The coming of the light, celebrated on July 1st by Torres Strait Islanders, and now included in the Anglican Church of Australia calendar, remembers the arrival of the first Christian missionaries in 1871. Among that population it is a great festival. I remember several years ago joining in with them in Cairns and being blown away by the beauty of their music. The contrast with the complex but dull European music was embarrassing. The occasion is celebrated with fervour. It is only 140 years ago, and a few would remember people who were there at the time.
It raises some questions for us who come from much older Christian traditions. The most obvious is, ‘why did it take so long, and why were the first Christian missionaries from the London Mission Society, based in Fiji? Remember it was 1871. Queensland had been a separate colony for 22 years. Vessels heading back to the UK or to East Asia regularly used the Torres Strait. It was hardly strange country.
The second question is; where has our joy in knowing Jesus Christ as saviour gone? Hundreds of years of familiarity have blunted the edge. We take it for granted and are more wont to concentrate on the faults of the church and its leaders than the message enshrined in our faith. That does seem somewhat perverse. Our faith puts forgiveness at the centre of our relationship with God, yet we find the exercise of that virtue difficult.
The church always needs renewal. Each generation has to discover again how to express the core of the faith to a sceptical world. We always have to model of Jesus to guide us. His patient, non-violent acceptance of every person as a person of worth, his refusal to wield power as a means of persuasion, his exercise of forgiveness to the point of death, all show us the way. That is how God deals with us, we can do no better.