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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 26
Thanksgiving for Creation
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 30, 2012

Psalm 8; 19; 65; Mark 9:35-41


On the “reality” show, Big Brother, “strategic” nominations see housemates voting against those they perceive to be fiercest rivals – which often means voting to evict their closest friends. In pursuit of big prize money, competition trumps friendship; competition trumps collaboration. It’s a picture of capitalism at its worst. Politics (right-wing verses left-wing) can be confusing but sometimes pop-cultural simplification can be helpful. Which do we value more, competition or collaboration? Do we seek our own salvation as individuals, as human beings (a prize-winning species), or do we seek the salvation of all? God be with you

These are questions we’re invited to consider in light of the witness of saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. “Forget the plaster statue Franciscan in the garden, or the parade of pets,” says Deacon John Krantz of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, “these don’t do justice to the radical evangelical calling of Francis. He lived (1182-1226) during troubled times of the early Middle Ages as cities and commercial trade had begun to displace feudalism, preparing for the enthronement of capitalism some five hundred years later. The quickening of social life in Italian cities in those days foreshadowed a Renaissance of art, science and culture, but it also created the new phenomenon of urban poverty” (www.no-nukes.org/cwomaha).

Francis and Clare were convinced that only the example of those who put no stock at all in material possessions could combat the growing consumerism of their age. Francis sang not of a bossy Big Brother but of Brother Sun and Sister Moon – of a sacred ecology. The final verse of his “Canticle of the Sun” also known as “Praise of the Creatures” sings sweetly of “Sister Death”. Clare saw all creation in the mirror of Christ the Saviour.

The two songwriting friends drew deeply from the spring of the creation psalms. They would have loved images like: “YHWH, our Sovereign,/ how majestic is your Name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8) … “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,?/ God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.?/ Madame Day holds classes every morning,/ Professor Night lectures each evening” (Psalm 19) … “As a good farmer prepares the land for sowing/ you tend your people” (Psalm 65).

Francis was known as the alter Christus, the other Christ, so keenly did it seem his life resembled that of Jesus – so keenly did it seem he understood the words of Jesus: “If any of you wants to be first, you must be the last one of all and at the service of all.” This is life centred not on competition (in the gospel passage immediately prior to the text we have read today, the disciples have been “arguing about who among them [is] the most important” – and Jesus has “brought a little child into their midst”). Godly lives are lives at the service of all – especially the child, the little one, the voiceless one. Godly lives are lives in collaboration.

Have you heard the ancient Celtic parable of the seer shown glimpses of heaven and hell? In hell he sees a table laid out with finest foods and drinks – something like Bill’s table at last night’s Opening of Ann Mara’s exhibition – and people gathered at the table. He sees that the people have no elbows – they cannot bring the food or drink to their own mouths – and so they cannot enjoy the feast. Instead they groan in agony. In heaven he sees the same table laid out with finest foods and drinks, and people without elbows, this time laughing and singing. When the seer looks more closely he sees why: in heaven the people are feeding each other.

Godly lives are lives in collaboration.

Miriam Pepper, who rarely misses one of our Thanksgiving for Creation services, writes: “The global financial crisis and economic downturn have reminded us that our economy is only stable if it is growing – if it is not, unemployment rises. And yet, the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet looms ever larger. Ecological economists have argued that it is unlikely that economies can dematerialise quickly enough to avert disaster. New post-growth macro-economics for post-growth economies are needed – not just the actions of consumers. As well as encouraging more mindful and collaborative consumption, perhaps initiatives like Buy Nothing New Month can help to put these issues on the public policy agenda” (“Nothing new in politics of consumption”, SSH, October 2012). October is Buy Nothing New Month – how might we take up the challenge to repair, reuse, recycle, share, swap, barter …? It’s a properly Franciscan challenge.

Franciscan spirituality has endured through the centuries and still inspires. We do not minister to the poor merely by writing cheques or giving handouts. Ministry is collaborative. Ministry, sometimes painfully, draws us into relationships. “In giving, we receive” is the premise of all hands-on charity/love.

With Ann Mara and friends, with Jacko and Joan, with Gwen and new friends from Milingimbi Island, with community activists and wildlife rescuers, with our four-footed, finned, feathered and reptilian friends, with saints Francis and Clare, we celebrate a spirituality that overflows into what might be called a Catholic-Evangelical view of political and social issues like health care, housing, welfare, social security and the entire web of life. May our God surprise us along the way. Amen.