The Year of the Lord’s Favour

Reading

Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. — Augustine, On Christian Theology

The entire Biblical Scripture is solely concerned that man understand that God is kind and gracious to him and that He has publicly exhibited and demonstrated this His kindness to the whole human race through Christ his Son. However, it comes to us and is received by faith alone, and is manifested and demonstrated by love for our neighbour. — First Helvetic Confession, 1536

You have heard that it was said … but I say to you … — Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse brought down its final report on Friday, after 4.5 years. The life of the churches has changed for good in the light of the Commission.

One survivor of child abuse said on Friday:

Care and compassion has already lifted tenfold. We need to make sure we keep people alive and in a good place, by making sure they’ve got the counselling care they need.

It has taken a royal commission to bring this care and compassion to this man, and no doubt to many others.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we heard these words:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;…

I think we can see who are the oppressed, brokenhearted ones are in this situation. It is the children who have become adults with burdens that were never lifted from their backs.

Jesus once placed a child in the midst of his disciples. The story is in Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…”

The disciples hanker after greatness; Jesus shows them what greatness is in God’s eyes.

To be great is to take the place of a child, to embrace humility, to serve others. There is no other way; this is the way of the cross.

Time and time again, we have seen that the way church leaders took is another way altogether. It has been to protect their church’s good name, to keep their mouths closed, to disbelieve what they were told. Or they can’t remember anything about it.

The end result has been to deny care and compassion to the children in their care.

Perhaps I should read the next verse in Matthew18:

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

It’s a grim warning.

The consequences for the churches are also grim. Many non-churchgoing Aussies have lost any faith they had in the church as a community in which the love of God is to be found. Our moral authority is at record lows.

What should be our response?

We need to be transparent:

It will not help to be defensive, to say That kind of thing doesn’t happen here. That has been what church leaders have always said. Yet sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, they have brushed the truth under the carpet.

We need to cooperate:

This is why people who work with children need blue cards. Anyone who wants to work with children in a professional or volunteer capacity must have a blue card showing they do not have a known history of questionable behaviour with children.

As a congregation, we must cooperate with the presbytery in child-safe church practices. The synod’s values for child-safe practice are very helpful:

Compassion
We will deal with children compassionately and with an understanding of their vulnerabilities.

Respect
We respect the boundaries of professional relationships and respect the rights of every person to feel safe while in contact with our services.

Justice
We will seek justice for those who have been harmed.

Working together
We will work together to create a culture of individual and collective responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children and to create friendly, welcoming spaces for children.

Leading through learning
We will be leaders by undertaking a continuous improvement approach to the protection of children and to offering child friendly services.

We need to be humble:

Let’s face it, if there was a scorecard of how churches fared in this Royal Commission, the Uniting Church would pretty much be at the top.

We have implemented many of the Royal Commission’s recommendations already, well before the final report came out. One we still have to implement is annual reviews — real reviews — of the church’s ministers.

But we still must be aware that over 400 cases of abuse have been laid at the door of the Uniting Church, over a third of these from one Sydney school.

You may see news reports of 2500 cases; this is because the initial data we provided to the Commission had included all allegations, complaints, and incidents that we were aware of, including complaints that had not been accepted or substantiated. So that 2500 figure is wrong.

Yet even if we are near the top of the heap on the Royal Commission scorecard, we’re at the top of a pretty sorry-looking bunch.

You will aware that the Catholic Church has the biggest problem here. We should not gloat or criticise! Let me give you a reason:

The community outside the churches doesn’t differentiate between us and other churches. In their eyes, we’re all the same. Perhaps they realise that we are all part of the Body of Christ, so when one suffers all suffer!

The Uniting Church will not receive any congratulations for doing well, neither should we expect any.

The fact is, the churches have let the community down.

So back to the servant of God in Isaiah, who says:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,…

That is our response. To be those whom God has anointed in Christ. Those who bring good news to the oppressed. Who put the needs of children in the centre of our life. Who respond with humility, care and compassion.

God is giving the churches a second chance through this Royal Commission. Let us accept it! Amen.

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2 Comments

Filed under Advent, Church & world, Lament, Lord have mercy, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

2 responses to “The Year of the Lord’s Favour

  1. Being truthful seems to be very hard for so many organisations. A good sermon and a good Christmas and New Year to you and yours.

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