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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 2, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 8, 2013

Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12

Higher things, larger truths and realities’

John the Baptiser is a striking figure, austere and eccentric. The notes sounded this second Sunday in Advent include urgency, repentance, conversion, imminent judgement and salvation. John’s witness will no doubt call to our minds and hearts the witness of prophets creative and courageous in the name of true peace prophets of the wilderness by choice or by circumstance. God be with you ...

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was certainly a prophetic voice of our time. His story has all the elements we’ve noted: austerity, eccentricity, urgency, conversion. His own hard-won wisdom inspired a nation to risk a way of truth telling and forgiveness/reconciliation. His own life, so extraordinary, created space for hope and change in South Africa and throughout the world; for alternatives to racism and resentment, for the overcoming of inequality and injustice. We can thank God today for such a person whose impact on our world is and will remain incalculable. We can thank God for such a witness, who calls us to hope for a better world and to expect better from our leaders, just as we ourselves are dignified by his leadership and life.

John’s witness will call to our minds and hearts the witness of prophets creative and courageous in the name of true peace prophets of the wilderness by choice or by circumstance. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) was a French sociologist and philosopher. He wrote more than 50 books on technology and humanity, on money and power, on the Bible and Christian anarchism. To read Ellul is to risk a change of mind and heart. His writing on money is especially confronting and exhilarating.

It’s one thing to say/cite that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It’s another to set about detaching oneself from money as a possessing and corrupting power, and embracing what Ellul calls “higher things, larger truths and realities”. It is as children attach themselves to higher truths, he says, that they will pull away from lesser realities.

God’s love, shown in Jesus, is the truth by which we learn generosity, compassion and freedom. Prayer, faith, religious practice in the Spirit of forgiving and giving these are true riches. God’s love alone is goodness. Money, at best, is useful. These words are especially apt for today: “With respect to money we must not live in hope; we must make decisions and gain the victory over it immediately.”

Deciding to regard money as merely useful is a major decision. It opens up a space for irreverence toward money and toward ideologies of the right and the left. It opens up a space for humour, for playfulness, for generosity and joy. It frees us for participation in God’s economy (a Eucharistic economy).

In God’s oikos/house/family everyone has access to food and drink (to locust pods/carob and wild honey), education and meaningful work, health care, and more everyone has the assurance of forgiveness and love, everyone has the true peace of Christ. There are decisions to be made on behalf of the church and the nation, but firstly, right now, there is a decision for each one of us to make. To which order of value am I most strongly attracted?

It may be helpful to quote a little from Ellul’s “dialectical education in the area of money”. Here’s what he has to say in regard to teaching children.

1. Children must know that money is not respectable, that we do not owe it honour or consideration, that the rich are not superior to others. At the same time, however, money is not contemptible. This is especially true of money their parents may give them, for it represents their work and is a way they have of showing them their love.

2. Children must know that money is necessary, but they must not draw the conclusion from this that it is good. Inversely, they must learn that it leads to much evil, but they must not draw the conclusion that it is useless. In other words, children must be taught to separate the ideas of usefulness and goodness.

3. When we teach children that money does evil, they will be led to see one side only. Either money does evil to those who have it by hardening their hearts, for example, or it does evil to those who passionately desire it by leading them to theft. Now it is essential to teach that money does evil both to those who have it and to those who do not, to one group as much as to the other. It is essential to teach that money does not leave us unscathed, whatever attitude we take or whatever situation we have been placed in by circumstances. In any case money first spoils our relations with people. Children must progressively learn to be wary of the effect money has on relations with adults and with friends.

John’s witness will call to our minds and hearts the witness of prophets creative and courageous in the name of true peace prophets of the wilderness by choice or by circumstance.

Adam Hill is a prolific and provocative urban Indigenous artist. His political and fearless work acrylic on canvas, assemblage, photography is well-known. He has recently had two new designs tattooed on the back of his hands. A one-cent and two-cent coin. Feather-tailed Glider on the left hand. Frill-necked Lizard on the right.

We discussed at some length the meaning of this symbolism. It has to do, he says, with the colour of the now demonetised coins: copper. It has to do with the native animals depicted. It has to do with the words he has tattooed on his fingers: T-I-T-L-E F-I-G-H-T. Hence, Native Title Fight.

It also has to do with an alternative (demonetised) economy. The designs gently mock obsessions with money and wealth (in the arts as in broader society and culture). They connote a humble handling of money (small change) and responsibility (to put in my two cents’ worth with regard to a contentious topic). They suggest that hands themselves might be gifts that hands, touch, intimacy, creativity, personality these “things” are not rightly bought or sold. For Adam, there is an ancient and living spirituality in play.

And there is a strong Christian connection. Grace. Freely we have received, says Jesus. Freely, then, we ought to give (Matthew 10:8). I am reminded of the gospel account of the widow’s copper coins signs, says Jesus, of a transcendent generosity (and evidence of exploitation of the poor at the hands of those who would buy and sell respectability and righteousness). I am reminded of Proverbs 30:7-9, which extols the wisdom in avoiding the excesses of poverty and riches, preferring to live alongside others in a Spirit of sharing. I am reminded of the apostle Paul who writes to the Philippians: “I have learned the secret: in poverty or plenty, I can do all things through the One who gives me strength.”

Does this not echo the witness of John the Baptiser and prisoner? Does this not echo the witness of Nelson Mandela, the prisoner and president? The common thread is generosity participation in a generosity that exceeds the calculations of the greedy and the anxious.

Repent, says John. Reorient yourselves to the love of God, to the goodness and generosity of God. Then bear fruit worthy of repentance.

“One mark of freedom from money would be for children to pay no attention at all to how people are dressed or to their manners, to family connections or to wealth or poverty,” Jacques Ellul writes. This ability to be comfortable in all circumstances to accept and to affirm others comes from the prior action of God in Christ. “Our actions bear fruit only by the fertility of God’s Spirit.”

The Christmas Bowl invites us to participate in the generosity of God; thus it invites us to be “at peace”. This week’s focus is care for displaced people in Tamil Nadu, South India. The memory of war-related trauma, depression, alcoholism and lack of employment are amongst the problems faced by the 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.

In the silence now I invite you to read the testimony of Santhi (on the back of the liturgy), drawing your attention to the final sentences in particular: “I like school very much. When I finish, I would like to go to college and study science as one day I’d like to be a doctor. No one should suffer without doctors, and I want to treat people without getting any fee. Thank you for your support. It is helping me to build a safer, stronger future for myself and others, despite the traumas of the past.” ... Amen.