|Pen and Ink Reflections||
The stories of the great biblical prophets are certainly extraordinary, not least those of Elijah and Elisha. As Penny said last week, in some ways such biblical narratives are really top cartoon action stuff. That is certainly true of our story from the Hebrew Scriptures today. This contains powerful features which have had enduring value in faith communities, and elements which have been overlooked. There has also always been a good deal of tidying up, and ignoring, of some aspects of the narratives. For one thing we can assuredly say about the prophets is that they are not comfortable figures. We see this too in the story of Jesus which we will come to later. After all, as we have just sung, in John Bell’s words, Jesus is a ‘provocative preacher’, an ‘itinerant teacher‘, and an ‘outsider’s friend’. Be clear about that if you want to follow Jesus – all things may be up for grabs and turned upside down. To put it another way, your life and world may be profoundly queered...
“Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” – this gospel is not ‘good news’, if you’re a pig! Which leads us perhaps to ask in what ways is it ‘good news’? Is it simply bizarre? – the kind of tale that causes us to shrug our shoulders and try to forget about it? Or does it in fact have some things to offer us, latter day followers of Jesus, celebrating as we do today 45 years of that particular expression of Christian discipleship represented by the Uniting Church of Australia – a body of whose future existence no-one in this story – probably including Jesus, could ever have conceived...
‘Cheer, cheer, the red and the white/ honour the name by day and by night’ – yes, that is the beginning of the song of the Sydney Swans. To my mind, and I admit my bias as a long-time Swans fan, it is the best of all the AFL club songs. For I won’t name names, but, with all respect, parts of some other clubs’ songs are, well, somewhat embarrassing. However, if Swans supporters are being completely honest, even we/they probably wouldn’t claim our anthem to be the greatest song ever written. I do wonder too, after all the rain we have had, and the consequent problems, whether the line ‘shake down the thunder from the sky’ is all that appropriate to sing right now?! I guess that is the point of what, in the best sense of the word, we might call ‘tribal’ songs. They may not always be perfect. They might even be awkward at times. We may not hold straightforwardly to all the details. We might even want to change some of them – and sometimes manage to make that change: just as the original Sydney Swans line ’while our loyal sons are marching’ was changed, in March last year, to ‘while our loyal swans are marching’, reflecting the emergence of the Swans girls youth program and the Swans women’s team (happily, albeit belatedly, to play in the AFLW later this year). They may also be quite annoying to others, even, after a victory, even a little insulting and enraging perhaps to some. However, despite all their limitations, such tribal songs are part of giving expression to shared experiences of deep connection and community, and to forms of faith and hope. As such, trite though they may be in comparison, I feel that they thus give us one way into approaching the historic ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church…
This question shows my age, but do some of us remember when the Holy Spirit was typically known as ‘the Holy Ghost’? How words change. For ‘Holy Ghost’ used to be very traditional. ‘Ghost’ indeed derives from the Old English word gast. It means ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, and is the equivalent of the Latin word spiritus. Similar words are found in other Germanic influenced languages, such as geest in Dutch and geist in German (from which we also have the influential compound word Zeitgeist’, meaning spirit of the time, or generation). Today however, most people would relate the word ‘ghost’ to something that goes bump in the night, or something very insubstantial. So, in recent decades, Christians have made a shift from ‘Holy Ghost’ to ‘Holy Spirit’. In doing so, we have rediscovered much of what ‘Holy Ghost’ used to represent in centuries past, and have also encountered that mystery afresh. Yet do ghostly perspectives of the Holy Spirit still limit our own lives and understandings, and certainly many aspects of wider Christian Faith?...