Firstly, are we, as people of faith – and especially those of us who are whitefellas of faith – are we prepared to enter and dwell in the wilderness? Are we prepared to let go of our comforts and expectations, and to become genuinely vulnerable, including facing up to our own demons, our own destructive forces and acts in the past and present? Are our faith communities as a whole able to do this, hearing the Spirit of God afresh, in vulnerability and from uncomfortable places? Are we?
Let us make no mistake. The resounding words of Isaiah which Jesus reads in today’s Gospel story are indeed powerful, and a call to us. However, we need to remember that, in Luke’s Gospel, they come after Jesus has been in the wilderness. At the beginning of his recent book, Contemplating Country: More Gondwana Theology - from which we heard a portion in our contemporary reading this morning - Gary Deverell points out how, slowly, First Nations people are being recognised as vital in arts and may other spaces. Why, the forthcoming Metro station, around us and beneath our feet, is even being named Gadigal. Yet Churches in general, like political responses to the Statement from the Heart, are still dragging their feet. Why? Is it not because we, as Christian communities, are reluctant really to let go, beyond our settler colonial way of thinking and operating: reluctant to enter the wilderness of uncertainty and vulnerability in which the Spirit of God is speaking afresh?
will we accept confrontation?
Secondly, are we – as people of faith – and especially we whitefellas: are we willing to be caught up with the confrontation that hearing the Spirit of God involves? That was certainly too much for those who heard Jesus read in the synagogue, wasn’t it? For the Isaiah passage Jesus read was too revolutionary for them, as it still is for many of us today. For preaching good news to the poor, doesn’t sound so good if you are rich, especially when it undermines not only your position but the justifications of your privileges and wealth. Indeed, Isaiah chapter 61 is about the biblical Jubilee Year, the Year of Divine Favour, in which debts and unjust social and economic relationships are ended; and in which, vitally, the land itself is renewed, as land is once more recognised, not as the property of a few, but as God’s own gift to the whole people of the land. No wonder Jesus is effectively kicked out of his home town in the story as it is further told by Luke. What then are we willing to give up and face up to, so that Isaiah’s vision may be fulfilled? Are we serious about God’s Jubilee, restoring land and freeing those who are unjustly burdened?
will we truly listen?
Thirdly, and finally, are we able truly to listen, as well as seek to respond: and will we listen deeply? This is an essential part of going into the wilderness, where faith communities must go if they are to find genuine new life today. In that respect, in his recent book, Gary Deverell takes to task the preamble to the Uniting Church’s constitution. That was, he acknowledges, a well-meaning step by the Uniting Church, seeking to recognise First Nations peoples and God’s presence in these lands - way, way, before European invasion. Yet, as Gary argues cogently, it is still built on colonial religious assumptions in which First Nations people and faith insights essentially remain 'invisible'. A genuine living faith, with justice, for us all, therefore calls us into much greater openness and engagement with First Nations people and post-colonial thinking. This begins by listening, deep listening: as the old Kairos ministry saying has it, ‘listen, listen, love love.’
Let me then shut up. For, as First Nations peoples repeatedly tell us, there is a welcome for us all in these lands now known as Australia. It has been whitefellas after all who have been obsessed with turning back the boats, and with 'fortress Australia'. There is still a place too for all of us in reshaping our shared faith in the light of the Spirit speaking to us afresh today. Those things cannot happen however without so many of us beginning again: journeying in the wilderness, willing to face up to confrontation (being accomplices with the marginalised and not just allies); and, above all, without listening, to those who share the Spirit of God with us afresh, and the call to God’s Jubilee.
In the Name of Christ, who comforts and confronts, Amen.
 In chapter 11, ‘Colonizing Indigenous Religion? A Case Study from the Uniting Church in Australia’
by Josephine Inkpin, for Pitt Street Uniting Church Sydney, Sunday 21 January 2024