|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What do we make of traditions - those of our own and others? Today’s Gospel throws up that question vividly, although it is but one of several significant scriptural texts related to traditions. All of them, not least this one from Mark chapter 7, need to be read in context. Let us come to that in a few moments. Firstly however, we might reflect on what each of us understands by the word ‘tradition’ and on what traditions have shaped us (pause)…. What do each of us have to share together?...
This morning, I’m going to share this Reflection as a conversation with Penny, on how we feed on God through experience today. For, as we reflect upon John chapter 6 once more, where, and what, is the Bread of Life for us in the midst of some of our greatest challenges? Through whose eyes are we looking at this?...
What is there to eat in the Christian scriptures? It can often be challenging for many people to find answers to that. We live, after all, in very different times from those in which the books of the Bible were composed. It is not, of course, a new question. Decades ago, at theological college, I recall a leading biblical scholar, a Canon of Christ Church Oxford, throwing a similar testing query to myself and my fellow students. If we were to omit books from the Bible on grounds of significant racism, anti-semitism, sexism, and other forms of violence, with how many would we be left? Which books of the Bible would you keep? Canon John Fenton’s immediate answer was only three: Mark's Gospel, the Letter of James, and the book of Revelation. However, in subsequent discussion, he himself agreed that each of those scriptures also had problematic features. As we hear again today part of the Gospel of John chapter 6, what then are we say about, and still more feed upon, in the books we call ‘holy' scriptures?...
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...