(Sermon on the Seldom Seen Plain, GWL.)
Text: Matthew 5:1-12/Statement From the Heart)
Amanda Gorman, in her poem she read at President Biden’s inauguration said:
“…… being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it”
I suggest that this needs to be our attitude allowing us to move forward through the controversy and misinformation around the upcoming referendum on Constitutional Recognition and a Voice to parliament.
For Anglicans in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, this call to repair is echoed in our regular practice of the Eucharist service, and if followed in our engagement with this proposal may lead us forward in unity and equity.
When I was working with a senior priest in the early days of my ministry, he would often say that the liturgy has two high points, two obvious humps of the camel so to speak – The Word, of which this sermon is a part, and the Great Thanksgiving.
The first opens our understanding and reveals what the Spirit of God has to say in the text as written, in its context and how it speaks to the times in which we live. It is vital to our becoming mature Christian people. It is the Voice. In this case, God speaking into our world.
The Great Thanksgiving is just that. It is the place in our service when we give thanks for the incarnation of Christ and recognise the blessing in which we share, which we on our own were not entitled to. It is where we practice Makarrata – the coming together after a struggle.
For many within our tradition, these are the two immovable objects of our worship, not to be tampered with or left out. They are the core of our worship and faith.
My response is, wait there is more. This is not all there is.
It seems to me, in raising these two elements to the place of the high point in our worship we lessen both our liturgy and our day-to-day practice as a community of faith. Between, sometimes before, these two elements sit the Affirmation or Creed, the place where we agree on what we believe. It is what allows us to be together in agreement despite those things which may draw us apart. It is a form of Treaty – the place where we come together as one.
In our prayers, Voice appears again. This time it is our voice, individually ad communally bringing our gratitude, petitions, and sometimes, reminding God of the promises made and seemingly yet to be kept. This could be like the Psalms in which the Jewish people expressed their relationship with God without fear or favour.
This is followed by confession or Truth-telling, not simply an individual’s particular confession but the confession of the community of the faithful for the failure of both their community and society at large, of which it is a constituent member. Without an effective understanding of this lament for the failures of our society, and ourselves as part of that society, then there can be no open heart to either the word or the Great Thanksgiving, only entitlement and privilege.
In fact, this communal reflection on our practice and our response to the imperatives the Scriptures we have listened to or will listen to dictates our readiness to celebrate in the Great Thanksgiving – the Makarrata. A sobering thought. If our lamentation at the failure of society and ourselves as part of that society is superficial and fleeting, then we may not be entitled to celebrate individually or as a community or society.
The repentance called for by John the Baptist and Jesus was not simply an individual one. There was no preference for the individual. Whatever had happened in society and before the individual was born was to be repented of and rectified. It was a whole of society’s lament and reconciliation. Whatever the individual benefited from because of the actions of others who came before him/her or came from the privilege of being a member of a certain race, culture or class had to be dealt with for the new way of being ushered in by the Christ.
The Beatitudes have suffered the same fate as John’s call for repentance in the sense that they have been reduced to an individual application and we assess ourselves and others against this credo. In context, this is a communal statement calling for an integrated set of practices of both the individual and their community in response to the reality of life – persecution, inequality, death, inequity – and more.
The Statement from the Heart & the Beatitudes/Sermon on the Mount, our readings from today have at least 6 things in common:
- Both documents call for the voice of those not included in society to be heard and responded to. The implication of blessed is not simply you are blessed, lucky, or to benefit from a position but that you are blessed because others who hear and see you change the way they respond to you. Your capacity to be during these difficult situations will call on those in society who can to support and lift you up. The Statement reminds us that the First Peoples are blessed in a similar manner. Their predicament calls on those who can join them and make the changes necessary for a just and fair society for all.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
- What the Beatitudes does is recognise those who by the normal standards of society, secular and religious, are not seen. It recognises a wide range of people who until then had no place that said they were ok, or perhaps, that they existed. It is a powerful statement both from a spiritual and natural perspective.
The Statement From the Heart asks that those who were here from the beginning, and, for all kinds of reasons, were seen and destined to be seen as a deficit society be recognised, not only as existing but to be placed alongside those who came here in their foundational document. This recognition balances the scales and brings people into a sense of belonging and wholeness.
- Truth-telling. The Beatitudes tell the truth. In this case that for all those who are benefiting from the status quo, there are those who have been left behind or forgotten by it. Not only by the systems committed to the status quo but those privileged by it and prepared to allow it to continue. Jesus is holding the mirror up to society and saying “See these people. They are real and you are responsible for blessing them, making the changes so that they get to benefit just as you do.”
The Statement lays out the truth on two levels – in terms of sovereignty and in terms of the deficit experience of our people. The first reminds us that sovereignty over these lands has been accepted for 60,000 years and can’t just be extinguished by the swipe of a pen. It then reminds us that the consequence of this is the state we find our people in. Truth-telling is not comfortable.
- Both are spiritual documents. The Beatitudes in Matthew’s presentation is unarguably a spiritual document. It reminds us that justice is not a social but a spiritual question and needs to be addressed from the deep spiritual centre of self.
The Statement states clearly:
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty.
This brief glimpse at our liturgy, a key passage of scripture, and the Statement From the Heart reminds us that there is more in common here than we may think.
To paraphrase Amanda Gorman:
“…… being Australian is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it”