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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Epiphany 3, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 26, 2014

Psalm 27:1, 4-9; Matthew 4:12-23

‘Enhancing community’

Jesus was obviously a charismatic person and the arrest of his friend, John the Baptist, indicated that, already, he and Jesus were challenging the leaders and authorities of their day. Interestingly, Jesus moved from Israeli territory into the area where the Gentiles lived. The writer of Matthew associates this with an Old Testament prophecy, indicating that those who lived in darkness had now seen a great light presumably in the presence of Jesus.

After he arrives, Jesus focuses on two things. He invites people around him to join him those who later became his disciples. Obviously, he sees the people of God as a community, not just a gathering of people who admire a popular leader. As his friends live with him, they attract and encourage others to join them. This could well remind us of the true nature of the church.

Jesus was also offering to others his gift of healing the healing of all sorts of afflictions, physical, mental and spiritual. There is all sorts of history about ancient tribes of people which indicate that they were accustomed to finding some people with gifts of healing among them. As you have no doubt heard me say, that truth travels with us in our day. You often see it expressed in Pentecostal churches and my mother and one brother had that gift.

If you are a healer, you obviously need to have a responsible underlying theology, otherwise you can do all sorts of damage to people who are not healed by your prayers in ways which they choose. What people who heal in the name of God need to emphasise is that it is God who chooses what sort of healing is given and it may take many forms literal healing of some disease or condition, endurance in the face of what you are suffering from, support in your life and so on. . . .

As we read further into the Gospels, we see more about the nature of true Christian community.

We could focus on that as we reflect on the nature of our church, both here and wider, but I want to suggest that, today, on Australia Day, we could see the best examples of Christian community as those which we would hope to find expressed and sustained in the wider community.

Last week I heard a talk by Fr. Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine Monk and teacher of meditation techniques. Ever since I heard this talk, I have been pondering on the central theme which he gave. He was suggesting that the true pathway through to life with Christ and the building of community is to face and own our failures, rather than focussing on our successes.

I don’t think he was talking about some sort of miserable perception of ourselves as endless sinners, but giving an invitation for us to enter our own humanity and to share that with others in ways which invite the same from them. He then envisaged a community of humble people who dare to believe that things can be changed and enhanced if we will all acknowledge our mistakes and vulnerability in ways which encourage us to hold onto each other as we go and to dream new dreams together in faith and hope.

I must say that, as I reflected on moments when I had been honest enough with my dear partner Ali, or my siblings or kids to do this, I know how rewarding that can be and I wonder why I am so reluctant to do it more often.

On this Australia Day, I would invite us to reflect on what sort of day that would be if we were that sort of community?

I know that most of us like to celebrate the day and I, like those people, do celebrate our country and have always loved it. However, the love I have for our country invites me to be honest about it. What if we, together, truly acknowledged that there is a sense in which, apart from the Indigenous people of our land, we are all “boat people”? We all came here without being invited by the original owners of and carers for this land.

What if our flag expressed that, rather than giving honour to the origins of some of us with the British Empire? For a start, we are not all from Britain and, secondly, if you think of the activities of the countries of the European Empires as they took over the lands of so many people often with the Bible in their hands, maybe it is not a history which we should be celebrating?

What if we confessed our failure in simply landing here and stealing everything in sight and assuming power over both the land and its people? We never even counted them as people until 1967 and referred to them in a NSW school text book as “flora and fauna”. Maybe we could kneel in grief before the leaders of these ancient tribes and tell them how sad we are that we did all that and talk with them about how more healing and justice could take place, even now?

Then we could listen to the constant references to ourselves as “the land of the fair go” and bow our heads in sadness as we remember the White Australia Policy, the struggle by women for recognition and sharing in leadership, the abuse of so many little children in all sorts of institutions and homes, the number of our people who are homeless or desperately needy, as well as those who even now come to our shores and plead for a place among us.

We whose antecedents were also boat people, like mine, could well tell the truth about that and help our leaders to think again about what we could be doing now.

Imagine if we encouraged our political and religious leaders to share their failures with us all, freeing them to do that by the understanding of our responses. Maybe, it would create a climate where we could all share ideas in response to that honesty, entering genuine dialogue in respectful ways as we acknowledge that we are all human, but also able to think of new visions together?

This is not a matter of us all grovelling before God, but living as though we genuinely believe that God is a God of absolute grace and everlasting encouragement. As people of faith, we could lead the way not in just accusing people of doing the wrong thing but as those who see themselves as part of the creation of our community in the past and into the future. We could bear witness to the grace of God by offering grace to others in ways which free them to own their failures and then receive gifts of hope.

We could be the healers of our day in varieties of ways, so that the lives of people and of our community are transformed.

We could continue to form such a community here in our church and also reflect it in our relationships with the community around us through our paper and in other activities.

None of this means that we don’t love our beautiful country. On the contrary, it is because we love it that we commit ourselves to sharing in honest, human life together and the enhancing of all its possibilities for love and good and justice.

As we complete the homily together today, I invite you in the silence to reflect on what you most regret on this Australia Day and what your greatest dream would be for our future. Then, if you wish, come forward and share your thoughts and place another star on the flag.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon