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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter 6, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 25, 2014

Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

‘The promise of the Spirit’

The Easter season is Easter Sunday extended for 50 days until Pentecost. Sunday by Sunday our readings attempt to recapture the joy, surprise and wonder of Easter. Throughout the centuries a great many spiritual writers have also attempted this. God be with you ...

“You will ask me how I could know the Lord’s presence," writes St Bernard, the 12th-century monk, mystic and reformer. “Because he is living and active ... My heart was as hard as a rock and stricken; he shook it, softened it, and wounded it. He it is who uproots, builds up, plants, waters the dry earth, lightens the dark places, opens locked rooms, and heats what was cold, even better, he straightens the crooked paths and levels the rough places, so much and so well that my soul blesses the Lord and all my being sings praises to his holy name. You well understand that the ... Word ... has never given me a sign of his presence by voice, image or any other appeals to the senses. No movement on his part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … [and yet] I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless” (from The Spiritual Writings of St Bernard).

It’s striking that today’s readings, like the writing of Bernard, bear witness to joy, surprise and wonder in a tone that might be described as balanced, graceful. Not at all crass or simplistic. Reasonable, solemn, thoughtful, measured, even philosophical.

Paul is at his most philosophical before the council of the Areopagus: “Citizens of Athens, I note that in every respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God’. Now, what you are worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you,” he says, before citing an Athenian poet: “We too are God’s children.” There are no mass conversions following Paul’s address. No agitation. “We must hear you on the topic of resurrection some other time,” Paul’s earnest listeners suggest.

Paul’s philosophical address a witness to joy, surprise and wonder is a good example of what Peter commends in his letter to “dispersed” Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia and Bithynia. “Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.”

Bernard writes: “No movement on [Christ’s] part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … [and yet] I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless.”

These kinds of carefully nuanced testimony are not merely measured and solemn. They are gracious conceding that listeners and readers are intelligent and sensitive and share in the human condition. They are graceful utterances full of grace and thus deeply compelling and encouraging.

In the light of our Gospel from John 14, we might say that these are words spoken and written in a Spirit of promise. They are words within a Promise. They are peaceful, respectful, patient, loving words made in response to a Trusted One. To One Who Is Trustworthy. “I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Paraclete, another Helper to be with you always the Spirit of truth … I won’t leave you orphaned; I will come back to you … On that day you’ll know that I am in God, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

We might compare them to words of assurance we offer one another. “God be with you.” “And also with you.” Open-ended salutations, exclamations. There is promise in such words. We don’t know as yet the shape our community will assume. And yet we trust. We don’t know as yet the invitations to come, the opportunities ...

And yet we trust there are good things to come, for each of us and for all of us.

Yesterday saw a small group of artists and a faithful dog (though not a St Bernard) at work together in the hall. Last Saturday more than 100 guests jostled happily to hear the graceful words of Luke, Melissa and Julie following Melissa and Julie's blessing of marriage ceremony in the church. There are good things to come, for each of us and for all of us.

1 Peter 3 refers to the waters of Baptism and to the waters of the Flood in order to emphasise that God saves, God lifts up, God revives. God makes a covenant with us and with “all flesh” in the name of creativity and life (the Flood story is about God’s cleansing the earth of destructive violence; God’s saving human custodians/helpers and animals in an ark/church of gentleness and respect to be bearers of hope for the world).

How do we give an account of the hope within us? By what we say, and how we say it. By what we do, and with whom we do it. By what we make, and what we make time for. We give an account of the hope within us by meeting together, creating, talking, praying, planting, eating ... and more.

We give an account of the hope within us by speaking and (rendered speechless) enacting a certain assurance of God’s care for and commitment to the world the very world that cannot accept the Spirit (the world of anxious and fretful violence).

“No movement on [Christ’s] part warns me of his coming, no sensation has ever hinted to me that he was entering my interior retreats … [and yet] I have perceived something of his beauty and contemplating the wonder of his greatness in all this has left me speechless.”

Before I submit to speechlessness, to a time of silence, I want to add something in the Spirit of a promise. Seimila is a neighbour from Tuvalu in the Pacific. We are honoured to have her here with us today and next week. The people of Tuvalu are facing enormous challenges in view of climate change and rising tides (the average height of the atolls of Tuvalu is less than two metres above sea level, and according to one measure the sea level has been rising by 1mm per year over the past 20 years). Challenges include coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion and water-borne diseases. And yet the people are committed to adaptation and survival. All energy on the islands will come from renewable sources by 2020. Tuvaluans have not contributed to global warming. They are keen, however, to contribute resources that neighbour nations might survive and flourish. What kind of neighbour might we be?

The unfair federal budget is stirring us into hopeful and reasoned talk on policy, and into action.

In light of grossly inadequate measures to combat climate change, Elizabeth Farrelly writes: “Germany’s renewables record is ... amazing because 65 per cent of its renewable energy is customer-owned. In January Hamburg bought back its grid from Swedish giant Vattenfall, ploughing half the profit into energy-bill reduction, the rest into renewables. Berlin has done the same. Since 2007, more than 200 German power-grids and water-systems have been bought by towns and cities.

“The scale the localism can go smaller still. Lithium-ion storage for domestic solar is now the size of a small cupboard. This is being trialled in Victoria as we speak by SunPower, the world’s second-largest solar company.

“... Government may disapprove, as Hockey does of wind farms, but that’s the beauty of microgeneration. It doesn’t need government. We can do it ourselves.”

Let us rejoice in the promise of the Spirit. We don’t know as yet the shape our community will assume. And yet we trust. We don’t know as yet the invitations to come, the opportunities ...

And yet we trust there are good things to come, for each of us and for all of us.

Have you perceived something of the “beauty” of Christ? When or with whom have you contemplated the “wonder” of the “greatness” of Christ? How might you bear witness to this in speech or (“speechless”) action?

... In the name of God Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver Amen.