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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 12, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 24, 2012

1 Samuel 17:24-49; Mark 4:35-41

Overwhelming odds’

A confluence is the meeting of two or more bodies of water. Today’s homily registers a confluence of lectionary readings and current affairs, in various voices … The disciples are in a boat with Jesus, trying to get to the other side, when a storm whips up the waves and threatens to smash the boat and drown them all. It’s quite an eerie gospel in the wake of tragic events in Indonesian waters just 110 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island on Thursday morning. God be with you

In the gospels, and especially in Mark’s Gospel, being in a boat, and especially in a boat with Jesus, is a symbol of the ekklesia, the church. That’s why the National and World Councils of Churches use the boat as an emblem (and the UCA, too). We are boat people, the emblems say. We’re all in the same boat.

Last week (World Refugee Week), Amnesty International reminded us of responsibilities and opportunities in regard to refugees: “Though there remains much to be done, making [seekers of asylum] feel welcome in our Australian community … ensuring our system is open and upholding our obligations – that is how we restore hope.” A humane and compassionate statement. We’re all human. We’re all in need of justice and hope. We’re all called to reconciliation and restoration. We’re all in the same boat.

Our story presents a picture of the church … trying to get to the other side. It’s an image used over and over in the Bible. Trying to get to the other side – crossing the sea. Crossing the Red Sea, crossing the Jordan – these are stories about escaping slavery/oppression and finding freedom/safety on the other side.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has released a statement saying it is “deeply concerned” and that the incident reinforces the need for “international solidarity” on the issue of people seeking protection. Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty’s Refugee Spokesperson, has called for a sensible conversation around “what is protection and how do we best do it in a way that benefits us as a community …?”

Escaping slavery/oppression/persecution and finding freedom/safety/protection on the other side. Our story presents a picture of the church trying to make progress, trying to get somewhere. And soon it is not making progress. There is a wild storm at sea.

The Israelites were not an ocean-loving people. The sea was considered dangerous. The sea was a place of demonic chaos. A storm at sea is a very frightening image …

In 2001, a crowded boat known as the SIEV X sank on its way to Australia, with the loss of 350 lives. A storm at sea is a very frightening image …

Fifty asylum seekers travelling from Indonesia to Christmas Island died when a storm dashed their boat onto rocks in December 2010. A storm at sea is a very frightening image …

As many as 200 died when an overcrowded boat sank off the coast of East Java in December 2011. A storm at sea is a very frightening image …

“This accident again underscores the … nature of these hazardous journeys, and the desperate … measures people will resort to when they are fleeing persecution in their home countries,” the UNHCR statement reads. “It also reinforces the need for renewed international solidarity and co-operation to find protection operations for people that would help to reduce the need for these perilous journeys by boat.”

Our gospel presents a picture of the church, a boatload of people trying to go where Jesus has called them to go, and the forces of darkness and chaos rising up to smash them to pieces. It is a picture of our endeavours to live as disciples. Often it feels as though it’s all in vain and our efforts to brave the sea and make it to the other side are going to see us pushed back, or swamped and drowned.

And where is Jesus? He seems to be asleep and quite oblivious to it all. But before we get too annoyed at his lack of concern for our safety and sanity, it must be acknowledged that this storm-battered picture could well be a picture of Jesus’ life, too. The whole gospel account is one of Jesus pushing on towards his destination, the promised land of love and mercy and hope, and the further he goes the more the storms of rage, resentment and violent opposition rise up around him and threaten to destroy him. Indeed, we may discern a link between this story and the story set in the Garden of Gethsemane, because here Jesus is asleep and the disciples are terrified of the destruction that is about to befall them, and in the Garden the disciples are asleep and Jesus is terrified of the destruction that is about to befall him.

At 5pm on Thursday (the day after World Refugee Day and more than two days after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s rescue centre first received calls from a vessel indicating it was experiencing difficulties), the Royal Australian Air Force dropped life rafts to the capsized boat. Forty minutes later, a merchant vessel arrived, followed by two more merchant vessels, and they started rescuing survivors.

The tragedy could have been averted if Australian authorities had taken more timely action, Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a lack of co-ordination between Indonesian and Australian authorities to leave boats in distress and limbo,” he said. Even though the capsized boat was in Indonesian waters, Australian authorities are able to respond more easily and quickly than Indonesian authorities, and should have done so, he said. “It is absurd for [the Australian Maritime Safety Authority] to simply advise an asylum boat in distress to turn back to Indonesia,” he said. “Australia can have planes over Indonesian waters far quicker than Indonesia can mobilise patrol boats. Australian policies are putting asylum seekers at risk” (Read more: www.smh.com.au/national/lives-could-have-been-saved-says-refugee-advocate-20120622).

Friday, June 22: Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare confirms the search for survivors is continuing. HMAS Wollongong transfers rescued passengers to Christmas Island.

Saturday, June 23: Rescuers find two more bodies from the capsized boat, bringing the death toll to six. But 90 passengers remain unaccounted for. One hundred and nine people have been rescued. Authorities say it is unlikely more survivors will be found (Read more: www.smh.com.au/national/boat-death-toll-rises-to-six-20120623-20) …

In the gospel (as depicted so well in the image from 11th century Germany), the disciples wake Jesus and accuse him of showing no concern for their safety, but Jesus speaks severely to the wind and the waves and there is calm. Then he challenges the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Are you still unable to trust?”

David believes that while he is no match for the giant soldier, the giant soldier is no match for the living God. So he puts his trust in the living God and steps out to face the giant. He refuses the offer of armour, because he is not having a bet each way. He is trusting in the living God. God vindicates David’s trust and proves that overwhelming odds cannot destroy those who trust God and go where God has called them to go.

The disaster has prompted Liberal MP Mal Washer to call on Opposition leader Tony Abbott to consider supporting Labor’s Malaysia Solution to prevent more asylum-seeker deaths at sea.

Overwhelming odds cannot destroy those who trust God and go where God has called them to go. May it be so.

You’re invited to share an experience of overcoming “overwhelming odds” and “going where God has called you to go” ... as an act of empathy/solidarity with all seekers of asylum – all of us in the same boat ... Amen.