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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 9, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 29, 2016

Psalm 66; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

‘To look again’

Some years ago I attended a wedding reception, and I was seated at a table with a number of attendants (sometimes called bridesmaids and groomsmen), most of whom, it transpired, were health professionals. Their families were from South Korea and they were conservative evangelical Christians. I’m not sure how many of these details are relevant but I’m recalling them in response to the Gospel about a cross-cultural encounter which brings healing. God be with you

One of the attendants, Vivian Li, was seated beside me. She told me that she was an optometrist with a special interest in retinal health. And I told her that I had a long-standing fear of optometrists – that, under examination, I had often fainted – that I was very sensitive to bright lights shining in my eyes – and that I was very worried about my retinal health – anxious and insecure. (My childhood optometrist was Dr Pain – which may be of significance.)

Seriously, I hadn’t had a proper eye exam for a few years and my sight was deteriorating. Vivian assured me that it would be all right. She was severely short-sighted herself, and her manner was so kind and understanding that I made an appointment the following week. My friend Hayley met me at the station and drove me to the appointment in Castle Hill, where my eyes were fully examined and scans were taken of my retinas.

Whenever the lights were too much, Dr Li would stop and wait, explaining the process as she went, and allowing me time to ask questions. She brought me a cup of cold water. It might not seem like such a big deal, but I was so relieved and even happy to choose a new pair of frames for my new prescription lenses.

My “irregular” retinas and troublesome “floaters” were not cured as such. But I was healed nevertheless. I’d found someone I could trust. I’d found someone who gave me her word, who kept her word, who demonstrated kindness and respect. My fears were overcome. I didn’t faint or feel sick. I felt safe. “We’ll keep monitoring your eyes and if we need to we’ll consult a retinal specialist,” Dr Li said. “Yes,” I thought, “that’s what we’ll do.”

Words, especially kind and respectful words, are very powerful. In fact, the word “respect”, from the Latin respecere, means to look again. Healing, on second or third inspections, may mean learning to cope with a reality once regarded all-too threatening or frightening.

Trust is a holy medium. Trust, as we have prayed this morning, frees us from the contempt of the familiar and the horror of the foreign, that we might celebrate a holy presence “intimate and other and wholly alive”. Trust is miraculous – meaning the opposite of magical. Trust is openness to the power to do good, wherever this power is to be seen.

Our Gospel presents a Roman centurion who trusts Jesus, a Jewish rabbi-prophet. We also see that Jesus trusts the centurion (an oppressor) as one with a genuine love and wisdom. “I tell you,” Jesus says, “I’ve never found this much faith among the Israelites.”

For both of them, the goodness of the kindom of God has appeared, is made apparent. One commentator writes: “True religion, based on an honest assessment of oneself, and a deep openness to the greatness of God’s gifts has always worked the miracles of this world” (Francis J. Moloney).

I’ve never found this much faith among the Israelites … I’ve never found this much faith among the conservative evangelicals … the Catholics … the Muslims … the postmodernists …

Another commentator concludes that those on the margins respond more readily to the good news (Brendan Byrnes). It’s one of those proverbial truths – to see is to see again, to have faith is to have faith again, to live is to live again – all of which implies a certain living on the edge – a preparedness to be shocked, changed, called, sent … all of which implies a certain hanging loose with regard to conventions, mores, rules.

Jesus commends the faith/trust of the Roman centurion even though we have no reason to believe he becomes a follower/disciple. The centurion does not ask to follow Jesus or confess him as the Messiah or even seem particularly interested in meeting him. He simply sees in Jesus authority that he recognises and, quite frankly, needs.

The Gospel decentres cultural certainty (and religious identity), and calls for a new prayer – a prayer of thanksgiving for untold people and forces without whom we wouldn’t have this synagogue/church – tenants, gardeners, neighbours, volunteers, readers, critics, caterers, artists, framers, farmers, bakers, vine-dressers, candle-makers … all capable of love, humility, good works, faith.

The Gospel calls us to pray that we might have the grace and courage to commend all good works and to share with “outsiders” (feared, hated, resented or plain overlooked) our gratitude for them and our belief that God loves and includes them.

On the morning of this new art exhibition in the gallery, let us look again (respecere), that we might show respect. Let us tell what we have discovered. You are invited to share a response to the Gospel. How might a radical openness to others reshape your fears? How might a radical respect for others recast your hopes? … Amen.