Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
(Australia Day weekend)

Readings suitable for Australia Day:
Deuteronomy 28:1-9;  Psalm 145:1-9;  Romans 13:1-8;  Mark 12:13-17

Text: Psalm 145:1, 4
I will proclaim your greatness, my God and king; I will thank you forever and ever. What you have done will be praised from one generation to the next; they will proclaim your mighty acts.

Celebrating Australia Day

I came across this piece of advice for those visiting Australia. It goes like this. "There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveller. Do not under any circumstances suggest that Australian beer is imperfect or no where near as good as the beer back home. Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt. Religion and politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don't care too much about either) but sport is a minefield. The only correct answer to ‘So, howdya' like our country, eh?’ is ‘Best (insert your own swear word here) country in the world!’". (1)

Yesterday our nation celebrated its national day. January 26th marks the date when the first European settlers set foot on the land down under. In 1788 a fleet of eleven ships under the command of Captain Arthur Philip arrived on our shores from Great Britain. The cargo on these ships was men and women convicted of crimes in Britain. They landed at Sydney Cove, raised the Union Jack and thus marked the beginning of the colony of New South Wales. Thirty years later this new land was named ‘Australia’.

There are those who still chuckle about a nation founded on the dregs of English society and that on Australia Day we celebrate the arrival of convicts.
There are those, especially our indigenous people, who see this day as marking the invasion of their land when white people came and took away from them what was their home.
There are those from other countries around the world in more recent times for whom the arrival of the British in this land has little relevance to them. So what are we to make of Australia Day?

For those who call Australia home, regardless of their view of what happened 220 years and the history that is behind this day, Australia Day is an opportunity to give thanks for the land we live in.

It has been said, "Alone of all the races on earth, Australians seem to be free from the ‘Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome, and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence".

There can be no doubt that our country has been richly blessed by our loving God. From the perspective of natural wonders and beauty, this land is magnificent. There are the deserts of the outback, many of which could hardly be called dry and desolate at the moment because of the rain and the floods. When the water resides just watch the beauty that will spring from what was barren and dry – wild flowers and animal life that will impress the most seasoned traveller. Then there are the mountain ranges, the grassy paddocks, the wild life, the rivers, and the magnificent coastline with its cliffs, islands and white sandy beaches. It is all so vast and so different and we can only exclaim that this land is a masterpiece. It may have been one of the last pieces of the world to be explored but God's creativity never ceases to amaze.

I’m sure people in other countries make the same claim about their land, the place they call home. Coupled with the natural beauty of our land are the peace and freedom that we have enjoyed as a nation. Maybe it comes from the grit and determination of those who have come to Australia to make it their home, or maybe it comes from the way we started as a modern nation, or maybe because people have come here to escape the tyranny, persecution and bloodshed in their homeland, but peace and freedom have become key elements that we cherish. As a nation we have been blessed to have never fought a war on our own soil. Having visited battlefields and museums in Europe and Asia that remind us of the devastation and pain that war can have on a country, we can only thank God that we have never had to experience anything like this within our own shores.

This is a land that God has truly blessed. Yes we have our droughts, floods, bushfires, searing heat, hail, cyclones and so on, but still we can say, "God has been good to us".

It’s not that we are a nation that is deeply religious or even conscious of the hand that God has played in the formation of our country to make it what it is today. In fact, God has been full of grace and extremely patient with us even though as nation we fail to acknowledge that this is not our land but it is God's and he has given it to us to care for and to enjoy.

On an anniversary such as we are celebrating this weekend we need to acknowledge and thank God for everything that makes Australia what it is.
We need to point out to others the blessings that God has showered on us so that people of all generations will know what God has done to make Australia what it is today and so give him all thanks.

Let’s pray.
God of Australia,
you have loved this ancient land
long before human eye explored it.
On this Australia Day
we offer our praise.

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 land;
for the first Australians, who know and love this continent
with an intimate, profound sensitivity;
for the courage, vision and sacrifice of 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. Amen.

As we consider the beauty of God's creation and the abundance of worldly goods he gives us everyday, we have some regrets.
History records the little regard that early Australians had for the original owners of the land and the misguided and shameful way our indigenous people were treated.
We have not been careful enough with the land that he has given us and have all too readily exploited its resources.

Unlike the God who welcomes one and all, we have been ready to divide our country along the lines of religion, race, gender, age and economic status, and are not as accepting as we should be. We are even more aware of this because of our relationship with our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus. We are his people, saved and made new through the death and resurrection of Jesus, been given the Holy Spirit to guide us along the way of love, forgiveness, kindness acceptance, and patience.

The Spirit calls us to show the way; to lead others to seeing the beauty in other people. We may look different on the outside but every person is a creation of God and loved by God, even though they may not fully realise this. The Spirit calls us to accept others and reach out to them just as Jesus did. He reached out to the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the sinner, the contagious and even those who rejected him.

The apostle Paul urges us to have the same attitude as Jesus and gladly reach out to anyone who needs a listening ear or a helping hand.

We regret that we have been too self-focussed and too blind to even notice when someone is calling for help. We regret that we have been unwilling to swing into action when it’s obvious there is a fellow Australian who needs help. We have been too busy counting what it will cost in time, energy and money. We have preferred to stay safe and comfortable.

More than anything else we regret that the love that Jesus has for every single person in this country and around the world is unknown to so many people. We have not been as diligent as we could have been and seized every opportunity to share that love with our fellow Australians whenever and wherever we could.

Let’s pray admitting our failure to let the light and love of Christ shine through us.

Great Creator,
we tend to think that we are far superior to the animal kingdom,
yet at times we are much like it.
Sometimes we are like wombats
hiding in dark burrows rather than like people living in the light.
Sometimes we are like a flock of galahs,
squabbling, chattering and screeching so much that we don’t even hear the cries of the wounded or lost.
Sometimes we are like inquisitive emus,
curious about the ways of Christ but quick to take fright and run.
Sometimes we are like bowerbirds,
so busy collecting pretty possessions that we miss the greater wonders around us.
Lord God, our heavenly Father, we confess to you that we are sinful.
Have mercy and forgive us,
and help us to live as your people,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

One thing is clear from the Scriptures. Jesus came to save the whole world and that includes Australians. He has made this country and its people and he died on a cross to save us all. He has given the people of this land the Holy Spirit and through the Word and sacraments he strengthens our faith and directs us how to be Australians who make a difference in the lives of people in our family, our church community and the people of our shire, state and country. In his Word he assures us that there is no sin too great that Jesus cannot forgive and no person so hopelessly lost that he/she cannot be found by the God who loves them.

He forgives us. He has adopted us as his own children. He has chosen us and called us to a divine mission. He has brought us into the church for the specific purpose of bringing more and more people to know about God's love for them and how God is ready to use his power and presence as we encounter all kinds of difficult and frustrating situations.

What the future will bring for the people of this nation only God knows.
Will we continue to enjoy the high standard of living, the peace and freedom that we have enjoyed now?
What hardships will come our way?
Will the people of our country in the future turn to God in renewed faith and hope or will they turn away from him?
When Jesus comes on the Last Day will he find Australians faithful and ready for his return?
A large part of the answer lies in how we as Australian Christians take up the Spirit’s challenge to let the love of Christ flow through us into the lives of the people around us.
And to bring this into the local scene - how will we here at St Paul’s be light in the darkness of our world? When I say "we" I’m talking about every single individual. We are all part of the body of Christ and we all have a part to play in God's plan for our country. The task of God's church is to make known the love of God in any way that we can. That’s not easy but the degree of difficulty does not let us off the hook.

May Christians throughout our land use Australia Day to once again recall with thanks God's commitment to us through his Son and so renew our commitment to follow Jesus more closely and share his love in any way we can.

The same writer I quoted at the beginning of this sermon concludes his description of Australia in this way. "They call the land "Oz", "Godzown" (a verbal contraction of ‘God's Own Country’) and ‘Strewth! Best bloody place on earth, bar none. Eh?’"  The writer concludes, "The irritating thing about this is they may be right" (1).

Yes, this is ‘Godzown’. We are truly blessed; God grant that we as a nation and as individual Australians may be a blessing to others.

Let us pray.
Yes, Lord, God, we are truly blessed.
You have given us peace and freedom
and a country that has a rich variety of people that have come from many places;
a land where both the beautiful and the harsh are seen on the same continent.
We thank and praise you that by the preaching of the gospel
you have planted and nurtured your church in this land.
Move us to promote the unity of your church in this country
and give us a willingness to proclaim the good news of salvation
to all those who do not know of your love.
We pray for all the churches,
and for all congregations and their pastors.
We pray for all those in government and positions of authority,
the parliaments of our commonwealth and state
that they govern wisely and justly
and the citizens of our land refrain from wrongdoing and live God-pleasing lives
and that all may live in peace and safety.

We ask that through the Holy Spirit
you continue to keep before us the call to be the people of God
and influence every level of society.
Keep the sharing of the Gospel of your love
as a primary goal of every Christian and every church.

(Prayer for the sick, the suffering and other local needs).

God, our God, take us and lead our nation
that every man, woman and child acknowledge
that are you our God and Saviour. Amen.


* This sermon includes prayers of thanks, repentance and intercession which may be used as they or used in place of the confession of sin and the prayer of the Church normally prayed at other times in the service. They may also be omitted completely, shortened or modified to suit local circumstances.

(1) Jeremy Lee 1999, The confusing country
(2) Bruce D Prewer, Australian Prayers Openbook Publishers 2002 p 14
(3) Ibid p 83

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
27th January 2008

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