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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 13, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 27, 2010

2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14; Luke 9:51-62

Nowhere to rest’

A Samaritan village (Samaritans and Judeans were religious enemies) proves inhospitable to messengers sent ahead by Jesus. James and John propose a drastic response: why not, like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:10,12), call down upon the village destructive fire from heaven? (In competition with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel Elijah once asked YHWH to send down fire. The fiery prophet then slaughtered all the prophets of Baal at the Kishon Brook). But Jesus will have none of it. This is not his “way” to deal with inhospitality. Today’s Gospel signals the approach – the Way – Jesus will take in the face of much more serious inhospitality from Jerusalem.

Jesus’ response to three people who would be his companions on this journey to Jerusalem sets a pattern. He makes clear to the first who offers that following him means a life of wandering with no guaranteed lodging. The second and the third – one called by Jesus, the other offering him/herself – both want a little space before coming along; each has important family duties to attend to. In contrast again to Elijah, who did allow his disciple Elisha to say goodbye to his parents (1 Kings 19:19-21), Jesus insists that the urgency of the reign of God has priority. The kindom is about rescuing human beings for life in a world fast sliding to destruction.

Jesus insists on justice other than vengeance. And Jesus insists on courageous commitment to justice and peace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis, said, “When Jesus calls us he bids us come and die.” A faith of fiery vengeance – that of Elijah, James and John – may be attractive to many, but it is not the faith or call of Christ. The Way of Christ is a journey into suffering – a Way of solidarity with those who suffer most, a Way of confrontation with those prepared to sacrifice the weak and the poor, a Way that “takes away the sin of the world”. Dare we walk with him?

I grew up in a church environment that affirmed faith in fiery vengeance. There was a lot of talk about hellfire and greater emphasis on right belief than on faithful and suffering love. Of course, my early religious instructors were able to cite numerous biblical examples – scriptural warrant for fiery vengeance in this world and the next. What they were not so good at is what the Apostle Paul calls “dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). They were not so good at discerning among the words of scripture the Word of God revealed in the Wisdom and the Way of Christ. They were keen on harmonising the many and varied stories of the Bible, and not so good at discerning the Story of the One who bids us come and die – that we might live deeply, fully.

I left the church when I was about 15. Destructive fire from heaven frightened me and I somehow sensed that in a dumbing down of biblical interpretation the best of Christianity was lost to anxiety, to maintenance of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment and to a certain macho self-righteousness. I’d been taught to value faith as knowledge about life after death but experienced an exhilarating freedom in dying to the church and its fear-mongering – ultimately to value faith as risk, faith as adventure, faith as trust in the counter-cultural Way of Christ. Christianity is centred on the cross and resurrection of One who lives most humanely – obedient to humanising Love and with reverence for all life.

I didn’t experience any of this without first meeting – I was about 21 at the time – a priest committed to feeding, housing and educating young people abandoned to the streets, and without working for several years in a refuge and school for long-term homeless teens. I was an art and music teacher with St Vinnies for Youth (now Youth Off The Streets). One of my most memorable jobs was playing guitar in a folk-rock group called the Forgotten. What I experienced at St Vinnies was the Gospel as “good news for the poor” – as fierce compassion, as practical care, as urgent and demanding and richly rewarding beyond any religion I’d previously known. The director-priest was a liberation theologian who worked very hard – very long hours – on the streets, in the courts, preaching and raising funds for the refuge, the school, the farm retreat, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. The task was urgent – and the God revealed in the urgency was the Christ in solidarity with kids abused and addicted. This is a Christ angry, driven, gentle, patient, long-suffering, committed – with “nowhere to rest” so long as there are young people homeless and hopeless.

When I typed the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel into the computer search engine one of the images downloaded was the mosaic from Waterloo Anglican Church in London. The design preserves the names of deceased homeless people of the parish. It presents an image, then, of the reign of God. Love rules wherever there is restless hope against hope, wherever there is unconventional commitment to outsiders and those outcast – those most at risk of being forgotten – wherever there is counter-cultural creativity and wherever there is openness to a future not determined by the pain of the past. The holy paradox is that restless hope is abiding peace.

I will always be in debt to those who led me to appreciate that paradox – that Way.

It’s not simple. It’s not predictable. It’s not safe – it’s not about getting myself saved at the expense of others. It’s about living, dying and rising with others (in other words, it’s about loving) in a world that is unjust, cruel and hell-bent on destruction. It’s about following the Christ whose nonviolent love (in other words, courage) takes away the sin of the world.

May the reign of God draw close to you, and may you be drawn, always, into the humanising reign of God, ever closer to others. Amen.