Pentecost 20B, 2006
A Liturgy is also available
WHERE YOU SIT... BUT IT'S DIFFICULT TO WAKE UP SOMEONE
WHO IS PRETENDING TO BE ASLEEP
Seems we are in the season for church meetings!
The Uniting Church NSW Synod meeting concluded a week ago.
And now it’s the Sydney Anglican Synod’s turn.
Not to mention all the other Uniting Church synods
which either have or are, also meeting around this time.
While never really a big fan of such meetings, this year the
NSW moderator used a collection of prayers and affirmations
from the Eighth Assembly (1997) called ‘Moving with God’s spirit’
at various times during the meeting.
As to whether he used this particular prayer or not, I can’t be sure.
But if he didn’t, I reckon he should have...
on hills and near beaches you called people
around you for reflection, explanation and resolution.
So now we reflect together, knowing that
we will hear wise words if only we listen intently.
We each bring some knowledge and some understanding
and we bring our faith,
sometimes uncertain, but willing.
Help us to complete our task together
and to be resolute in gospel action.
The only role synod and other church meetings have is not to meet,
as if that is a committee’s or council’s reason for existence.
But “to be resolute in gospel action”.
Well, how did the Synod meeting go? Not too good in my opinion.
Sure there was much talk and resolution passing.
Even an attempt at a little theology.
And social justice action.
Two examples of the latter have been printed in today’s Notices.
Let me share them here.
(i) That the Synod-
call upon the Federal, NSW and ACT governments to increase funding for the educational and counselling needs of children from a non-English speaking background, especially refugee children who have particular traumatic histories and language difficulties. This needs to include the provision of extra teachers and other educational resources, particularly appropriately tailored textbooks and library resources.
(ii) That the Synod-
encourage all congregations, presbyteries and agencies to switch to government accredited ‘Green power’.
True, two needed and worthwhile invitations or calls to ‘gospel action’.
But in general, much of the discussion and decision making presented as calls
to be at mission, were really about
in-reach rather than outreach.
Siev X, for instance, was never mentioned.
And it took me one whole session, and a request to the Past National President,
before I could get the moderator to indicate North Korea
had announced it had detonated a nuclear devise!
As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said at the
National Christian Youth Convention in Ballarat (Vic) in the mid-1980s,
"It's very difficult to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep."
Virtually paralysed by more that 20+ years of debate and dispute
over human sexuality and falling numbers,
led by the fundamentalists and ultraconservatives, our Uniting Church
in this (NSW) synod anyway, has shown itself to be
too anxious about these issues to risk perceived additional losses
at the hands of, say, theological reform.
But the message from the ‘progressive’ christian grassroots movement
is loud and I would claim, very clear:
theological and liturgical reform is the much needed
root of ‘gospel action’ today.
And such reform will include:
(i) a spiritual vitality and expressiveness,
(ii) an insistence on Christianity with intellectual integrity,
(iii) a transgression of traditional gender boundaries,
(iv) the belief that Christianity can be vital without claiming to be the best
or the only true religion, and
(v) strong ecological and social justice commitments (Taussig 2006).
Today's gospel story from the storyteller we call Mark,
touches on this matter of ‘gospel action’ or ‘mission’.
Let me see if I can unpack that comment just a bit.
The story as told by Mark seeks to empower its listeners.
It appears Jesus was experienced as powerful, but in an empowering way.
His life did not require him to seek power for his own sake,
but to own the power he had
in compassion and in self giving.
His call was to model a new kind of being in the world.
Not to be served but to serve.
Not to be about maintenance, or in-reach,
but to be at mission, at ‘gospel action’.
Last Sunday 10 people from St James were part of a group
of about 2,000 people who gathered in Weston Park
to remember the shameful and untold tragedy called Siev X.
In October 2001, over 400 asylum-seekers departed from Indonesia
in a grossly overcrowded, unseaworthy boat bound for Australia.
Somewhere between the two countries the boat sank,
with a terrible loss of life - 353 of the asylum-seekers drowned.
The victims of this maritime disaster were mostly women and children.
The Australian Government claimed it had no prior knowledge of this tragedy.
But today, as the result of an “accidental whistle blower” (Kevin 2004),
we know that is just not true.
And today we now know this ‘incident’ was to become
a re-election ploy by the then government.
As Curtin resident and former Foriegn Affairs public servant, Tony Kevin, writes:
“This tragic and shocking event was a pivotal moment in Prime Minister John Howard’s election campaign... (His) war against boat people was well planned, timed, and executed. Its primary domestic political purpose was to win back one million One Nation [ultra-conservative] voters, who saw strong border protection as a test of national leadership” (Kevin 2004:4).
So last Sunday afternoon we took our memorial pole,
donated by a St James family, and painted by three people from St James,
and raised it in commemoration.
Just prior to the raising of the pole, I watched one of the organisers
nail a name plate to it: Nargis Al Rowaimi (aged 5 years).
Since then we have been able to obtain further information:
Nargis, daughter of Hazam Al Rowaimi.
Family on Siev X: Mother, Akhlas (27 years), grandmother, Hamda, and three siblings Fatama 8, Noor 11, and Mohammed 3, all drowned.
This information was supplied by the father, Hazam, a refugee
living in Australia at the time, on a Temporary Visa permit.
What of Hazam?
Is he still in Australia?
Was he at the ceremony?
What now of our accidental ‘relationship’ with him?
Can the call “to be resolute in gospel action” stop at the
supplying and painting and raising of a memorial pole?
Or can that act be a rehearsal to our experiencing God in the world
through his heartache and needless loss?
And now show him compassionate care and hospitality?
Where does Mark’s story now leave us?
Well, perhaps close to something like the emotion
in this prayer/poem by Tom Shuman (worship-rcl chat site).
It is called ‘Where you sit’...
we leave our box seats
at the symphony or ball park,
and pray you won't catch our eye
as we pass you
sitting with the homeless;
we wait for a few minutes
at the doctor's office
to get a $10 shot
so we won't catch the flu,
while half a world away
you sit for a week
which will cost you a year's wages
finds its way to your village;
we sit in our home theatres,
watching the latest "reality"
on our plasma screens,
while you sit in the darkness,
rocking your child asleep,
as she cries from the ache
of an empty stomach.
(like James and John)
we want to be at your side
remind us where you sit. © 2006 Thom M Shuman
Taussig, H. 2006. A new spiritual home. Progressive christianity at the grassroots. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
• Those interested in following up the story of the Siev X are invited to read the following book: Tony Kevin (2004) A Certain Maritime Incident. The Sinking of Siev X. VIC: Carlton North. Scribe Publications.