DR DEIDRE PALMER:
Tonight I will be inviting us to reflect on:
- our personal places of peace and our contributions to peace
- Global initiatives for peace
- our Australian context - particularly on Interfaith dialogue, justice for First Peoples and gender equality.
At Christmas time there are many messages we hear praying for peace.
In Luke’s Gospel, several times we hear, “Do not be afraid” with the intention of conveying to people who hear those words, that they can be at peace.
The angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours”(Luke 2)
Jesus’ own words, particularly in John’s Gospel: “Peace be with you”, (often spoken in times of fear, confusion and grief) are words of reassurance and hope.
Peace be with you.
I invite you to reflect on moments in the past weeks, where you have found a place of peace, where you have heard those reassuring words, “Peace be with you”.
I had a deep sense of peace last week at the Asian Ecumenical Women’s Assembly in Taiwan organised by the Christian Conference of Asia and hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Two hundred and fifty women from 19 different countries had come together over five days. We built community across cultures, across religions, across generations.
I had a sense of peace at the final day in the morning worship.
I was looking forward to that worship together – reminding us of the sense of community we had with each other and with God.
Early that morning, I had news from Australia that my 91 year-old father had died in the early hours of the morning.
While I had wanted to be with him and my family, I felt upheld and surrounded by the love of that community, as we prayed and sang together.
One of the prayers in particular spoke to me at that time:
“God, you know the struggles and challenges that we will face today. Be with us as we go through them. We always praise you. Amen."
In the midst of grief, I found a sense of peace, upheld by that community and the prayers of those women.
In the midst of all that is taking place in our world, global conflicts, displaced people fleeing war zones, we are called to be peacemakers, people walking together on the way of peace.
I have begun by inviting you to reflect on your personal experiences of peace.
I want to reflect now on where we see people “walking together on pathways of peace” - signs of hope where we see people working together for peace.
As I said, last week I was part of the Asian Ecumenical Women’s Assembly (AEWA), where 250 women from 19 countries came together around the theme: Arise, Awake to Reconcile, Renew and Restore the Creation.
These women are people seeking to live together in peace across different religious contexts in which the world’s major religions are living alongside one another – sometimes harmoniously and at times with significant tension.
Women shared their stories of how they are working in their countries and local contexts to forge pathways of peace, so that all people may live together harmoniously and flourish.
One of the panel conversations was an Interfaith presentation by women from the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian traditions on “Towards Nurturing Spirituality and Wholeness of Life.”
They shared insights from their religious traditions.
Dr Dewi Candraningrum, an Islamic theological scholar, spoke of her “commitment to bring about in oneself and in the world an alternative vision of justice and equality for all.”
Dr Dewi spoke of a personal spiritual quest that is empowering, love-centred and lies at the heart of human transformation.”
Dr Ranjini Samptah, a Hindu human rights activist, reminded us that “ a spiritual person is someone whose highest priority is to be loving to the self and others."
"A spiritual person cares not just for fellow human beings, but for the whole creation,” she said.
A Buddhist nun, from Taiwan, Venerable Shih Chao-hwei spoke of meditating on the idea of loving kindness to open channels of one’s mind with deep observations, to go beyond yourself, and to get through the barrier that lies between yourselves and others, to share your happiness with the whole creation.”
In this gathering of diverse cultural, religious and theological traditions I was struck by the deep respect people had for each other. Listening carefully to one another and appreciating the gifts we are to each other.
One of the prayers for justice at the Asian Ecumenical Women's Assembly reflects for me, the call and deep desire of these women.
Prayer of Justice
Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it;
A world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
A world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
A world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
A world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it. God, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth,
And establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness.
God you have given all peoples one common origin, and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice for all our sisters and brothers.
By sharing the good things, you give us, may we secure justice and equality for every human being
and a human society built on love and peace.
IN THE AUSTRALIAN CONTEXT
I have seen people walking the pathway of peace together in our interreligious consultations, in our conversations between First and Second Peoples and in working for the elimination of violence against women and children.
In May I was part of a Roundtable with the Human Rights Commissioner on Racial Discrimination – representatives from various religious communities were present – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist.
We heard stories from the Jewish community, who have documented incidents of anti-Semitism and stories from a university study on addressing Islamophobia.
As Christian representatives we expressed our concerns that our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, have the freedom to express their religious beliefs and live in safety and peace in our multicultural, multifaith society.
Consultations with the government about the Draft Religious Discrimination Bill have also been good opportunities for us to hear from different religious communities and other community organisations. I have been part of a multi-faith conversation with the Prime Minister and with the Attorney General.
As the Uniting Church we have spoken about our commitment to human rights, people’s freedom to practice their religion, and principles of non-discrimination and inclusion.
I have spoken about the importance of us having an accountable theology – aware of the impact our teaching and preaching, and our religious views have on others. These can be narratives of hope or harm.
All of these conversations have been respectful, and have involved a careful listening to one another. They have been opportunities for us to express our solidarity with religious communities who experience discrimination, and our commitment to opposing religious discrimination wherever it occurs.
The Islamophobia report for 2019 has been released.
The community rallied when Islamophobia was seen in the horrendous attack on Rana Elasmar, a Muslim woman, who was 38 weeks pregnant. She was sitting with friends at a café in Western Sydney and was viciously attacked.
In a post on Facebook Rana called for a world “where people defend one another against cowardly acts like this and band together to protect victims. We cannot allow behavior like this to become the norm and sit silent.”
Walking God’s pathway toward Peace is about an active participation in God’s mission in the world.
It’s not about keeping quiet or passive withdrawal.
It’s about advocacy for those ways of relating to each other that promote peace, with justice and reconciliation.
Encouraging people to tell their story
Woven throughout these encounters have been the importance of people having the opportunity to share their own stories.
Over the past three decades, through liberation perspectives we have heard the call to create space for people to give voice to their stories, to name their realities and break the silence.
This has been particularly important for oppressed and marginalised groups, whose stories have been silenced or overwhelmed by a dominant culture.
Giving voice to these stories is often the beginning of a liberating process.
Encouraging people to tell their stories is a vital part of a praxis that is committed to social justice.
Walking together on pathways of peace in the Australian context calls us to recognise the truth of our history with the First Peoples of Australia.
In Australia, the healing of our nation will come as we work together for justice for our First Peoples.
We need to address the truth of their dispossession, and the many injustices that have been perpetrated upon them, committing ourselves as churches, as religious bodies, as community organisations to walking together as First and Second Peoples.
We need to hear the voices, and see through the eyes of the First Peoples of our land - their connection to the land, their care of the land they have been exercising for thousands of years.
The theme of Reconciliation Week this year was – Grounded in Truth, Walking together in courage.
I was recently part of a First People’s gathering in Canberra, members of the Uniting Church, members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, and First Peoples who are working in UnitingCare agency contexts.
We met with a number of politicians and we shared together about our common ministry and mission.
In this hopeful gathering, our First People expressed their voice, in advocating for justice and reconciliation in Australia and claiming and defining their identity as the oldest living culture in the world, their pride in their culture, language, and care for this land and their determination to define and shape our country in ways that all people can flourish.
Finally (for now), walking the pathway of peace includes a commitment to personal relationships and homes that are safe havens of mutuality, respect and non-violence.
We are in the middle of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – an annual international campaign that begins on November 25 “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.
This “16 days of activism” was begun by women in 1991 at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute and supported across the world by the UN, World Council of Churches, and other religious and community organisations.
Part of the Uniting Church’s vision statement “A Vision for a Just Australia” includes our commitment to “An inclusive and equal society where every person can play the role they wish and women and children feel safe in their homes and communities”
We know that gender-based violence is an issue that effects people regardless of socioeconomic status or culture. It is a significant issue in many parts of the world.
Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to talk about this issue with our church partners in the Pacific - at the South East Asian Regional office’ Workshop in Bali that had as its theme gender justice theology; at the Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji; and the Presbyterian Assembly of Vanuatu.
From establishing a safe house for women and children escaping domestic and family violence in Bali, to encouraging pastors and their spouses to model ways of being together as women and men that model mutual respect in Vanuatu, these and many more examples from our partners act as encouragement to us in our work in this area.
I met recently with leaders from other Churches in Australia in a Roundtable facilitated by the National Council of Churches to discuss strategies in our work in responding to domestic and family violence.
A key focus is preventative work – supporting respectful relationships., encouraging relationships based on equality, mutuality and love.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals emphasise the importance of the equality of women, if families and societies are to fully flourish.
In reflecting on formational processes that enable children to be peacemakers - empowered global citizens actively shaping their societies, research shows that children, who have adult role models who are actively shaping the world around them in ways of peace and justice, are more likely to be hopeful, and engaged themselves. (See Parenting for Peace and Justice – Kathleen and James McGinnis)
The work of peacemaking begins when we are young – it’s the work our parents and grandparents do with us.
It’s the work our faith communities and broader communities do to convey to us a way of being in the world that is God’s vision of a world of peace with justice.
Your ministries here through Parramatta Mission are committed to working for peace and harmony.
Every child in Australia needs to feel safe in their own homes. As a church we are committed to doing all we can as a community to make that possible.
Every woman has the right to be safe in her intimate relationships, as does every man.
Our commitment as the Uniting Church is to peacemaking in every aspect of our lives personally, communally and globally. It is an expression of our discipleship, as followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
We are engaged in peacemaking when we create homes that are peaceful spaces.
Homes where parents and children respect each other
Homes where people are able to resolve their conflicts and differences in non-violent ways.
Homes where every person has a voice and is heard.
Homes where women and men have equal status
Homes where we learn to love in life-giving and empowering ways.
Peacemaking happens on a global and national scale through actions of reconciliation, civil rights movements and diplomatic negotiations, interreligious initatives and it happens in our homes and personal lives, where we passionately commit to being peacemakers in every area of our lives.
Let us conclude by praying together the World Peace Prayer.
World Peace Prayer
Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth,
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust;
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart,
Our world our universe.
(This prayer was first publically used in 1981 by Mother Teresa).