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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 23,  Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 7, 2014

Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

‘Liturgical dance’

The title of today’s homily is meant to incite smiles as much as to excite passions for dancing in the aisles, which doesn’t mean it’s a flippant title, nor that dancing in church is undesirable.

My nephew Blake, aged 12 (he’s now 16), taught me a simple dance move. It’s a dance move to lift your spirits. It’s a dance move you can try wherever you are, and even on your own. I think of it today in a week that's seen two Bob Dylan shows at the State Theatre, and scarce opportunity for dancing. When music takes hold, it’s quite difficult to remain seated and still.

The reference to dance today, however, is really about dancing with a partner. I picture Margaret and Brian last Sunday, dancing in the church hall to the gentle rhythms of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” ... Preaching, too, is a kind of dance for two or more partners: God be with you

Although we are committed to the ways of love, each of us still has a lot of growing to do before we can consistently live as Paul says: “If you love your neighbour, you have fulfilled the Law … Love never wrongs anyone.”

We do love one another, but still we do one another wrong, because our love is still in its infancy. I don’t just become perfectly loving when I’m baptised (commissioned or ordained) I grow into it gradually, and often painfully, as I continue to follow Christ. I grow into love gradually, and often painfully, as I continue, in the Spirit of Love, to follow Christ.

My love falls a long way short of the kind of love that will accept crucifixion rather than tolerate others being denied access to the fullness of life.

My immaturity seeks recognition and respectability, or sometimes protection from chaos, protection from criticism, even protection from an intimacy that demands too much. My immaturity can express itself as jealousy, as timidity, as arrogance. My weaknesses may be similar to yours, or may be quite different.

What I suspect we share, however, is an experience of loving, an experience of relationship, as a dance of repeated estrangement and reconciliation.

We might see the steps to reconciliation, as commended in Matthew 18, as dance steps dance steps for beginners, for learners, for disciples. Step 1. “If your sister or brother should commit some wrong against you, go and point out the error, but keep it between the two of you.” That is, learn the courage to be frank and to be honest, rather than channel resentment by way of gossip, by way of slander talking about someone behind her or his back. Also, learn the respect that desires the wellbeing of another, that wishes not to publicly shame another, but “to win a loved one back”.

Step 2. Try again, but take one or two others with you. Why? So that the dispute may be handled fairly. Contained, and handled fairly, justly.

I won’t go through it step by step, but note that the Gospel moves make provision for a last resort, with a (pun intended) twist. “If she or he ignores even the church [the community which seeks to embody the love of Christ] then treat that sister or brother as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

On the one hand/foot, this means, sadly, excommunication facing the real possibility of excluding someone whose misconduct threatens or damages the life of the community. We might think of some examples.

Yet, excluding for a time. Jesus’ words are telling: “Treat that sister or brother as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Elsewhere, Jesus says to the priests in the Temple, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kindom of God before you” (21:31). And it was, in a scene we have examined just recently, to a despised Gentile that Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith!”

In short, our Gospel for today, dance steps to reconciliation, was choreographed for a church knowing that unless it came up with a fair and grace-filled way of dealing with hurts and disputes, it was in danger of tearing itself apart.

It’s true enough today. When Jesus speaks of this church, this community, and its “binding” and “loosing”, I see a community of learners, of disciples, now estranged, now reconciled learning to bind and to loose, to commit and to forgive, to hold on and to set free. Binding and loosing these are very rich terms. Dynamic, demanding, grave … interweaving earth and heaven, humanity and divinity.

The dance is also a prayer. It is a dancing, praying church that Jesus addresses: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name [in the name of fairness/justice and free kindness/grace], I am there in their midst” (18:20).

Sometimes we can better appreciate the truth of the Gospel in the light of a community other than our own.

I met one time with Sr Anne of the Cana Communities. Anne wanted to ask me about the possibility of holding a funeral service here a funeral service for a woman called Duke someone with whom Anne had spent a lot of time in community some years before a troubled and difficult and highly individual person.

At some point, Duke had disowned Anne and Cana, refusing to talk with Anne even from a hospital bed. Duke was also estranged from her family, and yet her family now requested that Anne conduct the funeral. The Catholic Church leadership, for its own reasons, decided that the funeral could not be held in the Catholic Church.

There are great gaps in the story I am trying to tell. I am recalling Anne’s eyes filled with tears, and I am looking at a photo of Duke I have on my laptop. And I am mindful of our Gospel and the steps designed to preserve brothers and sisters as far as possible from public shame.

Part of that preservation is respect for another’s story confidentiality, dignity. It’s not my story to tell, and I grow just a little in maturity as I recognise this, and discern what to say and what not to say. What I also remember is Anne’s disinterest in the story for its own sake, her disregard of gossip and her regard for another, in the context of the community in which she lives.

At one point, Anne spoke of strongly encouraging other members of Cana to attend the funeral. “Think of what the community gives to you. Think of what you’d want. Think of what your attendance may communicate to Duke’s family.”

I recognise Anne’s desires for conversion and for reintegration into the holiness of community. It strikes me that a mature loving desires this for the living and for the dead. It’s a loving in this life, and beyond this life.

“If you love your neighbour, you have fulfilled the Law … Love never wrongs anyone.”

As we approach God’s table of fairness and grace this morning each of us accepted and embraced we will hear words of peace and we will exchange signs of peace: “Though we are a company of strangers, in approaching this table, we bind ourselves to one another to live in love and peace.”

As we grow into such words and can increasingly say them with a deep desire to make them true, so Christ is re-membered Christ dances among us … And healing may come to our world ...

Let’s complete the homily together. Come to the table and share the “Blake” dance (you may like to add a move of your own there’s no shame in that!) and we will dance it with you: Can you remember a time of “reintegration into the holiness of community”? … Amen.