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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 14, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 8, 2012

2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Boasting of weakness’

I’ve mentioned again, recently, my trip to India in 2006. I went as a representative of the Uniting Church, to be a speaker at the Church of South India’s Youth Convention (an annual event that attracts about 5,000 young adults). I arrived in Chennai, via furious reading and note-taking in Kuala Lumpur, keen to make a good impression … I was thinking that my confidence would come by way of preparing an intelligent and stirring reflection on a theological theme: Luther’s theology of the cross. My strong point, I thought, would be to proclaim (contrary to fundamentalism, triumphalism, Gnosticism) a flesh-and-blood revelation of God in Christ – a flesh-and-blood spirituality of engagement in worldly affairs: culture, history, community, text and interpretation, economics, politics, ecology … To say that I wasn’t in control of proceedings would be an understatement … God be with you

The convention began, I was soon to discover, with an invitation to donate blood. Everybody was quite excited about it. The last time I had given blood I had fainted. I hated it – the feeling of life leaving my body, my head light, my face perspiring. But – this was the bind – How could I speak with credibility about flesh-and-blood realities – including commitments to local context – and not donate blood like everyone else?

I found myself alongside hundreds of others in a very large school hall. I’m sure I turned a very pale shade of pink, and I didn’t say much for an hour or so. I remember lying on a table – a bright light and a video camera pointed in my direction – and praying that it would all be over quickly, and, at the risk of boasting, that my very obvious weakness (I recall my minders speaking in hushed tones nearby) might bear some kind of witness to something I claimed to believe in.

Despite my cowardice – in my obvious discomfort and cowardice – I suspect that donating blood made a more eloquent statement of faith in a God who empties Godself and assumes flesh and blood in love for the world than anything I said the following day. Whenever I am weak (in myself), then I am strong (in the One who is Sovereign Love) …

All manner of theories have been propounded to explain the mystery of Paul’s tormenting “thorn in the flesh” – serious suggestions, like eye disease and arthritis, have been put forward, alongside more speculative ones …

We are invited to identify with the weakness of Paul … His relationship with God depends upon what one commentator calls a sense of Christ-esteem. Paul sees his true self in Christ …

Memory of lying on a table in that school hall calls to mind a vivid image of Christ-esteem. Søren Kierkegaard says that a person is both spirit and matter, eternal and temporal, and that despair (Kierkegaard’s word for sin) consists in clinging to one or the other. I sin by thinking myself simply eternal (arrogant, superior, godlike) or merely temporal (worthless, inferior, ashes and dust). In an oft-cited passage from a book called The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard [Anti-Climacus] proffers a “formula for the state in which there is no despair at all: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it. This formula in turn … is the definition of faith.”

Elsewhere Kierkegaard likens faith to being “out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet joyful” (Stages on Life’s Way). I love this image. Yes, that’s what it was like, “floating” on that table – not fainting – feeling that I was a part of something life-giving, something happening in spite of my weakness, in and through my weakness – a buoyancy! – resting transparently in the power that established me, in the power that, in every moment, establishes me.

I love this image of faith as swimming. Swimming entails a certain resting or relaxing (learning to not thrash about), just as it entails a certain effort or skill (learning to reach, to cup the water, to pivot and to kick). There is grace (buoyancy) and there is striving (freestyle, breaststroke, etc.). There is learning to be graceful – but always the water to lift me up, always the primacy of grace.

Perhaps this philosophy of swimming is not to your interest. If a sense of Christ-esteem is about overcoming anxiety or despair, and embracing the freedom to be and to love, then there’s a simple word for it: honesty. To rest transparently in the power that established me is to be honest with myself and others, to be honest before God. Dishonesty is despair. Honesty is sheer delight.

A number of articles and letters in this weekend’s Herald suggest that the Catholic Church’s intractable/desperate problem is that priests are not encouraged or allowed to be honest about their sexuality – that compulsory celibacy attracts many who are immature with respect to sexual needs and identities – that church leadership has not been honest about failures and abuses for fear of appearing weak or misguided. It’s a tragedy, of course – for the Church, for those abused and their families …

Life comes to wholeness in active dependence on God … We are free to accept the things within us that are ordinary, weak, confusing, vulnerable, incomplete ... and sinful. Assured of forgiveness and support, we can be honest about that. And we can come to see our true selves in Christ.

Whenever I am weak (in myself), then I am strong (in the One who is Sovereign Love) … After a period of silence (in which we’re encouraged to rest in God and to be honest with ourselves), we can complete the homily together.

In which image of Christ do you see your true self?

Christ, the teacher drawn to wisdom? (Mark 6:2)
Christ, the rejected but resilient prophet? (Mark 6:4)
Christ, proclaiming repentance? (Mark 6:12)
Christ, the bearer of freedom and healing? (Mark 6:13)
Christ – … ?

Amen.