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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 14, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 8, 2018

Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13


‘The Weakness of Matisse’

Three readings, we might imagine, open a space for understanding, for inter-being. The psalm speaks of universal salvation, the Love whose name “reaches to the ends of the earth”. The epistle speaks of strength perfected in weakness. The gospel speaks of home – home-towns and hospitality. We offer praise, confession and thanks from within this space, awaiting the event we call the Word or Wisdom of God.

On this first Sunday in NAIDOC Week we might consider the space we share with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander siblings. The importance/preciousness of country, land, water, home. The dislocations and forced separations, the dispossession and destruction of language and culture – a certain homelessness (affecting both first and second peoples).

Second peoples might do more than simply empathise, moving to explore the full potential of decolonisation – truth-telling, restitution, restoration of rights and hopes, recognition of sovereignty (never ceded), makarrata/treaty, flag, republic … Strength perfected in weakness in the sense of recognising a dependence on Indigenous forgiveness, wisdom, identity. Shared sovereignty. God be with you

The artwork on our printed orders is by Henri Matisse – a detail from a panel of ceramic tiles in the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France (1951). We see the Madonna and Child but note the postures ­– it is as though Mary were offering her child to the world; Jesus assumes the cruciform pose of his destiny as lover of the world. The scene is one of heavenly clouds and/or flowers. Universal salvation (the arms and hands of Jesus are open to the elements). Strength perfected in weakness. Earthly and heavenly homes.

The longer story is extraordinary. The panel is from one interior wall of a chapel whose large stained-glass windows depict the Tree of Life. The glass-filtered sunlight fills the space with dappled and dazzling blue, green and gold. The chapel was the very last work created by Matisse, who was 77 and wheelchair-bound when he began the commission.

The modern master of oils and bronze had suffered the trauma of war and Nazi occupation, as well as emergency surgery for intestinal cancer. He was dependent for home-care on a nurse called Sister Jacques-Marie – a one-time model and studio assistant who had subsequently joined the Dominican order. Matisse, in his weakness, was inspired to create the chapel for his carer and friend.

The artist designed every aspect of the building (the Dominican Sisters had no chapel), down to the vestments to be worn by the priests who would preside over services. He used a charcoal-tipped bamboo stick to create his visions on paper placed on walls.

“Do you believe in God?” an incredulous fellow artist reportedly inquired of Matisse. “I do when I am working,” Matisse replied.

We might imagine the many crossings of prayer and hospitality – between Henri and Sister Jacques-Marie, between the artist and the order, between the city of Vence and the French nation after the war, between the young nun and her family, between the atheist art establishment and the Catholic Church, between a masterpiece of religious art and us, between divine insistence and human existence …

In the midst of God’s temple/chapel/church, as the embodiment of “steadfast love” in this place, how do we imagine ourselves at home? How do we imagine ourselves coming home?

Sensitive to home-town constrictions and prejudices, how might we allow family members and visitors to freely come and go – welcoming change and growth, willing to be surprised, and even criticised?

How might we work together (younger and older members) to keep the story (good news for the poor, glad tidings for the weak) open (that is, hospitable) to the other and to the future?

In the silence let us receive what the Spirit brings … Amen.


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