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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Epiphany 5, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

‘Your light will shine like the dawn - and your healing will break forth like lightning!’

The South Sydney Herald “about sheet” includes the following: “Inspired by a prophetic commitment to neighbour-love (Isaiah 1:14-17; Micah 6:8), we are challenged to consider the gospel in journalistic mode. A key gospel text is Matthew 5:13-20, which calls us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world – helping to bring about reconciliation, wholeness and justice, and resisting tendencies toward divisiveness and sectarianism. God be with you

The “about sheet” condenses a longer “vision and guidelines” document (2011) worth revisiting.

In the opening paragraphs of that longer document we read: “Publishing a community newspaper is a uniquely effective means of engaging our community, building relationships with various community groups and individuals, including residents and business people, politicians, activists and artists ... The opportunity to model Christian faith and values is unique.

“Inspired by a prophetic commitment to justice and neighbour-love (Isaiah 1:14-17; Micah 6:8), oriented, that is, ‘to what is right and good for the world’ (C.S. Song), we are challenged to consider the gospel in journalistic mode, which means, among other things, discerning genuine public interest from sensationalism or gossip, and maintaining standards that profess strength of evidence over ferocity of opinion ...

“As publisher of a local newspaper the Church recognises a responsibility to reflect on its own commitments to justice and peace ... In this regard, one key text is Matthew 5:13-20, which develops the Beatitudes. Those aware of ‘spiritual poverty’ and connection, humility and happiness, Jesus says, have public roles and responsibilities. They are to the world around them as ‘salt’ and ‘light’.”

In the past I’ve preached on salt and light in terms of a call to be “interesting” (flavoursome, not bland) and “interested” (brightly engaging, not dull) people. But you don’t need me to tell you what these metaphors mean …

Jesus is blessing and commissioning his followers to season and to enlighten.

They are capable of such ministries. They are precious as salt and light. We are precious as salt and light. Jesus says, “You [second-person plural] are precious in the Earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven.”

I recall director Damon Gameau’s documentary, 2040, which imagines the future in light of human ingenuity and collaboration – advancing solar and wind technology, decentralised energy systems, reclaiming city streets as fruit and vegetable gardens, city carparks as city parks, implementing conservation-regenerative agriculture, marine permaculture, carbon sequestration, supporting small farm-holders, addressing overconsumption, inequality and corporate greed.

Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel reveres light “at the convergence of truth and love”. “This light,” he writes, “we must radiate toward one another, knowing very well that our role consists above all, and perhaps even exclusively, in not being an obstacle to its passage through us.”

Paragraph 3.3. of the SSH vision and guidelines document says: “There is an art to all this. Too much salt (too great a concern for ourselves or our 'message') ruins the dish and the diet. Too much light (too great an emphasis on our own opinions and judgements) is overpowering, withering. We are called to be a people/publication that seasons and enlightens, that enhances particular and different flavours (perspectives, experiences, interests), that helps to make visible vibrant colours. The art of producing a community newspaper is evangelistic and missional. It is the art of participating in the mission of God (Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love). It is the art of being present, bearing witness and risking love.”

It’s important we give theological reasons for the work we do, that we think theologically about it and not just enthusiastically or despairingly. It’s important we discuss and pray together, and think about the work we do in the name of the church and in the name of God.

That trinitarian reference to the mission of God – being present, bearing witness and risking love – can be helpful as a means of understanding and critiquing our ministries.

When we make decisions about stories and photographs, about the placement on the front page of William Emilsen’s reflection on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, inclusion of Jessica Morthorpe’s accurate bushfire information and call to community action, support for an effective human services plan to accompany the government’s built environment master plan for the Waterloo redevelopment, recollection/celebration of the Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty project (connecting visitors with representatives from the local Indigenous Women’s Centre, the Settlement Community Centre, the Aboriginal Housing Company, the REDWatch activist group, architects, designers, and the Indigenous Social Justice Association) … we are striving to be faithful to our God – being present, bearing witness and risking love.

When cartoonist Norrie discovers a fresh angle/angel or means of commenting on urgent issues like housing, sustainable development, Aboriginal or eco-justice, Norrie gets very excited because a new opportunity has arisen to be present, to bear witness and risk love.

When faith editor Dorothy shares an experience of spiritual liberation or institutional lamentation – an experience with social and political implications – she rejoices in being present, bearing witness and risking love.

This month’s issue features several stories about the goodness of animals – Ruff Sleepers, the Cat Protection Society, photographer Sylvain Dubey’s image of the endangered Blue Mountains water skink.

We give thanks for non-human lives – their beauty, otherness – without which human existence (if even possible at all) would be bland and dull. We read these stories and give thanks for the lives of Rango and Finnegan, beloved companions, family members; we cherish their loving and humanising presence …

Paragraph 3.4. continues a reflection on Matthew 5: “Faith doesn’t entail our standing apart from the world, but requires that we help shape it. Faith doesn’t mean we can leave the difficult tasks and responsibilities to others, but requires that we take them on ourselves. Salvation ‘involves responding to the light of subjectivity in our neighbours, which in turn amounts to a conscious gesture of belonging’ (Mark Dooley).

“As students, teachers, environmental scientists, activists, retailers, doctors, lawyers, community workers and small business owners, we are called to be informed on the issues, to understand what our tradition teaches, to speak out, to insist that our elected officials take appropriate action, and so on.”

We may think sometimes that all we can do is care for ourselves; that caring for others is more than we can manage. Isaiah, however, was speaking to a people who had just returned from exile. They had to reconstruct their social and political world. They had a temple to rebuild and religious structures to put in place. It was to such a community that Isaiah delivered his message: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the imprisoned; tend the sick; bury the dead. Isaiah insisted that the exiles’ care of others was the condition of their own restoration.

Through the prophet, God says: “Your light will shine like the dawn – and your healing will break forth like lightning!”

Jesus blesses and commissions, affirms and trusts us, not to become something we are not, but to become who we really are – the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus says, “You are precious in the Earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven.”

How might this blessing touch on our work this week and in coming weeks – as volunteers with the SSH and in all our striving to be present, to bear witness and risk love? ... Amen.