Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘New Birth by Water and the Spirit’
Before I say something about John chapter 6, let me say something about chapter 3, which speaks to our celebrations of baptism today. In John 3, we read, Nicodemus and Jesus engage in conversation on the theme of new birth. Being born “again” or “from above” (rabbis delight in wordplay) connotes seeing the world anew, ironically “from below”, from the perspective of the oppressed. God be with you …
New birth connotes what liberation thinkers call “class betrayal”. It entails learning, as if a newborn, to speak, stand, walk, play, work, be … New birth assumes a relationship to God as Mother. It reorients the believer to a godly and costly love; in the wisdom/name of love for the world … that none may perish.
“How can an adult be born a second time?” Nicodemus asks. It’s a great question. How, indeed? The answer Jesus gives points to a creativity evinced throughout the Bible. “No one can enter God’s kindom – the realm of wonder and right relationship – without being born of water and the Spirit.”
In John’s community – in the early second century – the words refer to baptism. But “water and the Spirit” remind us of the first day of Creation. The Spirit of God hovers expectantly over the deep/dark waters. Something good and beautiful is about to happen.
“Water and the Spirit” – in the figures of flood, dove and rainbow – announce the covenant between God, Noah and all flesh. In spite of human greed and violence, something hopeful.
“Water and the Spirit” accompany the Israelite slaves on their way to freedom – in the act of breaking free, crossing the Red Sea by the power of a mighty wind, the breath of God or Ruach Elohim. After pain and struggle, something miraculous.
Our liturgies feature an Ethiopian artwork depicting the baptism of Jesus by John the baptiser. The iconic scene takes place at/in the River Jordan. We see the water and the Spirit. Jesus embodies love for Creation, for greedy and violent human beings, for all flesh, for all souls yearning for freedom. The baptism of Jesus refers to this moment as well as to his death and resurrection. Something good and beautiful is about to happen, again.
Today we celebrate new life in the hearts and homes of friends among us. As a community we open ourselves to new life. Hospitality, friendship, justice, loving kindness – and all the new ways we might yet learn to speak of the unconditional. We sing. We wait – for the future, for memories, for healing and forgiveness. We wait – with towel, alb, oil, candle, gifts and certificates ...
John’s community – do we not relate keenly? – knew the pain of division, abandonment, separation. Messianic Jews and followers of the Way (soon to be called Christians) resisted the allure of those espousing a spiritual religion of worldly renunciation.
The Gnostics, as they were called, regarded matter as evil. By contrast, the Christians (whether boldly or feebly) affirmed the goodness of Creation, bodies, flesh, history, language, culture … incarnation … By water and the Spirit, they/we proclaim, something good and beautiful is happening.
Which means not simply or magically so much as through inspired effort, faithfulness, discernment, commitment, struggle, relationship – recognising the latent creativity of chaos, the complexity of greed, violence, oppression, the work of mourning that marks a true reverence for the little ones, the lost, the last, the deceased.
Which brings us to John chapter 6. Jesus could not stress more emphatically the material spirituality or spiritual materialism indicative of faith in God. “Everyone who eats my flesh … lives in me.” The Greek word warrants something like “gnaws” or “munches”. No wonder many remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?”
Christian faith, as opposed to Gnosticism, bears witness to a God who loves the earth, a God who loves matter and flesh … new birth by water and the Spirit.
The apostle James reminds us that religion – spirituality – entails coming to the aid of the needy, even as it calls for discipline and discernment.
The apostle Peter says to Jesus – the One at risk of persecution/execution and therefore the One in dire need – “Rabbi, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Amen.
Prayers of Intercession by Miriam Pepper
Jesus, your embodied way amazes and offends us. You bring us new life, and new challenge. Your teachings are compelling, and difficult.
And so as inspired and humble people we bring our prayers ...
We pray for our dear friend Frank, who passed away during the week. We give thanks for his life -
We pray for others whom we have lost, and for all who grieve ...
We pray for those who are ill, and for those who care for them ...
We pray for those facing their mortality, and for those who journey with them ...
We pray for those living with insecurity and upheaval ...
We pray for lands and communities in the grip of drought – for starving animals, lands denuded of vegetation and topsoil, desperate farmers, proud people made vulnerable, relationships under strain, towns under economic pressure. We know that you are present in the suffering and in the response to that suffering. We acknowledge the many demands on our sister churches in rural communities at this time, we pray for them. May they know that they are not isolated. We pray for generosity and compassion from those who can give.
In this dry continent, under the strain of worsening drought cycles, we pray for the difficult, ongoing work of better preparedness for drought. We pray for renewed strength for those who for so very long have stood to protect country from exploitation, for those who work for a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, or for an economics that recognises ecological limits. And may those who have resisted a call to a life more gentle on the Earth have a change of heart, and might we too live out that calling.
In these days of tumultuous politics and a governing party in disarray, we pray for wisdom from our politicians and our electorate. For our new Prime Minister and cabinet yet to be named, we pray for a spirit of renewed service in their offices. May our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who cited Bishop Desmond Tutu and William Wilberforce in his maiden speech to Parliament, be alive anew to the promptings of your Spirit. Amen.