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.

No comments: