Celebrating NAIDOC Week 2-9 July 2017
Resources for Worship
These brief worship resources are offered to assist Congregations to recognise and celebrate NAIDOC Week in worship. They complement more general resources provided by the Assembly’s Worship Working Group.
NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ history, culture and achievements, and is an opportunity to recognise the contribution that First Peoples make to this nation.
The 2017 Theme: Our Languages Matter
It is hard to overstate the importance of language. It shapes our experience of the world – it shapes our relationships and what they mean for us, expresses our values, describes what matters, offers nuances around culture that are not quite translatable into other languages. Languages shape our identity and sense of belonging.
As a people who speak of Jesus as the Word of God and who value Scriptures, Christians should understand the importance of language, and of each person being able to use their own language. Why else do we spend so much time and energy ensuring that our Scriptures represent the very best translation of the original languages, and supporting translation into many other languages and dialects?
As the NAIDOC Week web site says:
The 2017 theme – Our Languages Matter – aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.
Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named variations would have run to many hundred.
Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair said… “Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food”.
“Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages that Indigenous nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law,” Ms Martin said.
Creator and giver of life,
You who spoke and all things came to life,
Word that became flesh in Jesus,
We praise and worship You in all things.
Enable Your Word to take life among us this day.
Give us voice that we might honour You,
and witness to the transforming life of Jesus, living Word.
Forgive us for cheap and careless words, or deliberately harmful words,
for words of war rather than peace,
for words of exclusion and words that make enemies, rather than words that build neighbourhoods and welcome.
Forgive us when our words make others silent, or when we refuse to listen to other words.
Forgive us that we belong to a community which has in so many ways robbed First Peoples of their languages, culture and sense of the world.
May we support efforts to reclaim and re-learn languages.
Hear these our words to You.
There are, of course, many passages in the Scriptures that are concerned for language and speech. Here are four that might be helpful as you reflect on this theme.
Genesis 11: 1-9: The Tower of Babel
Too often this passage is used as a counter-point to Pentecost. The assumption is that multiple languages is not God’s intention, and Pentecost fixes that issue.
Yet, there is another way to read this story that depends on the second account of creation in Genesis 2:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground (2:4b-6)
Life is relational. Human beings depend on the earth from which we are made, and the earth needs human beings to care for the earth. To do that we need to be part of an related to the land.
In Genesis we are told that the people sought to build a city and a tower, so that they would not be scattered across the face of the earth (11:4). The people want to build a city, and surround it with a wall, so they are cut off from others.
They built the tower to defend themselves against ‘the other’. It is a sign of the greatness of the city. Despite our usual assumption that the tower challenges God in heaven (and so is an act of pride), heaven is not where God resides. The heavens are the place where people do not belong, for they belong to the earth. As Ellen van Wolde says: “The building of the tower and the city expresses the desire of these human beings to dissociate themselves from the earth and to concentrate on each other (‘us’) in their enclosed and fortified area”.
Human beings are striving for one place and one name, and one language, and for separation from the earth which they are meant to care for. This story is less about the tower and human pride, than it is about God’s desire that people live across the earth. From the view point of the earth this dispersal is necessary, and the removal of the one language removes the block to that dispersal. The languages are entirely what the earth needs.
If this reading of the Babel story makes sense, then we must ask ourselves what happens when we help destroy languages, and what need we have to encourage the renewal of those languages.
Acts 2: 1-13: The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
The important issue in the context of NAIDOC week is simply to note what is common wisdom: people heard the message in their own native language (2:6). This event is an affirmation of the diversity of language and culture, not its obliteration, in the life of the church
Matthew 26: 69-75: Peter’s denial of Jesus
In Luke’s version of this story (22:54-62) the people around insist that they know Peter is with Jesus because he is also a Galilean (verse 59). How do they know this? Matthew makes that matter clear – “for your accent betrays you” (Matt. 26:73). Peter’s way of speaking gives him away. His language tells people where he comes from, what land he connects to, and what people shape his life.
It seems that there was some discrimination about the way people from Galilee spoke. It was considered to be a rough and unsophisticated accent, one shaped by a multicultural history and the existence of a number of languages. It was not considered good enough to lead worship.
Do we encourage languages and accents and difference, or – particularly in church – is there a ‘standard English’ that we prefer?
John 1: 1-5: The Word became Flesh
This very well-known passage has the powerful image of the word or speaking of God taking form in the world in the life of Jesus. God’s voice acts in the world.
Language brings things into being, as Genesis 1 makes clear. God speaks and the world emerges.
Even human language brings things into being – shaping relationships, influencing the way we see and understand events around us, expressing laws and delivering judgments, making agreements between peoples.
To be mute is not only to be speechless, but it is to be robbed of one way to shape the world. When a people’s language is destroyed they are robbed of one of the ways they have control over their life. Imagine what it would mean for the church to have no language to celebrate the sacraments, and no words to share the story of Jesus.
Now imagine what it means for First Peoples to reclaim and relearn their languages.
Words of Mission and Dismissal
Go out into the world,
to the place where you sustain the creation.
Allow others to speak their words of life,
and speak gently your words.
Tell and live the story of Jesus.
May the Creator who called forth life by speaking,
Jesus who bore the Word for the life of the world,
and the Spirit whose breath makes language possible
sustain you in all ways.
 Ellen van Wolde. ‘The Earth Story as Presented by the Tower of Babel Narrative,’ in Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst (eds), The Earth Bible Volume Two: The Earth Story in Genesis (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), p. 150.