Given the state of regional travel over weekends, the choice to stay in Darwin and fly home on Monday was fairly easy. It also means I have two hours in the Alice Springs airport to type up and post this blog.
It also provided an opportunity to visit the Darwin Presbyterian Church and to listen to the Robert Benn (no longer Secretary General Most High) preach God’s Word.
The Service is held in the Kormilda College Auditorium. Their website explains that the property has a fascinating history as a transit centre for international travellers. In 1967-68, the Northern Territory Government acquired the property to create a post primary hostel and boarding school for indigenous children from isolated locations. In 1989 the ownership of the College transferred to the Anglican and Uniting Churches and is now a large school with a significant indigenous representation in its student body. The property and grounds are well appointed and it is an inviting place to conduct Worship.
The auditorium is state of the art and seats about sixty to seventy in theatrette type seating. A grand piano is available for music. Disabled access is available by lift. The room is air-conditioned. I cannot but think of the difference between these surroundings and those in Dili last week.
Before the Service I am sitting alone, but Ann comes to introduce herself and keep me company. Ann, who I will learn is four, tells me about her brothers (5) and her mum and dad (1 of each). Her dress features pink and her sandles match. Later at morning tea she will bring me a Jatz Cracker to eat. Ann has a great future as a church welcomer.
The tone of the Service is reverent and relaxed, which suits Darwin. Rob Duncason leads, with Jeanette on piano and Ben accompaying on guitar.
Scripture is read, prayers are offered. One of Rob’s Timor Leste scarves (or ties as I am now told they are called) is draped over a music stand. Another scarf is proudly draped around the shoulders of Jo, creator of Timotio.
Our hymns for the day are: Crown Him with many crowns; Yours is the glory; Search me, O God and I’ll tell you the last one later.
There is time for a brief report on the trip. Due to technical problems photos will have to wait for another day. But the Congregation are assured their prayers have been answered and we know that even as we sit there are prayers being said in Timor Leste for the Australian Presbyterian Church, and for Darwin in particulary.
RB’s sermon will focus on John 18:15-18 & 25-27 and particularly on 21:1-19.
To contextualise his sermon, RB outlines the story of a man who, while serving in the army in WWII, was smuggled out of East Timor by the locals. These and other stories like them have escaped the general notice of Australians, certainly to the extent of New Guinea’s ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’. The reason for this gap in the historical register may be because it served Australia’s political purposes to accede to East Timor’s assimilation into Indonesia.
So soon after the Vietnam War, there was a fear that communism could find its way so close to Australia’s borders. Our nation’s own virtual colonial interest in Papua New Guinea was ended, it could afford little perception of seeking an empire. Indonesia’s growing interests and power were placated. The death of journalists who knew the truth about those who were in favour of independence was marginalised.
But the fact is that East Timor was left bereft of friends in its time of need. Turn to John 21.
Peter has betrayed Jesus. The bitter tears of that morning must have continued to burn. At the town of Same, on Timor Leste, the rooster crowed at 5.03am each morning. Imagine how each day began for Peter, awakened but such a tangible reminder of his betrayal.
Such thoughts and memories probably echo through every life: words said that cannot be taken back; an attitude that is out of control, again; tenderness toward children not extended; and every missed opportunity to speak a word for the Gospel. Each memory brings its own pang of regret. Over a lifetime they can prove a crushing burden.
Yet here we see Jesus reach across this gulf of betrayal to seek restoration. He models for us a Kingdom pattern of living.
Think for a moment that as Jesus interacts with Peter He seeks no healing of His own. His words and actions are purely for Peter’s healing.
The Psalmist writes:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6)
This is the one who knew Peter inside and out. The Lord Jesus comes to restore his friend.
After Jesus’ fishing instruction, after a fish breakfast, what seems to be recorded as an awkward silence is broken by Jesus asking a question of Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” With increasing emotion Peter would have to reply three times that he did, mirroring his three denials.
Jesus is not tormenting Peter, remember the Lord has no petty hurts to expunge. Rather He is dealing with Peter’s failing and accepting him, indicating that in his repentence there is the capacity to now move forward. “Feed my sheep.” First repentence, then forgiveness, then restoration, then service.
As I listened to these words I reflected on the many failings of my life. I was thankful for the Lord’s forgiveness and acceptance of me. I am also thankful for those who in graciousness and patience have bourne with me when I have succumbed to hubris, excess and self-centeredness. I like to think that my life now shows some fruit for their efforts, though there is still far to go. I am thankful that there is the opportunity to grow and invest my life more deeply in others, for the cause of the Gospel.
I also think of the people of Timor Leste. The people we have met bear no malice for the past. That is a work of grace in itself. As they have spoken to us of the situation and needs over the past week there has never been a suggestion that we need to make good on past failings. They have shown great grace to us, and that is very winsome. It invites us into a partnership not based on guilt or shame, but on freedom and grace.
Our final hymn is ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’. We come to Him for grace and forgiveness. We show that we have received this grace by forgiving others; by repenting freely; and by living freely and generously as we move forward. Wherever we are.
To those of you who have been reading out of interest in the Timor Leste trip, thank you for your interest and prayers. There have been many of you and it is good to make new friends, even if I don’t know that you exist by any other means than the stats meter. I’ll be posting here frequently. If you check back later I am intending to post about my thoughts having read ‘The Cambridge Seven’.