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Time, Opportunity & Change

Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16: 21-28

All of the readings set for today talk in some way about time, opportunity and change. There is a right time, an opportune time, a time to begin something new. It might be a completely new thing, or it might be a new stage on a journey. In Matthew, Jesus is preparing his disciples for Jerusalem – preparing them both for the physical trip, and for the changes that will follow on from there. The Old Testament readings included the story of Moses and the burning bush, and the salvation story of the Jewish people. In Romans, Paul calls us to a time when we can change ourselves to be people of love.

This is particularly apt when we consider the issue of loving and caring for our world, and the challenges of climate change. (Slide 3: List on PPT)The next few years are crucial if global overheating is going to be limited to anything close to 2oC, and for some of the most catastrophic consequences for humans, non-human animals and the planet itself to be reduced. Now is clearly the time for climate action, and there are many ways that we can chose to get involved in expressing our love for this earth which God gave to us.

For the mathematicians and scientists among us, here is the change equation:

D x V x F> R

D = dissatisfaction with the current state of things

V = a Vision of a better possibility for the future

F – concrete, simple First steps

All three of these must be present in order to overcome R, which is resistance to change.

In both the gospel and the Romans reading we are offered a vision and some steps to take. If we look honestly and with humility at ourselves and the world around us, if we acknowledge the damage being done to creation and hear the cries of suffering people, then we should be dissatisfied. Being dissatisfied can bring us to a point where things must change; to a time to commit to a new direction on our journey, a time to stand, walk, run or march alongside others trying to live out God’s love for all. Because at the heart of these readings is the beating heart of God – a heart that burns with compassion and justice for the oppressed of every time and place.

What advice does Paul have for us when it comes to living out a life of love? (Slide 4) Within verses 9-21 we find instruction about the practicalities of love. It covers love within the church (loving one another and the saints), and beyond that into society and even enemies (loving strangers, loving those who persecute you). It talks about a wide and broad love (agape), love for family (philadelphia) and love for strangers – all three of which can be expressed as love, affection, honour, hospitality, harmony, association and peace. I don’t know how many of you have read Barrett

Browning’s sonnet “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”, or watched 10 Things I Hate About You and encountered a wonderful poem inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141, (Slide 5) but both of them remind me of this passage from Romans. Paul reminds us that there are many ways to love.

The discussion of vengeance and God’s wrath in the Romans passage doesn’t make very comfortable reading. But, as we found in the reading about the Cannanite woman a couple of weeks ago, God’s good at making us feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. (Slide 6) As C.S.Lewis expressed so well “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good”. It’s the part of the passage that makes us uncomfortable that provides us with the most opportunities for growth and change. This passage remind us that we need to hand over our desires for revenge to God. We are expected to overcome evil with good. This is really difficult for me. How do I manage to work through the change equation, without cursing those who get in the way of the change that I seek, and leaving room for God’s wrath rather than my own?

(Slide 7) One of the places I go to seek guidance and wisdom in my struggles with these issues of how to love is the works of great theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther-King Jnr, Karl Barth and Marcus Borg. What inspiration have I drawn from some of these great minds to keep me on track, working the change equation and leaving revenge to God?

Bonhoeffer – great theologians sometimes take steps that I can’t follow. Bonhoeffer was willing to take part in a violent plan to kill Hitler and other facists. I can’t do that. (Slide 8) Unlike the Antifa of today who will break windows and attend protests ready to physically attack the opposition, this is a step I cannot take. But I will show my love for those whom the facists seek to harm, and I will do so through prayer, and through action such as providing first aid, marching against facism in a peaceful protest or even getting arrested if that’s what it takes. (Slide 9) I totally want to punch the Nazis in the face, but I know that violence directed at fascists and bigots only fuels their narrative of victimhood – of being a hounded, soon-to-be-minority who can’t exercise what they believe to be their rights to free speech and freedom from political correctness without getting pummelled by some element of society. It probably also helps them recruit people to their cause. So, there will be no bombs in suitcases in offices or boardrooms, and no punching Nazis in the face. You won’t even find me joining the people screaming abuse at the Nazis and the bigots, because I believe that violence in any form is simply bad strategy. (Slide 10) Talking about strategy: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Luther-King teaches me that nonviolent struggles attract more allies, more quickly than violent struggle. Part of what moved the USA towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the images of steadfastly nonviolent protestors being beaten, hosed and abused by white policemen and mobs. (Slide 11) The nonviolent part of Luther-King’s non-violent direct action is a discipline which requires practice, and Rev Dr. King and his supporters then and now rehearsed their roles and prepared themselves for what was to come. And rather terrifyingly, sometimes being on the receiving end of violence is the whole point. That’s how Gandhi and Luther-King and others exposed the evil that they were struggling against. You don’t counterattack. You’re hurt. The world sees. Hearts change. This takes tremendous courage because potentially your body ends up being the canvas that bears the evidence of what you’re fighting against. Cast your mind back to these two men (pictures on slide) killed while they tried to stop a man from racially abusing two young women on a train, or look at these people of God in Charlottesville. How different has the response been to their actions,

rather than those of the Antifa? Part of the problem created by the Antifa is that they push potential allies away or push them offside through the use of violence.

So, what can we do as a church and as individuals to be sincere, devoted, honouring, hopeful, patient, sharing and hospitable? How can we bless those who persecute us, and live in harmony with one another? How do we ensure that we do right in the eyes of everybody? How do we overcome evil by doing good?

The most important thing that we can do is to move. Move ourselves away from apathy.(Slide 12) I often imagine that the everyday Egyptians when they heard of Moses demanding freedom for the Israelites asking themselves “What’s the big deal? Why is everyone so upset? Why do I have to be bothered with all this?”

Two weeks ago Margaret spoke of the need for us to address racism, and promised us a future discussion on how we as Christians need to address the issues around family and domestic violence. I am sure you have heard many sermons on other social justice issues – poverty, homelessness, climate change, and the issues around refugees, asylum seekers and LGBTIQ+ people. The Reverend Alba Onofio recently reflected on the need for Christian action in this way: “We cannot end discrimination and oppression…that stems deeply from weaponised Christianity without recognising how that weaponisation fully operates across different systems of violence.” (Slide 13) Ask yourself – what have you done to counter the lies and the hatred currently being spewed out against LGBTIQ+ people? What do you need to learn so that you can speak out against darkness and hate? We cannot simply talk about Christianity as an expression of social justice. We now must move out, show up, speak out and demonstrate the radical light and love of God. (Slide 14) We have an opportunity to do just this at 6.15pm on 5 October, at City Uniting Church, when the people of Canberra are invited to come and pray for our LGBTIQ+ brothers and sisters, and show them that we love them, as they struggle through the abuse that is being directed at them during the marriage equality postal survey campaign period.

(Slide 15 – blank) In all my years of showing up at marches, and trying to root the sins like racism and apathy out of my life, it’s become obvious to me that I can’t do this on my own. None of us can. We need the help of our all loving, all powerful God. So, let’s pray:

God whose name was called upon by Paul and Bonhoeffer and Luther-King,

God whose name has been used to enslave, demean and humiliate those who bear your image,

God whose name has been used to steal this land from its traditional owners and to kill those who bear your image,

God who came to us as the Prince of Peace,

God who raised up poets to speak truth to power and prophets to speak truth to stupid,

We call on your name to bring your fierce mercy upon us and remove our complacency and our complicity.

We call on your name to heal. We believe that the true name of God is stronger than what has been done in God’s name. So we call on you. Come to us, save us and strengthen us, and help us move forward in your love, we pray. AMEN.

Megan Jackson

Megan Jackson has attended TUC since 1988.  She has been an elder, a Sunday School teacher and is currently deputy chair of the church council.  Megan assists in leading Rainbow Christian Alliance.

Megan and Doug lead worship at the later TUC service most Sundays, where they are blessed to share their gifts of music and song with the congregation.

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Comrie Street
Wanniassa ACT 2903

PO Box 423
Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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