The events in the past few days remind us of the importance of the task before us, and particularly the task before the Parliament of this State of Tasmania.
The senseless act of violence and murder last Friday in the peaceful city of Christchurch, where now 50 people, one as young as 2 years of age, lie dead as a result of gun rampage.
It reminds us of the sacred trust given to governments, to work for the safety and well-being of the people whom they serve, to provide protection for the vulnerable.
There is an instruction to Christians in the New Testament about prayer for people in positions of ruling authority that you all are in.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1Tim. 2:1-2)
In his instruction about what Christians should pray we hear part of the bible’s view of the task that is before you as people in authority.
It is a prayer that you will govern in such a way:
- that the people whom you govern will be able to “live peaceful and quiet lives”
- that they will be able to go to worship, regardless of their faith
- that they will be able to go about their daily lives
- that they will be able to work and shop and play and live
in peace, without fear of violence, and in the quietness of good order and sensible society.
In fact, in obedience to the bible, we will pray these things for you later in this service.
And it doesn’t matter whether you believe in the God who inspired these words to recognise in them the ring of truth.
The problem of the gunman in Christchurch last Friday was not that he was deranged or even religiously motivated, but that he was filled with the poisonous ideology of racism and hatred of the other.
Religions are different. Any serious Muslim and any serious Christian will tell you that they believe very different things.
Religions are different but people are not. All people, regardless of their race or creed of belief, or absence of belief, or colour of their skin are precious gifts and worthy of respect.
Christians would say – made in the image of God and as such, to be loved and protected. They all deserve to live “peaceful and quiet lives”.
In my view the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinta Ardern, and her government are doing exactly the right thing by their stated intention yesterday in strengthening the gun laws. That very act will contribute to the peaceful and quiet lives of the people of that great country, as we have seen in our own after our own murderous rampage at Port Arthur.
There is of course a deeper problem that won’t be fixed by any law made by any government. It’s a heart problem. The problem where hearts of people are so infected by fear and hatred that they end up committing an act of violence like this.
Jesus said in Matthew 15: 19: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lies, slander.
No amount of legislation, by good government can fix the human heart, the human heart of the terrorist or our own hearts that may not murder, but certainly find the rest of that list a little too close for comfort.
So the project begins with us.
In the reading today, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians he has some great advice for the church in the city of Philippi, which has made its way into the fabric of western civilisations like our own.
Regardless of your own faith these Christian ideals are something we have come to cherish.
He says: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Here is the attention to our own heart problems.
As we go into this new parliamentary year how different will it be if our over-riding concern is not our own selfish ambition or conceit, but the regard of the other to treat them as better than yourself. Even on the floor of the Parliament that thrives on opposition and discord.
You will consider all kinds of serious matters in the year ahead:
How to protect the most vulnerable in our community and state –
- young LGBTI people
- the unborn child
- the precious environment given to us on trust
- the vulnerable elderly at the end of their lives
- those who are fragile of mind
- workers whose livelihoods are on the line who need jobs and strong industry
- people in the grip of addictions to gambling, alcohol, drugs
- the indigenous people of our state
- the homeless and the poor, the refugee
You will work on –
- economic progress and development
- healthcare and education
- the arts and media
- legislation to protect families and children and victims of crime
- social services
- environmental sustainability
You will consider laws to make our state a peaceful and quiet place, and you will agonise over getting it right.
You will serve the people as you have pledged to do. We know that and we thank God for the hard work you do.
And in all that, here is the lofty ideal: [To] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 … [to] look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
This other-person-centred frame is the great gift of Jesus to the world.
You see, Senator Anning got it wrong last week. In many different ways, but most glaringly, in my mind, in his misquoting of the words of Jesus. He ended his press statement, where he blamed the violence in Christchurch on the immigration policy, with a quote from Jesus to illustrate. The quote was: “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. As if to condone or at least explain the violence with the words.
Jesus did say those words, but the context is everything. It was the night of his arrest before his crucifixion the next morning. The soldiers came in the dark to arrest him and one of Jesus’ companions, so overwhelmed with fear and anger, lashed out with a sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priests’ servants. And Jesus rebuked him sharply, telling him to put his sword away for there is no place for violence. Because those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
It was actually Jesus condemning not condoning violence. Luke tells us he then healed the servant’s severed ear with a touch.
Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace. He was the one who said: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. If your enemy takes your shirt give him your coat as well.
You see the perfect model for the selfless peaceful, other-person-centered way of living we so cherish. Is Jesus’ himself
That’s what our reading today says. Look at verse 5.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
His pathway was the path of sacrifice, giving himself for others. Emptying himself of all his majesty and power, in the service of others, to enter into human life and to give his life for us.
And I would suggest that there is the treatment for the heart problem that our governments cannot fix. Him giving himself for us and our broken and messed up hearts so that we can find personal healing and peace and a life to live for others. I commend Jesus and his teachings to you.
I was surprised when a friend of mine told me they would be singing the national anthem of New Zealand in their church on Sunday just gone. So I looked it up and it is profoundly poignant for what happened last week. It is addressed to God. The anthem is called God Defend New Zealand and the second verse could be (with a few slight alternations) a prayer for the Parliament of Tasmania.
Men (and I presume women – but it doesn’t scan in the song)
Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
Friends as you begin the Parliamentary year once more, you go with the assurance of the daily prayers of Christians, and no doubt the prayers of many other faiths as well, for your work.
To help us lead peaceful and quiet lives and [To] do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 … [to] look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
With perhaps the role model of Jesus before you. The prince of peace who laid down his life for others.
It is our privilege now to pray for you and for this great state of Tasmania.
Sermon delivered by The Right Revd Dr Richard Condie, Bishop of Tasmania.