A sermon given by The Right Reverend Chris McLeod, Dean

The First in the Lent Sermon Series on Reconciliation:
Reconciliation and First Nations Peoples

During Lent the preachers at evensong will explore the theme of reconciliation. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. 2 Corinthians 5: 19 states that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…’. Moreover, reconciliation involves human relationships as well. We are called to be reconcilers with God and with each other. My sermon tonight will explore reconciliation and First Nations peoples. It is a theme that has become very dominant over the last few decades. Here is the text that will provoke our thinking on this subject.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister] has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[j and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5: 23 -24)

  • There are several points I wish to make on this. Reconciliation with First Nations peoples is a complex matter. It acknowledges the wrongs of the past while accepting that the consequences of these are felt in the present.
  • The first issue is who is to be the reconciler? So often when the subject of reconciliation comes up in the workplace or church it is often given to the First Nations member of staff. We (First Nations people) tend to be left with the work of Reconciliation. That is missing the point. In fact, the responsibility sits with the one who ‘remember that your brother or sister has something against you’.
  • This raises the often-repeated question: well, I’m not responsible for the acts of my forbears, so why do I need to do anything about it? My answer to this is that we are all beneficiaries of the actions of the past. Those of us who enjoy the ownership of land and other goods do so because our forebears took the land, or bought the land that the Crown had taken, from the original custodians. I include myself in this as my forbears were non-Aboriginal as well. We need to recognise that the First Nations peoples were dispossessed of their land. The myth of peaceful settlement is just that a myth.
  • Thirdly, the events of the present are also part of our collective responsibility. There are many issues that need our attention that are the consequences of colonisation: First Nations poverty, ridiculous levels of incarceration, poor physical and mental health, high rates of suicide, especially in the young, substance abuse, violence, poor educational outcomes, underemployment, homelessness, a sense of directionless and loss of hope felt by many First Nations peoples … and I could go on. 
  • Related to this is the issue of forgiveness. Lynn Arnold will take up the question of reconciliation and forgiveness further in his sermon. However, I will say at this point that reconciliation and forgiveness, though connected, are in some ways separate. Reconciliation is a journey in which forgiveness can often be the start, but forgiveness is not the end.  The parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ is instructive here.
  • As Christians we are always part of a community – the church, and we also take our part in the community around us. The call of Jesus to love the stranger and our neighbour challenges us to engage with the community around us. As Christians we have another vision for the world, which doesn’t necessarily align with the one that we presently live in. It is vision of a world shaped by God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of justice announced and inaugurated by Jesus.
  • As Christians we are called to leave our gift at the altar and be reconciled. Do the First Nations have something against this nation? I say the answer is yes, not in an angry, punishing way, but in a truthful and honest way.  As Christians we can help lead the process of reconciliation with First Nations peoples, and many of us are. What can we do to assist in the process of reconciliation?
  1. Know the whole story of Australia’s settlement and its impact on the First Nation peoples. For many years the history of Australia was taught at schools and universities with very little mention of First Nations peoples and the consequences of colonisation. Thankfully, that has started to change. It is incumbent upon us to know the ‘whole’ history of Australia as best we can. This is not about making people feel guilty, but it is a truthful telling of our shared history.
  2. Racism is an issue here in Australia. Most people equate racism with neo-Nazism, and most of us are not neo-Nazis. However, racism has more to do with the lens by which we view the world. Racism views the world from the vantage point of white superiority. It is endemic to all our institutions and was present at the foundation of our country. It is such a given that most of us do not even consider it. We take for granted that white European culture is superior to all others. Racism can also be more overt. Think about the Adam Goodes situation several years ago. It was clearly racist. Confronting our own racism, and the racism buried deep in our institutions, is challenging but it is so necessary.
  3. As Christians we also believe in the power of prayer. Prayer not only connects us to mind of God, but prayer also conform us to the will of God. Prayer is transformative as it shapes us as much as it brings to God’s attention those things that are placed upon or hearts.

Let us pray:

Dear God, we who have come from every land give thanks for our country, Australia. This earth that feeds us, the shores that bind us, the skies that envelop our freedom. We give our thanks and praise. Let us look back with courage; See the truth and speak it. Let us look around with compassion; See the cost and share it. Let us look forward with hope; See what can be and create it. Amen