Do not live with fear … (Easter 6A, 27 May 2014)

Thanks to St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Middle Park for your hospitality, and for allowing me to preach.

 

Reading
1 Peter 3.13–22

 

I have some good friends who are Uniting Church ministers in Melbourne; some of them were arrested just last Monday. One is a past national president of the Uniting Church. In Sydney, other ministers, nuns and priests were arrested. One was the current moderator of the Uniting Church in New South Wales.

How come these clergy and religious were arrested?

A spokesperson for them said:

Australian churches have been speaking with one voice in increasingly outspoken terms for many years in both this government and the previous Labor governments about their deep, grave concern for the plight of asylum seekers especially the 1,023 children currently in detention.

1023 children. It wasn’t about the Budget, even though it has caused many people to be anxious for their future. It wasn’t about climate change, though that concerns them greatly. It was about asylum seekers. Especially the 1023 children in detention.

It was about the effects that being in detention has on the psychological health of such people. It was about an approach that seems to emphasise deterrence so much that those people who have well-founded fears of persecution are being ignored.

So why were they arrested?

The Melbourne people, around a dozen of them, sat in the public reception area of Bill Shorten’s electoral office. The Sydney group, fewer in number, sat in the reception area of Tony Abbott’s electoral office. Each group prayed for our Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and for asylum seekers. Both groups stated they would not leave until there was an assurance that there would be a change in policy towards asylum seekers.

In the end, the members of both groups were arrested in order to force them to leave the reception areas. They were released once they were out on the street. The police treated them very well, and they treated the police well in return. I expect some of the police agreed with them, but they had a job to do.

What can we make of that?

Todays reading from 1 Peter begins,

who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated …

In Australia these days, there’s not much suffering required of those who do good. Christians don’t get stopped from going to church. We are able to hold office, to go to university, to own property. We are not under persecution.

So does 1 Peter even apply to us today where it says

even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.

How often do we actually suffer for doing right these days? It’s far more likely that people just won’t notice or even care if we do what’s right. But will we suffer?

The situation of 1 Peter was one in which Christians

were being marginalized by their society, alienated in their relationships, and threatened with—if not experiencing—a loss of honor and socioeconomic standing (and possibly worse).

It could be difficult or even dangerous to be a Christian back then. Peter was trying to impart courage to people who may one day find themselves in a tight spot.

There are still parts of the world where Christians are in a tight spot. There is a young woman in Sudan, born of a Moslem father and Christian mother. Her father left the family when she was a child, and she grew up as a Christian. But Sudanese law says she is Moslem because that was her father’s religion—and if you convert from Islam, the punishment is death. Many people are protesting this inside and outside Sudan. She has been sentenced to death; will she be spared? We don’t know, but surely this is genuine persecution.

My friends aren’t being persecuted. They follow their vocations, they preach on a Sunday, they hatch, match and despatch. And they go out to dinner or watch the footy. So why should they sit in the waiting area of a politician’s office until they were arrested?

I guess it’s because people are suffering because of our Government’s polices (not that the Opposition’s policies are significantly different).

I guess it’s because they feel we have advocated at a distance long enough to realise that the government isn’t going to move. In fact, offshore detention may soon be extended to Cambodia, a country with a less-that-pristine human rights record.

I guess it’s because a young Iranian man was killed on Manus Island three months ago and as yet no one has been charged.

But the reason they actually did it now is because 1023 children are in detention centres, and that these ministers judge that non-violent resistance such as praying and refusing to move when you’re told to move are steps that a Christian may take. Because this is non-violent action. It is being eager to do good; or the horrible ‘management-type speech’ of today, it’s being proactive. And it may mean suffering for doing what is right.

It all reminds me of the words of Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany who wrote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me …

I expect my friends wouldn’t feel worthy to be compared with Martin Niemoller, yet they have spoken out. What they have done deserves our thanks. My word to them—and to the rest of us—would begin with the next words of 1 Peter 3:

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated …

Don’t be anxious. Do not live with fear. Be eager to do what is right. My words would begin there, but not end there.

And I’d go on with yet more of what 1 Peter 3 says, that Christ

was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

Christ is risen and risen among us. We are not emulating a dead hero, no matter how inspiring he was. We are not following a set of principles, however exalted. We are following the living Lord, one who is risen from the grave and

who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Everything is now subject to the One who went through death for us all. Everything is now subject to the One who gave himself in utter love for others. Everything, including a western democratically-elected government, is subject to Christ and to his work of reconciliation.

Perhaps that is why my friends did what they did, and that is also our real encouragement. Christ is risen indeed, and we are to share in his work today. That work includes releasing 1023 children from detention. So,

even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated—but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

 

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Filed under Church & world, church year, Lord have mercy, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

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