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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 28, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 9, 2016

Jeremiah 29:1-9; Luke 17:11-19

‘Remembering, Forgetting, and Being Thankful’

The Gospel story today tells us of Jesus commenting that, after curing ten men of a dreadful disease,  only one person came back to thank him. How could it be that the other nine were not thankful? What was stopping their thankfulness? Perhaps too many bad things had happened to them, or they resented other people having better luck that they had, or they had made bad decisions and were ashamed. Bad memories were causing a lack of gratitude. Bad memories were stopping them moving on in their lives.

(Dame Edna once wittily commented that a well-balanced person had a chip on each shoulder – that is the kind of well-balanced person we don’t want to be!)

Apart from unlucky and undeserved accidents, the cause of most human misery is fighting, whether it is on a small scale and local, or on a large scale, war between great groups of people.

 Three thousand years ago, and about six hundred years before Jesus lived, the great prophet Jeremiah tried to teach his people how to deal with invasion and disruption to their lives. He foresaw that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was about to invade his country. His message was “Free your slaves. Do not fight. Do not run away. Let this happen. Do not resist. The enemy are too powerful”. And in our reading today: “If you go into exile, seek to prosper, seek the good for the city of Babylon”

This was all too much to ask. His listeners hated his prophesies and decided to kill him, or least put him into a smelly, muddy, cistern, probably a sewage well, and let him perish. He was rescued by one of his followers.

The slaves were freed, but then re-enslaved, Jeremiah said that the disobedience of the people of Jerusalem, and their wrong ways of living, and their decision to fight or flee, would cost them their land. Their city would be destroyed, including the Temple which King Solomon had built. They would be punished and many would be exiled and taken to Babylon, where they would find the right way to live again, obey the teachings of the Torah and become a better people -  but not before many things had happened to cause long lasting bitterness.

In the Middle East today, and perhaps in most countries around the world, there is a legacy of bitterness from some sort of fighting. Invasion, exile, civil war, all makes for hurt people. Many of whom ache for revenge. And so a memory of past wrongs is keeps alive the troubles, even ancient troubles, generational troubles, insults that cry out for vengeance. There are refugees, people who have lived for years in another country, who harbour hatreds that were formed in a long ago past.

The great modern day writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, calls all these ancient memories of past hurts, “The Buried Giant”. Like Jeremiah, he is a prophet.

He prophesies that if we keep digging up or listening to the ‘Buried Giant’ we will have endless wars. We have to decide to not do this.  Somehow we have to ignore this memory which is so destructive. Perhaps it should be archived – not entirely forgotten but removed from every day, present life. The giant must stay buried. We might know it is there but we must decide to leave it there. We must not base our identity on the ‘Buried Giant’.

In his book, he tells the story of an old married couple who have been together for many years. He suggests or reminds us that in any long term relationship, for it to be peaceful and loving, there must be forgetting, because there are usually things that have happened in the past that disturbed the harmony. Even really serious things like infidelity: if there is a constant referral to these bad incidents, there will always be war. There will never be an end to it.

Like Jeremiah, he is saying, live as well as you can, get on with life, forget vengeance, forgive if you can, in whatever circumstances you may be in. Don’t let bad memories spoil your present life. Have hope, trust in God, look forward.

Now we might say ‘This is all too hard, I don’t know how to do it’, or ‘I don’t believe that the future will be any better’. If we feel this way, we have to read Yeonmi Park’s book “In Order to Live”.

To escape from North Korea into China, and eventually get to South Korea, she suffered many indignities, injuries, starvation - all as a young teenager. She has given us a blow by blow account of how she got over all  - these really unpleasant, destructive things. It took a long time for her to reach a point where she could forgive the various perpetrators. Part of the way she has done this by archiving her memories. She has written them all down for everybody to read, and in doing so has rid her personal self of their harm, which in a certain sense, is a way of burying the giant.

She is now a human rights activist. This is like the one man who came back to Jesus to say “Thank  you”. She is free, cured, liberated.

How do we live in hope and give thanks?

How do we find a way forward, both personally and as a people who live in this land?

Margaret Vasey

Homily by Margaret Vasey