Readings: Mark 6:1-13, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

The importance of shelter to human survival and thriving is highlighted by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his so-called hierarchy of human needs. Shelter is right at the top, along with air, food and water. For any other thriving to happen, we basically need to feel safe. In John, Jesus reassures his followers about "preparing a place for them, so that they need no longer feel worried and upset in the face of the serious challenges they are about to encounter.

One only has to reflect on the difficulties involved in rescuing the group of schoolboys and their coach, underground in a flooded cave in Thailand, to know that the process of finding shelter can be fraught with ambiguity and danger.

I have strangely clear memories of a movie I saw decades ago called "And Soon the Darkness. Two young women are cycling and camping in rural France, when one disappears from their campsite overnight. A man of scruffy appearance who is frequenting the area comes under suspicion. The surviving woman, having found the body of her companion, panics when the scruffy man approaches her, and she hits him on the head with a rock. She then turns and runs into straight the arms of the local police inspector. It is only when he holds her for too long that she realises that she had sought her shelter in the wrong place.

We now know, from repeated, horrific evidence, that some of the very places that should be for us the most safe and secure, are sometimes the most problematic, if not downright dangerous. These can be the very institutions that were created to serve and shelter vulnerable people- churches, government institutions, community organisations that have responsibility for the young. But the really shocking truth, is that the most dangerous place of "shelter is the family home. Forty-one percent of murders in NSW are domestic violence related. One woman a week dies in Australia from domestic violence, and children are often literally caught in the crossfire.

How does this come to be so? Clearly, abusive people routinely exploit the power imbalance in their relationships and organisations to get and take what they want, with no regard for the lives they are destroying in the process. This lust, along with lack of accountability within their power structures, can be exploited by way of privileged access into the lives and homes of others. For example, churches have been slow to wake up to the potential and actual exploitation of trust, and there are signs that some church heirarchies still do not "get it.

The prophet Jeremiah calls out the religious leaders of his day: "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the lord (Jer. 23:1). Jesus warns his disciples, before one of their missions "See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.Beware of them, for they will hand you over to your councils and flog you in their synagogues (Matthew 10;16-17). It is a huge irony that Jesus is at his most unsafe in the company of the very people who are supposed to lead others into a relationship with God, and to expect their Messiah. While he revered the Temple and its ministry, this was the last place where Jesus would have been able to find true shelter.

In todays Gospel story, we discover another place where Jesus might have expected nurture and support, yet experiences just the opposite- his home-town community. They seem at first to applaud his wise teaching, and recognise his power. Then something else takes over. I suspect a combination of pure jealousy, along with the sense that if he is one of them, growing up with similar nurture and opportunities, it for them highlights their inability to do something worthwhile with their lives. Rather than let him raise them to new fullness of life, they try to cut him down to their mediocre standards.

We have also read recently about that other key place of shelter and nurture, the family home, which has become a problematic environment for Jesus; one that seeks to pull him back and rein him in. There are signs here of an overblown sense of responsibility for the life of another, inappropriate attempts to protect and restrict. Or is it their own family reputation that most concerns Jesus mother and brothers, given their perception that his messiah-like following indicates that he might have gone crazy?

Church, community, family- all key places of shelter; all the subject of horror stories when what poses at nurture becomes destructive, even deadly abuse.

I am sure that you do not need me to elaborate further how such things continue to happen in our place and time. Among the questions we need to address are not only those of our own safety and the safety of those we love, but how we take responsibility as a community of faith for the proper shelter of others.

One thing is clear, as Senator Leyonhjelm has helped us to see, and that is that a libertarian approach is not the answer. Freedom to use and abuse power can sometimes only be checked by the use of the law- be it the law of the land or the policies and procedures of the church.

Our Uniting Church is working hard to ensure that our ministers and lay leaders are educated and trained to make our church environment a Safe Place. Leone has shared some of this with you today. In terms of accountability, we are still not quite we need to be but we are serious, on the way. Nothing less than transparent, disciplined processes will suffice. It is all very well for us to choose to live by grace, but sometimes it is only the law that can protect the vulnerable. Even then, the law can fail, as it is threatening to fail whistle blower "K ,who exposed Australias illegal exploitation of the East Timor gas reserve negotiations. Where is his shelter, having given us the gift of knowledge into our own attempted exploitation of a weaker neighbour? Beyond the law, active vigilance is required for our institutions, our communities and our homes, to ensure that they are the places of shelter that they promise to be.

We need systems and places that catch us when we fall, and keep us when we are threatened. We also need people of heart, courage and alertness to protect the weak and vulnerable by our vigilance and our compassion.

I do not intend this as the last word on the subject. This is a conversation that we need to continue to have. The price of good shelter is the willingness to remain alert to ongoing needs. There is also a justice issue around the insufficient level of funding for agencies working with victims of domestic violence, and the slowness of the courts in processing and enforcing Apprehended Violence Orders. I must also add that if any of this has raised issues for someone here today, please know that there are people here, including myself, who are happy to talk to you about it, even if only as a starting point.

My final question is this- are we safe in our own care? What are conditions like in the caves of our own psyche, where inner predators can lurk, and create havoc if left to their own devices? Put simply, how are we going about providing proper shelter for ourselves?

I have to smile at this little poem by Sufi mystic Rumi. He writes:

"Who makes these changes?

I shoot an arrow right.

It lands left.

I ride after a deer and find myself

Chased by a hog.

I plot to get what I want

And end up in prison.

I dig pits to trap others

And fall in.

I should be suspicious

of what I want.

What sort of shelter are we giving to our own lives. Nobody can make themselves perfectly safe, in fact the very endeavour is ultimately stifling and self-defeating. It may repay us, though, to run an audit of our own physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Are there any serious breaches in the walls of our own safe places of shelter and self-nurture? What maintenance might be needed to ensure that the safe inner base from which we seek to launch our lives in the world is indeed predator-free?

I do not separate this from the spiritual sense of feeling ultimately safe in Gods care. "Dont worry about tomorrow. says Jesus. Today has enough worries of its own. And it is truly todays concerns, todays exploitation and predations, todays need to ensure that all have truly secure shelter that we should be worrying about. Because, in the end, none is truly safe till all are safe, and none is free until all are free. Finding shelter, so all may thrive, is a primary mission for all who serve Christ for the common good.

And, just in case you have been wondering for the last fifteen minutes, it is the scruffy stranger, actually an undercover cop, who, recovering from his head knock, saves the young woman from the predatory clutches of the police inspector.

It pays to know who your friends are.

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