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St Patrick’s Day 17 March 2024

St Patrick: A prophet for global justice
St. Patrick is one of a handful of Christian saints (along with Mary, Valentine and Francis) celebrated in popular culture. Most people know that the missionary Patrick (Patricius or Pádraig) helped to bring Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century. Some may remember how his first visit to the island was as a slave. Sadly, only a few may remember Patrick’s opposition to structural injustice and his prophetic defence of victims of violence and human trafficking. As with so many of our saints, Patrick’s radical application of the Gospel has been domesticated and stripped of its challenging message. Rather than witnessing to the prophetic and loving call of God’s mission, Patrick has been turned into a caricature, and commercialised. In his open Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Patrick publicly denounced Coroticus, a warlord (and possibly king) from his British homeland, because he practised taking Irish slaves. The letter begins by denouncing those who engage in the slave trade and laments deeply the loss of all those touched by the evil of slavery. Such practices dehumanise both the victim and the perpetrator.

Sadly this is very relevant to our present context. Millions of people still profit from the mistreatment, low wages and dehumanizing working conditions imposed on others. Modern slavery continues to thrive in the chocolate industry, and it’s something we need to be thinking about particularly at this time of year as we shop for Easter eggs. Recent studies have estimated that there are around 2 million child labourers in west Africa. These children have been duped, trafficked across borders and forced into servitude to fuel our demand for chocolate. These children work extreme hours in dangerous situations. The work is hard and relentless. They use machetes, pesticides and other chemicals, all without safety equipment. If they fail to meet quotas or are deemed not working hard enough, they are beaten. All this, for chocolate. Child slavery is devastating for the children involved, but it also impacts the country. Enslaved children are unable to go to school, permanently stunting their academic capabilities. In turn, this prevents them from working in legitimate businesses that contribute to the economy, depriving the country of significant economic growth.

“Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” (Pope Francis, 2015)

Prayer (from St Patrick’s Lorica)
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation
St. Patrick (ca. 377)

Other resources (prayers, video, reflections) can be found here.

 

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A prayer for Earth Hour – 23rd March 2024

Earth Hour has grown to become much more than switching your lights off, but that iconic switch-off moment is still an important part of Earth Hour. Millions of participants around the world will switch off their lights at 8:30 pm local time on Saturday 23rd March for an hour to demonstrate their support of the environment. It is a symbolic gesture that brings millions of people together to promote climate action – and, of course, much more needs to happen. Earth Hour has been uniting people all over the world, in more than 190 countries, since 2007.

(originally published here)

A PRAYER FOR EARTH (23 March 2024)

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of those who are poor,
help us to rescue those abandoned and forgotten across Earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect Earth and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of those who are poor and Earth herself.
Teach us to discover the worth of each created being,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
and to recognise that we are profoundly united with every part of Earth as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.

AND SO WE PRAY – in the words of Pope Francis – “that we may come to respect all of creation and care for it as a gift of God.”

  • We give thanks for First Nations peoples and pray that we may learn from them the sacredness of land and the interconnectedness of all of life.
    We know, Creator God, that you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.
  • As we realise more and more the enormity of our ecological crisis, we pray that all of us will respect creation and care for it as a gift of God.
    God, you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.
  • For those who are poor, who are most vulnerable at this time, that their rights may be recognised and respected. God, you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.
  • For the whole of life, including the life of generations to come, that the human family will take action to hasten the transition to a more sustainable Earth.
    God, you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.
  • For our Church, that it may raise its prophetic voice in view of the moral crisis of this time, and stress the urgency of ecological justice in communities throughout the world. God, you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.
  • For all nations in this time of Covid-19, that we will take action to protect and care for creation and all people, and set our lives on new and life-giving paths.
    God, you hear us.
    God, you hear our prayer.Creator God, you walk with us on our journey. Open us to see the revelation of your presence in all of creation that we may safeguard and protect the beauty of Earth. We ask this in the name of your Son, who taught us about the sacredness and interconnectedness of all of life, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Marching with the times

On the weekend of February 14-16, 2003 more than 30 million people marched against the war on Iraq, in the largest coordinated demonstrations in human history. In Melbourne, an estimated 100,000 people (some said 150,00 and up to 200,000) joined the biggest peace march seen in Melbourne to protest against a war on Iraq. The rally started outside the State Library, made its way along Swanston Street and finished at Federation Square, clogging city streets for more than three hours.

While it did not dissuade the Australian Government at the time from engaging in the Iraq war, those who took part (including myself) believed that it was important to gather and to protest about things that really matter in our world. And always with a commitment to non-violent protest.

That protest rally stands in a great tradition of protest to bring about social, economic and political change.

During the summer of 2020, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police set off one of the largest mass mobilizations in US history, as hundreds of thousands of people protested against systematic racism under the banner of BlackLivesMatter (BLM). This movement was overwhelmingly nonviolent.

The recent Gaza Peace Pilgrimage (Feb 14th) was one of 96+ walks in 15 countries around the world as part of the global Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage over Lent, walking the distance from Gaza City to Rafah (in this case, Merndah to Melbourne/Naarm CBD), stopping for prayer at a variety of churches along the way, as well as with Jewish and Muslim friends who are also calling for a lasting ceasefire. The walk culminated at St Paul’s Cathedral at 6pm, where the pilgrims were welcomed as part of the Ash Wednesday service.

This coming Saturday, 16th of March, there will be a protest rally in Melbourne – “No AUKUS! No War! PEACE!” at 1 p.m. outside the State Library. It is part of a broad movement for peace and a nuclear-free Australia.

As we approach Palm Sunday (and the Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees on March 24th, starting at 10am in Parliament Gardens), it’s worth thinking about that first Palm Sunday procession.

Debie Thomas reflects:

If someone had told me as a child that the Triumphal Entry was actually a subversive act – much more a protest than a parade, a party, or an impromptu worship service – I would have recoiled.  I was accustomed to a Jesus who desires worship.  Not to a Jesus who calls for peaceful but risky engagement against real-world injustice.

But according to New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the Triumphal Entry was just such an act of intentional protest.  Jesus was not the passive recipient of impromptu adoration on Palm Sunday.  Though worship might have happened along the way, it was not the point.  Rather, Jesus’ parade-by-donkey was a staged joke.  It was an act of political theatre, an anti-imperial demonstration designed to mock the obscene pomp and circumstance of Rome.

In their compelling book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Last Days in Jerusalem, Borg and Crossan argue that two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; Jesus’ was not the only Triumphal Entry.  Every year, the Roman governor of Judea would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west, specifically to be present in the city for Passover — the Jewish festival that swelled Jerusalem’s population from its usual 50,000 to at least 200,000.

The governor would come in all of his imperial majesty to remind the Jewish pilgrims that Rome was in charge.  They could commemorate an ancient victory against Egypt if they wanted to, but real, present-day resistance (if anyone was daring to consider it) was futile; Rome was watching.

Here is Borg and Crossan’s description of Pontius Pilate’s imperial procession:  “A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armour, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums.  The swirling of dust.  The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

According to Roman imperial belief, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome; he was the Son of God.  So for the empire’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession was both a potent military threat and the embodiment of a rival theology.  Armed heresy on horseback.

This is the background, Borg and Crossan argue, against which we need to frame the Triumphal Entry of Jesus.  That Jesus planned a counter-procession is clear from St. Mark’s account of the event.  Jesus knew he was going to enter the city on the back of a donkey; he had already made arrangements to procure one.  As Pilate clanged and crashed his imperial way into Jerusalem from the west, Jesus approached from the east, looking (by contrast) ragtag and absurd.  His was the procession of the ridiculous, the powerless, and the explicitly vulnerable.  As Borg and Crossan remark, “What we often call the triumphal entry was actually an anti-imperial, anti-triumphal one, a deliberate lampoon of the conquering emperor entering a city on horseback through gates opened in abject submission.”

Elsewhere, Crossan notes that Jesus rode “the most unthreatening, most un-military mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.”  In fact, Jesus was drawing on the rich, prophetic symbolism of the Jewish Bible in his choice of mount.  The prophet Zechariah predicted the ride of a king “on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  He would be the nonviolent king who’d “command peace to the nations”

I have no idea – and the Gospel writers don’t tell us – whether anyone in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday understood what Jesus was doing.  Did they get the joke?  Did they catch the subversive nature of their king’s donkey ride?

I suspect they did not.  After all, they were not interested in theatre; they were ripe for revolution.  They wanted – and expected – something world-altering. New Testament scholar N.T Wright writes that what they got was a mismatch between their outsized expectations and God’s small answer.

Jesus declared the coming of God’s reign.  A reign of peace, a reign of justice, a reign of radical and universal freedom. Peace is, at its heart, a reflection of God’s reign, a reign dramatically unlike the oppressive and violent empire Jesus challenged on Palm Sunday.

The Church recognises peace as the legacy of Jesus, the ‘Prince of Peace’. True peace is of God so it involves the harmony of all people pursuing justice for all. Peace cannot exist where there is injustice, inequality between people and nations (economic or otherwise), disregard for the dignity of human persons, thirst for power, pursuit of endless profit as an end in itself, nor when there is an arms race. Ultimately, whenever there is disregard for or breach of the commandment to ‘love our neighbour’ we cannot rightly be said to have peace; not the peace God intends for us. Pope Francis has reminded us that cruelly destroying the resources of poorer nations and communities also stands in the way of true peace.

“In Jesus we are confronted with the One who uses power to lift up the marginalised, to challenge the rich and powerful, and to reject violence. Jesus is the disruptive, servant Lord.”
(Sally Douglas)

And so we march with the times… showing up to join with others in saying there is another way, and it’s not the way of war and violence, nor oppression and domination, nor the might of the dollar over against the dignity and worth of human persons. We show up to give testimony to the truth that true peace is of God and requires everyone to pursue justice for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Palm Sunday 24th March

The Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees is an activity of church and community groups. Victorian Council of Churches are part of the planning team, and endorse the annual event.
It is happening on March 24th, gathering at Parliament Gardens from 10am, with an interfaith presentation at 10.30am followed by speeches from refugee advocates, and the walk from Parliament Gardens along Bourke St to Swanston St and back up Lonsdale St to Parliament Gardens.
We know for many people Sunday morning is a time for church, so a resource has been created to leave on the seats/pews with a person’s name to explain why they are not at church (and they are at the Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees). Please see the resource below titled Palm Sunday Church Leaflet 2024. Designed to be printed back to back, or can just use the ‘name’ side.
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Looking ahead: Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day – 14 February 2024

Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday (February 14th, 2024)

Romance is alive and well with NAB data showing Australians spent more than $849 million at restaurants, jewellers and florists during the 2023 Valentine’s Day celebrations – up 7% on 2022. Despite cost-of-living challenges, Australians seem happy to shell out on their nearest and dearest. 

“Even though many of us have other worries at the moment – with cost-of-living pressures – if there’s joy to be had, people will go for it.”
(Fab Succi, Melbourne restaurantor)

A reflection by Joe Kay, Sojourners
On the surface, the confluence of Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday seems to produce an odd and uncomfortable couple, but it’s fitting to have one day of celebrating love in all its forms while also recognizing our mortality.
Love and dust? There’s no better pairing.
The ashes remind us that this phase of life is limited. We lose sight of how much each day is a precious gift. We fail to see the many possibilities for gratitude, celebration, and love that are present in each day. The hearts remind us that love creates us, animates us, and sustains us through our limited days. Love gives us this day and all its possibilities. Love is for everyone we can touch in some way, even strangers a half a world away. Together, the ashes and hearts remind us that we’ve got to decide how we’ll use today. Will we bring more division, pain, and indifference into our world? Or will we choose to do all that we can to make the world more as God would have it? We all must choose.
Lent sharpens our focus on what matters. It challenges us to get re-grounded and find creative ways to bring healing and love to others, especially the marginalized and the needy and the victims of injustice and abuse. Lent prompts us to examine what’s getting in the way of giving and receiving love in our lives. It calls out the insecurities and fears that form walls. It challenges our prejudices and our selfishness.
Above all, it forces us to see injustices and do something about them; to recognize those who are hurting and find a way to help heal them; to reach out to the outcasts and the refugees and embrace them.
We mustn’t waste the daily chances that God provides to make a difference.
Ultimately, Lent encourages us to forge a trail of love through our daily dustiness and to transform our ashy selves with creative acts of kindness and compassion. It reminds us that we are physical beings for now – formed in the elements of stardust – but we’ll always be animated by a breath of life and love that wants to guide us.
So, let’s heed the Valentine/Ash Wednesday reminders. And let’s pray for the faith and the courage to live each day boldly, kindly, and joyfully right up to the day when we exchange our heartbeat for a deeper place in God’s heart, which is love.

A reflection by Juliet Vedral, Sojourners
What Lent teaches us about real love 
I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. Valentine’s Day – that bane to single people and the unsentimental, the feast day of our culture’s obsession with love and romance – is momentarily subverted by a reminder of what love really looks like: self-denial and commitment. Ash Wednesday in many ways is one of the most passionate and powerful expressions of love – God’s love for us, and our love for God.
Ash Wednesday and Lent, the season of reflection and preparation for Easter, take love to a whole new level. Lent is a season of self-denial, a pushing away of distractions that keep us from enjoying our First Love. My priest likes to say, when imposing ashes, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return – and remember that you are beloved.” In other words, life is short, and too often our priorities are completely jacked up. And though Lent is a time to mourn the ways we forget God, it is also a time to remember that we are still beloved.
In our human relationships, we would do well to remember the brevity and brutality of life. We won’t always have time to tell say “I love you” before our beloved can never hear it again. We can “stay connected” and always want to make time, but never quite get around to it; we can forget our partners in the tyranny of the urgent, or in the demands of parenthood; we can lose our loved ones far sooner than any of us anticipate.
Valentine’s Day does a great job at communicating love for one day, but it lacks the impetus or mechanism to help us do the hard work of love. And one thing required for the hard work of love is a repudiation of the very things that keep us from loving well. Ash Wednesday, with its accompanying fast, is that repudiation.
Falling in love makes you reprioritize your life. In those first blushes and crushes of human love, we can get butterflies in the pit of our stomachs; we forget to eat or lose our appetites. We can put off good things or even tasks that once seemed necessary and absolute because we cannot tear ourselves away from the object of our affection (eventually, my now-husband and I would go on grocery dates because we really needed food, but we also wanted to be together). We go into “hibernation” when we first fall in love, spending as much time with our beloved as we can.
When our beloved is God, Lent can be that hibernation period to fall in love all over again. God responds to the sin that keeps us from divine relationship, not by punishing us or withdrawing from us, but by wooing us away from other, lesser gods and back to the lover of our souls.
We even receive a special gift on Ash Wednesday. The ashes imposed on our foreheads are a sign of repentance and mourning, showing the severity with which we take our falling short. We are not supposed to display our fasting and repentance in a pious way, but we’re also not supposed to wash them off.
To me, those ashes are a mark and reminder, as deep and personal as jewellery or flowers. Those ashes show that we are loved, and that our beloved’s commitment to us is constant and true, even when we are not. They show that divine Love is not just about feelings or sentiments, but about death to everything that hinders it.
The ashes remind us that the heart of love is laying down one’s rights and one’s life for our beloved. When we first fall in love, we easily let go of things we held dear and thought we couldn’t live without, because we have found something greater. I’ve only been married for nine months, but I can already see how the human heart can snap right back into its worst habits and desires as relationships grow comfortable and familiar. Our beloveds don’t need candy or sentimental gestures. They need the passion and commitment that come from love’s first awakening.
It’s because of the tendency to forget our First Love – to rely on emotions and feelings instead of true sacrifice and commitment – that we need Ash Wednesday this Valentine’s Day. In Jesus, God puts aside everything to make us God’s beloved on the cross. This is not a sentimental gesture. It is a whole-hearted, full-throated commitment. Jesus is all in, and Lent is an invitation for us to join him.
For those who observe, may we be willing and able to say yes.

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Rebuilding Trust – World Economic Forum

The World Council of Churches urges the World Economic Forum to consider longer-term good of all people

As the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting commenced in Davos beginning 15 January, World Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay urged the gathering to renew its commitment to multilateral cooperation for the longer-term good of all people.

The forum is convening under the theme “Rebuilding Trust.”

Pillay reflected that trust is the essential ingredient without which human societies – and the global community – cannot function.

“However, in today’s divided and increasingly conflictual world, it is a commodity in critically short supply,” said Pillay. “While some of those in attendance in Davos are themselves drivers of inequality, injustice, and division, we want to believe that many others are genuinely committed to exercising their considerable influence to promote a greater measure of justice and peace in the world.”

The four key themes identified for the meeting are:

  • “Achieving Security and Cooperation in a Fractured World
  • “Creating Growth and Jobs for a New Era”
  • “Artificial Intelligence as a Driving Force for the Economy and Society”
  • “A Long-Term Strategy for Climate, Nature, and Energy.”

Rebuilding trust will be an essential precondition for progress in any of these areas, Pillay observed.

“Given the unprecedented constellation of global crises – especially of climate, conflict, and economic inequality – there is an urgent need for cooperation and action, rather than division and unconstructive competition,” he said. “The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum gathers key decision-makers in the fields of politics, economics and business. The power of this gathering must be leveraged for rebuilding trust and the renewal of commitment to multilateral cooperation in facing these crises, not only in the short-term interests of a privileged few but for the longer-term good of all people and our common home.”

Read the full statement here.

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Epiphany

Photo by Jordan Wozniak, Unsplash

Western churches recognise Epiphany on January 6th.

[The Orthodox church celebrates Epiphany on January 19th. Epiphany is one of three major Orthodox Christian celebrations along with Christmas and Easter]

Epiphany is the church season in which God’s light is revealed in the world, when glory is made manifest. The spiritual flow of these winter seasons are awaiting light in the darkness (Advent); Light overcoming darkness (Christmas); and following the light to its glorious source (Epiphany). The story moves from flickering candle light, to the Light of the Cradle, to seekers welcomed into the widening circle of light.

Diana Butler Bass reflected on Epiphany in her most recent blog on The Cottage. She writes:

On Epiphany morning there was a newsletter from the poet David Whyte. The title seemed seasonal — “A Star for Navigation.” I expected a post, maybe a poem, on the biblical story of the Wise Men. I eagerly clicked the link. But my theological geek self was disappointed. The post was about finding one’s true work and vocation:

Every work begins as an intimation and discovery. Like the first time as a child we walk to the edge of a field, glimpse a new horizon, and immediately want to go there. We do not know where the horizon will take us. We have a glimmering, an inclination, a notion that somehow we will find something beyond our present knowledge. . . Each of us, somewhere in the biography of our childhood, remembers a moment where we felt a portion of the world calling and beckoning to us.

I appreciated his short essay, especially his rendering of calling as a horizon. I get it. I like horizons as a symbol, image, and actual place. Horizons as transcendence, as guide for the journey, as location for the future, as cosmic mystery.

But I missed those wandering mystical astrologers — until I realized that those ancient Wise Men were doing exactly what the poet described. The Epiphany story is a tale of journeying toward a horizon – a place of radiance and peace – drawn by a star. From the East they came, beckoned by its glimmering glory and the longings of their hearts, until that star stopped and was overhead, most surprisingly, shone upon the Child. Epiphany took them to a new horizon, the unexpected place of their longings and dreams.

I know what he’s talking about, that desire to discover what is just beyond, to reach that which beckons us. There it is! Rising, just over the hills, the light breaks through the dark, over the mists.

Look to the edge, that place where earth and heaven meet. Can you see the glistening beauty?

O star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Epiphany: the light beckons. We do not know where the horizon will take us. But we go. The more we follow, the brighter it shines and the clearer the way.

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Patriarch of Romanian Orthodox Church – Christmas greetings

The Romanian Orthodox Church is a member church of the Victorian Council of Churches.

Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church has prepared this message on the occasion of the feast of the Nativity of the Lord (first published in Orthodox Times here).

The mystery of the Nativity of our Lord is the mystery of God’s merciful and humble love for humankind. As the Son of God descended to us on earth, so He has opened the way for us, humans, to ascend to Him, to heavenly life. Therefore, the Incarnation of the Son of God, who became Man out of unfailing love for human beings, is the foundation and centre of the Christian faith.

For the Holy Apostles, the contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnate Son of God becoming human is the source of all theology, of all spiritual life and of the Church’s mission in the world, as Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist says:

God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We are called, therefore, to show compassionate love and solidarity to all people, but especially to those who suffer from war.

At the same time, let us bring the joy of celebrating the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ to the homes of orphans, to the elderly people centres, to the bedside of the sick, but also where there is much sadness, loneliness and depression, to the poor, bereaved and grieving families. Wherever we can do good, let us do it, in our hearts and in our actions, with the joy of the angels, the shepherds and the Magi who came to Bethlehem!

On the occasion of the Holy Feasts of the Nativity of the Lord, the New Year 2024 and the Baptism of the Lord, we wish you good health and peace, joy and God’s help, together with the traditional greeting, “Many Years to Come!”.

With high esteem and brotherly embrace in Christ, the Lord,

† Daniel,

Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church

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‘Ain’t no room for peace’

A reflection by Rev Uncle Glenn Loughrey
(Glenn is an Anglican priest and First Nations Wiradjuri Elder who worked tirelessly in the lead up to the Referendum to raise awareness of the issues. This is his reflection on the Gospel reading for Advent 2B, Mark 1:1-8)

Ain’t No Room for Peace

Today is Advent Two and our focus is on peace. What an appropriate idea to focus on in a world which is demonstrably not at peace. War, violence, conflict, and confrontation has broken out on every continent. It is broadcast to our screens, played on our radios and front page on our newspapers.

James Hillman in his book, “A Terrible Love of War” asserts that war is not an opposite state to “Peace” rather “Peace” is the brief interval before the next War. He goes further to state that war is normal, and humans need war to find meaning and purpose. He adds that belief and the Abrahamic faiths include the call for war within its language and mode of operation.

In fact, we are addicted to war. Maybe we find this confronting. We can accept, perhaps, that this is true of the Old Testament but the New Testament Is about love and the Prince of Peace. Surely, it is not about war and the language of war. Or is it? Perhaps we have recruited the language therein to mask the violence and love of war we harbour in our battle with evil, evildoers, and those unlike us.

In the recent debates around the referendum there was more emphasis on war and violence than on peace and reconciliation. Those who say they were for such values exhibited a love of violence. I spent most of my time in church communities and I can assure you the passion for violence was as real there as anywhere. The focus on how to defeat the enemy who somehow posed a threat to society was at the forefront of most conversations. Christians didn’t seem to be any different to the aggression exhibited on our tv screens, radios on stages.

The church sees itself as an instrument of peace. We who make up the church pray for peace Sunday after Sunday. We have litanies and prayer s for peace. Hold vigils to implore God to bring peace amongst us. Yet there is no peace, and we use words of violence in conversation, Bible Studies, and sermons to condemn those who do not believe, those whose lifestyles are not ours, those that have another world view.

All the praying, it seems, is to no avail. War on both a world scale and in our personal relationships continues. In our society the need to focus on family violence reminds us war is alive and well regardless of people’s faith, beliefs or hopes. Just as charity, love, begins at home, so does war. The violence partners, children and others experience here normalises violence and allows us to agree to war.

Maybe this calls us to think about why, after 2000+ years since the coming of Jesus, we are no nearer to peace on earth than the night he was born. The call to love our neighbour as ourselves hasn’t worked. And we cannot simply say that it is because there is evil in the world, and we can’t do anything about it.

Why? Thomas Merton suggests

We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God”.

How is it possible that those who have grown up breathing the Christian ethos have failed to do so? This is not about those who go to church and identify as Christian, but the fact that the Western world is and remains embedded with Christian philosophies and morality from its very beginning. Yet we are unable to find peace with self, others, and God.

In today’s reading we encounter John the Baptist and the call for repentance, individually and as a society. Yes, we individually must find peace with God but that must be as a part of a society so that it does also. The peace of everyone is needed to make peace in the world. Peace is not an ethereal personal experience. It is what we contribute to society and the world.

Thomas Merton writes again:
“Peace demands the most heroic labour and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

John the Baptist suggests that when he calls all to repentance and reconciliation. It didn’t happen then, and it isn’t happening now. We seem to be blind to our complicity in the war in small things which leads to our complicity in the large things.

I am not sure if what Merton calls for is possible because peace is more than prayers, and blaming the other for the wars we are engaged in, in our own lives and the life of the world. Prayer is an aspiration which Merton suggests takes much more than we are often ready to commit to, to bring about peace. John suggests the same. If you want the Messiah and a new world then you must repent, not just in words, but in a life differently lived.

In the recent Referendum we had the chance to do peace in our country. Pat Dodson comments:

“…… Australians hear the whispering in their heart and know it can only be silenced by coming to terms with the original owners of this beautiful and bounteous land. Many Australians of goodwill sense that a moment for national leadership has slipped past us and is gone”.

The war continues without peace.

Why? As Desmond Tutu said:

There can be no future unless there is peace. There can be no peace unless there is reconciliation.”

Repentance and forgiveness are the twins who power peace. Being prepared to face the fracture in relationships allows for the offer of the hand in forgiveness. Without it, violence remains.

1960’s Anti-war activist and Catholic Priest Daniel Berrigan said that while people say “Of course, let us have peace,” (they add the caveat) ……, “but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties …

There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war – at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison, and death in its wake.

Peace is unproductive, production is fuelled by war. Economies struggle to survive without war or the threat of the war. The war economy is, like prisons, a reliable source of income and jobs. Nations need violence and death to find their identity in contrast to the other and to balance their books. The dead come back heroes and patriotic legends are made.

Peace provides none of that.

John Dear, another peace activist writes that

“The life of “peace” is both an inner journey toward a disarmed heart and a public journey toward a disarmed world. This difficult but beautiful journey gives infinite meaning and fulfilment to life itself because our lives become a gift for the whole human race. With peace as the beginning, middle, and end of life, life makes sense.”

Peace can not be welcomed through prayer and the intervention of a benevolent God. Peace can only come when it is the central element in the lives of individuals and nations. While ever we are addicted to self-interest in all its shapes and forms, to greed and possessiveness, to demonising the unlike us, then there can be no peace.

To work for peace is something very few people are prepared to do seriously, without counting the cost. It is something the church and its members speak of but hesitate to make real. John the Baptist calls us to do a deep personal assessment and to change the way we live and be in our relationships with others despite the implications for ourselves.

John the Baptist and Jesus both attested to the consequences of peacemaking. One lost his head, and the other was nailed to a cross.

Daniel Berrigan continues:

“If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.”

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A reflection on Advent 3 by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Many will know the (prolific) writings of Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a Korean-American, who has visited Australia in recent years. This is her reflection for Advent 3. First published here

We are approaching the third Sunday of Advent, reflecting upon the coming of Christ into a broken and destructive world.

This Sunday’s Advent worship carries the theme of joy and love, but as the killing continues in Gaza, there is no joy. The death toll in Gaza is now more 17,000 people. This number is continuously rising as the airstrikes continue and people are dying from illnesses and lack of food, clean water and medical assistance. The situation in Gaza is dire and heartbreaking for us to watch and witness in real time.

Palestinian Christians who live in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, are reminding us of their daily struggles under settler colonialism. Their families and friends in Gaza are dying and being covered by the rubble, as Gaza is now a city with broken, torn and dead bodies lying underneath the rubble.

Palestinian theologian Munther Isaac shares: “If Jesus were born today, he would be born in Gaza under the rubble.”

More than 2,000 years ago, Christ was born as a Palestinian Jew under the Roman Empire, and today he comes to us among the most marginalized, oppressed and broken in our world.

During my visit to Palestine just before the Oct. 7 Hamas airstrike, my daughter and I toured the Church of Nativity, often called the Basilica of the Nativity, located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. This basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land and is revered as the place of the birth of Jesus. I had a broken knee from a fall a few days earlier in Nazareth, so with crutches and a leg brace, we walked into the beautiful church and made our way down the narrow, dark, slippery steps into the lower-level cave where a silver star marks the spot where many believe Christ was born. Origen of Alexandria in 248 believed this cave is where Jesus was born, and Christians around the world continue to believe this.

At that time of our visit, the narrow and slippery steps to the lower level of the church were crowded with tourists and pilgrims from around the world who wanted to see and touch the spot where Jesus was born. Due to the pain of my broken knee, I couldn’t really enjoy the moment as the crowds were pushing their way around me and we felt the need to leave quickly due to the long line of tourists behind us. Nonetheless, it was a visit that was meaningful to me as it made concrete that Jesus was physically incarnated and born as a vulnerable, poor Palestinian Jew. He was born in a crowded stable and placed in an uncomfortable manger where animals ate.

Over the years, Christians have sanitized the Nativity scene of Jesus and made it into something beautiful, glorious and holy. But there is nothing beautiful about being born in a cold stable/cave and being placed in a dirty manger after birth.

I have given birth to three children, and there is nothing glorious about the Nativity scene of Jesus. It is and should be shocking to us as it was for the those during the time of Jesus. A woman wants the cleanest, most comfortable and delightful place to give birth to her child. No one dreams of giving birth in a dirty stable or a cold cave where animals are feeding, sleeping and roaming around. But that is how Jesus was born. And Isaac reminds us if Jesus were born today, he would be born under the rubble — a dark, gloomy, dirty and hopeless place.

This Sunday of Advent, how can we celebrate joy in such a broken, painful and dying world? Jesus came into the world to bring peace, love, joy and hope. He was born under Empire, became a refugee in Egypt and ministered among the poor, marginalized, oppressed and sick. Jesus healed the lepers, engaged with Samaritans, searched for the lost and brought joy and hope to the weary. Jesus said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” Jesus is reminding us we need to do likewise. We are to embody Jesus’ message of hope and joy during this season of Advent.

As we approach this Sunday and light the candle of joy, we need to remember Jesus came into the world to set the captives free, to liberate the marginalized and to side with the oppressed. He told us to love God and to love our neighbours. We need to follow Jesus and, as we do, may we represent, express and carry Jesus’ message of love, peace, hope and joy.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim serves as professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind., and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the author or editor of 22 books.  She is the host of Madang podcast on Christian Century.