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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 18, Year B
Commissioning of Elders
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 5, 2012

Psalm 51; 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a; Ephesians 4:4,11-13; John 6:24-35

Hunger and nourishment’

John’s Gospel refers to the miracles of Jesus (and there are seven in all) as “semeia” or signs. John understands them differently from the other three evangelists, the authors of the synoptic gospels, who call them “dunamis”, meaning powers. John is telling us that a mere fascination with the miracles misses their deeper significance. A sign, by nature, points beyond itself to a deeper reality. God be with you

John 6 is called by scholars the Bread of Life discourse. It is richly symbolic. As mentioned last week, it is richly sacramental or Eucharistic. John’s Gospel does not include an institution of Holy Communion. Instead, we have this richly poetic chapter – food for thought. All this talk about bread. Jesus is employing bread as a metaphor for our deepest needs. The discourse is about hunger and nourishment.

Today’s homily lists some hungers and nourishments in our lives. You may want to think about hunger and nourishment as you experience them. It seems fitting to list seven hungers and nourishments, but my list is by no means exhaustive.

First of all, there is the hunger that is physical, and the nourishment we need is food and shelter. We are being faithful to the Gospel whenever and wherever we address this hunger. It’s about care of bodies, sustainable farming practices, fair trade and distribution, welfare and economics. It’s about health. Let’s be specific. It’s about eating well, fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, clean water – eating less meat and saturated fat and refined sugars. It’s about sharing meals. It’s about enjoying mealtimes. It’s about accommodation and hospitality – spaces at the table. It’s about our partnership with Cana and the Garden Shelter – a simple supper, a gathering at a common table, a warm bed to sleep in – and yes, a hot shower. First of all, there is the hunger that is physical, and the nourishment we need is food and shelter.

Secondly, there is the hunger of loneliness, and the nourishment we need is friendship and companionship, which sometimes is a simple gesture. A Sunday School teacher tells the story of a little girl whose father has recently died, and her classmate goes over and sits with her. After a while, the teacher takes the classmate aside and says, “What did you say to her? You know, she lost her father, and what did you say to her?” The little girl says, “I didn’t say anything. I just helped her to cry”. Sometimes we just have to be there for one another, for the hunger of loneliness.

The third hunger is the hunger for forgiveness, and the nourishment we need is peace of heart. It is often hard to forgive. And sometimes it is even harder to let ourselves be forgiven. Psalm 51 is regarded a song of repentance by King David, composed in light of his committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11ff.). The translation we have used today concludes on a note especially pertinent to ministers and elders of the congregation: “Re-shape my heart/so that I, too, may teach others your way./ The gift I bring to you is a spirit once broken, now healed by your love.” The third hunger is the hunger for forgiveness, and the nourishment we need is peace of heart.

The fourth hunger is self-esteem, and we need emotional support to nourish us, not so much advice or answers or the right thing to do, but people who stand by us with respect and with concern. It’s natural to want to make another person happy, but often we have too small a notion of happiness, and often we succumb to short-term fixes, what politicians call “throwing money at a problem”. Self-esteem is about self-determination. It’s about encouraging in one another the singular responsibility of each to strive, to be, to accept, to venture, to create, to trust, to discover, to observe, to speak up, to let go. The fourth hunger is self-esteem, and we need emotional support to nourish us, not so much advice or answers or the right thing to do, but people who stand by us with respect and with concern.

The fifth hunger is learning. We need that our whole lives. We never stop learning. We never have all the answers. We need the nourishment of wisdom. One of the attractive things about the Catholic faith is the teaching that, even after we die, we have a joyful place of learning called Purgatory. It’s not officially a doctrine of the Uniting Church, but here at South Sydney we have St Lydia’s Library. We have regular Bible study. We have art classes, poetry sessions, and journalists trained in social and political analysis. Sometimes the rigorous processes of the South Sydney Herald feel like Purgatory! We keep growing. We never stop growing. The fifth hunger is learning. We need that our whole lives. We never stop learning. We never have all the answers. We need the nourishment of wisdom.

The sixth hunger is spiritual growth, and for that we need a prayer life that is both private and public, because every one of us is a private individual and a public person too. We need both. One preacher refers to the Eucharist in terms of drinking to the creative deeds of Jesus, and feeding off them. “In so doing, we take in, and take on, something of his character, something of his style, his energy, his intent, his commitment” (Peter Steele SJ). The sixth hunger is spiritual growth, and for that we need a prayer life that is both private and public.

The seventh and last hunger, and nourishment, is community. We need a community that welcomes us, that is inclusive and that gives us our identity. The modern philosopher, Rene Descartes, based his philosophy and his understanding as to how we know who we are and that there is life at all and that it’s not all an illusion, on the phrase, “I think, therefore I am”… Postmodern philosophers are more likely to say something like, “I love, therefore I am”, or even, “I am because we are”. Every one of us comes from a family, from a tribe, from a nation, and, yes, from a faith community. And that faith community helps us know who we are. “I am because we are.” The seventh and last hunger, and nourishment, is community.

During the week, if not in helping to complete the homily here and now, you may want to consider the hungers you have, and what to do about them. Or, you may want to think about the nourishment you can give to someone else, and where you might begin – offering nourishment to those who are physically hungry or those who have the hunger of loneliness or the need for forgiveness or the hunger for self-esteem or the hunger for learning. I am because we are. And we are because Christ is.

And Christ continues to say to us, which is both a promise and challenge, and he says it through us, to one another: “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will be thirsty.”

Let’s drink to the creative deeds of Jesus, and feed off them, as we consider hungers and nourishments – our own, as well as those we discern around usAmen.

Based on homily by Brian Joyce.