Tuesday, 26 January 2016

“Hard Yakka”: a sermon (Jeremiah 1:4–10, 1st Corinthians 13:1–13, Luke 4:21-30)

In television commercials, we often see depictions of work ... hard work.  One classic commercial from a few years ago – which is on TV again at present - showed images of people - usually men - working on “a hard-earned thirst”:

You can get it walking.  You can get it talking.
You can get it teaching.  You can get it preaching.
You can get it rowing a boat or casting a vote.
You can get it milking a cow or taking a vow.
Matter of fact, I’ve got it now.

But there is good news.  We are assured that such a “hard-earned thirst” can be effectively satisfied by the company’s product, … a “big, cold beer”. 

And then there was a commercial for a brand of jeans that was also on the TV some years ago.  A disaster was about to happen to a campervan full of tourists.  Nobody can stop it. ... Until he appears ... a casual, muscular-looking bloke … with a great pair of jeans.  He quickly takes control, rescues the tourists in distress with a moment of quick thinking and a few moments of physical exertion.  Then he leaves, not stopping to be thanked.  The commercial ends with the rescued tourists gazing in awe at the source of his quick mind and strong body, which (the company assures us) is most definitely his jeans, jeans appropriately named “Hard Yakka”.

Hard yakka: it’s classic Australian rural slang for hard work.  It’s usually used for hard, physical work.  But not all hard yakka is physical.  Teachers, nurses, medical practitioners, mental health professionals, social workers, youth workers, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and dare I say clergy: all these occupations have their hard yakka, a hard yakka that is more exhausting intellectually and emotionally than it is physically.

Our lessons speak of hard yakka in the life of faith:

Jeremiah was reluctant to accept God’s call.  He knew he was being given a difficult task: hard yakka.

Paul told of the radical move from speaking, thinking, and reasoning like a child to speaking, thinking, and reasoning like an adult.  Growing up is hard yakka.  Allowing one’s faith to grow up is definitely hard yakka.  

Jesus challenged his hometown congregation at the Nazareth synagogue to a greater inclusivity in their understanding of God’s love, and they became angry.  Inclusivity is hard yakka, as the Uniting Church has found to its pain in recent years (and as many other mainstream churches have also found, including the Episcopal Church in the US recently).  But such inclusivity is the way of Jesus, so the hard yakka is worth it.

And this hard yakka is not only something that God expects of those who have received calls to extraordinary service:
  • a John Wesley or a Mary McKillop,
  • a John Flynn or a Mother Theresa,
  • an Albert Schweitzer or a Father Damian,
  • (and thinking of those two great individuals who births are celebrated around the world each January) a Martin Luther King or a Robert Burns.

For each of us, God has given us our tasks ... our responsibilities ... our hard yakka.

God calls each of us to be advocates of peace, justice, mercy, generosity, and human dignity, both in our day-to-day lives and in a broader, global perspective.

God also calls each of us to share our faith with those with whom we come into contact.  And, for most of us, that’s pretty hard. 

Sharing faith is much easier for the sort of Christians who believe that their “unchurched” relatives, friends, neighbours, and colleagues are destined to become fuel for an eternal barbecue if they don’t come to faith.  For that sort of Christian, there’s a definite urgency in the call to share the faith. 

On the other hand,
  • for those of us with a more optimistic view of God’s ultimate generosity,
  • for those of us with a more Jesus-shaped God,
  • for those of us who, while we may not take everything in the Bible literally, still take that one simple verse “God is love” very literally:
  • for good, solid, mainstream Christians like ourselves, there’s not always the same urgency to share our faith. 

That’s a pity.  We have something real to share.  In fact, I believe mainstream congregations like Wesley … and Scots’ … and Hobart North … and All Saints’…. and St. Joseph’s … and St. Mary’s Cathedral …. and St. David’s Cathedral … and the Quakers …. and others, we all have something much more real, much more authentic, much more life-giving to offer our neighbours than the more aggressive, predatory, showbiz style of church has to offer.  God calls us to share our faith, and that’s hard yakka.

It’s not only for those who are called to extraordinary service, but it’s for all of us.  There’s some hard yakka that God wants us each to do.

But it’s not only hard yakka.  There’s a promise of a certain joy to it all as well.  In the TV commercials, the joy is mostly found in the enjoyment of the company’s product, whether it’s “a big, cold beer” or a great pair of jeans.

In our lessons, the joy is wrapped up with the hard yakka as a package deal:
  • The hard yakka of integrity that Jeremiah was called to proclaim has its own joy.   
  • The hard yakka of practical love that Paul celebrated has its own joy.
  • The hard yakka of inclusion that Jesus proclaimed to the shock of his hometown congregation (and to the shock of many 21st century Christians); that hard yakka of inclusion also has its own joy.

It’s not only hard yakka.  God promises us a certain joy to it all as well. 

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