Back in 1997, when I first came to Australia on a job exchange, I picked up a wonderful little item. It was an audio cassette: which, in itself, tells you it was quite a while ago! The tape contained the best entries from a poetry competition for schools. The title of the poem the children had to write was ‘A Typical Australian’. What would you have written? It is perhaps a good question for us on this Australia Day. It is not that there is exactly a right answer, as that competition proved. Yet our attempts to give an answer help us to tease out what is truly important to us: what is really important
about being Australian. And, in a way, that is very like what it is to reflect upon the Gospel and to grow as a Christian. For there is no exact answer to that either. Our attempts to give an answer however help us tease out what is truly important to us: what is really important about being a child of God: children of God with Australian features...
So is a typical Australian really an Indigenous Australian? That can’t be the entire answer, can it? Even if we think about Indigenous Australians, we still have a massive variety of different languages, cultures and landscapes. There is so much in common between Indigenous people all across Australia, but also significant differences. The same is certainly true of other Australians. We are a hugely varied mob, aren’t we? To quote the words of the song ‘I am Australian’, we come from all the lands of earth, and we bring the variety of all our backgrounds. Not only this, but we have also created new things and new characteristics in this land. So what is it that still enables us to sing ‘with one voice’?
Well, the children in that poetry competition came up with some great different answers to what is ‘a typical Australian’. One of the suggestions I like best, apart from vegemite, is a blowfly. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that, as Australians, we are annoying creatures. Maybe some of us are, but that is not the point. You might also argue that there are other creatures which would better symbolise Australia, like the kangaroo or the emu, both of which are of course on the Australian coat of arms. Maybe that would be right. But there is something to be said for the blowfly. For it is both endemic to various parts of Australia, coastal and inland, and it is also perfectly related to its environment, the land and climate of Australia. Like Australians generally, it also doesn’t tend to hide away sheepishly: though of course there are Australian creatures which can do so, like the platypus. Rather, the blowfly, like most Australians, is not afraid to be itself, or to let others know that it exists. It is, typically, unimpressed by mere show or status: it is, in that sense, democratic, nonconformist and individual, even a bit of a larrikin. But, what matters, above all, is that it relates and responds to its environment.
That is what I think is at the heart of being Australian: not that we look, or think, or act alike; but that we relate and respond to the same environment – the environment that is Australia. We don’t have to ditch the culture from which we come. Rather we should share what is good in it. That way we are all enriched as Australians. Indeed, it doesn’t even matter, I think, that first, or even some second, generation Australians may continue to support aspects of where they originally came from. Is it so bad, for instance that Italian Australians can celebrate an Italian football victory – bringing colour to the streets of Leichhardt in Sydney, or elsewhere? Ditto the Greeks in Melbourne. Maybe it isn’t so bad if English people can even celebrate the occasional English cricket victory? Well, maybe that is pushing it a little?! All of that is partly a passing phase, as well as a fresh contribution to lively diversity in Australia. What really matters is that all of us continue to relate and respond to the environment in which we are now gathered: relating and responding to Australia, in the rich diversity of its landscapes, and social and cultural complexity. It took some while, but that is also very much
true of our spiritual life. Initially, for example, as you know, our Church here in Australia was still known as the Church of England in Australia. Today, things are, very rightly, very different. To be an Australian Anglican is not to be part of the Church of the England in the sun. It is, yes, to be of the Anglican tradition, but also, significantly, and subtly, ourselves: like the blowfly, increasingly, and ideally, adapted to our own circumstances.
For what is a typical Christian, never mind a typical Anglican, or a typical Australian? That is one of the challenges raised by our Gospel reading today, on this Australia Day. What does it mean to be a Christian, and what does a Christian look like? The answer does not seem to depend upon any external characteristics, including those of place of origin. To put it crudely, you no more need to come originally from Galilee, or Judaea, to be a Christian, than you need to be born in Australia, or come from generations of Australians, to be an Australian. That would be to misread our Gospel
reading today. Jesus did come, he said, primarily to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’: to the Jews, the Indigenous people of his faith tradition. They were the foundation of his mission and ministry, as we hear in the calling of the Galilean fishermen. But to be Christian is open to all, to Jews and Gentiles, to male and female, to slave and free, to black and white. What matters is the environment in which we live our lives: that is, whether we relate and respond to Jesus. That is what the Galilean fishermen did. That is what others have done since, from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. For what matters, as Christians, is whether we have a living, and growing relationship with Jesus and with those who are also called to live with him in his environment.
This week, Sue Simon, a beloved member of our congregation at St Mark’s died. It is sad for us, but also a source of tremendous thanks - for her life well lived - and it is a source of joy - for her life lived in the hope and knowledge of the resurrection to eternal life. Among the characteristics of Sue’s life was an ability to relate and respond to people of so many different backgrounds. She thus leaves us a wonderful example of what it is to be Australian, and, still more, a Christian open to the calling and environment of God. We are many, but we are one, in the body and grace of God.
Let me conclude with an Aboriginal Catholic prayer, which is offered for us all, for healing and reconciliation in our land, so that we grow as Australians together, through the grace and relationship we share together in Christ. It is a good prayer for us all, for all our cultures:
Creator of all, you gave us the Dreaming. You have spoken to us through our beliefs. You then made your love known to us in the person of Jesus. We thank you for your care. You own us. You are our hope. Make us strong as we face the problems of change. We ask you to help the people of Australia to listen to us and respect our culture. Make the knowledge of you grow in all people, so that you can be at home in us and we can make a home for everyone in our land. (In Christ’s Name) Amen.