This week, from Sunday 14 to Saturday 20 October, is Anti-Poverty Week. Rev Sophia Lizares, Chaplain at UnitingCare West offers Revive readers this reflection. UnitingCare West is a Uniting Church WA agency providing care and support to many of WA’s most vulnerable people.
Newly installed President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, outlines why she chose ‘Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope’ to be the 15th Triennial Assembly theme.
As the Uniting Church we have been greatly blessed by the abundant grace of God, calling us into being and shaping our life and mission.
For the 15th Triennial Assembly and the following three years, this theme, ‘Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope’ invites us to live by God’s abundant grace – reflecting God’s generous and overflowing love, in our relationships with one another, in our local community contexts and in our relationships in the wider world.
In a time where we could focus on scarcity – fewer people and less financial resources, God’s gift of abundant grace calls us to be a people who share our gifts, resources, time and energy generously. In a time where our world is overshadowed by violence, hatred and suspicion of the other, the church is called to live an alternative narrative of hope, reconciliation and love.
At the very beginning of our scripture, we find God creating a world that is ‘very good’. It is clear from the first chapter of Genesis that God created a world for humans, plants and animals alike. God saw to it that all the creatures and human beings were provided for, with the human being charged with being a steward of God’s good creation. This is particularly clear in Genesis 1–2.
Keeping the creation as ‘good’ can be reasonably interpreted as not poisoning or polluting it, as giving due care to the natural needs of domestic food animals, and as preserving the habitat of wild animals. This is further reinforced in Genesis 8, where God makes the same covenant with animals as humans, promising never to destroy the earth again.
It is a sad truth that in our modern, civilised world, we have not kept the creation good. We have allowed synthetic created chemicals to poison our air and our waterways; we have destroyed natural habitats so animal and plant species face extinction; Indigenous peoples have been driven off their land to satisfy large corporations requiring mono crops and oil supplies; and we have allowed the over-fishing of many species.
Of course he did! Easter celebrates the faith of the first disciples that Jesus’ death was not the end. God raised him to new life.
He did not survive in the sense of not really dying. For he died in one of the bloodiest ways possible, executed on a cross: dead for all to see. When, as the earliest records tell us, Peter reported that Jesus appeared to him in Galilee, despair turned to hope, disappointment to joy. It generated stories and experiences.
It was not that Jesus was to be found wandering around Galilee or Judea in flesh and blood. Rather they spoke of Jesus appearing and disappearing, clearly understanding his resurrection as like the spiritual resurrections expected at the climax of history.
But what did it mean that God raised Jesus from the dead?
One of the most moving services in the Christian year occurs on Good Friday when we retell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. The story involves betrayal, lies and violence.
Our world is awash in violence be it terrorism, the war on terror, street violence, domestic violence, or violence against creation. The rhetoric of violence is alive and well among a number of world leaders. The recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has unearthed systemic violence and abuse against vulnerable young people.
As we move towards Christmas we think about the coming of Jesus. The baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a
stable. Many people and churches have nativity scenes, which goes back to a practice started by Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century to help people recognise the significance of God becoming a baby born among us in Jesus.
In theological terms we speak of the incarnation; God became human in Jesus. John’s gospel puts it in lofty terms, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God’s Word, the logos, became a person in Jesus. Theologian John Macquarrie suggests the incarnation is ‘inhumanisation’ meaning the same thing, namely God taking on being a human in Jesus, God’s Son.
Jesus is the central figure of Christmas.
500 years ago, on a day in October 1517, the Reformation began.
That day, a German priest, Martin Luther, sent his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ on the ‘Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’ to the Archbishop of Mainz, Germany. In these theses, Luther criticised the common practice of his fellow priests, who sold indulgences to their parishioners.
Luther also disputed the teaching of the church about purgatory (an intermediate state after death, before entering heaven or hell), and criticised the authority which had been claimed by the Pope. As a result, he was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as an outlaw. Actions from that time unleashed a series of protests and changes across the church. This Reformation led to the formation of numerous Reformed churches. The Uniting Church stands with these churches, as an heir of the Reformation. Our forebears protested about the state of the church in their day; for that reason, Reformed churches are also known as Protestant churches.