Image: Broncos players embrace as an Indigenous smoking ceremony takes place before the round 12 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Gold Coast Titans in Brisbane, 2022. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

More than 20 of Australia’s biggest sporting bodies have pledged support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament in an open letter, declaring sport “plays a significant role in reconciling Australia”. The unprecedented move came after the NRL and other codes gave their complete support for a yes vote at this year’s referendum and urged “sports fans of Australia” to unite in a similar fashion. Governing bodies of the AFL, NRL, Cricket Australia, Football Australia, Rugby Australia, Golf Australia and the NBL were among the signatories to the letter that rugby league legend Mal Meninga said was about “taking action” (May 26, 2023).

‘I’m really glad you made it!’

Andrew Collis
Ordinary Sunday 12, Year A
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86; Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew’s Jesus speaks of division and even accepts a certain responsibility for division: “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” Before commending a Spirit on the side of human frailty and faith: “You who lose your life [as personal project/possession] for my sake [in the Spirit of love] will find it [as renewed promise/communal gift].”

Christians disagree on just about everything … ecclesiology, politics, metaphysics, art and music. And as our own ecumenical history shows, reconciliation (living and working together, the hallowing of common ground) entails long and difficult conversations, many and various conversions.

It also attracts criticism. In a sometimes-wicked world, religious community is ridiculed (not solely for hypocrisy). Some churches, for good reasons, emphasise the need to resist the lure of surrounding cultures. Others seek to engage, learn, adapt and reform … 

Unity, like peace, cannot be forced. Nor should it be assumed, idolised.

Which is why the campaign for a more just and wise nation (constitutional recognition of First Nations) involves us deeply/messily as listeners, truth-tellers, vision-casters, advocates/allies … 

In Matthew 10, Jesus gives us a double image of wisdom: the snake and the dove. (I wonder if we’ve ever seen the “U” shape on the UCA emblem, the “U” beneath the innocent dove, as a clever snake?) A double image makes space for different points of view (as our mission statement avows) as well as resourcing faithful conversation and mission.

June 22 marked the 46th anniversary of the Uniting Church. The ecumenical and liturgical renewal movements which provided the impetus for union arose much earlier, in generations prior to 1977 (South Sydney Parish is an ecumenical project dating back to the mid-1960s). 

God knows the number of disagreements along the way – as people of faith questioned denominationalism (the dumbing down and hollowing out of tradition), colonial and cultural chauvinism, the legacy of a Reformation/Schism that turned “a son against his father, a daughter against her mother, in-law against in-law” …

In the Spirit of love, might we try to be more gracious in respect of human weakness, on the part of others and ourselves? Acknowledging the need for space and time, what might our programs become (infused with grace, humour, creativity, trust)? What might our liturgies enable?

These weeks in Ordinary Time will see us draw upon five liturgy templates (services of the Word and Sacrament for indoor and outdoor use), lovingly created and curated by South Sydney Uniting Church members.

Perhaps in prayer and practice we’ll learn to trust the co-creativity and silence … to wait for the Spirit to speak …

It is possible, the gospel teaches, to both lament and anticipate division – even to regard it an opportunity for conversion. For what we lose – in the name of authentic religion, the quest for wisdom, for love – may count as gain.

I may lose an agreeable friendship – someone with whom I feel naturally at home. I may (painfully) discover capacities for love – freedom, patience, discernment. I may (painfully) discover the sacramentality of space and time. It matters how we handle disagreement and division. It matters how we handle serious conversation. 

Watching a group of young people lead an online seminar on afro-futurism, and the serious work of writer Octavia E. Butler, in particular (whose birthdate, incidentally, is June 22, 1947), I note two wise practices.

First, directing strangers to meet in pairs, the convenor uses humour to allay anxiety (at the same time accepting responsibility for any awkwardness). “The person with short hair or no hair should be invited to share first,” she laughs.

Then acknowledging a late arrival, the convenor refrains from negative or judgemental words, saying instead: “I’m really glad you made it!” Whether we’re talking literature seminars, eco-justice movements or religious community, these are wise words, and bear repeating. “I’m really glad you made it!”

Still, there is pain. Waiting for the Spirit to speak is not easy. And beyond disagreement, there can be real betrayal of Christ and the gospel.

Trusting in love, Jesus experienced hatred and rejection. He felt angry when he saw others belittled or rejected (we can imagine his anger on Hagar’s behalf). He lamented that many put their faith in systems built on dominant powers, systems that favour the rich, the market, the most manipulative. He saw that loving the system often means hating/expelling the victim.

If the system is founded on colonial power, then the colonised are feared and hated.

If the system favours the rugged individual, the entrepreneur, then the socially minded, communitarians/collectives are hated and excluded.

If the system stands for economic growth, for efficiency, then conservationists and critical artists are rejected.

If the system is about human flourishing, then the animals, plants and rocks (however ancient and sacred) are neglected, obliterated.

Bearing good news for the oppressed and proclaiming peace (nonviolence) is costly. Christlike love in a world where sparrows are bought and sold, where healers and teachers are disparaged/disowned, where blind ambition is glorified (seeking and securing one’s own “life” at the expense of others –Abraham and Sarah are the culprits here) … in such a world love is costly … and precious. 

During this season of Ordinary Time, may we travel lightly and may we go boldly – seeking Wisdom, welcoming questions as deeper ways to understanding; expecting and respecting difference of opinion, even division; practising conflict resolution (grounded in humility and genuine regard for opponents); keeping faith in/with a Teacher who knows well the ways of the world – and the needs of the world, too – and who deems us worthy of blessing. Amen.