Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Australia Day

Text: Deuteronomy 8:14
“Be sure that you do not become proud and forget the Lord your God who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves”.


We’re a weird but grateful mob

Australian writer, Alan Marshall,* tells a story about two boys who decide to have a race to see who is the crawling champion of the world. You might think this an odd kind of competition but Bill, one of the boys in the story, is on crutches.  He’s been crippled by polio.  He couldn’t run but he was good at crawling so he and his friend Joe decide to have a crawling race: one lap around the grassed sports track.  Joe has a younger brother who he has to look after and Andy wants to join in the race too.  The older boys tell him it will be tough for him and that his bare knees will get terribly sore.  But in the end, the little fellow won’t give up and lines up at the starting line. 

The race gets under way – the three boys on all fours.  After the initial burst they start to get tired.  It’s a long way and their knees are hurting badly but they keep going.  The older boys expect young Andy to drop out but when they ask him how he’s going, he simply says, “Good”.

Finally the finishing line comes into sight and they force their aching bodies to go on.  The older boys are about done when all of a sudden the littlest one passes them with a nodding head and flurry of knees and reaches the finishing line.  He jumps up and shouts, “I’m the champion crawler of the world”.

At first the older boys were a bit miffed at this but then Bill, the boy with polio said, “He must be tough.  I reckon he’s the toughest kid in Australia”.  Joe agrees.  “Just look at him.  There’s nothing to him, and the little beggar goes and wins the crawling championship of the world”.  They feel enormously proud of Andy.  Bill who is telling the story says, “We boasted about Andy for weeks”.

This is an ordinary story but it has an appeal to us as Australians? 
Maybe we like it because it describes a ‘fair go’ attitude – even though Bill has polio and can’t join in the normal running races other boys enjoy, Joe is happy to get down on all fours and do what Bill can do.  And when the littlest of them wins the race, the older boys are able to acknowledge him as the champion crawler of the world.
Maybe it’s the endurance factor.  A lap around a racetrack – a quarter of a mile – is a long way on your knees?
Maybe it’s the craziness of the whole thing that appeals to us?
Maybe it’s the idea of a race, after all Aussies will race anything – cockroaches, cane toads, frogs, pigs, sheep and billy carts.
There’s the Alice Spring’s Camel Cup.
The Compass Cup – a cow race held at Mt Compass in South Australia.
There’s the Beer Can Regatta in Darwin with boats made from beer cans.
The Todd River Regatta held in the dry creek bed of the Todd River.
Maybe it’s the ‘mateship’ between these 3 boys in this story that appeals.  I haven’t quoted all the dialogue between these boys but there is something uniquely Australian about the way they speak.

John Patrick O’Grady wrote a book called ‘They’re a weird mob’ – it’s a humorous look at Australia from the point of view of an Italian migrant.  And we are a weird mob in many ways, and proud of it.  I think some of this weirdness, if that’s what you like to call it, though I prefer to call it something kinder like uniqueness, or distinctiveness, has something to do with the diversity and vastness of our country and the diversity of our backgrounds.

From its very beginning Australia has been a multicultural nation.  It was multicultural before the word “multicultural” was even invented.  There were the people who lived in this land before any Europeans arrived.  Then the first settlers came and what a mixed bag they were – convicts – some ruthless, others caught up in as unjust English justice system, soldiers, and administrators and then free settlers. 

Then came the Gold Rush that brought people from all over the place – England, Ireland, Germany, America, China, Italy, and then boatloads of free settlers as they came seeking a new home in a new land.  And since those early years, many, many people from many different cultural backgrounds have come to Australia.

These cultural differences enrich Australia and add to our uniqueness and I think add to that ‘weird’ flavour.  Where else would you have an English Oxford style boating regatta in a dry river bed?

There is no denying the geographic diversity of our country.  Some of you have travelled the length and breadth of our country.  Everyone says with one accord that we live in a beautiful country.  God has blessed us with a country of contrasts.  There is the hot and dry desert regions which have a beauty of their own, but when rain comes that desert becomes a spectacular display of wildflowers and wild life that would have been thought impossible in such dry and desolate places.

Look at our beaches, rich farm land, mountains, rivers, snow-capped mountains, the outback, even our cities which don’t suffer from the smog and the filth often seen in other big cities in other places around the world.  God has indeed given us a wonderful place to call “home”. 

At this moment we see the contrasts that our land provides.  Not so long ago at this time we experienced floods and cyclones that brought so much devastation.  At the moment two-thirds of our state is in desperate need of rain.

The diversity of our geography, the vastness of our landscape, and the mixture of people who live in this land have given us a unique sense of humour that no one else in the world quite gets and gives us a different twist on the English language, like “wodda yer do fer a crust?” or “flat out like a lizard drinking” or “give it a burl” and quite a few that I can’t say here in church.

Our first reading today is from Deuteronomy.  This Old Testament book has a strong emphasis on the idea that the Promised Land was a gift from God to the people of Israel. It was totally undeserved and unearned.  Like all gifts from God, the land was free, received purely through the mercy of God.  We know from Bible history that the people of Israel were anything but good and righteous people.  Yet God gave them “a land flowing with milk and honey”. 

No one can say that we have done something to deserve this beautiful land we call Australia.  Neither can we just say that it’s just our good fortune; that it was just good luck that we were born here in Australia. 

The writer of Deuteronomy reminds us not to forget that it is God who gives us the land in which we live.  It is an undeserved gift at that. 
He is the creator of its beauty, the good soil, the variety of crops. 
He is the creator of the bush, the wildlife, the flowers and the trees.
He is the builder of a nation with so many cultures. 
He is the one who gives us peace, and freedom.
He is the giver of government that is fair, stable and provides protection.
There can be no doubt about it.  We have experienced the goodness and grace of God.
The book of Deuteronomy is quick to point out that God wasn’t stingy with his gifts. Just as he was lavish in giving the people of Israel a rich land, that was fertile and productive, he has also given us a land that not only provides for our basic needs but goes well beyond that, giving us more than we need. 

The Old Testament people were also reminded that because God had been so good to them, they should always remember the Creator and Provider.  Again, as we celebrate Australia Day, we are reminded that Australia is what it is because of the hand of blessing that God has held over it. We should remember to thank our God for all that he provides for us daily. 
We should remember to thank him for everything that we take for granted. 
We should thank him for the abundance that he gives.  He doesn’t just give us enough to get by but provides enough for us to share with those who are struggling.

We don’t always understand why God should be so good and gracious toward a nation that is always trying to forget that God even exists.  For that matter we don’t really understand why God was so good to the people of Israel.  The only thing we can say in response to this is – thank God for his grace. 
Thank God he doesn’t give us what we deserve, but generously gives us more than we deserve. 
We know that to be the case with his Son, Jesus.  We don’t deserve his love that led him to his death on the cross for us, or his resurrection to give us eternal life.  But that’s God.  He is gracious toward us beyond measure. 

And that provides me with my last point.  Not only are we to point our fellow Australians to the Creator of this great south land, but to their Saviour. God’s is fair dinkum when he says that he loved the world, and that includes us Aussies, to the point he sent his only Son to die for us and give all who believe in him eternal life in heaven.

It wasn’t a mistake that the Christian Church, including this congregation, has become an important part of this nation.  Before time began God planned that the Christians of this country would point to the cross and show fellow Australians that their God loves them with a powerful, unrelenting love;
that their God has died for them to set them free from the chains of their sinfulness and give them a new life. 
It wasn’t an accident that those early pioneer Lutherans came to Caboolture.  We celebrated last year 140 years since their arrival and what God has accomplished here.  He has given us a sacred task of shining his light into this community. 

So many Australians need to hear the good news about God's Son who richly blesses them with real peace and true freedom.  The peace and freedom that we experience as citizens of Australia is nothing compared to the peace and freedom we have as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  This land is just our temporary home, and what a beaut temporary home this is.  But one day we will enter our permanent and real home in heaven.  If living in this country is so good, living in heaven will be “out of this world”.

As we celebrate Australia Day we celebrate all that’s wonderful and special and unique and even weird about being an Australian. 
We thank God for the freedom, the peace, the beauty, the diversity, the people and everything that makes our country what it is. 
We thank God for his goodness to us and pray for his continued blessing.


* How’s Andy Going, Alan Marshall 1956

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th January 2014

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