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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 20, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 15, 2010

Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

The rhythm of faith’

“Let us run with perseverance the race laid out for us,” writes the author of the Homily to the Hebrews. “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.” This is the same Jesus, according to Luke, who says: “I’ve come to light a fire on the earth … I’ve come to bring division.” This is Jesus on the way to confront the religious and political powers in Jerusalem. Jesus, very aware that prophets face condemnation and persecution. Jesus, distressed. Passionate and distressed.

We are given today a picture of faith at its most intense. We are reminded that faith is not mere feeling. Nor is it mere belief (submission to one or other teaching). Faith, like truth, is not something we possess, but something that possesses us – something that draws us out, moves our hearts, hands and feet – drives us to action, towards God in others (towards vulnerable others in particular).

Faith is the profound and mysterious trust that love, justice and peace will prevail – a trusting passion that exceeds the manners and conventions of tribe, family, culture – “restless for the common good” as we sing.

One of my all-time favourite philosophers is a Danish firebrand by the name of Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is famous for his witty and poetic attacks on bourgeois Christianity – in the Copenhagen of his day (mid-nineteenth century), citizenship and church membership were one and the same, and faith was regarded respectable and reasonable. Rubbish, said Kierkegaard. Faith is a life-long task, marked by fear and trembling, pain and joy. Faith may appear easy – just as a dancer appears to effortlessly leap into the air – but is demanding and costly.

Kierkegaard’s example of the dancer is an artistic complement to the athletic example of the runner given in Hebrews 12. What Kierkegaard finds apt is the ballet dancer’s double movement from leaping to landing on her feet. That’s what faith is like, he says. A leap (in the wake of hard work and discipline) that is also a landing – an earthing or grounding. A giving up or a letting go – a sacrifice of praise – that is also an acceptance of one’s place in the world – one’s world and oneself as a gift.

Kierkegaard uses two words to describe two kinds of religious activity. The first is resignation. The second, faith. Resignation he regards the more common, the more popular, and the inferior activity/attitude. A “knight of resignation” believes that God is love, even orients his/her heart to God, but gives up on the world. Resignation is content to project all hopes upon another world – to believe in the abstract (that God is love, for example, or that God is good and just) but not to trust, in the face of difficulty and despair, in a God who loves us right here and now. The knight of resignation is a spiritual and spiritualising character – ostensibly religious (dispassionate, pious).

The “knight of faith”, however, may look for all the world like an ordinary person – an ordinary, passionate person, “restless for the common good” – fiery, distressed – relying on the promises of a God who makes the world and loves it towards perfection – praying for justice “on earth as it is in heaven” – here and now.

Like the New Testament homilist, Kierkegaard sees passionate faith in Abraham. Faith at its most intense. Abraham makes the double movement of resignation and faith – in his heart and continually – giving up Isaac, the son he loves so much, and accepting Isaac, at the same time, as God’s gift to him – Isaac through whom God’s promises, all of them, are to be fulfilled.

It’s a harrowing picture – and one that makes sense only from within a faith perspective. It’s a properly religious text. It’s not unlike the picture of Jesus in distress, on his way toward certain persecution, and yet – in his heart and continually – giving up his life in the world, eyes to heaven, and, accepting life (courageous, confronting, compassionate life with and for others, the most vulnerable in particular), at the same time, as God’s gift to him – here and now, always. Persecution in this world. Resurrection in this world. The leaping. The landing. Continually – the rhythm of faith, life-long – just as the feet of a runner rise and fall.

Leaping and landing. In the words of Johannes de silentio, one of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms: “To transform the leap of life into a gait, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian – that only the knight of faith can do – and that is the only miracle.”

On Tuesday night at our presbytery meeting in Paddington, we voted, narrowly, in support of the Assembly’s proposed new Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution. (I have made copies of the new Preamble for you today.) The text, commended by the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sets the life and work of the Church firmly in the context of colonial violence and dispossession, firmly in the context of Indigenous resistance and struggle, in terms of relationships between First and Second Peoples.

It’s not a text that everybody likes. Even those speaking in support of it seem keen to underline its imperfections. It’s a text that implies ongoing struggle. It refutes the notion of faith as other-worldly, as a mere leap into the air. It asks that we give up certain European cultural assumptions (that God arrived with the First Fleet, for example) that we might find our feet – here and now – in a country we may yet receive as gift.

It’s a text that speaks of division and a text that has divided us. One member of presbytery was overheard advising, “When in doubt, we should say No”. This, perhaps, is the kind of resigned religiousness all-too ready to postpone and displace hope. God is love, but I see no love of God here, now, for us. “Let us focus on God. Without the political distractions. Without cross-cultural friction/fractions. The victory is ours. We have our faith.”

Or … “Let us run with perseverance the race laid out for us,” writes the author of the Homily to the Hebrews. “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.” This is the same Jesus who says: “I’ve come to light a fire on the earth … I’ve come to bring division.”

The new Preamble is a text that speaks of division and a text that has divided us. In other words, it speaks a distressing and passionate truth, it inscribes us in a distressing and passionate truth, unlike triumphalism, unlike pious idealism, that [quote] “all may see a destiny together, praying and working together for a fuller expression of our reconciliation in Jesus Christ” [end-quote]. Friction/fraction in this world. Resurrection in this world.

We are broken, divided, like the bread of the Eucharist, that we, that others, that all, might be fed.

Let us complete the homily together. Have there been times you’ve known the pain of division – heart-rending pain in the context of fiery love and costly faith – and have you also known (the promise of) wholeness and peace? … Amen.