|Pen and Ink Reflections||
My wife Penny and I met at theological college. It was certainly not love at first sight. I was quite introverted, not trying to give away much of who I was, and Penny – well, Penny was very nervous and came across as a terrible caricature of an English middle-class blue stocking type of woman: think, those of you who can remember back that far, of Joyce Grenfell in the old St Trinian’s films. Our college was overwhelmingly full of men, with this being only the second year a handful of women had been admitted. So, when I met Penny in the first hour or so after arriving, I thought: ‘well, if this is how the women are here, I am simply not going to survive!’ I guess that was one factor in our initial relationship: sheer survival in an age and culture still trying to come to terms with the equality of women as a whole, never mind wider gender diversity. It was an earlier reminder that, if Penny and I were to minister, it would be as salt. We would be adding fresh flavour to both the Church and the wider world, seeking to provide healing or simply preservation for some of us, and, from time to time, perhaps irritating others into whose wounds we might be placed to aid healing. Maybe some will have views on how well, or otherwise, we have done that so far. Our hope and prayer is, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading today, that we, with others, will never lose out saltiness…
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?...
Human beings can’t walk on water. This is fairly easily observable. However I was once told by no less a person than a church warden, that if I could build a labyrinth for meditative walking in the religiously conservative city of Toowoomba then I could walk on water. She was trying to tell me it was impossible. But the Toowoomba City Labyrinth was built and continues as a great tool for prayer. And – I can’t walk on water! Nor, I venture to suggest could Jesus.
If Jesus did walk on water, then we rid ourselves of one problem – the questioning of the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. But we create another - a Christ who only pretended to be human. Because humans can’t walk on water. We can of course protest that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, but the moment we do that we open up a whole other set of problems around why Jesus does not do a whole heap of other things that might be felt more useful, like ending wars or saving children’s lives. If we do not want to turn the human Jesus into a capricious divine figure masquerading as a human being, we might have to accept that he did not in fact walk on water.
So, what about this story then? How are we to read it? Well some scholars resolve the problem quite neatly by declaring it to be a misplaced resurrection story. This makes a lot of sense. This is why the disciples for examples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. However, I do not think that is the whole answer...
new life, here and now
Our Gospel reading today (John 11.1-45) is the extraordinary story of the raising of Lazarus – a story of resurrection not just for the future, but into every day, earthly material life. I want us to concentrate on the three commands that Jesus gives in this story. Over the coming week you might like to ponder each in turn for a couple of days, and see how God speaks to you and the circumstances of your life through each one.
The three commands are these:
Take away the stone
Unbind him and let him go...
stand up straight
Jesus invites us to stand up straight, in the knowledge that we are loved and lovable – and in this story of the woman bent double he provides us with an icon, a window, onto that truth...
I learnt a new word this week. It is a German word – warmduscher. And it means a person who likes their shower warm – not cold, not hot, just warm – and they won’t experiment in either direction. In other words, they are a person who prefers to stay firmly in their comfort zone. They are a person who is very resistant to change. And you know what, that is most of us! – no wonder it is so hard to get elected to government on a program for change! It is really hard for most of us to try something new, because as human beings we are hard- wired to stay safe, and not risk change.
Which brings us to today’s story. Three things strike me in this story. The length of time the man has been waiting at the pool. The clarity of Jesus’s question ‘Do you want to be made well?’ and the mystery of why Jesus chose this person to heal on the Sabbath. Let’s think about them in turn...
becoming the beloved community
How do you feel about anointing? I’m talking full on anointing here. I don’t just mean anointing as a metaphor, nor the very reserved forms of anointing which can take place in many churches. I mean oil poured out profusely: all over the head, body, and feet. I mean total divine sensate massage and aromatherapy: exquisite sensation, overpowering perfume, near sensory overload. Ever tried it? The Orthodox Church typically anoints someone all over at baptism - I kind of like that. It reminds us that, to be a Christian, is about being soaked in the Holy Spirit, exuberantly alive with fabulous sensation and fresh nurturing life. That, certainly, is at the heart of the Gospel story we hear today: an amazingly radical story, on so many levels, which models, and invites us to become more fully the beloved community of vivacious, scandalous, love…
What are your experiences of nativity plays? They can be extraordinary events, can’t they? At times they are full of bathos, clumsy and comic. At other moments they can be wondrous and moving, full of pathos. These days of course all kinds of characters can sometimes be found in them: space folk, aliens, rocket ships, and even Harry Potter. Mostly however we have the traditional cast: with the so-called ‘three kings’ perhaps the most striking of all. What do you make of them, I wonder? As we mark the feast of Epiphany, perhaps it is worth a closer look, not least at the often passed over gift of myrrh. For, in my view, much more than gold or frankincense, myrrh takes us to the heart of Christian discipleship and the love of God in Jesus, and certainly beyond 'conventional' gender, and other, nativity norms…
becoming the Passion narrative
Are homilies necessary in Holy Week? I wonder. Even more than at other times, our liturgical patterns are shaped so much by the Passion narrative as a whole that interrupting it with other words can seem somewhat intrusive. For the main thing is to enter into the narrative and drama of the Holy Week and Easter mysteries. We do not have to understand everything, or even say or do anything. We are simply invited into the narrative to become part of it and to allow the drama to form the core of our lives. For our task in the whole of our Christian lives is to become more like Christ, in Christ’s life, death and resurrection: to be Christ-formed, cross-formed, resurrection-formed. So it is not a doctrine of the cross we seek to know today. It is its claim and shape in our own lives. Maybe however, just a few words can help us on that journey?...
healing - why and what?
Recently I’ve pondered a good deal about healing - both in relationship to myself and to others I know.. How about you? For it is a strange thing: the Gospels are full of healings, but, for many centuries, healing did not bulk large in Christian teaching or practice. Healing is prominent in the early Church and in Christian revival or minority movements. Yet it largely drops out of focus until the last century. Then a number of features, including modern challenges, spiritual and liturgical renewal, and the charismatic movement, gave rise to fresh healing emphases. Significantly perhaps this has gone alongside a reduced emphasis on certain ideas of sin, judgement and mortality. For Christian theology changes, or it dies. Today, healing, suffering, and sin are categories with which we wrestle afresh. Like our Gospel story today, we also wonder about them and their inter-relationship…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney