This week we celebrated Australia Day. For some of us this is not an easy task, we come from many places, backgrounds and experiences and find it difficult to connect to the major narrative about our nationhood. That is not a bad thing. In fact, it is healthy for us to discuss and debate what defines us as a nation and as a people.
We are not all Anglo Saxons with a long held desire to remain wedded to a story that only speaks for some of us. We come from countries, faiths and ethnicities encompassing the wide expanse of diversity that colours our world. Is the story of colonialisation the only story worth telling and holding on to? Is there not much more which defines and enlivens us and is it not time we began to let go of out-dated myths as the basis of our identity? Is it not time we included the sovereign inhabitants of this land and reconsider date and name of this celebration so that it fully recognises the violence done to, not only them, but the convicts cruelly transported to these shores in appalling conditions by contracted former slave runners, another part of the story we rarely hear?
As we have been saying over the last few weeks, as a church we are being called to relinquish out of date world views, myths and stories which have previously underwritten our faith for those which reflect the science and reality of an ever expanding and evolving universe. Is it not time for such to occur for us as Australians?
Jesus certainly thought this way when he spoke in the sermon on the Mount as given to us today. In this passage Jesus rewrites the narrative of faith for the Jewish people. What they had accepted as the story of faithfulness was turned upside down to include those who had previously been excluded. The poor, the widows, the ordinary gentle folk, peacemakers and warriors for justice and more took the place of the rich, the powerful, the hardened, the warmongers and the ruthless.
God was seen to be interested in those who did not fit the stereotype of those who had God’s blessing. Rulers and the powerful were replaced by those who were ruled and weak. It wasn’t a physical coup, but a transforming mindset for all. You matter and you have a role. You are not excluded from this story by virtue of race, gender, wealth or lack there of or the seeming lack of power.
Jesus congratulates the ordinary person. Not as we heard in the speech of the new US President, a gratuitous throw away line, but as valued participants in the evolution of wholeness in the world. Like the ordinary incarnate Jesus engaging with ordinary fishermen in an ordinary village, the individual has value and is to be congratulated for what they in their circumstances add to creation.
Jesus is saying:
Congratulations to the poor in spirit!
Heaven’s domain belongs to them.
Congratulations to those who grieve!
They will be consoled.
Congratulations to the gentle!
They will inherit the earth.
Congratulations to those who hunger and thirst for justice!
They will have a feast.
Congratulations to the merciful!
They will receive mercy.
Congratulations to those with undefiled hearts!
They will see God.
Congratulations to those who work for peace!
They will be known as God’s children.
Congratulations to those who have suffered
persecution for the sake of justice!
Heaven’s domain belongs to them.
Congratulations to you when they denounce you and persecute you and spread malicious gossip about you because of me. Rejoice and be glad! In heaven prophets who preceded you.
So what makes us Australian or what is being Australian like? Is it being good at sports, such as cricket, tennis and bocce, being great at business aka the billionaires, being successful in “Australians Got Talent” or “Married At First Site?” or being the BBQ wiz with lamb chops at family gatherings’?
I think not. I think
- Being Australian is the smell of summer, the feel of sand whether red or white between your toes, the rush of fire, the surge of water and the capacity to come together as one to further the well being of all.
- Being Australian asks all who reside here to engage in deep dialogue and listening so we break down stereotypes, fears, ill informed prejudices and racism we hold about each other.
- Being Australian is celebrating the success of all regardless of the culture, faith or language; celebrating the amazing success of indigenous Australians across this country in sport, education, medicine, law, self-government and more.
- Being Australian is opening our borders and welcoming others and giving them the same opportunities our colonial forebears had. And it is extending such opportunities to the first residents of this country.
- Being Australian is being honest about the treatment of the most vulnerable in our society, children and women in particular and to begin to tackle the domestic, gender and sexual violence that has occurred and continues to occur.
- Being Australian is being brave enough to recognise indigenous sovereignty and beginning the deliberate process toward reconciliation and treaty without getting side-tracked by government and pressure groups particular agendas’.
- Being Australian is recognising the damage we are doing to the environment and restrict the destruction caused by mining in all its forms, particularly coal mining.
Congratulations are due for a nation who begins to embrace these ideals, not just as stated goals but as lived realities. Congratulations go to each and every Australian of all races and backgrounds who work to make this a reality in our daily living.
Like the Sermon on the Mount, this is no easy task, no list of ‘nice’ goals we can ignore when they become to hard to implement. Jesus commitment to the Sermon on the Mount and the values embraced by it took him all the way to an agonising death on the cross. In such a way, our commitment to what being Australian means we will look at how we celebrate our nation, whether how we do it now is inclusive of all and be prepared to let go of, give up, crucify old myths on the cross of congratulations – you are being Australian.
GK Chesterton famously wrote: ““The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
My suggestion is that being an Australian is difficult and instead of trying to so be we find excuses to exclude and build walls around our fearful denial of all that is at odds with the myth we believe about ourselves.
Jesus bluntly lays open the truth about being fully included in the surge for wholeness as an ordinary individual, it looks completely different to that which we have been told.
Perhaps it is time to take seriously being an Australian and embrace a new and different narrative. Amen.