|Pen and Ink Reflections
As I have lived most of my church life primarily in Anglican and ecumenical settings, I have to admit to some bemusement about the annual marking of the Uniting Church’s founding. I guess it is partly the equivalent of the patronal festivals in other mainstream Churches. However these typically centre on a particular saint, or an aspect of faith (such as the Holy Trinity), after which a particular congregation is named, not a particular Christian denomination. Denominationalism is, after all, a modern idea, and would be a horror to our Uniting Church Reformation forebears. Jean Calvin, for example, sought to reform the one universal Church of God, not to create an alternative. The great Methodist pioneer John Wesley also formed a vital and innovative new movement but never sought to leave the Church of England. That is pertinent in marking this anniversary. For it directs us back to the Uniting Church’s crucial ecumenical and ‘open future’ charisms. These are clear in The Basis of Union, the key Uniting Church founding document. As a body, we are only one very small part of the universal Church through time and space. Therefore, rather than being yet one more denomination, we are called to help pioneer new paths of faith and relationships. Our calling is always to be a Uniting Church, holding our structures lightly and open to new ways of being followers of Jesus with others. So how what might today’s story about Hagar say to us in that? For it is certainly a powerful challenge...
Last year SBS Insight told some of the diverse personal stories of faith, loss of faith, and changing faith, in contemporary Australia. One was of a young Croatian Australian woman who has committed her life to God through a faithful adherence to Islam, including covering her head and body in conservative traditional dress. In this she has found a profound sense of peace and flourishing. Some significant resistance has however come her way. She experiences some of the continuing Islamophobia within our society, and, in addition, strong extra kickback from some white Australians, not least fellow Croatians. For what, some would say, is a nice, white, western, and well educated, young woman doing taking up such a religious path? Is this not also, some would say, a betrayal of her family, and culture, too? After all, religiously speaking Croatians are almost exclusively Christian, and in particular Catholic. What on earth is this young woman doing? What is happening here? We might say something similar of the stories in our lectionary this morning, each of which involves a breaking with powerful expectations, and a profound response to needs of salvation which are simply not met by conventional culture or practice. Abraham, Sarah, Matthew, the synagogue official, and, not least, the hemorrhaging woman: each challenge us. They invite us to reflect upon what is bleeding in our own lives, hearts and souls, and invite us to reach our in faith ourselves. For what are our needs that require transformation? What salvation do we seek? What of God is calling to us?...
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…