on kings, and kingdom language
Growing up, even as a little child I was fascinated by what was then known as the English Civil War (although, to be accurate historically, this is now rightly recognised as several different wars across the islands of Britain and Ireland). It was a bitter and brutal period, culminating in the judicial trial and execution of the King. For this was a powerful revolution. Indeed it saw the establishment of a republic, the Commonwealth and Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Moreover, in that latter period there was also an extraordinary flowering of truly radical religious and political life and thought. That, I think, was what especially drew me into the study of history. For the origin of many liberal democratic things we take for granted lie there – for example, the insistence on no taxation or legislation without representation, on regular elections, fixed parliamentary terms, equal votes, and, vitally, on religious freedom for different types of groups, particularly the marginalised. Indeed, Cromwell even reopened England to the Jews, who had been banned for centuries. For his supporters were also part of the movements which helped create Congregationalism, the original founding tradition of Pitt Street Uniting Church...
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...
Making a transition is rarely easy, is it? Currently I’m conscious of many changes in which I am involved, some of which will take much time, wisdom and energy to unfold. We are, of course, in the very midst of such a change this morning, as Penny and I lay down our callings here, and as all of us open ourselves to the new things that God will do with us in the future. As such, this is a special, and precious, moment, as all holy transitions are. For the test, and the fruit, of God’s love is often found where we experience change. After all, as we see again, strikingly, in our Gospel reading today, our God is a God of a new creation, always calling us forth into new life and growth. Like John the Baptist, some of us are called to let go and pass on the baton. Like the disciples we are all called to ‘come and see’ where Jesus is calling us. Like Simon, we may be called to new names and purposes. Don’t you agree Penny?...
There are two titles for this Sunday in the lectionary, namely Christ the King or the Reign of Christ. Which do you prefer? Think about it for a moment. Have a look too at today’s two New Testament readings (Colossians 1.11-20 and Luke 23.33-43). They also have different emphases. Which of these would you choose for preference? The answer of course is that both of these are valuable and balance one another. Yet, as with the title of this Sunday, there is a genuine tension between them and, in wrestling with this tension, we are led into a deeper understanding of God and our relationship with God and one another…
Today's passages invite us to use our imagination. To imagine what it would be like to have had everything we thought was important reduced to rubble. To imagine what God might do to transform our world. To imagine the temple that Jesus and his friends saw, and what it was like for that temple also to be destroyed. For these passages teach us that life is always being rebuilt, and that God is always doing something new. Our job is to be alert to what God is doing, and to make choices that help God transform the world...
the wisdom of the jester
Once upon a time, the story goes, there was a court jester. For many years he was very popular with the king. The jester made him laugh and brought joy and well-being to everyone he met. That country was indeed a kingdom of joy and well-being. Then things started to go wrong in the kingdom. The king’s chief advisers, the politicians, became greedy and unjust and the people grew fearful and violent. Their humour they had became dark and cruel. The jester’s wit was no longer appreciated, especially when he spoke in ways which seemed to give comfort to the poor and marginalised. A campaign grew among the powerful to get rid of him. So the king, though he still remembered liking the jester very much, agreed to condemn him to death. To honour his past regard however, the king said that the jester could choose how he was to die. ‘For example, I could have you hung, drawn and quartered’, the king said, ‘or thrown to hungry wolves, or boiled alive, or shot at dawn by a firing squad, or, like the aristocracy, you might have your head chopped off with a silver sword. It is your choice: there are many ways. How would you like to die? You choose and I will decree it.’ So the jester thought for a brief moment and then answered, as quick as a flash: ‘ in that case, my Lord, I would choose to die..’ He paused… ‘by old age.’ And the king roared with laughter and gave the jester his wish.
Now what, you may say, has that to do with our Gospel reading this morning? Well, just this: in a sense, that jester embodied three key aspects of Jesus’ teaching - firstly, by not fearing; secondly. by not clinging to possessions or position; and thirdly, by above all remaining awake to the presence of God’s kingdom, whatever happens at any moment. For this is the gift of Jesus, the greatest spiritual Jester of our lives: the One who shares the divine laughter and the invitation to share in the true kingdom of God’s love...
How do you picture peace? I wonder if your vision is quite the same as that of the prophet Isaiah in the John the Baptist story in our Gospel reading today? Isaiah says this: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Well, that definitely doesn’t work for me if it were taken at all literally. For I was born in the North Pennine hill country of England, which owes so much of its life, history, wildness and picturesque beauty to the variety of its landscape, its hills and valleys. I certainly know that the folk of the Durham Dales would do all they possibly could to avoid every valley being filled, every hill being made low, and the winding paths and rough ways being made smooth. I suspect too that few people in Toowoomba would take kindly to such an environmental transformation of our own Range, valleys, hills and landscape. No. On this second Sunday in Advent, as we centre on the theme of peace, we need to look deeper if we are to find fuller meaning in today’s Gospel reading. Perhaps we are helped by re-casting Isaiah’s words a little. To that end, I offer some words of the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr Oscar Romero: words which I believe catch up the spirit of the Advent prophets, that “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Let me return to that, and to John the Baptist in our Gospel, again, in a moment…
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 7A, Sunday 27 July 2014 (St.Luke, Toowoomba)
There is a great little art exhibition at the moment: in the Crows Nest Art Gallery. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so before it ends (on 3 August). The exhibition is by two talented local young artists, one of whom is our own Katherine Appleby. Katherine’s subject for this exhibition centres on fairytales and she has created some wonderful works, not least a powerful piece called ‘Fear’. In this, we see what appears to be a young girl walking into the midst of a dark forest, where wolves and wolf-like heads, eyes and mouths glisten in the darkness. Even the trees are dark and bare, devoid of foliage, symbolising the darkness and threat of fear itself. Isn’t that a powerful picture of how fear can feel to us? Look again though, and perhaps you may see other things. What, for instance, is the really fearful thing in the painting? Is it the dark woods? Is it the closure of the path and of the light? Is it the wolves? Or is it the girl herself? Is she, so central to the picture, actually the true source and figure of fear? Why, for instance, is she walking into the forest, into the darkness away from the light? She stands very self-possessed. So is she afraid of the woods and the wolves? Or are they afraid of her? The painting you see, like any fine work of art, reveals more as we look at it. It asks us not one but many questions, some of them surprising. It is an invitation to mystery, rather than a mere description or proclamation of the straightforward. Indeed, if you look very closely at Katherine’s painting of ‘Fear’ you will see that the girl’s face is also partly an old and partly a young face. As such, it expresses the awesome ambiguity of life, truth and our human condition. Which way of looking, being and living will we choose?
Religion at its best is in many ways akin to art at its best, especially in its capacity to invite us into the awesome ambiguities of life. It is an invitation to mystery, not a mere description or safeguard of the straightforward. It is a means, like great art, by which we can hold our fear and our suffering and not be overwhelmed. It is a path on which we can walk with courage, through the darkness around and within us, through the grace of God, into the light and love of God...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney