Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
(Australia Day)

Text: Luke 15:3-6
Jesus told them this parable:  "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of themówhat do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it.  When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, "I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!'

Lost in the scrub

Tomorrow is Australia Day and today I thought it would be good to reflect on what this means to us as Christians and as members of St Paulís.

I think one of the first things that we think of on our national day is what a great country Australia is. Those who have travelled far and wide across the oceans to other wonderful countries rich in history, with fascinating and breathtaking scenery, will readily tell you that in the end itís nice to come back home to Australia. There is nothing anywhere else like Australia.

There is nothing anywhere like the stark contrasts we find in Australia Ė
the rich, fertile farming country and the tropical rainforests on the one hand, and the dry and barren interior, the rugged bush on the other.
Our land is a harsh land in many ways with its floods, bushfires, cyclones, searing heat and droughts. But in contrast to this, our land is encircled with magnificent beaches and mile after mile of natural coastline.
The people in our land are easy-going, friendly, willing to give a mate a hand, peace-loving and hardworking. We are from many lands, and the customs of many nations have enriched the Australian culture.

On Australia Day, we are reminded of the wonderful freedom we have in this land. We take this for granted most of the time, but when we hear about the oppressive governments in other countries and the suffering handed out in the name of justice, we are made aware of the freedom we have Ė the freedom to choose who will rule us and the liberty to live without fear of war and the turmoil and pain that conflict brings.

Australia Day reminds us of the caring friends, family members and relatives who make our small part of Australia so special to us.

Bruce Prewer in his book Australian Prayers* wrote this Australia Day prayer.

God of Australia Ö.
We bring you our gratitude
for the diversity and wealth
of this land and its people;
for its weathered old mountains, fertile valleys,
and vast plains;
for its riches of mine and agriculture,
forest, and grazing lands;
for the first Australians, who know and love this continent
with an intimate, profound sensitivity;
for the courage, vision and sacrifice of the early settlers;
for the diverse races who now call Australia home:
For these and all your gifts
we offer you, O Lord, our joyful, thankful hearts.

That about sums up how we feel on Australia Day. Gratitude and thanks because we are truly blessed to live in a land that is so rich Ė that is rich in so many ways except faith and trust in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Maybe weíre not as bad as some places in the world where church buildings are concert halls, museums and art galleries. We may not have so many empty buildings but we have many empty hearts Ė lives that are empty of the love and forgiveness that God is offering to every single Australian.

Once Jesus told the story about a lost sheep and the extra effort the shepherd went to look for that one rebellious sheep. You see, people had been criticising Jesus for taking so much interest in people whom everyone else considered to be hopelessly lost Ė sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Maybe if Jesus had been an Australian he might have told a story like the one in Tom Collinís novel Such is Life. He tells how a five-year-old girl became lost in the bush. She had thought that she would go and find her father who had been away for 5 days mustering sheep. Her mother came in from milking the goats and discovered that the little girl was missing. She walked 12 miles to the station homestead where the bossís wife managed to get a horse in from the paddock, and ride out to where the men were to raise the alarm. By this time a whole day had gone by.

Early next morning the men followed the little girlís tracks, riders on horseback and men on foot spread out in front and on either side. The progress was frustratingly slow, as they kept losing the track. They had come to a dead end when a man drove up in a buggy with an aboriginal woman on board.
The author described her like this.
She was old and grey-haired, blind of one eye; but she knew her business; and she was on the job for life or death. She picked up the track at a glance, and run it like a bloodhound.

The old woman followed tracks that no one else could see. After a day of searching the men could hear the little girl calling out to her father. The riders on horseback frantically criss-crossed the trail but found no sign of her. The aboriginal woman calmly kept going and went right up to the child lying hidden between two thick bushes. They were half an hour too late. The girl had fallen into a bandicoot burrow and had been too weak to lift her head out of the loose earth. **

This story has several points that are worth highlighting on this Australia Day.
Firstly, note how the men, even though they were busy on the farm, jumped into action when they heard that someone was lost and whose life was in danger. Itís clear they knew what dangers could fall on the lost and so wasted no effort setting about finding the little girl?
Do we share the same anxiety about those lost in our Australian society;
those lost in pleasure seeking, self indulgence, materialism, depression, guilt, sickness and the fear of dying;
those who are lost and their lives, their eternal lives are at risk?

The shepherd in Jesusí story left no stone unturned to find that lost sheep and bring it home to safety. Do you know people who are lost? Do you know people who have lost their way and need a caring shepherd to love them and help them to safety? There are many who are lost but donít even know they are lost. We know that Australia is a country full of lost sheep who need a caring shepherd to bring them home.

God sent his best blacktracker to find us and rescue us. He sent his Son, Jesus. He was the only one who had the skill and the ability to track us down in the thick scrub of sin. He was the only one who could bring us safely back home to God. Without Jesus we would perish in the bandicoot burrow of guilt.

And now he has commissioned us to be blacktrackers to those whom we know to be lost. We need to keep on learning how to rescue those who are lost in the scrub. We need to learn to be persistent, patient, uncomplaining, untiring, and passionate, using every skill and resource that we have available to make sure that the lost are found.

Another point from the story is the failure of the riders on horseback to find the child. They raced back and forth through the scrub, in fact they were so busy that they ended up being more of a hindrance than a help as they rode across the trail the old aboriginal woman was following.
Isnít that a danger in the church? We can be so busy doing things in the church that we forget that there are people out there who are lost. Being busy makes us feel good; at least no one can say we arenít doing anything. But unfortunately itís too often busy-ness that goes no where. Or itís busy-ness that is only self-gratifying.

If the church, thatís us, you and me, donít track down those who are lost then who will? If we, the church, donít take seriously the Scriptural directive to share what we have Ė to pass on to our fellow Australians our faith in God and his love for us Ė our nation will become ignorant of the fact that a God who loves and forgives even exists.

The story about the lost child has a sad ending. She died a lost child. We donít want that to happen to our fellow Australians. As the story shows us, there is such a thing as too late when it comes to rescuing the lost.

St Paul wrote this to the Romans, "How can they call to God for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?" (Romans 10:14). Let me repeat the second question Paul asked, "How can they believe if they have not heard the message". When Paul speaks of "they" he means anyone who is lost in the scrub of sin, anyone who does not know their way home to the love and mercy of God, and his willingness to help in times of need. Such a person could be
the neighbour in your street,
someone at work,
a parent of one of your childís friends,
a grandchild who is curious about why you go to church,
a friend who is grieving or having a tough time.
Make no mistake about it, God gives us opportunities to talk to other people about the greatest treasure that we have in this world Ė Jesus. God opens windows of opportunity for us to help people in some small way find the true peace and the solid help that comes from knowing their Saviour.

We havenít been brought into a relationship with God and given faith so that we can selfishly keep it for ourselves. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. We have been called to show others the way, to point to Jesus. We have been called to be agents of the Holy Spirit to help others know what Jesus can do for them.

Let the Holy Spirit change you and your ideas.
If you have the idea that being a witness to Jesus is the pastorís job, or that others can do it better than you, let the Holy Spirit convince you otherwise.
If you think that God couldnít and wouldnít use you to point others to Jesus, let the Holy Spirit prove otherwise.
If you think that the church is here to serve you and your needs. If the sole purpose of the church is to provide a place where you can worship and where your faith can be nurtured, then let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the fact that this is not God's plan for you in his church. The church exists for those outside of the church. God has called you into the church in order to call others into the church. You are one of
"God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God" (1 Peter 2:9).

Let the Holy Spirit give you the mind of Jesus. Jesus loved the lost, the sinner, and the outcast.

Let me finish with this. Itís an Advent prayer but it is appropriate for today.*

Advent God,
awaken us from our slumber shock us out of our apathy.

Come to us
like the thunder of the surf pounding Bellís Beach,
like the mighty roar of the wind surging through blue gum forests.

Come to us
with whatever shock or discipline is needed to awake drowsy disciples.
For the night is far spent the dawn is at hand,
and now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.

Come, O come, Immanuel, save your Australian people;
confront us afresh until all hearts are full of the Word made flesh.


* Australian Prayers, Bruce D Prewer, Openbook Publishers, 2002
** Adapted from Australian Parables, John Pfitzner, Openbook Publishers, 1988

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th January, 2004

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