Category Archives: reflection

All shall be well

Reading
Ezekiel 37.1–14

 

Katherine Amos asks a powerful Lenten question. ‘What can your spiritual dry bones teach you?’ What are the dry bones in the life of your spirit? Would you like for them to live again? Faced with the foreboding spectre of a valley of dead bones, I wonder if one of the prophet’s first responses to Spirit’s question, ‘Can these bones live?’ is, instinctively, ‘I certainly hope not!’ Who would these bones become? Friend or foe? — Jane Anne Ferguson, in Connections: Year A, Volume 2

____________________

Our Old Testament Reading today brings us before a scene of utter desolation. 

Ezekiel takes us to a valley of dry bones. (You remember the song, Dem bones, dem bones them dry bones? It comes from this scene in the Bible.)

We are possibly at the scene of an old battle. Those who fell stayed where they were. No one buried their bodies. Perhaps there was no one left to take care of them; they were all dead, or fled. 

The victors left the bodies there as a warning to others. 

By the time Ezekiel sees them in a vision, they are just bleached bones. There’s no life in them. There’s no life possible. 

The bones are disconnected, separated, fallen apart. Disjointed. 

‘Can these bones live?’ God asks Ezekiel. Ezekiel isn’t sure how to answer, so he says, ‘O Lord GOD, you know’.

Clever move, Ezekiel; toss the ball back into God’s court. 

Ezekiel has bought himself some time, but there’s a definite trickle of sweat coming down his cheeks. He’s waiting for God’s next move. 

Ezekiel doesn’t have to wait long; God says, ‘Prophesy to these bones…’ (‽) 

Ok, Ezekiel is a prophet, but prophesy to bleached, dry bones? That’s kinda useless, don’t you think? 

But Ezekiel is a prophet, he’s been told to prophesy, so he does. He says,

Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.

God will bring life, the very life-giving spirit of God, to these bones. These defeated, abandoned, even godforsaken bones will once again be covered with flesh. 

We are not yet at the point of these dry bones. But we’re doing it tough. Queensland has closed its border. Some things will not survive this testing time. Yet new things will emerge. 

We’re trying to do ‘social distancing’. A terrible name. Why not call it ‘physical distancing’, and keep in contact with one another? We need to intentionally draw near to others during this pandemic, just as in Ezekiel’s vision where bones are knit together with sinews and flesh. We have the means to do this as no other age has had. 

The bones are knit together and clothed because life is God’s will for them. And life is God’s will for us too, today. 

I want to end this brief reflection with two things. Firstly, part of a beautiful poem called Pandemic. It is from Lynn Ungar, and was only published on 11 March this year: 

Know that we are connected in ways
that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has become clear.)

Has it become clear to you yet? I hope it is becoming clearer to you. Our lives are in one another’s hands. We are connected. To live as though we are not connected is madness. 

Secondly, a reminder of the fourteenth-century mystic, Julian of Norwich. She was the first woman to have written a book in English; her book is The Revelations of Divine Love. Famously, it contains these words: 

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and absolutely everything shall be well.

These words sound optimistic to us, even Pollyanna-ish. But we should be aware of this: Julian didn’t live in an easy time. She lived in a time of various plagues. In her home city of Norwich, when she was a little girl, 7000 out of 12000 people died of the Black Death. Twenty years later, a further 25% of the reduced population died in another pandemic. 

Yet her hope in God remained: 

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and absolutely everything shall be well.

God desires life for us. God wants to clothe our dry, bleached bones with living flesh. 

Can we too learn the truth of this? Only as we trust in the God of all grace, who pitched his tent among us in Jesus Christ and who calls us to become — in the fullest way possible — children of God. 

Streamed from West End Uniting Church 29 March 2020

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Filed under Grief and loss, Lament, RCL, reflection, sermon

From the depths

Reading
Psalm 130

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

 

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath―
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

― Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

____________________

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord …

The psalm writer is in deep water. He has nowhere to stand, no firm footing. 

He’s out of his depth. He’s overwhelmed by the waters, in danger of drowning. 

Ancient Israel feared the sea; in creating the earth, God had to bring the primeval depths under control. [Genesis 1.1-3] 

The waters overwhelmed the earth in the great flood of Noah, and Jonah was cast into the sea’s depths. The sea was the home of giant monsters like Leviathan. 

The Sea of Galilee was sea enough for them. 

Today, we may think we have found pretty safe ways of navigating the seas, but we have our own fears. The Coronavirus pandemic has us bunkering down, anxious lest we come too close to someone carrying the virus or if we touch a surface on which the virus lurks. 

In the depths, the psalmist finds a place to stand. It is in ‘waiting for the Lord’. That isn’t doing nothing, it’s watching, peering, searching: 

my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning …

The psalm writer expects God to shine light onto his life, to act for him. 

Beyond all the necessary warning about physical distancing and washing our hands, we need hope. Hope in God, who we see in the face of Jesus:

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities

It’s time to hope, to simplify, to learn how to wait. 

as Lynn Ungar’s poem above puts it, 

Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.

____________________

Psalm 130 is a Lament Psalm. Laments typically begin with a complaint; then they remember what God has done, and finish with renewed hope in God. 

U2 sings ‘40’, based on another lament psalm, Psalm 40:

https://youtu.be/3z_LBNF_-xI

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Jesus sees

Note: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not holding our usual services. This sermon will be part of a shorter service at 9.30am (Brisbane time) tomorrow. It will be streamed at https://www.facebook.com/westenduniting/

We welcome your feedback and questions.

Readings
Ephesians 5.8–14
John 9.1–7

At the centre of a Gospel riddled with light and darkness, blindness and sight, truth and lie, John tells the story of a man born blind from birth. From birth he knew nothing but darkness. That Jesus sees the man who cannot see him is a literal fact. It is also a theological truth. From Nicodemus in the middle of the night and the Samaritan woman at the well to Judas in the garden and Pilate at the headquarters, those who dwell in darkness cannot of their own volition see the God who has come to them in Jesus Christ. Rather, God in Christ sees them in the darkness of the human condition without God and pitches his tent. ― Cynthia A Jarvis, Feasting on the Gospels, John Vol. 1

____________________

A very short sermon today. One point.

Jesus sees the man born blind before the man sees Jesus. Jesus sees him because he is the Light of the world. 

That’s it, that’s the sermon. 

But, just so you don’t switch off disappointed, I’ll preach for longer. 😉

Let me remind you of the Gospel text:

As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 

Jesus saw a man. A person, in all his particular-ness. This man was a beggar. He was a beggar because he was blind. Not only that, he had been blind since birth. 

Jesus saw him. 

His disciples saw something too, but they didn’t see him. They saw a puzzle to be solved, a riddle to be answered, a theological conundrum: 

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? 

Jesus sees, the disciples see; yet they see different things. 

Jesus sees a person in need; the disciples see an object of theological speculation, to be discussed and discarded. 

The story in John’s Gospel goes for the whole of chapter 9. That’s 41 verses. Read them. It begins with everyone in darkness, except Jesus. It ends with the man born blind also in the light, but the other players in the story remain in darkness. 

The Pharisees want to check this unauthorised healing out. They ask his family if it’s really the same man. His parents don’t want to get involved. 

The Pharisees are adamant that it can’t be the same man. They prefer to stay in the darkness. 

Jesus sees them every one, but only one responds. 

The disciples separate themselves from the blind man by their judgement. It’s not social distancing, it’s ostracism framed in nice theological language. Nice God-talk. Of course, that’s the worst kind of ostracism there is. 

The religious leaders also ostracise the blind man; they ostracise Jesus too. Jesus sees them, but it disturbs their religion. They remain in darkness. 

How can we live confidently as people who are seen by Jesus, ‘as children of the light’? St Paul says:  

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 

The days that we are in certainly are evil. Many have died. More will fall sick. We have taken the extraordinary step of suspending public worship to help, as they say, ‘flatten the curve’. But we want to make the most of our time. We want to see others, just as we are seen and loved. 

Let us see others in the coming week. Others who may be discouraged and disheartened, depressed or downright sick. See them for themselves, pray for them, and reach out. 

Don’t make the mistake the disciples made, and speculate about them. It’s our business to walk with people through what may be a difficult journey. It’s our call to relieve suffering where we can, and to pray always. 

Was there only one-point in today’s sermon? Maybe there are two — 

  1. Jesus sees the man born blind before the man sees Jesus. (We call that grace.) Jesus sees him because he is the Light of the world. 
  2. Jesus calls us to truly see others in this time of ‘social isolation’ because in the Lord we are light, and are called to live as children of the Light. 

Amen.

Streamed from West End Uniting Church 22 March 2020

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God is in the response

The Rev. Dr David Pitman preached at Centenary UC yesterday. His sermon is full of wisdom for those who grieve the loss of loved ones. Here it is:

 

INTRODUCTION

In a recent episode of Call the Midwife…. 

Sister Julienne says, “God is not in the event, God is in the response”

This is very good theology!

 

Back in 1982, the Jewish Rabbi, Harold Kushner, wrote a book entitled, When bad things happen to good people. The book came straight out of his own experience. He and his wife had a son, Aaron, who at three years of age was diagnosed with “progeria”, a disease that causes rapid ageing. Aaron looked like an old man while still a child and died two days after his 14th birthday.

Filled with grief, Rabbi Kushner confronted in himself the eternal question, “WHY?”

Why Aaron? He was an innocent child!

Why me? I am a deeply religious person committed to a life of serving others!

And, why does a God of love allow things like this to happen?

Over the 45 years of my own ministry, this has been the question most often asked of me, in a great variety of different circumstances, as people have endeavoured to deal with:

  • The death of a baby
  • The ravages of cancer
  • An unexpected and tragic accident
  • The injustice of dismissal or redundancy
  • The debilitating impact of alzheimers disease
  • The loss of a business due to the actions of ruthless financiers
  • The destruction caused by natural disasters
  • The horrors of war and genocide
  • The bashing of elderly people in their own homes
  • The cruelty and rejection of someone thought to be a friend

 

WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN?

There have been many attempts to offer an answer to the eternal “WHY?” Numerous philosophical and theological books have been written on the subject. The book by Rabbi Kushner is a very good one. It also happens to be very personal and readable. We have another one in the Old Testament. We call it the Book of Job.

I want to summarise a couple of the responses made to this most searching and difficult question, and tell you why I think they are inadequate, or even misleading.

 

The bad things that happen are God’s punishment for our sin.

This response suggests that because we are sinful and disobedient people, God has to punish and discipline us in order to make us more obedient and faithful, and God does this through inflicting on us those crises and experiences that cause us pain and struggle and grief.

Now we understand very well that some of our actions are foolhardy and that we often suffer the consequences of our foolishness. In such circumstances we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we have any sense, we learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them. To blame God for our own foolishness does no good at all, especially for ourselves.

However, the belief that God is the initiator of pain and suffering, in order to promote obedience and holiness, makes no sense. For a start, we see plenty of people all around us who live fundamentally good lives. They are essentially honest and caring folk who do their best to be responsible parents, faithful friends, and reliable employees. Yet they seem to be on the receiving end of all manner of bad luck.

This was certainly the experience of Job. The OT book that bears his name is devoted to an exploration of the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Job’s friends were in no doubt as to why Job had suffered so much pain and loss and grief. He must have sinned in some awful way and was experiencing his just punishment. The problem for poor old Job was that, no matter how hard he searched his heart, he could not understand what he could have done to deserve so much tragedy.

On the other hand, we all know people who are irresponsible and selfish, who act dishonestly or unethically, and yet whose lives seem remarkably free of struggle and strife. If God wants to promote obedience and holiness through the experience of personal crisis, he seems to be going about it in a decidedly odd and ineffective manner!

In any case, this is a belief that Jesus specifically rejects. In John 9, we see the religious authorities asking in regard to a man born blind, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “Neither! Yet through this man’s blindness the power of God will be revealed!”

Is suffering God’s punishment for sin? NO!

So, let’s make a conscious decision right now to put this false and misleading belief out of our minds. All it does is make us think badly of both God and ourselves. And it is not true to the faith of the New Testament!

 

God makes bad things happen to test our faith.

I have heard this statement many times over the years, and a number of variations on the same theme.

For example:

  • Suffering is God’s way of seeing how much we trust him.
  • God has a reason for everything. All we need is to have enough faith and we’ll be able to see what that reason is too.
  • Suffering is good for us. It makes us better people.

Thornton Wilder wrote a book in the early 1960’s called, The Eighth Day. It is a story about a family ruined by bad luck and the hostility of others. The novel has no happy ending. Instead, Wilder offers us the image of a beautiful tapestry. Looked at from the right side, it is a work of art, unique and colourful in its design and detail. But from the other side, all we can see is an ugly maze of seemingly unrelated threads and knots. Wilder’s message is that beyond the pain, grief and suffering of life, there is ultimately something beautiful and good. We may not be able to see it now, but one day we will.

Wilder is right!

Suffering is not good. It is bad!

Bereavement is not good. It is bad!

Tragedy is not good. It is bad!

We should never pretend otherwise. And we should never use the language of faith to obscure the fact that these things are bad!

It is true that our faith and trust in God will help us to cope with and live through these crises.

It is true that we may be able one day to look back and see that we have indeed become better and stronger people because of what we have been through.

But this does not mean that the original experience was somehow good in and of itself. Nor does it mean that God inflicted it on us to find out how much faith we have. The problem with all these so-called explanations is that they assume that God is the cause of human suffering. God never caused a bad thing to happen, and God never will! God’s purpose for us is only ever GOOD!

 

PERMISSION TO ASK “WHY?”

It is inevitable that at various times during our lives we will experience personal and family crises and, like so many others before us, will ask “WHY?”

Asking “WHY?” has always been the response of God’s people to crisis.

Called to lives of ministry and leadership in extremely difficult circumstances, people like Moses and Jeremiah asked “Why me?”

Immersed in the catastrophe of personal pain and loss, Job cried out, “Why me?”

Again and again in the Psalms we hear that same cry.

Psalm 13:1-2
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

Psalm 77:7-9
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

Psalm 22:1-2
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but I find no rest.

It is our experience from time to time, in the complexity of our life’s journey, to feel that God has left us, that he is absent, that for some reason he has forsaken us.

Yet at other times we feel that God is as close to us as our breath, that he is in the very depths of our being.

It was so for Jesus.

Listen to the words of his prayer for the disciples in John 17, as he gives expression to his strong sense of unity with God the Father:

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. May they be one, as we are one.”

Within a few hours, Jesus is dying on the cross, and cries out in pain and grief and loneliness:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So, take comfort and courage from the personal experience of Jesus.

God never leaves us, or forsakes us.

But there are times when it feels that way.

There is no shame or weakness in recognizing and expressing our feeling that God has left us alone in our struggle. With God’s people of old, we can cry out to God from our heart:

For it is in the acknowledgement of our weakness that God can become our strength

It is in the acknowledgement of our loneliness that we can know the love and companionship of God as never before

It is in the acknowledgement of our grief that we can experience the peace of God that passes all understanding

It is in the acknowledgement of our anger and frustration that the grace of God can bring resolution and renewal

Out of the loneliness and pain of the cross, Jesus cried out in anguish,

and in his grief experienced yet again the reassuring love of God,

so that he was able, with confidence, to declare in regard to both his life and his dying,

“It is finished!”

In this life, there is no clear and final answer to our “WHY?”

We can feel that God is absent at any time, but in that moment, as we are honest with ourselves and with God, our faith takes us beyond our feelings into the reality of God’s unceasing presence, and the power of his love and grace.

Psalm 22 begins, as we have seen, with the anguished cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Listen now to how it concludes.

“I will tell your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
Those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!”

(Psalm 22: 22,24,26)

And what of Psalm 13, that begins: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Listen to how this Psalm ends.

“I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

(Psalm 13: 5-6)

The witness of the scriptures is very strong at this point. When we openly and honestly pour our hearts to God, the healing work of his love and grace can begin in us, comforting our sorrow, restoring peace to our troubled spirits and instilling a sense of hope and purpose for the future.

This is a deeply spiritual reality. Ultimately we are healed and renewed because we have encountered the love and grace of God when we are most weak and vulnerable. God cannot help those who believe they are self-sufficient and can do it on their own!

This is the testimony of the apostle Paul, who in his own personal and life-time struggle with what he described as a “thorn in the flesh”, heard Christ saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” And he was able to affirm, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

(II Corinthians 12:9-10)

And it is also the testimony of Rabbi Kushner who, at the end of his book, writes:

“I think of Aaron and all that his life taught me, and I realise how much I have lost and how much I have gained. Yesterday seems less painful, and I am no longer afraid of tomorrow.”

 

CONCLUSION

We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. What we do know is that terrible things happened to the greatest and best person who ever lived. He did no wrong, yet was crucified. And because of him we too can say, “Yesterday seems less painful, and I am no longer afraid of tomorrow.”

 

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Why do we call this Friday ‘good’?

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Those lines are from Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot. Why do we call it ‘Good’ Friday? What do you say when a child asks you if Jesus died today, why don’t we call it ‘Bad Friday’?

We have quite a mixed attitude to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

We hear words based on Psalm 22, and are reminded that Jesus felt abandoned by his Father God on the cross, saying:

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?

The physical torture of the cross was surely more than enough for Jesus to endure, but he also experienced the absence of God for the first time in his entire life. For him in those moments there was no vindication. No rescue. Just the sheer agony of godforsakenness.

But we also sing,

When I survey the wondrous cross…

How can an instrument of sheer torture be ‘wondrous’? Are we mad?

The Cross is an absolute scandal. Yet we see in it the deep, deep love of God:

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet…

And we see also a great victory here:

or thorns compose so rich a crown?

This is something like no other thing on earth. This is something that we have no comparison for. It stands alone.

Why do we call this Friday ‘good’? Why do we remember this man who died on a cross above all others who died on crosses, and above every other victim of injustice, terror and political envy?

Quite simply, we remember this man because God our Father raised him from the dead.

His friends and followers were totally demoralised when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Peter denied him, the others scattered. A few women looked on from afar. It was all over.

Their world was shattered. Their hopes were gone. There could be a knock on their door at any time. They might be dragged away too. Nails could also be driven into their hands and their feet.

God hadn’t just abandoned Jesus. God had abandoned them too.

Before long, though, these same people were saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ And they were filled with a new energy and power that they recognised as God’s Holy Spirit.

How on earth…?

The resurrection.

They had to grapple with what the cross meant. It could no longer only be an instrument of shame—we see sorrow there, yes, but also love.

As they looked back, they saw that God had brought something supremely good out of an absolute horror. Jesus lives—Jesus forgives those who had left him in the lurch, and even his killers—and Jesus is alive in them.

They began to see that death does not have the last word. The life of Jesus overwhelms death. Death is the second-last thing to happen; the last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

They saw that Jesus died for them, and they were transformed.

That same transformation is there for us today. We too can know the life of Jesus within. We can know too that the deepest, darkest losses and disappointments of life are never the last thing. The last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

And it starts now.

Easter Sunday isn’t a postscript to an ugly death. It isn’t a happy ever after ending. It’s a new beginning, a second chance at a new life. Don’t hang back from the Crucified One—he is risen!

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Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street

A thoughtful reflection from Andy Hamilton of Eureka St about the ways online publishing influence public conversation.

Eureka Street comes of age – Eureka Street.

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World Day of Prayer 2012

One of the great things about the World Day of Prayer is that we catch a glimpse of the world through the eyes of other people. I have no real experience of Malaysia; I know a number of people who were born in Malaysia, I’ve had a few hours in the airport at KL, but no more than that. So I’m uniquely unqualified to preach this evening.

The World Day of Prayer reminds us that we are part of a worldwide family. The borders of the church don’t stop at our congregation or even at our tradition. They are broader and wider—perhaps broader and wider than we can imagine.

The World Day of Prayer calls us to remember that other members of this family are in very different situations from those we find ourselves in.

The women of Malaysia live in a predominantly Muslim land, with very different ethnic and cultural realities to ours. There is corruption on a wide scale, restrictions on Christian worship, churches are burnt, asylum seekers are greatly mistreated—that should give us pause for thought—people trafficking and the forced relocation of poor rural folk. Apart from that, the women have a difficult place just because they are women.

I’m sure they can identify with the woman who kept knocking on the judge’s door much more than I can.

I was very impressed with the story of Irene Fernandez, the social worker who spent thirteen years fighting in court because of official resistance to her work among migrant workers and people in immigration detention camps.

Women like this show us lives given to Christ in different contexts to ours; we need to pray with them and support them. But we also need to see where the justice deficits are in our own situation.

We know about asylum seekers, for example. They are called ‘illegal’, which they are not; they are vilified and kept in detention for long periods. All this is at great cost; it would be cheaper to process them in the community.  This is one area where justice, compassion and economics speak as one. Both sides of politics have demonised asylum seekers; one prominent politician recently published ignorant remarks about infectious disease coming into Australia from these people which a public health official issued a public letter to refute.

Why do I talk about this? Because Irene Fernandez has emboldened me to.

Those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary may be looking at these words of Jesus on Sunday:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It seems that we admire most those Christians who seem to put these words of Jesus into practice. We all know about the great witness of Mother Teresa of Calcutta; now we also know about Irene Fernandez, knocking at the door of so-called justice for thirteen years on behalf of the poor. Let us allow ourselves to be truly inspired by her witness, and follow Jesus in our own time and place. Amen.

Irene’s story:

My name is Irene Fernandez. I’m a social worker. I work among the migrants and other poor and oppressed people in Malaysia. In 1991 I helped establish Tenaganita (women’s force), a grassroots organization committed to establishing “protective tooIs” for women.

I did research and published a memorandum in August 1995 about the terrible living conditions of the migrant workers in detention centres. I interviewed over 300 former detainees who described insanitary conditions, inadequate food and water, frequent deaths from beatings and lack of medical care. Sexual abuse and corruption were common in Malaysia’s immigration detention camps. The government asserted that the memorandum contained errors.

l was arrested for “maliciously publishing false news.” I was on trial for seven years and then was found guilty. I was sentenced to one year of imprisonment. I appealed to the High Court. As a convicted person, the price I paid was high. My court battle took another six years. Finally the High Court overturned my earlier conviction and acquitted me on December 31st, 2008.

During all these years Tenaganita has succeeded in establishing reform amendments to rape laws, model contracts for overseas domestic helpers, and a domestic violence act which opened up complaint procedures for victims. Now we are turning our focus on people-trafficking, the heinous crime of modern-day slavery. We seek a partnership with government to change the systems that support human trafficking. At the same time the survivors of human trafficking need psychological and social support. With our advocacy and help the survivors can restore their lives and regain their feeling of self-worth and dignity.

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