A sermon given during the 6pm Choral Evensong, by The Rev’d Cameron Burr, on the 18th of September 2022.
Good evening, I thought that I would take this opportunity to tell you all a little more about myself and try and weave that in with the season of creation and tonight’s bible reading. For those of you who don’t know me my name is Cameron Burr, and I am a deacon in the diocese of Adelaide. As part of the formation process, I have been invited to spend the month of September with you at the Cathedral. It is a great privilege to be able to share part of my journey toward ordained ministry with the Adelaide Cathedral, and especially to be under the guidance of Bishop Chris. I am a proud Booandik man, my people come from South-eastern, South Australia down around the Mount Gambier region to just across the Victorian boarder of the Glenelg River region. My ancestors share a long and personal history with the St Peters Cathedral and the Adelaide Diocese that dates back over 150 years, to the time of Bishop Augustas Short and the exploration and construction of the Cathedral.
My last name is Burr comes from Mount Burr, an extinct volcano that sits about 10-15km outside of Millicent. Mount Burr itself was names after George Dominicus Burr a Professor and Mathematics at Sandhurst military College, whose son Thomas Burr, a surveyor, accompanied Governor George Grey on the expedition to Mount Gambier in 1844. However, my family name comes from my great great grandmother, who was orphaned as a young girl. It is not understood how or why she was orphaned or where her people went, there are stories of some mass deaths of Booandik peoples at the hands of local farmers taking place in and around that area at the time. But in any case, having come from the Mount Burr area she subsequently ended up with that being listened as her surname on government documents.
Having no parents or mob to care for her she was taken in by a Lutheran missionary by the name of Christina Smith. Christina Smith convinced that the Aboriginal people were victims of European aggression, disease and land depredation yearned to be used by God in ministering to the remnant of the formerly numerous and powerful Booandik people. In 1865, a time when most of the early European settlers saw indigenous peoples as a primitive and unable to be tort how to read or write, with the help of funding from Bishop Augustus and the Adelaide Diocese Christina Smith was able to achieve her mission vision. Going against the culture of the time she established a school and subsequent orphanage for Aboriginal children from the local area, one such orphan and beneficiary of Christinas love and Bishop Augustas generosity was my great great grandmother. So, it is with a massive sense of honour and respect that over 150 years later I am able to stand in front of you on my journey to ordained ministry in the Adeliade Diocese.
When I was told that I would be visiting the Cathedral during the season of creation and that I would get to preach a sermon on creation my initial thought was “great I will get the opportunity to preach a feel-good sermon on the beauty, the majesty, the mystery and the grandeur of God’s creation”, which is a massive part of my own personal testimony as an avid lover of all things nature, snorkelling, hiking, star gazing, etc. When ever I’m struggling with something in my life, whenever I’m mulling over a big decision, or even when I’m in a good mood and just want to get out of the house, you will more then likely find me in a garden, at the beach or siting on a rock in the middle of the bush. Creation and the natural environment have been a huge part of what lead me to God and continues to help me grapple with the things of God, the beauty of nature and the sheer mystery of creation is what lead me to God and subsequently the church. I didn’t start attending church until I was about 22-23 years old, but prior to that I was always obsessed with creation, with nature with the universe, so it was very hard for me not to think that there was something bigger at play, this wasn’t all just a cosmic accident. I could never articulate what that bigger thing was, what it looked like, how it operated or how it all came to be, but I did know there was more. That is what set me on the journey to discovering God and finally being able to somewhat put all of that into words and being able to connect with God, the creator of all this beauty, majesty, and grandeur.
Unfortunately, having a look at tonight’s reading from Jeremiah that is not what we see, in Jeremiah we see the complete opposite. Starting from verse ten we see that the grasslands and wilderness are desolate and untraveled, there are no cattle to be heard, the birds have fled, and all of the animals are gone. The land has been ruined, it is a desert waste land too desolate for anyone to be able to cross, the water is poisonous, what little food there is is no good for eating and the peoples have been scattered among the nations into foreign lands. When we think of creation this is not what we think of, or at least it is not what I think of. But nevertheless, the harsh reality is that this is what’s happening to the lands and peoples around us. Now I am well aware that we will not all agree as to what the cause of this is but there is no escaping the reality of it. As Bishop Chris said last Sunday morning, we in Australia, being such a small country by population, with the majority of us living in the city limits and being so fare from the rest of the world are somewhat sheltered from the full effects of these extremes. Having said that if you travel fare enough outside of the city limits and the green pastures you will see that Australia is not immune to this, there are some places which once upon a time used to be beautiful pastoral land, now it is so dry and barren that cattle, and sheep are literally starving to death.
So, this passage in Jeremiah could quite easily be written to the people of today, we only need to turn on our televisions to hear about, poverty, famine, crop destruction, poisonous water ways, wars, civil conflict. People having to flee from their native country to foreign lands to find a better or safer life for their families, yet we constantly ask ourselves and others “why does God let this happen, why doesn’t God step in and do something about it? Well Jeremiah asks the people this exact question, “who is smart enough to understand why the land has been ruined and laid waste like a wilderness”? Now this is a rhetorical question, it was given in the negative form because there was nobody there who was smart enough to tell them the word of God, because they had lost sight of the things of God. So, God steps in and tells them, “The reason for this is because the people have forsaken my Laws, they have disobeyed my voice, they have followed their own hearts, and have gone after false idols”.
So, in hearing the passage from Jeremiah tonight my question to all of us, including myself, is not why does God allow these things to happen? But instead, what is it that we are doing that allows these things to keep happening? Are we listening to the voice of God, are we obeying the commands of God to be good and faithful servants, are we being wise stewards with all that God has intrusted us with, or have we made for ourselves false idols. This mornings Gospel reading told us that we can not serve two masters, for either we will hate the one and love the other, or we will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Now going back to Bishop Augustas and his funding of Christina Smith school and orphanage, let me put his decision into perfective. His decision to fund the school took place right in the middle of the time between the government stopping funding to churches, and the exploration and of the Adelaide Cathedral, continuing well into the construction phase of the Cathedral, which I’m sure was a huge financial commitment. But Bishop Augustas did not allow those big financial situations to influence his decision in helping those in need. He could have quite easily heard about what Christina was going and thought it was a great project and he may very well of liked to help but could have rightfully said that the diocese was not in the financial position to help. Instead, he listened to the voice of God, he saw the Aboriginal people as being equals, as children of God and as a part of Gods beautiful creation. He was a wise steward of the resources that God had entrusted him with.
So, my question to us all today is, what is our idol, what is the idol that we have made in our lives that is stopping us from hearing the voice of God, what is it that is stopping us from being wise stewards of Gods beautiful and abundant creation. What can we do to help restore, or care for God’s creation and Gods people? The breaking of Gods Laws, the destruction of Gods creation and the neglect of Gods people was not something that happened over night. It has taken multiple generation for us to find ourselves in the situation that we are in, so it makes sense that it would take an equal amount of time for us to restore things, in Gods help. So may not live to see the fruits of your labour but I ask you to think of your children and grandchildren. In 150 plus years’ time, you never know what the payoff is going to be.