When we first came to Australia on a permanent basis, we lived and worked in the Anglican Parish of Gosford. One of the very lovely things about the parish, and its main church building, is its baptistery. This includes some modern stained glass windows, with words from the Gospel story of the baptism of Jesus strongly and beautifully emblazoned: ‘This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ It is such a joy to see and take to heart. Indeed, increasingly, I have come to believe that this is at the very core, not just of the baptism of Jesus, but of the baptism of every Christian. When we baptise a child, we are helping to share with them, and with those who love them, the message of God for us all: that ‘you (too) are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ What an amazing truth that is if we could but all believe it. Surely, this is a gorgeous message of love which Christians should be able to share with every person. For everyone is a child of God and everyone is created as beloved, in whom God is well pleased. Imagine if that was the main message, the heart of the Gospel, the truly good news, we shared as Church with others. After all, this love - not sin, nor judgement, nor moral concern – is the ultimate reality of all our lives. Yet this astonishing love for each one of us comes at a cost, and with a challenge…
It is said that the poet Alfred Tennyson was walking one day in a beautiful garden where many flowers were blooming. Someone stopped him and asked: ‘Mr. Tennyson, you speak so often of Jesus. Will you tell me what Christ really means to you?’ Tennyson thought for a moment, and then, pointing down to a beautiful flower, he said: ‘what the sun is to that flower, Jesus Christ is to my soul.’ That, my friends, is at the heart of the feast of Transfiguration...
This Sunday's Gospel story is about self offering. It invites a question. What is the quality of our offering to God?
Indeed we can ask about any offering we make to God three questions - is it generous? Is it genuine? And is it gentle? Mary's offering in this story is all three...
"How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing"
Desire - longing - this is what is at the heart of the spiritual journey; of the relationship between any one of us, and God. This is what it is all about. This is why we have our Lenten programs, and our great festivals and our Eucharist.
God desires us. God longs for us and for every living thing that God has made. God longs for us with passion and intensity and single focus. But much, if not most of the time, we live as though that were not the case. The great Saint Teresa of Avila was spot on when she wrote, "All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause; praying as if God were absent."
God longs for us to spend time in silence and stillness and presence. God longs to gather us, to protect us, to nurture us as a mother hen gathers her chicks. Now when we hear that beautiful feminine image for God, two things happen. The first is that we reject it out of hand, because we are so used to hearing God talked about in exclusively masculine terms, that even today we still tend to brush the picture aside. The second thing that happens is that we tend to think, 'oh how sweet. We are like little fluffy chicks and God is mothering us and looking after us and it's all really lovely." Well yes - and if you have never thought of yourself as a little vulnerable fluffy thing in need of God's tenderest care then that is the challenge of that picture for you to take away and pray with this week. But there is yet more to that image...
I wonder how you like the postcard our sisters and brothers at St Mark’s Buderim give out. On one side, it has this little picture of part of a little time-keeper, with sand trickling through it. The main words are from a Spanish proverb, and they say: ‘How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.’ Do you like that? At the bottom, there are then a few more words, which say: ‘Do nothing and change your life, at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Buderim.’ Not quite the usual advertisement for a Church, is it? It certainly makes us think, and it challenges many of our assumptions. Yet I think it is right on the money, especially for this season of Lent. The question is: how will you and I respond?…
Today we come to the climax of the Epiphany season - leaving all the little 'ephiphs', the mini revelations as it were in the foothills, we come to the very top of the mountain, to the big one, to the Transfiguration; to the moment when Jesus stands before his closest disciples in all His luminous glory. All too briefly the fullness of his divine nature is there to see. He shines with all the brilliance of a hundred thousand diamonds. And it is amazing! But not as amazing as what it implies for us and our world.
For the thing about diamonds, it is said, is that in chemical reality they are just chunks of coal that kept on doing their jobs. And that is helpful to us when we think about the fullness of humanity transfigured in Jesus Christ. We are like those lumps of coal. We have the potential to be diamonds, but mostly we don't and can't see the job through to the end. In the Transfiguration Jesus shows us what we would be if we did. This is the principle of theosis, or God-becoming that has been part of the Orthodox teaching of the church from the beginning. You and I and the whole created order have the potential to be transfigured, to reveal to the world the glory of God just as Jesus did, but it is a process that even in the best of us like Moses is fitful and incomplete this side of eternity...
How do we handle anger?
A few years ago I found myself full of a very great deal of anger. I was deeply enraged about a situation in which I and others found ourselves. Anger was certainly quite understandable. Looking back now, I would feel a good deal of that anger again if I was in a similar context. A number of us had been treated badly for some time and others had suffered as a consequence. The final straw was a decision brusquely imposed upon us: a dictatorial imposition which upset, and in many ways contradicted, the very essence of the purposes and relationships in which we were engaged. It was not a happy time, for some time, as we struggled with the pain and the anguish. Such anger both cost and chastened me and also changed and clarified me. For as they say, that which does not kill you makes you stronger. I learned a great deal about myself in the process. I learned that anger is an inevitable part of my passion for life and that, if I am to retain my passion, I must sometime have to deal with anger and express it. Yet I also learned that passion can also destroy if it is not grounded in compassion: daily grounded, ever more deeply, in that divine love which transforms all our human passions, struggles and emotions. This is the path of the cross, the path of Lent, along which we are drawn by Jesus…
Penny Jones for Lent 1: Mark 1:9-15
We are at the beginning of Lent – that annual opportunity to celebrate the heart of our Christian faith. For Christianity is always about beginning again. Our faith encourages us to believe in the possibility of the second chance; of a new start right now. No matter how many times we have gone wrong in the past or will go wrong in the future; no matter how old or how young we are, the Christian gospel is always encouraging us to trust that we can begin again.
So in these forty days we are encouraged to keep the fast in three ways– by abstaining , whether from food, drink, Facebook, TV, excessive work or whatever our soul most needs; by engaging more deeply in prayer, whether at home, or in a study group, or by journallng or walking or whatever most noursihes in us the longing for God; and by committing to the giving of alms – some charitable giving beyond our usual commitments. These three things, fasting, prayer and almsgiving form the heart of this time, and are the means by which we prepare ourselves for the great festival of Easter.
We begin all these things this week...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,