Other Homilies



Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

Home Mission Statement Homilies Liturgies In Memoriam Reports Resources Contacts Links

Homily

Easter 6, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

Speak gently and respectfully’

The Easter season is Easter Sunday extended for fifty days until Pentecost. Sunday by Sunday our readings attempt to recapture the joy, surprise and wonder of Easter. Throughout the centuries a myriad of spiritual writers have also attempted this.

“You will ask me how I could know the Lord’s presence. Because he is living and active: scarcely had he entered me than he awakened my slumbering soul. My heart was as hard as a rock and stricken; he shook it, softened it, and wounded it. He it is who uproots, builds up, plants, waters the dry earth, lightens the dark places, opens locked rooms, and heats what was cold, even better, he straightens the crooked paths and levels the rough places, so much and so well that my soul blesses the Lord and all my being sings praises to his holy name. You well understand that the Bridegroom Word, who has entered me more than once, has never given me a sign of his presence by voice, image or any other appeals to the senses. No movement on his part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless” (from The Spiritual Writings of St Bernard, twelfth-century monk, mystic and reformer).

It’s striking that today’s readings, like the writing of Bernard, bear witness to joy, surprise and wonder in a tone that might be described as balanced, graceful. Not at all crass or simplistic, emotional or polemical. Reasonable, solemn, thoughtful, measured, even philosophical. Paul is at his most philosophical before the council of the Areopagus: “Citizens of Athens, I note that in every respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God’. Now, what you are worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you,” he says, before citing an Athenian poet: “We too are God’s children.” There are no mass conversions following Paul’s address. No agitation. No riots. “We must hear you on the topic of resurrection some other time,” Paul’s earnest listeners suggest.

Paul’s philosophical address – a witness to joy, surprise and wonder – is a good example of what Peter commends in his letter to “dispersed” Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia and Bithynia. “Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.”

Bernard writes: “No movement on [Christ’s] part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless.”

These kinds of carefully nuanced testimony are not merely measured and solemn. They are gracious – conceding that listeners and readers are intelligent and sensitive and share in the human condition. They are graceful utterances – full of grace – and thus deeply compelling and encouraging.

In the light of our Gospel from John 14, we might say that these are words spoken and written in a Spirit of promise. They are words within a Promise. They are peaceful, respectful, patient, loving words made in response to a Trusted One. To One Who Is Trustworthy. “I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Paraclete, another Helper to be with you always – the Spirit of truth … I won’t leave you orphaned; I will come back to you … On that day you’ll know that I am in God, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

We might compare them to words of assurance we offer one another. “God be with you.” “And also with you.” Open-ended salutations, questions, exclamations. Trevor is widely known for these. As is Patricia. There is promise in such words. We don’t know as yet the shape our community will assume. And yet we trust. We don’t know as yet the invitations to come, the opportunities, the challenges, the joys to come ...

And yet we trust there are good things to come, for each of us and for all of us.

Yesterday saw a warm and spirited gathering in our community garden. Miriam co-ordinated a tour of more than 40 Anglicans, Catholics and Uniting Church “eco-theologians” – and Eden Garden was one of several places of interest. We didn’t see people racing about in religious fervour, arguing over denominational or doctrinal differences. We saw a measured and grace-ful sharing of space and possibilities for growth – for friendship, for fruits and vegetables. Dove was a revelation, holding forth on the history of the garden, the frog colony, bananas, figs, tomatoes. Blair spoke confidently of an inclusive community in which the gifts of gay, lesbian and transgender people are celebrated. And in regard to a worshiping community’s relationship to others including those living with HIV/AIDS, their families and friends, he said, “The church resists the language of us and them”. People nodded. Keith and Stephen kept on cooking. Margaret, Nicole and Patricia kept chopping the tofu, potatoes, mushrooms. It was one of those mysteriously heartening occasions at South Sydney!

How do we give an account of the hope within us? By what we say, and how we say it. By what we do, and with whom we do it. By what we make, and what we make time for. We give an account of the hope within us by meeting together, cooking, talking, planting ... and more.

We give an account of the hope within us by speaking and (rendered speechless) enacting a certain assurance of God’s care and commitment to the world – the very world that cannot accept the Spirit (the world of anxious and fretful violence).

“No movement on [Christ’s] part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless.”

Before I submit to speechlessness, to a time of silence, I want to share a short and hopeful story, in the Spirit of a promise. I received a phone-call during the week from Pearl at the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. She spoke to me about an Aboriginal evangelist, Fred, and his hopes to establish a faith community in Waterloo – meeting for prayers and singing on Sunday nights. Fred has studied at the Nungalinya College in Darwin, and hopes to complete his studies in the near future. He is hoping to meet with us next Sunday, to share in worship and a conversation over lunch.

The invitation is not to quick judgements and decisions, but to respectful and gentle speaking and listening – to graciousness – and, most deeply, to the leading of One Who Is Trustworthy. Let us rejoice in the promise of the Spirit. We don’t know as yet the shape our community will assume. And yet we trust. We don’t know as yet the invitations to come, the opportunities, the challenges, the joys to come ...

And yet we trust there are good things to come, for each of us and for all of us.

Have you perceived something of the “beauty” of Christ? When or with whom have you contemplated the “wonder” of the “greatness” of Christ? How might you bear witness to this – in speech or (“speechless”) action?

... In the name of God – Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver – Amen.