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Easter Luncheon &
Last week the Aboriginal Commissioners of ATSIC had dinner at the Lodge with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and the Minister for the Reconciliation Process. This was an attempt to progress reconciliation between the indigenous people of the Australia and the white community.
There is a genuine desire by most Australians for measures that will result in practical reconciliation, and which will meet the deep needs of the Aboriginal people to hear the people of Australia are sorry for the years of colonialisation, neglect and abuse. With the approaching national Corroboree 2000 in Sydney on May 27th the process has become a matter of urgency. The Council For Aboriginal Reconciliation are preparing the declaration, disputing over words like "self-determination", "colonised", "stolen" and "apology". Some wonder why the fuss over the semantics? They do not realise the legal implications of Governments formally saying "sorry" which could lead to class action lawsuits and multi-billion dollar claims. Meanwhile the claim that 10% of the people not being a "generation" has caused embarrassment to all for its insensitivity. There is further conflict over the notion of Aborigines being described as separate people to other Australians and that indigenous people have special and collective rights over other Australians. Difficult those these problems are, there are a compounding difficulties for many people involving the Wik and Marbo decisions, the issue of mandatory sentencing, the implication of the "stolen generation" report and the continuing scandal of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Australians are going through a difficult exercise of reconstructing social justice and reform. Along with economic and tax, industrial and welfare reforms, here is social reform. It is easy to blame previous generations for what they did which in hindsight was deficient. I looked at my notes made in 1958, from which I argued the case for integration of Aboriginal people into the community as opposed the Government policy of assimilation. Multi-culturalism would have been totally opposed then. This was a time when the union movement was urging a white Australia policy, and Arthur Calwell, famous for his jibe, "Two Wongs don't make a white" was promoting restricted immigration policies.
Fortunately there is growing enlightenment. As the Australian of the year 2000 Sir Gustav Nossal AC, has said "A national ethical point of signal importance is the attitude to aboriginal reconciliation. While hundreds of thousands of Australians have made a sincere commitment to reconciliation, many are still sitting on the fence and a minority is opposed. A National Declaration of Reconciliation will shortly be issued. An ethical Australia would certainly give it strong support."
1. The importance of reconciliation
Reconciliation is important to all Christians because at heart there is a principle of justice. There can be no reconciliation in Australia as long as serious injustices are suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples. All churches recognise that past and continuing injustices cannot be ignored.
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. 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. We desire indigenous and non-indigenous people to live together harmoniously. There is a ministry of reconciliation and as Christians we must pray and work towards reconciliation. I heard Mr Howard say last week that "there is an important spiritual aspect of reconciliation." He is right.
2. Reconciliation is the Heart of the Gospel
No reconciliation is complete until the hearts of the people are reconciled with each other.
At Australia's first Praise Corroboree in Parliament House Canberra every denomination and many tribal groups were represented. The Prime Minister, willingly knelt in the centre of a group of Christian tribal elders who placed their hands on his head and prayed for him, for the healing of the land and for positive community relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. As they prayed over the Prime Minister, reconciliation was evident. I felt there was a beginning of saying to each other, "We earnestly desire your understanding and forgiveness as we seek to understand and forgive.
We stand at the foot of the Cross, the ultimate symbol of all reconciliation. It is where estranged and alienated parties can meet. We identify with the suffering that took place there, and we hope that identification will bring us together. Only by the blood of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit can we put hurts behind us and go forward." The ministry of reconciliation must be based upon this message of reconciliation.
3. We must be ambassadors of reconciliation
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." Instead they sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The eminent Church historian Michael Green says "Today a lot of the mainline churches are not going anywhere. It's almost a matter of "How do we keep ourselves from going out of business?" Often churches have no strategy, because they are not trusting the Holy Spirit and are open to new options. They are concerned only about keeping open and their people happy." Open and happy is not good enough. All believers must work to end division. We can no longer remain alienated. We must be reconciled. Richard Moore writes: "The Church is charged by God to carry on a ministry of reconciliation: bringing the divided parties together under the Lordship of Christ; helping the defeated to find dignity, courage, and power; uniting men in a mutual acceptance grounded in their sonship to the God and Father of us all. We must reconcile them to God even when they are unaware and uncommitted."
(Urban Church Breakthrough R Moore p179.)
That reconciliation which can bridge the gulfs that divide us, must be the primary message of the church. It is not to be based upon whom has the strongest arguments, the largest economic resources, or holds the rights to land and property. Paul implores his listeners to be reconciled to God first. On the basis of our obedience to God, we use the Scriptures to ensure justice. God gives a message of reconciliation to proclaim and a ministry of reconciliation to perform.
The black Christian leader John Perkins, says: "If the purpose of the gospel is to reconcile us to God and to our fellow man, if our mission is to be God's ambassadors of reconciliation, how do we fulfil that mission? It's tempting for us to start with a list of things to do. But that is not how the work of reconciliation begins. Before we can do the work of God, we must be the people of God - the believing fellowship, the Body of Christ. We cannot achieve Christ's mission alone; we must work as a Body, each one a part of the whole. The believing fellowship must be a living demonstration of the love that God gives us for one another. Our invitation to others then is "Come join us in the fellowship which we have with each other and with God". Before others join our fellowship, we must have a fellowship. Before we can do the work of the church, we must be the church. To do the work of reconciliation, we must be a reconciled fellowship, by being the Body of Christ. Our love for each other gives credibility and power to our witness. We must begin by being. Fellowship is not complete until the fellowship is engaged in mission. Being is not complete until it issues in doing." "With Justice for All" p138.
4. The whole meaning of Easter has to do with God reconciling us to himself and of his giving us the task of becoming ambassadors of reconciliation
When people need reconciliation, it normally involves fault on both sides. Not so with the case between God and us. We moved away from God. It is we who need to be reconciled to God, not God to us! That is possible through Jesus Christ by His death for our sins! Reconciliation comes through Jesus' death on the cross. God took Christ, who knew no sin, to represent our sin and to receive the punishment due for sin in His death on the cross. The result is that we, who were alienated from God by our sins, are reconciled back to God! That's the Good news! Through Christ's death we become holy, blameless and irreproachable in His sight, because our trespasses are not imputed to us.
When we understand the meaning and process of "reconciliation" we begin to appreciate the wonderful extent of God's grace and His love for us. But God went beyond sending His Son to die on the cross as a propitiation designed to reconcile us back to Himself. Paul says God "has given to us the ministry of reconciliation," to be sent as Christ's ambassadors to the world! God is pleading with us, Christ is imploring us: be reconciled to God! God needs us as His ambassadors to tell the world what He has done to reconcile us back to Himself. Once have been brought back to God and reconciled with Him we have the task of telling that message and fulfilling that ministry of reconciling others. That is the story we remember this Easter week.
All Christians should be involved in "the ministry of reconciliation"! Some may "go", while others may "send". Some may "teach", while others may "invite". We play an important role in God's ministry of reconciliation today! Listen to the Scripture: 2 Cor 5:16-6:2
"God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation: God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting our sins against us. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For He says, "In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation."
We are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Christianity is not a way of life. It is not Western culture. It is not conformity to a standard of living. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ who reconciles us with the Father then sends us as His ambassadors of reconciliation. Ambassadors of reconciliation are desperately needed. Jesus confronted the economic and political power structures of His day, out of His commitment to God. He died on a Cross, not because He dared to change hymn-numbers, but because He cared for the poor and was prepared to confront and change practises and policies of injustice. So must we.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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