This week marks the beginning of a program to accomplish reconciliation between Australia's indigenous people, and those races who have come here since European settlement in 1788.
A conference in Melbourne this week will consider reconciliation between the two communities. Justice lies at the heart of reconciliation. For there can be no reconciliation in Australia as long as serious injustices are suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples. Governments have established commissions and enquiries, but have then ignored their recommendations. No more so than this week.
All churches recognise that past and continuing injustices cannot be ignored. True reconciliation requires action to establish a more just society. For us as people of faith, the task of reconciliation with justice can never be abandoned.
Addressing the continuing injustices, inequities and negative community attitudes requires sustained courage, determination and creativity. Especially is this so in the face of rising racism among some people stirred by Mrs Pauline Hanson. Our failure to achieve reconciliation through apathy, ignorance or complacency, bequeaths to succeeding generations increasing pain and violence. Such failure compromises the integrity of our nation and leaves a festering sore at the heart of our national life.
We must require and enable national leaders to deal with these substantial issues with persistence and respect. Our desire is for indigenous and non-indigenous people to live together harmoniously in and with this land.
The Government apology came late, more than 60 years after the injustice began, but it did come. President Bill Clinton wiped a tear away as he stood at the podium. "What was done cannot be undone, but we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away, we can look at you in the eye, and finally say, on behalf of the American people, what the United States Government did was shameful, and I am sorry."
That is precisely what Mr Howard must say to those Aboriginal people who were taken away from their parents and placed in white institutions as part of the Government's policy of assimilation of the black community into the white community thus destroying their heritage and family relationships.
THE ISSUE OF ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY.
Our leaders must feel obliged by public opinion to follow through the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. If not such deaths will continue as they have over the past years since the report was released. Nothing has changed and it remains a hindrance to reconciliation. A new spirit is needed among Australians to work for justice and reconciliation.
This week, we have celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. This was the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the first believers. Today is Wesley Day when we remember Rev John Wesley felt his heart "strangely warmed" by the Holy Spirit on May 24, 1738. The confluence of these three significant events this week is saying to me we must carefully look at the church's strategy towards its own life, the lives of its members and the life of our community and seek a new spirit among us.
We all need the enlivening presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we look at the early church we see some signs of strategy among the members for the church and the community. Paul travelled extensive through the Roman provinces and all the major cities of the Empire engaging community leaders in discussion and debate about the new values Jesus Christ brought to the world.
The early church did not sit down and say, "Let's have a national Assembly, decide on some reports and establish a five-year plan and get going." Instead they sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The eminent Church historian Michael Green says "There was an openness to the Spirit's guidance, which led them into hot places.
I rather covet that for the modern church. You see, a lot of the mainline churches are not going anywhere. My church doesn't have any discernible strategy. It's almost a matter of "How do we keep ourselves from going out of business?"
Often churches have no strategy, not because they are trusting the Holy Spirit and are open to new options, but because they are concerned only about keeping their people happy. I want to be part of a church fellowship that has a strategy of being open to where the Spirit is putting them. Their strategy should arise from their location and gifting, with guidance from the Spirit."
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the church this week. But earlier He had foretold of His coming. His words were self-explanatory: John 14:16-26 "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 26 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 16:5-15 Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."
Jesus was giving a helper, a comforter, a counsellor, an encourager, a strategist, and intercessor who would guide and support believers. The Rev John Stott of London makes it clear why: "The Christian life is inconceivable without the Holy Spirit. The Christian faith and life depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit: the Spirit convicts us of sin, opens our eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit causes the New Birth, bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, transforms us into the image of Christ, is the earnest of our final inheritance, and so on. Every stage and every part of the Christian life is impossible without the Holy Spirit." "Christianity Today" January 8, 1996.
Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to be with us as a helper no matter what situation in which we would find ourselves. From a shy person facing a new job, to a teacher in a class of aggressive students, to an ill person facing death, to a competent businessman making an important decision, Jesus promised a Helper to be with us to guide, support, comfort and aid us.
One amazing testimony was given by a great explorer in the Antarctic, who had a long and arduous journey back to safety in a rowing boat if his men were to survive. Sir Ernest Shackleton survived and returned to England a hero. He reported on his Antarctic Explorations and told the King of England of his consciousness of God being with him as he travelled lands never seen by man before. "Bending above the oars, struggling through the snow, battling across the ranges - always there was with us Another. He made the difference between triumph and disaster. He brought us through".
The Holy Spirit makes human achievement that we think is impossible, possible. Sometimes He heals. Sometimes He guides. Sometimes He comforts. But always He is there to help. How unfortunate that some immature people judge others as not having the Holy Spirit as they, thinking their gift of God's Spirit is a superior one, and who believing they possess some gift of the Holy Spirit do not show forth any of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The testimony of Rev John Wesley of his experience in Aldersgate Street, London on May 24th, 1738 has passed into folklore among many Christians. Someone read the preface to Luther's commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley was deeply moved and later wrote, "my heart was strangely warmed and an assurance was given me that Christ had died for my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
Earlier, Wesley had observed other Christians and had concluded "those people have got something I have not." At Aldersgate Street what he had understood with his mind he now felt in his heart. At first he thought that the profound experience the Lord gave him there marked the occasion when he became a Christian.
Later, in 1770, looking back with greater wisdom, he put a significant footnote in the page in his diary which recounted the incident. He now realised that he had been a Christian before. But, in the centre of London he received full assurance. He explained: "I was a Christian before but I only had the faith of a servant, but not the faith of a son."
There was no highly charged atmosphere with people trying to work up an emotional experience. It was simply feeling his heart strangely warmed. He had deeply committed Himself to Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit revealed Himself within. Would you like that indwelling Spirit of God to reveal Himself to you? Commit yourself to Christ unreservedly. Seek to serve Him not as a servant but as a child of God. We need a new Spirit upon our land to bring reconciliation between people. Invite God's Spirit within.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
JOHN WESLEY'S MESSAGE FOR TODAY S Harper Victor 1988.
THE SACRED ANOINTING T Sargent Hodder & Stoughton 1994.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS B Chant Tabor College 1993.
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