Meditations on the Psalms #260

Psalm 116 postscript

At the Circular Quay end of Castlereagh street – on the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets. In a little square, there’s a monument – passed by and unread by hundreds of people every day.

Imagine you are standing in that spot, but instead of looking up at the tall buildings, and hearing the noise of cars, trains, and buses, above you, is a great tree. You are in a wilderness. The sounds you hear are the sounds of Kookaburras and the sounds of marching feet. For it is very near that spot, on Sunday 3rd February 1788, the first Christian church service was held in Sydney, in the Colony of New South Wales. 
Out in the harbour are moored the eleven First Fleet ships, having carried just over a thousand people from Southampton.

There’s the Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, twenty officials and their servants, 213 marines with some wives and children, more than 750 convicts – one chaplain and his wife – as well as one eternal optimist – a certain James Smith, the man who had actually stowed away on the First Fleet! 
The Fleet has taken 36 weeks to reach Botany Bay – and they arrive just four days before the two French frigates commanded by la Perouse also turn up – and after a few more days they transfer the site of the new colony to Farm Cove in Port Jackson on January 26. 
Just over a week later, on Sunday, February 3rd, the assembled crowd stands under a great tree, just 15mtrs from the shore, as the chaplain opens the Word of God.

What will he preach on? What message will he give to this new nation after such a difficult journey? The psalm set for that day in the Book of Common Prayer is most appropriate, so he turns to Ps116:12 – “What shall I render unto the Lord for all He has done for me?” 

Richard Johnson rarely figures in history lessons today, but he was a deeply committed spiritual Christian and the first Gospel preacher in Australia. His gospel preaching put him at odds with governor Philips who wanted ‘moral’ preaching. The first sermon in Australia came from Ps116. 

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