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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 22,  Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 31, 2014

Exodus 3:1-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

‘You will find it’

Jesus rebukes Peter for being “risk averse” or “timid” or “overly protective” or “unrealistic” or “in denial” or “conservative” or “compromising”... There are a number of ways we might interpret the text, regarding Peter as an individual and/or ecclesiastical figure of faith. There’s something in Peter that is a little frightened and a little immature. He is being challenged to grow into his inspired confession of Jesus as the Christ. We, too, are being challenged to grow; to critique our own idolatry, our own Christolatry, in the name of something altogether more liberating something countercultural, provocative, subversive, humanising. “If you would lose your life for my sake,” says Jesus, “you will find it.” God be with you ...

“If you would lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” The Good News is a promise of life. It’s also a promise of new identity and purpose. But this Good News entails confrontation with powers of oppression and convention the establishment the rule or reign of the powerful over the powerless, the wealthy elite over the poorer majority. This Good News entails confrontation with violence the violence of empire or state the violence of ideology (culture, class, gender, capital). The life arises “on the third day”, that is, in the aftermath of resistance to the establishment.

Do we find this any easier than Peter first found it? Do we, as a community, as an institution, as the church, find it any easier to lose our identity in the name of Jesus in the name of the promise of something altogether more liberating?

On Monday night I attended a gathering at Balmain Uniting Church to engage with the work of another Peter, Pete Rollins, a philosopher from Northern Ireland. Rollins stands in a post-Christian tradition that regards religion the problem of the churches and the problem of a wider technology-driven society (marked by desires for omniscience and transcendence). Religion, for Rollins, is another word for denial a means of denying or avoiding responsibility for this world in all its bodily, messy aspects. Religion means escape escape from reality. “The church ought to be the only religionless place within the culture,” Rollins said.

What he’s wanting to see is acknowledgement of ambiguity, awareness of cultural limitations, and abandonment of all certainty (including the desire for salvation for wholeness, happiness). Rollins thinks we should abandon our liturgies and our creeds. We would be better off inviting comedians to “preach” and curating art and music festivals on church premises.

Rollins, we might surmise, is responding to an experience of church in Northern Ireland all-too strident, fearful and immature. Christian identities hardened in the fires of sectarian prejudice and hatred. There’s a great deal of truth in the observation that religion is dangerous that it can be idolatrous, and that, at its worst, it oppresses rather than liberates human beings.

Losing our identity, losing religion as mere ideology (refusing to listen, refusing to yield) there’s a lot to commend such a letting-go. Rollins is right, I think, to denounce this kind of religion as fundamentalist. It is gnostic or anti-materialist. He is also right to see that this kind of religion pervades the culture of capitalism (in the guise of consumer products promising heaven, technology promising freedom and wisdom, entertainment promising release from anxieties, various drugs promising spiritual ecstasy, and so on).

There’s a great deal of truth in all that. Though the solution would not seem to be disavowal of religiousness as such. We need, rather, a notion of religion as way, as practice, as commitment to nonviolence, to equality, to the most vulnerable, to sustainability ... We need a religiousness the word has to do with binding, with being bound to each other and to the earth centred on Jesus. Centred on the love of God in Christ for the littlest and the lost. The word solidarity comes to mind. Religion as solidarity, as connectedness.

If we persevere with our being in community as Christians it’s because we continue to learn in the Spirit of Jesus to be concerned for one another more than that, to be in relationship with each other, with every other to be surprised by it, invigorated for it, delighted, liberated. And we don’t learn this just by going along with pervasive trends and age-old conventions. We learn it in radical openness to a justice yet to come to a God who disrupts conventions, who interrupts the present, overturns the tables, subverts expectations, mocks the vanities of the establishment. We learn to be more human in resistance to all that diminishes life.

As Christians we say that we learn by following the way of Jesus. Our liturgies and creeds are precious patterns of this way in the world not just patterns for us to repeat (faithfully, differently) but patterns of God’s way with us. As such, worship is not just something we do, but a means of God coming to us and being with us a means, that is, of our becoming the body of Christ.

As the body of Christ we will offend the establishment. We will meet some kind of persecution, some kind of crucifixion. We will be led by a Spirit of compassion into the messy depths of reality all kinds of ambiguity, unknowing, bodily vulnerability and raw emotion for the sake of Christ and all those loved by God, every creature, everyone.

We will be bound as one, in the freedom that is love for one another, and our salvation will be for the sake of others. For the sake of the world which is also God’s body.

“If you would lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” I was going to say a lot of other things this morning, but I’ll stop there. May our letting-go make space for discovery. May our letting-go invite others to approach us and to accompany us. May our letting-go increase our capacity for love. And may our letting-go transfigure our desires and our lives, and our life together. In Jesus’ name.

Let’s complete the homily together. Have you found yourself receiving life in a way that surprised or delighted or freed you? ...

Passionate God,
walking to Golgotha
in the midst of our confusion:
free us from our images of you
which keep you enthroned in idle power,
apart from the pain and sin of the world;
lead us to embrace the scandal of the cross
and let our violence die
that greater life might rise;
through Jesus Christ, who took the form of a slave.

(Prayer by Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church, 2009.)