The Lord’s Prayer is the Disciples’ Prayer

I was reminded recently, via Facebook (where else!) that some sons know their fathers quite well. In the following I have deleted names to protect the innocent!

Son walks into the garage and tells his father the date proposed by his fiancée and himself for their forthcoming wedding. Father replies, ‘Bathurst (car racing) isn’t that weekend, is it?’

Son, ‘Good one, Dad!’

I smiled as I imagined the sigh from the son and expressions on their faces. Such is the stuff of a warm father and son relationship!

There is one Father and Son relationship that has existed from eternity. In this eternal relationship the Father and the Son know each other intimately. How precious the Father’s heart that speaks at Jesus’ baptism, ‘this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17)

When the Son is asked by His disciples how they should pray/speak to the Father, we can be sure that the Son knows exactly how they should address God: ‘Our Father who is in heaven . . . ’

How astounding that the Son includes the disciples as members of the family of God!

Jesus’ teaching through this prayer is radical with far-reaching ramifications: radical in its prayerful intimacy addressed to the Transcendent Creator, Sustainer and Judge of the entire world; far reaching in its scope of ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Significantly the Son, Jesus, knew He was leaving the disciples with a job to do and their preparation included Jesus’ answer to, ‘How do we pray?’.

Jesus replied with the Lord’s Prayer – which both Matthew and Luke place in the context of Jesus teaching his disciples.

In some ways, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ could also be called the ‘Disciples’ Prayer’ as it was to be prayed by Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus’ prayer surely reflects His heart for His disciples’ life and ministry. Can we consider the Lord’s Prayer to understand and live more fully our discipleship in the world today? How do the phrases of this prayer help us how to view God and God’s world and to view our discipleship in God’s world: discipleship that will hallow God’s name and serve God’s kingdom purposes?

During this year I will be leading a seminar around Tasmania on Christian discipleship shaped by the Lord’s Prayer. The Seminar, ‘Christian Voices in Public Places’ will be an opportunity to grow our ability to engage with family, friends, work colleagues and community groups about contemporary issues.

Please keep your eyes out for details of the times (Saturdays) and places of the Seminar.

I was struck afresh recently by the early disciples adding a concluding phrase to the words of Jesus. The phrase is a great exclamation of praise: ‘for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, forever and ever. Amen.’

The early disciples effectively ‘bookended’ this wonderful prayer with God: from Jesus’ commencement of intimacy, ‘Our Father’, to the disciples’ concluding exclamation of God’s power and glory. Our daily life is to be ‘bookended’ by God.

In this New Year may our days be ‘bookended’ with God!

Shalom

John :-)

Note: This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Tasmanian Anglican.

The Five Faces of Islam

At the CMS Summerview Conference Tasmania this year we had the pleasure of hearing Dr John Azumah speak.  Here are some my notes from one of his talks (my notes are not the responsibility of Dr John Azumah, although any credit is due to him!).

I found this helpful in educating me/us in the task of meeting people ‘where they are’ and not presuming to understand them simply because they are ‘Muslim’ or ‘Christian’ or ‘atheist’.

The idea of different ‘faces’ of Islam prevents the simplicisms of believing and saying “all Muslims are ….” Rather, Muslims are people for us to get to know, seek to understand, with whom to build the common good and to love in Christ.

Islam is diverse → Islams
The Challenge of Islam: Ebrahim Moosan: good and bad Muslims. 1.6 billion Muslims

1. The Missionary Face of Islam
pro Islam and anti-Christians/anti-Jews polemics (in the Qur’an) – this is built into Islam
Note:  Christianity sees itself as post Jewish (and Islam sees it itself as post Christian)
“Dawah” Islamic Mission 7th Century to 19th Century energised by Christian missions and financed by petro dollars/Muslim Governments.
“Missionary Face”– eg. Ahmed Deedat, South Africa

2. The Mystical Face
Bill Musk, “The Unseen Face of Islam” of Quranic Islam in Africa and Asia
Sufism, folk Islam, takes the supernatural seriously, dreams, exorcism, visions
Islamic Spirituality.
Similar to Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Experiential. Less influence of Bible/Qur’an among mystics
Mystical Face: Rumi 13th Century, Persian, Shakespeare of the East inspired by Christian mysticism.

3. The Ideological Face (Political Face)
Claims the public place for Islam: Islamic State governed by Sharia Law.
God’s will has to be implemented in God’s earth and Muslims (those who submit to God) are the ones empowered by God to bring in God’s rule.
No “Caesar’s coin” of Jesus’ teaching in Islam. No sharing between Caesar and God because Caesar belongs to God.
Ideological Face: Gumi: “Politics is more important than prayer”

4. The Militant Face
Seeks to achieve political ends through violence and warfare.
ISIS, Boko-Haram, al-Qaeda
Quote Qur’an and Islamic texts and romantised history and take Jihad into their own hands.
They do not follow rules for declaring Jihad e.g. by a Muslim Ruler (Some similarity to Just War theory)
“Militant Face”: reformist rebellions wishing to “purify” Islam, and therefore theocracy essential and democracy must be gotten rid of.
Inspire fear, use conspiracy, lies and propaganda, exploit weak and corrupt state institutions.
95% of victims of Militants are Muslims e.g. Pakistan
Many Muslims become disillusioned by Militant and Ideological Islam.

5. The Progressive Face
Reformers: self-critical, open to other world views.
Struggle for the soul of Islam
“Progressive Face”: Makmud Tahar(?), hung in 1985 for blasphemy.
Critical re-read of Islamic texts/ source books, defends rights of minorities, promotes gender equality.
Reformers quote Calvin, Zwingli (Christian Reformers)
Seen in Turkey, Iran, Sudan, Indonesia, South Africa West

*To listen to Dr John Azumah’s talks and also to hear Archbishop Glenn Davies, please chick here.

A case of mistaken identity!

Once a year, I attend Bishop’s Day at each of the Anglican Schools in Tasmania.  My role to the schools is one of Visitor and part of this role is to support the schools in maintaining their rich Christian and specifically Anglican heritage, ethos and values.

On Ash Wednesday I visited St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart where I visited classes in the ELC, Junior, Middle and Senior schools. I also watched a trailer of the Paddington movie and spoke at the Middle and Senior School Chapel service about life being a gift to be either treasured or trashed. I ended my day by meeting with the Principals and Chairs of the three Anglican Schools.

As many of you would know, I love visiting the schools, seeing the children in action and witnessing them being nurtured intellectually, emotionally physically and spiritually.  It was encouraging, inspiring and great fun!

I have to share two comments made to me on the day which made me smile……

“Are you his Father?”, one Kindergarten student asked me, whilst pointing at the Chaplain (a fine man 20 years my junior!).

Then at the Senior School, a staff member congratulated me on the “great news about my daughter”.  But it was not my daughter, it was the Dean of Hobart’s daughter who graduated last year from the School scoring in the top 100 students!  I must say, I was very flattered to be associated with such high intelligence! Now when I look at the beardless Dean, I do wonder at where our similarity lies! :-)

What an honour to be associated with these two fine fellas! Lots of laughter.

My thanks and congratulations to Collegiate and in particular the new Principal Judith Tudball on their outstanding school.

Celebration of Marriage Vows

I was asked recently for a copy of a ‘Celebration of Marriage Vows’ order of service (from my parish days as Vicar of St Paul’s, Glen Waverley, Victoria – a number of years ago!).

Here is a copy for you to view here.

Joy and tears of deep emotion surrounded the couples affirming their vows as the held hands facing each other and repeated the solemn words of their marriage vows. Oh, how deep the love that journeys through the weeks and months and years!

Even after all these years, I can still remember the emotion of the day and the impact that this had on the lives of the couples, their children, grandchildren, parents, members of their bridal party and friends who all took part in this ‘Celebration of Marriage Vows’ service.

As well as the actual service, we all enjoyed the cutting of the cake (by the oldest couple), tables lovingly prepared with afternoon tea for the reception, wedding photos to guess the identity of the couples! I am sure there were other details – it was a terrific celebration!

You might like to organise a service similar to this – a celebration to connect with the history of parishioners, their family and friends, and the wider community.

See also, Men and Women in Marriage and Excellent Marriage

Let’s make ‘Domestic Violence’ an oxymoron!

Domestic violence must become an oxymoron.

A recent newspaper article from a courageous Christian woman highlights the tragedy and suffering of domestic violence.

In my first year as Bishop of Tasmania I reflected on the inadequacy of Christian responses to domestic violence and chose to present some thoughts in a public forum on the Today Seminar on National Stop Violence against Women in Hobart, 26 April 2001. This is the text of my presentation “What does it take….to stop Domestic Violence?”.

Three years later I developed these concerns in an address to a Conference sponsored by Jireh House, a ministry for women and children seeking refuge from abuse.

It seems the issue is worth restating.  Below are excerpts from the Address, A Christian Response to Domestic Violence, given in Hobart, 29 April 2004.

I believe we can learn from some of the mistakes the church worldwide has made in responding to sexual abuse by clergy and domestic violence in the past. Mistakes that led to more children being sexually abused – or in the case of domestic violence, more women and children suffering deep and long lasting damage. (Domestic violence includes physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual manipulation and abuse, isolation, economical deprivation and stalking.)

The first response of the church worldwide to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, was ‘not to hear’, because the belief was ‘that good Christian men, who we knew, could not behave like that.’ So the church’s first response was ‘not to hear’ and its consequence, ‘not to believe.’ We face the same tendency when told of domestic violence.

Once the church did finally believe that this bad behaviour had occurred, the second mistaken response was to treat the abuse as any other one-off moral failure. This underestimates the grip this behaviour has in people’s lives, and the layers and layers of self-deception and control involved. (Isn’t this another parallel to domestic violence?) Thus, in the early days, offenders of child sexual abuse were handled using time honoured Christian strategies for dealing with moral failure. They confessed to their superiors in tears, promised never to do it again, and were sent off on spiritual retreats, etc., had absolution pronounced over them – and leaders felt that the perpetrators had truly repented and reinstated them.

Unfortunately, they were reinstated to positions from which they could abuse others. A few may have stopped, but others re-offended, and more young lives were ruined. What occurred in Boston occurred in too many places. Can we learn from their mistakes? When we reinstate someone, we need to ask, ‘Who are we asking to carry the risk, and pay the price if this doesn’t work, if this goes wrong?’ It is one thing to risk ourselves, but should we ask children to carry that risk?

Can you see the parallels with domestic violence? Are we also in danger in the area of domestic violence of simplistically applying great Christian principles? Of applying them in a way that colludes with the perpetrator about some watered down version of reality? In ways that do not even begin to address the grip that this has in lives, nor challenge them to the hard work of change that must flow from true repentance. We help neither victims nor perpetrators if we do that. Some mistakes Christians have made

1.We have fooled ourselves that domestic violence does not happen in good Christian homes – thus we have failed to hear and failed to believe.

My own experience is that when told of abuse by a man I know, I am inclined to disbelief: how can this be true? He is a Christian; I know him and have even ministered and prayed with him. This discomfort inclines me/us not to hear or believe a victim…

2. We have clutched at simplistic tools.

The discomfort and inadequacy we pastors feel when faced with this issue – our own discomfort, often rushes us into suggesting simplistic solutions to both victims and perpetrators. We often clutch at simplistic answers, because of our own discomfort. We can suggest solutions like ‘forgiving others’ or ‘God can forgive you’ as a way of trying to bring people’s pain to an end: to jam the lid back on the box of suffering….

3.The tools we have given perpetrators have often been inadequate.

If we have challenged the perpetrator, the tools we have given him may well have been inadequate. In practice we have assisted him or her to evade reality or the need to do the deep work of change…

4.The tools we have given victims have also often been simplistic.

We know the power that forgiving another has, so we can advocate forgiveness prematurely as a solution to a victim’s problems….

Conclusion

Our first step is to acknowledge that it can be our own discomfort as pastors that can help us collude with perpetrators into slick solutions, and pronouncing a rapid absolution. We also acknowledge that we need to insist that other professionals be called in, so that like Zacchaeus, the perpetrator gives legs to his sorry, by addressing what will help bring about change.

I can tell you some of the dilemmas. I don’t pretend to know the answers. I am both grateful for the ministry of Jireh House and confident that through today’s Jireh House seminar pastors and church leaders can learn more about our Christian response to domestic violence.

It will help us build a healthy church and a healthy Tasmania.

See also ministry to the Church in the Solomon Islands in 2012 concerning domestic violence. I participated with the team that led the workshops which were sponsored by World Vision.

The Christian community, the Church, must commit to making domestic violence an oxymoron.

Please remember: If you are in an abusive situation:

  • Contact free Domestic Violence support services from State Governments and volunteer groups which offer counselling, legal advice, and a safe place to stay.
  • Walk into your local police station.
  • If you have been assaulted, call 000 immediately.

Jesus loves me!

As the President of The Bush Church Aid Society Australia (BCA), I was invited to submit an editorial for the BCA Autumn Prayer Notes –  and here it is!

Jesus loves me!

I had just announced our song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, and the Bible tells me so”, when a parishioner walked quickly down the aisle, stood in front of me and presented me with a red rose. I accepted the rose with a light heart and a wide grin. Anglican life is rarely dull!

However, the best was yet to come! As I accepted the rose, she asked in a loud voice, “Bishop, do you love Jesus?” To the unexpected question I quickly affirmed, “Yes, I love Jesus!” The congregation was all smiles as I stood there in all my Episcopal glory, holding a red rose.

Expecting the parishioner to return to her pew, I announced our song for a second time. But the woman (who had remained standing in front of me) repeated her question in a booming voice, “Bishop, do you love Jesus?” “Yes”, I replied in a loud voice and again with a wide smile, “I love Jesus!”

Satisfied at last, she then walked back to her pew and turned to face me as I finished announcing for the third time our song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, and the Bible tells me so”.

At this point I confess that I was feeling a little relieved as I was not sure where the previous questions might have led. But just then, she shouted out for the entire world to hear, “Bishop, I love Jesus too!”

Well, you can imagine, the congregation erupted with joy, laughter, clapping and enthusiastically affirmed our forthright Sister. This was an undoubted “God-moment” and the angels in heaven would have danced wildly!

Our celebration of “Jesus loves me!” is central to our great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter. The joy of the coming of Jesus Christ to a humble stable in Bethlehem, the unjust and cruel death of the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, the world changing resurrection and glorious ascension, all sound out “Jesus loves me!”

This is the Good News that we proclaim. And like the Anglican parishioner in Tasmania, we look for the response, “Yes, I love Jesus!”

BCA Missioners and supporters, let us all work and pray for the positive response of every heart to God’s glorious act of love in Christ Jesus.  There is no greater task!

May the Holy Spirit empower and bless our mission.

The Autumn Prayer notes can be found here

You can access The Bush Church Aid Society of Australia website here

Tasmanian Anglican – February 2015

My article for the February edition of the Tasmanian Anglican is titled ‘The Lord’s Prayer is the Disciples’ Prayer’ and I ask some questions…..”Jesus’ prayer surely reflects His heart for His disciples’ life and ministry. Can we consider the Lord’s Prayer to understand and live more fully our discipleship in the world today?  How do the phrases of this prayer help us how to view God and God’s world and to view our discipleship in God’s world; discipleship that will hallow God’s name and service God’s kingdom purposes?”  To read more of my article, please select this link.

More articles from the latest Tasmanian Anglican include:

During this year I will be leading seminars around Tasmania on Christian discipleship shaped by the Lord’s Prayer. The Seminar topic, ‘Christian Voices in Public Places’ will be an opportunity to grow our ability to engage with family, friends, work colleagues and community groups about contemporary issues. Details of seminar dates and venues are available here.  I look forward to seeing you!

Lent Study The God of Life

Lent Study 2015The God of Life” by Bishop John Harrower

God is the God of Life. It is no accident that the great “I Am” sayings of Jesus include the very staples of living: bread and water. And it is not an idle thing that we are invited at Holy Communion to feed on Christ spiritually, in our hearts, by faith with thanksgiving. God desires us to live Christlike lives.

Lent has traditionally been a special season in the growth and development of a Christian’s life. Through looking carefully into our outer and inner lives, with reflection and repentance, we find renewal.

The Holy Spirit takes our prayers, thoughts, questions and study time, and shapes our lives to deeper discipleship.

A special focus on God’s work in us that enables us to experience life in its fullness is explored in each of these five studies:

Study One: Creator of Life
Study Two:
Promiser of Life
Study Three: Sustainer of Life
Study Four:
Rescuer of Life
Study Five: Renewer of Life
Study Six (Holy week) ‘Ruler of Life’ is published on the web site.

May these Lenten studies be to you a life-changing event through the power of the Holy Spirit.

‘God of Life’ is a five part study (plus study 6 on the web) of the readings and Psalms for the Eucharist based on the readings for Year B.

Sample pages of Introduction & Study 1 and Click here for pdf file

Additional material
This is provided on our web pages and a password is NOT needed: Study 6 and Sermon Outlines and additional info. Detail here,

2015 Going Further contains background material for sermons which can equally be used by the Study Group Leader to help understand
some of the study book material better.

1. Background Material for all six studies ( Word version) – Click Here

2. Study 6 (Holy Week) PDF spreads version - Click Here.

3. Study 6 (Holy Week) PDF version for photocopiers with booklet option – Click Here 

Order copies of the Study Book, here.

• Cost $ 9.50 plus postage (No postage on orders 40+)
• Same price as last year.
• Full colour
• Discounts on “The God of Life” for orders 50 and over.
• Books can be ordered and paid for on line or we will send an account.
• The readings are based on the Year “B” lenten lectionary readings using ‘The Australian Lectionary’.

Leaders and followers – Equipping our children

James Oakley has written a stimulating article in his column ‘Parents as Pastors’. Please read on:

The question that has stuck with me is this: how does this idea (of leaders and followers) translate to my family?
How do I lead my children in a way that helps them to understand ‘followership’?

As I write, I am challenged to respond by asking three questions of myself:

1.  How am I modeling ‘followership’? What message do my children get when they hear me talk about our church leadership, or our nation’s leadership? What pattern do my children see when they are in the car with me, or at school pick up, or out shopping? Are my children following a servant-leader, or a rebel?

2.  How does the way I lead my children affect their ability to submit? Do I approach family decisions prayerfully? Am I willing to explain myself and my decisions to my children? Am I open to hearing from them and discussing decisions?

3.  What do I need to do to help them understand what they are experiencing under my leadership? Where are the ‘teachable moments’? Are there steps I can build in and explain to the children when we are in a dispute about a family decision? Do I articulate how I hear and consider their objections?

What about you? What is God saying to you today about how you equip your children to live and lead well in community with others?

James Oakley
See full article: http://www.tasmaniananglican.com/ta201406-05/

‘God with us’ Christmas Sermon 2014

The audio recording of the sermon (which should bear some similarity to the speaking notes which follow!). Happy Christmas! :-)

Christmas Sermon: God with us: Comfort in risk taking. Do I follow? St David’s Cathedral 2014

Bible reading, The Gospel according to John 1:1-14

What joy! What happiness as we gather to worship this day: this very, very special day.

It is a time of joy, celebration, fun and unexpected discoveries. The centre of our attention is the baby Jesus.

Following last Tuesday’s media interviews here in the Cathedral, in front of our Nativity scene, a TV cameraman asked me to step aside so that he could take film footage of the Nativity. I, of course, understand why the cameraman preferred the manger to my best looking self!

But, suddenly a cry rang out, “Where’s the baby (Jesus)?” The cameraman was pointing at the empty crib! I thought, “Oh, no! We’ve lost the baby Jesus! And the media are here to report it!”

But then, salvation! I remembered: it was still 2 days before Christmas Day (we were still in the season of Advent) and the Baby Jesus had not yet been born. It’s Ok. We have not lost the baby. All will be well. We went in search of Dean (of the Cathedral) and asked if he could find the baby Jesus in order to take the filming.

Ruth, the Cathedral Administrator, kindly produced the baby Jesus who was filmed in the crib before being returned to a secret place. – I might add that I still do not know of the whereabouts of the baby’s secret lodgings as the Dean does not trust he bishop with such secrets! J

Ah, the fun and joy of Christmas! The baby Jesus appeared here last night in our Nativity scene. Praise God!

CHRISTMAS IS JOY.

Christmas is the joy of God with us. God is with us in the Baby of Bethlehem. The Christmas accounts sing this wonderful message; this love story: “God with us”. In our reading from the Gospel according to John we heard those profound words, “and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) What joy that the God of all glory and greatness comes to be with us, His creation! This is astounding!

To ‘be with’ someone is at the centre of relationships, of our human life. There is something special about being with one another. In a time of need it is particularly special when someone is with us.

This week I spoke with parents whose child spent 92 days in hospital. The parents rearranged their life so that one of them would be at the child’s bedside every one of those 92 nights. Do you think their child appreciated this – that his parents were with him? You betcha’ he did! They were with him.

In the same way, I am sure that you can recall times when someone was with you. And I am sure that you can also recall times when you have been with someone. To ‘be with’ is to share life, a moment, times, this season of life. ‘God with us’ shares our life, in fact, every moment of our life.

This identification of God with us, of ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ is at the heart of our Christmas. It gives abundant reason to celebrate, to party, to thank God for the One who is full of ‘grace and truth’ who is God with us.

At the heart of the Bible’s account of the birth of Jesus is that God has had compassion on his people and done something about it: God has become human and has fully identified himself with his people. The birth of Jesus is the ultimate sign of God’s love for us.

Yes, firstly, CHRISTMAS IS JOY.

Secondly, CHRISTMAS IS LOVE’S COST.

The flight of the Holy family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18) shows the drama of God’s costly love for this chaotic and damaged world.

Recall that the angels have sung praises to God for his extravagant love and yet human evil causes the flight of that very Love.  Emmanuel, God with us, is forced to flee from the very ones He came to help!

God’s love in the Incarnation, in the birth of the vulnerable Baby of Bethlehem, is of course quite extraordinary, indeed, quite outrageous!

A sincere non-Christian said to me of the Incarnation, “Bishop, it’s crazy!” I agreed with him, “Yes, I agree. If I was God I wouldn’t have done it!” But, God did do it. God in love lived among us.

This is awesome! God: Creator, Sustainer, Majesty on High, Lord, King of Kings, Sovereign Ruler, God of all glory.

All this speaks of God’s greatness and glory, and yet God decided to not just live with us, but to become one of us.

This is truly awesome and we rightly worship God.

For our each one of us, gathered here in this afternoon: what does this mean? Will we worship this One? Will we follow Him?

Thirdly, CHRISTMAS GIVES DIGNITY TO HUMANITY.

The coming of God to be with us as a human being, the Incarnation, demonstrates that each and every girl and boy, man and woman, is dignified, is honoured, is precious, is worthy of respect, and is of the uttermost value.

And this dignity is given to everyone. Unfortunately, at times we are tempted to consider that some people are less worthy than other people.

Do you recall to whom God sent the angel choir on that Christmas night? Yes, to the shepherds! In those days shepherds were social outcasts.   Australian scholar Leon Morris says it this way, [Leon Morris, Luke, IVP London, 1974, p.84],

“As a class shepherds had a bad reputation. The nature of their calling prevented them from observing the ceremonial law which meant so much to religious people. More regrettable was their habit of confusing “mine” with “thine” as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law-court. . . . they did come from a despised class”

God in love sent the angelic choir to these social outcasts; not the Village mayor. Not the Governor but to those on the margins of society.

We are to treat all people with honour, worth, dignity and respect. And that includes people fleeing from persecution!

Each and every person is precious to God. Each and every person should be precious to us, and our Government, also.

Thirdly, then, Christmas gives dignity to humanity.

Fourthly, CHRISTMAS IS INVITATION: God’s invitation to “Come on home!”: for us to be with God.

At Christmas, in the Incarnation, God puts up His ‘Welcome’ sign. God takes the risk of inviting us all into the safety, security and sustenance of His embrace, His eternal home. God took the risk of inviting us into His family.

But just as the Holy Family was rejected by the rulers and had to flee to Egypt for safety, so also, some people reject Christ and members of Christ’s followers today.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for their faith in Christ even as we worship on this Christmas morning.

If we understand this how can we be indifferent to the plight of our fellow Christians? That which we can celebrate at this time of the year is a matter of life and death in other parts of the world.

I might add that the Western world’s indifference to this suffering is a scandal. (More information is available at #wearen, the Barnabas Fund and The Vicar of Baghdad.)

We should indeed be remembering all who suffer persecution and injustice. This leads us to ask some difficult questions about our own nation at this time.

For the child, whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate grew up in Nazareth and then called people to follow him in ways of truth, justice, purity, service and self-giving.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.

Do you follow?

How are we as a Christian community, as families as individuals, following Jesus in truth, in justice; in purity of life; in service; in self-giving and in worship?

Can we follow God’s way of invitation; of welcome and let love make a way for being with people, including difficult people, including asylum seekers?

Love carries risk, and it is the risk that the Divine Lover takes.

God took the risk of becoming human that we might experience true love but sadly we humans have not responded well to the divine invitation, to God’s welcome. Indeed at the very birth of the Baby of Bethlehem, there was welcome neither in the Inn nor in the Holy Family’s home province.

In the face of problems does God withdraw His invitation to us? No, God’s invitation continues to be extended to us, even amidst difficulties and disappointments.

Can we follow God’s way of invitation, of welcome, and let love make a way for asylum seekers?

Can risk-taking love prevail in Australia today? – Of course it can, and we are here to say and to do so.

Today we celebrate the joy of God’s love in Christ.

Today we celebrate God’s costly love.

Today celebrate the dignity of all girls and boys, men and women.

Today we celebrate Christ’s invitation and welcome to all people.

Today we celebrate our commitment to follow Christ.

Today we celebrate God who dwells with us.

Happy Christmas!

Bishop John Harrower

NOTE: As you came to the Cathedral for worship this morning did you notice the Christmas sign?

The Cathedral sign encourages us to ask: Firstly, what does the sign mean? And, secondly, having determined that the sign refers to following Jesus, to ask, do I follow Jesus?

At the heart of the sign is the letter (N) ن in arabic script, equivalent to the letter “N” in the English language script. This “N” sign has become a symbol of persecuted Christians throughout the Middle East. How did this sign become well known?