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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 15, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 15, 2018

Psalm 24; Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

‘How noble, then…’

When I was five my grandparents gave me a Children’s Bible. I remember the illustration of Salome holding the head of John the Baptist on a platter. I understood there was something evil about it but for years I found it hard to look at the image. What it says to me now is that standing up for what’s right and compassionate is to risk/live your life. “This world is ruled by violence,” Bob Dylan laments. And paranoid powers – gluttons and abusers like Herod – deeply resent social and political criticism. Prophets are undermined, ridiculed, executed.

In the context of Mark’s Gospel, the reality foreshadows the crucifixion, which will see Jesus the prophet in agony, abandoned by the Twelve, buried by a stranger. How noble, then, that John’s disciples “came and took [John’s] body away and laid it in a tomb”. God be with you …

Our printed orders bear the icon of Amos, a prophet from the time of the divided kingdoms (800 years before Christ). Amos was a shepherd and farmer, unschooled and not one of the professional prophets of his day. He lived in the southern kingdom of Judea, in a town south of Jerusalem, where he experienced a call to go north. The king of the northern kingdom of Israel was Jeroboam, and Amos prophesied against the impiety and injustice of Jeroboam’s rule.

The prophet predicted (rightly as it turned out) that it would all end badly for the greedy and the violent. He was beaten and tortured for his troubles, struck on the head by an angry priest, before making his way back home where he succumbed to his injuries.

This is all hard to look at. And hard to bear. Scripture, writing, icon-writing, is one way to bear it. Which also means bearing witness.

Twenty years ago Paul Kelly penned a song called “Little Kings”: “I’m so afraid for my country/ …Every day I hear the warning bells/ They’re so busy building palaces/ They don’t see the poison in the wells/ In the land of the little kings/ Profit is the only thing/ And everywhere the little kings/ Are getting away with murder …”

It’s a song about Australia.

In the context of a Gospel about dancing, I think of the Bangarra company – bearing noble witness to love of country, kinship, despair, courage, creativity, spirituality.

I think, too, of a young Tongan-Australian woman I was privileged to meet a few days ago, a school teacher and dancer, in the process of discerning a call to ministry with God’s people; acutely aware of the responsibilities of leadership, and the potential for leaders (religious leaders especially) to lose touch, to exploit their positions of power, to get lazy. Encouraged by her father, she will soon receive accreditation as a Lay Preacher.

“When you share a story of faith and love with the children in Sunday School,” she recalled her father saying, “that’s real preaching, that’s why I’m already so proud of you.”

So, we lament. We write, sing, dance – and we preach. Aware that every strong and hopeful word (including the Word of God, of course) is hard won, we celebrate what’s real and noble.

Today we celebrate the 15th National Assembly of the Uniting Church, and a decision taken by faithful members of Christ’s body to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia are sovereign peoples in Australia. The resolution was passed by consensus, sovereignty defined with reference to the Statement from the Heart, as “the way in which First Peoples understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians” of the land.

The current President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, the Rev. Garry Dronfield, said: “We speak with a passion. We seek a continuation of the covenant. Sovereignty refers to who we are and how we relate.”

And today we celebrate the 15th National Assembly of the Uniting Church, and a decision taken by faithful members of Christ’s body to affirm two different definitions of marriage, allowing congregations and ministers the freedom to conduct marriage services for all couples. The President of the Assembly, Dr Deidre Palmer, acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years. “I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,” she said, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

And then, echoing a prayer of faith and love offered by Ian Bayly at St Stephen’s Uniting Church last month, she continued: “We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space. Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.”

“I thank you all for modelling a loving Christian community, holding together and caring for each other, across our diversity of strongly and faithfully held views.”

In the silence let us receive the noble truths, the nobility the Spirit brings … Amen.