s028e02 Lockleys 28th April 2002 Easter 5 + Anzac Day.
"Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh." 1 Peter 2:18.
We rejoice in Australia in our freedoms, defended at so much cost in times past as we remember on this Sunday after Anzac Day. We rightly rejoice that the age of slavery is over, and we lament the necessity for such loss of life in times past. We remember that so often those who returned were just expected to get back to their lives and forget the experiences of war. So many lives were blighted by injuries to their bodies, to their minds and to their souls. Others came back to find their positions in the family usurped by siblings, and the expected appreciation for their sacrifices short lived. And the suffering was not confined to those who saw active duty. The families at home received back only skeletons of the people they knew and loved, if they received them home at all. The Vietnam veterans did not come back the conquering heroes everyone anticipated, so their pain was, I have no doubt, multiplied accordingly. So much pain, so little way of dealing with it.
The concept of a slave - one who is a slave 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by virtue of the person's race or colour in particular, is indeed over &endash; but the reality is that every employer - employee relationship is unequal. There are those who give the orders and those who do their bidding. And it is as difficult for us to conceive of any other situation that society could devise to eliminate this inequality as it would have been for St Peter in his day to conceive of a society without the institution of slavery. As the famous saying goes from the book of George Orwell "Animal Farm": "Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others." :-)
There are few of us who do not rankle when we are made to do something. Our natural rebellion gets our hackles up. Why should we have to do what we are told? But there is no perfect society and no perfect system and we can do ourselves as much injury "bucking the system" as for ever doing what we are told.
People often make the comment that clergy should keep politics out of religion, but the reality is that it is impossible to keep religion out of politics. Anti-Semitism is based on theology, not a form of theology I hold certainly, but a form of theology never the less. Apartheid was based on a theology. White Supremacy and Pure Aryanism is based on a theology, communistic atheism is based on a theology - as is opposition to it.
It is simply not possible for anyone to exist without some form of theology - everyone has one - because everyone bases their life actions on some code of behaviour which one takes to be fundamental. The psalmist twice comments "Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good." (Psalms 14:1, 53.1). While these may be fools, they still have a theology about God - that God does not exist - and their actions flow directly from the theology they hold. So we all have a theological base for our thoughts and actions. The really important thing is how the faith we hold motivates us to live our lives. And it is the faith we hold that determines how we act, not the faith that we hear spoken on Sunday mornings and perhaps tacitly assent to.
It is interesting that I began this sermon with references to Anzac Day soon after the protest outside the Woomera Detention Centre. And the conjunction of the two events seemed significant. People in times past rallied to the call to defend the weaker countries of Europe and the Pacific against the aggression of supposedly more powerful neighbours, and young people today still rally to what they see as defending people against what they see as an oppressive detention.
There are similar motivations, and perhaps the thrill of battle still pervades the young. So I was interested to read that the youngest Anzac was one Private James Charles (Jim) Martin who - against the wishes of his parents - enlisted in the AIF in April 1915 at age 14! (Adelaide "Advertiser" April 9th 2002 p 39)
One of the things I would want to say is that it is very easy to read the words of my text and think that there is a simple way of life commended, a sort of benign pacifism.
It was right and proper that the world does not accept that the Jews, the gipsies and the deformed should have had to suffer as they did, despite those who did so following the "legitimate" orders of their superiors. It was right that the world intervened; though, of course, the world had little choice, lest the domination extend to other countries.
So we need to be careful if we suggest that the demonstrators at the Woomera Detention Centre ought to "accept the authority of every human institution" - in this case the authority of the Minister for Immigration. How many of us really respect politicians? How many of us respect judges if we think their sentences are too lenient when we are the aggrieved party?
The later words of St Peter suggest we ought to "honour everyone" and I think it is important that we do what we can to see that others honour everyone too. Indeed it is precisely this concept that our laws are based on &endash; that everyone, rich or poor has access to the due process of the law &endash; without fear or favour. I would heartily agree that there are better ways of making a point than being destructive, and I would not condone abuse of police. However I believe the actions of the demonstrators to have been misguided - I rejoice that young people still seem motivated to stand up for others who they perceive as being ill-treated.
It is not good enough to interpret the words of my text as if everyone who is treated unjustly should "grin and bear it" - to "take it on the chin", for often it is others who have to submit when we are exempt.
To take another example, I do not consider it right to enjoin wives to remain in abusive relationships - "because it is their duty" - and as Christians they have to forgive their abusive spouses. In the end this only gives the other a license to act with impunity.
In a world of inequality it is inevitable that people will often feel hardly done by, and these words do serve to encourage us to offer such things to the Lord and not let them eat away at our own innards. If we let others "force" us to live a life of misery, is it more our fault than theirs. At least we, in contrast to others in past generations and probably many still, can leave the situation and perhaps we should do so. Many women still feel trapped and unable to leave a situation. Many young people are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and feelings of helplessness - yet how often are they vilified as dole bludgers and good-for-nothing-layabouts?
Perhaps if we consider that of the three options available to a victim, passive acceptance, giving it to the Lord, or retaliation, retaliation is most often likely to be an unwise option &endash; and of course we see the vivid truth of this in the middle east at the moment.
It is clear from these words that God hears the cry of the afflicted, no matter who they are. If it is Christians doing the afflicting then their Christian faith will not help them in the slightest in the sight of God. If it is women or gays or people of other ethnic origins or faith who are those who are afflicted - then it is them that God will hear. God doesn't hear the prayer of the rich and the powerful because so often such people pray only for more riches and power for themselves &endash; at the expense of others less fortunate.
The words of St Peter bid us work, quietly for the honouring of all people and hence the betterment of society. They commend us to work for the good of others as well as ourselves. Someone has said: "Everything can be gained by peace - everything is lost by war" - no matter how right or "justified" we think we are. And many returned service personnel, for all they look back with fondness at their service career, and enjoy mixing with their comrades in arms of times past, they know the truth of that saying far more than I could ever appreciate. They have seen too much suffering to wish for a repeat.
There is also a simple human dignity in doing a job and doing it well. My father was a watchmaker and jeweller and he saw it as his task to bring a little happiness into the world as he was able to supply nice gifts for people to give others. It was not a world changing occupation, and he always said that the best things in life are free, but he saw his job as God-given and he tried to do it well. In the words of the Catechism: he did his duty in that state of life it pleased God to call him.
The "Advertiser" Education Supplement for Anzac Day had a picture of an Australian Soldier in Galipoli giving a wounded Turkish soldier a drink. In the midst of all the complexities of life, in decisions to oppose oppression or maintain a pacifist stance, even in the very midst of conflict - there is always room for a Christian act such as this. It is an action which fills me with pride.
We sang the hymn before the gospel: "I vow to thee my country ..." written by Cecil Spring-Rice to the stirring tune "Thaxted" adapted from Gustav Holst's "The Planets" suite. I rejoice to be patriotic, because the Church does not exist for itself, but for the good of the whole of society and all those amongst whom we live. The Diggers past and present fought and fight to retain the freedom we enjoy. The people who demonstrate outside detention centres also fight, in their own way, for Australia. We may not approve of their cause or the way they go about it, but if Australia is not big enough to cope with this level of dissent, I suspect the "freedom" we enjoy is largely illusory, and the sacrifices of Diggers in vain.
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