|Pen and Ink Reflections||
tending the fig tree
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…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney