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Homily by Margaret Vazey

Ordinary Sunday 25, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 18, 2011

Philippians 1:27; Matthew 20:1-16 and Matthew 25: 34-40

It is never too late to live the right way, that is, the way that Jesus showed us: Inasmuch’

The Gospel story we have read today seems very unjust. People deserve a fair wage for fair work: Why should someone who has worked for eight hours be paid the same as someone who has worked for one hour? If we look at the story as a wage case it just does not make sense. It is unfair. So Jesus must have meant something else. The rich young ruler had just asked him: Teacher what good deed must I do to have eternal life? And after he had gone away disappointed, Jesus said to his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. Peter had just asked, “What about us? We have given up everything to follow you”. Jesus replied that they would have eternal life but added the first may be last and the last first. So he told this story to try to explain what he meant about the Kingdom of God.

Some people come to accept Jesus’ teachings early in their lives, some only accept these teachings later in life – for whatever reason. Some might only accept these teachings near the end of their lives – but once these teachings are truly accepted and followed, then the benefits and rewards of living the right way will follow. Once you are saved you cannot be more saved. Once you have entered the Kingdom of God, you are there – you cannot be more there. However, some people will get there quicker than others, even if they got the message only recently.

The disciples kept asking Jesus about these things: How would they know if they were living and acting the right way? Jesus taught them that they had to do something useful, practical, down-to-earth about people’s needs. If they helped someone who was sick or hungry or thirsty or needed shelter they would be serving Jesus, they would be helping to bring in the Kingdom of God ...

How does the word “Inasmuch” end up on the Norfolk Island coat of arms? The following story is about making things right, about bringing about the Kingdom of God to a small part of the Earth. About half-way between Australia and Chile, just below the Equator, there is a tiny dot of an island called Pitcairn Is. It has an astonishing human history.

In 1787 Captain Bligh sailed in his small ship, the Bounty, away from the coast of England on an extraordinary mission. The ship was to bring live Breadfruit plants to the Caribbean, where they would be planted and eventually harvested to provide food for the slaves who were being brought to the West Indies from Africa. This ambitious scheme fell apart when the crew of the Bounty, after spending five glorious months on the islands of Tahiti, growing breadfruit and being feted by the friendly Tahitians, were ordered to leave Tahiti, continue their journey, and say good-bye forever to their Tahitian friends and lovers. Although he was a captain who cared very well for the health and exercise of his men, and was not a cruel disciplinarian, Bligh was evidently short-tempered, abusive, and foul-mouthed. He was particularly angry when he found that some of his store of precious coconuts was missing, he blamed his officers, especially the well-connected Fletcher Christian. Bligh soon forgot his outburst but FC felt slighted. It was not long before there was a mutiny, which was lead by Fletcher Christian, who was Acting Lieutenant and Master’s Mate. Bligh and the men loyal to him were packed off in the Bounty’s twenty-three-foot long longboat, to face a 5,000-mile journey to the Indonesian island, Java.

The mutineers, and men loyal to Bligh, for whom there had been no room in Bligh’s boat, sailed back to Toobouai then Tahiti, back to Toobouai, and back to Tahiti again, where some of the mutineers decided to stay permanently. Eight mutineers, four Tahitian men, and two Toobouain men decided to throw in their lot with Christian, and sail to an unknown island where they would settle down and be safe from the rest of the world. They threw a farewell party, invited women on board, and sailed, thereby kidnapping them. One jumped overboard and swam ashore, some were released on to another island, and the rest sailed on to their future home – Pitcairn Island. Here really serious trouble began: there was a shortage of women. Men fought and killed each other over the women. If a woman died, then the fighting flared up again. There were accidental deaths, and death from ill-health.

Eventually only one man was left, John Adams, and he had a problem staying sober, as home brew was plentiful. Over the years many children had been born. It must have troubled John Adams and the 10 mothers who remained, as to how they would raise these children. The story goes that John Adams had a vision of the angel Gabriel, telling him to turn away from the life he had previously led, and use the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer to teach the children how to live, and how to treat each other, so they would have a moral and just society. It is also said that he gave up drinking his home brew. This unique community developed and became famous for the fact that its people could speak English and lived by the teachings of Jesus.

The Pitcairners saw that they were in danger of outgrowing their small island, so they wrote to Queen Victoria requesting her help to find them a new home. They were resettled on Norfolk Island in 1856.

They never forgot that although John Adams had come to follow and teach Jesus’ way late in his life, and after terrible things had happened. They knew that this was the right way to live, that this was the way to reach the Kingdom of God. That is why the open Bible, and the word “Inasmuch”, appears on the NI Coat of Arms. It also illustrates Jesus’ story of the workers in the vineyard.

John Adams was a very late worker. He most probably had blood on his hands. But when he turned his life around to live and teach the right way to live, he was just as effective and just as worthy of reward, as anyone who had started earlier in life ... Amen.

Margaret Vazey