Something is Happening Here

Matthew 2:1-12 and John 1:1-18

1. SUMMARY:

If at Christmas we look into the crib and see only the historical Jesus a baby born in a far off place over 2000 years ago, then we have missed the point of Christmas. We have the opportunity to consider further, “move on” to experience the wonder of being the children of a loving God who lives with us now.

We are not celebrating a birth over 2000 years ago we are celebrating a loving God that continues to search us out, transform us , renew us , comfort us, challenge us and goes ahead of us and now able to be with us now and will lead us into the new and unknown of 2010.

INTRODUCTION

We will use Matthew and John gospels readings to tell of events that we see were epiphany experiences for the three wise men and in my mind to John himself who after seeing and experiencing Jesus prior to and after the resurrection put together the first 18 verses of John’s gospel.

Lets step back for a moment and think about Epiphany( which is on next Wednesday 6  January).

Epiphany may refer to:

  • a Christian holiday on January 6 celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus
  • the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something
  • a Web browser for the GNOME graphical computing desktop
  • a software development company
  • a guitar manufacturer owned by Gibson
  • a clone of the computer game Boulder Dash
  • Epiphany Prince ,basketball player
  • Epiphany (wrestler), a female professional wrestler.

An epiphany is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has “found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture,” or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or foundational frame of reference.

History

The Christian Epiphany refers to the Adoration of the Magi of the miraculous Incarnation of the infant Christ, and to the Feast of the Epiphany which commemorates it. The word’s secular usage may owe some of its popularity to James Joyce, in referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realization, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realization in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within some of his short story as his protagonists came to sudden recognitions that changed their view of themselves or their social condition and often sparking a reversal or change of heart.

I hope in our few minutes together we can explore what meaning we might see in the two passages of scripture that take us from a cute nativity scene in a stable to a realization about Christmas event that might spark a reversal or a change of heart in us.

Perhaps even disturbed to realize something has happened something has changed and as TS Eliot says…

We returned to our places, these kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensations

With an alien people clutching their gods”

WHAT DO WE SEE IN THESE TWO READINGS

This epiphany story, taken from Matthew 2:1-12, balances out the Christmas story of the angels and shepherds.

The shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem were Jewish, and the angel announces that their long awaited messiah has just been born. This Jesus is the one foretold in their scriptures, the reason for their hope.

The wise men are not Jewish; they are Gentiles, non-Jews, pagans. They do not worship the God of Israel, but they do study the skies. They are scholars and scientists of the ancient world. The extraordinary star that they observe promises the birth of a new king. And they travel a long distance and overcome many obstacles (see TS Eliot’s poem again) in order to see this baby king for themselves.

Add the Epiphany story to the Christmas story and the conclusion is unavoidable: Jesus is not just for one people, his own people, the Jews. Jesus is for everybody: all nations and races and peoples and languages. He is not only the Jewish messiah, but he is the universal savior. He is not only the king of Israel, but reigns over all the earth.

Now let’s look at the prologue (John 1:1-18) or t he overture to John’s gospel. John appears to have lived most of his post resurrection life as a Jew in a Greek community near Ephesus.

John therefore knew that the Jewish idea of the Messiah would not have much of an appeal to his non-Jewish audience. So John searched for symbols that would speak to his Greek-educated audience. John realized that Christianity had to be packaged into familiar cultural concepts. He coloured outside the box.

John is not about to record the story of someone who began as a child in Bethlehem, or as the Messiah on the shores of Lake Galilee but someone who is the human expression of the creative and grace filled purpose of God.

This is John’s take on a birth narrative. No shepherds, no angels, no Mary and Joseph, no manger. This is how John describes Jesus’ coming into the world. The language is rich in metaphor, and though it lacks the characters of the traditional nativity, and quickly points to ‘And the word became flesh and lived among us’.

The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life (William Neil p 404).

He has made known to us his hidden purpose…namely that the universe, all in heaven, and on earth might be brought into unity in Christ.

An important aspect of John’s prologue is that the Word which became flesh was already in the world. In a sense Christ was already in the world, in creation. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

It should have been possible to recognize him from what was already known of him in creation.

When God spoke to the world in the life of Jesus Christ, he spoke the same Word that he had spoken when he created the world.

The Word of God spoken long before in creation, and through the prophets, was the same Word as appeared in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

Another important aspect in the prologue was “No one has ever seen God; but God’s only son, he is who is nearest to the Father’s heart who has made him known.”

Jesus “interprets” “paints the best picture of the nature of God for us.

Our reading from the Gospel of John is one of the most familiar and yet most transcendently beautiful passages in the Bible. That may prove quite a challenge if John’s lofty theology and language transcend our ability to grasp its profound meaning.

Perhaps the thoughts expressed in John’s Prologue are too immense for us.

Huge questions crowd the scene…

  • Jesus son of God
  • Jesus and Creation …Christ of the Cosmos , Christ and Creation
  • Christ already present since creation…leading ahead, already and long ago at work redeeming God’s world.
  • The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life
  • God took on flesh, came to us, found us, sought us out, and took on our own existence, with its pains, its sorrows, its vulnerability and its joys. Stephen Bauman says it especially well: “God,” he writes, “is embedded with us in the human predicament.”
  • When has God seemed far away and beyond your reach?
  • When has God felt near at hand, as One who understands what you are struggling with, what your church may be struggling with, understands even the things you cannot put into words?

THERE IS SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE

God’s grand plan …the grand miracle

No just a Messiah but acknowledged by others the Wise Men of the east…for all people and even bigger the Christ of creation…the cosmic Christ…for TS Eliot …something happened…. ” no longer at ease here in the old dispensations, with alien people clutching their gods”….something big is happening here….

But have we our personal epiphany?

  • a new insight…a new Ah Ah.
  • a new possibility that perhaps it could be…maybe I should take notice
  • is there something here for me beyond the story of a baby in a stable long ago?…”And can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.”

So I would like prompt you to the edge of an epiphany this morning:

  • A willingness to ponder the mystery and sit with it…accept for a moment that something was happening here and sit with your questions and doubts and listen
  • A willingness to look again…for maybe there is something here… maybe to meeting Jesus again for the first time…as Marcus Borg
  • Maybe you can see it all making a little more sense in that the Christ cannot be capture in a set of beliefs enclosed in a box and all the issues tied down.
  • Maybe you can see that there is mystery here that can be resolved by you entering on an ongoing journey to …..
  • Maybe acknowledging you that you are on that journey and that epiphany happens as new meanings and experience fall into place.

Let’s consider what’s happening here

And even should our thoughts play around the events of Jesus birth, they can find it hard to step behind the stage props to consider the meaning of it all…

  • The actors have become so predictable
  • The plot wearyingly familiar
  • The scene all too comfortable

But even when we do stop to consider the “babe in the straw” …what do we see…

It’s easy to worship a baby in a manager…everybody loves a baby.

How do we move on beyond that “babe in the straw”?

What do you see?

  • This baby at Bethlehem, this scandal of a God/man.
  • Is the story of the baby God possible?
  • No it can’t be. .. But at least he was a good man and he did give us some useful rules to live by… that’s a reasonable position.

Then the Gospel of John calls us to see this child as

  • as one with God the creator of the universe now made man.
  • the Son of God.

Incredible! Dare we take seriously the Christian Christmas?

DARE WE BELIEVE THIS?

When we gaze at a nativity scene… ask yourself “Who was that baby there?”

When we look at the crib, what for us is the meaning in John 1:14

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and we beheld his glory as God the father”

Can we find meaning for us in the words of William Neil

The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life

I f we can say Jesus, Son of God…then there is no statement in the creed, that should ever bother us again.

Personally, I find Christmas …the greatest test of my faith. The ideas in John 1 are so big, yet so beautiful but incredible.

For me the acceptance of the resurrection pales in to insignificance compared to the incredible happening, which we celebrate at Christmas. I am not the only one!

This is the faith statement we are called on to confront at Christmas and as we take the full significance of Christmas into the New Year.

WE MUST “MOVE-ON” AND FIND MEANING HERE…leave behind the baby in the crib.
We leave behind the baby in the crib and go into 2006 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within us.

Can you find meaning and transforming power in these messages of Christmas?

  • God has pitched his tent with us…God has become one with us, worked with hands, tripped on dusty roads and shared our fortune. Nothing that is good or true is foreign to him. Henceforth nothing human is foreign to God.
  • The incarnation at Christmas put an end to any dichotomy between God and man.
  • God has not forsaken the creation and within it the human condition but is committed to it and has destined that it be without blemish and full of love and truth.
  • Christians can not retreat to supernaturalism, which spurns the earth and ignores human responsibility for the sake of a place in a heaven to come.

God in our world means we follow God’s old commands

  • “Act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
  • “Let justice roll on like a river, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)

The birth of Jesus means that God is not only in our world and calls us to seek his justice in our world — but it goes further.

Christ traced the symptoms of the human condition to a deeper cause and wrestled with it to death and beyond — beyond the tomb to eating fish by a lake

MOVING-ON WITH NEW MEANING

So how do we “move-on”?

  • First can we think upon this miracle of Christmas and the ways in which it is a time of hope?
  • It tells of a God of Love who became one with us. He came as a servant king. God was vulnerable in Jesus, yet ultimately victorious.
  • God came, and is with us now, in ways that can help us most.
  • Make space for God to reveal, live and travel with us in new and unexpected ways.
  • There is mystery here. We don’t have all the answers. However our experience bears witness to the truth that God is with us. As John Wesley so often said…”the best of all is that God is with us”…that’s a Christmas that we can take into the New Year.
  • I cannot prove it for you…only you can do that…by giving it a try.

Morris West, Australian author and Catholic thinker/theologian said on ABC radio just before his death:
“Faith is simply an act of willingness to live with mystery.”
Further, he concluded

“To live in mystery means sometimes to live in fear and uncertainty, but it also means to live in awe and wonderment and hope for the restorations of all things in Christ.”

So as we conclude I want to again prompt you to the edge of an epiphany this morning:

  • A willingness to ponder the mystery and sit with it…accept for a moment that something was happening here and sit with your questions and doubts and listen
  • A willingness to look again…for maybe there is something here… maybe to “meeting Jesus again for the first time”(Marcus Borg)
  • Maybe you can see it all making a little more sense in that the Christ cannot be captured in a set of beliefs enclosed in a box and all the issues tied down. But that Christ is about trust and faith is not about believing but about meaning
  • Maybe you can see that there is mystery here that can leading to new meaning in your life by you entering on an ongoing journey
  • Maybe acknowledging you that you are on that journey and that new meaning is happening in new and unexpected ways

As we sing these songs find a line, a word, a phrase or a moment that you can hold on to and affirm in your own way and let God sit with you as you prepare to:

  • to leave behind the baby in the crib and go into 2010 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within you.
  • And therefore go forward into 2010 with much hope for God is with you.

Let us pray before we sing…..the John Bell song “Jesus calls us to meet him…”

John Williams
January 2010.

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Mr Clumsy

6 December 2009

Even a very normal day is a disaster with Mr. Clumsy.
The only place he’s safe is asleep in bed!
Everything Mr Clumsy touches breaks or ends up where it shouldn’t.
When he has to go shopping,
instead of taking just one can, he knocks over the whole stack.
On a farm, he falls into a puddle, and must go home and take a bath.
He falls into the linen basket.
He falls out of his chair when he eats dinner.
Everywhere he goes, chaos erupts.

People have been known to say that of me, at times.
“Everywhere he goes, chaos erupts” – especially if it is something practical involved.
Even the act of getting a hammer from the workbench can result in disaster.
Hannah Walker looked in amazement just last week
as I was cutting bread for the Council meeting –
“Did you just carve your thumb?”

It’s the time of year for our Mr Clumsys, I think.
It’s the time of year for chaos to erupt
For about a week at home, we had hundreds – actually thousands – of lights
scattered across our floors while we determined if they worked and where to put them.

Advent takes on the whole feel of chaos, as if Mr Clumsy has just walked through.

And one of the ways we deal with the chaos is the preparation:
shopping for presents, picking out trees,
cooking for dinner parties and gearing up for family gatherings,
scurrying around to parties, meetings and malls
spending inordinate amounts of time consuming, working and planning.
Tis the season of preparation upon layers of preparation.

Does the preparation help to give the feel that the chaos is under control?
Does the preparation help to push Mr Clumsy back out the door?

I wonder if we could allow ourselves to go in a couple of different directions at Advent.
Because the ironic thing is that while we prepare and prepare,
we might also be being more and more distracted.
The tinsel on the trees and the decorations that are going up are shiny – silver and gold.
And Malachi speaks of God’s refining fire, like purifying gold.
We are already on the hunt for Christmas gifts,
and Zechariah talks of the gifts of mercy and forgiveness and peace and redemption
As our pantries start to overflow with the food that will flood the Christmas meal table
Paul writes to the Philippians encouraging them to overflow with love.
We prepare for a holiday.   John prepares for a way.

Tempting as it is to prepare and to avoid the feel of clumsiness, and the impact of chaos
Advent provides us with the chance to allow the chaos to be very present
in fact, we can allow the chaos to be an inspiration.

Everywhere he goes, chaos erupts.

The voice cries out in the wilderness.   Prepare the way of the Lord.
John the Baptist is a voice of chaos – and possibly looked a bit like Mr Clumsy!

The road will be made straight. Valleys brought up and Mountains torn down.

Doesn’t it sound great.
But John the Baptist stumbles into our lives each Advent
and trips over our Christmas trees, and gets his arm caught on our tinsel.
he knocks over our lights, and drops the pots with our Christmas puddings

The road will be made straight. Valleys brought up and Mountains torn down.

There is a lot of work that goes into straightening a road
and most of it is messy and chaotic

Is the Advent road heading across your property?
Is the preparation this year not really about tinsel and trees, presents and puddings?
Is the preparation about something else?
Locating a peace in the midst of chaos?
Building for a living of justice that goes past the purchase of TEAR gifts?
Providing a hospitality that extends past the giving of Christmas hampers?

The road will be made straight. Valleys brought up and Mountains torn down.
Everywhere he goes, chaos erupts.

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Preparing for Baptism

22 November 2009

Next Sunday we have a wonderful celebration that will be taking place
as we join with 9 people in the congregation who will be being baptised
or re-affirming their baptism from when they were an infant.
We have people right across the ages,
and drawn from each of our worshipping congregations –
it is not just an event for “the young people”
In my 12 years here this will be the largest single service of baptisms
and as a congregation we are investing much time and energy

The reason we are investing so much time and energy
is that baptism is both a significant event for the individuals involved
but also for us as a community of faith
and it gives us the opportunity – in fact it demands of us –
that we reflect on who we are as a community, and how we live.

Today is the Sunday set aside to celebrate the Reign of Christ
which also requires of us that we reflect on how we are living within that reign.

In one real sense the meaning of baptism hasn’t changed for thousands of years:
it is a celebration of God’s grace and marking our dedication to the way of Christ.
In another very real sense, it is now quite different from the way it has been perceived
for much of the last 2000 years, and requires of us that we re-think.

For ages, baptism has been a sign of joining the ‘central’ part of society,
and a way of identifying ourselves as “not them” (whoever the them is at the time).
In fact the “creeds” of the church were specifically created to be able to separate.
They were a tool of power and control
and baptism was a way of identifying with the powerful.

Somehow, baptisms have become mysterious –
not so much that they point to the mystery of God, but unfortunately
too much that no one outside the church has the faintest idea what is going on
And somehow they have become at times ways of ensuring that the church continues –
we associate baptism or confirmation with “membership”
and then we can end up justifying our existence by our numbers.

But as Jesus once said “But that is not to be the way it is among you.”

For us, each and every baptism, each and every reaffirmation of baptism
is to serve as a reminder that we are called to live in the world as Christ’s body.
As God sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us.

Jesus mission – or his purpose – was to embody was God’s love looked like
and to ensure that people could experience the love and the value of God’s reign.
The mission – or the purpose – of the body of Christ now is
to embody what God’s love looks like, and ensuring that people can experience
the love and the value of God’s reign

And during the baptism next week, we are asked how it is that we as a community
will help continue the nurture people –
the people being baptised, and all of us as we grow in our faith –  
and help them to grow in the love and grace of God.
We have to work out how we will be responding.
As people search for a meaning and place to belong,
     how will we provide guide marks on the seach
As people are alienated from themselves, each other and God,
     how will we offer reconciliation?
As people are caught in the pace of life and the push to individualism
     how will we nourish the movement to community living?
As institutions – including the church – clamour and struggle for survival
     how will we embody the understanding that resurrection is only discovered in death

In just a few minutes, Steve will lead us in a time
where we will be doing some of our preparation for next week’s service.
We will be preparing our congregation’s response to the question
of how we will nourish and nurture people faith and experience of God’s grace
in our community, in our century and in our setting.

This is not a response to be taken lightly or selfishly,
but responsibly and in the love of God.

As we think and speak with each other today
and as we continue to live it out
let us be reminded again of the words of Jesus:
“As the Father sent me, now I send you”

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Justice and Children in Need

by Craig Webber, CEO, Scripture Union

Intro

Today I will be continuing the theme of justice which this church has been studying over the past weeks, and applying it to the practical work undertaken by agencies which work with children in need, such as Galilee and SU Chaplaincy. We will explore the relationship between justice and assisting those in need, which may not always be obvious.

And where is God’s justice best displayed? Through the person and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus: Justice Role Model

Jesus provides us with the definitive role model for the pursuit of justice. He was the embodiment of the concept ‘just’. We often use the term ‘God incarnate’, which literally means, God in the flesh, with reference to Jesus. Recalling definitions of justice (‘righteousness’ and ‘according to true principles’ are two of the key defining words/ phrases from the Dictionary)and applying this to Jesus: Jesus was righteousness; everything that he did was in accordance with true principles.

Here then is the answer to how justice is achieved. It comes not through the application of man made law, not even the law of the Old Testament. Justice is given by God through his Son Jesus. Just as Jesus is God’s gift to mankind, so Justice is a Kingdom gift.

And we can see how Jesus picked up the flavour of Isaiah’s statement (Ch 58; 6-11) when he proclaimed the purpose of his ministry on earth. Luke Ch 4 has Jesus proclaiming his ministry (vs 16-19).

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
  >  18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
       19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The conclusion which we must draw is that: God wants justice in His Kingdom. Jesus’ whole ministry was about claiming and modeling a justice approach.

So, what then of his followers?
Followers’ Response

It follows that those who are working for the extension of God’s Kingdom must also be striving for justice, in one sense or another. Even if justice is not being dispensed by the world, we are called to ‘turn the other cheek’ and seek justice for others. Which is basically pretty hard isn’t it?

Jesus followers are called to act against injustice. It is an integral part of the Kingdom’s call. The Kingdom is not a cosy club where we can be closeted away from the world’s woes. God’s Kingdom exists only as far as it exists in the lives of His followers, empowered by His Spirit. Where they are, where they go, so does the Kingdom.

We are the minds, hearts, hands, the soul of justice.

How do we take action to achieve justice? I think we start small. As ordinary people, we work in our own small ways: sometimes together, often alone. Although never really alone, because we are assured that whenever we are working towards justice, then God’s spirit is right in their pitching for us.

So, how do we know that God honours our small actions? Let’s consider the following passage from Matthew 25: 34-40:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

How many was that again? One!

Where is the living Christ? Well from this parable we would have to conclude that he is out there with the people who are in need. Not only that, but that he is in those people.

So when we, as followers, take the good news of the gospel outside the walls of the church, are we taking Christ with us, or are we going to meet him where he already is?

And what sort of message are we taking? Are we merely taking our idea of what contemporary Christian culture is; or are we going out to be with ‘them’ and find out more about Jesus together?

We are concerned that in our modern world, including Australia, people are rejecting the church and God at the same time. Indeed many people may be rejecting the western Christian church, but I put it to you that it is its culture which is being rejected, not Jesus.

I believe that one of our dilemmas in taking the good news outside the walls of the church is that we tend to take the familiar (to us) church culture with us, rather than Jesus. We are nice middle class people; nothing wrong with that necessarily, but we need to be careful that we are not imposing those cultural expectations on others. It is a barrier, because many people in our community don’t relate to this culture, or see it as unattainable. It is ours, not theirs; and it never will be.]

Brazil example

An example of moving outside the traditional walls is provided to us by the Liberation Theology movement from Brazil. I was fortunate enough to meet a leader and writer on this movement, and would like to spend a few moments focusing on this. Walter de Oliveira visited Canberra to speak with youth workers and agencies, mainly ‘secular’, and bought a message with a strong Christian flavour.

On the streets of Brazil there are millions of street children living in poverty. How was the gospel going to be brought into their lives? The Brazilian Church has struggled with this question, from which has emerged the concept and practice of Liberation Theology. Walter de Oliveira, says (p82):

‘Liberation theology proposed nothing less than a ‘rebirth’ of the Church. From now on, the Church was to reach out, through the pastoral movement, to meet the poor in their communities, in their homes, and in the open spaces outside the temple. The Deity was now worshipped where the worshipper was….’

For the Brazilian church (83):

‘The Church’s new social role was ‘being with’ the oppressed where they were- geographically and existentially.’

Most significantly, this movement changed the way in which (Christian) streetworkers viewed their task completely. De Oliveira again says (p84/85):

‘The street had been traditionally viewed as a symbol of peril, corruption, and perverted human existence. But… the street became in the workers’ eyes a place where God’s creatures lived, full of souls who were to be respected and cared for.’

Taking this a step further, De Oliveira says (86):

‘..the children had more to offer the workers than they had to offer the children’

Doesn’t that turn your ideas of the church’s response to those in need upside down? I know I struggle with these ideas. And yet they seem, the more I think about them, consistent with Jesus teachings, and the quoted parable in particular.]

Let’s consider this quote from St George (6th Century Martyr):

‘When we furnish the destitute with any necessity, we render to them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy’.

The provision of care for the needy, assistance to the disadvantaged; and the pursuit of justice, are inextricably linked. There is a nexus between the two. Like two sides of the same coin, one does not exist without the other.

Injustice: Poverty and belonging.

When we think of examples of injustice in our world, we often jump to the thought of poverty. That there are many children throughout the world who are suffering from extreme physical poverty. Last week we acknowledged anti-poverty week; at NationsHeart we focused our service around poverty, including ‘Standing up against poverty’. But in our nation, including in Canberra there is another form of insidious poverty from which many of our children suffer: the poverty of relationship. And this poverty is spreading like gangrene.

I’d like to share with you an example from my former work amongst disadvantaged children.

[Example]

And then there is the problem is that in our society many people have been deprived of the foundation of belonging. This is particularly relevant for those who have lost, or been separated from, their family. I’d like to consider one/ two examples; homeless teenagers, and Australia’s Indigenous people.

The Homeless Teenager-the search for identity

When teenagers cannot live at home with their family, there are a number of results. Progress along the normal path of development from child to adolescent to adult can be delayed or cut short. Where does this leave a young person who is searching to find answers to those questions which are common to adolescence: who am I and where do I belong? Well it leaves them isolated, lost; unless someone comes along to support them.

Lost children (teenagers) need a place to belong. They need an anchor point for their lives, so that they won’t get blown away in the wind or swamped by the waves of life. They need a place where the qualities of ‘family’ are evident and provided by someone, even if it’s not their own family.

Indigenous Australians-the search for identity

Now what about Indigenous Australians? Particularly what’s known as the Stolen Generation. From the little I know about Indigenous culture compared with white Anglo Saxon culture, generally speaking family bonds are much stronger in the former, the Indigenous peoples. Those of us who are parents can try to imagine what it would be like to have some well meaning powerful group take away our children- without a forwarding address. We can also try to imagine what it would have been like when we were children if one day someone who we didn’t know came along and took us from our home and family; never to see them again. But can we really understand and appreciate the depth of anguish which this separation forced upon our Indigenous peoples? I think not. For many Indigenous mums, it was as good as ending their meaningful life, which was totally dedicated to their family and children. And there was no relief to this distress, because those who did this had no understanding of what a terrible act they had committed.

So we had thousands of Indigenous children separated forever from their place of belonging, but even more severely than our homeless children. For they were forcibly ripped out of their family, their culture, their homeland, and their religion (which we now know was inextricably linked with their homeland, their ‘Country’). And the values forced upon them by their captors (and yes I know that I’ve deliberately used a provocative word there); were that their culture, values, knowledge, spirituality were less than worthless. And so they were enculturated into ours instead. Because it’s so good. What do we expect has happened to their sense of identity? Where was justice in this action?

Do you start to get angry about what you see going on around; do you feel passion? Good cause that’s God’s spirit churning up something inside of you, which is not selfish, but self-less. It’s about someone else who’s drawn the short straw.]
So now what

OK, so now what? Let’s have a look at a reading from 1 Peter (Ch 2: 9):

1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

God wants us. He wants to nurture us, to heal us and make us whole. He wants to stretch us and make us grow. We belong to Him.

God wants us-the people of His Kingdom- to pick up these little lost & broken ones. To take away their lostness, to help them to heal, to give them hope, to show them a place of belonging. What they see in our hearts and souls will tell them about God.

Those kids we were talking about earlier need real relationships, a sense of belonging, and identity. They need a tangible expression and abundance of giving. That is, they need it in practical ways, and lots of it.

And what about that teenager who’s had the rug pulled out from under him; doesn’t feel loved, can’t see any future or hope? What could we give him?

Maybe time.

Maybe something to learn.

But don’t give him empty words. He’s heard them all before. How will he learn that God loves him, and that he is OK.

And there are many roles to play to have an impact. As well as the obvious direct care provision, there’s: the need to organize, to encourage, to teach, to pray for, to speak up on behalf of. It’s a team effort, and without all the players with their different gifts and abilities, it doesn’t all work.

Conclusion
I think first of all that we need to recognise that as Christians we have a responsibility to acknowledge that there are many within our society whom have not been provided with the opportunities for blessing which we have. They are stuck in a place which is not where they belong; in a real sense they are refugees amongst us. And consequently they have lost the usual relationships which contribute to their identity formation and development. Justice has passed them by.

Indeed some are called to care….but others are called to address injustice. Again, there’s the two sides of the coin. Based on the words of Micah 6; 8:

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

But let’s not do nothing and kid ourselves that it’s OK to belong to God. It’s not!

Can we help one child in need? Yes. Should we help one child in need? Yes. Can we ignore one child in need?

Where is justice? It’s in us. God has given us justice and made us custodians of justice in this world which is so sadly lacking.

How are we going to respond? The answer to that will be different for each one of us. Importantly we cannot ignore the question.

‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

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Environmental Justice

by Jessica Morthorpe

From an environmental point of view the world is not a very just place. The rich and the powerful are free to pollute and degrade the environment, while the poor suffer the consequences. We have seen it time and time again: large companies building factories in poor suburbs or towns where the children begin getting sick; mining companies destroying the land and livelihoods of local people; oil spills caused by badly maintained ships destroying local fishing industries; free riders causing the tragedy of the commons; and now climate change forcing the poor out of their homes while the rich continue to blithely pollute.

While the rich can afford to enjoy their environments, the poor just have to live in them, no matter how degraded they are. But the rich are also more detached from their environments, and less affected by their degradation than the poor, who rely on the environment for everything. If you are a poor person in rural Africa, the environment is your bathroom, your toilet, your drinking tap, your supermarket, your energy supply and your home. A degraded environment means a reduction in your standard of living. A Kenyan Journalist, Calestous Juma, tells the story:

“Africa is full of lonely peasants; millions of people alienated from one another by the destruction of nature… Forests recede day after day and the peasants walk farther and farther for firewood. As rivers and springs dry up more often, they walk farther and farther for water. As the land gets degraded, the lonely peasant toils only to harvest less year after year…Lamentation alone does not provide enough insight of the predicament of the lonely peasants. When nature recedes, so do the prospects for their well-being. Those threads that tie the peasants to nature are too deep-rooted; their disruption leaves severe wounds on the health and collective consciousness of the people. The lonely peasant is a grim reminder to the rest of humanity of the ultimate implications of a lonely planet.”

As this quote indicates, the health of poor and the environment are directly related. In the words of Gordon Aeschliman from the Green Bible “Serving God’s creation and doing justice for the poor are inseparable missions in today’s world. Said another way, to hurt the earth is to hurt the poor; to serve the earth is to serve the poor. It shouldn’t be surprising that creation and justice are inextricably linked…Just as keeping God’s creation sits within the original mission given to humans, compassion and justice for the poor sit at the core of our faith tradition.”

He goes on to talk of how “When asked what he’d do if he knew God was coming back tomorrow, the theologian Martin Luther responded that he’d plant a tree. There is something wonderfully hopeful and pure about that response. He understood that tending God’s good earth was itself a high act of spiritual worship, an act of faith that honoured the possession of the Lord. If it’s true that to hurt the earth is to hurt the poor, it is also true that being kind to the earth is being kind to the poor. Every time we save another acre of rain forest, clean up another river, recycle another bottle, say no to another frivolous purchase, we are serving God’s creation and we are serving the poor.”

Climate change will always affect the poor the most. The rich might have some buffer from increasing droughts, natural disasters and rising sea levels, but the poor have none. Already 3000 Tuvaluans have been forced to become environmental refugees by the rising sea levels on their low lying pacific island. Millions in other pacific countries and places like Bangladesh may face the same fate. These people have contributed very little to the problem, yet they will still suffer the consequences.

One man who understood justice and injustice was William Wilberforce. The great Christian hero who led the fight for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire also saw the link between justice for humanity and for animals. When he wasn’t working on abolition or introducing a raft of other improvements to schools, workplaces and jails, he was working on his other great achievement – the foundation of the RSPCA. Visitors to his home were often amused by his collection of pets, such as hares and parrots, which he rescued and rehabilitated. Amazing Grace, the movie describing his life, begins with a sick Wilberforce stopping his carriage and getting out in the pouring rain to prevent two men, by the side of the road, whipping their horse to death. Another scene in the movie portrays him getting in some trouble with his frantic cooks due to his inability to turn away beggars from the door when they asked for a meal.

We have seen this example also in St Francis of Assisi, famous both for his care of the poor and his love of animals.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy”

As St Francis and William Wilberforce recognised, eco-justice is about more than saving the environment for the sake of the poor or humanity. Who, after all, cannot speak more than the animals?

Brian D. McLaren says “Advocate for creation everywhere. Birds don’t get to vote. Neither do streams or salamanders. Corporations are given legal status and protection, but forests aren’t (maybe they should be?). If birds and soil and trees and wind are going to be given a voice in life-and-death decisions made by humans, people like you and me are going to have to add-our-voice (advocate) on their behalf. That voice will speak in voting, but also in church, and in the office and classroom, and around the dinner table. We can’t just speak with a kind of guilt-inducing duty … we must also speak with love. Because we love people and other creatures who live in desertifying areas, we must speak up and deal with global climate change. Because we love people and creatures who live in areas devastated by mountaintop removal, we must speak up for protecting the mountains. Because we love the spring peepers and spotted salamanders, we must speak up when another shopping mall is going to bury another vernal pool.”

How we treat animals tells much about two things: how we will treat other men, and how we see God.

St Francis of Assisi said of its reflection on the treatment of men “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Leonardo da Vinci went even further, saying “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.” Personally, I look forward to that day.

On the way we see God, Saint Birgitta said “Let a man fear, above all, me, his God, and so much the gentler will he become toward my creatures and animals, on whom, on account of me, their Creator, he ought to have compassion.” While T.S. Lewis stated “A wrong attitude to nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude toward God.”

An injustice that is close to my heart is that of conservation based on men’s values – where a species is deemed worthy of conservation only if it has a use for man, or if it is sufficiently cute and cuddly to stir compassion. Because of this, thousands of reptile, fish and insect killings are ignored while vast resources are pumped into saving dolphins and pandas. What hope then, is there for the ugly creatures whom God loves just as much?

If we are to ‘do justice,’ as we are commanded in Micah 6:8 we must stop allowing the poor to pay for our comfort. We must consider whether it is just that Australians have an ecological footprint so large we would need four planets to support everyone in the world at the same standard of living. If it is not, we must act together to help reduce our impact on the earth. As well as reducing our energy use, this means reducing our use of water so that everyone has access; reducing our use of pesticides and production of waste so we aren’t polluting the areas others have to live in; and making ethical purchasing decisions so we are not buying things we don’t need, and so we are not contributing to slavery, sweatshops, unfair trade or the production of products like blood diamonds.

We, as the church, have a wealth of opportunity to become a part of something very important. Christians can make great environmentalists. The Bible’s teachings on the environment and how we should live as Christians help us to move beyond the (crisis motivated) sustainability ethics that have evolved around climate change. By reflecting on God’s words, we can learn to act in a way that is more in harmony with nature, and with God’s will and purpose. These teachings move us toward a different way of thinking and acting; one based on humility, kindness and justice for all creation.

Eco- Justice is something we should all work for in our own lives, as families and in the community, but it is also something we should work together for as a church. In this journey, there will be as many ways of becoming a greener and more just church as there are churches, but this is how I imagine it:

It’s Sunday morning so I drag myself out of bed and ride my bike to church. As I enter the solar panels on the roof glint in the sun and I can see the water tank peeking around the side. I am greeted by a smiling face and handed a newssheet printed on recycled paper. I flick to the environmental tips and events section and scan the offerings. I move to a table to place some native flowers and a box of fruit from my garden on it for distribution. I grab a cup of Fairtrade coffee and sit in the sun to enjoy the building’s passive heating. In worship we sing thanks to God for the wonders of creation and as it is September and we are doing the Season of Creation we have an interesting sermon about the need to follow Biblical practices and values in our lives in order to reduce our environmental impact. When we share communion it is with tasty, freshly baked bread from organic flour and environmentally friendly grape juice. The gentle light of beeswax candles and sunlight lights the scene.

In our prayers for others our weekly endangered species prayer is for the endangered frogs we had a talk about at the youth meeting on Friday. We also thank God for the way he has blessed and added to our church through our environmental work. After the service I pack up my copy of the Green Bible and join the communal lunch. Fresh, local, vegetarian food abounds and is shared with the homeless. After the meal I go to check on the animals in our special rescue room. We have an arrangement with the local wildlife rescue network whereby our church gives carers a day off each week by caring for their charges. We also provide food, money and sew little pouches for the various marsupial orphans. I quickly make a couple of arrangements for the clothes and tool swap next week on the way out. I meet up with the church greening group and we head out to Greenhills Camp and Conference Centre for a working bee. Our Canberra Christian Environmental Action group is going quite well, with our church teams and local conservation groups making quite a difference around Canberra by dedicating a few hours per week. It is a testament to the way the church has now taken leadership in the environmental arena.

Ok, so I’m dreaming. Yet I have not mentioned anything that is not possible, nor anything that could not, in theory, be started today. The church could, and I think should, lead the future development of the environmental movement, and I would like churches like Kippax to be a part of that.

After all, here in our presbytery where we have a highly educated population, with one of the highest incomes per capita in the country, and also one of the highest levels of awareness of environmental issues. These privileges come with a responsibility to lead the country in environmental efforts.

Helping churches like Kippax is why I started the Five Leaf Eco-Awards. An ecumenical church greening award program, Five Leaf is my contribution to the growth of the exciting church greening movement in Australia. In the UK, and particularly the US church greening is rapidly taking off and gaining a lot of power as hundreds of churches and church leaders become engaged in environmental improvement projects and environmental certification schemes. Here in Australia, the movement is smaller, but already there are some really exciting stories coming from churches around the country. Currently a new church is being built in the grounds of an environmental education centre in Melbourne for a congregation who are so focused on the environment they chose their new minister for her ability to fit in with that philosophy. Another church in Melbourne, the Port Melbourne Uniting Church is running an eco-project including a community garden which provides food for their outreach programs to the local poor. They were the first church in Australia to achieve the Five Leaf Eco-Awards Basic Certificate and they have many more exciting plans for the future. Another example is St Luke’s Uniting Church in Geelong who achieved a 22% reduction in their energy use last year, and are planning to reduce this by a further 10% this year. In Sydney Project Green Church at Maroubra Junction Uniting Church have been running their exciting program for years and closer to home we have the community garden at O’Connor UC, some exciting greening work at the Greenhills Camp and Conference centre and of course, the solar panels recently installed here at Kippax.

If you are interested in getting involved with prayer, action or joining the Kippax church greening group please let me know. It’s going to be an exciting journey, and in the end we will have a more just world for all.

Improving eco-justice isn’t hard, but it can require a little thinking and change. So, how are you going to make the world a more just place today?

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