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President's Reflection

Sunday 6 September 2020

JESUS IN OUR MIDST

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

A charism of love, which creates unity in the human family! 

Isn’t this our call today, as disciples of Jesus?

During WW2, when everything seemed to have collapsed, a young woman in Northern Italy made the God of love the ideal of her life. 

With some others, Chiara Lubich began to live the Gospel in daily life - trusting in God’s providence and presence. 

“Jesus in our midst” was her phrase for today’s Gospel sentence and promise: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”. (Mt 18:20) 

This is so counter-cultural. Jesus in our midst not just at big epic events, but also in our small Church and home gatherings. 

Jesus in our midst in these new circumstances, when the pandemic prevents us gathering but, through our shared Liturgies, we worship together, even whilst at home. 

(We have had to be innovative. 

A benefit might be that we have dissolved a little of the customary split between the active Worship Leader and the more passive congregant. 

Now more engagement is needed .Our Liturgies only live as worship, through our prayerfulness in our home “chapels”...) 

The disruptions to the physical community caused by the pandemic are what they are. 

Jesus is in our midst, as ever. 

Chiara Lubich called her pilgrimage a “divine adventure”, convinced that the Gospel lived out is the solution to every personal and social problem. 

Jesus’ prayer, “May they all be one,” (John 17:21), became the reason for her life... 

“We were born for unity, to contribute to its realisation in the world”, said Chiara as a spirituality of unity evolved from post WW2 Italy across the world, becoming progressively more ecumenical and interfaith as the Focolare movement, now a movement influencing millions. 

Synchronistically, I have heard these same sentiments whilst listening to our First Nation Christian leaders, these past days: 

A charism of agape love, trusting Jesus in our midst who is calling us into deeper unity. 

To this end, those I have listened to, grateful as they are for much, nevertheless clearly articulate the journey ahead, through repentance to reconciliation: 

Repentance for those times of inter-tribal violence before white settlement; for residual bitterness and hatred about the diseases and dispossession caused by white settlement; for family violence...

....These are such searching, honest conversations as we prepare for our National Days of Prayer on September 26-27 in Solemn Assembly. (Remembering our context is also vividly the suffering of our First Nation people caused by dispossession, racism and much more which requires repentance on the path to reconciliation.) 

These leaders of deep faith can say some things others of us cannot say. One leader, speaking of God’s sovereignty, reminded us that everything we have is a gift. Including the land. Hence, one Elder offers the Aaronic blessing when asked to do a “Welcome to country”. 

Behind our praying on September 26-27 is the understanding: “This land belongs to God...who is taking it back.”... 

Texts of significance include “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8). 

On the basis of this, some Elders speak of asking Jesus to go back into the past to provide healing. An Elder who had struggled with a hatred for his father who had abandoned the family and therefore had not been there for his son, including teaching him the traditional ways, asked Jesus to go back and heal that past... So he, here and now, has been able to let go of that hate, in the grace of Jesus. 

The healing power of our Risen Lord Jesus knows no barriers of time and space. 

Says one beloved sister,” Jesus can heal the ancestral binds when we pray, that need to be lifted and let go of, for us to know and find peace.” 

The leadership of our First Nation Christian leaders opens up new possibilities for our reconciliation, thus for our unity as disciples of Jesus, in service of our nation. 

Our conversations have drawn us to Jesusprayer in John17... “May they all be one” 

The pathway involves repentance by all of us… “We have got to get rid of the junk in us”, said one who was describing why she and others have gone to isolated sites of former sadness to pray for healing. 

Our beautiful Indigenous leaders that I have been listening to, speak with such intimate knowing of Jesus. 

“Jesus stopped for the individual”, one reminded us as she recounted those Gospel instances. 

Jesus stopped for the individual, as Jesus stops for each of us, in spirit and in truth. 

My friend, +Stephen Pickard, has written a beautiful article on how we break the cycles of violence, taking account of Mahatma Gandhi’s example. 

In it he quotes what our recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, novelist Patrick White, had to say about the example for us of Mahatma Gandhi: “Humility and simplicity are imperative for our survival and meaningful relationships.” 

With humility and simplicity, Gandhi tried to do what we are trying to do in our Australia - cultivate a deeper unity through truthful living in a spirit of generous and sacrificial service. 

This week, I was asked to contribute to a Wellness Retreat for folk in our 112 providers of settlement support to newly arrived vulnerable migrants and refugees. 

In discussing this with the organisers, my topic is “A Compassionate Heart for a Compassionate Continent”. 

Those of us involved in preparing the Solemn Assembly have a shared prompting that our God wants us to have a high view of Australia’s potential and responsibility. Our call is to be unified hope-bearers in a world that is so conflicted. 

For us to be a Compassionate Continent, the inner work must be done. A Compassionate Heart evolves by grace and by our best efforts to live in the way of Jesus. 

As I have listened to our Indigenous Christian leaders, these past days, their humility and sincerity in truth-seeking is so ennobling. 

Even the naming of matters which require repentance, as summarised above, takes us towards new possibilities for deeper unity. 

A “compassionate heart” evolves as we humbly seek to be truthful with ourselves and one another, giving and forgiving, as we pray to be in the oneness of Jesus prayer (John 17.) 

A compassionate heart evolves as we remain open to learning from others in our pursuit of truthful living. This has its own authority. 

As Gandhi once said to some Christian missionaries: “A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon”. 

Breaking the cycles of violence, both in attitude and deed, is the greatest challenge to a deeper unity based on agape love. 

Currently we are observing American cities exploding after single acts of violence, notwithstanding the pleas for only peaceful protest by the victims’ families. 

Unless we keep doing our unifying work here, in the spirit of Jesus humble love, we know the same potential also sits close to our surface. We know too that there are extremist groups, like parasites, feeding off stereotypes of hateful attitudes, to fuel further division. 

+Stephen reminds us that John Henry Newman’s hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light” was a favourite of Gandhi’s as it contained “the quintessence of all philosophy”. He meditated daily on the prayer for sufficient divine light to fall upon the next step, as we also do now, in preparation for this Solemn Assembly, September 26-27. 

“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, 

Lead Thou me on, 

The night is dark and I am far from home, 

Lead Thou me on; 

Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see 

The distant scene, - one step enough for me.” 

May it be so. 

Yes, “Lead kindly light”, as we pray to live with agape love and build  the unity for which Jesus prays.  

BLESSINGS OF AGAPE LOVE,

Bishop Philip Huggins 

President,  National Council of Churches in Australia.


CONNECTED

Pastor Peter Walker told us of his recent dream which has influenced his call for a National Solemn Assembly.

He was on the Grafton Bridge, over the Clarence River. The bridge is high over the town normally. But, in the dream, the water was up to the top of the bridge. Like in a flood, except that the water was pure and clear, unlike flood water.

There swimming along was Peter’s dad who had been dead since 2007. Peter’s dad was swimming happily with lots of young kids, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

For Peter, it was a dream conveying the “living waters “of God- “the spring of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13). It was a dream of God’s Kingdom to which we are invited and for which reason we prepare.

For me, having unexpectedly met Peter through our prayers for an end to the pandemic, his dream was easily visualised because of our many trips over that bridge when we lived in Grafton.

A few days later I told Peter of a connection I had to the clear waters of the Clarence. This was when, as Bishop, the Bundjalung Elders asked me to join them in prayers at the place where the Clarence began its flow. The reason was that a company with a mining lease wanted to use cyanide to extract gold. The concern was that the poisonous cyanide would leak into the river system and kill the river life, as well as all the life downstream.

We went up there to Timbarra. It was a very powerful spiritual time of prayer in that beautiful place of deep significance to the Bundjalung people. One I remember years later.

As it turned out, the company never proceeded with its stupid plan and, when I checked with Peter there has been no subsequent mining. He described instead the fish and turtles of the Upper Clarence River.

Peter remembered that time because of his father’s involvement in that action. So, wonderfully, we worked out that it was Peter’s father who would have asked me to go with the Bundjalung Elders and it was Peter’s father who had welcomed me earlier, in the Cathedral at my installation as Bishop.

My own recollection from the Cathedral Service was of his father’s generous spirit, the song he sang, his spiritual depth. “There is plenty of room for all of us”, he said, as I have told many others since.

So, in God’s providence, here we are, some years later, connected again, as our Indigenous Elders, led by Peter offer prayers for the healing of our land on September 26-27.

Bishop Philip.

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