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Chaplains – napping and wise

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

A sermon at Grafton Cathedral by the Revd Camellia Flanagan, TSSF

8 November 2020 Pentecost 23 Remembrance Joshua 24:1-3a 14-25 Ps 78:1-7 Matthew 25:1-13

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is very close to Remembrance Day, the 11 November, which was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth and today we are taking the opportunity to commemorate the work of Defence Anglican Chaplains. The 11 November, which will be Wednesday this week was originally called Armistice Day as it was the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday 11 November 1918 at 11.00 am. Remembered as “ the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” Since 2014 in recent time the Sunday before Remembrance Day has been designated as Defence Sunday, and a time to remember the ministry of our Church among Defence personnel and families.

An Australian Defence Force Chaplain is a “missionary” sent out from the Church to minister in the name of Jesus wherever and whenever opportunities arise. The Chaplain aims to be a bridge between individuals and Jesus, and the Anglican Church and the society in which members of the forces find themselves.

Anglican Defence Force Chaplaincy is a ministry encompassing sacramental, pastoral, evangelistic, vocational, instructional and administrative duties, in which the chaplain lives with and shares the hardships and privileges of uniformed people posted around the country and overseas in theatres of war. Anglican Defence Force Chaplaincy is a vital work among the nation’s youth, a significant national ministry, and an important outreach to Australia’s regional neighbours.

Defence Force Chaplains have been employed by the Australian Government on either a full-time or a part-time basis to meet the spiritual and welfare needs of uniformed people serving in the armed forces since the Boer War (1899-1902). The Anglican Church of Australia has made available clergy for ministry as chaplains in the Permanent and Reserve elements of the Australian Defence Force. Since 2000, they have ministered in East Timor, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Malaysia, the Middle East and at sea in the Persian Gulf. All Anglican Defence Force Chaplains commit themselves to the expectation of operational service overseas.

– Naval Chaplains serve both ashore and at sea. – Army Chaplains minister in barracks and in the field. – Air Force Chaplains are expeditionary, work in multi-denominational teams at both fixed and remote air bases.

Chaplains care for their people with love, compassion and a high degree of being a listening ear to another. When serving personnel do not have access to a Chaplain, because of the nature of the work of war, many members of the forces carry a burden throughout their lives connected with their experiences in the theatre of war.

I remember some time ago I was in the local Returned Services Club wearing my clerical collar, where I was waiting to join a meeting and an elder statesman-like old digger came up to me and said ”I am not friends with God” “How come” said I, “I thought anyone could be friends with God” With that he proceeded to tell me his story. “I’ve carried this a long time – during the war we saw some terrible things, and I did terrible things – God doesn’t want to know me” Being trained in Disaster recovery chaplaincy, I felt I could answer this. “Mmm” said I,” in war time sometimes lots of things happen and are done which would not be done if we had time or circumstance to work out another way. Did you know that even so, God knows and understands these things? God’s love does not go away, it just stays quietly in the background waiting.” “That sounds something like what our Padre said” he responded, “God never gives up on us, it is usually that we stop talking to him. I guess He protected us along all the way that we went,” - in the background waiting you said.” … Might have a chat.

When we consider the drama and horror of war and even the circumstances of life, we, like the Children of Israel in Joshua’s time, or that old digger at the club bar, begin to realise that “God protected us along all the way that we went” We then like Joshua’s people have to decide whether to obey the Lord who had proven his trustworthiness, or follow human made precepts we may put into the important idol category. In taking a definite stand for God, Joshua showed his spiritual leadership in making a firm decision regardless of what others did.

When we consider the story in today’s Gospel, we reflect on the issues of staying awake and being wise. There are a number of passages in the gospels where Jesus exhorts the disciples to stay awake because he will come at an hour they do not expect. When we reflect on them in their various contexts the call to stay awake can take on different shades of meaning depending on the context.

In the same way other sayings of Jesus, such as “The kingdom of heaven is near,” ”Your faith has saved you.” Or “listen anyone who has ears,” is a challenge and an invitation to think about its meaning in a particular passage.

What clues can we find in the story of the bridesmaids and their lamps? Thinking of staying awake, all 10 of the bridesmaids had a good nap while they waited for the bridegroom to arrive and there is another clue which concerns the wisdom of the bridesmaids. The wise ones had made the best preparations they could for the purpose of their role as bridesmaids. They were ready to accompany the bridal party even though they had fallen asleep as they waited. If we translate this parable into what it means to the vocation of a Christian, or of a Christian Chaplain it can remind us of the necessity of complete dependence on God and if this perspective is applied to life, then wisdom prevails and good preparation for all contingencies will eventuate. The Wisdom Christian life, is practice driven. The Children of Israel in Joshua’s time did not desert God. They agreed to follow God in all of Joshua’s days. When people practise a lifestyle that nurtures the heart, they become receptive to the higher meaning of life and receive wisdom. This is not knowing something more, but it is knowing deeper with more of our being, engaged.1 Knowing that the Lord protects us along all the way that we go, even if we are napping, in the preparation we will be aware. If we are listening, to the gentle prompting of the spirit we will make sure our waking preparations are careful, wise and personal. Amen.

1 The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault, Shambhala Publications, Massachusetts USA 2008

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