s164a01 Somerton Park 20/5/01 Easter 6
"Come over to Macedonia" Acts 16.9
The request contained in this night vision was actually the culmination of a series of directions given to Paul, to direct his energies, not to the people of his own nationality, people in Asia and Bithynia, but to "cross the Rubicon" into places of a different culture and tradition, into what we now call Europe, which was completely foreign to St Paul, born in Tarsus in Asia Minor.
And so it is appropriate to say something today about our recent trip to Bali, for that also was, for us, an experience of a completely different culture and tradition to our own. We had to cope with language difficulties, the complexities of exchange rates, even the weather is completely different to what we are used to, here in Adelaide.
Oddly enough, people have asked me: "Have I always wanted to go to Bali?" I can truthfully say that I've never really considered it. When I did not succeed in my application for a grant to go to Jerusalem, I had planned to spend some extra personal savings had I been successful on the extras, so that was what we planned to spend on our holiday. It was a choice between Queensland or Bali, and Bali seemed more interesting ...
I was also astonished that I found it remarkably easy to arrange for relieving clergy to take the services here, and at quite short notice. Inevitably there is a good deal of work associated with going away, and even more when going overseas. But it was remarkable how everything fitted into place. I concluded that we were meant to go.
And like Paul, who immediately found a person who was a worshipper of God - Lydia - we too found that we arrived not in a godless place, but a country devoted to the worship of God, rather more devoutly than some western Christian nations. Bali is almost exclusively Hindu, and each home, village, and business premises has it's temple or shrine - and this does not include the major temples as we have our cathedrals. And these are not sterile places, never visited. Each morning the ladies who are stall owners place their offerings on the road side. Even our (more Western) hotel had its temple by the pool and each morning and evening, offerings were placed there. And I thought of me saying the morning and evening office - and I thought how these people, amidst the poverty of their existence, were able to find offerings and to worship God, with a devotion and an unselfconsciousness which was truly remarkable.
Even the satellite TV guide in our room had the following greeting: "Dear Customer, This month Christians and Buddhists in Indonesia will celebrate The Ascension Day of Jesus Christ and Waisak Day, which has a religious level within each person. So those holiday might be the best day to watch many interesting programs that METRA has, to enjoy with your whole family. ... May this program make the cheerfulness and happiness inside your home and family when you're watching it! Happy viewing and enjoy your life!" Each morning there was a religious teaching program on TV, though it was not specific which faith was being taught and I certainly couldn't tell from watching - not being in English. It may well have been Islam originating from Jakarta.
The guide on our cycle trip down from the volcano,Mount Batur, relished the opportunity to explain some of the aspects of the Hindu faith, in a way few Western Christians would care to do about our faith.
On the Sunday we worshipped at the Protestant Church of Bali, on the Hill of Prayer, on land given for the purpose by the Indonesian Government, in Nusa Dua, where an Islamic Mosque, a Catholic Church, a Buddhist Temple and the Protestant Church stand side by side. I suppose one can be cynical and say that the resort of Nusa Dua, set up with money from the World Bank, needed to cater for the religious devotions of visitors, but it still shows a remarkable tolerance on behalf of the political leadership. It was a delightful, non-eucharistic service. One couple thanked us for singing the final hymn "Here I am, Lord" lustily, as they were unfamiliar with the tune. But most of the other music was familiar too: other hymns were "Great is thy faithfulness" and "Now thank we all our God". Two lovely Balinese singers sang "Freely, Freely" in a harmony unfamiliar to me, which was a highlight. I have put up photos of the Church on the notice board foyer. A Balinese priest, the Rev'd Yohanes led the service in English, and an expatriate missionary delivered the sermon. We met the Rev'd Yohanes before the service and he seemed a very nice person. I would have like to hear him preach but I suppose his congregation is much like my own - they like to hear a visiting preacher -given the opportunity.
Bali has a population of 4 million people on an island not much bigger than Kangaroo Island. This equates to a population density 2.5 times that of Sydney in 1995. So there is both much hustle and bustle side by side with serenity and devotion. The people are remarkable for their openness and hospitality.
If there is a sad side to Bali, they stem, I suspect almost exclusively from the influence of western culture and affluence. It caused me to think of the clash of cultures when European settlement began in Australia. There is certainly no cause for concern in travelling to Bali for anyone, and certainly no difficulty with Australians. Bali is quite remote from the political machinations and unrest in other parts of Indonesia. East Timor was not mentioned at all.
We can take much from this gentle people's love of God and tolerance of others.
On one occasion we spoke to a female shop owner, who spoke of the lack of prospects for girls in Bali, and I suppose if I had been quick enough I should have said that this still reigns true in some parts of Australia, and in some parts of the Christian Church here. We all face the same pressures and prejudices. They are struggling to become a democratic society, yet I am not sure that we are all that far ahead of them in this respect either.
We were, of course only in Bali for 11 days, and so I would want to say that my impressions have limited value. But I think it would not be unnatural for many people in Bali to see their economic salvation coming from tourism. It must be a real dilemma for them, when the need to have the injection of the tourist dollar brings with it many quite undesirable changes. I note that the area called "Sanur" "touts itself as the "real Bali"" ("Bali and Beyond" magazine May 2001 p13) and a tourist brochure describes the nearby island of "Lombok" as the "Bali of yesterday". There is obviously some sadness at the inevitable spoiling of some beauty. We too "chase the tourist dollar" in South Australia. We too will have to accept that this will bring changes, as the influx of the first european settlers brought changes to the lives of the indigenous inhabitants of Australia and successive waves of immigrants have since then. What is distinctively "Australian" is very hard to describe,
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles set for today tells us that God impelled St Paul to not linger in those parts where he was familiar, but to cross the boundaries of culture and language. God led St Paul to see in those whom he considered foreigners, people who worshipped God. I wonder if anyone else noticed how quickly St Paul baptised Lydia and her household ... in the lesson for today.
So too we should not be afraid of people who worship God in different ways to our own. Inevitably there will be a clash of cultures, but it will be less of a clash if we are looking for the good in one another, and if so we will benefit much thereby. Indeed as Paul found himself impelled by God to cross over into "uncharted territory", and in some ways I felt we were called to experience the delights of Bali, the same call is to everyone.
We do not actually have to travel great distances. We will find people all around us who think differently from us. They might be women who feel called to the priesthood, it might be children who don't believe in the christian faith as we were expected to, but still do wonderful things and are deserving of our love and respect, it might be neighbours who are just ordinary people struggling with life, whose contribution to others is that they don't impose themselves on anyone.
For our Christianity is only unique insofar as we are able to do this. If Jesus is indeed greater than the Gods of Islam, the Hindu, or the Buddhist - Jesus will be accepting of the worship of goodness, acceptance of others and grace, whatever God's name is attached to it.
God calls us, not to live in a ghetto of like minded individuals, either self imposed or ghettos formed by external circumstances or natural constraints. The most obvious boundaries are in our minds as we consider, following on from last weeks sermon, those who are clean and those who aren't. Those boundaries are meant to be crossed as we see God in people other than our own persuasions, in persons other than our own community of faith.
The call to "come over to Macedonia" is ever a call to each and every one of us - to broaden our horizons - to see in everyone around us, near or far, something of the goodness and grace of God.
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