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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Epiphany 3, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 27, 2013

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Defining the church

In the two passages of Scripture on which we will focus today, I believe we are given some deep insights into the nature of the true church of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, you could suggest that Jesus is defining what he believes the role of a person who is faithful to God to be. The setting for what he is saying is his own synagogue – having already spoken in other synagogues. He has been rapidly gaining popularity in these other places, but obviously, when you speak into the environment in which you were brought up, you are seen through different eyes.

It made me wonder how you or I would be seen if we went back now and shared our faith in our childhood environment. In my case, people would be amazed to hear my voice at all – could this be that quiet and shy little minister’s daughter who was always trying to be good and never said a word? Here she is, a lesbian minister who has found her voice and speaks in many places! How could they understand and interpret that?

The passage in Luke goes on to relate how the people in the home synagogue of Jesus were saying “Who is this? Isn’t it Joseph’s son?” and so on. Obviously, if we are to truly be the church of Christ, our hearts must be open to look at people who we knew earlier and listen to them with open eyes and ears, assuming that life may have taught them new things and given them new gifts to share.

Having said all that, let us go back and hear what Jesus is saying to his old friends and families. I believe that he was, in a broad way, defining his own mission in life and that of the church. The whole statement which he read was focussed on love and justice. There is no mention of “saving souls” or making people believe particular views of faith. It was all about living out the Good News of God, of changing the world into, if you like, “a womb-space” for the life of God – the literal meaning of “compassion”.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus had no interest in sharing faith and inviting in others a relationship with God, but I think it points to his priorities for life and ministry. Maybe Jesus assumes the relationship with God - the significant company which supports and encourages us, inspires and enlightens us, renews and comforts us as we live out Christ’s mission in the world.

However we understand all of this, clearly the priorities of Jesus Christ for our life are there before us today.

When we come to the Corinthians passage, we are given what I believe is a wonderful and all-encompassing view of the nature of the church. Clearly, it is of its very nature, corporate. We are nothing without each other and we each have our own gifts to offer and particular roles to play. None is more important than the other. Washing the dishes after church or vacuuming the floor is just as important as what I am doing now. I look out at your faces and see some who are gifted in hospitality, in leadership or as Elders on our Church Council, I see one who teaches art and another who offers music, some who are great at relating to people and inviting their trust.

It just so happens that I believe I am using what God has placed within me and what has evolved within my life over the decades, but I know that everything would fall apart if our buildings were not cleaned and the dirty dishes remained in the sink. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I should not occasionally share in such activities. It rather means that such service for each other is critical to our life and should be honoured as such.

If we are to be all that we can be as the church, one of our commitments should be to get to know each other at deep levels and to help each other discover gifts and skills which we may not have recognised in ourselves. It is also to create a cultural environment where people feel free to dare to offer who they are, even if they are exploring possibilities. We can be honest with each other, too, and affirm things which are creative, while inviting people to move from places where they may be stuck out of habit or some past experience.

We gather around each other in a circle of love and support and that is demonstrated when we stand in our Eucharistic circle, with the life of Christ in our hands and in our midst. Today I am wearing the beautiful brooch formed as a circle of pearls which one of you made and presented to me during the Eucharist to remind me of surrounding love as I faced the coming death of my partner.

Yesterday, I went to see the movie, “Les Miserables”. I did so because, back in the late 1980’s when I was the minister in the Pitt Street church and we were being attacked by a Neo-Nazi group for two years, most of us went to see “Les Miserables” as a show. We loved its theme song “Do you hear the people sing” and, every time we were attacked, we would sing it as a sign of our ongoing commitment to justice and our determination to survive. I sat in the theatre and cried as I entered again the feelings I had at that time. I felt my fear and vulnerability – that which I could share with the congregation without needing to be heroic. I felt the lifting of life as we stood on the ground of justice and compassion and sang the song.

As Paul said to the Corinthians, he was offering what he had and who he was to Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and others. This could invite in us an expanding of relationships across many divides. Having had a good deal of experience of that in my work and travels for the church, I can only affirm that I have never not received true gifts from people of other denominations or faiths.

I experienced the Feast of Heaven when sharing Orthodox Church Eucharist, I learned to meditate from Buddhists and to dare to argue with each other from Jews. I saw the creation in a new light through Hindus and the wonder of the discipline of prayer from Muslims.

Having said all that, I am not romantic about cross-religious relationships. Obviously, fundamentalists of any faith, or none, are a challenge, to say the least.

Going back to the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, if we see the work of God as always corporate, who knows how far we can look for our working together? The love and grace of God is universal and eternal. Jesus said to his disciples, when they pointed to others as those who were “not one of us”, “By their fruits you will know them.” Those fruits are expressed in his words in the synagogue.

Having said that, I love being formally part of the church. When I am low, it lifts my heart. When I have not really known of talents and gifts which I have within me, it has pointed to them and called me on. When I have developed an enlarged ego, it has challenged me to face myself. I have received endless gifts for life from so many thousands of people over the years, so that I can keep going and feel I am held in love and support.

All these gifts flow from the life of the universal God via the lives of those around us.

I love the image of being a tiny speck in the endless and eternal journey of the universe towards good and love – one which can offer the tiny gifts which I have and believe that they are joined with all who live in time everlasting. Together, we will bring in a new day, the day which the Christ has described and which emerges as risen life among us.

In the silence, I invite you to reflect on when you have seen a little flowering of life either in yourself, or within our church here. Come forward and take a flower and place it before the Cross in silence, or as you share.

When we have finished that sharing, we will quietly sing “God be in my head” as an introduction to our prayers of intercession. (549)

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon