The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Job 38: 1 – 7, 34 – 41, Psalm 104: 1 – 7, 26, Hebrews 5: 1 – 10, Mark 10: 32 – 45

I have absolutely no mandate for saying this but I am convinced that today’s Gospel reading provided the inspiration for that most endearing greeting of Dame Edna’s: “Hello, Possums.” Of course you need to have an excellent knowledge, not only of the text of Mark 10: 32 – 45, but the text in ancient Latin, used as the official language of the Church for more than a thousand years. What am I talking about? We have just heard the third prediction by Jesus of his death in Jerusalem – pretty serious sort of conversation. It seems to have gone right over the heads, or between the ears, of at least two of his disciples, the brothers James and John. Not at all worried about their leader dying, they are focused on getting power in the new dispensation. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” We can imagine the reaction of the other ten when they got wind of this!

Jesus brushes aside their request: You don’t know what you are asking. “Are you able to drink the cup that I will drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am to be baptised with?” Surely he expects them to back down, embarrassed that they could have the audacity to be so forward. But no, there response is immediate and, as I said earlier, worthy of Dame Edna! In English James and John say, “We are able.” In Latin they say, “Possumus!” Yes, I know it is a cringe-worthy joke – perhaps that is what a weekend at Synod does to one!

This morning’s passage leads on to a discussion by Jesus on leadership – particularly that form of leadership which has become popularly known as ‘servant leadership’. I say popularly because the phrase is bandied about in the literature and language of corporate leadership training with an abandon and complete lack of understanding of what Jesus was actually on about. What leader today intentionally sets his or her face to ‘Jerusalem’ knowing that it will bring disaster and death? What leader honestly takes seriously Jesus’s words that “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all”? The very concept is filled with paradox difficult to grasp. Listen to this poem, quoted in a 1987 booklet entitled “Servant–Leadership Characteristics in Organisational Life” by Don De Graaf, Colin Tulley and Larry Neal

Strong enough to be weak

Successful enough to fail

Busy enough to make time

Wise enough to say “I don’t know”

Serious enough to laugh

Rich enough to be poor

Right enough to say “I’m wrong”

Compassionate enough to discipline

Mature enough to be childlike

Important enough to be last

Planned enough to be spontaneous

Controlled enough to be flexible

Free enough to endure captivity

Knowledgeable enough to ask questions

Loving enough to be angry

Great enough to be anonymous

Responsible enough to play

Assured enough to be rejected

Victorious enough to lose

Industrious enough to relax

Leading enough to serve.

Despite Jesus’s admonition to James and John that they had got it wrong, we continue to say “We are able.” And thank goodness for that. Not that we are able to sit at Jesus’s right or left hand in glory, but that we are able and willing to take up the invitation of Jesus to follow him. It is this ‘can do’ attitude embraced by millions of Christians down the centuries that has made a difference in the world. Things like schools and universities owe their existence to Christian leaders wanting to enable their students to read the scriptures for themselves, to study the words of the great teachers of the past, and hand on the Gospel message to future generations. Today, 18th October, is the Feast Day of St Luke, apostle, evangelist and, at least in popular imagination, doctor. Tonight’s service, at which Raymond Pelly will preach, honours St Luke and includes one of the most moving and challenging parables, found only in Luke – that of the Good Samaritan. That parable must surely have provided the inspiration for Christians to go about their healing and helping work – with its flow-on effect into our modern-day hospitals, hospices and organisations such as Medicin sans Frontier.

Possumus, We are able. It’s a cry very similar to that used by the Obama campaign of 2008: Yes we can. It is what came to mind as I listened to our Archbishop preach at yesterday morning’s Synod Eucharist, and, a few hours later, deliver his Presidential Pastoral Address to members of Synod meeting this weekend at St Peter’s College.

Archbishop Jeffrey began his sermon yesterday by describing a Syrian Christian, arrested, tortured and eventually killed in a most horrible and inhumane way. While it sounds terribly contemporary – the sort of thing we have witnessed with horror at the hands of radical fundamentalists in Syria, he was in fact talking about Ignatius, bishop of the Syrian city of Antioch at around the turn of the first Christian century. Little is known of Ignatius other than what we glean from six surviving letters. From them it is clear he was arrested for being a Christian and taken to Rome, most likely to die painfully and horribly, the crowds cheering and jeering, during one of the so-called ‘games’ put on in the amphitheatres of Rome for the amusement of the people. There are clear parallels between Ignatius and the suffering of people all those years ago with the suffering of today’s Syrians – the long drawn-out civil war, the tens of thousands of refugees streaming across Europe’s borders, the bitter-sweet photo of a Turkish soldier cradling the lifeless body of toddler Alan Kurdi which flashed across the world’s media a few weeks ago.

In welcoming the Federal government’s announcement that Australia would take in 12,000 Syrian refugees, the Archbishop called on all Anglican entities in Adelaide to work together in a ‘sustained and cooperative approach (that) will touch the depth of human need that confronts us’. “I call upon every parish to work with agencies such as Anglicare SA to ensure that we as a Diocese make our contribution to ensuring that those who come to us from trauma find in Australia a community of welcome.” Of course, I found it hard not to be mindful of those already here as part of our community who have found refuge and a ready welcome – and fearful that a future Alan Kurdi could be someone we know well.

Synod as we know it today in the world-wide Anglican Communion – the regular meeting for consultation and decision making of both lay people and clergy – began here in Adelaide in 1855. Adelaide’s first bishop, Augustus Short, called together the first synod in modern times to include the voice of lay people. That historic event took place in the Trinity Church schoolroom on North Terrace on 16 January 1855. Lay and clergy they may have been, but all were definitely male. Women would have to wait a bit longer before having their voice heard in church circles. That was a Possumus moment with a can do attitude – flying in the face of opposition and the naysayers. Short summarised his understanding of the value of Synod in this way. “They cultivate, in short, the Church feeling of brotherly union and cooperation, as opposed to isolated, selfish and individual religion.”

Not only did the Archbishop refer to the 160th anniversary of that first Synod, but, as he put it, to a lesser anniversary – the tenth of his becoming Archbishop of Adelaide. In his Address Bishop Jeffrey reminded us of the crisis the church found itself in a decade ago – the forced resignation of his predecessor and the embroilment of the Diocese in the scandal of sexual abuse – among other things leading to huge financial pressures on the Diocese and a general loss of public trust and confidence in the Church. The Archbishop has personally listened to the stories of hundreds of survivors and, as he said later in the day, will carry some of those stories with him to his grave. As a Diocese we had to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude, put together a ten year financial plan, take steps to arrest the decline in church numbers and, slowly and humbly, rebuild trust and integrity. Healing has been, and continues to be, costly. Should we expect otherwise for those who follow him who went to the cross?

Synod continues and now is not the time or place to unpack all that is happening or being said and decided (for Synod continues this afternoon). You will be able to read the President’s Address on the Diocesan website, and, as soon as it becomes available, on the Cathedral website. Let me end by telling you that four people were singled out by the Archbishop for special recognition and the gift of a beautifully hand-crafted lapel pin. All have strong links with St Peter’s Cathedral and we can, I believe, bask a little in their glory.

The four, who received standing ovations yesterday morning are

  • Mr Alan Perryman, long term servant of our cathedral, key architect of the development of Anglican Funds SA, and National Church treasurer
  • The Hon David Bleby, “Chancellor after the Order of Melchizadek”, advisor to many bishops, ardent bellringer, and long term contributor to the national church in the area of church law
  • Mrs Betty Edwards, servant of Mothers’ Union, and volunteer “Mother in Israel” in Diocesan Office
  • Mrs Robin Radford, Diocesan archivist for many years; steward of our stories; one who worked quietly for so many years in the Diocesan Archives situated above the Cathedral offices.