The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s116g06 Lockleys Sunday 4 Australia Day Harvest 29/1/2006
"have you come to destroy us?" Mark 1.24
Is it not amazing that as soon as something or someone different appears, we immediately think someone's out to get us! But then there is a good deal of evidence for this happening.
When the British came to Australia in 1788, which is one of the things we "celebrate" today, the indigenous population soon found out that their very existence was distinctly threatened. The British were technologically advanced but there was little love there.
And it is significant that this person with the unclean spirit -- the first such person Jesus encountered -- was found in the synagogue, not out in the streets. In the church, when someone who is "different" comes along, we assume that he or she is out to change something, to destroy the pure monument to God that we have erected.
Often we think of God as being vengeful, just waiting to destroy us for being naughty. I often wonder how significant our little faults and foibles are in the eyes of God, when the religious intolerance we have come to regard as "orthodoxy" has marginalized and alienated so many others.
And it is our fear that drives this reaction -- hiding behind the label of "orthodoxy".
Yet I do not have to argue that this land of Australia has infinitely benefited from the "different" people who have come here. We all like our pizza, our Asian and other cuisines too much. We still have a long way to go to get those benefits to extend to the indigenous people, true. But the pretence of the monochromatic society that I was brought up in has long since gone, and good riddance.
And I wonder, can we not see that the Church also would so much more infinitely benefit from an influx of people who thought differently, looked different, acted differently? Would not the Church actually be a far happier place, where people acted out of love rather than acted out of fear? Any financial problems would be a thing of the past!
We have, in Australia, a real model of what the Church might be. Of course, other multi-cultural societies exist right around the world, but in some senses it is our newness, our lack of history and so our lack of ingrained divides that makes the vision of what society might be and what the Church might be so clear.
Sadly, of course, the Anglican Church in Australia is always harking back to the past, to a culture that is really becoming quite alien to the modern generation. It harks back to a supposed superiority that is not just inappropriate, it is not even particularly evident.
The deep spirituality of the indigenous people of this country dwarfs our fairly lame Western attempts. The work ethic of "new Australians" has always put our fairly 'laid back' ways to shame. I was told when I went to New York that it was always the people who came to New York from elsewhere who made their fortune rather than those born there, so the paradigm is not unique to Australia. One of the people I met in the Youth Hostel was a person from Milan in Italy who had come to do volunteer social reconstruction work in a large American city -- and I was fascinated at this reversal of need. Another was a person from Nepal, seeking funds from the United Nations for his work in Nepal. The young people of today have their sights infinitely higher and broader than those of my generation, and the world is a better place for this.
We are so very lucky to have not been born in a place like the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland; or some places in Africa, where strife has been going on for centuries. And often it has been going on as a result of the arbitrary carving up of land into countries by the western powers -- the very colonizing culture to which we aspire to be associated.
In the time when Jesus walked the earth there was nothing of the communication and intercourse between people -- which comes to us via our televisions into our living rooms and via the internet into our studies -- with little or no effort at all on our part. We flit from here to America, Europe or Asia by plane on a whim. We know about other cultures in a way that was completely alien to those who heard the words of Jesus. Like Adam and Eve, with no experience of what might exist beyond, they were always destined to live in fear of what might be -- lurking just around the corner.
But we have no such excuse. We know that there are as many rotten apples in a barrel of Australian apples as there are in any other barrel. We know that the vast majority of good apples are worthwhile having, wherever they come from. We know that there are even a few rotten apples in the Church; recent experience tells us in no uncertain terms that this is no safe haven.
This Harvest and Australia Day, as we are thankful for what God has done for us as a Church and what God has done for us as a community; may I suggest we take a leaf out of our nation's book and see the real benefits that might be ours if we let go of some of our heritage and allow others a place here in our Church. May we let "our Church" become someone else's Church as well.
Yes, Jesus comes to destroy things, most notably our fears. We might feel safer holding our fears close to us, but it will only be ourselves who are the poorer. And we might as well not continue to pretend that this poverty is forced on us by God. Jesus has promised us "life in all its fullness"; and the directions to get this are plain for all to see, if we only care to look around us.
When I have heard the parable of the lost sheep out of the ninety-nine being expounded, almost inevitably it is explained that Jesus is the good shepherd, out and about looking for lost sheep to bring back to the fold -- which is the Church. The sheer numbers make this unlikely to be the true paradigm. Jesus spent his life amongst the mass of ordinary people, and invited the few elite to come out from their hiding in their little cliques -- to join in the rest of humanity. No wonder they killed him!
So this Australia Day when we thank God for all the blessings of God, may we too be encouraged to see the Church as rather wider than the Anglican Church of Australia, those of the Christian faith, but see the presence and power of God among all people of good will. For when we do this we might actually have some good news for others!
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