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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 33, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 17, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19

‘Loose stones’

It's eerie sometimes the gospel tangents with respect to parish life. Our own impressive stones have been eroded and professionally exfoliated. As proud as we might be of this place - its beauty and its history - we know that this is not the perfect or permanent expression of the kindom. We ought to know. God be with you ...

Firstly, and most obviously, this means making a distinction between buildings and people. The future of South Sydney Uniting Church depends not so much on the stability of stonework (though the safety of our neighbours is very important) as on the faithfulness of God's people, elsewhere described as the "living stones" of the tradition. The future of the church depends on the faithfulness of generous people like the poor widow who gives her all, and it depends on the faithfulness of people alert to the ways that religion and ideology exploit the generosity and vulnerability of "orphans, foreigners and poor widows".

The widow's gift to the Temple treasury has often been interpreted as providing an example of the total dedication of one's being to God. And this is valid. But following immediately upon Jesus' complaint about the scribes "devouring the property of widows" (v.47), the action may present something that Jesus deplores rather than commends. "Jesus draws attention to the injustice, to expose it and deplore it in the name of a correct vision of God and what God wants for human beings" (Brendan Byrne) ... what God wants for the world God loves.

Faithful people. Generous and attentive. Kind and angry. Beloved and loving. Wise. These are the fruits and signs of the kindom. Our buildings ought to shelter and empower this kind of faithfulness.

Did the first disciples gaze in wistful admiration at the Temple? Did they believe themselves to be the privileged witnesses of the glorious establishment of the kindom in Jerusalem? Did they believe themselves to be the privileged witnesses of the end of all compromise and corruption (the construction of the Temple was funded by Herod and supported by a system of unfair taxes and animal sacrifices)?

Do we?

We, too, are called to make a distinction between our best intentions and efforts (buildings, doctrines, liturgies, activities, programs, laws, institutions), on the one hand, and, on the other, the eventual triumph of Love's sovereignty in the universe. With us and in spite of us, Love wins.

Which just might be the most unsettling Good News of all. With us and in spite of us, Love wins.

I used to hear a lot of talk in the church about building - building the kingdom, and so on. The notion of a fixed and stable (self-sufficient) tradition draws on similar thinking and talking. It seems to me, increasingly, that receptivity is the key(stone). Our willingness to receive is the key(stone) to/of faithfulness. That would be one way to understand the gospel affirmation of Simon Peter, the "key-master" and the "rock".

What a terrible and shocking sight to see the church as abuser of children; the affluent church in collusion with abusers - in collusion with the pursuit of wealth and the protection of money and property. The whole stinking edifice a scandal, a stumbling block. Receptivity to judgement and justice, grace and truth, can mean new expressions of faith. A humbler church, a marginalised church, a more focused church? A church - and this a sign of spiritual maturity, I think - sufficiently aware of its past that it can repeat with a difference the precious motifs/themes/figures of a living tradition. A church less occupied with past "glories" and more concerned with glorious creativity. A church open to a justice and a peace to come.

I came across these words in a book by philosopher Edward F. Mooney: "Realizing that the outcome of our search for roots or love or world is not under our control, and so can't be an object of striving, may itself be a necessary condition of openness toward emerging roots or love or world, as they appear. Giving up on repetition as an explicit task can be preparation for welcoming repetition as world-bestowal."

Today's Gospel, written in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple in 70CE (and with it so much familiar hopefulness), assures believers that all depends on divine grace, on divine love. All that has taken place - dismaying, disillusioning, contrary to expectation though it may be - fits within a pattern accurately foreseen and foretold by Jesus.

We retain the doctrine of the 'Second Coming' in our affirmations of faith ... because we believe that the biblical assertions [re Jesus appearing on the clouds] affirm the eventual triumph of God's sovereignty in the universe and that all is provisional till that occurs. Wars and famines and earthquakes continue; those who work for justice and more humane and sustainable life for all [the vision in Isaiah 65 expresses it wonder-fully] are often overthrown, cast into prison and condemned. Grounds for dismay, disillusionment, loss of faith are always there (Brendan Byrne).

But, ah ... "Realizing that the outcome of our search for roots or love or world is not under our control, and so can't be an object of striving, may itself be a necessary condition of openness toward emerging roots or love or world, as they appear. Giving up on repetition as an explicit task can be preparation for welcoming repetition as world-bestowal."

Let's complete the homily together, creatively, open to the emergence, the appearance of roots or love or world. What might we welcome of the vision in Isaiah 65? How might the hope of Isaiah be repeated with a difference? ... Amen.