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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Celebrating The Outback
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 21, 2014

Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 3:14-4:1

‘The Outback’

As part of our commitment to celebrating creation this month, today we are focussing on the Outback the wonder and grandeur of special parts of the land on which we live. I suspect there is nothing like this land anywhere else on earth and I say this as one who has visited the deserts of Africa all very amazing but nothing like the colour and endless beauty of our own outback country.

Nowhere else would you see something like Uluru in the centre of this wide red land and the smooth sands stretching out towards the horizons.

I remember when Ali and I were travelling from Katherine to Kakadu (with me, the “lead-foot” enjoying driving really fast on the straight road without any speed limits!) She suggested that we stop and simply experience the silence and beauty.

We stood there and felt something which you rarely experience as city-dwellers an openness and peace which invites you into greater depths within your own being. We reflected on the wonder of a Creator who has so much imagination, who has gifted us with so many different landscapes all over the world.

I shared that I believe that the creation itself is alive perhaps differently from the life of humans and other creatures, but still with a life of its own. We pondered whether it protests when we harm it surging, flooding and sometimes leaping into the air in earthquakes. Maybe?

I must say that our Indigenous people could teach us much about the land and how to respect and care for it, especially in the outback. You might wonder how they survived out there, but they did, for at least 60,000 years. They knew where to find and nurture enough to eat, where to shelter and add their art and how to respect it as truly home.

I will always remember visiting Obirr Rock in Kakadu. An Aboriginal guide showed us how his people would climb up onto the rock in the wet season, shelter in small caves on the rock and make paint for their artwork which they did until the waters went down. The Indigenous art added to the beauty of all sorts of places in the outback never damaging anything, just expressing the life of those who lived there.

We stood on the rock and looked out at where the water would have been around the rock and saw kangaroos hopping all over the place, obviously enjoying themselves. While we enjoyed living in the city, there was something especially sacred about this amazing land.

Of course, if we are fortunate enough to travel around the world, we will see extraordinary parts of the creation in mountains, rivers, sea and shore, farmlands and orchards, the high and the low. If you look up at a grand high mountain, that is one sort of experience one of wonder as you see its majesty.

However, I think that standing and gazing across a part of the outback is something else. It invites us into a space surrounded by beauty, to remain quiet and feel a new connection with ourselves and our Creator.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard about Jesus entering the wilderness. He had just been baptised and acclaimed as one with whom God was well-pleased. This would have been a moment when he could quite possibly be moving towards thinking how special he was. Then he enters the wilderness.

When I was in Israel a Palestinian Christian took me to the place which is still known as the wilderness and which Christians believe was the place where Jesus went.

I stood in silence and looked around. It felt like a place where no-one went slightly sloping land, almost empty of vegetation, apart from a few small shrubs here and there. No signs of other life, let alone people.

I could well imagine going there and being confronted with my own inner life, invited into a meditative space in which I could do no other than face who I am or could become. Especially after feeling rather good about myself, I could easily imagine the tempter offering me ways towards power.

Having said that, I could also imagine a God who speaks to me of grander life, and of having the strength and courage to choose a life-giving way forward.

When I think of standing in our outback, I think the landscape offers similar possibilities its very simplicity and space invites a deeper connectedness with inner life alongside that of the Creator who prepares so many different gift-giving environments. This one was freed of the distractions of everyday life in the city. Here one could imagine receiving new insights which would forever be connected with the wonder of this environment.

There, in the landscape is the call of a God who invites us to remember to pause, to regularly find ways of entering the Divine silence where we go down into the depths of our lives and know new truths about ourselves and ways of new living. This is often something we avoid doing, maybe because we sense that we will be called to change, to face things we would rather not face and to grow in life and faith.

Now, as we complete the homily together, I invite you t take the little stone you were holding earlier in the service. Imagine that you are looking out on an outback scene, with the light of Christ’s life shining ahead of you and reflect on either a question which might arise for you as you do that, or a small inspiration which may be given to you.

Then, if you wish, come forward to share or silently place your stone on the Altar Table.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon