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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 31, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 5, 2017

1 Thessalonians 2:9-20; Matthew 23:1-12

‘Leadership qualities’

Our icon shows Jesus washing the feet of disciples (a scene from John’s Gospel). It’s about being kind (even amid difficulty and under stress). It’s about mutual service. It’s about equality – “encouraging, comforting and urging … lives worthy of God” (as the Apostle Paul says). It’s about bare feet and holy ground, hard traveling and what we call “walking the walk”. And it’s about overturning expectations of honour and status. God be with you ...

Our Gospel from Matthew is also concerned with servant leadership; more precisely, with authoritative teaching. As a portrait of abusive authority, it says less about late first-century Pharisees (many of whom, no doubt, were decent and compassionate teachers grappling with the meaning of faith for post-Temple Judaism), than about pompous moralists of all times and places – leaders prone to hypocrisy, sometimes vanity and superiority.

Growing up in a particular religious culture, I was taught about God’s “grace” (an angry God accepting the death of Jesus as payment for the debt of human sin), but not so much about graciousness, not so much about being grateful, being graceful, living graciously.

Faith was intellectual assent, essentially an out-of-body experience, to a single theory of salvation (Penal Substitution) I later learned originated in the 16th century. Faith was intellectual assent to a theory based on sacrificial and legal metaphors no longer explained or examined, and without reference to other theories (none of which the church catholic insisted upon in terms of creeds or formal doctrine).

I was not, as a child or teenager, introduced to the Exemplarist model, the ancient theory that the example of Christ’s love had power to attract and to transform. I was not introduced to the Cosmic Struggle model either, the ancient theory that in Christ forces of evil were duped, defeated or overcome. All that came later.

Thanks to faithful and godly leadership (in an ecumenical setting), I experienced conversion from a narrow place of religious identity to a cross-cultural community very much centred on Christ’s example, on Christ-like kindness, solidarity with the most vulnerable, courage and reverence for life; a community whose poetic professions of evil overcome are engaging, political and cosmic; a community whose understandings of sacrifice and redemption relate to the very real costs of inclusion.

As we learned together at a recent Bible study, the Greek word for “salvation” means healing, wholeness, wellness. We might ask: What particular healing is needed in this time and place? What particular calls for help, for support, for empowerment and wellbeing are discerned here, now? How does the Good News of God in Christ address these needs? How is Christ among us, here and now, to save us?

Like the prophets before him, Matthew’s Jesus is troubled by a law, by a religion taught for its own sake. Jesus is troubled by the exalted position some leaders/teachers take that doesn’t take into account the actual lives of those who are to be served/helped/instructed.

Put positively, Matthew affirms Jesus as one whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden is light”, whose “way” and wisdom we are invited to follow. In Jesus, God is the one who leads. In Jesus, God is the one who teaches.

Jesus says: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The Apostle Paul writes to the early church in Thessalonica: “For what is our hope, or joy, or the crown in which we glory in our Saviour Jesus at the Coming? It’s you: you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

Such humility asks as to the wellbeing of others. Genuine humility makes space for others ­– creative, social, personal space. It teaches by way of love, by way of taking actual circumstances and real persons into account.

Humility means more than my overcoming hypocrisy, more than the integration of my words and my actions. It means my eschewing all pompous swaggering around (whether in or without liturgical dress), for the sake of simple, serene freedom with and for others.

Over the past year, our 12 elders/leaders have led by way of faithful witness and service. With respect, patience, persistence, good humour, vulnerability, joy …. They have allowed love to shine in and through their humility.

In the name of God, let us exalt them …

We thank each of you and we thank you as a group – for being yourselves, for working together, for giving us what you had to give, for encouraging our ministries and wanting the best for us. We are grateful to God, and, whatever the future holds, we love you …

On December 10 we will hold a ballot for the election of elders in our congregation. We want to be intentional and prayerful about this … clear about the commitments involved, open to opportunities for the sharing of gifts, and the building up of community.

We are seeking between 10 and 16 elders for a leadership to guide us in ministries as depicted on the sheet you have received. Elders and Ministers comprise a Church Council and oversee the spiritual (creative, holistic) activity of six working groups (and more!).

Next Sunday, Dorothy will hand out nomination forms and you’ll be invited to nominate candidates for the ministry of elder – during a time of prayerful silence (without discussion). The following week we’ll repeat the process.

Today, we’ll observe five minutes’ silence for the discernment of gifts for the ministry of elder. There is a dedicated box on the altar-table, with a pen. You’re invited to come and to write a word on the box, which will become our ballot box. What’s the one word you’d use to describe faithful or godly leadership? Amen.