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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 16, Year C
Reaffirmations of Baptism
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 17, 2016

Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

‘One thing necessary’

As I hear the Gospel for today I am drawn to one little phrase attributed to Martha who complains that her little sister, Mary, has left her “all alone”. All alone to do the household tasks (perhaps the customary womanly duties). Martha (“anxious and upset”) resents that little Mary (the marginalised figure in the story) has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. Mary, in other words, has adopted the position of a contemplative, if not argumentative, disciple/student. I am drawn to that little phrase, “all alone”, because it says so much about Martha’s experience – anxious and upset, busy, task-oriented, self-righteous (willing to embarrass her younger sister) … and lonely. Martha denies herself opportunities for relationship. And if the Gospel were summarised in a word – in the Word (in whom “all things hold together”) – then the word would be “relationship” – the one thing necessary. God be with you

I last preached on this text in 2010 having spent a week with my niece and nephew, Georgia, then 8, and Dylan, then 8, in Melbourne. It had been a wonderful and very precious time. It had also been a testing time.

There had been much to organise – train tickets, hotel accommodation, daily activities – and even though I’d deliberately avoided getting caught up in organisation I’d still been caught out. I’d fussed about healthy foods, grown impatient with childish exuberance and disobedience.

And the underlying lesson for me, I recall, was the ultimate importance of trust – Georgia and Dylan might not remember what they had seen at the Science Works exhibit, or the Aquarium, on the train or the tram or the ferry, but they’d remember whether or not they’d felt safe, happy, cared for.

The time we spend with each other has impact, it leaves impressions. Was I there for them? Was I there with them? When the two children took my iPhone (an object of distraction) to write me a “thank you” text – I was made to promise I wouldn’t ever delete it – I remember feeling very relieved and very happy.

The importance of trust, intimacy, relationship. All Christian teaching, we might say, is concerned to enable and deepen relationships, and makes no sense without reference to relationships of real substance and quality.

Our doctrine of God as Trinity teaches divine relationship – creating, redeeming and sustaining life.

Our doctrine of creation teaches the inter-relationship of all creatures.

Our doctrine of humanity teaches that we are made in the image of God and thus made for relationship.

Our doctrine of salvation is about a love that overcomes estrangement and reconnects victims and perpetrators of violence in a Spirit of daring honesty and forgiveness.

Not surprisingly, forgiveness lies at the very heart of our religion, for we who are called to be intimately related – to spend time on and with each (very different) other – are the very ones who fail and frustrate and disappoint each other (to put it mildly), again and again.

Forgiveness is the one thing necessary while ever relationship is the one thing necessary.

And our doctrine of the Church professes a sacramental community of diverse believers in Jesus as God’s Beloved, passionate for justice and peace in the world, even unto death. We are believers and we are passionate activists, and the two are entwined in a Holy Spirit – the sacred and the secular, contemplation and action, cult and justice (as the prophets thundered), faith and good works. 

And yet faith has, always, a certain priority, for without faith we are soon self-righteous, anxious and upset (to put it mildly). We are soon “all alone” in the world. We are too much a part of the problem and called again to choose the “better part” – called to love, to trust, to intimacy, to friendship, to relationship.

It occurs to me that when I am deeply happy I know myself to have been drawn into relationship – and not always in terms of social activity.

I can experience an easing of anxiety and a movement away from feeling “all alone” when I encounter another in song, in drama or film or art.

And do we not experience a genuine easing of anxiety, an authentic movement away from feeling “all alone” whenever we encounter another in holy scripture, in ritual, in prayer? The psalmist sings to God: “Among your faithful I will put my trust in your Name, for it is good …”

On the train to Melbourne with Georgia and Dylan, I’d read a few chapters of a book on the life of Simone Weil, the French “mystic-philosopher”, and in particular about Weil’s political thought on violence, war and injustice. The book treats Weil’s thought on the possibility of grace as the countervailing power (or force) that may efficaciously oppose oppressive (brute) force. I recall this, sadly, hopefully, in the context of the recent terror attack in Nice – brutal ideology, brutal religion ...

The author quotes from a letter of Weil’s addressed to a friend in 1942. “I felt, without being in any way prepared – never having read the mystics – a presence more personal, certain, more real than that of a human being. This presence, inaccessible to the senses and the imagination, was analogous to the love that flows through the tender smile of a beloved. Since that instant the name of God and of Christ have been interwoven irresistibly with my thoughts” (Simone Weil to Joe Bousquet, May 12, 1942).

A (short) lifetime (1909-1943) of passionate thought and activism forged in the fires of contemplation. A dynamic public life sustained by an inner life of prayer. An austere and single person and yet one aware she was not “all alone”. She was never “all alone”.

The importance of trust, intimacy, relationship – “real presence”. It’s about doing good. It’s about service, activism, protest, witness ... and nourishment at the “feet of Jesus” – nourishment in the Spirit of a hospitality concerned not simply with tasks, however well-intentioned, but with what a guest, even a guest divinely sent, really wants (see Brendan Byrne’s commentary).

Liberation theologian Johannes Baptist-Metz writes: “We often keep the other person down, and only see what we want to see; then we never really encounter the mysterious secret of his [or her] being, only ourselves.” Metz contrasts this self-righteousness with a creative interdependency he describes as “the warm fullness of human existence”.

The Good Samaritan, we might surmise, experienced this type of creative interdependency – dressing wounds, attending to desires for safety, food, shelter, rest ... and listening, sharing, spending/wasting money and time on the one left injured and dying. The Good Samaritan (with his faithful donkey) was never “all alone”.

His deep hospitality, like Mary’s deep hospitality (loving attention and listening), was/is sacramental. In Christ, God offers hospitality to us. God offers to us (a Church, a community, a grace-filled world) a place where we can reveal (however long it takes) our human potential to love, to give, and to create ... a place where we can find the affirmation that gives us the courage to continue our search – without fear – for wisdom, for connection, for Holy Communion (Henri Nouwen).

Today we rejoice that this church is a place where Duncan and Dorothy are revealing their human potential to love, to give, and to create … a place where they are finding the (re)affirmation that gives them the courage to continue their search … Amen.