Preaching on Australia Day?

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Is it a good idea to preach on the topic of Australia day? I will be doing so this year, and the fact that Australia Day falls on a Sunday makes it a good opportunity.

It is good to teach people how to think Biblically about Australia. In a democracy we all have to decide how to vote, and presumably, our vote will reflect our theology, and echo our prayers for our nation.

It is good to teach people how to think Biblically about Australia. In a democracy we all have to decide how to vote, and presumably, our vote will reflect our theology, and echo our prayers for our nation.

I have just read Stan Grant’s book Australia Day, which I highly recommend. He writes as an indigenous man, and his book makes it clear that the fundamental issue is what does it mean for us to be Australians.

If you want to preach on this topic, you could take passage from the Bible—‘love God and love your neighbour’ would be a good text, because it: (1) points to our primary call to love God; (2) raises important questions about who are our neighbours [presumably all Australians] (and who our nation’s neighbours are), and; (3) how we should love them! Or you could preach from Amos 1 or Revelation 18 about how God judges nations. Or on the ten commandments. I will be preaching from Naboth’s vineyard and Revelation 18.

It is a difficult task to preach on Australia Day, because there are so many different perspectives, and so many strongly held views lie beneath the surface.

It is a bit like preaching at the funeral of, say, a powerful grand-father or grand-mother. Some present may think they were wonderful and never did any harm. Others may feel that they were neglected or harmed by them. Some may think they did a good job, others that they were tyrants, or stupidly frittered their lives away. Some may feel personally hurt by them; others may resent the damage they caused; some may think that they were treated badly by others in the family. They may have made great contributions to the community, but failed their family. The funeral, the prayers, and the sermon need to allow for all these conflicting responses. I often find that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in families!

So, from my perspective, I want to speak plainly on the evil results of the British invasion and theft of the land, but also recognise that those Christians who came brought the gospel to indigenous people, and also recognise that despite the good intentions of those Christians, they also did some harm. I have decided that I can’t cover all of these kinds of responses to Australia Day in the sermon.

As the life of individuals is a mixture of good God-given human potential, sinfulness, God’s common grace, and in the case of believers, God’s saving grace, good works, and God’s constant forgiveness. This is also true of the life of nations: they are a mixture of good God-given human potential, sinfulness, God’s common grace, and—where there are Christian believers—God’s saving grace, along with the good works they do.

Nations are a mixture of good God-given human potential, sinfulness, God’s common grace, and —where there are Christian believers—God’s saving grace.

So I have written a prayer for the congregation to say in response to the sermon. You may like to use it, or to adapt it, or to write your own prayer.

Its purpose is to help people process their responses to Australia Day, to model the kind of responses they should make, and to show them the kind of prayers they could pray regularly for our nation.

Gracious heavenly Father,

We thank and praise you for your creation of this world, including this land of Australia. We praise you for its beauty and its bounty, for mountains, hills and plains, for rivers, creeks and seas, and wonderful variety of animals, birds, and sea-creatures.

We praise you for the peoples to whom you first entrusted this land, each one made in your image, and all loved by you. We thank you for their careful management of the land, for the strength of their communal life, and the richness of their culture.

We lament the damage done to them by the arrival of the British in 1788. For the loss of life, land, language, livelihood, culture, and the damage done to structures of their communities. We grieve the sins of coveting, theft and murder committed by the invaders, and their failure to recognise the God-given human dignity and rights of the indigenous people. We lament the damage done to this land by greed, bad management, arrogance and ignorance. We pray that indigenous people may find their rightful place as citizens, and that their voices would be heard in our society. We pray that you would help us close the gap in the provision of health, education, housing, justice, and opportunity.

We praise you for Christians who came to Australia, who continued in their faith, who prayed and read their Bibles, who lived to honour you, who loved their neighbours, who planted churches, and who worked for gospel growth in their own generation, and for generations to come.

We thank you for Christian people who tried to defend the indigenous people, who provided for them, who brought them the gospel of the Lord Jesus, who translated the Bible into their languages, and who recognised their common humanity. At the same time we grieve their mistakes, and any damage they did, while trying to do good.

We thank you that Australia has provided a new start for people from many countries in every generation. We especially praise you that many who arrived with very few resources have been able to find education, training, and employment, and have enriched our common life.

Please forgive Australia for our greed, our worship of money, possessions, comfort and happiness, and our neglect of you, your Son, and your salvation. Please reform and revive your churches, that we may be a shining light for our nation, may serve your will for this country, and may bring many to saving faith in Christ. We thank you for indigenous Christians, and pray that they would continue in faith, love and hope.  Please raise up the next generation of leaders for their communities and churches, and prosper their work and ministry.

Please give us good government, wise policies, justice and equity, and the ability and wisdom to tackle the major issues long-term of our day. Please rid us of corruption, incompetence, selfishness, greed, inequalities, and self-indulgence. Help us to contribute generously to our neighbouring nations, and to our world.

Please have mercy on all Australians, and teach us to trust in your Son and our Saviour, to love you, and to love our neighbours. May your name be sanctified in Australia, your kingdom come, and your will be done.

For Christ’s sake,

Amen

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