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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Pentecost 12 (Ordinary Sunday 19), Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 11, 2013

Isaiah 1:1,10-17;Luke 12:32-40

‘Where you treasure is, there will your heart be also’

Times don’t change, in some respects. There is Isaiah telling the people that God is fed up with all their bowing and scraping, their worshipping and festivals and other imagings of their faith. This God tells them to get on with the real and sacred agenda for their lives – to look after the vulnerable and the poor.

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus says much the same thing – a little more gently, but with the same calling for the people to keep the light burning, to stay awake rather than sleeping through the struggles of vulnerable people around them.

It is hard to know whether the mention of slaves really came from Jesus or the writer of Luke. Obviously, in that day, slavery was simply commonplace. In fact the constant references to slavery in the Bible, as though it is normal and appropriate, is one of the most powerful indicators that a literary interpretation of Scripture is not appropriate.

The strong theme in the Gospel passage is, of course, that we are to be ready, to stay awake as we relate to the world and the community around us. If we do this, the blessing of God will be given to us – the embracing meal of love and renewal.

As I reflected on the concept of staying awake, I felt that one of the most helpful things around this is belonging to the community of faith. None of us can stay awake all the time, even metaphorically.  Nor can we all know and face into everything which needs changing. Together, we can keep each other awake and bring into our community new issues and information about injustices.

If I look around here, I can see some people reminding us of the needs of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. I see another keeping us in touch with struggles for justice for refugees and one reminding us of what it means to be a refugee. I see some people keeping the creation before us, as it is threatened in so many ways. I hear the voice of another keeping us in touch with many local issues and struggles for justice and some people doing the same in the varieties of their creative work and our weekly homeless shelter reminding us that some people do not have a home . . . . and so on.

As I was thinking about these voices which keep us awake, I realised that many of them are voices heard in our Church Council and that maybe we could invite other voices to wake us up – members of our congregation whose voices we don’t hear so often. Of course, sometimes people wake us up as they share in the completing of the homily or participate in our prayers for others.

Of course, if we work so hard to keep our paper, the SSH, going, it is because it is a way of inviting the wider community to awaken to significant issue of compassion and justice which lie in our midst and to encourage people as we bring them stories of the lives of people who add to our life.

As you would know, our reason for producing the paper is:

“Celebrating the lives of the diverse people of South Sydney, inviting discussion on issues of concern and interest and adding encouragement to possibilities for community.”

In doing this, we are saying “Stay awake!” and also “Let us be a real community where people both know and care about what happens to each other.”

None of this means that we can never sleep. Part of being a community of faith is about giving each other permission to rest while others stay awake. We all hope that Andrew is getting some rest while he is away, even if some of the time is spent in work. I must say that my childhood Christian training didn’t give me much in the way of permission to rest and play! I have been working on that.

Actually, I believe that God has given us many resources for renewal, if we will receive them. There is the wonder of the creation itself, of course, and the care of each other. However, I believe that among the most powerful resources are art, music, drama and poetry. This is one reason why our emphasis on the arts in this parish is so important. These are not the luxuries of life, but God’s gifts to us as we journey on together – things which express our feelings and lift our hearts.

And, of course, prayer and meditation also give us rest and recreation.

The French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep, talks about us being called to be “Liminal” people, participants in “an ambiguous, sacred, social state in which a person or group of persons is separated for a time from the normal structures of society.” We may sometimes feel as though we are on the margins of society, as we take our stands on some justice issues, but Gennep suggests that we may actually be people who are on the threshold of good change – the “Liminal” people. This is not always a comfortable place to be and many people down the ages have paid a huge price for standing there.

Having been part of many movements for change over the years, together with others of my generation, I can testify that sometimes you do feel on the edge of society and quite vulnerable. I recall feeling like that when I faced my sexuality. But then, when I decided to step off the cliff and own who I was, I found myself flying rather than falling into an abyss.

When we consider the issues around boat people and refugees in general, we may be those who stand, with some others, on the margins of society. So many politicians over the last decades have invited meanness and fear in us in relation to refugees that we, who announce that we could be compassionate and share our country and resources with desperate people fleeing their home countries, may well find ourselves marginalized. But is taking that stand holding the sacred treasures in our hearts and lives? I believe that it is.

As we face into an election, we can ask ourselves profound questions:

What are the signs of our being awake?

I suggest that one sign is that we refuse to simply accept the spin and manipulations around us in political policies and speeches. We will go far deeper into our life together and move past what are meant to be attractive alternatives.

What do we carry with us which we add to all reality?

I believe we are called to carry honesty, integrity and moving away from self-interest – attitudes which dare to challenge assumptions. It is hard to do this when you can’t see too many options for giving power to this way of living and seeing – such is politics. Sometimes, if we are to participate in the forming of our life together, we probably do have to compromise, but that need not stop us from at least giving a voice to the more ethical alternatives. We will choose our own methods of doing that.

What has ultimate value – eternal value?

I believe that the greatest flowering of internal values is always linked with love for others. Whatever issues we are thinking about, the ultimate test is whether we are adding love to the world, like the love and grace which God offers to us.

As we hold the precious life of Christ in our hands in the Eucharist today, let us ask ourselves how we will express that costly love in the world?

Let us complete the homily together.  In the silence, I invite you to consider “What is your treasure? Where is your heart? What flowering of life do you care most about?” Then, if you wish, come and share that with us as you place a small flower before the cross, or do that in silence.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon