- Oh my: it’s to be hoped they were all at 1.5metres distance and wearing masks!...
“He breathed on them and said, ’Receive the Holy Spirit’”
- Oh my: it’s to be hoped they were all at 1.5metres distance and wearing masks!...
What spirit do we need to renew our lives, nation, and world at this time, and what might our prayers for Christian Unity have to share in this?
I have been thinking about what it means to be an advocate. The word comes from the law courts and literally means to ‘add a voice to’ – referring to those who would speak and add their testimony on behalf of a defendant. In Latin behind that word is the word vocare – to call or summon, from which we derive our word vocation.
It seems to me that advocacy is a core charism and calling here at Milton Anglican. We have for example accepted the call to add our voice to that of the homeless in our area; to allow the voices of those traumatised by their years of war service especially in Afghanistan to be heard; to encourage the voices of creative people especially artists to emerge; to recognize the voices and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and to add our voices to those of the Rainbow community, creating safe space where all can be affirmed and heard.
Today is IDAHOBIT – the International Day against homophobia, bi-phobia, inter-phobia and transphobia. In the thirty years since its inception much advocacy has occurred – not all of it well received in society and especially not in church. Yet God in Christ continues to give us the Spirit of truth to guide us and encourage us. Receiving that Spirit in an ongoing way however makes demands of us as individuals and as church. Three demands in particular strike me as key – the demand of compassion, the demand of courage and the demand of contemplation.
Without compassion – the capacity to place ourselves in the shoes of the other and suffer with them, not merely alongside them – advocacy becomes sterile. Metaphorically there is no room for social distance in compassion. The issue of the other person becomes my issue and I fight for them as I would for my own life.
This requires courage. We cannot then hide behind claims of ignorance, lack of information or fear of consequences. We are called to step up and stand with those who are most vulnerable. In doing so we can claim for ourselves only the promise of Jesus, ‘I will not leave you orphaned’ – or in the beautiful translation of the authorized version, ‘comfortless.’ We shall not be comfortless – but nor shall we be comfortable, for such courageous advocacy is costly.
In order to risk and pay that cost, we need to embrace the demand of contemplation. When our words and actions arise from the deep place of contemplation they carry authority and power. Jesus said, ‘You know him, because he abides with you and he will be in you’. We need to get to know the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth. In time spent apart, we need to allow that Spirit into every crevice of our being, stripping us of ego and filling us with love. It is not a path for the faint hearted. But it is the path of love, and of life.
So, may we in contemplation seek the gifts of compassion and courage, and may we continue to respond to our call as individuals and as a parish to add our voices to those whom others seek to ignore or silence. In the name of Christ our Advocate. Amen.
Penny Jones, for Sunday 17 May, 6th Sunday of Easter
On this Mother’s Day we have a gospel text that has Jesus talk a great deal about the Father! That is only problematic, if we then falsely equate God and fatherhood. God is of course beyond gender and inclusive of all genders. So theologically the writer of John could just as well have written ‘I am in the Mother and the Mother is in me.’ Had they done so, the shape of church life down the centuries might have been a little different! But what they were most concerned about was not the gender of God, but the nature of our relationship with God. On the eve of crucifixion, Jesus is depicted reassuring the disciples that what matters is that we all have our home, our dwelling place in the heart of God and we can trust this no matter what. Our relationship with God is as intimate as that between parent and child; our home in God modeled on earthly hearth and home.
When in the 1870s Julia Ward Howe established a Mothers’ Day for Peace, she did so from the passionate belief that relationship is what matters and can make a difference. All mothers raise children for life, and not as cannon fodder for war and destruction. Mothers raise children to maintain relationship and to care for one another. They do so because they understand well that God cares for each human child just like a good mother, with tenderness and equal love, while cherishing their diversity.
Mothers indeed provide to their children exactly the gifts that Jesus promises the disciples – life, truth and a pathway to follow. Every human child relies on a mother for the gift of life, nurtured by them in the womb. Those who mother us in later life, whether our birth mothers, or others who tend to us with motherly care, then offer us the gift of truth – the truth of who we are and have the potential to become. No one knows us better than the mother figures in our lives – some of whom of course may be fathers! It is also the role of mothers to offer us pathways, ways to navigate the challenges of life, drawing on their own experience and the pathways shown to them by their own forebears. Many of us will have been helped along the pathway of discipleship by the mothering love we received in Christian community.
So today as we give thanks for those who have mothered us, we give thanks too for our relationship with God – a relationship of intimacy and care, in which we receive the gifts of life, truth and ways to walk – the gifts of our true Mother. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Sunday 3 May 2020
By now most of us have seen the photos of many notable landmarks, especially in Europe, virtually deserted. Among them, and symbolic of the tragedy that has come upon northern Italy, is the great St. Mark’s Square in Venice, dedicated to that most audacious saint whom we commemorate today. Everywhere in Venice you see the symbol of the winged lion, his paw on the gospel; the symbol of Mark the evangelist - the gospel writer.
Mark wrote the first gospel. That sounds quite commonplace to us two thousand years on. We know that the other two synoptic writers, Matthew and Luke, took his work as their model and added to it, but Mark wrote the first one. The very act of writing was extraordinary. He did something that had never been done before. There had been other kinds of similar writing – lives of the great heroes of Greece and Rome – but no one had ever written a gospel before. It was an audacious act to try and set down what had happened and who Jesus was. Mark was brave and did something entirely new.
We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that he wrote his gospel around 70AD - the time that the first Christians were being expelled from the Jewish synagogues and undergoing persecution following the fall of Jerusalem. That event was cataclysmic at the time. He writes because he feels he has to. He writes because there is a danger that if he does not the story will be lost, perhaps forever. The threat of imminent death inspires extraordinary acts of bravery, as we are seeing in the world today. Fear can beget bravery.
However, fear can also beget timidity and we see that in the gospel story we just read. It is thought that Mark actually ended his gospel at verse 8 ‘and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’ – in the Greek text it actually ends with the tiny word ‘gar’, meaning ‘for’. The first gospel ends with a tender little conjunction – a joining word. It was for the pens of later writers to finish the text – and to join Mark’s brave, first testimony, to the future trajectory of the church, commissioned by their version of the risen Christ to ‘go out and proclaim the gospel’. Mark told the truth, tender as a young leaf – at first the wonder, the audacity of the resurrection could not be believed. It was just too new; too incredible to be trusted.
We like Mark, are facing dangers. We like Mark, are being challenged to do things we have never done before. We like Mark recognize that the way out of here requires hope and trust in things we cannot yet fully see or believe. Can we, as individuals, as churches, as society, be like Mark? Can we be brave enough to attempt the new, and bold enough to hold the tender green leaf and not crush it? For this is God’s call to us in our time. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for St Mark's Day, celebrated Sunday 26 April 2020
‘But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’ (John 20.25b)
My father was a fine schoolmaster who came into his own when he performed as ‘Wizard Chiz’ at the annual school fete. Extraordinarily creative, he would demonstrate the miraculous realities of what we usually call ‘chemistry’. My father was also very knowledgeable about such things as the Periodic Table. Yet, it was sharing about chemistry’s wondrous mystery that really counted for him.
I recall this in reflecting on Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ. For he approached Jesus like exploring science as mere practicality, consequently missing the mystery. Sadly, too many still approach God like this, seeking nailed-down ‘proofs’ that bolster misguided securities before we are willing to respond. This is the alarming commonality of both militant secularists and religious fundamentalists. Faith must indeed attend to reason, but its call is essentially an invitation to wonder and adventure.
As J.K Rowling suggested in the Harry Potter series, living into faith and love are like becoming a true wizard. In today’s Gospel, Thomas acted, as we often do, like a Muggle. However, as Indian Christians especially will remind us, there is much more to Thomas. As a remarkable faith adventurer, Thomas went on to grasp, and share with others, the Resurrection’s true reality, as the transforming mystery of unconquerable love.
We, too, may be inclined to dwell on repeated doubts or affirmations of unnecessary details. Yet God’s invitation is to live out the mystery. This is life’s true chemistry.
by Jo Inkpin, for Sunday 19 April 2020, 2nd Sunday after Easter
- also published in Anglican Focus here
When you see an egg, do you see the risen Jesus? This is what Christians have done from the earliest times. There is an Armenian picture from the eleventh century that shows the angel and the women at the tomb with a huge egg inscribed with the words ‘He is not here. He is risen.’
So why an egg. Well firstly eggs are elliptical in shape – they are infinite, having no beginning or end, and so are symbolic for God. There is no end to God’s creativity, God’s love, God’s compassion.
Secondly an egg symbolizes the potential of new life. In some sense it is a microcosm, a miniature version of everything that is. It reminds us of the potential that each of us has for new life and a new beginning, today on Easter Day and every day.
Thirdly, for a chick to emerge from an egg, the shell must be broken. This symbolizes for Christians the rolling away of the stone from the front of the tomb, so that the risen Christ could emerge. It reminds us that for the new to come, the old has to be fractured and let go – an important message in these days, where so much of what is familiar to us has to be left behind.
Eggs tell us that God cannot be contained; that resurrection is possible and life is stronger than death. In recent memory Christians living under the severely repressive Albanian government, used to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ in the Orthodox fashion, and then take them out in the dark of Holy Saturday night and place them on the steps of town halls and places of government. By doing so they asserted the power of love over hate.
So, what do you see when you see an egg? Take a little time today to contemplate an egg and ask God to help you see there the reality of new life even in the midst of death. And look twice – for it can be a messenger of hope and resurrection to you today.
Penny Jones, for Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
Today on Good Friday we affirm the infinite Love of God displayed in the crucifixion of Jesus - not as a metaphysical transaction to change God from punishing us (as if), but as a witness to the love of God for us at all times, even when we have gone astray or are caught in webs of evil. Sadly too many Christians speak of a punishing God, with disastrous spiritual and practical consequences. That is partly understandable from some past inherited thinking in Christian traditions. It is however a partial way of looking at the cross which is not only destructive but wholly unnecessary theologically.
The Franciscan tradition - not least through the great theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) - is in contrast one which has always encouraged us to focus on the infinite Love of God, displayed in the cross as in all other aspects of creation and salvation. As Richard Rohr among others has recently reminded us, if God “needed” a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. For the Franciscans, 'Jesus was not changing God’s mind about us; he was changing our minds about God. If God and Jesus are not violent or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. If God is punitive and torturing however, then we have permission to do the same. Thus grew much of the church’s violent history.'
W.H.Vanstone put this beautifully in his great poem and reflection on 'Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense:
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.
May we know God's Love more deeply this day, and may it transform our lives for the good.
by Jo Inkpin, for Good Friday 10 April 2020
see further: Richard Rohr's reflection - A Nonviolent Atonement
We are all washing a great deal at present aren't we - especially our hands!- singing happy birthday twice and counting our twenty seconds! Often on Maundy Thursday we concentrate on the gift of the Last Supper, the communion of bread and wine. But at this time it feels like the washing is the greater gift. Washing does three things - it cleanses, it comforts and it creates new life.
When Jesus knelt down and washed his disciples feet, he was turning all their expectations on their head. Instead of behaving like a king he was behaving like a slave and telling them to do so too. It was a beautiful, sensual and sacramental activity and we can remember it every time we wash our hands. Every time I take my bar of soap and lather up the suds, I feel more grounded, more connected to myself and to God. The water washes away the dirt, the germs, but it is deeper than that. There is a cleansing of soul that is possible too if we are open to it, as we let go of what we do not need and allow the water to take it away.
But the washing does not just cleanse. It also comforts. We all know the comfort of a warm bath or shower to tired muscles. The touch of water on skin is immensely comforting. Jesus knew he was soon to die and leave his disciples bereft. Yet he promised he would not leave them comfortless, but would send the Spirit, the Comforter. And on that last evening he gave them an experience of that comfort, in the gentleness of touch as he bathed their feet. We can feel it too as we pour water over our hands and experience its gentleness.
And finally the washing creates new life. As we know from washing down the leaves of our plants, washing helps them get the sunlight they need to grow and thrive. The same is true for us - when we are cleansed body and soul we are better able to receive the Light and our relationship with God grows. Jesus is the water of life and when we receive that water we are revived in hope and joy. So one way to do that this Maundy Thursday, is to wash your hands slowly and mindfully, relishing the cleansing, comforting, life-giving water and re-connecting there with the God who loves us and with everyone who is doing the same thing at this time.
by Penny Jones, for Maundy Thursday, 9 April 2020
It is Palm Sunday – the crowds are cheering and waving their palms in the air, and Jesus is riding along on the back of a donkey. Now a donkey is not a horse. It is not an animal that signifies power and authority – and though possibly the donkey in Shrek has done something to rehabilitate the donkey as a figure of wisdom, they are still often ridiculed. Victorious Roman generals rode into Jerusalem, through the other gate, on the backs of tall stallions telling the world of the power of Rome and its generals. Jesus by contrast chooses the humble donkey, beast of burden and the Biblical equivalent of a modern day ute.
The donkey was not glamorous, but my goodness it was useful. Have you ever wondered what the disciples would have done if the owner of the donkey had said ‘no’ to the request to share it? Their ‘yes’ was almost as important as the ‘yes’ of that other faithful disciple, Mary, without whom Jesus would not have been born. And why did they agree? - because they were told ‘the Lord needs it’.
‘the Lord needs it.’ That is a beautiful phrase and one that we should sit with this Holy Week. For we do not often consider that God needs us. We know very well of course that we need God. But God needs us too and cannot accomplish what needs to be done without our co-operation and that’s especially true in such a time of crisis as we now face.
I believe that every single one of us has our donkey – that thing, that possession, that talent, that set of connections, that nest egg of money, that calling that God needs. It is the thing that God has given uniquely to us and that God asks of us. It is our ‘donkey’. At some point – maybe at many points – God is going to say to us ‘I need that now.’ And we need to be ready to say to God, ‘Yes of course, here it is, do with it whatever you need.’
So, between now and Easter, let’s talk to God about our donkeys. Let’s ask God, “what’s my donkey? What’s the thing that I have, that you need? Show me how and when to offer it” And if we all do that God will be able to do all kinds of amazing things among us.
Penny Jones, for Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020
(photo by Daniel Fazio for Unsplash)
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,