s115e03 Epiphany 3 / Australia Day / Harvest Festival Lockleys 26/1/2003
"the present form of this world is passing away" 1 Cor 7.31
I am sorry about this. However, one can hardly argue with St Paul. However the theme of the immediacy of the kingdom pervades each of our readings today. The Old Testament reading is part of the story of Jonah - only "forty days"!! And in the gospel reading, Jesus tells us: "the time is fulfilled" - somewhat more definite and positive than St Paul.
Today is Australia Day, the 215th anniversary of the day in 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip formally took possession of the whole of the eastern part of the continent of Australia, including Tasmania. Naturally the date has less significance to the states not on the east coast. Perth in Western Australia was first "settled" in 1829, and Adelaide in 1836. The first of January - the date of the proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 is also regarded as the birthday of our modern country. However we need to recognise that there were people here before 1788, and the clash of cultures, here as elsewhere throughout the world, had devastating effects on those original inhabitants, still being felt to this day. Perhaps these things were inevitable, and they are certainly unalterable now. However they should always cause us to think about how we live and coexist with all the people who make up this vast land.
In June there is to be a reunion of old "Young Anglican Fellowship" members in this diocese. Over a thousand names of people have been gathered from this halcyon period in the life of this Church. People look back with considerable fondness for that time, and the program will certainly be an opportunity to renew old friendships and indeed it could well prove to be the most energised activity within the diocese for some time.
And while I was indeed a part of those halcyon days, I have had cause to reflect that I didn't feel that they were like that at the time. Perhaps it is just a function of my angst ridden personality that I didn't enjoy them as much as I perceived I should. If I had my time again, what I wouldn't do !!! :-) Mind you there were some good and satisfying times too.
We, like the ancients, are presented with the constants of the history that has shaped us and made us who we are - as well as the reality that we are not the people we were (either as a nation or as individuals) in an earlier part of our lives. We have moved on, sometimes being dragged "kicking and screaming" into the present reality, sometimes accepting quietly that things will never be the same again.
I suppose a little nostalgia is OK, yet we do well not to romanticise the past. Particularly Australian Anglicans, for whom the Rev'd Samuel Marsden who arrived in 1793 and is revered in New Zealand, was notorious here as the "flogging parson". Just as I look back with mixed feelings to the time of my youth, so we all ought to have mixed feelings about some of our history.
Linked to nostalgia, there is also the ever present desire for things to stop changing. Google on the Internet informs me that it was Leslie Briousse and Anthony Newley who co-wrote the 1961 musical: "Stop the world, I want to get off". Our celebration of our country can never be to assert that there is an "ideal" Australia which existed 30 or 40 years ago (individuals will naturally want to put in their own idea of when Australia was this ideal) which our "celebration" is actually a lament for what has past, and a cry if not to return to that ideal, to berate any who will listen, the evils that have come about for our departing from "the good old days". There are echoes in the remarkably similar attitude that the church is in the decline, that things are falling apart, not like it was "when I was young".
Let me say that I think Australia is a wonderful country here and now. I rejoice not having to hand write sermons and to be able to share my thoughts with a rather larger group of people by way of the internet than just the congregation here.
The choir is going to sing the first verse of the "Song of Australia" - the ill-fated song which (along with Waltzing Matilda) didn't become our national anthem, at the end of the service. Most of us grew up singing this at school.
It is instructive to do this, for one forgets all of the words, and they highlight just how far we have moved on. I actually like the second verse: "On hill and plain, the clust'ring vine, Is gushing out with purple wine, and cups a quaffed to thee and thine. Australia !!!" I am a fifth generation Australian and I don't see my country as the "fairest of Britain's daughter's fair". Australia is the daughter of many nations of which Britain is only one - and it is also a nation in her own right. I am not sure that I have much sympathy for Britain who colonised Australia to rid herself of all the undesirables in their society. Much of the imagery in the song is not native Australian - corn,vines, roses, gold and rubies - all are the products of technology and culture not particularly Australian.
It is good to take time today to celebrate what we are as Australians, for taking time means that we look back and look at the present honestly. The pioneers who endured hardships beyond imagining were no different from you and I. They were not greater for the hardships, for there are few, if any of us who go through this life unburdened and carefree. (That said, I do sometimes wonder about those who seem to manage to spend an inordinate proportion of their existence surfing!). No one else's Cross is lighter than our own, despite appearances.
And it is here that I think we can begin to look to the future with some confidence, for heroism abounds still amongst the people sitting in this congregation as well as many who do not. We have come a long way, and the future holds the possibility of many blessings as well as challenges. There is no doubt that we and indeed future generations will rise to meet those challenges quite successfully, despite some of the older generation looking down on the younger ones.
In one way or other, I as a parent have tried to make up for the various privations I experienced in my early life. I am sure I am not alone here. Many people would have looked to my parents as wealthy, but little did they know that there wasn't lots of spare cash for "luxuries". I have tried to make sure that the atmosphere of "scrimping and saving" is not part of our existence as it was in the home of my youth. So when there were honourable things that our boys wanted to do, money has always been found to enable them to take up those opportunities. But the reality is that no parent, for all they try to do and compensate, cannot make life easier for their children. Each and every person has their own Cross to carry, and no one can carry it for them.
In one of the Christmass Cards I received this year, our treatment of asylum seekers caused the writer to say that this was one of those periods in history where people will look back and feel ashamed of Australia. Interestingly, because another person I know would say precisely the opposite, and both have had "firsthand" experience of detention centres.
There are a number of things which make me proud to be an Australian, and they mostly revolve around attitudes to which we aspire even if we don't achieve them. We believe in a fair go for everyone. In the words of the second verse of our actual national anthem, "For those who've come across the seas We've boundless plains to share". I believe that we do aspire to be a common wealth for all. Of course we haven't achieved these ideals, in many instances we fail miserably, but still they are there before us as goals.
And while we do have a history of being able to present our views robustly in the public arena, we also have no history of continuing sectarian violence which mars many other places. Perhaps it is simply an accident of history - because we haven't ever had two competing classes exacerbated by differences in faith, such as in the Middle East, Ireland, the Balkans or elsewhere. There has always been lots of ethnic groups - all but one from elsewhere - rather than two competing over ownership.
For the reality is that we cannot stay still, let alone go backwards. God is ever calling us out of ourselves and to consider the other, and we close our eyes to this at our peril and to our own detriment. We know how much the multicultural society has enriched our lives already, so for heavens name why do we think further immigration will do anything else?
"The present form of this world is passing away" and I say "alleluia" and "three cheers" to that - if it means that old divisions and frustrations are to be done away with. St Paul bids us act differently now. The good news is that there is a point in acting differently, for in God's eyes the old frustrations and divisions are non-existent.
I was having a conversation with Fr. Douglas a while back about how nice it would be if there were one thing we could do - one maxim we could live our lives by - like "live and let live". St Paul might well have been facing the same conundrum, for the import of his words mean that neither mourning nor rejoicing is "Christian". Christians can have possessions or live in poverty, they can engage in commerce or not. St Paul can find Christians everywhere!
As we celebrate today the blessings of being Australian, acknowledging our strengths and our failings honestly we can look forward with hope. Nothing stands in our way, we have God's full permission to make this life better. God has done everything necessary to bring it about, it is only up to us to make these things a reality in our personal and corporate life.
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