One of the saddest sounding of Christian truisms is that ‘God has no grandchildren’. When I first heard that phrase I was a little taken aback. Of course what it is trying to say is that we cannot have spiritual relationships at second hand. Each of us has to respond to God in our own particular way. Despite what some would like to believe, we cannot directly inherit faith from our parents, or from others. They can put us on the right path, just as Mary and Joseph were doing in taking Jesus to the temple in today’s Gospel story. We have responsibilities too to others to offer them spiritual pathways, and to invite them into journeys of faith. Ultimately however, each of us has to unwrap the present, and receive the promise, ourselves. Nonetheless, do we really believe that God does not enjoy relationships like a grandparent, or a grandchild for that matter? I truly do not think so: a conviction born both of my own experience and today’s Gospel story. Rather what I see and know is the extraordinary wonder of God in cross-generational relationships, and, not least, the resilience and joy of elders of many kinds…
One of the wonderful things about many Jewish people I have met is their capacity to wrestle with our human experience and ideas of God. They just do not settle for simplistic answers, especially when it is comes to the really big human questions of hope and suffering, life and death. Indeed there is a famous saying: ‘ask two Jews, get three opinions.’ Now, of course, this, can occasionally lead to a certain stubbornness and unnecessary conflict. It points us however to the very heart of biblical religion, especially as we find it in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the God of the biblical tradition is very much a God with whom to wrestle. We see this, not least, in the book of Hosea, from which we hear again today. Indeed, the God whom Hosea reveals is very much a God wrestling with God’s own compassion, very much as a parent wrestles with their own hurts and hopes for their child. This is the deepest, most mysterious, heart of love, and it is into this kind of love we baptise Margaret Rose today…
Lent 1A, Sunday 9 March 2014 by Jonathan Inkpin
One of my favourite personal memories comes from a childhood Christmas. It relates to the Thunderbirds action-adventure series which was then screening on TV. Some of you may remember it. For me, as a little boy, it was a great thrill that Christmas morning to receive the gift of a Thunderbirds ‘International Rescue’ costume, complete with Thunderbirds hat, belt and sash. I recall putting the costume on in the early morning and wearing it all day, including walking in it the mile or so through our little town, all the way to church and back that morning. Such are the simple unembarrassed pleasures of childhood! Looking back however, what I most remember is the sense of freedom I felt: the freedom of being a really grown-up special agent, ready for anything. Which, in a way, is quite interesting, because, if anyone recalls much about Thunderbirds today, it is usually the astonishing woodenness of the production. How amateur it seems now, with all our modern TV and film production values. For all the Thunderbirds characters were marionettes, puppets, with very fixed expressions, and you could always see their strings. They weren’t at all free, in that sense. They were very one dimensional, and highly manipulated.
What is all that to do with the story of the temptations of Jesus in our Gospel reading, you may wonder? Well, exactly this: the story of the temptations of Jesus challenge us to freedom, the freedom of the children of God. It calls on us to be more than one dimensional people, who are highly manipulated. It requires of us to cut the strings from the things which are operating us. It asks us to become more than mere lifelike puppets, and more like the special agent of freedom I felt like as a little child: God’s special, free, agents...
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 3C, Sunday 26 January 2014 - by The Revd Dr Jonathan Inkpin
Back in 1997, when I first came to Australia on a job exchange, I picked up a wonderful little item. It was an audio cassette: which, in itself, tells you it was quite a while ago! The tape contained the best entries from a poetry competition for schools. The title of the poem the children had to write was ‘A Typical Australian’. What would you have written? It is perhaps a good question for us on this Australia Day. It is not that there is exactly a right answer, as that competition proved. Yet our attempts to give an answer help us to tease out what is truly important to us: what is really important
about being Australian. And, in a way, that is very like what it is to reflect upon the Gospel and to grow as a Christian. For there is no exact answer to that either. Our attempts to give an answer however help us tease out what is truly important to us: what is really important about being a child of God: children of God with Australian features...
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...