Living Life with the Psalms

When I am sad, the Psalms teach me how to cry out to God. When I am anxious, the Psalms remind me that God will never leave me. When I am afraid, the Psalms teach me that God’s power is stronger than my fear. When the sin in the world gets me down, the Psalms show me that it’s always been this way, and God is still God. When I hate, the Psalms teach me to pray.

When I am confident in my own strength, the Psalms teach me that it is probably misplaced. When I am happy, the Psalms show me how to return thanks to God. When I am content, the Psalms teach me to hope beyond contentment in this life. When I am fixated on this or that thing before me, the Psalms lift my vision to see a bigger picture of God’s glory. When I believe I am deserving, the Psalms teach me that everything I have is a gift from the God who loves me.

I try to read a Psalm every day. I fail. But this is my method: I take the date – 16/7 – and use it to pick a Psalm. Two days ago (14/7) I read Psalm 147. Today was a but trickier. First I read Psalm 67, and then 61 (16 reversed). I’m not great at reading from 1-150 (I stop and then feel like I have to start again, but this method is freeing, and lets me read a variety of Psalms.

Why not give it a go?

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The Train Wreck

I’ve lived through a couple of train wrecks. Both to do with my family. Both unexpected – at least from where I was standing at the time. The scars won’t ever fully go away. It’s part of who I am, and in lots of ways I like this person, and I know that God has used such horrible events to grow in me virtues like compassion, empathy, and a spirit willing to listen. These are things I like about myself. Still, the process was pretty unpleasant.

I see another one coming. Thankfully, this time not in my family, but in the family of some people I know. Don’t get me started on how hideous I feel because I am thankful it’s not coming towards my family. Because of a torrent of water already under the bridge, I am powerless to stop it. I cannot say anything. I cannot do anything. I can only watch. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I don’t know how. I don’t know who else will be affected. I watch, and think back to my own personal train wrecks, hoping beyond hope that my experience will not be replicated in this family.

I sit. I watch. I pray.

Prayer is the only thing I can do for this family. I’m constantly tempted to think that it’s *just* prayer. It’s not. Prayer is pleading with the one person who is able to stop the train wreck. I am tempted to think that prayer is *just* words. It’s not. Prayer is conversation with the God who made the world and sustains it by His word. And His word is powerful. I am tempted to think that action is more powerful than prayer. And let’s be honest: if I look around, that seems true. It’s not. Though the battle sometimes appears lost, though sin seems to win, though train wreck after train wreck hits the people we know, God is still good. And I have to trust that nothing is out of his hands. It’s pretty hard for me to say that – like I said I’ve had a few personal train wrecks, and mostly I cried out to God saying ‘what are you doing? I think you’ve made a mistake here’.

The gift of hindsight is extremely precious. I can see now how God was shaping me into this person I am today. Not fun. Not pleasant. Not easy. At many points, not even good. But the outcome, this is good.

In defence of #LoveMakesAWay

I am a Christian.

I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe that approximately 2000 years ago, he lived, died, and rose from the dead. I do believe that he is now in heaven, with God, waiting for the time when he will come back to earth and take those who believe in Him to be with him in heaven. I believe that the only way to get to heaven is by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. I do not believe that good things we do on earth contribute to whether or not we get to go to heaven.

I do believe that the Bible is the final and sufficient word for all crises of faith and conduct. I do believe that following Jesus is a radical decision. I do believe that I have forgotten just how radical that decision can be.

I do not believe that seeking asylum is a crime. I do not believe that it is right to lock people up indefinitely because they asked for help. I do believe that it is important for a nation to have an immigration system. I do not advocate a total abandonment of policy and an indiscriminate ‘opening of the gates’. I do not believe that the current system is legal or compassionate, despite the pleas of government. I do not believe there is one decision that is going to satisfy everyone.

I do not believe it is right to continue letting people die at sea. I do believe that people-smugglers play on people’s desperation and need to be stripped of their power.

I do not believe that the only available option is locking people up.

I do believe that locking up people who are fleeing everything they’ve ever known, in pursuit of safety, is adding insult to injury. I do believe that imprisonment scars a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe that to inflict such a fate on anyone, let alone a child, is cruel and in this case, unnecessary.

I do believe that God had a hand in electing our current government. I do believe that means I need to submit to their authority. I do not believe that means I must get back in my box when my objections to policy are squashed. I do believe that means I must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience. I do believe that democracy offers many avenues of objecting to decisions the government makes. I do believe that letter writing, conversations with MP’s, and rallies are all valid ways of expressing dissent. I do believe that in some cases it is right to pursue a more radical course of action. I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to be violent.

I do believe that as a Christian, I am Christ’s representative on earth. I do believe that Jesus Christ managed to walk the fine line between love and justice, because he was perfect. I do believe that I am called to try and walk in the same way.

I do believe that #LoveMakesAWay is trying to walk this line. I do not believe that they have a comprehensive solution to the way Australia is currently treating asylum seekers. I do not believe they need to. I do not believe that a lack of a comprehensive solution diminishes in any way the message they are circulating. I do not believe that this is a media stunt. I do believe they are trying to raise awareness. I do believe they are trying to help ordinary people engage with a complex issue.

I do believe that it is my responsibility to defend those who have no voice. I do believe that the non-violent direct action of #LoveMakesAWay is one way to do this. If I’m wrong, and this is completely out of line with what Jesus has called me to do, even then, I do believe that that will not be beyond God’s forgiveness. I do believe that I’d rather act in the face of a grave injustice that sit silently and debate with other likeminded people the merits or otherwise of non-violent direct action.

May God have mercy.

“It is easy to forget to pause and take stock”

On the 25th of December, I took a minute out of the day to listen to the Queen of England deliver her Annual Christmas Message to the Commonwealth. This one sentence has plastered itself to the walls of my brain:

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”

Was she thinking of me when she spoke thus? So often I count action as the more pressing need, with reflection paling into a distant second. Too often I find myself stealing moments of time from one event to reflect on another.

She is the Queen, and I am a loyal subject, so I find myself taking heed of her advice to “pause and take stock”.

Much has happened in the last 12 months. A future leader, Prince George, was born. A new Pope was chosen. The European Union bailed out another country in crisis. Someone bombed the Boston marathon. Morsi was ousted in Egypt. The Syrian civil war raged. The Philippines were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. An iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, passed away.

If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? If you close your eyes does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? When I look to 2014, how am I going to be an optimist about the future? Where do we begin to rebuild the world from the broken mess that it has become?

Closer to home there was the debacle of the Australian federal election. The crisis of asylum seekers. The devastating bush fires in and around Sydney. In my own suburb there were prominent strikes at the neighbouring university.

Why does it feel like the new Cabinet in Government is an undoing of 40 years of fighting for equality between women and men? Are we losing the battle against racism and settling for comfort over compassion? Am I courageous enough to speak out against what is not God-honouring? Will I do more than sit on the couch with a glass of wine and whinge about bad government policy?

Even closer to home, I lost January to a virus that saw me confined to the couch while I worked my way through the whole series of Alias. I lost the last week of my academic year to the flu. I finished a degree. I freaked out about the future. I travelled. A lot.

Why is it easy to complain to God when my life doesn’t proceed according to my plan and so hard to return thanks to Him for the moments of pure delight? Why is God thwarting my plan to be a missionary? Why is he closing every door except the one that I’m afraid to walk through? If Christianity is all about trusting God, then why it is so hard?

Why? Why? Why?

I’m afraid to admit that mostly I have only questions. Not many answers here. Will I have a similar reflection at the end of next year? Probably. It almost seems like the world keeps turning and events keep happening as they have since the beginning of the world. Is not every year the same with joys and sadnesses in a constant stream? Now that I take a moment to reflect, I see that my focus has narrowed too much. I see only the trauma and grief, or the joy and happiness. What of the bigger picture? I realise I have become like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

It’s easy to think thus. After all, I see what appears to be a world on repeat. It’s not that I deliberately ignored the fact of God’s creative activity, it’s just that I focused on action and forgot reflection. If I had remembered to reflect, perhaps my attention would have been more evenly divided between the crises of the world, and the reality that,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Perhaps that would have given me a little perspective. Perhaps it would have stopped me falling into disillusionment at major world conflicts. Perhaps it would have tempered the effect that others have on my mood. Perhaps it would have helped me see the bigger picture. What it won’t do is stop me being devastated at civil wars, delighted at beautiful sunsets and new life, and committed to using the voice that God has given me to speak a word of truth and love.

Having regained a little perspective, I once again I make my New Years resolution: looking forward to the return of Jesus, I will, God-willing, work for the good of all people and the glory of God. I pray He will give me an ever more thankful heart, and a spirit ready and willing to trust him.

Thanks be to God for the Queen, and her reminder to “pause and take stock”. God certainly does work in unusual ways sometimes.

The Risk

I’d like to introduce you to Carl. I met him this evening. He was probably about 40 years old, although because of years of alcohol abuse he looked more like 50. He was pale as a ghost – most probably chilled to the bone. He was thin, too thin for a man of his age.

Our meeting took place under unusual conditions. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if his words had not rung in my ears: ‘do you have any change miss?’ I walked past, casually indifferent to his plea – he was not bothered, he just said thank you and went back to huddling underneath his blanket – but his words hit me again and again. I turned back.

The temperature was 4 degrees and I was not excited about standing out there just making conversation. My feet were rapidly turning into ice blocks, my hands were numb and my nose running. Still, something in me persisted.

‘Would you like something to eat?’ I meekly offered.
‘Im actually trying to get enough money together to stay the night in a b&b’, he returned.
‘Oh right. How much do you need?’
‘Its £32 for the night and the guy washes my clothes and lets me stay til 6pm the next day’.
‘Where is this b&b? I’d be happy to pay what you’re missing’.
‘Its a 5 mile walk on the other side of town’.

And on it went. I was cautious. I’ve always been told to never give money to homeless people. He had a story about how there was no room at the shelter and how he had been sober three years and how he went to the church that he was sitting in front of and the priest himself had helped him get sober. I thought of every option. Can we walk with you to the b&b? No, it’s too far away. Can we take a bus? No, there’s not one that goes there. Can we buy you some food instead? Yes please.

He wanted to persuade me that he wasn’t lying so he took me to the priests house – who unfortunately wasn’t home – to prove his genuineness. I was still hesitant. I don’t know what to do in these situations.

He had a phone and rang a friend who then vouched that he wasn’t going to spend the money on alcohol. I talked to the friend on the phone and he even said that he’d ask for a receipt from Carl the following day. Was this all a big scam? Perhaps.

But he seemed so genuine. And needy. I was cold just standing there. I don’t know that I would survive if I had to sleep out there.

So I did it. I gave him the £26 he needed to stay in the b&b. Whether he is there I do not know. I pray he is warm and safely installed in a b&b in Oxford. I hope he finds a place to stay long term and doesn’t have to sleep on the freezing streets this winter.

Did I do the wrong thing? Many of you will think so. But I can’t get away from the fact that people like Carl are desperate. Yes, sometimes they are in those situations by some fault of their own. Sometimes not. I can really never know.

Desperation should not elicit from me a reaction of casual indifference. Whether it is a homeless man begging, or an asylum seeker risking their life to reach my safe country, or a woman fleeing domestic abuse, my prayer is that my heart will be warm and compassionate, not judgemental and cynical.

I think I’m happy to take the risk of helping a desperate person. Yes, it is costly. But how can I possible claim I can’t help him. I have just flown half way around the world for a seven week European holiday. So maybe I’ll buy one less souvenir because I took a risk and tried to help someone. I have been given so much. If you are reading this, you have been given much too. I can’t get away from Jesus’ words:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48.

What are you going to do with all that God had given you?

Too scared to dream.

Ever had one of those existential moments where you wonder what you’re doing with your life and where you’re going and why and how you got there? Please say it’s not just me.

I write this from an apartment in Bastille, Paris. A strange place for a crisis. I am here on holiday. It’s exceptional. To me it feels like an odd mix of Mexico and America. I recognise stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s and Swatch. But the traffic is manic like in Mexico. The worlds largest roundabout (the Arc de Triomphe) is constantly circled by swathes of cars. There are no lanes. It feels like chaos. It feels like Mexico.

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Aside from all the beautiful things to see, this is the first real time I’ve had in a long time to sit and think. And it’s dangerous. It’s really the first time I’ve let myself totally feel what has happened the last few months. Disappointment. Loss. Unmet hopes. Not one feeling that is pleasant.

I feel lost. More than a little like I’m grasping in the dark. I’m scared about what comes next, mostly because I don’t know what it is. Here I am: a graduate twice over, and unemployed. Eish. I never had a plan, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t part of it. Everything I thought I would do, I’m not doing. I’m not working in Geography or Urban Planning (my first degree). I didn’t finish my PhD. I studied theology for four years but I’m not being ordained, I’m not going overseas, I’m not working with kids, and I’m not a chaplain.

When I wander through art markets in Montmartre I wonder if I could be a painter who sells her paintings. When I while away time on Etsy I wonder if I could sew vintage decorations and sell them. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to do ten years ago. But I suppressed it because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. And all that other stuff was a bit hippy and weird. Who doesn’t want to fit in and succeed in all the traditional ways when they’re 16? Ten years later and I still want to do those things. Maybe that means something.

Do I have anything to show for the intervening ten years aside from an $85,000 debt to the government? Is all that time wasted? It’s easy to think so. My understanding of the world does not let me think this, even though some days I might like to. Does not God use everything to shape us? To grow us? To teach us of our dependence on Him? I believe so. If I had not started a PhD, I would not have moved to Wollongong, the place I really began to learn that God wants my love every day of the week, not only Sunday. If I had not gone to Mexico, I would have continued to believe that God’s will and mine were the same. I would not have learnt to trust His goodness when I can’t do what I want. If I had not gone to Moore College I would not have been pushed to answer questions like ‘why does God let his people commit suicide?’ There are no easy answers I’m afraid.

What do I have? I have a better knowledge of God and a better knowledge of myself. I’m still scared. So scared. So scared I don’t even like to dream – usually one of my favourite things to do. This pains me more than I care to admit. But I know that He has me. Even if I have no idea what’s coming. He has proven himself faithful, even in the moments when I didn’t think he would. Even in the moments when I wasn’t sure that I would be faithful.

I am afraid. But for this:

The Lord is my refuge and strength,
Therefore I will not be afraid.
Though the mountains give way and fall into the sea,
He will come and rescue me. Ps 46:1-2

Whatever comes.
Bring it.

For the faint-hearted

Today I am angry and deflated. I read the newspaper this morning.

Seven Red Cross workers kidnapped in Syria. Members of the Syrian Coalition refuse to participate in peace talks brokered by the United Nations. Israel cuts off supplies from the Gaza Strip because they discover a tunnel underneath the wall which they presume would be used to kidnap Israelis.

Our world is plagued by deep insecurities. We do not trust each other, nor behave in a way that is trustworthy. Therefore we have civil wars and international conflicts. Those who hold power in Syria do no believe that if they relinquish their power they will be safe, or heard, or free. And they’re probably right. Israel does not trust Palestine, nor vice versa. Perhaps they have good reason – history and all that.

But humanly speaking, nothing is going to change until these people and these nations let go of at least a little of their fear and begin to look for a solution that is built on trust. Am I too hopeful?

What would it take for people to let go of fear and broker solutions based on trust? It would need a deep and immovable belief that the other party was committed to my good. Each person would need to be convinced that the other was for them and their good. Right now, nothing could be further from the truth. Can we get here? I believe so, but much needs to change.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father […] Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt10:28-31).

Fear God, not man. God is the one who was committed to our good, even when we hated him. Jesus died. For you. For me. For everyone. Now I think that makes him trustworthy. We can trust Him. Our fears are real, but so is God. Imagine a world where all people were trustworthy like Jesus. I can’t accurately picture it. But I think it’d be good.

I suspect most people like to think they’re trustworthy. And for the most part, they may be. But picture this: the middle of a war zone. F-18s flying over constantly. Bombs going off next door. Armed officers guarding every street corner. Life is marked by the stench of death. Sounds like a pretty good recipe for insecurity. In that context, anyone could be forgiven for trying to stay safe. Step outside of middle class Sydney and I wonder whether anyone could be forgiven for not trusting people. When you see so much trauma, it must be easy to stop believing that things can be better.

But there is a promise. It’s not for now. It’s for the future.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:1-4).

Entrust yourself to the God who promises this. This hope. This future. This promised better world.

Barely standing

I am barely standing.

Standing is about all I can do right now. It feels like I’m standing in the middle of a whirlwind. I feel a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

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The world whizzes past too fast for me to hold on. So I stand and watch. Sometimes I manage to grasp a moment, hold on to it for a moment, but before I know it, that moment has freed itself from my grasp and returned to the whirlwind. All I want to do is scream, ‘STOP!’ I wish there was a pause button for life. I need a moment.

But I don’t get the moment I want. I can yell as much as I like and it won’t stop the whirlwind. It won’t do anything except get a bunch of strange looks and concerned faces. I have no power here.

I take comfort in the fact that someone has that kind of power. The kind of power that stops a whirlwind. This is the true story of when Jesus calmed a raging storm, as told by The Jesus Storybook Bible.

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There are so many things to love about this story, but here are just two.

1. Jesus calmed the storm with a word. No excessive shouting. No magic. His powerful word. And that was it. It was quiet. He has the power to do what I could never do.

2. This quote from the last page:

Jesus turned to his wind-torn friends. “Why were you scared?” he asked. “Did you forget who I am? Did you believe your fears, instead of me?” […] Jesus’ friends had been so afraid, they had only seen the big waves. They had forgotten that, if Jesus was with them, then they had nothing to be afraid of.

I am like the friends of Jesus. I see the whirlwind. I see the madness. I don’t see the end. But right here, this story, it reminds me that Jesus is with me. I don’t see him, but I trust him, and he has promised that he will never leave me.

The steadfast love of the Lord

I read Psalm 107 this morning. Two things struck me.

First, this phrase is repeated four times:

‘Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!’

It comes after a report of some kind of human distress, be it being lost in a desert, being imprisoned, being sinful and hungry, or being caught in a storm at sea. In each situation the people in question suffer in their respective conditions until they can bear it no longer and then, only then, do they cry out to God. And He acts. He saves them from their distress. It makes me wonder why they didn’t cry out earlier. It makes me wonder why I don’t.

Second, the very last verse is this:

‘Whoever is wise, let him attend these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord’.

There are so many ways that God has lavished his love on us. I see this in the blue sky, the bright sunshine, the spring breeze, the jacaranda trees, my beautiful friends and family, and the unbelievable freedom I enjoy.

I am spending today considering the steadfast love of the Lord. And I am thankful.

A challenge to a nation of racists

*the full text of my sermon on asylum seekers from women’s chapel at Moore College this morning.

Two months ago, our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a new policy on asylum seekers. This was it:

Asylum Seeker Policy under the Rudd Government

Asylum Seeker Policy under the Rudd Government

One month ago, Australians dismissed Kevin Rudd and installed Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister. If anything, the treatment of asylum seekers has worsened, not improved under this new government. Now, as well as removing all chance of being resettled in Australia, the government is refusing the release of information to the media about boat arrivals. It’s almost farcical.

We have a problem. It is, perhaps, a problem unique to the inner city, politically left-leaning people among us. Nevertheless, it is a problem.

Thousands of people are fleeing from their countries of origin to seek asylum in Australia. This is not new. Australia has a long history of resettling displaced peoples during international and regional crises. However, this issue has escalated in recent years, and even further in recent months.

Apparently, these changes have been introduced to stop people smugglers and to stop further loss of life at sea. It’s an admirable goal.

But the country is in an uproar. Why?

Initially, at least some of the objections arose out of the political nature of the debate. Others were concerned with our international obligations. With the change of government has come a shroud of secrecy surrounding boat arrivals leaving Australians uninformed and frustrated. Yet others have applauded the hard line taken by both Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seeing the hard line policy changes as a necessary step in dismantling networks of people smugglers. Christians sit on both sides of this debate.

Perhaps you don’t feel it. Maybe you feel like you’re drowning in essays and exegeticals and exam study. Maybe life at college is all consuming. Maybe you’re busy trying to keep up with your family and your friends. Maybe you are worried about your parents failing health. With all that, you might feel like you don’t have any more mental or emotional energy to think about this issue. Perhaps you are perplexed by the complexity of the issue. Perhaps you cannot see a way through. It seems easier to not think about it.

I get that. I really do. I wish I had an answer. I don’t. I can see valid points on both sides, but I recognise that there is not one simple solution. A multi-faceted approach is required, but this will take time, creativity, and regional co-operation to say the least. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to carve out a way through the political rhetoric, through the emotive language, and through the general state of overwhelmedness that many of us feel.

With such a complex and emotive issue we need a multi-faceted approach. And here it is.

some thoughts on asylum seekers

some thoughts on asylum seekers

The image of God.

The humanity of Jesus.

‘us’ and ‘them’.

Three massive topics. One little sermon. Put your thinking hats on.

First, asylum seekers are in the image of God.

This argument is both pervasive and persuasive. It goes something like this: we should care about people because they bear the image of God.

Christians often argue that that the dignity of the human being is grounded in the fact that he has been made in the image of God, usually citing the famous passage in Genesis 1:26-27.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

But let’s be real about this.

We have here only 2 chapters worth of description of the unfallen human life. And descriptions of what it actually looks like to have dominion and to rule in the unfallen world are not exactly profuse. The image is described largely in terms of responsibilities (having dominion, ruling, subduing, filling) rather than the mental abilities or emotional capacity of Adam and Eve.

This has led to an enormous amount of ink being spilled over the question of what it actually means to be in the image of God. At least part of what it means is to be relational. God speaks to them, and they speak back. This is one of the major differences between man and the animals.

Much more has been made of the idea of rationality and reason as those human characteristics that image God. Those who are steeped in our tradition have suggested that

‘the rational soul is made to the image of God in the sense that it can make use of reason and intellect to understand and consider God’ (Augustine).

There is something very appealing here. We are educated, upper middle class Christians. Most of us have one, if not two university degrees. We are rational. And we value rationality in others. If being in the image of God equals possessing a rational mind, then many of us can be confident that we are in the image of God. It is persuasive because we can point to faculties that we possess to assure ourselves that we are in God’s image.

BUT

This isn’t grace. If I can rely on my rationality to be assured of bearing God’s image, I am no longer relying on his generosity in making me in his image in the first place. We are made in his image, and we bear it still, even though we are plagued by sin.

It is true: all people are made in the image of God. But the question still lingers: what does being in the image of God actually mean? Answering this question will help us navigate a way through the complex issue of asylum seekers.

Casting our eyes to Jesus, we see the one who bears the image of God fully and perfectly. Jesus is the true image bearer. Colossians 1:15 says,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

He shows us what it truly means to be a human being in the image of God. We can learn a lot more about bearing the image of God from Jesus than we ever could from Adam and Eve.

Jesus took on human flesh. Paul tells us how it is:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:5-7).

So also John:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The gospels tell us the story of why Jesus took on the likeness of men. It was so that he could stand in our place, take the punishment for sin that we deserve, and redeem sinful humanity, thereby opening up the way for humankind to once again be in a right relationship with God.

This was God’s decision. It was not based on the inherent worth of the individual. Once before he had made a different decision. Cast your minds back to Genesis 6.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But he promised to never do that again. Never again! This promise was yet another example of God’s enduring commitment to his people

In the incarnation of Jesus we see this commitment take on a whole new level of self-giving as God the Son takes on flesh and enters the world as a human.

The incarnation is not a new attitude towards humans. It is the actualisation of God’s self-giving love for his people that he has always had for them. It is the next step in salvation history and yet another declaration that he is committed to his creatures. It is God’s declaration that human beings are valuable. And their value is derived from God’s own attitude towards them. This attitude is marked by love and sacrifice.

The sacrifice of Jesus was his death. His vindication was his resurrection. And his resurrection was nothing less than miraculous! He was raised to life in an actual physical body. Not an apparition. Not a ghost. Not a spirit. An actual body.

Jesus coaxes the disciples to touch his resurrected body to prove it:

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)

A human in his life. A human in his resurrection. There is continuity. If there were not, then death would not really be defeated.

‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Cor 15:20).

The resurrection of Jesus signals Christian hope for bodily resurrection in the age to come. In a profound sense, I am my body.

If we thought God’s commitment took on a whole new level in the incarnation, in the resurrection of Jesus we see him raising it even further. The resurrected Son of God affirms the goodness of the created order.

Even this is not all there is! As the physically resurrected Jesus, he is taken into heaven. Luke records it for us:

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (Luke 1:9).

There is nothing in the creeds of the early church to suggest that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he somehow left his body behind. And any view of the incarnation that ceases with the ascension is actually a sentence of condemnation.

If he dropped his humanity, our humanity, then he has effectively dropped us.

What we have here in Jesus is a summary of God’s attitude towards humans. They are the objects of God’s love. He has declared it to be so in his Son.

If this is true, then it changes the way that we think about humans.

It changes the way we think about asylum seekers.

We are not the first to think this.

The 1860s saw a great deal of racism directed towards Chinese immigrants. A group of Christian ministers penned a letter to the public in response. It read:

We need not remind you that the record of redemption lays down the grand principle that God made of one blood all the nations of men. Common in their origin – one in their fall – the objects of the same divine compassion – they are sharers of the nature of him who was found in fashion as a man. He lived and died and rose again for the redemption of all mankind.

Much has changed in the intervening 152 years. The world is a very different place. But in many ways, nothing has changed. Racism is rife. People still need to be reminded, perhaps more than ever, that all mankind shares in the nature of Jesus.

They need to be reminded because we live in a nation of racists. And it’s not just out there. It’s in here. In this room. In my heart. In our hearts.

And Asylum seekers are different to us, aren’t they? They have a different culture. A different religion. Different family structures. A different language. They are not the same as us.

But let’s not jump universally condemn this differentiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. It might actually prove to be a little bit useful.

To begin with, this is the way that God exists in relationship with himself. Yes, I am talking about the Trinity.

In John 14-17 Jesus says,

‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ and ‘All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said to you that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you’.

This could be the subject of a whole sermon, but here’s the take home point: Within the Trinity, each person dwells within the other. Each is distinct. Together they are one. This is very hard to understand. Don’t think about it too much. It’ll make your brain hurt.

As we have already traced, he gave his Son to bring the offer of redemption to all humans. This is simultaneously the declaration of the value of the human, and the revelation of his self-giving love for people. Jesus Christ the man gave up his life to welcome God’s enemies into his eternal communion.

We know that he did it for his enemies because of Romans 5:6-8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Did you notice that? Again, it’s God’s enduring commitment to humanity. For those who are his enemies.

God the Father relates to the Son and the Spirit as ‘others’. Now we see that as the Trinity, they are the ‘us’. We are the ‘them’. We, the sinners.

On the cross,

‘we, the others – we, the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace’ (Volf, Exclusion & Embrace).

The life of the Son is the gift of the Trinity as a whole. He gave his life to make space for the ‘other’, the sinners, to enter into communion with God.

Such an offer of embrace was costly for God. It cost the life of his beloved Son.

The offer is extended to all people. But it is not unlimited. The death of Jesus is both a yes and a no. God will not embrace every person. Nevertheless, God’s self-giving provides a model for welcoming the ‘other’ and the ‘stranger’ into the Australian community. God’s own response to his ‘other’, his enemy, is to open up himself and extend the offer of welcome.

As tensions escalate and frustrations are expressed, the Christian may bring a word of surprising comfort.

Every person is both an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. It is a matter of perspective. This must be held tightly together with Jesus being the true image bearer. God has declared the eternal value of human life through the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus Christ.

By willingly donating his life, Jesus has opened up the possibility of moving from being God’s other to being part of his eternal communion.

In the same way, we may pursue sacrificial giving of our social expectations and our very selves. We might do this so that we can welcome others as God has welcomed us.

Yes, it will open up the possibility of rejection, failure and even violence.

But it will be a response to asylum seekers not driven by fear of the ‘other’, but by the love of God.

Now that’s a better place to start.