Creation matters

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Creation Time 1: Earth
5 September 2021

[ video ]

Season of Creation

What were you doing in 1989?

On 1 September that year, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed that date as a day of special prayers for creation by members of the Orthodox family of churches throughout the world.

In the 32 years which have passed since that proclamation, the idea has spread and developed further.

The World Council of Churches embraced the idea but extended the Season of Creation through to the feast for St Francis of Assisi on 4 October. 

In his 2015 encyclical—Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you, my Lord”)—Pope Francis invoked the words of the famous Canticle of the Sun composed by Francis of Assisi:

Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

The encyclical is well worth a careful read, but at more than 40,000 words is far too lengthy and complex to read during a church service. I draw your attention to the link in these sermon notes, and encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of Francis; both the saint and the Pope.

God saw what happened and it was good

Our first reading this morning was the opening words of the Bible: Genesis chapter one. We only read as far as verse 25 because we shall read the following verses next Sunday when we reflect on humanity as part of creation.

The opening lines of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures imagine the creation of the universe as a process spread over a week.

It is a carefully crafted text, with actions on days 1-2-3 paralleled by developments on days 4-5-6. As is well known, on the seventh day (Shabbat), there is no more creating to be done and God rests.

We are invited to share that sacred rest, and indeed that may be the ultimate point of the opening chapter.

We tend to read it as an account of God making everything, but in reality it is a poetic invitation to join God in observing Shabbat. The point of creation is not activity (staying busy), but resting mindfully.

Along the way we see the harmony of creation and its intrinsic goodness. At the end of the each of the six days of creative activity, other than day 2 when God simply creates the sky, we read: “And God saw that it was good …”

We miss the point of this classic spiritual text if we mistake it for a description of how the world was made. This “story,” as it is called in Genesis 2:4a, is about who made everything (i.e., where does the universe come from) and the character of the universe (it is good) and the point of it all (resting awe).

Creation matters to God

In the ancient world and even in some forms of Christianity today, there is an idea that the physical world is somehow inferior to the physical world, and that this life does not matter as much as the life to come.

Our biblical texts today make it clear that such ideas are mistaken.

Rather than being a distraction from God’s core business, the universe is a sacrament of divine presence, power and truth.

The universe exists because God wished it to be so and it derives from God’s inner love seeking self-expression.

To love nature and care for creation is to worship God.

Indeed, for Christians, God not only created the world but became part of the world in the person of Jesus.

As theologian Sally McFague has reminded us, we can (she would say “must”) think of the world as God’s body.

As Christians we are not really into abstract ideas and disembodied spirits. Our metaphor for afterlife is “resurrection of the body” and not—as many Christians mistakenly think—immortality of the soul. That idea is never found in the Bible, but comes from Greek philosophy.

Logos Hymn

Let’s conclude this brief reflection for the first Sunday in Creation Time with the soaring theology of John chapter one.

This hymn of the Logos is clearly a riff on the creation poem of Genesis.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1–5]

This Logos that brought the universe into being is also at work in us; if we accept his activity within us:

The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him. [John 1:9–11]

And note especially the stunning final stanza of the Logos Hymn:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. [John 1:14]

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent with us …

There is no essential divide between matter and the spirit.

We care about the world—and we care for our Planet Earth—because they are not only gifts from God, but also because these are ways for us to express our love for God.

I finish with these words from St Francis:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, 
especially through my lord Brother Sun, 
who brings the day; and you give light through him. 
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour! 
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, 
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, 
and through the air, cloudy and serene, 
and every kind of weather through which 
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, 
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful 
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, 
who sustains us and governs us and who produces 
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

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Why pray

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Pentecost 13B
22 August 2021

[ video ]

This seems like a good day to talk about prayer …

Prayer is always an important topic:

  • relates to PRAXIS and not THEORY
  • touches on how faith is done outside the walls of the Cathedral
  • but also concerns the essential spiritual DNA of the Cathedral

We are a place of prayer:

  • our bricks call people to imagine there is more to life than the everyday
  • we point to eternity
  • we invite people to connect

Our readings today all refer to prayer:

  • Dedication of the temple in Jerusalem
  • Psalm 84
  • Paul urges his readers to pray for him
  • Jesus attends synagogue in Capernaum

But this is also a day when churches are calling on the nation to pray

  • we might wonder why now and not much sooner than now
  • but today is the chosen date
  • should we join in?
  • will it make any difference?

If prayer worked

So, I start by asking, Does prayer work?

Imagine if it did!

  • droughts would vanish
  • floods would not happen
  • bush fires would not wreak havoc on creation
  • wars would disappear
  • peace would break out everywhere
  • hatred, fear and xenophobia would vanish
  • the Queen would live for ever
  • all illness would disappear
  • cancer would not steal our loved ones from our arms
  • we would have the politicians we need rather than the ones we deserve
  • and every lapsed grandchild would come back to the faith

If prayer worked in the ways we pretend that we expect it to work, then the Cathedral would be packed every Sunday. And probably every day during the week as well! People would be banging on our doors and flooding our email account, asking us to teach them how to pray.

However, prayer is not a formula; it is an attitude.

God is not enmeshed in our transactions, and she is not interested in cutting a special deal for us! No matter what we promise to do afterwards if God would just do this little thing for us … right now!

BTW, we cannot escape from this moral challenge by invoking, “God knows best” when our prayers are not answered.

If God actually knows best, then why do so many bad things happen all the time?

And what kind of God are people imagining when they even speak about God in such terms?

Looking at this from another angle: God’s perspective

We often think about prayer from our human perspective:

  • we are asking for things that we cannot achieve by ourselves
  • in our better moments, prayer is attentive appreciation for life
  • for advanced souls, prayer is simply choosing to be in the presence of the sacred

But have we ever thought about prayer from God’s perspective?

  • can we imagine God praying for something?
  • Jesus could and I do
  • for Jesus, God’s prayer is called the commonwealth of God
  • it is expressed in the creation of our amazing cosmos in all its diversity

God has a dream (a prayer, a hope).

Like our own prayers, God’s prayer also seems mostly to go unfulfilled

But do we imagine that God ever stops praying? Indeed, in the NT we are asked to imagine Jesus praying for us without ever taking a break!

So, prayer is not really about outcomes but about inputs.

So we choose prayer

We choose to pray.

We do that not because it is a get-out-of-jail card. Rather, we pray because that engages us in the reality about which we are praying.

If we pray about the poor, we find that we start to care about them. Or perhaps we do already care about them and that is why we pray. Perhaps it is a circle with care growing deeper as we pray more, and those prayers combined with compassion generating action to make a difference … then more prayer, more compassion, more action … more prayer …

You can repeat that paragraph with peace, refugees, climate change, or COVID-19 … in place of “the poor.” 

But never forget that it is the poor who always suffer most, as we are seeing repeatedly in Western Sydney these past few weeks.

It is the poor who are central to God’s own prayers, and it is no surprise that they were right at the centre of the ministry of Jesus.

There is no situation which is not improved by prayer when those prayers draw us into compassionate solidarity with those for whom we pray and compel us into action to set the world aright so that God’s prayers can be answered. By us!

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Religion as wisdom quest

Dormition of our Lady
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
15 August 2021

[ video ]

Mary, Mother of the Lord

Our liturgical headline this Sunday is the feast day to commemorate the death of Mary, mother of our Lord.

For Christians in the East, this the feast of the Falling Asleep of the Virgin, the Dormition. For Roman Christians in the West, it is the Feast of the Assumption. For Australian Anglicans it is the last of a series of six Marian festivals which retain “red letter” status in our calendar:

Like all the other Marian feasts, this festival is a mix of fact and pious imagination.

The factual element is simply that Mary surely died at some stage during the first century. It is actually remarkable that she was still alive around the time of Easter, since peasant women rarely lived into middle age or beyond. We can presume she died within a decade or so of Easter.

The rest is pious imagination from much later times, reflecting devotion to Mary as the ever-Virgin Mother of God (Theotokos in Greek).

Truth to tell we know almost nothing about Mary, and we know even less about her personality, her emotions or her personal religion. That, of course, has not prevented the hagiographers from providing intimate details of her life and inner disposition.

The ancient Christians—and many modern believers—like to imagine Mary as perfect in every way, as befits (they imagine) the mother of our Lord.

Solomon

In the first reading, which comes from the regular lections for this Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we have a very different character: Solomon, the fabled ruler of Jerusalem.

Here too the character is mostly sketched by pious imagination. There is very little history, if any, in the way that the Bible describes Solomon. 

However, Solomon could hardly be more different from Mary of Nazareth, mother of the Lord.

To take one simple point of difference: Mary is widely believed to have been a virgin when Jesus was conceived and to have remained a virgin throughout her whole life. Solomon, on the other hand, famously had 700 wives (all of them princesses) and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).

Despite that remarkable conjugal achievement, as the Bible tells the tale, Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. 

Yet the same Bible describes his reign as a failure and his legacy as civil war.

Truth beyond factuality

Neither character’s story is based in history.

These tales are the stuff of legend, and they are spun by powerful men who despised and feared the feminine. They seem mostly to be repeated and defended today by men with those same mindsets.

Yet the point of these pious fictions is not what they pretend to tell us about either Mary or Solomon.

The point of these stories is that they invite us to imagine what constitutes a good life.

Today we reflect on the death of a peasant woman from a remote Galilean village, and the career of a powerful king who collected women as trophies the way some people collect sports cars or race horses.

So what is the good life?

And what part does religion play in us attaining the good life?

Is the Cathedral offering medication for anxiety, or wisdom for life?

Are we selling fire insurance for the next life, or making meaning out of this life here and now?

Are we pretending to have the answers for everyone’s questions, or are we seeking to form a spiritual community which follows a path that allows us to live with the questions and not need to have all the answers?

In the story of Mary, the good life is to SAY YES to God.

In the story of Solomon, the good life is to SEEK WISDOM not power.

As we come to the Table of Jesus this morning, I am seeking wisdom for life. 

How about you?

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Antipas wants to meet Jesus

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
12 July 2021

Jesus at the court of Herod Antipas

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This week we have another biblical curve ball served up the lectionary committee. Thanks, guys!

In both the first reading from 2 Samuel 6 and the Gospel we have rich and powerful men behaving badly. Like footballers. Like politicians. Like rich and powerful blokes.

The Gospel passage starts innocently enough: Antipas wants to meet Jesus. 

Who didn’t; and who doesn’t?

But then Mark gets into the gossip. We all love gossip.

Matthew (to his credit) cleans it up a bit, while Luke simply omits that whole scene from his Gospel.

It seems to me that Herodias was not the only person dancing. There was also a weird kind of threesome involving Antipas, John and Jesus.

Let’s review the dance cards.

Antipas

Herod Antipas if you don’t mind. Better still, just call me, Herod!

Antipas was one of three surviving sons of Herod the Great. In the competition over succession following the death of Herod I, Antipas got second prize. His brother Archelaus was given a half-share of their father’s kingdom, while Antipas and their half-brother Philip each received one quarter. Hence the title, Tetrarch (ruler of a fourth).

Antipas spent much of his 40+ years as a ruler trying to secure the Roman appointment as “King of the Jews,” but ended up in exile after his nephew—Herod Agrippa I—accused him of planning a rebellion and snatched the prized title for himself. 

The territory assigned to Antipas was in two pieces: a southern region (Peraea) on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, plus Galilee in the north.

Antipas was obsessed with royal power and ended up losing everything. He is a tragic figure.

John

John was a Jewish prophet who was active in the southern area controlled by Antipas.

From the perspective of Antipas, John was a troublemaker and a potential rebel. John was stirring up opposition to Antipas on the basis of him divorcing his first wife, a Nabataean princess, and marrying Herodias, his sister-in-law.

Actually, Antipas had bigger problems than John since his former father-in-law was less than impressed and invaded Antipas’s territory. The Roman Legate in Syria did eventually intervene to rescue Antipas and compelled Aretas to withdraw, but he also seemed hostile towards Antipas and delayed intervening until after Antipas had suffered serious losses.

John’s public criticism was not helping Antipas get over the public humiliation.

Worse still, John was telling everyone who would listen that God was about to send the Messiah and establish a new kingdom that would reflect the covenant values of God.

Just as his father had wished to do before him with the visting Magi, Antipas detained the troublesome prophet and eventually had him executed. The murder is historical fact, but the events of Mark 6 seem to be legend.

Antipas would be amazed to think people are still talking about John and Jesus after 2,000 years, while hardly anyone has heard of him!

Jesus

When John was arrested by Antipas that seems to have been the trigger for Jesus to begin his activity in the northern region of Antipas’ micro-kingdom (see Matthew 4:12-17):

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali … From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” [Matthew 4:12–13, 17]

Jesus was a protégé of John, and he steps into the gap caused by the arrest of John. From his own prison cell, John sent disciples to ask Jesus whether he was “the one who is to come”:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” [Matthew 11:2–3]

Jesus based himself at Capernaum, which was about halfway between the new city Antipas had founded at Tiberias and the “safe zone” in the NE region of Palestine ruled by Philip the Tetrarch, Antipas’ step-brother and bitter rival for the throne.

Several of the disciples of Jesus came from Bethsaida inside the territory of Philip, and according to Matthew the parents of Jesus came from the southern region originally allocated to Archelaus. The circle of Jesus had no reason to support Antipas, and all the more so after he arrests and then murders John.

Antipas hears rumors about a John 2.0, a guy called “Jesus” (Joshua in Hebrew). Antipas wonders whether John has been raised from the dead. He wants to meet Jesus.

Jesus was also talking about imperial power, and speaks incessantly of the reign/empire of God (basileia tou theou) which was not only coming very soon but was already here!

Indeed, Jesus tells people to act as if the reign of God is already here.

That means, of course, acting as if Herod Antipas is no longer the Tetrarch and will never become king.

Antipas meets Jesus

In the Gospel of Luke, there is one scene where Antipas finally gets to meet Jesus. Like Jesus, Antipas is in Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus is arrested by the Temple authorities and handed over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. When Pilate hears that Jesus is from Galilee he passes the problem of what to do with Jesus across to Antipas:

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. [Luke 23:6–12]

This episode, of course, is the scene in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod invites Jesus to perform a miracle, or maybe just walk across his swimming pool!

Jesus, I am overjoyed 
You’ve been getting quite a name 
All around the place. 

Healing cripples 
Raising from the dead. 
And now I understand 
You’re God … 
At least that’s what You’ve said. 

So You are the Christ 
You’re the great Jesus Christ. 
Prove to me that you’re divine 
Change my water into wine. 

That’s all you need do 
And I’ll know it’s all true. 
C’mon King of the Jews. 

Jesus, you just won’t believe  
The hit you’ve made around here. 
You are all we talk about 
The wonder of the year! 

Oh, what a pity  
If it’s all a lie …
Still I’m sure that you can rock 
The cynics if you try. 

So if you are the Christ 
You’re the great Jesus Christ 
Prove to me that 
You’re no fool 
Walk across my swimming pool. 

If You do that for me 
Then I’ll let you go free. 
C’mon, King of the Jews!

I only ask things I’d ask any superstar. 
What is it that you have got 
That puts You where You are? 

I am waiting, yes, I’m a captive fan 
I’m dying to be shown 
That You are not just any man. 

So if you are the Christ 
Yes, the great Jesus Christ 
Feed my household with this bread 

You can do it on your head. 
Or has something gone wrong? 
Why do You take so long? 
Come on, King of the Jews! 

Hey, aren’t you scared of me, Christ? 
Mr. Wonderful Christ …
You’re a joke, You’re not the Lord! 
You are nothing but a fraud! 

Take Him away 
He’s got nothing to say 
Get out, You King of the … get out 
Get out, You King of the Jews
Get out, You King of the Jews 
Get out of my life!

Antipas wanted to meet Jesus.

As Luke tells the story there is no meeting of minds. Their ideas of power are light years apart. Antipas wants to control others and enjoy power for himself.

Jesus sees power as loving service, tender care, liberating the prisoners, healing the sick. When he replied to the messengers from John, Jesus said: 

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [Matthew 11:4–6]

So Antipas got to meet Jesus. 

Sadly, Antipas had eyes but could not see, and ears but could not hear.

Antipas and Pilate were reconciled after years of rivalry. They saw the world the same way.

As we meet Jesus at the Table this morning, he invites us to see the world differently and live as if the rich and powerful were not in charge. Dare we do that?

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When the light comes

Festival of the Coming of the Light
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
4 July 2021

[ video ]

Around the country today, Anglicans are joining the celebrations to mark 150 years since the first contact between Christianity and the people of the Torres Strait Islands.

Those celebrations enrich our observance of NAIDOC Week 2021.

Rather than detract from the NAIDOC observances, these celebrations of 150 years since the Coming of the Light focus our attention on one specific example of the encounter between the Indigenous peoples of this ancient land and those who came from other places.

Today we zoom up close to hear and reflect upon one of many stories from the past 200+ years. That story is unique but it also part of the rich tapestry of our now shared journey as one nation, and it offers us some clues for future action.

July 1871

People have been living on the islands of the strait between the lands we now call Australia and Papua since before the time of Abraham. I mention that simply to help us put this unique culture alongside the spiritual timelines of our own sacred stories.

That 2,500 years of continuous presence is one small part of the 60,000+ year-long human story in this ancient land, but it is important to appreciate the deep history of the Islanders at the top end.

The events we commemorate today—and which are reenacted every year in the Islands—occurred late afternoon on Saturday, 1 July 1871. I shall read from an account distributed by ABM:

In 1871, Revd Samuel McFarlane and Revd Archibald Murray of the London Missionary Society, together with eight New Caledonian mission teachers, arrived off the coast of Erub, or Darnley Island, in the far eastern Torres Strait. Their ship, the ‘Surprise’, anchored off Kemus Beach and lowered its boat for MacFarlane and others to go ashore. From a small hill, a warrior called Dabad was watching. He called his men to follow him and made his way down to the water’s edge. McFarlane waded ashore over the volcanic rock pools. He dropped to his knees on the beach before the fearsome looking islanders—the Erubians. McFarlane grasped his Bible in both hands and thrust it towards Dabad. (McFarlane wrote later: “Never did men feel more than we did then their absolute dependence on Divine Help,”). Then something remarkable happened: Dabad stayed his spear and accepted the book which he could not read but which would bring new Light, to all these warring islands This was the new era for the islands of the Torres Strait—which would be known as the Coming of the Light. 

In the words of Aunty Rose Elu (2021 Queensland Senior Australian of the Year):

The chiefs used a word which meant ‘no more bloodshed’ we will not kill these people; they are bringing something—something we need to learn. What is it? We will get them to tell us … one of the things that happened then was that the warfare stopped.

Another Islander, Fr Elemo Tapim, whose words are recorded in the paper “Coming of the Light: Spirituality in Diaspora,” puts it this way:

For us the celebration of the Coming of the Light is just like celebrating Christmas day. On Christmas day God came to us in the form of a baby and on July 1 God came to the Torres Strait in the form of a book

When the Light comes

As we reflect on 150 years since that pivotal encounter, various insights come to mind:

As the current Torres Strait Islanders say, “God was on both sides of the beach” on that day back in 1871. God was already present with the people in the Torres Strait, and yet in another sense God was also present in a special way in the book which told the story of Jesus, and the story of God among the Jewish people before that.

That may well be a mindset we need to embrace as we seek to engage with our neighbours and families. God is already present in their lives, in their culture and in their history. They may not know much about Jesus or the Bible, but God is not absent from their lives, Our task is to connect and expand, not to eradicate and replace.

Then and now the Christian community in the Torres Strait is an indigenous church. This is a precious gift to the national Anglican Church of Australia. We have within our family an authentic Christian Church whose cultural DNA is not the high culture of Victorian England. Most of those who landed on Erub Island that Saturday in 1871 were Melanesian Christians, who shared so much of the broader culture and colonial experience of the people with whom they were sharing their faith. In the past year another group of Melanesian Brothers has arrived on Thursday Island to continue and to rejuvenate the legacy of those first missionaries.

Again, I am quoting from material on the ABM website:

The Brothers aim to live the Gospel in a direct and simple way, following Christ’s example of prayer, mission and service. They live alongside the people they are serving, respecting their traditions and customs. The Brothers follow a daily cycle of prayer and daily Eucharist and they take vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience with many serving between 7 and 20 years. Some take life vows. They not only offer spiritual teaching but also practical assistance. They plant, harvest, fish, build, eat and share with everyone in their care. 

A mission to us by those we once imagined ourselves to be teaching, is now on the cards. How does the light come to us from the Torres Strait? Let me offer one example.

Most of us will recognize the name, Eddie Mabo. Eddie was born on Mer Island in the Torres Strait and was a traditional custodian of his ancestral lands. In his campaign for recognition of his traditional land rights, Mabo shone the light of Christ on the legal lie of terra nullius on which we had built a nation and created our “common-wealth.” With the coming of the light, we have new opportunities for reconciliation and justice for all the people who call Australia home.

What is required of us?

Around the same time that the islands in the Torres Strait were being settled, the Prophet Micah spoke to the people of Jerusalem:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8]

Notice the order of the three things which God requires of us, according to Micah:

First, do justice …
Then, love mercy …
Finally, walk humbly with our God …

We cannot get to stage three without first engaging with steps one and two.

Jesus reaffirms this in the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,† for they will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice,† for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[Matthew 5:3–10] 

† I am translating dikaiosunē as “justice” rather than “righteousness” to convey the primary meaning of the Greek term.

In the Uluru Statement from the Heart (which has been printed in today’s service book), we can discern three kinds of things which the wider community was being asked to do. These were primarily directed to the Government, which has conspicuously failed to act. Perhaps as a church we can lead where the government fails, and they can catch up when they see the light.

The first thing was listen. This was expressed in terms of a voice to the parliament, but we also need a voice to the church. We can choose to remember, and cease choosing to forget. This starts here. It is very local. I refer you to the information printed in the service book immediately after the Uluru Statement from Heart, about local actions we are taking as a Cathedral to listen and remember. We might describe this as “letting the light come …”

Then we need to tell the truth. We need to speak plainly about the violence by which the land was taken from the Indigenous peoples, their women raped and their children stolen. This will be painful and hard. But we can do no less. With the coming of the light, the shameless acts done in the darkness of the past will be exposed. Other steps will be less painful, such as using the names given to this country by the First Nations, rather than imposing names from the British Isles, or—in the case of our town—the name of an English duke and sometime Prime Minister. Jadalmany instead of Grafton, perhaps?

Beyond listening and truth-telling, there will be a need for reconciliation as we act together to create a better shared future. Then we shall indeed find ourselves in a “bran neu dae” as our Reverend Yaegl Elder, Lenore Parker, expressed so beautifully at the end of her prayer which you can find on page 218 in A Prayer Book for Australia:

God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit,
from the dawn of creation you have given your children
the good things of Mother Earth.

You spoke and the gum tree grew.

In the vast desert and dense forest,
and in cities at the water’s edge,
creation sings your praise.

Your presence endures 
as the rock at the heart of our Land.

When Jesus hung on the tree
you heard the cries of all your people
and became one with your wounded ones:
the convicts, the hunted, and the dispossessed.

The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew,
and bathed it in glorious hope.

In Jesus we have been reconciled to you,
to each other and to your whole creation.

Lead us on, Great Spirit,
as we gather from the four corners of the earth;
enable us to walk together in trust
from the hurt and shame of the past
into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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In the eye of the beholder

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Third Sunday after Pentecost
13 June 2021

[ video ]

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emberiza_calandra_southeast_Turkey.jpg

We are told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Actually many different forms of value very much depend on the observer: what seems useful, pleasing and attractive will vary between different people, across time and in different cultures.

All three of our readings today have at least one common thread which concerns how we see things.

Last week the religion experts from Jerusalem were warned about the risk that they would not be able to see God at work in their midst because they mistook the Spirit of God doing something new as the work of the Devil.

This week we build on that theme, and reflect on how we assign (or withhold) value when we are observing what is happening around.

Samuel goes to Bethlehem

The prophet Samuel (who was himself overlooked by an elderly priest when he was just a child) sets out for Bethlehem on an undercover mission that puts his own life at risk.

He is going to look for someone else to replace Saul as king over the tribes of Israel, and if King Saul discovers what sneaky tricks Samuel is up to then his own life will certainly be in peril.

This is no Christmas story, even though it is in Bethlehem.

It seems that Samuel has done some research before his trip, because he goes looking for one particular man (Jesse) from among whose children Samuel expects to find the next king.

As this kind of story often requires, Jesse has lots of children, including eight sons.

The proud father presents his seven older sons, and Samuel is very impressed. But a little voice in his head keeps saying saying NO to each of these seven impressive young men. When Samuel eventually asks whether Jesse has any other sons, the old farmer admits that there is one not present despite all of the sons having been invited to attend the event.

He’s just a kid and he is busy looking after the sheep.

Young Shepherd

We know how this story is going to end. The youngest boy is called into the party, and to everyone’s amazement he is identified as the person chosen by God to replace Saul as king.

This is a great example of a story which is true on so many levels even if it did not actually happen.

Seeing Jesus differently

Towards the end of our second reading, Saint Paul mentions—almost in passing—that while he might once have looked at Jesus from a human point of view, he does not do that any longer.

It is certainly possible to look at Jesus from a human point of view.

Lots of people do that, and people who will never be Christians can still find great meaning for them in paying attention to Jesus.

But Paul had learned to look at Jesus from another perspective; to appreciate Jesus as the risen Lord, the One who is always present with us through his Spirit, and the One through whom God was choosing to make everything new. He goes on to say:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Cor 5:17–20

How we look at Jesus is our choice, but if we look at him in that way then everything changes.

As parents and godparents, how do we want Sawyer to see Jesus?

The mustard seed

Our gospel passage offered another example where how we look determines what we see.

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the things we can be pretty certain Jesus actually said, although in the several versions of this little parable we can already see people developing the story in different ways.

For most people this is a story about something that starts out really small (a mustard seed) and grows into a huge tree. “From little things big things grow,” comes to mind!

If you look at the parable that way you will find yourself among a large crowd of people, but Jesus may not be there as that was almost certainly not what he was seeking to express.

More likely Jesus had one of the following in mind and perhaps all three of them:

smallness – the mustard seed is indeed small, but so is the shrub that grows from the seeds and it is never such a large plant that it competes with the ancient trees

inclusive – the mustard bushes become a haven for birds and other small creatures, who the farmer would much prefer to be somewhere else

pervasive – these plants are pervasive and will take over the whole field if left unchecked because once they got a established in a small corner of there field they keep on spreading …

How do you see God’s active presence among us? asks Jesus.

Do we imagine God as big and powerful, or as small but pervasive, gathering up the marginal people to form communities of hope in a world that runs on fear?

And how do we see Jesus, and how might we imagine a church that starts again from just a few small seeds? Are we hoping to become once more a large and powerful institution, or shall we be content to be small, inclusive and pervasive?

And how shall we teach Sawyer to look at things?

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Keeping Jesus quiet

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Second Sunday after Pentecost
6 June 2021

[ video ]

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/the-house-of-peter-the-home-of-jesus-in-capernaum/

This is the Year of Mark in our three-year cycle of readings, but it has been a while since we had a Gospel reading from Mark. More than 3 months have passed, in fact.

Today we drop back into the Markan narrative, and it is all a bit confusing. It is as if we have arrived late at a party which has been underway for quite some time. And indeed that is the case.

We have just listened to the last couple of paragraphs of Mark chapter 3. They offer a scene of confusion and controversy, as experts from Jerusalem as well as his family from Nazareth try to shut Jesus up.

The story so far

Through the opening section of his account, Mark has depicted Jesus as someone who is having an impact everywhere that he goes and with everyone that he meets:

  • Baptized by John (Advent 2 on December 6, Baptism of the Lord on January 10)
  • Testing in wilderness (First Sunday in Lent, February 21)
  • Fishermen by lake called as disciples (January 24)
  • Man with a demon healed (January 31)
  • Crowds gather seeking healing (February 7)
  • A leper is healed (February 14)

Then a series of episodes we did not hear this year due to the dates for Lent and Easter:

  • Paralyzed man healed (Sunday #7)
  • Call of Levi the tax-collector (Sunday #8)
  • Healing of man with withered hand (Sunday #9)

The scene today

Jesus has been making an impression on people!

At the end of all that activity, the sentence just before today’s excerpt says simply, “then he went home.”

Interestingly, “home” for Jesus was not Nazareth now, but a house in Capernaum. It was probably the home of Simon Peter, where Jesus had established himself during the early weeks of his work down by the lake.

As it happens, we think we know exactly which house that was. If we are right, that would be one of the very few times when we can take a text from the Bible and say, “This is the spot where it happened. Here is the house where Jesus stayed.”

So Jesus had gone home.

But he is not going to get any time alone.

There were so many people crowded around that little house that Jesus called home. They could not even eat for the crowd of people. It filled every corner of their small courtyard and there was nowhere to prepare any food.

Then two sets of special visitors arrive.

This is clearly a story that is spread over several days as people coming from out of town need time to get there.

The family of Jesus hear what has been happening, and they are concerned for his well-being. As Mark expressed it:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”[Mark 3:21]

People were saying that Jesus had become deranged, and his family wanted to take him home for care and treatment: “your mother and your brothers and your sisters …” (v. 32)

The religious experts from Jerusalem (“scribes”) also arrive. They agree with the rumour spreading among the people, but they have not come with the same desire to protect Jesus and get him away for his own well-being. They have come with a diagnosis ready to declare, as they announce that Jesus is possessed by a demon, and not just any demon but the prince of demons: 

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” [Mark 3:22]

This not going to end well. 

Mark has set up the scene is such a way that Jesus has no option but to reject both the religion experts from Jerusalem as well as his own family. If he agrees with either of them then his mission is over.

Since this is only the last part of chapter 3, we can guess how this is going to develop.

First of all, Jesus challenges the convenient diagnosis of the religion experts. Since he has been casting out demons from other people himself, how can he be possessed by the prince of demons? “A house divided against itself will not survive.” More than that, choosing to describe himself as a home invader, Jesus points out that he could only plunder the house of the strong man if has first overpowered the homeowner.

That may not have been the best self-defense Jesus could have used, but he follows it up with a powerful warning: 

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” [Mark 3:28–29]

There is no helping anyone who mistakes the Spirit of God for the power of darkness.

We are not told how the religion experts evaluated Jesus’ response to their hasty judgments, because the story moves across to the other set of visitors who have just arrived from Nazareth:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” [Mark 3:31–32]

Notice, by the way, two people who are missing from that family group: there is no mention of a father, and no mention of a wife. Those who come to rescue Jesus from himself are his mother, his brothers and his sisters. We find the same cast of characters in Mark 6 when Jesus does finally make a visit to his hometown of Nazareth:

They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. [Mark 6:2–3]

As Mark tells the story, these are the people who come to bring Jesus home. And in neither place are we told the names of his sisters.

We know that Jesus is not going to accept their kind offer to take him home for a rest! In fact, he will not even speak with them!

And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” [Mark 3:33–35]

Impasse

Insights

Jesus has come home to Capernaum, to Peter’s place, for a rest.

He gets no rest. The crowd thinks he is going mad. The religion experts from Jerusalem think he has sold out to the Devil. His own family want him to come home and abandon this kingdom of God nonsense.

Where are we in that scene?

Are we the religion experts, who think we know how God’s work is supposed to be done? Have we put God into a little box? Is our God only allowed to act in the ways we remember him doing in the past? Worse still, might we mistake a new thing that God’s Spirit is doing  among us as the work of the Devil? If so, what hope is there for us?

Are we the family from Nazareth? We care about Jesus, but we think he has gone a bit extreme ever since he went to that revival meeting with John the Baptizer down south! Let’s bring Jesus home, give him some of mum’s cooking, and let him rest up until he settles down …

Are we the perhaps the strange young man from Nazareth, who has no religious training, but whose soul resonates with the call of God on his life? In saying yes to God, Jesus calls others to prepare for the coming of the reign of God, the kingdom of heaven. 

Are we perhaps in the crowd that has been gathering around Jesus? We found healing. Our demons disappeared. The ailments which crippled us, vanished. We want more. We crowd around the house that Jesus calls home …

I hope you are with me in the crowd.

Like me, I hope you are glad that Jesus chose to stay with us rather than go home with his family.

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Creating a shared future in Palestine

The final in a series of brief blog posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

Resolving the conflict in Palestine has occupied and defeated the best minds of several major nations. The British could not find a solution during their Mandate administration and clearly the USA has not been able to do any better since 1948. Nor have the Europeans, the UN or the Russians.

The Israeli activist, Jeff Halper, has suggested that Israel is seeking to achieve three outcomes, any two of which (but only two of which) they can have:

  1. Control of the ‘biblical lands’ from  Dan to Beersheba
  2. A distinctively Jewish state
  3. A democratic society

As Halper says, Israel can control all of the biblical lands and create a distinctively Jewish state, but such a society will not be democratic. If it opts for the land with democracy, then the state will not be Jewish. It may, of course, relinquish its control of all the biblical lands and create a state which is both distinctively Jewish and democratic. The latter option is also known as the Two State Solution and is clearly not the preferred option of any recent Israeli government. 

I propose a variation of Halper’s three options, by suggesting there are only four logical possibilities. None of them will be easy to achieve. Some are worth the effort.

Status quo

Israel achieved dominance by military force and has sustained that dominance with the diplomatic support of the US. By adopting the 2018 Nation State Bill, the Israeli Knesset has opted to define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people with its non-Jewish citizens having limited civil and political rights. Only Jews are permitted to exercise national self-determination with the State of Israel. While this law does not address the question of Israel’s borders, it reflects an assumption that Jewish values and Jewish rights will prevail wherever Israeli sovereignty is effective should there be any conflict with the civil or political rights of non-Jews. Irrespective of where the borders of such a Jewish state may be, any Palestinian living within such a state must accept that the nation is for Jews and not for them. Such a Jewish nation state may choose to retain military control of the Palestinian territories, even if local Palestinian areas are allowed some form of limited local autonomy. The closest historical parallel is, of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa. Very few people, including only a small minority of Jews, are likely to accept this as a permanent outcome of the conflict in Palestine.

Two States

The current preferred option for all the stakeholders is the so-called ‘two-state solution.’ This was the basis of the Oslo Accords but it has not been fulfilled in practice. We do not have two states living side by side in peace and security. This solution is widely seen as being on life support, if not already dead. It could be revived with sufficient political will from the international community, but only if the US stops rewarding Israeli intransigence with protection from the decisions of the UN Security Council.

One State

There is growing for support for a single unified state that encompasses all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and possibly makes some provision for the eventual return and integration of the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and 1967 (and their descendants). This need not require a single unitary nation-state with all decisions being made on the basis of universal suffrage. There are various models that offer ways forward which hold promise of good outcomes for the people. One such model recognizes that the Jewish and Palestinian populations tend to be unevenly distributed across the total area and provides for regional councils (cantons) which reflect the cultural and economic dynamics of their particular demographics. Most of these would be close to 100% Jewish or 100% Palestinian, while a few would be mixed. Jerusalem might be a unique case due to its religious profile. Within each canton people could choose to have regulations that reflect their identity and values, while certain functions (including foreign affairs, defense, energy and water) would be handled by a national assembly whose powers are limited to such matters and cannot legislate those affairs delegated to regional councils. This limited national federation would be elected by universal suffrage of all the people living across all of the regional cantons, but its capacity to shape the ethnic and religious character of particular regions would be curtailed. Such a proposal represents a modification of the concept of ‘nation,’ just as the European Community has done within its member states.

Confederation

In the medium to long-term future there are possibilities for a regional confederation. This could be achieved whether the intermediate stage was a two-state model or a federation with autonomous cantons. The confederation could comprise, in the first instance, Israel and Palestine. It could easily be extended to include Jordan, and perhaps also Lebanon. Possibly even Syria might be considered as a member of such a regional confederation. The economic and cultural impact of such collaboration between current combatants could be immense as well as very positive. It may even prevent the rise of another empire seeking to impose order on the unruly Levantine region in the next 50 to 100 years. The current religious and political extremists would hate such an outcome, and that just may be the strongest argument in its favor.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

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Palestinian resistance

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

During the British Mandate

As Jewish migration developed momentum during the British Mandate period, and as the British commitment (in the 1917 Balfour Declaration) to support the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” alarmed the indigenous population, there was growing unease among the Palestines. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence and several major cases of civil violence.

The Shaw Enquiry which was set up after the riots in 1929 observed as follows:

In less than 10 years three serious attacks have been made by Arabs on Jews. For 80 years before the first of these attacks there is no recorded instance of any similar incidents. It is obvious then that the relations between the two races during the past decade must have differed in some material respect from those which previously obtained. Of this we found ample evidence. The reports of the Military Court and of the local Commission which, in 1920 and in 1921 respectively, enquired into the disturbances of those years, drew attention to the change in the attitude of the Arab population towards the Jews in Palestine. This was borne out by the evidence tendered during our inquiry when representatives of all parties told us that before the War the Jews and Arabs lived side by side if not in amity, at least with tolerance, a quality which to-day is almost unknown in Palestine.

Shaw Enquiry

The Palestinian resistance was increasingly directed towards Britain and took the form of demands for independence, but there were major incidents that involved considerable numbers of Jewish casualties in Jaffa, Hebron and Jerusalem.

1948 War

With the failure of diplomacy to avert the UN partition plan, the Palestinians participated in the armed conflict following Israel’s declaration of independence. Unlike the irregular Jewish forces, the Palestinians had very little military training and even less equipment. While the Arab Legion had considerable success, the troops which had been deployed by Egypt, Iraq and Syria were no match the better organized and better led Jewish forces. Many of the latter had been trained by the British and seen action against the Axis powers in World War Two.

Palestinian Liberation Organization

The PLO was established in 1964 with the objective of defeating Israel by armed struggle with a view to restoring Palestine sovereignty. It quickly became the principal representative of the Palestinian people, and eventually Jordan relinquished its claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem and West Bank in favor of the PLO. While the PLO never achieved any significant military success against Israel inside Palestine, it gained notoriety through several terror attacks including hijacking of airliners and the killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. At a time when the Arab states seemed impotent in the face of Israel’s military supremacy, the PLO enjoyed broad popular support. After being expelled from Jordan in September 1970, the PLO established a strong presence in Lebanon where it played a significant role in the Lebanese civil war. The PLO was expelled from Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion and its base of operations was then in Tunisia.

Eventually the PLO opted for a diplomatic solution, and accepted UN Resolution 242, which proposed a two-state model with “secure and recognized boundaries.” Since 1993 the PLO has recognized Israel’s right to exist, accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and has renounced armed struggle in its quest for a Palestinian state. Both Israel and the USA have recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

First Intifada

The ‘Intifada’ was essentially a spontaneous civil uprising in response to multiple irritants arising from the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It largely involved demonstrations by unarmed young Palestinians and reflected a loss of confidence in the capacity of stablished Palestinian elites to improve the situation. Israel responded to the Intifada with increased police and military activity. More than a thousand protestors were killed, many thousands were jailed, and hundreds were exiled. Several hundred Palestinians were also killed by the PLO on suspicion of collaboration with Israel. While the Intifada had few tangible outcomes, it was a public relations disaster for Israel as stone-throwing Palestinian youths evoked the biblical images of David confronting a Goliath dressed in Israeli military fatigues. It most likely contributed to the success of the secret discussions leading to the Oslo Accords, as it energized the Palestinian leadership and challenged the Israeli narrative.

The Oslo Accords

The 1993 Oslo Accord represented the first direct agreement between Israel and the PLO. This led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority with some degree of self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank, with continuing Israeli control of security, taxation, etc. The status of Jerusalem (along with Palestinian refugees and other matters) was to be resolved as part of “permanent status negotiations” beginning no later than 1996. The provision of the Oslo Accords, including a second set of agreements signed in 1995, have never been fully implemented. Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin who signed the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993 was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist in November 1995. 

Jewish settlements in the West Bank

While there had been some Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line (especially Efrat near Bethlehem, Gush Etzion near Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim near Bethany) after 1967 and prior to the Oslo Accord, there has been a marked increase in Jewish settlements—including considerable expansion of existing settlements—since 1993. These Jewish colonies are intended to create ‘facts on the ground’ to ensure a more favorable outcome for Israel in the event of a final peace agreement, and those being created in a ring along the eastern boundary of Jerusalem are designed to isolate Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank. These settlements often begin as military outposts, with Palestinian land being appropriated by the military occupation authority for security reasons. Others have started as illegal land grabs by small groups of activists. Generous subsidies and tax concessions are in place to encourage Israeli Jews to move to these peripheral settlements, many of which have been connected to Jerusalem by commuter rail and road networks. While located inside the boundaries of Palestine (in Area C), these settlements—which are illegal under international law—are under Israeli civil law, while their Palestinian neighbors are under military law even if living in Area A or B.

Second Intifada

Frustrations with the lack of tangible improvements for Palestinians exploded with a more violent second Intifada following a provocative visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon in September 2000. There were outbreaks of armed conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces in areas such as Bethlehem and Jenin, while the whole period saw numerous suicide bombing attacks against civilian targets inside Israel. One of the outcomes was the construction of a physical barrier, more or less along the lines of the 1949 armistice agreement, to prevent easy movement of Palestinians into Israel from the West Bank. Israel increasingly discouraged the employment of Palestinians from the West bank on projects inside Israel and those seeking daily entry were subjected to strict security measures. Following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the intifada subsided, with the conflict between Hamas and the PLO becoming a major fault line in Palestinian society. Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, but the Palestinian Legislative Council has not convened since Hamas expelled the PLO from Gaza in 2007.

Hamas

The Islamic Resistance Movement (for which HAMAS is an acronym), was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada. Whereas the PLO was essentially a secular national movement, Hamas has clear religious foundations (Sunni Islam) and has also rejected the recognition of Israel by the PLO. It seeks to establish an Islamic state incorporating the whole of historic Palestine. Where the PLO leadership is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective, Hamas enjoys widespread popular support and won the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Council has never been summoned and the PLO has ruled by presidential decree, despite losing control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Hamas is now quite active on the West Bank and was expected to win the 2021 Parliamentary elections, which were cancelled in May this year. Hamas has been supported by Iran and Qatar, but is regarded as a terror organization by the US and Israel. Australia and the UK regards its armed wing as a terror organization, but not Hamas itself.

Hezbollah

Hezbollah (‘Party of Allah’) is a Shia Islamic resistance movement, based in Lebanon and with strong ties to both Syria and Iran. Hezbollah has become the dominant force in Lebanese politics, and won a majority of seats in the 2018 elections. It has been active in the Syria civil war in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Hezbollah was created in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and has considerable military experience as well as substantial missile capacities. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has engaged in occasional inconclusive military exchanges with Israel.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

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Wars and rumors of war

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

1956 Suez Crisis

In the absence of a formal peace treaty between the protagonists of 1948, the various armistice agreements mostly sufficed to maintain calm. There were occasional incidents and the survival of Israel as a distinctively Jewish state within the Middle East was far from certain. Cold War politics impacted on the situation as the USSR and its allies tended to support the Arabs, while the USA and its allies tended to support Israel. Jordan was unusual as it enjoyed good relations with both Britain and the USA, while Iran was also firmly in the Western sphere of influence prior to the Islamic Revolution 1979.

The Suez Crisis of 1956

In response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian government in July 1956, Israel invaded Egypt with the active support of Britain and France. Despite initial military success, the  campaign was abandoned due to opposition from both the USA and the USSR.

The Six Day War of 1967

When Egypt reinstated an earlier naval blockade of Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran leading into the Gulf of Aqaba tensions soared once more. On 5 June 1967 Israeli forces launched a pre-emptive attack that destroyed most of the Egyptian air force and this was followed by a land invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, the capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan and the capture of the Golan Heights from Syria. 

This brief military operation was a stunning success and gave Israel uncontested control of all Palestinian lands west of the Jordan River. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel on 27 June 1967 and the reunified city was declared the “undivided and eternal capital” of the Jewish people. Very few countries have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or the annexation of East Jerusalem. Since June 1967 the Jewish character of the city has been intentionally developed, while the rights of its Palestinian residents have been curtailed.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has maintained a significant edge in its military dominance of the region, with no Arab nations able to match its fire power.

The War of 1973

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated series of attacked in the Sinai and the Golan. After some initial success, the Arab coalition forces were eventually defeated with Israel forces advancing deep into both Egypt and Syria. Despite the eventual success of the Israeli military, this conflict gave new impetus to moves for a diplomatic solution based on the principles of land for peace. Under the Camp David Accords signed in 1978, a formal peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel, and the Sinai was returned to Egypt.

1982 Invasion of Lebanon

Israel invaded Lebanon in July 1982, citing numerous provocations including an assassination attempt against its ambassador to the UK. The objectives of the invasion were to break the power of the PLO (which had been shelling the northern areas of Israel from bases in Lebanon), install a Christian government and sign a peace treaty with Lebanon. The PLO was eventually expelled to Tunisia and its influence greatly weakened. It proved impossible to install a pro-Israel Christian government, and Israel withdrew from Beirut to the area south of the Litani River where it established a security zone in collaboration with a pro-Israel militia force, the South Lebanon Army. The campaign was marked the massacres by Christian militia (supported by Israeli forces) at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and an international investigation later attributed considerable responsibility for these events to the Israeli general (and later politician), Ariel Sharon. Israel sustained its control of the security zone in southern Lebanon until 1990 and the war became increasingly unpopular with the Israeli public. While Israel largely succeeded in its aim of eliminating PLO influence, its intervention in Lebanon is widely seen as contributing both to the rise of Hezbollah (filling the vacuum left after the collapse of the PLO) and an extended intervention in Lebanese politics by Syria.

Palestinian Fatah fighters in Beirut

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

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