It is good, no even goodier, to be with you again and I thank Fr Dennis for his invitation.
In the four years since I was part of the parish, I had a time listening to the Lord’s song being sung in a strange land. No wonder I felt homesick for the Hill!
Then it was fifteen months in Jika Jika- a time with not a little hard labour a few challenges and wardens to deal with. That time concluded on Wednesday evening. No, I’m not on parole, apart from possibly being checked out to see if an excessive number of marbles has been lost in the intervening period thus demanding a degree of tolerance when I am lucky enough to reappear later this month.
Just in case you are drawing different conclusions, the Jika Jika I refer to is the Anglican Parish of Jika Jika now comprising All Saints’ Preston, St George’s Reservoir.
Jika Jika has been a time where I felt at home, not because we had both smokey and non-smokey services and noisy gongs (no clanging cymbals,), but because of the people. The strength of the church is the people- always!
Unfortunately there are a lot of people around who make us wonder if we belong to a different species- and I mean that seriously. The violence we hear about and of which we see the consequences in vivid television footage beggars description, defies understanding and makes us ashamed; the neglect of those in special needs is reprehensible.
There are times, too, we wonder when we hear about people even in the church with a lust for power, cruelty of tongue and loathsome actions towards the innocent young. More wounds in the Body of Christ, sadly providing comprehensible reasons why perceived religion is rejected.
Then, frequently outside the church, we see something, we hear of something which epitomises everything we are supposed to be reflecting and that is the centrality of love and its embodiment in Jesus and we know that the Spirit of God cannot be limited by human cruelty or the blasphemously unworthy actions of those who claim to be guided by that mighty, disturbing and creative power.
Fifty years ago, when, like many of you here, I was in Year 1 at school, the writer Albert Camus died. He was a voice of his time and for his time and with an insight into human nature. His novel The Outsider with its depiction of exclusivism at which many churchfolk are so adept, and that mighty, soul-thumping book, The Plague in which he uses the outbreak of the bubonic plague in his native Algeria as an allegory of the occupation of countries by the Nazi forces in the Second World War.
The novelist is interested in the reactions of people to the evil. There are those who seem to pretend it just isn’t there and go on their lives with their eyes blind to the suffering of others. There are those who retreat and with the going getting tough, they get going- away! There are those who follow the old dictum ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’. And then there are those who see that there is something seriously amiss affecting the lives of other people and not only resolve to do something about it but do something- giving and not counting the cost for such calculative thinking is anathema to them.
Camus draws his observations together with two unforgettable statements. The first is, forgive the gender impropriety, ’there are more things in men to admire than to despise’.
Surely when we look at the New Guinea Martyrs we can’t help thinking about the atrocities which go with war, but even then we have to say with a sense of satisfaction that there are more things in human action to admire than despise. Those who believe and trust in the power of crucified and risen love can say nothing else apart from saying that the admirable will win over the despicable- it may take time, but it will happen and does happen.
And the admirable is all around us. Those who care for special people are unconditional lovers who find in giving love that more is received. Too inadequatrely recognised and supported as they are, they would do no less. For that is the humanity of humanity- more to admire than despise.
Comfy and smiley as that may sound, it is a folly to think that care and love will usher in a golden age when they will be needed no more- like smallpox vaccinations.
In The Plague as well as informing his readers that ‘there are more things in human beings to admire than despise’ he also says ‘the plague is always with us’. Those less than desirable things which happen to people through the actions of others, what they have done to themselves or through the [physical, emotional and psychological fragility of our species will always be there.
At the beginning of the service of Compline for the end of the day there used to be this passage from Peter’s first letter:
Brethren [and that includes you too, ladies], be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith.
Well, that set the hearers in a good mind for a calm night’s rest! But isn’t it saying, ‘the plague is always with us’? If you doubt this brush up your Shakespeare, visit the great tragedies of ancient Greece, wander through the pages of history, and look at Syria, share, as I have recently with my assistant priest, the personal and far-reaching effect of the continuing violence in South Sudan. Spend a day in the children’s hospitals of our land , look at some of the residences for the dependent elderly- the need to be alert to the need to care, and to show that the way to love at the heart of all things is through embodied love, and the embodiment of love in Jesus shows what it is all about, and the embodiment of love in the lives of those who give of themselves in times of conflict and in the homes of Australia every day that we truly see Jesus which is enough for us to believe totally or even in part that:
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In fellowship with the New Guinea Martyrs and the mirrors of Christ in this and `every age we are here and once again or even for the first time can take with us the words of Zephaniah:
Do not fear… do not let your hands grown weak. The Lord your God is in your midst.