The referendum vote is in a few days but how will the proposal, months of debate and outcome be remembered? Right remembering is a deeply theological endeavour and so how can theology assist us on Sunday morning and what happens next?
Each year, when I take people on Arrernte country in central Australia, we are mindful that well-meaning Christian people have arrived from the east coast, mostly forgetting or largely ignoring Jesus’ instruction in Luke 9-10 for mission and ministry. As visitors from the east coast, we spend considerable time rehearsing together our collective history, in the spirit of truth-telling. In the week of the referendum, Jesus’ instruction for his disciples in mission suggests five themes for faithful relationships with—including mission to—First Nations People: vulnerability, power, cultural codes (how to dress), lingering and rejection.
Go on your way.
See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near
- Vulnerability. “Do not carry your baggage – physical, emotional but particularly cultural baggage” Jesus instructs those being sent out on mission. Imagine how different Christian missions might have been if the missionaries had left their western, colonial, cultural baggage at home before they came to central Australia? For those of us about to head out on Spirit journey with John it is a timely reminder. If you are feeling inspired on Sunday morning, that’s great. Go climb a mountain, run a marathon, or do your tax return. Just don’t go on mission in Jesus’ name until you’ve embraced your vulnerability.
- “Don’t take any bread or money”. Food and finance has always pointed to where the real power is. Jesus specifically instructs those who go on mission in his name to leave their power-games behind: you won’t be in control of food or finance. Deal with it. Again, the truth of too many missions was excessive and exclusive control over food and finances and so much more. In the desert, away from the city and its conveniences, off the grid and offline, those participating in the Spirit journey feel out of control. Jesus says as lovingly as is possible: “deal with it”. We don’t need to rehearse together all the ways the Church has mis-used and abused power. We simply need to share power regularly and not always have to be the ones in control.
- No tunic/robe. Apparently Jesus believed that those on mission should adopt the clothing of the host culture, and not the other way around. Another mistake so obvious with the benefits-of-hindsight, as generations of Aboriginal men, women and children were dressed with the extra tunics that the missionaries to central Australia just-so-happened to have packed with them. And, as an after-thought, what incredibly sensible and practical clothing for desert summers in central Australia that clothing turned out to be! In 2023 a counter-warning about cultural appropriation needs to be made.
- Stay awhile. Okay – finally some Christian missions got something right here. Going where other government employees wouldn’t go, staying long after the miners and bureaucrats had departed, maybe this is something the founders of various inland missions did mostly right? Yet how many remained guests to the hosts? And how many quickly assumed the role of hosts on those ancient lands where non-Aboriginal people will always be guests? Sadly, many of those missionaries who did the right thing according to Jesus and “stayed awhile” stayed as settlers and not as guests.
- Rejection? No problem, says Jesus: don’t retaliate, just leave. A lack of hospitality isn’t a problem, so just move on. Of course we now know that hospitality—formalised in a welcome to country—has been practiced among desert mob from a time beyond memory.
Hospitality. Welcome. Proclamation. Healing. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God comes near. Kingdom work is what we are all called to whatever the outcome of Saturday’s referendum. Our nation, particularly our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, might well be in need of faithful hospitality and welcome, the love of Jesus and the healing only he can bring, on Sunday morning.