The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s138e06 Sunday 26 1/10/2006
'confess your sins .. and pray for one another .. that you may be healed' James 5.16
The thing that strikes me about this passage is its realism. James tells us that Elijah was a human being like us, and yet his prayers were effective. We do not have to become anything other than what we are.
James expects us to have sins to confess. We come to one another in our weakness and fragility, as we are - not pretending to be someone or something we aren't. And coming together in our weakness, we are bidden to pray for one another. It is in our weakness and fragility that our prayers are most effective.
Here is another example of how when we are at one with others, the miraculous can occur; whereas when we put ourselves above others, it is more likely to be demonic.
In Australia at the moment we are considering educating people who come to our shores on the ethos of being Australian the only real difference between the political parties is the question of when before they are granted a visa or before they are accepted as naturalized Australians. But I confess to wondering just what the ethos of being Australian is. We can't even agree on who is the Australian head of state the Queen or the Governor General! I suspect that there would be a number of Christian groups quick to propose our 'christian' heritage as of particular importance needs to be included! But 'Anglicans' cannot agree on the essence of our faith let alone 'christians'! The reality is that many Australians do not believe in God so that can't be held up as part of our ethos.
There is a proposal to teach people about the history of Australia, and I would heartily agree, though I suspect that the less than glorious treatment of the original inhabitants of this land would need to be included. I have just been listening to the radio account of the stolen wages of indigenous persons stolen by State governments who systematically defrauded wages from generations of people pretending to 'protect' them! http://www.abc.net.au/rn/nationalinterest/stories/2006/1740758.htm It is no wonder that there are some angry people in our land! Is it part of the Australian ethos to systematically withhold wages from someone else? Of course a treasurer in an Anglican parish would never withhold payments to the priest?!
One of the things that is superficially important is some command of the English language, and certainly this is useful. However the beauty and richness of the English language is a function of the fact that it is a mixture of so many other languages Latin, Greek, French, German, Nordic as well as the indigenous languages of those who lived in the British Isles so long ago. English is a mongrel language if ever there was one and any pretence of the purity of the Queen's English is laughable! And this is before it became more corrupted here in Australia.
It is actually more than a bit patronizing to suggest that we here in Australia are more committed to living together in peace. I have no doubt that everyone coming to our shores, comes to live in peace. I have no doubt that Moslems are as desirous of peace as the average Australian, if not more so. Most Anglo-Celtic Australians (including me) have not suffered the sort of marginalisation that they have. But they are most likely to be not just interested in peace, they are likely to be far more law abiding than the average Australian. They will not want to draw any sort of official attention to themselves lest they be deported or draw more adverse publicity from the press.
The only thing that really distinguishes us from others is our relative youth and so the fact is that we haven't had a history of 'them verses us'. Apart from the killings in the early years of colonisation, we haven't had a civil war. And I don't mention this to suggest we are any better than the United States. It is simply that we can't even say that the abolition of slavery is an essential part of our ethos in Australia. The stolen wages of aboriginal people that I mentioned earlier means that essentially slavery was inherent in our system many years after the civil war in America abolished it there.
But despite all this, I have to say that I personally love Australia, and live in relative security. I am not wealthy when compared with many other people around me. But I have a roof over my head, I have food on my table, and clean water to drink (should that ever become necessary :-) I am able to enjoy a glass or three of wine with my evening meal.
As I consider buying a house to live in, it is difficult not to be aware of the areas where it would be wise to avoid. These areas do not have a high proportion of Muslim residents they are characterised by those from a low socio-economic status Anglo-Celtic as much as anyone else. Indeed I suspect that there are few if any Moslems here in Orange. It is a mute question what these people (as I say Anglo-Celtic as any other) need lessons in the Australian ethos or a bit of respect and help out of the hole they find themselves in.
I have just listened to a report on Pope Benedict's gaffe (?) in his recent lecture in Regensburg. The interview was with Father Joseph Fessio - Provost of Ave Maria University, who commented that the Pope believes that the: "Qur'an first of all is presented as the unmediated and uncreated word of God which cannot be changed for which there's no majesterium to interpret it, and that therefore if you try and see what society will be, if it's going to be consistent with the Qur'an, then you end up with this principle of political life as you've enunciated, as you've said. And you cannot have a society based on that principle integrated into Western pluralism which is antithetical to that principle." The interviewer, Stephen Crittenden, returned to question Fr Fessio on this statement later, no doubt surprised as I was, that the Catholic majesterium supports Western pluralism any more than some followers of Islam. I have little doubt that there are as many (and as few) fundamentalist Catholics as there are fundamentalist Moslems, equally holding that others are expendable. One has only to consider the continuing poverty, disease and premature death of people in South America and Africa through the prohibition of the contraceptive pill and condoms to see that the majesterium of which Fr Fessio lauds continues to bring its own 'evil and inhuman things' without having to look elsewhere.
Perhaps the Pope's gaffe (?) will serve to diminish the concept of infallibility attributed to his office, and that might be a good thing. It will mean that they too might find that in their weakness and fragility their prayers are the more effective.
I have said before that desperate people pay exorbitant amounts of money to unscrupulous people to travel on what elsewhere would be considered unseaworthy vessels to an uncertain 'welcome' here in Australia. For all our blemishes we do offer something to others. People coming to our shores by these 'illegal' methods want to find a place to exist in anonymity and security not to stir up trouble.
So having confessed our sins, now it is time to turn to the second part of my text: we are bidden to pray for others. For all our fragility and weakness, we are still bidden to pray for other people, to pray in thanksgiving for others who come to live among us, to pray that their time among us will be blessed. So our prayers are to extend to them a welcome a recognition that we are blessed by others who have their fragility and weaknesses the same as us as well as their strengths and differences. Our prayers rightly include our recognition of the contributions that others have to make to our lives. Thank God for women, gay and lesbian people, indigenous spirituality, Moslems and all others who wish to live amongst us in peace, those who speak English and those who do not, the contraceptive pill, condoms, pizza, tabouleh, curry, suchi, cappachinos, fried rice, red wine!
These prayers of acceptance and welcome have enormous efficacy if we dare utter them! Just think what our world might be like if all accepted other people enough to thank God for them.
And St James tells us that healing comes, for us and for others, when we come to one another in our shared fragility and weakness, and pray for one another. May I suggest this is not just healing for us and for others, but healing for the world community that becomes possible!
And my sermon might have ended there, but my favourite spiritual writer: Molly Wolf, in her Sabbath Blessing (http://justus.anglican.org/sabbath-blessings/2001/index.html) received this morning entitled: 'The Conversation' ended with these words: 'I'd believed it in theory, but now I could feel it in fact, that joy is indeed the other side of suffering. When we withhold ourselves from suffering -- our own or others' -- because "it's not quite nice", we lose that joy.'
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