Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘When the given becomes the gift’
"You've heard the commandment ... But I tell you ... You have heard it said ... But I tell you ... [B]e perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect." There is a movement in today's Gospel, a movement towards the perfection of godly love. Again, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in blessing and ends in astonishment, we can hear the words as words of commission (rather than command). The movement toward godly love is something of which we are capable. We have this capacity for godly love, Jesus says -
At Tuesday's Church Council meeting we shared in pairs our responses to the question: How would you express the Gospel in terms of gift and task? We shared our most comprehensive experience and understanding. The Gospel is, most fully, gift and task. My partner and I spoke of grace and nature, faith and good works, the adoration and imitation of Christ.
It strikes me today that one way of handling the gift is to think first about what phenomenologists call the "given" -
The given means the basic reality, the bare fact of existence. There is a church in Waterloo. We are here. Each of us has come into the world by way of biology, genetics, geography, culture, politics. Each of us has a past we cannot change. Each of us has a temperament, a personality ... and together we have a history, too. All this is given. The raw material. The world, too, might be viewed this way. It is just there. It just is.
Religion is interesting and wonderful not least because religion is interested in the transfiguration of the given -
When we say that the universe -
When we look into the eyes of a fellow creature, a neighbour, a friend, and see there the wonder of life and love -
How does this conversion take place? How does the merely given become the sheer gift? In personal terms it seems to have something to do with acceptance and forgiveness. My past, my mistakes and gross misjudgements, may become a source of self-
Though it may entail much work. I was talking with a person last week who told me about an abusive childhood, and a decades-
How does this conversion take place? How does the merely given become the sheer gift? I don't know. But it might!
In social or political terms it seems to have something to do with equality and respect. Our passage from Matthew 5 includes illustrations of confrontational equality and respect -
Jesus commissions a deeper love.
Striking the cheek of one perceived to be of lower social status is the action in view. With the back of a right hand, the "superior" would strike the "inferior" on the right cheek. Turning the other cheek challenges the oppressor to rethink the behaviour. In first-
Giving an intimidating creditor a shirt and coat, and thus appearing naked before such a creditor, would be considered very confronting. Nakedness was thought to shame the one who beheld the nakedness. Again, the illustration has to do with provoking change, a movement towards equality and respect -
Roman soldiers were permitted to press into service any citizen or subject for the distance of one mile. To go an extra mile, willingly, would seem a creative and/or disarming gesture. It's the kind of response to brute authority that just might change perceptions. Of course, it might not work ... It might not be the most effective means of challenging the behaviour or attitude of your assailant or bully. Maybe, in your particular situation, it can inspire some other kind of response. The point would seem to be: accept the reality of the situation (the given circumstances) but look for means of transforming the situation -
The response, whatever decision you make, will encourage responsible engagement. If it doesn't foster respectful relations, stop and rethink what you're doing. Get out of there, or seek the safety of a trustworthy friend. The gift brings life and laughter, equality and respect.
That's true, whether we're talking about a difficult situation or relationship, or changes to the layout of our worship space. Is this a space in which to better express the gift and task of the Gospel? Is this a space in which to freely adore Christ and seriously imitate Christ? Might the pews and furniture items we're given become gifts of hospitality and safety, accessibility and care -
How does this conversion take place? How does the merely given become the sheer gift? I don't know. The given, at any moment, may become the gift. In a Spirit of acceptance and forgiveness, the gift commissions. The gift brings life and laughter, equality and respect. Is there a gift you'd like to give thanks for today? ... Amen.