Summary: Australians long to own a piece of Australia, but we need to recognise that before we own anything God owned it first and he owns us as well.
What does it mean to be Australian? What’s important to us as Australians?
Well you’d have to say a number of things to answer those questions wouldn’t you? Our freedom matters. We love the fact that this is a land where we’re free to do what we want. That’s certainly the reason that many migrants and refugees have moved here. Mind you, just as an aside, the interesting thing about our perception of freedom is that it’s in the context of us being one of the most highly regulated countries in the world. Perhaps the secret there is that most of those regulations are actually created to ensure that we’re free to do what we want. Freedom doesn’t imply an absence of law. Instead it’s enabled by the right laws.
Part of our self identity is our love of leisure and especially of sport. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of athletes and outdoor types, even if the closest we ever come to the outdoors is driving down the road in our 4 wheel drive and the closest we come to sport is watching the Australian Open or the cricket on the television. But that’s our self image isn’t it? Think about how patriotic we all got last Wednesday when Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik were playing on Australia Day.
Mateship is something that’s very strong in our psychological makeup isn’t it? A mate is someone who sticks by you. In The Age last Saturday there was an article on the Meaning of Oz. It gave a list of light hearted definitions of words that come out of our national mythology. Here’s what it said about mateship: "The redemption principle at work: that is, if only we were all mates the sins of the world could be forgiven." In other words, a mate’s someone who sticks by you; who forgives you even when you’ve done the dirty on him. Related to that idea is the "Fair Go". "A fair go is the ultimate Australian ideal. At least that’s the belief. In reality the fair go works on a sliding scale - the more you have, the fairer the go you will get."
But the thing I want to concentrate on today is the great Australian Dream: You all know the song don’t you? Give me a home among the gum trees, With lots of plum trees, A sheep or two and a kangaroo, A clothesline out the back, Verandah out the front and an old rocking chair. Well, the quarter acre block has become the 8th of an acre block, but still we seem to have this innate need to own a parcel of land that we can call our own. Now of course this isn’t just restricted to Australians, but it is something that we seem to specialise in. These days whenever an organisation holds a public ceremony in Australia there’s an expectation that the ceremony will start by acknowledging the traditional holders of the land. This is both to recognise the fact that they were dispossessed when British settlers first came here but also because of the importance to indigenous Australians of the ownership of land. But it’s not just to indigenous Australians that ownership of land matters. So many migrants have been lured here by the possibility of owning their own land, their own home.
It seems to me there are 2 issues in this home ownership business. One is that of security. That is, if I own my own home then no-one can throw me out, even if I lose my job or my health, or whatever. And the other issue is about control. If I rent somewhere I’m constrained in what I can do with my home. But if I own it I can paint the walls purple and no-one will complain. I can have a dog and not have to worry whether it wrecks the carpet or digs up the garden. I can put in all the environmentally friendly devices there are if that’s where my interests lie; and so forth. So part of owning our own home is that we have some control over that part of our life at least.
And there may also be a bit of pride in what we’ve achieved in buying and eventually paying off this small bit of Australia that’s now ours.
Well, there’s one danger in all that. That’s when we forget that what we own is really only held in stewardship for the true owner of this land. And I don’t mean the indigenous tribes who were displaced when Europeans first came here. This applies equally to them. No. I mean the God who made this land. The first reading we had today, from Deuteronomy 6, is part of a message given by Moses to the people of Israel just before they entered the land of Canaan to take possession of it. So there are some parallels for us. They were going to dispossess the traditional owners of that land in order to settle there, though with better justification than our British forbears had. But having done that they faced the temptation of thinking that they’d achieved what they did by their own efforts and abilities. (That of course is also something that wasn’t restricted to them.) And there was the real danger that in their prosperity and comfort they’d forget the God who had given them their land in the first place. So let me read you the last half of that reading again: "10When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant--and when you have eaten your fill, 12take care that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear."