Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Led to love’
Thank you to Aunty Margaret for the Welcome to Country. How can we hear this week’s Gospel about sheep and shepherds (colonial agricultural practices), about crooked shepherds who invade and steal, without regard for Indigenous wisdom and care of the land, without acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty and suffering?
Yesterday Aunty Norma said that she and John have been feeling very vulnerable these past days. Vulnerable like sheep, she said. I can only imagine what John is feeling. He has always spoken so excitedly and proudly of his son – with real empathy for what Mark has suffered; with so much understanding and compassion. The work John does here with men experiencing homelessness is so inspiring, and I’ve often paused to admire the fatherly touch and good humour of John, and imagined the wisdom learned over many years (more than 40 years) in relationship with Mark – the enduring gifts of a son to his father.
On hearing the devastating news of Mark’s passing, I had opportunity to speak with one of Mark’s friends in Brisbane, Jason, who told me how greatly Mark respected and loved his Dad. Mark’s Dad was Mark’s hero, Jason said.
We are all sheep and shepherds, guests and hosts at different times, in different circumstances. If this place offers sanctuary, pastoral care and some kind of nourishment today – for anyone who is feeling vulnerable, even sheepish about being in a church – then we are honoured to share this space and time with you. On behalf of Heather and the congregation, I’m honoured to welcome Pastor Ray Minniecon of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. Ray is esteemed and loved for his good shepherding – as a pastor with heart and hands for Indigenous justice.
One of the striking refrains in the passage from John’s Gospel refers to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, as the guiding voice that leads us to pasture and adventure, to the safety of the fold, and to one another.
We might recognise this voice of Jesus in more than the literal sense. The voice of Jesus is everything about him: his way of life, his loving, his teaching, his risking death in solidarity with the oppressed and excluded, his being raised to new life with God in the world.
The North African bishop St Augustine pondered the beauty of the world – the beauty of country – as a voice. Not mere prettiness, but beauty always a bit strange, that which stops us and unsettles us, makes us rearrange our perceptions, makes us see again. We do not describe this beauty so much as echo it.
In response to the beauty of the world as a voice, we sing, speak, dance, act, paint, create, run, skip, kick, catch, read, teach ... And this kind of beauty, in opening spaces, does not securely enclose us or shut us in; to be invited is to be risked, too.
The few times I met Mark I found him to be a very charming and attractive person. I recall his easygoing rapport and his eagerness to offer support. One time he helped John and me deliver bundles of South Sydney Herald newspapers – he could carry nine bundles by himself, jogging and smiling.
There was in Mark a strong sense of responding to the beauty of the world.
It’s there in the short account of his life printed with coloured photos on the folded sheets. The sporting accolades. Travels to far countries. Working alongside his father in business. Mentoring and teaching. The sheer joy, a radiant smile, in the company of Kay and their beautiful children.
To consider, to be responsive to the beauty of the world, moreover, entails vulnerability to beauty and ugliness both. We mourn where we might have rejoiced, where the promise is lost or forestalled, destroyed or simply denied. There is a harrowing experience of beauty.
Those who love Mark most dearly know most keenly his battles with depression. There were painful and agonising experiences.
In the context of hope for our country – full and proper acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty and suffering – my prayer is for Mark and his spirit at rest in God and in country. My prayer is for John and Norma, for Kay and Mark Jr, for Kay and Linda, Melissa, Leon, Kail, Lena and Maggie; Tahrita, Bessie and Rebecca – Jimmy, Jundumarra, Christian and many grieving cousins and friends. May the beauty of the world, the voice of the Creator, call up the best and happiest memories of Mark. And may the voice of God lead you always to love – to love’s secure promises.
Let us pray for one another ... Amen.