Today’s Gospel reading is a very rich passage, full of extraordinary metaphors, story and meaning. It includes, for example, that powerful central affirmation of Christian Faith that God so loved the world that they sent their Beloved One that all who believe may have eternal life. Note well the heart of this good news: that God loves the world so much that all who believe – not just the doctrinally righteous, or the ethically conservative, but all may have eternal life. For the God we celebrate today is the God of unlimited, inexhaustible, love. As our Gospel text says, Christ comes among us not for condemnation, but for love and salvation. Let us therefore affirm again that you, we, all of us, are loved. The Gospel, our Good News, invites us to claim this, and live it. All of which brings us, in this passage, to the person of Nicodemus, and to light, and darkness…
invited to praise and joy
Our Gospel readings this week and next relate to what has traditionally been termed ‘the call’ of Jesus. Like the often very institutional church calls to ‘mission’, about which I spoke a fortnight ago, this call can often be interpreted quite narrowly, even oppressively. Indeed, it has sometimes been treated as a demand. Yet, in reality, as we see in both this week and next week’s Gospel’s reading, the call of Jesus is not so much a demand as an invitation. It seeks, as I said a fortnight ago, to draw us not drive us: to draw us into divine love and new life, not drive us into anything else, however admirable. For note well Jesus’ specific words in today’s reading from John’s Gospel: ‘come and see’. Like the words ‘follow me’ in Matthew’s Gospel next week, whilst Jesus invites, there is no compulsion. Nor is particular direction or content provided, although the Gospel record provides us early Christian understandings. Rather the invitation is primarily to an adventure of faith and experience. There is no requirement of belief as such, though that might emerge to give expression to the experience of the journey. There is no clear timetable, shape or schedule, or obvious destination. Jesus simply calls on those who will to set out on a shared pathway, walking together in trust. Is that how we see faith today?...
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…
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?...
Today’s Gospel reading (John 12.1-8) brings the song Bread and Roses (and see below) to my mind. This, for me, highlights two key aspects of the anointing of Jesus, and, particularly, the challenges presented by two central figures, Mary and Judas. There are several other significant features. Yet the tension between Judas and Mary is pivotal. For, in the early Jesus movement, this story is revelatory of struggles of identity, of power and gender, of politics and economics, as well as faith and spirituality. All that can hardly be summed up simply in the phrase ‘Bread and Roses’. Nonetheless there are undoubtedly vital feminist aspects, and the themes of ‘bread and roses’ – or body and soul - are highly pertinent…
who is hooked?
I thought today we might play with the ideas of hooks and fishing; of hooking and being hooked; of catching alive and who is to be caught.
Our beautiful weaving here in church today (see image left) and photographed on the front of this week’s worship booklet reminds us that fish and fishing are woven into the story of Jesus from the beginning. Indeed, it is believed some early Christians made eucharist with bread and fish rather than bread and wine – probably not a great choice in the Australian sun and I hate to think what the COVID regulations would make of that idea! But there is no getting away from the fact that some of the first disciples of Jesus made a living from fishing.
This morning, I’m going to share this Reflection as a conversation with Penny, on how we feed on God through experience today. For, as we reflect upon John chapter 6 once more, where, and what, is the Bread of Life for us in the midst of some of our greatest challenges? Through whose eyes are we looking at this?...
how do we feed on scripture?
What is there to eat in the Christian scriptures? It can often be challenging for many people to find answers to that. We live, after all, in very different times from those in which the books of the Bible were composed. It is not, of course, a new question. Decades ago, at theological college, I recall a leading biblical scholar, a Canon of Christ Church Oxford, throwing a similar testing query to myself and my fellow students. If we were to omit books from the Bible on grounds of significant racism, anti-semitism, sexism, and other forms of violence, with how many would we be left? Which books of the Bible would you keep? Canon John Fenton’s immediate answer was only three: Mark's Gospel, the Letter of James, and the book of Revelation. However, in subsequent discussion, he himself agreed that each of those scriptures also had problematic features. As we hear again today part of the Gospel of John chapter 6, what then are we say about, and still more feed upon, in the books we call ‘holy' scriptures?...
what is there to eat?
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
what is Resurrection for us?
a shared reflection and invitation by Josephine Inkpin (J) & Penny Jones (P)...
(P) We‘ve just heard two different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, haven’t we?! (Mark 16.1-8 and John 20.1-18) So what we do make of that – and all the other resurrection accounts which cannot be simply conflated? More importantly, what does Resurrection mean to us – to you, to me, to all of us together? That is not a question which can be answered in a few minutes of Reflection. Jo and I have therefore decided to open up a dialogue, which we hope will encourage us all to share in the days ahead. For one thing which is absolutely clear about Jesus’ resurrection of is that it is related through a multiplicity of stories and symbols. These come from different people and biblical outlooks and they thereby also invite us to share our own experiences and insights into Resurrection. For Resurrection is an extraordinary reality we celebrate today. Yet it is not a simple ‘fact’, is it Jo? Isn’t it rather an invitation to see, and travel into, deeper experience, deeper love, and deeper mystery?…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney