Advent 3 (B)
17 December 2017
Christ Church Cathedral
It had been my intention to speak about John the Baptist today.
For two weeks in a row now, the lectionary has offered us early Christian traditions about the Jewish prophet, John. Last week we heard how Mark describes this John in the opening scenes of his Gospel. Today we hear from a very different perspective within earliest Christianity, the Johannine community.
Mark and John offer very different portraits of Jesus. Yet they both found it necessary to say something about John as they started to share their story of Jesus.
John has fascinated people from antiquity through until today.
He acquired his nickname, ‘the Baptizer’, because of his demand that his followers undergo a water ritual to express their personal response to his prophetic message.
The most famous of his followers was Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus seems to have been baptised by John in the year 28 of the Common Era.
That simple fact is one of the most certain things we know about Jesus. None of his followers would ever invent such a story. Indeed, it was something of an embarrassment to them that Jesus had once been a disciple of John, and had been baptised by John.
That simple fact invites us to explore the relationship between these two Jewish prophets from 2,000 years ago.
Some of that was what I intended to speak about today. But that can wait until January 7, when we celebrate the Festival of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus.
In the past few days we have seen the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse complete its careful work extending over the past five years, and present its final report to the Governor-General.
Given the significance of that report for the community and for the churches, it would be remiss of me to say nothing of its work and to talk about some ‘safe’ Advent topic instead.
For too long the church has averted its gaze from the horrors of child sexual abuse, as well as the abuse of other vulnerable people.
We can do that no longer, and in part that is thanks to the impressive work of the Royal Commission.
There is—I suggest—an unexpected link between John the Baptist and the Royal Commission.
John was an outsider.
He opposed the abuse of power and the eager grasping of privileges by the Temple clergy in Jerusalem.
He may have come from one of those families himself. At least that is what Luke would like us to think. But he broke ranks with the religious institution that operated for its own benefit, and he directed to them a prophetic message about judgment, repentance, and renewal.
Our opening hymn this morning began with the line: “Hark! A herald voice is calling.”
Indeed, a herald voice is calling.
It is the voice of the Royal Commission.
It is a prophetic voice that names and exposes the sins of our churches, along with other institutions in our national life.
It is a prophetic voice that speaks words of comfort to the victims. That honours the victims. That treats them with a level of care and respect that our church has failed to do.
It is a prophetic voice that speaks of restitution, vindication and compensation.
It is a prophetic voice that calls on churches to change their ways. No more averting our gaze. No more shifting of sexual predators from one parish to another. No more silencing of the victims. No more failure of compassion among the disciples of Jesus.
It is a prophetic voice that maps out a pathway for restoration and recovery.
It is a prophetic voice that promises renewal if we are prepared to make these changes.
So far as I am aware, no cases of sexual abuse of children have happened in this parish. But they have happened in our Diocese and in our national Church.
For all the evil that has been done—and for all the good that has been left undone—we repent. We apologise. We resolve to make amends.
Already the contributions by the Cathedral Parish to the Diocesan compensation fund have cost us dearly. Resources that could have funded our ministry have been applied to the more urgent ministry of healing and reconciliation. This is a small price to pay compared to the costs borne by the victims all these years.
I pray these contributions help the victims to heal, and steel the resolve of our Church to make sure this never happens again.
As a faith community in Grafton we now need to rebuild our relationship with the city.
This will take time.
It will require openness to change on our part.
And it will require a willingness by the community to trust us again.
Most of all it will require a change of heart on our part.
Being a ‘safe church’ is not a compliance issue, it is the very heart of the Gospel. It is in our DNA as a community of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus gathered broken people into a community. He created a safe place for the broken and wounded to find acceptance, healing and purpose.
Jesus calls us to that mission.
John the Baptist challenges us to focus on others and not on ourselves.
The Royal Commission calls us to account and invites us into a journey of reconciliation and healing.
Hark! A herald’s voice is calling.
Let’s not miss what the Spirit is saying to the Church at this time.