Perhaps the most frequently chosen greeting on our Christmas cards is ‘peace on earth’. Regardless of the religious perspective of sender or recipient, we believe that this is a universally desirable message. However, what do we really mean when we send this? For true peace is about much more than the absence of conflict or some warm fuzzy feeling of general well-being.
What does holiness, and being saintly, look like to you?
Where have you seen and experienced holiness, in the lives of other human beings you might call saintly?
On this feast of All Saints it is right for us to ponder for a moment, and to reflect, perhaps with others, on what we have seen and heard… what, I wonder, do we see, and who and what do we call holy? How does this fit with the patterns and pointers we find in our Scriptures and Tradition?
It is hard to find a word of comfort in today’s readings! Or is it? We shall see.
These are words that come out of suffering – exile, imprisonment, exclusion, slavery. They are words spoken to and by those who know the harsh brutalities of life; its injustices and its seemingly random experiences of horror and pain, and yet choose a path of faith...
Storms provoke one of two responses – love (as in “I love a good storm!) or fear. Storms fill our imaginations and our language is populated with metaphors about storms - the calm before the storm; eye of the storm; storm in a teacup; brewing up a storm – I am sure you can think of more. Storms are ambiguous– they are essential to our planet but they are also scary; we love them and fear them, perhaps because those two reactions lie behind so much else in our lives. The great cartoonist Michael Leunig expresses it like this.
“There are only two feelings. Love and fear.
There are only two languages. Love and fear
There are only two activities. Love and fear.
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.
Love and fear. Love and fear”...
Shortly before we were ordained in 1986, Jo and I were privileged to attend the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Its title – ‘In Search of a Larger Christ” – and the impact of some of the speakers has stayed with me for a lifetime of ministry. The speakers were global – African, Latin-American, and for me most notable the great Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama. In impeccable English, Kosuke Koyama explained that it was impossible to understand the character and work of Christ until you had attempted to translate that into a language other than your birth language. His point was that our ideas about Christ are shaped by the culture and context in which we first encounter Christ. Until we stretch ourselves to translate those ideas into a different culture, our idea of Christ will always be too small. Let me tell you, our idea of Christ is way too small – and that was very clear to me in preparing this sermon today for Cosmos Sunday.
Taking up today’s Gospel (Luke 15.1-10), I want to speak about three things: queer sheep, the value of women’s coins, and rainbow repentance; about how queer sheep need revaluing; about how women’s coins challenge Church and world to rainbow repentance; and about how rainbow repentance involves renewing pride in queer sheep. Firstly though, let me speak of a cartoon highlighting these themes. For, like a good picture, an insightful cartoon can paint a thousand words…
Years ago in the east end of London, I met a remarkable little old lady. She was what some call a ‘bag lady’: a homeless woman who carries her possessions with her, perhaps in just a pair of plastic bags. Her story was typical of many homeless people, although very unique, like that of every homeless person. In this lady’s case, she would tell a very brief biographical tale on a kind of continuous loop. This began with the words ‘I was a Barnados girl’, which, when repeated would start her off again on her abbreviated life-story. Was she then a sad person lost in a tiny, poor and vulnerable world, cut off from the rest of us? No, not exactly. For, in some ways, she was more in touch with existence than most, if not all of us. For this seemingly poor and aged waif had an amazing quality: namely the ability to see the plants and the animals alive around her, even in the middle of such a busy and environmentally threatening city as London then was. If you walked along with her for just a minute or two, she would point out, and open your eyes and ears to, the animal and plant life you almost always missed: the grass and the sometimes beautiful flowers which pushed through the concrete and the cracks; the birds and the insects and the urban wildlife, which, sometimes incomprehensibly, managed to thrive in the otherwise all-too-human jungle of the city. Almost everyone else was too busy, or too self-obsessed, to ‘consider’ these ‘lilies of the field’ and ‘birds of the air’. It took a similarly overlooked human being to notice and to celebrate these astonishing signs of God’s resistance. And, as she drew you into such contemplation and celebration, you thereby discovered the presence of mystery and grace.
Some of you know that this week Jo and I have been lucky enough to have our three grandchildren to stay, aged six weeks, eleven weeks and two. It has been, to say the least, a lively household. I mentioned to one of my daughters the theme for tonight, and she jokingly said, ‘That’s excellent – I’ll bring the children along then shall I?!’ You can all relax, because she was joking. But it set me to thinking, what do rest and stillness really mean for us, for they have to mean more than just ‘me’ time, away from the busyness of our ‘real’ life...
Jesus invites us to stand up straight, in the knowledge that we are loved and lovable – and in this story of the woman bent double he provides us with an icon, a window, onto that truth...
Sometimes the message of Jesus is inflammatory – there are no two ways about it! Today Jesus expresses this very directly as he says, ‘I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it was already kindled!” Now this is not at all comfortable. Most of us prefer to avoid conflict and live life peaceably. We are much more at home with Jesus’s messages about love and peace and kindness, treating everyone with respect and seeking to welcome everyone. So, what are we to do with today’s story about how Jesus comes to bring division, even into the intimate unit of the family?...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,