Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Australia Day

Text: Mark 1:16-18
As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net.  Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.”  At once they left their nets and went with him.


The Southern Cross

Our country is a long way from everywhere else, as many of you know when it comes to traveling to Europe or America. In the early history of Australia there were those people who were determined to cross the expanses of ocean and in some way bring our country closer to the rest of the world. 

On May 31, 1928, a three-engine Fokker monoplane took off from San Francisco, to attempt the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean by air. The pilot was Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew of 3 flew their plane the Southern Cross to Sydney in 10 days.

What made this flight so amazing was the equipment they had to navigate such a long distance.  Radar was unheard of at that time, the radio was very basic, and there were very few air navigation instruments.  Most of the navigating was done with charts, compass, clock and sheer reckoning.  There was one piece of important navigation equipment they had with them that was vital in their navigating across vast expanses of ocean.  That was a ship’s sextant used for getting directions from the stars.  The problem with the sextant was this; for half of the journey the navigator couldn’t see the stars as the Southern Cross battled its way through violent storms.

During one of the longer legs of the journey over the Pacific, Smithy decided to sacrifice precious fuel and climb higher to seek better conditions.  With the driving rain coming into the open cockpit, he climbed slowly through the inky darkness, flying in circles to avoid the worst of the weather.  Suddenly they burst through the clouds and there glittering above them was the clear sky and the stars of the Southern Cross.  From this starry cross in the sky they were able to get their bearings and confidently move forward in the right direction toward Australia.  Not only were they able to get their bearings but just as importantly, that starry cross boosted their spirits and confidence enormously.

Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew were very thankful that their plane the Southern Cross was sturdy enough to endure the terrible storms across the Pacific Ocean but they were just as thankful for the starry Southern Cross after which their plane was named.  It was this cross that gave them direction and enabled them to find their way and in the end safely land, firstly in Brisbane, and then in Sydney.  Without the Southern Cross it was possible for them to go way off course, run out of fuel and ditch into the sea and maybe never be heard of again.    

We have the stars of the Southern Cross on our flag. This isn’t unique to Australia, in fact, the Southern Cross features on the flags of four other countries including our closest neighbours, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. But since this is the Australia Day weekend let’s narrow our focus to our country and our flag which boldly reminds us of the Southern Cross which God has created in the sky above us.  Just as this cross in the sky has guided travellers, the cross of Jesus guides us today as we journey in our everyday lives in Caboolture, Morayfield, Wamuran, Brisbane, Sydney, Alice Springs, Eudunda, Walla Walla, Woolloomooloo or wherever. 

We have a saviour, a king who hung upon that cross for us. 
He hung there to show us the way to freedom from the storms of sin and death and to give us a safe landing in heaven when our journey here has ended. 
He hung there and then rose again from the dead to be our navigator through life’s journey guiding us through turbulent times, being the wind under our wings when we are certain to crash and burn, lifting us up above the storm clouds to see the blue sky of his promises of hope and love and peace.
The cross is the symbol for us that reminds us that Jesus is never far away and that even if we go off course for a bit, a glance at his cross reminds us that he is near and will bring us back on course again.

Smithy and his companions were thrilled when they caught sight of the stars of the Southern Cross above the storm clouds.  They no longer felt lost, afraid, uncertain, and anxious about where they were heading.  The cross of Jesus holds the same joy for us because there on the cross we find the one who conquered the vast distance between us and God, the one who battled the storms for us, the one who gives us a certainty about the direction we are heading.  The cross of Jesus is a happy symbol because it reminds us of God’s powerful love for us.

As Christians we can see the ‘spiritual’ significance of the Southern Cross especially on our flag when it’s set against a sky blue background. 
It reminds us of God the Creator who put the stars in the sky and created the heavens. 
It reminds us of God, our Saviour, who hung upon a cross because of his love for all humanity. 
The stars of the Southern Cross reflect light as they shine on us and remind us of the Holy Spirit who reflects the light of God’s peace and joy and love into our lives.

When I look at our flag I am reminded of our history and the places where our flag has played an important role – in battle, in sport, as symbol of hope and courage to those far from home. 
But it also reminds me of God.  He is part of our nation as well. 
He has made it with his own hands. 
He has brought people to this land whether long ago or more recently. 
He has filled it with so many beautiful and wonderful things – unique plants and animals, mountains, deserts, fertile valleys, plains, cities, and surrounded it with a magnificent coastline. 

It reminds me that God loves this land and also died for it.  The cross shines in our skies declaring that Jesus died for us Aussies as well.  He loves this land and people of all lands so much he went to extreme measures to break down the barrier of sin and evil between us and himself and allowed his Son to die on a cross. 

There is no hidden ulterior motive for God doing this.  There is no catch.  He did it because of his intense love for his people. 
He wants everyone to have eternal life in heaven. 
He wants everyone to have happy, confident, peaceful lives here and now. 
He wants everyone to know that they only need look at the cross and know that they have the power of God on their side and he will help them through the stormiest times. 
He offers it all freely.

But do Australian know about the cross and what it means for them? 
Do they have any idea that God is waiting for them to take up his offer?
Are they happy to struggle along in every storm that comes their way never knowing that above the storm there is a cross on a sky blue background?

Today we hear Jesus call Simon and Andrew who were fishing by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.”  When Jesus said these words it was a different time, a different place, different circumstances and a completely different world compared to us here in Australia in 2015.  However, there is one thing that isn’t different – the needs of people.  Whether we are talking about first century people or 21st century people there is a commonality that we share – our need for the cross – the good news of God’s love shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The joy that comes from knowing that God is an ever-present God and through his Son is a constant need across all generations.

And so Jesus says to us today, “Come, follow me, and I will teach you how to catch people”.

The people Jesus is talking about are Australians who don’t know Jesus – who don’t know what it means to be loved in such a powerful way, and who don’t know the joy and confidence that Jesus gives even in the wildest storm and even in the face of death. 
They are waiting for someone to show them the cross and how to use it to find their way.
Just as Smithy and his crew were in danger of certain disaster but were guided in the right direction when they saw the stars of the Southern Cross, our fellow Australians are in the same danger and need someone to point them to Jesus and the joy and safety he gives.

Make no mistake about it; God gives us opportunities to point people to the greatest treasure that we have in this world – 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 the Saviour we love who is also the Saviour who loves them.  Jesus calls us as he called those first disciples, “Come with me, and point people to the cross.”

In 1935 Charles Kingsford Smith was attempting to break the England to Australia speed record in the plane Lady Southern Cross when he disappeared. His body has never been recovered.  It was night time and we don’t know what went wrong but whatever happened we might say the cross, Lady Southern Cross, let him down. 

You can never say that about Jesus’ cross.  Jesus stands by his word.  He is good and loving.  He never gives up.  He will guide us and gives us the lift we need to rise above rough weather.  When we have lost our way in the darkest of nights he will comfort us and navigate us to brighter days and one day to eternal life. That is something worth sharing.  That is something worth celebrating.

Look for the Southern Cross and let it remind you of the cross of Christ.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th January 2015

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