Another sermon on the Gospel reading can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/058g99.htm and indeed the sermon below is a conclusion to that. The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r058.htm

s058g02 Sunday 25 22/9/02

"Are you envious because I am generous" Matt 20.15

In Australia, one of the things we have been doing over quite a number of years is reviewing our relationship with Britain. Quite some years ago we dropped singing "God Save the Queen" and instead we have "Advance Australia Fair". A referendum recently decided against further severing our ties with the monarchy &endash; I suspect because in reality the Queen has no effective influence in Australian life other than on her occasional visits, which are entirely ceremonial.

But the reason I mention this is that the second on the list of possible National Anthems was "Waltzing Matilda" from a poem by A. B. (Banjo) Patterson. There are still some who think that this should be our National Anthem rather than the one chosen. One may well wonder what a poem about a couple dancing has to do with reflecting a national psyche, but all is not what it seems.

Matilda is not here the name for a person of the female gender, but the bedroll a swaggie carried &endash; I suppose elsewhere they might be called hobos. So "Waltzing Matilda" actually refers to a swaggie on the road, whose only source of comfort is his bedroll.

Without reciting it, the poem tells the story of the swaggie, camped by a billabong &endash; a waterhole. He has managed to find and capture a sheep, which he will have for his dinner. But before he can enjoy, perhaps his first decent meal for a long while, troopers and police descend on him, ready to drag him off to jail for the theft of the sheep. The swaggie, rather than be caught by the authorities, jumps into the billabong and drowns. The poem ends with the lament: "And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong, you'll come a waltzing matilda with me."

So somewhere deep within the psyche of Australians is a deep mistrust for authority, especially authority quoting commandments like "Thou shalt not steal" to the starving down and outs. Somewhere, deep within the psyche of the Australian soul is such a profound mistrust of authority that it is prepared to commit suicide rather than submit. The original European settlers to Australia were mostly convicts, sent from Britain often for the theft of quite trivial necessities of life by the poor and starving, from the rich, powerful and the uncharitable.

Jesus, killed for his friendship of the poor, the sinner and the outcast, was also prepared for death rather than submit to that authority. I see, in the Australian psyche very strong echoes of the gospel and particularly the parable for today, where God make sure all have enough to eat.

The Ten Commandments, including "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal" are not the gospel &endash; the gospel is the generosity of God for all, and our proper response to share this generosity.

And yet this same, very laconic, larrikan, male psyche has room for the divine and for the eternal message. "His ghost may be heard " The concept that the poor will have their comeuppance over the rich, the powerful, and the uncharitable is also a very strong theme in the gospel. One has only to remember, to take just one instance, the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man.

I do not know what is happening in the Church elsewhere, but in Australia we occasionally have debates about the infallibility of scripture. I wonder if these debates are really a "smoke screen", putting divisions between people, in order to neglect what the Bible really says, particularly about God's love for all of humanity, not God's love for just those people who hold particular doctrines. For the God I worship is not going to differentiate between those people who believe God made the universe in six days and those who think that evolution is more likely. God doesn't care. I wouldn't believe in a God who did! God is generous to all. God is not going to differentiate between those people who believe Holy Scripture is divinely inspired and infallible and those who see there the hand of humanity as well as God. God doesn't care. God is generous to all.

It is obvious, at least to me, that the Bible is not internally consistent - not on the little matters like what actually happened at creation (for there are at least tow accounts of creation, not just one) or the inspiration behind the words. How anyone could suggest that the Bible contains a consistent attitude to the status of women is beyond me. No, the Bible is inconsistent even on the big matters, like law and grace. The reality is that people, generally those who have lots of things that they are afraid of loosing, are very strong on "Thou shalt not steal". But this law must always be tempered with the reality that we are called to be generous, for this is what God does care about. There is still enough food in this world to feed everyone, but somehow many still manage to miss out.

I have no doubt if you look at those people who decry faith, in Australia and elsewhere, and really examine the reasons for their attitudes, it may well be that they understand something of the gospel of grace that we don't. Telling others what to do and what not to do is inadequate &endash; we are ministers of a new covenant.

I don't think that in all my time as a member of the Church that I've ever heard anyone say something like - it is the right and duty of every person to provide food and clothing and shelter for themselves and their families - and if that means taking something from someone who has these and more, and refuses to share them, neither God nor the law ought to defend the "victim". I am obviously not condoning housebreaking to finance a drug habit mind you.

So perhaps this is the contribution to theology that the Australian psyche brings to humanity with a particular force - that all people have a right to exist.

And I think that Australians, of all people ought, because of our very history to be particularly conscious of the right of all people to exist, even those who come to our shores as asylum seekers. If we fail to remember why Australia was settled in the fist place by Europeans, it may well be us who are seen as the rich, the powerful and the uncharitable, ourselves, and rightfully despised.

The word of the Lord in Exodus seems a particularly relevant way to finish. "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in Egypt. ... If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives become widows and your children orphans." (Ex 22.21,23)

 

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