For nearly thirty years, between 1945 and 1972, the government of Australia provided an incentive to British subjects to migrate from the damp and chilly islands in the Atlantic to the warm and sunny continent-island surrounded by three oceans. The deal was this: you could buy passage on a ship from Britain to Australia for the low cost of only ten pounds sterling; children could go for free. On arrival you’d be given a roof over your head and the prospect of decent employment. You had to stay for two years, or else you had to pay not only for your return ticket, but also for the actual cost of your passage to Australia. About one and a half million hopeful Britons took the deal, and in Australia these folk are often referred to as “ten pound Poms” or “ten pound tourists.”
Three outcomes, broadly speaking, awaited those who traveled to Australia as ten pound tourists. Most would stay in Oz and make their homes and their lives there. But about a quarter of the ten pound tourists did decide to return to the UK. But nearly half of those who returned to Britain eventually made their way back to Australia, earning the nickname “Boomerang Poms.”
Putting aside the questionable aspects of the policy (it was intended, in part, to flood Australia with only white immigrants), the idea of the ten pound tourist is an interesting one, inviting you to imagine your whole life changing and unfolding in new ways for such a small price. Most schemes that require such a modest and simple investment – only ten pounds! – are unlikely to yield great results, and sound like pyramid schemes. But the promise of transformation – all for a modest sum, but a big commitment – was quite real, as long as you could cope with the realities and demands of the new antipodal life you had chosen. What remained to be seen was what you would make of your ten pound investment. Would it yield a handsome return in a new life in Australia? Would you give up, turn back, and go home as soon as you could? And if you did that, would you realize that England really is chilly and wet, and that you really were trapped in whatever class you’d been born into, and the food really was pretty bad – and realizing all this, would you scrape together another ten quid, and get back on the boat to Oz, boomerang-style?
This morning we’ve just heard the parable of the talents, and the point of this parable is summed up in a simple question: what are you going to do with the gifts you have received from God? Will you make the most of them? For you have choices in this matter, and your choices have consequences. And God would clearly like you to do more with what he’s given you, rather than less.
But life is seldom so simple, and the choices we make, and their potential consequences are not always so clear. Nor is it clear where each one of us is in this parable at this point in time. Is it the beginning of the story when you are just beginning to consider what to do with the gifts entrusted to you? Are you in the middle of the story, feverishly trying to make hay while the sun shines, or alternatively just making sure no one is trying to dig up the talents you have carefully buried? Or, are you nearing that stage of the parable when the master returns and calls you to account for what you have made of the gifts he gave you? I assume that there are some of us in each category, and many places in between.
Wherever you fit in to this story, the challenge remains the same – will you do as much as you can with all that God has given you?
If you’ll allow me to use the idea of the ten pound tourist as a lens through which to ask this question, then I have three things to say: First, somebody had to pay the real cost of passage overseas. It wasn’t like it only cost ten pounds to get people to the other side of the world, and the real cost had to be covered by someone. Second, it wasn’t the price of the ticket that mattered so much as the commitment the people who bought them were making – a commitment to give it a go in a whole new world, and see if blessings didn’t abound. Third, the lives of those who made the migration at the low cost of only ten pounds really were changed. Just for starters there was better weather, no more class distinctions, and better food. Not to mention possibilities ahead of them that they never could have dreamt of in Britain.
On Commitment Sunday, as we ask you to make your pledge of support to Saint Mark’s, these three things are true here too.
First, someone does actually have to pay for the cost of running this place, the bills are real, and we can’t pay them without you.
Second, at today’s exchange rate, ten pounds sterling is worth $15.67. So while the amount of your pledge is not nearly as important as the commitment it represents, I’m afraid that in most cases ten pound tourists won’t do. Most of us can and should do a whole lot better than that. And the amount we give often does say something about the commitment we are willing to make.
Finally, do not be surprised if, as you make more and more of a commitment to God, and you give yourself, your time, your talents, and your dollars to the work of God’s church, and to the building up of his kingdom… don’t be surprised if you find your whole life changing and unfolding in new ways, for a relatively small price.
You might begin by discovering that everything you have is a gift in the first place, given to you and to me by the hand of God.
You might discover that when you were keeping your talents and your treasures to yourself you were living on a damp and chilly island, but now you have come to a warm and sunny, a fruitful and pleasant land. Then you will find the joy of living for others more than for yourself.
And eventually, maybe in this life, maybe in the next, I pray that you and I will know the very real peace that comes from hearing those marvelous words: Well done good and faithful servant; well done!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
16 November 2014
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia