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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Day of Pentecost, Year B
Baptism of Maidie Rose Wood
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 27, 2012

Ezekiel 37:1–14; John 16:13–15

Witnesses to Spirit’

Today’s Gospel refers to the close ties between Jesus and the “Spirit of truth” who bears witness to the love of Abba God for the world. That’s why we have red ribbons, torn and tied – scarred – just as the hands, feet and side of the risen Christ bear the scars of love’s commitment to the world. God be with you …

Pentecost is about the sacramental nature of language – language restored to sacramental power – in and through human words, the Word of God to touch and to heal … The vanity of Babel transformed into a new humility and humanity whereby men and women, open to the Spirit, understand one another as children of God – as beloved, as lovers participating in the love of God.

One thing we might do at Pentecost is to affirm and to celebrate those we notice taking great care to speak graciously and truthfully (John 1:14) ... Poets of the kindom. Witnesses to the truth of grace. We are blessed to share this day with Maidie. She will speak today of love’s commitment to her and to the world in a singular way, in her own way. One of my favourite philosophers says that salvation “involves responding to the light of subjectivity in our neighbors, which in turn amounts to a conscious gesture of belonging” (Mark Dooley). In other words, salvation is our being drawn to the mystery in each other – the holy and singular spark.

That’s one thing we might do today: affirm and celebrate all poets of the kindom, all witnesses to the truth of grace. Our scarred red ribbons can symbolise witness to Spirit in gestures of respect, patience, gentleness, compassion, reverence and belonging …

We might also think along more political lines. I’ve been re-reading a book of interviews with Arundhati Roy (a post-colonial Indian writer who was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004). The Preface to the book is written by Naomi Klein (American activist and the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine).

As a writer, Roy is sensitive to the human condition, and the plight of ordinary people in India – she writes with “bright and furious words” on their behalf, with them. She understands that language lies at the heart of what it means to be human – at the heart of struggles for justice and peace ... She recognises that real flesh and real blood are at stake when words are argued over, when words are used to justify inequality, when words are used to deny access to resources, when words are used to confuse and to demoralise, when words are used to cover up injustice ...

Klein writes of Roy’s “transforming fear and confusion into courage and conviction.” Is this not what we celebrate today?

When Klein says of Roy’s essays and speeches that they are not propaganda, but “attempts to name our world as it is, exactly, precisely, perfectly,” I recall Martin Luther’s distinction between a theology of glory (which sees only power and beauty), and a theology of the cross (which sees the world in all its brokenness as a beloved world – a world in need of mercy and healing – sinful/ugly human beings in need of grace).

To the extent that Roy names our world exactly and with a humanising love, she can represent the work of the Holy Spirit in our time. This is the Spirit of joy, and as Flannery O’Connor puts it so well, this is not a glib or escapist joy, but a “joy that overcomes sorrow”.

There’s a particular image of Roy that I think is apt on this day of Pentecost. ... Roy watching an American cable news show, and with a great roll of tape, “picking up the words [President] George Bush has ruthlessly severed from their meanings – peace, evil, war, democracy, truth, good, innocent, justice ... – and carefully, urgently taping them back together again.”

The work of the Spirit in the world is a work of meaning-making for the sake of Christ. It bears the scars of violence inflicted on Christ and on all the friends of Christ.

Sometimes we hear talk of the Spirit in very triumphant tones – the spirit of victory, the spirit of success, the spirit of self-righteousness, the ego-centric human spirit writ large. As though the Spirit’s work were very different from the work of Christ. … And yet, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is the Paraclete (a word worth emphasising, especially in light of Maidie’s qualifications and commitments as a young lawyer – Paraclete means Defender, Defense Counsel). The Paraclete, says Jesus, the Defense Counsel “will bear witness on my behalf”, on behalf of all the victims of indifference and injustice, and lead the faithful into all truth (John 15:26–27;16:4b–15).

In this Spirit, human words, like the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, are re-made, put together again, enfleshed, embodied. That’s the work we’re called to take part in. Across the divides of culture and gender and generation. The work goes on.

Let’s complete the homily together. The red ribbons, torn and tied again, symbolise the bearing of injustice as well as the bearing of healing and new life ... Touching the “scars” of Spirit, for whom are you inspired to speak or pray? … Amen.