Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Current Sermons
Old Stories Yet New (Kerry Macmillan and Russ Revell) 12.6.2016
Readings: 1 Kings 21: 1-10; 30-39; Luke 7:36-8:3

K: The Old Testament lectionary reading this morning is from Kings

R: and also a reading of recorded events that occurred at Noonkanbah WA in1980.

K: Listen to these two stories that were written or enacted two and a half thousand or more years apart.

(Kerry and Russ move away from each other and read alternately)

Naboth of Jezreel had a vineyard near the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.

Noonkanbah is a pastoral lease on the Fitzroy River between Camballan and Fitzroy Crossing in northern WA. The Yungngora Aboriginal Community are the traditional owners.

One day Ahab made a proposal to Naboth: `Your vineyard is close to my palace; let me have it for a garden; I will give you a better vineyard in exchange for it, or if you prefer, its value in silver.` But Naboth answered, `The Lord forbid that I should let you have land which has always been in my family.`

The Yungngara people believed Noonkanbah to be `Their Country` that held sacred areas.

So Ahab went home sullen and angry because Naboth would not let him have his ancestral land. He lay down on his bed, covered his face and refused to eat.

The Commumity also believed that at that time they were protected by the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

His wife Jezebel came in to him and said, `What makes you so sullen and why do you refuse to eat?` He told her.` I proposed to Naboth of Jezreel that he should let me have his vineyard at its value or, if he liked, in exchange for another; but he would not let me have the vineyard.` `Are you or are you not king of Israel?` said Jezebel. Come eat and take heart; I will make you a gift of the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel.`

The newly re-elected pro-mining Premier of WA, Sir Charles Court renewed his Governments campaign to let miners drill wherever they were entitled by Non Aboriginal law.

So she wrote a letter in Ahab`s name, sealed it with his seal and sent it to the elders and notables of Naboth`s city, who sat in council with him. She wrote: `Proclaim a fast and give Naboth the seat of honour among the people. And see that two scoundrels are seated opposite him to charge him with cursing God and the king, then take him out and stone him to death.` So the elders and notables of Naboth`s city, who sat with him in council, carried out the instructions Jezebel had sent them in her letter:

A drilling rig arrived at Noonkanbah under police escort in March 1980

They proclaimed a fast and gave Naboth the seat of honour, and these two scoundrels came in, sat opposite him and charged him publically with cursing God and the king.

With Union support; another court Injunction; the resolve and eloquence of the traditional owners; together with national publicity causing some members of the Federal Government some embarrassment; the confrontation resulted in a withdrawal of the police and the drilling rig on April the 2nd.

Then they took him outside the city and stoned him, and sent word to Jezebel that Naboth had been stoned to death. As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, she said to Ahab, `Get up and take possession of the vineyard which Naboth refused to sell you, for he is no longer alive; Naboth of Jezreel is dead.` When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went to the vineyard to take possession.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Premier Court described the eviction of the Mining Company Amax as an insurrection against legitimate authority. When he appealed to the Noonkanbah Community at the end of May 1980 to respect the rights and deeds of other West Australians, the Community replied that they could not consent to the violation of their law.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: `Go down at once to Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; you will find him in Naboth`s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession. Say to him, `This is the word of the Lord: have you killed your man, and taken his land as well?` Say to him, `This is the word of the Lord: Where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, there dogs shall lick your blood.`

Using Non-Union labour a 50-truck convoy of drillers set out for Noonkanbah in August 1980 escorted by 50 police. They were met by a blockade of aboriginal people, clerics and supporters. The success of the convoy became pointless when the recently Unionised drilling crew in Perth banned the job.

Ahab said to Elijah, `Have you found me, my enemy?` ` I have found you,` he said, `because you have sold yourself to do what is wrong in the eyes of the Lord, I will bring disaster upon you; I will sweep you away and destroy every mother`s son of the house of Ahab in Israel whether under protection of the family or not.

The Court Government took control of the exploration license out of private hands and in spite of opposition, found enough workers to commence drilling.

The drill hole turned out to be dry, but the white man`s law was upheld.

The Old Testament story is about property and what goes with it.

    It is about authority and control: status and superiority over minority submission.
    It is about wealth and power; All resulting in violence.
    Our daily news is frequently about the dispute over property:
    Legal battles over land rights for indigenous people;
    The right to purchase and own land;
    The entitlement to use land below the surface and the space above;
    The settlement of land estates;
And of course the sanctioned killing of one another by fighting wars over disputed territory.

The New Testament reading is from Luke 7:36-8:3. This story is just the reverse of the Kings reading and is essentially about inclusiveness. But it is also about being set free.

You will be familiar with the story of the woman washing Jesus` feet and anointing him with perfume. It is generally agreed that Luke`s story is the same event as the earlier, similar story in Mark, with some editing by him to suit his own purpose, that being a common practice of the day.

Mark`s unnamed leper of Bethany in Judea becomes Simon the Pharisee. It is reasonable to assume that Luke has changed the leper to a Pharisee so that Jesus can use the occasion to challenge Simon with a loaded question: Who loves the money-lender most? Of course it would be the one who was forgiven the larger debt. The Greek word for forgiveness can alternatively be translated as `set free` and we will use that term in several places.

If your debts have been forgiven, regardless of how great or small they were, it would be appropriate to acknowledge the opportunity for a new beginning that being set free has brought to you. Jesus says that the woman is forgiven simply because she loved much.

There is also a parallel reading of excerpts from Stan Grant`s recent book `Talking to my Country` where he shares his personal story of being an indigenous man in Australia; relating the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship, and his powerful response to racism. The gulf between black and white in Australia is still vast, but our paths are inextricably entwined; our story now is a shared one.

Listen again to two more stories

One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him; he went to the Pharisee`s house and took his place at table. A woman who was living an immoral life in the town had learned that Jesus was at table in the Pharisee`s house and had brought oil of myrrh in a small flask. She took her place behind him, by his feet, weeping.

(My People would soon) lose our names - names unique, inherited from our forefathers. Then our languages silenced. Soon children would be gone. This is how we disappear. Now Australians pay their respects to the elders of nations of which they have no idea. I want to tell you how you have always sought to define us. You called us Aborigines: a word that meant nothing to my people. And in that one word you erased our true identities.

His feet were wetted with her tears and she wiped them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the myrrh. When his host the Pharisee saw this he said to himself, `If this fellow were a real prophet, he would know who this woman is that touches him, and what sort of woman she is, a sinner.`

Exclusion and difference: these were the abiding lessons of my early school years. They could be days marked with ritual humiliation. I can still hear the roll call of our names. One by one the black kids were pulled out of class. We`d be searched for head lice, our teeth examined. Our fingernails examined for signs of dirt. We were questioned about what we`d had for dinner the previous night. We would have to open our bags to show what we had for lunch… I had no illusions of equality. We were another class of people. Our poverty branded on us as clearly as our colour.

Jesus took him up and said, `Simon, I have something to say to you.` `Speak on Master`, said he. `Two men were in debt to a money-lender: one owed him five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. As neither had anything to pay with he let them both off. Now which will love him most?` Simon replied, `I should think the one that was let off most.` `You are right`, said Jesus.

On my seventh birthday my mother threw me a party. It was the only birthday party I ever had as a child . . . She poured some cordial into some paper cups and sprinkled some hundreds and thousands onto white bread and made some chocolate crackles. She set it all on a park bench and asked me to invite some kids from school. I can recall so clearly, how I felt. It is a feeling that has never left me. No amount of education, travel and prosperity can ever erase it. I was sick with fear. I had a headache . . . and a pain in my gut. I thought these kids would laugh at me. Worse than that I was afraid that they would laugh at my beautiful, kind, loving mother.

Then turning to the woman, he said to Simon, `You see this woman? I came to your house: you provided no water for my feet; but this woman has made my feet wet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she has been kissing my feet ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil; but she has anointed my feet with myrrh.

My grandfather came back from a war fought for this country with the sound of Tobruk still in his head. He came back with a photo, Diggers lean and tired. . . . These Diggers are Australians and they are white. But the one in the middle is unmistakably different. He is black and unlike his mates he is not an Australian. He is not counted as a citizen. But he is there and he is fighting just like them. . . .After many years he finally decided to march on Australia`s sacred day, Anzac Day. He placed his medals on his chest and walked the main street of Griffith with his old comrades. The local police sergeant watched him. Here was a black face in a parade of white Diggers. The cop watched my grandfather walk to the pub with his Digger mates. The sergeant blocked the doorway and told him he couldn`t enter. My grandfather had stopped drinking years earlier, but he pushed through and ordered a beer. His mates - white men he`d fought alongside - surrounded him and defied the policeman. In that moment my grandfather was an Australian. His God said he was equal and he was still proudly black.

And so, I tell you her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven little love is shown.` Then he said to her, `You are set free.` The other guests began to ask themselves, `Who is this, that he can set people free?` But he said to the woman, `Your faith has saved you; go in peace.`

`What does it feel like to be an indigenous person in Australia?` …The interviewer - ABC`s Richard Glover - I have always found a gentle soul. His interviews are less about what divides us; at his best he looks to knit together the frayed fibres of our shared humanity . . . I could resort to moral outrage. I could recite the litany of injustice and brutality that has been visited on my people. I could roll out that endless list of damning statistics that always ends in that same mantra: we are the most impoverished, disadvantaged people in the country. All of this would be true. I could speak with anger throwing up words like guilt and shame and blame. In this too I would not be wrong. But I find myself searching for something else . . . I seek the language of healing because we just can`t take any more pain. I tell Richard how vulnerable we can be. I tell him of the little boy I once was who felt so ashamed of his colour that he tried to scrub it off. I tell him of the ache of poverty and how my family had roamed the back roads looking for a home in a land we had lost … And he listens. He gives me the space to find these words and he lets them settle.

After this he went journeying from town to town and village to village proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. With him were the Twelve and a number of women who had been set free from evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, known as Mary of Magdala, from whom seven devils had come out; Joanna, the wife of Chuza a steward of Herod`s; Susanna, and many others. These women provided for them out of their own resources.

My life had led me to this point. A boy who grew up with a love of words, who sat at the feet of his parents and heard stories of struggle and survival, was now being asked to speak to his country. I felt this responsibility heavily and I had come to it reluctantly. But old wounds were being reopened. I had grown up with the legacy of Australian racism and here it was rearing its head again. We - Australians black and white - meet each other across the gulf of our history. If I was being called to this story then it came from my ancestors: it came from my great grandfather Bill Grant - a man born of black and white, a man whose name I read on the roll call of people from Bulgandramine mission. I was following the tradition of a man they called the storyteller.

(return to lectern)

Mary seeks wholeness where body, mind and heart feel safe and protected. Jesus is the one whom she sees as able to restore her life simply by his acceptance of her as a person of hope and purpose.

Stan seeks that black and white can accept each other.

We all seek wholeness of life. The anguish and agony of rejection, separation, abuse and emotional manipulation can so easily make us feel worthless, despised, unappreciated and unloved.

Recognising our own brokenness is a step towards healing and wholeness. And together we can bring healing and wholeness to each other when we focus on what we share and have in common, rather than our differences and what divides us.

Both Mary and Stan have found their way. The future beckons.

130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882

Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands