I spent part of Australia Day at a meeting between the Uniting Church Queensland Synod’s Ecumenical Relations Committee (ERC) and representatives of the Mosque at Kuraby. There were 20 of us; 13 Christians, 7 Moslems. I must say I met some wonderful, articulate Moslem men today. I am looking forward to further contact.
The first meeting our groups held (which I couldn’t attend) was at Friday prayers at the mosque, where member of the ERC observed the prayers and then talked with out Moslem friends about the experience. They then retired to a barbecue!
It was our turn today. We met at the Broadwater Rd Uniting Church for a service of Holy Communion, observed by the Moslem members of the group, after which they asked questions and then we had lunch together. This was followed by a challenging film called The Imam and the Pastor, about two men in Nigeria who suffered under violence inflicted by Christians and Moslems upon one another, and then found the grace to forgive each other. They now have an interfaith work for peace in Nigeria.
It was my privilege to preach a short sermon today at the Eucharist. Here it is:
I was not able to be at the last meeting of our two groups, but I would like again on behalf of the Ecumenical Relations Committee of the Uniting Church to welcome members of the Kuraby Mosque here today, and to return your recent hospitality to us. And I’d like to briefly speak about hospitality. I want to touch on the hospitality we have received from God; from the indigenous people of Australia; and how we Christians receive hospitality from our Lord Jesus Christ…
Each one of us here has received great hospitality. Firstly, of course, from God. We draw breath only because both the ability to breathe and the air itself are given to us by God. Without God, we fall to the ground.
In the Old Testament, Psalm 104.24 says:
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
And the psalm goes on (v. 29),
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
We all receive the hospitality of God moment by moment. It is good to remember this especially on Australia Day. Not just because we have a home in a beautiful land, full of unique animals, birds and plants, even though it experiences severe droughts and floods.
No, we need to remember the hospitality we have received even more because 220 years ago today, the First Fleet arrived from Britain and the indigenous people of this land began their long sorrow. Yet despite this, so many indigenous people have offered friendship—forgiveness—yes, hospitality to us who came later.
In its attempts to find the right words to say ‘sorry’, white Australia should never forget the many instances of generous hospitality of the first people of this place, which was always undeserved, and often unasked for, unwanted and undervalued.
Some Australians have pretty well forgotten what hospitality is. I looked up the internet to see what would happen if I googled ‘Australia Day’ and ‘hospitality’ together. I found lots of websites that were all about the ‘hospitality industry’. Where ‘hospitality’ is firstly an ‘industry’, we have lost sight of what hospitality is.
The great Abrahamic faiths all value hospitality. In the Old Testament hospitality is a duty, as I understand it is also in the Koran. The early Christians were renowned for their hospitality to all people, whether they shared their faith or not. This was one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the Christian faith in early times. It was not an industry.
We Christians need to recover hospitality as what we might call a Gospel virtue, something we do just because we are Christians. We heard the challenging words of Jesus earlier, in what we call the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice… the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … the peacemakers… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Jesus doesn’t use the word ‘hospitality’, but I believe that it is implied here. These blessed ones show hospitality to others in their gentleness, their mercy, their advocacy for others, their peacemaking. Jesus could have said, Blessed are the hospitable, for they shall always find a home.
Finally, we Christians receive great hospitality in this holy meal that we will soon share, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There is so much that can be said about it!—so let me just say one thing: in this holy meal, we believe that this bread and this wine are effective signs of the body and blood of Christ. As we receive the bread and wine, we receive Jesus. But we are not the hospitable ones; no, the important thing is that Jesus Christ graciously gives himself to us. In this holy meal, he is hospitable to us and brings us salvation. In this holy meal, he allows us to share his risen life.
We greatly value the hospitality we share today, one with another, under God. Let us continue to share it, to the eternal praise of God—And now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever (1 Timothy 1.17).