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A Sermon by The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold AO

[Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-9; James 1:17-27; Matthew 7:3-5]

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

If I could sing, I would now be giving Johnny Nash a run for his money with this refrain:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-shiny day.

The reason being that this past week I have just had the second of two cataract procedures which have not only improved my sight enormously but also meant that I had not realised how sepia my world had become with everything now looking an amazing Persil-white.

Cataract procedures have come a long way and we can be so pleased we live in a country where they can be so easily and expertly obtained. However, more importantly, we should also give thanks that there are people who want to share this bounty of ours with others … people such as those working with the Fred Hollows Foundation which works in twenty countries and, in 2020, conducted over forty thousand cataract operations in addition to extensive work in treating trachoma, diabetic retinopathy and many other sight-saving procedures in communities much poorer than ours.

In an almost literal sense, the Fred Hollows Foundation has taken the log out of the eyes of so many thousands of people. Which brings to mind the gospel reading from Matthew where we are invited to consider another form of sight impairment – spiritual blindness which prevents a right-seeing of our world, or perhaps I should say a righteous-seeing of our world.

Listen to the words from Matthew 7:3-5:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

These words were specifically said by Jesus to call upon us not to judge others; but they also have the significance of inviting us to see our world through the eyes of Jesus. In this vein, our other readings help us to understand what such an invitation entails. For example, in our epistle reading from James we heard:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

While from our Psalm this morning we heard:

In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right. [45:4]


Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal sceptre is a sceptre of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. [45:6-7]

Likewise, our reading from Song of Songs presaged a brighter future with God than without Him [2:11-12]:

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come.

These words offer hope – a time when the rain will be over, the flowers will appear and singing will come.

Johnny Nash had sung ‘I can see clearly now’; and with the logs of worldview removed from our eyes, we too can now see spiritually clearly. But what we see will not be the rain gone, nor the obstacles removed or the dark clouds cleared. On the contrary, our spiritual eyes should see the rain, the obstacles and dark clouds more clearly than before, so that we might see the ‘orphans and widows in their distress’, so that we might see inequity and lack of justice where it plays out in the world and might see humanity’s ignoring of God’s loving truth playing out in our broken world.

Kabul has fallen bringing to an end a twenty-year phase in the benighted history of that troubled country. How have you reacted to the images of Zaki Anwari and other desperate stowaways falling from aircraft taking off or of the masses of terrified people, standing in sewage, besieging the airport perimeter begging to be let in, or the reports of countless others who have gone into hiding because they could find no possibility of escape, however slim or dangerous?

This week, Simon Smart, Executive Director of the Centre of Public Christianity, responded to this question with another:

Is there anything beyond shoulder-shrugging resignation we can offer in response?

I don’t know that I can offer any quick fix alternatives to shoulder-shrugging resignation, yet I know they must exist for why else would James have written:

But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing, [1:25]

So how might we be doers who act? Of course, we can and should call for increased numbers of Afghan refugees to be permitted to come to our shores as our Primate, ++Geoff Smith has done this past week. In making this call, we might remember our status as fellow citizens of God’s creation and hold in mind the words of Ephesians 2:19:

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.

Or recall the specific injunction of Proverbs 24:11-12:

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?

In past crises, our government has indeed helped lead away those ‘staggering toward slaughter’; in 1975-76, Malcolm Fraser let 50,000 Vietnamese come, Bob Hawke gave visas to 42,000 Chinese in the wake of the Tian An Men Square massacre in 1989, while ten years later, 1999 John Howard brought 4,000 Kosovars to Australia to give them temporary sanctuary, and in 2015 Tony Abbot let 12,000 Syrians escape from ISIS by bringing them to Australia. Will we let our government know that we would encourage it to be similarly generous in this current crisis?

Shortly, Sandy Mitchell will lead us in prayer for Afghanistan and other troubled communities in our world; we will finish that time of prayer by saying together ‘Amen’ – ‘so be it’. That ‘amen’ should not be a close of prayer but an impetus to continue in unceasing imprecation. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, of Sojourners International, has written a prayer for Afghanistan; in her description of her prayer she has written:

It is a prayer for people who suddenly find themselves as refugees, people who feel trapped and hopeless, those vulnerable to violence, and girls and women whose dreams have been shattered. It is a prayer for people who know that war is a terrible thing and who have experienced many losses. It is a prayer for children who have grown up knowing nothing but war. It is a prayer for all in the land – and all of us in this land – who long for peace and justice in every place.

Carolyn Gillette has put her prayer to the music of ‘Away in a Manger’ so imagine these two verses according to the tune of that carol:

We pray for Afghanistan’s people today:
For those who are fleeing – who know they can’t stay,
For those who face terror by day and by night,
For those who can’t leave and whose dreams can’t take flight.

We pray for the people who fear what’s in store,
For dreamers and poets who grieve a closed door.
For those who are hiding so no one will see
The people they are – or who they hope to be.

Returning from prayer to actions we might do, there will be many needs to be met by those who have been able to flee Afghanistan, but how might we help those whom Carolyn Gillette describes as people ‘who can’t leave and whose dreams can’t take flight’? In the near future, it can be expected that a number of international non-government organisations will seek to return to Afghanistan to help those who remain there, those who live in fear due to the past actions of the Taliban and reports of current reprisals being exacted by that regime. We can’t ourselves be in Afghanistan to help, but we can support those organisations who have promised to return or who may never have left through all the current turmoil. This is not an advertisement for any particular organisation but let me just read what some of them have said in recent days about their future in Afghanistan:

  • World Vision: We want to assure every child in Afghanistan, we will stand by you and support you, so that your dreams are realised.
  • Save the Children: We will not abandon our work, staff, or the communities we’ve served. Our commitment to protecting children remains unchanged.
  • CARE International: We will provide cash to each internally displaced household to cover their needs for two months and will also support the local economy and the livelihoods of host communities, which have been severely impacted as well by the worsening crisis.
  • Medecins sans Frontieres: We will continue to run medical activities in five provinces.

These and other agencies which I have yet to research have committed to working in the night that is now befalling Afghanistan – a land about which the C13 Afghan poet, Rumi, wrote:

Let’s not sew anything but love and friendship in this pure land.

May our own search for the righteousness of Christ lead us to be doers of such a sewing of love and friendship for Afghanistan. This brings us back to our reading from Song of Songs, which is a beautiful piece about the union of God with his creation. Its words comfort us because they speak of hope. Hope can be hard to find in the dark; yet it is sometimes there, in the profundus, where enlightenment may come. The C16 poet, St John of the Cross was greatly inspired by the Song of Songs, indeed his Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul owe much to his reflections on this book, reflections he had when imprisoned by the Inquisition.

There, in his dungeon, literally a dark place, St John of the Cross found new hope. In his Dark Night of the Soul he wrote:

Oh, night that guided me, Oh night more lovely than the dawn,

Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

May the darkness now seemingly befalling our world in so many ways become, through faith in the light of Christ, a guide to a dawn where we may be joined with Him and may it transform how we see that same world which He loves.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-shiny day.