1 Corinthians 1.10–18
Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise. A nation more concerned with styles of life than with achievement has managed to achieve what may be the most evenly prosperous society in the world. It has done this in a social climate largely inimical to originality and the desire for excellence (except in sport) and in which there is less and less acclamation of hard work. According to the rules Australia has not deserved its good fortune. ― Donald Horne, The Lucky Country
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. ― Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, para. 23
Do you have a favourite book of the Bible? I do. My favourite is Jonah, a funny, witty extended parable about a prophet who tries so hard not to do the right thing but is manoeuvred by God to do it anyway. He’s called to preach to Nineveh, the enemies of Israel; when he finally gets there, when his work is successful, when Nineveh repents and turns to God, Jonah sulks. In the very last verse of Jonah, God tries to bring Jonah around to the Divine way of thinking. God says:
…should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? [Jonah 4.11]
At least 32 people have died in this heartbreaking bushfire season. Over 2000 homes have been lost.
I love that Jonah reminds us that God loves animals too. We’ve been made aware of the deaths of over a billion animals this bushfire season. For some reason, that number doesn’t include fish, frogs, bats or insects. (How many insects must have died? How many bees have we lost?)
Whole ecosystems are in peril.
Bushfires have long been seen as carbon-neutral events. The forest burns, the forest regenerates, the carbon is once again locked up in trees. But doubts have been expressed about this current season. Are we in a new, dangerous time? Will the forest regenerate, or will the land formerly occupied by trees become grassland? If that occurs, Australia’s carbon output this year may be increased by a third because of this bushfire season.
And so we have come to 26 January 2020, Australia Day. Or Survival Day. Whatever we call it, it’s surely a day in which we must take stock of what we are doing to our country.
Australia Day/Survival Day has been a day of controversy from the beginning. At first, 26 January was only the date that New South Wales held the day, as the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson where Arthur Phillip raised the Union Flag on the land of the Eora nation.
Other dates in other states have been called ‘Australia Day’:
Left to right: 30 July; 1 July; 28 July
26 January was only made the ‘national’ Australia Day in 1994, 26 years ago! Before then, we always had a long weekend. I don’t blame people for finding the date offensive. I mean, it’s Sydney-centric (hello, Australia is much more than Sydney!). And as it commemorates the first steps of the British on Australian soil, it is humiliating and unacceptable to First Peoples in our country.
As we heard last week, the Uniting Church stands in covenant with the First Peoples of our church. Therefore, we recognise the pain they feel about the choice of 26 January.
So now that 2020 is here, what have we done to the land that the First Peoples lived on for more than 60000 years?
We have imposed European-type farming methods on land that is often unsuitable for it.
We have introduced species such as the cat, fox, rabbit and cane toad that disrupt the ecological balance of the land.
We have driven species such as the Tasmanian tiger to extinction. Others may now be on the brink.
We have made Aboriginal and Islander people strangers in their own country. In 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death in Aboriginal children. Many Aboriginal people have died in custody; the latest was earlier this month in Victoria. This 37-year-old woman had been remanded in maximum security. Her alleged crime? Shoplifting.
To cap it all, our government still refuses to engage in any meaningful action on climate change.
Australians have thought of ourselves as ‘The Lucky Country’ since Donald Horne coined the phrase in the 1960s. We should remember the fuller—and very ironic—quotation by Horne, which begins:
Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.
That we are run by second-rate people has now become frighteningly apparent. It is no exaggeration to say that Australia is in the midst of a crisis. No less a figure than David Attenborough has made this claim. (See here also.) This bushfire season is the worst ever seen, and this is partly because of the abnormally dry conditions which climate change has brought in the south east of the country.
You can hear all this on the nightly news. And this sermon is not a news report. So what can we say that’s not on the news? What must we say as the church of Jesus Christ?
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus says
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [the kingdom of God] has come near.
Jesus wasn’t living in easy times right then. He began proclaiming this message after John the Baptist was arrested. Jesus himself was already under threat from the powers that be. The kingdom of God comes near in times of crisis.