Messages of Hope

Reflections on Harmony Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, on 21st March 2021 (Harmony Day)

Rev Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a Korean-American who preached here at Pilgrim in 2018. She teaches theology, and is a prolific author. Grace introduced us to the notion of intersectionality, a framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of privilege – and discrimination. We all have multiple aspects to what makes each one of us – age, race, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities or disabilities, religious identifications, family background, marital status, education, income and social class. This gives privilege to some, and endless marginalisation, discrimination and denigration to others.

It’s a lot to get one’s head around, and especially when the common narrative from political and community leaders and media seems to be in the realm of binary, polarised, ‘us’ and them’ dualistic thinking.

I had cause to remember Grace this week when news came out about the shootings in Georgia this week with 8 people dead. Turns out the majority of victims were Asian, women from South Korea (Grace’s place of birth) simply at work in their workplace. It wasn’t declared a hate or racist crime because, according to the police spokesperson, the 21 year old white shooter, baptized a couple of years ago in a Baptist Church, was just having a bad day (dealing with is own demons). White privilege. In response, Grace wrote an impassioned article, urging people to listen to stories of people who live with discrimination, suffering, marginalization, racism, and racialization.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace challenged readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion that embraces difference and centres social justice along all the axes of identity including age, race, sexual identity and orientation, economic status and more. What would it look like to have church that is inclusive for all sorts and conditions of people?

March 21 is Harmony Day, celebrated each year, the same date as the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (which in turn recognised the 1960 Sharpeville shootings).

In Australia we celebrate cultural diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. It is intended to celebrate the cohesive and inclusive nature of Australia and promote a tolerant and culturally diverse society. The message of Harmony Day is Everyone Belongs. It is a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home – from the First Nations people of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. Our communities are stronger when we understand the stories, motivations and hopes of those we live alongside; when we recognise what connects us, not what separates us.

So, happy Harmony Day!

Harmony Day is a one day community celebratration that should be at the heart of our Christian community every day – our core DNA, that transcends the ‘isms’ and celebrates diversity as an integral part of God’s kin-dom family.

I was interested to learn about this statement from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church which is read in their church each Sunday: “As our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love and accept every person, we welcome into our life together those of every age, race, ethnic background, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, family or socioeconomic status, educational background, and physical or mental ability. In our commitment to the reconciliation of all persons as beloved children of God, we celebrate our diversity and recognize the sacred worth and dignity of all. We invite you to join us in our faith journey toward discipleship in Christ with mutual respect, understanding, and love.”

What would it mean to focus our attention, not on people like us, but to people who are considered different, who are often ‘othered’? What would it mean to intentionally seek out greater diversity? 

This morning’s Gospel reading is set in Jerusalem, with an influx of visitors for Passover. People who spoke different languages, had different accents, food, customs, clothes. Some of the visitors had a Greek heritage. Foreigners – even if they lived in the same country alongside Jewish people. Some Greeks went to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples. They had no doubt heard about Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead. For some reason they didn’t feel worthy enough to approach Jesus themselves. They simply said, Sir, we want to see Jesus, to really see him, person to person, face to face. They wanted an encounter, an experience of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, we never learn whether these Greeks got to see Jesus. As soon as Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that some Greeks have come to see him, it sets in motion the transition to Jesus’ passion. Jesus begins a difficult teaching saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross.

Fr Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in his book Falling Upward takes a look at the journey of life each person is on. He writes:
“One of the best-kept secrets, and yet hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.” Jesus continues his difficult teaching on the grand reversal – the ones who love their lives will lose them; those who hate their lives, will keep them for eternal life. The way of greatness is in service and humility and sacrifice. The way down is the way up.

History tells us that countless others have also said, ‘We want to see Jesus‘. That’s what unified the early church – a focus on the inclusive and salvific love of Jesus. As the early church grew, it did so across ethnicities and languages. It cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshipping God together in spirit and in truth, living out of love for each other. It’s more than tolerance or friendship. The Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ.

Theologian Palmer Becker sums it up this way:
“Jesus is the centre of our faith,
community is the centre of our lives,
and reconciliation is the centre of our work.”

Each person is made in God’s image and is deeply loved by God and should be able to live life abundantly. We don’t actually need Harmony Day, because as a church we are called to live it every day – a church known by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion.

Part of our confessional life must be to recognise the way we don’t live this out, to recognise that in the church we have people who remain on the margins – the powerless, the downcast, the outcast. We have silos of exclusion. We tend to keep to our own people, to what is familiar to us.

If those Greeks in our reading were to show up in our churches today, would they see Jesus, embodied in our living and our community?

A friend shared this poem this week by Rebecca del Rio:
“Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision. Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears. Arrive curious, without the armour of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.”

Reflecting on this poem, Steve Koski writes:
“Arrive curious. Curiousity is a spiritual practice. Imagine the spiritual practice of meeting every single person, event, and feeling that shows up in your life with a deep and abiding curiosity. Imagine if you were able to pause and notice, observe, wonder and be curious instead of living from a state of habitual reactivity. Curiousity means instead of snapping at someone because you’re angry, you sit for a moment with the feeling and energy of anger in your body and notice it. Observe the angry tirade of thoughts. Imagine if you were able to sit with this uncomfortable feeling for a moment. As the poem says, leave behind the stories you’re telling yourself about this anger for a moment and, without judgment, be curious. What can you learn about yourself? Be curious: How are you being triggered? What old things are coming up for you? What if you became curious about the person who triggered your anger – what burdens are they carrying; what pain is unhealed; what grief do they hold?What would happen if you waited and didn’t react? What would your deepest wisdom advise in this moment? What is the most loving response you could have in this moment? What response would free you from those old patterns that no longer serve you? There is a space between whatever pushes our buttons and our habitual reactions. That space for most of us is razor thin. Curiosity is the spiritual intervention that widens that space and sets us free from those habitual reactions that no longer serve us. Curiosity creates calm, welcomes wisdom and helps us see things in new and unexpected ways.

Let us together commit to the spiritual practice of curiousity – to be curious about each other’s stories, to listen deeply, to build caring community. Together may we work for a world where we embrace our differences and stand strong, united in our shared humanity, embraced by the love of God. Together, may we continue to embody reconciliation, love and peace.

May it be so. Amen.