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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 22, Year A
Refugee and Migrant Sunday
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 28, 2011

Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

‘I Will Be Who I Will Be’

Our Bible texts are richly compelling. Where to start? With a God moved by cries for help/justice/liberty? A God made known by actions taken on behalf of the powerless, on behalf of those enslaved – a God whose very name connotes Freedom, a God called “I Will Be Who I Will Be”, inflamed by cries for help/justice/liberty? This is a God not captured by definitions nor limited to ritual and cult. Our God sides with the underling and is active in society/politics/history not to preserve the power of those who define and defend the status quo but to subvert and transfigure it – to lead a people out of an oppressive order …

Do we start with Moses, with Moses drawn to the divine flame? Moses – in spite of self-doubt – drawn into divine passion …? The fire now in Moses as it was in the thornbush …? I’ve been reading a book of poetry during the week. It’s a first collection of poems by Southern Highlander Mark Tredinnick, entitled Fire Diary. The “fire” in one sense is a place where nature and human self-doubt meet.The poet is not the first to suggest that confident human action (inter-personal and political) is sustained in a wider ecological context – in contemplation of nature, in connection/communion with others. There’s a lot we could say about Moses’ encounter with God in creation – his seeing the glory of God in a thornbush, his spirit lifted, his sense of identity and call clarified, his body/feet stripped bare …

Or do we start with the fire in us? Are we drawn by passion to a glory that flickers in the midst of everyday life? How so? What ignites a sense of wonder in our lives?

One writer distinguishes mere curiosity from genuine wonder/astonishment. Wonder, she says, is not a stage we seek to overcome (to master, to absorb, to control, to assimilate) but is always unsettling. “Staying in wonder entails resisting the temptation to seek shelter behind our own certainties …” We don’t master wonder; we endure it. We are “patients” of wonder, and this entails “a persistent exposure to the weight of the world”(Mayra Rivera).

Do I wonder at very recent cries for liberty in Egypt? Do I wonder at cries today for liberty in Libya? Might we, Christians, Jews and secular Westerners, wonder yet at cries for liberty in Palestine (land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Arabs, the Muslims, the Orthodox Christians)? And might astonishment in the face of human hope and daring prove more sustaining than judgement – of the hand-wringing or hand-washing kind? Wonder, in other words, is a trace of the divine presence – it might even be a divine nickname. To be unsettled by the plight of another is to be opened to God at work in the world.

Which brings us to cries for liberty and justice on the part of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in Australia, this being, in churches across the country, Refugee and Migrant Sunday. I’ll speak on one matter in particular. The High Court will deliver its decision on the challenge to the refugee swap with Malaysia this Wednesday. Lawyers for asylum seekers who arrived on Christmas Island after the deal was signed have warned that Australia cannot guarantee the rights of refugees sent to Malaysia. David Manne, a solicitor for two of the asylum seekers – a 24-year-old Afghan man and a 16-year-old Afghan boy – says they are petrified and have very substantial fears about being sent to Malaysia (Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention).

Manne and others have put forward two main points. Under the provisions of the Migration Act the Minister doesn’t have a legal basis for determining that Malaysia is an appropriate country for offshore processing. And the second major argument is that because of the Minister’s obligations under the Guardianship Act he doesn’t have a capacity to relocate minors offshore for processing.

David Manne is unsettled. We can discern here, I believe, the promise of God to be who God will be in and through actions on behalf of the powerless. We can pray. That our government’s “playing politics” with the plight of the helpless might come to be regarded illegal is potentially wonder-ful. We can, even today, and not just in our prayers, wonder at that!

We will, then, with others, have started a fire that confronts destructive power – a fiery love that, like the holy flame on Mount Horeb/Sinai, transfigures but does not consume, does not burn … Jesus will not let anybody turn him from the confronting yet non violent way of the cross. In Matthew’s very next chapter, Jesus himself, on a mountain and in the presence of Moses, will be transfigured. Jesus will catch the fire. He will enact love (unto death) and not inflict suffering. What might that be saying to you today? What/whom are you called to resist in the name of a fiery love that does not burn, that does no harm …? What/who sustains you in wonder? What/who inflames your spirit? … Amen.