Messages of Hope

Month: October 2021

All Saints…

Published / by Sandy

Halloween. October 31. Hallow evening. The evening before All Saints Day. The root word of Halloween – ‘’hallow’’ – means ‘’holy.’’ The suffix “een” is an abbreviation of “evening.” It refers to the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the Christian holy day that honours saintly people of the past. All Hallows was considered a time to recognise the way evil could manifest itself, seen and unseen. More than a thousand years ago in Ireland and Britain, Christians would come together on the eve of the feast of All Hallows Day to ask for God’s blessing and protection from evil in the world. Often, they would dress in costumes of saints or evil spirits and act out the battle between good and evil around bonfires. That’s the source of the modern observance of Halloween.

If you’re getting ready for children door knocking as they ‘trick or treat’ this Halloween, you can help end the exploitation of children in the cocoa industry and raise awareness of Fair Trade by handing Fair Trade chocolate back to adults, with informational cards attached, to explain the problems of the cocoa industry and how Fair Trade presents a solution to child labour and forced labour.
“According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11 to 16 years old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.” (Huffington Post)
One freed child slave said, “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.” Similar comments were recorded in the film Slavery: A Global Investigation which interviewed children who had broken free from the slave trade.

All Saints Day (November 1), also known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration of the communion of saints, and honours of the saints from Christian history. In Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st (the Eastern Orthodox Church and associated Eastern Catholic churches observe All Saints Day on the first Sunday following Pentecost). The beginning of November is a traditional time for the honouring of our ancestors, remembering loved ones who have gone, tending graves and cleaning up cemeteries, and for cherishing life while contemplating its inevitable end. All Saints Day comes from a conviction that there is a spiritual connection between those in heaven and on earth, with an opportunity to express gratitude for the lives and deaths of the saints (not just the ‘beatified’ saints of the Catholic church). Individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley, as well as people who have personally guided each of us in our faith journey. We give thanks for the saints we have known in our church communities.

On Passing a Graveyard by John O’Donohue
May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.
May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.
May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.
May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.
May the wildflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into the light.
May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.

All Souls’ Day (November 2) is primarily a Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox holy day. It is set aside for honouring the dead, and offering prayers for those understood to be in purgatory, waiting to get into heaven. Most protestant denominations do not recognize the holiday and disagree with the theology behind it. According to Catholic belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.

At one time, the Catholic Church sold indulgences as spiritual pardons to the poor and applied to the souls of the dead (or the living) to get people into heaven. The flagrant abuse of indulgences were used to raise money for the Church during the renaissance. The blatant, sometimes fraudulent practice of selling indulgences for money, led to protests by Martin Luther and his argument with the monk Johan Tetzel. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he omitted the seven books of the canon which refer to prayers for the dead. He then introduced the belief that people are simply saved, or not, and argued that there is no need to pray for the dead to get them into heaven.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos (Nov 2) is a national holiday in many countries after three days of celebration: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. People often dress as skeletons as a way of remembering the dead and celebrating their ancestors.

Rest

Published / by Sandy

From Ann Siddall’s blog.


A word is beginning to pop up everywhere I look, and the word is ‘rest”. It has come from the mouths of friends and medical professionals, and seems to be present in almost everything I pick up to read. At this point I usually decide God, the universe and the world around me think it is important for me to pay attention. So I am. And the word? Rest.

Rest is presenting itself to me as a medical necessity that suddenly reveals itself as an experience of both frustration, and joy and delight! It’s as if I had been so very serious about life that I had forgotten how to lie in the sun like a cat that blissfully stretches itself into the ecstatic enjoyment of just being alive!

Sometimes we seem to need permission, or approval, to rest. There is always more to be done, our work and our lives are always incomplete. There are so many people and situations needing our help and attention. Lying around seems indulgent, especially if there is a  “Martha’ bustling away in the kitchen. “Marthas” often make a lot of noise and look pointedly at us as they race by!

I hadn’t read the following verses for a very long time, but I came across them the other day and wondered why I seemed to be hearing more lately about the Jesus who calls us to be working hard than the Jesus who invites us to rest. Has it been my selective listening and reading, or is it perhaps that Christianity under pressure focuses us on what we should be doing in order to renew the church?

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (1)

If someone sent me an email with that invitation I’d be on their doorstep in a flash!  Consider the trend that is emerging from the Covid era, where people have now had a taste of spending more time at home and discovered that they like it. They have been urged to work harder but have had a taste of freedom and now they are bucking the system, wanting to return to a new rather than an old normal.

Another set of words which spoke deeply to me came from a book I was reading while spending a few days with a friend down on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Claire Dunn is a Melbourne woman who, after spending a year living in the wilderness, living more closely to the earth and its natural resources, decided to explore a way of “re-wilding” in an urban environment. She found a share-house on the banks of the Yarra River and began to forage for food, build a network of people sharing resources, and share her skills with both adults and groups of children.  In her biography she reflects on what she calls our “exhaustion epidemic”. She has friends who remain up-beat, trying to hide their exhaustion and fueling themselves with coffee, and quotes philosopher and social commentator Charles Einstein who has a theory that todays common ailments like chronic fatigue and depression are “the body’s quiet mutiny against the specific demands placed upon us in our hyper-modern world.” (2)

Last weekend the word “rest” was before me again in Moira Were’s weekly blog post.(3) Her theme was “resistance” and she wrote of how rest can be a form of resistance (to, for example, the pressure to over-work). I found this very inspiring. To me it represented a way of expressing non-compliance to the prevailing culture around us.

It is entirely possible to present the word ‘rest” as if it were a sentence, a judgment about what we ought to be doing rather than invitation. Being told to rest can feel like we are being taken out of circulation, regarded as not useful anymore. In an society where millions of people do not have family or friends near to them it can feel like being condemned to isolation.

True rest is not laziness or shirking our responsibilities. To consider it in this way is often the fruit of a family or culture which saw busyness as next to Godliness, and inactivity as sinful. The Protestant work ethic is deep within the genes of many of us. When I first retired a decade ago I frequently received a piece of advice: “Don’t say ‘retired”. Say ‘re-fired’.” I am far too nice to say “b….r off” but I thought it! Rest as resistance to both the values of these kind of cultures and the values of a society whose institutions approve of hard over-work and long hours is a noble act, not unrelated to the need to work for climate change (think about it).

We have perhaps not adequately represented to each other the joys of rest, relaxation, refreshment, renewal, and restoration. I think of various kinds of rest I have experienced that have been either peaceful or joyful, or both. There was the deep rest that came to me years ago when I did a day retreat at a spirituality centre in the middle of a Queensland rainforest. Gradually the sounds of birds, the wind in the trees, the gentle sound of a nearby water-fall and the simple setting of the chapel began to deepen the sense of rest in me. It became deep joy, even ecstasy as the vitality of the natural world around me began to enliven me and restore my soul. In that experience rest restored me to my true nature, a human being at one with all creation.

I think of my reaction to the advice given to me following a stroke three years ago. I was told to rest, for some time. This did not feel like an intrusion into the mix of retirement and work I was engaged in. It suddenly felt like a deep release – from expectations and deadlines. A gift of free time. More recent advice to rest, as old symptoms of Chronic Fatigue appear again, has not been as easy. I’ve been frustrated. But if I relax into it life feels very different. I have noticed and appointed myself custodian of a blackbird, nesting in the tree by my bedroom window. I love its singing. I think of the new life growing there, and tiny demanding tweets let me know there is new life. I am encouraging this mother bird in her work and yelling at the noisy miner birds who squawk at her. If I need to I rest for a while in the afternoon and let go of everything for a while. (By the way, letting go is a very important spiritual practice, it implies acceptance of our inability to control absolutely everything in our lives, and stillness allows us to see everything much more clearly. I am only too familiar with anxiety so I know that stillness is not always possible but I do feel invited to a deeper trust when anxiety intrudes).

I remember years ago, while travelling around Europe and England, I came to the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Suddenly this tourist as consumer needed to stop and take breath. The only way I would hold the memory of this beauty was to rest deeply in the moment, letting myself take in all the sights and sounds of the place, like a slow-exposure photograph.

My tendency has always been to get all the work done and then rest. I am needing to re-look at this. By the time I do stop I can feel very exhausted. To rest without completing everything on my list is a reminder again about control, I will never complete all the things I want to complete in life. To rest without completion reminds me that I am enough and grace flows in to unhook me from an ego that would drive me to over-achieve

Enough of me. How do you feel about rest – do you resent it or see it as a gift? What keeps you from rest – a culture that sees it as lazy, or a fear that is kept at bay by busyness? What is most restful to you – a place, the natural world, music, words, meditation, intimacy? What makes you rest-less? (In saying all this I do understand that for all kinds of reasons our current circumstances can make it difficult for us to rest adequately, sometimes for quite a long time. When this is the case it is helpful to determinedly claim moments of stillness as if they were cool, refreshing raindrops on a parched earth.)

Holy One, I am so often rest-less,
a thousand tasks nudge at me,
a million worries are nurtured by the world’s bad news,
and all that is unknown is lining up
to stake its claim as soon as a space opens up.

Holy One, we live in a rest-less world.
Nothing is ever enough to satisfy our longings.
We strive for more of everything
believing that more will bring us peace,
that the affirmation of others
will convince us that we are enough.

Holy One, Your church is rest-less,
stirred by the need to recruit,
worried that it is not enough in either its doing or being.
It plans, reviews, re-plans,
perhaps resists the simple/difficult work of simply loving well.

Holy One, grant us Your peace,
great waterfalls of peace
poured over us in blessing and mercy!
Drench us with a downpour of grace
so that we laugh in joy and surprise,
and stop to rest,
realising we do not do the work of living this life on our own.

1) Matthew 11: 28-30
2)Rewilding the urban soul: searching for the wild in the city, Claire Dunn, published Scribe 2021)
3)moirawere.wordpress.com
4) Photo of sleeping cat, Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash.

Eyes wide open

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 24th October

I remember meeting Christians at university in my teens. I literally had no knowledge of the specifics of the Bible, nor who Jesus was. Well meaning Christians shared the four spiritual laws with me, popular at the time as a summary of the Gospel story. 

  1. That God loves you personally: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  2. Humankind is sinful and separated from God: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
  3. Jesus died for our sins/Jesus is the only way to God: “God love is shown towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  4. We must receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him” (Revelation 3:20).

Convicted of the truth of this message, people would then be invited to pray the sinner’s prayer – and become a Christian. I know there are some of you who will have committed your life to Jesus in this way and faithfully turned your life towards the Jesus way. For me, this formulaic way of summarising the salvation story was important but partial, and it was the lived experience and example of many Christians who revealed Jesus to me in a way that truly opened my eyes. 

I’m intrigued by the series of stories in Mark’s Gospel Chapter 8-10 that we have been reading these last few weeks, and the way they speak about the encounter with Jesus and the nature of Christian discipleship that is integral to any conversion to the Jesus Way. 

It may help for this exercise if you imagine a piece of paper folded in half to make two columns, with the stories of Mark on one side, and reflections on the disciples on the other side.

In Mark Ch 8-10, two stories serve as bookends and both involve the healing of a blind man. In the first story (Mark 8:22-26) Jesus attempts to heal a blind man. Strangely, Jesus fails to heal him fully. After laying hands on the man once, Jesus asks him whether he can see anything. The man says, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking”. Jesus then lays hands on him a second time before he can see everything clearly. That’s the story.

Now for the 2nd column on your imaginary paper – reflecting on the disciples, who up until this point in Mark’s narrative have been ‘blind’, as it were, to Jesus’ identity as the messiah. Immediately following this story, Jesus asks his disciples the central question of Mark’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). The disciples finally glimpse who Jesus really is, as Peter declares, “You are the Messiah” (8:29). The eyes of the disciples are opened, but like the blind man, only partially. They see that Jesus is the long awaited messiah. But immediately their minds turn to what it means to be part of the messiah’s inner circle, and the power and the glory that will come their way. Like the people at that time, they were waiting for a hero who would liberate them from the Empire that occupied their land. But Jesus is nothing like that kind of messiah. Instead, Jesus declares three times that as messiah he must suffer and die. How can that be? This didn’t fit the understanding the disciples had of a triumphant victorious powerful messiah. Who can blame the disciples if they failed to grasp this notion?

Peter scolds Jesus for saying he must be crucified, and Jesus immediately counters that by telling him that he is “setting [his] mind not on divine things but on human things” (8:32-33). But who can blame Peter – he understands the messiah as humans would. Jesus speaks a second time about the crucifixion (9:30-32) that he must face, and immediately afterwards he catches the disciples arguing about which of them is the greatest (9:33-34). And the third time Jesus describes the suffering he must endure, James and John ask him if they may be seated at his right and left hands in his glory (10:3-37). Are they blind to who Jesus really is? Well, yes, that’s the point. They see, but only partially. 

So, back to that second column on your imaginary paper, the commentary on the disciples. What are you jotting in the second column? The disciples see only partially who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. They aspire towards power, glory, influence, status. When Jesus speaks about the crucifixion, he dismantles all of those notions, for himself as messiah, and for those who would follow him. Instead, he tells his followers they must be prepared to take up their own cross and follow the Jesus way of radical love for the most vulnerable in society.

Now turn that paper over, to make a third column. Your column. Who do you say Jesus is? And what is Jesus asking of you? Where do you place yourself in the story? And the final blank column – we’ll make that about what all this means for the church, and all the property, wealth, influence, status that the church as an institution has enjoyed over centuries. How do we reflect upon the church when our eyes are fully open and the church re-orients its life to reflect the Way of Jesus. 

As we look to the future as a church, what is God saying to us about how we order our life so we can be committed to transforming lives and communities with God’s love? There are so many challenges confronting us – Christians are now a much smaller % of the Australian population, & more culturally and theologically diverse. Society’s attitudes towards Christianity have become more complex and less predictable. The Uniting Church Assembly has begun a project called Act2, to check the health of our Church and ask, ‘where is God leading us, what is God calling us to do in this new context and how do we order our lives to best fulfil that calling?’ It’s actually not unlike the story of the disciples, gradually gaining insight to truly see, & follow the Jesus Way. 

The reading set for today offers an alternative to half-sighted discipleship. Sitting beside the road, blind Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is approaching and calls out to him, asking for mercy. When the crowd shouts him down, as crowds do to the poor and vulnerable, he cries all the louder. When Jesus stops, and the blind man is told Jesus is calling him, he throws off his cloak. Not for him the need to hold on to his possessions, like the rich young man earlier in the same chapter, who could not part with his possessions and wealth. No, this poor blind beggar throws off his beggar’s cloak – all that he really possessed. The cloak was the most versatile item of Palestinian clothing at the time. It was protection against rapid and frequent temperature changes, insulation against the harsh winds, and at night it doubled as a blanket. The Fathers of the Church thought of it as a symbol of self-sufficiency, of those things in our lives that we depend on – things that can hold us back when we hear God calling. Bartimaeus makes his way to Jesus. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responds he wants his sight restored. Jesus heals him but the key point is not the healing itself, but in Bartimaeus’ response. As with the first blind man healed, Jesus tells Bartimaeus to go on his way (10:52). But he does not go away. Instead he “followed Jesus on the way” (10:52). In the very next verse of the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It would seem that Bartimaeus followed Jesus, towards the humiliation and suffering of the cross that would happen only a few days later. Unlike the disciples, he does not compete to be the greatest. Nor does he seek a position of influence at Jesus’ right hand. In gratitude for mercy received, he simply followed Jesus. An example of faith.

Time to return to the second column, about the disciples, and this new disciple, Bartimaeus.

Time to fill in that third column, about you and your own discipleship as a follower of Jesus. 

And that fourth column, about the church. The world needs a church that sees clearly, like Bartimaeus, orienting it’s life to the Way of Jesus, and not a half-sighted church that seeks glory, wealth, status, power. Pope Francis Pope (in Laudato Si) speaks of our need for an “integral ecology” – his name for communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, multicultural, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. Such a church is willing to risk itself on behalf of those who suffer, to give up its life so that others may live. Following Jesus leads us toward the most vulnerable in society, toward those who have been left on the streets to beg, toward those who have been shouted down by the crowds, toward those who have been treated mercilessly.

The Act2 survey reveals many positives about the Uniting Church; it also reflects some of the key challenges facing us as a church – with a clear mandate and a sense of urgency for change. I encourage you to re-read the narrative in Mark’s Gospel bookended by the healing of the two blind men, and consider afresh what Mark was saying about the disciples and discipleship, what it means for you to be a follower of the Jesus way, and what it might mean for our Uniting Church, and for us here at Pilgrim.

What might be seen afresh with eyes wide open to the Way of Jesus? This is a kairos moment, a time to be alert to the inbreaking of God, even amid so much social, economic, ecological and political upheaval, disruption and destruction. Let us see, with eyes wide open, and partner with God to create a faithful and faith-filled future. May it be so. Amen. 

An anniversary, an apology: October 22

Published / by Sandy

Third anniversary of apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse (October 22)

A Joint statement from UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis, National Director UCA Redress Ltd Sarah Lim and National Safe Church Unit Director Rev John Cox.

October 22 marks the third anniversary of the National Apology to Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. On this date, the Uniting Church in Australia remembers and acknowledges the harm done, the terrible breach of trust and laments its role in causing the harm.

“We reaffirm our apology and say sorry to survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and their families”, said UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis.

“The Uniting Church remains firm in its commitment to learn from the past, to restore relationships and to work to make our Church a safe place for all people into the future.”

“We welcome and invite survivors of sexual abuse to come to us to tell us their stories,” said Rev Hollis.

“We need to honour those who tell us their stories of abuse by ensuring that we truly hear and learn from every single survivor,” said Rev Hollis. “As a Church, we must openly and transparently face up to our failings and aim every day to be better and do better, for people who have been harmed in the past, and for every child who we serve today.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is an active participant in the National Redress Scheme, established in July 2018 following recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Scheme offers a monetary payment, access to counselling and a Direct Personal Response with the institution if the survivor wishes.

National Director of UCA Redress Ltd Sarah Lim said there were 11,000 applications to the National Redress Scheme since the scheme was established. The Uniting Church has received more than 600. However, the take up of Direct Personal Response is low. “The Direct Personal Response is the opportunity for survivors to meet with a senior representative of the Church, tell their story, and hear directly how sorry we are for the abuse. While we know that some people do not want to have any contact with the institution, we think there are others who are hesitant because they are unsure of what to expect. To those people, we say, we want to hear from you and warmly invite you to contact us when you are ready. You will be treated with courtesy and respect.  Our people are trained, and will work with you to ensure the Direct Personal Response is appropriate for you and your situation.”

The Uniting Church in Australia established the National Safe Church Unit to support its work to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations and to ensure the Church is a safe place for all people.

“The NSCU works to ensure every adult across the Church understands their part in keeping children and young people safe. Children and young people have a right to feel and be safe, and it is vital that children and young people know who they can go to should they feel unsafe,” said Rev John Cox, Director of the NSCU.

“Our work includes awareness, education and communication, quality assurance, policy and reporting to help the Church clearly see how child safe activity is being lived and where we need to work harder. Education includes online training available to everyone across the Church, and mandatory for some roles such as congregational ministers and leaders. It highlights child safety and issues such as grooming. We all are responsible for  the safety of children in our church.”

Download the full statement. Download worship and liturgy resources.

Pilgrim Uniting Church is vigilant in following the safe church protocols and practices.

#faiths4climate Sunday October 17th

Published / by Sandy

Over 120 Australian faith communities participated on Sunday October 17th. Globally, over 500 actions took place by people of faith from Fiji to Indonesia, from Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria to France, the UK, the US and more.

The unified message in a week when Net Zero by 2050 was a top news story: we need bold emissions reduction targets by 2030, more in line with our partners, the UK, the US and EU. For the sake of all beings, no more fossil fuels! Australia should also re-start contributions to the Green Climate Fund, something our nation agreed to under the Paris Accord.

The photos were amazing! See some on Flickr, on the ARRCC Facebook page and  Green Faith.

Overseas, there was this great pic from Rev. James Bhagwan, Secretary General of the Pacific Council of Churches in Fiji.

In mainstream media, SBS online covered some of the actions.

We will all be watching the outcomes of COP26 when world leaders gather in Glasgow in November.

Rev Prof Andrew Dutney charts a new direction

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church in Australia President has paid tribute to Rev Prof Andrew Dutney on his resignation as Executive Officer and Principal with Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in the Synod of South Australia.

“I give thanks for the enormous contribution Andrew has made to the Uniting Church nationally. As a church we are grateful for his wise and creative leadership as the 13th President.”

“Andrew is particularly remembered for his advocacy for Palestine, his commitment to the UCA covenant with First Peoples, particularly through A Destiny Together and his census of the Uniting Church which gave us a more accurate picture of ourselves as a basis for ministry and mission.”

“Andrew has also written and taught extensively on the history and theology of the Basis of Union. Through his teaching and writing he has helped many people fall in love with the Church, the Basis of Union, and the story of our formation.”

“I wish Andrew and Heather well as they move into a new phase of life. May this transition be full of wonder, joy and hope.”

SA UCA SYNOD PRESS RELEASE

The end of an era

Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney Resignation

It is with mixed feelings and deep regret that the Synod Standing Committee of South Australia accepted the resignation of the Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney from his roles as Executive Officer and Principal with Uniting College for Leadership and Theology on Friday, October 15th, 2021.

Andrew has had an illustrious and dedicated career with the Uniting Church in Australia. His ministry has been characterised by innovative leadership in theological education, research and teaching both nationally and internationally. His deep knowledge, understanding and love for the Basis of Union in the Uniting Church epitomises his passion for God’s church in the world. ‘His ability to bring the Basis of Union to life and his ability to engage with students at all levels of learning has been a privilege to observe,’ said the Moderator, Bronte Wilson.

Andrew has achieved many significant milestones during his leadership including his appointment to the South Australian Council of Reproductive Technology in 1990 and as its chairperson from 1996 until 2005. He has been a member of the Advisory Board of the Ethics Centre of South Australia and the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide. A regular guest on local ABC radio, Andrew was also a columnist for the Adelaide Independent and Australian Leadership with particular focus on questions of public and practical theology that emerged through his involvement with the wider South Australian community.

As a member of the Theology Faculty of Flinders University, he was regularly involved in committees, working groups and networks within the University and was the Founding Director of the Adelaide College of Divinity/Flinders University Centre for Theology, Science and Culture from 1999 to 2005.

Andrew was promoted to Associate Professor in 2003 and then to Professor in 2010 and is the only member of the Theology Faculty to have been made a full Professor at Flinders University.

In addition to his leadership in theological education, Andrew took on the role as the Uniting Church Assembly’s 13thPresident, guiding the Uniting Church through a challenging period of exploring what God is calling the Uniting Church to be.

In 2016, on his return from his time as President, Andrew resumed his role as the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, later taking on the role of Executive Officer of the newly formed Mission and Leadership Development Ministry Centre. While continuing to research and teach, he designed and implemented the Mission and Leadership Development Board and various sub-committees; restructured and integrated the Adelaide College of Divinity into the Uniting College, together with the staff of the Adelaide Theological Library. He also oversaw the refurbishment of the College and welcomed the United Aboriginal and Islander Congress into the shared campus that is now known as Yarthu-apinthi.

A prolific writer he is widely published and recognised as an expert in ethics, theology, theological education and especially in the history, theology and polity of the Uniting Church.

‘It is with profound sadness that we acknowledge Andrew’s decision to resign at this time. It is also with deep gratitude that we acknowledge his contribution to the faith and unity of the universal Church, both nationally and internationally. In South Australia we have been especially blessed by his gifts and the many ways he has contributed to the life and witness of the Uniting Church,’ said Reverend Felicity Amery, General Secretary.

Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney will conclude his placement in December 2021 and intends to live without distraction as he looks forward to fresh opportunities to continue to imagine new possibilities for himself and his wife, Heather.

Things are heating up

Published / by Sandy

Pilgrim Uniting Church, October 17 2021.

Sermon on Mk 10.35-45

Rev. Assoc. Prof. Vicky Balabanski

Today’s Gospel reading invites us to think about issues of power.

This is an interesting moment in history to think about issues of power, who wields it and to what ends. Globally, there is about to be a conference – the Glasgow Climate Change conference, COP26 – that will decide what the trajectory of earth’s eco-system will be in the coming decades and centuries and indeed millennia. The implications of this conference are … tremendous. Who gets to sit at the table making these decisions, and whose voices will be ignored? What would a good use of power look like at a global level? I am going to reflect on these issues in the light of the Gospel passage.

Nationally, our federal system has never faced the sorts of challenges it is under right now. I think it’s fair to say that the powers of the national and state governments are at odds with one another, not only over crucial issues like timelines and priorities in opening up our borders and economies in the post Covid era, but about priorities with regard to climate change. How does power play itself out under pressure at the national and state levels? Whose concerns will be ignored? What would a good use of power look like right now?

And the political turmoil in state parliament we’ve seen in the past week, issues of power and allegiance are in flux as well. There seems to be a strange disconnect between power and accountability in our halls of power at state level as well. 

In so many places institutions and businesses that should be characterized by service are instead proving to be places where abuse of power is normalized. 

This is indeed a crucial time to think about issues of power. 

The Gospel reading has something to say about how we accrue power, and how we use power and to what ends. The reading opened with James and John manoeuvring themselves into key positions of power as they understand it. But we need to see this in its context in the Gospel, as otherwise we might imagine James and John simply as selfish for their own status. Actually this is a move to shape what the nature of the Jesus movement will be. As Mark portrays it, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection explicitly three times as they travel on the road to Jerusalem together. Each time, the disciples’ response is not only a failure to understand, but a dispute about what their movement is about. 

In the first instance, when Jesus predicts his suffering, death and resurrection, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. There is a fundamental disconnect between Peter as the spokesperson of the group or as Jesus’ ‘political manager’ or ‘strategist’ and what Jesus is saying. They disagree profoundly on what their goal is. For Jesus it is not about gaining the whole world or about saving his own life. It’s about aligning himself with the Father, who will bring God’s reign in power. 

The second time Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, his disciples don’t respond. Instead, they talk among themselves. And when Jesus asks them what they were talking about, there’s an awkward silence. Because they’d been talking about which one of them was the greatest. Again, they are intent upon making the Jesus movement about power and prestige. But Jesus is intent on making it about service. 

Then for a third time, in the lead-up to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. This last time is the longest and most explicit. He says this is going to involve being mocked, spat on and flogged. It’s going to involve the Jewish authorities condemning him, and ultimately the Gentiles executing him. This will not be the end of the story, but this is the unavoidable path that they are on together. 

James and John are the ones who respond explicitly. We often think of them as making their own personal move on power, not least because Peter had just been discredited in front of the other disciples. But they are also intent on steering Jesus’ path to glory. They are intent upon shaping what the Jesus movement is on about. With one of them on Jesus’ left and the other on his right, James and John may be able to avert the nasty bits and make the Jesus movement a successful uprising. After all, the Maccabees did a similar thing and ended up forming a royal dynasty. 

What is the Jesus movement? Is it a path to glory, or is it something else?

I suspect that Christians have often thought of our faith as a path to glory, often in a disembodied heavenly future. But what if it is not about our personal salvation in the bye and bye? What if the self-emptying that Jesus talks about and embodies is actually about revealing the nature of God who self-empties? What if the Gospel is about joining a movement that embodies the God who ‘self-divests’; who chooses freely to self-limit for the good of the whole creation? In theology we call this kenosis. And what if the Gospel is really about service? About taking the path of the common good, even if it means being mocked, spat upon, flogged and even executed? This may not be a very marketable gospel, but it rings true to the path Jesus took and the conflict with his closest followers that he had to confront. 

What would the Gospel of service and of self-divestment look like at this moment in the world’s history, where we are challenged to make life and death decisions about the future of coming generations?

Today marks a day when communities of faith across Australia are joining in issuing a call the Australian Government for commitment to our common future. These are the key things:

We need our federal government to formally commit to achieving net zero emissions, not just by 2050, but by setting ambitious goals for 2030. Kicking the can down the road to 2050 will be too late. We need our Government to commit to a Nationally Determined Contribution that aligns with this goal. This also means putting our post-Covid recovery funding to renewables and low carbon industries, not to gas. This means providing substantial finance to the UN Green Climate Fund for other countries, over and above our aid budget. And this also means providing an orderly, planned and just transition for Australian communities that are currently dependent on coal and gas for their livelihoods.

Woah, you might say. What has all that got to do with the Gospel? 

It’s got everything to do with the Gospel, if we understand the implications of Jesus’ path to Jerusalem not as the path to our future heavenly glory, but as the path of service here and now. Jesus’ path demonstrates how we can set aside our own interests for the common good. Jesus is modelling a path that leads to self-divestment, not as a strategy to ensure our own long-term comfort, but as a path of redemption for the many. By saying this, I am not saying that there is no future aspect of salvation. Rather, I am saying that Jesus’ path of discipleship needs to be lived out in the present, investing ourselves in preserving and enhancing the common good of all.

It is this sort of Good News that the whole creation needs right now: followers of Jesus who are intent upon service of others, on self-limiting for the good not only of other people but other species as well. We need to face this challenging time for the sake of the many who will come after us.

We are already at 1.1 degrees of Global heating, and are seeing bushfires, droughts, floods and mass extinction on our own shores and across the world. We know that every fraction of a degree makes a difference.

At 1.5 degrees heating, 700 million people will be at risk of extreme heat waves. At 2 degrees it will be 2 billion.

At 1.5 degrees 70 per cent of the world’s coral reefs die. At 2 degrees they are all gone.

As Alok Sharma says, ‘If temperatures continue to rise we will step through a series of one-way doors, and the end destination of [that] … is climate catastrophe.’1

That is why in Glasgow, the world must deliver an outcome which keeps 1.5 degrees in reach. That is why — as one of the G20 countries which account for around 80 per cent of global emissions — Australia needs to step up and commit to action. And that is why people of faith need to call on our federal government to take responsibility to lead us right now. We don’t want billions of our taxpayer dollars spent on nuclear powered submarines to protect us from future threats, we want our taxes to be deployed towards a world that restores the climate and eco-systems and so that we can live justly and peaceably alongside other nations.

Jesus says of himself that the Son of Man – the Human One, came not to be served but to serve. At the heart of Jesus’ vocation is service. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life. Our common vocation is also to serve and to give, on behalf of the many. 

I had reason this week to visit the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Tearooms, which offer ‘scones, jam and a Dollop of History’ with your cup of tea. All over the walls there are pictures and displays of how key Christian women exercised power for social good – for women’s suffrage in particular. There was clearly no question in their minds that the Christian faith and political activism are two sides of the same coin. 

Fast forward one hundred and thirty or so years, and this connection between Christian faith and political activism is no longer obvious to everyone. It may be obvious to many people at Pilgrim 9.30 congregation, but it is not obvious to Christians across the denominational and political spectrum out there. If we privatize and individualize Jesus’ teachings – our Gospel may simply be ‘a pie in the sky when you die’. The power of the Gospel will be neutralized, or even manipulated to certain political ends. But if we know ourselves to be followers of the One who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, then we can live this way too. God grant that we have the courage and clarity to live out our call, for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the whole creation. Amen.

1. Alok Sharma’s speech at UNESCO, Paris on the need for world leaders to deliver at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. October 12, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/paris-promised-glasgow-must-deliver? Accessed 16/10/2021.

Reflecting on what’s important

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce on Mark 10: 17-31 – The Rich Young Man (prepared for SermonShare here)

Reading
As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (you can read the full text of this reading here)

It is a challenge to reflect upon this particular encounter of Jesus with the rich young man, while we are still in the grip of a global pandemic, and living with economic uncertainty. Last year, Australia’s economy was plunged into its first recession in nearly 30 years as a result of lockdowns imposed across the country. The economic fallout from COVID-19 impacted many small businesses that didn’t survive. There was a disruption to supply chains and cash flow shortages. Households were living with financial stress. Tourism was brought to its knees. There was real tension between the economic welfare of the country, the need to contain the virus, and look after the welfare of people. And now, we’re told, Australia’s economy has had a rapid rebound, growing larger than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic due to the soaring demand for commodities around the world and spending by consumers and businesses. But we will all know people who have been doing it tough, and there’s more to come when interest rates inevitably rise sometime in the future, and people find themselves in economic uncertainty and peril. We may be those people.

The context for the Gospel story was a society where 9 out of 10 people were living close to the subsistence level or below. There was no middle class. Wealth was based on the ownership of land. Most land was controlled by a small number of wealthy, elite families. The landowners rented the land for tenant farmers, who – together with their families and possibly slaves – actually worked the land. The wealth and status of the elite families ensured their influence in politics, so that they were able to control both local and regional governance and also profit from taxation.

The Gospel story recounts what happens when a rich man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His question is sincere. Initially, Jesus responds by reciting the six socially oriented commandments – Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’. Interestingly, Jesus reframes ‘do not covet’ with a commercial twist – ‘do not defraud’.

It must have been a relief to the man to have these listed, as he was confident his life had been lived with integrity, that he was morally and spiritually good. The rich man said he had “kept all of the commandments since my youth” (Mark 10:20). He understood his wealth to be a result of God’s favour and blessing.

But in the upside-down world of the reign of God, Jesus states that the one thing the man lacks is treasure in heaven, and that the man would need to set aside his attachment to wealth and status and privilege – and follow Jesus. In fact, he is to sell what he has and give it to the poor – in order to obtain treasure in heaven. It’s the only time Jesus makes such a demand. What will the man love more – his wealth, or treasure in heaven. Is a relationship with God more valuable than the things we possess?

This is a scene of great pathos. The rich man was shocked and went away grieving. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus’ does not set out to shame the young man, but to love him. Jesus calls him to leave his possessions for his own benefit, saying, “You will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Jesus uses this encounter as a teaching opportunity with the disciples about attachment to ‘things’ (in this case, wealth), and the need to give priority to following the way of Jesus.

How do we unpack this? Is wealth the opposite of Christianity? Is profit antithetical to the kin-dom of God? Are we talking about the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, with his $US201+ billion? Closely followed by economic powerhouses like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Do we take this Gospel reading and layer it over all of our lives – the rich and elite, the Mum and Dad suburban investors, those just trying to earn an honest living through their own work and industry, those struggling to keep their heads above water.

Probably. Yes. The story points us to the fact that when wealth and privilege are seen as more valuable than our relationship with God, it creates a distance in the way we relate to others and may deaden our sensitivity to the needs of others. It’s the love of money, privilege and power, not the wealth itself, that is the issue here.

Wealth has the potential to create a distance make us and God, to dampen our relationship with God. That’s what Jesus seems to be picking up here, identifying the things that take our time and attention, the things we seek that give us meaning and purpose, the things that serve to orient our lives? If not seeking a deeper relationship with the God revealed by Jesus Christ, then our lives need redirection to give priority to the values of the reign of God, and not to be distracted by other things. Our calling as disciples of Jesus is expressed in the the imperative to serve others, to contribute to a healthy social fabric where all are valued and afforded the means to live with dignity.

Ram Dass has an expression, “We’re all just walking each other home.” He was talking about coming home inside of ourselves. To risk the journey of peeling away all of the identities, beliefs, assumptions, expectations, roles and attachments we have adopted in our lifetime, and discover who we are as beloved children of God. The language of salvation is about finding healing and wholeness, knowing who we are at the deepest and most profound levels of our being as beloved children of God.

Maybe the pandemic, as unwelcome as it is with all the changes and uncertainty, is an invitation to unpack a little of our personal lives, what we give attention to. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of the economic, environmental, political, social, and spiritual structures, paradigms, assumptions, and habits we take for granted, and re-imagine the world and our relationships. Perhaps it’s time to shed some of the things that have taken our attention away from following Jesus and the values of the reign of God.

Perhaps it’s also time to have a fresh look at wealth and the practices of the church, and to dream of a Christianity unreconciled with wealth. Yes, many congregations may be struggling financially and many will close their doors in the next few years. But the institution that is church has eye-watering wealth through property and investments. Perhaps that’s a subject for another time. Perhaps it’s time to dream of a church intentionally uncoupled from the concept of wealth as virtue and reward. There’s a branch of Christianity that promises a direct path to the good life. It is called by many names, but most often referred to as “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.

Go with me for a quick history journey. A Tuscan Franciscan friar and mathematician named Luca Pacioli made possible an institutionalized wealth shrouded in Christian language and scripture. He made possible the renaissance of early capitalist commerce for the profit of European Christianity. He followed a very different sort of Jesus from the Jesus we encounter in Mark, one that baptizes wealth as virtue, and names it God’s will for Christians. In 1494 he published Double-Entry Bookkeeping which firmly reconciled wealth and Christianity, a “foundational text of capitalism” which made profit virtuous. It changed the world. At the time of his writing, the Catholic church condemned profit made from lending people money. Being a Catholic priest himself, Pacioli could challenge such ideas from the inside. He was, ironically, a priest in the order of Franciscans called the Conventuals, or Minorities, so named for living a minor life adhering to the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. But Pacioli was closely aligned with the Pope and several wealthy benefactors, and so he received a special papal dispensation to earn money as a mathematician and teacher. In his will he legitimated that wealth by mentioning this special papal bull by Pope Julius II permitting property ownership. He also legally willed his soul to God. Pacioli might amend Jesus’ declaration in Mark to say, “a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven if he files the proper paperwork.” Pacioli’s fellow priests were not thrilled with his flagrant flouting of the rules of their order; they tried to get him kicked out. He was instead made head of his monastery. Money makes a way. Pacioli understood that wealth was a matter of reputation and credibility. His entire premise was an apologetic of sorts to prove the virtue of a good wealthy Christian merchant. His neatly ordered financial system of profit is still used in every country in the world, by a different name: reconciliation accounting. A rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of men, given the right system and the right reputation.

What have we inherited that we now consider normative, unexamined, but may be subject to challenge and critique by the Gospel teachings of Jesus? And by our own UCA Statement to the Nation in 1977 which said, We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor”.

Our lives are diminished when we let wealth or possessions or work or hobbies or the ‘to do’ list or positions of privilege and power cut us off from other people and underwhelm our relationship with God. The invitation is to follow the way of Jesus as the way to life, to healing and wholeness. This Jesus, who looks at us, sees us for who we really are entangled with the systems and structures of the world, and loves us enough to inspire dreams of worlds otherwise.

The writers of the Basis of Union expressed our calling as the church: God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.

May we all play our part as we walk each other home. Amen.

October 10th