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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 9, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 2, 2013

Psalm 96; Luke 7:1-10

Looking out for others

“God’s holiness fills the earth,” the psalmist sings. “Look around, all creation sings of God’s goodness.” It’s remarkable that this psalm coincides with Jovana’s exhibition opening. “Look around,” sings the psalmist. Jovana’s show is called Vision Quest. Last night I shared a few words in acknowledgement of Jovana’s work. I read from a book by Donna J. Haraway: “What if work and play, and not just pity, open up when the possibility of mutual response … is taken seriously as an everyday practice …? What if a usable word for this is joy? And what if the question of how animals engage one another’s gaze responsively takes centre stage for people? What if that is the query, once its protocol is properly established, whose form changes everything?” God be with you

Haraway is reflecting on an essay by Jacques Derrida entitled, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More To Follow)”, in which the philosopher relates an encounter with his cat one morning – an experience of being seen by another. Being seen naked.

Haraway’s book is a meditation on cohabitation, on companion species – knotted from human beings, animals and other organisms, landscapes, and technologies. She explores the idea of companion species, those who meet and break bread together but not without some indigestion. Ultimately, she finds that respect, curiosity, and knowledge spring from animal-human encounters and work powerfully against ideas about human exceptionalism.

“I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 per cent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 per cent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many” (pp. 3-4).

These themes are present in the art of Jovana Terzic: work and play, pity or compassion, the possibility of mutual response, joy, curiosity, respect, companionship, humankind’s dependence on creatures great and small. They are powerful and confronting themes, rendered colourfully, lyrically, by way of myth and mysticism, Indigenous wisdom, radical Christian literature and pagan poetry. The artist rarely depicts a human figure without some figure or hint of another species. To be one is always to become with many.

“Let us tell the world what we have discovered,” the psalmist sings.

The kindom of heaven makes a mess of categories of kin and kind. Whatever heaven we might imagine for ourselves entails the healing of the earth and the inclusion of myriad companion species. The Latin specere refers to looking, to mental impressions or ideas. Looking again, seeing again – respecere – means showing respect, holding in regard, paying attention …

Looking again at the Gospel, what do we see? We might see a highly unlikely exemplar of faith. A Roman centurion respected by the very people his forces oppress. A Roman centurion with such regard for Jesus as to shock even Jesus himself. It would be hard to over-emphasise the unexpectedness of this episode, especially if we consider that Luke’s Gospel is written decades later – after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. And we haven’t even mentioned the poor “attendant” who is actually a slave.

The shocking question posed by the Gospel is this: Might a person outside the faith community – not simply by virtue of culture or class, but outside ethically, politically, religiously – still be capable of doing good? And: Might such an outsider be capable of recognising the authority of goodness?

During a homily at mass last Wednesday at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that all people are redeemed by Christ’s love and invited his hearers to meet all people, whether they believe or not, at the place of doing good works. The fact that he included atheists among those who are redeemed by Christ and invited to do good works shocked many. But perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate faith and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.

After all, Jesus commends the faith of this Roman centurion even though we have no reason to believe he becomes a follower. He does not ask to follow Jesus or confess him as the Messiah or even seem particularly interested in meeting him. He simply sees in Jesus authority that he recognises and, quite frankly, needs.

Our readings have this in common: our God regularly shows up where we don’t expect God to be and never stops delighting in surprising us.

The psalm, like Jovana’s artworks, decentres human vanity and “calls for a new song” – “Look around, all creation sings of God’s goodness.” The Gospel decentres moral certainty (and religious identity), and calls for a new prayer – a prayer of thanksgiving for untold people and forces without whom we wouldn’t have this synagogue/church – tenants, gardeners, neighbours, volunteers, readers, critics, caterers, artists, framers, farmers, bakers, vine-dressers, candle-makers … all capable of love, humility, good works, faith.

The Gospel calls us to pray that we might have the grace and courage to commend all good works and to share with “outsiders” (feared, hated, resented or plain overlooked) our gratitude for them and our belief that God loves and includes them.

Let us look again, that we might show respect. Let us tell the world what we have discovered. You are invited to share a response to the psalm and the Gospel. How might a radical openness to others reshape your fears? How might a radical respect for others recast your hopes? … Amen.