated with the foundational identity of the Jewish peope. It was where the miraculous crossing of the Jordan into the promised land took place, under the leadership of Joshua. 

The location is significant. It meant that a large number of Israelites symbolically left their land, and then re-entered the land. A fresh start. And immersion in the Jordan’s waters. Dying to the old ways of living, and rising to the new ways of living, to God’s way. 

What happened this week as Epiphany began was shocking but it also provokes an opportunity for us to examine our own lives, about what’s important. Like those who John baptised, who symbolically left their land and then re-entered it fresh from baptism, we need to ask what we need to leave behind and how we re-orient our lives to the way of Jesus. To pause and ask ourselves what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To ask, who are we? What are our values? How do we love our neighbours as ourselves, those we agree with and those we don’t? How do we follow the Jesus way?

Jesus invites us to the way of truth-telling, of mercy and justice, of love, of forgiveness, of repentance, of reconciliation. We reorient our lives to this calling. The prophetic work of the church is to take up the slow work of repair, of re-forming our churches around the deep, unchanging truths of the light of Christ. To reconstruct communities where we can know and speak truth, serve the needy and the poor, love our neighbours, learn to be poor in spirit, and witness to the light of Christ amid darkness. To bring wholeness, and healing. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, as the prophet Micah said. 

The Jesus Way invites us find a different route than the one that has led us to this point, because there will always be another Herod whose fear and hold on power leads to violence and death. Let us journey through this season of Epiphany, seeking the revelation of Jesus in our midst. 

And this blessing for the journey: 

May God strengthen you for adversity and companion you in joy. 
May God give you the courage of your conviction 
and the wisdom to know when to speak and act. 
May you know peace. 
May you be gifted with deep, true friendship and love. 
May you have laughter to fortify you against the disappointments. 
May you be brave. 

© Valerie Bridgeman, December 18, 2013