what's in the Name?
The clergy of the Uniting Church of Australia are obliged to agree that they will baptise new members in ‘the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. It is one of really only a handful of non-negotiables. So, why? What does this mean? And what matters about this particular attempt at describing God?...
what kind of shepherd?
What do sheep and shepherds mean to you? They are very much part of my story but I often struggle with them theologically in my context today. This photo is from Forest-in-Teesdale, near where I was born. Indeed, the farm in the centre is one I knew years ago, working with local farmers on pressing issues of rural stress and suicide, social and economic survival, and other faith and environmental issues. For sheep and good shepherding, literally and spiritually, is crucial to the Durham Dales. High on the roof of England, though we once had the greatest silver mine in the world, even subsistence mining of many important minerals is now near impossible. The great hunting lodges of bishops and kings have gone, disappearing with the remaining tree cover swept from the fells. Only occasional rich people’s grouse shooting really accompanies sheep today, together with the ambiguous harvest of tourists sampling one of England’s last wildernesses. Shepherds, particularly on the highest ground, therefore remain heroic figures to me: extraordinarily resilient, weathering so many vicissitudes; and, above all, deeply, intimately, connected to their/my land and its communities. No wonder Cuthbert, the greatest saint of the North, began life as a shepherd. Sheep, and good shepherding, are part of the lifeblood of my native people. What however of other peoples? In these lands now called Australia colonial society was notoriously built ‘on the sheep’s back’. Whilst that was lifeblood for some, for others it meant the blood of death and dispossession. For in the pioneering work of John Macarthur and others, the sheep was arguably a weapon of mass destruction, and shepherds key players in frontier warfare. So what kind of shepherd do we value today?...
Adjectives can be misleading and sometimes destructive. The former US President Donald Trump knows this particularly well. He deliberately chooses adjectives for his opponents. So we have had ‘LIttle’ Marco Rubio, ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz, and, most notoriously, ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton. This both essentialises an alleged feature of a person whom Trump attacks and also contributes to a particular narrative about what matters. Trump leads in this. Yet he is not alone. Historically the Church has also done this, not least with our Gospel reading today. For if I asked most people for an adjective for Thomas, they would probably say ‘Doubting’. Indeed, throughout my life, I have generally heard today’s Gospel interpreted in only two ways. On the one hand, this story is told, typically by conservatives, as an encouragement to have true belief, and not to doubt. On the other hand, often somewhat defensively, liberals and progressives have spent much energy talking about the value of doubt. Now these approaches are really only two sides of the same, often quite distorting, coin. Instead, with recent voices from the margins, not least trauma-responsive theologians, how about we try viewing today’s Gospel text from a quite different standpoint? Instead of the framework of intellectual faith and doubt, let us take seriously the important bodily aspects of this story. Instead of obsessing about creedal truth, let us be attentive to wounds. Instead of focusing on the possibilities of the after life, we might reflect on what it means to live, together, after trauma. These, and very different aspects of Thomas, deliver us from unhealthy faith and offer pathways to healing for us all…
Father George and New Creation
Easter Day sermons are hard to compose. How on earth do we speak of something as extraordinarily mysterious, and utterly transformative, as the Resurrection?! Part of me, and not just the liturgical Anglican, also wonders whether an Easter Day sermon is necessary at all – and maybe you feel the same, or will do after my particular words today?! After all, the Easter stories and symbolism are so rich, with so much food for thought and our spirits, as well as embodied proclamation of good news and the living Word of God. I can also only really remember two Easter Day sermons, and even their details are somewhat hazy. One I preached myself, in particularly lively circumstances: and that might be the starter for an Easter Reflection on another occasion. The other was on the first chapters of the book of Genesis and biblical critics’ theories of the Pentateuch. So that sermon was seemingly not even about Easter at all. Or was it?...
reflections on the Passion of Christ...
In many ways I hope that when you picked up your liturgy sheet tonight and saw the Renaissance picture of the Last Supper you saw nothing unusual. It’s Maundy Thursday – of course we’ll have a picture of the Last Supper. Some of the art historians among you however will I think have recognised that this is no ordinary painting. This is in fact – as far as we know - the first Last Supper by a female artist – Plautilla Nelli, a contemporary of Michelangelo, Titian and Tintoretto and influenced of course by Leonardo da Vinci who died some five years before her birth in Florence...
who is this?
A Reflective Drama for Palm Sunday - written by Penny Jones
- who do you say Jesus is?
Jesus wept. In English, that phrase is the shortest verse in the Bible, although - as ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς - it is not the shortest in the original languages. Nonetheless, what expressive power it has. It is certainly appropriate to recent events. What with the AUKUS deal, with its expensive, and nuclear, submarines; Nazis on the streets of Melbourne; continuing anti-trans violence; right wing Christian attacks on our own community and others; and the latest IPCC report, as if earlier ones were not enough; Jesus wept indeed. This passage has also been on my heart for some time. Not least it came to mind when I saw a recent transport ad. ‘End Extreme Poverty’ it said and it brought me up with a shock. For wasn’t that the cry of other past campaigns in which some of us have shared, such as the Jubilee campaigns to end the debt of poorer countries, and the Make Poverty History campaigns of the ‘noughties’ (2000s) with their vaunted Millennium Goals? At that time, some of us may remember, there was an ecumenical campaign, led by a former colleague of mine, called the Micah Challenge. Meanwhile, working with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission, I recall being involved in our own Make Indigenous Poverty History campaign, with our own Millennium Goals, several of which have been part of the Closing the Gap initiatives since. As part of that, with an Aboriginal Christian leader, I co-wrote a little reflection on the Gospel story we heard this morning. Yet are we that further forward on many First Nations issues too? Well may we say Jesus wept. Where though is the pathway to life?
all desires known
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
Today’s Gospel reading is a very rich passage, full of extraordinary metaphors, story and meaning. It includes, for example, that powerful central affirmation of Christian Faith that God so loved the world that they sent their Beloved One that all who believe may have eternal life. Note well the heart of this good news: that God loves the world so much that all who believe – not just the doctrinally righteous, or the ethically conservative, but all may have eternal life. For the God we celebrate today is the God of unlimited, inexhaustible, love. As our Gospel text says, Christ comes among us not for condemnation, but for love and salvation. Let us therefore affirm again that you, we, all of us, are loved. The Gospel, our Good News, invites us to claim this, and live it. All of which brings us, in this passage, to the person of Nicodemus, and to light, and darkness…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney