|Pen and Ink Reflections||
One of the most memorable, transforming, and ultimately deeply poignant sermons I ever heard was at theological college, over thirty years ago, when I was what we now call a formation student. The address was given by an American student who was with us for a short while. It was on the subject of Peter’s dream in the Acts of the Apostles and the remarkable turnaround in the early Church which we hear about in Acts chapter 15 today. Far from being remote events, my fellow student brought them alive in an intensely powerful way. This, you may understand, was during the last tumultuous days of controversy before the ordination of women in the Church of England and in the first real stirrings of pain and freedom among LGBTIQ+ people across the world. Yet, challenging though those things were, and still are some even today, they are nothing, my fellow student pointed out, to the radical transformation we find in these texts from Acts. For centuries, almost forever really, we, the Gentiles, with our characteristics and our lifestyles, lay outside full inclusion in the body of God’s community. Yet Paul, Peter, and even James, the bulwark of Jewish Christian foundations, came to welcome us as equals in the life of salvation. In contrast, how much lesser such a conversion is asked of us, said my fellow student. So can we, as Peter, as Church, embrace today those who also who, like the Gentiles long ago, not only come to us, but even flourish among us, against the odds, against our human-fashioned, provisional rules?...
This being our national churches’ day of prayer for refugees, let me begin with a brief video clip to help focus our hearts and minds. It shares the voices of some of our Australian children, expressing well the human issues of deep pain and the need for greatly enlarged compassion in our country and world today, as well as a touch of the confusion and helplessness many of us can feel…
Now, I know that there is much disagreement about certain aspects of refugee policy in this country, including among some Christians. It is a striking feature for example, that key political figures who have shaped recent Australian refugee policy are well-known Christians, including the Prime Minister and the former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Scott Morrison. Their views and actions, whilst supported by many, have hardly been popular with others. For the overwhelming consensus of our Church leadership and informed research is that we, as a nation, have not got it right with refugee and asylum seeker policy. Indeed, our Church leadership tells us, again and again, that we are currently often out of step with both international human rights and Christian compassion. So, whether or not we, as individuals, agree with our national political leadership, this makes prayer and support for refugees an important concern for us all. As Christians, we can hardly sidestep the issue. As Australians, we have a fine record of receiving and caring for refugees. In Toowoomba indeed, we have so much to celebrate in that regard, not least in work which this parish helped pioneer. So what do we now do to build upon it?...