The following service was streamed live via Zoom from the Ocean Grove church on January 24th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.”
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth)
L: Today, as we gather to worship, we acknowledge the Wadawurrung peoples, the first inhabitants of this place from time beyond remembering. We acknowledge that through this land, God nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples.
R: We honour them for their custodianship of the land on which we gather today.
L: We acknowledge that the First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers;
R: the Spirit was already in the land, revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.
L: We acknowledge that the same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples, and gave them particular insights into God’s ways;
R: and so we rejoice in the reconciling purposes of God. found in the good news about Jesus Christ.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Our land is alive with the glory of God;
desert sands hum and gum trees dance.
Brown grasses sing and mountains breathe their stillness.
All created things add their rhythms of delight
and even stones rap out their praise.
Let our voices mingle with those of the earth;
may our hearts join the beat of her joy,
for our triune God is with us:
the Source of all being surrounds and upholds us.
Christ Jesus walks beside and before us.
The Spirit moves within and between us.
Blessed be God, our wonder and delight.
LIGHTING OF THE CANDLE (if you are using a candle at home)
L: Today friends, we are remembering the tragic history of our nation and the violent dispossession of her First Peoples. Today is a day of mourning. Today we mark in lament the truth of our shared history, and we lift up to God our prayers for First Peoples and our nation. We say sorry and we pray for forgiveness, healing and hope. But today is also a day of worship. So we come together and give thanks to God for the abundant grace and liberating hope which we know through Jesus Christ and which is for all people. The God of all justice and the God of all peace, be with you all.
R: And also with you.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
L: Come to us, Creating God, as the One who walks the way of ordinary people.
R: Come to us, as the One who weeps over the city.
L: Come to us, as the One who deeply understands the paradox of life which rises from death.
R: Come to us, in a language of grace that we may approach you in vulnerable hope.
R: Give us openness if we have closed our hearts to your future.
L: Give us courage, if we tread this land in fear of bringing our gifts.
R: Give us wisdom, when we forget to listen to the learnings of our history.
L: Give us joy when we see the breadth of your imagination expressed in the differences between us.
R: Differences of race and culture, differences of history and journey, differences in our experience of you.
L: Bind us together as those who feel your love under our feet in the warmth of this, our holy ground.
R: Dance within our life, O Spirit of God, that we may be transformed by your eternal passion for making all things new.
L: Abba, Father, Bäpa God, source of all life, answer our call, as a mother responds to the cry of a child in the night. Jesus Christ, brother and friend, Liberator, stand beside us as bearer of our humanity, and sharer of God’s grace. Spirit, giver of new life, purposeful guest, prod us to praise, calling us to be a people of hope and faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “Jesus Wept” by Bronwyn White
Jesus wept. We weep, too…
for the destruction of our temples
for the stones that cry out when we are silent.
We weep for the exploitation, trade, abuse and rape
of the innocent and powerless: children, women, men;
for the racists, abusers, the traders and exploiters
for those who cannot weep;
who cannot empathise or feel another’s pain.
For victims and perpetrators,
we cry for justice and work for peace.
We weep for those who have lost hope,
for those nearing journey’s end with no sense of resurrection,
whose losses are too great for stiff upper lips and backbones.
For what we must let go of we weep.
Blessed are you who rebuilds what was broken,
who replant what was torn up,
who heal our spirits and our earth.
Hosanna: mercy on us
Blessed are we who come in peace.
We hear the stones cry out for the destruction of our temples,
for knowing what’s needed and still not giving peace a chance.
For trying to quiet those who shout for justice
in languages or accents foreign to us,
for closing our ears to those whose causes we don’t understand.
For the ravaged beauty of the earth and of her peoples,
we hear the stones cry out.
In this time of silence may we move from busy-ness to quietness. God of life, God of peace, God of wonders that will not cease, is present with us now. (30 seconds silence)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Merciful God, we, the Second Peoples of this land, acknowledge and lament the injustice and abuse that has so often marked the treatment of the First Peoples of this land. We acknowledge and lament the way in which their land was taken from them and their language, culture, law and spirituality despised and suppressed.
We acknowledge and lament the way in which the Christian church was so often not only complicit in this process, but actively involved in it.
We acknowledge and lament that in our own time the injustice and abuse has continued.
We have been indifferent when we should have been outraged, we have been apathetic when we should have been active, we have been silent when we should have spoken out.
Liberating Jesus, hear our lament and, by your Spirit, bring healing, hope and transformation to the lives of our First Nations sisters and brothers and their communities.
Gracious God, hear our acknowledgements:
We have not loved you with our whole heart, nor have we loved First Peoples and other neighbours as ourselves.
God of mercy, forgive us for our failures, past and present and give us the grace today to make a fresh start.
L: This is the best of all: When we are empty, God fills us; when we are disheartened, God is compassionate; when we are wounded, God brings healing; when we confess our sin, God forgives. In Christ, through Christ and because of Christ, I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God.
FROM THE PSALMS – Psalm 85:7-13
Show us Your mercy, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.
I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to his people and to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good; and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Micah 6:6-8
6 With what shall I come before the Lord,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
FROM THE EPISTLES – Romans 8:19-27
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “The Land of Dreams Begins”
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:19)
Indeed, the creation has been waiting a very, very long time for the children of God to make themselves known; Paul tells us it is groaning as does a woman in childbirth, and then talks about waiting in hope for that cannot which be seen. Perhaps this hope, this fulfilment, is something akin to the statement by Pablo Naruda, Chilean poet, diplomat and politician, that “the land of dreams begins in the eyes of mourning,” i.e. it is through the vision given us through the experience of mourning, not morning as in dawn, but mourning with an ‘ou’ as in grief.
Maybe, just maybe, there might be in this Day of Mourning, a chance for the children of God to discover themselves, and enter the door to the ‘Land of Dreams’. In any event, the Day of Mourning is of too great a significance to be consigned the cesspool of political debate, as many are wont to do with it. Whatever you may think about the merits or otherwise of moving the date of Australia Day, the Uniting Church has set this observance on the weekend preceding Australia Day to create some space between the Day of Mourning and our national celebration; close enough to be related, but not the same.
Having said this, the history of the Day of Mourning goes back to Australia Day 83 years ago. On that day, a group of Aboriginal men and women gathered at Australia Hall in Sydney. The participants at the first Day of Mourning came from all across Australia to continue a struggle that had begun 150 years previously. They met to move the following resolution:
… representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the whiteman’s seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people TO FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.”That was in 1938. That they were not considered to be full citizens in their own land is indicative of what the colonists thought of them. As many of you know, aborigines were not even counted as people in the census. Though they finally managed to gain citizenship about 30 years later, equality is still a ways off in a number of areas, for example in expected life span, income potential and freedom from racial discrimination.
That our indigenous population has good cause to mourn is not debatable: their land was taken from them, their people killed, the survivors oppressed, their children taken from them, their basic rights denied. Of course, they have good reasons to mourn, but I imagine the question for us today is: Why should we observe a Day of Mourning with them?
Well, in the first place we, as a church, have been asked to do so. But certainly there is sufficiently clear guidance from Scripture that the church should not have needed a request. In the reading from Micah today we heard a powerful, unambiguous message: your religious observances are trivial compared to the call to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus echoed this in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father.”
As people of God, injustice will ‘stick in our craw’, and we are compelled to deal with it. When asked to stand alongside our indigenous brothers and sisters, who have been, and continue to be, victims of injustice, is there anyway the church could refuse?
But I think this goes beyond a matter of simple responsibility. Obligation takes us just so far; some of you will fall in line and take it seriously, and some won’t. And even many of those who take the responsibility seriously will eventually fall away from loss of energy, uncertainty about the effect of their actions, even burnout. Standing alongside one who is mourning has merit; helping them in doing something positive to ease their grief is saintly, but the Day of Mourning suggests more than this, I think.
Naruda’s comment, “In the eyes of mourning, the land of dreams begins,” offers much more. If we are to step over the threshold into the land of dreams, or in religious terms, into the realm of God, we will be helped to find the way through mourning. The Day of Mourning is an invitation to us Second Peoples to join the First Peoples in their mourning, to experience it and, through the experience, to gain new eyes.
It is easier said than done, of course. Mourning is an emotion that arises from the experience of loss. We can’t just conjure up an emotion of grief unless we are aware of a loss, so the question is, while we are all too aware of the reasons for the mourning of the aboriginal people, have we suffered losses as well in the course of Australia’s history of which we are not conscious? I can think of three. If I thought further, I’m sure I could conjure up more, but I was trained in the day when three-point sermons were all the rage, so three is a good place to stop.
I have said before that I don’t think there can be such a thing a personal salvation. (See “Salvation” under “Words of the Word”) The U.S. Marines have a motto, “No one left behind.” I think Jesus might say the same; unless all are part of the Kingdom of God, no one is. If a person has become so enlightened and so adept at living the will of God that the Realm of God is real to them, they will inevitably be called back to anyone or anything in pain in the world. Another’s pain is a source of discontent to the saint, and the peace of the Kingdom is not complete. Another’s pain is a source of pain for those who are one with God; another’s grief is a source of grief for the follower of Jesus. Thus we can grieve that our salvation is still beyond our grasp.
As well as a loss of contentment, surely there must be a loss of integrity if one thinks about it. In our society, living off the earning of crimes is itself a crime. But more to the point, if we live off of that which belongs to another, how can we feel good about ourselves.
During the political debate about saying ‘sorry’ to the aboriginal people during the time of the Howard government, the anti-apology side argued that present day people are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors, which is certainly a valid argument; no one is responsible for the acts of their predecessors. However, if we happily benefit from the proceeds of the crimes of our predecessors, are we not complicit in their crimes after the fact. A very significant percentage of the wealth of this nation, and yours, too, unless you earned it overseas, has been derived from the land that was taken from the original inhabitants. We can’t really do much about that; we can’t change history, but we can grieve the loss of our integrity, our innocence, our contentment.
The third source of grief is the loss of community and, as such, the loss of relationship with God. The Doctrine of the Trinity celebrates the notion of God as relationship, Three in One. In fact, if this doctrine says anything about what God is, we are told that God does not exist outside of relationship. God is relationship, and if so, we cannot know God outside of relationship. When relationship is broken, God disappears.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember your brother has a grievance against you, you must set you gift down and go make peace with your brother, and then return and present your gift. In other words, you cannot meet God at the altar if there is a broken relationship in your world.
Jesus also said what you have done to the least of these you have done for me. As a nation, what have we been doing for Jesus over the last 233 years through our treatment of the First People of this land?
So we grieve the loss of community, and consequent loss of God’s presence in this community. We grieve the loss of the ideals of nationhood in which all belong, are valued and have an equal chance at health and happiness. We grieve a broken country.
What is grief but our response to loss, the loss of valued things we are powerless to prevent. We can’t change the past, and history has presented us with a life filled with riches that have been paid for by the blood and oppression of the original peoples; and given us citizenship in a broken nation, and keeps us from fulfilment as children of God. And because we can’t reverse the past, we grieve. And in our grieving, we may see the beginning of the ‘land of dreams.
Give us the courage to accept the realities of our history, so that we may build a better future for our nation. Teach us to respect all cultures. Teach us to care for our land and waters. Help us to share justly the resources of this land. Help us to bring about spiritual and social change to improve the quality of life for all peoples in our communities, especially the disadvantaged. Help all young people to find true dignity and self-esteem by your Spirit. May your power and love be the foundations on which we walk together as First and Second Peoples; and build our families, our communities and our nation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
People of God,to live out the covenant into which we, the First and Second Peoples of this land, have entered with one another. Confront and challenge injustice wherever you see it. Act justly yourselves and insist that others do the same. Rejoice in the richness of our diverse cultures and learn from them. Celebrate and demonstrate the unity we share in Jesus our Lord. Commit to worship, witness and serve as one people under God, until God’s promised reconciliation of all creation is complete.
Bless us therefore, as we depart this place:
give us a generous spirit, a kind heart,
and the grace to walk alongside our First Peoples,
as brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
L: Go in the power of God’s good Spirit: with the gentle fire of God’s zeal, with the breath of life, ready to work for justice and peace.
R: We go in Christ’s name.