Kirk the Tartan

May everyone have a good one

Sermon by the Rev’d Andy Wurm, for Kirking the Tartan celebration, 24th January 2021

Today as we ‘Kirk (Church) the Tartan’ we focus on something particular in order to connect with the universal. It’s like the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable – God’s love for one sheep, or one person, indicates God’s love for every person. Or when the church celebrates a particular saint, we embrace the significance of the whole communion of saints. In praying for one person who has died, we remember all who have died.

Back in World War 2, Reverend Peter Marshall saw that recapturing the power of Scots having what was rejected and banned, blessed, could be a gift to the world. Every race, every culture, could be affirmed vicariously, by focussing on one.

The value of this should be obvious to us who have heard the same story over many years, of the Jews having their nation conquered and their people deported to Babylon. At the heart of that was the destruction of the temple, the key cultural symbol representing their deepest beliefs and values and the place in which they were celebrated and affirmed. To destroy that was to crush their connection with God, through which they received their identity as a people. Hence the question in Psalm 137 How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How could they maintain their sense of who they were without being able to live their culture? And like that line from Psalm 137, there’s the chorus in the Midnight Oil song (Beds Are Burning) How can we dance when our earth is turning, how do we sleep while our beds are burning? For indigenous people to have their land taken away was to lose their culture, severing their connection with the source of meaning and identity.

When Scots took their tartans and other cultural artefacts to church to be blessed, they were rebelling against the oppression of their culture and affirming it. In religious terms, they were reminding themselves that God loved them.

Not everyone has had their culture suppressed. Some of our cultures have been more perpetrators of oppression than victims of it, and not necessarily total oppression. The suppression of indigenous culture is part of the history of our country, and needs to be acknowledged, not clinging to past suffering in order to create the one-up-man-ship of victimhood, but to affirm what was taken away and accept responsibility. That’s what people who respect each other do. When culture is suppressed, denied or dismantled, everyone loses, because the richness of humanity is diminished. In the Bible, sometimes the sky serves as a symbol for the unity of humanity. As the sky has no end, we sort of live under the same sky as people on the other side of the world. When we see images on the news of people taking the same measures as us to limit the spread of Coronavirus, that too may serve to remind us of our common humanity. If St Paul was alive today, as well as shopping at Norwood Foodland, I’m sure he would notice how his words that in Christ there is no discrimination between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, also apply to vulnerability to the virus. It makes no distinction between people of different races and so reminds us how much our rivalry with one another is not natural and inevitable, but something we impose.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus paints a picture of God’s inclusive love flowing out into the world, manifesting in many forms and in that picture there is an inherent divine blessing over the variety of expressions of humanity. And so we can think of God’s blessing being given to all cultures and sub-cultures.

To understand the nature of that blessing, we need to know something of what God is like. In God’s fulness, God is beyond our grasp, and yet as God desires to connect with us, God reveals enough to enable that. And in our gospel passage, Philip puts the request to Jesus on our behalf: show us the Father please. Who hasn’t asked that? God, please show yourself to me. Just give me some proof you are there and I’ll believe. However, our relationship with God doesn’t require proof of God, so much as trust. So we are asked to trust in what Jesus shows us. Philip wants to see what God looks like. Well, this is what he looks like: an itinerant preacher on his way to be killed. That’s it. There is no other version. Jesus is the Creator, in human form, exercising power in loving openness and vulnerability: utterly without rivalry, devoid of competition, desiring only our good and our love. The same God who revealed himself to Moses as I AM now reveals himself to the disciples using that same name (or the Gospel writer does): I AM the way, and the truth and the life.

So what does Jesus tell us about God’s action in our lives? First of all, he says that no-one comes to the Father except through me, which is a backwards way of saying that everyone comes to the Father through him. In other words, Jesus makes it possible for everyone to have access to God. And it’s that making it possible, which Jesus is referring to when he says he is going to prepare a place for us. It will be his death that makes it possible. (I won’t go into why here.) And he’s not so much going to prepare a place in which that can occur, but will be becoming the place in which you can access God. And that place, which he will become, is his Father’s house. And then comes the really interesting part, which is that we can become his Father’s house. In other words, God wants to come and make a home in us. God wants to dwell in us. And God will do so according to how much we allow our lives to manifest love and goodness. Jesus is so confident and trusting that we will do so, that he states that we might be even more creative than he was in manifesting love and goodness. That’s not limited to our individual lives, but applies to our culture, and our society too. When a society functions well, it is a blessing to its people and to the world. This vision Jesus inspires, encourages us to see how far we can go with our cultural institutions and practices. An example of that is the variety of expressions of family we have these days.

Speaking of variety, that too is integral to Jesus’ description of God’s involvement in our lives. In my Father’s house are many rooms. That’s about variety. Because we fear freedom and seek to control ourselves and each other, we tend to think that one way of doing things is right and we tend to want to limit how our humanity is expressed, especially when we think of what God might want for us. But here is a sanctioning of variety, which we might apply to cultures, but also to groups within our culture. God doesn’t want us to all be the same, but delights in difference.

That God’s life and love is expressed through the variation in human cultures and patterns of relating, doesn’t mean we should accept every form of it. When Christian missionaries went to India, they came across the custom of throwing widows on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands and put a stop to it. No culture is absolutely perfect. To deny that would be idolatry. We should challenge what we believe to be oppressive in other cultures, but only with respect.

Finally, something I really enjoy, is the coming together of cultures and one situation in which I experience that, is when I buy food from Asian shops at the Central Market and upon leaving, are given the traditional Australian blessing: have a good one. Isn’t that what we want for everyone? It certainly seems to be what God intended.