Sixth Sunday of the Year
A Thanksgiving for Australia
God of the Dreaming
A prayer by the Revd Lenore Parker, an Indigenous Anglican priest
God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit,
From the dawn of creation
you have given your children
the good things of Mother Earth.
You spoke and the gum tree grew.
In vast deserts and dense forest,
and in cities at the water’s edge,
creation sings your praise.
Your presence endures
as the rock at the heart of our Land.
When Jesus hung on the tree
you heard the cries of your people
and became one with your wounded ones:
the convicts, the hunted, and the dispossessed.
The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew.
and bathed it in glorious hope.
In Jesus we have been reconciled to you,
To each other and to your whole creation.
Lead us on, Great Sprit,
as we gather from the four corners of the earth,
Enable us to walk together in trust,
from the hurt and shame of the past
Into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pope Francis' challenged ‘heresy hunters’ as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) concluded for the many social media comments they made. Describing themselves as ‘traditional’ or ‘loyal’ Catholics, they used this ecumenical commemoration to remind us that Christians not in communion with the Church of Rome are heretics. They also objected to Pope Francis allowing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Justin Welby, and other Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist at a church in Rome. These ‘Catholic loyalists’ were quick to point out that ‘Mr. Welby’ (as he was called) and the other Anglican bishops and priests were not validly ordained. They repeatedly hurled the words ‘heretic’ and ‘heresy’ at non-Catholics and Pope Francis.
More and more, I see things through the lens of Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti which highlight, as Jesus does, our interdependence with all creation and one another. We are to trade individualism for community. We know that the history of violence and the history of religion are almost the same history. Immature religion creates violence as people put themselves on the side of the good, the pure, the saved and worthy. In its extremes, someone or a group must be blamed, attacked, tortured, imprisoned, or killed. Where such systems create religions and governments of exclusion and violence, Jesus modelled inclusivity and forgiveness. Mean spirited people cannot acknowledge a big-hearted God, and big-hearted people cannot acknowledge a mean-spirited God. People, like Jesus and Pope Francis, can say, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Cole Arthur Riley (in This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us, New York: Convergent Books, 2022, 74–75) says exclusion takes a toll: ‘Exclusion operates by the same rule of mutuality as welcome, for it harms both the excluded and the excluder. If you are the hands of exclusion for long enough, you learn acceptance only at the hands of someone else’s exile. You learn belonging as competition, not restoration. It is also a kind of restlessness, for the energy you expend forbidding others to walk through the door of community is only matched by the energy you expend competing to stay inside yourself. This is maybe more dangerous; no one ever perceives the doorkeeper as needing an invitation themselves.…’
Jesus always encounters people with their backs against the wall. Today, it is a leper who is alienated and isolated from mainstream life. According to John Tayman (The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai), ‘Leprosy is quite possibly the most powerful metaphor for 'otherness.' Leprosy has lost much of its stigma but shows up as a metaphor among people identified as the least, the last and the lost – people who their backs to the wall (women, refugees, LGBTIQ people, First Nations people, different ethnic groups, the unemployed or underemployed, and the planet itself). Jesus was not merely healing individuals came to heal and reverse the effects of imperial colonisation. Though very much a real disease, leprosy was used in the Jesus stories as a metaphor for Roman imperialism’s isolating effects. Imperialism was a disease that transformed how people lived with each other by destroying communities, transforming landowners from small village communities into isolated, individual, workers on land they once owned because of debt caused by an oppressive taxation. This speaks to our culture of individualism. We say that it is by pulling ourselves by our bootstraps that success comes. Colonialism repressed Indigenous community where everyone was cared for, and wellbeing balanced with the common good. Colonialism and capitalism can leave one like a ‘leper’ - isolated from community and make I alone and/or work to someone else richer. The good news is that God’s reign is directed toward abundant and connected life for all people as we face the question ‘who is in and who is out?’
Donald Trump continues to stoke fear in white Americans against so-called ‘outsiders’. Where Jesus, and Pope Francis in our day, tried to close the gaps between people, negative feelings against people who are different are validated to cement isolation. Such hatred is not new and often is fanned into flames in savage ways. In Jesus, we see the call to affirm life by living love by reaching out to both friends and enemies.
In 2014, Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada, in the Massey Lectures (Canadian Broadcasting Commission) said, ‘I have made belonging the interest of my life. I was, and am, a child of diaspora. I am someone who, for a while, did not belong anywhere. And I will always be someone who understands the everlasting anguish of not belonging.’ Clarkson, then continued, ‘We are most fully human, most truly ourselves, most authentically individual, when we commit to the community. It is in the mirror of our community – the street, the neighbourhood, the town, the country – that we find our best selves.’
Though the Church continues to say that they are all loved and welcome, it often campaigns aggressively against full and equal participation of people in society. Communities can say that all are welcome but there are ‘terms and conditions.’ We can choose where we sit and who we sit with. Will our presence help to take down walls that separate people according to religious, social, economic, racial, gender, etc., or build higher walls and wider gaps? The leper’s physical pain and misery was heightened when considered unworthy to live amongst others. God does not touch us or love us in a vacuum. Did not Job look for God’s loving presence in his companions last week? So many young people have abandoned Church, even God, because they have been isolated by others in the community or in family. Jesus makes no attempt to move away. Jesus’ compassion was not just toward a person in terms of charity but to justice where people were forced to live in misery by systems and structures. The gospel focuses on a man’s religious and social alienation and Jesus’ intervention in his life. Jesus is trading individualism for community. The only exclusionary instinct in Jesus was exclusion itself. This is at the heart of the Gospel. Great leaders have a genius for not eliminating the negative, but using it, learning from it, and incorporating it. They would go to the edges and bottom of society. They do not distinguish between the ‘holy people’ and the ‘unholy people.’
In the years during the HIV/AIDS pandemic during the 1980’sand 1990’s so many people were shunned not only because of their health status but also because they were gay. Yet, care and compassion – unhistoric acts - were offered by ordinary people and women religious, especially the Sisters of Charity. When Pope Francis allows for the blessing of people in same-sex unions, there is an outcry within the church. When a transgender woman was excluded by her parish priest, Pope Francis met with her and her partner. When a hideously disfigured man was sitting in St Peter’s Square, Francis kissed and embraced him. We have choices. Where will we sit and who will we sit with? The leper’s physical pain and misery was heightened by being considered unworthy of living amongst others. God does not touch us or love us in a vacuum. Did not Job look for God’s loving presence in his companions last week? So many young people have abandoned Church, even God, because they have been isolated by others in the community or in family.
Jesus makes no attempt to move away and invites us to ‘come and see’ where he lives. We see him when anyone reaches out in compassion; we see him when stomachs ache in the face of exclusion and acts on it; we see him when we refuse to allow social taboos, colleagues, friends, family, determine our response to another person. We see him when we go beyond the usual boundaries set out by our church and society. We find him beyond traditional boundaries.
The reign of God is at hand when we seek those at the margins; stand in solidarity with people who are marginalised or disregarded; when a victimised person seeks not only his or her own rights but that of others who are victimised. Jesus has taken on the ‘otherness’ of others in whatever form they appear to us and calls us to do the same. The man in the gospel was changed not by any observance of religious codes or rituals, but by Jesus’ compassionate touch and words. In God’s Reign there are no outcasts and who is that is where we find God. Will we be part of the chorus of voices that call for inclusion in all its forms despite what those in authority say?