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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 28, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 13, 2019

Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19


‘Stigmata’

Luke 17:11-19 is an engaging gospel. 

The action takes place in a liminal space, an in-between space, in a nameless village somewhere between Galilee and Samaria. Jesus leads disciples to anticipate surprises, healing, new life at the margins, in various border experiences. God be with you ...

I note again that our worship space abuts an art gallery – this week the white shelves with ceramics by local artist Brittany Johnson sit between the pews at the northern end of the sanctuary. The works themselves acknowledge the goodness of the earth and traditions older/other than Christianity. 

Last night’s opening saw 40 or so parishioners, neighbours, actors, writers, editors, musicians, a bartender, Georgian economist and mysterious latecomer in the gallery/sanctuary – moving between the gallery and the sanctuary, weaving in and out just like the sticks and strands of Brittany’s baskets.

We might think about liminal spaces in our lives: adolescence, middle age, older age; fledgling relationships, testing vocations, periods of discernment; uncertain health; the space between the sacred and secular, the congregation and wider community; cross-cultural relations, inter-faith dialogue (in all its terror, with its fears and prejudices); inter-species kinships and affinities; the transition from one gender to another, from one sex to another, and various stages of sexual identity; various stages of spiritual awareness and maturity ...

Our border experiences can be painful and confusing. They may mark us out as strange, odd, frightening, cursed, different. They will leave their marks.

The ten people with leprosy cry out for compassion. When Jesus sees them he responds. A mark of difference, of rejection, may also signify holiness, holy encounter. 

St Francis kissed the leper. St Francis bore the stigmata of the Christ he loved. We are in Franciscan territory again today. 

The stigma stings and stimulates. “The stigma conveys the strongest message, the most secret message, the one that is most difficult to convey: whether good or bad, the stigmatized person is signalled out for exclusion and election” (Helene Cixous).

We might attend to our experiences of feeling comfortable and uncomfortable in our own skins. Pigmentation. Segregation. The desperate act of saving one’s own skin. 

We might imagine a leper losing touch, losing the sense of touch, and acknowledge the ambiguities of touch, the preciousness of genuine intimacy ... a safe/charged space between one person and another, between each one.

We might note the two Greek terms rendered “cleansed/healed” and “saved/made whole”. Ten were cleansed, one was saved. Ten were healed, one was made whole. 

We might ponder this borderline, the space between “healed” and “made whole”. What’s the difference? Nine were relieved, one was deeply grateful. One was thankful, seeking out the source of new hope and life. One gave thanks – another Greek word: Eucharist.

John Wesley, following St James, spoke of good works perfecting in the sense of completing faith – an ever-widening circle of grace, from healing to salvation to sanctification ... grace perfecting in the sense of completing nature.

There is a Real Presence in the broken bread, in the company of One whose hands are scarred, whose side, whose heart is wounded, whose feet are deformed ...

One gives thanks, one praises God “in a loud voice”, one breaks, as we say at the AWMAs, into song. When have I sung? When do I sing? When will I sing again? 

I recall Norrie singing at Gould’s Books to launch hir autobiography: “Stand by your gender ...” and other energetically earthy numbers.

We pay tribute to the healing properties of music; songs that transport us to places, to no place. Beautiful voices. Textured voices – Renee Geyer and Ngaiire – strained, bold, confronting, uplifting, damaged, resilient, cracked, worn, silken, human voices. Bird noises. Wailing dogs, barking dogs. Sing-song cat sounds ...

We note the reference in verse 19 to “standing up”. Jesus says, “Get up” ... 

“Stand up” ... It’s a song by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh (a song beloved of our friend Terry Irving, recuperating in Prince of Wales Hospital): “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!” 

The Greek word is anastasis – standing up, a raising up, rising, resurrection. The one who gives thanks and breaks into song partakes of risen life. Resurrection means standing strong. Resurrection means standing up for oneself and for others, for dignity, for liberty. The Spirit enlivens and empowers. 

The Spirit that saves, the Spirit that makes whole, incorporates. We are gathered, spirit and body, as one body. We belong. We join with one another on the way – in the way of compassion, in the way of empathy for the stigmatised. Solidarity. And yet, difference matters. Jesus says, “Stand up and go your (own) way; your faith has saved you.”

The one who gives thanks and breaks into song partakes of risen life in a singular sense. The space between the Christ and each believer is a secret space, its message most difficult to convey. You are marked there. You alone bear those particular marks ... 

The Samaritan perhaps had this strength to go his own way, to resist the “group think” and conventional attitudes that dampened the praises of his Judean cohorts.

In this worship space, this sanctuary/gallery – the walls unevenly white, stained and flaking – may our respect for difference be a remarkable trait. May we sing the Eucharist and may we break into song. May we fall down in praise, vulnerable like Jesus, open to a healing encounter with our God. 

And may we not seek to circumscribe places of healing but recognise stigmata of exclusion and election, suffering and hope, faithfulness and love.

Let’s complete the homily in prayerful silence today ... I invite you to bow your head and heart. When have you sung? When do you sing? When will you sing again? ... Amen.