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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Palm Sunday, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 13, 2014

Psalm 118; Matthew 21:1-11

‘Growing into resistance’

I’m thinking about triumphal entry as a frame within which to consider spirituality mature faith, hope and love and in terms of gratitude for our Elders and Teachers here at South Sydney ...

As Jesus rides into Jerusalem “without display”, humbly and mounted on a donkey, ancient dreams of peace with justice are made contemporary. Many people are excited some, we might imagine, stirred to excitement by others, by the sheer spectacle, others stirred to the very core. Some are motivated (by jealousy, fear of the authorities, fear of change or loss of privilege) to plot the destruction of this “royal” performer/pretender. It’s a noisy scene of high emotion and shouting, jostling, political and religious fervour. Expectations. Aspirations. God be with you ...

I recall the Italian director Pasolini’s depiction of the scene in his cinema classic, The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964). The peasants and the street kids waving palms in excitement (the film is notable for its entirely non-professional cast). They get that this is parody. They get that it’s funny. They get that it’s deadly serious. And they celebrate they will delight in this glory, this triumph, this unmasking of imperial pomposity.

(We might imagine our own parody of the current royal tour. I was astonished during the week to view a news story about Prince George among toddlers in a New Zealand preschool. According to the TV reporter, “all the parents agreed that George was a little smarter than the other children, the most advanced for his age”. Really? I hoped this was tongue-in-cheek journalism and not blatant class/aristocratic myth-making. Perhaps it distracted from news of another toddler, a child of asylum-seeker parents abandoned on a Sydney doorstep and now at Villawood Detention Centre, the special concern of Family and Community Services.)

We get the impression that Jesus is aware of what he’s doing. He’s arranged this “triumphal” entry to attract attention. When he arrives in the city he turns his attention to corruption (in the Temple) and to healing (in the Temple) and to teaching (in the Temple). We can guess that he’s aware of the risks he’s taking.

He is taking on the corrupt powers (religious and political) in a Spirit of fairness/justice/revolution, and access to wisdom for all. In a Spirit of confrontational and nonviolent love. In a Spirit who inspired the psalmist to sing: “The gate of justice is open to all who love right living. Even stones rejected by builders have a place. In God’s work a poor stone can support a corner. Blest are all who come doing God’s work. Let us make of ourselves a place of peace and light.” The latter phrase may suggest a weak or “hippy” bonhomie. Not so.

Confrontational and nonviolent love with special concern for the “rejected” ones is more like the strong creativity of an Elder and Teacher who is also an artist: someone like Emily Kam Ngwarray of the Alyawarr people (Northern Territory).

Ngwarray took up painting in her late 70s and pretty much redefined landscape and abstract painting in Australia. Her work draws deeply from Alyawarr country, a harsh but austerely beautiful landscape intersected by the winding Sandover River. Her work stripes/contours, layered dots/desert colours, kams and subterranean waters participates in Altyerr, the dreaming of her clan country. It’s astounding work, internationally renowned and has helped draw attention to the suffering and hopes of her people, to attract much-needed funds and resources for her community, and to win a land rights claim for the Alyawarr and Anmatyerr clans. Powerful work. The work of a mature artist, ancient and contemporary, rooted in love for her people and country. Humble. Triumphal.

I started with reference to our own Elders and Teachers: Heather, Lyn, Julie, Anne, Maidie, Miriam; Naomi, Blair, Jemima, Curtis, Melissa. We give thanks today for their distinctive and faithful ministries. Each one of them leads by example, taking on corrupt powers (religious and political) in a Spirit of fairness/justice/revolution, in a Spirit of access to wisdom for all. In a Spirit of confrontational and nonviolent love. In that way, they bear witness to the Christ of Palm Sunday humbly, with self-awareness, and not without cost or risk to themselves.

Like Jesus, our Elders and Teachers carry themselves with gentle dignity certainly not upon high horses and relate to others at eye level. They are warmly encouraging, good humoured ministers of the Gospel. We honour and love them.

There’s a small but significant detail in the Icon of the Triumphal Entry. Two children are seated in the foreground, one helping to remove a thorn from the foot of the other. These are children who have climbed the tree to gather palms. The thorns represent the difficulties on the way that leads from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem; through the wilderness of Christ-like struggle to the New Jerusalem or heaven on earth. As followers of Jesus and children of God we'll need to help each other on the way. There will be thorns, dangers, mis-steps, injuries, as well as times for rest and recovery.

In this we can be mindful of God’s calling us all to greater maturity in faith, hope and love.

A “triumphal” journal entry from theologian Dorothee Soelle (of whom more on Holy Thursday) offers wisdom.

Soelle writes: “... The more we love God, the threatened, endangered, crucified God, the nearer we are to him, the more endangered we are ourselves. The message of Jesus is that the more you grow in love, the more vulnerable you make yourself. You have fewer securities and weapons. You can be attacked if you become visible or if ‘that which is of God’ shines out in you. If you share out your life instead of hoarding it, then the great light will become visible in you. Sometimes that will make you lonely, and you will lose friends, your standard of living, profession, career, but at the same time you will change yourself. In this process the cross, this sign of isolation, of shame, of abandonment, becomes the tree of life without which you cannot exist any more ... [I]t is not so crazy to love life so much that we love even the cross as a consequence of saying ‘yes’ to the will of God. Then we know that our love is greater than anything that this world can do to us ... ‘Embracing the cross’ now means growing into resistance. And the cross will become green and blossom” (Thinking About God: An Introduction to Theology, 1990, pp. 132-135).

You’re invited to underline, circle or scribble on the “triumphal” journal entry. If there’s anything you’ve found to be significant, you’re invited to come to the table and share aloud. … Amen.