The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s037g05 Lockleys 30/1/05 Sunday 4 Australia Day Harvest
'blessed are the merciful' Matthew 5.7
I sometimes think that these words have little relevance to me at all. When we think about mercy we are most likely to think of how we want God to be merciful towards us. Each and every Sunday we sing: "O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us" or at least the modern equivalent thereof. But even these words cannot be taken solely in an individual way. Each time we do this we affirm that God has taken away the sin of the world; not just the sin of Anglicans who agree with me, Christians, or people of faith. No, God has taken away the sin of each and everybody.
Of course the world would be a far pleasanter a place to live if others didn't do the wrong thing in the first place, like we try to do. The world would be a much better place if everyone obeyed the rules, people always waited until they were married before being intimate, that each and every person were attracted to someone we determined was suitable, and everyone came to Church and tithed.
But Jesus doesn't say: 'blessed are the compliant', 'blessed are the gullible', 'blessed are those who tithe' or 'blessed are the Anglicans'! Kate Stowell writes (Eureka Street Jan Feb 2005 p 34): "One catch cry of the government (of Uzbekistan) has been "blessed are the obedient". No, Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the merciful".
Today is the day when we celebrate liturgically Australia Day, and perhaps we can echo these words, saying blessed are we who live in Australia, with some particular enthusiasm. For all the attractions of the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Phuket, and the other places so recently devastated, I'm happy to live in boring old Adelaide.
This word from Jesus tells us that the world will not be a better place when everyone else does the right thing, like us; but when we are merciful, towards those who do the wrong thing, towards those who believe in different ways to us.
This is the same message as that parable of the unmerciful steward. If there is anyone who knows how much our forgiveness has cost, it must be Christians. So it is our task as Christians to forgive others when they don't worship God as we do.
The words of the prophet Micah in our Old Testament reading, speak of the utter frustration of God, with us wearying the divine with our sacrifices, when God would have us get on with others: doing justice and loving kindness.
When I have really begun to appreciate how wholeheartedly God wants me to accept myself, and others; then the words of St Paul about boasting in the Lord start to make some sense to me.
The interesting thing about this quotation for me is how frequently we use our Christianity, our religion; to avoid being merciful towards others. We use our religion to limit the number of people who we need to take notice of, in the name of the very God who calls us to be merciful! It really is only a matter of degree between dismissing another as inconsequential, trying to convert someone else to see things in our way, and if we are unsuccessful, consigning them to hell. We separate ourselves off from others, and use our religious differences to add justification to our disputes. Is it any wonder that I sometimes think that the God I worship is somewhat different to the one others seem to worship?
Just before Christmass my attention was drawn to a bill coming before a committee of our State parliament, trying to make the obligations of people living together similar to those of married couples. My attention was drawn to this by people who assumed I would want to oppose this. as a watering down of the institution of marriage.
I did reply to this (let me assure you in my own name alone) saying that in the Anglican Church, the minister of the sacrament of marriage is the couple themselves. This is not the case in the Catholic Church, where the minister of the sacrament is the priest. Hence the Anglican Church recognizes civil marriages; as I suspect our established heritage requires us to do. However it also means that for me I can recognize and affirm couples who decide to live together. I can respect their decision.
So in fact I welcome the proposed legislation. For me the State has a duty to try to protect people from abusive situations, and to try to protect society from conflict. I am not sure that the State or the Church has any business trying to regulate just who or when people might express their affections one towards another. Even parents are wise to steer clear of this.
But the attempts to oppose this legislation seem to me all about defining who may and who may not benefit from the protection of the law; to whom the State may be merciful, and to whom it may not. And this in the name of Jesus, who calls us to be merciful!
The very fact that the State does not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, faith, marital status, makes this country of Australia the attractive place it is. We do not have to look far at all to see people discriminated against; indeed some of our Sudanese friends could tell us a thing or two. I have said more than once, some are willing to pay unscrupulous people exorbitant amounts of money to travel on un-seaworthy vessels and face an extremely uncertain welcome in an attempt to have a share of our freedom and self-determination.
As we rejoice in the relative peace and security of this country, it is up to us to see that our privileged place is not something to be kept to ourselves, but shared with all who want to live in peace.
In Australia we are truly blessed by not living in a society of one group against another, ever at loggerheads. Our survival as people is not dependent on us belonging to the 'right' group. We as a nation have a real opportunity to show others that 'the survival of the fittest' will only lead to more division and grief.
Our survival is far more likely and our existence far more pleasant if we continue to oppose discrimination in all of its forms.
St Paul tells us that when we are compassionate towards others; that is, merciful towards others; we do it "in cheerfulness". Romans 12.9
This led me to remember that old proverb: 'Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone'. When we are actually purveyors of good news, we will be a blessing for ourselves, and others. If we only have complaints about how others fail to live up to the standards we set, we will be left alone.
Today, as well as being the time we celebrate our Australia Day, we also celebrate our harvest festival. We have so much for which to be thankful, and so little cause for complaint.
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