What is your ‘good news’? One of the theological college principals I used to work with would occasionally ask this of students. If you had to put the good news of your Christian faith in a short phrase, he would say, what would it be? Now he was certainly not trying to dumb down faith, under the pressures of modern media attention spans and ‘church growth’ gurus. That, to be honest, would hardly have worked! Our theological college was, after all, the child of two theological traditions - one of them radically incarnationalist and the other powerfully modernist – both of which had rattled the cages of conservative and complacent faith in the past. No, he was certainly not attempting to avoid deep and complex questions and intelligent reflection. He was just trying to encourage us to affirm what we could affirm and to be able to share that clearly with others. For, let’s be honest, much theology and Christian communication can be pretty difficult to grasp, can’t it? Nor is it just ‘traditional’ faith communication. Sometimes, to be quite frank, so-called ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ theology is also not very clear about ‘good news’. It can tell us a great deal about questions and debates, and help us move on from much that is death-dealing. Yet it can sometimes be less helpful in affirming what, in Jesus and Christian Faith, is truly life-giving. So, what is our ‘good news’ today?...
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…
A few weeks ago I invited us all to address the question of Jesus: ‘who do you say that I am?’ This is central to the Christian spiritual pathway. As I affirmed, the answers to that question will differ, as they have differed, subtly or significantly, down the centuries. Today, on St Luke’s Day, Penny and I want to ask three more questions, which also feed into our community visioning day. They seek to open up three important areas of life: firstly, healing; secondly, hospitality; and thirdly, how do we hand on hope, as we experience it in our spiritual lives. Penny and I will do this together as a conversation. For, after all, isn’t one of the most beautiful stories in Luke’s Gospel that of the conversation between the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they rediscover the living Christ in new ways?
Before all that however, I want to ask Penny about our relationship to St Luke. For we’ve had a bit of history with St Luke, haven’t we?...
‘But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’ (John 20.25b)
My father was a fine schoolmaster who came into his own when he performed as ‘Wizard Chiz’ at the annual school fete. Extraordinarily creative, he would demonstrate the miraculous realities of what we usually call ‘chemistry’. My father was also very knowledgeable about such things as the Periodic Table. Yet, it was sharing about chemistry’s wondrous mystery that really counted for him.
I recall this in reflecting on Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ. For he approached Jesus like exploring science as mere practicality, consequently missing the mystery. Sadly, too many still approach God like this, seeking nailed-down ‘proofs’ that bolster misguided securities before we are willing to respond. This is the alarming commonality of both militant secularists and religious fundamentalists. Faith must indeed attend to reason, but its call is essentially an invitation to wonder and adventure.
As J.K Rowling suggested in the Harry Potter series, living into faith and love are like becoming a true wizard. In today’s Gospel, Thomas acted, as we often do, like a Muggle. However, as Indian Christians especially will remind us, there is much more to Thomas. As a remarkable faith adventurer, Thomas went on to grasp, and share with others, the Resurrection’s true reality, as the transforming mystery of unconquerable love.
We, too, may be inclined to dwell on repeated doubts or affirmations of unnecessary details. Yet God’s invitation is to live out the mystery. This is life’s true chemistry.
by Jo Inkpin, for Sunday 19 April 2020, 2nd Sunday after Easter
- also published in Anglican Focus here
I wonder if you have ever pondered the difference between having and keeping? It’s all about relationship. We have a computer, but we keep a dog. God does not have us. God keeps us. As the Psalmist puts it: 'The Lord is my keeper' (Psalm 121) For Psalm 121 is what is known as a pilgrimage psalm – the prayer that a devout Jew would offer on their way to Jerusalem to attend one of the three great annual religious festivals. The author is asking for help on their journey and identifying that that helps comes from God. Travelers are always at risk – those on pilgrimage on foot risk falls, or attack from bandits. Today those of us contemplating travel by air may be more worried about the coronavirus speeding its way to us through the air -conditioning vents. Travel is always a somewhat hazardous exercise. In our present time there is much to make us feel helpless and insecure. But this psalm says the opposite. It urges us not to fear, but to know that we are being ‘kept’. So, what exactly does it mean to be ‘kept’?
As some of you know, I enjoy a practice called Interplay. Interplay is ‘a creative, active way to unlock the wisdom of the body. It is a group activity that uses a number of ‘forms’, physical, verbal and musical, to enable connection with our selves and our community through play. There is a variant of one of these forms that goes like this... Participants are encouraged to choose a place in the room and move towards it with great intent, but moving only very slowly, heel to toe. This is how we often move in life towards goals on which we have set our hearts. But as we all know, life has a way of disrupting those kinds of plans and movements. So, there is another variant of this form, in which participants are invited simply to move slowly as before and just see where they end up and when it seems right to stop. This goal-less movement reflects something of what actually happens in life when we thought we were doing something else. A final variant of this game, invites participants to move slowly and just occasionally take a leap forward, perhaps celebrating that with a whoop. It is great fun, and illustrates how often we forget to celebrate our leaps forward and how much pleasure can be derived from celebrating, even when we do not have a particular goal in mind, and only recognise after it has happened that a leap forward has occurred. Sometimes indeed we may find that the leap has not been forward, but perhaps sideways or even backwards and no less a cause for celebration...
It is hard to find a word of comfort in today’s readings! Or is it? We shall see.
These are words that come out of suffering – exile, imprisonment, exclusion, slavery. They are words spoken to and by those who know the harsh brutalities of life; its injustices and its seemingly random experiences of horror and pain, and yet choose a path of faith...
Storms about sex and gender increasingly rage around, and, importantly, within us. In the face of this, what stories are we telling ourselves, and living into? How are we negotiating the tempests of faith, fact and false news? Where are we headed and what hope do we have? Let us take time to consider. For the sea of faith of which we are a part is in much turmoil because of sex and gender waves. It is likely to remain so, and even grow more turbulent. What options are among us then, and, most vitally of all, where is God in all of this?
Fear and faith, chaos and calm – these are the poles around which this powerful story revolves. No wonder that this story is told in all three of the synoptic gospels. For these are things that we all recognise in our own lives and the lives of others. This is not just a miracle story from long ago. This is our story, both as individuals and as communities. The fear and the faith, the chaos and the calm, they all play out in our daily lives. This is a story that has real, physical actual details. It is also a story whose motifs resonate at the level of dream energy and the deep unconscious...
As so often when we come to a saint even of national significance like David, the preacher finds themselves saying, ‘we really do not know very much about them, and what we do know seems to be the stuff of legends’. So indeed we know very little for certain about St. David. He was born in 520 and legend has it that his mother was a nun, who was raped by one of the local princes and David was the consequence. Not a particularly auspicious beginning. However the faith of his mother seems to have communicated itself to David, who lived the life of simple monk, eating sparsely, often just leeks, bread and water, and never touching alcohol, which earned him the title the ‘waterman’ as he drank just water...