uniting like the oceans
One of the most memorable voices of my English schooldays was that of the great cricket commentator John Arlott. He reported on many things, and was also a poet, wine-connoisseur, hymn-writer, part time politician, anti-apartheid spokesperson and renowned host of dinner parties. His distinctive radio tones and brilliant turns of phrase illuminated English summers and some other special occasions, notably the great Centenary Test Match in Melbourne in 1977. Thousands of miles away I remember being curled up through the night listening under the covers to John’s words. His descriptions were typically unforgettable: such as that of the scene of Dennis Lillee’s destruction of the English first innings, where, he said, even the ‘seagulls were standing in line like vultures’, and also Derek Randall’s heroic second innings fightback – an innings as inimitable as John’s own expressions. Gordon Greenidge, the great West Indian batsman, even named him ‘the Shakespeare of commentators.’ Above all, however, I will always cherish John Arlott’s vigorous standing up for our common humanity, not least over apartheid. He had learned to move on from his English colonial upbringing from Indian cricketers, not least the wonderful Vijay Merchant. Famously then, he was involved at the forefront of cricket’s anti-apartheid struggles. Indeed, as early as 1948, visiting South Africa, he refused to fill in the section marked ‘race’ on the departure form, except to put the word ‘human’. ‘What do you mean?’, said an angry immigration officer aggressively. ‘I am a member of the human race’ came back the reply. Eventually he was just told to ‘get out’. How I wonder would John Arlott fare today with resurgent racism, nationalism, and the exclusivism of so many immigration policies? What price human unity today? What, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, does faith have to contribute?...
wrestlings, wounds and blessings
As each of us comes to worship today, how are we going in our lives and faith? Are we ourselves wrestling with challenging things in our lives, and with God? Are we bearing wounds? Are we seeking blessing, or feeling blessed? In what ways are we perhaps ‘God’s Wrestlers’, ‘God’s Wounded’, ‘God’s Blessed’? These are but three different ways of approaching the great Hebrew story we encounter today in our lectionary (Genesis 32.22-31) - the story we may call Jacob’s Wrestling with the Angel, or alternatively, Jacob’s Wounding, or Jacob’s Blessing...
Taking up today’s Gospel (Luke 15.1-10), I want to speak about three things: queer sheep, the value of women’s coins, and rainbow repentance; about how queer sheep need revaluing; about how women’s coins challenge Church and world to rainbow repentance; and about how rainbow repentance involves renewing pride in queer sheep. Firstly though, let me speak of a cartoon highlighting these themes. For, like a good picture, an insightful cartoon can paint a thousand words…
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…
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?
If the 3 ‘Rs’ have been said to be the foundation of learning, then there is a case for saying that the writer of Acts of the Apostles gives us 3 ‘Ps’ as the foundation of Christian identity and mission. For in Acts chapter 8 we read today’s passage about Philip and the eunuch. This is immediately followed, in chapter 9, by the story of Paul’s conversion and acceptance into the Christian community. Then, in chapter 10, we have the story of Peter’s strange dream which leads to his conversion to the full acceptance of Gentiles without demands. Typically these stories are treated separately, as discrete events in the life of the early Church. Yet I wonder. May they not actually be interconnected, as part of one truly remarkable story told by Acts? For in these stories we see something of how the early Jewish Christian sect became a highly engaged and outward looking community of radical inclusion: embracing the outcast, the oppressed and the oppressor, from whatever race, religion or other identity they came. This was a truly extraordinary shift in attitude and practice. Of course the seeds were very much present in the Hebrew scriptures and, above all, in the praxis of Jesus. Yet it still represents perhaps the greatest conversion in all Christian history: beyond, for example, the Church’s turn around on slavery or on the full acceptance and ministerial empowerment of women. No wonder therefore that the writer of Acts gives us three powerful stories to help us grasp the point. Sadly we sometimes divide them off from one another and tend to lose this dynamic. Peter and, especially, Paul’s stories then lose some of their context and bite. In the case of today’s story, of Philip and the eunuch, we can overlook it altogether. To do so may be to miss vital lessons for our mission and Christian self-identity today...
address by The Revd Dr Jon Inkpin and the Revd Penny Jones to Toowoomba Marriage Equality meeting, 17 April 2016
It is sometimes said that ‘you are either part of the problem or part of the solution’. In our case we are very much connected to part of that which indeed is often the problem, but we also hope we can be part of the solution. For we have been married to each other for 30 years, presided at marriage ceremonies for about 60 years between us, and shared both amazing joys, and, sadly, many tears with many LGBTI friends and family members for so much unnecessary pain, abuse, and rejection. So, above all, want to affirm three things which we feel are at the heart of this issue, and at the heart of Christian faith - namely: love, valuing everyone as part of God’s image, and being and growing family. We feel we need to say something briefly about two things which some misuse to hold us back: Christian tradition and the Bible. And we want to suggest three key areas of resistance. In doing so, we hope and pray for a speedy end to so much unnecessary suffering and look forward to many more tears of joy as marriage is extended and grown.
We would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Jarowair and Giabal peoples, their elders past and present. And we do so, because this helps us nurture respect, deepen relationship, and find renewal for us all – which, of course, is what marriage equality is also about at its best. For from a Christian point of view, marriage is about sharing in the ultimate mystery of love. We only have to go to the opening words of scripture from our Anglican marriage service to see that: ‘God is love’, we say, ‘and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them’ (1 John 4.16). For Christians, that is the heart of the matter: where is love in all of this? In the end, what would Jesus do?...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney