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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 26, 2015

Psalm 23; John 10:11-18


‘To end all sacrifices’

Metaphors matter. Our psalm and gospel present the metaphor of God as shepherd; Jesus as good or godly shepherd. A metaphor of strength and tenderness; earthy, universal – uniting all human and non-human existence; vulnerability, needs and pleasures. The gospel and psalm also offer a focus on love – on unselfish responsibility, care, leadership, service. I hesitate to use the word “sacrifice” because it’s all too readily used. Without overt reference to cults of bloodletting and scapegoating, of which the gospel (in the tradition of the prophets) is properly a critique, sacrifice is a dangerous metaphor. We should be wary of unqualified talk about sacrifice. Such talk often conceals (even from itself) a host of related assumptions to do with all-powerful and angry gods or powers, demanding priests, public rites of inclusion and exclusion, the allure and effectiveness of sacred violence, and so on.

This past week brings the special danger of conflating the gospel’s subversion of sacrifice in the nonviolent name of Jesus the Victim-Saviour with the nation’s celebration of sacrifice in the name of military courage and honour. There are similarities between the two but they are not the same.

A commonality is the injunction to remember (lest we forget); to remember well that we might understand, learn, even change and grow. Today’s homily, then, revisits some past reflections on the metaphor of good or godly shepherding, before attending to some recent historical work on the Anzac legend. God be with you ...

Past homilies have explored shepherding in terms of journalism (caring for and sharing the stories of others), in terms of protecting the most vulnerable (a source, a whistleblower, a child, a victim of abuse or discrimination, an immigrant or asylum seeker). On shepherding in relation to Australian Rules Football and the practice of “making room” for another, and “bumping” to one side preconceptions, assumptions of cultural privilege, class privilege, that another might advance towards the goal ... On making room for another in terms of public and private space, and in terms of solitude.

We have noted that a first-century shepherd would lay down in the space within a wall of stones, his very body the gate for the sheep. This is a very powerful image of responsibility and love (most like a mother whose body is a place of care and nurture, safety and nourishment). In previous years we have symbolised a “sheepfold” as a safe place, marked out with cloth and ribbon. From within a place of prayer, from within a being-shepherded, we have sought to shepherd the isolated and those at risk.

We have also made notes in relation to our being drawn to false shepherds and false promises ... consumer brands and ridiculous emotional-existential claims to full and enjoyable life. 

At the heart of it all, and positively, the gospel has to do with desires for intimacy and honesty in our relationships, with each other and with our God – and with our gratitude for the one who knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. At the heart of it is a promise of abundant life – true riches, true security, fulfilment ...

Fairfax journalist and historian Peter FitzSimons may be surprised to find himself in a Christian homily, but his care for the facts informing the Anzac legend justifies his inclusion as a shepherd.

“In writing [my book] on Gallipoli,” FitzSimons says, “I wrestled throughout with the question of just why it was this battle was so important to Australians at the time, and since. The bottom line? The tragic truth is, the prevailing view 100 years ago was that a nation was not a real nation until blood was shed – both ours, and more particularly that of our enemies.

“Hence the widespread rejoicing when the news of Gallipoli broke, with [the Sydney Morning Herald] noting in an editorial entitled THE GLORY OF IT, that with the news of the Gallipoli landing, Australians were ever more ‘a changed people …’

“There was widespread rejoicing at the news, people cut out the newspaper accounts, sang patriotic songs in the streets and offered thanks to God that our men had done so well. In Ballarat, they added a new verse to ‘God save the King’: ‘God save our splendid men!/ Send them safe home again!/ Send them safe home!/ Keep them victorious,/ Patient and chivalrous,/ They are so dear to us:/ God save our men.’

“Banjo Paterson himself wrote a poem, encapsulating the view that now, and only now, were we a ‘real’ nation. ‘From shearing shed and cattle run,/ From Broome to Hobson’s Bay,/ Each native-born Australian son/ Stands straighter up today .../ The old state jealousies of yore/ Are dead as Pharaoh’s sow,/ We’re not State children any more/ We’re all Australians now .../ The mettle that a race can show/ Is proved with shot and steel,/ And now we know what nations know/ And feel what nations feel ...’

“Tragic, from the point of view of 2015 sensibilities? Absolutely no doubt about it” (Peter FitzSimons, ‘Anzac 100: Why the Gallipoli creation myth should endure’, SMH, 24/4/2015).

Another historian, Tony Stephens, author of The Last Anzacs, documents the experience of war veterans. The testimony is thorough and worth quoting at some length.

“This year, 2015, marks two anniversaries of famous conflicts: the invasion of the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli in World War I, on April 25, 1915, and the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, when the Duke of Wellington led a coalition of Britons, Prussians, Russians, Austrians and Dutch to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, then part of the Netherlands, now in Belgium.

“A lot can change in 100 years; empires can disappear. There won’t be much fuss over Waterloo this year. Historian Joan Beaumont says ‘no one truly mourns Waterloo’. Anzac commemorations, however, will continue through this year, linking with ceremonies marking the end of World War II 70 years ago. Other great battles in France and Belgium will be remembered through the Battle of Fromelles in 1916, which produced probably Australia’s most disastrous 24 hours ever, to the victorious action at Villers-Bretonneux and the end of what was hoped to be the war to end all wars, in 1918.

“By 2018 it might be time to turn to the idea advocated by Beaumont: that Anzac Day be reinvented as a day for all victims of war.

“It would be instructive to know what the original Anzacs, those who served in Gallipoli, would make of all this. It’s not just the ceremonies but what David Stephens of the Honest History coalition calls Anzackery – the luxury cruises to Gallipoli, music and television shows, stubby holders, plethora of children’s books, T-shirts, the Anzac Day display in the fruit and vegetable pavilion of Sydney's Royal Easter Show and Woolworths’ attempt to keep Anzac ‘Fresh in Our Memory’

“Many of the old soldiers would feel honoured, at least touched, by the nation’s recognition; others would be amused, disappointed, even appalled. All would be amazed. Many would agree with Beaumont.

“Some of those 50,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders had enlisted out of dutiful patriotism, some out of an innocent sense of adventure, some to escape boredom or poverty. Few would have given thought to more noble causes or to sacrifice, let alone ‘supreme sacrifice’ or Australian prime minister Billy Hughes’ ‘sweet, purifying breath of self-sacrifice’.

“Jack Buntine, of the 8th Light Horse, said 20 years ago: ‘The family was split up to billy-o. I was very pleased to go to Gallipoli. I could hit a jam tin at 800 yards. I was just doing a job.’

“Tom Epps, of the 27th Battalion, who put his age up to go because it offered overseas travel, and because of the prejudice against those who didn’t go, said that Anzac Day provided ‘a lesson in the futility of war. I was brainless, but I’m not sorry I went. It taught me how stupid the politicians and military can be.’

“Roy Kyle, of the 24th Battalion, who enlisted at 17, said: ‘Gallipoli woke Australia up a good deal. Before then we did what we were told. We were basically a colony, part of the British Empire. We always thought one Briton would beat 10 Germans. The feeling of nationhood began with Gallipoli. But I don’t take any pride in the medals at all. I was a silly boy and should have had my bottom smacked for joining up at that age.’

“Harry Newhouse, of the 4th Battalion, volunteered ‘for king and country’ and landed on April 26: ‘Not only did my brother get killed and a lot of our men, but there were 86,000 Turks killed. The Turks never did anything to us and we never did anything to the Turks. We did not think we were going to fight them, poor buggers.’

“Bert Smith, of the 1st Division Signals: ‘The love of adventure and the natural affinity with England played a part ... All my friends were joining up and I wasn’t going to be left behind. One doesn’t think of oneself as a hero, although I suppose April 25, 1915 made a lasting impression on the nation.’

“Albert White, of the 25th Battalion: ‘Gallipoli was a bastard of a place. I never understood what we were fighting for. I went because most of my cobbers went. Mates from my soccer team went, the goalkeeper went, not that I bloody wanted to go.’

“Ted Matthews, of the 1st Division Signals, was the last survivor of those who landed on April 25, what Manning Clark called ‘that sad Sabbath morn’. He said: ‘The idea of the invasion was good – if we had got through to Russia, it would have shortened the war. But they mucked it up. The planning was poor. Some people called us ‘five-bob-a-day murderers’ but the politicians were the murderers. Politicians make up the wars. They don’t go to them.’

“Alec Campbell, of the 15th Battalion reinforcements and the last Gallipoli veteran to die, in 2002, put Gallipoli in perspective: ‘Cripes, Gallipoli was a significant event in history but it is not all that important personally. It was necessary to put my age up if I wanted to go and everyone was going. A lot of us went and a lot didn’t come back. You don’t look for reasons. It’s all a bit of adventure at that age. Egypt was like a fairyland but I suppose we had some idea of protecting Australia and England. I am not a philosopher. Gallipoli was Gallipoli. That’s all there was about it. Once we were there, we didn’t expect to survive.’

“Some veterans welcomed the attention they attracted in their last years; others tolerated it. They thought it their duty, a last service to the nation. They used their ebbing years to stress that battlefields are unsatisfactory places to resolve arguments.

“Details of their stories changed a little along the way. Alec Campbell said in 1996 that he had not fired a shot. A few years later he said he had lost count of the number of Turks he had shot. It is possible that his memory was playing tricks but just as likely that he had tired of the same questions.

“He grew tired of pointing out that his few weeks on Gallipoli was a very small part of his rich life. He had worked to build Canberra in the 1920s, graduated in economics after he turned 50 and fathered the last of his nine children at 69, insisting that the girls enjoyed education opportunities equal to those for the boys; two children earned PhDs. He sailed in six Sydney-Hobart races, was president of the Launceston Trades Hall Council, campaigned with Jessie Street for peace and contributed to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. His contribution to his country was outstanding. Yet everyone wanted to talk with him about Gallipoli.

“Sir William Deane, then governor-general, said at Ted Matthews’ state funeral that ‘the bonds which transcend individual mortality were forged between those men and the soul of our nation.’ He said at Gallipoli in 1999: ‘While this is Turkish land, it has become a sacred site of our nations.’

“Historian Ken Inglis calls the fascination with Anzac a civil religion. Patsy Adam-Smith says that Australians are born with a legend, like it or not. Graham Seal says Anzac is a myth of essential facts and certain distortions, but a myth with which all Australians have a relationship, positive or negative.

“Inglis offers five reasons why Australians embraced the cult of Anzac, the first three shared with other combatants: the special place of military endeavour for Europeans in an age when nationalism was at its height; the unnaturally early death of so many men; and the inability of suddenly bereaved people to draw adequate comfort from their traditional Christian faith. Then there’s the colonials proving to be at least as valorous and proficient as men from the imperial heartland; and the fact that Australia’s was the only army composed entirely of volunteers.

“Gallipoli built national pride and confidence but it’s a tired cliche to say it marks the birth of the nation, or a coming of age. The colonies came together as a nation in 1901. Federation was an act of independence from Britain. Australians responded to British imperial demands at Gallipoli.

“Australia ‘came of age’ again in 1931, when prime minister James Scullin insisted that an Australian, Isaac Isaacs, become governor-general, against King George V's express wish. It ‘came of age’ in 1934, when the Statute of Westminster recognised that the dominions had equal status with Britain, and in World War II, when prime minister John Curtin defied Winston Churchill and brought troops home to defend Australia against Japan. It ‘came of age’ in 1947, with the immigration program and with the 1967 referendum that included Indigenous Australians in the census.

“There’s no doubt that Anzac has played a central role in constructing the national identity. It lost favour in the 1960s with its booziness, writer Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year and bitter division over the Vietnam War. Respect returned with a new sense of national identity around the bicentenary of 1988 and the 75th anniversary of Gallipoli in 1990.

“The legend has outgrown the men who created it. The Australian people made Matthews, Campbell and the other old men grander in death than they had ever claimed to be in life. Bathing the occasion with notions of glory and sacrifice, and Anzackery, does not help our understanding of the men or of Anzac.

“Bill Deane said: ‘It is about the spirit, the depth, the meaning, the very essence of our nation. And it is about sadness and grief for young lives cut short and dreams left unfulfilled. And horror at the carnage of war.’ He might have had in mind the grand legacy of people like Alec Campbell and those robbed of the chance to emulate it.

“A memorial outside the Turkish military museum at Gaba Tepe laments: ‘No students graduated in 1921 from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Istanbul. Those students of this university who should have become doctors in that year, together with the students of the Istanbul Boys Lyceum, joined the 2nd division and on the night of 18-19 May 1915 wrote one of the unbelievable legends of the Canakkale battles by sacrificing their lives, all of them, to defend the sacred soil of our homeland, against the Anzacs’ (Tony Stephens, ‘Anzac 100: The legend has outgrown the men who fought’, SMH, 24/4/2015).

Jesus says: “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold ...”

Photographer Mine Konakci, 47, has lived her life between Turkey and Australia, where she immigrated in 1996. She featured Asim Iyidilli and his grandfather Halil Iyidilli in her Remembering Gallipoli exhibition of Turkish and Australian veterans and their families showing in Sydney and Istanbul for the centenary commemorations.

“Generally people said their grandfathers did not want to talk about it,” Ms Konakci says. “They wanted to forget about it, it was so inhumane, everyone said the same thing, Australian and Turkish. It is the atrocity of the war that no one wants repeated.

“But the other extraordinary feature was the lack of animosity and hatred between the two nations and a respect for their ancestors for doing their duty.”

In the capital Istanbul, the law offices of attorney Bahadir Gurer are filled with the memories of his grandfather, Mahmut Ulkenbay, a lieutenant commander in the Turkish Navy … Ulkenbay may have died in 1950, aged 70, but his work during the war is a source of enduring pride for his family, 64-year-old Gurer says …

“He could see that the Ottoman empire was coming to an end and he believed it was important to play his part in the renewal of the Turkish Republic,” Gurer says.

“We were very proud of my grandfather but we were also sad to hear of the suffering he and the other soldiers endured during the war.”

He laments that so few lessons have been learned from the carnage of such a conflict.

“I love to remember my grandfather but I do not memorialise the war, I believe wars have already taken too much from us,” he said. “The consequences are untold – it is not just one person who dies, but their future children, their grandchildren and all the possibilities in life they would have brought with them. All of this dies with that one person in an act of war and unfortunately, humanity has not yet managed to evolve beyond this” (Ruth Pollard, ‘Digging tales from Turkish trenches’, SMH, 24/4/2015).

At the heart of it all, and positively, the gospel has to do with desires for intimacy and honesty in our relationships, with each other and with our God – and with our gratitude for the one who knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. At the heart of it is a promise of abundant life – true riches, true security, fulfilment ... Amen.