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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 30, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 26, 2014

Psalm 90; Matthew 22:34-46

‘Beyond philophobia’

Jesus responds to yet another provocation with an appeal to the heart of Torah love of God (Deuteronomy 6) and neighbour (Leviticus 19). Religious passion and compassion. God be with you ...

We might have our own words for these two commandments, this double movement of worship and neighbourly regard ... Piety and politics, spirituality and community service, devotion and friendship or intimacy. On one level it’s quite simple, on another as shown by Jesus confounding the Pharisees on the lineage of the Messiah it’s about as radical as things get. The heart of Torah, the prophets too the living tradition is doubly wonderful: love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

As we noted last week, the answer Jesus embodies, the answer he lives, is a good model for anyone who would struggle to understand the text. For us. What do religious passion and compassion look like in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? What do worship and neighbourly regard look like? We might refer to a creative tension in terms of tears and prayers, angry words and healing encounters. But the two commandments/claims don’t pull apart. That’s a reason we profess that full divinity and full humanity, passion and compassion, are revealed in this one life.

As we make the double movement our own, in the Spirit of Jesus, are we too not made one, do we not find ourselves more insightful and more integrated people, less inclined to self-righteousness and hypocrisy, more inclined to generosity and humility?

Still, even disciples of Jesus can find love confounding.

Psychologists suggest that many of us are afraid of love, or afraid to love, or afraid of being loved. There’s even a word for it: philophobia. We may recognise love when we see it in the altruism of New York doctor Craig Spencer recently returned from West Africa and diagnosed with Ebola, in the courage of Bill Shorten declaring his support for same-sex marriage and blended families while extending the hand of friendship to the Australian Christian Lobby but still struggle to live in it, to make it our own way of living.

Perhaps passion-and-compassion makes us feel very vulnerable. Perhaps new love stirs up past hurts or challenges an old identity we have of ourselves as unlovable or unworthy. Perhaps we’re wary of living so fully that intense joy brings awareness of real pain. Perhaps we hesitate, knowing that love is often unequal that feelings change from moment to moment. Perhaps we’re worried that relationships can break our connection to family, class group or culture. Perhaps we just don’t want to invest everything and have everything to lose.

These fears are real and deserve close and careful attention. The good news, however, is that it is possible to learn from our own histories and “critical inner voices”. It is possible to challenge our defences and to feel our feelings. It is possible to become more open and vulnerable and so to celebrate the fullness of life.

It’s possible to move beyond fears, beyond idolatries and projections towards greater freedom in love. There’s always more to a text. There’s always more to understand. There’s always another way to look and see, to hear and grow. There’s always another space to move about and think and feel. That’s what grace means it’s also what it means to be human and to be alive with others in a world of God’s making.

“Those who have made most progress will continually press on, never believing themselves to have reached their end,” says Francis de Sales (1567-1722), “for charity should go on increasing until we draw our last breath.”

Inside this Gospel text, then, let us imagine ... listen and look, think and feel, resist and debate among blessed others ... let us meditate with blessed others.

The German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) speaks of overcoming idolatry: Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love God as they love their cow for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love God for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.

French abbot and reformer Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) speaks of attaining insight: Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit; it is its own fruit, its own enjoyment. I love because I love; I love in order that I may love ... Of all the motions and affections of the soul, love is the only one by means of which the creature, though not on equal terms, is able to treat with the Creator and to give back something resembling what has been given to it ... knowing that love will render all those who love God happy.

Archbishop and poet Francois Fenelon speaks of touching the holy: Love God and you will be humble; love God and you will love all that God gives you to love for love of God.

“But how am I to love God with all my heart and my neighbour as myself?” persists a young Francis de Sales in conversation with the Bishop of Geneva. “Heartily!” answers the Bishop again and again until pressed to answer seriously: “The only way to attain that love is by loving.”

And loving God not as you might love your cow as a giver of milk and cheese for whatever you can “get” from God. Rather, love is love’s own reward rendering happiness. Love transforms you, equipping you with the very love you need to touch the holy.

According to Donald Spoto’s biography on Francis of Assisi, when Francis returned to Umbria he not only resumed his restoration of San Damiano’s but also began to nurse lepers ... This involved not only begging food on their behalf and feeding them, but carrying them to a nearby brook or stream to wash their sores. “For God’s sake, he served all of them with great love. His care, in other words, meant more than merely not showing revulsion. It meant a willingness to be with them precisely because they were outcast. It meant taking with grave literalness the standard of the Gospel that to minister to the needy was to minister to the lonely, naked and dying Christ.

In nursing the world’s outcasts, Francis had begun to rise to the genuine nobility he had long sought, which was to be discovered not in armour, or in titles or battles, glory or contests. Honour would be found not in associating with the strongest, the most attractive, the best dressed or the most secure people in society, but with the weakest, the most disfigured, those who were marginalised, dependent and despised.

What confounds or frightens you in the commandments to love? What moves you towards greater freedom and fuller life with others? ... Amen.