Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Deuteronomy 18: 15 – 20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8: 1 – 13, Mark 1: 21 – 28

Like many people I have been down at the beach this weekend. Shortly after sunset on Friday night, Australia Day, I found myself watching and listening to the people coming off the beach or walking along the footpath. In the twenty minutes or so I was there (waiting, you will understand, for the Cathedral cat to finish his constitutional walk) I was struck by the multitude of languages being spoken by the passersby. Australia really is an extraordinarily diverse country when it comes to the make-up of its peoples, the languages spoken and customs observed. That should not be such a surprise for prior to the arrival of Europeans there were in excess of 250 aboriginal languages. In a strange way today’s Australia mirrors something of the diversity of the original inhabitants of the land. Perhaps it is something to do with the dreaming of those ancient people, and the dreams of the newer arrivals. This land offers so much in the way of diversity and richness of expression.

One only has to think of the diversity of the natural world to appreciate this. On any given morning I can go for a twenty minute walk in the parklands and on the river bank in the Cathedral environs and both hear and see noisy minors, corellas and sulphur crested cockatoos, the laughter of the kookaburra and caroodling of magpie, the stately black swan and graceful pelican, moorhens, dabchicks, swamp-hens and wood-ducks, rainbow lorikeets screeching in the trees and Eastern rosellas feeding on the lawn, the flycatcher and murray magpies flit about, while the ibis revel in the grey-watered cricket pitch – home to juicy earthworms. In a prayer written for Australia Day and used on Friday we were invited to give thanks for the beaches and reefs, rainforests and mountains, wilderness and desert; for the unique and marvelous ecology of the country. Wallabies and koalas, wombats and fruit bats – these are just a few of the animals, insects and reptiles that inhabit the plains and mountains, above and below ground – and this long before we get into the sparkling waters of the oceans that surround us. Who can stand out in the cold on a frosty night and not marvel at the night sky? Or be enthralled by the wealth of minerals mined from the depths?

The richness and diversity of the peoples of this land is matched by that of the natural order. When we stop to think about it all, we do so with a certain awe and amazement and pride to have a share in the whole.

This diversity does not come without its cost and there is competition for space and resources. The fencing and road-building and damming and channeling often threatens to interfere with the natural order. This natural order has its own life, regardless of the sometimes vain attempts by humans to control. Heat leads to wind which leads to fire; the clouds build and the rains come and sweep away the fences and crops regardless of our best laid plans. And it is true of the human inhabitants of this land. As the Prime Minister said the other day, while we have a wonderful rich land and the most successful multi-cultural society in the world, there are also dark, cruel and terrible periods in our history – the results of which are still being felt by many. High up in one of the clerestory windows is a reminder of the very high death rate of Aboriginal people incarcerated in this country’s gaols.

The miracle is that this huge diversity of peoples and languages, cultures and customs, placed upon a land of equally varied and diverse nature, works at all. And I find myself wondering whether St Paul had similar thoughts as he looked at the melting pot that was Corinth in the 1st century. Here was a city, built largely of freed slaves and self-made people, people proud not be part of the traditional elite, not part of the establishment, willing and able to snub their noses at the toffee-nosed Athenians not far away. Wealthy in their new found trade skills and strategic geographical position, they now found themselves confronted by a new teaching.

The teaching made little sense. Why would anyone want to take seriously a man from the back-water of Galilee in a faraway country who, by all accounts, was an absolute failure and ended up on a cross? Why, in this hard-nosed business-world, should they make space and time in their lives for the concept of love – love which enfolded everyone, leaving no one out, ensuring that even the weakest among them had enough? Why, in this world of dog eats dog, where the strong and the mighty prevail, and the rights of the individual to do what they like was pre-eminent and to hell with the rest…. Why should I bother about what other people think, or do, or believe?

It is to this world, and this community – at least as diverse as ours – that St Paul writes his Epistle, part of which we have heard this morning. We’ve heard only a snatch of the whole, but enough to grasp some of the issues facing the Corinthian church. While couched around the topic of food mores the issue is actually about the contrast between freedom to do exactly what I like, and the responsibility towards others that freedom in Christ brings.

For Paul, the real issue is to deepen our understanding of the love of God – a love that is so great as to be un-measurable. A love that is so different from what the world too often thinks of love; a love that puts the other first – following the example of Him who died on the cross; a love that Paul will describe elsewhere in the epistle as the greatest gift of all.

It is into this love of God, expressed in Jesus, that we are invited to be enfolded and around which to fashion our lives. That does not happen overnight but is a journey – a lifelong journey into the very heart of God.

As we continue to live in this wonderful lucky country may we continue to seek genuine tolerance, respect and understanding of each other, putting right the wrongs of the past and continuing to build a place for all in the sun. As we prayed earlier today, may we be blessed so that we may be a blessing to others.