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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 24, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 16, 2012

Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1; Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Bearing the cross’

Today’s readings are about Wisdom. She cries out in the CBD, in the Pitt Street Mall – she is present in the midst of city life and noise – if only we have ears to hear (in coming days, as leaders of various faiths reflect on the violence that erupted in the CBD last night, we may well hear her voice more clearly). She never gives way to evil. That’s a verse worth memorising. Wisdom never condones evil, never sanctions violence or commends greed. She speaks up to oppose injustice. She stands her ground and says No to exploitation of the earth and the earth’s most vulnerable. Wisdom never gives way to evil.

And then we are reminded of much foolish talk. James teaches that “the tongue is a whole wicked world in itself”, and gives examples of foolishness at its most destructive. “We use the tongue to say, ‘Praise be our God and Creator’; then we use it to curse each other – we who are created in the image of God.”

The Gospel, too (Mark’s centrepiece), is about the discernment of wisdom – which is about more than getting the words right. Peter, famously, confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, but then goes on to “take issue” with the notion of a Messiah “rejected by the elders, chief priests and religious scholars” and “put to death”. Jesus speaks the words of Wisdom: “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps.” God be with you ...

One way of making sense of all this is to reflect on a general/conventional understanding of taking up one’s cross. We hear it all the time said that someone or other has a cross to bear – and that cross is understood to mean all manner of inconvenience, difficulty, illness. The phrase “bearing one’s cross” has come to mean learning to live with whatever makes life harder than it might otherwise be – sinus trouble, short sightedness, mortgage repayments. And the wisdom has come to be something akin to stoicism: keeping a stiff upper lip and getting on with life as best as possible.

There is a time and place for stoicism. There is wisdom in getting on with life in spite of undesirable and unavoidable trials. But it’s not what Jesus is talking about. And it has little or nothing to do with resisting evil – little or nothing to do with a Wisdom who resists evil. If all we draw from the words of Jesus about taking up one’s cross is a resignation to stoicism, then we discern no more than Peter who judges “by human standards rather than by God’s”.

Jesus is talking about what it means to follow him into life and death – he is talking about living out our baptism. Sinus trouble is not really a consequence of following Jesus. Short sightedness is not usually a consequence of following Jesus. Mortgage repayments are not a consequence of following Jesus. They are a consequence of choosing to purchase one’s own house. Such difficulties are potentially facts of life for everyone, not just for those who choose to follow Jesus.

Jesus is talking about a commitment to justice and kindness, to a reverence for life that is likely to get you killed. When Jesus walks out into the streets, into the open, to protest about the way things are, we can either look on from a distance or we can follow him. Denying ourselves means that every time the way of Jesus comes into conflict with the ways of the world, we will not make decisions on the selfish basis of what suits us, but will follow Jesus and face the consequences.

In Christ we discern true wisdom. Wisdom never condones evil, never sanctions violence or commends greed. She speaks up to oppose injustice. She stands her ground and says No to exploitation of the earth and the earth’s most vulnerable. Wisdom never gives way to evil – even when that means exposure to risk of ridicule, persecution, bullying, misunderstanding, murder.

True wisdom entails courage and self-sacrifice in the Spirit of a brighter and better life for all. The Promised One, Jesus teaches, will rise again – and with the Promised One all those who lose life for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the justice and kindness of God.

Reverence for life is a helpful phrase. We are called to speech and to action that blesses others, that reveres – that refuses to curse. We live out our baptism in a Christlike reverence for life – and we are led ever more deeply into the wisdom of that. While ever the world is characterised by selfishness, violence and greed, reverence for life will be met with scorn.

Reverence for life is expressed in everyday and radical modes. It is generosity, forgiveness, companionship, creativity, resistance and advocacy, patience and understanding. And reverence for life goes on. Reverence for life is expressed in everyday and radical modes. Where have you seen it expressed? Let’s complete the homily together … Amen.