s126g97 Burra 6/7/97 Sunday 14 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
"Where did this man get all this? Mark 6:2.
It is lovely to come to Burra and to share these services with you.
There are some things that never change. You will be unaware that I save my sermons on computer disk, and so I regularly have a "blast from the past", as I scan the words I used three, six, nine and even twelve years ago. I think that the railway link from Darwin to Adelaide has been proposed for as long as I can remember without it getting any more concrete than that. I spoke in 1985, on this very 14th Sunday of the year, about a tax summit held in Canberra, convened by Messrs Hawke and Keeting, who were proposing a 12.5% consumption tax. We all know that that didn't get off the ground and that later the GST proved to be the downfall of Mr Hewson so decisively when he tried to bring it in, that everyone was beginning to think that "GST" ranks with "AIDS" as the ultimate unmentionable in liberal circles, let alone be a part of liberal policy. But, wonder of wonders, it now seems likely to become liberal policy. Certain sections of the liberal back bench are suggesting a referendum on tax reform so that Messrs Howard and Costello can do the unthinkable and introduce a GST! It will, no doubt, be opposed by the descendants of Messrs Hawke and Keeting as it was opposed by the opposition in their day! As I say, some things never change!
It is good to be back in the country. It is interesting to see that God chooses down to earth things, and down to earth people. One of the "minor" prophets was Amos, a true country boy. He himself protested, when others questioned his status and qualifications to be a prophet, saying: "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees." (Amos 7:14) One does not have to have a great education or training to realise the Lord's message is indeed simple: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)
It does not take a genius, or to have a degree in theology to realise that one of the other things that never change is that the unscrupulous have often got richer and the scrupulous poorer, from generation to generation. It seems the wealthier some people are - the more opportunity they find to avoid paying taxes; whereas for the poor, when they make a little money - there seems an endless number of persons waiting to relieve them of it. The core of the complaint the Lord made through Amos was: "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land ... saying ... "We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat"... " (Amos 8:4-6). The woes that the herdsman and sycamore tree dresser pronounced on the people of his generation could be pronounced on the succeeding generations equally as validly.
But God does not choose just country people to be prophets. Ezekiel one of the major prophet, the writings of whom this morning's first reading came, was a priest. I was interested to see that Archbishop Ian was a part of the gathering at Football Park when the son of Billy Graham is going to be leading a renewal gathering next year. Archbishop Ian was interviewed about his involvement, and he said some people need people from outside - they don't accept words of wisdom from the hometown boy. I found the response interesting and insightful, in fact quite encouraging. He was saying that there are people, clergy, here in South Australia who have the same message, but that some people will never listen ...
I do not know if the GST is a good thing or not. Certainly there seems a deal of interest is some form of tax reform. That interest is spured by a desire to share the tax burden more equitably - whether in the end what is proposed will achieve this or not is another matter.
But each of the readings for today focus on the vital message - to listen and to be open. God sent Ezekiel to the people of Israel knowing them to be impudent and stubborn. What lies behind St Paul's enigmatic words about his spiritual experiences is a desire to get his hearers to listen to his words and take notice. Jesus found the same problem with the people of his own hometown, and in the broader picture, "his own people did not accept him" Jn 1.11
Are we open to the words of the politicians who are trying to achieve a more equitable taxation base for our country? If God can call a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, a priest, and a former persecutor of the Church - for divine purposes, may not God also call and use politicians, duly elected by the people for the same purposes.
One of the aspects of today's society in Australia that really worries me is the number of unseen and surreptitious lobby groups. It is not the special interest open lobby groups that worry me. It is the hidden and secret ones. Somewhere I heard that in the old days of the USSR, the hierarchy considered the most dangerous machine to be the photocopier. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. It could cut through the secrecy.
I worry that part of the reason some of these things are unseen and surreptitious in their operations is to avoid people actually hearing their true message. So a while back I was asked about the beliefs of a particular religious group to which a friend had joined. It is not the first time I have been asked about this group and I've never found those I have asked in turn that they had very satisfactory answers either. Now-a-days I am on the Internet, where all sorts of information is instantly retrievable. But even there I drew a blank. Why is there such secrecy?
One of the hats I wear is Diocesan Chaplain to the Mothers Union, and the MU has long been a champion of decency, morality and family life. A while back there was an international call to protest the possible production of a film depicting the sexuality of Jesus or something. Perhaps I have a suspicious mind, but I could well credit the promoters of the film originating the protest to get free advertising! Certainly we are called to listen and be open to protesting something of dubious morality. But equally we need to be careful that we don't fall into serving the precise purposes of those who will benefit materially by all the fuss they get us to cause!
The readings for today do not call us to instantly accept every possible thing that anyone tells us. They do ask us to be open to what others are saying. If we have an opposing view, then we can respond appropriately to the points that the other raises. But if we haven't listened in the first place, we cannot possibly respond to them - we are only trotting out our own pet themes.
The job of the politician is a difficult enough task, for they have to weigh up the overall benefit to the whole nation, not just the benefit to this or that (very vital) group within it. As ordinary citizens we naturally see far more clearly how something may impact on our own existence or hip - pocket than we perceive the benefit for the whole nation.
Since I have said something which might be construed as against the Soviet Union, I might add that I saw another program which said that after a politician spoke in the Soviet parliament, they actually paused to think about what had been said. That seems an inordinately useful thing to do. I have no doubt our own parliamentarians could emulate that.
The gospel reading tells us that being closed and cynical means that miracles, otherwise quite possible, cannot occur. The reverse is obviously the lesson too. As we are open and accepting, miracles indeed occur. Indeed, one of the greatest miracles is in fact to be enabled to hear, and hear the good in what others are saying - to be enabled to see, and perceive God at work in another person's life.
It changes our whole perspective, so that instead of seeing only doom and gloom, we see God at work in ever so many places and in ever so many people. There ceases to be any need for worry and all the hoo har that surrounds us. We find that God is still in charge, and we ourselves will in this world, like St Paul, be "caught up into Paradise".
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