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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Pentecost Sunday, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 23, 2021


Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; John 15:26-27,16:4b-15


‘Inner meaning, deep and wide’


The Orthodox icon called the Descent of the Holy Spirit shows the inner meaning of Pentecost – revealed (amid festival mayhem) to event participants. Among those depicted is the apostle Paul who at the time of Luke’s account was known as Saul the persecutor. The evangelists Mark and Luke are also shown, holding the gospels they were yet to write. God be with you …

This inner or theological meaning is deep and wide.

It has to do with covenant, with Torah (language, communication), with harvest – fruits of the earth and of human labour; with the renewal of God’s people and all creation  – “How many are your works, O God! In wisdom you have made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

Figures dress and gesture differently. We are not called to uniformity. To what unity, then, are we called (collected together in a spiritual building)?

Reading a book by Val Noone about Dorothy Day’s visit to Australia in 1970, I note that Day, whose influence on ministries in Redfern and Waterloo runs deep and wide – in and through the testimonies of Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl), Fr Ted Kennedy, Sr Marnie Kennedy, John Butcher, Fergus Breslan, Gai Smith, songwriter Peter Kearney, sculptor Bill Clements; Cana Communities, the South Sydney Herald – stood for a radical Christianity, earthed in the experience of being poor. Her faith regarded as one whole non-violence, personalism, opposition to state power, traditional religious devotions, orthodox theology and deference to church authority.

To what unity are we called? …

Figures are seated in a semicircle (note the semicircles [mandorlas] at the top and bottom of the icon; perhaps we see the “U” of the UCA emblem – incidentally, a pentecostal image). There is order, a certain harmony, yet there is incompleteness. It is not that our lives are inevitably imperfect. They are, in the Spirit, richer than any idea of perfection.

Worshippers/scholars note the inverse perspective of the icon. Figures appear larger the further away they are – figures appear larger as they sit nearer to the empty, unoccupied space (the teacher’s seat). Or, in variant icons, nearer to Mary the Mother of God (representative of Jesus and exemplar of faith). What is happening?

We take it in turns to reflect (on) the gospel, to share our testimony. We attend to the testimony of others. We grow in faith and wisdom (it takes time, perhaps a lifetime) all the while approaching a holy emptiness, respecting/revering it – the unknown, the not yet, the possible …

Spiritual maturity means accepting the loss of any direct contact with Jesus.

“It is much better for you that I go,” Jesus says. “If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send her to you” (John 16:7).

In the Spirit, Christ’s presence is mediated by Word and sacrament, imagination, tradition and ethical action. The world, symbolised by the figure of Cosmos, waits (in darkness) for the gospel, awaits (with arms outstretched) our testimony. We owe the world beloved of God our honest, open witness – our best thinking and practice.

What gifts/scrolls/testimony are we given to bear? What teaching do we offer? What offering for the life of the world? Amen.


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