Australia first observed ‘Harmony Day’ on 21 March 1999.
Carrying the message ‘Everyone belongs’, Harmony Day encourages Australians of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds to participate in their community, get to know one other, and understand and trust each other, respecting our cultural and religious differences. Acknowledging each other and our diversity helps us to grow as a community and as individuals, and in appreciating the world in which we live. Christians can support these goals.
As I wrote in my 2017 message for Harmony Day, Jesus called his followers to show the way in being good neighbours to all those around them, just as God sends the sunshine and rain to everyone regardless. In Deuteronomy God tells the people of Israel, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)
How, then, are relationships across ethnic, cultural, political and religious divides going in your neighbourhood?
Such relations might not be as acrimonious in Australia and New Zealand as in some other parts of the world, but we still have some way to go before our societies know complete harmony. Many things still divide us. Deeply rooted suspicions and prejudices remain. Too often we hear people talk in ways or do things that denigrate others, and we remain silent, or even join in. So we mustn’t give up on promoting goodwill, understanding and tolerance. It matters.
Of course there have always been people who see the world differently to us, with a different set of rules to live by. We can feel threatened by these differences, if we let them. It makes all the difference when we make the effort to know who that other person really is by listening to their story and appreciating their experiences. Just as nowadays we have learned to enjoy food from all over the world, we can also learn to appreciate the colour and flavour each person brings to our community. There will be things that perplex us, or with which we cannot agree, particularly in matters of faith, but we can still learn to value each other as human beings.
How does faith in Jesus help us do this?
Jesus clearly showed that love for our neighbour does not require us to agree with them on everything. Yet God’s love is for all people. Obeying his Father, Jesus laid down his life for us. St Paul says that when he did that we were sinners, God’s enemies. That act of love for us, which we do not deserve, is why we love and serve others. Whether or not we agree with others’ beliefs and actions, God’s action for us obligates us to love and serve them. Each person is God’s special creation. We are to treat each one with care and respect.
Please join me in the following prayers for Harmony Day, and feel free to add your own.
Lord our God, we confess to you our failure to live well with others.
- We have failed to show hospitality to strangers, about whom we are often ready to believe the worst. We have judged them according to ugly caricatures and expected them to meet higher standards than we expect of ourselves.
- Help us to be generous in the allowances we make for people of different cultures, accepting that there are logical and legitimate ways of doing things that are different to our ways. Help us to be initiators of friendship with people of difference, open to learning to understand why they think and do as they do, and open to being changed by them.
- We have been insensitive to others and hurt them by what we have said and done. Help us to remember that you are the creator of every person, that you love every person and desire us to treat all persons with dignity.
Help us, we pray:
- to remember that even if we are convinced that we are speaking your truth, and convinced that the time is right to speak boldly, you want us to act in love and not out of self-righteousness;
- to recognise situations in which your will is not clear, and to participate constructively in discussions about the best way forward;
- to find the wisdom to know when to speak up and when to stay silent, and find the right words for every occasion;
- to have the courage, discernment and self-control we need to engage well with those with whom we disagree;
- to guard and strengthen our faith as we interact with people of other faiths and none; and
- to deepen our knowledge and understanding of our faith so we can more effectively speak the gospel.
Lord our God, we also pray
- that the freedoms of thought, belief, speech, conscience and association may spread, take hold and be valued and defended in all places where there is now discrimination, intolerance and persecution;
- that wherever these freedoms are enjoyed, people will exercise them responsibly, with due regard for their fellow citizens;
- that we may stand against influences that lead us to unnecessary violence and war;
- and that Christians everywhere will come to understand freedom as freedom to die to self and to serve others, just as Jesus served us, and died and rose again for us.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
20 March 2018
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