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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 13, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 1, 2012

2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Touching on the truth’

Seven years ago I was in a rural village called Pannur, 100km north-west of Chennai in southern India. That’s where I met Rev. Danny (now an Anglican priest in Brisbane) through whom I met Moses. I was shown the local church – a place of worship, and a school for 300 families. The Bishop of the Diocese – Madras Diocese in the state of Tamil Nadu – Bishop Devasahayam – was born and raised in the village. The first in his family, one of the first generation, to learn to read and write. I went to his family home, a grass hut with low roof beams. I tried to imagine the determination on his part, and that of his family and friends, to learn – and to travel away to school and to university, to come to lead and care for hundreds of thousands of church members. It’s hard to imagine growing up in Pannur today. The people there are Dalit people, for centuries regarded the “untouchables” of India – deemed worthy of only the most menial tasks: cleaning toilets, sweeping streets. The outcasts of a rigid (and still evident) Hindu caste system. Excluded from the temples. Not permitted to handle the sacred texts. Untouchable and forbidden to touch. God be with you

What’s remarkable is that Dalit people (Dalit means “oppressed” or “crushed”) comprise more than 60 per cent of Christians in India. And this – according to Bishop Devasahayam – in spite of official missionary policy of converting the higher caste peoples – making it more difficult for Dalit people to be baptised ...

More than 60 per cent of the 20 million or so Christians in India, are Dalits. Bishop Devasahayam sees that it makes very good biblical sense – that the Bible is the story of God’s choosing the Dalits – God choosing to reveal Godself in relation to the renewed courage and dignity of the Dalits – the “untouchables” ...

Like the woman of the Gospel – unclean, a victim in that first-century crowd – like the woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak and is healed – more than healed – regarded a person and restored to dignity – so the “untouchables” of India ... touch on the truth of Jesus …

This requires resisting the crowd’s scapegoating, refusing to stay within the crowd that seeks to blame and shame (and hide) those least able to live nobly. For years the Dalits were denied education and respect. For years the woman of the Gospel was denied effective medical care. She was now sick and poor.

It’s striking that Jairus and the woman of the Gospel, in order to come to Jesus, step through and out from the crowd. Jesus takes time to speak with them personally. He hears the woman’s story – she does not make him unclean as the crowd would suppose, but her faith makes her well, saves her (the word is the same).

Jairus, an upper-class person tempted to despair that Jesus has stopped for this woman, tempted to despair in the face of a laughing/scoffing crowd outside his home, is ultimately grateful, overjoyed. Jesus has said to him, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

It’s not that this is easy. It does highlight one big difference, however, between a crowd and a community. A crowd thrives on fear – on insecurity – fear of the other. A community thrives on faith – on responsible persons of faith – forgiven, generous, outward-looking, peace-making ... persons-in-relationship. A community represents human life infused by the life of God – it represents, or presents, the kindom of God –yet to come in fullness on the earth, but present wherever there is forgiveness, generosity, outward-looking love, peace-making justice ...

I’m not sure I felt proud to know that the UCA was helping to build a bigger church in Pannur, and a community centre. I’m not sure that pride is what I felt. I felt conflicted and uncomfortable about feeling uncomfortable there – about being a person of relative wealth and privilege. I did feel part of the church, though ... Ekklesia means “the called out ones” …

I believe that we’re called out from the crowd. And although that can be a place of “fear and trembling”, it’s a holy fear – it’s a trembling before God – because, from there, we’re drawn into solidarity, into deeper relationships, with others. The Dalits in India, the “untouchables”, have become the ministers, the healers, the touching ones. Is that not true for you and for me – wherever God shows us human need and human dignity? ... The called out ones become the touching ones.

This month’s SSH carries a story about Jemima Hall, a young woman who has spent the past eight months as a volunteer in Cambodia. Her words bear witness to this same trembling. Jemima admits “that most women my age have seen and heard more than I can ever imagine … My mission was to work with an orphanage outside of the city but within a month my whole vision shifted. The more I learnt about the truths behind the orphanage life I felt angry at myself for my idealistic approach. Think of our Aboriginal kinship systems, or binding blood of families, of course it is the same for Khmer people, how could I have not thought that? Many pass children through as orphans, but really they have family members waiting for them to be returned. An orphanage run by westerners is seen as a boarding school for the lucky children selected. They are cared for, they study, they have toys and beds, some even have computers! … Since volunteering I feel I have had my eyes opened. I see life through many eyes and angles. I struggled when I saw the young in pain, and constantly caught myself asking why. I fear I don’t know how to enter the western world after seeing what I have been exposed to.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” The called out ones become the touching ones.

One commentator writes: “Only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently. So perhaps admitting need isn’t the end of the world we think it may be, but just the end of the world we’ve constructed (or had forced upon us). And as the world of self-imposed or … cultivated perfection crumbles around us, we’re invited to enter a new world of mutual regard, acceptance, and inter-dependence. And we can start to describe that world, even name it the kingdom [or kindom] of God” (David Lose).

We can also pledge to work at being a community where we don’t have it all together.

Together, we can create a place to admit our vulnerability, to share our hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, so that together we may speak and hear stories of amazing grace, of unfailing acceptance and mercy.

In silence, let’s attend to what the Spirit brings ... Jairus, the religious official, overjoyed, grateful. The marginalised woman, healed, saved. The little girl, raised to life. With whom do you most strongly identify? Why? … Amen.