Outback Sunday

Posted 19-9-2004

This is an excerpt from a service held in Gawler as part of four Sundays focussed on Creation. This particular Sunday had begun with The Story of Rosy Dock who lived on the Finke River, "the oldest river in the world." Jeannie Baker generously allowed us to make a PowerPoint presentation from her fine book. The service continued:

1. Confession of people who live with the oldest river in the world.

For this moment of time
for these few seconds among the eons
we people have thought we are the centre of creation…

We have been a blight on life around us
forgetful we are but a small part of creation
not even confessing that we are created
but acting as though we are Lords.

Poor lords we are,
lacking justice
riven by petty jealousy
pleasuring in power without glory, and without love…

creating deadly cancerous deserts upon the face of earth
fouling the land which gives us life
lavishing and lusting for ourselves
leaving little but loss for those who will follow
laughing at the lack of those who languish around us.

Forgive us, O God,
that still Creation groans in waiting
for the redemption of the children of God
while we walk far from our calling.

Heal our heart
that we might be as the smallest sand grain
in the wide outback
tiny and yet unafraid
and at peace with the providence which flows rich in your earth.

For Jesus sake we ask it.

God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only Son
that all who believed in him might have Life.

2. A Word of Hope

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


3. Absolution
Be at peace.
The cries of creation will be comforted
when the children of God
walk again in God’s paths.

Let us love the Land of the Lord.
Our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.

4. “Song Of The Sanctuary“

1. You who watch the highest heavens
Wond’ring where God’s mansions are;
You who hope to spot an angel
Spinning like a falling star;
Earth is calling, Earth is calling,
Come back home and rest in me. (Repeat)

2. You who build exotic buildings
Taller than the forest tree,
Don’t you know that all foundations
Deep, deep down reside in me.
Earth is calling, Earth is calling,
Come back home and live in me. (Repeat)

3. You who travel Earth as pilgrims,
Dreaming where you’d rather be;
God’s own glory fills my body,
I am God’s own sanctuary.
Earth is calling, Earth is calling,
Come back home to God in me. (Repeat)

4. You who hope for joys in heaven,
Do you know the joys of Earth?
Ancient forests filled with singing,
Seas that shout when whales give birth?
Earth is calling, Earth is calling,
Come back home and sing with me. (Repeat)

5. You who long for bread like manna
Falling from the hand of God?
Know that Earth provides your water,
Precious breath and daily food.
Earth is calling, Earth is calling,
Come back home and dine with me. (Repeat)

Words: © Norman Habel 2000
Melody: Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer

5. Bible
Romans 8.18-27
Mark 1.9-13
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

6. Sermon

My friend Trevor has been working at a mine in Ghana. Seven out of every ten workers there are HIV positive. Another friend, Fatima, told me last week how only she and her sister lost most of their family when they survived the massacre of Muslims in Sarajevo. Along side this politicians on both sides of the fence have been saying things like, “Elect me and there will be a five dollar a week tax cut.” Or thereabouts. As Amanda Vanstone said last year, “Maybe enough for a hamburger and a milk shake.”

What kind of country are we if people think such a little amount of money should decide how we vote for the future of the nation? What a poverty of spirit and morality we must suffer from! Despite all the horrors we read in the news, it seems many of us think a few dollars a week are the most important thing!

How little we think on what is really important. The Australian theologian and historian Father Paul Collins wrote:

those of us whose lives span the second half of the twentieth century will be among the most despised and cursed generations in the history of humankind. The reason why we will be hated by our children's children and by those who come after them is simple: never before have human beings exploited, damaged, and degraded the earth to the extent that we have. Without regard for the future we have unconscionably rendered the earth less and less inhabitable for both our human future and that of other species of flora and fauna, many of which we have already driven to extinction.
It is … especially our complete lack of care for the future, that will cause the generations who come after us to curse us most.

He said, that perhaps people will think I am overstating the case, but

I mean exactly what I say. Historically, we are part of the most destructive phase of human history ever known. Since about the beginning of the nineteenth century we have carried on a developmental binge that has probably done more damage to the earth and other species than anything else in cosmic history. This has accelerated and reached its peak in the period since the end of the Second World War.

Paul Collins. God's Earth: Religion as if matter really mattered Dove 1995

He went on to say that we need a profound conversion of spirit. We need metanoia… repentance… a thorough going turning of attitudes about what is important in life. We all know that many scientists and thinkers think that if something like this does not happen we may not survive at all.

Father Collins is correct. People won't change easily. Only a fundamental change of heart will wean us from our love affair with cars and all the other consumer goods we have turned into necessities, and which the world cannot support, and which until less than a century ago, we did without.

This should interest us as Christians- for we are in the heart changing business. Jesus said, “Repent- for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent means to have a change of heart. And that brings us to the Outback…….

The reading says Jesus was baptised. Then God said ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ God immediately sent this Chosen One into the outback. God sent him into the wilderness, where he was tempted... where he was tested... where he could decide what was really important in his life..

Wilderness and Outback is where all the accoutrements of modern life are removed. All the trappings and distractions are taken away. We are left to face our own demons, and see life naked as it is. We do not have the comfort of carpet and warm showers and five TV channels and the internet. And this is good! We have a chance to see what is really important in life instead of being distracted by the worry of how much to pay for the new DVD player. As Jesus did, we will also recognize that often what seems important is ultimately not. We will see that some choices that seem reasonable here in Gawler, will in the end work for evil and not for good.


It is hard living differently and respecting God's earth. I am constantly questioned by clients who cannot understand why I do not drive a car to work around the city. Some have even checked with my boss if perhaps I have lost my license! We appreciate our cars and clothes dryers and central heating and cooling. Indeed, much about these things is good. But often the way we use them is obscene.

To really live differently is hard. Modern life is not used to waiting twenty minutes for a bus.

We are expected to have an air-conditioner rather than be a bit tired at work the morning after a hot night. And we shouldn’t raise a sweat walking to work or have a little mud on our cuffs… it spoils the image of our artificial offices. I used to work with Dave Phillips (a member of the congregation.) He arrived to collect me one morning dressed in a suit "to die for," and I asked him what was the occasion. He said, "This is my 'I know more than you do suit.'" There are industries which require you to dress like that every day, always. Life is a pose. I am expected to have a mobile phone, and to always have it turned on.

Our kids will suffer at school, we are told, if they have not had a TV to watch, or a computer hooked up to the internet.

Where do we find the impetus and energy to live differently? Where can we find the courage not to consume? Where can we find the energy and the insight to see what is important, and the courage to let go of what is not?


We could do much worse than go to the Outback. I do not mean to take a three day, five star, plane trip to Ayers’ Rock. That is not going to the outback. That is merely taking the city with us to another place. To be in the wilderness we need to be away from all those things which separate us and distract us from God. The awe and enormity and terror of wilderness and Outback cannot open us to the reality and presence of God, if we shut God out with the Hotel TV and the Qantas in-flight magazine, or an airport novel.

We need to hear the silence of the Outback… to feel the discomfort of silence push in on us, with only the gentle hiss of the heat on a hot day. We need to be by a little fire at night and to let ourselves be afraid in the dark with no doors and locks to protect us.

A lot of the Outback is degraded and damaged land. To get to Uluru we should take a hot bus via Victory Downs and Mulga Park, through the cattle damaged country and contrast that with the virgin grassland around Uluru, and let it speak to us. We could swim in a Finke flood in the warm water flowing with the stink of cattle under the Stuart Highway Bridge. We could walk around the ancient Henbury meteorite craters… taking time to feel the heat and the age… the eons of slowly eroding crater lips… and lie in the dark of an outback night and see stars and stars... and stars... and listen to the quiet night sounds we have forgotten.

Or on a trip to the Barossa we could stop by at Hoffnungsthal, in the Valley of Hope, where the waters drowned out the village. We could sit there… take a chair… sit there all day… no book, no phone, no radio… letting the story of the place touch us… thinking of the things that matter… letting God have some time to be heard.

For in the end Outback is not so far away. It is also a state and place of mind… a letting of the desert into the city… by our being still and listening. And just as the desert Outback is fragile and easily damaged, so to is the interior desert. We easily block God out.

Jesus is sent out into the wilderness to hear God and find the direction of his ministry. The stories tell how on occasion he would go to a lonely place to pray. There he would hear God.

The theologians and historians tell us that for some centuries we have focussed too much on the person of Jesus as the revelation of God. We have slowly lost our connection to the creation. We have seen Jesus too much as God, and not enough as part of creation. Indeed, we have forgotten that he is also part of the creation… (divine and human in the old language.) And so we have thought we could live above the creation, exploiting it, rather than as a part of it. In truth, scripture shows that above all Jesus lived in and as a part of creation... subject to it. What else can crucifixion be? To be do Christian we must do likewise. We cannot Lord it over the creation. If we do we profoundly part company with the Christ.

We have acted like Gods. Unlike the Bushman of the Kalahari who apologises to the dying antelope he has shot with his arrow… because he too must eat, we have simply treated creation as something we could take as our right. We have thought the land is something we can lord it over. We have forgotten that the Land reveals the Lord most of all. The Land and the Creation is our primary reality. Jesus is the guide to how we live, but like him, we must live in the land, and with the land, or we will have no life.

Being alone in the land, being dwarfed by it, being uncomfortable and afraid in our smallness and weakness… these are the things that can open us to God. These might let us see God again, and be changed and converted, and live with God, in the creation…. and then truly creation will rejoice in the revealing of the children of God.

At the southern extremity of the Barossa Valley lies Lyndoch, which Colonel Light visited and named in 1837. The original Lutheran settlement at Lyndoch as established at Hoffnungsthal, where migrants from Posen settled in 1847. The Aborigines in the area warned the settlers that Hoffnungsthal became virtually a lagoon in winter, but the settlers did not immediately heed their advice. They were forced to leave after the area was badly flooded in 1854. The historic area has been commemorated by a plaque, which records the names of the Hoffnungsthal pioneers. The remains of the village include the foundations of the church, remnants of the early roadway, 2 wells, fragments of the cemetery, an underground morgue, 2 threshing floors and scattered building stones. Many of the Hoffnungsthal settlers moved to Lyndoch, Gomersal and elsewhere in the Barossa. (Look under Lyndoch)

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



This functionality requires the FormBuilder module