Sunday 24 • 11 Sep 2016

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Luke 15:1-10

Rev. Chris Udy

Jeremiah says:
“I looked on the earth,
and it was waste and void.
I looked to the heavens and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and they were quaking,
all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked and there was no-one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and the fruitful land was desert,
and all its cities laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.”

At times over the last fifteen years
Jeremiah’s vision has seemed very real,
and television screens all over the world
have filled with ruin and destruction.
Fierce anger, stored up for years,
had been channelled into cold determination
and meticulous preparation
for a vengeance that some people thought
was their holy mission -
a judgement spoken and purposed by God.
‘For thus says the Lord’ - according to Jeremiah -
‘The whole land shall be a desolation;
yet I will not make a full end.
Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.’

For most of us the first images we saw -
fifteen years ago today,
were like scenes from a Hollywood movie -
planes and fireballs and shattering buildings -
and we watched as much in fascination as in horror
to work out what was happening.
At first everything seemed surreal -
the planes seemed empty,
the buildings just glass and steel,
the explosions looked like hundreds of others
created by special effects teams
to fill the screen in a theatre or on TV -
but as the truth sank in
it was the people who began to make it real.
As the hours and days and weeks went by
we heard the names of people in the buildings,
and saw photographs of the people in the planes,
and heard the stories of firefighters
and rescue personnel
who died when the buildings collapsed
and we began to realise
that all these people had partners and children,
friends and neighbours,
and lives as full and as complex as our own.

Over the years since then
the scenes have returned to our TV screens -
from Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria;
from Palestine and Israel;
from nightclubs in Bali and Orlando
and theatres in Moscow and Paris;
hitting home in Martin Place,
and recently beside the beach in Nice.
Again and again, as the news filtered through,
we put names to the bodies and the faces;
we heard stories of amazing courage
and inspiring self-sacrifice;
we learned about agonizing decisions -
a mother allowed to rescue one child
while forced to leave another -
tragedies like the five-year-old girl
finally issued with the Australian passport
that would let her live with her father -
only to have her mother killed while collecting it;
heart-breaking, world-stopping images
of the body of Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach,
and Omran Daqneesh in an ambulance in Aleppo.
Each time, as the stories emerged
we fleshed out the detail in sympathy:
we wondered what partners were feeling,
and what children were thinking,
and how their neighbours and friends might react -
and slowly - as we thought about the people -
we started to understand what damage had been done,
and what sorrow was building,
and what the cost - the human cost – has been.

The Global Terrorism Database has recorded
more than 72 thousand terrorist incidents
over the last fifteen years,
more than half of them in Iraq (16K), Pakistan,
Afghanistan and India.
The vast majority of these attacks
don’t rate high enough
to be mentioned in our news,
but each one is as bloody and real for those involved.
The true meaning of these tragedies -
the true impact of anything that happens -
can’t be measured in lists or numbers or pictures.
It can’t be expressed in body bags or insurance dollars
or hours and pages of commentary either.
The only truth that ultimately matters
is the human cost -
measured one by one -
the terror of a hostage on a bus or a plane,
the trauma and shock of someone
hiding from a shooter in an office or a nightclub,
the pain of the injuries for someone caught an explosion,
the dreadful days of waiting for news of a missing child,
the grief and fear
for a child who’ll grow up without a parent,
and the anger and hatred of damaged people
who will want to take revenge
and carefully plan retribution
on some nameless and faceless people
with the same cold determination
and religious or moral or political rationalisation
that have led to that list of tragedies.

That kind of religion, morality and politics
begins and ends in Jeremiah’s vision -
no people - no names or faces -
the earth made waste and void -
the land a desolation,
and an angry, unrelenting God.

But that isn’t the God of the Gospel.
Our reading from Luke’s Gospel
begins with a group of righteous folk
looking for someone to blame and punish
for all the troubles of the world -
and when they saw Jesus welcome and eat his meals
with people the righteous folk had decided
were too bad and too dangerous to know,
they chose him to grumble at -
so he told them three parables.
We read the first two today.
‘Which one of you’ he says
addressing each of them as persons,
not all of them as a prejudice -
‘which one of you,
having a hundred sheep, and losing one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness
and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
And when he has found it,
he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
And when he comes home,
he calls together his friends and neighbours
saying to them ‘Rejoice with me!
For I have found my sheep that was lost’
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven
over one sinner who repents
than over 99 righteous persons
who need no repentance.’

The God that Jesus reveals to us
doesn’t see races or classes or religious groups -
God sees us one by one -
living in relationship with others,
and needing a community to belong to,
but still one by one,
making our own decisions,
taking individual responsibility,
accountable to each other and to him - one by one.
If Christian faith
and the democratic principles
and ideals that grew from it
have anything worth asserting and defending
it’s that insight -
ultimately we understand the truth
and discover the meaning of life one by one -
we are also responsible
and accountable for the way we live - one by one.
So - when we look for justice
and when we work for healing
we also look and work one by one.

The planes that hit the world trade centre
weren’t directed by all Arabs or all Muslims,
they were under the control of Muhammed Atta
and Adnan Bukhari and his brother Ameer -
and they weren’t trained and supported
by all the people in Afghanistan or Pakistan either -
it looks like maybe 50 people were involved,
working in tiny fundamentalist cells,
financed by Osama bin Laden.
There is still no demonstrable evidence
that connects any of them to Iraq,
or Iraq to any weapons of mass destruction.
Bombs in Bali and Jakarta
harmed and killed as many Indonesians
as they did Australians,
but they were planned and made
by Amrozi, and his brother Ali Imron,
and their construction began
in a poverty-trapped Indonesian village
where the only schooling available -
often the only education on offer still -
was funded and delivered by extremists
like Abu Bakar Bashir.

Despite what’s happening in Syria and with ISIS,
terrorism is rarely about territory.
Its perpetrators and victims can’t be divided
by nationality, or race, or even religion.
Many, many more Muslim people
have been killed or wounded
or driven from their homes
by Islamic terrorists
than people of all other religions, or none –
and in the US, for example,
Christians launch more terror attacks (94%) than Muslims.
Terror’s battle lines can’t be drawn on maps
or targeted by even the smartest of bombs -
and military action seems to have done little more
than polarise the world,
dry up good intelligence
and deepen the resentment and despair
that terrorism thrives on.
Justice isn’t served by blowing up more innocents
or throwing away the principles of justice and fair trial
we’ve taken more than 800 years to put in place.
Healing will not come with vengeance,
and all the bluster and posturing in the world
will not restore us to the way we were
or make it impossible
for one person to let their anger and fear explode
to do harm to many others.

Our security and hope can never come
by filling the world with weapons
or dividing the world with fences and walls.
The only way we can live in peace and freedom
is to continue the work that Jesus began -
one by one, looking for those who are lost
in the debris and destruction
of bombsites and battle zones,
and anywhere else around the world
where desperation makes breeding grounds for terror.
One by one rejoicing
when those who are lost come home
and find healing for their anger and fear.
One by one teaching them what it means
to take responsibility for themselves and others -
and celebrating every step towards repentance
and freedom from violence and retribution.

All that might seem too hard,
and the numbers might seem overwhelming,
and it might seem so much easier
to look for military solutions
or to isolate ourselves in fear,
but it’s worth remembering
that the vision of a world of peace and freedom
we’ve come to treasure for ourselves
and hope will be real for children like Christopher
is profoundly based on the life of Jesus,
who searched for and called and taught his disciples
one by one,
and put himself at risk for what he believed.
When we celebrate baptism
we do it one by one,
affirming the love and grace of God
for every one of his children.
When we celebrate baptism
we also affirm that everyone -
every one of God’s children –
has a part to play and is called
to hope and work for a world at peace,
reconciled and renewed.

When Jesus died he was alone -
killed by people who filled ridgelines with crosses
thinking that threats and fear
would keep their enemies at bay.
People thought of him as a loser -
just one weak and dangerously foolish man,
the only one who trusted
that the God of love and grace was stronger
than a God of anger and vengeance -
but over the last 2000 years
his vision has transformed the world,
as Jesus has been joined – one by one –
by millions who see the world as it is,
incomplete and damaged and divided,
but still beautiful, and able to be redeemed.
If we’re horrified by what we’ve seen
over the last fifteen years
it’s partly because we’ve come to believe, as Jesus did,
that everyone - every one -
has the right and the potential
to live in freedom
and to grow in peace.
So if we want Christopher’s life,
and the lives of millions of children like him
to see the earth’s beauty
and to live into their promise and potential,
each of us – one by one –
will need to do what Jesus did
and hope and pray and work
for the world’s renewal and redemption.