Messages of Hope

‘Everyone Belongs’

Published / by Sandy

Reflection of a 2nd Gen Migrant on Harmony Day 2017

Sermon by Rev Dr Amelia Koh-Butler, Pilgrim Uniting Church 8am, Sunday 19th March 2017

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42

Terry and I live in the city – only 3 blocks from here. In the past we have lived in Manses and grown our own vegetables, but now we enjoy shopping at the Central Markets and living close to Chinatown. There are many things we love about living here and this community is a wonderful home for us. Adelaide is rightly one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world.

After living here for more than two years I have something to share about the state of the Church… The most confronting and shocking thing for me walking into my first Presbytery and Synod meeting was to look around the room and see about 290 ‘white’ people and half a dozen indigenous people… and one other Asian, Do Young, who was new, like me.

Coming from the East Coast, this was an experience of being alien and different. It was also a bit scary.
Our diversity is meant to make Australia a great place to live…

Harmony Day is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home. Held every year on 21 March. The Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, the Day aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.
* around 45 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
* we identify with about 300 ancestries
* since 1945, more than 7.5 million people have migrated to Australia
* 85% of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia
* more than 60 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia
* apart from English, the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Vietnamese, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish and Hindi
(ABS data 2011 and Harmony Day website)

Most of us have grown up have grown up with the narrative “Australia is the lucky country”.
We believe it is a privilege to come here, to live here and to be ‘lucky’.
How, then, do we think of migration?
Is it a pilgrimage that has arrival as a reward?
Whatever cost, being here is an indication of ‘good luck’?
This is, perhaps, the promised land?

Let us, for a moment, think about migration…
what it takes to leave where one has been and journey to the unknown.
This was certainly the experience of the Israelites as they moved through the desert…

(Song – “Is the Lord with us” by Don Stewart – Verse 1)
They were moving through the desert – they were hungry and sore
and they started asking loudly, “What for?!”
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Migration stories challenge us to consider how and when and where we experience God. Is God to be found in the promised Land or in the pilgrimage journey? How and When and Where do we worship?

When Jesus and the Samaritan Woman have their long and famous encounter, this becomes a central part of their conversation. In their repartee we sense a dancing around how they belong to different communities and how belonging is defined by place and behaviour.

There is a distinction between them because their places of worship are in different places.Maintaining worship and identity when traveling or migrating is difficult. Not having a family home is one thing, but not having a place to encounter and commune with God adds a whole other dimension to displacement.

The Samaritan Woman brings the story of her heritage to this encounter. Her ancestors were part of the Northern Kingdom, taken into captivity and intermarried and corrupted by Babylonians and others. Yet – they still worshipped Yahweh. They were ostracized because they were no longer ‘pure’.

They were mixed blood… mongrels… half-castes. If these terms seem shocking, we should be aware… in our own Australian history, they have been used to describe many Australians… First Australians mixed with Second Peoples and Migrants of mixed ethnicity or Hyphenated Identity, like me. Many in our society still regard such mixture as corruption, or at least with some suspicion… as they did when Catholics and Protestants intermarried… or Germans and English… or Scottish and French… Much of the concern arises from fear of ‘the other’… disagreements, wars, breeches of trust, make us suspicious…

The very site of Jacob’s well would remind the early readers of such distrust… Does the name Shechem ring a bell? Shecham is the name of the place where Jacob’s well is. It is the name of the ancestral place where the Samaritan Woman comes from. It is the name that first appears in Genesis 34…(Genesis 34 – Dinah’s story – extracts from the Jewish Women’s Archive)

The story is set during the ancestral period in the city of Shechem. Dinah goes out “to visit the women of the region” (the indigenous people, 34:1). The phrase implies an openness to and acceptance of outsiders. Dinah’s subsequent sexual intercourse with Shechem, the Hivite prince of the region, is the ultimate symbol of acceptance. And Hamor speaks to Jacob about “giving” his daughter in marriage to Shechem, in the same way that the Jacobites and Shechemites will “give and take” wives, live and trade in the same region, and hold property together peacefully.

But separatist tendencies by Jacob’s sons are threatened by this possibility and by Shechem’s intercourse with Dinah. They want to resist intermarriage. Their idea of “give and take” is “taking” the sword, killing all the Shechemite males, after they had converted to the Covenant by being circumcised, plundering the city, and taking their wives and children. The story passes “judgment” (the meaning of Dinah’s name) on their friendly attitude. It is the story of the first ethnic genocide… of course, it could never happen in Palestine… or here!

(Song – “Is the Lord with us” by Don Stewart – Verse 2 and Bridge)
2. Some are hungry, some are greedy, and there’s always a war.
So we keep on asking loudly, “What for?!” (chorus)
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Is the Lord with us when the house is burning to the ground?
Is the Lord with us when a child is dead?
Is the Lord with us when we have so much it weighs us down,
while a countless number don’t even have bread?
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Fear of ‘the other’…
the fear of Canaanites and Israelites…
of Palestinian and Jew?

When the North and South Kingdoms of Judah and Israel broke up it was at that same site of Shechem… between Mt Ebal and Mt Gerazim… this was where the faith was declared by all the nation at the naming and coronation of the new King (Deuteronomy). After a series of particularly bad kings, the people came together and started their list of blessings and curses and ended up just cursing one another and going home, rather than finding a way of reconciling enough to stay together. It was the sin of division.
Years later, this sin of ‘cursing the other’ still impacts on Jesus and the woman at the well. Yet, what Jesus promises is the possibility of worshipping together, not in a place, but in spirit and in truth…

For this to happen, what is required is a coming together… Reconciliation!

The promise of unity within the context of diversity often seems too difficult to bother with, yet – it is the requirement for Heaven (where all nations will worship God). If that were to happen – if we are ever to worship in spirit and in truth, we must seek out the ‘others’ to worship alongside them… to mingle our voices… to discover God’s will for the weaving together of a new heaven and a new earth.

What would it mean for us to focus our invitations, not on people like us, but to people who are different and ‘other’? What would it mean for us to intentionally seek out greater diversity? What would it take for us to start to become household with the Chinese who worship here?

We share a place… what else might we share?

As part of my Lenten discipline, I have been writing reflections on the women of the scriptures, hence my heightened awareness of the connections between Dinah and the Samaritan Woman…

Woman of Sychar

Between the mountains of curses and blessings
We hold the memory of prophets and kings.

I follow the footsteps of Dinah’s shaming
To draw water for cooking and washing small-things.

Like Dinah, the men in my life led to naming
That I could not wed a husband of mine.

Yet lonely I’m not for I live with another
I survive with whoever is there at the time.

For such is the life of Samaria’s woman
That during the day I would go to the well.

I am met and conversed with – by a Messiah!
My story he details and chooses to tell.

We joust with our words in long repartee –
A dialogue given for many to comment.

His wisdom and care lightens my spirit.
Somehow I know I am called to speak out.

I run into town to tell all and sundry –
Here is good news – let there be no doubt.

I follow Him now – and will do so forever
Join with me in song – Join with me to shout:

Hosanna! Hosanna! The Lord is come!

(Samaritan Woman at the Well – John 4) © 2017, A.Koh-Butler