The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s153o07 Lent 1 25/2/2007
'Today I declare to the LORD .. that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.' Deuteronomy 26.3
Before I came to Orange, when I was in Adelaide I had a lot to do with refugees from the Sudan and one of the many things I learned was the custom of Sudanese men to hold hands. I had three Anglican priests living in my parish and one of them had a son, five years old. It is a long time since my sons were that age, but I suddenly remembered that all children of that age in Australia are required by law to attend school. So it was that I took the father, son and three year old daughter to the local kindergarten to enrol the son. There I was dressed in clerical collar with the lad holding my hand walking beside me, with his father following carrying his daughter, entering the local kindergarten. I am very pale skinned and the Sudanese quite the opposite, and I wondered, fleetingly, what the mothers sitting outside would make of these new-comers :-)! I needn't have worried, for the lad, as soon as we got into the building, suddenly saw all around him things that were so interesting. He literally went from one place to explore one thing, when another, out of the corner of his eye, would distract him. He went from one thing to another. If ever you could say 'all his christmasses had come at once' this was that time. A little later we went to another kindergarten, this one offering respite for new mothers for the lad's younger sister. At this kindergarten they had a Sudanese teacher's aid. When she saw the little Sudanese girl, she went off and got a child's doll with dark 'skin'. The child and the doll were instant friends. It was a delight to see and heart-warming.
And it sometimes takes incidents like this to show us, who are so used to the blessings we have around us, that we have got nothing to complain about. It reminds us that we really have come into a very blessed land. Of course this blessing does not extend to all people. Sadly many people in Australia do miss out, and I am not saying that we are perfect or that we do not have a long way to go to bring these blessings to all people who live here, regardless of their race or whatever. Indeed I am reminded that one of the principals of our Federation was the 'White Australia policy' and that it is only in recent years that immigration from South East Asia post Vietnam that has seen this effectively overturned. And remnants of the 'White Australia policy' are still with us with the current governments' emphasis on 'border security'. People pay exorbitant amounts of money to unscrupulous people to travel in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels to come to an uncertain welcome here in Australia. An uncertain welcome because we are not sure we want to share the blessings we enjoy in this place with others.
One of those Sudanese priests once asked me why Australian children do not go to Church. These questions 'out of left field' make us all think outside the circle as this did me. But of course Sudanese children have lived much of their lives as refugees. They know all about insecurity, death, torture, rape, fear and starvation. Australian young people know nothing of these and believe they are immortal. Hence they get in cars and believe they can drive them at twice the speed limit without danger with fatal results. Sudanese know their need to trust God.
An Australian person I knew once complained to me that she saw Sudanese buying 'scratchie' tickets at the local newsagent. Wasting good money! was the clear message I got .. there was no point in me ever asking her to help these new settlers even the ones who worshipped with us. Yet these people, used to cows rather than money, sent huge sums back to their relations in the Sudan and the surrounding countries because they knew how many lives it would change. The prospect of winning a fortune so that they could send more was irresistible. They had little conception of how slim the odds of ever winning were.
Recently I saw a report on the cost of the Iraq War to the United States at http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182 It was $365,631,954,571 and counting when I accessed the web site last week not counting the cost of the lives of American service personnel in the conflict. I do not wish to appear to support the war, but simply to say that the cost to the USA is enormous and some people in Iraq and elsewhere need to acknowledge this. The nation of America is paying dearly for the unwillingness of some people in Iraq to get on with their neighbours fellow Muslims. Just think of what this amount of money might do to combat global warming?
Who pays for our unwillingness to get on with our fellow Anglicans in the parish just a few kilometres away, for our unwillingness to get on with our fellow Christians in the Church less than a block away, for our unwillingness to accept others fully others like new settlers in Australia and gay and lesbian people? In the end it will be we ourselves, as well as others, just as in Iraq the people there also pay with their lives and their lack of peace.
Or have we come into the land the Lord has promised to us and everyone else has to put up with us lording over them?
I often reflect that after the feeding of the multitudes we are told that 'all ate and were satisfied'. How satisfied are we as Anglicans? Satisfied enough to keep us coming to Church but not so satisfied as to want any change in the routine that has become so comfortable. Often we are not satisfied with other people. The minister ought to attract more young people to Church is a common perception and I sometimes wonder if this is not so that the calls on our finances might be lessened. And we want young people because they are the Church of the future! We don't want adults who might change the church of the present, and young people can put on Christmass plays to entertain us! There is a cost to this sort of thinking the demise of that church as we think that it always has been and how we want it to stay world without end. Amen. This is a myth and a forlorn hope of ever there was one.
The declaration that is my text for today was the basis of the harvest festival thanksgiving. It is based on a premise of peace, security and plenty for all. However if we are still in a place where there is fighting and strife, then it is up to us to do something about it. Jesus tells us: 'When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.' (Matthew 5.23,24) While I always would have preferred Jesus to have said 'something legitimate against you' this shows how God would prefer us to be at peace than to have lots of things offered on the Altar. It points to the perennial problem that all religions have offerings to God in order that God will neglect our uncharitableness. And much of our uncharitableness is on religious grounds that others don't share our faith, or don't have enough faith.
If it is a place where some people do miss out materially, then it is up to those who have to help out those who have not. I refer you to some passages in James here.
The words of today's text 'Today I declare to the LORD .. that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us' ask us to consider if we come into that place of peace, security and plenty for all that God wants for all. If we haven't than we have no good news for anyone else, and we might as well all pack up and go home. If we have, then our task is to thank God and do what we can to bring that peace, security and plenty to anyone who perchance is missing out.
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