A sermon given during the 6:00pm Choral Evensong, by guest preacher, Lay Minister Jack Monaghan, on the 20th August 2023.

Matildas and Unity – Evensong Sermon – Jack Monaghan

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19.14)

Unless you’ve been living under an enormous rock, it’s been hard to overlook the recent Women’s Football World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. The atmosphere in the country was electric, unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. Gatherings brought people together in a collective spirit to share in the positivity of supporting a common cause. This created an atmosphere filled with pride and a sense of national unity that was truly remarkable.

I’ve been trying to discern the key differences between this World Cup and past ones, especially the men’s tournament. There are striking similarities between the Socceroos (men’s team) and the Matilda’s. Both teams have participated in previous World Cups, featuring players who consistently excel in their respective leagues. These players also compete internationally in some of the world’s most competitive leagues. Sam Kerr, for instance, has risen to fame as not just a prominent figure in Australian sports, but also on a global scale. At one point, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold’s remarkable performance during a penalty shootout led Richard Marles to resign and announce her the Minister of Defence. This showcases the immense impact of her heroic efforts.

However, there’s a notable difference in this situation. A larger number of people watched the Matilda’s the other night than anything this country has previously witnessed. The distinction lies in the amalgamation of dedicated event supporters and those who don’t typically engage in sports-related activities. What we’ve observed is an unprecedented level of involvement spanning the entire community. This includes the usual eventgoers along with extended families encompassing elders, grandparents, parents, and children. They all united to share in the highs and lows of a cause that resonated with everyone.

I’m not diminishing the significance of other sporting accomplishments or events, but this one held a unique place. The sight of young children interviewed on the news at school and people from all walks of life on the streets, hailing from different countries, displayed a collective indifference toward the outcomes, and instead, they simply yearned to be part of this exceptional experience. The enthusiasm was contagious and spread throughout the community.

The remarkable unity that emerged from a diverse group of individuals was truly extraordinary. As a Christian community, and specifically within the Anglican context, this is a lesson I hope we can draw from. What’s equally exciting is that this has brought enthusiasm not only to women’s sports and empowerment but also to the development of a family-friendly sports culture.

Drawing a connection between tonight’s readings from Genesis and Psalm 67 with the Matilda’s might seem like quite a stretch. Obviously, there’s no account of Jacob, Ephraim, and Manasseh gathering to watch the Matilda’s. However, the underlying themes in our Old Testament readings are surprisingly relevant to our present society.

These themes include Unity and Community, Blessings and Success, the Passing Down of Knowledge through Generations, Moments of Joy and Celebration, Global Reach and Impact, and the Unpredictable Nature of Outcomes.

We can see the unity in our readings within the family interaction of Jacob and from the Psalmist when Nations unite. The uniting factor in this was God just like throughout this World Cup period. The remarkable unity among individuals and nations converging in our community to offer praise and receive blessings has been an unmistakable gift of God. This phenomenon has extended beyond just family circles and has touched diverse groups and individuals from a wide array of cultural backgrounds.

From Moroccans and Koreans dancing together on Manton Street to Chinese and English citizens gathering to cheer on their respective countries in a friendly yet competitive spirit, we’ve witnessed a truly wonderful showcase of unity. What stands out is the coming together of vastly different individuals from regions that have, at times, experienced strained political and social interactions. 

This World Cup has demonstrated its ability to unite people under a shared objective, nurturing a sense of belonging and a shared identity. This goes beyond our Australian community and extends to the global stage as well.

Blessings and success are prevalent in Genesis when Jacob blesses his grandchildren and, in the Psalm, when God judges’ people with equity. These are also fervently sought after within the backdrop of the World Cup. All teams and supporters have earnestly prayed for divine favour and triumph. However, it’s crucial to shift our focus to the blessing of wholesome sportspersonship and highlight how this has yielded success in fostering friendships and camaraderie among individuals. This is what the Church is because God is at work, it’s not solely about clinching victories; we can achieve triumph in terms of the connections we form.

This form of winning transcends the game itself. Even without securing the ultimate victory on the scoreboard. As we can see at the beginning of the Psalm, the radiant light of God’s grace shines upon everyone, encompassing both winners and participants alike.

I’ve previously highlighted the engagement of new individuals in this World Cup. Nevertheless, we mustn’t overlook the significant role that learning from elders, parents, and grandparents plays. The concept of transmitting information and wisdom from one generation to the next stands as one of the most profound blessings one can bestow.

The act of sharing something with a cherished family member or loved one weaves a sense of continuity and connection that’s truly invaluable. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. I encourage you to continue fostering these connections whenever possible.

Joy and celebration can be seen in the blessing Jacob bestows upon his grandchildren, embodying the idea of unforeseen outcomes and a jubilant reverence for the plans of God. This resonates between our readings and the behaviour witnessed by everyone during this period. As I mentioned earlier, fans from all corners of the globe have united to partake in this competition. The unadulterated joy and sheer ecstasy that have graced people’s expressions have been truly remarkable. This is what our Church is like when we come together.

A profound message about God’s global influence surfaces, especially in Psalm 67 verse 4.

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.”

If this very sentiment hasn’t been mirrored in the World Cup and the potential it holds for our unity, I’m not certain what else could demonstrate it.

One of the final insights from our scripture revolves around the notion of unforeseeable outcomes. At the end of the Genesis reading, Jacob provides unexpected favour to the younger generation. One thing that impressed me about the World Cup was that while the players were young it brought generations together in a manner of inclusivity, embracing each other in love and respect. Unforeseeable outcomes echoed in the unpredictable results often witnessed in the World Cup. Australia, not traditionally a Football powerhouse, now stands among the Top 4 teams globally. This not only adds excitement in terms of sporting achievement but also underscores how God’s surprises can kindle renewed hope within us, showcasing our potential given the opportunity.

During this period, we’ve been fortunate to witness a unifying moment, offering us a glimpse into what God’s world can genuinely be. The unity I’ve observed has evoked a profound sense of positivity and optimism for the future. It’s a sentiment we should infuse into all aspects of our lives particularly our Christian mission. Just to be clear, this unity I’m referring to doesn’t imply uniformity. We need not be identical or act identically; what truly matters is embracing a unifying mindset. As children of God, let’s embody that unity.

I have used the context of the Women’s Football World Cup to explore the themes of unity and community, blessings and success, passed down knowledge, joy and celebration, universal reach and impact, and the unpredictable nature of God’s outcomes. I encourage you to embody these in all you do as Christians.