Category Archives: Messages

Message: LOVE, JUSTICE and SPIRITUALITY

Rev Dr Noel Preston has forwarded his homily for Sunday 19th May. It is a timely presentation as the Federal Election and political discourse has refocussed many minds on the teaching of Micah … acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly (Micah 6 v. 8. and vs. 6-16.)

It is a message for politicians and for all of us who are deciding who to vote for, as well as a message for the whole population in our individual journeys.

Comments can be left here at “Reply” or directly to Noel.

We have heard the reading from the Old Testament Book of Micah – one of the “minor prophets”, together with Hosea and Amos and part of the book of Isaiah. These prophets were around  8 centuries before the Christian era.  As prophets they were not foretelling the future so much as declaring Yahweh’s judgement on the way the nation was going. In other words they were  speaking truth to power in their own times, a prophetic word of the Lord. Jesus and the Gospels were strongly influenced by these 8th century BC prophets.

Micah was speaking for the poor and spoke as one of them. He is horrified at the luxurious , degenerate and corrupt life of the city, and realises that he and his fellow peasants are paying for it. In another age he might have led a Peasants’ Revolt though his message is more than political. It is about right relating with each other and with Yahweh, their God – interesting challenges the day after a national election!

These days it is rare to hear a preacher announce a single Text to preach on but that is what I am doing today. This text is bracketed within Micah’s declarations  about false worship and a denunciation of corrupt dealings. Let’s look at this text, not in the translation of the Good News Bible we used in today’s reading but in 3 other paraphrases or translations from different versions.

You may know “The Message” – this is how our text reads there:

…..what God is looking for in men and women is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously…..

And maybe some of us who are old enough have heard of the J B Phillips version of the Bible:

…..For what does the Lord require from you, But to be just, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

And now the version I am most familiar with, known as the The Jerusalem Bible:

….This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God….

 It is this latter version which guides my preaching this morning – the words for today (and everyday) are 

Living the Gospel = loving justly, tenderly and humbly

I am going to reverse the order of these injunctions – so walk humbly with your God

Walking – we are all on a journey aren’t we? We don’t know where or how it will end  but we know that, in the company of God who is Love, God’s  Spirit will guide our journey. This suggests a prayerful approach to daily life…..

Walking humbly – that also suggests to me “living by Grace”, knowing that nothing can separate us from the Great Love. Furthermore, we are called to live graciously, sharing that Love unconditionally.

Let me add another thought – walking humbly is a rejection of self-righteousness. We are to be careful of how we speak and think about “knowing or doing the will of God”.

Walking humbly empowers us for the life of love and justice to which the rest of the text points.

So now, love tenderly……

To me, “tenderness” is virtually a synonym for “compassion” . “Mercy” is another like term which some translations of this text use. Practising “mercy” is also about sharing “grace”, again “unconditional love”, which never deserts us even when we fail to live that way.

Tenderness is often a characteristic of those who themselves have been hurt or damaged. Such tenderness is the style of the wounded healer or suffering servant. It will be tinged with a forgiving, empathetic and merciful spirit.

It is in caring for the “little ones” that we learn to love tenderly -(the anawim of the Hebrew scriptures or Jesus’ reference to “the least” of our brothers and sisters, as in  Matthew 25) – the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked. In our time we must understand “the least” or “the little ones” in a total ecological sense. In caring for the Earth,  threatened species and their environments, we will learn to love tenderly. So, I am talking about eco-justice which is nurtured by a comprehensive tender love.

Some years ago I wrote of “tender loving” in my journal, particularly in the context of recovering from serious illness. I was inspired by the words of an American medico who wrote a book with the wonderful title, “Love, Medicine and Miracles”. I wrote in my diary as I contemplated  my wounded body: such “loving is the life-stream which combines wholeness, healing and holiness.”

Then, we are called to Act Justly……….

This is the hardest word to hear….this is the message for followers of the Jesus way, especially it is what we needed to hear as Australians in the last few weeks facing an election and what is needed as we move on as a nation. Justice is not about personal needs primarily, but about the common good, and why the Gospel is a call to SOCIAL justice.. We all belong to the human family, indeed the family of all living beings. When we are grasped  by this insight, the burdens of others are not so heavy to bear – for they are the burdens of our brothers and sisters.

Of course “justice and love” are closely related. Indeed, it has been said that social justice is love distributed. This is why the biblical message is full of references to living justly. One of the strongest is in the Book of Jeremiah – “To know God is to do Justice”. Essentially, the biblical idea of justice is about “right relating” to each other, to our God, to all who share this planet. We are a Covenant people called to be faithful to all – this is what Jesus said in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4) where he named his mission. So the Biblical notion of Justice goes beyond the way some of our leaders use the word, “fair”. Biblical Justice has a bias to correcting injustice. It suggests that we must be constantly, and courageously,  ready to change not only our minds but our actions. Social justice is more than simple charity. It gives a priority to the marginalised, the vulnerable and the powerless. We  see that clearly in the Jesus Story.

It’s worth wondering how we develop  our sense of justice and fairness. Let me share an autobiographical reflection.

I was a five year old in my first grade, walking home from school. The entertainment for the afternoon was for a group of us boys to tease a little migrant Scottish girl. I’m talking 1947 when Scottish migrants were the outsiders, the Asian migrants or asylum seekers of our time. We called her names  and threw stones at her. My father found out about this incident. He was very angry with me, righteously wrathful in fact. He did not hit me but gave me a piece of his mind (and heart) and insisted on taking me around to the girl’s house to apologise. This I did very tearfully. My father had opted to take the side of the aggrieved and ostracised migrant girl to correct the hurt and injustice we boys had perpetrated. The whole encounter made a profound impression on me, searing into my self (my emotions, my will my mind, my spirit) a  sense of injustice, righteous anger and empathy on behalf of the vulnerable and victimised. For me, that encounter was a lesson in right relating and I’m sure my father’s response did something to empower that migrant family. On reflection, for me it was a lesson on how just or right  relating may correct the imbalances  of power in our society and world.

In a nutshell, empowering justice requires us to reflect ethically about economic issues from the standpoint of the poor, not the rich; or race relations from the standpoint of the oppressed race; or environmental questions from the standpoint of the most vulnerable species and so on. There is no better way to learn what social justice is than to identify with the victims of injustice, as far as that is possible. In my adult years my own understanding of justice was fashioned by a decade of close involvement with aboriginal peoples in the seventies.

One of the great contributions of the Uniting Church has been a readiness to take a stand for Social Justice. And to tackle issues directly, not just speak vaguely about social justice matters.

When the UCA was formed I was the Assembly Convenor for Social Responsibility. With others it was our task to design “A Statement to the Nation” – written in 1977 it still has currency and meaning. I want to share 3 paragraphs…..

We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty within our society and beyond. We affirm the right of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.

We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.

We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the Earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment.

(Can give you a full copy of the Assembly Statement)

Now back to our Text. “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God……”

That is a great guide for living. That is a great motto for a congregation to adopt or for our Uniting Churches in the Redlands to make their chief guideline in the current planning for a shared future.

Let us make these matters of prayer for others, especially the marginalised. Let us join action with our prayer. AMEN

oOo

Taking a standing against hate speech

From our friends in the Progressive Explorers’ Group (PEG) in Melbourne who have signed this statement.

Action on hate speech: a letter to the churches

   We, the undersigned, are members of a group of mostly clergy, both women and men, still actively involved in the life of the Church. We meet on a regular basis to explore and discuss issues of faith, church and society from a contemporary perspective. We express our profound concern at the horrific events in Christchurch New Zealand in March 2019, and believe that our church should respond strongly, and with conviction.

   While we understand the complexity of the situation, which makes the sheeting home of blame problematic, we accept responsibility to examine our own thought and practices and those of our various churches. We do this in the hope that we can identify our contribution, intentional or otherwise, to the construction of a social, religious and political environment conducive to race-based hate speech.

   We, as followers of Jesus, acknowledge that our churches have in times past promoted notions that racial and cultural superiority are justified. We acknowledge that such notions have contributed to the worst behaviour imaginable.  The fifty deaths in Christchurch are but the most recent symptoms of faulty theology, poor education, careless talk and the mistaken identification of faith as a marker of superiority. Often when our society, or individuals within it, behave in a violent and offensive manner we have said little or have maintained our silence.

   In recognition of our churches’ complicity we, the undersigned, ask of the churches that, in word and deed, we together:

  • embrace inclusiveness, and publicly denounce division;
  • engage in open-minded study of other faiths
  • actively build bridges between faiths and cultures, and decry the forces that keep them apart;
  • resist the urge to convert or demean people of other faiths;
  • proclaim love and peace as the very essence of God’s will;
  • stand up in our communities for justice;
  • speak out against hate speech;
  • call out racism.

Signed: Members of the Progressive Explorers Group as at Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Name Status Institution
Robert Renton Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John W. H. Smith Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Lorraine Parkinson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Margaret Black Retired Deacon Uniting Church in Australia
Karel Reus Previously minister Uniting Church in Australia
Gillian Crozier Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John Cranmer Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Peter Sanders Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Ric Holland Minister (Hampton Park) Uniting Church in Australia
Alex Poore Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John Gunson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Jeff Shrowder Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Rex Hunt Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Neil Tolliday Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Kath Baldini Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Coralie Ling Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Denham Grierson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Howard Ainsworth Retired priest Anglican Church of Australia
Neil Wilkinson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Jim Cunnington Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia

oOo

Rod Bower on Resurrection

Fr Rod Bower, Anglican Parish of Gosford, NSW

Thanks for this reflection Rod

Whether the bodily resurrection of Jesus was an historical fact means little to me, while I respect that it is central to the faith of many. That the bodily resurrection is a theological fact is an essential element of my faith because it affirms the incarnation and the material creation as the vehicle through which the Divine Eternal life is expressed. .
To Proclaim Christ is Risen is to proclaim that the living one is here and now, not a future hope, but a present reality. That the Creator is in creation calling us to be respectful, reminding us that this planet and this life are unique and that we must value every atom of it.
So let us proclaim with every fiber of our being, with heart soul mind and strength and let all creation resound with us.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Link to Rod’s sermon on FaceBook

oOo

Climate Action Petition

Silence is no option – Speak Up For Earth

Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea started this petition to Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and 5 others

A list of candidates can be accessed here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candidates_of_the_2019_Australian_federal_election
You are invited to sign our petition and send an important message on climate action to the next Australian Government.

The growing climate emergency means that we must ensure that climate concerns be given top priority during this Australian election.
Australia needs to elect a government whose members recognise the reality of a changing climate and who can develop credible policies, plans and actions to address this emergency.
The Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea encourages you to email and write to politicians, candidates, and newspapers, and to meet your local representatives.

The petition can be found at – http://chng.it/HXL9TZHhfB

Please note, we ask you not to donate to this petition. Sign the petition and share on social platforms instead. Thank you.

oOo

ITS EARTH DAY: PAY ATTENTION!!

A message presented to the Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship at Kirribilli last Sunday by Rev Rex A E Hunt MSc(Hon)

What the kangaroo and the koala are to Earth, we are to the universe… The secrets of the universe are not different from us” (Paul Fleischman)

In a couple of weeks time two celebrations will occur. One is the Christian festival called Easter. A time when the life and death of a Jewish peasant sage called Yeshu’a, is remembered. Jesus’ death mattered to the early storytellers, but only because his life mattered more. And about the cross we can say: for many of the earliest Christians, the cross was about the integrity of Jesus, not about a sacrifice or a divine plan. As a result of the recent religion-led protests surrounding the artwork entitled ‘McJesus’ which displayed a crucified Ronald McDonald, it has become necessary to unpack some of the traditional baggage that has encased the cross in church history. So let me be clear: the positioning of the cross of Jesus as the sacred centre of Christianity was not central to the earliest Christian communities. It has only occurred since the Middle Ages, when it became the object of worship. As a result the symbolism of ‘McJesus’ – as making a point about capitalism and asking us to think about how we have, or whether we have, placed consumerism above the value of life (David Galston 2019) – has all but been lost, due to anti-intellectual piety propped up by fear and religious fundamentalist superstition. There are good and bad ways to think about Jesus. And part of the job of the progressive biblical scholar is to identify how concepts of Jesus have been used destructively.

The second celebration is a more recent one – Earth Day. Indeed, the 49th anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environment movement, in 1970. This year’s theme or campaign is “Protect Our Species”. And the goals of the campaign are to: • Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon. • Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats. • Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values. • Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.

As the campaign organisers are at pains to highlight: (i) We are amidst the largest period of species extinction in the last 60 million years. (ii) Habitat destruction—in the past 200 years we have seen 75% of our Australian native habitats destroyed or degraded by human activity—exploitation, and climate change are driving the loss of half of the world’s wild animal population. (iii) Forty percent of the world’s bird species are in decline, and 1 in 8 is threatened with global extinction. (iv) Worldwide bee populations are in decline, including the honey bee and many wild native bees. On all this, and others, the available data is multilayered and complicated. While existing studies may not be perfect, for a host of environmental factors, we would still be wise to heed the warnings contained in those studies. oo0oo Science is the grand narrative we construct to make meaning out of the mystery of existence. In the world of science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the Earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.

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