Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Australia Day Service

Readings: Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; John 8:31-36

Text: 1 Timothy 2:4-6
God our Saviour wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth. For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and human beings together, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself to redeem the whole human race. Ö That is why I was sent as an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles, to proclaim the message of faith and truth.
Captain Matthew Flinders

Our captain

Australians love their heroes. Whether we are talking about heroes on the battlefield, pioneering heroes who laid the foundations of our nation, sporting heroes, it doesnít matter. I guess itís part of the Australian character to hold up and honour people who have distinguished themselves in some way. Sometimes heroes are unlikely people Ė ordinary, humble, maybe poor yet hardworking Ė there is no class distinction when it comes to heroes. A sheep stealer like the "Jolly Swagman", a robber like Ned Kelly, and Peter Lalor who led the rebellion against government troopers at the Eureka Stockade have legends told about them hailing them as heroes. We have poems like "The man from Snowy River" that defines the qualities of a hero Ė down to earth, true blue, a dinky-di fair dinkum cobber, a bottler of a bloke, honest as the day is long, and not afraid of some hard yakka.

There is a man who perhaps has been highly underrated as an Australian hero and some historians have rated him as one our greatest. He endured hardship, tragedy and shipwreck; was separated from his bride of 3 months for 9 years; was unjustly imprisoned by the French on the island of Mauritius; he died when he was only 40, a day after his book was published A Voyage to Terra Australis. In Australia there are more statues erected in honour of this man, second only to the number of statues of Queen Victoria. He was the first to consistently call this land Australia.

The man I am talking about is Captain Matthew Flinders who has been described as among the most accomplished navigators and cartographers, even though his exploration was mostly made in an unsuitable, leaky, rotten ship - the Investigator. Flinders sailed this ship from England in 1801 taking 9 months to make the journey and then proceeded to sail around Australia mapping the coastline Ė something that no one had ever done before. The Investigator was leaking so badly that he had to beach her several times to do running repairs. When he returned to Port Jackson in 1803 the Investigator was inspected by naval authorities and found she was rotten from stem to stern and was condemned.

The Investigator is famous and has made it into the history books not because she was a glamorous ship to look at with lots of modern equipment to make Flinders task easier. If it wasnít for the man who walked her rotting decks and charted his way through dangerous and rough waters in spite of her sodden planks, who managed to keep her afloat even though she was leaking so badly, the Investigator would have been scuttled and her name never mentioned again. The ship Investigator has been made famous by the greatness and the mighty deeds of the one who was her master and captain. Captain Matthew Flinders, in my books, is truly a great hero in the journals of Australian history.

However we have an even greater hero, a pioneer, a captain who also endured all kinds of hardship, was mistreated, had to deal with some really rotten people and died an early death. Of course, the person I am referring to is Jesus whom the scriptures call the pioneer, author and perfector of our salvation. God chose to come on board this earth, walk its dusty and evil paths, and live among people who were rotten through and through. And just as Flinders didnít abandon the sodden and leaking Investigator on some lonely beach somewhere because it was considered a hopeless cause, neither has Jesus abandoned us and left us to rot, and neither has he considered us a hopeless cause.

Because this is a new country and the history of those early explorers and pioneers is well recorded, we appreciate what they have done and the hardships they endured. I remember learning about them at school and a lot of time went into teaching us what made these people great and what it is to be a great Australian. I recall pretending to be a great explorer as I made my way through the fruit trees, past the wood heap, and around the veggie patch in the backyard. Unfortunately I donít think todayís students have quite the same appreciation of our early pioneers and explorers. This kind of learning has given way to other things considered more important.

There is another great pioneer and explorer who has charted unknown waters for us and is unknown to many Australians. There are those who know nothing about the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus Christ, or choose to ignore him and to even state openly that they donít believe in all that stuff about Jesus, the author and captain of our salvation.

Thatís a bit like saying you donít believe that Matthew Flinders ever existed, and even if he did, you don't believe that he ever explored our coastline or circumnavigated our continent; that all that he did came at a great personal cost, and in the end it brought him suffering and an early death.

What Jesus has done for us, through his death and resurrection, is to map the unknown coast for us. He has gone ahead of us and charted the deep waters for us. He has marked out all the rocks and coral reefs and sandbars that we could easily find ourselves washed over and shipwrecked. He has made it possible for us to navigate through life confidently and boldly even though there are times when stormy seas threaten us and our faith springs a leak and it seems we are about to drown. With Jesus as our captain, we can safely negotiate lifeís dangerous and difficult waters and navigate into safe and quiet harbours.

God wants no one to be wrecked on the rocks of sin, or drown in the stormy seas of trouble or suffering, or sink into the briny deep of death. We heard in our second reading today, "God our Saviour wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth. For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and human beings together, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself to redeem the whole human race" (1 Timothy 2:4-6). This means that when we have to set out for the unknown coast of death, we can do so without fear. We know whatís ahead of us and he has charted a safe passage for us. His death and resurrection opened the way for us to leave this life with all of its storms and unsettled weather and enter the safe and peaceful harbour we call heaven. We might well ask, as Thomas did, "How do we know the way to get there. We have never travelled this way before". Jesus replied, "I am the way, the truth and the life". Or "I am the captain of the ship, the chart that shows the way, the safety you need Ė trust me and you will arrive safely".

Just as people must have looked at the Investigator and saw what a poor excuse of a ship she was, quite rightly people will look at us and only see the poor state of our discipleship and commitment. They will see how slack we are when it comes to real and genuine worship. They notice how little we let others see our love or show concern for the needs of others. Quite rightly we could speak about ourselves in similar terms as those who inspected the Investigator, "Look, all the planks are rotten. Iím not seaworthy. Iím in no fit shape to withstand all the hardship that comes my way. Iím not equipped for this sort of thing. I wouldnít blame God if he left me in some quiet backwater".

But thatís not Jesusí plan for you and me. He knows that our planks are rotten and that weíre falling apart. He knows that our obedience and commitment are like soggy planks ready to spring a leak. But he still calls us and uses us. Heís the expert captain and navigator and he wants to takes us out on the high seas and uncharted waters.
Thereís work to be done in this land.
Thereís people still to be found.
Thereís new things he wants us to do.
He wants to use us even though we are far from perfect and readily make up all kinds of excuses why we shouldnít get out in the deep water or risk going near the coral reefs because we think we might get hurt as we get out of our sheltered and comfortable harbours.
He wants to use us as vessels through which he can come to people with his love, his forgiveness, his grace and his salvation.
He wants us to help others navigate through the difficult seas and all its hazards as the Holy Spirit helps us to be a captain to others using the charts in the Bible to help, comfort, guide and direct others.

I know there will be times when we think that we will sink and drown. I know there will be those occasions when it all seems too overwhelming Ė our sinful habits seem to get out of control and we feel powerless to stop the chaos that is happening in our lives and the lives of others as we keep on hurting others. I know that lifeís circumstances will lead us to wonder whether we are going to get through it all and what shape we will be in when the storm is over. After the storms we need our captain to make some extra repairs through his Word, the Sacraments and the ministry of our fellow Christians.

That Matthew Flinders was able to use a rotting and leaking ship like the Investigator and do so much as he charted all the bays, estuaries, gulfs, islands and reefs is absolutely incredible. If Matthews Flinders could do that then God can do something greater even if we are no better than a rotting and leaking ship. Look at St Paul and see how God was able to use such an angry and hostile man to become the bearer of God's love and mercy to so many people of his time and throughout the centuries. If he can do that to Paul then he will change us and enable us to be better disciples who are more actively involved in God's work.

We are the Lordís. We belong to him. He is our captain and navigator and he is able to do far more than we could ever think or imagine. When we recall the great miracles that God has already done for us in Jesus then we will respond trusting and accepting Jesus our captain and gladly let him guide us into sharing our faith with the people of this country.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th January 2010
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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