Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Speech - National Prayer Breakfast

Last week I was in three global capitals – Beijing, Berlin and Brisbane.

Today, I’d like to share with you briefly a tale of two of these cities – and yes, briefly, the third as well.

Because each tells us something different, yet consistent about the journey of faith across God’s creation.

In China today, by both official and unofficial accounts, there is an explosion in religious faith.

In Islam, in Buddhism, in Confucianism and, more spectacularly, Christianity where the estimates now reach into the hundreds of millions.

This reflects the deepest spiritual longings of all humankind where neither classical Marxism nor modern nationalism has succeeded in filling the reason for life’s purpose.

And in the midst of the todays tumult in much of the Muslim world, it reminds us afresh of the fundamental importance of religious freedom, tolerance and respect – particularly in countries where there is little.

In Berlin, after speaking at a Conference on China, I went for a walk.

In Germany, the home of Luther’s and the reformation almost 500 years ago, his church is dying.

Many of the churches, as is much of Europe, are empty, have closed or become museums for what seems to be seen as monuments to medieval exotica.

It seems the treble assaults of science over faith, post-modernists relativism over universal truths and values and a national wealth beyond our wildest imaginings, are in the ascendant.

But in one church (St Matthews in Potsdamer Platz, the only building within miles to have survived the allied bombing) I was reminded of a different story still speaking eloquently to our modern age.

It was here in November 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, a young Lutheran Pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was ordained.

Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and protestant martyr, spoke to us with searing conviction across the decades, that it is impossible to sing hymns on Sunday, while ignoring the plight of the Jews on Monday.

His theology of Christ in the world through his church giving voice to the voiceless is hard for any person of conscience to resist.

It commands us to act in the religious world, the social world, the economic world, the environmental world, and therefore the political world where power is exercised either for the few or the many.

And then to Brisbane.

The Australian church may be inspired by China, but fears a future like the Church in Europe, although it remains for us, the community of faith, to chart our own course.

It begins in our parishes in our own local communities where we can choose to be a light on the hill or hidden beneath the bushel.

Our own local parish church, St John the Baptist in Bulimba, is seeking to embrace our local community – a community full of wealth, a community full of hardship.

A small white wooden building, it has stood for 120 years and our Parish Council has bravely just negotiated a redevelopment of the site.

The building is preserved, but the site now opened to coffee shops, community life and the services the good people of this church offer.

For our local church to survive and prosper, we must be authentic in our local community, in what we say, and what we do.

What is it that unifies these tales of these 3 very different cities?

The Jesus of history and the Christ of eternity speaks to us across the ages and across all human kind.

This Jesus, who the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, is the pioneer and the perfection of our faith.

This Jesus, who when asked to summarise all the law and the prophets, said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength, and with the almost impossible ask of loving your neighbour as yourself.

This Jesus who tells us in Saint Matthew’s Gospel that Gods Judgement will hang on whether we fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the lonely.

A Christianity which says to the church (and through the church, the nation) let us order our priorities accordingly.

When asked what the principle challenge for the world today was, the Superior General of the Jesuits responded crisply, as Jesuits tend to do by saying “The globalisation of superficiality”.

I believe our national discourse is suffering from the same,

And this affects our priorities – of our nation, of our communities, of our faith.

Let me list a few:

How do we preserve the peace of Asia and avoid conflict between China and the United States?

How do we entrench the principles of sustainable economic development for this vast, dry land Australia?

How do we craft a tax system that provides opportunity and incentive for all, but sufficient resources to support with dignity the aged, the sick and the disabled?

How do we work in the world to, as the liturgy reminds us to share with justice the resources of the earth so that children die of starvation no more as currently some five million do every year?

Preserving a set of values for the future, mindful of both our religious and secular traditions, capable of providing the nation with a robust moral compass for its future in a fluid world.

The balance between corporate incentive and corporate responsibility

The impact of the digital revolution of the last decade on the young people of the next, their cognitive development, their socialization, including an avalanche of pornography available to the youngest minds.

The future of our families and our children given the unprecedented rates of family breakdown.

These need to form core parts of our national deliberation.

Also our deliberations as Christians and the church.

For all these contain deep ethical dimensions, not merely technical nor simply political debates.

And for the Christian in political life, in part it is about how we set our national priorities.

How we conduct our national debate.

Whether we conduct these debates in some depth, with reasonable civility, and with mutual respect as our democratic institutions reach conclusions on the same.

Mindful that our injunction as Christians is to recognize that our responsibilities lie with our families, our relationships, our local communities, the state and with the world.

And all along understanding that as Christians we are failed human beings always relying on the grace of God and the prayers of his people.

This I believe is the business of being a Christian in the contemporary age.