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All Saints Day, Year B
Preventing Child Abuse and Supporting Adult Survivors
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 1, 2015

Ruth 1:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; Mark 12:28-34

‘Supportive communities help survivors recover’

The Book of Ruth is a precious short story in the Hebrew Bible. At just four chapters, it’s just about the story of solidarity and friendship, overcoming adversity by way of persistence and ingenuity. It’s also a story, for Jews and for Christians, of the outsider (Moabites were regarded unworthy, untrustworthy) without whom there is no salvation, without whom there is no Saviour. Ruth is the great-grandmother of David, and a distant great-grandmother of Jesus.God be with you

The Hebrew name, Ruth, means “Beloved”. We shouldn’t miss the more harrowing aspects to the story, however. Ruth is the foreign daughter-in-law of the Ephraimite, Naomi. Two newly widowed women traveling, walking to Bethlehem. Very vulnerable. Naomi is the more forlorn. On arrival in Bethlehem, Naomi (her name means “Joy”) will call herself Mara, “Bitterness”.

The story is about Ruth’s love in spite of sadness and bitterness. Ruth will accompany Naomi home, and will ensure, by way of work and remarriage, that both women find security a future together. Israel’s own future also turns on the courage, creativity and collaboration of Ruth and Naomi which is why, presumably, future generations preserved the book, and why it is a treasured part of holy scripture for us. It inscribes within the story of God’s people (a familiar story, a comforting story for insiders), the story of the outsider beloved of God.

It’s hard to overestimate its importance. The Book of Ruth is a story for anyone who has ever known the pain of disconnection, isolation, desperation. The Book of Ruth is a thorn in the side of cultural arrogance, a thorn in the side of triumphalism, a thorn in the side of institutional self-regard. Ruth’s love let’s be theological is akin to the love of God: She empathises, She accompanies, She commits to another, She sees it through. When Ruth says to Naomi, “Your God will be my God”, I hear that on a number of levels. It may be heard as meaning that the God of Israel, the God of liberation, will be the model for Ruth’s own commitment to liberation.

Three years ago, when this text was last given according to the lectionary, I said that the three simple words, courage, creativity and collaboration, were apt terms for the holy, for God. It’s striking that we have this lection today, for all around us are signs of this courage, creativity and collaboration the presence of God, which, in the experience of hurt, is felt as the persistence of hope.

Yesterday’s interfaith prayer service at Pitt Street, included two previously unpublished stories of abuse from Alana Valentine’s research notes towards the Swimming Upstream play, first performed here in the church in 2012. The two monologues were deeply moving and beautifully read by Cathy Kezelman and Miriam Pepper. A survivor of abuse, Karen, shared her “recovery story”, which was moving and inspiring. “I’ve learned that depression is not a sign of weakness,” she said, “but of being too strong for too long.” The musical contributions by Tim Gray, Nicholas Ng, Heather Robinson, Meredith Knight and Bec Lindsay were extraordinary heartfelt and uplifting. For the first time this year, our service in support of adult survivors included representatives from faith traditions other than Christianity. And Councillor Linda Scott was the first to symbolically untie a knotted blue ribbon, thus bearing witness to holy courage, creativity and collaboration … as we profess, to God whose Word or Wisdom is ever made flesh, is ever made fish … swimming upstream, and towards recovery.

This year’s Blue Knot Day is themed “supportive communities help survivors recover”.

While not explicitly about abuse, the Book of Ruth is about support and recovery. The colour-in illustration is strongly apt, on a number of levels. Two saints united in love, whatever the circumstances. All Saints is a day to celebrate saints known and unknown, both living on the earth and alive in the Spirit of God. All Saints is about the power of resurrection, however we understand that.

The verses from Revelation 21 (which were read by Niall Reid at yesterday’s prayer service) carry a wisdom they cannot contain; affirm a love that heals and restores, overcoming pain and deathly powers. Is this love not already present in the story of Ruth, in this scene for us to colour-in ...

A scene to share with our children, that they might fill it with their own bright colours; that they might grow to understand, to empathise, to encourage, to believe and to live fully ... “Fill our lives with new courage,” we pray, “and make us a community where justice can happen.”

Again this year, we dedicate our offering today to the work of ASCA. The work of Cathy Kezelman, ASCA staff and volunteers, is proof that childhood trauma can be resolved, that those who have experienced childhood trauma can recover. This good news comes by way of professional support, education and training workshops, and advocacy for a public health response to the trauma of child abuse and neglect. In other words, healing can happen in the wake of truth-telling, and when we acknowledge that the abuse of one child affects us all. The statistics are stark an estimated four to five million adult survivors of childhood trauma (abuse, neglect or violence) in Australia.

Ruth means “Beloved”. It’s not a coincidence that we refer to Jesus as Beloved, nor that we make a sign of the cross and refer to the Triune God as Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love. To know oneself beloved is to be gathered up, with Jesus, into the very life of God.

I’ll conclude with a comment about the Gospel for today something noteworthy about the commandment to love. The grammar is a little unusual.

What the Inclusive Bible renders as “You must love …” is more accurately rendered “You shall or you will love …”. Greek scholars call it a future form with an implied command. The command is softened by something with a hint of promise to it.

The whole command reads: “Hear O Israel, God, our God, is one. You will love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The emphasis of command is actually the command to “Hear …”. The “You will love …” is what we are commanded to hear, and it has this blend of promise and implied command. The meaning is held in creative tension between: “You all are commanded to love” and “Listen up folks, there’s good news. The day is coming when we will [we really will] all love God and we will [we really will] all love one another”.

The command might be the prompt we need to make an extra effort (beyond complacency, cultural arrogance, institutional self-regard) but the desire to love and to be ever more loving is already a part of us. The command can be one of the things that help keep us pushing on towards the goal. And that’s where the promise comes in the promise that changes the whole feel of the command. The promise tells us that the striving is not in vain. The promise tells us that every little forward movement, every movement “upstream” and towards love of God and neighbour is worthwhile because it prepares us Ruth and Naomi, Cathy, Miriam, Tim, Karen, Niall, Jesus and all the saints for a future together, a kindom of heaven and a reign of love.Amen.