Tag Archives: tsunami

Second Sunday in Lent (Year A, 20 March 2011)

Today, we return to our series on the Beatitudes as we look at the story of Nicodemus.


Blessed are those who hunger for justice

Readings
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
John 3.1-17

Lament

Many of the psalms are psalms of lament. People cry out to God in their distress, and God hears them.
Let us join in a prayer of lament:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:
they will be filled.

People suffer, struggle, there seems no end in sight:
where are you, Lord?

Earthquakes and tsunamis rage, radiation levels rise:
where are you, Lord?

Help us find you
in the faces and lives
of the helpless and destitute.

Help us find you
and be ready to welcome you,
whatever your disguise.

And give us compassion
that we might open our hearts to those in need;
and in serving them, be served;
in loving them, find love;
and in knowing them, know you. Amen.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will be filled.

The Proclamation of the Word

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be filled.

Or, we could say:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be filled.

It’s the same thing. If you are righteous, you are just in your dealings with others. If you are righteous, you want justice for others. So I like the way the Revised English Bible translates this saying:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied.

When you hunger and thirst, you’re thinking about one thing. How to satisfy that need. You’ll eat just about anything; you’ll not care that the water you’ve been given is room temperature, or that the bread is a bit dry. You’ll think of little else until that need is satisfied. I’d suggest it’s the same with hungering and thirsting to see right prevail.

Today, we heard the story of Nicodemus. Was Nicodemus a seeker of righteousness? Did he ‘hunger and thirst’ for the righteousness Jesus talked about? Remember, he said: ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’? I doubt that Nicodemus hungered or thirsted.

He came to Jesus by night; perhaps he was putting himself at risk visiting Jesus. He was after all a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin; he had a position to protect. So he came in secret. For a conversation.

I’ve enjoyed thinking of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as a game of tennis.

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Natural Disasters: Lament, community and the death of theodicy

Last week, I came across an article by Rev Dr Andrew Dutney, President-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, with the provocative title: Does God hate Queensland? This was before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disasters of Japan.

We had a bad summer with floods and cyclones; the photo at the top of the page was taken across the road from our house to show how high the water came during the flood. Japan is faring far worse than us.

How do Christians respond?

Theologians have classically gone for theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil and disaster. Why does God let these things happen?

There are two broad kinds of theodicy: one which says with Augustine that the creation fell from perfection with Adam; the others says with Irenaeus that the world began in an immature state, and that suffering is necessary for us to mature.

Dutney points out that

theodicy works for some but not all cases. There are far too many examples of suffering which are so grotesque or so excessive that they make it impossible to devise an explanation that is both rational and morally tolerable. In any case, it would be offensive even to try to explain such suffering away.

He also makes the very important point that ordinary Christians haven’t gone all the way with the theologians in trying to justify God’s ways. Rather for them,

the experience of suffering does not challenge belief in God as such, but rather forces the question, Where in this suffering is the God in whom I believe?

Theodicy has a limited place. The scriptures allow far more lament than we have allowed for ourselves in our services until recently. Thumb through the Psalms for example upon example, or read Lamentations; Uniting in Worship 2 has put lament into the ‘mainstream’ of the Church’s worship. For Dutney it is simply that:

There is suffering which will not be explained into quietness by church leaders, philosophers or theologians.

In the floods in Brisbane, people were bowled over by the number of people who came to help. And community is another discovery in disaster:

It turns out that our possessions are less important than our family, friends and neighbours. It turns out that we can trust strangers to enter our (shattered) homes and deal gently with our treasures – in fact we rely on them to do so. It turns out that my neighbours need does matter more to me than my own in this situation. It turns out that sitting in the rubble of the lives that we’d worked so hard to create we can laugh and experience genuine joy in the inexplicable gift of being alive – together. It turns out that when we look up and see what natural disaster means in Haiti and Pakistan we do recognize in a new way the responsibilities – the opportunities to help – that go with the advantages enjoyed by Australians and New Zealanders even in times of devastation. Who knew?

None of this justifies or minimises human suffering. But we survive—and we survive together.

Read Andrew’s article for yourself.

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First Sunday in Lent (Year A, 13 March 2011)

I was at a family camp (fab time!!) this weekend. The service at Centenary UC was led by Rev Mary Haire. I thank Mary, and thank her for this copy of her sermon:

 

Readings

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4: 1-11

Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’

These words of Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 4, Verse 10, sum up Jesus’ decision when faced with temptations and choices after he fasted for 40 days in the bush.

I don’t need to remind you about the number of choices and dilemmas we all have every day—the little things and the big things in our lives.

We have personal ethical dilemmas and choices; as a child, whether to own up to an accident or misdeed; as an adult whether to earn more money for our family or to devote this time to voluntary work for our neighbour. Whether to enter into the carbon tax debate?

At the times of the recent devastating floods in Queensland and the bushfires in Victoria a couple of years ago,  many made choices which put actions to save others above concerns for personal safety and property. No doubt after the terrible earthquakes and tsunamis which have just happened in Japan we shall see similar choices made both by trained rescuers and by ordinary people. Then there are the complicated ethical debates which cross boundaries of legal stability, national relations and social justice. The Law Report on ABC radio recently described the Vulture funds which buy up debts of desperately poor countries for a pittance and seek to have them enforced in countries around the world, creating ethical dilemmas for legal systems and international business relationships.

There are even life and death choices for individuals. I remember as a member of a committee for organ and tissue donation and transplantation needing to debate the issue of whether a prisoner who had been convicted of a very serious crime should allowed to be put on the waiting list for an organ transplant, when there were many others who were waiting.

In the story of the temptation of Jesus it is definitely not the small personal choices within this world which are the main subject.  It is not even the larger choices and ethical dilemmas—but the whole calling, and vocation of Jesus, the type of mission which God has for him. It is a story about the greatest choice which there has ever been in anyone’s life, whether or not to accept the way of the cross, the one which Jesus made on our behalf. Put in its starkest form: it is a life and death choice for all humankind—for all of us.

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In the wake of disaster

This week has seen horrific natural disasters in our part fo the world—a typhoon and floods in the Philippines, a tsunami in Samoa (and Tonga), and an earthquake in Sumatra.

Lives have been lost, people are homeless and without food or water, and disease is likely.

Most of us can only do two things: pray and give. To give, why not contact UnitingWorld or Act for Peace (the aid arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia).

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