|Pen and Ink Reflections||
blooming with justice and joy
Christmas-time is so often a confluence of loss and gain. So many of us find that good and tough memories are tangled up. My parents died a year ago this weekend, just as a new child was conceived in my immediate family: a child who will therefore be a new gift among us this Christmas. Yet it is hardly the first time that death and birthing have been entwined. Reflecting on that helps me better understand today’s Gospel and not least Mary’s extraordinary cry of justice, and of joy. As Alla Renee Bozarth brilliantly expresses it in her poem Annunciation, it is a cry of subversive angelic power. No wonder the three large ‘queer’ angels we will shortly welcome from Lismore’s LIghtnUp project are entitled Courage, Compassion, and Joy. For, as Lismore’s wonderful community artist Jyllie Jackson has identified, Courage, Compassion and Joy are core life-giving elements, not only to Queer Pride. They also, vitally, flow out of the Gospel and Magnificat of Mary, and, as Jyllie suggests to us, they are at the core of what the Way of Jesus, and our particular community, is and can be…
hope beyond queasiness
How do you relate to Mary in our Christian tradition? Even mentioning her name opens up a host of feelings and thoughts for so many. As the Danish literary historian Pil Dahlerup rightly said, in an article entitled ‘Rejoice, Mary’:
No woman and no deity in the Middle Ages attracted the poets like the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. It is, however, hard to read what the poets write about Mary; we are inhibited by prejudices that block our understanding of what the texts are actually saying. Protestants dislike her because she is attributed divinity. Male chauvinists dislike her because she is a woman. Feminists dislike her because she is a woman in a way of which they disapprove. Nationalists dislike her because she represents an alien element in terms of creed and idiom. Marxists dislike her because they do not see her (in the North) as a figure of the people…
Despite this, we cannot avoid Mary in Christian faith. Not least, although women and their lives and gifts are so few and highly gendered in the Bible, Mary simply cannot be erased. So what do we make of her today?...
what is there to eat?
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?...
All through Advent we have been enjoying a wonderful art display here at St. Luke's exploring the themes of advent and incarnation. It has set me thinking about what I would paint on this theme if I was an artist. I wonder what you would put into a picture of Christmas for instance. Any one like to suggest something?
I want to go back to the picture of the nativity - Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the wise men. It is the picture familiar to us from our crib scene here in church and as a symbol of Christmas it cannot really be bettered I think. We have of course St. Francis of Assisi to thank for our Christmas crib, for it was he who first set up a manger scene, with ox and ass and invited local villagers to celebrate the Eucharist around the manger. And I have been struck very much by this year by the power of this scene as an expression of the gospel, understood as the good news that in Christ every division is overcome and brought to wholeness...
The first Christmas sermon I preached here in Toowoomba empolyed words of a great poet songwriter singer: Leonard Cohen who, sadly for us, died recently. Let me then preach my final Christmas sermon here with reference to the words of another great poetic songwriter singer: Bob Dylan, who was recently awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. For like Leonard Cohen, Dylan’s lyrics have typically been grounded in a relationship to existence which we can call religious, in the very best sense of that word: namely a relationship which is not always conventional, and certainly not ‘churchy’, but which is always seeking to connect with the deepest ground of our being. It is from this place that we find our truest meaning, both for our individual lives and for our families, communities and wider world. For, in Dylan’s words which take us to the heart of the feast of Christ’s nativity, whoever ‘is not busy being born is busy dying.’ In the nativity we see the ultimate meaning, source and purpose of life. We are invited to share that light and love, by allowing it to be born more fully in us and the world around us…
birthed through darkness
'We gather in the darkness of this Christmas night to celebrate - to celebrate that into the midst of darkness comes light and life born in the frailty of a human child. For darkness is where incarnation begins. The glorious prologue to John’s Gospel brings this into shimmering perspective - what has come to being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). But, as the wonderful poet and artist Jan Richardson expresses it:
'the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins'...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney