Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Reading the Scriptures three dimensionally: “Should I not be concerned about Syria?” (Year B, 1 November 2015)

Readings
Ruth 1.1–18 (Psalm 146)
Mark 12.28–34

The Lord keeps faith for ever,
giving food to the hungry,
justice to the poor,
freedom to captives…
comforting widows and orphans,
protecting the stranger… from Psalm 146

As I come towards the end of my time here at Centenary, I wonder about what to say to you. So I have a particular question in mind as we approach the wonderful readings before us today. It is this:

Do you read the scriptures as two-dimensional words, or do you read them as a three-dimensional Word?

And what on earth does that even mean?

We can read the scriptures in two dimensions, as flat words on a flat page. When we read in two dimensions, every part of the scriptures is as important as every other part. So in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to kill whole populations; and Jesus says ‘Love your neighbour’.

How does that fit together? In my younger years, I heard preachers saying that the Israelites killing every man, woman and child was loving their Israelite neighbour, delivering them from temptation to a life of idolatry. I was never convinced.

That’s a two-dimensional way of looking at the scriptures. It seeks to harmonise things in the Bible. But you know, it’s really not possible to harmonise everything.

Perhaps it could be that the people of Israel grew out of the idea that genocide serves God’s purposes? If so, later they may have looked back at what their ancestors did and think they were just plain wrong. Perhaps they learned to read these stories as a kind of illustration of how to deal with sin in the human heart? An illustration of how sin needs to be removed, root and branch, but not a model of foreign policy?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under RCL, sermon

Spirit, open our hearts (17 August, 2014: Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 56.1–8
Matthew 15.10–28

 

When we began our service this morning, we sang

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the blind and the lame…

Our lectionary scriptures today prompt us to ask some very important questions: How far do we go in gathering people in? Where do we stop?

Isaiah 56 relates to a time when the exiles are returning from Babylon and being gathered into Jerusalem. Remember, the Temple had been demolished and Jerusalem left in ruins in 587BC, and much of the population had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Today, the once-mighty Babylon is a pile of ruins about 85km south of Baghdad.

We say the exiles ‘returned’ to Jerusalem, but most if not all of them had never been there; it was their grandparents and great-grandparents who had been taken away. They knew Babylon, it was where they were born; they’d grown up on tales of the wonders of Jerusalem, but when they were gathered back in they didn’t like what Jerusalem had become.

Jerusalem was in ruins but worse still, it was full of foreigners! (I think the irony that they’d never seen the place before would’ve been lost on them.)

How did the returnees deal with the foreigners who had occupied their houses and land? They were divided about that.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

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? Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

What do you let yourself see? (Christmas 1A, 29 December 2013)

Readings
Hebrews 2.10–18
Matthew 2.13–23

 270px-Icon_01012_Begstvo_v_Egipet._Nachalo_XVII_v

Traditional societies are usually ordered with some kind of clan chief, or lord, or king at the apex of things. You might imagine all the king has to do is raise an eyebrow or snap his fingers, and slaves would feed him cherries and fill up his wine glass.

But you know, the king was often in a very insecure position. Frequently, there were others who thought they could do a better job. Since there were no elections, and a king had to die to be replaced, it wasn’t unusual for there to be plotting and scheming behind the scenes. A lot of plotting and scheming! (Sounds like the Australian political scene…)

King Herod the Great wasn’t in a safe position. He wasn’t popular, not by a long shot. He’d been given the throne by the Romans, not the Jews, and he’d had to fight for it. He had half a dozen fortresses in which to hide away if he need to; three were in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Masada, all places some of us went to earlier in the year. He killed anyone he suspected of plotting against him, including his wife Mariamne and a son. When he knew he was about to die, he ordered that political prisoners should be executed so that there would be grief and mourning once he was dead.

This is the political background of the first Christmas. It is central to Matthew’s version of the story of the Nativity, which is really quite different from Luke’s; only Matthew talks about the wise men, Herod’s rage and the slaughter of the Innocents, and the Holy Family going down to Egypt. Matthew is doing this to tell us something very important in his story: firstly, that Jesus is greater than Moses; and secondly, that he is the Son of God, the true fulfilment of everything an Israelite was meant to be.

Let’s look at that in more detail another time. For today, I just want to point out that in Matthew’s story Jesus is a refugee, an asylum seeker, an illegal immigrant. His family had to escape persecution, and they found a refuge in Egypt of all places.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

The grace of open eyes (Ordinary Sunday 26, Year C)

PRELUDE

By way of a beginning, I want to tell you about something that happened to me on the flight out to Australia, when our family migrated in 1965. We weren’t well off, we only had a few pounds for a family of four children. I was eleven, the eldest, and for my first time on an aeroplane I was dressed in my very best clothes—my school uniform. I was well aware that most people who flew on international flights could afford something better than a school uniform. But there I was—English school cap, tie and blazer, shirt, long pants and socks all thick enough to cope with the Yorkshire cold. And I was walking down the steps of the plane onto the tarmac at Kolkata Airport. It must have been around 40 degrees. 

It was the first time I’d known what ‘hot’ could mean. I had stepped out of the air-conditioned then-state-of-the-art Boeing 707—and right into a blast furnace. 

I don’t know how far away the airport building was. It felt like half a mile. I was walking with my dad, and I saw some of the local people. If I had felt that wearing a school uniform on an international flight was a sign of poverty, I was now staring real poverty in the face for the very first time. These people were in rags, leaning into the fence, on the outside, looking in at us. They needed new clothes and a good feed.

The distress in my voice must have been clearly obvious when I mentioned them to my dad. He was a good man; but all he said was ‘Don’t look at them, there’s nothing we can do for them.’

For me, it was too late. I had already looked and I had seen.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Ordinary Sunday 22C, 1 Sept. ’13)

Readings
Hebrews 13.1–8, 15–16
Luke 14.1, 7–14

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke quite personally about my journey as a person of faith, from my early life as a fundamentalist Christian to the current day. I don’t often speak so personally, so it’s quite unusual for me to begin today in a personal vein as well.

The Book of Hebrews says:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

I want to speak about hospitality today. I want to begin by reminding you of the hospitality you, the members of this congregation, showed Karen and me when we first came here. And those of you who weren’t here then, you can hear the story for the first time. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, church year, Personal, RCL, sermon

Loving neighbours: hope, faith, love

 

Readings
Colossians 1.1–14
Luke 10.25–37

 

This was in the news just over a week ago:

Good Samaritan stabbed in laneway

July 6, 2013

Police are hunting for a man who attacked a good Samaritan in a Brisbane laneway on Friday night.

The man suffered wounds to his neck, back and hand after he attempted to stop another man from stealing a handbag in the suburb of Milton.

The reporter didn’t have to explain what a ‘Good Samaritan’ is; everyone knows that!

Don’t they?

I wonder if everyone who reads such stories realises that the Good Samaritan is a character in one of Jesus’ parables. I doubt it, really.

But we know all about the Good Samaritan, don’t we? Well, maybe we do, but a little recap never hurts.

A teacher of the law asks Jesus a question. He reckons Jesus won’t have a good answer.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

That’s the same question the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ asks him. Jesus points both men to the Law of Moses. This time he asks,

What is written in the law? What do you read there?

The expert in the law gives the right answer!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

So Jesus says,

Do this, and you will live.

End of conversation. Not.

Jesus has put the teacher of the law in an uncomfortable position. He has answered his own question. He knows what is right in his head, but he also knows he doesn’t put it into practice. There are ‘certain’ types of people he doesn’t treat as neighbours. So he looks for some wriggle room, some way of getting off the hook. So he asks yet another question:

And who is my neighbour?

Jesus doesn’t answer that question either. Instead, he tells him how to be a neighbour—and who can be a neighbour. And what’s more, Jesus complicates the lawyer’s life no end. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, church year, RCL, sermon