Sharing on sovereignty

President Stuart McMillan joined Pastor Ray Minniecon of UAICC NSW/ACT to talk about the UCA's covenant with First Peoples at West Epping Uniting Church in Sydney on 20 August 2017.

Synod meetings in coming months will be asked to discuss Sovereignty and Treaty to enable discernment for decision-making at the 15th Assembly.

 

Act for Justice, love and be merciful, walk humbly with God and others 

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-4; Acts 2:42-47; Luke 18:1-8 

 

It’s my delight to be with my brother Ray and sharing with you today.

I pay my respects to the Wallumattagal Clan/Nation and their descendants’ elders; past, present and future. These sovereign First Peoples named from the place of the snapper. They have cared for these lands and waters since creation. I apologise to them for the way these lands and waters were violently and illegally ceased and I pledge to work for “just terms treaties” for all First Peoples.

In January this year I went to Beirut in Lebanon in a solidarity visit to put a face to our concern for the violence and dispossession faced by many in Middle Eastern nations and the wonderful caring ministries of our Christian friends, Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Protestant. One of the leaders spoke to us saying we do not have a theology of survival rather we practise a theology of impact.

The Uniting Church in Australia at this time of our 40th anniversary has much to learn from our Middle Eastern sisters and brothers in Christ; we, who in many places have a narrow inward focussed theology of survival.

Today we are talking about our covenantal relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, our journey, our actions and the future.

Today we also want to share about “impact”. We’ll seek to address the Scriptures and my brother Ray will share the NSW-ACT picture and “impact” opportunities for what this “fellowship of believers” means here.

Many years ago now I received the passage we read from Isaiah 62 as a prophetic word for the First Nations Peoples of Australia, a word I prayed and spoke over my friends. This land according to the “invaders” was said to be “uninhabited”, a “waste land”. From that description came the many Waste Land Acts of the 1800’s which gave the Crown rights over waste lands as Crown lands; denying the sovereign rights of the First Peoples over their lands and waters.

Like the prophet Isaiah, I cannot keep silent, we cannot keep silent, we will not in the Uniting Church in Australia remain quiet!

Until First Peoples and their land are “vindicated”, their sovereignty honoured and recognised; for they are, under Sovereign God, sovereign and their rightful covenantal relationship with the Creator God and these lands and waters needs to be acknowledged.

This, for us in the Uniting Church, we understand from the Basis of Union (para 3), as the unfinished work of Christ which we are co-workers in: the reconciliation and the renewal of the whole creation.

The Creator Spirit takes delight in the First Peoples of Australia. The call of Christ in our lives is to do likewise to delight in relationship with the First Peoples and in the Covenant we have with the UAICC. So we have been on a journey: the establishment of the UAICC in 1985, the Covenant in 1994, the preamble to our Constitution in 2009 which recognised the violent history of our nation, our part as Second Peoples in this history, and God’s presence with First Peoples prior to colonisation.

Now we are in a time of discernment: what would it mean for the practises of our Church to recognise First Peoples as Sovereign?

The ASC has met with the UAICC National Committee twice. I held a President’s Conference in June and every Synod will have discussions and reflection time this year.

I have made national statements in the public square, together with calling for “just terms” treaties. Many have said over the years that the fundamental mark of the UCA as an authentic Australian Church is our relationship with First Peoples through the covenant with UAICC. Members of the UAICC National Committee have shared with us it is all about Our Destiny Together.

In Luke the gospel amplifies the word of the prophet to pray, to not keep silent, and to never give up. The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by bad people but the silence over that by good people”. The judge in the Luke passage is like the indifference, ignorance and complacency we find in dominant Australia today. The various governments of our nation have failed First Peoples and the “gap” has grown ever wider.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart urges a “voice”. A vote without a voice has achieved little. Will the judge now give in, hear the voice and grant justice? My friends the UCA, you and I, have a gospel imperative to stand with our First Nation friends that their voice be heard.

When we think about what it might mean for the UCA to honour First Peoples as sovereign, sometimes we are fearful, what will it cost? At the President’s conference my mentor and brother in law Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM said: “It’s no longer good enough for you to stand with us in solidarity, no the Bible exhorts us all to suffer with”. The kind of costly discipleship Bonhoeffer wrote about and like Jesus exemplified.

The last sentence of this Luke passage is a challenge: “Will Jesus find faith when he comes?” Faith can be viewed in a very narrow way: trust in God who is faithful, belief in Jesus as the Son of God who has reconciled us to God and promises us eternal life. But I think of faith more broadly and take James C2v17 seriously: “Faith without action is dead.”

The simple requirement for the Christian life I take from Micah 6:8, and from which this sermon draws its title: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”

We are called to make an “impact”, to act for justice, to love and show mercy to all, and to walk humbly with God and others. That’s the journey, the pilgrimage First and Second Peoples are on in the UCA, it’s our God given destiny together.