Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A prayer for renewal

A prayer for the year ahead......

God, who makes all things new,
Renew us.
Renew our faith.
Renew our compassion.
Renew our energy to follow your way.
Renew our passion for life, love and justice.
Renew our will to grow and develop.
Renew our humility to own our shortcomings.
Renew our grace in how we react to the shortcomings of others and the world as we have allowed it to become.
Renew our efforts in discerning our gifts and talents and those of others.
Renew our desire to listen to your call for us, others and our Community.
Renew us, Lord.
Reshape our living.
Revise our understanding.
Revamp our religion.
Reinvigorate our discipleship.
Reignite our love .
Christ who opens the way for renewal,
Renew us, Lord,
For we need your help to make the change in us.

This we pray may be so. Amen. (c) Jon Humphries

ELCIC Diaconal Ministry shirts

Check out our new ELCIC Diaconal Ministry shirts (modelled by Judy Whaley).

(Do you have photos of uniforms or t-shirts that your diaconal association uses?)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Day Sermon

(A Christmas Day sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce at Pilgrim Uniting Church for Christmas Day 2014)

Last week, Sydney CBD was shut down because of a siege in a cafe, which ended tragically with the loss of three lives. Even as the siege unfolded, reports spread quickly about the religious identity and nationality of the gunman, as well as the involvement of a black flag with the words of the Shehada, the Muslim affirmation of faith, on it. Anti-Muslim sentiment rose quickly in some parts of the community, with people quickly jumping to conclusions. The primary hashtag, #SydneySiege, came to embody the occasional and predictable ugliness of the internet, with xenophobic and anti-Muslim tweets. An ultra-right group, the Australian Defence League, threatened confrontations in the Muslim-majority Sydney suburb of Lakemba. The ABC Radio in Sydney received calls from Muslim listeners saying they were too scared to ride on public transport and to be in public places.

We live in a culture of fear. It fills the air, even in the Christmas season.

People of goodwill in Australia quickly realised how vulnerable Muslim people would be in any backlash.  

It was incredibly heartening to see how social media quickly enabled a wave of support, using the hashtag, #illridewithyou. The hashtag appears to have come from a Facebook post from Rachael Jacobs who was riding on a train, and noticed a Muslim woman quietly take off her head covering, the hijab, ostensibly out of fear of being targeted. In her Twitter post she said: "I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with you.” An act of compassion, solidarity and support.

Another woman took to Twitter and wrote: "If you regularly take the bus between Coogee to Martin Place, and you wear religious attire, and don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you”.

In the face of overwhelmingly complex issues in our world, here was an opportunity to make a small practical gesture, responding to the sorrow that someone would ever feel unwelcome and unsafe in the community because of their beliefs. In a climate of fear and uncertainty, the Australian community has banded together to show their support for the Muslim population, which comprises less than 2% of the 23 million people in Australia but has a great deal more of unhelpful media attention.

The twitter hashtag, #illridewithyou, has gone viral around the world, prompting a social movement with many acts of kindness to strangers.

It prompted my own imagination. I’ll ride with you. I’ll walk with you. I’ll be with you.

The church proclaims Emmanuel on this day that indeed God is with us. The story of the Hebrew people is an endless rhythm of turning towards God and turning away from God. The rhythm echoes in our own lives. Turning towards God, turning away from God.

And the story we celebrate this day is that God was revealed most fully in the life of Jesus Christ, born as one of us, human in every way. It is as if God has said, I’ll ride with you. I’ll walk with you. Wherever you are, I’ll be with you.

The prophet Isaiah (57.15) had described God as "the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity," and by and large, though different language and symbols are used, all the major faiths of the world would tend to agree. Judaism calls God Yahweh. Islam calls God Allah. Buddhism and Hinduism use terms like Brahman-Atman or the Void or the One. All of them point to the ultimate spiritual Ground of existence as transcendent and totally other. The reality of God is so radically different from anything we know as real that in the last analysis we can say nothing about God except what God is not.

The essential message of Christmas - Emmanuel, God with us - invites these questions: Who is this God - and how is God with us?

To the first we may answer from our tradition, ”The high and lofty One who inhabits eternity”.

And the answer to the second question is the claim that Christianity makes for Christmas: that at a particular time and place God came to be with us. In a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom ‘none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The God of all mercies is placed at our mercy. The hope of the world, born into a culture of fear - fear of the Romans, fear of Herod, even a distorted fear of God.

Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told - raw, preposterous, holy - and year after year the world in some measure stops to listen. It was a profoundly human event - the birth of a human being, by whose humanity we measure our own. It also gave birth to a movement that quenched retribution and hate with redemption and love

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth," says the prologue to John’s Gospel (1:14). Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it, God moved into the neighbourhood.

Emmanuel. God with us. God who walks with us on our ordinary and sometimes complex human journey. God who rides with us through the storms of life. God with us. Emmanuel.

And this child would grow to be a man - God with us - who walked with people on those dusty roads, who ate with people, who wept with people, who laughed with people, who shared common humanity with people. A man who believed it to be true that there would be good news for the poor, that prisoners would find pardon, that the blind would recover their sight, and the burdened and battered freed (Luke 4). This man, who had the echoes of his mother’s song ringing in his ears that the proud would scattered, the mighty brought down and the lowly lifted up, and the hungry filled with good things. (Magnificat, Luke 1)

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us.

In a sermon about Mary’s response to God, Barbara Brown Taylor once said: “If you decide to say no, you simply drop your eyes and refuse to look up until you know the angel has left the room and you are alone again. Then you smooth your hair and go back to your reading or whatever it is that is most familiar to you and pretend that nothing has happened…. Or you can set your book down and listen to a strange creature’s strange idea. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body. (From “Mothers of God ” in Gospel Medicine)

Smuggling God into the world, as Mary did. That others may recognise this God within each of us. That this Christ Child may be born and grow in us. That we may be the ones who smuggle God into the world in our own lives as we say to others, to the poor and lowly, to the vulnerable and those who have lost hope, to those seeking safety and comfort: I’ll walk with you. I’ll ride with you. I’ll be with you. May it be so. Amen. 

(This sermon includes media reports of the siege, and some of Frederick Buechner’s reflections)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4 sermon: 'I beg to differ'

It has been extra-ordinarily hard to prepare these reflections in the context of the tragic events that have unfolded this week. The story of Mary, her encounter with the angel, her ‘yes’, and her song of praise we know as the Magnificat, are a familiar pattern in our year as we head towards Christmas. I have read this story again in the context of the events of this past week and have been challenged by the story in new ways.

Mary’s was a song of praise and hope. Aspirational. A longing - and a confidence - that things could change, that God’s reign would upend the wealthy and powerful and the privileged in favour of the poor, the dispossessed. Her context was Roman occupation and her song was a song of defiance.

Someone once said, ”A candle is a protest at midnight. It is a non-conformist. It says to the darkness, 'I beg to differ.’"

I beg to differ. 

How long do we hold such hope? How long can we 'beg to differ'?

This week the world witnessed one sole, mentally unstable religious extremist gunman take hostages and force a lock down in the Sydney CBD. We saw the faces of the victims who lost their lives, Tori Johnson, the cafe manager, and Katrina Dawson, a lawyer and mother of 3 young children. The Sydney paper screamed the headline, ‘The day we changed forever’, determined to change our thinking and behaving, because this moment had, apparently, become a defining moment - even before we knew any details. Australian gun laws started to be discussed again - how might we protect ourselves from a repeat of such a tragic incident? Australian immigration policies were discussed again - how could he have been allowed into Australia? The judicial system was being discussed - how could he have been allowed out on parole? Domestic violence was discussed - again. The word ‘terror’ was used frequently, as if to link the Sydney siege with acts of terror that have happened so frequently in recent years, including the horrific actions of the Taliban in a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar where at least 132 children and 9 staff were killed.

As some link the Sydney siege with acts of global terrorism, our world view begins to be defined and shaped by an alternate world view where fear rules the day.

For Mary, her context was ancient Palestine with Roman occupation. Today, ours is an 'occupation' of a different kind. Our world view and the things we value - our sense of community, our commitment to care for others - are now threatened by the occupation of alternate world views. As the Christian church finds itself increasingly marginalised in contemporary culture, the defining values, hopes and aspirations it has embodied are also marginalised. And into this vacuum, other values take their place including violence, xenophobia, and wild speculation in the media. In this alternate reality, the 'other' who is different to me must become the one who I must distrust. In this alternate reality, faith traditions that are different to mine must be those that are denigrated and demonised.

I beg to differ. 

The flowers left in Martin Place in Sydney began as a touching tribute to the innocent victims of the Sydney siege, but may now be considered indulgent. Tens upon tens of thousands of dollars will have been spent on flowers in a week when the Government announced further drastic cuts to the foreign aid budget. But the flowers are another form of protest, and say, ‘I beg to differ’. Of saying, we will gather with friends and strangers in a public place, and place our symbols of tribute and protest together as a way of saying: there is another way that is live-giving and hopeful and peaceful, and we will seek and follow that way and not be overwhelmed by sorrow and despair. We will stand with the stranger in our midst, and look for opportunities where the stranger may become a friend. The notes that have been left with the flowers  represent an expression of solidarity, comfort, unity and empathy. They are also in their own way an act of defiance - there is another way to that of fear, violence and retribution.

Thomas Zinn, partner of Tori Johnson, said when he visited the makeshift memorial he could “smell the flowers through Sydney”. He said, “I think it’s amazing that he has been able to make our city smell like flowers. There is no more beautiful thing that he could have imagined”. 

This week I went to the Marion Mosque, which was opened especially for prayers on the night of the siege, and also so that people of all faith traditions could gather to pray and to affirm solidarity in service and friendship across faiths. It was another ‘I beg to differ’ moment - that we were not prepared to make way for the occupation of an alternate world view where suspicion and violence would define relations between faiths. Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky was there and was invited to read a psalm from the Hebrew Scriptures. A woman, a Jewish rabbi, without a headscarf, reading a psalm from the ancient Scriptures sacred to Jews, in a Muslim mosque. The moment was breathtaking. She said, 'I wanted to show my support for the Australian Muslim at a time when I feared some would condemn this entire faith group. I hope and pray that Australians can distinguish between the perpetrator and a faith whose adherents in Australia are strong supporters of the values we share'.
“I wanted to show my support for the Australian Muslim community at a time when I feared some would condemn this entire faith group,” she said. “I hope and pray that Australians can distinguish between the perpetrator and a faith whose adherents in Australia are strong supporters of the values we share.”

Faiths pray for tolerance | The Australian Jewish News
“I wanted to show my support for the Australian Muslim community at a time when I feared some would condemn this entire faith group,” she said. “I hope and pray that Australians can distinguish between the perpetrator and a faith whose adherents in Australia are strong supporters of the values we share.”

Faiths pray for tolerance | The Australian Jewish News
n Adelaide, Beit Shalom Synagogue’s Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky took part in sunset services at the Marion Mosque. “I wanted to show my support for the Australian Muslim community at a time when I feared some would condemn this entire faith group,” she said. “I hope and pray that Australians can distinguish between the perpetrator and a faith whose adherents in Australia are strong supporters of the values we share.”

Faiths pray for tolerance | The Australian Jewish News
n Adelaide, Beit Shalom Synagogue’s Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky took part in sunset services at the Marion Mosque. “I wanted to show my support for the Australian Muslim community at a time when I feared some would condemn this entire faith group,” she said. “I hope and pray that Australians can distinguish between the perpetrator and a faith whose adherents in Australia are strong supporters of the values we share.”

Faiths pray for tolerance | The Australian Jewish News

They are small but significant moments of ‘I beg to differ’. If not for these moments, the vacuum in our global moral compass would allow for alternate world views based on division and suspicion to occupy and permeate our thoughts and minds and actions, our community, our nation and the world. And this alternate reality that is seeking occupation in our lives is as if we have chosen to say ‘no’ to God’s ways, and thus perpetuate the growing distance between the rich and poor, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources, and the destruction of the earth and its ecosystems. It is to give our ‘yes’ to greed and self-interest and neglect of the vulnerable and marginalized.

I was reminded about a wonderful children’s story book, The Never Ending Story by German writer Michael Ende. The film told the first part of the story, but it’s worth reading the whole book. I used to read it aloud to my classes when I was teaching. It was captivating with its imagery and ideas. Its central plot was the creeping nothing that was taking over the land, town by town. Person by person. One character described it this way: The creeping Nothing around you - and inside you - just grows and grows. It's the emptiness that's left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.”

The vacuum left by the marginalisation of faith in our contemporary society allows for such a ‘creeping nothing’. And allows for that vacuum to be filled with groups based on radical ideology rather than transformational faith. The 'nothing' is 'something', but it is not the reign of God.

Perhaps this invites us to strengthen our resolve to live as those who live by the values of God’s reign, just as Mary’s testimony defined her living. And let’s be clear - not simply the values of a ‘civil society’ that has adopted core values from the Christian faith, but by the values of the reign of God as embodied by Jesus. Love your enemies, forgive others, serve others, welcome others, clothe the naked and feed the hungry etc. These values and practices are what define the lives of those who follow the Jesus way.

Like Mary, you and I are God bearers. We will therefore resist the steady and insidious occupation of other values based on fear, violence, suspicion and speculation. Our lives as followers of the Jesus way give testimony to the statement, I beg to differ. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

DIAKONIA News - 100th edition!

 I have just spent a very enjoyable time this morning reading the 100th edition of the DIAKONIA News.

This edition features reports from the DIAKONIA President, and the Regional Presidents, which gives an overview about what is happening in our DIAKONIA Regions.
There is a summary about the Executive Committee meeting in July in Kaiserswerth, Germany. One of the important decisions made was to make arrangements for the next DIAKONIA World Assembly to be held in Chicago, USA, after the planning team in the Philippines withdrew from hosting for reasons beyond their control. The Executive has committed to giving leadership to the planning and is developing the program around the theme, Shaken by the Wind.

There's a very positive report of the 2013 Assembly in Berlin. One of the graphs indicates a huge number of first time attendees. We do hope that many of these 'first timers' plan to attend the next Assembly, in Chicago, along with many more 'first timers' who will attend an Assembly for the first time.

There are dates provided for the DOTAC and DRAE Regional gatherings in 2015, which I plan to attend.

The Treasurer has outlined the financial decisions taken at the Executive Committee meeting, and an overview of finances.

As well, there is also news on the visits I have made this past year to South India and South Korea to visit diaconal associations. These visits have been wonderful - informative and inspiring.

And so much more........! What a feast of information and news! Many thanks to the English editor Laura Lazar and the German editor Ulrike Kellner. What a great team!

This 100th edition is also the last one to be distributed in paper form. Almost everyone on the mailing list now has a email address to which DIAKONIA News can be sent, saving considerable expense and time spent on preparing the mailing, and DIAKONIA News can be available in electronic form in libraries.

(We would love to hear from your association, to feature news in either/or the DIAKONIA News, the Regional Presidents reports, and this blogsite)

As you read this edition of DIAKONIA News, take a few moments to pray along the way for people and places and situations. Within these stories, may we discern God's Spirit weaving and dancing, and give thanks for God's blessings. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Yet another super typhoon bears down on the Philippines

 Hagupit: Infrared Satellite

Emma Cantor, DAP Regional President, writes:  In such a time like this... where and when Filipinos are bracing for another horrendous typhoon named Hagupit...we need prayers that this would slowly weaken and would not devastate any creation...and Yolanda will never be repeated again....
 "Because we become part of it.. The herbs, the fire tree, I become part of it. The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering, waters, I become part of it. The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen, I become part of it."

Please pray for the people, and those providing emergency relief and shelter. Among the areas at risk is Tacloban, a city devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) just 13 months ago. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) had declared Hagupit a "violent" typhoon, the highest classification on its scale, with 10-minute sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts to 190 mph - the highest wind speeds of 2014 in JMA's bulletins. Hagupit has since been downgraded to a "very strong" typhoon on JMA's scale with winds of 115 mph and gusts to 160 mph. Public storm warning signals have been issued for 36 geographic areas, spanning from southeastern portions of Luzon (the main northern island) through the Visayas (central Philippines) and northeastern parts of Mindanao (the main southern island).
The Philippines lives with great sorrow, including the deaths over the past 10 years from six separate tropical cyclones that have claimed lives in the Philippines, including:
- Haiyan/Yolanda Nov. 2013: Over 7,300 killed
- Bopha/Pablo Dec. 2012: 1,901 killed
- Washi/Sendong Dec. 2011: 1,268 killed
- Fengshen/Frank Jun. 2008: 1,410 killed
- Durian/Reming Nov./Dec. 2006: 1,399 killed
- Winnie Nov. 2004: 1,593 killed