How do you feel about anointing? I’m talking full on anointing here. I don’t just mean anointing as a metaphor, nor the very reserved forms of anointing which can take place in many churches. I mean oil poured out profusely: all over the head, body, and feet. I mean total divine sensate massage and aromatherapy: exquisite sensation, overpowering perfume, near sensory overload. Ever tried it? The Orthodox Church typically anoints someone all over at baptism - I kind of like that. It reminds us that, to be a Christian, is about being soaked in the Holy Spirit, exuberantly alive with fabulous sensation and fresh nurturing life. That, certainly, is at the heart of the Gospel story we hear today: an amazingly radical story, on so many levels, which models, and invites us to become more fully the beloved community of vivacious, scandalous, love…
If you have ever been to St Luke’s church in Toowoomba, you will know it has wonderful stained glass windows. These include, above the high altar, a replica of the famous medieval ‘Blue Virgin’ window from Chartres cathedral. Another outstanding feature, at the west end, above the baptistery, is a beautiful modern Australian stained glass window; which, almost like an Aboriginal dot painting, plots and celebrates so many aspects of Creation. There are several other windows too which command attention, including one with St Peter and girls from The Glennie School; a rendering of the meeting of Mary Magdalene with Jesus at the Resurrection; and a moving portrait (in the Warriors Chapel) of a dying soldier reaching out and touching the crucified Christ. All speak powerfully of Christian faith, and are, as it were, the Gospel in glass.. Over the years I ministered there however, the window I was surprisingly increasingly drawn to was one of those which are easily passed over: namely a stained glass window representing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. As time went on, I would indeed particularly point this out to those who came for baptisms. For the message of that window goes to the heart of the good news – the Gospel – we all need to hear today: the good news which lies behind Jesus’ responses to the great human temptations in our Gospel reading today. To flourish beyond such temptations, we, like Jesus at his baptism, need to hear, for ourselves, the words of God ‘You are my Beloved, in you I am well pleased’…
When we first came to Australia on a permanent basis, we lived and worked in the Anglican Parish of Gosford. One of the very lovely things about the parish, and its main church building, is its baptistery. This includes some modern stained glass windows, with words from the Gospel story of the baptism of Jesus strongly and beautifully emblazoned: ‘This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ It is such a joy to see and take to heart. Indeed, increasingly, I have come to believe that this is at the very core, not just of the baptism of Jesus, but of the baptism of every Christian. When we baptise a child, we are helping to share with them, and with those who love them, the message of God for us all: that ‘you (too) are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ What an amazing truth that is if we could but all believe it. Surely, this is a gorgeous message of love which Christians should be able to share with every person. For everyone is a child of God and everyone is created as beloved, in whom God is well pleased. Imagine if that was the main message, the heart of the Gospel, the truly good news, we shared as Church with others. After all, this love - not sin, nor judgement, nor moral concern – is the ultimate reality of all our lives. Yet this astonishing love for each one of us comes at a cost, and with a challenge…
Transfiguration Year A, Sunday 2 March 2014 by Jonathan Inkpin
‘In a flash, at a trumpet clash/ I am all at once what Christ is/ since he was what I am, and/ this Jack, joke, potsherd,/ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,/ is immortal diamond
What an amazing proclamation that was by the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins! (Have a look in the inside cover of the pew sheet for the full poem…) Hopkins puts into one sentence the mystery of the Resurrection and the meaning, for us, of the story of the Transfiguration which we ponder and celebrate today. Yes, today’s Gospel story also declares who Jesus is: God’s Son, the Beloved, in whom God is well pleased. Accompanied by heavenly light, Moses and Elijah, this is powerful, revelatory, stuff. Matthew’s Gospel is leaving the disciples, and all those who come after, with no doubt about Jesus’ significance. Indeed, the story also finds Jesus associating his mission with the mysterious figure of the Son of Man. Yet, as we reflected a few weeks ago, in considering Jesus’ baptism, this is a message not just about Jesus’ true identity and destiny. It is a message about our true identity and destiny too. We are also God’s children, God’s beloved ones, in whom God is well pleased. Perhaps the figure of the Son of Man is related to this. For there is still no consensus among biblical scholars about the exact nature of the person of the Son of Man. Yet most biblical references seem to stress the humanity of this spiritual figure. Sometimes too, the Son of Man is spoken about as an individual person and at other times as a corporate person, as the community who stand in special relationship with God. So again, as in his baptism, what Christ is, we are also. We too will share in the resurrection of the Son of Man. We too, will be transfigured. Just as Moses went up the mountain and was transfigured, so we can accompany Jesus up God’s mountain and be changed from weakness into glory.
How is it possible to express this astonishing reality?
Epiphany 1A, Sunday 12 January 2013 – The Revd Dr Jonathan Inkpin
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but cruel words can’t hurt me.’ Ever heard that? Ever said that? It is intended to help those who are bullied and abused. Yet it is not true. Sticks and stones may indeed break our bones, but cruel words may actually hurt far worse. They can even threaten our very integrity as a person. Yet, fortunately, praise God, that is not the whole story, as our Gospel reading dramatically reveals today.
Years ago, when I worked in a hostel for ex-offenders, we had a very pitiable young man join us. Let’s call him Billy. He had just come out of an institution for juvenile offenders and had a record of all kinds of petty crime. He had been a bit of a nuisance and a menace to many others. His biggest menace however was to himself. For Billy was a highly addicted glue sniffer: a habit which not only increased his offending but, more significantly, destroyed his gifts and personal integrity. Which is at the heart of the crying shame of most criminals: not simply that they imperil and destroy the gifts and integrity of others, but that, above all, they imperil and destroy themselves and their huge potential for love...