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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 32, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 10, 2013

Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17; Luke 20:27-38

‘Life and how to live it ’

We have the icon of the transfiguration before us because it shows Moses and Elijah "alive" with Jesus - just as Jesus refers to Moses' encounter with the God of living ancestors (in Exodus 3). Today's Gospel invites reflection on physical and spiritual vitality, abundant life, living traditions, sharing and sustaining life, life-affirming imagination and life-giving respect. Jemima is leading a drama activity with the children today - about how it feels to be bullied and frightened; how it feels to be free and befriended. She will use her own words, I'm sure, and fun will be had. "I have life!" Jemima declared by phone last night (we'd corresponded by text a couple of times but hadn't had the opportunity for a proper talk about the Gospel and a children's activity). "I've been driving all day with no good reception," she said, "but now I have life again!" God be with you ...

Physical and spiritual vitality. We might ponder these things in terms of the Sadducees, the priestly class, the establishment.

Jesus is teaching in the temple precinct - he is stirring things up. The Redeemer and Vindicator of the oppressed is a threat. The establishment makes the rules, sets the parameters on life and how to live it.

There is order. There is hierarchy. There is also a great deal of fear - fear of the Romans, of an uprising, of divine judgement, of death. The Levirate marriage laws they cite, from one perspective at least, appeal to men frightened of their own mortality. "Taking" a deceased brother's widow ensures that his name lives on. Ensures that his property remains in the family. The scenario described would have stirred up some panic (it is reminiscent of the Book of Tobit). What sins have cursed the family so? What mysterious powers this woman must possess!

In the first century, as in subsequent times, this kind of patriarchal code/control could claim to have the woman's best interest at heart - she needs looking after. Really? Whose physical and spiritual vitality is of concern here? The eyes of the establishment are often blind to those who serve their needs - those who labour, those whose lives are harsher and shorter, those who give birth to builders, miners, soldiers, artists, entertainers, heirs and rulers.

We might well read the Gospel alive to issues of class and gender - in our own time.

In a recent address to a Victorian Women's Trust event in Melbourne, former prime minister Julia Gillard highlighted the historically high numbers of women in major roles in her government and said some sections of the community may have felt challenged, even threatened, by so much change. She was saddened the new government didn't have the same level of women's representation. "I despair that we have gone so far backwards in women's participation," she said.

"I despair even more when I read the false debate about equality versus merit, which is adding insult to injury. The simple reality is, equality and merit go hand in hand. If you believe as I do that merit is equally distributed between the sexes, then in any institution, a cabinet, a court, a corporate board, (that) does not comprise around 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men, women of merit have been excluded." (http://www.smh.com.au/national/-2x9zk.html)

You might have heard this week that Sweden has adopted a rating system for films that promote gender equality. In applauding films for the absence of gender bias, Sweden is taking as its gauge the well-known Bechdel Test. The test was devised by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel and the requirements are very simple:

  1. Does the film have more than two women?
  2. Who have a conversation?
  3. About something other than a man?

You would be surprised how many films fail. In fact, as one of the directors of a participating Swedish cinema told reporters: "The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test."

Films that don't fail the test will be given an “A” rating. At the time of writing, the initiative has four participating cinemas, and the state-run Swedish Film Institute backs it. (http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/-2x6a4.html)

Have we overcome the subjugation and objectification of women? What do our mainstream political structures and processes reflect? Education and employment opportunities for women - for mothers? What place do we give the masculine virtues, what place the feminine? What do our mainstream storytelling cultures reflect - in terms of desirability, in terms of agency, in terms of the self-worth of men and women, of manly women and womanly men? Things are changing, certainly, but establishment mores are most resistant to change.

The Sadducees' attempt to ridicule Jesus is echoed in contemporary ridicule of "hysterical feminists", "outdated class warriors", "strange gender-benders", "artsy dreamers", "pacifist wimps", "tree huggers and ferals", and so on. One commentator refers to the scenario in terms of treating women like livestock. Vegans would object, of course, on the grounds that animals themselves not be treated "as livestock".

The establishment is ever threatened by alternatives to mainstream values. It will seek to ridicule and destroy. I've experienced this, as I'm sure you have too, watching commercial television, listening to mainstream music, in the street, at the beach ... I've experienced it within family contexts and within the church. I've known the fear it engenders - and I've pondered the fear it masks.

I don't want to live in fear. I want to be free to ask questions. I want the enjoyment of respectful relationships, equality. I want the peace of abundance - not the anxiety of entitlement and scarcity. I want to engage with others in a living tradition - in search of understanding, wisdom, full humanity, bliss, the beatific vision! Why not?

The Sadducees, like most religious conservatives, limit revelation to just a few texts. In their case it was the Torah, the five books ascribed to Moses. Not for them the various written and oral commentaries on Torah. Not for them the psalms or the prophets, the Song of Songs, or the stories of Ruth, Tobit or Job.

Something happens when we shut down tradition like this. We shut down. There's a lot of fear and denial. For a start, we deny our own part in the tradition - I'm speaking as a survivor of evangelical conservatism now - the gospels did not arrive from heaven but arose in conversation. The gospels arose in settings just like ours. The Word of God is an event - the Word becomes flesh - historical, cultural, textual, sexual, biological, ecological ... becomes life-sustaining Bread!

What's exciting is the sheer multi-sensory, multi-volume, inter-textual nature of living tradition - it's creative to the core and open to new possibilities, always.

Sometimes our religious language gets very tired - hard and narrow. I'm not sure this Gospel is about life after death in any conventional sense - gnostic or medieval Catholic. It's not about more of the same life. It's not about extending the world as we know it.

I think it's about religious imagination ("How my heart yearns within me!") and the passion of faith for a world to come - a world where men and women, where people, are free of the fearful and possessive grasp of others, where people are free to marry or not to marry, where people are assured of their own worth, their own gifts, their own place in the tradition, in the community and family of God. I think it's about a world in which bushes burn with divine light, waters carry life from country to country, and creatures shine with their own God-given brilliance. Life-giving respect ... on earth as it is in heaven.

Grasped by this kind of other-worldliness, I believe, we are closer to the Christ at risk of ridicule and we are closer to the Christ for whom "all are alive". Resurrection from the dead means freedom with Christ from all that diminishes life in love - freedom from all scapegoating and death-dealing. Resurrection means freedom with Christ for all that promotes life in love - freedom for all kinds of hoping and flourishing. It means, as Paul says, "standing firm".

Whatever else it might mean is beyond our control and imagining. And that's Good News!

Let's complete the homily together. How does the refrain "All are alive to God" revive or relieve your imagination? ... Amen.