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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 6, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 9, 2010

Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29

What do you see?’

Today’s readings are about vision, imagination. The prompt today is simple and open: What do you see? In the Spirit of the readings, in the text or for our own context, what do you see?

Dorothy of Lilyfield, who proudly displays a tree-of-life tattoo on her forearm, sees a hand tenderly carrying a small tree (of life) – the tree standing upright and strong. An image of care and dignity. The hand of God? Her own hand?

Painter, Gustav Klimt, refers to the tree of life as a symbol known to many cultures – a symbol of reconciliation, a tree dwelling upon, beneath and above the earth. He also refers to it as both a feminine and masculine symbol. His artwork, as printed on the front of our order today, also includes rectangular shapes suggesting buildings and streets.

I begin, however, with our own Juliette of Waterloo, who advised me one time (I’d very recently taken to road running): “Keep your head up and your eyes looking ahead.” She explained the importance of runners keeping their vision long. When runners get tired they tend to drop their shoulders and look down at their feet, she said, which only makes them more tired – dispirited. “Where you look,” said Juliette, “is where you’ll go.” I have learned the wisdom of that – of keeping my vision long.

Out on the road, prescription sunglasses sliding down my nose, I am often reminded of this. And I think on her words today in the light of lections from the Book of Acts and Revelation.

Paul’s vision is about Paul seeing further that his immediate surrounds/assumptions. His vision opens to new opportunities for ministry, new understanding of God’s mission, and a new relationship/friendship – with someone called Lydia, a witness and leader ready to begin a congregation in her house. We could also say, then, that Paul’s vision leads, in some sections of the church in more recent times, to reappraisal of Paul’s thought and work, renewed appreciation for the diversity of early Christian faith and ministry, and to renewed calls for the ordination of women (it seems shocking, perhaps, that we still need to mention this).

John’s vision is about the ultimate reconciliation of nature and culture – God’s desire to save/heal/make whole creation and all creatures, including human beings and all nations. John’s vision, most succinctly, professes not a return to Eden (in fact, it helps us resist the naivete of much nature-romanticism, paternalism viz. the “noble savage”, primitivism, New Age nudism, infantilism, and so on), but rather the more demanding – and more dignifying – task of becoming human (an individual, social and ecological project). A forward-thinking and ongoing task. Repeating with a difference that which has gone before. Re-membering. Hence, the New Jerusalem, the holy city – the secular realm sanctified, religious hopes and convictions concretised. The gates are open. The wealth is shared. The earth and human labour harmonised. The holy city (without temple) reveals the way the whole world works in the fullness of God’s reign.

John’s vision, in other words, is not conservative. It is not backward-looking or short-sighted. It focuses on the existential-social-political-(cross-)cultural-ecological task of our becoming human: drawing from us every intellectual, affective, creative and responsible impulse; every economic, local and international concern. It all matters. None of it is without purpose. The New Jerusalem comes as a gift, and yet involves us wholly – perhaps it is true to say that although this is not a city we are called to build, it is a city, it is a commonwealth, we are called to build toward.

It is fitting and fortunate that we have today the promise of the fully Human One: “[T]he Holy Spirit whom Abba God will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and she will remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit is imaged for us today as a guide, as a guiding force. Perhaps she is the ground of imagination itself – She Who Inspires Vision.

I’m writing this on a bench seat behind the church, in our own Eden Garden. Beneath the Mulberry Tree. In the very spot that will soon see our new Council-funded 5,000-litre rain-water tank. Property Committee member, Mark, has been busy sweeping the paths and washing the windows in preparation for Tammy’s 50th Birthday Celebrations. Hayley is inside with a group of enthusiastic artists, producing monoprints and self-portraits. Esther drops by with hand-made South Sydney Herald badges and fridge magnets. Adrian suggests we might ask Miriam Cabello to design a mural for the new water-tank – maybe showing Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. I think, Yes, brilliant!

All of which makes wonderful and theological sense of Revelation’s depiction of an urban setting through which runs a river of life, and, “on either side of the river [or the water-tank and its irrigation hoses] is the tree of life … and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.

Eden Garden alongside the Garden Shelter for homeless men. Eden Garden in the very midst of the city. Council staff in the Eden Garden planning training workshops on rain-harvesting. Luncheon Club volunteers designing the Garden according to one set of plans, drawing up new plans, imagining it all over again, introducing new crops, chickens, outdoor tables and chairs, sculptures, murals. Luncheon Club volunteers leading workshops on behalf of the City of Sydney – and on our behalf, too. All of us included in this vision of John.

“On either side of the river is the tree of life … and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”. What do you see?

… Amen.