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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 18, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 4, 2013

Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

‘Life in God’

Our epistle reading refers to “heavenly things” and “things of earth”. It calls to mind the popular expression: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” There is a certain religiousness that seeks escape from reality – it is marked by naivete, arrogance, moralism. The expression comes in two parts, though: “Yet it’s only in becoming more heavenly minded that you will be of any earthly good.” There is a religiousness that seeks a broader, deeper reality inclusive of the earth – it is marked by the absence of angry rage, malice, slander, abusive language and deceitfulness. God be with you

“Yet it’s only in becoming more heavenly minded that you will be of any earthly good.” Does your own experience bear this out? When you have set your mind on pursuing earthly things, have you been satisfied? Which earthly things – various kinds of voraciousness, covetousness, possessiveness, idolatry – are your favourites, and how have they worked out for you?

How do we turn our hearts and minds to “heavenly things”? Preachers will often suggest quiet times of study and prayer – usually according to some kind of simple discipline (PRAY is one acronym where P is for Praise, R is for Repentance, A is Asking and Y is for Yielding to the Word of God). The lectio divina is an ancient method we shared recently – St Benedict advised three readings of a Bible text, three periods of deep listening in silence: What word or phrase touches my heart?; Where is Christ in the text?; What am I called to be or to do this week?

Our weekly Eucharist is also a way we turn our hearts and minds to heavenly things. It’s about cultivating heavenly habits of body and mind – accountability with and to one another, with and to the earth.

Yesterday’s gathering/lamentation at Pitt Street was a fine example of the church turning hearts and minds to the God who comes in the guise of the stranger, the disadvantaged, the unwanted and the most vulnerable, to the Christ present in the neighbour who is hungry, naked, imprisoned, seeking asylum.

Our Uniting Church President, Rev. Prof. Andrew Dutney, speaks of these heavenly things when he says: “As a church leader I don’t presume to endorse one particular public policy as the most effective in delivering the hospitality to strangers that Christ commands. That’s the particular skill and responsibility of politicians. But it would appear that – with the exception of the very welcome recommendation to increase Australia’s annual refugee intake – current policy development is not primarily directed towards helping strangers in need at all. On the contrary, all the political energy is devoted to eliminating one kind of appeal for asylum by making an example of any who attempt it. As a church leader it is my job to say that this is wrong. It is unworthy of us all as human beings, and it is especially unworthy of those of us who would follow Jesus.

“A nation that is so determined to turn strangers away – to oppose the God whose mission begins with the stranger, the disadvantaged and the unwanted – cannot prosper in any way that matters” (ABC Religion and Ethics, August 16, 2012).

This kind of bold leadership encourages me to keep thinking and praying about the issue.

I notice that the parable Jesus tells about a person blindly building bigger grain bins is in response to a question about inheritance. The parable is about possessions, possessiveness. The questioner claims dispossession. I need to reflect on the way the socio-economic system I participate in disinherits/dispossesses others in the world. In other words, the asylum seeker issue is not simply about compassion for the dispossessed, but also about accountability for first-world privilege. There’s a lot to consider here – from Refugee Convention obligations to support for developing neighbour-nations.

Without the support of the church (Andrew Dutney, Brian Brown, Elenie Poulos, Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Heather Robinson, Lyn Turnbull, Justin Whelan …) I might easily slip into carelessness, cynicism or lazy compromise with regard to things that really matter …

That church extends, of course, to scholars and commentators I have never met. One commentator I’ve read online this week refers to “thinking about things above” as he has worked to clean out his mother’s apartment. “All through her apartment were tokens of her heavenly mindedness. Toward the end her mind wasn’t working very well, but the heavenly deposit she had cultivated endured and sustained her” (Steve Godfrey).

I like that. Tokens of heavenly mindedness. I imagine he means special gifts, handmade items, letters, cards, perhaps a well-thumbed Bible, photographs. What do you imagine?

Jesus uses the phrase “rich toward God”, “rich with God” or “rich in God”. It means something like living the kind of life that God values – it means that, minimally. I hear something more mystical, also. Something beyond the happiness promised by advertisers of one or other new technology or fashion.

For some the problem is blindly building bigger grain bins. For others it is building bigger wardrobes, possessing fancier gadgets, sporting flashier cars.

It is easy to miss the point by focusing on the extremes. There is a deep human anxiety about being worthwhile. Many products are designed to sedate that fear. It is nevertheless real. The “Christian” claim that true contentment comes only in service is probably spurious. It is simply not the case that people without Christ are all very unhappy and vice versa. It is also not the case that we are to make ourselves happy through service. That is secular justification by works and becomes a tyrant for us and those around us – and those whom we “serve” (Bill Loader).

Sometimes it has to be a kind of Christian defiance that says: Only in life towards God, a life participating in God’s life, is there peace/shalom. That will be a peace that weeps, knows anguish, sometimes does not know and does not have answers, but keeps believing in the worth God wants us to have and wants us to give and live toward others.

“Is my life worthwhile?” is for many a fearful question. It is no answer to moralise and command. “Ultimately the answer is an act of healing” (Bill Loader). Jesus goes on to say: “Fear not … for it has pleased your Abba to give you the kindom” (v.32).