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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 4, Year C
Commissioning of Elders
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 12, 2019

Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30


‘Belonging to the stranger and the strange’

There is a long-finned eel that lives in a pond at Centennial Park. A species of eel. Adult eels, at about 30 years of age, prompted by heavy rain, leave the pond, slithering up the banks and across the grass, seeking a storm water drain. Their eyes grow larger and their gills adapt for an imminent salt-water journey. Once in the ocean the eels swim 2,000 kilometres to the Coral Sea (the coast of New Caledonia), where the female eels lay millions of eggs before dying. The eggs hatch and the infant eels (I’m not sure in what numbers or precisely at what age) make their way to the east coast of NSW, somehow traversing beaches, golf courses and grassy fields to finish up in Centennial Park, and in the pond of the parents they never knew. God be with you

In pre-colonial days Centennial Park was a marsh and according to biologists the long-finned eel’s migratory habits predate colonisation by several million years. Whatever the scientific explanations, I share the story as one with the potential to both amaze and reconfigure/reframe what John’s Gospel presents in familiar terms of sheep hearing the voice of a good shepherd and responding to a call that leads them home.

In both cases, animals (strangers) traverse difficult terrain, guided mysteriously from one sanctuary to another, and in the context of many risks and dangers. The animals have something to teach us (for we too are animals) about home, life and death, creativity and divinity.

When I say I have discerned a call – that my life is a response to a call – what am I talking about? From where do elders imagine the voice calls them? To where are they called? For what purpose? With whom are we called? How do we listen, together, for this voice? Are there other, competing voices?

With St Augustine of Hippo, we might ponder the beauty of the world as a voice. Not prettiness, but beauty always a bit strange, that which stops us and unsettles us, makes us rearrange our perceptions, makes us see again. We do not describe this beauty so much as echo it. The poet Rilke says: “We are here just to say it, to read the world aloud.”

There’s beauty in the long-finned eel’s homeward journey. There’s beauty in a shepherd whose body is a gate, whose hands are marked by nails, whose Spirit animal is a Lamb once slain, whose dream invites many creatures, including human beings, to a wedding feast.

And this kind of beauty, in opening spaces, does not securely enclose us, does not shut us in; to be invited is to be risked, too. The call of the Good Shepherd is the call of the Lamb – and this call of the vulnerable one, this call of the destitute other is not quite so distant from the call of beauty (in its strangeness, belonging to the strange and the stranger) as it might seem.

“The distress opened in us by the devastation and growing ugliness of people, places or things is another form of this harrowing experience of beauty: anyone who destroys beauty seems to us to be profaning, in some degree, that by which the world really is a world, containing things that demand that one stop and consider them (in the dual sense of looking at them and respecting them)” (Jean-Louis Chretien).

To consider, to be responsive to the beauty of the world must entail vulnerability to beauty and ugliness both. We mourn where we might have rejoiced, where the promise is lost or forestalled, destroyed or simply denied. We must listen to what we see, or see, like St Augustine, as if in our sight the world spoke and we said it again.

There’s beauty in the long-finned eel’s homeward journey. There’s beauty in a shepherd whose body is a gate, whose hands are marked by nails, whose Spirit animal is a Lamb once slain, whose dream invites many creatures, including human beings, to a wedding feast.

And this kind of beauty, in opening spaces, does not securely enclose us, does not shut us in; to be invited is to be risked, too. Amen.


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