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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Blue Knot Sunday
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 6, 2016

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Luke 20:27-38

‘The Hard Questions’

Whether we are religious, or not, often depends on the way in which we deal with the nature of God.

At the heart of life are hard questions about how we can possibly understand what happens to people, who controls that and what causes suffering or pain.

There will always be, of course, fundamentalist religious people, including Christians, who see life and faith as totally simple – if you are good, God will reward you and if you are bad, you will be punished. They look at others who suffer and decide that they must be sinners – even if they can’t see what they are doing wrong. When they themselves prosper, they assume that God really loves them and approves of them.

Many carefully try to be obedient to God because they believe that this God will send them into the fires of hell when they die if they have been disobedient.

I don’t believe any of this. For a start, if we were all rewarded by our God for being good and punished by God for being bad, then I can imagine that this would become the meaning at the centre of our lives. We would mostly not be good, loving and just for its own sake, but so we are rewarded. If we saw others suffering, we would assume it was because they were bad people and God was already sending them to hell.

For a start, I don’t believe in hell. My clergy father taught me about this.

When I was anxious about going to hell as a young person, my father said to me “If you were a loving parent and your children did the wrong thing, would you burn them in the fires of hell?” I said “No” and he replied “If you ever think you are more loving than God, Dorothy, you are on the wrong track!” He didn’t believe in hell and I don’t either.

When we are freed from these simplistic views of life and God, it invites us to honestly share life with all its ups and downs with each other. Because we know that we are all human, all failing at times, we can hold onto each other in love – forgiving, comforting, changing and exploring how we can go deeper and wider into the hope to which we are called by this gracious and loving God.

The Gospel passage for today reminds u of a God who is not one who is determined by rules, but by principles of life and love.

None of this means that we can’t ask the hard questions of God and each other. There are many passages in the Bible which do this, especially in the Books of Job and the prophet Habakkuk. I have always loved the writing of Habakkuk. He certainly challenges God directly and honestly, “O God, how long will I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence’ and you will not save?”

I remember, when our son was severely brain damaged by his polio vaccine (I still believe in vaccinations), reading Habakkuk over and over again and learning its final verses by heart “The fig tree will not blossom, the vine will not bear fruit, but I will exult in the name of my God who carries my feet into the high places.”

I believed that human life is, in a sense, random. All sorts of things happen to us, whether we deserve them, or not. We can still make all sorts of choices about who we will be and what we will do.

I knew that I could cry out in anger and despair as I looked at our beautiful little boy who would never speak or relate to us again. But, even as I did that, I experienced a God who held me in love, cried with me and offered me comfort and strength if I would receive it.

Life can be very unjust, and we are allowed to respond to that with honesty – rather than trying to “be positive” as some people ask us to be.

As we focus on Blue Knot Foundation Sunday, we face into some of the ultimate betrayals. Who is more vulnerable than a little child who rightly and automatically assumes that adults can be trusted?

There is not greater betrayal than abuse by someone who has the name of God on their lips. As we look at the number of abusive priests, nuns, ministers and Salvation Army officers exposed in the Royal Commission on Child Abuse, I am sure our hearts are filled with both rage, shame and despair.

Of course, many of the abused never recover. They commit suicide, suffer from mental and other ill-health, psychoses and consequences for the rest of their lives. All we can pray for is that our loving God is holding them and will, one day, carry them into a totally safe and healing place – maybe even give them another life?

We, ourselves, can share in that love and support. We can make it very clear that child abuse is absolutely wrong and stand against those who violate others in this way.

If we hold our Blue Knot Foundation Services each year, it is to give a voice to the abused, to stand beside them in love and concern and to support bodies like the Blue Knot Foundation which counsels and cares for those who suffer from abuse.

When we had our interfaith Blue Knot Foundation service at Pitt Street a few weeks ago, a brave man told us the story of his recovery after abuse. To honour and share that story, he has given permission for it to be read out again today:

Recovery

Thank you for again hosting this event in the Pitt Street Uniting community Church - such a creative, tolerant celebratory and healing place. Thank you everyone for your contributions to this moving ecumenical service for healing.

I am going to talk about recovery – not as a professional but as a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was an 11 and 12 years old boy abused over time by a once highly respected Scout leader in the NSW Scouts.

I am also one of thousands who have spoken as a witness in the Royal Commission.

This has been one of the world’s great and historical public truth-telling events that has made possible a more meaningful recovery for many thousands of people.

It has resulted in a great many criminal investigations now underway for crimes against children that occurred decades ago.

We have seen the naming of perpetrators.

The naming of the illnesses that abuse causes in adult life.

Changes to the law now better able to respond to civil claims.

All that lift the burden hitherto carried by survivors into adult lives and sometimes to their graves.

For me, a connection with the voices of survivors compiled in the book “Victims No More” by Mike Lew in the early 1990s began my recovery story.

Since this time, we have seen science provide a greater recognition of the reality of complex post-traumatic stress.

I want to cast my recovery story in terms of coming home. Unfortunately, a home is not recognised in wealthy Australia as a fundamental human right. It’s a fact that the number of homeless is growing and child abuse is a contributing factor to the dysfunction in adult life that can lead to homelessness.

One TV show I don’t mind watching is called “Grand Designs”. Because in most cases it about people - usually with loads of cash - who are nonetheless serious about the project of creating their perfect home.

It has made me think that recovery is like building a home within ourselves. It is about using the best of what we have - as in a home renovation - so as to make our home safer, more durable and resilient or, it can be the knock down and rebuild.

In this sense, the recovery home is like another city or new country, a fresh start and we by necessity become like immigrants facing the future in new surroundings.

We are only able to talk about rebuilding and renovation because we can rejoice that in our life time we have seen the walls come tumbling down. And so I turn to Joshua. As in Joshua’s trumpet at the Battle of Jericho.

That has shaken the walls of authoritarian and paternal silence which have isolated and re-victimised victims.

Walls that froze the abuse in time.

Walls of failure fear and frustration.

Walls destroying happiness and subverting normal healthy relationships. Walls that disconnect and echo the thought-noise of shame and self -loathing, fear, vulnerability, self-annihilation and exhaustion from a constant struggle, entanglement and poverty.

Too often these walls have been Church walls – hardest to shake – they have been unable to see themselves as either capable or responsible for endemic evil or deserving of any secular sanction.

So we thank our modern day ‘Joshuas’. We celebrate the courage and efforts of survivors and survivor advocacy groups for their success in campaigning against the walls of silence that have long been a barrier to justice, restitution and recovery.

Let us never forget too the importance of gender equality and the deeper appreciation of the importance of childhood and the rights of the child since the 1980s.

And the importance advocacy groups like Blue Knot Foundation (here to blow our own trumpet!) in being ahead of the curve and ensuring that as survivors come forward, they have access to effective interventions that assist their recovery and so professional people are adequately trained to be sensitive to the needs of those who have suffered child trauma.

Recovery has been made possible by science to help us understanding the way the mind responds to trauma.

And so let us rebuild and reimagine.

The thick walls of this church - and all churches - that symbolically down through the ages have delineated the sacred from the profane and enabled safety from harm and compassion from pain, charity from suffering.

These are spaces to contemplate and experience faith and the language of hope and recovery and to be a moral reference in our lives.

Faith and recovery require these physical and metaphysical spaces which stand against abuse and violence.

Within these walls we have a safe environment in which to speak of pain and suffering - in order to find enlightenment and give meaning to the human condition.

We learn the aspirational language of compassion and peace and become immersed in a world which declares violence as unacceptable in all its forms.

Strong walls resist the outside world to protect the sacred inner world.

Just as the labourer’s hands become tougher over time, we learn to develop thick skins against the slings and arrows of others. In the same way the mind integrates the self in the world – for a healthy ego.

These walls represent our outer selves, able to adapt to be strong and protect our inner world as a sacred source of faith, love, hope, courage and strength.

In many survivors the reverse happens. There are no outer defences. Integration is partial or not at all. The external is penetrable and vulnerable. The ego is shattered. The inner sacred world is lost in profanity.

Recovery to me is the sometimes herculean task of turning the inside out and the outside in. Our vulnerable child-like exteriors so hyper-sensitive to criticism, so under-developed and unable to fully integrate independently in the adult world. Inside, a numb frozen soul a hardened heart dissociated, refusing to trust others and relate effectively, or be intimate with others over time.

Recovery is rebuilding. Learning to be tougher and more resilient on the outside and to protect the sacred inner space.

The rebuild as described means creating our own safe spaces, reconnecting in our relationships on our own terms and taking control.

Recovery begins with destruction of the old walls a frightened spaces and proceeds like the medieval Cathedral with a careful purposeful and creative rebuilding over time.

A new structure able to keep out damaging thoughts and fully reveal the beauty of the person that you have become: Hopefully one that is sensitive to others, an eternal child, a courageous warrior, defender of right against wrong, and a spiritual heart, steeped in humanism and mysticism capable of a profound reflection on the human condition.

Recovery makes full use of the language of transformation and spiritual comfort as defining what it is to be human.

Faith and spiritualism to me are beautiful pieces of architecture - like the flying buttress – a symbol of hope and resilience over time.

Recovery like faith is created over time and in the course of an individual’s life. Once you have the thread of recovery, such as we have here today, the thread or weave of a cloth, it should never stop unfolding and revealing.

Recovery is not a one-time event.

Recovery evolves over our life time and like the tapestry ribbon weaves in and out of our lives - a constant through life’s twists and turns.

Spirituality revealed in my love of art, has been central to my recovery and when my life has seemed hopeless, it has helped me to reach into my sacred place to find love and peace and to recharge my strength to fight, to love and to rebuild my life.

Thank you.

Simon Cole


We celebrate, today, this story of courage and healing and hope it brings new life to many people who suffer from abuse.

In the silence, let us hold in our hearts and prayers all who long for true love, healing and peace.

Amen.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon




Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon