Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teach Me to Pray

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
My heart is open to Thee.
Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Thy presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
Teach me how to pray.
Do Thyself pray within me.
- St. Philaret of Moscow

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Response to Change

I haven't offered sermon thoughts on this blog before, but do so here, given the varied response to the apology delivered by the Australian Parliament to the Stolen Generations - Indigenous families subject to forced removal and relocation as a result of government policy over a period of many decades. I seek to address the fear of change which often threatens all of us, and to challenge some of the romanticised notions of the ways in which transformation has often taken place.

This is not a verbatim or complete transcript, but supplemented notes from which I preach...

What a significant week it has been in the life of Australia. Significant because we have collectively agonised for over 10 years about the appropriate response to the Bringing Them Home report which detailed the stories of Indigenous Australians who had been removed from family. Significant because we had to wrestle with the notion of responsibility for decisions taken in very different circumstances. Significant because there were those who felt that an apology overlooked the important and positive things which had been done. Significant because of the move to bipartisanship at least in some small part of Indigenous Affairs. Significant because for the first time the Parliament had been opened with a Welcome to Country by Indigenous leaders. Significant because it was the first week of the new government leadership in parliament.

Sometimes significant moments creep up on us unexpected. Others emerge after a long and intentional search. Still others in the agony of discovery. It might bring us some comfort that the decision to abolish slavery in the British Commonwealth was one born of similar angst. The birth of the Australian nation came amidst great debate and uncertainty. The dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to bedevil modern thinking. Significant and historic moments are rarely clear-cut in their unfolding or in their acceptance.

As we reflect on the significance of this week, I would like to draw our focus back into two texts of scripture in order to highlight on of the great human realities: we all fear change.

There are times when our discoveries open up possibilities which frighten us. There are reports of scientists in Nazi Germany who made breakthrough discoveries but hid them for fear they would be used in ways which the scientists found abhorrent. There is the same concern in other areas of development today, where scientists seek knowledge, yet are concerned by the way in which the military and industrial might of politicians might see it put to other uses.

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain comes in the midst of a series of events in the life of Jesus which begin to turn the disciples’ perceptions upside down. First the declaration of faith by Peter, then the revelation of Jesus’ impending death, and now the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration. Each of them met with some resistance.

When we come face-to-face with life-transforming information, we realise that it asks something of us. When I came face-to-face with Jesus Christ, I realised there was a call upon my life that I could not escape.

The disciples here face the same reality. And they hide in trivialities. Shall we build three booths?

We have similar mechanisms today. Let’s put it to a committee. Let’s pray about it. Let’s… you know them as well as I do.

Human beings are very creative at resisting change. I know – I’m one of those. We ask questions. We ignore certain realities. We conceal our real agendas. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he comes as a man seeking to resist. How do we know? He comes at night? He asks vague questions then responds to the answers with some skill to avoid the real issue. Nicodemus senses a new wind but wonders whether he can follow it.

Someone once said that if you weren’t a communist in your 20s you didn’t have a heart, and if you weren’t a capitalist by the time you were in your 40s you had no brains. A young William Carey was put back in his place after sharing his dream of taking the gospel to the heathens by a leader’s remarks “If God wants to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without you or I.”

Where do the dreams and yearnings of our youth go?

During the first year of our time at West Melbourne, I could often be heard stating, “We don’t have to worry about failure. We stare it in the face each week!” The only failure was not to try. Not to risk. We knew that unless something different took place we were destined to die. It wasn’t easy.

Why do we resist change?

Overcome by Fear. What if we can’t handle it? What if we don’t have the skills? What if it doesn’t deliver what we hope? Good questions to ask, but ones which point us back to the source of life and hope.

Fear of change. The seven last words of the church? We have always done it this way. There is comfort in familiarity. It helps us feel secure. Safe. But how much gospel is that?

We are often tempted to stay the same because we know it. It stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ call to be born again. To live by the fluky winds of the Spirit. To leave behind families and mothers and brothers and sisters for the sake of the gospel.

Transformation is often harder. But which way leads to life?

A pastoral colleague reflected in the wake of the apology and in the light of John 3: "the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. And in that encounter, in which Jesus so profoundly speaks about 'new birth', I realized afresh what the core of the gospel is: that our past no longer needs condemn us to a particular future; that my tomorrows are not imprisoned by my yesterdays; that in Christ, there is a new and more hopeful reality that is brought into vision.

Today's apology was, for me at least, truly a Lenten miracle, and one that served to highlight powerfully the world-shaking wonder of the gospel of which John 3 speaks."

This past week has raised many other questions: compensation. Future Indigenous policy. Can we meet the expectations raised? The government was not limited by the problem of raised expectations because it heard the call of justice and compassion and truth.

The image of the Exodus is strong in our faith tradition: the call to leave the known and secure, if difficult, to strike out in search of the land of promise. The journey from Egypt to Promised Land was messy, fraught, filled with dissent, grumbling. You'd think there would have been better planning! When we become comfortable with the ways that we know we inevitably and inexorably abandon the call to the future which God has prepared for us.

Note Paul's response:
Philippians 3:10-14 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sorry Day Prayer

I posted this prayer yesterday on heardaboutthisone. I reproduce it here today alongside the text of the apology delivered yesterday by the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations. This prayer was written for Sorry Day, reflecting concern for the plight of Indigenous Australians.

Almighty and loving God, you who created ALL people in your image,
Lead us to seek your compassion as we listen to the stories of our past.
You gave your only Son, Jesus, who died and rose again so that sins will be forgiven.
We place before you the pain and anguish of dispossession of land, language, lore, culture and family kinship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced.
We live in faith that all people will rise from the depths of despair and hopelessness.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have endured the pain and loss of loved ones, through the separation of children from their families.
We are sorry and ask God's forgiveness.
Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless and inflicted and heal their spirits.
In your mercy and compassion walk with us as we continue our journey of healing to create a future that is just and equitable.
Lord, you are our hope.

Text of the Apology to The Stolen Generations

This is the full text of the apology delivered in Parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Let us pray that the apology will be received by all in the spirit in which it is intended. Let us pray that it will result in our Aboriginal brothers and sisters being able to experience a sense of the closing of a dark chapter of their history, and the healing and release of past hurts and memories. Pray that the apology will release in our nation a fresh spirit of hope and the ability to now look to a future as one people and to work together towards the removal on any injustices, real or perceived, that still exist, until equality is not only spoken of, but also evident in the practical realities of everyday life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apology to the Stolen Generations

I found tears welling in my eyes this morning as I listened to the broadcast of proceedings from Parliament House in Canberra as the final preparations for the delivery of the apology from the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations was made. It was a moment of both relief and thankfulness that this well-overdue apology was made, and a platform laid for moving forward in a spirit of honesty and cooperation.
Indigenous Australia has suffered greatly from European Settlement, not just with the Stolen Generations but began with the creeping assumption of land from them, depriving them of livelihood, sacred sites and freedom of movement. The treatment meted out to Aboriginal peoples has been a scar on this nation’s history, one kept hidden for too long. The release of the “Bringing them Home” report in 1997 for the first time openly detailed the impact of policies which endured during my own schooling years, not to mention the continuing approach which comes at high cost to Indigenous Australia.
Today, some sense of pride was restored for me: pride in our political institutions and pride in our national character, a pride which will always be tinged with a sense of shame that it took so long to acknowledge what our country has done. I long to see the day when not only a mace sits in parliament – a symbolic reminder of the power of the speaker, but a symbol of the Indigenous heritage of our land sits alongside it, so that Parliament will never sit with its eyes unable to see the Indigenous people of this land.
Let me adapt a line from the second verse of the Australian National Anthem: “With courage let us NOW combine to Advance Australia fare”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In case you missed Sunday School

The Sunday school teacher was carefully explaining the story of Elijah the Prophet and the false prophets of Baal. She explained how Elijah built the altar, put wood upon it, cut a steer in pieces, and laid it upon the altar. And then, Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over the altar. He had them do this four times
"Now," asked the teacher, "Can anyone in the class tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the steer on the altar?"
A little girl in the back of the room started waving her hand, "I know! I know!" she said, "To make the gravy!"

The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot 's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted, "My Mummy looked back once, while she was driving," he announced triumphantly, "and she turned into a telephone pole!"

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead. She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?"
A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, "I think I'd throw up."

A Sunday school teacher asked, "Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?"
"No," replied David. "How could he, with just two worms?"

A Sunday school teacher said to her children, "We have been learning how powerful kings and queens were in Bible times. But, there is a higher power. Can anybody tell me what it is?"
One child blurted out, "Aces!"

Nine-year-old Joey, was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt When he got to the Red Sea , he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then, he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
"Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no, Mum. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"

A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorise one of the most quoted passages in the Bible; Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the verse. Little Rick was excited about the task - but, he just couldn't remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know."

There was a very gracious lady who was mailing an old family Bible to her brother in another part of the country. "Is there anything breakable in here?" asked the postal clerk.
"Only the Ten Commandments," answered the lady.

While driving in Pennsylvania ,a family caught up to an Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humour, because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign: "Energy efficient vehicle: Runs on oats and grass.
Caution: Do not step in exhaust."

Sunday after church, a Mum asked her very young daughter what the lesson was about. The daughter answered, "Don't be scared, you'll get your quilt." Needless to say, the Mum was perplexed. Later in the day, the pastor stopped by for tea and the Mum asked him what that morning's Sunday school lesson was about. He said "Be not afraid, thy comforter is coming."