Lent 2 (A)
St Andrew’s, Lismore
5 March 2023
As a general rule, I preach on the Gospel since that is the biblical text which points most directly to the risen Lord among us, within us, and between us as the gathered people of God.
But today I start my locum ministry here by breaking my own rule!
Today is being observed across the Diocese as ABM SUNDAY, so I want us to reflect more on the mission into which we are being called by God, so I should perhaps declare my own personal interest.
I am a member of the ABM Committee for the Diocese of Grafton, and when I was serving as Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem I was serving as a missionary sent to that post by ABM.
In addition, the special focus for the ABM Lent Appeal this year is the Diocese of Jerusalem. As always our Good Friday offerings will be sent to Jerusalem to be used for the work of the Anglican Church in that region.
I am a Canon emeritus of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, and I have very close links with people and parishes in that Diocese. That place matters to me and those people matter to me.
But there is another reason for my sermon this morning being grounded in the Abraham story from Genesis 12.
The 2022 floods
This time last year, our city and our local region were devastated by massive floods.
During the past week various events have recalled the floods, the devastation, the loss, the courage and the resilience of this amazing community.
Yesterday morning I sat in a steamy white plastic tent at the Quad with a small crowd to watch the documentary about the Tinnie Heroes.
Those events last year, all that has happened in between times, and the challenges we face right now are yet another reason to go with Abraham this morning and not with Nicodemus.
The people of the covenant
Chapter 12 marks a turning point in the book of Genesis.
During the opening eleven chapters, the ancient storyteller sketched the story of God’s dream for creation on a cosmic canvas: creation, paradise lost, the great flood (!!) and the tower of Babel.
Now the focus narrows to one person (Abram/Abraham/Ibrahim) and the family that will trace its ancestry back to him.
In this opening scene of the Abraham saga, the hero is told to go to a destination chosen by God but not yet revealed to Abraham:
Go from your countryGenesis 12:1
and your kindred
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
Fortunately for Abram, that land was not Australia and the time was not now, as he would be turned away at gunpoint and sent to an offshore detention centre.
For Abraham, the unknown destination was not Australia but Palestine.
Like Australia, Palestine was no terra nullius.
It was not a land without people, for a people without land, as the Zionists told each other about 100 years ago.
Palestine had people living there.
They lived in homesteads, villages, towns and a number of well-established cities.
Abraham was not sent there to displace them nor as punishment for their supposed sins. In fact, on the contrary, the purpose of Abraham and his clan coming to live among the Indigenous people of Palestine was to be a blessing for the Aboriginal peoples there.
Verse 3 is usually translated as: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
However, it is better translated this way:
And all the families of the land (‘adamah) shall bless themselves by you.
That is a fine point, but one worth pondering.
The point of the promise to Abram was not for his personal comfort and tribal success, but to be an agent of blessing for each and every community he lived among.
As we watch the tragic events unfolding in Palestine and Israel these past few weeks, these past 75 years, and for more than 130 years, it is clear that the promises to Abram have been sadly misunderstood.
Presence among has become power over.
Being a blessing to others has become take it all for my own people.
Religion becomes the pretext for genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The opportunity for the descendants of Abraham to model shalom-salaam is wasted.
The colonial wars
It is not that we can point our fingers at the Jews in Palestine.
They are simply seeking to do now what our forebears succeeded in doing 100+ years earlier than them. And even earlier in the Americas and southern Africa.
To our shame, the Christians of Europe not only persecuted the Jews but also conquered, subdued and almost entirely eradicated (murdered) the Indigenous people of those faraway lands to which we imagined ourselves to have a god-given right.
If only we had come in the spirit of Abraham in Genesis 12–25.
If only—even now—we might have the vision and the compassion to see how badly the Indigenous people of this land, and this valley, have been treated.
If only now we had the grace to say YES to allowing them a Voice to Parliament.
We can look askance at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians whose land and whose futures are being stolen and trashed.
We can pride ourselves on our new-found respect for the First Australians and our intention to vote YES! in the referendum.
But we also need to ask ourselves how our presence here in this local community has been a source of blessing, courage, goodness, hope and resilience during the past year.
And all the years before last year.
That, after all, is our core mission.
We are not here to promote the Anglican Church, but to serve the people of Lismore in the name of Jesus.
If that is not our first priority then let’s not waste our time in seeking a new priest.
There is no need for a church that does not become a blessing to the people where it exists.
God give us the courage of Abram.
God call us into the only mission that matters.
Here or anywhere else, we only exist to be a channel of blessing to others.