What is an 'indecent' body to you? Marcella Althaus-Reid, one of the most stimulating of modern theologians, posed this question vibrantly. Her best known book, entitled Indecent Theology, challenged us to reconsider how we see and talk about bodies - especially female, sexually and gender diverse, poor and colonised bodies - all which have been treated as ‘indecent’. This, for me, is certainly at the heart of a healthy understanding of gender identity, and, crucially, affirms the gifts which gender diverse people have for the whole body of Christ and the whole body of society and our planet. It also takes us to the heart of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where St Paul specifically commends us to honour the ‘weaker’, ‘less honourable’, ‘less respectable’ members of the Body of Christ. For, as Paul affirms, these ‘indecent’ members are ‘indispensable’, requiring ‘greater’ honour and respect...
‘My burden is light’. This assurance from Jesus invites us to consider the things we carry, and how burdensome they really are. It invites the question, 'how much is enough?' How much is enough of anything - faith, love, food, work, information? We live in a culture that is dominated by the excess of many things. Yet as human animals we are driven by a seemingly insatiable appetite for more. While this may be a part of our biology, our scriptures and traditions teach us another way, that may help us off the treadmill of more, more, more. God in Christ invites us into another way of seeing the world and our needs within it – the way not of the ‘wise and intelligent’ (I think being understood here as those who think they are wise and intelligent and have the paperwork to prove it!) but rather the way of the vulnerable and open, the ‘infants’...
I can trace my beginnings to a river. For once upon a time in England, in the difficult days of the depression just before World War Two, two men and a woman boarded a ferry across the Mersey – yes, just like the song! One of the men recognised the woman and introduced him to his friend, the other man. Every day as the three of them made their commute by ferry they would meet, and the woman and the second man grew closer. The second man went to war, but in 1942 he came home on leave and they were married. Then, or perhaps it was a different time of leave, the two of them went to the cinema, but the bombs fell as so often at that time. They sheltered under the great Liverpool St George’s Hall in the air raid shelter. But fearful of missing the last ferry across that river, they took a chance and raced to the shelter near the ferry terminal. That was the night the St George’s air raid shelter took a direct hit and all who had sheltered there were killed. Their need to catch the ferry saved the woman and the second man. In 1944 the woman gave birth to a baby – that child is my older sister. The river, and the ferry that crossed it brought my parents together, and without it, I would not be...
What spirit do we need to renew our lives, nation, and world at this time, and what might our prayers for Christian Unity have to share in this?
By now most of us have seen the photos of many notable landmarks, especially in Europe, virtually deserted. Among them, and symbolic of the tragedy that has come upon northern Italy, is the great St. Mark’s Square in Venice, dedicated to that most audacious saint whom we commemorate today. Everywhere in Venice you see the symbol of the winged lion, his paw on the gospel; the symbol of Mark the evangelist - the gospel writer.
Mark wrote the first gospel. That sounds quite commonplace to us two thousand years on. We know that the other two synoptic writers, Matthew and Luke, took his work as their model and added to it, but Mark wrote the first one. The very act of writing was extraordinary. He did something that had never been done before. There had been other kinds of similar writing – lives of the great heroes of Greece and Rome – but no one had ever written a gospel before. It was an audacious act to try and set down what had happened and who Jesus was. Mark was brave and did something entirely new.
We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that he wrote his gospel around 70AD - the time that the first Christians were being expelled from the Jewish synagogues and undergoing persecution following the fall of Jerusalem. That event was cataclysmic at the time. He writes because he feels he has to. He writes because there is a danger that if he does not the story will be lost, perhaps forever. The threat of imminent death inspires extraordinary acts of bravery, as we are seeing in the world today. Fear can beget bravery.
However, fear can also beget timidity and we see that in the gospel story we just read. It is thought that Mark actually ended his gospel at verse 8 ‘and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’ – in the Greek text it actually ends with the tiny word ‘gar’, meaning ‘for’. The first gospel ends with a tender little conjunction – a joining word. It was for the pens of later writers to finish the text – and to join Mark’s brave, first testimony, to the future trajectory of the church, commissioned by their version of the risen Christ to ‘go out and proclaim the gospel’. Mark told the truth, tender as a young leaf – at first the wonder, the audacity of the resurrection could not be believed. It was just too new; too incredible to be trusted.
We like Mark, are facing dangers. We like Mark, are being challenged to do things we have never done before. We like Mark recognize that the way out of here requires hope and trust in things we cannot yet fully see or believe. Can we, as individuals, as churches, as society, be like Mark? Can we be brave enough to attempt the new, and bold enough to hold the tender green leaf and not crush it? For this is God’s call to us in our time. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for St Mark's Day, celebrated Sunday 26 April 2020
When you see an egg, do you see the risen Jesus? This is what Christians have done from the earliest times. There is an Armenian picture from the eleventh century that shows the angel and the women at the tomb with a huge egg inscribed with the words ‘He is not here. He is risen.’
So why an egg. Well firstly eggs are elliptical in shape – they are infinite, having no beginning or end, and so are symbolic for God. There is no end to God’s creativity, God’s love, God’s compassion.
Secondly an egg symbolizes the potential of new life. In some sense it is a microcosm, a miniature version of everything that is. It reminds us of the potential that each of us has for new life and a new beginning, today on Easter Day and every day.
Thirdly, for a chick to emerge from an egg, the shell must be broken. This symbolizes for Christians the rolling away of the stone from the front of the tomb, so that the risen Christ could emerge. It reminds us that for the new to come, the old has to be fractured and let go – an important message in these days, where so much of what is familiar to us has to be left behind.
Eggs tell us that God cannot be contained; that resurrection is possible and life is stronger than death. In recent memory Christians living under the severely repressive Albanian government, used to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ in the Orthodox fashion, and then take them out in the dark of Holy Saturday night and place them on the steps of town halls and places of government. By doing so they asserted the power of love over hate.
So, what do you see when you see an egg? Take a little time today to contemplate an egg and ask God to help you see there the reality of new life even in the midst of death. And look twice – for it can be a messenger of hope and resurrection to you today.
Penny Jones, for Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
Shortly before we were ordained in 1986, Jo and I were privileged to attend the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Its title – ‘In Search of a Larger Christ” – and the impact of some of the speakers has stayed with me for a lifetime of ministry. The speakers were global – African, Latin-American, and for me most notable the great Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama. In impeccable English, Kosuke Koyama explained that it was impossible to understand the character and work of Christ until you had attempted to translate that into a language other than your birth language. His point was that our ideas about Christ are shaped by the culture and context in which we first encounter Christ. Until we stretch ourselves to translate those ideas into a different culture, our idea of Christ will always be too small. Let me tell you, our idea of Christ is way too small – and that was very clear to me in preparing this sermon today for Cosmos Sunday.
a reflection for Midsumma (Melbourne LGBTI+) Festival, on the feast of Brigid & Darlughdach
First of all, may I thank you for the invitation to speak today, and, as an incomer, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land: the Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging. Our struggles and joys are bound together.
A ‘queer’ saint?
Is Brigid a queer saint, do you think? I don’t just mean as a likely LGBTI+ sacred forebear, but in the sense of being a figure who challenges and transforms our conceptions and ideas of holiness. Of course the word ‘queer’ is highly contested, and also disliked, for good reasons, among some sexually and gender diverse people. Yet among the broad range of its meaning, ‘queer’ does, I think, have its value. As we meet on the feast of Saint Brigid, it is certainly one way into reflecting on what she has to say to us as we celebrate Midsumma Festival, and the lives and contributions of sexually and gender diverse people. For, on the most obvious level, it is certainly apposite to remark on Brigid and her relationship with her intimate companion Darlughdach, with whom she shares this saint’s day, as she shared so much of her life, including her bed. Whilst so much about Brigid is cast about with legend, it seems reasonable to me therefore to place her, and Darlughdach, high in the pantheon of LGBTI+ Christian saints. Even if some might contest that however, Brigid undoubtedly offers us distinctive, transgressive, and mysterious paths into life and God: vital and vibrant queer ways, into holiness and transformation…
Amidst the storm and heat, is there anything else to say about marriage from a Christian point of view? Well, yes, as larger dimensions are often ignored in marriage debates, not least among we Christians who claim to ‘know’ what the scriptures ‘teach’. So much has been couched in terms of modern individualistic bourgeois values that one wonders how many people have actually read, and pondered, either the history of marriage, or the scriptures that make some people, on different sides of the arguments, so jumpy. Actually, the official Australian Marriage Equality body did not really help during that awful postal survey. Whilst its aims were (for me at least) manifestly just, the mainstream campaign was not only reluctant to engage with controversy directed against gender diverse persons, but it was frustratingly often built on limited ideas of marriage as the choice merely of two individual persons, reflecting conventional contemporary norms of ‘couple-dom’. Now, admittedly, this was in the context of civil marriage alone. Yet, in this, in its assumptions about marriage, it was not so different from narrow ideas certain Christians seem to have. Instead, when we look at the Bible and Christian Tradition as a whole, we find something much, much, bigger. Today’s reading from Isaiah chapter 62 is a powerful expression of this. For, in Isaiah, as elsewhere in the Bible, marriage is not so much about an individual’s bourgeois expression of identity and legal and moral relationship to another individual. Nor is it ultimately really much about sex or gender, though those human aspects are caught up in biblical conceptions in a series of different ways. Rather, marriage is a profound symbol of divine relationship, involving the transformation of everything. For, as Isaiah 62 verses 1-5 makes startlingly clear, biblical marriage is about the marrying of all things, bringing healing and the restoration of justice and peace. Indeed, marriage as a vehicle of transformation is not only about whole communities rather than individual persons alone, but it is also not simply about human beings alone. It is also about the marrying of land, and creation as a whole: the fullness of the ‘new creation’ prophesied in Isaiah and fulfilled in Christ. Our little human relationships, if hugely precious, are ultimately just elements in this. For it it is thus so much more radical than any conventional conception of marriage…
Over the last few weeks I have had the wonderful, if challenging, experience of sharing in leading the God, Humanity and Difference course at St Francis’ College. This has included looking at a wide range of human differences: including those of race, disability, gender, sexuality, faith, culture, history, and socio-economic position. We have heard from a variety of voices from across our Church and world: including Canon Bruce Boase (as an Aboriginal priest, as we explored Reconciliation issues) and, not least, Elizabeth and Ann from our very own congregation here (as we explored faith issues related to disability). In addition, we have been blessed by the insights of the rich mix of backgrounds and experiences within the class itself, including students originally from Sudan and Korea. Sometimes this has meant that we have met fresh questions and ideas which will require some working out. For our God-given human differences are not always easy for us all to live with. We can see that clearly in some of the conflicts and controversies of our Church and world today. Yet, as we have discovered in our course this semester, if we hold them prayerfully, and work with them with intelligence and compassion, they are powerful gifts to us for healing, new life, and flourishing together. For properly to hear each of us, speaking our own witness to God in our own way, is to let the Holy Spirit fly free in fresh experiences of Pentecost…