A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Psalm 104 at the Corowa Federation Day Ecumenical Service, 26 January 2020.

We acknowledge the Bangarang people as the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.

Over the years, people have made three mistakes about the world. The first mistake has been to exploit it. We’ve cut down forests to fuel our factories and carved through hillsides to build our freeways. We’ve filled the air with smog and the rivers with effluent. .

The second mistake is to worship it. Because the world is more than just a thing to use. Instead, we see its wonder, its beauty, the way each species of plant and animal exists in a delicate balance. But by worshiping it, we fail to honour its creator.

The third mistake is to fear it, and to shun its pleasures as something bad or evil. Even today members of the church can feel a vague, subconscious guilt in the pleasures of life. Sadly, one of Satan’s greatest lies is that if it is fun it must be wrong.

To each of these three mistakes, God gives his answer in Psalm 104.

Firstly, this psalm is a celebration of the natural wonders of the world. Of the rain and springs that water the mountains and of the rivers that run to the sea. Of the trees that provide homes for the birds, and grass that provides food for cattle. Of the beasts that live in remote areas and come out to feed at night. Of the sea which teems with life and provides a playground for the creatures of the deep.

It reminds us that God did not just make the world for people to exploit, but for all its creatures. They all look to God for food, the cattle for their pasture, the lion for its prey. They all depend on the goodness of God. When God supplies them with food, they gather it up. When God opens his hand of blessing, the whole world benefits. When God takes away their spirit, they perish. When drought or bushfires come, they scar the whole landscape, threatening whole species and ecosystems, not just the farms and homes of men. But when God sends the rain again, the whole world is renewed. And life returns to what was dead.

But secondly, Psalm 104 is a celebration of the creator. It begins and ends with praise for God, for the wonders he has made. In fact, the great glory of creation, reflects even greater glory reflects on the creator. For which is greater, the watch or the watchmaker, the cake or the baker, the match winning ace or the tennis player who raises the trophy? The world is a wonderful place, but its true wonder is in displaying the goodness, wisdom and power of the God who made it.

And thirdly, Psalm 104 declares that God made all things for his pleasure and for the pleasure of his creatures. Verse 31 says,

May the glory of the Lord endure forever. May the Lord rejoice in his works.

God takes pleasure in what he has made. It fills his heart with joy. And God wants us to feel the same way. For he made bread to strengthen man’s heart, but he also made oil to make his face shine and wine to fill his heart with gladness.

This is the God I love. This is the God whose praise I sing. Not a sour, disapproving, cross old man in the sky, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord who turned water into wine, who ate and drank with sinners, whom the Pharisees called a drunkard and a sinner.

Today is Australia Day, a day in which we renew our love for our country. And I don’t know about you, but I love Australia. I don’t love everything that has happened in our history. I don’t have to approve of everything that Australians have done. In fact, it is remarkable how downright un-Australian some Australians are. Near where my father grew up in Narrandera is a creek called Poisoned Waterhole Creek. It isn’t called that because the blackfellas poisoned it but because the whitefellas poisoned it. I’m not proud of it. In fact, I’m ashamed of the cruelty and inhumanity that our history contains.

But I still love this place. This land. This Australia. It’s my home and this is where my heart belongs. And there is no other country like it in the world with its extremes of temperature and distance, with its diversity of landscapes and people. In Europe, you can have breakfast in France, lunch in Belgium and dinner in Germany. But you can drive for two days from here and still be in New South Wales. This wide brown land challenges us to the limit, that forces us to be the best that we can be. And yet we dare to call it the Lucky Country because we have been blessed to live in it. God has made this harsh and generous land and we are blessed to all it home.

We all love Australia. We wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t. But I also believe that we cannot truly love our country until we come to love the God who made our country just the way it is. For how can we say we love this harsh land, yet curse God in our hearts when it sends trouble, slander him as cruel when these challenges are but his instruments to renew the land and to stretch us to the limit?

We are who we are because we live in this land and we have been forged by its challenges. And so I believe that this Australia Day is not just a chance to renew our love for our country, but to renew our love for the God who made it just the way it is. The God of summer and winter, the God of rain and drought, the God who withholds his hand and his creation perishes, but who brings the cool change and drought breaking rain, the God who brings new life after fire.

My challenge to you is to love Australia, even with the redback spiders in the garage and the brown snakes in the backyard. And to love the God who made Australia our home.