|Pen and Ink Reflections||
I thought it might be helpful this morning to bring along a favourite bowl of mine. It was made by an artist friend Kerry Holland, whose paintings and bowl sculptures on the theme of The Visitation is currently on exhibition in Pitt Street Uniting Church. She also made this one, which she gave to me as a gift when I came out as transgender, affirming my authentic gender identity a few years ago. It is precious to me for that reason but also because, like all of Kerry’s bowl sculptures it is unique, with its own particular shape, story, and constellation of colours. In that sense, it is like each human being: an exquisitely unique and special divine creation. The more I reflect upon that, and upon the nature of a bowl itself, the more I am also drawn into the love of God. So I would like to share with you some ways in which each of us might helpfully use a bowl as a prayerful way into appreciating ourselves and others and holding together what can easily be misused in the Gospel parable (Matthew 25.31ff) which we heard read just now. For, whilst that passage is in some ways quite straightforward in the challenge it offers us, it is also presents some questions, particularly in the way it divides people into two black and white binary groups, one of which receives blessed things and the other total condemnation…
‘Let justice flow like a river’ is the central theme of this year’s global ecumenical Season of Creation. This phrase comes from the book of Amos, chapter 5, part of which we heard just now. Let us hear how this speaks powerfully today and why people of faith are called to work and pray together….
(Watch the Laudato Sí Movement’s ‘Prepare for Season of Creation 2023’ video here...)
Today, where I was born, it is Wor Cuddy’s Day – that is to say, Our Cuthbert’s Day, the day of the greatest of the so-called ‘northern saints’, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Now Cuthbert lived back in the 7th century of the Christian era, but his influence lives on strongly, especially among the people of the north east of England. For, historically, Cuthbert is the official ‘Protector of the North’, not least of County Durham, in which I was born. So today, the 20th March, has become County Durham Day and the county flag flies high, with the distinctive cross of St Cuthbert emblazoned on the colours of blue and gold (see the front of the liturgy sheet). More significantly for all of us however, there are aspects of Cuthbert’s life which are still life-giving. Not least, this is in terms of a spirituality which seeks to learn from the more than human environment, of God speaking to us intimately through the land and seas - and through the birds, animals and other creatures with which we share them. For, as we hear Jesus’ parable of the fig tree today, and reflect on our Lenten themes, we are encouraged to recognise the great breach between humanity and God’s wider Creation. With Cuthbert, we are called to return our hearts to the heartbeat of Creation and to live more kindly in rhythm with it…
We have a pretty tough parable today. For it can seem to be one of those uncomfortable passages about God’s end of time judgement and division. Is that all there is here though? We are so used to that conservative line that we easily pass over this passage for something more wholesome. Perhaps it helps to look a little closer however. For note well - this parable in Matthew 13 is called the parable of the dragnet but it does not stand alone. This striking comparison of the kingdom of God to a fishing scene is but the closing end of a series of parables. And this wider group of parables is important to remember. and I’ll come back to that later. Firstly however some key points from key words...
by Jon Inkpin for Christ the King Sunday 2014
Have you ever seen, or heard, Rowan Atkinson’s sketch about Hell? In this, the comedian plays the part of the devil and welcomes newcomers to hell, directing various types of people into different groups. Through humour he thereby pokes fun at our stereotypes, not least English stereotypes, and challenges us to think again about who we regard as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘in’ or ‘out’, in the eyes of God.
So what do we make of the idea of the Last Judgement? It is, after all, an article of the Apostles Creed which Christians are invited to affirm together.. As our modern translation of this ancient shared Christian understanding has it:
On the third day he (Jesus Christ) rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
‘He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead’ – what does this mean? It is ringing language, isn’t it? Yet it is very strong theological, mythic, or picture, language. It is not easy to understand, even though it is an expression of that deep assurance at the heart of the Christian Faith: that, despite much present appearances, ultimately the love of God in Jesus Christ is in charge and all that belongs to love will be vindicated in the end. That is not quite the message of Rowan Atkinson’s comedy sketch, is it? For God, in Jesus Christ, takes us beyond ordinary human judgement into the ultimate, and even more surprising, reality of eternal compassion…