Amnesty Service 2021 with Rev Dr Phil Wall
Once again, I’m thrilled that St. David’s Uniting Church begins advent with its annual Amnesty service – and that they get to share the service with friends from Castle Square and beyond. Starting the new church year with a service which focuses on justice, solidarity, and hope – especially at a time when all three can seem in short supply – is a wonderful way of reminding ourselves of the ways of God’s kingdom before embarking on our public ministry…much like Jesus did in the Temple in Luke, chapter 4. It’s a way of asking the question ‘What does God require of us today?’ with the answer – as it’s been for millennia – ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God’.
Reading: John 1:1-14 – Margaret Morris
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.
I know that passage means a lot to Margaret – as it might to many more of us here today – spoken as they are at many advent and Christmas services. There’s little argument that with its clever echoes of the Genesis account, radical theology and gentle phrasing, that it’s an exquisitely written piece of poetic philosophy…but what do these words written nearly two millennia ago have to do with human rights today?!
Well, the story of the Christian faith and human rights is a long, complicated one. Just look at the relationship between the two today – whilst some churches in Brazil display the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights alongside Bible verses, suggesting it to be a contemporary expression of gospel principles, other churches have been condemned for using religious belief to justify human rights violations, particularly when in regard to those who are female or LGBTQ+, whilst asking the question ‘at what point do we have the right to life’, or indeed the more recent hot topic of the right to worship in a pandemic, and you’ll get – as always – a myriad of different Christian views on the subject.
So what could the Christmas story possibly say about human rights…and briefly, for that matter?!
Well, the very notion of human rights – the idea that all men – and women – are created equal; that each individual has worth, dignity, and rights is not, perhaps, as self-evident as the creators of the US Constitution might have believed. The very fact that they wrote that line whilst owning slaves is testament to that!
And, certainly, two thousand years ago, few believed that that all human beings had worth. Back then, one thing the Romans and Greeks could agree upon was that human life was cheap and the human body disgusting.
In spite of their scriptures which suggested otherwise, the Temple authorities mostly upheld this worldview – a view that was worked into a theology of shame and a religious system which drew a hierarchy of human worth which put straight, educated, abled-bodied men at the top of the tree…as the world has done ever since!
Then, in a sleepy backwater town at the edge of the Empire, a teenage woman was told that she would bear God-with-us. Then the eternal Word became flesh. Then, on an otherwise ordinary night in Bethlehem, God was born in an everyday, unclean stable.
So when we had defined the human body as loathsome and of little worth; God chose it as the vehicle to express divine love. When we had decided that God was holy, distinct and separate from creation Jesus came along – surrendering the set-apartness of God to be born and live in our midst. And in case we still didn’t get the message; in case we still clung to the shame of the body, Jesus touched lepers, washed feet and embraced women; wept and laughed and ate and drank; lived, died and rose again in the body. When we looked upon our filthy flesh with disgust, the eternal Word came to share it and sanctify it, reminding us of its original goodness; of the inherent worth of all who are enfleshed!
Today, in a world in which women’s rights are forever at risk; where the world’s richest nations turn their backs on those whose lives have been destroyed by war and climate change; where political and religious leaders use fear and hate to encourage suspicion of the stranger and distrust of anyone who doesn’t look, sound and act like we who have worth, perhaps retelling the Christmas story is more important than ever as we are reminded that each and every human being is extravagantly loved by God; that all human beings are holy and should be treated as such – the hungry children of South Sudan, the oppressed women of Afghanistan, the refugees crossing the channel, those on both sides of the wall in modern day Bethlehem…all of us. Each of us – created, known, and embraced by God.
So what does the Christmas have to say about human rights?
Quite a lot actually…but let’s start inherent dignity of each individual. A dignity we declare now as we begin this new church year with a campaign for justice…
Prayers of Intercession
The Psalmist says,
I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord.
The global picture seems unbearable but perhaps each of us can be a small light on the darkness.
Help us to always treat people around us kindly and with respect.
We pray that all countries throughout the world begin to treat its citizens in this way.
Jesus gave us a blue print to a just way of life. Love one another as I have loved you.
We pray for equality for everyone whether it is about race or gender. Everyone’s right to shelter, food and education.
We pray that countries such as China and Russia will think less about power and their leaders will show their people more compassion.
We pray for all charities, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Amnesty International and many others who are trying to make a difference.
Help to look at our giving to these organisations.
We live in a free country but we have been sucked into the message of consumerism. Help us to at our lifestyles so that we have an impact on our planet.
Today we have heard about the cases from Amnesty International.
Mikita(15) from Belarus, Janna Jihad who is receiving death threats and Bernardo from Guatemala concerned about climate change. Also yet again we bring before you the family of Nazarin Radcliffe who all need your loving care.
We bring before you all the countries of the world that need your loving care.
All these things, and more, we ask in the name of our brother, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying – Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.
We believe in God:
A communion of Life,
A communion of Love,
A communion of Peace.
We celebrate the coming of God in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
We believe in the Gospel, The Good News, God’s message of peace.
Through Christ, we pray for peace;
With him, we work for peace.
In him, we live for peace:
The peace of all God’s children, to the glory of God. Amen!