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16 Days of Activism – a sermon

(a sermon/reflection prepared for Sophia’s Spring UCA, 26th November 2023)

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is held annually on 25 November. The day begins 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence that runs from 25 November to 10 December (UN Human Rights Day), with the 2023 theme “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”.
Break The Silence Sunday is an effort to open up a conversation within the church about rape and sexual assault. Within the context of our faith communities we hope to
(1) acknowledge the reality of rape and sexual violence in our world;
(2) support survivors by creating a place where they can tell their stories, feel loved and supported, and find encouragement on their healing journey;
(3) commit ourselves to the work of changing the world, creating a future where rape is a memory.

Today we stand with survivors and victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence. We witness their pain – and their strength. We ask what they need from us, as individuals and as communities of faith. This service today, and many around the world, is part of breaking the silence of complicity and fear, and through it all trusting in the good news of God’s incredible love for us, and for all the world.

I could talk about the facts – that in Australia sexual assault happens once every 21 minutes on average. I could talk about victim blaming and shaming of survivors of sexual assault. I think you know this already.

I could talk about the silence of the church, often unprepared to talk about such things, even though the biblical narrative has many such stories for us to dwell on, to learn from, about power and patriarchy. Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

I think you know this already.

I could talk to you about the statistics – 53 women murdered this year[1] by their intimate partners or ex-partners this year. I could talk about the suffering… I think I’d be preaching to the choir.

The reading from Matthew 25 is often entitled The Final Judgement, or The Sheep and the Goats. I want to read this text from two different perspectives.

The first lens is the popular reading of this text that points out a simple truth – that the separation depends on how we treat people in need. When the sheep and the goats are separated, the king commends the sheep, the righteous ones:

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, I 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 those in the group will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The ruler will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.’

Those in the group that the ruler commended were surprised. They had simply got on with the task they saw in front of them and offered acts of kindness and compassion and practical actions for the welfare of others. We might add in our day and age it might include advocacy, raising awareness and multiplying efforts to protect the dignity and worth of those who are most vulnerable.

In this reading, the followers of Jesus are called to continue his work and to live in relationship with others following his example. I offer this to you this morning not so much to entreat you to do good (as if you’re not already), or even to do more, but to encourage you to recognise that those actions you do, small and large, bring healing, and offer compassionate care. Like the parable of the yeast where it quietly and – for all intents and purposes – invisibly goes about its work of transforming the flour. It may be through the gift of simply listening, or making space for survivors’ stories to be heard, held, and cradled. We often underestimate the power of presence, in contrast to the more routine medical, professional model of delivering services and doing things TO people.

The particular acts of compassion Jesus names address basic human needs – food, water, welcome, hospitality, clothing, comfort, shelter and practical care. They are part of the Abrahamic hospitality code, protective hospitality offered to those in need or who are threatened in any way.

The sacred scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions teach philoxenia ‘love of the stranger’ as opposed to xenophobia ‘fear of the stranger.’ For all three traditions, the classic example of hospitality toward the stranger is in Genesis 18 which celebrates how generously Abraham embraces the three strangers who pass by his tent. Abraham doesn’t wait for the strangers to ask for water and bread. Rather, he rushes toward them to invite them to rest and refresh themselves. He gives them not just ‘a morsel of bread’ to see them on their way, but clean water to wash their feet and a generous feast of freshly prepared foods.

For us, the ‘stranger’ may well be someone from another culture or another country or another religious tradition. But that ‘stranger’ may also be a friend, or a family member, or a condition, or a situation.

The second lens for this Matthew reading leads us to a bigger picture, and arguably the point that Jesus was seeking to make with this parable. It comes right at the end of a long block of teaching that Jesus has in private with his followers in Jerusalem, just prior to his arrest, trial and crucifixion. This story is about them, but not cast in the role of the sheep, nor the goats.

Rather, these followers of Jesus are the ones who will continue the work of Jesus in healing, teaching etc and risk being the ones who are hungry and thirsty, the stranger needing hospitality, the one who will need clothes for the journey, the one who will travel to share the good news and thereby risk sickness and need help, and those who may be persecuted and imprisoned and need the comfort of visitors.

The imperative to live as Jesus brought many challenges to the lives of the early disciples, and the sheep in the parable are any who would help and support the disciples in their time of need. Perhaps our contemporary western church has less of these challenges, or perhaps our highly individualised society has changed how we see our place in the community of Christ?

Can we imagine in our contemporary context, that we, as followers of Jesus, might be the ones who need support and care from others – rather than dispensing it or offering it TO others? In this reading from Matthew, discipleship – following the example of Jesus – may place us in situations where we may be the very ones who need practical help, support and compassion.

It makes me wonder whether we offer help and support through power and privilege, or whether we offer help and support to others while also acknowledging the lived experience of our own needs, brokenness, difficulties, and our own vulnerability. From a place of humility. To draw alongside others in their time of need because we know what it is like to be in need ourselves.

In an interview with Francis Weller entitled The Geography of Sorrow, he points out that most of us hold huge wells of unexpressed grief inside us because we live in a culture where grief is unwelcome, something we need to get over quickly. We are ashamed to grieve. He suggests the work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend towards cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.

You may recall Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer, which speaks about our own woundedness as a source of strength and healing when supporting others, to recognize the sufferings that are common to all human persons.

And still, I wonder what that might mean for us as we reflect on how we find our place in the community of Christ. And in turn, how as a community we make space for others whose lives have been broken, damaged, hurt and harmed. When we recognise those times in our own lives, and draw from this deep well of lived experience to offer compassion, kindness, support and love.

Feeling ‘out of our depth’ may be the best starting point to connect with those who have experienced violent relationships as they seek to find safety and healing from their trauma, and rebuild their lives.

One survivor writes: I could have used the support from the church. I needed a church where I could walk in, feeling broken, guilty, and confused about my own identify and be received with open arms telling me that I wasn’t any different in their eyes. I needed this kind of community. You see, when you experience something like rape, it has a lasting impact. It shakes your core, your identity. You feel violated and damaged, dirty and ashamed. It will always be the anniversary of that night. Who am I to have let something like this happen to myself? How do I move on from this? How has this changed me as a person? Where was God when this happened, and why would something like this be allowed to happen? Church doesn’t necessarily feel like a comforting place because I felt like I had to hide what had happened to me because it’s “not appropriate for church”, and that was the part of me that needed support the most.

She asks, Are we creating a worship space that feels safe for survivors to be their true self? Even on their lowest days? Are we trauma-informed and sensitive in our planning? How does our environment and building welcome people who have experienced trauma? We need the voice of the church to break the silence that is around rape and sexual violence. The reality is though that sometimes we need to sit in the discomfort so that we can learn how to make a positive change. We need to normalize the conversation. It’s absolutely okay to talk about rape in the church. Church should be a place people can feel comfortable expressing who they are and where they are in their healing journey. They shouldn’t fear judgement, shocked responses, or even excessive pity. A service like Breaking the Silence Sunday is the first step in that process of acknowledging that no matter who you are or what you’ve been through, you are not only welcome here, but this is a safe place for you.

Reverend Moira Finley, who is a catalyst for Break the Silence Sunday, writes:

“What we need, from those of you who don’t bear the scars of rape, is for you to listen. We need for you to listen to our stories, to not turn away. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and yes, it will break your heart. We need you to deal with all of that, all of your own discomfort, so that you can listen to us, support us, encourage us as we deal with the winding, difficult journey of healing. We need you to listen to our fears, to try to understand our anxieties. We need you to be patient with how we tell our stories, with the stops and starts, with a sudden flood of memories that come and have to be shared or they will overwhelm us. We need to know that we aren’t a burden to you, that you’re in this with us for the long haul, that you’ll stand with us in the good days when we are enjoying life, because we do have them, but also in the dark days of self-doubt, fear, anxiety, and despair, because we have those days as well. We need your voices, the voices of allies in this struggle, to stand with us and help us change the world, to create a future where no more people face the sleepless nights burdened by memories of what someone else inflicted on us”.

Francis Wheeler (The Geography of Sorrow) notes that

“In healthy cultures, one person’s wound is an opportunity for another to bring medicine. But if you are silent about your suffering, then your friends stay spiritually unemployed. In Navajo culture, for example, illness and loss are seen as communal concerns, not as the responsibility of the individual. Healing is a matter of restoring hozho – beauty/harmony in the community. The San people of the Kalahari say, “When one of us is ill, all of us are ill.”

It resonates with Paul’s message to the early church in Rome: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’. (Romans 12.15)

Suffering, hardship and trauma are a shared concern for the community and one that calls us all to be ‘spiritually employed’ for the sake of others. It’s what we do together. May it be so. Amen.

A sermon prepared by Rev Sandy Boyce for Sophia’s Spring community, 26th November 2023

[1] Researchers at Destroy the Joint have updated their Counting Dead Women register of known deaths due to violence against women in 2023, which now stands at 53. This is the 47th week of 2023, meaning more than one woman has been killed each week of this year. There are still five weeks of the year remaining. Six women have now been killed across Australia in the last seven days, five allegedly by men’s violence.


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How do we remain human in a world that worships toil?

In an article in The Guardian (20th Nov), Justine Toh explores how we remain human in a world that worships toil.

The best advice I’ve ever heard about rest also feels the most impossible: put it in your diary before anything else. Schedule it in, as deliberately as you would any other activity, before work colonises your entire consciousness.

Left unchecked, work will rule your life.

Which isn’t to say work is bad in and of itself. It’s a means of providing for ourselves and those we love. Whether or not you love your work, paid and unpaid, for those of us who are able to work, it’s a route to dignity and skill, and a necessary contribution to the common good.

But the good of work gets warped in a 24/7 global economy where productivity tools and wall-to-wall wifi mean you never need stop working. If money never sleeps then nor, it seems, need you.

In this city of strivers, if you’re not working yourself to death, are you even alive?

Jonathan Malesic, the author of The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives, says we need to tame the “demon” of work.

The ceaseless, obsessive American work ethic is actually a kind of demon haunting him and just about everyone else. We are a society almost totally under its power.

Sounds extreme until you consider the demand for constant productivity, our obsession with efficiency and optimisation, and how we value people based on their employment status. The fact that workaholism is so socially acceptable, even if overwork hollows us out.

I’m learning that something far more precious is at stake: the ability to remain human in a world that worships work. Enter rest – but not rest that simply recharges us for work, for that just recruits rest to the cause of greater productivity. Instead, rest that allows us to recognise what all the work is for.

In the Jewish and Christian creation stories, God rested on the seventh day of creation after all his work. Along with the world, the ideal week was born: six days of work, followed by one of rest. A pattern of time observed by God himself, even though a perk of divinity is surely infinite reserves of energy. This rhythm of life keeps work in its place: key to a thriving life but not the entire point of existence.

Read the full article here.


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A reflection on restraint (Prov 29:18)

A reflection by Rev John Gilmore, President, National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA)

“Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law. ” (Proverbs 29:18)

At times we hear ‘Without a vision the people perish’ from Proverbs 29:18. It is well used – yet a completely inaccurate rendering of the Hebrew. The NRSV casts it as ‘Without prophecy, the people cast off restraint’.

The contrast is fascinating. To have a vision could be ‘spiritual’ but most often it is about an organisation and its purpose. The concept of prophecy in the Hebrew scriptures is about having a clear sense of what God is wanting people to understand. The reference point of prophecy is God.

The casting off restraint suggests an opportunity to do whatever one wants to do – unrestrained (not keeping the law). The thought of being restrained is not all that popular or comfortable. We enjoy personal freedom and the opportunity to choose independently of others. Maybe being restrained is about boundaries, values and agreed ways of working so that the intent of the prophecy is fulfilled.

This past week the NCCA Board spent time in retreat considering the future possibilities for the NCCA. We used these words and also part of the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – that we might be one so that the world can believe. The words of Jesus call us to restraint. A restraint born in self-giving love. This is an invitation to not individualise everything and instead to focus on being in relationship, working and understanding each other such that Jesus can say he and the Father are completely one.

This prayer of Jesus and the words of Proverbs invite us to think more deeply about our own lives and our place in God’s world.

We can be united in calling for an end to war – for peace, compassion and justice – and not to look for a winner and loser.

We seek a unity in our own land, a unity of listening and respecting Australia’s First Peoples, and so seek ways to dwell together in our common home.

May we all find life and hope in our being restrained by the goodness and grace of God.

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Despair and Wisdom

By Rev Sharon Hollis, Uniting Church in Australia President

Several weeks ago the congregation I was attending sang a hymn by Brian Wren that spoke of some of the attributes of God including the line, ‘wiser than despair’.

Since that Sunday I’ve been reflecting on what it means to say God is wiser than despair and what it might it mean for me to seek the wisdom of God lest I fall into despair.

“God’s wisdom is made known to us in the cross of Christ, in the willingness of Jesus to suffer death to bear all that breaks the world…”

Despair is easy at the moment. Fire ravishes our country. Climate change is impacting low-lying lands across the globe. Droughts are becoming more severe in many places leading to famine. War rages both in places noticed by the news and in places unnoticed except by those who live through it. Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ukraine, Palestine and Israel.

Daily we watch hospitals bombed, hostages held, babies dying for lack of basic care and homes crumbling.

Across the globe, conflict is causing division and preventing us from seeing the humanity in each other.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of God’s wisdom being foolish to the wisdom of the world. God’s wisdom is made known to us in the cross of Christ, in the willingness of Jesus to suffer death to bear all that breaks the world, to carry the injustice of the world, to overcome all that separates us from God and each other.

God’s wisdom is the wisdom of suffering solidarity, joining the life of Christ with all the victims of war, with broken humanity, with the scarred earth.

God’s wisdom is a love that endures alongside all who need hope, healing, peace and justice.

God’s wisdom is wiser than despair because it is not overcome by despair. It works in the world, not by turning from places of despair, but rather by suffering for and with those most in need, inviting us to pray, hope and work for a world renewed.

In this time of deep despair, may you know God’s strange wisdom which is renewing the world in love.

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A VCC statement on Israel and Gaza conflict


by VCC President Rev. Deacon Dr. Joseph Leach, supported by the VCC Standing Committee

6th November 2023

To all people of goodwill.

These last weeks, we have watched the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza with growing dismay and sadness. Any time innocent lives are lost, or the innocent are made to suffer, it is a cause for sadness and grief.

The horror of the brutal terrorist attacks on Israel, where the innocent were abused and murdered, can only be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is absolutely nothing there to celebrate or support.

The suffering of the civilian population in Gaza which followed, and which is still ongoing, is also a cause for great sorrow. Here too the innocent have been made to suffer. Trapped in an intolerable situation. Thousands have died, even as they took shelter in churches, hospitals, schools and refugee centres. Critical humanitarian supplies have been prevented from reaching people in desperate need.

As Christians, we assert that all governments and organisations, whatever their ideology, faith, or grievance, have a duty to respect the rights and innate dignity of every person, regardless of faith or nationality. This is especially true of the children who have suffered grievously on both sides of this conflict. They have a right to expect care and protection. Instead, they suffer violence.

In the land sacred to the three great Abrahamic religions, the ongoing cycle of violence and revenge must be broken, or the children of today’s children will still suffer in the same way. Justice and peace can only come about when those involved look in their enemy’s face and see a fellow human, whose dignity is no less than theirs and whose life has the same value as their own.

Here in Australia, we have the good fortune to live in a multicultural democracy where, at least in principle, every person is equal under the law. Here, when we face those of a different ethnicity, faith, or political belief, we see not an enemy but a fellow Australian, someone with whom we must learn to live and work. This is the way that leads to peace, justice, and prosperity. It is a precious gift that needs to be preserved, and we pray that it may be a gift that Australia offers to the world.

As the gathered Christian Churches in Victoria, we pray for all the communities here in Australia who are particularly impacted by the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Together we pray that the God of Abraham, father to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, will bring peace and justice to the Holy Land. That he will protect the living, heal the wounded, comfort those who mourn, and have mercy on those who have died.

We make this prayer in trust and hope.

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Responding to all this news of violence

by Bishop Philip Huggins

I am in a global meditation group that meets online in our different time zones. In recent weeks, inevitably, our discussion afterwards has involved the sufferings in Israel, Gaza/Palestine.

Here are three reflections.

Firstly, one older dear man in France speaks of the anguish of the daily news. His response has been to breathe this in but then breathe out loving kindness towards those he sees.

This might not sound much but it is the fruit of his spiritual practice, and it is what he can offer.

A second reflection….

The yearning for peace is vivid. Our experience is that, as we meditate and pray, we do become the peace we seek.

This experience also amplifies how diminished we all feel by what has happened.

Any human failure to be truly human-loving and trusting – diminishes us all.

Seeing this and feeling this, we know our task is to not be part of this diminishing ourselves by letting hate, fear, anger and violence seep into our being.

Our task is to help with the healing. Hence, we have been encouraging folk to just gather to meditate and pray on the basis of local friendships .

Friendships, that is, which have been shaped through prior cooperation to nurture multi faith harmony.

Here in Australia, we are trying to do this during the coming week.

A model for inclusive, local  gatherings was given by what we did together in St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne on 20 October.

It’s simple enough. Some wordless music, times of silence for folk to offer their prayers and meditations candles to light, a water bowl in which to place flowers… Quiet conversation thereafter, perhaps some clarity on next steps.

Work on reconciliation teaches one that you have to begin again with what nurtures reconnection. In time, you will have to get to the tough issues; the hurts and the disappointments.

But, if you try to start there, soon people may just be shouting at each other angrily. Perhaps even responding with more violence.

Here, I have many memories of beautiful times together as Australians of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith. Through our JCMA, there were even times of pilgrimage together as Australians to the holy places of the ‘holy land’.

There are these bonds we share that need to be gently rekindled. Separate rallies and strong statements are understandable now, given the hurt and anger but …

Thirdly, this is not to understate what lies ahead in terms of the healing work.

As one cameo, I listened last Friday in our meditation group to a woman, let’s call her “Margaret”. She now teaches meditation in schools and prisons. She has come to this better place after terrible years. In self deprecating fashion, Margaret talked of how she was sailing along in a settled life with a carefully crafted sense of self. Then a loved one died unexpectedly. She was utterly unprepared for this. Her sense of self and her trust in life disintegrated.

Grief-stricken, she didn’t want to do anything. She was just angry and sad.  Time went by. Then along came opportunities to decide whether to love again.

Whatever theological frame we place on this life energy, these opportunities did come and eventually she tried to resolve to go beyond her disillusionment and grief.

One thing led to another and so now we were listening to her wonderful meditation work with bewildered kids, prisoners afflicted with addictions and with refugee folk. She who had been bereft of hope is now giving hope.

“There is no hope without risk.”

(Zoughbi Al-Zoughbi)

As we listened to this one journey after intense grief, we couldn’t help but think of all those bereaved now in Israel and Gaza/ Palestine…and Russia/Ukraine…Myanmar…Sudan and South Sudan…and…

All those who have died violently and unprepared. All those left behind who are full of intense grief.

In this global work of healing, what can keep us going is the kindness and decency of ordinary people, everywhere.

And so to one last story.

On Sunday we had at Church, Ned who is the brother of a parishioner and had literally just arrived from Bethlehem.

He had been in Bethlehem, praying at the Church of the Nativity and with the Sisters of Charity. He had expected to be there for a long time.

His daily journey included the little shops where he bought his fruit and his yoghurt for daily life.

These simple interactions created understated friendships, the bond of our common humanity.

But then the suffering began and he had calls from the wonderful DFAT staff in Ramallah regarding flights home. Cutting a long story short, those seemingly incidental friendships of daily life led to a connection and a car drive down the Bedouin and the goat tracks that the driver had learned as a boy from his grandpa. Somehow Ned made it from the West Bank to Tel Aviv airport in Israel and to the flight home. After Church I gave him a carving of praying hands, made from the olive trees of Bethlehem.

If there hadn’t been those simple kindnesses of daily life, those interactions with shopkeepers, he wouldn’t have made the connections that then brought him home.

There is a saying of Walter Wink:

Hope imagines the future and then acts as if that future is irresistible.

That’s hard for those caught up in the suffering and grief. Those of us in safer places can at least try.

There is a “Just walk to Jerusalem Liturgy” which begins:

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Like my dear friend in France, in our quiet moments, we can help with the breathing.

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Pope urges a day of prayer, fasting, and penance for peace

October 7 was a day of immense horror. Terror came to Israel when Palestinian militants attacked people attending a music festival and stormed a number of kibbutzim. Hundreds of women, men and children were slaughtered and many were taken hostage.

Since that time, the Israeli Defence Force has launched air strikes on Gaza, where hostages were taken by Hamas militants, and ordered Palestinians to evacuate the north prior to the launching of a ground incursion aiming to eliminate Hamas.

The Pope recently noted that a humanitarian crisis is emerging in Gaza. More adults and children are being killed in the on-going missile strikes and the diminished supply of food, water, medicines and other medical supplies, and fuel is worsening the crisis.

The Pope is also concerned about the conflict spreading to other parts of the region.

In light of these circumstances, the Holy Father implored, “Lay down weapons and heed the cries for peace from the poor, the people, and the innocent children.”

“War solves no problems,” he added. “It only sows death and destruction, increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future, it erases the future.”

The Holy Father went on to urge all believers to take one side only: that of peace. “But not with words,” he continued, “with prayer and with total dedication.”

In this spirit, Pope Francis invited everyone to a day of prayer, fasting, and penance for peace. He invited Christians, people of other faiths and peace advocates everywhere to participate in the ways they saw fit in this day of prayer, fasting and penance on this Friday, 27 October.

An hour of prayer at 6:00 PM will be held in St. Peter’s Square, with the goal of invoking peace for the world. The Pope invited churches all around the world to organise similar times of prayer on the day.

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Parliament of World Religions statement

The Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions – after much thought, prayer and heartfelt deliberation, realizing the complex and critical situation at hand – issues the following non-unanimous statement on the Israel-Hamas War: 

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas War, the Parliament of the World’s Religions prays for those suffering. We acknowledge the right of a people to self-defense within the bounds of international law and call for the release of all hostages and the cessation of hostilities. We call for the norms of international humanitarian law to be respected by all parties as they seek to resolve this escalating war through peaceful dialogue and negotiation.

Our traditions teach us of the dignity of all human beings, and that all life must be respected and cherished as sacred and inviolable. Terrorism, violence, killing, rape, and kidnapping committed against civilians is NOT ACCEPTABLE in any situation or against any person or group of people whether committed by individuals, non-state actors, or states. As an Interfaith organization, we particularly abhor the destruction of sacred spaces, the misuse of religion for violence, and the demonization of entire communities of people. Our hearts grieve for the lives lost and the peoples now living in fear.

We extend an urgent call to respect the human rights of all people. We demand that the United Nations and the international community commit to the de-escalation of violence and to the immediate provision of humanitarian aid and assistance to all those in need.

We commend the interfaith and humanitarian organizations working on the ground to bring humanitarian aid and assistance to the victims of these attacks and the communities most affected by this escalating war.

In times like this, when the death toll rises, every minute is critical. We must stand resolute with the understanding that all humanity is our family and what hurts one, hurts us all.

May peace prevail on Earth.

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Words for a time of tragedy and sorrow

The global community is deeply shocked by what has taken place in Israel and Gaza. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured, and buildings, homes and livelihoods destroyed. Deeply mindful of the anguish, sorrow, pain, heartache, despair, grief, loss, uncertainty, fear and anger – including here in communities in Australia.

Another son is killed, Another daughter dies,
And loving, waiting homes are filled with loved ones’ cries.
As rivers never sleep, so wars flow on and on.
Hang up your harps, sit down and weep for those now gone!


We grieve for children lost, for hearts too sad to pray;
We mourn, O Lord, the growing cost of hatred’s way.
And sure as threats increase and anger turns to war,
We pray that we may find a peace worth struggling for.


(Words: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette)

Words may offer comfort and solace. Words can also be divisive – by intent, accident or oversight. Words matter, so as not to fuel further division, or cause hurt, or disregard lived experience.

The words below from church leaders focus on the intentionality to pursue peace – even in the face of violence, anger and despair. They may be words that offer a way to navigate a time of such immense tragedy and sorrow.

Statement by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Light of the Tragic Events in the Middle East (Sunday, October 8th, 2023)

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) calls upon all Christians and people of faith to pray for peace – not an empty peace devoid of justice, equality, and hope for all people, but a deep, lasting, and just peace that addresses core systemic issues of the conflict, from Palestinian needs for self-determination and freedom to Israel’s needs for safety and security.
Read more here.

A statement by Pope Francis
Pope Francis has called for attacks to cease as he prays for peace in Israel and Palestine. “Please stop the attacks and the weapons and understand that terrorism and wars do not lead to any solution, but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people. War is always a defeat! Every war is a defeat!”
Read more here.

A prayer for peace in Palestine and Israel

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain...”
Isaiah 11:9

God of Comfort,
send your Spirit to encompass all those whose lives
are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine.
You are the Advocate of the oppressed
and the One whose eye is on the sparrow.
Let arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression.
Let hearts mourn rather than militarize.
God of Justice,
give strength to those whose long work for a just peace
might seem fruitless now. Strengthen their resolve.
Do not let them feel alone.
Show us how to support their work and bolster their courage. Guide religious leaders to model
unity and reconciliation across lines of division.
Guide political leaders to listen with their hearts as they seek peace and pursue it.
Help all people choose the rigorous path of just peace and disavow violence.
God of Love, we lift up Palestine and Israel
– the people, the land, the creatures.
War is a monster that consumes everything in its path.
Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory with Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Let us burn incense, not children.
Let us break bread, not bodies.
Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries.
We beg for love and compassion to prevail
on all your holy mountains.
God of Hope,
we lift up the cities of the region: Gaza City and Tel Aviv,
Ramallah and Ashkelon, Deir El Balah and Sderot,
so long divided, yet so filled with life and creativity.
Come again to breathe peace on your peoples
that all may recognize you.
God of Mercy,
even now work on the hearts of combatants
to choose life over death, reconciliation over retaliation,
restoration over destruction.
Help us resist antisemitism in all its forms,
especially in our own churches.
All people, Israelis and Palestinians,
deserve to live in peace and unafraid,
with a right to determine their future together.
God of the Nations,
let not one more child or elder be sacrificed on altars of political expediency.
Keep safe all people from unjust leaders who would exploit
vulnerability for their own distorted ends.
Give wise discernment to those making decisions to pursue peace.
Provide them insight into fostering well-being, freedom, and thriving for all.
Teach all of us to resolve injustices with righteousness, not rockets.
Guard our hearts against retaliation, and give us hearts for love alone.
Strengthen our faith in you, O God of All Flesh,
even when we don’t have clear answers,
so that we may still offer ourselves nonviolently
for the cause of peace. Amen.
(prayer by Rose Marie Berger, a senior editor of Sojourners magazine, October 9th, 2023)

A Prayer for Palestine and Israel
God of peace, God of justice, God of love, we pray for Israelis, Palestinians, and all the people living in Palestine and Israel.
We grieve for the violence that has broken out.
Comfort all who mourn for those killed in Israel and in Gaza. Work healing in all who are injured.
Turn all people from overt violence.
Guide leaders and people to work to end the ongoing violence of occupation.
Draw the people to live together.
Show the world how to be helpful.
Speed the day when justice rolls down for all, allowing peace to finally prevail in the land so many call holy, the land where Jesus, in whose name we pray, walked and taught of peace. Amen.
(Prayer by Rev. Mark Koenig)

A reflection by Rev Dr John Squires, Minister in the Uniting Church in Australia and editor of With Love to the World.

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Pope Francis issues new call for dramatic climate change measures

Apostolic Exhortation
Laudate Deum
of the Holy Father
To all people of goodwill on the climate crisis

Wednesday 4th October

Pope Francis has released a new document on the environment that he has described as the “second part” of his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, and warns of “grave consequences” if humanity continues to ignore the threat of climate change.

Laudate Deum’s publication date – October 4th – is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, from whom Pope Francis drew his pontifical name at the start of his papacy in 2013. It is also the start date of the first month-long assembly in Rome of the ongoing Synod on Synodality.

The apostolic exhortation, titled Laudate Deum (“Praise God”), is meant to address what Pope Francis calls the “global social issue” of climate change. He said that in the eight years since Laudato Si’ was published, “our responses have not been adequate” to address ongoing ecological concerns. In 2021, he launched the Catholic Church’s seven-year “Laudato Si’ action plan: “We need a new ecological approach that can transform our way of dwelling in the world, our styles of life, our relationship with the resources of the Earth and, in general, our way of looking at humanity and of living life”. Later that year the Pope joined religious leaders in calling upon the global community to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible” to head off potentially devastating temperature rises.

Releasing Laudate Deum this week, the Pope noted that climate change is one of the principal challenges facing society and the global community impacting the world’s most vulnerable people, and that the climate issue is “no longer a secondary or ideological question.” The effects of climate change “are here and increasingly evident”. He warned of increasing heat waves and the possible melting of the polar ice caps, which he said would lead to “immensely grave consequences for everyone.”

“No one can ignore the fact that in recent years we have witnessed extreme weather phenomena, frequent periods of unusual heat, drought, and other cries of protest on the part of the earth that are only a few palpable expressions of a silent disease that affects everyone”.

The Pope criticised those who “have chosen to deride [the] facts” about climate science and stating bluntly that it is “no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change.”

“It is not possible to conceal the correlation of these global climate phenomena and the accelerated increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly since the mid-20th century. The overwhelming majority of scientists specializing in the climate support this correlation, and only a very small percentage of them seek to deny the evidence.”

Pope Francis described a “technocratic paradigm” that has “destroyed” the mutually beneficial relationship with the environment that humans have at times enjoyed. Humanity’s “power and the progress we are producing are turning against us”.

Francis noted that climate mitigation efforts over the years have been met with both “progress and failures,” though he expressed hope that next month’s 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP28 (Nov 30-Dec 12) could “allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring.”
(UN Climate Change on Facebook]

He argued, however, that longtime global diplomatic arrangements have failed to meet the challenges of the climate emergency. “It continues to be regrettable that global crises are being squandered when they could be the occasions to bring about beneficial changes”. The world, he argued, should look toward “the development of a new procedure for decision-making” to solve global problems.

The Pope pointed to what he described as the “spiritual motivations” of climate action, noting that the Book of Genesis records that, upon his creation of the universe, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

“‘Praise God’ is the title of this letter,” Pope Francis wrote at the encyclical’s conclusion. “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”