Messages of Hope

Month: December 2021

Desmond TuTu

Published / by Peter

Desmond TuTu in his own words . . .

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family”

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Finally of all the fine words spoken a personal story best describes who Desmond Tutu was . . . .

“During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead. St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words. But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
‘You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!’
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song. The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.”
What faith and courage! To unflinchingly look the perpetrators of evil in the eye and have such confidence about the bigger picture is inspirational.
He was a prophet, a priest and a pastor all rolled into one. RIP. ‘Til we see him again.
Jim Wallis

 

Christmas message from President Sharon Hollis

Published / by Peter

 

As we move towards Christmas, I find myself reflecting on the last couple of years and all that we have seen and experienced.

The measures to prevent the spread of COVID have affected all of us one way or another and we continue to be anxious as new variants emerge and any sense of being able to plan is again threatened.

I am both grateful for the way these measures have saved so many lives and for the extraordinary hard work of so many front-line workers and also aware of all that we have missed during the last two years and all that the virus has revealed about our nation.

We have missed time with family and friends and the marking of moments of commemoration and celebration. We are more aware of how many people are lonely and suffer from social isolation.

The virus has exposed the inequality in our country, with the poorest suffering the most, in a country that lacks an adequate social safety net. As businesses have suffered many people are worried about their financial future and job security

Many are concerned about the wellbeing of our young people and worry about our older friends and family, particularly those in aged care.

I am frustrated about the lack of equitable distribution of vaccines around the world and watch as the call of First Nations for Voice, Treaty, Truth falls on deaf ears in the land we call Australia.

I am concerned about growing tension in our region, and about climate change and the very real possibility of earth that can no longer sustain life in any meaningful way. I am angry at the lack of real action emerging from COP26.

For Christians, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus birth. In the birth of Jesus God becomes fully human. God enters all that causes us worry, sorrow, and anger. God with us is the promise of God’s presence in our worry and anxiety, reminding us we are not alone. We are loved by God. God is with us in our anger giving us the courage to use our anger to act.

God calls each of us to use our anger and sorrow to make space for those whose voices are most ignored, to be engaged in the work of repair of creation, and to be advocates and activists for a more just, compassionate, and equitable nation and world.

As we celebrate Christmas, I pray that our will is strengthened to work for the ways of God, which lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry with good things and brings down the powerful (Luke 1:52-53).

Rev Sharon Hollis, President

Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

See video . . .

https://vimeo.com/652274064?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=3458198

WCC Christmas message 2021

Published / by Peter Russell

Dear sisters and brothers,

“…you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” — 2 Corinthians 8:9

The Christmas story fascinates, intrigues and challenges.

It is a fascinating story, among other reasons, because the revelation of what God has graciously done in Christ for the renewal of the whole creation comes to us through narratives in which the main actors are not the powerful living in palaces, but the humble living in the margins.

Think of the Christmas stories from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. What comes to mind? A modest couple facing difficulties; a vulnerable child threatened by the cruelty of a king; a pregnant woman who does not find a hotel room to give birth; anonymous shepherds who receive good news from a crowd of angels; a young family pushed to migration.

All of them are on the underside of history. All of them are the bearers of the divine promise about the final destination of history.

What Mary celebrated in the spirit of the Hebrew prophets, by singing that her saviour had brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” the apostle Paul formulates in terms of the self-emptying of the Son of God, who became poor for us and for our salvation,” as expressed later in the words of the Nicene Creed.

The Christmas story and its fascinating paradox invite us to meditate about Christian life in todays world. Preaching in Constantinople about the second letter to the Corinthians, Saint John Chrysostom spoke of two altars in Christian life, which are inseparable from each other: the altar of Holy Communion and the altar of compassion. We cannot receive the Heavenly Bread without engaging in active solidarity, in the liturgy after the liturgy”, with those who cannot receive the earthly bread.

Ours are times in which the pandemic has catalysed the risks of the climate emergency, the systemic inequalities between rich and poor, and widespread gender-based violence.

As we prepare ourselves to welcome the One who manifested the God of the widow, the foreigner and the orphan, let not our minds conform to the spirit of greed of our times. Let us repent and convert to new ways of living that express our care for future generations. Let Christs love move the world to reconciliation and unity.

May your Christmas be blessed and its message of joy and hope overwhelm your lives. Christ is born, let us glorify him!

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca
Acting General Secretary
World Council of Churches

 

https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/christmas-2021

Called to new vistas of solidarity and compassion

Published / by Sandy

(Sandy’s sermon at the ‘cutting of the ties’ service on 28th November)

I’ve always loved this parable about the sheep and the goats from Matthew’s Gospel. In this parable, the ruler divides the known world, all the nations, into two groups – the sheep and the goats. The conversation goes like this:

I was hungry and you gave me food….
Then the righteous ones answer, oh but when did we see you hungry or thirsty or..

You see they genuinely had no idea, since the king obviously had enough to meet his own needs. 

The king says, whenever you did this to the least of these you did it to me. 

They don’t act because they’re trying to be good. They simply see need, and act. 

Perhaps we may take from this that Jesus comes to us incognito, as one utterly dependent upon our hospitality. Perhaps Jesus identifies himself with the stranger, the refugee, the foreigner, the vulnerable child, the prisoner, the outcast, the despised minority – even as our enemy. The Church is called to live with an open door and an open heart, because that is where Christ meets it. What we do for others connects us to him. Love of God and love of neighbour have become one. 

I’m interested in flipping this parable interpretation on its head, as I’m wont to do – to explore more about the recipients of this generosity, the so-called ‘least’. It has usually been understood as the poor in general. It seems the writer of Matthew’s Gospel identified his own community with the ‘least’, because they had become a marginal group within Judaism, and indeed in the Roman Empire. It would no doubt have been disturbing and disorientating. In this parable, Matthew’s Jesus warns against anyone who would move against his followers. ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

The ‘least’ may refer to the ‘poor’ in general, or to Matthew’s vulnerable community. Either way, Scripture teaches that God’s preferential option is for the least and the last. There are hundreds of biblical texts in the Hebrew Scriptures that address matters of social justice and which instruct the faithful on how to think about and to treat the poor. The longstanding and widespread belief in Judaism was that economic justice is owed to whoever is on the bottom of the pecking order. In our day and age, we can name so many who are incredibly vulnerable. There is no such thing as ‘you have a go, you get a go’ for those on the bottom of the pecking order. It is cruel in the extreme to suggest it is laziness on the part of those doing it tough. There is no substance behind trickle-down economics – just pejorative intent. It’s always trickle up to those who already have power, influence, status and money. Our call is to care for the least and the last, and to address systems and structures that perpetuate hardship and inequity. 

It has been a privilege to have been in this church working with so many people who simply see a need, and act, selflessly, generously, extravagently. Who advocate for the least and the last. This church takes its place in the heart of the city seriously. It has long had a history of compassionate caring ministry, supporting people in need in so many ways. It’s also had a long history of prophetic, bold advocacy, including providing a safe haven for the LGBTIQ+ community, vigils and actions for refugees, bold action for climate justice, and so much more. A place for homeless and disadvantaged people who are welcomed and supported through programs like The Lounge during the week and Sunday Night Tea. This intentionality was present long before any of us were in this place, and will continue long after we have gone. 

I have been here as a Deacon which finds its origin in the ministry of Jesus. The bowl and the towel, a reminder of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, is the symbol for diaconal ministry. 

A Deacon is not a stand alone ministry but has a representative role because much that is done is also done by others in and beyond the church. This is a ministry that recognises, resources and welcomes the gifts and capacities of others because all are called to the ministry of service. 

I’d like to finish with words by Bill Loader, lifted from ordination services for various Deacons. It’s a lively descriptor of the kind of ministry Deacons offer in general.

“As a Deacon you are called to lead in service, to alert us to care, to disturb us by opening new vistas of solidarity and compassion. You will bring to people in word and deed the good news of hope and love. You will hold possibilities before us. You will help us make connections between ourselves and our faith and our world. You will not only see the poor, but identify the structures which create and sustain poverty. You will not only see injustices, but identify the powers at work whose interests are served by injustice. You will help us give shape to our caring and our ministries. You will lead us willingly or reluctantly to the face of change, to the boundaries where we must decide to risk, to the bridges we can cross. Sometimes the bridge will be broad with room for all of us to follow comfortably arm in arm many abreast into the obvious. Sometimes your work will be invisible, at least to those above on the wide bridge. it will be lonely and unattended. Sometimes your caring will be plain and undramatic, sitting, listening, taking time, to hear two minutes of pain over two hours. Your mind will protest about limitations of time and space, about the people you must pass by or never reach. You are not called to serve as a lone individual. It is not yours alone to be engaged in the struggles for justice, that light may shine in darkness, for we are all to pray, ‘Your kingdom come!’ It is not yours alone to hold the hand of the needy, sit with the dying, weep with the bereaved, for the Spirit everywhere urges the fruits of compassion. Yours is a ministry within Christ’s ministry. Yours is a ministry within the compassion of God which will send you out and call you back and send you out and call you back, the rhythm of the breathing of the Spirit. Human need knows no end. There is no final page. The stories go on. Human misery is stark and frightening. You are not asked to carry the world on your shoulders. You do not have to do everything, so you can be free to face human need without the trickeries of denial and without the self indulgence of despair. There are times when you must rest, not in carelessness, but in deliberate nurture of your own being. You are not alone”. 

I hope you recognise in Bill’s words some of my ministry here, evident in sometimes small ways and sometimes exercised in significant ways. It has truly been a privilege to share in ministry here at Pilgrim alongside colleagues and in collaboration with the congregation. 

And now as I prepare to conclude my placement here at Pilgrim Uniting Church – a blessing:

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.

May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.

May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love. 

May you see the face of Christ in ev’ryone you meet,

And may ev’ryone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Amen.