Andrew’s homily today at South Sydney Uniting Church was a cracker, in my opinion. It stands for many things in my mind: as a contrast to the story from Texas I mentioned yesterday; as an example of what, concretely, reconciliation really means. I publish the homily with Andrew’s permission.
Sunday Ordinary 19
South Sydney Uniting Church
Hebrews 1: 1-3, 10-20; Luke 12: 32-40
I was talking with a local Aboriginal artist yesterday. Darren Cooper (example below) has a studio and an art shop in George Street [Redfern].
He showed me many artworks — paintings, painted furniture, surfboards, t-shirts. He sells some of it — when he can. He is hoping for an invitation to work in Austria with the design firm Swarofski Crystals. He also told me that he is a Christian. He attends the Newtown Mission church on King Street.
After chatting for a while, I asked him whether he might have a thought or two about this week’s gospel, Jesus’ words “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.”
He paused. Then: “Well, I don’t have much money — it’s not about money.” Then: “It’s about God’s mercy. God’s mercy and forgiveness is my treasure.”
Darren went on to recount a time he was lost, without direction in life. On the verge of alcoholism. Then, trying to achieve too many goals — without the sense of commitment to a calling, a purpose in his life. There was resentment too. Someone he hadn’t been able to forgive. “Then God showed me how that other person was feeling — the heavy burden he was carrying — and how I was making it work. God forgives, and so I forgive. I try to show that mercy in my paintings.”
This was not the first encounter of the kind this past week. I have encountered a number of very gracious and active people of faith. People like Darren. People like the workers in the parable — “dressed and ready” and with their “lamps lit” — “wide awake” to receive the One who comes with mercy and kindness.
On Thursday a memorial service was held here in the church for a young man called Paul — an Aboriginal man from Tennant Creek, living in Waterloo, a member of the Luncheon Club which meets here to enjoy the fruits of community gardening*, the fruits of community. The stories of Paul’s struggle to overcome alcoholism, the stories of his friendships, the love he knew with his partner Terry — his courage in the face of painful illness — all these stories , and the story-tellers themselves, comprised pictures of mercy and kindness. Bright, vivid pictures.
One of Paul’s aunts from Tennant Creek set the tone of honesty and trust by thanking Paul’s friends and thanking Carol Ann King, the founder of the Luncheon Club, saying: “I can see now so many wonderful things about Paul, who he was, and what he was about. I’m so glad he had people around him. I’m thankful that you saw how wonderful Paul was — that you saw it when I didn’t see it — that you saw it before I did.”
It was quite amazing to hear her say that.
There was a long silence.
She had spoken of children stolen by government and church representatives. “Kidnapped,” she said.
I could sense her apprehension at even being in a church. And then to be so open, so generous and gracious towards Paul’s non-Aboriginal friends. This kind of graciousness can indeed come like a thief, and unexpectedly. And we might well say when it does that it is the Promised One — the human face, the Christ of God — who appears.
People of faith… are those whose lives assume qualities of the God who promises humanity, for humanity is the promise of God. (To be theologically correct, we should say that restored or reconciled humanity is a promise of God.) Our waiting and working is meaningful because our hopes are oriented to Christ. “I try to show that mercy in my paintings,” says Darren. Is that not what each of us, the good in us, tries to do — whatever our particular calling and occupation?
“I try to show that mercy in my paintings.” I co-operate with the kindness of God. “I try to show that mercy in my paintings.” I co-operate with the creativity of God. “I try to show that mercy in my paintings.” And thus to sound, in the Spirit of Jesus, a warning against all that diminishes us — from superior to passive attitudes, from childish optimism to tired pessimism. “I try to show that mercy in my paintings.”
May it be so. Amen.
Thanks to Andrew Collis, South Sydney Uniting Church.
A Van Morrison song did finish the service today, but it was “Full Force Gale”.
* EDEN Community Garden “commenced in September 2003 behind the Uniting Church 56a Raglan Street Redfern… The Uniting Church is heritage listed having been built in solid sandstone in 1895. Behind the church there is a bomb shelter built during World War 11 and blends in with the surrounds of our EDEN garden. The roof of the bomb shelter is being utilized to grow potatoes and tomatoes in disbanded tyres. The inside is ideal for tools and equipment, bbq and refreshment facilities with further space for growing mushrooms. The outside walls of the bomb shelter are being used by clients to paint murals and express their creative talents making a colourful contrast utilizing otherwise bland wall space.”