Second Sunday of Easter Sermon 28th April 2019
It’s good to be in Eastertide—Easter’s not just a day but a forty-day ‘Eastertide’—this year we have all of May with Ascension on the 30th May this year. And isn’t it good that rain is finally falling! And isn’t it great to be celebrating a baptism—the baptism of Arizona! But I like to be authentic with baptismal families about what they’re signing up for. And that’s particularly challenging in a world with an Easter Day like the world experienced last Sunday, especially in Sri Lanka.
On Wednesday, as we here at Christ Church came together for the first time after Easter Sunday, again our flag was flying at ‘half-mast’. One of our Wednesday morning worshippers, came in for the mid-week eucharist and typified what perhaps many were feeling when she said, “I’m angry with God.” Like many, we were sat at the table in the evening of Easter Day just giving thanks that Easter Day had passed without incident when the news of the Colombo bombings in Sri Lanka with hundreds of Christian worshippers killed as they were making their worship—just as in Christchurch… what? A month ago?—and just as in Jesus’ day when Pilate had killed those Galileans who had gone to Jerusalem to worship in the Jewish Temple when they were murdered by Pilate’s men, such that their blood was mingled with their sacrifices. Just when we thought we were in the clear, another ‘eye for an eye’.
It’s a good thing, if you’re an Anglican, to have a good bishop. And I really appreciated Bishop Richard’s words in his letter to the clergy this week. Bishop Richard wrote to us, “If our worship during Holy Week has prepared us in any way to respond theologically, spiritually, and pastorally to these events (in Sri Lanka), it may be in the experience – the anamnesis, the not forgetting or re-membering – of that Love [of Christ] which absorbs anger, which constructs something redemptive from the need for sacrifice (ours, not God’s) and which transforms the predictable cycle of revenge into the far riskier possibility of reconciliation, through the unlikely gift, the costly grace, of forgiveness. (Have you ever considered that—that reconciliation is far riskier that revenge?)
Can you see that redemptive transformation in today’s scripture readings? (Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31)
At first glance the Eastertide readings of the Second Sunday seem to be filled with potential for dangerous tribalism—even anti-Semetism. ‘Peter the Christian’ seems pitted against ‘the Jews’—and the Jewish High Priest and the Sanhedrin (or ‘council’). Peter says to ‘the Jews’, God raised up Jesus, “whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree”. Hitler proved how easy it is to conscript texts like these to cast Jews as ‘the Christ-killers’. Even in the gospel reading the newly formed Christian community is huddled away in the early days of the Christ’s resurrection—in hiding behind locked doors—why? ‘For fear of the Jews’. At first glance these scriptures seem ridden with the same tribalism and sectarian division that threatens to tear our current world apart. That is until you examine them a little more closely.
If you read closely and persevere in your reading in the Book of Acts: you remember hopefully that these disputes in Jerusalem were not between Christians and Jews. Hopefully you remember that both Peter and Jesus were Jewish. Listen to Peter carefully: who raised Jesus from the dead?—the God of our ancestors—our Jewish ancestors—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So Peter’s acknowledging he’s ‘of the same mob’ as the leaders he’s arguing with. And why did God raise Christ, according to Peter?—so that God ‘might give repentance to Israel’. And in Chapter Ten of Acts—it is the same Peter for whom the penny will drop when preaching in the household of a Roman Centurion and he concludes: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35). So if you really read your Bible you see that the true worship of God transcends tribalism and sectarian divisions. Once you get your ear in on this you will hear it from one end of scripture to the other: In Genesis (first Book of the Bible): Abraham is called to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). In our Revelation reading today (from the last book of the Bible): Christ is the ruler of all the kings of the earth. One day every eye will see him…and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail in repentance. St John’s extension of faith and blessing is to those who have not seen (John 20:29b). And we all remember John3:16. “for God so loved ….the world”—just not some corner of it—not just “his own” piece of it—but the whole world, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. St Paul sharpens St John’s “whosoever” in his letter to the Galatians. St Paul writes to the Galatians, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus….heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28)
I love the egalitarian nature of Baptism. You are all one in Christ Jesus. No VIPs or second class or third class. That’s why, as in the Orthodox tradition…I’m happy to communicate with the bread of life (which is the body of Chris)…all the baptised, young or old. Baptism is admission to the full membership of Christ.
Thus, within Christ resides an antidote to the world’s dangerous tendency to tribalism and sectarian division. Christ had Jewish followers. A little later in the first century Christ gathered Roman and Greek—Gentile—followers. Pagan followers. Women followers. Slave followers. Eunuch followers. Jesus’ followers included Roman Centurions, Jewish Zealots (they were the terrorists of the 1st Century—Simon, one of the 12 was a ‘zealot’). Jesus’ followers included Pharisees, Temple Priests, thieves, tanners, prostitutes and tent-makers, rich folk, poor folk, slaves, Cretans.
Following Jesus I believe can be done faithfully in any condition—whether slave or free, male or female, young or old, in fact in any cultural religious setting: I am convinced that one can be born Jewish and die Jewish and follow Jesus (St Peter, Paul and Mary did); I am convinced that one could be born Moslem and die Moslem and be a follower of Jesus—they’d more likely call him ‘Yeshua’. No one culture and no one religious setting has a monopoly on Jesus—for he is the Son of the God who created everything—every language and culture. He is the Son of God who sits outside of time—who is, who was and who is to come—the Alpha and the Omega as we recalled as we lit our new Paschal Candle last week.
In Christ there is on offer an allegiance that transcends all tribalism, all nationalism.
Christ changes the way I celebrate ANZAC Day—I’ll still wake up at 5.30am and lay a wreath, and remember my great-grandfather who died in the First World War in Fromelle. But I won’t hold my race or culture to be superior to the races and cultures of those we fought against. And I’ll remember those curious amnesties or spontaneous ceasefires that revealed much about our common humanity and ‘the much’ that we have in common. And I’ll remember Mustafa Kemal or “Ataturk’s” words of grace and reconciliation to the mothers of those ANZACS and Brits whose sons were buried on the Gallipoli peninsula. “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
And did I mention that it’s good to have at this trying time a good bishop and one who sings and shares his songs with his clergy?
Bishop Richard offered an ANZAC Day song from the hymn book (TiS 680) and I want to play and sing it for you—as risk-filled as that is, given that two days ago I’d never heard of it. But if there is something that cannot be said of Christianity and baptism—they are not without risk. Baptism and the Christian faith are not risk-free—but they do mark the way to life in its fullest.
As Bishop Richard’s letter reminds us: The Love of Christ absorbs anger, it transforms the predictable cycle of revenge into the far riskier possibility of reconciliation, through forgiveness.
“May the peaceable kingdom ushered in by the dying and living of Jesus be a sign of hope to a world so desperately in need of a new polity, a restored vision of humanity.”
I wanted you to have an opportunity just to listen to the words of the song that Bishop Richard recommended and you might like to follow the text below…
God! As with silent hearts we bring to mind
how hate and war diminish humankind,
we pause — and seek in worship to increase
our knowledge of the things that make for peace.
Hallow our will as humbly we recall
the lives of those who gave and give their all.
We thank you, God, for women, children, men
who seek to serve in love, today as then.
Give us deep faith to comfort those who mourn,
high hope to share with all the newly born,
strong love in our pursuit of human worth:
‘lest we forget’ the future of this earth.
So, God of Peace, disarm our trust in power,
teach us to coax the plant of peace to flower.
May we, impassioned by your living Word,
remember forward to a world restored.
Sermon Easter 21st April 2019
Luke’s Gospel has three great resurrection scenes: The first one we read about the women who went to the tomb and saw angels with the message that Christ had risen—and they go tell the fellas and the fellas don’t believe them; then the fantastic Emmaus story—two other disciples very disillusioned and sad heading down the road to Emmaus singing “we’ve gotta get outa this place” ; and then a final regrouping of all the disciples, men and women—altogether at the same place when Jesus appears a third and last time.
One thing that we learn from Luke’s amazing resurrection narratives is that, somehow, the resurrected Jesus calls the church back from its disintegrating state into a living community—Jesus re-groups and empowers his community.
As we heard on Friday—Good Friday—even before the resurrection of Jesus—his other body—his community—start the process of being empowered and emboldened—immediately even just after Jesus dies. Remember the bold proclamation of the Roman Centurion—surely this man was innocent. The bold response of Joseph of Arimathea—nailing his colours to the mast by going to Pilate and asking for Jesus’ body—so that he could honour and dignify his Lord’s body. And the bold faith of the women in preparing spices and going to the tomb. All this alludes to the reassembly of a community centred around Christ. But until the resurrection of Christ this embryonic community is shown to be vulnerable to fracture and disbanding.
Luke has a distinct preference for “showing” his audience ideas, rather than just “telling” them. And so, in typical Lukan fashion, the resurrection narratives begin by painting a portrait of the fractured state of the community of disciples (24:1-12). When the women among the disciples are the first to testify to the resurrection of Jesus, the male disciples will not believe them. Immediately after this unflattering depiction of a church divided by gender, Peter runs off to the tomb alone, but seeing nothing but the linen cloths, goes home, rather than rejoining the community. Takes his bat and ball. Probably plans his return to a career in commercial fishing.
The Emmaus road narrative (24:13-35) also commences with a portrait of a disintegrating community. The two disciples who are headed out of town seem determined to leave the community. They articulate their disillusionment to the stranger who joins their journey.
Unknown to the two disciples—but disclosed to the narrative’s audience—the stranger is Jesus himself. The reader has the privilege of observing the transforming effect that Jesus has, as he brings hope, encouragement, joy and re-integration to the fledgling community. This restoration culminates in the hospitality of the meal, which is very evocative of the Lord’s supper. As Jesus’ identity is made clear to the disciples, they re-form as a community. They stop running away and re-group. They witness, firstly to one another, in preparation for taking the good news of the resurrection to the ends of the earth. The two Emmaus disciples seek to rejoin the eleven—they turn around (from whereever it was that they were going and head back to Jerusalem). The seek out the disciples and their companions to tell them about their encounter with Jesus—but the Jerusalem disciples it turns out have news of Jesus also. So they make it clear that Simon Peter too has been restored to the group in the light of his (off-stage) encounter with the risen Jesus. The reconstitution of the community is finalized as they are all re-grouped and, finally, joined by Jesus in the third resurrection episode (24:36-49).
The Lukan resurrection narratives fill me with appreciation for how the resurrected Jesus calls the church back into community. The church holds together only in the power of the resurrection. If there were no resurrection the church would disintegrate as it was doing in the face of the death of Jesus. The church is called for a purpose and Jesus’ final words to the disciples make that purpose clear—“and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [my] name to all nations.” Jesus’ resurrection still has the power to call us into a living missional community today.
Luke doesn’t portray the church community as a utopia. When Luke writes his sequel about the early church—he doesn’t compose a fairy tale. He lets his reader see that it can still be fractured; its members can still fail to trust and believe one another. We can be divided unnecessarily along lines such as gender, age, cultural, social and economic differences. Sometimes faithful prophetic witness is ignored. Disciples still experience disillusionment and run away. Some retreat to their homes. Some aim to leave the community and forget.
Encountering the risen Lord—living in the light of the resurrection—has the power to heal the ruptures and restore the integrity of the church. Easter’s proclamation of resurrection has the power to call us out of regret, betrayal, disillusionment, disintegration, disunity, conflict and apathy—all those shadows. When the church seems irreparably fractured, when mistrust of the witness of others seems to hold sway, when certain sectors of the church are marginalized or subjugated—then, as a contemporary hymn from the Iona community proclaims, Christ’s love can “call us back to life again”.
And it’s in the encouragement of this knowledge that we celebrate the resurrection of Christ body—and the resurrection of his body which is the body of believers. Of which our community is apart. We too come alive again this day. Happy Easter!
SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, 31 MARCH 2019
What’s not to love about the fourth Sunday of Lent in Year C? The rector gets to wear pink—more strictly speaking Rose vestments—if he possesses any. I brought a token pink candle. Traditionally, domestic servants got the day off on Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday to go visit their mum, with some flowers and some cake. And also, on this day, we get to read the story of the prodigal son. The gospel within the Gospel. What could be nicer than that?
As the Rembrandt painting proves, though, we do naturally gravitate to one part of this story, in preference to the other. The fact the Parable begins with the line that “there was a man who had two sons”—our subtitling of it as “the Prodigal Son”, which is our own Title, not Jesus’ for the younger son, betrays our narrative preference. We want to hear about the younger son, how he was a bad, wild one, but he turned it all around and got SAVED and they threw a party for him. We like that part of the story. Because it’s not like he was our brother.
But that wasn’t the part of the story that Jesus wanted most to impress upon his first listeners. The young prodigal who ran off with a third of the father’s assets squandered it all, fell upon hopeless bad times and then repented and got saved, and found and celebrated…that’s largely background and context. And the two short parables (about a lost coin and a lost sheep) lull you into a sense of, “Yeah, and they threw the party and all lived happily ever after…” Well nope…they didn’t. And what happened next is the really important part of the story. It’s the sting in the tale in the great story telling tradition of threes. Always listen carefully to the third instance in almost any classic folk tale for what’s so different about the third example. The third DIY piggy turns the tables on the huffy-puffy wolf. The third surprise for bears who returned home has got a little screaming human female tucked up in it. And Jesus’ third lost and then found story doesn’t finish at the party where everyone immediately rejoices. Because outside one of the closest-to-home characters is outside seething.
The clue if you wrongly thought this was going to be your simple happy-ever-after parable was the first line of the third parable—there was a man who had two sons. In the ancient world—not that anyone gets to choose their place in the birth order—there was a son to be—the first. He got the lion’s share of the inheritance—probably two-thirds if there were two sons. And in fact, when arch-brat junior asks for his pre-bequeathment settlement, the dad in the story breaks all common-sense and torah- or Jewish Law guidelines and complies. Yeah, sure son, I’ll just call the bank manager and the real-estate agent. Stupidest dad in the history of Judaism. Not only giving junior his third of the property but also dividing his living “between them” hands the lions share to the older son, at the same time for good measure. He divided his property among them. So, the older son’s complaint about his miserly condition has only one truly responsible agent to blame—himself. No young goat to share with his friends—he owns all the goats on the farm. Just stop with all the self-pitying “what a slave I am” and open the recipe book to Souvlaki. And if it weren’t Lent when we refrain from saying the A word, I’d quote to the older brothers among us that great Judy Garland song: which in this penitential season might have to be known as. “Sing Avocado, Come On, Get Happy.”
And this is the father’s message for both his older son—who is us—the older son—who is me—Son, everything I have is yours. I’ve given it all to you. God so loved the world that he gave his only son—God’s given us his all. SO of course, it was right that we threw the party and killed the fatted calf and hired the band… we had to celebrate and rejoice (Gaudate, Laetare), because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.
The top and tale of this service have two songs:
Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe
we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live. Teach us, O Lord, your lessons, as in our daily life we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith. Teach us to care for people, for all not just for some,
to love them as we find them or as they may be come.Let your acceptance change us, so that we may be moved in living situations to do the truth in love; to practice your acceptance until we know by heart the table of forgiveness* and laughter’s healing art*. Lord, for today’s encounters with all who are in need, who hunger for acceptance, for righteousness and bread,
we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on:
renew us with your Spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!
And the last song we’ll sing today from one of my favourite priests in WA, Elisabeth Smith:Picks up something about the Parable that the kids’ play emphasized; and that is….
The story lacks a proper ending. Why? Why? Because you and me—we’re the older brother—and God’s grace, and goodness will shine upon others—including the great unwashed and un-meritorious, because that’s God’s style…and how are you going to respond?
Elisabeth writes, The end of the story of sin and forgiveness, the end of the story is over to me. Will empty hands open to take what God offers, or cling to my pride and knock back what is free?(Where in the world do you suppose we might find todays Guild of the Older Brothers…You’ve heard of ‘Where in the World is Wallie’…Well where in today’s world do you imagine the location of the Older Brothers…It’s the inside of the church…the Church is the Guild of the Older Brothers….we are the Guild of the Older Brothers…but Christ tells his story, our story in our hearing and the story is not over yet…)The end of the story of family divided, the end of the story is over to me. Will I stand outside with my bitterness, angry, or enter the hall where God’s feasting will be?The end of the story, O Spirit of Jesus, the end of the story is over to you. Fill hands that are empty, ease hearts that are bitter, and teach us to welcome each other anew. Amen.
SERMON FOR THE THIRD WEEK OF LENT, 24 MARCH, 2019
Last week I suggested the way that good leadership responds to attack and threat of attack.Good leadership says in time of trial: not some mumbling about “shades of grey” and “good on both sides”, but rather, good leadership re-assures followers that our core values (celebration of diversity, kindness, compassion, welcome, refuge), that these core values will not and cannot be shaken by attack.
In mentioning my grief that New Zealand may have been chosen because of their values and their courageous application of those values, I suggested that this side of the full expression of God’s Kingdom “attack” is precisely what we must be prepared for—as the career path of our saviour Jesus reminds us—no good deed goes unpunished.
I also asked last week if in the face of assault, do we retreat, retract in doing good? Retract in enacting virtue? By no means. Opposition—and outright attack—often affirm that we are on a right path.
And so, in this week’s Lenten Gospel we get to watch Jesus up close as he is warned about the likelihood that Herod will launch an attack against him—and we get to listen to how Jesus responds.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod going to kill you.”
Jesus’ reply has a quality that many of Jesus’ replies have—they don’t always seem to immediately answer the question or match the context. They often have a “left-field” quality that make you think, “What? What is he talking about?” From the perspective of persuasive speech—that often really works—because nothing is more engaging than a slight mystery and puzzle—it draws you in deeper and closer as the listener.
Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox,…
Well, that’s a memorable start to a reply. What characterises a fox…rarely a threat to human beings, but sticks to the shadows, and can be very destructive. Wily. In Hebrew idiom, Fox implied a “small-fry”. Herod probably thinks of himself as a Lion. By describing Herod as a Fox—Jesus is cutting him down to size.
“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
The rest of Jesus’ reply, after cutting Herod down to size takes a very independent path—the path less travelled. Jesus will not be controlled or directed by Herod’s threat.
There are two way we can be controlled by a tyrant: one is by submission. To do what ever they say. In the bad-old-days of the church of the Constantinian era, people with my role, were liable to be embroiled in that type of misuse of authority—“Father knows best.” “Yes, Father.” That type of control is sometimes blatant—sometimes subtle—where followers may not even realise to what degree that are controlled.
A second type of control is still a possibility especially among those who flee and escape from the first type of control. One friend who escaped the domination of her controlling mother, told a counsellor how she had cut the cords and ties by which her domineering mother used to control her. And how did you do that? asked the councillor. Simple, I imagine what my mother would want me to do and I do exactly the opposite every time. And if I meet someone who even vaguely reminds me of my mother or maternity—I will just oppose them. The councillor used reflective listening and echo techniques to paraphrase my friend’s words back to her. So, in other words, your actions are still totally 100% pre-determined by reference to your abuser—your mother. That re-wording allowed the penny to drop for my friend. Her mother was still the lion. Even after some people escape an abuser—they still allow their lives to be programmed by that now-absent abuser. They might routinely transfer from the abuser to another third-party who has even the slightest superficial semblance to them.
To be truly free my friend had to re-imagine her mother as a fox—not a lion. And then, in order to be freed my friend had to determine her own course of action, as Jesus does, not by reference (whether positively or negatively) to any person, but rather by reference to a set of core principles. Those core principles would then be enacted by actions that expressed those core values.
Christianity is perhaps an exception to a detail of this rule of independence from persons in that our core values we believe are most perfectly expressed—distilled—in a person—but that person is not tyrant—that person is our servant king Jesus.
And as I said in the reflection,
Jesus, it seems, doesn’t do ‘five-year plans’—often they can be trade-marks of the Empire’s greatest tyrants! I’m certain Herod did lots of three-year plans. Herod was a great builder, he undertook many many colossal building projects—a building committee’s dream man. The city of Masada, the astonishing port at Caesarea, Herod’s make-over of the Temple. Herod’s do five-year plans.
Note, Jesus does “three-day plans”—did you notice that twice in the Gospel reading—today, tomorrow and the next day. Jesus does a three-day plan. On some occasions Jesus suggested that in relation to worrying about the plan—even three days was a bit too long!
Sometimes I think that’s a little metaphorical (we can still benefit from long-term planning)—but I think the metaphor captures Jesus’ response to what Father Jean Pierre de Caussade (CO-SARDE) called the Sacrament of the Present moment. Our Lenten journey takes us toward Jesus’ ultimate three-day plan.
And neither hell nor Herod will stop our arrival at the glorious third day of that three-day-plan. That is our Lenten and Holy Week destination. This train terminates at Resurrection. Resurrection is our final stop.
There is the loveliest song that seems to capture something of Jesus’ knack for a good three-day-plan, and the Sacrament of the Present Moment, and it also anticipates where we will be in two weeks’ time with Mary and her perfumed ointment and it also anticipates our final destination—Resurrection.
The song is Sydney Carter’s, it is called “Said Judas to Mary”. You might recall that Revd Ken Parker was really keen about the music of Sydney Carter. In the song Judas is hanging over Mary—threatening to attack or at least strongly criticise her course of action and distract her from the Present Moment—in the same way that Herod threatens to hang over Jesus with the threat of attack—notice how Mary also cuts Judas and his objections down to size and then she forges her own path—runs her own race—following her core values of love, devotion and loyalty.
Said Judas to Mary, “Now what will you do
with your ointment so rich and so rare?”
“I’ll pour it all over the feet of the
Lord, and I’ll wipe it away with my hair,”
she said, “I’ll wipe it away with my hair.”
“Oh Mary, O Mary, O think of the poor.
This ointment, it could have been sold;
and think of the blankets and think of the bread
you could buy with the silver and gold,”
he said, “You could buy with silver and gold.”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll think of the poor;
tomorrow,” she said, “not today;
for dearer than all of the poor in the world
is my love who is going away,”
she said, “My love who is going away.”
Said Jesus to Mary, “Your love is so deep
today, you may do as you will. Tomorrow,
you say, I am going away,
but my body I leave with you still.”
he said, “My body I leave with you still.”
“The poor of the world are my body,” he said,
“to the end of the world they shall be.
The bread and the blanket you give to the poor
you will know you have given to me.”
he said, “You will know you have given to me.”
“My body will hang from the cross of the world.
Tomorrow,” he said, “and today.
And Martha and Mary will find me again
and wash all the sorrow away,”
he said, “And wash all the sorrow away.”
SERMON FOR SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, 17 MARCH, 2019
JUST AFTER THE CHRISTCHURCH MASSACRE 15 MARCH 2019
Two thousand years ago in describing personality of Pontius Pilate, famous historian, Philo writes in the 1st century that Pontius Pilate possessed “vindictiveness and a furious temper”, and was “naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness”. Referring to Pilate’s governance, Philo further describes “his corruption, and his acts of insolence, … and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.”
On one occasion recounted in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells of a group of Jewish worshipers who had made a religious pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem and who were killed in the very act of their worship of bringing their sacrifices to the Temple. The chilling malevolence of Pilate’s act was that the blood of the victims ended up mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Even if it weren’t for historians Philo or if St Luke’s Gospel had omitted this chilling account of the massacre of the Galilean worshippers everyone would have known of Pilate’s corruption in that he puts Jesus on trial—finds Jesus innocent of any charge—but then allows the mob to execute Jesus anyway—and that Pilate allows this gross perversion of justice purely for political expediency—to please the mob.
Two days ago, the world reeled as news came out of New Zealand that 49 Moslem worshippers had been killed as they were gathered in Mosques in Christchurch to make their Friday prayers—men, women and children. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking on Friday night after the killing in Christchurch, said the most truthful and powerful words at the awful unfolding of the events. In preface she said,
“I have spoken this evening to the mayor of Christchurch and I intend to speak this evening to the imam, but I also want to send a message to those directly affected. In fact, right now, I’m sure New Zealand would like me to share a message on their behalf too.”
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who have been impacted today. Christchurch was the home of these victims. For many, this may not have been the place they were born. In fact, for many, New Zealand was their choice, the place they actively came to and committed themselves to, the place they were raising their families, where they were part of communities that they loved and who loved them.”
“It was a place that many came to for its safety, a place where they were free to practice their culture and their religion. For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here … We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate.
“We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it, and those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”
“We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity, we share common values, and the one we place the currency on right now and tonight is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy, and secondly, the strongest possibly condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us. But we utterly reject and condemn you.”
In the lead up to Federation in 1900, I don’t if you know, but New Zealand was invited to consider becoming a State in the then new Australian Federation. On Friday night, I was thinking, do you think New Zealand might let us become a part of the country under that woman’s prime ministership?
Because Jacinda Ardern’s words sure as heaven beats anything coming out of the mouths of what passes in this world for political leadership in a lot of countries with male leadership.
Jesus’ turns his comments about the Galileans who were slain in the very act of worship and asks hypothetically do we really think that they perhaps in any way had brought this upon themselves—that they were what, worse sinners that the rest of us? “No, I tell you” says Jesus. But turning to his living audience, Jesus says, But you, you who are living, and still have time—you’re the ones who must repent.
I spent the first five years of my life in a country that was just a little over 17% Muslim—and in Mauritius the people who were the most welcoming to me and my family when we were the new-comers, the foreign-Aussies, the strangers—the Australian jockey’s family—in Port Louis Mauritius were the Muslim families. In particular the Aboo-Baker family. Mr and Mrs Aboo-Baker were shop owners. Mr Aboo-Baker’s mother had been an indentured labourer brought out by the British—in India she had been a Dalit—an impoverished untouchable in India’s caste system. In Mauritius she slaved on sugar plantations in order to be able to educate her son so that he became a shop owner. Mr Aboo-Baker had two children, contemporaries of my parents, Joseph who became a lawyer, and Fawzia, my Auntie Fawzia—she was like a sister to my mother. My mother taught Fawzia to speak English with an Australian accent. Fawzia went to the Sorbonne University to study and she qualified as a neurosurgeon, married a French professor—not a Muslim much to the chagrin of her family—and worked for the World Health Organisation. When I went back to Mauritius as a thirty-five-year-old in 2000 every member of the Aboo-Baker family came to meet me and Mrs Aboo-Baker wept as if a child had returned to her—and then she cooked deep fried potato cakes for two weeks—and fed them to me like she was making up for lost time!
In Turkey, which I also visited in 2000, and where together with hundreds of young Australians I went to trample the shores of Gelibolu or Gallipoli—all the Turkish people of the nearby township of Canakale were the epitome of hospitality and welcome. And remember the graciousness of Ataturk Mustafa Kemal’s words to British and ANZAC mothers of the slain on the Gallipoli peninsula? Pure grace.
If we do not understand that of which we must repent, we need to look no further than Friday. We must repent of attitudes of hatred and violence and racism as acceptable. We must repent of idea of white supremacy or white superiority. We must repent of Islamophobia—that has been amplified by opportunistic politicians in the wake of 9/11 and the fear and hatred of difference.
And in our repentance, we need to turn afresh to old virtues, like the virtues that Jacinda Ardern reminds us of: compassion, celebration of diversity, welcome and the offer of a home to those who share our values, and refuge for those who need it.
For the last fifteen years I have been deeply impressed by New Zealand and the compassionate way in which they process their asylum seekers—freely housed in community while their claims are processed—not shipped off to off-shore hell-holes—I have been deeply impressed at the way they have respected their indigenous people and their culture; and deeply impressed at the way they will stand up to big-brother US and tell them to what degree they will go along with their ways—contrasted to our obsequious all-the-way collusion with anything that America calls us into.
And so, I grieve that New Zealand may have, as Jacinda Ardern suggests that they were chosen because of their values and their courageous application of those values. And yet this side of the full expression of God’s Kingdom attack is so often what we must be prepared for—as the career path of our Jesus reminds us—no good deep goes unpunished. So, in the face of assault, do we retreat, retract in doing good? Retract in enacting virtue? By no means. Opposition—and outright attack—often affirm that we are on a right path. And as good leadership says in time of trial: not some mumbling about “shades of grey” and “good on both sides”, but rather, these values (celebration of diversity, kindness, compassion, welcome, refuge), these values I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack. So, fruit trees—while there is time—bear fruit, feed and shelter and shade and nourish—like a good, generous, abundant, welcoming, spreading fig tree—bear virtues, and enact them, which is your delicious fruit.
Let us pray.
of infinite mercy, we pray for the victims of the Christchurch attacks.
Remember them according to the favour you bear for your people.
Comfort those who mourn and give strength to the injured.
Deliver those whose hearts are hardened by hatred, racism and fear.
Grant to us all your understanding, and your persevering love, make us to bear the fruits of kindness, compassion, welcome for your mercy’s sake. Amen