s062^96 Somerton Park Sunday 29 year a
(give) "to God the things that are God's" Matthew 22.21
We had a number of very pleasant religious experiences while on holidays - in all we travelled 3911 kms. We had a lovely service at St Paul's Manuka, Canberra, where Catherine particularly appreciated a break from my sermons and hearing a sermon about the importance of angels. I attended a weekday service at St John's Keiraville, Wollongong. We worshipped at St James' Kings St Sydney with Ros, David, Georgie and Megan Morris. For those who may not know, St James is one of those very historic Churches in the CBD of Sydney, built by the convict Francis Greenway originally as a courthouse, and later given to the Church for worship. The organ and the wonderful stained glass windows in the side chapel to the Holy Spirit are quite something to experience. The boys and I then drove via Bateman's Bay and Lake's Entrance to Melbourne where we spent two nights at Retreat House in Cheltenham, before returning to Adelaide. The spa at Lake's Entrance was an experience in itself. Fellow guests at Retreat House were Bishop Owen and Gloria Dowling. Bishop Owen had just been made senior chaplain to the Order of St Luke the Physician. I found it interesting and significant, that every service I attended the new A Prayer Book for Australia was used - even in dioceses where the Synod had not yet passed the necessary legislation. The level of acceptance of the form of service we begin to use this morning is very high.
Wollongong is not a usual tourist destination for those of us from Adelaide. We visit the Great Barrier Reef or the Gold Coast in Queensland, Sydney, Canberra, the Snowfields or the Grampians of Victoria or Tasmania. Sadly no one much particularly visits Wollongong. It is not really on the way from anywhere to anywhere else. However, having a brother in law resident there proved to be a great blessing. It brought to my experience firstly a very lovely part of Australia, but secondly the site of the largest Buddhist Temple in the southern hemisphere! Here, planted on the side of a hill overlooking the BHP steel and shipping works of Port Kembla and beside the Pacific Highway was a rather large slice of the orient. It is the "Nan Tien" temple, a huge, white and orange complex of temples, mediation rooms, libraries, dining and conference facilities. "Nan Tien" means "Paradise of the South" in Chinese, and it was only completed within the last year.
In time, when the trees grow in the landscape gardens, it will no doubt become the place of peace and tranquillity it was designed to be. Presently this is marred by the view of BHP's works and the sound of cars speeding by. I hope the trees prosper quickly.
I have no idea if there even is a Buddhist Temple in South Australia, and I was grateful that the visiting of Catherine's family in Wollongong gave me the opportunity to appreciate some one else's faith and tradition. As with the rest of our worship is was largely unplanned.
I took half an hour to quietly wander through by myself. In that time no one tried to convert me. Most of the people visiting there seemed to be of oriental background, though there were some westerners. There seemed no attempt made to convert anyone. There were rules as one would expect in any sacred space, like no smoking, drinking, or picnics and suitable clothing to be worn. The only unusual requirement (for westerners) was that shoes were to be taken off before entering any shrine.
There was a good deal of activity in the Temple. I would not be sure, but I think there was a specific festival of meditation and prayer happening. Not speaking Chinese, nor being ever involved in mediation in the oriental form I witnessed, I had no understanding of what was happening at all.
But it struck me quite clearly that here were a group of people giving to their God their worship, as Jesus bids us do in the gospel reading for today. Certainly their worship is ritualised in a way that I personally find foreign. But worshipping they were, in their own way certainly, but with a devotion which could put us Anglicans to shame. I think I saw a figure of $25,000,000 devoted to the building of the Temple, but I might be wrong.
So before we get too intent on criticising them for their idols, that St Paul mentions in the epistle reading for today, we need to hear loudly and clearly the message of Isaiah - there is no one besides God. It is not a competition between gods - God doesn't have competitors.
But also we need to look with open eyes to see the positive values of life that they particularly embody.
The "FoKuang Buddhists Motto" is to offer others faith, joy, hope and convenience (here I am quoting a single hand-out I picked up). I guess we can relate to the first three but the "convenience" intrigues me. I have no idea what so ever what they mean by "convenience" but I think it comes from the Latin to "walk together". When we use the word convenient, we mean we are able to spend that time or whatever to give to that other person. That seems to me to be a very useful concept in dealing with other people, quite in keeping with the teaching of Jesus. For the priest and the levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, for whatever reason, it was not convenient for them to stop and help the person set upon by the robbers. The Samaritan made it convenient to help him.
I spoke to Catherine who also was intrigued by their offering of "convenience". She thought it meant not putting obstacles in other people's way. How often do we speak of the "leap" of faith required to be a "Christian" - is this an obstacle we put in people's way? We need to make other people's journey through life as smooth as possible. This is the great theme of Advent, which will soon be upon us - where God himself will level the hills and fill in the valleys, that the highway to God be easy to travel.
Central to this handout's explanation of the Buddhist teaching is the statement "Oneness and Co-existence" and it goes on to elaborate that a Buddhist "be a ... person who feels the unity with all beings". This caused me to wonder if this does not contain the essence of the primary attraction of Buddhism to people, and something central to the ministry of Jesus, but which the Christian Church may have lost - to it's detriment.
Certainly the visit recently of the Dalai Lama and the plight of the Tibetan people has focussed a lot of attention on the Buddhist faith. In all the other things under the title of "Oneness and Co-existance" we would as Christians thoroughly agree with - compassion, wise, knowing right from wrong, strong, patient, tolerant, a good friend, joyful and cheerful, harmonious, truthful, pure and pious.
"Oneness and Co-existance" - these words caused me to ponder if we as the Church, in our desire to be seen as religious people, have all too quickly divided the world into "Christians" and the rest - whereas Jesus spent his whole time sitting down and eating with sinners - and accepting the offerings they wished to make.
I went to the morning service at the Community of the Holy Name chapel at Retreat House on the Wednesday and the gospel reading for the day was the first verses of Luke chapter 11. It cause me to reflect what a rum sort of saviour and rabbi we follow - when one of his disciples actually had to ask Jesus to teach them to pray - "like John taught his disciples". We, like this disciple, want to be religious, we think that is what Jesus was on about. Not at all - he was on about noticing people - all people as Bishop Michael Marshall spoke about at St Peter's College Memorial Hall last Sunday - noticing them - (and I would add) not just noticing them but seeking them out and accepting the contributions they wanted to make to God.
Nowhere in the small sample of literature I happened to pick up were the words "Worship Buddha". We need to be very careful we do not get carried away by the externals of the surroundings and to suggest that these people are worshipping "things made by peoples' hands" and not God who works through these externals.
If there is one God as we so fervently believe, then the possibility exists that the God we worship in our way is the same God as Buddhists worship in their way. My experience also caused me to reflect that Jesus did not come to set up a new and correct religion. That would be the ultimate trivialisation of the Son of God. He came and he comes to bring us into a community and to give us grace to get along with those around us.
As long as we are asking questions such as which faith is correct or true, we are failing to even perceive that this is an inappropriate question. In the end, fighting for the truth of Christianity can become an avoidance of the real question and the real reason for the grace of God poured out in the Cross and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ - that God loves all, for he died for one and for all.
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