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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 6, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 1, 2016

Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10,22 - 22:5; John 14:23-29

‘She Who Inspires Vision’

A fellow runner advised me one time: "Keep your head up and your eyes looking ahead." She explained the importance of runners keeping their vision long. When runners get tired, they tend to drop their shoulders and look down at their feet, she said, which only makes them more tired. "Where you look is where you'll go." Out on the road, prescription sunglasses sliding down my nose, I am often reminded of this, and I think on her words in the light of lections from the Book of Acts, Revelation and John's Gospel. God be with you ...

Paul's vision is about Paul seeing further than his immediate surrounds/assumptions. His vision opens to new opportunities for ministry, new understanding of God's mission, and a new relationship/friendship - with someone called Lydia, a witness and leader ready to begin a congregation in her home. We could also say, then, that Paul's vision leads, in some sections of the church in recent times, to reappraisal of Paul's thought and work, renewed appreciation for the diversity of early Christian faith and ministry, and to renewed calls for the ordination of women (it seems shocking that we still need to mention this).

John's vision in Revelation 21 - featuring a "tree of life" - is about the ultimate reconciliation of nature and culture - God's desire to save/heal creation and all creatures, including human beings and nations. John's vision, most succinctly, professes not a return to Eden (in fact, it helps us resist the naïveté of much nature-romanticism), but rather the more demanding - and more dignifying - task of becoming human (an individual, social and ecological project). A forward-thinking and ongoing task. Repeating with a difference that which has gone before. Re-membering. Hence, the New Jerusalem, the holy city - the secular realm sanctified, religious hopes and convictions concretised.

The gates are open, the wealth is shared. The Earth and human labour harmonised. The holy city (without a temple) reveals the way the whole world works in the fullness of God's reign. John's vision, in other words, is not conservative. It is not backward-looking or short-sighted. It focuses on the existential-social-political-(cross-)cultural-ecological task of our becoming human: drawing from us every intellectual, affective, creative and responsible impulse; every economic, local and international concern. It all matters.

The New Jerusalem comes as a gift, and yet involves us wholly. It is fitting and fortunate that we have today the promise of the fully Human One: "[T]he Holy Spirit whom Abba God will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and she will remind you of all that I told you."

One commentator writes: "[T]he Church still has a long future ahead of it. It cannot simply look back to the story of Jesus. It must live its own story under the direction of the Holy Spirit who will both remind the Church of its origins in the Word of God who is Jesus, and instruct it in new things which Jesus did not tell us" (Francis J. Moloney).

The Holy Spirit is imaged for us today as a guide, as a guiding force. Perhaps she is the ground of imagination itself - She Who Inspires Vision.

I really love our St Lydia's Library. I love that it stands for growing in wisdom, for the Word of God who is Jesus, and for "new things" ... new knowledge, new ideas, new questions. Lydia, a saint in Orthodox, Catholic and Episcopalian traditions, was evidently a well-to-do agent of a purple-dye firm in Thyatira. Very possibly a widow, she insisted on giving hospitality to Paul and his companions in Philippi. Because the encounter takes place in what is now Europe, Lydia is considered the first European convert to Christianity.

The Orthodox Churches, which celebrate Easter today, have given St Lydia the title of "Equal to the Apostles", signifying her importance and holiness. Most Orthodox icons of St Lydia (and there are many) portray her wearing a purple shawl or veil.

Former Artist in Residence Jovana Terzic designed our St Lydia's Library emblem. I can imagine it in shades of purple. The design comprises a number of striking elements, most obviously the pelican, a symbol of Christ, which Lydia holds gently and close to her heart.

According to pre-Christian legend, when a mother pelican cannot find food for her young, she thrusts her beak into her breast and nourishes her little ones with her own blood (pelicans have red-tipped beaks). The early church saw in this story a beautiful image of Christ-like generosity and love (see the Physiologus, c. 150CE). The Eucharistic symbol (known as "pelican-in-her-piety") appears in Shakespeare's Hamlet and in many Christian works of art.

Perhaps, like me, you just like pelicans - their enormous bills and pouches (for fish and for books!), the way they walk. The pelican is found on every continent except the Antarctic, the Australian Pelican the largest of all with a wingspan of 3.4 metres and a lifespan of 25 years. Pelicans fly very high and very low. They can skim the surface of the water with a long, controlled gliding motion and they can rise to altitudes of 3,000 metres. They can ride the thermals and reach a speed of 56km/h. They can stay aloft for 24 hours.

Groups of pelicans are known as pods, scoops or squadrons. Pelicans are ancient - pelican fossils have been dated at 40 million years.

Pelican chicks communicate with their mothers while still in the egg. They can communicate as to whether they are too hot or too cold. They also listen to their parents from the egg - so when they emerge, they have no trouble identifying their parents.

Today the children are imagining Jesus and the Gospel - in pictures of the Good Shepherd, the Lamb/lamp of God, the Fish, the Anchor, the Tree of Life, the Pelican and more. What do you see when you think about Jesus and the Gospel? How and what does the Holy Spirit help you to imagine? ...

Amen.

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