Being the lucky country

SERMON 

Sunday 26 January, 2020 

Isaiah 9.1-4 

Psalm 27.1-10 

1 Corinthians 1.10-18 

Matthew 4.12-25 

Being the lucky country ©Suzanne Grimmett 

Aristotle once defined luck as “when the guy next to you gets hit with  the arrow”. 

Most of us would agree, I think, that this definition still has  uncomfortable potency in what it says about the human character. We  all know the tendency we have as a species to turn inward upon  ourselves, embracing an incipient narcissism where ‘there is only me  and that is all I care about’. But within the human nature there is  another driving fear- that of death, and our own life being lost. A desire  for a greater meaning beyond ourselves drives us to build our identities  in such a way that they can endure beyond the grave. We don’t want  our selfishness to define us. This leads us to invest in our families, our  businesses, our social group or our nation in such a way that they will  outlive us. This positive desire for our lives not to be reduced to choices  grounded in narcissistic self-interest but rather to have some eternal  significance unfortunately becomes the cause of divisions between us  as we create and defend tribal groups. It can also be what creates economic inequity and violence as Ernest Becker notes when he states  that, “Making a killing in business or on the battlefield frequently has  less to do with economic need or political reality than with the need for  assuring ourselves that we have achieved something of lasting worth.” 

Yet the desire to identify with a person, a group or a tribe is strong  within us. The same was obviously true in the fledging church in  Corinth, where Paul writes in some exasperation that there are  quarrels amongst the believers as to which leader they follow. Some  say they identify with Christ, but others say they belong to Paul, some  to Peter (or Cephas) or Apollos and it seems that these groups are in  some kind of competition over and against one another. We humans have an amazing ability to create idols- whether that be personalities  or nations or religion itself. In Corinth the early followers of the way  are identifying with different charismatic leaders, hitching their lives to  this person to increase a sense of belonging and meaning and busily  defending their own perspective.  

But Paul will have none of it- he makes it clear that faith in Christ  cannot be identified with religious ideas, with a particular  understanding of baptism, or with the beliefs and practices of a  particular person or group. The cross is a place of self-giving and  transformation. Far from giving us a “big other” to depend upon or  enabling us to have the false security of group allegiances, it actually  calls us to have the courage of self-emptying and vulnerability. Tribal  groups of any form can give us the illusion of life because we think our  tribe will survive us. In reality, all such tribal allegiances are idols that  lead away from the wellspring of life. Paul is striving in his letter to  encourage the Corinthians to die to all such attachments and place  their hopes instead on the foolishness of the cross, thereby,  paradoxically, choosing life.  

Of course this is hard- Paul has attempted what no one had really tried  before. It is a grand vision of death to all identity markers and a radical  embrace of equality. A church composed of rich and poor, Jew and  Greek, male and female and slave and free lacks the normal bonds of  social mores, ethnicity and family that hold a community together.  With such diversity, the factions mentioned in this letter were probably  inevitable. 

Given this inevitability, and the human tendency to seek our own self advancement over others and the resulting violence of one tribe over  another, where is the hope for our species? Where can meaning be  found if not in the attachments we so naturally form amongst our  communal groups? The reading from Isaiah is a prophetic voice from an ancient time of great social and political division and violence but  proclaiming that for those under the shadow of death, a light was dawning. Even at a time when imperial ambitions were wreaking havoc across the stage of the known world, the prophet is forecasting new  possibilities for creation through human and divine effort. God is doing  something new. 

In the Gospel reading we find these same words of the prophet Isaiah  invoked, and the writer of Matthew tells us that through Jesus there is  a new way that will transcend all of the darkness of violence and self interest that has dogged humankind, bringing life, healing and  liberation. Today, like the ancient times of the prophet, we are still  trapped by the security of our tribalisms and need the light to dawn in  our hearts anew if we are to embrace a more inclusive and global  vision that will empower the human potential for love.  

Australia is a land of many people groups. I realised when attending a  recent prayer vigil for the bushfires that it had been a long while since I  had heard people singing lyrics like “We are one, but we are many, and  from all the lands on earth we come.” If we are to follow Christ and  seek unity in the way Paul indicates, dying to our attachments to the  bonds of ethnicity, family or national identity, how are we to approach Australia Day? How do we claim what is good and to be celebrated in a  way that can include all? What does it mean for the way we tell our  story together, that our national day falls on a date that celebrates the  arrival of the first fleet? How can we deal honestly with the history of  colonisation and the suffering, both past and ongoing, of First Nations  people? What do we as Christians have to bring to this national  conversation? These are all difficult questions, but ones we cannot shy  away from if we are to be kingdom people who look to the light that is  dawning in the lands under the shadow, proclaim freedom for the  oppressed and excluded, and enable the peace and healing that is the  promise of God. 

We are called the lucky country, but we do not want to be lucky in the  sense of hoping that the arrow will strike someone else. Neither do we  want to try to get rid of such selfish impulses by becoming generously tribal in our allegiances to our family, our class or our nation and  excluding others who do not belong. But what if our self-interest-whether that be individual, or familial or national- didn’t have to define  us and limit the love and freedom of our lives? As we allow the  searching, liberating light of Christ to dawn in our hearts and lives, we  can find that we are set free from our fears so the burden of our self interest is lifted. It is of this that Jesus spoke when he said; 

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will  give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my  yoke is easy and my burden is light and you shall find rest for your  souls. (Matthew 11:28-30) 

We seek to create safety and purpose for ourselves and a freedom  from the tyranny of the self but with all our human striving, we end up  recreating the same patterns that divide us and take us further from  the peace for which we long. It is at this point of utter helplessness and  frustration at our human condition that we begin to understand that  the greatest power on earth is revealed in the shame and foolishness  of the cross. Because we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer  have anything to hide, or anything to prove. Our identification with  Christ crucified transcends all other identities, enabling us to die to all  that would separate us from one another. Our death to these divisions  is also our liberation- we are set free to love one another and to  welcome and embrace our kinship and our belonging with all of  creation.  

We are many, but we are one.  

This may shake the certainties of our identity and make us sometimes  feel like aliens in a strange land, but it also makes us prophets- those  who speak the words of freedom and herald the new dawn. I think a  nation filled with such voices of hope, love and courage would be a  lucky country indeed. 

+Amen.

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