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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 17, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 28, 2013

Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13


‘Receive what? Find whom? The door to which place?’

This morning the children will meet St Francis of Assisi. They will meet someone who prayed and sang in praise of God whose “rule of love renews the earth”. Francis sought God in and through creation, regarding all creatures as brothers and sisters. Margaret is leading workshops towards artistic Stations of Creation to be installed in the church for our Thanksgiving for Creation service in October. The children’s contributions will be encouraged and treasured. The faithfulness of Francis – born to a wealthy family in the 12th century, a guitar-strumming troubadour, a prisoner of war, an ascetic founder of a community of friars, co-founder, with Clare of Assisi, of a community of women religious – led to his renown as an alter Christus, another Christ. Francis (and Clare) sought to understand and to embody the Gospel – to live as Jesus lived and to pray as Jesus prayed. God be with you

“Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come.”

We can dare to have the same relationship with the Creator as Jesus – to call God by the same Name – Abba (Aramaic) means something like Papa or Daddy. In terms of intimacy (shocking in the context of austere patriarchy) it is like Mama or Mummy, too. We are invited to address God as intimate members of God’s family. We are invited into a holy and awe-some intimacy, to submit all desires for dominion/control to the rule of love – as Matthew’s Gospel adds: “on earth as in heaven.” Intimacy, trust, friendship, partnership, kindness, gentleness, respect, democracy … is awe-some, is holy.

“Do we know what it is like to love and to be loved? Then we are well on the way …” (Bill Loader). Our Inclusive Bibles make use of a term first used by a community of women religious in the US: “kindom of God.” It’s a faithful term.

Francis wasn’t a pantheist. He didn’t regard creatures as divine. He saw the earth and the plants, animals and elements as intimates, as intimately related. Each creature, in its own way, praises God – and deserves every chance, each in its own way, to praise God. Scholars point out that the Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer, that even when we pray it alone we address “our” Father and Mother in heaven. How expansive a community do we imagine when we pray? How expansive a Christian community, a religious community, a human family, a cosmos … when we pray for food and forgiveness?

The Lord’s Prayer is so simple. Intimacy, food, forgiveness, (resistance to) evil. Pray this, says Jesus. Just start praying: intimacy, food, forgiveness, (resistance to) evil.

From within such a prayer, of course, arise various and urgent questions: What kind of intimacy is most appropriate/respectful? How much of which type of food? How to farm it? How to distribute it? Who is missing out? Who is hungry – for nutrition, for celebration, for meaning, for affection, for freedom, for wisdom? Forgiveness of sins, debts, trespasses, infringements, inadvertent offenses, blatant abuses and cover-ups – “as we too forgive”? How does forgiveness work, anyway? What’s forgiveness without truth and reconciliation? What do we mean by evil? And how are we tempted to court it, to underestimate it and our ability to overcome it?

It’s striking that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prays: “Not this Test, please, not this!” The answer he receives is a silence that gives rise, ultimately, to Jesus’ own acceptance of a godly confrontation with evil – with violent powers opposed to intimacy, food and forgiveness for all. It’s a terrible moment. It’s a moment that can help us to read the remaining verses of today’s Gospel, lest we hear them as simplistic promises of wish-fulfilment.

Persistence is encouraged of those who truly pray, together, for holy intimacy, food, forgiveness and resistance to evil. Persistence in the Name of God who is (like/more than) a good friend and (like/more than) a good parent. Persistence means discipline, practice, collaboration, discernment, study – all this. It’s worth saying again that these are communal activities/pursuits. It’s worth drawing the example of Wednesday night’s Christmas in July dinner which included members of the congregation, the Food Connect service, the Voices from the Vacant Lot choir, volunteers and guests of the Garden Shelter. Persistence means formation – spiritual formation: weekly Eucharist/Thanksgiving, Baptism … liturgical lament, praise, confession, intercession …

To those who pray together – for intimacy, food, forgiveness, resistance to evil – Jesus says: “Keep asking and you’ll receive; keep looking and you’ll find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you …”

Receive what? Find whom? The door to which place?

St Francis died in poverty and pain, aged 44. He had prayed with Clare, with his friars, with the birds and the wolves, with Christians and Muslims, townspeople and Pope Innocent III. What surprises you most about this? Somewhat narcissistically (I’m 44), I found it shocking to learn this week the age of Francis when he died.

Receive what? Find whom? The door to which place?

Our heavenly Abba, says Jesus, gives to those who ask, seek and knock … the Holy Spirit. If there’s something visible about this Spirit we just might see it on the faces of the children (and their teachers) here today. We just might see it in the artworks they’ll create for the Stations of Creation exhibition …

One commentator writes: “The key is not so much to ask for the gift as it is to trust in divine grace. The key is to seek, knowing not at all what we might find. It is to have faith that we will find something, most likely something surprising, and that it will be good” (Joan Bigwood).

Another writes: “Praying this prayer does not only teach us how to pray; it teaches us how to be. If we allow it to do its work in us, it will continually reshape us in the image of Jesus” (Nathan Nettleton).

And it is by living our lives “in our Saviour”, rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith (Colossians 2:6-7), that we learn to want what is truly good and good for us.

God is like the mum or dad who really cares (and confronts us with reality); who is holy and makes us feel holy. Prayer is an activity of intimacy and awe and thus a model for all relationships; it is the language of the kindom. It brings the gift of the Spirit.

Let’s pray together. What do these words stir in your heart or mind today: intimacy, food, forgiveness, (resistance to) evil …? Let’s complete the homily together … Amen.