A sermon given by The Reverend Dr Lynn Arnold AO, Honorary Assistant Priest


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Reconciliation is a concept that at its spiritual best (as in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20) seeks a bringing together of all humanity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our call as Christians is for us to take up the invitation to the ‘ministry of reconciliation which has been given to us’ to quote 2 Cor 5:18, by being ambassadors of it to a hurting world.

However, the concept of Reconciliation is no simple act for it involves components of forgiveness in the wake of truthfulness; for how can there be reconciliation if there has been no honesty about what needs to be reconciled? Likewise, how can there be any true reconciliation in the absence of some form of atonement or acts of seeking and being forgiven?

Our Hebrew Bible reading this evening from Leviticus [16:15-22] is much more relevant than at first reading it might seem. Amidst all its talk of goats, bulls, blood and altars, we can easily lose a profound concept about atonement and forgiveness that it contains. The reading starts with:

He (the high priest) shall slaughter the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the curtain … [v15]

The moment we hear a reading start like this, most of us will just turn off, waiting until we can say ‘phew’ when we hear the words:

Here ends the reading.

To a very significant degree, such a reaction would be entirely understandable. For not only do we no longer slaughter animals and spread their blood on our religious altars, we deliberately don’t do so because our altars lie in the shadow of the Cross. Christ, by his willing surrender to crucifixion, became the once-for-all slaughtered lamb and by his blood we have been redeemed.

But, before we dismiss the rest of tonight’s reading, there are two places we should pause. First there is verse 17:

No one shall be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel.

The high priest makes atonement not only for himself but for everyone. In our terms, Christ became that high priest; but the rest of us, by ‘our manifold sins and wickedness’ as the BCP puts it, are also charged with ‘being sorry for these our misdoings’ committed by ourselves, our house and our nation. After all, Jesus told us individually to pray ‘forgive us our sins’ not just to ‘forgive my sins’. The use of the plural quite clearly indicates that our individual praying should seek atonement for our whole community. What should that look like?

In 2000, Doris Kartinyeri published the story of her childhood which was entitled Kick the Tin. It is the story of her life starting with her stolen childhood which included fourteen years spent in Colebrook Home in the Adelaide Hills, which she described this way:

This was my home for fourteen years. A lot of things happened there, a lot of abuse against the children, sexual abuse, physical abuse. The mental abuse was bad, Bible bashing and brain washing. The strict upbringing confused us and made us vulnerable to the outside world. [p128]

That experience was then followed by a young adulthood in indentured labour and later by an adult life of suffering from mental illness brought on by all that had happened to her. Her spirit had been broken, – Broken Spirit being the title given to a poem she included in her story:

I search for my soul
I search for my heart
My spirit is broken the white fella’s way
I journey into a world of confusion
Travelling deep into my thoughts
My journey is dark with no opening
My cries are not heard
I look into my soul’s emptiness. [p89]

After enormous struggle, it would be through Grace, but sadly not necessarily through the church, that her life journey would arrive at a place we all seek. Towards the end of the book she wrote:

I am a fifty-four year old Ngarrindjeri mimini [woman]. I am proud to be a Nunga. The battles and struggles of living in two worlds that I endured throughout my life have proven my aboriginality. I am Doris. I have learnt to love myself. I love myself. I walk with dignity. I’ve got a lot to offer to my family and friends that is LOVE! [p135]

Her story is deeply moving but what also stood out to me were two apologies contained in forewords to the book. One was written by an elder sister, Doreen Kartinyeri, who had not been taken from her community, who had therefore been able to grow up with her birth family and kin. In her preface to the book, Doreen wrote:

For all those who did not make it back to their loved ones, their families and homes, and missed out on knowing their language, culture, tradition, and identity, we are sorry. [p xvi] [Doreen’s bolding]

The foreword to the book was written by Lowitja O’Donoghue, who had also been at Colebrook at the same time but, being older, had had a role in looking after the infant Doris for three years before herself leaving. She left because she had reached the age where it was her turn to be put out into service; and so, she had not been there for all that would later befall Doris at Colebrook. Lowitja wrote:

To think that I was not there for her in her most lonely and frightened times, brings with it an indescribable pain [p xviii]

Significantly she finished her piece with these words:

For not being there in the hour of your need, I can only say I’m sorry. I just wish I had known what was happening. [p xix]

‘We are sorry’ Doreen had written, ‘I’m sorry’ were Lowitja’s words. But in terms of being sorry, what did they really have to be sorry for? Doreen had not been the one to steal her sister away from her family; Lowitja had not inflicted the sufferings Doris subsequently endured at Colebrook. Their apologies scarcely seem justified; so, can they have any meaning?

Indeed, they can, for in both their apologies we may find an escape from those sorriest of excuses – ‘I didn’t do those things, why do I have to say sorry!’ ‘All these things happened before my time.’ ‘We have to move on, there’s no purpose to trawling through old history.’ ‘I wasn’t born here, what does all this have to do with me?’ – We’ve all heard such phrases before and may have said them ourselves. Such phrases suit the world’s logic and hence all have some worldly justification. But they don’t suit Christ’s logic.

The same Christ who told us to pray:

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. [Luke 11:4]

Also said to us:

Love your neighbour as yourself. [Matt 22:39]


Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these you did it to me. [Matt 25:40]

To each of these seminal phrases, the world justifiably answers: Why? Why forgive? Why love? Why help the hopeless? Even though it makes no practical sense in terms of self-interest or survival of one’s own group to do so, the world does sometimes rationalise common sense positive answers to each ‘why?’, arguing some self-interested altruism as being a viable enough goal; but none of them can ever have the sacramental power expressed by the profoundly simple command of Jesus, quoted in John 13:34:

Love one another as I have loved you. [John 13:34]

This was no statement of altruistic self-interest – there was nothing in it for Jesus if we followed the command. No, Jesus came because we needed forgiving, because we hated our neighbour, because we abandoned those in need; all things which would have justified God in abandoning us, not sending us His Son. Jesus not only came to us but, against all logic, he also said sorry for us, to his Father:

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. [Luke 23:24]

Doreen and Lowitja sought that forgiveness for what they did not know they might have done. Jesus invites us to do the same. In the spirit of Leviticus 16:17, will we seek to make atonement on behalf not just of ourselves, but also of our community and our nation for that which has happened in our society?

Returning to our reading from Leviticus, the second place we should stop is verse 22 involving a live goat. In this case the goat was not to be slaughtered but, after the laying on of hands, was to be sent into the wilderness. The key line being:

The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region, and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

This incidentally is the ‘scapegoat’ of our language – the goat that escapes to the wilderness. On the back of this animal were borne all the sins of the community to be taken into the wilderness of anonymity – the place of forgetfulness. Such a place is meant to be a blessing for all but, too often, ends up being a salve for some and a pain for others. The perpetrators of an iniquity may enjoy the forgetting while the victims may find it hard to just push aside the trauma of what had happened. So how may we sacramentally and together as a community send the goat into the wilderness carrying off remembrance of our iniquities?

‘Forgive and forget’ is a saying that is sometimes too easily used in dealing with the traumas of either personal circumstance or bigger picture history. We are called to genuine forgiveness – both to forgive and to be forgiven; but forgetting can only happen when there has been truthful knowing beforehand. If we have not truly known how our actions as a community, past and continuing, have hurt and traumatised, how can we seek to atone, to make apology, to seek forgiveness? How indeed may we move forward in a spirit of true harmony and reconciliation?

If all parties to a deed of community suffering are to become reconciled, there must first be the search for truth about what happened, a striving for a shared understanding of the events. Once that deep remembrance has taken place, then and only then can atonement be offered, forgiveness proffered and the events placed on the back of the scapegoat to be sent into the wilderness.

In 2 Cor 5:18, Paul invited us all to be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation to a hurting world. We can’t do that if we primarily want to feel sorry for ourselves; such a call demands of us that we acknowledge the truth of the pain of others in our world before we seek, as a united community for the scapegoat to help us all move on.

Marni nao budni yaintya yertangga, bilyonirna yertangga.

May we walk together in harmony, in a spirit of reconciliation.