s117e^97 Somerton Park + 9/2/97 Sunday 5 Harvest Festival

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some." 1 Corinthians 9:20-23.

Today we are celebrating our Harvest Festival. It is approaching our Autumn, we have enjoyed the Spring and Summer and are now looking for the rains to begin the cycle of sprouting and growth. At this time perhaps we could spare a thought for those in the Northern Hemisphere suffering in the cold of winter.

One of the changes we have brought in with the new prayer book is the alternation of priest and lay reader doing the intercessions. These words come from A Prayer Book for Australia, page 184, which is not part of the booklets we are using for the congregation. There are a couple of reasons I was particularly drawn to these. The first was that each of the invariable petitions that the lay assistant says begins: "We give thanks ..." and then asks for particular needs. It was expressed to me recently by a neighbouring priest how often the intercessions are a list of disasters for God to fix up! I was grateful for these words, coming just when I was considering how to do the service. We have so much to be thankful for - and our worship should reflect this every Sunday, not just on our Harvest Festival.

The second reason I was drawn to these was that rather than the Church or the world being prayed for first (different services have different priorities); the first petition in this new service is for the preservation of the earth. It is not that I am becoming more and more "green" - it is that this reflects the primary work of humanity from the beginning of creation when God put the primal creature in the garden of Eden - "to till it and keep it" (Genesis 2.15) It seems in this ancient phrase we find already the twin responsibilities to exploit the earth and yet work for its preservation also - put side by side. That obviously is the responsibility of everyone, not just those whose actual occupation is farming. It seems particularly appropriate that this be the first focus of our prayers.

So we come together to give thanks. You will know how frequently I pray in the intercessions and thank God for all the blessing we enjoy in this country, this state and this local community. The worlds' media brings home to us each and every day the traumas and tensions which other nations and peoples suffer. I confess I have absolutely no appreciation of the driving forces behind the ethnic tensions that we see so much of. I cannot begin to understand why they exist, so the last things I could ever do is apportion blame or evaluate excuses.

What a wonderful freedom St Paul seems to have in dealing with other people. I once heard another member of the clergy question how St Paul can be all things to all people and still think of integrity as a virtue. I would not pretend to have an answer - but still I marvel how he can have this ideal for himself. I suppose in some ways it was a little easier for him, having his dual background of thoroughly impeccable Jewish credentials and also being a Roman citizen. He was, I suppose, the archetypal "cosmopolitan".

His words to me are imbued with a spirit of thankfulness - thankfulness for the gospel - thankfulness that he can proclaim it free of charge - thankfulness that he can become a slave, a Jew, someone under the law, someone outside the law, someone who is weak - thankful that he can be someone who can become all things to all people.

It is rare that I make what might be construed as a political statement, but these words lead me to compare these with the recent statements of Pauline Hanson. I can recognise that a lot of people are concerned with what seems inequitable treatment of some groups in our community, and she has a right to say what she says. But how different is the tone of these words of St Paul and those of Pauline Hanson.

(For those outside Australia, Pauline Hanson was recently elected to Federal Parliament and has been expressing concern at the level of assistance given to the indigenous people of Australia and also expressing concern at the level of Asian immigration to this country.)

St Paul is not here saying we should tolerate people different from ourselves, he is not here saying that we need others because our prosperity depends on growth. Even the valuable lesson of the wonderful and famous book "To Kill a Mockingbird"; he is not just saying that we need to stand in someone else's shoes. He is saying that he seeks to become like others - and so commends us to try to do the same.

Of course Pauline Hanson is not on her own in her words. She is merely reflecting the attitudes of many. I sense, and I may well be wrong, a desire for separateness and a feeling of fear, which is shared by many in our community. These are the opposite of the fearlessness and willingness to become the other that St Paul reflects.

On this our Harvest Festival, I think it is important not to leave the spirit of fearless and thankfulness here in Church as we thoroughly enjoy our special celebration today, just to return to the world and resume worrying about the future and worrying about the country.

Christianity was spread not by disciples huddled together in the upper room, praying, reading the scriptures, being model citizens, keeping to themselves and not disturbing the peace, however thankful they were. The gift of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost enabled the apostles to speak in the language of their hearers. The Spirit did not enable the hearers to understand the language of the Church. The apostles were enabled to speak the language of their hearers - to become like them - just as St Paul sought to be.

How often do we only regard as Christians those who speak the language of the Bible and of our tradition? How often do we insist that everyone speaks what we think is the "English" language? How often do we spend our lives expecting others to live up to our expectations? In doing these things, does this reflect the fearlessness and willingness to become the other that St Paul has as his ideal?

Because European settlement in this country is so recent, we can appreciate how much we benefit from the early settlers and pioneers who explored, opened up the land and began the agricultural, industrial and social service industries that form the basis of the security of our existence now. At the sesquicentenary celebration of the consecration of the first Bishop of Adelaide last Sunday night, Archbishop Ian spoke of the real contribution of those early pioneers and benefactors of the Church in this place.

We in this land benefit from the contribution of not just the pious. This country was not settled by the gentrified, but by the outcasts of society, those fleeing freedom from religious persecution, and in South Australia, radicals imbued with the ideal of a free settlement without any established Church.

In both these groups we see that we benefit from the fearlessness and willingness to step out (if nothing else) into a completely new existence.

The message of our Harvest Festival is a message of thanksgiving, and thanksgiving is a powerful message for individuals and for nations. Fearfulness and desire for separateness is equally powerful but ultimately destructive. May the thanksgiving which is at the centre of our harvest festival this day, spread beyond these walls, and enable us, not just to accept the inevitable that we will have to put up with others around us who are different, because God or St Paul (or me) tells us to, or the economy will continue to struggle without tourism and an increase in population, but because the Holy Spirit of God enable us to fearlessly and willingly become the other.

 

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