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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 27, Year C
Thanksgiving for Creation
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 3, 2010

Psalm 137; Luke 17:5-10

Profound humility’

Jesus has called his followers to a way of honest relationship and forgiveness: “Forgive as often as someone asks to be forgiven.” When we hear, again and again, the calls for vengeance, for pay-back (as in our Psalm today), we remember just how hard the call to forgiveness is. Campaigning on “law and order” appeals primarily to the base motive of vengeance. No wonder Jesus’ followers respond with a question about the faith needed for honesty and forgiveness.

The disciples ask of Jesus that he increase their faith. He tells them that if their faith were but the size of a tiny mustard seed they’d perform the most stupendous miracles. Even the deep-rooted sycamore tree could be uprooted and planted in the sea.

How do we hear this? In the past, I think, it’s made me feel inadequate, faithless.

My first reaction today, though, is frustration. Surely, this is the very notion of faith that gets us into so much trouble – faith as a pointless display of power (Why should a tree be transplanted in the sea?), faith as terrifying power over others, faith as power over creation. Isn’t this one (or more) of the satanic temptations Jesus overcomes?

My second reaction is to smile in appreciation of Jesus as a teacher whose ways are truly cryptic, challenging disciples to greater awareness and responsibility. Jesus employs an absurdist metaphor in order to indicate just how little faith is needed so as to live another way, a way of radically open and forgiving community. As one commentator says: “Just get on with living with integrity and loving one another and stop trying to measure your performance on some sort of faith meter” (Nathan Nettleton).

My smile is also in appreciation of Jesus as a teacher whose ways are satirical. The notion of faith as something that fosters entitlement and superiority (over others and over other creatures) is, indeed, not faith in a God whose costly love creates, indwells and reconciles the world.

Satire is provocative.

When the disciples argue as to whom is the greatest Jesus places a child in their midst and teaches that the one “who is least among you is the one who is great” (Luke 9:46-48). In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable about a master who girds himself before having his servants sit at the table where he serves them (Luke 12:35-38). At his last supper with the disciples Jesus asks the rhetorical question, “For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

In this context, what do we make of the parable we have heard today? What is the parable meaning to illustrate? The parable warns against a book-keeping mentality that sees God obliged to repay a believer’s piety and/or goodness. The parable warns against a competitive and controlling, anxious, mentality that seeks to earn heavenly and worldly favours.

When we live as followers and friends of Jesus, the parable teaches, we are doing as we ought to do. We are living as we ought to live – within the reign of God, in a kindom where justice and peace are one, a kindom where love overcomes hatred, a kindom where vengeance yields to forgiveness. When we live as followers and friends of Jesus, service is a liberating service. The kindom of God, ironically (of course), undermines hierarchies, subverts all master-servant relationships.

Put positively, the kindom is egalitarian. The Good News of love for all fosters profound humility.

Franciscan spirituality celebrates just this quality of life. A cursory reading of the tradition turns up references to class-betrayal and contemplation, to earnest imitation of the human Christ, the lowly Christ, to the presence of God in Christmas crib and Stations of the Cross; songs of praise to the Holy One present throughout creation, the Feast of Forgiveness, bold pacifism, vegetarianism, ecumenism, soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless. Still, one commentator writes: “The only valid reason for praising Francis of Assisi [in this] third millennium is to identify him as someone who allowed God’s grace to bear fruit in his own life, as someone who became a ‘living Gospel’ for his contemporaries, as someone who can help us become more authentic followers of Jesus, the Word made flesh, and who can help us to recognize one another as brothers and sisters …” (Fr Pat McCloskey, OFM).

Francis, known as the alter Christus, Latin for “another Christ”, whose ways were, like Jesus, often cryptic and provocative, invites us to deeper humility – to a kindom beyond our competitive, resentful, self-hating, controlling ways.

If I reflect on my experiences of this – my experiences of sheer gift, my experiences of grace – my experiences of release, of enjoyment (what a wonderful word!) – very often I am led to value the presence of non-human companions. And, thank God, I can say such a thing freely here today.

This is one of my favourite services of the year. Our little faith makes us vulnerable. In a good way. Blessed are you, O God, in all your creatures. Amen.


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