all desires known
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
How do you, how do we, approach new things? On this New Year’s Day, how are we feeling about what is happening and may happen? My sense is that some of us are hopeful and excited, but others less sure and anxious. Some of us see fresh possibilities, and others renewed burdens. What does tomorrow’s world look like, and feel like, to you?
How do you regard dragonflies? In the poem we heard earlier (As Kingfishers Catch Fire), the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins not only encourages us to be like them, but, in so doing, to be like Christ. Not everyone has always agreed however. In early colonial Australia for example, white fellas tried to kill dragonflies, just as they/we tried to kill so many other life-giving things that they/we did not understand. Those early colonialists saw dragonflies flying around and landing on their valuable horses, and they saw the horses moving and flicking their tails. So they thought the dragonflies were biting and making them crook. The colonialists were making things worse. The dragonflies were actually eating the mosquitoes and the gnats that were troubling the horses. They were life-givers, saviours even, not devils in disguise. In so many positive ways, dragonflies are thus evocative symbols for transgender people today. For, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we do well to attend to how bearers of light have been treated as embodiments of darkness. We do well, as our Gospel today (Luke 23.32-43) reminds us, to remember how Jesus was not crucified alone, and how others are also crucified today. And above all, we do well to affirm that it is only in recognising the light, in strange places, that we find salvation and hope for us all…
"What's in a name?”, said Juliet: “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s famous lines speak of the power of names and designations. He presents Juliet, on her balcony, musing on the rose as a metaphor, in the context of her love for Romeo and the intense, age-old, conflict between two tribes - the Capulets (Juliet’s mob) and the Montagues (Romeo’s mob). Juliet proclaims that names have no ultimate meaning, other than those which people are willing to give them. As she puts it, in reference to Romeo: “Tis but thy name that is my enemy…. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot/ Nor arm, nor face. O be some other name/ Belonging to a man.” We do not, says Juliet here, have to be controlled by our names, by our tribes. We can choose how to live with them, and, in love, transcend them. Of course, Shakespeare’s story of the young lovers ends in tragedy. It is challenging to live with, and beyond, our names, our tribal identities. It can bring misunderstanding, opposition, and much worse. Yet is this not the path of true love, in the fullest dimensions of those words? Certainly, as we come today to bless our beautiful new interfaith banner, we do so in awareness of that same call to honour the different names of God, and not to let them control and divide us. For in the depth of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, true love, divine love, is not simply about reaffirming what is valuable in our tribal identities. True love is also about walking paths of inner and outer transformation together…
opening the gate to abundant life
If I was to ask any group of Christians what titles for Jesus they knew and used most, what do you think they/we would come up with? Lord and Christ would probably be the first titles in the list, followed by others such as Saviour, Shepherd, Brother, Friend, Son of God, Son of Man and so on. The Way, the Truth and the Life, together with the Bread of Life, would also be likely to get an early look in. What about Gate, or the Gate, though? I reckon that would pretty low down the list, don’t you? Yet, Gate is a very important title for Jesus, and, arguably, a key title often honoured very much in the breach down the Christian centuries. For, let’s face it, Christians have spent an inordinate amount of time using Jesus as a means, a gate, to exclude and keep people out, or to stop one another going out, and, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading tonight, finding good pasture. We don’t even have to be members of the LGBTIQA+ community to know that such gatekeeping is so very much still alive and with us in both our world and its Churches. This is such a great shame, not simply because of the harm caused, but because, as John’s Jesus proclaims, the Gate of Christ is precisely created to open up our lives and world to deeper meaning and more loving relationships. One of the vital gifts of Queer theology and Queer Church spaces is therefore to share Jesus as the Gate to life in all its fullness, and for the followers of Jesus to become ever more alive signs of that holy abundance. That, at least, is at the heart of my reflections on this wonderful bible passage (John chapter 10, verses 7-10) which we just heard…
Do you identify with the conversion of Saul, later re-named Paul, which we hear read today? It does not fit us all. Yet it is certainly a striking story, which has powerfully influenced some, especially evangelical, Christian traditions. Indeed, it has sometimes become a classic model for becoming a Christian. It speaks, for example, of a remarkable repentance – or turning around, which is really what repentance means. It speaks of whole-hearted, whole-self transformation of life in Christ; and, above all, it speaks of the transforming power of God’s love and grace. All of this, we may say, are indeed important aspects of Christian Faith, and, as such, the story challenges us, like Saul/Paul, to consider the direction in which we are traveling and what is drawing us and companioning us on the way. All of these things also go to the heart of the sacrament of baptism which we were planning to share this morning. Unfortunately this has had to be postponed due to the baptismal candidate having contracted COVID-19. Nonetheless, it is still worth us reflecting today on the sacraments of baptism and of communion, which we do share together this morning. For, like Saul’s conversion, what do we make of them? How does God’s grace work through them, and in particular moments of our lives?…
how do you want the story to end?
How do we want our stories to end? Whether it is our own story, or that of our community, our nation, our world, much is up to us. Now, we may not have much room for manoeuvre. All kinds of forces help shape our lives, internal and unconscious, as well as external and recognised. Yet we still have power to shape our stories, even if only by our attitudes, and by how we receive and respond to what happens to us. This truth is at the very heart of the Gospel and the power of love, forgiveness, and justice seeking. For, however you view the Resurrection stories, a common feature is their open, unfinished nature. The tomb is not sealed. The body is not there or is transformed. The end is a new beginning. So how do we want the story to continue?...
crossing the liminal space
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb”
I want to teach any children here today a special and perhaps unfamiliar word – the word is ‘liminal’.
Any ideas what it means?...
I checked the dictionary, and it means, “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold”. Let me show you what that means. If you come forward here and put one foot on the step of the platform here at the front, and keep one foot on the floor, then you are standing on the threshold – right on the boundary – not on the platform, and not still on the floor either. You are in the liminal place...
How do we picture transfiguration? Do you like the transfiguration mandala of Jack Haas for example? It is better than many as a prompt for reflection today. For the story, symbol, and spirituality of Christian transfiguration is rich and profound. Yet it can be a puzzle and portrayed in very limited dimensions, and can then seem quite distant to some of us. Let me therefore offer four pathways into the reality and meaning of Christ’s Transfiguration: four pathways on the model of the spirituality wheel of which Penny Jones spoke to us a few months ago, and to our Ministers Retreat this week. For transfiguration, as Jack Haas suggests, is like a biblical mandala, of enriching colour and creativity for our lives: a kaleidoscope revealing divine transforming love…
One of my grandchildren was particularly fascinated when I was in England in December. She was trying to grasp how it was night with me when it was daytime in Australia, and how it was so warm here and so cold where I was. One day, she had it sorted. Speaking to Penny on the phone, she loudly proclaimed ‘GranJo is upside down!’ I am not sure whether she thought that I was standing or walking on my head. However, in more than one sense, she was right - not least spiritually. After all, as Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 reminds us, like other early Christians, Paul and Silas were accused of ‘turning the world upside down’. It remains part of our Christian calling and sits well with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, otherwise known as the feast of Candlemas, which we mark today. Wherever, or whoever, we are in the world, we are all called to ‘live upside down’ in spiritual terms…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney